8 Things To Watch For In The Kawhi Leonard Rematch

1. Will DeMar DeRozan Revert To His All-Star Self?

To put it bluntly, DeRozan has been terrible for quite a while now. The last time he had an all-around quality game — one in which he scored well, made plays for teammates and was efficient in his execution — was six and a half weeks ago on January 7th in Detroit.

Since that win over the Pistons (which was four days after the first matchup against the Toronto Raptors), DeRozan has struggled to put together the complete package — the same package he was delivering on a dependable basis to begin the season.

Injuries are one possible excuse; DeRozan missed time due to various “bumps and bruises,” as Pop put it. Fatigue could be another excuse, as he began the season playing a ton of minutes while carrying a big load (and playing more defense than he’s ever played, which would in theory exacerbate the fatigue). A third excuse could be mental exhaustion. DeRozan play happened to fall off a cliff shortly after the first Raptors game … and that may not be a coincidence.

Whatever the reason(s), let’s hope the All-Star break was the cure for what ailed DeRozan.

2. How Motivated Will Kawhi Leonard Be In The Rematch?

Leonard has to really, really want this win, right? The Spurs handed their former franchise player a thorough thrashing in the first matchup — and the home fans weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure with the way he forced himself out of town. That has to still be fresh in his mind.

Leonard’s career-high is 45 points (set earlier this season with the Raptors) and that could fall if he comes out looking to prove a point. Spurs fans are well aware of how talented he is offensively but I don’t think anyone has ever seen what a mad Leonard is capable of in a regular season game.

On top of his points, a motivated Leonard could bring back his lockdown defense for the night. Advanced stats (and the eye-test) say he’s no longer a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The truth is, these days Leonard doesn’t turn up his defensive intensity until fourth quarters. Considering the amount of offensive burden he shoulders on a nightly basis, it makes sense. But if he wants to get revenge, I don’t doubt Leonard could unleash a vintage defensive performance.

All that said, maybe Leonard won’t come out of the gates super motivated. He’s always been an even-keeled player and this could just be another game for him. Leonard could be more focused on his health, as he battled a knee issue right before the All-Star break. Besides, the main storyline of this game is DeRozan’s return to Toronto.

3. How Will DeMar DeRozan Attack This Game?

In his first game against the Raptors, DeRozan posted the first triple-double of his career. It was obvious early on in that contest that DeRozan wasn’t going to force the issue. While he was very much involved, he was playing a smart, well-rounded style of basketball.

He could do that again. Or … DeRozan could try to score 50.

For the record, DeRozan’s career-high is 52 points.

4. Will Derrick White Return To Action?

After missing the first five games of the 2019 Rodeo Road Trip, White is officially listed as Probable by the Spurs. That is obviously great news for San Antonio.

During White’s 20 days out of action, the Spurs have found it impossible to replace what he brings to the court. Not only is he the team’s best perimeter defender, he’s the only true point guard on the roster. His court vision, passing, ability to get the team into their plays and efficient scoring have all been very much missed.

For the Spurs to make a strong push for the playoffs, having White return ASAP and be near 100% is of paramount importance.

Any chance of the Spurs beating the Raptors also requires White. Let’s not forget that it was White who defended Leonard in the first meeting.

5. Just How Deadly Will Danny Green Be In His New Home?

Green did his former team a solid by going 0-for-7 in his return to San Antonio, a performance which included six three-point attempts. Unfortunately for the Spurs, a repeat is doubtful.

As has always been the case, Green shoots better at home. As a Raptor, Green is shooting 44% on threes at home — nearly four percentage points higher than his road three-point percentage. For his career, he’s a 41.6% three-point shooter at home and a 37.9% three-point shooter on the road.

For San Antonio’s sake, let’s hope Green doesn’t get too, too hot. Earlier this season, he had a game in which he hit eight three-pointers in only 23 minutes of play. Avoid doing something like that, Danny, will you?

6. How Will Pop Dole Out The Backup Center Minutes?

This also happens to be Jakob Poeltl’s return to Toronto; I’m sure at least a few Raptors fans will remember who he is and give him a decent slice of fanfare.

But what will be more interesting is how Pop handles the backup center role. Since Pau Gasol’s return from injury, things have gotten unpredictable. Will Pop go with Poeltl, go with Gasol or a combination of the two?

Personally, I’m hoping he just goes with Poeltl. He’s more mobile and, more importantly, he’s part of the future.

7. What Kind Of Reception Will DeMar DeRozan Receive?

Considering DeRozan was the first All-Star caliber player who ever wanted to stay in Toronto, you have to imagine Raptors fans will give him a thunderous applause. He may even get the consistently warm reception that Spurs fans gave Tony Parker during his return.

But the Raptors and their fans are also in the business of trying to convince Leonard to stay. With championship aspirations aswirl, maybe Raptors fans make it a point to cheer louder for Leonard. And maybe the Toronto organization tries to downplay the reception and keep the focus on getting a win.

Two losses against the Spurs isn’t a good way to convince Leonard to stay in the frozen north.

8. Can The Spurs Keep It Close?

Winning would be great, sure. But the realistic goal heading into this game is for the Spurs to at least keep it a close affair. San Antonio hasn’t played well thus far on the Rodeo Road Trip, to put it politely. Toronto, on the other hand, hasn’t lost at home since November 14th to any teams other than the Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets.

Keep it close and maybe DeRozan can orchestrate storybook heroics in the fourth quarter.

LJ Ellis