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Date Title Author
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 Holian
Jan 18, 17 The unluckiest basketball moments of all time RR
Jan 18, 17 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – The Cory Joseph game Blake Murphy
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 Blake Murphy
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 Blake Murphy
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
Jan 10, 17 Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – DeMar, Jonas, Kyle refuse to lose Blake Murphy
Jan 10, 17 Quick Reaction: Boston Celtics 106 – 114 Toronto Raptors Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 10, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Bradley sits for Celtics, Patterson starts at PF Blake Murphy
Jan 10, 17 The 573rd “What Do We Do With Jonas Valanciunas” Column Gavin MacPherson
Jan 10, 17 The Main Event: Pull the Trigger vs. Roll with the Status Quo Mike Holian
Jan 10, 17 Gameday: Celtics @ Raptors, Jan. 9 Blake Murphy
Jan 10, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 10 Sam Holako
Jan 9, 17 Report: Hawks pull Millsap off trade market Blake Murphy
Jan 9, 17 Two-Way Contracts Will Still Leave D-Leaguers With Tough Decisions Vivek Jacob
Jan 9, 17 Raptors assign Delon Wright to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Jan 9, 17 Raptors run out of gas, cough up lead for 2nd night in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 9, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – State of the franchise Blake Murphy
Jan 8, 17 Raptors-Rockets Reaction Podcast – Where is the defense? Blake Murphy
Jan 8, 17 Quick Reaction: Rockets 129, Raptors 122 Warren Kosoy
Jan 8, 17 Pre-game news & notes: 905ers recalled, Patterson returns, Powell starts Blake Murphy
Jan 8, 17 Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, Jan. 8 Anthony Doyle
Jan 8, 17 Im not even mad. Its actually funny to me. Blake Murphy
Jan 8, 17 VanVleet’s game-winning free throws lead Raptors 905 over Bulls Blake Murphy
Jan 7, 17 Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – Yet another nightmare in Chicago Blake Murphy
Jan 7, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 118, Bulls 123 Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 7, 17 Pre-game news & notes: VanVleet’s deal to guarantee, Patterson sits against Bulls Blake Murphy
Jan 7, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Jan. 7 Alex Gres
Jan 6, 17 905 Come to Life Against Mad Ants, Stay Perfect on Road Vivek Jacob
Jan 6, 17 Measuring Greatness Anthony Doyle
Jan 6, 17 Should the Korver trade change Toronto’s approach on Millsap? Blake Murphy
Jan 6, 17 Lowry goes off in 2nd half to give Jazz deja vu Blake Murphy
Jan 6, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 6 – Bringing Millsap to Toronto Blake Murphy
Jan 5, 17 Raptors-Jazz Reaction Podcast – Lowry sinks Jazz yet again Blake Murphy
Jan 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Jazz 93 Raptors 101 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson and Hill out, Bebe starts at PF (!!) Blake Murphy
Jan 5, 17 Jerry Stackhouse named D-League Coach of the Month Blake Murphy
Jan 5, 17 Early All-Star voting returns have Raptors’ stars out of starting lineup Blake Murphy
Jan 5, 17 Gameday: Jazz @ Raptors, Jan. 5 Blake Murphy
Jan 4, 17 Raptors 905 drop third in a row as Tavares’ big night can’t overcome Charge Blake Murphy
Jan 4, 17 Casey named Coach of the Month; Caboclo and VanVleet assigned Blake Murphy
Jan 4, 17 Raptors can afford to be patient on trade market Anthony Doyle
Jan 4, 17 Raptors end mildly concerning road trip on lowest of notes Blake Murphy
Jan 3, 17 Raptors-Spurs Reaction Podcast – Beatdown in San Antonio Blake Murphy
Jan 3, 17 Quick Reaction: Spurs 110, Raptors 82 Spencer Redmond
Jan 3, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson sits again, Raptors nearly had summer deal for Millsap Blake Murphy
Jan 3, 17 The Value of Valanciunas Cameron Dorrett
Jan 3, 17 Why the Raptors have to keep trying with DeMarre Carroll Blake Murphy
Jan 3, 17 Game Day: Raptors @ Spurs, Jan.3 Gavin MacPherson
Jan 2, 17 905’s Offensive Funk Continues in Loss to Bayhawks Vivek Jacob
Jan 2, 17 Lowry catches fire late to lead Raptors over Lakers Shyam Baskaran
Jan 2, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – 2016 was the Year of the Raptor Blake Murphy
Jan 2, 17 Raptors-Lakers Reaction Podcast – #NBAVOTE Kyle Lowry Blake Murphy
Jan 2, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 123, Lakers 114 Blake Murphy
Jan 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson sits against Lakers, but late call encouraging Blake Murphy
Jan 1, 17 Report: Hawks listening on Millsap, Raptors express interest (and why) Blake Murphy
Jan 1, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Lakers, Jan. 1 Scott Hastie
Dec 31, 16 Talking Raptors New Years Special! Barry Taylor
Dec 31, 16 New Year, New Mailbag: Appreciating Lowry & DeRozan, year-end reflection, and more Blake Murphy
Dec 30, 16 Homestand – Quest To Find Toronto’s Best Raptors Bar: Group Work Barry Taylor
Dec 30, 16 Disappointment in the Desert: Raptors Come Up Lame vs. Phoenix Mike Holian
Dec 29, 16 Raptors-Suns Reaction Podcast – Gassed Raptors implode in Phoenix Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 91, Suns 99 Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Video: Masai Ujiri interview during Raptors/Suns Zarar Siddiqi
Dec 29, 16 Patrick Patterson leaves game with knee strain, will not return Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Frigid Shooting Night Ends 905’s 2016 on a Low Vivek Jacob
Dec 29, 16 Pre-game news & notes: DeMarre Carroll plays first back-to-back of season Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Suns, Dec. 29 Andrew Thompson
Dec 29, 16 Raptors’ fighting spirit not enough to make up for slow start against Warriors Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Raptors-Warriors Reaction Podcast – Being annoying is only fun for so long Blake Murphy
Dec 29, 16 Quick Reaction: Warriors 121, Raptors 111 Spencer Redmond
Dec 28, 16 DeMar DeRozan becomes Raptors’ all-time leading scorer Blake Murphy
Dec 28, 16 Pre-game news & notes: League’s best offenses, best lineups collide Blake Murphy
Dec 28, 16 Know your Role: Cory Joseph is doing too much Cameron Dorrett
Dec 28, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Warriors, Dec. 28 Tamberlyn Richardson
Dec 27, 16 Huge effort from Toupane, bench leads Raptors 905 over 87ers Blake Murphy
Dec 27, 16 2016 – A Year of Growth Alex Gres
Dec 27, 16 Raptors hold on for repugnant victory over Lillard-less Blazers Blake Murphy
Dec 27, 16 Raptors-Trail Blazers Reaction Podcast – Ugly win but I’ll take it Blake Murphy
Dec 27, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 95, Trailblazers 91 Anthony Doyle
Dec 27, 16 Terrence Ross leaves game with sore wrist after ridiculous 360 dunk Blake Murphy
Dec 26, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Lillard continues string of stars sitting against Raptors Blake Murphy
Dec 26, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Trail Blazers, Dec. 26 Blake Murphy
Dec 26, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – The future of Kyle Lowry Blake Murphy
Dec 25, 16 Christmas Day open thread Blake Murphy
Dec 24, 16 Thelowrius Monk: Lowry goes Live in Jazz Workshop to lead Raptors Blake Murphy
Dec 24, 16 Raptors-Jazz Reaction Podcast – Kyle Lowry is the effing truth Blake Murphy
Dec 23, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Jazz 98 Sam Holako
Dec 23, 16 Brady Heslip’s 10 threes lead Raptors 905 over Knicks in rematch Blake Murphy
Dec 23, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Hill and Exum sit as Raptors visit Jazz Blake Murphy
Dec 23, 16 How the Raptors can (and will) win 60 games Shyam Baskaran
Dec 23, 16 Previewing the 6-game road trip RR
Dec 23, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Jazz, Dec. 23 Blake Murphy
Dec 23, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Dec 23 – If This Road Trip Doesn’t Kill You, I Will Blake Murphy
Dec 22, 16 Raptors 905 lose to Knicks on tip-in at buzzer Blake Murphy
Dec 22, 16 Reserves play key role in Toronto Raptors success Tamberlyn Richardson
Dec 22, 16 Norman Powell, A Sign of Changed Times Matt Shantz
Dec 22, 16 The Road to the 6ix, A Clearer Path than Most Vivek Jacob
Dec 21, 16 2016 Raptors Holiday Wish List Andrew Thompson
Dec 21, 16 Norman Powell excelling in every role Raptors ask him to play Blake Murphy
Dec 21, 16 VIDEO: DeRozan and Lowry exchange gifts but are just ‘work friends’ Blake Murphy
Dec 21, 16 Raptors Comfortably Handle Business Against Nets Alex Gres
Dec 21, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 – The Christmas Special Nick Reynoldson
Dec 21, 16 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – Norm shines in extended run Blake Murphy
Dec 20, 16 Quick Reaction: Brookyn Nets 104 – 116 Toronto Raptors Kiyan Sobhani
Dec 20, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Joseph returns, Lopez sits, Patterson rests Blake Murphy
Dec 20, 16 Raptors 905 blown out in front of D-League record crowd Blake Murphy
Dec 20, 16 James Johnson Is Making The Most Of His Freedom Warren Kosoy
Dec 20, 16 Raptors on Track for Success? RR
Dec 20, 16 Breaking it Down: Tactical Observations from Orlando Cooper Smither
Dec 20, 16 Mid-Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 20 Sam Holako
Dec 20, 16 Gameday: Nets @ Raptors, Dec. 20 Mike Holian
Dec 19, 16 DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Blake Murphy
Dec 19, 16 The Raptors “Four Factors” to Playoff Success Spencer Redmond
Dec 19, 16 Raptors blow out Magic in first meeting with Erstwhile Dad Blake Murphy
Dec 19, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Start Patterson, fix defense Blake Murphy
Dec 19, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 19 Sam Holako
Dec 18, 16 Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – Defense gets back on track Blake Murphy
Dec 18, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Magic 79 Anthony Doyle
Dec 18, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Joseph sits as Raptors visit old pal Biyombo Blake Murphy
Dec 18, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Magic, Dec. 18 Blake Murphy
Dec 18, 16 Morning Coffee – Sun, Dec 18 Sam Holako
Dec 17, 16 Leslie’s game-winner help Raptors 905 hang on for franchise-record 7th consecutive win Blake Murphy
Dec 17, 16 Struggling defense finally catches up with Raptors in loss to Hawks Blake Murphy
Dec 16, 16 Raptors-Hawks Reaction Podcast – Dwightmare Blake Murphy
Dec 16, 16 Quick Reaction: Hawks 125, Raptors 121 Shyam Baskaran
Dec 16, 16 Pre-game news & notes: 905ers recalled, Nogueira available as Millsap-led Hawks visit Blake Murphy
Dec 16, 16 Quest to find Toronto’s Best Raptors Bar – Date Night Barry Taylor
Dec 16, 16 Revisiting the reasons for and against starting Patrick Patterson Blake Murphy
Dec 16, 16 Game Day: Hawks @ Raptors, Dec. 16 Tamberlyn Richardson
Dec 16, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Dec 16 – Contagious Blake Murphy
Dec 16, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Dec 16 Sam Holako
Dec 15, 16 905 Shake Off Slow Start to Down OKC Blue Vivek Jacob
Dec 15, 16 Looking ahead: what are the remaining pressure points on the Raptors schedule? Scott Hastie
Dec 15, 16 Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo assigned to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Dec 15, 16 76ers give Raptors a taste of their own medicine, prove annoying in defeat Blake Murphy
Dec 15, 16 Contest: Win 1 of 3 Raptors shirts from Frank + Oak Blake Murphy
Dec 15, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Dec 15 Sam Holako
Dec 15, 16 Raptors-76ers Reaction Podcast – Historic offense delivers yet again Blake Murphy
Dec 14, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 123, 76ers 114 Warren Kosoy
Dec 14, 16 Delon Wright cleared for 1-on-1 contact, targeting Jan. 17 return Blake Murphy
Dec 14, 16 NBA and NBPA reach tentative deal on new CBA Blake Murphy
Dec 14, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira sits against Embiid-Okafor pairing Blake Murphy
Dec 14, 16 How the Raptors are scoring as well as the Warriors Blake Murphy
Dec 14, 16 Small Sample Size Theatre Vol. 3: The Raptors Set the League on Fire Gavin MacPherson
Dec 14, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ 76ers, Dec 14 Spencer Redmond
Dec 13, 16 Scoring by Superstar and Committee Andrew Thompson
Dec 13, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E8 – Bulk Barn Nick Reynoldson
Dec 13, 16 Terrence Ross finding balance as he takes long-awaited next step Blake Murphy
Dec 13, 16 Blowout/Big Picture: Deer Caught in Raptors’ Headlights Mike Holian
Dec 13, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 13 Sam Holako
Dec 13, 16 Raptors-Bucks Reaction Podcast – Yet another feel good blowout Blake Murphy
Dec 12, 16 Quick Reaction: Bucks 100, Raptors 122 Kiyan Sobhani
Dec 12, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Raptors looking for defensive consistency as schedule turns Blake Murphy
Dec 12, 16 The Man in the Middle Anthony Doyle
Dec 12, 16 Improving Defense, Slow and Steady? Matt Shantz
Dec 12, 16 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, December 12 Alex Gres
Dec 12, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Valanciunas under fire, Norm on fire Blake Murphy
Dec 12, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 12 Sam Holako
Dec 11, 16 Celtics’ claims to No. 2 prove a little premature RR
Dec 11, 16 Morning Coffee – Sun, Dec 11 Sam Holako
Dec 10, 16 Powell keys 2nd-half comeback as Raptors fire opening salvo against Celtics Blake Murphy
Dec 9, 16 Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – Raptors strike first in budding Celtics ‘rivalry’ Blake Murphy
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Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger to make season debut, Nogueira sits

Fresh off an entire day at Hershey Centre for the D-League Showcase, I’m back on-desk as the Toronto Raptors visit the Philadelphia 76ers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Kyle Lowry simply doesn’t lose in Philadelphia, which is probably part of the reason the Raptors opted to rest him Tuesday instead of Wednesday. That the Sixers are a much better team than the Nets probably also factors in. Some have asked if the plan calls for DeMar DeRozan to rest in turn Wednesday, and he may, but DeRozan’s played (slightly) fewer minutes than Lowry as is, and the Raptors could be down to just 10 bodies if DeRozan were to rest. The team probably won’t let us know until 6:30 or so.

We won’t go much deeper than that, because we did a huge preview today and there are lots of little updates to get to.

The game tips off at 7 on TSN 1/4/5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
As if the Raptors weren’t thin enough in the frontcourt already, Lucas Nogueira took a shot to the head in Tuesday’s game and did not return. He reported having blurred vision and was entered into the league’s concussion protocol, which made him unlikely for this one. The Raptors got out ahead of it and announced he was out well before Dwane Casey’s media availability. Expect the Raptors to take the cautious approach here (not that they have any choice with the league’s protocol, but the Raptors are generally wise with respect to injury handling).

Patrick Patterson also remains out, at least until he’s back in. There’s been no sense of when he might return – he’s missed seven of the last nine games with a knee strain – but it never seemed likely he was going to play Tuesday. Whether or not he goes Wednesday is a question we don’t have enough context to answer, and the lack of a shootaround on a back-to-back scenario will leave us in the dark until close to tip-0ff. Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger, meanwhile, remain sidelined until we hear otherwise, and they’ve still only gotten one full practice day in.

It’s going to be a weird game, rotation-wise, if all these injured bigs are absent. Weird is fun, though! I’d guess Pascal Siakam starts at power forward. He looked good last night! Maybe he’s over the rookie wall. We’ll get an idea if he is or not, anyway.

Check back before tip-off for updates.

UPDATE: UMMM EXCUSE ME, Jared Sullinger is making his season debut tonight, the Raptors announced at 6 p.m. He’ll be on a minutes limit, but he’s available. Amazing! Obviously, Sullinger’s return is a huge boon for the team, both because they’ve bin thin up front and because, well, they’re about to get their marquee free agent signing back on the floor. His rebounding should be a welcome addition, as will his size and physicality inside. The conditioning and the defensive fit with Jonas Valanciunas will be works in progress for some time, I would think, but he’s ahead of most expectations, so there’s even more time than anticipated to get him acclimated to the team. This is just awesome, awesome news.

UPDATE II: Patterson sits again.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned:
TBD:
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson

76ers updates
The 76ers could have been thin up front, but it sounds like they might be just fine. Jahlil Okafor (ankle) will play, Nerlens Noel (ankle) will return to the lineup, and T.J. McConnell (wrist) is going to gut it out.

And Joel Embiid is playing! The Process was questionable after missing shootaround with an illness. I know some people are in the camp where you take every opponent injury as a positive and a chance to stack Ws, but I don’t really feel that way here in January. Embiid is a boatload of fun, and he’s a really nice test for the Raptors’ young bigs defensively. With the defense as a whole still trying to find its way, I’d rather they be tested and improve rather than just easing through a light schedule. I might be in the minority, but I want Embiid out there, for a bunch of reasons. So I’m glad that he’s going to give it a go. Plus, if the flu acts up, he’ll probably make the Vine hilarious.

This is basically as close to full-strength as the Sixers get. Their most-used lineup on the season has only played 103 minutes together, and its halfway through the season. Their best lineup is in tact here, too – the starters with Nik Stauskas in Gerald Henderson’s place. That group has hammered opponents by 19.4 points per-100 possessions in an 84-minute sample. That’s a lot of shooting around the McConnell-Embiid pick-and-roll.

PG: T.J. McConnell, Sergio Rodriguez, Chasson Randle
SG: Gerald Henderson, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor
ASSIGNED: Richaun Holmes
TBD:
OUT: Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless

Assorted

  • None of the Raptors were assigned for the D-League Showcase this week, with the team a) being light on bodies, and b) feeling it’s an event for the D-Leaguers first. Some teams do it differently, and you can’t fault them, but I like this approach from the Raptors. if you’re looking ahead to the next potential assignment date (including, perhaps, for Delon Wright on a rehab stint), Jan. 25 is your day.
  • Here’s Kyle Lowry on his impending free agency in a great interview with Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

  • I’ve got nothing. Quiet day for the Raptors. But the Showcase has been a ton of fun so far. I’ll be there all week.

The line
The Raptors are only 4.5-point favorites, down from 5.5 earlier in the day, while the over-under has hung around 214.5. That the Raptors are only small favorites isn’t all that shocking – it’s the second night of a back-to-back, they’re almost out of frontcourt players, and DeRozan could conceivably rest, while all the questionable/probably tags on Philly’s side fell the right way for them. I still think the Raptors will pull it out (and cover!) but I’m going to hold off on a prediction until we get a firm lineup from Toronto.

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Raptors 905 open D-League Showcase with high-octane victory

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 135, Grand Rapids Drive 122 | Box Score
Assignees: None (905), None (Drive)

Raptors 905 were not going to let the Grand Rapids Drive ruin another major event for them.

After the Drive rained a ludicrous number of threes to blow the 905 off the floor at their Air Canada Centre morning game earlier in the season, the 905 were sure to push the Drive early at their D-League Showcase encounter on Wednesday. The second game of the entire tournament saw the two assignment-free teams wage war in an all-offense affair, with both sides neglecting defense out of the gate. The Drive leverage the speed of Ray McCallum, the scoring of Kevin Murphy, and the Steezusness of Jordan Crawford to pile up points, and the 905 entered knowing their best defensive efforts may still require a lot of points in support.

Consider the 905 willing. An even first half saw the 905 build a 36-33 lead, an edge they’d push to six points at the half. It was coming out of the break that a flip got switched and their defensive intensity started to mimic their offensive approach. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse leaned on his ample depth to keep the energy level consistently high on the floor across all positions, and the 905 shooters found a nice groove thanks to some terrific drive-and-kick ball movement.

Almost in a blink, the 905 were up 20, with six players in double figures halfway through the third quarter. With E.J. Singler and Brady Heslip spacing out and knocking down far-too-open triples, Axel Toupane was able to attack seams, Edy Tavares and C.J. Leslie got to work around the basket, and Will Sheehey filled in the gaps. Jarrod Uthoff made it seven in double-figures shortly after. For as good as the 905 have been this year, it sometimes gets lost in the individual numbers just how much talent here, and it’s fitting that the dominance of Stackhouse’s all-for-one approach was on full display at the Showcase. The team’s depth doesn’t mean the individuals aren’t thriving, and with the ball touching three or four sets of hands each possession, each contributor was able to show a little bit in front of an indeterminate number of scouts and executives.

It’s the Showcase for the Drive, too, though, and they refused to wilt. The back half of the third quarter saw them chip the lead back down to 11, and with the amount of scoring firepower they possess, that’s a scary margin. Crawford started gunning – shocking, right? – and the Drive offense took advantage of the early-fourth bench-heavy group. Ismael Romero kept things rolling with a steal, a transition dunk, and then another dunk from a post-up, Ray McCallum followed with an impossible and-one, and Crawford forced Stackhouse to burn a timeout to settle things after a double-pump dunk in transition.

It was with the lead back down to single-digits that the 905 founds their close-out gear (Heslip’s pull-up threes over screens in semi-transition are the clutch, if you were wondering). The Drive had left themselves too big a hole, and the 905 were unwilling to offer them a hand out, even with both of their centers fouled out of the game.

It’s perhaps not the way Stackhouse would like his team to win, preferring a more staunch defense-first approach, but the coach is also realistic about the opponent and the environment they’re playing in. Even with 122 points allowed, the 905 did some things better, holding the Drive to 9-of-24 from the 3-point line after they hit 24 in the previous outing. They also hit 15-of-30 on their side of things, a nice supplement to the 53 free-throw attempts they tallied as their ball movement scrambled the Drive defense.

“Not really,” he said when asked if the intent was to match threes with threes. “Our plan was just to share the ball and take what the defense gives us. That’s a really tough offensive team. I thought we did a good job of making them make tough shots on us, and we did a good job of sharing it ourselves.”

The sharing manifested itself in 26 assists and the seven players in double-figures, and their bigs, while available, helped swing the rebounding edge strongly in the 905’s favor. Heslip kicked in six assists to go with his 19 points, Toupane lived at the line on his way to 23 points, Tavares had a 16-and-11 double-double, and it continues down the line. The 905 were no different than they normally are, leaning on depth and cohesiveness over any individual dominance, even in the Showcase, and that speaks to the thorough commitment to the approach and the belief that a rising tide will lift all of these boats.

“Nothing really changes for me,” Stackhouse said. “The ball is moving. A lot of guys are getting opportunities to showcase themselves. It’s what we’re here for…Everybody is here watching these guys and seeing that they can fit in a team concept.”

A month after being summarily out-shot in a game that meant a lot to them, the 905 flipped the matchup and won an even more important rematch, at the same time beating Grand Rapids at their own game but staying staunchly themselves. As far as showcasing the story of the 905 season so far, it would be tough to imagine a better game.

Notes

  • I’ll be writing about this in greater detail tomorrow, but if Axel Toupane isn’t signed by an NBA team in the next few weeks, I’d be shocked. His game is so smooth, his defense so versatile that I don’t see why another NBA team wouldn’t take a shot.
  • It’s hard to know exactly how much to put into this type of thing, but in talking to a handful of attendees at the Showcase, the name that came up the most was definitely Edy Tavares. He would probably stand to benefit from continued development in the D-League, as the work the 905 have been doing with his defense remains in-progress, but at his size and with his touch around the rim, it’s easy to see why people are at least curious. After Toupane, he may be the most likely to get a call with the 10-day window open.
  • Elsewhere, Ray McCallum has to be pretty close to the top of the list if an NBA team needs a point guard. He’s really, really good.
  • The Raptors opted not to assign any players for the Showcase, feeling it’s an event meant for the D-Leaguers to get noticed. That is, in my opinion, the right approach, though other teams who have chosen to assign players for work are certainly within their rights to have done so. Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, and the rehabbing Delon Wright are all with the parent club on the road as a result, with their next chance at getting in 905 game coming Jan. 25 in Mississauga.
  • If you wanted to go to said game – or the 905’s Friday night Showcase game – 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 Playbook: Chin Pick & Roll

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 Chin Pick & Roll. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

This pet play, used with regularity by the Toronto Raptors, comes out of the Princeton offense.

At its core, the play is a pick and roll with proper perimeter spacing and just enough movement to keep all off-ball defenders occupied.

Starting with a down screen for the eventual pick and roll ballhandler (often this is DeMar DeRozan, but during times when DeRozan is off the floor, Kyle Lowry will often assume DeRozan’s position), a catch is made above the break with the opposing defender trailing. A step up ball screen then follows, after the passer clears out to the strong side corner.

This triggers the play’s main action, a high ball screen, which allows the ballhandler to attack downhill against a backpedalling big-man, while off-ball defenders attempt to negotiate pick and roll responsibilities.

A small wrinkle that the Raptors like to deploy is having the initial ballhandler stay above the arc to set a double ball screen with the screen-setting big. This often comes after the Raptors have run the normal Chin Pick & Roll the previous possession. Theoretically, this action should force confusion, leading to a smaller defender switching onto an attacking DeRozan before he utilizes the second screen. However, anecdotally I have noted that the effectiveness of this wrinkle is not as effective as its predecessor. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the defense adjusting and becoming familiar with the play the second or third time it is run, as well as the area above the arc becoming too densely packed with bodies now that the passer has not spaced out to the corner.

Examples of the double high-ball screen variation can be seen starting at 0:32 and 1:59.

Additionally, other small wrinkles to reduce monotony are present within the Raptors offense, such as at 1:44, when the Raptors employed a wide pindown for Terrence Ross after DeRozan received a pass above the arc.
The last variation of this play is a minute detail and has been sparingly used and can be seen starting at 2:28. Instances where the initial above-the-break passer exits to the weakside corner of the floor, where traditionally he would exit to the opposite corner, have popped up intermittently. This allows for a pseudo-snug pick and roll to be run after the main high-ball screen action bogs down. It’s difficult to tell effectiveness of this variation because it is deployed so infrequently, but it is a nice change of pace to keep defenders alert.

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Gameday: Raptors @ 76ers, Jan. 18

What a difference a couple of weeks – and the presence of an enormous basketball miracle – makes.

As the Toronto Raptors get set to visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, there’s a different air about their hosts. The 76ers aren’t just improving, they might actually be good. Or at least good-ish, as they’ve shown in the new year. They’ve won six of their last eight, and while they remain dead last in offensive efficiency, they’ve climbed to a respectable 13th on the defensive end. Joel Embiid is a problem. They play very hard, and they’re starting to believe in the returns from the (sorry) process.

The Raptors certainly can’t overlook them – they allowed this team to hang around a little too long in their previous meeting – and they probably won’t. It’s telling that with a back-to-back, they opted to rest Kyle Lowry against the Nets and not the Sixers. Even if that had more to do with Lowry wanting to play in his hometown, it’s notable. Toronto is going to be ready for Philadelphia, or Philadelphia is going to come out swinging, a now-legitimate threat to put a team like the Raptors in an uncomfortable position (what, like the back of a Volkswagen?).

This one should be a lot of fun. And not voyeuristic, look-at-the-Sixers fun. Real, genuine, basketball fun.

The game tips off at 7 on TSN 1/4/5 and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage for the game, we reached out to Andrew Unterberger of The 700 Level, and we didn’t feel bad about making him talk Sixers for a change!

Blake Murphy: When I emailed to ask if you were down for some questions, part of your response was “I can’t remember the last time talking about the Sixers was this much fun.” Man, I am SO happy for you, Levin, Max, and the rest of the Sixers hive. You guys deserve this. The question, I guess, is whether this is a nice bright spot in a season that’s still all about building for the long-haul, or if this is the beginning of some meaningful momentum for the franchise?

Andrew Unterberger: Well, it’s hard to answer a question like this about the Sixers franchise in totality, just because Embiid on his own changes everything so dramatically. We’re 2-9 in games he doesn’t play, and besides Nerlens Noel — who we spent half a year trying to trade and/or alienate — there’s really no one on the active roster who you’d consider a blue-chip player, the kind that future contending rosters are built around. For that reason I’d mostly say this is still just a cute diversion for a team that still has a long way to go — they still probably won’t even win 30 games this year — but every game where Embiid plays, they have a chance, and the Sixers haven’t had a player they could say that about in at least a decade.

Blake Murphy: Obviously, everything fun and happy starts with Joel Embiid. The Process has quickly become a league-wide favorite, and for good reason. He’s campaigning for votes, trolling Hassan Whiteside, begging for dates, and mimicking Triple H. The NBA should, to borrow a wrestling phrase Embiid would surely appreciate, push this guy to the moon as one of its central figures, right?

Andrew Unterberger: I think it’s safe to say that there’s no player in professional sports whose relationship with their fanbase is quite like Joel’s with the Sixers. A friend of mine asked me the other day if this was the most likeable Sixers team since the ’01 finals team, and I guess it probably is — but 85% of that is just Embiid. When a group of renegade Hinkie cultists takes a bus trip to D.C. to see the Sixers play, not only does he hang out after the game to say hi and take a picture, he tweets the pic out himself, and he even uses the friggin’ #BusTheProcess hashtag. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s loyal, he’s really just one of us. It’s unbelievable.

Of course, he won’t have the same relationship with fans nationally that he will locally — part of why we love him so much — but he’s such a natural entertainer and gregarious dude that it seems impossible that anyone could resist adoring him. (He even turned DeMarcus Cousins into a giggling, ass-slapping 12-year-old.) Really, the NBA hasn’t seen an off-court player like him since Young Shaq, and even at Shaq’s most loveable, there was still a calculated sort of marketing sense that you never really feel with Joel — and then of course, a vindictive, egomaniacal side of Shaq’s playfulness that emerged shortly after. Maybe Embiid has that in him too, and we’ll see it five years from now, but right now, you really couldn’t script a more likeable star.

Blake Murphy: On the court, there’s as much to love about Embiid. Taking guys off the dribble, getting out in transition, throwing down massive dunks, and even quarterbacking the offense, calling out plays and directing teammates. Is there a limit on just how high he might rank among NBA players eventually?

Andrew Unterberger: If Joel does have a ceiling, it’s higher than any two-way big’s since at least Tim Duncan. There’s really nothing he doesn’t do well — he’s already an elite rim protector and foul-drawer, he’s a good shooter, smart post player and willing passer, he can switch onto just about anyone, and he’s starting to rebound at a solid rate. He makes rookie mistakes, but he’s also getting better at everything as the season goes (except his three-point shooting, which was always unsustainable). His teammates love him, his coaches love him, the franchise loves him. I’m sure Pelicans, Wolves and Knicks fans would all vouch for their guy — understandably so, and I’m sure there’s a debate to be had — but I wouldn’t trade JoJo for anyone right now.

Blake Murphy: Sorry to keep on the Embiid topic (no, I’m not), but fun #NBAVote campaign aside, is he worthy of an All-Star spot? I had him in, but it seems like only three of him, Paul Millsap, Paul George, and Kevin Love will make the cut.

Andrew Unterberger: The All-Star question really comes down as to what you think an All-Star spot should be rewarding — the best players, the players who were the most productive, or the players the fans want to see the most. If it’s the first or third, Embiid should get in no problem — there aren’t ten better players than him in the East right now, and there definitely aren’t five more entertaining — but if it’s the second, it’s an argument, mostly because he’s missed 11 games already this season, is only allowed to play 28 minutes a night, and only ranks eighth on the team in total minutes.

Of course, even with those missed games and a season-long minutes restriction, he’s still leading the team in total points, offensive rebounds, blocks, and free throws — more than double the next-closest in the last two categories — so he’s still been the team’s most productive player by a pretty considerable margin. And the team’s won 11 games of the 28 with him in the lineup — which of course is one more than they won all of last year — and, as many have dumbfoundedly pointed out, they actually have a positive scoring differential with him on the floor. I mean, put Paul Millsap in over him if you really wanna, but I can’t personally understand why you would.

Blake Murphy: There’s more to be excited about that I’m ignoring so far. T.J. McConnell is actually good (/cues Vindicated by Dashboard), Ben Simmons is playing 5-on-0 ball, Bryan Colangelo hasn’t ruined anything yet. What are you most looking forward to about the second half of the season?

Andrew Unterberger: Well, the big question for the remainder of the season is of course if and when Ben Simmons is coming back. It does seem like they expect him to play this year, which is obviously very exciting, though I’m more bearish on Simmons than some — I think he’s a tricky fit for this Sixers squad, and though I imagine he’ll make his teammates’ lives easier in due time, I think they’ll probably take a short-term step back as they figure out how to integrate him this season. Still, I’m exceedingly pumped for the prospect of a Simmons-Embiid pick and roll, and I’m happy to sacrifice a few Ws this season to (hopefully) get to see it start to gel over the year’s final games.

Raptors updates
As if the Raptors weren’t thin enough in the frontcourt already, Lucas Nogueira took a shot to the head in Tuesday’s game and did not return. He reported having blurred vision and was entered into the league’s concussion protocol, which probably makes him unlikely for this one. Depending on how the initial tests came back, the sweet-shooting combo-big man would have to show an absence of symptoms through a certain number of activity progressions to get the OK to play. I think at this point, it’s well-established how touchy I am when it comes to head injuries, and I can’t imagine the Raptors would be anything but cautious, even if Nogueira sitting would leave them short on bodies. Here’s hoping Nogueira feels better soon and has avoided a concussion altogether, because, speaking from experience, they can be terrifying and frustrating.

Patrick Patterson also remains out, at least until he’s back in. There’s been no sense of when he might return – he’s missed seven of the last nine games with a knee strain – but it never seemed likely he was going to play Tuesday. Whether or not he goes Wednesday is a question we don’t have enough context to answer, and the lack of a shootaround on a back-to-back scenario will leave us in the dark until close to tip-0ff. Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger, meanwhile, remain sidelined until we hear otherwise, and they’ve still only gotten one full practice day in.

If Patterson and Nogueira sit, the Raptors will probably turn the starting power forward position back over to Pascal Siakam. Siakam looked great in his emergency minutes on Tuesday and always brings a nice energy to the proceedings, which will be necessary against Philadelphia’s bigs. The Raptors will probably also be forced to play small – doable against Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric but less so if the Sixers go dual-centers again – or do something they’ve rarely done in their big-man shuffle and play Jakob Poeltl at the four alongside Jonas Valanciunas.

It’s going to be a weird game, rotation-wise, if both injured bigs are absent. Weird is fun, though!

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned:
TBD: Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

76ers updates
As I write this, I’m watching Richaun Holmes at Hershey Centre at the D-League Showcase. It is safe to assume, then, that he is not playing for the 76ers this evening. That could leave the 76ers thin up front, too, but it sounds as if they’ll be fine – Jahlil Okafor is probable (he’s dealing with an ankle injury), and everyone’s favorite rumor Nerlens Noel, likewise dealing with an ankle injury, expects to return for this one. Philadelphia with their full complement of lottery bigs should be interesting, and a nice challenge for the Raptors’ youngsters who could be thrust into duty.

Joel Embiid is expected to remain on his 28-minute limit for the foreseeable future, and that’s both a blessing and a curse here. It’s nice for the Raptors, who will only have to try to contain the most electrifying man in basketball for a little over half the game, but it’s disappointing as a fan of fun and basketball and all the beautiful things in the world that our exposure to him is once again limited (he sat out one of their earlier meetings but wouldn’t seem likely to here). He’s a monster, and it’s going to take the best efforts of Valanciunas, Siakam, Poeltl, and whoever else to slow him down.

Elsewhere, the Sixers will likely be thin at the point as my dude and leg-day aficionado T.J. McConnell is dealing with a wrist injury he wants to try to play through but isn’t certain to. If he can’t go, it’s all Sergio Rodriguez and 10-day call-up Chasson Randle.

PG: Sergio Rodriguez, (T.J. McConnell), Chasson Randle
SG: Gerald Henderson, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor
ASSIGNED: Richaun Holmes
TBD: Nerlens Noel, T.J. McConnell, Jahlil Okafor
OUT: Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless

LATE UPDATE – Embiid is questionable due to an illness. He missed shootaround.

The line
The Raptors are only 5-point favorites, which speaks to how far the Sixers have come, the back-to-back scenario, and how banged up the Raptors may be. I’m not going to even hazard a prediction until we know the status of the six players with some degree of uncertainty to their status.

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Brooklyn Zoo: Despite early chaos, Raptors impose their will vs. Nets

Raptors 119, Nets 109 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Coming in, chances are casual Raptors fans faced plenty of outside noise that may have resulted in giving last night the cold shoulder:

1. “League Pass” isn’t exactly this matchup’s middle name. And considering the recent schedule, despite a few moments of turbulence, this current stretch feels more like a bye week than anything else.

2. The fact that Cory Joseph was listed as the starter with Kyle Lowry getting some well-deserved rest. Not to mention another absence from Patrick Patterson (knee) and Brooklyn once again being without the services of Jeremy Lin (hamstring).

3. The need to argue back and forth on Twitter was more important. Are you on #TeamLeBron or #TeamDraymond?

4. The Leafs are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games. And it’s Matthews vs. Eichel!

5. The Jays just re-signed Jose Bautista to a one-year deal with a mutual option for more. Now, a “mutual option” is likely just a fancy way of saying there’s no chance in hell that option ever sees the light of day, but at this point, we’ll take what we can get — regardless of how much the optics of the contract represent a forced reunion.

6. You were too busy gathering supplies just in case Donald Trump’s inauguration is indeed the apocalypse.

For the diehards, chances are there were plenty of reasons to sit back and enjoy.

Note: With Lowry and Patterson out of the lineup, the added opportunity for each of the following meant the anticipation level went up right along with it:

1. Another chance to see just how far this team has come; AKA: Continuing to take care of business against inferior opponents (or at least string together more than a couple in a row).

2. With Joseph’s peculiar, up and down season, what better chance to restore the fan base’s faith than to have the controls essentially all to himself for a night.

3. Is there any other way for the Valanciunas-Bebe frontcourt to become less matchup-dependant than to keep getting consistent reps against multiple looks?

4. Speaking of JV, anytime Brook Lopez is at the opposite end, a physical test is always on deck. But Lopez’s current skill set, where he’s advanced his game far enough to incorporate the perimeter, is a stark reminder of where JV needs to go. Besides, anytime JV or Bebe can get some extended run trying to defend said perimeter is by far a positive in the long run.

5. The hope that Joseph and DeRozan will go out of their way to involve DeMarre Carroll early and often. With DMC finally getting healthy and transforming into what the Raps initially paid for, the next step is reinstalling his confidence to an unwavering level. He may not be the forever-missing third piece, but if his teammates act the part, Carroll will give them that much more of a return on their investment.

In a way, that’s similar to the philosophy I still stand by when it comes to Casey’s overall treatment of JV’s minutes — even with the positive effect Casey’s recent callout has had. But of course, I’m open to being wrong and tough love being part of the solution.

6. If the apocalypse is near, hopefully more minutes from the supporting cast will help press fast forward on a Paul Millsap trade.

So, with all of that said, let’s fast forward to what actually went down: 

As the broken record surrounding the Raps would suggest, even a David-vs-Goliath type of matchup wouldn’t be without a few bumps in the road before eventually justifying the notion.

And like clockwork, a malaise initially broke out. After T.O. came out swinging with an 11-0 run, Brooklyn quickly responded with a 29-15 charge to end the first quarter — one that resulted in two vivid reminders: 1) Just how much need there is for another inside presence — the injection of Sullinger can’t come soon enough; 2) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is likely going nowhere at the trade deadline.

I mean, the Raps showed no emotion on the defensive end to kick things off, but Jefferson (and his 10 points in 7 minutes of early action) was causing problems on multiple fronts.

You can probably add Caris LeVert and Trevor Booker to that list as well — the slashing shooting guard and inside bruiser helped stabilize every early run the Raps could muster. And the trio as a whole, held DeRozan’s first half in check with multiple fadeaway attempts from low-percentage spots. DeRozan going 2 for 12 ultimately led to the Nets’ 61-58 lead going into halftime.

To make matters worse, the Raps already-thin frontcourt lost Lucas Nogueira to the league’s concussion protocol after a Booker elbow to the eye and never returned…More on how JV faired in his solo mission to fend off Lopez in a bit. Hint: With the amount of times Lopez has gotten the better of JV, one would think an overwhelming desire to even the score (just on an individual level) would jump off the screen. But…

However, even with the Raps’ drastic in-game swings making yet another appearance, plenty of groundwork took place that eventually allowed the Raps to take control:

Cory Joseph. In a word: Wow … I’m thinking right around the middle of the 2nd quarter when he already surpassed his season high in points, this fan base realized that there was never a reason to doubt him in the first place. He’s deserved game to game criticism, sure, but his big picture took a huge step towards being restored last night.

And it wasn’t just his scoring (though he did end up with a career-high 33), he took his knack for knowing when to take advantage of a mismatch, especially when slicing to the rim, to a level we hadn’t seen before.

For those that want to ask the question/pose the caveat of whether or not he would have had total control over the offense if the opposition hadn’t been so inexperienced, well, that’s a valid discussion to have. But, he did pass the eye test with flying colors. Isn’t that enough, sometimes? He’s had big games in the past, but he’s never really cut so crisp, or displayed such a confident shooting stroke — at least from my own personal vantage point.

Unfortunately, the best-case scenarios for all the aforementioned reasons to watch this game didn’t all pan out. Namely: JV and DeMarre.

For JV, Lopez didn’t exactly need his expanded outside game to win this one-on-one matchup. Hell, the Nets as a whole had 46 points in the paint by the middle of the 3rd quarter. Credit Brooklyn for switching up their attack and capitalizing on the Raps’ flaws. Still, one instance in particular, Lopez exposed Jonas’ footwork with a wow-moment of his own: A spin move followed by a pump fake followed by a big man version of a euro step. I’m still searching for what to call it. For now, let’s just go with embarrassing. To be fair, though, JV’s previous redemption vs. Boston and his performances throughout this “taking care of business tour”, is cause to pump the brakes a bit and still be able to bask in his overall progression.

As for Carroll, well, his transition and spot-up threes remained consistent. But his impact fizzled (at least numbers wise) as the game went on. But let’s be clear, that was through no fault of his own — the later moments of this game called for another course of action.

Enter DeMar DeRozan and perhaps (still need to fact check this) the first time he’s ever finished a game as the team leader in points, rebounds and assists (36/11/6). He made his adjustments at halftime (you could also say he was just waiting for the moment he needed to up the ante) and as per usual, his season-long closer mentality kicked into high gear. From midrange floaters to carving out position deep inside the lane, DeMar flipped the switch when the notch in the win column began to stray.

Though, another possible turning point can’t go unmentioned. For those who witnessed it, you can relive its glory. If you didn’t catch it, well:

The score was 73-71 (Raps) with just over 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. DeRozan drives the lane only to be dismissed by a monstrous Brook Lopez rejection. It leads to a Joe Harris one-on-none fast break but Pascal Siakam then proceeds to do his best LeBron-on-Iguodala impression and return the favor. You can only kill momentum by creating your own and you never know what kind of run you just negated by doing so.

Other Notables:

Honourable mention has to go out to T-Ross and Fred VanVleet. Ross for shooting the Raps out of numerous sticky situations and VanVleet for furthering the notion that he’s gonna have a place in this team’s future. His career-highs in minutes (25), points (10), as well as his versatile production of 2 threes, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals will surely be relegated back to bench, but his tenacity on defense and capability to create will not be forgotten.

However, what’s a Raptors’ post-game commentary without balancing the scales a bit. Simply put: Norman Powell looked dazed and confused. As I said before, fluctuating minutes and a not-so defined role tends to take its toll, but last night was an example of a player failing to stake a claim on his spot in the pecking order. Especially after such an encouraging outing the previous time out.

Next up, Philly. Don’t look know but the taking care of business tour has an improving and potential roadblock ahead of it. League Pass power ranking candidate, indeed.

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The unluckiest basketball moments of all time

Of all the sports played in the US basketball is arguably the most skilled and athletic, not to mention the most frenetic. Compared with the brute force of much of American Football it’s more like ballet and it makes baseball look like a very long and drawn-out affair. So you wouldn’t expect that luck would play a very big part in the game – but it does. Sometimes players can be undone by twists of fate – not to mention knees – and even whole franchises can be damaged irreparably by events completely beyond their control.

Here are just four examples.

When New York Nets were fined $4.8 million

 Back in 1976 when the ABA and the NBA merged the Nets were one of the four teams that had to change leagues and pay the NBA $3.2 million for the move. None of the teams could join the college draft or receive any TV money for 3 years and, to cap it all, the Nets were judged to be infringing on the territory of the New York Knicks and were obliged to pay them an additional $4.8 million in rights. They never really recovered from this financial body blow and even had to move to New Jersey.

When Steve Novak so nearly scored a basket

While we’re on the subject of the New York Knicks, in a match against the Chicago Bulls back in April 2012 Steve Novak so nearly scored a vital three points, only to be cheated by centrifugal source. Take a look at the video and you just won’t be able to believe how it never went into the basket. There was a happy ending though: the Knicks went on to win by the closest of margins by 100 points to 99.

When Chris Webber called for a time out

In a 1993 game between his team, Michigan, and North Carolina there were 11 seconds to go and Michigan were losing 71-73 when Webber thought he heard his bench, supported by fans, calling for a time out. So he signalled for one when many think that if play had continued Michigan could have won. As it turned out North Carolina snatched a decisive victory by 77 points to 71.

When Brandon Knight goes on court

He may not be absolutely one of the unluckiest people in the world but Brandon Knight, currently of the Phoenix Suns, has had far more than his fair share of trips, falls, slips and even plunges into the crowd. So many, in fact, that there’s a 4-minute video compilation of them online.

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Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – The Cory Joseph game

Host William Lou breaks down a routine win over the Brooklyn Nets.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 119, Nets 109

Toronto 119 Final
Box Score
109 Brooklyn

A+
L. Nogueira7 MIN, 3 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1-2 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

We at Raptors Republic give Lucas Nogueira an A+ tonight, because it’s the right thing to do.

He hit a three and grabbed a couple rebounds in seven minutes before getting his face taken off by Trevor Booker. He’s undergone the NBA’s concussion protocol, and we hope he’s ok.

A
D. Carroll26 MIN, 9 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 3-8 FG, 3-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-

Carroll has been showing up to play lately. His stroke looks good, as does his defense.

C
J. Valanciunas29 MIN, 7 PTS, 10 REB, 0 AST, 3-7 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 1 +/-

He fell under Brook Lopez’s family tree tonight, getting pushed around on both ends of the floor. On some defensive possessions, he held his own and and played good vertical defense, and still couldn’t stop the crafty Lopez from getting buckets down-low. On other possessions, he bit on everything and got torched.

Offensively, he didn’t really go at Lopez until the third quarter where he scored a couple buckets down low. He Needed to attack Lopez earlier and more often.

A+
C. Joseph37 MIN, 33 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 15-22 FG, 1-4 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 16 +/-

It was the best offensive night of his career.

I’m not saying he was Kyle Lowry, but he certainly was the best version of Cory Joseph we’ve seen in a long, long time. Nice to see his dribble penetration and slick finishing at the rim can still create havoc.

The offense really struggled when Joseph was off the floor.

A
D. DeRozan37 MIN, 36 PTS, 11 REB, 6 AST, 13-28 FG, 0-0 3FG, 10-10 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 5 +/-

Couldn’t actually believe he scored 36 when I looked at the box score. Getting to the line 10+ times helped. His scoring improved as the game progressed – this all after a really cold start where he stagnated the offense and had a team-worst +/- of -11 at half time.

Small sample size alert: When Kyle Lowry doesn’t play, DeRozan feels like he needs to become Kobe.

B+
T. Ross30 MIN, 15 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 6-11 FG, 3-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Good contributor off the bench in a game the Raptors desperately needed some scoring. I also enjoyed his versatile scoring. Pull-up threes, points off the bounce, floaters – he was smooth.

B+
F. VanVleet25 MIN, 10 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 4-6 FG, 2-3 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Hey – this kid can really play! After starting the game with some jitters, he really helped the team by spreading the floor on offense and playing solid defense.

D
N. Powell18 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

This is not the Normal Powell that lit up the NBA in last year’s playoffs. He had a shocking turnover, and just lacked confidence all night.

A
P. Siakam15 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 2-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 14 +/-

He came in the 2nd half to take advantage of Bebe and Patterson’s absence, and immediately lit up the arena with his outrageous energy. I really liked his defense on the perimeter too – an aspect of his game I feel is underrated.

B-
J. Poeltl15 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 5 +/-

Subtle night. Didn’t woo us with anything, but he stood his ground well on defense.

B+
Dwane Casey

His rotations were fun tonight, namely the efficient VanVleet, Joseph, Ross, Powell, and JV lineup which he rode with more than once.

Not much to nitpick here. Don’t think anyone on earth would disagree with resting Lowry.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors got off to a scorching 11-0 start. Those 11 points consisted of a Bebe three, an impossible DeRozan And-1, and some really beautiful ball movement leading to open looks.

    After that, this looked like a Drew League game. Things got sloppy. The Raptors — outside of Joseph, and to an extent Carroll and Ross — couldn’t score, and the Nets outscored the Raptors by 10 to end the half.

    This is not necessarily a complaint, but just a recap of how it unfolded. Without Bebe, Patterson, and Lowry, the Raptors can be excused if they left it late to pull away.

  2. Some interesting numbers: We know the Nets are known for their gung-ho 3-point attempts, but tonight they pulled the trigger just 28 times from deep, which is below their average. A lot of their early damage came inside, where they ran the floor, looked for transition buckets, and fed Lopez inside.
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Pre-game news & notes: Lowry rests, Patterson and Lin sit

LWe’re going to keep this super brief because: a) I did the pre-game, anyway; b) I’m trying to do this on WordPress mobile and it’s damn near impossible, even on a gigantic iPhone 6S Plus; and c) my mind is kind of elsewhere. Also of note: I’ll be catching this game late, so if anything breaks during, I won’t be jumping on it in our normally expedient manner. I figured the third meeting with the Nets was the safest possible game to watch late.

Oh yeah, the Raptors are playing the Nets. It’s the first game of a three-game road trip and the first night of a back-to-back. That probably won’t mean much here given it’s Brooklyn, but if the Raptors were looking for some rest, the Nets would be the easier half of the back-to-back, considering how well Philadelphia’s playing. That doesn’t mean this will be a cakewalk – the Raptors have a penchant for taking their foot off the gas, and it’s allowed for a late Philly comeback, the trimming of a 417-point lead to 15 against the Knicks, and the Nets to hang around into the third quarter just on Friday (pro tip: guard the damn 3-point line in transition).

The game tips off at 7:30 p m. on TSN 1/3/4 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson is considered questionable in perpetuity, it seems. He got hurt in a second quarter, missed the next four games, returned for a pair at less than 100 percent, and has now missed two more. I’d be surprised if he plays here, and opposite the Booker-Lopez frontcourt, it would stand to reason that the successful-so-far-in-matchup-specific-context Lucas Nogueira-Jonas Valanciuns duo would be ruled out once again.

Check back before tip off for an update.

UPDATE: he’s out.

UPDATE 2: Lowry is sitting for rest.

PG: Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned:
TBD:
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Patick Patterson, Kyle Lowry

Nets updates
The Nets are once again without the services of noted Raptor-killer (and Valentine’s Day date-killer) Jeremy Lin, which turns point guard duties over to Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Whitehead, who I promise are real NBA players. Capable ones, even. That position clearly swings Toronto’s way a great deal, though, putting the onus on Brooklyn’s 3-point shooters and Brook Lopez to swing the upset. Valanciunas  answered the call on the glass against Lopez last time out, and Nogueira did better than expected in the post thanks to his length, but that will always be a tough matchup (except when Lowry is swooping in out of nowhere with blocks on the trebuchet jumper).

There isn’t much else to note for the Nets, who have fluid starting lineups and rotations, and who are still trying new things every night. It’s hard to peg down exactly how they’ll attack a given game or matchup. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are nice pieces, at least.

PG: Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie, Randy Foye
SG: Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
TBD:
Out: Jeremy Lin

Assorted

  • This is yet another good story about the Raptors using their platform for good, this time featuring Jonas Valanciunas:

  • Remember when the Raptors were Knicks-adjace, in terms of franchise disarray? Never forget where this team came from, and never stop appreciating where they’ve existed over the last four years and where they’re set up to be for the next while. Even if you disagree with a move here or a non-move there, they’re in such a better place than they historically have been or could be.
  • Bigger return to Toronto: Jose Bautista re-signing with the Blue Jays on Jan. 17 or Vince Carter signing a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Raptors on July 1?

The line
The Raptors are 11.5-point favorites, up slightly from an opening line of Raptors -11. The over-under has ticked up to 227.5. The Raptors should take care of things, but as always with double-digit spreads, some of it will come down to how early the Raptors put it away and how well the bench unit hangs on, if they do. It seems pretty safe, barring a player resting or catastrophe striking.

Raptors 117, Nets 97

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A Night to Forget?

You can’t watch a Los Angeles Clippers broadcast of a game between them and the Raptors without hearing a reference to the night Terrence Ross tried to almost singlehandedly claw out a victory for the home squad. As we approach the 3-year anniversary of Terry, sans headband, tying Vince Carter’s franchise record for points in a game, it seems fitting to look back at how that game framed the career of the enigmatic Ross. That game shaped the way he’s seen, both among media and fans, and unless he finds a way to break out as a star in this league, that performance will always be mentioned in any conversation about his career. Look at any list of ‘unexpected scoring outbursts’, and his name won’t be far away.

When he was drafted 8th overall in the 2012 draft, many fans were upset that it wasn’t Andre Drummond, after the team missed out by a pick on grabbing Harrison Barnes, who most thought was the natural fit beside DeMar DeRozan. The team decided to go with Ross, liking his athleticism and upside, and not wanting Drummond with Jonas Valanciunas, the previous year’s pick, coming over from Lithuania that summer. The talent was tantalizing, a quick wing with a beautiful shooting stroke, easy athleticism and who showed signs of good defensive instincts.

That game, on January 25th, 2014, felt like the fulfillment of all that promise. The shooting stroke provided the bulk of the scoring, going 10 for 17 from long range, with a couple drives, a huge put-back dunk, and some free throws filling out the scoring column to go with the 8 rebounds Ross grabbed. He took over the game and electrified the crowd, and despite the loss, it was hard to walk away from that game without being at least somewhat excited about what the Raptors had developing in Ross. Some scoring outbursts feel like complete chance and circumstance, nothing more than a player having a night their skills say they shouldn’t. That game didn’t feel like that, it felt like something that was fully within his capabilities, like the talent was always there and just needed the chance and confidence to want it.

Fast forward to this past summer, two and a half seasons later, most of which Ross spent as the starting small forward beside DeRozan, and despite some positives, with Ross established as one of the best catch and shoot wings in the league, it still felt like he hadn’t found that form he had against the Clippers that night. He’d shown signs, spectacular breakaway dunks and awesome shooting displays. Nights where he’d frustrate opposing ball handlers with impressive defense. But then he’d go cold for stretches of games from the floor, and he’d look disinterested and disengaged, not moving on offense without the ball, and dying on screens defensively, and the calls from fans for the team to move on kept getting louder. Despite the protestations of the fans, General Manager Masai Ujiri signed Ross to a 3-year extension last season worth $33 million early in the year, with Ross struggling both to find his shot and a role on the team having been sent back to the bench.

After returning from a November injury, Terry started to find a role on the team, filling in on the starting lineup during a December injury to DeMarre Carroll and playing solid basketball in that role, with the starting lineup featuring both Ross and Bismack Biyombo posting the best net rating of any starting group the team used during the regular season. Sent back to the bench when Carroll returned(where he would stay as James Johnson and then Norman Powell would jump past him when Carroll missed more games), Ross became the Raptors’ scoring punch off the pine, and was a big part of the team’s Lowry and the bench unit that won them many second and fourth quarters through their 11-game winning streak in January and as the season rode on.

Although Ross has taken another step forward this season, in terms of consistency and confidence on both ends of the floor, that night still stands as the singular instance of him putting together his talents, showing the offensive repertoire that he has in full force. He wasn’t ready to be that player at that point in his career, and might never get there. However, what Terrence Ross has become is a very useful player, a great 6th man for a very good team, and one of the leaders of one of the top benches in the league. His scoring and energy have been a big part of what’s made the team successful this year, and, at least on some level, that ought to feel like enough for a team that already boasts two All-Stars. For many Raptors fans, it still feels like a let-down though, still feels like we should have more from Ross.

It would be easy to simply blame the player for all of the shortcomings, and he’s certainly not faultless, as despite his improvements he still has lapses that defy explanation and nights when he just doesn’t look as comfortable or confident as a player of his experience should. The team, as well, hasn’t built an offense to optimize his talents(not that you’d build an offense around Ross, he hasn’t proven to be that level of talent). On a team which created more catch and shoot opportunities and had more ball movement, he might prove a more effective player, and you could even argue he’d be more engaged with more touches. But a good player should find a way to be good regardless of situation or circumstance, so it’d be remiss to simply blame the team.

So we’re left with the player he is, a very good bench player and a solid 6th man, and the player he showed us against the Clippers, and the gap in between is the source of most of the frustration, because we continue to look at who he isn’t and we thought he could be, rather than who he’s become. If that night had never happened, would we see him differently? Would we see a player who tried, but didn’t work as a starter, then became an effective bench player? Would we be able to appreciate the flashes of brilliance and the nights when he’s a huge part of wins for the team, instead of just wanting more?

Terrence Ross might never be a completely consistent player. Part of that is the nature of his game, the three-point shot is a high-variance by nature, and no volume shooter doesn’t have cold stretches from time to time. Part of that is that he’s not a star, he’s a role player, and being inconsistent is what separates stars from role players to a large extent. It would be fun to make the case for Ross being capable of being the third star that the Raptors need, but he’s not that player right now, and it certainly can’t be assumed he’ll get there. A case can be made that it’s impossible to not view Ross through the lens of that game, but maybe we need to find a way to appreciate who he is, despite who he isn’t and might never be.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Jan. 17

Oh hey, the Brooklyn Nets again!

Fresh from a four-game home-stand that saw them build a three-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors now hit the road for three, starting at Barclays Center. The Raptors just took care of the Nets on Friday, setting a franchise record for points scored in a regulation game after allowing the Nets to hang around well into the third quarter. This time around, with a back-to-back situation, the Raptors would be well-served to put them away even earlier, getting their stars some rest (which, on the surface, was likely a goal during this six-game downturn in schedule quality).

But teams can’t be taken lightly, even ones at the bottom. The Nets fire a ton of threes to help them stay in games, and the Raptors aren’t exactly known for playing 48 minutes at the height of their abilities. The NBA isn’t a ladder where the worst teams go 0-82, and on any given night a team like the Raptors can be caught napping. Or so head coach Dwane Casey will surely tell them, because on the surface, yeah, Toronto should cruise to 3-0 against the Nets here. It’s too early in the season to do this, maybe, but it wouldn’t even be all that surprising if someone sat down for rest against a team that’s dropped 10 in a row.

This also marks the halfway point of Toronto’s season. They’ll either wrap the first half 28-13, a game-and-a-half out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, or 27-14 and two-and-a-half games back.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on TSN 1/3/4 and Sportsnet 590.

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: The Nets were able to hang around against the Raptors last week thanks to some ridiculously hot shooting. Eventually, the Raptors flipped the switch, but for the most part this seems to be the Nets’ strategy – opt for the high-variance approach, firing up a ton of triples that could swing the game on the rare occasion they get hot. For an opposing defense, is there a way to goad the Nets off the 3-point line, or are they fully in on #ShootYourShot2017?

Anthony Puccio: The #ShootYourShot2017 identity is most appropriate for this team. The Nets are 3rd in the NBA for 3-pointers attempted at 33 per game while hitting 11 per, which ranks 5th in the NBA. Don’t let it fool you. They hit a lot because they simply take a lot, but otherwise they’re bottom-3 in the NBA at 33.7 percent. They just matched a franchise record 44 attempts in a loss to Houston.

Coach Kenny Atkinson wants to implement this style now and for the future. The hope is that they’ll have guys that can fill the role and become something like D’Antoni’s Rockets. For now, Brook Lopez is the teams most efficient 3-point shooter at 35 percent. That should tell you enough.

Blake Murphy: Greivis Vasquez and Anthony Bennett have both moved on from the Nets, leaving only James Herbert and Luis Scola as Raptors cast-offs there (and now, I suppose, our dude Quincy Acy). Even with his on-court role minimized, has Scola’s presence been felt around this team as much as it was in Toronto?

Anthony Puccio: The new regime is really set on implementing a culture led by veterans whom can teach the young guys the ropes. That being said, Scola fits the ‘leadership’ role perfect. He’s very well-respected — not only by the younger players, but executives and coaches within the organization as well.

Blake Murphy: It seems to me like Caris LeVert is going to be a useful NBA player. How high are you on his game long-term?

Anthony Puccio: During a time where there isn’t much to cling on to, LeVert is a breath of fresh air for the Nets. He fits the script of what they want: good character, versatile and lanky with great court vision. He’s essentially positionless – something Atkinson/Marks value in today’s modernized NBA. His upside is really astonishing.

Blake Murphy: How excited are you to be rid of Alex Wong in a week or so?

Anthony Puccio: It can’t come soon enough!

On a serious note, Alex is one of the most genuine people I’ve met on the job. Barclays will not be the same without him. Your gain. Our loss.

Blake Murphy: Is there any chance the Nets look to move on from Brook Lopez between now and the trade deadline? The plodding center market is a little flooded and there’s value in having a guy like that around a young team, but it would seem he’s the one piece they could unload to help kick-start the building process, at least a bit.

Anthony Puccio: Brook Lopez has been the subject of trade rumors since he entered the league. The Nets are indeed listening to offers, dangling him like usual, but they want two first-rounders for him. Nobody’s biting just yet, but I’m sure that will change around the trade deadline. Some close to the situation have said he wouldn’t oppose a trade, either.

Raptors updates
It would be somewhat surprising to see Patrick Patterson return for this one. The team’s best power forward missed four games, returned for two, and has now missed two more due to a left knee strain, and the team’s been talking up the need for caution here in January. Against Brooklyn, in a back-to-back scenario, it would seem an odd time for him to make his return.

That would likely mean Lucas Nogueira starts at power forward again, as Casey has talked up the rebounding that duo provides. In 87 minutes over eight games together now, the Nogueira-Valanciunas duo is pulling in 54.9 percent of available rebounds, 78 percent on their own glass, and the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 15 points per-100 possessions. That’s a remarkable small-sample success for a look that would normally cause some problems. It’s matchup-dependent still, but it’s been really encouraging (and successful) so far.

Elsewhere, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if someone got a night off to rest, although running so thin on players already may make that difficult. Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright are listed as out until we hear otherwise in their progress, and while Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo traveled with the team instead of staying behind for the D-League Showcase, they’d still be running a little thin with someone else sitting down. It’s January, I probably shouldn’t even be mentioning this yet.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned:
TBD: Patrick Patterson
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

Nets updates
The Nets will once again be without Jeremy Lin for this one, but they appear to be healthy other than that. Brook Lopez rested Sunday and should return here, and Isaiah Whitehead, who missed Friday’s game, returned over the weekend.

The rotation is still a little bit up in the air as Atkinson tries to find the right mix of players, the right mix of youth and veterans, and as the young players improve or take steps back. The former starting lineup with Sean Kilpatrick (and Whitehead, who came off the bench Sunday) in place of Joe Harris is their only one to have played more than 51 minutes together, which is fairly astounding this late into the season. There are a couple of lineups that have looked decent in tiny samples – their all-bench unit was productive against Toronto, for example – but this is all going to be feel and experimentation for a long time to come still. That’s just where they are on the development curve.

As far as matchups, the Nets don’t have great options to throw at DeRozan outside of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Lowry should be able to eat against their guards. You just saw this Friday, you know what to expect.

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Whitehead, Randy Foye
SG: Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
TBD:
Out: Jeremy Lin

The line
The Raptors are 11-point favorites on the road. That’s a pretty substantial line away from home, especially after the Raptors were “only” 15-point favorites on Friday (generally you’d expect that to swing about six points). There’s no new information here for either side, just a stab at whether the Raptors pull away quickly and close it out or if the Nets hang around too long or make a late push like the Knicks on Sunday. The over-under sits at 226.5.

Raptors 115, Nets 101

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E9 – NBA Vote

The boys are back for the first podcast of 2017. Happy New Year… On this episode of Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry get together and discuss the news surrounding the greatest team in the universe.

– DeMar is your Eastern Conference player of the week.

– The New York Knicks are a disaster.

– Wasn’t that supposed to be a Huskies Game?

– In-Game Ops: good seats vs bad seats.

– GoDaddy, GoJonas.

– Chris Broussard and his madness.

As always we hope you enjoy and thank you for listening.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 17

The New Point Guard Controversy – Raptors Republic

But traditional statistics don’t show the whole picture as Joseph does not look like the same player he was last season on the defensive end.  What has traditionally been his calling card has been a clear area of struggle for him.  Last season he was a revelation for the Raptors in how he hounded opponents.  This season he is regularly getting blown past, or losing his man off ball.  Something just appears to be off for Cory, and his defensive win shares has dropped from 1.7 last season to just 0.5 this season.

The Raptors meanwhile are getting ready to welcome Delon Wright back from injury, with Delon having missed the entire season after shoulder surgery in August to fix a labral tear.

Delon remains a curious prospect in both measurements and skills.  It’s not very often that you find a 6’5” point guard with a tight handle, good vision and passing, a 6’7.5 wingspan, and the ability to guard smaller/quicker players.

The biggest problem is it’s tough to know exactly what Delon can bring to the table.  Due to recovering from surgery we have yet to see him this season and last season saw him receive a total of 229 minutes in just 27 games played.

Most of what we have seen from Delon has come from the D-League and Summer League.  It makes comparing him to Cory (played 2046 minutes last season) a very tricky endeavour.  The majority of Delon’s minutes were also garbage time minutes, which helps to inflate the statistics that we do have for him.

Raptors have win record in reach, but there’s only one victory that counts | Toronto Star

Offensively, it’s hard to imagine things improving much. Toronto has one of the most efficient offences in the league — the Raptors and Golden State have been swapping first and second for most of the year — and Toronto has been without high-scoring forward Patrick Patterson for basically all of 2017.

“The offensive efficiency has been important,” Casey said.

It’s the other part of the game where the Raptors need to tighten up in what’s a 42-game run to the post-season. They were 21st when play began Monday, not as bad as they have been at times so far but a spot that’s crying out for second-half improvement.

The arrival of veteran power forward Jared Sullinger will help, getting the versatile Patterson back will help but the Raptors need to show more consistency to chase their big goals.

“We’re not going to become a defensive juggernaut overnight but the way we played the third quarter (Sunday in holding New York to eight points) has to be our disposition, at least make people feel us . . . if we’re playing for something big,” Casey said.

Again, another reference to a bigger goal than any regular-season records.

Still in recovery, Jared Sullinger itching to join Raptors on the court – The Globe and Mail

Casey said it is not a concern, that Sullinger understands all the sets and schemes that the Raptors run for the power forward position.

“He’ll help us, he’ll help our rebounding tremendously,” Casey said. “That’s one of his gifts, his rebounding the basketball, his screening, his shooting. All the things he will do will kind of fit right in and really help us and better the chemistry and help the ball movement.”

Last season with the Boston Celtics, Sullinger averaged 8.3 boards and 10.3 points in 81 games and helped Boston into the playoffs.

His physical presence will be a welcome addition to a Toronto team that has struggled at times rebounding the ball this season, their 42.9 average per game ranking them in the league’s lower echelon.

Isiah Thomas Says He Was Playing Small Ball With The Toronto Raptors 20 Years Ago – Forbes

When I put together the Toronto Raptors, if you remember the power forward position at that time was a position of strength, dominance, and you had to be physically strong to play that position,” Thomas said. “The shooting guard would be coming off of the power forward and the center would be your offense. During that time, what I talked about with my scouting staff and also our ownership group at that time was that we have to find a way to change the game and really affect things out on the floor. We came up with what we called the Raptor Two. And Raptor Two basically had to be a power forward that could also have guard skills, he had to be able to switch the power forward and the shooting guard and not lose ground.

Nah, bruh… #wethenorth DeMar DeRozan #nbavote

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week (Again) – Raptors HQ

What did it take for a Player of the Week award this time? For DeRozan, it meant leading the team to a 3-0 week while averaging 30.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Oh yeah: DeRozan also shot a wonderful 51.5 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free throw line. I’m beginning to get the feeling his level of play this season is, in fact, sustainable.

As you’ll also recall, DeRozan was the man who refused to lose against the Boston Celtics, exploding in the second half of that game (after getting hit with a technical foul) to lead a comeback against the Raptors’ rival. He dropped a season-high 41 points in that game. Everything after that — the calm dismantling of both the Nets and Knicks — is just delicious gravy. DeRozan’s game, and what he means to the Raptors this season, is officially a gift.

Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan wins NBA Player of the Week | VAVEL.com

DeRozan is currently leading the NBA in points per game with 30.5 points per game since the start of the New Year. He has been shooting the ball fairly well since then as he is shooting 47.8 percent from the field. On top of that, DeRozan is also making 11 field goals a game, which is fairly impressive. Over the course of the season, however, he is averaging a career-high 28.1 points per game, which is tied for fifth place with DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings.

Wolstat makes his picks for the NBA all-star game starters | Toronto Sun

Kyle Lowry – The best guard in the East has been nearly flawless this season. He had a slow start, but has been lights out since. Lowry ranks third in three-point percentage, third in real plus/minus, fourth in value over replacement player and fifth in win shares. DeMar DeRozan might have the scoring numbers, but Lowry is Toronto’s best player and the engine that drives everything in the North.

CAN YOU DIG IT? #wethenorth Kyle Lowry #nbavote

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Game day: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors, vs. Brook Lopez, Nets. The Toronto centre has been on a hot streak of late, with 23 rebounds against Boston last week, 10 against Brooklyn, and 16 Sunday vs. the Knicks. He had double-doubles in all three games. But Lopez can be a difficult matchup. He has averaged 21.4 points a game against Toronto in his career, and 29.3 last season.

Go hard #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

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

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DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week

Here’s a nice way to make one final push in NBA All-Star voting: DeMar DeRozan has been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 9-15, the team announced Monday.

It’s DeRozan’s third such honor of the season and the fourth of his career, tying him with Kyle Lowry for third on the franchise’s all-time list (Vince Carter and Chris Bosh each won seven). DeRozan becomes the first player in team history to win the award three times in one season, and as you may realize, it’s still only January. It’s also a continuation of DeRozan’s torrid season, one that sees him ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring – with an uptick in efficiency – at the head of one of the three best offenses in basketball.

DeRozan led the Raptors to a 3-0 record this week, averaging 30.7 points on 51.5-percent shooting with 24 free-throw attempts, plus 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He dropped a season-high 41 points with relative ease against Boston while also grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds, then dominated Brooklyn and New York enough that he wasn’t required for either fourth quarter (he averaged 31.9 minutes over the three games). He’s also in the midst of a career-best 12-game streak of scoring 20 points or more, one that dates back to before Christmas.

Quite a year DeRozan’s having, one that should see him make his third All-Star appearance.

Jonas Valanciunas received an honorable mention for the award after averaging 14.7 points and 16.3 rebounds.

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The New Point Guard Controversy

Everyone loves a good positional controversy.  Arguments are built daily in the forums for power forwards that could start for Toronto, whether it be someone on the roster (Hi, Patrick!), or someone in a trade, we can’t help but argue over the options that lie before us.

Yes, the biggest reason for these arguments is the fact that the Raptors are desperately searching for a starting quality power forward, but we also just like to argue.  If we can’t find an obvious positional battle such as the aforementioned power forward debate, we try and create one.

Norm vs. Ross is also popular.

Anyone want to get into another Bebe vs. Poeltl battle?

Or, if you’re feeling bold and crazy, how about a Bebe vs. Jonas argument?

Unfortunately we don’t have a good starting point guard battle/debate anymore.  It’s just obvious that Kyle Lowry is Over Everything.

Just think of all the fun(?) we had with Jose Calderon debates.  Jose vs. TJ. Ford.  Jose vs. Roko Ukic (this was the darkest timeline).  Jose vs. Mike James.  Jose vs. Jarrett Jack.  Jose vs. Jerryd Bayless.

We even got a Jose vs. Lowry debate for a little while, and Jose was temporarily winning the battle.  He survived at least five theoretical threats to his role as a starter before King Lowry dethroned him once and for all.

I miss the fun of a good point guard debate.  While there is no debate over our starting point guard though, perhaps we could soon have a debate over who backs Lowry up.  So I’m going to get a jump start on things.

Delon Wright deserves a shot at unseating Cory Joseph, and may just get the opportunity.

Despite player fewer minutes per game, Joseph is shooting more, hitting a hirer percentage from the field and from the three point line, and has near identical rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and points as last season.

But traditional statistics don’t show the whole picture as Joseph does not look like the same player he was last season on the defensive end.  What has traditionally been his calling card has been a clear area of struggle for him.  Last season he was a revelation for the Raptors in how he hounded opponents.  This season he is regularly getting blown past, or losing his man off ball.  Something just appears to be off for Cory, and his defensive win shares has dropped from 1.7 last season to just 0.5 this season.

The Raptors meanwhile are getting ready to welcome Delon Wright back from injury, with Delon having missed the entire season after shoulder surgery in August to fix a labral tear.

Delon remains a curious prospect in both measurements and skills.  It’s not very often that you find a 6’5” point guard with a tight handle, good vision and passing, a 6’7.5 wingspan, and the ability to guard smaller/quicker players.

The biggest problem is it’s tough to know exactly what Delon can bring to the table.  Due to recovering from surgery we have yet to see him this season and last season saw him receive a total of 229 minutes in just 27 games played.

Most of what we have seen from Delon has come from the D-League and Summer League.  It makes comparing him to Cory (played 2046 minutes last season) a very tricky endeavour.  The majority of Delon’s minutes were also garbage time minutes, which helps to inflate the statistics that we do have for him.

Just for fun though, let’s compare some advanced statistics last season:

2015-16 Advanced Stats Comparison
Rk Player PER TS% 3PAr FTr TRB% AST% STL% TOV% WS/48 BPM VORP
1 Cory Joseph 12.4 .512 .188 .297 5.9 19.3 1.6 13.4 .082 -1.0 0.5
2 Delon Wright 17.8 .540 .163 .438 9.3 22.5 1.8 14.4 .124 -0.7 0.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/15/2017.

Delon is still on his rookie contract for two more seasons after this one, but with the Raptors currently owning two first round picks (and a second rounder) for the 2017 NBA Draft it could be a big benefit for the Raptors to explore what they have in their third string point guard.

Everything that we’ve seen from Delon indicates that he is worth a larger look, and we could be just a few weeks away from the newest Raptors’ point guard controversy.

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On final day to vote, why Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan deserve yours

Today is the final day for NBA fans, players, and select media to cast their votes for the starters in the 2017 All-Star Game. This is the last day to go to NBA.com/vote, it’s the last day to hammer #NBAVote on Twitter, it’s the last day to vote however it is you vote by Google search, and were the Toronto Raptors to play today, it would be the last chance to sneak 30 or 40 “HASHTAG NBA VOTE”s into your broadcast.

On the most recent returns, Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan ranked third among Eastern Conference guards, while his point guard counterpart Kyle Lowry ranked fifth. Both are two-time All-Stars already, and both deserve to make their third game once again this season. It seemed unlikely, based on the last count, that they’d be able to push higher than second and fifth, respectively, but that’s not the end of the world for Lowry (or DeRozan if he doesn’t jump Dwyane Wade). The voting format changed this year so that fan voting only accounts for 50 percent of the vote, with media and players each having a 25-percent impact. So if Lowry ranks fifth among fans but first among media and players, he’d have a chance to get in.

At this point in the year and in their careers, I’m confident most are in agreement that the Raptors’ guards belong in the All-Star Game. I’ve kind of put off making the impassioned cry for their inclusion like I did the last two years for Lowry, because the feeling I’ve gotten is that most seem to appreciate them (and, you know, time constraints). The voting returns suggest otherwise, as do my twitter mentions from opposing fanbases any time I’ve used the hashtag (which, by the way, is a thing I feel weird about as a non-voting member of the media who also runs one of [if not the] league’s biggest fan sites – I hope I’ve navigated the awkward professionalism/objectivity line well enough, and in this case I feel comfortable knowing I really do believe both are deserving All-Stars). Anyway, they both deserve in, and here’s a quick refresher on why.

Actually, before we get into the case for each, I want to throw out a few caveats. For one, the East being guard-dominant has led me to use several wings as frontcourt players as I fill out a fake ballot. Jimmy Butler has spent the bulk of the year at small forward, anyway, but in years past he may have been slotted in as a guard with more rigid position buckets. Giannis Antetokounmpo, a wonderful, position-less basketball miracle who sometimes plays the one or two or five or a made-up position we don’t have a number for yet, is getting listed in the frontcourt. Bruno Caboclo, who posted a Defensive Rating of 0.0 in his appearance on Sunday, is going in as a frontcourt player.

Even shifting those guys all to the frontcourt, the East’s guard pecking order is a mess – I count six guards all deserving of inclusion on the team, and while I feel strongly about who belongs at No. 1, I would struggle to get too upset about people putting the six in whatever order feels right based on their own preferences. Lowry, DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker have all turned in All-Star seasons so far, and depending on what you personally value in rating players.

Throwing all of their stats together in a table doesn’t create much separation.

(Legend: PPG – Points Per Game; RPG – Rebounds Per Game; APG – Assists Per Game, SPG – Steals Per Game, TOPG – Turnovers Per Game; USG% – % of team’s offensive possessions used when on the floor; PER – Player Efficiency Rating; TS% – True-Shooting Percentage, WS – Win Shares; BPM – Box Plus-Minus; VORP – Value Over Replacement Player; RPM – Real Plus-Minus, RPM Wins – Wins added based on RPM; +/- On – Team’s plus-minus [per-100 possessions] with player on the floor; +/- Off – Team’s plus-minus [per-100 possessions] with player off the floor)

What’s pretty clear from this table, though, is that Lowry is the cream of the crop. No, he doesn’t score at quite the same level of the others, and he doesn’t have the assist numbers of Wall. You might even qualify his mega-efficiency by pointing out he has the lowest usage here by a substantial margin. That’s fine, but even with the lower usage, he’s been lethal enough for his counting stats to rank close to his peers. He’s a better shooter than Wall and Walker, a better playmaker than Irving and Thomas, and a better defender than anyone in the group other than an engaged Wall.

Lowry’s impact, like in years past, really jumps out when you look at the catch-all advanced metrics, which at least go part of the way toward capturing defensive impact, and non-statistical impact. There is even some separation, with Lowry ranking as a top-five player in the entire NBA so far, while his point guard counterparts are clustered outside of the top 10 in most of these categories. These stats obviously aren’t mic drops of any sort, but they’re additional information that help back up the obvious qualitative impact of Lowry’s game – he’s the best player on the second best team in the conference, the Raptors go as he goes, and the on-off numbers are quite striking. He is the best point guard in the conference, and one of the conference’s best players overall.

That’s not to say DeRozan’s case isn’t strong, too. It is, but he’s hurt when you pull in some player valuation metrics, and particularly if you note that the Raptors have been even better with him on the floor. DeRozan’s case is an obvious one if you look at the box score stats – he’s fourth in the NBA in scoring, doing so at an efficient rate, and chipping in with strong rebounding and playmaking numbers for the shooting guard spot – but a more nuanced argument requires some team context to be brought in. While Thomas, Wall, and Walker are all so palpably important to the success of their teams, DeRozan’s detractors note his defense and his high usage as reasons his scoring load isn’t all that important.

The thing is: It is, especially given how the Raptors are built and designed. Lowry and DeRozan are inextricable from each other when discussing the team, and while Lowry’s bench-led groups perform better than DeRozan’s, the two spending as much time together as they do makes Lowry even better, freeing him up off the ball and to focus on the defensive end while DeRozan carries more on his shoulders. That defenses are consistently selling out to stop DeRozan or get the ball out of his hands and he’s still scoring at will, and doing so more efficiently than he ever has, is remarkable. Enough can’t be said about DeRozan’s consistent improvements to his ball-handling, his footwork, his jumper, and more. And while the metrics don’t necessarily agree, anecdotally, it seems like he’s been better on the defensive end as the season’s wore on.

There is, of course, no real need to put Lowry ahead of DeRozan (or, if you feel differently, the opposite). The only reason it comes up is that in making the case for both, it’s clear Lowry’s is just a little stronger. They are both immensely important to what the Raptors do, and the Raptors are very good as a result of their on-court relationship. Both players deserve to make their third All-Star Game. And they probably will. But you can help them out just a little bit more by using today to get those final #NBAVote tweets in.

Anyway, here’s my full fake ballot (it’s a little different than on the podcast from Friday, but mostly the same):

Eastern Conference
G – Kyle Lowry
G – John Wall
F – LeBron James
F – Jimmy Butler
F – Giannis Antetokounmpo

G – Isaiah Thomas
G – DeMar DeRozan
F – Paul Millsap
F – Kevin Love
F – Joel Embiid
WC – Kemba Walker
WC – Kyrie Irving

Western Conference
G – James Harden
G – Russell Westbrook
F – Kevin Durant
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – Marc Gasol

G – Steph Curry
G – Chris Paul
F – DeMarcus Cousins
F – Anthony Davis
F – Draymond Green
WC – Rudy Gobert
WC – Gordon Hayward

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Mid-Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 16

10 things I saw from Raptors-Knicks (15–1–2017) – The Defeated

Healthy DeMarre: This is peak Carroll post knee surgery. Carroll is averaging 18.8 points, 6.3 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field and 41 from deep to go along with the highest plus-minus on the team over his last four games while logging time at both forward positions. Tonight he was brilliant: heady cuts to the basket, moving to open spots for 3, everything the Raptors thought they were getting.

Nearly impossible to slow down Raptors with Kyle Lowry surrounded by 3-point shooters – The Athletic

Against the Knicks, Ross had 12 points, all in that second quarter, Powell had 21 points, Carroll had 20 and Lowry had 16. Those four players combined for all eight of the Raptors’ 3-pointers. They all shoot at least 37 per cent from 3-point range. It is the type of modern lineup, especially with a big man who can block shots, set screens, roll to the basket and pass — Lucas Nogueira — that can put up points in a hurry. The Raptors had 42 points in that second quarter.

It has just been a hard lineup to use much of this season, as the Raptors have a log jam at the wing. While Lowry plus pretty much any group of reserves tends to obliterate opponents, Ross and Powell, for example, have logged just 180 minutes together. It makes sense, as DeMar DeRozan plays more than 35 minutes per game, and the Raptors have been feeding minutes to Carroll to try to get him back in his rhythm — with good reason. Still, when those two players share the floor, the Raptors score 124.9 points per 100 possessions, the most for any pair of players on the team.

Of course, the Raptors have found that they can score with pretty much any lineup on the floor. It is the defence that is the issue, when there is an issue.

“I think the defensive end is where we do it first,” Lowry said. “Once we do it on the defensive end and get out and go, (the offence) works.”

To that end, it was the third quarter that was the most pleasing to Casey. The Knicks scored just eight points, and appeared to give up on an endless number of possessions. The Raptors started the quarter on a 25-2, and the Knicks looked disinterested or unwilling at stopping the run on multiple occasions.

Raptors Post-Game: Dwane Casey – January 15, 2017 – YouTube

Raptors take easy win over Knicks | Toronto Sun

DeRozan started with five straight misses, but was otherwise fine. Lowry and Ross (breaking out of a 5-for-29 outside shooting slump with four triples) joined him and Jonas Valanciunas dominated on the boards from the outset. Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose started strongly for the Knicks, but faded as the dreadful visitors lost for the 10th time in the past 12 games. Valanciunas had 16 rebounds and the Raptors outscored the Knicks 66-30 in the paint.

That young, final group of Knicks Hornacek referred to — noticeably missing the veteran big names — began the fourth on a big run to cut the nearly 40-point deficit way down and make the final score appear a lot closer than this one actually was. Still, The chasm was way too large to cross and the Raptors didn’t even need to bother reinserting most of the starters, concluding this four-game homestand with three victories following last Sunday’s loss against Houston.

“It’s definitely great,” DeRozan said of being able to get some rest. “When you count as many games in the fourth quarter that I’ve sat out, I think it’s beneficial for guys to get rest and (others to get) reps. The younger guys are gonna play a little bit, so it’s definitely good.

“We’re not putting ourselves in predicaments where we’ve got to fight extremely hard just to get back in the game, with a run late like we did last year. We’re taking advantage of the third and fourth quarters to come out even more aggressive, and it’s paying off.”

Raptors blow out Knicks with big second, third quarters | Toronto Star

“We’ve got some good pieces that fit, they know where each other are, (there is) the continuity from over the years, the playing with each other, knowing each other, all that stuff adds together,” Casey said after the Raptors routed the New York Knicks 116-101 at the Air Canada Centre in a game that wasn’t nearly as close at the score would indicate.

“And they’re playing with a tremendous amount of confidence on the offensive end.”

What the Raptors did to the Knicks in the middle two quarters Sunday was astonishing and it made it look as if New York simply gave up.

Toronto scored 42 points in the second quarter alone — taking a 15-point lead at the half — and then began the third quarter on a stunning 25-2 run over 10 minutes. The lead bloomed to 38 at one point, turning the entire fourth quarter into garbage time.

“I think we started to get more physical after the first quarter,” guard Kyle Lowry said. “We just kept going and being more physical. The bigs did a good job of rebounding. We got out and were able to run.”

Raptors Post-Game: Kyle Lowry – January 15, 2017 – YouTube

Carroll finding his rhythm with Raptors – Video – TSN

DeMarre Carroll is playing some of the best basketball of his Raptors’ career and now that the team is adjusting to his presence, it’s paying dividends on the court. The NBA on TSN panel has more and discusses the assertive play of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross.

Game Rap: Raptors 116, Knicks 101 | Toronto Raptors

FINISHING IT OUT

Although the Knicks would cut into the Raptors lead to open the fourth with an all-reserves lineup on the floor for the Raptors, the final quarter was all but a formality. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas all rested for the final 12 minutes as Norman Powell led the team in scoring with 12 pints in the quarter. The Knicks played their reserves for the entire fourth as well.

Raptors Post-Game: DeMar DeRozan – January 15, 2017 – YouTube

TOR 116, NYK 101: Raptors Take Control in 2nd and 3rd Quarters, Top Knicks in Toronto | New York Knicks

How It Happened:
After a competitive first quarter in Toronto, the Raptors unleashed a 42-point second period and then outscored New York 27-8 in the third frame.  The league’s No. 1 team in offensive rating shined on Sunday afternoon by shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent behind the arc while only committing 6 turnovers in the first 3 quarters.  For the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis was sidelined once again and his replacement in the starting lineup left the game early in the first quarter.  DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 23 points, DeMarre Carroll posted 20, and Jonas Valanciunas snagged 16 boards.

Raptors trash the Knicks, 116-101 – Raptors HQ

For the Raptors, the win was business as usual. They should have won, and they did, because they are by far the better team, with much more to play for. Even if the Knicks made the playoffs, which is doubtful at this point, do they really have championship aspirations? Hopefully not, though Rose did call his squad a super team over the summer. The Raptors aren’t particularly super, but they are the only team that might be able to mess with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and even that might be a stretch.

DeMarre Carroll is finding his place with the Raptors, after a lacklustre start to the season. He missed most of his first year in Toronto, and finding fit does take time. Now, instead of looking to him as a dynamite three-point shooter, he gets more varied touches from his point guards, mixing up long-bombs with cuts to the hoop. He finished with 20 points and two steals on 54 percent shooting.

Raptors Post-Game: Norman Powell – January 15, 2017 – YouTube

New York Knicks vs Toronto Raptors Recap, Highlights, Final Score, More – Empire Writes Back

The starting lineup had their way against the Knicks starting lineup, who were without Kristaps Porzingis once again. They then lost his replacement, Lance Thomas, two minutes into the game after he was elbowed in the head by Jonas Valanciunas as he did not return.

It probably would not have mattered too much, as the whole starting unit got crushed. The best plus/minus ratio in the starting five, outside of Thomas, was -22 for Courtney Lee. The Knicks hit a low in the third quarter when they scored only eight points and the Raptors really extended their lead.

The Knicks had a strong first quarter, as they trailed by only one point going into the second quarter. But the Raptors would blow them out in the next two quarters, outscoring the Knicks by 33 points.

Rob Perez on Twitter: “#KnicksTape https://t.co/SPqjhKUxIU”

Hornacek threatens changes as Knicks get utterly humiliated | New York Post

“Forget the third quarter, the entire game,’’ Rose said. “We let them score 69 points in one half. How do you expect to win? Everybody has to analyze what’s going on. It’s the first time [for me] being in this.’’

Raptors Republic on Instagram: “Defence led to this #steal #wethenorth”

Defence led to this #steal #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Home Court: What Sullinger’s road back to the Raptors could look like – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson & Josh Lewenberg discuss Jared Sullinger being cleared for practice and what his transition back might entail including a possible stint with the Raptors 905.

Raptors continue to prove why they’re the anti-Knicks – Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors are now 8-2 against Jackson’s Knicks over the past three years and have won six straight against New York. And their advantage is building, as the effort spent to invest patience in growing a culture is beginning to bear fruit.

“The way the team is run, top to bottom, is really good. They’re good at being organized,” said second-year Raptors guard Norm Powell, who had 21 points off the bench on Sunday. “Everybody knows their roles to keep the wheels turning. I just like the feeling of it. Everyone’s really close, it’s a family-type vibe from coach Casey all the way down the line to Bruno [Caboclo] … and I think that’s what makes this team so good.

“It not only helps people like me, who are young, but the knowledge spreads and keeps you together. You see teams that are up and down, organizations that are still trying to rebuild and things like that and this team is really close and that helps [the young guys] learn. The flow of it is amazing.”

The Knicks — and a lot of NBA teams — can only wish for such an endorsement. This season was supposed to mark the turnaround after Jackson was at least patient enough to allow the Knicks to linger near the basement long enough to draft Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall in the summer of 2015. The big Latvian has tremendous promise but missed Sunday’s game with a tender Achilles (the Raptors were without Patrick Patterson, out with a sore knee) and the Knicks don’t have nearly enough young talent around him, with none on the horizon.

Patrick Patterson on Instagram: “@dwill_25 never forget.. #madornaw”

@dwill_25 never forget.. #madornaw

A photo posted by Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt) on

Home Court: Which Raptors prospect should you be excited about? – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson & Josh Lewenberg discuss their poll question which asks fans to vote on which Raptors prospect they are most excited about.

Raptors Republic on Instagram: “Lol Knicks #wethenorth”

Lol Knicks #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Court Squeaks: Raptors mid-season awards – Video – TSN

Josh Lewenberg and Matthew Scianitti reflect on the first half of the Raptors season and deliver their picks for best player, best game and much more.

Home Court: Assessing the Raptors’ D-League program in its 2nd year – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson & Josh Lewenberg are joined by Raptors 905 General Manager & Raptors Director of Player Personnel Dan Tolzman to discuss how he thinks the D-League program is working.

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

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Raptors Play Well For (Almost) An Entire Game!

For the first time in almost a month the Toronto Raptors took the floor and did what they were supposed to do for (almost) full game. There was no getting blown out early and then making a frenzied comeback, no playing down to the level of an overmatched foe and, perhaps most importantly, no need for extended minutes and heroic play from their stars. In place of the inconsistency that has had become the teams calling card over the last 30 days was a consistent collective effort – the team as a whole put pressure on a banged up New York Knicks squad early and when the Knicks finally broke in the 2nd quarter the Raptors didn’t let up until Coach Casey decided the job was done and gave the starters the rest of the night off.

The Raptors have struggled to open games all season but there was none of that tonight thanks in large part to the teams recent partnering of Jonas Valanciunas and Bebe Nogueira. The pair set the tone early by locking down the paint on both ends, leaving precious little room inside the three point line for the Knicks offense and making sure that a Raptors offensive possession never ended without a fight, leading to six 1st quarter offensive rebounds.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors outside shooters are always a handful to deal with but when Valanciunas is driving across the lane and delivering one-handed bounce passes through traffic and grabbing a half dozen offensive rebounds there isn’t really much you can do to stop them except pray. The Knicks managed to keep pace due to some hot shooting from Carmelo Anthony but they got precious little from anyone else and never really looked comfortable or confident.

The second quarter saw the return of the Raptors team that we were all so excited about two months ago. The offense staggered the Knicks with a flurry of three pointers from Terrence Ross and while the defense wasn’t exactly great they did enough to prevent the Knicks from matching their output and with this Raptors team that may be about as good as it gets on that end of the floor. The game was broken open by one of my favourite iterations of the Patrick Patterson-less bench unit, where Norman Powell replaces Patterson and the Raptors spread the floor and push the pace. That unit played together for 5 minutes, forced 3 steals, got 12 shots up and put up 19 points. The Raptors have precious few lineups they can play that actually utilize the advantages a team gets from going small; DeRozan and Patterson can hurt spacing while Carroll and Valanciunas sometimes struggle to keep pace but this combination of players should be able to consistently spread the floor and run. It’s not something you would play all the time but against a unit with little in the way of post scoring or as a change of pace it can work wonders – I wouldn’t play it against the Cavs but I absolutely would against the Warriors.

The Raptors all but ended the game in the third quarter as the starters came back into the game and took care of business. The defense was about as stingy as you can get at the NBA level, with the two centre lineup  allowing only 2 points in over 9 minutes of play, while they collectively shot 11-15 from the floor, leading the way to a 38 point lead The bench did their best to squander the lead and make Ron Baker into a folk hero but even the worst of Raptors teams would struggle to blow a lead that big in such a short period of time. Casey thankfully resisted the temptation to put the starters back into the game and the Raptors head on for a 15 point victory that was actually even more lopsided than that score suggests.

About a month ago I wrote that the Raptors are at the point where how you win and who you beat matter almost as much as the wins themselves. Even though this was against a banged up Knicks squad that the team should handle with ease even on their best day the fact that it was such a consistent dominant effort is encouraging, especially given the teams recent struggles against lesser competition. The Raptors may have also tapped in to something that will get them closer to the next level with some of these unconventional big and small lineups. Matchups matter but may not be as important as playing your best players, and as a general rule if you give up something you have an advantage elsewhere; small lineups are quicker, big lineups are stronger and have more length, etc. The two centre frontcourt may struggle to defend the perimeter but they lock down the paint and dominate the glass on both ends – in the 87 minutes they’ve played together the Raptors defensive rating is a stingy 97.4 while they grab 31% of their offensive rebounds and 78% of their defensive rebounds. It can be viewed as a situational lineup but the Raptors shouldn’t be afraid to play it often because it seems to cause a lot of problems for opponents. The Raptors have already shown that trying to match up with the Cavaliers and the Warriors is enough to stop the bleeding but not enough for them to do any consistent damage of their own, giving them matchups that potentially make players like Channing Frye unplayable due to his inability to protect the rim or the defensive glass is worth trying. The Raptors don’t have a conventional 2016 NBA roster and they need to embrace that.

Another encouraging aspect of this game was the obvious emphasis on getting Valanciunas the ball inside. We may never know if Valanciunas is playing with more energy because he is being rewarded or vice versa but it’s clear that the team has decided that he needs to be included more. There was a sequence in the 3rd that demonstrated this commitment to getting him the ball: DeRozan was blitzed coming off a Valanciunas ball screen so he made the safe pass to Bebe, who missed hitting a wide open Valanciunas at the rim and passed it back out to the perimeter. On the next offensive possession DeRozan held the ball for a beat longer to see if a passing lane to Valanciunas would open up and delivered a pass to the big man under the rim. It’s become very clear over the years that Valanciunas is at his best on both ends when he gets more than a courtesy clear out called for him every half and is actively involved in the offense as more than a screener.

Perhaps the best thing about the game was a victory with DeRozan and Lowry playing below 30 minutes – in 78 combined games this year there have been only 5 where either has played fewer than 30 minutes and it’s never occurred for both in the same game. Any rest that the Raptors can get for the pair is great with the both of them ranking in the top 13 in total minutes played and the team hopefully gearing up for another deep playoff run.

You can’t read too much into the result but the means they used to get there are very encouraging. This game was more or less everything that we’ve all wanted to see from the team: limited minutes for the stars, minutes for Norm, involving Valanciunas, weird lineups and a (mostly) consistent effort from start to finish. We were a Patrick Patterson start away from a complete Raptors blogger bingo. After an up and down road trip that turned into an up and down home stand it was just nice to see the team perform at a high level for an entire game again.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Racing for second with the Celtics

Host William Lou invites Joe Wolfond (@joey_doubleyou) to the podcast to break down this week in Raptors basketball.

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Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – Don’t let the final score fool you

Blake Murphy fills in for regular host William Lou to recap the assassination the New York Knicks.

(more…)

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Quick Reaction: Knicks 101, Raptors 116

New York 101 Final
Box Score
116 Toronto

A+
D. Carroll27 MIN, 20 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 7-13 FG, 1-6 3FG, 5-5 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 29 +/-Had a solid early defensive effort, but still struggled to start the game, before finally hitting a 3 at the 3-minute mark of the second quarter, which got him going offensively a bit. Despite going 1/6 from 3, DC still dropped a cool 20 points, and was +29 for the game. It’s no coincidence that coming into this one, the Raptors were 15-4 when Carroll scored 10 or more.

B+
L. Nogueira35 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 2-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-2 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 32 +/-Not a hugely impressive night from Nogeuira in terms of his statistical contribution, but the fact that the Raptors won the rebounding battle, and he had fewer than 3 fouls in over 30 minutes of action (and was +32) means that he did enough to sustain the defensive effort for the Raps. I’ll take it.

A+
J. Valanciunas28 MIN, 12 PTS, 16 REB, 1 AST, 6-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-It was evident early on that this was going to be one of those beast-mode games for JV, similar to the Boston game last week. Valanciunas started with a quick 6 points and 9 rebounds in the first quarter, and had already secured a double-double by halftime. JV was +20 for the game, largely as a result of his 16 rebounds (5 offensive).

A
K. Lowry28 MIN, 16 PTS, 4 REB, 9 AST, 6-10 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 35 +/-His hot shooting early helped create some separation in the second quarter, as he led the early second quarter unit, alongside Cory Joseph and Norman Powell. Had a nasty 4-point play at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter to push the Raptors ahead seemingly for good. Just another night at the office for KLow.

A
D. DeRozan28 MIN, 23 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 8-17 FG, 0-0 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 24 +/-Started 0/4 from the field, but got hot to close the first quarter. The offensive efficiency for DeMar was below his season average in the first half, but an efficient third and 7 trips to the line netted 23 on 17 shots and a +24 for DeMar.

C
C. Joseph25 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2-9 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -13 +/-Probably the only real “weak link” for the Raptors today offensively, but was part of a energetic unit in the second quarter to sink the Knicks for the rest of the game. Still was -13 for the contest, after a sloppy fourth to close it out.

A+
N. Powell24 MIN, 21 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 7-13 FG, 1-3 3FG, 6-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -10 +/-Norm, like many of his bench running mates, was game ready today. Powell scored a quick and efficient 9 points in under 12 minutes in the first half, capitalizing on lazy close-outs and terrible interior defense from the Knicks. Powell’s play today is an encouraging sign for Dwane Casey and his staff, who pretty soon will find bench depth to be invaluable.

A
T. Ross23 MIN, 12 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 4-7 FG, 4-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-Terrence seemed to have his rhythm tonight, finding his spots easily for open looks, and executing off of great shot prep leading to a few tough makes as well. Ross was 4/5 from 3 in the first half and contributed an efficient 12 points in 23 minutes of action.

B
P. Siakam13 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 2-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -21 +/-Had some defensive miscues to start the fourth quarter leading to a Knicks surge to bring this game to within 17 points, but his speed in running the floor and ability in the post during garbage time earned him a quick 4 points.

B
F. VanVleet5 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-Garbage time. Nothing else.

C
J. Poeltl4 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -14 +/-Not much from Poeltl tonight aside from an ugly turnover as part of a sloppy start to the fourth for Toronto. This was unlike the mistake-free play we’re using to seeing from the rookie big-man, but at this point, this is hardly a concern.

B
B. Caboclo1 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-Still 2 years away?

A-
Dwane Casey While the prospect of a mid-afternoon game scared me a little bit, from a game preparation and mental readiness perspective (something usually a challenge for the Raptors), they came out really sharp. To start the second and third quarters, the Raptors were simply miles ahead of the Knicks defensively, on the glass, and in finding easier shots in the flow of the offense. And resting KLow and DeMar for the duration of the fourth (despite the Knicks’ run) was a good call.

THINGS WE SAW

  1. Balanced offense and bench contributions: In a typical feel-good game for the Raptors, the offense was once again brilliant against the lowly Knicks defense which ranks 25th in the league. So good in fact that the Raps had 5 guys in double figures by halftime (Lowry, DeRozan, JV, Ross and Carroll), and the rest was history. The league’s best offense torched the Knicks for 116 points on 49% shooting. The extra boost from Toronto came from the bench sparks offered by Terrence Ross and Normal Powell, who both hit double figures.
  2. Getting to the line: Despite the blowout nature of the contest, I liked the Raptors’ aggressiveness in getting to the rack, yielding 23 free throw attempts. As we’ve seen from this all season long, when the Raps shoot the ball in the 50% range from the field, AND get to the line, they’re virtually unstoppable on offense.
  3. Defensive and rebounding effort: The Raptors defense, aside from lapses early in the fourth, had an overall outstanding effort on D. While some of that was the Knicks flat out quitting for large chunks of the game, the Raptors held the Knicks under 100 and outscoring Knicks 27-8 in the third which settled this thing for good.
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Pre-game news & notes: Porzingis and Patterson sit as Knicks visit

The Toronto Raptors continue their easier stretch of schedule on Sunday, closing out a four-game home-stand by hosting the New York Knicks for a matinee. The Knicks enter in a bit of a mess, with their Thursday victory against the Chicago Bulls pushing them to 2-9 over their last 11. They’re 18-22 overall, just average on offense, and near the bottom on defense, and it’s led to some apparent in-fighting, with their superstar reportedly going off on the team after a loss to the 76ers this week.

The Raptors would be wise to not take the Knicks lightly, though. They already made life more difficult for themselves than they needed to on Friday against Brooklyn, and they head out on a three-game road trip from here (although it’s not a particularly difficult one). Taking care of business quickly would allow them – and us – to enjoy the rest of our Sunday, free from the frustration of a 35-minute outing for a star or a close-call at the end of the game. The Knicks aren’t a particularly good basketball team, but they’re talented and hungry, and so the Raptors need to come out with some fire they lacked the other night.

I won’t go much deeper than that for today. Tamberlyn just did the preview at 9am, there was no shootaround for updates or quotes, and I’m not at the arena for this one. Let’s just dive into the minor updates. The game tips off at 3 p.m. on TSN 4/5 and TSN 1050. Here’s the full game preview.

Raptors updates
We’re still waiting to hear if Patrick Patterson will play and who will start at power forward if he doesn’t, same as it ever was. Patterson didn’t practice on Saturday, and the team is right to take things cautiously, so the guess here is he gets another night off. If he does, I think the Raptors would go back to their smaller starting group, as the Knicks have been starting Lance Thomas in place of the injured Kristaps Porzingis, a stretchy option the Raptors can match smaller with while also getting another potential Carmelo Anthony defender on the floor in Norman Powell.

UPDATE: Patterson is out again.

Check back closer to tip-off for an update.

UPDATE II: Lucas Nogueira starts again, an interesting call against a quicker, stretchier opposing frontcourt.

(Just as a procedural note, I am going to keep Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger listed as “out” for the time being, even though they’ve returned to full team practice. Once there’s a sense they’re closer to a return, I’ll shift them into TBD on a game-to-game basis.)

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

Knicks updates
As mentioned, 3-6 Latvia is expected to miss the game due to Achilles soreness, although that has not been confirmed yet. If he can’t go, Thomas would probably start again, although Mindaugus Kuzminskas has been getting good run off the bench and could conceivably slide in as well. Joakim Noah’s also been a bit banged up, but he’s expected to play.

Again, check back closer to tip-off for an update, and refer to Tamberlyn’s preview for more of a breakdown on the matchup.

UPDATE: Porzingis is officially out.

PG: Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Sasha Vujacic
SG: Courtney Lee, Justin Holiday, Ron Baker
SF: Carmelo Anthony, Mindaugus Kuzminskas
PF: Lance Thomas, Maurice Ndour
C: Joakim Noah, Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez, Marshall Plumlee
OUT: Kristaps Porzingis
ASSIGNED: None
TBD: None

Assorted

  • I wrote about DeMarre Carroll’s growing offensive role for The Athletic yesterday. I am happy with how the piece turned out, if you’re looking for something to read before the game.
  • IMPORTANT REMINDER: Tomorrow is the last day to #NBAVote.
  • I’ve been asked a few times lately about the Raptors maybe making a play for Carmelo Anthony as a third piece to help close the gap with Cleveland. I get why people would want to go there – he’s still playing at something close to an All-Star level on offense, he has two more years left on his deal, there aren’t many other names on the market – but there are a lot of complicating factors here. For one, it doesn’t sound like he’ll waive his no-trade clause (he probably would for the right situation, considering there’s a trade kicker in his deal if he does). There’s also the matter of the somewhat serious shoulder injury he’s reportedly playing through. And then with his salary, the Raptors would have to surrender multiple rotation pieces  to make the math work, plus, probably, prospects/picks to make it worthwhile for the Knicks. It’d be a complicated deal, to be sure.
  • This was floating around my timeline some this morning:

    • It is interesting, but that’s about it. As we’ve discussed plenty here, the Raptors’ offense excels for plenty of reasons, and they don’t have to be a pass-happy team or a high-volume 3-point shooting team to be effective. It would be nice if they created easier buckets sometimes, and there are some potential playoff opponents who would be well-suited to load up against Toronto’s stars, but I’m not in the camp that “this doesn’t work in the playoffs.” So long as Lowry and DeRozan are healthy…
  • For no reason, here’s a supercut of Fred VanVleet celebrating threes from the fourth quarter on Friday:

The line
The Raptors are 10-point favorites after opening at 10.5, a pretty substantial line – even at home, likely with no Patterson and Porzingis – against a team that was (hilariously) expected by some to be good and who are still flirting with .500. The over-under is up at 218.5, suggesting defense will once again just be a rumor at the Air Canada Centre.

Raptors 115, Knicks 101

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Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Jan. 15

Toronto Raptors play host to Atlantic Division foes, the New York Knicks. Tip off is 3:00 PM, ET.

To say the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks occupy entirely opposite ends of the NBA spectrum feels like the greatest understatement ever made. Punctuating this fact is the occurrences in the Mecca this past week.  Derrick rose went AWOL on what was later deemed a personal family matter. When he finally resurfaced, rumor is he was fined something in the neighborhood of $200,000.00, but there he was suited up and starting in the next game. With all due respect to Rose, who may well have been dealing with a situation with his Mother or Son, this type of behavior is unacceptable. In the technically advanced world we live in, it would take 10 seconds for a text or phone call to notify the powers that be. At the very least he could have called his agent to handle the matter for him.

‘Super Team’ Knicks – far from ‘Super’:

The manner in which Knicks management dealt with this situation was also far from perfect. Knicks President, Phil Jackson though seen in public avoided the press and provided no statement, leaving coach Jeff Hornacek to deal with the fall-out. Making this narrative even more compelling was it comes on the heels of Rose stating he expects a max contract this summer.

Jackson for his part has stirred the pot via his inappropriate “posse” comments regarding LeBron James group of friends.

Nor was his declaration of Carmelo Anthony stalling the offense well received. Worse, Jackson’s comments came in the middle of what was the Knicks best ball of the season (a period where they recorded a 6-1 record).

Although Jackson signed a trio of free agents (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee) this past summer, the future of the Knicks will be centered around the unicorn – Kristaps Porzingis.  This point was punctuated in the recent loss to the Sixers. With the Knicks leading by a point (after giving up a 10 point lead in the final 2:30 of the game) Hornacek’s play call was for Porzingis, not Melo or Rose.  Perhaps Porzingis felt the weight of his coaches decision as he hoisted an air ball from the far corner. The Sixers quickly grabbed the rebound, hurried down court where T.J. McConnell capped the come back with a buzzer beater.

Following the loss, apparently Carmelo Anthony frustrated by the teams performance lost it in the Knicks locker room as per Matt Moore’s article:

The New York Daily News reports that after the Knicks lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 98-97 earlier this week, Carmelo Anthony went on a locker room tirade against teammates. He blasted their effort and, notably, the fact that he was frozen out on the Knicks’ failed winning-shot attempt (a Kristaps Porzingis airball).

As Moore points out the situation in New York is fraught with tension stemming mostly from the inability of Jackson and Anthony to meet in the middle. Further, Rose’s antics and an on-court group who don’t seem to mesh isn’t helping matters.

In their past 11 games the Knicks are 2-9 having won their most recent game to a Jimmy Butler-less Bulls squad. The road has not been friendly to New York as they boast a less than appealing 6-14 record and worse still they are 1-4 versus the Atlantic Division.

Suffice to say, all is not well in the Mecca with the Knicks sitting 10th, 25 games remaining versus currently seeded playoff squads, and including today, 21 road games still to play.

Toronto Raptors vs. Knicks Statistical Comparison:

Digging into the numbers there are three areas where the Knicks best the Raptors: rebounding, blocks and second chance points. Logically, the blocks and rebounding help increase second chance opportunities. If Porzingis doesn’t play this afternoon these areas of strengths for the Knicks become more evenly balanced between the squads.

Conversely, the Raptors areas of strengths increase in weight if the unicorn doesn’t play. In fact, after listening to pundits gush over the Warriors top ranked offense this past week, I bet one of the BBoyz the Raptors would reclaim that position by weeks end given their opponents this week. Sure enough, all it took was a 42-point fourth quarter explosion against the Nets for the Raptors to reclaim the top ranked offensive position.

Raptors Power Forward Uncertainty:

Entering the game the biggest question from the Raptors side of the equation is who will start at power forward.  In the past 6 games four different players have lined up as the starting power forward:

  • San Antonio Spurs – Pascal Siakam
  • Utah Jazz/Chicago Bulls – Lucas Nogueira
  • Houston Rockets – DeMarre Carroll
  • Boston Celtics – Patrick Patterson
  • Brooklyn Nets – Lucas Nogueira

With Patterson nursing an injury, Casey’s options were limited, while certain opponent rosters dictated who would start in others. Most notably for the Raptors was the apparent move away from Pascal Siakam, not just from the starting lineup, but in playing time in general. That said, in Friday’s game versus  Brooklyn the upsurge in energy could be directly correlated with the moment Siakam entered the game. Having played down to their competition for the better portion of three quarters, Siakam seemingly uncorked whatever was holding the Raptors defense back and along with it their energy level. The resulting effect was the Raptors taking a lead into the fourth quarter, expanding it to 10 points in short order, 20 points at the 5 minute mark, and capped it by scoring 42 points in the quarter.

As for this afternoon’s contest, the situation on who starts at the four is no clearer. Patterson is listed as questionable and logically it might be wise to rest him given Casey stated he was less than 100 percent. Likewise, the unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis told reporters he’s doubtful which erases the automatic assumption Nogueira would start to match Porzingis size and length.

Raptors Second Half Priorities:

After surviving a heinous early schedule the Raptors enter the far easier portion of their schedule.  Toronto have completed the majority of their games versus the Western Conference with just 11 remaining and 4 of those on the road. Moreover, of Toronto’s remaining 43 games only 19 are against currently seeded playoff squads.  The trick will be not to get complacent. Rather, it’s essential the Raptors utilize these games to address specific areas of weakness, such as shoring up their defense. In addition, they need to integrate Sullinger and Wright into the rotation. Perhaps the most important task will be to find a way to keep Lowry and DeRozan healthy with a view to getting them to April as fresh as possible.

Clearly the Cavaliers have been the best in the East, but their schedule is only now hitting it’s difficult portion. Prior to this week the Cavs had played just 2 games on the West Coast.  This week they lost back to back games at Utah and Portland prior to beating the Kings. Cleveland’s next 9 games feature 8 versus the West beginning with the Warriors on Monday, January 16th. If the Raptors are intent on winning the Conference, this period is key to gaining ground on Cleveland. To that end, Toronto must beat teams like the Knicks, and utilize these opportunities to tweak their issues with a view to building momentum into April.

Rotations:

RAPTORS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard:DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Power Forward: *Lucas Nogueira
Center:Jonas Valanciunas

RAPTORS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
Shooting Guard:Norman Powell
Small Forward: Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo
Power Forward: **Patrick Patterson,
Center: Jakob Poeltl

Notes:

  • As per Blake’s article both Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright have been cleared to practice (hallelujah).
  • *as per above it’s anyone’s guess who’ll get the start at power forward. Casey could opt to stick with Nogueira, return to Siakam or move Carroll to the four and insert Powell into the starting lineup.
  • **Patterson is listed as questionable by rotoworld and CBS Sports says he’s expected to be out (check Blake’s pregame news and notes for the most up to date status)

KNICKS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Small Forward: *Lance Thomas
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Center: Joakim Noah

KNICKS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings, Sasha Vujacic
Shooting Guard: Justin Holiday, Ron Baker
Small Forward: Mindaugus Kuzminskas
Power Forward: Maurice Ndour
Center: Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez, Marshall Plumlee

Notes:

  • Kristaps Porzingis told reporters Saturday he’s unlikely to play in Toronto as he nurses his sore Achilles
  • * In the game versus the Bulls, Lance Thomas started, but Hornacek has shown a propensity to mix up his starting line-up with a number of different players. Should he go with Thomas again he and Anthony are both 6’8″ small forwards, but Melo is quite comfortable playing in the power forward  spot.
  • In the last outing versus the Bulls, Plumlee wasn’t dressed, so he may be with the Knicks D-League squad

Game Specifics:

Recent History: The Raptors hold the all-time record 42-40. Toronto has won the last 4 meetings and are 7-2 in the last nine meetings (including the apology loss, last season — see closing).

Referee Assignments: Ken Mauer (#41), Michael Smith  (#38), and Scott Wall (#31)

Fan Data:

The Venue: Air Canada Center, Toronto, Ontario
The Tip: 3:00 PM EST
TV: Sportsnet 4 and 5
Radio: TSN Radio 1050

The Line: Odds makers seem to be back on the Raptors train in a big way as they appoint Toronto 9.5 point favorites with an over-under of 217.5 points.

In Closing: Despite the turmoil and craziness the Knicks find themselves mired in, if they find a way to get to the post season the slower pace of the post season would benefit their roster. Furthermore, the veteran experience on their squad could present issues for a higher seed, especially if they could manage to set aside their egos long enough to function as a selfless unit.

That said, don’t expect the Raptors to feel any remorse for the Knicks current turmoil and lack of chemistry.  After surviving their heinous early schedule, the Raptors must take advantage of their markedly easier second half schedule.   The Raptors have yet to lose versus an Atlantic Division Team, and today isn’t the day to change that trend.

Let’s hope Coach Casey has reminded the Raptors of an uncalled foot out of bounds and 10-step travel which resulted in a loss last season. Because Toronto failed to take care of business early in that game, the no call became an issue and for all intents and purposes cost the Raptors the top seed of the Conference. If the Raptors are who we think they are, which is a team who have learned from their mistakes, they’ll take care of business today by putting the Knicks away early.

Check back prior to game start, for Blakes news and notes pregame update.

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Raptors play 11 great minutes, blow out Nets

Raptors 132, Nets 113| Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Kyle Lowry had seen enough.

The Toronto Raptors had once again been plagued by a bit of a malaise through two-and-a-half quarters and inexplicably found themselves trialing the Brooklyn Nets by six, on their own home court. This was the first game of a six-game stretch that’s supposed to turn the schedule easier for the Raptors, to allow for some rest for their more over-worked players, and to get their defense right. The Nets torching the twine from long-range at an embarrassingly unsustainable rate – they love themselves a high-variance David strategy this year – was contributing a great deal, erasing some nice work the Raptors were doing on their own glass and in terms of protecting the ball, but this was mostly a frustrating 30 minutes where the Raptors couldn’t, or wouldn’t, remind the Nets who is who in this matchup.

So after Brook Lopez made it a 77-71 game with a pair of free throws, Lowry decided it was time to change course. Lopez worked on the block and set to release his plodding, trebuchet of a jumper, and Lowry swooped in to send the offering into the stands. A six-foot-on-seven-foot assault, one that resulted in a Raptors ball after the ensuing shot-clock violation on the inbound.

The Raptors have played out this exact game – I’ve written this exact recap – enough times this year that it was patently obvious that this was the point in the game where things turn. DeMar DeRozan continued his night of ruthless offensive production, carving to the rim at will on his way to 28 points, and hit a floater and then a layup sandwiched around the block. When Lowry followed it up by knocking down a  27-footer in transition just two possessions later, the Raptors not only quickly had a lead, but it was plain that they weren’t going to be giving it back.

Perhaps there is some hubris in saying that, or thinking that way. There is definitely some hubris in the way the Raptors have occasionally gone about beating lesser opponents. In seasons past, the book on Toronto was that they couldn’t blows teams out, always engaging in more difficult battles than the quality of the two teams would suggest. That hasn’t been the case this season, as the Raptors have routinely run opponents off the floor. But they occasionally take a while to get there, gearing down for quarters or halves and waiting to find that certain switch.

“That’s human nature, a phenomenon I’ve never figured out,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “We had this team shooting in the high 40s the whole game and we decided to play. I commend our guys for finding a way, that’s what our league is all about but you can’t play with fire like that and let a team hang around, hang around, hang around. We found a way and that’s great. I commend our guys. I’ll never take a win for granted, we’re not in a position to do that, so we’ll take it.”

It is at the same time a little frustrating that it occurs and amazing that they have the ability to do so, deciding at a late juncture they’re done toying with their meal, and then turning the Air Canada Centre up to 500 degrees.

The 11 minutes or so that followed Lowry’s block were just that. From the 5:15 mark of the third to the 6:26 mark of the fourth, the Raptors went on a ludicrous 42-16 run, shooting 68 percent from the field, knocking down six threes, and holding Brooklyn to a so-bad-it’s-almost-funny-if-you-didn’t-feel-a-little-guilty 4-of-19. The Nets could muster little, turning the ball over frequently to key Toronto’s attack the other way, failing to do much on the offensive glass, and subsisting only on the few free throws that came their way.

Toronto began their ascent with rookie Pascal Siakam on the floor, a nice sign, then slowed some as a funky DeRozan-led bench unit figured things out. When head coach Dwane Casey turned things over to an altered version of the Jurassic Five lineup with DeMarre Carroll at the four in place of Patrick Patterson, the Nets were more or less extinct. That group tore of a 25-4 sub-run of their own (they now own a plus-45.5 net rating in 28 minutes together), with Carroll and Terrence Ross knocking down threes, Cory Joseph continuing a phenomenal offensive night, and Lowry quarterbacking things with a series of heady, annoying plays. Lucas Nogueira, under the weather most of the week, chipped in around the rim and with a pair of nice assists, too.

“I think we didn’t play our best throughout the first three quarters,” Lowry  said. “I think we had a scrappy unit – me, DeMarre, Lucas, Cory, and T – we had a unit in there that just kinda went in there flying all around the court, got out in transition, got some threes to fall.”

The lead was extended quickly and emphatically enough that DeRozan never needed to check back in, a somewhat regular occurrence in fourth quarters this year. The Raptors turned things over to the bench from there – Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo must love seeing Brooklyn on the schedule ahead of time – and the end-game went more or less to script. This looked like an actual game, then Brooklyn blinked, and it was over. If you hadn’t watched and only looked at the final, including the highest point total in a non-overtime game in franchise history, this might seem like a thorough beating. The Raptors even covered a sizable 15-point spread. It wasn’t a tidy, 48-minute drudging, but it got where it needed to go eventually.

It might be unreasonable to expect a team to destroy lesser teams out of the gate every night – look around the league and you’ll see several teams lamenting playing games much tougher than should be necessary. There is only so much in the tank, both physically and mentally, and the Raptors are still figuring things out at power forward while waiting for Patterson and Jared Sullinger to solidify the position. Friday saw Siakam get a frenetic but high-energy look after Lucas Nogueira started, and the team ultimately put the Nets away with a very game Carroll sliding up a position. Lowry, himself, kind of laid in the weeds until he was necessary, his 35 minutes probably not as arduous as they would suggest (though his leading the league in minutes per-game continues to trouble).

“Not to take nothing away form them, but we understand how to win if we’re down,” DeRozan said. “Whether it’s against a good team or against a team that doesn’t have so great of a record. We understand that. It’s tough when you’re playing teams like that because they’re going to play even harder and do things you don’t expect. We’ve just got to be ready for it and tonight we were.”

And again, the Nets were just shooting at a ridiculous clip for most of the game. Had Brooklyn shot a normal rate from outside instead of their torrid 17-of-36 mark, the Raptors probably would have had a small, comfortable lead earlier. They didn’t, and that’s not the ideal way for the game to play out. The Raptors, though, they know they have that switch, that extra gear, that NOS button on the dash, and Lowry and DeRozan have learned quite well when to hit it.

On Friday, all it took was a few lethal minutes.

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Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – Raptors put away pesky Nets

Host William Lou recaps a routine win over the Brooklyn Nets.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 132, Nets 113

Brooklyn 113 Final
Box Score
132 Toronto

C-
D. Carroll29 MIN, 18 PTS, 11 REB, 0 AST, 7-16 FG, 3-10 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 14 +/-

I have no idea what to say about Carroll. He was there. Is that enough?

He lost Bogdanovic a few too many times when going under a screen. He wasn’t shy in taking shots, but did not shoot well. He also got a double-double by doing a great job on the boards.

Carroll wasn’t bad tonight…but other than rebounding he also wasn’t great. I expect more from him overall.

A
L. Nogueira30 MIN, 10 PTS, 9 REB, 2 AST, 5-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-1 FT, 4 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

I love that Bebe is not only part of the rotation, but that he gets thrown in as a starter occasionally when needed. He creates some fun options with his athleticism and length. Bebe challenges everything at the basket and came up with a few excellent blocks. A solid game all around.

B-
J. Valanciunas25 MIN, 14 PTS, 10 REB, 1 AST, 4-9 FG, 0-0 3FG, 6-6 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-

Add two more victims (Brook Lopez and Justin “I Wish I Was Ryan” Anderson) to the list of players who have been burned by Jonas’ pump fake. It wasn’t the prettiest game for Jonas, but he once again did a great job grabbing rebounds and didn’t let Lopez cause much damage.

A
K. Lowry36 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, 8-14 FG, 3-7 3FG, 1-2 FT, 2 BLK, 3 TO, 20 +/-

Some great passes into the post where only a Raptor big could get it, including a lovely sequence in the first half that saw him grab his own rebound, run to the three point line, fake the shot, and throw up a perfect alley-oop to Bebe. While DeRozan kept the Raptors in it during the third, Lowry took over in the fourth.

He also blocked Brook Lopez, which was so satisfying to watch.

A+
D. DeRozan30 MIN, 28 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 11-22 FG, 0-1 3FG, 6-8 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

Didn’t look to dominate early. Stepped into more of a facilitating role and allowed the front court to go to work. Hit Bebe for an early alley-oop, then followed it up soon after by kicking it out for a three from Carroll.

Felt like DeMar scored whenever he looked to do so. He started looking for it more in the second half and scored 19 in the third quarter alone.

C+
T. Ross31 MIN, 12 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 5-11 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 25 +/-

I wrote some terrible things about Terrence Ross during the first three quarters, most of which was insults about my decision to move back to Ross Island a few weeks ago. Then the fourth quarter happened and he made my heart swoon again. Terrence Ross provides me with joy and makes me hate myself at the same time.

B+
C. Joseph22 MIN, 16 PTS, 4 REB, 7 AST, 7-7 FG, 1-1 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 21 +/-

Cory looked very comfortable with his shot and with running the offence. He finished 7-of-7 from the field, which is…*pulls out calculator*…very good. This comfort did not seem to translate to the other side of the court. Where has Cory’s defense gone? Why is he regularly losing his man off the ball?

C+
N. Powell13 MIN, 5 PTS, 0 REB, 2 AST, 2-5 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Norm stepped onto the court and immediately hit a three to break a 24 all tie. Was hoping that he would help to turn the tide off the bench as he has so many times, but it wasn’t there tonight.

B-
P. Siakam11 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

After three straight DNP-CDs Pascal Siakam returned to the line-up. Some solid energy (including a great block while guarding a driving Randy Foye. Yes, Randy Foye is still in the NBA), but I punished him a little because he blew a beautiful halfcourt alley-oop that would have made me smile during some dark minutes.

B+
J. Poeltl8 MIN, 4 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-

Got a bogus foul called against him roughly 4 seconds after entering the game. Brook Lopez is a tough match-up for anyone, but Poeltl handled himself well. He didn’t jump wildly at fakes and pivots, but moved his feet well to contest. That in itself is a huge accomplishment. We continue to see some nice hints at the player he could become.

B
F. VanVleet3 MIN, 5 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 2-4 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Came into the game with 3:24 remaining. Nice to see VanVleet get some burn before he becomes the fourth point guard on the depth chart with the return of Delon Wright.

And yes, getting up four shots in 3 minutes is excellent. Shooters shoot.

Inc
B. Caboclo2 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

We got two minutes* of the human victory cigar! How sweet it is!

*He didn’t do much though.

B-
Dwane Casey

Shout out to Casey for not killing anyone during the first three quarters. I don’t want to blame him for the Raptors struggles in guarding the three point line, but I still will.

Thankfully he did keep DeMar’s minutes down, so that’s good.

Things We Saw

  1. I understand why fans get a vote for the All Star starters. It adds value, and I do like that fans have a voice in a game that really only exists for the fans. With that said though, I hate that I have to listen to Matt Devlin yell “HASHTAG NBA VOTE” 40+ times a game. It ruins every fun play for me. Thankfully he has toned it down compared to previous years.
  2. The Nets are no longer worth swearing about in front of a large public crowd. They are the worst team in the NBA at the moment and don’t control their own first round pick for the next two drafts. With that said they work hard and are well coached. I also love me some Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Between him and Caris LeVert they have some fun pieces to develop despite the train wreck that they will be for the foreseeable future.
  3. I watched the whole game and all I remember is Brooklyn taking open three pointers. I’m going to see it in my nightmares tonight. Did they score is any other way?
  4. I give Delon Wright the win over Jared Sullinger in the Battle of the Bench Bling. He had a great diamond “55” necklace, while Sully’s was more understated.
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Pre-game news & notes: La Loche visits, Ujiri speaks, Patterson and Lin sit

To date, the Toronto Raptors have had one of the tougher schedules in the NBA. John Schuhmann controls for quality of opponent, travel, rest, and home/road games, and he ranks their schedule the third-hardest. Team Rankings have a bit of a hidden soup, and they give the Raptors the most difficult schedule to date. There are more, and they’re in agreement that the Raptors haven’t had the easiest time. That’s not an excuse – they don’t really need one with where they are, anyway – but it’s worth noting.

Things change dramatically from here, and it starts Friday with the visiting Brooklyn Nets. The Raptors are set to play BRK, NYK, @BRK, @PHI (B2B), @CHA, PHX, a six-game stretch with exactly one game the Raptors shouldn’t be expected to take care of handily. Playing in Charlotte is tough, but even that game will be something close to a pick-’em. Everyone else on that slate is below .500, significantly so in the cases of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Phoenix. There’s perhaps some risk of complacency over such a stretch – the Raptors could play far below their standard and still come out 4-2 – but Toronto should be looking to ratchet up their defense and, more importantly, use the easy stretch to get some of their key players some additional rest (whether that’s with an occasional day off or just some 30-minute outings).

It’s time for the Raptors to go on a run.

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

Raptors updates
The Raptors may be back to waiting on a game-to-game update for Patrick Patterson. After missing four-and-a-half games with a left knee strain, Patterson returned for two games, facing a minutes restriction. He even started one of those games, a long-awaited move, but playing at less than 100 percent clearly disagreed with him. He sat out practice on Thursday, and with the schedule as light as it is over the next week-plus, now would be the right time to get him some additional rest to get back to full strength.

UPDATE: Patterson is sitting out as a continued precaution as he works his way back to 100 percent.

Even if Patterson can go, he may not start. The Raptors can probably afford to go dual-centers against the Trevor Booker-Brook Lopez frontline. They’d also have the option to downsize, starting Norman Powell and shifting DeMarre Carroll to the four again. Powell was excellent last time out against Brooklyn, and the “small starters” have outscored opponents by 5.3 points per-100 possessions in a small, 27-minute sample. (The dual-center starters have been outscored by 1 PPC in 50 minutes, the starters with Pascal Siakam outscored by 5.9 PPC in 321 minutes, and the starters with Patterson have outscored opponents by an obscene 26.4 PPC in 136 minutes.)

UPDATE II: Nogueira starts at PF again.

And yes, Bruno Caboclo has been recalled in the event this is a blowout.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned:
TBD:
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson

Nets updates
When the Nets last played the Raptors, they “rested” Brook Lopez in what seemed like a bit of a curious decision. It wasn’t a back-to-back scenario, it was late December, and Lopez wasn’t dealing with an injury. Little did we know, though, that Lopez was just saving all of his energy to drop 28 points on the Golden State Warriors a few days later, helping the Nets very briefly threaten the league’s top team. In other words, if the Nets wind up resting someone on short notice tonight – they played yesterday, after all – just trust them.

We already know that Jeremy Lin won’t be playing, as he’s out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring issue. The Nets won’t rush him, and as much as Raptors fans love watching Lin (myself included), his penchant for going off against them won’t be missed. That would shift the point guard duties to Isaiah Whitehead, but Whitehead is questionable after leaving Thursday’s game with a knee sprain. In that case, Spencer Dinwiddie would be the lone natural point man on the roster, potentially requiring Randy Foye or Buckets Kilpatrick to run the position for long stretches. Kilpatrick can really fill it up and has improved some as a playmaker, but Foye’s beyond his NBA utility now, and Dinwiddie is, based on his recent resume and a fair amount of D-League observation, a fringe NBA player.

Elsewhere, Trevor Booker played through a hip injury Thursday and in a back-to-back scenario could conceivably be rested, and Chris McCullough has been recalled from Long Island. And hey, welcome back Quincy Acy!

Whoever plays, there’s not a great deal to fret. Not only do the News only have one lineup that’s played more than 51 minutes or more than 11 games together, most of their most commonly used groups have been outscored, some by significant margins. The one five-some to look out for? If Whitehead plays, the team’s starters with Joe Harris in Bojan Bogdanovic’s place have outscored opponents by 13.2 points per-100 possessions over 51 minutes. Maybe there’s something there worth eploring deeper for head coach Kenny Atkinson.

UPDATE: Whitehead is out and Joe Harris is starting over Sean Kilpatrick.

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie, Randy Foye
SG:Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy, Chris McCullough
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned:
TBD:
Out: Jeremy Lin, Isaiah Whitehead

Assorted

  • This is an absolute must read on Masai Ujiri from Bruce Arthur. Just, stop what you’re doing and read it.
  • It hasn’t been made official yet, but I’d expect Bruno Caboclo to be recalled to sit on the bench for this one, and possibly get some close-out minutes. (UPDATE: He’s back.) The 905 are back home for over a week now, but with different teams handling the D-League Showcase differently, it’s hard to tell for sure if the Raptors will assign their guys on Dec. 18 and 20. That the Raptors hit the road for all of next week confuses matters further.
  • Delon Wright could conceivably be on assignment during the Showcase. He and Jared Sullinger have both been cleared for a return to team practice, which is amazing news. Casey said before Friday’s game that the plan likely includes some 905 time for Wright and that the conversation has maybe happened or will happen with Sullinger, who has to approve an assignment.
  • Here are a few interesting quote from Masai Ujiri on Sportsnet 590 The Fan yesterday, one about the trade market and one about the play of Valanciunas:

  • Don’t forget to #NBAVote like me and JV:

    The height of my game is like DeMar DeRozan’ vertical

    A photo posted by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

The line
The Raptors are 15-point favorites, down from 16.5 and right in line with the margin when they last played and Lopez sat. Maybe it’s Patterson’s absence failing to resonate, maybe it’s the Nets perceived to be getting worse, or maybe the Raptors have just convincingly shown now that they can put teams away. That’s a ton of points to give, if you’re betting on the game – you might really be betting on the 905 closing things out. The over-under is up to 224.5 from 222.

Raptors 117, Nets 97

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Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright cleared for team practice

Hey, here’s some good news for your Friday afternoon: Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright have both been cleared for team practice. That means 5-on-5, that means contact, and that means they’re both nearing their respective returns to the court.

The Toronto Raptors’ marquee free-agent signing this summer, Sullinger appeared in just a single preseason game before hitting the shelf with a sore foot. The soreness persisted despite rest and flared back up with a stress reaction when he tried to return initially, and so player and team both saw fit to take the more cautious long-term approach. That meant surgery to insert a screw into Sullinger’s foot to prevent against potential future injuries (like a Jones fracture, for example), and his timeline for a return was exceptionally wide-ranging.

Sullinger met with the doctor who performed his surgery yesterday and was given the go-ahead to resume full activities. What that means for a timeline is still somewhat unclear. It’s a huge, positive development, and Sullinger has been aggressive in trying to learn the team’s schemes and terminologies and sets while on the bench. But these things take time, and he could take a few weeks to ramp up his conditioning to where he’s game-ready, even in a minor role.

Once healthy, Sullinger should provide a big boost to a team that’s running thin in the frontcourt. The presumed starting power forward initially, Sullinger is probably not thea solution. He also stands to be one of the team’s best options as the backup center, a position he played plenty in Boston and would allow Toronto to reap some of the offensive benefits of going small without sacrificing as much size inside. His high-IQ game should help get him up to speed quickly on offense, where his passing ability will help keep the ball moving and the threat of his jumper from the mid-range (or potentially the corners) will keep opponents honest. He may be an odd fit with Jonas Valanciunas defensively, but he’s strong, physical, and will be a major boost to the team’s league-worst defensive rebounding.

With a vague initial timeline, I had originally penciled in the All-Star break for Sullinger’s return, so getting him back late in January, buying a few extra weeks to get him acclimated, would be a big victory. You can read more about Sullinger here, from when he initially signed for the mid-level exception.

Wright, meanwhile, has been slowly working his way back after offseason surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum suffered at Summer League. Initially the third point guard on the team’s depth chart, Wright may have to fight for that title with Fred VanVleet once he’s back, as the undrafted rookie has been solid in the role. Still, Wright was impressive a season ago – when called on in the NBA, in the D-League, and especially in Las Vegas this offseason, where he’d done well to start adding size to his frame – and the admittedly limited glimpses at his pre-game or practice workouts have been really encouraging. His pull-up jumper looks smoother than ever, his handle remains tight, and he’s moving quickly and fluidly.

Of course, that’s 1-on-0 in a workout format, which is much different from a game. That’s why the process is methodical, and why the team even saw fit to get Wright a day with Raptors 905 once he was cleared for 3-on-3 work. Wright could see more time in the D-League as he ramps things back up, though the team faces a tough choice assigning him for games on Jan. 18 and 20 or having him travel with them on the road (during the D-League Showcase, no less). In either case, Wright, too, was cleared by the doctor who performed his surgery and can now practice in full. His return is perhaps less important to Toronto given their depth at the guard positions, but he’s talented enough to be playing NBA minutes right now, and you can never have too many players like that. He also possesses the length to guard some twos, and the Raptors are fond of playing smaller, multi-guard lineups, anyway. There could be a place for him at some point, and things change quickly.

Wright was always expected to be out until sometime in 2017, and this all seems roughly on schedule with what he’s been saying throughout the process. You can read more about Wright and his place with the team when he returns here and here.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Talking hoops with Jack Armstrong

We caught Jack Armstrong ahead of his drive to the ACC for Friday night’s tip against the Brooklyn Nets to discuss some quick bullet points:

  • Valanciunas rising to Casey’s call of getting to the rim
  • What Patterson does on his ‘bad night’ to benefit the team, and how the Raptors can get the best out of him in the rotation
  • Siakam’s fall / Bebe’s rise
  • Eastern Conference standings
  • Millsap trade talk
  • Vince Carter’s three-point milestone

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen below:

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Is Patrick Patterson A Potential Sixth Man of the Year Candidate?

Since the NBA awards are decided by an array of writers and broadcasters, the definition of some of the awards can mean different things to different people. The MVP could mean the best player on the best team, the best statistical season from a singular player, or the player who is most impactful for their team. These are all valid answers, and when it comes to the MVP voting process, there really haven’t been too many surprises straying away from the consensus pick.

While the term MVP might have different meanings to different people, it’s still a very well thought out award,but unfortunately the same can’t be said for some other NBA awards. The Sixth Man of the Year Award, has been the player who average the most points off the bench for a playoff team, not always the best player/most impactful player off the bench.

Last season, Jamal Crawford took home his third Sixth Man Award. He had a great season, scoring efficiently off the bench, playing 27 minutes per game, making only five starts all season. In the voting process, Crawford got 51 first-place votes, 341 total voting points, while Andre Iguodala came second with 33 first-place votes, and 288 total vote points. I’m in the camp that Iguodala should have taken home the award, for the impact he made on both ends of the floor, leading a bench unit that helped the Warriors win 73 regular season games.

Both Crawford and Iguodala played 26mpg, but Iguodala averaged more rebounds and assists,  and is by far the superior defender in this comparison. The difference is that Crawford averaged double the amount of points per game, took 6.2 more shots per game, and doubled Iguodala’s USG% in the process. Crawford had a great year, there’s no denying that, and he continues to make a big scoring impact off the bench for the Clippers, but if you’re looking at making an overall impact to the game, it seems as though Iguodalas’ impact was felt more.

This year it will probably be much of the same process in voting. The early winner based off past voting results, seems to be leaning towards Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon. Gordon is very deserving of the award, he’s averaging 17.8 points per game, shooting a blistering 41% from three, on over 9 three point attempts per game (I can’t believe I just wrote those numbers). Also, the Rockets are a really, really good team this year. He’s made 8 starts so far this season, but with Patrick Beverly back in the starting lineup, Gordon will be coming off the bench for the foreseeable future.

If someone, who isn’t known as much for their scoring prowess is going to get votes, it should be the Raptors Patrick Patterson.  Last year Patterson got one third place vote in the Sixth Man award from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, and much like last year, his box score numbers off the bench are not jaw dropping. This season, he’s averaging 7.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and sporting a 50% TS%, yet he’s averaging a career high 28 minutes per game, and finishing out most games in the fourth quarter. Patterson isn’t the player who’s going to lead the team in scoring or rebounds in a game, but his impact on the floor is greatly felt in the Raptors rotations.

Eric Koreen of the Athletic wrote a great article asking players, coaches, and Raptors front office staff, “What is Patterson’s greatest skill?”. The answers included versatility on defense, coach Casey called him a “glue guy” (not a skill), and three point shooting (which Patterson isn’t really ‘great’ at). The struggle to find a consistent answer shows that Patterson isn’t really great at one thing, but he’s pretty good to okay at just about everything.

All of the Raptors most efficient lineups include Patterson in them. The starting unit of Lowry/DeRozan/Carroll/Siakam/Valanciunas have played a total of 321 minutes together this year, and this lineup in large part is the reason why the Raptors struggle sometimes offensively to start games. With a net rating of -5.9, and an offensive rating of 107.7, defenders tend to sag off of Pascal Siakam in the pick and roll, and whenever he receives the ball on an open mid-range shot, the defenders let him take it. Siakam has outperformed all expectations of him this year, but for a team with lofty expectations, those rookie mistakes can be devastating in big games. Some coaches will say, “It’s not about who start the games, it’s who finishes it.” Patterson is always finding floor time down the stretch. As you can see from the visual below developed by Phil Roth on http://nbarotations.info, the red shaded areas are when Patterson is on the floor, and the black shaded areas are when he’s on the bench. Patterson is seeing time with around five minutes remaining in the first quarter, plays until midway through the second, and comes back onto the floor for the remainder of the game halfway through the third.

The Raptors second and third most used lineups are both ultra efficient, and feature Patterson. The Lowry+Bench unit has a net rating of +23.2, scoring at will, with a perfect mix of skillful shooting, screen and roll action from Lucas Nogueira, and players who are capable of finishing at the rim. The other lineup being the starters, with Patterson inserted in for Siakam. This lineup has a 26.4 net rating, is slightly better defensively, and scores even more efficiently than the Lowry+Bench unit. It’s no coincidence that Patterson finds himself on two of the most efficient lineups in the NBA, his presence has a massive impact on both ends of the floor.

Patterson biggest asset to the team is on the defensive end. His strength and quick lateral movement, allow him to switch on to much bigger wings or centers and not get bullied by them, and then switching right back onto and overpower smaller guards, while keeping up with their speed. His one-on-one defense usually has him matching up against the team’s best scorer down the stretch of games.

The Raptors take the quality over quantity approach when shooting threes, with both DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, who are experts around the rim, and need the space to do so. Patterson’s main value on the offensive end is simply that he stands on the perimeter, spacing out for easy drive and kick threes. Patterson isn’t a great three point shooter by any means, but just by standing in the corner the defense has no choice but to always have a defenders eyes locked on Patterson. With 20.1% of all his threes attempted, the closest defender is 4-6 feet away (which is considered open), on those open shots he’s shooting 29.5% from three, when he has more than 6+ feet of space which is 42.5% of all his threes, he’s shooting 38.7% from three. These numbers aren’t great, and the Raptors offense would probably take another step forward if Patterson became more effective from deep, but for right now his game is quite limited on the offensive end. Patterson’s ability to drive to the basket lacks the ball handling skills, but Patterson does a great job playing within his own game. He doesn’t force drives to the basket when they aren’t there, has an amazing basketball IQ, is a very willing passer who rarely takes a bad shot.

Patterson had his first start of the season this week against the Celtics, where he still looked a step slow getting back from his injury. When healthy on a nightly basis, Patterson is arguably the third most important Raptor behind only Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Without Patterson in the lineup this year, the Raptors are 3-2, two of those wins coming against the Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Lakers who are a few tiers below the Raptors in the NBA’s totem poll, and the two losses were absolute blowouts in San Antonio, and against the Chicago Bulls last week. Sure, you could easily chalk both of those games up to the tough schedule the Raptors were playing at the time, but Patterson’s defense/spacing was surely missed in both games.

This coming offseason, Patterson will become an unrestricted free agent, and teams will be looking into his lineup stats, his defense, floor spacing, and will consider signing him for somewhere around $15mil per season. With the success he’s having in Toronto, Jeff Weltman and Masai Ujiri won’t be to quick to let him go. Patterson has become a core part of Toronto’s winning culture since the Rudy Gay trade.

Back on December 8th against the Minnesota Timberwolves, DeRozan and Lowry during halftime went and accepted their USA Gold Medals won during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Patterson snuck behind the cameras and ribbed his teammates on with applause and some Oscar worthy fake crying. Patterson’s impact may not be seen in the box score, instead the essence of who Patterson is making the players around him better, being the defensive anchor, doing all this in the most important parts of the game, and as mentioned by Dwayne Casey “he’s the glue guy.”

Follow – @Spenred

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Gameday: Nets @ Raptors, Jan. 13

It’s been nearly three years since Masai’s classic “F*&# Brooklyn!” moment, but at this rate it’s going to be closer to a decade before that quote goes from being awesome to tiresome.

It’s also probably going to be closer to a decade before Brooklyn is anything better than doo-doo butter on a basketball court. At 8-30, Brooklyn now stands alone, dead last in the NBA standings. With both this year and next year’s draft pick owed to the Celtics (one outright, the other through a pick-swap), things are not bound to get much better for a while. The sadness is real in Brooklyn. They just cut Anthony Bennett, who has now burned through four teams in four years. If the last place Nets don’t have a ‘just in case he puts things together’ 15th man on the roster spot for Young Poutine, his run in the league has all but assuredly come to an end. Poor, young, rich and healthy Anthony Bennett. Yes, in the grand scheme of things life is still pretty OK for the dude, but it has to be a weird existence to know that for the rest of your life the first sentence of your Wikipedia page will be questioning whether or not you were the biggest bust of all time. But I digress, back to the game at hand.

The Raptors are 5-5 over their last ten games, having struggled recently for the first time all season. Tonight’s matchup marks a turn in their schedule, as this is the first of four straight games against teams with losing records. They’re due to play teams with losing records for the majority of the next quarter or so of their season. That’s ideal for a team who has been dropping ground to Boston, realized how important Patrick Patterson being healthy is and that has been playing dangerously high minute totals for both Lowry and DeRozan. Putting together a combination of winning and rest would be a dream come true for a Raptors team that has fluctuated between looking a cut above the competition in the East and a team that simply can’t rebound defensively well enough to compete some nights.

On that rebounding note, the Raptors have and will continue to look to Valanciunas to step up on that end of the floor, especially against someone like Brook Lopez. Casey called out Valanciunas publicly last week, saying that if Valanciunas isn’t out there trying to dominate, then he wasn’t going to play. The gambit seems to have worked in the iddy bitty sample size since, as Valanciunas is coming off of a 23-rebound effort in their last outing. Keeping Lopez out of the post and especially off of the offensive glass will be a key determining factor in whether Valanciunas can stay on the floor tonight.

This is quite simply a game that Toronto ought to be able to have. The spread is -16.5, and Brooklyn is 1-17 on the road this season. I respect that Brooklyn is still an NBA team, and that they have some players, but they are really, really bad. The Raptors haven’t played well enough or built up enough wins lately to be able to take any opponents lightly, and it’s time to take care of business at home and start working on that distance separating them from Boston and the morass of Eastern Conference teams behind them. F&*# Brooklyn!

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DeRozan and Lowry in 3rd, 5th in latest All-Star voting update

The Toronto Raptors have made up a bit of ground, but not quite enough yet, the second round of NBA fan voting returns suggest.

DeMar DeRozan remains in third among Eastern Conference guards, but he continues to be only narrowly behind Dwyane Wade of the Chicago Bulls. Raptors fans have pushed Kyle Lowry into the starting lineup during the closing days of voting in each of the last two seasons, and Wade is the only player DeRozan could knock off – Kyrie Irving is simply way too far ahead in votes.

Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, jumped Derrick Rose to move into fifth place, but the gap is significant enough that it seems unlikely he’ll be able to catch Isaiah Thomas for fourth.

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1          LeBron James (CLE) 1,066,147
2          Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 963,110
3          Kevin Love (CLE) 473,328
4          Joel Embiid (PHI) 457,300
5          Jimmy Butler (CHI) 400,448
6          Carmelo Anthony (NY) 327,716
7          Kristaps Porzingis (NY) 324,106
8          Paul George (IND) 249,484
9          Jabari Parker (MIL) 120,022
10        Tristan Thompson (CLE) 114,759

Guards

1          Kyrie Irving (CLE) 971,362
2          Dwyane Wade (CHI) 514,866
3          DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 453,538
4          Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 401,671
5          Kyle Lowry (TOR) 256,668
6          Derrick Rose (NY) 223,804
7          John Wall (WAS) 173,148
8          Jeremy Lin (BKN) 109,088
9          Kemba Walker (CHA) 105,637
10        Avery Bradley (BOS) 64,157

As a reminder, fans can vote on NBA.com/vote, via the NBA app, on Facebook, via Google search, or, as you’re surely aware if you’ve watched a Raptors broadcast of late, tweeting the player’s name with the hashtag #NBAVote.

Luckily for the Raptors, fan voting only makes up 50 percent of what goes into the starters this year, and the gap between players doesn’t matter. So not only can you not hurt one Raptor by voting for the other, as some still seem to think, but there’s a strong incentive to continue voting to try to push each player a spot higher in the rankings. Don’t let Irving’s gargantuan lead turn you off from voting for either star, should you feel they deserve to be in the All-Star Game.

The process is a little clunky to explain, but basically, the players are ranked as fans vote them, then ranked as media vote them, then ranked as players vote them. It is the rank (“3rd among East guards”) that matters, not the total number of votes. The ranks are then weighted and put together for a cumulative score. It’s unclear if the NBA will release player and media voting publicly, so we may be left to guess the exact way in which a player makes or misses the starting lineup.

Fans have until the end of Monday, January 16 to vote. The starters will be announced on Thursday, January 19.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 13 – Eastern Conference All-Stars

The Extra returns with a pair of guests to make our Eastern Conference All-Star selections.

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Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 13

Raptors need a win-now move, but they can afford to be patient – The Defeated

What the Raptors badly need is another consistent two-way player, preferably in the frontcourt. Patterson is a superstar in his role but he can’t even consistently give you eight points a night. Valanciunas has his moments (ex: DET, BOS) but most nights he’s disengaged and hurts the team’s already thin defense. Nogueira is talented but he’s soft as baby shit and isn’t anyone’s idea of consistency. Adding a frontcourt player who can (a) defend the pick-and-roll and the rim, and (b) score in the paint would provide much needed balance on both sides of the floor.
The Raptors recognize their weakness, but they just haven’t found the right deal as of yet. Every power forward that hits the market gets linked to the Raptors and that’s no accident. Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, LaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka, Paul Millsap, Taj Gibson, Markieff Morris, Ryan Anderson — the list goes on and on.
However, team president Masai Ujiri doesn’t like making moves in-season, when the deck is stacked against him, and hasn’t had cap room to work with in free agency. Instead the Raptors have trotted out the likes of Pascal Siakam, Tyler Hansbrough, a broken Amir Johnson, an even more broken Jared Sullinger, and everyone’s favorite Argentinian gentleman Luis Scola. Those aren’t even bandaid solutions so much as the Raptors have just left an open wound to the air.

Waiting on Sully to Land – Raptors Republic

Jared Sullinger exists.

The Toronto Raptors are being held hostage by the unknown and until that variable is solved for, there is little point in getting worked up over the current state of the team. While Sullinger is no Millsap or Cousins, he was guaranteed the starting power forward spot to begin the season. While his contact is friendly, he was signed for a very specific reason, and that reason is going to be tested. The Raptors currently rank dead last in defensive rebounding percentage and have a player on the verge of returning who ranked 13th in that category last season, despite his struggles.

In his three years since his rookie season he’s averaged 12.1 pts, 8.1 rbs and 2.1 asts in just 25.9 minutes per game. As the son of a coach he’s applauded for his input on the sidelines, and his palpable enthusiasm hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. He’s excited for a new start in a new city that went to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against one of the best teams ever assembled.

Where he fits in upon his return, and whether that return happens soon enough to change the Raptors’ trade plans remains to be seen, but isn’t it worth waiting for?

Breaking down the value of the Raptors on today’s NBA trade market – Sportsnet.ca

As Marks puts it: “Would you sign Terrence Ross for 2 years/$20 mil? From a contract, value, and age perspective: Yes. The value of the contract is more appealing than where his level of play is right now.”

Ross is partially the victim of circumstance, splitting wing duty on a roster featuring DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Norman Powell. It means minutes are going to be hard to come by, and while this season has been an improvement over last, Ross is playing just 21 minutes per game— the lowest total since his rookie year.

What sticks out during that span is the same line between ability and inconsistency we’ve seen throughout his career. He’s posting double-figure scoring in only half of his games so far this season, leaving GMs left to wonder how he’ll fare as a starter.

“What happens if he goes up to 30-35 minutes— does he become less efficient? That’s a question that’ll be asked.”

Raptors won’t take easy schedule lightly | Toronto Sun

“Play every game the same as far as the effort I am putting out there and that’s what you have to do in the games where people will look and say it’s easy to win these games,” Joseph said. “But those people (saying it’s easy) may not play in the NBA. Every NBA player can play at any given time, in any given game so if you don’t come ready to play, everybody has seen in the past you can lose games.”

As for the time of the year — post-holiday, pre-all-star-break, Casey said it’s his job to keep the Raptors thinking and on their toes.

“Always this time of year is the toughest time,” Casey said. “You can’t see the all-star break, you can’t see that break coming but it’s down the road, you know it’s there. Your bodies and minds go through a malaise right now and that’s what we’ve got to fight and I thought we fought through it in the second half of the Boston game.”

To combat that malaise Casey keeps practices fresh, trying different things they can work on to keep the players engaged. He did not like the suggestion that gimmicky things in practice might break up the monotony.

“You don’t watch as much film, don’t go as long in practice,” Casey said. “(Thursday) we had a good, brisk practice, didn’t watch any film. You try to change things up, freshen it up, try to add a few new things in, not gimmicks but things you need to add offensively and defensively, whether it’s a zone or traps or whatever it is. All those things you try to keep the mental focus and mental alertness in place. I wouldn’t call it a gimmick because we have too many issues to gimmick up anything but again I want to make sure we stay sharp and ready, mentally fresh and physically fresh.”

Raptors watch their step on easy street | Toronto Star

The Raptors have proved this season that they have the mental resolve to take any opponents lightly. For the most part, they have taken care of business against the bottom-dwellers — and with a cumulative record of 36-76 going into Thursday’s play, that’s an apt description of the Nets, Knicks and Sixers.

Toronto has lost only 13 times this season and six of those have come at the hands of legitimate contenders in Cleveland, Golden State and San Antonio, with another to Houston, another highly-regarded team.

But being in a dogfight as they are — trying to chase down Cleveland for top spot in the East while holding off Boston and the likes of Atlanta, Indiana and Milwaukee — the Raptors have to be more concerned with what they’re doing rather than who they are playing.

“We can’t look at records when you’re in a hunt like we are, in a tight race like we are,” coach Dwane Casey said. “You have to go in and take care of business, play to your personality, stay focused.”

NBA Position Battles: Should Patrick Patterson Be the Regular Starting Power Forward for the Raptors? – numberFire

With the exception of modest advantages for Siakam in defensive rating, player efficiency rating, and our proprietary metric, nERD — a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency — Patterson gets the nod in most advanced stat categories, albeit by a relative hair.

On an individual statistical basis, these two players are fairly close across the board. What sets them unequivocally apart, however, is the lineup data.

When you look at how the Raptors perform when Patterson is combined with the team’s four entrenched starters (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas) as opposed to Siakam, it becomes obvious that this position battle shouldn’t be much of a battle at all:

5-Man LineupMINOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgAST%REB%eFG%
Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll,
Patterson, Valanciunas136129.0102.626.458.7%52.7%57.9%
Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll,
Siakam, Valanciunas321107.7113.6-5.948.0%50.0%52.0%

The Raptors are a whopping 32.3 points per 100 possessions better when Patterson plays with the regular starters than with Siakam in his place (per net rating). They also assist on more baskets, grab more available rebounds, and shoot more efficiently when Patterson is part of the unit.

Ujiri: Raptors received tons of trade calls last week – Sportsnet.ca

“We were busy last week,” Ujiri told Bob McCown and Damien Cox. “There were tons of calls because of the Kyle Korver trade and everybody thought there was another domino coming. There are plenty of calls. That’s the way the NBA works and then all of a sudden it goes quiet.”

With Toronto already boasting one of the best records in the league, Ujiri stressed he and his staff would not settle for a bad deal. If the right trade doesn’t present itself, the Raptors will not force anything just for the sake of making a move.

“We find ourselves in a special place, which is second in the East,” Ujiri said. “There is a window with Kyle Lowry, DeMar [DeRozan] and DeMarre [Carroll] with those kind of guys in their prime and we will take advantage. But we’re not making bad deals. It doesn’t help business, it doesn’t help your future. Trust me, if a deal is not made just know there was nothing on the table for us that would really enhance our team.”

Dwane Casey: Patrick Patterson ‘a 6th starter’ for Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

“He is a sixth starter for our team,” said Casey. “He plays starter minutes, he’s a glue guy, he does so many things that the naked eye doesn’t see. He’s out there quarterbacking, telling guys what to do, where to be, talking on defence, communicating and doing the dirty work that the numbers on the charts don’t show.

“Right now, he’s not 100 per cent, his knee is still bothering him a little bit, but he’s playing through it.”

Casey went on to say that once Sullinger is ready, he will be the starting power forward for the Raptors.

Sullinger signed a one-year deal this past summer, but was ruled out indefinitely after he had foot surgery back in October. Casey said there’s still no timetable for a return.

“He’s still doing a lot of movement and a lot of working out,” said Casey. “He hasn’t really gone five-on-five at all yet. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we’ll get a better timeline and see where he is and when he is going to come back.”

Pleading his case #wethenorth

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Raptors DeRozan, Lowry snubbed again in NBA All-Star voting – Sportsnet.ca

DeRozan sits third among Eastern Conference guards, while Lowry is in fifth. The top two vote-getters will be named backcourt starters.

Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade continue to hold the top two spots even though DeRozan and Lowry, at least statistically speaking, are both having better seasons than Irving and Wade.

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The Transformation Of Lucas Noguiera – Raptors Republic

Bebe has always been an intriguing player on defense. Despite having no positive results over the first few years of his career, and looking lost during his cameos in the playoffs, the Raptors had the urge to not give up on him. It’s hard to find length and wingspan like Bebe has, and sometimes it takes a while for these sorts of players to develop. Hello Hassan Whiteside. The Raptors made the mistake of cutting Hassan Whiteside from their summer league squad in 2014, and perhaps his emergence into a star is what led the Raptors to giving up on Bebe. The results on defense are staggering.

Opposing Field Goal Percentage When Contesting Shot: Out of all the regular rotation players on the Raptors, Bebe holds opponents to the lowest % on shots from within 0-5 feet, 5-9 feet and 10-14 feet. Opponents are shooting 55.8% at the rim when contested by Bebe, which is nearly 7% better than Jonas Valanciunas’ 62%. For reference, Nerlens Noel, Dwight Howard, Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside and Joel Embiid all hover around that 55-56% plateau, and it shows the tier of players Bebe is in at protecting the rim.

Looking out towards shots from 5-9 feet, Bebe is holding opponents to an NBA best of regular rotation players to an eye popping 32%. This is 5% better than Karl Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.

Bebe is an elite rim protector and the numbers back it up.

Powell telegraphing an appreciative butt-slap #wethenorth

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Bringing up Bebe Week 12: Lucas Nogueira Had a Cold – Raptors HQ

For Lucas Nogueira was now involved with many things involving many people—his own lineup spot, his defensive numbers, his future contract, his player connections, his real-estate holdings across nations, his personal staff of unknown number—which is only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in Canada, the man who can do anything he wants, anything, can do it because he has money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Lucas Nogueira survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few post-war products to withstand the test of time. He is the prospect who made the big comeback, the man who had everything on draft night, lost it, then got it back, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do: he uprooted his life, left his family, broke with everything that was familiar, learning in the process that one way to hold a position is not to hold it. Now he has the affection of Masai and Dwane and Kyle, the fine basketball produce of three generations, and still has the adoration of his teammates, the freedom of a professional athlete, he does not feel old, he makes young men feel old, makes them think that if Lucas Nogueira can do it, it can be done; not that they could do it, but it is still nice for other men to know, at twenty-five, that it can be done.

We go good together

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Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors: Friday NBA preview | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Lopez vs. Valanciunas

Lopez is one of the few good things about the Nets this season and has extended his shooting range out to the three-point line, which could be problematic for the Raptors centre, who is more comfortable defending much closer to the basket.

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JV talks ‘Itty Bitty Ballers’, Raptors’ Finals aspirations, Sullinger – Video – TSN

Jonas Valanciunas joins SportsCentre to talk about his ‘Itty Bitty Ballers’ project, how the Raptors can make the NBA Finals, what Jared Sullinger will bring to the team and if Toronto needs to add another piece at the trade deadline.

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

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

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905 Win D-League Record 14th Straight on Road, Over Red Claws

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (16-7) def. Maine Red Claws (15-9); 114-100 | Box Score

Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905)

The Raptors 905 set the tone early with their defence, and rode a steady wave of scoring from the entire rotation to coast to a wire-to-wire 110-94 victory, their fourth straight, over the Maine Red Claws in Portland.

They forced 21 turnovers while coughing it up only five times themselves, and limited the Red Claws to 4-of-22 shooting in a first quarter that included 13 attempts (three made) from beyond the arc for them. The 905 defence was active and moving along a string, protecting the middle to perfection. While the perimeter players rotated seamlessly, Edy Tavares made his presence felt with Red Claws managing just two points in the paint in the opening quarter.

The 4:21 mark in the first quarter brought up one of the more unusual sequences you’ll see. CJ Leslie banked (yes, you read that right, BANKED) in a free throw with 4:21 to go in the first, Yanick Moreira grabbed the offensive rebound, before passing out to Brady Heslip to knock down a three. Not the type of four-point play you see everyday.

The poor shooting didn’t shake the Red Claws confidence in any way though, as they hit three triples in the first three minutes of the second quarter to cut the 905 lead to one.

With 3:42 to go in the first half and the 905 leading 37-34, Bruno Caboclo showed some really positive signs of toughness after grabbing an offensive board. Abdel Nader got his hands on the ball to force a jump ball, and then got forceful in trying to wrestle the ball away from the young Brazilian. Bruno didn’t back down whatsoever, and proceeded to get a nice poke, before forcing a turnover when Nader tried to beat him off the dribble. and then hit a corner three when the 905 came back down the floor.

Bruno also had a couple of possessions where he passed up his own good luck at a three for great looks. The little things are coming along nicely for him, and hopefully doing more of the little things will build his confidence to make more of the plays that really catch everyone’s attention.

The 905 had 10 different scorers in the first half, and it would have been all 11 that checked in but for Yanick Moreira going 0-for-4.

The Red Claws finished the second quarter with six three-point makes out of 11 attempts to stay within striking distance at 48-43. Brady Heslip decided to counter that with his own marksmanship, catching fire midway through the third quarter to knock down a couple of threes to go along with a floater that helped the 905 stretch their lead to 63-55. This was followed by a stretch where the 905 bent but did not break, as timely buckets from Axel Toupane and E.J. Singler kept stretching the lead. Toupane made some really nice passes throughout the game, none prettier than a perfect interior bounce pass to Singler on a backdoor cut late in the fourth.

The game was quite straightforward in the fourth, with the Red Claws never getting any closer than six. Coach Stackhouse has got his team rolling again, and this is a credit to him and his coaching staff after the apparent wall the team hit a couple of weeks ago.

Notes:

  • The 905 are now a perfect 8-0 on the road, but just 8-7 at home. Your guess is as good as mine as to why the 9ine isn’t bringing them more good fortune.
  • The bench strength came through once again with 54 points, Uthoff continuing his solid streak with 11.
  • The 905 get almost an entire week off now before returning to action in Mississauga on January 18th against the Grand Rapids Drive at 12:30pm EST.
  • January 18th also marks the beginning of the D-League Showcase, during which the Hershey Centre will play host to 22 games in five days.
  • After the Showcase, the 905 will play nine more games at home, so if you want to check them out, you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including the two Air Canada Centre game on Monday, March 13th).

P.S.

  • Totally unrelated, but the Long Island Nets beat the Greensboro Swarm 138-133 and Christian Wood dropped 45 points, 15 rebounds, and eight blocks. Crazy line!
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The Transformation Of Lucas Noguiera

There was much debate regarding whether or not the Raptors should overpay Bismack Biyombo to come back after his inspiring performances in the playoffs last season. 18 million dollars a year was ultimately too steep of a price, but the Raptors may very well have been better off without him thanks to the sudden emergence of Lucas “Bebe” Noguiera this season.

Often joked as “A friend for Bruno” and “That guy with funny hair”, Bebe has never really been considered a viable piece for this team. Coming into the season, it was expected that his rotation minutes were only there with injuries, and that his minutes were backing up Jakub Poeltl. Bebe was not seen as a guy fit to play on this team, but he has certainly turned a corner and taken a big step forward in his career this year. Let’s take a deeper look at his progress from both ends of the court.

Defense:

Bebe has always been an intriguing player on defense. Despite having no positive results over the first few years of his career, and looking lost during his cameos in the playoffs, the Raptors had the urge to not give up on him. It’s hard to find length and wingspan like Bebe has, and sometimes it takes a while for these sorts of players to develop. Hello Hassan Whiteside. The Raptors made the mistake of cutting Hassan Whiteside from their summer league squad in 2014, and perhaps his emergence into a star is what led the Raptors to giving up on Bebe. The results on defense are staggering.

Opposing Field Goal Percentage When Contesting Shot: Out of all the regular rotation players on the Raptors, Bebe holds opponents to the lowest % on shots from within 0-5 feet, 5-9 feet and 10-14 feet. Opponents are shooting 55.8% at the rim when contested by Bebe, which is nearly 7% better than Jonas Valanciunas’ 62%. For reference, Nerlens Noel, Dwight Howard, Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside and Joel Embiid all hover around that 55-56% plateau, and it shows the tier of players Bebe is in at protecting the rim.

Looking out towards shots from 5-9 feet, Bebe is holding opponents to an NBA best of regular rotation players to an eye popping 32%. This is 5% better than Karl Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.

Bebe is an elite rim protector and the numbers back it up.

Block Stats:  While I’ve shown that Bebe alters shots at the rim, he is also in an elite class for swatting them away as well. Bebe blocks an elite 73% of his block attempts, and this is second only to Salah Mejri on Dallas. This may make it seem like Bebe is just someone who goes out of his way to pad blocks and overhelping, but this is simply not the case. Bebe is the 2nd most efficient shot blocker in the NBA, and only Joel Embiid averages more blocks per 36 by 0.1. Bebe is blocking an absurd 3.2 shots per 36, and doing so in a far more efficient manner than Embiid.

Rebounding: Bebe’s biggest weakness on defense is his rebounding. He only picks up 15% of the team’s defensive rebound opportunities when on the court. This is far too low a number, as the Raptors generally go with a 4 out 1 in look with Bebe on the court. Bebe plays the majority of his minutes with Lowry, Joseph, Ross and Patterson according to nbawowy.com, and if he is going to see himself turn into anything more, he’s going to have to bulk up and improve on his rebounding ability.

Ratings: With all that said, Bebe is not perfect, but hey, neither is anyone on this team defensively. The Raptors have a +12 net rating with Bebe on the court, and it is nice that he has been a positive force on this team this year for a fraction of the cost of the struggling Bismack Biyombo in Orlando.

Offense: 

There is less to be excited about here, but Bebe is really excelling in two things. The first is setting good screens and the second is finish on the pick and roll. Bebe has great hands, and he gives ball handlers more room to orchestrate with defenses having to respect his role to the rim. On a team that is very dependant on Lowry and Derozan to create their own shot, this sort of rim option is very valuable to have and a big part of the reason why the Raptors have a 120 offensive rating with Bebe on the court.

Nogueira is shooting 72% on shots at the rim, and with his ability to set screens and create looks for others, knowing that he will finish most of the time inside, is a major factor to the Raptors’ success.

Sure, he has no post game and his 9% usage rate shows that the Raptors will never rely on him to create anything for himself, but Bebe has certainly been a positive addition on both ends, and his rim protection has really taken away minutes from Jonas Valanciunas, and this is deservedly so.

In a sport where production is usually so predictable from year to year, Bebe’s emergence has been a genuine surprise to me, and it will be interesting to see what Casey chooses to do when Sullinger returns from his injury. Hopefully we will still see Bebe and his hair on the court throughout times of the playoffs.

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Waiting on Sully to Land

When the Cleveland Cavaliers stole Kyle Korver like a thief in the night, the unofficial bell tolled: Trade season had begun. While we sat at the bar and bent our elbows, arguing about who would fit best in our kingdom of second place, a general manager went out and bettered his team. He addressed a need and filled it swiftly, and while Kyle Korver is sure to test the waters of unrestricted free agency come July, he increased the chances of doing it with a ring on his hand.

While we licked our wounds and complained of Paul Millsap being taken off the trade market or DeMarcus Cousins stating his love for Sacramento we turned angry. We were no longer satisfied with hypotheticals, we wanted action. We picked up the conversation again and in the midst of a two game losing skid to the Bulls and Rockets we were ready to tear it down. With the exception of our unassailable backcourt we offered up any name we felt like to the trade gods. Powell, Patterson, Joseph, Valanciunas, Ross rolled off our tongues with the venomous drip of an ex-lover’s name and we didn’t care.

We forgot.

All it took was a gritty performance against a team trying to steal our silver crown. We watched Jonas Valanciunas single handedly out-rebound the Celtics in the fourth quarter and all was forgiven. That forgiveness will quickly turn to spite the second we watch him drop a single entry pass, spot Cory Joseph in a fifteen second dribble, or catch Terrence Ross losing his man faster than Carl Hanratty loses sight of Frank Abagnale. The hypothetical trades will bubble to the surface, and still we’ll be forgetting:

Jared Sullinger exists.

The Toronto Raptors are being held hostage by the unknown and until that variable is solved for, there is little point in getting worked up over the current state of the team. While Sullinger is no Millsap or Cousins, he was guaranteed the starting power forward spot to begin the season. While his contact is friendly, he was signed for a very specific reason, and that reason is going to be tested. The Raptors currently rank dead last in defensive rebounding percentage and have a player on the verge of returning who ranked 13th in that category last season, despite his struggles.

In his three years since his rookie season he’s averaged 12.1 pts, 8.1 rbs and 2.1 asts in just 25.9 minutes per game. As the son of a coach he’s applauded for his input on the sidelines, and his palpable enthusiasm hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. He’s excited for a new start in a new city that went to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against one of the best teams ever assembled.

Where he fits in upon his return, and whether that return happens soon enough to change the Raptors’ trade plans remains to be seen, but isn’t it worth waiting for?

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Breaking down the 4th quarter offense vs Boston Celtics

The Toronto Raptors’ late game offense against the Boston Celtics was a microcosm of their core offensive principles throughout the season. According to NBA.com, the Toronto Raptors rank 2nd in pick and roll frequency, only trailing the Phoenix Suns. Somehow, the Raptors were able to increase that volume late in the fourth quarter, which allowed them to take advantage of stark differences in personnel.

Within the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, the Raptors ran 8 pick and rolls, 7 of which directly created an advantage that the Raptors capitalized on to score.

The first was a Weave Pick and Roll, which the Raptors refer to as Swing Fist.

Over at Raptors Playbook, I compiled several minutes of film that shows the Raptors running this same action over the last couple years.

Its simplicity is also what makes it effective, as it forces eventual on-ball defenders into trailing the pick and roll. To combat that scenario and avoid indecisiveness on the defensive end, resulting in crucial miscommunications, some teams will switch wing defenders above the arc just as Boston would eventually do.

The weave action forced the Celtics to switch Jae Crowder off of DeRozan to avoid trailing the screen. This put a notably inferior defender, Gerald Green, onto DeRozan. While he was able to re-establish defensive position, Green was baited into fouling DeRozan on one of his patented pull-up mid range jumpers.

The second important aspect of the Raptors pick and roll attack against the Celtics was their spacing on side ball screens. In both featured instances, the Raptors drew two defenders on the ball, forcing indecisive Celtic defenders into uncomfortable situations.

The first side pick and roll had DeRozan freeze Horford with a quick side-step fadeaway jumper along the baseline. Like many of DeRozan’s shots in the mid range, there was a high degree of difficulty. However, relative to DeRozan’s success rate and usual shot difficulty, this was a solid enough look. Also note that even if DeRozan missed, Marcus Smart was unsuccessful in tagging Valanciunas’ roll to the rim, leaving the 7-footer unattended and in prime rebounding position if a miss was forced, something which was present throughout the game that allowed Valanciunas to record 11 offensive rebounds.

The second pick and roll heading towards the sideline also drew two defenders on the ball, with Joseph taking the attention of both Horford and Thomas after Valanciunas set a solid screen. This forced Olynyk to prepare and tag Valanciunas and attempt to box him out, producing a scenario where two weakside defenders became responsible for three offensive players. Lowry, seen lurking in the clip, noticed this and in cerebral fashion was able to relocate and fill above the arc for a clean catch. Again, for most offensive players, this shot probably classifies as one with a high degree of difficulty, but for Lowry it was taken in the area of the floor where he is most comfortable and cans the spot up jumper.

The third and final notable aspect of the Raptors’ effective pick and roll offense that was showcased late against the Celtics was probably their most important. The decision to attack Thomas as the screener’s defender in pick and rolls set the table for a lot of their offensive possessions down the stretch.

The Raptors, specifically DeRozan and Joseph, engaged in four pick and rolls late in the fourth quarter that were designed to attack Thomas. In two of those pick and rolls, DeRozan was able to get Thomas to switch onto him.

The first switch, while DeRozan missed, caused the Celtics’ defense to panic so much that Horford completely abandoned his defensive assignment to provide help for Thomas along the baseline. This allowed for Valanciunas to duck in and seal off the backside help from Olynyk to grab the offensive rebound and draw a foul, which lead to two made free throws.

The second was more a conventional DeRozan conversion, as he posted up the smaller Thomas and was able to rise above him for the jumper.

The two instances in which the Raptors couldn’t force Thomas to switch onto DeRozan, they were still able to convert offensively. The first was a Raptors Ram (screen the screener) pick and roll, which theoretically would disallow Thomas from hedging out to DeRozan, but the nonchalant nature in which DeRozan attacked off the screen provided Thomas with enough time to hard hedge. Regardless, DeRozan kept his primary defender, Crowder, on the side of his body and not properly squared back in front. This provided enough space for DeRozan to get his baseline jumper off.

The last non-switch pick and roll featured Lowry wisely setting a flare screen for Joseph after the main action bogged down. After that, Lowry attack Thomas and drove to the rim. In similar fashion to DeRozan’s previous drives, it drew a second defender and Valanciunas carved out enough space for a crucial offensive board.

Concluding Thoughts

The Raptors’ offensive attack late in the fourth quarter was the complete opposite of the Celtics’, which featured far more movement and passing to set up their main action. However, this is one of many instances that proves Dwane Casey’s favourite quote to be true, in that there are multiple ways to “skin a cat”.

There are instances and scenarios where motion and movement are needed, but that is not always the case. It is important to remember that the core objective of every offense is to create and execute advantages, and when the advantage of smaller defenders, such as Thomas, are staring you right in the face, there is not a large need to swing the ball from side to side before converting and executing. The Raptors sometimes suffer from a lack of offensive diversity (which they are getting better at based on their newer counters to pet plays), but the fourth quarter against the Celtics proved that their greatest weakness can also be their greatest strength.

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Behind Door Number Three

The number one topic of discussion for well over a year now for Raptors fans has been the power forward spot. It’s gone from Serge Ibaka(traded to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and draft rights to Domantas Sabonis), Markieff Morris(sent to the Washington Wizards for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and an unprotected first round pick) to Derrick Favors and Taj Gibson, as well as many other players. This season, for the most part, the fan base and media reporting has fixated on two players for the team to acquire to fill the role of starting power forward, in DeMarcus Cousins and Paul Millsap.

Over the course of the last week Cousins has indicated his desire to stay in Sacramento, and the team is reportedly willing to offer him a deal worth north of $200 million to stay with the Kings. Millsap is an impending unrestricted free agent next summer, which made trading for him a risky proposition, but the Hawks, despite having dumped Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, have now said that he’s off the market and will be spending the remainder of the year in Atlanta.

It’s entirely possible that the statements from both teams are nothing more than negotiating tactics, trying to drive up the prices on the trade market for their players, but for the moment lets take them on their merits and assume that both players are truly staying put for the remainder of the season. The Raptors must then move on to other options for filling the power forward position, and the first course of action would be to look internally.

Many Raptors writers(myself included) have long lobbied for Patrick Patterson to get the opportunity to prove himself, and he got that chance last night for the first time in the last two seasons during the regular season, in the win over the Boston Celtics. The Raptors won the first quarter, but the bench struggled, as it did in the playoffs when Patterson started, without him. His value to those bench units is massive, and while this isn’t an insurmountable hurdle, it certainly could be seen as an unnecessary problem. With a bench loaded with young assets on good contracts, looking outside the organization certainly seems sensible if you can make that move without costing yourself too much in terms of assets.

So who is out there this year in terms of acquirable power forwards? You’re going to hear about players like Taj Gibson and Derrick Favors in the days and weeks to come, with Chicago struggling and Utah finding that Rudy Gobert and Favors don’t really fit on the floor together. While both of these players are definitely talented, I’m not sure either of them definitively improves the ceiling of the squad, with both players operating offensively primarily in the paint, where Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan do their best work as well. In a perfect scenario the Raptors power forward needs to be able to provide space for them to work, which was one of the shortcomings of both Luis Scola and Pascal Siakam in that role.

There are power forwards out there easily acquirable who help on the defensive end, where the starting lineup has struggled, and Gibson and Favors both fall into this group. There are also power forwards out there, acquirable, who help with spacing on the offensive end, such as Niko Mirotic. However, finding the player who does both is complicated, and the players who fall into this group also will cost much more in a trade. Serge Ibaka might be available again this year with the Orlando Magic struggling and having a glut of frontcourt talent. He’s also struggled both this year and last and hasn’t been the same player he was in previous seasons.

The simple reality might be that if Millsap and Cousins aren’t available, the best option is internal, and whether that’s Patterson or Sullinger starting once he’s healthy, this just might not be the year for the Raptors. This is a tough pill to swallow with both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan currently in their primes, and no third star seemingly emerging to put them into the tier of the elite teams, but it might just be the reality that’s present. On the back of a tough stretch where the Raptors have lost 5 of their last 8 games, and a season in which there are few marquee wins to point at as the indicators that the team belongs in the contender discussion, we might still be asking these same things next summer when the team needs to re-sign both Lowry and Patterson. The truth is, it’s far, far harder to go from good to great than it is to go from bad to good.

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Revisiting How the Toronto Raptors Compare to Recent Finalists

As we approach the halfway mark of the regular season, now is as good a time as any to re-examine Toronto’s league ranking trends in a myriad of statistical categories. In last summer’s piece, I gathered the league rankings of the NBA champions, finalists, and conference finalists from the last 10 years. I had hoped that the data assembled would point to specific statistical categories that were consistently elite for franchises that were still playing basketball in late May and June. Some of the conclusions were straight forward and unsurprising (defensive rating, shooting efficiency and net margin ranking highly), others less so (limiting turnovers, rebounding percentages and free throw rate ranked low).

All of these statistics are to be taken with a grain of salt, as they are highly skewed by a certain LeBron James who appeared in seven of the last ten finals. Nonetheless, I found these rankings to be interesting, and added Toronto’s results thus far this season (before Tuesday night’s game against Boston) in the hopes of identifying some emerging trends.

Free Throw Percentage – Improvement

After a sharp drop last season, the Raptors have returned to the league’s elite in converting their free throw opportunities, ranking 3rd in the NBA this season. This is especially important for a team that stands 2nd in the league in free throw rate, since much of its offense relies on getting to the stripe. Unfortunately, it does not appear that ranking high in this category moves the needle substantially when it comes to making a deep playoff run.

Pace and Opponent Turnover Percentage – Improvement

Despite a poorer defensive rating this season, the Raptors are forcing their opponents into turning the ball over at a higher rate than all but one team. Their defensive scheme seems to be more aggressive, which as has been discussed of late, may not be appropriate for bigs in the mold of Jonas Valanciunas. However, when it works, it lets the Raptors get quick transition buckets, which has increased their pace and got them out of the bottom third in the latter category.

Defensive Rating, Defensive Rebounding – Regression

Once again, one statistic leads into another. Toronto’s rebounding woes on their own side of the court have been analyzed to death. The table proves a club doesn’t have to be among the league’s elite in defensive rebounding in order to go far in the playoffs, but an NBA worst rating is simply not going to cut it. Biyombo’s departure and Sullinger’s injury are the chief factors contributing to this crisis. The Raptors should begin their ascent, however slight, in this metric upon Sullinger’s return.

Toronto’s defensive rating stands at 19th in the Association, though it is influenced by the gifting of extra possessions to the opponent through surrendering offensive rebounds. Second chances often lead to quick putbacks or open triples, which affect the team’s overall defensive mark. Therefore, Sullinger’s return should improve Toronto’s defense some by finishing possessions on that end of the floor. Will it improve enough though?

Only three of the last 40 conference finalists and one of the last 20 NBA finalists (LeBron’s Cavaliers in 2015) boasted a bottom half defensive rating. Without a generational superstar, Dwane Casey and his staff know full well that a quality defense is their ticket to repeating last season’s success.

Other Notables

The Raptors have continued their slow and steady march into the NBA’s elite when it comes to a number of important categories; namely net margin, true shooting, offensive rating and three-point shooting percentage. The combination of their efficient free throw and long range shooting is driving the team’s offensive rating, which was at historical levels before a recent slump. It will be interesting to see whether this is the year when that offensive efficiency translates into the playoffs.

While it’s disappointing to see the Raptors’ assist numbers continue to hover around the NBA’s basement (especially since it appears to be one of the more important categories to playing in June), this is the way the club runs. In the words of Dwane Casey, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

With Sullinger’s return on the horizon and the looming possibility of a Millsap trade, these rankings can and likely will change as the season progresses. And while playoff games and series are often dictated by star power, matchups and momentum, historical statistics can hold value. As a famous Roman once said, “History is the teacher of life.”

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Mid-Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 11

10 things I saw from Raptors-Celtics (10–1–2017) – The Defeated

Exhale: This win feels like a relief more than anything else. The Raptors had played some of their worst basketball in recent weeks and couldn’t afford to slide into third with a loss to the hated Celtics. It wasn’t easy, but the Raptors took care of business and righted the ship before this upcoming creampuff schedule.

NBA – Q&A: Toronto Raptors’ DeRozan on his new contract, evolution as a player – ESPN

As a player, when do you know when you’ve hit another level in your career?

DeRozan: I don’t think you know. It’s really not something you’re conscious of because you’re putting in the work in the moment. You expect however you’re playing to come along if you’re putting in the work. And I think in the long run when you’re able to look at your body of work, you’ll be able to see the progression you make.

DeRozan scores 41 as Raptors defeat the Celtics | Toronto Sun

The 114-106 victory was by no means a dominant performance by the Raptors but there’s just something about this team that will not allow a three-game losing streak to happen.

The last time the Raptors lost three in a row it was November of 2015.

“Boston’s a very good team, a well-coached team, their constitution is tough, physical, hard and we meet that,” an obviously proud Dwane Casey said after the game. “They’re going to be our rival for a while.”

The Raptors head coach called the game a bloodbath and crowed like a proud father about how his team met every physical challenge the Celtics threw at them.

“Sometimes you get tired of getting beaten up,” Casey said. “If you’re playing on the playground, at least when I was young, you get tired of getting beaten up by the bully and all at once you fought back. And that’s what we did. I thought our guys fought back.”

DeRozan wasn’t ready to admit the Celtics were that rivalry the team has been searching for, but he’s fine if that is what this becomes.

“I don’t know,” he said of this becoming a nasty rivalry. “I think we are due for a rivalry, if it’s them I don’t know. But it’s definitely fun when we play against a Boston team.”

DeRozan adds another chapter to his storybook season in much-needed win – Sportsnet.ca

“Is that what it looked like?” he said with a knowing smile. “Yeah. It sucks to lose. You are going to lose games in this league but you don’t want to make it something consistent. More than one and if it’s two you want to get into a mode where you are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure you get that win and get that monkey off your back.”

DeRozan took the poor monkey and threw it to the floor. He was very angry with the monkey.

Down nine with six minutes left DeRozan took over, one contested two-point shot at a time, a performance that looked like it had been taken from a time capsule buried in 1977.

“DeRozan made some shots that are very, very, difficult shots,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

It was beautiful, if you’re into perfectly preserved retro art. He scored 12 points in the final six minutes as the Raptors outscored Boston 23-6 down the stretch on their way to a 114-106 comeback win.

If there was ever any doubt, DeRozan takes very personally all this winning and losing; this might have been his signature expression of it.

“He’s a tough kid,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “He didn’t grow up in Compton [California] for nothing.”

DeRozan, Lowry shine in divisional clash with Celtics – Video – TSN

On the backs of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors rallied from 16-points down to win a crucial divisional matchup with the Celtics. Josh Lewenberg and Leo Rautins have more on Toronto’s all-stars stepping up and discuss Jonas Valanciunas being a monster on the boards.

Game Rap: Huskies 114, Celtics 106 | Toronto Raptors

CLOSING IT OUT

With DeMar DeRozan on the bench to start the fourth, the Celtics extended their lead to eight points before he re-entered the game. An Al Horford three made the Boston lead nine before a DeRozan pull-up jumper kicked off a Raptors flurry and a 13-4 run to tie the game at 104 with 2:23 remaining. After a pair of disappointing fourth quarters in their previous two losses, Toronto was rock solid down the stretch against the Celtics, closing the game on a 10-2 run. Most important, the Raptors were solid on both ends of the floor to close out the game, as they controlled the boards and defended under the basket with Jonas Valanciunas coming up with a pair of huge blocks to protect Toronto’s lead.

Valanciunas, DeRozan lead 4th quarter comeback, Raps beat Celtics 114-106 – Raptors HQ

There were certainly mistakes and awkward attempts at recovery by Valanciunas early, but for the most part, he helped to steady the Raptors’ defense. The bleeding was at its most profuse when Valanciunas sat. A makeshift bench unit to start the second quarter (the rotations were thrown out of whack by Patterson FINALLY getting to start) erased the accomplishments of an excellent defensive showing in the opening 12 minutes. With Valanciunas playing just two minutes in the second through a combination of regularly scheduled rest and foul trouble, the Celtics dropped 37 points on 16-of-24 shooting. When on the court, Valanciunas posted an uncharacteristic 94.1 defensive rating.

That number looks extra impressive when you consider it wasn’t even propped up by Patrick Patterson the way it normally would be. Typically, Valanciunas’ success on defense is tied to Toronto’s best big man defender. On Tuesday, Patterson, still not 100 percent according to Dwane Casey, was largely invisible. He shared just 14 minutes of floor time with Valanciunas, and posted a personal defensive rating of 110.4 in his first start of the year.

In the fourth quarter, Valanciunas rode shotgun to DeRozan. Trailing by nine with six minutes remaining, DeRozan brought back glimpses of the opening two weeks of the season. Without Avery Bradley in the lineup, the Celtics had no way of diverting DeRozan away from his desired spots on the floor.

DeMar DeRozan knocks out collapsing Celtics 114-106 – CelticsBlog

The big third frame was part of a big second half for DeRozan, who scored 31 of his 41 points after the break. Once he was out of the box, the Celtics couldn’t get him back in it. DeRozan got it going to the basket and in the mid-range, where he excels. No matter who the Celtics threw at him, he got it done over and over.

Jonas Valanciunas was also big, literally and figuratively, for the Raptors. He finished with 18 points, 23 rebounds and 2 blocks in less than 28 minutes. He was all over the glass on both ends, finishing with 11 offensive rebounds. Rebounding has been a weakness all year for Boston, and Toronto took advantage to the nth degree.

Kyle Lowry was also big for Toronto with 24 points, including a key 4-point play when the Raptors were trailing by two points late in the 4th quarter. Lowry spent a lot of the night off the ball, with Cory Joseph running the offense, and the Celtics struggled to adjust to handling him off screens.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors prove Brad Stevens right: Boston Celtics need to improve | masslive.com

The Celtics led 100-91 with six minutes left, but surrendered a 23-6 game-closing run, during which DeRozan racked up 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Even his lone miss resulted in two points for Toronto; Valunciunas fought off Olynyk for the rebound and drew two free throws for his efforts.

“We’ve got to shore up the rebounding,” Stevens said. “That’s a huge part of our defensive issues. I thought they were clearly the more physical team for those 12 minutes.”

During that possession and a short number of others late in the game, the Celtics tried switching Thomas onto DeRozan despite a huge size difference. Like every other strategy they attempted, that one proved incapable of slowing down the rumbling All-Star.

“We actually had not avoided switching, because Isaiah is much better guarding in those situations than people would think based on his size. And he actually challenged him great twice,” Stevens said. “He challenged him as well as anybody I thought, because he’s low to the ground and then he made him miss the first. They ended up getting the tip-in. But I mean if our smallest guy is challenging the shot, it should be advantageous for our rebounding.”

“He scores on everybody,” Thomas explained. “So you just have to try and contest shots and make it tough on him. I was right there a few times. I mean, I’m a lot shorter than he is, but at the same time I contested it. That’s all you can ask for. When guys get in a rhythm it doesn’t really matter who you have on them.”

Raptors hold off surging Celtics to stay atop Atlantic Division – The Globe and Mail

“It was a bloodbath,” Casey said afterward, referring the physical bent of the contest. “It was nip and tuck all the way.”

Although a game against the Celtics these days is anything but a soft touch, Tuesday’s game did offer a bit of schedule relief for the Raptors as it represented just the second time they have played consecutive games at home in more than a month.

The Raptors were wearing their retro Toronto Huskies uniform for the event.

Toronto came into the game eager to move on from an unsightly two-game losing skid, coughing up big leads to both the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets in back-to-back outings over the weekend.

It has been more than a calendar year since Toronto last dropped three in a row.

Raptors eagerly await Sullinger’s court return – Article – TSN

“He’s going to bring a lot,” said DeMarre Carroll, ahead of Toronto’s bounce-back 114-106 win over the streaking Celtics, Sullinger’s former club. “A lot of people forgot about Jared. They forgot we got that in our back pocket.”
When he is available to play again – likely around late January-to-early February – his integration into Toronto’s lineup should be interesting. The son of a coach, Sullinger has earned rave reviews for his basketball intellect while on the sideline, but it will take time for him to get acclimated and, most importantly, back into game shape.
Like any addition to the rotation – and that’s what he will be, an addition – there’s a learning curve, a feeling out process for him, the coaching staff and the rest of the players. Outside of a few practices just prior to sustaining the injury in Toronto’s first pre-season game, Sullinger is essentially an unknown commodity to most of his teammates.
Although he’s probably not the saviour at power forward – Toronto’s weakest position – he should help; the question is, to what degree?
That’s something the Raptors were uncertain of even when they signed him in July. In need of a replacement for both Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, and after striking out on a few big fish at the position (Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Paul Millsap among them), Sullinger became a reasonable fallback option at an affordable cost ($5.63 million over one year). Coming off a down season – his fourth in Boston – and having battled weight issues in the past, he was far from a safe bet. Still, the Raptors were intrigued by his skill set and obvious motivation to have a bounce-back campaign.

Boston Celtics are still chasing Toronto Raptors in Eastern Conference – ESPN

A Celtics team that has routinely taken care of business against lesser foes this season — Boston is 0-4 against the Raptors and Cavaliers but 13-3 versus the rest of the East — looked a bit disheveled after the Raptors rallied Tuesday. It seems fair to wonder if there’s a bit of a mental hurdle that these Celtics must overcome to truly compete with the Raptors.

The Celtics have three months to figure things out. As we near the midpoint of the 2016-17 season, playoff seedings are tenuous at best, but ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives both Toronto (65.5 percent chance at the No. 2 seed) and Boston (71.4 percent chance at the No. 3 seed) heavy odds to finish where they currently stand.

Although the Celtics still have to prove they can win a playoff series, BPI offers a 42.4 percent chance that Boston and Toronto will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals. No other two-team matchup is nearly as likely (for instance, a Celtics-Cavaliers semis matchup has the next-best odds, at 21.2 percent).

Another loss to a quality foe will mean a rehash of Boston’s struggles against good teams this season. Boston is 0-8 against the teams ahead of it in the league standings. The Celtics are still searching for a win against a truly elite opponent. Despite all of Isaiah Thomas’ fourth-quarter wizardry lately, he couldn’t rescue Boston on Tuesday.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPHSbY5AnMW/

Celtics turning into a major threat to the Raptors | Toronto Sun

That the Celtics’ upswing coincides with Toronto’s first real period of a struggle only makes things more interesting.

“We’re looking at a team that’s one of the top teams in the NBA — not only in the Eastern Conference but in the NBA — and one of the top point guards (Isaiah Thomas) in the league,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve had two losses, which is not a reason to panic, but just the way we lose. So everything goes into the mix. Our focus, our energy, our toughness, whatever the adjectives you want to use has to be in play (for the matchup).”

Horford makes his presence felt in almost every facet of the game, while Thomas is the Celtics primary source of scoring.

“He’s unbelievable in the fourth quarter, he’s the best player in the league in the NBA in the fourth quarter,” Casey said of Thomas, the final selection in the 2011 draft by the Sacramento Kings. He has since moved to Phoenix and now Boston where he has established his all-star credentials.

“He’s proven that, their team is one of the highest scoring teams in the fourth quarter,” Casey said marvelling at Thomas’ late-game heroics. “We know that, you know that going into the fourth quarter so your high beams better be on when you are going into the fourth quarter against Thomas.”

Tuesday Night Makeover. #HuskiesNight #WeTheNorth

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Gray Area: Raptors need to target Cousins, go all-in at trade deadline – Sportsnet.ca

If Ujiri and the Raptors swing for the fences to have a “Big Three” of Demar, K-Lo and Cousins, the worst that could happen is we regress to an average playoff team with more tinkering to do. But if they gel, boy… If it works and they feed off of one another, then we could very well send the league into a global meltdown by having the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.

My fellow Raps fan, we’ve escaped from the shackles of expansion team despondency. Like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank, for years we endured, quietly chipping through bricks (and my God, there were lots of bricks). Now we find ourselves one player away from potentially reaching the end of the sewage pipe. We’re almost there.

And when Demarcus Cousins comes to Toronto, and the Raptors make the finals, we will kneel in the lightening and pouring rain together, thinking of everything that once was and how it shall be no more.

That’s if we pull the trigger.

As my Serbian grandfather used to say when he wanted his walnut pudding: “Now is the time.”

DeMar up to 14p & 5r early in Q3. #WeTheNorth

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Free Association: Should the Raptors trade for defence? – Sportsnet.ca

To end the show the guys discuss if Boston or Toronto is the second best team in the East. As usual JD  and Donnovan disagree. They also debate if Toronto needs to make a trade to improve defensively. (31:00).

Hands up if you are ready for tonight's game?! 7:30p tip. Watch on Facebook. #RoadToTheSix

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That hesi tho. #WeTheNorth

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Keep voting! CLICK THE LINK IN BIO to help send Kyle & DeMar to the Big Easy… it's easy! #WeTheNorth

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

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DeRozan pulls Raptors from the brink against Celtics

Raptors 114, Celtics 106| Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

There are certain moments over the course of a season to which greater importance will later be ascribed. The defining toppling of a difficult opponent, the light bulb realization of a shift in strategy, a victory pulled from the jaws of defeat. Conversely, there could be an injury, an inexplicable loss of faith or cohesion, or a defeat that allows a snowball to continue amassing size and downward momentum.

For the early part of Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors found themselves staring down the second possibility. Coming off of two terrible collapses on a weekend back-to-back, the Raptors faced the possibility of a third consecutive loss, something they’d avoided on nine consecutive occasions. They are not built to sustain losing streaks, the thinking goes, and despite all of the fatigue accumulated over the previous three weeks, an extended stretch at home would make tabula rasa of any list of excuses. What’s more, the visiting Boston Celtics came in red-hot, boasting stronger recent performance and taking aim at Toronto’s perch atop the Atlantic Division.

For a few minutes, they looked like the team they had promised to be before tip off. Yet another change to the starting lineup sparked the team’s best start against a quality opponent in some time, even though the new starter, Patrick Patterson, was somewhat ineffective at less than 100 percent (a fact head coach Dwane Casey repeated several times after the game). The defense was engaged, and while the quarter saw the Raptors drift into a bit of sloppiness, they appeared in good shape and ready to right the ship.

That sense was fleeting. The shaky tail-end to the first bled into an abhorrent second quarter, truly one of the worst the team has played all season. One of the league’s top offenses, Toronto looked unfamiliar in their sets, turned the ball over ad nauseam (normally one of their biggest strengths), and those turnovers helped fuel the Celtics’ attack the other way. When halftime rolled around, the Raptors were in a nine-point hole and reeling. By the time Al Horford hit a three to put the Celtics up 11 midway through the third quarter, the game felt all too familiar. Toronto wasn’t at their best, or anything close to it, and a team that relies so much on chemistry and effort and a near-perfect playing of their very specific roles simply can’t take full nights off.

Shortly after, DeMar DeRozan received a technical foul.

This was, it seems, one of those big moments. With frustrations boiling over, the foul was unjustified and handed the Celtics three points, but it was symbolic. DeRozan, one of the team’s two unquestioned leaders and occasionally their most demonstrative, had enough. This was DeRozan putting a stop to the recent slide, to the Raptors playing below their standard, to the questions about whether this team is 2014-15’s team or whether they even belong in the league’s second tier. This was DeRozan letting his teammates know that they weren’t going to let a third would-be peer steal a winnable game, that they wouldn’t cough up another on home court, that they weren’t going to spend the next few weeks against easier opponents wondering whether a turnaround in play would only hold up against lesser teams. It was time to remind Boston why, in the post-game words of Jonas Valanciunas, “they’re racing for second place, we’re racing for first.”

This was DeRozan, as he and Kyle Lowry have done so many times in the past, telling both teams that a game that was getting out of hand wasn’t done, that the writing on the wall wasn’t permanent, that the Celtics were going to have to wait a little while longer to claim the No. 1 contender spot in the Eastern Conference that the Raptors have been clawing for over the last several years.

“Is that what it looked like?” DeRozan asked, smiling, when it was suggested that his mindset was to prevent a three-game losing streak.


“Not willing to lose,” he added when asked about what went into his career-high 13 rebounds.

Those reasons are simple, but so, too, was DeRozan’s message. And the Raptors, nearly to a man, fell in line. From DeRozan’s technical onward, the Raptors would outscore the Celtics 46-27. They would hold Boston to 33.3-percent shooting. They would mostly decline to turn the ball over. And DeRozan would not miss. The Raptors railed off a 12-4 run to end the third quarter, and then blew the doors off of things in the fourth.

Tweaking his rotation in unfamiliar ways for most of the night, Casey saw fit to go to an old reliable for the stretch run. When the team was assembled last year, it appeared that the starters, with Cory Joseph in place of a power forward for additional ball-handling and perimeter defense, would be one of the team’s best lineups. That showed in small samples, but DeMarre Carroll’s injury limited their usage, and this year’s closers have included Patterson and, often, a non-Valanciunas center. Casey has called on Valanciunas to be dominant in the face of difficult defensive matchups, and he has heeded those words, turning in some of his best games of the season of late. On Tuesday, he was dominant enough, even against one of his toughest theoretical checks in Al Horford, to warrant Casey going back to last year’s presumed closers.

It was the right decision, and the lesson here may be the affirmation that the Raptors have what they need in-house on most nights. Valanciunas added a career-high 23 rebounds to DeRozan’s 13 to help swing the battle on the boards emphatically, and while a few of those – and a few of the misses in his 6-of-18 line – were due to him tipping his own shots around the rim, he was the decisive victor of most wars in the paint. The Lithuanian does not have to be Bismack Biyombo on defense to warrant playing in tight games, but he has to prove the defensive situation is tenable and swing the rebounding, and that allows the Raptors to reap the benefits of his screens and his gravity on the dive or on the block at the other end. He did that here, the Raptors were demonstrably better with him on the floor, and Casey’s once-shelved closing unit played to a plus-16 in eight minutes.

“He blocked shots, he challenged others, he dominated the glass, so, yeah,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

All the while, DeRozan played the role of cleaner. Lowry was hitting from outside in support, but the crunch-time offense amounted mostly to DeRozan doing what DeRozan has done for the bulk of the season. Short Avery Bradley to let them switch across four positions, the Celtics had to stomach the possibility of Isaiah Thomas getting switched on to one of the Raptors’ stars, and whether it was in that matchup or against Jae Crowder, DeRozan was getting his shot off, however difficult. Almost all of his attempts were contested, it didn’t matter. He shot 7-of-11 from his technical onward, adding 20 of his 41 points (he finished 16-of-29 shooting). No, he didn’t tally an assist, and that’s an issue on some nights, but the Raptors needed every basket he produced here. (He was also better on defense than he normally is.).


He woke the team, he decided things were going to change, and then he made sure to see it all through to the end. His teammates followed suit, answered the physicality of a tough Celtics team (albeit one that, it should be said, very much wilted down the stretch), and came out of what their head coach called a bloodbath with a few less scars.

“Sometimes you get tired of getting beaten up,” Casey said. “That says something about our team’s character, who they are, their fight, their grit.”

For DeRozan, it was just as simple as being unwilling to lose, and then being really stubborn about it. Whether or not that moment ends up looking like an important one later in the season, one that prevented the Raptors from sliding into a longer losing skid, one that took away their cloak of resilience after multiple defeats, one that saved them from weeks of soul-searching short on a marquee win as they once again beat on the dregs, is yet to be seen. But it was a moment, and it changed the course of at least one game.

“Them moments they get you going,” DeRozan said. “They get your adrenaline and everything going, take it up to another level. Everybody else has no other choice but to follow along. “

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VanVleet and Caboclo help 905 pull away for sweep of Swarm

Raptors 905 122, Greensboro Swarm 109 | Box Score
Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905), Christian Wood (Swarm)

It didn’t take long for Raptors 905 to find their way.

Coming off of a three-game losing streak at home that had head coach Jerry Stackhouse challenging his team to be better than just good enough to skate by, the 905 have responded with one of their best three-game stretches of the season. On Tuesday, that produced an emphatic 122-109 victory over the Greensboro Swarm, completing a season sweep of the expansion franchise.

The 905 looked hungry from the jump, led by some sweet shooting from E.J. Singler and some great secondary playmaking from Axel Toupane, operating with the starters from the wing. The team’s depth hasn’t been as solid as advertised of late, or at least not consistently, and so it was a good harbinger that as Stackhouse started to go to his bench, momentum only continued to build. Fred VanVleet and Jarrod Uthoff knocked down big triples around a Will Sheehey steal, and then C.J. Leslie got his game off on the right foot with a big putback dunk to put the team ahead 12 early.

Greensboro had little answer into the second quarter, with the 905 holding them to 32.5-percent shooting in the half, with just three triples. As the starters filtered back in, the 905 went on another big run, with assignees Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo leading a 17-5 run to close the half.

Holding a 23-point lead for an entire half is difficult, given score effects and motivational swings and just plain variance, and the Swarm eventually found themselves chipping away. Christian Wood, in particular, got his game going, scoring 10 of his game-high 30 points in the third quarter alone. Xavier Munford chipped in with 10, too, as while the 905 guarded well in general, Greensboro hit a ludicrous 8-of-11 on threes. Turnovers crept in as the 905 got a bit frenetic against the push from the Swarm, and not even Brady Heslip’s hot shooting – he’d finish 5-of-6 on threes for a team-high 25 points – could settle things down.

The hot third bled into the fourth, with the Swarm getting the lead down to as low as four when Caboclo fouled Wood for an and-one on an offensive rebound. To the surprise of some, given his occasional lack of response to adversity in earlier years, Caboclo took that as an impetus to assert himself on the game. He knocked down a mid-range look from VanVleet on the ensuing possession, then knocked down a triple from VanVleet a short while later. VanVleet hit a three of his own in between, then set up Heslip for a triple and Toupane for a transition layup, and just like that the lead was back to 16.

VanVleet’s takeover as a distributor during that three-minute stretch really can’t be overstated. He was smart, surgical, and short of one tough miss at the rim, mistake-free. He’d finish with a modest 12 points but chip in five rebounds, 11 assists, and four steals, all while committing just two turnovers on a night when his teammates struggled to hang on to the ball. Caboclo, too, had a strong showing with 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and a complete and impactful defensive effort. It’s a nice sign for the 905 – and the Raptors – that those two were a big part of the team’s biggest runs (and had the highest plus-minus marks of the game as a result).

The 905 mostly cruised down the stretch from there, even briefly pushing the lead back to 21 on yet another Heslip triple before Munford and Wood worked to get it down to the more reasonable final. It’s difficult to expect a 48-minute drudging of an opponent, and the 905 definitely bent at times and let off the gas. Their ability to answer Greensboro’s counterpunch is important, and it’s clear Stackhouse has the team’s confidence where it’s not shaken from a bad run here and there. The defense also remains quite strong, at least inside the arc – the Swram hit 17-of-34 from long-range, a woefully unsustainable mark that would be frustrating had the 905 not gone 16-of-31 themselves. Once they stepped over the line, Greensboro was 18-of-52, unable to get much inside despite some foul trouble for Edy Tavares and Yanick Moreira both. The 3-point defense is something to work on, as are the turnovers, but the 905 continue to do enough things well to win, and win often.

With the victory, the 905 not only feel back on solid footing anecdotally, they’re also back atop the Eastern Conference with a 15-7 record. They rank eighth in offense, fourth in defense, and third in net rating, and they’ll have the benefit of a pair of games in front of all of the eyes of the NBA next week when they host the D-League Showcase at Hershey Centre,

Notes

  • VanVleet was recalled after the game and will re-join the parent club for practice Thursday and their home game on Friday. Caboclo, meanwhile, is traveling with the 905 for their Thursday road game and will likely be recalled to sit on the bench Friday, too – the 905 return home for more than a week after Thursday thanks to hosting the D-League Showcase next week.
    • Delon Wright was down with the 905 for some 3-on-3 practice on Monday. He had mentioned Jan. 17 as a target date for a return to the court, and while some teams don’t send assignment players to the Showcase because it’s meant for the D-Leaguers to get noticed, a pair of games just up the Gardiner would represent a nice opportunity to shake off some rust and work on his conditioning.
  • Jarrod Uthoff had a beautiful pump-fake and drive late in the game, and he’s starting to adjust well to teams being aggressive in chasing one of the best lower-usage marksmen in the league (he’s 16-of-32 on the year) off the line. He’s been solid defensively, too, and could probably make a case for more than the 20.7 minutes he’s averaging (although nobody is really averaging heavy minutes, given the team’s depth).
  • The D-League Showcase runs Jan. 18-22. The 905 play twice (18, 20), and the Hershey Centre will host 22 games over those five days.
  • After the Showcase, the 905 have precious few home games on the schedule. If you want to check any out live, 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 two Air Canada Centre games).
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Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – DeMar, Jonas, Kyle refuse to lose

Host William Lou breaks down a bounceback performance against the Boston Celtics

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Quick Reaction: Boston Celtics 106 – 114 Toronto Raptors

Boston 106 Final
Box Score
114 Toronto

C
P. Patterson21 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0-3 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -3 +/-

Look, I know everyone is having fits with his butter fingers and awful night from the floor, but I need to point out that the Raptors looked competent defensively every time he was out there. How can a player be so good yet so bad at the same time?

The defensive sequence leading up to his block on Amir in the first quarter was beautiful.

B
D. Carroll35 MIN, 11 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 4-10 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 19 +/-

He’s the dude that tried to stop the bleeding with a three in the 2nd when the Raptors were getting blown out of the building.

I thought he also worked really hard to fight through screens and hit his rotations.

Please though, DeMarre, don’t dribble it to the rim like a freight train. It is not a good idea.

A+
J. Valanciunas28 MIN, 18 PTS, 23 REB, 0 AST, 6-18 FG, 0-0 3FG, 6-6 FT, 2 BLK, 3 TO, 17 +/-

Did a really nice job on the glass and worked his tail off to get to the rim early and often against Amir. His individual D was huge too!

Only time I think he really struggled in this game was when Olynyk stretched him out. But hey, that’s me nitpicking on something that wasn’t even really his fault. Terrific performance from JV tonight.

A+
K. Lowry42 MIN, 24 PTS, 4 REB, 9 AST, 7-12 FG, 5-6 3FG, 5-8 FT, 1 BLK, 4 TO, 7 +/-

Classic Lowry tonight. He laid it out on the floor (literally, diving for loose balls), popped up out of nowhere for steals, and hit three-bombs. Took two elbows to his face too.

Oh, and he also decided to take over in the fourth like the superstar he is, to no one’s surprise.

A+
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 41 PTS, 13 REB, 0 AST, 16-29 FG, 1-2 3FG, 8-9 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 19 +/-

Where would this team be without him? Probably beneath a treadmill, somewhere.

Most telling stat is not his double-double, but rather his lack of assists despite getting his teammates good looks. Needs help. The fourth quarter surge is not really a guaranteed thing – it just masked a pretty awful night from a lot of players offensively.

There should really be a rare grade of A++ for moments like this.

C-
C. Joseph24 MIN, 7 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 2-5 FG, 1-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 6 +/-

*See Terrence Ross below.

Additionally, he just wasn’t efficient with his dribble penetration tonight with the Celtics flooding the paint on his drives and closing down passing lanes.

To be clear, he actually worked really hard tonight, but things didn’t go his way.

C-
T. Ross21 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 1 AST, 1-4 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -12 +/-

When I say DeRozan needs help, I’m looking at you.

B+
L. Nogueira21 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 3-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 1-2 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

His strength lacks often on defense, but I want to point out a couple great things he did tonight, like: running the floor in transition to get easy buckets, and playing really good man-to-man defense.

Like JV though, just couldn’t do a thing about Boston’s bigs lurking behind the 3-point arc. Not on him, you could argue.

B
N. Powell4 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -4 +/-

He had a very short leash tonight, and I thought that was harsh, given that he’s good defensively and did a very nice job with his two drives in four minutes – one was an easy bucket, the other one a nice kick-out for an open three.

C+
Dwane Casey

I always feel inadequate giving professional NBA head coaches (particularly of this calibre) bad grades, but I really wanted to see Siakam thrown a bone here, given how badly Jonas and Bebe would get burned on the perimeter when playing together.

Another observation: I like the decision to start Patterson, which helped the defensive efficiency to start. The rest of the rotations needed some work though. Somehow we need to figure out how to start Patterson without sacrificing the Lowry + bench death lineup.

Things We Saw

  1. I mean, what is the point in starting Patterson and giving yourself a nice tempo to set the tone of the game before laying an infinite amount of eggs in the 2nd frame?

    The 2nd was an absolute bloodbath, and it’s where Boston did most of their damage, outscoring the Raptors 37-23(!). You would’ve been well within your rights to chalk this up as a loss after an abysmal 2nd and slightly less-abysmal 3rd quarter.

    The 4th was a different story, though. Lowry and DeRozan took the game into their own hands, Valanciunas stepped up big, and the Raptors outscored the Celtics by 12.

  2. It really felt like the Raptors should’ve been up big after the first. Boston was not playing well, and the Raptors started off playing sound defense and getting good looks. But the turnovers, man, were horrendous.

    The Raptors had 17 turnovers. Their season average is 12. To be fair, they improved slightly as the game wore on in this aspect, but in the first quarter in particular, the Raptors looked like they were playing with their hands soaked in grease.

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Pre-game news & notes: Bradley sits for Celtics, Patterson starts at PF

The Toronto Raptors do not lose three games in a row.

Well, the Raptors, historically, have done so a lot of times. Like, a lot. But these Raptors don’t, having shaken off their last nine two-game losing streaks (including one in the postseason) with a victory. The last time they dropped three straight was in the opening month of last season. It’s been a minute. It’s that look internally, at what they are or are not doing, that’s carrying the day in Toronto rather than any concern that the visiting Boston Celtics could meet them atop the Atlantic Division with a victory.

We got to get off this losing slide we’re on. I think we lost two in a row we just want to get back to our winning ways,” DeMarre Carroll said at shootaround. “We can’t worry about the standings or all that kind of stuff, we have to get better for the Toronto Raptors.”

Differentiating those two matters would be difficult with a loss. Toronto coughed up winnable games to decent teams on back-to-back nights on the weekend, and the confidence level of the fanbase, at least in our comments, seems to be wavering. Bad stretches happen, and with the fatigue excuse out the window with some extended time at home, it’s time for a good stretch to begin.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here, and the Weekly Extra podcast from a while back was essentially a massive preview of Raptors vs. Celtics for the season.

Raptors updates
Everyone’s healthy that’s expected to be healthy, though two players remain on assignment with Raptors 905. The Raptors will go 11-deep, then, with the ability to mix and match lineups to meet Boston going small or stretching out big. DeMarre Carroll’s presence here opes up some options for going smaller, Patrick Patterson can likely spot in on Al Horford at the five if needed, and Norman Powell was extremely effective playing up a position the last time the teams met, scoring 20 points with five steals in 35 minutes.

Dwane Casey will have plenty of flexibility to go smaller, to throw length out across the wing positions, and to get additional ball-handlers on the floor to help alleviate the pressure from Boston’s strong perimeter defense.Once again, the value of Casey’s flexibility and some of the silver lining of dealing with injuries shows here. The Raptors have learned to play a lot of different ways, and while they don’t always work, they’re a lot more familiar going a lot more ways than in years past.

What Casey won’t have, though, is a slam dunk option to start at power forward if he remains averse to giving Patterson the nod. That position, and the rotations that fall out from it, remains fluid. The guess here is the Raptors roll the dice starting small opposite Amir Johnson (or perhaps Jonas Jerebko), but check back closer to tip off to see what they’re doing. Dual centers wouldn’t seem that great a matchup opposite a spacy, rangy Boston attack.

UPDATE: Patterson starts at the four. FINALLY. Wish we had more time before tip-off to digest this, but it is the right call, now and in perpetuity moving forward.

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

Celtics updates
The Celtics were without Thomas in the first meeting, and they’ll be without Avery Bradley here due to an Achilles injury. Bradley’s a big loss as far as defending Lowry goes, and while he gives up some size to DeRozan, he certainly would have been an option there, as well. That shifts the defensive load on the Raptors’ stars to Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, players who are definitely up for the challenge and have had varying degrees of success in the past. This is one of those games where Toronto will need big contributions from its role players, helping beat traps, knock down open looks, or, in the case of Carroll or Powell, taking advantage of a cross-match onto a small.

Getting Thomas back is huge. He’s averaging 28 points in 33.7 minutes, kicking in 6.1 assists, scoring with ruthless efficiency, living at the free-throw line…he’s been a damn terror. Cory Joseph has struggled on defense of late, and he needs to figure that out, like, immediately unless he’s going to surrender minutes to Powell or even Terrence Ross here, because I can’t imagine the Raptors want Lowry spending too much of his time on Thomas, at least until late.

Tyler Zeller (sinus infection [same]) is out, too, and James Young (ankle) is questionable but out of the rotation, anyway.

PG: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson
SG: Marcus Smart, Gerald Green
SF: Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, (James Young)
PF: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk
Assigned:
TBD: James Young
Out: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller

Assorted

  • Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo remain with Raptors 905, who also tip off locally tonight. Delon Wright is back with the parent club after getting some 3-on-3 work in with the 905 yesterday. He still hasn’t been cleared for a return to full practice, but he’s drawing closer.
  • Jared Sullinger is expected to see the doctor who performed his surgery for a check up next week, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN. From there, we’ll probably get a more clear idea of when he might be able to return. He’s been around the team and working out plenty, even doing some light-speed 4-on-4 work, though he’ll probably need at least a week of practice (and maybe a D-League game?) to get to where the team is comfortable playing him. I’ve had the All-Star Break in my head all season as a potential return date, and Sullinger beating, or even meeting, that would be a positive development.
  • Shameless self promotion – Over at The Athletic, I’ll be hosting a weekly Raptors podcast, usually with Eric Koreen. You can subscribe to the iTunes feed here or just check out the Soundcloud. I also wrote about Kyle Lowry’s ridiculous 3-point shooting over at Vice. As always, you can find all my work on my Facebook or Twitter.
  • It’s Huskies night again!

The line
The Raptors are 4.5-point favorites with a 218 over-under. That total seems a bit high, but all of the Raptors’ totals seem a bit high this year, and they keep hitting them anyway. I’m not sure about the spread, though. The Raptors can and should win this game, but the try-hards in Boston seem likely to make it a tough fight. Beating Boston with some emphasis would be nice. Losing would probably make Will have a meltdown on the reaction podcast.

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The 573rd “What Do We Do With Jonas Valanciunas” Column

Somebody said some words about Jonas Valanciunas the other day which inevitably sparked the age-old debate: is Valanciunas the second coming of Arvydas Sabonis who should take no fewer than 20 shots per game or is he an obsolete dinosaur from ages past who should stick to his arts and crafts and leave the basketballing to people who can run a sub-7.0 40? As usual the answer is somewhere in between the extreme positions that people seem to take, so this is going to be a rational exploration of where Valanciunas fits right now and for the future. Valanciunas is the most polarizing character on the team so this is undoubtedly a fool’s errand(which probably makes me the perfect man for the job)

To be clear right from the start: Valanciunas will never be a defensive player of the year candidate. There is this thing that happens these days where as soon as it is suggested that someone might actually be good at something he is generally thought to be bad at or vice versa people immediately try to bring it to extremes – let’s not do that. He clearly struggles to defend in open space and like most big men he lacks the agility to defend all the way out to the three point line and recover to the rim. He still gets a little handsy under the rim which leads to some cheap foul calls and because he goes so hard in the paint on the offensive end because he’s desperate to touch a basketball he can be prone to getting beat down the floor. These are all inarguably true and perfectly valid criticisms of his defensive game.

When these are taken to the extreme and used to suggest that he’s not playable they lose a lot of credibility though. For starters, there are currently teams starting Pau Gasol, Zaza Pachulia and Cody Zeller playing top-10 NBA defense while a team starting Robin Lopez currently sits in 11th. In recent years we have seen top level defenses starting the likes of Al Jefferson and a Zaza/Ersan Ilyasova tandem. Granted, those teams had much better perimeter defenders than this Raptors squad does, but then the issue is not that Valanciunas is unplayable defensively, the issue is that the Raptors as a squad have too many subpar defensive players.

This idea that you need someone with the agility of an Anthony Davis on the inside to defend is thrown around a lot but there are plenty of ways to build a good defensive team; one thing that does seem to be entirely true is that no team has built a good defense by asking a player like Valanciunas to patrol 20 feet away from the hoop on a regular basis. The Raptors have always seemed bent on forcing Valanciunas to play a certain style of defense instead of building a defensive scheme around what he does do well. He’s wide, he’s tall, he’s immobile; scheme with that in mind the way teams like Charlotte and San Antonio do. The only thing worse than not having a big man who can extend his defense on the perimeter like an Anthony Davis can is taking a big man who can’t do it and asking him to because it’s rendering him unable to do what he is actually capable of doing – the defensive equivalent of putting DeMar DeRozan in Kyle Korver’s role.

The best course of action for the Raptors would have been picking a defensive strategy and sticking with it, allowing Valanciunas the ability to grow into it. If he becomes a proficient defender it’s going to be due to learning how to position himself to limit exposure – though training with Apollo Creed wouldn’t hurt – and that kind of learning is made a lot easier by having a consistent role and being allowed to play through mistakes and over the years Valanciunas has not really been afforded either of these.

There are things that he does bring to the defensive end of the floor that have value.  He’s a deterrent to an opponents post up game – he doesn’t seem to be the brute he once was but he’s no pushover and does a very good job as a post defender. He’s easily the team’s best rebounder, with everybody else lacking the size and the fight to hold position in the paint. He’s gotten very good at contesting without fouling, it seems like the bulk of his fouls these days come from the wrestling matches in the paint than from contesting shots at the rim. There have been skills to develop and utility for the Raptors if they look for it but over the last few years they’ve shown little willingness to do so.

This begs the question, “Why should the Raptors try so hard to keep Valanciunas on the floor?” and the answer is easy: he does certain essential things at a level nobody else on the Raptors can match. He’s as good a screener as you’ll find in the league today, with a willingness to make solid contact and the timing necessary to both get his guard separation and beat the recovering big man to the rim. As mentioned before he’s the only great rebounder on the entire team and there’s been more than one game that the Raptors have either lost or allowed to be closer than necessary because of an inability to close out defensive possessions. But the real value in Valanciunas is in his offensive game, where his combination of brute force and a deft touch allow him to finish as well as anyone in the game and his consistency helps separate the Raptors from other guard-oriented offenses like the Portland Trail Blazers.

It’s not difficult to see that he’s underutilized, which is another one of those observations that prompts the jumping to extremes. No, Valanciunas is not Marc Gasol on offense but he’s also not Yinka Dare and there are more than two classes of offensive players: those who need the ball all the time and those who should never have the ball. Valanciunas is firmly in between and significantly closer to the former than the latter but his usage rate is closer to that of the latter.

When trying to determine whether a player is utilized properly as a scorer it can be useful to compare his offensive rating to that of the team, it gives you an idea of whether a scoring play for that player is more or less efficient than the team average. Given the general relationship between volume and efficiency if a player is significantly above the team rating it suggests that a scoring possession for him is significantly better than average for the team and he can stand get a few more scoring possessions – this year the Raptors offensive rating is a stellar 115.4 while Valanciunas is working on his 3rd consecutive 120+ season. Obviously there are exceptions to this – you don’t want to run a bunch of post ups for a player like Bebe Nogueira for example – but Valanciunas is obviously not one of those exceptions. He can shoot more reliably, he has post moves and counters, he’s physically imposing compared to most centers and, more importantly, he’s maintained this efficiency with higher usage in the past.

“You can’t run the offense through him” is the usual refrain from those who don’t care if Valanciunas sees the ball more or not. Nobody is suggesting that the Raptors should and there is a lot of middle ground between “run the offense through him” and “maybe run some plays for him that are not just clear outs and do it more than 3 times per game”. And maybe part of the problem is that we still look at offense as something driven by an individual and not a team concept. There is rarely, if ever, one player who carries an offense by himself and the goal should always be to maximize the contributions of everyone.

At the moment the Raptors don’t really run much for Valanciunas and what they do run is woefully inadequate. A lot of it is just clearing out one side of the floor for a post up, which was great when you had illegal defense rules in place but these days it’s an invitation to zone off weakside shooters and send a double team from the blindside. Giving him more opportunities should mean incorporating some simple but long overdue concepts into the offense: set more cross screens to help him establish position, send cutters into his field of view and run some off-ball screens for shooters while he has the ball; if he doesn’t make the best reads or have the best passing touch make it more difficult to double team him, his passing lanes a bit wider and his reads easier. Incorporate some duck ins to take advantage of the all-star guards gravity and his scoring touch. These are all things that should have been done years ago.

This is important because the Raptors great offense is not always great, in fact it’s been 16th in the NBA over the Raptors last 10 games. When you look at the scoring efficiency posted by the Raptors regulars during this stretch you can see that the they had a lot of people struggling to make anything:

Valanciunas stands out here because he’s the only player on the list who they could reasonably have involved more on the offense while maintaining his efficiency. We’ve seen the Raptors guards and shooters go cold over and over again, especially when the team needs offense most, and we’ve seen Valanciunas remain fairly steady during his time on Toronto. Giving more possessions to the steady big man as opposed to the streaky guards should level out the offense a bit; the explosions may not be as frequent but the collapses would not be either with greater involvement from one of their steadiest offensive players.

It’s also important because what we saw in November from this squad is not likely what we are going to see in the playoffs and Valanciunas has been one of the most consistent Raptors come playoff time. The goal is to be as sharp as possible and able to deal with whatever the defense throws at you and they’re not even prepared to use one of their most potent weapons in a meaningful way. Even if you only compare his usage to guys in that “offense-only center” role like Nikola Vucevic, Enes Kanter or Al Jefferson they all have a usage of 24 or greater while Valanciunas only sits at 18.8. Right now Norman Powell uses almost as many possessions as Valanciunas does and it’s definitely not because of maxed out efficiency; Valanciunas has had higher efficiency than he is posting right now on more possessions used in previous seasons.

It’s pretty obvious that Jonas Valanciunas is a player who is flawed but also underutilized; both of those can be true at the same time and barring a few crazy exceptions his proponents have merely been wanting to see the team take advantage of the skillset he has to maximize his utility. He’s not the saviour of the franchise but he’s also not the source of everything wrong with it and its become painfully obvious that the organization currently has no idea what to do with him. They ask him to dominate and he does the very next game, then one game later he sits down the stretch as the team blows a lead because the lineup they play is missing one of his biggest strengths. He’s shot a very nice 69% from the floor since those comments about dominatingwere made and he still can’t get more than 11 field goal attempts in a game. It can be frustrating because the team has always seemed to be at their best when they manage to find a way to incorporate him – in fact they’re 11-2 when Valanciunas takes 10+ shots per game and 13-11 otherwise. He may not be a future superstar but he’s clearly got something to offer and after years of paying lip service to it the Raptors need to start taking advantage of it by actively seeking out ways to get him involved in the offense, not just throwing him the ball as a courtesy once in a while.

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The Main Event: Pull the Trigger vs. Roll with the Status Quo

Note to self (and anybody else who still has Cable TV):

When setting your PVR to record a Raptors’ game, always remember to extend the recording at least a half an hour past the regularly scheduled 2 hours and 30 minutes.

I should have known better, though, especially after what’s recently taken place. As despite this team’s overall success rate, you never really know what you’re in for regardless of the opposition.

At first (Chicago curse or no Chicago curse), having my viewing experience of Saturday night’s loss cut short just seconds after DeRozan and Lowry failed to seal the deal in regulation left me at a loss for words. And needless to say, my frantic search for any overtime footage only ended up adding fuel to my frustration.

But when you throw in the repeat performance of Sunday’s collapse — I choose to disregard the fact that this team had to go up against one of the league’s superstars for the second straight night — that previous frustration (after a few meditation exercises, mind you) gave way to a bit of perspective:

This past weekend was a fitting representation of this club’s current state of affairs and possible future — i.e. continuously coming full circle, i.e continuously falling prey to their inconsistencies.

To the part of this fan base that’s optimistic at all costs, I get it: A game is just a game that’s just a game that’s just a game. And with the recent road trip from hell, the numerous back-to-backs and the noticeable absence of Patrick Patterson, you get a recipe for understanding. Even with the last two disappointing instalments (albeit with periodic displays of outstanding basketball mixed in) the Raps still sit at 19-2 when leading after three quarters.

However, that doesn’t mean the club’s recent stretch, with Chicago and Houston at the forefront, can’t exist as the evidence needed when determining whether or not to pull the trigger on a trade.

Side Note:

Being that All-Star voting is one of the very few powers fans actually have, I can’t exactly tell you how to spend your time. But, with the season currently trending in a questionable direction, and the risk of falling back to the Eastern Conference pack creeping into the picture, isn’t there much more important things to worry about than whether or not Lowry and DeRozan make an appearance in New Orleans? Hell, a deep playoff run + the Olympics + 37 and 36 minutes per game respectively = What are we really voting for…Increasing their already worrisome workload? There’s better ways to acquire the validation we’re all searching for. #NBAVoteRantOver

Back to that much more important stuff:

Is the trade market the proper route to take to achieve that next step? Well, when it comes to this fan base, as always, there’s no shortage of opinions. Do you happen to fall into any of the following categories?

Allow me to paraphrase:

1. “I’m all-in. Let’s maximize this window of opportunity by doing whatever it takes to acquire that forever missing third piece. Even if it means sacrificing a bit of depth and/or jeopardizing a bit of future stability.”

2. “I’m on the fence. I mean, Jared Sullinger hasn’t even played a regular season minute yet. Wouldn’t he, along with DeMarre Carroll getting healthier as the season progresses, represent trade acquisitions with the added bonus of not having to give anything up? This squad is built on chemistry and the notion of potentially messing with what makes this team tick makes the decision far from a slam dunk.”

3. “Does it even matter? What kind of deal could realistically get done that would put the Raps in a position to compete with the Cavs? The East’s title-holder would have to be in a pretty vulnerable state to think Toronto could eclipse last season. Oh, and DeMarcus Cousins? Are you sure that Mary Jane is just for medicinal purposes?”

4. “Let’s not get our hopes up. The annual complacency shown by MLSE tells you all you need to know about what’s in store for the rest of this season and the near future. The hardcore fans of years past now share a landscape with a new generation of diehard supporters — the Raps’ headliner status isn’t at risk either way. Therefore, even with a rising salary cap, “Luxury Tax” won’t be part of this organization’s vocabulary anytime soon.”

5. “In terms of the roster and style of play, my faith is slipping. Their non-committal approach on defense combined with an over-reliance on a make-or-miss philosophy has taken its toll. Regular season? Sure. Playoffs? Not so much. Even if that long-awaited Power Forward enters the equation, they’d still be one piece away from being one piece away.”

There won’t be a definitive answer until the dust settles. However, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Isn’t it better to be proactive when you have the chance?

Though, to put this into a proper light, being proactive could also mean ultimately standing pat. And doing so (which I would disagree with) can be interpreted from multiple angles:

A) Masai has enough faith in the progress made by Ross, Bebe, Powell, Poeltl and Siakam for the team to eventually get to the level needed. Odds of that being a current reality = slim.

B) Masai actually views Sullinger as the missing piece. Odds of that being a current reality = relatively high. How his Per-36 numbers from last season (15 points, 12.7 boards. 3.5 dimes, 0.9 blocks, 1.4 steals) will translate, especially after coming off an injury and dealing with a learning curve, is surely up for debate. But do they also suggest he deserves far more credit? Do they suggest he deserves a chance to provide that missing ingredient?

Well, there’s too many variables that have to seamlessly fall into place for his best-case scenario to transpire. And after all, his presence won’t exactly fix the problem when it comes to opposing defences already knowing how the Raps will attack during half-court possessions when it matters most. Still, I don’t think we should doubt his physical intangibles and the fact that he only adds to how flexible this roster can be. Patterson and Sullinger on the court together, even for just limited stretches, helps tie up loose ends.

C) Masai has no intention to do anything because he and the upper brass secretly don’t believe the Raps are a team that’s ready to take advantage of what a potential big-name outsider can bring to the table. And why waste future assets to satisfy false hope?

Odds of that being a current reality = the same odds DeMarre Carroll made up for his defensive debacle in Chicago with his offensive explosion vs. Houston…Meaning: It’s too close to call.

Now, this is where things get tricky:

By now, I assume most of you experienced yesterday’s #WojBomb where Atlanta stated they’re now “pulling Paul Millsap off the trade market.”

Take that maneuver however you like, but I’m not exactly buying it. Sure, Kyle Korver isn’t what he once was, and a future 1st rounder has its obvious worth, but helping the biggest obstacle you would have to face getting there (Cleveland) and actually state you’re planning to compete for the East after the fact can’t exactly be taken at face value.

So, in the spirit of seeing this scenario through (AKA: seeing through the B.S.), let’s see what’s possible:

Salaries always have to come close (enough) and perceived value across the league plays its role. So right off the bat, Terrence Ross would be the first name in any trade package. One that would have to include a first-round pick, as per Atlanta’s trade demands.

And unless a third team speaks up, you’d be hard-pressed to play with the Trade Machine and come up with anything other than a choice between Patterson, Sullinger and Joseph and as the secondary piece and another choice between Powell, Siakam and Poeltl as the third.

Acquiring a player like Nerlens Noel would come cheaper, but any previous noise on that front has since quieted down. As for likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin, the Raps’ track record suggests they’re more than likely not willing to go the extra mile. So, the middle ground that Millsap (and his Bird Rights) represents, suggests Toronto should still be knocking.

But wait, there’s still one last part to this story. And this conclusion revolves around (long shot or no long shot) Kyle Lowry’s potential departure as soon as this offseason. Relax, I did say “long shot” twice.

So much so that I waited to the end to bring this up. Nevertheless, not bringing it up would be failing to do the necessary due diligence.

Many people still scoff at the notion. And the arguments are valid:

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.

Well, there’s nothing concrete pointing in the opposite direction, so just chill for sec. However, holes can still be poked in the storyline:

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. Which is all well and good considering the Raps will, by all likely accounts, fork over the cash without hesitation.

We went through this same “hometown calling his name” scenario with DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean the outcome will end the same way. And when an esteemed writer such as Zach Lowe drops a nugget on his Podcast in the form of him believing Philly, who will have ample cap space this summer, will make an effort to pry Lowry away, everybody’s lens shifts into focus that much more.

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 what if Lowry has a bit of lingering resentment towards being traded to the Knicks only to have it fall apart at the last minute? 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.

In the end, even though there’s plenty of basketball left to sway the decision-making, the Raps shouldn’t be afraid to push the envelope. By the way, talk about the perfect time for the Celtics to come to town! Appointment television, folks. And if you can’t catch it live, remember: At least a half an hour, OT is always lurking.

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Gameday: Celtics @ Raptors, Jan. 9

It probably shouldn’t, but suddenly a single game in the middle of January feels like it’s carrying a fair amount of importance.

Losers of five of their last seven and mired in what can safely be called their worst defensive stretch of the season, the Toronto Raptors are in need of a victory to right the ship. The concerns about fatigue and travel have been real, but their first extended time at home in nearly a month and a day off Monday should eliminate that as a reason for a dip in play. They can ill afford to come out tired, too, because the visiting Boston Celtics are coming in hot. The Celtics are winners of 10 of their last 12, and while they’re not at full strength just yet, they’ll have the benefit of Isaiah Thomas, who didn’t play the last time the two teams met (the Raptors, meanwhile, get DeMarre Carroll back for this one).

It is not something to fret about here at the midway point of the season and two meetings between the teams still to go, but the Celtics will pull even with the Raptors with a victory. Boston has long been presumed Toronto’s top competition for the two-seed, they’re playing much better basketball over the last couple of weeks, and now they have a chance to make the standings back up what they’ve believed, internally, since the offseason. Toronto probably cares a little less, knowing the big-picture situation they’re in. Still, they need a win regardless, and beating a team that’s roughly on their level before the schedule turns easier wouldn’t be the worst way to start to turn things around.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590.

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: Unrelated to the Celtics, you’ve been fairly critical of DeMarre Carroll over the last couple of games (and I know you catch a lot of Raptors ball, in general). Justifiably so, at least for halves at a time. Now a year removed from surgery, with no back-to-back restriction, and able to play 40 minutes, how much more “maybe he’ll get back to that level” leash does he have left with you?

Michael Pina: I like DeMarre Carroll, respect what he brings to the table and am a happier NBA observer when he’s healthy. He’s more efficient than he was a year ago, but it’s clear, to me, that he’s entering (entered?) a less effective phase of his career, one I’m sure Masai Ujiri wishes he could’ve avoided for another year or two. Carroll is an adequate three-point shooter, and that’s good because Toronto’s offense doesn’t need much more out of him right now. But he’s (understandably) lost a step guarding in space and, though far from bad overall, isn’t quite good enough on that end to unlock small-ball units that could give this team’s defense some athletic juice. Several factors go into that—roster construction, coaching, etc.—and lineups with Carroll at the four have performed well in limited time, but it would clearly be more convenient for everyone if Carroll was a bit less rickety. (Is it too harsh to suggest that Norm Powell would push Carroll out of the rotation if he grew three inches tomorrow?)

Blake Murphy: Since the last Celtics-Raptors meeting, Boston’s really taken off, going 10-4 (including their current 10-2 stretch). We had talked about how Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford absences had prevented the team from developing the requisite familiarity that is the building block for chemistry/other lovely ethereal things. Is that at the root of the turnaround? What have they gotten better at as they learn to play with each other more?

Michael Pina: Health is nice, and having Al Horford back has helped stabilize a defense that still underperforms more than it should. But the primary reason for their recent success is Isaiah Thomas’ rapid climb into an impossibly crowded MVP discussion. He obviously won’t win the award, but after averaging an efficient 30.3 points per game in December, Thomas is now fifth in scoring, sixth in usage percentage, and eighth in PER. He’s unstoppable one-man offense that doesn’t take a night off and should probably start in the All-Star game. Defense is a concern, as it’ll always be when you’re 5’9″ at this level, but Thomas is an offensive superstar, especially in the 4th quarter. Those guys are rare and they really matter.

Blake Murphy: Kyle Lowry, not DeMar DeRozan, went off in the last meeting between the two sides. DeRozan is the focus of most opponent gameplans, and the Celtics can throw a lot of different looks at him. But if Boston struggled to contain Lowry with Thomas out (and thus, superior defenders on him more often), what’s their best bet to contain him when Thomas is going to see at least a share of the matchup?

Michael Pina: Lowry was a monster in Boston, but I wonder if he would’ve eviscerated the Celtics as completely as he did had he been forced to scurry around and guard Isaiah Thomas that night on the other end. (The answer is “probably!”) With regards to Tuesday night’s re-match, Avery Bradley missed Saturday night’s game against the Pelicans due to a strained Achilles and he’s out again here. Even with him sidelined, the Celtics will still hide Thomas on Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and maybe even the aforementioned Carroll a little bit (Boston takes advantage whenever Thomas catches larger defenders in a crossmatch going the other way). He’ll also find himself on Lowry, but in that situation the Celtics will likely switch a bunch and pray Lowry doesn’t burn its bigs too badly.

Blake Murphy: These teams rank 30th (Toronto) and 29th (Boston) in defensive rebounding. Hand-shake agreement before the game that all missed shots result in a change of possession and a dead ball?

Michael Pina: *Shakes hand/quietly sobs*

Blake Murphy: Is there a piece likely to hit the market that you, hypothetical Celtics GM, would cash in the Nets pick for? 

Michael Pina: Outside of Paul George, and some sort of assurance that he’d re-sign for five years, there’s no semi-realistic candidate out there. Jimmy Butler is a very nice player on a very nice contract, but he’s also played a ton of minutes, loves having the ball in his hands and isn’t quite on George’s level (in my opinion) as a two-way force capable of lifting this team past the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If I’m Danny Ainge, I keep my ears open but don’t do anything until free agency, when max cap space can lure Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward or some other quality, non All-Star onboard (think Serge Ibaka) without having to forfeit picks and players. In that scenario, the Celtics would still have whoever they selected in this year’s draft, Jaylen Brown, and the 2018 Nets pick to dangle in a trade, should a superstar become available before the 2018 trade deadline.

Raptors updates
Everyone’s healthy that’s expected to be healthy, though two players remain on assignment with Raptors 905. The Raptors will go 11-deep, then, with the ability to mix and match lineups to meet Boston going small or stretching out big. Carroll’s presence here opes up some options for going smaller, Patrick Patterson can likely spot in on Al Horford at the five if needed, and Norman Powell was extremely effective playing up a position the last time the teams met, scoring 20 points with five steals in 35 minutes. Dwane Casey will have plenty of flexibility to go smaller, to throw length out across the wing positions, and to get additional ball-handlers on the floor to help alleviate the pressure from Boston’s strong perimeter defense.

That still leaves the question of who will start at power forward, and the two teams may play a bit of chicken stalling to announce it. The Raptors could start Powell once again, sliding Carroll to the four, but the Celtics can counter big with Amir Johnson and swing the rebounding battle early. The Raptors could go back to starting Lucas Nogueira in a dual-center look, but that becomes untenable if Boston downsizes or if they start Jonas Jerebko. Whoever starts (my guess is Powell, unless Pascal Siakam is suddenly back in the rotation), expect Casey and Brad Stevens to feel things out for most of the first three quarters before committing to something down the stretch (likely both sides playing small, with Carroll and Jae Crowder as power forwards).

Once again, the value of Casey’s flexibility and some of the silver lining of dealing with injuries shows here. The Raptors have learned to play a lot of different ways, and while they don’t always work, they’re a lot more familiar going a lot more ways than in years past.

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

Celtics updates
The Celtics were without Thomas in the first meeting, and they’ll be without Avery Bradley here due to an Achilles injury. Bradley’s a big loss as far as defending Lowry goes, and while he gives up some size to DeRozan, he certainly would have been an option there, as well. That shifts the defensive load on the Raptors’ stars to Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, players who are definitely up for the challenge and have had varying degrees of success in the past. This is one of those games where Toronto will need big contributions from its role players, helping beat traps, knock down open looks, or, in the case of Carroll or Powell, taking advantage of a cross-match onto a small.

Boston has begun to gain a familiarity together, but some of that goes out the window without Bradley. He’s a part of nine of the team’s 11-most commonly used lineups, and there are only two groups without him that have played at least 23 minutes together. One of those is the likely starters, a group that has a plus-12.8 net rating over 46 minutes, and the other is a nearly complete hockey substitution second unit (when Smart was coming off the bench), which has proven incapable of scoring over 45 minutes. This won’t be an excuse for Boston, but it would make a victory even more impressive without one of their primary defensive weapons and their leader in minutes played.

Getting Thomas back is huge, of course. He’s averaging 28 points in 33.7 minutes, kicking in 6.1 assists, scoring with ruthless efficiency, living at the free-throw line…he’s been a damn terror. Cory Joseph has struggled on defense of late, and he needs to figure that out, like, immediately unless he’s going to surrender minutes to Powell or even Terrence Ross here, because I can’t imagine the Raptors want Lowry spending too much of his time on Thomas, at least until late.

Tyler Zeller (sinus infection [same]) is out, too, and James Young (ankle) is questionable but out of the rotation, anyway.

PG: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson
SG: Marcus Smart, Gerald Green
SF: Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, (James Young)
PF: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk
Assigned:
TBD: James Young
Out: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller

The line
The Raptors are 4.5-point favorites with a 218 over-under. That total seems a bit high, but all of the Raptors’ totals seem a bit high this year, and they keep hitting them anyway. I’m not sure about the spread, though. The Raptors can and should win this game, but the try-hards in Boston seem likely to make it a tough fight. Beating Boston with some emphasis would be nice. Losing would probably make Will have a meltdown on the reaction podcast.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 10

And we’re back with a short MC after a long layoff…I missed you guys!

T&S: Are the Raptors far from championship contention? – Sportsnet.ca

Tim and Sid debate if this current Raptors squad has any chance of seriously contending considering the team’s defensive liabilities.

Raptors looking to ‘regroup’ after gruelling start to 2017 – Sportsnet.ca

You are the Toronto Raptors. You have been on a serious grind for weeks now. Taking the court to play the Houston Rockets Sunday night, conditions are far less than ideal for your success. This run of play has to catch up to you at some point.

And yet, there the Raptors were, up by four and shooting 58 per cent going into the fourth quarter. Perhaps it was a bit much to ask for 12 more minutes of energetic, active basketball against one of the quickest-moving teams in the league. Perhaps a burnout was inevitable, especially considering four Toronto starters played 40-plus minutes the night prior. Perhaps it was incredibly unlikely the Rockets—who have sunk more threes than any other team in the NBA—would continue to miss nearly every single three-pointer they attempted. But as they sat on the bench during that break prior to the fourth, the Raptors were undoubtedly in a position to win the basketball game.

Ultimately, they did not. They succumbed, 129-122, after a fourth quarter spent chasing the Rockets around the floor as the visitors pressed down on the accelerator and pulled away from an opponent that had little else to give.

The Weekly Rap, Jan. 9th-15th: Everything is fine – Raptors HQ

Jan. 10th vs. Celtics
This game is now for 2nd in the East and the Raps will look to protect home court and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the season series between these two clubs. They also need to keep the try-hards in their place for Will Lou to remain the King of Celtics slander on twitter. With the way they’ve been playing, the Raps could certainly use a boost up front….

Five thoughts on Raps vs. Celts, Millsap and more – Article – TSN

RAPTORS VS. CELTICS: Only one game separates them in the battle for the second playoff seed so needless to say with the Raps hitting a rough patch and Boston hitting its stride this game has significant implications for both sides. I know it’s not even the 40-game mark for both squads and they will both say it’s just another game but that’s nonsense. It could come down to a head-to-head tiebreaker in April so it’s huge. Remember last season: The Raptors got to the East Finals as the 2-seed by benefit of having home court and more importantly hosting critical Games 5 and 7 in both Rounds 1 and 2 at home. By the way, they went 4-0 in those all-important games. Getting the second seed is important. The Raptors at 24-13 are two games ahead of last year’s 56-win squad which was 22-15 at this stage so no need for panic. I do think the Celtics are an improved team over a year ago and this might be a drawn out/ultra competitive race between the two teams. Should be lots of fun. Big one in Toronto on Tuesday.

Celtics arrive in town with something to prove and just one game back of Raptors – Toronto Sun

While divisions don’t matter all that much anymore, some pride remains involved and banners do go up to commemorate the achievement of finishing first. After Toronto won the Atlantic for the first time in 2006-07, Boston ruled for five straight seasons (winning a title and losing another in heartbreaking fashion in that span) before the Knicks surprisingly reigned in 2012-13. Since then, Toronto has won three straight division crowns and is actually 41-12 (.774) against the rest of the division (including 9-4 against Boston) over the past four seasons.

The Raptors pulled out a tough 101-94 battle at TD Garden a month ago.

“At the end of the day people struggle with them because they are really good,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Monday about why his team hasn’t found much success against the Raptors.

“(Kyle) Lowry and (DeMar) DeRozan are outstanding players.”

It bears mentioning, though, that Celtics scoring and assist leader Isaiah Thomas had to miss the first meeting of this season due to injury and that the meetings between the two rivals are usually tight affairs.

This time around, Boston will have the red-hot Thomas in the lineup, but fellow backcourt starter Avery Bradley, an excellent two-way player, has been ruled out due to an Achilles injury.

Three things we saw when the Raptors lost to the Rockets | Toronto Star

One thing the Raptors didn’t do at all well the entire game was deal with the traps the Rockets threw at them, specifically DeRozan and Lowry, who were aggressively double-teamed constantly.

There had to be half a dozen times that I remember when they were forced to throw bad crosscourt passes just to get out of corner double-teams and at least two of them resulted in bad turnovers and what Casey refers to as “jail breaks” for easy layups.

Those are the kind of live-ball turnovers that can be crippling in shifting momentum in games or keeping runs going and there were far too many among the 19 turnovers the Raptors had last night.

Raptors this week: Team struggling with offence cooling down – Sportsnet.ca

While all of these factors can make sense of why the Raptors are struggling of late, the team isn’t particularly special in that regard—fatigue and injuries are a reality every team in the NBA must deal with.

The fact of the matter is, as has been the case all season, the Raptors’ defence simply hasn’t been good enough. Exhaustion and the injury to Patterson have slowed down the Raptors’ offence a little bit and that’s been the primary reason why they’ve been losing more consistently.

Toronto still relies far too much on its offence, and this seven-game span has once again exposed the concerning reality that if they are unable to continue posting NBA-leading offensive efficiency numbers on a night-to-night basis, then they’re going to lose.

Streaking Celtics gunning for the Raptors – CelticsBlog

The past 12 games have featured some high quality wins over very solid teams like the Memphis Grizzlies (twice) and Utah Jazz. On the other hand, Boston fell to the defending champion Cavaliers (that still sounds weird). In fact, this season they have yet to win a game against the six teams that are currently ahead of them in the standings.

They can change that on Tuesday when they fly north of the border to play the Raptors. If they win that game they’ll be tied with Toronto for second place in the East.

When the season kicked off, many had the Celtics ahead of the Raptors in their season projections (though admittedly, most had them roughly on the same tier). After a slow start it appears that the Celtics are who we thought they were, just in a different way than we thought they would (using offense instead of defense). We’ll see how they fare against the Raptors and how the rest of the season plays out.

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Report: Hawks pull Millsap off trade market

It wouldn’t be trade season in earnest if trade market posturing season hadn’t begun yet, too.

Just days after dealing Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks are pulling All-Star forward and major trade chip Paul Millsap off of the trading block. This comes according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who says that Hawks GM Wes Wilcox began informing teams Monday that the Hawks are no longer trying to unload him.

Interestingly enough, Wojnarowski no longer listed the Toronto Raptors as one of multiple teams interested in dealing for Millsap. The Raptors have long been tied to Millsap, a seemingly natural fit at both ends of the floor, with a deal between the sides reportedly even getting close to (or reaching) the agreement stage this summer before Al Horford chose to head to Boston. Wojnarowski excluding the Raptors could mean their interest cooled in response to the Cavs growing even stronger – a complicated philosophical debate – because they were among the teams initially believed to be interested last week.

I broke down the logic behind a potential Millsap deal here and in the link above, and we discussed the idea in detail on last weeks’ Weekly Extra Podcast. On that podcast, Brad Rowland of Locked On Hoops and I came to a rough agreement on a package of Terrence Ross, Jared Sullinger (for salary matching), Jakob Poeltl, and one of the team’s 2017 first-round picks. That’s a fair amount to give up for someone who doesn’t entirely close the gap with Cleveland and who could command upwards of $30 million annually as a 32-year-old free agent this summer, and that could be what gave the Raptors pause.

So, too, could have an even higher asking price, as the Hawks were rumored to want a “high” draft pick in any scenario. I still feel the same way as in those 3,500 words or so about adding Millsap, but without knowing the asking price, it’s hard for me to get too riled up about not pulling the trigger (and remember, while the Korver price was low, we found out after the fact that the asking price on a Serge Ibaka type was gargantuan). Reports last year suggested that the Hawks similarly floated Al Horford’s name to see if they could command a King’s ransom, but talks never got all that serious.

This could all be posturing, of course. Wojnarowski reports that the Hawks “are hedging,” having dealt Korver but maintaining enough talent to perhaps still push for a playoff seed. They would also retain Millsap’s Bird rights in that scenario. Trades are not always conducted in a “present asset value for future asset value” environment, and the Hawks have long been hesitant to appear a seller, fearing the ramifications in their market. They may very well be accepting a Korver-to-Lil’ Dun downgrade, pocketing a future pick, and moving forward.

Or this could be an attempt to drive the price up with six weeks to go until the trade deadline. Things can change quickly. And as always, if you’re hearing something, you’re hearing it for a reason. Real life exists in the shadows.

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Two-Way Contracts Will Still Leave D-Leaguers With Tough Decisions

Should I stay or should I go is an 80s classic by The Clash. In today’s world, it’s better known as the pivotal line that keeps Mike Wheeler hopeful of a better reality than the one he faces in Netflix’s hit show ‘Stranger Things’. For undrafted North American players looking to fulfill their dream of playing in the NBA, that line is a question many of them ask themselves every offseason when faced with the decision to play in the D-League or elsewhere.

When the NBA and NBPA ratified the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement that will take effect from the beginning of the 2017 off-season, all the talk centered around the players that live the dream D-Leaguers chase everyday. From the impending super-max for guys like Steph Curry and Blake Griffin, to the “Over-36” rule becoming the “Over-38” rule to benefit guys like Chris Paul and LeBron James (who just happen to be the current union president and vice-president), and even higher scale contracts for rookies that will see even current No.1 draft pick Ben Simmons earn approximately 11.7 million in the final year of his rookie deal.

Once the smoke cleared, you could spot the changes to improve the current plight of D-Leaguers as well. Though still awaiting full details, Adrian Wojnarowski made clear (who else?) that teams will be able to develop two players in the D-League on two-way contracts, thus changing the maximum roster size from 15 to 17.

As per ESPN’s Marc Stein, NBDL salaries currently range from $19,000 to $26,000, with a daily per diem of $50 to go along with housing and medical care. Under the new agreement, those that garner the new two-way contract will earn somewhere between $50,000 – $75,000. Because the roster spots are “hybrid” (two-way), those players stand to earn more if called up to the NBA roster, too. Doubling salaries while also giving them the best chance of making an NBA roster mid-season should go a long way towards quelling the temptation of big money from China or Europe.

“I think it shows they’re really interested in you, if they make that financial investment in you,” says Raptors 905 wing E.J. Singler, who received a training camp guarantee from the Raptors to help supplement his D-League salary this offseason. “It shows how close you are to the NBA, and if they think you’re pretty close, then you’ll give it a shot.”

That’s what the D-League is all about, having a shot. What the NBA and NBAPA are hoping to achieve through these increased incentives is to push players that chose Europe or China previously, to reconsider and return, increasing the competition in the NBDL. The current D-Leaguers can also further their belief in making the NBA by seeing more of their teammates and opponents in NBA uniforms.

In theory, having 60 more job openings increases their opportunities, and it’ll be terrific for those that do get to shoot that shot. There is no guarantee that all 60 slots will be filled, but those that do will no longer have to bear the mental burden of being a free agent, while also maintaining the perks of improving their game with quality minutes in the D-League.

But then there’s the other side of the coin; the guys that don’t get the 16th or 17th spot. What if a team not making that financial investment in you with added roster spots makes you feel even further away than you once thought? Is the message that they didn’t receive a contract offer (especially if there are teams that don’t use up the two spots) that they’re not close at all? Yes, they could still be earning a higher salary, but failing to crack a roster of 17 that includes designated spots for them instead of 15 could be a bigger pill to swallow.

They’re closer because the rosters are expanded, but they’re also further away since those spots are now consumed by guaranteed spots, or aren’t consumed at all. In many ways, it’s a question of which half of the glass you value.

“It’s kinda hard man,” says C.J. Leslie. “I’m torn between whether you wanna stay or leave, give it a chance. You just have to see what feels best for you.”

One of the things that makes it hard is players understanding that, as athletes, they have a limited shelf life. Playing in the NBA is an opportunity of a lifetime, but there are plenty of other places where playing basketball can be rewarding both on and off the court.

Having played for BC Kalev/Cramo in Estonia, Singler is well aware of this.

“There are some great situations overseas,” he said. “If you get a great job, it’s a really good lifestyle there. You get to experience something really different and see places you’d probably never see.”

These are opportunities that are hard to pass up on in life, let alone in a career with such a finite timeline. There is, with some players, a hyper-awareness of exactly what opportunities could become available, where they might come, and how they might come to be.

“I watch the NBA a ton,’ says 905 point guard John Jordan. “I look at the depth charts, I’m constantly studying who’s doing what and where they’re doing it. Just little stuff like that. It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind and I’m ready for at the end of the day.”

Brady Heslip, who has experienced the NBDL, Italy, and Bosnia, listed playing situation first, followed by quality of life, and then money as the three most important things he considers when deciding where to ply his trade. What will be interesting to see is how much the two-way contracts impact those factors. Logically, it would only impact the latter two, but even at double the salary, it’s hard to say that it will be enough of a deterrent to those offers from abroad.

A player like Heslip can bounce back and forth, cashing in one year and looking to make the leap to the NBA by staying close in the D-League the next. Axel Toupane stands as an example of how quickly what looks like a tiny D-League salary can change with a couple of 10-day deals. At the end of the day, it’s hard to make a bad decision about where to play basketball for a living. The decision-making process still appears to be highly subjective, but what the new contracts and salaries for the NBDL imply is that players will not be sacrificing quite as much as they were in order to pursue that ultimate dream.

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Raptors assign Delon Wright to Raptors 905

The Toronto Raptors have assigned Delon Wright to Raptors 905 of the D-League, the team announced Monday.

This is exciting news. There isn’t much way around that. Sidelined since he suffered a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum at Summer League in July, Wright has been aiming for a mid-January return, and getting additional time with the D-League club always seemed a likely part of the plan. The Raptors haven’t used the 905 as a baseball-style rehabilitation outlet in the past, but Wright’s talked openly about his excitement about potentially shaking the rust off down there.

It is not immediate clear if Wright is being assigned with the intention of playing in the 905’s home game on Tuesday. As of the last formal update from the team, Wright is cleared for 1-on-1 contact drills and, based on the schedule he laid out, should be cleared for 3-on-3 by now. We’re working to confirm if he’s been given 5-on-5 clearance, which would open him up for potential game action. Otherwise, this could just be Wright getting additional work in, running through sets, and playing smaller-group games since the parent-club Raptors are off today following a back-to-back.

UPDATE: Raptors Republic has confirmed that this is just Wright continuing his 3-on-3 work. He is yet to be cleared for full practice.

Whatever the case, it’s obviously an encouraging sign that Wright has progressed to this point. He’s nearing a return and ramping up his activity, and if his pre-game and post-practice workouts are any indication (they might not be, but it’s all we’ve got), Wright is ready to hit the ground running. The biggest concern with his injury was that it would preclude him from continuing to put on weight, but it looks like he’s been able to maintain the size he put on before Las Vegas, at least. His release off the dribble looks smooth and much quicker, and his ball-handling was always a strength.

It’s difficult to judge without seeing him against live competition, and it’s likely that a sophomore missing time due to injury for the first time in his life (he never even missed a high school game hurt) would have an adjustment period. That’s part of the benefit of the 905 being close, and if Wright is ready for game action – the 905 play Jan. 10, 12, 18, and 20 over the next two weeks – there is ample opportunity to get up to speed.

As a refresher, the Raptors were high enough on Wright to make him the No. 20 pick in the 2015 draft. They wound up signing Cory Joseph, bumping Wright to third-string point guard duties, but he proved too advanced for the D-League once he made the adjustment to the speed of the game and the added complexity of the defensive end. Prior to his injury in the summer, he looked to have taken another step forward, and there was genuine cause for excitement about his progress. The injury cost him some important development time and maybe spot minutes in the NBA, but he should be able to pick up where he left off and continue developing. His path to playing time is muddled by the Raptors’ guard depth, but his length and ability to play some two mean he could find his way into time eventually. Things change quickly, and Wright’s almost surely capable of contributing at the NBA level right now, should he be called upon to do so.

I wrote more about Wright, his recovery, and his place with the team when he returns here and here.

Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo have been assigned, as well.

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Raptors run out of gas, cough up lead for 2nd night in a row

Raptors 122, Rockets 129 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Dwane Casey could feel it slipping away.

Just 46 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Toronto Raptors’ head coach called for a timeout. His vaunted Kyle Lowry-and-bench unit, normally the team’s best weapon for extending leads, had quickly surrendered five points to the Houston Rockets, despite James Harden taking up residence on the bench. Immediately prior to that 5-0 mini-surge, Harden had hit an enormous buzzer-beating three to cut the Raptors’ lead to four.

It was starting to feel a little too familiar, a sense of deja vu from a night prior setting in. The Raptors and Rockets tipped off 19 hours following the conclusion of Toronto’s collapse against the Chicago Bulls, and the second night of a back-to-back, with travel across a time zone and four starters tasked with 40-plus minutes a night prior, seemed a likely suspect for fatigue.

Casey decided to ride with that same group a little longer, a justifiable approach given their strong track record. It continued to be a disaster, the Jurassic Five group facing an extinction-level event in the form of a lightning-quick 13-0 run for the Rockets. By the time the Raptors tried to start tinkering to find their footing, first bringing Norman Powell back in, and then DeMar DeRozan, their handle on the game had been lost. A super-small group with DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson as the frontcourt showed a brief flicker of life, but the dominance of Harden, the shooting of Trevor Ariza, and the ridiculous efficiency of Montrezl Harrell proved too much.

A 13-point lead had become a 12-point deficit in less than a quarter. The anatomy of the collapse was somewhat similar to Saturday: a defense that struggled to keep a star in front of it, and one that, even when successful, couldn’t take care of it’s own glass; the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, who despite a decent showing early and some trouble screening from everyone else, wasn’t going to be trusted against Ryan Anderson; and Casey making moves that made sense on paper (starting Powell and sliding Carroll to the four, going mega-small against Houston’s spacing), only for them to not work out as hoped. There were issues with execution, brief mental lapses, and really, a general sense of inevitability once the Rockets started to make their push.

“We played well for, what, 39 minutes?” Casey wondered afterward.  “But it’s a 48-minute game. I don’t know if it’s the schedule catching up with us, whatever it is, that stretch right there broke our back.”

Prior to the late-third push from Houston, Toronto had turned in a surprisingly effective game. Their defense was active and engaged from the outset, and it was a clear mission to chase the NBA’s biggest bombers off the 3-point line. Even by game’s end, Houston had hit just 11-of-38 from long-range, meaning Toronto likely succeeded at the biggest part of their gameplan. You can’t stop everything, as it were, and so that really opened up the paint (Houston scored a ludicrous 66 points there), but the Raptors were able to neutralize Houston’s biggest weapon, a fair step one. Their offense was also clicking early on, with some timely 3-point shooting supporting the stars, a parade of trips to the free-throw line helping the defense get set back the other way. Some turnover issues crept in that allowed Houston’s lethal transition offense to get going, but until late the Raptors also did a decent job of grinding the pace down, picking up Harden full-court, not getting frenetic in their own sets, and pushing the ball methodically the other way. Some things, not all things, were working.

There were plenty of areas the team could have done better in over the game’s final 15 minutes or so, and it’s too easy to let them off the hook by calling them tired. Harden is an impossible matchup and the Raptors did well to force him into mistakes – he had a 40-10-11-10 (turnover) quadruple-double, but Carroll was unable to handle the assignment alone once Powell, who did a fairly good job on him earlier, was removed. Lucas Nogueira made things far too easy on the inside, part of the offensive rebounding problem and the softness that allowed Harrell to score 28 points on 12-of-13 shooting in 26 minutes. Terrence Ross had one of his worst nights thanks to an awry shooting stroke, and Cory Joseph was shaky enough that there’s a case he shouldn’t have closed the game (the Raptors likely wanted a third ball-handler to help ease the pressure after traps on their stars, and they’re more comfortable with Joseph in that role than Powell).

If there’s a bellwether for the Raptors’ poor performance, it would have been Lowry, who had a quiet 12-point night thanks tot he Rockets selling out to get – and keep – the ball out of his hands. Lowry didn’t play poorly overall, getting active on defense and working to try to create for others out of that pressure, but the scoring burden fell heavily on DeMar DeRozan. Were it not for DeRozan’s Herculean 36 points (and five assists) on just 21 field-goal attempts – and an obscene 6-of-10 from long-range from Carroll, who very likely had his best offensive game as a Raptor and one of his better ones overall until late – the Raptors may have lost their grip even earlier.

The list of things that could have gone better, that the Raptors could have done or could have kept doing, is eerily similar to Saturday. The game felt like a repeat. And blowing back-to-back double-digit leads against quality teams is sure to raise some eyebrows.

“It won’t be a trend,” DeRozan said. “It just sucks in the moment, especially two nights in a row. We’ve just got to lock in. We can make a million excuses, but it’s not about that. It’s just about us understanding key moments in the game where we’ve got to pick it up and realize we’ve got to play much harder as a team and keep fighting, no matter who we’re playing.”

The excuses DeRozan doesn’t want to make likely fall in the category of scheduling. It is reductive to point to fatigue alone as the reason the Raptors weren’t able to offer a counterpunch in the game’s final rounds, but it was almost certainly a factor. Since leaving for Utah on Dec. 22, the Raptors had spent exactly one full day in Toronto that didn’t include a flight. They played six in a row on the west coast, returned home, hit the road and came back for a cross-time zone back-to-back. They could have won this game, to be sure, but it’s hard to call the fatigue at this point “just” an excuse when there is a wealth of science and research showing the effects of this kind of a multi-week slate.

It is a reality that all 30 NBA teams will face at some point in the season, and it’s a challenge the Raptors have no choice but to fight through. They went a reasonable but disappointing 4-5 over that daunting stretch. Their defense is back down to 21st in the NBA, their defensive rebounding is dead last. They do not get a free pass, and they are not trying to give themselves one.

“Adversity is always beneficial in my eyes,” DeRozan said. “It kind of knocks you down, shows you what you need to work on, how hard you need to work on it and it keeps you humble, and in a humble position if understanding you can’t let up no matter what position you’re in.”

The Raptors can’t let up, because the Celtics now visit Tuesday with a chance to pull even for the second seed in the East. The team is at home for the bulk of the week, as the schedule finally relents some, and an off-day Monday might be the physical and mental break they need to ensure their memory of this weekend is a short one. Because if it’s not, and the fatigue and hangover bleed into a third game in a row, nobody else’s memory of this shaky stretch is going to be short, either.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – State of the franchise

Host William Lou is joined by Zarar Siddiqi (again?!?) to take an honest look at the Raptors through two months.

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Raptors-Rockets Reaction Podcast – Where is the defense?

Host William Lou and Zarar Siddiqi ask ‘where’s the defense’ following a loss to the Houston Rockets.

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Quick Reaction: Rockets 129, Raptors 122

Houston 129 Final
Box Score
122 Toronto

A-
D. Carroll34 MIN, 26 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 7-12 FG, 6-10 3FG, 6-6 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 8 +/-

Carroll had a great game tonight and was hitting everything while starting at the 4. It was nice to see him able to adapt and hold his own at the 4 in a game where spacing and rotation was so vital. This was the Carroll we really need to see consistently. This was a great sign. Threes were falling and Carroll had a lot of confidence. He wasn’t great on the defensive end, but if he’s putting up 26 points it is hard to give a grade worse than A-.

B
N. Powell22 MIN, 10 PTS, 1 REB, 3 AST, 3-7 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 15 +/-

I loved the decision to start Norm and it really paid off tonight early. The Raptors consistently had a lot of space on the floor, and Norm hit two of his looks from 3. He played good defense, and fit right in with the starting five tonight.

D+
J. Valanciunas23 MIN, 8 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 4-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -3 +/-

He had a matchup against Nene and did nothing to exploit the mismatch. He was quiet on offense despite being 4-4, and really didn’t fit this style of game. He needs to be a bigger force on the glass if he wants to play more in these sorts of games. Disappointing game and season from JV so far.

C+
K. Lowry40 MIN, 12 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, 2-7 FG, 1-3 3FG, 7-10 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -4 +/-

Lowry had a quiet night and if you saw the score, you might have assumed he did more than he did. That’s the Patrick Beverley effect. As always, Lowry was still noticeable out there, and made plays on both ends to create for others. The Raptors scored 122 points, so the lack of offense from Lowry is not why they lost. It was simply exploiting the better matchups.

A
D. DeRozan39 MIN, 36 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 13-21 FG, 0-0 3FG, 10-10 FT, 1 BLK, 6 TO, 8 +/-

Derozan had a great game overall, and had 36 points on 21 shots. He made a few frustrating decisions in the last few minutes, but without him, there would be no big decisions to be made. Derozan kept the Raptors in it all night and did a bit of everything out there along with his 36 points.

C-
T. Ross25 MIN, 8 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 4-12 FG, 0-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -24 +/-

I didn’t dislike many of the shots he took and I don’t think the -24 was truly reflective of his game. Ross is a shooter so I have to grade him based on whether he is making shots. His shot was off, it’s as simple as that, but I’m still happy to see his longer leash because he is really creating more room for other players just by being on the court. Hopefully the shots will fall next game.

C
C. Joseph23 MIN, 10 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 4-8 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -21 +/-

Joseph had an average night. He wasn’t particularly great on either end and he was particularly struggling on defense. Not his best game tonight, despite the 10 points off the bench.

C+
P. Patterson22 MIN, 8 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 3-5 FG, 2-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -6 +/-

Patterson hit 2 early threes, and then basically just disappeared down the stretch. Only 22 minutes in his first game back and it’s too bad he didn’t get a few more looks from 3 after hitting the first two so confidently.

D+
L. Nogueira13 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Bebe had a pretty quiet night after playing over 40 minutes last night. He was blown by on defense and had a lot of trouble with fouls. Not his best night and didn’t bring much to the table, thus the 13 minutes.

Inc
P. Siakam0 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

Siakam didn’t play tonight, and he would have likely struggled. This was not the type of game where the obligatory Siakam 5 minutes to start each half was necessary.

B+
Dwane Casey

I loved Casey’s decision to start Carroll at the 4. It was nice to see Casey pick new starters to suit the Rockets 4 out 1 in offense. Casey has improved at that over the years. The Raptors gave up 129 points and that needs to improve, but the offense continues to flourish. A rim protector is really necessary for this team and there’s not much Casey can do besides trying to outscore other teams.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors ditched the idea of starting the standard 2 bigs and compensated for the matchup. This helped the offense, but the Rockets beat the Raptors at their usual playing style.
  2. James Harden had a quadruple double!!! (With Turnovers, mind you). Harden was incredible tonight, and put up 40 points. The Raptors had no answer for him, and he was the big reason that Houston pulled away late.
  3. Demarre Carroll had his best game of the year and went 6 for 10 on threes. His defense has not been great, but if he can shoot like this more consistently, his contract will definitely look more reasonable.
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Pre-game news & notes: 905ers recalled, Patterson returns, Powell starts

So, last night sucked. I’m not sure there’s much sense revisiting at this point, but the cloud of the loss to the Chicago Bulls is absolutely going to hang over the Toronto Raptors as they set to host the red-hot Houston Rockets on Sunday. The Raptors tasked four of their starters with playing 41 minutes or more on Saturday, then traveled one time zone for a tip off roughly 19 hours after that game ended. The Rockets, meanwhile, were off yesterday. It won’t be an excuse, but this tired Raptors team has spent, I believe, 15 of the last 17 nights on the road or traveling, so despite this being a home game, they’re not likely to find much comfort there.

Whatever they’re feeling, they’ll need to shake it off and be ready at the opening tip, because the Rockets will give them exactly zero breathing room. One of the league’s most lethal offenses and a surprisingly average defense have led the Rockets to a 29-9 record, making Toronto’s earlier win in Houston seem like a marquee one in retrospect. Houston’s gotten even better since that time, too – they’re 20-3 since Toronto beat them, including their current seven-game winning streak. They are good, they are fast, they are deadly, and they will leave the Raptors little opportunity to take breathers, no matter how much they may need them.

Houston’s also always a really fun opponent because of the DeMar DeRozan-James Harden parallels, and those two engaged in a nice battle last time out. Both looked to facilitate as much as score, with DeRozan dishing nine assists to go with his 24 points (it was one of Toronto’s more balanced scoring nights as a result) and Harden scoring 29 points with 15 dimes. Expect that to be an entertaining showdown once again, even if they rarely guard each other.

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

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson told The Woz after Saturday’s game that there was a “good chance” he’d play Sunday. It never made much sense that he’d return on the first end of a back-to-back, and once he missed the Spurs game, I had the Rockets penciled in as his likely return. With no shootaround to confirm, there’s still a chance the Raptors opt to give it one more night off, but it’s his encouraging that he’s close nonetheless.

UPDATE: Patterson is playing.

How Patterson’s return may change the rotation is an enormous question mark. Before he hit the shelf, Dwane Casey had gotten aggressive in limiting Pascal Siakam’s role, starting Patterson in five consecutive second halves (when he was active). Patterson’s injury seemed like a chance for Siakam to re-establish himself in the starting role, but instead, he lost his grip on it even further. Terrence Ross started a second half, Lucas Nogueira started a second half, and then Nogueira usurped Siakam in the starting lineup entirely, a change Casey had been hesitant to make. On Saturday, Siakam drew his first DNP-CD, with the Raptors preferring to use Jakob Poeltl or some smaller looks off the bench.

Patterson’s return, then, likely signals the end of Siakam’s role for the time being. Things can change quickly, especially if the Nogueira-Jonas Valanciunas pairing proves untenable over a larger sample. Maybe Casey sees Patterson’s return as a reason to get Siakam back in his normal role, even (if the team is still loathe to start Patterson). It’s a tough decision to figure out, because Siakam’s hit a wall (Casey’s words) and the Raptors have been terrible on their own glass so may not want to downsize, but starting dual centers against the up-tempo Houston attack seems a little risky. Expect a lot of tweaking until Casey finds something that works, even if Patterson plays but especially if he doesn’t.

The other thing to note here is what becomes of DeMarre Carroll. His back-to-back restriction has been lifted, but he was capped at 20 minutes in his first back-to-back. He also just played 39 and 41 minutes in the last two games, his largest workloads of the season, and Harden isn’t exactly the easiest of checks. Given Norman Powell’s potential value helping on Harden, the potential return of Patterson, and the team probably not wanting to play Carroll 120 minutes over four calendar days, I’m guessing it’s a fairly light night for him.

UPDATE II: Powell is starting, sliding Carroll to the four. I love this move, didn’t think they’d try Carroll at the four out of the gate, but this is their best approach vs. Houston’s starters, short of starting Patterson.

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

Rockets updates
The Rockets enter healthy except for the loss of Clint Capela, which has opened the door for Montrezl Harrell to take the starting center job, at least temporarily. Harrell is an undersized and unrelenting ball of energy, and he can help the Rockets remain a top-10 offensive rebounding team even without Capela. The Raptors’ bigs will have to be hyper-aware of him at all times, because the Houston offense is just too lethal to surrender second-chance points to. The Raptors are dead-last in defensive rebounding, so even their best efforts might fall short in that regard.

This has the makings of a bit of a shootout, then, if Toronto has the legs to shoot with Houston. DeRozan proved a lot for Trevor Ariza and company last time out, and the Raptors will be smart in trying to draw switches to attack Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson. Patrick Beverley is a pest that might be able to frustrate Lowry, but overall, the Rockets don’t have the individual defenders to confidently slow the Raptors. As fun and effortful (a word I just made up) as Harrell is, too, Valanciunas should be able to score against him in the post, and the Raptors should be aggressive in improvising looks for their center to tilt the interior matchup their way.

UPDATE: Nene is back starting over Harrell.

PG: Patrick Beverley, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown
SG: James Harden, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer
PF: Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker
C:  Nene Hilario,Montrezl Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku
ASSIGNED:Kyle Wiltjer
TBD: None
OUT: Clint Capela

Assorted

  • Both Bruno Koobuckalou and Fred VanVleet were recalled following the Raptors 905’s game last night. Both the NBA and D-League club were playing in Chicago, so the youngsters were even able to join their teammates for the flight home.

The line
The Raptors are 2.5-point underdogs. At home. Which means, yeah, the money is on the Raptors being just way too fatigued at the end of this hellacious stretch. It’s probably fair to be skeptical about Toronto’s chances, even with a Patterson return, but it’s not as if the Raptors don’t buck the common logic at most turns. So who knows? The over-under is way up (I feel blessed) at 225. This is going to be a lot of fun if Toronto has the juice to keep it close. And if they don’t? It’s probably going to be a lot more about their collapse Saturday than any real shortcoming Sunday.

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Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, Jan. 8

After the rough game against Chicago last night when once again the Raptors just couldn’t come through against the Bulls, the team will have to recover both mentally and physically very quickly, because they return home Sunday night to face the visiting Houston Rockets who are rolling lately. This will be the second and last meeting during the regular season for the two teams, after the Raptors won the first game on November 23rd 115-102 behind a balanced offensive effort.

In the November game, the Raptors had 6 score in double figures, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 24 and forced 26 turnovers for the Rockets, including 12 from James Harden, to slow the potent Houston offense. They also held 6th Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon to 4/13 from the field and 1/8 from three point range. However, since that game, the Rockets have gone 20-3 to leap to the fourth best record in the league, while the Raptors have struggled lately, losers of 4 of their last 7 games while they’ve tried to find a power forward rotation with Patrick Patterson out with an injury.

I won’t rehash the debacle in Chicago from last night here, but that game could have a massive impact here. The Rockets have the second best offense in the NBA with an offensive rating of 115.4, and while the Raptors have the third best offense at a nearly identical mark, Toronto prefers to play at a slower pace, ranking 21st in the league in that metric while the Rockets play at the 4th fastest speed in the league. That combined with the fact that four Raptors starters played more than 40 minutes last night could definitely cause some issues for the home team, and it’ll be interesting to see if Dwane Casey tweaks the rotation to try to manage more rest for his starters. Either way, the team will need a strong effort from their bench in this game, and without Patrick Patterson the bulk of that will likely fall on Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross.

Also, speaking of the rotation, with Clint Capela out lately the Rockets have been starting Montrezl Harrell beside Ryan Anderson in the frontcourt, and this should give the Raptors starting group of Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira an opportunity to take advantage of. The much, much bigger Raptors frontcourt should have the opportunity to bully on the boards on both ends of the floor, and might have to, because they could struggle to guard the sharpshooting Anderson on the other end of the floor.

As well, it’ll be interesting to see who starts at small forward for the Raptors, because although DeMarre Carroll did play both ends of the Raptors’ last back to back at Golden State and Phoenix, he only played 46 combined minutes in those games while he played 41 minutes in last night’s game alone. If Carroll does sit, expect Norman Powell to start and likely get the opening assignment of guarding James Harden, who the Raptors will need a full team effort to slow down given his play of late. Although Harden has been averaging 5.7 turnovers per night this season, he’s also giving the Rockets 27.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.9 assists per contest and putting up video game numbers on a regular basis. Harden is the engine of this potent Rockets attack, and any plan to stop them has to start with him.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Raptors

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet

SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo

PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl

TBD: Patterson

OUT: Sullinger, Wright

Rockets

PG: James Harden, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown

SG: Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels

SF: Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Kyle Wiltjer

PF: Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker, Chinanu Onuaku

C: Montrezl Harrell, Nene Hilario

OUT: Clint Capela

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Im not even mad. Its actually funny to me.

Raptors 118, Bulls 123 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

At one point on Saturday night, the Toronto Raptors led the Chicago Bulls by 19 points.

To that point, the Raptors were playing some of their best two-way ball of the season, and doing so against a quality team that’s been playing well themselves of late. The second quarter, in particular, included some of the best defense Toronto’s played all year, and they were some cold 3-point shooting from having really but things out of reach. The Bulls had little answer for DeMar DeRozan despite employing Jimmy Butler, with the Raptors using their pet sets to get preferable matchups off of switches. Kyle Lowry was living at the free-throw line and setting up teammates masterfully, too, and both Raptors centers were playing terrific, with Jonas Valanciunas dominating inside and Lucas Nogueira making his presence felt in a variety of ways. Starting dual centers had helped hold a tough Chicago frontcourt to a single offensive rebound in the first half.

Even with a lead edging toward 20, though, the Raptors’ control of the game seemed tenuous at best. These were the Bulls, after all, and the Bulls own the Raptors. Butler owns the Raptors. Doug McDermott owns the Raptors. With the margin swelling, Raptors Twitter began echoing each other with the type of anxious, tongue-in-cheek joking that is far more coping mechanism than actual humor. “Which Bull will go off in the second half? Haha.” “How big would the lead have to get to feel comfortable? Lol.” “Can’t wait for Isaiah Canaan to drop 30 LMAO.” This is what happens when one team wins nine in a row against another, slightly superior team, without much of a convincing reason as to why beyond randomness and intangibles. Streaks and team-over-team ownership doesn’t exist, but you’re only allowed to acknowledge that once whatever current streak exists dies.

This one, well, it won’t, apparently.

The writing probably should have been on the wall when the Raptors opened the second half with a silly over-and-back violation. If it wasn’t then, Butler sent a loud warning with a 15-point third quarter to cut the lead to 12. The Raptors were still getting to the line at will and the non-Butler Bulls were shooting horrifically from the floor, but Toronto had begun neglecting their own glass, the bench couldn’t provide it’s usual spark outside of Cory Joseph’s 3-point shooting (Terrence Ross had a cold night, including a few big misses in the clutch, and Norman Powell was ineffective in small minutes, though the Raptors played well when he was out there), and Chicago stumbled on the right amount of pressure on the Raptors’ ball-handlers to start forcing turnovers.

Perhaps the Raptors thought that late-third push was all that was coming, and that when they made it to the fourth, when they normally take off, their work was done. The Raptors were 19-0 when leading after three quarters to this point in the season, one of just two teams without a fourth-quarter collapse. And Butler couldn’t possibly continue going off at this rate. (Ron Howard voice: “He could.”) Whatever the case, the Raptors didn’t respond by counterpunching in the fourth.

“I don’t know if we thought it was over, or what,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the game.

Everything played out in all too familiar a way from there. Dwyane Wade used the attention he commands to get teammates involved. The Bulls continued to dominate the offensive glass, tipping long rebounds or taking advantage of some curious decisions on the part of Raptor rebounders. Casey couldn’t get comfortable with a lineup and, despite the trouble on the glass, went away from an assertive Valanciunas for perhaps too long (Valanciunas getting jobbed on a verticality call against Butler seemed to be the final blow). All the while, Butler kept cooking, running an endless array of 3-4 pick-and-pops with McDermott to get a switch onto the smaller Lowry or to free McDermott for a knock-down three or back-door cut. DeMarre Carroll, who was quite effective defensively in the first half, wasn’t at all up to the challenge in the second, and even when the Raptors got stops instead of fouling – Chicago only shot 41.9 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime – Chicago had a 50-50 chance of grabbing their own miss.

The lead was originally so large that even with all of this – the trouble on their glass, the poor pick-and-roll coverage, a stagnant offense late – the Raptors held their own fate in their hands. With the game tied and time running out in regulation, the Raptors corralled a Chicago miss and opted not to call a timeout. They didn’t seem decisive about it initially, but the logic makes sense: Calling a timeout gives Chicago a chance to set their defense and get their shakier defenders off the floor, and the Raptors could probably manufacture a good look on the fly.

And they did. DeRozan, who would finish with 36 points on 23 field-goal attempts in a strong scoring performance, missed a runner in transition.

And then they did again. The rebound found its way to Lowry, who flirted with a triple-double with a 27-9-12 line, and he missed a turnaround jumper in the paint that he hits with regularity.

I can’t imagine there’s a soul in the world who thought the Raptors had much of a chance in overtime. They played well, they built a massive lead, and then they let go, and there’s no getting it back from Butler, form the Bulls, and from this ridiculous power they seem to have over the Raptors, over several iterations of the team. Casey went back to his starters for overtime, a group that had outscored Chicago by three points in 19 minutes so far, but Chicago promptly built a five-point lead. Ross was brought in to gun (in place of Valanciunas rather than Nogueira, a complicated decision some will surely disagree with), missed a pair of clean looks, then Lowry missed a good long-range look, and they missed their opportunity to come back.

There would be plenty to wring your hands about here. Blowing this game is pretty inexcusable. Toronto’s a better team, they played like it for a half, and then they shut it down. Great teams shouldn’t have poor halves or quarters as often as the Raptors seem to, and their ability to win despite that is good, until it’s not enough. They didn’t need this win, but burying the Chicago storyline would have been great. Butler really needs more swagger against the Raptors? Raptors fans really need to continue to fret a seven-game series they’d be favored in but nobody would have full confidence in? The Raptors really needed to play four of their starters 41 minutes or more when they’ll tip off in another city less than 24 hours later against a very good Houston team?

Maybe it’s best to just chalk this up to this matchup being what it is, and in this case it may wind up costing Toronto two games. Butler and the Bulls know no bounds when it comes to killing Toronto vibes. It all seems very inevitable at this point, even up 19 in a third quarter. Jimmy Butler is our father.

The Raptors next play the Bulls on (Denzel) Valentine’s Day. I strongly recommend you all just take the night off and spend time with someone who will treat you better than Raptors-Bulls XI will.

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VanVleet’s game-winning free throws lead Raptors 905 over Bulls

Raptors 905 102, Windy City Bulls 100 | Box Score
Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905), Paul Zipser (Bulls)

If there’s anything redeeming about Saturday night, it’s that the Chicago Bulls’ weird power over the Toronto Raptors does not extend throughout each organization. While the parent club Bulls were making a 19-point comeback for their 10th consecutive victory against the NBA Raptors, the D-League squads for both franchises were playing not too far away at the Sears Centre in Chicago.

There were no big leads for either side to blow in this one. The two sides traded shots and mini-runs for the bulk of the night, with neither side able to build any serious momentum or wrestle control with any sort of permanence. The lead changed hands 21 times, the game was tied on 16 occasions, and neither team led by double-figures at any point.

It was fitting, then, that the game came down to the final possession. After the 905 chipped away a six-point deficit in the third quarter, they went up by four on an Axel Toupane triple, three of his 21 points on the night. The defense couldn’t hold it’s own, though, with a missed Fred VanVleet triple getting sandwiched between a pair of Aaron Thomas free-throws and a Paul Zipser 3-pointer, tying the game with 10.9 seconds to play.

Head coach Jerry Stackhouse put the game in the hands of VanVleet, and he responded by attacking baseline, drawing the foul, and knocking down a pair of game-winning free throws. The Bulls couldn’t managed to get a shot off with the 1.3 seconds left on the clock, and the 905 remain undefeated on the road.

It’s fitting, too, that VanVleet was given the opportunity to win the game, as he was excellent in scoring a game-high 23 points and dishing a game-high seven assists. The 905 outscored the Bulls by nine in VanVleet’s 37 minutes and were outscored by seven in the 11 minutes he sat, meaning VanVleet did his full Kyle Lowry impression in this one. His teammates knocking down the looks he got them helped, too, and the 905 shook of their cold shooting stretch of late. E.J. Singler and Brady Heslip both his three triples to lift the 905 to a 12-of-26 mark from outside which, combined with an advantage at the free-throw line, helped swing the game for them. Depth is one of this team’s strengths, and Stackhouse leaned on it heavily here, mixing and matching with an 11-man rotation to try to find something that could prevent them from falling quickly back into their previous three-game malaise.

This kind of response – sweeping a road back-to-back – is exactly what Stackhouse talked about looking for earlier in the week. Now, it will be a matter of the 905 figuring out how to win at Hershey Centre, where they’ve only played .500 ball.

Notes

  • This is a very brief recap with some bullet points, because A) it overlapped with Raptors-Bulls; and B) The final 3:07 of the game, the most critical part in a one-possession final, aren’t available. The stream messed up and apparently hasn’t been recovered, so, what are you going to do? I stayed in on a Saturday night and watched three-and-a-half quarters of a D-League game only to not get to see its conclusion. Awesome.
    • Can we please end this disaster of a Facebook Live experiment? Not only were the last three minutes of the game completely lost on the stream, streaming a game after the fact (I watched this after the Raptors game) still isn’t easy. The stream is choppy, buggy, and often low-definition, all problems that didn’t exist with the YouTube streams.
  • This was an all-timer in terms of away announcer trying to pronounce the name of Bruno Kuubuckalou.
    • Kuubuckalou had a quiet offensive night with eight points on six attempts, continuing to be used in a role more similar to his potential NBA role down the line than as a focal point of the team’s entire offense.
  • Coming off of a few shakier games, C.J. Leslie not only wasn’t starting, he only played nine minutes. Part of that is Kuubuckalou’s assignment eating minutes in the frontcourt. Part of it is Leslie’s leash shortening some. Stackhouse has mentioned before that Leslie sometimes needs someone in his ear, and this seems like a bit of necessary tough love for his fellow Carolina native.
  • The 905 went away from Edy Tavares after featuring him heavily in back-to-back games. That may have had something to with Alex Brown on the opposite side, and a bit of foul trouble for the 7-footer. He was a big part of a key fourth-quarter comeback, when they turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead, and then Stackhouse wanted a bit more mobility for the final three minutes. He’s coming along nicely.
  • VanVleet and Caboclo are likely to be recalled for Sunday’s home game against Houston. What their respective statuses will be when both teams play home games Tuesday is unclear and could depend some on how the parent club’s back-to-back concludes. It could go either way – earlier in the year, the assignment players were sticking with the Raptors for as many games as possible, but traveling a couple of times with the 905 of late could suggest a shift in approach.
  • The 905 now return home for a Tuesday game. If you want to check that game – or any game – out live, 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.
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Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – Yet another nightmare in Chicago

Host William Lou is joined by Zarar Siddiqi to recap their latest meltdown against the Chicago Bulls.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 118, Bulls 123

Toronto 118 Final 123 Chicago

B
L. Nogueira42 MIN, 9 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST, 2-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5-7 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -7 +/-

Tried to watch a basketball game and a Sideshow Bob look-alike contest broke out with Bebe and Robin. Bebe felt right at home in the first half, cuddling between the lumbering Lopez and the confused Gibson, who’s still waiting for a trade to kickstart the P.J Brown phase of his career. Never has Bebe’s length surprised an entire team than the Bulls in the first half. I have to call out the stupid-ass three he took with 7 minutes left – what’s he even doing on the perimeter? He was on the court during the Bulls late run, which featured him bobbling balls and constantly inbounding the ball after made Bulls shots.

F
D. Carroll41 MIN, 9 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 3-8 FG, 2-7 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -9 +/-

Wasn’t he hired for nights like these to guard guys like Jimmy Butler? I recall him hitting a three early, and then wandering off only to return to guard Butler when he had it going, which he did a horrible job of. That airball out of a timeout in a two-point game with 4 minutes left needs to be forgotten, along with a ridiculous three-shot foul on Dougie M, and climbing Dwane Wade’s back on a pump-fake. Trade this bum.

A-
J. Valanciunas33 MIN, 14 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 7-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 0 +/-

A rare game where he actually faced another old-school center in Lopez, and somewhat of a big in Gibson. Had some nice rolls on the pick ‘n roll, on one he picked up a silly but hilarious technical for hanging on the rim. I felt he could’ve had a big night but nobody apparently felt that his offense would be valuable or efficient, so he never touched the ball. I don’t actually recall the Raptors feeding him the ball at any point in the fourth quarter or OT. What a waste.

B+
K. Lowry44 MIN, 27 PTS, 9 REB, 12 AST, 7-17 FG, 2-9 3FG, 11-14 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, -3 +/-

He could do anything he wanted on the court against this opposition and only had 14 shots in regulation and instead focused on his passing, especially down to the bigs. He saw that the Bulls are weak opposition and tuned his game accordingly while stepping off the pedal. Bad idea. This game should’ve been put out of sight at the start of the fourth by Lowry, and instead we let the Bulls back in, even after the third-quarter warning signs of a heating Jimmy Butler. Also, why is he guarding Jimmy Butler when we know Butler loves to shoot over smaller players in face-up situations?

C-
D. DeRozan43 MIN, 36 PTS, 8 REB, 2 AST, 10-23 FG, 0-1 3FG, 16-17 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -4 +/-

My Dad’s not a big fan of DeRozan. He wants him to average 8 assists and feels he needs to have a pass-first mentality and that he’s too selfish of a player. I’m like, “Dad, can you please stop yelling, I’m standing right next to you”. I don’t know if Jimmy Butler’s defense under Thibodeau is the same as under Hoiberg, but DeRozan was able to navigate him pretty easily in the first half, but as the game got tighter, it became increasingly difficult for him to manufacture efficient looks. The reason we sometimes get frustrated by his shot selection is because it can easily improve if instead of shooting in a predetermined way he, you know, looks up. That fourth quarter Bulls run can be attributed to some of his poor shots. And please stop complaining to the refs about Butler getting calls, because you get equally dubious calls as well.

C-
T. Ross25 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 3-10 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -6 +/-

Missed looks he normally makes, including ones to tie it with 1:40 and 1:18 left in OT. Didn’t play much, with Casey opting for a bigger lineup with Carroll instead. Also, was he supposed to guard Doug McDermott?

B+
C. Joseph23 MIN, 14 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 5-6 FG, 3-3 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -5 +/-

Had a big three to push the lead back to 13 after Bebe and Ross were playing hot potato. Then had another moments later. Backup point guards are like referees. If you don’t notice them, they’re usually having a good game. I didn’t notice him much until then, so I’m inclined to give him a pass tonight.

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

Didn’t make his open threes, which earned him a quick hook. I would’ve tried him on Butler instead of Carroll. Can’t have been any worse, at least he would’ve made Butler work more than Carroll did, which was nothing.

Inc
J. Poeltl1 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-

I’m 99% sure he was subbed in as a mistake.

D
Dwane Casey

Should’ve given it to JV more. Stuck with Carroll too long. Unimaginative offense through DeRozan. Shoud’ve had a full-force lineup to start the fourth.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors thought they had this game won midway through the third, and became way too casual after getting out to a 19-point lead. How we stepped off the throat of a team that’s beated us 9 times in a row prior to tonight is unfathomable.
  2. The Bebe/JV combo worked well with Lowry running pick ‘n rolls and dropping it off for them, but once you have iso-ball going on with JV, having JV and Bebe out there makes no sense as they get shoved to the perimeter where they have little value.
  3. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, Norman Powell needed a chance at guarding Jimmy Butler. It’s much more preferable than Caroll affording space and not recovering quick enough, or simply playing him too tight.
  4. When Lowry’s not there to rescue us, we’ll lose against teams playing at a high level. And the Bulls and Butler were playing at a high level for the last 15 minutes of this game.
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Pre-game news & notes: VanVleet’s deal to guarantee, Patterson sits against Bulls

The last time the Toronto Raptors beat the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen dropped a 40-piece.

That’s not true, but the fact that you probably had to think on it a second to make sure it wasn’t speaks to how long Chicago’s dominance of the Raptors has held. No matter the roster constructions, the lineups, or the injuries,, the Bulls have proven too much for Toronto over and over. They’ve won nine consecutive meetings using eight different starting lineups, getting big contributions from E’Twaun Moore, Jimmy Butler,Doug McDermott, and a host of other Gerald Henderson Aware nominees. Expect Isaiah Canaan to throw up 30 in this one, because of course he will.

The Raptors visiting Chicago here continues a tough stretch of play. After six in a row out west, the Raptors returned home to beat Utah, now head to Chicago and then return home for a tip-off against the Rockets just 22 hours later. There’s never much pressure on any individual game, but with how well Houston’s playing, how fatigued Toronto may be tomorrow, and how much they’d probably like to stop hearing about the Bulls having their number, Saturday’s showdown is one the Raptors would surely like to take care of with some emphasis.

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

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson will sit once again. Patterson is dealing with a left knee strain that’s now kept him out of the last four-and-a-half games, and he did not participate in shootaround Saturday. It would have been surprising to see him miss shootaround and then return, especially in a back-to-back scenario. Head coach Dwane Casey has talked about being cautious, which the team should absolutely be doing here in January, as much as getting a win in Chicago would be nice.

With Patterson out, the Raptors have a few options. The Bulls have some frontcourt depth but aren’t exceptionally large, so Toronto can probably steal minutes small and get away with Pascal Siakam playing in his usual power forward role. The team may opt to start Lucas Nogueira t the four once again for some additional size and rebounding, and the Nogueira-Jonas Valanciunas duo owns a plus-2.6 net rating in 28 minutes through four games. The dual-center lineups that were good against the Lakers and not as bad as their traditional ones against the Spurs were once again decent against Utah.

UPDATE: Nogueira starts again.

Otherwise, they might be able to buy some minutes smaller, with DeMarre Carroll or Norman Powell at the four, especially when Nikola Mirotic is in the game and needs to be chased off the 3-point line.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet
TBD:
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson

Bulls updates
Chicago has more or less ditched the Rajon Rondo experiment at this point, which makes sense since it seemed doomed from the start. Michael Carter-Williams maybe isn’t a better player, but Rondo’s allergy to shooting is a terrible problem with a team so thin on spacing, and his defensive reputation has been slow to catch up with the fact that he hasn’t been particularly good on that end of the floor for several years. As a result, Rondo has sat three games in a row, and he seems likely to do so again here unless something notable changes in Fred Hoiberg’s thinking.

That doesn’t mean the Bulls are suddenly an all-natural fit around the court. Carter-Williams isn’t a great shooter, neither of their starting bigs stretch the floor much, and Dwyane Wade is more of a threat moving off the ball than spotting up. The Bulls rank dead-last in 3-point attempts, makes, and percentage as a result, and Toronto will have a chance to really swing the game in that area. The new starting lineup is -5.3 points per-100 possessions in 34 minutes together so far

Still, Wade remains very effective, Jimmy Butler remains capable of dropping 50 on a given night, and there’s some shooting off the bench. Chicago owns the league’s No. 18 offense despite the fit issues, and they’ve won four of six, including a road win against an admittedly shorthanded Cavaliers team Wednesday. Expect Butler to draw the DeRozan assignment, which is always one of the most fun tests on the schedule for the Raptors’ leading scorer.

Meanwhile, Bobby Portis, one of Raptors fans’ favorite what-ifs, was recalled from the D-League, and another one of their favorite what-ifs, Denzel Valentine, remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

PG: Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo
SG: Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Canaan
SF: Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott
PF: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis
Assigned: Paul Zipser
TBD:
Out: Denzel Valentine

Assorted

  • Today is the last day for NBA teams to waive players with non-gauranteed contracts in order the prevent them from becoming guaranteed on Jan. 10. That means that Fred VanVleet’s deal will become guaranteed. I had received questions often ass to whether he could be waived to clear a roster spot ahead of Delon Wright’s return, but that never seemed like a strong possibility. With a league-minimum salaray and the Raptors as far from the luxury tax as they are (and baout $6.5 million), there would be little cost to eating VanVleet’s salary if they needed to waive him later, like with Anthony Bennett the year prior. For now, VanVleet is a Raptor, one the team remains high on.
    • VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo are in Chicago, but for a game of their own with Raptors 905 against the Windy City Bulls. Expect them to be recalled for Sunday’s game against Houston.
  • There are no updates on Delon Wright or Jared Sullinger. Both have been doing some none-5-on-5 scrimmage work, and Wright is nearing his Jan. 17 target return date, but there’s been no firm update given on their timelines.

The line
The Raptors are two-point favorites on the road, with the over-under at 208. Being a favorite in Chicago without Patterson is a pretty nice nod of respect to the Raptors, as the Bulls are 18-8 and have turned a bit of a corner of late. They’re also roughly average on each end of the floor, posing a nice test for Toronto’s elite offense and still-finding-their-way defense. It’s a very winnable game, but it would be hard to give points given the recent history here, Butler’s incredible play, and Toronto’s thin frontcourt.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Jan. 7

Ah, the Chicago Bulls – a team that has swept the Raptors in two consecutive regular seasons, including last year when they didn’t even make the playoffs. Albeit in a different look (most crucially no Gasol – somewhere Valanciunas is smiling while eating a bowl of borscht), those Bulls are hosting Wolverine and his crew of R(ed)-Men Saturday night in Chicago. The Bulls have had an uneven year thus far, but are coming into this one with two straight wins over Charlotte and impressively, Cleveland. The Raptors are coming in after bouncing back from the drubbing in San Antonio having completed a season sweep against Utah on Thursday.

One of the biggest storylines over the last week in the NBA prior to the Kyle Korver trade to Cleveland was the sharp reduction in Rajon Rondo’s role and minutes. Despite a decent season in Sacramento, Rondo’s signing with Chicago raised a few eyebrows around the league, specifically about his fit as a non-shooting point guard alongside two slashing wings. The Bulls opened the season with three straight wins to quell the fears about the starting lineup’s chemistry, but the honeymoon didn’t last long, as they went 13-18 since until the last two wins. Their latest resurgence coincided with 3 straight DNP’s from the former Celtic.

The main beneficiary from the change is Michael Carter-Williams, who has returned from injury and found his way into the starting lineup of late. While not an offensive game-changer, Carter-Williams’ length and defensive prowess earned the trust of embattled head coach Fred Hoiberg, as he has played 25 or more minutes in each of the last four games (he only made his first appearance of the season December 28).

By most statistical metrics, the Raptors are facing a middling team, with a couple of exceptions. Chicago’s greatest strength is offensive rebounding – they lead the league in that category. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors remain dead last in the NBA in defensive rebounding, heralding the upcoming matchup as a possible nightmare. It appears as though Dwane Casey and his coaching staff prepared for this contest however, as they tried out a Bebe and JV frontcourt against the Jazz, in response to Siakam “possibly hitting the rookie wall.” It worked out decently, as the Raptors hung in with a decent rebounding squad, only losing 46-45 on the glass. Nogueira and Valanciunas combined for an impressive 13 offensive boards against Utah, and though it’s a bit uncomfortable to look at, that lineup proved it can work against a team that uses two traditional bigs.

To help prepare us for this Eastern conference battle, I reached out to Vijay Vemu of SB Nation’s Blog a Bull, who graciously shared his thoughts.

Alex Gres: Chicago currently holds a record of 3-1 against the league’s elite (games vs. Spurs and Cavaliers, did not play Warriors), while treading water at 15-17 against the rest of the Association. Are those wins a harbinger of what this Bulls team could become, or occasional anomalies? What gives?

Vijay Vemu: Chicago is a very strange team. Outside of Jimmy Butler showing up every night, it’s basically a coin flip if everyone else shows up. They seem to play more inspired against better teams but the Christmas Day game should show you how undermanned Chicago is on both ends of the court. A lot of their wins have to do with some strange trends in the games. Like in their most recent game against the Cavaliers, the Bulls knocked down 13 shots from 3-point range. For a team that is dead last in the 3-point percentage and 3-point attempts, it was very strange to see Chicago be willing to shoot the three and knock it down. In their win against the Spurs, San Antonio shot abysmal from the three, which is unlike them. Chicago also saw all five of its starters score double digits in that game, something that you don’t expect considering that Robin Lopez and Rajon Rondo start for Chicago. The only game which Chicago won playing “their style” was against the Cavaliers at home in December when they absolutely dominated Cleveland in the paint. They crashed the glass and got a majority of their points against Cleveland’s bigs by driving to the basket and offensive rebounds. They are somehow able to squeak out wins against top teams like this but then drop games against some of the worst teams in the NBA. They recently needed a Jimmy Butler comeback and buzzer beater to beat the Nets and also lost to the Dallas Mavericks. You never know what you are going to get with Chicago but solutions are available.

If Chicago is able to space the floor with shooters surrounding Butler/Wade, their offense is much better. That was evident against Cleveland when Butler played with Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, the offense was much better. It allowed Butler to play his game with the defense not collapsing in the paint, respecting the shooting threat of both McDermott and Mirotic. It’s weird that Chicago has only just discovered that. This Chicago team is talented and has some good young players plus a superstar in Butler. But they have to find more consistent offense than just Butler iso-ball. Otherwise you will continue to see them show up against some teams and get blown out by others.

Alex Gres: Who lasts longer with the franchise – Hoiberg or Rondo?

Vijay Vemu: Fred Hoiberg is general manager Gar Forman’s guy. Forman is the one who really wanted Hoiberg and ousted Tom Thibodeau to make sure that the Iowa State coach came to Chicago. Plus Hoiberg is still under contract and I really doubt Jerry Reinsdorf would want to see himself paying another head coach not to coach this team. Eating Hoiberg’s contract would be a big risk for the Bulls front office but it would certainly mean that they are desperate for their jobs. Firing Hoiberg would certainly mean the end of the front office as well so it’s more likely to see Rajon Rondo leave Chicago first. It’s obvious that Chicago sees the misfit that is Rondo and the Bulls. The problem with trading him is that he doesn’t have much value at the moment. Chicago would have to add some sweeteners to a deal with Rondo to get some team to take him on. Maybe a young player or a pick would suffice. But that might be too much for Chicago to give up a pick or a young prospect, especially when the team should be building around Butler. The most likely outcome would be a buyout where the Bulls take Rondo’s $14M and stretch his $3M guaranteed next year over the next 3 years. Chicago would rather let go of the point guard than the coach.

Alex Gres: The Bulls have won nine straight against the Raptors, cementing their role as Toronto’s bogeyman. The last two season series sweeps were characterized by the dominance of Butler and Gasol, but with half of that duo migrating to Texas, how do you see the two teams matching up this year?

Vijay Vemu: Replacing Gasol alongside Butler is future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. He is a very similar player to Butler. A slasher that relies on drives to the basket and a semi-post up game to get points. He can occasionally hit from the outside (he’s hitting 32.6% from deep) but it’s not that big of a threat and defenses know that. So basically Chicago will have to rely on getting shots in the paint along with the greatness of Butler and Wade. But if they can space the floor (like I mentioned earlier) it would go ways in improving their offense. In terms of matching up against the Raptors defensively, expect Butler on DeRozan and MCW on Lowry. Or you might see Wade on DeRozan although I would rather have Butler. But MCW’s length may bother Lowry a bit. Chicago has to work on making sure the Lowry and DeRozan PNR doesn’t kill them. I see the two teams matching up fairly similar although the talent level overall will be higher on Toronto’s side. They are simply the better team. Chicago’s questions will be asked about their bench defense and if they can stay in the game without Butler. They did against the Cavaliers thanks to some hot shooting by Niko Mirotic and Doug McDermott, who single handedly torched Toronto last year in the Air Canada Centre. If those guys are taking smart shots and utilizing their playmaking abilities, it will go a long way to helping Chicago win this game. But the Raptors are a very good team. They can get hot at any moment and given Chicago’s defense, it may be easy pickings for Lowry and company to find open shots.

Chicago has a weird fascination of beating Toronto. It’s more than matchups at this point. It’s a weird voodoo. But the big matchups will be between the backcourts – whichever duo between Wade-Butler and Lowry-DeRozan plays better will win this game.

Projected Lineups

Raptors

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet

SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo

PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl

TBD: Patterson

OUT: Sullinger, Wright

Bulls

PG: Michael Carter-Williams, Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant

SG: Dwyane Wade, Denzel Valentine

SF: Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott, Paul Zipser

PF: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis

C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio

The Line

As of Friday night, the Raptors are 2-point favourites despite the Bulls home advantage, with the over under set at 208. With Butler guarding DeRozan and Carter-Williams using his length on Lowry, Toronto will need its role players to step up in order to bring home the W. It’s time to break the voodoo curse.

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905 Come to Life Against Mad Ants, Stay Perfect on Road

Raptors 905 (13-7) def. Fort Wayne Mad Ants (13-6); 114-100 | Box Score

Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905), Georges Niang (Mad Ants)

Axel Toupane scored 23 points and Edy Tavares chipped in 17 points and nine rebounds to lead the Raptors 905 to a much needed victory over the first-place Fort Wayne Mad Ants and put an end to a three-game losing streak while moving to 6-0 on the road.

Reigning Coach of the Month Jerry Stackhouse inserted a flu-free Axel Toupane into the starting lineup to inject some life into the team, and while his aggression had a positive impact right from the tip, the apparent lid on the basket prevented the team from having anything to show for it in the first quarter. There were good looking three-point attempts that rimmed out and layups that just wouldn’t fall. They started 4-20 from the field and 1-of-6 from the outside, but it could have been much different if the wide open looks fell. This wasn’t the labouring offense of the past few games.

After opening the contest with a corner three, Bruno had both a shot from the corner and the left elbow go in-and-out. He was active everywhere else as well in the first quarter; looking to mix it up on the glass, lead the break, and had a nice play where he gave up a good look at a corner three for a great straight-on look for Antwaine Wiggins. He even had a play where he dumped a lefty bounce pass behind his back to Edy Tavares in the post while on the drive.

He made some mistakes in the second quarter, but his demeanor and consistent activity throughout the game was definitely a positive. He leaned towards his jump shot a little too often as far as his own offense was concerned tonight, and this may have had something to do with not wanting to drive at a Mad Ants team that played small for most of the game.

The development of Tavares as a viable option offensively has been quite interesting to watch as well. Blake noted his increased involvement in the previous recap, and his 11 first-half shot attempts didn’t come via tip-ins. It’s a very old-school formula of inside-out basketball that Stackhouse may be reverting to with the outside shot still such a struggle. They were 2-of-13 from three in the first half, and to miss so many clean looks was not a great sign considering how cold they had already been coming in.

The Mad Ants rubbed salt in the 905’s outside woes by having five different guys combine to knock down nine of their 17 three-point attempts in the first half. They may called him Trey, but McKinney-Jones was knocking down everything within the arc for 21 of his 28 points on 7-of-9 shooting and just one hit from the outside. It all added up to a 53-52 lead for the Mad Ants at half.

With the 905 finding some momentum to end the first half with their starters back in the game, it was great to see them ride it into the second half as well. They outscored the Mad Ants 62-47 in the second half, with VanVleet finally getting in on the action and leading a balanced attack. After starting the game out 0-for-4, he finished with 20 points and six assists, easing the load on Toupane. After fatigue was possibly an issue in the previous game against the Canton Charge, and a slow start tonight, finding his stroke will be a nice relief.

The Mad Ants on the other hand, went cold from the outside, hitting just 6-of-24 from downtown after their hot first half. Assignee Georges Niang was the only one that had it going all night, and was really impressive for his 23 points, 12 boards, and four assists. He scored 16 points in 12 minutes for the Pacers earlier in the preseason, and showed why with a consistent outside stroke that was good for five triples and then using the shot fake to beat people off the drive.

Yanick Moreira, Jarrod Uthoff, Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, and Will Sheehey all made solid contributions off the bench, combining 46 points, 30 rebounds, and 10 assists. That is a serious contribution coming from your second unit. Whether it was Uthoff stroking it from the outside while also mixing it up inside for his 14 points, or Moreira battling his way to 13 boards, the 905 showed some strong determination to make sure the losing stop here in Fort Wayne.

After the 905 took control with a lead as large as 19 with 6:21 to play, the 905 got pretty sloppy as the Mad Ants ramped up their defensive pressure. The lead got to as low as six, but the Mad Ants couldn’t hit from the outside to cut any closer.

Coach Stackhouse talked about how the three-game losing skid was an opportunity to see what this team is really made of, and they answered it in spades tonight against the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Momentum can be a tricky thing, so the 905 may actually be glad they’re back at it again tomorrow night.

Notes:

  • A little surprising that VanVleet and Caboclo weren’t called back up to join the senior squad in Chicago, but perhaps the quick flight back to Toronto for Sunday’s tilt against Houston meant they’re better served getting minutes for the 905 both tonight and tomorrow.
  • The Mad Ants entered tonight’s contest with the highest offensive rating in the D-League, and have five guys that averaging between 13.1 and 19.1 points per game. You can see why, as they do a great job sharing the ball and creating open looks for each other.
  • Your boy Julyan Stone started for the Mad Ants in this one. He wasn’t good. Got blocked by Bruno on a layup attempt too.
  • After a Bruno buried a second-half trey with no hesitation, you could hear Stackhouse yell out, “That’s what you do Bru! That’s what you do!” Coach Stack lives and dies with every moment for this team, and it’s awesome.
  • After Jarrod Uthoff picked up the DNPCD last time out, it was CJ Leslie’s turn tonight. The Mad Ants had a Leslie of their own missing as well, with Travis Leslie not seeing any court time.
  • Antwaine Wiggins started the game but Stackhouse turned to E.J. Singler to start the third.
  • The 905 play the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow night against the Windy City Bulls. Tip-off is at 8:00pm EST.
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Measuring Greatness

The first round of NBA All-Star game voting results came out yesterday, and a subject of much discussion was the relative rankings of the Raptors back court. With DeMar DeRozan in third place behind Dwayne Wade and Kyrie Irving, there’s certainly a case to be made that he should at least be ahead of Wade, especially given his early season scoring outbursts. DeRozan has shown an improvement in his playmaking, and his shooting with any semblance of space has been nothing short of impressive. His fellow Olympian on the Raptors roster however, Kyle Lowry, sits all the way down in 6th place among Eastern Conference guards, just behind Derrick Rose. While DeMar might have a case for a small slight with Wade ahead of him on legacy votes and the larger market, Lowry might be the best guard in the Eastern Conference this season (and in my opinion definitely is), and surely should sit higher.

Before we get into the debate here, I don’t believe the All-Star game voting is something that’s usually worth getting worked up about. It’s an exhibition game, and it’s voted by the fans. Lowry plays in Canada, and the team doesn’t have the fan base of the large market teams in the States. However, these things do affect legacies, and hall of fame chances, and Lowry was a late bloomer so he might need as many things going in his favor as possible when he does retire to make that case. As well, he’s a free agent this summer, and he can’t be feeling the love from Canadian fans after being 10th in MVP voting a season ago (voted by media), now having half the votes of his teammate (voted by fans).

As far as Lowry and DeRozan, and the question of who’s the better player, I’m not sure this is a debate we should even have. After all, we have both players, and they’re teammates, so why even entertain this discussion? Why not recognize their greatness side by side and simply appreciate both? The easy answer here is that we don’t appear to be fulfilling this, given that Lowry has half the votes of DeRozan currently. The more complicated answer is that the numbers, other than raw points scored, all point to Lowry as the larger influence on the team’s success, and we might be shortchanging his greatness by equating the two. That isn’t intended as a shot at DeRozan either, who’s made me a fan this year through his improvements, and while I could speak to the further growth I’d like to see in DeMar, I truly believe he’s taken a step forward this year as a star in this league.

Without getting away from the point of the article, maybe that’s the true complication here, the fact that most fans have taken sides in this debate in either looking at the advanced stats and how much they favor Lowry, or looking at the way DeRozan has come up and improved as a Raptor and is the more impressive scorer (whether he’s the more effective scorer is up for debate, but the degree of difficulty with which he manages to score is definitely more aesthetically impressive), and we’ve set into our opinions. It’s human nature to compare and contrast, and to want to rank whether or not it’s in our best interest to do so. Whether any of us want to admit it, we’ve likely established a hierarchy in the back of our minds, and we interpret things through those filters.

While DeRozan’s presence on the team is certainly critical to the things the Raptors do, in that he gives the team another dominant ball handler to take some of the pressure off of Lowry, and allow Kyle to play off-ball at times to take advantage of his catch and shoot game, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Lowry simply is the engine that makes this team run. His on/off statistics are once again this year astounding, and DeRozan’s are somewhat perplexing. The team has a +11.2 net rating when Lowry is on the floor, versus a -2.3 net rating when he’s off, and for DeRozan those numbers are +4.3 on and +18.5 off. This isn’t the whole story, I’m well aware, especially because of the incredible dominance of the Lowry and the bench lineup, and the argument has long been that this unit is so dominant because they play against opposing benches. While this argument probably isn’t completely without merit, applying it to the debate over the best player on the team doesn’t totally work, because it implies that DeRozan doesn’t play with the other members of the Lowry and the bench group (he does), and also implies that DeRozan doesn’t also have stretches where he plays against opposing benches (which he also does).

Once again, and I feel like I have to belabor this point because I’m not intending to start a civil war in the Raptors fan base here, this isn’t to demean DeRozan, because his presence is definitely a large part of what allows Lowry to play his game and be who he is, and the team doesn’t get where they are without either player. It just serves as a reminder sometimes that when we credit the difference in their on/off net ratings to Lowry’s brilliance, we need to also credit Lowry with said brilliance, and keep that in mind beyond the base statistics of points on the scoreboard. The team runs through, and because of, Kyle Lowry, and while he didn’t come up in the Raptors system, and perhaps that’s why DeRozan is at times the more beloved player, he certainly came into his own here.

In this age of incredible physical specimens in the NBA, sometimes it’s hard to see a player with Lowry’s stature as dominant. He doesn’t have the stature of LeBron, or the wingspan of Giannis, or the explosiveness of Westbrook. It doesn’t seem to be in his nature to force his own game, instead preferring to pick his spots as the team needs him, such as the fourth quarter against the Jazz last night. Perhaps if he simply imposed his will on the game we’d view him as a greater player and recognize his dominance more, but if he did that, maybe the relationship between Lowry and DeRozan wouldn’t work as well as it does, and there’d be little left for the rest of the team.

So appreciate DeRozan. Appreciate a player who’s put in the work, and continues to do so, and we’ve seen grow so much over the past 7 years in the league. Appreciate his love for the city and the fans, and his commitment to growing both his own game and the team here. Don’t lose track of how valuable and incredible that is for the city, the fans and the team. But while we all need to do that, and I’m as guilty as anyone of losing track of that at times, we also need to remember that the other guy in the back court was an MVP candidate last year, was recognized around the league as one of the most important players in the entire conference, and earned an All-NBA berth in the process. This team is simply far better when Lowry is on the court, and that seems to apply over the past several seasons almost entirely regardless of the other players on the court.

At the end of the day, for me at least, that’s where the argument between the two seems to end. When Lowry plays without DeRozan, the team succeeds. DeRozan’s bigger detractors will say the team succeeds more with Lowry and without DeRozan, but that’s not the whole story either, because there’s a case that without DeRozan, Lowry would simply have to carry too much of the load and wouldn’t be able to maintain the same level of play. On the other hand, when DeRozan plays without Lowry, the team struggles. Not just defensively, which has never been DeMar’s calling card, but also with the ball. I’ve always been critical of DeRozan’s shortcomings, but I’ve come to accept that DeMar is a great running mate for Kyle and they make each other better. That being said, there’s no question in my mind who the greater player between the two is, and it’d be a mistake to let appreciation for DeMar blind you from the greatness of Lowry.

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Should the Korver trade change Toronto’s approach on Millsap?

Right as the Toronto Raptors tipped off against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, their chances of upsetting the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals took a blow. No Raptor was injured on a play, or anything like that, though Kyle Lowry did roll his ankle shortly after, nearly inciting panic.

Instead, The Vertical broke the news that the Cavaliers were in the process of acquiring sharpshooter Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks.

By the time the details came out, not only had the Cavaliers acquired Korver, they had managed to do so losing little from their regular rotation (Mike Dunleavy Jr., and a 2019 first-round pick), and keeping their sizable Anderson Varejao trade exception in tact. That last point is notable, because the Cavaliers still have the ability to take on more salary (for a backup point guard, perhaps), and they still have the rights to Cedi Osman to send out as trade sweetener.

In acquiring Korver, the Cavs have become even more lethal than they already were. It goes without saying that adding one of the best shooters of all time to a lineup will help, even as a specialist. Korver won’t be a specialist, though – he’ll help fill the J.R. Smith absence in the short-term, take minutes from the outbound Dunleavy and possibly Iman Shumpert, plus soak up some of the end-of-bench minutes that would need to be spread around in the postseason. He’s a good player, and good players at little cost are nice additions.

There is no diminishing return to his shooting, either. There’s an argument to be made that, like potent offenses in baseball, there’s actually the opposite with shooters. The Cavs are already flush with shooting, but Korver gives them their deadliest catch-and-shoot option yet and opens up a ton of options for head coach Tyronn Lue. Adding another marksman to spacy lineups stretches defenses out even further and makes it even harder to help-and-recover – a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Korver, LeBron James, Channing Frye, and Kevin Love would essentially make James impossible to double-team or send aggressive help on without opening up massive opportunity for the Cavs to kick and swing, a specialty of any James-led offense. Korver’s mastery off the ball can create a lot of distraction around the already deadly Irving-James or James-Love actions. There are several lineup iterations here that are suddenly much more terrifying with Korver, and the Cavs go from being nearly impossible to defend to maybe-I’ll-see-how-this-bleach-tastes.

And yes, the lineups mentioned may want for defense. It likely won’t matter for Cleveland until they see the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and even then, it’s an extra weapon to deploy (and again, at little cost). The Cavaliers can be better defensively, when locked in, than they’ve shown. We know this from last year. And points are points, so while you’d like balance and to be able to stop an opponent, simply being better in the aggregate is good, too. The best or second-best team in the NBA just got even better, and they might not be done.

We also know the Raptors were already a step or two behind the Cavs. They took Cleveland to six games last year, yes, but the series wasn’t as close as that suggested (they were blown out in each loss, sometimes viciously), and the Cavs took a trio of close games between the two teams this year. It’s worth repeating that being in the league’s second tier for the second year in a row is not a bad place to be, but anyone who believed the Raptors were set for a linear step forward, as currently constructed, was being a little too optimistic.

Now that the Cavs have improved and are showing such aggression to continue to do so, the gap between the two teams has widened. The Raptors would have been a sizable underdog against Cleveland, and they still will be, with precious little in the way of a defensive answer over the course of seven games.

The Korver deal, then, poses a tough and interesting question for Toronto: Does this make them more likely to trade for an extra piece, or less likely?

As has been discussed here ad nauseam of late, the Raptors are among the teams who have reportedly made calls on Paul Millsap, along with Denver, Sacramento, and Philadelphia. With the Hawks dealing Korver, speculation is only going to ramp up about the Hawks’ mini-tear down, and true to form, reports after the Korver deal suggested talks were heating up. The Hawks are clearly motivated sellers, they clearly don’t care to wait for the trade deadline, and they will jump on the right deal if it presents itself.

This doesn’t necessarily make it a given that Toronto will continue to be aggressive here. There is strong logic behind dealing for Millsap. He would be a great on-court fit at both ends and, it seems, a quality off-court one (DeMarre Carroll was raving about him after Thursday’s game, while being careful not to cross any tampering lines or saying anything he shouldn’t). He would make the Raptors significantly better on defense while also adding an extra, important element on offense outside of Toronto’s current two-headed monster. As discussed on today’s podcast, he is a very, very good, and criminally underrated player who would give the Raptors three top-25 players.

Millsap, then,would still make the Raptors much, much better.

The issue, though, is that Millsap wouldn’t push the Raptors quite to Cleveland’s level. That was true before the Korver deal, but Millsap would have added enough to at least make it a conversation, shrinking the gap and giving Toronto more weapons in creating a two-way strategy to match Cleveland. The addition of Korver isn’t bigger than a Millsap one would be – the marginal gain of adding a top-25 piece for Toronto is enormous, qualitatively, while Cleveland can only play so many studs – but it moves the needle, and Cleveland maintaining that sizable trade exception is just as scary. Millsap already wouldn’t have closed the gap completely, and now the gap his acquisition would be looking to close is even wider.

There are a couple of different ways to look at this. On the one hand, if the Raptors want to represent any semblance of competition, Cleveland’s aggression ratchets up the pressure to make a move here. They’re falling further behind, as it were, and Millsap becomes even more important. On the other, the overall value of adding Millsap for this year is probably a little less, if we’re being honest, and so the Raptors shouldn’t be as aggressive – moving the Eastern Conference Finals odds from 15 percent to 35 percent is a lot more important than moving them from 10 percent to 20 percent (I’m using completely arbitrary numbers here). The marginal value of Millsap this year may have decreased, as it were, and Millsap becomes even less important.

Whichever side of that fence you fall on – and either is justified, I think – the accounting of a Millsap deal has to change at least a little bit.

Acquiring Millsap’s Bird rights in free agency, and thus the option to keep a Lowry-DeRozan-Millsap competitive window open for the next several years, takes on a greater weight in the accounting. Adding Millsap might not make up enough ground this year, but adding him to the core moving forward puts the Raptors in a stronger position next year. So if the Raptors weren’t entirely sure Millsap would re-sign, or if they were on the fence about potentially paying that trio up to $100 million annually starting next year (likely shedding some salary in the process), they have to consider the next few years even more. There’s also now a greater cost to losing future assets, depending on how you want to frame it. You could suggest that the window two years from now is a more realistic opportunity than the one this year – James will eventually age, Cleveland is becoming quite low on marketable trade assets, the Raptors are still young and improving – and if that’s the reality, the future value of picks, prospects, or even a reasonably priced Terrence Ross might be higher than an aging Millsap on a large contract (it’s hard to say, but Millsap’s game should age well).

Again, people are going to feel different ways about the Cavs being aggressive and what the Raptors should do in response. It’s not my aim to tell anyone how to be a fan, or that they should root for aggression or caution, an all-in approach or an eye for the future. But it’s worth re-evaluating your thoughts on a potential Millsap deal, because the balance in the Eastern Conference has shifted a little and could shift even more in the coming weeks.

Personally, I think the Korver move makes a Millsap addition less of an impact right now, but still a worthwhile one given the chance to re-sign Millsap and move forward with three potential All-Stars, depending on the ultimate asking price. That creates a precarious cap scenario, but there aren’t many other paths to top-loading a roster like that, and amassing talent at the top is important. There’s also not another clear path to taking the next step this offseason, because the Raptors are unlikely to be able to wiggle into cap room. You can pay Millsap whatever it ends up costing, or you can pay Patrick Patterson about $15 million annually, or you can pay neither and continue the perpetual search for a power forward as Lowry hits the back-end of his prime. You could hold the assets for a different trade, or continue to bank on chemistry, continuity, and development (a smart, if unsexy approach in most cases), but they may wind up repeating at this same sub-Cleveland level for a third year in a row (a good, if unsexy place to be). Players of Millsap’s ilk don’t often become available to team’s in Toronto’s position, and it would be tough to walk away from the table on such a move.

The price on Korver was low, and the other suitors calling on Millsap might not have the same willingness to pay (Sacramento and Denver are highly motivated to reach the playoffs, but the Kings are low on assets and the Nuggets are an awkward trade partner, salary-wise). It’s also reasonable to assume the Cavs getting even stronger would take some teams out of the buyer’s market – is Boston really going to cash in that Nets pick chip in this competitive environment? – so Atlanta may have fewer offers. On the podcast, Brad Rowland and I came to a rough agreement of Ross, Jakob Poeltl, Jared Sullinger (for salary purposes), and a first-round pick for Millsap. If you can take out Poeltl or the pick, maybe that’s still worth it. Maybe it is as constructed; there just aren’t many other ways to get a Millsap. I’d probably pay a little less in a “give me your best offer or we’re done” situation than I would have 24 hours ago, but the Korver deal doesn’t scare me off entirely.

This whole situation has grown even more complicated. I think there are several ways you could feel about a Millsap acquisition, and I wouldn’t fault you for most of them. (Mostly, I’m feeling that the Cavs are annoying.) Millsap is very good, and adding a very good player is, umm, very good. Hot take, I know. Anyway, I’m curious to hear if and how the Korver deal has shaped or changed any of your opinions.

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Lowry goes off in 2nd half to give Jazz deja vu

Raptors 101, Jazz 93 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

It looked as if perhaps Kyle Lowry was sliding into a rare, uncharacteristic slump. Two nights after putting forth maybe his worst game of the season, shooting 0-of-7 on threes in a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Lowry was cold once again. He opened the Toronto Raptors’ game against the Utah Jazz – their first home game in weeks – by tweaking his left ankle, and whether that played a factor or not, he started out 2-of-6 from the floor. The Raptors, as the often do, followed his lead, starting sloppy, lethargic, and disorganized, letting the Jazz get out to an 11-point lead.

Head coach Dwane Casey was reaching and tinkering once again in the absence of Patrick Patterson, starting Lucas Nogueira at power forward and using some unfamiliar bench lineups. His hand has been forced in that regard, and the dual-center look made sense opposite a large Jazz frontline. It wasn’t particularly effective early on, though, and it took until the vaunted Lowry-and-bench unit (it didn’t really exist in that form here, though) hit the floor in the second quarter for the Raptors to settle down at all. The Raptors were able to slowly chip away as the half drew closer, with DeMar DeRozan scoring 12 first-half points, Terrence Ross providing a nice spark off the bench, and Jonas Valanciunas matching Rudy Gobert’s physicality and answering Casey’s call for him to be more dominant on the offensive end.

The Raptors have been down this road a few times lately. They know that on most nights, especially ones like this where an elite defensive opponent can throw so much length and so many looks at DeMar DeRozan, they need their point guard to be on to compete with the best teams in the league. They’re also keenly aware, for better or worse, that they possess a second gear they often keep in reserve, and they are often able to flip the switch after a shaky quarter or half. And, of course, there’s the recent memory of both of those points amalgamating into one, with Lowry becoming a one-man NOS button – forget the gear change – against the Jazz on Dec. 23.

Perhaps fueled by the news that the Cleveland Cavaliers were pulling even further away on paper, or perhaps after taking a quick look in my mentions at halftime, Lowry came out of the break on fire.

It’s a damn good thing, too. The Jazz did their best to lock up DeRozan, who still managed 23 points and chipped in on the glass to make up for a shaky shooting night, and that left the burden in the second half on the team’s other pillar. Valanciunas cooled some on the offensive end but responded with much better work defensively, DeMarre Carroll shifted into an offense-free role but one that included some of the best defense he’s played all year, and the shooting outside of Lowry went n the tank, with the non-Lowry Raptors going 9-of-34 over the final two quarters.

Still, there was Lowry, getting to the line, hitting deep threes, tricking defenders into leaning one way to create space for himself the other way, and generally being a pest on the defensive end. Lowry would score 28 of his 33 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the half, taking nine free-throw attempts and knocking down triples in triplicate, essentially carrying the offense for the bulk of the half. It was yet another masterful performance from a player who’s had a ton of them this year, and one that had the Jazz, down their best Lowry-stopper in George Hill once again, at a bit of a loss.

“I don’t want to get into analyzing how we could guard Kyle Lowry differently,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who had called Lowry his favorite player before the game, said afterward. “We have to do a better job on him. Same thing happened to us at home. He’s good, he took advantage of us, and it hurt us.”

Strangely, as the Raptors nudged ahead of Utah as the game wore on, it was actually the Lowry-and-bench iteration that nearly lost the momentum. Casey stuck with Nogueira starting in the second half, to slightly better results, but the faith in Pascal Siakam had deteriorated even further, leaving the second unit a giant question mark. Jakob Poeltl got a brief look, Norman Powell saw some time in smaller groups, and then Casey finally found an effective unit with Carroll at the four and Ross in the game.

We’re searching. With guys hurt we’re trying to find matchups, not only that matchup but the rotation,” Casey said after the game. “There’s a chain effect, a domino effect of everything you do, you plug a guy in, you take from the second unit. We’re searching right now trying to find the right matchup.”

Casey’s tinkering eventually paid off. The starters with Ross as an extra wing in place of Nogueira proved a lethal defensive five-some, and the Raptors held the Jazz to 36.4-percent shooting in the second half. Valanciunas did his job limiting the second-chance points, and in turn earned himself the trust of his coach down the stretch, a somewhat rare occurrence of late. Carroll helped cool off Joe Johnson. And after quickly getting into the penalty in the fourth quarter, the Raptors tightened things up, sending Utah to the line just four times in the game’s final seven minutes. They also simplified the offense some, not running isolations but scrapping some of their more detailed, scripted plays in favor of some simpler old stand-bys, possibly wanting more time in the clock to improvise or reset if the initial actions couldn’t produce a mismatch.

All the while, the offense remained mostly Lowry – DeRozan had a few big buckets down the stretch, but Lowry scored 14 points in the game’s final seven minutes to pull away and close it out.

“Kyle’s been doing a great job,” Carroll, who was visibly excited when asked about his own health and performance after turning in 39 quality minutes, said. “He started the game off trying to get other guys involved. He knows at the end either him or Deebo has got to close it. Deebo, he was a little off tonight. But Kyle stepped in and took it on his shoulders and kind of willed us to that win.”

Lowry kept hitting, the defense remained dialed in, and the Raptors, asleep at the wheel for chunks of their first game back after a long road trip, found their footing. In doing so, they beat a quality Jazz team that’s been playing some great basketball, sweeping the season mini-series despite not turning in two of their sharpest efforts. They haven’t been at their best consistently of late, and yet they were able to find a way, which has kind of been their modus operandi here in the slough of the middle of the schedule. It would be great if they were still in evisceration mode as they were about a month ago, but beating this Jazz team, even without Hill, is a quality win, especially down Patrick Patterson once again.

The Raptors searching a little bit, to be clear, and that’s understandable but maybe a little concerning given the games they have coming up. Once again, they showed they can beat good teams while searching, especially if what they find in the short-term is a red-hot Kyle Lowry.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 6 – Bringing Millsap to Toronto

The Extra returns with a pair of guests to get a 360-degree picture of the Paul Millsap situation.

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Raptors-Jazz Reaction Podcast – Lowry sinks Jazz yet again

Host William Lou details how Kyle Lowry owned the Utah Jazz (again).

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Quick Reaction: Jazz 93 Raptors 101

Utah 93 Final
Box Score
101 Toronto

B-
D. Carroll39 MIN, 8 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 3-6 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 18 +/-

Low-key performance from Carroll, who the Raptors need more from offensively – particularly when DeRozan and Ross aren’t scoring. But his rotations were mostly on point tonight, and he did a respectable job defending Joe Johnson a couple times despite Johnson (of course) canning it in his face.

He was a team-high (and it wasn’t even close) +18 tonight.

B
L. Nogueira26 MIN, 4 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 2-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 4 +/-

He put together a really nice game after, in a rare occurrence, was slotted into the starting lineup as the team’s four alongside Valanciunas.

Favours scored on him early on, but that’s not a huge knock on Bebe, who stood his ground, defended vertically, and defended well when switched onto Gobert too.

Was active in passing lanes, and grabbed an important offensive put-back in the third quarter which fueled a bit of a surge.

Still, he missed a wide-open dunk opportunity after diving to the rim and catching a lob from Lowry. He needs to finish that. It nearly cost the Raptors in the fourth when trying to make a push, and it cost Bebe and entire letter grade.

B+
J. Valanciunas31 MIN, 18 PTS, 13 REB, 0 AST, 7-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-

Generous? Maybe. Grading him above Bebe is down to his scoring output, which the Raptors needed desperately with Utah playing so well defensively and the Raptors labouring.

But he did cool off, stalled the offense on a couple possessions, and did some strange things defensively. Plays like this where he makes it a point to guard Gobert outside the three-point arc need to be eliminated from his game completely:

A
D. DeRozan37 MIN, 23 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 8-26 FG, 0-1 3FG, 7-10 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 8 +/-

I didn’t envision giving DeMar a high grade tonight by the time the third quarter ended, but he rose in the clutch after a really poor shooting night. Fun battle between him and Hayward tonight.

A+
K. Lowry41 MIN, 33 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 10-17 FG, 4-8 3FG, 9-11 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 9 +/-

Best player on the court. Carried the team for the umpteenth time, scored from everywhere on the floor, and did his damned greatest to fight through every Rudy Gobert screen.

C+
T. Ross30 MIN, 12 PTS, 0 REB, 1 AST, 5-12 FG, 2-8 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, 8 +/-

Raptors needed more scoring from him in the first three frames, but he started knocking down shots eventually, and actually did a nice job defensively guarding Johnson in the fourth.

C
C. Joseph18 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 1-8 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -1 +/-

Awful night from the floor. Utah defended him well, and he’s always going to struggle getting to the rim in a game like this where space just doesn’t exist.

C-
N. Powell8 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Really did my best to pick something out from Norm tonight but there wasn’t anything noteworthy. He played limited minutes and didn’t move the needle much.

Inc
J. Poeltl6 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-

Is ‘Incomplete’ harsh? Possibly. He only played six minutes and actually looked fine! He was just a band-aid tonight, giving rest to JV and Bebe.

Inc
P. Siakam4 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-

Ditto above.

A-
Dwane Casey

I think he was right in starting the JV-Bebe frontcourt, as terribly laborious it is to watch two dinosaurs share the floor together like that. The Raptors needed to react to their slow starts with Siakam, and Utah plays big enough that Casey’s hands were somewhat tied here.

Things We Saw

  1. Scoring was so laborious all night, until Lowry and DeRozan imposed their will in the fourth. Playing Bebe and Valanciunas together really destroys your spacing. It allowed Utah to flood the paint, deny penetration from Lowry / DeRozan / Joseph, and get coverage on outside shooters Ross and Carroll.

    It’s impressive to me just how good the Raptors are to eventually come out on top in a game like this.

  2. Nothing new or ground-breaking, but I really worry about the frontcourt in general. The talent level and diversity there just isn’t enough to tread water against elite teams, and the team consistently gets bailed but by a prolific and clinical backcourt.
  3. I’m going to throw and assist to William Lou tonight. Your Gerald Henderson award goes to Shelvin Mack. 7/9 from the floor.
  4. You’d be forgiven if you weren’t 100% dialed into this game. People seemed to either be watching the hockey game, or refreshing Twitter at a steady pace to follow the Korver trade. This is not necessarily the place for it, but, my take:

    Cleveland got Korver for free, if you break it down and look at the pieces going back to Atlanta. This makes them so much more deadly – providing LeBron another passing outlet and assassin from behind the arc without suffering any drop off.

    Understandably, Raptor fans should be feeling some anxiety here. The gap that needs to be closed on Cleveland already seemed so insurmountable. It will be fascinating to follow the Millsap saga in the next few days.

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Pre-game news & notes: Patterson and Hill out, Bebe starts at PF (!!)

Heyo. Happy Thursday. Hope the day is treating you well. Like, you found a loonie on the ground, or just caught the bus in time, or your crush smiled at you (#ShootYourShot2017, by the way). It’s been kind of a weird day, busy, but with little of real substance happening. And all this, without the Toronto Raptors doing a shootaround ahead of their game with the Utah Jazz. The Raptors also didn’t practice Wednesday, needing the mental break after a lengthy road trip.

I’m not going to repeat too much here. We went really in-depth with the game preview, and not a lot has changed since then. From the Raptors’ perspective, they’re…

“It’s part of the NBA. Everybody goes through it. Everybody has a part of the schedule you don’t look forward to, and we just went through ours,” Casey said before the game. “Coming home, the one thing you can’t do is relax and think home is gonna take care of you.”

The next week will be a tough test for the Raptors, and an important one. Utah, Chicago, Houston (on a back-to-back), and Boston don’t make for the easiest four-game stretch, even with three at home, and the team could probably use a bit of momentum built back up. It starts tonight, with a tough Jazz team missing an important player, one the Raptors edged by six in Utah just a few weeks ago.

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

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson will sit once again. Patterson is dealing with a left knee strain that’s now kept him out of the last three-and-a-half games, and it’s hard to get a feel for if he’ll be ready to go here. He’s been off a week now, but there’s also a back-to-back coming up and it’s January, so the Raptors should (and will) be cautious.

“He’s out tonight,” Casey said. “Still sore and so we’re trying to let it calm down a little bit, and let the swelling go down a little bit more.”

With Patterson out, the Raptors have a few options. The Jazz start big with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert together, but they’ve often looked better with only one of those players on the floor. When it’s Favors and Gobert together, the Raptors should give another look to the dual-center lineups that were good against the Lakers and not as bad as their traditional ones against the Spurs, because there are some encouraging signs there. Otherwise, they might be able to buy some minutes smaller, with DeMarre Carroll or Norman Powell at the four – in the last meeting, the Raptors were a minus-2 in nine minutes playing like that, not a terrible result.

The 905 assignees, meanwhile, are staying in the D-League for the team’s Friday-Saturday back-to-back. The Raptors will only have 10 healthy bodies, then, but none of their next few games look like potential blowouts, anyway, so they likely won’t be needed (barring injury). Given the bit of rust both Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo showed Wednesday and how long they’ve been on the road, getting a pair of games in here should do wonders for them. I’d imagine they rejoin the Raptors for their home game Sunday, as the 905 return home as well.

UPDATE: Lucas Nogueira is starting at power forward. Seriously! This is interesting on so many levels, but considering it came out five minutes before the game, we’ll save it for tomorrow. Just enjoy the weirdness for now.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet
TBD:
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson

Jazz updates
George Hill has been ruled out with a concussion, and his in-and-out of the lineup continues to be a big loss for Utah. His absence means the point guard duties fall on the shoulders of Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack, who are definitely better than the succession plan down the depth chart a year ago (when Exum was hurt and Mack wasn’t picked up until late), but who still aren’t a slam-dunk for the offense. Exum can certainly defend, at least, and he’s available after spending most of the last few weeks day-to-day with knee tendinitis (it’s unclear if he’ll start). Raul Neto could factor in, too.

The guard group wasn’t particularly effective stopping Lowry from eviscerating them a few weeks back, and that will remain a tough spot for Utah without Hill. At least with Alec Burks back and Rodney Hood fully healthy, the Jazz have the option to experiment going without a natural point guard and just playing super long at each position – a lot of their wings can handle the ball enough to perhaps make it tenable for small stretches. If Exum can play, that helps. Elsewhere, the DeRozan assignment is likely to be shared, but Hood should see the bulk of it. Maybe it’s a chance for Burks to finally get some run, and Joe Ingles put in a solid effort when asked to last time out.

It should be interesting to see who dictates the chess match in the frontcourt more. The Jazz are still deciding which way they want to play most often, and the Raptors could be forced into some tough rotations. It could be a case of both coaches reaching for what will work best until they find it.

PG: Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum, Raul Neto
SG: Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Alec Burks
SF: Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson
PF: Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw
C: Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey
Assigned: Joel Bolomboy
TBD:
Out: George Hill

Assorted

  • Here’s a very interesting quote from Dwane Casey in today’s piece from Zach Lowe of ESPN: “If your big guys don’t dominate, you have to go small. I tell Jonas [Valanciunas]: ‘Oh, you want to play more? Then dominate. I don’t want to see fadeaways over 6-8 guys. Get to the rim. Get every offensive rebound. If not, you’re coming out.'”
    • It’s hard to argue with that, though you could also point to how and how often Valanciunas is used and say he doesn’t get the full opportunity to dominate. He remains a bit of a conundrum, the perpetual enigma of the organization.
  • As discussed earlier, Lowry and DeRozan are a bit behind where they should maybe be in All-Star voting.
  • Also covered earlier, Jerry Stackhouse was named D-League Coach of the Month for December, making him and Casey the first ever duo within an organization to take the respective awards in the same month.

The line
The Raptors have been as heavy as 6-point favorites, and the line has settled in at Raptors -5. The over-under, which opened around 201.5 (the last meeting had a 202 total), has dropped to 198.5, so get ready for some hot hot defensive action. Toronto won by six on the road with Hill and Exum sitting (but Patterson playing), so holding somewhere close to there as the location switches seems reasonable enough. We’ll see if it moves at all with the Patterson announcement.

Raptors, Jazz

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Jerry Stackhouse named D-League Coach of the Month

Dwane Casey has company in the Toronto Raptors organization when it comes to hardware recognizing good coaching in December.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse has been named D-League Coach of the Month for December, too, after leading the 905 to a 9-3 record and the league’s best defense, on a points per-game basis, during the month. The 905 also railed off a seven-game win streak and continued their road dominance, playing to a 5-0 record away from Hershey Centre.

A three-game losing streak has dropped the 905 to 12-7 on the year, but Stackhouse is keeping an even keel and using the adversity as an opportunity for the team to learn and grow. The former All-Star has been impressive in his first season behind the bench, leveraging his team’s depth and versatility well, commanding high effort on defense from everyone, with fair treatment of the assignment players relative to the others, and he’s handled the differences between the parent club roster and the D-League roster well, tweaking the organization’s schemes in creative ways to suit this group. The result is the 905 ranking fifth in net rating, ninth in offense, and fourth in defense.

He’s also been doing this without the benefit of many assignment players. Bruno Caboclo has appeared in 11 games, Fred VanVleet in 10, and Jakob Poeltl in just one, and the 905 have had to lean on their regulars (who, it should be noted, are among the best and deepest in the league).

It’s been a really encouraging start to the year for Stackhouse and the organization, making the transition from Jesse Mermuys seamless.

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Early All-Star voting returns have Raptors’ stars out of starting lineup

The first count of fan voting for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game is out, and it’s not good news for the Toronto Raptors’ stars.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan could both be in tough to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup, with a big push needed ahead of the Jan. 16 deadline. DeRozan currently ranks third, just behind Dwyane Wade of the Chicago Bulls, while Lowry is criminally down in sixth with not only just half the votes of his teammate, but only a quarter of the votes of Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. Do Cavs fans really need more at this point? No, they don’t, and so even if you can’t rally yourself to vote to support your team, do it to try to spite the Cavs. Does that work? Cool.

Anyway, here are the vote totals in the East:

Now, when I tweeted that out, some fans got quite mad at me. Why, when I’ve also been regularly using DeRozan’s name with the hashtag? I’m not sure. The argument seems to be that we should all be systematically voting for only DeRozan, since he’s closer, but to that I would counter: A) There are still 12 voting days, so things could change in a hurry in the counts and you wouldn’t want to disqualify a very deserving Lowry out of strategy; and B) With the ability to vote (online or using the hashtag #NBAVote) for 10 different players each day (plus the retweets), you’re not hurting DeRozan by voting for Lowry or vice versa. Like, at all.

(Also, the idea that there is some bias in alternating which player I use the hashtag for – I’ve been going back-and-forth all voting season, as I did last year – is laughable, and I am very annoyed at the world today. But I digress.)

It’s worth noting, too, that the fan votes only makes up 50 percent of the vote this year. Players and media will account for the other half, though Raptors Republic does not have a vote. But the fan vote is still important, and it sends a nice message of support to the players if the fan base comes correct with good numbers for each of their stars. Last year, Lowry closed a 32,000-vote gap in the final four days, for example. He also jumped Wade at the last count the year prior. Both Lowry and DeRozan will probably wind up earning their third respective All-Star nods, anyway, but it’s not a given with the depth at guard in the East this year. There’s plenty of time to push each player higher, and the voting update next Thursday will be interesting.

(And no, we probably shouldn’t have someone with a huge following give away a phone for RTs, or whatever happened last year, because it’s a bad look. Kind of funny, though.)

I’ll write up the case for each Raptor to make the team next week and release my full hypothetical ballot some time before Jan. 19.

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Gameday: Jazz @ Raptors, Jan. 5

The Toronto Raptors are finally back at home. They say the first home game after a long road trip feels like a road game still, given the unfamiliarity and short lead time to settle in, but the Raptors will surely be thankful to be in Toronto nonetheless. The Raptors went 3-3 out west, an entirely acceptable record for such a trip but one they came by in an ugly and oft-frustrating way, and confidence around the comments section seems to be a little low.

That makes this next stretch of games important, both to the team and the perception of them – Utah, (at) Chicago, Houston, and Boston are all teams firmly in the league’s second tier, where the Raptors have stacked up well. Maybe the Bulls aren’t that great a test given how they’re playing right now, but it’s a game in Chicago, which is never easy, especially for Toronto the last few years. There’s also a back-to-back on the slate, and so while yes, they’re no longer on the road, this is hardly a tidy four-game stretch. Play well and go, say, 3-1, and most of the concerns that cropped up the last two weeks will fall by the wayside. Struggle to a 2-2 mark or drop a winnable game, and the questions about where this team ranks in the league’s pecking order could grow louder, fair or otherwise.

It starts with Utah, against whom the Raptors started their trip initially. Kyle Lowry went full KLOE in that one, helping the Raptors pick up a signature road win, and it should be an equally entertaining game here in Toronto. The Jazz had won four in a row before falling to Boston on Tuesday (in the controversial Cheer-for-Gordon-Hayward, Jae-Crowder-is-OK-leaving controversy), and they’ll come in as the league’s No. 11 offense and No. 4 defense. At 22-14, the Jazz once again represent a potential statement victory.

The game tips off at 7:30 p m. on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to the Utah-based Ben Dowsett of BBall Insiders, and he was kind enough to provide some illumination. We also just did this back on Dec. 23, and most of Ben’s answers there should still hold today.

Blake Murphy: We just talked not all that long ago, as the Raptors visited the Jazz on Dec. 23. Just two weeks later here, has much changed for the Jazz?

Ben Dowsett: Not a great deal. The Jazz have cleared guard Alec Burks to play, but he’s seen just three minutes of court time in two games since that clearance. Forward Derrick Favors has had more time to return to form, and is now back in his usual role in the starting lineup, but he’s still struggled for long stretches and appears to be fighting conditioning and movement concerns. Partially as a result, the 4-spot has become a real point of concern for the Jazz in recent weeks – their best lineups have typically been small units with Favors or Rudy Gobert at center. Outside some potential fatigue issues this week with five road games played in seven days, things are mostly the same in Utah.

Blake Murphy: Did you have any takeaways from the Dec. 23 meeting about how the Jazz could better approach the Toronto matchup? What about the other way around?

Ben Dowsett: In all honesty, it’s tough to look at any element of the Jazz’s approach a couple weeks back and find major fault in it. They did a very good job against DeMar DeRozan despite getting only limited minutes from a flu-ailing Rodney Hood, and held the Raptors to just 10 points from the free-throw line on the game. Raptors not named Lowry shot 46 percent, an acceptable figure to allow, and the Jazz got balanced scoring and a good showing from the bench, especially Canadian Trey Lyles (19 points, 7 boards). Unfortunately, though, that Lowry guy was on the court too, and the Jazz had zero answer for him. His 15-20 from the field destroyed them, including a blazing fourth quarter to bring Toronto back from a small deficit.

You want to think schematic adjustments can stem this tide…but recent evidence suggests they really can’t. Minus George Hill, it’s really hard to see an avenue that doesn’t involve a) a quick star guard like Lowry killing the Jazz with his own offense or b) said guard forcing rotations and secondary shooters lighting the Jazz up from deep (this happened to Utah on Tuesday night in Boston, where Isaiah Thomas dropped 15 dimes on them). Utah simply doesn’t have the personnel to defend these kinds of stars with Hill out, and there seems to be no solution that doesn’t open up huge cracks elsewhere.

Blake Murphy: It sounds like George Hill and Dante Exum could both miss the second meeting, too. Obviously, they’re both important defensive pieces and Hill is a major part of the offense. If either were to play, how would that shift the balance in this matchup?

Ben Dowsett: Exum might only have a minor effect, but Hill’s presence has quickly become likely the largest individual factor in Utah’s outlook – especially against a team like Toronto with a guard like Lowry on board. It’s honestly tough to see the Jazz with much of a chance Thursday if Hill misses the game, barring a remarkable showing from Gordon Hayward or another Jazz stud. On the flip side, if he had been able to play (neither was definitively out as Ben wrote this, but Hill was ruled out afterward), the Jazz should have a fighting chance. They have solid matchups elsewhere on the board, and Hill might allow them to temper Lowry’s dominance at least a bit.

Blake Murphy: How freaking good is Auston Matthews?

Ben Dowsett: 

Raptors updates
The Raptors still don’t have an update on the status of Patrick Patterson, and it’s unlikely there will be one until close to game-time, as the Raptors did not practice Wednesday and are not doing a shootaround Thursday. It seems like a necessary break – mental, as much as physical – after more than two weeks on the road, but it means little in the way of information. Patterson is dealing with a left knee strain (the team listed it as a left ankle sprain on Tuesday, if day-to-day injuries weren’t confusing enough already) that’s kept him out of the last two-and-a-half games, and it’s hard to get a feel for if he’ll be ready to go here. He’s been off a week now, but there’s also a back-to-back coming up and it’s January, so the Raptors can be cautious.

If Patterson can’t go, the Raptors have a few options. The Jazz start big with Favors and Gobert together but as Ben pointed out, they’ve often looked better with only one of those players on the floor, with Lyles or Boris Diaw at the four. If it’s Favors and Gobert, the Raptors should give another look to the dual-center lineups that were good against the Lakers and not as bad as their traditional ones against the Spurs, because there are some encouraging signs there. Otherwise, they might be able to buy minute smaller, with DeMarre Carroll or even Norman Powell at the four – in the last meeting, the Raptors were a minus-2 in nine minutes playing like that, a tiny sample but one that suggests it’s a matchup play they can go to without disaster.

And if Patterson can go, well, all the better. The team has struggled without him, missing a combination of the spacing he provides in the frontcourt, his intelligent defense, and even just the extra body to throw out there. They’re understandably thin without him and Jared Sullinger.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Fred VanVleet)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, (Patrick Patterson), (Bruno Caboclo)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet
TBD: Patrick Patterson
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

Jazz updates
George Hill has been ruled out with a concussion, and his in-and-out of the lineup continues to be a big loss for Utah. He’s been awesome when healthy and a terrific fit with this Jazz team on both ends of the floor, but he hasn’t been able to contribute regularly. In the short-term, Hill’s absence means the point guard duties fall on the shoulders of Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack, who are definitely better than the succession plan down the depth chart a year ago (when Exum was hurt and Mack wasn’t picked up until late), but who still aren’t a slam-dunk for the offense. Exum can certainly defend, at least, but he’s questionable, too, do to a knee injury.

That means point guard duties could falla on Mack and Raul Neto again. That’s not exactly the Jazz at their best, particularly defending the point of attack, and it wasn’t particularly effective when Lowry eviscerated them a few weeks back. At least with Burks back and Hood fully healthy, the Jazz have the option to experiment going without a natural point guard and just playing super long at each position – a lot of their wings can handle the ball enough to perhaps make it tenable for small stretches. If Exum can play, that helps.

Elsewhere, the DeRozan assignment is likely to be shared, but Hood should see the bulk of it. Maybe it’s a chance for Burks to finally get some run, and Joe Ingles put in a solid effort when asked to last time out. Whoever is at the point gets the opportunity to be roasted by a bounce-back Lowry game.

PG: (Dante Exum), Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto
SG: Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Alec Burks
SF: Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson
PF: Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw
C: Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey
Assigned: Joel Bolomboy
TBD: Dante Exum
Out: George Hill

The line
The Raptors are 5.5-point favorites, which says a lot about the important of George Hill. Toronto won by six on the road with Hill and Exum sitting (but Patterson playing), so holding there as the location switches seems reasonable enough. The line’s been noisy, bouncing all over the place in the early going, so it’ll be interesting to see where it lands after the status of Exum and Patterson are determined. The over-under is presently at 201.5, right in line with the 202 total from their last meeting.

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Raptors 905 drop third in a row as Tavares’ big night can’t overcome Charge

Raptors 905 99, Canton Charge 109 | Box Score
Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905), None (Charge)

After things went about as well as they could have hoped to start the season, Raptors 905 are facing some serious adversity. One of the hottest starts in the league has dissipated, and the 905 now find themselves looking for answers to a three-game losing streak. That might not sound like the best situation to be in midway through the year, but head coach Jerry Stackhouse doesn’t seem all that concerned following a tough loss to the Canton Charge.

“Keep grinding,” he said after the game. “It’s a good test for us. Things kinda came easier for us at the beginning of the season, and now you really find out what your team’s made of.”

The 905 and Charge got out to an even start, trading 3-pointers on their respective opening possessions, with Bruno Caboclo answering an early salvo from Chris Evans. That seemed to get Caboclo in a groove from the outset, and he’d add a nice cutting volley-lob, a pair of heads-up steals, and a beautiful tip-in on his way to a plus-21 mark in the first half. He’d wind up with a plus-14 with nine points and eight rebounds, though he’d go cold later in the game and finish 3-of-10. The rest of the team didn’t have quite that same opening flow, with the 905 only able to build a small lead in the early going. Some familiar turnover and fouling issues reared their head to keep the Charge close despite a poor shooting mark, and a strong offensive quarter produced only a five-point lead at its conclusion.

Things started to look dire as Stackhouse turned to his bench, normally a strength, in the second quarter. Some unsustainable shot-making for Canton and defensive breakdowns for the 905 resulted in a ludicrous 20-4 Charge run over the opening 3:40 of the frame. Suddenly down 11 when they were in control a split-second earlier, the 905 answered back, and the returns of Caboclo and Antwaine Wiggins helped key a 16-4 run for the 905 in response. With Edy Tavares cleaning up around the rim with 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the half (he’d finish with 21 points and 10 rebounds), Wiggins and Will Sheehey proving to be problems in transition, and Caboclo and Fred VanVleet joining them with some great defensive intensity had the 905 leading 58-51 as the halftime buzzer sounded.

The third quarter took all of my willpower to not just fire off a bunch of Chris Evans jokes (they just write themselves and would be a…perfect score for a tired beat writer), as the Charge forward poured in 15 of his 24 points. Evans, the lightning-quick Quinn Cook (who finished with 35), and the versatile John Holland (27) kept the 905 defense on their toes. The offense, meanwhile, wasn’t quite up to the challenge of keeping pace, with the 905 continuing to struggle from long-range on this homestand despite starting it off among the league’s best 3-point shooting teams. In a tight, those quick droughts or runs can change the accounting quickly, and the Charge found themselves ahead by three entering the fourth.

“Their guys stepped up. They got aggressive, got really aggressive offensively, jumped up and made some shots on us,” Stackhouse said.

The cold shooting got a quick reprieve early in the fourth as Brady Heslip nailed a pull-up three, his first triple of the game, but it didn’t ignite the second unit. Stackhouse went back to the assignment players and his most consistent pieces earlier on, Wiggins and Tavares, to try to wrestle the game back midway through the frame. A timeout with 7:42 to play and the 905 down seven felt like a potential make-or-break time in the game, and Heslip coming out of the timeout with a forearm shiver to get whistled for an offensive foul was hardly what the 905 needed. Stackhouse continued to tinker to try to get more play-making on the floor at the expense of Heslip’s shooting, and the defense dialed back in to try to buy some extra possessions to come back in.

It wasn’t meant to be from there, though. A huge dunk from Evans and a VanVleet turnover leading to a Cook transition bucket pushed the lead back to eight, and while VanVleet responded with a triple, a Tavares travel on an offensive rebound a few plays later more or less ended it.  The Charge slowed it down and closed out from there, topping the 905 109-99 to hand a home team that once owned the league’s best record their third consecutive loss.

Dropping another game at home somewhat curiously takes the 905 down to 7-7 at home, with a perfect 5-0 mark on the road. Maybe leaving Hershey Centre is what the 905 need, but wherever they find it, they need to do something about an offense that remains frigid from long-range and continues to turn the ball over a great deal. Stackhouse isn’t worried about the shooting given the looks they’re getting (they were 4-of-18 on threes), but the ball control is a big of a concern.

“We had some looks. We had the looks that we liked. We were swinging the ball, doing exactly what we wanted to do…If we can continue to get those looks, we’ll be fine,” he said. “We had some unforced turnovers. The live-ball, unforced turnovers really hurt us…We gotta find a way to clean that up.”

The 905 have but a day to regroup ahead of a tough road-road back-to-back on the weekend. The last time they stumbled at home and then hit the road, they responded quite emphatically, quickly turning the corner from their first rut of the year. Their ability to do so will say a fair amount about what kind of team they are.

“Bad teams crumble when a little adversity hits. Good teams find a way to survive it. Really, really good teams, great teams, find a way to improve in adverse times,” Stackhouse said. “I think we’ve got a really, really good team and we’ll find a way to come out of it.”

Thanks to Navid Shahabadi for the highlight package.

Notes

  • I’d expect VanVleet to be recalled after this game, as the 905 are going to be out of town, and he generally hasn’t traveled with them. The Raptors play at home Thursday and have a back-to-back Saturday and Sunday, so they’ll likely prefer to have VanVleet with the parent club. As always, it could go either way with Caboclo, who needs the reps but would leave the Raptors with just 11 healthy bodies if he accompanied the 905 on their trip. The guess here is that both get recalled. (It’s possible they get recalled after 905 practice tomorrow, though, as the Raptors aren’t doing a shootaround in the morning.)
    • VanVleet looked a little gassed after just getting in from San Antonio this afternoon, committing four turnovers and shooting 5-of-17 from the floor. He was solid defensively and still put himself and teammates in good positions, it was just one of those days when it came to finishing around the rim. That’s an area for improvement, but this seemed like more of a rust/fatigue-shaking game than a serious concern.
  • Stackhouse is figuring out more and more ways to make the most out of Tavares on offense. He’s obviously a problem on tip-ins around the rim and as a screener, but Tavares is growing more comfortable working dribble handoffs around the perimeter and engaging in some two-man action in the post. One possession in the third quarter stands out, where VanVleet threw a post-entry to Tavares, who sent a touch pass to Negus Webster-Chan, and then the two immediately engaged in a low pick-and-roll that led to a thunderous Tavares hammer. He’s a lot of fun.
  • Axel Toupane sat due to an illness. That’s normally a big loss for the 905, taking away their best perimeter defender and a secondary playmaker, but the assignments help. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 62.6-percent true-shooting, with 3.1 assists and terrific defense across three, and sometimes four, positions. He’s as big a piece as this team can lose, game-to-game.
  • Jarrod Uthoff drew a DNP-CD, which was interesting.
  • The 905 now head out on the road for two games before returning home next Tuesday. If you want to check that game – or any game – out live, 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.
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Casey named Coach of the Month; Caboclo and VanVleet assigned

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month of December, the team announced Wednesday.

The honor is Casey’s fourth during his Raptors tenure, well ahead of Sam Mitchell (one) and everyone else (zero) in the team’s history. That shouldn’t be surprising, as Casey is also the longest-tenured, most-successful, and best coach the team’s ever had.

The Raptors went 10-4 in December, second in the conference, and posted a ridiculous 12.1 net rating (second only to Houston), scoring 114.6 points per-100 possessions (again, second to Houston) over the course of 14 games. The Raptors may have closed out a tough west-coast road trip in shaky fashion and failed in a few opportunities to beat elite opponents, but for the most part it was a pretty terrific month. It also included a franchise-record seven-game road winning streak.

Casey’s success in the role earned him a three-year contract extension this summer, and nothing much has changed in how I’d evaluate him since then. He remains underrated as people lose sight of the macro for the micro and occasionally over-react, and he continues to prove more flexible and creative than he gets credit for. Every coach has his shortcomings, to be sure, but Casey’s been instrumental in solidifying a locker room culture, system, and continuity that have helped the Raptors reach new heights each successive season. He’s deserving of praise, and this award.

In other news I meant to post earlier, Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo have been assigned to Raptors 905 for tonight’s game. They’ll likely be back with the parent club immediately after to join the team for Thursday’s home game against Utah, in sticking with the pattern for the season (the 905 are hitting the road  afterward, and VanVleet and Caboclo have rarely traveled). Coming off a lengthy road trip with little practice time and few garbage-time opportunities, it will be good for each player to get out and get some extended run. The 905 could use the boost, too, as they’ve stumbled a bit of late.

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Raptors can afford to be patient on trade market

After last night’s blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Raptors will finally return home for a Thursday night game against the Utah Jazz after a 3-3 mark on the road trip. But the real highlight of this past week for Raptors fans wasn’t anything in the games, it was the news that Paul Millsap may be available on the trade market, and moreover may have been headed to Toronto during the summer if Al Horford had agreed to stay in Atlanta. The power forward position for the team has long been a point of contention, with some(myself included) arguing that Patrick Patterson should get the nod and would be perfectly serviceable in the role if asked, and others arguing that the team simply needed to make a trade to acquire that player.

While the fan base has been feeling the need for a trade urgently to address these issues, general manager Masai Ujiri has been, at least on the surface, content to ride things out patiently, sitting on his heaps of assets. And while the temptation may be there to treat this as Ujiri simply standing pat and not making an effort to make the needed trade to improve the team, it might not be that simple.

Always near to these arguments sits Norman Powell, who has 9 DNP-CDs this year, to go along with his 5 starts, and the 24-year old has been solid as expected in the minutes he’s been on the court, but often seems stuck behind Terrence Ross in the rotation. And while Ross has been much improved this year, one could hardly fault the fans for feeling like the enigmatic Ross is holding back Powell by taking the minutes that would otherwise go to Norm, and the solution to both problems would seem to be building a package around Ross to acquire the power forward the team needs, whoever that might be.

The biggest adjustment for Raptors fans, however, is that the team is now a buyer in the trade market this year – a squad loaded with good assets, that needs another big piece or two to maybe leap into the elite echelon of teams. For a franchise that hasn’t seen much success, this is a new experience, and being a buyer brings with it new aspects in the trade market. The first of which is that while being a buyer with a lot of pieces in the cupboard means you can make a run at any players out there, it also might mean you don’t get to set the price. A team like Atlanta or Sacramento can afford to be patient with the trade market, because by looking at trading their stars they are admitting they’re headed for a rebuild anyways, so the worst case scenario is just a longer rebuild. So while it might be easy to say ‘send a package featuring Ross out and get a star back’, that might not be the asking price, and we don’t know how many of these scenarios Masai has turned down due to concerns over the cost.

Toronto fans should remember the converse though, because we saw it many times under Bryan Colangelo, when he would make a move to acquire what he saw as the next piece needed at any cost, and often overpay, leaving the team shorthanded and continually emptying the war chest while not maintaining depth. This happened when he went out and got Jermaine O’Neal, Shawn Marion and Rudy Gay. Despite drafting well, Toronto kept finding itself needing more assets because of the desire for immediate improvement.

Maybe the Raptors will go out and get DeMarcus Cousins or Paul Millsap, there’s plenty of time remaining between now and the trade deadline to make things happen. But if they don’t, it likely won’t be because of a lack of trying, but more likely due to an inability to agree on a price. That’s not failing, but taking the long-term approach, one that has brought us to this very situation of a stocked cupboard and a young, talented team, and that’s a path we should all be ok with maintaining until the right opportunity appears to improve, not just the first opportunity.

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Raptors end mildly concerning road trip on lowest of notes

Raptors 82, Spurs 110 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Exhale.

So, that was certainly a game. In what’s become a bit of a trend of late, the Toronto Raptors engaged in a pretty ugly 48 minutes of basketball. On Tuesday, though, it wasn’t the good kind of ugly, the gritty, grind-it-out effort when you’re just not at your best. It also wasn’t ugly on both sides, because the San Antonio Spurs spent the entirety of the game – yes, including garbage time – doing very San Antonio Spurs things, scoring with ruthless efficiency, locking down one of the league’s top offenses, and generally outclassing an opponent.

Except that the Raptors aren’t supposed to be outclassed by the Spurs. The Raptors fancy themselves on the level of the Spurs, and an embarrassing 28-point loss, no matter the caveats, is exactly the wrong kind of statement to make. With five losses combined to the Warriors and Cavaliers, the Spurs presented an opportunity to add a marquee victory to their ledger and quiet any talk that this Toronto team hasn’t taken the step forward they hoped to. Being the class of the second tier isn’t exactly the highest of heights, but firmly entrenching themselves as among the league’s near-elite is important and can inform how they proceed building and tinkering with the roster from here. Even without Patrick Patterson, whose absence has confirmed he’s probably the team’s third-most important player, the Raptors should have expected to at least give the Spurs a stiff test.

They did not. Not only was the test not stiff, it couldn’t even be wrestled out of its pants. The Spurs came out of the gates swinging, going to LaMarcus Aldridge an almost painful amount in the post and the mid-range and unleashing Kawhi Leonard in full MVP-campaigning mode. By the time the Raptors blinked, they were down double-digits, and this wasn’t one of those nights they had the guts and tenacity to continually crawl back into it.

They were stuck 17 just eight minutes into the game, but unlike their meetings with the Cavaliers or Warriors or other nights against lesser teams where they’ve come out napping, the Raptors had no counter-punch. Dwane Casey got to tinkering – Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira played together for a moderately successful stretch that trimmed the lead to eight temporarily – but nothing worked. Where the Raptors are accustomed to continually fighting back when those opponent runs happen and those leads extend, they seemed to have little in the tank offensively outside of a terrific effort under tough circumstances from DeMar DeRozan and a bench spark from Terrence Ross.

If the lack of mention of Kyle Lowry’s game to this point stands out, well, it’s no coincidence that on a night the Raptors lacked the bulldog in them, their bulldog leader was restrained by a gentle leader. Lowry turned in what was unquestionably his worse game of the season, firing 0-of-7 from long-range on his way to a six-point, two-assist night. More telling than anything was that the Lowry-and-bench units got little traction, and that Lowry was an uncharacteristic minus-30 in 29 minutes. DeRozan retired with the same rating in 32 minutes, but he at least managed to score at a decent rate despite attention from a group of strong wing defenders in Leonard, Danny Green, and Jonathon Simmons. Lowry is bound to have a bad night on occasion – he is not perfect, although he at times seems quite close – but it was patently clear in this one that the Raptors can not hang with elite competition without an elite performance from their elite point guard. This is more or less accepted, anyway, and the Raptors need both pillars of their offense firing to score at their accustomed rate against strong defenses.

That they got little support from the rest of the roster was problematic, if not expected. The Raptors’ role players tend to thrive when the stars are playing well and getting them involved, and that just wasn’t the case here. The threat Patterson provides from outside was missing, and none of the team’s bigs offered much on offense beyond Poeltl’s six offensive rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas was hardly a rumor in scoring two points in 22 minutes, and the group of power forwards and centers combined for eight points in 96 minutes, including garbage time. The Raptors don’t need to run their offense through the post, but they need more help than this, wherever you want to place the blame, ball-handler or big-man. DeMarre Carroll chipped in briefly but struggled with Leonard on the other end, and Ross’ bench scoring wasn’t enough. DeRozan was mostly alone, and he and Lowry need each other more often than not.

Not that a bit more scoring would have solved everything. The Raptors shot 37.3 percent and hit just four threes, but they also bled 120.7 points per-100 possessions, completely at a loss for how to slow Leonard or the Spurs’ bigs. Pau Gasol didn’t have his best outing (on offense – he had four of San Antonio’s 15 blocks on the other side), but Aldridge was masterful knocking down jumpers – including a three – or making the Raptors’ thin bigs pay inside. Toronto spent large chunks of time with two natural centers on the floor, but Poeltl and Nogueira aren’t exactly bruisers, nor is Pascal Siakam, and so Aldridge was able to make work no matter the matchup. It should be noted that Poeltl played well in general, but the Raptors had little answer inside, even when David Lee checked in, apparently still very much alive.

A game like this is frustrating for a lot of reasons. It’s bad to watch, it’s a missed opportunity, and most importantly, there’s nothing to be learned here. There are no lessons with applications in a drubbing like this. Nothing at the margins mattered, and score effects and unusual rotations through wrenches into any extrapolations. Games where the team fights back and can see what works are useful, even in losses. Games where the recap could have read “Tuesday recap – this game was terrible. The end” give us nothing, and they give the Raptors little. It’s a wake-up call or whatever, but it’s mostly just an ass-kicking where only two or three Raptors even showed up. You can’t learn more about yourself from an effort like that, and it’s a wasted opportunity to measure and experiment against a very good team. That’s it, really: It’s a waste.

There are larger takeaways from the road trip as a whole. The Raptors went 3-3, which was the expectation (from me, anyway) going in. But their play got consistently worse as it went along, perhaps understandable given Patterson’s absence and the fatigue of a multi-week six-game trip, but it’s discouraging, nonetheless. The Warriors loss is whatever, it happens, and the win in Utah was a quality one. Everything else was at least mildly concerning, and the flicker of an up-tick in the team’s defensive performance has given way to more parallel-drawing between this team and the 2014-15 edition (that’s a column for another time, but I will offer that those concerns are perhaps a bit reactionary, and certainly exaggerated – this team has a lot of quality wins against the league’s second tier, and they still possess some stronger metrics when controlling for context).

You guys know by this point that I’ll never advocate for getting too up or too down. They’re not a disaster, they’re not going to trade the whole roster, and they’ll eventually look good again. The coming week should be more telling than the tail-end of a trip. They may have Patterson back, they’ll get some practice time in, and they’ll shift to home-heavy against firmly second-tier teams. Hosting Utah, visiting Chicago, and then hosting Houston and Boston is a stretch that should be representative of the Raptors’ place in the pecking order of the second tier. Somewhere in there is where they are, where they’ve been, and where they’ll probably remain, and how you feel about that is how you’ll feel about it.

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Raptors-Spurs Reaction Podcast – Beatdown in San Antonio

Host William Lou is joined by yours truly to recap a terrible performance against the San Antonio Spurs.

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Quick Reaction: Spurs 110, Raptors 82

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Toronto 82 Final
Box Score
110 San Antonio

D
P. Siakam26 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -17 +/-

The slow starts are attributed a lot to the poor defensive play of Siakam. This would have definitely been a game where Patrick Patterson started playing with 8 minutes left in the first, and we wouldn’t see much of Siakam for the rest of the game.

C
D. Carroll19 MIN, 10 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 3-7 FG, 1-3 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -20 +/-

Nothing really spectacular out of Carroll tonight, only played 18 minutes.

F
J. Valanciunas22 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -20 +/-

Was a major liability tonight, as Valanciunas continues to struggle on both ends of the floor. Really hate to say it, but this is some of the worst play we have ever seen out of him.

D
K. Lowry29 MIN, 6 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 2-9 FG, 0-7 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -30 +/-

This was a really off night for Lowry. Not only was his shot not falling, but he also struggled defensively against Tony Parker.

A
D. DeRozan32 MIN, 26 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 12-21 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -30 +/-

DeRozan was one of the only Raptors to find the bottom of the bucket consistently all game, finishing with 26 points on 12-21 shooting. He struggled defensively against both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, but not going to fault him too much as he was carrying the offensive load.

B-
J. Poeltl26 MIN, 4 PTS, 9 REB, 0 AST, 1-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -8 +/-

Was the best option guarding Aldridge tonight, was impressive on the glass pulling down 9 rebounds. With Patterson out due to injury, Poeltl has been really stepping up as a nice front court option against bigger lineups. Nothing jaw dropping offensively, but the effort on defense was encouraging.

B-
T. Ross25 MIN, 17 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -4 +/-

Was one of the only bright spots off the bench tonight, was active on the glass, and aggressive offensively early on in the game when nothing was dropping for the Raps.

D
C. Joseph24 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 3-11 FG, 1-2 3FG, 4-5 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Cory struggles to scores efficiently, shooting 3/11 from the floor tonight. Cory hasn’t had the most productive road trip scoring, and this game he got a ton of good looks to turn that around and failed.

D
L. Nogueira22 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 1 TO, -11 +/-

We learned tonight Nogueira is not a three point shooter. He made some mistakes defensively, and made up for some of those blunders with some nice blocks, was a complete non-factor on offensive.

C
N. Powell8 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 4 +/-

Got some run in the fourth quarter when the game was far from over. Nothing impactful really in garbage time. Continues to shoot poorly from the field, who wasn’t though?

C
F. VanVleet5 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Played a little less than 5 minutes in the fourth. Had a steal, scored a point, that’s about it.

C
B. Caboclo3 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -2 +/-

Congrats to Bruno Caboclo for playing in his 20th career NBA game!

C
Dwane Casey

When close to an entire roster struggles like it did tonight, it’s hard to judge the coach.

Things We Saw

  1. Slow starts continue to plague the Raptors. The Spurs are an elite team, and completely dissected the poor defensive effort mixed with the Raptors poor shooting in the first quarter. It was mentioned on the broadcast that the first quarters was eerily similar to the start seen against the Warriors recently, while this one wasn’t as bad, it left the Raptors clawing back from a big lead.
  2. This was the least inspiring Raptors performance this year. The Spurs are a really good team, and playing in AT&T Center isn’t easy, but this was just ugly from start to finish. At least in a blowout like this the backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan could rest in the fourth quarter (looking for any positives)
  3. The loss of Patrick Patterson is very apparent in these last couple of games. Defensively the whole team struggles, and the Raptors front court depth isn’t very deep when JV is struggling like he is.
  4. The World Cup of Hockey must end..

Follow – @Spenred

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Pre-game news & notes: Patterson sits again, Raptors nearly had summer deal for Millsap

The Toronto Raptors are wrapping up a tough six-game west-coast road trip and starting another tough stretch all at the same time. The San Antonio Spurs present a chance to finish the trip with a 4-2 record, an unqualified success despite the ugliness of the Suns’ loss, and a chance to get off on the right foot for a really difficult five-game slate that will also include the Jazz, at the Bulls, the Rockets, and the Celtics. If there’s any malaise at the end of the trek and after back-to-back ugly games, the Spurs should shake the Raptors out of it.

There’s also a sense that this is a bit of a proving ground for Toronto. With an 0-5 mark against the Warriors andavaliers, the Spurs offer an opportunity to add another marquee win to their ledger. Wins at Utah and at Houston stand out, but this would probably be the Raptors’ best victory of the season. It would also push their record against the perceived second tier (San Antonio, Houston, Utah, the Clippers, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Boston) to 6-1. You can quibble with the cut-off for teams there, but the point remains that the Raptors have done well against teams of comparable quality, and taking one off the Spurs – the No. 5-ranked offense and the No. 4-ranked defense – would make quite a statement to those who see that earlier “0-5” mark and see Toronto as some sort of paper tiger.

Of course, it’s just one game, and so a win won’t be worth celebrating all too hard and a loss won’t be worth drinking bleach over.

The game tips off at 8:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The focus here obviously falls on Patrick Patterson, who is once again being listed as questionable. The fact that he sat Sunday to err on the side of caution, in head coach Dwane Casey’s words, was reason for optimism, but the context clues from shootaround Tuesday were less positive. My early guess is that he sits, which would mean a lot more dual-big lineups for the Raptors.

Pascal Siakam had his best game in weeks against the Lakers and will need to be at his best opposite LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. That duo could be exceptionally difficult for the Siakam-Jonas Valanciunas duo, and so it seems likely that Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira will factor in once again, perhaps with each seeing time at the four. There isn’t much opportunity to downsize against the Spurs thanks to their frontcourt rotation, as they’d be surrendering significant size with DeMarre Carroll or Norman Powell opposite Aldridge or David Lee. The Spurs don’t opt to go with a single big all that often – their most used lineup with a wing at the four has only played 14 minutes together. There’s always the argument to be made to force the matchup on an opponent, but this may be a case where that’s not a realistic option, save for maybe when my dude Davis Bertans is in as the power forward.

If Patterson can go, that makes things a little more straight-forward. If he can’t, it’s going to be an illuminating night for what the Raptors have in their four other bigs and how the potential dual-center looks can handle high-skill opponents.

UPDATE: Patterson sits, per Eric Smith. It just makes sense to be cautious here in January. Hopefully he can return sometime this week, though, because the schedule is challenging. (In an interesting side note, the Raptors are now calling this a left ankle sprain, not a left knee strain.)

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

Spurs updates
The Raptors’ run of getting good teams in a weakened state seems to have ended, as the Spurs come in with a full squad. Not even Bryn Forbes is on assignment! That hasn’t been all that common for the Spurs, who have just one lineup (their starters) that’s played more than 55 minutes together. For comparison, the Raptors have five. Gregg Popovich has tinkered with the second-unit rotations, and they’ve also dealt with short-term absences for Danny Green, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs are also fond of experimenting plenty during the regular season to get more information about themselves, something the Raptors have done a little more of this year, too.

That makes it hard to peg down exactly how San Antonio might approach the matchup, but the Raptors seem like the type of team they’d just go with their normal gameplan against. Green will almost surely draw the Kyle Lowry assignment while Kawhi Leonard, likely the league’s best perimeter defender, checks DeRozan. Carroll then has an advantage on Parker in some cross-match scenarios, and the Spurs will likely be aggressive in loading up off of Siakam if they need help slowing the Raptors’ stars down.

One interesting thing to look out for is how the Raptors handle Leonard. There’s been a bit of a trend toward teams trying to take Leonard completely out of the equation on defense, something Matt Moore wrote a great piece on over at CBS Sports a few weeks back. Leonard has the worst defensive rating of any Spur (other than Forbes), which is clearly something that doesn’t reflect his individual defense but that exists in the numbers over 1,066 minutes. The Raptors may not have the playmaking around the floor to simply take DeRozan out of the play to limit Leonard – they can try when Lowry’s on the floor, but Leonard’s minutes will probably be tethered to DeRozan’s, making DeRozan-and-bench units pretty cramped – and so they may have to deal with DeRozan just doing his best (which is quite good) to score opposite the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year.

(No Spurs are resting, by the way.)

PG: Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray
SG: Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Jonathon Simmons, Bryn Forbes
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Davis Bertans
C: Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: None

Assorted

  • Updating Sunday’s news that the Raptors have called on Paul Millsap, Brian Windhorst mentioned on today’s TrueHoopTV podcast that the Hawks had a deal in place to send Millsap to the Raptors this summer if Al Horford had agreed to re-sign. It’s unclear from his language just how locked-down a potential agreement was, but if this is true, the Raptors and Hawks should be quite familiar and comfortable with the potential framework at play here. This is encouraging for those excited about potentially landing Millsap. You can read my breakdown of the rumors here.
  • I tweeted it out the other day, but DeMar DeRozan became the franchise’s all-time leader in minutes played on Sunday. Add that to games played and points scored. His assault on the record-book continues.
  • I was looking at the schedule a bit yesterday and am starting to wonder if the Raptors may be fine with the minutes of Lowry and DeRozan right now because of a quirk in February. Not only do the Raptors have eight days off for the All-Star break, they also have an unusual three-day break earlier in the month. They’ll essentially play just three games over 15 days, a nice opportunity to ease up on their stars. LeBron James and the Cavs have talked about how he wants to play 38 minutes per-game until around that time and then manage his minutes more closely from there. Maybe the Raptors are thinking something similar here?
  • Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were both given an honorable mention for Eastern Conference Player of the Month for December. I thought Lowry had it after averaging 24.4 points on 72.7-percent true shooting, with 3.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists, plus a plus-17.9 rating, but John Wall had a good month too, I suppose. Lowry didn’t receive an honorable mention for Player of the Week, either, despite putting up 29.8-6.8-6.8 with ridiculous efficiency. Admittedly, the Raptors going 2-2 probably hurt his chances.

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point underdogs. On the final game of a six-game trip and potentially without their best power forward, it probably makes sense that the Raptors aren’t pegged as very likely to take this one. They’re just so thin in the frontcourt without Sullinger and Patterson both, and with a matchup that might not let them go small for too long. Still, the Raptors are in the same tier as the Spurs, and there’s been some movement pushing the line to 5.5 on occasion throughout the day. The over=under has fallen to 206.5 from 211, so expect a little more defense than we’ve maybe gotten used to of late.

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The Value of Valanciunas

Toronto’s annual tradition of pontificating possible power forwards (try saying that three times fast) has begun in the face of the oncoming trade deadline. Despite the day of reckoning more than a month off, the NBA finds itself in the perennial lull of teams jockeying for position in preparation for the All-Star break, and thus the rumours begin to take shape.

The first spin of the rumour mill, though not for the first time is the possibility of Paul Millsap trading in his Hawk’s talons for a set of Raptor’s claws. We’ve dreamed this dream before, and yet this year something about it feels more real. Blake Murphy already covered why the Raptors should, and are chasing Millsap, and discussed the perceived value of Jonas Valancius as the great variable.

That perceived value is difficult to knock down, but it’s important to try. Valanciunas has been as frustrating to watch as a Raptor as anyone, but not simply because he’s under-performing. He’s constantly described as having either “untapped potential” or a “glass ceiling”. He either is what he is, or isn’t what he should be. To put it simply, JV’s value is hard to quantify, so obviously we’re going to try.

Before describing his subjective intangibles, let’s present just the facts and see where he ranks in comparison to other NBA Centers.

  • PTS – 12.1 Rank – 17th
  • REB – 9.6 Rank – 14th
  • AST – 0.7 Rank – 56th
  • STL – 0.5 Rank – 37th
  • BLK – 0.7 Rank – 41st
  • TOV – 1.5 Rank – 24th
  • FG% – 54.2 Rank – 14th (Among starters with at least games)
  • MIN – 26.8 Rank -21st

Two things jump out from that list. The first is that JV does not rank in the top 10 in a single traditional category either offensively or defensively among starters at his position in the NBA. That wouldn’t be as much of a concern for his scoring and rebounding (which have both been decent) if he was contributing in other areas (he isn’t).

The second stat from that very basic list is his minutes per game. Despite starting for the Raptors, we all know where you can often find Valanciunas at the end of a close game, or seemingly any time for that matter. JV simply can’t find ways to stay on the floor and regardless of it being Coach Dwayne Casey’s decision making or Valanciunas’ production some responsibility has to fall on the big Lithuanian.

After showing flashes of brilliance last year and in the postseason before his injury, Valanciunas was expected to take a step forward this season, and we licked our chops when he dropped 32 on the Pistons on opening day. Since then he’s reached the 20 point plateau just twice with a 23 and 20 point effort and his recent play on this six game road trip has been downright unwatchable.

Stats aside, Valanciunas is a seven footer with a deft touch around the rim, good hands and a relatively high basketball IQ. He relies on passes into the post, a gimmicky but somewhat successful pump-fake and the ability to draw defenders towards him to free up space. He struggles in the open court, and his movement is never going to be elite, but he finds ways to remain efficient in his role. As a defender he struggles to guard elite centers, and is never going to be more than a tall body in the paint as opposed to an elite shot blocker.

He is just 24 years old, but is already in the middle of his fifth season in the NBA, and after his rookie campaign his stats have more or less plateaued across the board over his last four years in the league. The hardest thing to quantify is not what we see, but what could be. We can’t pin down exactly what Valanciunas is because neither his coach nor him seems to know. He plays with two of the most ball-dominant guards in the league and is rarely, if ever asked to carry the offense. He plays less minutes than most starting centers in the league and is at the very least half responsible for it.

In doing this futile exercise, the value of Valanciunas is not what we see on paper, or even the indescribable aspects of his game, but whether or not there’s more left for teams like the Hawks to take a gamble on. If Millsap or any other power forward is going to try and help this team make a run at the Cavs, JV is likely gone, or at the absolute least reduced to an even more inferior role.

If you think this is all we’re ever getting from number 17 than it’s time to sell, but are you sure this is his peak?

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Why the Raptors have to keep trying with DeMarre Carroll

“Why isn’t Norman Powell playing more?”

That’s one of the most common questions I receive on Twitter, in the comments, in the DMs, and so on. It’s a reasonable one considering Powell has mostly played well when called upon, filling a variety of different roles as needed. The cluttered path to playing time is something most seem to understand, at least at the guard positions. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan play heavy minutes, Cory Joseph is entrenched as the backup point guard, often playing alongside Lowry, and Terrence Ross is having the best season of his career, himself making a case for more playing time. The Raptors have am embarrassment of depth at the guard positions, and Powell’s the odd man out until he’s not.

As the season’s wore on, though, the question posed to me has shifted some. It’s no longer a matter of how to get Powell minutes at his natural guard spot, but why the Raptors haven’t begun downsizing on the wing and playing three of the players from that five-man guard rotation.

The reason behind that shift seems to be not only continued faith in Powell, but a growing lack of confidence in DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll is healthy enough now to have his back-to-back restriction lifted, which is a positive. Whatever the specifics of the Raptors’ long-term plan for their big 2015 investment, Carroll’s gone from being at something less than 100 percent in training camp to able to handle full games to now being able to handle back-to-backs. From a strictly medical perspective, those steps are important and encouraging. All signs point to the health and strength in his knee improving, an important consideration for his long-term outlook and his potential status for the postseason.

As healthy as the knee might be, though, Carroll is not playing particularly well. A slow start gave way to a really encouraging 15-game stretch across late November and early December, but Carroll’s play has regressed to its preseason form of late. Even when things were going well and Carroll was knocking down open threes and working as a dangerous cutter off the ball, his trademark defense wasn’t at its customary levels. Now that the offense has slowed – he’s averaging 5.6 points on 31-percent shooting over his last five games – the defensive shortcomings are becoming more pronounced, or at least easier to jump on.

To be clear, Carroll hasn’t been consistently abhorrent, or anything – he had a great second half against Golden State, for example, and is still hitting 36.2 percent of his threes on the season – but he’s struggling, with Sunday’s game against the Lakers standing out as one of his worst on the year. His net rating is better than only Joseph and Pascal Siakam among regulars, his defensive rating is better than only Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas, and the question has been raised as to whether the struggles of that Siakam-Valanciunas frontcourt extend to the three-man unit (they’ve been outscored by 3.6 points per-100 possessions in 346 minutes together, bleeding 110.9 PPC on the defensive end). From a more descriptive perspective, his man-to-man defense isn’t exactly passing the eye test, either, with Carroll making curious decisions in  help scenarios (often borne of trying to do the right thing, but still), getting back-cut more than he’s used to, or simply getting beat by non-elite scorers. This is not the Carroll that the Raptors were hoping for, and the team’s league-average defense needs him to be better.

That some look at his performance, compare it to Powell’s, and want to shift the rotation in response makes sense. NBA rotations are supposed to be a meritocracy for the most part, and while playing Powell as the extra wing creates some potential weaknesses – the Raptors would be small, they’re already struggling to rebound the ball, they could be susceptible to larger power-threes – he’s been better than Carroll for stretches this year. It also wouldn’t need to be a pronounced shift, just a few minutes here and there, with Carroll still available in larger chunks for the tougher physical matchups, and likely playing some power forward as the downsizing gets more aggressive. Were the Raptors trying to maximize every minute of play right now, Powell (or even Ross) would be playing a bit more, and Carroll would be getting something less than his 25.2 minutes per-game.

The tricky thing when it comes to Carroll, though, is that the Raptors aren’t necessarily trying to maximize every minute of play right now. Carroll was brought in for a lot of reasons, but he’ll be measured almost solely by his impact in the postseason. That’s why it wasn’t all that frustrating to see him brought along slowly to start the year, nor would it be that big a deal if the rest pattern continued to be somewhat aggressive to keep him fresh for April. The Raptors know they’re good without Carroll, and they know how they can play without him. They don’t yet have a great grasp of what they are with Carroll, particularly Carroll when he’s functioning at something close to his 2014-15, like he was briefly in late November.

In talking with a few of the Atlanta Hawks when they were in town in December, they admitted that playing with Carroll, at least on the offensive end, takes some getting used to. He commands exactly zero plays run for him, and the learning curve for new teammates and a new system can be methodical. Carroll’s offense comes primarily from recognizing the attention being paid to the team’s stars and exploiting the seams, and figuring out the right balance and timing is a work in progress. The Raptors need to get Carroll reps with the team’s stars, in other words, because Carroll’s offensive game exists in nuance. Defensively, some of Carroll’s struggles have come from trying to do too much to help his teammates out, and that, too, requires some additional repetition within the team’s system and alongside its core pieces. He’s also just played very little basketball over the last 19 months or so, and a player who relies on his intelligence and anticipation so much probably needs some leash to find his groove. The one-on-one defense is the most concerning element and may not just come back, but writing Carroll off is hardly a workable solution.

It can be frustrating, watching Carroll struggle while other lineup iterations may produce better results in the short-term. But the Raptors need to continue to find out what they have with Carroll and what he can be for them in the postseason, and they can afford to give him plenty of leash with an eye toward learning about themselves. The 82-game slough is about winning, but when you’re established as a quality team, it’s also about finding out how you can be your best in April and May, and Carroll is, in theory, a big part of a game-plan for the Cavaliers, or even the Bucks, Bulls, Pacers, or Knicks in earlier rounds.

Head coach Dwane Casey has shown he’ll go to Powell later in games when Carroll doesn’t have it and the game is on the line, and in general, Casey’s proven far more flexible and experimental than he gets credit for. He showed that in the postseason last year, too, and it stands to reason that when the leverage is much higher, Casey will roll with what – and who – is working best. Until then, playing Carroll heavy minutes despite his struggles doesn’t speak to a lack of flexibility, it speaks to the team taking the long-view about a player they might not always be at their best with now, but who they need at his best to reach their ultimate ceiling later. Maybe he doesn’t get there, but it’s worth being patient now, when it matters less, to give him the chance.

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Game Day: Raptors @ Spurs, Jan.3

It seems no Toronto Raptors season would be complete without a west coast road trip with results that were somewhat underwhelming. The 2014-15 version of this trip featured back to back blowout losses to the Warriors and Suns that ultimately ended Terrence Ross’ stint as an NBA starter. The 2015-16 iteration had a close loss to the Warriors and an impressive win over the Clippers but also featured losses to Kings and Jazz clubs that would end up in the lottery. If the Raptors spend a few days in California and get routed through Utah or Arizona it’s almost a given that we are going to be punished by some objectively awful basketball somewhere along the way.

True to form, this year’s extended west coast trip has yielded mixed results. They fought hard against the Warriors but fell flat on their faces against the Suns and Blazers and only beat an injury-depleted Jazz team and a mediocre Lakers team because Kyle Lowry shifted into that extra gear he has. What should have been an easy 5-2 trip has been downgraded to an ugly 5-2 trip or an even uglier 4-3 trip. The optimists in the mix will say that a win is a win and having more points at the end of the game is the only thing that matters but when you are among the league’s elite who you beat and how you beat them starts to take on more importance. Season to date the Raptors have been somewhat underwhelming in this respect, with a combination of flat performances against teams they should handle with ease and some really frenzied performances to keep pace with the other teams at the top of the standings. Season to date their signature wins against healthy opponents are an impressive win over a solid Rockets team and road victories over Oklahoma City and Charlotte; everything else has been teams that are around or below .500 or teams missing crucial players. You can only play the opponent that shows up but they’ve had ample opportunity to secure wins against impressive teams and have come up short each time.

Today’s game marks their next opportunity, closing out this road trip in San Antonio against a Spurs team that is likely to be at full strength. In the past this has been a big contrast of styles but at least on the offensive end the two teams are functionally the same, even if they accomplish their goals in very different ways. They’re both near the top of the league in three point percentage but near the bottom in volume, preferring to use the threat of the outside shot to open up space for their slashing and post play. Looking at each teams four factors gives you some quick insight into their similarities and differences:

Both teams use their deadly outside shooting to clear out space inside and do damage at the free throw line, ranking high in free throws made per field goal attempted. Neither team pushes the pace as a matter of principle, preferring to pick their spots to run for easy transition opportunities but they’re both at their best when they see a lot of halfcourt motion; if the Raptors offense returns to their late November-early December form we could see one of the more physically exhausting slow-paced games of the year with the attacking style of both teams not allowing any time for the defense to rest.

The offensive end is where the similarities end, however. The Spurs are once again a top 5 defensive team while the Raptors have only recently managed to claw their way to respectability, ranking 16th in the league in defensive efficiency. Unlike year past the difference between the two teams is not the presence of Tim Duncan in the middle; the Spurs spend the bulk of the game with defensive mediocrity manning the middle in Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. The difference between the two teams is a stellar crop of San Antonio perimeter defenders, with the former Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard being joined by the always underrated Danny Green, aging but still effective Manu Ginobili and a fantastic energy player in Jonathan Simmons. There’s enough length and savvy there to give the Raptors perimeter oriented attack fits, and the game may be decided by the fact that it’s tough to see who on the Raptors will do the same. Maybe Good DeMarre Carroll shows up or we get one of those locked in Terrence Ross performances but you can set your watch by the Spurs defense; it’s never clear if anyone not named Patrick Patterson or Kyle Lowry will even show up on that end for the Raptors.

The biggest question mark for the Raptors is the status of Patterson, one of the two brains on the Raptors roster. If he’s not good to go and the Raptors have to rely on rookie Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl or have Carroll bang with Aldridge in the post the Raptors will need a lot of good bounces and a superhuman effort to pull out the victory. The fact that he was a game time scratch and there was a rest day in between games bodes well for the Raptors, because Patterson is arguably the second most important player on the team.

The flip side of the Raptors struggles against elite teams is that something has to break their way at some point. They’ve some so close to the summit so many times this season without reaching the peak and they’re simply too good to not get there eventually. Even if they are technically not as good as the teams above them in the standings the gap is small enough that at some point the Raptors are going to overcome it by sheer force of will, and finishing a road trip in which you struggled with the Jazz minus George Hill and the Trail Blazers minus Damien Lillard with a victory against a fully manned Spurs squad would be the most Raptors outcome possible, like going 6 games against the Cavaliers in the ECF after barely surviving  the previous two rounds against opponents that should have been dispatched easily. One of the Raptors trademarks during the Dwane Casey/Kyle Lowry years has been the unexpected, both good and bad, so with a Raptors squad that has been trending downward recently facing a steadily great Spurs team the stage is set for them to buck trends and defy conventional wisdom again with a victory.

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905’s Offensive Funk Continues in Loss to Bayhawks

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Erie Bayhawks (6-12) def. Raptors 905 (12-6); 99-95 | Box Score

Assignees: None (Raptors 905). Stephen Zimmerman (Erie Bayhawks).

The 905 started out their first game of 2017 the same way they ended their final game of 2016. Facing the last-placed team in the Eastern Conference, they came out flat from the start and gave the Bayhawks plenty of reason to believe they could pull off the upset, and they eventually did.

The two teams came in as the slowest paced teams in the D-League, but the Bayhawks came out with clear intent to run at every opportunity. Gabe York made the most of the 905’s seven first-quarter turnovers with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but his biggest highlight came off his only miss. While it wasn’t the most impressive crossover, he dropped E.J. Singler flat on his rear end near the right elbow three, drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd.

With the 905 struggling to hit from the outside, they kept themselves in the game by relentlessly attacking the rim. They drew 10 fouls in the opening quarter which led to 15 free-throw attempts, so despite hitting just five of their 14 field-goal attempts, they were only trailing 26-21 after one.

The 905 turned the ball over another five times in the second quarter, but shooting 10-of-20 from the field and tightening up the defense proved too much for the Bayhawks. The 905 outscored them 28-19 in the period, and Axel Toupane making his presence felt on both ends was a decisive factor.

It’s amazing how easily Toupane gets to the rim, and his eurostep buys him enough time to make what’s usually the right decision on whether to finish himself or dish to the open man. He was a fiend defensively as well, being very active with his hands and always on the lookout for loose balls. The entire bench was a factor for the 905, outscoring the Bayhawks bench 27-9 in the first half.

After a quiet first half by his standards this season, CJ Leslie came out more aggressive in the third quarter. He had a beauty of a spin move on the left baseline for an easy lay-in, but that was about as positive as things got for the 905 in the third quarter. They committed nine turnovers in the quarter, and after Gabe York lit them up in the first, it was Anthony Brown’s turn in the third. He scored 13 points in the the quarter, and the 905 just had no answer for his array of outside shooting and forays to the bucket. He led the Bayhawks to a 32-12 start to the third stanza, leaving the good guys with an 81-68 deficit after three.

If Leslie gave the 905 whatever little life they could muster in the third quarter, it was Will Sheehey that got the team back in the game in the fourth. He got out in transition for a layup and hit a spot-up three to pull the 905 within four, before Edy Tavares got the crowd going with a monster swat on a Stephen Zimmerman dunk attempt. They outscored the Bayhawks 27-18 in the fourth, but ultimately, there was just too much to overcome with not enough time.

This will be a hard lesson in coming out flat against a bottom team going forward. The 905 are in a funk offensively, and their 24 turnovers combined with their shooting woes will leave them scratching their heads as to how they can snap out of it. They are now eight for their last 44 from beyond the arc (18.2%) and coach Stackhouse will have to look into finding some easier ways to create looks for his best shooters.

Notes:

  • Game ball to Gabe York, who finished with 31-5-5 and was money for the Bayhawks all night.
  • Give me Toupane’s eurostep all day, everyday. It’s a beauty.
  • Tavares likes doing chin-ups on the rim on alley-oops. He did it twice in the first half, and surprisingly, the rim seemed unfazed.
  • It was a rough night for both E.J. Singler and John Jordan. Singler struggled to get himself involved, and will need to find a way to contribute to remain in the starting lineup. Jordan gets the ball slapped out of his hands far too easily on drives, and couldn’t get the offense into a flow either.
  • Antwaine Wiggins was a bundle of energy when he stepped in for Singler, but doesn’t offer the outside stroke to the degree Singler does.
  • The 905 will finish their four-game home stand against the Canton Charge on Wednesday, January 4th, at 7:30pm EST.
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Lowry catches fire late to lead Raptors over Lakers

Box Score Quick Reaction | Reaction podcast

Coming into last night, the Raptors were well…quite desperate for a victory. After encouraging wins over Utah and Portland to start their 6-game road trip, the Raptors went on to lose two straight to the Warriors and Suns. Obviously, the loss to Phoenix was the only “disappointing” one of the two losses, but Dwane Casey and company are still trying to clean up some recurring bad habits, such as weak defensive rebounding, lack of discipline on close-outs, and a myriad of other defensive issues which have significantly held the Raptors back in spite of their early-season offensive prowess.

So the Raptors landed in LA to face a Lakers squad, who coming into the night, had lost 14 of their previous 16 contests. After starting the season with a surprising 10-10 record, the Lakers have made a steep regression toward where most NBA analysts predicted they might be around this time of year – just above the basement in the Western Conference, one year closer to realizing the fruits of their rebuilding labour. And while encouraging play from many of their young pieces have kept many Lakers fans optimistic, the early season thus far has been a rocky road to say the least. So for Toronto, in a way, this was just what the doctor ordered.

The Raptors’ historically supreme offense has been a sub-par phenomenon over the past 3 games, as Toronto has had an offensive rating of just 98.3 (28th in the league), as compared to their season rating of 113.5 (first in the league). So, while the “we can score, it’ll be fine on offense” argument has generally held true, one of the key things I wanted to see coming into tonight, was whether the Raptors could bounce back offensively. Toronto’s defense has also been a question mark for some time now, and without the services of one of their most versatile and capable defenders in Patrick Patterson, the Raptors once again had to battle through.

Early on, the Lakers’ hot shooting, gritty offensive rebounding and active defense wreaked havoc for the Raptors, who showed signs of their recent sluggish ways. Turnovers were once again an issue for Toronto, who had 16 on the night, adding fuel to the Laker fire which capitalized with streaky three-point shooting from Nick Young and DeAngelo Russell who combined for 13/21 from beyond the arc. But with a phenomenal backcourt performance once again for Lowry and DeRozan (who scored 30+ each for the first time this season and a combined 72), and Lowry’s assassin-like mentality in the fourth quarter, the Raptors were simply too much for the young Lakers squad. Toronto also got solid contributions from Jonas Valanciunas, who earned a double-double with 14 and 10, as well as Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross who each added a solid and timely scoring punch off the bench. Toronto’s win sealed a second straight season sweep of the Lakers.

By the numbers

Quarterly breakdown

First quarter

DeMar DeRozan started the game hot going 3/4 with a quick 8 points in the first 5 minutes of the contest. But the Lakers rode Nick Young’s early hot shooting, as he went 3/3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone (4/4 for LA overall). The Raptors did their part in helping the Lakers, coughing up the ball 4 times in just the game’s first 5  minutes, leading to a quick 9 LA points. To close out the quarter, LA’s bench shredded Toronto’s defense in the final 2 minutes with 3 straight offensive rebounds and scores to end the quarter 33-27 over Toronto.

Second quarter

Toronto got even sloppier in the second getting down to LA 42-30 at one point, before Toronto began to claw back mid-quarter fueled by a Lowry foul on a 3 point attempt, and a breakaway layup off of an LA turnover. The Raptors got as close as 2 with just over 5 minutes left in the second quarter at 46-44, and closed out a 31-24 quarter to earn a 1 point lead by halftime. While the offense (50% from the field) wasn’t the problem at all for the Raptors (Lowry and DeRozan combined for 36 at the end of 2), the defense was letting Toronto down big time. The Raptors were outrebounded 27-21 by halftime, and were losing the offensive rebounding battle 9-2. The halftime pep talk from Dwane Casey would be once again put to the test.

Third quarter

The Raptors started the third quarter 3/3, but Nick Young’s flurry of quick baskets once again neutralized the Raptors early on in the second half. Young went on to go 6 of his first 7 from 3-point range, and 7/11 overall to put the Lakers up 69-64 to start the first 5 minutes of the third quarter. Pascal Siakam showed some difficulty in getting out to Nick Young, losing him on a few screens, and loose balls off of offensive rebounds. But with the scoring of DeRozan who dominated LA in the third quarter for 13 points, the Raptors were able to still win the quarter 27-26.

Fourth quarter 

The Raptors began the fourth quarter with a Ross three pointer, and back-to-back scores on a jumper and layup from Cory Joseph, which extended the Raptor lead to 9. The hot shooting of Lowry (3 threes, including a 4-point play) catapulted Toronto to a 16 point lead, but the Lakers made quick work of the deficit going on a crazy run in the game’s final 7 minutes, bringing the game as close as 6 points with just under 3 minutes to go. But the Raptors refused to let this one go, thanks to Lowry and Ross who hit huge shots down the stretch to close it out (Lowry led all scorers in the game with his 41 points, including 20 in the final quarter). K-Low’s fourth quarter performance was simply magical, reminiscent of his performance in Salt Lake City some days ago. To go with his 41, Lowry dished out a game-high 7 assists, and grabbed 9 boards as well. All said and done, in this make-or-miss league that we like to over-analyze at times, the biggest shots and plays made down the stretch from your best players usually make the difference. And for the Raptors, it was simply a matter of “Lowry time” which put Toronto over the edge.

Lookahead

It doesn’t get any easier for Toronto however, as they head to San Antonio to close out what has been an exhausting 6-game road trip on Tuesday night. The Spurs, in many ways like the Raptors, have once again quietly carved up the second seed in their Conference behind strong team play and a top 5 offense AND defense. With Toronto’s defense still struggling to find itself and the offense sputtering of late, the Raptors will need to find their form against the MVP-calibre Kawhi Leonard and company, who are 11-4 at home and will be looking to bounce back from their tough OT loss to Atlanta last night.

Tip time on Tuesday is 8:30 pm EST.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – 2016 was the Year of the Raptor

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave (@iamharshdave) to reminisce on the best calendar year in franchise history.

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Raptors-Lakers Reaction Podcast – #NBAVOTE Kyle Lowry

Host William Lou sums up a feel-good win over the baby Lakers.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 123, Lakers 114

Toronto 123 Final
Box Score
114 LA Lakers

F
D. Carroll17 MIN, 5 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1-2 FG, 1-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -6 +/-

In a season that’s had a lot of bad games and a few really good ones for Sr Swag Daddy, this one fell firmly in the former category. He couldn’t handle Nick Young – who can, right? – and he was mostly a non-factor everywhere else. Especially on a night like this, he needs to be helping on the glass, or somewhere. Tough one.

A
P. Siakam31 MIN, 3 PTS, 10 REB, 0 AST, 1-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 4 BLK, 2 TO, -2 +/-

One of the better games you can put together with just three points in 31 minutes. Yeah, he was still a small minus and maybe shouldn’t have come back in late, but he gave the Raptors some huge minutes and some great defensive intensity on a night they really needed it, especially in the first half. His shot-blocks are among the most fun things about this team right now.

C
J. Valanciunas31 MIN, 14 PTS, 10 REB, 0 AST, 6-7 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 1 +/-

Let’s try to be reasonable here, tough though that may be getting lately. This was his first time getting fourth-quarter run in a few games, and he came back in after Nogueira-Poeltl had settled things. Naturally, the Lakers went on a 12-2 run (part of a larger 20-5 run), and Valanciunas definitely wasn’t great during that run, which is going to stick out in the memory for many. Prior to that point, though, he was mostly solid, making good use of his touches and winning his battle opposite Mozgov.

A
D. DeRozan35 MIN, 31 PTS, 1 REB, 3 AST, 10-25 FG, 0-0 3FG, 11-13 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -9 +/-

There were the usual handful of shots that seemed like bad ones – and they sometimes were – and it would have been nice for some more offensive balance. A counter: The Lakers couldn’t stop DeRozan, the Raptors weren’t playing many guys who looked capable of getting theirs tonight, and his FG% doesn’t do his offensive night justice (this was 31 points on 32 possessions used, which isn’t bad given the volume). It’s sometimes hard to separate DeRozan’s volume from the team needing him to shoot so much, anyway.

A+
K. Lowry39 MIN, 41 PTS, 9 REB, 7 AST, 12-16 FG, 6-7 3FG, 11-11 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 12 +/-

I’m pretty sure he mouthed “I’m a bad mother***er, boy” after his three-and-one in the fourth, and I don’t have much more to add than that. He is, indeed, a bad mother***er, boy. The number of times a night he makes me shake my head, yell in my apartment, or fire off an #NBAVote for those sweet, sweet free RTs grows by the day. Not only did he have 20 points in the fourth, he had a defensive position that led to a late-game shot-clock violation late, grabbed an offensive rebound leading to a Ross three right after, and I could go on. Bad. Mother.

B
C. Joseph27 MIN, 8 PTS, 1 REB, 7 AST, 4-6 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 8 +/-

Was a big part of the pull-away run and generally handled the second unit well. Was a nice bounce-back game for him defensively, too, though none of the Raptors were all that great with a 118.6 D-Rating against the Lakers.

B+
T. Ross24 MIN, 11 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 12 +/-

Some timely shot-making in the fourth was huge, and he made a clear effort to get back on the defensive glass, something precious few Raptors did. Quiet until the fourth for the most part, but he was huge in the highest-leverage part of the game.

C+
L. Nogueira20 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 2-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, 12 +/-

The rebounding issue is persisting, and it’s getting tougher to hang it all on circumstance. SOME of it is guys not picking him up when he helps, today he played further from the rim, and so on, But it’s a third empty rebounding night in a row, and it’s taking away from some of the other great stuff (screens, passing on the dive, rim protection) he’s bringing, just because it’s such a big weakness for the team right now.

A
J. Poeltl9 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 15 +/-

He was a plus-15 in nine minutes, all of them with Nogueira. That he could come in and play the four that seamlessly, even if there wasn’t a clear four/five definition, is huge. He had a smart cut on offense for a dunk, got to the line, used the principle of voeltlcality well on a drive, and he mostly played mistake-free. Getting that kind of a stretch out of a rusty rookie is huge.

B+
N. Powell8 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-

Look, Patterson being hurt is definitely a path to playing time for Powell, but the Raptors were getting killed on the glass and they wanted size over speed. That’s fine, but man, Powell makes a case for more and more time every time he touches the floor. A pair of steals, one leading to a nice transition dunk at home, stand out.

B
Dwane Casey

I have a tough time hanging things on a coach, rotation-wise, when he’s adapting to one of his most important players being out. It’s going to take time, and Casey continues to be very aggressive in trying new things and getting outside of his comfort zone. For that, he deserves credit. Ditto for having guys ready after long lay-offs or in bigger minutes (I’d imagine Poeltl’s layoff and conditioning are why he went away from him at the end there, because going to Siakam-Valanciunas in a low-spacing lineup was tough to justify otherwise). Three turnovers immediately out of timeouts is a bad look, too, but hey, it’s new year’s day for everyone I guess. And let’s maybe get those Lowry minutes down where possible.

Things We Saw

  1. Patrick Patterson sat with a left knee strain. That it took the team until right before the game to decide on his status, and that Casey said they just erred on the side of caution, is encouraging. Toronto could ill-afford to lose him for any amount of time (until they get Paul Millsap, obviously), and giving him an extra couple of days around a Lakers game is just smart. He’ll probably be listed as questionable for the Spurs game on Tuesday.
  2. Pascal Siakam playing his best game in weeks couldn’t have come at a better time. With the Lakers such an aggressive and effective offensive rebounding team (they’re seventh in O-Reb%), Casey opted to go big more often than he went small. That meant Lucas Nogueira playing with both Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl. The Nogueira-Valanciunas pairing didn’t see much time, but the Nogueira-Poeltl pair was a big part of the team’s pull-away run in the fourth. You can’t do that against everyone, but it’s nice to see it work for a small stretch, especially with big opponents up next in San Antonio and Utah.
  3. The team’s rebounding woes continued early on in this one – they’re 29th in D-Reb% – and the Lakers had eight offensive rebounds in the first 13 minutes. A combination of poor positioning, a lack of response to the usual pushing inside, and the perimeter players not cracking back to help was killing them. They eventually figured it out, with Siakam having a great night on the glass and the extra size for stretches helping out. This team has no business being a bottom-five rebounding team.
  4. The Lakers went on an 18-2 run around the end of the first and start of the second, and it was just a mess. The Raptors looked soft, as if they just expected things to go their way without any force, and everything seemed unfamiliar. No Patterson impacts that, for sure, but these were some basic effort things. On one sequence, Jonas Valanciunas was thrown a tough post re-entry pass out of reach, and he promptly gave up on it, only for a Laker to run into the crowd to save it, setting up an open Lou Williams three in transition. Y’all know Lou well, right? Come on.
  5. Eventually, the Raptors figured it out. There was a Lowry-led 10-0 run in the second to erase an early deficit, Mozgov’s Flagrant-1 on DeRozan handing over an extra point, and then a big fourth-quarter run with a funky lineup. The Lakers kept fighting back, which is great for that young team, they just don’t have a Lowry or the experience to close this out once they get down too much. (That the Raptors couldn’t stop them down the stretch is mildly concerning, but it’s been a long day and a long trip and I want to take the fourth-quarter W and go cuddle with it and worry about the repercussions tomorrow.)
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Pre-game news & notes: Patterson sits against Lakers, but late call encouraging

The Toronto Raptors will look to build off of the best calendar year in franchise history on Sunday night, as they tip off the 2017 portion of their schedule at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers. The game presents an opportunity to avoid a three-game losing streak and to ensure a .500 record or better on this six-game trip, as the Raptors are 2-2 so far after dropping both ends of a back-to-back with Golden State and Phoenix. With two days off to rest up in between, the Raptors will surely be eager to get back on the right foot.

Not that a two-game slide is any reason for concern. They remain 22-10 and have inched to a respectable 16th in defensive efficiency, and while their offense has slid all the way to third, they remain the league’s second-best team by adjusted net rating. What’s more, their January sets up easier than December – they’ll play nine of their 17 games against teams under .500, they’ll play 10 of those games at home, and the average opponent is a -0.9 in adjusted average net rating. The heavy schedule is arduous, but the games on the calendar aren’t so bad, and there’s a nice four-game home-stand not too far down the line.

The Lakers are perhaps a tougher out than their 12-24 record or Tronto’s prior drubbing of them would suggest, so the Raptors can’t (and likely won’t) look ahead to a much stiffer test in San Antonio on Tuesday. They should approach this one the same way they did last time, looking to end it early and emphatically.

And hey, it’s a home game for some of the guys! With two days off before an L.A. game, a handful of Raptors could have potentially gotten some time at home with family and friends, and it was probably a decent gap on the schedule for some team bonding. (Sober team bonding, of course – the Raptors don’t seem the types to get caught with L.A. Hallucinations, even on New Year’s Day. Related: I hope you all had a wonderful New Year’s Eve.)

The game tips off at 9:30 on TSN 2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
It’s been all quiet over two days with respect to the status of Patrick Patterson. The Raptors’ super-sub left Thursday’s game in the second quarter and didn’t return, with the team calling the injury a left knee strain. He’s been considered questionable, and his status might not be known until closer to tip off. If he sits out, I wrote about how the Raptors could handle a short-term absence here. If he can play, great, but the Raptors are by nature quite cautious (and rightfully so), and there are worse things than having to get by with fall-back options against the Lakers in early January.

In any case, every game right now is a test for Pascal Siakam and an opportunity for the Raptors to try going small a bit more in the second unit. The season has also become a bit of an extended referendum on the center position, so it would be nice to see Jonas Valanciunas come out and win his matchup with Timofey Mozgov and company, and do so substantially.

Non-update: As of Casey’s media availability, Patterson is still questionable, per Eric Smith. Check back about a half-hour before tip. More non-update from Mike Ganter: Casey said he’ll “probably” hold him out as a precaution but didn’t commit to it.

UPDATE: Patterson will sit. I’d actually probably call this a win, all things considered. We were all kind of bracing for worse news on Thursday, and yet here he was a late call done mostly as a precaution, by the sounds of it. That’s encouraging not only for his status Tuesday in San Antonio, but about the health of his knee in general. It seems like the Raptors may have dodged a bullet here.

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

Lakers updates
The Lakers are much healthier than last time around, getting D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young back for this matchup but losing emerging Raptor-killer Larry Nance. Russell obviously adds another dynamic offensive weapon, Young has been perhaps the team’s best two-way player so far this year, and Nance’s minutes will shift some to smaller lineups (good for the Raptors if Patterson can’t play) or Thomas Robinson (less good, given the Raptors’ rebounding issues).

The big strength here is the bench, which packs a lot of scoring punch. Luke Walton uses them liberally, too, not fearing having too many starters off the floor at once. And his most-used lineups aren’t really the issue here – five of the six Lakers lineups to play at least 40 minutes together have a positive net rating (though only one, the starters, doesn’t include Nance) – it’s when those aren’t available that the Lakers have struggled. (They’re also very bad whenever Mozgov plays with anything but the starting unit.)

PG: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon, Marcelo Huertas
SG: Nick Young, Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Metta World Peace
PF: Julius Randle, Thomas Robinson
C: Timofey Mozgov, Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac
TBD: None
ASSIGNED:
OUT: Larry Nance Jr.

Assorted

  • The big news right now is obviously that the Raptors have called about Paul Millsap, who the Hawks are listening on. I’ve got everything you need (except potential proposal analysis) right here.
  • I went to the Centennial Classic today and had an awesome time. It’s a tough sell logistically, and there probably isn’t as much nostalgia to play up, but I’d love for the NBA to try to find some sort of offering like this. If not an outdoor game, maybe a college-atmosphere kind of game where one major game a year is played in a massive stadium for a different vibe. I don’t know, I haven’t brainstormed this very much yet, but it feels like the NBA could probably do something special in a similar vein. (Although their global games initiative, best-in-sports All-Star events, Summer League, and everything else they do probably make up for the absence of a once-a-year gimmick. I’m trying to be fun though.)

The line
The Raptors are eight-point favorites on the road, which is substantial. They should really win this game, and they should be hungry, and so on. That the over-under is way up at 218 suggests defense might only be a rumor here. I’m holding off on a prediction until we know the status of Patterson.

Raptors , Lakers

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Report: Hawks listening on Millsap, Raptors express interest (and why)

Well, 2017 is starting off with an interesting turn.

According to a report from Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the Atlanta Hawks “have begun listening to trade pitches” for Paul Millsap. After losing Al Horford in free agency a year ago, the Hawks are reportedly worried about now losing Millsap, too, along with Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha.

ESPN is clear that the Hawks are not shopping Millsap, but that they’re taking calls, which is an important distinction. Among the teams placing those calls? The Toronto Raptors, who have been attached to Millsap on multiple occasions in the past.

The Hawks have generally been loathe – or at least slow – to trade players who seem outbound or no longer fit the team’s timeline, with fielding a competitive team important to filling the arena and maintaining the interest of the fanbase. Now, however, the Hawks face the tough decision of holding steady at 17-16, with their upside likely a second-round exit and their playoff status not even a certainty, or moving on from the current core for a quick rebuild around the team’s younger pieces (and Dwight Howard). It’s a tough line to navigate, and it would stand to reason that the asking price on Millsap, an All-Star and among the most criminally underrated two-way players in basketball, would be substantial.

The Raptors should pay it, up to a reasonable point.

While Millsap will turn 32 later this season and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season – Toronto would acquire his Bird rights but re-upping a 32-year-old to a maximum contract as you re-up a 31-year-old a year after you re-upped a 26-year-old is another discussion entirely – he’s one of a very small handful of players who could conceivably hit the market who would make an actual difference in the accounting of the Eastern Conference. Adding a third star, one who is a terrific defender and has shown he can thrive in a role that doesn’t require a star’s usage rate in the offense, is exactly the type of asset that would nudge the Raptors closer to Cleveland, if that’s the ultimate goal.

Entering play Sunday, Millsap was averaging 17.4 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.6 steals, more or less in line with his established level of production, though his 3-point shooting has been cold over the last year-and-a-half. Even with the icey outside stroke, Millsap’s posted a roughly average true-shooting percentage while increasing his assist rate, and the Hawks are nearly 16 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ranks him 14th among all players on the season, and he was 11th a year ago, and 14th the year before that. Essentially, advanced metrics show him as a top-20 player, even if he’s not a hyper-efficient scorer (his efficiency would likely improve in Toronto, too, given the dynamic of the offense and roster). He’s not an elite rebounder, which is a bit of a concern, but there’s really not a lot to like about his game beyond that.

He would be a pretty seamless fit on both ends of the floor. He can shoot it enough to help space things out around Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, he’s a decent screener who presents a pick-and-pop threat or someone who can make plays in the 4-on-3 out of traps, and he can create for himself, too. He does a lot of the things the Raptors hope to get from Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll and their center spot game-to-game, but he does all of them, and he does them consistently. Defensively, he’s a super-charged version of Patterson, capable of checking wings, bigs, or the power-three types who have given the Raptors some trouble (like one LeBron James). He’d open up the team’s options in terms of switching, hedging more aggressively, and even cross-matching without having to go small. He’s also an exceptionally high-IQ player, which can help raise the play of those around him.

And of course, the Raptors have long been searching for an upgrade at the four. Millsap is that, as important as Patterson has been to this team over the last two years. He’s significantly better than the current options at one of the team’s weakest positions, and depending on what the Raptors would have to give up, they may be able to get creative in how they use him (even as a five, or in a Carroll-Patterson-Millsap frontcourt without positions).

Millsap is very, very good, and he’s one of the lone players who might be available who would make the Raptors better in a demonstrable – and meaningful – way. No, they wouldn’t suddenly jump ahead of Cleveland in the Eastern Conference pecking order, but it would be a lot closer a discussion, and it would definitely firm up Toronto’s chances of securing that rematch. That’s huge, and the Raptors are right to call the Hawks, and keep calling them until he’s off the market. Drake should be on the phone with 2 Chainz right now. Players like this don’t become available often, especially when the team is in the right place to strike – the one piece away, without any culture risk (Millsap is by all accounts a great teammate), and with a natural fit at both ends of the floor.

The question then becomes, of course, what the asking price is and what the Raptors should be willing to pay. Selling the farm for Millsap isn`t a slam dunk given his age and free agency, and the Raptors would almost surely be acquiring him in hopes of retaining him, creating a small window of contention as he and Lowry hit their mid-30s and DeRozan continues through his peak years. Giving up the longer-term health of the franchise isn`t something Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman will take lightly (though they`ll surely trust in their own ability to maintain it, even with assets outgoing), and on their end there will be a lot more nuance to the discussions than “Millsap gives them a better chance against Cleveland this year.” Still, Millsap fits so well and has been such an ideal target for so long, it’s worth digging deep into the possibilities.

So, what will the Hawks want? Probably a great deal. Their asking price on Horford was high enough that some teams didn’t feel they were serious about moving him, and Millsap’s as attractive a trade chip. That the Raptors don’t have enticing draft assets – they have all of their own picks, plus the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-rounder this year, but those don’t figure to be high picks any time soon – hurts their chances, and other contenders might be able to come in and top their offers (like a Boston, for example).

The hope then becomes that the Hawks like one or two of the Raptors’ young pieces, which is hard to determine from here in Toronto. Jonas Valanciunas might be the team’s biggest on-roster trade piece, but the Hawks have Howard, and Valanciunas doesn’t exactly fit what we thought was the Mike Budenholzer ideal. Terrence Ross would help out their wing corps and has a below-market deal that extends two more seasons, and he’s probably the most obvious piece in a Millsap deal, especially if Atlanta moves on from Korver and Sefolosha, too (they still have Kent Bazemore, in whom they’ve made quite an investment, so that’s not a sure thing either). Norman Powell is a great asset as an underutilized piece with one more year at the league minimum before restricted free agency, but he has to be part of a package because his salary is so low. Jared Sullinger exists as some salary flotsam, too (there are no Bird rights, so the chance to re-sign him means nothing here), and the Raptors have rookies in Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam who have shown nice flashes.

The Raptors will have to piece together an offer that strips some of their depth and future assets. That’s fine, because Millsap is worth a lot, and the marginal gain to the Raptors of acquiring him is much greater than it is for another team acquiring the same piece.

In terms of actual packages, it’s hard to figure what the cost might be without knowing what the Hawks think of Ross or Valanciunas. Ross, Sullinger, and both picks this year might get the conversation going, but another team with a comparable asset to Ross might be able to dangle a better pick. Salary matching becomes easy if the Hawks like Valanciunas, but they’d probably ask for Powell in that scenario, too, and the Raptors would be rendered quite thin inside if they run into a beefier playoff opponent. The Hawks might like Cory Joseph as a second piece, but it’s unclear if the Raptors would be comfortable with the young guards and Powell handling the backup point guard duties, and the Hawks are invested in a pair of young point guards already.

In other words, as with all potential trades, it’s complicated. In coming up with scenarios, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the other team, and that’s a little tougher to do here with opinions on Ross and Valanciunas varying a great deal person to person, and probably team to team. For now, I’ve kind of laid out the whys for the Raptors and the potential hows (or why nots) for the Hawks, and maybe we’ll look at specific frameworks sometime this week.

The takeaway here should be that Millsap might be available and that if he is, the Raptors are going to do their work to find out if the asking price is worth it. It might not be – there are roster balance and depth concerns and the need to maintain a strong future. But it might be, and if it is, it would be something to be pretty excited about.

Note: I wrote this while walking home from the Centennial Classic with frozen hands, so apologies for any editing issues. I’ll come back in and edit/add stats around pre-game news updates. Thanks for understanding.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Lakers, Jan. 1

This is the new year, and I don’t feel any different about the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite the strong start to their season, the youth has caught up to one of the most popular franchises in the league. They have two wins since Dec. 1 and rank 27th in margin of victory. The Lakers are awful, but they have some talent. Here are the things to watch for tonight’s game.

Filling in the Patterson gap

With Patrick Patterson suffering a knee injury against Phoenix, the Raptors have a major hole in the frontcourt to address.

As of writing this, it looks like Toronto will be without Patterson for at least the Lakers game. There is no official word yet, but Patterson’s quote in Doug Smith’s piece was telling: “Everything,” he said of the injury’s impact on his play. “(Moving) laterally, running, jumping, pushing off of it, stopping. Just everything.”

The Raptors will have to go small to soak up the minutes, possibly meaning more minutes for Norm Powell at the four. The first game of 2017 will provide a glimpse of what a post-Pat world looks like if the knee injury results in a long-term absence.

The hangover

I swear I’m not projecting my current state into this preview. NBA players are usually hungover on January 1 as well and the numbers bear it out.

The Lakers and Raptors had their last games of 2016 on Dec. 29, so it’s not like either team will be travelling into Los Angeles that night. They have the whole day off, in Los Angeles, so expecting them to party is reasonable. If you have ever listened to ESPN’s TrueHoop podcast, you have probably heard Amin Elhassan (among other media types) talk about how often NBA players go out.

I’m not guaranteeing a hangover game here, just pointing out that it is something to watch. The counter-argument is that Toronto has a veteran core and have a shot at getting the no. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, so they won’t mess around here. I lean towards that line of thinking, but we will see.

How does Los Angeles guard Lowry and DeRozan?

Last time around, the Lakers were short-handed. D’Angelo Russell was out, a problem that gets compounded when you have to play the aging Jose Calderon in his place. But the Lakers are 29th in D-Rtg and have surrendered a few double-digit leads in recent weeks because they just can’t stop teams. Now, a historic offence comes to town.

In the Dec. 2 match-up, Brandon Ingram guarded Kyle Lowry and it didn’t go well for LA. Lowry had 24 points on 8-12 shooting with six treys. With Russell back in the line-up, expect a more traditional defensive look, with the Snapchat snitch guarding Lowry.

Luol Deng will be tasked with guarding DeMar DeRozan, and that is an interesting match-up. Deng is the kind of player that can bother DeRozan with length. In the December match-up, the all-time leading scorer in Raptors history was held to 16 points on 6-18 shooting and only four free throw attempts. There are ways that the Raptors can create opportunities for DeRozan to score, like letting him attack on the catch after some screens against a slower Deng.

Bench defence will be an issue too. Ingram is too slight, Lou Williams is Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson is a bucket-getter, not a wing-stopper. Toronto’s bench unit has been written about often and will punish a line-up with that many minus defenders. (How good that line-up is without Patterson remains to be seen.)

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Talking Raptors New Years Special!

Happy New Year!

Nick and Barry are back from the North Pole and ready for 2017!

In the New Years Eve edition of the podcast the guys discuss:

The Global Ambassador’s First Lady

An Alternative to the Christmas Day Game

Patrick Patterson’s New Sock Line

Terrence Ross In Game Dunks

All Star Voting

Zach Lowe’s Kyle Lowry Rumor

As always thanks for listening and HAPPY 2017

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New Year, New Mailbag: Appreciating Lowry & DeRozan, year-end reflection, and more

Last season, whenever the Toronto Raptors had back-to-back days off, I’d drop an #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. In any case, the regular feature is back for a special New Year’s edition.

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.

Appreciating Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan


I’m only going to tackle the All-Star question here, as I touch on Paul Millsap a bit in the next section and would be shocked if he hits the market. I think Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both All-Stars, and there’s not even much of a question. To be reductive, Lowry has been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference so far, DeRozan leads the conference in scoring, and they both play for the team with the second-best record, which is always a useful tiebreaker to have. If further statistical back-up is required, Lowry ranks third in the East in Win Shares and RPM, and DeRozan is seventh in Win Shares (RPM isn’t a fan thanks to the defensive shortcomings). Even if DeRozan’s advanced case is less of a home-run, there’s no way his scoring volume alone doesn’t get him in.

You can make the case for a lot of players at the guard spots in the East this year, to be sure. Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas join John Wall in the “we probably deserve to be here behind Lowry and Kyrie Irving” class and DeRozan has stiff competition from Jimmy Butler (and Giannis Antetokounmpo if you insist on including him as a guard), but I’d have trouble making a 12-man roster that doesn’t include them both.


Alright, so this is obviously a very complex and fluid answer, one that’s probably deserving of its own article, but let’s split it three ways to start. “Best Raptor ever” is generally looked at three different ways.

  1. Most important. Until the Raptors win a championship, nobody can touch Vince Carter here. His impact on the sport in the city and in the entire country, and what he did for the Raptors as a recognizable brand and respectable franchise, will stand the test of time. He’s responsible for a generation of new basketball fans, and most of the new era of Canadian players reference Carter’s influence as a driving factor in their love for the game. From a personal perspective, who knows when (if?) I’d have even fallen in love with basketball if it weren’t for Carter. If this is the criteria that matters most to you, Carter is likely untouchable until some star gets a ring here.
  2. Best career with the team. This is going to be DeRozan’s best claim at the throne. He’s now the franchise leader in games and points, and he’ll pass Chris Bosh for the lead in minutes early next week. Considering he has this year plus four more on his deal and is only just entering his prime, it stands to reason that unless things go awry, he’ll have a stranglehold on the franchise’s entire record-book. He’s also been a key figure with the team during their greatest run of success ever, and he and Lowry share most of the team’s postseason record-book already. That he chose to stay for a third contract when no other star has is immensely important to the long-term health of the franchise, and it’s inextricable from his impact as a player, which is immense. DeRozan is going to be in the conversation for a long time based on raw numbers alone, and his legacy will extend beyond that.
  3. Most success with the team. This is a little different than best career, because it takes longevity out of the equation some. I think by the end of this year, Lowry might actually have the edge on even Carter here – his three best seasons stack up incredibly well with Carter’s best years, and Lowry’s also been the team’s best player during their best era and longest playoff runs. Only Bosh has finished higher in MVP voting, and Lowry’s case was probably underrated last year. Advanced metrics have him as a top-five or top-10 player again this season. Lowry won’t have the counting stats DeRozan does or the vast impact of Carter, but his best years in Toronto have been as good as anyone’s here, ever, and they happen to have led to the franchise’s most successful years.

As for what DeRozan and Lowry can do to lock up Nos. 1 and 2? Well, a title would certainly do it. Short of that, it’ll come down to opinion and personal preference and make for a great argument with friends. If the Raptors repeat as conference finalists and Lowry decides to stay, I’ll probably have them one-two in some order some time in the next year or two.


Honestly, I think DeRozan’s there already. He is Toronto, after all, and he got us. The franchise’s all-time leading scorer, one of their most successful players at an individual, team, and international level, and the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, well, that’s enough. I’m assuming Carter’s jersey will be retired at some point while DeRozan’s still active, and DeRozan’s will follow whenever he’s done. If Lowry were to re-up after the season and the team continues to remain very good, I don’t see why he wouldn’t have his jersey in the rafters, too. They’re two of the three or four best and most important players in team history, and I’m all for recognizing that and giving fans a feeling of history and legacy.

(To be clear, I don’t really care about retiring the numbers from use, just more the symbolic gesture of having the jersey hanging in the ACC.)


This is a tough one, and I’m not sure Lowry’s going to be able to make up enough ground in his 30s. The Olympic gold helps a lot, but Lowry doesn’t have an NCAA title to help his case, and he’ll probably need the Raptors to win a title at some point. Even if he has three All-Star years left after this one (not a given as he pushes into his 30s), that would leave him with six appearances and we’ll say two All-NBA teams. As a comparison, Mitch Richmond has one of the weaker Hall of Fame resumes among players in the Hall, and he has six All-Star appearances, three All-NBA teams, a Rookie of the Year, an Olympic gold, and a ring. That’s probably the bar in terms of getting in, so Lowry would need to sustain this level of play for multiple years to have a strong case without a championship, and there aren’t many diminutive point guards who have stayed at an All-NBA level into their mid-30s.

Here’s hoping, though. And hey, a ring changes these discussions drastically, whether or not it should.

The usual trade talk


I think they’d be pretty interested.

This is one we’ve talked about a fair amount here, but as a refresher, I’m a believer that one of the reasons you work to create a strong, consistent, and effective organizational culture is that it allows you to take a chance on depressed assets like Cousins when they hit the market. I think with Casey’s locker room in order, the influence of Masai Ujiir, and the leadership of Lowry and DeRozan (plus any chemistry they built at the Olympics), plus the chance to win for a change and rehabilitate his reputation in a marquee playoff run, Cousins would figure out the potentially overstated attitude stuff fairly quickly (I say potentially because it’s difficult to know the nuance at play with a player’s reputation).

Whether or not the Raptors could actually get Cousins would come down to whether the Kings like Jonas Valanciunas and whether another team would want to trump their offer just as much as how interested they were. If – and it’s a big if – Cousins hits the market, it’s hard to see the Kings getting fair value. He’s the type of top-20 piece that could significantly narrow the gap between Cleveland and Toronto, and there’s a price point at which it would make sense for the Raptors to toll the dice.


Alright, let’s tackle these parts quickly.

*I would say Cousins is more desirable. He and Millsap are comparably effective players and Millsap comes with fewer concerns, but Cousins is also significantly younger and has an extra year left on his deal. Paying Millsap as a free agent at 32 is a dicey enough proposition to swing things to Cousins, who will only be 28 when he hits the market, a year further down the line.

*I’d say Ross is probably more likely to leave than Powell, just because his salary could be important in making the cap math work in a deal. Basically, if Valanciunas isn’t outgoing in a deal, Ross almost has to be, at least for most significant pieces. Powell is probably a slightly more attractive trade asset in a vacuum, given his one year at the league minimum and ensuing RFA rights rather than two more years at a larger (but still below-market) salary, but he doesn’t move the needle at all in terms of salary matching. If I’m another team, I want Powell in pretty much any deal, though.

*It would be tough to keep both, I’d imagine. Unless a team is enamored with Valanciunas or the Raptors are willing to dangle Cory Joseph as the “second piece” in a deal, it’s hard to put together a reasonable package that respects roster balance that doesn’t include one of the wings. You’ve gotta give something to get something.


I’m not sure about “no need” for a trade, as I’ll touch on below. There’s no need if the Raptors are fine repeating last year (which they should be), but Sullinger won’t be enough to narrow the gap with Cleveland. He’ll help a great deal on the glass and push the offense even higher, but he probably doesn’t solve some of the defensive problems or the issue with the starting lineup. He’s good, but he’s not “third star” good, and so he’ll help solidify the Raptors as what they already are – the second best team in the East, and nothing more. (And again, that’s totally OK.)


There’s some important nuance here between the two options, and so the answer lies somewhere in the grey area. The Raptors have, to this point, kept their powder dry, keeping a well-stocked cupboard of draft assets and prospects, leaning on depth and continuity and chemistry. They are likely aware, though, that what has brought them this far is unlikely to push them to title contention, at least this year. The tough balance they have to navigate, then, is at what point cashing in some of that organizational equity (which ensures the franchise is in good shape for a longer time) is worth it to maximize their window as DeRozan hits his peak and Lowry starts to hit the end of his.

As I’ve written a few times, I lean on the more cautious side here. I think it’s very important for the long-term health of the organization that they not take any sort of wild risk for a puncher’s chance at Cleveland – any move they make would need to significantly alter the accounting of an Eastern Conference Finals series. There are only a few names who could conceivably hit the market that would qualify, so my guess would be that the Raptors ride it out. Their window extends beyond this season, though, so hanging tight and repeating last year’s success isn’t the worst thing, if the alternative is risking stability for a marginal gain.

Raptors miscellaneous


You guys know me by now, I’m all about weird lineups, particularly small ones. As it turns out, I wrote about exactly this for The Athletic today, so I’ll just direct you there for my thoughts. (The quick summary: Norman Powell could soak up the bulk of Patterson’s minutes, with the Raptors going smaller for long stretches, plus some Power Forward Bebe.)


I don’t think it’s quite as extreme as that season. For one, the offense is far more varied and effective than it was in that season, even if some of the sets and the ball-dominance of Lowry and DeRozan looks similar at quick glance. The Raptors ranking No. 2 in offense is no joke, and they’ve been doing it against quality defenses who are loading up to stop what the Raptors do best. Some nights, like Thursday, the role players just can’t do enough in support. In general, there are enough wrinkles and contributors that it’s hard to see what defensive matchup would render Toronto’s offense as punchless as the last two first-round series.

That doesn’t answer the defensive question, but points are points. And the defense is probably better than that year, too. There are issues, particularly with help-and-recover and on the defensive glass, and Sullinger will only help with the latter of those. But the Raptors have better individual defenders than in 2014-15 and they’ve shown a defensive upside that wasn’t there that year. Locked in, this Raptors defense is probably a shade above average (they’re even up to 17th in defensive efficiency). Casey is absolutely right to hammer that message home still, and the number of holdovers from that season should prevent the Raptors from getting too “happy on the farm” or “fat and sassy” (god, I love those sayings).


It was nearly a month ago now, but I still think most of what Eric Koreen and I discussed at The Athletic on Dec. 7. Valanciunas is somewhat miscast with the Raptors, but he still has value, and it’s very likely the season will turn at some point and he’ll once again be contributing at a meaningful level. He’s struggling a bit right now and has clearly lost some of Casey’s faith, and the team could probably get more out of him than they have on this trip. At the same time, he’s not playing particularly well, either, so the onus falls on both player and team. But again, this will probably work itself out – an extended slump is not a reason to trade a guy at the nadir of his value, and there might actually be some longer-term value and figuring out exactly how much Lucas Nogueira can contribute, anyway.

By the way, Valanciunas’ numbers should come up a bit naturally, as he’s shooting an abhorrent percentage around the rim by his own standards. That seems likely to regress back toward his career norm as the season wears on (though his usage probably won’t go up given how much the Raptors need to use him as one of the league’s best high-screeners, far from the rim).


Pretty confident Ross is the BEST EVER, actually.


For Ujiri, I would definitely suggest he sign me to a 10-day contract on Jan. 5. I don’t care who gets cut. I need to get paid.

In seriousness. I don’t think I need to suggest too much. A few years of sample suggests that I line up pretty well with Ujiri philosophically, and anything I tell one of the smartest men in basketball would probably be unnecessary. To play along with the question, though, I’d tell him to just stay the course and maintain patience – as explained above in the trade question, I understand the pull to maximize the current window, but I’m OK with holding off on that until the right situation arises. Being good for the foreseeable future is really important to the long-term health of the franchise, and realistically, there aren’t many paths to Toronto catching Cleveland and Golden State right now anyway. (But yes, bring me Boogie Cousins or Paul Millsap, if they hit the market.)

For Casey, the obvious one would be to stop the whole Pascal Siakam starting thing. It’s tired at this point, and it’s doing nobody a service. Since that debate is on hold because of Patterson’s injury (and Sullinger’s impending return), I’ll shift the focus elsewhere: Keep experimenting. The Raptors learned in the playoffs last year that your “best five” could be a different group each series or even each game, and I’ve really enjoyed Casey trying new things with smaller or less traditional lineups. I think that should continue and maybe get even more aggressive. Just how big an opponent can they use the Powell-Ross forward combo against? Can Siakam play some center? Is Sullinger best used at the five when back? Is it possible the Raptors can steal the odd couple of minutes with both Lowry and DeRozan sitting? Can Delon Wright play the two? The answers to some of these might end up as resounding NOs, but the Raptors can be secure enough in themselves to use the next couple months to learn even more, which could be useful come playoff time.


This is a tough question to answer, so I’m going to be a little wishy-washy.

Let me answer the second first: The most impressive is Kyle Lowry. I have all the respect in the world for how much better DeMar DeRozan makes himself every year and genuinely appreciate how important he has been and will continue to be to this franchise, but it’s Lowry who’s play somehow continues to leave me shocked, impressed, and enamored. This is a guy multiple teams and coaches gave up on, a guy who was on his last chance and answered the challenge, and a guy who’s grown into one of the best leaders and best players in the NBA. The Raptors belong to both Lowry and DeRozan, to be clear, and nobody should suggest otherwise. But Lowry…like, man, he is genuinely a top-15, maybe top-10 player in the NBA and the Eastern Conference’s best point guard. Kyle Lowry Over Everything.

Now, Lowry should rank as my favorite for those reasons,a nd because he’s the goddam best. But from a more personal perspective, I think Norman Powell’s been my “favorite” Raptor of 2016. I’m a UCLA fan at the college level and was a believer in Powell as an NBA prospect. I then felt a sort of ownership of The Powell Ascension Story, having covered him extensively in Summer League and then in the D-League. I got to see pretty closely just how hard he works, became an even bigger believer in his game and his work ethic and his fit with the organizational ethos, and really felt like he deserved the success he saw late in the season and into the postseason. It’s difficult not to appreciate and root for a guy who uses every opportunity, every failure, and every success as an impetus to get even better. I very much #UTG.

NBA miscellaneous


This is a really interesting question. For context to the non-wrestling fans who haven’t tuned out yet: Will Ospreay and Ricochet are two of the best high-flyers in the world, and two of the best young, exciting long-term prospects inside or outside of the WWE. It’s hard to shoehorn a comparison because of the high-flying, old-school-guys-hate-this nature of these two, but if we can just frame it was two of the most exciting young players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid definitely qualify. If you wanted to disqualify them because they’re in the NBA (WWE), then Malik Monk and Lonzo Ball at probably somewhere near the top of the list. If you want guys who just do ridiculous stuff that maybe isn’t logical in kayfabe and drives fuddy-duddies nuts, then it’s definitely LaMelo Ball.

And Bruno, obviously.

Non-basketball miscellaneous


Well, we can start with my top-25 list, which leaves off some very good albums I enjoyed like the Knowles sisters’ offerings, Japanese Breakfast, The Weeknd, the too-late-for-inclusion RTJ 3, and more.


From there, narrowing down to the one I wish I could hear again for the first time most? Damn, that is difficult. I think I have to go with Chance and Coloring Book, though, even if giving it to No. 1 seems like the easy path. Coloring Book was just such a vibrant, positive, uplifting departure from a lot of what I was listening to at the time, and despite not being too spiritual a person, it was very much an outlook-shifting experience to give it its first couple of spins. I know it got a lot of love on year-end lists, anyways, but I think some of the eye-rolling at the commercialization of Chance has maybe taken away from just how terrific and powerful an album this was. He was also among my favorite concerts of the year (with Pinegrove and Julien Baker as a top three, probably).

As for the most replay value, it’s a little early to tell since 2016 hasn’t ended yet. Pinegrove’s Cardinal is probably the album I spun the most from the time of its release until the end of the year despite it being just an eight-track offering.

And you didn’t ask, but the album I’m most looking forward to in the first quarter of 2017 is the new Los Campesinos! in late February.

And from Your Boy the Zubes via text, what are my end-of-year wrestling awards?
Match of the Year: DIY-Revival 2-of-3 falls at NXT Takeover Toronto, Sami Zayn v Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover Dallas, A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10
Wrestler of the Year: A.J. Styles, Kenny Omega, Kevin Owens
Character of the Year: Matt Hardy, Kenny Omega, Alexa Bliss/The Miz
Tag Team of the Year: The Revival, The Young Bucks, American Alpha
Feud of the Year: DIY-Revival, Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada, John Cena-A.J. Styles (Kyle O’Reilly-Adam Cole would be here but it’s tough to grade for 2016 alone when it’s a five-year story)

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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Homestand – Quest To Find Toronto’s Best Raptors Bar: Group Work

My journey to find the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto found me traveling to Bloor West to check out a new place called Homestand.

A couple of buddies who had read the previous reviews suggested that I was being too soft when it came to grading the bars. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they’re heartless bastards. Either way, in the spirit of the season I decided to turn over the duties for this latest instalment. A bunch of us went to watch the Raptors-Warriors game and at the end of the night I asked five friends/Raptors fans to evaluate the experience.

Four guys and a girl took part in the review. They ranged in age from early thirties to early forties and all had jobs in different industries. The one common thread was their love for the Raptors.

When it came time to share their opinions most of them were drunk from a night of bar fun. A couple were drunk on power. Here’s what they came up with:

Bar: Homestand
Address: 834 Bloor West

Criteria: Atmosphere

The bar itself is small. There are four big screens and three of them had the Raptors game on the night we were there. The sound was up in the bar but it was pretty low for part of the game. There’s some cool, unique Toronto sports art hanging throughout the bar.

Here’s what the panel thought:

Female Raptors Fan
Atmosphere Grade: B

It’s interesting that they chose to paint the entire bar including the bathrooms blue like the Blue Jays. Also, if you’re going to give me a bench to sit on you need to give me a comfortable bench.

Male Raptors Fan 1
Atmosphere Grade: Solid C

It smelt like varnish. They’re new though. And the bartender told me their goal is to be a great sports bar.

Male Raptors Fan 2
Atmosphere Grade: C

If I’ve got to turn my head to watch the game I’m not watching the game.

Male Raptors Fan 3
Atmosphere Grade: C-

It was like being in someone’s basement

Male Raptors Fan 4
Atmosphere Grade: C+

To be fair it feels like a different type of bar that’s attempting to be converted into a sports bar and they haven’t been successful yet. Sight lines are a problem. I think the tables are a problem.

Overall Average: C
Overall average is found by dropping the high and low grade and averaging the remaining three

Criteria: Drinks

It’s a new bar so the beer selection isn’t too significant yet but they’ve got the basics covered. Local beers like Steamwhistle are on tap and there’s a decent selection of tall boys.

Female Raptors Fan
Drink Grade: C

The pints felt smaller than normal.

Male Raptors Fan 1
Drink Grade: C

They weren’t regular pint glasses. And the bartender fu*ked up three pours for me.

Male Raptors Fan 2
Drink Grade: C-

I didn’t notice much of a selection.

Male Raptors Fan 3
Drinks Grade: C

Ok selection but the beer I was drinking wasn’t pouring good.

Male Raptors Fan 4
Drinks Grade: C+

Not a real pint glass and a poor pour.

Overall Average: C

Criteria: Food

A good selection of bar food including Fried Chicken Sliders, Crispy Bourbon BBQ Ribs, Fried Mac and Cheese, Fish Tacos and more. You can check out the full menu here.

Female Raptors Fan
Food Grade: Solid B

The ketchup was a bit spicy

Male Raptor Fan 1
Food Grade: B+

I had the fried chicken sliders and they were fantastic. I had the mac and cheese and that was great. The ketchup was not too spicy. This bar is gonna be good. They’re new.

Male Raptor Fan 2
Food Grade: A

I had the chicken sliders. They were amazing.

Male Raptor Fan 3
Grade: NA

I didn’t eat

Male Raptors Fan 4
Food Grade: A

I had a slider and it was really good.

Overall Average: A

Criteria: Clientele

As mentioned, Homestand is a small space but it had a decent amount of people there for the game. Everyone in the place was a Raptors fan and watching the screens. There were some loud cheers at the appropriate times. Good stuff.

Female Raptors Fan
Clientele Grade: B+

I liked the diversity.

Male Raptors Fan 1
Clientele Grade: B

Overall it was an A but there was a shady character at the bar that knew me from when I was a magician. He’s a weird man. He does magic for a living.

Male Raptor Fan 2
Clientele Grade: Incomplete

I didn’t notice anyone.

Male Raptor Fan 3
Clientele Grade: B-

There were only three girls there.

Male Raptor Fan 4
Clientele Grade: B –

There was an awkward transition as the Leafs game ended and the Raptors game started the Leaf fans had all the good seats and wouldn’t move.

Overall Average: B

Criteria: Staff

There was one bartender and someone in the kitchen working the night of the Warriors game. With the bar being small it worked out. They’d probably have an extra server working if it was a playoff game or special event but one wasn’t needed while we were there.

One point of interest is that apparently the bartender wasn’t aware of the Raptors game when the first people from the group arrived.

Female Raptors Fan
Staff Grade: C

A for effort but C for an actual grade. You should be better prepared for a 10:30 game between the Raptors and Golden State. They were closing the kitchen when we got there.

Male Raptors Fan 1
Staff Grade: B+

He was clearly high off his ass and I respect that.

Male Raptors Fan 2
Staff Grade: A

I’ll give a C for effort because they should have known about the game but A for actual service because when I ordered my food came within five minutes.

Male Raptors Fan 3
Staff Grade: B

They were more laid back. It was more of a ‘get your own drink at the bar’ feel than someone waiting on tables. I don’t mind that.

Male Raptors Fan 4
Staff Grade: B

They did well for what they had. They had one person on staff tonight. When I asked at 10:15 if he was going to show the Raptors game he didn’t know there was a game.

Overall Average: B

Criteria: Bathrooms

There are two separate bathrooms located downstairs.

Female Raptor Fan
Bathroom Grade: A

The bathrooms were fine.

Male Raptor Fan 1
Bathroom Grade: A+

I rolled a spliff on the back of the toilet and the toilet was super clean.

Male Raptors Fan 2
Bathroom Grade: C

There was a tall guy and the ceiling was really low. I felt bad for him.

Male Raptor Fan 3
Bathroom Grade: B

The ratio of women to men bathrooms is a bit off. There needs to be more urinals.

Male Raptors Fan 4
Bathroom Grade: C

The ceilings are really low

Overall Average: B

Criteria: Price

Female Raptors Fan
Price Grade: NA

I didn’t pay

Male Raptors Fan 1
Price Grade: B+

I didn’t spend a lot of money. The beers are normal prices. All the food was under $10

Male Raptors Fan 2
Price Grade: B-

You put everything else in context you’ve got to go with the C+ You’ve got to look at the big picture. I guess with the food it’s a B-

Male Raptors Fan 3
Price Grade: A-

Everything was really well priced, especially the food. I didn’t order any but I saw the menu and everything was under $10.

Male Raptors Fan 4
Price Grade: B+

Really well priced for a Toronto bar

Overall Average: B+

Overall Grade

Female Raptors Fan
Overall Grade: B+

There’s room for improvement and I’m excited to come back.

Male Raptors Fan 1
Overall Grade: B+

It’s brand new. It has so much potential.

Male Raptors Fan 2
Overall Grade: D+

The only thing you’ve got to get right at a sports bar is the seating and viewing. You just need to be able to watch the game and they got that wrong. But I’m a repeat customer because I will come back and see how they’re doing.

Male Raptors Fan 3
Overall Grade: C-

Feels like you’re at someone’s house and they don’t care if you order drinks or not. They don’t care what’s on the TV.

Male Raptors Fan 4
Overall Grade: C+

It’s not totally successful if its intention was to be a sports bar. It did not successfully cater to my needs as a sports fan specifically seating and viewing. I’d like to sit comfortable and see the game and those two things were not accomplished. I think they’re nailing the food. Everything else is solvable. Bad food is hard to fix. All they need to do is shuffle the tables around and they’ll be good.

Overall Average: B

B seems like a fair grade. It’s a new bar and has a few things to work out but they’re minor. The food is well worth going for. Once they figure out the sight lines situation, Homestand should be a destination for Raptors fans in the Bloor West area.

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Disappointment in the Desert: Raptors Come Up Lame vs. Phoenix

Raptors 91, Suns 99 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction |