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Fatigue setting in on Raptors core as rotation expansion unlikely

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MILWAUKEE – There was a time, not long ago, when the Toronto Raptors had a player come out of nowhere and impact playoff games, even whole series.

It was Milwaukee, it was the spring. And there was Norm Powell being inserted into the starting lineup – a bundle of energy and fresh legs – and perhaps being the most important single factor in the Raptors coming back from being down 2-1 to oust the Bucks in their 2017 first-round playoff series.

Powell knocked down all the three triples on the weak side as then Raptors head coach Dwane Casey started him in place of Jonas Valanciunas to get more spacing on the floor and it worked. Powell didn’t miss a three the rest of series, shooting a perfect 9-of-9 and the Raptors won three straight games.

It seems so long ago. Even Powell is barely able to access the memory, or maybe the idea itself just seems so foreign – a bench player helping the Raptors win games?

What? When? How?

“I don’t even remember much about that series,” Powell was saying as the Raptors had a brief media availability at their team hotel in the aftermath of a Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to Milwaukee. “I didn’t even know about not missing threes and stuff until after the series and people were talking about it. I was just trying to get the win and that’s what I’m trying to do now.”

Unless something strange happens, he probably won’t get that kind of opportunity this series.

After a regular season of juggling rotations and starting spots and preaching flexibility, there’s some irony in where the Raptors have arrived at as their season reaches its apex: over their past two playoff games, 92 per cent of the minutes were distributed to their five starters and Serge Ibaka. The rotation has shrunk and doesn’t look like it will expand.

Fred VanVleet who was a regular in the Raptors’ closing lineups most of last season – a role he parlayed into a Sixth Man Award nomination and a two-year, $18-million contract in the off-season – is primarily being used to provide some relief for Kyle Lowry. Powell who earned a four-year, $40-million contract in part on the strength of his 2017 playoff run is getting what’s left........

© Sportsnet