Kyle Lowry, Raptors acknowledge he needs to play better

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NEW YORK — Kyle Lowry has been mired in a shooting slump since the end of November. For a veteran in his 13th season, the solution is simple: If one thing is not working, make a difference elsewhere.

For Lowry, that alternative has been distributing the ball. The All-Star point guard leads the NBA with 10.1 assists per game and has 11 double-doubles, second-most in the Eastern Conference behind Philadelphia's Ben Simmons (18). Prior to 2018-19, Lowry had never averaged more than 7.0 assists in a season.

“Honestly, I think he's taking the back seat and sacrificing for the greater good of the team," backup point guard Fred VanVleet told Sporting News. "Right now, we got a lot of guys trying to find their offense and find our shots. I think from his perspective, he would just be another guy shooting."

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Lowry's extra passing has been effective and the Raptors' league-best record (21-6) has not been hurt much by his slump, but his playing style has been likened to a bulldog — aggressive and headstrong, capable of pushing through obstacles — which makes his hesitation to shoot, regardless of those struggles, surprising. Over his past four games, Lowry is shooting just 21 percent (8 for 37) from the floor and a meager 18 percent (5 for 27) from beyond the arc.

"Probably not, probably not," coach Nick Nurse said when asked whether Lowry is being as aggressive as he would prefer. "I'd like for him to be a touch more aggressive. He's like a lot of players; when he's feeling the stroke, he's going to be aggressive. When it's not quite feeling right, he's going to try to do other things."

The Raptors can overlook Lowry's shooting woes if the team is winning, but they've lost two of their past three games and Lowry is just 3 for 20 from 3 during that stretch.

"He’s in a little bit of a turn-a-few down mode right now," Nurse noted. "We don’t want him to do that. I want him to shoot 10 3s a night. Once he starts doing that consistently, we'll be happy."

With a towel draped over his head and slouched in a chair at his locker, Lowry spoke in low tones as he tried to make sense of the ​Raptors’ overtime loss on Friday in Brooklyn. The Raptors had won 12 in a row over the Nets and Lowry posted a triple-double his last game at Barclays Center on March 23. On Friday, he had just three points on 1-of-8 shoo

ting (1 for 7 from 3) and a team-high 11 assists.

He missed a triple in the extra period that would have given the Raptors a two-point lead with 49 seconds remaining.

"[I] have to play better. I don't make excuses and I don’t have any excuses to make," he said. "I'm just not playing well, so it's as simple as that. I have to play better. I hold myself to a high standard and I have to play better."

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Lowry, 32, has shot below 37 percent from 3 just twice since the 2010-11 season. He's at a disappointing 33 percent this year, which makes it easy to forget he shot 52 percent (19 for 36) from long range through the season’s first six games.

"As the leader of this team, I have to figure out how to play a lot better offensively," he said.

A player of Lowry’s pedigree shouldn't be expected to struggle for too long, and if his headstrong play is any indication, the most pragmatic way for him to end his slump will be to shoot his way out of it.