13-4 soon to be 14-4
Raptors 95, Heat 54 (March 19, 2008)
Details: A middle-of-the-pack Raptors team runs into a terrible Heat squad that would finish the year 15-67 with a bottom-five mark on both ends of the floor, the return for which will be Michael Beasley at No. 2 overall. The Raptors really need this win, too, as it snaps a five-game losing streak a month out from the playoffs, not that it helps in the end (they’d finish 41-41 and get bounced by Orlando in five). Toronto opens up a double-digit lead early, holds it pretty much all game, then holds Miami to nine fourth-quarter points with their bench in against Miami’s thinned-out starters.
Key Stats: This is the biggest net rating in team history at +50.1, controlling for the glacial pace; this is also the best defensive rating in team history, with the Heat scoring just 64.4 points per-100 possessions; the Heat shoot 25.6 percent with only five threes and nine free throws made; Chris Quinn plays all 48 minutes for Miami; all five Raptors starters (Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani) finish +20 or better; Moon grabs what was then a career-high 14 rebounds, a mark he’d top within a week.
Looter in a Riot: Joey Graham gets a quick nine points playing the entire fourth quarter. He only appeared in 38 games that year, averaging 3.6 points, and he was firmly out of the rotation at this point.
Other Notes: Maceo Baston is the only Raptor to play and not score, recording three rebounds in 7:36.
Bradley Beal to Raptors
Wizards receive: OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, 2021 unprotected 1st-round draft pick
Raptors receive: Bradley Beal
Anunoby would be the big get for the Wizards. He’s 21 and already a borderline-elite defender with a passable stationary jumper and a developing off-the-bounce game. He should grow into a better version of Porter, only he’ll probably gripe less about his touches.
Don’t sleep on Ibaka, either. The three-time All-Defensive Team selection is scoring at a career-high rate with career-best efficiency. Wall’s been angling for Washington to acquire athletic bigs for a while, and Ibaka would give him a dynamic pick-and-roll dance partner – a guy who can actually pop as well as roll.
For Toronto, this would be the rare all-in move that still offers plenty of runway to the future. Losing Anunoby would hurt. So would coughing up another first-rounder, since the Raptors already owe the Spurs their 2019 pick. And Ibaka, as unreliable as he’s been in the past, has been a consistently vital component of this year’s team. But Beal is under contract through 2020-21, and he’s still just 25. Even if Leonard were to leave after this season, the Raptors would have an All-Star squarely in his prime to build around.
Their depth and defensive versatility would take a hit, and they’d likely need to grab another big man on the buyout market or in a separate trade. But top-end talent wins championships, and that is an entirely realistic goal for this team. They’d probably sign up for a starting five of Beal, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas, with Danny Green, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, Greg Monroe, and Norman Powell coming off the bench.
The team’s media relations staff made sure to get the ball for Loyd to save to commemorate the big moment.
“I knew they were trying to get it after the game. I didn’t know if they got it or not. So that was pretty cool that (he) actually got a chance to get it,” Loyd said.
Loyd said he and Boucher were in Maine with the 905 for a game when they got the call as they landed that the depleted Raptors would need them.
“I didn’t know if we were going to play or not. But whatever the team needed me to do, practise or whatever they needed me to do, fill in, I was going to do it. You’ve got to stay ready at all times,” he said.
Two-way contracts were introduced last season, allowing those players to spend a certain number of days with the NBA team, but the system has been tweaked this year so that travel days do not count against that ledger.
“That’s big. Obviously, you don’t want to want to waste a day just travelling. Anytime you can put a uniform on or practice with the guys, it’s big for me. It’s another step in the direction I want to go,” Loyd said.
“It definitely boosts my morale, my confidence with the guys and me personally showing that it’s just the first of many things.”
“Yeah, the (free throws) counted for me,” Loyd said. “Anything going in the rim, I’m taking it obviously. I didn’t want to go up there and miss anything. The 3-pointer was my first actual bucket. It felt really, really good. I’m still trying to let it set in. Pretty surreal moment for me.”
On Monday during the team’s practice in Orlando a day in advance of their game against the Magic, the Raptors gave Loyd the game ball. Roven Yau, the team’s senior manager of basketball communications, hunted down the ball after the game.
“They just gave it to me,” Loyd said. “I knew they were trying to get after the game. I didn’t know if they got it or not. So that was pretty cool that actually got a chance to get it.”
That is not a common occurrence in the NBA, although maybe that should not be a surprise. In Major League Baseball, it seems as if every player can remember his first hit: the pitch he hit, the pitcher who threw it, where the ball went, his emotions after it, everything. However, typical NBA games now feature 75 or so field goals. Most baseball players are lucky to get a hit on any given night; basketball players, if they play regularly, score a few every game. A Hall of Famer in baseball racks up 3,000 hits; LeBron James reached 3,000 buckets in his fourth season.
That makes it easy to forget any given basket. Loyd’s milestone created an opportunity for The Athletic to ask most of the Raptors about their first NBA points. Let’s just say those memories don’t necessarily create indelible moments. Here are those conversations.
Orlando appears to be over-achieving and proving that some of the pre-season sleeper hype was warranted. The Magic are within arm’s reach for the division lead and rank eighth in opponent points per game. The starting frontcourt is healthy (knock on wood) and putting up solid numbers. Nikola Vucevic is putting up All-Star calibre numbers, 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, while Aaron Gordon is stat-stuffing with 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds — both are also averaging one steal, one block, and one three. Raptor alum, Terrence Ross, chipping in with 13.9 points off the bench, closing out games, and even hitting the occasional game-winner.
However, Toronto has won the last four meetings and are primed to finish up this road swing on a positive note. The Gordon-Siakam matchup should be fascinating to watch.
A case can be made that Orlando could pull off an upset over a slumping Toronto squad that’s not 100% healthy. However, the Magic do not fit the profile of any the opponents who have managed to defeat the Raptors. Orlando is 22nd in pace (Pelicans, Pistons, Bucks are all top-10), and 16th in defensive rating (Celtics, Bucks, Pistons are all top-10). Toronto begins the Southeast swing on a positive note by making the Magic disappear, 110 – 99.
Ibaka averaged 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Magic, but the fit didn’t work, in large part because Ibaka spent a career-high 95% of his time at power forward. As we’ve seen this season, with Ibaka’s production improving significantly compared to his Orlando tenure or earlier Toronto work, the big man is far more suited to playing centre.
Ibaka has scored 10 or more points in 15 straight games — one of the longest streaks of his career — his field-goal percentage has risen nearly 10% from last year and he is getting to the free-throw line far more frequently.
Ibaka also blocked four shots on Saturday against Chicago, a total he has bested only twice as a Raptor. And he’s ninth in the NBA in plus/minus.
Ibaka says he is getting the ball in better spots, helping him become more efficient on offence this year.
“I think as a team we (are playing) better,” Ibaka told the Sun after practice on Monday.
“Moving the ball and also my teammates are doing a better job to find me when I’m open, gives me that confidence. They trust me, I can make those plays (with the ball).”
Don’t get it twisted, though — the four-time NBA blocked-shots leader still prefers to break out some highlight-reel rejections to scoring.
“I like blocking shots better,” Ibaka said, before noting how observers seem to prioritize scoring and offensive prowess.
“They forget (what Ibaka is capable of and how important good defence is),” he said.
1. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors took out their frustrations from their three-game losing streak — including an excruciating overtime loss at Boston on Friday — on a hapless Chicago team on Saturday. The numbers during the skid are downright weird. Toronto sported the third-least efficient defense over the streak, yet ranked second defensively in opponent shot quality. Victims of bad luck? Whatever the case, it’s a get-well tour for the Raps this week: road dates at Orlando and Atlanta, followed by home games versus Washington and Miami. — Arnovitz
For the first time all season, I gave serious thought to elevating a team above the Warriors in these power rankings, and if the Raptors hadn’t lost three in a row — to the New Orleans Pelicans, and then two close ones to the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics — I might have. But the way that Kyle Lowry got handled by elite defenders in two of those games should be at least a bit concerning for the Raptors as they think about how this team will fare in playoff time. Lowry shot 1-of-9 for four points against the Pelicans then 3-of-12 for 14 points against the Celtics. Point guard play is so key for this team. And while Lowry has been mostly magnificent this season — I recently wrote about how Lowry’s season has resembled MVP-era Steve Nash — Fred VanVleet has struggled. The Raptors were 10.5 points per 100 possessions better than opponents last season when VanVleet was on the floor; this season VanVleet has a net rating (- 0.6) that’s one of the worst on the team.
4 Toronto Raptors
Pace: 102.4 (11) OffRtg: 113.1 (3) DefRtg: 105.4 (7) NetRtg: +7.7 (2)
The Raptors’ three-game losing streak, in which Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry combined to shoot 3-for-26 from 3-point range (and which ended in Chicago on Saturday) was longer than any losing streak that they had last season. They’re banged up on the wings. Their bench unit — Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby with a center — has played just 32 total minutes, 11th man Norman Powell is out for an extended time with a shoulder injury and they rank 16th in *aggregate bench NetRtg (after ranking first last season). But they still have the best record in the league, with what has been the league’s easiest schedule remaining easy for another week.
2. Raptors | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 13-4 | Previous Ranking: 1
Beating the Bulls by 39 points doesn’t mean Toronto’s three-game losing streak to start the week doesn’t matter, it just means they already moved past it. Not too many teams can shoot 54.5% against the Raptors like the Pelicans did. Not as many teams will be as jazzed up to be in Toronto as the Pistons were. And there’s only one Kyrie Irving. That’s one hell of a perfect storm to mess up a week, but nothing to fret over when you’ve handled business like this team has for the bulk of its games.
3. Toronto Raptors (Previously 2nd), 13-4 (+7.7 net rating)
The Raptors fall down to third this week. This is the first time this season they haven’t been ranked second in the NBA in this space. They endured three straight losses over the last week, dropping games to New Orleans, Detroit, and Boston. The Pelicans loss is fine. The Detroit loss was emotional and meant a lot more to the Pistons and Dwane Casey than it did the Raptors. Losing to Boston as Kyrie Irving put them through the torture chamber is understandable but a tough measuring stick to come up short on. The frustrating thing about the Raptors so far is their performance in clutch games.
They’ve only found themselves in five clutch games. That’s the third fewest in front of Cleveland and Phoenix. Cleveland and Phoenix aren’t in clutch games because you have to be competitive late in a game in order to trigger it. The Raptors aren’t in clutch games because they’ve usually dominated you by late fourth quarter. But in the five games they’ve managed to trigger, the Raptors have one of the worst net ratings (-12.2). Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are scoring just fine in these situations. The team just can’t stop anybody. They still need to learn how to crawl before they can dance.
There will be nights when Nurse is forced to run out groups like he did Saturday, when injuries and rest for Leonard made him put Lorenzo Brown, Delon Wright, Malachi Richardson, Green and Jonas Valanciunas on the court at the same time.
He had to dust off Greg Monroe for a 21-minute run against the more traditional lineup of the Detroit Pistons last Wednesday when Ibaka was sidelined.
Quite aside from those moments that are forced upon him, Nurse is obviously sticking to his plan to utilize all the versatility at his disposal, traditional positions be damned.
“We are trying to give less and less guys (positional) numbers to be honest with you,” he said. “I think Kyle (Lowry) was calling OG a power forward at shootaround this morning and I was thinking, ‘I haven’t heard that term in years.’
“We are trying to get away from those traditional centre, power forward type things.”
One of the more interesting things Nurse is trying to accomplish is to basically downgrade the point guard position. The coach wants it so that anyone who grabs a defensive rebound can take off up the court, whether that’s a guard or a wing or a big man doesn’t matter.
He gives Siakam the freedom to run plays and make decisions in transition, Leonard is more than capable of doing that. The Raptors would like to get to the point where Anunoby is confident enough to get the ball and go.
“I think it’s becoming less traditional,” Nurse said. “It used to be every single time you got the rebound you handed it to the point guard or you outlet it to the point guard or everyone cleared and you waited until the point guard brought the ball up the floor.”
However, the Raptors will encounter a Magic squad that will hit the floor on Monday amid their most productive stretch since Dec. 2015. Winners of just 25 games last season, the Magic opened their schedule on a 2-6 straight-up run but have quickly found their groove during a 7-2 straight-up run that has vaulted them to the top of the Southeast Division standings.
Orlando’s current surge has been fuelled by a four-game straight-up win streak on home hardwood, capped by decisive weekend victories over the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks in which the Magic averaged 130.5 points per game. Orlando has also paid out regularly, going 5-1 against the spread in its past six, and posting outright wins as a betting underdog on seven occasions this season.
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is still nursing his right ankle which he injured in the victory against the Bulls on Saturday. Lowry did not participate in practice on Monday but he is not expected to miss any games.
Key matchup: Pascal Siakam vs. Aaron Gordon
Siakam’s quickness and length will come in handy against the multi-skilled Gordon, who averages 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Clifford has also been impressed with the overall floor game of Aaron Gordon, who led the Magic with 31 points Sunday. Against the Knicks, he was the shooter. But against Philly last week, he was an overall floor leader, dishing six assists, grabbing six rebounds, blocking two shots, snagging one steal and scoring 17 points.
“I feel like we’re gonna get better and continue to get better as the year goes on,” Gordon said.
He had 20 points in the first quarter against the Knicks and he was later told the Magic record for points in a quarter was 25, set by Tracy McGrady.
“Oh man, I didn’t even know that,” Gordon laughed. “I’m not worried about the records. I’ll leave it at that. It really doesn’t matter.”
Gordon, the rest of the team, the staff and the organization know what kind of perspective to put on the recent success.
“What have we done?” Gordon asked. “We’ve won some games, but we’ve got a lot longer to go and a lot more games to play. We’ve gotta continue to play the way that we know how to play and we’ll just not even worry about that.
“Now the ball is jumping around the court, everybody’s passing and making the right reads all over the floor,” Gordon said.
And then there’s Vucevic, who has been playing at a level that reminds some of his teammates of what he was doing in his earlier Magic days.
“He’s ballin’. So let’s just keep winning and he’ll get the recognition,” Gordon said. “He’ll get that pub that he definitely deserves.”