46-18; Harden/Rockets up next
Of course when only Lowry is connecting from outside (non-Lowry Raptors shot 8-for-25 from three), there are going to be a lot of rebounds and it is going to be tough to win.
Obviously Jeremy Lin had a disastrous start in the traditional Kawhi is resting so here’s Fred VanVleet spot. Lin’s jump shot has abandoned him (he’s had one torrid month, December, this season, but mostly really struggled from beyond the arc and has yet to hit a three in six games with the Raptors). In retrospect, starting OG Anunoby in Kawhi’s spot instead of going small would have been more effective. But Nick Nurse doesn’t have a crystal ball and had been wanting to try Lin in the VanVleet spot for a while now.
Anunoby’s progress remains encouraging. He’s covering a ton of ground defensively and looking really effective there again, while being increasingly more aggressive on offence. Sometimes he might be too aggressive (and Detroit was hoping to make him more of a threat at times than Toronto’s better offensive players), but Anunoby can be effective, especially when on the court with Marc Gasol because he is one of the better cutters on the team.
It was funny to hear Andre Drummond refer to the game as “a good road win” repeatedly, a reference to the hundreds of vocal Raptors fans in attendance. I thought the Pistons would start drawing decent crowds with the move to a beautiful new downtown arena and with Blake Griffin there, but somehow Detroit is dead-last in attendance percentage (just 75% of capacity on average). Toronto ranks fourth. Detroit is 25th in actual attendance (Toronto is again fourth).
In looking at that list it is baffling to see Brooklyn dead-last, the only team drawing fewer than 15,000 a night. The Nets play in New York, the biggest market there is, are an exciting, young, up-and-coming team and Barclays is a Top 5 hoops venue. How is that possible?
There were a lot of jokes on Twitter about the Pistons having to potentially play seven road games in a series against the Raptors. I suspect a few more Detroit supporters would show up for the post-season, but that isn’t too far off. In any event, Dwane Casey’s streaking squad has shot up to sixth in the conference and would right now be facing Indiana (with Philadelphia lurking too).
Lowry’s role may be more valuable to the Raptors than Leonard’s. Their offense falls apart without Lowry creating shots for his teammates: Their net rating drops from plus-9.8 in his 1,722 minutes on the floor to minus-2.3 in his 1,279 minutes off. Kawhi’s presence has not had the same effect: Their net rating barely budges whether he is on or off, going from plus-6.0 in 1,555 minutes with him to plus-4.1 in 1,446 minutes without him. The Raptors have been resting Leonard in back-to-backs all season, and have gone 13-4 in the games that he has missed. Even an elite scorer is replaceable if his team can redistribute his possessions and make up the difference by moving the ball more often.
The concern for Toronto is it acquired Kawhi precisely because it didn’t want to depend on Lowry and DeRozan to be the focal points of its offense in the playoffs. There’s a ceiling to how good a team can be when it is running everything through an undersized point guard (6-foot-1 and 196 pounds) against the best teams in the league. There are a lot of long and athletic defenders who can give Lowry trouble in one-on-one matchups, but there is no way to slow down Kawhi without sending multiple defenders at him. The best-case scenario for the Raptors at the end of playoff games is for the ball to go through Kawhi first and then wind up in Lowry’s hands after the defense starts to rotate. That puts more pressure on the defense than Lowry passing to Kawhi.
NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Raptors can’t give Kawhi the keys to their offense until he becomes a more consistent passer. The good news for them is that passing is a skill that can be developed. Kawhi doesn’t need to be as instinctive a passer as Lowry. He attracts so much defensive attention that he only has to execute basic passes to create open shots for his teammates, while Toronto puts enough 3-point shooting around him (it is ninth in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game this season) to keep the defense honest. Kawhi doesn’t have to navigate through swarms of defenders to find the open man, and his positive assist-to-turnover ratio this season (1.6:1) shows that he can be a good decision-maker. The biggest thing is working on his mind-set, and trusting that the ball will come back to him for an even better shot after he gives it up the first time.
The Raptors are clearly making an effort to turn Kawhi into more of a passer. His assist averages have risen every month since bottoming out in December at 2.6 per game. He averaged 3.9 in January and 4.2 in February. The really encouraging part is that his turnover numbers have remained constant in that time, at either 2.0 or 2.1 per game. There’s no point in Kawhi passing the ball more if he’s spraying the ball around the court. The goal should be to streamline the offense by turning him into a point forward who creates either a high-percentage 2 for himself or an open 3 for one of his teammates every time he touches the ball.
The Spurs didn’t need Kawhi to be as much of a playmaker. He came into the league as a 3-and-D wing, and gradually expanded his offensive game to become a primary scorer. They surrounded him with so many high-level playmakers that he could focus on playing defense and scoring, and trust everyone else to keep the ball moving and stay involved in the flow of the offense. San Antonio was no. 1 in assists when it won the championship in 2013-14, and he was the Finals MVP while averaging only two assists per game in the series. Kawhi has progressed a lot as a player over the past five seasons. His problem is that the league has progressed even more.
To put the game in perspective, Anunoby had a game score of 11.2 for the game. It was just the eighth time in 53 games that he has reached into double figures in that stat that is used by Basketball Reference and gives a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game.
The eye test, watching Anunoby bounce from one defensive assignment to another with impact was far more impressive a measure of the man than any stat was on this night.
At 6-foot-8 and a chiselled 235 pounds and as athletic as he is, Anunoby, even in games when the three-pointer isn’t falling for him should have a large impact on the game. He had that Sunday.
It was felt particularly in the second half when he and Pascal Siakam shared the floor switching off on Griffin and basically reducing him to ordinary in the final two frames and the overtime.
Nurse has by times this year been sympathetic to Anunoby’s off-court issues and at other times demanding of more of him on the court.
It’s a fine balance with a young man who has been dealing with some rather big off-court life issues this season.
Right now Nurse likes what he is seeing.
“Listen we have talked about him the past few weeks and one of the things we talked about was him just getting on the glass,” Nurse said. “Let’s get on the glass and play hard and do some athletic things that we know you can do and should be able to do every night. I think that gets him going. He gets his hands on a ball, he gets a big tip-in, he’s diving, he was really defending well whether he was guarding a big guy or a small guy. Just playing with tremendous energy. When you’re that athletic and that strong and you do that, a lot of good things are going to happen.”
3. We know the Raptors are dangerous, and with the recent acquisitions that has never been more true. The question that has loomed for much of the season has surrounded whether a unit that has been together only sporadically has logged enough time on the floor to fully realize its potential. Load management aside, the quartet of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam have outscored opponents by 21.9 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, whether Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka is the man in the middle. — Arnovitz
3 Toronto Raptors (Previously 3rd), 46-18 (+4.9 net rating)
Question: Can the Raptors make a final push for the 1-seed while also resting Kawhi Leonard?
A lot of teams face a bit of a conundrum down this final stretch of the season. They want to get into the playoffs healthy, but they also want to get themselves the best positioning possible as they hit their stride. Coaches and front offices are often left playing the guessing game of knowing when to sit out their stars on any given night in the NBA without sacrificing too many wins in the process. The Toronto Raptors have been trying to find this balance all season long with Kawhi Leonard. Their star they hope to re-sign has missed 17 games this season for various reasons, but most of them have been because of rest and load management. The Raptors have been great in these games, going 13-4 without Leonard playing.
They might find themselves in a position to fold on the East’s No. 1 seed soon, as they sit 2.5 games (three back in the loss column) behind Milwaukee for the top spot. They’ll probably make one more big push for the top seed before deciding whether or not to pack it in. Toronto is still trying to prove Kawhi, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol are going to reverse these Raptors failures in the postseason. Having home court advantage throughout the East isn’t paramount to the Raptors’ future success. They’re good enough to win games on the road. But my guess is they keep Kawhi out several more games this season. It may cost them the No. 1 seed or any shot at putting pressure on Milwaukee for it, despite how well Toronto has survived without its star player all season long.
7. Raptors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 46-18 | Previous Ranking: 7
During his first two seasons, Pascal Siakam’s career high was 20 points, and he reached that mark once. In 63 games this season, Siakam, who now averages 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds, has shown he’s improved by leaps and bounds as a scorer, and he’s looking more and more like the perfect third wheel to Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri on team heading to Japan next October: “You have only to look at our organization to know that we truly believe basketball is a global game. We come from all over the world, and we are all connected through the love of our sport."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) March 5, 2019
3 With their easy win over the Celtics last week, the Raptors remained undefeated (now 9-0) on Tuesdays and finished a somewhat inconclusive 8-7 (5-4 in games with both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard) against the four other good teams in the East. They blew the Boston game open with a formula borrowed from a couple of seasons ago: Kyle Lowry and the bench at the start of the second quarter. That second unit included Marc Gasol, who started games against the Blazers and Pistons later in the week, missed a great look to win the game in Detroit, and has still played just 51 total minutes (and only eight against potential Eastern Conference playoff teams) alongside both of the Raptors’ two All-Stars. Leonard continues to have his load managed, but, with his game-winner against Portland on Friday, now leads the league with seven buckets (on 14 attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.
3 RaptorsPreseason projected win total: 58.0. Currently on pace for: 58.9. Difference: +0.9 wins. Still my pick to make the NBA Finals from the East. This team feels built for the postseason.
2018-19 season series: Pistons lead 2-0
There is a sense of familiarity here, as Dwane Casey is now at the helm in Detroit after serving as Toronto’s head coach for seven seasons. As a result of Casey’s late-game playcalling, the Pistons are one of just four teams to have won at Scotiabank Arena this season.
Pistons All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who is averaging a career-high 26.3 points to go along with 8.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season, and centre Andre Drummond combine to make one of the more fearsome frontcourt duos in the NBA. While Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard give Toronto the advantage on the perimeter, Griffin and Drummond present a unique matchup for the big man rotation of Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.
One stat to know: The Pistons allow a league-low 9.5 made 3-pointers per game and limit their opponents to 33.4 percent shooting from 3-point range – another league-low. While Toronto makes over 11 threes per game, it shot 4-for-20 against Detroit in the loss on Nov. 14.
The Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors will play games on Oct. 8 and Oct. 10 at Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo. It will mark the first time NBA teams will have played games in Japan since 2003, the last time the NBA held a regular-season game there.
From 1990 — when the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz played the first regular-season game outside North America by an American professional sports league — through 2003, the NBA played 12 regular-season games in Japan.
The addition of Japan to the NBA’s international calendar during the preseason shows a further commitment to the league’s stated goal of growing the sport outside of the U.S. The NBA will hold games in India for the first time this fall, where the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers will play one another in Mumbai on Oct. 4 and 5.
At the trade deadline, Portland needed salary stability to acquire Rodney Hood, and so Baldwin became inseparable from Nik Stauskas for a few strange days. First, Baldwin, Stauskas and a pair of second-round picks were routed to Cleveland for Hood. Cleveland then included both players with Alec Burks and a second-round pick in a three-team trade involving Sacramento to land Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight’s contract, a first-round pick and a second-round pick from Houston. Looking to shed salary under the luxury tax, the Rockets then flipped Baldwin, Stauskas, a second-round pick and the draft rights to Maarty Leunen to Indiana for cash.
The Pacers were simply eating salaries and getting a pick in return, and so they waived Baldwin and Stauskas; Stauskas landed with Cleveland as a free agent and Baldwin opted to enter the G League player pool. The journey of Baldwin and Stauskas isn’t novel, though it was supposed to be the relic of an earlier collective bargaining agreement. You used to see a fair amount of the re-routing of players for accounting reasons back when non-guaranteed contracts could be used for salary matching in trades, a wrinkle that saw players like Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson spending their summers as currency. It’s unusual for a player to be moved this much in a short period in-season — especially since that wrinkle was removed from the CBA. Baldwin has managed to take it in stride.
“It’s the business I chose, so you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt. You know, hearing your name going from one team to another, it is what it is. It’s nothing personal. It’s not a reflection of your ability, it’s just the business and numbers,” Baldwin said. “I think every time you step foot on the court, there’s something to prove. You’ve got 60-plus people coming in the next year with the draft picks, you’ve got free agents from all over the world trying to get in, so I think it’s wise for everybody to get in where you fit in and never feel comfortable, ’cause anything can change.
“Look at a situation like Toronto. They had DeMar DeRozan for his whole career and next thing you know he’s on the Spurs, you know what I’m saying? It’s billionaires versus millionaires in a sense. So you never know, and you just continue with the pride that you play with, continue working hard, and see where the chips fall.”
Gortat at 35 years of age, didn’t have the greatest start to the season with the Clippers, averaging just 5.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 43 games before he was waived in February. This could be the Gortat’s greatest chance to re-enter the league and possibly a chance at a title.
Although the Raptors acquired Marc Gasol to come off the bench for the frontcourt behind Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam, there’s still room on the roster for Gortat. Toronto traded big man Jonas Valanciunas in a trade to receive Gasol along with removing Greg Monroe at the deadline.
It could be looked at as a massive risk considering Gortat’s age but the more risks the Raptors take, the higher their chances of making the Finals this year becomes. The Bucks, Celtics, and 76ers are all contenders in the East meaning that the Raptors have a huge postseason ahead of them.
The Toronto Raptors are coming off a loss to the Detroit Pistons that could really hurt them in the final standings. With Kawhi Leonard resting before the Houston game once again, the Raptors fell to three back in the loss column of the Milwaukee Bucks and do not hold the tiebreaker either, effectively giving the Bucks a four game cushion atop the East. And if you’re a “James Harden should be the MVP” truther, then that’s some bad news since “Giannis is the best player on the best team” is an easy narrative for the media to cling to in their never-ending quest to discredit Harden.
The Rockets are coming off a big win in Boston where they finally held onto a sizable lead. Obviously, Houston didn’t make life easy. After holding a 28-point second half lead, they allowed the Celtics to climb within eight points before a James Harden dagger and some stellar defensive plays from Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker ended the game.
The difference between third and sixth place in the West is separated by two losses. The bad news for Houston is that Portland Trail Blazers is playing really well right now and hold the tiebreaker over the Rockets. The good news is that barring some craziness down the stretch, Houston will hold the tiebreaker over the Utah Jazz if they hold onto the top spot in the Southwest Division. The Oklahoma City tiebreaker is still up in the air, but it won’t be decided until the last game of the season, which could be a real thorn in Houston’s side.
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