Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 7

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Cover Photo: /u/therealfunguy1 via /r/torontoraptors

Tankathon Draft Simulator: April 7, 2021

OG Anunoby’s ejection pushes Raptors’ depth issues, fiscal restraint to forefront – The Athletic

It was a strong wrap, but Schroder — giving up 60 pounds in the matchup — kept his arms below the neck and never seemed in danger of sending the sturdy Anunoby to the ground. Anunoby steadied himself with a few steps. At some point, the steadying turned into a shot for a single-leg takedown and, feeling the entanglement had gone on long enough, Anunoby discarded Schroder to the floor. The 60-pound difference — and the strength differential it correctly suggests — was obvious.

Call it a nod to Abyss or Kane or The Big Bossman here in WrestleMania week; whatever the comparison, Anunoby made Schroder look like an undersized cruiserweight Tuesday night during a 110-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers did not take kindly, as you might expect. Schroder popped up ready to let Anunoby know that wouldn’t fly, while Montrezl Harrell sprinted in to have his back. Gary Trent Jr., quickly becoming an Anunoby pal and Raptors fan favourite, protected his teammate without hesitation. (Cue Teddy Long declaring it’s “a tag match, playa.”) After a few moments of light shoving and a lot of talking, the groups separated.

Upon review, the officials ejected Anunoby and Harrell. The reactions of both were emblematic of the exchange. While LeBron James led a chorus of Lakers arguing the decision and Harrell took his jersey off while playing to the “road” crowd in Tampa, Anunoby made a faux-surprised “Oh” face toward a camera and then subtly fist-bumped Masai Ujiri on his way to the locker room. Anunoby, forever unfazed, was extremely unfazed by Schroder and Harrell.

Which would all be well and good on another night. These things happen, and while we shouldn’t glamorize fighting in sports, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bout of competitive physicality that goes a little further. You could argue the ejections were light, too. Still, this was hardly the night the Raptors could afford such a fracas, or a hair-trigger for an ejection.

“Hopefully we’ll get a guy or two back here during the week,” coach Nick Nurse said before Monday’s win against Washington. “It’s all day-to-day stuff. I don’t know, I mean, if we can spread these nine guys out here a little bit. A lot of ’em have been looking for more minutes and playing time, and here it is. So I think we should be OK. The only thing I always worry about is what if something else happens? Then you’re really getting thin. You’re at the kind of breaking point right now, and so we’ve gotta stay healthy once the ball goes up.”

Anunoby’s ejection took the Raptors down to eight active and healthy players. That’s the breaking point Nurse was referring to, leaving the Raptors with only one of their four best players and maybe half of their presumed rotation.

NBA: Raptors show fight but can’t overcome deficit vs. Lakers – Yahoo!

Four — Empty: This was one of the worst performances of the season from Pascal Siakam despite him finishing with 27 points which largely came in garbage time. Some of it was just the matchup, as the Lakers had the size to deny Siakam from getting to the rim where he is most effective. Some of it is a lack of skill, as Siakam continues to be mired in a season-long shooting slump and his misses are so erratic that the defense and his own teammates are ignoring him when he’s open. But the most telling part of his performance was his lack of explosiveness, which is a core component of what makes him effective. Siakam was getting pushed around by Wes Matthews and Markieff Morris, getting blocked by Marc Gasol and Kyle Kuzma, and it’s obvious that his conditioning isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be.

Gasol adds insult to injury for Raptors with inspired performance – Sportsnet

Let’s just say that on this night, the Lakers depth won out and Los Angeles won in what was largely a rout but ended up 110-101. The outcome was never in question, although – to their credit – the Raptors kept battling and cut the lead to nine with 12 seconds to play thanks to a gritty fourth quarter.

But overall, the shorthanded Raptors were short of bright spots. Rookie Malachi Flynn, coming off two outstanding games as he soaks up minutes with fellow point guards Lowry and VanVleet out, couldn’t make magic three times in a row, although he did finish with a respectable 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Pascal Siakam, playing well of late, was just 7-of-21 from the floor, though is season-high 13 free throws made helped him to a Raptors-leading 27.

The Lakers had seven players in double-figures and 49 bench points. The Raptors played most of the game with eight players, total.

Former Raptor Marc Gasol set the tone with a season-high 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his best game of the season in L.A.

The loss snapped the Raptors’ two-game winning streak after Toronto had set a franchise record with a 53-point win over Golden State on Friday and their buzzer-beater over the Wizards on Monday.

Toronto falls to 20-31 on the season and 1-10 on the second night of a back-to-back and remains two games behind the 10th place Chicago Bulls – who they host on Thursday night – for the final spot for the play-in tournament.

This remains the Raptors beacon:

“Listen, I’m still hopeful,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after the game. “I think we’re gonna need some of our bodies back. We’re missing a good chunk of our lineup and scoring and experience but … we’ve got to go out there with what we have available and I’m pleased with the way these guys are playing and we’ll just keep fighting and pick any win off we can anyway we can and then see if we can just stay in contention.

“There’s 20-plus games to go, still a lot of basketball to be played.”

Lakers vs Raptors Final Score: LA beats Toronto for 1st time since 2014 – Silver Screen and Roll

The Raptors went into Tuesday’s game with just nine players, and that number quickly dropped to eight when OG Anunoby was ejected in the first quarter for his suplex on Dennis Schröder. Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly a suplex, but it was definitely a wrestling move.

Montrezl Harrell was also ejected for escalating the situation, as the above tweet notes. Harrell ended the night having only played two minutes. Fortunately, the Lakers were able to find scoring elsewhere on their roster; most notably through Talen Horton-Tucker.

With Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet sidelined for the night, Horton-Tucker was able to beat his defenders off of the dribble with relative ease on Tuesday and, as a result, he ended the game with a team-high 17 points on 6-10 shooting from the field and 3-4 shooting from behind the arc. He’s now scored at least 15 points in his last three games.

In total, seven different Lakers scored at least 10 points and as a team, they shot 49.4% from the field and 45% from behind the arc. The Raptors had no way of slowing them down.

Los Angeles Lakers put on a 3-point clinic against Toronto Raptors – Lake Show Life

To be clear here, the Toronto Raptors did not show up to play in this game but that’s not the Lakers’ fault. Like Montrezl Harrell stated a few weeks ago, the players get paid to win. But the energy level was much higher in this game than on Easter Sunday.

Lake Show Life had a scalding post-game report calling the team out for an embarrassing effort against the Los Angeles Clippers…

But it was because this team did not put forth any effort. The coaching staff saw what the Lake Show Life staff saw and clearly demanded more effort. Obviously, the defensive end was a major focus.

The Lakers will lose games from time to time on this trip, but there are ways of losing that are acceptable. If the team loses to Miami on Thursday or Brooklyn on Saturday playing like this, no one will be disappointed.

Game Recap: Depleted Raptors get blown out by similarly depleted Lakers – Raptors HQ

The only real takeaway from this game as that this season needs to end already. No one, save for like four teams, is having any fun. Full health doesn’t exist. It’s been six games now since the Raptors saw an opponent that wasn’t totally decimated, all the while they’ve been hovering between having eight and 11 available guys themselves. If at any point you’re searching for an accurate depiction of the 2021 season, the standings aren’t going to show it to you. Tuesday’s Raptors loss to the Lakers sure as hell will, though.

Mitchell: Siakam has got to take his game to another level – Video – TSN

After another disappointing performance from the Raptors that saw them fall behind big early against a LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors on TSN panel didn’t mince words describing what went wrong for Toronto in this one.

There’s not much fight in the Raptors in loss to Lakers, despite Anunoby ejection | The Star

The first quarter was the story and it was simply a matter of getting out of the game healthy after that for the Raptors.

Toronto lost OG Anunoby to an ejection, the Raptors gave up nine three-pointers and 40 points in the opening 12 minutes and the night was basically over.

Anunoby and Montrezl Harrell of the Lakers were ejected about 10 minutes into the game after a brief baseline fracas.

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder tied up Anunoby as the Raptors forward was trying to complete a fast break layup. They got tied up after the play and it appeared on video review that Anunoby lifted Schroder and dumped him on the court, which brought Harrell and Toronto’s Gary Trent Jr. into the fray.

There were no punches thrown, nor was there an extensive amount of pushing and shoving before Anunoby and Harrell were ejected.

The loss of Anunoby only exacerbated a terrible Toronto start as the Raptors were lifeless coming out of the gate on the second night of a home back-to back set.

And it may get worse.

It wasn’t immediately evident which, if any, players left the bench area to even get near the baseline altercation. The league, which has multiple camera angles available that aren’t widely available to the public, will investigate Wednesday and suspensions could follow. Both teams are scheduled to play Thursday.

The absence of Anunoby further decimated a Raptors roster that comprised only nine healthy bodies at the start of the game.

Trying to manage just eight players — with a stretch of three games in four nights beginning Thursday against Chicago — put even further strain on the healthy players.

Lakers snap Raptors two-game winning streak | Toronto Sun

Playing without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers began the night bombing away from three-point land like they were the Golden State Warriors.

Only it was Marcus Morris, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso knocking down bombs as the Lakers built an early 34-point lead and basically coasted the rest of the way.

More impressive though than their long-range offensive game was the Lakers’ interior defensive game.

For most of the first 2½ quarters every Raptors venture into the Lakers paint was met with resistance either resulting in a stop or the Raptors being pushed back to the perimeter where they threw up mostly unsuccessful threes.

Pascal Siakam, a guy who is normally a one-man solution to these issues, wasn’t having a good night which didn’t help the Raptors cause.

Siakam, who was one of at least three Raptors that has battled back from a COVID-19 absence, looked like a man still feeling the effects of playing 36 minutes the night before. He did find another gear later in the game, as did a handful of his teammates, finishing up with 27 points, but by then the deficit was already too big.

It might not have made a difference, though it certainly didn’t help the Raptors’ cause when they went from nine available players to just eight when OG Anunoby was ejected from the game for his role in that little first-quarter skirmish with Dennis Schroder. Anunoby had a takedown that might have made a WWE recruiter take a second look which basically earned him his early exit.

Gary Trent Jr. Is Looking Right at Home With the Raptors | Complex CA

When sacrificing the institutional knowledge and the relationships that Powell had built up, this is exactly the type of player you hope to acquire in return. Powell will forever be a part of Raptors’ lore as a member of the championship team and memorable playoff runs before it, but as the franchise looks to connect the dots between then, now, and tomorrow with a new core, Trent Jr. is showing with each and every opportunity that he fits the bill of how the Raptors want to build. During interviews he comes across as someone with a calm demeanor, quiet confidence, and swag always on point. Think of those who have been moved via trade in the franchise’s recent memory: Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and Powell. Ross was traded for Serge Ibaka, a two-way player, ditto Kawhi Leonard, ditto Trent Jr. Alongside VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, and Lowry while he’s around, there is the construct of players who have the ability to excel on both ends.

And this isn’t just about the future, either. For all their struggles this season, Toronto is now a game behind the Chicago Bulls for the final play-in tournament spot and there is every inclination that that is top of mind over the final 20-plus games.

“There are no quitters on this team,” Trent Jr. said. “Everybody is communicating in the huddle. Everybody is listening to Coach Nurse. Everybody believes what our coaching staff preaches. Everybody believes in one another. If I miss a shot, P misses a shot, OG misses a shot, just always encouraging each other to keep going. Everybody has fight. Everybody goes hard. Everybody’s trying to win. That’s what’s over here.”

After a terrific performance in the Orlando bubble for the Blazers last season, Trent Jr. rejected a four-year extension worth approximately $54 million to bet on himself and see an even bigger pay day. He will likely command a figure in excess of that in the off-season, but how much higher will be interesting to see. The added bonus he provides the Raptors is that his current salary is so low it would allow Toronto the chance to add another core piece via free agency first—if Lowry moves on—before re-signing their shooting guard of the future.

Dollars aside, Trent Jr.’s seamless fit is appreciated on both sides, and perhaps some of that lies in everyone seeing the obvious: Trent Jr. looks great in a Raptors uniform. Fans haven’t been able to see that at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, but they, too, have shown their appreciation in the ways they can. And for what it’s worth, Trent Jr. himself can’t wait to get a real feel for what it’s like to play basketball for Toronto.

“The organization and my teammates have done a great job of that: making sure I feel part of something, as if they want me here,” Trent Jr. said. “I still get so much love from the fans throughout the Internet, good game, bad game, every DM, everything. They’re still showing love regardless. I can only imagine what it’s like in person. I cannot wait to get out there.”

Tank Watch: Are the Toronto Raptors trying to win or lose? – Raptors HQ

Flash back to March 31 in Oklahoma City. The Raptors were down 104-96 with five minutes left in the game after the Thunder started the quarter with a 17-7 run. During that time, the Raptors were struggling to put the ball in the hoop and were beginning to lose the battle of the boards too. Coach Nick Nurse clearly felt the team needed to add more size to deal with the pesky Thunder bigs, so he inserted Aron Baynes for Malachi Flynn.

The Raptors would go on to get out-rebounded 10-2 during Baynes’ stint, while functionally executing their offense four-vs-five. Setting aside last night’s bounce-back against Washington, rebounds have been hard to come by for Baynes. In fact, it’s gotten to the point when it deserves to be highlighted when he makes a play on the glass.

We’ve made this point before: is playing Baynes now something of a stealth tank move or is it truly because there are no better options? The Wizards game last night is a case in point. Baynes played fairly well while battling his former backup Alex Len and Nurse didn’t have much other choice because Chris Boucher was having an off-night. But with the game on the line: the Raptors went with a small-lineup and away from Baynes.

In all, it’s fair to note when and how Baynes gets used these days for the Raptors.

Raptors prize veteran DeAndre’ Bembry’s versatility | The Star

He’s not a star but he is vital.

And he realizes that the versatility is his ticket to continued NBA employment, in Toronto or somewhere else.

All those years in AAU leagues and college, when he honed multiple skills instead of being pigeonholed in one spot are now paying off.

“I played every position that you can play on the basketball court so I can read and react to what’s going on,” the 26-year-old said earlier this week.

“And I also don’t really try to do too much when the ball is in my hand with all the fancy dribbling and all that. I mean, I can, but I’m pretty locked in on where I’m trying to get to and just staying in that role.”

Bembry has become more important as a ball handler this week when the Raptors have had to play at least two games without either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet. Rookie Malachi Flynn is the lone true point guard on the roster and the backup role has fallen to Bembry, a six-foot-five native of Charlotte who spent the first four years of his career playing for the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think he is a secondary point guard or a secondary ball handler but I don’t think he likes being the full-time guy that much,” coach Nick Nurse said. “When there’s another point guard out there he will chip in and bring it up here and there but when we’ve been in some situations when he’s been the guy we wanted to play point guard all the time, it’s just weird. Sometimes he’s out-running a break and . . . he’s always been that kind of player so I think sometimes he just plays in the flow of what he’s used to doing.”

Playing in the flow, and not imposing himself on the game, may be Bembry’s greatest trait. He’s not a deadly three-point shooter (a career-best 31 per cent on fewer than one attempt per game this season), he’s not the quickest guy on the floor at any time but he gets the job done with guile and understanding his personal strengths and weaknesses.

“I am 6-5, so sometimes some smaller guards are on me and I can shoot it over them or finish above them,” he said. “I’ve got a couple different finishes I can go with. But you’ve just got to keep the defence honest.

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