Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 3

Frosty won | Starters benched in Bucks brickfest | Raptors fatigue hasn't stopped them from winning | Defense is the key to winning the East | DeRozan a good buddy; he listens

Toronto Raptors play ‘stinker’ against Milwaukee Bucks just as the schedule is set to get tougher | National Post

Pardon the world for its skepticism, though. As the Raptors relied on Lou Williams to shake his man, bounce to the left and launch three-pointers to try to get them in the game, it was the antithesis of the way the league has been going. As the team failed to properly exploit Jonas Valanciunas’s offensive dominance against the long but size-starved (and injury-ravaged) Bucks in the first three quarters, it was frustrating. And as they continued to live on the perimeter during their comeback attempt, its doomed nature felt inevitable. So it was, as they lost 82-75 in an ugly contest. (The fourth quarter, which the Raptors “won” 15-9, was especially gruesome.) Despite the Raptors’ overwhelming offensive success this year, we have seen this type of futility before. Just a few weeks back, the Raptors did not reach 100 points in five consecutive games, including wretched offensive performances against New Orleans, Milwaukee, Memphis and Philadelphia in mid-January. Yet, on a back-to-back on the weekend, they looked like their former selves.

Casey sends loud message by benching starters | Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors woke up briefly in the second quarter, where DeRozan got ten of his team-high 16 points, but came out of halftime as sluggish as the first. And after watching Milwaukee shoot 55 percent from the field and 57 percent from downtown in the third quarter, Casey had seen enough. He yanked DeRozan, Valanciunas, and Johnson from the game before the period was over, and the three starters never returned, playing an exact combined total of zero fourth quarter minutes. Those three may have been the Raptors three best players over the weekend, but it wasn’t enough for Casey, who gave his second unit some burn in the second half and, given the context, liked what he saw. “The second unit came in and got 13 straight stops,” Casey said in his post-game press conference, in reference to a 15-0 run from the Raptors. “The first unit just didn’t have the energy, or whatever you want to call it, to get us going.”

Undermanned Bucks snap Raptors winning streak | Toronto Sun

Making this one even a little more tough to swallow was the fact the Bucks arrived with just nine healthy players and just before the game, leading scorer Brandon Knight was scratched with a sore quad. Then midway through the second quarter the nine healthy Bucks went down to eight as O.J. Mayo was assessed a technical and then got another for saying a little too much about the first. The automatic ejection left the Bucks with just eight. They didn’t even blink. “I think by the time we get to the airport those guys who played will be out of gas,” Bucks’ head coach Jason Kidd said. “Those guys gave their heart, they did everything right tonight to put themselves into position to win the game and they found a way.”

Raptors’ offence goes AWOL in loss to Bucks | Toronto Star

Finishing the fourth quarter with a group of Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough, the Raptors ran out of gas and time, paying for three quarters of ineffective offence in an 82-75 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The odd lineup, made necessary by off-nights from usual scoring stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, scrambled the game sufficiently that the Raptors made up a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to tie with about two minutes left. But a couple of huge three-pointers — one by Jared Dudley and a dagger from Jerryd Bayless with less than 30 seconds to go — salvaged the night for the Bucks, who ended Toronto’s winning streak at six games.

Game Rap: Raptors 75 Bucks 82 | Toronto Raptors

After a flat start had put them down by as many as 18 points, the Raptors managed to rally and tie the Bucks at 75 with a 15-0 run and 3:33 to play. But the Bucks responded with a 7-0 run of their own, capped by former Raptor Jerryd Bayless drilling a jumper with 29.9 seconds remaining to ice it. A close finish, but the overall result was a Toronto team that was unable to match the energy of its very undermanned, but tenacious opponent.

Lowry channels Marshawn Lynch after bad loss to Bucks | TSN

This loss was bad, but not particularly troubling. The Raptors had just won six games in row, looking like their old selves after hitting a mid-season roadblock earlier last month. They were coming off two overtime wins on back-to-back nights and a stretch of four contests in five days. This was just one night, one game of 82. There’s no reason for panic, but it shouldn’t be on DeRozan to stand up and explain that. Not just DeRozan, anyway. Lowry rarely seems ecstatic to speak with the media, few professional athletes are – although some may be more willing to fake it – but it’s part of the gig, especially for the team’s highest paid player. It’s part of being accountable, a quality Lowry and his teammates have consistently demonstrated since they turned the corner last year, a quality that Lowry did not display on Monday.

Bucks 82, Raptors 75 – Short-handed Bucks use stout defense to win in Toronto | Journal Sentinel

The Bucks (26-22), despite being so short-handed and using recently signed point guard Jorge Gutierrez in the starting lineup, played the hustling defense that has become their trademark under coach Jason Kidd. “It’s hard for the opposing team to execute because we’re so long,” said Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes.

Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo lead short-handed Bucks past Raptors, 82-75 | Brew Hoop

It was a prototypical “gritty” win for Milwaukee. The Bucks had been battered on the glass in each of their previous two games against Toronto, and injuries to Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia meant the Bucks had limited size to counter Toronto’s imposing frontcourt. The rebounding trend seemed likely to continue after the first half, but Milwaukee clamped down after the break and made just enough plays to come away with the victory. Best of all, many of those plays were made by two young contributors in Middleton and Antetokounmpo. Middleton wasn’t flashy, just brutally efficient, hitting nearly everything he threw toward the rim in the first half. It was especially impressive given the lack of addition weapons the Bucks had to free him for open shots. Middleton effectively used his size against smaller defenders on occasion — the Bucks specifically targeted Lou Williams with post-ups on more than a few possessions.

Raptors Make Things Interesting, Still Lose to Bucks 82-75 | Raptors HQ

So, for a team that struggles on offense when its perimeter shot is not falling, it bears asking the question: why not get Jonas, who played only seven minutes on the second half to finish with 12 points (6-for-9 shooting) and 13 rebounds, more touches? Against these Bucks, admittedly a long-limbed and quick team, JV appeared to be having his way. They couldn’t keep him off the glass or out of deep post position. One wonders when, if ever, the Raptors’ coaching staff will trust Jonas out there in close games. Are the constant fourth quarter benchings starting to have an affect on Valanciunas’ development? Could he have helped tonight against Milwaukee? When asked after the game, Casey was quick to deflect, so quick in fact, the National Post’s Eric Koreen could barely finish his question. Casey cut in. “Jonas rebounded well, did a good job in the paint in that situation,” Casey confirmed. “And again, it’s just, you know, we just needed to – matter of fact Pat played the five quite a bit down the stretch, but Jonas did a good job.” Then the post-game press conference ended. We still don’t have any answers.

The Bucks May Never Lose Again: Milwaukee 82 – Toronto 75 | Bucksketball

Despite failing to score in the fourth quarter, Middleton had probably his best game of the season. His 25 points, 12 of which came in the third quarter, were a season-high, and he virtually carried the Bucks’ offense through the first three periods. His hands were active defensively, and he also grabbed nine rebounds, second only to Giannis’ 12. After shooting 52% from three last month, Middleton is off to a 3-for-4 start from deep in February.

Toronto Raptors embarrassed by hurting Milwaukee Bucks | Raptors Cage

The grade F- doesn’t even exist, but the Raptor’s offence was so terrible we decided to invent it. The team shot an almost inconceivable 31% from the floor. The team also shot 25% from beyond the arc, yet felt the need to continue to launch, launch, and launch again. This mentality was what got them into the hole into the 3rd quarter that ultimately they could not dig themselves out of. Normally, when the team gets stuck in an offensive lull, it’s All Star Kyle Lowry who is able to put the team on his back. Tonight however, Lowry turned in one of his worst performances as a Raptors going 1-7 for only 2 points.

Toronto Raptors: A Tough February Ahead | Raptors Rapture

After tonight’s unfortunate (and downright ugly) loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raps are 0-1 in February. They will play 10 more times this month, against what looks to be a whole collection of scary opponents. After having had such an easy schedule early in the season, the Raps will have to pay for it now. They will be playing the Los Angeles Clippers (Feb. 6), San Antonio Spurs (Feb. 8), Washington Wizards (Feb. 11), Atlanta Hawks (Feb. 20), Houston Rockets (Feb. 21) and the Golden State Warriors (Feb. 27), to name a few. If you are thinking that sounds like a tough haul, you’re right. The Raptors will have to dig far deeper than they were able to during their shaky January. Had they not played so mediocrely, it would be easy to say that something like a 6-5 record during February would be a good goal for the Raps. Ordinarily, simply winning more than you lose against some of the teams listed above would be considered a worthwhile accomplishment. Instead, the Raptors can’t afford anything but a 8-3 record or better this month, if they expect to gain some ground on the Hawks. In fact, they will need to win around eight games if they even want to keep ahold of a second or third seed in the playoff race. The Wizards are right on their tail (31-18), and the Chicago Bulls (30-19) and Cleveland Cavaliers (30-20) aren’t too far behind them.

Architect behind surprising Hawks a mystery man today | NBA.com

Me: Most guys turn their phone off during that time. Who could still reach you? KL: My wife. My guy that I work with in the summertime. And DeMar. I talked to DeMar almost every single day. Him and Rudy Gay are my guys. I was able to bounce things off of them. Honestly, that’s one of the things that helped me come back to Toronto. ‘Cause when I called DeMar, he would just listen. And I told him about every situation that was possible. And he didn’t say ‘nah, bro, you should just do this.’ He would just listen. And it makes life a lot easier when you know you’ve got somebody who just literally, truly is out there just for you, just wants you to be happy.

Toronto Raptors: Defense Stopping Raps From Winning East | Hoops Habit

The Raptors’ calling card on defense earlier in the season was creating turnovers. Opponents averaged 18.2 turnovers per game against the Raptors in the first 14 games, but haven’t had much luck since, with only 13.5 turnovers from the opponent. Since DeRozan’s return, that number jumped to 15.2 – an improvement, but still a far cry from one of the league’s best turnover rates. In four of their last five games, the Raps have allowed the opponent to break the 100-point mark. Two of those games were against the Brooklyn Nets and the Detroit Pistons, whose offenses are in the bottom ten of the league. That is simply unacceptable for a team with postseason expectations. The Raptors have risen as a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference this season. With the preseason favorites (Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls) still sorting out their chemistry issues, there’s a very real chance the Raptors could make it all the way to the Finals. But doing so would require them to fix their broken-down defense.

How Tough Are The Toronto Raptors? | Pro Bball Report

The bane of every NBA team is just how tough the schedule is.  Back-to-back games and sets of four games in five nights test the best and often decimate the worst.  So just how tough have the Toronto Raptors been when tested by the schedule?  So far, pretty tough. The Raptors have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games.  In the withering four games in five nights sets, Toronto has seven wins in eight games including the back-to-back overtime wins over the Nets and Wizards on the road last weekend.

Toronto Raptors Need to Avoid February First Quarter Blahs | RantSports

After a rematch against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, the Raptors then face the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards at home and then have road games games against the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks before returning home to face the Golden State Warriors. Maybe they will come ready to play by the time they face the lowly New York Knicks to close out the month. Reality check, We The North, if the Raptors continue to come out on the floor in the opening minutes and play anemic defense and can’t hit easy open shots, there will be no happy ending to the month of February and beyond. Sure, you could argue the Raptors are human and have a right to a bad day at the office just like everyone else. Perhaps their slow start on Monday could be explained by the simple fact that they had just finished a stretch of four games in five nights including hard-fought overtime road wins over the Wizards and Nets. Maybe it was the Super Bowl hangover? Or they could also simply blame the failure to ignite early on the frigid weather, the February Blahs and the 12 inches of snow Old Man Winter just dumped on the city of Toronto for Groundhog Day.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette

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