Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 8

46-19; Pelicans getting clipped tonight…hopefully…probably…

Raptors running out of time to build cohesion ahead of playoffs – Sportsnet.ca

LIN STRUGGLES

One notable bench player — although he was placed in the starting lineup when Kawhi Leonard sat out Toronto’s loss against Orlando last week — who has struggled is newcomer Jeremy Lin. Handed over more responsibility and playing time than imagined in light of the Fred VanVleet injury, the reserve point guard has had difficulty adjusting to his new role and team.

Over his past five games, Lin is averaging five points while shooting a fairly dreadful 26.1 per cent from the field. What’s more, the floor general looks to be lost at times, something that Nurse was willing to shoulder some of the blame for.

“He’s just a little uncomfortable with me, more than anything,” Nurse said.

The first-year head coach wants Lin, like the rest of the Raptors’ point guards, to take more ownership over play-calling duties when he’s out there on the floor.

“I’ll say to him, ‘Jeremy, hey, call something. You’ve got the ball in your hands and you look like you don’t know what you want to do out there. You don’t have to look at me. Call this, this, or this,’” Nurse points to an imaginary clipboard in his hands. “‘Pick one.’”

“Even though I’ll try to shorten it down to three [options], he’s so new that sometimes he can’t quite come up with one.” Nurse acknowledged that, until he sees what he wants from his backup point guard, it’s the coach that will need to adjust his approach for now. “I need to give him more help until he’s more comfortable with that. That’s the first thing.”

The second thing, Nurse said, had to do with Lin adjusting to the intensity of virtually each and every Raptors game at this point in the season. “The way teams play us, and the games that we’ve been in here with really quality teams, they’re pretty high-level.”

Needless to say, for a team atop the East with a target on it’s back working to play at a finalist level, it’s been a far cry from what Lin was used to with the 22-44 Atlanta Hawks prior to signing with the Raptors after the trade deadline.

“And he will [adjust]. He’s tough. I don’t question that has the ability to do it, it’s just about getting him more used to it.”

Raptors’ Lin still adjusting to his new team – TSN.ca

“We’ve gotta get him more comfortable,” Nurse said, as Lin was still taking jumpers on the other end of the Raptors’ practice facility. “He’s just a little uncomfortable with me, I think, more than anything. I like to let those guys [have freedom]. I say to him, ‘Jeremy, hey, call something. You know, you get the ball in your hands and you look like you don’t know what you want to do out there.’ I say, ‘You don’t have to look at me, just call this, this or this, pick one’. He’s got to get a little more comfortable. Even though I’ve tried to shorten it down to three things, he’s so new that he can’t quite come up with one. I need to give him more help. I need to give him more help until he’s more comfortable with that.”

“I’m seeing that I have to reverse a lot of my mindset in terms of just the freedom I have on the floor and the empowerment,” said Lin, later Thursday afternoon. “[Nurse] has done a great job of opening that up and I need to step into that. That’s my responsibility to step into the door he’s opened for me. It’s definitely a mindset shift in terms of how to play the game. It’s different. It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of freedom. It’s a player’s dream, it’s a blessing and it’s my job and my time to capitalize on it.”

Lin says he hasn’t had a coach like Nurse, one that allows his players to freelance this much, since he played for Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks in 2011-12 – his second year in the league and the peak of the global sensation that became known as Linsanity. In 35 games that season, he averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists, both career-highs, so he’s capable of playing that style of basketball. In fact, he insists that it’s his strength; he just needs to get back to playing that way after years of running a more structured offence.

“That is kind of how I always played,” he said. “I was always more of a free space, free-flowing playmaker. That’s just kind of who I am by nature. That’s my personality. That’s probably what attracted me to this team and obviously vice-versa. We got to just make the pieces fit and [we] will.”

It’s been three years since Lin last appeared in a playoff game and he’s never made it out of the first round. The chance to go on a run and play into May, and maybe even into June, is one of the reasons he decided to sign with Toronto. But, after coming from the 22-44 Hawks, this level of competition is also something he has to get reacquainted with.

“I think the intensity with which our games are played at he needs to get used to as well,” Nurse said. “The way teams play us and the games we’ve been in here with really quality teams, they’re pretty high level and he needs to get used to the physicality of that. And he will. He’s tough. He’s tough. I don’t question his ability to do it, it’s just getting used to it a little bit.”

Raptors trying to eliminate any steps back as season winds down | The Star [subscription]

Still, head coach Nick Nurse is confident progress will win out, and that the Raptors are still poised to play cohesive, winning basketball over the final phase of the regular season.

“I can really see … big leaps forward, and then a step back,” Nurse said Thursday. “We’ve got to get to that point where it’s just steady steps going forward, and not that step back.”

The team’s consistency has suffered since a thumb injury sidelined point guard Fred VanVleet, who directed a second unit that normally is an asset for the Raptors. But Tuesday against Houston every Raptors non-starter finished with a plus-minus rating of minus-15 or greater.

Some Raptors thought it came back to the consistent effort required to beat playoff teams.

“We have to play harder as a group and continue to get better,” said starting point guard Kyle Lowry after Tuesday’s loss. “Nothing’s going to be given to you on any given night.”

Beyond that, Lowry said, the team’s coaches could decide which lineup permutations would yield the most consistent results.

Nurse told reporters Thursday that a heightened focus on defence would lead to baskets, and rhymed off a list of players — like Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw and OG Anunoby — who could ignite the offence by being more “disruptive on defence.”

And even as the club works to regain its upward trajectory, Nurse sounded confident the day before the weekend road trip.

“If the playoffs were starting this weekend, I’d be ready to go and excited about where our team is,” he told reporters.

SIMMONS: Cool and composed, coach Nick Nurse is Raptors’ rookie of the year | Toronto Sun

Leonard plays and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes Serge Ibaka starts at centre, now it’s a question each game if it’s him or Gasol. He thought back in June that OG Anunoby might start at small forward, but Siakam ended that thought process almost immediately. And, in between, it’s melding last year’s talent with this year’s talent, with the trade-deadline talent, while dealing with the health issues (Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have both missed a lot of games). For a team this special in the standings, there are so many little matters that need to be attended to over these next five weeks.

This is where the coaching becomes a delicate practice. How hard do you push and who do you push hard? How much freedom do you give the veteran players while remaining in charge yourself?

On Thursday, before heading to New Orleans, Nurse ran an intense shooting drill in practice. Lots of pressure on the shooter. Large expectations on the defender.

“The veteran guys didn’t do as many reps, but the other guys really needed it,” said Nurse. Nurse knows he needs more from his bench, even with VanVleet hurt, more from Jeremy Lin, more from Norm Powell, more from Anunoby.

“It’s a delicate thing,” said Nurse. “You’ve almost got to individualize it a little bit.”

Every day there’s something else to work on, some new problem, some old problem — that’s coaching in the NBA. Or maybe just coaching anywhere.

“I’ve never won an NBA championship, but I’ve been part of a lot of championship runs, and they have season-long feels to them,” said Nurse. “That’s the way I’m trying to coach the team.”

Nurse: VanVleet could return in two weeks – TSN.ca

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said Thursday Fred VanVleet’s return from a thumb injury could come earlier than originally expected.

VanVleet reportedly underwent surgery on his left thumb in mid-February and was expected to miss five weeks. Nurse said Thursday the point guard could return within the next two weeks.

Video Gamer: A week in the life of Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin – The Athletic [subscription]

The Raptors play the Trail Blazers, and it is one of the games of the year. It features four all-star-level players performing, at various points, up to their ceilings. There are questionable calls that send both benches, not to mention the crowd, into a tizzy. There are multiple opportunities for both teams to fold, and neither does. The game is so intense that when Kawhi Leonard hits the game-winner, a baseline jumper that uses all of the rim to nudge itself through mesh, he lets out his version of a primal scream, which appears to be more of a delighted whoop.

About 10 minutes after the game is over, Griffin walks out of the Raptors’ locker room. He betrays none of that emotion.

“As a player, you’re supposed to cut it off at 11:59. As soon as midnight comes, you’ve got to start getting ready for the next opponent,” Griffin says of reacting to a big win. “For players, you have a little longer time to celebrate and enjoy. Coaches, you’ve really got to start thinking about the next game and getting your edits and clips ready for the next day. If we had practice tomorrow morning, I’d have to start getting ready for my drills, my film work. You don’t have a lot of time to celebrate.”

The defensive numbers aren’t great, with the Trail Blazers scoring 117 points on 49 percent shooting, 14 3-pointers and 23 free throws. The Raptors force an above-average 16 turnovers, but this is not their sharpest performance of the year.

Lillard, with his combination of shooting and speed, is especially dangerous in taking advantage of the Raptors’ uneven perimeter defence. However, it is McCollum, winding through screens, who torments the Raptors, hitting a career-best seven 3-pointers. Gasol makes the defensive play of the game, switching on to McCollum on the Blazers’ penultimate possession, and staying close enough to force an off-balance 3-pointer that falls short.

In a tight game in an electric arena, Griffin has to do a little bit of everything.

“It’s just to make sure our coverages are in tact in each timeout, and then communicating it almost on the fly,” Griffin says. “The timeouts get a little shorter, and there are a lot of voices, a lot of energy in the huddles. You’ve got to maintain your composure, but at the same time make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

The Raptors will not hold a practice before headed to Detroit tomorrow, which will allow Griffin to do his video work in the morning instead of tonight. The Raptors’ schedule is fairly spread out for the next little while, the product of having played the most game-packed slate earlier in the year. Still, four of the next five games are on the road. Griffin is planning to head back to the Four Seasons Hotel with Kathy.

“Me and the wife will probably get something quick to eat, talk and get a little quality time before we hit the road,” Griffin says.

Tonight, at least, Griffin can keep his laptop in his bag.

NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans must adjust to life without Jrue Holiday on fly against Toronto Raptors – The Bird Writes

So, what should we expect against the Toronto Raptors (46-19) without the Pelicans heart and soul lining up at tip-off?

Likely, a whole lot of tough sledding.

Not only will New Orleans dearly miss Holiday’s production (21.2, 7.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds), they’ll be without the one Pelican who sets the tone better than anyone else against the team sporting the league’s second best record.

When I asked Julius Randle at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice if he has ever played with a player like Holiday, who leads by example but through effort, he responded, “Uh, no. Not a guy that plays that hard every night — who competes like that. It’s pretty unbelievable.”

Tipoff: Raptors at Pelicans | Toronto Sun

Kyle Lowry vs. Elfrid Payton
Kyle Lowry needs a bounce back game both from his recent stinker against Houston and the last time these two teams met when Jrue Holiday held him to just four points.
Holiday has been doing this to a lot of top flight talent this year, but the Raps and Lowry won’t have to deal with him this time around.
He’s been diagnosed with a lower abdominal strain and will be out at least a week. The likely means Lowry will be matched up against Elfrid Payton, who is no where near the defender Holiday is.

Toronto Raptors vs. New Orleans Pelicans Prediction, Preview, and Odds – Winners and Whiners

New Orleans Pelicans Try to Sweep Season Series
New Orleans ended up with a split of their home and home set with the Jazz as they dropped the home portion of the set. The Pelicans entered Thursday 12th in the Western Conference, 7.5 games behind the Spurs and Clippers, who own the final two playoff spots. New Orleans was down two after the opening quarter, trailed by 11 at the half and couldn’t get closer than four in the second half of the contest. The Pelicans shot 46.1 percent from the field, including nine of 24 from three-point range, and turned the ball over 17 times in the loss. Julius Randle led New Orleans with 23 points and six rebounds in the loss.

The Pelicans are 3rd in the league in scoring offense with 115.8 points per game. The Pelicans are 4th in rebounding with 47 boards per game while ranking 4th with 26.9 assists per contest. New Orleans is 26th in scoring defense as they give up 115 points per contest. New Orleans is 3rd in field goal percentage shooting 47.8 percent from the floor. The Pelicans are tied for 22nd with 10 made threes per game and stand tied for 21st in the league by converting 34.8 percent from long range this season. New Orleans is 5-5 in their last 10 games and ranked tied for 10th with 115.6 points per game. The Pelicans are 24th in scoring defense by allowing 117.1 points a night in that stretch. Julius Randle leads the team in the last 10 games with 24.4 points plus 6.9 rebounds a night while shooting 48.6 percent from the floor. Jrue Holiday puts up 22.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game: he is shooting 47.8 percent from the floor, including 35.8 percent from three-point range. The Pelicans have a lot of work to do in order to try and get back on track on both ends of the floor. Holiday and E’Twaun Moore are both out for this contest, dealing damage to the Pelicans’ rotation.

Fate of Canadian basketball’s potential all in Rowan Barrett’s hands – Sportsnet.ca

In his executive role with Canada Basketball, he helped develop a number of development programs that were entry points for several members of the rising class of Canadian talent into the national team environment, and helped lead Canada through the extended qualifying process for the FIBA World Cup in China, where 36 players and three head coaches went 10-2 over the course of six qualifying windows played out over 18 months.

But Barrett’s first job as the official general manager will be to deal with Canada’s present in a way that doesn’t offend it’s past.

Specifically, what is he going to do with the head coaching position ostensibly held by Triano — a national team icon as a player, twice the national team head coach, the only Canadian to ever hold an NBA head coaching position and a long-tenured NBA assistant coach with four organizations, now in Charlotte.

In an interview Wednesday, Barrett said that he’ll be evaluating everything on the basketball operations side, including the head coaching position.

“We’ll be evaluating … all the coaches that coached in our [qualifying] windows as potential head coaches as well as expanding our search outside our walls to look at the best available coaches around the world to see if they fit into the criteria and prerequisites we require from a head coach, and then do our interviews this month and [we’re] looking to do our hiring by the end of the month.”

According to Barrett Triano — who coached Barrett at the Olympics in 2000 — hasn’t been let go, but will essentially have to compete for a job he has never been told isn’t his.

Awkward?

“People can infer what they want, but I didn’t [say Triano won’t be back],” said Barrett. “We’re evaluating the coaching situation and want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward to give our team the best chance to be successful. … We don’t have any problems here.

Kawhi Leonard’s odd path to stardom – Yahoo Sports

It also helped that Leonard and several teammates had no fear of Mater Dei, having been part of a King team that a year earlier led the Monarchs until the final two minutes. The Wolves entered the Southern Section title game eager to gain respect for themselves and for basketball in the blue-collar Inland Empire, which they felt went perennially overlooked compared to their counterparts in glitzier Los Angeles and Orange County.

“We weren’t going to let an Orange County team beat us,” Mallory said. “We smelled that they were soft, so Kawhi purposely said he was going to look a little scruffy with his braids and I didn’t get a haircut. This was planned. We wanted to come into the game, hit them in the chest and scare the crap out of them.”

The game went back and forth until the late third quarter when King unleashed a decisive 15-0 run that left Mater Dei staggered. Future Milwaukee Bucks forward Tony Snell and guards Taylor Cunningham and Chris Harriel each connected on 3-pointers during the surge to help King pull away for a stunning, yet convincing 71-56 victory.

Harassed by multiple defenders throughout the game, Leonard tallied a modest 11 points and didn’t score during King’s game-changing run, yet he was unquestionably the best player on the floor.

His 20 rebounds were eight more than the taller, more heralded Wear twins had combined. He also blocked six shots, altered a handful of others, tallied three steals, defended multiple positions, led fast breaks and got to the foul line.

“It was absolutely incredible how he took the Wear twins out of the game,” Sweeney said. “He limited them to one shot, got the ball and went. That killed Mater Dei. They were very big and very skilled, but they couldn’t handle our speed and athleticism.”

Friday NBA game preview: Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans | The Star [subscription]

KEY MATCHUP

Lowry/Jackson

Kyle Lowry logged 11 assists but just four points when the Pelicans defeated the Raptors 126-110 in November. He’ll look to rebound Friday, but he won’t face Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who suffered an abdominal injury in Wednesday’s loss to Utah and will miss the Raptors rematch. Frank Jackson, a rookie from Duke who is averaging 6.5 points per game, will replace Holiday.

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