With DeMar DeRozan coming off player of the week honors and the Raptors rising as high as second in the Eastern Conference, a two-game skid with losses to the Knicks and Pacers presented a bump in the road. After Saturday’s win in Atlanta got Toronto back on track for the moment, point guard Kyle Lowry talked about how consistency, especially to start third quarters, remains an obstacle for his team.
“That is the one thing coach challenged — he specifically said me and DeMar — challenged us to come out with a little bit more assertiveness and not have the third quarter we’ve had the last couple of games,” said Lowry.
But Raptors coach Dwane Casey says that consistent pace and effort has been a recurring issue for the team over multiple seasons.
“It’s something that’s been going on for the last couple of years, three years … that we’re trying to break,” said Casey after Monday’s practice. “We’ve got to continue to work on it, focus on it, talk about it.
“I don’t know what the reason is. Some of it’s the schedule. Most of it is us. There’s no excuse as far as us being up and down. Some of it is a newness, some of it is youth. You can point at all of it but at the end of the day, the schedule is what it is. We’ve got to come out and perform and do our job.”
Casey said the organization is looking at every angle to try to get more consistency out of the team.
“We’ve tried to change the lineup,” said Casey. “That wasn’t totally the answer. We’ve got to come out with more pace in the first quarter and also in the third quarter to break that trend. We’re looking at all aspects of it from an analytical standpoint and from a personnel standpoint.”
Asked about specific players, Casey declined to single anyone out.
“It’s not one guy that’s the issue,” said Casey. “It’s all of us. It’s coaches, it’s players, it’s all of us making sure we come out with the proper energy, proper focus to start the game and start the third quarter. Everything’s on the table.”
Meanwhile, on the positive side of the ledger, Lowry said the Raptors are looking forward to a forthcoming stretch of home games after a tough stretch of six-of-eight games on the road. Lowry said that although a stretch of games against teams lower in the standings is upcoming, the Raptors don’t plan to relax.
“Honestly, the records don’t mean nothing so early,” said Lowry. “It’s a good stretch to be home. We’ve got three games at home. Let’s take advantage of that. No matter what happens, we’ve got to go out there and do our jobs, follow the game plan and make sure we execute what we need to execute.”
Another positive has been improved depth, which has allowed Lowry to play fewer minutes this season. Backup point guard Delon Wright has averaged almost 21 minutes per game while Fred VanVleed is averaging 15.7 and Lowry now enjoys a lighter-than-normal 32.3 minutes per game.
“We’ve talked about it the last three years but finally we’re doing it this year,” said Lowry of reducing his minutes. “We’re deeper. Our depth in our back court is really good. For me, I’m kind of finding a rhythm now and starting to play a lot better.
“I haven’t looked at how many minutes I’m averaging but I definitely can tell the difference of getting more rest and feeling fresh and feeling good. But at the same time, when I’m playing a lot of minutes I get in a little bit more of a rhythm.”
Casey added that, although not necessarily a part of the game plan, Lowry has done a great job of boxing out and rebounding when he gets switched onto bigger players.
“It happens, unfortunately, a lot of times off of switches,” said Casey. “If Kyle’s down there on a switch — which we don’t want him to be — but if he does get down there, it puts him in that position to rebound. We want to avoid that as much as possible, but it does happen. And that’s where he does a good job of anticipating the shot, getting into his man and coming up with the rebound.”
Casey added that, although he doesn’t like to see him mix it up under the glass against larger players on a regular basis, Lowry’s nose for the ball makes him a safe bet to come out with it.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Casey. “It’s one of those things where the other guy is probably going to get hurt. I put my money on Kyle. It’s just something about those guys that have a nose and a knack for the 50-50 balls. That’s a huge skill to have. And Kyle’s toughness, his competitiveness, his anticipation, all those things help him in those situations. I love it because it means we’re probably going to come out with the ball.”
For Lowry, he said he likes going inside because it gives him an opportunity to ignite the fast break, where mere seconds make a huge difference.
“I’ve got a chance to have the ball in my hand, not have to wait for it,” said Lowry. “That’s an extra two seconds with the ball in my hands. [It gives] that chance to go and make the play and outlet and not have to wait for it and turn my back. It’s catch, go and see what’s happening.”
Another aspect of the team’s up-and-down season has been the recent slump of DeRozan, who has scored 18, 13 and two points over the last three games after nine consecutive games scoring over 20. DeRozan was held out of practice due to knee soreness and that will be a situation to keep an eye on.
“We’re going to need DeMar,” said Casey after his off game against the Hawks. “We’ve got to get him going some kind of way, offensively and defensively. He’s kind of in a tough spot right now. But he’s got a great attitude. He’s pulling for his teammates, he’s talking to his teammates, he’s coaching his teammates, which is a signal of growth for him.”
Lowry added that the struggle for consistency continues, but he hopes the Raptors will eventually turn the corner on their third-quarter woes.
“As a team, we’ve had great streaks, we’ve lost a couple in a row,” said Lowry. “But that’s just the NBA season. We’ve just got to find ways to concentrate and be more locked in and not give up runs. The last game, the third quarter was a great start to try to do something different for us in the third quarters. I think we had this problem two years ago. Our third quarters were bad. But we figured it out last year and now we have to figure it out this year.”
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