Kyle Lowry, Raptors Dominant in Win vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2018

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) drives past Los Angeles Clippers' Marcin Gortat (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors continue to set the pace in the NBA, winning their 22nd game Tuesday night after beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 123-99, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Kawhi Leonard missed the game while nursing a bruised right hip. Serge Ibaka helped to fill that void, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds. Kyle Lowry added 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

For the Clippers, Danilo Gallinari led the starters with 11 points, while Tobias Harris chipped in with 10.

       

Raptors Have Little Reason to Rethink Cautious Approach with Kawhi Leonard

Prior to Tuesday's game, Sportsnet's Michael Grange reported the Raptors were considering resting Leonard to allow him to deal with a minor hip injury.

That strategy appeared to be somewhat risky against a tough Clippers squad. Instead, Toronto blew the doors off Los Angeles with a 36-point first quarter and didn't look back from there. The Raptors were a buzzsaw offensively.

The Raptors' ability to persevere without Leonard—they're now 6-1 when he sits out—is a testament to both head coach Nick Nurse and the team's depth. Pascal Siakam is enjoying a breakout season that may culminate in a Most Improved Player award, while Ibaka is averaging a career-high 16.7 points.

While it would be great for the Raptors to have Leonard on the court more, Tuesday was a perfect example of why they don't need to change anything. Toronto is a well-oiled machine capable of dominating teams regardless of whether Leonard plays.

There's also the added benefit of keeping Leonard happy and healthy. Toronto figures to strengthen its chances of re-signing him—even if only slightly—by maintaining his current workload.

Closer to the playoffs, ramping up Leonard's minutes will be necessary. For the time being, don't be surprised if the Raptors continue to take a proactive approach toward his health.

       

Clippers Should Empower Shai Gilgeous-Alexander More Offensively

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played just 22 minutes Wednesday. He scored seven points and dished out two assists.

Partly to send a message to his team, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers benched most of his starters midway through the third quarter when the game was already out of reach. Gilgeous-Alexander exited with 7:40 left in the quarter and didn't return.

Playing time isn't really the issue for the rookie guard. Entering the night, he was averaging 27.5 minutes, which was fourth-highest on the team. Gilgeous-Alexander's 17.7 percent usage rate, per Basketball Reference, is a problem, however.

The Clippers have playoff aspirations in 2018-19, but that can't be an excuse to give Gilgeous-Alexander a relatively small role in the offense.

Gilgeous-Alexander has exceeded expectations in his first year. Whether or not he becomes one of the league's best players, he has the potential to be an NBA starting point guard for a long time.

And for all of Gilgeous-Alexander's faults, he's a superior option at the moment to Avery Bradley or Patrick Beverley while Lou Williams recovers from a hamstring injury. ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk reported Williams could be out for a few weeks.

More than anything, this is when the Clippers need to let Gilgeous-Alexander make the mistakes that always come with young players entering the NBA. Having him slip up now and improve is better than having it happen in another year or two when the arrival of a marquee free agent would have possibly raised the team's bar for success.

       

What's Next?

The Raptors move on to the second leg of their four-game road trip, taking on the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. The Clippers have Wednesday off before traveling to AT&T Center for a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

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