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Toronto Raptors

Eight thoughts: Fred VanVleet helps Toronto Raptors overcome Andrew Wiggins' first career triple-double

Following a big win over the Washington Wizards, the Toronto Raptors took care of business against the Minnesota Timberwolves to advance to 27-14 on the season, tying them with the Boston Celtics for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

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Here are some quick thoughts from the game...

1. It's nice to have Fred VanVleet back

After missing five straight games with a hamstring injury, VanVleet returned against the Timberwolves. He started the game alongside Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, moving Serge Ibaka back to the bench.

It was the first time since Dec. 8 that Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol have started together.

Don't get used to it, though. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Star, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said pregame that he will likely rotate seven players - VanVleet, Lowry, Anunoby, Siakam, Gasol, Ibaka and Norman Powell, presumably - in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season.

Nurse added that he thinks VanVleet has proven that he's a starter. He sure looked like one in his return, particularly in the first half when he led the Raptors in scoring with 16 points, doing so on 6-for-8 shooting from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

VanVleet only had one assist at the half, but it was a beauty to Siakam in transition.

VanVleet scored 13 points in the second half, bringing his total to 29 points for the game to lead the Raptors. It's his third-highest scoring game of the season.

2. Another game, another charge drawn by Kyle Lowry

This is the 19th charge Lowry has drawn this season:

That's the second-most in the league. LA Clippers centre Montrezl Harrell is the only player ahead of him with 26 charges drawn.

3. Andrew Wiggins likes playing against the Raptors

Wiggins entered Sunday's contest with career averages of 23.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game against the Raptors. He has a higher scoring average against only one team in the league.

That team? The Cleveland Cavaliers, who selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, only to then trade him to the Timberwolves.

So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that Wiggins played well in this one. He got off to a strong start with 11 points and five assists in the first quarter alone. He then added four points, three rebounds and two assists to his stat line, giving him 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds at the half.

Wiggins only scored three points in the second half, but went on to record the first triple-double of his career with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Not only that, it's the first time in his career that Wiggins had ever dished out double figures in assists.

4. Jarrett Culver might have a thing for playing against the Raptors, too

You know what was a surprise? Seeing Culver go 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the first quarter, tying his career-high for 3s made in a game.

Culver entered this game shooting 26.0 percent from the great beyond on the season. The Raptors probably weren't expecting him to go full Ray Allen on them to start this game.

Fortunately for the Raptors, Culver regressed to the mean by going 0-for-4 from the perimeter the rest of the way. He did, however, finish the game with a team-high 26 points. With his 3-point shot not falling, he made more of an effort to attack the basket in the second half, and it paid off.

All in all, an encouraging performance by the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

5. Kyle Lowry continues his All-Star play

The Raptors trailed the Timberwolves 62-58 at the half.

Then Lowry went to work.

In the third quarter alone, Lowry scored 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field, 4-for-4 from the 3-point line and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He was responsible for more than half of Toronto's scoring in the period.

Led by Lowry, the Raptors turned a four point deficit at the half into a five point lead going into the fourth quarter. They built on that lead in the fourth quarter to come away with the 10-point win.

He continues to make a strong case for his sixth straight All-Star appearance.

6. Norman Powell is an acrobat

Powell had another strong outing with 20 points off the bench. None of his baskets were prettier than this layup in the fourth quarter:

Powell has now scored 20 or more points in four straight games, the longest such streak of his career.

7. Seven back-to-backs done, six to go

The Raptors have completed seven of their 13 sets of back-to-backs this season. After Sunday's game, they are 4-3 on the first night of a back-to-back and 4-3 on the second night of a back-to-back.

Toronto's next back-to-back comes at the end of this month - they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 31 and the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 1, both on the road.

8. What's next?

The Raptors will be back in action on Tuesday when they face off against the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors will then return to Toronto for a matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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