Shelvin Mack;  Jeff Teague; Kyle Lowry

Raptors trying to rest Kyle Lowry down the stretch

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Kyle Lowry, after averaging 36.7 minutes per game in his first 68 games this season, played just 27 minutes in a win over the Hawks on Sunday. He’d played less only in a pair of blowout wins over the Jazz.

Cause for concern for the Raptors? Barely. It’s much more indicative of Toronto’s positive season.

Eric Koreen of the National Post:

Raptors fans can expect the star point guard, the team’s most important player, to continue to come out at unexpected times. He has a series of ailments, including a groin issue, that require a lighter workload for the moment.

“We want to win,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s the number one thing. But you’ve got to have healthy players. It’s a catch-22. You play DeMar [DeRozan] and Kyle for 38, 40, 42 minutes, and sooner or later it’s going to tell on them. It’s not a major revelation that we need to watch [their minutes], but at the same time, win. Winning trumps a lot.”

Resting players is always easier said than done for competitive coaches like Casey. He mostly followed his Sunday substitution pattern with Lowry in the first half against the Cavaliers yesterday, erring a bit toward playing the point guard more. But with the Raptors down 14 at halftime and trying come back – they fell just short in a 102-100 loss – Lowry played 18 second-half minutes.

DeRozan, who ranks third in the NBA with 38.4 minutes per game, hasn’t yet seen his playing time decrease.

The 39-31 Raptors are fourth in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games ahead of the fifth-place Nets. In terms of team quality, very little separates the East’s 3-6 teams – the Bulls, Raptors, Nets and Wizards. But the top two teams in that group will get homecourt advantage in the first round, a significant factor.

Until Toronto has a little more margin over fifth place or Lowry’s injuries become more significant, his playing time will likely drop only so much.

Gordon Hayward goes behind Jordan Clarkson’s back with dribble

Gordon Hayward, Nick Young
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Utah’s Gordon Hayward abused the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson on this play.

First, Hayward reads and steals Clarkson’s poor feed into the post intended for Kobe Bryant, then going up the sideline he takes his dribble behind Clarkson’s back to keep going. It all ends in a Rudy Gobert dunk.

Three quick takeaways here:

1) Gordon Hayward is a lot better than many fans realize. He can lead this team.

2) It’s still all about the development with Clarkson, and that’s going to mean some hard lessons.

3) Hayward may have the best hair in the NBA, even if it’s going a bit Macklemore.

(Hat tip reddit)

Could Tristan Thompson’s holdout last months? Windhorst says yes.

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five
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VIZZINI: “So, it is down to you. And it is down to me.”
MAN IN BLACK nods and comes nearer…
MAN IN BLACK: “Perhaps an arrangement can be reached.”
VIZZINI: “There will be no arrangement…”
MAN IN BLACK: “But if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”

That farcical scene from The Princess Bride pretty much sums up where we are with the Tristan Thompson holdout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, minus the Iocane powder. (Although that scene was a battle of wits in the movie and this process seems to lack much wit.) The Cavaliers have put a five-year, $80 million offer on the table. Thompson wants a max deal (or at least a more than has been offered), but he also doesn’t want to play for the qualifying offer and didn’t sign it. LeBron James just wants the two sides just to get it done.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN thinks LeBron could be very disappointed.

Windhorst was on the Zach Lowe podcast at Grantland (which you should be listening to anyway) and had this to say about the Thompson holdout:

“I actually believe it will probably go months. This will go well into the regular season.”

Windhorst compared it to a similar situation back in 2007 with Anderson Varejao, which eventually only broke because the then Charlotte Bobcats signed Varejao to an offer sheet. Thompson is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer, but only Portland and Philadelphia have the cap space right now to offer him a max contract. Neither team has shown any interest in doing so.

And so we wait. And we may be waiting a while.