- Toronto Raptors open season in temporary Tampa home, taking on the New Orleans Pelicans
- Zion Williamson should have no minutes restrictions in sophomore season debut
- Check the odds, analysis and our betting prediction below
The New Orleans Pelicans feel like they’re close to becoming one of the premier teams in the NBA.
On Wednesday night, they’ll be facing a team in the Toronto Raptors proving they still belong there.
Welcome to NBA basketball in Tampa, the Amalie Arena acting as the temporary home of the Raptors after COVID-19 made it impossible to keep up a schedule amidst a current border shutdown between Canada and the US.
Toronto enters this matchup as a 5-point favorite.
Pelicans vs Raptors Odds
|New Orleans Pelicans||+5 (-110)||+176||N/A|
|Toronto Raptors||-5 (-110)||-210||N/A|
Odds from FanDuel taken December 21. Tip-off is Wednesday at 7:40pm ET
Both teams will be relying on improvement from their homegrown stars — Pelicans’ superstar-in-the-making Zion Williamson and Raptors’ all-NBA forward Pascal Siakam.
Zion Ready To Make Noise
If Zion Williamson is left to play free and loose like he did leading up to the regular season, watch out.
The second-year hulk laboured through a dismal rookie year. A knee injury delayed the most anticipated career start since LeBron James into January. Williamson ended up playing just 24 games, mostly under a heavy minutes restriction.
Too easy for @Zionwilliamson
Pels up by 13! pic.twitter.com/ln50uekMUy
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 19, 2020
Finally healthy, new Pels head coach Stan van Gundy has indicated his young star is all systems go. He looked explosive as hell this preseason (I know), leading all scorers at a 28.5 point per game clip.
He’s not the only weapon in NOLA: Zion will be flanked by the reigning NBA Most Improved Player in Brandon Ingram, who averaged a career-best 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting better than 39% from three-point range. Lonzo Ball, Jason Hart and Jaxson Hayes should all be improved too.
Steven Adams stoning 'em. pic.twitter.com/dqHZXISvRq
— The Bird Calls (@TheBirdCallsNO) December 19, 2020
New Orleans also added some veteran players in Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, part of the return on the Jrue Holiday deal. They can only help a New Orleans defense that finished 27th in points allowed a season ago, giving up over 117 points a game. Adams will bolster an already elite rebounding team — the Pelicans were sixth in rebounds per game a season ago, including second in offensive rebounding.
Raptors Remain Relevant?
Much like GM Masai Ujiri did a few years back in landing Kawhi Leonard, there are rumblings Toronto is a dark horse in the running for Rockets’ star James Harden.
That wouldn’t be a bad move. The Raptors, who won it all in 2019 are ready-built with key role players, excellent second and third scoring options and a successful system on both ends of the floor. Add a ready-made superstar, and this team could be fire.
— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) December 18, 2020
I’m sure this sentiment wouldn’t be so strong if Toronto’s home grown star Pascal Siakam hadn’t gone into the witness protection program in the playoffs last season.
Siakam, a no-brainer second-team all-NBA selection looked nothing like one of the 10 best players in basketball in the bubble. After putting up 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the regular season, he averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds in the playoffs, shooting less than 40% from the field, including a dismal 18.9% from deep.
Nick Nurse talks about the improvements he's seen in Pascal Siakam's game, specifically in his skillset. pic.twitter.com/sXQWh9CNjV
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 18, 2020
Toronto got to Game 7 in Round 2 against the Celtics, but couldn’t make enough plays to get to the conference finals, in what was a pretty open field in the East. Their title core was somewhat stripped, with Serge Ibaka going to the Clippers and Mark Gasol inking with the Lakers.
They’re hoping the emergence of OG Anunoby to potential all-star will help absorb those key losses, as well as a level-up by wiry Chris Boucher and contributions from free agent pickups Aaron Baynes and Alex Len.
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 19, 2020
Kyle Lowry will continue to lead and do Kyle Lowry things, while Fred VanVleet should be a stud again, and both should mould Malachi Flynn into a ready-to-contribute rook. Nick Nurse has had an incredible two-year run as head coach — this will easily be his most challenging year yet.
What’s The Best Bet?
Toronto may lack star power, but they know exactly who they are, which allows them to identify players that should fit into their system when they lose key players. And the beat goes on.
This is a good test for both sides, and Zion and Siakam should be front-and-centre in closing time. New Orleans’ time is coming, maybe just not Wednesday night.
The pick: Raptors -5 (-110)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.