Don’t panic — it’s not time for that. However, you should be unsettled by Friday’s loss to Utah.
DeMar DeRozan and Co. is hunkered down this weekend after arguably the worst loss of their season. The Raptors are normally pristine executors of the game plan — a symptom of great coaching efforts. But, in Friday’s loss to the Jazz (currently not one of the good teams in the NBA), the Raptors, and Kyle Lowry specifically, became unglued from their foundation and flittered around the court with reckless abandon when it mattered most.
Lowry dished out seven assists in the loss, but he also turned the ball over nearly as many times. When you combine that with a 2-for-14 shooting night, and his rough defensive play in the fourth quarter — it’s tough to look past Lowry when attempting to place the blame on a single player.
It’s this type of generally uncharacteristic performance that keeps fans apprehensive of a total buy-in of the new style the Raptors have shown off through three months. But, it’s not just Lowry’s fault — the entire late-game offense is seemingly still broken, despite the same group playing with an elite level of efficiency during the rest of the contest. It seems to be a mental hurdle, not a logical one. Everything functions properly up until the point when the dial is turned to 11.
The Lakers are in town to play the second of two match-ups between the two teams this season, but they are nowhere near the same group as the one Toronto played earlier this season. The Lakers have won eight of their last ten games and are actually playing defense — the main catalyst to their recent winning ways — despite not having Lonzo Ball around for much of the run. He’s played in just five of their last 16 games.
Toronto won’t have an easy game despite the bad record of their opponent. January is a time where contenders start to relax and slip a little, whereas the bottom feeders fight for what they can with no shame.
Here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN 4/5 6:00 p.m. EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Los Angeles – Tyler Ennis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez
Toronto – none
Los Angeles – Lonzo Ball (knee – doubtful)
Welcome to Lithuania
Welcome to Lithuania, Ball family. It’s a refrain made popular by Matt Devlin this season, thanks to the larger than life play of Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas, of course, is from Lithuania, which is where the family of the Lakers’ starting point guard Lonzo Ball is currently located — and also where Ball plans to debut his rap career.
If it sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. LaVar Ball was desperate to sink his teeth into any willing market across the world, and unfortunately, Jonas’ home country welcomed the Ball family with open arms. It’s a sideshow, and a spectacle gleaming with every classic example of histrionics known to mankind.
The fact that Lonzo will be performing an act unrelated to basketball in Lithuania proves that LaVar is using the family’s presence in Eastern Europe to do what he is unable to do in the United States: build a brand, and in the process, showcase a type of opportunism and desperation we haven’t yet witnessed in his short career as a professional famous guy.
For what it’s worth, I can’t imagine how Lonzo Ball deals with this BS on a daily basis.
Dwane Casey offered a bit of insight into the machinations of the team’s late-game execution after Friday’s loss. He said, “It’s a habit, habits from last year of calling set plays for DeMar and Kyle at the end of games… We’ve done a good job of doing it [execute on offense] for 43-44 minutes of the game, now we’ve got to continue it longer.”
Coach is aware, so don’t worry about him being oblivious. He’s trying to implement the changes he wants to see during actual game settings. In the same breath, he mentioned that the staff wanted to test out some new sets in Atlanta — but, as we know, the score didn’t provide such an opportunity.
If this truly is a matter of breaking bad habits, the player I worry about most is Lowry. He’s been struggling with consistency on offense all season. Yes, he’s had a 40-point game and is averaging a solid 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. But his offense has been visibly clunky, especially compared to last season when he had a usage rate nearly three percentage points higher and shot the lights out.
His entire career, he’s been a primary ball-handler. This year, he’s needed to become an off-ball threat, and frankly, he’s struggling with the transition. The fact that he’s still effective proves how crucial he is to the team’s success. But, if Toronto has any hope of succeeding in the playoffs, he needs to find his center and rediscover the focus that gave him with the best season of his career last year.
Silver Lithuanian Lining
Jonas Valanciunas has looked like the real deal, and for a sustained period of time to boot. His hyper-efficiency is paying dividends for Toronto, and although they wasted his incredible minute-for-minute performance on Friday night, he’s more often than not been a true difference maker for the first time since that Indiana Pacers series two years ago. His current per-36 numbers are insane, and easily the best of his career. Oh, what are they? 20 points and 14 rebounds, with 56/42/86 shooting splits.
His defense — long a weakness — now looks like one of his favorite things to do while on the floor. We can’t forget the guy is still just 25 years old; the same age as Delon Wright. If Wright has potential, JV has it too. Every game that passes, JV is making it harder for the front office to unload his contract for pennies on the dollar. Every game that passes, JV is making it harder for fans to hate him.
This is the centre we’ve been waiting for. I just really hope he sticks around this time, because Jonas Valhalla-nciunas is truly becoming a legend.