When the Toronto Raptors began Sunday's game against the Detroit Pistons with a starting lineup of Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, they got a refreshing whiff of something they hadn't picked up in over a month:
It marked the first time since February 9 and 11 that they featured the same starting lineup in back-to-back games. Over that span Toronto's 12 consecutive games without using the same lineup in back-to-back games was not only the longest such streak by any team this season, it was the longest streak of its kind in Raptors history.
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That fleeting sense of consistency was short lived as Kawhi Leonard is reportedly out against the Knicks for load management while Kyle Lowry is questionable. Should Lowry sit and either Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw or Fred VanVleet get the nod in Leonard's place among the same four from Sunday, it would mark the 20th different starting lineup that Nick Nurse has deployed this season.
While that doesn't rank among the very top league-wide, it is unusually high for a team in the thick of the playoff hunt. Of the teams to use more starting lineups than the Raptors this season, the Pelicans (28), Cavaliers (27), Knicks (25), Suns (24), Lakers (22), Timberwolves (22) and Grizzlies (20) are all either already eliminated from playoff contention or on the cusp of elimination. Of the other 15 teams currently in the playoffs, only the Miami Heat (25) have used more starting lineups than the Raptors.
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When comparing the Raptors to the other contenders in the East, what really jumps out is the disparity with the first-place Milwaukee Bucks who have only used nine the entire season. That type of lineup consistency speaks volumes and helps bolster the importance that overall cohesion has played in their surge to the top of the conference.
The Raptors have not used the same starting lineup in three straight games since January and have only done it five times the entire season. It's on brand with how Toronto got out of the gates as it used a different starting five in each of the first three games of the season.
Should the Raptors hit their 20th combination on Monday, it would be their 10th different combination in 18 games since the start of February.
And while it's true that integrating Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin into the fold certainly plays a large role in recent shake-ups, it doesn't account for everything. Injuries to VanVleet and Lowry, load management for Leonard and the suspension of Serge Ibaka have all added up to quite the melting pot for a team looking to come together in the final month until the playoffs begin.
Of course, all of this might add up to a whole lot of nothing when it counts the most. There are after all no back-to-backs in the postseason and this is the final one of the season for Toronto.
But for a team that's all-in on winning now and with so much riding on an extended postseason run, it's one factor worth keeping in mind in the sprint to the finish.