Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

10 things from Raptors-Magic

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Raptors’ 113-98 loss to the Magic. One – Nemesis: The Raptors always struggle with Steve Clifford-led teams, stemming back to his stint in Charlotte. The Magic have blown out the Raptors twice this season, and their only loss came in a difficult game in which Danny Green hit an improbable…

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Raptors’ 113-98 loss to the Magic.

One – Nemesis: The Raptors always struggle with Steve Clifford-led teams, stemming back to his stint in Charlotte. The Magic have blown out the Raptors twice this season, and their only loss came in a difficult game in which Danny Green hit an improbable baseline jumper at the buzzer for the game-winning shot. All three times the Raptors were held under 100 points, which is Clifford’s signature as a coach. He doesn’t always have the best talent, but Clifford ensures that his team will communicate and defend as a five-man unit. The same cannot be said of Nick Nurse, by the way.

Two – Doing his best: Kyle Lowry did everything in his power to get the Raptors back into the game. He stepped up in the first half when the game was sliding out of control, and his singular effort kept as a three-point game at half. But our little general received little by way of reinforcements, as the rest of the Raptors refused to match Lowry’s energy. And when he exhausted himself, the Raptors lost the plot entirely. In the bigger picture, it’s a great sign that Lowry has managed his bad back to the point where he can still reach back for these types of performances if he chooses to. It will be needed in the playoffs.

Three – Instant chemistry: It didn’t take long for Lowry to replicate the two-man game that Mike Conley shared for a decade with Marc Gasol. Lowry and Gasol are already pulling off tiki-taka sequences for gorgeous backdoor layups and open jumpers. At his big age, Lowry can no longer create efficient offense on his own, but Gasol’s passing should rejuvenate his scoring. Lowry’s advantage is that he’s smarter than his man, but he has never had a playmaking big who can empower him.

Four – Age is undefeated: However, outside of feeding Lowry, this was yet another dud by Gasol. Don’t be fooled by the 16-5-5 statline – Gasol was a minus on both ends. He looked slow and weak around the basket, he repeatedly lost track of Nik Vucevic (who is, admittedly, a tricky cover), and Gasol flubbed a few easy looks. Maybe it’s just a product of age, but his stamina and lift is almost absent, and that’s culminating in lazy fouls where his body is struggling to keep up with his mind.

Five – Trying shit: Nurse has a habit of getting creative when the going gets tough, which sounds good in theory, but gambles can go both ways. Just as he’s swung games in his favor by catching teams off-guard with spurts of zone, Nurse essentially sealed this win for the Magic with his bizarre strategies in the fourth. First, he tried the Gasol-Ibaka-Siakam jumbo lineup that had me wiping my glasses just to make sure Sam Mitchell wasn’t back on the sidelines, and when that obviously failed, Nurse went to a patently insane strategy of double teaming indiscriminately at the top of the arc which only served to create a handful of open threes for the Magic. Again, credit Nurse for trying shit, but that was not it.

Six – Hired gun: Jodie Meeks splashed two threes and got to the rim for two layups in the second quarter, which automatically qualified him to be the go-to option for the bench unit. It was cute – Meeks moves well off the ball and the jumper is wet – but we really have a 10-day player taking nine shots in 17 minutes? Really? Having said all that, Meeks can obviously shoot and he knows where to be, so that’s enough for him to earn another 10-day.

Seven – Cursed, again: Did Norman Powell get back on the GoDaddy deal once C.J. Miles got dealt? Bad Norm has sadly roared back to life after Powell strung together two solid months, and he’s playing all your old favorites. Shanking contested layups in traffic? Check. Clanking open threes? Yup. Forcing his offense when nobody asked him to? Definitely. Maybe it’s just the absence of Fred VanVleet, but Powell has been dreadful since the trade deadline. It’s almost at the point where I might give Patrick McCaw some of his minutes just to see if there’s some upside on that end.

Eight – Bullied: No matter how much the Raptors tweak the roster, they always somehow end up undersized. Orlando out-muscled the Raptors across the board. Vucevic had 12 rebounds to Gasol’s five. Siakam only had one make inside the arc as he struggled for airspace around Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, and things got even worse off the bench as the likes of Wesley Iwundu, Jerian Grant, and Khem Birch overpowered their tiny counterparts. Toronto’s struggle for defensive rebounding has been a season-long issue, and dealing away Jonas Valanciunas only exacerbated that problem.

Nine – Confusion: Most of all, what the Raptors need is more practices to get everyone on the same page. The Magic knew what they were going to run, had a set rotation in terms of when everyone was going to get their turn, and they communicated on both ends to get the result. The Raptors were understandably out of sorts, as they were repeatedly out of position on defense while also cutting each other off and whiffing on screens on offense. Nurse wants to keep experimenting, but this is the time to gel and practice something concrete. All the injuries and personnel changes have made it difficult, but time is running out for Nurse. Every practice from now until the playoffs needs to be maximized.

Ten – I have to ask: Look, I get all the reasons behind resting Kawhi Leonard, but taking this game off was just odd. It’s the second game after All-Star Weekend – which Kawhi participated in without any problems – and it’s a home game coming off a rest day. Why couldn’t Leonard go? It’s not as if there’s a packed schedule ahead, as the Raptors play the Celtics on Tuesday before not playing again until Friday. So again, why couldn’t Leonard play? Is this how it is with his lingering quad issues? Does he have the basketball equivalent of a pitch limit? What’s the deal here?