Raptors have bigger things to chase than a 60-win season
|Toronto Star 22 Mar 2019 at 20:43|
The last thing the Raptors are going to do is try to chase a playoff seed or a number of wins or make any changes to their grand plan over the last weeks of the NBA regular season.
It’s not something Nick Nurse has concerned himself with since he got the Raptors’ head coaching job last summer and it’s not going to change now.
“It just doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our team and the situation that our organization is in,” Nurse said before the Raptors faced the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. “Yeah, we want a decent seed but can’t get caught up in it. I think somebody (the Golden State Warriors) won it last year not being a No. 1 seed, but I’m not sure.”
The Raptors finish the regular season with what looks like an easy stretch. Only one remaining opponent, Brooklyn, had a winning record going into games of Friday night and only the Nets and Miami Heat occupied post-season spots. Charlotte, which Toronto plays twice before the April 9 finish of the schedule, and Orlando, a one-time opponent, harbour faint playoff aspirations but they could be dashed by the time the games roll around. The rest of the schedule is made up of going-nowhere opponents like Chicago (twice), the New York Knicks and Minnesota.
That can present difficulties, too. Those teams are likely to be playing out the string using young and relatively unknown players who Nurse, his staff and his players won’t be too familiar with.
“I think we’re always chasing a win once the ball goes up,” Nurse said. “I think it’s just more managing the result at the end of it, to be honest. Just trying to play the guys we’ve got, move some pieces around, take a look at some things, keep polishing what we’re working on, and play good, solid basketball.”
The one thing the Raptors won’t do is chase numbers simply for the accomplishment. The team record for wins in a season — set last year — is 59. Sixty is a possibility but the Raptors won’t forsake rest and limiting the minutes of their top players to get to those totals.
“It’s not a thing with me at all,” Nurse said. “I just want us to be playing our best basketball here when the playoffs start, and in the right mindset. I really don’t think it means anything to me at all.”
It may have been a thing to do in the past — and rightfully so, everyone on a team wants to be part of a first or a best — but with greater goals in mind, deviating from the plan is counterproductive.
“We want to play well and we want to (win games), etc., but I don’t think anybody can get caught up in results,” Nurse said earlier this week. “I think the defending champions are 5-5 in their last 10 and I don’t think they’re pushing the panic button out there, right?
“I just want to keep finding guys minutes, to continue to polish and expand our defensive coverages. We’ve got some shoring up to do on some of those.”
The Raptors are not entirely out of the race for first place in the Eastern Conference. They trailed the Milwaukee Bucks by two games going into Friday play and hold the tiebreaker should the teams finish with identical records. But the Raptors are confident enough in their own abilities to not be sweating the difference between being a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed.
“I think we’re going to play this out,” Nurse said. “We’re trying to win each night. Where we end up seeded, we end up seeded.”