The Raptors have lost four of their last five games and are on an obvious search to find the cure for what ails them. There are a few reasons for such ailment, but the squad will have to figure it out fast because here come the Brooklyn Nets, ready to storm the Scotiabank Arena after winning three of their last four games. It’s a bit of almost perfect symmetry, right down to this version of the Nets being similar to last year’s.
No, it wasn’t quite supposed to go this way for Brooklyn. They knew Kevin Durant would be out for most of the year, but now Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert are both on the shelf, and the team is 13-11 and struggling to hang in there. Best laid plans and all that. The Raptors, meanwhile, got most of their injured players back (and lost a new one in Fred VanVleet) but are now playing their worst ball of the season. How does one explain it?
For the purposes of this column, we don’t. We’ve tried to address the Raptors’ current predicament one way, then a different way, and just for the fun of it, one more way after that. At this point, Toronto just has to go out and play its game. Sounds simple, I know, but in many cases that’s what it gets down to. The Raptors know they can own in transition, shoot a high percentage on three-point attempts, and play stifling defense. They’ve done it before and they can do it again. Easy, right?
Here are your details for tonight’s game and below are three things in particular for which to watch.
Where to Watch:
TSN 1/4 at 7:30pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Brooklyn — Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen
Toronto — Matt Thomas (out - hand), Stanley Johnson (out - groin), Fred VanVleet (doubtful - knee)
Brooklyn — Kevin Durant (out - achilles), Kyrie Irving (out - shoulder), Caris LeVert (out - thumb), Wilson Chandler (out - suspension), Nicolas Claxton (out - hamstring)
Heyyyy, Big Spencer!
I’m convinced that if Spencer Dinwiddie had a cooler name, it would be something heard in more households (thus becoming, you guessed it, a household name). Now in his sixth season in the league, Dinwiddie has stepped into the void of injuries on the Nets to claim the top spot on the roster. Yes, Kyrie is their scoring wizard, but he hasn’t been on the court in weeks. It’s been Dinwiddie and his career-best 20.8 points per game that have paced the Nets (as he and those points have done for much of the past four years).
For this month, Dinwiddie’s scoring has actually been a tick higher, at 22.8 points per game, while he’s been leading the team in assists at 7.0 per game. A crisp 47 percent shooting from the field means Dinwiddie has been doing things efficiently for the Nets as well. (His three-point shooting could use some work though; Dinwiddie is shooting 31 percent from deep on the year. But don’t worry, Joe Harris, with whom it is still on sight, is shooting 43.8 percent from three.) All of this is to suggest that despite not receiving a ton of attention from the broader league discourse, Dinwiddie has been good.
For the Raptors, their approach to this version of the Nets follows a simple template: keep an eye on Dinwiddie and the rest should follow. Let’s see if they can do it.
Come Hither, Toronto’s Shooting
The good news is the Raptors are still in the top five in three-point percentage at 37.5, and coming in just behind Detroit (huh?), Utah (sure), and Miami (damn). The bad news is that they’ve often looked like a much worse shooting team for most of this month. How bad has it gotten? For December the Raptors are shooting 31.5 percent from three — good for 27th, that’s twenty-seventh, in the league. Yowza!
Unfortunately it’s also easy to point fingers at who exactly on the Raptors has brought the team’s shooting efficiency from deep way down. It’s not the injured VanVleet, who was shooting 45 percent from range in December. It’s not guys like Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, or even Serge Ibaka (if you can believe that), who have at least maintained a 35+ record.
No, the three biggest culprits are Pascal Siakam (30.3%), the returned Kyle Lowry (20.5%), and, sadly, OG Anunoby (17.4%). Now we knew the Raptors weren’t going to shoot over 45 percent from three as a team the whole year, but this dip from these three players has been critical. Siakam’s game has gone lax over the last week or so because, as it appears, his shot has not gone in; Lowry is clearly working his way back from injury and not himself; and poor Anunoby, who is an official wrecker on D, just can’t buy a bucket. The Raptors need a bounce back to the mean if they’re going to have any success this season — is tonight the night for it?
It’s not fun to watch the Raptors lose games, but it is fun to watch coach Nick Nurse get absolutely insane with his lineups. At the start of the year, he rolled with a strict 7-man rotation, with nary a reserve beyond that in sight. Then, thanks to injuries, he had to get wild with his roster, playing guys who had barely proven themselves to be NBA players. It worked until it didn’t, and now since the big wheels on rolling again Nurse is trying to get the squad moving in the same direction.
It’s proven a mite bit challenging — especially with glue guy VanVleet out. For example, the combo of Ibaka and Boucher has proven to be tough to put together; Norman Powell and Lowry in the backcourt isn’t as effective as Fred with Lowry (or Fred with Norm); Marc Gasol is trying to work things out with all kinds of different guys. Case in point: at one point against the Clippers, Nurse tried a lineup of Lowry, Siakam, Boucher, Ibaka, and the big Spaniard. It wasn’t pretty, I guess, but it suggets that much with the Raptors is not as settled as we were led to believe. That makes for interesting regular season games — even if it could make for more losses. We’ll see.