The Raptors have issues heading into Brooklyn, but nothing they can’t fix
The talk truly is cheap.
The Raptors have been awful for two games — they know it, anyone can see it — and the back-to-back drubbings administered by Atlanta and Charlotte represent one of the bleakest periods of the season so far.
To get all worked up about it serves little purpose, because the answer is quite simple. They need to play harder and smarter and better, and it doesn’t matter who says it or how.
“They’re obviously not happy, right?” coach Nick Nurse said after Saturday’s game. “It doesn’t really matter. What matters is how you respond to it when the ball goes up next, and we’ll have to wait and see on that.”
Some troubling issues arose in those games coming out of an eight-day all-star break:
“I think that is a product of shot selection and just not having offensive chemistry — kind of surprised when shots are taken, or just having the wrong floor balance,” guard Fred VanVleet said Saturday. “These teams (Charlotte and Atlanta) have been playing fast, and we’ve just got to get back and get our defence set.”
It’s not an excuse, because they’ve dealt with absences well all season, but the Raptors have been slow to react to the absence of OG Anunoby (broken right ring finger) for the last two games and it has been a factor. Khem Birch has struggled in the starting lineup as a replacement — although he is certainly not the only Raptor scuffling — and the whole squad has been out of sync, offensively and defensively.
Nurse said he might consider flopping Birch and Precious Achiuwa, but that’s window dressing in large measure. The Raptors need to improve overall and the fix, in many ways, isn’t complicated.
Play like they have played.
“We’ve got to wake up and at least fight, fight a little bit more, and just kind of have a little bit more resolve,” VanVleet said. “You’re not going to win them all, but you can certainly play better than what we have put together.
“Again, it takes a lot to win in this league. We play young and dumb a lot, and sometimes we get away with it and sometimes we don’t.”
The tendency to overreact to bad games on consecutive nights is perhaps legitimate, but it’s not as if a lack of competitive desire is a common trait for a group that played hard consistently through the first 57 games.
And maybe that’s the saving grace: The Raptors have been good far, far more often than they’ve been bad this season.
“If we win these last two games, the narrative and the story would be completely different,” VanVleet said. “So, we come out and play like ass and everybody wants to jump to conclusions and make deep dives, and break down what went wrong and who did what, and I shouldn’t have played in the all-star game and Pascal (Siakam) was on vacation … it is what it is.
“I believe in this team. I believe we’ll be back, playing at the level we need to be playing at, hopefully sooner than later. And I take full responsibility for the poor performances, and I’m looking forward to getting this team back to where we need to be.”
It won’t be easy, though.
The Raptors face difficult games Monday in Brooklyn and Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena against a Nets team that registered a stirring win in Milwaukee on Saturday night.
With Brooklyn now just a game behind Toronto in the race for seventh and eighth in the jam-packed East, there is a small sense of urgency to at least play better than in Charlotte and Atlanta.