A rare break helps Raptors focus on consistency

TORONTO – A rare weekend off gave Pascal Siakam time to rest, recharge, and reflect on the first quarter of the NBA season.

His conclusion? The Toronto Raptors must become more consistent.

Siakam and his teammates returned to practice at OVO Athletic Centre on Monday after having two full days off thank to a quirk of the schedule. Because Toronto did not get out of the group stage of the NBA in-season tournament, the Raptors have a four-day break midseason.

That allowed the all-star forward to think about how the Raptors (9-11) can become more consistent in the remaining 62 games of the season.

“I think we’re getting better, but there’s still games that are not so good,” said Siakam on the sidelines of the Raptors’ practice facility. “There are going to be drop-offs, but I think it’s just a super-drastic drop-off from a game where the energy is good and then the energy is not good another game.

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“Our focus, our togetherness or everything else, I think we just got to put some games together. That’s got to be our focus.”

Head coach Darko Rajakovic has promised to take the Raptors out for a team dinner if they can string together three wins in a row.

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“That’s something that I took to heart, to be honest with you,” said Rajakovic. “When I announced that, Pascal said ‘yeah, the team is going to pay for that,’ because he thinks I’m cheap.

“That’s not true, so once we get three wins in a row I’m taking staff and players to dinner and it’s going to be out of my pocket.”

Toronto can potentially start its three-game win streak on Wednesday when it will host the Miami Heat (11-9) and then travels to Charlotte on Friday to play the Hornets (6-12).

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“Good teams have those streaks of good games where they win games in a row,” said Siakam. “And I think that’s what’s missing for us.”

Neither game was originally on the schedule, with the NBA holding the week open until the in-season tournament’s quarterfinal brackets had been sorted out. The quarterfinals began on Monday night.

Rajakovic, who is in his first season as a head coach in the NBA, said he used the weekend to celebrate his son’s birthday with family and friends and then start reviewing film of the first 20 games of the season.

He and his coaching staff shared their findings with the players in an extensive analytics session Monday morning, comparing the first 10 games of the season to the next 10.

“We went from 108 points per 100 possessions to 114, so we made some strides offensively,” said Rajakovic comparing the two sections. “We really limited the number of turnovers. and we’ve been doing a better job of offensive rebounding.

“In those second 10 games we really underperformed with the three-point shooting, that was one heavy thing that really stands out.”

Siakam has contributed to those struggles, going 5 for 52 (. 096%) from beyond the arc over Toronto’s last 15 games. He said he’s just trying to not overreact.

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“You do one thing: You stop shooting them or the other thing you do is you keep shooting,” said Siakam. “Then it’s just basketball. It happens and you’ve got to continue to work on it, trust the work and the process and the work that you do, I just believe that it’s going to turn around.”

Centre Jakob Poeltl said that he and his teammates know it’s a long season. Rajakovic has introduced new offensive and defensive schemes since taking over the team on June 13 and Poeltl said the Raptors are still finding their rhythm.

“We’re not looking at our record after every single game. It’s more about figuring out how to play our best basketball and then how that’s hopefully going to translate into wins down the road,” said Poeltl on Friday after Toronto’s 119-106 loss to the visiting New York Knicks. “Just control what we can control and keep playing our brand of basketball.

“Stick with the system and then hopefully, we’re going to reap the rewards at the end of the season.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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