The Raptors revealed some terrible news on Monday when the team announced Kyle Lowry will undergo surgery to remove loose bodies from his right wrist on Tuesday morning. Officially, he is aiming to return for the playoffs. Lowry felt discomfort in his wrist after a win over Charlotte on Feb. 15, days before All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Despite that injury, Lowry participated in the 3-point shootout, in which he failed to get out of the first round, and played 18 minutes in the All-Star game.
Lowry woke up last Thursday after the break with some soreness in his wrist and sat out Friday's game against Boston and Sunday versus Portland. After Friday's win over the Celtics, Lowry spoke with reporters and was asked whether he regretted not sitting out All-Star weekend. "No, not at all," Lowry said. "I'm not that type of guy. I missed [tonight's] game, my wrist is sore, it is what it is. I loved the way my weekend went, and my break after. I had a great time." Asked about the possibility that it could be a significant injury, Lowry replied: "It's always a possibility."
Addressing the media on Monday, general manager Masai Ujiri disagreed with the notion that Lowry should have sat out All-Star weekend.
"I don't think there's any bad optics here," Ujiri said. "Players sometimes feel pain and sometimes they don't."
The Raptors will have to deal with all or most of their remaining 22 games without Lowry now. Here are five things to consider:
The offense will revolve around DeMar DeRozan for the remainder of the season.
In 56 games this season, Lowry has averaged 22.8 points and 6.9 assists, both career highs, and he is shooting 41.7 percent from the field. With Lowry on the floor, the Raptors had a +8.1 net rating, the highest mark of any starter on the floor. Lowry is Toronto's most indispensable player, and the key reason why the Raptors have the fourth-ranked offense in the league. He's also allowed head coach Dwane Casey to utilize his bench players alongside Lowry on the floor to great success. Per NBA.com, in 199 minutes this season, the five-man lineup of Lowry, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross (who has been traded), Patrick Patterson and Lucas Nogueira outscored opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions.
The belief was that with the addition of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to the rotation, Casey would have his deepest roster yet in Toronto to figure out several five-man lineups with Lowry at the point that would have been ideal for closing games. Now, that option is gone until likely the playoffs. On offense, this means DeMar DeRozan -- who is averaging a career-high 27.7 points -- will be the focal point for the foreseeable future. DeRozan has responded in three games, all victories, without Lowry since the All-Star break. He scored a career-high 43 points on Friday against Boston, and followed it up with 33 points on Sunday against Portland and 37 on Monday against New York. DeRozan is averaging 35.6 minutes per game this season. That number and his offensive load will increase now that Lowry is out.
What does it mean for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker?
Ibaka was acquired near the trade deadline to fill a defensive void. But with Lowry's absence, he'll be expected to provide an additional boost on offense as well. Ibaka is shooting 48.8 percent from the field and making 35.7 percent of his threes in his three games with Toronto so far. Along with Jonas Valanciunas, expect the Raptors to make their bigs more of a focal point on offense.
On the defensive end, the Raptors have utilized closing lineups including Ibaka, Tucker and DeMarre Carroll so far to great success. The Raptors are trying to establish a defensive identity heading into the playoffs, and they have the personnel to do so now even in Lowry's absence. With Lowry's injury, it's even more pertinent now for Casey to figure out his defensive rotations heading into the playoffs. Ibaka and Tucker figure to be a huge part of that process.
The Raptors will go with a point guard by committee approach.
Ujiri said on Tuesday the team isn't planning on looking outside the organization for free agents or buyout candidates to bolster its point guard depth. Instead, with Lowry out, Toronto will start Joseph and have Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet serve as backups. Joseph was briefly supplanted by VanVleet in the team's rotation in February but has put together two encouraging performances in Lowry's absence so far. Wright has scored in double digits in two of his five games since recovering from shoulder surgery. VanVleet did not appear in seven games before playing eight minutes on Monday. There's not a point guard of Lowry's caliber in this group, but until its starting point guard returns, Toronto will lean on these three to function as a primary playmaker on the floor.
How will this impact playoff seeding in the East?
After beating the Knicks on Monday night, the Raptors are a half game ahead of the Wizards for the third seed in the East, two games behind Boston for the No. 2 seed. The importance of avoiding the fourth seed? It's likely the winner of a 4-5 matchup in the first round will face LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Round 2. The Raptors have back-to-back games against the Wizards this week and will be on a five-game road trip in March. After that, Toronto doesn't have any remaining games against the Celtics or Wizards, but it closes its schedule with a manageable stretch in which it plays Philadelphia, Indiana, Detroit, Miami, New York and Cleveland (who might be resting its starters on the final night of the regular season). Provided they don't lose ground against Boston and Washington, in the most optimistic scenario, Lowry returns in early April and the Raptors make a push for a higher seed to close the regular season.
How will the Raptors fare in a first-round matchup without Lowry?
As the No. 2 seed, the Raptors barely escaped the first round last season, needing the full seven games to beat the Pacers. They did so despite Lowry shooting just 31.6 percent from the field and making 7 of 43 3-pointers. Depending on Lowry's timetable for return and whether his wrist is still bothering him at the start of the playoffs, even with home-court advantage, Toronto might find itself in a tougher battle to get out of the first round without Lowry at full strength. For a team with aspirations of returning to the Eastern Conference Finals, and especially after its trade deadline moves, Lowry's injury has now thrown the rest of Toronto's season into uncertainty.