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10 things: Raptors showing no progress as losses pile up

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 119-103 loss to the Utah Jazz.

One — The Raptors continue to slide with no end in sight. Sure, it was a very tough matchup against a veteran opponent with designs on contending, but you would at least expect to see some marginal improvements after two off days. But there was no progress made between this game and their other losses in their 1-6 slide, only more of the same. From the news of OG Anunoby picking up a hip pointer and being sidelined for “a while” to the total schooling the Raptors received in the second half, it was just a terrible day all around for the franchise.

Two — The main issue for the Raptors continues to be their defence. This is the third consecutive game where the Raptors have allowed 54 per cent shooting or better to the opponent, and had it not been for the Jazz missing a fair share of open threes, the final score could have been even more lopsided.

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The Raptors opened the game with an aggressive strategy of trapping the ball above the arc, hoping to smother it, force contested lateral passes, then beat the Jazz with their rotation. Except, that didn’t come close to working against an experienced Jazz team who largely passed through and around the trap which then led to wide open triples or uncontested dunks. Nick Nurse scrapped his strategy by the second quarter, resorting more to a normal scheme where his centers stayed in the paint, but the Jazz eventually solved that, too.

All the intensity the Raptors showed early this season has fizzled out, and they won’t win any games until they rediscover their potential on defence.

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Three — The Raptors had a good plan on offence until the Jazz adjusted. Utah was very lax defensively in the first half, and mostly relied on playing a deep drop coverage with Rudy Gobert sinking all the way under the rim. The Raptors anticipated this out of the gate and focused their efforts on the pick-and-roll between Fred VanVleet and Khem Birch. If Birch managed to erase VanVleet’s defender on the screen, the Raptors would either have VanVleet pull-up from deep, or send him downhill to sell the drive before dropping the pocket pass to Birch for his trusty floater. They were able to get these open looks because Gobert left so much space in the middle of the floor to protect the rim. But in the second half, the Jazz adjusted by sending Gobert higher on the screen or even switching out on VanVleet, which took away the gaps and the Raptors had no solutions. Toronto had 63 points in the first half compared to 40 in the second.

Four — Pascal Siakam gave the Raptors less than nothing. This was by far his worst game since returning from injury, and it’s impossible to say how much his conditioning is affecting his play. It was also a tough matchup with Gobert patrolling the paint, where Siakam is typically at his best, although his last four scoring outputs against Utah have been 27 points, 15, 27 and 35. In any case, it was difficult and frustrating to see Siakam struggle to this degree.

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At first he didn’t want to attack the basket at all, as he was driving in to pass which led to turnovers where he forced things, or just passed up shots. Then when he did try to make a move, he was either stripped in the post, blocked at the rim or just straight up missing from close range. He could have tried the jumper, but just didn’t feel comfortable with it to any degree either from deep or the midrange. To make matters worse, his defence continues to be noticeably behind since returning from injury, as even relatively inert threats like Royce O’Neale were blowing by him.

Whether it was the circumstances or it was just a bad night, the bottom line is that it was just a bad showing from Siakam who had been fairly sharp offensively in his last two games.

Five — That’s why it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Siakam responded with a 30-point effort against Sacramento. Some of that is just matchup based, where the Jazz have a defensive player of the year patrolling the lane while the Kings are the Kings, but some of it is also the natural ups and downs with a player coming back from major off-season surgery.

Most conversations and assessments of Siakam have long gotten to the point of over hyperpolarization and he has become the most divisive player on the team. When he struggles like he did tonight, the critiques tend to be over the top and specific lapses are generalized into his overall character as a player. There is no middle ground for Siakam, which must make it an incredibly awkward place for him to be as a player who badly wants to give his best effort to this franchise.

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Six — Gary Trent Jr. stepped up his offence in Anunoby’s absence. Similar to the strategy with VanVleet, the Raptors also used ball screens to get Trent Jr. space to fire and he was brimming with confidence. Trent Jr. nailed a smattering of pull-up jumpers both from three and in the midrange, many of which were well covered, and it just speaks to his skill level as a whole.

As always, the temptation is to want more since Trent Jr. rarely looked to set others up, but his role on this team is to make shots and tonight he did exactly as he was told. His most impressive move was a fake where he lifted Gobert off his feet, before pivoting inside to scoop it off the glass. With Anunoby out, expect more games where Trent Jr. is asked to create his own shot, which hopefully means more than living and dying with the jumper.

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Seven — This was a missed opportunity for Malachi Flynn. Nurse gave him an extended run, his longest of the season at 22 minutes, as the matchups were favourable. Utah has a few small guards in their rotation so Flynn wasn’t as exposed defensively, and Nurse even paired Flynn with VanVleet which has been one of the main reasons holding Flynn back this season since the dual point guard lineup is too small. Flynn started strong, nailing a floater and a pull-up three while the Jazz were dropping back, but went 0-for-7 after that point with six of those attempts jumpers that weren’t even close.

It’s unclear what the role the Raptors have in mind for Flynn, because he isn’t really a microwave scorer by trade but it almost looked as if that was what was expected from him tonight. Hopefully, it won’t take weeks for Flynn to get another chance.

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Eight — It was a confusing game for Chris Boucher. It was jarring to see how smooth Birch was in the offence, as compared to how out of control Boucher was in his approach. He was either getting blocked at the rim, or he was launching threes that were completely out of sync with how the game was being played. This was a good test for the theory of Boucher’s struggles being tied to him being shifted from playing center to being on the wing, because he was back at center tonight in a matchup against Hassan Whiteside that mostly sticks to being around the rim, but Boucher still struggled to find the open spaces in the defence as he has done for every game this season save for the win over Philadelphia.

Nine — The second unit keeps getting outplayed. The Raptors were outscored 57-20 in bench points, which isn’t even that out of line with their recent performances. This is hardly surprising since the Raptors are down three rotation players at the moment, while also refusing to play Goran Dragic, and Nurse tried just about everyone. Even two-way player Justin Champagne saw the floor, and he might have looked the most comfortable out of anyone in their role since he keeps it simple by crashing the glass, spacing out in the corner and giving great effort on defence.

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Ten — The question on everyone’s minds is how the Raptors can stop their slide. For one, it has to come on defence. The Raptors have been completely out of sorts in their execution, and Nurse’s coverages demand maximum intensity and full cooperation, both of which are absent at the moment. Simplifying their schemes might be the easiest short-term fix, but Nurse’s vision for the future is clearly for the Raptors to swarm the ball, collapse the paint and use their speed to get back out to the perimeter. Nurse also needs to find some combination of bench players who can at least keep things even so that the starters aren’t completely burnt out, although it’s hard to see that happening until they get healthier or if Boucher and Flynn find any modicum of consistency.



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Eagles' Miles Sanders on advice to his younger self: 'Be patient'

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Miles Sanders gave advice to his younger self to be patient and follow the course.



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Kyle Busch detained last month in Mexico for gun possession

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Kyle Busch said he forgot he had a gun in his bag while traveling in Mexico last month and was detained by Mexican authorities.



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Nets Coach Shares His Message To Team After Kyrie Irving Trade

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(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

 

After three years and change, the Kyrie Irving experiment is over for the Brooklyn Nets, and many of their fans are breathing a sigh of relief.

They thought the organization had assembled a superteam back in 2019 when they acquired both Irving and Kevin Durant, but they have nothing to show for it, as the team didn’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals with the duo.

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Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn had a succinct message for his team after Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks following a trade request on Friday.

When Irving and Durant joined the Nets, many proclaimed them the NBA’s next great team, but the experiment failed for multiple seasons, and Irving is a major reason why.

He is an ultra-skilled player, but he has been a headache off the court.

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Earlier this season, he promoted a documentary with antisemitic content, and he failed to explain why he did so to reporters, which resulted in an eight-game suspension for him.

Last season, his failure to get vaccinated against COVID-19 caused the Nets to send him home for much of the year, and in the meantime, he promoted anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Now, the question is whether Durant will ask to be traded soon, as Brooklyn likely won’t even come close to contending for an NBA championship anytime soon.

Reportedly, there are teams that are monitoring Durant’s situation and readying themselves in case he asks out.

At least now the Nets can move forward without the stress of keeping Irving engaged and wondering what he may do next to jeopardize team chemistry and performance.

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The post Nets Coach Shares His Message To Team After Kyrie Irving Trade appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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