Last 200 articles shown.


Date Title Author
Feb 11, 16 Raptors 905’s Scott Suggs added to D-League All-Star Game Blake Murphy
Feb 11, 16 Raptors unveil new ‘home’ at BioSteel Centre Blake Murphy
Feb 11, 16 DeMar DeRozan: Would be ‘pretty tough’ to lure him from Toronto Blake Murphy
Feb 11, 16 ArseTalk: The Y-Factor Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 11, 16 Epic Mid-Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 11 Sam Holako
Feb 11, 16 Raptors Eaten By Wolves in Battle of Apex Predators Gavin MacPherson
Feb 11, 16 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri on The Starters Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 Quick React: Toronto Raptors 112 – Minnesota Timberwolves 117 Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 10, 16 Bismack Biyombo returns to game after hard fall Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Garnett, Pekovic, Martin, and Prince out for Wolves Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 Taxi drivers call off potential All-Star Weekend protest Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 PHOTOS: A tour inside the BioSteel Centre, the Raptors’ new practice facility Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 3 In The Key – Meeting The Bulls In The Playoffs, And Melo Trade-talk Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 10, 16 Should The Raptors Upgrade In An Unprecedented Season? Tim Chisholm
Feb 10, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, Feb. 10 Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 10 Sam Holako
Feb 9, 16 Steve Nash to coach in NBA Cares Special Olympics game at All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 16 DeMar DeRozan…a Three Point Threat? Matt Shantz
Feb 9, 16 Lowry’s 25 helps Raptors trounce Pistons, 103-89 Joshua Priemski
Feb 9, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Feb 8 – Morris vs Patterson – The Verdict Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 9, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 9 Sam Holako
Feb 8, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Pistons 89 Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Pistons still without Caldwell-Pope, Drummond plays Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Report: Taxi drivers planning to strike during All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 How valuable are the Raptors’ trade assets? Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Raptors 3 Point Defense – Cause for Concern? forumcrew
Feb 8, 16 Read this oral history of Vince Carter’s 2000 Dunk Contest performance Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Raptors recall Bruno Caboclo from D-League Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons Feb. 08 Gavin MacPherson
Feb 7, 16 Finding the Right Mix Shyam Baskaran
Feb 6, 16 Competitive Raptors 905 fall to OKC Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 6, 16 Raptors Mailbag: A whole lot of trade talk, playoff matchups, St. Lunatics, and more Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors 905 obliterate Legends for 7th win in 8 games Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Report: Raptors ‘aggressive’ on trade market; Young, Faried & Morris possible targets Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Sim Bhullar & Satnam Singh set for historic D-League battle Friday Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Open Gym – Episode 12: East Side Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors-Blazers post-game debriefing with the enemy Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors continue rolling, win in Portland for first time since 2006 Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 5 – Chips on the Table Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 5 Sam Holako
Feb 5, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 110, Blazers 103 Sam Holako
Feb 4, 16 Drake accepts Reggie Miller’s All-Star ping-pong challenge Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan considered dunk contest, Vonleh out for Blazers Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Kyle Lowry in 3-Point Shootout highlights participants list for All-Star Saturday Night Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 James Johnson has ‘bad’ sprain, no timetable for return Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry: ‘We’ve got to get his minutes down’ Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 No need for the Toronto Raptors to make a trade — they’re winning Joshua Priemski
Feb 4, 16 The Improved Passing of Jonas Valanciunas Gavin MacPherson
Feb 4, 16 Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz hosting celebrity charity game during All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Blazers, Feb. 4 Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 4, 16 Dunk Contest field set: LaVine defends against Drummond, Barton & Gordon Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 4 Sam Holako
Feb 3, 16 VIDEO: Relive Donyell Marshall’s 12-triple game while it’s still a record Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 D-League All-Star day to include 905ers Suggs (3-point shootout) and Jordan (dunk contest); Patterson to judge Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Report: Raptors showing interest in Markieff Morris Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Raptors 905 waive Jay Harris Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 ArseTalk: The View from the Other Side Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 3, 16 Report: Raptors interested in P.J. Tucker Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 A closer look at Norman Powell’s first career start Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Hump Day Ramblings: Markieff Morris and Al Horford Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 3, 16 Despite turbulence, Raptors land safely in Phoenix Michael Holian
Feb 3, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 3 Sam Holako
Feb 2, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Suns 97 Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Powell starts with Johnson out, shorthanded Suns start the Era of Earl Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Raptors 905 acquire John Jordan from Erie Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Players of the Month Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Game Day: Toronto Raptors @ Phoenix Suns – Feb 2nd Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 2, 16 Raptors concede winning streak in ugliest way possible Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 2 Sam Holako
Feb 1, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 93, Nuggets 112 Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 James Johnson leaves game with sprained left ankle Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Valanciunas playing through thumb sprain, Caboclo assigned, #FreeNorm Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Dwane Casey named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Email exchange with RaptorsHQ: Should we worry about Kyle Lowry’s workload? Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Breaking it Down: Cory Joseph and dual screeners Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Nuggets, Feb. 01 Gavin MacPherson
Feb 1, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Feb 1 – 11 going on 17 Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 1, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 1 Sam Holako
Jan 31, 16 Raptors survive late collapse against Pistons Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 30, 16 Raptors 905 fall to Erie, see winning streak snapped; Caboclo and Bennett recalled Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Quick React: Toronto Raptors 111 – Detroit Pistons 107 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 30, 16 VIDEO: Drake joins Raptors broadcast Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 PHOTO: DeRozan and Lowry receive All-Star jerseys Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Pre-game news & notes: ‘Bloodbath’ to ensue, Ilyasova out for Pistons Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Gameday: Raptors vs. Pistons, Jan 30, 2016 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 29, 16 Roberts’ huge night leads Raptors 905 to 6th win in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Ronald Roberts named to D-League All-Star Game, Scott Suggs in 3-point shootout Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 VIDEO: Raptors visit SickKids Hospital Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Caboclo and Biyombo to participate in Basketball Without Borders camp All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 The Grand Scheme: Franchise-Record Edition Michael Holian
Jan 29, 16 Credit Dwane Casey For A Bounce-Back Year Tim Chisholm
Jan 29, 16 La Decima: Raptors Put Away Annoying Knicks Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 29, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 29 – Super Best All-Star Friends Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 29 Sam Holako
Jan 28, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Knicks 93 Sam Holako
Jan 28, 16 Raptors set franchise record with 10th consecutive victory Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: The Raptor continues feud with Robin Lopez Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: Smart breakdown of details behind Raptors’ winning streak Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: Charles Barkley excited to get his All-Star freak on with Rob Ford Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry playing; Porzingis, Calderon and Anthony out; Silver talks All-Star Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 DeMar DeRozan named to 2016 All-Star team Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Anthony out for Knicks vs. Raptors, Calderon and Lowry questionable Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 DeMar DeRozan and the construction of an All-Star Joshua Priemski
Jan 28, 16 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Jan. 28 Gavin MacPherson
Jan 28, 16 Sting to perform at halftime of NBA All-Star Game Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Lucas Nogueira is hitting 3s, talking trash to teammates, and waiting for the chance to do more Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 28 Sam Holako
Jan 27, 16 Ronald Roberts ranked No. 1 D-League prospect Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Confirmed: Dwane Casey will not coach the All-Star Game Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Raptors 905 copying parent club, extend winning streak to 5 Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Raptors recall Powell and Nogueira, assign Bennett and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Canadians Wiggins and Powell highlight Rising Stars rosters for All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Kyle Lowry misses practice, questionable for Thursday Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 ArseTalk: The North Remembers Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 27, 16 Raptors recall Delon Wright an hour before D-League tip Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Victory Affirmative, X-rays Negative: Raptors dodge Washington’s bullets Michael Holian
Jan 27, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 27 Sam Holako
Jan 26, 16 Raptors assign Wright, Nogueira, and Powell to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 X-rays on Kyle Lowry’s wrist come back negative, “I’m fine” Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Quick Reaction: Wizards 89 – 106 Raptors Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 26, 16 Pre-game news & notes: No Beal for Wizards, Casey says to enjoy the journey Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Raptors, Warriors named 2014-15 NBA team retailers of the year Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Canada lands in tough Manila qualifier for last shot at Olympic bid Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Raptors recall Powell, Nogueira, and Caboclo Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 5 lessons Raptors can learn from Warriors and Spurs Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 26, 16 Gameday: Wizards @ Raptors, January 26 Matt Shantz
Jan 26, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S3 E10 – Good Times Nick Reynoldson
Jan 26, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 26 Sam Holako
Jan 25, 16 ‘Bench scoring’ not doing effective Raptors’ reserves justice Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 16 What the Firing of David Blatt Means for Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors Gavin MacPherson
Jan 25, 16 Monday’s Raptors 905 game postponed due to weather Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 16 Raptors Take Down Clippers in Convincing Fashion Shyam Baskaran
Jan 25, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Jan 25 – We’re Going Streaking! Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 25, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 25 Sam Holako
Jan 24, 16 Quick Reaction: Clippers 94, Raptors 112 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 24, 16 Pre-game news & note: Griffin still out for Clippers, hack-a-Jordan, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 16 Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Jan. 24 Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 16 Raptors aren’t convincing anybody yet RR
Jan 23, 16 Raptors Continue to Take Care of Business, Cruise to Win vs. Heat Gavin MacPherson
Jan 23, 16 Raptors 905 hold on in overtime for 4th consecutive win Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Raptors 905 game bumped from Sunday to Monday due to weather Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Quick Reaction: Heat 81, Raptors 101 Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Open Gym – Episode 10: Next Step Shyam Baskaran
Jan 22, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Bosh will be joined by Wade, after all Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Could Dwane Casey coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team? (Update: No) Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Raptors getting hurt on defense at both lines Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Heat without 4 starters, 6 or 7 players against Raptors on Friday Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 It’s the 10th anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game against the Raptors Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 The Grand Scheme: Raptors are thriving at the perfect time Michael Holian
Jan 22, 16 Raptors assign Powell, Nogueira, and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Gameday: Raptors vs Heat Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 22, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 22 – Kyle Lowry Over Everything Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 22 Sam Holako
Jan 21, 16 Raptors 905 ride dominant defensive performance to win 3rd straight game Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Kyle Lowry voted starter for 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star Team Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 PHOTO: Hats designed by Raptors for charity now on sale Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 James Johnson in a walking boot but Casey says he’s fine Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Figuring out Terrence Ross’ defense Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 PHOTO: Stance unveils NBA All-Star socks, including OVO colorway Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Patrick Patterson and January Redemption Matt Shantz
Jan 21, 16 Forbes values Toronto Raptors franchise at $980M Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 DeRozan’s 34 leads Toronto Raptors to win over Boston Celtics Joshua Priemski
Jan 21, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 21 Sam Holako
Jan 20, 16 Quick Reaction: Celtics 109, Raptors 115 Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 VIDEO: Raptors play Amir Johnson a tribute video Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 Pre-game news & notes: I still roll with Amir Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 My 2016 NBA All-Star picks Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 Breaking it Down: Jonas Valanciunas showing encouraging signs at both ends Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 ArseTalk: Accountants rule the world Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 20, 16 Why Not to Spend – Cheapskate Edition forumcrew
Jan 20, 16 Gameday: Boston @ Toronto, Jan. 20 Greg Mason
Jan 20, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 20 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 16 PHOTO: Raptors reveal new OVO gear for Jan. 22 release Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 16 Raptors recall Wright, Bennett, and Caboclo from D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 16 #NBAstatement: Lowry & DeRozan showcase All-Star form in victory over Brooklyn Michael Holian
Jan 19, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 19 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 16 Raptors 905 hang on for 2nd win in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Quick Reaction: Nets 100, Raptors 112 Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Pre-game news & notes: No Bargnani for Nets, Raptors playing thin, minor Caroll update, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Why Kyle Lowry gets my #NBAVote Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 DeMar DeRozan among 30 finalists for 2016 U.S. Olympic team Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 DIY or Die: the Toronto Raptors 2016 Offensive System Gavin MacPherson
Jan 18, 16 Game Day: Nets @ Raptors, Jan. 18 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 18, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Jan 18 – Beyond the Wall Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 18, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 18 Sam Holako
Jan 17, 16 What Happens if 2016 Playoffs is a Repeat of 2014 & 2015? forumcrew
Jan 17, 16 The Coast Looks Clear – Second Half Lookahead Shyam Baskaran
Jan 17, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S3 E9 – With Peter Stauskas Nick Reynoldson
Jan 17, 16 Raptors 905 beat Westchester Knicks in front of sold out crowd Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 16, 16 Raptors Mailbag: Ronald Roberts, Raptors Royal Rumble, redundant trade talk, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 16 Raptors assign Bennett, Wright, and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 16 Jeff Van Gundy: ‘Toronto Raptors most under rated NBA team’ Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 15, 16 Open Gym – Episode 9: Junkyard Dog 2.0 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 15, 16 Fear and Loathing in Delaware: Raptors 905 Losing Streak Hits Nine Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 15, 16 VIDEO: Bruno and Bebe are The Weeknd, they are not a rapper Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 Powell using D-League to apply lessons from DeRozan’s mentorship Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 Lost: Season 2, Episode 1: Starring Bruno Caboclo Michael Holian
Jan 15, 16 The East Has Given Raptors A Chance To Push For More This Season Tim Chisholm
Jan 15, 16 Bench picks up cold-shooting stars as Raptors take London showcase in overtime Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 #379 – Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 15 – Steel defense, steal Batum Blake Murphy

Ronald Roberts will have company on the East side for the D-League All-Star Game on Saturday.

Raptors 905 shooting guard Scott Suggs has been added to the game, the team announced Thursday, replacing Keith Appling. Appling is dealing with a sprained thumb and will be unavailable.

Suggs was already scheduled to be at Ricoh Coliseum for the event on Saturday, as he’ll participate in the 3-Point Shootout. John Jordan will be taking part in the Dunk Contest, too, giving the 905 representatives in every event. Roberts, remember, was voted by the coaches to the All-Star Game and is expected to play despite missing two of the team’s last three games due to a hip contusion that’s not believed to be serious.

It’s a nice nod for the 26-year-old Suggs, who decided to do a second go-round of the D-League following a season in France. In 32 games, he’s averaging 16.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists while knocking down 43.6 percent of his threes, often taking lead guard duties from point guard Shannon Scott when no Toronto Raptors are on assignment. A solid defender who brings a necessary dose of poise and maturity to an otherwise inexperienced squad, Suggs has emerged as one of the voices of leadership as the 905 have turned their season around in the last month.

He’s also been writing a diary on his season, which you can find at Upside & Motor.


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The very first task assigned to Masai Ujiri as a member of the Toronto Raptors organization is complete, and it feels as if he thinks it’s going to play a major role in accomplishing much larger tasks moving forward.

The Raptors unveiled the BioSteel Centre on Wednesday, a sprawling, 68,000-square foot facility located on the old Exhibition Grounds. When Ujiri was hired by the Raptors the first time, in 2007, then-general manager Bryan Colangelo made a practice facility Ujiri’s first objective. Nearly a decade later, it may not have been completed as quickly as Colangelo envisioned, but the finished product is far beyond anything the organization could have hoped for a few years ago.

It is, in a word, impressive. Or intimidating. Or inspiring, considering it’s tough to wander through while fighting the urge to put up a three or get a quick lift in – Ujiri even admitted that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have already snuck in for some late-night shooting.

RELATED – PHOTOS: A tour inside the BioSteel Centre, the Raptors’ new practice facility

First, the check list, one the Raptors have left precious few boxes unmarked on. The facility is enormous, complete with two full-size courts and six baskets. The locker room is an upgrade on the ACC lockers, with larger stalls and screens above each that can display video individually or as one larger video board. Even the staff have their own locker room complete with lockers that are bigger than most Toronto one-bedroom apartments. After a quick change and practice, players have a full weight room at their disposal, complete with several sport-science devices not exactly common at GoodLife. There are multiple rooms for recovery and rehabilitation, including massage tables, a hot tub, a cold tub, and an underwater treadmill. There are hubs for video breakdowns. If that’s not enough, there’s a fully staffed kitchen and a player’s lounge to unwind in.

And, of course, all the BioSteel players can drink, the corporate sponsorship and partnership in itself a nice nod to a few local entrepreneurs making incredibly well of themselves.

The facility, left at a bare description, is great. It is not, however, necessarily a major competitive advantage. Several teams have moved to creating their own facilities, and while the Raptors, namely Teresa Resch, scoured the globe across all sports for best practices, its raw completion is a necessity for growth and competition rather than a major leg up. In Ujiri’s own words, potential free agents would be taken aback more by its absence than presence.

“When it’s new and when you have it, it’s not a concern. When you don’t have it, it’s a question,” Ujiri said at the unveiling. “So when you don’t have it, when you go to visit, or when you go to meet, the question comes up. ‘So, where’s your practice facility?’ But when you have it, nobody’s even going to ask the question. They’ll just say, ‘You know what? That’s one thing they have.'”

That’s not to say the facility won’t impress potential trade targets, free agents, agents, draft picks, and even staff members. For the time being, it’s the newest such facility in the league, and the organization did well to maintain a great deal of flexibility in the building to continue shaping it as they get comfortable in their surroundings.

“It’s new, it’s a huge advantage,” Ujiri said.

There’s also the matter of how the Raptors leverage its existence, the largest determinant in how valuable it ends up being. This is a major piece of organizational capital that can be a serious value-builder if employed properly, and Ujiri gives the impression that this is going to be where the bulk of the team spends the bulk of its time. He repeatedly used the word “home” to describe it, both at the player and staff level, and with the Raptors’ continued investment in uncapped resources like analytics, sports science, and player development, it’s clear the Raptors have a long-term vision for how to put all of these pieces together under a single roof.

On a more micro level, it’s now going to be much easier and, the hope is, more comfortable for players to put extra work in.

“For players to find a place to work and call their own is such a big thing. Here, they just come in, turn on the lights and it’s their place,” Ujiri said. “Park in the garage and come right upstairs and they’re home. That helps the overall and then the culture you set of everybody being together. You’re not going to get along with everybody you work with, but in an environment like this, it’s conducive for people to work together and that helps the performance on the court.”

There may be an adjustment period as the team learns how to best take advantage of the facility. The team is unsure what they’ll do with their current practice facility at the Air Canada Centre, and whether post-game workouts would be best staged at the ACC or BioSteel Centre. Some players will need to make an adjustment to the location, particularly those who live close to Maple Leaf Square (DeRozan’s joked the new facility is four minutes closer for him). Some staffers have office space while others have work space, unsure of where their primary jobs will have them in the short-term day-to-day. It’s unclear how Raptors 905 may factor into plans for the building.

None of these are negatives, just the realities of a major change in how business will be conducted. The feeling hearing everyone speak Wednesday was that a year or two down the line, everything from Ujiri on down will operate out of the BioSteel Centre, with the ACC acting only as a home court and the location for MLSE-level corporate matters. The reality is, there’s little the Raptors will need that won’t be within those walls.

That includes preparation for the trade deadline, draft, and free agency. The cous de grace of the facility is the IBM Raptors Insights Central, dubbed for now by Ujiri and staff as The War Room and by Rod Black for never as The North Room. Powered by IBM Watson, the interactive room designed by IBM Interactive Experience will make data recall incredibly efficient for Raptors’ decision makers. There’s a vast wealth of information available at one-touch, with a wall and table full of multi-functional screens that link to mobile devices and put the entirety of the team’s scouting, medical, salary cap, and analytics data within a finger’s reach.

Pardon the Gonzo for a moment, but I feel the scope of the room necessitates it: An IBM staffer walked me through everything available on these screens, with some obvious proprietary limits, and I got to play around with some of the tools at management’s disposal. Within seconds, I could build a list of draft targets to keep an eye on, filter for free agent power forwards this coming summer, find Klay Thompson’s statistical trends (and social media feeds), view the depth chart for all 30 NBA teams, and even try to trade for Steph Curry using the team’s own in-house trade machine. I’m a data geek in general, but even the most tech- or analytics-avoidant personality would have walked away impressed.

Of course, the quality of the information at the disposal of the team’s decision makers matters more than how quickly they can bring it up. The room itself only provides an advantage if the ingredients being fed into the machine are of the highest quality, which is why Ujiri still values scouting so highly and why the organization has invested heavily in other areas. The War Room, like the entire facility, is a wonderful tool that will create value only if employed properly. That’s the next stage, one that’s probably already well in motion.

The Raptors have a vast, elite, state-of-the-art (drink!) facility to call home moving forward. It represents a long-time undertaking, a massive investment, and the next step in the continued growth of the franchise. It was the first task assigned to Ujiri and will play a major role in how he goes about achieving a much bigger one.

“We’re going to keep growing and keep moving. Because the end goal in Toronto, here, is a championship,” Ujiri said. “And I guarantee you we will win one here one day.”

If that day comes, they may need a second banner for at their new home.


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With the NBA universe descending upon Toronto for All-Star Weekend, all eyes are on the Raptors’ two All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and deservedly so. With that attention, though, is likely to come a common question for one half of the duo: Will DeRozan be here next year?

DeRozan is a sure bet to decline his $10.1-million player option for next season, and given the restrictive rules in the CBA surrounding contract extensions, he’ll hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. He’ll do so right as the salary cap sky-rockets, pushing his potential max contract – something he’s earned by the benchmarks of the market – to an estimated $25.3 million starting salary and $145.5 million over five years, the latter being a deal only the Raptors can offer.

With the league’s marketplace flooded with cap space and a thin free agent market, DeRozan will stand as one of the marquee targets, with multiple max offers heading his way.

Still, it’s long seemed unlikely DeRozan goes anywhere. All organizations and players pay lip service to the desire for the relationship to last in perpetuity, but in DeRozan’s case, he and general manager Masai Ujiri have seemed genuine and earnest in their belief that he’ll remain with the franchise long-term. Ujiri said in early January that the organization believes it has a good shot at keeping him, and DeRozan’s always said the right things about loving the city and the franchise and wanting to be a Raptor for life.

On Thursday, DeRozan spoke to ESPN’s Marc Stein and continued to say more of the same, telling Stein it would be “pretty tough” for an inquiring team to pry him from The 6ix this summer. Here’s DeRozan:

My whole mindset has always been this is home for me. I never think otherwise unless it’s brought up to me, or you see things, or people ask you about certain things.

This has always been home to me. I took pride in putting on this Toronto Raptors jersey since I’ve been drafted here. And my whole goal was to get this team to the point where it is now. And I feel I’ve been a major key to that.

Lowry told Stein he won’t pressure or recruit DeRozan, putting friendship first, as he’d expect when he can become a free agent in 2017. Still, DeRozan’s relationship with Lowry and the success they’ve enjoyed the last few years could be a major factor in his decision. So, too, could be a potential playoff run this spring.

Fans are within their rights to worry until pen is to paper in July, but the odds of DeRozan staying have always seemed 50-50 or better, even with all the potential suitors, including his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. Things can still change, teams will recruit him hard, and the Raptors have three months to get through before determining exactly where they are and need to move on the development curve. Were I to guess, I’d put the odds at somewhere in the 67-33 area for DeRozan staying, and even that might be overly cautious.


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A loss to the Wolves? Didn’t see that coming.  I had turned the game off just before halftime thinking the rest was routine, and spilled my Kahwa when the notification popped up on the phone.  It’s OK, though, these kinds of losses serve as a good reminder that we’re susceptible during the best of times.  There’s no doubt that some guys were looking ahead to All-Star weekend and I can’t blame anyone for that.  It’s like when I’m in the line at the buffet passing past the vegetables with a keen eye on the butter chicken – you think I even know what that green shit is? Kale? Lettuce? Broccoli? How about IDGAF?  That’s what the Raptors did, they just walked past the Kale and right into that delicious goat curry which is All-Star weekend.

Kyle Lowry missing contested threes in crunch time isn’t something that I want as a lasting memory, and I shudder to think that that’s what Dwane Casey would offer coming out of a timeout against the Hornets in Game 1 with the score tied 94-94.  Then again, it’s hard to complain with the team winning 14 out of 16, even if the assist numbers aren’t great.  Nobody will deny that we’re relying heavilyon Lowry and DeRozan to generate offense, and probably ask more of them than what other teams ask of their top two players.  Those shots are made harder by having Jonas Valanciunas touchless while being 4-4 from the field.  Not saying he’d have saved us but there’s something to be said for diversification of an offensive portfolio.  Moving on.

I was making a few folk at work mad jealous about having a press pass and getting to watch the game live, making up prices along the way.  You know, this pass is worth $25,000 considering where I get to sit all three nights.  People be going, Oh, lucky you, while secretly hoping for my death. That’s cool, part of life.  You win some, you lose some.  And I certainly lost $50 hoping Liverpool can close out a replay FFS.  I mean, a 120th minute winner? I’m looking forward to the three-point shootout the most, mainly because it’s the only competition where the manifestation of the skill on display is similar to what you see in a game.  I know, they’re not picking up the ball off of a rack but it’s kind of like handling a pass thrown slightly to your left.

Bismack Biyombo took a pretty strong tumble in that Minny game, which reminded me that Bebe still exists.  He came on for a 4-minute stretch in which he scored a hoop, and it got me thinking of Y-factors.  What’s a Y-factor? It’s that thing that you need done once the X-factor does his thing.  That contribution which no one sees coming and when it does happen, you wonder if it could turn out to be the real X-factor that could decide a game, a series, or maybe even a life.  Think Matthew Dellavedova for the Cavs last finals, he was good enough that he almost became the X-factor in the series, but didn’t, which made him the Y-factor.  Who’s the Raptors Y-factor? I nominate Bebe, much in the same vein as Chris Childs years ago.

There’s some talk that DeMar DeRozan is now a three-point shooter.  He’s shooting 54% from three in his last 10 games, and I’m attributing this rise in percentage to two things: 1) taking more threes, 2) making more threes.  Damn scientific, isn’t it? He was averaging around 1.5 threes in November and December, and in January and February he’s around 2.6.  He’s taking a three more per game, because defenses were fading off of him in anticipation of the drive, and generally give him that shot.  Even though he’s hitting a high percentage of late, he’s still being given, as discussed on the podcast with Blake and myself, the Luis Scola treatment where even if he makes the three, the defense won’t believe its worth unless he does it for a prolonged stretch of time.  I think DeRozan will be getting clean looks from three all season long, and into the playoffs.  Even if he keeps hitting at a 37% clip, nobody will come out to defend him because his reputation as a three-point shooter will take another year to form in the league.

Lastly, you might notice that this season, with a lot of help from Blake, we’re producing an insane amount of content including Raptors news, analysis, podcasts, play breakdowns, and so much more.  This costs money, and if you’re able to, help us out by becoming a Patreon and continue receiving quality Raptors content all season long, and right through the summer.


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DeMar DeRozan was the Raptors star hiding in plain sight | SBNation.com

“I could care less what somebody thinks about my shot attempts or whatever, because a lot of times when I do take difficult shots … they feel more comfortable for me than the wide-open shots,” DeRozan said. “I think it was more understanding that I’m bailing out the defense a lot of times (with mid-range jumpers). I wanted to put more pressure on them to put them off balance when they’re guarding me, making them not sure what I’m going to do: if I’m going to drive, if I’m going to post-up, if I’m going to go for a foul or a pump fake. There are so many options. I want my defenders to have that in their minds so that whatever I do, I feel more comfortable in knowing I’m not letting them off of the hook.”

His passing has evolved, too, with DeRozan’s drive-and-kick game going from good to magnificent. Just witness Luis Scola, who hit 10 three-pointers in the first eight years of his career and has hit 40 already this year.

“Literally, all of my threes come from him,” Scola said. “If it’s not 70 percent of my threes, it has to be pretty close to that.”

Ujiri is perpetually spiritual about basketball. In his words, DeRozan is playing with more “meaning” this year. 

”It’s shot selection. It’s gotten better,” Ujiri said. “The time of the game when he takes the type of shot he takes, where he’s shooting from (have all changed). ‘Should I take a jump shot? Should I pass it out?’ You see that game-winning pass in Washington (in November)? He almost had an opportunity to do an acrobatic shot, which is something DeMar would have done. You know him as well as I do. It’s something he would have tried. He made that pass to Cory (Joseph, who won the game at the buzzer).”

It’s time to take the Raptors seriously | SI.com

“No, no, no, no,” Casey told SI.com, when asked if he’s raising the bar and encouraging his team to think of itself as one of the league’s top clubs. “We are still talking about how much we have to improve. I’ve won a championship [as an assistant with the Mavericks in 2011]. I’m not being braggadocios, but I know what it [takes] to get there. We haven’t earned the respect yet. We haven’t done anything yet.”

The 58-year-old coach, who has been manning the sidelines in one position or another since 1979, then began gesturing with his hands, to demonstrate the progress Toronto has made during his five-year tenure.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve taken it from here, to up here,” Casey explained, raising his hand from waist level to shoulder level. “But the hardest thing in the NBA is to take that next step. And that’s where we are. We don’t even talk about being a contender. We’re the underdog still trying to get where we want to be.”

Takeaways: Raptors continue to play down to lesser opponents | Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors truly play up or down to their opponent. They’ve given Golden State two of the toughest tests the Warriors have had all year. If it wasn’t for multiple suspect calls late in both games, Toronto could have swept the Warriors. The Raptors are 6-0 against the next five best teams in the West. However, they’re just 5-7 against the rest of the Western conference. They’ve now been swept by the Nuggets and Kings, and lost their first game against Minnesota. All three teams likely will miss the playoffs.

The Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the Raptors might be the most puzzling part of this incarnation of the team.

Timberwolves make Raptors pay for horrible second half | Toronto Star

“Sometimes it’s tougher to play with a big lead like we had rather than an eight, 10 or 12 point game,” DeRozan said. “It’s real tough because every team in this league has pride and they are going to play until the end, and that young group they had out there definitely did that.”
With the game seemingly in hand, the Raptors coasted and it cost them.
“We came out like this team was going to lay down and it’s a great example to everybody that if you don’t come out and perform and do your job, any team in this league can beat you,” coach Dwane Casey said.
“We’re not good enough to come out and throw our press clippings and record on the floor and not perform. We came out and played like that in the second half.”
The players basically downplayed the “trap game” storyline that suggests teams have a tendency to shut things down early before a break if they are facing what’s deemed an inferior opponent.
Kyle Lowry said it was “one of those nights” and pointed to a coming meeting with Minnesota as a time to exact some revenge.

Foul trouble to blame for Raptors loss against Timberwolves | Toronto Sun

“Our whole disposition, we came out like this team was going to lay down and it’s a great example to everybody that if you don’t come out and perform and do your job, any team in this league can beat you,” a clearly steamed head coach Dwane Casey said afterwards.

“We’re not good enough to come out and throw our press clippings and record on the floor and not perform,” he added. “We came out and played like that in the second half.”

The loss negated what was setting up as a memorable night for DeMar DeRozan who will join his teammate Kyle Lowry this weekend in the second all-star game for both.

DeRozan had 22 points through that first half and 35 in the game, but all he had to take away from it was a bit of a lesson for the second half.

“We have to understand that every single night it is a business from here on out,” said DeRozan, whose next win will tie Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson at the franchise-high 232-win mark. “We can’t have no more games like this. Maybe it’s a good thing just to make us realize we are playing for something bigger and this second half of the season, we really have to play that way.”

Game Rap: Raptors 112, Timberwolves 117 | Toronto Raptors

IT WAS OVER WHEN

Karl-Anthony Towns made a pair of free throws to put the Timberwolves up five with four seconds remaining. Towns helped lead Minnesota in a second-half comeback as the Raptors dropped a 117-112 decision heading into the All-Star break. With the loss, Toronto falls to 35-17 on the season.

Raptors lose rough one to Timberwolves, 117-112 | Raptors HQ

The Dinos’ defense was simply not up to snuff in this contest, however they didn’t do themselves any favours in multiple regards. The referees called the game extremely tight and the T-Wolves made the Raptors pay in their 53 attempts from the charity stripe. The lone bright spot for Toronto was DeMar DeRozan, who shot 11-for-19 from the field in a 35 point effort.

Heading into the matchup, Minny had dropped 20 of their last 21 meetings with the Raptors – the most lopsided series in the NBA. At 17-37, the Wolves won’t be contending this year, but nights like this one should rightfully strike fear into the rest of the Association as their young nucleus grows together.

Towns Fuels Wolves Into All-Star Break With Comeback Win Over Raptors | Minnesota Timberwolves

The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft had himself a night to remember. The 20-year-old out of Kentucky University put up a stat-line of: 35 points (12-19), 11 rebounds, three blocks and zero turnovers in 35 minutes of action. It was the second time in the young rookie’s career that he’s had a 30-10 game.

Timberwolves 117, Raptors 112: Dare I say… progress is happening? | A Wolf Among Wolves

In an ugly game with no flow due to too many whistles from the refs affecting both sides, the Wolves gutted out a win. They executed on both ends of the floor. They made plays when they needed to make plays. This has become a bit of an upturn in that department lately, and it’s hard not to notice the seemingly… competent effort… the Wolves are putting together as a team.

Timberwolves Wrap: Wolves come back to defeat Raptors | Dunking with Wolves

Minnesota was short-handed with Tayshaun Prince receiving the night off to head to Detroit for Chauncey Billups jersey retirement with the Pistons, and Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Martin all remained out.

That meant that Sam Mitchell trimmed his rotation to just eight players in the first half and nine overall in the game, which led to heavy minutes and an impressive batch of stat lines from the Wolves’ starters.

The Wolves’ depleted bench handed the Raptors their 18-point lead in the second quarter, but the starters managed to trim the deficit to just 13 at halftime. The third quarter, on the other hand, belonged to Minnesota.

Turning over a new leaf: Wolves head to All-Star Break with impressive win over Toronto | Canis Hoopus

The Timberwolves actually trailed significantly in the first half, down by as many as eighteen points. They were down by 13 at the half, and while they weren’t really having trouble scoring, they also couldn’t get stops and could never close the deficit. It looked like yet another night of the same old lack of defense dooming a decent effort on offense, a film which we’ve all seen too many times this year heading into the third quarter, which has been the Wolves’ biggest problem area this year.

Instead, the third quarter brought a Wolves’ run, a 13-3 stretch featuring an emphatic Towns dunk that brought the game’s first tie since late in the first quarter. The expectation? The Wolves’ bench will come in and give it all right back. Instead, from 3:46 in the third (which Wiggins was the first of he, Towns and Rubio to hit the bench) to 7:49 in the fourth (where Towns and Rubio made their usual re-entrance), the Wolves actually outscored the Raptors 15-11, giving the starters a three-point lead to take to the end of the game.

From there, here were the Wolves’ final five scores before the game devolved into free-throw trading: Rubio 3 (!!), Wiggins jumper, Wiggins free throws, Towns jumper, Wiggins jumper. The Wolves’ three best players created and made the shots that led them to this victory, with Towns’ block above basically sealing the deal (a couple poor decisions from Gorgui Dieng notwithstanding). The completed comeback is their biggest of the season, and biggest since the very first game.

Down 18, Wolves storm back to beat Toronto | StarTribune.com

Towns’ block of Cory Joseph’s driving layup with 20 seconds left saved the game.

“For the whole game, every minute Karl was out there,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said, talking about how Towns impressed him. “Every night he does something that you just don’t realize he can do. As a coaching staff, we just made up our minds that we’re going to watch what he does and just keep encouraging him because we’re going to keep giving it to him.”

Toronto Raptors drop an 18 point lead and lose to the Timberwolves | Raptors Cage

I’ll make this simple. The Raptors gave up too many points, to a team they simply shouldn’t lose to. They failed to provide resistance on their roll coverages and lose their man in transition. Minnesota went to the line 53 times, demonstrating the lack of effort on Toronto’s end to actually defend. Not a good game defensively. Just looked plain lazy.

Raptors Officially Open State-of-the-Art ‘BioSteel Centre’ | Toronto Raptors

The BioSteel Centre, located on the Exhibition Place grounds, will be the team’s new training and development centre as well as home to the team’s front office.

“Our vision for the Raptors is to build a championship contender that represents our city, our entire country and our fans with great pride and is ‘world-class’ in every way and Masai is certainly helping the team make great strides towards that goal,” said MLSE Chairman of the Board, Larry Tanenbaum. “The opening of BioSteel Centre is an important part of that vision. It is a development home for the team and will give them the tools they need to continue building on its progress of the past two years. We are very thankful to BioSteel, and all of the Raptors partners, as well as our fans, for their tremendous support.”

Raptors, Ujiri kick off All-Star week with new practice facility | Sportsnet.ca

The new facility brings all aspects of the basketball operation together in one environment. The fitness and medical facilities are state of the industry. There are two basketball courts and even though the building does have some community access, the Raptors will always have access when required. There are hot tubs, cold tubs and underwater treadmills, and a view of Lake Ontario from the dressing room. There is even a barber’s chair. The Raptors practised in it for the first time a few days ago and came away wowed.

“Coach Casey is almost breathless when he talks about it; the players loved it; they really, really enjoyed it,” says Ujiri. “It builds your culture better. You can spend more time with each other.”

The opening was intentionally timed to coincide with All-Star Weekend, allowing the rest of the NBA to drop by for a peek if interested, but Ujiri isn’t counting on it being the difference in attracting free agents.

Raptors unveil sparkling practice facility on Exhibition grounds | Toronto Sun

The BioSteel Centre, the team’s sparkling, 68,000 square foot practice facility on the Exhibition Place grounds, opened its doors on Wednesday for a media blitz. It exceeded all expectations.

From the best-in-class training and treatment facilities, to the offices for staff and of course on to the first of its kind war room that appears to have been taken out of a movie featuring flying cars and warp drives, it was impossible not to be impressed.

Hence Ujiri’s happiness.

It took years of hard work, patience, big dreams and oh yes, money, to get it done.

Ujiri said when he was originally hired by Bryan Colangelo in 2007, his first assignment was doing the legwork for a new training facility.

“Bryan picked me up in the airport, all the trades were done, all the draft, everything, it was July 23rd or something like that, he picked me up from the airport and next morning he said, ‘Go find … figure out the practice facility, that’s something we want to do,’” Ujiri recalled.

Raptors unveil new practice facility in time for NBA all-star weekend | Toronto Star

The facility has two full-size courts. The locker-room strongly resembles the one the team will use on its game days at the Air Canada Centre and has individual TV monitors above each locker (and a barber’s chair in a separate room nearby). There’s a large gym, a training area, a rehabilitation area with hot and cold tubs and an underwater treadmill. The player’s lounge has a full-service kitchen and dining room.

Ujiri’s workspace might be the most impressive part of the entire building.
He shied away from calling it the war room (“We’ll get a sexy name for it, but it’ll be the best war room in the NBA,” he said). There’s a broad, interactive touch-screen stretching across the back wall of the room. There are interactive screens built into the tables that provide every conceivable piece of data that could go into comparing, trading or drafting players. It looks like the computer tools of a futuristic sci-fi movie brought to life. All of the information can be carried with team executives and can grow and change with them through a mobile extension as they travel.

IBM Watson Teams With Toronto Raptors On Data-Driven Talent Analysis | TechCrunch

IBM announced today that is has teamed with the Toronto Raptors to bring cognitive analysis in the form of IBM Watson to the NBA team’s talent evaluation process.

The new tool called IBM Sports Insights Central, pulls in data from a variety of sources including statistics, video, social networking sentiment analysis, medical records and much more. It compares this data against the team’s needs, a player’s likelihood of succeeding, staying healthy and working well with coaches and teammates for the duration of the contract.

The idea behind it is to help them draft the best players and find free agents and trade targets that not only meet the needs of the team, but also fit well with the team’s on-court philosophy.

Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry finds home in Toronto | USA Today

“I’m not Russell (Westbrook). I don’t shoot the ball like Steph (Curry). I’m not as fast as John (Wall). But I’m smart,” Lowry said. “I understand which spots I can be as fast as John or I can get shots like Steph or explode at points like Russell. You have to understand time and situation and who you are.”

Examples: He blew by guard Reggie Jackson in a halfcourt set in a recent game against the Detroit Pistons; made 7-of-9 three-pointers against Brooklyn in January; turned steals into layups against Atlanta in December.

Lowry is one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league, shooting 47.8% on those plays, including 48.5% on three-pointers, and he is scoring 1.21 points per possession in spot-up shooting.

The two-man game with Lowry and DeRozan has helped pushed Toronto to the sixth-best team in offensive efficiency, scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions.

That he’s doing this in his 10th season is a testament to Lowry and his desire to prove himself. He knows some players at this stage of their careers are not improving.

Dwane Casey: the coach who could take the Raptors into uncharted waters | The Guardian

The man they call “The Rock” is the reason why the Raptors have turned it all around. He’s the reason why DeRozan and Lowry compliment each other, rather than work against other. He’s the reason why Jonas Valencunis can pass, shoot and rebound (9.4 boards per game, ranked 17th in the NBA this year), making him hard for opposing teams to match up on. He’s the reason why his bench guys like Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross can slip into swing roles when called upon, without worrying they’ll screw things up. He’s the reason why the Raptors are the fifth-best defensive unit this season and why they play a more versatile and dynamic brand of basketball built around plugging in players on court at any given moment to win. And sure, there have been periods where things haven’t worked for Casey, where their defensive efforts has had some slips and shots didn’t drop at the front end of the court, but that’s why Casey constantly refers to his team as a work in progress. During his tenure he’s never gone too for ahead of himself.

Vince Carter put Toronto Raptors on map at 2000 all-star game weekend | Toronto Star

Carter’s all-star moments — and notoriety — aren’t limited to that perception-altering Oakland weekend. In 2003, after three years of being the leading vote-getter in fan balloting, Carter famously gave up his starting spot to Michael Jordan, who was making his final all-star appearance. It was seen as a contentious move in some quarters and an overblown non-story in others but again underscored the level of fame Carter had achieved.
But it was the 2000 all-star weekend that put him, and Toronto, on the map.
“It was something I always wanted to do, as much as just being an NBA player . . . when I had the trophy it was a totally different world. Right after holding that trophy up and going into the back . . . life was different.”

Irreverent NBA TV hoops show The Starters a Canadian success story | Toronto Sun

For Melas and Skeets (real name Phil Elder), who used to split Raptors season seats, the journey is hard to believe.

“There aren’t really any words to explain it,” Melas said over the phone from the set.

“The timing is very funny how it’s all played out. Yeah, 10 years from when we started, 10 years from when Kobe killed the Raptors (with his 81-point performance), 10 years from when we just decided to do this because we wanted to do something creative that we really got behind and kind of put our heads down and worked for.

“The NBA asking us to speak on behalf of them as part of their company was surreal enough, and now to be doing it back where we started, we got home, we got off the plane, we were walking around the Air Canada Centre, it just felt like we were going in to see a Timberwolves-Raptors game on a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t feel like we’re about to do a show. It’s a little unbelievable when you step back and kind of look at it from a bigger perspective.”

Indeed, it has been a remarkable journey.

Toronto Raptors: NBA Championship Worthy? | Hoops Habit

Some of that is due to the state of the East as it lacks legitimate championship threats to the Cavaliers while being much improved overall and that leaves the door open for the Raptors to sit comfortably above those middling East teams.

However, the Cavaliers are still the overwhelming favorite and that won’t change regardless of the Raptors being able to keep playing at the pace they’re playing.

There’s still plenty of basketball left to be played and it’ll be curious to see if this Raptors team can avoid the same pitfalls that last year’s team went through at the end of last season.

But with the impending return of DeMarre Carroll, the team’s big free agent acquisition, as well as how active the team’s front office reportedly is ahead of the trade deadline, the Raptors may be deserving of more respect than they’re currently getting if things hold up.

NBA Deadline Watch: Atlantic Division | Basketball Insiders

General manager Masai Ujiri has traditionally been active on the phone lines, but operates in stealth. If the Raptors do make any moves before the trade deadline, expect it to be inconsequential to Dwane Casey’s rotation.

As of right now, multiple sources familiar with the front office’s thinking tell Basketball Insiders that manufacturing a roster spot in order to call up D-League standout Ronald Roberts remains a priority for the team. There has been some gossip related to Anthony Bennett and Lucas Nogueira, with those two names seeming to be the most logical casualties to make room for Roberts.

In the meantime, one source confirms that multiple NBA teams are keeping an eye on Roberts, with a call up expected to occur fairly soon. Aside from that, the Raptors do not seem likely to make a big splash this trading season.

NBA Trade Rumour: The Raptors are interested in the Nets’ Thaddeus Young | Raptors HQ

For the Raptors, Young would represent yet another option at power forward to presumably liven the team’s starting unit and provide even more defensive flexibility. The question, as always, is what do the Raptors have to give up to get him?

Young is in the first year of a four year deal worth $50 million, so any deal would have to include, presumably, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson to make the salaries work. Now, a deal including Patterson would weaken the team’s “stretch 4” capabilities and not exactly solve the team’s weakness at PF. Windhorst also doesn’t believe the Raps should give up that Knicks draft pick unless a blockbuster deal is in the offing. As such, the team may have to consider including one of their young guys (Delon Wright? Norman Powell?) in the offer. This could be a lot to ask for a non-stretch power forward.

On the flip side, a starting lineup that featured Young at the four instead of Luis Scola would suddenly be a legitimate defensive terror (assuming a healthy DeMarre Carroll). And if you’re looking ahead to playing LeBron James in the playoffs, you can do worse than a combo of Young and Carroll to sap his strength.

Guide to the NBA trade deadline: Raptors | Yahoo Sports

TREASURE CHEST OF PICKS
Loaded
Toronto has its own first-round pick, projected to be in the late 20s.

The Raptors also have the lesser of the Nuggets’ or Knicks’ first-round picks. This pick is projected to be in the late lottery.

The Raptors own their future first-round picks.

As part of the Greivis Vasquez trade with Milwaukee, the Raptors have the Clippers’ lottery-protected first-round pick in 2017. The pick is also lottery-protected in 2018 and ’19 if the Raptors do not receive it in 2017. If no first-round pick is conveyed by 2019, Toronto will receive 2020 and ’21 second-round picks from the Clippers.


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The Toronto Raptors got out-Raptor’d by the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. They’ve established themselves as a very handsy defensive team that relies heavily on drawn contact on the offensive end. Last night both of those worked against them as they came up against a team that came at them with the same strategy but a faster, more aggressive version of it. If there’s a template for beating the Raptors as a less-talented team this was it: match their physicality on defense, attack the rim on offense and wait for them to get frustrated if the refs call an even game. It’s a solid strategy because Raptors stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry play with a lot of emotion and players like that do not seem to respond well to playing poorly in physical games.

We all saw what happened: the Raptors grabbed the lead by the end of the first quarter, built that lead in the second quarter, gave it away in the third quarter and then got beat to the finish line. DeRozan had a great first half but got soundly outplayed by Andrew Wiggins in the second half. The good guys got outhustled, losing the battle on the boards and at the free throw line. The pessimistic view of the loss is to shake your head at the Raptors letting an inferior team beat them at their own game. The optimistic view is to look at the Raptors limited rotation and the style of play and understand how much the recovering James Johnson and DeMarre Carroll would have helped in this specific game. The realistic view is likely somewhere in between.

The broadcast floated the theory that the Raptors were looking past this game to the all-star weekend but I really don’t think that’s what happened here, I think they just ran into a team that can do a better version of what they do when they’re performing at their peak level. We just got a glimpse of how good the Timberwolves will be when they have a bench and their core players learn how to play to this level consistently. The Raptors didn’t play a terrible game, the Timberwolves just played a better one. We all like to find a scapegoat, whether it’s the coach or the refs or a specific player, but sometimes this is just how things play out: you give it your best shot, do a good job and come up short anyway. C’est la vie.

That #*$% I Like:

  • At times, mostly in the first half, the Raptors offense resembled a real NBA offense with actual off-ball action. One of Jonas Valanciunas’ assists was the result of Cory Joseph setting a back screen for a shooter while Valanciunas was posting up. If they did both of those things(post up Valanciunas, screen for shooters) more often the team may end up cracking the top 20 in assist percentage.
  • Norman Powell, legit NBA player. I love his defensive stance, it’s the kind of try hard technical perfection that you only see from young players trying to prove themselves. I don’t think anybody over the age of 25 gets as low as Powell – even Cory Joseph is upright on defense sometimes. He hasn’t extended his range to the three point arc yet but he contributed enough on offense to justify continued playing time.
  • The continued dominance of the bench mob. The Bismack Biyombo Back Boo-Boo kind of derailed their momentum this game but the bench continues to show up the starters. Part of the brilliance of the bench mob is merely the absence of Scola but a bigger part of it is the fluidity of the offense and the consistent defensive effort. It’s a lot like the Raptors dominant Vasquez/Williams/J.Johnson/Patterson/Hansbrough unit from last season: a nice mix of effort and talent with complimentary skillsets.
  • Valanciunas post ups. The Raptors still need to consistently apply one of the biggest takeaways from the Kevin Love situation in Cleveland: if a player is giving something away on the defensive end because of a matchup issue you have to let him get it back on the other end. There were times when Valanciunas was struggling with the speed of the Timberwolves frontcourt but they were also struggling with his brute strength on the other end – use that. Let him punish skinnier guys like Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns. Take advantage of the higher percentage three point looks that come from inside-out passing. Spread shooters around him and let the defense pick their poison. Force them to adjust to your size, don’t constantly adjust to their speed. Good teams dictate terms.
  • First half DeRozan. It was one of the most efficient halves of basketball he’s ever played. Even I couldn’t find anything negative to say about it and I can find negative things to say about anything.
  • The Raptors grit. Valanciunas’ thumb started to bother him again and Biyombo took a nasty spill but they still kept battling. With their limited depth and the injuries issue they’ve struggled through to date they’re going to need a lot more of that before the season is done.
  • Cory Joseph’s crunch time defense. Andrew Wiggins was getting separation from Raptors defenders at will in the second half except the possessions when CoJo was tasked with guarding his Team Canada teammate. Joseph as a defensive stopper against all opponents is something that the Raptors are going to need to employ more often, size mismatches be damned. CoJo on Melo. CoJo on Dirk. CoJo on Shaq. CoJo on everyone.
  • First half rookie mob. Even though it was forced to some extent by foul trouble I really loved seeing Delon Wright and Bebe Nogueira on the floor together. It makes a lot of sense – you have a shortened rotation and need productive minutes out of these kids so let them play with at least one player they’ve already familiar with. I also like the first half rookie mob because it suggests that Dwane Casey reads Raptors Republic and listens to our suggestions, making everyone on staff de facto assistant coaches. We’ve made it.

That $&%^ I Don’t Like:

  • Luis Scola’s play. I like the idea of Scola and I like that he looks like he should be driving a convertible and dating a college student while wearing gaudy jewellery and wearing a shirt that shows just enough chest hair to let you know he hasn’t fully greyed yet. I don’t like him as a basketball player at this point in time. His release is too slow for him to be able to shoot as much as the Raptors need a stretch four to shoot and his feet are too slow for him to defend anybody under the age of 35. As great as I think Patrick Patterson has played recently a big part of that perception has to be influenced by how bad Scola has been.
  • “Working the refs”. Leave them alone, guys. You’re not actually gaining a competitive advantage by constantly bitching at the refs about their job performance. They’re going to miss come calls for the same reason you’re going to miss some shots: they’re human and missing things is what humans do. Lowry and DeRozan are the worst for this, with DeRozan standing out last night for complaining about obvious fouls called against him and getting on the refs for not giving him a bailout call on a missed shot exactly one possession after they gave him a bailout call. They’re not going to give out constant crunch time free throw trips, that’s why the offense should be focused on creating makeable shots.
  • Second half DeRozan. He complained to the refs too much and was obviously frustrated by the physical style of the game which was ironic because of the way he generates his own offense.
  • Losing the rebound battle. The Raptors have had an up and down season but the one thing that I feel has been really consistent has been their rebounding. Obviously they can’t outrebound opponents every night but not even having this as a positive makes the whole game seem a little more disappointing.

It would have been nice to go into the all-star break on a little winning streak but the Raptors are still having an excellent season considering the injury issues they’ve been dealing with. The team will regroup and come back fresh for what is sure to be an exciting post-break stretch with the team in striking distance of the conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers and pursued by a surging Boston Celtics team that has won 10 of their last 12 games. In the meantime let’s enjoy the long-overdue inaugural Toronto All-Star Weekend that will surely become a fairly regular occurrence as the Raptors as a team, Toronto as a city and Canada as a country all continue to increase their basketball profiles.


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Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri joined hometown boys The Starters at Real Sports on Wednesday. Not only is it cool for a general manager to take the time to do something like this, but it’s incredible how far the TBJ guys have come, to the point that getting an NBA GM on the show is entirely realistic.

Ujiri’s appearance was a lot of fun. Most notable from a “real” perspective is that he admits that power forward is the team’s primary area of weakness. Most notable from another perspective is that he’d take a cardboard Trey Kerby over a real Trey Kerby.

Shout out to The Starters. They’ve been such a huge influence on the basketball community and deserve every ounce of love and opportunity that’s come their way, especially this week.


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Toronto Raptors 112 Final
Recap | Box Score
117 Minnesota Timberwolves
Luis Scola, PF 18 MIN | 2-9 FG | 1-4 3FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -16 +/-Despite the fact Scola looked like his feet were stuck in quick sand when Wiggins flew by him he gets kudos for his veteran savvy. Case in point he drew 2 quick fouls on the man whose initials acronym (KAT) belies his on court agility. Then when Biyombo exited following that hold your breath fall it was Scola who scored in the first offensive possession and rebounded on the first defensive possession. Does he merit high marks … NO, but the plays I outlined above punctuate how valuable his veteran experience is to the team. That said, he needs to be coming off the bench or only remaining on the court when he’s having one of his early scoring rampages.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 24 MIN | 4-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -10 +/-Towns drew him into 2 quick fouls. JV vacillated between playing aggressive and falling back into his hesitation mode. Towns had a career night highlighting how much trouble JV has facing agile centers!

Was bothered repeatedly by his right thumb constantly grabbing at his hand which again had me holding my breath praying he hadn’t sustained another hand injury.

Kyle Lowry, PG 39 MIN | 4-15 FG | 1-7 3FG | 5-8 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -6 +/-It’s been a pleasure watching Lowry during this winning phase. I find myself constantly focusing on him watching his decision making, his pivotal and timely defensive plays and ever present sixth sense at knowing when to score to stop opposing runs.

Tonight he had some issues with fouls and his shot wasn’t quite there, but hey I’m just happy he’s entering the final 30 games looking relatively fresh.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 37 MIN | 11-19 FG | 3-3 3FG | 10-13 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 35 PTS | -9 +/-Like Lowry its obvious the game has slowed down for him as he calmly waits for players to jump at him, run past him or double team him eliciting a pass to an awaiting open teammate. Wiggins exposed him defensively, but he was the Raptors offense for the most part tonight.

Norman Powell, SG 12 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -11 +/-Scored on the games first possession and mid 1Q ran a Biz block (one his 4 in the half) basket to basket for a lay-in. Oddly with him feeling his oats on both ends Casey removed him after 5 minutes (granted he had 2 fouls). He continued to score when he returned to the court and at pivotal moments in the game no less. He’s raw and needs experience, but it was a positive to see him producing on both ends finally.

Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +11 +/-The T-Wolves agile bigs (KAT/Dieng) are difficult assignments for Scola and JV, so the combo of Biyombo & Patterson proved highly successful in the first half. With the Raptors trailing 102-104 he made a huge play to force Rubio into a travel. If we win this game his contribution of 8 points, 5 rebounds, team high plus 11 and efforts to limit the Wolves front court would have been touted as the x factor. Instead we lose and are left with people likely calling for him to be traded.

Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 4-10 FG | 3-7 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +9 +/-Want to know how much Ross has grown and how confident he is? When TWolves took lead in 3Q it was Ross staring down Lowry for the pass and keeping his hand hoisted KNOWING the ball is going in. Sure he still makes some poor decisions and has some defensive gaps occasionally, but on a whole Ross appears to have past the threshold where we can feel confident in him consistently scoring in double digits.

Like Patterson though I wonder if he’ll still be a Raptor after the 18th as his trade value may be at an all time high.

Lucas Nogueira, C 4 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -1 +/-We got to see both sides of his repertoire first with an air ball followed by a beautiful screen and roll scoring play with DeRozan. Not enough playing time to properly assess a grade.

Bismack Biyombo, C 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 6 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +6 +/-3 times in the first half I held my breath praying the Raptors would just notch the victory and get out of this game without any injuries. When Biyombo fell hard to the court it looked like the type of fall where bones get broken. So, it was a pleasant surprise he returned in the second half . Obviously he wasn’t playing with quite the same aggression though he had a huge block on Shabazz. And this also points to the fact while it’s great they have him defending at the rim the team should be stopping more of those drives.

Delon Wright, PG 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3 +/-Difficult to judge 3 minutes though it does seem he is suffering from the same over thinking, rushing mind set Powell initially displayed. Hey they are rookies, it’s expected especially when they get so little playing time.

Cory Joseph, PG 27 MIN | 4-11 FG | 0-3 3FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +5 +/-Made big plays on both ends of the court and continues to instill (at least from my perspective) a belief that the Raptors bench is going to be a factor in the final 30 games of the season and more importantly in the post season. His percentage wasn’t ideal tonight (though I felt he drew 2 or 3 fouls that he didn’t get the benefit of) but his 5 rebounds, 4 assists plus +5 and zero turnovers WAS impressive.

Dwane Casey
With the team headed to the All-Star break it’s hard to question Casey’s rotations. Also you can’t blame him for the way the game was called which also limited the Raptors ability to aggressively defend. He enters the All-Star break with time to work on strategizing for the final 30 regular season games INSTEAD of what many felt he should be doing which is coaching the All-Star game!

Five Things We Saw

  1. The Timberwolves are my NBA League Pass guilty pleasure. I’ve watched more than half their games including their sweep of the Hawks and Bulls and easy victory over the Clippers that the zebras made closer than it really was. They were my dark horse team at season start and though they’ve failed to make the leap this season for that 8 seed (barring a huge winning streak post All-Star break) it’s a certainty they are close to becoming the next OKC or GSW in the coming season or two. The loss isn’t as startling as it may seem as this young team has been in more games than their record indicates.
  2. For those hoping for a trade at the deadline Masai Ujiri all but came out and said it won’t happen on his appearance tonight on The Starters citing the need for franchises to exercise patience as their core grows. Then again Kevin Love got injured tonight so…….. does that push Ujiri’s hand?
  3. I often get in debates with the BBoyz about Wiggins as some believe him to not be driven. I disagree believing he’s a patient team oriented player who rises to the occasion when required. Just go check his performance on League Pass in those wins I noted above.
  4. With 5 minutes remaining in the game the zebras had issued 4 fouls each to Lowry DeRozan and Joseph as well as 5 to Ross. Perhaps coincidentally 3 of those 4 players were the top Raptor offensive performers. On the opposite side only Wiggins had 4 fouls. The T-Wolves played hard deserving their calls the problem for the Raptors was DeRozan and Lowry felt they weren’t getting the same consideration. At game end the T-Wolves shot 53 free throws to the Raptors 32 a pretty major disparity. The Wolves and Raptors shoot the 4th and 3rd most free throws per game on the season.
  5. For those wondering about the scoring I gave Patterson, Joseph and Ross all B+ and Biyombo an A- as the Raptor bench out scored the T-Wolves 35 to 10 and in my opinion played at or above their average. It felt more like Scola and Valanciunas inability to stop Towns and Dieng was the deciding factor in the game.

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It was an aggressive lob from Cory Joseph. As he often does, Bismack Biyombo extended far enough to corral the slightly overthrown pass, throwing it down as he fell away from the hoop.

As Biyombo landed, his tailbone hit the floor hard, and Biyombo immediately yelled out and reached for his back in pain. He stayed on the floor for several moments and was then able to walk off the court, later heading to the locker room.


But there’s good news: The team announced that Biyombo is expected to return for the second half despite a back bruise, and he checked back in midwya through the third quarter. He might be a little sore tomorrow, but the team is off until Feb. 19 after tonight, so he’ll have plenty of time to rest up.

Biyombo had six points, five rebounds, and four blocks in 11 minutes before leaving the game. His arrival in the first quarter really helped settle the defense, and he had a number of tough shot contests at the rim. He finished the game with six points, six rebounds, and six blocks, which really makes one stay woke about who the REAL Biyombo might be. On the season, he’s averaging 5.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 22.5 minutes while shooting 50.8 percent. A Biyombo injury would hurt the team’s defense significantly while also threatening the momentum the second unit has right now, so they dodged a bit of a short-term bullet here, albeit one that would have been insulated by the upcoming break.

With Jonas Valanciunas in early foul trouble (he picked up three quick ones), Lucas Nogueira was called on in the second quarter. Nogueira had a great stint when Valanciunas was hurt earlier in the year but promptly lost that momentum, and he’s played just 130 NBA minutes on the season as a result. A lengthy shot-blocker with some great passing instincts and pick-and-roll skill, Nogueira hasn’t played non-garbage time since Dec. 22. He picked up two points and one rebound in four minutes.

Delon Wright was also on the floor, as Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph each had three fouls. He played three scoreless minutes. The presence of both youngsters is temporary, but it’s a nice silver lining to the foul trouble and Biyombo’s fall that they got a bit of meaningful run. With a 68-55 halftime lead, perhaps they’ll see some garbage time late.


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The Toronto Raptors have 48 minutes of action left before it’s party time for upwards of a week. Wednesday marks the team’s last game until Feb. 19 thanks to All-Star Weekend, which the city will, of course, host. There’s business at hand first, and that business comes in the form of the Minnesota Timberwolves at 8 p.m. on TSN.

You can check out the full game preview here, and I’m not going to rehash much beyond updates here since, well, I wrote it.

Timberwolves Updates
Kevin Martin (wrist), Nikola Pekovic (ankle), and Kevin Garnett (knee) all sat out Monday’s game for the Wolves and were considered questionable or doubtful Wednesday. They’ve all been ruled out, per Timberwolves PR, and they’ll be joined by Tayshaun Prince (personal). Technically Martin is still listed as doubtful, but given they’ve announced Zach LaVine as the starting two-guard, and given the All-Star break is about to provide extended rest, it doesn’t seem likely they risk it. (Update: He’s out.)

The rotation will look something like this as a result:

PG: Rubio, Jones, Miller
SG: LaVine
SF: Wiggins, Muhammad, Rudez
PF: Dieng, Bjelica
C: Towns, Payne

I wrote in the pre-game about how I’d like to see more of the Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins triumvirate that’s outscored opponents slightly in a small-ish sample this year, and here’s an opportunity. I’d like to see less of Prince, anyway. The starting lineup is now perhaps Minnesota’s most intriguing look, though Nemanja Bjelica joining at the four for additional spacing would be dangerous, too.

This would have been Garnett’s 47th career game against the Raptors. In 46 meetings, he’s averaged 18 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while shooting 51.9 percent from the field. Gonna miss him when he’s gone.

Raptors Updates
Best we can all tell, there’s nothing new on the Raptors side. DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson remain out, Norman Powell remains the starter.

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: Powell, Ross
SF: DeRozan, Caboclo
PF: Scola, Patterson, Bennett
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

Carroll, by the way, has progressed to taking jump shots.

Wiggins vs. Raptors
This marks the third time Andrew Wiggins is squaring off against his hometown Raptors. He totalled 40 points on 14-of-29 shooting in two games last season, kicking in eight rebounds and five assists. He’s still just 20, averaging nearly 21 points on close to league-average true-shooting, and has loads of defensive potential. There are obvious areas for improvement, but his profile remains quite encouraging, even if it’s maybe not that of a top-10 player (and it still could be, who knows).

The Line
The Raptors are six-point favorites, back down after moving up slightly to Raptors -6.5 this morning. I’m not going to be the guy to preach negativity with the run they’re on and heading into All-Star Weekend. Raptors win, narrowly hit the under, then party.

Raptors 107, Timberwolves 98


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Toronto taxi drivers have called off a potential strike and protest for All-Star Weekend in the city.

Reports surfaced Monday that cab drivers would strike, likely in the downtown area, as the NBA universe enters the city. This came on the heels of Mayor John Tory fighting against an immediate injunction against Uber drivers, something city council supported Sunday. Cab drivers are upset with the lack of regulation that Uber drivers face, claiming the service is illegal and begging the public to cease using it. Several politicans have spoken out in support of that claim, though it remains a contentious issue that isn’t quite as easy as legal vs. illegal or free market vs. oligopoly.

Several union members met with a handful of city councillors on Wednesday, leading the drivers to call of the protest.

“Emotions overran us …There will be no strike for the NBA All-Star weekend,” Paul Sekhon of the United Taxi Workers Association said Wednesday, courtesy of the Toronto Star.

This is the right move. I was, admittedly, overly critical of the potential strike initially. I understand the drivers’ position and the economic necessity for labor’s right to strike, but I thought the timing and handling of this potential protest were way off-base. After a commenter (correctly) pointed out the bias in the language I had used, I expanded with this explanation of my position:

This obviously reads very harsh toward cab drivers, as was pointed out in in a reasonable comment (although the personal shot at me, whatever). I absolutely understand the need for unions to have the right to strike and that strikes are almost never going to receive public support. In this case, my gripe is two-fold: One, they’re taking what should be a great weekend for the city, one that involves a lot of non-voters and visitors, and throwing an unfortunate wrench in it. Two, and related, I don’t think that’s smart use of leverage, and I don’t think the drivers have played their hand very well here. City council just met on this, and four days out, a strike this weekend isn’t going to incite change, it’s just going to further remove them from any public support. There are better short-term means of dealing with the issue (namely, improving your service) while the legality of Uber gets figured out, but instead the drivers are opting to leave money on the table and risk a P.R. disaster. Why All-Star Weekend? And why so soon since the last strike – you’ll have used that bullet twice in 10 weeks now, and accomplished nothing but failing to effectively inform the public of the real issue and the need to push for Uber regulation. Why not time this for a weekend with more politicians involved and likely to be effected? Why not use the All-Star opportunity to provide good service, make a fair amount of money, and inform a large population of users – Uber’s not going to be able to meet demand this weekend, and the standardized, non-surge rates of taxis is a major advantage they don’t do a good job of highlighting. There are just so many better ways to have gone about the weekend, in my mind. It’s a strategic misstep, in political and P.R. terms.

It seems cooler heads have prevailed. It helps, too, that the cab drivers felt like Wednesday was the first time city officials have really heard their complaints, per the Star, which can be important in managing this type of conflict.

To my point, Gail Beck-Souter, president of Beck Taxi, pointed out the economics of the timing of this strike and handing additional business to Uber. Striking on a weekend in which Uber is unlikely to be able to handle volume without significant surge pricing – swinging free-market factors back in the favor of cabs, who have fixed rates – seemed ill-advised.

“It would only hurt our valued customers and give Uber exactly what they want,” she wrote Tuesday, per The Star. “I get you feel left behind, forgotten, dispensable, that no one values the dedication you’ve made to this industry and the people of Toronto”.

This doesn’t mean the matter is closed. Not even close.. Cab drivers still claim Uber is unsafe and illegal, warning people against using the service, and it stands to be a hot-button political issue for the forseeable future, not just in Toronto but in any major city. Kitchener-Waterloo, where I spend half my time, has had some conflict, too, and some cab companies have tried to get out ahead of any political change by improving their services in order to better compete with Uber in the interim.

Perhaps that’s not fair to ask of cab drivers, if you’re of the mind Uber is illegal. From a market perspective, consumers are going to make the choice they’re most comfortable with, factoring in cost, safety, convenience, any moral opinion, and comfort with the requisite technology to use Uber.

By calling off the strike, I actually think cab drivers have given themselves a nice opportunity this weekend. There remains a great deal of attention on the issue, and by calling it off ahead of a weekend that means a lot to the city, their status quo now looks like a positive P.R. move and a concession to the public. If the unions can use the high-volume weekend to better educate end-users about their position and continue to drum up political support (all while stacking paper to the ceiling taking people club to club, arena to arena) then maybe this weekend ends up being a victory for them.


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The Toronto Raptors unveiled their brand new, state-of-the-art (drink!) practice facility on Wednesday, a massive, 68,000-square foot building that general manager Masai Ujiri repeatedly referred to as the team’s new home.

We’ll have more on the details of the facility and what it means for the Raptors later on. For now, here are some bad iPhone 4S photos of the grand tour. Don’t like these and my grainy D-League photos? Then it’s a good time to remind you that you can support Raptors Republic at our Patreon page. In the meantime, I’ve embedded a few pics from better photogs, or at least journos with better cell phones.

Outside of the building, which is located at 30 British Columbia Dr. (right beside Medieval Times) on the old Exhibition grounds.
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The practice area.
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Grand opening of the BioSteel Centre. New home of the @raptors #WeTheNorth #nbaallstarto

A photo posted by @darkvallena on


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The workout room (love that Ali quote).
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The press conference.
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Other player areas (recovery room, locker room, barber’s chair, video breakdown stations, etc).
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The War Room, a top-of-the-line, IBM-powered “insight centre” for data collection and analysis, complete with interactive touch screens and a ton of one-touch capability (I geeked out so hard).
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The offices of Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey.
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CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball during the game against the Chicago Bulls on October 31, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Eastern Conference standings are still so ambiguous. Flipped on its head as we near the all-star break, the East looks nothing like what anyone would have predicted in October. This season’s standings have been extra interesting. Of all current playoff seeds, no team is at .500 or lower – a sharp contrast to last season where Brooklyn’s 38-44 record was enough to squeeze into the playoffs, as was Boston’s 40-42 record.

Keep going back all the way to the 2011-212 – that was the last time a team under .500 didn’t make the playoff cut. The East is better, but crazy enough, the teams we expected to be better are not. The Wizards may not make the post-season at all. Even if they make a surge with Bradley Beal’s return, they will still have to overcome a hungry and talented Charlotte and Detroit. Boston, meanwhile, looks fantastic. Brad Stevens is doing a tremendous job in Beantown and the Celtics could spark an upset in this year’s playoffs. I’m not sure anyone would really argue against them being the third best team in the East this season.

But here’s the crazy part – and perhaps a testament to how good the Raptors are – as good as the Celtics have been, they’re as close to the 10th place Wizards as they are to the 2nd place Raptors. 5.5 games in all. And that’s an improved Conference, mind you, and the Raptors have put themselves on the same plane as Cleveland – separating themselves from the pack.

In a weird way, it means nothing, hence why the standings are still ambiguous. The seeding could be flipped on its head by the time May rolls around, and the Raptors still need to come out of the first round at the very least. It’s not going to get easier – mostly because of depth issues. DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson will be back eventually, but Dwane Casey has the difficult task of making sure the team doesn’t burn out before their two integral wing defenders come back. Norman Powell starts, but doesn’t eat a ton of minutes, and the Raptors will still have to play Kyle Lowry for large chunks of the game. Need I remind you the Raptors were in dreamland this time last season until they spiraled after the all-star break and Lowry broke down?

Here’s something worrying

The Chicago Bulls are spiraling. They’ve lost 3-straight and 7-of-10. Jimmy Butler’s injury will see the Bulls’ star out for the next month or so. Somehow, they are not even that impressive (until they play the Raptors) even when Butler is in the line-up, and without him, the struggles will be magnified three-fold. The Bulls are now nearly in the bottom half of the league when it comes point differential, and Jimmy Butler is a huge reason why the Bulls have had any success at all this season. Butler now joins Noah on the injury list which won’t bode well for them defensively.

The burden is now on Rose to get the offense going in the back-court. Rose has shown flashes of his prime this season, but overall is completely unpredictable and is not only in-and-out of form, but also in-and-out of the lineup.

Here’s why this whole predicament is worrying for the Raptors: Chicago is currently 7th, and if the playoffs started today, they would face the Raps. It might be premature thinking, but it’s something to consider. For all the tough work the Raptors have put in this season, it would be pretty tough to match-up with the Bulls assuming Chicago will tread water until Butler gets back and squeak into the 7th or 8th seed when they become healthy in the post-season. The East is wildly unpredictable right now, but if there’s room for any reasonable predictions, it’s that Toronto and Cleveland can finish 1st and 2nd, and the Bulls can slide to 8th or remain 7th. It’s also possible of course, that the Bulls slip far enough down out of the picture and one of Charlotte / Washington takes their place. In that scenario, give me Washington any day of the week.

The reason it would be worrying for the Raptors to face a healthy Bulls squad in the playoffs is pretty clear. While the Raptors are the better team this season, they just can’t seem to match-up well with Chicago who always find an extra gear against Dwane Caseys’ men. The Raptors haven’t beaten the Bulls since 2013, and even this season when the Raptors looked like they had finally broken the curse, they blew a big lead and conceded a whopping 40 points to Jimmy Butler in the second half to lose by a hair.

Trade scenarios are getting ridiculous

Since last Wednesday’s column, I came across an article Frank Isola – beat writer for the New York Knicks – posted, suggesting Carmelo Anthony requests a trade to a contender. Sound reasoning. Melo loves New York for various reasons, but he’s also lacking a ring, and the clock is ticking. Among the teams shortlisted as a contender who might gamble on acquiring Melo was the Raptors. Fine.

But then the NY Daily News followed it up with this trade scenario:

Melo, Amundsen, for Carroll, Ross, and Joseph.

Not exactly the most exciting scenario for the Knicks.

The Raptors are already right there with the Cavs among the best teams in the East, and sending Anthony to Toronto, a divisional opponent, could haunt the Knicks for years to come.

But Ross and Joseph are young (both are 24) and Carroll gives them some toughness and positional flexibility in the frontcourt.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has gotten the better of the Knicks in trades before — as GM of the Nuggets he orchestrated the 2011 Anthony trade to the Knicks and in 2013, with the Raptors, he got the Knicks to give up a first-round pick (this year’s, in fact) for Andrea Bargnani.

Would the Knicks really want to make a third deal with him?

POSSIBLE KNICKS POST-TRADE STARTING 5:
G — Langston Galloway
G — Arron Afflalo
F — Terrence Ross
F — Kristaps Porzingis
C — Robin Lopez

POSSIBLE RAPTORS POST-TRADE STARTING 5:
G — Kyle Lowry
G — DeMar DeRozan
F — Carmelo Anthony
F — James Johnson
C — Jonas Valenciunas

Trade scenarios are getting out of hand, and the thought of the NY Daily News actually publishing an idea like that induces headaches. It also doesn’t help their cause that Valanciunas’ misspelled surname made it all the way through to the publishing phase.

In other news, I – like every other dude who likes to spend hours on Trade Machine – came up with a scenario that works. The green button is visible, therefore the trade must work!

Capture

The Knicks once gutted their entire team to acquire Melo and didn’t get very far afterwards. That was five years ago when Carmelo was entering his prime. He’s now 31. Technically that makes him both young and good enough to bring in in a ‘win-now’ move – but not at the expense the above trade scenario suggests.

It seems hypocritical to give attention to this trade idea after criticisng the fact that it even got published, but somehow dissecting these ridiculous ideas can be fun, and it would be fair to at least state why it wouldn’t work.

Here are the pros of acquiring Melo:

  • He’s having a really good season, and is far from finished. At just over 21 ppg, Melo’s scoring is down compared to his peak, but he’s dishing out a career-best 4.2 assists and playing improved defense. If the Raptors are worried that adding Melo would be a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen, you could argue that Anthony is in a position where he understands the team game now and would be invested in improving the team en route to chasing a ring without boasting a massive usage rate.
  • He could stretch the floor at the four spot in certain scenarios, and would do a better job of guarding the perimeter than Luis Scola. I realize that is a trivial point, as anybody can defend the perimeter better than Luis Scola, and Melo is still not a great defender by any means. But consider this: The kind of spacing DeRozan and Lowry would enjoy with having a bonafide star on the perimeter would be scary. How would defenses cope with something like that? DeRozan would have some fun not being the focal point of drawn defensive attention

The idea of acquiring Carmelo is interesting. But last week I talked about gambling on Al Horford in a flat-out high-risk win-now move, and that move made far more sense. While adding Anthony could boast a ridiculous starting line-up on paper, it would completely gut the Raptors’ depth. In the above scenario, they would lose CoJo, Carroll, and Ross. Two of those guys are the best defenders on the roster, and the third, Ross, is one of the better defenders on the team. The Raptors would be giving up defense, youth, and depth for a 31-year-old offensive star who isn’t a great defender. The team would get gassed quickly, unless you can assume the Raptors can acquire fillers before the deadline, which would be a difficult process on its own. Either that, or you bank on increased usage for Delon Wright, James Johnson, and Norman Powell – hoping that it could somehow work.

Verdict: no thanks, NY Daily News.

This is dope

The NBA paid tribute to Vince Carter and compiled his best dunks as a Raptor. Seriously, watch it. It will take you back to good times – or bad, depending on how you look back on the Vince era. The what ifs are plenty, but we can’t deny there was a few seasons of momentous basketball in Toronto surrounding Vince Carter that we should always be thankful for.

Shutout to Mark Kowgier

During last week’s column – the first of its kind – I mentioned that I will be posting a column like this based on my relevant observations over the past week every Wednesday. I also mentioned I wasn’t happy with the name ‘Hump Day Ramblings’, so I put out a call for suggestions and got a bunch of neat ones. Ironically, I went with the corniest one – ‘3 in the Kiy’. A play off my name, and a subtle hint on how to pronounce it properly. Big daps to Mark.


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With the exception of, perhaps, a few outrageously optimistic fans, it seems safe to say that the Toronto Raptors have exceeded most pre-season expectations so far this year. They are cemented in place as the second-best team in the east, with the only uncertainty coming from the possibility that they might catch a destabilized Cleveland team before the regular season is out.

They are within spitting distance of every team that isn’t having an historic, once-in-a-generation season (a description that, paradoxically, applies to two clubs this year), and they are playing the kind of consistent, convincing basketball that no Toronto Raptors club has ever played for such a long stretch of time. While they haven’t abolished the memory of their unceremonious sweep from last year’s playoffs (only their play in April and beyond can do that), they have done as much to distance themselves from it as a team can 51 games into the season.

They are on the kind of roll where, if you are a superstitious person, you are actually made somewhat nervous, lest some unseen force derail their game-to-game cohesion. Their on-court chemistry is sublime, led by the increasingly-telepathic interplay between Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They play with the kind of anticipatory elegance that can only come from a combination of familiarity and a total dedication to the game plan set out by their head coach. They’ve even managed to withstand injuries to multiple key rotation players and the early-season struggles of key reserves Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson.

So given all of that, why does it seem like the Raptors are attached to trade scenarios involving every power forward on the market? Because as good as they are, they aren’t great yet, and it’s hard to truly believe that this exact group will ever be great, and so, hence, the rumours.

Many in Raptor-land are quick to dismiss the rumours because Masai Ujiri’s Raptors don’t leak rumours. That’s immaterial here. The rumours have legs because most understand that as good as these Raptors are, they still need help to get to the heights that they are clamouring to reach. They know that they are prone to scoring droughts, or bouts of lackadaisical play. They know that they are too reliant on just two players, regardless of how the whole functions when fully healthy. They can hope that those things won’t cost them in the playoffs, but after the team sat idle a year ago and got creamed by Washington, they also know that sitting out this deadline is a significant risk to take.

The issue at hand is trying to assess how badly the Raptors need help. It’s an issue because any time you mess with chemistry, even when you’re just swapping out secondary pieces, it can have a tremendous ripple effect. Remember Indiana back in 2014, when they sent out a barely-mobile Danny Granger and brought in Evan Turner, only to see their entire team psyche crumble in the aftermath? It was like an east contender was put to rest overnight. So even if they Raptors are able to parlay Patterson, picks and maybe James Johnson into Markieff Morris, Kenneth Faried or whomever, they have to weigh a lot more than a simple talent swap.

It’s a position that this organization has never been in before. There have been seasons, like last year and 2010, when they had stellar records heading into All-Star Weekend but the cracks had already begun to form. Retrospect would suggest that there would have been only positives to come from stemming the downward spiral with a trade, but the teams stood pat and crumbled. They’ve also had seasons, like 2001, where they knew that they had players that didn’t fit despite the team’s solid play and they decided to make big trades, since they knew the veteran core could probably keep the team from tripping over the changes.

This team, however, hasn’t demonstrated real cracks, they just have the same little niggles that just about every good team has (and they’ve done well to cover them up most nights). They’re also not employing the same calibre of stabilizing veterans like Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley or Dell Curry. They are a relatively young team playing beautifully harmonious basketball, and bringing in a major new piece (because it isn’t worth the risk for a seventh-or-eighth-man) could significantly rock the boat.

So the question remains, do you risk letting the deadline pass, allowing for the possibility that this team still isn’t equipped to do real damage in the postseason, or do you risk attempting to make an upgrade, allowing for the possibility that it totally undoes the cohesion that the team is playing with?

Keep in mind, a midseason trade by a good team can go well. In January and February, 2001, the Raptors unloaded eight players, brought in Jerome Williams, Keon Clark and Chris Childs, and saw their ability to compete in the postseason immediately improve.

Whichever route Ujiri chooses to go down, he risks making the most divisive move in his Raptors tenure. To date, he’s played it very safe, and has maybe even offered a hint of how this deadline will play out with his general predisposition towards maintaining the status quo.

For me, I think he should go for it. I’m going to ignore the lazy rejoinder about it depending on the player coming back, as if that isn’t so plainly obvious it should go without saying (Ujiri’s track record should at least stand for itself when it comes to talent evaluation). I think that this team is, refreshingly, forward-facing. Too many past iterations of the Raptors have been obsessed with their own history, their own past failures or desertions. This team is all about what comes next, about how to get better and win more.

This team is very good, but this season offers a potential window that simply might not be there a year from now. There is a lot of instability in the eastern conference and the Raptors look like the one squad that is drama-free heading into the home stretch. While this current assemblage making it into the second round would count as an improvement, this season seems to be offering a pathway to more. It’s true that iterative improvement has brought them to this place, and a pragmatic plan might be to keep iterating and see where that takes you. Sometimes, though, you have to seize opportunities, and this season is an opportunity that I think the Raptors should be aggressively seizing.

Of course, there is no recourse for me if I’m wrong.


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All eyes are looking ahead to this weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities in Toronto, but the Raptors have one more piece of business to take care of first. They’re in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Wednesday, a game that tips off at 8 p.m. on TSN and has some pretty huge stakes.

Namely, if the Raptors win, Wolves fans are no longer allowed to make jokes about who is actually located further north, and if the Wolves win, Raptors fans aren’t allowed to make Andrew Wiggins-to-Toronto jokes until 2018. That’s a lot on the line for an otherwise punchless game that kind of feels like an annoying task that needs to be checked off before the party can get started.

Hopefully, the Raptors aren’t feeling the same way I am in that regard. Toronto has won 14 of their last 15 games, a great stretch of showing up nightly and never looking past an opponent. There was the Denver stumble and a few partial-game slips, but for the most part, the Raptors have been taking care of business handily. The 16-37 Timberwolves, 24th in the league in net rating and below-average on both ends of the floor, should still provide a fight – they’re a spry, young team that’s won two of their last three as head coach Sam Mitchell has begun using more reasonable (and exciting) lineup iterations.

The biggest challenge facing the Raptors could be the Wolves’ ability to go with a stretchier four. Tayshaun Prince should be buried by this point, but so long as he’s spotting in at the three and not eating power forward minutes, that’s not a major hindrance to the Wolves. Playing Gorgui Dieng alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, or playing either of Nemanja Bjelica or Damjan Rudez at the four will really put pressure on a Toronto frontcourt that’s struggled with spacier bigs. Dieng hasn’t stretched his range out quite to the 3-point line but he and Towns both pass and operate the pick-and-roll well enough to make life tough on Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas (that duo in general has been great offensively), and Bjelica alongside Towns would lead to all-too-familiar results for the Raptors.

Elsewhere, the Wolves have a great defensive point guard and playmaker in Ricky Rubio, a capable scorer-slash-backup-point guard in Zach LaVine, a nice offensive threat (and black hole) in Shabazz Muhammad (warning for Twitter later: I LOVE me some Shabazz Muhammad), and of course, Wiggins. The Rubio-LaVine duo is playable together at both ends and Wiggins has shown mostly fine sliding to the three. I don’t think LaVine’s a point guard long-term but given where the Wolves are in their development, it makes all the sense in the world to play him there for stretches to improve his playmaking (similar to how the 905 deploy Norman Powell when on assignment). When LaVine shifts to the wing, Tyus Jones can see a bit of time, but the real draw is the Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins trio in that scenario – they’ve slightly outscored opponents in 247 minutes together and should see more run together.

Towns could be in line for a Rookie of the Year award and is an absolute treat to watch. Still, Wiggins is the focus in this one, because he’s Canadian and because his development has become a bit of a polarizing point.

Let me lay this out: I don’t know Wiggins personally. I’ve never met him or coached him or even talked to him. There are people who have and believe he lacks some sort of killer instinct or the requisite personality to become a star. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, perhaps the foremost expert on the Canada Basketball program, thinks there’s something lacking there. One of the Wolves’ color commentators (Jim Petersen, I think) seems to believe this to a degree. These people are closer than to Wiggins than I am.

But I think it’s malarkey. Wiggins is 20 years old and is already a solid, if not downright good, wing defender. He gives a ton of effort on that end of the floor every night, and it’s the offensive end where he sometimes “looks” complacent (in part because he has a bit of that Tracy McGrady sleepy face going on). If a player lacked the drive or the compete level, I’d venture that 99 percent of the time, that manifests itself on the defensive end, not on offense. Mitchell doesn’t use Wiggins particularly well and there are a lot of young mouths to feed right now, and maybe Wiggins has a passive personality in terms of demanding the ball, sure.

Maybe, though, he’s a 20-year-old sophomore who’s still discovering exactly what kind of player he’s going to be and is focusing on defense while he figures the offensive side out. That progress is encouraging, too, by the way, because even though the 3-point shot is remarkably bad for how smooth it looks, he’s still averaging 20.7 points on nearly league-average true-shooting. Again, he’s 20. You’d like to see him pile up more rebounds and assists and start knocking down his triples, but statistically, he’s actually a close comparison to a sophomore DeMar DeRozan right now. Maybe that’s not where the bar is for a hyped No. 1 pick, but Wiggins is younger than DeRozan was at that point and has a much higher defensive upside (which he’ll get to show against DeRozan on Wednesday).
wigdemar
So, maybe Wiggins lacks some intangible factor. I don’t know. I think he’s far too young to write him off as such, and I remain encouraged by what he’s shown through two years.

Wolves Updates
Kevin Martin (wrist), Nikola Pekovic (ankle), and Kevin Garnett (knee) all sat out Monday’s game for the Wolves. There hasn’t been a status update on any of those three, but with the break upcoming, it stands to reason that Minnesota will opt to give them all extended rest. If that’s the case, the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Rubio, Jones, Andre Miller
SG: Wiggins, LaVine
SF: Prince, Muhammad, Rudez
PF: Dieng, Bjelica
C: Towns, Adreian Payne

Raptors Updates
As far as we know, the Raptors remain without DeMarre Caroll (knee) and James Johnson (ankle), and Powell will continue to start. The rotation will look something like this, then:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, T.J. Ross
SF: DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Scola, Patrick Patterson, Anthony Bennett
C: Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

The Line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites, up slightly from a Raptors -6 opening line. I’m not going to be the guy to preach negativity with the run they’re on and heading into All-Star Weekend. Raptors win, narrowly hit the under, then party.

Raptors 107, Timberwolves 98


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Raptors stay focused before all-star break | Toronto Star

The Raptors have found ways to prevail during this hot streak that has shown a new-found maturity. There are still miles to go but more often than not, they’ve found a way to win.

“There are a lot of mistakes being made that when you are playing for something it is going to matter. You can make up for it in a regular season game on a Tuesday night but when it really matters is what we are working to get better at,” Casey said.

“We’re still getting better at it,” DeRozan said. “It’s still something we will continue to grow with but we’re more conscious of it now.”

Raptors inching closer to Cavs in crowded Eastern standings | NBA.com

It might be too early to wonder if respected GM Masai Ujiri whiffed a little on Carroll, who has only played 23 games. We’ll see once he returns if he can be the same player he was with the Hawks last season. That said, Ujiri did nicely elsewhere with his gets: Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola. All three have been better than expected, especially Biyombo. The Hornets lost patience with the former lottery pick, a raw but bouncy power forward without an ounce of offensive skill, and that allowed Ujiri to get him cheap.
Biyombo may never hear his number called for a play in his career, but the energy he brings defensively and on the glass makes up for that. He’s grabbing eight rebounds in 22 minutes of action and redirects opponent’s shots. Remember, the lack of defense managed to destroy this team last year, especially in the playoffs.
It all reflects well on Casey. Two years ago when the Raptors came under new management, Casey was on thin ice. At the time, there was support in Toronto for the Raptors tanking in order to increase the odds of drafting the hometown product, Andrew Wiggins. But Casey dug in and brought about a culture change and there isn’t a coach in the East who’s doing better work.

Minute Adjustments: Looking at opportunities to lighten Lowry and DeRozan’s load | Raptors HQ

The Situation: In this matchup against one of the league’s worst teams, the Raptors turned the game around after a short rest for DeRozan to start the second quarter. With him Lowry, Joseph, Scola and Valanciunas, the Raptors went on 12-3 and 11-0 runs to close the half. The Sixers threatened with a 9-0 run late in the third as Lowry sat, but Toronto remained in firm control.

The Opportunity: After a 7-0 run early in the fourth pushed the lead to double digits, the time was right for Casey to get an all-bench unit out there to try and close the game against a lowly opponent. However, Lowry played 10 of a possible 12 minutes in the fourth and DeRozan played five. Cut both those in half and you have an appropriate workload against Philadelphia.

Every 2016 NBA All-Star’s Most Mind-Numbing Stat | Bleacher Report

NBA.com defines a drive as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks.” No one has been more successful on them than DeMar DeRozan.

The Toronto Raptors shooting guard is scoring 8.7 points per game on drives, thanks in large part to his 51.4 percent shooting and willingness to draw contact. No NBA player has produced a higher average, with Reggie Jackson and his 7.7 points per game sitting in a distant second.

DeRozan may be embarking upon more drives during a typical contest than anyone else, but his gaudy scoring figures aren’t just a product of sheer volume. As you can see in the above graphic, even the other high-frequency drivers simply aren’t putting up the same number of points.

Raptors getting better at closing out contests | Toronto Sun

But Casey doesn’t want to get too comfortable, or more importantly, allow his team to get too comfortable with what they are accomplishing now. He knows all too well what works at this point in the year might not necessarily have the same outcome once the playoffs start.

“We are getting better. We are growing,” Casey conceded. “Guys are understanding that and accepting it. But being in those close situations, believe me, we are not playing great. There are a lot of mistakes being made that when you are playing for something it is going to matter. You can make up for it in a regular-season game on a Tuesday night, but when it really matters is what we are working to get better at. I think our confidence, our maturity, our togetherness has helped us in those situations.”

Casey might sound like a broken record, reminding anyone who dares to suggest his team is on the brink of something special that they’re not there yet, but in DeRozan he has an ally who will listen to that kind of talk all day long.

“You can’t get tired of it,” DeRozan said. “If you’re a real competitor, all you’re worried about is winning, you can’t get tired of that.”

NBA scores 2016: Raptors inch closer and closer to Cavaliers | SBNation.com

This Raptors squad looks different than last year’s, though. They’re tough on defense and, behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have one of the league’s best offenses. Scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions, they have the No. 6-rated offense in the league. With a defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) of 101, they’re ninth best in the NBA on that end of the floor. The Cavaliers are ranked No. 4 and 8 in offense and defense, respectively.

Lowry and DeRozan make the Raptors go, but the bench has been superb, too. Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph give Toronto offensive weapons and Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson play hard when they see the court.

All of the Raptors’ best was on display against the Pistons on Monday. Lowry ran circles around Reggie Jackson, going off for 25 points and seven assists while Jackson turned the ball over six times. Ross led a strong Raptors’ bench performance with 18 points. And DeRozan had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists while throwing in some slick moves.

Happy #NationalPizzaDay !

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

The Toronto Raptors Backcourt | BBALLBREAKDOWN

At its best, Toronto has a virtuous cycle of drives and outside shooting that feature DeRozan and Lowry at the center of the action. Their synergy seems more critical than ever to the Raptors’ offense. According to SportVU data, the passes between DeRozan and Lowry comprise over 11 percent of the team’s ball movement, and their assists to one another make up about 13 percent of the team’s total. Both figures represent increases from last season.

Overall, in terms of play types, we see the Raptors striving to take greater advantage of pick-and-rolls with the ball handler and spot-up shooting. The former has been accentuated by DeRozan’s expanded attack, which has come with higher efficiency. The latter has been enhanced by Lowry’s improved marksmanship, whose 1.19 points per possession rank above the 92nd percentile.

Like it or not, expect another quiet trade deadline for Raptors | TSN

Now’s the time, advocates of this more aggressive method might argue, and they wouldn’t be wrong, necessarily. The Eastern Conference is as balanced as it has been in almost two decades and the Raptors have started to separate themselves as its second-best team, inching closer and closer to Cleveland at the top. Opportunity knocks.
The Blue Jays did it, some Toronto sports fans might point out. They swung for the fences ahead of baseball’s deadline this past summer and it nearly took them to the World Series. So why wouldn’t the Raptors?
The easiest answer: the NBA’s salary cap makes it very difficult to do so. Whether you like it or not, whether he’s even interested in making a big splash or not, that’s the most important thing to consider if and when Masai Ujiri stands pat at the deadline. He may not have much of a choice. In-season trades, particularly big ones, rarely come together for that reason and, based on the team’s current salary structure, the Raptors are especially limited in what they’re able to pull off at the moment.
The good news, at least for their future: they have accumulated a nice collection of cheap assets – two rookies (Delon Wright and Norman Powell), two intriguing sophomores (Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira) and, most importantly, four first-round draft picks over the next two years, including a likely lottery selection this summer (coming from the Knicks or Nuggets, whichever pick falls lower in the draft order).

🔥

A photo posted by @mffdjky on

Free Association podcast: Vince Carter talks dunk contest; All-Star Preview | Sportsnet.ca

On a very special episode of Free Association—Sportsnet’s weekly Raptors & NBA podcast— Dave Zarum goes in-depth with Vince Carter on his iconic 2000 dunk contest performance. Carter explains the origins of each of his dunks, why he had to beg Tracy McGrady to take part, what it was like meeting Julius Erving, and much more.

We caught up with DeMar DeRozan before the NBA heads to Toronto for the all-star festivities | Complex CA

Complex: What is a typical day off for you in Toronto?
DeRozan: During the season, I spend a lot of time at home. I just relax. But during the offseason, in the summer, I really got out and experienced Toronto. I went to the mall, went to Wonderland, went go kart racing. There are a lot of things to do in the city.

BarDown: The Six…An NBA All-Star Game Essay

The NBA’s All-Stars land in Toronto this week and what they’ll find when they arrive is a booming city brimming with basketball swagger. In this video essay narrated by Kardinal Offishall, Dave Feschuk explores the roots of the The Six’s roundball obsession from street level.

You & The 6 | SLAMonline

SLAM: How cool was it hearing your name in a Drake lyric?

CJ: It’s amazing. I was actually at a basketball game [when “Charged Up” dropped]. I was watching Canada in the Pan Am Games. I didn’t get to play because my contract wasn’t done. After the game, I got all these texts. I looked at my phone and said, What the heck’s going on? Drake is one of the best. He does a lot for the city, a lot for the country. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to know him.

Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves: Wednesday NBA preview | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP
DeRozan vs. Wiggins
The battle of 20-plus scorers: Andrew Wiggins averages 20.7 points per game, while DeMar DeRozan is scoring at a career-best clip of 23.3. They both have help in Kyle Lowry and Karl-Anthony Towns, but it’s a matchup worth watching.

Scouting Report | Wolves vs. Raptors | Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves are coming off of a 116-102 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.

Towns led the way for the Wolves with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins added 15 points, but shot 5-for-14. Shabazz Muhammad led the second unit with 14 points and nine rebounds. Gorgui Dieng had another double-double, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Zach LaVine also had 12 points. Ricky Rubio and Nemanja Bjelica added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Wolves-Toronto game preview | StarTribune.com

Players to watch: Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was voted a starter and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan was chosen a reserve for Sunday’s All-Star Game. Toronto is the first host city to have a pair of guards picked to play in the game since 1972, when the Lakers’ Jerry West and Gail Goodrich were chosen to play at the Fabulous Forum. … With one more victory, DeRozan ties Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson as the all-time winningest players in franchise history. His Toronto teams have won 231 games during his seven seasons there. … Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ 19-point, 12-rebound game in Monday’s 116-102 loss to New Orleans was his eighth consecutive double-double. He has 29 of them this season, which ties Kevin Love’s franchise record for rookies. Towns is averaging 21.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 blocks in his past nine games.

Raptors-Timberwolves Preview (Feb 9, 2016) | FOX Sports

For Minnesota (16-37), Monday’s 116-102 home loss to New Orleans ended a two-game winning streak, and it has its opponent scoring average at 110.5 over the last four.

While opponents have shot 40.2 percent from long range in those games, the Timberwolves’ perimeter game has been awful over the past six contests while connecting on 25.0 percent and 3 of 24 in the last two.

“We talked less last night,” center Gorgui Dieng told the team’s official website. “I think that’s what coach (Sam Mitchell) was trying to emphasize today, just to make sure we talk more on defense. Talking defensively, especially me and (Karl-Anthony Towns), telling people where they’re at. That was a big communication night and we missed it.”

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Send me any Raptors-related article/video/tweet/gram/vine: [email protected]


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Steve Nash has himself a busy coaching weekend, perhaps auditioning for the growing number of vacancies around the NBA (not really). Along with helping Drake coach the Canadian celebrity team, Nash will join Yao Ming, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and more as honorary coaches for the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified game on Saturday.

Those players will be joined by several other notable names, including Steph Curry and father Dell, as well as the inspiring Isaiah Austin, for a 40-minute demonstration featuring 12 Special Olympics athletes. The game will include Bruce Bowen, Tracy McGrady, Tamika Catchings, and more.

Here’s more about the game, from a league release:

First held at NBA All-Star 2012, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified® Basketball Game will bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities as teammates to showcase the power of Special Olympics, which helps to unify communities and foster an environment of acceptance and inclusion. Following the game, NBA Legend A.C. Green, Jeremy Lamb, Rodney Hood and Lindsay Whalen will host 75 youth athletes from local Special Olympics Programs for a basketball clinic on the NBA FIT Court presented by Kumho Tire at Enercare Centre.

“The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified® Basketball Game has become a highlight of our NBA Cares All-Star efforts,” said NBA Senior Vice President, Social Responsibility Todd Jacobson. “We value the passion Special Olympics shares for basketball and inclusion and are looking forward to bringing together some of the best athletes from across the globe for this terrific game.”

West

Bruce Bowen, NBA Legend
Jason Collins, NBA Cares Ambassador
Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever
Ticha Penicheiro, WNBA Legend
Eliza Mills, Australia
Franck Cedric Koffi, Cote d’Ivoire
Milton Vieira, Italy
Natalie Branscombe, Canada (Nova Scotia)
Sarah Byrne, Ireland
Gohulan Rajalingam, Canada (Toronto)

East
Detlef Schrempf, NBA Legend
Tracy McGrady, 7-time NBA All-Star
Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
Ruth Riley, WNBA Cares Ambassador & 2003 WNBA Finals MVP
Duquan Walker, U.S. (Mississippi)
James Black, U.S. (Washington, D.C.)
Jose Rondon Zapata, Venezuela
Maria-Lamprini Dragkola, Greece
Matt Grimes, U.S. (Massachusetts)
Temitope Amodu, Nigeria

This isn’t the only event NBA Cares is putting on throughout the week. The first ever Jr. NBA Dat at Enercare Centre on Friday, where Under Armour will host more than 2,500 local school kids to play on 40 courts. There will also be several fitness and basketball clinics throughout the area on Thursday, Make-A-Wish grants, a visit to SickKids hospital on Thursday, an NBA Cares Wheelchair Basketball Clinic on Sunday, and more.

There’s also a Basketball Without Borders camp on the weekend, which includes Bruno Caboclo, Bismack Biyombo, and several other members of the Raptors organization.

This all serves as a good reminder that All-Star Weekend isn’t just a party in the city. The NBA does a phenomenal job of community and charitable outreach year-round, and the city of Toronto stands to benefit from those endeavors over the course of the week. The NBA, and the Raptors organization, stay terrific in this regard.

Click here for a full schedule of the NBA All-Star events.


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DeMar DeRozan is an All Star, and a deserving one at that.  This Sunday will mark the second time in DeRozan’s career that he suits up for the Eastern Conference All Star team, and he will do so on the home court that he has helped to rebuild from the ashes.

For the majority of the franchise history, the Raptors have been underwhelming to say that least.  With only five playoff appearances in 20 years, and only one series victory to show for it (and a five game series win at that), the Raptors have had little to write home about.

And now here we are.  Kyle Lowry will be starting for the Eastern Conference on Sunday, and will represent the Raptors on Saturday night in the three point challenge, and DeRozan has continually shown his pride in the city that drafted him ninth overall in 2009.

He came into the league with little to his game other than athleticism and an incredible work ethic, and he has turned himself into one of the top shooting guards in the league.  In just three years he has gone from being overpaid at $9.5 million a year, to easily earning a max contract from someone in the summer of 2016.

Even last summer I was incredibly doubtful of DeRozan’s stature as a max contract player.  I wasn’t doubtful that he would get it (the salary cap explosion is going to lead to some crazy contracts in 2016), but I had serious doubts about the Raptors handing out such a contract.

A shooting guard who cannot shoot from three, and who specializes in the mid-range isn’t exactly a recipe for a max contract, particularly when it isn’t accompanied by elite defense (Competent? Yes.  Elite? No.).  Yet here we are.

He has been a leader both on and off the court for Toronto, and I am shocked to say that I am hopeful he will remain in Toronto…that he will choose the Raptors over traditional free agent destinations like the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat.  Perhaps even give a home town discount?  One can dream…

After all, DeRozan this season has limited his dependency on the mid-range shot, and has instead shown an elite ability to get to the rim almost at will.  Quick feet, a wild mix of pump-fakes, and a new level of aggressiveness have caused opponents fits when facing DeMar.

But the same concern still exists.  How can a team build around a shooting guard that doesn’t have a three point shot, especially in the new three point heavy NBA?  If your shooting guard is unable to stretch the floor it requires additional shooting up and down the line-up.  A stretch four is no longer a luxury, but is an absolute must.

If DeRozan is unable to hit the three, his long term fit with Jonas Valanciunas is also worrisome.  Two non-shooters sharing the floor add pressure to have elite shooting from the other three spots.

What makes this more confusing is that DeMar claims that he can shoot the three.  The issue that I made about his shot is one that he dismisses.  If you can get to the rim whenever you want, why not do it?  After all, isn’t that the most efficient shot to take?

But the issue remains.  Seven years into his career and this season is just the second time in his career that he has shot above 30 percent.  He is currently shooting 31.6 percent on just 1.9 attempts per game, and shot 30.5 percent from three in 2013-14 (on 2.7 attempts per game).

And that’s the consistent argument against DeRozan.  How can someone be an elite scorer from the wing without the highest scoring play in his arsenal?  Adding a three point shot would make his game more dynamic and would also help the team as a whole, which is what makes his recent stretch so encouraging.

We revisit this each summer, as everyone assumes that the three point shot will be DeRozan’s next addition.  This is why DeMar’s recent stretch of shooting has been a mild encouragement in this regard.

Over his last 10 games DeMar is shooting 45.5 percent from three on 2.2 attempts per game.  Sure, this is basically the smallest of sample sizes, but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless; particularly since it has looked like DeRozan has been looking for his three point shot more frequently.  If you ignore October due to its small sample size (only two games), DeRozan has added more three point attempts nearly every month this season (1.3 attempts in November, 1.7 in December, 2.6 in January, but 1.8 through three games in February).

This is an encouraging sign to say the least, but as already stated is far too small of a sample size to establish a belief in.  After all, DeRozan has had similar hot stretches throughout the past few years.  And just look at some of the names that have shot similar to DeRozan over their last 10 games (minimum 2 attempts per game): Sasha Vujacic (46.2 percent on 2.6 attempts per game), Norris Cole (45.8 percent on 2.4 attempts per game), and Rajon Rondo (45.8 percent on 2.4 attempts per game).

And yet I’m still encouraged.  I’m probably blinded by good feelings as everything seems to be going well for the Raptors (new practice facility opens tomorrow, two games back of Cleveland for the conference lead, 5 game cushion for second over Boston, and All Star Weekend about to kick off in Toronto for the first time), but DeMar DeRozan with a moderately consistent three point shot is a very deadly offensive weapon.

…I still reserve the right to deny this ever happened in a few weeks when his shooting has reverted to the norm.


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Kyle Lowry’s fourth-quarter heroics helped the Toronto Raptors seal a 103-89 win over the Detroit Pistons last night. Lowry finished the game with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, seven assists, and two steals. Terrence Ross chipped in 18 points, and Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph each provided 15 points of their own.

Early on, the Pistons looked to be the better team. They executed marvellously on both ends of the floor, pressuring the Raptors into tough shots on defense while overwhelming them with hustle and athleticism on offense. The Raptors were definitely trying — they were running their sets, and running them well — but simply couldn’t get open or make shots on the rare occasions they were. DeMar DeRozan tried to carry the Raptors’ offense but didn’t succeed; he finished the first quarter with six points on 1-of-6 shooting. As a group, the Raptors finished the quarter shooting 35 percent from the field.

DeRozan did hit us with this gorgeous move, however:

In the second quarter, everything changed. Suddenly, the Raptors couldn’t miss. They unloaded nine 3-point attempts on the Pistons in the second quarter and nailed six of them, with many thanks going to an energized Ross. Ross was phenomenal against the Pistons, and was a key factor in the Raptors’ ability to make a run in the second quarter. He came off down screens with purpose, exploded down the court any time the Raptors came up with a steal, and most importantly was in the right place at the right time. He scored nine of his 18 points in the second quarter, the result of three made 3-pointers.

Lowry also showed signs of life in the second quarter, where he had seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and five assists after starting the game 0-of-3 with none. Much like Ross, Lowry was in the right place at the right time and made crucial plays that allowed the Raptors to make a run before the half. DeRozan tried to get involved once again, but Marcus Morris’ size and strength proved to be too much for him to handle. It wouldn’t be until the second half that DeRozan looked to facilitate the offense with his passing rather than scoring.

The Raptors couldn’t stop Morris in the first half. To their credit, he was making shots you wouldn’t expect him to, like an unbalanced 3-pointer from 26 feet he drained in the second quarter. Morris (not Markieff, the one the Raptors are reportedly interested in) scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, and much like DeRozan sought to help his team in other ways after the half. He finished the night with 14 points, five rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block.

The second half was nothing like the first, and saw the Raptors beat the Pistons into submission. The Raptors scored with relative ease in the third quarter — 56.3 percent — but an inability to secure defensive rebounds led the Pistons to four second-chance points in four attempts. Lowry shouldered the offensive load in the third quarter, with spot baskets from DeRozan and Joseph helping the Raptors keep their lead. The Pistons scored 22 points in the third quarter, while the Raptors scored 21.

The fourth quarter saw Lowry lead the reserves into battle, and as we well know, that usually spells disaster for opponents. Lowry was 4-of-4 in the period and appeared to be everywhere on defense, with a huge drawn charge on Aron Baynes that helped the Raptors stretch their lead deep into double digits. The next several possessions involved Ross, Joseph, and Patrick Patterson hitting a myriad of shots to put the Raptors on an 11-2 run, with Lowry and DeRozan added a few daggers of their own in isolation. The Raptors scored 33 points in the quarter.

Late in the fourth, “WE WANT BRUNO!” chants filled the Palace of Auburn Hills. Honestly, it sounded like there were more Raptors fans at the game than Pistons fans for most of the night.

With the game out of hand, head coach Dwane Casey unleashed what was essentially Raptors 905 — Anthony Bennett, Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell — on the Pistons with a hair under two minutes left in the game. Usually that would afford us a few highlight plays, but time ran out without anything really happening.

And that’s game. 103-89, with the Raptors improving to 35-16 on the season, just two games behind the conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Raptors continue to look great, and I’ve a creeping suspicion that might overtake the Cavs for the top seed in the Eastern Conference if the Cavs — 7-3 in their last 10 games — don’t get on track soon. Everything’s clicking for the Raptors, while the Cavs appear to be getting by on talent and little more these days. Don’t interpret that as the Raptors being better than the Cavs; in a seven-game series, it’s almost certainly going to the Cavs if both teams are healthy and focused.

The continued growth of players like Ross and Patterson has had a tremendous effect on the Raptors’ ability to compete without DeMarre Carroll, and if Carroll’s back before the end of the season as expected, then perhaps there’s an entirely new level to this team we’re unaware of. Ross and Patterson have operated as glue guys, players incapable of leading a team on their own but fitting in exactly where the team needs them at a given time. Much of that seems related to confidence. Both players are shooting far better in 2016 than they did early in the season, and that’s carried over to other areas of their games.

The only real downside to last night’s game was Luis Scola, who looks older and less able to compete at a high level with each passing game. He finished the night with three points and two rebounds in just 20 minutes. Scola’s still a good, well-rounded player, but he can be exposed by teams with one of two things: extremely athletic bigs, or extremely skilled bigs. The Pistons had both, and Scola found it difficult to effectively help on Drummond as well as follow Ersan Ilyasova around screens on the perimeter.

The Raptors have one more game before the All-Star Break

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A day late but here nonetheless.  Zarar and Blake rescue the pod from its tardiness and talk a host of topics including the Detroit game, Armon Gilliam, Terrence Ross, Dwane Casey v George Karl, and also, Morris vs Patterson.

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


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Another solid effort as Raptors roll over Pistons | Toronto Sun

No one is saying the Raptors are a finished product, but they are a team that has a solid chance every night they walk into an arena regardless of the competition and when have we ever been able to say that about this team?

Once they got that poor start out of their system, the Raptors established themselves as the alpha dogs on the court and then with a few minor hiccups rolled to win No. 51.

The Pistons got it going on a few occasions but each time they did the Raptors responded.

Midway through the third and the Raptors looking like they might start pulling away, the Pistons quickly cut an 11-point lead to four.

But rather than panic and let the momentum continue to slide the other way, the Raps came down and calmly got Lowry an open look which he converted. Then after a stop at the other end, let DeMar DeRozan go to work for one of his own and the lead was back up to eight and the edge they had established was restored.

Takeaways: Raptors bring ‘Bad Boys’ defence to Detroit | Sportsnet.ca

This game was referendum on the move GM Masai Ujiri made in the off-season and the one he may or may not make at the trade deadline. Cory Joseph has been a revelation, and his 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting combined with his stifling defence gave him a plus-24 in 24 minutes against Detroit. Many thought Joseph was overpaid and overrated strictly based off his Canadian passport, but he’s turned out to be Ujiri’s best off-season acquisition by far. The last player left from Ujiri’s last trade deadline deal with Sacramento in 2014 is Patrick Patterson. He’s rumoured to be a possible Raptor in play as Toronto looks to upgrade the four spot. Patterson was plus-23 on just 3-of-4 shooting from the floor. Not many players can affect the game without taking shots but Patterson has become an elite screener, above average passer and much improved defender. Playing against Marcus Morris, Patterson made a statement that he didn’t want to be traded for Marcus’s brother Markieff. Both players have been maligned at times but their intangibles can’t be overlooked or understated.

Raptors put pedal down to pull away from Pistons | Toronto Star

It is to Toronto’s credit that they did not let the mistakes of about a week ago carry over to Monday. They had allowed the same Pistons to create a tight game out of what should have been a laugher in Toronto last Sunday and that same scenario looked like it was unfolding again.
But this Raptors team, though it is young chronologically, is getting wise to the ways of the game in all the right circumstances.
“We’re growing a lot and we have to credit that to the coaching staff for really staying disciplined with us and us understanding no matter how many games we win in a row, (or) what record we stand at in the conference, we have to play with that sense of urgency every single night,” DeMar DeRozan said.
Lowry began the fourth with an old-fashioned three-point play, and made a catch-and-shoot three-pointer seconds after Patterson had made a three to spark an 11-2 run that re-established control for Toronto.

Good win tonight fellas

A photo posted by Terrence Ross (@3tross1) on

Raptors won’t rest on second-place ‘cushion’ | Toronto Sun

“I don’t think any team in the East can be comfortable,” Casey said. “If they are then they are fooling themselves. I’m not going to let our guys or whoever wants to listen fool themselves and think there is a cushion. There is not a cushion. One bad week and you are sleeping in the outhouse. All this stuff that there is a cushion between two and three is bullcrap.”

Entering Monday’s play, that cushion (if that is what you happen to be calling it) between the Raptors and third place was four and a half games, with Boston occupying that spot and charging hard.

The Celtics have won nine of their past 10. Just before that run began, Toronto squeaked by them in a game at the ACC by a 115-109 score.

Casey only cares that his team not get comfortable like they did a year ago. There was a lesson to be learned there, but as Casey will tell you, he learned those lessons long ago.

“Life lessons taught me way before last year that you can’t get comfortable,” he said. “That’s why one thing we have to continue to do is have good hard practices. Not long but good, hard, brisk practices. Last year we got so worried about saving our legs and saving our bodies we didn’t continue to get better. It’s a fine line. Six one way, half a dozen of the other. But for us being a young team, not a veteran team, continuing to work and put the work in and go hard is (the route).”

Got eeem. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Game Rap: Raptors 103, Pistons 89 | Toronto Raptors

IT WAS OVER WHEN

DeMar DeRozan completed a three-point play to push Toronto’s lead to 20 points with 4:01 remaining. Although the Raptors trailed early, they never relinquished their lead after pulling ahead of the Pistons in the second quarter, coasting to a 103-89 victory behind a huge effort from their bench. The win moves Toronto to 35-16 on the season.

You can’t 👀 @demar_derozan. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Lowry and Raptors bench steamroll the Pistons, 103-89 | Raptors HQ

Offsetting that success was yet another slow start for the Raptors. Not one to mess with a good thing, Casey has been living through these abysmal openings so that his successful personnel can make it in the first. Norman Powell, bless his defensive effort, has one point as an NBA starter. He got it tonight on a free throw. There’s an argument to be made that you should play your best players from the tap, but it’s hard to go against a team this hot. The Pistons got off to a 19-11 start as DeRozan and Lowry started 1-for-9.

Detroit struggled for a long stretch after that, but found their form in the third quarter when they realized they had Andre Drummond on their team. With just four shots in the first half, Drummond was left on an island to find his own points. In the second half, they finally started feeding him the ball, and he got to work toward his final line of 12 points and 13 rebounds. Three of those points came on this impossible heave as the third expired.

Toronto Raptors dominate Pistons for 35th win | Raptors Cage

As usual, the Raptors had a strong defensive game holding the Pistons to only 89 points, with a lot of that coming in garbage time. The defense also held Reggie Jackson, and Drummond to a combined 25 points. Great effort on the defensive end.

No margin for error as razor-sharp Raptors make Pistons pay for every mistake in 14-point loss | Detroit Pistons

Every little opening, the Raptors exploited.

“For sure. Every time,” Morris said. “Like, every time. A couple of times I went under screens. That’s what a good team does, though, when you mess up. When you make mistakes, they make you pay for it.”

The loss obscured a superb game from Morris, who scored 14 points despite being limited to seven shots as the Raptors doubled him when he got post touches. Morris didn’t force anything, though, passing out of double teams to lead the Pistons with six assists. DeRozan finished with 17, but Morris was responsible for very few of those points.

“I thought Marcus played really, really well,” Van Gundy said. “The problem we had was we couldn’t get him a ton of shots. They did two things. They really loaded up on all of Reggie’s pick and rolls, forced him into a lot of turnovers, where I thought maybe he was forcing the issue a little much. And they came and doubled all of Marcus’ post-ups. Game plan was good and their execution of it was good. They really took those two guys and made it difficult. Marcus was very efficient; we just couldn’t get him a ton of shots.”

Defenseless Pistons stand little chance in loss to Raptors | Piston Powered

This may have been Morris’ best all-around game in weeks, and for good reason. He did a little bit of everything with 14 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) to go with six assists, five rebounds and three steals. He even put the clamps on DeMar DeRozan, who shot just 5-of-14. It’s a night like this where I wonder why Stan Van Gundy doesn’t decide to run his offense entirely through Morris for longer spurts. The Jackson-Drummond thing wasn’t working, go to the guy who was by far the best.

Mistakes doom Pistons against red-hot Toronto Raptors: ‘They made us pay’ | MLive.com

“It wasn’t because a lack of effort. I faulted our guys a lot of times for a lack of defensive effort, I thought we came witwh a good disposition, we fought extremely hard, and every mistake we made they scored.”

Jackson contributed a team-high six turnovers, Morris three, and the final nail in the coffin came with 4:53 remaining at the Pistons down 12. Morris lost the ball, resulting in a Patrick Patterson 3-pointer 10 seconds later.

Then Jackson lost the ball, leading to a Joseph layup on the other end, dashing any hopes of more late-game heroics.

“Every time,” Morris said. “That’s what good team does though. When you mess up and make mistakes, they make you pay for it.”

Pistons vs. Raptors final score: Bad second quarter dooms Detroit in 103-89 loss | Detroit Bad Boys

Toronto knows how to win games and they proved it Monday night. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games.

The Pistons got great play from their supporting cast. Marcus Morris scored 14 points on just seven shots with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. He found Drummond for two of his easy buckets of the night. Dre finished with a mighty ugly night without them.

Aron Baynes and Darrun Hilliard also deserve a lot of credit. Baynes put up 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists and Hilliard had a career high 13 points. Ersan Ilyasova offered 17 points, 6 rebounds, and also collected yet another drawn charge.

But the team’s stars weren’t very good. Reggie Jackson had just 13 points on 14 shots along with a technical foul and 6 turnovers while Andre Drummond had 12 points on 4-10 shooting and 3-8 from the line.

Toronto 103, Detroit 89: Pistons can’t stop Kyle Lowry, Raptors | Detroit Free Press

Morris did a good job of making things difficult for DeMar DeRozan, who was 1-for-6 in the first quarter with a turnover. DeRozan finished with 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting.

Postgame Quotes – February 8, 2016 | Detroit Pistons

DETROIT PISTONS FORWARD MARCUS MORRIS: (On how tough of a loss this was): “Real tough. They’re a good team. I think they won 14 of the last 15. We knew it was going to be a fight and we just didn’t get the win.”

(On Toronto capitalizing on the Pistons mistakes): “Every time. That’s what a good team does though. When you mess up and make mistakes they make you pay for it.”

(On keeping a positive attitude after the loss): “We’re trying to keep it positive. At the end of the day we have to win games. If we want to make the playoffs we have to win. We’re definitely positive and we definitely played hard, but we have to win, bottom line.”

Mistakes doom Pistons against red-hot Toronto Raptors: ‘They made us pay’ | MLive.com

“They made us pay for each time that we had a costly turnover, or a slip on defensive coverage,” Jackson said. “We just made a simple mistake. They’re playing on a high right now — they’re playing really well, and I think everybody got to see that tonight.”

The lead dwindled to single digits again in the fourth but Toronto opened the quarter on an 11-2 run, capitalizing off a series of missed layups and short-distance jump shots.

In particular instance, after Darrun Hilliard and Aron Baynes missed consecutive layup attempts on the same possession, Kyle Lowry, who scored 10 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth, grabbed the rebound and hit Cory Joseph streaking down the court for an easy layup two seconds later.

Toronto shot 55.7 percent from the floor, a season high for an opponent this season.

“We just couldn’t hang with them,” Van Gundy said. “They just made too many shots and had a lot more guys play well.

Pistons run over by Raptors, 103-89 | The Detroit News

The loss signified two teams heading in opposite directions, as the Raptors have won 14 out of their last 15, while the Pistons had dropped five of their last seven.

Three things after the Raptors rout the Pistons | Toronto Star

It didn’t happen often but a couple of times, DeMar DeRozan did precisely what aggressive guards and wings are supposed to do against good interior defenders and shot-blockers.
The first and most memorable was quite early in the game when DeRozan easily beat Morris off the dribble going right and was headed down the lane.
He had basically a clear path and of course it brought Andre Drummond into the lane because that’s what he does.
To his credit, DeRozan knew early what he had to do, just as important Jonas Valanciunas knew what to do. Valanciunas didn’t move with Drummond, DeRozan recognized it and made a nifty dump pass for an easy basket.
Three good things: DeRozan taking his man off the dribble, JV catching the pass and JV finishing.
Small things but they’re happening more and more frequently.

Stan Van Gundy maintains calm as Pistons’ good effort produces another loss | MLive.com

And there is one game to go before the All-Star break. The Pistons play the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, followed by eight days without a game. A verbal lambasting might have lasted until then, but not beyond, so the more important message was to regroup and put best foot forward against the Nuggets.

“I was encouraging to our guys tonight,” Van Gundy said. “There’s a lot of nights, obviously, that I’m not. I say this all the time, and I hope our guys believe it: I’m not that hung up on the result. I’ve been around a long time and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea when guys are going out there and giving you everything they’ve got.

“Tonight, I thought our guys competed their (tails) off in a very tough night, at times very frustrating. I thought they hung in there and fought really hard and so I was trying to encourage guys. There’s been other nights when I don’t think they’re doing that and I let them know.”

Raptors 103 – Detroit Pistons 89: balanced scoring rules | Raptors Rapture

Kyle Lowry started slowly, but didn’t finish that way. He was scoreless in Q1, but shrugged it off, and led all scorers with 25. He added 7 assists, with 2 lonely turnovers. DeRozan didn’t dominate, but his ability to chip in even when struggling to score is remarkable. He finished with 17 points, 6 dimes and 7 rebounds. We all should have such off-nights.

Jonas Valanciunas acquitted himself exceedingly well against Drummond. He scored an efficient 15 points. While he pulled down no offensive boards, the Raptors shot 55.7% for the night, so there weren’t a lot of boards to grab. He had 8 on defense.

Cory Joseph matched JV in efficiency (7 of 9 for 15 points). Precious few teams have three guards who can consistently produce points and defend like our group. A hat tip goes out to Patrick Patterson, who missed just one of four 3-balls. He and Cory were a combined plus_47.

Raptors by the numbers: Time for Lowry, DeRozan to get more rest | Eh Game

Asking for less from Lowry and DeRozan over the rest of the regular season puts them in a position to do more in the playoffs. If that means Joseph and Ross make some strides in their development, even better. At the very least it’s an opportunity to see if they’re capable of being more than useful role players in the future and evaluate where they really fit as building blocks for this team. With a 4 1/2 game cushion for second place in the Eastern Conference, Toronto can afford to experiment some.

Terrence Ross a key player for the Toronto Raptors after turning his season around | RealGM

For someone who likes to avoid all type of contact, he has that floater in the lane thing going.

Three’s are very valuable in this league and he can hit them. There will always be a market for him because of this.

Apologize to Terrence Ross here | RealGM

When he doesn’t lay an egg in the playoffs, I’ll apologize.

Jamaal Magloire was part of the evolution of Canadian basketball | Toronto Star

“I’ve seen the evolution of this game, this city,” he said. “We’ve got 12, 13 guys now from Canada (in the NBA) and back then it was only three. That speaks . . . volumes for what Steve Nash and Todd MacCulloch and myself did for this country and Canada basketball.”

Raptors Coach Casey Keeps Singling Out Patrick Patterson | Pro Bball Report

Casey might not be wrong to be trying to protect (or promote?) one of his go-to fourth quarter guys either. Since Toronto began their current 14 win and 1 loss streak, Patterson has stepped his game even further. The points and rebounds have barely deviated from his season averages despite playing 27.5 minutes per game and shooting an improved 39.6 percent from three-point range, however, his team leading plus/minus has been averaging +11.1 and Casey hasn’t been shy about mentioning that stat after games on a regular basis.

This isn’t Casey’s first rodeo. He can read the same articles suggesting Ujiri is on the hunt for a power forward as everyone else and he might just know it for a fact as well – not that he could say anything. Casey can, however, let everyone know – subtly  – the guys he likes on his current roster and why. Especially the guys that don’t have the jump off the page stats that make their value obvious.

Either as a sales job to the Toronto media just in case Ujiri doesn’t bring in an impact power forward in trade or to try and raise Patterson’s profile so Ujiri can make such a deal actually happen at the trade deadline, the message remains the same. Patterson’s value is a lot higher than just the points and rebounds he puts up each night and if you believe the message, Ujiri will have to land a pretty impressive player to make trading Patterson worth it.

Former Raptor Jerome ‘Junk Yard Dog’ Williams remains a fan-favourite | CBC.ca | Metro Morning

“The opportunity in Toronto was a blessing and I wanted to make sure I was there for my first official practice on time,” he recalled. He passed up a morning flight to join his new team as fast as possible.

Stories like this made JYD a fan-favourite in Toronto.

“My parents taught me that if I wasn’t having fun doing what I was doing, then I shouldn’t be doing it,” he said of his playing days.

Help us continue to create great content.

Send me any Raptors-related link: [email protected]


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Toronto Raptors 103 Final
Recap | Box Score
89 Detroit Pistons
Luis Scola, PF 20 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -2 +/-

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the affable Argentine. Ilyasova was eating his lunch, he didn’t have much utility on offense, and he’s just too slow for some matchups. It’s probably time he shift to the bench.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +14 +/-

What is it about the Pistons? Does he get up for the Drummond matchup? Is Drummond just THAT bad defensively? Valanciunas is shooting something like 60 percent against Drummond in his career and added in a few nice passes, some heady defense, and terrific work snuffing out the pick-and-roll. Really encouraging game.

Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-5 3FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | +19 +/-

Truly terrific outing, especially since he started out really slow. Dominated the entire second half, hitting an array of different shots and breaking down the defense to get the ball swinging around the perimeter. Took a phenomenal charge on a Baynes dive. Sneaky lil’ fella.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 5-14 FG | 0-1 3FG | 7-8 FT | 7 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 17 PTS | +6 +/-

Quietly put together a nice all-around offensive night. Morris did a much better job on him than expected, and DeRozan responded by setting up teammates. Didn’t have a great night in man defense but nobody on the Pistons felt much like scoring or letting Morris work the mismatch, anyway.

Norman Powell, SG 16 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PTS | +5 +/-

It took him 38 minutes but he finally got on the board as a starter. Did a really nice job staying tight on Johnson and making life difficult for him, denying the ball and then forcing it out of his hands. The lack of offense (one point in 43 minutes now) is a minor concern but at the same time hardly his fault.

Anthony Bennett, PF 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7 +/-

Came into the game, missed a look at the rim. Human Victory Poutine.

Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 3-4 FG | 3-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +24 +/-

The zero-rebound thing is a weird occasional Patterson performance. Tonight, it was a case of him sticking to fours outside, and he did a great job closing space on Tolliver and chasing Ilyasova around. Feels like he shoots 240% with Lowry and -14% without him but I looked the numbers up and that is not the case.

Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 7-13 FG | 4-6 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +5 +/-

There is no longer a grade that can accurately capture Ross’ performance. He earns a TJ+ for this one. Great shooting, mostly solid shot selection, some excellent instinct plays on defense, and a terror in transition. Believe.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7 +/-

Came in, the crowd roared, missed a shot. Dat smile, tho.

Lucas Nogueira, C 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7 +/-

Came in, grabbed a rebound, missed a shot. It’s really hard to give grades for these short appearances.

Bismack Biyombo, C 21 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +8 +/-

Surprisingly had a tough time on his own glass with Baynes, who is relentless and attacks the offensive boards in opportune ways, sensing the lack of crack-down when Biyombo helps on a shot. Nothing to dislike here, just a quiet night.

Delon Wright, PG 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7 +/-

Came in, got a rebound, missed a shot. Did every one of the D-League Detachment have an edict to do just that?

Cory Joseph, PG 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +24 +/-

Another really solid game. His team defense is unmatched and he fights through screens and recovers so quickly and so well, it’s tough to ever get more than an inch off his hip. When his funky drives are resulting in makeable layups, he can be a near-perfect backup point guard. Now, if he’d get the confidence to knock down some of those threes he passes up in favor of a reset.

Dwane Casey

Any complaints? Probably not, right? A couple of really nice play calls, smart rotations that were largely unobjectionable, a nice game plan for Drummond once again, and a clear edict to put Johnson in uncomfortable defensive positions at the two. Coaching’s much easier when your team plays this well, I’d imagine.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Until about the 4-minute mark of the fourth, this game could not have been more similar to their Jan. 30 meeting. The difference here is that the Raptors didn’t nearly give away the lead. Lowry even got to sit down for the final 2:40 of the game, a nice change of pace. (He still played 38 minutes and several other key players were out late, but whatever, baby steps.)
  2. The Lowry-plus-bench unit remains insane. They went on another huge fourth-quarter run in this one, and eventually teams are going to have to start adjusting their rotations to account for this. That should, in theory, open up other seams of opportunity.
  3. Shout out to the Raptors fans who travelled incredibly well to Detroit, to the point that there was an audible “We want Bruno” chant at the Palace. This is nothing new, but it’s a testament to this fanbase that every arena in the league is at risk of becoming a Raptors’ den. Did Raptors have dens? Caves? Nests? Whatever it is, the fans turned Auburn Hills into one.
  4. The Raptors have won 14 times in 15 games. They’re second in the East. I somehow STILL find myself thinking often about the need to tweak the starting lineup. Scola’s been a problem alongside Valanciunas more or less all season, and even when DeMarre Carroll comes back, a Patterson-Scola makes all the sense in the world. But if it ain’t broke, I suppose.
  5. And the game ended in time to see Daniel Bryan’s retirement segment. Pour a gluten-free non-alcoholic beer out for the American Dragon.

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The Toronto Raptors are back on the road after a couple of days at home in the middle of a strange, double-abbreviated, six-game, 19-day road trip. On Monday, they’ll be in the Motor City to take on the Detroit Pistons at 7:30 on Sportsnet One.

Of course, everyone will turn over to Monday Night Raw at 8 to watch Daniel Bryan’s retirement announcement, but you’ll probably only miss the first half of the second quarter, when the Raptors will surely go on a run because that’s what they do. Early second, early fourth, like clockwork. They used that formula against these Pistons on Jan. 30 in a 111-107 victory, turning a nine-point lead at the start of the fourth into a 20-point lead with six minutes to go…and then they let the Pistons nearly all the way back into it.

The Pistons have won two of four against weak competition since and will begin a brief two-game home-stand in this one. They enter a little shorthanded, as do the Raptors.

Pistons updates
Stud perimeter defender Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be out through the All-Star break with a groin injury, joining Jodie Meeks (foot) on the sideline. Spencer Dinwiddie was sent to Grand Rapids yesterday, so they’ll be without him as an option at the one, as well. As a result, their rotation will look something like this:

PG: Reggie Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Why is Steve Blake Still on a Roster
SG: Stanley Johnson, A Masked Reggie Bullock (he broke his nose Sunday)
SF: Marcus Morris, Darrun Hilliard
PF: Ersan Ilyaosva, Anthony Tolliver
C: Andre Drummond (confirmed by David Mayo), Aron Baynes, Joel Anthony

I’ve been a proponent of Stan Van Gundy playing Johnson and Morris together more, but that suggestion was as a three-four rather than a wing pairing. Short on options at the two, this starting lineup makes sense to maintain the team’s defensive integrity, and Johnson’s offense has taken strides, too. That starting group has only played 83 minutes together and has been outscored by 3.7 points per-100 possessions, but I think there’s real offensive potential there.

Raptors updates
The Raptors are still without DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson (as far as we know). Norman Powell’s been starting in their stead, but there’s an argument to be made that tonight would be a good one to start T.J. Ross. Doing so would leave the Pistons with nowhere to hide Jackson and, to a lesser degree, Morris (he’s fine), rather than having Powell out as an option to hide. The Raptors have primarily stuck him in the corner and given little effort to get him involved, which makes sense given the short-term nature of his starting status but still makes things pretty easy on an opposing defense.

In any case, we assume Powell starts until we hear otherwise(update: it’s confirmed), so the rotation will look like this:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo (recalled)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, A Joke About Anthony Bennett
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Don’t get your hopes up about Caboclo. He might be second on the depth chart there, but the Raptors are likely to go with funkier lineups than turn to him for meaningful minutes – there’s a reason he wasn’t called off the road when Johnson first went down.

The Line
The Raptors are only one-point favorites, back down after the line swung from Raptors -1 to Raptors -2 overnight. The over-under has been similarly volatile, moving from 205.5 to 209.5 and back to 206.5 What a weird day. The line’s probably fair given the final score last time out, but considering the Pistons are now out KCP, the score wasn’t reflective of the overall game in that one, and this is a nearby road game for the Raptors after a few days off, I like their chances. I also like the under, but barely.

Raptors 104, Pistons 100

You can check out Gavin’s full game preview here.

There’s not much else going on, other than this Cory Joseph photo from a Holt Renfrew ad.cojo


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It’s important to remember that Drake started all of this in motion.

“‘Bout to call your ass a Uber, I got somewhere to be,” the Toronto Raptors global ambassador rapped on Energy, a track that was released a year ago this weekend. In the year since, the growth of Uber, a mobile ride-hailing app, has been exponential and astronomical.

The city of Toronto has been no exception, to the point that the city’s taxi drivers rallied in December, blocking downtown traffic. Following a reportedly testy meeting with Mayor John Tory on Sunday night, cab drivers are now preparing to double down on that action, with a strike readied for All-Star Weekend (which doubles as the holiday Family Day weekend).

My feelings:

Tory has fought against immediate injunction against Uber, a move city council supported. Wherever you land on the taxi-Uber debate, and there are certainly reasonable arguments on either side, the strategy at play here from cab drivers is asinine.

Public support isn’t necessarily what they need to gain traction, but it wouldn’t hurt. This move stands to piss off not only the city’s residents and politicians, but waves of visitors to the city for the NBA’s marquee weekend. What’s more, it’s leaving a ton of money on the table by taking drivers off the road during a peak couple of days that Uber alone will probably struggle to meet the demand of. It’s short-sighted from a public relations and economic perspective, and it makes the drivers look like pissbabies, throwing a tantrum at the expense of a good number of people who have nothing to do with the conflict beyond being rational economic actors.

Note: This obviously reads very harsh toward cab drivers, as was pointed out in in a reasonable comment (although the personal shot at me, whatever). I absolutely understand the need for unions to have the right to strike and that strikes are almost never going to receive public support. In this case, my gripe is two-fold: One, they’re taking what should be a great weekend for the city, one that involves a lot of non-voters and visitors, and throwing an unfortunate wrench in it. Two, and related, I don’t think that’s smart use of leverage, and I don’t think the drivers have played their hand very well here. City council just met on this, and four days out, a strike this weekend isn’t going to incite change, it’s just going to further remove them from any public support. There are better short-term means of dealing with the issue (namely, improving your service) while the legality of Uber gets figured out, but instead the drivers are opting to leave money on the table and risk a P.R. disaster. Why All-Star Weekend? And why so soon since the last strike – you’ll have used that bullet twice in 10 weeks now, and accomplished nothing but failing to effectively inform the public of the real issue and the need to push for Uber regulation. Why not time this for a weekend with more politicians involved and likely to be effected? Why not use the All-Star opportunity to provide good service, make a fair amount of money, and inform a large population of users – Uber’s not going to be able to meet demand this weekend, and the standardized, non-surge rates of taxis is a major advantage they don’t do a good job of highlighting. There are just so many better ways to have gone about the weekend, in my mind. It’s a strategic misstep, in political and P.R. terms.


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All-Star Weekend takes place in Toronto this weekend, and while that`s going to deservedly draw all of the attention, it also highlights another important part of the NBA schedule: The impending trade deadline. All-Star Weekend usually comes with an unwritten embargo on rumors and reports, but the Monday that follows is generally one of the most speculation-heavy days on the calendar, with general managers coming off of a weekend with plenty of time to talk shop.

Don’t expect much in the way of Toronto Raptors rumors, given how tight a ship Masai Ujiri runs. If the Raptors are being floated, it’s probably coming from the other teams (or agents) involved, though obviously, speculate away, because that’s the fun of this time of year. If the Raptors do make a deal, there’s a good chance it won’t be one people see coming.

The Raptors are in a tough position to trade despite some attractive assets. That doesn’t mean a deal is impossible or even unlikely. Because again, the Raptors have some attractive assets. Here are those assets, grouped into tiers based on their utility for facilitating a trade (not their value to the Raptors or as players overall).

Tier One – Forget It

Kyle Lowry – $12M salary, $12M salary for 2016-17, $12M player option for 2017-18 likely to be declined
DeMar DeRozan – $10.1M salary, $10.1M player option for 2016-17 likely to be declined

They’re both All-Stars on below-market deals. It’s almost impossible to envision a scenario in which one of them gets sent out given that the Raptors are firmly in win-now mode, even if DeRozan can hit the market this summer.

Tier Two – The Knicks’ pick

The Raptors own the New York Knicks’ first-round draft pick from the Andrea Bargnani trade. The Denver Nuggets, however, have first dibs on the pick after the lottery, so the Raptors are set to receive the less valuable pick between New York and Denver.

This is the Raptors’ best trade chip. If the season ended today, the Nuggets would be penciled in for the No. 8 pick, the Knicks the No. 10, before the lottery. The odds of the pick that conveys to the Raptors landing in the top five would be quite slim in this case, but a top-10 pick still has a ton of value, and the odds of it falling lower are likewise slim. What’s more, the Knicks have begun to play much worse of late, Carmelo Anthony is dealing with knee soreness again, and Derek Fisher just got fired. The Nuggets have been looking up but remain little threat to make the playoffs, and it’s conceivable they make a deal that worsens the roster for the remainder of 2015-16.

I could find the percentage chance of landing each pick with different Knicks-Nuggets outcomes, but it would require a ridiculous conditional probability matrix that I don’t have the patience to work up right now. What you need to know is that the chances of this pick being in the top five will be pretty slim unless both teams collapse but there’s a good shot it’s in the top 10 and a near certainty its in the lottery. That’s a huge asset ahead of the deadline, even with so few teams firmly in the “sellers” camp.

The issue here is that draft picks don’t count as any outgoing salary, so the Raptors still have to send out players to match salaries in a deal. As we’ve seen in coming up with hypotheticals, that can make it difficult to find a deal for a bigger name piece that the pick might warrant.

Tier Three – Other 1st-round picks in 2016-2017

Raptors’ 2016 1st-round pick
Raptors’ 2017 1st-round pick
Clippers’ 2017 1st-round pick, lottery protected

The Raptors own three other picks in the next two drafts, and while none of them are likely to land in the lottery, they’re still big trade assets. An acquiring team not only gets a shot at a rookie or draft-and-stash option but, should they hit on the pick, they stand to get a great deal of surplus value in a rising cap environment with fixed rookie contracts.
cappick

The Knicks’ pick is the primary weapon the Raptors have, but these picks would all hold major value, too. They also happen to hold more value to another team than to the Raptors, who are in win-now mode and already have several young players developing on the roster. It’s unlikely the Raptors use more than two of these picks, and if they do, there’s a high likelihood of a draft-and-stash scenario. There simply isn’t room for more youngsters.

As a reminder, “teams can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive years” is a bit of a misnomer – teams simply have to own a first-rounder once every two years, so the Raptors could deal the Knicks pick, and their own 2016, and one of the 2017 first-round picks and still be in compliance (or both of their 2017s and one of the 2016s).

Tier Four – Useful player, useful salary

Cory Joseph – $7M salary, three years and $22.9M after
Patrick Patterson – $6.3M salary, $6.1M salary for 2016-17

I’m skeptical Joseph would get dealt, but given how few salary-matching options the Raptors have, he’d likely figure in if the Raptors were to get in the mix to add a third star.

In the case of Patterson, he’s at the same time played well enough to increase his value and decrease the team’s perceived need for a power forward upgrade. It’s still the team’s clearest area for improvement, but Patterson’s turned in the best defensive season of his career and has nudged his 3-point percentage back up to 33.9 percent. He’s the Raptors’ highest salaried player that is both likely available and attractive to another team. His contract for next year will be below-market once the offseason is complete, he’s a high-character guy that should fit in any locker room, and he’s enough of a two-way piece and floor-spacer to fit in just about any scheme. He’s not a star, or anything, but a season-and-a-half of Patterson isn’t a bad conduit to receive a pick.

Tier Five – Other draft picks

Raptors’ 2017 2nd-round pick
All Raptors’ first- and second-round picks from 2018 to 2022

I’m considering the future first-round picks here as worth less than the near-term ones for two reasons.

For one, the further in advance the asset is conveyed, the less present-day value it has. That’s not necessarily true by expected value, particularly if draft classes wind up stronger in future years, but most teams and executives operate with a more near-term approach (especially with job security concerns), such that there’s a sort of “time value of assets” element at play. There’s also an additional uncertainty of the acquiring team having far less an idea where that pick may fall, unable to project the Raptors that far into the future.

The second is a far bigger consideration. The NBA and NBPA can opt out of the current CBA for the summer of 2017, and rookie scale contracts are likely to be a major talking point. Look at the table above again and the significant discount scaled contracts provide as the salary cap rises. That’s something the league will likely want to balance out some, perhaps tying the rookie scale to a percentage of the salary cap rather than to a fixed number. That makes it difficult to project just how big a value rookie contracts will be and how much surplus hitting on low-end picks might provide.

I’ve included the team’s 2017 second-rounder here, too – they already owe their 2016 second-round pick – because even with the salary discount, this figures to be a pick outside of the top 45.

Tier Six – Useful veterans

Luis Scola – $2.9M salary, expiring
Bismack Biyombo – $2.8M salary, $2.9M player option he’ll almost surely decline
James Johnson – $2.5M salary, expiring

None of these three players are going to move the needle much for an acquiring team in sell mode. Biyombo is young enough that his Early Bird rights and a few weeks to look at him closely may mean something, but in the case of Scola and Johnson, they’d be likely to either play out the season and leave or get bought out to save a few dollars. In a win-win deal or multi-team trade where several teams are looking to improve, all three could potentiality factor in to the 10-man rotations of other teams, though none are likely to represent a major upgrade.

All three have small salaries, which makes flipping them difficult. Individually, they could be attached with a pick for a smaller upgrade, but you can’t bring much salary back. The more likely case is that Scola and Johnson could be paired to avoid sending out Patterson or paired with him to bring back an even larger salary. Valuable though they may be to the Raptors, they have far more on-court value than on-market value.

Tier Seven – Prospects

Lucas Nogueira – $1.8M salary, $1.9M salary for 2016-17, $2.9M team option for 2017-18
Norman Powell – $0.7M salary, $0.9M salary for 2016-17, $1M non-guaranteed salary for 2017-18
Delon Wright – $1.5M salary, $1.6M salary for 2016-17, $1.6M team option for 2017-18, $2.5M team option for 2018-19

The likelihood of these prospects going out is hampered by two factors: Their low salaries, which makes it difficult to net a return beyond a larger multi-player deal, and the Endowment Effect. Part of the issue with including so many prospects on the 15-man roster is that those players don’t have a great deal of value – like used cars, draft picks lose a ton of value once they’re “off the lot.” Most teams tend to value their own assets more than other teams would, a (fairly reasonable) bias. The Raptors have more information about their prospects, a better idea of where they are on the development curve, and perhaps a subconscious pull to see them through, lest they trade away an asset that ends up flourishing elsewhere. They’ve also invested more in them, and since none have been able to show much at the NBA level, there’s likely to be a wide gap in how two sides value them.

Nogueira probably retains prospect value and has a useful enough salary for matching, plus no path to playing time in Toronto. Powell has a short-term role right now and has shown some encouraging signs, but his salary is so low it doesn’t do much even as a throw-in in a deal. Wright falls somewhere in between.

Tier Eight – Poison Pill Provisions

Terrence Ross – 3-year, $31M extension kicks in this summer
Jonas Valanciunas – 4-year, $64M extension kicks in this summer

Ross and Valanciunas are young players signed to reasonable extensions who have both shown strides in their fourth seasons. In the case of Ross, he’s turned what looked like a misstep of a contract into an understandable bet on the player and against the market. Valanciunas has gotten a little better as a passer and pick-and-roll defender, and while he’s not the most malleable two-way building block, he’s still a productive big man safely on the good side of the aging curve.

In the offseason, both of these players should stand as useful trade chips. For now, though, each is difficult to trade because of what’s known as the Poison Pill Provision, something that makes it tough for teams to extend rookie scale contracts and then turn around and deal those players. What this does for the Raptors is change the accounting math around Ross and Valanciunas in a deal. For the purposes of matching salary in a trade, the Raptors would be “sending out” their actual 2015-16 salaries while the receiving team would have incoming salary of the average of the total years the player is under contract. Hopefully numbersmake that more clear:

ppp

To effectively move one or both of those two, you’re looking at a complicated framework or multi-team deal. There are possibilities, they just seem more likely to head out in the summer, if they’re going.

Tier Nine – Not going anywhere

DeMarre Carroll – $13.6M salary, three years and $44.4 after
Bruno Caboclo – $1.5M salary, $1.6M salary for 2016-17, $2.5M team option for 2017-18

This isn’t meant to be a shot at Carroll. He’s in the first year of a four-year, $58-million contract, and his trade value would be at an absolute nadir given how little he’s been able to contribute to date. This isn’t by any means calling the deal a bust, but an acceptance of the reality that the Raptors aren’t going to be able – and probably don’t want – to deal an injured player in the first year of a multi-year pact.

I include Caboclo down here because of the Endowment Effect. The Raptors reached on him, have paid him for two years, and installed a D-League team in large part for him. He’s shown zero at the NBA level, so given the investment the Raptors have put forth and how big a reach it was initially, there’s no way his value to another team is anywhere near how high the Raptors value him. He’s not untouchable, there would just be such a vast divide between how two sides value him for that a deal would never get done.

Tier Ten – Lol, K

Anthony Bennett – $0.9M salary, expiring

Salary matching. If he’s not sent out at the deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him cut right after and made an in-season D-League affiliate.


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Nov 22, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots the ball as Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) defends in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Raps’ current defense is giving up the three. They’re middle of the pack for 3PA allowed, but a very poor 27th overall for 3PT% against (.371) … If the two best teams in the league are honing in on defending the 3 point shot, it doesn’t seem like a great thing for the Raps’ defense to be giving up …


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Sixteen years ago Thursday, Vince Carter changed the basketball world. It was the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, and a sophomore Carter, still in the early part of his ascension to superstar status, put on the single greatest performance in the history of the event.

The bar wasn’t just passed or raised, it was melted and rebuilt in Carter’s image. It’s hardly been threatened since, though Zach LaVine’s 2015 performance certainly led to flashbacks. Carter owned that dunk contest, and every one since has been evaluated with Carter’s performance as the benchmark, pushing others to try brave new (or stupid) things.

It made Carter a star. It helped make fans of plenty of Canadians who were still acclimating to basketball. It put the Toronto Raptors at the forefront of NBA excitement. It’s a night worth remembering, over and over and over.

Dave Zarum of Sportsnet put together an oral history of Carter’s Dunk Contest performance, and it’s a must-read for Raptors fans, even those who are still salty toward Carter for his exit. Here’s an excerpt, with Carter discussing changing his plans at the last moment:

I became another beast. Heading out onto the court I had my routine, but once I got to the layup line—and maybe I was over-analyzing—I just suddenly felt it wasn’t good enough: a lot of catching it off the backboard, you know, nothing really special. Standing there, looking at the field, and the respect I had for the other guys in the contest, I felt it wasn’t good enough.

Right before I grabbed the basketball from the referee for my first dunk, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I really didn’t know. So I thought, What do I want to accomplish with the look? I’m looking for creativity, hang-time, and all the things I had been studying many years before. All of these years are coming into one night, one moment. And here I am, minutes before it’s my chance to show the world, and it’s just like, Oh gosh, what should I do here?

I got the idea: 360 windmill. It was spur of the moment. I hadn’t really considered doing that one because, weeks before when I was trying it, I was barely making it. When I incorporated the 360, particularly the first couple of times I tried, I kept falling away from the basket. I wasn’t getting enough height. That’s why I scrapped it initially.

But behind every dunk I’m looking for that wow factor, that degree of added difficulty. To do the windmill with an extended arm like that is hard enough, but now to go the opposite way while doing it? There’s the challenge. I felt like, If I could pull this off I’ll be good for the rest of the night.

It’s a really good, fun read. So check it out.

And if you’re still in the mood for more, it’s always a good idea to go back and re-read Zach Harper’s excellent long-form on that same Dunk Contest from last year.

Oh, and also…Vince for Dunk Contest judge this weekend, please and thanks.


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The biggest part of the Super Bowl halftime show wasn’t Bruno Mars. It definitely wasn’t Coldplay. It wasn’t even Beyonce, who dropped the most fire video in recent memory on Saturday only to turn around a day later and perform it at the Super Bowl, with an all-time power move of starting out on the actual field instead of the stage.

No, the most monumental part of halftime was the late addition the Toronto Raptors made to their Super Bowl party. With the team home for a few days in the middle of a double-abbreviated six-game road-trip, they had the opportunity to take the game in together. Something was missing in the first half, though. Maybe there were a lot of Panthers fans in the house. Maybe Lucas Nogueira messed up the empanadas and Jonas Valanciunas’ kugelis didn’t come out right. Maybe everyone recently saw Concussion at one of Patrick Patterson’s move nights.

Whatever the case, something was off until a little after 8 p.m., when the team made an important addition, calling up a key figure from the D-League team’s Super Bowl party.

The Toronto Raptors recalled Bruno Caboclo from Raptors 905 of the D-League, is what I’m saying. And you know he brought that good bifana.

This is no surprise at all, with the 905 now home from a Friday-Saturday back-to-back in Texas. The D-League will have their All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend, too, and the 905 are taking an extended break – not only are they off until Feb. 17, they’re not even practicing this week. Instead, Caboclo gets to rejoin the team for a quick two-game road-trip this week, potentially even getting in a game if there’s a blowout, considering the team’s down a pair of small forwards in DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson.

Caboclo is not, however, ready to help fill the void left by those two injuries. That’s entirely fine, just don’t expect meaningful contribution yet – he might not still be two years away from being two years away, but he’s probably still one injury away from being one injury away. The Raptors aren’t going to rush him into non-garbage time duty, and they’re fine trying to get by with Norman Powell and some atypical lineup iterations.

To be clear, Caboclo has definitely improved over the course of the season. Comparing his play now to the start of the year, to summer league, and to last season shows his growth, he just started from a point very far from an NBA level. In 24 games, Caboclo is averaging 13.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.8 blocks while shooting 38 percent from the floor. He’s improved his 3-point mark to 34.4 percent thanks to a hot month or so, the most encouraging number in his statistical profile. But his progress isn’t really about numbers, nice as that 3-point mark may be. This year is all about getting him regular playing time and he’s getting that in spades, which has resulted in improved defense, decision making, and overall awareness.

dleague assignments dleague stats

The 905 enter the break at 12-20, a far cry from where they were just a few weeks ago thanks to a 7-2 run. They’ve moved out of the league’s basement (they’re now fourth-to-last), and while they don’t have much of a shot at the playoffs, their record is beginning to reflect the talent on the roster in their expansion season. They;re still just 14th in offense thanks to a league-worst turnover rate, but the defense has climbed all the way to seventh. Despite the record, they’ve essentially built themselves into a middle-of-the-pack team, impressive progress in such a short amount of time.


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The record-breaking win streak is over but the Raptors have recovered nicely with consecutive road wins over the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers. They continue on their road trip with a bunch of winnable games and the Eastern Conference lead seeming within reach if you skew things a little bit and squint hard enough at the big picture. Next up are the pesky Detroit Pistons, a team that seems like they should be an easy out but never actually end up being one.

The Incredibly Brief Scouting Report:

Under Stan Van Gundy the Pistons have quickly become 2009 Orlando Magic-lite with a shooters spread around a good pick and roll tandem. Right now that pick and roll tandem is not quite as good and the outside shooters are not quite as accurate but there is enough there to make the Pistons a tough matchup in any given game. They take a lot of threes, with centres Drummond and Aron Baynes being the only players in their entire rotation taking fewer than 3 threes per 36 minutes of play. Their defense seems solid at times and is currently ranked 11th in the NBA, but it has gotten progressively worse – their defensive rating has gone up every month and has been 17th in the league in the new year. Drummond is a good shot blocker but they have defenders who can targeted – whenever possible they should get Reggie Jackson and Ersan Ilyasova involved in pick and roll coverage because if the defense doesn’t break down immediately it will as the other Pistons try to figure out where they’re supposed to rotate.

Recent History:

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Raptors handed the Pistons a defeat in Toronto but it was actually about a week ago.  The Raptors won the game by controlling the boards regardless of which big man they had in the game and by getting to the line at will which allowed them to shoot 47 free throws. Last year the clubs split four fairly even outings with the Raptors outscoring the Pistons by only 7 points over those four games. This may seem like a fairly easy win for the Raptors but recent history suggests that they’re in for another close game.

Matchup to Watch:

Jonas Valanciunas vs. Andre Drummond – Drummond is a great shotblocker, a beast on the boards and a draws a lot of attention as the roll man on the pick and roll but his free throw shooting is a big weakness and he’s not the one on one player that Valanciunas has evolved into. One way to neutralize the impact that a weakside shotblocker can have on the defensive end is to occupy them with the ball so this might be a good opportunity to feature Valanciunas a little more in the offense and see if the Pistons defenders can keep up with the Raptors cutters. On the defensive end it’s going to be up to the Raptors guards to keep the pick and rolls going toward the sideline, allowing pocket passes to Drummond but nothing going toward the rim. Valanciunas struggled in the first matchup this year but averaged 20 ppg on 64% shooting against the Pistons last year so he could rebound with a strong game if given the opportunity.

Injury Report:

Kentavius Caldwell-Pope – one of the best names in the NBA – should be out due to a groin injury suffered during a recent game against the Boston Celtics. DeMarre Carroll is still out for the Raptors and while James Johnson is listed as day to day he’s not expected to play.

What Will Make Me Happy:

Play Reggie Jackson to Score – Reggie is more of a lead guard than a point guard in the sense that he does the bulk of the ball handling but his natural instinct is to score. When he’s coming off a pick he’s looking for seams to attack with the dribble or for openings he can exploit for open shots, not looking to make the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score. Because he struggles from midrange and isn’t a proficient passer he can be neutralized if you keep him out of the paint and chase him off the three point line.

Give Patrick Patterson All of the Minutes – this is more of a general key to success for the Raptors and has already been covered in detail on this site but this is also one of those matchups where Scola doesn’t make a lot of sense so Patterson needs major minutes. With the floor spread and shooters everywhere Scola’s footspeed is something of a liability on defense so keep Patterson out there and give the old man a little rest.

Put Them Away Early – Lowry and DeRozan have logged a lot of minutes and have a busy all-star weekend coming up, let’s not allow this to turn into a slugfest. Get up early, knock them down, step on their throats, let the next generation get some minutes.

Prediction:


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The Toronto Raptors have won 2 in a row, after a sluggish loss to the Denver Nuggets, that followed an 11-game winning streak, meaning the team has won 13 of 14, and is playing some of the best basketball this franchise has ever seen. Fuelled by undoubtably the second best backcourt in the NBA in fantasy-god Kyle Lowry and increasingly reliable scoring swingman DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are simply balling. Sure, facing the relatively weaker opponents doesn’t hurt – but the Raptors, who have taken their fair share of losses against these same teams earlier this season, are starting to impose their will on the association. The league is aware of what Toronto can bring to the table – to support the scoring punch provided by Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors boast a relatively deep lineup featuring the likes of JV, Terrence Ross, Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo who have all proven to share the load defensively and have timely contributions on offense that have helped the Raptors seal victory after victory this past month.

And while giving Dwane Casey coach of the month seemed fitting, as Raptors fans, we may wish to dig a little deeper into Dwane Casey’s bag of tricks to see how these past 14 games were won. Who were the big-time scorers and contributors? What were the lineups that worked? We all know Lowry and DeRozan were the obvious stat-stuffers – but with an injured DeMarre Carroll (and now James Johnson), Dwane Casey’s lineup usage has been interesting to say the least.

Casey has resorted to a more staggered rotation as compared to earlier in the year, with more of an even distribution of Lowry and DeRozan minutes and more specifically, playing different combinations of bench lineups to complement each Lowry and DeRozan seperately. That is, rather than substituting both Lowry and DeRozan off simultaneously for a wholesale lineup change featuring only bench players, Casey has divied up some bench minutes with Lowry on the floor, and some bench minutes with DeMar on the floor. The result has been more balanced play across the lineup and less of a dropoff once the starting lineup starts getting rest (earlier, a big concern for the Raptors who feature a pretty weak bench as a standalone unit).

When analyzing the past 14 games in which the Raptors have won 13, leading to a second place standing in the Eastern Conference, a coach of month award for Dwane Casey, and co-player of the month awards for Lowry and DeRozan, the “best” 5-man lineup would probably surprise most fans.

The best performing lineup, on a net rating basis, in the past 14 games (minimum 10 minutes) is the lineup featuring Lowry and Joseph in the backcourt, alongside Patterson, Ross and Valanciunas in the front court. The unit is yielding the highest offensive rating at 131.9 (points scored per 100 possessions) and best defensive rating at 95.3 (points allowed per 100 possessions) by far, for a net rating that is matched by none. Dwane Casey has actually used the lineup less than lineups featuring both Lowry and DeRozan, which surprisingly have yielded much lower net ratings for the Raptors in the past 14 games.

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Mind you, this data is a bit skewed given James Johnson has missed the past couple of games, but the margin of seperation isn’t even close. What is telling from these numbers is that rather than overplaying DeMar in second and third quarters of games, Dwane Casey is better off inserting Joseph, Patterson, and Ross into the game, and removing DeRozan, Scola and Norman Powell/James Johnson. Since this means Lowry would get extended minutes in the second quarter, he should then replace Lowry with DeMar (the second best performing lineup) to close out first halves and potentially close out third quarters as well. This way, Lowry and DeMar’s minutes are managed well, while still allowing Casey to optimally manage the team’s overall performance offensively and defensively.

Some of the great X-factors for the team have been Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo, both steady forces on defense, and efficient options on offense (yes, Biyombo has actually been efficient). These guys are not volume scorers, don’t require a ton of touches, and are playing sound defensively as you would expect from them. Joseph has averaged 48% from the field for just over 9 points per game, to go along with just over 3 assists and a couple of boards. Biyombo has shot over 55% from the field, and most importantly has owned the glass off the bench averaging over 6 rebounds a game in under 20 minutes of playing time.

Terrence Ross has also added a strong punch off the bench (a factor in both of those top lineups), averaging over 10 points per game on over 50% from the field and 40% from 3. If Terrence Ross can continue to average those numbers off of the bench, the Raptors will be extremely tough to stop, especially if Casey figures out that these lineups are lethal.

For Dwane Casey though, not only will minutes management be crucial for winning regular season games as the playoff seeding race rightens up in the East, management of Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes will likely make or break his Raptors’ chances in the first and potentially second round of the NBA playoffs. Regardless of how good the bench unit can be, keeping Lowry and DeRozan fresh to be able shoulder the scoring load in the playoffs will be absolutely essential. Just another challenge to add to list for Dwane Casey.


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D-League recap time, which more or less means checking in on Bruno Caboclo and Sim Bhullar, as Ronald Roberts did not play (hip contusion).

The scoreline of 101-92 betrays the resilience the 905 showed in the second half, as they battled back from double-digits down for most of the game to take a one-point lead before Oklahoma City let the dogs out.  While the Raptors were still coping with the dogs being let out, the deficit ballooned to double digits and there was a nary a run left.  

Bruno Caboclo was 3-12 FG (3-8 3FG) for 9 points and 7 rebounds, and my lasting impression of him is that he doesn’t stand out on the court as much anymore.  Two months ago all you could see was a lanky dude trying to figure out where he had to stand in order to not get in the way of other people.  Now you see a player who at least understands what the guys around him are trying to do, and his movements try to complement that rather than offer a stark contrast.

He’s almost exclusively a three-point shooter on offense, and when he does put it on the deck, the move itself is too slow (usually because of a high dribble) to have any effect.  It’s obvious that the coaching staff are encouraging him to shoot that three, which he’s hitting at an unremarkable 34%.  Defensively, he’s offering more than he was a month ago but still less than what you would expect a guy of his dimensions to provide.  He has improved in his defensive angles, for example, he’s now channeling guys away from the rim, whereas before guys drove directly into him putting his footwork into question, usually resulting in a foul.  He gets his blocks on help defense because he drops down very frequently when there’s action near the paint, likely knowing that he’ll cover ground fast enough in case he has to close-out.

He’s still a long ways away from being close to an NBA player, and right now the best ticket to get him there is his three-point shot, which remains unblockable.  If he gets that up to 40%, it should be enough incentive for the Raptors to slot him at #12.

Sim Bhullar was 3-5 FG for 7 points  and 10 rebounds, and provided some measure of interior defense.  Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t a Rudy Gobert out there, but did swat away a guard, track back in transition to contest a shot, and moved his lumbering self so that he bothered whatever the opposition was trying to do.  It’s hard for me to see him ever making the league because the man is so slow in every aspect of the game.  Forget staying on pace with an average NBA center running back up the court, I’d settle for him getting to Luc Longley levels of speed. Once he’s established in the block, his moves are quite unrefined but even if he does refine them to the point where they’re average, the speed at which they’re executed would render them meaningless.

As for the game, the 905 won a quarter by a single point, lost two of them by 3 and 1 points.  Their defense in the first quarter was quite bad, which they lost 31-25, and it was evident that OKC guards wanted to challenge Bhullar with the 905’s perimeter defense not providing much resistance. Greg Smith was the man who took the most offense to OKC trying to get into the paint, as he got into a few physical situations.  He was 8-10 FG for 16 points, and probably played the hardest of any Raptor.  He was quite into the game emotionally, and was the 905’s most nimble and agile frontcourt player.  He’s got a slight weight issue but it doesn’t stop him from executing his moves with precision, and he happens to play with some confidence.  And yes, if we brought him into the big club today, he’s probably do more than Anthony Bennett.

Final note: the game featured Croatian Tomislav Zubcic, who the Raptors drafted with the 56th pick in 2012, only for him to be shipped to OKC as part of the Luke Ridnour deal last summer.  He had 16 points on 5-12 shooting.  The game also featured Marquis Teague, brother of Jeff Teague who had 25 points on 12-18 shooting.


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The Toronto Raptors have multiple days off, so like we always do at this time, I opened things up for your Twitter questions. We’ll be doing another mailbag next Friday and the Wednesday before the trade deadline, so if you have questions between now and then, tweet at me with #RRMailbag so I can keep track of them more easily.

This is the fifth “official” mailbag of the season, but there have been a few other pieces answering questions, too. As a refresher, here are those earlier Mailbags and trade-related columns. There’s a good chance if you have a trade question, it’s answered somewhere within one of these links.

Alright, let’s do this.

Trade Talk


Should the Raptors trade for a 32-year-old shooting 34.8 percent from the floor and 28.5 percent on threes, who would require sending out either a prospect or James Johnson and who can’t play the three, so would pencil in as the third-stringer at either guard spot, filling on only the minutes of Norman Powell and Delon Wright? Glad you finally let this one go, Will. That Villanova connection, though.

Allen Ray’s probably available.

Whether or not they’re “true” is a hard question to answer.

It’s paramount to remember that the Raptors under Masai Ujiri have been the tightest of ships. That means that anything Marc Stein or Brian Windhorst are hearing is coming from the other teams involved, or the agents of the players if they’re in situations where they’d like to move. I have a theory that teams and agents could use the Raptors as a leverage teambecause they’re so quiet, knowing it will be difficult to be proven wrong (the Jays have run into this some, where they’re always tied to everybody, though it’s also possible Toronto GMs are actually exploring everyone because it’s their jobs). In other words, take any Raptors rumors with a grain of salt, as sources could be floating the Raptors because there’s real interest or because it can inflate the market and nobody from the Raptors is going to say anything to shoot it down.

Now, having said that, Morris to the Raptors isn’t a new connection. Maybe the fit just looks that good (it’s fine, though not entirely a circle peg in a circle hole), maybe his friendship with Kyle Lowry plays a factor. Morris’ outburst may have heated things up, but the more likely case is that the Raptors and Suns actually talked since the Raptors were in Phoenix. Morris’ outburst, though, is a good reminder of why the Raptors would consider a deal even with Morris’ issues – Patrick Patterson isn’t putting up a 30-11-6.

I broke down the entire Morris rumor here, so I’ll refer everyone there for deeper analysis.


Sure there is! All things are possible.

But the less you send out in terms of players (Patterson would be attractive with a very affordable 2016-17 salary and has a high-character player going to a tire-fire of an organization), the more you have to send out in picks. If Patterson and the Raptors’ own pick gets you Morris, as an example, downgrading Patterson to flotsam might require the Knicks/Nuggets pick. I’m not sure exactly what the frameworks discussed for Morris might be, but consider these two examples:

Patterson and Toronto’s 2016 first for Morris
or
Luis Scola, James Johnson, and the Denver/New York 2016 first for Morris

I’m not saying those are necessarily the options facing Masai Ujiri, but if you downgrade the player package, you’ve got to upgrade the pick. Personally, I’m on board with that. Those picks have more utility to other teams than the Raptors, and with a bit of a window right now, well…draft picks are food stamps, man.


Let William be an example to everyone about the depth of thought that should go into trade proposals. Dude sent me a well-written, well-thought out trade scenario over email for consideration. Now, please don’t do this, because I have a hard enough time keeping up with all of the 140-character trade proposals, but shout out to William for putting real thought into a deal.

His framework is this: Patterson, Johnson, Anthony Bennett, Toronto’s 2016 first, and a conditional 2017 second-round pick (William – you could essentially work out the condition you outlined by sending the second-rounder top-55 protected, though it’s probably tough exactly the way you explained it) for Morris and Mirza Teletovic. So Patterson, Johnson, and Toronto’s own first for Patterson and Johnson, in terms of how you’ll probably evaluate this.

That would be a solid deal for the Raptors. If Patterson and a first for Morris is the expected Morris framework, then getting Teletovic thrown in for adding Johnson (and maybe a late future second) would be solid. You give up a versatile defensive piece but replace some of Patterson’s outgoing shooting at the four, the primary argument against it being the sudden lack of DeMarre Carroll insurance on the roster. The Suns don’t have a great deal of need for Teletovic for the rest of the season and might see this as a nice way to grease the wheels for a Raptors deal. I think they’d push for the Knicks/Nuggets pick, personally, but it’s probably close.


Morris in pure basketball terms, and it’s not particularly close. Lee’s been solid in the past but has struggled to find playing time for two years in a row. In Golden State, that was understandable. It’s less so in Boston, and at 32 years old, he’s not going to suddenly rediscover an old gear.

Now, if you factor in cost, things maybe grade out differently. The Raptors basically can’t trade for Lee, but if the Celtics were to buy him out and he was willing to sign for the prorated veteran’s minimum, then that’s more reasonable. Adding Lee at the cost of, say, cutting Bennett might be preferable to some than shipping out pieces for Morris, as it’s a straight addition. The likelihood seems pretty low, though, and a Morris deal raises the team’s ceiling more substantially.


I’m actually not sure how much this improves the Raptors this season. Jones is a really nice prospect but at age 24, he’s turning in his worst season since his rookie year, and his 2014-15 shooting the ball now looks like an aberration. His minutes have fluctuated a great deal, and now he’s dealing with a concussion (I know that wasn’t the case when you asked, so not your fault). He’s also not as good a defender as Patterson, and with the shooting factored in, this seems like more of a long-term play, securing his rights as a restricted free agent for this summer.

Brewer would upgrade the Johnson position but he’ll be 30 in a month, has two years left on his deal at $7.6 million per, and is having his worst season in years. Like Jones, he can’t really shoot, either.

Some of the performance of those two may be due to the general malaise in Houston, and I like Jones as a prospect despite his being only two years younger than Patterson, but I don’t think this trade makes the Raptors better enough this season to warrant giving up a pick. I’m not sure it makes the Raptors better this season, at all.


I explored a Gallinari framework a while back. He’d definitely be worth surrendering that pick for and you could certainly play him at the four alongside DeRozan and Carroll. He’s awesome and would be a fun fit. You almost definitely have to get a third team involved, though, because the Nuggets aren’t a natural trade partner. They don’t have much use for the Raptors’ two biggest on-court assets (T.J. Ross and Jonas Valanciunas) in a swap and there’s little to indicate Denver’s willing to part with Galinari in a tear-down deal – he’s 27, on a great contract, and they’re even rumored to have made a call on Blake Griffin, indicating their timeline isn’t far in the future.


Doubt very much the Nuggets would acquire him and give up a bunch of assets only to turn around and swing him for assets. If there were a better offer for Griffin than what the Nuggets gave up, the Clippers would take that instead of Denver’s offer.

Toronto probably can’t get in the Griffin conversation until the offseason. Even then, they’d probably need a third team, as the Clippers would have no interest in one of Toronto’s biggest offseason trade chips (Valanciunas).


To be clear, the rumor is that the Cavaliers want Dudley, not that Dudley’s on the market. Washington is still only three games out of a playoff spot and Dudley’s a huge part of what they’re doing if they’re going to make a climb to that spot. In pure basketball terms, he’d be a great fit as a combo-forward off the bench to provide some additional shooting and experience. The Raptors could probably top any Cleveland offer in terms of pick equity, but I’m skeptical the Wizards put Dudley on the market in the next two weeks.


They’re getting by pretty well right now. The Scola-Valanciunas frontcourt hasn’t been good, full stop, but the improved defense of Patterson and the option to slide Carroll there for 10-15 minutes a night once he’s healthy means the Raptors don’t need to make an upgrade. The Raptors can be pretty deadly going small, and that’s a look that would work against most playoff opponents. The issue, then, is if you’re looking way ahead to Cleveland, it’s tougher to match up that way.

Anyway, I’d like the Raptors to make an upgrade, for sure. But I think the team as constructed is good enough to win a playoff series or two.


Don’t tease me. I’m a huge Kidd-Gilchrist fan and think he’s good enough defensively to fit just about anywhere, even if the range never really comes along. Sadly, the Hornets are only two games out of a playoff spot and have a win-now edict. With his value likely at a nadir with the new extension and coming off of another injury, I can’t imagine Charlotte would shop him.


It’s certainly possible, but it won’t be because of his play, really. He was a mid-second round pick and has played 128 minutes. However encouraging those minutes and his D-League performances may have been, he’s going to fall under the “Endowment Effect” I”ve talked about where he’s an asset the Raptors will value more highly than another team (because they’ve invested more, know him better, and so on).

There are probably a few teams that would see him as a worthwhile prospect, but with a $650,000 salary, you can’t bring much salary back for him. He’s probably only a trade consideration in a multi-player trade that needs an extra asset going out.

Other Raptors/Raptors 905 Talk

For my money, Ronald Roberts is the best dunker in the D-League (with all due respect to Jarvis Threatt and D.J. Stephens). He’s a big man with the hops and fluidity of a wing, which is going to make for some really impressive and powerful dunks. His vertical tops 40 inches as a power forward-center!

That said, it’s hard to pick anyone to unseat LaVine. He turned in the best Dunk Contest performance since Vince Carter and claims he didn’t even use his best dunk. It’s unfortunate that Roberts won’t show his stuff at the D-League event despite my best efforts to convince him.

Paul Pierce’s old, washed ass on the Hornets would be all of the bad vibes, even if Pierce is shooting, like, eight percent on the season. He’d still can a clutch triple or two, and the Raptors can’t beat the Hornets even without him.

In terms of opponents, there aren’t any really terrible options. Assume the Raptors get the two-seed and there are eight potential opponents. Let’s tier them.

Highly worrisome: Chicago (they could stay in the 6-8 range if Jimmy Butler’s knee injury is at all serious)
Moderately worrisome: Atlanta (unlikely to finish low enough), Miami (if entirely healthy)
Would be fine: Boston (skeptical they can score enough, though it’d be tough at the other end), Indiana (assuming Carroll at full health), Charlotte
Bring it: Detroit, Washington (no, seriously)

The ideal path is probably for Detroit or Washington to land seventh, then for someone to take out Chicago elsewhere in the bracket, allowing for a second round that avoids Bulls/Cavs.


I don’t know about an overall rank but I’m a fan. He’s a bit old school, but he’s really entertaining, and I love how he calls Devlin out from time to time. You either want really sharp analysis or entertainment from your color man, and Armstrong certainly provides the latter. The Devlin-Armstrong pairing is probably middle of the pack overall, which is a serious upgrade from the other Raptors’ option.


You know, I don’t know.

It’s not bad at all. It was something I suggested they try when Valanciunas was hurt, along with a super-small Patterson-Johnson frontcourt. They give up some rim protection and would be susceptible to the tougher dive men, but Scola and Johnson can hold their own as post defenders, and it’s a nice way to help spacing at the other end of the floor. Personally, I would have liked to see Lucas Nogueira get an early look against Portland when foul trouble came about, but it’s good to know the Raptors can go super-small if need be – In 236 minutes without a true center this season, they’re outscoring opponents by 13 points per-100 possessions, per NBAWowy.


Joseph. If free agency were done over again, he may be starting somewhere as is. Lowry can hit free agency after 2016-17 and will be 31 at that time. I’d like to imagine a scenario in which his peak extends into his 30s and a mutually beneficial deal presents itself, but failing that, Joseph would be the succession plan. We don’t even know if Wright is a capable backup yet, and Joseph’s less than a year older.


Yes, absolutely. He already projects as a strong, versatile defender, and he’s taken his offensive game to another level as the season’s gone along. I thought his offense was at least a year away, but he’s emerged as a real threat as a point forward or as the lead man on the second unit, and he’s now averaged 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists at roughly league-average efficiency (he isn’t hitting threes but gets to the line a ton). Still just 23, my earlier belief that Toupane might be an NBA player has been upgraded to a belief that Toupane will be an NBA player.


I’m assuming this means just the Raptors’ contingent. I’ll rank them a few ways:

CURRENT UTILITY TO RAPTORS: Powell, Nogueira, Wright, Bennett, Caboclo
ULTIMATE UPSIDE: Caboclo, Nogueira, Powell, Wright, Bennett

If that doesn’t give a clear picture…

POWELL: Can defend at the NBA level now. Might be a three-position defender. Has improved as a playmaker. Needs to develop a corner three to really lift his upside.
NOGUEIRA: Think he could provide defense and pick-and-roll play right now. Could develop into a fringe starter, could be out of the league in two years.
CABOCLO: It’s still too early to tell but the length, jumper, and fairly rapid development in terms of awareness and decision-making are all encouraging.
WRIGHT: Is really solid offensively, defense hasn’t translated as expected. In a tough spot where he might not be learning a whole lot against D-Leaguers.
BENNETT: I’m almost entirely out on him. His shot selection is poor and he doesn’t use his athleticism all that well at either end. I’d cut him after the deadline, to be frank.

In terms of 905ers not under NBA contract, I’d rank them like this:

CURRENT NBA UTILITY: Roberts, Greg Smith, Scott Suggs, Toupane
ULTIMATE UPSIDE: Toupane, Roberts, Smith, Suggs, Michale Kyser, Sim Bhullar

I’m all for everything Stackhouse. He should lead the celebrations, he should be in the Celebrity Game, he should coach the All-Star Game, and if Dwane Casey is ever let go, I’m all in on Stack as head coach just for the suits and quotes.

Miscellaneous

Man, this is a tough question. If we’re talking about just songs released under the “St. Lunatics” banner, then it’s probably Jang a Lang. Batter Up is awesome and the video timeless, too.

But if we’re talking about tracks from members of the St. Lunatics, or St. Lunatics-adjace offerings, then things get far more complicated. I hold love for Murphy Lee and Wat Da Hook Gon Be is an all-time catchy track. Air Force Ones takes me back to soooo much high school. But the real answer if we’re expanding to the whole St. Lunatics family has to come from Country Grammar, one of my favorite albums of all time. Can’t really go wrong between Country Grammar, an era-defining song, or Ride wit Me, a track I have more personal connection with.

And yes, this question took me an hour to answer as I went back listening to a ton fo St. Lunatics tracks.

They really haven’t told this story well enough to insulate themselves from potential boos, but there are ways around a disappointing ending. The storyline is straight-forward, but fans just don’t seem to connect or care about Reigns when he’s flanked by Dean Ambrose (an every man and far more sympathetic babyface over the last year) and Brock Lesnar (just way better than Reigns). I thought the Fastlane main event was a misstep in that regard, and they’ve somehow managed to lose the positive momentum they had built with Reigns toward the end of 2015.

Still, it’s Wrestlemania. Smarks gonna smark, but if the rest of the crowd delivers and Reigns and Triple H put on a good match, I don’t think they have to much to worry about. Yeah, Reigns going Full Superman Cena is boring, predictable, and kind of sucks and Ambrose would make a much better option from a storytelling perspective. At the same time, whatever. Wrestlemania is still going to be lit.

Not much to update on. I shaved just after Christmas, the first time I had done so (with a razor) in almost two years. I was going to grow a big one right back out but am opting to keep it around a #2-3 right now, nothing quite on the level of your own beard, Dan. After All-Star weekend, maybe I’ll grow it out.

In terms of beard oil, I’m just using a scentless one that came with a new beard trimmer I got. If anyone from Badass Beard Care is reading, I’d gladly take some samples for growth season.

Oh god, no.

Man, this is a tough one.

Man Seeking Woman: 75. I really like this show. It hits on the points of single/dating life well, highlighting the challenges in clever and hilarious ways. It’s very smart, filmed locally (right around the corner from me!), and they’ve gotten way from a kind of “women are the problem” vibe that was present in the very earliest episodes. Eric Andre is great, Josh’s sister is an excellent secondary character, and Jay Baruchel continues his post-Popular Mechanics run of success (seriously, look at that dude’s resume at age 33, it’s pretty obscene).

You’re the Worst: 55. I really enjoy the show and think they’ve done a great job with the Gretchen-Jimmy relationship and the challenges of having and being with someone suffering from mental health issues. It loses points, though, because by the end of season two I had stopped caring about anyone other than those two. I get that they had to get Edgar some wins, but he’s no longer much of a sympathetic character, and what was a promising Lindsay story just got weird. The fact that Vernon is the third-best character is probably an issue.

Catastrophe: 70. I really didn’t expect to like Rob Delaney. He’s awesome, and this show’s writing is excellent. In terms of raw realism and genuine emotion while remaining funny, there aren’t many better. I could easily see this show drawing an 80-grade from those with kids.

Master of None: 65. I liked it a lot upon the first viewing, with the Aziz-Noel pairing really delivering and hitting on some very real “young adult relationship” points. I can’t identify with some of the issues they run into, but as far as “figuring out life alone and with someone around the age of 30,” it does a really good job. I went back and rewatched a couple of episodes and was less thrilled – I think we should all probably do this for binge-watch shows that can really create an evaluation bias because of the amount of investment – but it’s still really worth a watch.

Just say no to inter-office romance. If it’s a must, Mike Skinner heard on ITV the other week that if she plays with her hair, she’s probably keen.

This is incredible. I’ve come back around on VC after years of disliking him, and I think most Raptors fans eventually will, too. Carter being a WWE-head and someone who played the sax as a kid? Even better. You know how you stay in the NBA until 39? It has nothing to do with conditioning – it’s all about the power of positivity, with nightly post-game clap therapy.

There is only one thing less #booty than Vince putting his unicorn horns up. Don’t watch the following clip unless you’re ready, willing, and…you say it.


Again, we’ll be doing another mailbag next Friday and the Wednesday before the trade deadline, so if you have questions between now and then, tweet at me with #RRMailbag so I can keep track of them more easily.

And 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.


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Raptors 905 136, Texas Legends 80 | Box Score

“Why are the 905 so good now?”

That’s a question that friend of the site Harsh Dave slid into the DMs to ask during the third quarter of Friday’s game with the 905 up more than 40 points on the road against a team that’s above .500 and rosters several talented pieces.

The short answer is that randomness happens in single games. The slightly longer and more fitting answer is that the 905 have finally benefited from some rotation consistency and built some chemistry together. The real answer also includes the fact that they were never really as bad as their terrible early-season record suggested. This is a team with three borderline call-ups in Ronald Roberts, Axel Toupane, and Scott Suggs, an interior behemoth with NBA experience in Sim Bhullar, a near-constant assignee in Bruno Caboclo, and a few other nice pieces.

It was always expected they’d take a little while to find a groove, given their status as an expansion team, their lack of age and experience, and their abbreviated training camp. Over the first two months of the season, they lost in a variety of ways, and it seemed for a bit that the frustration may eventually threaten to allow the plot to get lost. But the lessons in losing reached a crescendo shortly after the D-League showcase, and the 905 have been the best version of themselves since. They railed off six in a row, exorcising demons from previous losses along the way. They stumbled against Erie last weekend, understandable facing the same team for a third time in 10 days, and Friday stood to be a nice test of how they’d respond with the momentum of a winning streak taken away.

And #woahboy, did the 905 ever respond and bounce back. They started strong, opening up a 39-22 lead at the end of the first quarter on the back of some hot shooting. The second quarter saw them lock down defensively and produce an array of easy buckets, reaching a franchise-record for points in a half with 78 and building a 37-point halftime lead. Any thought that the Legends may respond with a run was quickly snuffed out as the 905 built the lead to 40, and then to 50, never relenting no matter the lineup head coach Jesse Mermuys threw out there. Even down the stretch, the Legends couldn’t muster much of a face-saving run, finishing on the wrong end of a 136-80 final, a franchise record in scoring for the 905 and a season-low in scoring for Texas.

The 905 did all of this, by the way, with just eight minutes from their best player in Roberts. He’s been dealing with a hip issue, and while he was feeling good earlier in the day Friday, the guess here is that the issue flared up (there’s been no official update). He had four points, three assists, a plus-11 rating, and this awesome jam before shutting it down.

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The 905 also only had the benefit of one assignee, Caboclo, so it’s not as if they out-NBAed the Legends. They out-played them, to the point of embarrassment, on their own court. It was a 48-minute gear the 905 simply hadn’t shown before, having never won a game by 21 before Friday.

It’s fitting that on a night when the Texas broadcast crew were continuously (and hilariously) citing Drake lyrics, the Legends learned faced an endless array of “if you’re contesting this, it’s too late.”

The 905 finished shooting 61 percent from the floor, 46 percent on threes, and 23-of-32 at the free-throw line. They hammered the Legends on the glass (52-32), they finally managed to keep their turnovers to a reasonable level (12), and to a man, they played well offensively. They also limited the Legends to 33 percent from the floor and 6-of-25 on threes, getting back in transition quickly and aggressively closing out on shooters, all while forcing 18 turnovers of their own.

Caboclo’s line is the one that should stand out, and he turned in what was probably his best game with the 905 so far this season. His year’s been up and down, but it’s necessary to zoom out and compare to the start of the year, and Caboclo showed a lot of the progress we’ve mentioned. The 3-point shot is what most care about, and Caboclo’s been unseasonably warm of late. His 4-of-7 night from outside pushes him to 16 for his last 27, lifting his percentage on the season to 34.2. He finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks, showing off some nice pull-up moves and real confidence as a spot-up gunner.

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More encouraging, perhaps, was his post defense, sliding to the four for stretches with Roberts out. He had a terrific entry denial on a Brandon Ashley post-up and followed it up with a great help-and-recover possession (sorry for the clip being paired with another, I messed up, but shouts to Bhullar for the pass on the other half of it).
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It was a great night for Caboclo, truly. While we’re on Bhullar, he continued his recent run of strong play, scoring 13 points with 10 rebounds and three assists. Most notably, he dunked on Satnam Singh in the first ever D-League meeting between players born in India or of Indian descent.
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Pretty much everyone else had a great night, too. Scott Suggs did Scott Suggs things and dropped 24 on just 13 field-goal attempts. Shannon Scott perhaps felt the pressure of the team acquiring a new point guard, getting out to a hot start early and finishing with 11 points on perfect shooting. That guard, John Jordan, shot 4-of-5 for 11 points with six rebounds and four assists in his debut with the team. Greg Smith should probably be in the NBA and put up a 16-8-2 line with several neat post moves. Axel Toupane continues to show enormous strides as a playmaker to complement his defense, dishing seven dimes to go with 10 points in 19 minutes.

You get the idea. It was a great night for the 905, and while a single blowout doesn’t mean much and the team certainly can’t begin to get fat and happy, they continue to affirm, game after game, that their early stumbles were a necessity of growth, not a death knell.

The 905 are now 12-19, hardly a threat for the playoffs in the East but at the same time only four-and-a-half games out with 40 percent of the season remaining. That’s probably too great a stretch goal, but given where they were eight games ago, the fact that it’s even worth looking at the standings speaks worlds about how far they’ve come. They’re back in action in Oklahoma City tomorrow at 8.


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This should make a lot of fans happy.

The Toronto Raptors have been “aggressive” on the trade front, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told TSN 1050 on Friday. That backs up what his colleague Marc Stein reported earlier in the week, saying the Raptors were showing interest in P.J. Tucker and in Markieff Morris. Windhorst doesn’t mention Tucker but does identify Morris as a potential target along with Thad Young and Kenneth Faried.

Here’s Windhorst:

I think the Raptors are in a position to go for it…I think they’re gonna go for it. From what I understand, from what I’m hearing, they’re pretty aggressive in the trade market. They’re looking for power forwards. I’ve heard them attached to Thaddeus Young, I’ve heard them attached to Kenneth Faried, I’ve heard them attached to Markieff Morris.

They have extra draft picks. I wouldn’t trade that New York Knicks pick unless it was for a blockbuster acquisition, because you can’t protect it…They have assets to do it. They have some young players. The power forward’s what they’re looking at.

That’s not exactly the hardest of reports, and it’s worth keeping in mind that Windhorst isn’t in the top tier of most-trusted reporters. He gets his Cavaliers and Heat stuff, but he’s a second-tier source come deadline season. (This isn’t meant to disparage him – he’s worked hard to get where he is and is a really solid beat guy, it’s just necessary to understand the reporting hierarchy this time of year.)

It’s also paramount to remember that the Raptors under Masai Ujiri have been the tightest of ships. That means that anything Windhorst is hearing is coming from the other teams involved, or the agents of the players if they’re in situations where they’d like to move (Morris, though all three players in this case are represented by different agencies). I have a theory that teams and agents could use the Raptors as a leverage team because they’re so quiet, knowing it will be difficult to be proven wrong (the Jays have run into this some, where they’re always tied to everybody, though it’s also possible Toronto GMs are actually exploring everyone because it’s their jobs). In other words, take this with a grain of salt, as sources could be floating the Raptors because there’s real interest or because it can inflate the market and nobody from the Raptors is going to say anything to shoot it down.

We covered off Morris a great deal Wednesday, so I’ll direct you there for analysis.

Young is someone I was asked about in a recent mailbag, and I’m a little skeptical he’s on the market. The Nets don’t even have a GM yet to handle such a move, and Young and Brook Lopez have talked openly about working as recruiters to leverage the team’s substantial (if unimpressive, relative to the market) cap space this summer. It doesn’t behoove the Nets to do a proper tear down since they have no prospects and are so low on picks (they don’t own their own this season), so a team is going to have to come correct with at least a first-round pick to pry him. On top of that, Young makes $11.2 million this season, so matching salaries becomes difficult without shipping out Patrick Patterson. A trade of Luis Scola, James Johnson, Delon Wright, and Anthony Bennett works under the cap, if you really don’t want to lose Patterson, but then you’re thinning out the roster and still sending out at least one really good pick.

If he could be acquired, Young would provide a nice interim option at the three who could slide to the four when DeMarre Carroll returns. He’s averaging 15 points, nine rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 steals for the Nets this year, shooting 50.8 percent from the floor. The primary offensive concern would be that Young is a 32-percent career 3-point shooter and hasn’t hit better than 33 percent since 2009-10, limiting his utility as a floor-spacer alongside Jonas Valanciunas. His strong rebounding this season is also a major aberation from his career rates. He brings other offensive talents, though, with the speed to take opposing fours of the bounce and finish in traffic. He’s not a great interior defender, but he brings some toughness and quickness on that end. Young has three years left on his deal at about $12.9 million per-year, but I don’t think that’s an impediment to a potential deal.

Faried’s a name that’s come up in Toronto several times, in large part because he’s seen as a Ujiri guy. What he’s not, however, is a natural fit with the Raptors. He has a nearly identical contract to Young and would require the same kind of package to pry him free. You can make a case for the Raptors surrendering assets to get him – friend of the site Justin Rowan did a good job of just that this week, though I largely disagree with the final proposal – and at age 26, he fits nicely in line with the peaks of DeMar DeRozan (the middle) and Kyle Lowry (slightly further than the middle). He could help now and over the next couple of years, and that’s great.

What’s not great is hit fit. He’s even less of a 3-point threat than Young, and while he’s a terrific rebounder, he doesn’t fit the team’s primary need for a four who can add offense in a way that takes some pressure off of Lowry and DeRozan. Faried’s an opportunity scorer, and to be fair, he’s very good in that role, a role that teams can always use. But he doesn’t create for himself particularly well, and while he’s a high-energy player who’s always a threat to block a shot, he’s hardly an elite defender. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and one block while shooting 54.3 percent from the floor this year, pretty much in line with where he established himself as a rookie in 2011-12.

Not that he hasn’t improved, but Nylon Calculus‘ experimental “opponent matchup” numbers rate him as one of the worst defenders in the league, Real Plus-Minus barely sees him as moving the needle at either end (Nylon Calculus’ DRE sees him as a slight positive), and the Nuggets have been 3.2 points per-100 possessions better with him on the bench, the second time in three years he’s had a negative impact through that lens.

The most interesting part of adding Faried would be how he might look as a small-five when the Raptors shift Carroll to the four and play an extra point guard or wing. The Raptors may be able to get more out of Faried than Denver has, though Faried playing mostly alongside traditional bigs doesn’t leave much room for optimism that he’d suddenly unlock some sort of synergy with the Lithuanian big man.

In any case, it’s fun to think on these things. Making the (incorrect) assumption the asking price would be the same on all three, how would you rank them as targets?


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The D-League is set to make a bit of history on Friday when Raptors 905 visit the Texas Legends for an 8 p.m. tipoff.

The game will feature the first ever Indian-born draft pick going head-to-head with the NBA’s first ever player of Indian descent. The fact that they’re both well over 7 feet tall and tip the scales at a combined 650 pounds only adds to the intrigue.

The 905 employ Sim Bhullar, the 7-foot-5, 360-pound Toronto, Ontario, native who became the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game back on April 7, 2015. Bhullar left New Mexico State after two seasons, going undrafted and then spending the bulk of 2014-15 with the Reno Bighorns, the D-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings. With the season lost late in the year and Kings owner Vivek Randadive hoping to help grow the game of basketball in India, the Kings inked the Huntington Prep product to a 10-day contract on April 2. He would appear in three games, scoring two points with one rebound and one assist in three total minutes.

Bhullar’s parents migrated to Canada from India and didn’t know much about basketball until entrolling Bhullar and his brother Tanveer in youth programs. Born in Toronto and raised in Brampton, Bhullar had a homecoming of sorts this offseason when the Toronto Raptors traded for his D-League rights and rostered him with the 905, based out of Mississauga. While he’s representing well over a billion people of Indian descent worldwide, he’s also representing Canada, the local community, and Mississauga’s well-represented South-Asian population.

“The community’s really shown support,” Bhullar said on a conference call through NBA Asia on Thursday. “They’re really getting out. I’m one of the hometown kids and they’re trying to show support and show love. It’s been huge, especially for me, being back home. It’s been amazing to see all the Indian fans come out in the community, and come out to every game pretty much, and just show support.”

Singh, meanwhile, may have one-upped Bhullar depending on where you place your personal goalposts for cultural milestones. The 7-foot-2, 290-pounder eschewed college altogether and entered the 2015 NBA Draft, getting selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 52 pick. Born in the village of Ballo Ke in Punjab, India, Signh became the first Indian-born player to be drafted and, should he advance to the NBA, would become the first Indian-born player to do so. In the meantime, Singh will develop in Texas, with the Mavericks’ exclusive D-League affiliate.

For both players, development to the point of likely NBA utility remains on a long-term path.

The 20-year-old Singh has played sparingly at the professional or international level, and Texas is working him in slowly, tasking him with just 79 minutes on the season so far. He’s averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds while shooting 38.9 percent, but his rookie campaign can’t really be measured by numbers given the work that’s being put in outside of games. And he’s making progress, with the Legends opting to start him for the first time on Wednesday. He saw a career-high 16 minutes, scoring four points with four rebounds and a block.

For the 23-year-old Bhullar, the start of this season represented a slight step backward to take several forward. Reno played Bhullar 25.8 minutes per-game last season but played a style that dictated Bhullar work only as a rim-protector and defensive rebounder, with the team’s frenetic transition game making it such that Bhullar rarely saw the inside of the opposing team’s 3-point line outside of dead balls. The 905 opted to try to recondition Bhullar from scratch, and while that meant far less playing time initially, the goal is to build the best possible long-term prospect.

The return for Bhullar are encouraging, too. The team initially didn’t even have Bhullar traveling with them and he was often a DNP-CD, even at home. Since the holiday break, he’s been a fixture in the rotation, even starting the team’s last six games. He’s averaging 7.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 16.1 minutes while shooting 70.5 percent from the floor, an the 905 have outscored opponents by 12.7 points per-100 possessions with Bhullar on the court. In five games as a starter, he’s playing even better, averaging 12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in helping lead the 905 to a 4-1 record over that stretch.

When the pair meet up Friday, Bhullar should appear more advanced, because he is. He’s also three years older with the benefit of college and D-League seasoning, though who is better is hardly the point. For the first time, two players of Indian descent will square off in D-League action, an important moment for the continued development of the sport.

“I think it’s huge for the game of basketball in India,” Bhullar said. “I think having a couple of players play at that level is huge for the growth there. Over the last couple of years, it’s been growing over there. They’ve got more and more kids playing, more people coaching. It’s definitely going in the right direction but at the same time we’ve still got a long way to go. Hopefully in the next couple years, you’re gonna see a lot more players coming up in the ranks and playing professionally.”

Bhullar’s right that their presence could be huge. He knows from the Canadian side, too, how an increased presence of national talent at the pro level can help foster growth and build momentum in a national program. India does have some talent in the pipeline, too, even if they’re not yet registering on the draft radar. Nineteen-year-old 7-footer Akashdeep Harza, for example, has already progressed to playing for the national team.

Friday’s game isn’t really about who’s next, though. It’s about who’s here, and the veritable millions they could help inspire to pick up a basketball.


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The latest episode of the highly regarded Open Gym series is out, focusing on what the team’s key players do immediately following games. If you’re a fan of James Johnson, this is the episode for you, as you really get a sense of how much work he puts in and how important he is to the young guys on the team.

The team also finds out that they’ll be without DeMarre Carroll for an extended stretch.

Check it out!

By the way, my apologies for the sporadic posting of Open Gyms. We’ve posted episodes 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, and 12, but not the others. I’m going to blame the fact that they go up on YouTube on Friday afternoons. We’ll make more of an effort to get each week’s episode up on Fridays moving forward, because they’re almost always worth a watch.


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Following the Raptors’ 110-103 victory over the Trail Blazers on Thursday, RR traded emails with Dane Carbaugh of Blazer’s Edge, debriefing on a really fun game that was played well enough on both sides. It’s a format for additional post-game content we’ve tried on occasion before, and tonight seemed like a decent night to give it a shot. You can check out our full recap here, and be sure to check out Dane’s excellent NBA YouTube channel, which features Xs & Os breakdowns, scouting reports, analysis, kicks coverage, and more, with updates multiple times a week.

Blake Murphy: That was one heck of a fun game. I really, really like this Blazers team, almost to a man, and they were just as spry as expected. At a high level, I’m of the mind both teams played pretty well around some shoddy defense and horrible officiating both ways.

Are you in agreement it was kind of a “both teams played well, the better team won” meetings?

Dane Carbaugh: I guess it was fun because of the final quarter, but man it was ugly. Especially in the third. The Blazers themselves are fun, from time to time. They’re doing a better job lately of closing at the end than letting it slip away. That was their issue the first 20 games or so.

Officiating was real spotty. And I usually don’t notice or say that. Weirdo shooting fouls, nothing called in the lane either way … and a flagrant for good measure!

I think both teams played OK and the better team won

Blake Murphy: We’ve talked about the Raptors a little bit and the myth that they don’t really run plays. Did you see anything you liked out of Dwane Casey on Thursday? I thought the team responded pretty well out of timeouts and on set baseline plays.

Dane Carbaugh: I liked that he either appeared to be calling out all the Blazers plays or running the Raptors like a defensive coordinator in football. Couldn’t tell which from broadcast.

But they are good in ATO plays, which I broke down and shared on RR before. I did think they did a good job coming out of TV timeouts with a non-sideline or baseline play too.

Also: Kyle Lowry shooting from 30 feet is nice.

Blake Murphy: He did that against the Suns on Tuesday, too. Don’t ever let it be said Casey comes unprepared on defense (though that will make some question further why he’s been slow to make playoff adjustments, but that’s a conversation for another time).

Are you suggesting Lowry from 30 feet can’t be a regular part of the offense? Does Damian Lillard have dibs on the “most ridiculous shooter, non-Steph Curry division” title?

Related, just how good can this Lillard-C.J. McCollum pairing grow to be? Is Lowry-DeMar DeRozan aiming too high, in terms of long-term combined value?

Dane Carbaugh: In that case they need to get Lowry an ear piece so he can just radio it in.

Lowry can bomb. He’s obviously been a much better shooter since his second full year in Houston and everyone, including Zach Lowe, is gushing over it. I’m all about it.

In terms of Lillard … I think, getting to watch him every game while at the same time covering the league nationally, he is right up there. There are shots each and every night that he hits that I still go crazy over. Are they the best shots? No. But style is a thing. Lillard’s contested threes have style.

I think the Lillard – McCollum backcourt can be very good long term. Compared to Lowry and DeRozan, I think you’re comparing two different animals. McCollum is one of the most surprisingly good penetrators I’ve seen come into the NBA in a long time, especially when you consider the package and his methodology. Put in the fact they can both shoot the lights out, it’s a lot different than what’s in Toronto.

Long term? Hell, why not? Portland’s stuck in a place without many big name FAs looking to come, so if you can get both guys like that through the draft, might as well see how it goes. I’m happy with seeing them both play in Oregon for a while.

Blake Murphy: I’d be happy, too. I loved the Blazers’ accelerated rebuild, recognizing Lillard entering his prime and focusing on players who weren’t too far away from contributing. My heart broke when they landed Al-Farouq Aminu and Boss Davis, and now Allen Crabbe really looks like a player, too.

Considering all of that and Terry Stotts’ fine offensive work, but keeping in mind Portland’s incentive to miss the playoffs (they owe Denver their first, lottery protected, as you’re surely aware), can the Blazers grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference?

And final one for you: You cover the league as a whole and have paid the Raptors plenty of attention. Are they the second best team in the Eastern Conference?

Dane Carbaugh: Can the Blazers grab the 8th seed? Yes. Sacramento is twisted and weird and less than the sum of their parts. Portland is the opposite of that. Utah has been uninspiring but could conceivably put some space between them if they start playing better as a unit.

Do I think they should? No. They’re going to get obliterated. But that’s not how basketball players work. Man that’s not even how you or I work when we’re on the court at 24 Hour Fitness. I’ve maintained they’ll start losing games when real playoff teams in the West need to configure their seeding the last 8 weeks of the season. I can’t eject from that position now, but they’re definitely going to win more games than I predicted and that’s great.

A lot of that is due to Stotts, Lillard, McCollum and Crabbe and their continued growth. Plus, role players!

As for the Raptors, yes from where I’m standing they are the second best team and for good reason: Spacing. When you watch the Raptors play compared to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and the rest of the muck fighting to not get squeezed out of the final four, there’s a noticeable gap. In record, to be sure, but also in perception. The Hawks aren’t the Hawks of last year. Boston is slowly becoming a better offensive team. Chicago …

I’m excited for Toronto, the Raptors are not only good but they’ve learned from last year. They feel like a team that’s going to be able to be confident in the first round, stay strong when challenged in the second and be up to the task come Eastern Conference Finals.

OK! I just ruined it for you all! S’long!

Be sure to check out Dane’s excellent NBA YouTube channel, which features Xs & Os breakdowns, scouting reports, analysis, kicks coverage, and more, with updates multiple times a week.


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Raptors 110, Trail Blazers 103 | Box Score | Quick Reaction

When the biggest complaint about a game is “Well, Bismack Biyombo probably shouldn’t have been back in the game so quickly after taking a flagrant elbow to the head,” it was probably a good night.

Not that the Toronto Raptors went gangbusters or played their best ball against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, because they didn’t. What they did was go into the house of a fresh opponent on a five-game winning streak and exorcise a demon that extends back to December of 2006, the last time the Raptors won in Rip City. The Moda Center is a tough place to play, a spry Blazers team had won nine of their last 11, and the Raptors entered without their starting small forward and their backup small forward, playing their third west coast road game in four nights.

It wasn’t the prettiest of 48 minutes. It wasn’t clinical or methodical or decisive. But it was, in the well-chosen words of Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, professional. That may be an obvious descriptor for a professional basketball team’s performance, but it’s a tidy way of saying the Raptors handled their business.

They didn’t let the Blazers dictate the pace on their own floor, with head coach Dwane Casey smartly using a couple of timeouts to stem potential runs built off of transition opportunities. Portland isn’t an up-tempo team by nature – they’re middle of the pack – but they were doing a good job of coercing turnovers and turning those into points. The Blazers still managed 16 points off of 15 turnovers, in part because the Raptors got a little careless and predictable late in the game. The smaller-look Blazers are quick and athletic enough to force that issue, and Toronto did well to get back the other way for the most part, slowing the counter-attack down. The game was played at an estimated 96-possession pace, right in line with Toronto’s preferred style

They also didn’t like the inconsistent officiating get to them. There were times where a technical foul for Casey, Kyle Lowry, or DeMare DeRozan would have been justified, and the team did well to stay calm. That’s the expectation, of course, but it’s a mark of maturity for a team that relies so heavily on the whistle to work around it rather than complain about it. And in the defense of anyone who wants to complain about the referees, by all means – the line for acceptable contact, particularly in the paint, was a perpetually moving goalpost. It reached a crescendo with Meyers Leonard’s late flagrant on Biyombo and the officials are lucky cooler heads prevailed all game, save for a Damian Lillard technical. Neither side really benefited from the calls either way by the end, because it was bad both ways, but it’s difficult to defend – and attack – when the game’s being called differently minute to minute.

On that note, the Raptors managed to figure their way through a bizarre first quarter that saw Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas each pick up a pair of fouls quickly. A Lucas Nogueira sighting was eschewed in favor of a smaller lineup and Luis Scola settled in a little better at the five than he looked early at the four. It was still an iffy night for him overall, but the flexibility to shift him over is nice and was especially useful with Portland going four- and sometimes five-out.

That first quarter saw the Raptors score a season-high 37 points, opening up an early 12-point lead almost entirely on the backs of Lowry and DeRozan. Lowry was terrific all night, finishing with 30 points, six rebounds, and eight assists in 40 minutes while shooting 10-of-19 from the floor and 7-of-10 from outside, a peak-KLOE performance that makes one wonder if he got up a little extra for a game against Lillard. DeRozan, too, was up, though his 29 points came on 25 field-goal attempts. Still, he distributed well (four assists), continuing to impress in that regard, and he chipped in on the boards with five rebounds. The pair combined for 59 points, outscoring the Blazers’ own young, dynamic backcourt by 11. Also, Lowry hit a three from Pok Pok.
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Credit is due to Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, and T.J. Ross for the jobs they did on Lillard and McCollum, two players who have grown into difficult checks. Lowry played the ball-hawk role well, too, while DeRozan experienced his bi-annual torching at the hands of Gerald “Literally Kawhi Leonard Against the Raptors” Henderson for a few minutes. Between Lillard, McCollum, and Allen Crabbe, the Blazers are in pretty good shape at the guard positions. Crabbe defended well and continues to show more and more offensively, while Lillard’s long been an All-Star in waiting and McCollum is the likely (and predicted) Most Improved Player this season. Ross would fit right in there, turning in another strong two-way game.

Given the quality of these young, rested Portland legs and how well the whole team’s been gelling of late, it’s an impressive victory. The Raptors moved the ball around much better than they have of late, finding new ways of scoring when their usual barrage of free throws didn’t present themselves. Their 25 free-throw attempts were their lowest since Jan. 22, and they made up for that with their highest assist total, 23, since the game prior to that. They were aided by an unseasonably warm 12-of-19 night from outside, sure, but they also pushed their own transition game incredibly well for easy points (19 off of 14 turnovers), hammered the offensive glass (12, or 28.6 percent), and got into the paint despite the heavy contact.

At the other end, things were shaky, with Portland shooting 46.9 percent overall and 10-of-25 on threes. The Raptors didn’t do their best job chasing off the 3-point line, but they continued to do well sealing off the restricted area, something both Valanciunas and Biyombo did a good job with. Patrick Patterson deserves credit, too, for yet another solid night on the defensive side of the ball, showing he can handle the four against small-ish looks. Again, defense wasn’t a strength Thursday, with the Raptors doing just enough to let their offense get them the win.

And it did, because Lowry and DeRozan are very good, Joseph and Ross brought some secondary punch, and Valanciunas dominated a portion of the game across the first and second quarter when the two stars took their rests.

Not every night is going to be played perfectly. Road games are tough. Young, hungry, fresh opponents rarely lie down. Starting your third-string shooting guard because of injuries (and oddly just accepting his current offensive limitations instead of trying to leverage his strengths), no matter how encouraging the defense, isn’t ideal. The Raptors have played a lot, particularly their All-Star duo, and they continue to win whether they’re at their best or they’re not.

Thursday marks the team’s 13th win in 14 games, their first in Portland in nearly a decade, and their 34th through 50 games, the best mark in franchise history. They’re two games back of Cleveland in the East, 5.5 up on the next best team, and have three days off for a quick trip home before heading out for two more and then getting an extended rest. This team is on a serious roll, and there’s not a lot to suggest they’re going to slow down any time soon.


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Lowry, DeRozan spark Raptors past Blazers | Toronto Star

Kyle Lowry (30 points, eight assists, six rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (29 points) and the rest of the Raptors were ready to go up hills and through walls on Thursday night to bring this streak to an end and to start a new one.
The Raptors outlasted the Blazers 110-103, giving them their second win in a row and ending Portland’s five-game run. The Raptors have also won 13 of their last 14 games. At 34-16, the Raptors now have their most wins through 50 games in franchise history, beating last year’s team by a game.

Raptors end long losing streak in Portland | Toronto Sun

Against a surging Blazers squad that had won five straight, the Raptors blasted out of the gate with a season-high 37 points, then fought off a number of challenges before Kyle Lowry went supernova in the fourth quarter and ended up matching a career-high with seven three-pointers in a 30-point, eight assist, six rebound masterpiece.

Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (29 points, five rebounds and four assists) handily won the battle of two of the NBA’s most potent backcourts and Jonas Valanciunas had a big first half.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey had said beforehand that it was a “travesty” that Damian Lillard did not make the all-star team, but Lillard had a horrid outing, shooting just 4-for-15 before hitting 4-of-5 during a futile comeback bid and got torched by Lowry.

Game Rap: Raptors 110, Trail Blazers 103 | Toronto Raptors

IT WAS OVER WHEN

Jonas Valanciunas drilled two free throws to put Toronto up seven with 33 seconds remaining. Despite turning the ball over on back-to-back possessions late, the Raptors were able to hold on for the 110-103 victory. The win was Toronto’s first in Portland since 2006, and moves Toronto to 34-16 on the season.

Raptors hold off Blazers 110-103 | Raptors HQ

The second half was tightly contested the whole way through. Every time the Raptors made a bit of run to open up the lead to double digits, the Blazers got timely shots from Allen Crabbe, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to get them right back in the game. Defensively, they put a ton of pressure on the Raptors right at the perimeter, and when faced with players attacking the paint, they clamped down with physicality and forced the Raptors into 10 turnovers in the half.

The three-point line was kind though, as the Raps shot 12-19 on the night. Kyle Lowry was especially good, hitting 7-10 threes on the night he was announced as a participant in the three-point contest on All Star Weekend. When the Blazers got within striking distance, Lowry was there to silence the crowd at the Moda Center with timely shots of his own. After some silliness at the end of the game (sloppy turnovers, hard fouls, etc.), the Raptors hung on to take this one 110-103.

Portland Trail Blazers’ Win Streak Extinct After Toronto Raptors’ 110-103 Victory | Blazer’s Edge

The Blazers withstood a scorching first quarter by the Raptors to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league going into the final quarter. But, the Raptors showcased both their defensive tenacity and their offensive firepower. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the way for the Raptors as they snap Portland’s five-game win streak with a 110-103 victory, book-ending Portland’s home stand with a couple of losses.

Trail Blazers can’t stop Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan in 110-103 loss to Raptors: Game rewind | OregonLive.com

Portland fell behind by as much 16 points in the first half, before linking together a couple strong defensive quarters and pulling within three points early in the fourth. Meyers Leonard’s short jumper cut the Raptors lead to 84-81 with just under 10 minutes to play and the Blazers had two possessions to cut into lead, trailing by three points. But both ended with turnovers and Toronto responded with a 10-0 run led by eight straight points from Lowry.

10,7…

A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on

Raptors Take Blazers to School, DeRozan and Lowry Dominate | Blazer’s Edge

If you just read the Game Flow section you’ll know that Toronto’s guards scored 42 of the 51 points their team put up in the second half. If that’s not enough for you, 98 of Toronto’s 110 points tonight came in the lane, beyond the three-point arc, or at the foul line. Considering those are the three places the Blazers least like to give up points, I’d say that this was either a fairly poor defensive job by the Blazers, a fairly surgical dismantling of Portland by the Raptors, or both.

(Hint: It was both.)

You could tell how far the Raptors were into the Blazers’ heads during end-of-quarter possessions. Portland’s pet play is shooting the ball with 30-33 seconds remaining on the clock, giving themselves an easy 2-for-1 situation. They’ve done it all year to great effect. Tonight the 35-second mark of each quarter might as well have been the oven dinging when the muffins are done. The Raptors knew where the ball was and they ran to get it, confident that whoever held the rock was going to shoot within 2-3 seconds. The Blazers didn’t get a meaningful final shot in any quarter this evening.

We see you @kyle_lowry7. Let it fly! #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Toronto Raptors end Trail Blazers winning streak | Raptors Cage

The Toronto Raptors will go as far as their All-Star backcourt can take them, and tonight was a classic case as to why that’s possible.

Lowry and DeMar DeRozan started off the game in full leadership mode for the Raptors, combining to score the team’s first 18 points to give them a 7-point lead. Lowry led all scorers with 30 points, 11 of those points coming in the fourth quarter to help the Raptors ice the game. DeRozan also scored 29 points, with 12 of them coming in the opening frame.

The Raptors were great at finding ways to get the rim against Portland, scoring 44 points in the paint. Jonas Valanciunas scored all his field goals in the paint, helping him record his 11th double double of the season with 14 points, and 11 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks.

#TBT

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Thursday by the numbers: Kobe Bryant and Kyle Lowry star | ESPN

30 — Kyle Lowry reached the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season as the Raptors topped the Trail Blazers. Lowry had five 30-point games all of last season. Thursday he made 7-of-10 3-pointers; he was 7-of-21 on 3s in his previous three games. The seven 3-pointers tied a career high.

Takeaways: Lowry on fire from three-point range | Sportsnet.ca

Despite the Blazers’ record this was a big road win in a hostile environment.

Portland had won their last five games and held opponents to just 94 points per game. Dwane Casey’s team came out aggressive, scoring 37 in the first quarter on its way to putting up 110.

Toronto is now 18-7 against teams under .500. It improves to 16-10 on the road.

Lowry joins three-point contest field for all-star weekend | Toronto Sun

The NBA announced Thursday that Lowry will compete at the three-point shootout against former Raptors star Chris Bosh, reigning MVP Stephen Curry, teammate Klay Thompson, league threes leader JJ Redick, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Suns rookie Devin Booker and Houston’s James Harden.

Lowry, who will start again for the East in Sunday’s marquee contest, leads all Eastern Conference player in three-point makes and is shooting a career-best .388 from three-point range.

Lowry was having a little fun before the Raptors took on the Trail Blazers after the news came out.

“I gotta do something because Terrence (Ross) punked out and DeMar (DeRozan) punked out,” Lowry said of neither Raptors swingman taking part in the slam dunk contest.

Raptors’ Kyle Lowry to participate in all-star three-point contest | Toronto Star

Participating in his second all-star game in a row, Lowry is shooting a career-best 38.8 per cent from three-point range this season. He is fourth in the NBA in three-pointers made at 135, and fifth in attempts at 348.

Charles Barkley lauds Toronto as all-star game host city | Toronto Sun

“What happens when you have the all-star game there is you have a celebration of all the best players, the best talent,” said Smith. “So all of a sudden they get to be in a city for more than 24 hours and get to see the excitement.

“You saw it in Toronto last year when they were making a playoff run. There are a bunch of basketball fans in Canada that now have the opportunity to get seen.

“I don’t know if it has the impact of the Dream Team (U.S. Olympic basketball team) going overseas, but it has the Dream Team effect, where everyone is there and they see everything and you become more exited about it.”

Dinos & Digits: Frontcourt defense and Lowry’s near record | Raptors HQ

The Raptors have had a Defensive Rating of 109.2 in the 569 minutes that Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola have played together.

For the sake of context, the Los Angeles Lakers have the league’s worst overall Defensive Rating this season at 108.4.

The Raptors have a team mark for the year of 101.0 (making them the ninth-ranked defense in the league), despite the low rating of their starting frontcourt pairing. That’s largely because they’ve had a 99.8 mark in the 959 minutes that neither has been on the floor.

The team has also had an identical 109.2 Offensive Rating during the pairing’s 569 minutes, for a 0.0 Net Rating.

The NBA Guide To Winning | The Sports Quotient

On the offensive side of the ball it’s about the two dukes of Toronto: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. These guys isolate, and it works. Toronto ranks third-to-last in the NBA in assists per 100 possessions, but sixth in net offensive rating, all because of the career years these two studs are having. Lowry does it all. He drives, he finishes, he passes and he shoots. DeRozan is a driving machine. He leads the league in drives per game and gets to the line 8.2 times per game, third most in the league.
The Raptors don’t move it like the Warriors or Spurs, and they don’t have a distributer as gifted as Westbrook The Creator. But they’ve found a unique way to win, and it stacks right up there with the best the league has to offer.

Top Trade Targets For The Toronto Raptors | A Few Good Mics

Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks): His name has been flown around into the trade winds recently, I think it’s because the Hawks are starting to figure out that, even though they can win games in the regular season, they can’t win a title with this core group. Pair that with the fact Horford is going to be a free agent this summer, the Hawks should most definitely be looking at what they could get back. As for how he’d fit into the Raptors, he’s always viewed himself as a power forward, which he would be in this lineup. He’s great in the mid-range area of the court, which would help immensely with JV, and he’s a great rebounder. This would be the package where the Raptors would have to give up the most, but that’s because Horford is only 29. I believe Horford would be the best trade target for the Raptors.

Potential Trade: Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogeuira, NYK/DEN 2016 1st round pick, 2017 LAC 1st round pick for Al Horford and a future protected 2nd round pick.

Help us continue to create great content.

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Toronto Raptors 110 Final
Recap | Box Score
103 Portland Trail Blazers
Luis Scola, PF 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -8 +/-Got burned on defense far too often to start the game, but it surprisingly didn’t hurt the team much. Opened up space for the guards to operate by pulling Plumlee out on the perimeter with some solid three point shooting. Aminu basically shut him down in the 3rd, and the rest was just academic. Dude is just slow and unathletic. Imagine, just imagine, he’s coming off the bench for 10-14 minutes a night because we have Keif. That would be perfect.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-4 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | 0 +/-Got dinged for two quick fouls in the first minute, and got yanked quick. One of the fouls was taken away, and immediately went into beast mode in the 1st half with 10pts 7rebs (couldn’t have blamed him if he came back deflated; he obviously didn’t). Defensive rotations were tight, blocked some shots, and iced the game with two clutch free throws to put the Raptors up seven. Really had me conflicted since my fantasy head-to-head match-up had him dressed tonight.

Kyle Lowry, PG 40 MIN | 10-19 FG | 7-10 3FG | 3-5 FT | 6 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 7 TO | 30 PTS | -2 +/-Bang-up job of limiting Lillard in the 1st half; he eventually got his, but Dame Dolla is top-10 in the league. He rained down three after three after three (after three after three after three after three) down on Rip City; each one hurt them and came when they were most needed. Had a bit of trouble protecting the ball, but took control in the fourth when the Blazers got within three, extending the lead to 13 and utterly deflating the Blazers.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 35 MIN | 11-25 FG | 1-1 3FG | 6-9 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 29 PTS | +4 +/-Got whatever shot he wanted throughout the game, especially out of a timeout, but should have converted more than he did; I can live with that since he really forced the Blazer wings to man him up, and for the most part, they just couldn’t.

Norman Powell, SG 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2 +/-He’s really not doing enough with this opportunity; had some athletic movements…uhm…a foul, a rebound, and an assist. CJ McCollum didn’t seem bothered tbh…James Johnson can’t get back soon enough.

Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +19 +/-Provided tremendous defensive stability in the 4th quarter with the Blazers going small ball and pressing. The team didn’t his offensve tonight but a couple more buckets would have been nice (at least that put-back dunk on the break).

Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-2 3FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +11 +/-We got good Ross tonight. Good Ross uses the threat of the three to get himself better shots by putting the ball on the floor and beating his man off the bounce; love that shit. Fairly active on defense and on the glass. Got a bit sloppy in the second half, but still, good Ross.

Bismack Biyombo, C 21 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | +3 +/-Engaged on the glass from the moment he stepped on the court. Banged around and was a general nuisance for the Portland bigs. A net negative offensively, though, but he rarely isn’t.

Cory Joseph, PG 25 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | +6 +/-Love that high pick-n-roll action with JV; he makes things happen off of it. Frankly, Joseph is a boring player: he does the right things (except for that one inbounds pass with 40 seconds left in a tight game). Within the boundaries of his abilities. All the time. What else should I say?

Dwane Casey
Lillard/McCollum are an elite backcourt, and the fact that the Raptors really took it to them, and limited their effectiveness, was a huge deal. That goes to preparation. Love the minute distribution considering injuries, especially since he was able to get the right guys out on the court at the right times. Utlilized the bench perfectly. Stopped Blazer runs cold in their tracks with a combination of timeouts, DeMar scoring out of timeouts, and getting the right guys in during the timeouts. Great use of timeouts overall.


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Drake is already on record as saying his agenda for All-Star Weekend in Toronto is incredibly full. His dance card just got one item longer.

NBA analyst Reggie Miller publicly challenged the rapper to a game of ping-pong over the weekend, and the Grammy Award-winner accepted. So add this to the lengthy list of must-see All-Star events.

If SPIN has anyone worth their salt working social media, they’ll reach out quickly and offer their King & Spadina location as a venue. They may want to have EMTs on-hand, too, because Drake might body Miller on the tables.


As a former employee of theScore, I have it on good authority that there are several challengers waiting for Drake right across the street from SPIN, one of whom even beat Amir Johnson in a game once.


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The Toronto Raptors are in one of my favorite cities on Thursday to take on the Portland Trail Blazers at 10 p.m. on TSN.

It should be a fun one, as the spry Blazers are blowing expectations away. Led by All-Star snub Damian Lillard (#YellowTape), personal Most Improved prediction C.J. McCollum (who will reportedly be in the skills competition All-Star weekend), and former beloved Raptor Boss Davis, the Blazers stand as the eight-seed in the Western Conference at 24-26. It may not be realistic to expect them to finish so high, but head coach Terry Stotts (and assistant Jay Triano!) have the Blazers eighth in offense and 20th in defense, hardly an easy out.

Raptors updates
The Raptors will also be shorthanded as they try to steal one in Rip City. DeMarre Carroll remains out, James Johnson joins him indefinitely, and the Raptors are hoping to limit Kyle Lowry’s minutes moving forward (yeah, right). Norman Powell stands to draw the start once again, though that role is “fluid,” in the words of head coach Dwane Casey. Bruno Caboclo remains with Raptors 905, on his way to Texas.

The rotation will look something like this:

PG: Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, Terrence Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Anthony Bennett
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Blazers update
Noah Vonleh, who has begun to show signs of delivering a return on the immense promise that made him a 2014 lottery pick, was doubtful due to an ankle injury. He’s out, per Casey Holdahl. Everyone else is good to go, leaving the rotation looking something like this:

PG: Lillard, Tim Frazier
SG: McCollMeMaybe, Raptor Killer Gerald Henderson, Allen Crabbe
SF: How Could You Be Mo Harkless, Two-Sport Stud Pat Connaughton, Poor Man’s Bruno Luis Montero
PF: Al-Farouq AminuMeyers Leonard, Cliff Alexander
C: Mason Plumlee, Boss Davis, Air Sasquatch

I might be overtired. Sorry for that.

DeRozan & Lillard team up
Under the Spalding brand, DeRozan and Lillard have teamed up for a campaign called #TrueBelievers, looking to highlight those with “the uncompromising confidence needed to defy all odds.” Both players participated in a live Periscope Q&A last night, and “digital takeovers” are expected in the future.

I’m not really sure what any of this means – SLAM has more – but more exposure for DeRozan can’t hurt. He’s deserved some additional endorsement love with the work he’s put in over seven years to improve to this level.

Still mad at DeRozan, though
DeRozan told Wolstat on Thursday that he was thinking of entering the Dunk Contest but decided at the last minute not to. WHAT?? The Dunk Contest field is lit, but it won’t have a Toronto or Canadian representative, and while DeRozan’s correct that Powell should have been in it, the fact that we’re missing out on DeRozan sucks.

DeRozan participated in 2010 and 2011, losing to Nate Robinson and Blake Griffin, respectively. He showed well in the process, and while 26 is a bit on the old side for Dunk Contest participants in recent years, he could have been the impetus for more established players to begin finding their way back. He also would have become just the 15th player to appear in three showdowns.


I agree with DeRozan, by the way, that LaVine is going to win and “good luck to everybody else.”

You can check out the full list of All-Star weekend participants here. That includes Lowry in the 3-Point Shootout.

Billy Donovan compares Draymond Green to Lowry
Here’s a cool quote from the Thunder coach comparing Green playing the five to Lowry playing some power forward in college.

The Line
The Raptors are two-point underdogs, the first time they’ve been underdogs since Jan. 8 on the road against Washington. That’s a pretty impressive 11-game streak of being favored that speaks to both the relatively easy schedule of late and the general public buy-in to the way the Raptors are playing. Portland standing as a favorite (and moving from a one-point favorite) speaks to the Raptors playing their third road game in four nights and Portland having won nine of their last 11. Portland’s really struggled to beat good teams, though.

So…let’s be optimistic, eh? I mean, my local LCBO finally got my favorite beer, Fat Tug IPA from Victoria, so today’s a good day.

Toronto 105, Portland 101


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NBA All-Star Weekend has taken shape, with the NBA announcing the participants for All-Star Saturday night on Thursday.

Kyle Lowry highlights the announcement, as he’ll represent the Toronto Raptors at home in the 3-Point Shootout. Familiarity and comfort could be an advantage in such a competition, and Lowry will know the Air Canada Centre rims well, but the competition is incredibly stiff.

Lowry will square off against Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, J.J. Redick, James Harden, Khris Middleton, and Chris Bosh, a ridiculously stacked field. If you boo Bosh, I’ll fight you.

There’s a small amount of pressure on Lowry, as no other Raptor will participate that night. The Dunk Contest will feature Zach LaVine, Andre Drummond, Aaron Gordon, and Will Barton (more on that here), while the Skills Competition will pit DeMarcus Cousins against Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Draymond Green, Jordan Clarkson, C.J. McCollum, Isaiah Thomas, and Patrick Beverley.

3point

I really can’t wait.

Here’s an updated list of events with links for more information.

Friday

Celebrity Game
Canada (coached by Drake, Steve Nash, and Jose Bautista)

Stephen James
Win Butler
Drew and Jonathan Scott
Milos Raonic
Kris Wu
Rick Fox
Natalie Achonwa
Tracy McGrady

USA (coached by Kevin Hart)
Michael B. Jordan
Jason Sudeikis
Anthony Anderson
Nick Cannon
Bryshere Gray
Muggsy Bogues
Marc Lasry
Elena Delle Donne
Chauncey Billups
Rising Stars Game
rising stars

Saturday

D-League All-Star Game, Dunk Contest, and 3-Point Shootout
d league allstarsdunk dleague

Unofficial celebrity charity game
Morris Peterson
Alvin Williams
Jerome Williams
Baron Davis
Rick Fox
Jose Bautista
Joe Carter
K Camp
Wale
A$AP Ferg

All-Star Saturday Night
Dunk Contest
Zach LaVine
Andre Drummond
Aaron Gordon
Will Barton

Skills Competition
DeMarcus Cousins
Anthony Davis
Karl-Anthony Towns
Draymond Green
Jordan Clarkson
C.J. McCollum
Isaiah Thomas
Patrick Beverley

3-Point Shootout
Kyle Lowry
Steph Curry
Klay Thompson
Devin Booker
J.J. Redick
James Harden
Khris Middleton
Chris Bosh

Sunday

All-Star Game
East
G: Dwyane Wade
G: Kyle Lowry
FC: LeBron James
FC: Paul George
FC: Carmelo Anthony

G: Jimmy Butler
G: John Wall
FC: Paul Millsap
FC: Chris Bosh
FC: Andre Drummond
WC: DeMar DeRozan
WC: Isaiah Thomas

West
G: Steph Curry
G: Russell Westbrook
FC: Kobe Bryant
FC: Kevin Durant
FC: Kawhi Leonard

G: Chris Paul
G: James Harden
FC: Draymond Green
FC: Anthony Davis
FC: DeMarcus Cousins
WC: Klay Thompson
WC: LaMarcus Aldridge


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The Toronto Raptors will be without James Johnson until they’re not.

That’s about the whole of the update the team provided to beat reporters on Thursday from Portland. Johnson left Monday’s game in the second quarter after spraining his left ankle diving for a loose ball. X-rays following the game were negative and Johnson was set for an MRI on Thursday, but an update courtesy of head coach Dwane Casey was vague.

Per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun and Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star, a handsome duo if there ever was one, Johnson is dealing with a “bad” sprain without structural damage to the ankle. There’s no timetable for his return.

There’s also no timetable for the return of DeMarre Carroll, who is traveling with the team following Jan. 4 arthroscopic knee surgery and has progressed to shooting flat-footed shots, which means the Raptors are without a small forward for a while. In other words, #WeTheNorm until further notice.

Casey has a few lineup options he can explore, and he said on the radio Wednesday that the starting wing spot alongside DeMar DeRozan is a “fluid” situation.

Norman Powell drew the start in the first game post-Johnson on Tuesday, acquitting himself fairly well in 15 scoreless minutes. By rolling with Powell, Casey accepts somewhat of a size downgrade with DeRozan sliding to the three while also sacrificing already-cramped spacing. Teams are going to play way off of Powell and force him to attack and distribute out of the corners, his normal post in standard horns sets, and Powell’s going to have to show what he’s been doing in the D-League can translate before teams show him some respect. With DeRozan and Luis Scola also in the starting lineup, he’s not going to have a lot of space to operate it, but he deserves the chance to show the strides he’s taken with Raptors 905 are more than just the product of inferior competition.

I’m of the mind they are, as Powell has worked tirelessly to begin complementing his straight-line attack game with better reads off the bounce. Even if that’s slow to come, he’s the best defensive option the Raptors have, a lightning-quick and hyper-aggressive defender capable of guarding ones, twos, and threes who aren’t serious post-up threats. Big threes would give any of the Raptors’ best options trouble, but the Raptors won’t face such a wing until after the All-Star break, save for maybe small doses of Marcus Morris at the three on Monday.

Powell’s the right call, in my mind, both for defense, to give a hard-working rookie a chance he’s been waiting on, and, the point most likely to convince Casey, to maintain rotation consistency.

T.J. Ross is an obvious option to draw in alongside DeRozan, as he’s started the bulk of his career and has been playing great over the last two months. Casey may prefer to keep his usual rotations in tact, letting the four primary reserves stay in their current roles and rhythm rather than risk disrupting them for, say, three games, only to ask them to rediscover their footing again later. Ross is the best option to start in a vacuum, but putting yourself at a slight disadvantage early in order to ensure comfort later is fine.

On that note, the best move may be to finally flip the switch on Patrick Patterson starting over Luis Scola, thereby easing the spacing issue some and goosing the defense, but if he hasn’t made the move yet, I’m not sure it’s coming.

Anthony Bennett probably won’t draw a start but Casey mentioned him as a potential “power three” that could see some run. I’m skeptical based on tiny samples and D-League run that Bennett’s going to contribute much, but options are kind of limited.

In terms of Thursday alone, Powell makes sense as an option to help on Damian Lillard and chase breakout player and personal favorite C.J. McCollum around screens.


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Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is with me. Take that, Daniel Reynolds.

Casey joined Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 the FAN on Wednesday and admitted to the hosts that it’s probably time to start managing All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry’s minutes more closely. Here’s Casey, as transcribed by my man Steven Loung of Sportsnet:

We’ve got to get his minutes down. Last night he was up to [42] minutes and we probably have to get him out sooner because we’re getting caught when there’s no stoppage in play, and we have a guy at the scorer’s table and there goes another minute. Those extra couple minutes add up over a period of the game and now he’s at [42] when really he should be at 36, 35 minutes.

This is great to hear, but now it’s a matter of seeing it in action. The Raptors have really struggled to close out teams late in games, often letting their early-fourth dominance slide into a mid-fourth malaise. Teams are going to go on runs, of course, but the Raptors have consistently built a lead only to let an opponent hang around long enough to warrant tasking Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with heavy minutes down the stretch. On occasion, Casey has been guilty of leaving Lowry in far too long even with the game in hand, like in last week’s game against Washington when Lowry sprained his wrist playing up 17 with just four minutes left to play. Again Tuesday, he had to play 41:35 as the Raptors let the Suns keep the game competitive down to the wire.

To be clear, Lowry’s playing well despite averaging 36.7 minutes and appearing in each of the team’s 49 games. The absence of a dip in performance, the team’s run of success, and the shape Lowry came into the season in have led some to look past the minutes load, and that’s their prerogative. I understand that worrying when things are going well isn’t for everyone and can sap some of the enjoyment out of the good times. Tomorrow isn’t promised, or whatever.

But I’m naturally risk-averse when it comes to the matter of injuries and playing time. The marginal product of leaving Lowry in late in games that are winnable without him is low, and the potential cost of him wearing down or getting hurt is huge. As I wrote Monday:

But we saw last Tuesday what can happen when a player is needlessly playing too much – up 17 with fewer than four minutes to play, Lowry, who only has one gear, sprains his wrist getting caught on a screen. Against Detroit, he’s out late with a double-digit lead in a game in which he was visibly laboring and constantly stretching out said wrist. Lowry’s also 30, and while Joseph has taken some of the load off of him defensively, his usage rate is at a career-high and he plays a high-contact style.

Injuries aren’t an issue until they are. I’ve always been extremely risk-averse when it comes to player workloads and injuries. That’s especially true with Lowry, as the team has a bit of a window right now, one that shuts emphatically if he were to get hurt.

The more a player’s on the court, the more opportunity there is for random things to happen. So far this season, only four players have been on the floor more than Lowry and DeRozan, which is a tough way to approach an 82-game season in which wins don’t matter nearly as much as hitting the postseason at 100 percent.

Casey talks wing rotation
*The starting three position is fluid based on matchup and situation while James Johnson and DeMarre Carroll are sidelined.
*he thinks Norman Powell is a little undersized for the position (it shifts DeRozan to the three some).
*Anthony Bennett could see time as a “power three” and he believes Bennett can grow into that player.


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Markieff Morris drives past Jonas Valanciunas for a dunk on Feb. 2. The Raptors have reportedly inquired about trading for Morris.

The NBA’s trade deadline is 15 days away, on Feb. 18, and we’re beginning to hear rumblings about players the Toronto Raptors might be interested in. Yesterday, two Phoenix Suns — Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker — were reportedly being targeted by the Raptors, coincidentally just one day after the two teams played each other. To me, that raises questions about the validity of those reports, but they’re from people far more intelligent and connected than I, so I’m inclined to believe them.

However, it also raises another question: Do the Raptors even need to make a trade this season?

The Raptors currently sit at 33-16 in the Eastern Conference, they’re 9-1 in their last 10 games and 12-3 in their last 15. Those wins came without the team’s major offseason acquisition, DeMarre Carroll, and while a good number of those wins came against bad teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic, the Raptors also beat some fairly good teams, like the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons.

The Raptors have exceeded preseason expectations by a significant margin, and they’ve already made me look like a fool. Earlier this season, I pondered whether or not they’d even get homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Clearly, they will, and I’m humble enough to admit that I was wrong. (Modesty, on the other hand, is not something I’m known for.) Then again, most of us were wrong. The Raptors have persevered through injuries to key players and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. Players we were worried about, like Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson, have come around and are now key contributors to a winning team.

The Raptors are good. They’re very good. And it’s for that reason I’m not sure they should make a trade before the deadline. Not a major one, anyway.

There are three reasons to make a trade in the NBA: One, to upgrade on existing talent; two, to offload contracts hindering the team’s financial flexbility; and three, to acquire assets that have value in the future, not the present. The Raptors have no need to acquire picks or young pieces, and their cap sheet is fine. Yes, they could certainly upgrade on existing talent, but that presents another problem.

Chemistry.

The Raptors’ success the last few seasons has been based on exceptional chemistry, with not one player on the roster being regarded as anything but having high character. Jack Armstrong, the Raptors’ color analyst, said as much a couple of weeks ago at Hoop Talks in Toronto. He said he’d never seen a group with as much character and chemistry as the Raptors’ current roster, and credited general manager Masai Ujiri with building an environment in which the team can grow internally rather than by bringing in new pieces. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of what he said.

We’ve all seen the dozens of vines and YouTube clips of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry clowning each other and the Snapchats of Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira. And that’s the norm with the Raptors. They adore each other. There’s no beef, no egos, none of it.

If the Raptors were to make a trade — especially mid-season — they run the risk of jeopardizing what they’ve ever so carefully constructed.

Am I overstating the value of chemistry? Perhaps. There’ve been teams in the past comprised of players that hated each other but routinely won, with perhaps the most glaring example being the Los Angeles Lakers of the early ’00s. But the Raptors aren’t lucky enough to have two of the best of all time at their respective positions, and that’s reason for concern.

There’s been quite a bit of discourse about how Morris would affect the Raptors’ chemistry if he ends up in Toronto. For those unaware, the Morris twins have a bit of a history of being difficult to handle, especially when separated. The duo picked up felony aggravated assault charges after reportedly attacking a man at a recreation center in Phoenix. A few months later, Marcus was traded to Detroit. Neither brother responded well to the situation, with both publicly condemning the Suns for splitting them up. In fairness, the nature of their contract negotiations the prior year (they were given a lump sum of $52 million and told to split it as they saw fit) probably led both to believe that they’d be together for the foreseeable future. So yes, dick move on the Suns’ part. But neither Markieff or Marcus handled the trade well, with both taking to the media to voice their displeasure.

And neither’s performed all that well since they were split up. Maybe all they need is a change of scenery. That’s entirely possible.

Unfortunately, Josh Lewenberg of TSN reported that while DeRozan and Lowry are on good terms with Morris, the rest of the team’s not all that fond of him. Still, there’s no denying Morris is a very talented player. It’s just that the Raptors could be making quite the gamble if they trade for him.

But hey, Morris is a bit of an outlier. Most players don’t carry the baggage he does, and most are just happy to be playing basketball for a living. However, developing a level of trust with not just the players, but the coaches, takes time. There’s a playbook to learn, too.

And if the Raptors are this good already, why take a chance on the unknown? Don’t get me wrong, the Raptors definitely need to address the power forward spot. Luis Scola is productive but old, Patrick Patterson appears to have a low ceiling, and Bismack Biyombo will never play power forward unless he develops some sort of touch from at least 15 feet, which isn’t going to happen. I wrote extensively on this earlier this season.

But the fact remains: Right now, the Raptors are very, very good.

There’s no need to rush into a trade when this season looks to finish just fine. If you can get a great piece at an unbelievable discount, sure, go for it. If you’re just looking to flip someone at the bottom of the bench for another role player, sure, that works too. But if the plan is to address both the present and future with a big move, it might be best to wait until the offseason.

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We’re past the halfway point of the season and the Toronto Raptors are still struggling to generate assisted baskets on the offensive end. Things have looked pretty good at times during their win streak but they still struggle overall, with the Raptors ranking second last in the NBA in assist percentage for the month of January. A brief stretch at the beginning of the month gave us a little glimmer of hope, as we saw some effective passing from centre Jonas Valanciunas in a variety of situations. That aspect of his game is obviously not on the level of someone like Marc Gasol yet, but he completed some difficult passes which strongly suggest that this is something that can be nurtured and developed into a legitimate offensive weapon.

We start with a nice read from both Valanciunas and point guard Kyle Lowry:

When Kemba Walker’s attention lingers on the screen coming from DeMarre Carroll we see Lowry dive straight to the rim. Zeller’s hands are down, waiting for the contact from a Valanciunas backdown so Jonas has a clear view of the passing lane and hits Lowry for the layup.

Valanciunas still has some work to do on his pick and roll timing but his passing after the catch is much improved. Batum is drawn all the way down to the paint because Cody Zeller can’t do much to stop Valanciunas in the middle of the paint and Carroll is the recipient of a nice kick out for an open corner three:

So far those are nice reads by Jonas but the passes don’t require much in the way of touch. This assist is set up by a great Lowry cut, who feels his man overplaying him a bit and changes direction, rubs his defender off Valanciunas in the high post and goes to the rim. Valanciunas does his part by delivering a perfect pass over the top:


In this example Cory Joseph makes a great cut and Valanciunas delivers a perfect bounce pass to him for the layup. I love this not just because of the cut and the pass but because Valanciunas was heading to the rim for a give and go in the event Joseph didn’t continue with his drive for some reason:

This pass is one of the most impressive of the bunch and is one that has me thinking his passing can be developed into a potent offensive weapon. Jonas catches a nice pocket pass but decides to post up instead of shooting, recognizes the weak double coming from the top and delivers a no look pass to Lowry in rhythm for a jump shot. Valanciunas had already shown some ability to kick it out when going across the lane but I don’t think there is any way he makes this particular pass a year ago:

The early January game against the Wizards may have been his best overall passing performance. Here we see some passes that require a timing and a light touch and he delivers them with precision. The first is a tough high-low feed to DeMar DeRozan, who is fending off the skinnier Otto Porter:

That’s not an easy pass to make. This is something I’d like the Raptors to do more when teams overplay DeRozan because they fear his post game against smaller defenders. Valanciunas can make that pass if DeRozan can seal.

The very next Toronto basket of that game was a perfect bounce pass from the perimeter to a streaking(for lack of a better term) Luis Scola for a layup. It looks basic enough but a year ago I don’t think Valanciunas could make that pass and there are a lot of starting big men in the NBA today who wouldn’t be able to make it:

I don’t think this one should be an assist because DeRozan manufactures this shot after receiving the pass from Valanciunas but the look away bounce pass is delivered well and is what allows DeRozan to attack without breaking stride. Even if it shouldn’t be an assist it’s a good pass:

Perhaps the best pass of the bunch is this gem from the Miami Heat game. Valanciunas catches the ball in the post, sees the double coming to try to force the turnover and throws a no look, over the head pass to James Johnson in the corner for an open jump shot. That’s some Gasol Brothers/Vlade Divac/Arvidas Sabonis style passing:

He’s far from being an elite interior passer at this point. He’s still prone to making some bad reads or missing opportunities due to slow decision making but it’s becoming obvious that he does have some passing ability and this should be developed. His growth may be stunted by the fact that he doesn’t see the ball enough – he can’t fully develop the ability to read a game speed defense in practice so he needs frequent touches in game. This presents a conundrum of sorts for the Raptors, who have to weigh the longterm benefits of a more reliable Valanciunas with the desire to win games now and may feel that more Valanciunas is a risk.

I don’t view this as a particularly difficult decision to make for a few reasons. First, the Raptors have made a longterm, big money commitment to Valanciunas so it’s in their best interest to have Jonas become the best player he can be. Second, assuming the Raptors stick with the current core and throw a lot of money at DeRozan they’re only going to take that next step forward if their youngsters develop skillsets that the team needs to have a more varied offensive attack and more consistent defense. Bruno Caboclo still looks to be a year or two of regular Raptors905 play away from being a viable NBA player and while Bebe Nogueira, Norman Powell and Delon Wright are all promising it’s still unclear if any of them have the potential to be anything but an infrequent contributor on the offensive end. Valanciunas has already shown a lot of offensive skills and on a per-minute basis is one of the most productive young big men in the game.

Developing an all-around game for Valanciunas should be a priority for the team and as much as his workouts with Jack Sikma in the offseason seem to have improved his confidence and face up skills he really needs to be featured more in the offense. The argument against that has typically been that he’s something of a black hole but at least for small stretches we’ve seen that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – give him cutters and he can hit them. If you’re going to generate assists on the Raptors you have to collapse the defense yourself with one on one play which is why the Raptors big men as a unit generate precious few assists. It’s difficult to fault Valanciunas for generating low assist totals in an offense where every other competent offensive big man is seeing significant drop offs in their own assist totals. It’s clear that there are systemic issues at play which are holding this aspect of his game back. The Raptors slow, plodding offense can benefit greatly from some increased movement and a bit of diversification, increasing frontcourt touches for Valanciunas with cutters keeping the defense occupied would be a good start.


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It is just way too lit for All-Star Weekend.

With the “regular” Celebrity Game and Rising Stars game Friday, the All-Star practice, D-League All-Star Events. and Slam Dunk/3-Point Shootout on Saturday, and the actual All-Star Game on Sunday, the weekend is already going to be busy enough. Plus, you factor in parties and charity events and the like on top of that, plus maybe an hour or two of sleep, and it would be tough to pack much more into a few days.

But you might have to try, because Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz are hosting a celebrity charity basketball game that weekend now, too.

The event will see the two rappers square off as player-coaches with a star-studded list of participants. All proceeds go to charity through I Can, We Can!, and tickets are now on sale. The event is brought in part by adidas and Red Bull and will take place at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, home of Raptors 905, starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 13. That conflicts with the D-League All-Star events taking place at Ricoh Coliseum, but this might be more of a draw for some (most).

Among the participants expected to suit up:

Raptors: Morris Peterson, Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams
Other basketball: Baron Davis, Rick Fox
Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, Joe Carter
Rappers: K Camp, Wale, A$AP Ferg

There’s also a Josh Johnson listed, though I have no idea if that’s the former Blue Jay, the rapping priest, or some other Josh Johnson. Here’s hoping Matt Devlin shows up to dunk on Wale.

There’s more to the event than just the game, too. From the I Can, We Can! website:

Along with surprise celebrity appearances, a celebrity and youth basketball game, Peter and various speakers will engage on the importance of setting goals, youth opportunities in Peel, and the importance of giving back. Peter’s goal books will also be given out breaking down step by step how to create goals with examples and inspirational inserts from Tolias Motivates and patterning organizations.

In addition to I CAN, WE CAN! Goal Books, the audience will be introduced to a new Goal Setting app which will be free to download for the public, as well as receiving branded t-shirts and wristbands.

After being inspired by various speakers, 2 basketball games will occur with music performances in between. One game will consist of 2 Peel Youth Basketball teams competing in friendly competition coached by Celebrity Artists. The second will be a celebrity basketball game which will include some Peel Police & other significant members of the community.

This sounds like a lot of fun, though I’ll be at the D-League events. If you end up going and want to pass along a report, we’d gladly take it.


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Pre-game notes for tonight’s game in Portland, 10 pm EST.

The Portland Trailblazers are on course for a playoff berth this season, which is somewhat surprising given their dramatic shake-up during the Summer which saw them lose LaMarcus Aldridge (among three other starters) rendering Damian Lillard as the de-facto alpha-dog on a team ready to rebuild.

Fast forward half-a-year, and the Blazers are 8th in the Western Conference, have won 5 straight, 9-of-11, and boast a top-3 scoring back-court in Damian Lillard and CJ Mccollum. The Blazers’ duo can score the ball from anywhere on the floor while creating their own shots, as well as open looks for others. Both can penetrate and get to the rim or suck defenses in before dishing out to an open threat from deep. Lillard especially is dangerous, as he can pull up from 30-feet in the same manner that Steph Curry would. Lillard only shoots 36% from three compared to Curry’s 46%, but it’s still a respectable enough number that you have to be pretty tight on Lillard on the perimeter, which can be super dangerous given how good he is at burning his defenders and creating off-the-dribble. Both Mccollum and Lillard are deadly even if they can’t get all the way to the rim, as they’ve developed a really solid mid-range pull-up / floater. Equally alarming: Lillard is just as comfortable pulling up from 25-30 feet as he is pulling the trigger with his feet just behind the arc, as noted in his 3-point shot-chart this season.

Shotchart_1454590037048

While the Blazers’ back-court is proficient offensively, they struggle defensively – not only on the perimeter, but as an entire unit. Lillard has been getting lost on screens defensively, and the help defense the Blazers’ big-men provide hasn’t been good – not consistently anyway. But the Blazers have improved. Understandably, with the amount of new faces in their starting lineup, the development of the team was always going to require patience, and it seems to be paying off. After dragging a bottom-10 defense by Christmas, the Blazers have dragged themselves out and are now 17th. This in large part has to do with the improved defense over this win-streak where the Blazers have held their opponents to less than 100 points in each of their last four games.

Once the Blazers’ top-10 offense (they currently rank 13th, just .8 back of 8th place Indiana) is coupled with an improved defense, they are a tough match-up – particularly for the Raptors who always have a difficult time beating Portland. The Blazers have won 12 of the last 13 match-ups against the Raptors, the last outing in Portland being a thrilling – and eventful – overtime loss where Lillard and Lowry both had big games, and the Raptors were victims of a bogus clear-path foul in OT.

Since the departure of Aldridge, the Blazers have suffered from a weak front-court which isn’t very impressive on either ends of the floor. For all the good that the Lillard-Mccollum duo brings to the table, Portland suffers a lot in other positions. Down-low is an area where Valanciunas can take advantage in and should receive touches early on to put Mason Plumlee to the test. At the four spot, Blazers power-forward Noah Vonleh is doubtful with a left foot sprain, which means that Meyers Leonard will likely start with Ed Davis coming off the bench. Leonard struggles a lot defending stretch-bigs, and his discomfort in that area should mean ample opportunities for Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson to do damage from deep.

This is a game where Cory Joseph can do a lot of damage too. Joseph’s ability to dissect a defense and blow-by traditionally-weak defensive guards like Lillard and Mccollum will cause all kinds of problems, and the Raptors should be able to string together some runs when Coach Casey goes with his double point-guard lineup. As noted above, the Blazers’ front-court isn’t great at help defense, so once you get inside, a plethora of options open up offensively.

A hidden-test for the Raptors could come at the three-spot where they’re incredibly thin right now. Norman Powell and Terrence Ross will have to deal with Al Farouq Aminu. While Aminu is not someone who can wear and tear you down like his back-court counterparts, he’s a high-octane type player who can put up 10+ points a night and rebound the basketball; and both Ross and Powell will at the very least have to match his energy.

Game notes:

  • Noah Vonleh (left ankle sprain) – doubftul
  • James Johnson (ankle sprain) – out
  • DeMarre Carroll (knee surgery) – out
  • If the Raptors win tonight, they will move to 34-16 – their best mark in franchise history through 50 games

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The field for the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest has been leaked by multiple outlets, and it might be a bit disappointing to Toronto Raptors fans. Not only is there not a Canadian in the event, but Norman Powell also won’t get his wish to participate in front of his home crowd.

There’s no Terrence Ross (a two-time champion), no DeMar DeRozan (a two-time participant), no Andrew Wiggins (deferring to a teammate), not even a Jamario Moon (presumed dead). Maybe they’ll at least have Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady judge?

Even without a Canadian flavor, though, the dunk contest promises to be awesome. The field is absolutely lit, headlined by defending champion Zach LaVine. Remember: LaVine turned in the best individual performance in a dunk contest since Carter and claimed afterward he saved his best dunk.

LaVine will be joined by Andre Drummond, Aaron Gordon (!!), and Will Barton, providing a nice mix of sizes and styles. The NBA continued the usual script of skewing young and mixing in a big man, and it will be interesting to see what Drummond can do outside of rim-destroying power alley-oops. Again, LaVine is a marvel, and Barton is one of the most exhilarating open-court players in the NBA.

The bet here is that LaVine retains – he’s too good to bet any other way – but there’s a non-zero chance that Gordon takes the crown from. He was ridiculous back at the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest and Les Schwab Dunk Contest, the Arizona Dunk Contest and, well, you get the point. He does this.

This is going to be a ton of fun.


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Feb 1, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) hugs Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (10) after the Blazers 106-103 win over Raptors at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the Raptors to make a win-now move | Getting Benched

First off, the frontcourt of Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola has been a season-long disaster. They’re two of the slowest players in the league, and their skillsets don’t mesh well. To Scola’s credit, his emergence as a capable standstill 3-point shooter has given them some options, but nobody guards him out there, and Valanciunas’s presence always leaves a defender waiting around the hoop, which isn’t idea because Lowry and DeRozan love to drive to the hoop.

Defensively, they can’t keep up in transition and even the most benign stretch fours – Markieff Morris, Marvin Williams and the like – torch them. Did anyone see the Phoenix game? Or the Nuggets game? Or the Cavaliers game? Or the Pistons game? Or the Warriors game? (you get my drift)

Every five-man unit that hosts both Valanciunas and Scola is a net minus this season. Every single one.

Me and the homie @demarrecarroll1 getting a good meal in.

A photo posted by Cory Joseph (@coryjoseph) on

Are Suns’ P.J. Tucker or Markieff Morris a fit for Raptors? | Toronto Sun

Tucker, a second-round Raptors pick way back when the team selected Andrea Bargnani No. 1 overall in 2006, has grown into a solid two-way forward who would help replace DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson, Toronto’s injured small forwards, who both could be weeks away from returns.

Tucker makes $5.5 million this season and is owed $5.3 million next, but it is only partially guaranteed if waived before June 30th.

He would be an ideal fit, even if Carroll returns to his starting role before the playoffs, because he is a career 35% shooter from three-point range and a proven defender.

On Tuesday, Tucker was draped all over DeMar DeRozan, who said he admired Tucker’s relentlessness.

“He makes the job hard but fun at the same time, because it’s a challenge,” DeRozan said of being guarded by Tucker.

First NBA Start

A photo posted by Norman Powell (@normanpowell4) on

Updated NBA Trade Rumour: Raptors interested in Suns’ P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris | Raptors HQ

Before his career took a mood-related nose dive off a cliff, Morris was averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 46.5 percent from the field (and 32 percent from three). The current season, the one where everything in Phoenix that could go wrong has gone wrong — with Markieff at the spiritual centre of most of the team’s problems — has been a rough one. It seems a change of scenery would do him some good. Is Toronto that new scene?

Again, it seems a forgone conclusion that any trade would have to include Patterson, one of the first round draft picks, and possibly even James Johnson, or some combination of Norman Powell and Delon Wright to make it work. I’ll let the armchair GMs work that out.

I defy the naysayers. I’m a True Believer. Follow @spaldingball to join us. #TrueBelievers #WeTheNorth #RTZ

A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on

Raptors reportedly showing interest in disgruntled Sun Markieff Morris | CBSSports.com

The issue, beyond potential chemistry concerns, is that Morris’ game doesn’t fit all that well with what the Raptors are building. He has the tendency to hold the ball rather than moving it, and Toronto has tried to surround Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with players who don’t do that. He’s also not a great rebounder, and he’s been a more reliable stretch-4 in theory than in practice. The Raptors would like to upgrade at the 4 spot, but this might not be the answer.

Dar vienas lietuvis 😀 🇱🇹

A photo posted by Jonas Valanciunas (@jvalanciunas) on

Does it make sense for Raptors to pursue P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris? | FOX Sports

So what would it take to land Tucker or Morris? The Raptors would likely have to trade one of their “extra” first round picks. Toronto Sun, however, reports the Raptors may drive a hard bargain if they’re asked to surrender one of their picks.

“A source who would know said the Raps will not be adding four more rookies over the next two seasons, meaning there will be an opening for a move,” writes Ryan Wolstat. “Value will need to be coming back and a pick will not be dealt cheaply just because of the need for assistance.”

Raptors’ Ujiri wise in not wanting to make deadline splash | Sportsnet.ca

“The storm is going to come at some point,” the Raptors GM told Sportsnet’s delightful duo of Tim and Sid this week, noting that it was difficult to enjoy the Raptors 12-2 record in January. “When it’s going well you prepare for when it’s not going to go well.”

“When the sun is out you can’t get a little Mai Tai and have a drink?” asked Tim Micallef, motioning a swig of the fruity cocktail, best garnished with a toothpick umbrella.

“Ah… no. The end goal is this,” replied Ujiri, pointing to a finger where he’d like to place a championship ring. “You have to keep figuring it out until it gets there.”

“You are the saddest man on an eleven-game winning streak I have ever met,” said Sid Seixeiro.

Raptors coach Casey wants to find Lowry extra rest | Sportsnet.ca

“We’ve got to get his minutes down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said on Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Prime Time Sports on Wednesday. “Last night he was up to [42] minutes and we probably have to get him out sooner because we’re getting caught when there’s no stoppage in play, and we have a guy at the scorer’s table and there goes another minute.

“Those extra couple minutes add up over a period of the game and now he’s at [42] when really he should be at 36, 35 minutes.”

Raptors’ Powell knows his place in rotation, locker room | Toronto Star

“I thought I played within the offence and played defence, tried to make plays happen. I felt really comfortable out there.”
He looked a little tight in the early going of the game. He had a turnover in the first minute of play and picked up a foul a couple minutes later, before he stole the ball from fellow rookie Devin Booker. The longer he played, though, the more comfortable he looked on defence. His shots didn’t fall, but the Raptors have more than enough offensive options in DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” DeRozan said. “Mainly (it’s) just trying to make everything easier on him so he doesn’t have to think so much. He’s got a good feel on the defensive and on the offensive end we just have to keep it simple for him.”
Part of Powell’s opportunity came from Casey’s unwillingness to tinker with his bench. Terrence Ross has found his groove with the second unit and while he is a logical fill-in after James’ injury, he was too valuable in his present role and the bench is playing too well as a whole to make changes with it.

Patrick Patterson has become my most frustrating player to watch | RealGM

What exactly happened to his game? Happy he has 1 year left….hopefully he’s dealt before the deadline or moved this off season. I really thought he had a lot of potential here. Started off very promising – completely trailed off after getting his 3yr deal (Masai’s mistake).

The Biggest Issue Every Title Contender Faces Going into 2016 NBA Trade Deadline | Bleacher Report

The Raptors have to hope the deja vu doesn’t extend to the second half.

Last year, they followed their strong start with a feeble 16-18 finish and a brutally abrupt first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

The good news is the Raptors roster is better. Backcourt mainstays Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the midst of their best seasons, and Jonas Valanciunas continues to improve in the middle. Cory Joseph and Luis Scola add depth. DeMarre Carroll, the organization’s top offseason acquisition, will hopefully return from knee surgery, ready to inject the three-and-D skills that earned him a $60 million contract.

Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers: Thursday game preview | Toronto Star

Key matchup: Kyle Lowry vs. Damian Lillard.
Will Lillard feel like he has an extra something to prove, lining up against the Eastern Conference’s starting point guard in next week’s all-star game? Lillard’s numbers — he’s sixth in scoring at 24.2 points per game and seventh in assists at 7.1 — should have spoken for him and his inclusion in the game.

Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors: TV channel, projected lineups, game preview | OregonLive.com

Portland has won a season-high five consecutive games and nine of its last 11 overall. … The Blazers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 107-95 on Tuesday. … CJ McCollum led Portland with 30 points, four rebounds and six assists. … Gerald Henderson provided a spark off the bench, scoring 13 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers pull away late. … Damian Lillard had an off shooting night, going 6-for-15 from the floor and finishing 12 points and 14 assists. … Lillard scored his 6,000th career point against Bucks, reaching that milestone in his 289th career game to become the third-fastest Blazer to score 6,000 points behind Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks, who each accomplished that milestone in 255 games. … McCollum passed the 1,000-point mark against the Bucks joining Lillard in the 1,000 club this season. Lillard and McCollum are one of three pairs of teammates to each have 1,000 points this season along with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

The Scouting Report: Toronto Raptors | Blazer Banter

But an underrated key to success for the Raptors this season has been the play of their bench. Portland’s bench has played well for most of the season, but the Raptors are going to be arguably their toughest test yet. Cory Joseph is going to give both Blazers point guards trouble with his straight line speed coming off the bench. After years of developing within the Spurs system, he’s a pick and roll monster and is going to get into the paint. Bismack Biyombo has looked like a steal since coming over from Charlotte as a back-up center and Patrick Patterson has been a solid rotation player for most of his career.

Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers: Preview & 3 keys to victory | Raptors Rapture

Like the Raptors, the Blazers are led by a powerful backcourt. Damian Lillard has been a dandy player since his first game in the league, and is rolling big numbers again. He’s tied with Russell Westbrook for sixth in scoring at 24 points, and sits eighth in assists at 7.2 per game [PG]. The Blazers had little to lose when they turned over the other guard spot to C.J. McCollum, as this season was expected to be a throwaway. McCollum, not being one to miss his opportunity, has been stellar, averaging 20+  points PG. They are the West’s highest-scoring guard pairing outside of a couple of Warriors named Curry and Thompson.

Vince Carter-led 2001 team was the best the Raptors have fielded | Toronto Star

The only team to win a playoff series was stacked with talent with Vince Carter in his prime, the veteran presence of Charles Oakley and Antonio Davis and the shooting of Dell Curry and Morris Peterson. It was an outstanding, deep team that many think would have won the East if Carter’s Game 7 shot in Philadelphia was good.

Masai Ujiri and the NBA Draft | RealGM

Ujiri sure can make a great trade and pays his player very well for better or worse, but he has frustrated me with his drafts choices.

Why has Ujiri not gotten more flack for his questionable at best draft selections? The Raptors could have real prospects in Hood, McGary, Capela, Anderson, Grant, Jokic, Powell, Clarkson but he picks 2 guys that could very easily bust and not even play in the NBA. Wright was an okay pick I think but I wanted Portis and imagine the majority of Raptors fans would agree. That 2014 draft though he was horrendous. makes me want to trade our picks even more because I don’t trust this guy to pick the best players available.

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The history of the Toronto Raptors is littered with weird statistical oddities, hilarious short-term player success stories, and moments and people who stick forever in your memory even though they have no business being there. It’s a beautiful, random part of sports fandom that may hold especially true for a franchise with a moribund history like the Raptors.

Donyell Marshall is the intersection of strange eras and teams and players and games, his March 13, 2005, performance standing as perhaps the apex of Weird Raptors history (with all respect to Ben Uzoh’s triple-double). It was on that date that Marshall tied Kobe Bryant’s two-year-old NBA record by hitting 12 3-point shots in a single game.

Donyell Marshall, he of a 35-percent career mark on threes and a 41.6-percent mark that season, rained hell-fire from beyond the arc over just 28 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers. He went 12-of-19 from long-range, finishing with 38 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block in what has to be one of the most jam-packed per-minute box score lines in team history (it’s a team record for points in fewer than 30 minutes). It was remarkable, unexpected, and bizarre – Marshall would never again score 30 points or hit more than seven threes in a game despite playing four more seasons. He’d ultimately play 131 games as a Raptor, averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds and ranking 10th on the team’s leaderboard in triples made.

The Raptors would win 128-110 opposite another key figure in the Raptors’ mythos (John Salmons), with Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson chipping in with respective lines of 25-10-5 and 20-8-8. Milt Palacio, Pape Sow, and Loren Woods all played, too, while Rafer Alston started at the point and Rafael Araujo played 17 minutes. And Drake calls this a time to be alive.

We highlight all of this today because Marshall’s record was seriously threatened on Wednesday.

It’s only existed this long because Steph Curry has allowed it to, and Curry nearly (rightfully) claimed it as his domain. Curry’s going to eventually have every other 3-point shooting record, and Marshall’s shared mark looms permanently as a victim-in-waiting. It’s just going to take a game the Golden State Warriors actually needed Curry to go off in, like his 11-triple, 54-point performance against the New York Knicks in 2013, or his 10-three outing from a year ago Thursday when the Warriors pulled away from the Dallas Mavericks late. That, or, you know, Curry just deciding, well, f*** it, it’s mine now.

Those two possibilities nearly merged Wednesday, with Curry dropping 51 points in a 134-121 victory against the Washington Wizards.

Curry came out a house afire, scoring 25 first-quarter points on 9-of-10 shooting with seven (!!) threes on eight attempts. By half, he had 36 points with eight triples, the Wizards having done just enough to hang around (74-60) to necessitate Curry trying in the second half. Two more came in a “quiet” eight-point third. Things stayed close enough late that Curry checked back in around his customary seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter…only to hit just a single three down the stretch, instead opting to attack the rim in order to close out the win.

He finished 11-of-16 from outside. He’s shooting 45.8 percent on threes this year and 44.3 percent for his career. He’s already just 54 triples from matching his own single-season NBA record and it’s Feb. 3. He’s 26th in all-time 3-point field goals…he’s 27 and has played 463 games. He’s going to re-write the shooter’s record book as he redefines how basketball is played.

It’s only a matter of time before Marshall’s record belongs to Curry. For at least one more night, Marshall remains a randomly relevant part of NBA history and a marquee piece of Raptors lore.


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Ronald Roberts is going to have some company at Ricoh Colisseum on Saturday, February 13. Raptors 905 teammates Scott Suggs and John Jordan will also be representing the host team at the D-League’s portion of All-Star weekend. The events tip off at 1:30 p.m. on NBA TV.

Roberts was voted as an All-Star by the coaches last week, at which time Raptors Republic confirmed a report that Suggs would participate in the 3-Point Shootout. Jordan, just acquired Tuesday, will participate in the Slam Dunk Contest, an event that usually rivals the NBA’s version. Here is a full list of the day’s participants:

d league allstars dunk dleague

Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson will judge the dunk contest along with Jordan Clarkson and Seth Curry. And yes, it does suck that Roberts isn’t dunking, but as he’s told Raptors Republic repeatedly when we’ve pleaded with him to change his mind, he’s told himself his next dunk contest will be the NBA version.

That’s not to say this won’t be a great showcase. Threatt is a monster and the defending champion, Tokoto can fly, and the 5-foot-10 Jordan gets to introduce himself to Mississauga fans in a major way. Look at this!

The pick here, though, is D.J. Stephens. Not only has he thrown down a ton against the 905, he’s quickly earned a reputation as one of the most exciting open-court players in the league.

If you’re skeptical that this will be good because it’s the D-League, here’s last year’s event.

On the shooting side, Fredette may be the favorite on reputation, but our nod goes to Suggs. Comfort might matter some in these events, and he’ll have ample opportunity to get accustomed to the Ricoh sight-lines in the week leading up to the event. But don’t sleep on Ingram, the 2010 winner of the event, either.


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And here we go.

The Toronto Raptors are showing interest in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN. This comes on the heels of his report that the Raptors are also interested in P.J. Tucker, and Stein calls it a virtual “lock” that the Suns make “at least one deal” by the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

A potential Morris deal is something we’ve talked about around here plenty, and it brings a host of questions with it.

Let’s start here: The framework would most likely be Patrick Patterson and a pick for Morris. If you’re not of the mind Morris is a certain upgrade on Patterson, this rumor probably isn’t for you. The Raptors’ salary structure is such that it’s really difficult to find a fair, workable deal without Patterson, and the Suns likely want more than to just be out of Morris’ contract, given the lip service interim head coach Earl Watson has paid to nurturing Morris and making him the offensive focal point.

That could just be lip service, of course, but it’s also a good way to re-establish a player’s trade value and a worthwhile evaluatory endeavor given that the Suns don’t have to give up on the very reasonable three years and $24 million left on his deal. They’re going to want an asset beyond one year of Patterson, and I’m not sure a Luis Scola-James Johnson-Delon Wright package is enough without a pick on top, either. In any case, the Raptors are almost surely surrendering a piece of their nine-man rotation and a pick, unless Ujiri has some magic brewing.

From there, the question falls on Morris’ perceived character issues. Not only has Morris grown irritable and pouty in the desert, but he and brother Marcus have pending assault charges, which is kind of a big deal. The fact that Morris has been openly critical of his organization following the trade of his brother, and was in the doghouse so deep that he received DNP-CDs despite being one of the team’s best players, is an obvious concern. He’s not exactly Bismack Biyombo when it comes to affability.

In terms of the impact on the locker room, my bet would be that Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey believe they’ve created a strong enough organizational culture to be able to bring in a divisive talent without much issue. Morris is pals with DeMar DeRozan and former perceived malcontent Kyle Lowry. It’s a risk, but the Raptors have put such a high value on employing quality people that they’ve pre-insulated themselves for such a move. That may allow them to get a depreciated asset at a discount relative to what talent would dictate. Organizational culture is important for a lot of reasons, and taking advantage of a market inefficiency for players who don’t fit everywhere could very well be one of them in this case.

(Note: The first version of this story included a note about the Casey-Morris-Kentucky connection, which doesn’t exist because the Morrii went to Kansas. This is why you don’t write at a Tim’s immediately after giving blood.)

On talent, Morris would be a big addition. He’s a big, tough power forward who rebounds well and can be an above-average, if foul-prone defender when fully engaged. He doesn’t have the 3-point stroke of Patterson, standing as a 32.4-percent career outside shooter, but he brings far more to the table offensively otherwise. He can act as the screener in the pick-and-roll, work dribble hand-offs, and create for himself in one-on-one situations. Morris’ numbers are depressed in a bad season and his efficiency and shot-selection have waned, but he has a really nice face-up game and can bully opposing fours on the block. He’s also a smart passer from the elbows, the block, or off the cut, an important consideration that could help keep the Raptors’ offense flowing through a third piece.

On the season, Morris is averaging 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 39.8 percent from the floor. There’s a good argument to be made that as a third option on the Raptors and with a fresh start in a winning situation, Morris could be much better.

I’d imagine the response to this rumor will be polarized. Some won’t want to mess with chemistry, while others will see the talent upgrade as a must-do. I’m leaning more toward the latter side even though I was on the former side earlier in the year. If this were the offseason, I’d be on board with this deal for sure, with little worry about the locker room with so much time for everyone to build a chemistry. I’m of the mind that you maximize talent and figure everything else out later. That’s riskier mid-season, but there are basketball and economic reasons behind Ujiri building such a strong culture, and this is exactly the kind of situation where he can leverage that intangible advantage.

The Raptors could have a chance to get a talented player on a good contract with lots of control for a solid player and a surplus asset they probably won’t have much use for come draft time. I’d understand either side of the argument, but leaving talent on the table is tough, especially if there’s a way to get the Suns to come off a first-round pick asking price.

(By the way, there are frameworks in which the Raptors could land Morris and Tucker, if you really want to take a swing. Patterson, Johnson, a prospect, and a pick works for the cap but it probably has to be the Knicks/Nuggets pick for the Suns to depart with both.)


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Raptors 905 have waived Jay Harris, the team announced Wednesday.

The 905 had to make a roster cut after acquiring John Jordan from Erie in a trade Tuesday. Cutting a point guard was a natural move given that four of the team’s 13 players were lead guards, but Harris is a bit of a surprise, given that he was the team’s second-round draft pick and one the team seemed really high on. The 905 have now waived the first three draft picks they ever made.

With Harris departed, Jordan figures to slot in as Shannon Scott’s primary backup when Delon Wright isn’t on assignment, with Ahston Smith standing as the third point guard and defensive specialist.

The 23-year-old Harris was averaging 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 16.7 minutes over 20 games while shooting 37.9 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent on threes. He’s also earned 10 DNP-CDs as head coach Jesse Mermuys toyed with his second unit, and Harris never really found a chemistry with his fellow reserves despite good individual offense. He has the tools to be a scorer, projecting as a potential microwave man well down the line, but his game is still pretty raw and one-dimensional.

The Valparaiso, Wagner, and Ilinois-Chicago product always came across as a nice, engaging presence around the team, if that quells any concern this may have been a non-basketball related move.

The Jordan-for-Harris swap represents a downgrade in terms of overall long-term upside, but the 905 needed steady point guard help pretty desperately. Despite the recent winning streak and general up-turn in performance since the calendar flipped, they still rank first in turnover percentage and 14th in total offense. The point of the D-League is long-term development, but this move makes some sense if the organization feels the lack of reliable point guard play was working as a detriment to the development of others.

The 905 are next in action on Friday at 8 p.m.


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What gets lost in the millions that the NBA spends on marketing for the league pass is the contribution of Leo Rautins. He’s been an effective salesman for League Pass since day one. It’s his repetitiveness and monotonous delivery of the same message over the decades that is solely responsible for the purchase of many a League Pass, including mine.  It’s not that what Rautins has to say is wrong, it’s that we’ve heard it all before. Many times.

So it is thanks to Rautins that for the past two years, I’ve been almost exclusively tuned in to the other team’s broadcast when watching Raptors basketball.  The opposite view gives you a very good idea of how teams rate themselves, and what they think of the Raptors team, and management.  Most broadcast teams are far more candid when evaluating the opposite team because the fear of any criticism coming back to bite them is greatly reduced since you’re not publicly badmouthing the hand that writes the cheque.  A good example of that is the tones with which Jack Armstrong uses to describe Lou Williams’ play this year as compared to last, and the same with Greivis Vasquez.  Today’s goat was last year’s hero.

There are some stark differences between how the Raptors are being evaluated this year as compared to last.  

Sense of Fear

There’s a genuine sense of anxiety bordering on fear when a team is facing the Raptors.  Even though the team has suffered some painful first-round exits the last two years despite having good regular seasons, there’s something about the season’s winning that is different.  There’s a recognition that this Raptors team converted the pain of the last two springs into a redemption mission that isn’t taking any prisoners.  I’m not suggesting the Raptors invoke the same sense of peril when a team faces the Cavaliers or the Warriors, but that teams know that they’re in for a very tough game.  From a Raptor fans’ perspective, I think this is what qualifies as respect.

Real Stars

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are now seen as legitimate stars.  There was a period where Lowry was considered the fat guy who butted with every head coach he played under. That reputation is long gone.  It’s almost as if his time in Houston has been stricken off the record, and that this Lowry is a different player.  He’s often being talked about as a legitimate Tier 2 player (BTW, tier 1 contains LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry) and that is something that has never happened before.  

The same is true for DeMar DeRozan, who is widely respected by every announcing team as a scorer to be reckoned with.  Whereas many fans see DeRozan as a good but limited player due to some key flaws (e.g., three-point shooting), that hardly registers on broadcaster radars, who are very weary of the attacking threat he brings.  I would say that Kyrie Irving is a comparable player in terms of fear posed when seen through opposition eyes.  Based on the hype around DeRozan, I honestly see a 0% chance that a team won’t offer him the max, three-point shot or not.

Surprisingly, even when Terrence Ross was struggling, he was being highlighted as man to watch out for because of his three-point threat.  His stock, even when it was the lowest in our eyes, was high elsewhere.

Fans

The Jurassic Park effect has taken hold.  The Raptors crowd gets some serious respect from announcers when they visit the ACC.  Many fans don’t like the in-game ops and often complain that they get in the way of watching the game.  There’s truth to that but over a 2.5 hour period, the ACC is a louder arena than most in the NBA, and it is widely recognized so as well.  The imagery that Jurassic Park gave us is something very unique in the league, and you simply don’t get that level of show from other fans.  That’s been a differentiator for many, and certainly for opposing announcers.

Management

Nobody seems to remember that it was Bryan Colangelo who gave us Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, and that’s just fine for Masai Ujiri who, if he’s listening to the broadcasts, would hear how shrewd of a team-builder he is for accumulating the talent that he has on the roster.  The Raptors are viewed as a responsible and sustainable model, and a prime example of how to construct a team if you’re not in one of New York, LA, Miami, or Chicago.

Awards

Biggest closet Raptors fan: Jeff Van Gundy.  This guy will talk Raptors if given even the slightest opportunity.

Favorite announcing team: Brooklyn.  Hear me out.  They know their team is crap, and they genuinely enjoy watching the other team, even the Raptors despite the rivalry.

Least favorite announcing team: Boston – they refuse to credit any other team when they lose.

Worst analysis: Hawks – I swear, Dominique Wilkins has nothing to say and half the time it sounds like he’s gurgling salt water.

Best analysis: Charlotte – they have Dell Curry along with Stephanie Ready as color-commentators, and the latter especially provides a blend of analysis that is on point with minimal waste of words.

— 

Overall, sometimes as Raptors fans we always feel the grass is greener on the other side, when in reality, everyone thinks the grass is mighty green right here in Toronto.


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The Toronto Raptors are one of several teams expressing interest in Phoenix Suns wing P.J. Tucker, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN.

Before anyone gets too excited, Stein follows by saying that the expectation is that the Suns will seek a “nice pick” as a return. The Suns are in the middle of a disastrous season, but even with 2015-16 lost, they may see enough value in keeping Tucker, a well-liked team-first player, around to help rehabilitate the organizational culture if an offer doesn’t move the needle enough for them.

One of the Raptors’ four first-round picks in the next two drafts would likely be enough to entice them, though salary matching poses a bit of a problem. Tucker earns $5.5 million this season (and $5.3 million next year), meaning the Raptors would have to send out either Patrick Patterson or James Johnson and a second piece (Luis Scola, Delon Wright, or Lucas Nogueira) to make the math work. Even if Johnson’s ankle injury isn’t serious, the second option might be reasonable, but flipping Patterson and a pick for Tucker is just shifting a hole from one place to another.

On fit and role alone, Tucker would be a nice addition if a deal doesn’t take anything from the rotation. A 2006 second-round pick of the Raptors, he honed his game overseas before finding a home in Phoenix in 2012. The Raptors were said to be in on the one that got away in 2014, but Tucker re-upped in the desert on a three-year pact. Since his return stateside, he’s established himself as a valuable multi-position defender and would bring another element of toughness and physicality on that side of the ball. He’s also a plus-rebounder for a wing.

Offensively, he doesn’t offer a lot more than shooting from the corners – he’s worked his way to a 35.6-percent career mark from outside and is even better on the short triple.

PJ Tucker

With the Raptors out Johnson and DeMarre Carroll right now, Tucker would provide immediate help on the wing. When Carroll returns, he’d have value as a versatile bench piece, capable of backing up the three and playing power forward in smaller looks. Essentially, he’d be brought in to upgrade Johnson’s rotation spot. Tucker’s ability to play some four could also open up other trade options, as Patterson’s salary is the team’s most useful cash-matching piece for a bigger deal. Tucker wouldn’t sacrifice much offseason flexibility, as only $1.5 million of his deal is guaranteed, making the 30-year-old a highly movable asset or low-cost stretch provision option.

Tucker is averaging 6.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals on the season while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent on threes. That’s modest production that you could reasonably balk at surrendering a pick for, but there aren’t exactly a lot of sellers right now, so options are limited.

The Raptors’ interest in Tucker is understandable. Given the team’s limited salary-matching assets, however, and the growing feeling that they should make an aggressive move with their surplus picks, Tucker seems like a potential near-deadline move. The Raptors probably only have the pieces to make one deal, or maybe two smaller ones, and so Tucker may be an option to circle back to if a bigger opportunity doesn’t manifest itself. If Tucker were to be the lone deadline haul, he’d represent an upgrade to the rotation so long as it doesn’t cost Patterson, and that’s certainly better than holding steady.


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Norman Powell’s been here before, but never quite like this.

At UCLA, Powell spent two years as a reserve, waiting for his opportunity to take on a larger role. He understood that would be his lot again this season as a second-round pick who more or less forced his way onto the roster with a ridiculous summer league performance. Up until Tuesday, his NBA career consisted 100 minutes over 20 appearances in the Toronto Raptors’ first 48 games, with multiple D-League stints to help further develop his game.

“I feel like the D-League is really helping me develop my game,” Powell told Raptors Republic in January. “That’s how I take it. I’ve been part of this, waiting my turn. It’s nothing new. This is just a part of it. It just motivates my grind. Keep that chip on my shoulder, continue to work, continue to keep that hard-hat on and know that my time’s gonna come. You gotta pay your dues as a rookie.”

Powell’s time came in the second half of Monday’s game against Denver, after James Johnson – starting to the injured DeMarre Carroll – sprained his ankle. Powell would play 13 second-half minutes, most of them in garbage time, and then draw the start Tuesday against Phoenix.

Head coach Dwane Casey giving Powell the starting nod was at the same time surprising and expected. Casey values role consistency and, like with Johnson starting for Carroll instead of Terrence Ross, having Powell leapfrog the team’s top reserve wing is a way to preserve the team’s rotations and the robust chemistry of the second unit. At the same time, Powell had been used sparingly and stood to exasperate spacing issues the starting lineup has long struggled with. Starting him also meant moving DeMar DeRozan to the three with less freedom to switch on the wings – Powell projects as a high-end defender across three positions, but he’s mostly checked ones and twos at either level this year because of his quickness. (Powell played 12 of his minutes as the nominal two [he team was a minus-4] and three at the three in the two-point guard look [plus-3 in three minutes].)

The results from Powell’s start were somewhat mixed, which should have been anticipated given the situation he was being thrown into and where he was being thrown in from. His final stat line – zero points on 0-of-3 shooting with one rebound, one assists, one turnover, two steals, and a minus-1 rating in 15 minutes – doesn’t do his performance justice. He didn’t blow anyone away, mind you, but he acquitted himself well in his first career NBA start.

In his current (temporary) role, Powell’s primary task is to provide defense. He’s a tenacious on-ball defender and generally chases players well off the ball, using his strength and footwork to get over or around screens. That was a tough task Tuesday against Devin Booker, who’s already improved leaps and bounds as an off-ball threat, a major development given his beautiful shooting stroke. It’s especially difficult when Tyson Chandler is the screen-setter, as Chandler freed Booker from Powell with a great screen early.

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Compare that to how Cory Joseph, the team’s best player at chasing around screens, fought through a Chandler screen and reversal.
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There was also an instance where Powell got caught floating too far off of Booker, guarding nobody in a help scenario.
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That’s a possession Powell has shown as recently as Monday that he can handle.
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You can see the exact moment Booker lost Powell, as there’s some confusion as to whether he or DeRozan is the weak-side help on Archie Goodwin’s cut.
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DeRozan collapsed to help as Markieff Morris reached the restricted area, too.
powell lsot 2
DeRozan boxed out P.J. Tucker, at least, and Powell bumped Goodwin on the rim-run, but nobody noticed Booker stepping out. Powell recovered too late, but it’s not entirely on him – Lowry looked for a second like he may need the help on Goodwin, Scola was kind of just floating, and the Suns deserve credit for some nice misdirection with Tucker and Booker stacked on the weak-side and Goodwin cutting to the rim.

Other than those instances, Powell’s defense was solid. He made life mostly difficult for Booker, though the Suns sharpshooter went off (he had nine points on five shots in 11 minutes against Powell and 18 points on 14 shots in 27 minutes with Powell on the bench). He also showed he can stick with bigger players some, guarding Mirza Teletovic when the Suns went with their Three Big White Guys Lineup.

He proved to be the defensive pest most were hoping for, timing his help well to disrupt the flow of Suns’ ball-handlers. Some of those plays were gambles, but his gambles are also generally well-thought out ones. He’ll leave his man, sure, but he has a good feel for the spacing around him, and his quickness closing out affords him a valuable extra split second.

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The Suns’ offense was better with Powell on the floor, a symptom of several starters having an off defensive night, but Powell’s presence was a positive in terms of forcing turnovers. Phoenix coughed it up on 21.5 percent of possessions with Powell on the court. It helps, too, that Powell is quick up the floor and aggressive in joining the transition rush.

Off of a third-quarter steal, Powell quickly got back into the play and ran a solid low pick-and-roll with Scola, attacking off the catch and floating a nice pass for an easy bucket. (Not sure why I clipped these highlights together, but they’re back-to-back, at least.)

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The primary skill Powell has been working on with Raptors 905 is his ability to distribute for others off the bounce, and that’s an encouraging example. His straight-line drives are tough to stop, even if he’s not finishing well around the rim yet, and the next step is him being able to make smart, crisp passes when he meets traffic. Until he shows he can dot hat – he has at the D-League level, but that’s much different – NBA teams are going to sag off of him, defending his drives straight-up. That cramps spacing but also presents an opportunity, either for forays to the hoop of pull-up jumpers.
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Both of those shots missed but Powell made good decisions. He probably should have found Jonas Valanciunas on the attack from the corner, but even still, that 14-footer is something he can hit. He also saw a third body come his way because DeRozan was nearby and still isn’t being guarded like a 3-point threat, with recent opponents appreciating sample size. Powell will need to be more cautious of this kind of trap when attacking from the corner (his primary spot in horns sets), because unless he’s paired with Ross or Patrick Patterson, there isn’t going to be a great deal of room to operate.
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The biggest growth in Powell’s game in the D-League has been his passing off of high or side pick-and-rolls, but it’s unlikely the Raptors will ask him to do much of that outside of garbage time.
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So there was some bad but a fair amount of good, or if not good, decent. He didn’t play as poorly as the box score suggests, and I can’t imagine Casey was anything but pleased with 15 solid, if unspectacular, minutes from an untested rookie under dire circumstances.

It’s unclear if Powell will draw the start again Thursday. Johnson is set to receive MRI results Wednesday and the Raptors could opt to elevate Ross, sacrificing some continuity to help lift a space-starved starting five-some that hasn’t been very good even when healthy. Should Powell start, he’ll face another tough defensive test in C.J. McCollum. If Powell starts, it would behoove Casey to try to sub him out quickly, allowing him to be re-inserted when DeRozan sits (either alongside Ross or in two-PG lineups) to help relieve some of the pressure on the offense.


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It seems too coincidental that a player like Markieff Morris – a player who’s struggled this season and is playing within a discombobulated team – all of a sudden turns in one of his best performances of the season against the Raptors who are a team that could use his skill-set in a void that they’ve yet to properly fill.

Last night was a prime example of showcasing. If Suns executive Ryan McDonough is looking to move Morris – which he undoubtedly is, as Morris wants no part of the organization – then no one will be happier with Morris’ performance last night than he, apart from maybe Morris himself who has wanted to set sail from the sinking ship in Phoenix for 7 months now.

Morris would fill a void in a glaring hole that the Raptors have – the four spot. As things currently stand, the Raptors are quite pleased with Luis Scola’s play this season. His ability to stretch the floor and craftiness around the basket has exceeded expectations – so much so that he’s taken the starting spot from Patrick Patterson who was expected to run away with it. Patterson started the season severely under-performing and bereft of confidence – something that’s changed for the better in the past couple months which has seen his point production and shooting percentage both rise. He’s done enough now to earn himself a starting role, and a Scola – Patterson swap in the rotation could create fresh change and fix some first quarter problems. Yes, the Raptors have a really solid record, but they could get off to better starts. Currently, the Raptors’ starting line-up (With either James Johnson or DeMarre Carroll at the three), has a negative net-rating. Inserting Patterson might not dramatically fix the problem, but it would provide a better perimeter defender in the starting unit against starting stretch-bigs. Scola has been horrid dealing with those.

In order to keep a level head, we need to examine every angle. Morris’ performance last night was not the epitome of his season, and you might have a case to say the Raptors would be better off trying Patterson as the starting four instead of gambling on Morris.

Capture

Morris and Patterson are nearly identical – statistically anyway. Forget that they’re the same age – there is enough data to suggest that sticking with Patterson and moving him as your starting power forward would be the more sound move. With Patterson, you get the same numbers without the added baggage that Morris might bring, and you do it without tinkering with team chemistry. Both Patterson and Morris play the same amount of minutes, and Morris scores about four more points per game. This probably is correlated with Morris being a more focal point of his team’s offense than Patterson is. Per NBA.com, Morris has a 26.1 USG%, while Patterson’s mark is way lower at 13.3. Patterson also shoots more efficiently from three and turns the ball over roughly twice less per game.

The counter to this argument is that Morris is in a cancerous environment and not playing to his full potential. Phoenix is a mess right now, and Morris has wanted out since June – and his numbers reflect that. Last season Morris was a different animal, averaging 15.3 points while shooting 46.5%. He was also surrounded by better players, which helped. Last season, Morris was pretty good at posting up from either side – either going inside or pulling up from the mid-range. Smaller power forwards especially have difficulty stopping him in that area. Outside, Morris doesn’t really stretch the floor, which, in a weird way might be a good thing. He doesn’t command much respect out there despite shooting the three last season at just over 30% – hovering around the same clip that Patterson currently does.

Perhaps it could also be argued that, based on the eye-test alone, Morris has more upside and more weapons in his arsenal than Patterson does. It’s hard to measure these intangibles, but Morris does have more highlight-reel moves and put-back dunks, and his 30 points last night were three more than Patterson’s career-high of 27.

It’s difficult to say how negative Morris’ baggage would be too. He once threw a towel at Jeff Hornacek for being yanked from the game, then got suspended two games, and then came back and apologized. Kyle Lowry and James Johnson came to Toronto with baggage too, but they’re both well-liked in these parts. Lowry and Morris also have personal ties and worked out together in the off-season. Morris also likes Lowry. That alone may be enough to dismantle any pre-conceived idea that there would be team chemistry issues if Morris was acquired. Anyway, if the Raptors were better on the court and won a playoff round or two, would anybody really mind if the Raptors didn’t get along behind the scenes?

Interesting perspective from Stan Van Gundy in Josh Lewenberg’s article from a couple days ago:

“I don’t think it’s a big deal, to be honest,” Van Gundy said, speaking generally and not specific to the Raptors. “I’ve seen and been around, been a part of staffs with great teams who got along really well and great teams who didn’t get along all that great off the court.  There are two separate things. I mean, I definitely think you need a chemistry, but it’s a chemistry on the floor.”

“A lot of guys can become great friends off the floor and get to a point they don’t want to challenge each other on the floor and everything,” he continued. “We’re in a business here and coaches, players alike, everyone’s been hired to get a result. When you lose sight of that, doesn’t matter. You can be the greatest friends in the world but if you’re not out there doing what it takes to get the result then you don’t have chemistry, you just have friendship.”

Phoenix is desperate, Toronto is not. Masai has all kinds of leverage in a potential trade scenario if this actually went down.

… So, what was that about Al Horford in the title?

He’s not on the block or anything, but a report from Mark Spears on Monday indirectly hinted at something, I think. From that same article, Al Horford makes his future pretty ambiguous.

“Atlanta has the potential for a guy like myself to maximize [the business] part of it,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “But obviously there are other cities, bigger cities that are more appealing probably [business- and marketing-wise]. The impact would be bigger if that is what you are looking for.”

The Hawks clearly want to resign Al Horford in the off-season. His contract expires, and while the Hawks have his bird rights, they have absolutely no guarantee that they won’t lose him for nothing, hence, are reportedly listening to offers. That’s not really news, of course. GMs answer calls all the time, but it gets a bit more real when there is a chance Atlanta might get nothing in return if he walks, rendering them a bit more active in acquiring something for Horford in return before the trade deadline.

Horford has long been requesting to move back to his power forward position, so that’s why he would be a great fit for the Raptors. De facto, Horford would on paper make the Raptors and instant finals contender. There are so many issues with taking a high-risk / high-reward road with the Atlana big-man, though. First, Horford would basically be a rental. The Raptors could re-sign him and it wouldn’t be a huge deal, but they’re not guaranteed in doing that, and given the huge assets you’d have to give away, cashing out on a huge win now move is ubber-risky.

The Hawks would probably want Valanciunas in return, and that is of course a gamble not worth taking, and it would defeat the purpose anyway, as it would then slot Horford in as the Raptors’ starting center. But if the Raptors can give up Patterson, James Johnson, a first-round pick, and one or two of Bebe/Bruno/Powell/Wright/Bennett – I think you pull the trigger.

The Raptors are on the brink of something here, have arguably their best team of all time, and won’t have many other opportunities to make a run at a finals appearance that are better than this. Chances are that none of the Raptors’ first-round picks will develop into a player as good as Horford has become, and the Raps’ have plenty of young blood and picks anyway. Horford has become better at stretching the floor this season, and would immediately make an impact.

Also consider this: Yes, reports are coming out that the Warriors could be a landing spot for Kevin Durant – which gives me a headache just to think about – but how enticed would Durant be to join a team like this, knowing he would be the alpha-dog of the best team in the Eastern Conference?

C: Valanciunas
PF: Horford
SF: Durant
SG: DeRozan
PG: Lowry

No, this isn’t PlayStation, but yes, that line-up would be enough to keep an opponent up at night.

Let’s take a crack at this.

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Atlanta might not even consider this, but they probably would if you throw in a first round pick (preferably the Clippers pick). And of course, they would only even remotely think about it if they know there’s a huge chance of Horford walking this summer.

Knowingly, there will be some roasting in the comments regarding this idea. Two young assets and a first round pick for a rental? Seems insane, no doubt. But there is a window here to make a run that might not exist for quite some time. Masai has played his cards cautiously so far during his tenure in Toronto, and, quite frankly, it would be fun to make a move like this and just go for it.

On a side note, these ‘Hump Day Ramblings’ are going to be a weekly column. Somehow, I convinced Blake to let me do this (thanks dawg). The issue is this: I hate the name. It’s awful, and super lame. I’m down for taking any suggestions on what to call this weekly (Wednesdays) thing. Zarar has ‘ArseTalk’, and that’s pretty dope. I need a dope name for this too. If you have any ideas, give me a shout. For now, you’ll have to live with the lame title until we can find something better.


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AP Photo/Matt York

Raptors 104, Suns 97 | Quick Reaction | Boxscore | Pre-Game

In regards to the win streak, alongside the thought process coming into Tuesday night’s trip to Phoenix, chances are you backed one of two mindsets. Ones that are seemingly dividing this fan base down the middle:

  1. The Theory of Evolution: You believe in the notion that this team has graduated to the next level. While at the same time, buying the thought that the Raps are on the cusp of joining the league’s elite. If you view the 11-game run as a stretch of games where basketball IQ finally met their physical capabilities on a consistent basis, then we have something in common.
  2. Trust Issues: We’re all still waking up in a cold sweat over how last season ended, but if your frustration is lingering to the point where your guard won’t come down until postseason advancement takes place, you’re surely reluctant to treat this squad’s recent accomplishment as anything more than taking advantage of a soft schedule.

The truth of the matter is:

This club’s reality isn’t as cut and dry as the two-sided argument makes it seem; the rub lies somewhere in between.

But hey, half the fun of the regular season is trying to figure out the chaos. So following Monday’s defeat in Denver, it was only natural for both sides to drop the gloves. Now, whether or not some of the punches thrown were valid enough to land is another discussion altogether.

Enter the Phoenix Suns, and the perfect opportunity for the Raptors to get back on track. Not to mention the chance to prove that their new-found killer instinct is here to stay. Facing off gainst a team that’s spiraling out of control didn’t hurt matters, either.

To put the Suns’ shambles into perspective, Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit summed it up nicely in a Tuesday afternoon tweet. A recap dating back to July:

At least on paper, the Suns were ripe to be put of their misery. With the added insult of T.J. Warren’s season-ending foot injury hitting the wire just hours before tipoff, Raptors fans were preparing for a feast. Though with one not knowing how a club will immediately react to their Head Coach being relieved of his duties, this matchup did have a wildcard feel.

On the flip side, the bottom line of the Raps’ win streak is the fact that they’ve now earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to potential letdown situations. And no longer should we expect them to play to the level of their competition.

The Raps didn’t help reinforce that thought early on, though.

Raptors

It’s become a broken record but their slow-start syndrome reared its ugly head once again, as a lack of defensive intensity led to Phoenix attacking the paint without much resistance in the first quarter. And overall, it ultimately became Valanciunas’ second consecutive defensive effort that left us shaking our heads.

It’s no secret that Scola won’t exactly come to his rescue, so “the onus is on Jonas” to speed up his awareness. But as always, having to overcompensate for mistakes made on the perimeter have to be taken into account.

The backlash over JV’s -10 rating, while justified, should be tempered when he’s often times left hung out to dry. On the other hand, overcompensation is a two-way street. When the perimeter doesn’t have Bismack-type faith in what’s behind them, gambling does have its perks.

With Detroit dropping 35 fourth-quarter points fresh in our minds, giving up a 32-spot to open things up didn’t exactly jumpstart our enthusiasm. But as the storyline progressed, so did T.O.’s energy level. And look no further than Joseph and Biyombo, who at one point were fighting each other for loose balls, as the club’s saving graces. An effort that led to a 14-1 second-quarter run. Considering the second half saw both club’s notch 52 points apiece, it became the difference maker.

With Lowry reaping the benefits of playing with the second unit, yet again, it’s another example of why we might not get our collective wish to see Lowry’s minutes decrease with any regularity. Too many lineup variations excel when he’s on the floor, whether he’s leading the starters or able to freelance with the bench.

But with DeRozan commanding a new level of respect, his on-court burden is further lifted when combined with what Joseph already provides. For the most part, the level of last season’s wear and tear doesn’t have the makings of repeating itself. Let’s hope so, anyway. And on this night, like many others, DeMar’s improved passing ability helped negate Lowry’s low assist total of four. Which again, leads to less work for K-Low to take care of.

T-Ross’s production also plays a major role in that area, much like his clutch shooting and aggressive defense did last night. In a game where the Suns kept hanging around, Ross provided daggers at both ends of the floor. His tendency to disappear (see Detroit) still pops up at random times but that’s happening far less frequently these days. So much so that the early season noise of his controllable contract eventually being traded has certainly quieted down.

Speaking of the upcoming trade deadline, and what might have been the biggest overall storyline this game had to offer:

Markieff Morris and Devin Booker helped solidify their status, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s widely known that Markieff wants out, and since that’s common knowledge it’s widely speculated that Phoenix will be forced to take a lowball offer.

Well, his near triple-double of 30 points, 11, boards and 6 dimes just may have salvaged what the Suns’ get in return. That lack of paint presence I spoke of earlier? You’re welcome, Phoenix.

Morris has long been a name discussed in this community. I wonder what the interest level among fans is now? Would his attitude come with him? What’s his Value Over Chemistry? What’s his Win Shares Per Hissy Fit?

Booker on the other hand, all but sealed his fate as a core building block when the trade deadline strikes. If he hadn’t already. His 27 points, 5 boards, and 6 threes has pumped his averages over his last five games up to 19 points, 2.6 threes, 3.8 boards while shooting at a 44 percent clip. He’s going nowhere.

Phoenix may have gone from a team about to burst on the Western Conference scene to a squad in disarray, but they sure know how to rock a draft pick.

Which reminds me, Norman Powell started this game! His jumpers which turned into floaters, need work. But just by the eye test, it’s easy to see a two-way player is brewing.

Still, his performance, albeit encouraging (especially on defense), did show the holes created by JJ being out. It was through no fault of his own, though, being slotted at the three is a tall order for any rookie. But on a larger scale, showed that the Raps can’t really afford anymore injuries. DMC, where you at?!

On to Portland…


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AP Photo/Matt York

10 things I saw from Raptors-Suns | Getting Benched

I’m sorry to harp on this yet again, but Jonas Valanciunas was just a mess on defense. Maybe he’s a tad banged up (he was questionable for Monday’s game), and if so, he needs to sit and get healthy, because he was a total minus on the floor. He couldn’t move his feet whatsoever and kept getting blown up on defense.

The problem only gets worse when Valanciunas is asked to play with Luis Scola. Who’s idea was it, in this era of pace and space, to unite the league’s two slowest defenders? In the first quarter, Scola allowed Markieff Morris to blow by and he crowned Valanciunas. In the third quarter, Valanciunas returned the favor, was late on Markieff, and he dunked on Scola. A circus act, those two.

Lowry, DeRozan lead Raptors over Suns | Toronto Sun

A night after the 11-game run was ended by a poor effort against the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors again struggled defensively, but the offence was firing, especially Lowry in the first half and DeRozan in the second and it ended 104-97 in favour of the Raptors.

Terrence Ross chipped in 16 from the bench, helping Toronto overcome a 30-point explosion from Suns forward Markieff Morris, making his first start in weeks thanks to the arrival of interim head coach Earl Watson.

Lowry scored 26 points, DeRozan 22.

The all-stars took turns bailing the team out and at times, they covered for each other.

Never was that more apparent than in the final minute of the fourth quarter, with Phoenix threatening, Lowry made a bad play out of a timeout and nearly threw the ball away. DeRozan tracked it down, buried a miracle three-pointer with a Suns player draped all over him and basically sealed the contest.

Takeaways: Raptors bounce back with grind-it-out road win | Sportsnet.ca

This was a tough road win. The second night of a back-to-back on the West coast after getting in late due to a snow storm. Plus, the team was down a member of the rotation because of Johnson’s injury. Lowry once again was forced to play big minutes, being out on the court for 41.

Still, Toronto persevered to get their 15th win on the road, second to just the Cavaliers in the East.

Raptors start next streak with win over Suns | Toronto Star

“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt would be coming after a coaching change,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They played us as well as they’ve probably played for a while.”

Raptors narrowly beat the lowly Suns, 104-97 | Raptors HQ

The best two-way performance of the night went to Terrence Ross, though. Ross was all over the floor — grabbing rebounds, forcing steals, and driving to the basket. His stat line of 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a steal belies his impact on this one. He had foul trouble early and the Raptors suffered for it. When he returned in the second quarter, Toronto went on an 11-0 run. Throughout the game, the Raptors looked a whole lot better with Ross on the floor.

Unfortunately, Ross’ performance flew in the face of Norman Powell’s first career start. In a clear attempt to keep his hot bench intact, Powell got the start for an injured James Johnson and looked out of his realm in 15 minutes, going 0-for-3 for a -1. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey gives Ross the bump to starter if Johnson is missing any more time. Toronto was clearly adjusting to a different look this time around, with just eight regular rotation players available.

Final Score: Markieff Morris has career game, but Phoenix Suns fall to Toronto Raptors | Bright Side Of The Sun

The Suns continued their fourth quarter troubles by failing to score as much as the other team, quickly getting down 12.

57 points from Morris & Booker not enough to stop Toronto Raptors | Raptors Cage

The offence for the Raptors at times was rolling tonight. They shot 47% from the field, while getting major contributions from the bench unit. The dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the charge. Lowry was making it rain from beyond the arc converting on 5 triples and DeRozan was doing his part to make it known that he’s virtually unguardable – at least if your name is P.J. Tucker.

The Raptors also did a tremendous job of pounding the rock by getting to the charity stripe 32 times. Lowry finished with a team high 26 points.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant Named January’s Players Of The Month | RealGM Wiretap

DeRozan ranked second among Eastern Conference players in January, averaging 23.9 points and recording eight games with 20+ points. He shot .442 (118-for-267) from the field, .417 (15-for-36) from three-point range and .848 (84-for-99) at the free throw line. DeRozan scored a season-high 35 points January 8 at Washington and matched a career-high with 11 rebounds January 14 during an NBA Global Game in London, England versus Orlando. He also matched a career high with three consecutive 30-point games January 18-22, averaging 32.3 points during this stretch.

Lowry, DeRozan named East’s players of the month | Toronto Sun

“It’s good, you see your two leaders and you know they can get along it’s a trickle-down effect, I feel like it’s big for our team and big for our young guys to be able to see guys of that caliber being able to get along and enjoy each other and don’t hate each other,” Carroll said.

“You look at a lot of teams and guys don’t like playing with each other and dislike each other. It’s a trickle down effect for the guys in the room.”

DeRozan previously won in April of 2015, Lowry in December of 2014.

Importantly, the duo has showed no signs of slowing down, alternating doing the heavy lifting when required, or combining to great effect.

Last year, DeRozan was injured early in the season and Lowry had to pick up the slack, resulting in a burnout that started in January of 2015 and which caught up to the team throughout the second half and into the playoffs against Washington.

DeRozan and Lowry have grown into one of the NBA’s most impactful pairs.

“I think they’re the best duo. Right now they’re behind Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), and they’re next in line,” Carroll said.

Five Thoughts: Raptor awards, Van Gundy and more | TSN

You win and people notice. Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were all recognized this week for their work in January. Well earned and well deserved. These guys have paid the price and their hard work is paying off.

Road To The Six: Week 11 Recap | Toronto Raptors

Raptors 905 went 2-1 this week and saw the season-best win streak reach six games before finally losing in Erie. A big congratulations goes out to Ronald Roberts Jr., who was named to the NBA D-League Eastern Conference All-Star Team this week. Roberts will be the only Raptors 905 player to represent the host team at Ricoh Coliseum on February 13th.

Free Association: Should the NBA #LetNormDunk? Plus, fake trades & more | Sportsnet.ca

Among the best: The combined play of Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (obviously), and Bismack Biyombo & Jonas Valanciunas morphing to form the Raptors’ MegaCentre.

The Biggest Issue Every Title Contender Faces Going into 2016 NBA Trade Deadline | Bleacher Report

The Raptors have to hope the deja vu doesn’t extend to the second half.

Last year, they followed their strong start with a feeble 16-18 finish and a brutally abrupt first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

The good news is the Raptors roster is better. Backcourt mainstays Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the midst of their best seasons, and Jonas Valanciunas continues to improve in the middle. Cory Joseph and Luis Scola add depth. DeMarre Carroll, the organization’s top offseason acquisition, will hopefully return from knee surgery, ready to inject the three-and-D skills that earned him a $60 million contract.

Toronto Raptors Should Trade For Kenneth Faried | Hoops Habit

Faried would be a great weapon for Lowry in the pick and roll and would fit the Raptors up and down style like a glove. Faried has also shown an increased dedication to the defensive side of the floor and was originally selected by Masai Ujiri, so there’s a connection already formed between those two. A dynamic player like this is hard to come by:

Three Trades Masai Ujiri Must Consider For The Raptors | Raptors Rapture

With the acquisition of Thaddeus Young, the Raptors would add an athletic power player to their ranks. While undersized as a power forward at 6-foot-8, Young provides the talents of Patterson and Johnson combined and more consistently. He may not be an elite player, but with the current mix of players the Raptors currently possess, it wouldn’t make a huge difference. His 15 points and 9 boards per game would make him the perfect starter, allowing Luis Scola to add his unique skill set to the bench mob. And while the Raptors would be on the hook for at least two and a half years of Young’s existing contract ($11.2 million, $12.1 million and $12.9 million respectively), the new salary cap increase will make it seem like pocket change in the grand scheme of things.

Raptors have come ‘a long way’ in 20 years, Nuggets’ Malone says | Toronto Star

“They’ve come a long way in so many areas,” Malone said Monday. “I can remember my father as the first coach in Raptor history trying to educate the fans but also the media. A lot of the guys that covered the Raptors at the time really weren’t (knowledgeable) so he would have sessions after practice with the media talking just about the game of basketball.”

Four takeaways from Raptors GM Ujiri’s interview with Tim & Sid | Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors’ performance in last year’s post-season was considered to be a disappointment in some regard, but the underwhelming play against the Washington Wizards during a four-game sweep did not catch Ujiri by surprise.

“I think the roster was flawed a bit last year and I take the blame for that,” he said. “Defensively we were just not capable. We were not ready injury-wise. We had some bad momentum going into the playoffs honestly. That’s sports. You have to be ready.”

Ujiri sensed the decline in performance coming in the second of the half of the season and made sure to aggressively upgrade the team’s depth and defensive issues this past summer.

“The players we brought compliment what (coach Dwane Casey) tries to do,” he added. “We needed more two-way players and unfortunately DeMarre (Carroll) hasn’t played as much. Hopefully we can get him back this season but Cory Joseph has been a good two-way player and Biyombo has been a good two-way player. We tried to get better with that.

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Toronto Raptors 104 Final
Recap | Box Score
97 Phoenix Suns
Luis Scola, PF 19 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -8 +/-

Really not the night for lead-footed bigs with the Suns playing a pair of stretchy frontcourt players for stretches. Other than a charge and a corner three, this was a pretty rough one. Not the matchup for him.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-5 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -10 +/-

Scored well enough inside but was a mess defensively. He’s backslid some on that end after a really encouraging stretch and breaking up this starting duo is long overdue.

Kyle Lowry, PG 42 MIN | 8-15 FG | 5-10 3FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +3 +/-

Was the only one cooking early and then – SURPRISE! – helped the bench units dominate for stretches and pick up the starters’ slack. Obviously 42 minutes isn’t ideal, nor is six assists over three games, but this was a good bounce-back after two down games.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 34 MIN | 8-16 FG | 1-5 3FG | 5-9 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | -6 +/-

Five threes, and the only one that went in was a prayer? Bruh, maybe don’t buy into your own small sample. Scored well enough despite the presence of Tucker but didn’t provide much defensively and had a few bad turnovers. It was fine, and he single-handedly became a zone-buster early by attacking and distributing through the seams.

Norman Powell, SG 15 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -1 +/-

I’ll have more on Powell’s performance on Thursday, as I was really focused in on him early. Offensively, he made a couple of nice decisions and just missed shots, and his turnover was a miscommunication. He was really active defensively and caused some havoc, though he lost Booker a couple of times dying on screens. I’m grading on a curve here, which I think is understandable.

Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15 +/-

Pretty rough go of it for Patterson at both ends. Shot wasn’t falling, passed up a few open looks that forced tough late-clock decisions, and had his lunch eaten by Morris.

Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-5 3FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +3 +/-

Would it be a stretch to call him the team’s best player Tuesday? Maybe. Probably. But he turned in another great night, jumping passing lanes on defense, making smart decisions in transition, and knocking down shots when few of his teammates could.

Bismack Biyombo, C 29 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +17 +/-

Really nice energy off the bench and a better look against some of the stretchier Phoenix bigs. Would have liked to see Nogueira get a look, but Biyombo’s play dictated otherwise.

Cory Joseph, PG 27 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-1 3FG | 4-6 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +22 +/-

Played better offensively than his shooting line would suggest and better defensively than Booker’s would. Throwing him on Booker was a nice way to disrupt him off the bounce. Joseph is still dribbling too much of the clock away and picking up his dribble in tough spots, but he mostly makes up for it with funky takes and sound defense.

Dwane Casey

I don’t hang the early defensive issues on him given that he was audibly losing his mind trying to get guys into their assignments early. I groan at the minutes, too, but some of it is on the players to close things out better. No real issues with the rotation given the limitations, though I probably would have given Powell a bit more of a chance, maybe saw what Nogueira looked like against a quicker team, and broken up that starting frontcourt months ago. I know some groaned at the late DeRozan ATO but Casey values eating clock over getting a quality look early, which makes some sense given the quality of 1-on-1 players. It’s just ugly.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Devin “Literally Steph Curry” Booker is going to be really good and I am going to wind up having been very wrong about his upside. Archie Goodwin is a guy I was high on and is finally showing signs of life. Shout out to Sonny Weems and the Young Gunz.
  2. The final score’s a little ugly given where the Suns are, but keep in mind it was a segababa for the Raptors and teams historically get a post-coaching change bump. The Suns came out hungry.
  3. Anyone want to revisit Markieff Morris trade scenarios? I dismissed them earlier in the year when it sounded like the asking price would be high, but if all they want now is Patterson and a 2017 second, would you be game?
  4. That Lowry-plus-bench unit, man. It’s death to other teams’ rotations. It will be less of an edge come playoff time, though, when opposing starters will play more and rotations shorten.
  5. Can we have DeMarre Carroll back at 100 percent now please? K, thanks.

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Following an awful loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the Toronto Raptors have a chance to quickly right the ship. That opportunity comes against perhaps the most rudderless ship in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns. But things won’t be easy when the Raptors visit at 9 p.m. on TSN 1. Not only are the Raptors on the second night of a road-road back-to-back, an occasion in which the visiting team wins only about a third of games, but they’ll be quite thin on the wing, too.

The Suns, meanwhile, are painfully shorthanded but may get a boost in the form of new interim head coach Earl Watson. The Suns removed Jeff Hornacek from his post late Sunday night, and even if mid-season coaching changes rarely produce rest-of-season results, teams generally experience a one-game boost after a coach firing. In Watson, they’ll have an unrelentingly positive leader with a fresh young voice (he’s still just 36), one who has already spoken openly about trying to nurture the team’s more…umm, mercurial players like Markieff Morris.

So don’t take anything for granted Tuesday.

And hey, remember that time Archie Goodwin crammed all over Jonas Valanciunas? Me too, and I had nowhere else to put this.

Raptors Updates: James Johnson out
The Raptors were quick to rule James Johnson out for Tuesday’s game, per the team’s game notes. Johnson left Monday’s game with a sprained left ankle and was limping badly, though X-rays came back negative. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports that Johnson is set for an MRI. He’s also on crutches, per The Woz.

With DeMarre Carroll still sideliend, probably for at least a few more weeks, the Raptors could be quite thin on the wing for a little bit.

Norman Powell drew the start in the second half on Monday but the guess here is that T.J. Ross jumps into the starting role Tuesday. Head coach Dwane Casey is a fan of role consistency and would probably prefer to keep his four primary reserves in their regular rotation, tasking Powell with big minutes immediately may be asking a bit too much. Powell’s only played 100 NBA minutes this season, and while he’s been really impressive in the D-League and is certain to bring energy and defensive intensity, he might be best-served getting his feet wet off the bench.

UPDATE: Powell will start, maintaining rotation consistency everywhere else.

Assuming that’s the case, and remembering that Bruno Caboclo remains on assignment in the D-League, the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Anthony Bennett
C: Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Heavy minutes for Powell would be a worthwhile endeavor, if only for a few games, and I’m of the mind he’s earned a shot now that there’s a hole. Failing that, Johnson’s injury means Casey will lean on the Joseph-Lowry pairing more and more or less put small frontcourt lineups on the shelf, save for maybe a closing group.

Suns Updates: What a mess
The Suns are out a coach. They’re out Eric Bledsoe (knee) for the season. They’re out Ronnie Price (toe) and probably Brandon Knight (groin, no official update as of yet). Now they’re out promising and entertaining sophomore T.J. Warren, a personal favorite, for the season due to a broken foot.

So who the hell is left? The rotation will probably look something like this:

PG: Goodwin
SG: Devin Booker, Sonny Weems, Jordan McRae
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Markieff Morris, Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic
C: Tyson Chandler, Alex Len

Watson might get creative with his lineups in his first outing behind the bench, hence the guess that Morris starts. There’s an argument to be made, given personnel and the Raptors’ own situation, that the Suns should go a little bigger with Morris or Teletovic at the three some. He may also just roll the young guys out and see what happens, who knows?

The Line
The Raptors are nine-point favorites despite all of the reasons this could be a tough one. That line’s down some from Raptors -9.5 at open but still suggests the expectation is for the Raptors to bounce back. That would be an affirmation for those who opted to take Monday as a one-time blip, the result of physical and psychological exhaustion from a long winning streak. I’m of that mind, and so I’ll take the Raptors. I’m not touching the over-under of 200.

Raptors 105, Suns 94


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Raptors 905 have acquired point guard John Jordan from the Erie Bayhawks, the team confirmed Tuesday. In return, the 905 sent Erie the returning player rights to Luke Harangody, which they acquired in the expansion draft this offseason. The deal is still subject to the passing of physicals.

Jordan will be a familiar name to those who have been following along with the 905, as he’s played against the 905 twice in the last two weeks, including a 17-point performance on Jan. 21. In 18 games split between Delaware and Erie – the 87ers waived him in December, freeing him to land with the Bayhawks – he’s averaged 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 steals in 17.6 minutes while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and 3-of-7 from outside.

A four-year senior out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, the 5-foot-10 Jordan went undrafted this summer and failed to land an invite to summer league or a training camp. Over his four NCAA seasons, he averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 43 percent from the floor.

A quick lead guard who lacks an outside shot, Jordan stands to figure in to the competition for minutes behind Shannon Scott with the 905. Delon Wright has really lifted the offense when on assignment but otherwise the 905 have struggled with offense from the point guard spot, often tasking a wing (Scott Suggs, Norman Powell, or Axel Toupane) with being the primary initiator. Ashton Smith has provided solid defense when called upon but has also struggled with a high ankle sprain, while Melvin Johnson and Jay Harris are better suited as score-first options. I’m not sure Jordan moves the needle much or will even see regular playing time, but he’ll push the others for that backup role when Wright’s with the parent club.

In any case, an extra option probably can’t hurt. Despite a recent six-game winning streak and a major uptick in overall performance over the last month, the 905 still rank 14th in offensive efficiency and first in turnover rate

The interesting question now is who the 905 cut. The acquisition of Jordan pushes them to 13 non-assignment players, one above the maximum. Occam’s razor would suggest a guard, perhaps Smith, is outgoing, but there are other possibilities. DeAndre Daniels told Raptors Republic last week that he’s still a few weeks away from returning from a Jones fracture he suffered in July and he remains on the roster, though it seems unlikely they’d put him on only to take him off.

Raptors Republic is told that there’s nothing immediate happening with Ronald Roberts, in case anyone drew a very reasonable line from “Need to trim a roster spot” to “Best player on the team should have been called up by now.” The 905 don’t play again until Friday, so they have a couple of days to sort things out.

Harangody, by the way, hasn’t played in the D-League since 2012-13 and is currently playing in Turkey.


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The Toronto Raptors’ All-Star backcourt are sharing another honor together.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been named Eastern Conference co-Players of the Month for the month of January, the team announced Tuesday. They join head coach Dwane Casey in celebrating the team’s 12-2 month and 11-game winning streak with an award, as Casey was named the East’s Coach of the Month on Monday.

Cleveland Cavaliers fans are sure to raise their eyebrows given that LeBron James averaged 23.6 points on 55.2-percent shooting with 6.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists, helping produce a 13-3 record for the Cavs, but those are the breaks. Each month, the competition is going to be incredibly tight, and many Raptors fans felt slighted when DeRozan missed out on the December award in favor of John Wall (Lowry and DeRozan both received honorable mentions in November). Chicago Bulls fans may have a gripe given the month Jimmy Butler turned in, too.

It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice nod to perhaps the best month in franchise history for the Raptors. DeRozan earned Player of the Month honors last April, Lowry in December, but before that it had been since all the way back in 2007 (Chris Bosh) when the Raptors had someone take the monthly award. Lowry and DeRozan are now the first players in team history to win the monthly award more than once.

The fact that they’re sharing the award really couldn’t be more perfect. In their fourth season together, they’ve developed a terrific chemistry both on and off the court, growing as a deadly offensive tandem and as the most adorable friendship this side of Turk and J.D. Players sharing the award is fairly uncommon, with all five Atlanta Hawks starters sharing it last January and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sharing it in December of 2010 representing the only instances of a split award since 2002 (Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Michael Finley).

DeRozan trailed only Butler in East scoring for January, averaging 23.9 points on 44.2 from the floor, 41.7 percent from long-range, and 84.8 percent on 7.1 free-throw attempts per-game. He also added 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and one steal, turning in 36.1 minutes a night. Lowry, meanwhile, rebounded from a less efficient December to shoot 45.1 percent overall and 40.2 percent from outside, leading to averages of 21.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 2.4 steals. Lowry’s most notable contribution in his 39 minutes a night may have been the chemistry he found with the reserve unit, which really propelled the Raptors during their winning streak.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Infographic on the Toronto Raptors franchise record 11 game winning streak. <a href=”https://t.co/OntT5aBiC1″>pic.twitter.com/OntT5aBiC1</a></p>&mdash; Alan (@the__mvp) <a href=”https://twitter.com/the__mvp/status/694634947739398144″>February 2, 2016</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

That means the pairing combined for 45.6 points, 24 rebounds, and 10.9 assists. That’s a two-man power trip that would make Triple H and Stone Cold blush. The workloads are a bit heavy but the results speak for themselves, and as it’s been suggested to me, that’s a future Raptors maybe-problem. (Personally, I don’t think the winning streak or the awards justifies that and my long-term concern remains, but this isn’t the place for that discussion.) They were really good and it led to the Raptors being really good, enough so that they’re now 32-16, second in the East and five games insulated from the third seed. It was a huge month in terms of how the rest of the season could play out.

The BFFs will also share the spotlight together at the All-Star Game in Toronto next weekend, with Lowry starting for the East and DeRozan coming off the bench. It’s a good time to be those guys and a fun time to be a Raptors fan.


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Great Expectations:

With the win streak over the natural instinct may be for the Toronto Raptors to relax and take their foot off the gas.

Post game comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan indicated they have no intention on doing that. Rather, they stated a need to put this loss behind them and get right back in the win column via increased defense. Duane Casey was a little less subtle in his message holding nothing back about his displeasure over the Raptors lack of effort and performance.

And while the Raptors now travel to Phoenix to face a squad who’ve historically played them well, these two teams are literally sitting at opposite ends of the NBA power rank ladder.

To wit: week 15 began with news the Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek had been fired while Duane Casey was awarded January’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. Even more reflective is the January performances of these 2 teams:

  • the Raptors notched 12 wins versus 2 losses
  • whereas the Suns posted just 2 wins with 12 losses.

In fact, if you look back even further in time you can see how these two franchises interpreted their efforts over the past few seasons and chose very different paths. In some ways the Suns over performing in 2013-14 may have led to the teams current demise. Ownership felt they were ready to compete for a championship missing only a single part. That was an aggressive viewpoint to take given they made this decision without even getting into the post season.

The following year the Suns literally imploded when they flirted with disaster adding a third guard to the backcourt. In the end they lost both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in their mishandling of the situation and with them the premise of why the team had improved. The Suns management has been the major issue via how they’ve handled player interactions which has taken a once cohesive locker room and turned it into a cancerous situation.

Conversely the Raptors who also over achieved in 2013-14 ended up losing on the final play of that intense Game 7. Toronto could easily have fallen down the same rabbit hole as the Suns did, especially after last season when a poor second half and sweep in the playoffs could have been over looked and written off as injury related.

Instead management took stock of what was working, what needed to change and set to shoring up their defense adding two-way players with grit. All while working in concert with keeping the core in tact and continuing to develop those strong relationships. Though we tend to focus on players, coaches and GM’s perhaps this Suns examples points to the strength of the Raptors top management and again reflects the need for a champion to be built with equal strength across the board.

With that let’s take a look at the particulars:

Walking wounded:

Suns:

Raptors:

As per rotoworld and CBS Sports

Projected rotation:

Suns:

Point Guard: (Brandon Knight), Archie Goodwin
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker Sonny Weems,   Jordan McRae
Small ForwardP.J. Tucker,   (T.J. Warren),
Power Forward:  Mirza Teletovic, Markieff Morris,
Center: Tyson Chandler,  Alex Len

Notes: if the Raptors are thin on the wings it’s an understatement to say the Suns are depleted at the point especially if Knight can’t go again.

Seeing Sonny back in the NBA brings back fond memories of the Young Gunz. Remember this dunk off aired on Amir TV? They all looked so young with Weems playing the role of BFF to DeMar.

With players going at each other right on the hardwood or in social media etc, this quality can’t be under stated. DeRozan’s ability to develop close knit relationships produces an intangible that can’t be taught – – trust.

Raptors:

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
Small Forward: (James Johnson), Terrence Ross (likely to play at both SG and SF)
Power Forward: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
Center: (Jonas Valanciunas), Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Notes: The injury to Johnson will likely keep him out of the line-up meaning the Raptors are extremely thin at small forward. Factor in  Bruno Caboclo the third tier SF didn’t join the team on this trip.  Look for Casey to give Powell extra playing time with potential for spot minutes from Anthony Bennett. The other option would be to shift all the core guards up one position use Delon Wright for a few minutes to spell Joseph or Lowry and have DeRozan play some extra minutes at the SF.

Game Notes:

  • Late yesterday Earl Watson was named interim head coach of the Suns.
  • Tonight’s game mirrors the first meeting between the squads given the Raptors were on the second night of a back to back set while the Suns were on a days rest.
  • The Suns have won 4 of the past 5 games between the two teams.
  • Suns have lost 16 games (won 2) since Bledsoe’s season ending knee injury
  • Raptors rank in the top 8 of all three major categories: offense (6), defense (8) and net (6)
  • Suns rank in bottom 4 of all three  major categories: offense (27), defense (29) and net (27)
  • Suns are 2-19 in their past 21 games
  • The Raptors are 4-5 on second night of back to backs
  • The Suns are 7-2 facing teams on second nights of back to backs

Raps at Suns

Three Keys to the win:

Start a new win streak: all good things must come to an end and while it would have been nice for the Raptors to own the best win streak by a Toronto sport franchise they’ll have to settle for a tie (Blue Jays). There is no time to reflect on the record setting streak, rather they need to buckle down and notch the first victory of the next streak.

Focus on defense: playing on the second night of a back to back and short handed the Raptors need to power through their fatigue. Focusing their effort primarily on defense will allow them to get into a rhythm and stick around should they struggle again offensively. Theoretically the Suns won’t offer the same effort (as the Nuggets) on defense where they rank 29th, but see point 3. Specifically the Raps need to shut down passing lanes, play solid transition defense to stop fast breaks and crash the boards especially on the defensive end.

Play the opponent, not the record: while the Suns appear lottery bound and are injury depleted the Raptors need to be careful not to fall into the trap of playing the record. When a coach is fired it’s not unusual for the team to respond with an energized effort (except in Tyronn Lue’s case). The Raptors need to be extremely careful players like Markieff Morris don’t chose tonight to make a statement his issues were tied to Hornacek. Like last night’s opponent the Suns beat the Raptors earlier this season (107-102) so the Raptors must approach this game looking to apply the lessons they learned from that loss and even the series.

The line:

The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 9 points with an over-under of 200.5 and heavy early action leaning toward Toronto.

Getting back in the win column immediately is important, but Casey needs to be careful not to over utilize his All-Star backcourt to compensate for the shortage on the wings.

Assuming Johnson remains out for the remainder of the road trip these next 4 games arguably offer ideal opponents to test the rookies’ progress. Ujiri drafted Wright and Powell citing their advanced defense, so providing short relief for the core players with the emphasis to defend should be within their capacity. Furthermore, given the next 4 opponents are the Suns, Blazers, Pistons and T-Wolves who all utilize their own glut of rookies – – doesn’t it seem like the perfect time for that litmus test?

Prediction: Suns come out with a view to impress Watson (not to mention nothing to lose), but the Raptors showcase why they have been the most consistent Eastern Conference team winning by 5


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Raptors 93, Nuggets 112 | Quick Reaction | Box Score

There’s a reason Eric Koreen has taken to calling me and himself #TheReasonablists. It’s pretty rare that I find myself too high or too low after a win or a loss, instead staying somewhere in the middle and leaning on those Bayesian priors as my analysis and outlook make small shifts over the course of the season. (The exception, of course, being after the Game 7 loss to the Nets the day before my birthday during a serious breakup.)

Sometimes, this annoys people, which I understand. The entire nature of sports fandom suggests being reasonable shouldn’t be a part of the role description. It’s far more fun to buy in entirely, work the trade machine endlessly, dream on how major changes could shift the timeline, and so on, and just react however you instinctively react. Sports are an outlet first, and that entertainment should come in whatever damn form you choose. Just like someone calling for me to be more blindly optimistic or, I guess, supportive of the team in response to any negatives I might see isn’t going to change how I watch and analyze, me doing and thinking and saying those things probably won’t change anything for anyone else. That’s a terrible sentence, but it’s midnight and I’m disappointed and I might be a bit faded off the chocolate milk. You get what I’m saying, though: When it comes to sports, do you, and who am I to tell you how to be a fan?

On Monday night, the Raptors turned in what may have been their worst performance of the season.

To be blunt, they played like garbage. DeMar DeRozan scored well but was a zero defensively. T.J. Ross and Bismack Biyombo had a few good minutes and a few bad. Luis Scola was Luis Scola. Otherwise, it was almost entirely awful. The team shot 37.2 percent and allowed Denver to shoot 54.2 percent, including a parade of shots at the rim and clean outside looks (10-of-22). The Nuggets out-rebounded them by 14, more than doubled them in points in the paint, and moved the ball freely around a disengaged Raptors’ defense. Other than forcing turnovers, the Raptors offered little resistance. At the other end, they could do little damage anywhere but at the free-throw line, somewhere Denver was fine to send them fairly often if it means the paint was sealed off entirely and they were dribbling out the shot clock looking for seams and instead finding bad jumpers late.

It was a bad game. Kyle Lowry summed it up pretty well, borrowing from head coach Dwane Casey (courtesy Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun):

Coach described it best tonight. I’m going to take this stat-sheet and wipe our asses with it. I’m sorry, that describes the night for us, man. Tip your hat to the Nuggets, they played extremely well. We just didn’t have it tonight. They kicked our ass.

And that’s pretty much it, for me. That’s about all that needs to be said about Monday’s game. The Raptors came out dead flat in a notoriously difficult place to play on the first night of a road trip, and they got spanked. Embarrassed, really. And that’s not an OK thing for a good team that thinks it could be great to do.

And so I’m not going to tell anyone not to overreact to the loss. The comments in the quick reaction and our mentions had a lot of negativity, calls for Casey to be fired, I-told-you-sos about certain elements of the team or the loss, trade suggestions, and more. Nobody felt good about the game, and if that’s how you want to respond, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t.

All I can do is offer why I’m mostly unmoved by the loss. I already know the reaction that the points will get. I’ll hilariously get called a homer or a blind supporter or “literally Dwane Casey,” even though before and during the game I was being called the opposite of those things for predicting a loss. Those who are still angry will say this is making excuses for an inexcusable performance, which is only half right. There are reasons the team’s worst loss of the season doesn’t move the needle much for me, and I think they’re reasonable.

  • This looked like a loss coming in. The Raptors were five-point favorites but I called a loss beforehand. It’s the first game of a trip after a long home-stand, always a tough one to get up for. It’s in Denver, a notoriously difficult place to play. This Nuggets team is notably spry with several marquee victories despite a mediocre record overall.
  • The Raptors had also been gassing their key players during the winning streak. Not only was this a mental hurdle, but possibly a physical one. Kyle Lowry, in particular, looks either fatigued or mildly injured.
  • To that point, the Raptors were able to get Lowry and DeRozan some unusual rest on the first night of a back-to-back. if they were going to lose, it’s almost better they lost big for that reason.
  • On a related note, they got a long look at some of the prospects. The results were mixed, but Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira, Anthony Bennett, and Delon Wright all got far more NBA run than they had in some time. There’s some value in that.
  • The Raptors rarely turn in games like this. It’s only the sixth time they’ve lost by double-digits and the only game I’d venture they played even close to this poorly was the 20-point Miami loss early in the year. It was a complete aberration. This isn’t them.
  • The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak. There were concerns during the streak, ones people got irritated that I would point out, but for the most part the team played well and took care of business against a reasonably easy chunk of the schedule. They probably exerted too much energy in that stretch and may be a little worn out from it, and that started to manifest late in the Detroit near-collapse on Saturday. For the most part, though, Monday didn’t affirm any specific earlier concerns. The reality is, winning streaks take a toll. It’s incredibly difficult to be on your game night-in, night-out for such a long stretch, and while we’d like to think that’s the “mark of a champion” or something like that, even the Warriors admitted to their long winning streak eventually taking them off their game some. It’s mentally and psychologically exhausting, and a loss, probably one like this, was bound to happen.

Things are fine. More than fine, even. The Raptors are still second in the East, those 11 wins still provided a nice cushion in the standings, and everything good about the team you liked Monday morning still exists now. It’s one game, and everything is fine. Now, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed Monday’s game. Nor does it mean that turning in a wholly terrible game is acceptable. “Trap games” exist but they’re still avoidable, and the Raptors seemed to admit they just didn’t have it after the game.

For that and my reasons for letting it slide to hold, the Raptors have to come out Tuesday and get things done against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are a tire fire, but it’s the second night of a travel back-to-back and the Suns just fired their coach, meaning they could have the usual first-game boost for E-Shorty, Earl Watson in this first game behind the bench.

Monday doesn’t really tell us much other than that being perfect is hard. How the team responds Tuesday will be more telling about what might have gone into that loss.

Now, whether your author can bounce back from this piss-poor recap with a better Tuesday is another thing entirely.


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10 things I noticed from Raptors-Nuggets | Getting Benched

Good job by Casey to throw in the towel and keep DeRozan and Lowry on the bench for most of the fourth. There’s another game tomorrow in Phoenix. Had to play it smart with their minutes.

Raptors record streak ends with blowout loss to Nuggets | Toronto Sun

Jokic set career bests with 27 points and 14 rebounds, Will Barton and Randy Foye combined for 36 points off of the bench as Toronto’s reserves were outplayed for the first time in a while, along with the starters.

“You can describe it any way you want to: It was a stinker,” Casey said.

“That was one of our worst performances of the year. we played like we we playing in mud. You can blame it on the altitude or whatever it was, we stunk.”

Denver had surprised the Raptors in Toronto earlier this season and Casey had warned beforehand that the team wouldn’t be a pushover and that the air in Denver is always a factor.

Toronto’s 15-point deficit after three quarters was its biggest of the season.

“It starts with me, it was my fault, I didn’t get them ready to play, but you have one of these a year, we shoot 37% they shoot 54%,” Casey said.

Runs like the one Toronto was on are extremely rare and so are performances like Monday’s. Toronto isn’t as good as it looked the past few weeks, nor is it anywhere near as poor as on Monday.

Denver Nuggets snap Raptors’ 11-game win streak | Toronto Star

“Coach described it best tonight. He said we should take this statsheet and wipe our asses with it,” Lowry said, laughing and apologizing. “That describes this night for us. Tip our hats to the Nuggets, they played well. They made shots and we didn’t.”
No pro sports team in Toronto had ever won more than 11 consecutive games and it became clear early in this game that these Raptors wouldn’t be the team to hit win No. 12.
“They came out aggressive and we came out lackadaisical a little bit,” Lowry said. “As I said, coach said it best. I’m not even worried about (the loss). It’s over with, I’m worried about (Tuesday).”

Takeaways: Streak snapped as Raptors fall flat vs. Nuggets | Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors were dominated in the paint.

Toronto was outscored by 22 points in the paint in first half, and only had 26 all game. The Nuggets finished with 60 and 17 fast-break points. The biggest factor inside was Nikola Jokic, who dropped 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting and 14 rebounds. Jock dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas from the outset, scoring the Nuggets’ first 11 points. J.V., who was questionable to play with a sprained right thumb, was held to just 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes.

Raptors Lose to the Nuggets, 112-93. The Streak Ends at 11 | Raptors HQ

Despite how tough this game was to watch as a Raptors fan, its hard to blame to Raptors for losing their first game in twelve tries. These things happen: teams sometimes run into a wall, and have bad games where nothing goes right, and to be clear, nothing went right today. For evidence, look no further than Lowry’s statline. Sure, his 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists are notably low, but he also missed 5 of his 8 free throws which is absurd. While the Raptors played poorly, Denver also shot lights out: any night where the bench duo of Will Barton-Randy Foye outscore Lowry and DeRozan is not going to be fun. Lets hope that the team forgets this loss, and is ready to begin a new winning streak tomorrow at Phoenix.

Recap: Denver Nuggets run Toronto Raptors out of Colorado, 112-93 | Denver Stiffs

The Nuggets needed a good game on both ends of the court to subdue the visiting Raptors and they got it. Denver held Toronto to 37% shooting while making 54% of their own buckets and notching 28 assists.  The Nuggets dominated the boards 49-35 as Jonas Valanciunas could not fight through his injured thumb to compete in the second half, and James Johnson did not return from his sprained ankle.  Denver did not let the free-throw adversity affect them, and they kept their poise (until that last minute with Miller) when it could have gotten chippy.  The Nuggets played team basketball in a way that hints at how much fun future years might be.  They forgot how to score in the third quarter but didn’t let up on Toronto, and they closed out the by winning the fourth quarter rather than letting the game get close. It was a complete effort.

#FactsOnly. #WeTheNorth

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Nikola Jokic stars in Nuggets’ blowout win over Toronto | The Denver Post

The Nuggets entered the fourth quarter with an 80-65 lead. Will Barton, who had just four points on 2-of-9 shooting through the first three quarters, scored eight points in the first 1:38 of the final period to ensure Denver would not have to worry about letting a big lead slip away. Barton finished with 20 points as the Nuggets’ lead in the fourth quarter grew to as large as 27 points.

The Nuggets were staunch defensively for much of the night while defeating Toronto, which hadn’t lost since Jan. 4, for the second time this season. The first win against the Raptor’s snapped an eight-game losing streak.

Toronto Raptors crushed by Nuggets, winning streak over | Raptors Cage

You simply cannot let Denver score 112 points. The interior defense was unacceptable. JV and Bismack Biyombo did not get it done, as Nikola Jokic torched them for 27 points. Will Barton also poured in 20 off the bench. Denver shot a sky high 54% from the field.

Raptors’ Dwane Casey named NBA coach of the month | Toronto Star

Casey said the nod was “a great honour for our staff, for the organization.”
“My whole thing is when you’re not worried about who gets the credit, everybody wins,” he said.

Will camaraderie be a blessing or curse for Raptors? | TSN

Although they’ve probably been playing it up for the cameras a tad lately, their friendship is sincere and they’re not alone. For years the Raptors have prided themselves on the continuity and camaraderie between their best players and, this season more than ever, there seems to be a harmonious vibe around the entire roster.
“We do everything together,” DeRozan said. “We talk about everything, all the guys on the team. We joke around when we’re on the road. We try to take advantage of it, have fun and try not be so uptight and think about basketball 24/7. With that, we go out there and have fun with each other and try to pull out a win every single night.”
“The guys on this team — from the superstars, Lowry and DeRozan — all the way down to the guys who don’t play that much, [Lucas Nogueira] and Bruno [Caboclo], we all respect one another,” said reserve forward Patrick Patterson. “Everyone cares about each other; everyone wants to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. We all just truly and generally enjoy each other’s company.”
Of course, winning will do that, but it’s not unlike the question of the chicken and egg. What came first? Does winning breed chemistry or does chemistry breed winning?

Raptors’ Casey, Nuggets’ Malone well aware no NBA coach is safe | Toronto Star

“You’re always sad for any coach in college or the pros to lose their position,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was named the Eastern Conference coach of the month on Monday, after his team went 12-2 in January. “But it’s part of our job description.

“You sign a piece of paper and the only thing that’s not on there is the date you’re going to be let go.”

Coaching has always been a dependably fickle job. Casey’s enjoying the success his Raptors have had this year, with their franchise-record-setting win streak of 11 games and two of his players taking part in next weekend’s all-star game in Toronto, but he knows how quickly the coin can flip. He was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007 in his second season in charge.
It wasn’t that long ago people were wondering if Casey was the right coach for the Raptors after they were swept out of the playoffs last year.

Friendly Bounce Power Rankings: The Toronto Raptors climb | Friendly Bounce

3. Toronto Raptors (LW: 4): 10-0 in the last 10 games is great and almost every game they play is entertaining in some way. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan‘s friendship is the only thing in the league right now that is as great as the Warriors.

Raptors by the numbers: 11 stats from the 11-game winning streak | Eh Game

88 – Bench units in the NBA are expected to hold leads, not extend them. Over the 150 minutes that Cory Joseph, Ross, Patterson, and Bismack Biyombo have shared the court, the Raptors have outscored their opponents by 88 points. Primarily playing alongside Lowry, they’ve been Toronto’s most effective foursome.

Two Trades That Will Push The Clippers And Raptors Into Conference Contention | The Sports Quotient

The Raptors are in the prototypical spot to make a win now move. Toronto is likely getting the best production they will ever see from Kyle Lowry and their other backcourt star, DeMar DeRozan, who is on the last year of his deal and is due for a huge pay raise.
The one glaring hole in this Raptors roster has been the power forward position. Having Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola play the majority of the power forward minutes just isn’t gonna cut it in a conference that runs through Cleveland.
While acquiring Ryan Anderson isn’t going to improve anything on the defensive side of the floor, his elite shooting from the big man position could take this Toronto Raptors offense to new heights. Just

Raptors-Phoenix Suns: Tuesday game preview | Toronto Star

Key matchup:Tyson Chandler vs. Jonas Valanciunas.
A lack of experience jumps off of the page when you look at the Suns roster. Chandler, 33, will know what it takes to slow down a team like the Raptors. His numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he’ll make life tough for Valanciunas and is always a threat in the paint to any Raptors that puts his head down and goes to the hoop. Managing him in the paint will be Valanciunas’ top task.

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Toronto Raptors 93 Final
Recap | Box Score
112 Denver Nuggets
Luis Scola, PF 17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -11 +/-

Forced some turnovers early, which seems to be his modus operandi of late. He’s not quick by any means, but he’s so smart at recognizing a chance to trap, cut off space, or make a well-timed reach.

James Johnson, PF 10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -7 +/-

Left the game with a sprained ankle, which stands to make things difficult for the Raptors moving forward. Played quite poorly before leaving, taking a few silly gambles and getting bled on back-door cuts.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -19 +/-

Looked gassed pretty early in each stint, struggled with the super-active Jokic, and did a pretty poor job setting screens. Thought his team looked him off with good post position a couple of times, but it wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference. This was a bad one.

Kyle Lowry, PG 32 MIN | 3-12 FG | 1-6 3FG | 3-8 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -20 +/-

I generally try to avoid playing doctor and there are any number of things that can go into a bad couple of games. Still, after playing 41 minutes through a sprained wrist Tuesday, Lowry has shot 7-of-27 in the two games since, scoring 28 points with two assists. With a short night Monday and three days of rest coming up after Thursday, hope for a return to the regular Lowry form next week, if this is actually a matter of wrist/fatigue rather than just a bad couple of nights.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 28 MIN | 7-14 FG | 0-0 3FG | 10-11 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 24 PTS | -13 +/-

Waste of a solid night on offense, though he was fairly willing to give those points back at the other end. When he dished four dimes in the first, it looked like the ball might move well for the team, but then nobody else could score and the entire offense was DeRozan getting to the line. He does that well, but it wasn’t enough.

Anthony Bennett, PF 8 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +8 +/-

Got into it with Mike Miller, which is probably worth a higher grade. Hit the glass well. He’s still shown so little at either level to suggest he has an NBA skill that warrants playing time.

Patrick Patterson, PF 23 MIN | 1-6 FG | 1-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -16 +/-

Passed up a few open looks and still managed to go 1-of-5 from outside. Wasn’t the greatest of nights for the reserve group, and his cold shooting on largely open looks contributed. Tried to move the ball well, at least.

Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-5 3FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -16 +/-

Brought some nice energy initially, making a few plays on defense and sticking a couple of jumpers. Had a ridiculous ball-fake in transition that led to free throws, too. Lost the shooting touch outside the line and didn’t bring it as well on the defensive end in the third quarter.

Lucas Nogueira, C 14 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -3 +/-

Thought he’d be really up for an opportunity when the other centers weren’t doing a ton but slipped into a bit of a disinterested demeanor late. His length creates issues and he’s a smart, heady defender. Unfortunate they didn’t look his way on the roll a little more.

Bismack Biyombo, C 15 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | +3 +/-

Didn’t play horribly outside of a brutal three-minute sequence in the second quarter where he went Full Biyombo on the offensive end. Liked the move to give Nogueira a look early in a lost game just to see what he could offer, and that’s not an indictment of Biyombo, I don’t think.

Delon Wright, PG 6 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +4 +/-

Hit a pair of threes! That’s something he’s been flashing at close to a league-average clip in the D-League and would represent an important development in his game, particularly if he gets comfortable pulling up.

Cory Joseph, PG 28 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -6 +/-

Couldn’t help Lowry get the offense going when his lead guard needed a pick-me-up. Offensive malaise isn’t entirely on him but this was disappointing given how well he’d played, with or without Lowry, in the four games leading up to this.

Norman Powell, SG 13 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | 0 +/-

Asking him to take a few threes was somewhat unfair given his game, but they’ll need him to do that if he’s going to fill in for Johnson. Had a woeful time finishing but his energy and defense are palpable. I’m not discouraged.

Dwane Casey

Not sure any of this can really be hung on the coach. Almost to a man, the team played poorly. He tried going to the bench early, he tried dusting off Powell and Nogueira earlier than he normally would to spark things, and he conceded the loss in a fairly timely manner, sitting Lowry and DeRozan late. He also got T’d up, a rarity, for whatever that’s worth. I don’t think a 25-point game falls on the coach. If they come out flat again Tuesday, then sure. But don’t try to use this as a jump-off point for Casey hate when he had, like, 1.5 players playing well.

Five Things We Saw

  1. This game was bound to happen eventually, whether it was Monday or Tuesday or Thursday or whenever. It’s unreasonable to expect any team to be at their best for such a long stretch of time. It’s psychologically exhausting and, in the case of some players, physically so. So long as they reset well Tuesday, there’s nothing much to take from this game other than “winning every game is really hard.”
  2. The Raptors nearly hit as many free throws as field goals and both numbers were right around the Nuggets’ assist total. That about sums it up, yes?
  3. Nikola Jokic is an absolute monster. A hulking, beastly, unstoppable, beautiful monster. He somehow made Will Barton only my second-favorite opponent in a game, which I would have thought was impossible.
  4. The Blue Jays have won 11 in a row five times. The Leafs’ longest undefeated streak is 11 games. The Raptors’ now have an 11-game high-water mark. There’s something about that number. (Or, again, winning so much is really hard.)
  5. Enjoy the streak for a moment. That was a lot of fun, and people seemed to fall into two camps: Searching for negatives or ignoring them completely. The loss is a chance for everyone to give the stretch a nod of appreciation, recalibrate their analysis and expectations, and, in the case of the Raptors, re-establish a focus on longer-term goals, having now built a cushion for the No. 2 seed.

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The Toronto Raptors now find themselves perilously thin on the wing. Already down DeMarre Carroll for what’s believed to be about four more weeks, the Raptors may have lost the man replacing him in the starting lineup on Monday.

James Johnson took a bad spill in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets, requiring help to get off the floor and then limping to the locker room with Alex McKechnie. He has been ruled out for the game with a left ankle injury and is headed for X-rays, per Raptors Media Relations. The Sportsnet broadcast updated that Johnson has a sprained left ankle and that X-rays were negative.

He appeared to hurt the ankle on the fall, which came as he made an ill-advised attempt to steal the ball from Danilo Gallinari in transition after Johnson had missed a tough look at the rim.

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Should Johnson be shut down moving forward, the options at the three are, umm, not great, Bob. Head coach Dwane Casey would lean heavily on the two-point guard look to require just a single wing while likely inserting T.J. Ross into the starting lineup. Norman Powell could conceivably see minutes, or Anthony Bennett out of position at the three, but the most likely case is a lot of Ross, a lot of two-PG looks, and very little use of a small four. That’s not a death knell, but it’s hardly ideal to be down the team’s top two small forwards and forced into playing a two at the three, something they’ve tried to avoid as best they can this year.

UPDATE: Powell started the second half. Casey could be opting for role consistency here to keep that highly effective bench foursome in their regular rotation.

Prior to the injury, Johnson was having a pretty terrible night, shooting 1-of-2 with a pair of turnovers, two rebounds, a block, and an assist in 10 minutes. He fell asleep multiple times on defense and made a few curious decisions on offense.

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Of course, Johnson’s injury was the impetus for a Nuggets run, and hardly any Raptors were making good decisions Monday. It’s been a rough night for everyone through 24 minutes, and it only stands to get tougher with Johnson sidelined.

In 12 games starting for Carroll since Jan. 4, Johnson was averaging 5.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 19.4 minutes, shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 7-of-17 on threes. He’s filled in admirably, particularly against opponents who start a wing he can sink his teeth into defensively, though the starting unit as a whole in part due to some spacing issues. That five-some has been outscored by 1.5 points per-100 possessions in 203 minutes on the season and the Raptors have been 20.1 PPC better with Johnson on the bench since he re-entered the starting lineup.

On the season, Johnson is averaging five points, 2.2 rebounds, and one assist in 15.5 minutes, shooting 51.3 percent from the floor.


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The Toronto Raptors look to make it 12 wins in a row when they visit the Denver Nuggets for a 9 p.m. tip on Sportsnet One.

Jonas Valanciunas thumbs…up
The Raptors’ center sprained his right thumb on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons and was considered questionable for Monday’s game, per Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star. He is apparently a game-time decision, as we don’t have an update an hour before tip-off.

UPDATE: He’ll play.

Considering the Nuggets have a gang of centers, this is good news. Valanciunas has played really well at both ends since returning from his finger fracture earlier in the season.

We The Norm
Norman Powell wants to participate in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. That should really be all the NBA needs to hear to put him in it. All-Star Weekend is in Toronto, T.J. Ross and DeMar DeRozan aren’t going to do it again, and Jamario Moon ain’t walking through that door. Powell has ridiculous hops and could probably do some really cool stuff, plus it’s just smart from a marketing perspective to have a lesser-known player or two in the event to help build even more marketable players.

There’s also the matter of Powell being a funny, likable guy:

If Ronald Roberts isn’t going to do the D-League dunk contest – and he’s not – this is a pretty damn good Plan B for the weekend.

A quick James Johnson note
James Johnson is from Wyoming. This will never not be funny to me.

DeMarre Carroll traveling
Again from Wolstat – major shout out to The Woz – DeMarre Carroll is traveling with the Raptors on their current trip. That doesn’t mean he’s close to a return – original timelines suggested a late-February/early-March return – but if he can do his rehab on the road, why not?

Bruno’s snapchat is a treasure
Someone put together a bunch of Bruno Caboclo’s posts from Snapchat in a YouTube video. The dude is a terasure though, like Lucas Nogueira, I have no idea what’s going on (I ain’t on the snaps).

Bruno re-assigned to 905
Shortly before tip-off, the team announced they have assigned Caboclo back to Raptors 905 of the D-League. The timing is a bit strange given that the Raptors flew to Denver yesterday and the 905 remain in Mississauga until Thursday without a game, but perhaps Caboclo wasn’t actually traveling and the update is just late.

In any case, Caboclo will practice with the 905 on Tuesday and Wednesday and then likely travel with them for a Friday-Saturday back-to-back while the Raptors are off. He could be joined by a teammate or two, as well, as the Raptors are off for three days after Thursday night.

Raptors Lineup
With Carroll still out but Anthony Bennett recalled from the D-League, the Raptors rotation will look something like this:

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Powell
SF: Johnson
PF: Scola, Patterson, Bennett
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

Nuggets Lineup
Wilson Chandler (hip) remain sidelined for the Nuggets, Jameer Nelson (wrist) is out with a wrist injury (per the well-bearded Eric Smith of Sportsnet), and Joffrey Lauvergne (toe) is expected to be available if needed. The team also has Sean Kilpatrick up on a 10-day contract, so the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Mudiay, Foye, Johnson
SG: Harris, Kilpatrick
SF: Gallinari (swoon), Barton (sploosh), Miller
PF: Faried, Arthur, Hickson
C: Jokic, Nurkic, (Lauvergne)

The current starting group (with the uber-impressive Jokic at the pivot, not Nurkic) has been one of the team’s best lineups, outscoring opponents by 3.8 points per-100 possessions over 135 minutes. Switch Arthur in for Faried and they get even better, outscoring teams by 13.3 PPC in 97 minutes. Jokic is really good, Gallo is Gallo, Harris is coming along as a 3-and-D piece, and Muiday is taking strides.

Muiday was a bit of a tire-fire earlier in the year, sometimes a necessity for a rookie lead guard, but I’ve been encouraged his last few times out. The Nuggets as a whole, however, have been somewhat unimpressive since beating the Warriors on Jan. 12, dropping seven of 10, albeit against pretty solid competition.

The Line
The Raptors edged from 5.5-point favorites to just 5-point favorites, almost surely because I pegged tonight as a potential loss on the radio earlier. When Blake talks, Vegas listens. That’s not meant to be too negative, but the streak’s going to end at some point, and Denver’s a notoriously difficult place to play. If nothing else, Denver should play them tight, which would make tomorrow’s SEGABABA in Phoenix difficult (complete with the Suns getting the usual first-game-with-a-new-coach boost). I’ll take the Nuggets with the points and a slight under on the 204, which has come way down from 207.

Nuggets 103, Raptors 99

You can check out Gavin’s full preview here.


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Dwane Casey has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for the month of January, the NBA announced Monday.

Casey helped lead the Toronto Raptors to a 12-2 record for the month, which included the entirety of their current 11-game winning streak. That winning streak includes five wins against teams above .500 and an average margin of victory of 11.7, decisive stuff. The team’s played well enough that they’ve firmly established themselves as the favorite for the No. 2 seed in the East, just 2.5 games back of the Cavaliers and 5.5 ahead of the Bulls and Hawks. They’ve also played well enough that some expected the NBA to tweak their rules and give Casey the nod as the coach for the East All-Stars

This is Casey’s third time winning the award, giving him three of the four instances of a coach getting the honor in franchise history. He was given honorable mention in November and December, too.

Overall, the Raptors are 32-15 and rank sixth in offensive efficiency, eighth on the defensive side, and sixth in net rating. This, despite a great deal of missed time for Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll and a third of the roster being dedicated to prospects who have been deemed unable to contribute yet. Whatever your thoughts on Casey as a manager of the in-game minutiae – and his lack of offensive creativity is decidedly overstated – he’s firmly established that he’s a solid coach in the marco. Installing an entirely new defense and finding quick success despite heavy roster turnover, maintaining offensive effectiveness with several key pieces lost, fostering chemistry, managing through injuries, all of these are things that get lost when he calls a late-game isolation play or makes a curious substitution pattern or leaves Kyle Lowry in far too long. Those criticisms are fair, too, but on occasion it’s worth zooming out to appreciate that for three seasons now, he’s led a team that’s out-performed expectations.

Now, in terms of his lame duck status – the team holds an option on his contract for 2016-17 – well, I don’t think even a Coach of the Year award would make his job secure if the team were to lose in the first round again. Good can, on occasion, be the enemy of great, and general manager Masai Ujiri will face another tough decision this summer no matter how good a job Casey has done or will do from here.

Still, kudos to Casey on a job well done so far.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry received honorable mention for Player of the Week, which seems to be a weekly occurrence at this point.


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