The focus has been on winning the Atlantic Division, but that is a largely meaningless designation. Winning the division guarantees nothing, aside from a top-four seeding. It does not guarantee home-court advantage. So, the goal should be to stay ahead of at least two of the Bulls, Wizards, Nets in the standings. The four teams were separated by just three games — with the Raptors at the front of the pack and the Wizards at the back — heading into Thursday’s play. All four teams have soft schedules remaining. If the Raptors do not end up at home to start the playoffs, it will have been self-inflicted punishment.
Casey hadn’t earned Lowry’s trust and vice versa. In Casey’s opinion that didn’t come until the beginning of this season. Lowry came in the undisputed No. 1 point guard. Both men were in the final year of their respective contracts and both men needed the other. Neither really had an option. It was get along and work together or fail. “We both realized for all of us to survive, for this team to survive — forget contract years and all that — but for us to win we had to have a (solid relationship). That’s not just true of Kyle and I. That’s true of George Karl and Gary Payton, that’s true of Rick Carlisle and Jason Kidd. The point guard and the head coach have to have a different relationship. They have to have an understanding. There has to be trust and it has to be developed over time.”
“I had to look at myself in the mirror,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports over a shrimp salad inside the e11even restaurant in Rogers Centre. “I know what people are saying now, ‘Oh it’s a contract year,’ but it’s bigger than that for me. Yes, I want a contract. And then I want to outgrow that one and get another one. But I want to win. I want to grow. And to grow, you’ve got to be able accept coaching. “You’ve got to be able to be coached.”
Bringing in Kyle Lowry would have certainly been interesting. The soon-to-be 28-year old PG is having a remarkable year averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game. Lowry is one of the main reasons the Toronto Raptors are 37-29 this season and currently a three seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Rockets really wanted Lowry, they would have likely dealt Jeremy Lin and another asset of some sort. Lowry will be a free agent this coming offseason and would have likely commanded over $10 million a season after this stellar season. Though Lowry is an upgrade, it would have been interesting to how Morey would have worked with that potential roster next season with Chandler Parsons’ contract not yet figured out, plus other big-time players expected to become free agents. This is just another “what could have been” scenario for Rockets fans.
“I would have done things differently in Houston,” Lowry said. “I really respected Kevin McHale. I wish I would have had an opportunity to play for him longer. The things he was teaching me, well, I didn’t understand right away. When you get away from someone, though, see it from the outside looking in, you go back and think, ‘Damn, I could’ve learned some more things from the guy.’ “I wanted to stay with Coach Adelman and needed to get over that. [McHale] came in with a different philosophy, and I wish I could’ve adapted to it quicker.”
Lowry talked about his rise with the Raptors this season, but spent a good deal of time talking about what went wrong during his final days as a Rocket in 2012. Averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds while leading the Raptors to the number 3 seed in the East currently, reports are indicating that new general manager Masai Ujiri will try to re-sign Lowry this summer after not trading him at the deadline, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. But his price may be too steep for Toronto as Wojnarowski believes he will be in the $10-$12 million range per year, which begs the question: could the Rockets make a push to bring Lowry back?
League sources have also speculated that the HEAT could emerge as a potential suitor for Lowry, depending on what happens with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this summer. If they decide to opt out and ink new long-term deals, it would create some cap space for Miami and the HEAT could make a notable free agent like Lowry an attractive offer. It might not be as much as he could get from other teams, but he may be tempted to play alongside the Big Three and have a chance to contend for a championship. Lowry would make Miami a much scarier team, giving them a significant upgrade over Mario Chalmers at point guard.
MARQUEE MATCHUP Terrence Ross vs. Kevin Durant A big test for the Raptors sophomore forward. Depending on preference, Durant is either the best or next best player in the game today. He leads the league in scoring and has had a career high 30-plus scoring in 12 consecutive games already this year. Going into Cleveland, Durant had scored 25 or better in 32 consecutive games, a mark only eclipsed in league history by Michael Jordan, who had a run of 40-such games in 1986-87. Ross can get hot too but he can’t hold a candle to Durant’s consistency. What he can do is make life as difficult as possible for the all-world scorer.
Oklahoma City (50-18) won each of its first 13 home games to tie a franchise record before running into trouble in a 104-98 loss to Toronto (38-29). Kyle Lowry racked up 22 points and nine assists as the Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter, snapping a three-game skid in the series. “Losses happen in this league,” said Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who had 24 points but shot 5 of 16. “They beat us fair and square, you know?”
When the Raptors defeated the Thunder earlier in the season, there were no excuses. Westbrook and Kevin Durant led their team in scoring, but they just shot 13-33 with 11 turnovers between them. They may have something to prove in Toronto. The Raptors will be short-handed heading into Friday’s game as well. Patrick Patterson is still resting a sore elbow and Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play last game because of a stiff back. Amir Johnson played last game on a sore ankle, but he rarely takes time off to heal. Valanciunas did warm up with his team on Wednesday, so it’s possible he’ll be ready to go in this one. Toronto will need him.
Toronto Raptors (38-29) Projected 1st Round Picks: 19th Projected Cap Space: None to $19.8 million. The Raptors can look to get well under the cap, should they choose to do so. The contracts of John Salmons, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks aren’t fully guaranteed. The Raptors can offer Patrick Patterson $4.3 million and Greivis Vasquez $3.2 million, to make both restricted free agents. Kyle Lowry is also a free agent. If Toronto says goodbye to all, the team will have sizable cap room. If the Raptors want to hold onto Johnson, Hansbrough and/or Salmons, while re-signing Lowry, the team will stay above the cap.