Fred VanVleet was always going to break out of a bit of a shooting slump because he’s too good and too confident, and he pays no heed to any noise about the state of his game.
He knows what’s up, what he is, and it matters not a lick what anyone outside the Raptors organization thinks.
“I mean, there’s a lot going on,” VanVleet was saying this week. “I mean, like, a lot going on all across the board. I’m not really going to run down the list with you guys. I’ll just play better and then you’ll have better things to talk about.
“But there’s definitely a lot of reasons for the situation that I’m in. I’m going to continue to keep working, being professional and giving everything I’ve got when I step out there. So, hopefully I’ll turn it around soon.”
He was referring mainly to the way teams have been defending him and the way a disjointed Raptors season has unfolded leading up to a 126-113 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night.
Opponents are running him off the three-point line more aggressively, and he’s missed a few open looks here and there. But his confidence — and the confidence his coaches and teammates have in him — never dissipates.
It was rewarded by one of his best shooting games of the season against an undermanned and overmatched Lakers team, minus LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (illness).
VanVleet made a three-pointer to open the game, hit a pull-up three in transition late in the second quarter and, while his numbers on the night weren’t overwhelming, they were certainly good enough.
He finished with 25 points, 3-for-12 from three-point range and 8-for-20 overall from the field in a game where he seemed bound and determined to get himself going.
“I’m not really concerned about it,” he had said about the shooting funk. “Obviously, nobody wants them to go in more than me — trust me — but it’s just the way it goes sometimes. So, just can’t get too high or too low with it. Just keeping working and try to find ways to get better.”
The disappointment throughout the crowd over the absence of James and Davis was obvious well before the game. Fans in the arena bowl — about half-filled seven minutes before tipoff, with a typically late-arriving Raptors audience — greeted the innocuous scoreboard graphic showing inactive players with a chorus of boos.
James was listed as out with left ankle soreness — an issue for most of the season with him — after playing 36 minutes in a Lakers loss in Cleveland on Tuesday, while Davis came down with a non-COVID illness early in that Cavaliers game and retired after the first quarter.
The consolation for the Raptors is that they had much of the day to revamp a game plan that had been understandably centred on James and Davis. With no disrespect to the other Lakers, they’d be bit pieces in preparatory plans.
“At least we probably knew fairly early in the day today, so we had plenty of time to craft a new game plan, for sure,” Nurse said. “Probably a lot of guys (will) see some opportunities to do some things. They’ve certainly got guys who have scored and played and who have done so throughout their careers, so I’m sure they’ll be ready to.”
Not so much.
The Raptors jumped out to an 11-0 lead before the game was three minutes old and were never threatened.
The Lakers were playing their third game in four nights with a weird roster missing anything close to an all-star, and the Raptors stomped them from the start.
The win wasn’t a major accomplishment in itself, but hammering a weakened opposition without going through any lengthy lulls is not something the Raptors have done often this season as they search for consistency.
“I don’t know if it’s one specific thing,” Nurse said before the game. “You’ve heard me say this over and over: When we do what we’re supposed to do in our defensive schemes, we’re in really good shape. The number of times we don’t, it hurts us. That number has to decrease.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)