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Raptors' depth will be tested with Lowry, Ibaka sidelined

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (right) will be sidelined at least two weeks with an injury.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (right) will be sidelined at least two weeks with an injury.

LOS ANGELES — Life without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka begins in Los Angeles, the worst possible landing spot for a team losing two of its integral offensive producers.

Before breaking a bone in his left thumb, Lowry had been averaging 21.8 points per game, second on the team to Pascal Siakam , but more important is that he is of only two true point guards on the roster at the moment. Losing Lowry’s scoring is one thing. Losing his overall guidance of the offence is quite another.

The roster is full at the moment, so even to bring up a Tyler Ennis , assuming he’s ready from the G-League 905s, would mean dumping someone off the current roster.

Lowry saw a specialist in Los Angeles on Saturday. The official diagnosis was a fracture of the distal phalanx of his left thumb. He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks, but realistically will be out at least three weeks.

If the absence is longer than a few weeks and maybe even if it’s shorter than that, it’s highly likely that the Raptors will either have to bring someone up, or someone else in. Either way, that is going to mean moving someone off the roster.

But back to the task at hand, which is the Los Angeles Lakers, who currently lead the league with a 96.5 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions).

Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor, the Lakers are off to a 7-1 start mainly because of their team defence. The offence, outside of James and Davis  remains a work in progress, according to former Raptor Danny Green , who will get his first look and vice versa at his fellow defending champs Sunday night.

“I’m excited for when we do get a night when two or three guys are hot outside of those guys,” Green told reporters after Friday’s win over Miami. “It will be pretty fun. But we’ve won a couple of games so far basically on our defence.”

Green said as long as the offence lags behind he sees no reason that defensive efficiency won’t continue.

“Right now it’s the only way we are winning. We have no choice but to play defence because our offence is basically behind it. We are clicking at times, but we are not really hitting shots like we normally do. It will be a challenge (to maintain it) and it will be fun, but we can sustain (this level of defence), especially if we need it to win.”

The loss of Ibaka, while not as game-changing as Lowry’s, will hurt. He’s been Toronto’s biggest producer by a large margin off the bench, averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a night.

The big difference is the Raptors have available help in the frontcourt with Dewan Hernandez , the Raps’ only draft pick in last June’s draft. He was picked 59h overall after his junior year at the University of Miami was shut down by an alleged agent scandal which saw his stock drop precipitously.

He joined the Raptors in Los Angeles on Saturday and will be with them at least until Ibaka is ready to return.

There is not the same immediate help in the backcourt, which means possibly more minutes for Fred VanVleet , if that is even possible, and likely more for Terrence Davis , who is a natural shooting guard but a guy who spent at least some  time running the point  in the pre-season.

The other option is putting the ball more in the hands of Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol and let them direct the offence from the point.

Siakam said after Friday’s second-half experience doing some of this that he and Gasol are going to have to be more assertive in this role.

“In that situation with me and Marc out there we got to make sure that we kind of communicate and make sure everyone is in the right spot and we run something instead of just drives and offensive fouls,” Siakam said.


Green was without question one of the more vocal leaders on the championship team a year ago. Through the playoffs it was the voices of Green and Ibaka that were heard most — often away from the court.

As much as the Raptors are going to miss Green’s three-point shooting, his spacing and his defence, his voice in the room and his overall positivity regardless of the previous night’s outcome, win or lose, is missed.

Head coach Nick Nurse , who avoids looking back at last year because he believes it gets in the way of what the team is trying to accomplish this year, acknowledged the leadership void left by Green’s departure, but is quick to point out how VanVleet has stepped up in this situation.

“Whenever the locker room shifts a little bit, not unlike on the court, other guys can expand their roles in the locker room, too,” Nurse said. “And Freddy, with what he’s accomplished, even though he’s young and doesn’t have the miles, is a super leader for us and maybe steps into that role because it’s there and Freddy steps right in.”

VanVleet does not shy away from media obligations and is, in fact, the voice of reason within the locker room despite his relative inexperience. But speaking to the media and speaking up in front of teammates are two different things. Nurse assured one and all that VanVleet does not shy away in that department either.

“Danny might be a bit more high-energy or verbal, but Fred is every bit as tactical and Freddy is big time in those time outs and stuff, when he’s urging us to get our game going or get another stop,” Nurse said.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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