Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 4

17-18 - 8th | Raptors thumped in game they shouldn't have played | Some trade targets

Raptors trade targets: Shopping options for a wing/forward at the deadline – The Athletic

Lonzo Ball — I remain perplexed as to why the Pelicans don’t necessarily see him as part of their future. He’s improved as a shooter, he’s a terrific defender and he can bring value in the transition game without needing to command a lot of touches. That’s the kind of guard you should be looking to pair with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram! And yes, Ball is about to get expensive as an RFA. High-end perimeter defenders who can handle, pass and shoot a bit tend to.

Malik Monk — Monk falls into that category of “most improved player candidate only if you look beyond the counting stats.” That’s a tough place to be. Three more points per-game just doesn’t do it for voters. With that said, he is dramatically better this season, to the extent I think any early-season wish-casting readers may have done on Monk as a reclamation project are out the window. He should be a part of Charlotte’s future.

Frank Ntilikina — Just 22, a former lottery pick, some flashes of elite defence and has shined when playing outside of his NBA team environment. No, that’s not Stanley Johnson, that’s Frankie Smokes. The move here would be to take what you’d hope is a low-cost flier on someone who fits your defensive ethos so you can get an intimate look at him ahead of restricted free agency. The likelier move could be Ntilikina being an inexpensive offseason backup plan, especially if the Knicks let him become a UFA.

Raptors’ season will be strongly linked to how they play while shorthanded – The Athletic

That team ran over this version of the Raptors, who were not quite as bad as the 129-105 scoreline made them look. Some 3-point variance played a part in the margin of victory, with the Pistons having a hot night and the players making seven figures for the Raptors shooting 4-for-23 from deep. Powell had 36 points, Lowry had 21 despite criticizing himself for not shooting enough, and there was pretty much nothing else going offensively until the game was decided.

Without so much of the connective tissue, not to mention raw talent, that defines their identity, the Raptors were too slow on defensive rotations and too quick with the trigger offensively. It is what you would expect for a team that hadn’t played since Friday and only went through its next practice Tuesday evening when the Raptors were originally supposed to play the Pistons before the game was postponed a night to make sure the Raptors that were healthy early in the week remained so.

If not for the quality of the opponent, none of it would be especially alarming.

Starters Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby are out, as well as Malachi Flynn and Patrick McCaw, two players who would have surely found a role in their absences. In addition, coach Nick Nurse and six of his assistants, now including development-minded coach Jim Sann who was with the team Friday, are away from the team. The last thing we should be doing is being too critical of the players and coaches who are trying to keep the team afloat through this. This is a hard league, regardless of the opponent, and everyone save for Lowry pretty much had to alter the way they played against Detroit.

“I think it’s just (needing to) talk to them about, ‘Listen, I know you want to do more but be patient. Just stick with what you do,’” Lowry said of helping his younger teammates now filling more significant roles. “‘You have your opportunity when your opportunity comes and you can take advantage of it.’ But I think that is just what happened: We had too many moving parts and guys trying to do a little bit too much. I mean, I understand because we are missing OG, Pascal, Freddy, even our head coach. You know everyone is just trying to do a lot.”

The good news is that after Thursday’s game in Boston, the Raptors will arrive at the All-Star break, and not have to play for another week. That’s the end of the good news.

10 things: COVID-wrecked Raptors fall apart against Pistons – Yahoo!

One — Yikes: The Raptors were not prepared to play this game, which is understandable with at least a dozen members of the organization in COVID-19 protocol. But to be outplayed to this extent by the Detroit Pistons, who were also without several starters, is unacceptable. The Pistons don’t even have the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby to miss in the first place, so there really isn’t an excuse to not at least compete. This is the worst defensive effort by the Raptors stretching back a decade, and that’s not even hyperbole.

Shorthanded Raptors exposed by lack of depth in loss to lowly Pistons – Sportsnet

The Pistons took control of the game midway through the third quarter when an Ellington triple capped a 15-2 run that put Detroit up by 18 after the Raptors had pulled within five. A quick 9-2 run by Toronto cut that to 11, but the Pistons responded with a 10-0 run featuring another Ellington three.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Raptors tried to cut into what had been a 21-point Pistons lead, but by the middle of the quarter it was going in the wrong direction and Toronto was down 23 when Scariolo waved the white flag.

Given the circumstances, Scariolo wasn’t going to try and reinvent the wheel — he just wanted to make sure there was going to be air in the tires. Unfortunately, a good chunk of his rotation wasn’t ready to ditch their training wheels, though having one practice since Friday night might have contributed to the collective rust.

“And probably it’s true that our shooting percentages in the other players were not that high, but I think that it is not an individual issue,” said Scariolo. “It’s more of a collective issue. We had to move the ball a little bit better, we overreacted a little bit, we were get anxious very soon, so we dribbled where there was no room to dribble.”

Not simple enough, apparently. Rolling out a starting lineup that had never played any minutes together — or at least any meaningful ones — didn’t seem to impact the Raptors offensively. But defensively, it was another story.

The Pistons came into the game ranked 26th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (34.7), while the Raptors have hovered around the league’s top 10 in defensive rating since their 2-8 start.

Turns out that missing three of your core players and three top defenders in VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam can hurt a team.

Toronto got off to a 13-3 start but after that they made the reeling Pistons look like the 73-win Golden State Warriors. Detroit moved the ball sharply and the Raptors looked like defensive rotations were something for someone else to worry about. It was a bad combination. The Pistons converted 9-of-11 threes in the opening quarter and counted 15 assists on 16 field goals while jumping out to a 43-37 lead as five different Pistons connected from deep.

Pistons vs. Raptors final score: Wayne Ellington and great team basketball leads Detroit over Toronto, 129-105 – Detroit Bad Boys

Both Dennis Smith Jr. and Mason Plumlee ended the game with triple-doubles. Yes, you read that correctly. Smith had 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and set an aggressive tone all night. Plumlee had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, with much of the offense running through him at the elbow, and Toronto had no answers all night.

Svi Mykhailiuk was thrust into the starting lineup and rewarded Dwane Casey with 17 points on 5-9 shooting from deep, a shooting performance that had to be a relief for the third-year shooting guard.

Rodney McGruder took many of Svi’s bench minutes at the two and provided value in all kinds of different ways, ending the game with 20 points, six assists, and two steals. Saben Lee joined McGruder off the bench and put together yet another good performance, looking in complete control all night.

Norman Powell tried to keep the Raptors in it, but his 36 points weren’t nearly enough.

In all, the Pistons reminded us how successful team basketball and extra effort can be from night to night in the league. They continued their trend of getting to a ton of loose balls, outworking their opponent on the glass, and moving both the ball and their bodies with high levels of intensity.

The talent level obviously isn’t there, but Dwane Casey has his team consistently playing hard and making winning plays. That is a recipe for success for a franchise looking to build a successful culture.

Detroit Pistons: 3 takeaways from historic night vs. Raptors – Piston Powered

The Detroit Pistons had two players record triple-doubles in the same game, something that has not happened since, well, ever? Some Pistons’ historian will have to scour the record books but I can’t remember the last time this happened. Luckily, we have the Internet!

Both Mason Plumlee and Dennis Smith Jr. ended the game with triple-doubles, the second of the season for Mason Plumlee, who could definitely be trade bait at the deadline for a team looking for high-IQ bench depth.

Dennis Smith Jr. recorded his first triple-double for the Pistons, though he continues to shoot the ball poorly. Smith Jr. has shown he can contribute in other ways, namely on the defensive end, where he swiped another three steals vs. the Raptors.

It was a team effort against the Raptors, led by a pair of triple doubles from unlikely sources.

Recap: The Toronto Raptors collapse against the Detroit Pistons, losing 129-105 – Raptors HQ

Sadly, Toronto’s defense was not much better, looking confused for much of the first half. Like Nurse, acting bench boss Sergio Scariolo was forced to search for solutions on both ends of the floor. To that end, we saw Matt Thomas get a chance (no good), Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry give it a try (passable), and — despite getting his first career start — poor Yuta Watanabe was soon yanked for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Davis did his now-typical pick-up run routine, with sloppy play as an annoying matter-of-course. At least, Paul Watson carried himself well on defense, which helped offset his zero on offense. (I mean that literally: despite playing almost 19 minutes, Watson scored no points at all.)

The third quarter for the Raptors once again showed the gap between Lowry and Powell, and the rest of the roster. Toronto managed to squeeze the deficit down to five before the Pistons, led by Wayne Ellington and Mason Plumlee (that well-known dynamic duo), ripped off a 15-2 run to build their lead back up to an even larger 18 points. Part of Toronto’s problem in the third was, of course, the execution of their defensive game plan, but really it was even more basic than that: the Raptors just could not hit shots. Other than Lowry and Powell, Toronto got exactly seven points from three other players — and just one bucket off the bench (from Boucher, two of his 18 points in the game). Coincidently, the Raptors were also down 18 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Raptors did try to chip away at the lead over the final 12 minutes, but they just did not have the firepower. Coupled with the Pistons’ insane shooting from three (20-for-41 on the night), there was little chance for the Raptors to make a real comeback. After trying for longer than he should have, Scariolo eventually made the call to pull Lowry and Powell. They joined Baynes, who acquitted himself well enough with 13 points and four rebounds, and that was that. It sounded like the broadcast wanted out too, at one point mistakenly going to commercial while the game was still going on. No such luck though, they along with the rest of the Raptors had to play out the string.

At least Matty D and Jack didn’t also have to wear the loss with the rest of the squad.

Nerve-racking week takes toll on shorthanded Toronto Raptors –

fter multiple positive COVID-19 test results within the organization, days of extensive contact tracing and quarantining, and two postponed games, it shouldn’t be hard to cut them some slack.

In a contest that was initially scheduled for the night before, the Raptors fell to the Detroit Pistons, 129-105, at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. They were missing Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn, as well as head coach Nick Nurse and six of his assistants – all of whom are away from the team because of the league’s health and safety protocols.

Even undermanned, they weren’t overmatched, or at least they shouldn’t have been – the Pistons came in with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and were also missing several rotation pieces, including their best player, Jerian Grant. However, with only 12 active bodies – including two that were recently recalled from the G League – and just three coaches left on the bench, they were thoroughly outplayed.

Although their three best available players – Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Chris Boucher – combined for 75 points, or 71 per cent of the team’s total offence, on 24-of-42 shooting, the shorthanded Raptors got just 30 points (on 10-of-35 shooting) from everybody else, and most of that came in garbage time.

“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with [positive tests and postponements], so now it’s kind of like we’re trying to figure out how to manoeuvre and navigate it,” Lowry said afterwards. “It’s a little bit difficult. It’s unfortunate it happened and whatever happens we just got to make sure we compete a little bit better on the basketball floor.”

For the second time in less than a week, it begged the question: should they have been playing at all?

Short-handed Raptors watch Pistons make it rain threes in blowout | The Star

Missing Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Malachi Flynn and Patrick McCaw, the Raptors weren’t about to get too fancy with strategy.

“Your job as a coach is to keep it as simple as possible,” Scariolo said before the game. “Try not to overcomplicate it. There’s always a lot of room during the game for in-game adjustments. You don’t have to throw out every possible combination beforehand and make every player, especially young players, get confused.”

But no matter how simple it was, the Raptors who were given a chance they normally wouldn’t get couldn’t handle it.

“I think guys were just overly anxious to do a lot more and pick up the slack of others,” Lowry said. ”That’s what happens sometimes. We didn’t play the right way … It was a tough night.”

Terence Davis and Yuta Watanabe started and were a combined 2-for-15 from the floor in nearly 31 minutes, Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry were scoreless and only Chris Boucher (with 18 points) provided anything off the bench. Toronto’s subs were 9-for-25 from the floor.

“There will be other opportunities for them starting from (Thursday),” Scariolo said. “I mean (Thursday) we won’t have any other player back with us, so we better figure out how to make a step forward in a few hours.”

Undermanned Raps get positively thumped by Pistons | Toronto Sun

The Pistons wound up surprising their own coach as Wayne Ellington, a veteran with a bit of a history of making things tough on Toronto had a career high tying eight three pointers to lead Detroit to a rather easy 129-105 win.

Toronto’s defence was off-kilter from the get-go. The Pistons were being stopped inside initially but kicking it out to wide open shooters with little to no second effort to get out to those shooter by the defence.

As the game went on even the inside defence disappeared.

“I think guys were just overly anxious to do a lot more and pick up the slack of others,” Kyle Lowry said of the Raptors game. “That is what happens sometimes. We didn’t play the right way. We started the game off very well, but then they hit like five straight threes and miscommunications and groups of guys who aren’t usually on the floor together and just … it was a tough night, a tough night.

“They made a lot of shots and give them credit,” Lowry said. “They shot 53% from the field and 48 from three. You ain’t going to win a game like that.”

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