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Nick Nurse explains Raptors resting Kyle Lowry for key game vs. Wizards

Kyle Lowry before Raptors-Wizards

TAMPA, FL- MAY 6: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors arrives to the arena prior to the game against the Washington Wizards on May 6, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA’s new play-in tournaments have reduced tanking.

But they haven’t eliminated it.

The Raptors played the Wizards in a crucial game last night. With a win, Toronto would’ve moved within two games of Washington for postseason position with five games remaining while holding the tiebreaker. The Raptors also could’ve gained ground on the floundering ninth-place Pacers. Though a victory still would have left them fighting the odds to make the playoffs, the Raptors would have had a significantly better chance with a win.

Toronto rested Kyle Lowry for the game – and lost by two in overtime.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse:

How it’s determined is we – being myself and Bobby and Masai and such – talk about who we want to play and who we want to see and who we’re going to evaluate.
Obviously, he’s a player that’s earned the right to play high-stakes games.
We’ve had a hell of a lot of success and a heck of a lot of meaningful games. And he’s been right at the epicenter of all that, been our heartbeat for all that. And there’s just been or six too many brick walls put up in front of us this year.
I think we’ve had a lot of important games that all go into the final record, and we’ve had a lot of guys out for a lot of the season, if not all of it.
I guess that I can sit here and say as many times as I want to, all I really care about is that we’re playing hard and playing the right way and all that stuff. And I’m pretty pleased with how that’s been, and the standings kind of take care of themselves. I’ve never really talked about, “Man, we need to get one, two, three. We’re fighting for seeding.” I think we were always just trying to do our best with an eye on being ready at the right time of the year. I know I’m probably a little – what’s it called? – rose-colored glasses. I tend to think if we do get 10th, then there’s not going to be a whole lot of teams that want to see us.

My definition of tanking: Anything a team does driven, at least in part, to improve draft position through losing.

The Raptors sure appear to be tanking.

The players are still giving good effort. Sans Lowry, they put up a strong fight last night.

But the organization has looked extremely cautious with injuries. Sitting Lowry for rest in such a pivotal game really stripped the pretense. Toronto just doesn’t care much about making the play-in tournament.

At a certain point, that organizational direction can disillusion players and sabotage motivation – especially while stuck playing in Tampa. Raptors president Masai Ujiri or general manager Bobby Webster should address the situation rather leaving it to Nurse. These decisions are made above the coach’s head.

In the aftermath of their 2019 title, the Raptors have the political capital to choose whatever direction they want.

Especially after keeping Lowry past the trade deadline, that could have meant competing to advance as far as possible – even if it meant an early postseason exit. Simply making the playoffs and putting up a fight could have been rewarding in possibly Lowry’s last season with the team he has meant so much to. Nurse was right: Toronto could have been dangerous as a No. 10 seed. There is just little interest in getting to the play-in.

Tanking is a viable alternative. The Raptors currently have the NBA’s seventh-worst record, which is near their ceiling for lottery position. That’d come with a 32% chance of drawing a top-four pick in the lottery. But if Toronto wins more down the stretch, those odds drop sharply. The No. 8 (26%), No. 9 (20%) and No. 10 (14%) seeds in the lottery have much lower chances of picking top four.

If the Raptors move up in this draft that looks strong at the top, all would be forgiven. Toronto could add a top young prospect to a core of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.

But if the Raptors land a pedestrian player with a mid/late-lottery pick, it will have been disappointing to waste this opportunity to compete with Lowry. As tantalizing as it can be to plan for the future, sometimes it’s worth just enjoying the present.