Sometimes the forces in the world just line up in everyone’s best interests.
The arrival of Jeremy Lin, midway through a potentially franchise-altering season, is one of those such instances.
No one knows how much a difference Lin is going to make on this team, but, in the moment, his arrival is huge for the team.
As it stands right now, the Raptors have one healthy point guard in Kyle Lowry, who has already twice this year been fallen by back issues that cost him games.
Lin jumps in with Delon Wright having been forfeited as part of the Marc Gasol trade. But his immediate value spikes with Fred VanVleet, Lowry’s primary backup out three to four weeks minimum following surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his left thumb.
When the idea of bringing in Lin first occurred to the Raptors it was with depth in mind. Right now he’s a necessity for them.
But this works out very well for Lin as well.
The much-traveled veteran of nine NBA seasons is healthy again this year after almost two full seasons of rehab, ironically six months of that time was spent in Vancouver at the Fortius Sport and Health Centre, where the Raptors have held training camp for four of the past five seasons.
Lin loved Canada before his stay in Vancouver. That six months only made the bond tighter.
When Lin finally returned to action this year, it was in Atlanta where playing time was plentiful but winning opportunities were extremely limited. The Hawks — and Lin is very thankful for his time there — are in the early stages of a rebuild. There was Lin, Vince Carter and a whole slew of talented-but-raw kids. Developing is the focus there. Lin was looking for the chance to win.
Sunday’s game will give fans one last chance to celebrate first ballot Hall of Famers in waiting Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, who were special all-star selections by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
This is Nowitzki’s 14th appearance, tied with luminaries like Michael Jordan, Jerry West, and Karl Malone. Wade, who entered the league well after Nowitzki but immediately became a star, is making his 13th appearance, tied with Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.
Wade has said he is retiring at the end of the season, while Nowitzki has indicated he likely will too. This will give Wade one more chance to team up with LeBron James, who he won a pair of championships with in Miami.
In a bit of theatre on Wednesday, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle sent Nowitzki into the game against the Heat at the same time Nowitzki checked in. Miami ended up winning the game and the stars swapped jerseys afterward.
“I appreciate this, man,” Wade told Nowitzki via ESPN.
“It’s an honour. It’s an honour, man. Thank you for everything that you’ve done for my career.” The Heat and Mavericks met twice in the Finals, with Miami winning in 2006, Dallas in 2011. Both were arguably upset victories.
Micheal Wright plans to bring some NBA-style finesse to the Special Olympics World Summer Games this spring.
Wright is the only Canadian out of 12 Special Olympics athletes competing in a Unified Sports game with players from the NBA and WNBA on Friday as part of the league’s all-star weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
Wright, from Mississauga, wants to meet Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and ask them for advice ahead of the Special Olympics World Games.
“That’s what I’m hoping for, to take some tips and bring it to the worlds and probably perfecting it,” Wright said. “Not that what they do isn’t 100-per-cent perfect, but I want to make it my own.”
The 26-year-old point guard helped the Mississauga Storm win the national championship earlier this year. The team will represent Canada at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, starting on March 14.
He won’t be in the corner of some nightspot waiting for that evening’s certain someone to appear. He won’t be at the power table in the corner nibbling on the latest culinary delight. He won’t be on the cell phone to the limo driver getting ready to roll, along with a cast of assorted hangers-on, to another hot spot.
Vince Carter may be a man of extraordinary athletic ability, but he’s also a man of simple delights.
“Sleeping, watching TV, playing video games, “ he says, rattling off a few of his favourite things. “Eating — eating’s right up there, I love to eat, and talking on the phone. That’s it.”
“It’s not boring, it’s what I like to do, that simple, “ he replies.
“Off the court, I’m like I am on it. I think I’m easy going, try to keep smiling. It’s harder to keep smiling off the court, though, because you go through so much. I just try to have a good time, I watch BET, MuchMusic, basketball. That’s about it.”
Going out often means hooking up with teammates at one or the other’s home to play video games or to watch NBA or college games on television.
Carter is painfully aware that out on the town he would be a target for yahoos. So, if he doesn’t go out, trouble can’t find him.
Managing the time
One of the more impressive things about the way the game unfolded was that Nick Nurse dramatically cut back on the rotation – only having 10 guys available will do that – without really over-working anyone.
Aside from three minutes for Boucher and 30 seconds of Loyd so Lowry could come out to an ovation, Nurse played eight guys but managed the time so well that no one played more than Anunoby’s 35:43.
That’s pretty good time management and no one wore down as the game went on, even Anunoby, who played the final 21 minutes without a break.
“Yeah. For sure,” the loquacious Anunoby said of the extended second half run.
Lin made a beeline for Raptor , whom he played with back in the day in the then-D-League (now G-League), to get some intel.
“I went up to Danny when I got here and said ‘Hey, you need to tell me what’s going on.'”
Player intro job done, Lin went out and collected eight points, five assists and five rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. He received a standing ovation when he entered the game some four minutes in.
“Every time I come to Toronto, it’s always felt like a home game … It doesn’t matter what team I’ve played for,” he told a packed media room after the 129-120 win.
Lin spoke to the media in English before answering question in Mandarin.
While California-born, Lin’s Asian roots have made him a worldwide star sparking what was once dubbed “Linsanity.”
How can the Raptors attract more Chinese fans, coach Nick Nurse was asked.
“I think getting Jeremy’s a good start,” he answered, “I think everybody should be excited to see him and I think they are.
“From my standpoint I like him as a player. He’s a veteran, he’s a great person, he’s smart and he’s got a really cool history. It’s always great to know a player’s history and it’s really fascinating the things that he’s done … I think it’s cool for the city.”
Nurse has been Anunoby’s biggest backer, and most realistic analyst, for most of this up-and-down season. The coach sees, as many do, the size (six-foot-eight), the bulk (a sturdy 230-ish pounds) and the quickness that’s prototypical for a standout NBA player these days. But Nurse has also seen the stretches of games where Anunoby has played small and had little impact on the outcome.
The 21-year-old – and don’t look past that youth too far – has been away from the team for four stretches this season to deal with personal issues, and he’s never really gotten untracked. Nurse coaxes him, coaches him hard and lays out exactly what is required.
“The only thing I can do … is kind of pare it down for him and say: Let’s start by playing harder,” the coach said after Wednesday’s victory over the Wizards. “Let’s impact the game with your athleticism and your hard play. Defence, rebound, get on the floor, get dirty a little bit. Let some of the other stuff come, all the shooting and the drives and the spin moves come a little bit.”
On the veteran team that the Raptors have become, there won’t be a lot asked of Anunoby in the cauldron of the playoffs, unlike last spring when he was in a starting role. The responsibilities will be diminished, but it would still be nice to have a player with Anunoby’s skills functioning at the highest level when the games mean the most.
It wasn’t quite Linsanity 2.0, but that was one heck of a night in downtown Toronto.
Jeremy Lin’s ability to step off of a plane on a whirlwind day and play his most minutes in a game since Jan. 21 and play them fairly well (though he thought he could have done better) was impressive stuff. He’s going to be a solid addition to the Raptors.
Even though Lin said he didn’t really know what was going on:
(“What do you do when you are a point guard when you have no idea what’s going on? You just do your best,” he said afterward) he still flashed great chemistry with Kyle Lowry. Nick Nurse, like most NBA coaches these days, loves to have two point guards on the floor, and the Lowry/Lin combo mixes quality shooting, with high basketball IQ, aggressive defence (Lin had a steal and a block), good rebounding and veteran presence.
Lowry’s been knocked at times for not being a positive leader when the spotlight has been on him (not aggressively embracing Kawhi Leonard, sulking after the DeMar DeRozan trade being the two most-cited examples), but with the Marc Gasol and Lin acquisitions Lowry seems as happy as we’ve seen him all year.
He’s always said his only goal is to “get a gold ball” (a championship) and he must recognize this is his best shot. This is a very strong team, assuming Leonard’s wonky knee isn’t a real issue (Nurse said he hopes Leonard can play this weekend in Charlotte at the all-star game because it’s a big honour).
All of that leads to an interesting question, as the Raptors finish the final two months and head into a playoffs that could define the franchise for years to come: for all of the changes that have happened with this team over the past year, is their fate simply a matter of who shoots the better deep ball?
It doesn’t feel like that should be the case, not when so much upheaval has taken place. The Raptors of previous playoff woes had a primary scorer who often struggled to score in the second season, and they were notoriously bad at perimeter defence. They now have two excellent perimeter defenders in Leonard and Green, Leonard is the kind of two-way terror they have never before had, and now Gasol has arrived as a passing big man that also gives them a dimension never before seen in these parts. There’s also the new coach, the emergence of Pascal Siakam and, lately, the return of OG Anunoby to the form that made him untouchable in trade talks. There has been much change in an on-court tactical sense, and also, if you care about such things, much change in the intangibles. Lowry is now the only Raptor left from the team that lost in the first round to Brooklyn five years ago.
But still, those threes. With the whole of the NBA having adopted the spread-the-floor mentality that relies on outside shooting, so much of what happens over a playoff run will depend on whether those shots fall. Last year’s NBA Finals matchup between Golden State and Cleveland, the one that seemed utterly inevitable once it was made, could have easily been a Houston-Boston championship series. The Celtics went an insane 7-for-39 (18%) from deep in their Game 7 loss to the Cavaliers in the conference finals, and the Rockets slid under that with a 7-for-44 (16%) performance from beyond the arc in their Game 7 loss to the Warriors in the same round.
It’s not great for fans of predictability, this three-point revolution. And for the Raptors, in this season of upheaval, it means much will depend on their conversion rate of a shot that, league wide, goes in about 36 per cent of the time.
The Raptors Need Markieff Morris
FICTION. The Toronto Raptors were at the top of the list of teams that needed to shop on the buyout market following a trade deadline that saw five players leave via trades and one, Marc Gasol, return.
There were clear areas to address — namely shoring up the point guard position after losing Delon Wright and in the wake of the news that Fred VanVleet would be sidelined for weeks. And Masai Ujiri and Co. did just that. They signed Jeremy Lin, arguably the top point guard available on the buyout market, making him the second mid-season impact acquisition for the team. The team also brought back Malcolm Miller, a former Raptors 905 star who looked good in short glimpses with the big club last season.
But some have argued that the team should do more, including bringing on former Washington Wizard Markieef Morris, a player the team is familiar with after last year’s first-round playoff battle. Morris is a talented, experienced player — but not one that the Raptors need to reach their goals this season. Another shooter off the bench? Sure, although you can more likely expect the team to turn to it’s current roster to hope that they begin to break their collective slump.
Fact is, Morris, who can play the three or the four, would take minutes from players who deserve to be on the floor and can affect the team just as much. Pascal Siakam, fresh off a career-high 44 points, figures to continue to be a focal point down the stretch, and Leonard can slot over to the four in an effort to get Norm Powell more minutes at small forward. And then of course, there’s OG Anunoby, who continues to be an X-Factor and can be that game-changing forward off the bench if he can continue to find ways to impact the game as he did on Wednesday night in the Raptors’ win over Washington