Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 3

Raptors make Kuzma look like LeBron | No cohesion | Will Trent resign as a 6th man?

Raptors have found stylistic diversity but still lack cohesion – The Athletic

The Raptors struggled badly, playing with multiple guards for a short while in the second quarter. Even with Poeltl on the floor, the Raptors were not locked in defensively and rotating when the centre came over to help with dribble penetration. Raptors coach Nick Nurse could perhaps use a few more conservative defence coverages, but that didn’t excuse how often the Wizards got simple passes for easy buckets.

The Raptors’ starters were good enough, though. They won the minutes they played together 72-62. The Raptors lost the rest of the minutes 57-36.

“The guys coming in (off the bench) weren’t quite ready to go in either half,” Nurse said. “We need more out of those guys, and it needs to be more defensively. We’re gonna get it organized correctly in our thought process.”

With any new players coming together, there will be basic communication to iron out. The Raptors more or less gave the Wizards the cushion they had for most of the game by just not picking up players in transition.

“Haven’t quite got to it yet, but I think a Fred, Will, Gary (Trent Jr.) lineup, or something like that, may present itself at some point,” Nurse said before the game of using a multi-guard lineup. “I think that could give us three dynamic guys with the one roller and one type — it depends who the other guy is out there, I guess.”

The word he might have omitted in front of “type” was “Raptors,” the long, athletic, questionable shooting type. It was funny, then, to see that guy — Chris Boucher in this case — hit the two 3-pointers the lineup produced. As has been the case frequently this season, that lineup couldn’t figure out how to defend, which is perhaps why you’d rather have Poeltl in those lineups than Precious Achiuwa, who is struggling.

Barton is trying to walk the line between doing too little and too much, which is always a struggle, especially when a player joins a team in the middle of the season. He missed an off-the-bounce 2 and then a stepback 3. The Raptors need some creation from Barton, but they are mostly hoping the ball finds him. It didn’t against the Wizards, and the defence with those lineups was nonexistent. Barton didn’t play in the second half, even as the Raptors endured a 9-for-33 3-point shooting night.

The Raptors might have the beginnings of stylistic diversity, but they’re still grasping for cohesion. They need to find it, and they just don’t have much time to do so.

Familiar flaws return for Raptors at inopportune time vs. Wizards – Sportsnet

The two teams meet again Saturday and if Toronto doesn’t play with a greater sense of purpose some serious doubts will have to be cast on their chances to make anything positive out of what has been a weird season and the decision to be buyers at the trade deadline, rather than sellers.

“Our energy was at an all-time low from the beginning of the game,” said Chris Boucher, who led the bench in scoring with 12 points in 13 minutes but was still minus-16 for the game. “But also when we [the bench] came in. Usually that’s what you’re supposed to do, come in and change the energy of the game and I don’t think we did that.”

“You don’t pick and choose your bad days,” he added. “Today was a little bit flat for a lot of us. We missed a lot of gimmes, we didn’t follow the game plan, those are games you just want to flush and go to the next one. Obviously that was an important one but it’s one of those game where have to learn about ourselves and try to get better.”

Scoring might help. Despite Toronto’s 5-2 record since the trade deadline, offence has continued to be an issue much as it has all season long. Heading into this two-game match-up with the Wizards Toronto was 22nd in offensive rating over their past seven games and 20th in three-point shooting by percent and 24th by makes.

The Raptors are hoping to push to the playoffs or — failing that — position themselves well for the play-in tournament. In any case, post-season basketball typically puts a premium on half-court offence and Toronto remains 27th in half-court offence, per

The arrival of Poeltl has provided some other options offensively. At the most basic level he’s a good offensive rebounder; a handy pick-and-roll partner for VanVleet and has also shown the ability to facilitate offence as a passer. The Raptors need all of it. Poeltl showed his versatility in the fourth quarter as he counted three of his four assists catching the ball near the high post and finding cutters, Anunoby especially, but it shouldn’t have taken that long and in between there were too many possessions where the Raptors rushed into shots when they didn’t have too or ended up forcing tough ones late in the clock. The misses — and the turnovers — bled into their defence.

“… Bad execution on offence that lead to easy transition for them,” said Poeltl. “If we execute better on offence, if we get better shots with better rhythm that will help us on defence, especially in transition as well.”

It was the Raptors’ search for offence that inspired them to sign former Wizard Will Barton as a free agent after he’d been waived last month. We’ll see how it works in practice, given Barton’s production fell off sharply this season after he was traded from Denver in the off-season, but Nurse sounds like a man desperate for what Barton can offer, at least in theory.

Barton played just seven minutes and was 0-of-2 from the floor Thursday.

Kyle Kuzma, Wizards start fast and don’t look back in win over Raptors – The Washington Post

They trusted in their offense to lead the way, especially with Kristaps Porzingis back on court after the big man missed two games with left knee soreness. Porzingis had 25 points and five rebounds in his return, and Daniel Gafford had 18 points and five rebounds. Kuzma also had five rebounds and five assists.
There were difference-makers up and down the box score. Deni Avdija had six points and nine rebounds in an easy, confident defensive showing, and Delon Wright, starting in place of point guard Monte Morris (back) for the third straight game, buzzed around on defense like a character from a video game. He had seven points, six rebounds and a season-high 11 assists.
“Our disposition on the ball was pretty good,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said before praising his team’s ability to withstand Toronto’s physicality on both sides of the ball. “Obviously they’re a heavy paint team. They’re going to play downhill as much as they can.”
The taut offense made minding the details on defense that much easier. The Raptors (31-33) had five scorers in double figures, including 26 points from OG Anunoby, but were constantly shooting with a hand in their faces.
They had nine three-pointers to Washington’s 14.

NBA Recap: Wizards beat Raptors 119-108 – Bullets Forever

The Washington Wizards defeated the Toronto Raptors, 119-108 on Thursday evening at Capital One Arena. With the win, the Wizards are now 30-32 while the Raptors are 31-33.

Washington led for most of this game, minus a short stretch in the first quarter. They shot 51.2 percent overall from the field and 46.7 percent (14-of-30) from three.

Kyle Kuzma led the Wizards with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He also shot 4-of-9 from the three point line to lead Washington in that department as well.

In addition, Kristaps Porzingis added 25 points and Bradley Beal added 15 more.

For the Raptors, O.G. Anunoby led with 26 points and Jakob Poeltl added 23 more.

Wizards finally showing some urgency in back-to-back wins – Wiz of Awes

The Wizards, Kyle Kuzma in particular, started both games off scorching hot. Gaining decent leads in the first few minutes of each game. In the Hawks matchup they had a lead of seven early and in the Raptors game Kyle Kuzma had a 10-0 personal run to start the game.

The defense in both games was much improved from the rest of the season, especially from Bradley Beal. He helped put together a few key stops against Trae Young late in the game that allowed the Wizards to break away with only a couple minutes remaining.

Once again, the defense stepped up to lead the Wizards to yet another key victory. This time the win pushes the Wiz up a spot in the standings as they now hold the nine seed and are one game removed from the Atlanta Hawks for the eight seed and the double elimination protection that comes with it.

On top of their defense, Kuzma poured in 30 points, five rebounds, and five assists to lead the offense through the game. Kristaps Porzingis also had 25 points and Daniel Gafford had 18. It was an all-around team win and they have to be feeling great about it.

If the Washington Wizards can continue to play like this going forward, they may just find themselves lifting themselves up and out of the Play-In Tournament and into the regular Playoffs.

Toronto Raptors barely show up, as they lose to Washington Wizards, 119-108 – Raptors HQ

The only reason this final score was this close, is because the Wizards were equally as bad defensively. It was a game of open shots, free drives to the basket, and sloppy play. The Wizards did manage to shoot 47% from 3-point range, which is honestly fantastic. Especially when you compare it to the 9/33 clip that Toronto shot.

Pascal Siakam had a short stretch in the first quarter where he looked like an All Star level player, but his missed wide open transition layup kind of defines the rest of his night.

Jakob Poeltl continues to not only look like a fantastic pickup, but arguably the most important player on the floor for Toronto. When he isn’t on the court, the defense looks terrible, the offense seems one dimensional, and the rebounding is non-existent. I know this isn’t every night, and I’m severely bitten by the recency bias bug, but his presence on the floor is unmatched.

He finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, and an impact that stretched far beyond that stat line. He finished with a +9 on the night. The only Raptors player with a higher +/- was Fred VanVleet, who finished at a +15. He shot 5/17 with 2 turnovers, but I guess he had an positive impact? Plus-minus is definitely one of those stats that you have to combine with the eye-test.

Not quite literally, but every game in this “second half” of the season is pretty near a must win for Toronto. For a team that has essentially placed themselves in a position where they are playing to win over the next few years, bouncing back and forth between the 9th and 10th seed is unideal to say the least.

Kyle Kuzma deserves some credit for scoring 30 points, including the first 10 points in the game. He ended the night inefficiently, shooting 10/24, but he was effective for the Wizards offensively.

This is one of the first basketball games that I can remember where nobody on either team was overly great. If you were to box score search, OG Anunoby would probably look like the best player in the game. He was the Raptors’ leading scorer with 26 points on 56% shooting from the field. Also some fairly solid defense on Bradley Beal, who was nearly invisible tonight.

OG also finished on a couple amazing flex-actions. The Raptors were able to give the ball to Poeltl in the high post, who then threw the ball down to Anunoby on the cross-screen. One of which even cut the Wizards’ lead down to nine early in the fourth quarter, but that would be the closest that the Raptors’ mini comeback would get.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Anunoby is a fantastic 3-and-D option. His on-ball game is still awkward, and typically results in a turnover, or ineffective offensive set. However, if he can remain a player who is happy playing spot-up ball on offense, and an elite level defender, he will have a long successful career in the NBA.

There really isn’t much to say about this game, but that the Raptors need to play better on Saturday, where they will get an opportunity to rematch against the Wizards. Toronto continues to be a team that needs to win games, if they expect to finish in the top six. Quite honestly, they need to keep winning if they want to finish within the play-in tournament.

Sluggish Raptors allow Wizards to pull even in play-in race | The Star

Poor transition defence, a no-show from basically the entire bench unit and an overall lack of force marked the performance. There was a perfunctory rally in the fourth quarter, when the Raptors cut a 19-point deficit to eight with just under three minutes left, but the damage done in about the first 39 minutes couldn’t be overcome.

Among the more mystifying aspects to the night was a lack of intensity from the Raptors. They aren’t a particularly effective team in transition defence on their best nights but the slow-paced Wizards ran them into the ground while amassing a nine-point halftime lead.

Given the stakes, which had been a topic of conversation for days, it was perplexing.

“I think there’s gonna be a lot of intensity and fight and stuff out there, for sure,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said a day before the game. “I think on the floor the players will be sensing it similarly, for sure.”

Not so much. The Raptors were sluggish right off the bat and never had a truly sustained period of good play. There were flashes but never for long enough.

They just didn’t play tough enough for long enough.

“The ones who impose their will on the game early (win),” veteran Thad Young was saying before the game. “We are getting into the latter part of the season where some of the calls we were getting at the beginning of the season, we’re not going to get now.

“So we have to be a little bit more physical, a little bit more aggressive. We got to make sure we are imposing our will on both sides of the basketball more than the other team. I think that is what’s going to help us.”

Not much of that was present Thursday.

The Wizards got a 30-point performance from Kyle Kuzma and 25 from Kristaps Porzingis and played with more pace and force than the Raptors did all night.

Toronto got 23 points and 13 rebounds from Jakob Poeltl, despite the fact he played only 10 minutes in the first half when the Wizards took control.

O.G. Anunoby had 26 for the Raptors but Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet were a combined 11-for-33 from the floor, Gary Trent Jr. had just four points and seven field-goal attempts, and Precious Achiuwa was a non-factor off the bench in just 13 minutes.

The game had moments that mirrored the season for teams that have scuffled far more often than expected.

Raptors Drop Potentially Playoff-Altering Game to Wizards – Sports Illustrated

Maybe they are what their record says they are. Maybe, it turns out, they’re middling, a team far too inconsistent to be taken seriously as any sort of playoff threat. Just two days after a narrow victory over the fellow play-in hopeful Chicago Bulls, Toronto did its Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act, falling 119-108 to the Washington Wizards in a crucial game Thursday.

In terms of positives, Toronto never gave up. Maybe that’s worth something. O.G. Anunoby and Jakob Poeltl kept the Raptors alive, trying to will Toronto out of a 19-point fourth-quarter hole. A 9-1 run early in the fourth by Anunoby kept the Raptors around, but, really, a 19-point deficit to a lackluster Wizards team is pretty unacceptable.

Any hope of a comeback died when Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet missed three straight three-pointers and Washington, ending Toronto’s run, and moving the Raptors into a way tie with the Wizards for the ninth seed in the conference.

It was one of those nights right from the jump. Toronto missed its first nine field goal attempts as Kyle Kuzma single-handedly put the Wizards up 10-0 before the first timeout.

Chris Boucher was virtually the only bright spot for Toronto early. The 30-year-old forward opened the second quarter with a catch-and-shoot three courtesy of a kick out from VanVleet. He followed it up moments later with a pump-fake-into-step-back-three-pointer he somehow nailed above the break, just his second pull-up three of the season. He kept the Raptors around early in the second quarter with eight points in the frame as the Wizards jumped ahead by 14.

In terms of strange coaching decisions, playing Jakob Poeltl just 10 minutes in the first half is definitely a weird one. He provided the only resistance the Wizards saw in the first half. Toronto made up for it in the second half, riding the Austrian big man down the stretch as he finished the night plus-nine in 32 minutes with 23 points and 13 rebounds. As for the minutes he didn’t play, well, Toronto was minus-20 in 16 minutes without Poeltl.

Fred VanVleet looked off for the second straight game since returning from his personal leave. He was fine working the pick-and-roll with Poeltl for stretches of the second half, but his shots just wouldn’t fall. He missed a pair of wide-open three-pointers, clanked a layup off the bottom of the rim, and was slow to get back on defense as he argued with the referee for a call, ending the game just 5-for-17 from the floor.

Wizards slam brakes on Raptors’ feel-good vibes | Toronto Sun

With just 18 games remaining after this one, every game is meaningful, which only makes the Raptors performance in this one that much more disappointing.

The issue for Toronto almost all night was dealing with Washington’s front-court size.

With Daniel Gafford (6-foot-10), Kristaps Porzingas (7-foot-3) and Kyle Kuzma (6-foot-9) in the lineup, size was always going to be an issue but the combination of Kuzma bombing away from the perimeter and the other two big men doing their damage at the rim proved too much for the visitors.

Toronto’s defence has been improved of late and the team did well to limit Bradley Beal in this one, but they didn’t appear to have many answers for Washington’s length.

The early minutes of the game set the tone for the night in a few ways. The 10-0 run by the Wizards was the start of a series of runs by both teams, this one with all the damage done by Kuzma, who was a perfect 4-for-4 for 10 points to start the game while the Raptors missed their own first 10 shots.

That opening stretch also established the kind of night it was going to be for Kuzma, who dominated for much of the night finishing with a game-high 28 points in addition to five assists and five rebounds.

Porzingas wasn’t far behind with 23 and five rebounds of his own.

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Gafford, the least known of the three Washington bigs, had 18 and five boards.

If containing those three wasn’t Toronto’s biggest challenge of the night, then it was finding the bottom of the basket at the other end.

A lot of that grief dealing with those Washington bigs could have been offset with even a decent three-point shooting night, but that was not in the cards for the Raps.

Toronto was good on just 9-of-33 attempts including just 2-of-11 from distance from Fred VanVleet, who seemed to be finding his shot after some early-season struggles.

The Wizards, not normally a team that relies on its three-point game for much, had the opposite kind of night, going off for 14 makes on their 30 attempts.

Raptors Insider: Will Trent accept bench or will he leave? | The Star

Since before the season began, there are those who think Trent is perfectly suited to be an offensive force off the bench on a very good team. It’s where his skills are best suited, the thinking goes, and had all things been equal with the Raptors all season, it probably would have been how the rotation worked out.

What’s it mean in the summer? It should be interesting. And telling.

Now, Trent has absolutely shown he has starter quality skills, that’s not in dispute. But he’s best as a guy who gets tons of shots off the bench, plays starter minutes some nights and can fill in to start a game when the need arises.

What that pays him is the question, as is how he sees his career unfolding himself.

Will he accept a backup role in Toronto should he re-sign as a free agent? Will he want an enhanced role, and more money, to start on a team that’s not as good as the Raptors because the teams with significant cash to spend are not at Toronto’s level yet?

It’s an existential question: Maybe more money and responsibility on a bad team or a clearly defined role, and a bit less cash, with a chance to win more?

Everyone you talk to around the Raptors lauds Trent for his professionalism as he’s been shunted from starter to backup this season.

He puts his work in, does his job, doesn’t make waves.

But when it comes to decide his longer term future, the organization is anxiously waiting to see how he really feels when he’s got the decision-making power.

Meanwhile, the decision to move Trent to the bench — when the full roster is available and everyone knows that’s never a guaranteed thing —is indisputably right.

It’s inconceivable that Nick Nurse would take out Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes or Jakob Poeltl and the Twitter nonsense that suggest Fred VanVleet’s somehow holding things back is pure balderdash from people who may not know whether the ball is blown up or stuffed.

There could have been a discussion of Trent or O.G. Anunoby to the bench but not much of one. Trent is where he fits best on this team.

Whether that’s the case in the fall is about an $85 million question.

Wanting more from Scottie Barnes
Sometimes it’s what’s not said that resonates.

Barnes has been magnificent in the fourth quarter of many games. He was dominant down the stretch against the Bulls on Tuesday with four blocked shots in the fourth quarter alone.

It continued a pattern emerging in the last few weeks.

“We’ve talked about it before, just the competitive side of him really starts emerging in the fourth and he just starts playing really physical and really tough,” Nurse said.

But …

What about the other three quarters?

“Well, I don’t know,” Nurse said. “I think that I’m gonna say the same things I always say, I want him to be more aggressive. I want him to beat people up going to the basket and finish a little bit more.”

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