Raptors look to regroup with ‘playoff mentality now’

Raptors look to regroup with ‘playoff mentality now’
Before Saturday’s Raptors practice dispersed, assistant coach Phil Handy staked out a hoop at one end of the practice facility and drilled Danny Green, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet on dribbling and shooting.

They crossed over from left to right and shot pull-up jumpers. They crossed from right to left and shot running floaters. They caught passes in the left corner and shot three-pointers in rhythm.

The extra work was fundamental and familiar, and an extension of the day’s main practice session, which head coach Nick Nurse used to help his team regroup and reset between Thursday’s 105-92 loss to Milwaukee and Sunday’s game against the L.A. Clippers.

If that meant working on concepts first introduced in training camp, or skills as basic as boxing out on rebounds, Nurse said he didn’t mind. Even as the Raptors prepare for their 54th game of the season, the first-year head coach says it’s not too late to reprogram bad habits and remind players of good ones.

“Things we were doing in training camp, we’re still trying to do,” Nurse said. “It’s tougher maybe that you’ve been doing them all season long, and now you’re still doing things … We talked about a little bit of a reset and a refresh, and doing it with a little more pace and a little bit more focus, so that the habits get rebuilt.”

In recent weeks the Raptors have struggled to regain the offensive rhythm that propelled them to a 21-6 start to the season, and Thursday was a case in point. Main attraction Kawhi Leonard shot 7-for-20 from the field Thursday, and stressed to reporters afterward that continued winning requires a team with the “same mindset,” a hint that the club, which has gone 16-10 since Dec. 7, has lacked cohesiveness lately.

And a team that averages nearly 114 points per game managed just 92 against a Bucks squad they could have to topple this spring if they hope to advance past the Eastern Conference final. While 29 games remain between now and the post-season, Green told reporters that it’s already time for the team to shift gears mentally.

If Saturday was about reinforcing good habits, Green hopes to nudge the Raptors into the habit of acting like a playoff team.

“We’re talented enough. We’ve just got to build better habits,” Green said. “We’ve got to get our playoff mentality now, and not wait till playoff (time) comes.”

Green, of course, proved Thursday night that he’s capable of regrouping quickly. He left the court in the first quarter of the Bucks game, reportedly the victim of a stomach virus, but returned to the court later in the game. After a day off Friday he appeared energetic at the tail end of Saturday’s practice.

VanVleet spent Friday at the Raptors practice facility, fine-tuning his body with the team’s training staff. Then he went home and took a nap.

The details of VanVleet’s day-off protocol can vary. Sometimes he’ll spend the afternoon hoisting jump shots, and others he might focus on film study. But either way his off-day habits involve recovery and preparation, either physical or mental, for the next game.

“You do work on every day off. You don’t have to be on the court,” said VanVleet, who had 14 assists in the Raptors’ Dec. 11 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles. “We track our loads; we track how much we’re doing. Sometimes you just need a mental day. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re feeling good about your shot. Sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you might come spend three hours in the gym just to get your mind back right.”
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