The signs are ominous in Toronto Raptors, a franchise even out of the zone play in and five games of 50% victories (20-25) after losing in Milwaukee (130-122) a day after saving the furniture in overtime against the Knicks. In back to back and with a rotation that Nick Nurse left at eight players, the Canadian team ran out of strength at the end, a succession of inaccuracies in attack and defense in which the lack of legs and, of course, also the personality crisis of a team that won 48 games this season and that always, in better or worse stages, used to be hard to crack.
But there is not much trace of those sticky and brave defenses that made life difficult for the rivals (130 points for the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton) and that configuration of interchangeable and large players that has already become house brand begins to turn against a team that faces a moment of deep personality crisis… days before the market closed.
This is crucial, because rumors are already surrounding players like Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr, a backcourt that can be on the market in summer because its two members have player option for the next course. They say that VanVleet will ask for about 30 million a year and Trent Jr, 25. A lot of money. So… Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are striding toward very thick contract revisions as well, so Masai Ujiri has to assess whether he can build a ring contender with that core. That response, crucial in the immediate future of this franchise, may cause earthquakes in the impending market turmoil. And many changes in a franchise that with Ujiri has never opted for the tanking and reconstruction. Not voluntarily.
But the point is that these Raptors it does not give themor so it seems, to be truly competitive in the East. They have a tremendous depth problem, and right now also a disconnect between defense and offense, players who do one thing or the other, a flow that does not connect the two sides of the track. In Milwaukee, a terrible second half (38-23 the third quarter) ruined the work prior to the break (67-74). The fight, the rebounding advantage and the shots scored by Trent Jr (28 points, from more to less) and especially VanVleet (39 with 9 rebounds and 7 assists) were not enough. Not even the first expulsion in Brook Lopez’s career, with 113-110 in the middle of the last quarter. VanVleet wanted to exploit the absence of the Bucks center, but he was already just strong enough to crash in the area and the Bucks responded with a final hammering from the line of three, where they signed a 19/39. Grayson Allen (25 points, 4/5 on 3-pointers) and Brook Lopez (19) woke up the team in the third quarter, and Jrue Holiday decided and was the obvious leader and counterbalance to VanVleet’s heroic efforts all night: 37+6+7, the main reason why the Bucks have saved with a decent 2-2 the four games they have been without Giannis. In the section of good news for a group that is not living its best days either (29-16 now) is the imminent one (it seems) second return Middleton and the excellent performance of Joe Ingles as soon as he returned after his very serious knee injury. This time, the veteran Australian forward had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists.
Null version of the Nets without Durant or Kyrie
While the Bucks got rid of the final resistance of the Raptors, the Nets faced reality in San Antonio (106-98). It doesn’t matter how bad the Spurs are (they had five straight losses and after this win they stand at 14-31) and how porous the Texans’ defense is: the team could not recover from the loss of Kyrie Irving, last-minute muscular problems, added to the acquaintance of Kevin Durant, without which there are three defeats in three games and a total of 27-16, now one game behind the Bucks in what is going to be, it seems, a fight for second place in the East with the Celtics shot in the lead. One in which the Sixers and the Cavaliers are also fully involved.
The Nets have very good secondaries … but little support, obviously, if the stars are missing. They overcame a horrendous start (23-9 with six losses that made life very easy for the Spurs) based on points from the bench of TJ Warren (19) and Sumner (13). Also contributed in the second unit Cam Thomas (15). But players like O’Neale or Harris did not do enough and Seth Curry was slow to warm up the wrist. Claxton did his usual job (15+11 with 4 blocks) and Ben Simmons finished with a triple-double (10+10+11) but his best version never coincides with sections in which he is needed as a percussion scorer.
against that version soft of the Nets, Keldon Johnson played the game of his life (36 points, 11 rebounds) and Jeremy Sochan exhibited the armor that makes him, with his stuff, an interesting player for the future (16 points, 4 rebounds). The Nets’ injuries gave the Spurs a golden opportunity and they took advantage of it. There is no course, if any, to waste any.
The Sixers polish their candidacy
The passage through the West continues to teach an optimal version of some very serious Sixers, again and after their capsizing in the first leg of the season, in the batch of applicants in the East: 110-120 on the track of some Clippers who skidded on the day of Paul George’s return and gave a very bad image, especially at the ends (beginning and end) of the game with, finally, their two super stars on the track, George and Kawhi Leonard. The Angelenos, who are more into market rumors (point guard, pivot…) than in analysis of what is for now a very disappointing course, They are at 50% victories after 46 games (23-23) and now have eleven in nine different citiesa challenge for a block that will have to see how it manages its usual breaks and rotations because it only has one loss less than the thirteenth in a complicated and cheap West.
Against some Sixers who are already third in the East (28-16, half a game behind the Bucks, with a half lead over the Nets), the Clippers did what is beginning to be their party guy: bad start with little intensity in defense, reaction in the third quarter and little energy in the minutes of truth. A three-pointer from Batum put it open 96-101 with 8:52 remaining. Six minutes later, the score was 98-117 and the Angelenos had produced only two free throws from Powell. A disaster. Kawhi finished with 27 points and George, with 13 in more than 29 minutes. On the Sixers, outright dominance and many trips to the personal line of Joel Embiid: 41 points, 9 rebounds. Good job on defense, little from James Harden and a lot of energy from Maxey in his role as sixth man: 22 points in what seems like a clear hit from Doc Rivers, who beat his exes.