Stage set for OG Anunoby vs. Scottie Barnes showdown in the Big Apple

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OG playing at MSG seemed like a match made in hoops heaven the moment the Raptors traded one of the NBA’s most versatile defenders and a decent floor spacer to a Knicks team that covets defensive toughness.

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The Raptors will get their first look at former teammate OG Anunoby from across the floor on Saturday night at the world’s most famous arena . With them, one-time Knicks Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett return to the Big Apple for their homecoming.

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While the Raptors are in complete tear-down mode with the stated goal of surrounding Scottie Barnes with viable options, the Knicks are a legitimate playoff team.

As currently constituted, the gang from Gotham is not equipped to compete for an NBA championship but they are, for what it’s worth, much further along when compared to the Raptors.

Anunoby was the best player involved in the blockbuster deal between the two division rivals. Going into Saturday’s tip, the Knicks won the deal because the team is winning — which should always be the final measuring stick.

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What Quickley and Barrett will eventually grow into in Toronto remains up in the air. Each has had moments: Quickley’s buoyancy and shot-making displayed in spades while Barrett’s offence, albeit inconsistent, suggest better times await.

Numbers aside, Anunoby figured to have the biggest impact with the Knicks and he has not disappointed.

In his debut against the T’Wolves, Anunoby showed his versatility by being matched up against a big in Karl-Anthony Towns and athletic wing Anthony Edwards.

Anunoby then scored 19 points in New York’s win over visiting Washington on Thursday night.

He doesn’t have to score on a team featuring a primary ball handler in Jalen Brunson, who had 41 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in leading the Knicks to their 113-109 victory over the Wizards.

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As much as Julius Randle can dominate the ball in the frontcourt, he can force teams to send an extra defender, which frees up teammates such as Anunoby to spot up.

During their trip to the Big Apple earlier in the week, Houston Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet was asked by the New York Post to break down Anunoby’s value to the Knicks.

“I thought it was absolutely perfect, a great trade for them,” began the ex-Raptor when discussing his former Toronto teammate. “OG can space the floor and he’s an elite defender. And you probably won’t even see his true value until the playoffs with all the different matchups. He can pretty much guard anybody.

“Thibs (Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau) is gonna love him, obviously. But, I think more than that, with all those Villanova guys (Brunson, Jason Hart and Donte DiVincenzo) you got over here, he fits right into that mold, a similar type of personality and player.

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“I think he’s a great fit for their team and you could see it right away the way he plugged right in and was able to have success. Definitely, I think New York is gonna love him.”

Anunoby has been a smash hit on Broadway and the Knicks are 8-2 since his arrival.

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As for the Raptors, it was clear when the season began under a rookie head coach in Darko Rajakovic that winning was not the primary objective. It was made abundantly clear following the deal that sent Anunoby to New York and cemented when Pascal Siakam was dealt to Indy.

When the Raptors do post a win, like they did against visiting Miami on the same day Siakam was shipped out of town, it’s a bonus.

More trades will be made in the ensuing weeks and more losses will follow.

Anunoby will likely see plenty of Barnes on Saturday night. Another interesting matchup will pit Quickley and Brunson.

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The fourth quarter against Miami in which Barnes excelled is the kind of play the Raptors will require moving forward. It remains to be seen, however, if that kind of play can be sustained.

What the Raptors can’t afford to see is Barnes not attempting a single free throw like he did in a loss to Boston, or turning the ball over down the stretch like he did in a loss to Chicago.

Barnes now enters the basketball arena known as the mecca for the first time as the undisputed face of the Raptors franchise.

There’s no bigger stage than New York, no bigger opportunity for Barnes to showcase his skills than what will amount to an OG vs. Scottie B showdown.

The Knicks are the superior team and even a single-digit loss by the Raptors will be viewed in a much different and less critical way. Getting blown out is a different story.

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Barnes must be aggressive, but at the same time he must not be ball-dominant.

Toronto lacks size following Jakob Poeltl’s ankle injury and the Siakam deal. It also remains winless against divisional foes in 10 games this season.

The Raptors are far from hapless, but becoming relevant again will not happen overnight.

Plenty will be at stake Saturday night for Barnes, as it will for Quickley and Barrett.

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Outside of the potential moves the Raptors will engineer leading up to the NBA’s Feb. 8 trade deadline, there won’t be many calendar-circle moments on the schedule.

In terms of nostalgia, VanVleet’s return on Feb. 9 and Siakam’s return on Feb. 14 will be noteworthy — but Saturday is the exception.

For pure basketball theatre, nothing beats this Saturday night tip in New York given all the underlying themes.

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