The revolving-door Raptors rely on Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe to beat the Magic

After all the tough losses and bad breaks, through all the injuries and the COVID-19 issues that ruined the middle portion of the season, it was nice to see the Raptors laughing and dancing and yukking it up on the sidelines Friday night.They were having fun and playing well, and two unsung members of the team were having career nights. And no matter what’s happened in the past or what will happen in the future, there was a little joy being spread around.It may not ultimately take the sting off the season, but that’s really not the point at the moment.“You can see the way they’re playing hard and together, you can see the guys on the bench. There’s a really good team thing going on here right now and it is fun,” coach Nick Nurse said after a 113-102 victory over the Orlando Magic in Tampa.The main reason for the dancing and smiling and goofing around was the play of Paul Watson Jr. and Yuta Watanabe, who both had breakout nights. They have each fought through myriad difficulties this season –— Watson from a COVID-19 scare that included “three or four … really tough days” and Watanabe from an ankle injury that was more debilitating than many had originally thought.And when they exploded for career nights – 30 points from Watson, including seven three-pointers; 21 points from Watanabe on a night when he took more shots than he ever has in a game — everyone was pumped.“It feels good just to see how much fun they were having with it,” Watson said. “It feels good to see them being happy for me, and honestly they were probably going crazy or happier than I was.“I probably didn’t show it much, but it was nice just to see them be happy for me, so I appreciate it.”And if Watson seemed calm, he thinks he’s emotional compared to Watanabe.“Honestly, I’m a really quiet guy and I never thought I could be beat when it came to that until I met Yuta,” Watson said. “But I’m really happy for that guy. He works hard — he works really hard. He’s always one of the first in the gym and one of the last to leave, so he definitely he earned tonight.” It was a breakthrough night for Watson, who has battled the effects of a long COVID-19 absence and myriad injuries in his first full season with Toronto.He single-handedly outscored Orlando 20-19 in the third quarter, powering Toronto to its second straight win and proving Nurse prescient for giving him the first start of his NBA career.Watson started alongside Malachi Flynn, Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch as the Raptors continue to lurch from one group of available players to another.Missing Friday night were Kyle Lowry (toe), OG Anunoby (knee swelling), Pascal Siakam (rest), Gary Trent Jr. (ankle) and Jalen Harris (hip), leaving Nurse to mix and match starters and subs and rotations once again.But it’s really not that different from the coach’s minor-league experience, where players would come and go on an almost daily basis.“It’s exactly what it is, but it’s no excuses or any of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I understand, it’s difficult, it’s been a difficult year.“Once we (find out who’s available each night), we adjust the starting lineups and the coverages if it needs to be, and we go out there and play.”The new lineup was the 26th used this season, the second most in franchise history. The inaugural Raptors used 28 different lineups in the 1995-96 season, and three other times there have been 25. It’s made things interesting for Nurse, to say the least.“It’s pretty much a night-before/day-of-the-game (thing). Sometimes an hour before the game I know who’s available,” he said. “So it’s who’s there. We’re going to get ’em to play hard and play the right way and guard, and next-action (offensive) basketball and all that stuff. That’s it.”The win, along with Chicago’s loss to Memphis and Washington’s overtime victory over Oklahoma City, created a virtual tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the final spot in the play-in portion of the post-season. The Raptors are 23-34; the Bulls and Wizards are both 22-33.THREE POINTERSStreak ends: The last time VanVleet saw the Magic, he lit them up for a franchise-record 54 points on Feb. 2. It was a different story Friday as VanVleet played for the first time after missing six games with a hip injury and one more because of a suspension. With some predictable rust on his game, he missed all six of three-point attempts, ending a franchise-record streak of 76 straight games with a made three.Yuta time: Nurse has wanted Yuta Watanabe to be a bit more aggressive in looking for his shots and the message seems to be getting through. Watanabe put up a career-high 11 field-goal attempts Friday night — six in the first half — and was far more assertive offensively than he has been all season. He hit a three-pointer, a nice banked-in runner from the left side of the lane and a pull-up mid-range jumper on his way to a career-best 21 points.“It’s good to see,” Nurse said. “He’s really becoming a threat, right? You’ve got to account for

The revolving-door Raptors rely on Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe to beat the Magic

After all the tough losses and bad breaks, through all the injuries and the COVID-19 issues that ruined the middle portion of the season, it was nice to see the Raptors laughing and dancing and yukking it up on the sidelines Friday night.

They were having fun and playing well, and two unsung members of the team were having career nights. And no matter what’s happened in the past or what will happen in the future, there was a little joy being spread around.

It may not ultimately take the sting off the season, but that’s really not the point at the moment.

“You can see the way they’re playing hard and together, you can see the guys on the bench. There’s a really good team thing going on here right now and it is fun,” coach Nick Nurse said after a 113-102 victory over the Orlando Magic in Tampa.

The main reason for the dancing and smiling and goofing around was the play of Paul Watson Jr. and Yuta Watanabe, who both had breakout nights.

They have each fought through myriad difficulties this season –— Watson from a COVID-19 scare that included “three or four … really tough days” and Watanabe from an ankle injury that was more debilitating than many had originally thought.

And when they exploded for career nights – 30 points from Watson, including seven three-pointers; 21 points from Watanabe on a night when he took more shots than he ever has in a game — everyone was pumped.

“It feels good just to see how much fun they were having with it,” Watson said. “It feels good to see them being happy for me, and honestly they were probably going crazy or happier than I was.

“I probably didn’t show it much, but it was nice just to see them be happy for me, so I appreciate it.”

And if Watson seemed calm, he thinks he’s emotional compared to Watanabe.

“Honestly, I’m a really quiet guy and I never thought I could be beat when it came to that until I met Yuta,” Watson said. “But I’m really happy for that guy. He works hard — he works really hard. He’s always one of the first in the gym and one of the last to leave, so he definitely he earned tonight.”

It was a breakthrough night for Watson, who has battled the effects of a long COVID-19 absence and myriad injuries in his first full season with Toronto.

He single-handedly outscored Orlando 20-19 in the third quarter, powering Toronto to its second straight win and proving Nurse prescient for giving him the first start of his NBA career.

Watson started alongside Malachi Flynn, Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch as the Raptors continue to lurch from one group of available players to another.

Missing Friday night were Kyle Lowry (toe), OG Anunoby (knee swelling), Pascal Siakam (rest), Gary Trent Jr. (ankle) and Jalen Harris (hip), leaving Nurse to mix and match starters and subs and rotations once again.

But it’s really not that different from the coach’s minor-league experience, where players would come and go on an almost daily basis.

“It’s exactly what it is, but it’s no excuses or any of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I understand, it’s difficult, it’s been a difficult year.

“Once we (find out who’s available each night), we adjust the starting lineups and the coverages if it needs to be, and we go out there and play.”

The new lineup was the 26th used this season, the second most in franchise history. The inaugural Raptors used 28 different lineups in the 1995-96 season, and three other times there have been 25. It’s made things interesting for Nurse, to say the least.

“It’s pretty much a night-before/day-of-the-game (thing). Sometimes an hour before the game I know who’s available,” he said. “So it’s who’s there. We’re going to get ’em to play hard and play the right way and guard, and next-action (offensive) basketball and all that stuff. That’s it.”

The win, along with Chicago’s loss to Memphis and Washington’s overtime victory over Oklahoma City, created a virtual tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the final spot in the play-in portion of the post-season. The Raptors are 23-34; the Bulls and Wizards are both 22-33.

THREE POINTERS

  • Streak ends: The last time VanVleet saw the Magic, he lit them up for a franchise-record 54 points on Feb. 2. It was a different story Friday as VanVleet played for the first time after missing six games with a hip injury and one more because of a suspension. With some predictable rust on his game, he missed all six of three-point attempts, ending a franchise-record streak of 76 straight games with a made three.

  • Yuta time: Nurse has wanted Yuta Watanabe to be a bit more aggressive in looking for his shots and the message seems to be getting through. Watanabe put up a career-high 11 field-goal attempts Friday night — six in the first half — and was far more assertive offensively than he has been all season. He hit a three-pointer, a nice banked-in runner from the left side of the lane and a pull-up mid-range jumper on his way to a career-best 21 points.

“It’s good to see,” Nurse said. “He’s really becoming a threat, right? You’ve got to account for him up the floor in transition.”

  • Bit more to it: The Raptors listed Lowry, Anunoby and Siakam as out for “rest.” It raised a few eyebrows since Lowry hasn’t played in a week and the Raptors did not play Thursday. Nurse shed a bit of light on the situation before the game. He said Anunoby was in fact dealing with some minor swelling in his knee and Lowry is still feeling the effects of an infected toe. Siakam was indeed getting the night off for what used to be known as load management.

Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

Source : Toronto Star More