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Date Title Author
Dec 7, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Dec 7 Sam Holako
Dec 6, 16 Being Optimistic Despite Not Being Top Tier Matt Shantz
Dec 6, 16 Raptors trusting ball’s energy as offense thrives Blake Murphy
Dec 6, 16 Raptors’ margin for error just too small against Cavaliers once again Blake Murphy
Dec 6, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 6 Sam Holako
Dec 5, 16 Raptors-Cavaliers Reaction Podcast – Cavs prove Raptors lack third star Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 16 Quick Reaction: Cavs 116 Raptors 112 Kiyan Sobhani
Dec 5, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Favored Raptors have Cavaliers’ attention Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 16 Are We Starting To See The DeMarre Carroll The Raptors Paid For? Spencer Redmond
Dec 5, 16 In praise of Patrick Patterson Scott Hastie
Dec 5, 16 Mid-Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 5 Sam Holako
Dec 5, 16 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Dec. 5 Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Continuity paying off Blake Murphy
Dec 4, 16 Tavares Inside, and CJ Leslie Everywhere Halt Red Claws Vivek Jacob
Dec 4, 16 Raptors dismantle reeling Hawks in historical fashion Shyam Baskaran
Dec 3, 16 Raptors-Hawks Reaction Podcast – LMAO the Raptors won by 44 Blake Murphy
Dec 3, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 128, Hawks 84 Anthony Doyle
Dec 3, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Raptors won’t ‘get happy on the farm’ as reeling Hawks visit Blake Murphy
Dec 3, 16 Gameday: Hawks @ Raptors, Dec. 3 Blake Murphy
Dec 3, 16 Lowry, Raptors make quick work of Lakers for fifth win in a row Blake Murphy
Dec 2, 16 Raptors-Lakers Reaction Podcast – Blowouts are fun Blake Murphy
Dec 2, 16 Quick Reaction: Lakers 80, Raptors 113 Alex Gres
Dec 2, 16 Toupane dominates as 905 beat Charge buzzer-to-buzzer Vivek Jacob
Dec 2, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll sits as Calderon and Swaggy-free Lakers visit Blake Murphy
Dec 2, 16 Quest To Find The Best Raptors Bar Heads West Barry Taylor
Dec 2, 16 With Some Reluctance…I’m In On Ross Matt Shantz
Dec 2, 16 Gameday: Lakers @ Raptors, Dec. 2nd Warren Kosoy
Dec 2, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Dec 2 – Everybody looking as Hawks visit Raptors Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 16 Raptors 905 learn quick lesson, stage big comeback to top Mad Ants in rematch Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 16 Finding the Right Four Anthony Doyle
Dec 1, 16 Letdown Avoided: Raptors Grit ‘N Grind Past Grizzlies Mike Holian
Nov 30, 16 Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Who needs defense when you score 120? Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 16 Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 105, Raptors 120 Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 30, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carter-less Grizzlies down to 9 bodies Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 16 Lowry-and-bench unit thriving once again Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 16 Vince Carter out Wednesday vs. Raptors, Raptors talk Carter influence Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 16 The Hot Hand in Basketball: An Analysis of the Thinking Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 30, 16 Gameday: Grizzlies @ Raptors, Nov. 30 Spencer Redmond
Nov 30, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 30 Sam Holako
Nov 30, 16 905 blown out by Mad Ants, Caboclo and VanVleet recalled Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 16 Breaking it Down: A closer look at Casey’s post-game comments Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 16 Raptors assign Caboclo and VanVleet, not Poeltl, to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 16 Raptors are good. Sixers are bad. Cameron Dorrett
Nov 29, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E6 – Still Alive Nick Reynoldson
Nov 29, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 29 Sam Holako
Nov 28, 16 Raptors-76ers Reaction Podcast – Everyone looks good in a blowout Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, Sixers 95 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 28, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Raptors search for defense as Process-less 76ers visit Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 16 Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors, Nov. 28 Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – This is the year (to go all-in) Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 16 There’s no place like home for the Toronto Raptors Shyam Baskaran
Nov 26, 16 Raptors 905 take first loss of season despite strong showing from Poeltl Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 16 Raptors assign Jakob Poeltl to 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 16 Raptors Outlast the Bucks in Milwaukee Anthony Doyle
Nov 25, 16 Raptors-Bucks Reaction Podcast – Good players are important Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 105, Bucks 99 Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Wright aiming for Jan. 1 return Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 16 Mini-Mailbag: Siakam’s role, rotation tweaks, Super-Jonas, and more Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 16 Patrick Patterson’s Shot? Matt Shantz
Nov 25, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Bucks, Nov. 25 Andrew Thompson
Nov 25, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 25 – Everything’s better now Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 25 Sam Holako
Nov 24, 16 An American Thanksgiving Checkpoint: Featuring DMC, Terry Ross and Bruno Mars Mike Holian
Nov 24, 16 DeMarre Carroll is trying to spread the swag Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 16 Raptors Defeat Rockets At Their Own Game Alex Gres
Nov 24, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 24 Sam Holako
Nov 24, 16 Raptors-Rockets Reaction Podcast – Best two-way performance so far Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 115, Rockets 102 Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan and Harden go head-to-head Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 VanVleet outduels Dinwiddie to push Raptors 905 to 3-0 Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 Small Samples Size Theatre Vol. 2: Early Season Shooting Gavin MacPherson
Nov 23, 16 Raptors file protest with NBA over ending of Kings game Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 Trying to put an impossible week in context Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 16 Game Day: Raptors @ Rockets Nov. 23 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 23, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 23 Sam Holako
Nov 22, 16 Know all the Raptors!! Sam Holako
Nov 22, 16 Raptors 905 activate Tavares, waive Terrell Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 16 Rookie Pascal Siakam Already Proving His Value Spencer Redmond
Nov 22, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E05 – Another Drake Night Nick Reynoldson
Nov 22, 16 Worst Road Trip Ever Continues With Close Loss to Clippers Gavin MacPherson
Nov 22, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 22 Sam Holako
Nov 22, 16 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – Defense didn’t show up Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 115, Clippers 123 Cameron Dorrett
Nov 22, 16 NBA issues statement on Ross shot, as does Redick Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll rests, Wesley Johnson returns Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 21, 16 NBA delays Last Two Minute Report for Raptors-Kings, Raptors reportedly protesting Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 16 The Bigger Picture: Managing Minutes to Prevent Injuries Anthony Doyle
Nov 21, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Nov. 21 Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 16 Toronto Raptors robbed in Sacramento Scott Hastie
Nov 21, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Drake’s role, Patterson’s struggles, Trade ideas Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 21 Sam Holako
Nov 21, 16 Raptors-Kings fallout: Video, player reactions, referee statement, questions, and more Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 16 Raptors-Kings Reaction Podcast – Robbed by the refs Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 99*, Kings 102 Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll is a go as Raptors visit Kings Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 16 Caboclo shines as 905 blow out Nets Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Kings, Nov. 20 Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 16 Breaking it Down: The Terrence Ross Dagger That Was Years in the Making Cooper Smither
Nov 19, 16 Raptors escape the mile high city with hard fought victory Shyam Baskaran
Nov 19, 16 Raptors-Nuggets Reaction Podcast – Peak Terrence Ross Sam Holako
Nov 18, 16 Quick Reaction: Nuggets 111, Raptors 113 in OT Sam Holako
Nov 18, 16 Raptors 905 grind out defense-first victory in opener Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira out as Raptors visit Nuggets Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 16 My Quest To Find The Best Raptor Game Bar in Toronto Barry Taylor
Nov 18, 16 Game Day: Raptors @ Nuggets, Nov. 18 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 18, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 18 – Outside the Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 18 Sam Holako
Nov 17, 16 Drake Night a fun but concealing sideshow to Raptors-Warriors Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 16 Raptors assign Caboclo, VanVleet to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 16 Raptors Drop Hard Fought Battle To Golden State Warriors Spencer Redmond
Nov 17, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 17 Sam Holako
Nov 16, 16 Raptors-Warriors Reaction Podcast – Drake’s side piece beats Drake’s day ones Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 16 Quick Reaction: Warriors 127, Raptors 121 Alex Gres
Nov 16, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll returns, Drake speaks Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 16 Raptors 905 aim to take a leap in second season Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 16 Talking Raptors Celebrate Comedy Records’ Six Year Anniversary Barry Taylor
Nov 16, 16 Gameday – Warriors @ Raptors, November 16th Warren Kosoy
Nov 16, 16 Raptors second loss to Cleveland shows there is still work to do Scott Hastie
Nov 16, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 16 Sam Holako
Nov 15, 16 Raptors-Cavaliers Reaction Podcast – Lowry almost upsets LeBron and Co. Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 117, Cavaliers 121 Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll sits again, Smith out for Cavs Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 16 Talking Raptors – Who’s Afraid of the Boogie Man? Barry Taylor
Nov 15, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Nov. 15 Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 16 What’s in a name? Cameron Dorrett
Nov 15, 16 The back-to-back from hell Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 15 Sam Holako
Nov 14, 16 Believing in Bebe Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 16 DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 16 Liquid Swords: Underrated Storylines of the Raptors’ First 9 Games Mike Holian
Nov 14, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Supporting cast steps up around DeGOAT Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 14 Sam Holako
Nov 13, 16 DeRozan Shines on Huskies Night Anthony Doyle
Nov 13, 16 Morning Coffee – Sun, Nov 13 Sam Holako
Nov 12, 16 Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – DeRozan does it again with a little help from Lowry and Bebe Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 16 Quick Reaction: Knicks 107, Raptors 118 Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 12, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Powell starts for Carroll on Huskies night Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 16 Raptors 905 acquire Edy Tavares Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 16 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Nov. 12 Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 16 Raptors fend off Kemba Walker and the Hornets with clutch road win Shyam Baskaran
Nov 12, 16 Raptors-Hornets Reaction Podcast – Crying Jordan watches DeGOAT cook Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Raptors assign VanVleet and Caboclo to 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Hornets 111 Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Ross and Valanciuans available, Kidd-Gilchrist out Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Report: Raptors 905 nearing agreement with Edy Tavares Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 New Found Depth Matt Shantz
Nov 11, 16 Raptors 905 to host 2017 D-League Showcase Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Hornets, Nov 11 Joshua Priemski
Nov 11, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 11 – Bebe breakout and Raptors 905 preview Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 11 Sam Holako
Nov 10, 16 Webster-Chan, Wiggins, Goodluck make Raptors 905; 12-man roster set Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 16 Are Raptors Lowry and DeRozan best leadership duo in NBA? Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 10, 16 Drake Night IV set for Nov. 16 vs. Warriors Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 16 Road Warriors: Raptors Silence Loud City Mike Holian
Nov 10, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 10 Sam Holako
Nov 9, 16 Raptors-Thunder Reaction Podcast – DeRozan and Bebe enjoy career nights Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 112, Thunder 102 Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 16 Raptors 905 top NBL’s River Lions to finish preseason 2-0 Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Ross and Valanciunas sit against Thunder Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 16 How’s that Jonas Valanciunas break-out season going? Scott Hastie
Nov 9, 16 Raptors Mailbag: Carroll concerns, Caboclo calendar, Carly Rae remedies Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Thunder, Nov 9 Alex Gres
Nov 8, 16 DeRozan’s defense needs to start closing gap between his offense Gavin MacPherson
Nov 8, 16 The DeMarre Carroll Conundrum Cameron Dorrett
Nov 8, 16 Breaking it Down: Tactical Observations from TOR v. SAC Cooper Smither
Nov 8, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E03 – Make The Raptors Great Again Nick Reynoldson
Nov 8, 16 VIDEO: Relive Donyell Marshall’s 12-triple game, formerly a record Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 8 Sam Holako
Nov 7, 16 Trade Rumors and the Fun of Speculation Matt Shantz
Nov 7, 16 Young Raptors bigs don’t have the luxury of feeling pressure Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 16 Checkmate – Raptors Lose to Kings at Home Spencer Redmond
Nov 7, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – DeRozan on fire, trading for Nerlens with HPBasketball Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 7 Sam Holako
Nov 6, 16 Raptors-Kings Reaction Podcast – Can anybody make an open three? Blake Murphy
Nov 6, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 91, Kings 96 Anthony Doyle
Nov 6, 16 Pascal Siakam Halftime Interview vs Sacramento Kings Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 6, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Jonas Valanciunas surprise inactive Blake Murphy
Nov 6, 16 Raptors 905 win preseason opener Blake Murphy
Nov 6, 16 Gameday: Kings @ Raptors, Nov. 6 Andrew Thompson
Nov 6, 16 Morning Coffee – Sun, Nov 6 Sam Holako
Nov 5, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast: Post Game with Jack Armstrong Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 5, 16 Defense and DeRozan usher Raptors to victory Blake Murphy
Nov 5, 16 Raptors-Heat Reaction Podcast – DeRozan jumps over Jumpman Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Quick Reaction: Miami Heat 87 Toronto Raptors 96 Shyam Baskaran
Nov 4, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Caboclo recalled, Richardson cleared for season debut Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Report: Raptors express interest in Nerlens Noel…again Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 What We Know Two Weeks Into the Season Barry Taylor
Nov 4, 16 Open Gym S5E02 – Utah connection & speaking out Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Gameday: Heat @ Raptors, Nov. 4 Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Raptors 905 hire Nicki Gross; Bruno Caboclo assigned Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Toronto’s enigma at power forward Vivek Jacob
Nov 4, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 4 – Live from Hoop Talks Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 4 Sam Holako
Nov 3, 16 The Case for Norman Powell over Terrence Ross Alex Gres
Nov 3, 16 Raptors vs. Wizards vs. World Series: T.O. ultimately prevails in D.C. Mike Holian
Nov 3, 16 Quick Mid-Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 3 Sam Holako
Nov 3, 16 Raptors-Wizards Reaction Podcast – DeKobe DeBryant does it again Blake Murphy
Nov 2, 16 Quick Reaction: Toronto Raptors 113 Washington Wizards 103 Warren Kosoy
Nov 2, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Bebe available if needed Shyam Baskaran
Nov 2, 16 Small Sample Size Theatre, Vol. 1: Early Season Assists Gavin MacPherson
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Morning Coffee – Wed, Dec 7

Raptors trusting ball’s energy as offense thrives – Raptors Republic

To be clear, the Raptors’ offense functioning so well is a product of more than just making shots. Even when they’re not canning open looks, the Raptors do some other things well that ensure their offense has a high floor. Essentially, they may not score the most efficiently on each shooting possession, but they value each possession so highly that they “waste” fewer of them than most any other team. To wit, the Raptors have the third-lowest turnover rate in the league, rarely killing a possession in its infancy. They’re also eighth in offensive rebounding rate, extending the possessions on which they fail to score initially. And, as always, they’re elite at getting to the free-throw line (they’re third in free-throw attempts per-field-goal attempt), an element of offensive efficiency many seem to forget about (or look past, erroneously thinking free throws dry up in the playoffs). There’s also a bit of a misnomer that the Raptors’ offense is somehow anti-analytics because DeRozan doesn’t shoot threes, and while the Raptors aren’t a high-volume 3-point shooting team (20th in attempts), they are top-five in 3-point percentage (third) for a second year in a row, so they make the most of them.

What’s interesting about the upturn in offense and the discussion around how the Raptors are sharing the ball more is that they’re still not actually passing all that much, just making the most of the passes they make. The Raptors rank 29th in passes made per-game and 28th in potential assists, but they’re ninth in adjusted assist to pass percentage ratio (in other words, they produce points via assist at a top-10 rate when they do actually pass). They’re actually passing less than last year, when their sticky offense ranked fifth in the league, just passing with more purpose or efficacy. Even over the last eight games, when their offense has pushed even higher, the Raptors rank 29th in passes and 27th in potential assists, they’re just converting those passes to assists and points at a top-five rate.

Whether or not the idea of the ball gathering energy is true, the Raptors believing it to be true is important. If the shots that extra passing creates weren’t dropping, none of these good vibes would exist.

Being Optimistic Despite Not Being Top Tier – Raptors Republic

Life is going to get easier in many ways for Toronto, and as it does it will hopefully provide additional opportunities for growth.  It’s tough for young players like Pascal Siakam to chase the likes of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love (and to be switched onto LeBron James), or for Jakob Poeltl and Bebe Nogueira to effectively learn on the job against team’s that force many switches and cuts to the basket.

Toronto also remains the second best offensive team in the NBA at 116.1 points per 100 possessions.  For reference of how good that is, if Toronto maintains this pace to the end of the season (seems unlikely) they would be one of only two teams to have an offensive rating above 116.  The other?  The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

The offense is at historic rates, and the defense is slowly starting to come around.  Young players are finding their footing in the league, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are looking better than ever.

Patrick Patterson is finding his shot to go along with his defense, and even DeMarre Carroll is starting to look like the player the Raptors signed in 2015 as he makes his way toward full health.  We will even get to see what Jared Sullinger provides once he returns from injury.

The Raptors remain a far from perfect team, but they are under notice from the league’s elite.

Numbers Game: Tracking some positive Raptors trends – Raptors HQ

Joseph has broken out of his funk, and Patterson’s shot has been falling, and more time together as a unit ought to help any lineup. And some of it is probably just small sample luck. But these things certainly seem intertwined. DeRozan’s increased passing can only have helped his teammates find their shots, for example.

In the meantime, we’ve seen Joseph return to form defensively, once again being near the top of the team in DRTG over the past seven games (100.2 DRTG, third best on the team among regulars). And Jonas Valanciunas, who has struggled a bit offensively of late, has seen the team perform solidly enough with him on the court, with a DRTG of 103.6. Siakam, his improvement in the starting lineup noted above, has the best DRTG at 96.7, though minutes with garbage time units at the end of games has skewed his and Powell’s numbers (78.1 DRTG in only five games played in this stretch) a bit.

In any case, with DeRozan’s bench unit being so effective defensively, and Lowry’s unit always being good, and the starters playing so well of late, the team is looking much better overall, and it really shows over the past seven games. In that time, the team has posted a DRTG of 100.4, fourth best in the league in that time. Overall on the season the team defense now sits at 104.2, tied for 15th with the Mavericks.

Mitchell: Raptors can’t overreact after loss to Cavaliers – Video – TSN

Sam Mitchell explains why the Raptors don’t need to make any hasty decisions after their loss to the Cavaliers, and discusses what could be going wrong with Jonas Valanciunas’ game as of late.

Always fun putting a smile on a kids face. He was nervous lol #ThisIsWhyWePlay

A video posted by Norman Powell (@normanpowell4) on

Free Association: Toronto Raptors quarterly report with Faizal Khamisa – Sportsnet.ca

The guys are joined by Sportsnet host Faizal Khamisa to discuss the Toronto Raptors at the quarter mark of the season, as well as what league-wide storylines they got right and wrong so far.

The biggest arguments are over the development of Jonas Valanciunas and if Terrence Ross or Patrick Patterson have been the Raptors third best player this season.

The only thing all three guys agreed on was that JD is the worst dressed guy out of the trio.

Five Things To Expect: 2nd quarter of Raptors’ schedule | Toronto Sun

Dwane Casey is a patient man, but he has his limits. He has gone from asking for a little more focus defensively, to demanding more defence with the threat of lineup changes to complimenting the defensive effort, but wanting a little more crispness. That’s all in about the span of the past two weeks and it’s been improving.

But teams shooting 50% or better will just not be tolerated and Monday night the Cavs were well beyond that number for most of the game.

Casey pointedly praised the effort level, but said mistakes are still being made on close outs (knowing who you have to get right into and who you can slack off on) and rotations and of course the pick-and-roll, where Casey is always looking for more.

With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan setting the tone in terms of knowing that part of the Raptors’ game has to improve, it’s almost impossible that we won’t continue to see further progress defensively. The Raptors head into Thursday’s game with Minnesota tied for 15th in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 104.2.

There is still room to get better and with Casey at the helm, they will get there.

An old fart trying to keep up with The Franchise #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Raptors coach Casey downplays Valanciunas’ struggles | Toronto Sun

I thought Lucas (Nogueira) did a little bit better job of guarding (Channing) Frye, which is a hard matchup for any (centre) in the league, not just Jonas and Lucas. He’s really a four playing the five and that’s why we decided to go small, that kind of got us going a little bit toward the end but, again, you give up something.”

At the same time as Valanciunas appears to be struggling, Nogueira’s stock seems to be on the rise.

Klay Thompson’s 60-point night a reminder of Warriors’ belief in him – The Vertical

Myers had known the Spurs were aggressively pushing for a trade into the Toronto Raptors’ fifth spot to draft Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, a move the Warriors wanted to make themselves. Short of that deal, Myers had a sneaking suspicion that the Spurs were moving toward a Plan B: cutting a deal to bound over the Warriors’ 11th overall pick and take Thompson.

There's a lot going on in this play #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Toronto Raptors Need to Start Patrick Patterson – Tip of the Tower

Astonishing because the lineup where you swap Siakam for Patterson is killing the league and is outscoring opponents by 25.6 points per 100 possessions. And although Patterson and co. are absolutely crushing teams with this five-man rotation, it’s only the third-most used lineup by the Raptors with 58:35 total minutes.

Patterson does play 29 minutes a game, but it’s from the end of the first quarter to halftime, with the process repeated in the second half. So Casey is relying on that starting lineup to tread water against the opponent’s starting five until Patterson can come in a rescue the team, much like a sixth man of Jamal Crawford or Manu Ginobli‘s ilk.

Casey is essentially treating  Patterson as a super sub. However, unlike those super subs previously mentioned, the Raptors don’t redesign the offense when he’s on the court and he isn’t a ball-dominant player.

In fact, Patterson is only averaging 7.3 points per game this season and only gathers a fistful of boards. He isn’t changing the fundamentals of how the team is run when he’s on the court – his playstyle is just better suited to coalesce with the starters than any other power forward on the roster.

Toronto Raptors deserve respect as legitimate playoff threat in Eastern Conference – The Comeback

Everything is clicking for Toronto. The club’s depth is among the strongest in the league. Everybody in the rotation can contribute in a steady manner. But the Raptors aren’t without weakness.

Without a defined third scorer and starting Siakim, a rookie without much offensive touch, at the power forward, Toronto has little chance of overtaking Cleveland.

Case in point, the Raptors hung tough, but lost at home on Monday against the Cavaliers, 116-112. Toronto battled all night, down just one at halftime, but a poor third quarter sunk a comeback attempt. The Raptors can keep pace with the Cavs, but there’s a clear gap talent-wise. The Raptors simply don’t have an answer for LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who combined for 86 points. DeRozan and Lowry tallied 55 points total, but only two other Raptors scored in double-digits. Siakim and Patterson aren’t equivalent to Love and whoever else Cleveland can bring in off its bench.

Another issue is that Toronto ranks 26th in defensive rebounding (31.7) and needs to acquire a legitimate rebounder and scorer in the frontcourt to take that next step. The perfect candidate might be available: Atlanta’s Paul Millsap.

💯💯💯 FLAAVAS #TeamCarroll #SrSwagDaddy #TeamCarroll #AudiCanada #JYD2Point0 @audicanada

A photo posted by DeMarre Carroll (@demarrecarroll1) on

Player Designs – shop.realsports

Last season, your Toronto Raptors got busy and created their own hat designs to show off their street style.
This season, they’ve risen to the challenge again and produced 4 new limited edition styles to thank YOU, the North Side, for being the BEST fans.

You were there before we had a battle cry. You saw our potential before we even recognized it ourselves. Your presence is felt every time we step on the basketball court. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you like the designs that you see, pick one up and rep it with pride. All net proceeds benefit MLSE Foundation and charities meaningful to the Raptors.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video… or just to say hi 🙂 to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Being Optimistic Despite Not Being Top Tier

Here’s the bad news: Toronto is not yet good enough to beat the top teams in the NBA and are firmly entrenched in the second tier of teams.

Here’s the good news: the Raptors are as close to being an elite team as they have been in franchise history and that alone can be reason for an optimistic outlook.

With three loses already to Cleveland Cavaliers, and one each to the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto currently doesn’t have a single win against the top four teams in the league (have yet to play San Antonio, but will get our first crack on January 3).

Outside of this group of elite teams though (side note: still not convinced that Clippers are an elite team, but their record indicates otherwise.  How can a team be elite when they play Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton for a combined 39 minutes per game?  That feels like some unsustainable witchcraft.), Toronto is now 14-2, with their two coming at the hands of the Sacramento Kings (one of which is currently being appealed).  That’s a nice record.

Toronto has quality against other second tier teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder (112-102) and Houston Rockets (115-102), and against dangerous teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets, the Raptors have taken care of business against all but the league’s best.

As Toronto lost to Cleveland last night by only 4 (116-112), they remain the only team to have not lost by at least 10 points.  In fact, every other team has lost by 10+ points at least twice already (hat tip to Josh Lewenberg for the stat).

It’s easy to get frustrated as the losses pile up against the league’s best teams, but perspective is important.  Toronto simply isn’t there yet.  Their record shows this, and they’ve simply been outclassed by the elite teams.

The Raptors have also managed to their 14-7 record despite currently being tired for the fourth toughest strength of schedule (according to ESPN), with only Dallas, Houston, and Detroit having faced a tougher schedule through this point in the season.

Life is going to get easier in many ways for Toronto, and as it does it will hopefully provide additional opportunities for growth.  It’s tough for young players like Pascal Siakam to chase the likes of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love (and to be switched onto LeBron James), or for Jakob Poeltl and Bebe Nogueira to effectively learn on the job against team’s that force many switches and cuts to the basket.

Toronto also remains the second best offensive team in the NBA at 116.1 points per 100 possessions.  For reference of how good that is, if Toronto maintains this pace to the end of the season (seems unlikely) they would be one of only two teams to have an offensive rating above 116.  The other?  The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

The offense is at historic rates, and the defense is slowly starting to come around.  Young players are finding their footing in the league, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are looking better than ever.

Patrick Patterson is finding his shot to go along with his defense, and even DeMarre Carroll is starting to look like the player the Raptors signed in 2015 as he makes his way toward full health.  We will even get to see what Jared Sullinger provides once he returns from injury.

The Raptors remain a far from perfect team, but they are under notice from the league’s elite.  No one looks at Toronto as an easy night on the schedule anymore.  No one looks at Toronto as a push-over

The league’s best teams are coming into Toronto and trying to prove a point.  LeBron played a near season high 42 minutes last night.  He did so well switching occasionally onto DeMar on defense, and putting up 34 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.

Toronto is presently stuck in the second tier of the NBA and is trying to punch their way into being an elite team.  The top tier of the league has taken note, which says a lot in how far the Raptors have come as an organization.

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Raptors trusting ball’s energy as offense thrives

“Energy, energy, energy, energy. Buzz Lightyear, boy, from here to infinity” – RZA

To hear the Toronto Raptors tell it, the reason for their evolution into an offensive juggernaut has a lot to do with the energy of the basketball.

This is not a scientific matter, of course, with the jury still out on Space Jam’s hypothesis as to the ability of leather to absorb human energy, but the belief is that the more hands that touch the ball, the more it moves, the more balanced the offense, and the more a team shares, the more energy the ball gains. From there, players can better find a rhythm, and the feedback loop creates a virtuous cycle where ball movement begets effectiveness which improves confidence which leads to more ball movement.

That’s something DeMarre Carroll experienced with the ethereal Atlanta Hawks of 2014-15, a success that was somewhat fleeing but one he thinks the Raptors may be able to replicate, at least as far as making life hell on opposing defenses by broadening their decision set.

“You make it hard for other teams to guard you by moving the ball,” he said Saturday. “I think we’re building on it. We’re trusting each other, guys are knocking down their shots and that’s what you have to do if you want to be a high caliber team.”

Whatever the root cause, what the Raptors are doing is proving effective – in last night’s narrow loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they managed to score 112 points, the 14th time in the last 15 games that the Raptors have cracked 100 points. The Raptors own the NBA’s No. 2 offense, one that is functioning at nearly historic levels, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton pointed out yesterday. Monday’s loss also marked the eighth consecutive game in which they’ve reached an Offensive Rating of 116 or higher, a mark that would have led the NBA a season ago.

After starting off the season relying heavily on DeMar DeRozan to score at ridiculous rates while the shooters around him struggled, the Raptors have shifted to a more balanced attack. That’s both because DeRozan has cooled down some and because opposing defenses are selling out to stop him. Recognizing traps and blitzes, DeRozan’s become more selective about the shots he takes, instead shifting into more of a facilitator role. He’s averaged a career-high 4.3 assists and hasn’t recorded fewer than four in a game in nearly a month, a 13-game stretch. DeRozan’s improvements as a scorer stand out, but it might be the leap he’s taken as a decision-maker and a passer that push the Raptors to the next echelon on the offensive end.

“There’s a lot more space and it’s on me to make the right pass,” DeRozan explained Saturday. “Lately I’ve been trying to get the scent off me by passing to get guys open shots that we were missing early on and now we’re knocking them down.”

The idea of shots dropping now that weren’t before is accurate, as the Raptors are producing a somewhat similar proportion of open looks. The 3-point shot, in particular, is a high-variance shot that will move up and down throughout the season. When shots aren’t falling like early in the season, people will ascribe a reason for it, like they are now with the makes and the additional rhythm more passing is affording. It’s a make-or-miss league (or a make-or-miss-or-make-but-your-foot-is-out-of-bounds league, as it were), as head coach Dwane Casey is fond of repeating.

“Right now we’re hot,” Patrick Patterson, perhaps the team’s most hot-and-cold shooter, said. “We’re making shots. Early on in the season we were missing shots. Right now it seems like the ball was finding the net. Hopefully we can continue that for the rest of the season.”

To be clear, the Raptors’ offense functioning so well is a product of more than just making shots. Even when they’re not canning open looks, the Raptors do some other things well that ensure their offense has a high floor. Essentially, they may not score the most efficiently on each shooting possession, but they value each possession so highly that they “waste” fewer of them than most any other team. To wit, the Raptors have the third-lowest turnover rate in the league, rarely killing a possession in its infancy. They’re also eighth in offensive rebounding rate, extending the possessions on which they fail to score initially. And, as always, they’re elite at getting to the free-throw line (they’re third in free-throw attempts per-field-goal attempt), an element of offensive efficiency many seem to forget about (or look past, erroneously thinking free throws dry up in the playoffs). There’s also a bit of a misnomer that the Raptors’ offense is somehow anti-analytics because DeRozan doesn’t shoot threes, and while the Raptors aren’t a high-volume 3-point shooting team (20th in attempts), they are top-five in 3-point percentage (third) for a second year in a row, so they make the most of them.

What’s interesting about the upturn in offense and the discussion around how the Raptors are sharing the ball more is that they’re still not actually passing all that much, just making the most of the passes they make. The Raptors rank 29th in passes made per-game and 28th in potential assists, but they’re ninth in adjusted assist to pass percentage ratio (in other words, they produce points via assist at a top-10 rate when they do actually pass). They’re actually passing less than last year, when their sticky offense ranked fifth in the league, just passing with more purpose or efficacy. Even over the last eight games, when their offense has pushed even higher, the Raptors rank 29th in passes and 27th in potential assists, they’re just converting those passes to assists and points at a top-five rate.

Whether or not the idea of the ball gathering energy is true, the Raptors believing it to be true is important. If the shots that extra passing creates weren’t dropping, none of these good vibes would exist. The fact that they are, and that they do, informs how the Raptors may approach things moving forward. If they believe balance is working for them, this trend toward a more communal attack should continue, and the result will be a more aesthetically pleasing form of basketball, with the stars drawing attention to create openings elsewhere and the role players knocking down the resultant looks, swinging the ball, or putting it on the floor and creating even bigger breakdowns. The Raptors are often cited as lacking a third star, and that’s true, but they have a bevy of complimentary players who can all shoot, drive, and pass just enough to keep things humming.

“I’m a firm believer in when that ball’s zinging around, it gets a rhythm and has energy in it. That’s kinda where the ball is now. I like the way the ball’s zinging around, moving around, and not just in one guys’ hand. And Demar is doing a great job of making sure he’s finding his teammates,” says Casey. “The ball is finding the right person. When you move the ball like that, it has energy inside it and I think it helps us on the other end when the ball is moving like that.”

Moving from “this is unsightly but it really works” to “this is fun and it really works” is a weclome change of pace for the Raptors. Even if the passing isn’t increasing in quantity, and even if some of the recent surge is due to the variance in 3-point percentage, the increase in passing quality and the willingness to make those passes is important. An elite offense that’s stalled out in the postseason on multiple occasions needs to find even greater means of scoring, and the Raptors believing in the energy of the basketball could wind up being a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes them tougher to defend come April.

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Raptors’ margin for error just too small against Cavaliers once again

Raptors 112, Cavaliers 116  | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

DeMar DeRozan ran toward the Patrick Patterson screen, curled down the right wing, corralled an inbound pass from DeMarre Carroll, and let fly with a 3-point attempt over the outstretched arm of Kevin Love. It was a quick, surprising, and effective play-call out of a timeout, with DeRozan finding the bottom of the net and sending the Air Canada Centre into a frenzy, the lead trimmed to two in the game’s dying seconds, victory within reach.

Except that it didn’t count.

As officials reviewed the play to make sure DeRozan’s foot wasn’t on the 3-point line, an unnecessary check in this instance but a common one on key plays in any game, they noticed DeRozan’s heel come down on the out-of-bounds line. It’s a frustrating way to have a high-leverage bucket – and a triple from DeRozan, no less – erased, and it was made all the more frustrating by the five-and-a-half minutes that preceded it.

The Toronto Raptors had trimmed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lead from 15 at the 5:55 mark of the fourth quarter down to five. To that point, it felt more like one of those late pushes that are more annoying than threatening when you’re on the other side of it, yet another statement that the Raptors will never lay down, will never go quietly. Unlikely though it was, a DeRozan bucket in the paint preceded DeRozan drawing a charge call on Kyrie Irving while pressuring in the backcourt, and had DeRozan’s triple counted, this would have been a one-possession game with 12 seconds remaining, enough time to reasonably steal the game from the balance of variance and fortune.

But it didn’t count. As the Raptors have learned far too well and far too often over the last two seasons, breaks like these need to go there way in order for them to upset the Cavaliers, unless they’re going to come out and play a perfect game. The talent gap when both teams are firing remains present, and the Cavs continue to keep the Raptors at arm’s length despite Toronto’s standing as the clear No. 2 in the Eastern Conference pecking order. That’s not a terrible place to be, and is in fact far preferable to nearly any other place a team not playing in Cleveland or Golden State might find itself, but the seemingly asymptotic pursuit of the Cavs is a challenging status quo to exist within.

It’s not that the Raptors are not a very good team. That much is obvious, and the Raptors have spent the bulk of the season and especially the last two weeks quite emphatically stating as much. But the Raptors’ goal is not to continue to be very good, it is to catch up to the Cavs. And while a 14-7 start with terrific scoring margins is encouraging, an 0-3 mark against the Cavaliers is surely disappointing to those within the locker room, even if they’ll mostly call the meetings just one of 82. The Cavaliers are the scale, and its the only one on which the Raptors continue to be found wanting.

“They won a championship last year. So for us, a team that’s chasing the best team in the NBA last year, our margin for error is small,” Kyle Lowry said after the game. “They beat us three times so far this year and they have our number right now, but we have a long way to go and a lot more regular season games to go and continue to play. We’ll take this game as a lesson, a loss, broke our streak, but now we have a chance to start a new one.”

Lowry is correct that the Raptors’ margin for error is small. Head coach Dwane Casey estimated that the Raptors have to play a “95 percent, 94 percent” perfect game to top the Cavaliers, an estimate that depends some on how the opponent plays but one that feels mostly accurate given that the Raptors are now 2-7 in their last nine meetings. The margin for error being small was a popular talking point, and considering that the Raptors turned in a pretty great first half (they trailed 62-61 at the break), got terrific performances from both of their stars (a combined 55 points on 37 field-goal attempts, with seven rebounds, 14 assists, and four steals), and won the battle of the bench units and still came up on the short end, it’s more or less self-evident.

On this night, there were several areas the Raptors could have gotten just a little bit more from to push their bolder closer to their mountaintop. A Kevin Love airball that landed in the hands of LeBron James, a well-defended possession that ended with Richard Jefferson canning a bail-out triple as the shot clock expired, or Kyrie Irving sticking a three after the Raptors had actually managed to guard James well after an offensive rebound all could have broken a little differently for the home side. They could have taken just a little better care of their own glass, where the Cavs turned 13 offensive rebounds into 19 extra points. Channing Frye could have completed the dunk he attempted and made us all realize we’re actually existing in a parallel universe and the outcome of this game was far from our biggest concern. Jonas Valanciunas could have been something even slightly better than unplayable. The list goes on.

More than any one play or common thread, though, the Raptors could have avoided two stretches of shaky play that let the Cavs pull away. Midway through the third quarter, the Cavs stretched their lead from three to 13 in just over two minutes. The Raptors managed to trim a few of those points off when James took his rest to end the quarter, and they continued to whittle away with their vaunted Lowry-and-bench group even once James returned. The lead quickly ballooned back from five to 15, though, and while the Raptors deserve credit for clawing back, they really can’t let stretches like that happen against the league’s elite.

“You can’t afford those against a team like that,” DeRozan explained. “They understand when they need to turn it up on both ends. With that, you can’t put yourself in a hole deeper than what you’re already in. They’re champs.”

There are positives to be taken from the loss, of course. Every game is an opportunity to learn, and matchups with the Cavs have the additional benefit of illuminating important information about what might work and what definitely does not in advance of a potential May rematch. And hey, maybe the 400th time will be the charm for Valanciunas trying to guard Channing Frye and Kevin Love or keeping Tristan Thompson off the glass. And there’s the hope that the Raptors’ youth means they are likelier to improve between now and April more than most other teams at this level. Things are never all bad, and losing to the defending champs by four points is, in a vacuum, just fine.

But the Raptors have grown beyond finding the moral victories in losses like this. They’ll take the lessons and learn them and use this to improve for the future. It will still sting, though, knowing that they had another opportunity to prove – to detractors, to the Cavs, or to themselves – that the gap between the two sides is different now than it was when Cleveland ended Toronto’s season last spring. There is evidence extraneous to the specific matchup, the Raptors just need to somehow show that progress against the Cavaliers, now or if they can make it to the point of a rematch down the line. The measuring stick hasn’t changed.

“Cleveland’s still a very good team, and No. 23 is still No. 23. And that’s about it,” Casey said somewhat presciently before the game.

And the Raptors are still the Raptors. A great place to be, but still a few changes at the margins from where they eventually want to get.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 6

TrueHoop Presents: DeMar DeRozan’s quest to take up Kobe’s mantle – ESPN

The jujitsu of drawing fouls hardly gets you on SportsCenter. It doesn’t lend itself to hero worship. But it does come with the admiration of Rockets star James Harden, the NBA’s reigning free throw king. In fact, DeRozan and Harden spend summer study sessions in Los Angeles, where they examine every little opportunity to earn a whistle — like bringing a very low dribble into traffic. This often forces active-handed defenders to make an exaggerated reach to swipe at the ball and creates the kind of reach a referee just might notice. They also hone the fine art of tracking defenders in transition and finding inadvertent-looking contact with them while shooting, which DeRozan calls “body hunting.”

Last March, when Harden’s team visited Toronto, he and DeRozan dined together. The night before, DeRozan had gotten to the line 25 times in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers — making his first 24 and missing the last on purpose to kill the clock and secure the win. In baseball, pitchers have perfect games. In golf, there’s the hole-in-one. For what Harden and DeRozan do, this was the top of the mountain, and Harden wanted to compare notes, maestro to maestro.

A nightmare matchup: Three reasons Cavaliers keep beating Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

Big, traditional, plodding centres like Jonas Valanciunas simply cannot hang with a Cavaliers team that often goes small, rotating Frye and James into the position throughout the game.

It’s an automatic mismatch defensively, especially when those players pull Valanciunas away from the glass where he does his best work. And when you mix in a less than stellar offensive game from Valanciunas you end up with what you got Monday—a 1-for-8 night from the field and a seat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.

Backup centre Lucas Nogueira offers more mobility than Valanciunas, and actually played one of his better games of the season Monday. But he too was essentially hopeless when the Cavaliers went small.

“It’s a matchup league,” Casey said. “I thought Lucas did a little bit better job of guarding Frye, which is a hard matchup for any five in this league. Not just Jonas and Lucas. He’s really a four playing the five. You give up something.”

James leads Cavs over Raptors – again | Toronto Sun

The Raptors seemed to spend a good part of the night focussed on the lack of calls going their way which, even if it were warranted, did them no good in the end.

The biggest surprise was that head coach Dwane Casey somehow avoided getting a technical.

Casey felt it was just a matter of too many mistakes or lapses early on that put his team in a hole.

“When you play a team like that … you can’t have mental mistakes because they’re going to capitalize on them every time you don’t get a 50-50 ball or you don’t get a defensive board, they’re going to cash in.

“If you don’t execute a play, if you don’t set a screen, if you’re not in position on your pick and roll defence, they make you pay.

“The margin of error for us on both ends of the floor is very small and against a good team like that, they’re going to take advantage of it,” Casey said.

In short the Raptors have to play a near perfect game to get the better of the Cavaliers. They weren’t close to that Monday night despite the four-point difference at the final whistle.

Court Squeaks: Raptors still can’t get over Cavs’ hump – Video – TSN

Three games against the Cavaliers have resulted in three losses this season for the Raptors. Josh Lewenberg and Kayla Grey discuss what went wrong, and what they need to do to get over the hump.

Cleveland’s Big 3 score at will to beat Raptors | Toronto Star

Toronto’s inability to guard big men who can stretch a defence was once again their undoing. Kevin Love made six three-pointers as part of his 28-point night and Channing Frye may have only made two shots from beyond the arc but he had a series of good looks. LeBron James scored a game-high 34 points for Cleveland and Kyrie Irving added 24. And Toronto’s inability to get stops consistently or find a hot third shooter was crippling.

“You concentrate on James and here’s Irving and then there’s Frye spaced out and then there’s Love,” Casey said. “You’ve got to pick your poison.”

DeMar DeRozan had 31 points for the Raptors, with Kyle Lowry pitching in 24. But Patrick Patterson went 3-for-12 from the field, Jonas Valanciunas was a non-factor and no one else came to the fore.

Casey ended up playing a hybrid lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll and Patterson for a good chunk of the fourth quarter.

“If we’re not punishing them on the other end and inside . . . I thought their threes were more lethal than what we were going to get on the other end,” he said.

Game Rap: Raptors 112, Cavs 116 | Toronto Raptors

RAPTORS PLAYER OF THE GAME

DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors in scoring with 31 points in 39 minutes. He shot 12-for-23 from the floor, 7-for-7 from the free throw line and added four rebounds, five assists and three steals. Kyle Lowry followed up DeRozan’s effort with 24 points and nine assists to go with three rebounds and a steal. Lowry shot 7-for-14 from the floor, 4-for-9 from beyond the arc and 6-for-7 from the free throw line in 40 minutes of action, shaking off an early elbow to the face that required a shot of novocain to his lip.

Cavaliers 116, Raptors 112: J.R. Smith injured as Cavs end losing streak – Ohio.com

While it’s too early to start paying such close attention to the standings, it’s worth noting the Raptors have been clear in their mission to earn the top seed for the playoffs and homecourt advantage throughout the East. The Cavs have already won the first three meetings and now the two teams won’t play again until the regular-season finale in Cleveland. While the Cavs are 3-0 against the Raptors, the average margin of victory has been just 3.7 points.
Lue said before the game he thought the practice and film session the Cavs held on Sunday would do more to get the Cavs back on track than playing a top opponent. James seemed to agree.
“They’ve had our attention,” James said of the Raptors. “They’ve had our attention for the last couple years. I think they’ve had the NBA’s attention. You don’t need them playing well, us not playing well [to notice them] … I think it’s there.”

Final Score: Cavaliers end losing streak with 116-112 win over Raptors – Fear The Sword

As for the Raptors, it was another dominant performance from their backcourt – a combined 55 points – but a failure to contain James and Love at the wing inevitably did them in. A three-pointer from DeMar DeRozan almost cut the game within 2 points in the final minute, but officials ruled he had stepped out of bounds upon review.

The key takeaway from this game: the Cavs have got to stop letting teams back into games. Giving up 61 points in the first half is one thing but failing to maintain a double digit lead is a sign that the team is not quite comfortable with its rotations and is taking their foot off the gas a bit too quickly. Certainly someone like a third ball handler or a scoring option off the bench would help. Regardless, a win against the Raptors is important for Eastern Conference standings and gives the Cavs a one-game lead for first place.

Recap: Cavs 116, Raptors 112 (Or, Getting things fixed in the six) – Cavs: The Blog

Defensively, it wasn’t a terrible game, but there were some issues. The strategy when the Cavs play the Raptors is “let Patrick Patterson shoot as much as he wants,” and it has worked well so far — a lot better than it should, honestly, but that guy just cannot seem to put together a decent game against the Cavaliers. The Raptors made 40% of their threes, which looks bad on paper, but a lot of those were pretty well contested shots off the dribble, particularly from Terrence Ross, and one of them was a late-clock three from Kyle Lowry from freaking Winnipeg.

The big issue was how easy of a time DeMar DeRozan had — he finished with 31, and they weren’t coming on his signature midrange shots. (He finished 5-14 from outside 10 feet, and 3 of those makes were assisted.) He had way too easy of a time getting to the basket for layups and floaters and drawing fouls. J.R. going out early hurts there, but that’s something you simply can’t have happen. If DeRozan was feeling it from midrange, the Cavs could easily be on a four-game losing streak. At some point, I have to accept that this is a team that is counting on their ability to flip the switch defensively in the late rounds of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Why it’s tough to judge Cleveland Cavaliers’ improved paint defense after Toronto win: Fedor’s five observations | cleveland.com

Free throws – Every time the two teams play, Lue begs his team to keep Lowry and DeRozan off the free throw line. He wants to force them to earn points by making contested shots or finishing in traffic.

For the most part, the Cavs were able to do that. DeRozan, who averages 9.0 freebies per game, took just seven from the stripe, including three in the second half.

Lowry made seven trips to the line, with three of those attempts coming in the final seconds when Iman Shumpert bit on a pump fake and committed a silly foul. That’s the only time Lowry got to the free throw line.

On the other end, the Cavs attacked the Raptors’ defense, earning 27 trips to the stripe. James, one game after not attempting a free throw, took nine attempts.

Raptors fall short again to the Cavaliers, 116-112 – Raptors HQ

Which brings us to the true problem of the Raptors when they go up against the Cavaliers, or the Warriors (or even the Clippers or Spurs). Who is this team’s third best player? Ross, Carroll, Patterson, Cory Joseph — these are complementary pieces. All signs, as per usual, point to Jonas Valanciunas to be that guy. The problem in these situations is two-fold. As the game speeds up and the Cavs go small, Jonas is hopeless on defense. He can’t guard the pick-and-roll and he can’t deal with Channing Frye on the perimeter. To have any reason to keep him out there then, JV has to kill the Cavs on offense. But then comes the second problem: he went 1-of-8 from the field for four points (to go with 10 rebounds). Casey insists Jonas is fine — as in, not injured — but that’s no consolation. It means Valanciunas is just playing badly. Again.

When the Raptors start Jonas and Pascal Siakam — and God bless him for trying — it does put them at disadvantage. I know some have been ranting and raving about this very issue, but against most teams it doesn’t quite matter. Against the Cavs, it very much does. As Casey said: the Raptors need to play a perfect game — and with Siakam and Jonas taking turns getting overwhelmed on one end of the court or the other, there’s just no way for that to happen. DeRozan gets his points, Lowry pushes and pushes, Ross bombs some threes, the rest of the Raptors soldier on, but it all comes undone anyway.

The Raptors kept it respectable though, which we kind of expected them to do. They were down 114-109 when DeRozan somehow found himself squaring up in the corner for that three. It was the kind of out-of-nowhere miracle play that puts the Raptors in position to steal a win, even after they’d been outclassed for a sizable portion of the game (and all of the second half). That it was disallowed by inches really sums up the entire experience.

Tonight at 7:30PM ET, Raps and Cavs battle for 1st place in the east. Join us on #TSN2

A photo posted by Sam Mitchell (@sammitchellnba) on

LeBron reinforces distance between Cavaliers, Raptors atop East – Sportsnet.ca

“It’s always a tough place to play,” said James, who added eight rebounds and seven assists. “Their fans are incredible and their team is very good and well coached. It’s always tough to get a win in here and for us to do that twice already (this year) it’s big for our team.”

It’s a compliment of sorts, that basketball’s most dominant player has games in Toronto circled on his calendar. But it’s a problem too.

“I guess it’s a thank you,” said Lowry. “But you’ve got our attention too.”

The Cavs ended Toronto’s streak and halted the their own losing streak at three, but more importantly they proved a point that hardly needs making: as good as the Raptors have been lately, there is a distance they have yet to travel if they are going to catch Cleveland with James in the lineup.

“We’ve got to play a perfect game to beat a team like that,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “Whether it’s mental breakdowns or whatever … All those little things matter in the flow of a game. We’re a growing team but to beat a team like this it has to be close to 95 per cent, 94 per cent.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNp8cXfA-Ti/

Raptors have been on Cavs’ radar awhile: James | Toronto Sun

“They’ve had our attention for the last couple years. I think they’ve had the NBA’s attention. You don’t need them playing well and us not playing well or us playing well and them not playing well for them to get our attention. I think it’s there.”

It is possible that the four-time league MVP is simply trying to avoid providing any bulletin board ammunition for the Raptors to use as motivation down the line, but the respect seems genuine when you talk to James or other members of the Cavaliers organization. After all, the Raptors beat the Cavs twice in three regular-season meetings last year, then took two games from them at the ACC in the post-season.

“It’s a team that’s first of all well-coached. It starts with their two-headed monster, (DeMar) DeRozan and (Kyle) Lowry,” James said. “Their complimentary guys have been playing great. Their role players have been playing great. DeMarre (Carroll) and Patrick (Patterson), Terrence Ross coming in and giving them big minutes, obviously Cory Joseph being a solid backup point guard for them as well. Even some of the younger guys, they’ve been coming into the game have come in and played some good ball. We’ve got our hands full tonight in a hostile environment.”

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

Are We Starting To See The DeMarre Carroll The Raptors Paid For? – Raptors Republic

With a bad season passed him, Raptors fans were hoping to get a huge bounce back year out of Carroll, and things didn’t start out pretty. Granted,both these sample sizes are small, but the splits are drastic enough that there’s an obvious pattern here. In his first 9 games of the season, Carroll was averaging 7.2 points per game, pulling in 4 rebounds, and getting less than one assist per game. In his 25.2 minutes per game, he was shooting an ugly 36% from the field on 6.7 attempts 4 of which were coming from three, 30% from three, and 71% from the line.

It really didn’t seem like Carroll had fully recovered from his knee injury from a season before, and was still playing his way back into game shape, not able to play in the second game of back to backs. Not only was Carroll just struggling offensively, some of these three point attempts were wide open air balls, his dribble moves to the basket would end with him getting stuck and passing back out, wasting valuable shot clock time. Defensively, Carroll looked a step slow as well, which lead to him not playing very important minutes down the stretch of games.

Even though it was early, people were panicking and thinking that this was starting to look like a really bad free agent signing. Since that time, it seems as though Carroll who is described as a resilient person has slowly played his way back into game shape. In the seven games since his rough start, he’s averaging 14.1 points on more than three more shot attempts per game than his slump, he’s making great back door cuts scoring down low while the defenders fall asleep, shooting 52% from the field overall, and hitting his three at 43% on 5.6 attempts per game. He also looks like he’s getting back to the stellar defensive play he’s known for, and seeing more crunch time minutes as a result.

The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are always going to have the highest usage rates on the team. Having a very capable “three-and-D” player in Carroll, who doesn’t need the ball in his hands a ton to score, makes smart decision on offence, and can shut down scoring wings, is something of a must for the Raptors starting lineup.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNqc4zkg0SF/

Raptors’ DeMarre Carroll ‘in a better place’ | Toronto Sun

The Raptors signed Carroll to give the team a rugged two-way player at small forward, but have had to wait to see the real version.

“It makes all the world (of difference),” head coach Dwane Casey said in a scrum of Carroll feeling better.

“One, he can have leverage. It’s hard to do when you, not saying plant on one leg, but you are worried about an injury. You don’t have as much leverage, you don’t decelerate as well as you’d like to and against a guy like LeBron, you’ve got to have all facets rolling at the same time,” he said.

“It’s very important to have him healthy, very important for him to shoot the ball, which helps take the pressure off of Kyle and DeMar. He means a lot to our team, his veteran play. He’s seen it before, he’s been against these guys before.”

The team plans to keep Carroll from playing both games of back-to-backs until next month in order to help with his recovery.

Ujiri on PTS: Are Raptors in position to prepare for playoffs? – Sportsnet.ca

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri joins Prime Time Sports to talk about the state of the Raptors and the development of Bruno Caboclo.

The One Hurdle Preventing Each 2017 NBA Title Contender from Winning It All | Bleacher Report

Toronto’s frontcourt situation is unimpressive, if dire. No team relinquishes more shot attempts at the rim, and the defense on rolling bigs has been awful. Jonas Valanciunas is the lone big capable of consistently creating his own shots.

Any in-house solution the Raptors come up with doesn’t make enough of a dent. Playing Patrick Patterson and Valanciunas carves out additional space, but the defensive trade-off is unacceptable. Lucas Nogueira cannot get extra spin without cutting into Valanciunas’ share, and the offense won’t survive long stretches with him playing beside Pascal Siakam.

DeMarre Carroll doesn’t move the same way anymore and isn’t able to soak up as much time at the 4. The defense craters whenever he slides to power forward, according to NBA Wowy, regardless of which center has his back.

The men will be wearing a special shooting shirt tonight in honour of Nelson Mandela. #GiantOfAfrica #WeTheNorth

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2016-17 NBA Predictions | FiveThirtyEight

Raptors have a 10% chance of winning the title; second highest in the league!

Toronto Raptors GM honors Nelson Mandela and stresses the NBA’s influence in Africa – The Undefeated

Ujiri, a native of Nigeria, said the main reasons for the event were to raise money for charity and to “make sure Mandela is never forgotten.”

“He’s the father of Africa. He’s the father that wasn’t your father,” Ujiri said. “His desire to help people, his selflessness, his passion for life, that means sacrifice. He was respectful to all people, women, children, everything you want to think of. He fought for the freedom for black people in South Africa and all people. Mandela spoke for everyone.

“That is what made him a special person. He passed away on Dec. 5 and I thought it was proper that we remember this great man every year. I just try to do as much as I can to make people talk about him and we try to raise money with this event.”

Along with speaking about Mandela, Ujiri spoke about the future of basketball in Africa, meeting President Barack Obama, the U.S. presidential election, respect for women, racism, the Raptors and more while giving motivational words of wisdom in an interview with The Undefeated.

Jonas Valanciunas Proposals – RealGM

DeAndre is intriguing; Casey’s system begs for a defensive anchor at the 5, Valanciunas will only remain underutilised here – used correctly, I have no doubt he can be a high efficiency 20-10 player in the league. The only issue I see with your proposal is that we lose our starting SF, DeRozan & Ross can not be on the court together, it leaves us too thin to guard 3s in this league. If this was to happen, we’d immediately be looking to flip Ross/Norman Powell + picks to land an upgrade at the SF.

Basically: Valanciunas, Ross, Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Clips’ 1st, Raptors’ 1st can all be used in a package to net us an upgrade at the C. DeAndre could be a great fit for our system, I’d be content with a similar trade.

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Raptors-Cavaliers Reaction Podcast – Cavs prove Raptors lack third star

Host William Lou explains why the Raptors keep losing to the Cavaliers, and what they’re missing.

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Quick Reaction: Cavs 116 Raptors 112

Cleveland 116 Final
Box Score
112 Toronto
C
P. Siakam18 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, -3 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -21 +/-

Hit a couple long – and awkward – jumpers, and had a great motor all night, especially getting back in transition. Unfortunately for him he was also often lost in the defensive scheme. Tough night for the rook.

B
D. Carroll33 MIN, 8 PTS, 0 REB, 3 AST, -7 FG, 1-6 3FG 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -11 +/-

Cooled off a bit tonight offensively, hitting just 1/6 from deep. Not sure what else he can do against LeBron, who, seemed genuinely angry and insulted at the idea of Carroll playing D against him.

To be fair to our dude, Carroll played LeBron as best he could – but again, his best only gets so far against a stronger and ruthless all-time great.

D
J. Valanciunas25 MIN, 4 PTS, 10 REB, 1 AST, -7 FG, 0-0 3FG 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -16 +/-

Yikes. Easily his worst game of the season. Couldn’t get any offense going – even in his nominal offensive takes to start the game – and was easily switched onto the perimeter on defense. His help D was actually OK, but his man-to-man D was abysmal.

His defensive lapses seem so preventable, too. Midway through the 2nd quarter, he had his back to a LeBron drive and threw his arm in the air and gave LeBron a soft foul – sending him to the line. It was a surreal play.

He’s just way too matchup-dependant.

A
D. DeRozan39 MIN, 31 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, -11 FG, 0-2 3FG 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -5 +/-

Poor guy looked like he was alone in carrying this team for large stretches of the game. He wanted this game more than anyone tonight. Was locked on D, continued his hot streak from behind the arc, and even held his own aganist a Kevin Love post-up.

A
K. Lowry40 MIN, 24 PTS, 3 REB, 9 AST, -7 FG, 4-9 3FG 6-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -5 +/-

Really good offense, per usual. In a sense, he was a bit lucky JR Smith left this game with an injury, as Smith was getting by DeMar pretty easily on the perimeter in the first quarter.

Love the way he’s been morphed into a playmaker as of late.

Congrats on 10k.

B-
P. Patterson30 MIN, 12 PTS, 9 REB, 0 AST, -9 FG, 3-7 3FG 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 17 +/-

Tough shooting night, but was a spark plug off the bench on the defensive end.

Still, he needs to be more consistent on the offensive end. His miss at point blank to end the half will haunt him. In the fourth, he had the option to either A) hit an open three; or B) kick-it down low to a wide-open Bebe underneath the basket. He shot an airball.

B
T. Ross22 MIN, 14 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, -5 FG, 4-7 3FG 2-2 FT, 4 BLK, 0 TO, 11 +/-

I mean, he was fine in limited minutes despite looking terrified against LeBron James.

A-
L. Nogueira15 MIN, 6 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 FG, 0-0 3FG 2-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 8 +/-

He actually really is making a leap this season, which solves a lot of problems with Biyombo’s departure. Forced a couple misses from LeBron, and as always, efficient on the pick-and-roll.

A
C. Joseph13 MIN, 7 PTS, 0 REB, 2 AST, -1 FG, 1-1 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

Barely got a lick in the 1st half after picking up a couple fouls, but immediately made an impact and stopped the bleeding from Kyrie late in the third. Pound-for-pound, he’s pretty well the ideal Kyrie-stopper. Efficient night from the floor too.

N. Powell5 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

Had a few rare minutes to start the 2nd quarter. Was neither here nor there.

Held his head in disbelief after Lowry’s three from 97 feet.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Lowry and DeMar didn’t have enough help.
  2. Sporadic offense from Ross and CoJo was good, but the backcourt got nothing from the other starters tonight. There were only five players on the Raptors’ roster with a positive +/- and they were all on the bench.
  3. Rebounding was an issue.

    The Raptors were out-rebounded heavily tonight, and some of the points the Cavs scored off of 2nd chance points just broke the Raptors’ backs entirely.

  4. Brutal 3rd quarter, which again, largely had to do with Dwane Casey riding the starting frontcourt far too long when Patterson and Bebe were the better solution. The Raptors were outscored by 8 in that frame, which makes it look better than it really was thanks to CoJo’s excellent play on Kyrie late.
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Pre-game news & notes: Favored Raptors have Cavaliers’ attention

Toronto Raptors who are not DeMarre Carroll continued to downplay the significance of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visit to the Air Canada Centre on Monday. Kyle Lowry said they want to be better than every team, not just the Cavs. DeMar DeRozan said it doesn’t mean anything at this juncture. Dwane Casey warns that there’s a “thin line” between “the penthouse and the outhouse,” between “killing it and getting killed,” and that “one day you are the statue, the next day you are the pigeon.”

Whether or not it matters to a great degree to the Raptors – and it may, more than they let on – it certainly seems to matter to the fan base. People seem really geeked up for this litmus test for the Raptors’ recent stretch of incredible play, made all the more interesting by the Cavs coming in with three consecutive losses. As for the Cavs’ perspective, the defending champions aren’t going to get too worried about their place in the Eastern Conference, but they’re keenly aware of the Raptors’ perch, constantly ready to take a bite at their heels if the Cavs stumble.

And hey, Casey actually admitted the game is maybe not just another random December game! The honesty!

The game tips off at 7:30p .m. on TSN 2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
There’s not much to report here. DeMarre Carroll will play, barring a surprise, and he’ll be the primary defender on one LeBron James. James requires far more than just one defend, and Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell could see time on him, as well. Even outside of the individual coverage, the Raptors will likely send help at James’ post-ups, then zone up around him and scramble back on to shooters, a dangerous balance to strike. Without that balance, James will either feast attacking – good though the Raptors defenders can be, there is no stopping attack-mode James – or ping passes around the perimeter to a capable fleet of shooters.

As discussed in the preview, that puts some additional pressure not just on the perimeter defenders, but on the frontcourt rotation. A hobbled Jonas Valanciunas will need to be at his best whenever the Cavs downsize to Kevin Love or Channing Frye at the five, staying with them as they pop out for threes or at least tilting the math of the size mismatch in Toronto’s favor by being a presence inside. Frye has been a Raptor killer, and Casey has the option to downsize with any two of Carroll, Patterson, and Siakam at the big positions, providing a bit more foot speed and switchability.

As always, stopping the Cavs’ offense is an impossible puzzle, but there is a lot of value in the struggle. We must imagine an exhausted, panting Carroll happy, as Camus would suggest.

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

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland enters a little banged up but with things trending in the right direction on the health front. J.R. Smith is dealing with some knee soreness but isn’t expected to miss the game, while Lil Dun returned to practice Sunday as he works his way through the league’s concussion protocol. It’s unclear if Dunleavy will be cleared (or used), but Smith is almost certainly going to go.

UPDATE: Both are active.

Smith is generally an underrated defender and has done a decent job on DeRozan in the past, but he’s probably not the best option over the entire game given his limitations against drive-happy players. Whether DeRozan will be that depends to a degree on how the Cavs, who have generally forced him to beat them one-on-one with very tight defense (last time, from Richard Jefferson), continues to look to facilitate or takes what the Cavs give him and works with a score-first approach. That can be fluid as the game develops, and the Cavs also have the option to throw James on him if DeRozan really heats up.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Jordan McRae, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, DeAndre Liggins
PF: Kevin Love, Mike Dunleavy Jr., James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Chris Andersen
Assigned: None
TBD: None
Out: Mo Williams

Assorted

  • DeMar DeRozan ties Morris Peterson for the franchise’s all-time lead in games played with this one. DeRozan is now at 542 games played, and with 9,994 points scored, he’s only 281 behind Chris Bosh as the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer. He’ll pass Bosh in 10-13 games going at his recent rates (10 at his season average, 12.4 at his last 10 game average, 14 if he just averages 20), which means some time just after Christmas on that west-coast road-trip, DeRozan will be setting a new high-water mark for the organization.
  • Masai Ujiri held his third annual ‘The Giant of Africa’ event this afternoon to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. I wasn’t able to attend, but the annual tribute to Mandela, which included Clara Hughes among the guests this year, is always well-received, moving, and, to be quite honest, important. The use of sport to drive awareness and change and community in the world is a powerful means, and Mandela’s life is incredibly inspirational. Reading about him, hearing about his life, hearing others speak about his impact, it all really makes you want to use whatever platform you have to try to help inspire change, too.
    • The Raptors will also recognize Mandela during tonight’s game against the Cavaliers.
    • For more on Giants of Africa and Ujiri’s relationship with Mandela, I strongly recommend reading this interview he did with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Ujiri is such a wonderful human being. It’s really nice to be able to root for a franchise that employs people who try to use their position and stature to inspire positive change in the world.
  • While we’re talking recommended reading, this Brian Windhorst profile on DeMar DeRozan is the latest in a long line of great pieces DeRozan has inspired this season.

The line
The Raptors opened as 1.5-point favorites, and the line spent most of the day bouncing around the push-em marker. As of right now, it’s bounced back to Raptors -1.5, with an over-under at a robust 215.5 (hard to peg down given one meeting was very low-scoring and the other was straight out of the ABA). So, there’s respect here, with the Raptors getting the slight edge from the market. That’s pretty cool, and I’d imagine it’s the first time they’ve been favored against a James-led team in some time.

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Are We Starting To See The DeMarre Carroll The Raptors Paid For?

Back in the 2015-2016 season, the Raptors were fresh off their second consecutive first round exit, this time a sweep by the Washington Wizards. In both playoff appearances, the Raptors had been the higher seed in the Eastern Conference, and in a seven game series, where usually the best team wins, upsets are rare. In both series, experience, and defence guarding wing players were to blame for the Raptors demise. Players like Bradley Beal and Joe Johnson, were two particular players who gave the Raptors trouble.

The Raptors needed a better option than Terrence Ross and James Johnson, with someone experienced, and could hold their own both offensively and defensively in big moments. When the Raptors were swept by the Wizards, it was the surprising 60-win Atlanta Hawks who would beat the Wizards in the next round, and move onto the Eastern Conference Finals. A large part of the Hawks success was because of the play of DeMarre Carroll, who was a tireless worker on defence, could hit threes at a good rate, but didn’t demand the ball to score. Carroll had an excellent contract year starting in 69 games, averaging 12.6 points, shooting 39% from three on 4.5 attempts per game, and ranked fourth in eFG% at 57%.

The Raptors and Carroll seemed like a perfect pairing, as Carroll fit a lot of the Raptors needs and could easily be plugged right into their system. At the time there were some who still questioned the Raptors ability to sign free agents, as their history in attracting top talent had been shaky. On July 9th 2015, the Raptors and Carroll agreed to a 4yr/$58mil contract, this was a great signing for Toronto, a sign that their winning ways would be able to attract/retain free agents. As the season began, Carroll was in and out of the lineup with knee problems. In January, after missing an extended period of time, Carroll’s health was called into question, and on January 6th 2016, he required knee surgery on a torn meniscus.

Carroll made a surprising comeback later in the year, but it wasn’t difficult to tell that Carroll wasn’t performing to his norm as the time he’d spent off the court and knee pain was still plaguing him. This was worrisome for the Raptors, as Carroll’s had a history of knee problems. Back in 2007, Carroll was picking up some of his college teammates from a nightclub in Colombia Missouri. When he arrived, his teammates were starting to get into an altercation. When Carroll was trying to pull his teammates away, he was shot in the ankle. That season Carroll admits he rushed back, and suffered other injuries because of it. As Carroll explains in an interview with Bleacher Report,

“The incident also made me realize that you’ve got to take your time with serious injuries, because if you come back too soon, you’ll hurt another part of your body. I did that after the shooting, and I had bad knees my whole junior season in 2007-08 because my injured leg was also putting more weight on my other knee. I thought I could’ve left for the NBA draft after my junior year, but not with the way my knees were feeling.”

With a bad season passed him, Raptors fans were hoping to get a huge bounce back year out of Carroll, and things didn’t start out pretty. Granted,both these sample sizes are small, but the splits are drastic enough that there’s an obvious pattern here. In his first 9 games of the season, Carroll was averaging 7.2 points per game, pulling in 4 rebounds, and getting less than one assist per game. In his 25.2 minutes per game, he was shooting an ugly 36% from the field on 6.7 attempts 4 of which were coming from three, 30% from three, and 71% from the line.

It really didn’t seem like Carroll had fully recovered from his knee injury from a season before, and was still playing his way back into game shape, not able to play in the second game of back to backs. Not only was Carroll just struggling offensively, some of these three point attempts were wide open air balls, his dribble moves to the basket would end with him getting stuck and passing back out, wasting valuable shot clock time. Defensively, Carroll looked a step slow as well, which lead to him not playing very important minutes down the stretch of games.

Even though it was early, people were panicking and thinking that this was starting to look like a really bad free agent signing. Since that time, it seems as though Carroll who is described as a resilient person has slowly played his way back into game shape. In the seven games since his rough start, he’s averaging 14.1 points on more than three more shot attempts per game than his slump, he’s making great back door cuts scoring down low while the defenders fall asleep, shooting 52% from the field overall, and hitting his three at 43% on 5.6 attempts per game. He also looks like he’s getting back to the stellar defensive play he’s known for, and seeing more crunch time minutes as a result.

The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are always going to have the highest usage rates on the team. Having a very capable “three-and-D” player in Carroll, who doesn’t need the ball in his hands a ton to score, makes smart decision on offence, and can shut down scoring wings, is something of a must for the Raptors starting lineup.

Carroll is still trying to get back to 100% healthy, but as he inches closer and closer his play looks truly inspiring. While this may be a small sample size, just by watching Carroll you can tell things are starting to click for him. While it’s easy to panic at ugly small sample sizes, it’s also nice to be encouraged when players bounce back from poor play. Carroll and the Raptors still seem like that perfect pairing people thought they were during that 2015 offseason. Carroll is finally starting to look stronger every game, it might be a blessing that the Raptors have him for two more years.

Follow – @Spenred

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In praise of Patrick Patterson

When a team is 14-6, in the midst of a six-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 23 points, praising just one individual seems reductive. Beating teams by these margins, with these offensive numbers, is not a single player’s accomplishment. The entire Raptors roster has been incredible during this stretch, but one player can fly under the radar for some fans: Patrick Patterson.

Patterson doesn’t jump off the page. Hell, he barely jumps off the floor. But the undersized four-man with a slightly above-average wingspan has been key to the success of the Toronto Raptors. Patterson’s versatility and consistency have given Toronto the exact kind of player they need given the current roster construction.

Defensively, Patterson is a treat to watch for all the little things he can do. He has great footwork and intelligence; a great combo for a power forward to have in the small-ball age.

Thabo Sefolosha beats Patterson middle here, but it almost looks like Patterson is baiting him to drive. Sefolosha leaves his feet and is forced to make a tough pass to Dwight Howard. Bebe Nogueira is a little out of position after trying to front so Howard gets a bucket, but Patterson’s closing speed jumps out.

Dwane Casey isn’t afraid to use Patterson to hedge or blitz the pick and roll either. I feel like this defence has fallen out of favour at the NBA level because teams figure if you have a guy who can blitz, why not just switch instead? There’s an argument to be had there since it switching keeps the rest of your defence in tact, but blitzing forces teams to make decisions.

Patterson hedges here, and Kent Bazemore knew it was coming because the Raptors had been doing it all game. He makes the right decision by flipping it to Mike Muscala, but Patterson recovers to force a turnover.

Having this as an option is a luxury. Toronto will hedge with other players too — the Luis Scola hedge and bump of the ball handler was a treasure — but few can recover like Patterson does.

While the Raptors can use Patterson to switch onto guards in pick and roll situations, there’s another wrinkle to his switchability. Teams are using more off-ball screens and misdirection to unravel defences, but when you have a big just switch on to the player who is supposed to get the ball, it can snuff out the action. The switch doesn’t even have to be permanent; I’ve seen situations where Patterson will switch quickly and give a teammate time to recover from the gauntlet of screens they just fought through. These plays are subtle, but they are a reason why Toronto has improved defensively over the past stretch.

Offensively, Patterson does the little things as well. Like most fans, I could do without the Patterson drives and would prefer he shoot, but overall the Kentucky product does a great job making decisions with the ball. He decides to move it or shoot it quickly; at times, his decisiveness is reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs “shoot or pass in 0.5 seconds” offence. It helps that 2Pat has found his range recently, but even when he wasn’t making shots, teams were still respecting his track record. That spacing makes a world of difference for the drive-heavy trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph.

And watch for Patterson to direct traffic on offence too. He’s constantly pointing where players should go or where to pass the ball next. As observers, it is hard to tell how much of an impact this truly has, but as the Raptors integrate younger players like Norm Powell, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Bebe, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a vocal veteran on the floor.

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted in a podcast last April, Patterson should be considered a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He won’t be, because the award is largely for the best scorer, but there are maybe a handful of bench players more important to their team’s success than Patterson. As long as the wins keep piling up, I’m sure no one will be complaining.

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Mid-Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 5

The Raptors offense is historic, and wonderfully divergent – Raptors HQ

Right now they’re ranked eighth in offensive rating by Basketball Reference, comfortably ahead of famous offensive teams like the 69-win 1990-91 champion Chicago Bulls (#11), the 2005-06 “Six Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns (#13), and — believe it or not — the 73-win Golden State Warriors from last year (#14).

This isn’t a fluke either. We’re now 20 games into the season, and the sample size is getting bigger and bigger. How have they managed it? Well, the Raptors are certainly diverging from league trends to put the ball in the bucket. While it’s become vogue to speed up the tempo, and while the Golden State Warriors continue to be lauded as the pinnacle of offensive basketball, the Raptors are percolating low and slow.

Of those top eight offenses of all-time, only the 1991-92 and 1995-96 Chicago Bulls played at a slower pace than the Raptors are at right now. Those teams, you might remember, had the benefit of Michael Jordan.

Indeed, Toronto is part of a small set of maverick teams like the Jazz and Spurs who are managing to be top ten offenses without a humming pace. Instead, they’re scoring methodically, and by maximizing their efficiency. The Raptors are doing this by running everything through DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both of whom are playing as selflessly as they ever have.

Big first half from @22edy22 with 16pts 7reb! 905 up 58-42 at half against the @redclawshoops #RoadToTheSix

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How the Toronto Raptors’ Cory Joseph thinks the game of basketball – Sportsnet.ca

“I kid you not,” Joseph says, “there are times when something might happen in the game and I’m thinking, ‘Man, it feels like I’ve been here before.’ That’s because I’m on my visualization. It brings everything together.”

This is an indication of how much Joseph prepares. And this is why Dwane Casey calls the 25-year-old Torontonian one of his team’s core workaholics. The Raptors head coach has asked Joseph to fill one of the most demanding, fluid roles on his team. On a nightly basis, Joseph will play and guard multiple positions. He’ll alternate between being a distributor and a scorer. He’ll run the point at times and space the floor at others. He plays a more varied range of roles than any other Raptor, and without his versatility, the team’s systems and rotations might just fall apart.

“A lot of it’s just his DNA and the way he approaches the game,” Casey says. “He’s done such a good job with that situation because of his intelligence. He’s a very valuable piece for what we’re doing.”

Here’s how a typical game might unfold for Joseph. He’ll start his night on the bench, carefully watching Kyle Lowry run the offence and taking mental notes on how the opposition is trying to disrupt the Raptors’ schemes. Then, late in the first quarter, Joseph will take over as the floor-runner for a spell, giving Lowry a rest as he commands Toronto’s second unit and tries to sustain offensive momentum. Ideally, the hyperactive guard brings an injection of energy that carries over to when Lowry retakes the floor midway through the second quarter. Then Joseph covers for Toronto’s primary scorer, DeMar DeRozan, as DeRozan takes a breather. That gets the Raptors to halftime. And that’s when things get interesting.

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Raptors’ trouble on defence begins on the boards | Toronto Star

There are many reasons the Toronto Raptors are struggling defensively this season and they are all somehow connected by one glaring deficiency: getting to missed shots.

The Raptors began play Saturday night among the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, which exacerbates other issues with the team’s defensive woes.

Only four teams had a lower percentage of defensive rebounds than Toronto. The Raptors were in the middle of the pack in second-chance points given up and 24th among 30 teams in total rebounding.

Some of it can be chalked up to the relatively few defensive rebounds that are available — teams shoot 45 per cent against them on average — but it’s also an effort issue.

“(It’s) bigs carving out space, being big, physical, going to get it, guards helping to sandwich rebound, getting on the back of the bigs and making it a double-team on the boards,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, citing a litany of problems. “We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

Some of it is personnel driven. Rookie Pascal Siakam and still-raw Lucas Nogueira are hardly time-hardened rebounders with the necessary bulk and smarts to corral misses, and Patrick Patterson is limited on the glass.

Need your kid to stop crying? I'm the guy to call

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Raptors have no time to gloat | NBA | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

The defending champs, a reeling group with three straight losses, will be looking to make a statement against the team it beat in the conference final back in May.

Dwane Casey had a laugh when questioned post-game Saturday about whether he relished the reality check the Cavs surely will provide coming now, while his club is riding high, pulverizing every opponent on offence.

“Is that a question? No. I’d rather be playing Toronto university. The schedule gives it to us. It’s coming, it’s going to be here, the schedule goes on,” Casey said following the 128-84 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks at the ACC on Saturday night.

“It’s a big picture, it’s a long season. There’s going to be ups and downs. You reminded me we have a team coming in Monday. Wouldn’t let me enjoy this game,” Casey smiled.

“We’ve got some tough teams coming in and this team is tough so you can’t relax in this league.”

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Game Preview: Raptors vs. Cavaliers | Toronto Raptors

Raptors looking for seventh straight win, Cavs looking to snap a three-game skid

Cleveland comes to Toronto hungry for a win. Having lost its last three games, this is the first three-game losing streak for the Cavaliers since Tyronn Lue took over as head coach midway through last season. After losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavs fell in Chicago to the Bulls, prompting LeBron James to say the defending champions need to get out of the honeymoon stage and play the game the right way.

Toronto enters the game having won six straight, including the first four games of a season-high six-game homestand. The average margin of victory in those four games is 29.8 points and Saturday’s 128-84 victory against the Atlanta Hawks marked the team’s largest margin of victory in franchise history.

The two teams enter Monday’s game atop the Eastern Conference. Despite the ease of their previous four home victories, the Raptors know to expect a much different game on Monday against the Cavaliers.

“We played them twice already,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It came down to the wire [both times] and it’s fun when you go up against teams like that so we’re looking forward to Monday.”

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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors: Game Preview, Start Time, Television Information – Fear The Sword

If the Cavs are to turn things around, they’ll need to prevent the Raptors from getting into the paint. Like Wade in Chicago, or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, DeMar DeRozan will relentlessly attack the rim at will. While rim protection is a term that gets thrown around a lot, it’s the penetration the Cavs have been allowing that is most concerning. Wings have been getting into the paint at will, and have been allowed to feed their bigs with drop-off passes in deep position. Preventing players from getting to the rim and limiting their attempts was a large part of the Cavs success in the postseason. While Thompson has improved his rim protection numbers this season, over this losing streak the amount of penetration they are allowing is a team-wide failure.

Like previous match-ups between these teams, how the game is officiated will determine the feel for the game. In the second meeting of this season, there was a tremendous amount of contact that was allowed on both sides. The holding lead to turnovers from the Cavs, and frustration from a Raptors squad that often relies on getting to the line. While there’s no telling how it’ll be called, playing the Raptors requires discipline defensively and attention to detail. Not leaving your feet on pump fakes, resisting the urge to reach in on drives all is required to keep them from getting to the line.

Offensively, things don’t need to change too much for the Cavaliers. It comes down to focus and execution. Cut down on the turnovers, and things will fall into place. When the team had struggles early in the season, they were running sets, getting open looks, but failing to convert. What makes this losing streak different is that outside of a few stretches, the team has looked disjointed and settled for lazy looks too frequently. They must get back to executing and maintaining the dedication to getting quality looks that got the team off to their strong start.

We signalled the plane all the way to landing a win #seanpaul #dancehallnight #willforeverlovethisgirl #raptorsdancepak

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Game day: Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers, vs. Kyle Lowry, Raptors. The American Olympic teammates go at it in another matchup of premier point guards. Lowry has been lights out from three-point range over the last week, going 24-for-33 in his last five outings.

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Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Dec. 5

It’s just one of 82. It’s just another game. What happens in May or June matters more than what happens now. These are all things that have been said and will be repeated, but Monday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers feels at least a little bit more important than usual.

That’s not because there are higher stakes, but because the Cavs represent a great test for a Raptors team playing their best ball of…well, maybe ever. Toronto’s won six straight, many of those games by substantial margins, and while the streak has come against lesser competition, the team is humming at both ends. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have dropped three in a row as LeBron James calls for them to shake out of the “honeymoon phase,” the type of lull some elite teams tend to have every year. The net results of the two streaks is that the Raptors ahead of the Cavaliers by a significant margin in scheduled-adjusted net rating (the Raptors are actually second to only the Golden State Warriors), and that they have a chance to take over the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory.

At least one Raptor, DeMarre Carroll, is being real about what this game means:

Yeah, I think we owe it to ourselves and to the city and the fans to come out and give the same effort we did tonight. They’re going to be a desperate team, we’re a desperate team, we’ve lost to them twice this season and we want to, kind of, show we’re a top team so we just have to get ready for the battle for Monday.

The game tips off at 7 30p .m. on TSN 2 and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: The Cavaliers are on a bit of a slide, as much as a team that good can really be on a slide. Is there anything at the root of this three-game dip, or is this just the kind of malaise established, elite teams can fall into without an immediate goal or target?

Justin Rowan: While I don’t believe there’s cause for panic, there are issues that need to be addressed with the team. There have been hiccups going away from isolation basketball, after what was a surprisingly smooth start. It seems as though the less intensity play with, the sloppier the offense gets. LeBron has had 20 combined turnovers over the losing streak and the team and the sloppiness has carried over to the defensive side of the floor. So while we know the team can play better, these growing pains might just be something they need to go through.

Blake Murphy: The Raptors, on the other hand, have been playing some of their best basketball ever over the last six games. Yes, the competition has been lighter (they’ve been favoured in five of those games, and by eight or more in their last four), but for what feels like the first time, they’ve actually dominated rather than just skated by lesser teams. Has their play on this streak changed your opinion of them at all?

Justin Rowan: It hasn’t changed my opinion of them, because it was already fairly high. It was only a matter of time before Carroll and Patterson started to get it going. Although I’ll say the development of both Ross and Powell have been a pleasant surprise. They’re the clear-cut second best team in the conference, and I believe they’re proving that.

Blake Murphy: Blending the last two questions kind of, are the Raptors a legitimate threat to take the No. 1 seed, and do the Cavs even care?

Justin Rowan: I still believe the Cavs finish with around 64 wins this year, so while Toronto may be able to win at that clip, I don’t believe Cleveland would care if they pushed them for the top seed.

Blake Murphy: ave we settled on a nickname for the balaclava-wearing J.R. Smith? Are we going with God Pipegod? Pipe-Zero? Do you think he’s made it so that I’m finally fashionably justified in my wearing of the casual balaclava?

Justin Rowan: I’m personally going with J.R. Spliff, but no amount of celebrity endorsement will ever make your casual wear look cool.

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Blake Murphy: The Cavs need a PG and the Raptors have a surplus. There’s not a deal that makes sense, but what about Delon Wright or Free VanVleet for free, on the agreement the Cavs can never play Channing Frye against the Raptors again?

Justin Rowan: I’ll need to give that some thought. Still holding out for Mario Chalmers once he has recovered from his Achilles tear. They’ve also been linked to Deron Williams, should the Mavericks hit detonate on their season. But while free is tempting, the second unit is held together by Frye and LeBron playing together. So ultimately I’ll need to pass.

Raptors updates
There’s not much to report on Toronto’s side. Absent a back-to-back situation, DeMarre Carroll should be good to go. That means the Raptors have their best option for trying to slow down LeBron James on-hand, and it will be interesting to see how the Raptors attack that matchup. James has terrorized the Raptors some by working into the post and flinging skip passes all around the arc, getting his shooters going and making it difficult for the Raptors to send too much help his way. Guarding James takes a village, so expect Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, and maybe Norman Powell to get turns on the Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

Around that matchup, the Raptors’ defense needs to contest aggressively and not let Cleveland’s shooters settle into a groove. That tends to be an issue against Cleveland’s bigs, and the play of Jonas Valanciunas once again comes to the forefront in this matchup. Valanciunas appears to be laboring of late, perhaps slowed by the minor left knee and ankle injuries from earlier on, and he’ll need to shake that off to scurry around with Channing Frye and Kevin Love or keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass. Perhaps Lucas Nogueira can offer something against Frye, too, but if so, the team will need to be aggressive covering the defensive glass in support. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raptors go small with Patterson or Siakam as the de facto center, either, at least when any five other than Thompson is on the floor for the Cavaliers (and especially if James has slid to the four).

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

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland enters a little banged up but with things trending in the right direction on the health front. J.R. Smith is dealing with some knee soreness but isn’t expected to miss the game, while Lil Dun returned to practice Sunday as he works his way through the league’s concussion protocol.

Those are both players who could see time on DeMar DeRozan, with Smith likely to draw the assignment out of the gate as the starting two. Smith’s an under-rated on-ball defender and has performed capably in that role in the past, but he’ll likely turn it over to Richard Jefferson for long stretches, too. The Cavaliers mostly dared DeRozan to beat them one-on-one earlier in the year, tasking Jefferson with getting way up inside DeRozan’s jersey, and the result was a 10-of-27 shooting night. DeRozan’s shown a really nice willingness to becdome a facilitator on nights his shot isn’t dropping, and the Cavs could make life for challening on the rest of the roster if they’re not blitzing DeRozan at every turn, instead staying tighter to shooters. That can change in a hurry if DeRozan gets cooking, off course.

The bigger question for Cleveland may be hown to slow down the red-hot Kyle Lowry, who hasn’t missed a three since Kyrie Irving was at Duke. Lowry had 28 points in the last meeting, the start of an 11-game stretch in which he’s shot 53.3 percent on nearly seven threes per-game. Irving is a gifted scorer with the best handle in basketball, but he can’t guard Lowry, and it’s on the Raptors’ elder statesman to tilt that matchup well in Toronto’s favor for the Raptors to take one here.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Jordan McRae, Kay Felder
SG: (J.R. Smith), Iman Shumpert
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, DeAndre Liggins
PF: Kevin Love, (Mike Dunleavy Jr.), James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Chris Andersen
Assigned: None
TBD: J.R. Smith, Mike Dunleavy
Out: Mo Williams

The line
You’re not going to believe this, but the Raptors are favored against the Cavaliers tonight. At least right now. The line opened at Raptors -1.5 and has nudged to just Raptors -1, and it’s even gone as far as to Raptors +1 on one site I saw. Expect the line to fluctuate around the push-em mark for most of the day, an indication that the Cavaliers are still viewed as the better team in neutral conditions but that the market sees Toronto’s streak as a legitimate bellwether for a potential Cavs upset. (Is it even an upset? Are the Raptors to the point where beating Cleveland at home isn’t an upset? That’s probably a question for a piece of its own.) The market is expecting a high-scoring affair here, with an over-under of 216.5. The two meetings this year produced totals of 185 and 238, so it’s a little tough to peg that down.

The respect the Raptors are getting these days…we’re all gonna have to find something else to get mad about.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Continuity paying off

Host William Lou invites Sean Woodley of Raptors HQ and Locked on Raptors to breakdown a perfect 4-0 week.

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Tavares Inside, and CJ Leslie Everywhere Halt Red Claws

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (6-2) def. Maine Red Claws (7-3); 102-89| Box Score

Assignees: None (905). Demetrius Jackson (Red Claws)

The Raptors 905 were looking to exact a measure of revenge against the Maine Red Claws, and were able to ride another strong first-half showing to do so over the Boston Celtics’ D-League affiliate.

Tavares got them started on offence with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. Unlike on Friday night where he was the recipient of several dump-offs that only required a dunk or a lay-in, the 7’3’’ center showed off a soft touch from 12 feet and in to toss in some bankers and hook shots in this one.

One difference between the Charge and Red Claws guards though, was the fearlessness with which they attacked the rim. Tavares intimidated the Charge guards on Friday night, and they were soft with their takes in the paint as a result. The Red Claws guards went right at him, and he was forced to leave the game with two fouls in the first six minutes. The fouls are the only downside of two impressive performances, as he’s now picked up 11 fouls over 47 minutes played.

The Facebook Live feed cut out with about six minutes to go in the first quarter, and the 905 jumped from a 16-14 lead to a 53-36 with 2:31 to go in the half by the time the feed returned.

Safe to say, the story in between was CJ Leslie, and the overall team defense. Leslie put up 10 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in the half, and he’s one of those guys that quietly does everything within the flow of what the team is trying to accomplish, but you look at the box score and you see his imprint all over the game. He missed the previous matchup between these two teams, and his presence helped the 905 pull away in this one.

The team defense and rebounding was excellent, as the philosophy of not allowing the Red Claws role players to get going paid dividends. The 905 had no answer for Damion Lee and Demetrius Jackson, who combined for 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the half, but the remainder of the Red Claws only shot 6-for-21 in the first-half. The 905 were excellent in cleaning up all these misses as well, outrebounding the Red Claws 30-18 over the first 24 minutes.

Damion Lee finished the game with 25 points, and was a threat from the outside all game long, hitting five of his six three-point attempts.

The second half started with the 905 running some high pick-and-roll action between Heslip and Tavares, mixed in with some high-post action for CJ Leslie. The lead ballooned to 70-45 with Heslip able to get going, before the 905 would eventually take an 85-65 lead into the fourth quarter. It was nice to see Heslip regain his shooting touch after an off-night Friday, and he would eventually finish with 15 points and three triples.

The combination of John Jordan-Antwaine Wiggins, Axel Toupane, Jarrod Uthoff, and Yanick Moreira started the fourth quarter, but it was a little strange to see them receive a fairly quick hook in favour of the starters with eight minutes still to go in the game, and a 20-point lead still in hand. Uthoff was easily the most impressive of the five as his 12 points included a couple of tough, contested fadeaways, and even drew some overzealous Dirk comparisons from the colour commentators.

Stackhouse will be thrilled with the response he’s received from his team after a blowout loss at home to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The team has shown real toughness and determination since, and with results more often secondary in the D-League, the spirit and compete level this team has shown over this three-game win streak is what he’ll be most proud of.

Notes:

  • The Red Claws came into this contest with three players averaging at least 20.0 points-per-game; Abdel Nader, Jalen Jones, and Demetrius Jackson. No surprise that they were fourth in the D-League in offensive rating heading into this one, and all the more impressive that the 905 were able to keep them below 100 points for the first time this season.
  • I’m all in on the shot clock resetting to 14 instead of 24 off an offensive rebound, and can’t wait for it to transfer over to the NBA.
  • The 905 shot just 2-of-18 from three when the two teams met at the Hershey Centre, and Brady Heslip led the way in rectifying that on this Sunday evening as they hit half of their 12 attempts.
  • After sitting out the victory over the Charge on Friday, E.J. Singler drew the start today ahead of Antwaine Wiggins and finished with five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
  • Raptors 905 will now travel to North Carolina to face the Greensboro Swarm next on December 7th at 7:00pm EST.
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Raptors dismantle reeling Hawks in historical fashion

Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The term “professional win” gets thrown around a lot these days. At least it seems so for the Toronto Raptors, who have now racked up a sixth consecutive victory fuelled by team play, signs of defensive improvement, and a world-beating offense that’s firing on all cylinders. It’s that kind of play on both ends of the floor for the Raptors that has led to an incredible 23-point average margin of defeat over their past 6 wins.

Granted some of that is because the Raptors have faced the likes of the Sixers, Lakers (albeit an improved team), and the struggling Hawks last night, but most of it is due to the Raptors finally clicking internally. DeMar DeRozan continues to score or pass with efficiency, Kyle Lowry seems to have found a brilliant mid-season form, and DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson seem to be hitting every open 3 they were missing just some short weeks ago.

Well, last night was pretty much just that for the Raptors. Similar to some of those other opponents, it didn’t hurt that the Raptors were facing a reeling Hawks squad that’s desperately searching for answers. Hotlanta has just been hot trash recently – losing 5 in a row and 8 of their last 9 coming into last night, with deflating losses to the Pacers, Jazz, Lakers, Suns and Pistons – all teams that Atlanta has to at least compete with, in my eyes, to hold a title as a legit contender for the second slot in the East.

And while that title seemed like a possibility just 10-15 days ago for Atlanta, the Hawks (partially due to Paul Millsap being out the past 3 games now) have been undeniably AWFUL, with the only somewhat inspiring game recently against the Warriors in Oakland last Monday, losing by just 5 and getting balanced scoring from Dennis Schroder, Dwight Howard, and Paul Millsap. But last night, it was more of the same struggle for Atlanta, getting dominated by the Raptors in every single statistical category, save for personal fouls – leading to the highest margin of victory (44) for the Raptors in franchise history:

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Tack on a 42-14 scoring avalanche for Toronto in the fourth quarter, and this thing ended up so one-sided, it was laughable. For the Raptors, like the Warriors, winning by a lot (and consistently) not only means they’re taking care of business against those they’re supposed to beat, but also that Lowry, DeRozan and other key starters can get the rest they need to sustain their performance over the regular season and into the playoffs. The way things have gone in years past, that’s something any fan would be happy to hear.

Notables of the Night

  • Defense once again holds firm: After giving up 100+ points seemingly every night to start the season, the Raptors have strung together vastly improved defensive games during this current homestand. After holding Milwaukee under 100 points in the last game of their recent road trip, the Raptors have also held the Sixers, Lakers, and Hawks under 100 points as well. And in their past 6 victories, the Raptors have held their opponent to just 43% shooting overall from the field, 34% from beyond the arc, and just a combined 94 points per game. With the way the offense is going, that means almost every game is a guaranteed win right now.
  • And…the offense remains scorching: It seems kind of crazy to be praising the offense as well for a team playing this well defensively, but the offense, quite frankly, has been even more impressive than the defense. The Raptors have shot a scorching 53% their past 6 games from the field, including 51% from deep, 82% from the line (on 21 attempts a night), leading to a whopping 117 points a night. A lot of that is due to the sizzling shooting of Kyle Lowry, who’s been unconscious, shooting 59% from the field, and at an even better 63% clip from 3 these past 6 games. 63%!! And while those same shots may not be falling in a couple of months, Dwane Casey is hoping that the team defense holds up to make up for it.
  • DeMar capitalizing on matchup: It was nice to see DeMar be aggressive on the offensive end last night. It was no 35 or 40 point game, like we were used to seeing early in the season, but it was an efficient 21 points on 50% from the field. That included a strong start with 14 points on 5/6 shooting in the first quarter alone. I also liked that DeMar attacked the Kyle Korver matchup with on-balance jumpers, as well as solid up-and-under mid post moves. With DeMar’s size and craftiness against a guy like Korver (as well as his willingness to pass as he’s shown recently), giving DeRozan a touch every time down the court would be fine by me.
  • The small forward spot: This playing DeMarre once on back-to-backs thing is actually looking pretty great right now. Not just because it allows Carroll to take a night off and be fresher for big games, but also that it keeps Norman Powell sharp and ready to enter the game if needed. Wing depth is something the Raptors could only dream of a few years ago when they faced off against the Nets in the playoffs, and now they’ve got a ton to boast at the 2 and 3 positions, both offensively and defensively.
  • Pascal Siakam continues to hold serve in Sullinger’s absence: With a career high 14 points, Siakam showed me a lot last night. He showed poise on the offensive end, letting the game come to him and was active all over the floor. He showed toughness with a couple of back-downs against Kyle Korver and Mike Muscala. Oh yeah, and the 2 blocks don’t hurt either.
  • Cory Joseph is definitely back: After a dismal start to the year, similar to Patterson and DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph is back to being well…the Cory Joseph we’re used to seeing. Not the flashiest or most stat-stuffing, but solid nonetheless. CoJo posted his 6th straight solid game, averaging just over 12 points a game during that span, shooting the ball with confidence and driving to the rack with his usual herky-jerky motions and bursts of deceptive speed. If Cory is playing well, particularly when Lowry is also on the court, the Raptors are that much more unstoppable.

Lookahead

The Raptors will now look to put their recent hot streak to the real test – facing off against the visiting (and surprisingly slumping) Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland, after starting the season posting a strong 13-2 record out of the gate, has now stumbled to 3 straight losses, preceded by just a narrow win against the lowly Sixers. It’s been ugly for the defending champs who’s offense, generally one of the best in the league, has averaged a more down-to-earth 46% from the field during the past 3 contests, with an average margin of defeat of 14.

But for LeBron and the Cavs, playing their Eastern Conference foes ought to mean something. Likely wanting to send an early-season statement with a decisive win of the season series, the Raps will expect the Cavs to be hungry and aggressive. King James has not been known to let up for long. Should be a good one.

Tip time on Monday is 7:30 pm.

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Raptors-Hawks Reaction Podcast – LMAO the Raptors won by 44

Host William Lou showers everyone with love after a 44-point smackdown of the Atlanta Hawks.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 128, Hawks 84

Atlanta 84 Final
Box Score
128 Toronto
A+
P. Siakam27 MIN, 14 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, -5 FG, 0-1 3FG 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 23 +/-

Pascal has some serious chemistry developing with Kyle Lowry, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Had a couple nice fast break baskets as he beat everyone down the court, and his energy is infectious when he’s out there.

A
D. Carroll26 MIN, 10 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, -6 FG, 2-6 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 6 +/-

Carroll hit some open shots tonight, was solid defensively, and wasn’t asked to do too much. A nice game for him all around. Maybe not as good as some other recent nights, but winning like this, they didn’t need him to have a career night.

B-
J. Valanciunas21 MIN, 2 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, -3 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 13 +/-

Picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, then came back in with the Lowry and the bench group to start the second quarter. Maybe the only Raptor who you can say had a rough night, although his screen setting for DeMar and Kyle continues to be impressive and a dynamic for the team that just isn’t there when he’s on the bench.

A+
D. DeRozan31 MIN, 21 PTS, 3 REB, 4 AST, -8 FG, 0-1 3FG 5-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

In the first half, DeMar came out and proved that no one on Atlanta could guard him in single coverage. He scored with ease, and the doubles didn’t come fast enough to slow him down.

Atlanta came out after the half setting out to slow him down, bringing the double teams much faster and stronger, and DeMar responded by passing out quickly and with purpose to create for other guys. Great game from him again.

A+
K. Lowry31 MIN, 17 PTS, 8 REB, 8 AST, -3 FG, 3-5 3FG 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 34 +/-

The line is nice, 17/8/8 on 7-9 shooting and a +34. I think he was actually better than those numbers though. During the second half when Toronto put the Hawks away, Lowry was everywhere on the floor and involved in everything, finding guys open in the corner for shots, hitting his own three pointers with ease, and making defensive plays. He’s looked like a MVP candidate lately and tonight was no different.

A
L. Nogueira23 MIN, 11 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST, 0 FG, 0-0 3FG 1-1 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 25 +/-

Felt like Bebe was involved with everything when he was on the floor. Had a couple big blocked shots, got himself in position for some easy baskets, and generally had a really good game.

A+
C. Joseph23 MIN, 10 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, -7 FG, 0-1 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 20 +/-

Cory struggled through the first few weeks of the season, causing many to ask whether we’d see Norm stealing some of his minutes and a reduction in the two point guard lineups. Lately we’ve seen why Casey has so much confidence in him, as he had another great game tonight(I’m saying this for a lot of guys, but when you win by 44 a lot of things went right)

A+
P. Patterson21 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, -2 FG, 4-5 3FG 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 21 +/-

Patterson did his thing. Hit his 3s(21 for 38 in his last 8 games), played great defense and was a big contributor tonight.

A+
T. Ross18 MIN, 15 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, -2 FG, 3-4 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 32 +/-

Scored 15 points in 18 minutes and had the second-best plus/minus on the team at +32 in 18 minutes. Good Ross seems like he’s here to stay this year, and he continues to impress. Also had two pretty dive and dish assists, hitting Bebe for an easy two inside and Lowry for a wide open three.

A
N. Powell7 MIN, 4 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, -1 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Plus-15 in 7 minutes of garbage time, Norm looked good when he was out there. Didn’t get meaningful minutes, but with Norm you know he’ll perform when he does.

B+
B. Caboclo4 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, -1 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 6 +/-

Bruno time both nights of a back to back! Continues to look a little lost at times, but he’s starting to look more and more like he’ll turn into a NBA player at some point.

A+
J. Poeltl4 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, -1 FG, 0-0 3FG 0-1 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 6 +/-

Jakob gets an A+ just for that dunk at the end of the game, which was ridiculous.

A+
F. VanVleet4 MIN, 5 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 0 FG, 1-1 3FG 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 6 +/-

Van Vleet played some nice garbage time minutes, hit an open 3, had a nice layup in the half court, and two assists. Nice player to have at the end of the bench.

Five Things We Saw

  1. This was fun! The offense was impressive, passing the ball and finding the open guy, creating in transition. Great win, and this was the potential of this roster all showing up in the same night.
  2. The Hawks were shorthanded, and it’s hard to understate just how important Millsap is to this team. He quarterbacks the defense and facilitates the offense, and Atlanta is definitely better than what they showed tonight. Still, solid win for the home team.
  3. The Raptors have now won their last four games by a combined 129 points, and they won the two games of this back-to-back by 77. Even if the competition hasn’t exactly been top-tier, that’s impressive.
  4. As nice as this feels, the media narrative likely doesn’t change with regards to expectations if they can’t beat Cleveland on Monday. The Raptors 14-6 mark is great, but they’re also 0-5 vs. the 3 teams ahead of them in the standings, and could really use a signature win.
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Pre-game news & notes: Raptors won’t ‘get happy on the farm’ as reeling Hawks visit

Is anyone else tired? I sure am. Hopefully the Toronto Raptors didn’t engage in the same kind of post-game/writing drinking and four hours of sleep getting that I did. Or, if they did, that they’re as used to working with the tank on empty as your boy. They probably just went home to bed after Friday’s blowout victory, though, putting their legs in those weird snowpant-looking massage pants things they’re all wearing, watching some film, and getting a solid eight hours in with another go ’round Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.

The visiting Atlanta Hawks figure to be even more tired, having flown in late last night after getting run off their own floor by the Detroit Pistons. The Raptors, meanwhile, handled their business promptly and only tasked Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with a combined 60 minutes, a reasonable total. DeMarre Carroll had the night off, the prospects got some good run in, and things went about as well as you’d hope on leg one of a back-to-back.

In other words, there wouldn’t really be any excuse for not coming out and sticking it to a reeling Hawks team that’s lost eight of nine and is missing their best player. All week, the Raptors have won games in which they were favored heavily, and complacency can’t be allowed to set in with this five-game winning streak, especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers set to visit (potentially with the top spot in the Eastern Conference on the line) on Monday. Atlanta first, though.

“That’s our whole key, that’s our charge: Not get happy on the farm because we had one game both ways,” head coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “We’ve gotta continue it, we’ve gotta continue to improve on it. The team tonight’s gonna come in guns a-blazing, getting beat the way they got beat last night.”

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here. I also teed up this matchup and talked bigger picture Raptors-Hawks things with Robby Kalland on yesterday’s podcast.

Raptors updates
With DeMarre Carroll resting for Friday’s blowout against the Lakers, he’s expected to be available in this one. While Kyle Korver is the more difficult cover, I wonder if the Raptors don’t task Carroll with Kent Bazemore instead, given the “system” nature of guarding Korver (whereas Carroll thrives more as a one-on-one defender). However they approach it out of the gate, Terrence Ross and Norman Powell figure to be important if Korver gets hot, and that’s a matchup Powell did a pretty good job with a season ago.

Just as big an issue is the battle on the glass, where the Hawks are roughly average at an opponent’s end but could do serious damage thanks to Dwight Howard if the Raptors aren’t diligent throwing extra bodies into the mix. Lucas Nogueira has been derided some for his defensive rebounding, and justifiably, but it requires a team effort when Jonas Valanciunas, who looks to be at something less than 100 percent, is off the floor.

That will be especially true if the Raptors go small at any point. The Hawks are by nature a little smaller in the frontcourt outside of Howard, and the rest of their big-man rotation affords Toronto the opportunity to play faster and more switchy if they choose to. The Pascal Siakam-Patrick Patterson pairing could see time, as could the Carroll-Patterson duo, when Howard’s out of the game. Some of that willbe gameflow dependent, and head coach Dwane Casey probably won’t just bend to whatever the Hawks do, but they present some fun options. The Raptors have proven fun, fast, and annoying when adding an extra wing to the mix or downsizing in general, and I’d bet they play at least a few minutes four-around-one or with a four-four inside pairing.

As a side-note, Casey would only say (with a wink) that the usuals are all available “so far.” He may have been giving us a hard time, but he may have also been hinting at something. Check back before tip-off for an update. UPDATE: Carroll plays, as expected.

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

Hawks updates
Paul Millsap isn’t traveling with the Hawks, which is a huge loss. He’s their best player, an elite defender who the Hawks may have entrusted switching on to DeRozan, and their most efficient scorer. Without him, the Hawks started Thabo Sefolosha at the four Friday, and doing so again in this one would get their best perimeter defender on DeRozan, with some switchability two-through-four. That would mean throwing Korver on Siakam, which they’re probably fine with, and it may give them some additional options on offense.

And hey, at least Mike Scott is back!

For what it’s worth, Atlanta’s pre-game notes had Mike Muscala, not Sefolosha starting. Regardless, they’ll likely be using at least a bit of last night’s three-wing lineup with Sefolosha are the four. (The Raptors are preparing for both scenarios, Casey says.) UPDATE: Muscala starts.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Malcolm Delaney
SG: Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr., DeAndre’ Bembry
SF: Kent Bazemore,Thabo Sefolosha, Taurean Prince
PF: Mike Muscala, Mike Scott
C: Dwight Howard,Kris Humphries, Ryan Kelly
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Tiago Splitter, Paul Millsap

Assorted

  • As an update, the Raptors’ appeal of the Kings’ ending technically wasn’t submitted until yesterday. That means the NBA has until next Friday to rule on the appeal. There was some confusion over the process timeline, but the Raptors actually only had to file an intent to appeal within 48 hours, then they had five business days to put their case together. It’s all a little strange, but we’ll have to wait another week to be hear the NBA’s denial of the protest.
  • I watched Delon Wright’s pre-game workout yesterday, and man, it’s easy to look good in these sessions but he looked good. He’s gotten so smooth pulling up off the dribble, one of his weaker areas, and it doesn’t look like he’s lost much, if any, of the size he was able to put on in the offseason. He’s still probably a month away, but this is just a reminder that the Raptors have a fourth point guard on the roster capable of playing NBA minutes.
    • Related: A lot of people have asked me about potential trades. I first want to note that deals are really unlikely until after Dec. 15, when players signed in the offseason are eligible to be dealt. Specifically for the Raptors, I don’t think they’ll rush to make a move just to “balance” out the roster. I know people like three guys at each slot on the depth chart, but they won’t be in a rush to deal a guard they like long-term just to even out positions. A deal will have to make sense now, for in April-June, and for the future.
  • Well, well, well:

  • For those still asking:

The line
After staying off the board most of the morning, the line opened at Raptors -9 (I had guessed 7.5 in the preview), then bumped to Raptors -8. I don’t keep a spreads database, but I’d have to imagine this is the first time the Raptors have ever been favored by eight or more points in four consecutive games since the Vince Carter years, and maybe ever. The respect! How are they supposed to #ProveEm when they don’t #TheySleep? Are they finally #UTG? That, or it’s just an odd stretch of games at home, where the Raptors generally do a good job making life tough on opponents.

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Gameday: Hawks @ Raptors, Dec. 3

Well, Friday certainly went quite differently for the two teams that will play on respective back-to-backs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. While the Toronto Raptors were taking care of their business at home against the Lakers, tasking their two stars with just a combined 60 minutes in a 33-point win, the Atlanta Hawks were losing by an even greater margin on their own court to the Detroit Pistons. It was the Hawks’ eighth loss in nine games, and with no Paul Millsap in Toronto, things look like they’re going to get worse for Atlanta before they get better.

As always, though, there’s nothing easy in the NBA. The Raptors have won three different style of blowout at home this week, each against teams missing key pieces – they were a little slow and late to start to put the 76ers away, they let the Grizzlies hang until midway through the fourth, and then they handled the Lakers buzzer-to-buzzer. The Hawks are sputtering, but there’s too much talent, too much streaky shooting, and too smart a coach on the other side to risk letting this one go down to the wire. The Raptors have won five in a row and really asserted themselves as better than this string of opponents. They’ll need to continue to do that against what should be a very hungry, angry Hawks outfit.

It’s also an interesting “immovable object and the unstoppable force” game – the Raptors have passed the Warriors for the No. 1 rank in O-Rating when adjusting for schedule, and the Hawks are the No. 2 adjusted defense behind only the Clippers.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Brad Rowland of Peachtree Hoops, who was kind enough to help us out. As a note, Brad answered these Thursday, before the news that Millsap would miss a pair of games.

Blake Murphy: The Hawks came out of the gate on fire, looking like a legitimate threat to the Raptors as the No. 2 team in the East. Since then, they’ve dropped eight of nine, and while there are a few “good” losses in there, this has to be troubling. What’s changed over the last few weeks?

Brad Rowland: In short, the bench and, well, the offense in general regressed considerably. Atlanta’s starting lineup was being out-scored by opponents even as they amassed a 9-2 record, but the bench was utterly incredible so it didn’t matter. Since then, the bench has predictably fallen back to earth, and what the Hawks are left with is a bottom-10 offense that lacks both playmaking and shooting. Hey, at least the defense is still good.

Blake Murphy: The Hawks’ offense maybe could have been expected to sputter out of the gate, given some of the roster changes and working Dwight Howard into the system. How has Howard fit in on that end of the floor? Is there reason to hope Mike Budenholzer can figure out a way to get this back to an average offense?

Brad Rowland: I actually think Howard is not the problem, and that he has played about as well as anyone could have expected. For me, there was always going to be an offensive dip from Al Horford to Dwight Howard, in part because of the spacing issues that it would create for everyone else. Howard does command more attention as a pick-and-roll finisher, but because Atlanta’s shooting is overrated around him, the loss of a fifth spacer on the floor has been significant. I trust Mike Budenholzer to do what he can as one of the better coaches in the NBA, but it is very tough to foster a competent offense with a young, inefficient point guard and two starting wings that don’t really create for others or get their own shot.

Blake Murphy: Despite the losing stretch, the defense still ranks second in the NBA in points allowed per-100 possessions. Nobody is stingier than the Hawks overall, and that comes in large part from forcing a ton of turnovers while also not fouling. How does Budenholzer’s system allow the Hawks to be so aggressive but at the same time avoid the mistakes that usually accompany said aggression?

Brad Rowland: Budenholzer has done a remarkable job defensively over the last two seasons, and he deserves a ton of credit. Atlanta made their bones in 2015-2016 by playing five rangy defenders at a time, switching a lot and utilizing the strengths of Horford and Millsap as guys who are far more versatile than typical players at their position. Budenholzer has (rightly) changed that approach a little bit to account for Howard’s strengths as a rebounder and rim protector, and while I don’t think the Hawks have been quite as good at deterring the opposition on the perimeter, Howard’s rebounding has been a boon in ending possessions in a way Atlanta struggled with during Horford’s tenure. Forcing turnovers has been huge to the early-season success, and guys like Millsap (who is a legitimately elite defender), Kent Bazemore and even Schröder are above-average in that category, but the scheme has a ton to do with Atlanta’s defensive success over a long period.

Blake Murphy: Is Kent Bazemore the greatest human alive?

Brad Rowland: My tendency is to say yes, even with the caveat that he isn’t playing very well right now. I love Kent and Atlanta loves Kent, which gives him a bit longer leash than you might expect for a guy underachieving in the first year of a four-year contract. The Baze Gaze triumphs over all.

baze

Blake Murphy: It’s super early without much playing time, but of the trio of intriguing rookies the Hawks filled out the roster with (Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry [didn’t the Hawks retire Josh Childress’ haircut?], and Malcolm Delaney), who looks like the best long-term prospect?

Brad Rowland: First, Bembry’s hair is majestic and I’ll never forget interviewing him the first time in Las Vegas and being struck by it in person.

bembry

As for basketball stuff, Taurean Prince looks like the best long-term prospect and he is clearly ahead of Bembry on the development curve. Prince profiles as an above-average defender given his body and intensity, and we’ve seen some of that despite some rookie mishaps. I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything special offensively (though he is aggressive), but the defensive aptitude and profile is something I like. I love Bembry, but we won’t know about him for a while considering his defensive and shooting issues. I’m excited to see what he can be, but he’s actually more of a long-term play despite being a “veteran” college draft pick. Finally, it’s almost weird to think of Delaney as a rookie, but at 27, he’s been a league-average backup point guard right away in my view, and that free agent deal was a heist for the Hawks. I expect him to shoot better in the coming months if his college/international statistics are any indication, but he certainly belongs and I know the front office has coveted him for a long while.

I also teed up this matchup and talked bigger picture Raptors-Hawks things with Robby Kalland on yesterday’s podcast.

Raptors updates
With DeMarre Carroll resting for Friday’s blowout against the Lakers, he’ll be available again in this one. While Kyle Korver is the more difficult cover, I wonder if the Raptors don’t task Carroll with Kent Bazemore instead, given the “system” nature of guarding Korver (whereas Carroll thrives more as a one-on-one defender). However they approach it out of the gate, Terrence Ross and Norman Powell figure to be important if Korver gets hot, and that’s a matchup Powell did a pretty good job with a season ago.

Inside, Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira will have to be cognizant of the glass, which the latter hasn’t always done well this year. That’s not just on Nogueira – he’s such an active rim-protector that it often requires someone else to box out his man – but he needs to be better, as do the perimeter players cracking back. That’s because Dwight Howard is a problem, and while the Hawks are only about average in offensive rebounding rate, it’s probably an area Mike Budenholzer will have his team attacking, especially when Valanciunas is off of the floor. Patrick Patterson has upped his rebounding effort of late, and Pascal Siakam’s actually grabbing a hugher percentage of rebounds than Nogueira, so there should be some help from the power forward position, where the Hawks will likely have an extra wing for stretches of the night.

In that same regard, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raptors get a little smaller at times. That’s not necessarily because the Hawks starting three wings should dictate the matchup, but it gives Toronto the option to switch across multiple positions rather than chasing a step behind or being forced to help and recover back to the corners. I know, I know, you get it, I like small, fun lineups with an extra wing.

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

Hawks updates
Paul Millsap isn’t traveling with the Hawks, which is a huge loss. He’s their best player, an elite defender who the Hawks may have entrusted switching on to DeRozan, and their most efficient scorer. Without him, the Hawks seem likely to start Thabo Sefolosha for the second night in a row, asking him to guard DeRozan out of the gate rather than using Kent Bazemore, who is great but gives up a fair amount of size in that matchup.

It should be really interesting to see how Budenholzer attacks the DeRozan and Lowry matchups. I wonder if, given how well DeRozan’s moved the ball lately and how much that’s gotten Toronto’s shooters going, the Hawks don’t dare DeRozan to shoot a little bit more, eschewing some blitzing and trapping to stay more at home on shooters and coax DeRozan into some mid-range looks (Sefolosha is the type of defender who might be able to pull that off). Budenholzer’s very smart, and he has the tools on the wing to make this a fun challenge DeRozan will surely be up for.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Malcolm Delaney
SG: Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr., DeAndre’ Bembry
SF: Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince
PF: Thabo Sefolosha, Kris Humphries, Mike Scott
C: Dwight Howard, Mike Muscala, Ryan Kelly
TBD:
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Tiago Splitter, Paul Millsap

The line
As of 9:30 this morning, the line was still off the board. That’s fairly normal for the second night of a back-to-back on both sides, so check back in the pre-game news and notes for an update. I’m guessing the Raptors are favored by 7.5, but that might be showing a sputtering Hawks outfit too much respect on my part.

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Lowry, Raptors make quick work of Lakers for fifth win in a row

Raptors 113, Lakers 80  | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Basketball can be a complicated game. It’s large, and contains multitudes. The right matchup can make for a strategic masterpiece, a beautiful puzzle where a lesser group of parts can become greater than the sum of a more talented group, where brilliant tactics can win out over raw ability, or simply where teams are measured by any number of intangible cliches rather than their skills with a ball in their hands. Its what makes the sport great, especially with evenly matched teams, what makes it terrific playoff viewing, and what makes every night over an 82-game slough a potential must-watch affair.

Basketball can also be really, painfully simple.

On those occasions, the team with the best players win, because the best players play as such and assert their wills on the game. There is only so much ground that effort and chemistry and the wonderful basketball celestial can account for when the other side isn’t willing to leave things in the hands of those factors that live only at the margins.

Kyle Lowry saw those potential factors, and he lit them aflame.

Lowry hit five of his six 3-point attempts in the first half on his way to 18 points and five assists at the break, not quite single-handedly building a substantial lead early on but commanding the game as he saw fit, drawing Lakers far outside the 3-point line and essentially doing as he pleased on offense. Not even a shot-clock violation he disagreed with in the second half could cool him, and a late and-one put the Raptors up 28 and cut his night short at 31 minutes. For a light night, 24 points on 12 field-goal attempts, with four rebounds and seven assists, is pretty rapid production.

Thick as any thesaurus may be, the superlatives for Lowry’s play on nights like this – nay, seasons like this, as he’s turned a remotely cool start into an improvement on his career year so far – are running painfully thin. There are few players who can lead their team so ably through action, his force of will ever-contagious, his ever-high tide rising a group of willing boats. That he so encapsulates this team’s spirit, that a quick Lowry hot streak can change – or end – a game so emphatically, faith is rarely afforded the chance to waver.

“I joke around with Kyle. I think it’s because he’s been shooting with me before the game,” Norman Powell joked. “We have our little shooting competition now, the first to make five from five spots. Ever since we’ve started doing that, man, he’s been lighting it up. So I’m taking credit for it.”

Lowry’s fellow All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, wasn’t willing to let Powell have that one, indicative of a very loose and free Raptors locker room after the victory.

“Norm just wants credit for anything, obviously,” he said. “Don’t give Norm credit for anything. Not yet.”

DeRozan also wasn’t quite as effective scoring. But as he’s come down to earth some, he’s continued to shift into a pseudo-point guard, using the immense attention he commands to get teammates involved. DeRozan’s now tallied four assists or more in 11 consecutive games, is averaging a career-high 4.3 per-game. Not surprisingly, the extra touches around the floor appear to be snowballing, and the Raptors’ offense as a whole has been much more aesthetically pleasing of late, with passes off the short-roll or the dive, smart cuts along the baseline or around the attention of a post-up, or an extra touch along the perimeter.

“Guys are executing, making shots, moving the basketball,”  head coach Dwane Casey explained. “They’re trying to take the ball out of DeMar’s hands, he’s doing a good job of moving the basketball, making plays. The spacing’s been good; again, they are executing and it’s a make or miss league and guys are right now making shots.”

As the stars go, the Raptors go, an idiom that’s long held, and when the stars lock in at this level for the entirety of their stints, putting teams away early – essentially by halftime but by the early fourth in earnest – follows naturally. That’s not to say it was all the team’s two stars. DeRozan’s early distributing and Lowry’s undeniable shooting were certainly instrumental in building the lead, but the Raptors’ second-quarter surge included big contributions from their vaunted bench unit. The benefit of having great players is not just that they are great, but that they put their teammates in positions to be great as well.

It was Cory Joseph exploiting every Lakers switch to blow up their second-quarter gameplan. It was Powell jumping into his occasional starting role with aggression, defensive tenacity on the Lakers’ quick guards, and a massive third-quarter dunk on his way to another double-digit scoring night with 16 points. It was Lucas Nogueira being a terror around the rim at both ends en route to a season-high 13 points, or Pascal Siakam flashing some new-found range, or Patrick Patterson just doing his thing, going largely unnoticed while being a serious problem for opponents in help scenarios. It was the garbage-time crew coming in and locking down the victory in by a 33-point margin, with Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo getting their first field goals of the year.

Whoever it was, the supporting cast absolutely responded and raised their level of play to that of their leaders. The Lakers had no room to breathe when both sides went bench-heavy, normally a Lakers strength but one the Raptors are well-equipped to neutralize.

It was a top-to-bottom, start-to-finish effort from the Raptors in that sense, and it was a nice change of course after a pair of double-digit victories that took just a little too long to put away earlier this week. The Lakers are a young, tough, well-coached team that could develop into something intriguing given the time. They are not, however, on the Raptors’ level, especially without D’Angelo Russell and – no joke – Nick Young, and the Raptors made that exceedingly clear on Friday night. The Lakers weren’t at their best, and more often than not at the Air Canada Centre, it’s going to take an opponent’s best to steal a victory.

“verybody knows how strong the Raptors are at home,” Nogueira said. “So we’ve gotta make our house strong. People gotta come over here and feel like it’s hard to beat the Raptors, you’ve gotta play 100 percent. So this is what we try to do every night and take advantage for those six games.”

So far, so good. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as being the better team and not letting the opponent forget that. It’s the beauty of employing a pair of stars and supporting pieces who excel in their roles. Great teams handle their business, and the Raptors’ business has been decidedly handled in five in a row.

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Raptors-Lakers Reaction Podcast – Blowouts are fun

Host William Lou sums up a feel-good win over the baby Lakers.

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Quick Reaction: Lakers 80, Raptors 113

Note from Blake: Hey readers, the recap generator is down so we’re going old-fashioned for this one. Apologies for the aesthetic displeasure. You can find the box score here.

Kyle Lowry – A+

Looked absolutely locked in from the jump yet again. Effortlessly got his teammates shots, and picked his spots when the game required. His three-point stroke is magnificent right now, as he hit 6 more tonight. If the cast around him keeps improving, there’s no reason this guy won’t be able to continue to be their floor general well into his next contract.

Norman Powell – A

You know the drill – always ready, always contributing on offense, always in perfect posture on defense. Powell is quickly developing the mental fortitude of a winning-team glue-guy; the kind of role player coaches can rely on in the deciding minutes of a tight playoff game.  Exploded for a dunk in the 3rd.

DeMar DeRozan – A

Saw the shot wasn’t dropping early, and so he once again moved to the facilitator role for the rest of the first quarter, recording 4 assists in the opening frame. Continued his improvement on end of quarter shots with another buzzer beater in the third.

Pascal Siakam – B+

Hit a really smooth-looking long two, an edge of the paint jumper, and very nearly a corner three. Are you kidding me? Masai needs to get a lifetime deal with the Raptors, pay him anything.

Jonas Valanciunas – B

Didn’t make an impact on the game offensively, but he didn’t need to with the rest of the squad on fire.

Cory Joseph – A

Got to the rim at will, slicing the Lakers defense with no regard to the man in front of him. Nice to see him back to form.

Terrence Ross – B

Showed the ultimate shooter’s touch in the second quarter when the ball did all it could to escape the basket, failing in the end. After hitting two threes, the defense overplayed him and Ross countered with a nice assist to Bebe, showing off improved playmaking. Cooled off with the stakes lower in the second half.

Patrick Patterson – B+

The form on the shot looking much more consistent. Even when he misses, it’s a shot that is ‘just off,’ not the bricks he was heaving early in the season. A solid if unspectacular outing from the Patman.

Lucas Nogueira – A-

Showed what he’s capable of as a passer from the high post, as he found Patterson for an open three in the first half. Rolled excellently to the rim all game too. Had a couple nice blocks, and changed a host of other shots as well. Can really become a defensive menace when he gains more playing experience. Dressed up as Siakam for one play as he was the first one down the court for a fast break dunk in the second quarter.

Jakob Poeltl – INC

Had a couple rebounds, but missed a layup he should have made. No harm, no foul.

Fred VanVleet – INC

Looked a bit shaky in his short stint, recording an airball on his first shot. To his credit he course-corrected with a made layup soon after.

Bruno Caboclo – INC

Hit a three off the backboard, and though he probably didn’t mean it, gained the requisite confidence to follow it up with a steal and nice assist to Siakam.

Dwane Casey – A+

Kept Carroll fresh for tomorrow, gave Powell crucial playing time, limited Lowry and DeRozan to 30 and 29 minutes respectively, and blew out the Lakers in the process. The key was a strong start, and Casey got his players to come in with a professional attitude and crush the young Lakers’ spirit before the end of the first half. Can’t ask for much more.

Three Takeaways

  1. Casey’s strategy of giving Powell just enough playing time to keep him in decent game shape while not allowing Carroll’s knees to betray him during back to backs could really pay dividends in the playoffs, as well as if/when a rotation player gets injured.
  2. Toronto got any shot they wanted against the Lakers tonight (especially early on). The way the club is sharing the basketball, you can tell they’re having fun playing with each other. At this rate, they won’t remain in the NBA’s assist basement much longer.
  3. It’s fun to see the Raptors play when the entire roster appears to be in good form. Everyone is making the right plays, draining their open shots, participating in the defensive effort. The effect of long-term chemistry on this cannot be overstated. Even in good years, the Raptors always had a weak link (or a few) in the rotation, it is beyond refreshing to have consistent contributions from everyone who gets minutes. The team doesn’t miss a beat when resting their starting small forward and missing their biggest offseason acquisition – that’s incredible, and we as long-time suffering Raptor fans finally get our due, as we witness this golden era of Toronto basketball.
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Toupane dominates as 905 beat Charge buzzer-to-buzzer

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (5-2) def. Canton Charge (2-6); 104-72 | Box Score
Assignees: None

If you’re a Toronto sports fan desperate for even a modicum of success against Cleveland, this was the game you needed. No, it wasn’t the big boys, but the 905 took care of business, fairly handily in the end, against the defending champions’ D-League affiliate Canton Charge.

The Charge came into this game with the second-worst rebounding percentage in the D-League, and it showed. The 905 outrebounded their opponents 49-34, and Edy Taveras’ length was something they just didn’t have the means to contend with. Making another start ahead of Yanick Moreira, Tavares’ length was a factor for all 24 minutes that he was on the court. He had some Bebe-esque moments during an initial burst of eight points, eight boards, a couple of steals and three monster swats by halftime, that had the 905 in cruise control the rest of the way.

There was one play in particular that stood out. Canton’s Quinn Cook got the measure of Brady Heslip before blowing by him, and despite head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s incessant pleas for “No middle!” Cook was gifted with a massive opening and got right to the rack. As he went up to lay the ball in, Tavares burst into the paint off his man and swatted the ball away.

The only source of concern for Stackhouse with Tavares tonight will be the six fouls he drew in those 24 minutes, again, not unlike the fouls we’ve seen Lucas Nogueira prone to committing.

The 905 looked sharp early, jumping out to a 15-3 lead in the opening five minutes and there was a sharpness to them that can be credited to the value of facing some pretty stiff competition in the two games prior. There was the same mettle that saw them gut out their last win against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and the Charge never looked ready for that level of compete.

Axel Toupane looked like he was trying to make up for lost time from last night in this one, and showed no signs of being burdened by the ankle injury that sidelined him for two games. He was relentless in using his pump fake and jab step to get a step on his defender and get to the rim. His 17 first-half points kept the 905 on pace on that end of the floor at a time when the Raptors needed a bit of leadership there, before eventually finishing with 32 for the game along with 14 perfect free-throw attempts. He took just 12 field-goal attempts to get to 32 points (!). The way he uses his body to his advantage is particularly impressive. His long limbs allow him to create space at this level comfortably, and it’s a credit to him that he knows what works for him and sticks to it.

BHeslip was really struggling with his outside shot in the first half (1-for-6 from deep), and the Charge actually appeared content conceding open looks to him, either completely unaware of his proficiency as a shooter, or way ahead of the pack in realizing that it just wasn’t his night. C.J. Leslie continues to sparkle while staying within the offense, finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, and that helped make up for the lack of punch at the point.

The D-League is all about learning and development, and an early blowout scenario meant some extra pull on the string for the 905 bench.

Jarrod Uthoff got some decent run in particular, but failed to impress. He had a nice play towards the end of the first quarter to beat his man off the dribble, before missing the layup, getting the offensive board, missing the put-back, getting the offensive rebound again, then having tipped away when going back up. It was the typical D-League play where there are signs of encouragement for beating his man of the bounce and scrapping for the board, but eventually failing to cap it off with a finish.

It was good to see him continue to battle in the second half, and the same can be said for Moreira. He didn’t have a good game on the offensive end, but battled hard on the glass for his six boards.

At 5-2, Stackhouse will continue to stay true to his long-term plans, but he will be encouraged by the manner in which they’ve stepped up their compete level over the past two games.

Notes:

  • The Raptors recalled VanVleet and Caboclo to the main squad prior to tonight’s contest, so the 905 had nobody on assignment. The Raptors may change course for the 905’s next game, Sunday, but with the parent club still at home it seems like Caboclo and VanVleet are in Toronto for a while.
  • One of the nice perks of a sparse crowd is hearing just how vocal of a presence Stackhouse is all game long, especially on the defensive end.
  • Next up for the 905 is a rematch with the Maine Red Claws in Portland on Sunday at 5:00pm EST, one of two teams to defeat them thus far.
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Pre-game news & notes: Carroll sits as Calderon and Swaggy-free Lakers visit

This is it. Finally, at long last, the biggest return to the Air Canada Centre this week: Jose Calderon. (And Jesse Mermuys!)

Everyone’s favorite former Toronto Raptors is back, carrying the same sort of up-beat, infectious, positive energy that made him a top-flight teammate and one of the most beloved players in franchise history over his seven-plus seasons here. How much did people enjoy Calderon? Well, I had a dog for two or three years that I named Jose, and the special Spanish edition of the Raptors jersey ranks among my worst jersey purchases. He’s also a favorite of DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey, and understandably so.

The franchise, however, never seemed as sold as Calderon on the court as off of it. My formative blogging years were mostly spent arguing that Calderon should be starting over a never-ending stream of intended replacement options, the front office never quite convinced that Calderon was the guy. Seriously, Calderon’s kill sheet on the depth chart is the stuff of legend.

Yet Calderon continued to outlast just about everyone, enough to rank first in franchise history in assists, third in games played, seventh in scoring, eighth in true-shooting percentage (minimum 1,000 minutes played), third in Win Shares, first in smiles given and smiles created. He is among my favorite players ever, and it’ll be great to see him get what might be a final warm reception at the ACC. (Calderon is 35 and in the final year of his contract, and while a team may very well value his veteran leadership and outside shooting, his role has decreased significantly thanks in part to his limited defensive utility.) In any case, I’d expect a nice ovation for our erstwhile handsome point guard.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 4&5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
DeMarre Carroll will sit the first head of this back-to-back, but figuring out which is a little difficult. The Hawks are a better team, thought I thought the Lakers presented a more Carroll-friendly matchup in Luol Deng (whereas benching Carroll on Saturday would have tasked Norman Powell with chasing Kyle Korver through an endless forest of screens, something he did well with last year). The difference between sitting Carroll for Friday or Saturday was minimal, and the plan calls for him to continue sitting one leg of each back-to-back at least until the new year. It’s all to be expected at this point, beyond the occasional coin-flips guessing which game he’ll rest.

As for the assignees, Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet, both were recalled on Friday after another game with the 905 on Thursday. I expected VanVleet to rejoin the Raptors rather than traveling with the junior club, but Caboclo missing at least the first of their three-game trip is a little surprising.

Elsewhere, the Lakers don’t present too tough an option at the center position with Timofey Mozgov, who is a nice matchup, stylistically, for Jonas Valanciunas. The Lakers can go small, too, though, and lineups with Larry Nance Jr. (I DIDN’T JUST COME HERE TO NANCE) have been fun and effective. Nance and Julius Randle are also tough challenges at the power forward spot. Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson also present some challenges on the glass, so don’t be fooled by the lack of reknowed star value in the frontcourt outside of Randle.

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

Lakers updates
The Lakers are missing perhaps their two best players so far this season, and I don’t say that jokingly – D’Angelo Russell is out, sure, but so is Nick Young, who is playing by far the best all-around basketball of his career. I caught up with former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys, now an assistant with the Lakers, last night, and he raved about Young’s progress on the defensive end. The perpeutal looter in the riot, Young’s taken on Luke Walton’s challenge to contribute beyond chucking, and he’s responded with quality man defense (the dude guarded a Russell Westbrook post-up effectively!), plus the most efficient scoring of his career. But he’s out with a calf issue, and so the Lakers are down two of their better shot-creators.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t threats here, though. Jordan Clarkson has established himself as a quality scorer, and he and Lou Williams create a formdiable duo off the bench. Rookie Brandon Ingram, who took in the 905 game last night and whom Jerry Stackhouse refered to as the most “ego-less” player in the first round (with Jakob Poeltl), appears to be figuring it out, even if the shooting percentages aren’t quit there yet (I’m a huge fan of his potential long-term). And then there’s Randle, who’s emerging as a fun throwback the Lakers can run the offense through thanks to the attention he commands inside and his passing ability.

The biggest weak-spot for the Lakers comes on the defensive end, where they rank 27th. Normally, Luol Deng would stand as the obvious choice to guard DeMar DeRozan, but Deng’s been something close to woeful this season, and the Raptors can get aggressive helping off of him to trap Randle on the baseline on post-ups or to send additional help toward the paint on drives. The Lakers can switch a lot off the ball if any three of Clarkson, Ingram, Deng, World Peace, and maybe even Nance are on the floor together, but they don’t have enough individual defenders to hang over 48 minutes.

PG: Jose Calderon, Jordan Clarkson, Marcelo Huertas
SG: Brandon Ingram, Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng, Metta World Peace
PF: Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Thomas Robinson
C: Timofey Mozgov, Tarik Black
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Ivica Zubac
OUT: Nick Young, D’Angelo Russell

Assorted

  • I didn’t think it warranted its own post, but DeMar DeRozan was given an honorable mention for Eastern Conference Player of the Month yesterday. LeBron James, averaging nearly a triple-double for a 13-3 team, took the award home (his fourth in a row), so it’s tough to get too bothered, even with the terrific month DeRozan turned in. I saw a few people mad online about it, but we’re talking 28.9-5.5-4.2-1.3-0.1 on 57 TS% at 12-6 or 23.5-8.1-9.3-1.1-0.5 on 58.6 TS% at 13-3 (13-2 with him in the lineup)…I find it very difficult to get too worked up here.
  • I wrote about Terrence Ross’ improvements and the search for consistency for The Athletic today. There’s a great, illuminating quote from Jerry Stackhouse within.
  • Not to get too insider or anything, but based on some chatter, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers come out a little slow in this one. If you catch me.
  • Looking ahead, Paul Millsap is out for the Hawks tomorrow.
  • The Raptors’ game notes say this is their first home-home back-to-back since 2008, but my own research says differently:

The line
The Raptors are nine-point favorites, which seems reasonable given how banged-up the Lakers are and the general gap between these two teams. The Lakers are fun, plucky, and play really hard for Walton and company, though, so this is another case like the Grizzlies game where the Raptors won’t be able to just go on auto-pilot and play sloppy. It was almost the third consecutive game they’ve been a double-digit favorite in, which would have likely been the first time in several years that happened, but the line has edged L.A.’s way since opening around Raptors -10. I think the Raptors manage to cover despite a big game from Nance and the Lakers pushing the pace.

Raptors 112, Lakers 101

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Quest To Find The Best Raptors Bar Heads West

My quest to find the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto continues. After the last post on KT someone emailed me with a recommendation for a bar on Dundas near Dovercourt called The Dock Ellis. What a name. I headed west.

Bar Name:  The Dock Ellis
Address:      1280 Dundas Street West

dockellis

Criteria:       Atmosphere
Grade:          B*

This entire review comes with an asterisk. The reconnaissance for The Dock Ellis happened the night of the Raptors-Grizzlies game. It was also the night of the MLS Eastern Final. The bar was packed with TFC diehards wearing scarfs and jerseys. I’ve got nothing but respect for TFC fans.

The Dock Ellis has twelve flat screens highlighted with one giant one on a far wall. You can see a screen from every seat in the bar. Eight of the screens had the soccer game on and the remaining four had the Raptors. None of them had the Leafs-Flames game on. Not one. I quietly pumped my fist.

The sound from the TFC game filled the bar but there wasn’t a seat where you couldn’t see the Raptors game. The TFC fans were enthusiastic and cheered out loud during big plays. It was a great Toronto sports atmosphere.

A grade of B feels low for this bar but it’s only because the TFC game was the focus that night. To be fair, the support they were showing the Raptors while the biggest game in TFC history was being broadcast was pretty impressive. Immediately after the soccer game concluded the majority of TVs and the sound in the bar were switched to the Raptors.

But this quest is the search for the ultimate Raptors bar. For instance, there’s a bar on Bathurst called the Football Factory. If a Raptor fan were to stroll in there sometime in May and ask them to change a regular season TFC game to a Raptors playoff game I’m pretty sure they’d tell you to go to hell. That’s my dream, to find a bar in Toronto where they’ll tell people to go to hell when they ask to watch anything but the Raptors. Maybe that’s asking too much, but this is my quest.

Criteria:          Food
Grade:             A

The food was awesome. The menu had a lot of options including wonton nachos, Ontario trout tacos, triple blanched fries and a fried chicken sandwich. I firmly believe you can get a good idea of a kitchen’s menu based on how they prepare their chicken wings. I ordered a pound of BBQ Ranch. None of us know what the future holds. But I can tell you with certainty, if I end up on death row those wings will be part of my final meal. Along with movie popcorn with salt and vinegar shaker, peanut butter ice cream and shrimp cocktail.

Criteria:          Drinks
Grade:             A

beer-tap

Great beer selection and a lot of drink options too. For draft they’ve got multiple Amsterdam taps, Junction Stationmaster, Pommies Farmhouse Cider and Beau’s Lugtread. Huge selection of Tallboys too including selections from Woodhouse, Shillow, Leftfield, Sweetgrass and more.

Criteria:          Staff
Grade:             A+

The staff were friendly, relaxed and despite the bar being busy were very efficient at getting food and drinks out. A couple of times I heard the bartender ask about the Raptors during the TFC match. He was busy but was still keeping tabs on the score. Respect.

Criteria:         Clientele
Grade:            A

Everyone was having fun and got respectfully rowdy at times. Nice balance of guys to girls and no one was obnoxious at any point. Just a bunch of Toronto sports fans. Felt good.

Criteria:          Location
Grade:             A?

I live east of Yonge and love it. It’s less busy than the west end but you’re just as close to downtown. Sometimes when you tell people you live east of Yonge and they look at you like you farted. Lots of people like the west, which is fine. Lots of people will love the location of this bar. I still love my hood. Pull my finger.

Criteria:          Price
Grade:             A

Reasonable prices for a Toronto bar. Most draft is $8 and Tallboys are $7. The wings were $10 per pound or $18 for two. The burger is $12 and vegetarian chilli $10. Good size portions and good quality.

Criteria:          Bathrooms
Grade:             B+

They were clean. Good size and I never experienced a line up. Really great artwork on the doors too. On a side note, there’s another entire room downstairs by the bathrooms that’s like it’s own separate bar. The Raptor game was being played on a giant screen in the room with the sound up! It was empty and the bar wasn’t staffed but it was another sign that this is definitely a place where Raptors fans are welcome.

Overall Grade:  B+

The Dock Ellis is an awesome Toronto sports bar. Based on the recommendations that came in, the overall feel of the bar and the staff there’s little doubt it’s a great Raptors bar too. Because of the soccer game the grade for this particular night is a B+. The Dock Ellis is an excellent option for Raptors fans hanging out in the west end and definitely worth checking out. Just make sure the Reds or Jays don’t have a playoff game the same night. If the Leafs do, don’t’ worry about it. You should be good.

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With Some Reluctance…I’m In On Ross

There are things and people in the world where it is tough to stay rational about.  Whether this is due to a general public perception that impacts the way in which something/someone is viewed, or by built in biases that come from the core of the observer.  We see it present in every area of life, including the world of sports.

Terrence Ross is one of these people for me, as he is for many Raptors fans and general NBA fans.

What makes Ross even more difficult for me is that I’m not irrationally solid in my opinions of him.  I’m an irrational waverer, if there is such a thing.  Sure, I may not be as consistently inconsistent in regards to Ross as William Lou is, but I usually find myself on one of the far extremes.

I either love Ross and believe in him fully, or hate everything that he seemingly stands for on a basketball court.  There is very little middle ground.

It’s this exact thing that caused me to create the Terrence Ross Belief Chart prior to the 2015-16 season.  Here’s what it looked like at the time:

Terrence Ross Belief Chart

Yes, this was mostly intended as a joke about my thoughts on Ross and my own inability to stay consistent.  In reality though it just meant that I didn’t believe in Ross, and wasn’t yet ready to let my guard down and get my hopes up.

Fast forward 14 months and Ross looks like player reborn, and I find myself once again trying to evaluate Ross as a player.

There are positive questions to be asked: Does his early season success reveal an improved player?  Can he be relied upon to be consistent?  Does he factor into the present/future core of the Raptors?  How did Masai Ujiri get him to sign such a bargain of a contract?  Could he be a starter if there wasn’t an incumbent starter/All-Star in front of him?  Can we actually live in a world where Terrence Ross joins the 50-40-90 shooting club (he is currently very close at 49.3% from the field, 42.9% from three, and 94.7% from the free throw line)?

And there are negative questions that seemingly must be asked too: Can we actually believe that Ross can maintain this type of production?  Is this only a hot spell?  Can he actually sustain this type of mental focus after so many years of not being able to do so?

All of the answers to these questions, and even the questions themselves, are routed in one thing: how much do you believe in Terrence Ross?

His place to date this season has felt like a revelation.  While Cory Joseph struggled to find his footing early in the season, it was Ross who helped stabilize the bench.  While DeMarre Carroll continues to round into form and good health, it has been Ross who provided a consistent presence on the wing.  While Patrick Patterson struggled to find his three point shot (along with most of the team), it was Terrence Ross who shouldered the load in stretching the floor.

Simply put, Terrence Ross has been the Raptors most consistent bench presence this season.  Who on earth saw that one coming?

At the time he signed his contract extension, most saw it as an early indication of the wild contracts that would be handed out in the summer of 2016, and some saw it simply as an overpay.  Now, he looks like he could be an incredible bargain just 18 games into the first year of a three year, $31M contract.

Of players who have primarily come off the bench this season (started in 7 games or less), Ross is currently top 10 in PER, steal percentage, and offensive rating.  This top 10 group stretches into additional groups if you exclude front court players.  In that case Ross is then top 10 in Effective Field Goal Percentage, True Shooting Percentage, Win Shares, and Points Per Game (despite being 36th in minutes per game of this group).

Ross has been efficient, confident, and collected.  When he catches it after running around a screen he doesn’t hesitate in his decision making and knows what he is planning to do, either letting it fly or using the threat of his shot to create a better opportunity.  Just look at his shot chart right now:

terrence-ross-shot-chart-through-dec-1-2016

The point of all of this is that I still don’t know what to make of Terrence Ross.  He has made himself into an important player for Toronto this season and has a particular skill that they desperately need (shooting), but he also remains their most likely trade piece if the team looks to upgrade at another position.

His relatively large contract allows for several ways to match incoming salary, but isn’t too big to have to bring back a bad contract.  Teams are also looking for players who can create from the wing, and despite his reputation Ross has been doing just that this season (he shoots 39.2% on catch-and-shoot threes, and 60% on pull up threes…the latter of which certainly feels 100% unsustainable).

Any big deal the Raptors look to make will almost certainly need to include Ross, even if simply from an economic standpoint.  The Raptors also now, as strange as it feels to say, are surprisingly loaded on the wings.  With DeMarre, DeMar, Powell, and Joseph (And Bruno possibly Delon Wright due to his size) all able to see minutes on the wing, Ross is in part a luxury at the moment.

We are also just a month away the Oklahoma City Thunder trading a first round pick (top 20 protected in 2020) for Jerami Grant.  If Ross continues his current play, it’s easy to imagine him being in high demand by teams needing wing contribution.

With all that said though, I’ve actually reached the point where I can now, somewhat reluctantly, label myself a Ross supporter.  This feels like a confession of sorts, but I’m in on Ross.  I may even be living on Ross Island now.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to fully embrace him, but I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

Terrence Ross has been lots of fun this season, and his positives greatly outweigh his negatives at the moment.  I will even pause for a moment of sadness if a day comes that he is announced in a trade.

Who saw that coming?  I know I sure didn’t.

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Gameday: Lakers @ Raptors, Dec. 2nd

The injury riddled Lakers come into Toronto having won 2 out of 3 games, despite missing D’angelo Russell. Luke Walton has done a terrific job turning this Lakers team into a competitive, respectable team every night they take the court, and they are a team that cannot be taken lightly. They are slightly banged up, but a win against Chicago and Atlanta, after giving up 149 points to Golden State was certainly a nice sign that this team can bring it and compete with anyone when they’re on their game. However, this is certainly a game that the Raptors should win. With the gameplan no longer revolving around force feeding the clearly finished Kobe Bryant, the Lakers now have a very balanced attack and some underused players from years past are starting to surface themselves as very solid NBA players. This should be a tougher game, but one the Raptors should win regardless. Lou Williams and Jose Calderon will each see some run in this game with the injuries to Nick Young and D’angelo Russell, and they should each be well received by the Toronto fans.

Here are five things to look for on the Lakers:

1. Lots of Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson is an intriguing young player, and he was drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft 3 years ago. He is looking like a massive steal, and with injuries to Nick Young and Russell, he has seen a massive spike in usage rate and production. Since Russell went down, in 6 games, Clarkson has taken 15 shots per game and put up 16.5 points per game, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Clarkson does a little of everything, but his usage rate in these games is a sign that we will continue to see a lot of Clarkson. He is athletic, good at creating shots off the dribble, and an overall exciting player to watch.

2. Lots of Lou Williams. The other beneficiary to the injuries has been Lou Williams. Williams has ironically also averaged 16-3-3 since the injury, and he has done so on less shots per game, as his uncanny ability to get to the free throw line has not left his resume since leaving Toronto. Williams might be having the best year of his career, as he is averaging just under 17 points per game in just 24 minutes per game. We don’t often see huge minute totals, but he certainly makes the most of them when on the floor, and you can bet that Lou will look to have a big night against his former team. Expect Williams to feed off the nice ovation he should receive, as he was a pretty solid Raptor, despite the team faltering big time in the 2nd half and the playoffs during his tenure in Toronto.

3. Depending on whether or not you appreciate good basketball from an opponents or the Raptors winning, you will alter your opinion on whether or not you are excited to see 2nd overall pick, Brandon Ingram. This is not to call him a bust, because he is literally a kid, but Ingram has been woeful so far this season. He has a lot of work to do, and he is very skinny, inefficient, and unproductive with the Lakers so far. Ingram saw 41 minutes of floor time last game. Part of that is injuries, but another part is Luke Walton putting Ingram right into the fire and helping him to gain experience and to learn. Ingram has really struggled in these games since his teammates went down, as he has put up well under a point per shot in his last 5 games (9 points on 12 shots per game), including a woeful 3 for 18 performance. I’ll cut him some slack and he has shown flashes, but his shooting touch has not carried over into the NBA just yet. Regardless, he could break out at any time, and maybe tomorrow will be the night. Eventually, his 35% shooting percentage will rise, and I think a breakout game will happen soon.

4. Timofey Mozgov has been a predictably terrible signing. The Lakers net rating with Mozgov on the court has been +6, but that is causal in my opinion. Mozgov has only been trusted to play 20 minutes per night, and he has not provided much rim protection and he has consistently struggled to finish at the rim. Mozgov was overpaid, and even with everyone out, Mozgov managed just 2 points and 2 rebounds last night in the win in Chicago. This could be a very good matchup for Jonas.

5. Larry Nance Jr. is really fun. Dare I say it, but Nance’s athleticism reminds me a lot of a young Blake Griffin. He hustles, he does little things right. The Lakers have a 110 offensive rating with Nance on the court, and he provides a lot of steals (1.3 in just 22 minutes per game) and hustle stats. Nance is a really valuable player to this team and we should expect a significant role from Nance off the bench tonight. This is a guy that Patrick Patterson will matchup with a lot, and he will have to make sure he is boxing him out at all times. If you don’t believe my hype about Nance, youtube a video of his highlights and his dunk compilation. He has taken a massive step forward this year and is a guy who is really worth watching. He backs up Julius Randle, who goes without saying as one of the must see players for LA tonight.

Lakers Updates

INJURIES:
Nick Young
D’angelo Russell

DEPTH CHART:
PG: Jose Calderon (!!), Jordan Clarkson, Marcelo Huertas
SG: Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Metta World Peace (He might start!)
PF: Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr.
C: Timofey Mozgov, Tariq Black, Thomas Robinson

Clarkson will likely be asked to play both PG and SG as the fan favourite, Jose Calderon has just been a placeholder starter, and has had an insignificant role starting. Ingram and Deng will see some time at the 4 as well, while Nance will see many minutes at the 3. It’s a short rotation for the Lakers and we’ll see how they respond to the Raptors depth

Raptors Updates

INJURIES:
Demarre Carroll (Q) – Coach Casey suggested that he won’t be playing in back to backs and I’d assume the Raptors get Norm Powell some run in a game where they need Carroll less.
Jared Sullinger – Nothing new here

DEPTH CHART:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: Demar Derozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll (Q), Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poetl

With Carroll possibly resting, look to see a lot of Norman Powell and Terrence Ross in this one.

Vegas Thoughts
The Raptors opened at -10.5, and I can’t help but believe that they will likely cover this. The Lakers play at such a fast tempo, that 10.5 isn’t much to cover. This game has a 217 over under, and the Raptors should cover this. I’m predicting the final to be 112-98 Raptors. This is a must win game and one that the Raptors cannot let slip away, so let’s hope they take care of business and prepare for a much tougher Saturday contest by being able to sit down Lowry and Derozan for a while in the 4th quarter.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Dec 2 – Everybody looking as Hawks visit Raptors

The Extra returns, talking Eastern Conference hierarchy with a special guest.

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Raptors 905 learn quick lesson, stage big comeback to top Mad Ants in rematch

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 109, Fort Wayne Mad Ants 107 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, (905), None (Mad Ants)

Thursday felt eerily familiar for about a half of basketball in Mississauga, with Raptors 905 and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants engaging in a game that too closely resembled Tuesday’s blowout in favor of the road side. Hitting more threes than twos for the bulk of the night, the Mad Ants utilized the same strategy that the 905 didn’t have an answer for 48 hours prior.

The 905 weren’t going to change their approach. If they were going to bounce back, they were going to find a way to do it their way, finding a way to defend the five-out attack flush with shooters using their base personnel and without shying from creating their own advantages with those looks. That’s not borne out of stubbornness but out of respect for the long-term plan.

“I could come out here with the lineup they’re playing and switch everything and it’d probably take them out of what they doing,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse explained before the game. “But overall of these guys getting better, once they get an opportunity to maybe going to another team, they’re gonna have to learns somebody’s scheme, and not everybody’s gonna be able to switch. Just to win a game tonight, it’s not about, yeah I want to win, I’m a competitor, I want to win. But at the same time, I understand the process, I understand what I want to try to get accomplished with these guys over this year, and I’mma stick to it.”

For a while it looked like the 905 needed some more time to figure it out. The Mad Ants were asserting their offense and getting threes too easily, but unlike Tuesday, the 905 had a lot more bounce-back in them, fighting off each run just enough to keep the game within reach. An early sequence stands out where the 905 had just blown a possession, with Bruno Caboclo missing a three and then Will Sheehey getting blocked on a jumper after an offensive rebound, and Fred VanVleet went full Kyle Lowry and just decided he’d had enough. He pressured Stone at the half-court line, Stone hit the deck and VanVleet came up with the ball, and then he launched a lob from just inside half to Sheehey for the bucket. It just didn’t seem as if the 905 would roll over in this one.

“It was big,” VanVleet said. “I think everybody had a bad taste in their mouth after that one. I think when they made their run Tuesday, we didn’t have anything to answer back with. And I think tonight we just did a better job of fighting, and scratching, and clawing, and refusing to lose. We were able to withstand it. Barely.”

Sheehey’s offense was a major factor all half as yet another new starting lineup struggled to get it going. Sheehey scored 11 of his game-high 23 in the first half, the only reliable threat in that group of starters into the break.

“Coach started me tonight. He started me the other game, too, I didn’t play too well.S o I tried to come back tonight and bring aggressiveness,” Sheehey said.

Another bellwether materialized when Caboclo had a terrific stretch of play in the third quarter. He struggled out of the gate, capped by a missed dunk in transition, but settled in some and then came out of the half a house afire. Bookended by a transition dunk he made and a big momentum three as the 905 pulled back even, Caboclo was incredibly active on the defensive end, defending post ups capably and using his length to disrupt passing lanes and baseline drives. It was an encouraging turnaround given his prior proclivity for shrinking in games where he gets off to poor starts, and it was a key factor in the 905 making their comeback run. He’d finish with 12 points, five rebounds, and the likely highlight of the night.

From there, it became the C.J. Leslie show, with the returning rights player using his energy to clean up the glass and draw a pair of and-ones on a night neither side was pleased with the tight whistle. Leslie would finish with 16 points, two assists, and seven rebounds, six of them offensive, doing the bulk of his damage in the second half. His play early in the fourth helped a bench-heavy unit keep things close, paving the way for the 905 to wrestle control away for the first time in the game.

With the somewhat empty Hershey Centre crowd surprisingly coming to life with organic chants at every break, the 905 built a bit of momentum midway through the fourth, with VanVleet, E.J. Singler, and Brady Heslip all hitting threes in short order around defensive stops to take a five-point lead. That let the 905 try to slow things down and get a bit more methodical, playing to VanVleet’s strengths and allowing him to control the game and take the Mad Ants out of their comfort zone.

“They made their run in the third and it kinda felt like the same game again, and I just wanted to put my stamp on it,” he said. “John Jordan came in and gave us a big boost off the bench, and others guys made great plays. When I got back in, I was just trying to close it. That’s what I have to do for this team when I come down and play.”

It wouldn’t be the D-League if there weren’t one last lesson in the closing moments, though. It was fitting on a night where the 905’s coach from last year, who spent the first half of the season talking about helping the team “learn how to win,” that the 905 had their first close game to close out. It wasn’t perfect – a Jarrod Uthoff pass to Caboclo was a little sloppy and picked off the other way, forcing a foul, for example, and VanVleet got trapped in the backcourt, leading to a late jump-ball in a one-possession game – but VanVleet’s composure and the 905’s ability to grind Fort Wayne down to the end of their shot clock for most of the second half won out. (Not that there weren’t some serious dramatics, with Fort Wayne nearly tipping in an offensive rebound after the 905 [correctly, in my mind] opted to foul up three in the dying seconds.)

As far as quick lessons and noted improvement go, making a 15-point comeback and closing out a tight game against the same team that shot you off the floor two days prior ranks pretty highly. That it also happened to be Fort Wayne’s first loss of the season makes it all the more impressive.

“Those guys competed their buts off, man. I’m proud of ’em,” Stackhouse said. “We kept grinding, kept grinding, and found a way.”

The 905 now face their next test, hitting the road for the first time all season, and with a back-to-back tomorrow in Canton no less.

Notes

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick Brandon Ingram was on hand to take this one in, as was his assistant coach and former 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys, who was the most popular man in the arena.
  • It’s pretty crazy how much the 905 have gotten out of Sheehey and Leslie, two of their best players through six games. Both players had their returning rights selected by the 905 in last summer’s expansion draft, a reminder that nobody is ever just a guy and every move matters. General manager Dan Tolzman mostly used his RRs to facilitate trades in Year One (Scott Suggs was the only player from the expansion draft to suit up last year), and haning on to Sheehey and Leslie through that building process is really paying off.
  • Edy Tavares drew the start as Stackhouse looked to settle the defense from the outset, but neither he nor Yanick Moreira were at their best. Leslie closed as the de facto center, with the 905 making their lone notable schematic adjustment as they showed a bit more on the red-hot Christian Watford in the second half after he torched the nets from long-range early.
  • Raptors 905 now hit the road for the first time, a three-game trip that makes the parent club’s assignment decisions a little tougher (the daily up-and-down is no longer possible). I’d imagine Caboclo travels with the 905, for certain, but I’d expect VanVleet to stay in Toronto with the parent club.
    • Here’s Stackhouse on the understandable but necessary difficulty with the guys going up and down: “It’s tough when we have ’em, our assignment guys, and then they go back and get recalled and we don’t get a chance to really the next day when we’re looking at film, Bruno and Fred aren’t here, and they’re two of our heavy minute guys. So we have to try to take film to them for them to see different things like that. We’ll make it work, we’ll manage it. It’s part of the growth.”
  • The 905 return home Dec. 9. You can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the two Air Canada Centre games).
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Finding the Right Four

The Internet told me the Raptors need an upgrade at starting power forward. The guy to fill that whole just doesn’t exist on the roster, and they can’t be a truly elite team without the right player there. This, after all, is what’s holding the team back from being revered in the company of teams like Cleveland and Golden State. So they said. Solving this issue required critical thinking, so you should start by making a list of things you’d want in an ideal starting power forward for the squad.

You definitely need to start with solid defense, because Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan can slack at times on that end of the floor, and you might need the other guys on the floor to assist in covering holes created. You also need someone to space the floor, someone who can hit an open 3-pointer, and also require defensive attention to open up space for DeRozan and Lowry’s drives into the paint, make sure the opposing team can’t converge on them too quickly and will be punished if they commit too hard. The ideal player for this role, however, won’t require or demand the ball, so the offense can still run through the guards and Jonas Valanciunas, who’s growth has demanded more offensive possessions be given to him on the inside. A good passer would be nice, and someone who brings chemistry to the team and is a good locker room presence. If possible, have the player in question also love the city of Toronto.

Query Results Table
Totals Advanced
Rk Player Ht Season Age Tm Lg G GS MP 3PAr TRB% USG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP 3P
1 Al Horford 6-10 2015-16 29 ATL NBA 82 82 2631 .244 12.4 20.6 113 101 4.9 4.5 9.4 .172 1.5 2.6 4.1 4.1 1.1
2 Paul George 6-9 2015-16 25 IND NBA 81 81 2819 .391 10.9 30.4 106 101 4.4 4.8 9.2 .157 3.5 1.0 4.5 4.6 2.6
3 Kevin Love 6-10 2015-16 27 CLE NBA 77 77 2424 .449 17.8 23.4 112 102 4.7 3.8 8.5 .169 1.7 0.9 2.5 2.8 2.1
4 Marvin Williams 6-9 2015-16 29 CHO NBA 81 81 2338 .506 12.2 16.8 118 104 4.7 3.2 7.8 .161 1.7 1.0 2.7 2.7 1.9
5 Luol Deng 6-9 2015-16 30 MIA NBA 74 73 2394 .344 10.5 17.4 112 105 3.5 2.8 6.4 .128 1.3 0.6 1.9 2.3 1.2
6 Marcus Morris 6-9 2015-16 26 DET NBA 80 80 2856 .315 7.7 18.4 107 108 2.9 2.5 5.4 .091 0.2 0.5 0.7 2.0 1.4
7 Kristaps Porzingis 7-3 2015-16 20 NYK NBA 72 72 2047 .274 14.0 24.6 103 103 1.5 2.9 4.3 .102 -0.8 0.9 0.1 1.1 1.1
8 Al-Farouq Aminu 6-9 2015-16 25 POR NBA 82 82 2341 .485 11.5 16.9 105 107 1.7 2.3 4.0 .082 -0.4 0.7 0.2 1.3 1.5
9 Patrick Patterson 6-9 2015-16 26 TOR NBA 79 0 2020 .594 9.7 12.9 108 107 1.6 2.0 3.6 .086 0.4 0.6 1.0 1.5 1.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/1/2016.

To start with, there were nine forwards above 6’9″ in height last season who hit at least one three pointer per game while having a DBPM over 0.5. Of those nine players, Luol Deng and Al-Farouq Aminu can be removed immediately because they aren’t good fits at power forward in most lineups. Now you’re left with Al Horford, Paul George, Kevin Love, Marvin Williams, Marcus Morris, Kristaps Porzingis and Patrick Patterson. Horford and Williams just signed new contracts with their current teams, who seem to be in win now mode, so they probably aren’t available via trade. Kevin Love was a key piece on the reigning NBA champions, and likely isn’t on the trading block. Kristaps Porzingis is one of the best young players in the entire league, and even if he was available, the price tag would likely put him out of reach for Toronto, and the same can likely be said about Paul George who is the centerpiece in Indiana. That leaves Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris. Morris might be available, and he’s a talented young player who can stretch the floor as well as play the four, but his mercurial personality might not be worth it, and Patterson is already on the roster and is the better glass cleaner. This isn’t to say Patterson is as skilled as some of the names on the list, merely that he also fits the criteria that the Raptors should be looking for in a starter at that position.

Going back to that list, one thing that should stand out is the fact that aside from Patterson, the remaining 8 players played one total game where they did not start last season. These are starting quality players, because this is a high demand skill set and one that fits in with most rosters. With Patterson, he doesn’t have the obvious impact of some of the other guys on the list, and he doesn’t often make flashy plays. His shooting can be inconsistent, but his value tends to go far beyond his personal statistics. For the first 18 games of this young NBA season, there have been 28 3-man lineups for the Raptors that have breached the 100-minute mark, and of those, 10 lineups have a net rating above +10. Nine of those ten lineups feature Patterson, and the tenth lineup is the group of Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, and Lucas Noguiera, a 3-man unit that has totalled 104 minutes, and Patterson has played 102 of those minutes.(and the net rating goes from +15.9 in their 104 minutes to +19.1 in the 102 minutes of the 4-man unit with Patterson)

The common thread seems clear.

via http://stats.nba.com

So if we establish that Patterson is incredibly valuable and important to the team, the next question would be whether he needs to start. After all, the organization has said time and again that Patterson is more comfortable coming off the bench, and as long as he’s playing the crunch time minutes, that should be what matters most, right? It’s not that simple. First of all, with Patterson averaging 29.5 minutes per game this season, it’s clear the team values his contributions and has set out to maximize his time on the court. However, this is where it gets complicated. With starting players, there are two types of minutes. You’re either playing or resting, and the goal is to use the resting minutes to maximize both the playing minutes and the contributions during those times on the court. By moving the player out of the starting lineup, you create a third set of minutes, which I’ll call ‘idle minutes’. For Patterson, this is the first 6 or so minutes of either half when he’s sitting on the bench but hasn’t exerted himself yet to need rest. These minutes serve neither purpose, in that he’s neither contributing to the team on the court, and he’s also not resting to maximize his on-floor contributions. Not only that, by sitting these 6 minutes of each half, he’s down to 36 possible minutes in the game in which to get his 30 minutes, meaning that he has to play 15 of the remaining 18 minutes in either half, on average. This means that he’s spending at least some minutes on the floor every night more tired than he needs to be, and that’s to the detriment of the team.(although this is hard to see in terms of impact statistics because his numbers are already so good)

Also, to put this in perhaps the simplest form, the starting lineup simply works better with Patterson. This isn’t intended as a knock on Pascal Siakam, who’s been a revelation this season and far exceeded what most would’ve expected from a player drafted 27th overall. However, Siakam makes some rookie mistakes and doesn’t space the floor as well as Patterson, does, leading to a crowded paint at times. This was true last year as well, when the group of DeRozan, Lowry, Carroll and Valanciunas played better with Patterson than they did with starter Luis Scola. It was an adjustment the team tried to make during the playoff run, but the bench units struggled to find rhythm without Patterson, as they hadn’t had a chance to adjust prior to the grueling postseason competition.

startervariations

via stats.nba.com

The next issue to address then is, if Patterson is starting, how do you still maintain those important and valuable Lowry and the bench lineups which have been critical to the team’s success both this year and last? First of all, if you bring the starting lineup up to being a net positive, which his addition should do, you won’t need as much from those bench groups, and secondly, you can send Patterson to the bench around the halfway mark of the first quarter, changing those first 12 minutes from rest minutes to playing minutes, then use the second half of the first quarter as rest minutes for him, and bring him back in to start the second and fourth quarters in the normal slot of the Lowry and the bench group, with Patterson rested. Now in order to get his usual 30 minutes a night, he also only needs to play 9 of the 12 minutes in the second quarter. Also, it’s important to do this during the regular season, if it will be done. Last year the team attempted to move Patterson to the starting lineup during the playoffs, and while the starters did improve and play well during the games he started, the bench struggled without his presence. By making this adjustment earlier in the year, you give those bench units time to adjust to his absence and find a way to succeed anyways. This is a deep Raptors team, and they have the talent in the reserves to succeed despite his absence.

“I see it as it’s mine to lose . . . But it’s all about what coach (Dwane) Casey wants, what (general manager) Masai (Ujiri) sees, and who works hard and who earns it.”

While the temptation will likely remain to suggest the team needs to go out and get an All-Star power forward whether or not Patterson is in the starting group, and any opportunity to add a significant upgrade should definitely be pursued, the solution seems to be on the team without giving up assets, and it just makes sense to pursue the internal solution before determining you need an external one. For what it’s worth, Patterson also loves the city, and it’d be a shame to let such a player go, one who contributes to the team and fits so well, without at least giving him the opportunity. Patterson himself has maintained that he is more comfortable coming off the bench, but at least in training camp prior to last season, he seemed to think the job was his to lose.

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Letdown Avoided: Raptors Grit ‘N Grind Past Grizzlies

Grizzlies 105, Raptors 120 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

With the amount of time and effort we all put into following this team, it’s safe to say the regular season grind doesn’t just take its toll on players and coaches. If you’re like me, you usually go through a mini back-and-forth therapy session before any opening tip, and Wednesday night was no different:

1. A plea to the Basketball Gods (doesn’t hurt to try):

Any chance you’ll start maximizing our entertainment dollar rather than carrying on with your usual cruel sense of humor? I mean, how much more intrigue could have been taken away from this matchup in such a short amount of time? It even had the potential for hardcore TFC fans to periodically check in during the franchise’s biggest game in history!

I can’t pretend that I wasn’t keeping tabs (the other way around), either, but in case you’re just a casual Raps enthusiast, here’s a short list of what was stolen from us:

A) If this really was Vince Carter’s last chance to suit up in Toronto, what were the odds that it would get kiboshed by a hip injury in the game prior to it taking place?

Let’s just hope that when word of the club’s 100th straight sellout was announced, a reminder of just how much Vince meant to such an achievement transpiring in the first place started to circulate along with it — even though something tells me a proper finale is still to come.

B) When you consider the fact that Mike Conley also went down Monday night (for 6-8 weeks), and then added that casualty to a lineup that was already going to be without Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons and Brandon Wright, one quickly realizes that Memphis fans have much more to complain about.

BUT, when two of the biggest offseason contracts went to two players (Conley and DeRozan) who were annually considered to be “on the outside looking in” when it came to belonging to the league’s elite, who then proceeded to take their respective games to another level after they got paid, the potential for fireworks was promising to say the least. And similar to what Kiyan Sobhani stated in the Quick React — “the Lowry transition-three remains one of my favourite things in basketball” — there’s not much that tops watching a player continue to silence his critics.

C) It’s no secret that when it comes to guarding dual-threat bigs, the Raps’ defense remains a work in progress. And while Marc Gasol represents that category without a doubt, any time the opportunity to also go up against Randolph (especially in the 2nd unit) is missed, the amount of lessons learned going forward are certainly diminished. Every lesson counts while there’s still time reap their rewards. 

2. I wonder, though: Perhaps I’m going about this all wrong:

Perhaps I should lay off the Basketball Gods. Maybe I should even relish the fact that Toronto gets to face such an injury-plagued squad after escaping the mismatch of Joel Embiid.

I still firmly believe that the Raps’ recent tour through the gauntlet of the NBA’s upper class was a beneficial wake-up call, but with Atlanta and Cleveland waiting in the wings, perhaps they learned their lesson and this soft schedule in between is exactly what they need.

Besides, even without the marquee storylines, this matchup had underrated potential to aid the big picture:

  • The chance to make needed progress in the department of overcoming a possible letdown.
  • The notion of the game being well in hand by the time the 4th quarter rolled around which would give Lowry and DeRozan the added rest every single Raptors fan wished could happen more frequently.
  • Another possibility that the 905ers would gain valuable experience.
  • An opportunity for the supporting cast (namely Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson) to continue trending upward.
  • DeMar vs. Tony Allen

Alright, I needed that, but that’s enough therapy for one day. So, how did all of the above actually pan out? 

Well, if I’m not mistaken, Dwane Casey did his best Doc Rivers impersonation in the middle of the first quarter — only his anger was directed at Bebe and not the Refs. Bebe’s inexperience was exploited early and often: Highlighted by Gasol baiting him into foul trouble, coaxing him to leave his feet outside the paint, and taking advantage of the outrageous cushion Nogueira repeatedly gave him on the perimeter.

Now, considering I flipped over to catch what BMO Field was up to, I can’t be certain. But with already 8 turnovers in the bag, a J.R. Smith impression may have also taken place. With the amount of uncontested shots going up, somebody must have gotten caught saying what’s up to Vince Carter near the Grizzlies’ bench.

The early going wasn’t all ugly, though, as Pascal Siakam was his usual active and disruptive self even in limited minutes. But what really stood out was his growing catch radius and ever-improving passing skills. It’s only a matter of time before those flashes pop up more consistently.

The overall erratic transition defense and the seemingly unwillingness to check shooters tightly started to shape up as the second half unfolded. Though, when a team’s half-court set kicks it into overdrive, less defensive prowess is needed. It also somewhat explains how a team can shoot 55% from the field (which included a season-high 16 from downtown) while putting up those aforementioned 20 turnovers at the same time.

Anybody else need to be singled out?

1. With double-digit boards (13) for the first time this season, Patrick Patterson arguably played his best game of the year.

Throw in going 4 for 6 from behind the arc (he’s now 16 for 32 over his last 6 games) and he earned every bit of of his added minutes he as spent time at the Five down the stretch with the team’s closing unit. PP kept numerous possessions alive.

2. His defense will aways keep his value afloat, but the re-emergence of Cory Joseph on the offense end continued. He ended his 2-game drought of zero trips to the line with a season high 8 free-throw attempts. Not to mention pulling down a season-high 8 rebounds.

He takes after Lowry in two specific areas: 1) Welcoming contact. 2) Individual assertion. And his knack for getting to the rim when the team absolutely needs him to make good on an individual effort was once again on display.

3. After a few episodes of leaving his feet to force a pass only to create a turnover, DeRozan was eventually able to defuse Tony Allen’s havoc.

And as far as Raptors fans are concerned, Russel Westbrook shouldn’t be viewed as the only one who registered a Triple Double last night — 29 points, a +16 and 11 free-throw attempts were just as impactful as a “normal” one. Though, with 9 boards and 6 dimes, he did come close. DeRozan’s overall numbers may have dipped lately but the status quo remains when it comes to his 4th quarter clutch.

4. Other than 17 points and going 6-11 from the field, Carroll came up short in almost every other counting stat. An unusual outcome considering he was one of the few Raptors who played mistake-free basketball for the majority of the game. As he continues to re-discover his shooting touch and gets timely rest, he’s just about over the injury hump. Back-to-backs might be in his near future.

5. Needless to say, but I’ll do it anyway, with four more treys last night, K-Low is on a 2.0 threes per game mission over his last nine (I rounded up). And he continuously bailed out a squad that was teetering back and forth all game.

But the moment at hand presented bigger things to think about. I don’t think anyone would be shocked if Memphis takes a bit of a nosedive with Conley on the shelf — as Memphis’ well documented Net Rating of 6.5 with Conley on the court and -13.8 with Conley off, screams out loud.

The situation begs a few key questions:

(Knock on wood) What would become of the Raptors if Kyle Lowry suffered a similar injury fate? Or, even deeper: What would become of the Raptors if the future elephant in the room of him potentially leaving town becomes bigger and bigger as the offseason goes along?

6. As for Memphis fans: Perhaps a long-term silver lining can be the opportunity opened up for Troy Daniels. The 25-year-old, on his third team in four years, was cool, calm and collected last night — hitting contested shot after contested shot. You know, the ones the Raps actually did contest. There might be something there.

In Closing:

Despite the turbulence, there’s plenty to be said about being able to eventually put away inferior teams. We can also take solace that the NBA doesn’t employ an aggregate scoring system.

TFC. Clap Clap Clap! … TFC. Clap Clap Clap! … TFC. Clap Clap Clap!

P.S: Despite every national writer shooting down the rumors, the writing may be on the wall unless he’s willing to take less years. But for now, Edwin Encarnacion is still in play… Fingers. Crossed.

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Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Who needs defense when you score 120?

Host William Lou breaks down a sloppy win against the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 105, Raptors 120

P. Siakam: B+

Not a huge night in the box score, but looked good, particularly early on when he was active in the post – dishing dimes and pulling up for floaters. Love how comfortable he looks down-low with each passing game. To me, there’s no question his ceiling is higher than Biyombo’s – and that’s coming from Bismack’s #1 fan.

D. Carroll: A

What a sharp contrast to how he looked at the beginning of the season. He went from being the elephant in the room to actually becoming the legitimate two-way player we saw in Atlanta. Rest him on every back-to-back from now until the end of time.

J. Valanciunas: B-

Struggled dealing with Gasol in the post despite playing sound defense (Gasol is good enough to hit tough contested shots inside and taking fadeaways with a 7-footer in his face), and was finding it difficult to tread water defensively when Gasol sucked him out on the perimeter and the Grizzlies were able to get him switched off.

K. Lowry: A+

Really, really efficient night from the field. Carried the team on his back throughout the game, particularly in the first quarter where the team looked lackadaisical.

In addition to his dribble-penetration which enables him to pull up for high percentage looks, the Lowry transition-three remains one of my favourite things in basketball.

D. DeRozan: A

Tony Allen – as is status quo – kept him in check for large stretches throughout the game. But this is not the same DeMar we’ve seen over the years. He’s more efficient now, can score at will, and it’s apparent now that he can hit the three if he really wants to – just opts not to.

Turnovers are ugly, but hey, we’ll live with that given how great he’s become at getting others involved. Assist totals have been up for a while now, especially since that game in Houston. Thanks, James Harden, for being a good influence on our boy.

P. Patterson: A

Looks way more confident with his shot lately, and was a team high +17.

T. Ross: C

Didn’t move the needle much, but was part of the Lowry+bench unit that made a run in the 2nd quarter. Other than that, neither here nor there.

L. Nogueira: C-

Like Jonas, struggled guarding Gasol despite playing good D – that is until Gasol took him outside. In the first half, Bebe lost the Spaniard behind the arc defensively and Casey threw a fit.

Nice job rolling to the rim on a couple occassions.

C. Joseph: A-

His efficiency from three was a big boost which enabled the Raptors to pull away. His play in the 2nd half in particular was fantastic.

N. Powell: Incomplete

I hope he at least had a good TSN stream of the TFC game.

Dwane Casey: A-

Not much to note here. He seemed to realize that JV and Bebe were both liabilities when Marc Gasol was on the floor, and went small to close the game, which I thought was the correct decision. Patterson and Carroll in the frount-court brought more to the table on both ends of the floor and were comfortable switching from 2-5.

Things We Saw

  1. The depleted Grizzlies looked very Embiid-less-76ersish throughout stretches of the game, and the Raptors’ lackadaisical start hindered them from pulling away early. Only player who showed up was Kyle Lowry, and it wasn’t until the Lowry + bench unit manifested itself where the Raptors start turning the tables. Didn’t help: Grizz shooting near 50% in the first half and the Raptors committing 8 turnovers.
  2. It was a miracle I put this together, given that I had a set of eyes on the TFC game. The only thing I’ll note is this: switching from the TFC game to the Raptors game was like leaving a rave to attend a morgue.
  3. This is not the last we’ll see of Vince Carter. Emotions will be kept in a glass cage for another year.

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Pre-game news & notes: Carter-less Grizzlies down to 9 bodies

It’s crazy how quickly things can turn.

Not only has the Toronto Raptors’ matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday quickly turned from one of the most must-see home games of the year to something that will likely be a complete afterthought in retrospect, the Grizzlies themselves are looking down the barrel of a potentially fundamental shift. Mike Conley’s injury threatens to derail a playoff push in a very tight Western Conference, and it’s been compounded by the absence of five other plays. The Grizzlies have a minor cushion at 11-7, but things can change a great deal over the course of six weeks, too, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the rest of the season when Conley returns, if they’ve slid – there’s enough talent here when healthy, unquestionably, but it’s not always as simple as that.

But that’s a Memphis problem for two months down the line. From the Raptors’ perspective, the problem will be not letting up against the Grizzlies squad with just nine healthy bodies. And yes, there’s a potential emotional let-down now that Vince Carter isn’t playing. The Raptors showed Monday they won’t take a weakened opponent lightly, so look for them to try to put what’s still a gritty Grizzlies roster away early.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Best we know, it’s all able hands on deck for the Raptors, save for the two long-term injuries. DeMarre Carroll should be good to go with no back-to-back situation (I’d expect him to sit Friday but that’s not a certainty), and Jonas Valanciunas practiced Tuesday and could have returned to Monday’s game after rolling his ankle. I know some have expected him to sit as a precaution, but there’s been no word from the team yet.

It stands to be what we’ve become familiar with, then, as head coach Dwane Casey has grown comfortable with his nine-man rotation. A bigger opponent might mean some time for Jakob Poeltl if another big gets in foul trouble, and a potential blowout would mean expanded run for Norman Powell. Prior to the game, Casey continued to iterate that Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira are close on the depth chart, and suggested Poeltl could be a body they throw at Gasol depending on what the game-flow dictates.

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

Grizzlies updates
As noted off the top, Conley is set to miss substantial time, and as friend of the site Jared Dubin expertly explained this week, that’s a massive hit. That Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, and Brandan Wright are all out, too, is just extra salt on a very fresh – and seasons’ long, it feels – wound for Memphis.

The obvious pressing question for the Grizzlies is what happens at the point. They won’t be eligible for a hardship exception until later this week, meaning the controls are in the hands of Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin IV. The better Harrison is a nice prospect who had an impressive season in the D-League last year but is off to a shaky start at the NBA level, while Baldwin is an intriguing long-term piece who wouldn’t be playing a ton out of the gate in an ideal world. They’ll both be given chances, and I’d imagine

Elsewhere, Marc Gasol is an obvious matchup problem and a nice test for the Raptors’ young bigs, while Tony Allen will attempt to take up residence in DeRozan’s jersey in order to make life difficult for the man attacking Carter’s franchise scoring average record.

PG: Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin
SG: Tony Allen, Troy Daniels
SF: Troy Williams
PF: JaMychal Green, Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin
C: Marc Gasol
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Mike Conley, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, Brandan Wright

Assorted

  • There’s probably going to be a ton written about Vince Carter’s last visit to Toronto, and understandably so, if it is indeed that.
  • Tonight also marks the team’s 100th consecutive sellout, the first time the franchise has reached that mark. Pat yourselves on the back, Raptors fans.
  • Best of luck to Toronto FC. Hopefully that’ll be up on a screen somewhere at the ACC, otherwise your boy will have a screen up from press row.
  • I’d expect VanVleet, Poeltl, and Caboclo to draw the assignment to the 905 for Thursday’s game after this one. If he doesn’t play tonight, maybe Poeltl joins them.
  • Here’s a good look at the Raptors flipping screens to enable DeRozan’s scoring load.
  • Basically, yup.

The line
The Raptors are mammoth 13-point favorites, up from Raptors -10 on account of all of the injuries. The over-under suggests a slower paced game, as both side probably prefer, with a mark of 195.5 holding steady all day. These games are always difficult to make heads or tails of, but I’ll trust the Raptors to get it done around big games from Gasol and Green.

Raptors 104, Grizzlies 90

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Lowry-and-bench unit thriving once again

The pattern has become beyond familiar for Toronto Raptors fans. The starting lineup plays to a draw, or worse, a DeMar DeRozan-led bench unit settles things down late in the quarter as Kyle Lowry rests, and then Lowry returns for DeRozan to start the second quarter and the team takes off. Then it’s repeated in the second half. Struggling to start halves isn’t the way a team would like to come out of the gate, but the Raptors’ mixed reserve units have been so good for over a year now that head coach Dwane Casey has eschewed an optimal starting lineup, in part because he’s aware there are gains to be made elsewhere as a result. The Raptors may not have the league’s most effective starting lineup, but they have one of the deepest second units in the league. As Casey staggered minutes for Lowry and DeRozan more aggressively, units with only one of them thrived, feasting on opposing groups who didn’t boast a DeRozan or Lowry.

A season ago, the “Lowry and bench” unit featuring Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and Bismack Biyombo was heralded for their two-way play, and its success was striking – that group outscored opponents by 16.4 points per-100 possessions (PPC) over 297 minutes. That’s a relatively substantial sample (it was the team’s second-most used lineup, though small-sample caveats will apply to any lineup data), and the fact that a few of those minutes came when Biyombo was the starter doesn’t really change the story here.

They were very good both ways, with Patterson, Biyombo, and Joseph ranking among the team’s best individual defenders and the somewhat inconsistent Ross providing necessary shooting and spacing. Lowry benefited from being able to spot up a little bit alongside Joseph and pick his spots more carefully on defense, and though his workload remained heavy, these minutes against opposing benches were a little easier on him (Lowry and Joseph together were dominant in pretty much any lineup iteration).

“I’m more of an aggressive scorer and looking for shots more, and more of a guy who’s spacing and being a decoy and letting those guys get theirs,” Lowry explained Tuesday. “I’ll call plays for other guys when I’m out there. For me it’s kind of a chance to rest but still be aggressive.”

As terrific as that group was, it wasn’t clear they’d be able to perform as well in 2016-17. Not only did Biyombo leave for the Orlando Magic, opening up a massive hole in the backup center position, but it looked as if Patterson may be leaned on to start. Patterson wound up coming off the bench in favor of rookie Pascal Siakam starting, and after some shuffling – Jared Sullinger got injured, Lucas Nogueira sprained his ankle, and then Jonas Valanciunas missed two games allowing Nogueira to get back in the mix with Jakob Poeltl – Nogueira emerged as the man in Biyombo’s slot.

Because the season is so young and the Raptors have juggled players in and out of roles, we’re dealing with extremely small samples with any lineup data, but on paper the Lowry-and-bench group with Nogueira should have been effective. Nogueira’s not a Biyombo-level defender or rim protector, but his length is an issue for opposing shooters, he has some defensive range, and he’s a comparable screen-setter and an even bigger lob threat. Lineup data is best used not to make sweeping determinations, but to back up logic or qualitative observation, and in that sense, it’s not surprising that the group is thriving once again.

That unit has played 75 minutes over 10 games, once again the second-most used Raptors lineup, and they’ve rolled opponents by 27.6 PPC. Unlike the previous edition, they’re getting it done by pushing the offense even higher and improving the defense marginally, whereas the 2015-16 group was dominating almost exclusively on the defensive end. How to make up for the loss of Biyombo was a popular discussion point early in the year, and the solution proposed was often to make up for the loss with small gains elsewhere – that’s what this unit is doing offensively, with a little more room to breathe thanks to Nogueira’s additional range and ability to make plays on the short-roll. He’s not Biyombo, but points are points, saved or scored, and that unit has picked up where it left off. (Yes, it’s frustrating for the team to be down at 20th in schedule-adjusted defensive rating – everyone wants balance – but they’re third in adjusted net rating, so it’s hard to complain too much with the results to date.)

In Nogueira’s mind, earning the trust of his teammates has been a big factor in the early chemistry that group has developed. Even if it’s come from something as simple as catching on the dive.

“I think it’s about trust,” Nogueira says. “Because, it’s hard, if you play pick and roll, when you roll and the point guard pass you the ball, if you don’t catch, it’s a turnover for him. Any point guard doesn’t wanna have a lot of turnovers in a game. So because I catch those alley-oops, those pocket pass, builds the trust in me and Kyle. No point guard’s gonna pass to you if you don’t catch the ball. So I think this is the reason we started building this connection.

“I’m so happy we work well, and I hope it works for many years.”

It seems simple enough. The onus will remain on Nogueira to fight off Poeltl for his role, because for as much good as Nogueira’s shown, he’s had occasional off nights or distracted stretches of play. The Lowry-and-bench group with Poeltl in Nogueira’s place was woefully ineffective in 38 minutes together, but Poeltl as an individual has shown some intriguing signs, and the position could be fluid if the inconsistencies that have plagued Nogueira in his first two seasons creep back in.

Playing minutes with Lowry, long a believer in and supporter of Nogueira, helps beyond just tactical chemistry. Against Milwaukee on Friday, Nogueira was struggling through a rough day in general and another night with a loose whistle from officials, only to shake off the cobwebs and produce a pair of highlight-reel blocks in a row.

Lowry’s reaction was priceless, and while it may have looked like Lowry in his grill on first blush, it was exactly the kind of push Nogueira occasionally needs.

“He came to motivate me,” Nogueira said. “Because I was kinda down that game…I was very frustrated. So when I blocked those two in a row, he came and grabbed me and said ‘You’re doing well.’ Because he saw how down my head was. So he came to yell at me, ‘You’re doing great.’ This is the reason, people ask me, ‘Who is the leader?’ I say ‘Kyle.’ Because he’s a great leader, and when he saw me down, he came and grabbed me and said ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’”

That’s not to say the success of Nogueira in that Lowry-led second unit is a given as permanent. But it’s encouraging, at least, and a way the Raptors can help make up for a starting lineup that’s only playing opponents to a slight positive margin so far (and that’s trending upward, too, which is nice). Despite the loss of the team’s best defender off the bench, depth still appears to be a strength for the Raptors.

(The DeRozan-led bench unit, meanwhile, outscored opponents by 13.7 PPC over 218 minutes last year. While they were nearly as dominant, those looks didn’t get quite the reputation that the Lowry-led unit did, in part because it was essentially unplayable in the postseason. They’ve also started this year out poorly – 12.7 PPC in 40 minutes – but there’s reason to believe it can eventually succeed, as well.)

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Vince Carter out Wednesday vs. Raptors, Raptors talk Carter influence

Well, this sucks.

Vince Carter will not suit up for the Memphis Grizzlies tonight as they visit the Toronto Raptors, as Carter’s dealing with a hip strain.

With Carter approaching his 40th birthday and on the final year of his contract, most assumed this would be his final visit to Toronto. Carter’s still here, but he won’t suit up, so he won’t get the chance to rattle the Air Canada Centre rims one last time. (Or maybe he will – it’s not as if the league’s oldest player has confirmed he’s retiring yet.)

We’ll have to let this memory carry us for today.

Normally we’d just save a post like this for the pre-game news and notes, but it’s Carter. I might not be a basketball fan if it weren’t for him, and I’d imagine it’s the same for a lot of other people. That’s not entirely the case for DeMar DeRozan, but Carter was right there with Kobe Bryant at the top of his favorites and his must-see list.

I wrote a little about his 2016-17 resurgence for Vice the other week, and Carter is still averaging 9.3 points despite a drop-off in 3-point shooting. In 33 career games against the Raptors, Carter has averaged 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.

This is also notable because it knock the Grizzlies down to just nine healthy players, most of them bigs. Things could get weird.

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The Hot Hand in Basketball: An Analysis of the Thinking

Ed’s Note: I’m taking the year off from RR to do my MBA at Rotman. Is it worth it? Ask me in a year – I’ll be writing a brutally honest post about it which will become a must-read for anyone ever taking the program. For now, though, here’s a paper I submitted for a course called Business Problem Solving: A Model-Based Approach, which focused on thinking biases when analyzing day-to-day and business issues. Of course, I picked basketball. Special thanks to Blake Murphy for the editing.

Introduction

The NBA defines clutch scoring as points scored with under five minutes left in a game with the score difference being five points or less.  The degree to which teams maximize  points-per-possession during this critical stretch is usually the difference between winning and losing, with coaches having to make key decisions during this time.  One such decision is whether to let a player who has the “hot hand” continue shooting the ball, in hopes his recent hot streak will continue, or to look for alternate sources for offense, perhaps towards players who the defense is paying less attention to.  

This paper will not attempt to prove or disprove the hot hand theory.  It will assume it to be a valid basketball strategy, and explore the thinking behind utilizing the hot hand versus other available options.  It will understand the claims of the theory, examine its beliefs and implications, and comment on the quality of the thinking that supports it.  An alternate model will be presented, one which encourages action opposite to the one prescribed by the hot hand, and it will undergo similar analysis.  Based on the analysis, steps which will improve the way we think about clutch scoring will be described, which will hopefully yield better offensive decision-making processes.

Model Identification

The hot hand in basketball is a widely subscribed to theory which encourages players who are having strong shooting games to continue shooting.  Coaches adopting this strategy expect to increase the points-per-possession yield by ensuring that the in-form player is shooting the ball as much as possible, with the belief that feeding the hot hand will be productive.  For example, NBA players having hot shooting games are often encouraged to shoot more with the belief that their high in-game shooting percentage results in a greater chance of them hitting their next shot, regardless of how much lower their season or career shooting percentage is.

An opposing view to this model is the belief that feeding the hot hand will be counterproductive.  This view sees the in-form player attracting greater defensive attention, resulting in them attempting lower percentage shots, while taking away better shooting opportunities from teammates who have lesser defensive attention.  For example, a player who has made 8 of the 10 shots he’s attempted is likely to attract greater defensive attention resulting in tighter spaces, narrower passing lanes, and better shot contests, making the attempted shot of lower quality.  In addition, as defense is a zero-sum affair, there is an opportunity cost: the increased defensive attention towards the player would have left someone else with poorer defensive coverage more open, and thus given them a better shot which was never realized.  In this model, providing the in-form player with more shot attempts will result in a lower points-per-possession yield.  

The Productive Hot Hand

This section will disaggregate the hot hand theory by identifying the type of thinking that proponents of this model will likely hold, including players, coaches, and analysts.  It will attempt to identify the sources that inform the model and led to its creation, while reflecting on why the model has persisted over the years despite statistical evidence to the contrary.  An assessment of the thinking behind the hot hand theory will also be discussed.

Disaggregation

Proponents of the hot hand theory are likely to believe that:

  • Confidence in one’s shooting ability is a large determinant of whether the shot is successful
  • Making successive shots gives the player a right to take the next shot
  • Distinct periods of successes (hot streaks) and failures (cold streaks) are expected\

Confidence in one’s shooting ability is a large determinant whether the shot is successful

An important element of the hot hand theory is the belief that when a player “feels good” about himself, he is likely to succeed.  Confidence is seen as the intangible element that fuels on-court success, especially shooting.  At times confidence and self-belief are seen as a greater component of success than physical attributes.  Dante Exum, a point guard for the Utah Jazz, gave prominence to the role of confidence when recovering from a knee injury, hinting that despite his knee being deemed physically healed, the priority was him believing that his knee was ready:

“[Gaining confidence] was the biggest thing that we were trying to work on throughout this whole rehab.  Definitely in the later stages, when it got to that point where I was starting to play again, it was just about getting the confidence back in the knee and the ability to play again.” (Taylor, 2016)

In the case of the hot hand theory, this confidence arises from a player seeing his shot go in.

Making successive shots gives the player a right to take the next shot

At the crux of the hot hand theory is the belief that success breeds success.  If a player has made a few shots in a row, he deserves to take the next shot as he has the highest probability of making it.  Possessions are seen as the currency of basketball, and shot attempts are an indication of how important a player is to the team as the cost of a shot attempt is generally a possession.  For example, most NBA teams’ leading player also averages the highest number of shot attempts.  However, when a lesser player is having a successful stretch, coaches and analysts will often call to “ride out” the hot hand as the in-form player has demonstrated a right to take the next shot, regardless of what the pecking order in the team is.

Distinct periods of successes (hot streaks) and failures (cold streaks) are expected

Proponents of the hot hand expect a player to go through prolonged stretches of success and failure.  If a hot hand exists, then so does a cold one which sees a player go through poor shooting stretches.  From a coach’s perspective, these periods are often seen as the norm. Toronto Raptors head coach, Dwane Casey, when commenting on Patrick Patterson’s struggles, hinted at the remedy being to simply ‘get out’ the cold stretch:

“Shooters never forget how to shoot, it’s like riding a bike, so he’s got to keep shooting it….that’s the stretch he’s going through, get it out now and be ready to come out next week when it’s for real and be ready to hit those shots.” (Wolstat, 2015)

The idea that a player will generally not shoot his career field goal percentage throughout the season, but will go through a balancing cycle of hot and cold streaks is a belief that many coaches and analysts hold true.

Analysis

Confidence in one’s shooting ability is a large determinant of whether the shot is successful

This type of thinking deemphasizes a player’s physical attributes including strength, stamina, and shooting motion, which are generally the same when he’s going through a cold or hot spell.  Instead, it focuses on how much self-belief and confidence the player possesses at the time when the shot is released as a determinant of success.  This thinking is not just limited to basketball players, but other sports as well.  Extending this beyond the sporting landscape, intangible attributes like confidence and self-belief are seen as a driver of success in physical feats.

This thinking can be critiqued as overestimating the amount of information one needs to predict success (or failure).  There is an inherent recency bias of making future decisions based on a smaller, more vivid, set of information.  The deemphasis of base rates in favor of recent trends is the general principle behind this thinking.  Even though confidence is arguably a positive trait, this can be problematic as it can lead to overplacement of one’s abilities to the point where a person may think that their abilities are superior to their peers.  However, when looked at objectively, they may not be.

Making successive shots gives the player a right to take the next shot

The essence of this belief is that making shots is part of a feedback loop that can increase the chance of future success, and thus, the player experiencing success should have a chance to replicate it.  The thinking can be extended beyond the basketball court and into everyday life: Success is important, and the actions that caused success need to be replicated to achieve more success, regardless of existing plans.  It may be irrelevant what the fourth-quarter strategy was for a team at the start of the quarter – if a player unexpectedly “heats up,” efforts will be made to maximize the output.  If a person deals with two stockbrokers and one of them picks three winning stocks in a row, his recommendation will be given greater weight, regardless of whether the other has a better overall record of picking stocks. There is a tendency to not think deeply about what enabled the actions to have caused success, but instead to rely on heuristics and easy explanations of what can be complex systems.

This is a form of reinforcing feedback as described in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, where successful outcomes are supplying reinforcing feedback which are seen to accelerate a positive trend.  The question is not whether the thinking is right or wrong, but whether it is applicable in the context.  Related to this thinking is the “snowball effect” where a person performs an action which yields a positive result.  The ensuing success is attributed primarily to the person, which in turn gives them further authority to perform more actions.  The cycle continues until the person is seen as infallible until they, arguably inevitably, are met with failure or regression.  The incorrect attribution of success can be a fatal flaw in this thinking.

Distinct periods of successes (hot streaks) and failures (cold streaks) are expected

The insensitivity to base rates is the undercurrent that drives the thinking behind the hot hand.  Instead of viewing a player’s shot-making ability as a continuum that adheres to base rates, analysts often tend to view them in hot and cold streaks.  This thinking can be prone to a clustering illusion where successful clusters of events dominate the thinking instead of the larger sample size, which may be more evenly distributed. Similarly, it can be that recent negative events can overshadow an otherwise impressive record.

Gilovich, 1985, shows that there is no evidence of a positive correlation between outcome of successive shots, and that the hot hand is a fallacy. However, the desire to ascribe and explain success or failure is a very strong human tendency (in this case, why a player is making shots).  The ability to assign a cause to an effect can be seen as valuable, and this can promote lazy thinking relying on easily accessible models, regardless of their truth content.  It is very easy to explain a string of unfortunate events as “having a bad week” or alternately, a string of positive ones as, “must be his day.”

The Counterproductive Hot Hand

This section will disaggregate the theory that belief in the hot hand is counterproductive.  It will identify the type of thinking that proponents of this belief likely hold.  It will attempt to identify the sources that inform the model and led to its creation, while reflecting on why there is strong support for this model, including from the author.  An assessment of the thinking behind the theory will also be discussed.

Disaggregation

Proponents of the counterproductive hot hand (CHH) are likely to also believe that:

  • Self-belief can lead to overconfidence, and underestimation of shot difficulty
  • The better a player is shooting, the more defensive attention he receives, thus reducing efficacy
  • The more a player is involved in the game, the more the defense learns about them, and is thus able to devise better strategies

Self-belief can lead to overconfidence, and underestimation of shot difficulty

It is reasonable to suggest that when a player is having a strong shooting game, their confidence about their shooting ability increases.  The feeling that this is “my night” increases, and this leads them to believe that they can make more difficult shots than what they are generally capable of.  Consider a player who shoots well from the 18-23 foot range, but shoots poorly from more than 23 feet.  During the middle of a strong shooting game, their thinking starts to evolve and they feel that they have a high chance of making any shot due to this being an exceptional evening.  In this scenario, they would start taking shots from the 23+ feet range (which are more easily on offer by the defense), thus reducing their statistical chances of success.  They underestimate the difficulty of making a shot which they have a track record of being poor at.  

The better a player is shooting, the greater the defensive attention received, thus reducing efficacy

One of the changes seen in clutch time play is the increased attention paid to players who are having strong performances.  Coaches plan on mitigating threats from proven performers by sending double-teams in the form of weak-side help, trapping, etc.  In situations like this, if the strong-performing player insists on shooting, the quality of the shot they will attempt can be argued to be poor, as they have received the most defensive attention.  Proponents of CHH would reason that the greater the defensive attention received, the worse the likelihood of scoring,

The more a player is involved in the game, the more the defense learns about them, and is thus able to devise better strategies

NBA defenses tighten in the fourth quarter, with a higher degree of game planning including offense/defense substitutions, situational play-calling, higher use of timeouts, etc.  These tactical changes are based on game flow, player performances, injuries, and a host of other factors.  The reasoning that the involvement of a player in a game is proportional to the quality of strategies devised against them, is a logical one as coaches with an opportunity to evaluate players for a longer duration will be able to gather more information, and use that information to devise more effective strategies.  The NBA’s introduction of SportVU technologies focused on positioning, movement, and tendencies, giving the coaching staff real-time insights which can be applied immediately.  If a player has a high number of touches and is involved in the game, there will be more information available to use against them.

Analysis

Self-belief can lead to overconfidence, and underestimation of shot difficulty

This thinking can be generalized as self-belief potentially leading to overconfidence, which can lead to an underestimation of how difficult a task is.  Related to the recency bias described when discussing confidence earlier, in this thought process, a person’s increasing belief in their own abilities leads them to think that they possess all the necessary information to make informed choices, even if those choices are regarding situations they have not encountered.  In the basketball sense, a player who has hit three spot-up mid-range jumpers in a row, may feel strongly about his chances of hitting a pull-up three in transition.  This would happen despite the latter being a completely different type of shot, and one that his recent experience would not help him in.  Having unwarranted confidence can also result in a confirmation bias where one disregards poor results and focuses primarily on positive ones, thus incorrectly reinforcing self-belief.

There is an element of luck and ability at play in most situations.  When luck or variance are confused with ability, it can lead to individuals giving their knowledge and abilities more credit than what is due.  NBA analysts who subscribe to this viewpoint often encourage players to play within their assigned role on the team, and “not try to do too much.”  This thinking is founded in the belief that a person’s specialized role exists for a very strong reason, and deviations from it can be risky and lead to loss.  Alternatively, it could be argued that this risk-averse thinking has an opportunity cost, i.e., the true potential or value of the person is never realized as they are limited to the bounds of their role.

The better a player is shooting, the greater the defensive attention received, thus reducing efficacy

This is a popular thought process in the NBA: A player who has been hurting your team all night requires additional attention in clutch time so that the damage can be minimized.  NBA stars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden are frequently double-teamed with the goal of minimizing the points a team concedes.  Proponents of CHH will argue that in these situations, it is desirable for the defending team to force these stars to take contested shot attempts, instead of passing to players who are less covered by the defense.  

In stark contrast to this belief is one that suggests that talent is the ultimate differentiator, and that there is little a team can do to stop the effectiveness of these players.  Proponents of this thinking view sending greater defensive resources as a form of irrational escalation of commitment, as more resources are being allocated to a failing course of action.

In a broader sense, this thinking can be framed as: The better someone is performing, the more the opposition is focused on limiting them.  The question that needs to be asked is whether it is worth limiting them.  Individual production on a team, whether it be in basketball, software development, or manufacturing, may not be indicative of the broader success of the initiative.  Without considering the bigger picture and understanding the root cause of the issue at hand, it may be wasteful to allocate valuable resources to the “problem.”

The more a player is involved in the game, the more the defense learns about them, and is thus able to devise better strategies

It can be reasoned that in order to develop effective countermeasures to a problem, a strong understanding of the problem needs to be gained.  Underpinning this thinking is the belief that as available information grows, strategies developed using that information are more effective.  This is a logical thought process and there are plenty of examples where this heuristic holds true.  For example, transportation planning relies on commuter and transit data to plan out schedules, and the more data available, the more effective the schedule.  The assumption that this thinking process makes is that there is, 1) a scalable way to transform data into relevant information, and that, 2) the increasing information gained will improve and not deteriorate our strategies.  

There may be situations where gathering as much information as possible is beneficial, but there also may be situations where it is better to act early with incomplete information, learn from the experience, and apply those learnings in the next iteration.  From a basketball sense, this thinking assumes that the more a coaching staff sees a player during a game (i.e., gather data), the better they will be able to stop them in clutch time (i.e., create and apply a strategy).  This thinking, though sound in reasoning, may be incorrect if the player is difficult to analyze (e.g., has a high degree of relative skill which cannot be accounted for in a strategy).

Thinking Improvements

Both models tend to overvalue current trends over a larger sample size as they acknowledge the effects of the hot hand.  The difference is that proponents of the productive hot hand advocate for the in-form player to shoot, and supporters of CHH advocate for the player to draw attention and pass to other options for fear that shooting is a poorer option due to increased defensive attention.  The schools of thought agree that the focal point of the possession should be the player, it is only the usage and action of the player which is in question.  As discussed, there exist several biases in both ways of thinking ranging from overestimation of one’s abilities to base rates insensitivity.  However, a structural flaw in the thinking behind both models is that they do not sufficiently consider the change in the player’s quality of decision-making that is likely to occur over time.  The models assume that the person in question will make good decisions in the future (whether it be shooting, passing, or cutting) as they had in the past, i.e., the quality of decision-making is constant.  If this underlying assumption is incorrect, then the models fail to produce the scoring throughput, since the in-form player is the key constraint in both models.  As Goldratt, 2004, explained when discussing the Theory of Constraints, the constraint (in-form player) is what limits throughput (points) in a system, and the constraint in most systems changes. Neither model’s thinking accommodates for this change and instead is influenced by biases which reinforce the questionable proposition that the in-form player is the constraint that needs to be actively utilized.

The weakness in thinking has to be addressed at two levels.  First, as discussed above, the tendency to exaggerate the effect of a dynamic and changing entity needs to be acknowledged.  Second, this entity needs to be seen, not as the cause of the the effects, but as an effect itself, with the cause being the rest of the domain.  As illustrated by Senge, 1990, this manner of thinking does not see the player as the central figure causing the key action on the court (as our analysis showed, this is prone to biases), but acknowledges that his behaviour is the result of the underlying structure, whether he acknowledges that or not.  Particularly, his hot streak has been enabled by the underlying structure, not because of individual actions.  The structure is causing the player behaviour and if that structure is still resulting in high quality decision-making by the player, then he will increase value. If the structure is reducing the quality of the decisions of a player, then that player will reduce value.  An analysis of how the underlying structure influences the player is beyond the scope of this discussion, but it remains the key area which both models fail to explore.  

It is often difficult to measure the effect of independent variables on a dependent variable, especially in complex nondeterministic systems such as basketball.  Theoretically, determining how a person’s decision-making is influenced by a variety of factors is very valuable and can lead to excellent analysis of how late-game possessions should be run.  In a practical sense, it is infeasible to measure these effects, though technology like SportVU is catching up.  As a starting point for a change in thinking, the focus should be shifted away from the person and their ingrained biases, to the outside world which indiscriminately acts on the person.

References

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Gameday: Grizzlies @ Raptors, Nov. 30

Coming into Toronto, the Grizzlies have been hit with some more injury news. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported Tuesday afternoon, that starting point guard Mike Conley is out indefinitely suffering a transverse process fracture in the vertebrae. This coming after last year when the Grizzlies scraped into the 7th seed in the playoffs, losing the last 16 of their 21 games with a very big bandage on their team and using a total of 28 players on their roster, the most players used on a roster in a single season in NBA history.

This season the Grizzlies have already had their fair share of injuries. Free agent signee Chandler Parsons missed the first six games of the regular season recovering from knee surgery from a season ago and is again out with another injury sustaining a bone bruise in his knee. They might also be without former Raptor Vince Carter, who injured his hip in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game and remains questionable, and  Zach Randolph is out indefinitely dealing with a personal matter. Injuries are part of the game, and good teams can usually strive through them, but this is a string of bad luck for the Grizzlies, who have gone two seasons missing a majority of their team.

Even while missing key pieces to their roster for a large part of this season, the Grizzlies have a 11-7 record in the young season. Their schedule, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings, is the second easiest in the NBA thus far. Although they have had some impressive games, including a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on the road, they have matched those impressive wins with some very ugly loses including one to the Minnesota Timberwolves by 36 points early in November.

The 2016-2017 Grizzlies have looked very different from their past ground and pound style of play from years prior. New head coach hire David Fizdale was a long time assistant with the Miami Heat, who is familiar with playing a faster/more perimeter oriented style of play. Sometimes coaches have to adapt their coaching style to their roster but instead, Fizdale’s players adopted his style of coaching. This season the Grizzlies are attempting 25.3 three pointers a game, shooting them at 33.2%. This puts them middle in the pack, at 16th in attempts, and 23rd in percentage. In comparison, the Grizz in the 2014-2015 season, ranked 29th in three point attempts per game at 15.2, shooting them at almost the exact same percentage. Even though there is more three point shooting on this years team, the Grizzlies haven’t exactly completely transformed their style of play. They still play very slow, ranking 28th in the league in pace, beating teams on the defensive end, never really blowing teams out of the building with a scoring barrage.

One player to look out for is Grizzlies star player Marc Gasol, who has really changed his game this season. The two time All-Star Gasol attempted a total of 66 threes in the first 8 seasons, shooting those 66 attempts at 18%. So far this season, Gasol has stretched his offensive arsenal past the three point line, shooting 60 already in 17 games (3.5 a game), at a staggering 41%. Gasol has always been a dominant scorer in the post, which would usually bode well against the Raptors, matching up against Jonas Valanciunas, but guarding out on the perimeter has been a tough task for Valanciunas in the past. Valanciunas’ job at guarding Gasol will be indicative  ofhow much he plays tonight. It will be interesting to see who Casey might throw at Gasol ,who will be one of the only scoring options for the Grizzlies.

Although Jonas Valanciunas landed on Pascal Siakam’s foot and sprained his ankle, he is expected to play during Wednesday’s game. The Raptors in their previous outing, had their first blowout win of the season, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 122-95. This was exactly the game they needed, coming off an incredibly tough west coast road trip. This game also gave Coach Casey the option to rest some of his starters (specifically Lowry and DeRozan) and playing some of the 905 players we haven’t seen yet on the big stage this year.

The Raptors have had a good record against the Grizzlies the past few season. The last time Memphis won in Toronto was February 20th 2013, a night where the Raptors leading scorer was Alan Anderson with 19.. oh how times have changed. Even though the Raptors have come out on the better end against the Grizzlies as of recently, the games still remain to be very competitive. The slow pace, both teams fighting in their half court sets, playing really tough defense, usually works out to a tough low scoring game. With all the injuries to the Grizzlies roster right now, and with the Raptors well rested it’s hard to see them coming out on the losing end of this one.

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Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 30

Breaking it Down: A closer look at Casey’s post-game comments – Raptors Republic

Like Casey says, it’s perhaps better that he’s helping too much rather than not enough, from a team perspective. From a personal preference standpoint, I’d also much rather work with a player who is capable of trying to do too much and get them to settle a bit or choose their spots more carefully rather than the opposite, trying to get a player not recognizing instances where plays can be made to recognize them.

There were a few instances Monday where Siakam may have been a little too eager.

Look at how aggressively he closes out in each of those instances, though. As a shooter, that must be terrifying. Sure, you’d rather Siakam be in position to make a more controlled close-out, especially if his man is a threat to pump-fake and drive, but Siakam’s close-out speed will be a major asset. You don’t want to discourage him from trying to make plays, because he can absolutely make them.

Anyone expecting a rookie to start from Day One and play flawless defense was kidding themselves. I can’t imagine there’s anyone left who isn’t really encouraged by Siakam’s defensive potential a quarter of the way into the season. He’s already showing a lot, and he has the potential to be very, very good at that end of the floor thanks in part to the underlying root of some of these “over-help” instances – his ability to help aggressively and trust he’ll recover.

Raptors’ Casey: Terrence Ross shedding ‘inconsistent’ label – Sportsnet.ca

Despite the defensive strides, what stands out above all is Ross’ shooting, which is currently in fairly elite company.

On the season he is currently shooting 50.8 per cent from the floor, 44.8 per cent from deep, and 94.7 per cent from the free throw line, making him a member of the prestigious 50/40/90 club.

Only seven players in the modern era have finished the regular season as a bona fide club member, and it’s pretty lofty company: Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry.

Now, it’s extremely premature to suggest Ross will wind up with those percentages by the time the season ends, or for that matter if he’ll even take enough shots to qualify given his current status as a scoring option off the bench, but it speaks to what he’s been able to contribute on a fairly regular basis this season.

Raptors won’t settle for status quo on defence | Toronto Sun

Regardless of the three-game winning streak, Casey isn’t seeing that and, possibly because the team is winning, the film sessions have been purposefully harsh to ensure no one gets too comfortable with the status quo.

“We’re consistent, we’re going to be consistent defensively,” Casey said of the film sessions. “That’s the only way you learn, that’s the only way you get better — practice time. Physical energy is limited for practice. You can practice and leave your energy on the court or use it tomorrow night in the game. We do what we can on the court and in the film room. We put the films together and what we try to do is, from a coaching staff, (ask) what is a trend? Is our transition defence a trend? Lack of communication, pick and roll defence, is that a trend?

“So we’ve got to show it and whoever’s feelings it hurts, we can’t worry about that. The old saying is the films don’t lie. Now you may debate whether it’s a grey area here, grey area there — and there’s a lot of that going on — but the bottom line is the film doesn’t lie.”

Lowry, for his part, believes the film sessions are not just beneficial but necessary.

“I think they just want us to be better defensively, that’s the biggest key now is they want us to be better defensively and they’re going to nitpick on everything,” Lowry said. “I’m not mad at them, we’re not mad, we’re just trying to get better as a team so we understand where they’re coming from.”

Film don’t lie: Raptors still have plenty to work on – Article – TSN

While they haven’t been perfect defensively, Lowry was pretty close to it on the offensive end Monday. The all-star point guard scored 24 points on 7-for-9 shooting and became the first player in franchise history to hit all six of his attempts from three-point range. Lowry, who’s been on fire of late, is shooting a ridiculous 10-for-12 from long distance over the last two games, including five from beyond 26 feet, two of them from 29 feet out. “I’ve always been confident,” he said. “I’ve just been watching a lot of [Damian] Lillard and Steph [Curry], just trying to keep up with them and their range. I’m just going to keep shooting long threes until I miss, and I ain’t going to miss.”

Lowry’s leadership makes a difference for Raptors’ Nogueira | Toronto Star

“I think Kyle’s a leader by example when people see him bust his butt, go down there and dig out a loose ball, take a charge, run back and block a shot in transition,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Then the other night, I think in the Milwaukee game, Lucas was struggling a little bit and then he came up and got two big blocks and Kyle said ‘Hey, that’s the Lucas we need.’

“So those words of encouragement from Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) are huge, especially from Kyle. Both of those guys are our leaders and that’s what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to be the coaches on the floor, give them encouragement, get on guys when they don’t do their jobs, as (the coaching staff) will. Our team is going to go . . . the way they go.”

Raptors’ Nogueira opens up about ties to plane crash victims – Sportsnet.ca

Raptors centre Lucas Nogueira discusses ties to fallen Brazililan soccer players from the Colombian plane crash, saying he likes to live his life with intensity, because you never know when such tragedies can happen.

50/40/90 Club #wethenorth

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Kyle Lowry might see Spurs as an alternative option, would that make sense for him? – RealGM

Kyle could fit into Popovichs system, he is like Manu Ginobili, one of the most clever PGs in the league. Moreover, you gotta take into account that Kyle already has playoffs experience and a gold medal with team USA. What else? Just imagine this core:
Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and LMA.

Would this make sense for Lowry? Yes, does not only he receives his money but also a more stacked team like the spurs. Does this make sense for SA? Yes, remember that Popovich, apart from talent, looks for smart guys.

Mood #noraptorgametonight #wethenorth

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Game Preview: Raptors vs. Grizzlies | Toronto Raptors

Toronto enters Wednesday’s game having won three straight. In each of those games, the opponent point total has gone down. Still, head coach Dwane Casey wants to see more improvement defensively.

“We had a lot of defensive mistakes,” Casey said. “Our fundamentals, we’ve got to continue to work on it. I’m going to keep harping on it, keep preaching it. We were in the same situation last year where we had to do a huge turnaround defensively. Whether we get there or not is going to be up to us. Whether [we’re facing] Philadelphia, Memphis, the Lakers, whoever it is, we have to have a core belief and commitment and be connected together to get it done defensively.”

After the 122-95 victory over the Sixers, Toronto’s coaching staff had game tape ready on Tuesday morning to show the team all of the mistakes made on the defensive end of the floor.

“Our communication, our transition defence was not there [at this point] last year and it’s not there now,” Casey explained. “Our pick-and-roll defence, our guards need to get into the ball and contain the ball. There’s too many blow bys, getting from Point A to the basket too easily. The bigs have to do their job, but our perimeter players need to make sure they contain the ball one on one. There are too many blow bys. Those two areas are key areas we have to get better at.”

Creeping for buckets #wethenorth

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905 blown out by Mad Ants, Caboclo and VanVleet recalled

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 103, Fort Wayne Mad Ants 121 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, (905), None (Mad Ants)

It turns out an early-season loss to remind them how far they still have to go wasn’t a preventative cure for future poor showings for Raptors 905. Coming off their first loss of the season, the 905 spent the bulk of their Tuesday on their heels at the Hershey Centre, with the visiting Fort Wayne Mad Ants opening an early lead and seeing it swell over the course of the game.

The 121-103 loss is not only a secondary reminder that the sophomore 905 are not quite at the level their 3-0 start might suggest, but that they have a long way to go before head coach Jerry Stackhouse is pleased with the performance on the defensive end. The Mad Ants shot 51 percent in this one, led by 23 points each from Travis Leslie and Alex Poythress, and the 905 struggled to contain the 3-point line basically from the word go. The Mad Ants would finish hitting an unsustainable 15-of-32 from long-range, but a fair number of those were clean looks, and Stackhouse is sure to point to the transition game (11 fast-break points and 22 points off of turnovers) as an area for improvement.

To be clear, the Mad Ants can score. They improved to 6-0 with the victory and came in averaging 117 points and 24 assists. They stood as a solid test for what’s been a strong 905 defense to date, even with room for improvement. But that improvement didn’t come Tuesday, an issue exacerbated by some poor defensive rebounding and a poor comfort level for three of the starters. They got out to a 15-6 deficit, and once they settled in, Fort Wayne had found a groove. The starters cut the lead from 15 to nine early in the second half with Stackhouse tweaking that group (Edy Tavares and Jarrod Uthoff started for Yanick Moreira and Bruno Caboclo) and leaning on some key stops to push the transition game and Tavares’ gravity inside, only for the lead to jump back to 20 as the bench filtered back in.

At least there was still reason to tune in as the game wore on and the lead ballooned, courtesy of Tavares.

Caboclo, in particular, struggled in this one, shooting 1-of-6 from the floor and making some shaky reads as he oscillates between the forward positions. He also made a few curious decisions borne of the right intent, like saving a ball under the opposing basket or over-helping off of his man to try to make a play. Stackhouse has been clear that starters will be determined by defensive performance, and Caboclo sitting to start the third quarter was likely a message about his attention to detail and engagement. There’s not really a deeper Caboclo analysis to make here – his shot wasn’t falling, and he was a non-factor on defense. That’s fine sometimes, but it’s at least a little disappointing to only see him impact the game in a major way in really just one, maybe two games out of five so far.

The lone starters to find a groove were Fred VanVleet and E.J. Singler, who scored 19 and 17, respectively, but couldn’t play to a positive. Singler’s shooting was the team’s primary offense as they sputtered out of the gate (he scored 11 in a hurry in the first quarter), and VanVleet’s attacking mentality was a big factor when the offense stalled out. The message will likely be that defensive performance is shared across everyone, though, and there’s little getting around the lack of groove these two could score the team into. The 905 tried to mount a comeback late as Stackhouse went deeper on his bench, but they weren’t able to gain any traction, even as they slowed the Mad Ants offensively down the stretch.

These nights happen in the D-League, as much as it can seem dismissive to write off a poor performance to that reality. The 905 had their worst defensive showing of the season to date against a very good offensive team, and they now know they’ve got some ground to make up before they can trade elbows with the D-League’s elite. Like the parent club they mimic, offense is going to come given the talent, and the 905 need to be permanently aware of fighting off the urge to engage in a shootout or rest on their scoring. These aren’t crimes of laziness or preparation, of course, they’re just part for the course over 50 games. Given how Stackhouse has quickly earned a reputation for his tough practices, Wednesday’s final practice ahead of a Thursday-Friday practice figures to be more arduous than their recent team-building Zumba excursion.

The 905 are still off to a good start at 3-2, and they’ll get another shot at the Mad Ants on Thursday at 7:30 at the Hershey Centre. It stands as a nice test of how much a team can learn from one game and how quickly they can change the script with a better foot forward. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of lessons you want guys fighting to learn, anyway.

Notes

  • I watched on delay due to a scheduling conflict, so apologies for the late recap. This was…not the best game to fire up at 10:30 p.m., that’s for certain.
  • I’d expect Caboclo and VanVleet to be recalled for tomorrow’s NBA game, then re-assigned Thursday. The decisions get dicier, at least in the case of VanVleet, come Friday, when the Raptors will have to decide whether he heads out on the 905’s first road trip of the season or remains with the parent club for additional depth.
    • Update: They’ve been recalled.
  • Axel Toupane sat due to an ankle issue, and the team really missed his defensive versatility. Will Sheehey had earned the chance to start with his play off the bench so far, but he didn’t have his sharpest offensive game in response. His activity in passing lanes and as a general annoyance around the ball continues to impress, though.
    • The bench unit as a whole was decent once again, although this may be the first time almost every reserve played to a minus (save for Antwaine Wiggins, who was foul-prone in this one but looks like a legitimate defensive prospect). Whether propping up the second unit or as a starter bridge between groups, the 905’s reserves struggle some without Toupane to work across positions and as a secondary ball-handler.
    • That’s not to discredit the performance of Jarrod Uthoff, C.J. Leslie, and Brady Heslip, who all had strong offensive showings but couldn’t find their usual groove defensively. Leslie continues to be a presence inside and out and even flashed some intriguing passing skill in this one, while Heslip hit four threes en route to 16 points and Uthoff was a foul magnet in putting up 16-and-8.
  • Former Toronto Raptors Julyan Stone was pretty great in this one, dishing 13 assists as he broached a triple-double with an 8-7-13 line. He’s really improved the release on his jumper and his vision as a ball-handler since we last saw him. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone kicks the tires on him during 10-day season.
  • Lucas Nogueira was in attendance for this one, taking photos with fans during halftime. Pascal Siakam was in the house, too.
  • There was a long delay coming out of half due to a clock issue. The scorer’s table than ran the shot clock with a stop-watch and yelled out the count from 10 seconds down. The D-League, man.
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Breaking it Down: A closer look at Casey’s post-game comments

Following Monday’s victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was unusually forthcoming with tactical information about how his team approached their opponent, and about how he read their opponent game-planning for them. For the most part, it’s difficult to get coaches to talk too specifically about in-game strategy and game-planning, with my questions generally met with a smile and a joking “You don’t expect me to actually tell you, do you?” kind of response. Perhaps it was the blowout win, or maybe Casey was just open to throwing out inside terms because these are trends that have been happening for weeks now, anyway, and a discerning eye may have picked up on.

Whatever the case, Casey made mention of three different things I wanted to take a closer look at.

Ross & Post-Ups

In talking about Terrence Ross’ strong, consistent play this year (no, seriously, it’s happening), Casey pointed to defensive attention to detail over Ross’ obvious scoring prowess. What stood out most to the coach was Ross’ ability to help from the wing or corner on post-ups.

Here’s Casey (emphasis mine):

Consistency’s been huge for him. I know he got 22 points, but I think the most important thing is just his defensive focus. I liked the way he was moving his feet. We had some base-gos, base traps a few times, and he got down there and got the baseline cut off. Those are the things I look at. We can score. 122 points. We can score. We’re gonna make shots. But my thing is, to get where we wanna go, we gotta make sure we have focus and attention on the defensive end.

Terminology varies, so the Raptors may have specific wrinkles to what Casey is calling a base-go or a base trap, but in general for them, that involves sending a double to the block and zoning up the weak side behind it. Depending on the opponent’s spacing, that might require Ross to be the double-teamer, or the player zoned up between a second post player and a shooter (or two shooters) on the opposite side in the event of a kick-out and swing.

Ross has great hands, and his quickness allows him to dart in to show double and recover back outside as required. The results are pretty striking at the individual level – Ross is averaging over a steal per-game, swiping 2.8 percent of opponent possessions when he’s on the floor, a top-20 mark among qualified players. Monday was the rare occasion on which he didn’t net a steal, but his defense remained a positive at the team level – he was a plus-20 in 23 minutes, continuing the two-year trend of strong on/off numbers.

That same quickness allows him to be a waterbug of sorts in transition.

He can still frustrate on that end, but he’s been a key part of the highly effective “Kyle Lowry+bench” units, and it’s often for more than just his shooting. That lineup also produced this great team defensive possession, which doesn’t speak to the Ross point here but I thought I’d include anyway.

Siakam & Over-Helping

Casey mentioned something I had pointed out on the podcast last week. Pascal Siakam’s energy and speed are incredible, and while he’s a ton of fun to watch darting around the defensive end, he has a tendency to over-help at times.

Here’s Casey explaining further (emphasis mine):

I think he gets us going, he gets us moving, his activity, the way he covers ground. And once he learns how to come in and tag and then get out to the shooters, it’s going to be really special. Right now he’s staying probably a little bit too long on the help position, some unnecessary help, which I’d rather have that than no help, but once he learns that he’s going to be really effective in help defense and getting back out to shooters.

Like Casey says, it’s perhaps better that he’s helping too much rather than not enough, from a team perspective. From a personal preference standpoint, I’d also much rather work with a player who is capable of trying to do too much and get them to settle a bit or choose their spots more carefully rather than the opposite, trying to get a player not recognizing instances where plays can be made to recognize them.

There were a few instances Monday where Siakam may have been a little too eager.

Look at how aggressively he closes out in each of those instances, though. As a shooter, that must be terrifying. Sure, you’d rather Siakam be in position to make a more controlled close-out, especially if his man is a threat to pump-fake and drive, but Siakam’s close-out speed will be a major asset. You don’t want to discourage him from trying to make plays, because he can absolutely make them.

Anyone expecting a rookie to start from Day One and play flawless defense was kidding themselves. I can’t imagine there’s anyone left who isn’t really encouraged by Siakam’s defensive potential a quarter of the way into the season. He’s already showing a lot, and he has the potential to be very, very good at that end of the floor thanks in part to the underlying root of some of these “over-help” instances – his ability to help aggressively and trust he’ll recover.

DeRozan & Adjusting to defense

There’s not really a ton more to say about DeMar DeRozan’s start to the season at this point. He came out scoring at a ridiculous clip, and as he’s cooled just a little and defenses have begun selling out to get the ball out of his hands, he’s responded by becoming a more willing playmaker than at any point before. DeRozan’s tallied four or more assists in nine consecutive games, pushing his season average to a career-high 4.1.

He deserves a ton of credit for that, even if opponents are occasionally making his decisions pretty damn easy.

ddr-to-dmc ddr-to-jv

The note Casey dropped about how Philadelphia guarded DeRozan requires further study. Here he is post-game:

Huge. Teams are sending extra bodies to him. They’re staying a little bit longer on the pin-downs, they’re more like what we call Floppy X’ing, trapping the pin-downs, staying with him longer. So it’s almost a must that he pass the ball, and he’s doing a good job of finding the open man. And at the end of the day, we’re making shots.

Trapping pin-downs is nothing new. Teams have been aggressively blitzing DeRozan on the catch or as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll for a long time, and the Raptors have rolled out wrinkles designed to combat that. DeRozan’s also just gotten better at making reads or using the defense selling out around screens against them.

It’s when Casey says “Floppy X’ing” that I’m a little unclear. The Raptors run a fair amount of floppy sets where a guard or wing comes off a down screen (or sometimes a more complex staggered screen) running baseline, and ‘X’ is a defensive call-out, but I wasn’t able to pick up on exactly what Casey was referring to that the Sixers did that was new or unfamiliar. It just looked like a lot of the usual extra attention (guys staying a while longer or top-locking to force him away from screens). I need to rewatch DeRozan’s possessions to get some clarity there.

I did, however, notice a new wrinkle off a Raptors’ pet play that I don’t think I’d noticed before, if they’ve even used it. Cooper and I have talked a fair amount about how one of the benefits of roster and system continuity is the ability to learn how defenses will adjust to you, and then counter-adjust to that. It’s what led to Ross’ game-winner a few games back.

In this instance, the Raptors ran one of their AI sets for DeRozan (where he runs across two bigs along the top of the free-throw line), but instead of Jonas Valanciunas then following to screen on DeRozan’s catch, he instead peeled the other way to set a pin-down for DeMarre Carroll. That resulted in a deep Lowry triple.

None of this is particularly groundbreaking, but it’s rare to hear coaches talk openly about Xs & Os, and I thought in this case we should take advantage and try to understand Casey a little better.

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Raptors assign Caboclo and VanVleet, not Poeltl, to Raptors 905

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

After last night’s win against the Philadelphia 76ers, one that saw both players get actual NBA run for the first time all season (OK, one had played 29 seconds to that point), the Toronto Raptors assigned Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet to Raptors 905 of the D-League.

This isn’t major news, nor is it surprising. It was expected that Caboclo and VanVleet would do an up-and-down all week with the schedules for the Raptors and the 905 overlapping so tidily. As we’ve said here, we’re not going to write up every instance of assignments and recalls, posting instead only when it signals a change in plan or a meaningful or extended stint at one level or the other.

So why the post this morning? After sleeping on it, I figured the absence of Jakob Poeltl on this assignment was noteworthy. Poeltl was with the 905 on Saturday and then back with the Raptors, and while he looked good shaking off the rust after scarcely playing for three weeks, it seemed likely he’d be back down throughout this week. It’s possible, then, that him staying with the Raptors is at least partially related to Jonas Valanciunas rolling his left ankle in the third quarter of Monday’s game.


That’s not to say Valanciunas is hurt. He was available to return, but the Raptors put things away and didn’t need him. They’re generally cautious with injuries, and with two players on assignment and another two injured, they may just need Poeltl to have 10 bodies at practice today. (We’ll look for confirmation at practice, but I’d imagine Valanciunas is OK but listed as day-to-day as a precaution.) It wouldn’t even be all that surprising if Poeltl was assigned to the 905 after practice, depending on how cautious the team wants to be about their frontcourt depth.

Or I’m reading into this too much entirely and Poeltl being assigned just wasn’t part of the plan. There’s value in practicing with the NBA side, especially after a long road trip with little practice time, and the Memphis Grizzlies present some challenges the team will need to be locked in for. So consider this non-news until we hear otherwise, but I thought I should pass along nonetheless.

The 905 tip off at 7:30 p.m. at Hershey Centre, by the way.

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Raptors are good. Sixers are bad.

Explosion. An explosion is a sudden, violent change of potential energy to work, which transfers to its surroundings in the form of a rapidly moving rise in pressure called a blast wave or shock wave. The shock wave can cause substantial damage.

Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry is a sudden, violent change of direction, who dismantles his surroundings in the form of rapidly moving basketball moves called cross overs and deep threes. These basketball moves can cause substantial damage.

When the laughing stock of the league for the last few years arrives licking their wounds from Cleveland the night before, and their best player is sitting, your best player is expected to show up. Kyle Lowry showed up.

There isn’t much to dissect in a 122-95 blowout win, but taking stock of Lowry’s game is important. Philly hung with Toronto for approximately eight minutes before Lowry announced his arrival. With the Sixers nursing a 17-14 lead, Lowry took a feed from DeMarre Carroll and drilled from deep, and I mean deep to tie the game and set the tone for the rest of the night. The Raptors used enough offense in the first, including Patrick Patterson’s ridiculous half-court shot to lead 33-26 heading into the second quarter.

It was more of the same in the second frame from KLOE. He hit two more threes to help the Raps finish 8-14 from deep in the first half alone. Lowry may not have known it yet, but he was setting the tone for the rest of his teammates on a night his parter didn’t have it. DeMar DeRozan finished the first half with just four points, and wound up with a rare 14 on the night on 3-14 shooting. Still, if you take a closer look at the numbers and tape, DeMar had a productive night, playing distributor when the Sixers repeatedly sent doubles at him and clogged the paint. Number 10 finished with five assists, and led the team in plus-minus at +23. A combination of hard-work in the offseason, and some influence from those around him has turned DeRozan into more than just a scorer, and it’s fun to watch.

If the game wasn’t already out of reach in the second half, the Raps put the Sixers out of their misery in the third, courtesy of Toronto’s newest band, “Lowry and the Dimes”. Six different Raptors scored including back to back buckets from Carroll, (the second a three!), and Lowry was conducting the offense at will. Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas took turns scoring in the post, and it was awesome to watch Siakam play a strong 23 minutes even if it did come against the NBA’s version of “can we play too?!”.

In the fourth Terrence Ross reminded everyone that “hey, if you give me a few more minutes, I’ll give you a few more points”. All you really need to know is that he started the quarter with nine points, and finished the game with 22. He hit two deep threes, and all the free throws on his third attempt he was fouled on. He didn’t miss in the quarter and finished 8-11 on the night. Lowry set him up twice in the frame for open looks, and if there’s any better news to come out of the performance from Ross, it’s that Dwane Casey couldn’t stop talking about how great his defense was.

Finding negatives in this game is like finding flaws in Lowry’s. Every Raptor including Fred Van Vleet and Jakob Poeltl found the floor, and with the exception of Norman Powell (oddly enough) no one finished with a negative rating on the plus/minus side. Two early concerns in the season were rectified (for now) with the Raps holding a team to under 100 points while drilling their threes. They finished 13-19 as a team from beyond the arc thanks to exactly the guys you want hitting them. Patrick Patterson was 2-4, DeMarre Carroll 2-3, Terrence Ross 3-5, and of course, the explosion himself, Kyle Lowry going an absurd 6-6.

There’s not much to say in a blowout that should happen, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t fun to watch.

Next Up: The Grizzlies tomorrow night.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E6 – Still Alive

After a gruelling road trip our beloved Raptors return home. They return home still very much alive and well. Nick and Barry are also still alive and they got together this week to drop a new episode of Talking Raptors.

Keeping it short and sweet this week, the guys discuss:

-The Sacramento screw job.

-The Greek Freak.

-A nickname for Jonas?

-Favourite Vince Carter moment.

-Retire Carter’s jersey?

-Your favourite person on the broadcast team to party with.

All this and just a tiny bit more. As always we thank you so much for listening and we hope you enjoy.

Talk to ya’ll next week.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 29

Motivated Raptors roll over 76ers | Toronto Sun

The Sixers had no answer for Kyle Lowry, who continued what has been perhaps the best offensive stretch of his career, hitting all six of his three-point attempts on the way to 24 points in 31 minutes. Lowry has now hit an even 20 of his past 40 outside attempts, a remarkable, Steph Curry-esque run. Meanwhile, Terrence Ross scored a season-best 22 points, DeMarre Carroll was strong again and Patrick Patterson stayed hot from beyond the arc, making an off shooting night from DeMar DeRozan basically meaningless as the club hit 13 threes, shooting 68% from deep.

Lowry is the first Raptor to make all six attempts. Five players had hit 5-of-5 over the years.

The only person in the building not overly surprised by Lowry’s breakout was probably Ross, who knows a thing or two about three-point shooting.

“Kyle’s been hitting everything,” Ross told the Toronto Sun, drawing out the ‘every’ in ‘everything’ to accentuate his point.

“I feel like all of his threes have been going in. That’s Kyle, we just expect him to make shots. I mean, it seems a little selfish, but I expect Kyle to hit 20-of-40. I’ve seen it, he’s a shooter to me, he can shoot, so that’s what you want shooters to do, you want them to shoot.”

Raptors avoided stumble against weaker team – Sportsnet.ca

The Toronto Raptors took their first game of their home stand in blow out fashion against the Sixers, continuing the momentum they set at the end of their road trip.

Raptors roll past overmatched Sixers: Griffin | Toronto Star

Casey, while happy with Monday’s victory can’t yet fully say that the Raptors’ defensive deficiencies have been addressed, considering the ragtag status of their opponent. The rest of the homestand will be a test of how far they’ve come.

“We’re not playing well defensively,” Casey repeated before the game. “Offensively, I think we’re clicking pretty well. Some guys are finding their form, their rhythm. But defensively, that may have taken us a step back a little bit.”

The Raptors have won 13 straight games against the Sixers, dating back to Jan. 12, 2013 in overtime. Overall, the Raps have won three in a row.

Bryan Colangelo receives warm welcome back to Air Canada Centre – Sportsnet.ca

“Bryan’s an excellent basketball man. His DNA is basketball. It’s great to have him back in the league,” said Casey. “He’ll do a good job – fortunately for him, unfortunately for the rest of us – of building his team the right way and getting the right players in there. His eye for talent is written all over our program here.”

With the tools he has to work with, it might not be long before Colangelo’s new team is setting the bar for his old team to reach for.

For the moment, Colangelo and the 76ers are no threat. They’re too young and their best player – the phenomenal Joel Embiid – is still on a minutes restriction after missing two seasons with foot injuries and didn’t travel to Toronto for the Raptors’ 122-95 win.

Maybe Colangelo did his old team a solid: The 76ers are a semi-respectable 3-4 in Embiid’s last seven starts and are 1-5 when he doesn’t dress this season.

Game Rap: Raptors 122, 76ers 95 | Toronto Raptors

UNDERRATED RAPTORS PLAYER OF THE GAME

Terrence Ross continues to provide a spark on both ends of the floor for the Raptors this season. Ross came off the bench against the Sixers to score 22 points in 23 minutes of game time, shooting 8-for-11 from the floor, 3-for-5 from deep and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He scored in a dizzying array of ways, making them all look effortless. The team was a +20 when Ross was in the game.

Raptors cruise to 122-95 win over Sixers – Raptors HQ

Tonight was not exactly DeMar DeRozan’s finest hour, as he struggled to hit shots (4-of-13, but a perfect 6-of-6 from the line) for a total of 14 points. But DeRozan, at long last, has begun settling into a distributor role when needed, one that has him noticing the newly paid defensive attention and finding the open man. DeRozan had five assists on the night; he’s now had four or more in his last nine games (including outings with seven and nine). If he’s going to move the ball — to a cutting DeMarre Carroll (10 points, five rebounds, three assists), or a rolling JV — it opens the game up for DeRozan, and demonstrates another facet of his game.

As for the rest, it was just for fun; Norman Powell running the floor, Lucas Nogueira finding his feet again, and Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and yes, Bruno Caboclo all getting some minutes. We still wait for Fred’s first legit NBA points, and Bruno’s first of this season, but you can’t have everything.

Before the game, coach Dwane Casey talked about the Raptors defense, and said he was concerned it was not where it was supposed to be. That’s fair. Unfortunately for Casey, this is the kind of game that, while encouraging and offering something of a reprieve, does not suggest a whole lot as to the Raptors defensive acuity. The team held the Sixers to 41.9 percent shooting (though 41.2 percent from three), and largely kept them from what they wanted to do. Only Jahlil Okafor’s 15 points and inspired post moves, and Robert Covington’s shooting (20 points on 7-of-11) could made much of a dent in Toronto’s sharp onslaught. But the caveat still applies: it’s the Sixers.

Sixers-Raptors recap: Philadelphia scorched by Toronto offense – Liberty Ballers

The paint was another area Toronto tried to exploit on offense. Without Embiid serving as a hawk around the rim, the Raptors’ slashing wings and bigs had little difficulty converting near the basket. Okafor’s rim protection looked improved and he contested multiple shots, but Toronto regularly got what they wanted down low.

Raptors’ Carroll is trusting his process – Article – TSN

t was around this time last year – less than a month into his first season with Toronto – that Carroll initially hurt his knee, an injury that has tested and continues to challenge his mental resolve. However, after undergoing surgery in January, suffering a series of setbacks, getting second opinions, putting in countless hours of rehab and, yes, trusting in the people charged with monitoring his recovery, Carroll is finally seeing the results of his hard work and patience.
“It feels great just to be healthy,” said the eight-year NBA vet, who has scored 10 or more points in five straight games for the first time since joining the Raptors. “When I’m healthy I can be who I am, I can play the way I want to play. But when I’m not healthy I can’t do those things because I’m more of an energy guy, defensive guy. I need my legs to knock down my threes. It just feels good to be healthy and be able to go out there and help my team win.”
For Carroll, a self-made NBA player, it’s been a long and frustrating road back to this point. As he notes, his game is predicated on lateral quickness and physical play – cutting, diving for loose balls, defending the opposition’s best perimeter player – and, up until recently, his body hasn’t allowed him to do the things he’s accustomed to doing.
The results may vary from night to night, which is only natural after spending so much time away from the game – he didn’t pick up a basketball until the week before training camp opened in September. It won’t be from a lack of effort. Carroll is routinely one of the last players in the gym after practices, working on his conditioning and getting shots up. He’ll come in on scheduled days off and show up early before games. The work has paid off. Over this recent five-game stretch, he’s averaging 14.4 points on 55 per cent shooting, including 46 per cent from beyond the arc. He’s totalled five steals and five blocks over the last three contests – a glimpse at what the Raptors envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $60 million deal in the summer of 2015.

DeMarre Carroll ramping up for Raptors at right time – Sportsnet.ca

“Personally, I can play back-to-back. I can. But it’s not my problem. I walk in, they say, ‘You’re not playing.’ What am I supposed to do? I think I can play back-to-back but we’re not rushing it … they’ve been doing it longer than me.”

Until then, Casey will take more of these games from Carroll. And he’d love a repeat every night of the defensive focus and intensity his team showed, after a road trip in which their defensive attentiveness came under scrutiny.

“We’ve got to have that type of defensive effort and focus every night,” said Casey, citing Ross in particular for his defensive focus, adding: “I like the way he moved his feet. We had some base goes, base traps a few times and he got out and cut the baseline off. We can score 122 points, we’re going to make shots, but my thing is to get where we want to go. We have to make sure we have focus and attention on the defensive end.”

Casey spent the past two days fretting publicly about his team’s state of mind after back-to-back wins helped them to a 3-2 record on a five-game road trip that ended Friday in Milwaukee. He admitted he’s always concerned about what he referred to as “the bear around the corner” – hell, he’s a coach, right? – especially with his team settling in for a long homestand. The road can be a beast when it comes to practices and travel fatigue, but it also engenders a kind of edginess that Casey believes can get lost when a team sleeps in its own beds and falls back into other cozy routines.

Five thoughts on Capela, Powell and more – Article – TSN

NORMAN POWELL (Raptors): I’m really impressed how he’s handled his role this season. Sometimes he’s in and sometimes he’s not. Playing behind DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross as the fourth wing, he has still been dependable with his defence, effort, toughness and improved offence. He’s relentless and professional. He’ll get his chances on many nights and he’s always prepared to play. Really respect his approach. Great attitude. Winner.

Toronto’s 50 Most Influential: #10, Masai Ujiri – Toronto Life

Last season, under Ujiri’s leadership, the Raptors posted their best record in franchise history and exorcised the demons of first-round exits by making it to the conference finals, where they lost to the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lol #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Toronto’s 50 Most Influential: #34, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Life

They’re doing what Vince Carter did more than a decade ago: inspiring a generation of young ballers and reminding the league that Toronto is for real.

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

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

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Raptors-76ers Reaction Podcast – Everyone looks good in a blowout

Host William Lou breaks down a feel-good win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, Sixers 95

Image Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 95 Final
Recap | Box Score
122 Toronto
P. Siakam 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +6 +/-

You have to ask, and I’m just asking, does Sullinger start when he comes back? If the rest of the guys are hitting the three at their current clip, wouldn’t we want to have shot-blocking and speed over rebounding in the lineup. It’s a good problem to have.

D. Carroll 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +7 +/-

People’s opinion of this guy pendulum between Danny Green and Hedo Turkoglu, and tonight he was closer to Green. Looks more comfortable in his skin, and against a team like the Sixers where there isn’t really a strong wing to guard, this amounts to a night off for him.

J. Valanciunas 22 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +15 +/-

Is it just me or are you actually, like, confident when he’s facing up, faking twice, and driving left for a left-handed finish? My theory is that the hair has neutralized the aerodynamics, making him more self-aware, prescient, and possibly immortal. I don’t even feel vulnerable when he’s guarding an athletic center who plays near the three-point line, somehow I feel JV just knows what to do.

K. Lowry 32 MIN | 7-9 FG | 6-6 3FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | +15 +/-

He could’ve had 82 tonight if he wanted to. He was getting past the first and second defenders with ease, pulling up whenever he wanted to, making the defense look like they were on a 7-second delay.

D. DeRozan 31 MIN | 4-13 FG | 0-0 3FG | 6-6 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +23 +/-

Is there a better post-up shooting guard in the league? The way he gathers and turns into the lane with both hands after a post-up is a signal of intent: I’m going up strong and have enough strength and stability to absorb contact, so if you’re going to foul me, foul hard.

P. Patterson 20 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +21 +/-

Let there not be said that there is any hesitation in Patterson’s threes, which is exactly what we want. When he was gathering himself to take that shot at the end of the first, I’m not saying I knew it was going in, but I knew it had a higher than average chance of going in.

T. Ross 23 MIN | 8-11 FG | 3-5 3FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +20 +/-

The product of healthy internal competition. Ross’s three remains one of the prettiest shots in the NBA, and when he hits it with consistency and sprinkles it with defense, he’s given you all you can ask for. How many bargain contracts will Ujiri win for the Raptors? You know how they say GMs are scared to deal with Ujiri? Hell, I’d say players should be afraid to deal with him too.

B. Caboclo 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +0 +/-

Came in, bought a bus ticket back to Mississauga, and is now safely back on the GO bus.

L. Nogueira 22 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-6 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +12 +/-

He had a chance to go up strong after a pick ‘n roll, but instead waited to get fouled. I don’t even understand that. Good stuff overall in a game where nothing was asked of anyone.

J. Poeltl 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +0 +/-

“The Big Shnitzel”.

Shout-out to Robert Gray who sent that nickname idea via email.

F. VanVleet 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +0 +/-

Was the most excited about the free pizza tonight.

C. Joseph 24 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +17 +/-

What’s happened to his defense? He gave up dribble penetration on every other possession in the first half by either going up on the screen, or just falling for the simplest of fakes. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll be fine when it’s all said and done, but I wish there was another dimension to his offensive game.

N. Powell 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -1 +/-

There’s a rumour that during practice Dwane Casey wears a Norman Powell jersey just to motivate Ross. If that’s the only function Powell serves, I’m fine with it. Also, you think if we offer him a 3-year $8M/yr extension he’d take it?

Dwane Casey

Some days you just gotta show up. This was one of those days.

Five Things We Saw

  1. JV ankle sprain which made him leave the game temporarily:

  2. Garbage time highlights:

  3. Ross on fire:

  4. Lowry setting up Ross:

  5. Up next at home: Grizzlies, Lakers, Hawks, Cavs, Minny

    I’ll take 4-1. The one coming against Minny.

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Pre-game news & notes: Raptors search for defense as Process-less 76ers visit

It’s kind of a weird feeling, returning off the road to play the Philadelphia 76ers at home, the start of a six-game stand that could include emotion-fueled visits from Memphis, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Minnesota. It would be easy, then, to look past the Sixers, especially without The Process in tow. And the Toronto Raptors, talented as they are, could probably get away with it, letting Philadelphia hang around too long or make a late comeback, leaning on their stars to close things out. And they probably would, because they’re very good.

That shouldn’t happen, though. Great teams take care of weaker and short-handed competition. That killer instinct has been lacking some from the Raptors as they’ve ascended to their new, unfamiliar heights as a reliably good team. Still, they’ve beaten teams by 15 or more on 39 occasions over the last four seasons, and despite a weekend off, it wouldn’t be the worst time to get Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan a light night, considering how heavy and arduous this home-stand is.

Just don’t look past the Sixers. They might not be very good without Joel Embiid, especially if Jerryd Bayless sits, too, but they can be irritatingly resilient (ask Memphis, Cleveland, and Indiana, for example). And in head coach Dwane Casey’s mind, the Raptors have been at anything but their defensive best of late, which could either make the 76ers a dangerous underdog or a prime opportunity for the home side to find their footing.

“I don’t know what our record should be, I know what direction, how we’re playing. We’re not playing well defensively,” Casey said before tip-off. “We haven’t played good defense. I thought we played solid and still Houston shot 50 percent…For us, some of our defense is not very good. We had too many straight-line drives to the basket, too many transition buckets, Antetokounmpo goes from coast to coast too many times. ”

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

Raptors updates
Everything’s pretty quiet on the Raptors front. DeMarre Carroll is expected to play with no back-to-back situation and coming off of two days off, and his recent progress has been really encouraging. Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Bruno Caboclo will all be with the parent club, too, perhaps providing an opportunity for them to see the floor if the Raptors can put away the Sixers quickly enough.

There’s not a heck of a lot to say otherwise. The Raptors have very comfortably settled in with a nine-man rotation and very similar substitution patterns game-to-game, and while there remain cries to play Norman Powell, it’s not clear where his minutes can come with Carroll and Terrence Ross both playing well (and in Ross’ case, consistently, which is still hard to accept and believe in). Lucas Nogueira has been a little shaky over the last two outings, but his rim protection and screen-setting have probably been solid enough to fend off Poeltl for the backup center spot, even if he’s been imperfect as a defender. Everything’s the same until it’s not, basically.

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

76ers updates
We covered the bad news in the pre-game: Joel Embiid isn’t playing. He’s not even here to get a good quote off of. The Sixers played Cleveland yesterday, and they’re not going to task Embiid with traveling on a back-to-back he won’t play in, anyway. Elsewhere, Ben Simmons remains out indefinitely, and Nerlens Noel, member of the Kenneth Faried All-Stars, is still at least a couple of weeks from returning. Jerryd Bayless is also out for the second night in a row due to wrist soreness.

In terms of lineups to expect, it’s really difficult to tell. The Sixers’ most-used non-Embiid lineup has only played 45 minutes together, a terribly small sample (the Raptors have three lineups that have played at least 55 minutes together, as a comparison). What’s clear, though, is that the Sixers struggle without The Process. They’ve been outscored by 12.9 points per-100 possessions when he sits, and that number shrinks to just minus-2 PPC when he’s on the court. Trust the Process, indeed.

Jahlil Okafor will still present a nice test for Jonas Valanciunas and the other Raptor bigs, and they’ll be able to focus mostly on him in the post and as a dive-man since there aren’t a ton of ball-handlers here who are threats to attack and score in the pick-and-roll. They do have Gerald Henderson, though, who you may recognize from Will’s nightly Gerald Henderson Award, as he literally turns into Kobe Bryant whenever he plays the Raptors.

PG: Sergio Rodriguez, T.J. McConnell
SG: Gerald Henderson, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric
C: Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Jerryd Bayless

Assorted

  • I’d expect VanVleet, Poeltl, and Caboclo to draw the assignment to the 905 for Tuesday’s game. They’ll probably back-and-forth all week with the schedules lining up so nicely. I’m not sure if they’ll practice with the Raptors and then bounce to Mississauga or head down for shootaround earlier in the day, as there are a few minor differences in defensive coverages between the two teams that could require some refreshing. And hey, they might actually get run in this game!
  • “The Process” was said 471,689 times today.

The line
The Raptors are mammoth 15.5-point favorites, up from Raptors -14.5, and no matter how confident I am in a victory, I just can’t give those kind of points. My math suggests the Raptors should come close to covering (it’s really hard to figure how the end-game runs in a blowout may shake out), but I’m not touching a line that big with actual money. Because as I may have mentioned, I’m a coward.

Raptors 113, 76ers 98

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Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors, Nov. 28

Bryan Colangelo is back! Or something. I’m not sure what else to get excited about with the Philadelphia 76ers visiting the Toronto Raptors and The Process sitting out. Any time Colangelo is involved, it’s a fair time for reflection, and while he made some really nice moves at the helm of the Raptors, it’s nice to be in a different place, stable and without the notion to tank or constantly tinker. Colangelo was good for this franchise (particularly for DeMar DeRozan), for a short while, and here’s hoping he does just enough with the terrific situation he’s walked into in Philly to make the Sixers fun but still non-threatening.

There’s also the matter of hot-shooting Canadian two-guard Nik Stauskas playing at home, which is always cool, and it’s great to see him having a bounce-back from beyond the arc in a pivotal year for his career. My dude T.J. McConnell, he of the best calves in the NBA, is here, too. And Dario Saric is fun! I don’t know, there are a lot of fun pieces in Philly but with the injuries they have and the lack of Embiid in this one, it’s a little tough to get too up for it.

At least it’s the start of six in a row at home over 11 days. It’s a nice opportunity for the Raptors to build some momentum after closing their arduous road trip strong. The NBA doesn’t provide a lot of cupcake games on the schedule, but every game is winnable – including the second night of a back-to-back against a sputtering Hawks team – save for maybe the Cavaliers’ second visit of the season (and you know the team will be up for that one). Looking ahead is dangerous, though. Sixers first. Whom tryna trust a process?

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: I am on record as trusting The Process, in the larger, macro, Sam Hinkie sense. I am also trying to trust The Process in the more micro sense, like benching Joel Embiid in overtime or sitting him on back-to-backs. I do not, however, trust the part of The Process that dictates that I will not get to see The Process in Toronto. I’m so sad that Embiid is sitting this one out. What kind of magic are Raptors fans missing out on here, if they haven’t been watching.

Jake Pavorsky: Raptors fans will be missing out on arguably the most exciting players through the first 15 games. This is a guy who is 7 foot 3, that hasn’t played basketball in over 2 years, and is averaging nearly 18 and 8 a game while shooting over 46 percent from three on 2 attempts per game. Those numbers are ridiculous for anyone, let alone for a guy who has had to overcome as many obstacles as Embiid. He can back you down, shoot over you, even take you off the dribble. He knocks down threes almost effortlessly. He even had four assists against the Cavs yesterday. Embiid is so fun and dynamic, that Sixers basketball is almost no longer worth watching when he’s not on the floor. Hopefully Toronto fans get a chance to watch him up close soon, but if you’ve got League Pass, try and catch a Sixers game every once in a while (make sure he’s playing, of course). It’ll be worth your time.

Blake Murphy: Is the way Embiid is playing making the last few years more palatable for Sixers fans in retrospect? Is the obvious talent there, and with Ben Simmons, enough to convert any lapsed or original non-believers in what the plan was, big picture?

Jake Pavorsky: The goal of The Process has always been to find a superstar, and although we’ve had to wait longer than we would’ve liked, it seems as though the Sixers finally have that. Having a potential generational talent like him would make 10 years of losing worth it, and fans haven’t been able to connect with a talent like this since A.I. Ben Simmons, who can always be really, really good, is an added bonus. The past three years were hard because as much as we believed in what the team was doing, there wasn’t anything tangible. Now that Embiid is balling out, it’s changing the outlook on everything.

Blake Murphy: Dario Saric finally came over, which is a ton of fun. How has he looked so far? Rookie qualifiers and all, but is he meeting expectations out of the gate?

Jake Pavorsky: Dario’s definitely meeting expectations, if not succeeding them a tad. The adjustment from Europe to the NBA takes time, but he’s holding his own. Saric is shooting 39 percent from three on three attempts per game, which is really surprising out of the gate. He’s been moved to the second unit to provide an infusion there, and I hope soon enough they start running the offense through him. Dario is such a good passer that I’d put him in the high post and just let him create for others. I don’t think he’s gonna blow people away, but you’ll look at his stat line later and see that he makes an impact in all facets of the game.

Blake Murphy: How weird is it that Jerryd Bayless seems really important to this team? It’s Jerryd Bayless! I like Sergio Rodriguez and I love T.J. McConnell, but this team has long needed a higher functioning starting point guard, and Bayless is at least closer to that.

Jake Pavorsky: Yeah, it’s not optimal. Bayless is still trying to nurse a wrist injury, so there’s a chance he doesn’t even play. Bayless is solid, but they shouldn’t be relying on him as much as they are to piece the offense together. But when you have two guards who aren’t threats off the dribble and can’t really shoot, Jerryd Bayless starts to look your savior. The good news is it seems like the Sixers are grooming Simmons to be their future point guard, which will be a nightmare for other teams. Bayless can then slot into a sixth man role, or play off ball next to Simmons, as he’s a really good catch-and-shoot threat.

Blake Murphy: Is Hollis Thompson the most underrated player in the NBA?

Jake Pavorsky: Hollis is another weird wrinkle to a very strange team, and Zach Lowe recently brought to light just how bizarre his numbers are. He’s averaged right around 40 percent from three his whole career, but from watching this team for the past four years it feels almost impossible. The theory we’ve come up with is that he does most of his scoring when the game is completely out of reach. When you need a bucket from him, he goes ghost.

With that said, he’s been really good this year, and is improving both off the dribble and as an off-ball cutter. I was really sick of him after last season, but he’s winning me back over this year. I don’t know if you can say a player is underrated if not enough people know who he is to even rate him, but I will say he might be the best three-point shooter nobody has ever heard of.

Raptors updates
Everything’s pretty quiet on the Raptors front. DeMarre Carroll is expected to play with no back-to-back situation and coming off of two days off, and his recent progress has been really encouraging. Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Bruno Caboclo will all be with the parent club, too, perhaps providing an opportunity for them to see the floor if the Raptors can put away the Sixers quickly enough. VanVleet and Poeltl, in particular, have looked good on their 905 stints and have probably earned a few minutes of garbage time, should the team ever find its way to garbage time. (Seriously, how is every minute the Raptors play high-leverage? It’s exhausting.)

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

76ers updates
Well, let’s start with the bad news: Joel Embiid isn’t playing. He’s not even here to get a good quote off of. The Sixers played Cleveland yesterday, and they’re not going to task Embiid with traveling on a back-to-back he won’t play in, anyway. It makes sense, and it’s definitely a positive for the Raptors’ chances of winning the game, but from a fan perspective – I am the proud owner of a Trust the Process Christmas tee – it sucks to miss an opportunity to see him up close.

Jahlil Okasfor will still present a nice test for Jonas Valanciunas and the other Raptor bigs, and they’ll be able to focus mostly on him in the post and as a dive-man since there aren’t a ton of ball-handlers here who are threats to attack and score in the pick-and-roll. They do have Gerald Henderson, though, who you may recognize from Will’s nightly Gerald Henderson Award, as he literally turns into Kobe Bryant whenever he plays the Raptors.

Elsewhere, Ben Simmons remains out indefinitely, and Nerlens Noel, member of the Kenneth Faried All-Stars, is still at least a couple of weeks from returning. Jerryd Bayless is questionable as he continues to slowly work his way back from a wrist injury – he didn’t play Sunday but traveled with the team to Toronto, and he’ll likely be a game-time call. Sergio Rodriguez would stand to start if Bayless can’t go.

PG: Sergio Rodriguez, T.J. McConnell
SG: Gerald Henderson, Nik Stauskas
SF: Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric
C: Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes
TBD: Jerryd Bayless
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel

The line
The Raptors are mammoth 14.5-point favorites, and no matter how confident I am in a victory, I just can’t give those kind of points knowing how the Raptors have been blowout-avoidant and how they occasionally struggle to put teams away. Over the last four seasons, the Raptors have won 39 games by 15 points or more, and they did so against the Sixers late last year and against the Pistons early this season, so maybe it’s not as rare as it feels. Still, that’s a lot of points, and it looks like the line might bump even further to 15. My math suggests the Raptors should cover, but I’m not touching a line that big with actual money. Because I’m a coward.

Raptors 113, 76ers 98

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – This is the year (to go all-in)

Host William Lou invites Joe Wolfond (@joey_doubleyou) on the show.

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There’s no place like home for the Toronto Raptors

The NBA scheduling process has always been one that’s interesting to me. For the league office, balancing the arena logistics, minimizing travel time, setting the appropriate divisional and conference matchups, as well as providing a balanced combination of rest and difficulty are all obvious factors that would play into their process.

All that being said, nothing can ever be truly “fair” in all ways. And this year, due to the luck of the draw for the Raptors, a team that kicked off their season with a healthy stretch of home games, they embarked on a crazy difficult stretch starting on November 15th in Cleveland. That stretch featured 7 games in 11 nights, with the first 5 of those games played in just 7 nights. And all of this against the best of the best in the league, mixed in with a few road tilts against Western Conference teams (and really, when are those ever easy?)

Most people would agree that how a team performs under those crazy difficult circumstances, is about as a good a litmus test as you can have. Historically, or at least under this Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan era that seems to have spoiled us for the better part of the last 3 years, the Raptors have been somewhat blowout-proof (with some exceptions, of course). And that’s why, coming into this stretch, I was scared, but also hopeful and excited to see what the Raptors would make of it.

By the Numbers

The Raptors season so far can be broken down into a couple of early-season phases. The first phase was during the stretch of home games against teams like Detroit, Denver and Sacramento. During this time, fans expected wins, and the Raptors for the most part, were winning. The second phase was the past 7 games played in 11 nights; a stretch that wasn’t going to be easy by any means, but was going to be the ultimate test for the Raptors to see what they’re made of.

While we’ve seen consistent aspects so far this year for the Raptors, we certainly noticed some changes in the past 7 games as well, serving as silver linings or worrisome trends in some of those tough defeats and surprising wins.

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The Raptors, aside from their overall field goal percentage as a team were a completely different team during the second (and tougher) phase thus far this season. And while it has been challenging for the Raptors to match their early season winning percentage during this past stretch, they’ve improved their scoring (largely in response to a defensive regression, allowing opponents to score in excess of 112 points per game). Granted 3 of those games were against offensive juggernauts in Cleveland, Golden State and the LA Clippers, who dropped 117, 121 and 115 on the Raptors respectively, but there was a sense of disappointment that was quite clear in Dwane Casey’s tone, and something just didn’t feel right on the defensive end.

Encouragingly however, the Raptors bounced back with a huge defensive effort against the Houston Rockets, forcing them into an unbelievable 26 turnovers. But the field goal percentage of opponents, and sometimes three point shooting defense, have been clear and consistent problems for the Raptors to handle. With DeMarre Carroll only recently finding his footing offensively and defensively, I’d expect some improvements to be made as he gets back into the swing. Further, things are likely to improve defensively when the Raptors bring Jared Sullinger into the mix, as well as incorporate a more polished Lucas Nogeuira into the defensive schemes

Trust the pass

The Raps have been able to mix more assists into their offense over the past 7 games, in part due to DeRozan’s slight offensive regression from his MJ-like status, which has opened opportunities for others. He’s done a fantastic job in recognizing when the shot is not falling, and when to involve others – particularly DeMarre Carroll, who’s been the beneficiary of DeRozan drive-and-dishes for open 3s. Yesterday alone DeRozan and Carroll hooked up 3 times in these kinds of plays. During the past 7 games, DeMar has averaged 5.1 assists, compared to 3.2 in the first 9. And that’s what I think we all want from DeMar – take the shot you know you can make, and if it’s not falling or you’re severely double-teamed, get others involved.

Hey, but as we saw last night, sometimes even double-teams don’t matter.

Three point shooting

The three-point shooting has been vastly improved in the past 7 games (surprising given 6 of the past 7 have been on the road), from around 29.0% in the first 9 games to over 42% these past 7. Most of that has been due to remarkable shooting improvement shown by Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll, who are now shooting 37% and 42% from 3 this season, respectively. Given the early season brick-laying we saw from both, that’s not bad at all this time of year.

Patrick Patterson – 3 point shot chart (2016/2017 season to date)

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DeMarre Carroll – 3 point shot chart (2016/2017 season to date)

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Not to mention, Terrence Ross has continued to assert himself, not only shooting the 3-pointer with confidence, but getting deflections on the defensive end, running the floor, and even stroking the mid-range jumpers with efficiency. If the Raptors are going to have any chance against the real good teams in this league, it’s going to have be the bench that brings an added scoring punch. And guys like Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson are the ones that you need to perform when it counts.

Hit me Bebe one more time

Bebe Nogeuira, while being a liability at times due to his propensity to foul (especially with the moving screen), his defense has been simply awesome. Serving the role as a Biyombo of sorts for the Raptors, Nogeuira has brought a defensive toughness stemming from his incredible length and agility defending against smaller guards driving to the hole. Bebe’s 4 swats against Milwaukee were amazing to watch, and gave the Raptors much-needed momentum as they changed ends offensively.

I’d like to see Dwane Casey go to Bebe earlier on nights where JV is not able to establish himself in the post early in games, shows fatigue, or if he’s in foul-trouble. Bebe, if he can stay disciplined setting screens, offers the Raptors a dynamic defensive punch off of the bench with rebounding, blocks and disruptive length inside. In just over 18 minutes a night, Nogeuira is shooting 71% from the field, for 4 points a game, is grabbing over 4 rebounds and getting just around 2 blocks a night. That’s not bad for the 18 minutes he averages on the court (and at a +5.9 pace). I expect him to get better, and like Biyombo, to feed off of the energy of the home crowd.

Looking ahead

While the Raptors lost some tough games to Sacramento, the Clippers and against Cleveland and Golden State, I’ll take solace in the fact that one of the tougher stretches this season is now over. The Raptors now return home for a 6-game homestand, featuring the likes of the Sixers, Wolves and Lakers. Mixed in however are tough games against Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis, all playoff teams that will want to send a statement to the Raptors.

The one I’m looking forward to the most is Atlanta. In an early-season battle to determine who’s more likely to be second best in the East, this game feels like it will mean a lot to both sides. The Hawks aren’t exactly super scary, but the fact that they beat Cleveland made them formidable in my eyes. With Schroder coming into his own, supported by veterans Kyle Korver, Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and others, a regular season win doesn’t mean this team wouldn’t be a tough out in the playoffs.

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There’s nothing easy about this upcoming stretch of 6 games, but if they’re playing in the friendly confines of the ACC where the Raptors were 32-9 last year, I’d say things are looking up.

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Raptors 905 take first loss of season despite strong showing from Poeltl

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 91, Maine Red Claws 100 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl (905), Demetrius Jackson (Red Claws)

It wasn’t going to go swimmingly for the entire season. Maybe they had hoped for the entire season-opening home-stand. The Maine Red Claws had other ideas for Raptors 905 on Saturday, giving them a taste of their own defense and frustrting the 905 into their first loss of the season, a 100-91 decision at the Hershey Centre.

The two sides played evenly throughout, almost mimicking the parent-club Toronto Raptors in Milwaukee a night early, a tight game without long enough runs for either side to wrestle control. The 905 quickly shook off one heck of an opening punch from Maine in the first quarter, and the two sides entered the third and fourth within a possession of each other. The Red Claws slowly built a lead over the fourth quarter, though, putting the 905 on their heels down double-digits for the first time all season in the game’s closing minutes.

To their credit, the 905 didn’t back down, with a Fred VanVleet lob to Jakob Poeltl and then a Poeltl transition dunk cutting the lead back to eight. It proved too little, too late, as even with four shooters around Poeltl, the 905 couldn’t come back swiftly enough. A late possession was indicative of how the game went for the team offensively, as VanVleet missed a three, E.J. Singler missed a clean look, and Poeltl missed a mid-range baseline jumper all on the same possession before Will Sheehey finally scored. It was a great effort and ultimately a basket, but it was arduous and inefficient to get there, the final result coming too late to change the end-game.

That was the story for most of the afternoon, with the 905 struggling to 40.2 percent from the floor and an uncharacteristic 2-of-18 on threes, most of them good looks, that hamstrung the drive-and-kick part of the gameplan. Outside of VanVleet, who was 9-of-21 for 23 points and missed a few drives through contact around the rim, nobody really got into an offensive groove, though the bench, as has been the trend, tried. That put even more pressure on the interior, where head coach Jerry Stackhouse had hoped to establish his trio of 7-footers early and often. Yanick Moreira played primarily at power forward and saw a handful of post touches, while Edy Tavares was used as a cutter in big-big scenarios. The 905 are still figuring out how to use Tavares, but the early signs suggest they’ll be creative, and Moreira seemed more than game guarding on the perimeter, as expected.

While the 905 struggled from long-range and around the rim, especially as they tried to close out, Stackhouse was far more concerned with the defensive side of the ball. The Red Claws shot 45.1 percent, an opponent season-high, and the 905 were once again a little friendly sending an opponent to the line.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think there’s some things we need to clean up,” Stackhouse said. “Our defense wasn’t as sound – it got better as the game went on – but we started off not playing our defense.”

Poeltl, meanwhile, fought off sleepiness and rust to finish with 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, and he added a game-high 15 rebounds. For as many positives as he showed on offense, including a couple of really nice passes mid-post move or to cutters when facing up, it was his defense that stood out. Those who saw him in brief Raptors duty surely noticed his lateral quickness and his ability to be a factor on the perimeter, and that was on full display against a very small Red Claws outfit that didn’t require Poeltl to defend on the block much. Instead, he hedged onto guards, trapped on side pick-and-rolls, and did well to help and recover back on to his man in the paint.

That’s not to say Poeltl was poelfect. The adjustment to a few of the intricacies of the 905 defense, particularly when it comes to icing the pick-and-roll, gave him some trouble and led to a little bit of foul trouble.

“It was solid. It wasn’t my best performance, I thought,” a modest Poeltl said before expanding on the unfamiliarity. “They do have some differences in the defensive system. It’s hard to get adjusted to that without even practicing with the squad. I tried my best, and sometimes I called out the wrong stuff on defense, but I think that happens.”

For the most part, though, things went about as well as the team could have hoped with Poeltl’s first run in weeks. The rookie was just thrilled to be back on the floor and eager to get some repetitions and conditioning in.

It was fun. Finally got a run in again. It felt good, just being out there playing with the guys.” he said. ” It’s not easy to sit on the bench and watch games all the time, especially when you’re on the road and don’t really practice…So I was really happy to just get out there and play basketball again.”

There’s never really a good time for a loss, but the nature of the D-League is that any success on either end is likely fleeting. The 905 made easy work of three expansion teams in a row to start their year, and while Maine had appreciable offseason turnovers, the Red Claws have an established system and improved to 5-2 with the win. Though the 905 were hardly lacking for effort, Stackhouse almost seemed excited to take a loss early on as a teaching tool and a reminder that the team hasn’t accomplished anything yet in the season’s opening weeks.

“It’s good. A little adversity here in the season to let us know we’re not a complete team yet,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in our locker room, nor I, thought we were gonna go undefeated this season…Sometimes a loss is good for the focus.”

The D-League breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. With a day off Sunday to rest and a wealth of new film to help iron out the wrinkles Monday, and the 905 should continue trending upward despite Saturday’s setback.

Notes

  • Poeltl estimated he only got about four or five hours sleep after the late arrival home last night. He was really excited about the opportunity to get some conditioning work in, as practice time was scarce on the road-trip. Stackhouse referred to him as the most “egoless” player in the first round (along with Brandon Ingram) and was palpably excited to have him with the team.
    • Stackhouse couldn’t confirm yet, but he’s hoping to have Poeltl down for the Tuesday and Thursday games, too. Barring a change in the rotation at the NBA level, of course.
  • DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam were sitting courtside for this one. It seems like the smallest thing, but last year’s 905ers spoke a lot about how much the support of their teammates, in person, meant to them (they seemed to get a kick out of Powell involving himself in the out-of-half huddle, too). It’s great that the team supports each other like this, and it’s one of the benefits of having an affiliate so close. Ross’ son has all of the swag, by the way.
    • Here’s Poeltl on the teammates coming out in support: “They could have been at home or with the family or whatever, but they come out here and support us. It’s definitely cool.”
  • A lot of CanCon on the Maine sidelines – head coach Scott Morrison, formerly of Lakehead, has been one of the rising stars on the D-League coaching circuit, and he brought in Patrick Tatham from Ryerson to be one of his assistants this year. Jason Calliste, an Oregon product out of Scarborough, also plays for the Red Claws and had five points.
  • The 905 play Tuesday and Thursday, both at home at 7:30, before hitting the road for the first time this year.
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Raptors assign Jakob Poeltl to 905

Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo are going to have company at the Hershey Centre on Saturday afternoon.

The Toronto Raptors have assigned Jakob Poeltl to Raptors 905 of the D-League, the team announced.

The move always seemed logical if the parent club didn’t get back from their five-game road trip too late, as it presents an opportunity for Poeltl to get some work in on a day the Raptors wouldn’t be doing much anyway. This could be a trend all week, with the Raptors and 905 both at home and their scheduled overlapping.

Sat – 905
Sun – both off
Mon – Raptors
Tue – 905
Wed – Raptors
Thu – 905
Fri – Raptors

I’m not sure the team will get as aggressive as sending Poeltl up and down each day, but it would make sense as long as he’s not needed in the NBA rotation. VanVleet and Caboclo could be recalled for the home games, as well, and all three might wind up sharing rides for a schedule something like this if the Raptors want to get really aggressive maximizing their practice time:

Sat – 905
Sun – Raptors practice
Mon – 905 practice, Raptors game
Tue – Raptors practice, 905 game
Wed – 905 practice, Raptors game
Thu – Raptors practice, 905 game
Fri – 905 practice, Raptors game

In any case, Saturday is a good chance for Poeltl to get on the floor, something he hasn’t done much of since Lucas Nogueira took the backup center job back. The No. 9 pick has looked solid in his 132 minutes this year, showing encouraging signs as a rangy, versatile defender with some nice instincts on the offensive glass, but Nogueira’s been deemed a better option behind Jonas Valanciunas for the time being. As a result, Poeltl’s played just 16 minutes since Nov. 9, all of them coming in a game Nogueira missed due to the birth of his child.

In eight games, the Austrian is averaging 3.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks in 16.5 minutes while shooting 46.2 percent.

The 905 are now insanely deep at center for Saturday, to the point that they may deploy Poeltl or Yanick Moreira at power forward at some point. Outside of Moreira and Edy Tavares, the 905 have been aggressive going smaller and positionless, and they’ll probably be comfortable going big and positionless, too, so long as the Maine Red Claws don’t gum up the lane by cheating off of a trio of bigs who aren’t established as outside threats. Defensively, Poeltl and Moreira both have the range and lateral quickness to play at the four some, and with Maine not possessing a hefty bruiser outside of the 6-foot-8 Dallas Lauderdale, the 905 might be able to get away with it. It will be interesting to see how head coach Jerry Stackhouse manages the rotation.

He was only willing to tease about it before tip-off.

“I was just out there asking can any of them play the three? I’d like to put all three of them out there, Yanick at the three,” he said. “It’d be crazy. Everybody stretch they arms out and nobody can get to the rim. Put Brady and Fred out there, and it’s over.”

For Poeltl, he’ll just be looking to show what he’s shown when given NBA time – that he can defend in a variety of ways. Beyond that, holding his own in the post on defense and improving his finishing around the rim would help, though those are likely to develop quite naturally as he gains experience and strength. The rookie is good, and the benefit of the 905 is that he can keep his confidence up while shaking any rust off in case he’s called upon to contribute at the NBA level again soon.

“Drop it in the post, baby. That’s what the expectations are. We’re gonna get it to him,” Stackhouse said before the game.

Saturday’s game tips off at 2p.m.

(As a programming note, like with VanVleet and Caboclo, we likely won’t write a post for each up and down, especially if they’re only for practices. We’ll alert you to any assignments or recalls that could have an effect on either game – look for those in the pre-game news & notes on the Raptors side, or possibly as their own post if they’re deemed significant enough.)

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Raptors Outlast the Bucks in Milwaukee

The road trip is finally over, and despite tough nights in Sacramento, when the game was taken out of the Raptors’ control and in Los Angeles, when they just couldn’t keep up with the Clippers, the Raptors finished at 3-2 on the trip thanks to a strong effort in Friday nights’ 105-99 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are the type of long, athletic and talented team that can be a tough out on any given night, and with the schedule having done no favors for Toronto in the last week and a half, this game easily could’ve gotten away from their tired legs, but they got another strong effort from the whole roster in the victory.

To start with the one negative for the Raptors, Bebe had his second straight off night, grabbing just one rebound to go with his four blocks and four fouls in 16 minutes. He’s proven through the early season that he belongs in the rotation, and has definitely earned his minutes, but the last two games he’s looked overmatched and he needs to find his composure again, because his athleticism and length gives the team a different look in the middle that helps to keep the energy up for the bench lineups. Maybe coming back home to Toronto and getting to spend some time with his new daughter will help him recharge and come out focused again as we head into the longest homestand of the year coming up, with 6 games at the ACC.

Going to the positives, there’s a lot to talk about. DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson continued to hit their shots tonight, with each hitting 50% of their attempts from long range, Carroll 4-8 and Patterson 3-6. Carroll lead the team in plus/minus at +10, and he’s looked more and more like the Atlanta player who garnered the large contract two summers ago in recent days. These two players will be critical to the long-term success of the team, as they can both bring a lot of spacing and open up the floor for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to operate. Cory Joseph also had his second straight solid shooting night, scoring 9 points on 4-8 shooting.

Jonas Valanciunas’ line isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off from tonight, but he gave a solid defensive effort against the big, long frontline of the Bucks, and although he only grabbed 6 rebounds, it felt like he was physical and present on the boards and his work played a role in the good rebounding nights for many players as he occupied a lot of Milwaukee bodies. He was able to find his offense as the night rolled on as well, including a nice seal in the post off a pick and roll where DeMar found him for an easy layup. While not a huge night for the big man, he did his job and made life easier for others, and he’ll have other nights where he can be the dominant presence that we’ve seen him capable of.

Terrence Ross was having what looked like an off night coming into the fourth quarter, shooting 0-2 with just a turnover for other contributions on the scoresheet, and in years past this would’ve been a sign that it just wasn’t his night. But this isn’t the same Ross this year, and he delivered another strong fourth quarter, contributing 8 points on 6 shots in the frame, including a personal 5-0 run when he hit a 3, then had a steal for a breakaway dunk on the next possession. He’s been dependable and consistent this year, hardly things you’d have expected to be said about the 5th year player. He also barely missed a putback dunk in the fourth quarter that would’ve been surely on every end of season highlight real had he managed to put it down.

As far as the two All-Stars, DeRozan and Lowry both proved why they’ve earned that honorific in this game, with Lowry dominating both early and late, hitting two three-pointers to open the game and then scoring 10 points on 4/6 shooting in the final frame. Lowry’s dependable and steady presence has been the one constant for the team over the course of the last few seasons, and it’s so comforting to know you’ll get these types of performances from him, where he seems to find ways to contribute whenever the game seems to get close.

DeRozan isn’t leading the league in scoring anymore, but that’s not an indictment of his game in any way. As his shot has begun to fail him at times, he’s become more of a distributor, and in the first half tonight he managed just 3/9 from the field, but was looking to create for others. This is my favorite version of DeMar, the one who lets the game come to him and uses the defensive attention he garners to keep everyone else involved when they have easy looks. His passing has been sublime, and at least to this writer, it feels like his teammates are more engaged when he has the ball because he’s shown his willingness to trust them in recent games. The whole team appears to be passing better, and it seems to start with DeMar. He also finished with 26 points on 9/18 shooting as he found his shot in yet another impressive third quarter, and he sealed the win with a spectacular pull-up jumper over a double team with 16 seconds to go.

The story of this game has to be that the Bucks worked hard and wouldn’t go away, constantly pulling the game back within reach whenever the Raptors looked to pull away, but the road team just wouldn’t let this one slip away, whether it was a big Kyle Lowry three-pointer from well beyond the line, a DeRozan contested pull-up that looked impossible and somehow found the bottom of the net, or one of the role players stepping up and hitting a big shot, Toronto was just too much tonight. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a budding superstar, and looked simply unstoppable when he set his mind on scoring, but the Raptors withstood that and put the road trip behind them. Hopefully the team can take the momentum from these last two big wins with them and build on that in the coming homestand.

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Raptors-Bucks Reaction Podcast – Good players are important

Blake Murphy fills in for star footballer William Lou to break down the team’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks with Harsh Dave.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 105, Bucks 99

Toronto 105 Final
Recap | Box Score
99 Milwaukee
P. Siakam 23 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +2 +/-

His defense is coming along so quickly, it’s really a thing of beauty to think on where he may be, say, next year. Spent heavy time on Antetokounmpo in the third quarter and did a pretty terrific job forcing extra screens or late passes. His energy in transition is palpable, and the Raptors have already learned to look for him leaking out or with early position established underneath.

D. Carroll 26 MIN | 4-9 FG | 4-8 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +9 +/-

Whatever the Raptors are doing for Carroll’s knee, I would like them to do for my ailing plantar fasciitis. He looks like a different player the last week or so, at both ends of the floor. He’s a big part of why the team appears to be moving more fluidly on offense (more on that below). And he’s knocking down open jumpers, bringing his 3FG% back north of league-average and trending toward his recent career norms.

J. Valanciunas 31 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +5 +/-

The Bucks are an interesting matchup for him, because he can’t just bully his way to rebounds but he can also defend their bigs for the most part. The Raptors need to help him on the glass in situations like this. He tried doing it himself in the third after a weaker offensive first half, and the results were pretty terrific. That illegal screen call on him late was bogus, as his arm was hooked.

K. Lowry 37 MIN | 7-13 FG | 4-6 3FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +5 +/-

What do you even say at this point? He was hitting ridiculous threes early on and then basically decided at the end that the Raptors weren’t going to lose this thing when he hit that monster triple. Has really settled into his role as the team’s No. 2 scorer every night, using DeRozan’s gravity to become a lethal knock-down threat and to turn his defensive intensity up even higher. These two are my favorite tag team short of The Revival.

D. DeRozan 35 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-2 3FG | 8-10 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +4 +/-

Made a terrific defensive play drawing a charge on Antetokounmpo in the first quarter, the Greek’s second early foul. He doesn’t have to be an elite defender, but heady plays like this make a world of difference. Playmaker-mode DeRozan is also a lot of fun, and anyone worried he’d just keep firing when he cooled off should be happy with how he’s responded to quarters or halves his shot isn’t dropping by moving the rock (he’s totaled four or more assists in eight straight). And then of course, there’s the unbelievable shot-making when everyone in the arena knows it’s going to be his shot. Just on another level right now.

P. Patterson 25 MIN | 3-7 FG | 3-6 3FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +3 +/-

It’s kind of funny to see the reaction after Patterson’s games when he shoots well and shoots poorly. The shots dropped in this one, which is awesome. But the improved passing, the key-possession defensive assignments, the switching across multiple guys? That’s all there whether or not his threes fall. And now he’s 10 for his last 20.

T. Ross 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-7 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -5 +/-

We live in a world where Terrence Ross got a technical foul. Responded to that with a steal and a dunk in transition. He’s been a terror in passing lanes and poking any poorly protected balls free all season long, finally providing some consistent value even on nights when his 3-point stroke isn’t there. Wasn’t his best showing overall, though.

L. Nogueira 16 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +0 +/-

I tweeted that I think Bebe may break the shared Ross-Joey Graham record for times fans have been in and out on a guy in one season. Nogueira picked up three fouls in short order once again (one was probably Joseph’s fault), but he also had a pair of great blocks at the rim and made a terrific decision and pass when the Bucks doubled a high screen-and-roll (it led to a missed three, but still). Then Monroe feasted when posting Nogueira up in the second half, but Nogueira’s help defense was really strong. The full Nogueira experience here, good and bad. I wish I could give him a B+ and a D- at the same time.

C. Joseph 27 MIN | 4-10 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +2 +/-

Finally seems to be settling back in to a groove at both ends, and Casey’s extended trust in him was clear here. Raptors tried using him as a screener to get DeRozan on to Terry, but the Bucks just disrespected Joseph as a threat, blowing those up. Not really his fault, just a note I had watching the late-game offense and how the Raptors used him.

Dwane Casey

Once again went to an early hook for Lowry in the first and third after talking about limiting his minutes some before the game (he and DeRozan combined for a reasonable 72 minutes in a tight win). That can work as long as bench groups hold their own. And there’s always money in the banaNorm stand if those bench-heavy groups need a boost. I know some wanted Nogueira to get an earlier hook after another shaky start in this one, but he was helping at the rim well, and Monroe probably would have bullied Poeltl on the block just as much. (And hey, we all wanted more minutes for Valanciunas, right?) The play calls in this one were a lot of fun, outside of the final possession, with Casey opening up a little more as the team’s ball-movement continues to improve.

Five Things We Saw

  1. I’m not sure if the passing and assist opportunity numbers will bear this out, but it’s felt like the Raptors have been moving the ball much more willingly of late than we’re accustomed to. It’s been beautiful, and the number of fun wrinkles they use to get Patterson and Carroll open, so long as the ball-handlers can thread some moderately difficult passes, are things of beauty. In time, consistently finding those shooters will in turn make things easier on the ball-handlers.
  2. Despite emerging with “only” a five point lead and it feeling like the Raptors didn’t have an answer for Antetokounmpo, that was a really strong first half defensively. The Bucks aren’t a great offense, anyway, and they shot 5-of-15 on threes, but the Raptors really slowed them down, and they don’t have enough options who can reliably create late in a shot clock. The second half went off the rails a bit.
  3. The game really didn’t have many runs, which you can tell from all of the players having pretty similar plus-minus ratings. This was a fun back-and-forth. Because of that back-and-forth, the Bucks hung around late. I’d complain that the Raptors couldn’t close it out, but as pointed out in the pre-game notes, this is what the Bucks do, and what they’ve done against some elite competition. It was always expected for this one to come down to the wire.
  4. The Raptors threw a lot of different players at Antetkounmpo and switched pretty freely two-through-four, on or off the ball. With no ideal option to guard him, they trusted a mish-mash of Carroll, DeRozan, Siakam, and Patterson. Norman Powell is giving up not just height but also length for a change, and once again didn’t see the floor. Patterson is probably their best bet for meaningful positions, but I thought Siakam did a nice job, too.
  5. Giannis Antetokounmpo is so much fun. His length and his blend of skills at both end make him a completely unique player, and he seems to improve by the quarter. The Bucks aren’t there yet, but he’s going to be a lot of fun (read: terrifying) to play against the next few years. 29-6-11 with quality defense, my goodness.
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Pre-game news & notes: Wright aiming for Jan. 1 return

The road trip is almost over! The Toronto Raptors wrap up their five-game swing on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Coming off of a great win in Houston, the Raptors actually have a chance to salvage a winning record on the trip. As bad as things may have felt of late, the Raptors really only have the one bad loss on their ledger (Sacramento), and the others all seem justifiable in retrospect. Taking three of five on pretty much any road trip is a positive outcome, and I think it was probably the goal for the Raptors heading in (OK, maybe 4-1, but it’s not bad).

That’s if they can take it. The Bucks are 6-7, but they’ve proven plucky and a little annoying against top competition. It’ll be nice for the Raptors to draw a below-average offense, but they’re also a quality defense, and generally a nice test of the Raptors’ remaining energy levels. What better way to spend a Friday night?

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

Raptors updates
Based on the recent pattern, DeMarre Carroll should be good to go for this one, unless the rest plan calls for an extended break as this trip rounds out (he would have four days off). As we’ve settled into here, assume Carroll is playing until we hear otherwise. And he’s been playing really well of late! Giannis Antetkounmpo is a really tough matchup, though (for anyone), and I’d imagine the Raptors throw a lot of different looks his way. (As promised in the mini-mailbag today, here is your daily “this is probably a good matchup in which to use Norman Powell, but by-golly shrug, whose minutes do you cut to get him in there right now? If Powell gets in, I hope Rashad Vaughn does, too, so Powell can put him through the same ringer he did at pre-draft workouts.)

(Non-update: Carroll is playing.)

The Bucks present some fun challenges elsewhere, too. There are places for weaker defenders to hide, but beyond Antetokounpo, Jabari Parker presents a good matchup for rookie Pascal Siakam. Parker’s kind of emerging as a throw-back, but he’s shooting from outside a lot more and improving as a passer, giving Siakam and Patrick Patterson no easy option to try to force him into. Siakam continues to run into new challenge after new challenge, which should only help expedite the impressive curve he’s been developing upon already.

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

Bucks updates
You know how at times in the past I’ve said to throw out these positional depth charts because a team uses players fluidly? Uhh, yeah. Throw it out for the Bucks, especially with Antetokounmpo working as the team’s primary ball-handler for long stretches and messing up the traditional alignments. They’re also enormous, so while the idea of players playing up and down the lineup is generally associated with smaller looks, the Bucks almost always have a lot of length and size on the floor. When Mirza Teletovic is occasionally the de facto three, you know you’re playing weird.

What we do know is that the Bucks will throw a lot of length at DeMar DeRozan. Remember, it’s been size, not speed, that’s given DeRozan trouble in the past. Tony Snell might get a crack in order to keep Antetokounmpo fresh for the offensive end, but at some point the Bucks are going to turn to their young star to try to bottle the 30-point machine up. That could shift some of the onus on to Jonas Valanciunas to bully the enticing but slender John Henson inside, because Kyle Lowry’s going to be dealing with a second consecutive pest at the point. Everyone’s favorite 2015-16 trade target, Greg Monroe, has fallen out of the rotation almost entirely, by the way.

PG: Matthew Dellavedova, Malcolm Brogdon, Jason Terry
SG: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rashad Vaughn
SF: Tony Snell
PF: Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic, Michael Beasley, Steve Novak
C: Miles Plumlee, John Henson, Greg Monroe, Thon Maker
ASSIGNED: None, because these dudes drafted Thon Maker without a team to assign him to (yes, his extremely small-sample numbers are great, and if you believe in that, I’d like to trade you one Jake Layman for a first).
OUT: Khris Middleton

Assorted

  • Depending on what time the Raptors get back tonight, I’d expect Jakob Poeltl to be assigned for tomorrow’s Raptors 905 game. With the big-league club off until Monday and likely scheduled for a light day Saturday, it’d be a chance for Poeltl to get more run than he’s got in weeks, even if he just comes down and plays spot minutes around Yanick Moreira and Edy Tavares.
  • Delon Wright has been shooting for two weeks and is on track to be cleared for a return by the time 2017 starts, per Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun. I caught up with Wright a bit the other week, and he was feeling pretty positive about how things were progressing. He’s also quite excited for a potential 905 rehab stint, “Like baseball,” as he put it. It’s unclear if that Jan. 1 date is before or after said rehab stint, but based on earlier discussions, I would guess the 905’s home-stand Dec. 27, Dec. 29, Jan. 2, and Jan. 4 would be the games he’s looking to get into, as the Raptors are on the road during that stretch anyway.
  • If you were wondering who catered the Raptors’ Thanksgiving celebration yesterday:

  • I’ve got your reaction podcast tonight instead of Will. Hopefully it’s a cheerful one instead of me just trying to get out of here and to the liquor.

The line
The Raptors opened as 3.5-point favorites and the line nudged down to Raptors -3, roughly what I expected when Will and I were discussing the upcoming stretch on the podcast this week. The over-under has come down from 212 to 207.5, too, which makes sense since that opening  mark was kind of bananas (the game may well end up there, but as a starting point, no way). Assuming the Raptors aren’t looking ahead to a long stretch at home, they should be in good shape here. They’re better than the Bucks.

Raptors 106, Bucks 102

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Mini-Mailbag: Siakam’s role, rotation tweaks, Super-Jonas, and more

Last season, whenever the Toronto Raptors had back-to-back days off, I’d drop an #RRMailbag. Well, today I just didn’t have any one broad topic I felt like tackling, so I opened it up to the first few questions. (You can find all previous editions here, though I don’t know why you’d bother.)

Before we go ahead: We’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me.

Alright, let’s get this money. The soundtrack for today’s mailbag is Supernatural by Danny L Harle ft. Carly Rae Jepsen, which is how I feel about each and every one of you.

Woah, popular question! I will preface the answer by saying that we are still unclear on when Jared Sullinger may return. President Masai Ujiri was very noncommittal on a timeline when announcing that Sullinger had undergone surgery, laying out “two or three months” as a possibility but leaving it very open-ended. Sullinger is still wheeling around on that hilarious scooter thing, so he hasn’t even progressed to walking normally yet. The initial timeline made it sound as if sometime in January were an outside possibility, but I kind of have the All-Star break in my head. (If nothing else, I hope Sullinger plays a few rehab games with Raptors 905 like Jerryd Bayless and Brandon Jennings have done, and like Delon Wright will.)

As for Pascal Siakam, he’s going to be in control of his own destiny to at least some degree. He’s played far better than anyone had any right to expect for a supposedly raw No. 27 overall pick thrust into a starting role. His energy is infectious, he’s been a key factor in the Raptors becoming a fast-break terror for the first time in head coach Dwane Casey’s tenure, and his defense on the ball is several steps beyond what I expected out of the gate. He’s still imperfect on defense, of course, over-helping at times or being a little out of position and requiring someone else to over-help, but these are usually crimes of positive intent, and as he better learns the scheme and catches up to the speed of the NBA, those instances could become strengths, his help/cheat-and-recover a major advantage. Offensively, he still isn’t doing much beyond running out in transition and hitting the dunker spot, and teams are loading up off of him, as you’d expect. That side of the ball is going to take some time, and some Raptors 905 time definitely wouldn’t hurt him later in the season so he can get far more touches.

Unfortunately for the rookie, Sullinger’s going to have a place, and it’s probably going to be in the starting lineup eventually. That’s not a knock on Siakam, who may be even better by the time Sullinger returns. But the Raptors are in the business of winning games now, and they’ll need to find a familiarity with whatever role they envision for Sullinger in the postseason. He might come off the bench for a bit, but if and when Sullinger’s healthy, he’s the teams starting power forward, and Siakam is probably moving into a role similar to that of Norman Powell – there if needed and probably deserving of time, but waiting for an opportunity or emergency.

Siakam’s best bet for playing time late in the year may be Lucas Nogueira. Nogueira’s been solid-to-good since training camp started, but he’s stumbled the last two games, and consistency has always been his issue. The Raptors have only experimented with Siakam at the five a little bit (they see him more as a four-three than a four-five right now), but if the backup center remains uncertain, Sullinger could wind up filling the bulk of that role, opening up a few extra minutes at power forward.

I kind of hope I’m wrong here. There’s still a lot of time for Siakam to improve, and while I doubt very much he’ll be “better” than Sullinger at any point this year, the Raptors have little invested in Sullinger – if Siakam can make a legitimate case for minutes even when he returns, the short-term/long-term balancing act could tilt in his favor. I doubt it – Siakam would need to progress quite rapidly from her, because Sullinger could be a major addition to this team and Siakam’s the logical man out – but if “how do they keep Siakam in the rotation?” is still a pressing question in February, that’s a major positive for the franchise’s long-term outlook at the position.

I would like him to play me five minutes a night as a scrappy, defense-first third point guard.

I kid, obviously, but I would like someone to play a few more minutes to prevent Kyle Lowry from dying at some point this year. I won’t rehash this too much, because it’s something I wrote about a lot last year and something Eric Koreen and I discussed at length yesterday for The Athletic Toronto. As a quick refresher: I’m terribly risk-averse when it comes to player workloads, and there’s a lot of research that suggests leading the league in minutes is, you know, not great in the long-run. But I am conflicted, because the Raptors have a well-regarded sport science team with access to far more data than “minutes played,” and this team wants to succeed in the postseason as much as you or I want them to. They have their own best interest in mind, so it’s hard for me to get too worked up about it.

Limiting Lowry’s minutes seems like a worthwhile goal, though, and Casey showed against Houston how he can keep the team competitive for 48 minutes while playing Lowry and DeMar DeRozan just 36 minutes each – longer stretches with just one of them on the floor. I probably wouldn’t go so far as to ever sit both of them at once, at least unless Cory Joseph continues his recent turnaround and Terrence Ross remains Sixth Man of the Year.

I realize the “correct” answer to this question for most is to get Norman Powell more minutes. He’s often the team’s best perimeter defender, he helps push the transition game, and he’s one of the safer bets on the team to “bring it” every time he’s called upon. He’s a beautiful luxury as the tenth man in that sense. It’s very easy to argue he should get more minutes. But it’s really tough to argue whom his minutes should come at the expense of. Say Lowry and DeRozan settle in at 36, that opens up about 3.5 per-night. Then there are the nights DeMarre Carroll sits (25 a night) or is ineffective (say 10). And maybe Terrence Ross comes down to earth and Powell can eat into his 20 here and there. You’re still piecing together an up-and-down role contingent on players ahead of him. Until one of them starts struggling, Powell is going to have to wait as one of the league’s best “break class in case of emergency” options.

(I will still tweet about playing Powell in this matchup or that situation every single game, though. FreeNorm forever.)

Siakam’s foot speed. If it were in a complete vacuum and Jonas Valanciunas were just a basketball ideal, unbound by the constraints of one team, I’d probably pick shooting touch, because he’d immediately be one of the deadliest offensive big men in the NBA. But Valanciunas plays for the Raptors, and that shooting touch, while valuable, would mostly be used as a show-me shot or as a gimmicky wrinkle off their pet sets (particularly their dual-screener actions, or to invert the offense with Valanciunas playing Patrick Patterson’s role in the offense). It would be great, but I doubt Valanciunas would take more than one or two threes each game, and doing so would in part negate that he’s one of the league’s elite offensive rebounders.

For Valanciunas on the Raptors, Siakam’s foot-speed would essentially make him what his detractors have long clamored for and his fans have long hoped would develop. He still wouldn’t have the lift to be a Bismack Biyombo-like rim-protector, but he’d allow the team to get far more aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverages, asking their center to hedge out on guards and trusting him to recover back to his man or to the rim. Valanciunas would still need to improve his reads to get the full benefit of Siakam’s lateral quickness (Valanciunas isn’t exactly slow, he’s just kind of…deliberate, and I’m picturing a faster Valanciunas spinning himself into oblivion trying to hedge-and-recover), but, yeah, this would be pretty huge for the Raptors’ defense and their options defending the Cleveland Cavaliers.  And Channing Frye.

Well Alex, I suppose when you’re back to Toronto in February, we’ll just have to read the new CBA and find out if there’s an Amnesty Clause.

(There won’t be. And I’d bet Carroll finishes out his deal with the Raptors – when he’s playing poorly or looking hurt, you’d have to pay a team to take him on, and when he’s playing well and looking healthy, he’s exactly what the Raptors need at both ends. I just can’t imagine an offseason deal presenting itself where the Raptors get better dealing him, and clearing his salary wouldn’t be enough to make them major free-agent players, anyway. Sr. Swag Daddy is here for good.)

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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Patrick Patterson’s Shot?

Only two rookies have started every one of their team’s games so far this season.  Those two rookies? Domantas Sabonis and Pascal Siakam.  Along with starting every game for Toronto, Siakam has helped contribute to a 9-6 record despite Toronto playing the second toughest schedule to date in the league, and he earned a shout-out in the most recent Rookie Ladder from NBA.com.

Here’s the problem though: only one of Sabonis and Siakam was expected to have a starting role this season, while the other was forced into the role unexpectedly after an injury ahead of them in the rotation.

Yes, it’s awesome to see Siakam make the most of his minutes and this stretch of games will certainly help in his long term development.  He has far exceeded what could reasonably have been expected, but it’s also another reminder of the Raptors seemingly never-ending battle to find themselves a starting Power Forward.

It feels almost like déjà vu.  The Raptors have a strong team up-and-down the roster, but are primarily lacking at that one spot.  And the search has taken them to some interesting places…

2016-17: Jared Sullinger  Pascal Siakam

2015-16: Luis Scola

2014-15: Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough

2013-14: Amir Johnson

I love Amir as much as the next guy, but that’s not exactly a murderer’s row of power forwards considering it’s one of the deepest positions in the league.

Amir was a steady soldier, and it often hurt the eyes to watch him run through his many bumps, bruises, and injuries, but the hunt for a power forward has been a persistent need since the departure of Chris Bosh in 2010.

And yet, Patrick Patterson has been a consistent presence on the roster since December 2013.  We’re three years into Patterson as a Raptor and he has started exactly 20 games for Toronto.  Nine of these starts came in last season’s playoffs, leaving only 11 regular season starts since his arrival.

In fact, Patterson hasn’t started a regular season game for the Raptors since February 27, 2015.  That’s 637 days since his last crack at joining a regular season starting line-up.

Amir, Tyler, Luis, and Pascal have all gotten their chance before Patterson.  The simple answer for this is the Raptors like his production off the bench, and that’s likely it.  I don’t know if there is a more complicated answer to this mystery.

What I do know is that Patterson goes a long way to providing the Raptors with both their ceiling and their floor.  DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the engine that drives the Raptors, but as currently constructed it is a player like Patterson who can help determine how far they go.

Toronto currently has a net rating of +6.6 when Patterson is on the floor, good for fifth highest on the team behind only Lucas Nogueira (+17.9), Norman Powell (+7.6), Terrence Ross (+7.6), and Lowry (+7.4).  Lowry is the only high minutes player with a higher on court net rating for the Raptors.

Meanwhile, the Raptors are barely a positive team when Patterson goes to the bench, with a net rating of +0.8.  Only Nogueira (+0.4) and Lowry (-6.7) beat him in this regard.

Patterson has followed in the footsteps of Amir Johnson by regularly being near the top of the team in plus/minus each game.  The impact is incredible for someone whose statlines usually do not jump off the page.

What Patterson contributes is tough to quantify within a team’s boxscore.  He’s not a dominant scorer or rebounder.  He is an intelligent, but not overly gifted passer.  He doesn’t a lot of blocks or steals.   And he isn’t an explosive athlete who will regularly stand out on Sports Centre.

He is just a solid basketball player who generally knows his role.  Just look at the video in this Tweet.

Such intelligent coverage and helped prevent two scoring opportunities on the same possession.

For a team that is starved for shooting though, Patterson does take a lot of three point shots.  Toronto is near the bottom of the league (sixth worse) in three point attempts per game, at an awful 22.9.  Patterson is second on the team in attempts at 4.4 per game.  This seems shocking considering the number of wide open looks he regularly passes up.

Toronto needs Patterson’s shooting to help open up the floor for attacking guards like DeRozan.  The problem is that Patterson is currently not doing this well.  Yes, there mere threat of Patterson shooting is a benefit to the Raptors’ spacing issues, but they can’t continue to live through Patterson shooting just 27.3 percent from deep.

And that’s how Patterson helps to raise the team’s ceiling.  If he can simply hit a healthy number of his open three pointers, the Raptors will become even more dangerous on offence than they are right now (currently 4th in points per 100 possessions).

Roughly 60 percent of Patterson’s shot attempts this season have been considered to be catch-and-shoot three pointers by NBA.com.  On these shots he is shooting a terrible 25.8 percent.

Last season Patterson shot 36 percent on his catch-and-shoot three pointers, which is a substantial improvement to say the least.

The good news is that Patterson struggled to start last season as well.  Through 15 games he was shooting 31.5 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.  This is still an improvement upon his current 25.8 percent this season, but well below where he would end the year.

Look at his monthly breakdown from last season (note: 3PA on the chart indicates his three point attempts on catch-and-shoot.  That was just too wordy to fit into a graph.):

patrick-patterson-shooting-breakdown-chart

Outside of a poor end in a shortened month of April (and a less than excellent playoffs in this regard), Patterson provided some excellent shooting for Toronto.  From the beginning of January through to the end of March 2015, Patterson shot 42.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.  If he can even approach numbers like this as the season progresses, the outlook of the Raptors changes.

Barring some incredible good fortune for Toronto (or incredibly bad misfortune for Cleveland) the Raptors still won’t be a legitimate threat to the Cavaliers come playoff time as presently constructed, but at least the journey getting there will likely be more fun if Patterson’s shot starts to fall.

Just because it happened last year doesn’t mean it will happen again this year, but I do have a hard time seeing Patterson continuing to shoot this poorly.  At worst he will likely shoot around league average when in a catch-and-shoot situation, and that’s likely enough.

Patterson’s impact on the Raptors as a whole is hard to quantify.  Improving the accuracy of his jumpshot will just give us one more positive number to lean on.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Bucks, Nov. 25

The Raptors look to finish off the extended road trip that started off as the week from scheduling Hell with a happy ending tonight in Milwaukee. Having played in Cleveland against the defending champs, in the altitude against Denver, against justice in Sacramento and against both the first and second best teams in the league in point deferential in the second night of back-to-backs, the Raptors have to be pleased to be ending this road trip and doing so against a team like Milwaukee.

That isn’t to say that Milwaukee is a pushover by any stretch of the imagination, but the Bucks have not figured out how to be a very good team right now. They rank 16th in the league with a -0.92 scoring margin. While Giannis Antetomounmpo is blossoming into a star, the Bucks haven’t been able to turn the statistical nonsense machine that he’s become into team wins. Yes, Giannis looks to be making a leap, yes, Jabari Parker has been looking better and better and yes, the Bucks did try and address shooting in the off-season by bringing in Teletovic, Delevadova and Tony Snell. But the Bucks are still worst in the NBA in team 3pt%, bricking a remarkably bad 30% from outside. The Bucks also get to the line at a below average rate. When Giannis sits, the Bucks score 98 points per 100 possesions, a rate just fractionally better than the league worst offenses in Dallas and Orlando.

Defensively, the Bucks have been league average(ish), hinting at an ability to be above average on some nights. In the last few games, Greg Monroe has been taken out of the lineup entirely, garnering multiple DNPs, as the Bucks have experimented with playing Antetomounmpo at the point guard offensively and centre defensively. It’s an interesting look, and Giannis certainly has the length to pull it off somewhat. The lineup with Giannis-Parker-Teletovic-Snell allows the Bucks to essentially switch defensively on any action, simplifying the attack-style defense that the Bucks initiated two years ago into much more man-on-man coverage. There are definite advantages to being able to play this way. However, the Raptors pose two particular problems to this plan of attack. The first one is Jonas Valanciunas. Kidd has banished Monroe, the only body big enough to effectively bang down low with Jonas. The big man has struggled at times playing against stretch lineups, but that’s not what this Milwaukee lineup actually is. Everyone of those guys can handle the ball, and everyone of them can switch defensively, but while Teletovic and Parker have been good from 3 this year, Giannis, Snell and whoever the Bucks have been playing at point have been abysmal. Without the ability to punish the Raptors with spacing, it allows Valanciunas to go to work on the offensive end, bullying around the much smaller and weaker player who has the misfortune of guarding him. That’s a big plus for the Raptors, but there is an even bigger windfall for this matchup. While the Bucks defense has been OK, their downfall has been their inability to keep opponents off the free throw line. The Bucks give up more free throws per opponent field goal attempt than any other team in the league. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of DeMar DeRozan heading to the free throw line already. DeRozan is one of the last people a foul-happy team wants to see. His ability to get to the line against the Bucks has helped him lead the Raptors to a four game sweep of the Bucks last season, and wins against Milwaukee in 10 of the Raptors last 11 games against them.

While the last game of a long road trip can sometimes be a bit of a trap game, I would be shocked to see this Raptors team treat it as such. The Raptors had an extremely frustrating week between the Sacramento screw-job and playing tired and losing against the league’s top 3 teams. This is a squad that (rightly, I think) probably envisioned themselves getting off to a better than 9-6 start, and who showed a ton of focus and dedication in their last, and possibly best game of the season against Houston. Milwaukee is a smaller, foul-happy team with bad 3 point shooting, and the Raptors are hungry. It’s time to eat.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 25 – Everything’s better now

The Extra returns, reflecting on a long road-trip and looking ahead to an even longer home-stand.

This week’s episode is brought to you Athlete’s Collective, where you can use promo code RAPTORS at the checkout for 15% off your first order of locally made, logo-free, premium sportswear at affordable prices. THIS WEEK, you can get 25% off using that code as part of their Black Friday sale (good until Nov. 30).

athletes collective

(more…)

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Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 25

Improved defensive effort has Raptors breathing a lot easier | Toronto Sun

Casey was convinced Joseph was guilty earlier in the season of worrying too much about keeping DeRozan scoring at a high volume and not focussing enough on his own offence.

“Cory’s just got to play,” Casey said. “He’s just got to play basketball. He doesn’t have to worry about getting DeMar the ball, play basketball. Take what the game gives him, if it gives him a drive to the basket, take it; if it gives him a jump shot, take it.”

Joseph has always been a defence-first guy and the questions about his defence seemed to bother him far more than any talk about his offence.

“I have been a little more active the last couple of games,” he said of his individual defence. “But my on-the-ball defence I have been happy with. Just rotations, I think we are all working on that as a team.”

There is more emphasis than ever on rotating to the next cover this season without the shot-blocking, rim-protecting presence of Bismack Biyombo waiting back there to clean things up.

“One hundred per cent,” Joseph said, “because Bismack used to challenge everything at the rim so it was a little easier on the rotations. Now you got to be there a little earlier because you know you don’t have Biz to protect the rim like you had before. Lucas (Nogueira) and Jonas (Valanciunas) over the last couple of games they started to do a better job too.”

DeMarre Carroll is trying to spread the swag – Raptors Republic

It’s not just for show. Carroll cares deeply about fashion and lists it among one of the avenues he hopes to pursue after basketball, along with coaching and real estate. Carroll’s so serious about it that he’s begun exploring options for his own clothing line, something that’s already advanced to the stages of trying to get manufacturers lined up and looking into potential retail partnerships. (He already has fanwear up on his website, but his line is aimed to be dressier casual wear, “like what you got on but very nice.”)

“You try to do something different, man. You try to hit all aspects and things that you like to do,” he says. “And this is the best time to do it when you’re at the peak of your career, and you’re in the NBA, and you can be seen on so many levels. You try to hit all the aspects, things you want to do. You just try to play around with it and see which one captures your heart the most.”

As for what to expect from the clothing line, Carroll isn’t divulging specifics or patterns, but his teammates are curious.

“I’m curious to see what’s it going to look like,” says Patrick Patterson, who some see as the primary competitor for Carroll’s claim as the best-dressed player on the team (Patterson will only say “it’s between me and him, hands down,” noting that it’s easier for Carroll to dress as a more normal-sized person). “I’ll definitely wear it if he gives it to me for free, ’cause I’m not paying for it. I’ll definitely rock his stuff. ”

An American Thanksgiving Checkpoint: Featuring DMC, Terry Ross and Bruno Mars – Raptors Republic

It’s still a work in progress, but at least the Raps are somewhat realizing how Jonas Valanciunas can dominate a specific matchup. Better yet: Consistently utilizing him in those situations. That’s a step in the right direction considering even when the advantage was present in year’s past, consistency wasn’t their strong suit. Next up: Force the issue in matchups that are less appealing — even if it’s seemingly detrimental to the outcome of an individual game. Just like how there is a long-term bright side to the Raps going up against some of the league’s elite in such a short amount of time, how’s JV officially going to take the next step without challenging him to do so?

NBA faces game-changing call | Toronto Star

That’s probably the bigger issue, and one that hits at the heart of the Raptors-Kings controversy. The rules say referees must look at a clock malfunction at the end of the game, but what about other times when a tenth of a second here or there might matter? For instance, if the replay centre put its micro-timing device on the moment DeMarcus Cousins got possession of a missed Kyle Lowry free throw and called time out, would it have added a tenth of a second or two that would have made Ross’s shot legal? What about the 24-second shot-clock violation immediately preceding Ross’s shot? If they were able to back up time earlier in the final minutes, would it have mattered?

They can’t look at everything — that would be mind-numbing and lead to Rivers’s 16-hour games, which nobody wants. — but when is human error, or human reaction, better than intensive video replay scrutiny? That’s perhaps the bigger question.

“So, it’s a tough one for sure and I don’t know where the line is at, I really don’t,” Rivers said.

Leaving room for human nature in officiating may not make the game perfect, but perfection is hard to attain; no one can tell anyone connected with the Raptors that it was a perfect, by-the-rules ending to the Sacramento game.

Part of sports, a large part, is human failing — missed shots, missed plays, missed calls. It’s impossible to legislate that out. The subjective nature of when to chase it is a question that needs examining.

“I’m not sure how they chose between malfunction and human error,” Ujiri said of the Kings game. “I’m not sure how they concluded that.”

Now Playing: R. Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly @3tross1 #Raptors #WeTheNorth

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Dial 905: Bruno plays big, VanVleet stays steady, and more – Raptors HQ

VanVleet Disappoints
After Fred VanVleet dominated his first D-League game, his second did not go as planned. VanVleet played in 22 minutes and only put up one point. VanVleet did not look like the same player from the first game who controlled the offence and dominated the court. That said, VanVleet did still have some effect on the game with eight assists and three steals.

Uthoff Bounce Back Game
Jarrod Uthoff’s professional debut was not a success but his second game was huge for the team. Uthoff came off the bench and put up 14 points, three rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes of action. For the most part, Uthoff looked more settled in the team’s offense, and it showed.

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DeMar DeRozan #10 #wethenorth by @juwilll

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Bringing Up Bebe Week 5: On Road Trips and Babies – Raptors HQ

Happy
But all of that is burying the lede — Lucas Nogueira had his baby daughter this week! In case you missed it, that’s why he sat out the game in Denver. (Not due to injury, which, admit it, was the first thing you thought had happened.)

I won’t pretend to have additional information about this right now, as the team’s been on the road for the past week. Suffice to say, I assume Nogueira is somewhere right now just beaming with pride.

I don’t need to make the case here for why babies, particularly when, you know, they belong to you, would make a person happy. The fact that Bebe now has a baby of his own offers up some kind of perfect poetry though. Godspeed and good luck in fatherhood, Lucas.

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Kyle Lowry #7 #wethenorth by @juwilll

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Game Preview: Raptors @ Bucks | Toronto Raptors

Joseph getting back to basics

In addition to the Raptors getting an offensive boost from Carroll against the Rockets, Cory Joseph also showed up with a big game. Joseph led the bench in scoring with 17 points on Wednesday, making 6-of-11 field goals, including all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. After watching Joseph lead the second unit a season ago, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey felt his reserve point guard had been thinking too much to start this year.

“Cory’s just got to play. He’s just got to play basketball,” Casey said. “Take what the game gives him. If it gives him a drive to the basket, take it. If it gives him a jump shot, take it.”

Joseph said that he and Casey had spoken prior to the game on Wednesday. The conversation sinking in when he hit the floor later that night.

“He didn’t want me to defer as much,” Joseph said. “Be aggressive and don’t think. The first however many games, maybe [I was] thinking a little bit too much.”

Joseph’s 17 points were a season-high. Like Carroll, scoring is always a welcomed bonus, but whether shots are falling or not, it is his effort on the defensive end of the floor that is needed whenever he checks into the game.

“We had a deep discussion pre-game [in Houston] and we talked about getting back to the type of basketball that we needed to play, the principles that we needed to play [with],” Carroll said after Wednesday’s victory. “I think that cleared a lot of people’s minds.”

Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks: Friday preview | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

DeRozan vs. Antetokounmpo

The rail-thin, multi-faceted Bucks guard is a long seven-footer who often acts as the team’s primary ball-handler. DeRozan and, likely, DeMarre Carroll as well will have to worry about stopping him in transition.

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

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An American Thanksgiving Checkpoint: Featuring DMC, Terry Ross and Bruno Mars

If only Canadian and American Thanksgiving were one in the same; chances are you and me both would currently be enjoying an NFL triple-header if they were. But even though a 4-day weekend is not in the cards, unless you “suddenly came down with something”, we can still take this opportunity to express a few thanks.

Yes, even as the aftermath of the Raptors’ recent stretch of games (sans Houston) still lingers in our collective psyche. Not to mention the fact that most of us (myself included) find ourselves rushing to open up ESPN’s trade machine the moment rumors of DeMarcus Cousins being on the block start to circulate.

Besides, as the calendar closes in on December, a chance for an unofficial (yet realistic) checkpoint is provided. Add in the fact that the vast majority of the players and coaches we all discuss on a daily basis are American, the moment calls for a list that combines the two:

1. I get it. There’s plenty of valid reasons to call B.S. on such a tough schedule. And even though blaming officiating is often a poor excuse (sans the “Sacramento screw job”), that doesn’t mean their inconsistencies weren’t contributing factors. The Raps didn’t exactly earn a better overall fate, but awarding a free pass is too much to ask for when numerous calls were blatantly mishandled.

However, when you look at it from afar, there’s a flip-side full of positives:

  • If there was ever a time for a defensive collapse, wouldn’t you rather this team be humbled by superior opponents at this stage in the season as opposed to a softer schedule? Isn’t having the advantage of dealing with inefficiencies before laying the groundwork for a postseason run a recipe for ultimate success? Bad habits don’t die, they’ll always rear their ugly head, but masking a problem for an extended period of time can only lead to a false identity — one that might be too late to fix.
  • From a pure fan perspective, I’m usually jumping on any bandwagon where there’s any sniff of Toronto getting the short end of the stick; when a team represents an entire country, the claws of that defense mechanism come out even before any complaint is justified. But when you combine the fact that the regular season hasn’t even reached the 20 percent mark with the overall entertainment value, facing the likes of Cleveland, Golden State and the Clippers can/should be viewed as an early Christmas present. Is there really a drawback from a team getting to put legitimacy to the test? I realize that a “loss” to the Kings and an episode of unnecessary exhaustion in Denver ended up being by-products that came along for the ride, but that still shouldn’t move the overall needle.
  • Imagine if the Golden State game (aka: “Drake Night”) took place in the middle of the “schedule from hell” rather than the beginning. How much more anger would you have felt when the game continuously took a backseat to an off-the-court personality? A personality that only seemed to increase the level of play of the opponent! Although, to be fair, MLSE allows for the distraction to happen. But I ask: He’s a public figure that brings extra eyes, yes, but hasn’t this “Ambassador” experiment served its purpose? Better yet: Hasn’t it run its course? From a basketball standpoint, it might be it’s probably time to view him as just a cast member of Degrassi: The Next Generation. 

2. With DeMar DeRozan, and his likely unsustainable (but noteworthy) career-high PER of 26.9, taking his level of play (at least offensively) to new heights, we should be encouraged that even when he demands the ball that much more the Raps’ current overall Pace number (98.3) is higher than each of what every season for the last five years ultimately ended up with. That’s more than I can say for their current Assist Ratio (15.0), which if not improved, would just tie last season’s mark that wound up registering a 4th straight decline. At times, DeMar has shown that he’s evolved when it comes to creating for others, and at times it’s happened simply by default. Either way, I’d bet against a 5th straight decrease.

3. It’s still a work in progress, but at least the Raps are somewhat realizing how Jonas Valanciunas can dominate a specific matchup. Better yet: Consistently utilizing him in those situations. That’s a step in the right direction considering even when the advantage was present in year’s past, consistency wasn’t their strong suit. Next up: Force the issue in matchups that are less appealing — even if it’s seemingly detrimental to the outcome of an individual game. Just like how there is a long-term bright side to the Raps going up against some of the league’s elite in such a short amount of time, how’s JV officially going to take the next step without challenging him to do so?

4. The fact that Wednesday night’s visit to Houston offered the perfect elixir to the Raptors’ woes. In particular: How it showcased the noticeable difference DeMarre Carroll (swag and all) can make, and another reassuring sign that T-Ross’ improvement is here to say.

It’s easy to forget just how beneficial Carroll (when resembling a player that’s full healthy) is to the overall makeup of this roster. From not putting the likes of Norman Powell, and to a lesser extent, Pascal Siakam, in situations they’re not consistently ready for, to stabilizing this team’s lackadaisical energy when it comes to fighting through screens — though, there’s only so many miracles one player can perform in the face of a systematic failure — things fall in line when he’s performing at an optimum level. His court awareness, shooting touch and willingness to get physical have slowly been creeping back into the picture and were on full display in Houston. Fingers crossed that he’s finally about to provide the impact he was originally signed for.

As for Terry Ross, well, allow me to take you back to Part 2 of the RR Roundtable before the season started:

Question: TERRENCE ROSS. ARE YOU IN OR ALL THE WAY IN?

My Answer:

“No third option? How about this: In or all the way in on a grey area? One that resides between refusing to jump on the yearly T-Ross bandwagon and taking it for a joy ride. Until his annual flashes of consistency aren’t balanced out with extended stretches of disappointing decision-making, that’s where I’ll set up camp. Granted, even though it’s just preseason, seeing the encouraging signs of last year carry over (the ones where he realized he’s capable of being much more than just a spacing-the-floor specialist) has me eagerly awaiting what 90% of this fan base is predicting. Though as much as his all-of-a-sudden supporters don’t want to hear it, a breakout year also makes the notion of him ultimately being shipped out of town stronger at the same time. Don’t. Shoot. The. Messenger.”

Let’s just say I’m willing to quiet the noise of T-Ross existing as a prime trade chip and shifting in the direction of appreciating what he can provide. Well, I mean, DeMarcus Cousins and stuff…

But while the obvious suggests the Raps’ would be nowhere close to a 9-6 record if DeMar didn’t step into a new realm, the impact of Ross’ career-high 3-point percentage (45.7) has been an underrated aspect throughout the first 15 games. And when you consider he’s upped that number to 47% over his last 10 (18 for 38), along with a measly 5 turnovers to boot, the recent struggles of this team could have been far uglier.

This season (and Wednesday was no different) has also reinstated faith in Ross’ desire to not only attack the rim, but to get back to his former defensive self. Baby steps are welcome.

5. The existence of Raptors 905. The organization really should get more love from the Toronto masses. Do we really think Norman Powell would have been ready to contribute this early? Would Delon Wright have made HUGE strides before his injury? Would Bebe be at a level where one night he can totally prove his doubters wrong and the next look lost in translation?

Well, this is more about Bruno “Mars” Caboclo. Which ought to be his new nickname considering he’s been leaped by almost every single Raptors’ draft pick since. Whether you’ve forgotten his name on purpose or you’re simply sick of the “two years away from two years away” reference, he’s been treated as a player living on a different planet.

Don’t look now, though! He’s making D-League noise once again. Take your pick:

His encouraging Game 1: 17 points, 10 boards, 7 blocks, 2 threes and 50% from the field in 30 minutes.

Or, his bewildering Game 2: 2 points, 1 block, 10 boards and 1-9 from the field in 29 minutes.

The D-League is tough to get a handle on when it comes to what a performance means on any given night. And since we’ve heard this noise before, conclusions can’t be made without further evidence. But does he still exist as a relevant piece to the Raptors’ future puzzle? One that’s versatile enough to backup the three and the four? One that could eventually fill a void if the Raps actually do pull the trigger on a deal?

His age (21), and the amount of time he’s already been around are no fault of his own. He’s not the one who drafted the position he’s currently in. But the more time he needs to show something of substance, the more likely public opinion will continue to trend in a negative direction. We need something more than a sarcastic round of applause whenever he’s called up and sees action in a blowout game. Although, inconsistent noise, even at the D-League level, is better than no noise at all.

6.  Personally, the name “Raptors” has gone through three stages:

  1. WTF?
  2. I must say, it’s growing on me.
  3. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I do have to admit that “Huskies Night” did make me second guess stage 3. But it’s worth mentioning that Cameron Dorrett’s recent What’s in a Name? piece had me questioning that same second-guessing.

My current bottom line: How lucky are we that “Golden Knights” wasn’t a smash-hit movie back in ’93!

To all Americans: Happy Thanksgiving.

To all Canadians: Enjoy your PVR’d Football.

To all Raptors fans: There’s plenty to be thankful for.

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DeMarre Carroll is trying to spread the swag

Photo Courtesy IG: demarrecarroll1

Pascal Siakam is wearing a hoodie as he shoots around, the cold emanating from the rink beneath the Air Canada Centre hardwood making it difficult for him to stay comfortable in a jersey while the arena remains empty. The No. 27 overall pick is adjusting to the NBA more quickly than anyone had any right to expect, but one thing he hasn’t been able to adjust to yet is the cold in Toronto. Or at least, the impending cold – it’s still quite mild, and Siakam is already thinking ahead to the wardrobe additions he’s going to need to make.

Luckily, the Raptors’ rookie not only has veteran leaders around to make the learning curve easier on the court, he also has DeMarre Carroll to show him the ropes when it comes to dressing for success north of the border.

“He got all the swag, so I probably need some lessons from him,” Siakam jokes within earshot of Carroll, also letting it slip that he’s “poor” so the veterans might need to help him out.

Carroll may not be that altruistic, but with a year under his belt in Toronto, he’s definitely got some advice to pass along.

“You gotta get your coat game up, that’s the biggest thing,” he explains. “When you’re out here in Toronto, your coat game and your boot game. It’s something different, man. I got some things in store, a couple of things I might pull out. You never know what I might pull out.”

What Carroll might pull out of the closet is a bit of a running storyline in the Raptors’ locker room. He’ll wear bright clothes, loud jewelry, garish shoes, bold patterns, suit all the way up, or look like he’s rolling through the Hershey Centre in pajamas, like he did in what looked from a distance like an all-red jumpsuit around Christmas last year. His Instagram page is split evenly between motivational posts about the process and the grind, pictures with his family, and shots of him in his latest outfit. Carroll’s trademark two-toned hair even led to Jared Sullinger cutting off his blond upon signing with the Raptors, as Sullinger wanted to “let DeMarre be DeMarre” and avoid infringing on his look.

YEEPPP 💯💯💯#TEAMCARROLL #JYD2Point0 #TeamCarroll #Freshness #IDOTHIS #Blessed

A photo posted by DeMarre Carroll (@demarrecarroll1) on


It’s not just for show. Carroll cares deeply about fashion and lists it among one of the avenues he hopes to pursue after basketball, along with coaching and real estate. Carroll’s so serious about it that he’s begun exploring options for his own clothing line, something that’s already advanced to the stages of trying to get manufacturers lined up and looking into potential retail partnerships. (He already has fanwear up on his website, but his line is aimed to be dressier casual wear, “like what you got on but very nice.”)

“You try to do something different, man. You try to hit all aspects and things that you like to do,” he says. “And this is the best time to do it when you’re at the peak of your career, and you’re in the NBA, and you can be seen on so many levels. You try to hit all the aspects, things you want to do. You just try to play around with it and see which one captures your heart the most.”

As for what to expect from the clothing line, Carroll isn’t divulging specifics or patterns, but his teammates are curious.

“I’m curious to see what’s it going to look like,” says Patrick Patterson, who some see as the primary competitor for Carroll’s claim as the best-dressed player on the team (Patterson will only say “it’s between me and him, hands down,” noting that it’s easier for Carroll to dress as a more normal-sized person). “I’ll definitely wear it if he gives it to me for free, ’cause I’m not paying for it. I’ll definitely rock his stuff. ”

Cory Joseph, meanwhile, offers up his services as a model for Carroll’s line rather than as a co-proprietor. He’s gotten a peek at a few ideas but is mostly in the dark about what he may be modeling. Still, he’s confident in his friend, because he knows Carroll’s put the work in. A lot of work.

“That guy, I’m not surprised he’s having a line come out. There’s gonna be some dope stuff for sure,” Joseph says. “He shops for about 10, 15 hours a day, so I mean, it has to be good. He has maybe everything in the mall. He has good fashion sense, he’s definitely a fashionista. I like fashion but I don’t shop for 10, 15 hours. I might a couple hours, I’m good. He can go for days, man.”

For Carroll, dressing well and launching his line isn’t just scratching an itch. He wants to make the world a more fashionable place, and that’s something that people can’t do themselves without a little help. Not even Carroll was born with his sense of style, and he’s trying to pass those lessons on not only to the masses, but to his young son. That way, his son will have the same style his dad has from the first second he needs it.

SON💯💯💯 #TeamCarroll #Blessed #SwagDaddy #AI #Amare #HangingwithGrandma #TeamCarroll

A photo posted by DeMarre Carroll (@demarrecarroll1) on


“I’m senior swag daddy. I gave my son the title Swag Daddy. That’s what you gotta teach ‘em from – you don’t just get swag overnight, it comes at an early age. I got it at an early age from my mom,” Carroll says.

“My mother always instilled in me, you gotta dress to impress. Whenever you step out on the scene, you gotta look a certain way. And I do it my way. That’s how I feel. I want to let everyone know my fashion expertise, and I do it my way.”

This time next year, the whole Raptors locker room might be doing it his way. Or at least rookies like Siakam, who just need a little veteran mentoring when it comes to dressing for life in the NBA’s northern outpost.

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Raptors Defeat Rockets At Their Own Game

Boy, did we all need that one. The Toronto Raptors stood on the verge of a third straight loss, playing a playoff-calibre Houston Rockets club on the road Wednesday, and came out on top. Impressively so, in fact, leading by double digits for much of the game. Although most fans and pundits came nowhere near the panic button, some valid concerns were voiced about the team’s defense and below-par play of core pieces of the bench unit. Toronto assuaged those fears with a wire-to-wire performance, earning their 9th win of the season in the process.

Q1 – A Solid Start

Toronto opened the game as they often do – with a Valanciunas post up, and he delivered. He went on to score the team’s first 6 points, looking to overpower the young Capela. The big Lithuanian had an impressive 9 rebounds by the time he was substituted towards the end of the quarter. DeMarre Carroll had an active start as well with a sequence of an offensive rebound and ensuing jumper, then a steal and an assist on the following play. He quickly added another steal and fast break layup soon after.


Toronto played aggressive defense in the period, but did allow the Rockets quite a few open looks from beyond the arc, though Houston failed to capitalize on most of them. 24-20 Toronto after one.

Q2 – The Power of Three

Cory Joseph gave the Raptors what they’ve been starving for all year – excellent two-way play, registering a block and a steal early in the period. Houston took the lead for a short time, looking more energized and determined, but a flurry of triples from Ross, Patterson and Lowry put Toronto back in the driver’s seat. The Rockets were heaving threes at their trademark pace, and the Raptors joined in, knocking them down more effectively. It’ll be interesting to see if Toronto’s increased pace in recent games will continue as the sample size increases.


Terrence Ross looked confident and assertive yet again in the minutes he played, contributing 10 points in the first half and giving Norman Powell supporters nothing to complain about. Meanwhile, DeRozan struggled against Ariza’s length, failing to score a field goal through 24 minutes. Instead, he concentrated on getting his teammates going. DeMar’s willingness to let others take the spotlight is commendable and a testament to his maturity as the club’s leader.


I’m not sure if it was the official protest Toronto launched against the NBA for the events in Sacramento, but the referees seemed to side with the Raptors on a number of 50/50 calls in the second quarter, drawing the ire of the sold out crowd. These were the kind of infractions that normally either don’t get called, or get spread evenly between both teams if they do. In this case, Toronto’s first foul in the period came with less than a minute left.


After a shaky start to the quarter, the combination of aggressive defense, knocking down open shots, and a host of Houston turnovers had the Raptors leading 54-39 at halftime.

Q3 – Status Quo

Houston came out strong for a second straight quarter, as Ariza knocked down two threes, and Beverley added another to bring the lead down to just 8, 56-48. Just as in the second quarter though, Toronto had the counter thanks to hot shooting from DeMar, who bounced back from a 3-point first half to score 21 in the 3rd. DeRozan even pressured his man on defense on a number of occasions, truly a sight for sore eyes.


The Rockets managed to stay somewhat within striking distance mainly due to Harden being able to skilfully carve up the defense with his drives, and either finish himself or lob it to Capela for the alley-oop. They were kept at bay as the Raptors amassed multiple triples from unexpected sources – DeRozan and Joseph, who had by far his best game of the year.


The Raptors lead 90-74 at the end of the frame after a firestorm of a third quarter, with the two clubs combining for 71 points (36-35 in favour of Toronto).

Q4 – Closing It Out

Lowry fired an excellent pass to Joseph for an easy layup to start the quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Bebe had a rough stretch however, tallying three fouls in less than a minute. Casey stuck with him, and his confidence was repaid as Nogueira provided a pretty assist to Ross, and added a block in addition to steadier overall play for the remainder of his stint. A powerful fast break dunk by Ross had the Raptors up 98-81 with just over 8 minutes to play, ready to put the game away.


The Rockets had other plans, and a push that woke the home crowd brought them within 9, 100-91. Lowry, JV, and Carroll were integral in the stretch that followed, each contributing in turn to negate Houston’s advances. A Harden triple cut the lead to 7, 106-99, but Lowry found Carroll open in the corner on the next play, and JYD 2.0 did not miss. DeMarre would then put this one out of reach with a fast break dunk after yet another Harden turnover, as the Raptors earned a 115-102 victory.

Notables

  • James Harden recorded 12(!) of his team’s 28(!!) turnovers, reminiscent of his NBA playoff record 13 turnovers in 2015 against the Warriors. Some of the Rockets’ miscues were caused by quality Toronto defense, but a significant number were completely unforced. This game likely brought Houston fans back to last season’s dysfunctional group, and they’ll need to limit these mistakes if they want to make noise in the West this year.
  • Toronto’s plan for Carroll appears to be working like clockwork – easing him in by gradually increasing his minutes and resting him on back to backs. It’s this version of DeMarre Carroll that Ujiri intended to bring from the Hawks, and his resurgence is a most welcome sign.
  • Toronto finished the game with 28 assists, well above their 18.6 mark for the year. The team’s assist ratio is still lower than most other NBA teams, but once in a while the Raptors flash incredible ball movement that’s a treat to watch. Making ball movement a bigger part of the offense on a consistent basis can help turn the club into a legitimate contender. Ultimately, the assist numbers will be higher as the team knocks down a greater percentage of its three point shots (12/23 against the Rockets).

The Raptors put the hell week of moral victories and outlandish shot clock controversy behind them with a strong win in Texas, and will conclude their five-game road trip against a spry Milwaukee Bucks team Friday.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 24

Small Samples Size Theatre Vol. 2: Early Season Shooting – Raptors Republic

These early season trends represent a sharp 180 degree turn from last season, when everybody seemed to make everything in every game the Raptors played. Last years squad tied for 7th in points scored per possession on spot up attempts, lead by standout performances from Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll and supported by strong showings across the board, with only Cory Joseph and James Johnson ranking in the bottom half of the league’s players. Season to date the only above average spot up shooters the Raptors have this year are Norman Powell, Terrence Ross and, surprisingly, Pascal Siakam. After strong showings the past 2 games Patterson is almost exactly average. Everyone else is a awful, with Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll combining to make a meager 25% of their spot up attempts.

This decline on the offensive end is balanced by the fact that the Raptors opponents have experienced a similar drop off. Last year the Raptors were tied for 5th-worst in points allowed per spot up attempt, so while their shooting has fallen off of a cliff it’s balanced out by the fact that their opponents really aren’t doing much better. If you were wondering how the team has still performed fairly well despite the poor shooting this is a big part of the reason why. This Raptors team is a mirrored image of last years; they were horrible at defending shooters but great shooters themselves, now they’re shooting terribly but instead of taking advantage of this opposing shooters are joining the brickfest.

Right now this is all noise and it can be difficult to say what will last. Some of these shooting woes on both sides of the ball could be caused by subtle strategic shifts that we haven’t identified or they could just seem like outliers because our eye test is way off – it’s been known to happen. But If I had any money to bet I’d put a lot of it on shooting in Raptors games normalizing on both sides of the ball with the team approaching their marks from last year by seasons end.

VanVleet outduels Dinwiddie to push Raptors 905 to 3-0 – Raptors Republic

“It wasn’t really a mono e mono thing for me. I was just trying to win the game,” VanVleet said. “He made some great plays down the stretch, and I was able to make a couple buckets to close it out. We made the last run as a team, so I was glad to pull it off.”

It may not have meant much to VanVleet at a personal level, but it’s exactly the type of scenario the Toronto Raptors are hoping to see him thrive in. Up against a more experienced, NBA-tested guard, VanVleet not only led his team to victory but found the delicate balance between engaging in the tit-for-tat while also keeping the offense moving as a whole. That he shot 9-of-22 almost makes his outing even more notable for the purposes of projecting, as he shook off a tough start by looking for teammates, then going back into attack mode. He changed as the game presented different opportunities to him, and he did much better after a similarly shaky shooting start than he did just a few days prior.

“I kinda started it last game the same way, and I stopped attacking ’cause it wasn’t going my way. Today, I just was like ‘forget it, I’mma keep going until something good happens,’” he said. “The game kinda stalled out there at the end, and I just stayed in attack mode.”

That mentality made for an entertaining second half, even as the 905 saw what was once a 22-point lead cut down to as small as five late in the game. Entertaining for some, that is.

The Raptors are still good, beat Rockets 115-102 – Raptors HQ

As is always the case over the course 48 minutes, there are some nits you can pick from the win. Lucas Nogueira prolonged his recent run of poor form, picking up four fouls in 17 minutes while searching for suddenly elusive chemistry with his guards. And the Raptors certainly got bailed out as the Rockets clanged open three after open three in the first half. Toronto’s open-look prevention was inconsistent, and in-game positive regression almost led the Rockets into comeback territory.

Despite those issues, there existed little threat of Toronto handing away the game. Too many guys were excelling in concert for it to ever be in doubt.

Losing four of the previous five might have given some people reason to question Toronto’s place within the Eastern Conference hierarchy. Wednesday’s win in Houston served as a reminder that the Raptors are much closer to the team than rumbled out of the gates to a 7-2 start.

Raptors ditch losing trend in win over Rockets | Toronto Sun

“We still gave up 102 points,” Kyle Lowry pointed out. “That last push in the fourth quarter and at the end of the third they made a good push, but for us we just have to get more consistent.

“I think tonight we just followed the game plan very well. They missed some shots, but those were the shots we were willing to give up. We can still get better.”

Casey, the man who every season goes hoarse screaming for more attention to detail on the defensive end, wasn’t totally overjoyed by what he saw, but he knows it’s an improvement.

“At the end of the day, you still look down and they shot 49%,” Casey said. “That’s something we’ve got to continue to talk about, we’ve got to continue to work on.

“We forced them into 28 turnovers, I thought we had active hands, but we’ve got to get that shooting percentage down and make sure we keep the ball out of the paint.”

The lead, which got as big as 20 at one point in the third, did get down to as little as seven with two minutes to go before the Raptors regrouped and took the crowd back out of it.

Raptors capitalize on turnovers in Houston – Video – TSN

Sam Mitchell and Leo Rautins break down Toronto’s all-around solid performance in Houston, and credit the Raptors’ defence for forcing 28 turnovers that they were able to turn into 33 points.

Game Rap: Raptors 115, Rockets 102 | Toronto Raptors

UNDERRATED RAPTORS PLAYER OF THE GAME

Jonas Valanciunas had a fantastic effort on Wednesday as he recorded a 15-point, 16-rebound double-double in 31 minutes. Valanciunas shot 6-for-10 from the floor, 3-for-4 from the free throw line, and added two assists and a blocked shot. The Raptors were a +17 when Valanciunas was on the floor as the Rockets didn’t have an answer for him.

Rockets fail to take care of the ball in loss to Raptors – Houston Chronicle

Pushed to the brink, Harden remained on the floor to start the fourth quarter, but initially, little changed. He had three more turnovers in the first five minutes of the quarter, giving him 11 in the game, as the Raptors still led by 17.
When the Rockets finally took care of the ball, they made a legitimate move. They were able to put up enough 3s to start getting some to fall. They rallied to within seven and a last chance heading into the final two minutes.
With that, the Raptors got a drive and a 3-pointer from Carroll, with one more Rockets turnover leading to the breakaway layup that sealed the win.
The Rockets struggled offensively from the tip, but the bad shooting to start a second-consecutive game was only the start of the problem, particularly when the Raptors double-teamed the ball out of Harden’s hands, packed the paint and gave up wide-open, extra-pass 3s.
The Rockets made just 3 of 20 3-pointers in the first half, severely limiting their ability to keep pace. But the way the Rockets reacted to their struggles to shoot straight was at least as damaging, and much more preventable.

Carroll getting back in the swing of things – Video – TSN

DeMarre Carroll discusses his impressive 20-point performance and talks about the Raptors’ defensive effort against the Houston Rockets.

Raptors’ defence has Rockets fizzling | Toronto Star

The last bucket came off the 12th of Harden’s turnovers, a sloppy pass across the paint that was easily picked off by Patrick Patterson.

Carroll finished with a season-high 20 points.

The Raptors threw a variety of looks at Harden because Casey figured the Rockets all-star, averaging 28.6 points per game going into the contest, would shred any consistent look.

“There’s different things you have to do . . . double-teams, different looks, body styles,” Casey said before the game. “I don’t think you can show him the same thing.

“He’s probably one of the smartest players in the league as far as recognizing things he’s seen before. He’s a different breed.”

Harden and the Rockets struggled for most of the night, shooting a miserable 3-for-20 from three-point range in the first half as Toronto amassed a 54-39 halftime lead.

Pascal Siakam makes it onto the Rookie Ladder rankings – Raptors HQ

iakam’s role in the rotation was never intended to be this prominent — and the Raptors’ starting lineup could conceivably be rejigged to make it better — but the point here is this: Pascal’s doing his best to produce and make it work. He’s doing the things we would have expected (e.g. the aforementioned hustle and heart), but better and for longer than we probably would have counted on.

There were a lot of good feelings surrounding Siakam when he was picked (out of semi-obscurity) by the Raptors. The story of his background is part of it. His personality adds something too. And now, after watching him play for a month, it doesn’t feel ridiculous (or homer-ish) to say the Raptors really do have something special here with Pascal. It’s cool to see him get that recognition from outside the Raptor bubble.

It’s Siakam’s first time in the Rookie Ladder and — even pending the eventual return of Jared Sullinger — I bet he’ll hang around.

DeRozan is now one of the NBA’s best scorers. | Sports on Earth

Even though last year’s playoff run for the Raptors was tremendous, the numbers provided an argument that despite being a huge part of the team’s offense, how DeRozan factored into the team’s success on the floor. In 20 playoff games, the Raptors had a net rating of -8.3 when DeRozan was on the floor. It was one of the reasons that many felt once the Raptors signed DeRozan to a long-term deal, they were capping the ceiling of where this team could go.

Where they are was not a bad place heading into this season. Despite roster upgrades from other teams in the East, including Boston signing Al Horford in free agency, many viewed the Raptors as the second best team in the Conference behind Cleveland. The Raptors are 8-4, and those losses include two to the Cavaliers and one to the Golden State Warriors. The continuity of the team’s core group has allowed them to jump-start the season. Toronto has received great early returns on some of their young players, including Powell, who recently moved into the starting lineup for the injured DeMarre Carroll. Rookies Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have contributed when given opportunities. Jonas Valanciunas has looked more spry on the offensive end. Terrence Ross looks as comfortable as ever in his bench scoring role.

Throw in DeRozan’s leap into one of the best number-one scoring options in the league, and suddenly, a team that won 56 games last season appears poised to replicate that success, and perhaps for years to come. After being mired in mediocrity for so long, it appears Toronto has finally found its core group and an elite backcourt to make them contenders, year in and year out. Lowry, who is 30 and plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, might alter the long-term prospects of this team, but for now, Toronto is riding the wave of the greatest scoring stretch of DeRozan’s career. People expect him to slow down, as they always have. If DeRozan is still bothered by the criticism, he’s not letting it show.

“I don’t get caught up in what anyone says,” DeRozan said. “I just try to get the job done however I can. It doesn’t matter. As long as we go out there and win, that’s all I care about.”

Our 7 ft PG. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Home Court: Golliver discusses his ranking of DeRozan – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson & Josh Lewenberg are joined by SI NBA writer Ben Golliver to discuss his preseason ranking of DeMar DeRozan and whether or not DeRozan’s hot start as changed his mind on his ranking.

Deebo w/ a little sauce at the end. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

DeRozan and Harden get better together | Toronto Sun

“That’s my bro,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle when asked about DeRozan. “He’s riding a wave right now. He’s being aggressive, he’s scoring in all types of ways. He’s one of the best players in the league.”

DeRozan said it wouldn’t be a mistake to suggest the Los Angeles style of basketball player is that aggressive, score early and score often approach both he and Harden share.

“I think you could say that,” the Raptors leading scorer said. “You kind of gauge where players are from, like you can kind of tell a New York player with the dribbling, with the handles and everything. I would definitely say the L.A. style you could base it off James and I — that aggressiveness, scoring-wise.”

DeRozan didn’t come right out and say it but that approach likely has a lot of Kobe influence in it, a player both he and Harden grew up idolizing.

“Who didn’t?” DeRozan asked when Kobe’s name was brought up. “Everybody grew up on somebody that was a scorer.”

Focus. #RoadToTheSix

A photo posted by Raptors 905 (@raptors905) on

123. Cory Joseph – Player FM

The Toronto Raptors point guard describes his BBQ skills, losing man points, a trick shot from a skyscraper and NBA gossip.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNLei8BgBXt/

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

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Raptors-Rockets Reaction Podcast – Best two-way performance so far

Host William Lou showers praise on the Raptors following an great win over the Houston Rockets.

(more…)

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 115, Rockets 102

Toronto 115 Final
Recap | Box Score
102 Houston
P. Siakam 21 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +9 +/-

One day, Pascal Siakam is going to play 30 minutes, not score, and be the most impactful player on the court. I can feel it. He was really good defensively in this one, and even some tough luck in close doesn’t take away from that. If I had his energy, I wouldn’t need coffee.

D. Carroll 27 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +12 +/-

So, whatever the specifics of the plan for his body, it appears to be working. This is a handful of games in a row now where he’s not only looked good on the offensive end, but spry and engaged being a ball-hawk on defense. His on-ball work still isn’t all the way back, but poking balls free and being pesky is a huge part of his game. Cutting, keeping the ball moving, and knocking down shots, too? This was the dream version of Carroll.

J. Valanciunas 31 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 16 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 5 TO | 15 PTS | +17 +/-

Wasn’t particularly effective on the defensive end early on but found a comfort zone and a groove as the Rockets settled four-around-one, then hammered them on the glass at both ends. This was Valanciunas playing his role to its fullest, including a couple of early post touches that got him going. His passing continues to improve.

K. Lowry 36 MIN | 6-15 FG | 2-7 3FG | 3-4 FT | 1 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 17 PTS | +4 +/-

I’m running out of ways to talk about Lowry’s impact outside of scoring. Even on a night he scored moderately well, it was the passing and the defense and the floor leadership that jumped out. He has to be the only point guard in the league you can switch one-through-five, and probably the only player ever given the “bulldog” tag who would actually fight a bulldog for a loose ball. KLOE.

D. DeRozan 36 MIN | 8-19 FG | 2-3 3FG | 6-7 FT | 5 REB | 9 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 24 PTS | +17 +/-

His shot wasn’t falling early, so he shifted into playmaker mode. His shot got falling, and he stayed in playmaker mode. Scoring 24 on 19 shots is great, regardless. When they come with nine assists and defenses are visibly unsure how to play your first step with shooters shooting well around you, you’re on the top of your offensive game.

P. Patterson 27 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +4 +/-

For anyone who still thinks Patterson isn’t contributing when he’s not hitting shots, this is the kind of stuff he is doing regularly. Like, on every play. His shooting is just gravy when he’s defending like this, lifting the overall team defense, AND grabbing four steals with his subtle hyper-activity.

T. Ross 20 MIN | 6-12 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +3 +/-

Came in and immediately showed the aggression we’ve come to expect, helping give the second unit some much-needed punch. Remained very active in transition defense (I had him for two steals, not one, and I am the official scorer of my own quick reaction), although there was some slippage in the half-court. Had three dunks, which is awesome.

L. Nogueira 17 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PTS | -4 +/-

This was on its way to being one of his worst showings before he found a cutting Ross with a great pass, then promptly turned away a shot at the other end. Two plays doesn’t make a game, but it was nice to see him settle in a bit. Still not a great showing overall.

C. Joseph 25 MIN | 6-11 FG | 3-3 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +3 +/-

A second consecutive game that Joseph looked more like what we saw last year. That is beyond encouraging – it’s a huge weight off for those hoping Lowry’s minutes come down in the coming weeks, too. Our handsome native son even hit triples in triplicate. Please be back for good.

Dwane Casey

Had a clear edict to get Lowry and DeRozan a bit more rest, extending their normal rest periods in the first and second halves. The result was 36 minutes for each, a reasonable number in a close-ish win. Really surprised Norman Powell didn’t see any time, particularly with the transition game proving such an advantage and him being a natural option for Harden, but I guess he remains “break glass in case of emergency,” and there was no emergency here.

Five Things We Saw

  1. You know how sometimes the Raptors go cold for a couple of games and I get annoying about the stabilization point and high-variance and yada? The Rockets, who shoot the largest proportion of their shots from beyond the arc in the league and hit 37.1%, went 3-of-20 in the first half. This was not really a product of the Raptors’ defense, but whether set to regress or not, those shots happened, and the Raptors building the lead they did informed the game from there. That the Rockets started hitting was tough, but the Raptors had control by then.
  2. Huge credit to the non-DeRozan Raptors on offense in the first half. He scored 3 points and the team still managed 54, thanks largely to running off of turnovers (11 fast-break points and 16 off of 13 turnovers). The bench holding its own with just one of the All-Stars for longer stretches than usual was really nice, too. That he subsequently got red-hot in the third quarter and remained in playmaking mode was just heavenly.
  3. Shout out to the Raptors for coming out with good energy and mostly staying disciplined. With one win in the last five and this representing the sixth city in six games in nine days across four time zones, it wouldn’t have been entirely surprising to see the team come out a bit flat. Except that they don’t do that. Like, ever, it seems.
  4. DeMarre Carroll said he’s “trusting the process.” As someone who has a Joel Embiid “Turst the Process” Christmas shirt on the way, I know like DeMarre Carroll even more. The 20 points help, too, I guess.
  5. This feels like a weight off. The ship is steadied a bit, they’ll at least go 2-3 on this road-trip, and they can come out with a winning record if they handle a spry Milwaukee team. Then they’re home for five over 11 days. There’s room to breathe right now, which is nice. I’m sorry if these grades are too positive, I’m in a good place after this one.
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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan and Harden go head-to-head

With four losses in the last five games, the Toronto Raptors visit the Houston Rockets in something short of desperate need of a victory. Whether they’re likely to get one or not depends on your general level of optimism and how much you think collective fatigue can have an impact on a team. While this isn’t a back to back, it does represent the sixth city and fourth time zone for the Raptors in the last nine days, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, in particular, have been playing some obscene minutes. We’ve talked about all that, though.

What we haven’t talked about since a few weeks back when head coach Dwane Casey made the comparison is the DeRozan-James Harden comparison. There’s not really a comparison to be made on big-picture grounds, but there are enough similarities – posting up smaller guards, crafty Euro-steps, impossible usage volume – to make them worth putting side-by-side. So let us.

ddrharden

Harden’s passing significantly more and using fewer possessions overall, and he hits threes at a super-high volume to help push his efficiency even higher, but in terms of pure counting on the scoring and free-throw front, their pretty similar. Here’s how they’ve done up against each other since Harden arrived in Houston:

ddrharden2

I can’t imagine either team tasks their star scorer with guarding the other, not with other options available and with the loads each are asked to carry at the offensive end. It would be fun if they did for a bit, though, just to see if they can figure the other out, like trying to stop an opposite-handed version of the same moves they use at the other end.

The game tips off at 8 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Based on the recent pattern, DeMarre Carroll should be good to go for this one, unless the rest plan calls for an extended break on this trip. If Carroll goes, he’ll probably draw Harden to start, but it’s not exactly his preferred style of opponent. It will, however, be a good test for Carroll’s quickness and ability to use his size to limit a player who’s going to try to weave his way into the paint. Outside of Carroll, I’d suspect Norman Powell would be the team’s best option on Harden, even if Harden is a bit of a bruiser. Powell has the length to deny the ball when Harden isn’t the initiator himself, and he’s done well enough against much bigger wings so far (Harden has weight on him but is only 6-foot-5).

There’s a heavy burden on the entire team defense with Harden out there, because they’ll want to send help on drives but also have to be aware of a lob threat in Clint Capela and at least three serious spot-up shooting threats, sometimes even at once. Lucas Nogueira could be useful opposite Capela and Nene, and Jonas Valanciunas will have to assert himself on the glass against one of the better rebounding teams in the league. Jakob Poeltl may have some use here if Nogueira struggles, as his ability to help and recover could be useful, though it would leave the team a little susceptible inside (opponents are shooting worse at the rim against Poeltl than any of the team’s bigs, but it’s still a small sample, and he can get moved off his spots by thicker fives). It’s an interesting chess match in the frontcourt here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Casey try Pascal Siakam or Patrick Patterson at the five at some point.

UPDATE: No updates. Carroll plays.

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

Rockets updates
Houston enters entirely healthy, with both of their D-Leagues recalled. Shout out to Kyle Wiltjer. (And Tyler Ennis…the CanCon is real here. ((And let’s just shout out Chris Boucher, too.))) That gives them the full gamut of options, as I believe Montrezl Harrell (calf) was ruled able to return Monday, he just wasn’t used. He’s not really in the rotation, anyway, as he’s only gone over six minutes on three of the six occasions he appeared in.

Flipping the earlier discussion on who guards DeRozan, I’d imagine the Rockets start out with Trevor Ariza on him. Patrick Beverley is a pesky and annoying defender, but he’s likely to draw the Lowry assignment, and there’s little sense putting Harden on DeRozan when he can be hidden a bit on Carroll (Harden is a capable defender when engaged, but why ask him to do that if you don’t have to?). Corey Brewer would be the logical option as the bench starts to come in, but watch out for K.J. McDaniels here, too – his role has been jerked around some and he doesn’t quite have the size that normally disrupts DeRozan, but if he gets cooking early on, maybe the Rockets try something funky (I see you, Sam Dekker).

PG: Patrick Beverley, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown
SG: James Harden, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer
PF: Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker, Kyle Wiltjer
C:  Clint Capela, Nene Hilario, Montrezl Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: None

Assorted

The line
This one is allover the place depending on where you look and when. I’ve seen it as small as Rockets -2 and as large as Rockets -5. Rockets -3.5 seems to be something close to a consensus two hours out from game-time, a line that suggests the Raptors and Rockets are roughly equal in a neutral environment (although Houston might have a wider home-court edge here given Toronto’s recent travel). The over-under is up at 216.5, and it’s becoming a trend for Vegas to bet on offense over defense in Raptors’ games, even with two moderately paced teams like these. I definitely like the under (I have it around 213). I don’t know…I literally have no idea what to expect from the Raptors in this one.

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VanVleet outduels Dinwiddie to push Raptors 905 to 3-0

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 98, Windy City Bulls 92 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet (905), None (Bulls)

As Fred VanVleet received the inbound pass, Spencer Dinwiddie arrived right under his chin, chest-to-chest, arms outstretched. Early in the third quarter, it was a little strange to see a point guard defending in the backcourt so aggressively, but Dinwiddie had just turned the ball over and was hell-bent on swinging the possession back his way. VanVleet bumped Dinwiddie back, then proceeded to grind his way across half-court just in time to avoid a violation. Still hounding, Dinwiddie was whistled for a foul.

The two point guards separated, no trash-talk to be heard but with a seemingly quiet respect, two boxers knowing full well the bell is only sounding the end of a round. Immediately prior to this exchange, VanVleet had responded to a Dinwiddie and-one with a three, and much of the second half would play out with two of the best guards the D-League has to offer battling it out.

VanVleet would ultimately win the battle, edging Dinwiddie 25-24 on points, 15-13 in the fourth quarter, and, more importantly, with Raptors 905 improving to 3-0 with a 98-92 victory over the upstart Windy City Bulls.

“It wasn’t really a mono e mono thing for me. I was just trying to win the game,” VanVleet said. “He made some great plays down the stretch, and I was able to make a couple buckets to close it out. We made the last run as a team, so I was glad to pull it off.”

It may not have meant much to VanVleet at a personal level, but it’s exactly the type of scenario the Toronto Raptors are hoping to see him thrive in. Up against a more experienced, NBA-tested guard, VanVleet not only led his team to victory but found the delicate balance between engaging in the tit-for-tat while also keeping the offense moving as a whole. That he shot 9-of-22 almost makes his outing even more notable for the purposes of projecting, as he shook off a tough start by looking for teammates, then going back into attack mode. He changed as the game presented different opportunities to him, and he did much better after a similarly shaky shooting start than he did just a few days prior.

“I kinda started it last game the same way, and I stopped attacking ’cause it wasn’t going my way. Today, I just was like ‘forget it, I’mma keep going until something good happens,'” he said. “The game kinda stalled out there at the end, and I just stayed in attack mode.”

That mentality made for an entertaining second half, even as the 905 saw what was once a 22-point lead cut down to as small as five late in the game. Entertaining for some, that is.

“Wasn’t that much fun watching Dinwiddie, but it was fun watching Fred. Dinwiddie got it going, he has a great ability to get his feet in the paint and finish. And again, a guy who picks his spots at the right time,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Two really tough guards that have a bright future in my mind.”

Despite VanVleet’s success in the second half, he wound up with a team-low minus-9 that isn’t at all indicative of his play but rather of the strength of the 905 bench. Depth was always going to be an edge this team had, and over three games against three expansion teams that lack it, it’s played a major factor. The starters can essentially play an opponent’s starters even and expect to be closing out a lead on most nights, because few teams can match bench players – let alone entire second units – with the 905. Through three games, the 905 bench is outscoring opposing benches 157-63 (the 905 are admittedly using their bench about 50 percent more than opponents, but that gap is still enormous when controlling for minutes).

The 905 closed the first quarter on a 14-1 run, almost all of it with five bench players on the floor, a particularly notable stretch that put them in control the rest of the way and highlighted the primary takeway through three games: That this team can really defend. Stackhouse didn’t want to discuss holding teams to under 100 points in three consecutive games, and he shouldn’t – the breakneck pace of the D-League understates the difficulty of that bench mark. And while Stackhouse prefers opponent field-goal percentage (the Bulls shot 40.7 percent, nudging the team’s mark to 37 percent on the year), he may want to cozy up to defensive rating, too, where the 905 rank first by a long shot with a mark of 87.2 points allowed per-100 possessions

“If we can find a way to hang around those numbers throughout the course of the year, I think we’ll be OK,” Stackhouse said. “We’re giving up some second-chance opportunities and we’re beating ourselves with turnovers. We’ve gotta get that turnover number way down.”

If the 905 could manage to not surrender 20 points off of 18 turnovers (nine of them live), the defense would have an easier time getting set. In other words, the league’s best defense so far isn’t entirely happy with how they’ve performed, and they see room to get even better.

“I think once we get where we wanna go, we’re gonna put a lot of people on notice,” Stackhouse said when told Bulls coach Nate Loenser had high praise for his team.

As for VanVleet going 1-0 against Dinwiddie?

“We’re 3-0. That’s all that matters for me as a point guard,” he said.

Notes

  • It was “School Day” with the 11 a.m. start, and the Hershey Centre was appropriately loud. The team was expecting about 4,600 students in attendance (the listed attendance was 4,486). For context, the team averaged just shy of 3,000 fans last year, with 3,200 and 2,400 showing up for the first two games of this season.
  • Negus Webster-Chan was surprised to learn (from me – oops) that he was getting the start before the game, and seemed genuinely humbled considering he’s gotten this far out of open tryouts (the team loves his size and shooting). He’s also quickly becoming a fan favorite – he estimates he had 30 friends and family at the preseason home game, something closer to 50 at the opener, and a few less for the early Sunday start. The kids appreciated him being introduced as from Scarborough, too. He paid it back their way by knocking down a pair of early triples.
  • OK, Bruno Caboclo’s ovation was louder, though. Caboclo was even covering his ears during timeouts, the kids were so loud. Bru-Tang is NOT for the children, it turns out. Nor is he for 11 a.m. starts – he played quite well defensively and grabbed 10 rebounds in 20 minutes but shot just 1-of-9, was 0-of-5 on threes, and had a pair of avoidable turnovers.
  • I caught up with Edy Tavares before the game. He told me his wingspan is 7-foot-11, not the reported 7-foot-9, and that he can touch the rim flat-footed (his standing reach was last listed at 9-foot-10). I also shook his hand and can best describe his closed fist as Christmas ham-sized. Tavares is still trying to get up to speed with the system – he just arrived in Toronto on Tuesday – but said the presence of Caboclo and Yanick Moreira, who both speak Portugese, has really helped.
    • Here’s Coach Stackhouse on Tavares’ performance in his second day with the team: “For having one day of practice yesterday, I thought he caught on. He has really good basketball IQ of knowing the stuff that we’re trying to do. A lot of it is just ‘run to the block, and we’re gonna try to get it to you, big fella.’ So it’s kinda simple for him.” Stackhouse admitted that the team is a little limited when he’s on the floor because he doesn’t know all of the sets yet, but he’s excited where Tavares will be with two more days of practice before the team’s next game.
  • The next game goes Saturday at 2 p.m. when the 905 hostDemetrius Jackson and the 4-2 Maine Red Claws.
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Small Samples Size Theatre Vol. 2: Early Season Shooting

With only 14 games down technically the season as a whole still qualifies for small sample size theatre. We’re at that awkward point of the season where sample sizes are inching closer to significance but not quite at that point where we can draw meaningful conclusions from them, which is difficult because we really want to.

Tryna Build a House

If you’re one of the 4 Raptors Republic readers that follow me on Twitter you’ve probably seen me talking about the most unexplainable small sample stat of the season: the Raptors somehow ranking near the top of the league at defending spot up shooters. It doesn’t make even the tiniest bit of sense; when you watch the Raptors you see them close out late, miss rotations entirely and prioritize the wrong shooters, yet 14 games in the Raptors sit tied for 6th fewest points allowed per spot up attempt. While everybody else has been talking about if/when DeRozan will regress or when the Raptors outside shots will start falling, I’ve been waiting for this to show signs of normalizing but so far this has stood tall through the back to back from hell and the worst road trip ever. The teams defensive rating has been up and down(but mostly down)all year and it’s apparently unrelated to how well(or poorly) they defend the opponents shooters.

On the other end of the floor the Raptors remain one of the worst shooting teams in the league. They’re currently 2nd last in points per spot up attempt and last in eFG%, meaning the only thing keeping them from the bottom in points per possession are a few extra free throws drawn on spot up attempts. This means that nobody is really making any spot up attempts on either side when the Raptors play. If you feel like there’s something ugly about this seasons Raptors games that you couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was you may have found your answer. Brick after brick after brick.

A Mirrored Image

These early season trends represent a sharp 180 degree turn from last season, when everybody seemed to make everything in every game the Raptors played. Last years squad tied for 7th in points scored per possession on spot up attempts, lead by standout performances from Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll and supported by strong showings across the board, with only Cory Joseph and James Johnson ranking in the bottom half of the league’s players. Season to date the only above average spot up shooters the Raptors have this year are Norman Powell, Terrence Ross and, surprisingly, Pascal Siakam. After strong showings the past 2 games Patterson is almost exactly average. Everyone else is a awful, with Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll combining to make a meager 25% of their spot up attempts.

This decline on the offensive end is balanced by the fact that the Raptors opponents have experienced a similar drop off. Last year the Raptors were tied for 5th-worst in points allowed per spot up attempt, so while their shooting has fallen off of a cliff it’s balanced out by the fact that their opponents really aren’t doing much better. If you were wondering how the team has still performed fairly well despite the poor shooting this is a big part of the reason why. This Raptors team is a mirrored image of last years; they were horrible at defending shooters but great shooters themselves, now they’re shooting terribly but instead of taking advantage of this opposing shooters are joining the brickfest.

Right now this is all noise and it can be difficult to say what will last. Some of these shooting woes on both sides of the ball could be caused by subtle strategic shifts that we haven’t identified or they could just seem like outliers because our eye test is way off – it’s been known to happen. But If I had any money to bet I’d put a lot of it on shooting in Raptors games normalizing on both sides of the ball with the team approaching their marks from last year by seasons end.

On Patterson and DeRozan

No look at the Raptors early season shooting outliers would be complete without a discussion of Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan, the two most talked about shooting outliers on the roster.

Patterson is having a more extreme version last years season-opening slump – as of 11/23/2015 he was shooting 38% from the floor and 32% from deep. This obviously wasn’t ideal, but is significantly better than the 32% from the floor and 27% from deep he’s putting up this year. Prior to the last two games he had been truly awful at shooting the ball, but he’s always struck me as a little bit streaky and he has an established history of bouncing back in a big way – for example he was on fire during the Raptors record breaking win streak last season. If there’s one struggling Raptor on the roster I’m not worried about it’s Patterson.

DeRozan’s situation is a bit more difficult to pin down. He hasn’t quite come down to earth but he’s no longer in orbit and outside of the Kings game the crash that I think many people expected still hasn’t happened. If he keeps having good bounce back games after his bad performances this 30 ppg pace on near 50% shooting could very well be sustainable. This means we could be treated to yet another round of thinkpieces and statistical breakdowns on whether or not he will continue to sustain this level of play in a few weeks time, which will be really annoying but not because it demonstrates a lack of respect for DeRozan(though it definitely does that) but because I think it says a lot about us as fans.

It seems like we can’t just enjoy greatness anymore. There are people who invested a lot of time arguing about Steve Nash’s supposedly undeserved MVP awards until the day he retired; the man gave us so many years of brilliant play but for a large segment of people that was the only thing that they got out of it. LeBron James has spent years outplaying everybody in the league but there is a certain segment of fans that can only seem to focus on where he stands relative to players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. These conversations can be a nice distraction but when they become bigger than the game itself it’s a problem. I try not to judge but if your first reaction to a string of DeRozan 30 point games is “he can’t sustain that” you’re doing fandom wrong.

It’s also important to remember that almost every great individual achievement in sports was unsustainable until it was sustained. Wayne Gretzky was unsustainable. Michael Jordan’s 38 ppg and 32-8-8 season were both unsustainable. Kobe Bryant’s 35 ppg was unsustainable, as was his pace in his 81 point game. Nash with the Suns. Oscar Robertson’s triple double season. Steph Curry’s shooting. Too often we as fans equate “unprecedented” with “unsustainable” and we let our inclination toward contextualizing everything distract us from things like the fact that DeMar DeRozan is playing both the most effective and visually appealing basketball of his career(on the offensive end, anyway)

And to be clear, this is not a “you fans” rant, I am often as guilty of this as anyone. We’re all oversaturated with statistics and takes of varying temperatures and this can affect how we actually take in and appreciate the game – if the conversation around the game never ends it’s easy for it to drown out the actual games. Sometimes I think we all need to take a step away – though not so far away that you stop visiting Raptors Republic and Raptors HQ daily – and appreciate what is happening on the court for what it is instead of always looking for some confirmation or contradiction of some broader basketball worldview. Maybe DeRozan keeps up his current pace, maybe he doesn’t, but so far this season it seems like more attention has been given to whether or not he can continue to do this than what he is actually doing. So yes, DeRozan has played at this level for only a short period of time and it’s impossible to say if he’ll be able to continue it but at this point I don’t think that’s something that we should really care about. There’ll be plenty of time to analyze and contextualize after the fact.

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Raptors file protest with NBA over ending of Kings game

The Toronto Raptors have officially filed an appeal with the NBA over the conclusion of Sunday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, according to multiple reporters. The appeal was officially filed late Tuesday, and the NBA has five business days to respond. With Thanksgiving this week, that means the NBA doesn’t need to respond until next Wednesday or Thursday (I’m not sure if Friday is a business day for the league).

The protest cost the Raptors $10,000 to make, money they’ll only get back if they win, according to the NBA’s rulebook.

There is precedent for a team to win an appeal, but it would introduce some fairly large logistical questions. We’ve talked this all to death by now. If you need to catch up, here’s the NBA’s statementthe news of the delay of the Last Two Minute Reportthe Quick Reaction, the Reaction Podcast, and a special late-night post going deeper on the call in question. I’m at the 905 game and wrote all of those things already, so I’m not going to analyze this any further.

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Trying to put an impossible week in context

So, this past week sucked. There really aren’t many ways around that. The Raptors went 1-4, and all four games felt winnable, at least for portions of the game. A quick recap…

Tues. Nov. 15 – 121-117 loss @ Cleveland
Wed. Nov. 16 – 127-21 loss vs. Golden State
Fri. Nov. 18 – 113-111 OT win @ Denver
Sun. Nov. 20 – 102-99 loss/tie @ Sacramento
Mon. Nov. 21 – 123-115 loss @ L.A. Clippers

There’s no silver lining in a 1-4 week. It’s a poor result, and the Raptors surely would have like to get at least two. The Sacramento loss, in particular, was egregious, as despite the Terrence Ross buzzer-beater call I still disagree with that could have changed the game, the Raptors played poorly and squandered an opportuniuty.

That, I think, is the only loss that presently looks or will continue to look bad later in the year. The rest of this subsection of scheduled hell, however, appears to be a short-term blip that could lead to some short-term over-reaction. To be fair to the Strawman I may be at risk of building, I haven’t seen a great deal of doomsdaying or disappointment, but doubts about the overall quality of this team seem to be creeping in. They’re now 8-6, their defensive effieincy has fallen to 24th, and they still have two road games (one against a tough Houston team) before they return home and things get better.

This 1-4 stretch, though, would look much differently if it came later in the year – because we’re only 14 games in, four losses swing things dramatically. If the Raptors were, say, 29-21 (their current win-percentage projected out over 50 games), it wouldn’t move the needle much at all in terms of evaluating the whole of the season. We only have the games that have been played with which to evaluate the team, of course, so consider that a reminder that even weeks in, our general samples are quite small.

When we control for things like the difficulty of the schedule, a drop from 7-2 to 8-6 isn’t all that bad – in terms of adjusted net rating, the Raptors actually remained in fifth. Seriously – that stretch of schedule was so tough, and the Raptors played three elite teams so closely that they actually came out looking roughly as good as before the 1-4 stretch.

And that makes sense. Even ignoring the travel and fatigue, @ CLE, v. GSW, and @ LAC are three of the toughest games you could have on the schedule this year. Those teams are a combined 35-6 and rank fourth, second, and first, respectively, in adjusted net rating. And the Raptors lost those three games by a total of 18 points. This isn’t an argument for moral victories – losing narrowly to very good teams, especially on the road or in a back-to-back scenario, is a really good sign. Great teams don’t get blown out, they show up to play most nights, and they give the other great teams a really tough time. Yes, it would have been awesome to win one or two of those, and the Raptors would look even better if they had, but there’s very little shame in losing those three games by those margins.

Again, that’s before factoring in the recent schedule around those games. When you do that, well, it’s pretty tough to get all that upset. The five-game, seven-day stretch was about as hellacious as they come. The Raptors lone home game in a five-cities-in-five-games-in-seven-days stretch was against the freaking Warriors on a back-to-back. They traveled almost 6,000 kilometres during that stretch, played in three different time zones…you can go on.

The stretch is fine. Everything is fine. I mean it, I’m not even just trying to reason my way around disappointment at watchng a handful of sloppy games, some of which ended poorly.

What’s not fine, though, or what is but may not be extended over a longer period of time, is this:

That is just an obscene workload for a week. I’m not pinning that on the Raptors necessarily – we’ve all done the Kyle Lowry workload discussion so many times by now, I’m not sure what the point would be in rehashing it, as you all know where I stand – it’s just a reality of the schedule and the fact that they played exclusively close games during that stretch. It’s not ideal, but the Raptors have been clear they’re going to try to win games, and the team is back to playing incredibly poorly with Lowry on the bench. They probably should be getting Lowry and DeRozan more rest – I would, anyway – but they have a sport science staff and a win-now edict, and yeah, I wrote about all of this enough last year. It’s a heavy load on everyone, and I think it might at least partially explain the other concerning part of the stretch…

The defense has been really bad lately. The Raptors have dropped to 24th in D-Rating, and it only improves slightly (19th) when controlling for the quality of opposition. It always seemed logical that the defense would struggle early given all the youth in the rotation and the limitations of DeMarre Carroll, but the degree to which it appears to be true is at least a little worrisome. The Raptors have jumped to 20th in pace, too, which would be the highest they’ve ranked under Dwane Casey – they can be really good pushing in transition, especially with some of their smaller lineup iterations, but this team has been at its best grinding out games and only picking their spots to get out and run. Chaos does not work in their favor, at least against most teams (I’d still suggest trying to embrace entropy against the Cavs).

But again, things aren’t so bad. The defense should improve as the younger guys continue to get up to speed and as they perfect Carroll’s routine to maximize his production (which has been pretty solid offensively, at least). The second unit playing better without Lowry would go a long way toward easing his workload, and scaling back the time for Lowry and DeRozan while continuing to protect Carroll all means more minutes for Norman Powell, sometimes the team’s best option defending at the one, two, and three simultaneously. All the while, the offense has been more than fine (fourth overall), even as DeRozan has cooled down just a bit.

From here, Houston is hardly an easy place to visit, and Milwaukee’s not exactly an easy out on their own court, either. The Raptors return home after that for a game against the plucky 76ers, then the Grizzlies, Lakers, Hawks, Cavaliers (come on, man), and Timberwolves all visit over an 11-day home-stand. There aren’t many layup opponents this year, but at least they return home and only have one back-to-back between here and Dec. 9. Perception can change pretty quickly, and the Raptors are a couple of good games from once again looking like a 51-win team, or something close to it.

Now someone hit the schedule making software with a baseball bat, Office Space style.

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Game Day: Raptors @ Rockets Nov. 23

Although the Toronto Raptors were earmarked to have the third easiest schedule in the Association, it might seem like an over reach at this point in the season.

To date, the Raptors have faced five of the top seven defensive squads, winning against all except the Clippers.

defensive-stats

Over the past 8 days the Raptors have faced three of the top five ranked offensive squads.  They’ve been less successful with the offensive teams, losing each game. That said, two of the games occurred on the back end of back-to-back sets. The latter, an evening after the crazy call that ended their game prematurely in Sacramento.

Tonight they make it a clean sweep of top 5 offenses as they tip off against the new look Houston Rockets.

offensive-teams

New Look Rockets:

Coaching Staff: First on the agenda for GM Daryl Morey was hiring a new Head Coach. Following an exhaustive search Mike D’Antoni was hired. Given the regression of the Rockets defense last season, Jeff Bzdelik (previously with the Memphis Grizzlies) was also hired as an Associate Coach.  Clearly, the hopes of the Rockets’ brass was to marry D’Antoni’s offensive prowess to James Harden’s unique talent.

Free Agents: After Kevin Durant and Al Horford were off the table Morey set about adding shooters who could spread the floor and were capable of creating their own shots. Ryan Anderson was the stretch four Houston had long desired, so they made him their top free agent priority.

Nene Hilario was signed in an economical contract to provide mentorship to young Clint Capela who replaces Dwight Howard as the starting center.

Arguably, Eric Gordon was the Rockets best free agent addition. The former Pelican can play either guard position and is equally adept at creating his own shot as he is scoring from range. Furthermore, Gordon fulfills the scoring needs as the sixth man and offers an ideal backcourt partner for Harden to close games.

Canadian Tyler Ennis was acquired in a trade for Michael Beasley. Ennis provides depth at the point which is essential since Patrick Beverley has a penchant for getting injured.

Internal Growth: Much like the Raptors have high hopes for sophomores Norman Powell and Delon Wright, Houston has similar hopes for their second year players. Sam Dekker missed all but 3 games last season due to back issues, and Montrezl Harrell spent much of the season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets D-League affiliate.

Houston selected Chinanu Onuaku 37th and Zhou Qi 43rd in the draft this past summer. Neither are expected to contribute this season with Qi remaining in China and Onuaku likely to develop in the D-League.

Like Toronto’s addition of Fred VanVleet, Houston added two undrafted prospects: Kyle Wiltjer and Bobby Brown. The 6’10 Wiltjer spent 2 seasons in Kentucky and 2 in Gonzaga. His senior season saw him produce 20.4 points, 6.3 rebounds 1.5 assists and most impressively he shot 43.7% from deep. Wiltjer isn’t phased by the NBA three point line distance as he’s capable of hitting shots closer to half court with equal success. Wiltjer will likely spend most of his year with the Vipers developing, but he is definitely a D’Antoni type player.

Conversely, Brown who has spent time in the NBA (and is a Harden buddy) is expected to be the player waived if the team can finalize negotiations with the still unsigned Donatas Motiejunas. To that end, there may be news today regarding Motiejunas as it’s the last day the Rockets can sign D-Mo and still include him in trades this season.

rockets-raptors-stats-nov-23

Game Specifics:

The Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
The Tip: 8:00 PM EST
TV: TSN
Radio: Sportsnet 590 The Fan

Walking Wounded:

Raptors:

  • Delon Wright – shoulder, targeting a December – January return following surgery
  • Jared Sullinger – foot, had surgery expected to remain out until January as per Masai Ujiri
  • DeMarre Carroll rested Monday versus the Clippers, so he should be good to go tonight.

Rockets:

  • none

Rotations:

Raptors Starting 5:

PG: Kyle Lowry: 19.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds, shooting 42.7% from 3 last 5 games
SG:DeMar DeRozan: 30.9 points, 3.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 49.1% field goal percent
SF: DeMarre Carroll: 8.5 points,  3.9 rebounds, shooting 40% from 3 last 3 games
PF: Pascal Siakam: 5.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 offensive rebounds, 54.4% field goal percent
C:  Jonas Valanciunas: 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 offensive rebounds, 56.9% field goal percent

Raptors Bench:

PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Norman Powell
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson,
C:  Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl

Note: Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo have been reassigned to the Raptors 905 D League

james-harden

Rockets Starting 5:

PG: James Harden 28.6 points, 12.4  assists, 7.8 rebounds, 36.5% from deep, 5.4 turnovers
SG:Patrick Beverley 8.3 points, 3.3 assists, 1.3 rebounds
SF: Trevor Ariza:  12.2 points, 2.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 38.2% from deep
PF: Ryan Anderson: 5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 40.0% three point field goal percent
C:  Clint Capela: 11.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 61.2% field goal percent, 1.8 blocks

Rockets Bench:

PG: Eric Gordon,  Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown
SG: K.J. McDaniels, Corey Brewer,
SF: Sam Dekker
PF: Montrezl Harrell, *Kyle Wiltjer
C:  Nene Hilario

Chinanu Onuaku is with the D-League Vipers and while *Wiltjer had been called back up it’s likely he’ll be sent back .

Recent History:

Last season, the Rockets swept Toronto with James Harden at his very best and Kyle Lowry getting ejected in one of their meetings. Go back one season and you may recall DeMar DeRozan had a career best 42 point scoring effort including his final shot which sealed the win with 18.1 seconds remaining.

Notably, Harden and DeRozan are childhood friends who seem to take their matches against each other as personal vendettas.

Betting Line: To reiterate Blake’s comments, most home teams have a 3 to 4 point starting advantage. The early line has the Rockets as 3.5 favorites which in essence means the odds makers see this one going Houston’s way. As for the over-under, early predictions are 216.6 points which isn’t surprising given these 2 teams rank among the top 5 offenses and bottom 10 defenses.

Keys to winning:

As much as Anderson and Gordon bring scoring to the court, neither is known for their defensive chops. Toronto should take advantage of their screen usage against Anderson in particular, who shies away from having to do much running on the defensive end. Getting him in early foul trouble also removes one of Harden’s favorite targets.

There are 3 specific areas of weakness for Houston: turnovers, perimeter defense, and transition defense. If Carroll, Lowry, and Patterson can continue shooting the long ball like they have the past few games they could be in for big nights behind the arc.

Assume Dwane Casey will enlist a platoon of players to guard Harden. Whoever is on him needs to be careful of his patented up and under move to draw fouls, but at the same time needs to play him aggressively, as he coughs up the ball 5.4 times per game. Moreover, the Rockets rank among the top of the league in opposition points scored off turnovers.

As for DeRozan and Lowry the Rockets best defenders are Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley. Inevitably one of them will be given the assignment to guard DeRozan.

Capela who has fared well in previous games versus the Raptors has shown steady growth and will offer a tough test for Valanciunas.

Closing:

On the surface this game could solely be viewed as two offensive titans preparing for battle. Dig a little deeper and both squads have been discussing their intent to improve defensively. In fairness, Toronto has been on a hellish schedule and tonight marks their sixth game in 9 days. Worse, the Raptors have played 2 back-to-back sets in this time frame and faced the top 3 teams in the Association.

If there is a silver lining, it’s the Raptors competitiveness. As has become synonymous with Toronto’s identity they refuse to go quietly into the night, battling until the buzzer sounded in each of their losses. Further, the Raptors scored the most points and registered the highest opponent field goal percent (50%) against the Clippers all season. Still, the issue for the Raptors hasn’t been offense. Rather, Toronto needs to shore up their team defense, as one bad quarter has ultimately been the tipping point in their losses.

Harden is the key to Houston’s offense and represents a major challenge. He can spread the court all on his own and uses his drives to set up open shooters or gain easy lay-ups. Oklahoma City had the best results against him (13 points) employing a game plan of cutting off his driving and passing lanes while aggressively challenging his shot. They enlisted Andre Roberson to keep Harden in check and his aggressive defense and height worked effectively to bring Houston’s offense to a stand still. It’s somewhat of a double edged sword, either you allow Harden to be a distributor and rely on your man on man defense to stop his cohorts, or you force Harden into being a scorer and hope he doesn’t go ballistic.

Ideally the Raptors will refuse the urge to get into a run and gun pace because that bodes well for Houston. The Raptors enter the night having lost 4* of their last 5 games, so they’ll be eager to get a victory. If they focus on defense they’ll have a much easier task since the Rockets rely almost solely on their offense.

With two games remaining on this Raptors road trip a win tonight offers Toronto the opportunity to head to Milwaukee and still salvage an above .500 road trip result. To that end, expect a focused, aggressive Raptors effort.

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Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 23

Rookie Pascal Siakam Already Proving His Value – Raptors Republic

When Siakam does get the opportunity to post up he shows an ability to score pretty efficiently. Below is a compilation of some of his post-ups this season. In the first clip DeRozan swings the ball for Siakam to go to work (this is a pretty rare offensive set for the Raptors), with Kenneth Faried on his back Siakam makes him bite with a left fake and is able to quickly switch back where Faried is late to contest the shot. The second clip, he is fed the ball off a pick and roll with Lowry, backing down Kosta Koufas with DeMarcus Cousins denying any penetration to the middle, Siakam shows he doesn’t need deep post position to score down low. Siakam makes a quick turn and goes up strong against Koufas. In the third clip, he shows even more skill driving in with his left hand, spinning, absorbing the contact, and scoring as he fades away from the basket.

Siakam has impressive touch around the rim already, shooting 65% on shots from 0-3 feet from the rim. One of his greatest attributes as a rookie is his decisiveness when he gets the ball in the post. His quick decision making is well beyond his years, and these intangibles that Siakam already possesses shows a lot of promise. One of these intangibles is his ability to create/disrupt opposing defences with his transition scoring. At least once a game off defensive rebounds, Siakam sprints the floor past the opposing team’s defense getting setup for easy transition baskets.

It’s these kinds of extra effort plays, always going after 50/50 balls, and the high energy that Siakam bring to the floor that will always help him find the floor in Coach Casey’s rotation.

By the numbers: Are the Toronto Raptors overplaying Kyle Lowry? – Sportsnet.ca

A brief break for common sense: Regardless of his ability to handle the load, the Raptors coaching staff likely doesn’t want to be running their most important player nearly 40 minutes a night.

But they also seem to value early-season wins, and with Lowry on the bench, this team doesn’t exactly play like a winner.

Toronto’s offence is currently ranked third league-wide (behind the Warriors and Clippers), scoring 109.8 points per 100 possessions. Their defence is 22nd and allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions—but that exceptional scoring ability still has them sitting eighth in net rating at +3.7 points per 100 possessions.

With Lowry on the court all those numbers improve. The team scores 111.4 points per 100 possessions and allows 104.1, for a net rating (7.3 for those too lazy to do the math) that would rank fourth behind the Clippers, Warriors and Hawks.

With Lowry off the court you can probably guess what happens: 103.3 points scored, 113.5 points allowed and a net rating of -10.2—almost half a point worse than the rock-bottom Philadelphia 76ers, who are currently sporting a -9.8.

Numbers Game: What is Wrong with the Defense? – Raptors HQ

So, the common refrain of Valanciunas being a problem may have a point – though having an offensive player sub off for a defensive one will always generate at least some drop off in defence. And his off-court DRTG is still above the overall team rating last season, and not too far below the overall rating this year. Still, add him to the list of suspects.

And you’ve got a couple young, relatively inexperienced guys in there who have been placed in very demanding roles – Siakam with the starting unit, and Powell with the closing unit on many nights. So some issues are to be expected there, and at least some small portion of the team’s struggles defensively might stem from playing young players more than last season, but neither of them are that close to the top of the list above, so we’ll leave them alone for now.

But the biggest name to pop out here (and the player on this list with the most minutes played and therefore the most influence over the team as a whole) is Demar DeRozan. His -5.7 point swing is second worst on the team to Joseph, and his appearance in that struggling bench unit seems to be the only difference between that lineup and the one that is finding so much success defensively.

Raptors’ defensive struggles puzzling players, Casey | Toronto Sun

There are all kinds of excuses the Raptors can use right now, from lack of practice time to a glut of games condensed to this portion of the schedule, but those shouldn’t matter to a team that returns it’s core and is seasoned enough to know how to handle these stretches.

Patterson certainly had no interest in making excuses.

“We are basically the same team as last year,” he said. “We are just a few more pieces.”

DeMar DeRozan, off to the hottest start of his eight-year NBA career from an individual offensive standpoint, sees the same things Patterson is seeing on defence: A lack of team cohesion — for whatever reason — a lack of communication, but most of all an inability to close out quarters.

“We don’t catch rhythm,” DeRozan said. “We let teams finish off quarters well. We let them score too much in quarters. We have to have a conscious effort of trying to win every quarter on both ends of the floor. We kind of played an outscore-them game too many quarters and things like that we have to limit.

“Just communicating and understanding personnel and understanding when (opponents) are running something where we need to be help side or if we are switching, whatever it may be. We got to be two steps ahead.”

With a little help from my friends #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Why have the Raps struggled against top tier teams? – Video – TSN

They’ve played four games against top tier teams and have lost all four, Sam Mitchell joins SportsCentre to discuss whether this is cause for concern and why they need to develop a third go-to guy.

Free Association: Lessons from the Toronto Raptors’ brutal road trip – Sportsnet.ca

JD and Donnovan recap a brutal West Coast road trip and decipher how the Raptors defence can improve and agonize over the replay reversal of the game-tying three-point attempt by Terrence Ross versus the Sacramento Kings.

Donnovan talks to former Raptors point guard Jose Calderon about his experience with the Spanish national team, his adjustment to being a backup with the Los Angeles Lakers and why he still considers Toronto home.

The guys finish the podcast off talking about the hot start that Andrew Wiggins is of to and debate his level of commitment to the Canadian national team.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNI6fboAA7_/

Road-weary Raptors could use some practice time | Toronto Star

“We can’t make excuses,” DeMar DeRozan said. “At the end of the day, if it’s a tough schedule we have to learn from it. It’s the best way to learn from it, going against teams like (the Clippers and) understanding we are right there with them.”

The Clippers ran up three quarters of 30 points or more aganst Toronto on Monday, shot better than 50 per cent from the field and killed the Raptors with the most rudimentary of NBA plays — the pick and roll.

“We have to understand how to close out each quarter, try to win the last three or four minutes of each quarter,” DeRozan said. “It’s going to come, once we hit that stride and understand what we need to do defensively from that jump ball to that last second on the court, we will be fine.”

Game Preview: Raptors @ Rockets | Toronto Raptors

Rockets, Harden difficult to contain

Pairing James Harden with Mike D’Antoni looks to be an ideal offensive match. Through 14 games, the Rockets are 9-5, averaging 108.4 points per game. Harden is fourth in the league in scoring, putting up 28.6 points while also leading the league in assists, dishing 12.4 dimes per game. Like Toronto’s previous game against the Clippers, the Rockets are not the ideal opponent to face when hoping to get the defence back on track but slowing Harden should mean slowing the Rockets. It just hasn’t been very easy to do so.

Harden is shooting 46 percent from the floor, 37 percent from three, and 81 percent from the line where he averages 10.1 free throw attempts per game. In addition to his 28.6 points and 12.4 assists, he’s also averaging 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.

With D’Antonio encouraging him to take the lead and create for himself and his teammates, this version of Harden is as lethal as any we’ve seen before. The matchup between childhood friends Harden and DeRozan (averaging 30.9 points per contest and 9.6 free throw attempts per game) will be one to watch.

Thanks @space_des1gns

A photo posted by Delon Wright (@delonwright) on

Game day: Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

DeMar DeRozan, Raptors, vs. James Harden, Rockets. The two Los Angeles buddies work out a lot with each other and steal from each other’s games. It’ll be a friendly matchup between players with very similar styles — and similar results. DeRozan was third in NBA scoring through Monday with 30.9 points per game; Harden was fourth with 28.6.

Tipoff: Raptors at Rockets | Toronto Sun

MARQUEE MATCHUP

James Harden vs. Kyle Lowry
Harden is now both de-facto and actual point guard in Houston handling the ball more than any other player in the NBA. With the Raptors’ defence in a bit of disarray, this is going to be a challenge for the entire roster, but it will start with Lowry who loves this kind of challenge. The key, and this is almost impossible to do based on Harden’s history, is going to be keeping from reaching in and sending Harden to the line, where he is deadly. For the season, Harden is averaging 28.6 points, 12.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds a game. No player in NBA history has ever averaged those numbers over a single season.

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

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Know all the Raptors!!

Jackie Redmond digs deep.

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Raptors 905 activate Tavares, waive Terrell

The Hershey Centre rims made a big acquisition on Tuesday, and they should now have a good deal more protection.

Raptors 905 have activated Edy Tavares and waived J.T. Terrell, the team announced. Tavares was claimed off of waivers using the team’s top waiver priority more than a week ago, but sorting out paperwork for the Cape Verde native to play in Canada took a bit of time. He’s now ready to go, and while he may be inactive as he learns the team’s system, he’ll at the very least be in attendance for Wednesday’s 11 a.m. tip-off in Mississauga.

Terrell, a fourth-round pick in this year’s D-League Draft, was a natural choice to be cut unless the 905 didn’t want to keep three natural centers. Yanick Moreira and Goodluck Okonoboh can both play some power forward, though (Moreira even suggested as much when he heard the news, and his defense can definitely play there, even if it stands to gum up spacing a bit), and Negus Webster-Chan, one of the other players to make it from open tryouts and then training camp, has really impressed with his length, defense, and shooting. The 905 got Terrell nine minutes of run in the opener, and it seems likely that since the 905 knew Tavares was a possibility, Terrell was aware all along that his stint would be rather short.

Someone had to go, is what it comes down to, because Tavares is a really intriguing talent the team couldn’t pass up the opportunity to claim.

Here’s some of what I wrote about him when the news first came down:

Still just 24, the 7-foot-3 Tavares has 12 games of NBA experience with the Hawks and more than half a season of D-League experience across three teams a season ago. In 29 D-League games, he averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks while shooting65.2 percent, all in just 21.6 minutes. He could be a major factor for the 905 both on the defensive end and on the glass, and he and Yanick Moreira could stand as quite the defensive platoon at the five.

Prior to joining the NBA, Tavares spent several seasons in the Spanish ACB league, even earning All-Eurocup First Team honors in 2014-15. Still quite raw at the offensive end, the Cape Verde native boasts a 7-foot-9 wingspan and looked to have improved at least a little bit in Summer League, averaging nine points on 63.6-percent shooting over six games.

The rotation will now look something like this, though as always, it’s worth noting that John Jordan and Tavares are really the only players on this team who play a single position (Bruno Caboclo and Antwaine Wiggins have each played three so far this year, and Axel Toupane’s guarded across four spots, as examples).

PG: Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, John Jordan
SG: Axel Toupane, Negus Webster-Chan
SF: E.J. Singler, Will Sheehey, Antwaine Wiggins
PF: Bruno Caboclo, Jarrod Uthoff, C.J. Leslie
C: Yanick Moreira, Edy Tavares, Goodluck Okonoboh

I tweaked this for a while and it still doesn’t look right. Let’s try it a different way.

Guards: Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, John Jordan
Wings: Axel Toupane, E.J. Singler, Will Sheehey, Negus Webster-Chan
Forwards: Bruno Caboclo, Jarrod Uthoff, Antwaine Wiggins
Bigs: Yanick Moreira, C.J. Leslie, Edy Tavares, Goodluck Okonoboh

Even that doesn’t necessarily feel right for Leslie and Webster-Chan. It must be so much fun from a defensive standpoint to get to coach a team with so much positional fluidity. The beauty of the D-League, man.

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Rookie Pascal Siakam Already Proving His Value

This isn’t news but injuries suck. They suck for the fans, the other players on the team, the team itself, it’s hard to find any positive in a player going down. The Raptors have been relatively banged up already this season, both Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross have missed time with smaller injuries, DeMarre Carroll is playing but continuing to recover from his knee surgery from a season ago, and even before the regular season started newly signed power forward Jared Sullinger broke his foot requiring major time off. Injuries are part of the game, usually good teams have deep rotations that when a key acquisition goes down, the player replacing their minutes doesn’t give the team a huge drop off in production.

The Raptors entering the regular season had a weak front court situation, with the loss of backup centre Bismack Biyombo in the offseason, and the Jared Sullinger injury the Raptors were stuck looking for answers. Coach Dwayne Casey likes the continuity of Patrick Patterson playing within the second unit, even though past performances suggest Patterson is fully capable of playing in the starting unit considering he’s finished most of the games over the past two seasons.

Coach Casey was left with no real choice, selecting Pascal Siakam (the 27th overall pick in the 2016 draft) to become the starting power forward. Siakam had impressed many fans in the preseason, showing a defensive IQ well beyond his years, that defensive IQ was met with an imposing 7”3 wingspan, a high energy presence on the glass, and an offensive game that was more polished than people expected before the draft.

For the season, the 22 year old is averaging 18.8 minutes per game, scoring 5.8 points, on 54% shooting on 5.1 field goal attempts per game, and pulling down 4.3 rebounds. Obviously these numbers aren’t jaw dropping by any means in this short 14 game sample size, but in context for a late first round draft pick, it’s amazing that Siakam is contributing to a playoff team at all, not something others drafted around him can say. Siakam shows a ton of potential in expanding his game offensively, and some of his moves have gotten better as he’s found his place.

It should be noted that Siakam is playing a majority of his minutes with the starting lineup, and will always be the fifth offensive option in that lineup, and his 13.5USG% backs up the fact he’s just not going to get many touches for himself on offensive. That’s really where his offensive value lies, for a rookie expected to make mistakes (which he does from time to time) Siakam is very good at playing within his offensive skill set, never settling for bad shots, putting himself in position to score, doing all the little things like diving to the basket after a high pick, or spacing out when DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry drive to the basket.

When Siakam does get the opportunity to post up he shows an ability to score pretty efficiently. Below is a compilation of some of his post-ups this season. In the first clip DeRozan swings the ball for Siakam to go to work (this is a pretty rare offensive set for the Raptors), with Kenneth Faried on his back Siakam makes him bite with a left fake and is able to quickly switch back where Faried is late to contest the shot. The second clip, he is fed the ball off a pick and roll with Lowry, backing down Kosta Koufas with DeMarcus Cousins denying any penetration to the middle, Siakam shows he doesn’t need deep post position to score down low. Siakam makes a quick turn and goes up strong against Koufas. In the third clip, he shows even more skill driving in with his left hand, spinning, absorbing the contact, and scoring as he fades away from the basket.

Siakam has impressive touch around the rim already, shooting 65% on shots from 0-3 feet from the rim. One of his greatest attributes as a rookie is his decisiveness when he gets the ball in the post. His quick decision making is well beyond his years, and these intangibles that Siakam already possesses shows a lot of promise. One of these intangibles is his ability to create/disrupt opposing defences with his transition scoring. At least once a game off defensive rebounds, Siakam sprints the floor past the opposing team’s defense getting setup for easy transition baskets.

It’s these kinds of extra effort plays, always going after 50/50 balls, and the high energy that Siakam bring to the floor that will always help him find the floor in Coach Casey’s rotation.

One of the things Siakam has room to improve is his shooting. Some say the power forward position in the NBA is dying, I consider it transitioning to a more versatile role. Power forwards are asked to step outside the restricted area, be more athletic, and have the ability to shoot. Siakam’s shot isn’t bad, it’s actually way better than expected.

As you can see from the video below, Faried sags off Siakam as Lowry drives to basket. When the defence collapses on Lowry, Siakam back pedals slightly to create a bit more space, Lowry kicks it out for a pretty confident looking jumper. As mentioned before, Siakam is great at diving to rim in the PNR, but in the next clip he shows with enough space he can also pick and pop for jump shots.

That’s where Pascal’s development could get scary, some bigs only have the ability to do one or the other, roll or pop, making them pretty one dimensional in the pick and roll. It’s nice if the player is elite at one, but being able to do both makes for an offensive weapon, much like Kevin Love in his Timberwolves days. Siakam already has the ability to shoot with some confidence, as his game develops so will his range, making for an even more interesting prospect for the future.

With the Raptors main power forward Patrick Patterson playing so poorly, it might not be such a bad idea to increase Siakam’s minutes down the stretch. So far this season Patterson has 40TS%, which ranks him sixth worst in the NBA of players playing at least 25 mintues per game. It’s still very early in the season, and the Raptors need Patterson to start performing on the offensive end, seeing shots start falling for him won’t only help his confidence, but will be a huge addition to the Raptors offense. If Patterson continues to struggle offensively, Siakam could fill Patterson’s role, guarding mobile wings and smaller bigs, while continuing to grow offensively in crunch time minutes.

If theres one small positive we can take away from the Sullinger injury, is we are seeing the potential value Siakam has on this team moving forward. Even when Sullinger comes back from injury, it’s hard to imagine Siakam seeing a significant drop off in playing time if Patterson’s poor play continues. If Patterson’s play gets back to his average, it would fun to see Casey even go to a very small lineup using Siakam at the five position. A lineup that might suffer pulling down defensive rebounds, but would be electric in transition, have the ability to space the floor, and play with great pace.

Drafting players can be one of the toughest jobs for a GM, drafting players in the later slots can be even tougher. Picking a 18-20 year old kid to produce at the highest level, and somehow predicting how that player will turn out in 5-6 years is all chance. Go through a list of GM’s who served a long tenure, you can always find a couple of “busts” they picked, along with a couple of absolute steals. It’s extremely early in Siakam’s career, but he is showing signs and skills that he will be an absolute steal with the 27th pick.

Follow : @Spenred

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E05 – Another Drake Night

On this weeks episode of Talking Raptors Nick and Barry break down all things Drake. The guys take a look at the entire evening from bottom to top. They discuss the pros and cons of having the biggest name in rap as our Brand Ambassador.

*This podcast was recorded before the Sacramento Screw Job and the Los Angeles disaster.*

On this episode:

-In-Game Ops

– Drake’s shirt and the Drake shirts

-Heckling the other team

-Drakes friendships with Players

-Half time show madness

-Raptors Dance Pak

As always thanks so much for listening and we really hope you enjoy.

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Worst Road Trip Ever Continues With Close Loss to Clippers

This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad road trip isn’t quite done but with the closer-than-it-should’ve-been 123-115 loss to the Clippers at least the worst of it is behind the Toronto Raptors. It’s inevitable that they’re going to have a stretch like this in the schedule somewhere and it seems much better to get it out of the way early than have to deal with it late in the season, when seeding is a more imminent concern and the mileage on the players is starting to take a toll. That stretch in November can yield some entertaining losses at worst, in March or April we could have been looking at something much uglier.

The Raptors were good enough to make a game of it but not quite good enough to take it, which seems to be the recurring theme of the season so far against elite teams(and, for some reason, the Kings) and it followed the general pattern that these kinds of games have always followed under coach Dwane Casey. The Raptors started out sloppy, shooting a dismal 39% from the floor and committing five 1st quarter turnovers. It looked like the game should have been getting away from them early but they were helped by the Clippers playing down to their competition on the offensive end – they weren’t really pressing any of their big advantages, content to wait for things to fall apart for Toronto. The Clippers weren’t firing on all cylinders but the gameplan was immediately apparent, at least on the defensive end: stick a long defender on DeRozan and pressure the guards with shakey handles to use up clock. This clearly worked, as the Raptors struggled to produce any sort of consistent offense.

The second quarter featured a more methodical Clippers attack, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin began their dissection of the Raptors defense. The chief beneficiary in this quarter was Luc Richard Mbah Moute, who was gifted two wide open threes as the Raptors struggled to contain the Clippers multi-faceted attack. Giving up those threes shouldn’t be considered a failure on their part – generally speaking open threes are less than ideal but when your other options are Jordan diving, Paul off the dribble, Griffin popping into open space and Redick spacing in the other corner the LRMM corner three looks pretty good. He just happened to make two of them against the Raptors tonight. This was when the gap between the teams was most readily apparent. The Raptors matched the Clippers for brief stretches when their intensity hit a fever pitch or when DeRozan or Lowry were making some ridiculous shots but the Clippers were easily able to outpace the Raptors before that urgency set in for them.

The second half is when things got really interesting, as the “Clippers pull away, Raptors claw their way back into it” ebb and flow was established. The Clippers began to dominate the interior, with Griffin and Jordan combining for 22 points on 7-8 shooting and pulling down 8 rebounds in the quarter. The Raptors would counter this by going super small, with Norman Powell taking on the role of power guard as the Raptors used a bit of speed and shooting to catch the Clippers off balance. It worked for a time but the Clippers countered with a renewed commitment to using their size and the Raptors never really had a response to that because Siakam isn’t ready yet and Patterson can’t play a full 48.

As we will likely see in a lot of games against elite teams this year the Raptors kept it close by virtue of huge offensive stretches from DeRozan – who scored 13 in the the 3rd quarter – and Lowry – who scored 14 in the 4th quarter. They both did enough to keep it close for stretches but neither had it going when the other did and one man is just not enough to beat this Clippers team. They’re a legit juggernaut, a true candidate for the best team in the league.

The stretch run of this game really highlighted one of the biggest differences between these two teams: the Raptors don’t have a lineup they can play for heavy minutes that can both shoot and defend. If they go with their best defenders they have a minimum of two non-shooters on the floor and are unable to find minutes for one of their offensive workhorses. If they go with their best offensive players they’re forced to play guys who are inconsistent at best on the defensive end. The Clippers don’t need to worry about that; their incomplete lineups exist to give the members of their best lineup rest so they’ll be ready to close out games.  When they need to have their best players on the floor they can trot out a lineup that is almost unguardable while still playing stingy defense. This is something consistent of all of the truly elite teams in the league but continues to elude the Raptors.

With the worst of this trip over the Raptors will enjoy a well-deserved day of rest and then head to Houston to take on the Rockets, then close out the road trip in Milwaukee on Friday.

That #$#% I Like

  • Valanciunas adding some finesse to his game is definitely a good thing overall but sometimes he seems to forget about his brute force advantage. It was nice to see the classic “shoulder into the defenders chest” from JV tonight against Jordan. These long, bouncy defenders are less effective in one on one scenarios when they get bumped off balance.
  • Casey trying out some unconventional lineups to get Norm some minutes was nice to see. He’s too good to sit and Siakam isn’t quite good enough to play all the time so this is absolutely necessary.
  • The roadtrip as a whole has been a struggle but Lowry has performed well throughout. He’s still the best player on the team and they’ll only go as far as he can take them. On some level we all knew his early season struggles were temporary but it’s still a relief to see him performing to his usual standards again.
  • Speaking of early season struggles Patrick Patterson had his best game of the year and has hit 6-12 threes over the last two games. It looks like he bottomed out with that 1 point in 30 minutes performance against the Nuggets.

That %$@% I Don’t Like

  • The Raptors still struggle with prioritizing shooters on defense and we’ve had a couple of egregious examples in the last 2 games. Against the Kings we saw Ty Lawson catch the ball above the break wide open for three and get closed on by a Raptor defender who left Garrett Temple, a much better outside shooter, wide open in the near corner. Tonight one of the worst examples was DeRozan picking up LRMM in the corner in transition, which seems good until you see JJ Redick 20 feet away above the break launching an open three. Good defensive teams know who they want shooting in those situations and rotate accordingly.
  • I feel like this should have been the first game in the back to back and the Kings game should have been second. If you’re going to screw a team like this at least make the game against the better teams the more winnable ones.
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Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 22

The Bigger Picture: Managing Minutes to Prevent Injuries – Raptors Republic

There has to be concern for both Lowry and DeRozan and their risk of injury as the season progresses. While neither player averages an overly high speed when on the court, both are again in the top 10 in minutes played, and each player carries a high usage rate when they’re out there, with DeRozan at 36.5% so far this year and Lowry’s usage at 25.2%. Neither player has played less than 34 minutes in a game thus far, regardless of opponent. And while Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger have yet to play due to injuries, it’s hard to imagine either of those players has a large impact on the minutes of DeMar and Kyle given that Powell can’t get on the floor on some nights.

Maybe the solution isn’t necessarily a large reduction in minutes, but a retooling of the offense to take some of the load off their shoulders, and moving it more towards Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross and Norman Powell, each of whom has shown signs they can, when needed, be relied upon to provide some offense. That, in itself, even with the large burden of minutes, could help lessen the chance of an injury.

Could reducing their minutes to prevent future injury cost the team wins? It’s entirely possible, especially if you do it by staggering their minutes more, because for the most part, any minutes without Lowry have been a net negative for the team, aside from the lineup of DeRozan, Joseph, Ross, Patterson and Poeltl, which has been solid in just an 18 minute sample size. At the same time, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and the goals need to be bigger than simply winning as many games in November and December as possible, the team needs to build towards a playoff run and advancing once again to the Eastern Conference Finals and perhaps farther, and in order to do that, the health of their All-Stars has to be of paramount concern. At the same time, giving the other players more time without the stars on the floor might establish some chemistry and offensive flow, and give some protection against a possible injury. Because right now, what the Raptors are doing is both increasing the risk of an injury, as well as providing no protection in terms of a plan for success should one occur.

Raptors lose 123-115 to the schedule and to the Clippers – Raptors HQ

The Raptors had no answer for the Clippers starting lineup. A 9-point Clipper lead at half time stretched out to the mid-teens, with the Raptors surrendering a basket on seemingly every possession. Dwane Casey even pulled out the Hack-a-Jordan to prolong our torture for the night to try and reel the Clippers in a little. DeAndre Jordan, to his credit, refused to comply with that game-plan, as he shot 9-14 from the line. He is a 44% FT shooter on the season. As a hater of the hacking strategy, I’m glad he shot it well.

We’ve come to expect relentless effort out of the Raptors, and despite the grueling nature of the recent schedule and the hole they were in today, they still managed to make a game of this in the fourth quarter. DeMar DeRozan and the bench unit cut the lead to 9 against the Clippers’ bench heading into the final frame, and Kyle Lowry and the bench further whittled that lead down to 5. Then, the Clippers starters checked back in and the Raptors had no answer once again. At one point, the Clips scored on 9 consecutive possessions, and despite Lowry’s best efforts to pull a heroic victory out of thin air, it just wasn’t to be tonight.

Concerning trend continues as Raptors fall short vs. Clippers – Sportsnet.ca

Where’s the D?
Death, taxes and the Raptors’ defence getting torched. All three are certainties these days as Toronto allowed its opponent to score at least 102 points for the eighth straight outing. After limiting the Clippers to 23 points in the first quarter, the Raptors surrendered 30-plus in each of the final three frames while allowing Los Angeles to shoot 53 per cent for the game.

If Toronto wants to consider itself a serious contender, this concerning trend is going to have to be the first thing cleaned up. As a defensive-minded coach, this stretch must be adding years to Dwane Casey’s life.

“It seems like everybody we’ve played in the past couple weeks we’ve turned into an offensive slugfest,” Casey told reporters following the game. “I think our guys are trying defensively but we’re not getting it done and getting stops when we need to.

“We’re not going to go anywhere if we don’t get teams under 50 per cent. That’s our goal going into these next games, is to get better at something defensively. We’ve got enough offence.”

Raptors respond with toughness of effort but defensive lapses continue in loss to Clippers | Toronto Star

“I liked our team’s heart tonight, I thought we scrapped and fought,” Casey said. “We could have come in and laid down, we did not do that and that means something in this league after what we went through last night and everybody asking questions about last night.

“This is the best team in the league and we put ourselves in a position to win but there’s no consolation prize.”

No, no consolation prize but if there was a booby prize, it would have once again gone to Toronto’s defence, which again was non-existent at times.

The Clippers shot 53 per cent from the floor, scored more than 30 points in each of the last three quarters and got pretty much whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

They became the eighth straight team to score more than 100 points on the Raptors, who lost for the fourth time in five games and fell to 8-6 on the season.

“I think our guys are trying, they’re trying defensively but we’re not getting it done and getting stops when we need to,” Casey said.

Raptors this week: Poor officiating no excuse for porous defence – Sportsnet.ca

After starting the season 4-2 allowing only 99.9 points per 100 possessions, Toronto has stumbled in its last seven contests, going 4-3 while giving up an egregious 108.9 points per 100 possessions. This massive slip in defensive play has dropped what was a top-10 ranked defence into the No. 18 spot.

Looking closer at the Raptors’ first six games compared to their last seven, there’s been a significant drop in just about every defensive category with the exception of points in the paint allowed, which ultimately is a little negligible as teams are shooting better from three-point range on the Raptors than before.

Going back to the Sacramento game, the Raptors did match their best defensive effort of this seven-game stretch, giving up 102 points, but they ended up getting 36 and 28 points hung on them in the first and third quarters, respectively, so as bad as the final play was, the Raptors deserved to lose that game because right now they seem incapable of putting together a sustained defensive effort for more than a few minutes at a time.

In fact, by this same logic, the Raptors probably deserved to lose every game of their last seven because they’ve consistently allowed teams to hang a high number on them in at least one quarter.

Game Rap: Raptors 115, Clippers 123 | Toronto Raptors

UNABLE TO CLOSE THE GAP

A 13-point third quarter from DeRozan helped the Raptors trim a 17-point Clippers lead to nine going into the fourth. In the final frame, the Raptors got within four points, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Although Toronto outscored the Clippers 36-35 in the quarter, Los Angeles shot 64 percent and the Raptors couldn’t get enough stops down the stretch.

Griffin, Paul score 26 apiece as Clippers beat Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul scored 26 points each as the Clippers beat the Raptors 123-115.

Tested by Raptors, Clippers held on to take the win | Toronto Sun

The Clippers held on, but it took everything in their power to get out of this one with a 123-115 win.

That’s the league leading Clippers coming off a full day of rest and possessing the No. 2 defence and the No. 2 offence in the league.

Midway through the third it looked like the Raptors were ready to throw up the white flag down 17 but then a lineup with Patterson at centre, Terrence Ross at the four and three smalls in the backcourt somehow worked.

The Raptors got the deficit down to four at one point but then the Clippers re-established control and pretty much coasted home.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin each score 26 in Clippers’ 123-115 win over Raptors – LA Times

“It was a very frustrating [half] from a coaching standpoint because . . . it felt like we should be up a lot,” Rivers said. “We got a ton of stops to start the game and we basically fumbled the ball and missed shots. We looked bad offensively. I thought the whole team was frustrated at halftime. We were up by eight or nine, and it felt like we should be up more. We allowed them to stay in the game.”

LA Clippers stand firm, edge out Toronto Raptors to win 123-115 – Clipperholics

Late in the first quarter, Jamal Crawford hit a two-pointer to go ahead 20-19, the last time the Raptors would lead. For good measure, Crawford hit a wild, falling three at the buzzer to extend the lead to four at the end of the first.

Paul hit a huge three (thanks to a Blake Griffin assist) with a little over two minutes left in the game to give the Clippers a 113-104 lead. Paul raced down the court on the next possession and was fouled in the act of shooting, making the shot and then the free throw. The Raptors responded with a timeout.

Toronto continued to foul the Clippers in an attempt to claw back into the game, but it wasn’t enough. And neither was their attempt to use Hack-a-DJ against DeAndre Jordan; he went 9-of-14 from the line (64.3 percent).

Fast Break: Early season MVP candidates – Video – TSN

In this edition of Fast Break, the NBA on TSN panel gives their early season MVP candidates including Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan

In age of sports transparency, how did Raptors controversy happen? – Sportsnet.ca

Why can’t the NBA do what would happen at every pick-up game across North America: Have a do-over.

At the moment there is no rule allowing for that. In the case of a clock malfunction they simply time the play in question and if it was completed in the amount of time that was on the game clock or less, it stands. If it takes a fraction of a second more the basket doesn’t count.

It’s a subject that would have to be reviewed by the league’s competition committee – Raptors president Masai Ujiri sits on it – but the soonest anything could be implemented would be next season.

In the meantime, Raptors nation – and even many within the Raptors organization – can only sit and stew. Notions of an anti-Canadian conspiracy are never far away among a certain strain of Raptors fans. There is a reason that We The North – a slogan that panders to the fan base’s sense of isolation and alienation – has resonated so powerfully over the past three years.

It’s hard to make the case in this case – a Sunday night Kings-Raptors game was the one the league was waiting to put the fix in on? But that hasn’t stopped countless people from doing their own video reviews and posting their findings online. And it won’t stop it in the future.

The answer as the league thrusts deeper and deeper into the digital age is to have all the calls reviewed, or none at all.

last night got me like .. #refs

A video posted by @mffdjky on

Raptors to protest buzzer-beater call in Kings game | Toronto Star

But Ujiri’s concerns go beyond just one game. The longer-term implications are serious, he said.

“Mistakes in basketball are inevitable, we deal with them on a daily basis no matter the team or player. But wins and losses in the NBA are finite and last night goes down as a loss on our record,” he said. “At some point, these calls start piling up and matter at the end of the season. Calls like these are demoralizing to our players, coaches, staff, and even our fans. We all expect better than this.”

Ujiri felt Ross, whose shot started the controversy, was playing against the clock he saw in the arena and could very well have altered his timing had he known there was a problem.

“When Terrence caught the ball near half court, he knew he only had a couple of seconds to shoot the ball before time expired, but he also knew he had a clock above the backboard to glance up at as time winded down,” the president said. “Unfortunately, the clock he needed to look at was in New Jersey.”

The play will be forever etched in the minds of players and fans: Down three points with 2.4 seconds left on the game clock, the Raptors appeared to have miraculously tied it on a Ross desperation shot at the buzzer. But three on-court officials determined the clock hadn’t started when Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins deflected an inbounds pass and after referee Zach Zarba watched the play at the league’s replay centre in Secaucus, N.J., he determined Ross did not get the shot off before the buzzer should have sounded.

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

Know Your Raptors: Take a 360 tour of the locker room – Sportsnet.ca

Ever wondered what Kyle Lowry’s go-to karaoke song is? The most ’embarrassing’ song on DeMar DeRozan’s iPod? Cory Joseph’s favourite order at Tim Horton’s? Or what Dwane Casey’s dream job as a kid was?

Know Your Raptors returns for its fourth season, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. Get to know a fresh side of your favourite Raptors with video profiles on each player that let you catch a glimpse of their personalities away from the court. To view each video, just click ‘Play’ below and scroll through the interactive Raptors locker room to to catch a side of your favourite players that you’ve never seen before.

Casey's spectrum ranges from annoyed to fill on pissed off #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Kings Sweep Raptors in Last Second Thriller | Sacramento Kings

JJ Redick walks by Terrence Ross explaining his OT 3, calls it bullshit. #rtz

Here’s the little message I sent to the NBA about this game. I have no stake in this game, but I did it because I felt this needs to be done by someone. Anything I might have missed? – /r/nba

In conclusion, the referees of the game Courtney Kirkland, Kevin Cutler, Mike Callahan have made mistakes. But that is not the problem. They have openly denied any wrongdoing and lied to the media about any mistake being made in the first place. Due to the different nature of such an incident, the proper punishment should also be different. I suggest that the NBA and the NBA refereeing commitee revise its rules on end of game plays and consider more attentive and better safeguards against shot clock inaccuracy in the future.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – Defense didn’t show up

Host William Lou goes solo to break down an understandable loss against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 115, Clippers 123

Toronto 115 Final
Recap | Box Score
123 LA
P. Siakam 13 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2 +/-

Siakam started off with incredible energy, but nothing to show for it. He had trouble protecting the rim early on from both Jordan and Griffin (and to be fair, who wouldn’t?). His length and wingspan is, and will continue to be an incredible asset – but tonight it just got him into foul trouble. He finished with 5 on the night, but at least it was due to overcorrecting instead of laziness.

J. Valanciunas 29 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 5-5 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | -3 +/-

A quick look at the boxscore and a B- may seem too high for JV, but Casey went completely away from the big man late in this one. It felt like Valanciunas never even touched the ball in the second half outside of a few rebounds. He had trouble closing out any of the Clippers’ shooters – most notably on Paul’s dagger at the end of the fourth, but the sea-saw battle between his importance on this team and his ability continues to wage on.

K. Lowry 42 MIN | 8-18 FG | 3-7 3FG | 8-9 FT | 6 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 27 PTS | -6 +/-

Perhaps the only true bright spot for the Raptors, and this game as a whole, was watching Lowry go to work. He took over in the fourth and refused to let the Raptors roll over when the game looked like it was getting out of hand. He took a few too many heat-check threes early in the clock, but it felt like the offense and KLOE were one in the same tonight. These games are important, and it’s tough to rest your stars on games against the Clippers, Warriors, and Cavs, but 42 minutes?! I’d rather a healthy Lowry lead the Raptors deep into the playoffs then a broken-down Lowry lead the league in minutes.

D. DeRozan 36 MIN | 11-21 FG | 0-1 3FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | -11 +/-

DeRozan was an incredible facilitator tonight (7 assists!) but reverted back to some ugly clock-stopping isolation plays when his early shots weren’t falling. He continues to be the Raptors’ worst defender on the floor, and finished with a team-worst -11 tonight. He looked incredibly pissed off all night, whether it was himself, at the Clippers, or with the refs (which both teams couldn’t stand) but it didn’t translate to healthy production on either end.

N. Powell 26 MIN | 4-9 FG | 2-5 3FG | 1-1 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | -4 +/-

The Raptors finished with 11 turnovers tonight…and Powell had 3 of them. He started in a tough spot having not played the night before, but he looked seriously lost on offense. His drives were hesitant, and whenever he was forced to his left it was game over. He threw two brutal passes, with one landing at JV’s feet, but did create his usual havoc on defense. He also finished 2-5 from three which is a good sign. The minutes need to continue to come for his development, but in weird spot-starts like this it’s tough to gather consistency.

P. Patterson 36 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-6 3FG | 3-3 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -4 +/-

Don’t look now but PatPat went 3-6 from deep and may have been the Raptors’ best player on the floor outside of Lowry tonight. He continues to remain undersized as a rebounder and rim protector but still finds a way to get it done (two steals tonight). He played a whopping 36 minutes off the bench and finished 4-8 tonight from the floor, and was even 3-3 from the line. Please let this be the start of a hot streak for 2Pat.

T. Ross 26 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2 +/-

Somehow, Terrence Ross was the Raptors’ only plus player tonight (+2 but he’ll take it). He didn’t do much outside of score, but anytime you pop off the bench and go 4-6 there’s not much room for complaint. I probably stand alone, in a corner, with a poster of Terry’s dunk champ moment, but I want to see even more touches for Terrence. He just looks GOOD this year, and has officially earned the benefit of the doubt from this writer.

L. Nogueira 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | -9 +/-

Oh Bebe. It says he played 13 minutes tonight but I barely remember him on the floor. This is the Nogueira fans saw occasionally last year and wondered if he was even ready for the NBA. He was up against some of the best bigs in the league this year in his limited minutes, but looked woefully lost. Here’s hoping he’s still dealing with the emotions of having his own bebe just a few days ago, so he can get back to swatting James Harden all night Wednesday.

C. Joseph 18 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 3FG | 6-8 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -3 +/-

CoJo played well tonight despite a relatively quiet stat line. He’s had so much trouble scoring this year, especially at the rime as was the case again tonight, but at least he made it to the line and finished 6-8.

Dwane Casey

Casey rallied his troops on a tough end of a back to back, and even when the game felt out of reach he and Kyle brought them back from the depths. It’s really starting to feel like Casey is as much of this team as the core players around him, and as silly as that sounds, its important. He still needs to figure out where this JV relationship is going though.

Five Things We Saw

  1. JV as a non-factor in the fourth. This has the feeling of something that’s going to carry on all season long…or just half the season if you catch my drift.
  2. The war against the refs. Maybe the Clippers had some sympathy for the way last night’s game ended (we know Doc and JJ did), but both teams were barking all night long at this crew. At the very least it was nice to not feel like the only crybabies in the gym.
  3. The return of Blake Griffin. He has lost so much clout over the last few seasons for being a whiner/injured/not-really-dunking-over-that-KIA, but he looked like a top 5 player in the NBA tonight. When his shot from outside his dropping, he’s virtually unguardable.
  4. Not what we saw…but heard. Shoutout to the Staples Center for being HELLA loud on a Monday night, but shoutout to the Raptors for getting them there. Toronto has become must watch ball in every city, and that’s something to be proud of.
  5. Hack A Jordan. The Raptors used this eye-bleeding tactic early on to try and slow down the Clippers, but Jordan actually hit his shots, and finished 9-14 on the night. Good for him, I guess.
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NBA issues statement on Ross shot, as does Redick

If you somehow need further catching up , here’s the news of the delay of the Last Two Minute Reportthe Quick Reaction, the Reaction Podcast, and a special late-night post going deeper on the call in question.

Well, the NBA finally issued a statement on the matter, and it’s quite a statement indeed.

NEW YORK, November 21, 2016 – The National Basketball Association released the following statement today from Byron Spruell, President, League Operations, regarding the clock malfunction at the end of the Sacramento Kings’ 102-99 victory over the Toronto Raptors last night at Golden 1 Center:

“After review at the league office, we have concluded that the end of the game was officiated correctly by NBA rules.  We reviewed all aspects of the final 27.4 seconds and below is a summary of our evaluation.

“Toronto inbounded the ball with 2.4 seconds remaining in the game, and the clock did not start when the pass was deflected by Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.  Per the NBA’s precision timing system, the clock can be started by either the referees or the clock operator.  The referees noticed the clock malfunction immediately which triggered a replay review under rule 13.1.a.5, which states that a review must occur if ‘a play concludes (i) with no time remaining on the clock (0:00) at the end of any period or (ii) at a point when the game officials believe that actual time may have expired in any period; and the officials are reasonably certain that the game clock malfunctioned during the play.’

“Per rule 13.2.e.1, the Replay Center was then tasked with determining ‘the proper time (if any) on the game clock following the clock malfunction by determining how much time on the game clock actually expired.’  To determine how much time actually expired, Replay Center referee Zach Zarba used a digital timer on the Replay Center screen. The determination was that 2.5 seconds expired, thus negating the basket.

“We also reviewed the question surrounding the time left on the clock for Sacramento’s final possession.   That possession started with 26.4 seconds remaining on the game clock since that is when Cousins secured possession of the rebound after a missed free throw.  The subsequent shot clock violation on the Kings’ possession therefore left 2.4 seconds remaining in the game.”

So, everything was called correctly and nothing was wrong and if the Raptors wind up appealing (or if they already have), they’ll likely lose. Time to get over it, I suppose, but I still can’t wrap my head around the letter of the law ignoring the potential for players to change behavior based on a theoretical vs. visible game clock, however unlikely the successful outcome. You just have to let the players determine that, that’s crazy to me.

Let’s let J.J. Redick speak for all Raptors and Raptors fans:

And here are Masai Ujiri’s thoughts, per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

>For 47-plus minutes, both teams played a tough, hard-fought game. It wasn’t the perfect game by any measure, players made shots and missed some too, but the game was ultimately being decided between the lines.

Unfortunately, the final 2.4 seconds were decided by someone who wasn’t even in the arena. There’s a human element to every game of basketball and we missed it on the most important play of the game last night in Sacramento.

I agree completely. Overturning a call based on the precision of a replay center that can crack a play down to 0.1 seconds is just not reflective of the way the game is played the rest of the time. Between that, and the aforementioned potential butterfly effect of a correct clock, and I just don’t get it.

But we have no choice but to move on. I suppose.

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Pre-game news & notes: Carroll rests, Wesley Johnson returns

Nothing makes sense right now. As the Raptors stumble into LA to face the Clippers, it’s hard to focus on, you know, basketball, when the entire league has eyes on the fiasco that transpired last night in Sacramento. Alas, we’re here, and one can only expect that the Clippers will feel the full wrath of the kryptonite that’s about to flare up in their faces as they face annihilation in the form of a blitzing Terrence Ross demolition.

It’s been an exhausting West-coast swing. The Raptors edged the Nuggets by a hair before careening against the Kings last night, and now they close a grueling back-to-back against a Clippers team that has bulldozed opponents all season long. It’s hard to find any silver lining in all this, but if anything is to boost your spirits – apart from the Raptors protesting last night’s oppression aggresively – it’s that the Raptors have matched up well against the Clippers in recent history.

Like really well. The Raptors have won four straight against the Clips’ by an average margin of 14.25 points. So let’s focus on basketball, take the Staples Center by storm, and win that appeal – all before replaying an overtime frame against the Kings sometime down the road where Terrence Ross becomes the first player since Draymond Green in 2015 to end with a 5×5 box score.

The game tips off at 10:30 on TSN 2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
**As expected, no DeMarre Carroll tonight who is resting. He was always going to sit one of the games on this back-to-back, so no surprises here.

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

Clippers updates
**The biggest question mark for the Clippers heading into tonight’s game was the status of Wesley Johnson. All reports indicate he’s good to go now.

PG: Chris Paul, Raymond Felton
SG: J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights, Diamond Stone

Assorted

  • Some updates on the L2M report can be found here. Guess what – it’s still totally ambiguous and doesn’t tell us anything. The Raptors will appeal. They’ll have five days to provide evidence, and from there, the league has five days to respond.
  • Drake was in L.A. for the AMAs last night, so it stands to reason he’ll be on hand for this one. The Raptors are winless on the season when Drake attends games.

The line
I’ll be honest, I’m not big on this stuff, but I have an eerie feeling that against all odds, with their backs to the wall, the Raptors will surprise us all with a W here despite being -8.5 underdogs. Raps by 11.

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NBA delays Last Two Minute Report for Raptors-Kings, Raptors reportedly protesting

It just wouldn’t have felt right without some additional shenanigans.

The NBA has delayed the Last Two Minute Report from Sunday’s games due to a “technical issue,” @NBAOfficial announced late Monday afternoon, after I had spent the whole day waiting to write a post like this. “Technical issue” is quite vague, but I will figuratively (and maybe literally die of laughter if it was something to do with timing mechanisms.

As it stands, we’ll have to wait to find out if the NBA will be issuing an “our bad” for the confusing end of the Raptors-Kings game, one that saw Terrence Ross force overtime on a clean buzzer-beater only to have the shot overturned because the clock started late. We won’t rehash it all – to catch you up, here’s the Quick Reaction, the Reaction Podcast, and a special late-night post going deeper on the call in question.

Here’s a chunk from there, though:

Do the Raptors appeal? Almost definitely. The sequence of calls makes no sense, and the Raptors are justified in appealing.

Will they win? Maybe. There haven’t been a lot of successful appeals in the past, but teams aren’t completely winless, and again, the Raptors feel pretty justified here.

Well, it sounds as if they are going to appeal, after all. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange tweets that the Raptors are putting together a formal protest on the grounds that a replay review for fractions of seconds is not reflective of the assumed human error in other scenarios, and that Ross was responding to the clock he saw, not the hypothetical one.

You can make either of those cases pretty well. You’re talking about a digital review overturning something by 0.1 seconds but ignoring that 0.1 seconds is such an infinitesimal amount of time that it’s likely that most clock scenarios are off by about that much (like, oh, I don’t know, the missing 0.8 seconds or so that came off after DeMarcus Cousins gained possession two plays prior). As for whether Ross could have gotten a shot off earlier, well, no, maybe he couldn’t have, given the balance and defense at play, but like I wrote last night, that’s something that should be left up to the players to determine on the court.

Again now, from last night:

What if they win? This is where it gets tricky. The Heat won an appeal a few years back, and the end of the game was replayed. But that game had the benefit of those teams playing again later that year – the Raptors and Kings don’t play again this year, and it becomes difficult, logistically, to find a good time to make up the final 2.4 seconds (and let’s be real, overtime, because Terrence Ross is a cold-blooded crunch-time killer). The Raptors and Kings are both in California just after the holidays, but it’s hard to figure if the NBA (and if both teams) would warrant it a big enough deal to have one or both teams travel and add an extra partial day to an already too-dense schedule. That the outcome might not matter much shouldn’t change the process, especially in November when we don’t know if the game will matter (it could matter for the Raptors’ playoff seeding and the Kings’ lottery seeding), anyway. It’s just a logistical pain in the ass if it needs to be re-played.

So, yeah. The rule maybe needs to be tweaked to allow for a re-playing of the final seconds in scenarios like this, because the replay booth may have made the correct call, but it doesn’t make a lot of logical sense to punish a team for a clock malfunction and the resultant (assumed) butterfly effect of the theoretically correct call.

What a mess. And it’s probably only going to get messier.

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The Bigger Picture: Managing Minutes to Prevent Injuries

After the ending of that game last night, it’d be easy to talk about the micro, seconds and tenths of seconds and how those things can decide games and affect the season as a whole. It’d be easy to talk about games stolen by bad officiating and clutch shots. But let’s instead take a macro approach, and talk about minutes, and the effect those have on the season as a whole.

A season ago, Kyle Lowry finished 7th in the NBA in minutes played, as he averaged 37 minutes over the course of the season, and it took a clear toll on him as he suffered an elbow injury in January that continued to plague the All-Star point guard into the playoffs, where he struggled for the most part to find his shot. Lowry maintained that it wasn’t an elbow issue as much as him just missing shots in the postseason, but either way, the fact that he led the league in minutes from January until the end of the season can’t have helped things along.

This wasn’t totally Lowry’s fault either, as the Raptors tended to struggle with him off the floor, managing just a 0.0 net rating in the minutes he didn’t play. The offense often sputtered, and Lowry often had to return to the floor after leads were squandered with him on the bench. This trend has continued into this season, when the difference between him on and off the floor has been larger this season, with the team having a +8.6 net rating with Kyle in the game, and a -10.7 net rating when he sits. Even with DeMar DeRozan’s improved offensive play this season, it’s Lowry, not DeMar who is the linchpin for the team and the offense and defense both suffer without him.

Even still, this trend has to be somewhat worrying, as DeRozan’s minutes per game are also up this season, and with both players averaging more minutes than they have any previous year in their career, the team has still struggled offensively when both players are off the floor, although this is an extremely small sample size, as there has only been 14 minutes so far this season with neither Lowry or DeRozan in the game. That the team hasn’t scored well in these minutes is hardly surprising, as it would be hard for any lineups without either player to have established any offensive identity in such a small sample, even with the improved play of both Terrence Ross and Norman Powell.

Maybe that should be where this conversation all centers, as well because that feels like both the problem and the solution. Ross and Powell have been fantastic to open the season, Ross in his role as 6th man off the bench, providing a scoring sparkplug and also being surprisingly clutch, both hitting huge threes in Denver on Friday night as well as hitting the shot that sent the Sacramento game to overtime.(I reject any premise that the shot did not count) Powell has been great in any role asked of him, whether playing minutes off the bench as a contributor, or coming in just in the 4th quarter as a defensive specialist or starting in the place of DeMarre Carroll. Their numbers are even better when they’re on the court together, where they’ve played 32 minutes together and the team has a scorching 128.7 offensive rating and +27.2 net rating.

It’d be remiss to continue this discussion without bringing up the struggles of Cory Joseph, who last year was the stabilizing hand off the bench for the team, running the offense and allowing Lowry to play off-ball in two point guard lineups, as well as guarding the toughest assignments and playing hard-nosed defense. This year there’s been little sign of that player, as CoJo hasn’t been much of a presence on either end of the floor, and that surely contributes to the difference between when Lowry is or isn’t on the floor. This would seem to be further supported by the fact that of the 32 Norm/Ross minutes, 13 of those were with Cory as the other guard, and they have an 89.0 ORtg in those minutes, versus a 157.5 ORtg when Lowry is the other guard.

Even still, at some point, when you’re a good team, the season has to be just as much about preparing for the playoffs as it is about winning each and every contest. While the team’s 8-5 record is solid, given the level of competition early in the season, this has to be addressed at some point. At the 2016 MIT Sloan Sports Conference, a paper was presented titled “Preventing in-game injuries for NBA players”, and in that they presented their 5 most important factors in injuries:

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By these 5 factors, there has to be concern for both Lowry and DeRozan and their risk of injury as the season progresses. While neither player averages an overly high speed when on the court, both are again in the top 10 in minutes played, and each player carries a high usage rate when they’re out there, with DeRozan at 36.5% so far this year and Lowry’s usage at 25.2%. Neither player has played less than 34 minutes in a game thus far, regardless of opponent. And while Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger have yet to play due to injuries, it’s hard to imagine either of those players has a large impact on the minutes of DeMar and Kyle given that Powell can’t get on the floor on some nights.

Maybe the solution isn’t necessarily a large reduction in minutes, but a retooling of the offense to take some of the load off their shoulders, and moving it more towards Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross and Norman Powell, each of whom has shown signs they can, when needed, be relied upon to provide some offense. That, in itself, even with the large burden of minutes, could help lessen the chance of an injury.

Could reducing their minutes to prevent future injury cost the team wins? It’s entirely possible, especially if you do it by staggering their minutes more, because for the most part, any minutes without Lowry have been a net negative for the team, aside from the lineup of DeRozan, Joseph, Ross, Patterson and Poeltl, which has been solid in just an 18 minute sample size. At the same time, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and the goals need to be bigger than simply winning as many games in November and December as possible, the team needs to build towards a playoff run and advancing once again to the Eastern Conference Finals and perhaps farther, and in order to do that, the health of their All-Stars has to be of paramount concern. At the same time, giving the other players more time without the stars on the floor might establish some chemistry and offensive flow, and give some protection against a possible injury. Because right now, what the Raptors are doing is both increasing the risk of an injury, as well as providing no protection in terms of a plan for success should one occur.

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