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Date Title Author
Feb 14, 17 Report: Raptors acquire Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a 1st-round pick Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Serge of Confidence Anthony Doyle
Feb 14, 17 Should They Stay or Should They Go? Gavin MacPherson
Feb 14, 17 Reaction Podcast – Raptors trade Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Raptors have to believe they’ll come out the other side better for struggles Kevin Yeung
Feb 14, 17 Amidst the Chaos: Starring Contract Kyle Mike Nelson
Feb 14, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Feb. 14 Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 14 Sam Holako
Feb 13, 17 VIDEO: Lowry, Carroll, and Casey discuss Sunday’s frustration at practice Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Asking For Help Anthony Doyle
Feb 13, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 13 Sam Holako
Feb 13, 17 What’s Your Raptors Story? Alex Gres
Feb 13, 17 Raptors collapse again, and it’s reverberating in the locker room Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Let’s make a deal Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Casey’s playcalling needs work Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 VIDEO: Frustrated Lowry says ‘something gotta change,’ DeRozan open to help Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 Quick Reaction: Pistons 102, Raptors 101 Shyam Baskaran
Feb 12, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka, Gallinari, and Millsap rumblings; Patterson remains out; Poeltl starts Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Feb. 12 Blake Murphy
Feb 11, 17 905 crush Charge with three-point barrage Vivek Jacob
Feb 11, 17 Pre-Deadline Mailbag: A lot of Ibaka, plenty of other trade talk, Wrestlemania, and more Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 17 Jared Sullinger headed back to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 17 The Raptors have been struggling in the clutch lately, but will it last? Scott Hastie
Feb 10, 17 Quest To Find Toronto’s Ultimate Raptors Bar Gets Wild Barry Taylor
Feb 10, 17 Calling on Cory Cameron Dorrett
Feb 10, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 9 – Halfway down The Road to The Six Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 905 maintain theme of a balanced attack to put away Bulls Vivek Jacob
Feb 9, 17 Raptors reportedly interested in Ibaka (and some All-Star Weekend notes) Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 3 Players The Raptors Should Look Into At The Deadline Warren Kosoy
Feb 9, 17 Don’t Panic Gavin MacPherson
Feb 9, 17 Raptors let another one slip away in Minnesota Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 9 Sam Holako
Feb 9, 17 Raptors-Timberwolves Reaction Podcast – This one is on Casey Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Wolves 112 Vivek Jacob
Feb 8, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson out again as Raptors visit Timberwolves Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Fighting for Minutes: Norm vs Ross Still a Thing? Matt Shantz
Feb 8, 17 Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense Cooper Smither
Feb 8, 17 Norman Powell Is Fighting The Raptors Depth Chart Spencer Redmond
Feb 8, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, Feb. 8 Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 8 Sam Holako
Feb 7, 17 Jarrod Uthoff revenge game leads Mad Ants to victory over 905 Vivek Jacob
Feb 7, 17 Comparing Toronto Raptors schedule to opponents offers room for optimism Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 7, 17 Fred VanVleet was ready when called upon, and will be again Blake Murphy
Feb 7, 17 Raptors continue to get their act together in victory over Clippers Mike Nelson
Feb 7, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E10 – Hotline Bling Nick Reynoldson
Feb 7, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 7 Sam Holako
Feb 6, 17 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – DeRozan back in a big way Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Quick Reaction: Clippers 109, Raptors 118 Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 6, 17 Kyle Lowry becomes Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan in, Patterson out against Clippers Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Edy Tavares named to D-League All-Star Team Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6 Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Lowry’s triple-double lifts Raptors to much-needed victory over Nets Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Can a trade fix the Raptors? Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 6 Sam Holako
Feb 5, 17 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – They finally got a win! RR
Feb 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Nets 95 Matt Shantz
Feb 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry to play, DeRozan and Patterson sit, LeVert out Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Feb. 5 Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 17 Raptors Poor Stretch Continues With Loss To Orlando Spencer Redmond
Feb 3, 17 Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – Not again, dammit RR
Feb 3, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Magic 102 Cameron Dorrett
Feb 3, 17 Patrick Patterson leaves game, will not return Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan misses another as Raptors visit Magic Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Lucas Nogueira Has Taken His Game To The Next Level Spencer Redmond
Feb 3, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Magic, Feb. 3 Andrew Thompson
Feb 3, 17 The Missing Ingredient Alex Gres
Feb 3, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 2 – It’s not last call yet Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Kyle Lowry to participate in 3-Point Contest Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 3 Sam Holako
Feb 2, 17 Why Ignoring Player Ceilings Is Costing The Raptors Warren Kosoy
Feb 2, 17 Pint-Sized Super-Human Isaiah Thomas Carries Celtics Over Raptors Gavin MacPherson
Feb 2, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 2 Sam Holako
Feb 1, 17 Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – Make your free throws RR
Feb 1, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Celtics 109 Anthony Doyle
Feb 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Bradley, Olynyk, and DeRozan sit because this ‘rivalry’ can’t have full squads Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 17 Raptors Playbook: Rip Punch & Counters Cooper Smither
Feb 1, 17 It’s time Toronto Raptors get serious about Norman Powell Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 1, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Celtics, Feb. 1 Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 17 Redemption? Well, Not Exactly: Raptors survive overtime fight vs. Pelicans Mike Nelson
Jan 31, 17 Raptors-Pelicans Reaction Podcast – King Kyle saves the day RR
Jan 31, 17 Early Bruno and Brady show leaves Charge in the dust Vivek Jacob
Jan 31, 17 Quick Reaction: Pelicans 106, Raptors 108 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 31, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan to sit 2 more games, Evans out, Stackhouse to coach All-Stars Blake Murphy
Jan 31, 17 Trade Assets: What the Raptors Have to Offer Matt Shantz
Jan 31, 17 Gameday: Pelicans @ Raptors, Jan. 31 Blake Murphy
Jan 31, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 31 Sam Holako
Jan 30, 17 VIDEO: Lowry, Ujiri speak on ‘bullshit’ U.S. travel ban Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 Mini-Mailbag: Making sense of this ‘bad stretch,’ Delon Wright, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 The Warriors Three Anthony Doyle
Jan 30, 17 Raptors defence continues January swoon in loss to Biyombo’s Magic Vivek Jacob
Jan 30, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – The future of Norman Powell Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 30 Sam Holako
Jan 29, 17 Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – This is inexcusable RR
Jan 29, 17 Quick Reaction: Magic 114, Raptors 113 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 29, 17 Pre-game news & notes: 905ers recalled, DeRozan returns, Fournier sits Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 17 Gameday: Magic @ Raptors, Jan. 29 Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 17 Sullinger gets his reps, 905 defeat 87ers for 9th straight win Vivek Jacob
Jan 28, 17 Raptors assign Jared Sullinger to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 17 A New Day – Raptors Beat Bucks, End Skid Alex Gres
Jan 27, 17 Raptors-Bucks Reaction Podcast – End of the losing streak; come down off your ledges RR
Jan 27, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 102, Bucks 86 Anthony Doyle
Jan 27, 17 905 Take down Knicks to Remain Perfect on the Road, Win 8th Straight Overall Vivek Jacob
Jan 27, 17 Raptors 905 trade Jarrod Uthoff for Christian Watford, pick Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan misses third in a row as Bucks visit Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Real or Imagined? Anthony Doyle
Jan 27, 17 Relax, Everything is Going to be Alright Andrew Thompson
Jan 27, 17 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, Jan. 27 Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 27 – Lowry and DeRozan almost form one Joe Johnson Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 27 Sam Holako
Jan 26, 17 Put Respek on the man’s name: Kyle Lowry, 2017 All-Star Sam Holako
Jan 26, 17 VIDEO: Vice goes shopping with DeMarre Carroll Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 17 Optimism in the Midst of Awfulness Matt Shantz
Jan 26, 17 Raptors Can’t Control Gasol In Fifth Straight Loss Spencer Redmond
Jan 26, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 26 Sam Holako
Jan 25, 17 Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Lowry’s comeback falls short RR
Jan 25, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 99, Grizzlies 101 Anthony Doyle
Jan 25, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan Stays Home, Green Out, Parsons doubtful for Grizzlies Vivek Jacob
Jan 25, 17 Raptors 905 win 7th in a row in Wright’s debut Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 Raptors Playbook: Iverson Series Counters Cooper Smither
Jan 25, 17 Gameday: Raptors at Grizzlies, Jan 25 Cameron Dorrett
Jan 25, 17 Better not good enough as Raptors cough up 4th in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 VIDEO: How Lowry became an elite shooter Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 25 Sam Holako
Jan 24, 17 Raptors-Spurs Reaction Podcast – Signs of encouragement RR
Jan 24, 17 Quick Reaction: San Antonio Spurs 108, Toronto Raptors 106 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 24, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson probable, Leonard, Simmons, and Parker sit for Spurs Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 17 D-League Showcase another victory for Raptors organization Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 17 Valanciunas’ pick and roll defence at the centre of Raptors struggle Scott Hastie
Jan 24, 17 Gameday: Spurs @ Raptors, Jan. 24 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 24, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 24 Sam Holako
Jan 23, 17 Raptors not panicking, even with DeRozan set to miss two games Blake Murphy
Jan 23, 17 Toronto Doesn’t NEED a Trade Matt Shantz
Jan 23, 17 Suns hand Raptors third straight loss in 4th quarter meltdown. Cameron Dorrett
Jan 23, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – DeMar DeRozan gets his due Blake Murphy
Jan 23, 17 Raptors-Suns Reaction Podcast – Lowry’s meltdown RR
Jan 22, 17 Quick Reaction: Suns 115, Raptors 103 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 22, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira clears concussion protocol, Patterson remains outs Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 17 Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, Jan 21 Spencer Redmond
Jan 21, 17 Raptors humbled by Hornets amid injury woes Scott Hastie
Jan 20, 17 Raptors 905 hang on against Nets, move to 2-0 at D-League Showcase Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 Raptors-Hornets Reaction Podcast – No show in Charlotte RR
Jan 20, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 78, Hornets 113 Anthony Doyle
Jan 20, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan thoughts, Wright returns, and a lot of injury updates Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 The Odd Couple Gavin MacPherson
Jan 20, 17 Give me a Minute! The Raptors Rest Problem Cameron Dorrett
Jan 20, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Hornets, Jan. 20 Joshua Priemski
Jan 20, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 20 – Midterm grades Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 20 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Fans get it half-right: DeRozan voted to start in the East Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Mini-Mailbag: Sullinger’s role, 905 call-ups, #FreeBruno, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 17 The Five Year Outlook Andrew Thompson
Jan 19, 17 Raptors Fall as The Process Levels Up Alex Gres
Jan 19, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 19 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Raptors-76ers Reaction Podcast – Trust the Process RR
Jan 18, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 89, 76ers 94 Spencer Redmond
Jan 18, 17 DeMarre Carroll leaves game with neck injury, won’t return Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger to make season debut, Nogueira sits Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Raptors 905 open D-League Showcase with high-octane victory Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Raptors Playbook: Chin Pick & Roll Cooper Smither
Jan 18, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ 76ers, Jan. 18 Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Brooklyn Zoo: Despite early chaos, Raptors impose their will vs. Nets Mike Nelson
Jan 18, 17 The unluckiest basketball moments of all time RR
Jan 18, 17 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – The Cory Joseph game RR
Jan 17, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 119, Nets 109 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 17, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry rests, Patterson and Lin sit Blake Murphy
Jan 17, 17 A Night to Forget? Anthony Doyle
Jan 17, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Jan. 17 Blake Murphy
Jan 17, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E9 – NBA Vote Nick Reynoldson
Jan 17, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 17 Sam Holako
Jan 16, 17 DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 17 The New Point Guard Controversy Matt Shantz
Jan 16, 17 On final day to vote, why Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan deserve yours Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 17 Mid-Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 16 Sam Holako
Jan 16, 17 Raptors Play Well For (Almost) An Entire Game! Gavin MacPherson
Jan 16, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Racing for second with the Celtics Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 17 Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – Don’t let the final score fool you RR
Jan 15, 17 Quick Reaction: Knicks 101, Raptors 116 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 15, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Porzingis and Patterson sit as Knicks visit Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 17 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Jan. 15 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 14, 17 Raptors play 11 great minutes, blow out Nets Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 17 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – Raptors put away pesky Nets RR
Jan 13, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 132, Nets 113 Matt Shantz
Jan 13, 17 Pre-game news & notes: La Loche visits, Ujiri speaks, Patterson and Lin sit Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 17 Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright cleared for team practice Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Talking hoops with Jack Armstrong Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 13, 17 Is Patrick Patterson A Potential Sixth Man of the Year Candidate? Spencer Redmond
Jan 13, 17 Gameday: Nets @ Raptors, Jan. 13 Andrew Thompson
Jan 13, 17 DeRozan and Lowry in 3rd, 5th in latest All-Star voting update Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 13 – Eastern Conference All-Stars Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 13 Sam Holako
Jan 12, 17 905 Win D-League Record 14th Straight on Road, Over Red Claws Vivek Jacob
Jan 12, 17 The Transformation Of Lucas Noguiera Warren Kosoy
Jan 12, 17 Waiting on Sully to Land Cameron Dorrett
Jan 12, 17 Breaking down the 4th quarter offense vs Boston Celtics Cooper Smither
Jan 11, 17 Behind Door Number Three Anthony Doyle
Jan 11, 17 Revisiting How the Toronto Raptors Compare to Recent Finalists Alex Gres
Jan 11, 17 Mid-Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 11 Sam Holako
Jan 11, 17 DeRozan pulls Raptors from the brink against Celtics Blake Murphy
Jan 11, 17 VanVleet and Caboclo help 905 pull away for sweep of Swarm Blake Murphy
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Report: Raptors acquire Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a 1st-round pick

Masai Ujiri is making his move.

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to send Terrence Ross and the lower of their 2017 first-round picks to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Serge Ibaka, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

This is, of course, enormous news. Ibaka immediately fills a hole the Raptors have been trying to fill since Chris Bosh left, with the starting power forward position a constant pain in their side. Patrick Patterson’s emergence as a starting-caliber four has been fun to watch, but the acquisition of Ibaka makes the position’s depth chart strong and unquestionable, and Patterson can return to his super-sub sixth-man role that he’s thrived in over the last few seasons. Ibaka can also spend minutes at the center position to provide depth behind Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira, and lineups with a Patterson-Ibaka frontcourt could be deadly at both ends of the floor against certain matchups.

From a skill perspective, Ibaka brings most of what the Raptors have been looking for in a third piece. While his numbers have plateaued some over the last few years and his defense no longer appears elite, qualitatively or quantitatively, Ibaka is an agile, rangey, switch-able defender who can provide additional rim-protection and isn’t a negative on the boards when at power forward. At the offensive end, he has enough of a post and face-up game for the Raptors to go to him there once in a while, but the biggest thing he brings at that spot might be his shooting – he’s a career 36.5-percent 3-point shooter and has knocked down 38.8 percent of a high volume of looks so far this season, a good portion of them from above the break. He’s also a solid offensive rebounder, though he’s declined in that regard and the Raptors probably won’t ask him for much of that when he’s at the power forward position.

Ibaka is a fairly seamless fit on both ends of the floor, and he’ll act as a nice third option and safety valve for the team’s stars as well as a versatile piece that should let them try some different things on the defensive end. Toronto doesn’t exactly want for offense outside of the last few minutes of the last few games, and the defensive addition is a larger, more important gain. That’s long been their weakest area, and they’ve not fortified the four and five at that end of the floor. This team is now more capable of defending elite bigs and switching across more positions, and Dwane Casey will have a few more options down the stretch of games. He also brings a wealth of playoff experience, which can’t hurt.

Looking ahead further, the Ibaka acquisition is somewhat less obvious of a slam dunk. A 27-year-old who has shown some modest signs of decline, Ibaka stands to command a large salary in free agency this summer. The Raptors will be facing a luxury tax crunch so long as Kyle Lowry sticks around, and they’ll have to be careful just how much they commit to Ibaka long-term. Shedding Ross’ salary helps in that regard, but retaining Ibaka and Lowry would likely mean the end of Patterson and perhaps one other rotation piece this summer, too. The team is confident they’ll be able to re-sign Ibaka, who likes the city and has a relationship with Ujiri, but they’re going to be in a complex situation in terms of salary commitment – You can’t max out everyone, and even a push back to the Eastern Conference Finals would result in the Raptors having to negotiate hard and make some difficult financial decisions.

Still, Ibaka holding an expiring deal gives the Raptors some flexibility in the summer, and the nuclear option to blow things up if the acquisition doesn’t work out will remain in tact. And if it does work out, well, there was just no means of adding a player of Ibaka’s talent level in the offseason, anyway. There was no path to cap space, sign-and-trades could be rare under the latest collective bargaining agreements, and the Raptors’ young assets get older and less shiny by the day. By acting here and acquiring Ibaka’s Bird rights, the Raptors have put themselves in a better position to compete while the Lowry-DeMar DeRozan window is firmly open, even if it does mean trying to bite at the heels of LeBron James a while longer. And again, they’re better today, full stop.

The Raptors have been interested in Ibaka dating back to this offseason, when the Oklahoma City Thunder were requesting a king’s ransom in the form of Cory Joseph, Patterson, Norman Powell, and the No. 9 pick. The Thunder instead dealt him to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the No. 11 pick, but the fit with the Magic and the threat of Ibaka’s impending unrestricted free agency led Magic general manager Rob Hennigan to explore options to not only recoup some assets, but build the team for a little further down the line.

That Ujiri and Jeff Weltman were able to swoop in and get Ibaka for a small fraction of the offseason cost is a nice piece of business, even if the 55 games without Ibaka would have been a little better with him. That the Raptors jumped here, before the All-Star break, with the team struggling and its stars calling for help, is nice timing, too. The Magic were reportedly hoping to wait until closer to the Feb. 23 deadline to make an actual deal while waiting for the price to come to where they liked it, but the Raptors clearly made a push for action earlier, and the timing really couldn’t be better. It sounds like the market for Ibaka was fairly cool, too, and Ujiri and company were smart to just come correct with an offer rather than quibbling at the margins of the price and risking losing out over the next 10 days.

Ibaka comes with a cost, of course. The lesser of two first-round picks in a deep draft is a nice trade chip, but with the amount of youth and depth the Raptors already have – as well as the other pick, likely to be in the mid-20s – it’s a pretty easy asset to let go of. Toronto will keep whichever pick is higher (“better”) between theirs and the Clippers’, meaning they retain the better of the two assets.

Ross is a much tougher pill to swallow, as he remains a productive bench piece on a very affordable deal with two more years left on it beyond this season. It’s easy to see why the Magic would want him in the return given their dearth of shooting and creation from the wings, and while Ross sometimes got a worse wrap from Raptors fans than his play would warrant, he’s a nice return if the Magic accepted that they weren’t getting anything close to what they gave up for Ibaka in return. Hennigan has also long been a Ross fan, and Ross stands to be given even more opportunity to grow in Orlando. Ross has been a member of the team’s core for years, ranks third in 3-pointers made, won a pair of dunk contests, and leaves us with the memory of his 51-point game.

More importantly for the Raptors, Ross leaves a pretty substantial hole in terms of shooting, and Ross is their best non-Kyle Lowry marksman and their most reliable second-unit scorer. The Raptors don’t necessarily have the shooting to replace him, but they do have a rotation-ready wing in the form of Norman Powell who has steadily made a case for greater playing time. With multiple point guards capable of handling minutes and Dwane Casey’s willingness to play two at a time, plus the continued emergence of Powell, the Raptors probably won’t hurt too much for depth on the wing. Powell has earned a bigger opportunity, and it’s his play that likely made the Raptors finally willing to part with Ross. Powell’s not the shooter Ross is, but he’s a better attacker and a more consistent defender.

It’s possible, too, that the Raptors aren’t done making moves yet. They still own their full contingent of draft picks moving forward (they owned an additional first from the Los Angeles Clippers, via the Milwaukee Bucks from the Powell trade), and they have the salary of Jared Sullinger they could pair with a pick or prospect in order to add some shooting, and perhaps size, back to the wings. Even if they don’t make another move, the Raptors have made a heavy splash here, and they’ve improved their talent base and roster balance without sacrificing too much in terms of near-term production. Ibaka is a better, more important player than Ross to this team, and the Raptors will figure out the requisite trickle-down effects as necessary.

This puts the team back in a position of stability to push for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, too. Or at least, it will once Ibaka has adjusted and been acclimated. That might not be immediate – it’s unclear if Ibaka will pass physicals quickly enough to play Wednesday, but it’s possible (Tuesday is almost certainly out of the question) – and the Raptors may have dug themselves too deep a hole to fight for a higher standing in the regular season. The news that Kevin Love will miss six weeks after a knee scope probably doesn’t weaken the Cleveland Cavaliers enough for the Raptors to make a push for the top spot, but if Boston falters, Toronto might be able to fight their way back to their prior perch.

Even if they don’t, Ibaka pushes the Raptors floor higher and – more importantly – their ceiling higher. It’s easy to lose sight of given their recent play, but the Raptors were once presumed the biggest threat to challenge Cleveland, and they may once again be the best challenger on paper. They’ll need to see how everything fits and hope, obviously, that their recent malaise turns around. Ibaka should help in that regard, as should the boost of adding a third major piece.

The Raptors are better today than they were yesterday. They made their move. They’ve bucked inaction to make a push. They’ve gotten their stars help. Today is a good day.

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Serge of Confidence

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” There’s been a lot of cursing done among Raptors fans recently, but this morning Masai lit a candle.

I’m not going to lie, I’m going to miss Terrence Ross. He brought a dimension to this team the last two years that they needed at times, and I wish him all the best in Orlando. Norman Powell now gets the minutes to develop that he’s earned, and the pressure that comes with it. Powell’s had the benefit of low expectation thus far in his career, as when he was asked to step up it was always because someone else had either been injured or disappointed. That’s about as negative as I’m ready to go here today though, because there’s so much more to talk about on the positive side of things.

Ibaka is such a natural fit for the Raptors, and he’ll slide in to the starting lineup beside Jonas Valanciunas to replace the revolving door the team has had at the position this season. Ibaka defensively brings a mobile presence who can block shots and will be a solid help defender and should buoy that end of the floor where the team has struggled recently. On the offensive end, Ibaka is a fantastic spot up shooter at the position, in the 74th percentile this season averaging 1.09 points per possession. As a post-up player he has struggled this season, but a year ago in Oklahoma City he managed 1.00 PPP and placed in the 87th percentile. Ibaka is also shooting 38.8% from three-point range this season, and might even improve on that mark in Toronto. Earlier in his career the majority of his attempts came from the corners, where he’s taking just 5.6% of his long range attempts this year, and he should see an increase in these attempts with the offense the Raptors run where they often use their forwards as outlets off penetration by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Even more than the fit with the starting lineup though, the bigger attraction of Ibaka lies in the versatility he brings, where you can use a multitude of lineups with varying combination of big men to match up against opponents. Ibaka can play next to Patrick Patterson to create a quick, defensive lineup that can switch on the perimeter against smaller teams, with both players being excellent defensive presences. Played next to Bebe, you end up with a shot-blocking group that can deter any attacks at the rim effectively. It’s easy to imagine, against teams that use a bigger player at the small forward position, you could utilize Ibaka at the power forward spot and Patrick Patterson beside him as the other forward in a bigger group, where Patterson has been effective guarding players such as Serge Ibaka and Paul George at times.

This move also allows Patrick Patterson to maintain his presence coming off the bench when he returns from injury, where Dwane Casey prefers him, and with Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira keeps the team’s strong bench intact. This is especially meaningful with the team having struggled over the last two years whenever Patterson wasn’t on the floor, whether he started or came off the bench, and it would be reasonable to expect that being able to have Ibaka for the minutes Patterson sits should mitigate that. This would also allow Patterson to not have to play long stretches of minutes, such as in the playoffs when he frequently played 12-18 consecutive minutes due to the lack of good options at the position. This should allow Patterson to become a more effective player, even aside from pairing the two forwards together.

The other benefit on the offensive end is that it allows the Raptors to maintain a shooter in the frontcourt at all times that the defense has to respect, which should open up space for Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas to work in the paint as well as helping them punish opponents for over-committing when double teams do come.

I’m not going to pretend this solves all the issues for the Raptors – as I wrote yesterday, the team simply needs better playcalling in late-game scenarios regardless of the personnel on the floor. But Ibaka will help on both ends of the floor in many situations, and should the playbook open up in those tight fourth quarters, he’s another very, very good option to help the Raptors win close games. This is the forward-thinking move the team needs to compete this year, and let the salary concerns of the summer wait until we see how far this group can take the Raptors.

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Should They Stay or Should They Go?

I specifically said not to panic but after blowing a huge 2nd half lead against the Pistons you can see it creeping in everywhere. You can tell the players are frustrated when listening to their postgame comments; when they have time to collect their thoughts they’ll walk back some of the things said but nobody is talking about staying the course anymore. More and more fans are out for blood, calling for coach Dwane Casey to be fired and some even going as far as suggesting that it may be time to part ways with beloved President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri. Some of this talk may be triggered by emotion, and if that’s the case it will die down when the team plays well again and Raptors fans will once again sleep restfully while visions of division championship banners dance in their heads, but while this is a hot topic it’s worth examining.

I’m on board with the Raptors parting ways with Dwane Casey barring a massive turnaround and postseason success. To be clear, this is not reactionary – I’ve been questioning whether Casey is the coach for the Raptors for a long time. I thought extending him after getting upset by the Nets was a mistake, and extending him again to congratulate him for taking 7 games to win what should have been a 5 game series doubled down on it. It has always been a minority position because there was always one thing standing in the way of any frank discussion of Casey’s coaching: the Raptors kept getting better, and in the NBA the coach tends to get credit for that even if a lot of it is roster improvements or personal growth from players. Now, with the team on pace for 48 wins and possibly taking a significant step back from last seasons success it’s more than fair to question if the Raptors have already peaked under Casey.

None of this should be interpreted as an overall indictment of Casey’s ability – he’s clearly a good coach who has done a lot for the franchise. A mistake that we frequently make is assuming that there are only good coaches and bad coaches and that any coach we classify as “good” needs to be kept in perpetuity, but there are levels to this. There are coaches who can take a bad team and teach them good habits and discipline but lack the tactical acumen to get that team over the top; there are also coaches who know the X’s and O’s of the game inside and out but struggle to instill elements like work ethic and discipline. Neither of these is bad, per se, it just means that you need a certain type of coach for a certain situation. Casey seems squarely in the first camp; he took a talented bunch with effort and discipline issues and taught them a thing or two about giving it their all and accountability. There are a lot of highly regarded coaches who have struggled with that when in similar situations and Coach Casey should be commended for it. The Raptors roster improvements have been great but I don’t think Jay Triano or Sam Mitchell would have gotten this roster to this level. He’s the best coach in franchise history and every fan owes him a debt of gratitude so even if we think it’s time for the team to move on we should show make sure we show the man the respect he deserves.

That said, when strategy and tactics become more important Casey seems to struggle a bit. The Raptors can hang with great teams due to sheer force of will but they always struggle to get over that hump and in the playoffs, when teams are able to focus on and prepare solely for you, the Raptors have underperformed every single time. It’s not difficult to find points to criticize with him – the Raptors offense has generally been predictable and his rotations have always been questionable at best.

There is a history of Casey either abandoning lineups that were clearly working or sticking with ones that clearly aren’t for way too long. The 2014-15 bench unit is the most notable example of the former. As preposterous as it may sound, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough used to kill teams. They would finish the 2014-15 season with a net rating of +17.7, good for 6th in the NBA among units with 200+ minutes played.  It seems like an unlikely combination of players but Casey threw it out there and it worked so he stuck with it, but only for a short while. That season started out much like this one, with the Raptors getting off to a blazing start before getting derailed, dropping from a stellar 24-7 to a still-pretty-good 42-30. One of the things that I remember most from that extended stretch of below .500 basketball is Casey going 6 whole weeks without playing that potent bench lineup for even a single minute. They played a bit down the stretch run and performed very well again(in only 44 minutes spread out over 9 games), but Casey didn’t play them a single minute in the postseason as the team was embarrassed in the first round. There was never a point in time where they stopped producing and they were all healthy for most of the season, Casey just abandoned a very effective lineup.

The flip side of that is sticking with Luis Scola as a starter for 76 games last season. It was pretty clear once we got to the season’s halfway point that Scola was a situational player at best and should never, under any circumstances, be paired with Jonas Valanciunas but there they were, out there to starting every game long after it was obvious that the duo was a liability. There was a similar issue this year with Pascal Siakam, who was still allowed to start for longer than necessary but Casey mercifully pulled the plug on that before too much damage was done.

Lately his questionable rotation decisions have included pairing a still-recovering Jared Sullinger and Valanciunas, benching Valanciunas down the stretch as the team gets killed in the paint and on the glass and throwing Norman Powell in as a crunch time saviour after not playing him at all to that point. He seems to have some issues with identifying what works and what doesn’t and lacks a feel for adjustments. If you watch the Raptors 02/01/17 loss to the Celtics one of the things that stands out is how easily the Raptors scored when attacking Isaiah Thomas and his notoriously weak defense in the 1st half and how rarely they did that in the second half as their lead slipped away. The team had something that yielded results and abandoned it because everything had to run through Lowry, who was busy being smothered by Marcus Smart. Lowry got his buckets because he’s Lowry but nothing came easy for him and the team offense struggled to get anything going consistently while Lowry fought for space against Smart’s tenacious defense. If Thomas had to fight through screens for the entire quarter while also carrying the offense the Raptors may have come away with a win. That’s an unforced error; Casey let something as simple as cross matching derail the offense because he can’t seem try anything other than “Lowry and DeRozan make things happen” on a consistent basis.

But perhaps most importantly, there are some indicators that Casey may be losing the team. Even if they were made in the heat of the moment the comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll show that the team is not just frustrated with the losing but with how they’ve been losing. Neither player went as far as calling out the coach by name but when you’re questioning tactics it’s obvious who the target is. It can be difficult for a coach to keep hold of a locker room for an extended period of time, especially one as hard-nosed and demanding as Casey is said to be. Sometimes a coach can be good and know how to motivate players but lose the locker room if it feels like forward progress has stopped; everyone at this level is hyper-competitive and if they feel like they’ve done everything asked of them and it hasn’t yielded the results they want or expect at some point the coach will be tuned out. That’s not a knock on Casey, that’s happened to a lot of good coaches over the years.

Casey has done very well to maximize DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry(and former Raptors like Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams and Tyler Hansbrough) but he may have elevated this team as high as they will get with him and it may be worth looking for new leadership that can build on what Casey has done and maximize the potential of some of the other players on the roster. No disrespect, just one of those times when a good team and a good coach do not seem to be a good match going forward.  It’s not a situation where they need to get rid of him immediately but feelers should be put out for potential replacements at some point so this can be pursued in the offseason.

The case with Masai Ujiri seems a lot simpler: nobody has been better at guiding the Raptors from the front office and what he has done has been remarkable. You can nitpick individual decisions and point out some lucky breaks but he has made correct decisions most of the time and gotten great value in the deals he’s made. Some dissatisfaction is understandable –  the teams upward trajectory has suddenly stopped and the fanbase is hungry for more success. It looks like there may be a ceiling on how good the Raptors can be with this core barring a series of lucky breaks but this isn’t something that you can really put on Ujiri nor does it outweigh the positives of his continued stewardship.

First, the Raptors not being true title contenders is not a failure on his part because he is doing exactly what is asked of him: building a team that can be good for a long time. They may not reach the heights that some fans want them to reach but they’re also unlikely to sink down to 22 wins any time in the near future. It can be frustrating to watch a team be good-but-not-great over and over again but it’s far better than watching a team be bad-and-sometimes-terrible over and over again which is how most Raptors seasons went before Ujiri came to town; the team missed the playoffs 12 times in 17 pre-Ujiri seasons. The direction he has taken the team over the last 2 seasons has been intentional and if you have a problem with that your beef should probably be with his bosses.

Second, this is not the time to be criticizing if you were on board with him giving DeMar DeRozan a max contract in the offseason because after that signing it was obvious that the focus for the team was going to be on maintaining this 50ish win pace and escaping the 1st round if possible. The Raptors had cap space, prospects, a high draft pick and some moderately priced assets to seek out big moves and the team didn’t even pursue that. If you applauded staying the course then you shouldn’t be critical now because this is exactly what you were applauding. And that’s not a bad thing for the franchise nor is it a failure on Ujiri’s part, he’s just doing exactly what was asked of him. It’s not the direction I wanted to see the team take but there is a lot of merit in going the safe route when a half-decade in the draft lottery is still visible in your rear view mirror.

Third, culture does matter and that has completely changed since he came on board. What he’s brought to the franchise goes beyond mere wins and losses, he’s built an infrastructure and cultivated a culture around the team. The Raptors had looked into having a D League affiliate as early as 2008, but it didn’t get done until Ujiri was on board. He then turned it into a successful farm system that is yielding significant results after only one full season of operation, having turned Norman Powell and Bebe Nogueira(and possibly Delon Wright),prospects who were not particularly highly regarded, into NBA rotation players much earlier than anyone anticipated. His charisma and generosity have strengthened the teams ties to an already devoted fan base to the point where the Raptors fan base is one of the more celebrated in the league. The infrastructure to develop talent and the kind of reputation that makes players want to come to town is in place and that didn’t really exist before Ujiri came along.

Like everyone else Ujiri is certainly not above criticism but any negatives are going to drown in a sea of positives, especially if you look at the totality of his moves instead of trying to find mistakes. He turned Andrea Bargnani into a 1st round pick. He turned John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez into a 1st round pick, Norman Powell, Bebe Nogueira and Lou Williams – that’s four legitimate assets acquired for two guys who have played a total of 47 games since leaving Toronto. Through a series of moves he turned Rudy Gay, a piece that many felt had no value, into the core of one the best bench units in the league(Patterson, Vasquez and Williams were all acquired directly or indirectly via that deal) He may have missed out on some top talent in the draft but the draft is basically a crap shoot; if you’re expecting someone to draft the best player every time your problem is your own expectations. Outside of that and not being able to trick teams into another half dozen lopsided trades to get the team over the top there really isn’t much to criticize.

So I’m bullish on Masai Ujiri and bearish on Dwane Casey. There’s no real issues with Ujiri unless you’re expecting a cycle of trying to build a contender and then tearing it down to start all over again as soon as that is not realized. The team is positioned for longterm success with a lot of assets and should be a player should any significant assets come available over the next couple of years; that seems a lot better than where they were and where most of the league currently finds themselves. It’s a different story with Casey, who has done a good job to date but may actually be one of the barriers to that title contention we all want to see from the Raptors. The lineup problems, offensive predictability and tendency to underperform in the playoffs all stand out as areas of opportunity for the coaching staff and if he doesn’t show any growth in those areas it may be time for the team to move on to somebody who can do a better job in those areas.

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Reaction Podcast – Raptors trade Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka

Host William Lou giddily breaks down the Raptors’ win-now trade for Serge Ibaka.

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Raptors have to believe they’ll come out the other side better for struggles

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Part of playing poorly is that, well, you can only really solve it by playing well again. All of the things that you can say about Jonas Valanciunas’ defense or the reliance on Patrick Patterson are perfectly valid, but still some degrees removed from the point. The flaws are going to be what they are, but to get right, you start with the simple stuff — like good players playing good basketball again. Winning a few games in the right-now solves all of those existential questions for at least a little while.

That said, part of the way you can get right are to throw some different looks at the wall to see what sticks, and what can jumpstart a return to the good stuff. And struggling for a stretch of the season can be healthy in the long run, because then you learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t. (Actually, Playing Bad Is Good.) This is Toronto, so of course I’m drunk listening to Marvins Room and saying you could do better.

The worry is becoming legitimate, that this slump is indicative of the things that are going to doom the Raptors in the playoffs, or something like that. The lineups that were working earlier on in the season aren’t working now, and that’s kind of the difference between a hot start and a cold stretch. You’re going to overreact both ways, but somewhere in between, the stuff you do want to tinker with is right there showing itself. Dwane Casey has been searching, and maybe not perfectly, but I never thought he was perfect. I thought he was just really good.

Pascal Siakam is not a solution. He makes things happen because he’s overflowing with energy and good vibes, but he’s not a player yet. The Raptors shook it up with Jakob Poeltl starting on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, and Poeltl can be pretty consistent within his role, but he doesn’t do a whole lot yet because soft hands and quick feet also don’t make a player. I also have a sneaking suspicion that Jared Sullinger might actually be washed up at 24, but either way, the point here is that the Raptors lean on Patterson to an uncomfortable degree.

Lucas Nogueira looks pretty good when he plays next to Jonas Valanciunas, which seemed unlikely, but Nogueira sees passes through cramped space and mostly makes his close-outs. They can be really effective together on the glass. It’s fun for me to watch, but I don’t know that Patterson and Nogueira is the power forward rotation you really want.

Maybe this slump is what it takes to send Masai Ujiri over the edge and make a trade that doesn’t have to be an outright steal to get another power forward. That’d be pretty cool.

I’m starting to wonder when Norman Powell might get a look as the starting small forward, which, I realize, is a damn Raptors panic cliché. Backing up a little bit, DeMarre Carroll looks like he’s slowly starting to put it back together — just reaaaaally slowly. His jumper is falling and he’s starting to get comfortable within the offense, which would be nice if the Raptors didn’t need him for his defense. It’s unfortunate, then, that his mobility is still bust.

Especially with Patterson out, it looks like the Raptors have just two or three good perimeter defenders. Powell has to play, right? In expanded playing time during DeMar DeRozan’s injury absence, the guy we saw was an inconsistent shooter (both in taking and making) and still a little too improvisational at the rim. But he’s a reliable player, and you know the Raptors will have their offense; any extra gains they can add on defense will matter a lot more.

All the Raptors need from Carroll is for him to get right by the playoffs, and nobody would be a better two-way guy than a healthy Carroll. But should you just keep waiting on him until April? Powell wouldn’t start yet in any perfect world (nor close, as evidenced by the Minnesota loss), but you know you’ll at least get defense from him, which would go a long way towards stabilizing. Powell’s played well, and he deserves the chance to get better in actual minutes as much as Carroll deserves the chance to get right. I think I’ve been pretty careful about not saying this as a knee-jerk thing.

You always want to ease the burden off DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, anyway, so this tenth-man-in-a-nine-man-rotation thing shouldn’t stick. Even Terrence Ross has played better than Carroll (Ross has played pretty well), but it doesn’t have to be an either-or. Any two of the three play well together, and since we’re so worried about power forward, you could even get a bit of mileage out of Carroll at that position. I never loved that idea, but it’s worked well before.

The problem with sitting Lowry and DeRozan is that they do so much for the offense that it really goes to crap without them, especially since Cory Joseph has been as hard to trust as anybody else on the roster. The apologist in me is coming out, but it seems like it makes a lot of sense to increase Valanciunas’ post touches in those minutes. The world has beat out any hope left in me of Valanciunas ever being actually complementary to Lowry and DeRozan — Nogueira showed us what a fit actually looks like — but he can probably give them a good reprieve in the middle portion of games.

(It’d be nice, though, if Casey would keep him in when he’s feeling it. It’d also be nice if he could consistently get after it on the offensive glass, where he doesn’t need structured touches to be a monster. Goes both ways. It’s a tough situation.)

Maybe if you give Lowry and DeRozan more of a break during games, they can give you a little more at the end of the close ones that the Raptors have been blowing lately. But they’ll almost definitely give you more through April, May and, if you’re lucky, June. That is, after all, when the games really matter.

As for the games now? It doesn’t not matter, but this is the time to struggle a little bit and to get a little angry and to have ideas and to remember, if you needed to, that isolating DeRozan does not win a lot of games. The Raptors should start playing good basketball again. I’m getting worried too, but they will start playing good basketball again.

They’ll get over this, and once they do, one would really like to think they’ll be better for it. If not, we can worry about bigger stuff then.

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Amidst the Chaos: Starring Contract Kyle

To start, a little housekeeping:

Put it this way: At least MLSE and the ACC security staff are still on good terms with Charles Oakley. Not to mention the fact that Masai Ujiri (as far as we know) hasn’t been subtweeting about DeMar DeRozan’s recent shot selection in the fourth quarter. Simply put: Even though the Knicks are somehow fresh off a victory over the Spurs (that was real life, right?), things could be a lot worse.

To be fair, and before the DeRozan-can-do-no-wrong crowd calls for my head: Kyle Lowry does deserve a bit of the same call-out treatment.

However, there’s a few sides to the 4th quarter story:

It’s not as if DeMar and Kyle shouldn’t be able to freelance. They’ve earned that right — set isolations included. But when you throw in a coaching staff that hasn’t exactly experimented with crunch-time creativity, even the league’s second best Offensive Rating will often come up short when it matters most. Perhaps the real problem is this: When predictable shots fall, the masses still tend to heap praise. When predictable shots fail, an uproar ensues. Shouldn’t we be calling out this team whenever their gameplan leaves plenty to be desired either way?

Nevertheless, there are aspects to consider before taking part in this fan base’s intervention:

  1. A meltdown can only occur after a team originally imposed their will.
  2. With so many close calls, the mood surrounding this club could realistically be flipped on its head.

Should we be buying what those are selling, though?

Well, we were all waiting for this team to get back on track, and the progression shown from the Brooklyn game to the clash with the Clippers seemingly provided the evidence needed. But as bad habits crept right back into the picture vs. Minny and Detroit, there’s only so much back-and-forth a fan base can take before a backlash begins.

Still, considering that over 30 percent of the regular season has yet to unfold, and the needed All-Star/mental break has yet to work its potential magic, my own personal truth lies somewhere in between “pressing the panic button” and “patience is a virtue.”

With that said, an underlying issue should be rising to the forefront instead of what’s currently grabbing the headlines:

Contract Kyle:

A little over a month ago, in a column debating whether the Raps should pull the trigger on a trade or roll with the status quo, I touched on both sides of another argument: Kyle Lowry’s potential departure as soon as this offseason. Allow me to quote myself:

“Why would he leave a perfect situation? A situation where he owns the master key to an entire country’s worth of basketball fans. He essentially rebuilt this franchise — a team that just re-upped his partner in crime for 5 more years and already roams the ranks of the league’s top 5. His upcoming contract (he’ll be 31 at the time) will be, by all likely accounts, his last chance at signing a max-level deal, but that’s all well and good considering the Raps will, by all likely accounts, fork over the cash without hesitation.

On the other hand, not so fast: We may have gone through this same “hometown calling his name” scenario with DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same. It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at Philly’s roster to see that quality pieces are in place for the future, they just need a floor general to hit fast forward. Leading your hometown, a once proud basketball market, back to prominence isn’t a gig to scoff at the way we once did. And as much as we all like to pretend that we know where a player’s head is at, we don’t know these guys on a personal level. 

There is a bright side to this speculation, however, cause either way, the Raps should take the opportunity to pounce on a window. Lowry’s skills aren’t diminishing (you could even say he hasn’t even peaked by the way he’s producing), but the wrong side of 30 comes sooner rather than later for every player. Even if any trade acquisition doesn’t re-sign, chances are you solidified Lowry’s return by actually showing you’re willing to go for it with Lowry at the helm. If disaster strikes and neither player re-signs, well, you’ll have the available funds to rectify the situation.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the landscape has since shifted with the aforementioned possibility opened up that much further. And even though Lowry has taken the tone of his now-infamous post-game comments on Sunday night down a notch, it would be naive to think that it’s still not a possibility that they were directed at Dwane Casey or someone higher on the food chain. If you still choose to scoff at the notion of Lowry leaving, just think of how real this could get if the team’s downward spiral continues. By the way, how real has that possibility become?

We also need to look at it from management’s perspective, cause Lowry and this year’s trade deadline have an interesting connection:

Cory Joseph is among the group of assets that can help make a deal work salary wise, but how can he realistically be dealt if Lowry’s future is uncertain? Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet have promising futures but potentially losing both Lowry and Joseph can’t be something Masai and company are willing to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean a deal can’t get done, but it does add another obstacle to an already difficult marketplace to navigate through.

At the same time, if nothing gets done and the Raps do decide to carry on with the status quo, that could very well send a message that Masai doesn’t think this team’s current window is worth going all-in on. But more to the point: It could ultimately mean that MLSE is not even planning to be Lowry’s top bidder in the offseason — especially when the Power Forward position would still be without a concrete solution. And last time I checked, either scenario would infuriate the majority of this fan base.

But hey, what’s a relationship without a little tension. Wait, you mean today’s Valentine’s Day? Uh oh…

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Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Feb. 14

The Toronto Raptors have blown two games in a row. They’ve dropped 10 of 14 overall. They’re 10-15 since their 22-8 start. They’re 1-9 in games that go into clutch scenarios over their last 15 total games, and they’ve been outscored heavily in those stints. They are blowing winnable games, coughing up leads, digging themselves early holes, failing to put 48 minutes together, and generally playing the worst basketball we’ve seen from this team since April and May of 2015.

You know all of this already. It’s bad, and the team is conceding concern, talking openly about the need for help or the need for change or the need to simply, somehow, just be better. And so of course, they visit the Chicago Bulls next, the one team that no matter how shaky or thinned out or downright bad they’re playing will always, always beat the Raptors. The Bulls have been blown out in three consecutive games, are dealing with four key injuries, and may be in just as bad a place as the Raptors, only lower in the standings.

Naturally, the Bulls are huge favorites (psychologically, if not actually) to right their ship against Toronto. Need a reminder why? Have a look, but have some ambient music or a yoga mat nearby for decompression afterward.

  • Feb. 19, 2014: 94-92 home loss; trailed all game, cut lead to one late, DeRozan blocked by Butler on final possession.
  • Nov. 13, 2014: 100-93 home loss; led for 20 minutes early, outscored 35-14 in third quarter.
  • Dec. 22, 2014: 129-120 road loss; went six-plus minutes scoreless, gave up 49 in fourth quarter.
  • March 20, 2015: 108-92 road loss; pretty thorough bell-to-bell beating, as Bulls led for 40 minutes.
  • March 25, 2015: 116-103 home loss; led for 39 minutes, outscored 39-21 in fourth quarter.
  • Dec. 28, 2015: 104-97 road loss; squandered Scola scoring 12 in the first when Snell scored 16 in the fourth.
  • Jan. 3, 2016: 115-113 home loss; The Jimmy Butler Second Half Game.
  • Feb. 19, 2016: 116-106 road loss; Valanciunas goes 11-and-6 in first, then McDermott drops 30 and Bulls take second half 64-48.
  • March 14, 2016: 109-107 home loss; McDermott drops 29 again, Raptors don’t lead over final 47 minutes, DeRozan blocked by Butler on final possession.
  • Jan. 7, 2017: 123-118 OT road loss; Butler scores 32 over second half and overtime as Raptors blow 13-point lead in final seven-plus minutes of regulation.

There was also The VaLINtine’s Day Game the last time the Raptors played on Feb. 14, and if you don’t think Denzel Valentine is going to spin pun-headline gold here, you don’t know these two teams.

The game tops off at 8 on TSN 2 and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage for the game, we reached out to Sean Highkin of The Athletic Chicago, who kindly helped us out.

Blake Murphy: It’s hard to tell which team is in a worse place right now, the Raptors or the Bulls. If nothing else, though, as the Bulls’ tailspin continues, the “RAPTORS” light has just turned back on in the cabin. With a completely stoppable force and a very movable object coming head-to-head, fortune has to favor the weird voodoo the Bulls have over the Raptors, yes? 

Sean Highkin: I would think so, but the Bulls have gotten blown out in three consecutive games to end their six-game road trip. It would be the most Bulls thing ever to go into the All-Star break with wins over the Raptors and the Celtics after that forgettable stretch. But I’ve given up trying to predict what they’re going to do.

Blake Murphy: In historical terms, Jimmy Butler is the Raptors’ father. He sat Sunday with a heel issue, though, and would seem questionable for Tuesday’s game. If Butler can’t go, who stands to be tasked with the challenge of guarding DeMar DeRozan?

Sean Highkin: I guess Michael Carter-Williams? Paul Zipser if he’s healthy? There aren’t a ton of options. It could get ugly.

Blake Murphy: Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Paul Zipser are all dealing with injuries (or illnesses) of varying severity. Depth isn’t exactly the Bulls’ strong suit, but assuming they’re thinned out and need to lean on him, what has Denzel Valentine been able to show in limited action? Is he a candidate to be the “random Bull that goes off against the Raptors” here?

Sean Highkin: Nobody is ever a bad candidate to be the “random Bull that goes off against the Raptors.” With that said, Valentine hasn’t been very good in the few opportunities he’s gotten. Outside of a breakout game against the Wizards last month, he hasn’t shot the ball consistently and doesn’t have the athleticism to stay in front of most guards defensively. The one skill of his that’s translated to the NBA level is playmaking, and that’s something the Bulls have no shortage of options for.

Blake Murphy: Bobby Portis has barely played for weeks, then suddenly comes in and scores a season-high 16 points in 31 minutes Sunday. Obviously, he’s not Fred Hoiberg’s favorite right now, but is there still hope he becomes a productive rotation big on a good team? It seems too early to write him off or downgrade his potential NBA role.

Sean Highkin: Portis is a guy a lot of people were high on after the draft, and he showed some signs his rookie year, but he’s taken a big step back this season, or at least hasn’t developed the way many in the organization anticipated. Sunday was probably his best game of the year, but he’s still got a ways to go. His defense is a train wreck and he has potential to be a stretch four, but the consistency and decision-making aren’t there yet.

Blake Murphy: Raptors fans will be mad at me if I don’t at least ask – Is there any chance the Bulls are open to moving Taj Gibson? The Raptors apparently had a deal for Gibson in the offseason (something like Gibson and Tony Snell for Terrence Ross, if I recall correctly) until Dwyane Wade opted to head to Chicago, so the two sides are familiar. Is there a Gibson-to-Raptors deal you see that makes sense both ways? Because I can’t really find one.

Sean Highkin: I think there’s a decently good chance they move Taj at the deadline, considering he’ll be 32 this summer and doesn’t make a lot of sense to re-sign at the price he’s going to command. The tricky part is, they’re still trying to make the playoffs, so they’re not going to give him away for absolutely nothing. A deal I’ve been thinking about lately that would make a ton of sense for both the Bulls and the Raptors would be Gibson for Jared Sullinger’s $6 million expiring contract (as salary filler) and one of the Raptors’ two first-rounders (either their own or the Clippers’ pick they own). It would be worth it to the Bulls to get a first-rounder back, and the Raptors get a significant short-term upgrade at power forward while still keeping one of their picks. I don’t see a lot of downside in that deal for either side.

Blake Murphy: I’d do that in a heartbeat.

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson got a good practice session in on Saturday but then sat Sunday following a game-time decision tag. He practiced in full on Monday, but that would seem to tell us little – the Raptors could reasonably just sit Patterson for the final pre-break two games, getting him a total of 10 days more rest before their next action. They need him back, though, as he helps stabilize the defense and the rotations, and it would probably be a nice psychological shot in the arm. But it could go either way at this point. I wouldn’t fault the Raptors for just keeping him out to insure he’s all the way right, or for getting him back in there since he seems healthy.

Who knows what the plan would be at the four if he can’t go. Jakob Poeltl looked good in that spot on Sunday, but he’s not necessarily a logical fit across from Taj Gibson, given the physicality. That might give Jared Sullinger or Pascal Siakam the edge, and the Raptors could probably even afford to go small. All these different options every night? This is part of what Patterson’s return will help with – not just his play, but the role certainty it will help re-establish. No, a role player shouldn’t be that important, but there are trickle-down effects everywhere right now. The Raptors literally didn’t play a natural power forward on Sunday. They have a ton of issues right now, and that’s definitely among them.

Bruno Caboclo was sent back down to Raptors 905 for Tuesday’s home game, by the way.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jared Sullinger
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: None

Bulls updates
The Bulls could be seriously shorthanded for this one, which simply means there will be more opportunity for weirder and weirder Bulls to go off. Dwyane Wade is dealing with a right wrist injury and is being considered doubtful, which would probably open the door for Michael Carter-Williams to start at the two. A position over, Jimmy Butler is dealing with a heel issue, something he practiced through Monday but that cost him Sunday’s game. If the Bulls play it cautious, Doug McDermott is liable to go for 50 in his stead. The very impressive Paul Zipser may, too, except that he’s dealing with an ankle injury and food poisoning and is considered doubtful here. And just for good measure, Nikola Mirotic didn’t even practice Monday due to a back issue and can probably be considered doubtful.

So, what will the Bulls rotation look like? Who knows. If none of the players in question can go, they’ll be thinned out, giving a lot of minutes to youngsters and likely staying big throughout. That makes for a fun game, and a window for the Raptors to win, but I literally can’t bring myself to expect a Raptors win given the opening bullet list above. I’m not even mad. It’s just amazing at this point.

PG: Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Rajon Rondo
SG: (Dwyane Wade), Denzel Valentine, Isaiah Canaan
SF: (Jimmy Butler), Doug McDermott, (Paul Zipser)
PF: Taj Gibson, (Nikola Mirotic), Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
Assigned: None
TBD: Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic
Out:

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites as of this writing, up from an opening line of Raptors -5, so apparently the faith of oddsmakers isn’t as shaken as mine is given the Bulls’ voodoo. Realistically, if the Bulls are down four rotation players, the Raptors have to be favorites. But is there any Raptor fan confident in calling this a victory? The over-under is at 205.5. Check back before tip-off for an updated line based on injury updates.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 14

Bulls loss comin’

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VIDEO: Lowry, Carroll, and Casey discuss Sunday’s frustration at practice

Normally we don’t just drop video of scrums from practices here, but given the biting nature of comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan after Sunday’s game, this feels like a time for it. (I also wasn’t at practice to contextualize, as I was out reporting on something else, so I want the quotes to exist in their full context.)

As expected, the Raptors walked things back a bit, conceding frustration but pulling back together with a message of unity and the need to get things done with what they have. This is always how Monday’s media availability was going to play out, and maybe it’s not the worst thing that Lowry was able to vent a bit of frustration following yet another loss. And for whatever it’s worth, Josh Lewenberg of TSN passes on that 5-on-5 practice was quite spirited (the session also included Patrick Patterson).

So, yeah, make of all this what you will. Things are still bad and need to change, but maybe the airing of grievances and another day of practice will help. Or not! I am not a sports psychologist.

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Asking For Help

On January 17th, the Toronto Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets 119-109, ringing in the third straight double digit victory, fourth straight win and looking like they’d returned to their early season form. They’ve won games since then, including beating the Los Angeles Clippers(who were without Chris Paul at the time), but a 4-10 record since the visit to Barclay’s hasn’t inspired confidence in the fan base, and with a growing clamor to make a move, to acquire the talent that would bring the team back to the heights of just a year ago when the team was considered a championship contender as they marched through January looking like world-beaters. While the roster isn’t perfect, and it would be foolish to pretend it is, with the gap at power forward becoming more and more glaringly obvious with each game Patrick Patterson sits, it’s definitely worth looking internally for improvement at the same time.

First of all, let’s talk about that power forward situation. Because there’s been five players used as the front-court partner for Jonas Valanciunas in the last 14 games, and of them, only two pairings have truly struggled, Pascal Siakam and Jared Sullinger. The response I’ve then seen is that Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira are centers, not power forwards, so using them at the 4 only highlights the team’s lack of depth at the position, but to some extent, I’m just not sure that matters. If it works, whether or not we think it should be necessary seems on some level irrelevant, because it works. When the team has lost 10 of the last 14 games and you still have pairings with a +31.5 net rating(Patterson), +23.7 net rating(Poeltl), or +5.7 net rating(Nogueira), that should be more important than which guy is supposed to be playing which position.

At the end of the day though, even the front court pairings are immaterial to the larger problem of late game execution. A season ago, the story with Toronto was that they were a weak first and third quarter team, and the bench had to claw the team back into games after the starters would squander leads. Over this last 14 game stretch, the opposite has been true. The Raptors have been the 8th best first quarter team in the league, with a +7.5 net rating, and assisting on 51% of field goals made in the first frame. The defensive numbers still aren’t good in the opening quarter, but the offense has been good enough to make up for it. As the game progresses, both of those numbers drop, however. The team has a +1.0 net rating(17th) and 45.7% assist rate in the 2nd quarter, a -2.1 net rating(18th) and 41.2% assist rate in the third quarter, and a -18.7 net rating(30th) and 44.1% assist rate in the fourth frame.

Last night’s game, in particular, the Detroit Pistons managed their biggest comeback in franchise history as they clawed their way back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit and outscored Toronto 36-19 in the last period, and the Raptors offense failed to execute. The narrative through the course of the last two years has been that when the Raptors struggle, it’s because Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan don’t get enough help from the supporting cast, and at times that’s certainly been true as different guys have struggled both with consistency and injuries at times, but it wasn’t the case last night. DeMarre Carroll knocked down 15 points on just 9 shots last night while Jonas Valanciunas scored 17 on 14 attempts. Both players were also on the floor for much of the fourth, and Valanciunas managed a put-back off an offensive rebound for two points while Carroll missed his lone attempt in the quarter(a three-point shot with 7:13 remaining) and had a turnover in the last two minutes.

DeRozan and Lowry are All-Stars, and they’ve earned that honor with their impressive play the past few seasons and the load they carry on the offensive end. The credit they were given when the Raptors offense was clicking at a historic rate earlier in the season was certainly deserved, but this is a team not lacking in offensive talent, with Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas each having topped 20 points this season. And while none of those complementary players has the ability to carry the load DeRozan or Lowry does on a regular basis, they can certainly be leaned on more than they have been in late game scenarios. Whether it comes in the form of Dwane Casey calling better plays to create opportunities for the other guys, or Lowry and DeRozan finding ways to involve them, it simply must be done, because otherwise this team is headed towards a fourth straight playoffs during which they look eminently beatable.

Even last season during the playoffs, as the Raptors made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the offense sputtered during the first two rounds, frequently reverting to simply the All-Star guards taking turns attempting to beat the other team singlehandedly while the other players functioned as screen-setters and decoys at best, or observers at worst. Casey’s reputation when the team hired him to helm the bench wasn’t that of someone known for offensive prowess, but we’re now six years into his tenure and there have been comments over the years that could certainly be read as indication that the team’s plan is nothing more than let the two stars do what they want to on that end and focus on the defensive end.

The problem then comes when players are asked to be completely focused on stopping the other team at one end while asked to have no involvement at the other. While it’s easy to say these guys are professionals and should be able to do so, and if they aren’t it’s simply not living up to their roles, they are also human, and it’s easy for any of us to get discouraged when we feel uninvolved.

As I said at the top of the piece, this roster is flawed, there’s no question. Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, or Danilo Gallinari could each bring an aspect to this team not currently present. They’d certainly improve the on-court talent in late game scenarios. But as long as the play calling is what it was last night, that might not matter. Because last night Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan made sure that the other three players on the court for the Raptors wouldn’t matter, no matter who they were, and that applies whether it’s DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, or even Paul Millsap standing in the corner and watching a DeRozan isolation decide games. In order for an improvement in talent to matter, the team first has to acknowledge that there’s talent right now that they’re rendering irrelevant. If the Raptors All-Stars want help, they need to show they know how to ask for it, first.

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Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 13

Not great, Bob!

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What’s Your Raptors Story?

What is it that makes one a devoted sports fan? What cruel twists of fate condemn millions of regular people from all walks of life to allow the literal playtime of a few well-off athletes to affect their daily mood and demeanor? In these days of uncertainty in Raptor land, where heated arguments regarding our beloved team’s future rule the day, it is as good a time as any to reflect on how we got here; to look back to the honeymoon days of that fiery, passionate love story that has brought us a measure of happiness, but also much anguish and undue stress. We all have a story of becoming a Raptors fan, and I’m going to share mine. I would encourage everyone to post theirs in the comment section, so that we may remember the good (or funny, or awfully bad) moments that unite us all in the common thread of Raptors fandom, notwithstanding our many differences. To remember in these trying times, that despite it all, we’re all on the same side.

I wasn’t always an NBA fan. Living across the pond in the old continent for much of my life, I grew up with football as my main source of entertainment, along with a side dish of Euroleague basketball. Having begun playing organized basketball myself, that side dish became my main, and quite quickly, ball became life. Meanwhile, I missed a wildly exciting era of Raptors basketball – the famed Vince Carter days, catching only his occasional highlights on the local sports news edition. The little I did follow of the NBA consisted of watching a certain tough, undersized (much like myself at the time) scorer from Philadelphia. A scorer who, ironically enough, eliminated Vince Carter in the second round in 2001, a result I was quite happy with at the time. Funny how time changes things.

The Euroleague, unlike the NBA, is generally the domain of hard-nosed head coaches. The coach’s word is law, and no star, no matter how talented, is above the team. That, along with the fact that the most gifted players hone their craft in the NBA, means the entire game overseas is more team oriented. With all that considered, the rare occasion when a true star shines above all the others is that much more special. And for a number of years, that star was Anthony Parker.

Anthony Parker was the ultimate role model – a talented, hard-working basketball player, that was also a humble and genuine human being. He came to Europe after an unsuccessful four-year stint in the NBA, and did not look down on his new teammates. Instead, he worked on his game, determined to return to the big leagues, while giving full effort for his club’s fans. And he became a star. Parker won 2 consecutive Euroleague titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004 and 2005, leading a historic destruction in the 2005 final, beating Italian powerhouse Skipper Bologna by an unfathomable 44 points. That iteration of Maccabi Tel Aviv was one of  the most exciting teams in Euroleague history, and Anthony Parker was its most valuable player (he won Euroleague MVP in 2005 and 2006). He even drained a game winning basket at the Air Canada Centre as Maccabi defeated the Raptors in one preseason (a REALLY big deal for a European team at the time).

All the while, Parker remained candid and warm in every interview, and was a uniting presence in his locker room. His ego could have grown leaps and bounds based on his achievements and star status, but it hadn’t. At this point you may have an easy time deciphering that Parker was my favourite basketball player. And in 2006, he signed for Canada’s struggling team – the Toronto Raptors.

I had immigrated to Canada (Calgary) myself in 2003, and was still adjusting to life in a new culture and nation the following few years. I tried to get into hockey, the only legitimate sports franchise in town, but it was not to be. A pleasant surprise it was then, when I read about Parker’s arrival to Canada. I would now once again have a chance to watch him play without a significant time difference, and satisfy the pangs of nostalgia in the process. It would be a little taste of home.

And so it was, that the Toronto Raptors became a fixture at my place two to four times a week. At first I was only watching Parker, hoping he gets his minutes, gets his touches, gets his points. And he did quite well. Soon enough though, I started noticing other things. Chris Bosh, another highly talented and team oriented star was hard to miss – fighting bigger and stronger men than him in the post, rattling powerful dunks as well as stroking it beautifully from mid-range. Running the offense with a distinctly familiar European flavor off the bench was Jose Calderon, whose team-first attitude was impossible to dislike. His Spanish counterpart with an Everest high basketball IQ in Garbajosa completed a group that immediately made me feel like I was watching an evolved version of Euroleague ball. I couldn’t resist it.

It didn’t hurt that the 2006-07 season marked a franchise record for wins and an Atlantic division title. The playoffs saw a painful exit to the Nets and good ol’ Vince Carter, which no doubt hurt most of the fanbase much more than it did me at the time, but I felt the sting nonetheless. By the beginning of the following season, Anthony Parker’s exploits were no more than an aside to the second coming of Nowitzki in Bargnani; to the arrival of the Raptors’ very own version of Reggie Miller in Kapono; to the unearthing of the diamond in the rough, a former Harlem Globetrotter and future NBA hall of famer in Jamario Moon.

With none of those prophecies fulfilled, there was always another around the corner. The addiction was in the system, and it wasn’t going anywhere. I still watched Parker when he took his talents to Cleveland once in a while, but the Toronto Raptors were the mainstay. There have been some truly dark years for the Dinos in between the early period honeymoon and the current rough patch, but the organization has grown leaps and bounds since then. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a multitude of things to criticize about the current roster’s play; it doesn’t mean that anyone is definitely right or definitely wrong in any of their Raptors opinions, since we all come from different backgrounds and have potentially different definitions of success or what constitutes quality basketball.

What it does mean is that we love our Raptors enough to have such strong opinions one way or the other, and that we want (our version of) what’s best for the team. So, what’s your Raptors love story?

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Raptors collapse again, and it’s reverberating in the locker room

Raptors 101, Pistons 102 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Lucas Nogueira sat at his locker in his underwear, head down gazing into his phone. Patrick Patterson hurriedly got dressed. Norman Powell and Delon Wright spoke quietly, solemnly. Across the room, DeMar DeRozan removed his ankles from an ice tub and began the trek into the showers, flanked by a stoic Jonas Valanciunas on his right and a seething Kyle Lowry on his right.

Lowry, usually the last player through treatment and back for media availability, was already adorned in an orange hoodie, making it difficult not to see the same color burning in his eyes as he spoke defiantly, choosing biting words carefully.

“Huh. Everything. Everything,” when asked what went wrong. “Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.”

The frustration here is clear. The Raptors have dropped 15 of 25, and their Sisyphean attempts to pull themselves out of the spiral have caused more consternation than camaraderie. They’ve gone from being one of the league’s most clutch outfits over the last few seasons to a team that can’t get out of its own way late in games and is deserving of their poor record in close games. For the second game in a row, the football of positive steps forward and semblances of a turnaround were right there, but rather than Lucy pulling it away time and again, the Raptors just keep shanking it wide right.

Something, then, as Lowry says, needs to change.

“I have an idea but I’mma keep my mouth shut, keep it professional,” he said.

The suggestions are endless. Acquire Paul Millsap. Trade for Serge Ibaka. Lower expectations and just get anyone who can help raise the floor. Simply persevering through this and waiting for the All-Star break and the return of Patrick Patterson isn’t going to cut it. Too much damage is being done, not just in the standings, but, for the first time it would seem, in the locker room. The collective psyche is showing cracks, and the team’s stars are speaking openly about their concerns. DeMar DeRozan is welcoming of help. Lowry is conceding worry.

“Yeah. I am. I’m starting to get worried, yeah,” Lowry said. “It’s not going the way we’re supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so yeah, I’m starting to get worried.”

Again, potential solutions abound, but there’s no clear and obvious fix for well over a month of disappointing play. The Raptors are still playing up to quality opponents more often than not, but with the schedule drawing easier and easier, their level of play is also coming down to meet the competition. They’re coughing away games against mid-level teams, no-showing against bad ones, and generally leaving themselves guessing which version of themselves is going to show up on a given night.

Or a given quarter – the Raptors played three good ones at the Air Canada Centre, looking like they had put the Detroit Pistons away and taking a 16-point lead into the fourth. The third quarter was perhaps their best since mid-December. The defense was clicking. Role players were contributing. Jakob Poeltl, asked to be the solution at power forward in place of an actual power forward, stepped up in a major way. Nearly everyone, save for Cory Joseph, was having a quality outing. And then it unraveled. The Pistons pushed. Lowry hit his usual momentum-stopping pull-up three in transition. And then the Pistons just kept coming. Another winnable game, another ugly loss, this one the largest comeback the Pistons have ever accomplished in a fourth quarter.

“At the end of the day, we gotta play harder I guess. I guess that’s what will be said,” Lowry said. “We gotta got out there and find ways to execute down the stretch.”

Beyond just executing down the stretch, Toronto needs to foremost start putting themselves in better positions to succeed. DeRozan is one of the league’s best scorers, the Raptors one of the league’s most effective teams in isolation attack. But there is a redundancy and a cutting predictability to how the Raptors operate late, and as playoff opponents have shown, it makes life easy when the script is right there for a defense to see. To be clear, there is an equilibrium point at which setting Lowry and DeRozan up to attack one-on-one makes sense on a certain number of late possessions. On Sunday, Dwane Casey simply decided to run more or less the same action ad nauseam.

On nine occasions in the final 5:43 of play, the playcall was for DeRozan to attack. He went 1-of-6, was fouled once, once he dished to DeMarre Carroll too late to create, and once he fed Lowry on a slip-screen, only for Lowry’s turnaround to rim out. On the game’s final possession, everyone in the building knew what was coming, and the Raptors ran a fairly typical set with little off-ball action beyond a decoy pin-down for Lowry in order to get DeRozan attacking Marcus Morris. He pump-faked, tried to draw the foul, didn’t, and the Raptors had lost again.

“It was a play we’ve run in the past for DeMar,” Casey said when asked about the play-call after the game. “I have to look at it on film to see if he got contact or not, usually vaulted up and makes that shot but the defender did a good job of staying down, staying on his feet, not leaving his feet.”

It shouldn’t matter whether DeRozan drew contact or not, really. The Raptors should have been nowhere near a situation where they needed a game-winner. If they did, some variety in their offense could have gone a long way – in the final 5:50, the lone field-goal attempt that didn’t come from Lowry or DeRozan attacking one-on-one was a Jonas Valanciunas put-back. Detroit is a good, not great, defensive team, and they have little business bottling the Raptors’ stars up to such a degree, lent a hand by Toronto’s own ineffective play-calling. And at the other end, the stout early defense simply gave way, with Tobias Harris and Ish Smith doing what they pleased and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope dining on open jumpers.

“They kind of got everything they wanted every time down,” DeRozan said, disappointed with another effort that failed to span 48 minutes. “I think it’s a sense of playing differently. Other teams make adjustments and we have to be prepared for that and not get caught off guard.”

The word adjustments came up a few times after the game. DeRozan slagged Toronto’s, while Lowry not-so-subtly praised Detroit’s.

“They made great adjustments,” he said. “They made very good adjustments. Tobias Harris played very well, and they did a good job of adjusting and making plays against us.”

It was difficult to hear the comments from Lowry and DeRozan and not feel like the poor play is beginning to reverberate in the locker room. For weeks, the Raptors had excuses, not to lean on but to at least prop up their confidence that things would turn around. There was a tough schedule. Then it was a dense schedule. They were dealing with injuries. Their underlying numbers suggested some misfortune late in games. The longer this goes, though, the less any of that means, and the more it looks like the Raptors are just a mediocre team playing poorly.

And so they’re left searching for answers. Fans are left to digest whether Lowry was throwing shade at his head coach (if he was, he had good reason for the second game in a row). Pressure is mounting on the front office to do something, while they’re left to figure out if a trade can even get this team back to where they need to be. At some point, something will break: A trade, Patterson’s return, a game that goes the right way and frees them of the constant specter of collapse.

Or maybe the Raptors themselves will break. This is the first time since the Washington playoff series where they’re outwardly showing cracks, their head coach unable to point to let the positives carry the message, their stars speaking candidly about the reality that this team just isn’t as good as they can be with nearly enough consistency. DeRozan wants help. Lowry is channeling Owen Hart in saying enough is enough, it’s time for a change. And now Chicago awaits, usually the cause of more panic than the team to assuage concerns. There’s a very real possibility the Raptors will enter the All-Star break still searching, still seething, still shrouded in uncertainty. That they’re being open about it says more than the specific words could ever convey. The Raptors are against the ropes.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Let’s make a deal

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave (@iamharshdave) to discuss potential deals the Raptors could make ahead of the trade deadline.

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Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Casey’s playcalling needs work

Host William Lou breaks down yet another collapse, this time at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.

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VIDEO: Frustrated Lowry says ‘something gotta change,’ DeRozan open to help

We don’t normally throw up post-game quotes just as they are, but Kyle Lowry’s comments following Sunday’s frustrating loss to the Detroit Pistons were interesting – and biting – enough to warrant sharing. We’ll post the video when it’s up on YouTube in a bit, but here’s the transcription of Lowry’s post-game chat. I’ve bolded the most interesting pieces:

(Execution down stretch. What went wrong?)

Huh. Everything. Everything. Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.

(Any idea what?)

I have an idea but I’mma keep my mouth shut, keep it professional.

(Getting worried?)

Yeah. I am. I’m starting to get worried, yeah. It’s not going the way we’re supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so yeah, I’m starting to get worried.

(Fixable in the room?)

I don’t know. We ain’t got no choice but to go out here and work as hard as we possibly can for each other in this locker room.

(Scheme? Personnel?)

At the end of the day, we gotta play harder I guess. I guess that’s what will be said. We gotta got out there and find ways to execute down the stretch.

(Couldn’t stop it?)

Yeah. They made great adjustments. They made very good adjustments. Tobias Harris played very well, and they did a good job of adjusting and making plays against us.

DeMar DeRozan didn’t exactly hold back on his feelings, either:

Pretty bad, they kind of got everything they wanted every time down.

(Good for three quarters?)

It’s been like that lately. We have to put 48 minutes together.

(Do you know what has to change?)

Nah. Something.

(Can they get out of it?)

We can, but we have to be quick. 27 more games, that’s going to fly by. We don’t have much time. When it comes to practice time, you know, we have to be able to take things on the go and run with it.

(Do they need help?)

I mean, help is always beneficial. I never look at help as a negative thing at all. So if help is an option, why not?

Also of note from after the game, I asked Dwane Casey about the play call on the final possession, and he had this to say:

It was a play we’ve run in the past for DeMar. He pump-faked … I have to look at it on film to see if he got contact or not, usually vaulted up and makes that shot but the defender did a good job of staying down, staying on his feet, not leaving his feet.

So, yeah, that was the call. (DeRozan added that he had the option to drive and that Lowry was coming off a pin-down elsewhere, but the replays show the typical inactivity and telegraphing of the play.)

And given the comments from Lowry and DeRozan, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s some tension between roster and staff, or if the prolonged losing stretch is at least leading to some finger-pointing or blame assignment. Everyone chose their words very carefully, but there is some subtext there to sort out over the next little while.

Sorry for the lack of additional context – on post-game duty, so just dropping these now quickly for you. Take them how you will.

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Quick Reaction: Pistons 102, Raptors 101

Detroit 102 Final
Box Score
101 Toronto

A-
D. Carroll36 MIN, 15 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 2-4 3FG, 1-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -5 +/-Played an almost flawless first half, hitting both his three-pointers and all 4 four field attempts to go along with 2 assists, and continued his strong play to start the third quarter with some slick mid-range moves as well. Had a terrible fourth quarter turnover, that got bailed out be a DeMar block. I’m just hoping for some sort of consistency for DC, who’s long distance shot and defense is essential for any sort of Raptors success.

B+
J. Poeltl20 MIN, 5 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 2-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 8 +/-Didn’t really look out of place for any stretch in the game, which at this stage for Poeltl is all we’re asking from him, with the occasional put-back or rebound. The Raptors held their own against the better rebounding Pistons, and Poeltl’s +8 and 4 boards on the night sure didn’t hurt.

A-
J. Valanciunas34 MIN, 17 PTS, 9 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 7-14 FG, 0-0 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-Was dominant for many parts of the night, but didn’t get the nod from the officials on most scraps inside the paint, as is becoming typical for JV. The Raps made a clear and concerted effort to get him involved early, and it seemed to pay off but in the second half, that game plan was pretty much ripped up and thrown out by Casey.

A-
K. Lowry36 MIN, 15 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 5-10 FG, 4-6 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 2 +/-From the tip, this one felt like a game where Lowry would have to do a little bit of everything to keep the Raptors at a safe distance from Detroit. And while he added 15 points, the Raptors need gargantuan efforts from their back court to be competitive against seemingly anyone. And apparently this just doesn’t cut it.

B+
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 26 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 10-21 FG, 0-1 3FG, 6-7 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 6 +/-Came out firing in the first half with 12 points on 6/11 shooting. Even when he was missing, he got it in, as Drummond’s field goal interference gave DeMar a freebie. The second half seemed to be more of the same initially, but it got progressively worse for DeMar, who hijacked the offense down the stretch leading to empty trips.

B-
L. Nogueira32 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 4-4 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-Had 2 slick blocks in the second quarter – one in the paint, and one out on the perimeter. But I still don’t like Nogeuira’s defensive rebounding ability or overall toughness inside; replacing Biyombo with Bebe has made this team noticeably softer, and it’s starting to show.

C
C. Joseph19 MIN, 8 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -17 +/-Hot garbage for Cory once again. I liked the offensive punch he showed (he even hit a three!!). But a -17 is disgusting – and is becoming somewhat of a norm for the Pickering product.

C
T. Ross18 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -6 +/-A strong first half with a three pointer and soft floater as part of a surge in the second quarter, but didn’t offer much of anything in the second half. The see-saw of emotions dealing with Ross has become unbearable at this point.

B
N. Powell8 MIN, 2 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-You gotta love Norm’s willingness to contribute anything and any time necessary, but at some point you’ve got to point to Casey’s sporadic lineup tendencies and hold that against him. You just can’t expect anything out of the guy when he has no continuity in and out of the lineup.

D
Dwane Casey While it looked like the Raptors would come out strong and having taken advantage of their three days of rest, it was all just a big lie. The Raptors once again came out FLAT in the fourth quarter, holding a lead and showing no ability to execute on either end. The defense in the fourth was basically a mad scramble, allowing the Pistons to shoot 13/19 in the fourth quarter, while the offense was just hand the ball to DeRozan and hope for the best – all that led to the Pistons outscoring Toronto 36-19 in the final frame. That’s just pathetic.

THINGS WE SAW

  1. Hero ball – The Raptors went to DeRozan almost every trip down the stretch of the game, leading to empty trip after empty trip, with almost no movement in the offense, and no chance at offensive rebounds. It was a pathetic offensive showing from the Raptors and Casey, who showed no ability to creatively keep the Pistons on their heels defensively.
  2. Why not keep feeding JV? Despite the physicality the Pistons offered up with Drummond and Baynes, JV asserted himself early and should’ve really gotten more touches down the stretch. The shooting numbers didn’t exactly stand out, as JV settled for a couple of jumpers in the first half; but in the post, Jonas was able to easily carve out space.
  3. Lack of command – The Raptors once again fizzled away a lead down the stretch, and this time to another sub-par team. The Pistons are 9 games below 500 on the road, and the Raptors still allowed Ish Smith, Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shred their defense time and time again. With no offensive answer, the Raptors fell into a nightmare-like spell. That was about as ugly a finish to a Raptors game I’ve ever seen.
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Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka, Gallinari, and Millsap rumblings; Patterson remains out; Poeltl starts

It feels like it’s been forever since the Toronto Raptors played. In reality, they only had three days off, but that’s a veritable lifetime given how dense the schedule has been to this point. And as discussed in the pre-game, it probably provided a much-needed break – physically and mentally – for a struggling Raptors team. They’ll look to right the ship now with three games in four days before the All-Star break, starting when the Detroit Pistons visit on Sunday.

There’s a lot of news to touch on below, and I had you covered in the pre-game, so let’s get on with it.

The game tips off at 6 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Sunday stands as a really nice test for the recent play of Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is enjoying one of his best two-way stretches since his post-season injury, and he and Andre Drummond always have some fun battles. Defending Drummond on the dive and on the block, exploiting him on the other end, and playing even on the glass would put Toronto in a good position to beat Detroit. It’s not all on Valanciunas – Kyle Lowry admitted Saturday the team needs to do a better job keeping him involved – but Valanciunas can’t allow inconsistency to set back in, either. In his last seven meetings with Detroit, he’s scored 31, 20, 12, 8, 15, 11, and 32. Feed him.

The lone question mark for the Raptors beyond who draws inactive is whether or not Patrick Patterson finally returns. Dwane Casey will likely update Patterson’s status in his pre-game availability – I’m posting these notes earlier than usual because of the trade rumblings below – so check back for that. You know the drill by now with Patterson: If he goes, he’ll stabilize the starting unit defense and help the second lineup by allowing Dwane Casey to find some consistency there, particularly with lineups to start the second and fourth quarters. If he can’t, the rotation at the four will remain exceptionally fluid, left to play out based on matchups and game flow.

UPDATE: Patterson is a game-time decision. Casey said he looked good in practice Saturday, but a determination won’t be made until afetr he goes through his pre-game work.

UPDATE II: Patterson is out again. At this point it might just make sense to sit him through the break.

UPDATE III: Jakob Poeltl starts at power forward. This is a very interesting look opposite Jon Leuer, and it will be Poeltl’s first extended run at the four. He’s played almost exclusively center so far, even when alongside Lucas Nogueira, and he’s only played a handful of minutes with Valanciunas. Poeltl’s shown nice flashes in the limited minutes he’s been given, and this should be a good opportunity for him to make a case for more run even when Patterson returns.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Patrick Latterson

Pistons updates
The Pistons are the picture of health. Also, Boban Marjanovic is enormous. I mean, I’ve seen him play live before, but we just walked past each other in a hallway, and he is, umm, significantly larger than your boy. Anyway, the Pistons have their full contingent available, and while most of their top lineups have performed poorly, their starting group has begun to find a nice chemistry together.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Beno Udrih
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
INJ: None

Assorted

  • Per Marc Stein of ESPN, there is “a growing sense” that Serge Ibaka could be moved ahead of the deadline, and that “Sources say that Toronto and Miami are among the Eastern Conference teams that have expressed interest in Ibaka this month.” The plan is apparently for the Magic to field options up until the deadline, then choose the best package. We covered the Ibaka stuff here and here.
    • In the same piece, Stein says there is skepticism about Paul Millsap being off the market. The Hawks are “adamant” he’s staying put, though. I’ll believe it at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23. More of my Millsap thoughts are here and here.
  • NOT covered here elsewhere but included in Stein’s news dump: The Raptors, among others, are monitoring the availability of Danilo Gallinari. I’ve long lusted after Gallinari as the quintessential Third Option for the Raptors’ offense, writing before the season that he may wind up the best consolation prize the Raptors could hope for if big names didn’t hit the market. While the fit wouldn’t be seamless with him and Carroll splitting forward duties (Gallinari is not an elite defender), and offense isn’t exactly a pressing need, he may wind up the most talented name on the move, if he can be had. He’ll almost surely opt out this offseason to become an unrestricted free agent, and there’s a fair amount of injury red tape in his past, so dealing assets to acquire him under the assumption he could be re-signed long-term comes with some risk. Still, when it comes to a player that talented who fits the Raptors’ timeline for contention, and who may not cost the farm in terms of assets, he’s definitely worth a call on. If nothing else, it’s nice that there are apparently more second-tier names to call on than originally expected.
  • Jared Sullinger, Fred VanVleet, and Bruno Caboclo were all recalled from Raptors 905 for this one. Sullinger had a really nice outing last night (I caught it this morning), really embracing his role as a connector and letting a red-hot set of shooters around him cook while getting his shots within the flow of things. Expect Caboclo and one of the point guards to be assigned again afterward, as the 905 have a home game Tuesday when the Raptors visit Chicago.
  • Some cool “this day in history stuff for the Raptors.

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites, up from 6.5 this morning, as predicted. The over-under has nudged higher to 212.5 from 211. I’ll wait on Patterson’s status to make a firm call on a score, but the Raptors are winning this game.

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Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Feb. 12

Sometimes, maybe you just need a break. Tasked with the most dense schedule in the NBA so far in 2017, the Toronto Raptors sure looked like they could use one after they dropped a winnable game to the Minnesota Timberwolves, falling to 10-14 over the last six weeks in the process. With a physically demanding slate dotted with injuries to key players, the Raptors not only looked physically downtrodden at times, but mentally spent. After years of leaning on chemistry and resiliency, the sudden absence of those traits seemed to take a psychological toll, and the team’s constant grasping at a return to form only producing brief flickers of hope proved a difficult cycle.

Rest finally came. The Raptors have had three days off, an opportunity not just to get healthy and rest bumps and bruises but to escape from their own heads. They celebrated Terrence Ross’ birthday. They slept in. They visited MLSE Launchpad (can I get an invite, please?). They practiced, too. Twice. Time that’s been incredibly scarce over the last little while. These breaks are important, especially when rare, and it seems like it came at the right time.

Now, whether that can help turn the Raptors around is another question. The Detroit Pistons visit Sunday, and then the Raptors have a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday before getting another eight days off for the All-Star break. That additional rest is a major positive, but there is a risk that, if the Raptors don’t at least go 2-1 on this three-game set, they’ll enter a second break in a row searching for answers. It would be a nice building block for them if they could clean up the unofficial first segment of the season on a high note, removing the bad taste the last month-plus has had them trying to chase away. It starts Sunday with the Pistons, a game but beatable opponent. Let’s see if the rest did them well.

The game tips off at 6 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: A record of 25-29 might not be quite what the Pistons had hoped for at this point in the year, but they’ve really settled in of late, winning four of six and 10 of 19. As currently constructed, how confident are you that the Pistons can hang on to a playoff seed in a fairly competitive Eastern Conference picture?

Dan Feldman: 52%. The Pistons haven’t put it all together — but neither have most of the teams around them in the playoff chase. Detroit is deep with solid talent, and the second-half schedule shapes up well — especially with the team getting healthy. Still, it’s a crowded field, and that always gives pause.

Blake Murphy: One of the biggest surprises – maybe it shouldn’t have been – has been the success of Jon Leuer. He’s always seemed like a nice player, but the role he’s been able to take on and the efficiency at which he’s been able to perform in it has been a huge swing factor for Detroit. Has Leuer added things to his game? Is it just natural growth? Or is this another Stan Van Gundy system success story?

Dan Feldman: Leuer has not been the prototypical Van Gundy stretch four. Yes, his range extends beyond the arc. But that has been more of a threat than an actual weapon this season. Leuer has excelled at driving past closing defenders to convert easier shots inside the arc. The Pistons might have signed him to stretch the floor more, and Leuer’s career suggests his 3-point accuracy could trend upward.

Blake Murphy: Van Gundy’s system leans heavily on the Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll, one of the most difficult to stop in the league. And yet that pairing hasn’t been at all effective, getting outscored by 6.3 points per-100 possessions when they share the floor. Have defenses started to figure that action out, or is there something else at play here?

Dan Feldman: Defenses figuring it out is part of it. Another aspect: Jackson missed the start of the season due to injury, and it took him a while to regain his burst (not sure he’s all the way back yet). The chemistry just isn’t as sharp as last year, for whatever reason.

Blake Murphy: Stanley Johnson has taken a significant step back in terms of raw statistical production and role as a sophomore. Is it time to re-calibrate expectations for the former No. 8 pick, or can he still be a high-end defender with some solid secondary skills on offense?

Dan Feldman: Can he be that player? Yes. But it’s fair to reduce the likelihood he gets there. That said, Johnson has played better lately, coinciding with him shedding weight. I’m more inclined to believe a change in production is sustainable when it’s tied to a logical explanation, like getting in better shape.

Blake Murphy: Do you think the Pistons will make a move by the deadline?

Dan Feldman: 18%. They’d probably like to upgrade at point guard, but it’s tough to find viable trade partners. It’s more likely they just hope Reggie Jackson plays closer to how he did last year. A smaller trade option: Dealing Aron Baynes. He’ll be a free agent next summer, and not only do the Pistons plan for him to walk, they already have a ready-to-go replacement — Boban Marjanovic — on the roster. Might be better to get something, like a backup wing or draft pick, for Baynes now.

Raptors updates
The most tangible by-product of the time off may be the return of Patrick Patterson. While there’s an argument to be made that Patterson should just be kept out through the break to make sure he’s fully healthy once he’s back, it’s also sounded like he’s near a return for some time now. This is a new injury, just to the same knee, and it’s one he can not only play through but that won’t get worse if he does so. That might not even be a consideration if it’s fully healed by now. In any case, the Raptors could use him back, and his return would help stabilize the starting lineup’s defense as well as Dwane Casey’s rotations.

If Patterson can’t go, the Raptors will be left to rotate any number of backup power forward options. Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, and Lucas Nogueira have all spent time there of late, and Sullinger has looked really good so for in this Raptors 905 game from last night that I’m watching as I write this (his passing and vision is kind of obscene for a big man). One of the benefits of a Patterson return would be stability at the backup spot, too, since the starting position won’t be as fluid (at least, in theory).

Sullinger is still technically with the 905, with no official recall announcement yet, but expect him and Fred VanVleet to be recalled before the game. It will be interesting to see, with VanVleet drawing the assignment last night, whether it’s him or Delon Wright inactive and in the third point guard role. The plan was initially for them to trade off stints up and down, but VanVleet has been really steady in that third guard slot. Wright is ready, too. It’s nice to have so much depth, but it’s tough to watch these guys sit.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, Jared Sullinger
OUT: None

Pistons updates
The Pistons are fully healthy with no players on assignment, which must be nice for them. #FullSquad and all. And as Dan pointed out above, it’s taken them some time to rediscover chemistry due to earlier injuries. Van Gundy is still figuring out his best groups, and three of the Pistons’ four most commonly used lineups have been outscored on the season. Watch out for the current iteration of the starters, though – they’ve been a positive in 247 minutes, a decent sample, and it makes sense given the amount of shooting and playmaking that’s around the Jackson-Drummond pick-and-roll as constructed. Having a shooter without a conscience in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a pair of brutes who can punish wild closeouts at the forward spots could force the Raptors to stay at home on their men, a tough task given the difficulty of the initial 1-5 action.

It’s a big Jonas Valanciunas night, as it always is opposite Drummond.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Beno Udrih
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
INJ: None

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites with a 211 over-under. I’d expect that line to nudge to Raptors -7 throughout the day, especially if word comes out that Patterson’s a go. They should take this one. They need it.

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905 crush Charge with three-point barrage

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (24-9) def. Canton Charge (18-15); 118-88 | Box Score
Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905). Jared Sullinger (905)

The Raptors 905 used a spectacular offensive performance that included 17 three-point hits at a 47.2% clip to halt the Canton Charge on Saturday night.

There was a terrific atmosphere at the Hershey Centre tonight, as one of the Toronto FC supporters’ groups (pretty sure it was The Inebriatti) made it out for the game, and deserve credit for chanting the 905 to victory.

Jared Sullinger opened the game with a face up at the top of the key and and spun around his defender, before dishing a pass to Edy Tavares for the finish. Sullinger then found a cutting Tavares again from the left block for the flush. Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet then hit back-to-back triples to give the 905 an early 10-0 lead.

VanVleet then showed his chemistry with Edy Tavares, finding him on three consecutive possessions to give Tavares the easiest 10 points he’ll score in a quarter on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting. VanVleet was in a giving mood all night, finishing the game with 11 assists.

Yanick Moreira made his presence felt as well with a pair of offensive rebounds upon checking into the game and then a monster block on the other end. More on him later.

Brady Heslip Curry then checked into the game and knocked down two more three-pointers before Negus Webster-Chan joined in on tickling the nylon from deep with one of his own just before the quarter ended. Heslip finished with 18 for the game, ending his streak of consecutive 20 point games at four.

The 905 shot 65% in the quarter for a 33-16 lead after one.

They were able to keep up their offensive consistency in the second quarter, but struggled to keep the Charge quiet. John Holland scored 12 of his 22 points in the first half to help them outscore the 905 28-27 in the second quarter.

With the defence returning to form in the second half, the Charge just couldn’t live with the 905 on this night. They were outscored 58-44 by the 905 over the period, handing the season series to the 905 as well.

One thing I’ve taken notice of lately is Stackhouse’s willingness to use Bruno as an inbounder. This makes a lot of sense, as he’s not only got the height to see the floor, but also the length to negate any space the man guarding the inbounds tries to take away. On the downside, I’ve talked a bit about how Bruno does settle for the three a bit too much, and nine of his 15 attempts from the field came from behind the line tonight. He shot 26.6% from the field for the game.

I liked the way Sully played tonight. He could have come in and made this night about him and getting his game on track, but with the team executing so well offensively, he stayed true to the team’s cause and played a well-rounded floor game (no pun intended). He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, and you wouldn’t expect a veteran looking to get reps to give up good looks so that his teammates can get great ones. Unlike his first D-League appearance where he attempted 19 shots and seven from long distance, he took 11 shots in this one; making both his long-range attempts. Everything he did was well within the flow of the offence.

All-Star to be, Tavares, had another big night with 16 points and 10 rebounds on eight field goal attempts, and really fed off the attention VanVleet and Sullinger attracted. Moreira is another big that had himself a night, feasting inside for 13 points and eight boards. He’s looked better on offence over the last two games, playing with more conviction on that end.

For those of you in Mississauga, the Raptors 905 only have five games left at the Hershey Centre, so now’s the time to get out there and catch a game.

Notes:

  • Axel Toupane and Will Sheehey continue to sit with hamstring injuries.
  • Negus Webster-Chan gave Stackhouse some good minutes tonight, and it’s been good to see Antwaine Wiggins and CJ Leslie start to string some notable performances together with consistent minutes.
  • The 905 will next take on the Westchester Knicks at 7:30pm EST on Valentine’s Day (Tuesday).
  • The game should feature two to three assignees for the 905 and if you wanted to go to the game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Pre-Deadline Mailbag: A lot of Ibaka, plenty of other trade talk, Wrestlemania, and more

Three days in a row off for the Toronto Raptors means it’s time for another #RRMailbag. (They take a lot of time to put together, so I need the extra day turnaround time.) Or something. You can find all of the previous editions here, though I don’t know why you’d bother. You’ll probably get another pre-deadline one during the All-Star break, too.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Sorry, just setting the tone for what’s to come.

Serge projector (no Ibakaing out now)

Before answering the proper question, I’d like to just iterate that I don’t believe Paul Millsap is fully off the market. Yes, the Hawks are 31-23, fifth in the East, and mostly trending upward. They’re also in a market where they’ve been gun-shy about looking like they’re rebuilding in the past, and dealing Millsap would at least signal a step back. It’s why I was never all that confident a deal would get done, because the asking price is going to have to really make sense for them. But if the offer is right? It’s a 32-year-old impending unrestricted free agent who doesn’t fit the rest of the team’s timeline and who likely won’t see them past the second round, anyway. You could convince the Hawks to reconsider. More of my Millsap thoughts are here and here.

As for Serge Ibaka, I wrote a fair amount about it here. Yes, the Raptors should be making calls on Ibaka. I don’t think he closes the gap with Cleveland in a meaningful way, but he does make it much more likely that the Raptors meet Cleveland in the Easter Conference Finals rather than bowing out before that point (or drawing a 4-5 seed and seeing the Cavaliers in the second round). Ibaka is also 27 and a pending free agent, and Toronto would seem to be a good longer-term fit for him, at least as much as a city can without knowing the player personally – there’s a Masai Ujiri connection, a great city, a franchise moving in the right direction, and two stars to allow Ibaka to once again thrive in the No. 3 role.

There would be tax complications that would likely see Toronto have to lose a piece to retain him (counter: the team has no means of acquiring a player anything close to this good in free agency), and he’s going to cost you at least two assets on the trade market. I suggested in that write-up that Orlando would probably ask for one of Terrence Ross/Cory Joseph, one of Jakob Poeltl/Pascal Siakam, and one of the 2017 first-round picks (you’d hope to get him for just two of those pieces, but Rob Hennigan is likely trying to recoup a fair amount of the value he surrendered for Ibaka in the first place. But it sounds more and more likely that Ibaka is the best piece available on the trade market, he’s a good on-court fit at both ends with what the Raptors are trying to do, and they’ve long needed an upgrade in the frontcourt to help solidify themselves as Cleveland’s biggest threat.

You have to give something up to get something, and smart teams will see Norman Powell as a major asset. I’m not positive the Magic fall into that group given their desperate need for shooting on the wings, and Powell’s tiny salary makes the math a lot tougher than Ross does. Because you’d have to pair Powell with either Joseph or two other pieces to make the salary matching work, a deal suddenly becomes a lot more complex than just swapping out Ross for Powell. In theory, Powell is not untouchable, but I struggle to find a deal for Ibaka that would make a great deal of sense both ways unless Orlando is only really after Powell and one of the prospects (something like Powell, Jared Sullinger, and Poeltl works).

I answered the first part above. I’d go as high as three assets: One of Ross/Joseph, one of Poeltl/Siakam, and one of the 2017 first-round picks. And I’d be hoping to get away with just two of those pieces. There are other ways to construct a deal, though, and I’d be fine giving up multiple picks if it meant being able to slide Sullinger’s salary in place of Ross/Joseph.

I don’t think you’re going to find a deal involving DeMarre Carroll, though. Given the injury track record and current performance, you’d probably have to pay a team in picks just to take Carroll into cap space right now, let alone to get Ibaka back in a deal, too. This isn’t meant as a dig on Carroll, who is trying, trending in the right direction over the longview of the season, and who, when playing well, brings some important things to the table that no other Raptor player brings. It’s a contract matter, and the fact that Carroll matters more to Toronto than he would to another team – yes, he’s blocking Powell some and hasn’t been at his best, but what he brings does less for a team further away from contention, and his salary would be tough to swallow when trying to rebuild.

There aren’t many teams I see willing to take on Carroll unless a deal gets very large. And that’s fine. It’s a bit of a sunk cost at this point. I understand the frustration of fans, too, but a suggestion: Accept the contract as one that will likely end up looking bad at its conclusion, and focus on what Carroll can bring. The team’s being patient with his role for a reason, and if he’s struggling come the playoffs, Powell will eat into his minutes more significantly.

If the Raptors wind up sending out Joseph in a larger package for Ibaka, C.J. Watson wouldn’t be the worst piece to bring back (nor would Jodie Meeks). The Raptors aren’t wanting for guard depth even if they send Joseph out, but in a multi-player deal, it doesn’t hurt to get back an experienced piece who can really shoot the ball (even with back-to-back shaky seasons from outside, Watson is a 37.6-percent career 3-point shooter). The complicating factor here is that one of the biggest benefits of an Ibaka deal is that he doesn’t make a lot, so salary matching is easy – throw in Watson, or Meeks, or whoever, and the Raptors have to send out more and more. An Ibaka deal makes the most sense to me as a smaller one.

If the team is going to acquire Ibaka, re-signing him this summer would absolutely be part of the plan. Ditto for Millsap. They’re not selling off future pieces just for the right to lose in a tighter series to the Cavaliers, and so acquiring the Bird rights to Ibaka is a big part of the draw here. The deal wouldn’t be a rental in the traditional sense.

The Raptors are going to face a tough salary crunch with or without Ibaka, though, and keeping him would likely mean that Patrick Patterson is done with the team this offseason. Barring a tear-down or some major offseason salary dumping (or, and I don’t even want to mention it, the loss of Kyle Lowry), the Raptors probably figure to be a tax team next year. They’re willing to do that, but don’t be surprised if keeping Ibaka (or even just keeping Lowry and Patterson, depending on the market) requires some maneuvering in the offseason. Masai Ujiri has the green light to go into the tax, but they’re not going to amass a Cleveland-sized tax bill unless something changes where they’re suddenly a legitimate title contender.

(More of) The usual trade talk

This is kind of a tough question to answer, because as with any deal or trade season in general, it requires more than just the Raptors to be willing to make a deal. You need the right players to hit the market. You need a team to be a trade fit. You need another team to not swoop in and overpay for the same piece. Considering there are maybe 25 teams who, at present, can talk themselves into playoff contention, it stands to be a seller’s market, except those sellers don’t have a lot of pieces to offer.

So on the one hand, no, the Raptors can’t really afford to sit back. They’re not as good as they’d like to be, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need help, the window isn’t exceptionally wide open given the age of their two stars, and the threat of Lowry leaving this summer becomes far more obvious if the Raptors bow out in the first round of the playoffs again. They’ve built a ton of great momentum as a franchise over the last few years, and anything less than at least one playoff series win would be a fairly significant step back, perhaps giving the impression the unprecedented success they’ve achieved was a bit of a fluke, or came with the fortune of good timing. The Raptors need another strong performance this year, not just to help retain Lowry and insure the near-term health of the organization, but to make sure the important progress they’ve made so far isn’t undone. A deal would help.

On the other, though, you have to be realistic about the market, so it’s not reasonable to take a trade-or-bust mentality. For as much as Toronto needs to do well now, they also can’t sacrifice the health of the franchise moving forward just to lose to Cleveland by a little bit less in May. Prospects are food stamps in baseball, but in basketball, with limited rosters and a salary cap, they’re also a source of cheap labor and upside, something that’s hard to come by if you sell the farm and become a tax team. You know how top-heavy teams stay good? They have productive, inexpensive players at the end of the roster.

It’s a tough balance to strike, where the Raptors absolutely do need a trade, but because there’s no player that’s going to push them over the top available, they also can’t just significantly overpay for a marginal move. Ask Orlando how that worked out. I wrote about this conundrum a bit more here.

We’ve seen the ceiling of this team. It’s a gritty two-way outfit that can defend capably and score as well as anybody. Led by two All-Stars flanked by players excelling in smaller roles, they can patch together enough defensively to let their offense carry them. At their best, they can probably be a shade better than the team that took Cleveland to six games last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. That level of play still exists within this group, even if it’s been a while since it’s presented itself.

The floor, however, is what’s more concerning. The floor isn’t quite as low as the 2014-15 team everyone likes to compare this one too – the stars are better, the roster deeper, the individual defenders more capable – but it’s as low as the same outcome, a first-round playoff exit. The East has improved enough to where Toronto isn’t a certainty to advance, especially if they wind up in the 3-5 range in the standings. We’ve seen over the last six weeks that the floor is a team that struggles defensively, can’t get contributions outside of their top two players, and relies to heavily on just a few pieces to win games.

If they make a deal, it’s probably about the floor as much as the ceiling. Maybe Ibaka is a ceiling play, but given the gap between Toronto and Cleveland, any move less splashy than that would be aimed at ensuring the bottom doesn’t fall out.

Now, will they? It always makes more sense to bet “no” on a trade.

I’d prefer a combo-big to a combo-forward. The Raptors already have a combo-forward in Carroll and the additional guards and wings to make such a lineup work, and while they’re often much too small across the floor with those looks, they’re at least moderately effective. Getting another combo-forward is nice Carroll insurance, but it wouldn’t change those looks from being too small, and it would serve to further cloud the path to playing time for Powell, something a lot of people are (understandably) concerned about.

The frontcourt rotation of Patterson-Valanciunas-Nogueira perhaps doesn’t need fortifying when you factor in a tightened playoff rotation and the ability to go small, but given the presence of Ross and Powell off the bench on the wing, it would seem a more reasonable position to attack. Sullinger, as currently constructed and the rookies would have little business playing in a playoff series, and Toronto could probably use some insurance up front in the event they meet an opponent they can’t permanently downsize against.

To be clear, though, a move that makes them better makes them better. If a four-five isn’t there, or a three-four makes more sense given the asking prices, you get the best pieces possible and figure out the fit as you go along.

At last I heard, the Suns were trying to get a first-round pick for P.J. Tucker, a strong, physical wing who can play some small four and would add some necessary toughness to Toronto’s bench. Sullinger makes sense from strictly a math perspective, but Phoenix likes having veterans around as their young players learn and grow, so it’s unclear how open they may be to letting Tucker go for a modest return. My guess: You’d have to part with either one of the young bigs, Delon Wright, or a first-round pick to get him. I don’t think salary ballast and the No. 55 pick is getting it done.

There’s almost no scenario in which the Raptors would be able to clear cap room to sign Ibaka in this scenario. Even without adding Chandler (who has about $12 million on his deal next year), the Raptors are in a cap situation where it’s almost impossible to carve out space for a free agent.

Now, if they dealt for Ibaka (I’m a little confused at the wording of the question, my apologies) and used their Bird rights to re-sign him, they don’t need to clear cap space to do so. Deals of, say, Ross for Chandler and Joseph+Poeltl+pick for Ibaka (just random examples, not saying they’re deals that would work) neutralizes some of the salary increase moving forward, but even then, the Raptors would be up against a serious luxury tax bill and waiving goodbye to Patrick Patterson. Even if Patterson walked and Ibaka/Lowry only made a combined $50M next season (unlikely), the tax bill would be pushing $10M, even before factoring in any other rookies or free agents.

In other words, it’s all absolutely possible, but their salary situation is almost surely going to require some tough decisions and some juggling next summer, no matter what they do.

It’s possible, depending on your goals for these deals. Those guys don’t life the ceiling any higher, but both are tough, defensive-minded players who can help lift the floor and maybe help right the ship from a defensive attitude perspective. The issue I’d see with those pair of acquisitions is that you’d suddenly be significantly older – the Bulls would probably want Ross, the Nuggets Joseph, both may want prospects, and Gibson is about to enter free agency at an age where paying him long-term is at least a difficult question. Those two players, assuming Ross went out in one of the deals, would also leave the Raptors desperately light on shooting.

It would depend, obviously, on the asking prices. I like both players, but even in tandem they don’t make the Raptors a threat to Cleveland, so balancing the now with the next two-to-three years would be important.

My ranking: Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Siakam, VanVleet, Caboclo.

You can quibble with this, of course. It’s based on a few different things, and it’s always hard to marry upside and floor. For example, I think VanVleet is absolutely an NBA rotation player, but I’m not sure he’s ever a starter, whereas Siakam has immense defensive potential but also a higher likelihood of not turning out a steady, productive player. I’m certain Wright is an NBA backup right now and that Poeltl will be, at worst, a capable backup center, but Wright’s game has a bit more to it in terms of what he could become.

Tiering them might make more sense: Powell, Wright/Poeltl, Siakam/VanVleet, Caboclo.

Raptors miscellaneous

I wouldn’t say the defense isn’t good. I mean, it’s not, but it can be. Despite all of their struggles, the Raptors grade out as almost exactly league average on that end of the floor so far, and they can absolutely play better than they’ve shown when Patterson returns, if Joseph rediscovers his form, and if guys lock in when the postseason draws near. But yeah, I had them down to finish in the 12-15 range on defense before the year (they’re currently 17th), and that’s fine but not good enough to legitimately contend.

I don’t think DeRozan’s comments were anything to make a big deal out of, though. DeRozan’s grown to the point where he just keeps it real 100 percent of the time in interviews, and he’s not going to piss down your back and then tell you it’s raining. He knows the team is struggling and doesn’t have it on the defensive end right now. Sure, it’s a little odd to hear him say help would be welcome rather than rallying up the team with a “we’ve got what we need in house” comment, but he’s a) just being honest, and b) being a leader by letting the team know how they’ve been playing isn’t good enough.

It’s definitely looked like a bigger hole because of Patterson’s absence. He’s an important piece to the starting lineup and bench-heavy units, and he’s their best team defender and defensive communicator. His absence has had a trickle-down effect in the rotation, too, and it’s forced Dwane Casey to go deeper into the bench, experiment, and use guys in spots they’re not ready for. The hope is that, like last year with Carroll’s absence, the team winds up better for it in the long-run, but it’s a little concerning that a role player who barely touches the ball on offense has this big an impact on a team that fancies itself a threat. No disrespect to Patterson, whose game I’m a huge fan of, but he shouldn’t be the swing factor between conference finalist and first-round fodder, the two extremes the team has played to with and without him (there is, admittedly, a lot else going on, too).

Sullinger’s injury, though, doesn’t require qualification. Because while the team will get Patterson back, there’s no assurance Sullinger’s going to be able to play his way into what he was supposed to be. Nogueira has eaten into his role as a sometimes-backup center, Patterson has established he should start, and Sullinger, even if at his best, would be fighting to carve out a spot in the rotation. The power forward spot, then, remains a hole because it’s still not clear what and when Sullinger will provide – the Raptors can’t go into the deadline assuming Sullinger is their de facto acquisition.

If the latter were true and players were ignoring him, it would mean he’s doing a poor job, yes. But there’s a lot more nuance to the situation than that, namely that Casey empowers Lowry and DeRozan to read defenses and make calls on the fly, and that sometimes, your best intentions just don’t turn out.

There’s also a bit of a misnomer about Casey’s late-game playcalling: While it’s certainly redundant and relies heavily on one-on-one attacking, the Raptors run actions to get the best matchup possible, then attack it. That’s just how their built, and it puts a lot of onus on Lowry and DeRozan to score tough baskets against defenses that know where the Raptors are trying to attack. But DeRozan attacking Isaiah Thomas or Tyus Jones relentlessly, or Lowry hounding switches against a slow-footed big, those are good advantages to exploit. Still, this needs some cleaning up, and the Raptors have at times shown they can get more creative and create late-game looks for other players (my suspicion is that if they did so and a Joseph or Carroll missed a clean look, people would then rip Casey for not calling a play for one of his stars).

It probably remains Casey’s biggest weakness as a coach, his late-game execution. He is not a bad coach, though. Coaching is a 365-day job, and it’s unwise to evaluate someone’s performance on one element of that, even if it’s the most glaring and obvious (and to be clear, I was very critical of Casey after the Minnesota loss). He does more good than harm. Steering the team out of this skid will be a good test of that more macro-level stuff that’s harder to identify and quantify.

This has been a point of frustration for me for a little while now. The Raptors tweaked their system before last year to ask less hedging from Valanciunas, instead having him drop back more often. That included a more conservative approach to side pick-and-rolls. Personnel has changed some of the approach – Bismack Biyombo’s biggest strength was his versatility in this regard, and both Nogueira and Poeltl have strengths hedging in different parts of the floor – and for whatever reason, Casey’s also asked Valanciunas to high-wall the side pick-and-roll more often. (High-walling is what you see when Valanciunas essentially goes perpendicular to the sideline to impede a guard’s progress toward the baseline. It is also where, I think, like, 40 percent of Valanciunas’ fouls come from.)

The thing is, Valanciunas is a step slow and isn’t the swiftest at recovering back to his man in the middle of the floor, so not only does it require aggressive weak-side help to tag his man near the nail, there’s a chain reaction as Valanciunas tries to lumber back into position. It hasn’t been particularly effective, and while there’s an argument to be made for continuing to try it to see if the team will figure it out, they’re even using it against guards who can’t shoot now, which doesn’t make a ton of sense (you’re really afraid of Ricky Rubio pulling up if Valanciunas drops back?).

Whatever the reason behind it – likely experimenting because the defense has been bad and they need to try something – it’s probably something that would only be used as a matchup-specific look in the postseason. Or so I’m telling myself.

Absolutely they should. 100 times yes. Sadly, the Knicks don’t visit again this year.

https://twitter.com/TDotNorm/status/830080783763271687

I miss him in the locker room and as a quote, that’s for sure. I’m sure the team misses a bit of that leadership, too.

As for Scola himself, well, by the end of last year he wasn’t playing particularly well, and at 36 years old, playing the mentor role for a rebuilding team is probably a nice fit. Brooklyn paid him a little more than his likely market value, too, and he might even have another season in him with this same role, given how beloved he is. Luis Scola forever.

It seems like we might be getting close. Wright’s now had five D-League games, and it looks like the rust is off. What’s more, it’s VanVleet, not Wright, down with the 905 for tonight’s game. The initial plan when Wright got healthy was for the two young guards to trade stints in the D-League back and forth, and while VanVleet has shown himself absolutely capable of handling NBA minutes, the team probably wants to see what Wright has, too. Minutes will still be hard to come by unless Lowry or Joseph get a night off, but it seems like he’s at least temporarily in the PG3 slot.

This question is probably best revisited in two weeks when we see if the Raptors have done anything at the deadline.

His physical and psychological development have been great. He’s not nearly as big as he’ll ultimately need to be, but he no longer looks like a kid, and he’s held up to playing power forward for the bulk of his minutes with the 905. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse seems to have helped with the mental side, too, as Caboclo is wilting from competition far less frequently, bouncing back when he has poor stretches, and showing some nice fire on the defensive end. These are *expected* developments, but it’s still a positive that they’re happening.

On the court, Caboclo’s taken immense strides as a defender. His awareness of team defensive concepts has improved, he’s using his length better in man situations, he’s become much smarter in help-and-recover, and he’s more keenly aware of how to use his length beyond just flailing at shooters. He’s really coming along on that end. I wish I could say the same for his offense. Even with an extra year of experience and a smaller role, his efficiency is down, as are his raw numbers. He’s plateaued there, and while it’s concerning (especially the dip in 3-point percentage), the steps on defense outweigh the offensive stagnation, I think.

He’s still extremely young by NBA standards and has a season-and-a-half before the experiment is expected to show returns. I’m not convinced he’ll be a useful NBA piece yet, but I absolutely see why the team has kept their faith in that process.

I don’t really have a good answer for you, as I haven’t been to a game as a fan in a few years now. I’m not sure what kind of stuff there is before games. I would say, though, that making sure you’re in a little before game time is probably a smart move, as watching warmups usually gets you a few fun dunks (I used to always go early just to catch the nightly Jose Calderon warmups dunk to make sure he could still do it). Powell and Ross, in particular, usually throw down some ridiculous stuff, and you can probably get down pretty close until it starts to fill up.

Last year, Valanciunas promised me he’d hit a three at some point this year. I asked him about it the other week and he said “we still have half a season, right?” So it’s coming. Or a three is coming, anyway. He’s capable of hitting them, but he’s never going to be a “stretch” five in the sense that the Raptors ask him to shoot many and defenses react to it. It’ll probably only ever be a show-me weapon he can unleash as the trailer in transition or if an action stalls out late in the clock.

NBA miscellaneous

Hooked On A Feeling. The Jays have to bury that song.

I’d coach one of the celebrity teams this year. The East side has White Chocolate, Oscat Schmidt, and reigning MVP Win Butler, plus I’d have Kyle Lowry on my coaching staff and would get to talk smack to Mark Cuban, Baron Davis, Draymond Green, and Master P on the other side. (I would have loved to coach against Drake last year. Can’t believe Kevin Hart got my spot.)

I think the new CBA probably slowed the market a bit. It came out early enough for teams to have plenty of time to digest the new rules, so I don’t think there’s necessarily an uncertainty aspect, but the new CBA has a few wrinkles that teams are probably still digesting and figuring out the best way to attack. The biggest thing it did was firmly take DeMarcus Cousins off of the market, and if he had been even remotely in play, that probably would have had trickle-down effects everywhere.

The bigger reason it’s so quiet is that everyone’s still in a playoff race. It’s one of the minor drawbacks of greater parity.

Non-basketball miscellaneous

This is a tough question, since I’m lucky enough to get to meet a lot of athletes as part of my job. Other than interviewing Steve Nash for the first time a few years back or talking beard care with Russell Martin at spring last year, there aren’t that many occasions where I still kind of geek out. It’s never going to happen, but I will say that if I had one interview request, it would be to talk wrestling with noted WWE fan Vince Carter.

I don’t think we’re going Randy Orton-John Cena. I think Bray Wyatt is going to win the Elimination Chamber, and then the Orton-Wyatt story they’ve been telling most of the last year will wind up being a major match. That slow-burn has been phenomenal, and it’s worth of a big spot on the card. Both guys have also shown they can step it up in a match they care about, especially a really physical one, so it should be fun. I wouldn’t be opposed to Luke Harper staying in the story and being thrown int he mix, either.

As for Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, meh. It’s not for me. I don’t think it needs the title to be important and I’d rather Kevin Owens-Chris Jericho feud over the belt, but I understand why Lesnar-Goldberg has appeal to casual fans and kids. Not everything on the card is there for everyone, so I’ve kind of just accepted it.

It would be immensely disappointing, yes. A.J. Styles has been their MVP and should have a match where he can go out and put on a show and culminate one of the best debut years in WWE history. I’m not sure exactly who or what that story is – Smackdown is a little thin on guys unless they called someone up or gave him Cena again – but Shane McMahon is ill-suited for anything other than a gimmick match/storyline at this point. I’m not sure what the answer is if they insist on getting Shane on the card, though, or who Styles would go with otherwise (Samoa Joe? Shinsuke Nakamura?).

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

Have a safe and happy new year, everyone!

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Jared Sullinger headed back to Raptors 905

Jared Sullinger is headed back to the D-League.

The Toronto Raptors assigned Sullinger and Fred VanVleet to their minor league affiliate on Friday. Those two will join Bruno Caboclo on assignment, while Delon Wright has been recalled. The 905 play at 7:30 p.m. at Hershey Centre on Saturday.

Sullinger requested an assignment on Jan. 28 in order to help him continue to work his way back into game shape after missing months following foot surgery. His performance to that point had been shaky outside of a quick burst in his debut, and the frustrated power forward told Raptors Republic that if he didn’t figure it out soon, he needed “to sit down, period.” He looked as uneven as expected in his lone game with the 905, dominating physically but showing a bit of rust in terms of his jumper, ball skill, and defense. Following that game, he’s appeared in six of Toronto’s seven games, and is now averaging 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 10.7 minutes over 11 outings, shooting 31.3 percent.

Given his vague initial timeline for recovery, his progress remains right on or even ahead of schedule. The repetitions he’s been able to get in so far haven’t been terrific, but some feared he’d be out until the All-Star break, and he’s at least been able to get a bit of time in, working on his conditioning and his understanding of the system. In two of his recent appearances with the parent club, he looked solid, and the team did not look worse off for having him out there. That’s damning with feint praise, perhaps, but it’s a measure forward from where he was before his first assignment.

Saturday marks another opportunity for Sullinger to get work in with the Raptors off for three days, and he should once again see a steady diet of touches and upwards of 30 minutes. As discussed at the time of the initial assignment, Sullinger deserves a world of credit for bucking convention and any remaining D-League stigma in becoming one of the first veteran players to accept a rehab assignment after already returning to NBA play.

Now, whether that turns into anything of use for the Raptors is yet to be seen. Sullinger has looked like as awkward a fit next to Jonas Valanciunas as expected, and the backup center spot Sullinger was in part expected to fill has been capably run with by Lucas Nogueira. Sullinger will likely be able to get himself to playing at a higher level than he has to date, but he remains in a tough place in terms of the Raptors’ rotation and his role. Toronto has also continually had him pop or trail above the arc rather than getting him into the corners or short-roll to the elbows, and his shooting has suffered as a result.

Presumed the starting power forward and small-ball center, his role as the team presently shapes up would be that of backup power forward, playing smaller minutes, and even then he’d only be tenable there in certain matchups. The Raptors, meanwhile, continue to reportedly hunt for a power forward upgrade, and if they wind up making a smaller-scale deal, Sullinger’s salary would be a prime chip for salary-matching. In other words, the size – and mere existence – of his role on this team for the remainder of the year remains very much up in the air, hard though he may by trying.

The flip of Wright and VanVleet is interesting. Wright’s appeared in five games as a sort of tune-up or rehabilitation since being cleared, and as he did last year, he’s looked too advanced for the level. So, too, has VanVleet, though, and VanVleet’s been successfully filling in with meaningful spot minutes for the Raptors. It’s not clear if this swap suggests Wright may get the next look if Toronto needs a third point guard, or if this is just keeping VanVleet fresh and adhering to the initial plan, which would have seen the two point guards trade time in the D-League back and forth. It will be interesting to see, then, who draws the inactive spot on the Raptors’ roster Sunday alongside Caboclo, assuming nobody is out injured.

(Both VanVleet and Sullinger seem likely to be recalled for Sunday’s home game, as the 905 are off until a Tuesday game in Mississauga.)

Caboclo remaining with the 905 is little surprise. He continues to take major strides defensively while stagnating on the offensive end, the former of which is probably more important given his ultimate NBA role, should he reach that level. He’s still among the 20 youngest players in the NBA and a ways away from being leaned on as a contributor.

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The Raptors have been struggling in the clutch lately, but will it last?

The month and a half before the All-Star Game is always a weird time in the NBA and no team knows this more than the 2016-17 Toronto Raptors. They have stumbled through the start to 2017 with a 10-12 record. Seven of the losses have come by five points or less in that time.

Since Jan. 15, the Raptors have a net-rating of -24.3 when the game is in the last five minutes and the score difference is five or less. That mark is good for 26th in the league and uses a decent sample size of nine games in that period. For what it’s worth, that’s tied for third-most “clutch” games in the league during the time period. Unsurprisingly, the Raptors are 1-9 in clutch games in that time frame.

All of this has to be said with the caveat of injuries. Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan are in and out of the line-up and that has a real impact. The point of this is to take a long look what is happening and evaluate if we should expect this to continue.

The old adage is that you need a go-to player who will hit shots down the stretch to win close games. On paper, the Raptors have two of them in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Part of the problem is that the team adheres to the #narrative that Lowry and DeRozan are the guys who can win close games. The other part is that this team can’t lock in and defend.

Let’s start with the offence at the end of the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Raptors ran the exact same play three times in a row: DeMar dribbled at the top with Andrew Wiggins guarding him. Norm Powell, with Tyus Jones guarding him, set a screen for DeRozan to drive right. Here’s the result: a made mid-range baseline jumper going to his right over Jones, floater over Karl-Anthony Towns (with Wiggins lurking) and a missed mid-range jumper over Wiggins after he went under the screen:

When Toronto mixed things up after that, they found success. Lowry used a high screen from Bebe Nogueira to take three that spilled out. It seems like a bad shot, but he’s shooting 51 per cent on pull up threes this year. DeRozan had a great drive and finish through contact after an out-of-bounds play too.

Toronto’s predictability down the stretch is the downfall. The squad falls in the trap of picking at a weakness over and over, assuming the returns will be the same. Problem is, there’s another team that is trying to win too. When the Wolves adjust, what do the Raptors do? Lately, they have not done enough.

The defensive story isn’t that much different than the rest of the game. With Patterson out, the Raptors are pretty limited in the frontcourt. Bebe and Jonas Valanciunas is a bad defensive frontcourt, especially against any team with bigs that are comfortable on the perimeter.

Toronto can try going small as long as Patterson is out, but they run into rebounding troubles when they do that.

And as whiney or hacky as it sounds, the Raptors are suffering on defence because of a lack of effort. Players are getting back cut, blown by or not hustling back on defence, and it leads to cheap points at the worst times.

 

I cut that DeRozan clip when rewatching that fourth quarter just to see my guy William Lou tweet a couple screen grabs of the infraction. These mistakes are so obvious and easy to fix that it leaves me frustrated yet optimistic.

Can they fix these crunch-time issues?

I say yes. They were a top-ten net-rating team in the clutch when healthy. The offence doesn’t need to be reworked for the final minutes, the team has to attack out of ball movement instead of just relying strictly on isolation plays from All-Stars to get buckets.

When they were a top-ten team, they had the third-lowest clutch AST% at 29.1%. (For context, their AST% is at 47.1% for the season.) To me, that suggests the Raptors don’t need to run beautiful sets; run your stuff, attack mismatches and let Kyle Lowry do his thing in the pick and roll. You’ll be fine.

The bigger improvement needs to come on defence. Prior to Jan. 15, they had a 99.3 DRtg in the final five minutes of close games. It’s been at 115.0 in the last month, a mark that would be five points worse than the worst defence in the league. 99.3 would be the best mark in the league (and yes, I know, small sample size, this is just for context).

I think this will improve with Patterson back, as everything seems to. Patterson alone can not fix the effort issues, but his presence will restore integrity to the frontcourt defence. He’s an excellent communicator and a way better pick and roll defender than anyone we have playing right now. There’s an addition-by-subtraction factor at play since Patterson’s availability means Casey doesn’t have to even consider the Bebe/JV frontcourt in the final minutes.

And it could be a good thing in the long term to get some of the younger guys the clutch time run. Norm Powell has made some great plays down the stretch (like that steal against the Magic), but his focus has also wavered. Powell got back cut in the Wolves game and maybe Casey shows that in a film session the next day and the sophomore learns from it.

It’s a long season, and they haven’t been healthy. The clutch performances have been troubling but there are reasons to be optimistic about the Raptors steadying the ship before playoffs.

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Quest To Find Toronto’s Ultimate Raptors Bar Gets Wild

My journey to find the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto got pretty wild with a trip to Wild Wing at Yonge and College.

Chain restaurants/bars have a different vibe than independent ones. Independent bars offer a more unique atmosphere but there’s a standard of quality and consistency that can make franchise bars like Wild Wing a worthwhile destination. I’d walked by the one at Yonge and College a couple times when different sporting events were happening and the place is often packed with energetic fans. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked.

Bar: Wild Wing
Location: 431 Yonge St

Criteria: Atmosphere
Grade: B-

The night of this reconnaissance the Raptors were playing the Orlando Magic. It was a Sunday evening in January and there were only a handful of people in the bar. This was expected as the weather and timing likely had more people watching the game in the comfort of their homes. There’s only so much excitement that can be built up for a game like this.

In terms of function this bar is set up perfectly for viewing sports. It’s a long venue with a row of booths directly down the middle and tables and chairs lining the sides. There’s twelve flat screens along the walls and back bar with two hanging over a booth in the middle row. At least one screen can be seen from every seat in the place.

As I entered the bar, ten of the twelve screens had the Raptors game on while the remaining two had post game coverage of the NHL All Star Game. The sound was up at a good level throughout the bar and the majority of people who were there were focused on the game.

As a big fan of wings I’ve spent more than a few evenings at various Wild Wings. This one was clean and had the standard look. There wasn’t any specific Raptors art or paraphernalia hanging on the walls to suggest it was a Raptors specific bar but there was definitely a sports vibe throughout the place.

*this photo was taken on another night

Criteria: Drinks
Grade: D

It’s called Wild Wing not Wild Beer so the lack of selection is understandable. There were a few major breweries on tap like Coors Light, Canadian and others but few if any craft beers to be found. On this particular night I wasn’t drinking and ordered a soda water. I like soda water but I’ve had friends look at me like I’m a serial killer when I order it at a bar. The server may have had the same reservations because she told me the pop gun wasn’t working and it wasn’t an option. There was beer or whatever canned drinks they had in the fridge. I settled for non-soda water. And then wrote her name on ‘the list’.

Criteria: Food
Grade: A-

Wild Wing has a gigantic menu. Who knew? There are a ton of food options available but with all due respect to the Fish + Tenders, I chose to stick with the food that the business is based on.

Wild Wing’s selection of wings is absolutely glorious. There’s 101 different varieties to choose from and as a personal goal I’ll take down everyone before I die. On this night I went with a pound of Some Beach and a pound of the standard Hot. Each pound was excellent when it came to flavor and serving size. The wings were an average size but each order had at least twelve and came with their own dipping sauce. The order also included a basket of seasoned fries, which were great. It was a very filling meal.

If there’s one area for improvement at this Wild Wing it’s the amount of carrots and celery sticks that come with their wings. My order only included a total of three per order. This isn’t something that’s unique to Wild Wing. Wing places in general seem to serve far fewer vegetables with their orders now. What happened? There needs to be an industry standard amount of carrots and celery per pound of wings. Ideally there’s four of each. If a political candidate ever decides to include this in their election platform they’ll be guaranteed my vote, no matter the party.

Criteria: Clientele
Grade: B

The crowd was small but mighty. There were definitely Raptors fans in the bar as cheers could be heard after big plays as well as frustrated yells during a bad call. Everyone was civil but brought a decent level of rowdiness to the bar. There was a nice sense of unity between the fans throughout the night.

There were a lot of couples at the bar on this particular night. For the record, if you’re a woman who likes chicken wings and the Raptors there’s a good chance I’ll marry you. Not much else required really. Hit me up with your favourite wing spot and all-time Raptors player and we can figure out a time to go ring shopping.

Criteria: Staff
Grade: B+

There was one server working while I was there and she had the place locked down. Extremely efficient and projected a genuine personality. The food was prepared in great time as well and – as mentioned was delicious – so kudos to the kitchen staff. If I owned a restaurant I’d hire them in a second.

There was only one issue and it’s a minor one: I felt a bit rushed after I finished eating. The bill was brought right away. There’s a good chance this is overanalyzing but this is the kind of dedication and commitment this feature promises to bring to the Raptors Republic community.

Criteria: Bathrooms
Grade: NA

I forgot to check out the bathrooms. This is partly due to the aforementioned rushed feeling I got after my meal but more realistically it’s result of the lack of alcohol consumption. Let this be a lesson, avoiding alcohol results in sloppy reporting. So to all you aspiring journalists out there, respect the craft and drink up.

Criteria: Price
Grade: C+

For the two pounds of wings and fries my order came to $28.25. This may seem a bit steep but for a Toronto bar in the heart of downtown it’s fairly reasonable when considering the quality and quantity of food.

During certain times of the week Wild Wing will offer wing & beer deals that make it a little easier on the wallet.

Overall Grade: C+

If this were a search for a great Toronto Sports bar the grade would be higher. When it comes to functionality the Wild Wing at Yonge and College provides some of the best sight lines of any bar in the city. It’s simple but very effective.

But this is the search for the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto. A place where Raptors fans can gather and know that the Raptors will always take precedence over other sporting events. This Wild Wing doesn’t offer that assurance.

In terms of personality, there’s no unique art like at Homestand or salute to acid-tripping pitchers like The Doc Ellis. It’s a plain, functional bar with a few beers on tap, excellent wings, great staff and perfect views. It’s a good sports bar but for now, the journey will continue.

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Calling on Cory

Cory Joseph is not happy.

His team stinks, his coach hates him and he sucks at defense. That’s how it feels from the arm-chair warrior’s perspective. After watching his minutes plummet against the Magic and then wiped away entirely against the Nets it looked like the handsome Canuck was done skating by on his perceived toughness.

CoJo’s struggles were quietly swept under the rug with each passing game. A player brought in for his defensive tenacity and leadership was beginning to look lost on basic pick and rolls. He missed assignments, failed to stay in front of his defender and lacked any of the physical presence we were used to seeing just a season ago.

It wasn’t just eye test either. Joseph has just 0.7 win shares thanks to his defense so far this season and his defensive box plus/minus rating is at a lowly -1.1. His lack of production in an area he was brought in to specifically help improve forced coach Dwayne Casey’s hand.

Casey questioned his mental toughness and after Joseph said nothing was wrong the Raptors’ coach quickly backtracked:

“Never worried about Cory for one second,” Casey said. “A lot was made to do about nothing. He’s what we’re about, his hard play. (I) just wanted to give him some rest. I used the word ‘mental’ and I shouldn’t have used that — he just needed some rest like Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) and like (Patrick Patterson) is getting some rest. Guys go through that.

Guys certainly do go through that, but rarely as a back up point guard losing minutes specifically for not playing proper defense. Joseph doesn’t have the luxury of taking nights off on the defensive end of the floor. He has the style and swagger of a 7th year noon-ball university hero with a broken jump shot and unless he;s hustling to lock down his man it’s time to ride some pine.

His attempts at being more successful on the offensive end of the floor have actually led to a slight uptick in efficiency, but not production. He’s increased his scoring average of 8.5 from last season to…..8.6, and we wouldn’t expect that number to climb much higher.

The real Cory Joseph is adored by his coach for his toughness, lauded for his defense and is an integral part to a team stuck in a slump but still trying to do something special. That’s why he came out against the Clippers and bodied dudes. It’s why he finished with a +9 rating (his highest since January 17th at Brooklyn) and four rebounds (another high since the Nets).

He followed that up with a +1 rating against the Timberwolves and while Casey seemed confused with his rotations all game Joseph still carved out a much deserved 22 minutes of playing time. In an interview before  that loss to the Wolves Joseph spoke on how much the team needs to help each other, and the energy it takes to play great, not good defense:

“We still have to better of course, tonight’s a different day, different game, different team, we’re going to have to bring our A game against a young team that comes out and plays hard and we’re going to have to match that intensity or bring even more”

The Raptors couldn’t bring more, and watched the Wolves crawl back for a heartbreaking 112-109 win.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are excellent ball players, but their scoring prowess has allowed them both to earn free passes when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. If Joseph doesn’t know it yet, his impact is felt across the entire team the moment he locks down on D.

Here’s hoping Casey’s mandatory vacation for number 6 paid off.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 9 – Halfway down The Road to The Six

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

The Extra returns to catch up with Raptors 905 and look ahead to some necessary rest for the Raptors.

(more…)

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905 maintain theme of a balanced attack to put away Bulls

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (23-9) def. Windy City Bulls (13-17); 113-104 | Box Score
Assignees: Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo (905). Jake Layman (Bulls)

Brady Heslip caught fire early, but a balanced attack overall helped the Raptors 905 blow away the Windy City Bulls 113-104 on the road.

Back to the bench after coach Jerry Stackhouse started him alongside Delon Wright, the split allowed each of them their time to shine. Delon Wright was relentless in attacking the rim and scored 11 points in the first half courtesy of a perfect 7-of-7 at the free throw line. He finished with 19 points and nine assists for the game. Heslip provided the outside threat once he checked in, knocking down three triples in the first half on his way to 11 first half points and the duo was mainly responsible for the 16-point lead the 905 built up at halftime. Heslip added a further 11 in the second half.

I mentioned in a podcast that will be up for Raptors Republic Friday morning that Heslip is at his best when he can play off the ball, and the freedom he has to throw up hay makers with Wright running the point makes him even more of a threat than he usually is at the point.

Antwaine Wiggins got the start tonight and rewarded Stackhouse with some inspired play. He scored six points early on, impressing with his face-up game. He finished with 10 in the half and 17 for the game on 8-of-10 shooting. CJ Leslie got a good chunk of playing time, and showed a level of focus that he has struggled to keep consistently high. He threw down a wicked two-handed jam with about three minutes remaining in the first quarter after no one seemed to want to guard him at the top of the key, before finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.

Bruno Caboclo was forced to check out of the game early in this one after picking up two fouls in his first six minutes. I thought he was unlucky to get called for a foul when making what looked like a clean block inside. More on him later.

The only bright spot for the Bulls in the first half was Jack Layman. He can really shoot the ball. He hit a step back three and a long two on back-to-back possessions to cut the 905 lead to three, and his stroke was picture-perfect on both of them. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter. In case you’re wondering, he’s on assignment from the Portland Trailblazers.

Yanick Moreira was a bit of a surprise tonight offensively, even scoring with a hook shot from about 10 feet out. He was tightly contested going to his right from the left block, but somehow managed to finish the play going away from the basket. He scored all of his seven points in the first half.

Edy Tavares started the second half with some straight disrespect, rejecting an Alfonzo McKinnie dunk attempt with force after the Bull looked to have the all clear for the slam. It was one of his two blocked shots on the night and added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Bruno came alive in the third quarter and had one of the best stretches I’ve ever seen from him. He knocked down a triple from straight-on, and then went left to attack his man off the dribble and finished with the right hand for the and-one. He followed that up with two perfectly timed blocks inside, and closed the stretch the way he started it, with a three-ball. He finished the game with 14 points, seven boards, two blocks, and a steal and is really starting to come on strong in the latter half of the season.

That stretch saw the 905 go up by as many as 29, and you would think the game would be a mere formality thereafter. Inexplicably, the 905 allowed the Bulls to score 41 points in a fourth quarter that saw their healthy lead cut to just seven with 1:15 to play, before a pair of Heslip free throws helped the 905 pull away. Coach Stackhouse will be thrilled that the team was able to get back on track in the final game of a road trip, and they can now look forward to the not-as-friendly-as-the-road confines of the Hershey Centre. They are now 12-2 on the road, but just 11-7 at home. Get out and show this team some love!

Notes:

  • The 905 will take on the Canton Charge at 7:30pm EST on Saturday in their first game back home after a four-game road trip.
  • E.J. Singler had a really solid floor game, but just struggled to hit from the outside. He finished with seven boards, four assists and three steals, but shot just 2-of-8 from three despite getting some great looks.
  • Jarrell Eddie impressed for the Bulls, dropping 26 on 13 shots, including 5-of-9 from long distance.
  • The game should feature two to three assignees for the 905 and if you wanted to go to the game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Raptors reportedly interested in Ibaka (and some All-Star Weekend notes)

Just a few notes to drop that didn’t warrant their own post. Until the first one camp up. I’d say temper your reactions, but let’s be realistic: This is fun and you won’t anyway, so go nuts.

Raptors interested in Ibaka, or someone like Ibaka

It is an open secret that the Toronto Raptors are interested in landing an upgrade at the power forward position. It was actually a condition of their expansion agreement when they entered the league that they would always be in need of an upgrade at the power forward position, and they were quietly punished when Chris Bosh ended up being good. For the time since, the Raptors have had some really solid contributors at the four but have always had their eye on a potential upgrade. Whether it be Paul Millsap (reportedly off the market but probably not really) or DeMarcus Cousins (almost definitely off the market) or even Markieff Morris a year ago, if you are 6-foot-9 and have at least one basketball skill, Masai Ujiri or Jeff Weltman have likely made a call on you.

This past summer, they made a call on Serge Ibaka, only to find the Oklahoma City Thunder’s asking price to be ridiculous. Rather than give up Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson, and the No. 9 pick, the Raptors passed and watched the Orlando Magic send out Victor Oladipo, the No. 11 pick, and more for a year of Ibaka. Fast-forward half a season, and the Ibaka deal has worked out about as poorly as expected for the Magic (given that they also lavished Bismack Biyombo with a major contract to crowd a frontcourt with ill-fitting pieces), and there’s speculation that Ibaka could be had in a trade.

Logically, since the Raptors were interested in Ibaka before, still have a need at his position, and the asking price should theoretically be lower, the Raptors should be interested now. And they are, according to Marc Spears of The Undefeated. Or they might be, depending on how you interpret his wording:

Toronto has had its eye on landing a power forward like Orlando’s Serge Ibaka before the trade deadline, a source said.

I mean, is that the most vague report yet this trade season, or what? Not only is it obvious – the Raptors want a power forward? Quelle surprise. – but the wording makes it unclear if the Raptors are actually interested in Ibaka himself, or just a power forward upgrade and Ibaka makes sense. This isn’t meant as a dig at Spears, who is generally tied-in and reliable, but given the Raptors’ shroud of secrecy and the vagueness of the report, it’s unlikely this is coming from Toronto’s side.

That’s not to say it’s not true. The Raptors should and likely do have interest in Ibaka, who would be a solid fit at both ends of the floor as either a power forward or a small-ball center. He can space the floor enough to play alongside Jonas Valanciunas without issue, and he would immediately become the team’s best rim-protector. There’s a lot to like in the 27-year-old’s game, even if he’s yet to fully regain the form he showed in his best years with the Thunder. He’d be a substantial upgrade, and the Raptors would be acquiring his Bird rights with a strong chance of re-signing him this offseason, given the cap advantages of having those rights, the presence of Ujiri, and Toronto’s upward swing as a franchise.

(It is unlikely, however, that the team will be able to afford re-upping Kyle Lowry, Patterson, and Ibaka, and even keeping two would likely necessitate the shedding of salary elsewhere, lest the luxury tax bill get too ridiculous for a team that would still only be a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not a favorite to jump them.)

Ibaka also comes with the luxury of a low salary this season, which makes constructing a trade easier. Since he’s earning just $12.25 million, the Raptors would only need to send out $8.1 million in salary to make a deal work. That means Terrence Ross would get it done, from a salary standpoint, or Cory Joseph and any of the youngsters not named Fred VanVleet. That makes coming up with trades a lot easier than it has been for some names in the past, though it doesn’t make an actual deal easier – what, specifically, the Magic would be after is unclear. Ross and Joseph both make sense for the Magic given their current roster construction, but the medium-term plan there is unclear, which makes it hard to nail down what they may be looking for. There’s also the fact that general manager Rob Hennigan could fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy, looking to recoup far too much in a deal in order to ‘save face’ after giving up so much to get Ibaka, or simply because he now values Ibaka based on the payment price. It’s easy to say the Magic should deal him for a package, it’s another entirely to convince the Magic of that.

Still, the two sides would seem to be reasonable trade partners. The Magic have a few mid-level salaries for useful players to kick in if the deal needs to get larger (C.J. Watson, Jodie Meeks, or The Swag God Mario Hezonja, if they’ve given up on him), and the Raptors are flush with young players on rookie deals and draft picks. A late first maybe isn’t going to mean the world, but if the market for Ibaka is somewhat cool, a rotation player, a prospect, and a pick might be the best the Magic can hope for. Toronto could probably even justify playing hardball and offering less if the deal is just for Ibaka straight up.

What’s the most you’d be willing to give up for Ibaka? Does he move the needle enough to surrender three assets, as outlined? He’d certainly re-establish the Raptors as Cleveland’s likeliest opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, a worthwhile goal, but he wouldn’t put them on the level of the Cavs. I haven’t quite decided the maximum I’d be willing to surrender for Ibaka (I think one of Joseph/Ross, one of Poeltl/Siakam, and one of the 2017 firsts is probably “worth it” in a vacuum, but I’d be hoping to negotiate such that only two of the three going out), but the Raptors should be aggressive in pursuing such a piece, regardless. Your thoughts?

More Raptors All-Star representation

Kyle Lowry will be one of Jemele Hill’s assistant coaches during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on the Friday of All-Star Weekend. Lowry, Hill, and Fat Joe will be tasked with helping keep a team that includes reigning MVP Win Butler, Bucks owner Mark Lasry, Sweet Sweet Peter Rosenberg, and basketball legends Oscah Schmidt and White Chocolate Jason Williams ahead of a Mark Cuban- and Baron Davis-led West team coached by Michael Smith, Rosci Diaz, and Draymond Green. This should be a lot of fun.

The next day, reigning D-League Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan of Raptors 905 will defend his crown in a loaded field that should make for one heck of a dunk contest. Brady Heslip is not in the 3-Point Contest, and considering he’s leading the league in makes and hitting at a 42.5-percent clip, he must have turned an offer down.

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3 Players The Raptors Should Look Into At The Deadline

With the season approaching the much anticipated trade deadline, the Raptors should begin to recognize that they need some help if they want to make a deep run this year.

None of the players I will look at are going to be fantasy draft style trades, and they are not going to change the fortune of the season, but rather they are guys who can help the Raptors to improve slightly and improve some areas where the Raptors are struggling.

Richaun Holmes 

Holmes is an unknown young player, but he has a lot of raw athleticism and talent that has always surfaced itself with minutes. Holmes has averaged 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36, but it is his hustle and athleticism that gives opponents problems. Holmes is a fantastic screen setter and is very good at catching and finishing at the rim on the pick and roll. The Raptors really lack a big like this who can fly up for alley oops with consistency. Having a threat to catch a lob, as well as some shooters around the perimeter will give Lowry and Derozan much more room to operate on the offensive end. Holmes’ rim protection would also be a welcomed site on a team that is really struggling to fill the lost void of Bismack Biyombo.

Holmes is young and talented, but he is also buried on the 76ers depth chart. With Embiid, Noel, and Okafor, perhaps Philly could afford to part ways with Holmes for a lesser cost than he might ordinarily receive in a trade.

In a game with Embiid and Okafor out two weeks ago, Holmes got a chance to showcase his talent against the Clippers.

Courtney Lee

It is no surprise that the Knicks have fallen apart. While the entire NBA is talking about where Carmelo Anthony will wind up, I think Courtney Lee could be the more intriguing piece that a team can look to acquire without potentially messing up the chemistry. Lee is shooting 41% on 3 pointers this year, and has been the Knicks most consistent defender this year as well. Lee may not have eye popping numbers, but he only has a 13% usage rate. Lee is a guy who is content playing off the ball, but he is someone who can create his own shot when he sees a plus matchup.

Lee has 2.6 win shares this year, and would be an improvement on the Raptors spacing and defense. He may not cost too much, but he could be a very sneaky acquisition if the Raptors choose to go after someone on the Knicks, who are very likely to be sellers.

Wilson Chandler

Chandler is a really intriguing player and is someone who can immensely help the Raptors. Chandler is someone who came out as unhappy with his role the other week, and has been promptly given 40 minutes in 3 of the last 4 games with Danilo Gallinari injured. He has responded well to this increased role by putting up a few massive games in his absence. Chandler is a 35% 3 point shooter, and although that is not great, he can also create his own shot, and is a solid defender.

Chandler would be a definite upgrade on Demarre Carroll, and he is better suited to play the 4 when the Raptors choose to go small. Chandler may be a little costly, but he could certainly put this team up another level. Also, shifting Carroll to the bench would allow for a Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Carroll-Patterson type of lineup for the bench unit.

Chandler can take a little of the ball handling duties away from Lowry and Derozan, and attract some more defensive attention, while also being able to shift into the stretch 3 and 4 duties when Lowry and Derozan are ball dominant.

All three of these guys could possibly make an impact and fill a void of the Raptors really needing a three and D wing, better perimeter defense, 3 point shooting as well as a pick and roll threat. The first two options will likely come at low cost, while Chandler is a bit of a longer term investment. We’ll see if the Raptors decide to make a move.

What do you guys think? Who are you guys hoping the Raptors target at the deadline?

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Don’t Panic

Things have not been going well for the Toronto Raptors lately. Expectations were high for them going into the season, and rightfully so – the team was coming off the best regular season and deepest playoff run in playoff history, went through the offseason without losing anyone significant(sorry Biz!) and their all-star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan spent the offseason striking gold in the Olympics. Coming into this season the only debate about the Raptors was about whether they would be the clear 2nd best team in the East or if they would have competition from a revamped Celtics squad. The question wasn’t whether the Raptors would be good, it was whether they were a contender alongside the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Clippers or if they were merely the best of the rest.

The beginning of the season went more or less according to plan, with the Raptors already potent offense taking it up another notch and easily dispatching the competition they were supposed to beat while standing toe to toe with the league’s elite. It was a continuation of last season, except with an offense that was challenging the league’s all time great offenses(made necessary by a mediocre defense, of course). Because it wouldn’t be a Raptors season if it didn’t generate at least a little big of angst that train has since been derailed, and the promising start and good feelings that came with it have been replaced by an extended string of mediocrity and weeks of torment for the fanbase. The negative feelings are understandable given the teams play of late, and the return of DeRozan hasn’t fixed what ails them, but there’s still a lot to be optimistic about provided you look at things from the correct angles.

Was the Raptors strong play an illusion?

For some reason this question always seems to come up as soon as the Raptors stumble, and I honestly don’t understand why. I can’t think of anywhere else in life where a change in results would be said to invalidate everything that happened before. If you were performing an experiment and got a statistically significant sample size of results within a certain range and those results suddenly changed in subsequent tests you wouldn’t just assume that the first set were incorrect. If your car consistently did 0-60 in under 7 seconds and it suddenly started lagging a bit to 10 seconds you wouldn’t just adjust your expectations because the new results were the “real” results. In both cases you would endeavour to find the reason for the change.

In sports, and especially with the Raptors, that’s not how it works. It seems you’re only as good as your last game and as soon as you stumble that now defines who you are. Those 56 games you won last year? That was last year. That 28-13 start? That was three weeks ago. As soon as the Raptors started to stumble there was talk of regression and paper tigers, like most teams don’t go through ups and downs like this. Obviously there is some reason to give greater significance to recent play but nobody pretends that the Washington Wizards were never a mediocre team because they’ve found their groove lately so we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that this is what the Raptors should have been and will be all year. I don’t think there has ever been a team that has played at the same level for an entire season with no ebb and flow, and if there has been they are the exception and not the rule. There is a very good chance that the Raptors bounce back from this. The team has steadily climbed the ranks for 5 years now, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt and a little patience.

What’s changed?

It’s tempting to chalk it up to injuries that and has certainly been part of it. Patrick Patterson is the teams second best 2 way player and DeMar DeRozan is the teams offensive workhorse – both have missed significant time. The pair has been fairly durable during their time in Toronto but have taken turns missing games in the new year, sharing the court for only 3 games in the 2017. The loss might not seem that significant at first glance – neither is the best player on the team and Patterson doesn’t start most of the time – but losing your best overall defender is always a significant blow and it can be tough for players to make up for DeRozan’s usage on the offensive end with little preparation.

That’s only part of the story, however. The Raptors struggles started before either player got injured, when the team was in the midst of their extended west coast road trip. Part of it was inevitable, their hot shooting to start the season was never going to last, at least not with the long range bombers on this roster. There’s more to it than just cold shooting, though. The team has struggled to find a consistent rotation all year long, with a few core lineups that work but a lot of lineups that are inconsistent at best and quite a few questionable player combinations getting heavy minutes. They might be the best team in the league whose most played lineup is a significant net negative, currently sitting at -79 for the season.

The Raptors also lack the defense necessary to survive any extended cold streaks; for better or worse this is a team that will live and die by their offense and in the new year that offense has been failing them more often than not.  The Raptors have actually taken a significant step back on that end in the new year, which really highlights just how valuable Patrick Patterson is to the team; you can argue that the offense falling off is mostly due to the absence of DeRozan but the defense is typically better without him and it’s 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse in the new year. Every game that passes with Patterson out of the lineup and the Raptors struggling as a result strengthens the argument for Patterson being the teams second most valuable player.

Why isn’t the sky falling?

This bad stretch has been really frustrating to watch but there are some encouraging things to take away from it, assuming the Raptors are learning from their mistakes and paying attention to what has worked. Being forced to play atypical lineups with DeRozan and Patterson in and out of the rotation has revealed two important truths for the team that can make a big difference going forward.

1 – the team can survive without Lowry and DeRozan on the floor. The trio of Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Terrence Ross have shown that they can hold their ground for stretches, especially with Lucas Nogueira manning the middle; the 4 most played lineups with that foursome are all significant positives. Obviously the sample size is small and you wouldn’t run with them for a full game but if it means giving Lowry and DeRozan some extra rest the team should feel comfortable throwing them out there for an extra 4-5 minutes per game and saving some mileage on the two stars. This is important because the durability of each of them is now a legitimate question mark and getting them a bit of extra rest is crucial. A legitimate fear right now is that coach Dwane Casey may panic and shorten the rotation and neither of the Raptors star guards will be operating at full capacity come playoff time.

2 – long thought to be the teams biggest area of need, if used properly the frontcourt may be their biggest strength. The Raptors have three very good frontcourt players in Valanciunas, Patterson and Nogueira who don’t have a lot of overlap in their strengths and weaknesses which allows them to trot out a solid pairing for almost any situation. Valanciunas is the only one who we could call a good rebounder and post scorer, Patterson is the best shooter as well as the  smartest and most versatile defender defender while Nogueira is the longest and most athletic of the bunch. Need to put up some points? Put Valanciunas and Patterson out there, the Raptors score 119.2 points per 100 possessions(and post  a net rating of +14.4) with the pair on the floor together. Need to compete with a small ball unit? Nogueira and Patterson are more than up to the task, using their length and mobility to help and recover while holding offenses to a stingy 102.7 points per 100 possessions(and posting a net rating of +16.7) Need to defend a bigger lineup or having trouble keeping teams off the offensive glass? The Valanciunas and Nogueira pairing holds offenses to an incredible 95.4 points per 100 possessions while grabbing 82.2% of their defensive rebounds and posting a net rating of +9.3. There’s a big man combination for every situation, ranging from elite offense with average defense to elite defense with average offense. When the team is healthy that trio can easily take up most of the big man minutes – if they each average 28 mpg the team only needs to fill in 12 minutes with DeMarre Carroll at the 4 in a small lineup or with one of their other big men. The Raptors have been terrible with Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger or Jakob Poeltl on the court,they should now realize that they don’t need to play any of them significant minutes on a regular basis and their insistence on forcing one of them into the regular rotation has been costing them games.
It wouldn’t be a Raptors season without some ups and downs but there is no need to blow up the team just yet. Their lineup is versatile if used correctly and their recent injury issues have uncovered utility in valuable places where I don’t think anybody really expected to find it; the Valanciunas-Nogueira pairing makes no sense on offense but manages to get by while everyone has always assumed the offense would just fall apart without Lowry or DeRozan on the floor and that hasn’t been the case. The big question, of course, if whether the team sees this and will adjust their lineups accordingly. Given what we’ve seen recently that’s certainly in doubt, with Sullinger and Poeltl both getting significant fourth quarter minutes in a tight game while Valanciunas inexplicably rode the bench, but there’s no urgent need to blow up the roster and rebuild if the major issue they face is less about who is available to play than it is who ends up playing and when. That 56 win, Eastern Conference Finals team from last year and the 28-13 team from this year is still in there somewhere.

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Raptors let another one slip away in Minnesota

Raptors 109, Timberwolves 112 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Free from the constant talk of the daunting schedule, fatigue, and the woes of going so long without a semblance of consistency, the Toronto Raptors had a prime opportunity to build some momentum heading into an extended stretch of rest. With just three games on tap over the next 15 days, and with only Patrick Patterson still missing from the rotation, the Raptors visited a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves team dealing with a lot of injuries of their own, including the devastating, season-altering loss of Zach LaVine. Games are not given, and the Wolves are simply too talented to pencil a victory in against, but the Raptors have been at a loss for good fortune and the opportunity to put wins together of late, and here it was.

The Raptors are, apparently, unwilling to accept such breaks, unwilling to take advantage of such opportunities, and perhaps unable to string together strong performances right now. A third consecutive win sitting in their hands for the entirety of the game, a litany of curious decisions saw the Raptors hand it right back to the plucky young Wolves. And when the Wolves stumbled, and dropped that precious ball (of yarn, as it were, in KAT’s case), well, the Raptors were right there to hand it back.

Coaches have bad nights, and Dwane Casey iss still navigating life without Patterson, a reality that’s left him with imperfect options at the starting power forward spot and a juggling act with the team’s entire frontcourt rotation. It’s a difficult situation, and most nights it has Casey using five or six bigs, as he did Wednesday. It is not, however, an excuse, because for as real as Toronto’s extenuating circumstances have been, Casey does not let his team use them as excuses and thus can not do so himself. Plus, he’s had weeks without Patterson to try to figure things out and continues to deploy the bigs sub-optimally at times. Case in point in this one: Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas both turned in strong first halves, but things started to unravel quickly after the Raptors opened the second half with a 10-point lead, and the leash on that pairing was quite long.

Lucas Nogueira then found himself in foul trouble in support, which completely took Nogueira off his game defensively, yet Nogueira was the choice at center through the bulk of the fourth quarter. Valanciunas appeared to jam a finger at one point and is dealing with a sore shoulder, but there was little on-court reason for him to sit the bulk of Minnesota’s comeback. No, he’s not an ideal check for Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng, but the other bigs were all struggling, too, Valanciunas is the team’s best rebounder by a remarkable margin, and Valanciunas had made terrific use of his touches to that point. It’s telling that Casey eventually relented and put Valanciunas back in the game. Too little, too late, it turned out, but Valanciunas has been playing some of his best ball of late and deserved the look late with Nogueira’s play dropping off down the stretch.

Now, one of the primary options for the Raptors with Patterson out has been to downsize and go small. They opted to do that, but not until very late, and the extra body initially belonged to Norman Powell. Yes, the Raptors have been able to use Powell in this de facto closer role to strong effect so far, but it’s never been particularly logical for a player to sit all game and be expected to come in and close. This isn’t baseball. Powell’s frustrating usage is in part understandable given other, longer-term goals, but asking even the ever-ready Powell to enter the game cold and lock down players the ilk of Andrew Wiggins is unfair at best and reckless at worst. With Terrence Ross turning in an ugly outing, there was opportunity to get him comfortable earlier, too. Some nights, Powell thrives like this despite the tough draw. Here, he quickly traveled, over-helped to allow a back-door cut, got shot over by Wiggins, and messed up a fast break. As it turns out, there’s a reason literally no other NBA team uses a player this way. It’s cool that Powell can do it sometimes, but it’s unreasonable to expect it nightly.

(By the way, you could add going for a quick two down three with no timeouts left to this list, but upon review, Minnesota defended a UCLA action really well to prevent a three, and the Raptors quickly took a Valanciunas two. Not ideal, but watching it back, they made the best of a well-defended set.)

This is not to say everything falls on Casey here. The Raptors’ defense as a whole remained suspect, and on Minnesota’s game-winning triple, far too many players collapsed toward a trap against Wiggins, leaving Tyus Jones free to morph into Winnus Jones. Kyle Lowry’s hot shooting start fell off and he finished the game 6-of-19 and 1-of-11 in the second half, one of his lesser performances on the year. Even DeMar DeRozan, who was relied on heavily down the stretch seeking Isaiah Thomas-like switches against Jones, needed 30 possessions for his 30 points. They needed him to use every one of those, but the Wolves did a nice job at least making another strong scoring night as difficult as possible. (He also didn’t get the whistle on what pretty clearly should have been an and-one late, but there were gripes to be had on both sides.) And the Raptors missed six of their 20 free-throw attempts, a reasonable number but one that always leaves what-ifs on the mind.

The thing with games like this – or really, most NBA games – is that a lot happens in the margins. The Raptors had a lot break well for them here. DeMarre Carroll was lights out on offense and solid on defense. Valanciunas gave them a ton of cheap points. DeRozan was DeRozan. But the Wolves answered those calls. Wiggins was terrific with a 31-5-6 performance that made me, his father, proud. Towns was Towns, dropping a seamless 29-and-14 despite strong efforts from a gaggle of Raptor bigs tasked with trying to guard him. Shabazz Muhammad was everything I’ve always thought Shabazz Muhammad could be off the bench. The Raptors couldn’t have been expected to blow this team out on their own court, and so with each side getting a similar number of pluses and minuses up and down the rotation, a lot of the game fell to those tiny swing factors, like free-throws, ill-timed turnovers, or errors in rotation judgment.

Again, the loss is not Casey’s fault, but he’s culpable. Any one of the decisions listed is justifiable, and alone probably wouldn’t matter much. The game swung on those elements, though, because the Raptors aren’t at their best when they can simply trudge through mistakes and still come out fine. Here, they had every chance to execute better throughout and didn’t. They also did some things pretty well that lend encouragement moving forward, particularly on the offensive end. It’s not surprising that the team’s two biggest issues here (the power forward spot and guarding Towns) are both made less egregious by the presence of Patterson. This is not a sign of doom or a fall back to their play a few weeks back. This was a better effort than a lot of their recent performances, and with what essentially amounts to a much-needed spring break (“Woo!” /flashes camera), there’s reason to believe they’re inching closer to the earlier version of themselves. But they’re not there yet, and it’s probably still a couple of weeks away.

In the interim, it can be incredibly frustrating to watch them fumble through the same issues game after game, losing to lesser teams, coughing away close games, and denying themselves the positive of at least having escaped with a narrow victory. It’s been a tough six weeks, and they probably need more of those. They had one Wednesday, and a litany of mistakes on the court and on the bench precluded it. The way out remains the same, they’re just opting to take a more circuitous route.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 9

The Raptors have become adults (and that’s why they’re not fun anymore) – The Defeated

Winning is now the expectation and nothing else will do. Even losses to the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers feel devastating. We know the Raptors aren’t on that level yet but they’re supposed to be. Being reminded of that gap is every bit as disheartening as their surprise wins over Cleveland were encouraging. It’s a glass half-empty approach because we expect it to be filled eventually.

Lowry and DeRozan have matured into perennial All-Stars who form the second-best backcourt in the league. They also serve as the parents for the younger generation that stocks №9–15 on the bench. It’s beautiful to watch them flourish like never before, but there’s also a laborious quality to their work. I get the sense that rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam want to help, but they’re little kids too small to do the chores. Lowry and DeRozan have to take care of everything every night and it looks exhausting.

Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll do their best to help but they’re limited. Both players are smart enough to be on the same wavelength as Lowry and DeRozan, only Patterson succeeds because he knows his limitations, whereas Carroll fails in spite of good intentions. Their roles are to play defense and to hit open shots. There’s nothing sexy about being a middle manager but they’re important to the operation. Patterson is great in his role, while Carroll is ultimately doomed by poor health.

Valanciunas and Ross are trying to get on that level, but both players lack awareness and consistency. Neither one has the mental capacity to focus on anything beyond their own games, and that limits them to being role players. But the potential is there — they’ll occasionally put it together for a few weeks. Hopefully they’ll click in time for the playoffs, but for the regular season grind, Lowry and DeRozan can carry them when they’re having off-nights.

10 things I saw from Raptors-Timberwolves (8–2–2017) – The Defeated

Coaching failure: Pin this loss on Dwane Casey. It’s on the players to execute, but it’s on Casey to choose the right players to execute the right game plan. He failed on both accounts tonight. He benched Jonas Valanciunas in the fourth when the Raptors struggled to rebound. He put in an ice-cold Norman Powell who made costly mistakes. He had the Raptors trap when they needed to protect the basket. Casey fucked up.

10 observations: In frustrating loss, DeMarre Carroll shows why Raptors cannot give up on him – The Athletic

It was not the only time Carroll made an excellent play on the move: He found DeMar DeRozan open in the corner for a 3-pointer later in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he had an impressive layup on the move.

One of Carroll’s best offensive games of the season came in a rather annoying Raptors loss, a 112-109 defeat in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. There was a lot to dislike down the stretch, including Carroll’s defence on Andrew Wiggins. However, if Kyle Lowry’s 3-point attempt that was in and out stayed down, or Norman Powell does not lose his man on a cut, or Cory Joseph does not get sucked down low on a Wiggins drive or Patrick Patterson is healthy, the result very well could have been different. This was one of those games that could have turned on a few dozen different moments.

However, in the macro sense, Carroll’s play was the one thing to really take away from the game. Carroll hit all five of his 3-pointers — in a halftime interview, he credited an injured finger that is healing — and finished with 19 points in total. He also had nine rebounds, the second-most he has had all year, proof of increased activity. He had a few cuts that were reminders of his days in Atlanta, too.

And this is why, as irrepressible as Powell has been, the Raptors cannot quite give up on Carroll and let his US$15-million sit on the bench. The best version of Carroll, right now, is still a crucial element of the Raptors if they want to have success. From that perspective, his performance, at least on one end, was heartening on Wednesday night. However, if he cannot help the Raptors put together more stops reliably, it will not matter that much.

Raptors defence to blame for loss against Timberwolves | Toronto Sun

“We play ‘sometime’ defence and we can’t do that,” Casey said after the loss. “We’re not going to be a good team if we play ‘sometime’ defence and think we’re going to outscore them. We shoot 53% and we thought it was just going to be a tit-for-tat game. We didn’t have the force or togetherness. One breakdown here, one breakdown there and now you give them confidence.

“Until we, collectively, together, play in our schemes, in our rotations and do what’s right, it’s one breakdown here, one breakdown there. We’ve just got to get it together.”

If you’re reading that and thinking you’ve heard it before, you are not wrong.

This has been going on for some time. Periodically, the Raptors will snap out of it and have a decent defensive game, but it has yet to last for any length of time.

“It’s everybody, it’s not just one person, it’s all of us,” Casey said. “Every guy that went in had breakdowns and until we start collectively doing our job on each possession — ‘my bad’s’ get you beat and that’s kind of what we’re adding up right now. We’ve got to have seven or eight guys — and if we can’t play nine, we can’t play nine — who are going to play hard, together.

Takeaways: Raptors continue to struggle against weaker opponents – Sportsnet.ca

DeMarre Carroll is back

On the plus side, Carroll had a solid night. The 30-year-old finished with 19 points shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-5 from three with a team-high nine rebounds. Carroll made great off-the-ball cuts, provided great spacing and had good lift on his jump shot.

Against Minnesota Carroll looked like the man Dwane Casey envisioned having at his disposal when he signed in Toronto as a free agent.

Where is JV?

Jonas Valanciunas didn’t miss a shot and was playing well through three quarters bat sat virtually the entire fourth quarter, only entering with 33 seconds left in the game. Valanciunas scored 16 points shooting 7-of-7 from the field. This game ends J.V.’s three-game streak of 13 or more shots in a game, the longest such stretch of his NBA career.

Raptors fall to Wiggins and Timberwolves | Toronto Star

It was the same old, same old here Wednesday night, a solid offensive game done in by a spell of atrocious defence and just enough breakdowns to lose, this time 112-109 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game the Raptors lost far more than the hosts won.

“It’s been old,” Kyle Lowry said. “Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something. We just have to figure it out ourselves.

“When I say something has got to give, we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

For the Raptors, the breakdowns came late in the game this time, after they had seemingly taken control. They allowed the Timberwolves to score on seven straight possessions down the stretch to complete a 59-point Minnesota second half.

“Once we did get a stop, they got the boards,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s putting your finger in one hole and another one opens up.

“ ‘My bads’ get you beat, and that’s kind of what we’re adding up right now. We’ve got to have seven or eight guys — and if we can’t play nine, we can’t play nine — who are going to play hard, together.”

Game Rap: Raptors 109, Timberwolves 112 | Toronto Raptors

WOLVES COMPLETE COMEBACK

Minnesota saved its best for last, shooting 56 percent in the fourth while holding the Raptors to just 21 points. Opponent reserves coming off the bench to make a difference late has been a problem for Toronto in recent games. On Wednesday it was Shabazz Muhammad to score 11 in the final frame while Towns added eight points and Wiggins scored seven. A Wiggins jumper gave the Wolves a one-point lead with 47.6 seconds on the clock. Although DeRozan would tie the game with a layup with 29.5 seconds remaining, Wiggins assisted on a huge three-pointer from Tyus Jones to put the Wolves up three and despite the final possession of the game in a one-possession game, Toronto was not able to connect at the buzzer.

Raptors Collapse Late, Fall to Timberwolves 112-109 – Raptors HQ

The biggest question for Raptors fans will be Dwane Casey’s usage of Jonas Valanciunas. JV has been on a hot streak of late (20.3 PPG and 9.3 rebounds in the last three games) and played great for the first three quarters, but Casey sat the Lithuanian in the fourth until the last 33 seconds of the game. Old habits die hard, and we’ve seen this from Casey before, but the bench boss’s lack of confidence in his starting center shot the Raptors in the foot tonight.

This game was troubling for a number of reasons, but the reality is the Timberwolves are a very beatable opponent. The sky is the limit for a Minnesota roster that’s loaded with potential, but the Raptors are clearly the better team right now, and these are games they need to win. Prior to tip-off, Toronto had won 22 of its last 24 meetings vs. the Wolves.

If you’re wondering how important Patrick Patterson is to this team, this contest is a great example of why. Patterson’s absence was felt throughout the game, but it was painfully obvious how much his contributions were missed during the ugly second half collapse. Heal up, Patman.

Stephenson, reserves help Timberwolves close out Raptors – StarTribune.com

“That’s what you dream of, the go-ahead shot in an NBA game late like that in the fourth,” Jones said. “You spend hours and hours in the gym and shoot thousands and thousands of those. You can’t let it affect you. My teammates and coaches kept telling me to keep shooting it with confidence. You just have to trust them, like Wigs trusted me by making the pass.”

Like Stephenson, Jones played the entire fourth quarter because he was part of the group that brought the Wolves back from a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter.

Until then, the Wolves trailed by as many as 13 points and were down by 10 at halftime before their starters began the second half with an 18-7 burst.

“We were flowing,” Wiggins said of the fourth-quarter finish. “Coach let that lineup rock.”

Wiggins played both shot-maker and playmaker Wednesday, a night when he scored 31 points and also had six assists.

“Andrew was great,” Thibodeau said. “He has really grown in that area, and he has to do more. He has to do more.”

Wolves 112, Raptors 109: There’s a lot more to this – A Wolf Among Wolves

A quick story about Lowry – at around the 7:00 mark of the third quarter, he drove to the basket and didn’t get a whistle. The Wolves collected the rebound, and as Ricky started to make his way up the floor, Lowry quickly fouled him. AS LOWRY WAS FOULING RICKY, he was saying something to the ref. The entire time the ref signaled to the scorekeeper, and prepared to whistle the ball back in play, Lowry stood there to belabor the point that the official had missed a call. Lowry literally committed a foul just so he could get some one-on-one time to quibble with a referee.

Timberwolves Wrap: Late-game heroics down Raptors – Dunking with Wolves

The Timberwolves crunch time lineup featured Jones, Stephenson, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, and Towns. It was clear that Tom Thibodeau did not want to play two below-average three-point shooters next to each other in the back court in Stephenson and Rubio, although the run that Lowry and DeRozan went on with the diminutive Jones always guarding one of the two of them made it tough to see Rubio still riding the pine.

But the Wolves’ defensive scheme held tight while Muhammad made 2-of-4 free throw attempts after being fouled on consecutive possessions, and the Raptors answered and tied the game on a tough DeRozan layup with 29 seconds left.

After a Minnesota timeout, Wiggins predictably received the ball at the top of the key and, just as predictably, drove to his right. The Raptors trapped him on the baseline and the Wolves’ star made the correct play, dishing to the opposite wing and an open Tyus Jones. The second-year point guard canned the open jumper, giving the Wolves a three-point lead with just over 19 seconds remaining.

On the other end, the Raptors scored on a dunk from Jonas Valanciunas to draw within a single point. Wiggins made a pair of free throws after being fouled, and a combination of he and Stephenson forced the Raptors into a tough dribble-hand-off with Lowry launching a contested corner three that clanked harmlessly off the rim as time expired.

It was an impressive comeback by a team that looked discombobulated for much of the evening. The defensive issues continue to be very real, although the Raptors are a team that executes with consistency and were forced into tough shots for much of the second half.

Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry reflects on career achievement | Toronto Star

Lowry became the franchise’s leader in three-point field goals made on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, surpassing Morris Peterson’s total of 801, the first all-time mark Lowry has established in his fifth season with the team.

“It means I’ve done something to help a franchise grow, I’ve done something individually,” Lowry said Wednesday morning, the first time he’s spoken about the record since he set it.

But personal accomplishments are more to reflect on later rather than relish right now.

“I mean I’ll look at my individual accomplishments once I’m done and retired, but it does mean something, just like DeMar (DeRozan) having the all-time leading scoring mark. It means something to you and to your franchise.”

Lowry will have some time coming to quickly reflect, as the Raptors don’t play again until Sunday. And even though he’s logging more minutes than anyone in the league — 37.7 per game before Wednesday’s meeting with the Timberwolves — he’s not complaining.

“It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun,” he said. “At times you’re like ‘I want to sleep in longer,’ but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon . . . the turkey bacon.”

Los Angeles Lakers owners, front office grappling with next steps for the franchise – ESPN

Will the Lakers approach another team to get permission to make a Godfather offer to a big-name GM such as RC Buford, Masai Ujiri or Bob Myers? Is there a dynamic assistant GM out there — such as OKC’s Troy Weaver or Michael Winger, Boston’s Mike Zarren, Orlando’s Scott Perry or Golden State’s Travis Schlenk — who could become the next Buford, Ujiri or Myers?

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors-Timberwolves Reaction Podcast – This one is on Casey

Host William Lou rants about a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Wolves 112

Toronto 109 Final
Box Score
112 Minnesota

A
D. Carroll34 MIN, 19 PTS, 9 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 7-9 FG, 5-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -1 +/-

That this Carroll night goes to waste is a shame. Showed great decision-making on offence for a change. Shot 5-5 from three. Only thing that could have made this night an A+ night is if he locked down Wiggins.

C
P. Siakam20 MIN, 3 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-4 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -9 +/-

Would have given a higher grade if he finished that dunk with 2:39 remaining in the first half. The missed free throws and struggles when matched up against KAT were hard to ignore, especially once they lost.

B+
J. Valanciunas26 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 7-7 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

He played well overall, as he has over the past four of five. I was annoyed he didn’t take more offence to Wiggins trying to clown him after a dunk attempt. Not sure what holding his legs was supposed to achieve, but he made up for it with a pump fake and dunk where he hung on for a little extra. Earned more time than he got in the fourth.

B-
K. Lowry37 MIN, 20 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 6-19 FG, 4-13 3FG, 4-5 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -8 +/-

Wasn’t in usual KLOE mode for most of the night. Misfired on a couple of big possessions late, and hit the side of the backboard on the potential game-tying shot.

C-
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 30 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 12-25 FG, 1-4 3FG, 5-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -2 +/-

Yeah, he put up 30, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way he played tonight. Too many forced shots for my liking. There was a stretch in the third where it seemed like he took every shot. Well below the high standard he’s set for himself this season.

C+
C. Joseph22 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 1 +/-

Cory wasn’t great tonight, but these are now two positive games after his short stay in the dog house.

D
L. Nogueira21 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 5 +/-

Wasn’t a memorable night for him, finished with one rebounds and zero blocks. Still, Casey used him for the majority of the fourth.

C+
J. Poeltl16 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Did his job. Grabbed some boards, made his shots, and had a nice dime to Carroll in the corner for a three.

D+
T. Ross14 MIN, 11 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 5-9 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

Anonymous first half. Made an important three towards the end of the third that pushed the Raptors lead to seven. Frustrated thereafter and sucked you back in with a transition dunk.

N. Powell7 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -7 +/-

Asked to step up in a tough situation. Had a bad travel violation with about 3:30 to play in the fourth. Cheated on defence and conceded a wide open dunk afterwards.

C
J. Sullinger6 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

It’s always a challenge to be productive in limited minutes, even more so when you’re coming off an extended time out due to injury. He’ll get there. Whether “there” actually benefits the Raptors remains to be seen.

C-
Dwane Casey

The Raptors should not have lost this game. The Wolves kept edging closer, and Casey wasn’t proactive in shutting down the comeback. He turned to Powell later than he should have, and kept rolling with Bebe on what was a rough night for him. The defence was a disaster.

Things We Saw

  1. Casey is still searching for answers at the four-spot in the absence of Patrick Patterson. Siakam, Poeltl, and Sullinger all saw time there without making a significant impact. Eventually, Casey even turned to Norm there in the fourth.
  2. Powell didn’t play much and obviously Carroll playing great contributed towards that. Still, this is just a waste of a legitimate NBA talent. He’s a pro’s pro, so the positive is that you know he’ll be ready when called upon and won’t pout.
  3. The Raptors only forced eight turnovers against a team that coughs it up 14.5 times a game on average.
  4. The Raptors won’t win many games where Lowry shoots 6-for-19, and they didn’t tonight. Missed some good looks tonight, so presumably this was just an off-night.
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Pre-game news & notes: Patterson out again as Raptors visit Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins! Karl-Anthony Towns! Lance to make ’em dance! It’s the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they’re hosting the Toronto Raptors ahead of the Raptors getting some much needed rest. I made like 12 typos writing out that intro, so I’m either way too low on sleep (correct) or need to just drop the intro and get on with the updates. I’ll opt for the latter, because Zach Harper and I went deep on the Wolves in the pre-game, and not a lot has changed since.

But hey, maybe a third win in a row here, yeah?

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Other than a pair of 905ers, the Raptors have a chance at a #FullSquad, a rarity over the course of this season. I believe it’s only happened once all year, and DeMar DeRozan aggravated his injury in that Orlando game. So, if Patrick Patterson returns here, expect doom and terror to follow, because why would the Raptors be allowed to be at full strength? With three days off coming up, benching Patterson one more game would be justified, but if he can go, he can go. If he can’t, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and however many other bodies will fill the void. The stability a Patterson return will bring should be nice, especially with a few full practice days upcoming to get some additional work in.

UPDATE: Patterson is out. It makes sense to me, given the time off coming up, to just give him the extra time. No word who starts yet, but it’ll be Siakam or Nogueira, with Siakam getting the edge due to inertia.

UPDATE II: Siakam starts.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: Patrick Patterson

Timberwolves updates
Lance Stephenson officially signed his 10-day contract with Minnesota today, so it seems as if he’ll be ready to go by tip-off. That would mean less Brandon Rush, though it would be a surprise if Tom Thibodeau opted to start Sephenson out of the gate. He was Born Ready, though, so it’s tough to put anything by Stephenson. In any case, he’ll probably see a few minutes to get acclimated, but the Wolves’ rotation will mostly look like it has the last few games.

Said rotation has sadly not included Zach LaVine, who has a torn ACL, Nikole Pekovic, who’s been out forever, Adreian Payne, who is suffering from thrombocytopenia, and Kris Dunn, who’s missed three games with a hand injury. Dunn was available if disaster struck Monday and practiced Tuesday, but he’s questionable for this one. Should Dunn go, he’d be fighting with Tyus Jones for backup point guard minutes and with Stephenson for some minutes off the ball.

However it shakes out, the Wolves have precious few lineups that have played significant minutes together without LaVine. The current and presumed starters have done quite well, though, sot the Raptors will need to come out of the gate strong in each half.

UPDATE: The Wolves confirmed that Stephenson is active and didn’t mention Dunn with the inactives, so assume both are available. (Kyle Ratke reports that Thibodeau said he is “unsure” if Dunn will be used.)

PG: Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones
SG: Brandon Rush, Lance Stephenson
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne

Assorted

  • Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo remain with Raptors 905, who have a road game Thursday before returning home. At that point, the pair may reconnect with the parent club, but they’ll definitely be down with the team for Saturday’s home game. It’s possible a third name gets assigned, too, given everyone is in Toronto and the Raptors have three days off.
  • Good read here from my son William Lou.

The line
The Raptors have held around 3.5-point favorites all day, and the over-under has been steady at 212. There just may not be a lot of action on this game, or the original lines were just really sharp. It will be interesting to see if Dunn or Patterson edge the line, but 3.5 is a tough line to budge, given the marginal value swing going to three or four presents.

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Fighting for Minutes: Norm vs Ross Still a Thing?

Toronto entered the season with very few positional battles on the roster.  Returning the majority of their key contributors from last season, and using almost half the roster on mostly unproven players, the Raptors rotation appeared to be largely set.

The big questions entering the season were about who would back up Jonas Valanciunas (first it was Bebe, then it was Poeltl, and now Bebe has taken control for the foreseeable future), who would start at PF (assumed to be Sullinger, but injury changed this), and who would be the first wing off the bench.

Terrence Ross vs Norman Powell.  It’s been a key subplot as each player has provided key contributions.  Ross’ shooting can be a difference maker for a roster in desperate need, but Norm’s ability to actually be focused for an entire game is a great asset.

At least when it comes to playing time, Ross has been the clear winner of the battle through 53 games.  He’s only appeared in three more games than Norm, but he has also played 316 minutes more.

Ross’ stats (Per 100 possessions to find a balance for their minutes) are also just a touch better than Norm so far too:

description of the table for interested parties
Player G GS MP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS ORtg DRtg
Norman Powell 49 14 858 17.2 .456 5.5 .351 4.5 .776 5.7 2.9 2.0 0.6 2.2 4.5 21.1 109 110
Terrence Ross 52 0 1174 19.9 .438 10.7 .376 2.1 .820 5.7 1.8 2.2 0.9 1.4 3.3 23.2 112 109
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/8/2017.

Ross provides a higher Win Shares (per 48 minutes), Box Plus/Minus, and Value Above Replacement Player.  For $9,000,000 more this season, Terry is currently winning the battle by a hair.

As each game passes though, the battle between Ross and Norm is becoming less and less significant.  Both have clearly earned minutes on a team that has a surprising number of players needing minutes on the wing, and have been an efficient pairing when played together, and more than each other the competition for each of them is now with DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll hasn’t looked like his old self since returning from knee injury.  He still finds ways to contribute, but there is an inconsistency to his game that is hurting the Raptors.

No one individually can be blamed for the Raptors struggles as of late, but Casey is clearly open to taking drastic steps to try and solve the problem.  He benched Cory Joseph for a undrafted rookie point guard.  He is barely playing Jared Sullinger since his minutes have hurt the team.  He is trying line-ups that uses both Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl together in the front court.

After many years of fans saying that Casey was too rigid in his line-up decisions, there is clear growth in that regard from the coach.  We are seeing new and different line-ups being tested, and it may just be a matter of time before Carroll’s role is the one experimented with.

Norm could well be the Raptors starting small forward by playoff time if Carroll can’t find the consistency that Toronto needs to be successful.  If DeRozan and Lowry are each dominating, the Raptors can compete with anyone if they can get a third player to chip in.

Powell showed last spring that he could be this difference maker.  Attacking the basket, hitting open shots, hawking passing lanes, plays that energize/engage his team, and getting into anyone who tries to score on him.

With the current shortage of positive front court options (Oh Pascal…you’re just not ready yet), there would still be plenty of minutes available for Carroll.  He could still see some minutes in a reserve capacity at small forward, while playing the majority of his minutes in a small ball line-up.  He is strong enough to battle the majority of the PFs the Raptors will face, and his apparent limited explosiveness since returning from injury would be less of a liability against non-wing players.

While most of this is conjecture, what is clear is that the Raptors have to bench wings that are each deserving of more minutes.  This could be solved in a redistribution of minutes as the season progresses, or it could be solved by a trade in the 15 days before the trade deadline.

Lots can happen in the coming weeks and months, but for a team with so many unproven players on the roster, it’s encouraging to see that both Ross and Norm are starting to stake their claim to more minutes.

There hasn’t been a clear winner in the preseason battle of Ross and Powell, which is a good sign for the Raptors as a whole.

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Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense

Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors every Wednesday. This week, we’ll focus on the Toronto Raptors ICE Defense. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

Before the 2015-16 season, the Raptors infamously hedged to defend a large portion of the opponents pick and rolls. While this frenetic defensive system benefited some of the personnel, such as Patrick Patterson, it hindered and alienated others on the roster, like Jonas Valanciunas. To alleviate the fundamental issue of a core franchise piece being unable to defend the most common offensive action under the team’s preferred method, the Raptors altered their primary pick and roll coverage by deciding to “ICE”, which reflected the preference of the rest of the league.

The main principle that guides ICE defense is to not allow the middle of the floor while attempting to keep all side pick and rolls on the side in which they started. The reason for this is that once a pick and roll is able to maneuver into the middle of the court, it inherently becomes more effective. In the season before the Raptors decided to ICE, side pick and rolls that went towards the middle of the floor scored 3 more points per 100 possessions relative to pick and rolls that were contained to the side.

To stop side pick and rolls from entering the middle of the floor, the Raptors’ guards are responsible for disallowing the ball-handler from utilizing the screen, while simultaneously directing the offensive player towards the sideline as well as downwards towards the baseline where the secondary defender is positioned as they wall off the paint.

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Norman Powell Is Fighting The Raptors Depth Chart

Last week in an article about Lucas Nogueira, I mentioned that Masai Ujiri is the master in the art of trade making. One of Master Ujiri’s best trades in his tenure with the Raptors came on draft night two years ago, when the Raptors traded backup point guard Greivis Vasquez, for Norman Powell who was selected 46th overall in that years draft, also the Clippers first round draft pick in the 2017 draft.

Powell a four year player out of UCLA, was known for his hard nosed defense, and athletic offensive abilities, but his inconsistent shooting form, and raw offensive game held him back from being selected higher in the draft. For a good part of last year, Powell spent time with the 905, working on his shooting form, trying to become a more consistent shooter from beyond the three point line and making his offensive game not as one dimensional.

When Powell saw court time on the NBA stage, he impressed everyone quickly. He showed poise offensively, a much improved shooting form, and the aggressive defense he was known for was good enough to guard some of the NBA’s best players. That aggressive smart defense, was good enough to even guard some players much bigger than Powell’s 6”4 215lb frame. In the playoffs, Powell showed he could guard high caliber players like Paul George. While George got the best of most Raptors sent his way in that first round series, and even though George is much bigger than Powell, he was the man on the roster who stepped up to the challenge and was most successful.

Entering this season, some were excited to see what Powell’s game could look like full time in the rotation, but there was a small group who were unsure if they hadn’t seen enough of Powell to make a decision. In these past few weeks, the latter group has officially been quieted. At this point of the season, Powell has played in as many games as he did last year. He has taken leaps forward in his game and now the narrative has become, “how do we find him more minutes?”.

Right now Powell is log jammed behind starting small forward DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and Cory Joseph. The Raptors have a lot of talent in their backcourt, and not having enough minutes for an up and coming talent is a weird problem to have. Looking at it from the team’s perspective, it speaks to the great depth the Raptors front office has constructed.

Off the bench this season, Powell’s place in the rotation is only finding him 11.8 minutes per game but he has stayed a constant professional, never complaining about his role, and is always ready to step up when he is needed to. When DeRozan went down with ankle an injury, or even earlier on in the year when Carroll wasn’t playing the second night of a back to backs, it was Powell who got the starting spot. In his 14 starts, he’s averaging 31.9 minutes, scoring 14.7 points per game, which has to be put into some context because some of these starts are without DeRozan, so there are a lot more of available shots on the floor.

When Powell does have full reigns to score within the offense, he’s taken a lot of strides forward this season. He is still his most effective when running downhill to the basket (mostly in transition), but in the half court Powell’s ball handing has improved to where he is very effective coming off screens and using his quick first step to shake his defender off just enough for a path to the basket. In the play below, Jonas Valanciunas sets a high screen for Powell, who automatically recognizes the speed advantages he has over Greg Monroe who is going to have to back pedal an awful lot to keep up with the quick Powell. Using extremely crafty footwork, Powell is able to get to the basket with ease and finish.

While using his amazing athleticism to get to the basket is one of his greatest skills, scoring at the rim is something he could improve on. Since 43% of Powell shot’s are coming at the rim, he’s finishing those shots at 57%, which is a hair under league average. The area that could improve is his free throw rate, which sits at is 25%. With the amount of shots he’s taking at the rim, you would hope to see Powell get to the line a bit more. Once those calls start coming, and he finishes a little more efficiently at the rim, Powell driving to the basket will be a massive headache for defenses.

The Raptors don’t rely heavily on three point shooting, but Powell has improved on his shot enough that a lineup where he shares the floor with players like DeRozan who work mostly inside the three point line, Powell can space out to the three point line and effectively hit open jumpers. On catch and shoot threes, he’s shooting 36.3%, his most effective area being in the left corner, where 30% of all his three point attempts are coming from, shooting a blistering 45% from that area. Corner snipers are vital in an offense, they space out the floor from the middle pick and roll action. Their defenders are usually the first help when someone penetrates through the middle to the basket. They are usually the player who gets the most kick outs, and when a kick out to a corner happens and the defense does rotates they initiate the perimeter ball movement.

While having Powell in corners is important to the offense, the fact that his three point shooting continues to improve adds just another offensive weapon to his game. Other than Lowry, Powell is probably the second best player on the Raptors at being to work his game from three, but also have the ability to get to the basket with ease. The encouraging part to Powell’s game is the fact that you can see there is room to grow, and the development he’s already shown in his short time in the league makes you think that the raw talents he’s showing now have the potential to blow away what people’s expectations of Powell were before he entered the league.

With an offensive game that’s blossoming, it’s Powell’s defense that continues to be one of his greatest strength. His defensive IQ for his age is off the charts. He applies pressure on ball handlers without committing fouls, his lateral quickness inhibits ball handlers driving to the basket, his freakish 6”11 wingspan, mixed with his speed always seems to find it’s way into passing lanes. All these skills make up a defender who’s willing and capable of guarding multiple positions, from quick point guards, to much larger players like LeBron James.

Powell is one of the Raptors most exciting players on the roster right now. He’s still developing his game, yet he is making an impact on a regular basis right now. Like a majority of young players in their early 20’s late teens, Powell is prone to making mistakes that young players make. He can also disappear into the background at times, where open layups at the rim don’t fall and nights when his defense just isn’t quite there. Looking at games where his game is on full display, you can see that many of the right tools are there to make a future productive player.

The main setback with Powell continues to be the Raptors minutes conundrum. Both Carroll and Ross hold positions over Powell in the depth chart right now, while moving him into the starting small forward spot seems logical, the Raptors don’t seem ready to give up on their investment in Carroll just yet. The Raptors will hopefully figure out what they have in Powell before he hits restricted free agency by 2018. With Carroll and Ross also locked up long term, Powell’s minutes in the future will remain up in the air unless a move is made. With the raw skills he has now, there’s no doubt that teams will be willing to throw large offer sheets at Powell, sending the Raptors very deep into the tax if they chose to match. For now, Powell will most likely have to fight for some of his minutes, continue consistent play, and hopefully steal some minutes once the playoffs role around. For now, lets just continue to enjoy this video..

Follow – @Spenred

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Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, Feb. 8

There is, mercifully, some rest coming. Charged with one of the most dense schedules of the NBA season so far and a very compressed ledger of late, a banged-up and tired Toronto Raptors team is about to get a reprieve. Starting Thursday, they’ll play just three games over 15 days, including three consecutive days of this week, a virtually unheard of mid-season break. First, though, they have to visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, who present an opportunity for the Raptors to enter their siesta with a bit of momentum and much higher spirits.

Winners of two in a row for the first time in weeks, the Raptors draw a Wolves outfit that’s coughed up four straight, including two in a row at home. Minnesota is a much tougher challenge than their 19-33 record would suggest, but the loss of Zach LaVine has them reeling some, and a Raptors team that’s nearly back to #FullSquad status should sense an opportunity to pounce, taking advantage of being on the good side of the injury/momentum ledger for the first time in a while. But again, the Wolves are hardly an easy out, so the Raptors can’t afford to do what they did against this team before the All-Star break last year and look past them, getting punished as a result.

This also presents another opportunity for Canadian basketball fans to check in on the progress of Andrew Wiggins. As a comparison point, in his third season he’s a little younger than DeMar DeRozan was at the same time, and through that lens, it looks like he’s doing just fine. DeRozan is a completely unique player development case, and his ascension can’t be assumed for anyone else, but from a raw production standpoint, Wiggins still firmly seems on his way to a good place.

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Zach Harper of FanRag Sports and A Wolf Among Wolves, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Zach LaVine’s torn ACL is still making me sad. Losing a player that dynamic and exciting sucks for the entire league, and from the Wolves perspective, it’s a loss of important development time. How big a setback is the injury, not from a playoff-push standpoint, but from a more macro “this core figuring it out” perspective?

Zach Harper: It sucks. This isn’t saying a whole lot but he’s already the best 3-point shooter in Wolves history. No disrespect to Shane Heal. He’s going to set all of their records within a couple of years from beyond the arc and was on pace to obliterate their single-season best for makes (Kevin Love, 190). While the ACL tear isn’t the killer it used to be, it puts the Wolves in a couple of precarious situations. The Wolves’ starting lineup is the most used lineup in basketball right now. Tom Thibodeau has been trying to get them as many reps as possible to work out their many issues defensively. On offense, they lose their best floor-spacer and a guy that is killer in transition. To miss those reps with LaVine just delays them figuring it out. Also, he’s up for his extension off the rookie deal in October and he probably won’t be back until November. Not a huge deal but you probably have to commit a lot of money before you see him on the court.

Blake Murphy: The lone bright spot from LaVine’s injury: Lance Stephenson! I’m fully expecting the newly signed Stephenson to drop 20 on the Raptors here, because that’s what players like Stephenson in situations like Stephenson’s do to the Raptors. It’s science. Where are your expectations for Stephenson, and is this a short-term depth filler or a potential piece for the rest of the year? (Also, Zach, this headline, amazing work.)

Zach Harper: I expect him to give us one epic .gif during his 10 days. It wouldn’t shock me if he played defense just well enough to get a second 10-day and a rest of the season deal, but I have zero hopes that he’ll contribute. He’s a veteran presence that you break the glass for in case of emergency. The LaVine injury is the emergency. I guess this is why they had the open roster spot.

Blake Murphy: Outside of Stephenson, Kris Dunn figures to maybe see more time with LaVine out, at least once he’s healthy. He hasn’t exactly blown the doors off in his rookie season, but are there reasons for Wolves fans to remain encouraged with Dunn as a prospect?

Zach Harper: Absolutely. He’s been very good defensively for most of his rookie season. You rarely expect that from a rookie, and especially a rookie point guard. He’s been torched a few times, but he’s mostly excelled at harassing dribblers, getting deflections, and even blocking shots inside. Offensively? Hey, did I mention how good he’s been on defense? Offensively, it’s been rough. His passes are sloppy. His shot is broken. He’s not driving to the basket consistently. I think these things will improve the rest of the way, but he’s got a long way to go until he deserves Ricky Rubio’s spot.

Blake Murphy: You and I have spoken a handful of times about the perception that Andrew Wiggins doesn’t have “it” or the “killer instinct” or whatever other personality trait people like to ascribe to more demonstrative players. For the most part, I think this is silly, and the accused *lack* of these things often seems like a crutch for explaining why someone just doesn’t love a player’s game, or can’t explain why they’re not at their full potential yet. Wiggins is 21 years old, averaging 22 points on moderate efficiency, showing an evolved in-between game, and lines up fairly well with DeMar DeRozan, statistically, at roughly the same point. The defense hasn’t come consistently yet, because again, he’s 21. All of this is a rambling way of asking: Andrew Wiggins is still on track to be very good, yes? 

Zach Harper: Yeah, he’s really good for a player in his early 20’s. If you expected LeBron James and you get what Wiggins is then you’re trying to disparage him for you miscalculating what he should be. He’s still a good on-ball defender, who struggles with off-ball stuff. That’s improved this season but a lot of the blow-by situations you see typically come with confusion on help from the bigs in Thibs’ system. That communication is on both parties, but the perimeter player is the one usually getting blamed for it because it “looks” worse aesthetically for them. The criticism of Wiggins typically comes from League Pass tourists parachuting in and focusing on the bad moments. I guess that’s part of the game with analyzing players but if you watch him every night and don’t come away impressed with this 21-year old while recognizing there is room for improvement, it’s just hard to take you seriously.

Offensively, the handle is getting better and he’s passing a lot more. The passing has improved quite a bit but has a lot of room to grow in pick-and-rolls. He’s fearless taking late game shots and he’s been pretty successful at them as of late. People say, “he can’t be the No. 1 guy on a title team.” Good thing they have Karl-Anthony Towns then.

Blake Murphy: Higher or lower: Number of headshot kills in John Wick 2 or Ricky Rubio trade rumors from here until the end of his deal?

Zach Harper: If there are readers of yours who haven’t seen John Wick, go do yourself a favor and watch it before John Wick 2 comes out this weekend. John Wick is the best action movie and the best action movie character I’ve ever seen. Yes, you’ll scoff at such high praise of a Keanu Reeves movie. Just go see it. I haven’t had one person I’ve recommended it to not come away in complete awe of how good it is. Nobody gets more headshots than John Wick. Not even Sears. John Wick 2 headshots will far surpass Rubio trade rumors. Mostly because I think Rubio will be traded this summer, but also because it’s #HEADSHOTSZN.

Raptors updates
With DeMar DeRozan back, the Raptors only need to worry about the status of Patrick Patterson. Patterson is dealing with a contusion to the same knee he previously strained and missed significant time with, and so while it’s not a re-injury, the Raptors are being careful. It’s sounded for a few days now like Patterson is ready to go, but with three more days off coming up, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Raptors just try to fight through one more game without him. If he can’t go, Pascal Siakam or Lucas Nogueira could start, while Dwane Casey’s bench units will continue to be fluid and, quite often, weird. A Patterson return could really help bring some rotation stability here.

For anyone wondering – and a few have asked – the team-level numbers still aren’t any kinder to Siakam despite the up-tick in performance over his last stretch and the team winning games with him as a starter. Correlation does not equal causation, it turns out. The starters with Siakam have still been outscored by 7.3 points per-100 possessions over 345 minutes, not a criticism of the rookie but of the fit of those pieces. Toronto’s best non-Patterson lineup might be the dual-center starting look, which has held up remarkably well in 96 minutes, playing to a plus-13.5 net rating in protected minutes against only certain matchups.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: None

Timberwolves updates
Already down Nikola Pekovic for the year, the loss of Zach LaVine is a huge hit to the Wolves, and to NBA fans in general. His absence pushes Brandon Rush into the starting lineup and necessitates the signing of Lance Stephenson (which is not official as of this writing), but it could also open up more minutes for rookie Kris Dunn. Dunn’s been sitting with a hand injury, but he practiced Tuesday and was available in an emergency Monday, so there seems a good chance he’ll be given the nod in this one. Adreian Payne also remains out indefinitely due to thrombocytopenia.

As Zach mentioned, the pre-injury starters were the most used group in the NBA, which means all of Minnesota’s rotations are going to feel a little unfamiliar now. LaVine was a member of Minnesota’s three most common lineups, and the most regularly used one without him has played just 98 minutes together. As a comparison, the Raptors have three lineups that have played together more than that (although only one that doesn’t feature Patterson). Look out for Minnesota’s new starting group, too – in 79 minutes as a unit over 10 games, they’ve outscored opponents by 12.8 points per-100 possessions.

PG: Ricky Rubio, (Kris Dunn), Tyus Jones
SG: Brandon Rush, (Lance Stephenson)
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill
TBD: Kris Dunn, Lance Stephenson
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne

The line
The Raptors are 3.5-point favorites on the road, which is always a nice nod of respect to the visiting side. The over-under sits at 212.

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Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 8

Four lessons we learned about the Raptors while DeMar DeRozan was out – The Athletic

In the seven games DeRozan missed, Jonas Valanciunas averaged 10.3 field-goal attempts and 3.1 free throws per game. For the season, Valanciunas is averaging 9.2 field-goal attempts and 2.9 free throws per game. His usage percentage crept up from 19.0 per cent with DeRozan in the lineup to 22.1 per cent while DeRozan was out.

All of which is to say Valanciunas absorbed some of the missing offence that was usually supplied by DeRozan, but his role increased incrementally, and not in a major way. When the Raptors were considering a future without DeRozan, had the guard left this past summer in free agency, it was thought Valanciunas’s touches would go way up. That just did not happen without DeRozan.

“He has to go with his opportunities,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the Raptors’ win in Brooklyn on Sunday. “Jonas, I think he does a better job when plays are not called for him. The ball kind of finds him and he does a better job.”

The Raptors posted Valanciunas up slightly more often with DeRozan out: Before DeRozan’s injury, his shots followed two or more dribbles 15.9 per cent of the time, and he held the ball for two or more seconds 32.5 per cent of the time; those numbers bumped up to 19.3 per cent and 33.3 per cent after DeRozan’s injury.

Again, that is a small increase. However, the Raptors did not fundamentally change how they used their starting centre

Considering the Raptors’ Salary Cap Future, and Trades in the Present – Raptors HQ

The big question becomes, how much tax are the Raptors willing to pay? Lowry is eligible for up to a $35.7 million starting salary. And Patterson will likely see offers in at least the $12 to $15 million range, if not higher. Add about $48 million to that projected cap amount above (plus an additional $3 million for those picks) and you are looking at a total salary of $141 million. That’s a projected $19 million above the tax line, which would translate to a tax bill of an additional $41 million, leaving total team salary cost at $182 million, about $75 million more than they are paying this year. That’s… a lot. Though not quite as much as we assumed last time we did this review.

So, maybe a Terrence Ross or a Cory Joseph fall by the wayside and get moved for futures or cheaper salary and the bill goes down a bit to a more manageable level. Probably easy enough to manage, and even if they stand pat, maybe they get enough of a discount from the two free agents that the tax payments are reasonable, especially if the team has another deep playoff run this spring.

So, that’s the straightforward option. Let’s look at what they might do if they manage to pull off a deadline deal for a power forward upgrade.

DeMar DeRozan, Raptors ready to push past midseason blues – USA Today

DeRozan believes there’s a chance for a healthy Raptors team to make a push down the final stretch of the regular season, though, especially with the NBA All-Star break looming, which will provide a resting period for most players.

“The last couple years we always dealt with injuries, always figured out a way how to fight through it,” DeRozan said. “It sucks not having your full team. Especially key guys like that. Once we get (Patterson) back and guys get a sense of rest and once All-Star break comes hopefully we can take off running right in time.”

With a growing level of confidence birthed out of being back on the winning track, the Raptors goal is to regain the footing lost in the standing when victories were more difficult to come by.

DeRozan said he’s confident that can happen.

“We had a tough couple weeks and we’ve been fighting to try to get out of that,” DeRozan said. “We’ll exert the energy we have now going into these next two weeks and use that rest wisely and after All-Star break just run away with it.

Raptors, Cory Joseph committed to defence | Toronto Sun

Joseph’s numbers were slipping. Not his offensive numbers, which will never be the measure of the success of his game, but the defensive numbers when he is on the court.

Joseph is a defence-first guy, a player who earns his minutes by helping make things difficult for the opposition to score.

He’s quick and agile and just determined enough to get in the way of opponents and hold down scorers.

For whatever reason that has not been the case this season. Casey has been critical of his pick-and-roll defence, his NBA calling card until this season. When talking about the need for improvement in that area didn’t bring about the anticipated corrections, Casey played the only card a coach can play in a league ruled by players. He cut his playing time.

Nothing motivates a player like not playing when he feels he should be playing.

Casey would not get into the particulars of why Joseph’s effectiveness had fallen off even suggesting the why didn’t matter. All he wanted was change and Monday night he got it.

Joseph’s level of physicality picked up and with it so did his effectiveness.

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NBA Metrics 101: The Best Playmakers in the NBA, According to the Numbers | Bleacher Report

No NBA player does more as a scorer while making it so hard on himself.

DeMar DeRozan doesn’t rely on his virtually nonexistent three-point stroke, instead preferring to attack the basket and launch constant mid-range assaults. While many modern players turn up their noses at lengthy twos in favor of working from more efficient zones, DeRozan has made his living on pull-ups and turnaround jumpers from those very spots.

But that’s not all.

He also creates an inordinate number of his own looks. Though 87.5 percent of his sporadic triples come after a teammate’s feed, he requires assists on just 21.1 percent of his two-pointers. Rather than cutting and spotting up, he prefers to back down an opponent or dribble into his looks, taking advantage of his strength and vastly improved touch while fighting through contact.

Only James Harden and Russell Westbrook score more unassisted points per game, and they each do so while using far more possessions. DeRozan has become the unabashed master of providing nontraditional—and still valuable—offense, which allows him to emerge as the league’s top playmaking shooting guard with room to spare.

Decoding the enigmatic Terence Ross – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson and Josh Lewenberg are joined by Raptors 905 Assistant Coach David Gale to discuss Terence Ross and what kind of untapped potential he could still have.

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Updating the Raptors’ Win Total Projections with 30 Games Left – Raptors HQ

That projects to a 5.9-4.1 record over the next ten games.

Spacing out before the game #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Toronto Raptors Must Make A Decision With Delon Wright – Hoops Habit

On paper, Wright brings the Raptors a lot of what they’ve been missing. A player that can be disruptive to the opposition, attack the rim, and create for himself and others. Allowing a talent like Wright to sit on the bench without being utilized would be a waste.

He’s already 24 years old and should be entering his prime.

Unfortunately for Wright, his uphill battle for minutes isn’t just impacted by the talent Toronto has at his position, but Dwane Casey’s insistence on playing Lowry heavy minutes. Lowry averaged 38.4 minutes in January and 39.5 so far in February.

Despite the point guard depth, the trust factor still isn’t there. Resting Lowry and giving more opportunity to Wright, among others could help keep Lowry fresh and prepare guys so that they can step up in the playoffs. But that does not appear to be the game plan at this point.

Ultimately the Raptors can’t be inactive when it come to their point guard position. Keeping the logjam in place without fully using their depth is unacceptable.

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Raptors 905: Becoming good men as important as reps – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson and Josh Lewenberg are joined by Raptors 905 Assistant Coach David Gale explains how time spent with the 905 isn’t solely about players getting reps to be ready for the big club.

Tall Tales: The Raptors share their best Kevin Garnett stories – Sportsnet.ca

Jared Sullinger (played with Garnett during his rookie season in Boston): Ok, I’m going to leave some names out of this…

It’s the fourth day of training camp and we’re in Istanbul, Turkey. We’re scrimmaging and KG gets fouled, and the guy who fouled him yells— excuse my French, mom— “Hell no, that ain’t no f***ing foul!” KG was at the free throw line, dribbling the ball and about to shoot.

He turns his head and goes, “What the **** did you just say?” to his teammate. He threw the ball back to the ref and says, “Hold on— I have more f***ing turnovers than you have minutes played in this mother******* league. Don’t ever f***ing talk to me like that again.” I was just, like…frozen. I thought to myself, “Welcome to the NBA, Jared.”

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Ujiri Serves As Camp Director At Basketball Without Borders Global Camp | Toronto Raptors

The NBA and FIBA hosted the inaugural BWB Global Camp at NBA All-Star 2015 in New York City, beginning an annual All-Star tradition. BWB, the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, has reached 2,690 participants from 133 countries and territories since 2001, with 43 campers drafted into the NBA. Twenty-three former BWB campers were on opening-night rosters for the 2016-17 season, including Dragan Bender (Phoenix Suns; Croatia; BWB Global 2015), Maker and Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets; Canada; BWB Global 2015). “The Basketball without Borders Global Camp is a great opportunity for the top male and female prospects from around the world to compete against one another, learn directly from NBA and FIBA players, legends and coaches, and experience the excitement of NBA All-Star,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations & Head of Elite Basketball, Brooks Meek.  “The Basketball without Borders program was founded on the belief that basketball brings young players from different backgrounds together and transcends cultural boundaries.”

“We look forward to the Basketball without Borders Global Camp taking place in New Orleans and tipping off another exciting year of the BWB program,” said FIBA National Federations & Sport Director Zoran Radovic. “The camp, which brings together youth players from across the globe, has already gone from strength to strength in a very short period of time and provides campers with the experience of a lifetime, both on and off the court.” Current NBA assistant coaches Joe Connelly (Denver Nuggets), Jay Hernandez (Orlando Magic) and Fred Vinson (New Orleans Pelicans), along with Brooklyn Nets scout and NBA D-League Assistant GM Matt Riccardi, will also serve as BWB Global coaches. Patrick Hunt (President of the World Association of Basketball Coaches; Australia), Gersson Rosas (Houston Rockets; Colombia), Marin Sedlacek (Philadelphia 76ers; Serbia) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors; Nigeria) will serve as camp directors. Former NBA trainer Wally Blase (U.S.) will serve as the camp’s athletic trainer.

Wednesday game day: Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors, vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves. The Minnesota centre averages 23.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, shoots about 55 per cent from the floor and 35 per cent from three. It’s a true matchup dilemma for Valanciunas, who will have to guard Towns all over the floor.

Flexin' #wethenorth

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Scouting Report | Wolves vs. Raptors | Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Matchup: Andrew Wiggins vs. DeMar DeRozan

Chances are Wiggins will be matched up against DeRozan, Toronto’s best scorer.

In his third season, Wiggins is averaging a career-high 22.2 points to go with 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s also shooting a career-high 34.3 percent from the 3-point line on 3.5 attempts per game. In five career games against Toronto, Wiggins is averaging 23.4 points and 4.2 rebounds.

DeRozan is averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game and is headed to this third All-Star game this season. He’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field and is making a career-high 7.5 free throws per game. In 14 games against the Wolves, he’s averaging 19.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Three things we saw when the Raptors beat the Clippers | Toronto Star

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Jarrod Uthoff revenge game leads Mad Ants to victory over 905

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Fort Wayne Mad Ants (19-10) def. Raptors 905 (22-9); 105-92 | Box Score
Assignees: Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo (905), Georges Niang (Mad Ants)

In a battle of the top two seeds in the Eastern conference, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants used a whole lot of Jarrod Uthoff to hand the Raptors 905 their second straight defeat.

Uthoff finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds, SIX BLOCKS, three steals, and a couple of assists to slam the door on his past with the 905 shut in style. He had his outside game working with three perfect attempts from long-distance, and appears to fit in quite nicely on a Mad Ants roster filled with athleticism and rim rockers.

Jerry Stackhouse elected to go small in the backcourt tonight with Brady Heslip starting alongside Wright. Willy Sheehey and Axel Toupane both missing tonight’s contest through injury were obviously factors in the decision, but I’d like to think that John Jordan’s play of late added to coach Stackhouse’s confidence in doing so.

Wright was assigned to the 905 yesterday, and continued to show he’s ready to play. Wright brought out the oohs and ahhs from the sparse crowd with a Westbrook-like attack off a made bucket by the Mad Ants midway through the first quarter. Fort Wayne looked like they had numbers back but Wright kept coming, reaching that point of no return and somehow doing a 360 in the air before flipping the ball up for two of his eight first-quarter points.

Bruno had a lively start in this one; blocking Georges Niang inside, and then keeping two possessions alive for the 905 on the other end. He hit his beloved corner three, after hitting the side of the backboard on a drive and fade from the left baseline. You can’t win ’em all. He finished the game with eight points, seven boards, two steals and a block, but shot just 3-of-11 from the field. For those of you keeping track of the upgraded personal swag, he wore a right elbow sleeve tonight.

Despite the initial blocked attempt, Niang caused all sorts of problems for the 905 early; abusing Edy Tavares in the pick and roll. Niang finished the quarter with nine points, but was quieter after Stackhouse countered by checking Yanick Moreira into the game. It worked, as the 905 cut an early deficit to just two points entering the second quarter. Niang scored just two points the rest of the way.

The 905 quickly unraveled in the second quarter, finding themselves down 45-30 after a 24-11 run to open the quarter. Jarrod Uthoff (remember him?) capped off the run with five points on jumpers of consecutive possessions. The man he was traded for, Christian Watford, had a quiet night with just two points after catching fire in the previous game with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

After scoring 22 for the 905 in their previous game, Heslip kept up his hot shooting in the first half with 15 points that included three makes from long distance. He finished the game with 20 points, but failed to collect a single rebound or assist.

Not for the first time, my Facebook Live feed gave way with about five minutes to go in the third quarter, before returning with the score at 80-73 in favour of the bad guys with 8:54 to play. The 905 tried to chip away at the lead, but their attempts were put to waste by a determined Uthoff. He drained a couple of triples late to keep the 905 at bay, before Alex Poythress ended E.J. Singler’s career with a poster dunk that gave the Mad Ants a 103-88 lead with about a minute to play.

The 905 let an 18-point lead slip against the Grand Rapids on Saturday, and it appears they’ve hit a bit of a lull. This marks the first time all season that they’ve lost consecutive games on the road. Their largest losing streak this season has been three, so Stackhouse will be determined to stem the tide as soon as possible. He missed Saturday’s game in order to attend services for his childhood friend and former NBA player Charles Shackleford, who was found dead on January 27th.

Notes

  • The Mad Ants bench outscored the 905 reserves 54-33, not a line you see often.
  • Antwaine Wiggins was a solid contributor tonight with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He had a really nice move in isolation in the first half, crossing over to create some separation, before sneaking in a lay-in under the outstretched arm of the defender.
  • Julyan Stone dropped the hammer on Moreira towards the end of the first half. It was nasty.
  • The 905 will take on the Windy City Bulls at 8:00pm EST on Thursday to complete their four-game road swing.
  • The 905 have another road game Thursday before returning home Saturday for a game that should include two, maybe three Raptors assignees. If you wanted to go to Saturday’s game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Comparing Toronto Raptors schedule to opponents offers room for optimism

The Toronto Raptors have survived the toughest part of their schedule and have reason to be cautiously optimistic heading into the All-Star Break.

Following a free flowing offensive win the Toronto Raptors appear to have weathered the storm of life without DeMar DeRozan. Certainly the body language on court last evening points to the Raptors’ swagger being back. What can’t be denied is from top to bottom, the entire roster functions more smoothly when both All-Stars are in the lineup. So, with just 4 games remaining until the All-Star break, the focus can shift to finishing strong and getting to the break healthy.

During DeRozan’s absence the Toronto Raptors went 3-4 and suffered some humiliating losses. Meanwhile, their opponent last night has gone 2-7 since the loss of Chris Paul. Granted, he is the Clippers facilitator, but LA still boasts core contributors Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. The fact they are losing at a 77% clip speaks to how quickly tides can turn with the loss of one key asset. And, for as much as Raptors fans voiced reasonable concerns over January’s skid, review of their competition spotlights equal struggles and reasonable explanations for successes.

Dog Days:

The period in the NBA schedule which covers Boxing Day through the All-Star break is referred to as the ‘Dog Days’. It’s no coincidence most players and teams despise this portion of the schedule. At season start there is the excitement of a new campaign, post All-Star break teams are refreshed and eager to get back to business and April offers inspiration to finish strong in preparation for the post season. But, the 6 weeks leading up to the break are when teams/players are dealing with nagging injuries, have undertaken long alternate coast – road trips (for the most part), and dealt with the natural let down that comes after the holidays.

It’s also common during this segment of the schedule for young, inexperienced, lottery ranked teams to catch seeded teams off guard.
To wit, in the five weeks since the calendar turned to 2017 the Sixers achieved 10 of their 18 wins, Denver 9, Minnesota 8, and Phoenix has 7 wins.

Moreover, the Toronto Raptors aren’t alone in their struggles over this period. Diving into the upper echelon of the Association the Spurs suffered half their losses in the New Year (6 of 12 losses) while the East’s top seeded Cavaliers have lost 8 games (15 total on season) during this period.

Breaking down Raptors’ Eastern counterparts New Year performances:

With the Raptors victory over the Clippers and the Cavaliers overtime win over the Wizards, Toronto have reclaimed the third seed and been given a full game cushion over Washington.  To get a better idea of how the schedule has effected the East’s main seeds let’s dive into their schedules in terms of how they fared during the ‘Dog Days’ and what they can expect returning from the All-Star Break.

Looking further into each team offers some additional insight:

Cavaliers: 35-15

The Cavaliers will play two back-to-back sets prior to hitting the break facing:

  • @Pacers
  • @OKC
  • Nuggets
  • @Wolves
  • Pacers

Of those four are seeded teams. Cleveland holds the 3-0 record versus Toronto and will play them once more in the final game of the season.

Notes: in the 8 games Cleveland have played versus the Western Conference on the road their record is 2-6. This may play a role as they complete their schedule given they have 7 more games to play out West.

Celtics: 33-18

Heading into the break the Celtics have a West road trip with one back-to-back set:

  •  @Kings
  • @Blazers
  • @Jazz
  • @Mavs
  •  Sixers
  • @Bulls

Notes: The Celtics still have a number of games to play on the opposite coast where they have demonstrated issues with a 2-4 record. With 9 games still to be played on the opposite coast it could play a big factor in the final win-loss column.

Wizards: 30-21

Games until All-Star Break:

  • @Nets
  • Pacers
  • OKC
  • @Pacers

Notes: like the Cavs and Celtics the Wizards have not fared well versus the Western Conference posting a 1-5 record. Out of the top 4 seeds however the Wizards may take the greatest hit given they have 2 major West Coast trips to complete.

Hawks: 30-22

Games until All-Star Break:

  • Nuggets
  • @Kings
  • @Blazers
  • @Clippers

Notes: Hawks boast one of the better WC road records having gone 5-5 to date

Pacers: 29-22

Games until All-Star Break:

  • Cavaliers
  • @Wizards
  • Bucks
  • Spurs
  • @Cavaliers

Notes: Toronto has yet to face the Pacers with all 3 games from their regular season scheduled after the break.  Not to disparage the 7-game win streak Indy are currently on, but they played the Rockets and Pistons who are struggling and OKC with them on a back-to-back without their key reserve offensive player Enes Kanter.  Of the top teams the Pacers have fared better out West, but still have a losing record of 5-7.

Bulls:

Games until All-Star Break:

  • @Warriors
  • @Suns
  • @Timberwolves
  • Raptors
  • Celtics

Notes:  If there is one team the Raptors need to beat just for the psychological edge, it is the Bulls. Accordingly, Chicago is mired in chemistry issues, upper management fiddling with in game decisions and could be on the precipice of trading away their cornerstone asset.  Obviously the upcoming game would be a great time for Toronto to take advantage of the current state of the Bulls.  That said the only East team in the top seeds with a winning West Coast record is the Bulls who boast a 6-5 record.

The Others:

Pistons:

From my perspective the Pistons have been the most disappointing team to this point in the season. I envisioned them competing for a home court seed, not clinging to eighth. However, their record against playoff seeds is telling- 10-18 versus their 14-10 record against non seeded teams.

Hornets:

Another perplexing team is Charlotte, who seemingly had the goods to compete on both ends of the court. They’ve struggled worse than the Raptors or Cavaliers during the dog days of the schedule. Worse, they’ve had a full complement of healthy bodies, so there aren’t any excuses to point to. With 31 games remaining 18 are against playoff teams, plus 2 each versus the Heat and Bucks who are embroiled in the mix to capture the final playoff seed.

Bucks:

Of all the teams chasing the lower playoff seeds the dark horse may be the Milwaukee Bucks. Now news (directly from) Khris Middleton will return this week may give the Bucks the shot in the arm they need to finish the season strong. Given the issues Cleveland has versus long, athletic teams Raptors fans should be pulling for the Bucks to be the first round Cavaliers match up.

Heat:

Not to be overlooked, especially considering their current 11-game win streak with 5-wins versus playoff seeds including the Warriors, Rockets and Hawks. Toronto won the lone meeting this season and have 3 games left to play in their series. The Heat have 15 games (13 post break) remaining against playoff seeds including 3 games each versus Toronto and Cleveland as well as 2 each versus the Pacers and Wizards

Knicks:

New York is sitting 4.5 games back of the eighth seed. Worse of their 29 remaining games 18 are against playoff seeds (plus 2 vs the Heat). Suffice to say, I’m feeling confident in my preseason prediction the Knicks were lottery bound.

Toronto Raptors Schedule Notes:

Bottom line there are positives to pull from the schedule. The fact Toronto has registered a .500 road record (6-6) out West for example.  Many of the teams in the mix with the Raptors for the top seeds have a much harder schedule heading into the break so with DeRozan back the question is whether the Raptors can build upon their current 2-game win streak. The loss of Zach LaVine may make the Timberwolves slightly vulnerable and then the Raptors have 3 full days to prepare for the Pistons.  The true test comes in the back-to-back set at Chicago and then home to the Hornets.  These final 2 games should require no extra inspiration, given the Hornets handed Toronto their widest margin of defeat this season and the Bulls –  – well I think we all know why the Raptors want that win.

Post All-Star break the Raptors schedule is one of the easiest relative to their competition with the fewest games against the West. There is still ample time for Toronto to fix the issues they had in January and the schedule offers opportunity to do so.

In Closing:

Although the Cavaliers have been without the services of J.R. Smith the reality is the Raptors suffered the greatest set backs injury wise losing Patterson for 11 games, DeRozan for 7 and Jared Sullinger who is only recently back on court. None of their competitors had 2 key contributors out for this amount of time.

In addition, while Boston has youth, the Raptors are the only top team utilizing three rookies in critical roles with viable playing time.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the Raptors want to follow the template set by the Spurs and Gregg Popovich. In fact, with the hardest part of their schedule complete getting Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet playing time while also utilizing Norman Powell and reintroducing Delon Wright could offer them experience while giving the core the rest it needs heading into the post season.

Bottom line, in review of the schedules the Raptors, (at least on paper) have the easiest route to staying in the upper tier with the possibility to still challenge for that top rung. As the Raptors prepare to close strong heading to the break, let’s also hope they learned valuable lessons during the January skid.  If they did, the Raptors final 29 games will be spent improving their defense in preparation for April.

For those interested you can follow me on Twitter @TTOTambz in addition to articles on Thunderous Intentions and articles/podcasts on 16 Wins A Ring.

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Fred VanVleet was ready when called upon, and will be again

Fred VanVleet could offer only a smirk. Looking up from his chair inside the Toronto Raptors’ locker room at the Air Canada Centre last Tuesday, the undrafted rookie had no other recourse as Jared Sullinger needled him. While Sullinger had drawn another DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) as he works his way back into game shape and into the rotation, VanVleet avoided the dreaded acronym with a whopping 0.5 seconds of playing time.

“That’s gonna hurt your averages,” Sullinger laughed.

Incredibly brief appearances have become somewhat commonplace for VanVleet, who finds himself third on the team’s depth chart at the point in a loaded guard rotation. A week prior, he’d played just 4.5 seconds. On 11 other occasions, he’s played fewer than five minutes. And, of course, he’s drawn 32 DNP-CDs of his own. That’s VanVleet’s lot as a freshman – sporadic but important late-game appearances, a lot of individual work, and some time with Raptors 905 in the D-League – and it’s one sophomores Norman Powell and Delon Wright can relate to. It’s taken some time to get comfortable following years as the go-to guy at Wichita State, but VanVleet’s figuring it out.

“I think I’ve gotten better. Early on it was tough, just trying to get adjusted to the NBA life in general,” VanVleet said Monday. “But I think now I’m good with it. The off-day work and the time when you’re not getting ready for the game is most important for me – to workout and eat right and stay ready – in that sense, so when you’re thrown out there, now you just gotta switch the mental switch and go out and perform.”

With the exception of a game Kyle Lowry sat for rest and one Cory Joseph sat for illness, this is VanVleet’s role, and it’s one he understands how to thrive in now.

Or it was his role, rather.

On Friday morning, head coach Dwane Casey gave VanVleet the heads up that he was being moved to the No. 2 spot in the point guard rotation. With the team wanting to give the struggling Joseph a bit of a reprieve (mental or physical or both), VanVleet was going to be Lowry’s primary backup when the Raptors took on the Orlando Magic. VanVleet’s done well to stay ready for his spot minutes to date, but the knowledge that he’d be playing a more substantial – and certain – role necessitated a slight change in mental approach.

“Luckily, before I played in Orlando, we talked about it in the morning, about me playing at night, so I had a little bit of time to, you know, just get more mentally locked in,” VanVleet said Monday. “It’s a different sense if I know I’m playing second point guard, I’ll just know in my mind that alright, under three minutes to go first quarter, that’s my first run. That type of stuff, versus alright, if I get in when we’re a blowout, I’m ’bout to try this, this, and this. You know what I mean? I visualize it the same way, I watch film the same, just probably a little bit more detail.”

The change in preparation goes beyond just the few hours before the game, too. While a full depth chart might mean deep bench players can go a little harder in practice or cheat on a meal on the road here and there, the knowledge that important minutes are coming shifts the approach over the entire 24-hour preparation cycle.

“You may sleep a little bit longer. Your naps become more important than trying to skip a nap to watch a show or answer the phone. You get a little bit more strict with your routine. You kinda can fall out of line with that sometimes when you’re getting a bunch of DNPs,” VanVleet explains, giving a nod to have life at the back of the rotation is different. “I’m definitely not eating burgers and milkshakes before the game if I know I’m going out there. I mean, you may stay up to watch that late West coast game, or, you know what I mean, you might talk to mom a little bit longer on the phone instead of taking your nap. Just little things like that you tweak here and there.”

However VanVleet prepared, what he did worked. Despite not playing more than 10 minutes since Jan. 17 and without a D-League tuneup since Jan. 10, he gave the Raptors 23 quality minutes. Offering steady defense and flashing some smart, crafty passes, VanVleet also poured in 15 points, and while he admits he was a little gassed at the end of each of his stints, he was pleased with his performance. The Raptors were, too, it seems, as despite turning back to Joseph late in that game, VanVleet was once again in the backup role Sunday. Again, he impressed with his defense and ability to run the offense, and not even a 2-of-10 shooting mark could keep him from grading well. All told, VanVleet scored 25 points with six rebounds, seven assists, and a plus-2 mark over those two games.

“I thought Fred did a good job with us resting or giving Cory a blow. I thought he took advantage of those minutes,” Casey said. “I think it’s something where Fred has done an excellent job but Cory is our energy backbone, plug him in and he’s ready to go. I think just to give him a rest physically will do that.”

For now, VanVleet seems to have accomplished his task, giving Joseph a breather. On Monday, Joseph was back in his usual role while VanVleet drew a zero in the minutes column. Vanvleet knew this might be coming, and there’s little he can do about it for now. Given the opportunity, he showed he can be trusted if Joseph stumbles again, if Lowry needs a night off, or if injury should strike. In the meantime, he’s learned a bit about how to get and stay ready in a different job, and that should prove valuable. The chance to play meaningful minutes outside of don’t-call-it-garbage time is also important for VanVleet’s own development, giving him not only experience but actual film to study

“Yeah, it’s good and bad,” VanVleet laughs. “When you get up there in blowouts scoring five points in two minutes, it’s a little bit easier to feel good about yourself than playing 25 and making 100 mistakes. I’m glad that I’ve played and have some film to break down and see where I can get better at.”

When VanVleet will be needed next is unclear. Because he can’t control it, there’s not a lot of sense in focusing on it. That doesn’t mean ascending the pecking order once again isn’t on VanVleet’s radar, though. After all, he had to scrap his way to a camp invite, then to make the roster and to keep four point guards with Wright healthy. The end-goal is loftier than a roster spot, but for now, VanVleet’s just trying to prove himself chance by chance, perhaps inciting some competition that will make everyone better off in the process.

“Yeah, I mean, all of those things were my focal point from Day One. But you gotta do one before you can do the other,” he said. “I can’t challenge Cory without making the 15, right? Now it’s just a matter of being the type of player they hate to leave on the bench, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I’ll adjust to whatever role and whatever it is.

“I also think it’s healthy. Not healthy for him to not play, obviously, ‘cause I’ll probably be in that position one day, too, and I don’t want that to happen to me. But healthy for him to…not relax, you know what I mean? We don’t talk about it, I don’t know what the reasoning was, I don’t question the coaches at all. I just trust that they know what they’re doing, and if they ask me to play, I’ll be ready, and if not, fine.”

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Raptors continue to get their act together in victory over Clippers

Clippers 109, Raptors 118 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Believe me, the frustration over the Raps’ recent stretch of uninspiring basketball is mutual — and I’m not just saying that because I’m still in disbelief over the Patriots covering the spread without holding a lead the entire game. Note to self: Bet with your gut, not with your rooting interest.

However, if you’re willing to look beyond the mediocrity and shift your focus to the big picture, there’s plenty of room to make the best out of a bad situation. Perhaps your shortlist of positives would look similar to mine:

1. What were the odds of Masai pulling the trigger on a deal before this team’s mini-collapse took place? Better yet, what were the odds Masai would fulfill the wishes of the vast majority…Well, while the level of likelihood is debatable, the probability percentage has since skyrocketed.

2. DeMar DeRozan’s time on the shelf coupled with Cory Joseph’s episodes of inconsistency certainly contributed to the Raps falling back to the pack. Food for thought, though: How important was it watching Norman Powell, and to a lesser extent Fred VanVleet, fill the void? I’d say it’s reassuring on two different levels but both revolve around roster flexibility:

A) Whether through injury or trade (the latter specifically referring to Terrence Ross and/or Cory Joseph), both Powell and VanVleet can help soften the blow from any potential loss at their respective positions.

B) Joseph has done too much for this team to think his benching in favor of FVV was anything more than Casey sending a message, so this is particularly directed at Powell’s playing time: Powell not only held the fort down while DeMar was out, he set up shop like it was business as usual. So much so that this team’s rotations (even when fully healthy) should officially be reexamined. He’s forced his way into this squad’s current core whether DeMar was ready to come back or not — there’s room to get creative. Which reminds me, I’ll need to touch on DeRozan in a bit; hint: he might have come back with a bang.

3. Let’s give the Eastern Conference shakeup a bit of perspective. Bad news first: As most of you already know (coming into Monday night), the win column for Boston, Washington and Atlanta all hit 75 precent or better over their last 20 games. The Raps over the same span: A disappointing .45. Hell, even the Pacers have snuck back into the conversation as a seven-game winning streak has brought them back to life and helped close the gap that separates the East’s second and sixth seeds to just 4 games.

The good news: For the foreseeable future, there’s no such thing as a meaningless game. Whether the Raps are facing a bottom-feeder or a member of the elite, we’re bound to get our money’s worth each and every night. I mean, the players and coaches still have to hold up their end of the bargain in the effort department, but simply put: the season’s just getting good!

Sunday’s matinee vs. Brooklyn offered some quality patchwork after falling apart in Orlando, so it’s as good a place as any to provide the starting point for a hopeful reboot. Now, with that “shortlist” out of the way, did Monday’s clash with the Clippers follow suit?

Win or lose (though it’s getting tougher to say that as the East gets more chaotic), all I was personally looking for were signs that promoted the mission of this team getting their act together, and vice versa.

Should I include the second-night-of-a-back-to-back asterisk? Not when both teams would need it, so feel free to toss that convenient caveat out.

Encouraging Signs:

With the team struggling to gain their footing out of the gate, particularly by failing to stay with 3-point shooters and having little to no success in the pick and roll, I can only assume preparing for the worst was a common theme among onlookers. But, satisfaction came shortly after as the Raps got out of their own way far more quickly than in numerous games over the past few weeks — communication began to make sense and passing lanes started to get disrupted. The latter was highlighted by Bebe’s denial at the top of the key which he followed up with a one-on-one fast break dunk that showed off just how athletic of a big-man he is.

Enter DeMar DeRozan:

His individual isolations can have a negative effect when the game is on the line (the supporting cast can’t exactly learn to be clutch when they’re never really given the chance), but if you needed a reminder of just how many quality opportunities open up for the rest of team when DeMar is on the floor, Monday brought it all back. Individually, DeMar picked up right where his midrange/floater/get-to-the-line game left off. He even added a couple threes to reminds us that if he ever hit from downtown consistently, Isaiah Thomas wouldn’t be hogging all the darkhouse-MVP spotlight. DeMar was present for a reasonable amount of the club’s recent slide so I’ll stop the gushing and hold him accountable, but there’s no denying what he means in the grand scheme.

Now, where to start in regards to Jonas Valanciunas… First off, kudos to the gameplan for making sure he was highly involved from the very beginning for the second consecutive game. JV actually had his jump shot falling throughout the game’s entirety. And if that wasn’t enough to get excited, even with the mini-run of success he’s currently enjoying, I can’t recall a game where his footwork, hands, and one-on-one confidence against above-average defenders in the post operated at such a high level. Let’s just hope involving the guy, who still has a chance to develop into this team’s missing third piece, with so much regularity becomes the new norm — even if he struggles! He feeds off the level of confidence the people around him have in him.

As for Lowry, a regular day at the office of doing damage from downtown while pushing the pace when it needs to be pushed is always encouraging. A shoutout also has to go out for passing Mo Pete to become the franchise’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. Though, perhaps his biggest impact last night was made on Cory Joseph. A player at the same position will snap out of a funk eventually with Lowry setting the example on a nightly basis. And on this night, Cojo got back to his calculated and determined self.

Vice Versa:

This matchup will never be confused with a defensive battle — 130 combined points in the first half and a 97-82 Raps’ lead entering the 4th is a good indication. But I can’t sit here and say the final outcome was all the Raps’ doing. Other than Blake Griffin using his physicality to will his way to a triple-double (not to mention furthering the notion that this team needs help down low), the Clippers never made a concerted effort to mix it up inside.

That makes sense when you rank 8th in threes per game and 4th in percentage. But what’s discouraging is other than DeMarre Carroll making life tough for J.J. Redick, the Raps seemed content with giving L.A. the opportunity to shoot themselves out of an off night.

Mind you, if a team continues to be ineffective, why stand in their way? Well, when one of a team’s defensive weaknesses is stopping their opponent’s strength, an opportunity to make progress shouldn’t be taken lightly. Besides, with the Raps’ tendency to lose their intensity after mounting a sizeable lead, the Clippers could very well have been in a position to steal the win.

Some might say that’s nitpicking, or even trying to find a hole that wasn’t there — especially on the aforementioned second night of a back-to-back. I’m definitely open to hearing you out but when you add in all the easy buckets that missed 3-pointers can (and did) cause, the Raptors were just playing with fire when they could have really sinked their teeth into the defensive side of the game. But I digress.

Last but certainly not least, I doubt anyone will have mixed feelings on this issue:

I get that there’s a rotational pecking order, and I get that playing time often comes down to the size of a player’s contract. But either get creative or get on the phone — Norman Powell CANNOT go back to the role he had beforehand. Not after what we’ve all recently witnessed. And don’t tell there’s no room with DeRozan back. Powell comes with too much positional flexibility for that to remain a valid counterpoint. I’d even go as far to say that Powell is now third in line when it comes to creating his own shot, and that probably could have been said months ago.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of this fan base as we all waited for Powell to make an appearance. Perhaps this sounds familiar: The 10-minute mark of the 4th quarter with the Raps up by double digits won’t cut it anymore! Like clockwork, though, he promptly hit a three, played sound defence and executed a near halfcourt alley-oop in the limited minutes he received.

But hey, it’s a good problem to have, right? While that may be true, even good problems eventually have to be addressed.

In the meantime, T.O. is seemingly back in business. Perhaps I should learn to take what I can get.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E10 – Hotline Bling

Hello Raptor fans! After some time away the boys are back at it again with another episode of Talking Raptors. However this time the landscape is a much different one since the last podcast. Nick and Barry sit down together and try to make sense of it all.

They discuss:

– What. Is. Happening. With this team.

– Cory Joseph and his up shaky play.

– Is a trade looming?

– Drake on Coach Calipari’s podcast.

– Kyle Lowry and All-Star Weekend.

-Introducing the Talking Raptors Hotline. CALL US! Seriously.  (877) 207 – 8611

All this and a bit more.. Hopefully the team starts trending in the right direction and we can all relax a little bit.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy and we thank you for listening.

Don’t forget to give us a call on the brand new Talking Raptors Hotline Voicemail to share your thoughts on the team.

Hit us up (877) 207 – 8611

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 7

10 things I saw from Raptors-Clippers (6–2–2017) – The Defeated

Welcome back: No rust whatsoever for DeMar DeRozan. He scored 13 in the first quarter and it just kept on coming. Working off the high screen to get into the lane, drive and dish to his bigs, floaters with either hand in the lane, getting to the foul stripe. He even drilled two threes: pull-up off a screen, corner look to beat the buzzer.

DeMar DeRozan’s return reawakens hunger in Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

It’s troubling to imagine what Monday’s loose, defence-free first quarter would have looked like for the Raptors without DeRozan around to pour in his first 13 points. The Raptors started slow in their own end, struggling to keep up with an endlessly cycling Clippers offence and allowing L.A. to hit six of its first eight shots. When the Raptors took their first timeout less than four minutes into the game, the Clippers already had a nine-point lead.

But after missing his first three attempts DeRozan started getting to work. Pivoting off a much-needed injection of energy from Nogeuira and centre Jonas Valanciunas, DeRozan’s shots began to fall and he found his way to the free-throw line seven times in the quarter, putting those early misses behind him with a steady string of buckets.

Once Lowry—who had an excellent start himself—finished his early shift, DeRozan dragged the Raptors through the end of the first, finishing it with a ringing put-back after Jakob Poeltl’s contested fast-break lay-up rimmed out. After trailing by double digits minutes earlier, the Raptors were finishing the opening frame up by four.

Finally healthy DeMar DeRozan helps Raptors break out of losing funk | Toronto Sun

DeRozan finished the game with 31 points including two three pointers but his return wasn’t just the return of a polished scorer. His presence just seemed to settle everyone in the lineup as the Raps won this one rather handily 118-109.

“It kind of put things back in the pecking order,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s funny how things go, you have so many talented young men but it’s still a pecking order. Guys know the rhythm with DeMar back in, how we play offensively, how we play defensively.”

In DeRozan’s absence, Lowry has been a rock, shouldering the load without his backcourt mate and keeping the Raptors afloat in trying times with both DeRozan and for a good chunk of his absence, Patrick Patterson out of the lineup too.

But with DeRozan back, Lowry looked more like his old self, not quite so frantic and not needing to be.

DeMar DeRozan’s return puts Raptors back in their rhythm | Toronto Star

“It kind of puts things back in the pecking order,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s funny how things go, you have so many talented young men but it’s still a pecking order. Guys know the rhythm with DeMar back in, how we play offensively, how we play defensively.”

How the Raptors played was well, at both ends of the court. They had a season-high 70 points in the first half, shot 49 per cent from the field and limited the Clippers to just 47 per cent shooting, a number more impressive when Blake Griffin’s 11-for-19 night is taken off the total.

“I think tonight we did the best job of passing out of double teams of any time this year,” Casey said. “We didn’t make shots but we made the right decisions and I think in time those shots will fall.

“I thought (Jonas Valanciunas) caught it in the middle and made good decisions, Lucas (Nogueira) got it in the middle (and) made good decisions and we still have to make the shots. And Kyle and DeMar willingly, on time and on target, gave up the ball and that’s so important. That’s a sign of growth.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQMvX2SgVGw/

Game Rap: Raptors 118, Clippers 109 | Toronto Raptors

FINISHING STRONG

Prior to the game, Dwane Casey talked about his team’s effort levels as they recently lost eight of 10 games saying that the effort was there, but the team needed to find a way to extend their stretches of defensive intensity. By the mid-way point of the quarter, free throws from Jonas Valanciunas stretched the lead to 20 points. Although Toronto would be outscored 16-5 in the final 6:30 of the game, the defensive effort throughout the game in building the 20-point lead allowed them to pick up their second consecutive victory after dropping eight of 10 games.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQLgCe6FWbx/

Blake Griffin’s triple-double is not enough for Clippers, 118-109 – LA Times

The Clippers never got a handle on DeMar DeRozan (31 points), who had missed seven of his last eight games with a sore right ankle, or Kyle Lowry (24 points, eight assists), or Jonas Valanciunas  (21 points, 12 rebounds).

In their last 10 games, the Clippers have the worst defensive rating (116.7) in the NBA.

“I don’t know why, but we’re pretty [bad] right now,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said after being limited to just 24 minutes 47 seconds because of foul trouble.

And why is the defense so porous?

“I think it’s multiple efforts,” Jordan said. “Locking into the game plan and just having some urgency and some fight.”

First half views (1/3). #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

February 6, 2017: Clippers 109, Raptors 118 – Los Angeles Clippers Blog

X-Factor: The Raptors dominated the Clippers from the FT line. Toronto made 26-of-29 FTs (89.7 percent), while the Clippers made only 12-of-18 FTs (66.7 percent). That’s a 14-point differential, the second-worst of the season for the Clippers behind only their December 30 game in Houston. DeRozan and All-Star teammate PG Kyle Lowry combined to make more FTs (14-of-16) than the Clippers did as a team.

@normanpowell4 can fly. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Clippers Fall to Raptors, 109-118 – Clips Nation

Free throws really plagued the Clippers throughout this game. The Raptors are an excellent team at both drawing and converting foul shots, so it was crucial for the Clippers to prevent any Raptors players, particularly DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, from getting to the line. By halftime, the Raptors were 19-22 at the line, versus the Clippers’ 5-7. And by game’s end, though the Clippers had managed to close the margin, 7 of DeRozan’s game-high 31 points and 7 of Lowry’s 24 came from the free throw line. As a team, the Raptors shot 89.7% from behind the line, making 26 of 29 attempts.

By contrast, the Clippers, also a great team at drawing fouls this season, only made 12 of 18 attempted free throws, good enough for just 66.7%. As bad as that was, the larger issue at hand was defending the Raptors without initiating contact. DeAndre Jordan, the defensive anchor for the Clippers, had committed his second foul less than four minutes into the game; he would find himself in foul trouble for much of the rest of the game. And his replacement, Marreese Speights, had also committed two costly fouls before the first quarter was even finished. The Clippers fouled plentifully, a result of poor-timing and being a bit over-zealous on the defensive end. The Clippers discovered an opportunity late in the second quarter by getting the ball down-low to Griffin in the post, where he drew three straight fouls in less than a minute. But for some reason, this tactic wasn’t employed in the second half.

First half views (3/3). #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Raptors start slow, cruise to win over Clippers 118-109 – Raptors HQ

Valanciunas, meanwhile, continued his strong stretch of play. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting 9-of-13 from the field and pulling out every trick in his offensive playbook. Valanciunas scored on putbacks, floaters, post-moves and a series of spins and drop steps. He even had the jumper working (with minimal pump fake involvement — Casey, when prompted, called him “decisive”). On defense, Jonas did what he could to keep DeAndre Jordan (6 points, 12 rebounds) from his usual thunderous finishes, and kept the team’s pick-and-roll defense relatively sound (Lucas Nogueira, 8 points and 6 boards, helped in this regard too). Sure the Raps gave up 60 points in the first half — but they scored 70, so all is forgiven.

First half views (2/3). #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Raptors this week: As deadline looms, it’s now or never to add to core – Sportsnet.ca

With this reality staring Toronto in the face just fourth months from now, it’s likely this season will be the last with one or even both of these players. Lowry’s departure would obviously hurt the most, but, as has become very apparent this season, Patterson is almost as important for what the Raptors want to accomplish.

Therefore, Masai Ujiri and Co. have to make a deadline move or they may as well abandon this Raptors team as constructed and look to begin to tear it down.

Ujiri has been incredibly conservative during his tenure with Raptors. Other than trading Rudy Gay, a move that accidently set into motion this period of Raptors prosperity, and drafting Bruno Caboclo, a pick that’s done absolutely nothing to help this current Raptors team, Ujiri has opted for slow and steady team building.

It’s a strategy that’s worked thus far, mainly because of how friendly the team’s core players’ contracts have been. But starting with DeMarre Carroll’s four-year $60-million deal – a contract that keeps looking worse and worse because of his diminishing skills – and continuing with DeRozan’s mega deal this past off-season the Raptors’ cap situation is an issue.

The team’s financial situation should spur Ujiri and his staff into action, one way or the other.

Toronto Raptors Two-Man Game: Depressing January – Tip of the Tower

Panic, no. Concerned, yes.

The Raptors have their issues right now, but I’m not quite ready to panic yet. Let’s keep in mind that both DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson have been in-and-out during this stretch of losing and they are key cogs for the team. With them in the lineup, the Raptors are averaging over 100 points per 100 possessions and we’ve seen this team struggle to score without them.

Of course, there are glaring issues like their shooting slump, inefficiencies on the glass, big-man rotation, Cory Joseph‘s play and constant defensive lapses, to name a few, but I won’t panic until we see this team at full strength. If they’re losing with a healthy roster, then, yea, smash the panic button with reckless abandon!

Frustrated? Yes, but the Raptors Aren’t Panicking – The New York Times

When Dwane Casey, the coach of the Raptors, was asked about his team’s level of confidence before Sunday’s game against the Nets, he used the word frustrated four times.

“Everybody’s frustrated,” Casey said. “When things are going good, everybody’s excited and happy. And then when you lose a few games in a row, it does test you. A lot of guys are frustrated. You want them to be frustrated. I want them to be frustrated. Nobody’s jumping up and down and chirping and whistling Dixie or whatever.”

Still, Casey seems to have solid perspective on such matters. Whenever he feels susceptible to the seductive tug of despair, Casey thinks back to when he was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2010-11 season. After running out to a strong start, the Mavericks went one stretch in which they lost nine of 11 games.

“We thought the end of the world was coming,” Casey recalled, “but we kept fighting, we kept practicing and we stayed together.”

Court Squeaks: Lowry solidifying his place in Raptors history – Video – TSN

Matthew Scianitti and Josh Lewenberg discuss DeMar DeRozan’s impressive return to the Raptors’ lineup and explain how he makes the job easier for everyone else on the team, what Kyle Lowry’s franchise record for three-pointers means for the All-Star, and weigh in on Cory Joseph’s recent struggles.

Patterson critical to Raptors’ success – Video – TSN

The importance of Patrick Patterson should not be overlooked by Raptors fans. His field goal percentage may be the worst of his career, but this year he has the 11th best plus/minus in the NBA. Leo Rautins has more on how critical he is to Toronto’s success.

Walter “Edy” Tavares named D-League All-Star – Raptors HQ

Tavares is currently averaging 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 28 games played. Tavares was not initially on the 905 roster as they claimed him off waivers after the Atlanta Hawks cut him. Nevertheless, he’s been a huge part of the team’s success so far this season, particularly on the defensive end.

Tavares currently ranks 5th in the D-League in shooting percentage at 60.6 percent (though most are dunks) and 3rd in blocks per game. He continues to be a very large man.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – DeRozan back in a big way

Host William Lou breaks down an encouraging win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Quick Reaction: Clippers 109, Raptors 118

LA Clippers 109 Final
Box Score
118 Toronto

C
P. Siakam16 MIN, 2 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Siakam had his struggles defensively tonight, particularly when wheedled into switches. Though he did have his moments – like that time in the first quarter where he brilliantly pushed Griffin away from the basket and denied a post-entry pass.

C
D. Carroll23 MIN, 9 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-

He had the Reddick assignment tonight and was chasing him into the earth’s core. Sometimes he snuffed out Reddick’s space; other times he couldn’t prevent JJ from getting open. It looked taxing physically.

This one drives me nuts:

A
J. Valanciunas32 MIN, 21 PTS, 12 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 9-13 FG, 0-0 3FG, 3-4 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Ok, there is some good stuff happening here lately.

Jonas has put together an impressive string of games. Despite DeAndre Jordan playing good post-defense on him on a couple sequences, JV had his way on offense — automatic from the mid-range and decisive in the post. I swear, this stuff didn’t exist a year ago:

D. DeRozan38 MIN, 31 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 11-22 FG, 2-3 3FG, 7-9 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

DeRozan looked rusty to start (missed his first three field goals and first two free throws) then started taking Rivers to school and getting his teammates involved.

The Raptors, um, look better offensively when he plays.

A
K. Lowry38 MIN, 24 PTS, 4 REB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 6-14 FG, 5-8 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 4 +/-

Hit some tough shots against pesky defenders in Felton and Reddick. I don’t know. I’m kind of desensitized to how good Lowry is.

B+
L. Nogueira26 MIN, 8 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 3-6 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Apart from letting Speights have miles to shoot early on from deep, Bebe improved defending the perimeter by disrupting the passing lanes. This might be one of my favorite Bebe plays of this season. Dude is an octopus:

Love how he’s always rolling to the rim and manifesting himself for a layoff at the rim:

B-
C. Joseph20 MIN, 12 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 0-3 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 9 +/-

Glad to see him back, but he’s still not the the Cory Joseph we know despite having some nice dribble penetration throughout.

It is harsh on him to be too nit-picky, given how hard he works on the floor, but he needed to play smarter when closing out shooters outside. This happened a couple times:

D
T. Ross19 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1-4 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 23 +/-

Immediately gave the Raptors life when he came in off the bench (when the Raptors desperately needed it). He was making good decisions, baiting defenders, and slinging the extra pass.

Then, Terrence Ross happened. All of those good habits were ensued by two turnovers and two bad shots.

Now here’s the ultimate twist: He had a team-high three turnovers, but was also a team-high +22. I can’t exactly pin point this now, it will require some extra film watching tomorrow.

B+
N. Powell12 MIN, 5 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -6 +/-

Immediately came in to convert an alley-oop and hit a 3. Give. Him. Minutes (more than a quarter).

C+
J. Poeltl9 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-

Poeltl tonight — very aggressive playing defense on Blake Griffin, and he’ll never get the benefit of the whistle during those situations. But here’s an example of him harnessing that aggression in a way that’s conducive to the Raptors’ success:

Also did well to protect the rim on a couple occassions where DeRozan was blown-by, and did a respectable just denying Speights on the outside.

J. Sullinger6 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

He put a body on Blake for 5 minutes and took a seat.

A
Dwane Casey

None of these comments are to grade him, they’re just observations:

– Coach went deep into the rotation tonight, and went to his bench early.
– Cory Joseph is back (as of now) as the team’s back-up point guard, with Van Vleet going back to his third string role after a poor outing against the Nets.
– Norman Powell loses out, as expected, now that DeRozan is back.

And here’s my last note related to Casey tonight: Norman Powell needs to be given the keys, even when the squad is healthy.

Things We Saw

  1. Not stringing 48 minutes is still a problem — but it also isn’t, because the Raptors ultimately trumped their bad start with a gargantuan 2nd quarter. The Raptors showed awful defense to start the game (down 17-6); with the Clippers shooting 6 of 8 with very little fight from the Raps’.

    Then the Raptors surged, DeRozan woke up, and the Clippers looked gassed. Job done, and the Raptors picked up a really ‘feel-good’ victory tonight — a blowout against a tough opponent to remind them how good they are.

  2. Uh, the amount of bad luck this Clippers team goes through is nuts. Their free-fall is going to make the first round match-up in the playoffs insanely interesting when Paul comes back.
  3. The Clippers hit a lot of tough threes tonight, particularly from Rivers (4/6), Griffin (2/3), and Speights (3/7). They shot 37.1% from three overall. They just didn’t any other faucets of the game where they dominated.
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Kyle Lowry becomes Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter

With his third 3-point field goal of Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Kyle Lowry passed Morris Peterson as the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter.

Lowry is tied for third in the NBA this season with 167 threes made, and his current 81-game pace of 260 would easily blow away the franchise record for a single season that he set last year (212), breaking his earlier franchise record from 2013-14 (190). He also ranks 11th among qualified shooters with a 41.9-percent mark from outside this year.

UPDATE: Lowry would hit two more threes to finish 5-of-8, giving him 804 in his Raptors career.

Now, as friend of the site Chris Black pointed out last week, it’s difficult to compare 3-point shooting across eras (Terrence Ross ranking third speaks to that), and the increase reliance on the triple in today’s game makes all long-range records tenuous at best. Still, Lowry passing Peterson in 196 fewer games is pretty remarkable, and any player storming to a franchise record in just five seasons is impressive. Plus, Lowry has little chance of catching DeMar DeRozan for points or games played, so it’s nice to get him on the leaderboard somewhere – he’s still well behind Jose Calderon for assists and probably won’t pass Doug Christie for steals until late in the year, if at all.

Anyway, if nothing else, a reminder that Lowry is the greatest, even in these tough times. Kyle Lowry Over Everything.

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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan in, Patterson out against Clippers

If it feels like you’ve been watching a lot of Toronto Raptors basketball of late, imagine how the team must feel. And also, I’m so sorry, because it hasn’t been the greatest of weeks (or months) for the team. It still beats doing a lot of other things with your time, though. Anyway, tonight marks the team’s fifth game in seven days as the Los Angeles Clippers visit, and I’ll share this graphic from the pre-game once again to highlight just how heavy a stretch it’s already been.

Given how poorly they’ve played of late, the Raptors probably aren’t willing to use fatigue as an excuse for any game. It is a reality, though, one the tired Raptors just have to play through tonight. At least the Clippers are on a back-to-back, too. It would be interesting to hear Dwane Casey’s message to the locker room, and whether they talk about powering through the fatigue or ignore it entirely. He didn’t give much away in that regard before the game except to point out that everyone is going through that and injuries this time of year.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson were both listed as questionable once again, and the lack of a shootaround (because of the back-to-back situation) meant to update until Dwane Casey’s pre-game media availability. Unfortunately, a walk-through in place of shootaround has pushed that availability to 6:15, a little later than usual, so you’ll have to check back for updates.

As covered in the pre-game, if DeRozan can’t go, Norman Powell will continue to start and see a steady diet of touches, with Terrence Ross tasked with providing a bigger scoring punch off the bench. If Patterson can’t go, the power forward position will remain extremely fluid, with small lineups, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and Jared Sullinger all candidates to fill some of the 48 minutes.

UPDATE: DeRozan will return, while Patterson will sit again. Powell then shifts to a bench role, allowing the Raptors more options going small. That could be necessary, as Patterson’s absence leaves a gaping hole at the four. Patterson, by the way, is dealing with a different injury than the one that sidelined him before. Same knee, separate issue, although they’re likely related. No word on who starts yet, but the guess here is Nogueira. (Siakam is listed as the starter, but that’s usually subject to change.)

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: Patrick Patterson

Clippers updates
The Clippers remain without Chris Paul and Brice Johnson, while Diamond Stone is on assignment.

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Austin Rivers, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Diamond Stone
OUT: Chris Paul, Brice Johnson

Assorted

  • Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo were both with Raptors 905 for practice Monday. The 905 hit the road for a game on Tuesday, and it’s conceivable both players will be with the team then. Caboclo isn’t likely to be recalled much over the next while, so long as the parent club stays somewhat healthy, and Wright is still waiting for an opportunity to get NBA minutes with Fred VanVleet playing well in Wright’s perceived role. Until I physically see them here, I’ll assume they hit the road with the 905.
    • UPDATE: Both are on the road with the 905.
  • Speaking of the 905, Edy Tavares was named to the All-Star Game today.
  • Jahlil Okafor is reportedly close to being dealt to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca and a protected first-round pick. I share this because a lot of people wonder about Jonas Valanciunas’ trade value, and I think an Okafor deal informs Valanciunas’ potential market. Valanciunas is a better, more established player at this point, but he also costs about three times as much (although he does have two extra years on his deal). In other words, if you have scenarios in mind where Valanciunas is routed somewhere, mute your expectations on the return, unless the market for Nikola Vucevic reveals something new.

The line
The Raptors have held fairly steady around 6-point favorites (they opened at -5 but it jumped quickly), with the over-under inching up from 213 to 215. The DeRozan news has bumped the line to Raptors -6.5, and the over-under has edged even higher to 216. DeImpact!

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Edy Tavares named to D-League All-Star Team

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 center Edy Tavares has been named to the Eastern Conference D-League All-Star Team, the league announced Monday.

Tavares will head to New Orleans with his own coaching staff, who get the honor of coaching the East side thanks to owning the best record in the conference ahead of the break. That should mean a lot of post-ups for Tavares, who head coach Jerry Stackhouse has fed regularly during the first half of the season. Tavares is averaging 10.1 points on 60.6-percent shooting to go along with 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks,a nd the 905 outscore opponents by 18.4 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor.

Given his immense size, soft touch around the rim, and smart use of his length when not asked to travel laterally on defense, Tavares is likely an intriguing name to NBA scouts. His name came up pretty frequently in talking with league personnel at the D-League Showcase, and while it’s not clear if his defense will translate against fast, smart, modern NBA offenses, he’s definitely done his best to make a case for another NBA opportunity.

Conspicuous by his absence on the All-Star roster is Axel Toupane, who has been Raptors 905’s best player and who remains their best NBA prospect. The 2015-16 Denver Nuggets call-up is averaging 16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals while guarding three, or even four positions and working as the team’s late-clock creator. The on-off impact has been somewhat less pronounced because Toupane leads second units

It’s possible Toupane could be in line to replace Yogi Ferrel on the roster, now that he’s on a multi-year NBA deal.

In other 905 All-Star content, it seems likely that Brady Heslip will get a chance to participate in the 3-Point Contest, and John Jordan will likely defend his Slam Dunk title.

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Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6

The Toronto Raptors are set to play their fifth game in seven nights on Monday when they host the Los Angeles Clippers. There is a lot wrong with the Raptors right now, from injuries to defense to a seemingly floundering chemistry, but it’s unlikely there’s a bigger obstacle to their performance Monday than this compressed schedule. When the game ends, the Raptors will be one of just six teams with 53 games already in the books, and they’re wearing the resultant fatigue like a scarlet letter right now.

There are some who view talk of the schedule and fatigue as merely excuse-making, and that’s their prerogative. But there is a great deal of science showing what a compressed schedule or heavy travel can do to players and teams, and however you feel about fatigue’s role in the Raptors’ recent slide – it certainly does not explain the entirety of a 9-13 stretch, to be clear – it’s nice that rest is coming. Eventually. After hosting the Clippers on Monday, the Raptors are off to Minnesota for Wednesday, after which they’ll play just three games in a 15-game stretch thanks to the All-Star break and a weird three days off later this week.

That’s great, but in the meantime, the workload Kyle Lowry is under is growing worrisome. I’m always torn on complaining about minutes because “minutes” is just one number available publicly, while the team’s sport science staff has a wealth of other information available to them in making decisions. But with Lowry second in the NBA in total minutes and already at 164 minutes over the last six days – !!! – that rest period can’t come soon enough. If not for him, then for me, because my Lowry-related anxiety is through the roof right now.

Perhaps I should set aside the worrying for after the Wolves’ game, though. The Raptors won Sunday but are still very much reeling, and it would seem unlikely that they just punt a game against the Clippers while they’re struggling. And again (he tells himself), minutes played is but one piece of data. So, hey, yeah, the Clippers.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to noted Drake enthusiast and ESPN NBA editor Jovan Buha.

Blake Murphy: First thing’s first: How big an advantage is it for the Clippers to have played in Boston last night? Yes, back-to-backs are generally tougher, but it kept a certain someone from a certain establishment in a certain so-called White Vegas (just the worst nickname for a place).

Jovan Buha: I like how creatively you tied this in. It’s never a good thing to play a back-to-back, especially against two of the best six or seven teams in the league. But we all know what happened when Blake Griffin went out in Toronto around this time last year, so it’s progress has happened by the time of me writing this. I’m excited to see if any Raptors fans find a way to troll him at the game.

Blake Murphy: The Clippers had a nice seven-game winning streak rolling despite the absence of Chris Paul but have since dropped six of eight. Has their been a change in the way they’ve been playing, or is this just a case of a tough schedule – 10 of 11 on the road, are you serious? – and a couple of meetings with Golden State? Any concern here?

Jovan Buha: There’s plenty of concern, but that’s only because the Clippers are missing Chris Paul and enduring their most grueling stretch of the season. Take the best player off any team and there will obviously be a stark drop off. Throw in a road-heavy schedule against playoff teams — including three matchups with the Warriors — and you have the recipe for a team spiraling down the standings, which is exactly what’s happening to the Clippers right now. That said, if the Clippers aren’t going to be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, dropping to No. 6 or No. 7 — and avoiding the Warriors in the second round — isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Blake Murphy: I mentioned Paul being out. With him not getting the nod to the All-Star Game (where he could have then been replaced, giving two players the shine instead of one), has he wrestled the crown of League’s Most Underrated Star Point Guard back from Kyle Lowry?

Jovan Buha: Yes and no. (You could throw Mike Conley in that conversation too.) Paul isn’t the most underrated point guard in the league right now — it’s still Lowry — but he’s probably the most underrated star point guard of all time. Outside of a championship, his statistical resume matches up with basically any point guard in NBA history — including Magic Johnson. I obviously wouldn’t put him on that level yet, if ever, but he’s earned his way into top-five PG distinction at least.

Blake Murphy: One more on Paul – how has the point guard play shaken out with him on the shelf? It feels like too much Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers. But then again, any amount feels like too much Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers. (I know Rivers has primarily been playing off ball and is putting up career numbers, but let me get these shots in.)

Jovan Buha: Austin Rivers’ development has been one of the lone bright spots this season, but it’s not because of his point-guard play and playmaking skills. He’s a 2, and in small lineups, a 3. Raymond Felton, meanwhile, has been a revelation as possibly the best backup PG in the CP3 era — a group that includes Eric Bledsoe and Darren Collison. He’s played heavy minutes, defended top opposing point guards relatively well (Steph Curry notwithstanding), and helped guide a second unit that’s filled with guys looking to shoot. He isn’t Chris Paul, of course, but he’s filled in well.

Blake Murphy: The Clippers have improved from one of the worst rebounding teams in the league to roughly average. It’s always seemed a bit weird that they rebounded poorly, and so even getting to respectability at each end of the floor seems like an important step. With the Raptors’ struggling on the glass right now, would the Clippers shift their approach, particularly on the offensive glass, or are they locked in as a send-one-guy-and-get-back attack?

Jovan Buha: The Clippers always have and always will be a send-one-guy-(DeAndre Jordan)-and-get-back. That’s just how Doc Rivers rolls — he did the same thing in Boston. The Clips’ transition defense can still be atrocious at times despite this strategy, as the roster lacks rim protection and energy defenders. I expect Jordan to have a big rebounding performance and exploit the Raptors’ rebounding woes, but I doubt it will come from a change in the Clippers’ game plan.

Raptors updates
The back-to-back scenario means no shootaround, which means no update on DeMar DeRozan (ankle) and Patrick Patterson (knee) until closer to game time. If DeRozan can’t go, you’re familiar with the deal by this point: Norman Powell plays well in his absence, and one of two Terrence Rosses shows up in support off the bench. If Patterson sits, my guess here would be that Lucas Nogueira, not Pascal Siakam, starts against the tough Clippers frontline, but the starting power forward position is obviously quite fluid without Patterson. That’s made the backup four-spot fluid, too, with Dwane Casey occasionally opting to go small (DeMarre Carroll), regular-ish (Jared Sullinger), or big (Jakob Poeltl, with Nogueira sliding to the four) in the Jurassic Five iterations at the top of the second and fourth quarters. They’re still figuring life without Patterson out, and since he and DeRozan both did partial practices Saturday, hopefully they don’t need to for much longer.

The other question facing the rotation is how long Cory Joseph’s mental break is. Joseph was playing poorly on the defensive end more or less all season, and Fred VanVleet has temporarily jumped him in the point guard pecking order. VanVleet has been steady in those minutes, but Joseph will get another chance at regaining his job at some point. Delon Wright, meanwhile, has been assigned to Raptors 905, likely to get a practice session in ahead of the team’s Tuesday road game. He could conceivably be recalled to sit on the bench Monday night, though he remains fourth on the point guard depth chart. (I realize that’s a point of frustration for some, but VanVleet has been really solid and Wright only got three games to work some rust off. Wright’s really good, and the depth isn’t a bad thing.)

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Cory Joseph
SG: (DeMar DeRozan), Norman Powell, (Delon Wright)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson

Clippers updates
It’s not as if the Clippers aren’t a little tired here themselves, having played in Paul Pierce’s emotional final game in Boston on Sunday. But they had two days off before that, and other than Chris Paul – as big an absence as there is – and Brice Johnson – perhaps the smallest – they’re nearly at full strength. Diamond Stone, who has looked really nice the few times I’ve seen him in the D-League this year, is on assignment.

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Austin Rivers, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Diamond Stone
OUT: Chris Paul, Brice Johnson

The line
The Raptors are 5-point favorites, which seems kind of odd to me given the fatigue and injuries and all. The Clippers are without Paul and DeRozan/Patterson sound like 50-50 bets, so maybe the oddsmakers just have faith in the restorative power of two of the team’s three or four most important players returning. A reason to believe! The over-under comes in at 214. I’m going to hold off on a prediction until we know the status of the Raptors’ two starters – I doubt they can win this game without at least one of them, unless Lowry’s going to just blow past 200 minutes in one week and remain Over Everything. Guess we can’t put it past him.

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Lowry’s triple-double lifts Raptors to much-needed victory over Nets

Raptors 103, Nets 95 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Kyle Lowry was exhausted and emotional after Friday’s loss, declining to speak with media for the first time all season as a result. On Saturday, he missed practice due to an illness that threatened to keep him out of Sunday’s game. With DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson also sitting, though, Lowry opted to tough it out. Naturally, he was cut by a stanchion camera early on and would require four stitches in his right arm. Of course, these circumstances only sometimes matter, and in fact seem to spur him on at times.

Such was the case Sunday, when not Lowry turned in a virtuoso performance despite the constraints of illness or fatigue and despite the absence of his 3-point shot. Lowry was magnificent, at times willing the team to larger leads and gripping firmly to prevent them from slipping away. It’s not really a terrific Lowry performance without the element of obstacles, and so it made sense that the better Lowry played, the longer the Nets hung around.

It mattered little in the end, beyond extending the point guard to 39 minutes once again. That fact is probably cause for major concern given the pattern it is a part of and with the Raptors set for their fifth game in seven days on Monday, but there is at least the glimmering light of rest up ahead. In this case, with the Raptors reeling so plainly, hurting so obviously, and showing cracks so openly, maybe it’s worth looking past. Yes, it was “just the Nets,” as it was always going to be, but it was also a victory, one the Raptors seemed to need pretty badly. It’s been a long time since the players on the team spoke as openly about being at a loss, about their inability to rediscover their footing, about genuine concern about their play. Having dropped 13 of 21, eight of 10, and two in a row, the Raptors kind of just needed a win, however they got there.

How they got there was Lowry putting up a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double, the ninth of his career and his seventh as a Raptor. (That he has seven of the 19 triple-doubles in franchise history seems fitting.) This wasn’t the singular scoring dominance he’s flashed in some 30-point outbursts this year, when the gravity of his deep threes stretches and snaps a defense, or when his forays into forests of arms near the rim somehow continue to produce and-ones. Instead, this was one of Lowry’s craftier performances, one that saw him hit a few sneaky shots, throw a couple of incredible passes, and generally keep a high-effort Nets defense in disarray, constantly unclear of when to switch and whom to follow. Lowry was Nashing the pick-and-roll in semi-transition, throwing lobs for his big men, threading bounce passes to the roll-man, and setting up (mostly unwilling) shooters.

This was the height of “you have to really watch Lowry to appreciate his dominance” games, and while the Raptors actually managed to outscore the Nets when he was off the floor, there’s little chance Toronto closes this out without him. And, in fact, it seemed like at one point they may try in the fourth, but Brooklyn quickly punched back. Brooklyn punched back often, actually, with their high-variance, triple-heavy approach letting them make a couple of quick comebacks that a tight and perhaps tired Raptors rotation struggled to contain. The Raptors defended well enough on the whole, to be clear, and even 13 threes still saw the Nets score just 96.5 points per-100 possessions, but there were a few troubling comeback runs and definitely the threat of a stolen game late. But again, it wouldn’t be a peak Lowry performance without every last ounce of potential adversity.

Lowry did not do it alone, though, and the players who stepped up to help him are not only worthy of recognition given the team’s thinned-out top-half here, but they’re performances worth noting in a more macro sense because, for a few players, regardless of quality of opponent, this was the kind of game people have been asking for. That scoring punch off the bench in the typical sixth-man role, heating up quickly and adding secondary playmaking? That was Terrence Ross, who poured in 17 quick points in 26 minutes and probably should have been fed even more when Lowry sat. Meeting the challenge of Brook Lopez on the opposite side and asserting himself as a serious post-up and dive threat? That was Jonas Valanciunas, who had one of his best two-way performances of the season – his defense has trended upward the last couple of weeks – in outscoring Lopez 22-20 in fewer minutes. Valanciunas shook off some early foul trouble and what appeared to be a stinger to his shoulder later and was a beast setting screens and rushing hard through the paint. And those Lowry-less lineups that succeeded? Look in part to Fred VanVleet, who for a second game in a row took Cory Joseph’s spot in the rotation and delivered a solid, steady performance. He shot 2-of-10, but he also got to the line a handful and dished some smart, creative passes for teammates (including Lucas Nogueira, with whom he’s formed a quick chemistry). DeMarre Carroll had a really nice two-way game, too.

Things weren’t perfect. If they were, the Raptors wouldn’t have won by just eight, and the game wouldn’t have come down to somewhere near the wire (even if the latest threat wasn’t all that legitimate). With Patterson out, Dwane Casey trimmed the rotation, with Jakob Poeltl and Jared Sullinger sharing the ninth-man role that was abandoned fairly quickly. Pascal Siakam started and played as well as could be hoped, but Patterson’s absence is felt throughout the rotation, and tightening it, while making sense, is risky given the compressed schedule they’re playing under right now. There’s also the fact that VanVleet being ahead of Joseph isn’t exactly the best-case scenario, that the Raptors needed to task Lowry with such a load while ill, that the team-wide shooting slump persists, and that despite all of these strong performances that they still narrowly beat the Nets.

This win does not take them out of the woods, or anything close to it. As I quoted before the game, “It won’t get better, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna get any worse.” The Raptors beating the Nets without two of their most important players kept things from getting any worse, and that’s definitely important and meaningful right now. They can build on it. They can exhale. They can fly home Sunday with a bit of the weight off their shoulders. Monday will come quickly, though, and the Clippers won’t be nearly as forgiving. For a day, though, this is what they needed.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Can a trade fix the Raptors?

Host William Lou is joined by Matt Moore of CBS Sports (@HPBasketball) to diagnose the Raptors’ problems.

(more…)

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Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 6

10 things I saw from Raptors-Nets (5–2–2017) – The Defeated

Overuse: I hate to repeat myself so often, but why did Lowry even play tonight? He missed practice with the flu, it’s the Nets, there’s a back-to-back tomorrow, and he had already logged 125 minutes this week. I get that they’re in this losing streak but this is just reckless usage. Tonight’s 39 minutes constitutes a “light” workload for Lowry.

Raptors earn expected win but questions still linger – Sportsnet.ca

Even with the win, Toronto has lost eight of its past 11 and there is plenty to be concerned about as the idea of catching Cleveland has given way to trying to hang onto home court in the first round.

Top of the list should be that the Raptors needed 39 minutes and a triple-double – 15 points, 11 rebound and 11 assists – from Lowry to keep the Nets on the mat.

Brooklyn was trying to gift the game to Toronto – they committed 16 of their 22 turnovers in the first half, yielding a total of 25 points – but the Raptors didn’t put it away until Lowry engineered a quick 6-2 spurt in the space of 1:20 late in the fourth quarter that pushed Toronto’s lead to 10 with 3:40 left. During that stretch, Lowry got his 10th rebound and found Jonas Valanciunas (22 points) for an alley-oop; got fouled and made both his free throws and then created a layup for a hard-cutting DeMarre Carroll (15 points).

He was playing after fighting through a cold/flu, but didn’t look it.

Kyle Lowry’s triple-double leads Raptors to win over Nets | Toronto Sun

“Guys were just motivated, guys didn’t want to lose another,” said DeMarre Carroll, after a strong two-way game that included 15 points, five rebounds and three steals.

“You could sense within the locker room that we’d been losing a lot of close games, games that shouldn’t be close, so we just tried to come out tonight and tried to give it our all and that’s what we did.”

Brooklyn is truly awful, but with losses in all but two of the previous 10 games heading in, Lowry and the Raptors can’t exactly be too picky. A win is a win.

With DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson sidelined once again with ankle and knee injuries, respectively, somebody had to help Lowry out. Jonas Valanciunas did his best, scoring a game-high 22 points, but it was Terrence Ross, on his 26th birthday, supplying the needed punch off of the bench. Ross hit three of Toronto’s five three-pointers, threw down two monster dunks and scored 17 in all. Valanciunas out-scored Nets star centre Brook Lopez by a bucket. Rookie Pascal Siakam brought some energy, providing six points, six rebounds and a game-best +15 effort in 30 minutes.

But this was Lowry’s show. His ninth career triple-double was a virtuoso performance. He led all players in rebounds, despite being the smallest competitor on the court and rarely turned the ball over, which was important because the 9-42 Nets could barely go a minute between miscues (21 in all, leading to 25 Raptors points).

Lowry triple-double sparks Raptors past Nets | Toronto Star

“Amazing, he’s amazing,” said Fred VanVleet, who once again was Lowry’s backup as Cory Joseph didn’t get off the bench. “That’s why he’s an all-star. He wasn’t feeling very good after the Orlando game — none of us were, but I think he had a little extra sickness to him.

“We texted a little bit yesterday: get mentally right, physically right. We need him at his best for us to be successful, and I think he showed it today.”

The only thing Lowry didn’t do was make two three-pointers to pass Morris Peterson for first place on the Raptors’ all-time list. Lowry’s stuck at 799 after going 0-for-5 on Sunday, but could set the standard in Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I’ll try to . . . break the record and do it in front of the home crowd,” he said. “That would be a great accomplishment, from where I’ve come from at the beginning of my career to having a franchise record.”

Game Rap: Raptors 103, Nets 95 | Toronto Raptors

CLOSING IT OUT

Things stayed equal in the third quarter with each team scoring 20 points and Toronto taking that 12-point lead into the fourth. Although Toronto’s defence lagged in the final frame and the Nets cut into Toronto’s lead with Lowry on the bench, Brooklyn would not get any closer than four points. Sean Kilpatrick helped the Nets creep closer with a 14-point four quarter as he connected on 4-of-6 three-point field goals. The Raptors were solid at the line down the stretch, shooting 9-for-10 on free throws in the final five minutes to close out a much-needed victory.

Raptors beat Nets over Sunday brunch, 103-95 – Raptors HQ

Ultimately, this meager formula — Lowry plus big guy plus shooting equals win — was enough to drop the Nets to 9-42 and stymie the Raptors free fall in the standings. The Nets gave the Raptors every opportunity to win, turning it over 16 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They were led, as per usual, by Brook Lopez with 20 points and seven rebounds. Sean Kilpatrick had 18 off the bench, while trade target Trevor Booker muscled in 15 on 7-for-13 shooting.

On the whole, though, the Nets are still a mess while the Raptors have higher aspirations. Toronto let Brooklyn back in the game late, as Dwane Casey tried to get Kyle Lowry off the floor. With their lead down to four with five minutes remaining, though, Lowry was forced to play out the game. The triple-double is a nice result, but 40 minutes against the Nets hurts — especially when you consider the team plays tomorrow and Lowry was already under the weather.

Unfortunately, the Raptors just aren’t good enough to play the minutes game with Lowry. They still need him to be great for 40-plus minutes on a nightly basis, as DeRozan and Patterson sit out and their depth becomes more liability than asset. Cory Joseph was a non-rest DNP-CD today, the first time that’s happened in his Raptors career — a decision by Dwane Casey that shows just how devoted he is to playing guys who, in his opinion, are willing to play hard.

Lowry was super, as the Raptors bowl over the Nets, 103-95 – NetsDaily

Midway through the fourth the Nets pulled to within 7, 84-77, and were showing some life. The Raptors seemed to have been resigned to calling off the guard, with only one starter playing in a rotation against the Nets starters.

Timeout called, Nets trailed by 7 with the ball and 6-plus minutes to go. Here come the Nets? Well, here come the Raptors starters.

The Nets had nice back-to-back defensive sets, allowing them to pull to within 4 points. The Raptors, then, went back to their bread and butter — pick-n-rolls with Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. It was almost too easy. And before you knew it, the Raptors were back up by 10 points with just over three minutes to go.

Again, to Nets mostly punted the first three quarters and then were tasked with playing the perfect fourth, which they didn’t do — nor couldn’t have done.

Too much Lowry, as the Nets lost their 9th straight, 103-95.

Careless Nets get eaten alive by the carnivorous Raptors – The Brooklyn Game

A late, tired effort from Toronto allowed the Nets to sneak back within 4 points as Lopez, Kilpatrick, and Booker all contributed, whether with two consecutive three-pointers or an at-the-rim block. The Raptors, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, nearly let this slip away, but the better team still ended up executing enough down the stretch to see this one out to the final buzzer.

Truthfully, it makes sense: Kyle Lowry is really good, the Nets are not — but the sloppiness and callousness is something that’s begun to get worrisome. If the talent isn’t there, fine, but a refusal to simply execute an offense or not drive helplessly into a stuffed paint is a tough pill to swallow.

The Nets racked up 20 turnovers. Twenty. Or, a total that would be bench-worthy for your run-of-the-mill high school team. It’s not the end of the world, not should it be treated as such, it’s just gotten tiresome to watch the Nets make the simplest of mistakes game after game.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQJ3No1jJpK/

Brooklyn Nets Cannot Snap Losing Streak versus Toronto Raptors – Nothin But Nets

Another huge difference in this game was points in the paint. The Raptors had 58 points in the paint compared to Brooklyn’s 38. Valanciunas was a huge reason for Toronto’s dominance in the paint as it really was slam city for him. Terrence Ross even had a couple nasty slams today, too. Needless to say, Brooklyn had no defense down low which is to be expected when Trevor Booker does not start.

This was once again a game in which Brooklyn was playing well and could have won. There is always that one run or stretch where nothing goes the way of the Nets which ruins all hopes and chances. This year is about learning and developing. Not just the players, the coach and the GM are both rookies and there is always growing pains to a new job.

Lil' General #wethenorth

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If Nets are going to kick the ball around, they have no chance | New York Post

“The shot selection was particularly disappointing. We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year, taking the right type of shots. [Sunday] we got caught in some bad situations, some bad decisions.”

The results were bad, too. The Nets committed 22 turnovers to hand the Raptors 25 points, while they forced just 12 and scored just 12 points off of them. They had 16 turnovers and just 14 baskets after a first half that saw them trail 55-43.

And this was against a Toronto team that had lost eight of 10 since beating the Nets on Jan. 17. On Sunday, Patrick Patterson and All-Star DeMar DeRozan sat out with knee injuries and Lowry played despite flu-like symptoms. It didn’t matter given the way the Nets played.

“We take bad shots, or we sit there and take contested jump shots,’’ said Sean Kilpatrick, who had 18 points.

“You’ve got to be selfless in that case. You’ve got to make the extra pass knowing who’s open. … If you see someone who’s just constantly running at you at the 3-point line, then one of your teammates is open. That’s something we have to make a conscious and mindful decision of. Everyone on this team can score, but it’s a matter of are you going to take less shots for the next man in line? That’s something we didn’t do.”

War ready. #RoadToTheSix

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Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors Takeaways and Player Grades – Nothin But Nets

The Nets simply didn’t have much offensive production outside of Lopez, and Brooklyn was in a hole in the fourth quarter. Just in time, Sean Kilpatrick began to heat up. The Nets went on a 12-3 run, highlighted by a three pointer from Kilpatrick, to cut Toronto’s lead to seven, 84-77.

With five minutes left, a Bojan Bogdanovic layup brought the Nets within four, 84-80. The Raptors, led by Lowry, then went on an 8-2 run to take a 10 point lead, 92-82.

A Sean Kilpatrick three-pointer brought the Nets within seven, but the Raptors continued to add to their lead to just enough to escape. The Raptors led by ten with one minute remaining, and would beat the Nets 103-95.

Pre game ritual. #RoadToTheSix

A photo posted by Raptors 905 (@raptors905) on

Raptors star offers lessons as ‘Hamilton’ actress botches ‘O Canada’ | New York Post

“I’m going to leave that alone, but yeah, that anthem was a lot different than I’ve heard over the last five years … a lot different,” said Lowry, who had a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. “Her voice was beautiful. But the anthem, the song, the words. … Have her come to Toronto, we’ll come and get somebody to give her some lessons.”

Lowry, on logging 39:21 despite being ill, shrugged.

“I played basketball for 40 minutes. I’m blessed and fortunate to be able to come out here and play basketball. I get to play basketball, I get to hang out with great people, I get to meet great people, I get to put smiles on kids’ faces. I mean, it’s a fun thing to do.”

Get up, JYD! #WeTheNorth

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Raptors’ Cory Joseph all about team after not playing against Nets | Toronto Sun

Joseph, having a rough second season in Toronto after an excellent first campaign, had played only sparingly on Friday in Orlando and was again replaced by rookie Fred VanVleet behind Kyle Lowry. VanVleet struggled, shooting 2-for-10 after playing well against the Magic, but did collect four assists and three rebounds.

“Cory is still a big part of what we’re going to do,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game.

“Cory’s not in the doghouse, it’s a situation where you can only play so many guys, want to keep our rotation down. I thought about getting him in there for Kyle but they started bringing (the lead down) so we stuck with the group that had been playing.”

Joseph said again that he can only “control what I can control. After the game I went and got my workout in. Did my stuff to keep ready, keep in shape, keep tuned. That’s it. That’s what I do,” he said.

When asked if he saw a reason why his role would change, Joseph again stuck with the team-first mantra.

“Man, let me tell you something. We got a win (the rest) that’s not my job. I just go out there and play.”

Raptors GM on trade deadline: We have an idea of who we are – Sportsnet.ca

“As to where we need to fill holes, those things are difficult because we’ve got a lot of young pieces that the league likes,” he said. “We’re not so prone to want to put those pieces into deals but obviously we have to keep our finger on that and how much better certain deals can make us. Are there big deals, small deals?

“The other part of it,” Weltman added, “is finding dance partners is not easy … You can’t make a deal by yourself.”

I’m not mad at Demarre Carroll anymore – /r/torontoraptors

This is really on Casey now. He’s putting Carroll out there in a position to fail. Yes, Powell is only 6’4″, but he really should be getting almost ALL of Carroll’s minutes when DD returns. Height is such a silly reason to favor Carroll over Powell at this point. Maybe Carroll could be moderately effective in 10 minutes a game. If he works himself back into a rhythm, maybe give him 15 minutes.
There is really no reason to continue exposing him this way. It’s a lose-lose proposition, even with his injury history. Let the man save face a little. Carroll has never had a bad rep in this league, he’s known as a hard-working professional. If he can’t do it, don’t keep throwing him out there to embarrass himself.
I just wanted to counter all the “Carroll is trash” posts, which are totally understandable. I’ve even joined in at times. Now I’m worried that fans will boo him at the ACC. None of this is helping. Benching him is the only solution at this point.

Can we stop being Dwayne Casey apologists? – /r/torontoraptors

Everyone wants to celebrate our run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year but it’s like they forget we were one loss away from another first round exit. All of sudden Casey is a great coach because we won two game sevens?? No he isn’t. We made the same mistakes we always make, called the same plays we always called. Casey is like a deer caught in the headlights.
I’m tired of Casey blaming the players for everything. Didn’t run the play, Need 5 guys to play defense, Need this guy to be better. When is he gonna look in the mirror and realize his fucking system isn’t working? Winning 40+ games in the Eastern Conference in two seasons isn’t an accomplishment. With our roster and how bad the East is this is the MINIMUM we should achieve.
Enough passing the blame on to everyone else. We are never winning anything with Casey as our head coach. Unfortunately, the media gives him a free pass because he’s nice.

L.A. Clippers at Toronto Raptors: Monday NBA preview | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Griffin vs. Nogueira

Griffin’s back from a knee injury and once again dominating, at times. His versatility and power will be a test for Nogueira, who can’t match Griffin’s strength.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – They finally got a win!

Host William Lou recaps a solid effort against the Brooklyn Nets.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Nets 95

Toronto 103 Final
Box Score
95 Brooklyn

C+
P. Siakam29 MIN, 6 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 2-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 15 +/-

Pascal Siakam is a less refined Tyler Hansbrough at the moment. Lots of effort, and provides some moments of excitement, but he has a long way to go to become a regular contributor in the NBA. The good news is that the effort is a good place to start. His some good hook shots, challenged on defence, and was noticeably less jumpy in challenging shots. Little improvements are being made

A-
D. Carroll32 MIN, 15 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 6-11 FG, 2-5 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 12 +/-

Was one of the few Raptors who started the game like it wasn’t 12:00pm. With the Raptors mildly struggling against the Nets, we got the following sequence from Carroll:

Rebound and a put back.
Rattled in a three point shot from the wing.
Steal in the open court.
Blocked from behind by Randy Foye.
Followed a few moments later by a big block along the baseline.

So…mostly good things with one shameful moment. And that was the story of the day, as Carroll provided lots of good moments.

B+
J. Valanciunas26 MIN, 22 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 9-17 FG, 0-0 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

Jonas started the game by losing the tip, followed by following Brook Lopez for an and-1, and then getting called for a carry while trying to back Brook into the post…so not the greatest start. Brooklyn spent good chunks of the night trying to dare Jonas to use his jumpshot, which he did with little success.

The highlight was his attempt to hit a lay-up from his knees…it rimmed out. He also turned the second quarter into a dunk party, throwing down repeatedly on the roll or just by being big in the post. His defence on Brook also looked pretty strong as the game went on.

A+
K. Lowry39 MIN, 15 PTS, 11 REB, 11 AST, 1 STL, 5-13 FG, 0-5 3FG, 5-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 5 +/-

It’s a shame that the Raptors can’t even get Lowry some rest in a game against the league’s worst team, as he was forced to return late in the fourth as the Nets cut the Raptors lead to just six. He had a consistent impact all game, but took over with his passing in the final minutes.

If there is such a thing as a quiet triple-double, Lowry found it today. He also got four stitches on his arm after running into a camera mounted on the basket stanchion, so he literally spilled his blood for the Raptors today.

B
N. Powell33 MIN, 10 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 5-14 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 7 +/-

Powell is such a competitor. Switched onto Trevor Booker in the second quarter and barely gave up any space. But he isn’t having the regular impact that one would expect considering what he did last season. I was expecting him to thrive with DeMar missing time recently, but we haven’t seen it with consistency.

Then he does something like a big block from behind with four minutes left, or a huge drive and dunk with just over a minute remaining.

A-
T. Ross26 MIN, 17 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 7-11 FG, 3-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 7 +/-

It felt like the Raptors were in desperate need of a strong game from Terry. Now that says a lot about where the Raptors are at currently. Then he goes and does something like inbound the ball almost directly to Trevor Booker for a breakaway lay-up.

We got both good and bad from Ross, which feels pretty standard, but he provided more good than anything else. A few huge dunks, some big three pointers (including one off a beautiful crossover), and the assertiveness that is often missing.

B
L. Nogueira22 MIN, 8 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -5 +/-

Was called into action earlier than normal after Jonas picked up his second foul less than half way through the first quarter. Nothing flashy and didn’t stand out many times, either good or bad. Just challenged shots, set screens, rotated well, and found open space as a pressure release for his guards. He also took (and missed) a three, which is always fun to watch him do.

B
F. VanVleet20 MIN, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 2-10 FG, 0-3 3FG, 6-6 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -4 +/-

For the second straight game, Fred came into the game ahead of Cory Joseph. Wasn’t the supernova we saw on Friday night, but looked stable in his role. The Raptors are now four deep with real NBA point guards, unless you have already lost hope in Delon…or Joseph.

C-
J. Poeltl7 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-

Nice to see Big Yak get some run, and to do so before garbage time (if there was such a thing in this game). He’s got a great foundation to built upon and does a lot of good things already. I’m particularly impressed by his intuition on how to rotate on defence. Still reaches a little sometimes, but there are glimpses of his potential being shown.

F
J. Sullinger5 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-

The curse of Sullinger is starting to feel real. He is a salary chip for potential trades more than he is anything else. How did he contribute today?

Inc
C. Joseph0 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

DNP – Being Punished by Coach for Bad Play

Inc
D. Wright0 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

I know the Raptors are deep at point guard, especially with Fred showing that he belongs in the NBA, but shocked to see that Delon isn’t getting minutes.

B-
Dwane Casey

Brought Fred in ahead of Joseph, messed around with some line-ups, but Kyle Lowry did play almost 40 minutes with the Clippers on tap for tomorrow night. With that said, the way the Raptors have played recently they truly needed this win, and Lowry needed to play in order for them to win. So that sucks.

Things We Saw

  1. I miss Quincy Acy. Nothing flashy, but just seems like a good dude and a good teammate. I’m glad that he is getting a chance in Brooklyn. Was disappointed to see him go down in a heap holding his ankle. Hope the Fresh Quinc heals up well.
  2. Jack Armstrong can be difficult to listen to as well, but Leo takes the cake for awful opinions. He’s just terrible, and I think he and Matt hate one another.
  3. With 6.5 minutes left the Raptors went with a line-up of Fred, Norm, Pascal, Bebe, and Poeltl. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we don’t see much of that one moving forward.
  4. Trevor Booker could be a nice trade deadline acquisition for someone…hypothetically speaking.
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Pre-game news & notes: Lowry to play, DeRozan and Patterson sit, LeVert out

“Oh, it won’t get better. That doesn’t mean it’s gonna get any worse.” – Los Campesinos

That is my feeling as the reeling and emotional and defiant Toronto Raptors visit the Brooklyn Nets for an early start on Super Bowl Sunday. Things are bad. Terrible, even. And it’s hard to remember a time since Washington that the Raptors were in this rough a place. The Nets provide an opportunity for a victory, but said victory won’t make anything better, because it’s the Nets. There is no big turnaround or moral victory from beating the worst team in the league, and the Clippers await in Toronto on Monday for a much bigger test. So it’s a no-win for Toronto – beat the team you’re supposed to, or things are going to get really dicey. At the same time, though, things don’t have to get worse. At least a win will maintain the current level of panic instead of inciting more.

The game tips off at 12 p.m. on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The Raptors practiced yesterday but didn’t have a lot of firm updates. Patrick Patterson was a partial participant and sounded like he was feeling much better, at least, but Kyle Lowry was added to the injury report due to illness, and DeMar DeRozan’s status remained up in the air.

The early word out of the Barclays Center is that DeRozan and Patterson are unlikely but that Lowry is likely to suit up. Obviously, missing all three of those players would be huge, as it’s their two All-Stars and two most important offensive pieces as well as their best team defender and plus-minus stud. No team can be expected to win a game missing that many pieces, even if the Raptors would somehow still look more talented on paper than Brooklyn. If even one of Lowry and DeRozan can go, the Raptors are probably still in good shape here, though asking any of these guys to push it for a February game against Brooklyn – regardless of the bad stretch – seems unnecessary. You could even argue they should all sit here in the midst of a 5-in-7 stretch and given the load Lowry’s been under. But hey, they want to win, too. They’ll go if they can, and the team will probably be cautious if not. Check back before tip-off for a firm update.

UPDATE: Lowry is playing, while Patterson and DeRozan are sitting, per Michael Grange of Sportsnet.

UPDATE II: Siakam starts.

As for what that means, well, we’ll see. We know Norman Powell will start for DeRozan, but if Patterson can’t go, then the Raptors are back to the gaping question mark at power forward. The guess here is Lucas Nogueira starts, opening up potential minutes for Jakob Poeltl in the center rotation. The Raptors can also go a little smaller off the bench again, which could keep Fred VanVleet in the mix even if Cory Joseph’s “mental break” is over.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll,Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson

Nets updates
Caris LeVert, the primary reason to watch the Nets right now, is sitting. He joins Jeremy Lin on the sidelines. Everything else you need is in the pre-game, and check back before tip-off for confirmed starters.

PG: Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: Randy Foye, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
TBD: None
Out: Jeremy Lin, Caris LeVert

Assorted

  • Raptors 905 lost on the road for the first time all season last night. I’m only just now, as we speak, watching the game, so consider this your 905 post-game report: The Drive once again took a boat-load of threes, and the 904 answered with a ton of their own, but the defense couldn’t find a groove all night opposite Steezus and company (which include Michael Gbinije and Henry Ellenson). Axel Toupane was his usual awesome self off the bench, and D-League leading 3-point shooter Brady Heslip hit six more threes. This was also the first time the 905 lost all season (20-1) when leading after three quarters, and while the lead never grew past eight in the final frame, they did surrender a game-changing 9-0 run late that sunk them.
    • It seems likely that Bruno Caboclo will remain with the 905 for their two road games this week, and then the D-Leagues return home on the weekend for a Saturday game that will likely see one or two more Raptors assigned.
    • Caboclo was decent in this one, from what I’ve seen so far. The offensive role is still limited, but his team defense is improving by the game. He had 11 points and four rebounds in 26 mintues and was a plus-2.
  • Kyle Lowry is two threes from tying Morris Peterson for the franchise’s all-time record for career triples.

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites despite the injuries, with a 216 over-under. Waiting to see if the line moves now that the news is in, but it doesn’t look like there’s much action.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Feb. 5

I mean…what? Twice in a row to the Orlando Magic? With a terrible second-half effort? Again? The Toronto Raptors are reeling, no question about it. They’ve lost 13 of their last 21. They haven’t put together 48 good minutes in weeks. Their star player declined to talk to media Friday due to illness and frustration. The team’s other star is out. The guy who might be the team’s third most important player could be out again now, too. Raptors fans have been fortunate over the last few years, relative to the two decades that preceded things, but the bad times are far enough in the rear-view mirror that this feels like the worst things have been in a while. At least since the end of the Washington series.

Yet they must soldier on. Rest isn’t coming in the form of the All-Star break for six games still – though they do have three days off in a row next week – and the Brooklyn Nets present an opportunity to right the ship. Or for things to get even worse, I suppose. I’m trying to stay positive, but it’d be nice if there were a reason to outside of the undrafted free agent point guard who appeared to be the lone player with a care to give by the end of Friday’s game.

It’s also Super Bowl Sunday, if you care for such things. Luckily, the Raptors and Nets have hooked us up with an early start time so that we can still eat – and, should they lose, drink – our faces off after the game ends.

The game tips off at 12 p.m. on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Anthony Puccio of Nets Daily, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Man, it feels like the Raptors and Nets play, like, every week. How’s things since we last spoke? Life’s good?

Anthony Puccio: We’re starting to use the phrase “trust the process” at Barclays Center and we don’t have any of our own picks, so uh, sure I guess you can say life’s good!

Blake Murphy: The Nets’ “Raptor Recycling Program” has now landed on Quincy Acy, who looks like he’ll be kicking around for the rest of the year. What have your impressions been of Fresh Quince so far?

Anthony Puccio: Fresh Quince does what he does: hustles, works hard and makes things happen in short spurts, but the biggest improvement has to be his 3-point shooting. It’s worth noting that he’s 11-of-17 from deep since joining the team.

Blake Murphy: I know we talked about him last time but I really just want to keep talking about Caris LeVert. I guess I’ll tweak the Q: He and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson seem to be the two surest prospects here (apologies to Chris McCullough), and in the 274 minutes they’ve played together, the Nets have actually been really good! How confident have you grown in that duo as a potential wing combination for the future?

Anthony Puccio: Both are a ton of fun and serve as one of the few reasons to still watch this team. Hollis-Jefferson was recently shifted to the starting four position and it’s worked nicely for him. LeVert is getting better and more confident with every game. He hasn’t started yet, but it’s only because he’s coming off three foot surgeries. They’re being extra cautious. It’ll take some time but I expect these guys to anchor the future, along with Isaiah Whitehead.

Blake Murphy: The Nets have won just once in their last 19 games. Does a stretch like that seem like it’s making these guys hungrier, or does that specter of impending doom kind of hang over them even if they start out well?

Anthony Puccio: I mean, of course they’re deflated after tough losses but one thing that’s impressed me about everybody — players, coaches and management — is that they remain positive and never speak/act outlandish. It seems like everybody understands it just is what it is and better days are ahead. It can’t get worse, right?

Blake Murphy: I think I asked you about the Nets potentially moving Brook Lopez a while back. Less than three weeks from the deadline, are there any other pieces that could be on the move? Booker? Bogdanovic?

Anthony Puccio: Taking calls but no desperation in the front office… for now. They’re on the prowl for some sort of backup point guard for the right price. Sean Marks won’t be giving away limited assets for nothing.

Raptors updates
Yeah, so uhh, this is not good. DeMar DeRozan still hasn’t returned, and on the first night of a back-to-back, it would seem somewhat unlikely he returns here. But who knows, I thought it was unlikely he’d return last Sunday, too. And then he did. And then he went back on the shelf. Sound familiar? That could be because the same thing happened with Patrick Patterson, who sustained a contusion to his injured knee on Friday and who seems questionable for this one, too. You know the drill by now – Norman Powell will try his best to replace DeRozan’s production, while a rotating cast of ill fits will try to make up for Patterson’s.

Elsewhere, Cory Joseph appears to be in the doghouse, even if head coach Dwane Casey says there’s no such thing. Joseph sat until the very close of Friday’s game for some sort of mental break or punishment for his lack of defensive play – he was almost immediately the victim of an Evan Fournier blow-by-and-one upon checking it – and Fred VanVleet gave the team 23 quality minutes in the backup role. Yes, people want to see Delon Wright, who is also good, but VanVleet has been steady whenever he’s touched the floor this season. Guard depth is a strength here, and it was nice to see Casey lean on that depth to give Joseph a shorter leash commensurate with his play of late (even if asking him to close out the game cold remains confusing).

So, yeah, a lot of question marks here.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll,Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: None

Nets updates
The Nets remain without Raptor-killer Jeremy Lin, who continues to sit with a hamstring issue. Everyone else is a go, although Kenny Atkinson’s starting lineup remains fluid. They went very small Friday, starting Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the forward spots along with a dual-guard look in the backcourt, and that’s a lineup that could give the Raptors trouble if both DeRozan and Patterson sit (since their ability to go small/switchy is severely limited without those two).

There’s not a lot else to say here. The Nets aren’t good, but they’re young, quick, trying new things, and firing up a ton of threes. The high-variance strategy isn’t working very often, but it makes them dangerous and makes it possible they can hang around a game they otherwise don’t have business hanging around in. The Raptors can’t sleep on anybody right now, and they particularly can’t sleep on a team with three young, intriguing players now in the starting lineup and a hulking center who’s been a consistent matchup issue for them.

PG: Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: Randy Foye, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert
SF: Caris LeVert, Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
TBD:
Out: Jeremy Lin

The line
The line is off the board as of this writing. Check back closer to game time for an update in the pre-game news and notes.

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Raptors Poor Stretch Continues With Loss To Orlando

Box Score | Quick Reaction Pod

I’m sitting here looking at a blank word document watching the icon blink. My mind is blank, my thoughts on the Raptors are speechless. After fighting hard against the Boston Celtics and eventually losing in the late minutes of the fourth quarter, the Raptors were back on the road to face the lowly Orlando Magic eventually losing 104-92. The Raptors had won seven of their last eight meeting in the Amway Center, and coming off such a frustrating loss you would think they would come into this one with their foot to floor.

The Magic didn’t really play particularly well in this game, the Raptors collectively weren’t able to take advantage of this poor play. The Raptors would hold a slim lead heading into the half time, but that lead would quickly evaporate as they were only able to muster 12 points in the third quarter. There would be a late fight back in the fourth quarter, but this time it was short lived, as the Raptors wouldn’t be able to execute on the offensive end in the final minutes of the game.

With DeMar DeRozan still out with his ankle injury, and Patrick Patterson leaving the game with a knee contusion early in the first quarter, it wouldn’t take long for the Raptors to look very short handed early in the game. While Norman Powell has stepped up and provided a good amount of scoring, when Patterson leaves the game, the Raptors are stuck looking for options. Pascal Siakam isn’t quite ready to take on a major role, Jared Sullinger is still shaking off some of the rust from his injury, and Nogueira has already solidified minutes for himself within the rotation. The Raptors tried both Sullinger and Siakam, but the results were as expected, Casey really tried to switch things up when he went to a lineup in the second half that featured Powell playing the power forward.

The player of the game for the Magic was starting power forward, and one of the Raptors fans biggest trade deadline targets, Serge Ibaka. Scoring 20 points, on an efficient 8 of 12 shooting, including 2/3 from three. Not only did Ibaka score, he pulled down 12 rebounds, and did an excellent job disrupting shots close to the rim. Ibaka would absolutely be a nice addition for the Raptors at this trade deadline, he would be the perfect fit to stretch out the floor on offense, provide stellar defense next to Valanciunas, and move Patterson back into the bench units that the Raptors had so much success with early on this season.

Winning can be contagious. When things are going well on the court, everyone is in a good mood off the court, the music in the locker room sounds better, everyone is working as a team. Unfortunately, the same goes for when things turn south. The Raptors are in a major rut, one of the worst stretches of basketball we have seen in a few seasons now. It would be an easier pill to swallow if we could seriously blame this rough stretch on the injuries, while there’s no doubt that’s part of the problem, the Raptors are much better and deeper team than the Magic, and should have no problem grinding out a win.

There continues to be some major concerns in this rough stretch for the Raptors, the main one from last night was the output of Kyle Lowry. He looked really tired, you can see it in his shot, going 5 for 20 from the field, and 2 of 11 from three. Maybe this was just an off shooting night for him, but when Lowry was driving to the basket shots just weren’t falling. Even with things not going for Lowry, he still managed to log more than 40 minutes of play, and continue to carry the Raptors offensive load. Without DeRozan in the lineup, Lowry is forced to become a one man wrecking crew. This style of play was only sustainable for so long, and this game seemed to be Lowry’s breaking point.

The recent play of DeMarre Carroll continues to get worse by the game. Last night, Carroll shot 0-3 from the field, and 0-2 from three, turning the ball over 3 times, in 18 minutes of play. Carroll has been playing healthy for quite some time now, but his play on both ends of the floor remains stagnant. Over the past 10 games, Carroll is shooting 20% from three, on 3.9 attempts per game, and games like last night only continue this poor streak of play. The Raptors have allowed Carroll enough run since he’s been injured, to show where he fits on this team. With Norman Powell taking his game to another level on both ends of the floor, it should warrant him the starting small forward position when DeRozan comes back.

It seemed to be relatively unknown why a healthy Cory Joseph only logged six and a half minutes of play last night. After the game Coach Casey said he wanted to give Joseph a “rest game”, this gave rookie Fred VanVleet the chance to get some major run, and he took full advantage of his playing time. Playing 22 minutes, VanVleet would score a career high 15 points on 5 of 12 shooting, also going 2/4 from deep. Not only does he show a nice ability to score, he is also an excellent distributor, and a great on ball defender. VanVleet has been really impressive in his limited run, and watching his effort on both ends of the floor was one of the few bright spots in this game.

This game was rough, this recent stretch has been rough. At this point, all we can hope for is the Raptors show up in the next game looking to get back to their old winning ways. A lot of this would depend on the return of DeRozan and Patterson, but Sunday’s game will be against the Brooklyn Nets who are sporting the worst record in the NBA right now. Even without Patterson and DeRozan, only one would hope the Raptors still have it in them to pull out a win.

Follow – @Spenred

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Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – Not again, dammit

Host William Lou is joined by Blake Murphy to break down ANOTHER loss to the Orlando Magic.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Magic 102

Player grades to come. Comment away.

Note from Blake: It doesn’t appear the person on Quick Reaction duty is going to get grades up. Normally, I’d jump in, but I have a thing for a friend who’s been overseas for a few months. Will and I did the reaction podcast if you want my take/both of us yelling angrily at the microphone, but I won’t be able to get grades up. So…it’s on you guys. Grade or comment or argue away in the comments. This game sucked. An 8-13 stretch with absolutely no energy or sense of urgency…this is one of the more disappointing months I can remember the team having. Ugh.

In any case, have a great weekend everyone, and apologies for what might be a lack of grades tonight.

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Patrick Patterson leaves game, will not return

The Toronto Raptors could once again be without their plus-minus stud and best team defender. Patrick Patterson left Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic in the first quarter with a left knee contusion and will not return.

Patterson only recently returned from a pair of absences due to a strained left knee, so obviously this is concerning. The Raptors are almost surely playing it cautious with anything around his knee – he’s been playing under a rough minutes restriction – so there’s probably no cause for alarm until further information is available Saturday or Sunday.

Before exiting, Patterson recorded one block and a missed three in seven minutes. The starting lineup has been functioning quite well with him alongside Jonas Valanciunas, although the Raptors were down a point when he left.

With Patterson shelved, the Raptors will be forced to go smaller against Magic bench units and lean on Pascal Siakam, the first power forward off the bench Friday, and Jared Sullinger, who played well Wednesday but is yet to be used against Orlando. It also throws both the starting lineup for the third quarter into question and their lineups to start the second and fourth.

Hope for the best here, folks. The Raptors can ill-afford another injury on top of DeMar DeRozan with how they’ve been playing.

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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan misses another as Raptors visit Magic

The Toronto Raptors continue a compressed week with their third of five games in seven days. But they’re fairly rested here, having had an entire day in Orlando – with no practice following a back-to-back – to relax and enjoy some sun and get right to rebound against the Magic. There are no excuses here, like there were none Sunday in Toronto when the Magic stole one thanks to an inexplicably poor Toronto performance. Revenge should be on their minds, and if they don’t come out with intensity, there will be easy questions to ask about what exactly was going on psychologically.

But let’s not think of the bad. The Raptors have played slightly better of late despite the record and Magic loss, and maybe DeMar DeRozan will be back here. Even without DeRozan, they should take care of the Magic. And they probably will! And then the reaction podcast will be happy and we’ll all go drink and be merry. Or, you know, they won’t, and the reaction podcast will be funny and we’ll all go drink and be miserable. Either way!

The game tips off at 7 p m. on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The Raptors skipped shootaround Friday in favor of doing a walkthrough at their hotel, which is their prerogative and probably the right call, from a physical standpoint, given how dense the schedule is right now. But that left us in the dark about the status of DeMar DeRozan, who was officially listed as questionable due to his sore ankle. DeRozan will not return for this one, head coach Dwane Casey revealed before the game, courtesy of The Woz. Even with 12 losses in the last 20 games, it makes sense to play it safe with DeRozan until he’s 100 percent, and Norman Powell’s been filling in admirably. It hurts, especially late in games, but if DeRozan is still sore (or “tender” as it was put), there’s little sense pushing it.

With Patrick Patterson now somewhat solidified as the starting power forward, the only real question in the frontcourt is who gets the backup minutes there. The Raptors will go small at times, sure, but there are still a number of minutes for either Jared Sullinger or Pascal Siakam to soak up. That spot has been fluid of late, but Sullinger’s strong performance Wednesday may give him the first look here (even if the Magic are one of Siakam’s better matchups). And no, Jakob Poeltl probably isn’t an option, as he’s still only really played center this year and all rotation choices of late suggest he’s strictly the C3.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: DeMar DeRozan

Magic updates
Evan Fournier has returned for the Magic, which gives them their top scorer and most dynamic playmaker back. That’s great for them, and considering the Magic beat Toronto without him, probably bad news for the Raptors. Not that Fournier is a world-beater, or the Magic with him are even good offensively, but he’s a tough check and a shooter who requires constant attention. Expect Norman Powell to get the assignment chasing him around if DeRozan can’t go, while Carroll takes care of the bulkier wings like Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green.

We all miss Bismack Biyombo, but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t really worked out in Orlano. Nogueira is filling the role nicely, and while there’s a ton to Biyombo’s presence that can’t be quantified – physicality, communication, personality, that smile – he’s not the reason the Raptors’ guards suddenly can’t keep anyone in front of him. In Orlando, he’s been an awkward fit with Serge Ibaka and his role has shrunk a bit over the last few games. This is to say nothing bad about Biyombo, who is an indisparagible (a word I think I just made up) saint in my books, but just to note that the Occam’s Razor of Biyombo’s absence isn’t necessarily the Raptors’ biggest problem. It’s always fun to see him against his former guys, too.

PG: Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin
SG: Evan Fournier, C.J. Watson
SF: Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Mario Hezonja
PF: Serge Ibaka, Damjan Rudez
C: Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo
Assigned: Stephen Zimmerman
TBD: None
Out: Jodie Meeks, C.J. Wilcox

Assorted

  • Jakob Poeltl got some run last game due to foul trouble. And he looked pretty good! The samples have been limited, but I wrote about the progress he’s been able to flash when given the opportunity for The Athletic today.
  • ICYMI, Kyle Lowry will be participating in the 3-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend. He needs four more threes to tie Morris Peterson for the Raptors’ all-time lead.
  • Bruno Caboclo remains with Raptors 905 of the D-League, as they’re on the road and set for action tomorrow. With the parent club mostly healthy, expect a lot less of Caboclo on the bench in the coming weeks, as he’d just be in street clothes, anyway.
    • Speaking of the 905, head coach Jerry Stackhouse won’t be with the team tomorrow due to a personal matter. Donnie Tyndall will coach in his place.
  • A few people have asked: Feb. 5 is the cut-off date for coaching the All-Star Game. If the Raptors are in second after next Sunday, Dwane Casey gets the nod. But that’s almost certainly not happening, as the Raptors would have to win Friday and Sunday while the Celtics go 0-2 over the weekend for Casey to earn the nod.

The line
The Raptors are 5.5-point favorites on the road, a heavy line with the DeRozan uncertainty and one that jumped from an opening mark of Raptors – 3.5 in some places. The over-under is at 208.5, with previous totals in this matchup of 188 and 227.

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Lucas Nogueira Has Taken His Game To The Next Level

Masai Ujiri is a master in the art of constructing trades. It’s hard to look back at his trading resume and think of one trade he’s lost. In his time as Raptors GM, he’s turned Rudy Gay into Patrick Patterson, Greveis Vasquez into Norman Powell, and he turned Andrea Bargnani into Jakob Poeltl. Many of these moves have created the foundation for what the Raptors are today and are trying to develop into in the future.

On June 29th, 2014, the Raptors traded John Salmons to the Hawks for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira. Salmons was waived a month later by the Hawks, Williams was coming off major knee surgery was an expiring contract, and then there was Nogueira, a throw in, a draft and stash player who hadn’t seen time in the NBA. This trade looked like cap clearing move for both teams, until this year. With the departure of Bismack Biyombo this offseason, the Raptors were desperate coming into this season for a backup centre. This cap clearing move is starting to pay dividends for the Raptors, as Nogueira at 24 years old (same age as Biyombo) has proven himself to be a very capable backup centre with the ability to anchor a defense.

Last season, Nogueira was averaging 7.8 minutes per game. He was bouncing back and fourth between the D-League and the 14th/15th man on the NBA roster, and anytime he got a chance to shine, some weird injury would always get in his way. Things have already been better for him this season, as he has been relatively healthy, and he is flourishing in his new role playing 21 minutes per game, and even making six starts. Nogueira isn’t ever going to wow you in the box score. His offensive game is limited, yet shows a ton of potential, and for a centre his size he still lacks some of the muscle to be an elite rebounder, posting a 13% TRB% this season. Much like Biyombo, Nogueira does a lot of the dirty work to help the players around him more efficient.

Starting with the defense, Nogueira greatest strength is his 7’6” wingspan, blocking shots and being one of the NBA’s best shots disturbers close to the rim. Averaging close to two blocks per game, Nogueira does a great job using his athleticism and defensive smarts to contest shots comparable to some of the best rim protectors in the NBA. His 3.25 defensive real plus-minus doesn’t just rank him first on the Raptors, but it’s good enough for 10th in the NBA. When Nogueira is on the floor, he is allowing teams to shoot 60.4% on shots less than six feet from the basket, which isn’t to the level Biyombo was at last year but Bebe continues to improve on his already stellar rim protection.

If there is one knock on his defensive game, it’s that he can rack up fouls pretty quickly, as right now he’s averaging 6.4 personal fouls per 100 possessions. Recently in a game against the Celtics, when JV picked up two early fouls, Nogueira didn’t help much either by picking up some early foul trouble of his own. This forced Casey’s hand to dip down into his bench, and threw some his first half rotations out of whack.

Looking at the chart below, (courtesy of http://nba-two-man-viz.herokuapp.com) the chart shows defensive rating for the 2016-2017 Raptors in two man groups. As you can see, almost every Raptor improves their defensive rating when they are on the floor with Nogueira. One of the more inspiring two man groups to look at is when Nogueira is paired on the floor with Valanciunas, which has been a starting unit on a few occasions this year. This lineup might work against teams who roll out two bigs like the Knicks and Grizzlies, but it would be interesting to see if it could dominate some smaller lineups. With Nogueira inserted into the starting lineup, the Raptors post a 12.6 net rating, most of this due to the stellar 99.5 defensive rating. With Bebe protecting the rim, and Valanciunas collecting a ton of rebounds (that lineup posts a 82.6% DREB%) this lineup ends up being one of the Raptors most effective defensive lineups.

With both bigs on the floor, this lineup could be a bit of spacing nightmare, but is able to still post a 112.2 offensive rating. While this may not be the Raptors most efficient offensive lineup, this squad still has no trouble working high pick and roll action with both bigs on the floor.

If Casey was to run this lineup out a bit more it could mess up some of the rotations. Patterson could come off the bench no problem, and continue to play in the Lowry+Bench unit, but it becomes pretty thin when looking for a substitution for Valanciunas, as Nogueira is also a very key piece in the Lowry+Bench unit. Leaving only Siakam, Sullinger, and Poeltl as potential options coming in for Valanciunas. It would be interesting to see Casey switch up his second unit a bit more, a lot of this would be based off matchup, but maybe this is a chance for Poeltl to see more minutes, and potentially run Sullinger full time as the backup centre.

If you’ve watched Nogueira enough this season, you can see how valuable he is to the Raptors defensively, but it’s his offensive game that continues to show a lot of promise and room to improve. Currently Bebe is shooting 68% from the field, on 3.2 attempts per game. Nogueira isn’t going to create his own shots as 76% of all his field goals are assisted and 41% of them are dunks mainly coming off the pick and roll. With a 30.3% frequency as the roll man, Nogueira is scoring 1.24 points per possession, with an EFG% of 70.3%! Bebe’s mix of wiry bouncing ability to catch lobs, run the floor, and good hands with able to finish near the rim, make him a very nice weapon in the Raptors offense.

One of the more underrated aspects of his offensive game is Nogueira’s ability to pass out of the pick and roll. There are two kinds of space that can be created on the floor – the kind an elite spot up shooter like a Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson provide, where a defender can never really sag off them to help on penetration in fear that they even get a sliver of open space beyond the arc. Then there’s the kind of spacing that works from the inside, players who are elite at driving and finishing near the rim like Russell Westbrook and James Harden. This is the kind of spacing Nogueira can provide in the pick and roll.

As you can see from the video below, Lowry does a great job finding the cutting Nogueira rolling to the rim. Kyle O’Quinn rotates just a little late and the defense is forced to collapse on Nogueira knowing that the possession will most likely end in a dunk. O’Quinn recovers once the help from Kristaps Porzingis rotates over, and even Brandon Jennings sags off Cory Joseph a bit. With three defenders moving in on Nogueira, he quickly gets the ball to the open Patterson in the corner.

The picture is a screenshot of the moment Nogueira gets the ball, you can see the spacing he’s provided on his roll to the basket.

Nogueira is a great passer and there has been more than one occasion this season where he collects an offensive rebounder and instead of going up with it, he will kick it out to a trailing Lowry, or a Terrence Ross on the wing for three. While it might frustrate some that he doesn’t just go back up with it, this level of unselfishness and court sense out of a young centre is an invaluable skill and something that really can’t be taught at this level of development.

It’s good to put Nogueira’s season into context. This is the first time in his career he’s been without injury, and this is also the first time in his career he’s gotten consistent NBA minutes. Nogueira shows a ton of positives on the defensive end already, and will continue to be a very important defensive piece in the Raptors rotation. Offensively, he has made some major strides to his game in his role, and it seems like more offensive weapons are coming, such as stretching out his game to the three point line. Before this season, Raptors fans didn’t really know what they had in Nogueira. This season, it looks like Masai may have traded for another diamond in the rough.

Follow – @Spenred

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Gameday: Raptors @ Magic, Feb. 3

Before this past Sunday’s game, this preview of the matchup against the Orlando Magic would have had a lot more optimism. That the Raptors are now playing what feels like an almost must-win, revenge game against 19-32 Magic tells you a lot about how things have gone the last few weeks.

Having missed five of the last six games with an ankle injury, it’s unclear whether or not DeMar DeRozan will return to the lineup tonight. The Raptors cancelled shoot-around today in lieu of doing a walkthrough in their hotel, so we’re unlikely to know DeMar’s status until closer to game time than usual. The one game in the last stretch that DeMar did play was last Sunday’s loss against this Magic team, in which he put up 22 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists and the team was +4 when he was on the court for what turned out to be a 1 point loss. Having him back in the lineup would be a huge boost for an offense that is suddenly struggling in a big way to score.

Even with the offense losing a considerable amount of efficiency without DeRozan, defense has been where the Raptors have looked like a team worth worrying about. In recent losses, the Raps have let the Suns, Magic, Grizzlies and Celtics all score at a rate the same or better than what the (most efficient offense of all-time!) Golden State Warriors are averaging. It’s a problem. Lineups with Sullinger playing at the 4 have been getting roasted. Jonas’ bad defensive season has been vacillating between looking maybe OK sometimes and somehow even worse on other nights. Looking to lean on the only reliable thing the Raptors have right now—wing depth—Casey has rolled out some four man units of Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Powell and Lowry-Ross-Powell-Carroll. Those units have been interesting to watch, but they’ve also struggled to stop opponents from scoring.

While you would hope that Orlando’s 28th ranked offense would be exactly the kind of paltry opponent the Raptors need right now, Orlando put up 120 pp/100 on 53% shooting and 43% from 3 against them on Sunday. Those are Warriors when Steph is cooking numbers. The positives to take away from that last matchup are, first that the Raptors only lost by 1. Despite being an absolute turnstile on defense, they still almost beat the Magic. Secondly, the Raptors notably out rebounded the Magic and held a considerable advantage in getting to the line. If Nikola Vucevic and D.J. freaking Augustin don’t go a combined 6 of 9 from 3, the Raptors probably win that game. Personally, I’m more comfortable betting on the Raptors in an extended sample size than I am on Vucevic and Augustin, but it’s somehow players like Augustin who put on their Gerald Henderson-against-the-Raptors masks and inexplicably haunt this franchise. The Augustin-Payton-Watson backcourt should be something that comes out favourably in the Raptors favor though, with Lowry and DeRozan able to exploit the sub par and foul-prone defense of all 3 players. Dinos -4.5.

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The Missing Ingredient

To pre-empt the outcry, I’d like to state that the Raptors certainly have other issues beside the ones I’ve chosen to focus on (the need for consistent three-point shooting from roleplayers for example). Nonetheless, I find the defensive changes to have caused the greatest differentiation in performance between this season and last. In addition, while the loss to Boston stung, I actually found more positives than negatives to take from that game, resulting in a slight uptick in my optimism meter after a pretty bleak January. And now, onto the rest of the article.

With the regular season past the halfway mark, the conclusion that the Toronto Raptors have regressed defensively appears inevitable. This is despite the fact that the club’s personnel had very little turnover from the prior year. Yes, the team’s defensive backbone and backup center Bismack Biyombo left to the sunshine state, but could that alone have changed the team’s defensive fate so much? After all, Biyombo only played 22 minutes per game. From a numbers standpoint, Lucas Nogueira has filled his shoes expertly while learning on the job, outperforming Biyombo by providing 1.9 blocks per game to Bismack’s 1.6 in comparable playing time. Here, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Where Bismack lacks offensive skill as compared to Bebe, he makes up for it with brute strength and resolve. While Nogueira blocks and alters shots in the paint, it remains questionable whether he actually deters players from attacking. Lucas appears to be a top-notch teammate and more sportsmanlike than any professional athlete I’ve witnessed – to the point of consistently checking on opposing players after minor contact in the paint and offering a hand to pick them up (a role traditionally reserved for the downed player’s own teammates). While that is not a negative in itself, there is something to be said for wanting the anchor and backbone of your defensive line to have a bit of ‘badness’ to his play.

And that’s where the difference between Biyombo and Nogueira lies – Biz, while remaining an excellent teammate and locker room presence as far as anyone can tell, carrying himself with poise and an endearing smile in interviews, has another side. The side Raptor fans saw when he stood up to Russell Westbrook early last season; the side that saw him forcefully reject two of the league’s elite finishers at the rim in Irving and James in the playoffs. This is a man who refuses to allow all-inclusive vacations inside his squad’s paint, and it is a man well missed.

Talent is not everything in the NBA, despite the ultimate proverb that dictates otherwise. While grit and hard work alone likely won’t get one all the way to an NBA championship, they can pave a considerable portion of the path. While Nogueira is recognized to be more technically gifted than Biyombo, the lion tamer possesses a toughness that can prove the difference between an Eastern Conference finals appearance and a first round exit.

Biyombo’s departure is not the only one contributing to Toronto’s defensive regression however. Andy Greer, the lead defensive assistant from last season, left to join Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, apparently taking his efficient schemes with him. As has been widely discussed, the Raptors opted to change their strategy on that end of the floor, hedging aggressively with the bigs and going over screens with the guards. This is where my personal cognitive dissonance begins – what happened to ‘if it ain’t broke…’?

The Raptors defensive system allowed a host of open threes last season, ranking second from the bottom in opponent three-point shooting percentage. While that hurt them when their opponents shot lights out (and hampered them in contests against teams with multiple excellent shooters ie. Cleveland), they essentially dictated the style of play, forcing their opponent to beat them from outside. Their ultimate bet was that teams wouldn’t stay hot from beyond the arc for more than three contests out of seven. On the other hand, the Raptors ranked 5th in opponent 2-point field goal percentage, and were among the league leaders in preventing dunks and layups. The conservative system (along with Biyombo’s presence when Valanciunas rested) made sure Toronto always had a strong defensive rebounder near the basket, ranking 7th in rebounding percentage on that end. As the year over year comparison shows, the team regressed significantly in all of these categories, while improving only marginally in defending the three-point line. It’s that trade off that threatens to prove their downfall (relatively speaking, of course).

The coaching staff headed by Dwane Casey has done an excellent job in many aspects throughout these last few seasons, but this year’s defensive course correction has proved to be ill conceived. Greer’s departure would not have drained the staff of the knowledge of how to play the schemes, having seen first-hand their inner workings last season. The resulting conclusion – it was a conscious choice by Casey and co. to change the approach. Knowing what a playoff series without strong interior presence looks like for Toronto, it is imperative that something be done about this issue ahead of April. While a trade for a strong interior defender may help, a rollback of the defensive method may have a similiar effect. Herein lies the benefit of continuity – most of the team’s rotation players know last year’s system, and won’t require a training camp to implement the changes. Otherwise, Canada’s basketball team risks taking a step back come playoff time.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 2 – It’s not last call yet

The Extra returns with the usual crew to talk Celtics, the East, and potential trade targets.

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Kyle Lowry to participate in 3-Point Contest

Apologies for not getting a post up about this last night, but I had two games of my own and then was as dead as you’d expect a 30-year-old with foot issues to be after playing two games. Anyway.

Kyle Lowry will participate in the 3-Point Contest as a part of NBA All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 18.

The three-time All-Star will be participating in his second 3-point shootout after also doing so at home in Toronto last year. He had previously told reporters he would not participate this year, but clearly changed his mind. He’ll face off against Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Eric Gordon, Wesley Matthews, C.J. McCollum, and Swaggy P. It’s going to be hilarious when Lowry and Irving decide to shoot nothing but pull-up 30-footers in transition, and when Nick Young steals balls from other people’s racks to get even more shots up.

Barring a late change, no other Raptor will be participating. Norman Powell did not get a berth in the Slam Dunk Contest, and nobody is trying to be in the Skills Competition, anyway. The Dunk Contest field is awesome with Aaron Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Glenn Robinson III, and Derrick Jones Jr., one of the best in-game dunkers I’ve ever seen. The skills competition, meanwhile, involves Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Devin Booker, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid. Trust the Process.

With no Raptors in the rookie-sophomore (or whatever iteration of it) this year and only Lowry participating Saturday night, it’s going to be a pretty light weekend for Raptors fans. The D-League All-Star Game, Lowry’s triples, and then Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in the big game Sunday.

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Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 3

The Raptors Need Outside Help, But Face a Dilemma as Trade Deadline Nears | VICE Sports

A year later and the Raptors are unlikely to run into similar constraints. Their salary structure is more varied this year, and the provisions on deals for Ross and Valanciunas are gone. They absolutely have the pieces—in terms of salary, contribute-now players, prospects, and picks—to put together attractive packages if a big name hits the market (not to the degree Boston or some others do, but they can get into conversations). If they’re looking at a smaller-scale move, Cory Joseph and Jared Sullinger have mid-sized salaries and, while Joseph is well-liked and an important part of a successful second unit, the team has ample guard depth. Fans would be loath to see him go, and his minimum salary moves the needle little for matching, but Norman Powell would be one of the more intriguing trade chips a team could dangle.

In other words, the Raptors are in a better position to deal this year. They have a better salary structure. They have assets with real value. And they have a much better knowledge of who they are, what their strengths are, and where their weaknesses lie.

The thing about trades, though, is that they require a second team to make one. It’s one thing to look at a deal for DeMarcus Cousins on paper, and another to convince the Sacramento Kings to eschew the chance to sign him to a no-brainer extension that the new collective bargaining agreement would allow for. It’s easy to say the Hawks should trade Millsap ahead of free agency, and another to convince the Hawks they’re not a legitimate threat to go to the conference finals if they keep him. And you’d have to convince Carmelo Ant… you know what, forget that one.

The Raptors are in trouble. Can Masai Ujiri save them? – SBNation.com

They have the No. 2 offense in the league, but the scoring attack has been roughly average since Christmas. The defense was average for the first two months of the season, and it’s been worse in the past month. The upshot? Fueled by the offense of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors began the season 22-8. Since then, as things have fallen apart, Toronto has gone 8-11.

The injury bug has hit the Raptors a bit. DeRozan has missed five of the past six games with an ankle injury. That puts a greater load on Lowry given Toronto’s lack of frontcourt scoring. Patrick Patterson, the team’s best power forward, missed 10 of 12 games to open January because of a knee issue. He’s played in each of the past six games, but injuries like that — like DeRozan’s ankle problem — can linger until the offseason.

That has a cumulative effect. Last year the Raptors won 56 games. They are now on pace for 49, and we’re past the midway point of the season. Four teams (including the Celtics and Hawks) won 48 games in the East last season. Boston was aiming higher all along, and it looks like Isaiah will take them there despite the team’s defensive malaise.

Four potential landing spots for Serge Ibaka – Orlando Magic Daily

The biggest impact Ibaka should be able to make for the Raptors is on the defensive end. The team has struggled to find someone who can protect the paint. Valnciunas is not a great defender and having Ibaka alongside him can ease the pressure on him.

When it comes to looking at a potential deal, the Magic are probably going to get a few expiring contracts in return and possibly Terrence Ross. Hopefully, the Raptors give up a pick or two so the Magic have something to help build towards the future.

‘Loved our fight’: Raptors see positives in loss to Celtics | Toronto Sun

Defensively the communication was better, although difficult in the fourth when the Garden was in full roar and the entire arena seemed to be feeding off Thomas’ expected fourth-quarter heroics.

The wee Celtics guard did not disappoint, with 19 points in the frame and 44 for the night.

That he used an innocuous quote from Jonas Valanciunas offered up three weeks earlier only proves how far a professional player will go to find ways to motivate himself.

Regardless, we’ve seen Casey upset after losses and that was not the case Wednesday night.

“I thought our guys battled, I loved the fight, scrap,” he said. “We have to continue that, get everybody healthy, guys off the minutes restrictions and then we’ll go to war.”

The minutes restrictions would appear to apply to Patrick Patterson, Casey’s glue defender who makes everything about the Raptors defence just seem to mesh. Patterson was held to just over 20 minutes, not near what Casey likely wanted out of his defensive lynchpin, but probably necessary given the team was playing on back-to-back nights and Patteson is still rounding into form after a layoff.

Can Raptors compete with LeBron, Cavaliers? – Video – TSN

Former Raptors centre Antonio Davis joins Naylor & Landsberg to discuss the Raptors loss to the Celtics, their chances of competing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and more.

Stats don't lie. One of the best in the game at shooting the trey. Good luck, @kyle_lowry7. #WeTheNorth

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Why Ignoring Player Ceilings Is Costing The Raptors – Raptors Republic

The Raptors have chosen to take players with high floors and low ceilings for the most part during Masai Ujiri’s tenure. Dwane Casey is a big part of the blame, as he has had a lot of talent that he has not known how to utilize. The Raptors overused Rudy Gay, but if he was used as a stretch 4/small forward hybrid properly, he would  have been a massive asset to this basketball team.

Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson are decent players, but Lou Williams and James Johnson both provide so much more upside at their position, and their upsides are being reached in new places. Joseph is a liability at both ends most nights, and Patterson is a solid two way player, but his inconsistency from three point land makes him someone who is hard to label as a high ceiling.

The point of this article is not to say that the Raptors should have never let Rudy Gay, James Johnson and Lou Williams go, but the point is that they misused them which made them the problem.  The talent level in all three guys could each severely impact this team in a positive way right now, and it is a shame that the same misusage is happening with Norman Powell, and that the lack of recognition for upside is hurting this team right now.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQBxXYGFFR9/

Norman Powell is adapting well, earning minutes in DeMar DeRozan’s absence – The Athletic [Subscription]

By now, it has been pretty well established Norman Powell is not very outwardly emotional. On the court, you can tell that he is intense and fully engaged, but he is generally not one for clear expressions of joy, anger or much in between. He is not at the complete opposite end of the observationally emotional spectrum as multi-purpose human emoji Lucas Nogueira, but he is close.

However, his blank slate face is being tested. Powell is missing a lot of layups lately — like, a lot. He missed one in the final minutes of a two-point game against San Antonio last week, and the bunnies have not been falling at an alarming rate since then.

Finally, on Tuesday against New Orleans, the Raptors forward snapped — or as close as he comes to doing so, which is not very close at all.

Bringing Up Bebe Week 15: The Power of Names – Raptors HQ

This past week for the Raptors has been rather uneven. It began with rousing win over the Bucks — after which Bebe got talkative about his underwear — before tumbling into an “atrocious” loss to the Magic, a too-close win over the Pelicans, and a humbling at the hands of Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. Nogueira’s presence in these games has a causality you can track simply by scrolling through the rolls of text on Twitter and scanning for the word “Bebe.” (Or maybe “Long Weeknd” depending on how many shots he is blocking.) It’s awesome to watch in real time. But Bebe also confounds this expectation.

In the Raptors wins this week, Bebe — his most emotive, random form — was a negative in the curious plus/minus stat (-3 vs. the Bucks, -4 vs. the Pels). In the losses? A combined +16. Sometimes things defy easy description, and order cannot quite be asserted. They continue to stand out as themselves, for better or worse. In the case of Nogueira, I contend that this remains cause for celebration.

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The Kyle Lowry Trade Tree – Court is in Session

Imagine how the NBA landscape would have changed if the Lakers didn’t make a last minute push to sign Nash. It was reported that Nash was leaning towards signing with the Raptors before the Lakers came barging in. Nash would have been a Raptor and Lowry would have remained a Rocket. James Harden might still be in Oklahoma City or somewhere else. It is widely known that current Raptors President Masai Ujiri coveted one particular player in the 2013 NBA Draft that many did not know about at the time – Giannis Antetokounmpo. With Nash and their own draft pick, the Greek Freak would have been a Raptor.

Damn right #wethenorth

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Kyle Lowry to compete in All-Star 3-Point Contest – Raptors HQ

Of course, as we in Toronto know, Lowry deserves to be in the 3-point contest, full stop. This season, Kyle is shooting a career-best 43 percent from three, on a career-high 7.7 attempts per game — which, by the way, is good for exactly half of his shot attempts this year. (It’s also good for fifth overall in the league.)

And these aren’t just any threes, as we Raptors fans know. Lowry has shown incredibly deep range on the season, taking threes from further and further away, and letting fly in pretty much any instance — going left, right, off the dribble, or standing still. Lowr

The journey never ends. #RoadToTheSix

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Raptors’ Kyle Lowry back in NBA’s three-point contest | Toronto Star

The best three-point shooting season of Kyle Lowry’s career has landed the Toronto Raptors guard an extra gig at the NBA all-star weekend.

Lowry, shooting a career-best 42.7 per cent from long range, will join defending champion Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors in the three-point shootout on Feb. 18 as part of the league’s all-star weekend.

When you don't box out #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

What skills has Terrence Ross devloped since his rookie year – RealGM

i remember watching his 51pt game live and he was amazing. i honestly thought he was gonna the next paul george but he never got better. he was drafted as 3pt shooter and thats all he is. he has all tools to be a very good player but mentally he is a dumbass. i dont know why masai is scared to trade him

Game day: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors, vs. Nikola Vucevic, Magic. The Orlando centre scorched Toronto with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the Magic’s win last week, making three three-pointers. Valanciunas will have to be better chasing him out on the perimeter. The Raptors centre played a season-low 11:47 against Boston on Wednesday, and had more fouls (four) than points or rebounds (three).

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Why Ignoring Player Ceilings Is Costing The Raptors

Before I start this article, I want to acknowledge where the Raptors are since the beginning of Dwane Casey’s tenure and where they are now. When Casey came here, he gradually improved the team, but looking back at some of the past and present misuse of players might be a sign that Dwane Casey will never get this Raptors team over the top.

Looking across the NBA, there are a lot of really talented players that the Raptors had at one point, and would be perfect fits on this team right now. Instead, the Raptors are essentially putting the entire weight of their success on Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan having monster nights, and it is simply not enough of a fight to beat the good teams in the NBA.

Yet, looking back, the Raptors have misused and mismanaged several pieces in the last four seasons to the point where the Raptors could have really relied on more than Lowry and Derozan if they were all utilized properly.

The theme has been the same every season. Every year the Raptors have a lot of talent, and every year they seem to be overused or underused to the point where they become seen as expendable.

Let’s take a look back at some past players the Raptors have let go that could really be helping this team if they were properly integrated into our offense.

Rudy Gay: 

This choice is going to spark up some controversy, but let us look at this from a talent perspective. Rudy Gay is an incredible talent, and he was completely overused in Toronto to the point where he became the problem. However, his 92 offensive rating in 2013-2014 was a result of poor coaching and putting Gay in a position to fail. Gay had a 30% usage and was often cleared out to go 1 on 1 with little to no off ball movement to free up a good look. Basically, Gay had the same role that Harrison Barnes has in Dallas right now, which was to create everything for himself, and as an inefficient volume guy, the results of averaging 19 points per game on 19 shots before being dumped out were not surprising.

However, Gay has fit in well on the Kings, and though they are not seeing much winning success, Gay has efficiently averaged close to 20 points per game on the Kings, while shooting a very respectable 37% on his 3 pointers before getting injured this season. Rudy is overpaid, yes, and I am not saying he is a realistic solution to this Raptors team right now, but he is an example of a player that the Raptors completely misused under Dwane Casey’s tenure, only to see him take him off in a system that can get the most out of his talent.

The same cannot be said about someone like Demarre Carroll, who was brought in from a system that got him over half his looks from three to be wide open. Carroll has been an obvious bust and it is safe to say that if he went somewhere else, he would not be any better.

This is one example of many of the Raptors not being able to maximize their player’s ceiling, and instead having to rely on guys with low ceilings to do their jobs and fill shoes that they are not capable of filling to put this Raptors team over the top.

Gay’s ceiling was not met, but a small forward and stretch four hybrid like him with the upside to be a big impact on both ends if used properly would be really nice right about now. To sum up how poor the usage of Rudy Gay was, Kyle Lowry took 7 shots per game in Gay’s final month in Toronto, and the Raptors were ready to dump Lowry to the Knicks after him “not realizing his potential”, despite the fact that he was almost another great player that the Raptors misused and then gave up on. Luckily James Dolan thought Masai Ujiri was fleecing him and backed away from the offer.

Lou Williams 

Lou Williams might have won 6th man of the year in Toronto, but he was very frustrating to fans here because of how he was used. He was often told to isolate and he was notorious for being the guy who was asked to dribble out the shot clock and take a contested three at the end of quarters. Lou was a fun player, but he was seen as part of the problem in Toronto for creating this hero ball mentality.

Was Lou the problem here? Or was Dwane Casey the problem for allowing this culture to snowball and essentially lead to the Raptors getting swept in the first round of the 2015 playoffs?

Lou has a much higher ceiling that Cory Joseph offensively, and he has a better defensive rating than Joseph does this year. Lou is another example of a high ceiling guy that the Raptors overused and ended up casting him to be part of the problem. The Raptors let him walk and he went to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This season, Lou is averaging 19 points per game in 24 minutes and is ranked 20th in Hollinger’s EWA stat with an 8.0 score. This is higher than Paul George, Nikola Jokic, Hassan Whiteside and Mike Conley.

Lou has a PER of 22, and is having one of the best seasons of his career. The Raptors lack consistent secondary scoring, but chose to give up on Lou’s ceiling because Casey didn’t know how to use him properly. Now that he is being used well in LA, he is a candidate to win 6th man of the year award and lead the Lakers in points per game, despite playing such few minutes.

Lou already has more assists this year than he did with his entire season with the Raptors.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guy like this who can score 20 points in his sleep any night of the week, without having a drop off on the defensive end? Though Joseph is labelled as a better defender, his 112 defensive rating and constant allowing of guys to blow by him speaks against that label.

Gay and Lou Williams are two examples of players who were overused with the Raptors and not allowed to reach their full potential.

Hassan Whiteside

I’ll keep this one brief as this was a short stint if you can even call it that, but I do recall Hassan Whiteside’s summer league with the Raptors. Whiteside averaged over 20 rebounds per 36 minutes, and over 3 blocks per 36 minutes with the Raptors summer league team. Yet, the Raptors chose to keep a veteran big with no upside in Greg Stiemsma. As I’m sure you all know, Hassan ended up signing with the Heat, and his upside has clearly been reached with a max contract.

This is another example of the Raptors not recognizing and giving a ceiling a chance. Instead, they went with Stiemsma, who had already proven that he was not an NBA center, and lost out on the chance to see if Whiteside could bring some of those summer league stats to the NBA.

James Johnson

Another player who I have mentioned before is James Johnson. He was a guy who always had a big ceiling, but was replaced in the rotation by Tyler Hansborough (Not in the NBA), Luis Scola (12th man on the worst team in the NBA), Amir Johnson (fringe rotation player on the Celtics), and Terrence Ross through his struggles every single night. What do all of those guys, besides Ross, have in common? They had no ceiling. JJ was always extremely hardworking and talented, but his “lapses” on defense that every other player would make and live to tell the tale, were what essentially put him in the doghouse. JJ got paid 4 million to play in Miami this year.

The Heat have won 9 games in a row, and Johnson is playing a massive role in this. He is averaging 13 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block and 1 steal per game since January, and has been guarding every team’s best player for the entire month. Jimmy Butler went 1 for 13 against the Heat with Johnson primarily defending him. Last year, Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in a half against the Raptors with James Johnson listed as a DNP-CD.

He has finally reached his ceiling, and is an incredible two way player right now. Yet, the Raptors felt compelled to use guys with no upside at JJ’s expense and they limited his role to the point where every time he touched the ball, if he screwed up, he would be sat down by Casey.

The big knock on JJ was that he couldn’t shoot and thus not space the floor, yet he is shooting better on 3 pointers than both Patrick Patterson and Demarre Carroll this year..

This is another example of the Raptors not recognizing a player’s ceiling and buying low and casting him out to be the problem when he fell out of favour and was misused by Dwane Casey.

Norman Powell

I have shown many examples of players that the Raptors have completely misused, and Norm Powell is another one. What does Norm have to do to crack this Raptors’ rotation? Carroll provides nothing on the offensive end, and frankly has been completely exploitable on the defensive end as well overall this year. Norm has averaged 15 points per game, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal as a starter, while playing excellent defense as well.

Last year, when the Raptors rested their regulars, Norm had some monster games in April, yet was an afterthought in the playoff rotation and last resort for Dwane Casey. Norm is a player showing another great ceiling, and if the Raptors are not careful, they might see yet another player like Norm become a part of a trade package which will come back to burn them later.

Conclusion: 

The Raptors have chosen to take players with high floors and low ceilings for the most part during Masai Ujiri’s tenure. Dwane Casey is a big part of the blame, as he has had a lot of talent that he has not known how to utilize. The Raptors overused Rudy Gay, but if he was used as a stretch 4/small forward hybrid properly, he would  have been a massive asset to this basketball team.

Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson are decent players, but Lou Williams and James Johnson both provide so much more upside at their position, and their upsides are being reached in new places. Joseph is a liability at both ends most nights, and Patterson is a solid two way player, but his inconsistency from three point land makes him someone who is hard to label as a high ceiling.

The point of this article is not to say that the Raptors should have never let Rudy Gay, James Johnson and Lou Williams go, but the point is that they misused them which made them the problem.  The talent level in all three guys could each severely impact this team in a positive way right now, and it is a shame that the same misusage is happening with Norman Powell, and that the lack of recognition for upside is hurting this team right now.

Considering Ujiri was willing to trade Kyle Lowry at the point when he was being misused the most, letting James Johnson go for nothing when he was being under-utilized, and casting Rudy Gay out to be a problem when he has shown he can be a great secondary piece in Sacramento, is not a good sign.

At each time, the players were indeed a problem, but the Raptors really could be in a much better position if these players were utilized properly and one or two of them were still on the roster. Let’s hope the Raptors don’t make the same mistake with Norman Powell and start utilizing his talent more.

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Pint-Sized Super-Human Isaiah Thomas Carries Celtics Over Raptors

It can be really tempting to make excuses for this one. The refs had a very interesting interpretation of the rules, DeMar DeRozan was out with injury, Patrick Patterson was on a minutes restrictions, they missed a fair amount of makeable shots and so on, but any game in which you build an 18 point 3rd quarter lead is a game that you should win. If you’re good enough to build that lead, you’re good enough to hold that lead. Period.

It was almost like we saw two completely different games played out there. The first 24 minutes of the game were a thing of beauty, everything you want to see from this team as they gear up for what will hopefully be another deep playoff run. The defense was great, with the Celtics high scoring attack negated by a great overall defensive effort but especially by DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Bebe Nogueira in the frontcourt. Credit Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Terrence Ross for making the Celtics guards work to get separation in the first half but the defense was held together by the fact that the help was there every time the Celtics guards did get that separation. The big men did an excellent job of sniffing out the Celtics intent on every play and shutting the door on them. Some porous defense from Cory Joseph, foul trouble forcing the Raptors deep into their big man rotation and the existence of Jared Sullinger derailed the defensive effort a bit but it was a solid overall effort.

The first half offense wasn’t quite dominant – nobody would confuse it for the team’s early season onslaught – but it got the job done. With Valanciunas on the bench thanks to the refs and DeRozan out of the lineup entirely this could have turned into one of those “Kyle Lowry tries to do everything” nights but thankfully the team managed a nice balance thanks to a surprise appearance from Jared Sullinger’s offensive game and Norman Powell’s continued willingness to assert himself. After the way the last Celtics-Raptors game went the first half was everything a Raptors fan could have hoped for.

In the second half things slowly fell apart. The defensive rotations weren’t quite so crisp on the Raptors end while the Celtics gradually ramped up the defensive intensity and the Raptors non-Lowry offensive contributions dwindled.  Part of the credit for this certainly goes to the Celtics, who did a great job of keeping Lowry out of the paint with perfect hedging and a solid defensive effort from Marcus Smart but the Raptors coaching staff pick up some of the blame as well with their unwillingness or inability to consistently involve anyone not named Lowry and DeRozan in the offense. Marcus Smart locking down Lowry meant that the weaker Isaiah Thomas was guarding someone else and the Raptors didn’t do enough to attack that in the second half despite having some success going at him with Powell in the first half. The Raptors have done a good job of keeping Powell heavily involved in the offense since DeRozan went down to injury but tonight they failed to take advantage of his matchup advantages.

Another tempting option for Raptors fans right now is to chalk this loss up to a superhuman effort from Isaiah Thomas, and this wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. The man poured in 44 points including a ridiculous 19 point 4th quarter performance that equalled the Raptors total 4th quarter output. He used his change of pace and first step to get in the paint at will, feasted on the Raptors defensive miscues and seemed to come through with a basket at the exact moment the Celtics needed it to shift the momentum. If there was one stretch that completely changed the direction of the game it was the 9-0 run that Thomas went on all by himself from 6:11-4:39 of the 4th quarter, single-handedly turning an 8 point deficit into a 1 point lead. His fourth quarter performance showed Raptors fans how the other side feels, because what he did is not unlike what Lowry has done to other teams so many times over the last few seasons; it’s exhilarating when it’s your guy but you throw things at the TV when it’s the other guy. If you manage to remove emotion from the equation it was a lot of fun watching what Thomas managed to do tonight.

From the Celtics perspective they got carried to victory by another heroic performance from one of the smallest players in NBA history but from the Raptors perspective the real reason for the loss was the same thing that has plagued the Raptors all season: a lack of discipline and attention to detail on defense. Every broken play ends up in a mad scramble with players just sprinting toward wherever the ball happens to be and nobody seeming to have any idea which players are dangerous and which you’d be fairly content with them shooting. Bebe closes out too hard on Tyler Zeller, nobody picks up Isaiah Thomas on multiple broken plays, nobody gets a body on Terry Rozier which allows him to grab an offensive rebound in traffic – these are the kinds of mistakes that doom all but the supremely talented teams and while the Raptors are a very talented team they just don’t have that level of talent even when 100% healthy. They need to be better to have a chance against the elite teams in the NBA and so far this year they have consistently missed the mark, which is reflected in their record against elite competition. It wasn’t Isaiah Thomas that beat the Raptors last night, it wasn’t the refs and it wasn’t injuries; as usual the Raptors managed to beat themselves.

That $%@% I Like

Jakob Poeltl Filling In – The Raptors got lit up in his brief sting during this game but as usual he showed an ability to get his hands on the ball on the offensive glass and the mobility to help and recover. He doesn’t always time things correctly and seems to end up out of position fairly often but his defensive acumen seems very good for a rookie and if he keep showing flashes like this he should start to get more of these assignments over Pascal Siakam

Patrick Patterson Attacking the Rim – he’s always shown a willingness to do this but it’s been kind of awkward. Half the time it seemed to end up in these weird half-post ups where he’d take a contested one handed push shot with his body at some weird angle from the basket because he’s not really a post player but didn’t managed to get all the way to the rim. Tonight he was able to find seams to get right to the rim and it made him that much more dangerous. I’m really hoping that this is something that we see a lot more of from him.

Kyle Lowry vs. Isaiah Thomas – No matter which side wins it’s entertaining. I could definitely get into 4-7 of these head to head matchups come May. A series that’s decided by which one of these guys manages to hit the most ridiculous pull up and step back three pointers may be the most fun Raptors basketball has ever been.

That $#%@ I Don’t Like

Why Is Terrence Ross? – I don’t even know what to say. He just made so many unforced errors, it seemed like every time he had a decision to make he made the wrong one. This sequence sums up his game tonight: he pump fakes and gets his defender to commit to the contest but instead of taking the lane he created hepulls back; then when the defender has recovered and is set he decides to drive directly at the defender for an offensive foul. This game really showed that Ross is still not a guy you want to handle the ball for more than a couple seconds. They should really focus on getting him more catch and shoot opportunities instead of putting the ball in his hands and hoping that it happens to be one of his good days.

Grab and Squeeze – Once again the Raptors got killed on the offensive glass late in the game. You can get away with Pattrson and Bebe together if the wings commit to rebounding but unfortunately these Raptors wings never seem to commit to rebounding. They either need to find a scheme they’re comfortable with Valanciunas executing or play him in crunch time every game because Terry Rozier was outmuscling the Raptors for crunchtime rebounds while he was on the bench tonight.

Cory Joseph – What is wrong with this guy? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody go from being one of the better defensive guards in the league to not being able to guard anyone before his 26th birthday. The Celtics also had him scouted perfectly, drawing an offensive foul on that “leap back into the defender” move he does while driving and generally not falling for any of his fakes. You can usually live with that with Joseph because his defense has always been his primary contribution but that is clearly no longer the case. It’s not an effort issue because he’s still hustling out there he just gets beat by everyone for some reason. Whatever it is the Raptors need him to do better if they are to repeat last years success. Hopefully he’ll manage to lock in as the postseason draws near.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 2

10 things I saw from Raptors-Celtics (1–2–2017) – The Defeated

Neutered: Jonas Valanciunas was a beast against the Celtics last time out with 18 and 21. He wasn’t even allowed to get his feet wet in this game. He was immediately whistled for two very questionable calls, then quickly picked up a third in the first half as he was getting out of the way while Al Horford made a pass. That was all she wrote for Jonas as he couldn’t get into the game and looked hesitant all night.

Raptors can’t hold lead, allow Celtics to storm back to win | Toronto Sun

“We just didn’t do things we needed to do,” Lowry said. “We didn’t execute. You let their best player get 44 points, 19 in the fourth, it’s kind of hard to win a game like that.”

Casey saw his team hold the Celtics to just 41.4% shooting and lose, so there was actually defensive improvement in this one.

“We’ve got to keep going, keep fighting, keep scrapping, stay together,” Casey said. “We held this team to 41% shooting percentage, we shot 52, we won the rebounding. A couple of those things went right for us.”

Foul trouble though hurt the Raptors. Already without DeMar DeRozan, who was sitting out for the fifth time in the past six games, the Raptors got limited minutes from both Valanciunas and Powell because of foul trouble.

Powell, in particular, was missed through much of that third quarter when he picked up his fourth foul in the first minutes of the frame and did not return until the fourth.

“I got to do a better job with that,” Powell said of the fouls. “Especially knowing situations. Coming out of halftime and picking up that early foul in the third and then not playing, I think that put a real strain on the rotation.

“It’s a learning experience for me knowing foul and time and situation but I got to play through it and find a way to make up for it,” he said.

Raptors flashing positive signs of defensive grit, effort – Sportsnet.ca

For the first time in six games Sullinger laid it all out there: the wide body that wins rebounding battles; the brick wall screens. He finished the first half with 11 of his 13 points, including a triple from well outside the three-point line.

More encouraging? He believes that he’s not close to proper form. On a Raptors team desperate for frontcourt depth and with the trade deadline looming, progress from Sullinger can only help Raptors president Masai Ujiri in his decision making.

“The stat sheet might say so, but I don’t think so,” Sullinger told reporters in Boston when asked if he’s getting closer to full speed. “I’m still lost out there.”

Raptors run out of answers for Celtics in fourth quarter | Toronto Star

“You’ve just got to trap him, try to get the ball out of his hands,” Lowry said of the diminutive Celtics guard, who leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring. “Tonight he was kind of getting around. We did it some, but he got three open looks in the fourth, wide-open threes. That can’t happen with a guy averaging 10 points in the fourth quarter.”

Lowry was no slouch, either. He finished with 32 points, including 10 in the final quarter, but he missed two big free throws. Patrick Patterson also had a big miss on a potential game-changing three-pointer and the Raptors just weren’t crisp enough, often enough.

“I missed two huge free throws, that sucked,” Lowry said. “We just didn’t do things we needed to do. We didn’t execute. You let their best player get 44 points, 19 in the fourth, it’s kind of hard to win a game like that.”

The Raptors missed 11 free throws combined, shot a miserable 25 per cent from three-point range and looked exhausted at times after the overtime grind of Tuesday night.

“I thought our guys battled, I loved the fight, the scrap,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to continue that, get everybody healthy, (get) guys off the minutes restrictions, and then we’ll go to war.”

Game Rap: Raptors 104, Celtics 109 | Toronto Raptors

MOMENTUM SHIFT

The Raptors led for the first half of the fourth, but a 9-0 run from Isaiah Thomas brought the Celtics from eight down to ahead by one with 4:39 remaining. The run followed a double-technical called on Terry Rozier and DeMarre Carroll after Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown took offence to a standard foul from Kyle Lowry. The teams would trade baskets down the stretch before Thomas scored nine of Boston’s final 11 points to seal the comeback victory for the Celtics. Boston outscored Toronto 32-19 in the quarter as Thomas himself matched the Raptors’ fourth quarter output.

Stevens’ Message Triggers C’s Comeback vs. Raps | Boston Celtics

“Honestly, Brad killed us at halftime,” said Thomas. “He yelled at us, and that was probably the most mad I’ve seen him.”

Added Jae Crowder, “He was pretty upset because we weren’t playing with enough fire, with enough energy. Those guys played last night and came out with more energy than us.”

Stevens’ message didn’t appear to click at first, as Toronto extended its lead to 18 points during the first four minutes of the third quarter. Thomas, however, said the coach’s words resonated “in the back of our heads.

Sure enough, Boston began to display a heightened sense of urgency midway through the third frame. The C’s started attacking the basket with tenacity, and they began to make consistent stops on the other end. The surge continued into the fourth quarter as Boston throttled the Raptors, 32-19, during the final frame, paving the way to a 109-104 win.

“I think (Stevens’ message) changed the game for us,” said Thomas, who logged his second straight 40-point game with a 44-point effort. “We just played harder than them, we got the 50-50 balls and I think that was the deciding factor in the game, especially at the end of the third and fourth quarter.”

Stars, studs and duds: Boston Celtics ‘really wanted this win’ – CSNNE

“You know what’s crazy, is I thought we played better in the first two games,” Stevens said. “I’ll go back and watch film; maybe I’m wrong, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”

And for a change, it went Boston’s way in what has to fall in line with being one of their best wins of the season.

“It feels like every game is close against them and they always beat us, so it was big for us to not put our heads down and not get discouraged and keep at it,” said Isaiah Thomas. “A lot of guys stepped up.”

Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points, furious comeback push Boston Celtics past Toronto Raptors in 109-104 thriller | masslive.com

With two minutes left, the Raptors star strangely missed two free throws, allowing Thomas to scoot the other way for a bucket that put the Celtics ahead by one. After a tough break in an end of shot clock situation, Boston gave up a bucket to Norman Powell, but Thomas — who should not have been left so wide open — drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer. Patrick Patterson missed a triple on the ensuing Toronto possession, Marcus Smart came down with an offensive rebound amid several Raptors big men, and Thomas sealed the win with four free throws, which gave him 44 points for the game, including 19 in the fourth quarter.

Both teams were missing key regulars due to injuries. The Celtics did not have Avery Bradley or Kelly Olynyk. The Raptors held out All-Star DeMar DeRozan, which did not seem to bother them until the second half, when Boston turned up the defense and only Lowry responded like someone who had dealt with that type of pressure before.

The Celtics earned this win. The Raptors did not want to give it away. It’s a shame the great basketball could not carry on.

Isaiah Thomas gets grouped with Michael Jordan (sort of); Thomas, Jaylen Brown, bench shove Boston Celtics past Toronto Raptors | masslive.com

Smart won the ensuing tip and the Celtics held on. It’s wise to start there — not with Thomas’ continued assault on fourth quarters — because the Celtics saved themselves by regaining their edge after halftime.

“Honestly, I mean, (head coach) Brad (Stevens) killed us at halftime,” Thomas said. “He yelled at us. It was probably the most mad I’ve seen him.”

“He was hot because this was a very important game,” explained veteran Gerald Green, who also spoke up. “That’s all we could talk about was how important this game was. I know this is a team we’ll need to see down the (road in the) season, and we play them one more time and can tie the (regular-season) series.”

The regular-season series could matter for seeding down the road, but the Celtics also wanted the win for peace of mind. Though Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and DeMar DeRozan all missed the game — these teams will look substantially different when healthy — Thomas suggested topping the Raptors held meaning for his club’s psyche.

“It feels like every game is close against them and they always beat us,” Thomas said, “so it was big for us to not put our heads down and not get discouraged and keep at it. We played a hell of an end to the third and fourth quarter tonight. A lot of guys stepped up.”

Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas to Jonas Valanciunas: ‘Words come back to bite you if you can’t back it up’ | masslive.com

“I remember when Valanciunas said we were trying to get to second and they were going for first,” Thomas said (video of his quote can be found above) after scoring 44 points in a 109-104 victory against Toronto. “So it’s the other way around now. They’re trying to chase for second. Now we’re going for first. So words come back to bite you if you can’t back it up.”

With the win, Thomas’ Celtics pulled ahead of the Raptors by 1.5 games for second place in the Eastern Conference. Boston still trails the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers by 2.5 games, but can send head coach Brad Stevens to the All-Star Game with one more win this weekend against either the Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers.

“That would be amazing. To come from where (the Celtics were) when he first got here, to a few years later to coaching in the All-Star Game, like, I don’t think anybody thought it would happen that fast,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we can get it. I mean, we have to take care of these next few games. And hopefully we can get our coaching staff in it.”

Raptors collapse down stretch, lose to Celtics 109-104 – Raptors HQ

An all-too-common problem for Toronto surfaced once again. As Thomas piled up buckets, the Raptors couldn’t find a one-on-one solution for him. Kyle Lowry, in fairness, was a little preoccupied providing the only offense Toronto could cobble together late. Still, he couldn’t stay with Thomas either on or off the ball. Neither could Cory Joseph. Neither could Norman Powell when he was mercifully given the assignment in the final few minutes.

This is what Thomas does. The box score said he missed four of his 10 fourth quarter shots, but that seems like an alt-fact. The dude was even hitting 28-foot throwaway shots after getting intentionally fouled in the final minute.

In order to counteract Thomas’ wizardry, you have to expose him as the defensive liability he is. Usually the Raptors are able to do that. In previous match-ups, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have taken turns backing him down in the post or leaving him stapled to a screener. When there’s nowhere for Thomas to hide, you have a prayer of matching him shot for shot.

DeRozan wasn’t available to work 1-2 pick-and-rolls with Lowry on Wednesday night. Because Lowry is the best guard in the conference, he was almost able to outgun Thomas on his own. But Marcus Smart’s defense is oppressive.

Five thoughts on Raps’ loss and more – Article – TSN

RAPTORS LOSE IN BOSTON: I know the Raptors lost and blew an 18-point lead – that’s disappointing. But I choose to look at the bright side right now. I loved how they battled and competed the entire game as well as in the second half and overtime against the Pelicans in Toronto the night before. Bottom line, if they play and defend with the intensity and purpose they showed the last two nights with greater regularity they will be just fine.

The Night Kyle Lowry Almost Did the Sam Cassell Dance – The Ringer

As plainly as I can put it, you should start loving Kyle Lowry, right now, before you find yourself out here lonely, looking foolish. The above video is Exhibit A. Exhibit B is this string of tweets from TSN Raptors beat reporter Josh Lewenberg following a home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in early December, after which Lowry and DeMar DeRozan read each other for reasons pertaining to shot selection, right on down to choice of headwear. Scarcely have a backcourt duo’s cheeks seemed more pinchable.

Raptors need backups to get their backs up | Toronto Star

DeMarre Carroll was 18-for-67 in eight games, Terrence Ross has run hot and cold, with 21- and 17-point games interspersed with nights of six, four and seven.

Get the picture?

“We all know our role, we know that Kyle and DeMar get the bulk of the offence,” Patterson said. “We fill as is . . . We know what we have to do. And we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do a lot better.”

No matter what Lowry and DeRozan do — and they have earned their status as the engines that drive the team — they need help.

“I think we’re a little out of sync. Some of our role players are starting, playing big minutes because of injuries,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said this week. “Now their chemistry is off a little bit. The reasons and excuses are not important, but that is (the case).

“I don’t know if it’s a lack of effort. It’s a lack of chemistry more than anything else, if that makes sense. They’re off. Their plus-minus has been down for the last couple of weeks. And I would say that it would be attributed to their lack of chemistry.”

Numbers Game: What’s going on with the Rotation? – Raptors HQ

Now we get a pretty clean picture. Lowry is fantastic across the board. Patterson is solid for some, great for others. Same for Nogueira. As expected, Siakam is a disaster for many, but surprisingly not so much for some. Joseph is predictably rough for everyone what with him being Lowry’s direct substitution. Players like Valanciunas, Carroll, Terrence Ross and DeRozan are roughly average (with DeRozan skewing particularly negative due to the relative ineffectiveness of his bench unit compared to Lowry’s), but have occasional very good fits and occasional very bad ones.

Some stand out conclusions based on the above, before we move on to some lineup construction.

There is one player on the roster who does better away from Lowry than with him, Pascal Siakam, the guy the Raptors shoehorned into the starting power forward role beside Lowry for most of the season so far. It’s hard to find guys who can perform without Lowry on the court, so Siakam should be used almost exclusively without Lowry. Siakam’s impact on Lowry is both a) the worst impact of any player on Lowry and b) the worst impact of Siakam on any player, so yeah, let’s not play Siakam with Lowry ever again. His impact is so terrible it can be seen bleeding into the impacts the other starters have on each other.

But his impact is not terrible for everyone. It’s just poor for Joseph and Norman Powell, and is actually positive for Ross and significantly so for Nogueira.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – Make your free throws

Host William Lou is joined by Blake Murphy to diagnose a heartbreaker against the Boston Celtics

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Celtics 109

Toronto 104 Final
Box Score
109 Boston

C
D. Carroll38 MIN, 6 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-8 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Carroll had a really rough night in that he got outplayed, consistently, by Crowder. Just didn’t do much, and the team really needed more from him with DeRozan out.

C
P. Patterson21 MIN, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-4 3FG, 3-5 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Pat had some really good stretches in the first half, and was a big part of the Raptors building their first half lead, but he couldn’t grab rebounds late, when the team kept giving up offensive boards to the Celtics, and he missed some big 3s late that could’ve been the difference.

B+
J. Valanciunas12 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -10 +/-

Can’t fault him at all for the fouls that kept his minutes down, and he really was pretty good when he was on the floor. Phantom fouls kept him from playing more on a night the team could’ve used him out there.

A+
K. Lowry38 MIN, 32 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 12-20 FG, 4-11 3FG, 4-6 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -2 +/-

He had to be exhausted by the end of this one, and Kyle tried his best to keep the Raptors in this one. Incredible offensive performance from him, and unfortunately the team just couldn’t deliver the support he needed.

B-
N. Powell32 MIN, 12 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 6-9 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 0 +/-

There was a lot of good from Norm tonight – scored pretty efficiently, and was solid defensively most of the game. On the negative side though, he continues to be cold from 3pt range and when put on Isaiah Thomas late he struggled mightily, as IT seemed to get whatever he wanted against Norm.

B
L. Nogueira28 MIN, 10 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4-4 FT, 4 BLK, 1 TO, 7 +/-

Solid night overall from Bebe, and he was the only one getting boards late. Had some nice blocked shots, and was probably the team’s second best player after Lowry.

C
C. Joseph23 MIN, 8 PTS, 1 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 4-10 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -9 +/-

CoJo created some offense in the first half, helped the team go on their big second quarter run, but he was brutal defensively once again, as he has been for a while.

D-
T. Ross23 MIN, 6 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 3-10 FG, 0-4 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 0 +/-

Might’ve been Ross’ worst game of the season. The only positives were a dunk in the halfcourt and a fastbreak give and go with Bebe, but he missed a lot of wide open shots, blew defensive rotations, and just generally looked out of place. Simply put, he must be better.

B
J. Sullinger16 MIN, 13 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 1-3 3FG, 2-5 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Sully gave the team good first half minutes, and looked like he was on his way to a big game early with some nice first half play. Struggled defensively though, as he continues to look not quite in game shape yet.

B+
J. Poeltl9 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

In the first half minutes he got due to foul trouble, I thought Poeltl was really good for the Raptors. Worked hard on both ends, and he’s a cerebral player who sees the floor well.

C-
Dwane Casey

Can’t really fault him for this one overall, because I don’t expect him to go out on the floor and guard Isaiah Thomas himself, but the rotation wasn’t great. Waited too long in the fourth quarter to go back to Pat and Bebe, and left Ross in way too long when he clearly didn’t have it tonight.

Things We Saw

  1. Isaiah Thomas is really, really good. Just took over the game in the fourth, and maybe it was the back-to-back, or DeRozan’s absence, or both, but Lowry just ran out of steam at the end of the game and couldn’t match Thomas’ performance.
  2. The defense continues to be where the Raptors problems begin. They gave up another big scoring night to an opposing point guard, and at some point these problems have to be considered more than just outlying struggles, and maybe they’re indicative instead of a team that overperformed on that end of the floor early in the season.
  3. This one hurts a little bit more than most recent losses, because it gives the Celtics a 1.5 game lead in the Atlantic division and probably gives Brad Stevens the role of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
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Pre-game news & notes: Bradley, Olynyk, and DeRozan sit because this ‘rivalry’ can’t have full squads

Finally back on the winning side of the ledger, the Toronto Raptors look to regain their spot as No. 2 in the Eastern Conference when they visit the Boston Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. No game with the try-hards would be easy, anyway, but considering the Raptors went to overtime and tasked their lone healthy All-Star with 45 minutes just 24 hours ago, it stands to reason they’ll be pretty gassed for this one. No excuses, though, because they’ve squandered a multi-game lead in second place and now find themselves in need of a win if they’re going to get head coach Dwane Casey to the All-Star Game.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here. There’s some good stuff in there from Michael Pina, a frequent hand-lender around these parts, so check that out and give him a follow for some Celtics perspective.

Raptors updates
DeMar DeRozan will sit for the fifth time in six games due to a sore right ankle that flared up after his Sunday return, leaving Norman Powell to continue his takeover of the NBA. It’s become increasingly more glaring that Powell, long a candidate for more minutes, is one of this team’s best two-way players, and DeRozan’s eventual return is going to be cause for a shakeup elsewhere in the rotation to ensure Powell is still a predominant piece. He good.

Outside of DeRozan and the assigned Bruno Caboclo, everyone is expected to be available, but don’t be shocked if the Raptors use this game as a chance to rest some players. Resting guys against a conference rival in a potential season-series clincher might rub some the wrong way, and Casey wants the All-Star nod, but the Raptors are in the midst of a 5-games-in-7-days stretch and are in tough here anyway. It’d be tough to accept an L in Boston, but with the depth mostly restored and Kyle Lowry ranking second in the NBA in total minutes, would it really be so bad if they punted one and got the youth a little more high-stakes burn? Check back before tip-off to see if anyone rests.

Non-Update: Everyone is apparently available except DeRozan/Caboclo.

Oh, and I think the starting power forward discussion is probably done for a while. I think the backup spot will remain fluid between Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, smaller lineups, and a tighter eight-man rotation, but Casey seems happy with Patterson in the spot for now.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: DeMar DeRozan

Celtics updates
As Michael and I discussed in the pre-game, it seems this matchup/rivalry/bloodfeud is destined to be played out shorthanded. DeRozan will sit, and Avery Bradley will miss an eighth consecutive game due to an Achilles injury. Bradley was hoping to play here after a full practice Tuesday, but as suggested in the pre-game, DeRozan’s absence may have made it easier for the Celtics to stomach one more game without him in the name of caution. This will mean Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, DeMarre Carroll, and DeMar DeRozan have now all missed at least one of the three meetings between the teams, and we’re yet to see the full starting lineups head-to-head.

Amir Johnson draws back into the starting lineup for Jonas Jerebko, by the way, so if the Raptors go small, expect it to be in the second unit toward the end of the first and third, and not out of the gate. Some additional insight here from Jay King:

Oh, and Kelly Olynyk (shoulder strain) is out, too, per our man Eric Koreen. Apparently, he was a late scratch, as Stevens was speaking about him in pre-game availability, per King.

PG: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier
SG: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart
SF: Jae Crowder, Gerald Green, James Young
PF: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Tyler Zeller
Assigned: Demetrius Jackson
TBD: None
Out: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk

Assorted

  • A few people have asked: Feb. 5 is the cut-off date for coaching the All-Star Game. If the Raptors are in second after next Sunday, Dwane Casey gets the nod. They enter this game a half-game behind Boston for that spot, so Wednesday’s game could potentially determine the coach of the East All-Stars (Ty Lue is ineligible because he coached last year).
  • Bruno Caboclo remains with Raptors 950 following yet another victory last night. I caught up on the game this morning, and it was one of Caboclo’s best performances yet. The offense has plateaued at times this year, but he’s taken tremendous strides as a defender. It sure would be nice if his 3-point shot – really the only useful tool in his offensive arsenal at this point in time – would come back.
  • This piece from Kevin Pelton over at ESPN might help ease some concerns about the team’s bad January. While the January swoon is obviously bad, Pelton’s research suggests that the combination of Toronto’s strong play in 2016 and their strong net rating on the season still portend a bounce-back. He projects the Raptors for a .628 winning percentage from here, tops in the East and a rate that would see them finish 51-31. (Hey, that was my preseason prediction!) These things are never perfect, but if you wanted some reason for hope of a turnaround, there you go.

The line
The game was off the board even into the late morning today, which isn’t unusual for a back-to-back. The market was likely digesting the Raptors’ heavy workloads from last night and waiting on Avery Bradley’s status. Even with Bradley down, the Celtics are 6-point favorites, suggesting that even without home-court advantage they’d be favored here (and it’d be close to a push in Toronto). Boston’s definitely been playing better than Toronto of late, and the Raptors come in tired, but I had the line down as an expected 4.5-point spread, so I’m a little surprised. Not outraged, though, because it’s possible I’m mediocre at guessing lines. The over-under is at 214.5. We’ll hold off on a prediction until we see if anyone’s resting.

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Raptors Playbook: Rip Punch & Counters

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors every Wednesday. This week, we’ll focus on the Toronto Raptors Rip Punch series and the counters that stem from it. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

The naming of this play, Rip Seal, as clarified in the video, derives from the action of a player receiving an up-screen followed by establishing post position.

Generally, this sequence is used to isolate DeMar DeRozan’s advantageous mismatch by attacking through the post against a traditionally smaller defender who is uncomfortable defending on the low block. Per NBA.com, DeRozan’s play in the post has been incredibly effective this year, as he is scoring 1.14 points per possession on post ups. This is the highest mark of any player that posts up at least as much as DeRozan. Instances of this can be seen from the beginning of the compilation.

When DeRozan is denied an entry pass into the post, the ball will be swung back to the point so DeRozan can utilize a pindown to shed the defender. This allows him to attack towards the middle of the floor and can be seen starting at 1:20.

If DeRozan’s gravity drags the screener’s defender into the middle of the floor, the screener has the freedom to space out to the strongside corner to shoot a corner three, as Luis Scola did at 1:47.

A second counter the Raptors use to combat heady defenders when they run Rip Punch is to utilize a weakside pindown. This is particularly effective against defense’s that decide to preemptively send a second defender from the weakside baseline to load up on DeRozan in the post. Once the double team has overcommitted, as Carmelo Anthony did at 1:57, the Raptors attack by quickly springing a down screen for an open jump shooter on the opposite side of the court.

An interesting wrinkle the Raptors have started to utilize this season is using the Rip Punch action as a starting point for a Snug pick and roll. By establishing post position with a guard, the Raptors’ primary ballhandlers can quickly attack the paint of the floor from an unusual spot on the floor. Instances of this can be seen starting at 2:26.

For the least prepared defenders that don’t read the scouting report, the initial Rip screen for DeRozan can occasionally free the three-time All Star up for an alley-oop, as seen at 3:22.

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It’s time Toronto Raptors get serious about Norman Powell

With consistent playing time Norman Powell produces. The time has come for the Toronto Raptors to get serious about ‘Mr. Serious’.

Recalling the time Greivis Vasquez spent on the Toronto Raptors squad, the Venezuelan guard certainly served up some memorable moments. Whether it was his moxie, three point shimmy or humorous sound bites, Vasquez developed a following in Raptors Nation. Yet, the greatest gift Vasquez gave the Raptors was Norman Powell. To wit, the trade that sent Vasquez to Milwaukee resulted in Powell landing in Toronto, along with the giant chip on his shoulder for being selected 46th in the 2015 draft.

Akin to the Andrea Bargnani gift that kept on giving (Jakob Poeltl), the “Gravy” gift train will roll into the extremely deep 2017 draft. Assuming the Clippers don’t implode and fall below 14th, the Raptors own their pick via the Bucks, which was the second portion of the Vasquez trade. In November, the injured Vasquez was waived by the talent poor Nets in favor of Yogi Ferrell. So, the fact Toronto has Powell and this impending 2017 draft pick is a credit to Masai Ujiri.

Role change:

Things were different for Powell this season, with a healthy DeMarre Carroll back, it meant fewer available minutes and extremely infrequent starts. Factor in Terrence Ross (feeling the breath of Powell on his neck) arrived to camp in better shape, prepared and sporting a more focused attitude.

This all spelled a reduction in minutes and several DNP CD’s (did not play, coaches decision).  In fairness with the Raptors sporting the best offense in the Association, the decision to go with the hot hands appeared warranted.

Though Powell sucked it up and remained professional, his reduced role appeared to be taking a toll on the youngster.

Mr. Serious weathers the storm:

Local media and announcers often refer to Powell as Mr. Serious. His work ethic off court is part of the reason behind this nick name. Yet, it’s Powell’s 2-way professional compete level on court which is likely more responsible for the moniker.

If there was ever any question regarding consistent minutes equaling production, Powell is the case study to utilize. During the Raptors January malaise Powell (for the first time in his career) looked out of sorts both on and off the court. Much of his shooting woes were self inflicted, but more worrisome was it began to effect his defense. Desperate to showcase his basketball talent to Raptors coach Dwane Casey, Powell began pressing in his infrequent appearances.

Cut to present and the man we fell in love with last season has turned a corner and is seemingly back on track. Arguably his uptick in production can be directly attributed to the increased playing time. The simple answer is when Powell gets consistent minutes he produces results.

Pelican victory showcases Powell’s complete game:

In the overtime win versus the Pelicans, several Raptors factored in the victory.  Kyle Lowry as per usual was the catalyst, while Patrick Patterson’s return from injury continues to net palpable rewards on defense. Big men Lucas Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas each provided valuable contributions. But, I’d argue Norman Powell’s 12-point third quarter, offensive outburst was what tipped the scale for the Raptors.

During the game there were several highlights from the second year guard:

  • Blocks Buddy Hield
  • Posterization of Anthony Davis with a rim rocking dunk
  • Followed by a second assault of Davis when he put him on skates to score easily in the paint
  • A key steal off Jrue Holiday for a break away dunk to put the Raptors up by 4, late in the third quarter
  • With the game tied at 96, Powell blocks Jrue Holiday’s shot
  • Final possession of game Powell grabs the key rebound, erasing  any second chance Pelican scoring opportunity

Stats highlight why Powell and Ross should swap places:

Which brings me to my point. Diving into the numbers there is a valid argument to  swap the minutes of Powell and his counterpart Terrence Ross.   This isn’t solely a case for Powell, as the numbers demonstrate Ross produces at a higher efficiency with reduced minutes, whereas Powell’s efficiency improves when his minutes are increased.

On 12 occasions this season Powell has played 24 or more minutes.  In all but the game versus Charlotte, Powell registered double digit scoring.
Powell’s averages in those 12 games are 16.5 points, 3.75 rebounds, 1.58 assists, and 1.4 steals.

Ross has played over 24 minutes on 16 occasions averaging 12.6 points. Further, Ross has registered double digit scoring on 24 occasions, but only 9 of those came when he played over 24 minutes.

On court – Off Court comparison:

Looking at the two players on and off the court there is further validation:

Season:

Ross on court: offensive rating- 113.6, defensive rating – 106.2 | Ross off court: offensive rating – 110.1,  defensive rating 105.4

Powell on court: offensive rating is 111.9, defensive rating – 104.4 | Powell off court: offensive rating – 111.6, defensive rating is 106.5

Last 5 games:

Adding fuel to the argument is their numbers in the past 5 games when Powell has played over the 24 minute threshold in 4 of the 5 games.

Ross on court:  offensive rating-  105.3,  defensive rating –  114.2  | Ross off court:  offensive rating –  107.9,  defensive rating – 95.4

Powell on court:  offensive rating – 105.3,  defensive rating – 97.4 | Powell off court: offensive rating – 108.8, defensive rating – 117.8

as per nba.com

The Key Stat:

Many pundits cite Ross’ ability to spread the floor with his three point shooting, but this is the kicker:

When Ross plays between 15 and 24 minutes he shoots 39.2% from deep, but when he plays over 24 minutes that average drops to 35.4%. Conversely, Powell’s numbers improve with increased minutes, and in games where he plays 24 minutes or more his three point efficiency is 39.5% and he shoots 48.6% from the field.

Bottom line:

Surely 24 games is a large enough sample to warrant a reduction of Ross’ playing time to between 15-24 minutes. Since, his role is to be a ‘3 and D’ man why not let him excel at it in that time allotment?

More importantly, since Powell has demonstrated he can produce with increased efficiency with 24+ minutes, hasn’t he earned those minutes? Analysts are constantly asking who the Raptors third scoring option is on the team. From this scribe’s perspective, it’s time the Raptors gave serious consideration to Mr. Serious himself.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Celtics, Feb. 1

Well, the Toronto Raptors won a game. It was ugly. It took overtime. It took Anthony Davis playing like Anthony Bennett until the last 10 minutes of the game. And it took Herculean efforts from Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, and Norman Powell in the absence of DeMar DeRozan. But they did it, and you could feel the collective weight had come off in the locker room following the victory. It wasn’t a “good” victory, but after dropping six of seven, the Raptors may have just needed an opportunity to exhale.

“We really need it,” Dwane Casey said following the game. “It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t pretty but I thought the second half we took the challenge.”

The big question for the Raptors now is how to put forth an effort like that for 48 minutes instead of for 29. It’s been a consistent issue for the team since they realized they could occasionally cruise to victories against lesser opponents – maybe learning to blow teams out was a negative, after all? – and they remain in search of a way to get after an opponent right from the hop.

“Starting out the game like that, the way we did in the second half,” Norman Powell said. “Not waiting. You know, we can’t wait to take their first hit or take their first run to bring the energy and bring that focus on the defensive end. We’ve gotta sustain it from the jump ball.”

With a flight immediately after the game and a visit to Boston on the second night of a back-to-back, their ability to do so will be tested here. The Raptors are a half-game back of the Celtics for second in the Eastern Conference, and a win would give Casey and staff the inside edge on coaching the All-Star Game, something that apparently matters a fair amount to the coach. The cut-off date is Sunday, and so a Raptors win here would put them a half-game up with two games a piece to go. It would also, you know, put them back in second and make them 3-0 against Boston, clinching the season series and perhaps a psychological edge over the Afflecks.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Michael Pina of Bleacher Report, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Well, it’s certainly been ugly for both of these teams so far this week. Celtics-Pistons was among the ugliest non-Raptors games of late, with all due respect to Jae Crowder’s start and Isaiah Thomas’ close, but hey, at least you guys got the win? The Raptors went a similar route in their win over New Orleans on Tuesday. You’d have to think both sides step the level of play up given the stakes Wednesday, right?

Michael Pina: Things got messy Monday night, but the Celtics haven’t lost since the Wizards buried them at their own funeral last week. It’s a four-game winning streak that puts them alone in the two seed, 2.5 games behind the slumping Cavaliers. Isaiah Thomas will almost definitely win Player of the Month (33 points with 50/40/90 shooting splits should do it) and as a team they have the league’s fourth-best net rating in January. Things are on the up and up, and a win Wednesday night would give them their longest winning streak of the season.

In short, they’re playing their best basketball of the season despite a lingering injury to Avery Bradley that’s kept him out of the lineup the last couple weeks. Wednesday night should be fun.

Blake Murphy:  Is everyone trying too hard to make this into a rivalry? Even Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan kind of played it up after their last meeting. Normally, I’d say Boston has to win a game before it gets there, and I’d say there needs to be more animosity than the benign comments from Crowder and DeMarre Carroll, but I’m also all for forcing the issue. It’s the pro wrestling in me, I guess. So if you were going to script tonight’s game to turn this into a full-fledged rivalry, how do you draw it up?

Michael Pina: Even though the Celtics didn’t face the Cleveland Cavaliers or Toronto Raptors in last year’s postseason, heading into this year they knew both those teams would block their path to get where they want to be. Most guys on the team are already watching the standings, maintaining awareness of where those two clubs are and how they’re playing. I don’t think we’ve seen too much bad blood yet just because early regular season games are hard to get up for (especially when neither team is 100 percent healthy). But things could get a little frisky in Round 3.

Blake Murphy: Avery Bradley is hoping to return on Wednesday, though as of this writing, his status is still officially up in the air. The Celtics were without Crowder in the first meeting and Bradley in the second. How much does the full defensive contingent change this matchup, particularly when it comes to DeMar DeRozan?

Michael Pina: Having Bradley is a plus, especially when matching up against a team that’s spearheaded by backcourt scorers. But I think the bigger development is how Jae Crowder’s looked, physically, over the last few weeks. After spraining his ankle way back in November, Crowder admitted he rushed back and didn’t let the injury heal as much as he’d like. Instead of taking a few games off to recover in December, he played through it. But now, having him back at (or damn near) 100 percent lets Boston put a bigger body on DeRozan—someone he can’t post up or elevate over with ease.

Bradley’s defense is good, but not quite where it’s been in year’s past, largely due to an increased role on offense. It’s that end of the floor where he’s missed, when Boston trots out all-bench units that churn through possessions with little traction. But having him back to make Kyle Lowry’s life miserable is something they missed the last time these teams played.

Blake Murphy: I miss Amir Johnson. Please tell me your favorite Amir Johnson story from this season.

Michael Pina: Amir! His contributions have sadly been overlooked this year by every single person in my mentions and that’s a damn shame. Boston’s slowly cutting his minutes—Jonas Jerebko will likely become a full-time starter sometime after the All-Star break—but Johnson still provides a bit of rim protection and reliable effort in the paint they don’t get from anybody else.

After a recent practice, Amir was asked if he feels disrespected by opponents who leave him so open behind the three-point line whenever he has the ball. He laughed and said no, explaining that he needs roughly 10 seconds to get the shot off anyway. Then he walked over to the practice court and fired one up in super-slow motion. Everyone laughed. He’s a treasure.

Blake Murphy: The Celtics have recently been tied to Nikola Vucevic. Yay or nay? Would Serge Ibaka make more sense, or does the thinking go that Vucevic’s contract is an easier fit (at a lower asking price, I’m sure) given Ibaka’s pending free agency?

Michael Pina: There are dozens of reasons why Vucevic doesn’t make any sense in Boston, including the $25 million he’s guaranteed over the next two seasons and Boston’s need for a defensive-minded big. Vucevic can’t defend and the Celtics want to preserve max cap room.

Ibaka is expiring, which is a plus, but it’s also unclear how much he’d move the needle. Is Boston willing to give up anything of consequence for a declining player who may just be a four-month rental? If making the conference finals was the ultimate goal, then the answer would be yes. But, rightfully, it’s not.

Raptors updates
The Raptors will once again be without DeRozan, who will miss a second consecutive game and his fifth in the last six due to a bothersome right ankle. I don’t believe there’s too much cause for alarm here – yes, DeRozan’s ankle flared back up after a one-game return, and maybe he shouldn’t have been back out there yet, but the team is always going to be cautious with injuries so early in the year. It’s still an ankle sprain, not a high-ankle sprain, and it didn’t require a walking boot. His absence hurts a great deal, but if it helps keep the rest of his body in good shape for the stretch run – hey, he’s getting time off, right? – it’s not the end of the world. Plus, it’s #FreedNorm to be absolutely incredible over his last four starts, to the point that there’s simply no way he can go back to being the ninth or 10th man when DeRozan’s healthy.

The bigger concern with DeRozan’s injury may be the load it’s putting on Lowry, who played 45 minutes last night and has now played 40-plus in 16 of the team’s 49 games. That’s simply too much, and while Cory Joseph is struggling defensively, the team might be able to get some minutes for Fred VanVleet or Delon Wright to help stem the tide when Lowry sits. I’m trying not to get too worked up about Lowry just yet, given the team has a nice three-game-in-15-day stretch around the All-Star break, but yeesh. He’s second in total minutes played, tied for first in minutes per-game, and first in games with 40-plus minutes.

The big-man rotation seems to have stabilized a bit with Patrick Patterson now able to play a little longer. He went 35 minutes on Tuesday and was a game-high plus-21. As a follow up to my piece yesterday on optimizing the big-man pairings, the Patterson-Valanciunas pair was a plus-15 in 22 minutes, while Patterson-Lucas Nogueira was a plus-6 in 13 minutes. Pascal Siakam, meanwhile, remained the de facto backup power forward over Jared Sullinger (DNP-CD), but I wonder if that might change Wednesday – Sullinger will probably be geeked up for a return to Boston, and there will be plenty of cause for the Raptors to go small, too.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: DeMar DeRozan

Celtics updates
This matchup is just never going to let these sides battle at full strength until the playoffs, is it? Even ignoring Sullinger, the first matchup was without DeMarre Carroll and Isaiah Thomas, the second was without Avery Bradley, and this one will be without DeRozan and perhaps Bradley. Bradley returned to practice from an Achilles injury on Tuesday and is “hopeful” to return for this one, but the Celtics are noncommittal as of this writing. If Bradley can go, that’s another tough defender to throw at Lowry, but while he’d guard there just as much as the two, one wonders if DeRozan’s absence might be cause for the Celtics to give Bradley an extra day.

The other question, as Michael pointed out, is who starts at power forward. With the Raptors starting Patterson now, there’s not really a preference for Jonas Jerebko or Amir Johnson, but the Raptors figure to match small a bit when Jerebko (or Crowder) is at the four. Watch out for Crowder, too – he’s been on one offensively of late and will be a really nice test for Carroll. If Bradley can’t go, I’d expect Powell to be your crunch-time Thomas defender, unless Joseph shakes off his defensive slump. Powell did a great job on Jrue Holiday last night and has the length and quickness to at least try to make things tough picking up The King in The Fourth right across half.

PG: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier
SG: (Avery Bradley), Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart
SF: Jae Crowder, Gerald Green, James Young
PF: Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller
Assigned: Demetrius Jackson
TBD: Avery Bradley
Out: None

The line
The line is presently off the board, likely due to a combination of the back-to-back leaving a bit of uncertainty as to the Raptors’ lineup and the status of Bradley. Check back in the pre-game notes for a line.

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Redemption? Well, Not Exactly: Raptors survive overtime fight vs. Pelicans

Pelicans 106, Raptors 108 (OT) | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

It’s safe to say opinions are like you-know-what when it comes to the Raps’ recent downward spiral. But since failing to form a consensus is an annual tradition among Raptors fans, which one of the following best describes your state of mind coming into Tuesday night? (At least when the events of the past week left you searching for a distraction, that is):

1. Activate panic mode.

2. Panic mode? Activate the damn Trade Machine already.

3. My optimism is fading but I still choose to treat this situation as a blip on the radar.

4. The rub lies somewhere in between.

Personally, I’m a combination of #2 & #4 with a lot a little bit of #1 mixed in.

And well, before I get into what Tuesday had in store, here’s another opinion to add to the list: Whichever camp you reside in, there is a common ground that fits all of the above:

5. Disappointment: 

I’ll admit, with so many random variables involved, it’s a reach to expect a team to fully capitalize on an opportunity when it presents itself. Like anything else, I guess it’s all about timing.

But with Cleveland reeling at the same time, and the need for home court advantage throughout the playoffs to have any chance of beating the Cavs still very much in play, witnessing this team fall asleep at the wheel at such an opportune time was/is rather deflating. Not to mention allowing teams (Boston, Atlanta and Washington) that once lurked in the background to essentially even the playing field. Failing to climb the standings is one thing, but losing your grip on the home court advantage you already had is like finding out a White Men Can’t Jump remake is in the works.

PS: I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that I’ll be remaking Season 3 of The Wire. Blake Griffin has signed on to play the role of Stringer Bell.

However, perhaps I’m not looking at this the right way — cause a silver lining does exist. With Masai’s penchant for keeping the status quo, an excessive amount of losing in a short period of time could turn out to be what finally pushes the trade envelope. A move that’s needed yet ultimately might never be made if this team’s flaws continued to be covered up.

Nevertheless, at least the anticipation level of Wednesday’s matchup with the Celtics is once again through the roof!

As for last night, well, after such a letdown in Orlando, all eyes were on how the Raps would respond to their own shortcomings. An all-too-familiar sight these days:

Like clockwork, issues were raised off the bat. Not only was DeMar DeRozan ruled out (ankle swelling) for Tuesday, but word has it that he’ll also miss tonight’s clash vs. the Celtics. We’ve learned never to take injury timelines as gospel so fingers crossed that that’s just an overly cautious diagnosis.

Immediately, the focus then shifted to the added physical strain about to be placed on Kyle Lowry’s shoulders. On the other hand, it also meant Norman Powell would once again be thrust into the spotlight. He’s been lost in limited minutes yet consistently impressive when given the chance to hold down the fort. More on them in a bit.

First, even though at this point it’s a broken record, the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality of this team can’t go unmentioned:

Quarter by quarter, we really never know what we’re going to get. But the Raps could solve a lot of their problems if they just put a stop to their seemingly disinterested slow starts — playing catch-up on a nightly basis is just playing with fire. Whether it was not getting back in transition, giving too much of a cushion that gave up dribble penetration with ease or losing 3-point shooters in the halfcourt set, points came way too easy for New Orleans early on.

Speaking of behind the arc, of the 11 treys made by the combined forces E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday and Buddy Hield, very few were of the highly contested variety — an overall 65 percent clip throughout the night.

That doesn’t bode well for the killer combo of Boston ranking 3rd in 3-pointers made per game and 7th in percentage.

It’s also quite telling that even though the Raps held the Pelicans scoreless over a 4-minute stretch in the first quarter, New Orleans still entered halftime ahead by a whopping 14. That’s not an insurmountable lead in today’s NBA, but when Anthony Davis is being held in check without constant double-teams or coaxing him into early foul trouble, a team like the Raps should be smelling blood in the water.

The first half wasn’t without its high points, though. In particular, I’m referring to Norman Powell. Norm! was everywhere. Attacking the rim, creating for others, helping out on the glass and closing out on the perimeter.

Honorable mention goes out to Valanciunas and Bebe. There’s only so much he could accomplish in a mismatch on paper, but Jonas didn’t back down from the Unibrow. He competed all night long despite acquiring fouls in bunches and Casey rewarded him with important minutes down the stretch.

As for Bebe, he continued to make noise despite fluctuating playing time. His touch on put-backs and in one-on-one situations has come a long way in a short amount of time. His two timely blocks and eight helpful rebounds tonight shouldn’t go unnoticed.

The heart of the story, though, is just how much better the Raps performed in the second half. Whether it was Casey making an inspiring halftime speech, the effort level of a select few rubbing off, or, simply the Raps putting a stop to their madness by getting out of their own way, the difference was staggering.

All of a sudden defensive assignments were taken seriously, double-teams served their purpose, passing lanes were being disrupted and shots were falling. I can do without the usual “this is a make or miss league” reasoning, as there’s so much more to it than that, at least I still have faith there is. But hey, that offensive philosophy rang out loud last night.

But here’s a few other highlights that deserve to stand out. And Norm pops up yet again. Oh, he wasn’t done:

1. The cross-body, and THUNDEROUS DUNK over AD after a one-on-one hesitation move sent Davis into survival mode.

2. Shortly after that slam, Powell had the ball at the top of the arc. He then proceeded to give it up to Lowry. Lowry quickly gave it right back. Powell then showed he’s still tentative to take charge by once again giving it up, but quicker than the first time, Lowry (and I’ll paraphrase his body language) seemingly said: “This is your show kid, take him” and sent it right back again with some added zip. The him in this instance was once again Anthony Davis, and Powell once again broke him down all the way to rim with a slick finish.

3. Powell is a tough and crafty defender, and when he picked Holiday’s pocket at halfcourt on his way to saying hello to a fast break jam, I’m sure I wasn’t the only who experienced the added chills of those Game 7-vs-Indiana flashbacks.

4. As long as we’re discussing defense, this game might not have even seen overtime if Powell wasn’t so committed to checking Holiday as regulation winded down.

Powell (who even threw in a few jumpers) notched 12 points in the 3rd quarter. But more importantly, the Raps turned a 14-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead entering the 4th.

Enter Kyle Lowry. If you missed it, I’ll save you the suspense so you can celebrate KLOE draining the game-winning step back jumper in OT — from his trusty left side of the court, of course. One would have thought that with the Raps failing to set a proper pick to begin with, and the fact that Lowry’s move has been seen numerous times before (not to mention with DeRozan out of the equation), New Orleans would have been better prepared. But, let’s not try to break down a defensive fail and bask in thought that Lowry would have made that shot regardless. And why not, he’s been doing it all year. Ok, minus a few no-shows during the losing streak. Hey, we’re supposed to be mad still, right?

Overall, Lowry hit 6 triples. The most notable of which were the two that came in overtime where the moment absolutely called for him to make something happen. But in a testament to just how far he’s come (especially after appearing sluggish early on coupled with getting the worst of a few physical run-ins and Cory Joseph reverting back to his inconsistent self), Lowry managed to get everyone involved (10 dimes) while still letting his offense dictate the action when needed.

Wait, almost forgot, a second round of honorable mentions needs to go out to Patman. His across the board contributions of 10 points, two threes, seven boards, one block, a +21 rating and 50 percent shooting deserves a salute. But even more so, as per usual, what needs to recognized is just how much stability he offers the Raps’ defensive sets. If you think the overall defense has been abysmal of late (and you’d be right), just think how much more at risk this squad would be without Patterson’s versatility.

So, with all of that said, which of the following best describes your mindset as tonight approaches:

1. One half of the Raps resembling their true selves isn’t enough to erase the frustration of recent weeks. With Boston on deck, I choose to prepare for the worst.

2. Lowry played 45 minutes yesterday, his PT seriously needs to be monitored tonight. But if Cojo doesn’t show up again, we’ll have no choice: It’s the Celtics, a message needs to be sent.

3. I mean, six NBA Finals in six years: I don’t think LeBron’s desire to compete can be questioned. However, this is different than Barkley’s analytics rant, his comments on James did have plenty truth attached.

4. I’ll cheer for the underdog over a city that’s been been spoiled with championships in recent years any day. So, the Falcons to beat the spread, the over, Tevin Coleman to score the first touchdown and the national anthem to go longer that 2:09. Who ya got?

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Raptors-Pelicans Reaction Podcast – King Kyle saves the day

Host William Lou recaps an OT thriller against the New Orleans Pelicans.

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Early Bruno and Brady show leaves Charge in the dust

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (22-7) def. Canton Charge (16-12); 93-86 | Box Score

Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905), None (Charge)

Brady Heslip and Bruno Caboclo scored 20 of their 38 points in the first quarter to lead the Raptors 905 to a 93-86 victory over the Canton Charge.

The 905 started the game red-hot from the outside, hitting their first three attempts, and 8-of-13 in the quarter. For those that have been watching the 905 consistently, your guess that the game started with a Bruno corner three is spot on. Sorry, no prizes for that one.

Bruno’s confidence is as high as I’ve ever seen it. I don’t know if three different hairstyles in three different games means anything, but as long as he keeps playing like this, the organization should be thrilled.

Heslip was in the zone in the first quarter, as one might suspect with four triples and four assists in the quarter. I mentioned that my only concern with Sullinger entering the mix for the 905 in their previous game was that it may throw them off the terrific offensive rhythm they’ve had through their win streak. Suffice to say, it didn’t. The ball was zipping around to the tune of 12 assists on 15 made field goals. Those are some Golden State numbers.

On the other side of the floor, the 905 limited the Charge to just 1-of-5 shooting from deep in the quarter, and just 7-of-26 for the game. Edy Tavares was his usual intimidating self, blocking seven shots in the game. He makes defending so much easier for his teammates around him, and with the exception of Quinn Cook, the Charge shot 33.9% for the game.

E.J. Singler and John Jordan both continued their solid play, and as with Bruno’s confidence, you can see the confidence just oozing from these players now. Both players are on a string when it comes to understanding when and where the offence will come from.

Antwaine Wiggins deserves some major props for tonight, stepping up in a big way to his starting role with 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists, making six of his eight field goal attempts. He was active on both ends, and provided the perfect compliment to the team’s three-point assault with his slashes to the rim.

One anomaly tonight was how well Axel Toupane was defended, with most of his pull-ups coming with a hand in his face. He couldn’t pull of his usual euro step with fluidity either, but this was a good night to not be at the top of his game.

The 905 could not have started this four-game road trip off on a better note, where they are now 11-0 on the season. Their D-League record road win streak now stands at a sweet 16, and with the way they’re playing, opponents will be hard pressed to end it.

Don’t let the final score fool you, the Charge made an insignificant run with the game well in hand, although it did force some minutes from Stackhouse’s go-to guys to make sure things didn’t get too out of hand.

While the parent club continues to search for their early season mojo, the 905 keep going from strength to strength are well deserving of their place atop the Eastern Conference.

Notes:

  • Kyle Lowry for prime minister.
  • Will Sheehey and Negus Webster-Chan had the night off tonight.
  • CJ Leslie played just six minutes, and failed to attempt a shot.
  • In case you missed it earlier, Jerry Stackhouse and his staff will coach the East in the D-League All-Star game after the 905 secured the No.1 seed for the required period.
  • The 905 will return to action on Feb. 4 against the Grand Rapids Drive. Tip-off at 7:00p.m. EST.
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Quick Reaction: Pelicans 106, Raptors 108

New Orleans 106 Final
Box Score
108 Toronto

B
P. Patterson35 MIN, 10 PTS, 7 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 4-8 FG, 2-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 21 +/-

This will largely go unnoticed, but, he was a big part of the defensive stand to start both halves. Per usual, he’s bang on with his rotations. Respectable contribution on the offensive end.

C-
D. Carroll37 MIN, 8 PTS, 8 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 3-10 FG, 0-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

Worked really hard tonight on both ends of the floor and was propelled by an endless motor. Still, I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see his minutes reduced when DeMar comes back, as Norm has been playing off the charts and the minutes need to come from somewhere.

Should add: his defense in overtime was very good.

A
J. Valanciunas32 MIN, 20 PTS, 12 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-17 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-

Outplayed Anthony Davids — so let that sink in.

Early on, he made it a point to get deep post position on AD and power his way down to the basket. He missed a couple of these looks early on, but the logic behind what he was doing was sound. The points eventually came, and he even got AD to bite (!) on his midrange pump before bulldozing him for a bucket at the rim.

His mid-range defense on AD also looked good.

B+
K. Lowry45 MIN, 33 PTS, 4 REB, 10 AST, 0 STL, 11-21 FG, 6-14 3FG, 5-7 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 9 +/-

I’m going to break this down into two segments.

Late fourth quarter / overtime: A+, clutch — and doing whatever it is that superstars do when their team needs them.

Before all that:

This was not your typical ‘take over and impose your will in the absence of DeRozan’ performance from Lowry. He wasn’t shooting great, and his defense just hasn’t looked as good as it should.

I’m an irrational person, though, and I choose to believe Lowry is coasting, and saving his elite defense for game 7 against Steph Curry.

A
N. Powell40 MIN, 18 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 8-15 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 3 TO, 13 +/-

First thing’s first:

Now that we got the obvious out of the way, let’s talk about how much chaos he caused defenders with his dribble penetration. Loved the way he would cut inside and score with a diverse repertoire consisting of dunks, layins, and pull up jumpers.

It was his defense too, that stopped some of the bleeding from Jrue Holiday in the fourth. Most notable defensive sequence was how he played Holiday to end the fourth — preventing a buzzer beater.

Biggest criticism I have of Norm tonight: missed a couple easy layups that allowed the Pelicans to swing momentum the other way.

D-
C. Joseph24 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 1-6 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -18 +/-

Uh, I’m unsure of where the real Cory Joseph is.

D
T. Ross22 MIN, 6 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-9 FG, 2-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -20 +/-

Not a good night from the field, and a team worst +/- -20

B+
L. Nogueira22 MIN, 7 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

After a shaky start where he looked terrified of dealing with Anthony Davis (relative to how JV pushed him around just before he entered the game), Bebe grew into this one — rolling to the rim for put-backs and finishing lay-offs, protecting the rim, and even doing well defending the perimeter.

P. Siakam7 MIN, 4 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -6 +/-

Provided very limited spot minutes in the first half but Casey had a short leash on him. He looked lost on at least one defensive sequence which I took note of, but he did have a couple field goals in 7 minutes.

B
Dwane Casey

I know that my entire Twitter feed was going delirious over the idea of Carroll closing out this game, but the alternative was going small with Joseph when CoJo was playing even worse. Besides, Carroll proved his defensive worth in overtime.

I am jealous of most NBA teams that have proper plays coming out of timeouts, which is an area I can consistently throw guilt-free shade to Casey for. De facto = Kyle Lowry >>>> Casey’s ATO plays.

Outside of that, I’m not sure how much you could blame coach for so many blown defensive assignments and lack of stopgaps on the perimeter in the 2nd quarter in particular.

Things We Saw

  1. The starting five of JV, Patterson, Carroll, Powell, and Lowry can be so good defensively. Again, I’m not sure this will actually go noticed, but the starters held the Pelicans to 41% in the first quarter before the Pelicans went off and shot 59% in the 2nd.

    The bleeding stopped again in the third, when, surprise — the starting unit reentered, and the Raptors went on a 27-3 run.

  2. New Orleans Pelicans, or Charlotte Hornets led by Larry J and Mugs? Couldn’t tell.

    The Pelicans were shooting out of their minds from behind the arc. Hield and Moore combined for 8/11 from three, and the Pelicans as a whole shot just north of 41% from long range.

    Guys, it’s on me. I’m a bad omen. Every time I’ve tuned in to watch the Pelicans this season Hield has gone off.

  3. This team is going to be gassed against the eternal enemy tomorrow night.
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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan to sit 2 more games, Evans out, Stackhouse to coach All-Stars

The Toronto Raptors need a win. We went over the stakes in the pre-game, but the Raptors are more or less acknowledging the fact now themselves. Nobody is calling the game a must-win or anything – even with a back-to-back with the suddenly second-place Boston Celtics looming Wednesday – but the quotes coming from the team express a certain level of urgency beyond the “we’ll find our way through the adversity” kind of quotes from a week or two ago.

“I don’t look at struggles on the road. I look at us struggling at home,” head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround Tuesday. “I’m not trying to be trite or anything like that, but we’ve got to come out and take care of business. We’ve got to come out with the mindset of outworking them. We’re no longer second in the East. We’re in third and close to fourth. We’ve got to have that mindset that we’re the underdog, and we’ve got to scratch and get back to wherever we’re going. I’ve said this all year. We don’t have the liberty to look at other teams and look down at their record or whatever.”

He’s absolutely right, and it starts with the energy at the defensive end. One of the team’s stalwarts on that end has some fairly ludicrous and lofty ideas about what the team could be on that side of the ball, but the Raptors could probably settle for just “trying hard consistently” and make out better than they have over the last month.

“Top three in the league,” Patrick Patterson said when asked how good the defense can be. “Whenever we’re all talking, communicating, getting stops, llimiting paint touches, getting back in transition, doing all of the small things, diving on the floor, things that we’ve done before in the past, stringing that together for a consistent amount of games and going from there, I see us being top three. And we’re capable of it. We’ve done it before. We’ve been in the top tier on the defensive end of the ball. We just haven’t done it in a long time.”

He’s wrong with his top-three assessment, but his message is on point. The consistency of that message since Sunday’s loss shows that the Raptors may finally be getting the message that this woeful 1-6 (and 7-11) stretch of play has been flashing in bright, neon lights: They’re not good enough to give anything but their best, and it’s time to get back to doing so regularly.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. (NOT 7:30 – the time was changed) on TSN 1/4 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
With the Raptors almost fully healthy (see below) and only one player away from the team, there isn’t really much to talk about here. I broke the big-man rotation down in the pre-game, noting that Casey perhaps hinted that Patterson could move back to the bench to bring back some role certainty and stability. Casey’s comments Tuesday were equally hard to figure out.

“It trickles down to the second unit. It trickles down to their performance, their chemistry. They kind of need each other for spacing and the style of play that second unit plays with. It affects them. Pat is one of our better players and he’s important to our team,” Casey said, before continuing in a different direction. “To me it’s important to getting off to a good start. And for a while we were not when Pat was out. When Pat was out, we were not getting off to a good start, we were at a deficit, a big-time deficit early. That’s one reason why we have to have our better players in early and try to figure out the rest last. Pat’s done an excellent job with that.”

So, your guess is as good as mine. To me, the starting unit with Patterson continues to make sense, and the limited data so far (it’s much larger for the foursome excluding DeMarre Carroll, which spans four seasons) supports it. If nothing else, the Raptors should try to avoid Pascal Siakam-Jonas Valanciunas and Jared Sullinger-Jonas Valanciunas pairings, as I wrote about today at The Athletic.

One other note I stumbled across today: Kyle Lowry leads the NBA with 15 games with 40 minutes or more (when rounding up), and is second with 11 if you don’t round up. The 30-year-old point guard who ranks third in the NBA in total minutes probably shouldn’t be going 40 minutes in a third of the team’s games. Just a thought. Ugh.

UPDATE: DeMar DeRozan will miss tonight’s game and Wednesday’s battle with the Celtics. His sprained right ankle swelled up after his return Sunday and the medical staff wants to be cautious with it. It’s smart to take the longview here, even with the Raptors being in pretty serious need of a victory. Norman Powell, who filled in admirably last week, stands to start again and soak up some of DeRozan’s touches once again.

UPDATE II: Patterson still starting at the four.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: DeMar DeRozan

Pelicans updates
There’s not much popping on the Pelicans side, unless something comes out closer to tip-off. Refer to the pre-game for a more detailed breakdown here. Anthony Davis is finally (!) playing in Toronto after several missed appearances, which is awesome from a fan perspective and a big negative from a “get this W” perspective.

UPDATE: Tyreke Evans will sit for the Pelicans tonight. It doesn’t sound like there’s anything specific at play here, just a nod to the longview given his injury history. That leaves the Pelicans a little thin on the wings and means E’Twaun Moore is definitely getting the Gerald Henderson award tonight.

PG: Jrue Holiday, Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier
SG: Buddy Hield, E’Twaun Moore
SF: Solomon Hill
PF: Dante Cunningham, Terrence Jones
C: Anthony Davis, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca
Assigned: Cheick Diallo
TBD: None
Out: Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans

Assorted

  • Raptors 905 have clinched the best record in the D-League’s Eastern Conference through the cut-off date, so head coach Jerry Stackhouse and staff will be coaching the East side of the D-League All-Star Game on Feb. 18 in New Orleans. It’s a nice nod to the work Stackhouse and company have done, and while you can’t measure D-League teams strictly by wins and losses, a 21-7 mark with a perfect 10-0 record on the road is pretty remarkable for a sophomore team. They also rank fifth in offense, fourth in defense, first in net rating, and sixth in attendance, so they’re doing something right.
    • The big success will come when/if Axel Toupane finally gets called up. And, of course, the development of the assignment players.
    • Speaking of, Bruno Caboclo is with Raptors 905 as they head to Canton for a road game. The 905 don’t play again until Saturday, so it’s possible Caboclo joins the Raptors on the road or just sticks with the 905 for some extra practice sessions. Now that the main roster is back to health, expect Caboclo to see more regular D-League time, similar to last year’s second half.
  • A few people have asked: Feb. 5 is the cut-off date for coaching the All-Star Game. If the Raptors are in second after next Sunday, Dwane Casey gets the nod. They enter this game one game behind Boston for that spot, so Wednesday’s game could potentially determine the coach of the East All-Stars (Ty Lue is ineligible because he coached last year).
  • The Raptors will once again wear their Chinese New Year jerseys tonight, the second time they’ve done so. The jerseys are really sharp, and seeing the red hats at Real Sports today, I wish I could pull one off. And Happy New Year to those celebrating it.

The line
The Raptors have floated between 8- and 9-point favorites, with the line currently sitting at Raptors -8. That seems a little large given how Toronto has been playing, but there appears to be market confidence in a bounce-back here. The over-under has held around 215.5 for most of the day without much movement. Check back momentarily to see how the line changed with the DeRozan news. UPDATE: The line quickly moved to Raptors -6.5 and could conceivably keep moving.

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Trade Assets: What the Raptors Have to Offer

Something is clearly ailing the Raptors right now.  Figuring out what the problem is (problems?) might be the first big question of the season, and shape the rest of the year to come.

The next question is how to solve the problem.

Losers of 6 of their last 7 games has caused increasing tension among fans who are dying to find out if this team is for real.  Big losing streak, only one win in their 10 games against the league’s top four teams, and a crumbling record…good times, eh?

The looming trade deadline has seemingly added more tension into the mix, as more league rumors begin to fly around the internet.  The Raptors are once again even being thrown into the hypothetical mix for any power forward that could possibly be available.

Jeff Van Gundy floated the idea of Carmelo Anthony fitting the Raptors well during an appearance on The Lowe Post Podcast.

Serge Ibaka’s availability has thrust the Raptors to the forefront of the conversation after their reported interest at the draft.

It feels like a rehashing of last year’s deadline where the Raptors were rumored to have apparent interest in almost every power forward in the entire NBA.  Carmelo and Serge are just the beginning of the conversation/rumors to come.

But this isn’t about who the Raptors could get in a theoretical trade, this is about who the Raptors could give up in the hypothetical to come.  You’ve got to give something to get something, and the Raptors have plenty that should intrigue other teams.

So who/what are the Raptors trade assets that will likely be mentioned in the weeks to come?

  1. Terrence Ross

Trick-or-Treat Terry will likely be mentioned in almost every trade rumor the Raptors are mentioned in.  Guards with his skill-set are generally in high demand.  A former slam dunk champion with an incredibly smooth three point shot, and whose athleticism should make for an effective defender?  That’s a valuable asset that teams are bound to ask for in hopes that they can fix the intermittent concentration problems.

His contract doesn’t hurt either.  With two years remaining at just $10.5M per year, Ross is on a bit of a bargain deal in the new NBA economy.

If it weren’t for his contract helping in larger deals, Norman Powell could be listed alongside of Ross here.  I’m not going to go further into this though, because the idea of Powell being traded is making me sad even in this hypothetical list.

  1. Jared Sullinger

He signed in Toronto last summer with a goal of raising his value for the summer of 2017, only to miss the majority of the season.  Now, he is an expiring contract and one of the larger contracts that Masai has at his disposal when it comes to matching contracts in a deal.

I’m still intrigued by what Sullinger can bring to the table, but the Raptors also have to weigh the fact that they simply don’t have the contractual means to bring him back next season.  In all likelihood, Sully will be a Raptor for another four months at the most.

  1. Jakob Poeltl/Lucas Nogueira

While the Raptors have need in the front court, they also have some depth at their disposal.  Nogueira has filled in admirably as the team’s back-up centre, and in many ways has surpassed what was provided by the now departed Bismack Biyombo.

Jakob meanwhile has shown little glimpses of the overall potential that caused the Raptors to draft him with the ninth overall pick last summer.  He has good hands on offence, rotates well on defence, shows growing vision in his passing, and looks the part of a skilled rookie who needs to both learn the league and fill out physically.

I don’t imagine either will be traded, but it’s certainly possible that either could be made available for the right deal as the Raptors look to trade out of their depth.

  1. Cory Joseph

Joseph has been a key contributor and one of the team’s best bench players since he returned home from San Antonio in the summer of 2015.  He can play alongside either Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, can play on-ball or off-ball, and was an elite defender at the point of attack last season.

This season has seen an improvement offensively, but a big regression on defence.  Meanwhile, the Raptors have Delon Wright waiting in the wings for his opportunity.  We don’t yet have enough data to make any sort of statistical argument for Wright over Joseph, but the tools are there for Delon to receiving minutes for a winning team.

In the glimpses we’ve seen Delon he is clearly an NBA player, and the time is coming where he needs a legitimate shot at minutes.

  1. Draft Picks

Toronto doesn’t have the stockpile of draft picks of a team like Boston, but they do have all their own first round picks moving forward and the Clippers 2017 first round pick (top 14 protected).  There aren’t enough picks available to make a trade interesting on their own, but there are lots of choices here with which Masai could grease the wheels of a trade he likes.

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Gameday: Pelicans @ Raptors, Jan. 31

The Toronto Raptors need a win, and we could all use a distraction. The latter will at least come to fruition for a couple of hours on Tuesday, as the New Orleans Pelicans visit the Air Canada Centre. No game is a must-win, but coming off of one of their most inexcusable losses of the season and losers of six of their last seven and 11 of their last 18, the Raptors could really use it. They have been varying degrees of bad for over a month now, and it needs to stop this week. With a trip to Boston looming right after, it probably needs to stop right here.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, are only in a slightly better place. They’ve won three of six, including terrific victories against the Cavaliers and Spurs. They’ve also been home for six games, though, and dropped a couple of winnable games on that stand. At 19-29, they’re hardly in a good place, but they can at least hang their hat on defense. They also possess the biggest matchup problem in this game, representing perhaps the biggest edge at any position on the floor.

In other words, nothing will be easy. Nothing should be when you’re in the malaise the Raptors find themselves in. A suddenly average offense and a consistently mediocre defense probably won’t get it done here. The Raptors need to find another gear on each side of the ball, and as reductive as it is to say, it starts with their energy level.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. (NOT 7:30 – the time was changed) on TSN 1/4 and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Anthony Davis has somehow missed three consecutive meetings in Toronto. It’s a real shame for Raptors fans, even if it’s made the likelihood of victories a little higher. Davis is expected to play on Tuesday. It’s obvious he’s an All-Star and one of the best players on the planet, but for Raptors fans who haven’t seen him intimately in a while, what about his offensive game stands out as the most difficult from a matchup perspective? Or is “ridiculous basketball unicorn” just kind of an all-encompassing matchup nightmare?

Oleh Kosel: I’m not all that fond of the unicorn term — frankly because it’s been tossed around to describe a few too many — but there’s no denying it serves the intended purpose of aptly describing Anthony Davis. His skillset and unique physical attributes are quite possibly the most tantalizing in the game. He can overwhelm any sized defender from any part of the floor if he so chooses, while locking down an opponent on the other end, even if matched up against a solid player on the perimeter. For these reasons, nothing in particular stands out because the total package is so damn good!

Blake Murphy: At 19-29, the Pelicans have once again underperformed. And yet they’re only a few games out of a playoff spot. There’s no chance this franchise does anything but push forward for a near-term playoff berth, right? Davis is young, but they seem pot-committed at this point to staying in win-now mode rather than taking a step back.

Oleh Kosel: Yep, that’s the correct assessment. The front office has shown time and again that they’re primarily interested in pushing for postseasons. Although Dell Demps focused on the process rather than a playoff berth back on media day, the term was more meant to lower expectation levels to give the incomplete cast a chance to come together and develop a blue-collar attitude rather than signal the team is in the midst of any rebuild.

Blake Murphy: I, for one, am shocked that Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have missed time due to injury. Holiday’s play, when healthy, has stood out in particular. How different a team is this with those two guys healthy to help carry the load with Davis?

Oleh Kosel: When Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are right and playing alongside Anthony Davis, the trio has been magical. For instance, last season this three-man lineup had an astounding +23.5 net rating in 160 minutes, and they’ve always maintained a positive net through their four years together. The union has been a little slow to display the explosiveness so far this season, but that was to be expected considering Evans 11-month layoff and his current minutes restriction. However, if they largely manage to stay healthy, it will probably be the single biggest reason they sneak into the 2017 playoffs as the 8th seed.

Blake Murphy: Terrence Jones was a popular “why not buy low on this guy” name throughout the offseason, and his market tanked far below what I think most expected. He’s been a huge find, in a value-per-dollar sense, for the Pelicans. Is there any lingering indication why everyone was so cool on him? Or has this been a pretty unqualified success?

Oleh Kosel: Reportedly, a lot of teams were interested in Terrence Jones, but none were offering him anything significantly greater than the Pelicans so he decided to hook up with his UK alum buddy, Anthony Davis. Of course, now that he’s proven teams shouldn’t have put away the pocketbooks, it’s easy to go back and point fingers, but over the summer, there were a lot of legitimate questions about his health, durability and overall effectiveness based on his final two years in Houston.

Blake Murphy: The Pelicans have shot to a top-10 defense thanks to a somewhat conservative style that keeps teams off the line but also doesn’t commit many turnovers. Do you think they’ll tweak the aggression level against a Raptors team that barrels to the rim to try to draw fouls at every chance, or will they sit back and trust their ability to prevent penetration, even through an endless number of screens?

Oleh Kosel: It’s difficult to imagine Darren Erman, the Pelicans defensive mastermind, make any substantial strategic changes before the matchup so I expect the team will rely on what’s gotten them here: a versatile small-ball lineup that switches most pick-and-rolls. Holiday, Davis and Solomon Hill are all outstanding defenders who can guard any number of positions and secondary role players like E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham are also very reliable. I don’t expect the Pelicans to completely shutdown Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but I think they’ll make them work harder and shoot more contested shots than they’re accustomed to.

Raptors updates
The Raptors have finally gotten to #FullSquad status for the first time all year, not that it made a lick of difference on Sunday. Sure, Bruno Caboclo is on assignment with Raptors 905, but two players are going to be inactive, anyway, and all the Raptors are really out is his amazing new cornrows. Everyone else is here, and as the team works to rediscover their chemistry, the excuses about injuries are in the rear-view mirror and the nods to the time it takes to re-acclimate will become weaker and weaker.

The biggest question still facing the Raptors, then, is what the hell they can do about their fonrtcourt rotation. Here’s an idea: Tether Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas as much as you can, and if you’re going to play Jared Sullinger or Pascal Siakam, play them with Patterson (if his minutes restriction is up) or Lucas Nogueira. The data is pretty straightforward, even if the samples are small, and it tends to back up the logic. The strengths and weaknesses of Patterson and Valanciunas/Sullinger line up, as do the strengths and weaknesses of Nogueira and Siakam (although you could probably get away with playing Nogueira with anyone, weird though that would have sounded a few months ago). And the Pelicans will play just one natural big at least some of the time, so there’s an option to downsize (almost always a good option if it means more Norman Powell-Terrence Ross lineups).

Anyway, I’m in favor of Patterson remaining a starter, but Dwane Casey seemed to hint at a potential return to the bench for him at practice Monday. Maybe I’m reading too much into, but to me, this sounded like a coach who thinks maybe the stability and certainty they had before, even if not the optimized 48-minute rotation, is what they need to get back on track. Whether that would mean Sullinger or Siakam starting is unclear, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Patterson wasn’t starting Tuesday. I’m not in favor of it, but I would understand it.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF: DeMarre Carroll,Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: None

Pelicans updates
The Pelicans are, surprisingly, as healthy as they get. With 13 healthy players, Alvin Gentry must be doing back flips. Of course, given this team’s luck over the last few years, he’d probably somehow injure a starter in the process.

Speaking of starters, the Pelicans start in an interesting way for a Raptors matchup. Both Solomon Hill and Dante Cunningham could conceivably see time on DeRozan, which means there’s likely to be a mismatch somewhere with rookie Buddy Hield. Lowry will have to deal with Jrue Holiday’s presence, which is always difficult. Going the other way, the Pelicans don’t have incredible spacing, but they’re a shade above average in 3-point volume and hit at a respectable 35.8-percent clip. Hill and Cunningham can’t be lost in transition, and so even if they’re not major matchup issues as individuals, the Raptors might not be able to get away with helping aggressively on perimeter penetration, their biggest weakness during this rough month.

Oleh pointed out the vaunted Holiday-Evans-Davis triumvirate, but they have a handful of dangerous lineups. Their top-four most used groups have positive net ratings, including their starters, who are a plus-6.6 in 154 minutes over 14 games together. The Raptors will need to start strong, because that’s a lineup that can really bottle up an offense.

PG: Jrue Holiday, Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier
SG: Buddy Hield, E’Twaun Moore
SF: Solomon Hill, Tyreke Evans
PF: Dante Cunningham, Terrence Jones
C: Anthony Davis, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca
Assigned: Cheick Diallo
TBD: None
Out:Quincy Pondexter

The line
The Raptors are 8-point favorites, which is an awful lot of faith in a team playing the way they are. Sure, the Pelicans aren’t taking names, either, but it’s a hefty line. The over-under is sitting at 215.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 31

Maxing out Valanciunas tall order for Raptors: Cox | Toronto Star

This can’t be about any one player. At the same time, it’s hard not to feel — watching this team night in, night out — that centre Jonas Valanciunas and his role have hit a brick wall. For a team looking for answers, at least part of the focus has to be on the 24-year-old centre.

Now, if you’re looking for a rant on how J.V. must go, you’ve come to the wrong place. More than anything, there’s just confusion concerning where he fits and his future. Remember opening night? Valanciunas poured in 32 points and snared 11 rebounds against the Detroit Pistons. The matchup was the right one, and it certainly fuelled the sense that this, the Lithuanian’s fifth season, might produce a meaningful leap forward in the big man’s production and alter the look of the team.

The second game of the season was a loss to Cleveland, and while Valanciunas still had a double-double with 10 points and 17 boards, the team shot 38 per cent from the field and Cleveland’s game plan of taking away DeRozan and letting the other Raps step forward exposed the support group and the bench.

It’s now been like that most of the season. Some nights, Valanciunas is a big part of it. Some nights, he’s an afterthought. He’s averaging 27 minutes, but some nights it’s almost like Casey feels he can’t be used. Sunday against the Magic, Nikola Vucevic, Valanciunas’s man, just kept stepping outside the arc and hitting threes, another big man stinging Toronto with outside shooting.

Raptors searching for answers on defensive end – Article – TSN

This doesn’t appear to be smoke and mirrors. Unlike other struggling teams around the association, their recent bout of adversity hasn’t splintered them, at least not yet. However, with each passing loss the tension is building and, with it, the sense of urgency rises. What was once a harmless mid-season slump threatens to grow into something a lot more damaging.

Like the rest of us, the Raptors are trying desperately to get to the root of their broken defence. As they search for answers, they’re coming to realize that the problem may not be a tangible one. It can’t be solved with a simple adjustment or lineup change, but the longer it persists, the more it could, eventually, tear them apart.

“It just comes down to the will,” the always candid Patrick Patterson said after Sunday’s loss. “We can do it. We’ve done it before, we’ve shown we can do it for long periods of time, but it just comes down to the will and the want to actually do it and do it on a consistent basis. Not every other game, not once in a blue moon, but every single day, every single time we step out on that court. We can do it. It’s just each and every individual on this team wanting to do it and putting it into action.”

Without being quite as blunt, former Raptor Bismack Biyombo echoed a similar point: it’s about effort and a commitment to the defensive end.

Asked if he can explain his old team’s defensive regression this season, Biyombo implied that their top priority may not be getting stops, as it was last year. Specifically, he mentioned the Lowry-plus-bench lineup he was often a part of (Lowry, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patterson and Biyombo), one of Toronto’s best. They would take pride in shutting down the other team, they had fun with it.

Casey puts the Raptors’ defence on notice – Video – TSN

Sam Mitchell joins SportsCentre to explain how Dwane Casey is putting the Raptors on notice about their defensive play and also thinks it’s still too early to hit the panic button.

Getting some help with my painting skills :)) @sickkidstoronto #sickkids

A photo posted by Jonas Valanciunas (@jvalanciunas) on

Stars in the city: Complicated history for star players in Toronto – Sportsnet.ca

“It’s just the way the business goes,” DeRozan says of the NBA’s roster churn. “So many guys year-in, year-out are coming into the sport and your window is always closing smaller and smaller every year, so the opportunity is not as great for the organization or the player to stick through that. Luck has to be involved, timing, everything has to fall into place for that to happen that way.”
Certainly all those elements aligned for DeRozan, who at 27 is only getting better as the Raptors enjoy the best competitive window in franchise history. Re-signing the player was the obvious choice for a team that pushed the eventual NBA-champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. And though there was a year of speculation that the native of Compton, Calif., would head home to Los Angeles and take over from Bryant with the Lakers, such talk was more a product of the chattering classes than anything of substance.

“For me, it didn’t matter what someone else did, I never followed a trend,” says DeRozan. “I could have been playing in Alaska – once I have the mindset I’m all in, I’m all in through good and bad. That’s a credit to the type of person I am, so once I got drafted here, I was all in. That was always my mindset. It was never, ‘What if I played here?’ I never had questions about going anywhere else. That made everything easy for me with going through the tough times, and enjoying the good times, as well – having that mentality from the get.”

Great day @sickkidstoronto! #WeTheNorth #ThisIsWhyWePlay

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Game Preview: Raptors vs. Pelicans | Toronto Raptors

Locker room accountability

As the team works its way through this slump, Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have all discussed the importance of everyone keeping each other in check.

“It starts with us,” DeRozan said of himself and Lowry. “We’ve got to establish that early by being more vocal and doing it. We’ve got to be the first to do it and let it trickle down.”

Lowry pointed to the camaraderie of a close-knit locker room as a positive when dealing with adversity throughout an 82-game season. With everyone understanding each other’s intentions, calling out mistakes and giving instruction becomes easier.

“It’s all just about talking and communicating,” Lowry said. “We have a great team and a great vibe in here. We just have to get a little bit better communication going within our locker room and between each other and just push each other to be better.”

While communication in the locker room is important, it is crucial that it crosses over onto the court as well.

“I think it’s just in general – on the floor, in the locker room, all over,” Lowry said. “We are good off the court. Off the court we have a great team and great chemistry. On the court we have to be able to get on each other a little more. We don’t have to but it’s OK for us to do that. We have a good enough team and guys will understand if someone says something it’s out of the good of their heart and they’re just trying to make the team better.”

NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans to face struggling Raptors on the road in Toronto – The Bird Writes

I like Terrence Ross off the bench; he’s my instagram avi, in fact! He’s a willing shooter from all over the floor and is a surprising shooter from mid-range. E’Twuan Moore will probably spend time chasing him around screens, but this guy is generally a 6th Man of the Year candidate thanks to his scoring ability. Ross went off for 51 like forever ago… okay, 3 seasons ago… and you never know if he’ll do it again.

New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors: Tuesday NBA preview | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Davis vs. Valanciunas

Davis is one of the new wave of NBA big men, as comfortable shooting jump shots as he is with his back to the basket, and Valanciunas’ defensive skills will be tested. Look for Lucas Nogueira to get some time on Davis as well.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BP6bYIsA_Q2/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BP6LkIygS0e/

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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VIDEO: Lowry, Ujiri speak on ‘bullshit’ U.S. travel ban

Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was asked about the recent travel ban in the United States on Monday, a move he called ‘bullshit’ before elaborating on his feelings.

Team president Masai Ujiri also spoke on the matter, emotionally reminding the world he’s a “prime example of what opportunity is.”

Dwane Casey also spoke about the ban, with a reminder of the slippery slope history tells us this could be.

The comments from both are worth a deep listen and some reflection. No commentary here, as I generally save that for Twitter and not the site. But I’m sure you guys know how I feel at this point, and all of my respect goes out to the Raptors organization for letting their voices be heard.

Mini-Mailbag: Making sense of this ‘bad stretch,’ Delon Wright, and more

You know the deal at this point: When the Raptors have multiple days off or I have some free time to kill, I drop a mailbag. You can find all of the previous editions here, though I don’t know why you’d bother. Today, I happen to be at the D-League Showcase and thought I’d take time to answer a few questions, albeit not as many as usual.

Before we go ahead: Normally this is where I’d remind you we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. We do, and it’s there. But given everything that’s happened here and south of the border of late, I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest that maybe this time around, you use your disposable income to make a more important difference somewhere else. Donate to the ACLU in the U.S., donate your time to help refugees here at home, or whatever. Most of all, just please, please be kind to each other and love one another. There’s no room for more hate in the world. Sports is a wonderful distraction (maybe less so when the Raptors are performing so poorly), and the community here can and should be an outlet for people, but we also shouldn’t bury our heads to deep that we lose sight of far more important things going on around us. Just, please, love each other.

Anyway, you can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Does this look infected?

We’ve got a handful of questions that basically get to the same idea, so let me try to answer them as individual/specific questions as best I can.

For a while, son, my answer to this question had at least something to do with the following question. When the Raptors were on that hellacious trip out west with some tough home games and a very dense schedule, a combination of “It’s the middle of the season,” Patrick Patterson’s injury, and the difficulty of the schedule – in early January the Raptors ranked first or third in travel/quality of opponent/rest-adjusted schedule difficulty, depending on where you looked – were enough of an explanation for me to not worry about it too much. But as this has extended to a full month of being shaky, that stuff has kind of come out in the wash. They’ve been at home enough. They haven’t been facing world-beaters. They’re rounding into health. And they’ve still been bad. Inexcusably bad.

As for the root cause, it could be a number of things. The Raptors’ success for so long was built on some sort of ethereal chemistry that it was difficult to explain and occasionally difficult to quantify. The issue with subsisting on magic and rainbows and hugs is that when it’s gone, it’s hard to know how to get it back. There’s not enough evidence yet to suggest the Raptors have lost that – they just had a 1-2 stretch where they at least flashed signs of life – but they’re clinging to it like they just got tossed over the top rope at the Royal Rumble and their little toes are dangling dangerously close to the mat outside.

A few people have pointed to coaching, but I’m not sure Dwane Casey has “lost the room,” as one person asked last night. It is worth noting, though, that on two occasions during this core’s run together, Casey’s job has seemed in jeopardy. I skew more pro-Casey than most anyone, believing the macro (culture, stability, development, getting more than the sum of the talent) outweighs some of the shaky micro (late-game play-calling, rotation issues), but if the former starts to seem tenuous, the chorus who don’t believe in such things will get louder and louder.

Now, I don’t think Casey’s the issue here – he could definitely put them in a better position to succeed with some rotation tweaks, though – but whether it’s Casey, Kyle Lowry, or DeMar DeRozan, or a combination of all three, somebody has to wake the locker room up. There is no good explanation for a team that requires peak effort to succeed to be operating at 50-percent effort for half of every game.

To a point, yes. I tweeted this out when the Cavaliers were on a 2-5 stretch and the Warriors had just gotten stranded on Waiters Island. It was meant to make Raptors fans feel a little better, though, not excuse their play. Some good teams definitely go through the occasional malaise that lasts a week, or even two weeks. LeBron James is calling out ownership while the Cavs look every bit the contender they were last year. Everyone but the Spurs, Hawks, and Wizards seems to be able to point to some sort of inconsistency or concern right now. An 82-game season is very long (82 games, even), and this stuff happens.

“This stuff,” however, has a limit. The Raptors have been playing poorly for over a month now. Since Dec. 28, the Raptors are 7-11, they’ve ranked 13th in offense, and they’re 19th in defense. That the defensive rank was nearly cause for celebration last week (at one point, they reached 15th overall on the year) is kind of laughable, and a would-be contender having a negative net rating over such a long stretch (even with injuries and a condensed schedule) is worrisome. Good teams have bad weeks or road trips. I’m not sure good teams have months this bad.

Now, this isn’t cause to jump off the bandwagon or burn the Air Canada Centre down, or write the team off entirely. The season is long, and there’s a ton of time for them to steer out of it. This is all just to say the “bad stretches happen” meditation practices I was suggesting a few weeks ago no longer really hold as the “stretch” extends to a quarter of a season.

One point I want to make and didn’t know where else to put it, and I don’t mean it as an excuse but just something to share: The Raptors have been exceptionally “unlucky” in clutch situations based on expected Win-Loss based on point differential. They’ve heavily outscored opponents in close/late games, as defined by the NBA, yet they have a 14-16 record in those games. That’s the kind of thing that normally balances out over a larger sample, even if for now it might look like the Raptors lack some sort of clutchness.

I don’t have a great explanation for why the Raptors are so bad defensively right now. I know a lot of people point to the departure of Bismack Biyombo, but that kind of leaves out a lot of important context. Namely, that Lucas Nogueira’s defensive rating and block rate are almost identical in a similarly sized role, and that Biyombo has struggled with the Magic. Even more notably, the Raptors’ defensive struggles have really started on the perimeter, and if Biyombo’s departure were to do anything, it would have been to force perimeter defenders to get more conservative, not more frenetic and scrambled.

The two big culprits, I think, are Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll. Carroll is very up and down, but the Raptors kind of have to keep trying with him, at least for 20-25 minutes a game or so, because they need to know if he’ll ever get back *there* on a regular basis. But him performing below his established standard and under-performing relative to Norman Powell is an issue right now, it causes matchup issues against certain opposing wings, and there’s an argument to be made that his role should decrease a bit while the Raptors figure things out. He’s occasionally been good, at least? Joseph’s a weirder case, because he has two full recent seasons of being quite good defensively, and he’s been decent-to-good offensively of late, yet he’s been oddly ineffective on defense. There’s not a good explanation for a young defender just stopping defending well.

The hope here versus 2014-15, though, is that the Raptors actually have players who have defended at a better level before. Lowry and DeRozan have shown they can turn it up at times, Joseph and Carroll could lock in, and once the games matter even more, Casey will move to a strict meritocracy. The Raptors rank six spots higher in defensive rating than they did in 2014-15, and they have much better defenders on paper than that team.

One thing I think the Raptors may want to look at, though: Pace. The Raptors are up to 20th in pace, which would be the fastest they’ve played under Casey. I know the transition offense has been incredibly effective, and forcing turnovers is about the only thing the Raptors do well defensively, but there are trade-offs, and the Raptors are at their best defensively when grinding an opponent down.

You’re free to hit the panic button whenever you like. I’m concerned, not quite panicked yet, but they’ve played poorly for as much of the season as they played well, more or less. Now, panic to the level of suggesting a DeRozan trade is probably a little too far given he just signed a five-year deal, is still just 27, and dealing him would cause the organization irreparable damage from a building perspective. It remains important for the Raptors to simply be good for an extended period, and a tear-down would be a major step backwards. The Raptors have done a good job maintaining youth if they need to pivot like that, and it’s certainly an option if Lowry were to walk (not impossible), but they have little choice but to play out this year in the hopes of a) rediscovering their groove, b) convincing Lowry to stay, and c) continuing to build the Raptors into a quality franchise.

This kind of cuts to my earlier point about how when things are built on intangible elements, it can be easy to lose and hard to get back. This is the great concern here: That the chemistry and synergy and whatever TED Talk buzzwords you want to throw at the Raptors’ success proved fleeting. It looked that way after 2014-15, too, though, and the Raptors fought through it thanks to some reinforcements. I do not think the Raptors would regress this far back, even if that were the case. Lowry and DeRozan are just such better players than they were two or three years ago, Casey is a better coach, and the depth is better than it was previously. Their regression would be back to something of a 48-win team than to a 38-win team, I’d think.

In other words, as always, you’re never as good as your highs and you’re never as bad as your lows. This is what we have to hold hope in. Hard things are hard. You must imagine Sisyphus smiling. All that shit. Because the Raptors can’t be as bad as they’ve shown the last month, even if nobody ever should have believed they were as good as their first month. Stubbornly, I’m sticking with my preseason prediction: “51-31, a good chance to win one playoff series, a decent chance to win a second, and little chance of winning a third.”

Wright as Reigns

Delon Wright has looked really nice through three appearances with Raptors 905 of the D-League. He’s 0-of-4 on threes and has had a bit of trouble finishing, but the smoothness and vision to his game came back so quickly, it does not at all look like he hasn’t played basketball in six months. The numbers don’t really pop yet, but he’s so advanced for the D-League level both as a floor general and as a defender, it’s hard not to watch his performance there and wonder what he could be in the NBA right now.

What he could be in the NBA right now is a capable backup. I have little doubt about this. I had little doubt about it at the end of last season, either. Wright is good, and it’s awesome that the Raptors have four point guards who all look capable of playing NBA minutes right now, even if there’s not room for them. Teams rarely use all 15 players, anyway, so I’m a proponent of keeping the best talent possible at the end of the roster rather than worrying about fitting X number of players into Y boxes for roster building.

Now, Wright being good is not a reason to trade Joseph, like Joseph’s presence isn’t a reason to trade Wright. But over the next three or four weeks, the Raptors are going to have discussions with teams, and both names will come up. Wright is attractive on a rookie deal, but Joseph’s salary might be a more important chip for matching. I don’t think the Raptors would be terribly comfortable entering the postseason with Wright and VanVleet penciled in for eight minutes a game, but you have to give something to get something in a deal, and the Raptors have terrific guard depth to deal from if they deem an upgrade to the forward positions worthwhile.

In the meantime, yeah, it kind of sucks to not get a longer look at Wright and VanVleet, but a 56-win team trying to find its way back to that level can’t really afford to also be in the player development business at the same time. That’s what the 905 exist for (although only Bruno Caboclo was assigned today for Tuesday’s road game).

Dude, you can’t ever be wrong for your personal preferences when it comes to entertainment. You know how many people try to tell me I’m “wrong” for my Carly Rae Jepsen and Nick Jonas love? I can’t be wrong in saying “this is a thing I enjoy.” Art is subjective, and wrestling, obviously, falls under the category of art.

Personally, I preferred A.J. Styles-John Cena III to Kevin Owens-Roman Reigns XLII. I thought it was a pretty perfect cap on their feud, and while they went a bit finisher overboard (it was a very indy main event, which was maybe the point given the verbal sparring of the feud), the match psychology and pacing were terrific. It’s tough to beat Big Match John and The Greatest Wrestler On The Planet Today in a high-stakes environment like this. Ownes-Reigns was great, too – I’m a big Braun Strowman fan and had no issue with the ending – it was brutal physically, and Reigns and Owens both looked good. But I’ll take the faces that run the places on last night alone.

Also, the Royal Rumble was #ActuallyGood, and people mad at the booking have smarked themselves out of enjoying a really fun and well-written match.

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

I appreciate you.

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The Warriors Three

I’m a big fan of DeMarre Carroll. He’s tough, he’s a hard worker, and he seems like a great teammate. It’s hard not to appreciate the player he became in Atlanta when they needed someone to step up and guard LeBron in order for the team to keep moving forward. And sure, they never actually got over that hump, never made it to the Finals, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying from Carroll himself or his teammates. It’s for these reasons, because of how much fun he was in Atlanta, and how easy his game was to appreciate, that I’ll never begrudge Masai signing him to that big, 4-year, $64 million contract two summers ago. He couldn’t have been reasonably expected to see the knee trouble coming, or that the team’s second round pick that same summer would turn into a solid rotation player so quickly. None of us knew that Terrence Ross was going to start to put it together.

So when we talk about Carroll, we need to, at least to some extent, remove these factors from the equation of how we got here. We have to be able to separate where we were from where we are, and address the team as currently constructed. Masai Ujiri has done a great job building up this organization and turning it into one to be respected around the league, for both the quality of talent and the quality of contracts. And in a sea of fantastic deals, where it’s hard to find a player playing beneath their pay grade, perhaps Carroll’s is the worst deal. But on plenty of teams in this spend-happy league, his contract would be one of the better ones, and that’s a sign of the solid management we have in Toronto.

There’s two separate issues at play here going forward as well. The issue of the starting small forward spot, which currently belongs to Carroll, and the issue of Carroll as a trade asset. While it’s easy for fans to say that Carroll simply shouldn’t be starting, and should be traded if possible, these two goals are somewhat diametrically opposed. Carroll is 30 years old, and had injuries last year which it’s unclear whether or not he’s completely recovered from. Having the team remove him from the starting lineup would show a lack of confidence in his ability to return to his former self that could certainly impact his trade value.

That being said, with Lowry and DeRozan currently in their primes, the team needs to win now more than they need to preserve the value of assets, so we should look at all options for improving the starting lineup. Let’s start with one caveat here, and I’m not going to into who should be the starting power forward in this space, as that discussion has been had many, many times on this site and others. But lets assume, going forward, that the man holding this position going forward will be Patrick Patterson, and slot in a small forward that fits best beside him.

Lets further assume that starting Cory Joseph in the two point guard set that finishes many games isn’t an option here, both because the team wants to keep Joseph for the minutes Lowry rests and because that group would have trouble guarding many teams, with DeRozan shifting down to the SF position and being forced to guard the Kevin Durants and LeBron James’ of the world. This leaves us with three options, all familiar to Raptors fans, in Carroll, fan-favorite Norman Powell and the enigmatic Terrence Ross.

via stats.nba.com

First of all, all three variations of this lineup have had massive success for the team so far this season, and probably have earned more playing time. Simply looking at the numbers, the Carroll grouping has been the most successful of the three, with a fantastic +26.8 net rating. The Powell lineup has been the best defensive group, clocking in at a 95.9 defensive rating and a +18.7 net rating. With Ross on the floor, the group managed the weakest defensive rating at 106.6, but still had a +18.5 net rating, which is still very good. All three players bring solid spot-up three point shooting when open, so we’ll remove that from the discussion.

The merits of Carroll are simple. He’s the strongest of the three, and the best fit to guard bigger wings. He allows DeRozan to avoid the more physical matchups and save his strength and energy for the offensive end. He is, however, the weakest ball handler of the bunch, and not nearly the fast break threat the other two players are.

Terrence Ross was, prior to Carroll’s arrival in Toronto, the starting small forward, and we’re well familiar with both his benefits and lapses. He’s athletic, can be, when engaged, a good on-ball defender that can even be moved to guarding point guards in certain matchups effectively. He’s been good in the passing lanes this year, getting deflections and steals, and his quickness allows him to recover when he does find himself out of position on defense. He’s also improved this year as a ball handler and distributor. The negative here is that the team likes his scoring punch off the bench, and neither of the other two options provides quite the same effect in that capacity.

Norman Powell, to some extent, we’re still figuring out. One night he’ll look like he’s a second-round draft pick with less than a hundred career games under his belt, getting caught out of position and making line drives to the basket where he seems out of control and barely manages a shot, then the next night he looks like the player he was while DeRozan was injured, guarding the other team’s best wings with poise and creating offense for himself with ease. He’s very quick, and decisive, and aggressive, and has a game that’s easy to fall in love with. Norm has slipped in and out of the rotation for much of this season, alternating starts and DNP-CDs at times, and there are certainly reasons that Casey seems to trust Ross and Carroll more, but it’s hard not to want Norm to be eating more of those minutes.

To be honest, I began writing this article with the goal of making the case for Norm to replace Carroll as the starting small forward. It’s an easy case to make watching the games, as Norm’s game is so easy to love, and Carroll’s game, even when effective, doesn’t have much flash. At the same time, Carroll has often struggled this year, looking too slow to guard the players he’s supposed to stop and at times unable to hit those open 3s that are the

staple of his game. However, the conclusion I’ve come to is that while this is certainly an option worth having in the bag for the team, maybe the best option here is just to put Carroll on a shorter leash for the nights he doesn’t have it while finding more minutes elsewhere for the two younger players off the bench, whether that’s resting the All-Stars more, or playing more small lineups with one of them or DeRozan at the power forward position.

Because if the team is to ever truly move on from Carroll, and trade him to create more minutes for the younger pair, that will require Carroll to maintain his trade value, and the best way to do that is to show confidence that he can become his former self. While it might not look like it from the results, with the team struggling, Carroll beside Patterson has worked for the Raptors and should continue to do so going forward.

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Raptors defence continues January swoon in loss to Biyombo’s Magic

Raptors 113, Magic 114 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors took their foot off the gas in the second quarter, and the Magic took full advantage of a porous defence to take a 114-113 decision Sunday night.

For the Raptors, the end of January, and perhaps even the All-Star break, can’t come soon enough. Losers of six of their last seven, they are now 7-9 for the month, and mired in a defensive slump reminiscent of that cringe-worthy finish to the 2014-15 season.

For the first time all season, the Raptors finally had their best roster at their disposal. DeMar DeRozan returned after a three-game absence, and Sullinger was back with the team after a night in Mississauga.

The feel-good vibes spilled over onto the court early, as another Patterson start helped the Raptors use some crisp ball movement, particularly from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, to jump out to a 36-27 first quarter lead. Jonas made a couple of passes that he may have learned from watching Lucas Nogueira, swinging the ball to the corner off the roll. He found Patterson and Joseph in the corner for two threes to cap off what was an excellent opening few minutes for the Raptors.

There was a nice moment with a couple of minutes to go in the first quarter, when your father Bismack Biyombo checking into the game to a fairly loud ovation. You can now add him to the list of former Raptors that have returned victorious to the ACC. His replacement, Lucas Nogueira, had a message for him as soon as he checked in, rejecting his first shot at the rim. That was about as well as things went for Bebe, but more on that later.

The first quarter appeared to make the Raptors complacent, as they played the game on autopilot for what seemed like the remainder of the game. With under six minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Raptors leading 49-39, the Magic went on an unfathomable 21-2 run to end the quarter. A lineup of Joseph-DeRozan-Carroll-Siakam-JV was a -13 over a 3:57 stretch, and it’s not hard to see why. Based on current form, that’s a lineup with virtually no three-point shooting, a combo of bigs that have struggled to mesh defensively in the starting lineup, and a DeMarre Carroll being overly aggressive despite being unable to hit a shot to save his life.

The combination of Norman Powell’s play in the absence of DeRozan and the struggles of Carroll tonight made it all the more confounding as to how Casey could only find 13 minutes of court time for him.

The second half saw Dwane Casey try an array of different lineups to get the Raptors back in the game, with all 12 players used by the time it was all said and done.

Back to Nogueira, who found a way to commit five fouls in just 12 minutes of action. There were a couple of tough calls against him early, especially when considering the referees let a lot of other plays go. His fifth foul came with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, going over the back of Nikola Vucevic for a rebound. The Raptors had cut the lead to three at 76-73 at that point, and forced Casey to turn to Sullinger.

Casey also turned to Fred VanVleet in response to what was a horrible night for Cory Joseph, who had arguably his worst defensive game of the season. D.J. Augustin had his way with him, hitting two three-pointers early in the fourth to force Casey’s hand. Augustin finished with 21 points on just 10 shots. More hot shooting helped the Magic lead bulge to as many as 15, and that was enough of a cushion to quell a late Raptors push.

Lowry had his shooting stroke going all game, finishing with a game-high 33 points that included six three-pointers. His partner in crime struggled from the field, making just six of his 18 field goal attempts. DeRozan looked a little less decisive than normal, but still managed 11 trips to the free-throw line for his 22 points. The quickness in decision making should hopefully improve as his ankle feels more comfortable. The biggest positive is that he played 36 minutes, and so should be back in his regular flow in no time.

Dwane Casey and his staff will likely spend a lot of time watching film from that disastrous close to the second quarter, but the overall defence needs to be addressed after ceding shots at a 52.3% clip. They have a defensive efficiency of 108.6 this month per NBA.com/Stats, 4.1 points per 100 possessions worse than their rating coming into the new year. On the season, the Lakers are dead-last at 110.2.

Injuries have played their part, and the absence of Patrick Patterson has illustrated just how important he is to the team’s cohesion. Trying to work Jared Sullinger back has presented more challenges than solutions thus far, but it’s a process the coaching staff has to undertake in order to find their best rotation. If Joseph continues to struggle, Delon Wright’s excellent start in the D-League has been encouraging enough to envision stealing some minutes from the former Spur.

In some ways, the Raptors are essentially starting their season over by finally having the roster they intended to begin with available to them. What makes things difficult at this time of the year is that they’re no longer at the beginning of the season. The expectations of last year’s two-seed in the conference are that they should be in midseason form. As a result, there’s not much patience from the outside for a team that is now ironing out what are usually early season wrinkles such as a new starting lineup sorting out ideal bench rotations.

Mired in this losing rut, if they can keep away from the noise in the background and focus on the task at hand, there’s plenty of time to set things right. Whether it’s the matter of an impending matchup with their Atlantic rival Celtics to get the blood boiling, or an All-Star break that should help them recharge and refresh, over a third of the season remains to live up to their lofty expectations.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – The future of Norman Powell

Host William Lou is joined by Scott Hastie to break down yet another week in Raptors basketball.

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Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 30

10 things I saw from Raptors-Magic (29–1–2017) – The Defeated

No heart: Magic out-worked the Raptors, plain and simple. Raptors should be fucking ashamed of the way they played. No hustle at all from the home team while Orlando made every extra rotation, broke their backs getting back on defense, and refused to allow anything easy in the paint.

Raptors defence misses Bismack Biyombo in foward’s return to town | Toronto Sun

“Just his athletic ability … and his communication I would say is the one thing that you miss, that big baritone voice defensively and that’s one thing that our young centres have to learn to do a better job of, is communicate with confidence, loud, continuous,” Casey said even before the wheels fell off repeatedly in Sunday’s 114-113 loss. “Even if you’re not saying the right thing, say something, and that’s one thing I thought he helped our young guys out with when he was here.

“I think that’s who he’s going to be as long as he’s in this league and can breathe. I think it’s a gift, it’s an NBA talent that he brings to the table and it’s hard to replicate.”

Apparently. Again, this doesn’t all come down to Biyombo, but he is missed.

“Biz was one of the guys who talked a lot,” said Patrick Patterson, likely the team’s best remaining defender. “He’s one of those guys who contested every single shot that came at the rim … So we’ve just got to have guys step up, fill that void and have guys who did talk last year talk even more this year.”

Even with full complement, Raptors again doomed by dismal defence – Sportsnet.ca

“It’s as bad as we’ve played all year,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.

The Magic came into the game with the NBA’s 29th-ranked offence, shooting just 44.1 per cent from the floor for the year – 26th in the league – but somehow managed to shoot 53.2 per cent against Toronto and 43.5 per cent from three, not bad for the NBA’s 28th ranked three-point shooting team.

Casey usually avoids blanket condemnations of his charges. Not Sunday night, though.

“We have to find five men that are going to go out there and defend,” said Casey. “You can right now [look at] the roster and everybody had a defensive mistake. It’s accountability. We’re bringing guys off the bench and they’re making mistakes. And that is what I told the team. Everybody is involved, the whole group in the room, we’re all accountable for this.”