By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston
Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.
The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.
Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.
Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.
After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.
But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.
“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”
Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.
“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”
One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.
So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.
The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.
“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.
“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”
Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.
“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.
“I just want to play.
“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”
The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.
Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson