Morning Coffee – Thu, Dec 8

Raptors smack the Lakers; shoulda won by 40 | VanVleet claims to be messing with his algorithms

Raptors take advantage of short-handed Lakers as VanVleet slowly works out of slump – Sportsnet

It was all part of a 24-3 run that split the game open and sent the Raptors into the half leading 70-47, with VanVleet’s 18 first-half points and five assists figuring prominently.

It was an encouraging taste after an odd week for VanVleet and the team he leads. After a horrible road trip and a discouraging loss to the short-handed Celtics Monday, questions about the team were swirling and VanVleet’s shooting woes were among them. On Monday VanVleet said, somewhat cryptically:  “There’s … a lot going on all across the board … there’s definitely a lot of reasons for the situation that I’m in.”

Hmmm.

Then on Wednesday there was a brief brushfire on social media when VanVleet unfollowed all his teammates – and hundreds of other followers – on Instagram. The issue? Turns out VanVleet doesn’t like getting a bunch of junk in his feeds either:

“I mean listen, the fact that we have to talk about this as is crazy in itself,” said VanVleet. “But no, just trying to fight the algorithms man. I’m checking my page and it’s like all shit that I don’t follow … when I’m going up and down my feed there’s so many things that I’m not following, just suggestion, suggestion, suggestion. So, stupid me, ‘let’s unfollow everybody and see if it helps’. It didn’t help, somebody caught wind of that, and said ‘oh, I unfollowed all my teammates.’ I unfollowed my mom too, they didn’t care about that part. It’s going to take more than a couple of bad shooting games for me to lose my mind.”

The easiest way to calm the waters is to perform and there were plenty of encouraging signs, though given the Lakers were short not only Davis and James but also shooting guard Pat Beverly, they didn’t present the sternest test.

The Raptors didn’t put the Lakers away in the third the way they could have. Los Angeles used a 10-3 run midway through the third to trim Toronto’s lead to 15 before the Raptors pushed back and led 97-75 to start the fourth. They were able to keep the Lakers at bay from there.

In the end it wasn’t a vintage VanVleet outing. After his strong first quarter VanVleet shot just 4-of-14 over the rest of the way and his 3-of-12 mark from three won’t do anything to help his percentages – he is now at 8-of-37 from deep over his past six games, 21.6 per cent.

But he did have some strong moments. He looked decisive and determined and his team came out on top. For VanVleet, maybe it’s progress.

Regardless, for the Raptors the wins are all welcome and they all count, even against the ghost Lakers.

Fred VanVleet is in a funk, but Raptors aren’t setting him up to be at his best – The Athletic

Observations

• While we’re talking about shooting slumps, O.G. Anunoby is 13-for-44 over the same span I mentioned above with VanVleet. Of course, with him there is an undeniable impact elsewhere. We’re at the point where I’m cackling at least once per game on how amateurish Anunoby makes a real, live NBA player look. Dennis Schroder got caught trying to shoot over Anunoby, and he just had no idea what to do. The media seats are diagonally above the Raptors bench, and from that perspective, Anunoby closing out on a shooter looks terrifying.

• Chris Boucher could play for the Raptors for seven more years and I’ll still never understand his process when it comes to field goal attempts. He pump-faked a 3 upon a catch only to take the same shot with his defender closer. He caught the ball on the edge of the paint, got pushed further away and turned around and took a jumper. He took a Dirk Nowitzki-esque one-legged jumper. I’m not against the idea of Boucher shooting, but there is no discernible methodology behind when he shoots and when he doesn’t.

• Boucher referred to the injured Precious Achiuwa as his tag-team partner. Without him, it feels like he’s in a “handicap match” (typically a match when two wrestlers face one). I asked him which tag team they would be.

“Degeneration X,” Boucher said. “I’m Shawn Michaels.”

For Achiuwa’s sake, it’s good that Boucher didn’t say they were The Rockers.

• We got the rare pregame booing of the list of inactive players, with James and Davis sitting out.

• Before the game, Nurse said Juancho Hernangomez, who sprained his ankle on the weekend against Orlando, will likely be out for at least another week. At least he’s spending time in the tub.

• I think Darvin Ham would be the odds-on favourite in the battle royal of head coaches that exists, sadly, only in my mind.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis out as Lakers lose to Raptors – Los Angeles Times

When the Lakers get to the place where coach Darvin Ham envisions his team, these kinds of absences merely will test the Lakers, not break them the way they did Wednesday.

Toronto led by as many as 27 before the Lakers closed the gap late with the game long decided. Dennis Schroder scored 18 points, Westbrook and Thomas Bryant each had 16, and Damian Jones had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 25 each.

The Lakers’ late push to make the final score respectable represented a response to Ham’s halftime challenge to his players, too many of whom let their disappointment in a miss or a no-call bleed into the next handful of possessions and assignments.

“The totality of our group and the totality of our franchise and program needs to be built on being competitive and being together at all times,” Ham said. “And I just felt that wasn’t the case in the first half. But I said what I had to say and left them to it.”

Both coach and players said things got better in the second half.

But forward Juan Toscano-Anderson, one of the players tasked with playing bigger minutes, had to leave the game after suffering a leg injury. He put no weight on his right foot as he was helped to the back.

“It sucks,” Ham said. “Juan, he’s a good soldier for us.”

Lakers vs. Cavaliers Final Score: Shorthanded Lakers fall to Raptors – Silver Screen and Roll

With LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Patrick Beverley and Wenyen Gabriel all ruled out at various points before the game; the Lakers didn’t have the players to really compete with the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back-to-back. They fell 123-116 in a night Laker Nation would like to forget.

Toronto’s big three shined, with Pascal Siakam scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 boards, Fred Van Vleet leading all scorers with 25 and O.G. Anunoby adding 23 points of his own. The Lakers had Russell Westbrook giving his all; he ended the night with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists, but that was nowhere near enough, as the Lakers (10-14) are now four games under .500.

With AD and Bron absent, there was less talent or size for coach Darvin Ham to work with. He opted for a lineup of Austin Reaves, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Thomas Bryant, Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schröder to start the game. That group was not effective, starting the game down 11-0. The lack of offense forced Ham to bring Russell Westbrook in two minutes earlier than he’s accustomed to entering the game and the team settled down with Russ running the point. They still trailed 39-31 after the one, but Russ playing nine minutes and leading the team in points, assists and rebounds helped avoid an early disaster.

Midway through the second quarter, the Raptors struggled to score. They went nearly three minutes without a basket, but the Lakers were unable to take advantage scoring only two points during this drought. On the road, with so many weapons missing, you have to take advantage of every opportunity available. The basketball Gods punished the Lakers for this sin and the Raptors went on a 16-0 run and opened the game wide open. With poor three-point shooting, no player in double digits in points, and getting out-rebounded by double digits, the Lakers headed to the locker room down 70-47 with little hope of turning things around.

Down by 23, the second half was a lot of cardio work for the Lakeshow. Reaves had a nice five-point burst in the middle of the third, but the Lakers never closed the gap significantly. No fake comeback tonight, and the second half was essentially garbage time as the Lakers lost their second game in as many nights.

Toronto Raptors defeat Los Angeles Lakers 126-113, VanVleet and Siakam with 25 apiece – Raptors HQ

The second quarter started out as a brickfest, one that threatened to put the subdued crowd to sleep. The Raptors’ D looked much sharper than in the first — they were more looked in, and were hustling back in transition — forcing the Lakers into a 2-for-9 start and two turnovers in the first six minutes of the frame.

But the Raptors were even colder from the floor; starting the frame 2-for-14 from the field. And these were not terrible looks either! The Lakers were playing zone, and the Raptors were moving the ball well — the shots just weren’t dropping. Story of this team’s life, right? After the game, Nurse said that he was happy with the execution against the zone — “we were producing we just weren’t hitting,” he said.

A Fred VanVleet three — his 11th attempt of the night — at the 4:15 mark of the second gave the Raptors their double-digit lead back, and after two FVV free throws, a Siakam putback, and a Trent midrange J, an OG slam, and a VanVleet floater, the Raptors were suddenly up 21.

It took a Lonnie Walker three just before halftime for the Lakers to stop a 24-3 Raptors run. Toronto led 70-47 at the half, with Siakam (16-7-3) and VanVleet 18 points, five assists) leading the way.

Nurse was particularly pleased with the run to end the half, especially on the defensive end; he praised the team for 15 out of 16 stops during the run.

The third quarter started almost as slowly as the second, as the turnovers and fouls mounted and the crowd couldn’t wake up from its halftime nap. It took the raptors a couple minutes to try and use their size advantage, but Scottie Barnes scored on back to back plays in the post to help settle things down.

No Laker put much of a mark on the third, although Austin Reaves scored six straight points before Siakam put him back in the blender for a nice two. Siakam finished the frame with six points and three rebounds.

Late threes from O.G and VanVleet, plus a sweet little Freddy fadeaway, helped the Raptors keep the lead at 22 heading into the fourth.

The Raptors opened the fourth quarter on a 7-run to push the lead to 24, and from there it was just a matter of time. The Lakers made some headway against the Raptors’ bench and closed to as many as 13, but could get no closer as time ran out.

The Raptors have an opportunity to get a couple more wins as they face the lowly Orland o Magic twice this weekend.

Raptors overmatch weakened Lakers | The Star

VanVleet made a three-pointer to open the game, hit a pull-up three in transition late in the second quarter and, while his numbers on the night weren’t overwhelming, they were certainly good enough.

He finished with 25 points, 3-for-12 from three-point range and 8-for-20 overall from the field in a game where he seemed bound and determined to get himself going.

“I’m not really concerned about it,” he had said about the shooting funk. “Obviously, nobody wants them to go in more than me — trust me — but it’s just the way it goes sometimes. So, just can’t get too high or too low with it. Just keeping working and try to find ways to get better.”

The disappointment throughout the crowd over the absence of James and Davis was obvious well before the game. Fans in the arena bowl — about half-filled seven minutes before tipoff, with a typically late-arriving Raptors audience — greeted the innocuous scoreboard graphic showing inactive players with a chorus of boos.

James was listed as out with left ankle soreness — an issue for most of the season with him — after playing 36 minutes in a Lakers loss in Cleveland on Tuesday, while Davis came down with a non-COVID illness early in that Cavaliers game and retired after the first quarter.

The consolation for the Raptors is that they had much of the day to revamp a game plan that had been understandably centred on James and Davis. With no disrespect to the other Lakers, they’d be bit pieces in preparatory plans.

“At least we probably knew fairly early in the day today, so we had plenty of time to craft a new game plan, for sure,” Nurse said. “Probably a lot of guys (will) see some opportunities to do some things. They’ve certainly got guys who have scored and played and who have done so throughout their careers, so I’m sure they’ll be ready to.”

Not so much.

Raptors feast on LeBron-less Lakers in cakewalk win at Scotiabank Arena | Toronto Sun

Not surprisingly, the home side jumped out to an 11-0 start with the game barely two minutes old, prompting the visitors to call a timeout and summon Russell Westbrook off the bench.

It was that kind of night, an uneventful evening on the hardwood that lacked relevance and importance.

The Raptors didn’t mind, a team that needed a visit by the putrid Orlando Magic to end a two-game slide.

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Once again, all was right with the Raptors, at least against the woeful Lakers, who trailed 70-47 at intermission en route to a 126-113 loss, a scoreline that flattered the Lakers.

Incredibly, the point spread was 12.5 points.

Fred VanVleet went from scoring 26 points in a win over Dallas to averaging 9.2 points in his previous five games heading into Wednesday.

He poured in 18 in 18 first-half minutes, while dishing off five assists.

He ended the night by scoring 25 points, one of three Raptors to reach the 20-point total.

The Raptors, overall, were OK, but the Lakers were simply awful.

Toronto’s best stretch came in the second quarter when it ended the half by defending at a very high level.

Defensively, the Raptors let up when the score got out of hand.

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Toronto led by as many as 27 points and never trailed.

What was galling about the night was the amount of money fans forked over to ostensibly watch the King and perhaps Davis, who had been playing at a high level.

Instead, fans saw a shell of a Lakers team whose only name of note was Westbrook, even though he’s nowhere near the level of league MVP when he average a triple double for the OKC Thunder.

The game went on and the Raptors did show they are better than the Lakers, which isn’t saying much.

When the Raptors needed to be at their best Monday when Boston, the NBA’s very best, came to town, Toronto could not step up in big moments.

There were no such big moments against the Lakers in a game that lacked intensity.

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