Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - San Antonio at Toronto (-7.5, 228), 7:05 ET, ESPN

DeMar DeRozan lit up the Raptors when they came through San Antonio on Jan. 3. When he went to bed that night, it’s a safe bet he let his mind wander to the Feb. 22 rematch and undoubtedly hoped that his return to Toronto would go as smoothly as that first game did. It’s time to find out whether that wish comes true.

DeRozan’s first career triple-double helped deliver a 125-107 Spurs win as he played conquering hero while San Antonio fans let Kawhi Leonard have it every time he touched the ball, booing him mercilessly. The dynamic will be different for DeRozan in Toronto since he never issued a trade demand or wanted out in any capacity, ultimately sacrificed in favor of acquiring a better player despite nine years of service and four All-Star appearances.

He’s the Raptors’ all-time leader in games (675), minutes (22,986), wins (353), points (13,296), field goals (4,716) and free-throws (3,539).

Canadian basketball fans will almost certainly give him a pre-game standing ovation and won’t be booing him every time he touches the ball, but a different type of challenge awaits DeRozan as he looks to help the Spurs sweep the Raptors on the season. For one, Leonard didn’t perform well amid the vitriol he faced back in Texas, scoring 21 points but finishing with a season-low one rebound. He’ll be better at the Scotiabank Arena, where he’s averaging 27.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and is shooting over 50 percent from the field.

At 24-5, the Raptors share the top home record in the East with the Bucks, one game behind the Nuggets (25-4) for the best mark in the league. For as much love as DeRozan is going to get from grateful Toronto fans who will welcome him back with open arms, they’re still going to want their Raps to come out on top. San Antonio has been terrible on the road, winning just 11 of 30 games, the sixth-worst away record in the West.

This is the resumption of their Rodeo road trip, which has produced just one Spurs’ win in five tries thus far and will culminate with a Sunday-Monday back-to-back against the Knicks and Nets. Despite the struggles, Gregg Popovich’s team opens action a half-game behind the Rockets for first place in the Southwest Division.

DeRozan (21.4 ppg) is San Antonio’s leading scorer despite struggling with ankle and knee soreness over the past few weeks. He’s expected to be as close to full strength as he can possibly be considering that he missed the All-Star game for just the second time in six seasons and the first time since 2015 after not making the Western Conference squad. Count on him being ready for this one, a game he’s circled on his calendar and required a standing-room-only press conference at the team hotel.

The Spurs will have LaMarcus Aldridge available despite an illness, but won’t have point guard Derrick White back even though he’s getting close to returning from a heel injury that has kept him out since Feb. 4. Patty Mills came off the bench to score 22 points in a 108-107 win in Memphis just before the break to snap a four-game skid on the Rodeo road trip.

Toronto owns the NBA’s longest winning streak at six games and is the only team with a perfect record this month. The Raptors traded center Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright to Memphis for Marc Gasol, setting up another meeting between him and older brother Pau in this one. The Raptors are down to just seven players who were still on the roster alongside DeRozan at this time last season, chief among them former backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, one of his best friends. Lowry, who made his fifth straight All-Star team last weekend, still isn’t talking to general manager Masai Ujiri, who reportedly shopped him prior to the trade deadline in exploring packages.

There’s no loyalty involved when the window to win is perceived to be a short one, and Ujiri’s primary objective this season is to keep Leonard in town via a long-term contract. Odds are good that a deep playoff run may be able to sway him, especially if Toronto can emerge with the Eastern Conference’s top regular-season record for a second straight year and is able to make better use of playoff homecourt advantage than it has in the past. With LeBron James finally out of the conference, there’s never been a better opportunity for the Raptors to break through and reach their first NBA Finals.

The Raptors are without backup point guard Fred VanVleet due to a thumb injury but signed Jeremy Lin after he reached a buyout with Atlanta and saw him debut seamlessly just before the break.

Toronto last lost to Milwaukee on Jan. 31, scoring only 92 points. That was the only time in 21 games since Jan. 1 were the Raps failed to top the century mark, producing at least 104 points in every other contest. Despite this, the ‘under’ is 9-4 in the last 13 Raptors’ games. San Antonio has seen the ‘over’ prevail in 10 of its last 11 game an has topped the 100-point mark in 11 straight, but they’ve allowed at least that many in 17 consecutive games and 24 of 26.

The Spurs’ defense has given up 119 or more points in nine of their last 17 and badly miss White, who had quickly become their top perimeter defender. San Antonio has won 13 of its last 16 meetings against Toronto since 2011. The Raptors have only shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range in one of those matchups and shot 6-of-30 on Jan. 3. Over the last 10 encounters, Toronto is just 63-for-224 (28.1 percent) from beyond the arc against the Spurs.

Best of the Rest

New Orleans at Indiana, 7:05 p.m. ET: The soap opera surrounding the Pelicans will continue as Anthony Davis will suit up and start, continuing a saga that has already seen them loaf through one outing and leave another game while it was still being played in order to get an MRI on his shoulder. Davis had an All-Star game cameo, playing just five minutes, but is expected to play his new normal allotment of 20-25 minutes barring any physical setbacks. New Orleans could therefore become a dangerous spoiler since Julius Randle is also healthy again and young center Jahlil Okafor and forwards Kenrich Williams and Cheick Diallo got extended run in their absence. Point guard Elfrid Payton is also expected to make his return from an ankle injury that has kept him out since Jan. 29. Shooter Darius Miller is expected to be absent due to his own ankle trouble. The Pacers list center Myles Turner (hip) and sixth man Tyreke Evans (ankle) as questionable but did sign Wes Matthews just before the All-Star break to take Victor Oladipo’s spot in the lineup since he’ll be out for the remainder of the season due to a horrific knee injury. The Pacers are 6-5 since he went down. Eight of their last nine games have gone ‘under’ the posted total. Indiana has won 12 of the last 15 meetings with the Pelicans, having prevailed in 10 straight matchups between 2012-16.

Denver at Dallas, 8:35 p.m. ET: Although the Lakers, Kings, Pelicans and Timberwolves get more attention in their pursuit of the playoffs, the Mavericks are in the mix despite seemingly giving up on contending this season in dealing former starters DeAndre Jordan, Matthews and Harrison Barnes away to better position themselves for the future. Even with J.J. Barea out for the season and the newly-acquired Kristaps Porzingis unlikely to participate this season, Dallas will still get Luka Doncic valuable experience of competing in the NBA’s stretch run as they open action five games behind the Clippers for the West’s No. 8 seed. Denver is situated in the No. 2 spot and can become the fourth team in the league to reach 40 wins this season if it can take care of business on the road. With guard Gary Harris available after dealing a knee injury, the Nuggets are close to full strength now that Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Thomas all available to play. Only Trey Lyles (undisclosed), is expected to miss Friday’s contest. Denver is just 14-14 on the road, while Dallas is a very solid 20-9 at the American Airlines Center.

Utah at Oklahoma City, 9:35 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Thunder edged the Jazz 107-106 when the teams squared off in Salt Lake City on Dec. 22, riding Paul George’s 43 points and 14 rebounds. Oklahoma City was out-assisted 35-19 but won the rebounding battle 51-44. Utah must claim tonight’s road game and a home date on March 11 just to split the season series but is in much better physical shape than the banged-up Thunder, potentially getting backup point guard Dante Exum back from an ankle issue that has cost him the past 17 games. If he’s able to play, Utah, which stunningly eliminated OKC in the first round last April, will be at full strength. The Thunder will get sixth man Dennis Schroder back from paternity leave and could see newly acquired power forward Markieff Morris make his team debut if he’s able to overcome a sore neck. Jerami Grant, the team’s usual starter at the four, missed a pair of games before the break due to a lingering ankle injury. If everyone suits up, we’ll get a preview of what the Thunder are going to look like over the coming weeks.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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