TORONTO — One of the more interesting quirks of the 2020-21 NBA season’s 72-game schedule is the baseball-style, two-game series teams are playing against the same opponent.
Implemented to help limit travel as the league tries to navigate the season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these mini series also have other benefits, such as a chance at some revenge — as is the case with the Toronto Raptors heading into their second game with the Miami Heat Friday.
“I think it just gives you a chance to get some retaliation,” said Chris Boucher after the Raptors practiced Thursday. “For me, I didn’t feel like I had a good game so it just gives me a chance to play this team again and figure out a way to get better. They’re a great team so somehow, some way it’s good for us to play them again and figure out if we can change some of the things we messed up and see the adjustments we can make to beat them.
“So I kinda like it. Just the fact that you learn fast, especially for players like me and guys that don’t play a lot. You get a second chance to see what you can do and try to help the team another way, because yesterday was not it at all.”
After a six-game tear that saw him average 20.7 points on lights-out shooting all over the floor, Boucher was limited during Wednesday’s loss to the tune of just eight points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Boucher and the rest of his Raptors teammates appeared flummoxed by the zone defence of Miami in that contest, but now, after getting a chance to review the tape, the chance to immediately go out there and take another crack at it has the team primed for a better showing.
“I think it usually is the case — it felt a lot worse during the game than it looked on the film,” said head coach Nick Nurse of how his team attacked Miami’s zone. “There were a good number of good reads to wide-open threes, there were a number of misreads where we got the ball into the paint where we needed it to and there were guys sitting on the weak side wide open and we didn't see them or we didn't see him soon enough. There was a little bit of a — instead of bang-bang passing it was kind of bang-hold-pass, they would recover.
“There were a few missed spacing things as well that we’ve got to clean up, but I mean it wasn't as bad as it felt. We did have some tough shots, I think we do need to get it up the floor and get it into the paint a little bit more against it as well but we need to get that thing popping and make the right reads.”
As has been the case for much of this season with the Raptors relying so heavily on three-pointers, Toronto’s offence struggled Wednesday night, with the team only going 16-of-49 from deep.
Of course, a lot of the threes that Toronto took were a result of Miami’s zone, but the process, according to Nurse, was overall pretty good, outside the need to get the ball inside a little more to try to help collapse the defence.
“Well, it seems like the ball is getting a bit stagnant when teams are going to zone. So I think we’ve got to get the ball moving, try to attack the zone,” Boucher said. “We’re waiting too much time before we attack it, so I would say get the ball moving, and we’ve always got to get somebody in the middle. We saw what happened when we all just stay on the perimeter and then everybody’s stagnant and everybody stays home. We’ve just gotta figure out a way to get open and find somebody in the dunker [spot] and get the ball moving from side to side. That’s how you get the zone to shift a little bit.
“We worked on it a lot today and we’re going to figure out a way to attack the zone, because most games when the other team is going zone that’s when we struggle. So, we’ve gotta figure it out.”
Reviewing tape and then specifically working on something that was faulty in preparation for that same opponent is a task generally reserved for the playoffs, but with this new series-based schedule-making, moments like this are commonplace and could go a long way towards helping the Raptors make necessary adjustments in order to come away with a win the next night — especially considering this is something Nurse is accustomed to doing from his earlier coaching days.
“I'm used to it. I did a lot of years of it, kind of every weekend for a lot of years,” said Nurse. “I guess you get used to it. There's nothing really not to like, in my opinion, especially since I've been through it a bunch.
And I guess I do like trying to make the adjustments from the last game and take 'em right to the court and see if you can do it, see if your guys can execute it, and can they keep the right mentality, even after a win. All those things that I think come into play later on. It's the only time you ever get a chance to do it, really, you know?”
We’ll have to see if that experience from Nurse pays off Friday, but it sounds like he’s banking, at the very least, on a more focused group that might be a little upset at how things went down the first time.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to play with better effort, that the loss stings a little bit and we’ve got some more determination tomorrow.”
• Pascal Siakam didn’t practice Thursday, Nurse revealed, saying he was “a little sore.”
According to the NBA's official injury report, the all-star forward is “questionable” for Toronto's Friday affair with Miami.
Late in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game, Siakam went up for a dunk and appeared to land awkwardly. He was seen gingerly heading to the bench afterwards, but remained in the game. After the contest he revealed he’s had a sore groin for a while.
• Kyle Lowry is just 14 points away from hitting the milestone mark of 10,000 and, given his 18.2 points per game average, he’s expected to reach that mark on Friday.
“I think in my — what is it, seven-plus seasons here? Eight seasons? Whatever. He's kind of adjusted his game a little bit to the team's needs,” said Nurse of Lowry. “I think when I first got here he was really a setup man, run the team, get the ball around to guys. Team changed a little bit, he had to take on more of a scoring load, did that. A couple years ago he came out and kind of again saw the structure of the team and was averaging double-digit assists for a good portion of the season, and then again the team changes and he goes back to more of a scoring role.
“So I think that's a sign of just a really good player, in general. The veteran guy that understands his role and it kind of shifts throughout his career a little bit.”
• One of the more interesting things to monitor this season has been the up-and-down playing time of centre Aron Baynes.
Still the main starting centre of the team, Baynes hasn’t seen a ton of minutes and even went through a three-game stint when he never saw the floor.
On Wednesday he had one of his best games in a little while, playing 13 minutes, grabbing seven rebounds and even banging in a three.
Nurse has talked before about only utilizing Baynes for as long as he’s looked effective out there, but it appears his stance on the Aussie big man may have softened, and he’s willing to give him a little more rope to work with.
“I mean, obviously you keep some lines of communication open and explain to him I’m not wanting the leash to be so short,” said Nurse. “I’m hoping he can give us as long of stints as he can and, like I said a couple of games ago, just because we got down 10-1, I can’t pin it all on him.
“But we’ve got to change something and it changes a matchup or two or a defensive coverage or scheme or two and it gets us playing a little differently. It changes the rhythm of the game. It’s just unfortunate on his part but you have to do what you have to do sometimes. Just having him stick with it and try to figure out some better ways to use him.
“I think he’s creating some shots for some other guys out on the perimeter with his screening, his [dribble handoffs], things like that. We’ll just keep working at it.”