Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 19

50-21; Bonjour Boucher; au revoir Lowry 🙁

10 Things from Raptors vs Knicks – Yahoo Sports

Eight – Positive: Jeremy Lin made good use of extended garbage time and finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Lin is at his best when he’s attacking the rim, and the Knicks offered very little resistance. Lin’s minutes are still in jeopardy now that VanVleet is back in the lineup, but this game has to do wonders for Lin’s shattered confidence. It doesn’t matter that it came against a tanking team on the second night of a back-to-back – Lin just needs to see the ball go through the hoop right now.

Raptors’ improved shooting and passing of late would be missing key link without Kyle Lowry – The Athletic [subscription]

In terms of shot-makers, the personnel really has not changed. Gasol and Jeremy Lin, the other major newcomer since the deadline, have combined to go 14-for-65 from deep. It is basically everyone else who has gotten hot. Before the deadline, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and Anunoby were shooting 41.6, 32.5, 33.3, 32.9 percent, respectively Since then, they are at 52.4, 43.7, 39.4, and 38.1 percent. For everyone except for Green, who is just shooting the hell out of the ball this year, their true level probably lies somewhere in between those two numbers. Even though “regressing” makes it seem inherently negative, regressing to the mean is not always a bad thing. Just before the trade deadline, Blake Murphy cited a study that said team 3-point shooting doesn’t tend to even out until an average of 68.4 games. Would you look at that: The Raptors have now played 71.

They tied a record with 21 makes in a game without Kawhi Leonard two weekends ago in Miami. In a game without Lowry, they went 18-for-36 in a loss to Detroit on Sunday. They had 17 when they embarrassed Boston a few weeks back. They have hit double digits in 3-point makes in all but two of the 16 games they have played since the trade deadline. Hitting 10 3-pointers in a game is not very impressive when you’re putting up 35 or so a night, but after a pile of 7-for-29 nights to start the year, a high floor is certainly welcome. More often than not, they are finding themselves in the low-to-mid teens.

Before we write off the personnel change, though, a lot has changed about how they get their shots, too. With Gasol, the Raptors are up to 307.7 passes per game, fifth in the league. They were at 290.8, 20th in the league, before that. Before Gasol got here, the two pillars of the offence were Leonard isolations and Lowry-Serge Ibaka pick-and-pop plays. There is not a lot of natural ball movement built in there.

“Yeah, you look up and there’s like eight seconds left on the shot clock and everybody has already touched it,” Gasol said.

“Sometimes you pass up a good shot for a great one,” Gasol added a moment later. “When you play that way, it’s so contagious that next time, you’re going to be on the receiving end of that good to great. I like it, because it translates defensively, too. When guys are unselfish defensively, normally sometimes you will … take a step closer to your teammate to help them, because everything is connected.”

“It’s good, let’s keep it rolling,” coach Nick Nurse added. “I think we ought to be making more of them.”

Raptors 128, Knicks 92: Scenes from *faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaart* – Posting and Toasting

Sure, the Knicks were playing the second night of a back-to-back, and just came off an emotional win on Sunday, but there is no good excuse for this kind of performance, even from the worst team in the league.

Fizdale pulls starters in Knicks’ ugly rout to Kawhi-less Raptors – New York Post

The rout became so ugly Knicks coach David Fizdale called timeout 1:05 into the second half to pull all five of his starters. It was one 3-pointer after another for the Raptors as they crushed the comatose Knicks at Scotiabank Arena in a 128-92 disgrace.

“Not getting it done,’’ Fizdale said of his decision to pull the quintet. “Not playing at a level I want to see the game played at. Everyone out there owned it. I can’t waste a minute to let them wallow.’’

The victory gave the Raptors a remarkable home record of 31-0 against the Atlantic Division since 2015-16. The Knicks, who fell to 14-57, had no answers.

As Leonard rested, the Raptors (50-21) feasted on the Knicks’ sluggish defense and built a 34-point lead midway through the third quarter and led by 38 in the fourth.

“Offensive rebounds, kickouts, they broke us down driving at us,’’ Damyean Dotson said. “We didn’t contain the ball well and we didn’t get to their shooters well.”

Eight Raptors hit double figures, led by Pascal Siakam’s 19 points. Kyle Lowry scored 15 points and had eight assists, six rebounds in 26 minutes while Fred VanVleet burned the Knicks for 13 points and 12 assists.

Allonzo Trier paced the Knicks with 22 points off the bench. The Knicks, who are 1-13 against the Raptors since 2015, shot 32.9 percent while Toronto was a sensational 17-of-40 from 3-point land.

Raptors Crush Knicks but Lose Kyle Lowry to Ankle Injury – The New York Times [subscription]

“I’m able to walk, a little bit slower, but I’ll be all right,” Lowry said.

Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks’ rookie center, collided with Lowry while chasing a loose ball in the third quarter. Robinson fell onto Lowry’s legs, taking him down from behind. Lowry slapped the floor in pain and frustration before being helped to his feet and limping to the locker room.

“I watched the clip,” Lowry said. “I think it was a little bit dirty. He grabbed me and pulled me down. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I know he didn’t think he was going to hurt me.”

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Robinson, who fouled out with no points in 14 minutes, did not speak to reporters.

Raps get the win but Lowry injury puts huge damper on things | Toronto Sun

What had him most concerned was missing what could be some valuable time meshing with his teammates as they push towards the playoffs.

“It’s super frustrating for our team, but we’ve done a great job of handling everything and playing through the injuries and rest games and trying to keep everyone together,” Lowry said. “But we’ve done a great job of continuing to have guys step up, in and out of lineups, Freddy (VanVleet) being out, myself, Kawhi (Leonard), integrating Marc (Gasol) in here… everything’s been kind of up and down. But we’re a good team, and all we need is a couple of games on the floor together and we’ll be alright.”

Lowry was just returning from a two-game absence due to an injury to his left ankle. The severity of the injury will not be known until further tests are conducted.

If the loss is long-term it’s a devastating blow to the Raptors’ playoff chances. Even if it’s only a handful of games, it takes away Toronto’s last chance to really lock in before what has long been anticipated as a potentially long playoff run.

The Raptors went on to win the game, win No. 50 on the year, easily enough by a score of 128-92, but that is of little consequence at the moment.

All that matters are the findings of whatever tests are conducted on Lowry’s ankle today.

It was Lowry and VanVleet who got this one going and on the way to such a lopsided result in the first place.

Despite playing just 26 minutes, Lowry had 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds. VanVleet, who started alongside Lowry in the backcourt with Kawhi Leonard on another load management night, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in just 28 minutes.

Once Lowry went down VanVleet only played a few more minutes before he too exited the game and did not return as much as a form of preservation as anything.

Kyle Lowry limps away from Raptors’ rout of Knicks | The Star [subscription]

Lowry stayed down, writhing on the court in immediate frustration before being helped to the locker room. The team said he was having “right ankle soreness” and would not return, a happenstance that took any good feeling out of Toronto’s ridiculously easy 128-92 victory over the Knicks.

“It is what it is, it’s an injury. It happens,” Lowry said. “It’s unfortunate, injuries can come at any point in the season, at any point in the game … (Robinson) grabbed me and pulled me down. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I know he didn’t think he was going to hurt me, I think he was trying to stop the play. Little bit dirty in a sense, but I don’t think he did it on purpose.

“But it happens, this game, injuries happen, it’s a part of it … It’s pretty tender right now.”

Much will be made of the fact the Raptors were pummelling the Knicks 93-59 when Lowry was hurt, well on their way to their 50th win of the season. But Lowry hadn’t been overextended, he needed some floor time after missing two games, and he would likely have been done for the night about two minutes later.

Some with the ability to tell the future might have decided to get him out of the game at the previous stoppage, which had come about 32 seconds of game time earlier, but that ability eludes most NBA coaches.

Lowry had tests at the arena and will be further examined on Tuesday.

“It was a pretty rough fall,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We’re going to re-assess a bit tomorrow but I think … not terribly bad. But we shall see. One on each side now.”

Recap: Toronto Raptors dominate New York Knicks from start to finish in 128-92 win – Raptors HQ

So, the stuff to be happy about: Well, we’ve got the rapidly burgeoning chemistry between Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. The two took center stage early in the first quarter, as they operated well together in the pick-and-roll. Gasol, who had previously been prone to floating in space after screening, rolled decisively to the rim to begin the night. VanVleet, who has habitually looked off his bigs at the basket throughout the year, looked to find him whenever he did. The result was multiple easy baskets and trips to the foul line for Gasol, though the Knicks’ porous defence was in part to blame for that, of course.

Or how about the Raptors’ activity, sharing the rock and moving without the basketball? That also shone early on, with Lowry dedicating himself to setting backscreens to secure open looks for the Raptors’ shooters, while Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam worked to set them up from the elbows. Both Danny Green and Fred VanVleet are slightly too diminutive to be especially effective as cutters, but both were able to bang some threes by shifting around without the ball.

With five willing passers in the lineup the Raptors were also able to take advantage of the Knicks by driving and kicking. They made every extra pass, constantly generating good looks

Four takeaways from Raptors 36-point win over Knicks | NBA.com

Spreading the wealth
Prior to Monday night, Jeremy Lin’s best scoring night as a Raptor came on March 8 as he finished with 14 points (on 6-for-9 shooting) in a blowout win over the Pelicans.

Lin outdid himself against his former team Monday night, finishing with 20 points (on 7-for-11 shooting) in under 27 minutes of action. It’s Lin’s fourth 20-point game of the 2018-19 season, with two coming against the Raptors as a member of the Hawks.

As previously mentioned, Lin, VanVleet and Lowry were three of eight Raptors to finish in double figures. Pascal Siakam added 19, OG Anunoby chipped in with 14, Danny Green finished with 13 points, Marc Gasol scored 12 and Norman Powell scored 10 off the bench.

In addition to the team’s eight double-figure scorers, it assisted on 36 of its 49 (73.4 percent) made field goals. The Raptors, who average 25.0 assists per game, advanced to 15-1 on the season when recording 30 or more assists.

NBA Power Rankings – Warriors overtake Bucks for the top spot – ESPN

4. Toronto Raptors
Record: 49-21

PREV. RANKLAST WEEKNEXT WEEK
3 1-2NY, @OKC, OKC, CHA

The Raptors’ odds of catching the Bucks for the East’s top seed are slim after a 4-4 start to March. They keep failing to take advantage of opportunities to make up ground, getting beaten by the Pistons (twice) and Cavaliers after Milwaukee losses this month. — MacMahon

The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings: Moments of the season edition – The Athletic [subscription]

3. Toronto Raptors (Previously 3rd), 49-21 (+4.7 net rating)

Eric Koreen on the Toronto Raptors’ moment of the season: Both of the Raptors’ games against the Warriors this year were sensational. Their perfect early-season road trip on the West Coast, where so many of their previous seasons had gone to die, was a statement that this team could be different. Their visit to San Antonio was pure deflation, and coming back two nights later to win in Milwaukee was a sign that this team was resilient as well as talented. Unquestionably, the Spurs’ lone visit to Toronto is the Raptors moment of the year, and one of the most memorable nights in the franchise’s history. For a while, the Raptors were defined by the players who left them on unfriendly terms — Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh. When DeMar DeRozan hit the Scotiabank Arena floor for the first time as a visitor, and the crowd erupted in applause, it signaled that something fundamental had changed about the franchise.

Fans needed a decade to get over Carter’s exit; that they were able to appreciate DeRozan in real time signaled a transformation of sorts. When Kawhi Leonard picked DeRozan’s pocket and glided in for the go-ahead bucket in the final minute, it allowed Raptors fans to cheer on this version of the team as a separate entity, unburdened by the past and judged on its own merits.

NBA power rankings: LeBron James, Lakers continue to fall | SI.com

7. Raptors | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 49-21 | Previous Ranking: 3

Now or Never

Something new awaits

This April and May. Or else

Nobody will stay

Additional notes:

The Raptors lost by 25 in Cleveland but beat LeBron by 13 points this week.

After shooting 27.6% on threes in February, Kawhi Leonard is now shooting 45.9% from deep in March and went 13-for-24 last week.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks stay on top, 76ers rise and every team has a big question – CBSSports.com

2 . Raptors . The Big Question: Can this team fully morph into the elite defensive unit that you’d expect from this personnel? Well guess what: The transformation has already begun. Over the past 15 games — right around the time they acquired Marc Gasol — the Raptors have ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency.–50-21

Power Rankings, Week 23: Statement wins propel Warriors to top | NBA.com

5

Last week: 3
Toronto Raptors
Record: 49-21
Pace: 100.7 (15) OffRtg: 112.0 (7) DefRtg: 107.3 (9) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)

When Fred VanVleet was lost for more than a month with a thumb injury, Jeremy Lin seemed like a timely addition for the Raptors. But, with Lin having shot 36 percent (including a brutal 6-for-35 from 3-point range) in his 12 games with his new team, VanVleet’s return to health couldn’t have come sooner. VanVleet had a careless and costly turnover late in the Raptors’ loss in Detroit on Sunday, but played 31 minutes and shot 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, replacing Lin in the starting lineup at the start of the third quarter (with Kyle Lowry missing his second straight game). Their game against New York on Monday is the second half of the Raptors’ final back-to-back of the season. But with Lowry dealing with an ankle injury, Serge Ibaka suspended for one more game, and Kawhi Leonard bound to take at least few more games off, it appears that continuity will remain an issue for this team as it enters the postseason in less than four weeks.

Raptors’ game won’t remain the same come playoff time | The Star [subscription]

He’s got some minor surprises he expects to spring on whichever first-round opponent the Raptors draw but he knows they might very well be one-time things.

“It’s like you put a couple things in and you may get a basket and then at halftime they aren’t working anymore because the team’s adjusted, and you’re back to doing it again for the next game, and all that stuff,” Nurse said. “That’s the beauty of the seven-game series.”

There have been a few things Nurse has tried in games just to give his players a chance to work on them at full speed, knowing that they won’t remain a secret too long because of the amount of scouting NBA teams do.

For instance, on the final possession of regulation time in game in Detroit two weeks ago, the Raptors run a play that no one would have seen before, with two players setting screens to get Marc Gasol an open corner three-point attempt after a brilliant cross-court pass from Kyle Lowry.

But having used it once means every team knows it is in Toronto’s arsenal know and Nurse isn’t likely to run it out again. Still, his team got a chance to work on it at full game speed, it was successful even if the shot didn’t go in, and the Raptors will keep it squirreled away to perhaps use in one specific late-game playoff situation.

“I guess you’ve got to try to sneak a look at a few things, and if you don’t do it 15 times, maybe you only do it once or twice, then at least you’ve gotten a look,” he said. “I would imagine we’re going get to the playoffs and be running almost entirely different things than we’re running now.”

Thoughts on the Raptors defence, March Madness and much more – TSN.ca

1. RAPTORS DEFENSE: Down the stretch in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, the defence had its share of issues getting big stops allowing 60 second half points with the Pistons shooting a comfortable 47 per cent from the field overall in the day. The Raptors are at their best when they’re locked in and really consistent on this end of the floor fueling their transition attack. Of late, I’m seeing a team that’s having untimely breakdowns at critical moments that create self-inflicted issues that are difficult to overcome. As much as we focus on offensive chemistry, role definition and overall team health/depth leading into the playoffs, this is an area that really needs to tighten up. Offensive basketball will always have a degree of volatility to it. Defence is all about grinding out good daily habits that don’t waver a whole lot. This team needs to re-establish those core principles and get their foundation for success more stable.

Raptors still fighting injury bug as playoffs draw near – Sportsnet.ca

“I’ll be doing some treatment all night, trying to get myself healthy — trying to get back and not be out long.”

Returning to action Monday after missing two games with an injury to his opposite ankle, Lowry didn’t appear to be experiencing much rust through 26 minutes, shooting 5-of-9 from deep and registering a plus-33 night. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka’s three-game suspension was coming to an end and Kawhi Leonard’s load had been appropriately managed. The Raptors appeared to finally be putting all their pieces in place.

And it was a good time to do it. The Raptors will be in Oklahoma City to begin a home-and-home series against the 42-28 Thunder Wednesday, with the return date occurring Friday night at Scotiabank Arena. From there, the Raptors will finish the season playing nine consecutive games against teams that do not currently possess winning records.

On paper, these next two games will be Toronto’s stiffest tests between now and the end of the season. And playing them against the same opponent in different cities will partially mimic the conditions of a playoff series, which is a small thing but can only be beneficial as the Raptors try to sort out their rotations for April. It was all lining up until Lowry went down.

“It’s super frustrating for our team,” Lowry said. “But we’ve done a great job of handling everything and playing through the injuries and rest games and trying to keep everyone together. We’ve done a great job of just continuing to have guys step up, in and out of lineups. [Fred VanVleet] being out, myself, Kawhi. Now integrating Marc [Gasol in here. Everything’s been kind of up and down. But we’re a good team. All we need is a couple games on the floor together and we’ll be all right.”

Raptors try to keep their focus with the playoffs in their sights | The Star [subscription]

Acknowledging it’s “a little bit difficult to focus” is the polite way of saying the post-season can’t get here fast enough. If the sentiment is going around the NBA, you can make the case it’s going around the MLSE. As much as Leafs Nation is in a panic, in some ways you can excuse the Maple Leafs for their lacklustre play. Just like the Raptors have appeared locked into the East’s No. 2 seed for weeks, the Leafs have been on a collision course with the dreaded Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs for what seems like months. It’s not easy getting up for games in mid-March when you know you’re only going to be judged on the ones you play in mid-April.

Still, there’s a difference. The Leafs haven’t played well enough to earn the luxury of load managing themselves into a string of embarrassing losses, including to the likes of the league-worst Ottawa Senators. So give the basketball side of the Bay Street home office credit. For all the randomness of the Raptors’ mishmash of injury-depleted lineups, for all the science that’s now kept Leonard out of 20 games this season, Toronto’s NBA team came into Monday with the second-best record in the NBA.

Three games behind first-place Milwaukee in the Eastern standings and four games clear of third-place Philly when play began, you could make the case the Raptors were in an appealing sweet spot — on pace to watch top-seeded Milwaukee battle, let’s just say, Boston in one Eastern semifinal, this while Toronto gets a difficult but arguably more favourable matchup against, in all likelihood, Philadelphia, in the other semi.

Not that any potential first-round opponent ought be taken for granted — not when the Raptors, thanks to their season of many fivesomes, promise to be figuring things out on the playoff fly.

And not that avoiding the Pistons in the opening round wouldn’t be a good idea, if only to avoid the inherent awkwardness of the reigning coach of the year working in Detroit after winning the award residing here. Toronto is 0-3 against the Pistons this season for a handful of reasons. For one, Blake Griffin is a tough matchup for Pascal Siakam because Griffin’s so strong. For another, Andre Drummond’s a tough matchup for Marc Gasol because he’s, well, ditto. There’s a reason the Raptors were outscored in the paint by the whopping margin of 24 points in Sunday’s 110-107 loss in Motown, and only part of it comes down to Casey coaching against the Raptors like he’s engaged in Game 7 of the NBA final. Good thing, then, that coming into Monday’s play the Pistons were 11/2 games ahead of the seventh-place Nets for the sixth seed. The sixth seed is where the Raptors hope the Pistons stay.

How Raptors fans can cope with Kawhi Leonard’s ‘load management’ – Sportsnet.ca

I have waited my whole life for a team like this, and for a player like Kawhi Leonard. That’s why it I am so torn about having to watch recent losses to Orlando and Detroit (earlier this month, not Sunday afternoon’s debacle).

‘Load Management’ is a euphemism if ever there was one, and I cant decide how I feel about this whole thing, about our most talented player missing so many games – by choice.

Take a guy like Kyle Lowry (who, in my opinion is the GROAT – Greatest Raptor of All Time).

Lowry is just about as tenacious a competitor as you could ever come across. He busts his butt every game no matter what, because that’s what he does. If he is able to play he will — and hard. He doesn’t think about taking games off, because he is too busy thinking about taking games over – even when you think he probably should get some rest, he won’t – and I absolutely love him for that.

Then there is Kawhi, who, it was announced Monday morning, will miss the Raptors’ upcoming home game versus the New York Knicks. And therein lies the conundrum. I watch Kawhi play and I get giddy; There has never been a player as good in a Raptors uniform.

He is a stone cold, poker-faced unflinching baller with a championship pedigree and unfathomable efficiency. Trying to enjoy this season without worrying about whether or not he will be here next year has been exceedingly difficult for many fans. It’s like a crash course in the art of mindfulness; “Live in the now … stay in the now …”

I’ve read that Leonard considers regular season games merely as “practice” – that the only thing on his mind is the post-season. Could it be that as a life-long Raptors fan, I am so unfamiliar with post-season triumph that the concept of throwing away could-be-regular-season-victories seems other-worldly? I mean, we were 16-66 one year. Kawhi Leonard, in his NBA career thus far, has never come close to knowing such depths of despair.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to [email protected]

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