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Morning Coffee – Sun, Dec 9: Nick Nurse’s Joke

This joke may have won Nick Nurse the Raptors' head coaching job

Raptors facing biggest challenge of season in Antetokounmpo's Bucks –

Behind the Greek Freak’s unique brand of on-court brilliance, the Milwaukee Bucks sit second behind the Raptors and represent Toronto’s biggest competition in the East. They’ve embraced the modern game’s three-point barrage and boast the NBA’s top offence. In the significant shadow Antetokounmpo tends to cast, it’s easy to forget that supporting stars like Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the reinvented Brook Lopez — now a consummate stretch-five — have performed well and help make the Bucks a tough out on any given night.

The team didn’t even need Antetokounmpo the last time they faced the Raptors, a 124-109 blowout with their superstar sidelined. Of course, Toronto was without Leonard for that contest, and with the East’s two best players squaring off against one another on Sunday the second matchup between the conference’s two best teams is sure to take on a different feel.

“I think they’re both going to want to go at each other,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after a lengthy practice on Saturday afternoon. “There’s nothing like going one-on-one against a guy to see where you stand against him.”

Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard vs. Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo should be fun to watch | The Star

It’s still far too early to start thinking about awards and honours, but fleeting thoughts about all-star and all-NBA and, yes, most valuable player awards aren’t far away.

“The guy, he’s talented, man,” Raptors teammate Pascal Siakam said of Leonard. “I think people forgot that a little bit, how talented he is, the things he can do at the level he can do them at.

“Not just (score), but be on defence and guard the best guy on the team, get steals and do all those other things. It’s fun to watch.”

The thing that stands out most is that Leonard has this amazing combination of brutish power and subtle elegance to his game.

The left-handed dunk he threw down on Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen on Friday night was eye-popping but so, too, was a sneaky little steal along the sideline in front of the Nets’ bench that set up a transition opportunity for the Raptors.

Toronto has had a number of outstanding players over the years like Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, each of whom could dominate a game.

But the breadth of Leonard’s game dwarfs the others.

Raptors Practice: Nick Nurse – December 8, 2018 – YouTube

Bucks, Raptors will have top players on floor for this meeting –

“I would imagine both of them are going to be excited to play and play with a lot of energy and force and try to get a lot of things done. They are both talked about (as being) among the best players in the East, both are in MVP talks now, so I think this is a game for them to see what happens.”

Both teams are coming off losses. The Raptors fell 106-105 in overtime on Friday night at Brooklyn to the Nets, who ended an eight-game losing streak.

“We put ourselves in a tough position in the first place,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who had three points on 1-of-8 shooting and 11 assists. “Not rebounding, they outrebounded us (60-41). Everybody was missing shots.

Danny Green is the ultimate pro and leader | Newsday

Not far from the North Babylon native sat a stable of young Raptors players, all of whom Green has taken upon himself to nurture. Malachi Richardson, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, among others, have taken a liking to the 10-year veteran in his first season in Toronto.

“All these guys are my guys,” Green, who was traded with Kawhi Leonard by the Spurs on July 18 for a package headlined by DeMar DeRozan, said. “I’m just doing what I do on the court best and also adding more things like being more vocal and teaching them and trying to guide them.”

Green, who starred at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset and was Newsday’s 2005 Nassau Player of the Year, had two points and four rebounds in 34 minutes in Toronto’s 106-105 overtime loss on Friday night.

Toronto had an open look at the final buzzer, but VanVleet’s three-pointer from the left wing missed.

After a season in which Toronto won a franchise-record 59 games but was also handed a second-round sweep by the Cavaliers, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri recently told ESPN that he sought to change the team’s culture.

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet expects to be an NBA starter ‘very, very’ soon |

Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet made his first career regular-season start last month and envisions himself in that role permanently.

“Yeah, I’m going to be a starter, it’s just a matter of when,” VanVleet told on Friday ahead of the Raptors’ overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets. “Right now, my role is to come off the bench, be a backup point guard and lead the team and try to be a spark and make big plays.”

With Kawhi Leonard injured, VanVleet entered Toronto’s lineup on Nov. 17 against the Chicago Bulls and posted a season-high 18 points in a 122-83 win. The 24-year-old has since started two additional games, and the Raptors are 3-0 when VanVleet starts.

Raptors Practice: Kawhi Leonard – December 8, 2018 – YouTube

Raps are going to need Lowry to find his shot | Canoe

As the Raptors dive with both feet into one of the more challenging segments of their regular season schedule, they do so with one of the main cogs in their engine not quite firing on all cylinders.

Kyle Lowry continues to pile up the assists — he still leads the NBA in that department — and puts his body on the line on a nightly basis drawing charges or diving for loose balls. But what has been missing from his nightly contributions is an uptick in the scoring department.
For whatever reason, Lowry is having trouble finding the bottom of the basket these days.

Over the past three games since taking a night off to rest an achy back, Lowry has attempted 23 shots and made just four. The vast majority of those attempts have been three-pointers. From behind the arc he is just 3-for-20.

Those aren’t Lowry-like numbers. Not the attempts as a whole, certainly not the makes and not even the lack of attempts at the rim.

When Kyle Lowry’s career is over, his montage of highlights will be dominated by the unending number of charges he drew, the long-range pull-up threes he hit with regularity and no shortage of moments in which Lowry launches himself into the paint to lay it in off the glass before falling into the first row of seats behind the basket.

A tale of two teams and a trade – The Hindu

Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri is known to drive a hard bargain in trades and he succeeded in prising out Green along with Leonard to the Canada-based team. Green, a prototype 3-and-D(efence) player, was part of a Spurs squad that consistently rated among the top three defences in the league. He has enjoyed a strong chemistry with Leonard on both ends of the court. This promptly landed him a starting spot with the Raptors and the two-some have lent a smothering all-round influence to their new squad. Green is capable of guarding three positions (point guards, shooting guards and small forwards), while Leonard is probably the strongest individual defender to have ever played the game.

Leonard is still finding his groove after his injury-filled 2017-18 season, but has already made a tremendous impact. The duo leads all two-player line-ups (any combination of two players on the court at any point of time) in the 2018-19 season with a Net Rating of 17.5 (the number of points their team scores more than its opponents in 100 possessions with the duo on the court). Green is part of four such duos among the top five in the NBA, highlighting his essential role and immediate fit for the Raptors. The duo’s addition has coincided with the maturing of third year forward Pascal Siakam into a rim running scorer, and the retention of talents such as bulldog point guard Kyle Lowry and defensive big man Serge Ibaka. The loss of Poeltl to the Spurs has not hurt the Raptors. Their bench unit still has a strong combination of youth and experience in players such as PG Fred Van Vleet, swingmen OJ Anunoby, CJ Miles and center Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors are a versatile, wing-heavy squad who play a pace-and-space game, defend ferociously and have sufficient insurance among the reserves for any contingency.

Preview: Bucks at Raptors | FOX Sports

“We put ourselves in a tough position in the first place,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who had three points on 1-of-8 shooting and 11 assists. “Not rebounding, they outrebounded us (60-41). Everybody was missing shots.

“But we just have to keep playing hard. I think we can do a little bit better job of coverages and we need to play a little bit harder.”

The Bucks lost 105-95 at home Friday to the Golden State Warriors.

“Offensively, I think we can be better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We didn’t move very well or play with very much force. Just we weren’t very good tonight offensively. But I think you have to give their defense credit. They make things difficult on you. I think we’ll learn from both ends of the court.”

The Bucks added two players, guard George Hill and center Jason Smith in trades involving the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.

Milwaukee traded point guard Matthew Dellavedova and center John Henson along with their 2021 first- and second-round draft picks to Cleveland for Hill and Sam Dekker. Then Dekker was traded to the Wizards for Smith and a 2021 second-round pick. The new Bucks are not expected to play Sunday.

Game Preview: Raptors vs Bucks | Toronto Raptors

Testing, testing: Sunday’s game will be the final game at Scotiabank Arena before the team heads out on a four-game west-coast road trip with stops in Los Angeles to face the Clippers, Golden State to see the Warriors, Portland to take on the Blazers and Denver to close out the trip against the Nuggets. Sunday’s game will also kick off a streak of six consecutive games against teams with winning records. Toronto enters the matchup against the Bucks with a 10-5 record against teams with a winning record. After Sunday’s game, Toronto’s next home game will be Wednesday, Dec. 19 against Indiana.

Star power: With Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo missing the first meeting between these two teams in late October, Sunday’s game should be exciting for all involved with both expected to suit up. Leonard is leading the Raptors in scoring and rebounding, averaging 26.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Antetokounmpo is stuffing the stats sheet every night, averaging 26.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. “We don’t want it to be a personal battle, but I’m assuming there’s going to be a little bit of personalness going on between them,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “I would imagine both of them are going to be excited to play, and play with a lot of energy and force and try to get a lot of things done.”

Milwaukee Bucks: 3 things to watch for in road clash with Toronto Raptors

It looked set to be the most hotly anticipated matchup of the season when these two teams met in October as the NBA’s last two undefeated teams, but a rest night for Kawhi Leonard and a concussion for Giannis Antetokounmpo robbed fans of the chance to watch the East’s two best players go head-to-head on that occasion.

This time around, there should be no such obstacle. For the first time since his trade from San Antonio, Leonard will have a chance to test himself against Antetokounmpo in a matchup that’s only further enhanced by the likelihood of the duo guarding each other at some points in the game.

Of course, even beyond debates over which one of the two stars can bring their team further over the remainder of the season, the two are set for frequent comparison in the context of this year’s MVP race.

Antetokounmpo would seem to have slight edge in that regard from a numbers perspective, although with the Raptors holding a better record, there’s no knowing how those two things would be squared off by voters.

Regardless, those debates won’t reach their resolution until later in the season, yet Sunday will provide both Antetokounmpo and Leonard a chance to strike the first blow in both a team and individual sense.

If both players play to recent form, we could be in for a memorable battle at Scotiabank Arena.

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