The Raptors announced on Thursday that Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder) are out indefinitely after suffering injuries in Wednesday's win over the Detroit Pistons.
All three players will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks which means the Toronto Raptors will be significantly short-handed for the foreseeable future.
What does that mean for the defending champs moving forward as we approach Christmas and the New Year?
Pressure on Kyle Lowry
The Raptors collectively stepped up when Lowry missed 11 games earlier this season and now it's his time to return the favour.
Although Fred VanVleet could return to the lineup on Friday after missing the last five games with a knee injury, the onus will be on Lowry to pick up the slack. An All-Star each of the last five seasons, the 33-year-old has a chance to make it six straight should he deliver the goods and carry the Raptors over the coming weeks.
For that to happen, he needs a return to playing at the high level he was to start the season when he averaged 24.0 points and 6.7 assists per game over the first seven games of the season. Although he's coming off back-to-back games with 20 points and 10 assists, he has not been the same player since returning from injury as he's shooting just 31.8 percent from the floor to the tune of 16.4 points per game. Even if you throw out the 2-18 clunker in his first game back, Lowry is still only shooting 36.0 percent over his last seven games.
That's not going to cut it with Siakam now out as the Raptors will likely lean on Lowry to serve as the team's number one scoring option and there's some evidence to suggest that he's up to the task. In 157 minutes this season in which he's played without Siakam on the floor, Lowry has averaged 24.8 points and 9.9 assists per 36 minutes.
This is a big moment for the five-time All-Star.
Bad timing for Powell
One of the reasons that so much pressure will now be placed on Lowry is the degree to which Powell had stepped up during the absence of VanVleet. Prior to Wednesday when he scored nine points in 33 minutes prior to sustaining that shoulder injury, Powell had averaged 22.5 points per game over his previous four contests, functioning as Toronto's second-leading scorer behind only Siakam.
It was by far the best stretch of his career as he had never before posted even back-to-back 20-point games let alone three straight which he did against the Clippers, Nets and Cavaliers.
Powell was playing at such a high level that head coach Nick Nurse even floated the idea of keeping him in the starting lineup following the return of VanVleet. That's no small feat given that the Finals folk hero was putting together an All-Star case of his own prior to going down with the latest minor injury.
Whenever he returns, the question of whether or not Powell can rediscover his Midas touch will be worth monitoring.
Who else steps up?
There are still games to be played and minutes to be distributed.
So who steps up?
Beyond Lowry and VanVleet, expect a significant push from Serge Ibaka who was outstanding in Wednesday's win over the Pistons, finishing with 25 points and 13 rebounds. While that type of production is certainly not to be expected on a nightly basis, it's indicative of the ceiling that he has on a game-by-game basis. There will be times in the coming weeks when Ibaka will absolutely be the fulcrum on both ends of the floor. Though he has just two 20-point games so far this season, expect more big games in the coming weeks.
Point towards heavier incoming doses of Lowry, VanVleet and Ibaka is the obvious expectation, but it's the margins where Toronto will need the most help in filling the gaps.
Depth has been a Raptors' calling card for years dating back beyond even last year's title run and that depth will need to bear fruit if the Raptors are going to navigate the perilous road ahead.
If there was ever a time for OG Anunoby to flash his full potential on the offensive end, it's now. The third-year wing answered the bell with 19 points against Detroit and has sporadically stepped up at times throughout the season. Inconsistency has been a theme throughout Anunoby's career and now more than ever, Toronto needs more steady play from the 22-year-old.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played arguably the best ball of his career for stretches during Lowry's absence which included a pair of double-doubles in tough wins over the Blazers and 76ers. There's a chance he'll see increased minutes both in the Powell spot and as potentially a big in small-ball lineups due to the gaping hole left by Siakam and Gasol.
With that hole in the frontcourt, there's yet another chance for Chris Boucher to step up. The Montreal native was a revelation in the back-to-back games in Los Angeles in November, averaging 14.0 points and 2.5 blocks per game while filling in for Ibaka. With Ibaka now shifted into the starting lineup, it's up to Boucher to bring the inside finishing and shot-blocking off the bench.
Just ask Montrezl Harrell if Boucher has what it takes to offer up some staunch rim protection...
Impact on trade deadline
The Raptors were identified early on - essentially since the day that Kawhi Leonard announced his decision to leave for the Clippers - as a team that could be a major player at the trade deadline.
While the early success put a damper on some of the speculations that Masai Ujiri would position the Raptors as a seller, those rumours could rekindle if the losses of Siakam, Gasol and Powell prove to difficult to overcome or end up lingering longer than expected.
It's impossible to ignore the fact that Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet add up to nearly $60 million in expiring contracts. Even though Kyle Lowry signed a one-year extension, he's another movable asset with significant value and you could make the case that since he's no longer an expiring contract, actually becomes even more likely to be moved as any team acquiring him doesn't risk losing him as a 2020 rental.
If the upcoming stretch ultimately determines whether the Raptors are buyers or sellers, we may look back at Wednesday's injury bug as the moment the tide turned on Toronto's season.
Winners of four of five following a three-game skid, the Raptors were starting to find a groove ahead of a tricky stretch that begins Friday against the Washington Wizards. Even though the Wizards are just 8-18, they have one of the NBA's best offences which could be tough to keep up with down Siakam and Powell.
Following that game is a difficult four-game stretch at home against Dallas, at Indiana and a home-and-home against Boston which includes the Christmas game in Toronto. On the back end of those games is a dangerous game against Oklahoma City which is hovering around .500 and currently in the seventh spot in the Western Conference.
The Raptors have struggled to consistently show up against good teams even when at full strength. Toronto is 15-0 this season against teams with losing records but just 4-8 against teams currently .500 or better.
Will injury cost Siakam an All-Star starting spot?
Pascal Siakam will still make the All-Star team.
He's a lock to make it despite the injury and nothing that happens over the coming weeks will change that.
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What is in doubt however could be his chances to start. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid will almost certainly make up the other two frontcourt spots with Siakam in firm control of the third spot prior to his injury.
If he does miss time, Siakam could open the door for several others making a push.
Some forwards nipping on Siakam's heels include Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis, Jayson Tatum, Domantas Sabonis, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons (eligible at both G and F).
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.