Over the course of an 82-game season, there will be nights where you just don’t have it. Friday night in Orlando was one such night for the Toronto Raptors as they fell to a lopsided 116-87 defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic. Not a typo, this was a bad, ugly loss for a variety of reasons.
We’ll get to that in a second, but worth noting beforehand that Kyle Lowry missed another game due to a back issue while Norman Powell was not with the team due to the passing of his grandfather.
Honestly Has Been A Tough Time Losing My Grandpa. He Was One Of The Hardest Toughest Guys I Know. My Heart Hurts. But I Know You Found Your Peace And In A Better Place With Your Son (My Uncle Raymond Jr). I Love You And Will Miss You. May You Rest In Peace. #RIPGrandpa #Family #Virginia #FTF
6,498 Likes, 251 Comments – Norman Powell (@normanpowell4) on Instagram: “Honestly Has Been A Tough Time Losing My Grandpa. He Was One Of The Hardest Toughest Guys I Know….”
I don’t think I’ve ever gone the takeaways route for the recap but here we are with five of them.
JV looks better in uniform
Despite the fashion clinic he’s put on since joining the inactive list, Jonas Valanciunas is a man the Raptors would love to see in uniform right now.
From October to April, you’re going to presented with every type of challenge possible as 29 teams try to execute their own individual plans to the best of their ability. Over the last three games, the Raptors have had to deal with Joel Embiid, Hassan Whiteside and Nikola Vucevic and the results have helped highlight the value that Valanciunas brings to the table against teams with formidable size. All three can score the ball, too, and Vucevic brought out the entire package in dropping 30 points on 17 shot while pulling down 20 rebounds and serving out eight dishes.
Even as a team, the Magic outrebounded the Raptors 60-41, a lot of it just keeping their own glass clean courtesy of Toronto’s abysmal 16-for-61 (26.2 percent) shooting inside the arc.
Matched up against Ibaka from the start, Vucevic seemed to relish the opportunity to not have to body up against Valanciunas and went to work early and often. I’m left wondering if, despite the significant disparity in skill level, Nick Nurse’s commitment to the construct of playing bruising bigs against opponents with size and then rolling with Ibaka when more skill-ball and flexibility is required should continue even when Greg Monroe is the option.
It may not have changed much on this night as Vucevic had seven points, three boards and three assists in four minutes with Monroe on the court, but with the success all these bigs have had of late against the Raptors, I couldn’t help but at least think it might be something worth throwing at the wall just to see.
Admittedly, there’s a lot going against it. Nurse has gone on record saying a few weeks ago that with the bench struggles continuing (at that period of time), he would look to solidify the rotations and to help them find some consistency. So, if Valanciunas is going to be the big off the bench than it makes sense to keep that construct going.
The starting lineup of Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Ibaka is also a plus-24.8 over 126 possessions thus far (third-most used lineup) while swapping in Monroe with the other four has yielded a minus-34.6 in just 17 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, so it’s easy to see why Nurse wouldn’t want to fix something that isn’t broke.
But hey, if it were all about net ratings, Ibaka and Valanciunas would still be starting together when healthy, right?
Leonard is averaging 27 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 19 wins. In nine losses, he’s averaging 26 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals. The only drop of note is his three-point percentage — 40.9 percent on 4.5 attempts to 31.9 percent on 5.2 attempts — but that’s what superstars do. They bring it on virtually every single night.
Friday night was a rare exception. After starting out hot with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting including two 3-pointers (believe it or not the Raptors were up nine after he hit a pull-up three with 2:15 remaining in the first) but he could only manage 11 points on 13 shots the rest of the way. He definitely had the will, trying to do more and more in the third as the game seemed to get out of hand, but it just wasn’t there for him. Again, as superstars are wont to do, he was able to get to his spots, but the shots just wouldn’t fall.
Still, he got LeBron James giddy over a nasty left-to-right, right-to-left jumper from the right elbow over Jonathan Isaac.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 29, 2018
Bench props bowled over
If I remember correctly, Nurse started to give Green more looks with the bench beginning with the Denver home game. The veteran swingman has been a steadying presence in any lineup he’s been a part of and is the team’s plus-minus king.
With 9:41 remaining in the second quarter and the Raptors leading by five, Green re-entered the game for Pascal Siakam but was forced to exit under four minutes later as a result of picking up his third foul. From that point on, the Raptors were outscored 19-6 the remainder of the half and headed into the break trailing 57-48.
Siakam has also been another lineup booster who’s been used more frequently to support the bench but he was largely ineffective in this game, finishing with four points on just 1-for-8 shooting and tallied just four rebounds while committing four fouls in 29 minutes. His frustration reached its boiling point midway through the third, when he committed three fouls in the span of a minute to leave him with two fouls to play with over the final 17 minutes and the Raptors trailing 76-56.
Isaac picked up the defensive responsibility for the majority of Siakam’s possessions and Siakam struggled to find the touch to finish off the glass over someone who can throw length and athleticism right back at him. Aaron Gordon and Wesley Iwundu also picked him up on the rare occasion and presented similar challenges.
If you’re going to make one shot all game, make it one that even gets Kawhi out of his seat.
Uneventful but meaningful fourth
The Raptors were getting slapped by 30 at one point which gave Nurse the green light to insert Chris Boucher into the game. In the grand scheme of things, these minutes will more than likely not mean anything in terms of how the Raptors fare in the playoffs where it seems all their chips will be pushed forward, but let’s not forget it was a nothing game in Orlando a couple of years ago where Fred VanVleet showed his first signs of being able to produce on an NBA court.
Boucher finished with a career-high nine points on three 3-pointers, but also got bullied inside by Vucevic. Young players need these growing pains. The Montreal native was undersized and overmatched but sometimes you actually need a taste of it to realize how important addressing that aspect of your game is.
On the other end of the spectrum, C.J. Miles’ reminders of his struggles this season seem to have no end in sight. Regardless of the opposition, time, score, it’s as brutal as it gets for him. Don’t be fooled by the six free-throw attempts, they were two silly fouls by your boy Terrence Ross on three-point attempts. He made five of them, so there’s that.
Do you believe in curses?
If there’s any bad karma from dealing DeMar DeRozan, arguably the most durable star in franchise history, it’s that the Raptors as a team will never be healthy again.
Toronto have had a fully healthy roster for precisely one game, in Phoenix on the first west coast trip, and Leonard ended up leaving that one in the fourth quarter. With Valanciunas and Lowry injured and Powell absent, VanVleet took a hard fall early in the second quarter and remained on the floor for an extended period before heading back to the locker room. It was reported later that VanVleet felt a tingling sensation and that it’s a minor issue. While some believe it to be an injury to the same shoulder from the last day of last year’s regular season, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun confirmed it to be a pectoral issue.
Positive update on VanVleet. Pectoral issue not bothersome shoulder.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) December 29, 2018
Of note, as the Magic brought the ball up court, Green noticed his teammate on the ground and essentially committed to a charge early in the shot clock knowing that one way or another a call needed to happen to stop play. He drew the offensive foul.
For real, though, when will these Raptors be healthy?