With that sort of uncertainty, you wonder if the Lakers might regret not pushing harder to acquire Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline. The Lakers did not have the assets to put together an overly appealing offer, but when both the 76ers and Heat declined to push harder for the six-time All-Star, the inclusion of the intriguing but inconsistent Talen Horton-Tucker might have nudged a deal nearer to completion. The Lakers reportedly refused to include Horton-Tucker and therefore had nothing of value to tempt the Raptors.
One never knows with Lowry, forever monitoring his grudges, but he certainly looked to be taking some extra joy in competing at Staples Center on Sunday. (For the record, he said there was no extra motivation.) He was at his probing best against the Lakers, scoring 37 points and dishing out 11 assists. He had a brilliant two-for-one to end the second quarter, with a 3-pointer followed by a layup over James in the waning seconds. He gave the Raptors an overall level of organization that the Lakers just could not find after the game’s opening moments.
He also bombed in some mammoth 3s. Those were fun.
The Raptors had played three consecutive awful fourth quarters in their past trio of games, with close games becoming blowouts against the Nets, Jazz and Nuggets. With another bench-heavy lineup, the Raptors appeared headed toward another collapse, scoring just two points in the first five possessions of the frame. Nick Nurse called a timeout, Lowry came in, and he single-handedly scored 11 points and found Pascal Siakam, who had 39 of his own points, for a short floater in the next seven Raptors possessions. The Raptors were steadied, and the game was done.
Lowry is a key part of the Raptors’ future, obviously, but not in the usual way. With him not being moved at the deadline, he — or more accurately, his spot on the roster — becomes the most intriguing part of the Raptors’ offseason. The simplest scenario would have Lowry re-signing with the Raptors, getting a chance to play again in Toronto, and perhaps they go through the deadline exercise again in 2022.
Simple does not necessarily equal likely, though. Lowry and the Raptors might both decide they’ve exhausted the utility of their relationship, and then it will be a matter of how the Raptors respond: if they can get something in a sign-and-trade, or if they simply use his cap space to get a bit younger, more in line with their core players who have been in and out of the lineup this season.
The time will come for the Raptors and Lowry to address that in free agency. For now, as the games wind down, Lowry is a Raptor. You couldn’t blame the Lakers if, right at this moment, they wish that were not so.
Two — Superstar: Kyle Lowry played his best game of the season, scoring 37 points with 11 assists in a dominant showing from start to finish. Perhaps it was a show of defiance against a team that decided not to trade for him at the deadline, or maybe it was just a case of being well-rested after sitting out the Jazz game, but Lowry was on a mission to will the Raptors to victory. Lowry’s playmaking was sensational as usual, but his scoring was even better. Lowry got great elevation into his jumpers, sinking a handful of contested looks by elevating over his defender, and he also showed no fear in attacking the Lakers on the interior despite all of their size in the middle. It was the type of performance that might come in handy for a championship team, or even benefit a play-in team like the Lakers.
The Lakers got 24 points off the bench from Kuzma and had five others in double figures, but James only had 19 points to off-set his five turnovers and Davis still looked clunky on his way to 12 points.
In contrast, Lowry was having a riot. He was playing to the crowd. He was playing to his teammates. He was putting on a show, the working title something along the lines of: “You could have had me, and I’m going to make you regret you didn’t.”
The missed opportunity to add Lowry – the kind of high-speed, two-way playmaker the lagging Lakers could use – is not the only connection between the last two teams to win the NBA title.
The Raptors may be days away from the likely expiration date on their season, but they can still offer some inspiration to the Lakers who certainly look to be in need of some.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Lakers won in the bubble in 2020 and then added Schroder – who is now out due to health and safety protocols — Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol in the off-season. They then added two-time all-star Andre Drummond during the season after he was bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This was supposed to be the Lakers title to lose.
But as Los Angeles prepared to meet the reeling Raptors, they were the team in crisis – losers of five of their past six games, scrambling to avoid the play-in tournament, resigned to trying to become the first team to win a championship by surviving four best-of-seven series without homecourt advantage.
James and Davis are trying to work their way back to elite levels after missing 56 games combined due to injury while simultaneously trying to find chemistry with players they’ve never worked with before.
“It’s a big challenge, but we’re up to the test,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “Certainly, none of us feel like [there] is enough time for LeBron and AD to get their rhythm and timing and conditioning back where it needs to be and to integrate guys … and get the chemistry where it needs to be, but we’re going to make the best of it and it’s going to be enough, but the challenge is significant.”
Needing every win to avoid the play-in game, the Los Angeles Lakers hosted a shorthanded Toronto Raptors team on Sunday night in what was a prime opportunity to come away on top.
Unfortunately though, the Lakers’ effort level was low once again and Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam both had their best games of the season, resulting in a 121-114 loss for L.A.
The Lakers were determined to establish Andre Drummond in the low post early and the center delivered as he scored seven quick points to put the team ahead. Defensively, Los Angeles did a great job limiting Toronto to one shot and running out in semi-transition to set up their offense.
The Purple and Gold looked like they settled in on both ends as they forced turnovers that ignited their break while also hitting open 3-pointers that extended their lead to 12 as the decision to insert Alex Caruso into the starting lineup was appearing to pay off.
Siakam was able to get the Raptors back on track by scoring 17 points in the period, but Kyle Kuzma caught fire from the field and the Lakers went into the second up 38-32.
It was a sloppy beginning to the second for L.A. as they began to turn the basketball over, which allowed Toronto to tie the game at 40. The Lakers responded with a mini-run, but the Raptors responded to keep the game close midway through the quarter.
Los Angeles’ issues fouling Toronto came back to bite them as the latter got into the bonus and took full advantage of their trips to take a lead. Things only got worse for the Lakers as they played with a lack of intensity and focus that put them in a 72-59 hole at halftime.
Lowry sparked the end-of-the-half run for the Raptors, knocking down a three and then a layup at the buzzer with little-to-no resistance from the Laker defense.
The poor effort on both ends continued at the start of the third as the Lakers quickly fell behind by 18, forcing a timeout from head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel inserted Talen Horton-Tucker who provided a small spark, but Toronto held on to its massive lead.
That the score tightened at times was almost irrelevant. That the Lakers, a team that won a title on the backs of chemistry and effort, played for so long without either, is very much a problem.
The 121-114 loss Sunday, their sixth in their last seven games, dropped the Lakers into a three-way tie with Dallas and Portland. And LeBron James was forced back to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter, unable to return because of his sore right ankle.
“The last two games at halftime, after the break, it’s gotten a little sore on me, a little tight,” James said of his right ankle.
Coach Frank Vogel said the Lakers would see how James was feeling Monday morning to evaluate the chances he plays Monday night when they host Denver.
James scored 19 points in 27:33 in his second game back after missing 20 games because of a high right ankle sprain.
Maybe the Lakers’ problems began in mid-November when the NBA decided this whole thing would begin in a month, with players like Anthony Davis dipping their toes back into action like it was an unheated pool.
Injuries to Davis and James made the equations even easier to solve — nothing would matter unless the two players could come back heathy.
Staying competitive without their stars would be mentally and physically taxing. And if that meant so-so basketball in the meantime, so be it.
Depth scoring was an issue again — only four Raptors scored in double-digits — but it was barely a factor in how the game played out. In addition to the active cutters, Toronto was smart defensively in packing the paint and forcing Los Angeles to rely on jump shots. LeBron James, still clearly working his way back from a 20-game absence, had a relatively quiet 19 points and left in the fourth quarter with a sore ankle. Anthony Davis shot just 5-for-16 and had 12 points, a disappointing game in both the box score and by the eye test.
Siakam opened the game with a bang, scoring seven of the team’s first nine points. There were some early struggles on the defensive end, though, as Malachi Flynn and Khem Birch — both starters — lost cutters behind them, which is easy money for any LeBron-led team. The Lakers would take an early lead and carry it to the end of the first, going up 38-32.
A truly wild lineup came out to start the second, with both Lowry and Siakam needing to sit after the first. Flynn stayed out with Rodney Hood, Jalen Harris, Stanley Johnson, and Freddie Gillespie. One of the best surprises of the night is that this lineup did better than tread water. A lot of credit here goes to the play of Gillespie — the rookie was visibly more active than the Lakers bench bigs, including Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma, and managed to tally five offensive rebounds bruising against them in the paint. The weekend has been a nice bounce-back for Gillespie, who’s still fresh into a new contract, and with the starters still short-handed, his contribution was much-needed tonight.
Lowry and Siakam returned to a tied game after that bench stretch, and in the final minutes of the second quarter they both went off. Lowry made a pair of threes to stretch Toronto’s lead into the double digits, as they went into halftime up 72-59.
Then, in the third, the Raptors were able to keep the game at bay. Siakam scored the first five for the Raptors in the half, relentlessly attacking Davis with spin moves and drives by the big man. Lowry stuck a couple more big shots, and any chance for a Los Angeles comeback continued to get snuffed out by the veteran right through the fourth quarter as well.
Obviously, the win is a big one for Toronto, as they move to within 2.5 games of the Wizards and the ten seed in the East. They also steal a win during the most difficult part of their remaining schedule, which doesn’t end here. They’ll stay in Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Tuesday night.
There is time for development and gaining experience for young players and then there’s time for winning and asking the old heads to carry the load.
A couple of minutes into the fourth quarter on Sunday night, when the spectre of yet another late-game collapse hung over the Raptors like a dark, foreboding cloud, coach Nick Nurse sensed the moment.
And his veterans seized it.
Going back to the tremendous duo of Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam when he might have ridden the kids a little bit longer in other circumstances, Nurse made the best move possible that ended up leading one of the most unlikely wins of the season.
With Lowry and Siakam dominating in the final 10 minutes, the short-staffed Raptors pulled out a 121-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center that was, finally, a just reward for a Toronto team that’s been playing well for a couple of weeks with little show for it.
It was fun and fun’s been at a premium for this team.
“I said no matter what happens in the rest of this game, ‘let’s have fun,’ right, and you know I think that’s one thing that we can always rally around each other is having fun,” Lowry said of the team’s late-game play. “This game is a game of joy and fun and when you’re having fun, things like that happen.
“We just went out there and we literally just have had fun tonight; everybody was just having fun and that was big.”
The Lakers, who looked alarmingly disinterested for most of the night, did seem to have a brief spurt of energy right off the bat in the fourth quarter.
And Nurse became quickly fed up, putting Lowry, and Siakam in for Malachi Flynn and Rodney Hood in a wonderfully calming move.
“What I did see was a couple really poor shot selections and layups at the other end,” the coach said. “I just called timeout and said, ‘I’m not watching that.’ It wasn’t anything other than that.”
That was all that was needed, even if the Lakers did make one late, final push.
Lowry and Siakam were spectacular all night.
With Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet seemingly taking alternate nights off for rest or rehab, with Chris Boucher pretty much done for the year and with 10th spot in the Eastern Conference getting further and further away with every passing night, meaningful games remain, but only by definition.
VanVleet, who was impressive in the loss in Utah on Saturday night before sitting out Sunday to avoid doing further damage to a weakened hip, admits a clear goal for these final seven games following the clash with the Lakers Sunday night is kind of hard to pin down.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s tough because we’ve got guys a little banged up,” VanVleet said. “Obviously myself in and out of the lineup, Kyle was out tonight, so you’re just trying to try to make it through it and be available and be healthy to play at a high level. So when we’re together, you know, we go out there to win. We were cognizant of what was going on (in the standings around that 10th place going into Saturday’s game in Utah). We knew Washington was down, we knew the Bulls were down so we want to go out and win. We’re still making a push when we’re out there. It’s just a matter of getting all together and being healthy at the same time.”
Unfortunately that scenario — being healthy at the same time — doesn’t appear to be one that is going to work out any time soon. And by the time it does, if it does, that window to a shot at 10th may have been slammed shut tight.
Still, VanVleet knows wins and losses at this stage and in these circumstance are not the be all and the end all.
“For the other guys me, OG (Anunoby), Pascal (Siakam), Khem (Birch), Malachi (Flynn), you know, we’re also building and trying to get better each game and each day,” VanVleet said. “We had a great shoot around (Saturday) morning. So still developing what we want to be in the future but obviously we’re still trying to make a push when we’re out there. So just keeping everybody positive. It’s been a hell of a year keeping everybody positive and on the same page and just trying to get better. It helps us if we’re trying to make the playoffs and it helps us next year. So just get better each day and decide who we want to be going forward.”
Not exactly clear, but then what has been this season?
In any event, VanVleet did admit that as bad as things have been at times this season, Raps coach Nick Nurse and his staff have managed to put some fun back in the game while building towards next season.
At one point that didn’t seem possible given the sheer number of players, and directly proportional to that, the number of games COVID impacted the team this season. VanVleet said the turning point in that regard came with the arrival of Birch and Freddie Gillespie, two bigs who have solved, or at least addressed, the demoralizing issue of a team unable to secure a rebound and constantly having to re-defend seemingly successful defensive possessions that should have ended with that rebound.
I have lived by the word kenkyo (humility).
As a result, I’ve been helped by people around me on countless occasions.
After finishing high school in Japan, I arrived in America without being able to speak English. Before I left Japan, I had been faced with many comments from critics: The language barrier would be too high, I was too old to start playing in America, and other things like that. But all I paid attention to was Shikama-sensei’s phrase, shoshin (beginner’s mind). I also never forgot my childhood dream of playing in the NBA.
It’s been eight years, almost a third of my life, since I moved to America. I’m appreciative of all the people who have supported me during my journey — from my teammates at St. Thomas More School, who helped me out with my English, to the guys at George Washington University who assisted me with my studies. Throughout that time, I tried to remain as humble as possible. Even now in the NBA, I try to do so.
Between America and Japan, I feel the nuance of humility is somewhat different. To illustrate this, let me tell you a story that happened between myself and my parents.
I can still recall it as clear as day. It was during my senior year of college. The season had just ended and I was really starting to gauge my chances of getting a spot in the NBA. To be honest, I didn’t think I had much hope of being drafted, so I felt I had to perform well in the Summer League. I’m very close to my parents, who live in Kagawa, Japan. We keep in touch all the time. One day I received a message from them.
“Hey Yuta, we bumped into so-and-so the other day. He asked us if you were going to make it as an NBA player. Half-jokingly, we told him that you still had a very long way to go.”
When I read that message, I was really shocked.
Even though I felt I wasn’t likely to be drafted, I made sure I trained harder than anybody else. At the time, I didn’t feel confident. I felt lonely and I was doing my best to motivate myself and think positively. Unconsciously, I was probably desperate for some words of affirmation. It was under such difficult circumstances that I got that message from my parents.
From my parents’ perspective, they were just being modest about my chances. I understood where they were coming from. But when I heard my parents say, “Oh, Yuta has a very long way to go,” I could only hear negativity. I couldn’t bear it.
Ever since I started to live in America, I have been very aware that American parents always praised their children. It wasn’t unusual for my teammates’ parents to confidently say something like, “Oh, isn’t my son amazing?” To be honest, I would feel jealous when I heard parents praise their kids so highly in public.
The Raptors have played as well over the last couple of weeks as they have in months, even if the results don’t truly show that. They still lose more often than not — they took a three-game losing streak into a game late Sunday against the Lakers — but they are more complete, more competitive.
They have found a mix that works, a good starting group, a collection of backups that seem to have settled into their roles when they are available.
Coach Nick Nurse has repeatedly mentioned the spirit, the attentiveness, the cohesion he is seeing these days, all traits that were missing for crucial points of the season as it went off the rails. He likes the work ethic and the play in games, even if it is sporadic because key pieces still miss too many games.
But VanVleet speaks to it as a collective good feeling that began with a couple of late-season acquisitions that brought some immediate success.
“The addition of Freddie Gillespie, Khem (Birch) at that time when we had everybody out resting and won a few games, that sparked us again,” the team’s leader said. “So the vibe has been good ever since those few games and it’s been a great atmosphere in practice.
“Nick has done a great job of getting everybody excited again about what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do and it’s been fun.”
The odd thing is, the players, like the staff, are trying to serve two masters these days. They know trying to creep into the playoffs is not much more than a mathematical issue right now but as long as that goal is out there, they will pursue it. But they also know serving the longer good — developing familiarity now that will help next season — is equally important.