Dwane Casey & Raptors roster - how to manage the final 5 games

 

Mar 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard Greivis Vasquez (21) celebrate their victory against the Boston Celtics at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Celtics 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA regular season nears its end, the Toronto Raptors are both winding down and gearing up. After 5 seasons with no playoff appearances, the Raps will end that drought, and finish an extraordinary year, with either the #3 or #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto enjoys a welcome lull in its schedule, as their next game is not until Wednesday night against a hapless Philadelphia 76er squad. General Manager Masai Ujiri, coach Dwane Casey, and other staffers, have a lengthy list of goals to decide upon, and then manage, between now and the season’s final buzzer, to wit:

  • nail down the Atlantic Division title, and the #3 seed, while simultaneously…
  • …protect the knee of Kyle Lowry, and Amir Johnson’s ankle, from further injury, yet…
  • …work them back into the regular lineup, and…
  • …cap the minutes of DeMar DeRozan, without him getting stale, and…
  • …reward the fine play of Greivis Vasquez, while finding minutes for the helpful Nando De Colo, and…
  • …determine if the Raps should “shorten their bench”, or continue with a deep rotation, in the playoffs.

WHEW! That’s a lot of plates to spin, some of them mutually exclusive, in a short time. Let’s back up a bit. The importance of finishing with the #3 seed can’t be overstated, and must be Job One. If the Raps run the table in their last 5 games, they cannot be caught by either Brooklyn or Chicago. I won’t spend a lot of time on playoff speculation other than to say the Raps need home court, despite their excellent results as a road team. Indiana, the likely #2 seed, looks vulnerable to a first-round upset. Assuming the Raps take care of the Wiz(?), we could retain home court for the second round, and avoid a confrontation with Miami, until the Eastern finals.

Here’s my prediction – Saturday night’s Milwaukee game will be the model for the rest of the season. In other words, get ready for 5 nail-biters. Coach Casey will resist the temptation to play his starters 40+ minutes, no matter how badly he wants to win. The injuries to Kyle and Amir are chronic, and won’t stand excess stress. DeMar needs to be under 30 minutes PG [Per Game], or he’s going to enter the playoffs high in desire, but low in fuel. We’ll see a lot of Lowry and even De Colo at shooting guard. John Salmons, a veteran whom Casey trusts, will get some burn as well.

In the front court, Jonas Valanciunas will be held under 33 minutes, so Hansbrough, Hayes and Novak will be getting a lot of minutes in his and Amir’s spots. I think coach Casey leans towards a deeper rotation, even in the playoffs, so he’s going to be keenly aware of which players are in form.

Finally, should both competitors fall away, and the Raps clinch #3, the next game(s) will feature the second unit. Even the lost and forgotten souls like Landry Fields and Julyan Stone will play, while the starters will dress for purposes of meeting the NBA’s minimum players requirement.

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