Fifty wins and we were still pissing our pants at the thought of facing the Bulls who now need to make up 2.5 games over Indiana and Detroit to catch us. When that grim prospect faded from view, we worried about facing Paul George without DeMarre Carroll around to guard him, and the Detroit Pistons (winners of 6 out of 7) are taking care of that, which means we could be heading into a playoff matchup against a team we want to face. Not that that’s worked out for us in the past, but at least our present wishes are being met. BTW, speaking of the Pistons, OKC rested Durant against them while Lowry played 40 minutes last night, so there’s that to ponder.
How did Lowry play 40 minutes last night?
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 31, 2016
Between Chicago, Indiana, and Detroit, a series against the Pistons is probably the easiest one to matchup for Dwane Casey, who wouldn’t have to worry about defending an All-NBA caliber wing. They also have a traditional big in Andre Drummond who matches up in a relatively straightforward way with Jonas Valanciunas, and we have better wings than them (slight disrespect to Reggie Jackson). The Raptors would also have more playoff experience than them, which as history painfully reminds us, is important. Despite the rightful moaning and groaning about the Bulls the last couple weeks, we might be getting the playoff matchup we want in the Pistons. Older Raptors fans might recall the 2002 Raptors/Pistons series which ended in tears with Chris Childs forgetting the score:
What hurt in that game even more was the Raptors falling asleep on an inbounds pass with 5 on the shot-clock, and Corliss Williamson scoring an easy layup to make it 83-79 with 26 seconds left. That killed the game more than Childs’ blunder. Also important to note is that Williamson used to play for the Raptors and was traded the season before to the Pistons, which added salt to the wounds. Since then I’ve hated the Pistons and a series against them would be very enjoyable/winnable. There’s also the James Johnson/Andre Drummond flagrant history which could make things exciting, kind of like this:
Hey, look at me getting ahead of myself here and not talk about DeMarre Carroll. We’re in this position with him entirely because the Raptors were not cautious early in the season, and despite everyone with a sane membrane calling for vigilance, the Raptors overplayed him in meaningless games, and crocked him for the season. Water under the bridge and I’ll accept that as a franchise/coaching staff, we haven’t yet convinced ourselves that rest is an important factor when it comes to healing injuries and fatigue. Unfortunately, my money’s on this happening:
Since it would look really bad for the marquee FA signing to miss out on everything, Carroll’s going to play the last few games of the season in a desperate attempt to get in shape for the post-season while not being 100%, and crap his pants in the playoffs because he’s not fully fit. He’s a guy that relies on energy, hustle and movement more than pure skill, and any injury or lack of fitness affects those considerably. The risk here is that he’ll aggravate whatever he keeps aggravating, and suddenly we go from season threatening to career threatening injuries. I realize that’s a dark and possibly exaggerated scenario, but if I had told you that he might miss the entire season because of over-compensating in a handful of games in early November, you’d have called that an exaggeration as well.
I say we shut him down completely, not have the team think about whether DeMarre’s playing, whether he’s 100%, whether they can totally rely on him, etc. We got to 50 wins without him, and have Norman Powell playing well, have Ross contributing, and James Johnson is, at the very least, useful. A half-ass Carroll who hasn’t played a competitive game in months is very unlikely to produce the impact that people are associating with his name. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, and you’ll have to double-check whether that metaphor applies here.
There’s also #elbowgate or whatever it’s being called now with Kyle Lowry, and there are some cold, hard facts that we need to accept. The first is that he was overplayed. The second is that he was overplayed when he was injured. The third is that we continue to overplay him. The fourth is that Dwane Casey doesn’t care if we overplay him. Our bench unit is dependent on Lowry playing alongside four other subs, our starting unit relies on his scoring, spacing, and explosiveness, which means that when we take him out of the lineup, we’re like a three-legged horse that’s been shot in the chest: it’s not going to end well.
Hey, that’s Dwane Casey’s system and it’s too late to change it, and it got us to 50 wins. Now, if I had given you 45 wins, a fourth seed matchup against the Celtics, and a Kyle Lowry that’s not top two in minutes played, but averaging somewhere around 32 minutes a game, would you have taken it? I sure would’ve. I don’t get playing him when he was injured in January/February but I accept it because without him we simply don’t win games and you’ll recall the East being extremely tight around that time. What doesn’t register with me is that over the last two weeks, and from now till the end of the season, we keep running him into the ground when a win or a loss makes zero difference in the standings.
Bah, enough Lowry talk. I’d like to talk about Norman Powell, because I’m at the point where I’m seriously considering him as a key rotation player in the post-season. The guy ticks off all the boxes for me, notably ball-handling, scoring, defense, and confidence. He can guard 1-3 and I would feel more comfortable if he’s checking any one of Reggie Jackson, KCP, Monta Ellis or George Hill, than if Terrence Ross was. While Ross has improved his off-the-ball defending, mostly how he plays the passing lanes and anticipating when to double, Powell is a much better on-ball defender who has the strength to seal off guys from entering the paint. He’s less of an offensive liability than James Johnson (and arguably even DeMarre Carroll when he’s shooting the way he was before getting injured), which begs the question what are you really giving up by playing Powell? As I said on the podcast, he’s not in direct competition with Ross for minutes, but there’s a place for him in the rotation in the post-season.
Norman Powell ends Dennis Schroeder. pic.twitter.com/pli4SsW6tZ
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) March 31, 2016
There’s obviously a lot of love being shown to DeRozan and Lowry for their All-Star years, to Bismack Biyombo and Norman Powell for the unexpected production levels, and even for Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson for finding themselves after slow starts. After Lowry and DeRozan, though, the most consistent Raptor has been Jonas Valanciunas, who has had a career-best in points, rebounds, assists, turnover rate, all while playing less minutes than last season. Unfortunately for Valanciunas, when he’s bad he looks horrible and everyone starts chirping about how he’s a relic of the past and that unless he’s stepping back to shoot threes, he doesn’t fit into the modern NBA. Whoever thinks that is being lazy in their assessment because a player like him would be a major factor against five of the other seven playoff teams (Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Pacers, and Pistons) and depending on how the Cavs and Celtics shape up, would be valuable there as well.
Whether it’s Valanciunas or Biyombo playing the five, the Raptors have a well-rounded rotation with the key constraint being Lowry, who remains the linchpin that drives the starting unit and binds the bench one. Without him, the Raptors quickly run out of ideas and can’t rescue possessions consistently. DeRozan’s tendency to put it all on his shoulders when the team is struggling to score is a problem that very quickly snowballs into disaster. Him being the starter that the bench unit plays with doesn’t work because unlike Lowry, DeRozan looks for his shot first and takes time to set it up, meaning that there’s less touches for the bench guys, which turns them into spectators. What I’m trying to get at is that it quite doesn’t matter if it’s Biyombo/Valanciunas, Ross/Johnson, Powell/Joesph or Player A/Player B gets minutes, without Lowry we’re a step above the Brooklyn Nets, which is all the more reason to put the guy in a hot bath, rub some Dove soap on him, and have the world’s best masseuses work on him for the next two weeks.
Kyle Lowry elbow check. pic.twitter.com/X6rzVxP8KD
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) March 31, 2016