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Fred VanVleet expected to return vs. Pistons

Raptors, Fred VanVleet

Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet will return to the lineup against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday after missing 12 games due to a thumb injury:

VanVleet, who has been sidelined since mid-February, has been a vital rotation player for the Raptors this season, making 22 games and spelling starting point guard Kyle Lowry minutes as he battles through an injury-plagued season.

The former Wichita State product saw a big role increase last season, playing in 76 games and shooting better than 40 percent from three-point land. He has continued to build on his sophomore campaign, upping his scoring to 10.5 points while also averaging 4.6 assists per game.

Toronto has maintained their spot towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings despite the injuries to Lowry and frequent “load management” designations to superstar small forward Kawhi Leonard.

With Lowry ailing, VanVleet’s return comes at a crucial time for a team looking to make one final playoff push. The Raptors remain within striking distance of the top seed in the Eastern Conference, although they are still three games behind the Milwaukee Bucks.

Toronto ranks eighth in scoring and seventh in defensive rating, establishing themselves as one of the best all-around teams in the league thanks in part to the addition of Leonard and a breakout season from Pascal Siakam.

One disappointment for the Raptors has been the trouble head coach Nick Nurse has had integrating deadline acquisition Marc Gasol into his rotations. Gasol is averaging solid per-36 numbers of 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, but he has played just over 23 minutes per game for Toronto partially because of his deficiencies on the defensive end.