As Raptors coach Nick Nurse tries to decide which of his bench players he trusts the most, which of them can be counted on when the intensity of the NBA playoffs arrives, he is looking for the guys who are not going to screw up that often.

Nurse knows that a perfect game is impossible to ask for but minimizing mistakes is a sure way to get the coach’s attention.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse has to weigh up the pros and cons of Jeremy Lin and the rest of the Raptors second string as the postseason approaches.
Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse has to weigh up the pros and cons of Jeremy Lin and the rest of the Raptors second string as the postseason approaches.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

He has seen enough in spurts over the last couple of weeks to think than any one of the bench group can get the job done. Now the players have to prove to him they can do it more consistently.

With five starters, one of Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka — whichever centre doesn’t start — and Fred VanVleet making up Toronto’s top seven, there’s not much space left in a playoff rotation that likely won’t stretch to more than nine players.

OG Anunoby, Jeremy Lin, Norm Powell and the suddenly resurgent Patrick McCaw can all lay claim to one of those last two berths if they maintain some consistency.

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Nurse rattles off all of their positives, which is basically making sure no player is a negative.

“Jeremy, Norm, OG, Patrick McCaw. What can they give us defensively, first and foremost, and then what can they limit mistake-wise offensively?” Nurse said.

“That’s what OG has done. He’s been pretty out of the way, mistake-free, made a few shots, made a few cuts gotten on the glass. Patrick McCaw, the same. I kind of like the decisions that Jeremy has made. He just hasn’t made enough of his shots. And Norman, we’ve got to limit the turnovers with that unit.”

Nurse isn’t ready to decide exactly who plays for how long because each night presents different problems to solve and the versatility in the second group is good to have.

Anunoby has emerged as the best defender, McCaw is the most energetic and able to defend multiple positions, Lin is a creator and facilitator on offence, and Powell, if he can play under control, has promise that is off the charts.

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It’s guessing — or finding out quickly each night and being willing to change course in a minute — that makes Nurse’s job difficult. He just never knows what he’ll get any night, and that’s been a problem for long stretches this season.

What the coach has seen over the past couple of weeks, though, is an attention to game-plan details that makes him think Toronto’s overall defence is operating at one of the highest levels it has all year. There are nuanced changes night to night, and sometimes quarter to quarter, that his team and his second group have been able to understand and implement.

“We tweaked some things in Miami and those things really stood out as working,” Nurse said. “We were trying to disrupt a bunch of different things that they love to do and we took them all off the board. That’s kind of what we’re talking about this time of year.

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“We blitzed (Dwyane) Wade, we blitzed (Goran) Dragic, pressed up on (Justise) Winslow, took away Dragic’s long throw-ahead, get-back plays. There was a lot of stuff we had going on there and we just executed that well.

“I thought against Houston, at home, we executed the game plan really well on (James) Harden and on (Eric) Gordon.”

The final 13 games of the regular season will give Nurse a chance to present more specific in-game challenges to his players to see which of them can quickly adapt. Being able to count on precise execution of different schemes at different times of games is one way players are going to earn consistent minutes with the post-season rotation.

“That really is my focus right now,” Nurse said. “Can we execute some different things if we need to use them?”


https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2019/03/14/bench-the-pressing-concern-as-nurse-prepares-raptors-for-weightier-challenges.html

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