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One — Gutted: There is nothing left in the tank for the Raptors who are stuck in an endless free fall. Forget the standings, forget any hopes of a playoff chase, forget the bigger picture, forget the basketball for a second. This is a prideful organization that won consistently and at the highest level, now being broken to the point where there is nothing left for them in this cursed season. Call it tanking if you makes you sleep better with the losing, but this is a nightmare for the players who are praying for just a hint of respite.
Two — Weary: The Raptors finished the month of March at 1-13, and while there are so many factors leading to the losses, it's not exactly a mystery as to why it keeps happening. The Raptors were ravaged by COVID-19 and have been playing with half a team ever since. And even with those guys back, the players can only really muster a few good shifts before inevitably hitting a wall. A dejected Fred VanVleet admitted after the loss that he can really only give half a good game right now because he keeps hitting a conditioning wall, which might explain why the Raptors keep getting dismantled in the third quarter.
"we're all hitting the same conditioning wall at the same time. there's spurts where we play high level basketball, there's spurts where we suck. it's just fighting uphill." pic.twitter.com/8bC04ORCOG
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 1, 2021
Three — Nothing: The other issue comes down to talent. The Raptors have five guys in the rotation who can contribute on a nightly basis, and one of them is Kyle Lowry who will miss the next week to recover from a toe injury. Three of them are still feeling the effects of COVID-19 and being inactive for three weeks, and the last one is Gary Trent Jr. who just arrived through trade last week. Ideally, the Raptors would have some bench players who can step up in their absences, but it has been proven time and time again this season that the bench is basically empty. Chris Boucher is the best of the bunch but he misses so many block-outs and is such a target on defense that Nick Nurse would rather split his time with Aron Baynes who does absolutely nothing. The front office didn't have much to work with last offseason but it's jarring to see how little production they get from the reserves.
Four — Ragged: As for the players themselves, you have to wonder how much the physical toll informs the mental aspect, and vice versa. There's no other explanation for the lopsided difference in rebounding, where the Thunder collected 19 offensive rebounds to fuel their win. The Raptors keep missing block-out assignments, the extra effort isn't always there, and you can see them straining just to play anywhere close to peak intensity. This is not a lack of trying, this is just pure exhaustion both mentally and physically. Nurse is trying to give them as many days off as possible, but with new players coming in, and a losing streak to snap, he's in a tough spot, too.
Five — Encouraging: The only fun aspect of this game was seeing Gary Trent Jr. explode for his career-high 31 points. It unfortunately came in a loss, but Trent Jr. showed exactly why the Raptors acquired him. Trent Jr. was hot from the start, ripping off 10 points in the first quarter including two threes, and he became a go-to option the rest of the way. Trent Jr.'s game is similar to Norman Powell, in that he's not really someone who should be initiating and creating for himself all that often, but he is an efficient catch-and-shoot player, he can make something happen driving downhill, and he can score off his defense as Trent Jr. got himself a breakaway dunk and turned another steal into a stepback three to end the third quarter. The Raptors love two-way players and Trent Jr. will only become better as he grows more comfortable.
Six — Shift: Speaking of Powell, his portion of the offense is now being run for OG Anunoby. Whether it's the double screen up top to get Anunoby an open three or the option to drive, or the pin down hammer play for the corner three, those looks are all going to Anunoby for the time being. With more time for practice, those sets will feature Trent Jr. as well, but his unfamiliarity will take time to work through. Anunoby is doing fine as a Powell stand-in, but don't expect the efficiency to be the same. Anunoby's game is more predicated on strength and size, whereas Powell was sleek and efficient. Still, as with everything else this season, you take the experience and reps and hope it pays off in the future.
Seven — Focus: Anunoby and VanVleet are the two Raptors players who consistently deliver on defense, even if it leaves them with nothing else on offense. VanVleet had four blocks in the first quarter to bring his total on the season to 33 (which is almost twice as many as Baynes who starts at center) and racked up five steals to power the Raptors on the break. Anunoby also had three steals and a block, and found another gear down the stretch, forcing multiple shot-clock violations as he harassed every player who had it going on the Thunder. Unfortunately, his teammates couldn't secure the boards, but Anunoby's effort does not go unappreciated.
Fred on how he's mentally handling these losses despite winning at every level so far:
"I dunno does anybody really care? Does it matter? I gotta show up tomorrow and get ready for a game on Friday. I could tell you how I feel but I really don't think it matters that much." pic.twitter.com/m8aOONZFFm
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 1, 2021
Eight — Woes: The Raptors continue to lose bodies. Stanley Johnson checked out after appearing to step on an ankle, but Nick Nurse said he should be okay to return for the next game. Rodney Hood wasn't so lucky, as he is set for an MRI with Nurse hinting that it could be a longer term issue. Hood was shaping up to be a badly-needed bench player, but he also has a long track record of injuries and it's just unfortunate that he may be out yet again.
Nine — Thin: To count, the Raptors have five players injured in Lowry, Johnson and Hood, while Pat McCaw is experiencing knee swelling and Jalen Harris has a hip pointer. Two players in DeAndre' Bembry and Paul Watson are in COVID protocols and it seems to be more than just contact tracing. That's half the roster being out, and Nurse's only options in the fourth quarter were Baynes, Boucher, Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe. The Raptors have two open roster spots and even if they are just looking at 10-day options, it would be cruel of the front office not to supplement the team with more signings.
Ten — Luck: The only hope is that the Raptors' rotten luck is repaid at the draft lottery. The Raptors are only a half-game above the Cavaliers for the fifth-best odds, and due to recent reforms, there is no need to lose abhorrently and shamelessly just to stack the odds. The fifth spot has a 42 percent chance at a top-four pick, as compared to 52 percent for the three worst teams in the league. The Raptors are sliding so bad that they might end up in that group anyway, but they have room to win a game or two to improve their psyche and their mood without affecting any future considerations. Of course, the players themselves don't tank, and it's not even clear if the front office intends to either, but fans are clinging to whatever they can.