Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 14

Trade season is upon us | Lots of games lost to injiury

Trade season is upon us | Lots of games lost to injiury

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxHL5sGKiqY

Raptors Reasonablists, Volume IV, Part II: Figuring out a (somewhat) healthy rotation – The Athletic

KOREEN: Agree on all counts. Thomas comes in when the Raptors are struggling from deep, or not feeling it against a zone, although his presence did not help on Sunday. And I think we can say goodbye to all-bench lineups when all three of Powell, Siakam and Gasol are a) back; and b) free from the constraints of minutes restrictions. I would argue we could say goodbye now, but it’s not something I’m going to get too worked up over.

Even before Sunday, Nurse mentioned the possibility, again, that the starting lineup might change. When all five of Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol have started, they have composed the starting lineup. That has not happened since Dec. 8 in Philadelphia, but the point stands. If you remember, it was a few games after that, after VanVleet’s knee contusion but before the Detroit Decimation, the Michigan Massacre, the Big Trouble at Little Caesars, when Nurse mentioned he was considering putting Powell into the starting lineup. When asked if he would have to talk to VanVleet about a benching, Nurse hesitated to answer, saying he was not sure VanVleet would be the guy heading to the bench.

Now, I’m not sure any other move would make sense. (No thanks to sending Anunoby to the bench to put even less shot creation in a second unit, further complicating rotation patterns.) Assuming reasonable play for both, which camp are you in: A) Powell starts over VanVleet; B) VanVleet starts over Powell; C) Matchup-based decisions; D) Off the board weirdo choice?

MURPHY: This is a really tough choice, and so I’d probably lean toward a combination of C and E) Nurse continues to mix it up with the edicts of playoff versatility and psychological role flexibility.

I think the starting five they were using is their best fivesome and will likely be the group that closes games, but I’d like to see how Davis looks as the second starting guard, how a Siakam-Ibaka-Gasol trio holds up over a few minutes, whether Powell can play a pseudo-lead guard with the bench given his offensive improvements, and so on. The injuries have allowed Nurse to experiment with more players and funkier lineups, but we still have fairly limited data on what the real lineups they might use in a playoff series look like, and for that reason I’d be open to some mixing and matching among the top eight or so just to get different looks some more experience together.

Forced to choose just one as the end-of-January starting lineup, I think I’d go with what my pick was as the likeliest starting lineup in the preseason: Lowry, Powell, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol. This feels unfair to VanVleet and it isn’t necessary to separate the point guards, but it feels like the best way to approach limiting minutes for both Lowry and VanVleet in the second half while also solving one of the big staggering hurdles naturally. And then for more meaningful games (against one-through-six in the East) and the postseason, I think you continue to tweak for matchups.

Just kidding. I’d start McCaw.

Raptors blog: Expected rust, some puzzling decisions, but it’s all good | Toronto Sun

Nick Nurse is at worst third on my NBA coach of the year ballot at this point. He’s done masterful work despite constantly missing multiple key players most nights, but he’s also had some wobbles in recent weeks. Gregg Popovich showed why he’s probably the best coach in the world on Sunday as the Spurs mounted an improbable comeback. Toronto got some of its own medicine, with the Spurs’ zone throwing them off. (DeRozan’s ability to draw fouls didn’t hurt there either, of course). There were some puzzling decisions with the rotations (yes, Siakam and Powell were on minutes restrictions, but there were still ways to avoid running an all-bench lineup for extended periods, and Kyle Lowry shouldn’t have been tasked with the DeRozan assignment defensively. The Raptors also would have benefitted from getting Siakam on DeRozan on offence more, since DeRozan has no chance of stopping Siakam. The Spurs playing zone made that more challenging, sure, but it could have been done.) – I can’t remember questioning Nurse at all this season, again, he and his staff have been tremendous, but the late-game execution, failing to foul, rotational decisions, etc. can be cleaned up and likely will be.

Breaking up is hard to do, but trading Ibaka or Gasol could make the Raptors even stronger | The Star

There’s a good team here with or without Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka, veterans who are grouped together because of their contract situations. There’s a big opportunity here for the Raps prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline to aggressively move into the future and remain as competitive as they’re probably going to be this season.

Moving Lowry would bring big returns, but that seems almost impossible to imagine now. He’s become too much of a franchise icon. He’s here as long as he wants to be.

Gasol and Ibaka both fall into a different category. As we’ve seen this season, both can be very good, but neither is indispensable. If you could move either — or both — by Feb. 6 for assets or players who could be contributing parts for the next four to six years, now is the time to do it.

The Raps don’t have to blow anything up. With VanVleet and Siakam they’ve got a nice duo with which to move forward. They can trot out another five to seven players, depending on your preferences, and compete with pretty much any NBA team.

But there’s next season and beyond to consider. You know it’s on the minds of Ujiri and Webster, who would hate to hang on too long and see this club slowly become a non-contender, then an also-ran. It’s their job, in fact, to make sure that doesn’t happen. One more versatile three-and-D athlete, a younger player the team can control for at least three or four years, and you start to see a sustainable future for another five years that perhaps wasn’t quite visible in October.

NBA Power Rankings Week 13 – Latest risers and fallers – ESPN

9. Toronto Raptors
Record: 25-14
Week 12 ranking: 7

The Raptors are 25-14 through their first 39 games this season, only two games off last year’s 27-12 pace, despite losing Kawhi Leonard to free agency and suffering massive numbers of player-games lost due to injury. They have good news on the horizon, as Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell returned to action Sunday against the Spurs with Marc Gasol expected to return this week. — Snellings

The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings Week 12: We’re halfway there – The Athletic

8. Toronto Raptors (Previously 7th), 25-14 (+5.1 net rating)

Positive Takeaway: The ascension of Pascal Siakam was the talk of the first quarter of the season. But as this team has endured injury after injury, it looks like the player development and manufactured depth of the Raptors is what we should be writing home about. We’ve seen the Raptors endure a bunch of injuries this season. Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and others have missed time with maladies. We’ve seen Terrance Davis, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw and OG Anunoby step up in their respective roles to keep this thing going. That kind of depth doesn’t just happen. The Raptors are good at turning role players into guys able to accept bigger opportunities in the short and long-term.

Negative question: Is the offense going to bounce back? Prior to the second quarter of the season, I was wondering if they could sustain their offensive excellence. A ton of mitigating factors have caused them to drop off during this stretch, but now I’m curious if they can find that groove again. The first quarter of the season had the Raptors fifth in the NBA (111.2 per 100) in offensive rating, and they were fourth in true shooting percentage (58.2). Since Dec. 2, the Raptors have fallen to 22nd in offensive rating (106.9) and 23rd in true shooting (54.0). The Raptors are still a great story this season as they attempt to defend their title. But they need that offense to bounce back when they get healthier in order to return to being a dominant team.

NBA Power Rankings: Kyle Kuzma leads Lakers to top spot amid trade rumors; Jazz keep rolling; Celtics tumble – CBSSports.com

10 Toronto Raptors

The bad news is the Raptors lost to the Blazers and Spurs at home during a 1-2 week. The good news is, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell returned to the lineup in Sunday’s loss to San Antonio. Both losses were one-possession games, so no reason to panic here. With Marc Gasol nearing a return, that just leaves Fred VanVleet as the biggest piece they’re missing. It’s going to look strange if the Raptors ever get their full roster active for the same game.

Power Rankings, Week 13: Jazz, Rockets enter Top 5; Nets prepare for difficult stretch | NBA.com

12 Toronto Raptors
Last week: 10

Record: 25-14
Pace: 100.2 (16) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 103.8 (2) NetRtg: +5.1 (6)

The Raptors blew double-digit leads in all three of their games last week, shooting 36% and attempting just five total free throws (and making just one of those) over the three fourth quarters. They somehow survived a 1-for-20 stretch to win in Charlotte (in overtime) on Wednesday, but losses to the Blazers and Spurs were their first defeats at the hands of any of the 17 teams currently under .500.

They’ve dropped six of their last 10 overall and four of their last five at home, with several more trips through customs remaining in their funky January schedule (five single-game homestands). More important is that they got Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell back from 11-game absences on Sunday, with the one of the two (Powell 20 points, 4-for-7 from 3-point range) showing a little less rust than the other. Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet remain on the shelf.

NBA Tier List: Parity still reigns as NBA approaches midway point – Sportsnet.ca

Sick six

This is a bit of double-entendre with these six teams as all of them are quite good, but for some reason or the other – be it injuries or otherwise – they haven’t been playing to their maximum potential of late and have lost a little bit of ground over some of the other teams we feel are ahead of them even as they’ve managed to plow ahead and continue to look dangerous every night.

A good example of this are the Toronto Raptors who have been tepid over their last 12 games, going 6-6 in that span as they look to get back to full strength after getting decimated by the injury bug in mid-December. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell are back, and Marc Gasol shouldn’t be out much longer now, so things are starting to look up for the Raptors. However, right now, they look like a team that simply can’t uncork properly because they’ve been short on key personnel.

The lukewarm play of Toronto is reflective of every other team included in this level with the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that’s won 11 of its last 14 contests. It might be a case here where OKC is playing a little above its head, but that doesn’t disqualify it from this tier. The Thunder have been sick in every positive sense of the word during this run they’ve been on.

All those man games lost still taking a toll on Raptors | Toronto Sun

Without Lowry and Ibaka, the team went a collective 9-2.

Without Siakam and Powell — who both returned Monday — as well as Gasol, who remains out, the team was 5-4.

Overcoming those losses comes at a cost and that cost is still being seen today, even as the injured make their way back to the court.

The toll manifests itself in a number of ways, but right now the most obvious is an inability to play at a heightened level for all 48 minutes.

In two of the past three games, which were also the two losses, the Raptors squandered big leads on home court, letting winnable games slip away.

In both of those games, the Raptors looked fully in control for three or more quarters, only to see the lockdown coverage on opposing stars slip towards the end, which ultimately let both games slip away.

When Toronto is at its best, it basically eliminates the opposing team’s top scoring threat with blanket defence.

It’s a recipe that requires a lot of energy from the whole team as a Demar DeRozan or Damian Lillard attracts multiple bodies on the catch, forcing them to give up the ball.

It’s a strategy that worked wonders earlier in the year against the likes of Lillard, LeBron James and even Kawhi Leonard and James Harden to a point. But it requires 48 minutes of focused, high-energy play.

Earlier in the year, even down men, the Raptors were capable of that.

Lately, they don’t look like they are.

How long will it take for Siakam to return to his best form? – Video – TSN

Pascal Siakam made a surprise return to the Raptors’ lineup on Sunday in a loss to the Spurs, but after a promising start to the game, he fizzled in the second half. TSN NBA analyst Jack Armstrong shares his thoughts on how long it will take Siakam to get back to his best, Toronto’s poor fourth quarters in their last two home games and DeMar DeRozan’s future in San Antonio.

The Raptors are going with the flow after weathering the worst of the injury storm | The Star

It was a tough stretch of the schedule — home to the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, plus road dates against the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls — but the Raptors had their own problems.

They had won nine of 11 before Lowry and Ibaka returned, thanks largely to contributions from Siakam and VanVleet. Roles are more clearly defined with all of the key pieces available, but the Raptors had learned to win with a makeshift lineup and adjusting back to normal took time: their timing was off, especially from three-point range.

They went 6-5 in the 11-game stretch before Sunday.

“I think the challenge for (Siakam) and for Norm or any of those guys is, you’ve got to maybe ease into it a little bit. But it’s hard to do in an NBA game, because of the intensity and the speed at which it’s moving and all that stuff,” Nurse said.

“I just think that there’s levels of easing into it. I don’t think you’re coming down trying to take on the world right off the bat. Get your feet under you a little bit, wait for some open shots, take some rhythm shots, and then see how you feel before you start trying to get back to some of your volume stuff.”

Both Siakam and Powell said they felt good after their first game back. Siakam started out hot, making five of his first six shots for 12 early points before fading to 1-for-11 the rest of the way. Powell, meanwhile, had seven points by halftime but finished with 20.

Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

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