Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Nov 25, 14 Raptors VP of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman on 12-2, Trading Lowry, Considering Tanking, Keys to Success Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 25, 14 Raptors weather scorching Suns William Lou
Nov 25, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 25 Sam Holako
Nov 25, 14 Podcap: Suns vs Raptors – Casey, Lowry, Williams Ryan McNeill
Nov 25, 14 Kyle Lowry: Turnover, Block, Steal, Assist Sequence Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 Reaction: Raptors 104, Suns 100 Scott Hastie
Nov 24, 14 GIF + Video: Kyle Lowry’s Steal on Isaiah Thomas; Jeff Hornacek Moaning Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 GIF – Dat Hail Mary Pass by Patrick Patterson to Amir Johnson Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 Lou Williams Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 The Needs Of Valanciunas And The Raptors Aren’t Lining Up Tim Chisholm
Nov 24, 14 What should the Raptors do? (Stay the course or make a change) forumcrew
Nov 24, 14 Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, A Feverish Dream Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 14 A Tribute to Raptors Fans Sam Holako
Nov 24, 14 Raptors NBA Power Rankings Update – USA Today, ESPN, NBA.com Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 24 – Unforgiving Raptors Blast Through Early Schedule Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 24, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 24 Sam Holako
Nov 23, 14 Raptors turn tables on Cavs, fans turn The Q into home court Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 14 Morning Coffee – Sun, Nov 23 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 Video – Raptors Fans Chanting “Let’s go Raptors” in Cleveland; They Play Drake to Drown Them Out Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 110, Cavaliers 93 Garrett Hinchey
Nov 22, 14 GIF – Hayes To DeRozan on Backdoor Cut for a Slam – Raps up BIG in Cleveland! Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – They put LeBron James on Lou Williams, Didn’t Matter Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – Raptors Cap Off 13-0 Run with Valanciunas Put Back; Surging in Third Quarter Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – Lou Williams Drills Another Buzzer Beater; Raptors Lead at Halftime in Cleveland Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – Raptors Send Help on LeBron James; But Ross Leaves His Feet on Kick Out Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 They Said Chuck Hayes Couldn’t Run the Pick ‘n Roll. They Were Wrong. Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – Chuck Hayes gets Faked Off the Court by Kevin Love; Still Gets Rebound Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 GIF – The First Decent Play the Raptors Have Run Tonight Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Nov. 22 Andrew Thompson
Nov 22, 14 Raptors Rebounding Must Improve Ahead of Toughening Schedule Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 14 Welcome to the Good Life Garrett Hinchey
Nov 22, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Nov 22 Sam Holako
Nov 21, 14 Podcap: Bucks vs Raptors – Casey, Caboclo, DeRozan, Vasquez, Valanciunas Ryan McNeill
Nov 21, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 124, Bucks 83 (!!!?!?!!) Garrett Hinchey
Nov 21, 14 Video – ACC Crowd Chants Bruno Caboclo’s Name; He Hits the Three Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 GIF – Bruno Caboclo’s first NBA Points – An Alley-Oop Slam Dunk Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 GIF – Lou Williams, I Kid You Not, With Another Buzzer Beater Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 GIF – Greivis Vasquez Shocks The World; Dunks The Ball Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 GIF – Vasquez Three Pointer – All 5 Raptors Touch The Ball Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 GIF – Lou Williams with yet Another Buzzer Beater Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 14 Kyle Lowry Sits Down with Rachel Nichols Sam Holako
Nov 21, 14 Trade Targets forumcrew
Nov 21, 14 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, Nov. 21 Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 21 Sam Holako
Nov 20, 14 Don’t miss the forest for the trees William Lou
Nov 20, 14 Raptors wow Vince Carter and the Grizzlies Andrew Thompson
Nov 20, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 20 Sam Holako
Nov 19, 14 Podcap: Grizzlies vs Raptors – Casey, Carter, Lowry, Vasquez Ryan McNeill
Nov 19, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 96, Grizzlies 92 Garrett Hinchey
Nov 19, 14 Grizzlies vs Raptors: Two Late Plays That Won The Game Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 19, 14 [GIF + Video] Vince Carter Tears Up after Raptors Tribute at ACC Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 19, 14 Raptors versus Grizzlies – Conference Leaders Face Off Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 19, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 19 Sam Holako
Nov 18, 14 Raptors to Take Vince Carter Ceremony to Whole New Levels Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 18, 14 James Johnson Being Sidelined Poses Questions Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 18, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 18 Sam Holako
Nov 17, 14 Raptors First in East – Examining the Numbers Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 17, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 17 – Big Tests Ahead Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 17 Sam Holako
Nov 16, 14 Raptors Outplay Jazz In Second Half For Win Tim W.
Nov 15, 14 For Public Record: Terrence Ross’s Alley-Oop Dunk vs Jazz Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 15, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 111 – Jazz 93 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 15, 14 Raptors Looking to Get Back on Track With Some Jazz Tim W.
Nov 14, 14 Breaking it Down: DeMar DeRozan’s slow start William Lou
Nov 14, 14 Staving off Overreaction Andrew Thompson
Nov 14, 14 We’re Not There Yet. What Do We Need? forumcrew
Nov 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 14 Sam Holako
Nov 14, 14 Podcap: Bulls @ Raptors – Casey, Valanciunas, Johnson and DeRozan Ryan McNeill
Nov 13, 14 Quick Reaction: Bulls 100, Raptors 93 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 14 Video: NBA on TNT – Charles Barkley shouts out to Rod Black and Paul Jones Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 14 Raptors White Squad – Hitting Their Mark Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 13, 14 Gameday: Raptors vs Bulls – Nov. 13 Sam Holako
Nov 13, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Nov 13 – On Top of the Mountain Nick Reynoldson
Nov 13, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 13 Sam Holako
Nov 12, 14 Raps squeak one out against Magic: The running diary Garrett Hinchey
Nov 12, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 12 Sam Holako
Nov 12, 14 Podcap: Magic vs Raptors – Casey, Vasquez, Patterson Ryan McNeill
Nov 12, 14 Greivis Vasquez Compares James Johnson to Tony Allen; Johnson Responds Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 11, 14 GIF + Analysis: Raptors Final Defensive Play vs Magic Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 11, 14 Quick Reaction: Magic 100, Raptors 104 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 11, 14 Woj: Wouldn’t Be Surprised if the Raptors Go After Durant in Free Agency forumcrew
Nov 11, 14 Raptors Shouldn’t Sleep on the Magic Tim W.
Nov 11, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 11 Sam Holako
Nov 10, 14 Casey’s Rotations forumcrew
Nov 10, 14 Raptors Record Is Worth Acknowledging This Early In The Season Tim Chisholm
Nov 10, 14 Raptors topple helpless Sixers William Lou
Nov 10, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 10 – 4-0 Week Raises Expectations Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 10 Sam Holako
Nov 9, 14 Video + GIF: James Johnson Dunk on Brandon Davies Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 9, 14 Quick Reaction: Sixers 88, Raptors 120 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 9, 14 8 Raptors Stats That May Surprise You Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 9, 14 Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors, Nov. 9 Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Sun, Nov 9 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 8, 14 Throwback Raptors Impressive in Trouncing of Conference Rival Wizards Greg Mason
Nov 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Nov 8 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 8, 14 Podcap: Wizards vs Raptors Ryan McNeill
Nov 7, 14 Quick Reaction: Wizards 84, Raptors 103 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 7, 14 Catching Up With Alvin Williams And Antonio Davis Sam Holako
Nov 7, 14 Gameday: Wizards at Raptors William Lou
Nov 7, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Nov 7 – Season So Far Nick Reynoldson
Nov 7, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 7 Sam Holako
Nov 6, 14 Raptors to Wear Purple Throwback Jerseys Against Wizards Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 6, 14 Spirited Raptors Grind Out Win in Boston: A Visual Journey Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 6, 14 Raptors Republic 2014-15: 3 Stars forumcrew
Nov 6, 14 List of Raptors Worst Rebounding Games Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 6, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 6 Sam Holako
Nov 5, 14 GIF – Kyle Lowry Steals Marcus Smart, DeMar DeRozan Dunks on Kelly Olynyk Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 5, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors Hold On To Beat Celtics 110-107 Ryan McNeill
Nov 5, 14 Jonas Valanciunas Doubtful for Tonight’s Game in Boston Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 5, 14 Gameday: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Greg Mason
Nov 5, 14 Podcap: Thunder/Raptors – Select Post-Game Audio Ryan McNeill
Nov 5, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 5 Sam Holako
Nov 4, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 100, Thunder 88 Sam Holako
Nov 4, 14 [GIF] Sebastian Telfair Punches Tyler Hansbrough in the Face Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 4, 14 [GIF] – Sebastian Telfair Punches Jonas Valanciunas in the Face Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 4, 14 [GIF] James Johnson Drives and Throws it Down in Traffic Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 4, 14 Game Day: Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors – Thunder Roll in at Perfect Time Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 4, 14 Raptors offense productive early despite warts Blake Murphy
Nov 4, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 4 Sam Holako
Nov 3, 14 Missing Free Throws Against Miami Nothing New for Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 3, 14 Patrick Patterson Did Some Thinking About Last Night Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 3, 14 Raptors lose game they had no business winning Scott Hastie
Nov 3, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 3 – 2-1 Week Soured by Missed FTs Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 3, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 3 Sam Holako
Nov 2, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 102, Heat 107 Garrett Hinchey
Nov 2, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan brings Luol Deng to the Ground Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 2, 14 Gameday: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat – Battle of the Undefeated Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 1, 14 Reaction: Raptors 108, Magic 95 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 1, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Magic William Lou
Oct 31, 14 The impossible conversation surrounding DeMar DeRozan William Lou
Oct 31, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 31 Sam Holako
Oct 30, 14 Raptors Pass Hawks Test for Gritty Opening Night Win Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 30, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 30 Sam Holako
Oct 30, 14 [Audio] Gamenight Podcap: Hawks vs Raptors Ryan McNeill
Oct 29, 14 Reaction: Raptors 109, Hawks 102 William Lou
Oct 29, 14 Video: Toronto Raptors Home Opener – Team Introduction Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 29, 14 Talking Raptors: A New Season Nick Reynoldson
Oct 29, 14 Audio: Talking Raptors Basketball on CBC Radio Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 29, 14 Gameday: Hawks at Raptors William Lou
Oct 29, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Oct 29 – New Season! Nick Reynoldson
Oct 29, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 29 Sam Holako
Oct 28, 14 It’s here, let’s ramble Blake Murphy
Oct 28, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 28 Sam Holako
Oct 27, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Oct 27 – Let the Games Begin Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 27, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 27 Sam Holako
Oct 26, 14 It’s Here: Season Opening Roundtable, Part 2 Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 14 It’s Here: Season Opening Roundtable, Part 1 Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 14 Raptors Waive Will Cherry and Jordan Hamilton, Tears Flowing Everywhere Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 25, 14 Raptors Finish Preseason on Track with Win over Knicks Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Quick Reaction: Knicks 80, Raptors 83 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Raptors vs Knicks GIFs Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Resting Players? forumcrew
Oct 24, 14 Gameday: Knicks at Raptors William Lou
Oct 24, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 24 Sam Holako
Oct 23, 14 Raps down Maccabi Haifa, Bebe debuts, blocks everything Garrett Hinchey
Oct 23, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 23 Sam Holako
Oct 22, 14 Reaction: Raptors 92, Maccabi 85 William Lou
Oct 22, 14 NBA GM Survey: Raptors to win Atlantic, Valanciunas to break out William Lou
Oct 22, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 22 Sam Holako
Oct 21, 14 How does Bruno Caboclo develop from here? Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 14 Update: Winner Announced – Free Tickets to Raptors vs Maccabi – Here’s How to Get Them – #RRTix Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 20, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Oct 20 – Preseason All-Star Reserves Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 20, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 20 Sam Holako
Oct 18, 14 Promotion: Free open practice, Raptors mini-packs on sale William Lou
Oct 18, 14 Terrence Ross shines as Raptors rout shorthanded Thunder William Lou
Oct 18, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Injury vs OKC Thunder Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Thunder 90 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Thunder Garrett Hinchey
Oct 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 17 Sam Holako
Oct 16, 14 Who Will Be the Raptors 15th Man? forumcrew
Oct 16, 14 Shorthanded Raptors top Celtics William Lou
Oct 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 16 Sam Holako
Oct 15, 14 Reaction: Raptors 92, Celtics 89 Scott Hastie
Oct 15, 14 [GIF + Video] Lou Williams Hits the Game-Winning Three at the Buzzer Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross Throws it Down on the Break with Authority (Plus all the GIFs) Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Celtics (again) William Lou
Oct 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 15 Sam Holako
Oct 14, 14 PHOTO: Bruno and Bebe preparing for their first winter in Canada William Lou
Oct 14, 14 [Video + GIF] James Johnson and Dwane Casey Incident after J.R Smith Fouled Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 Raptors Exercise Fourth Year Options on Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 The quintessential preseason game William Lou
Oct 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 14 Sam Holako
Oct 13, 14 Raptors vs Knicks: Look, GIFs…GIFs Everywhere Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 81, Knicks 76 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 [GIF] Lou Williams to Bruno Caboclo for the Slam! Raps up Late in NY Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Can DeMar Surpass Harden? forumcrew
Oct 13, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Press Pass Tim W.
Oct 13, 14 Raptors Weekly (Mini) Podcast, Oct 13 – Yao Ming to Vancouver Conspiracy Theory Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 11, 14 Preseason: Raptors Beat Celtics after Kyle Lowry Gets Serious Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 Quick Reaction: Celtics 109, Raptors 116 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Undresses Kelly Olynyk on the Block Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan Passes to Himself for the Layup Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 A Peek into DeMar’s Summer Training Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Bebe has a serious groin injury; it’s for real Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Preview: Celtics at Raptors William Lou
Oct 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 10 Sam Holako
Oct 9, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Oct 9 – Working Out The Kinks Nick Reynoldson
Oct 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 9 Sam Holako
Oct 8, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Conversing With Jonas Tim W.
Oct 8, 14 Raptors’ defense fails to stop Kings’ offense William Lou

Raptors VP of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, was on TSN 1050 talking about the Raptors hot start with Macko and Cauz.  Here’s a quick summary:

  • Asked whether he and Masai Ujiri high-five behind the scenes, says no high-fives, too soon to celebrate anything, way too many games to go
  • Asked about whether he’s surprised that Lowry panned out, he said nobody in the organization had any doubts about Lowry panning out and that they all believed in his ability
  • Stated that the reason Lowry’s name was in trade rumours last year was because the Raptors knew that “if they went the other way” (i.e., tanked) they wouldn’t be as “bad as they needed to be” with Lowry. The questions at the time were all about “Are we good enough to put a team around [Lowry]?”
  • Asked about how serious they were about committing to tanking, he said, “hard to say” because they they couldn’t find a “partnership” in trade talks that would facilitate tanking. Says “they were 6-12 and were pretty serious that the team wasn’t good enough to get us where we wanted to get and needed to retool it. So, we had, in our minds, made that decision”.  A bit vague, basically I understand this as they wanted to tank but couldn’t find a partner so just stuck with it
  • Vasquez, on the trade, said that “we may have not gotten the four best players on the trade, but we got the four best people” and from that point it was all about building chemistry
  • Asked about what needs to be improved to make us a dangerous playoff team, say they can already be a “dangerous playoff team” and don’t need to do much; says that they need to stay healthy and focused. Points to the “three unfocused minutes” versus Phoenix where they blew the lead, and how that’s the type of lapses they need to avoid
  • Asked further about what it takes to be a good playoff team, comments on how valuable last year’s playoff experience was and how that’s helping them now in terms of their “approach to game, approach to practice, approach to one another”

Thanks to @LD10 for the heads-up.

Plucky Suns test Raptors’ mettle but nifty adjustments lead to fifth-straight win.

Game story

The Toronto Raptors narrowly escaped with a 104-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns before a raucous home crowd on Monday night.

Jonas Valanciunas finished as the high scorer on the night with 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 14 and 23 points apiece, while reigning Eastern conference player of the week Lou Williams remained hot, pouring in 17 points of his own.

Preview | Quick Reaction | Highlights

The game opened with Toronto opting to exploit their size advantage in the post, specifically through Valanciunas. The 7-foot Lithuanian had his way with Phoenix’s small front-court, managing to goad Suns center Miles Plumlee into foul trouble just two minutes into the contest. Plumlee’s backup Alex Len fared no better, as the Raptors chose to repeatedly attack through Valanciunas. He finished the quarter with 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting, while the Raptors held a three-point advantage into the second.

With Valanciunas needing a breather, Williams continued the onslaught for the Raptors. He torched the Suns with a series of shots off pick-and-roll action. He scored nine points in five minutes in the second, helping to offset the Suns’ bench pairing of Gerald Green and Isaiah Thomas, who kept the Suns afloat while their teammates weathered a cold spell. Having won both quarters, the Raptors held a six-point edge going into the half.

The third quarter started much like the first. Valanciunas resumed his dominance in the post, connecting on all three of his shots on the quarter. Defensively, the Raptors were able to hold the Suns to just 1-of-7 shooting from 3-point range thanks to tighter defensive rotations. By shutting down the perimeter, the Suns were forced into settling for their second option, which was to attack the hoop. The trade-off with the Raptors’ aggressive perimeter defense came at the expense of conceding the rim, leading to the Suns sinking 5-of-7 shots in the restricted area. However, the defense in the aggregate was solid, as the Raptors limited Phoenix to just 18 points, helping to balloon their lead to fifteen points heading into the final frame.

Desperate for options, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek opted to field a small-ball lineup in hopes of sparking a run. Led by point guard Eric Bledsoe, the Suns’ five-out attack flummoxed the Raptors’ defenders. The Suns’ surplus of speed and shooting was particularly effective against the Raptors’ slower defenders, namely Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey countered with a small-ball lineup of his own, swapping out various bigs at center, before finally settling on the right one in Patrick Patterson.

Ultimately, the Suns managed to take a one-point lead late thanks to their hot shooting from beyond. The Suns managed to connect on 7-of-10 triples. Phoenix’s attack was spearheaded by Bledsoe’s ability to consistently generate penetration, resulting in either layups or kickouts to open shooters.

However, with the game on the line, Lowry was able to come up with a series of key decisive plays to ensure the victory for Toronto. With the Suns trailing by two, Lowry managed to poke the ball loose from Thomas’s hands, then proceeded to tie up Thomas to generate a jump-ball, which he managed to win. The change of possession forced the Suns into fouling DeRozan, who sunk both free-throws, which effectively sealed the victory for Toronto.

The win snaped the Suns’ four-game winning streak, and pushed the Raptors to a league-best 12-2 record.

Play breakdown

Valanciunas’s decisiveness

Valanciunas’s early dominance was mostly a product of his size advantage, but his quick decision making factored in as well. The Suns are a help-conscious team, readily willing to commit help defenders where needed. However, Valanciunas’s decisiveness allowed him to preserve advantageous 1-on-1 matchups, leading to scores like the following.

In the play below, Valanciunas catches the pass and doesn’t hesitate, putting up his shot before Bledsoe could rotate over.

DeRozan’s improving defense

DeRozan has historically shown to be a poor defender, but he has made strides in each of the last two seasons. Although DeRozan mostly conserves his energy to deliver on offense, he has also shown the ability to be productive defensively when his shot isn’t falling. With Valanciunas handling much of the offense in the first half, DeRozan shifted into gear against Goran Dragic, who ended the game shooting just 3-of-9.

On the play below, DeRozan stays with Dragic all the way on his drive, using his feet to slide into position while keeping his hands up high. He leans on Dragic’s dominant left hand, and takes away the drive, forcing Dragic into making an errant pass to the corner.

Vasquez’s continued struggles

It’s no secret that backup point guard Greivis Vasquez has gotten off to a slow start. Many have pointed to the introduction of Williams into the backcourt as the reason for Vasquez’s struggles, but there are other, more obvious factors at play. Vasquez looks even slower than he was a season ago, and his wild decision making has ventured from creative to crazy.

Vasquez was once a staple of the Raptors’ fourth quarter units, but he was pulled in favor of Williams against Phoenix, perhaps due to questionable decisions like the the one below. For the record, that’s a behind-the-back pass, in traffic, to a poor finisher in Chuck Hayes. Vasquez compounded his struggles by shooting just 1-of-6 on the night.

Quote of the game

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY

Toronto Raptors show versatility in wins over Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers | National Post

Although Valanciunas did not play in the game’s final four minutes and 45 seconds, the Raptors leveraged his skills for the 32 minutes he was on the floor. None of Phoenix’s traditional big men, from starter Miles Plumlee to reserves Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph, had a prayer. Valanciunas had a career-high 27 points, missing just one of his 11 field-goal attempts and one of his eight free throws. A segment of Raptors fans have been desperate for Valanciunas to become a more prominent part of the Raptors’ offence, and he was just that on Monday. Credit goes to both Valanciunas and Lowry, who looked for the centre play after play, whether in the post or in the pick-and-roll. “He was dominant tonight. He was really aggressive. He asserted himself,” Lowry said. “He really attacked the basket. He really went out there and played like a true, dominant 7-foot centre.” “When teams want to speed it up like that,” said Raptors reserve Chuck Hayes, “we’ve got to slow it down and feed the big fella.”

Raptors cool off Suns | Toronto Sun

The Raptors forced 20 Suns turnovers, leading to 24 points. The biggest ones were courtesy of Lowry. “He had a sequence where he got the block, loose ball, got the steal, got the assist and then the charge. Unbelievable. That shows our leader, man,” said Hayes. Casey said Lowry “kind of always finds a way to find those big plays down the stretch, that’s just his nature … He’ll coast a little bit, but when it’s really that time of day, he steps up.” Lowry shifted the credit toward Valanciunas. “He was dominant tonight. He was really aggressive. He asserted himself,” Lowry said. “He really attacked the basket (and) went out there and played like a true, dominant 7-foot centre.”

Valanciunas, DeRozan spark Raptors past Suns | Toronto Star

Toronto withstood a barrage of seven Phoenix three-pointers in the fourth quarter — wiping out a Raptors lead that had stretched to 15 points – and simply won by playing better than the other guys when the game was on the line. “One night it’s free throws, one night it’s jump balls, one night it’s steals, one night it’s rebounds — or one night it’s going to be rebounds,” coach Dwane Casey joked. “It’s . . . finding different ways to win.” Before yet another boisterous sellout crowd of 19,800, it was enough small plays down the stretch that made the biggest difference. Lowry had a huge steal off Isaiah Thomas with Toronto up two and about 23 seconds left, a deft move that led to a jump ball between the two diminutive guards. The Raptors got control after the jump only because Terrence Ross made a wonderful save of a ball headed out of bounds, and they iced the game at the free-throw line.

Lewenberg: Red-hot Raptors win shootout with high-scoring Suns | TSN

As long as Casey is in charge, the Raptors will continue to hang their hats on defence. That’s what wins in this league, as he’ll tell you. It’s what won on this night. However, it’s their suddenly red-hot offence that has helped propel them to their best start in team history. Monday’s game featured two of the league’s highest scoring teams. The Raptors entered their meeting with Phoenix ranked second in points per game (first in the East), just ahead of the fourth-ranked Suns. It’s hardly unusual to see the Suns at the top of the NBA’s offensive hierarchy. With Steve Nash at the helm of a prolific and revolutionary offence, the Suns paced the NBA in scoring for six straight seasons earlier in the decade. Last year, their first under head coach Jeff Hornacek, they tailored their attack around a pair of dynamic point guards, reestablishing themselves as a nightly threat to run you out of the gym. But it’s a relatively new look for the defensive-minded Raptors. Their rise to the top of the scoring ladder has been gradual. It’s been more subtle.

Toronto Raptors benefit from playing in the weaker Eastern Conference | National Post

Geography remains the prime tormenter for the Suns. A year after winning 63% of interconference games, teams from the Western Conference had a 45-19 record (.703 winning percentage) against teams from the East heading into Monday’s games. Since 2002, the East won at least 50% of its games against the West just once. As noted by SB Nation’s Tom Ziller in an article advocating the end of conferences, only one team from the West — Oklahoma City, currently missing two superstars — has a losing record against the East this year. In the East, only three teams, Toronto, Washington and Chicago, have an average point differential better than plus-1.0 per game; in the West, there are 10 such teams. Or, just look at the Suns. They started their season 5-5, with eight of those games against Western Conference teams. On Nov. 17, they started a five-game Eastern Conference road trip that ends on Monday in Toronto. They are now 9-5, having beaten Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Indiana by a combined 53 points. The West has one truly depressing team, and that team has Kobe Bryant. Even the young teams that are destined to miss the playoffs are loaded with exceptional athletes and potential.

Everything’s working out just right for Raptors | Sportsnet.ca

The win improved the Raptors record to 12-2, tying them for the best record in the NBA with Memphis — who the Raptors bested when they visited Toronto last week — and extended their lead over Washington for the best record in the Eastern Conference. As a result Dwane Casey’s biggest job these days is trying to make it sound like the team that went 41-21 to end last season has only picked up the pace this year and is still a work in progress. “We’re still a growing team, it’s too early to look at records and who won what,” said Casey. “My job is to continue to push, continue to improve and not get caught up in records or anything like that.” Caution is a hard note to sound around a team and a fan base where everything seems to be so upside down. After years of everything that could go wrong, the Raptors are like a rich divorcee in Vegas: Nothing is wrong.

Valanciunas Big Early, Lowry Heroic Late as Raptors Eclipse Suns 104-100 | Raptors HQ

Jonas Valanciunas would not be the first Raptor you’d predict to shine against the run-and-gun Suns. Still, for most of the first half, against an overmatched Alex Len and Miles Plumlee, Valanciunas had his way. He finished the game with a career-high 27 points (on 10-of-11 shooting) and 11 rebounds. “I was just doing my job,” Jonas said after the game. “I was rebounding the ball, trying to get open, setting good screens and that’s my game.” Valanciunas’ game proved to be so effective that the Suns’ only answer was to go small. They’re fourth quarter rally – they outscored the Raps 34-23 in the fourth – was fueled by the dynamite Isaiah Thomas, the smallest player on both teams. He went for a quick 16 points (12 in the fourth quarter) on 6-of-10 shooting, and four 3s. The Raptors 15-point third quarter lead evaporated and the statement changed. The Raps needed to rally. While it was the biggest player on the Raptors who helped build their lead, it was the smallest, Kyle Lowry, who helped keep it. “It was huge,” Coach Casey said of Lowry’s late-game heroics. “That last play when he dove on the ball and just poked it away and caught them sleeping was huge in that situation.”

Raptors 104, Suns 100: A failed rally | Valley of the Suns

The Suns managed just 36 points in the paint to Toronto’s 52 yet somehow got hot enough in the fourth quarter to outscore Toronto 34-23 thanks to seven made three-point buckets. The defense finally found its way during the fourth as well, and it made up for a game where Phoenix just couldn’t knock down open jumpers. Goran Dragic went 3-for-9 and had four turnovers to his four assists, while the Morris twins didn’t have enough to stretch the court. Don’t blame Phoenix’s ball movement. It was good, and almost too unselfish. When the Suns weren’t missing open shots, they were forcing passes and giving up open looks. That was part of the turnover problem. Eric Bledsoe played a complete game for the Suns, dropping 25 points to go with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. Thomas and Green torched Toronto in the fourth, but their turnovers ultimately caused the rally to fall short.

Recap: Phoenix Suns fall to the Toronto Raptors 104-100, can’t finish comeback | Bright Side Of The Sun

The Suns were down 100-98 when the ball was poked lose from Thomas ending in a jump ball between Kyle Lowry and Thomas. Lowry won the tip ending in two made free throws by DeMar DeRozan. Eric Bledsoe hit two free throws to close the gap back within two but DeRozan again hit two more free throws to seal the game for the Raptors. The Suns won the quarter 34-23 but couldn’t get the win. Jonas Valanciunas ended with a career high 27 points on 10-11 shooting for the Raptors. Lowry had 14 points, DeRozan had 23 points, and Lou Williams ended with 17 points. The Suns shot 46.4% while the Raptors shot 45.1%. The final score was 104-100 Raptors.

Valanciunas, DeRozan help Raptors fend off late Phoenix Suns rally: By the Numbers | Arizona Sports

Suns forward Markieff Morris finished with 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting in 37 minutes. It was the fifth game in a row that he has shot 50 percent or better from the field. The fourth-year forward is hitting 51.1 percent of his shots so far this season. He also grabbed eight boards Monday, which is the most he’s pulled down in the last 11 games.

Phoenix Suns’ furious rally falls short in loss to Toronto Raptors | AZ Central

The Suns almost swiped a fifth consecutive victory anyway, employing a small-ball lineup to take a lead a six minutes later and have possessions in the last two minutes to take a lead and then to tie. Instead, they committed two more turnovers for their fourth 20-turnover game in the first 15 games. With Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker as big men, the Suns stormed back off 14 fourth-quarter points by Eric Bledsoe and 12 fourth-quarter points by Isaiah Thomas. Gerald Green committed an offensive foul trying to drive the baseline with the game tied and 1:16 to play. After Toronto took a 100-98 lead off a possession with two offensive rebounds, the Suns had what would prove to be their final chance. Markieff Morris set a high screen for Thomas as the Suns had riddled Toronto with pick-and-rolls all quarter. This time, Kyle Lowry went over the screen easily. When Thomas tried to cross his dribble, Lowry poked it loose and wound up tying up Thomas at midcourt as several Suns tried to get a timeout.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Phoenix 104-100 | Hoops Addict

Weird vibe in Toronto’s locker room tonight. On the one hand, the team escaped with a win to push their record to 12-2. However, it was clear talking with the players they were grumpy with choking up a big lead in the fourth quarter. None of the usual joking around between teammates that normally happens after wins. More of a somber, business approach tonight once the media got into the locker room.

Valanciunas Has A Career Best As Raptors Go 4-0 Vs NBA West | Pro Bball Report

The game was decided in the final couple of minutes as the heart and hustle of Kyle Lowry was on full display. Lowry shot 1-5 in the quarter, but he made the layup that put the Raptors up 98-95 with 2:09 left in the game. Then with 23 seconds left, it was Lowry who tackled Isaiah Thomas, tied up the ball and won the jump-ball that put this game out of reach. The final score was 104-100 Toronto. Lowry finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a block. DeRozan scored 23 points and got to the free throw line 13 times. Player-of-the-Week Lou Williams scored 17 points. Valanciunas’ 27 points was the game-high as he shot 10-11 from the field and 7-8 from the charity stripe.

Post game: Toronto Raptors down Phoenix Suns at home | Raptors Cage

The Raptors’ interior defense was solid in this contest. The Suns shot 46.4% from the field and trailed through three quarters. Unfortunately for the Dinos, their opponent laid out a blistering performance from three-point territory in the fourth quarter and made the final minutes a bit more interesting. Phoenix mounted an incredible run in the late comeback, shooting 7-10 from three and 11-16 from the field. The Raps’ perimeter defense failed to adjust, and as a result, the visitors closed the double-digit gap in short time. The defensive MVP of the night is Lowry, who instigated a crucial jump ball at the expense of offensive coordinator Isaiah Thomas which ultimately secured the W.

Raptors edge Suns, 104-100 | Raptors Watch

here were a few ties, and DeRozan and Patrick Patterson came up clutch, draining all of their free throws in the final minutes. DeMar iced his last two with 5.2 seconds left, making the game 104-100, and the Suns finally succumbed. Whew. This is the first time in franchise history that the Raptors have started 4-0 against the Western Conference. They are now on a five-game winning streak. They are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best record in the NBA at 12-2. Things are good in T-dot.

NBA Basketball Power Rankings | ESPN

Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto sports the East’s best record at 52-24, which is 4½ games better than Chicago’s 48-29. The committee (of one) is starting to get its hopes up, in other words, that our long-awaited return to T-Dot for the first time since 2007 won’t have to wait until All-Star Weekend in 2016.

So Uh what happened to Amir Johnson? | RealGM

Is he on his decline? or is he just injured. I know he bring its on defence but what happened to his scoring and rebounding??

Lou Williams’ Media Session After Being Named Eastern Conference Player Of The Week | Hoops Addict

Lou Williams is normally a shy, reserved player, so it was great to hear him open up about being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the doubt that crept into his mind while he was rehabbing from knee surgery, his ability to draw fouls and the winning atmosphere in Toronto’s locker room that was apparent early in the season.

NBA – Can Toronto Raptors win Eastern Conference | ESPN [insider]

Watching Toronto go on a 24-2 second-half run in its win at Cleveland on Saturday was pretty convincing. The addition of explosive bench scorer Lou Williams has shored up a key roster shortcoming and helped give the Raptors a top-10 bench. On the downside, every rotation player on the roster has a winning percentage significantly exceeding his preseason projection, with two exceptions: Greivis Vasquez and Tyler Hansbrough. Some of the overachievers — such as Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross — are young players who might simply be getting better faster than we thought. But as a roster, Toronto is due to regress as the schedule toughens. And then there’s this cautionary tale: Last season’s Indiana Pacers. The moral of that story is that championships are not won in November. Nevertheless, the chasm between Toronto and everyone else in the Eastern Conference can’t be ignored. As for the kittens, the differentials, adjusted and otherwise, tell a yawn-inducing story of utter mediocrity. Washington’s plus-3.4 margin of victory translates to about 48 wins over a full season. After accounting for the Wizards’ 25th-ranked schedule, that MOV gets knocked down to plus-1.4. And that’s the second-best mark in the East. The Cavaliers have faced the league’s sixth-toughest schedule, and the fifth-most difficult set of opposing offenses. So Cleveland owns the third-ranked adjusted MOV (plus-0.6). I imagine that’s small consolation to a team that is reeling at the moment.

Ranking the 10 Most Surprising Hot Starts in the NBA #5. Toronto Raptors | Bleacher Report

Is it even fair to refer to the Toronto Raptors as dark-horse title contenders anymore? They own the best record in the Eastern Conference (11-2) and the biggest positive point differential (plus-12.2) in the entire league. To be sure, the fact that the Raptors are good isn’t at all astonishing. Last season, the core of this squad went 42-22 and nearly nipped the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs after trading away Rudy Gay in the wake of a 6-12 start. It only figures that this club’s continuity, with Kyle Lowry returning to Toronto via free agency to maintain arguably the East’s best backcourt alongside All-Star DeMar DeRozan, would yield yet another momentous step forward.

The 7 Most Exciting Teams to Watch in the NBA This Season | Sports Cheat Sheet

No team typifies that sort of zeal than the Toronto Raptors — two decades into the franchise’s history, the only remaining Canadian NBA team is finally having their chance in the sun. They lost Vince Carter, they lost Chris Bosh, but they’ve wandered into dominance over not just the Atlantic Division (no big feat, to be honest, the rest of the teams there are in a bad way right now) but also the entire Eastern Conference. It’s a long time coming for a team that’s been consistently underachieving to this point in their NBA tenure. No one can say if their success is sustainable, but for now the Raptors are on a long, wild ride of winning games, and they’re doing it in style. Plus, they have Lou Williams, one of the most entertaining shooting guards in the game.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

Kyle Lowry has a weird way of padding his stats. He commits the turnover on purpose only so he could get a block, steal, and an assist. If he was a chess player, this is what would have been known a Grandmaster’s Trap where you sacrifice a pawn for a rook, knight, and horse. It was first used by Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov in 1868, in a tournament in St. Petersburgh, a tense match where if he had lost, the Czar would’ve taken both his hands*.

This is how that appeared in the ESPN box:

boxscore

* I made all that up.

Kyle Lowry saves Raptors from fourth quarter collapse.

Phoenix Suns 100 FinalRecap | Box Score 104 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 25 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -1Good passes, fits into the offence, knows his role defensively. Look, he’s not going to lead your fantasy team to victory but he’s a great piece.

Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 4-11 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -3Some bad shots, a forgettable first quarter but his shooting distracted Suns defenders. Ross made questionable decisions when collapsing on defence, but was passable.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 32 MIN | 10-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 27 PTS | +10Phoenix doesn’t have a daunting frontcourt, but it is important to see JV dominate a game he should. Casey gave him the hook at the end for reasons that escape me, but just a solid performance from the kid.

Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +1Lowry, as it turns out, is very good. The shooting percentage isn’t great, but some of those were forced chucks near the end of shot clocks. His defence left something to be desired, given the ease in which Bledsoe got to the rim. It would take much more than a quick reaction to dig into, but I think a large reason the Raptors have a 27-0 record at home when holding a lead going into the fourth quarter is Lowry. He just doesn’t allow the Raptors to lose.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 37 MIN | 7-20 FG | 9-13 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 23 PTS | +9Not a great line, but he did what he needed to. His ability to get to the line can’t be overlooked; the Suns are and were lethal in transition. DeMar stopped the clock and allowed the D to get set. His defence was good and Goran couldn’t get away with his typical shenanigans. Add a couple more made field goals and no one is complaining.

James Johnson, PF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Limited minutes because he’s still nursing that ankle sprain. Don’t sleep on how annoying an injury like that can be, either. It’s a positive to see him playing at all.

Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +14The scoring wasn’t there, but it didn’t need to be. His passing and rebounding are solid compliments off the bench, and just the threat of his shooting opens things up.

Chuck Hayes, C 9 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -10Hayes is still riding high off of that Grizzlies performance but got a bit too much run tonight. Suns aren’t a good match-up for him and he played too much in the fourth.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -5Vasquez wasn’t out there in the closing line up and the regression is real. If we’re willing to put a lot of stock into a 12-2 record, we also need to concede that Vasquez is out of sorts.

Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +5Lou usurped Vasquez in the crunch-time rotation tonight and he deserved it. Williams had it going in the first half, including a great hesitation dribble (or “hezzy,” as some would call it) that shook the help defender. I could do without the pump-fake, step-back threes with upwards of 15 seconds on the shot clock but that’s just Lou.

Dwane Casey
Not sure why he allowed Vasquez and Hayes to linger on the court for so long in the fourth. This isn’t news: the Suns guard rotation is excellent and fast. Vasquez and Hayes are neither of those and should the Raptors have dropped this one, it would fall on Casey’s shoulders. I’m also not a fan of benching Jonas when he’s been a major factor on either end.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Respect for Milos Raonic coming out to the game despite getting off a flight three hours prior. (And a much better interview than Eugenie Bouchard’s.)
  2. A Lou Williams behind-the-back pass for a Chuck Hayes floater got Bruno fired up. Bruno knows. (I previously said Vasquez, but it was Williams. Vasquez tried a similar play right after.)
  3. Not a unique thought, but the Suns letting Channing Frye go was a mistake. Anthony Tolliver ain’t no Frye.

With the Raptors up two with seconds left, the Suns got the ball and the silly mistake of going right at Kyle Lowry through Isaiah Thomas. Clearly, Jeff Hornacek doesn’t have cable because going at Lowry in that pressure situation is tantamount to starving a lion for days, smearing deer meat all over yourself, and then prodding the lion with a wooden stick. What I’m getting at is that it’s asking for trouble. So here’s the full video of what happened.

Jeff Hornacek is moaning about a foul on this play, which is something I expect of Jeff Hornacek. He always seemed the weird, slimy type, what with him rubbing his face after every FT he made. Sure, he was saying hi to his kids using that gesture, but still.

Clearly, Lowry didn’t foul Thomas as you can see on this top-angle GIF. As for Johnson coming over the top, it’s a loose-ball, everything goes.

Direct Link

As you can see, Amir Johnson won the ball in the end, but the refs somehow managed to have Kyle Lowry jump against Isaiah Thomas. No biggie.

Direct Link

We’re 12-2, which is surreal.

Lou Williams is the Eastern Conference Player of the week.

The press release states:

The National Basketball Association announced Monday guard Lou Williams has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played November 17-23. Williams earned the honours for the first time in his career and joined Chris Bosh (7X), Vince Carter (7X), Mike James, Jalen Rose and Kyle Lowry as the only players in team history to win the award.

Williams helped the Raptors to a 3-0 record last week, averaging 23.7 points off the bench while shooting .526 (10-for-19) from three-point range and a perfect 21-for-21 at the free throw line.

He was the only player in the NBA last week to average 23.0+ points and play less than 25.0 minutes. During Saturday’s 110-93 win at Cleveland, Williams sparked an 18-point comeback with a career-high 36 points. He became the first non-starter in team history to shoot a perfect 15-for-15 at the free throw line.

Interesting statistical Tweet as well:

The highlight of the week was his game in Cleveland where he lit everything up, including LeBron James:

Direct Link

Want to know how he’s celebrating? Look no further than Instagram. Also, check out Instagram feed for all players.

Yea C. Cold weather. Football. And my laptop @_youngchris

A video posted by Lou Williams (@louwillville) on

We may have reached a point where the needs of the Toronto Raptors and the needs of Jonas Valanciunas have made a decisive split. His minutes are down, he rarely plays in fourth quarters and there just doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to work through his mistakes on the court with wins now representing the team’s yardstick for success.

The primary cause for this dilemma remains the issues that Valanciunas displays on defence. He is still too often found out of position, or only half-committing to defensive rotations, he is still easy to bait into leaving his feet and he frequently neglects box-out assignments at the end of a defensive stand. The team lets up 11.7 points per 100 possessions more when Valanciunas is on the floor (per 82games.com) and that has left Dwane Casey unable to play Valanciunas down the stretch in tight contests, the most recent example being the nail-biter against Memphis last week.

Now, it needs to be said early and often that Valanciunas is not playing poorly. He is a tremendously efficient offensive player and his post moves are varied and well-executed. He’s in the top-ten in PER amongst centres at 20.53 and he’s increased his shooting percentages in each of his first three seasons.

However, those defensive issues are a problem, and the team cannot afford to just leave him on the court to work them out. This is his third NBA season and he is still making a lot of the same defensive mistakes that he made last year and the year before. It’s a combination of timidity and uncertainty. Part of that is not his fault. He has been burned several times this season and last when he has made his defensive rotation and no one has covered him by rotating to his man. That has made him tentative about fully committing to leaving his assignment, which pulls him into a half-committed No Man’s Land where he’s not decisively covering anyone. This leaves the team open to easy passing sequences that leaves the Raptors scrambling to keep up.

The Raptors are 16th in the NBA is opponent’s field goal percentage five feet and in (58.4%), and that’s on a schedule that’s seen them play Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Washington — all teams in the bottom half of the league in shooting at the rim. This situation doesn’t fall entirely at the feet of Valanciunas, but he does represent the team’s last line of defence when he is out on the court, and right now that represents a dicey proposition for a club looking to stake its claim on the defensive end.

Now, this might not have been enough to cut into Valanciunas’ minutes on its own. He has seen a 4.4 reduction in minutes from last season, though, because this issue combines with a lack of toughness on the glass. The boxing-out issue has already been mentioned, but if you looked at his per-minute rebounding numbers you’d see that they are mostly holding steady from a season ago. The problem arises when you dig into those numbers to see where those rebounds are coming from. 61.7% of Valanciunas’ rebounds are categorized as uncontested (a stat which tracks rebounds that are snatched when there was no defender within 3.5 feet — thanks nba.com), meaning that he is mostly padding his rebounding numbers by chasing down those rebounds that other players have more or less conceded. For comparison, 64% of Amir Johnson’s rebounds are contested, as are 62.8% of Tyler Hansbrough’s. Given Valanciunas’ size advantage over both of those players you’d have hoped for better, but the numbers say what the numbers say.

The surprising part about all of this is how differently things are working out for Valanciunas than they were supposed to. He was brought in to be the team’s new Marcus Camby, a hyper-aggressive defensive and rebounding force that would see his offence evolve over time. Instead the reverse has been true, as his offensive game has significantly eclipsed the growth in his defensive and rebounding technique. Dwane Casey once said that a worst-case scenario for Valanciunas was Joakim Noah (oops), and to a certain degree the roster has been built with that comparable in mind. As Valanciunas rounds into the kind of player that he is going to be those expectations are going to need a bit of course-correcting.

Sadly, the person most likely to be impacted by all of this is Amir Johnson, the most tireless worker on the Raptors roster. If this is who Valanciunas is as a player (and it must be said again, it’s not a bad player, just a different one than expected), is Johnson the right counterpart for him in the post? While he’s still a tremendously effective player, he’s no longer the staggering plus-minus beast that he was in years past, and his nagging ankle injuries make him hard to rely on in the way that the Raptors need. With free agency coming up fast for Johnson, that Raptors will have a difficult time pricing him out as a running mate to Valanciunas going forward.

Still, it’s early. Very early. Now that Valanciunas is losing minutes as a result of his defensive struggles it might be enough to activate him at that end in the hopes of earning back his lost playing time. As a result of the team’s early success he’s been thrust into a situation that has the team needing more from him than it might even be fair to ask for considering how early we are in his career. Learning NBA defence is hard, and it takes time. The Raptors are simply at a point where they need a bit more consistency on defence because they are in winning mode now. That has pushed the development of Valanciunas into a weird corner that he’s going to have to work himself out of. Things rarely going according the schedule in professional sports, so Valanciunas and the Raptors are just going to have to find a way to keep developing their youngster while they attempt to stay at or near the top of the Eastern Conference.

Based on make up of current Raps team, the window is open for at least another 3-4 seasons (essentially basing this estimation on Lowry/Amir and typical career trajectories). Outside of Lowry/Amir, the window is open for much longer. Based on this vague assumption, this season what would you rather: a) Stay the course (i.e. lets see what we have this season with roster as is and wait for offseason) or b) Make a change (i.e. hit the trade market with expirings, Ross, and possible draft picks at disposal before deadline)?

One of the coolest things about moving to a new area of the city is exploring the new restaurants at your disposal. That means experimenting with several different offerings for the same type of food, looking to find “your place” for pizza, sushi, a sandwich, and so on. Unfortunately, it turns out that trying a bunch of nondescript sushi joints in search of “your new sushi place” is really risky. On Sunday, I got dealt a bad hand, and as a result I spent most of the night drenched in sweat and generally feeling as if I were on mescaline. The fever is real.

 

As feverish dreams are wont to do, this one shed some additional light on Monday’s game. The 11-2 Raptors will be hosting the 9-4 Suns at 7:30 p.m. on TSN 2, and my altered dream state revealed that an idea from earlier Sunday could very much be a reality.

Here I was, drenched in sweat with a pounding headache and no orientation whatsoever, and the Suns and Raptors began battling in my mind. Three point guards each way, with a single wing and a single big. It was fast-paced, it was high-scoring, and it was glorious. I can only assume that my dreaming about Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and Greivis Vasquez taking on Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe was a revelation that yes, it is coming.  

 

The Raptors used that look to impressive results on Saturday against the Cleveland, the sixth game in which they’ve tried it for a couple of minutes. It’s been an incredible offensive unit in a small sample, as expected, and they’ve been careful to only use it in matchups where it couldn’t be exploited too easily. They’ve been quick with the hook for that reason, as multi-guard lineups like that are historically vulnerable defensively. Ask the Suns, who have tried using their trio together for small stretches and haven’t had the success Toronto has (sorry for the table pngs instead of tables, WordPress was being weird).  

lineupcompare

They’re tiny samples, but because both teams can match up like that, here’s hoping both Dwane Casey and Jeff Hornacek are willing to let the horses run for at least one stretch of two or three minutes. The game is about fun, not wins, after all.

To help set the stage for the game, I reached out to redacted, who was unable to respond in time. Instead, because I was out of it anyway, I asked myself the pre-game questions about the Suns.

 

Blake: Funny how a quick stretch of Eastern Conference schedule can turn things around for a team. The Suns just jumped from 5-5 to 9-5, improving their record against the East to 5-1. The Suns also went 20-10 against the East last year. Obviously, the West is much tougher, but is this indicative of the Suns being very much that “fence” team that isn’t good enough out West but could kill it out East? Or is it just noise and the reality of poorly balanced conferences?  

 

Blake: What an awful question. What are you even asking? “Good West team just alright against West, dominates East.” What a headline. No, it doesn’t really indicate anything about where they are as a team beyond that they’re in a difficult situation, and they’re good but not great. That’s a tough lot in life, since the Suns are unquestionably a top-16 team in the league but may only be a 50/50 proposition for the playoffs. The bigger issue for me is that this team seems to have a high floor and a low ceiling – that’s something that plays in the East, but in the West, your team has to be constructed such that it has an appreciable upside. I don’t think the Suns have that relative to the other top-10 West teams, and being a sure bet for 41 wins and a poor bet for more than 50 is a precarious spot out West. 

Blake: The Suns are all about the pace, with head coach Jeff Hornacek running his charges at the league’s fourth-fastest tempo. They also fire a ton of threes. Do they just shoot a lot of threes in transition, or are there other things at play with the frantic pace that opens up the long ball?

 

Blake: From just watching them, it seems like yes, they shoot a ton of transition threes. They shoot a lot of threes in general, and thanks to the wonder that is the new NBA.com stats database, we can get a more clear picture of exactly how the Suns get their 3-point looks, at least compared to the Raptors (I’m not pulling all 30 teams [today] for comparison purposes):

3ptcompare
At least relative to the Raptors, the Suns seem to be focused more on quick 3-point shots. A greater percentage of their long-range looks come early in the shot clock, without a dribble, without the player holding the ball long, and are classified as wide open. That owes both a quick trigger around the floor – take the first good look you get – a plethora of options – they have nine players you’d be fine with shooting a three – and a set offense predicated on heavy ball movement.

The Raptors are a strong, smart, disciplined defense, but the Suns should prove a really good test. Toronto bases their defense on quick help and aggressive rotations, something the Suns will look to take advantage of with early shots and swings of the ball around the perimeter.

 

Blake: Top 100 Gerald Green alley-oops of all-time, go. (Seriously, I don’t have a question here, just wanted an excuse to add Green highlights. Comment as appropriate.)

Blake: Part of the Suns’ up-tempo attack is rolling multiple point guards at once. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas are all great individually, and Dragic and Thomas have shown they can play together, but early returns are that the point guards are struggling relative to one-point lineups. Is this still an adjustment period 14 games in, or is there an underlying problem with the pairings, Dragic-Thomas in particular?

Blake: It’s still early. The sample is somewhat small, the system worked out well last season, and this was their plan. Most of me thinks it’s just an early-season adjustment, specifically for Dragic. Dragic was a borderline All-Star last year, and when Bledsoe played, Dragic had kind of established himself as the lead dog. That hasn’t necessarily been challenged, but he’s also set to be a free agent this summer, while Bledsoe and Thomas have long-term deals. You’d forgive him for struggling with balancing all of his incentives early on. I’m fairly confident they’ll figure things out offensively, though.

The Raptors are five-point favorites at home, which seems about right. The Raptors grade out better on offense (2nd, 11th), defense (5th, 11th), and schedule-adjusted overall performance (4th, 11th), and they’re at home and relatively healthy. James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough remain banged up, and the Suns have a clean injury sheet, but this is a very winnable game at home.

 

It should be a fun one.

The power rankings are coming out today, we’ll update this post as soon as they come out. So far, we have just one outlet:

USA Today

Raptors #2 overall (Memphis), #1 in East, 2 spot jump – made by @adijoseph

Louis Williams is bent on forcing his way into the starting lineup … or winning sixth man the year.

It’s a silly comment because nobody calls him Louis, and he has no intentions of taking over DeRozan’s job. Sometimes I wonder if the people who make these have any idea of what they’re talking about.

These guys even made a video:

NBA.com

Raptors #4 overall (GSW, MEM, POR), #1 in East – 4-spot jump – made by @johnschuhmann

And right now, the East is mostly made of bad teams. The Toronto Raptors are basically the only team in the conference that has played really well, but even Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies comes with the context that Memphis was without three of the top six guys in their rotation.

After Lou Williams Weekend (58 points and three buzzer-beaters in wins over Milwaukee and Cleveland), the Raptors have contender numbers on both ends of the floor. But they’ve played the league’s easiest schedule, which doesn’t really get tough until late December. And they might be fortunate to play the “fragile” Cavs two more times in the next 15 days.

NBA.com takes the most negative view of the situation, surprised they didn’t also blame the inclement weather in Buffalo as the reason for the Raptors 11-2 start.

ESPN

Raptors #3 overall (GSW, MEM), #1 in East, 5-spot jump – made by @ESPNSteinLine

Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto sports the East’s best record at 52-24, which is 4½ games better than Chicago’s 48-29. The committee (of one) is starting to get its hopes up, in other words, that our long-awaited return to T-Dot for the first time since 2007 won’t have to wait until All-Star Weekend in 2016.

The Raptors need to beat some Western Conference teams to further legitimize themselves. The stomach flu thing with the Grizzlies is hurting them in the rankings a little, but tonight against Phoenix provides a good opportunity to mend that.

SB Nation

Raptors #2 overall (GSW), #1 in East – 2-spot jump – made by @DrewGarrisonSBN

Another week of great play from the Raptors. who are now on a four-game winning streak that includes wins over the Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Bucks. The Raptors are behind Memphis for the best winning percentage in the league, but Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies put them over the top.

Unlike most other power rankings, they’re putting some stock in the Toronto-Memphis clash.

Sports Illustrated

Raptors 2nd overall (GSW), #1 in East, 3-spot jump – made by @matt_dollinger

There’s more to fear in the north than just the cold. Unlike the Bulls (injuries) or Cavaliers (chemistry issues), the Raptors are a finished product and off to a roaring start. Toronto ranks in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency and trails only Dallas in net rating (11.6). The Raptors are also 3-0 against the West and became the latest team to kick the Cavaliers while they’re down.

Hey, turns out we have beaten Western conference teams (Memphis, Utah, OKC).

There’s no stopping the 11-2 Raptors as they send a signal of intent with a clean sweep of the week, with victims including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tamberlyn, Will and myself enjoy the good times and hope you do too.

Part 1

  • Fortune cookies
  • Rebound, assist and turnover trends continue versus Cavs
  • Statement game against 5-7 Cavs
  • Lou Williams’ scoring rate vs Cavs, buzzer beaters, 6th man talk
  • Vasquez coming on strong
  • Change in context for Lou Williams compared to previous roles
  • Vasquez and Williams blending better
  • Guard depth paying off vs Cleveland; team not giving up after first quarter
  • Even keel at 11-2

Part 2

  • Raptors fans in Cleveland
  • National anthem and playing the Drake song to drown them out
  • LeBron angry at everyone but himself – trying to get Platt fired?
  • Vince tribute – reason it wasn’t shown live on TV
  • Ross going at his idol
  • Memphis provides playoff-type test
  • Fourth quarter dominance shines through again
  • Chuck Hayes – The Funnel Man – being ‘saved’ by Casey
  • Setting up for the fourth quarter – key adjustments
  • DeMar DeRozan minutes down
  • Favorite all-time nicknames
  • Jorge Garbajosa’s nickname

Part 3

  • Jonas Valanciunas vs the Bucks
  • Bruno Caboclo talk
  • Parallels with Tracy McGrady
  • Dropping knowledge regarding Bucks recent scores
  • Dropping more knowledge regarding a unique lineup

Part 4

  • Matt Moore / @HPBasketball trolling
  • Phoenix preview
  • Chuck/JV role versus Phoenix – will Casey go big?
  • Atlanta preview
  • We meet our match for fourth quarter performance

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (54:55, 46 MB). Or just listen below:

Photo Credit: Jason Miller/NBAE/Getty Images

Raptors winning with efficiency, defense | Stats & Info Blog – ESPN

The Raptors have been successful in three areas this season. They have the league’s second-most efficient offense (110.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-fewest turnovers per game (11.2) and have forced the third-most turnovers per game (17.5). Their +6.3 turnover differential per game is second-best in the NBA, trailing only the Mavericks (+6.4).

Raptors tie franchise record due to scoring change | Sportsnet.ca

The scoring correction means the Raptors tied their record for largest margin of victory — 42 points in a 96-54 win over Miami on March 19, 2008.

Kelly: Don’t look now, but the Raps are – gasp – the best team in the East | The Globe and Mail

That was the optimistic guess at the start of the year – third or fourth, with a decent shot at winning a playoff round. But this run to the top suddenly looks sustainable. They are beating teams every which way, at both ends of the floor. Every night, there’s a new hero, and usually off the bench. This team is talented, but just as importantly, it’s deep. It’s built to travel the distance of a season. No other Eastern squad has quite the same advantage. The Cavaliers are edging toward a Lakers-level meltdown. It doesn’t look as if Derrick Rose will ever get back to fully fit, which pushes Chicago’s dial toward mediocrity. Washington’s been great, except for that time two weeks ago they got annihilated at the Air Canada Centre. Where Dwyane Wade goes, Miami will follow – so far, so good, but history suggests there’s at least one major breakdown coming.

Toronto Raptors Chat On The Fan 590 | Hoops Addict

I was on The Fan 590 to chat about the strong start the Toronto Raptors have had to their season. We talked about Lou Williams giving the team a scoring spark, if Toronto can be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, why Kyle Lowry is the heart and soul of this team and why the road trip at the end of December could be trouble.

Separating the 2014-15 NBA Tile Contenders from the Pretenders | Bleacher Report

A semifinals or conference finals appearance isn’t out of the question, but don’t expect a Cinderella season just yet. Yes, Toronto pulled off a 110-93 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night and currently ranks first in the East with an 11-2 record. There’s no denying the early results. Unfortunately, there’s also no doubt a lot will change between now and April.

Tipoff: Suns at Raptors | Toronto Sun

The Suns are on a bit of an East Coast roll, having won four in a row, although the level of competition has been down with the wins coming over Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Indiana. After a comfortable win over the Pacers on Saturday, head coach Jeff Hornacek talked about the Suns finding a rhythm. They rely on strong guard play with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe both starting and equally capable of handling the point guard duties. The Morris twins provide size in the front court along with Miles Plumlee, who leads the team in blocks and rebounds. Plenty of scoring comes off the bench in Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green.

Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors: Monday NBA game preview | Toronto Star

The Suns can score with the best of them, averaging 105.3 points per game, which is fifth in the NBA. Toronto averages 106.9 points, though, third in the league. . . . The Suns also lead the NBA in brothers with the Morris twins as well as Goran and Zoran Dragic. . . . Phoenix has won four in a row on a five-game road trip that winds up in Toronto on Monday night. . . . Brampton’s Tyler Ennis had a brief stint in the D League, but has been recalled by the Suns. . . . With eight home wins already, Toronto is tied with Portland for the most this season.

NBA Preview – Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors – Nov 24, 2014 – CBSSports.com

Phoenix seeks its first five-game road win streak since Feb. 7-28, 2011. The Suns are 4-1 on this six-game trip after winning 122-96 over Philadelphia on Friday and 106-83 over Indiana the next night. ”We’re getting a little bit of a rhythm,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. ”It’s something about being on the road. These guys have come together and everybody is contributing.” The Raptors are averaging an East-leading 106.9 points and the Suns are not far behind at 105.3. Toronto has five players averaging at least 10 points and Phoenix has six, with its bench averaging a league-best 46.5 points. Both teams got big lifts from a reserve in their Saturday wins. Gerald Green scored a game-high 23, raising his average to 14.2 to rank among the leader leaders among reserves.

Air Canada: Sitting on top of the East, the Raptors are flying high | Break Room Material

In an off-season where the landscape in the Eastern Conference changed drastically, the team with the best record to this point is the one that stayed, for the most part, the same. The biggest move made by Toronto Raptor GM Masai Ujiri this past off-season was bringing back Kyle Lowry to insure the core of last year’s Atlantic Division champion stayed intact. Lowry along with DeMar DeRozan, who made his first appearance in the All-Star Game last season and helped Team USA win gold in the FIBA World Cup this summer, make up one of the NBA’s best backcourts. The tandem have led the Raptors to their best start in franchise history, 11-2 after their blowout road win over LeBron and the struggling Cavs.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

A game in Cleveland that began with the Cavaliers up 24-6 ended with a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant.

That’s more or less the story from Saturday night, which saw the Raptors make a pretty enormous statement to the rest of the league. Yes, the Cavaliers have been struggling a great deal and this will be looked at by some as a “quality win with an asterisk” like the Memphis victory on Wednesday. No, that shouldn’t matter much to the fanbase or the team after the gutsy performance Toronto put forth at The Q, aided by an incredible contingent of Raptors fans doing the rest of us proud on the road.

 

The Raptors trailed 24-6 a little over seven minutes into the game. They couldn’t find the Cavaliers anywhere on the defensive end, they were taking rushed shots with defenders draped on them, and they were getting pounded on the glass. No matter how early, an 18-point deficit is a daunting one to make up.

 

But, uhh, and I don’t know if you know this, the Raptors don’t really have any quit in them. Not only were they fourth-quarter beasts a season ago, and not only are they blowout proof (only the Clippers have lost fewer games by more than eight points between this year and last), but they’ve already tallied four double-digit comebacks on the season.

 

Sorry, make that five. Five double-digit comebacks on the season. Because from the point of 24-6 onward, the Raptors went on a 104-69 “run” that had the Cavs looking every bit as bad as they’ve been made out to have looked, and the Raptors looking every bit as good as their 11-2 record. 11-2!

 

It’s cliché to focus on intangible things like effort and commitment and drive and fortitude, but consistently coming back from deficits shows a great deal of each of those things. Stress for the long-run that the Raptors are finding themselves in such holes, especially those that have come against bad teams, but respect that this team is basically a living, breathing, cheesy John Cena promo.
cena

It’s not hard to find examples of the Raptors fighting through their tough start, whereas the Cavaliers couldn’t muster a defense or a counterpunch when they got put against the ropes.

Problem: Down 11-2 on the glass, 2-0 on own window.
Resolution: Jonas Valanciunas woke up, and the team employed gang rebounding on the defensive end the rest of the way. The Raptors still lost the rebounding battle overall, but they neutralized what was a major early edge, and they did it by committee, with multiple bodies crashing from the wing on every miss. It can be a risky strategy, but it paid off for the most part.

Problem: DeMar DeRozan’s shot wasn’t falling, and he opened the game 0-of-4 and looking timid.
Resolution: DeRozan opted to take on more of a facilitator role, and while his three assists undersell his performance, passing off the bounce and attacking the rim helped him find a bit of a groove. He also picked it up on the defensive end, and though he’s simply not talented enough to contain LeBron James, he did an admirable job when tasked with trying to slow him down.
derozan
Problem: The offense couldn’t get anything going, shooting 2-of-13 to start.
Resolution: Ask Lou Williams to be absolutely everything and more. Seriously, check out some of these highlights (actually, check out Garrett’s quick reaction, too), and look at the final line.

 

A career-high 36 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 3-of-8 from long range and an obscene 15-of-15 from the free throw line. That’s the 10th-highest point total of the NBA season so far and the 12th-most free throw attempts, and he did it in 29 minutes of action. The Raptors were a plus-37 when he was on the floor. PLUS THIRTY SEVEN. He’s now averaging 25 points per-36 minutes off the bench and the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 21 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor. That is insane.

 

More insane? They got him – and Bebe Nogueira – as a salary dump for John Salmons. He’s a perfect example of why salary cap flexibility is about more than just signing a max contract player. John Salmons, ladies and gentlemen.


Part of getting the offense going was head coach Dwane Casey’s decision to try a relatively new look, playing Williams with Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, giving the Raptors shooting and multiple ball-handlers, spreading out an undisciplined Cavaliers’ unit horizontally and vertically. This lineup had played seven minutes so far to a plus-7 result, and they went plus-12 in their five minutes together on Saturday. It’s hardly an option against every team, but it’s definitely a nice weapon to have when the offense is sputtering.

 

They also have the benefit of being able to get to the line at will, which can help keep an otherwise moribund offense afloat. The Raptors shot just 40 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent on threes, but they got to the line 42 times (and hit 38 freebies), with just eight turnovers. Ideally, the Raptors offense would be creating good looks at a higher volume, and the attack would be more balanced. Not every team is going to willingly foul, and the team is only average from the field and from long rang on the year, but the ability of Williams, DeRozan, and Lowry to get to the line – with sheer trickery, sheer force, and a mix of both, respectively – sets the floor fairly high.

 

Really, though, this game wasn’t all that much about tactics. I hate being this guy – I write a lot of analytics/advanced stats stuff, after all, and none of this is readily measurable or necessarily repeatable – but this game had a lot to do with mentality. LeBron has talked openly about the Cavaliers’ lack of effort, and head coach David Blatt has voiced concern over the team’s communication. This isn’t the first time they’ve wilted in a fight, nor is it the first time the Raptors have stepped up to the challenge, taken an opponent’s best punch, and kept on coming. The Raptors are just pesky like that, and after a full calendar year of showing as much, maybe that personality trait is significant.

A day from now, it will be worth going back and looking at how the Raptors got down so badly, and what teams can do to exploit those holes in the future. My first quarter notes are riddled with all-caps writing and angry shorthand (and Bruno doodles). The Raptors’ offense isn’t as good as second overall – though their defense may actually be top-six – and nobody is as good as 11-2. The schedule’s been friendly and home-heavy, and so on. Coming off a win like this – an 18-point comeback on the road against the Vegas favorites to win the NBA championship – that stuff can wait.

 

These Raptors are a damn treat to watch. It’s hard to imagine a team doing more to reward their growing fanbase’s passion and the number of people who have gotten on board over the past 12 months. There’s rarely a bad game, there’s never any quit, and the team may have just completed the most fun three-game stretch I can remember.

 

It’s good to be a Raptor fan right now. Let’s go Raptors, even in Cleveland.

Cavaliers vs. Raptors final score: 3 things we learned from Cleveland’s 4th straight loss – SBNation.com

Kyle Lowry is a solid starting point guard, while shooting guard DeMar DeRozan made the All-Star team last year. Williams coming off the bench gives the Raptors three guards capable of carrying the load and that is exactly what they did against Cleveland. Lowry, DeRozan and Williams combined to score 79 of Toronto’s 110 points. They were efficient in doing so, too, combining to shoot 21-of-51 from the floor and 32-of-34 from the line. The Cavs are sorely missing a player like Williams to ignite the offense off the bench. Cleveland’s bench combined for just 19 points, barely more than half of Williams’ total.

LeBron James is at the center of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles and more lineup changes on the horizon: Fedor’s five observations | cleveland.com

King without a crown – One week after being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, LeBron James has played the biggest role in his team losing four straight. He’s the best player in the NBA and he hasn’t played like it. If James plays like he is capable of the Cavs don’t have as many questions. He’s the leader of the team and his actions and discouraging body language are not setting a good example. He has said the right things before and after games, but the words are hollow when James doesn’t follow through when the game starts.

LeBron James: The Cleveland Cavaliers are a “very fragile team right now” | cleveland.com

“We’re a very fragile team right now,” James said, following a 110-93 drubbing by the Toronto Raptors at home for the Cavaliers’ fourth consecutive loss. “We were a fragile team from the beginning. Any little adversity that hits us, we just shell up.” The “adversity” that slapped the Cavaliers Saturday night was Raptors back-up guard Lou Williams. Cleveland, following James’ lead, came out with off-the-charts energy, body language, and ball movement (three things James said were lacking in Friday night’s loss to Washington) and jumped on the Raptors with the game’s first 12 points. At one point, it was 24-6 Cleveland.

Direct Link

Final score: Cleveland Cavaliers get blown out at home by Toronto Raptors, 110-93 – Fear The Sword

The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers both entered tonight on the second night of a back to back. The Cavs entered the game with a lot of energy and built an 18 point lead. It was made on quicksand. Reserve guard Lou Williams checked in for the Raptors about halfway through the first quarter and tallied 24 first half points on just nine shots. He picked on Will Cherry, he picked on Dion Waiters. By the time he was done, the Raptors had managed a halftime lead. Cleveland had moved the ball, pushed it in transition, and contested shots in the first quarter. That trend did not continue. The Raptors kept playing, finished with 42 free throw attempts, made 90% of them, and wound up with a 110-93 win.

Raptors Win 110-93 as Lou Williams Records Career High 36 Points – Raptors HQ

With the Cavs at 5-7, this is now LeBron’s worst start since 2003, his rookie season. James finished the game with 15 points and 10 assists. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had a combined 44 points but it wasn’t enough. Shawn Marion and Dion Waiters also couldn’t contribute much as they went a combined 4-of-15 from the field. As for Toronto, the team has now won four in a row and are off to their best start in franchise history. The good news also keeps rolling in. According to ESPN.com, Tyler Hansborough (sprained right shoulder) and James Johnson (sprained right ankle) will be re-evaluated Sunday in Toronto. Hansborough sat out his second straight game while Johnson missed his third straight game. The Raptors will now return home as they prepare to take on the Phoenix Suns at the Air Canada Centre.

Raptors ratings on the rise, but there’s still work to be done | Simmons Says |

The sizzling Toronto Raptors are ecstatic over their rising television ratings in Canada. Their early season numbers are up well over 100% from a year ago. That’s reason to celebrate, sort of. To understand where they are and how difficult their fight for widespread acceptance is, consider this: Most Raptors games this season have drawn audiences of somewhere around 250,000.

Raptors ignite Cleveland crowd, storm past Cavaliers | Toronto Star

“I can’t even explain it, man, honestly,” said DeMar DeRozan. “It felt like a playoff game, honestly, with our fans being in there, cheering and singing the national anthem. “It was just an amazing thing, especially for me. It’s really something for me because I’ve been here through the tough times and to see everything now — going on the road, seeing fans, seeing Raptor jerseys in the crowd — it definitely means something.” “Unbelievable” was how coach Dwane Casey put it. “It was like old-school soccer, travelling with the flag and all that. That was big. “I thought they were being sarcastic and I looked up in the first quarter and it was our fans. It was great to see, great to have. When you put your hearts on the line and lay it on the line every night, fans will follow. Win, lose or draw, you play hard and represent the city and the country, good things will happen.”

Recap: “This is our home” Raptors take over Cleveland | Raptors Watch

Still, the Raptors were getting carved up while missing easy baskets on the offensive end. Seemingly for the first time this season, Kevin Love decided to start playing in the post, and was scoring buckets down-low which the Raptors had no answer for. Enter Lou Williams – the captain. You can thank sweet Lou for tonight’s victory more than anyone else. The Raptors trailed 34-21 after one, but if it wasn’t for Lou’s 10 points in the first quarter, the Raptors would’ve been lost, and in a huge hole. It was a career night for Lou. 36 points in 29 minutes and a +/- of +37 (game-high). He went 15-15 from the free-throw line, and his ability to get there was just as impressive. In the second quarter, Lou continued to do what he does, and the Raptors used that momentum to fuel a 14-4 run to start the second frame and cut the lead to just three. The Raptors also got some quality minutes from Chuck Hayes in the second on both ends of the floor.

Post Game: Williams leads Toronto Raptors to win over Cavs

Defense: B+ Like the offense, the defense wasn’t very good in the early stages of the game. But like this Raptors team has taught us time and time again, this is a game of four quarters. After shooting more than 70% from the field for the vast majority of the opening frame, Cleveland cooled down for the remainder of the game. The “big 3″ got off to a solid start in this one, but had a quiet finish.   Kyrie Irving had 18 points in the first half, and finished with only 21. Kevin Love looked like a focal point in the Cavs offense in the beginning, and finished with just 23, although he appeared to be on pace for 30+.  King James seemed somewhat passive in this one, dropping impressive dimes throughout, but never really leaving an emphatic imprint on this game— he finished with 15 points and 10 assists. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson pitched in too, combining for 24, but it wasn’t enough. As a team, the Cavaliers shot only 43% from the field, and went 3/16 from long range.

Toronto Raptors overcome slow start to hand Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James fourth-straight loss | National Post

The Cavaliers, considered the league’s best team when the season began, have been hit with plenty of adversity. Cleveland is 5-7 and there is already talk of the team playing in the dark and the players having bad body language. The Cavaliers have a day off to think about their issues before hosting Orlando on Monday. Despite the problems, James is convinced better days are ahead. “I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m very positive, more positive than I thought I’d be right now. We’ll look at what we did wrong, the things we did right and be ready (for Monday). It’s still too early for me. … I can’t be negative at all. Once I crack, it trickles down to everybody else, I would never do that to these guys.”

Die-hard Raptors fans an ‘amazing thing’ | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“It’s dope man,” Williams said of the vocal support the team got Saturday night. “This has been an incredible experience as far as the fans go. We have a very, very excited fan base. They are excited about the progress that this team has made and they show their appreciation and as a player you always appreciate that.” DeMar DeRozan, who has been through some low times in terms of fan support for this team, took things a step further. “I can’t even explain it, man,” he said. “It felt like a playoff game, honestly, with our fans being in there, cheering and singing the national anthem. It was just an amazing thing, especially for me. It’s really something for me because I’ve been here through the tough times and to see everything now, going on the road, seeing fans, seeing Raptor jerseys in the crowd, it definitely means something. I think we’re just taking over the midwest.”

Lou just too sweet as Raptors come back to beat Cavs | Sports | Toronto Sun

As for the anger, Williams said that’s always there. “We are pretty angry as it is,” Williams said. “We pay attention to what people are saying and we want to be a group that is being taken very seriously. We have worked hard to gain that respect and its going to take more time so we go into every game with a chip on our shoulder.” The comeback from 18 down marked the fifth time this year that the Raptors have rallied from being down 10 or more to win. They share the league-leading mark with Milwaukee for double-digit comebacks. Casey just liked the composure his team played with, not getting rattled when they got down early. “We started getting stops, we slowed them down,” he said. “We knew that train was going to come out of the (station) really roaring and they did. And we didn’t give in, we sustained our focus and our defensive disposition and just kept on playing. That’s what you have to do against a good team like that, you know their backs are against the wall, they’ve lost three straight, you know they’re going to come in upset and our guys were smart enough to  withstand their onslaught at the beginning.” And as much as Williams scoring was the talk of the post-game, his defence did not go unnoticed either. “Most of all, I’m impressed with Lou’s defence, too,” Casey said. “He had a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows  him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.” Williams acknowledged his defensive responsibilities here are a little more than what has been asked of him in the past. “It’s getting better by the day and understanding our schemes and what this coaching staff expects of us all,” Williams said. “This is a defensive-minded coaching staff and in order for me to stay on the floor, they expect me to guard.” Normally when DeMar DeRozan gets mentioned in a game story, it’s because he is scoring in bunches and a solid second half had him finish the night with 20. But like Hayes, it was DeRozan’s defence tha

Sweet Lou Williams Leads Raptors Demolition Of The Cavaliers | Pro Bball Report

“We knew that team was going to come out of the gate roaring and they did,” said Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “We didn’t give in. We sustained our focus and our defensive disposition and just kept playing and that is what you have to do against a good team.” It could easily be argued that after the first 7.5 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers no longer looked like a good team as Toronto outscored them 104-69 the rest of the way. This became as epic a beat down as the Raptors 124-82 demolition of the Bucks in Toronto the night before.


Toronto Raptors 110 Final

Recap | Box Score

93 Cleveland Cavaliers
Amir Johnson, PF 28 MIN | 2-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +1I feel bad for the guy; nobody should have to chase Kevin Love around for a full game. He provided his usual gritty defence and was a big part of why the Cavs offence slowed to a halt after the first quarter. I know he’s hit one in the last two games, but three summer 3s in a game is three too many.

Terrence Ross, SF 18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -17Like DeMar, he started slow from the field. Unlike DeMar, he wasn’t able to get himself going in the second half. Shawn Marion ate his lunch on the defensive end. It’s a tough matchup, and the lack of production is likely tied to the Raptor game plan: their ball-dominant offence doesn’t necessarily call for a lot of threes off screens. That said, take a page out of DeMar’s book and start crashing the hoop to get yourself going, son.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 26 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | 0Flashed a few impressive post moves in the third quarter, when he took Kevin Love to school and helped the Raptors pull away. That said, he was extremely passive on the glass tonight, and Anderson Varejao had his number for long stretches. It seems like he can have some mental lapses occasionally, particularly when it comes to defensive rebounding. I can forgive that from a player at the start of his 3rd year, but he needs to be more consistent to earn the big minutes he probably should be playing.

Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 5-14 FG | 11-12 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 23 PTS | +10Took two early fouls, which limited his effectiveness guarding Kyrie Irving somewhat, but still played the type of gritty basketball we’re used to from him, drawing a charge on LeBron in the 3rd quarter. He was the sparkplug that keyed the Raptor run in the third. No reason to be surprised anymore: the guy is a star, if not a superstar.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 42 MIN | 7-18 FG | 6-7 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +5A tale of two halves for DeMar: early on, he was frustrated by LeBron James and threw up multiple airballs within a 1 of 8 half. In the second half, he was excellent: realizing he wasn’t hitting from outside, he started driving the lane with authority, got himself going, and then began shooting again. It’s a sign of maturity: rather than force it, he found another way to score. Did as good a job guarding LeBron as you could possibly hope for him and was a big reason why he had such a rough night.

Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +20I was really impressed with his work defensively tonight, where he played excellent help D in particular, which is not his calling card. Didn’t factor into the second unit offence with Williams going Super Saiyan, but contributed across the box score with 6 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block.

Chuck Hayes, C 15 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +13No, he can’t guard Kevin Love, but he can do pretty much whatever else you need. Came up with 3 steals tonight, hit another runner, pulled down a few tough boards in traffic, and fouled his check rather than let them get past him. Keep doing your thing, Chuckster.

Greg Stiemsma, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Got a cup of coffee with the game out of reach, did nothing of note. #wewantBruno

Greivis Vasquez, PG 18 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +16Foul trouble limited him early, and he was largely relegated to taking a backseat for the Lou Williams show. He got it back a little bit in the second half, but he wasn’t really needed in this game and didn’t see much run late.

Louis Williams, SG 29 MIN | 9-19 FG | 15-15 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 36 PTS | +37I don’t know how this guy can move so fast with those 200-pound cajones he’s carrying around. He WAS the Raptor offence in the first half – he had 24, including another buzzer beater 3, and kept things rolling in the second, most memorably when he crossed up LeBron and cashed a long two over his head. When he’s got it going, that Lowry/DD/Williams threesome is an absolute nightmare for other teams to guard, and he took advantage tonight en route to a career high in points.

Dwane Casey
Did an excellent job tonight of finding a lineup that worked after an abysmal start. I give him a ton of credit for sticking with a Lowry/DeMar/Williams lineup that was extremely undersized compared to the Irving/Marion/James trio that Cleveland ran with. He’s excellent at calling timeouts when the team really needs a breather; one that I found particularly impressive was in the third quarter after a Lowry dive for a loose ball with the play slowly getting out of control. This team is firing on all cylinders right now – how can you not give him a big share of the credit?

Three Things We Saw

  1. Cleveland started this game on a 24-6 run: Toronto looked listless, and LeBron was having his way with Terrence Ross as his primary defender. Casey switched DeRozan onto LeBron, Lou Williams absolutely exploded, and the rest was history. Think about this: take away that run, and the Raptors outscored the Cavs 104-69 the rest of the way.
  2. Speaking of Lou Williams’ incredible night, his 36 points were just two shy of the Raptors’ team record for bench scoring, which was set by Donyell Marshall during his NBA-record three point performance in 2005 (shout out to @Scott1Hastie for the info).
  3. How great was it having “let’s go Raptors” chants drowning out the crowd in Cleveland in the fourth quarter? This has been an awesome ride so far – here’s hoping it continues Monday night against a tough Suns team.

Things are getting a little ridiculous in Cleveland as the Raptors are now up 18 in the fourth quarter. Chuck Hayes just did this and DeRozan then did that.

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Lou Williams has now matched his career-high of 31 points by destroying LeBron James in a one-on-one situation. The Raptors have ended the third on a 22-6 run to assume a 14 point lead.

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A 13-0 run has been capped off by this JV put-back, as the Raptors have gone up by 11 in later stages of the third.

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He’s got 24 points off the bench (in 13 minutes), and has given the Raptors their first lead with a buzzer beater at the half.

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Of all the possible scenarios to be playing the second game of a back-to-back on, this has to be close to the most ideal. Toronto beat the Milwaukee Bucks by all of the points last night, gave every player some run and rested their starters. Pair that with the emotional excitement of the crowd for Bruno throughout the 4th, and it’s hard to imagine the Raptors waking up tired today.

The best sign from last night’s blowout over the Bucks is the method through which it happened. Sure, the Bucks are not a great time, and they didn’t play anything close to good, but last night’s victory was not a case of lucking into a win. The Raptors played some of their best basketball of the season last night, opening up shots on offence through ball movement, cleaning up their misses with put backs and offensive rebounds and shooting with confidence from every position. This team is starting to find a flow on offence that goes beyond Lowry and DeRozan piggy-back rides. Ross is hitting his jumper, believing in it and playing with much more fluidity. Amir’s ankle appears to be allowing more dynamic movement and Jonas’ per 36 minutes stats over the last week are bonkers. Vasquez and Lou Williams are getting consistent buckets for the ‘Purps off the bench, making this top defensive team very hard to contain offensively.

The Cavaliers are also playing part two of a back-to-back, getting soundly beat last in Washington. It’s a good thing that the game was in Washington instead of Cleveland, as it might have been quiet enough in the 4th quarter had the game been in Ohio for the home fans to faintly hear the chants of “BRU-NO” making their way across Lake Erie.

So what’s wrong with the Cavaliers? Cleveland is giving up the fewest free throws per field goal attempt in the league right now. That’s a crucial defensive category to lead in, or, at least it normally would be if the lack of free throw attempts were coming from disciplined defense instead of laziness and a matador attitude near the hoop. Cleveland is 24th in the league in defensive rating, giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s good for one spot worse than the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that is the basketball embodiment of sarcasm.

Lebron and the Heat repeatedly torched Toronto. Guarding Lebron isn’t something that any human being does with excellence, but Toronto in particular has lacked someone with the size and speed combination to do so. While we can hope that James Johnson will play that role much better than the Fields-Ross-DeRozan trio who Lebron bullies into the post or seals behind him in a screen, or the Amir Johnson-Patrick Patterson duo, who Lebron is too quick off the dribble for, we are unlikely to find out tonight with James Johnson likely not dressing. It might not be as much of an issue as in the past, though. Unlike the Miami teams who forced Toronto into either going small, which they were poorly equipped to do, or stay big and suffer the consequences, Cleveland has shied away from going small ball for the majority of minutes. This is part of the reason that Cleveland is taking around the league average number of 3-point shots, compared to the Miami teams that laid siege from behind the arc. They’re hitting a respectable 37% of those threes, but they’re hovering around the league average on the boards at both ends, despite playing big and doing so with arguably the best rebounder in the league in Kevin Love, and they rank 27th in assists. They have the talent to score, but their offense doesn’t even come close to dictating terms. Despite all of their weapons, the Cleveland offence doesn’t force you to adapt to it, alter your lineups or change the way you guard pick-and-rolls. Their putrid defense is what’s letting every team stay in games against them, but that reality of their offence is what’s letting good teams force Cleveland to adapt to them that’s dropped them below .500.

Cleveland is still capable of suddenly becoming an offensive monster and rampaging the scoreboard at any moment. But right now they have a clear problem in figuring out how to use Kevin Love offensively and how to protect him defensively. Dion Waiters is challenging Nick Young’s title for least self-aware player on a nightly basis, and has seen his minutes cut lately in an attempt to make him realize that he is, in fact, NOT the focal point of this team. Kyrie has looked great as a scorer but questionable as a point guard so far this season, and pairing a between Kyrie and Kevin Love on defense has been a Hardenesque treat for opposing teams. Read what you will into internet headlines about any of their big names being unhappy, but the body language on the court is awful. On the teams struggle to come together on either end of the floor, Lebron told ESPN before last night’s loss that , “I have a low tolerance for things of this nature. So it’s something I’m working on, as well, which I knew from the beginning that that was going to be my biggest test to see how much patience I got with the process.” It didn’t look like Lebron had much patience last night, instead looking like he wanted off the court and out of the building for all of the last five minutes of the game.

This has been the best week of the season for the Raptors tonight. If they play to the peak that they’ve demonstrated in recent games, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland suddenly putting things together to the degree where they can keep up. However, if the Raptors take quarters off or let the ball stick in their hands offensively, this game could get away from them quickly. The problems in Cleveland are very real, and they are vulnerable. But make no mistake; if you give this Cavaliers team an opening or allow them to play loose offensively without punishing them for it, they will chew you up in a hurry. Make them shoot jumpers, keep them off the glass, punish their bench units and encourage their guards to be shot-makers instead of playmakers, and you’re likely to see that impatient and displeased look on Lebron’s face come the games end.

 

I want the Raptors to win this game. Not because I want them to win this one for Toronto. No, I want them to win this one so I can smile smugly at that annoying ‘This one is for Cleveland’ Lebron Nike commercial. It’s on all the time, it’s incredibly self-righteous and it panders to a national audience that it completely misunderstands. Just because the majority of people hated when Lebron went to Miami does NOT mean that a majority of people cheer for or suddenly hail from Cleveland. I mean, it’s neat and all that Lebron went home, sure, but I’m confident in asserting that everyone whose into the NBA is cheering for their home team to win the title, not Cleveland just because Lebron is back. Plus, those guys burnt his jersey, cursed his name and booed him. Now suddenly they’re all on beautifully together? I’m nauseous from the bullshit. Stylistically, it’s impossible to make a black and white commercial that doesn’t come across as pretentious. That’s a terrible aesthetic choice that was doubled down on by ending with the Cleveland skyline, which sounds nice as an idea, until you see it an realize that the Cleveland skyline is ONE BUILDING surrounded by generic, packed in low rises. I hate that commercial. I hate it, and it won’t go away. Please, Toronto Raptors, I implore you; beat this commercial.

It’s around midnight and I have three options right now: go to bed, play FIFA, or write this piece. I chose this because I know as soon as I go to bed my 8-month old will wake up, and I’m a bit scarred by FIFA since I got relegated down to Division 9. I won’t be able to handle it if I go down to Division 10 because that would be like me being the Sixers of FIFA.

I’m going to talk about rebounding, which is really bugging me, and I realize it’s an odd time to talk about it since the euphoria surrounding Bruno is still in the air. Right now we’re fourth worst in the league at collecting defensive rebounds, where we gather only 72% of them. Normally, this would be an indicator of a poor record except that this year, the Raptors have been phenomenal at taking care of the ball, and have had insanely optimal fourth quarters to make up for whatever was going wrong prior to that. They remain the second-best team in the league in terms of turnover efficiency and offense, while coming in seventh in defense.

The question is whether they can sustain this sort of play. They have played the second-easiest schedule in the league, with most of their games at home where you’re more likely to make late comebacks, and also get the whistle (5th highest opponent fouls). The schedule will worsen and as the games get more tense.  Turnovers will increase on account of being on the road and averages playing out, meaning that the value of possessions will rise, making defensive rebounding a critical factor.

There’s a few things that the Raptors are doing wrong right now, which they need to fix.

They’re not protecting the weak side after missed shots. Hansbrough and Patterson, who are getting a lot of run, are not boxing out consistently or playing intelligent positional basketball. For Patterson, he has an issue where he mistimes his jump on rebounds at least twice a game, and if he’s defending a perimeter-oriented player, his “switch time” between defending and boxing out is too slow, thus he tends to concede position and you find him flailing at a rebound more than fundamentally securing it.

Hansbrough is an interesting case because he’s a very hard worker who makes rebounding a priority, but I find that he’s being put into help situations too frequently, where he has to leave his comfort zone and come out a step or two to defend, which takes him away from rebounding areas. This is new for him this year because he’s always had a very limited role where he’s been asked to bang in there for a few minutes and come out. With Casey playing him in more creative lineups, he’s finding himself defending guys he hasn’t had to defend before, and he’s still making the adjustment.

These are also two guys who haven’t played much together before, and are still getting used to feeling each other out.

Jonas Valanciunas, for my money, has been just fine. He does, at times, try to use his length and reach to get rebounds more than position, and when he loses those battles he comes out looking bad. If the Raptors want to improve his rebounding, they need to increase his offensive engagement. He’s too talented of a guy to throw out there as a pure rebounder alone, and limit his offense to put-backs and the occasional pick ‘n roll. Some guys have their offense fuelled by their defense, Jonas is the other way around.

Then we have Amir Johnson, who is clearly not at 100%, yet continues to chug along. Notice just how often Johnson is flat on his heels when he’s fighting for rebounds, and he also doesn’t have that second or third lift when fighting for a board in traffic this year, and it’s entirely down to health. It’s impressive that he continues to provide defensive cover in so many situations despite his physical struggles.

Chuck Hayes is a solid one-on-one situational defender, but he’s more of a guy that prevents his man from getting the rebound than actually getting the rebound, he needs to be playing with another big who actually does the cleanup while Hayes boxes the opposition’s best rebounder. The Raptors should look to use him in combination with Valanciunas to see how that lineup fares, especially if they go a little big with Patterson at the three. That might be a combination which could work, at least defensively.

As we discussed on the podcast all summer, the backup center was and remains an issue. Greg Steimsma may as well just change his number to 6 and his last name to fouls, which would make his jersey more appropriate. I’m not sure what his value is and that’s not a slight at him, I’m actually not sure what lineup or combination he can be effective in, but given that Casey hasn’t given him the light of day, I imagine he’s not showing much in practice.

The Raptors are riding high at 10-2, and the record masks a critical area of basketball where they’ve struggled. Dallas and Chicago, two other good teams struggling in that category, have been able to overcome this as well. Dallas, through their high octane offense, and Chicago due to very consistent play in every other relevant category. Those two teams have had much more difficult schedules, and have been able to test their approach against some quality opposition. The Raptors are about to do the same. Let’s hope they pass.

Statistical information provided by Basketball Reference
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn

*catches breath*

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?

It’s a bit difficult to do any kind of a critical recap of last night’s 41-point thrashing of the Milwaukee Bucks – the box score, in this case, tells the story. The Raptors had a huge lead from the get-go and never let up until things got ugly. Click here for the Quick Reaction, and here’s a laundry list of GIFs and videos that will give you a good idea of what kind of game this was, if you missed it (and if you did, I implore you to find a way to watch it):

With that said, I still have a couple thoughts, and I’ll do my best to put them down here coherently (I have to admit, I’m still a bit discombobulated from that Bruno dunk). First, some quick thoughts on the two rookies:

Quick thoughts on the rooks

The most intriguing part of last night’s big win was that both Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira got their first taste of NBA action – and their first NBA points, both on alley-oop connections from Greivis Vasquez. Bruno hit a couple threes to go along with his, and had the entire ACC chanting his name (I particularly loved subbing “DE-FENSE” for “BRU-NO”). Did the guys look NBA ready? No, not exactly – both struggled with simple basketball decisions, such as how to pass the ball out of traffic – but both, particularly Bruno, showed NBA-ready skills, which is exceedingly promising going forward.

I’m a little worried that the Bruno hype that permeated the fanbase last night may lead to increased pressure on the youngin’, and that’s not entirely fair – this is a good team, and had James Johnson been in the lineup, he may not have even dressed – but last night, it just served to contribute to the feel-good atmosphere. In the short-to-medium term, he seems like the kind of guy who can get spot minutes, if needed, and that’s exactly what the team needs for him, and what’s going to be best for his development. He’s still months away from cracking the rotation, but that’s fine. This is the kind of roster that can afford to be patient, and if he keeps showing glimmers of something special, like he did last night, that should be enough for now.

Nogeuira, surprisingly, looked a bit more out of sorts than Bruno did on both ends of the ball, but it’s going to be tough to tell his overall effectiveness until he plays with a bit more conventional lineup than the one he did last night (Stiemsma/Fields/Caboclo/Nogueira/Vasquez). He’s clearly still learning how to get his feet set defensively, but, again, the Raptors can afford to be patient, and his raw athleticism was on full display. It’ll be harder for him to crack the roster with the Raptors’ deep bench depth at the 5, but the sooner he earns it, the better off the team will be (despite the fact that Chuck Hayes is a boss/badass/da real MVP).

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it

After tonight’s win, the Toronto Raptors stand at 10-2, alone in first place in the Eastern Conference, after their largest win in franchise history. Think about that for a second. Twelve months ago, this squad sat at 6-7, almost a full month away from the Rudy Gay trade that unexpectedly brought this franchise back into NBA relevancy, and with two decades of mostly unseemly history the only thing that stood as a Raptor “legacy.”

Yes, the hyperbole is going to be flying fast and furious after a game like tonight – and no, I’m not a blind homer. This win was against what is likely a non-playoff team, the Eastern conference is weak again this year, the Raptors’ early season schedule has been reasonably easy at times and fortuitous with injuries/illnesses in others. This team might not be fools gold, but nobody who seriously follows the Raps sees this as a championship contender just yet.

With THAT being said, though: think about where we are right now. Take a deep breath, sit down, and bask it in. Last night was the kind of night Raptor fans have been dreaming about for years: blowing the doors off an overmatched team at home, getting their prized rookies in in garbage time, and every player contributing to a team-first victory. Times are good right now in Raptorland, and our fans’ wary nature (deserved, after years of disappointment) may force some people to immediately start picking apart the team’s situation right away.

So here’s my plea: don’t miss this tree for the forest. This is a landmark game in a landmark time for the franchise, and if there are any fans who deserve a reprieve, a night off, a “holy shit, were our guys ever good tonight,” it’s Raptor fans.

Don’t forget where we come from, or where we’re going – and there’ll be plenty of talk about that tonight after the Cleveland game – but for now, don’t forget where we are, either. This game should stand a celebration of all things Raptors basketball. You, of all fans in the entire association, deserve it.

 

 

Toronto Raptors’ Bruno Caboclo has his Giannis Antetokounmpo moment | National Post

The crowd started chanting “We want Bruno” in the third quarter, and the calls got louder and louder as the fourth approached. When Caboclo checked in, it was practically a fever dream. Caboclo finished an alley-oop off of a pass from Lou Williams for his first NBA basket, hit an open three-pointer, hit a contested three-pointer over Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova and had a chase-down block of guard Nate Wolters. Even his bad moments were awesome: a missed turn-around jumper had elements of Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake and Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged shot (pardon the extreme hyperbole — it was that kind of night). He finished with eight points, a rebound and a block. All throughout, the fans found different ways to say “Bruno” — his name replaced both “defence” and “Raptors” in chants. “Bruno is like Justin Bieber,” said Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira, the Raptors’ other Brazilian rookie. He also made his debut on Friday.

Raptors put huge beating on the Bucks | Toronto Sun

Milwaukee, coming off of a triple overtime game and playing for the third time in four nights, could not keep up with the energetic Raptors, who did just as Casey had asked for – pushed the pace against a group that likes to slow it down. Jonas Valanciunas also used his height advantage to dominate inside and the Raptors did a great job of passing into the interior for easy baskets. They did a great job of passing — period, moving the ball around well to set up dozens of open looks. Milwaukee had been one of the NBA’s early surprises, but fell back to earth in a major way in this one against a team that was firing on nearly all cylinders. Just how dominant were the Raptors — midway through the third quarter, DeMar DeRozan had made one field goal and Amir Johnson did not have a single rebound, yet the Raptors led by 30 points.

Raptors Beat the Buc–Who Cares?? BRUNO!! | Raptors HQ

If nothing else, Bruno got to show off some of his sly on-court confidence, which juxtaposes his bashful off-court demeanor. He tried a spinning turnaround on the baseline, made cross court passes, and dropped 3-bombs. He appears to be fulfilling the promise GM Masai Ujiri saw when he picked the young Brazilian 21st overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. When asked if he had fun, Bruno could only smile. Not to be outdone, tonight’s game was also fellow young Brazilian Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira’s NBA debut. While not as highly touted, Bebe sounds more assured, more vocal. He managed to run around a lot, grab five boards and hit a pretty alley-op dunk. “I’m not shooting yet,” he said afterwards.

Lewenberg: Caboclo debuts as Raptors cap off historic home stand with big win | TSN

The biggest and most promising takeaway from his 12 minutes of action, like his performance in the pre-season and Summer League: he showed no fear. He was confident in his jump shoot – hitting a pair of three-balls, one from the corner and a step-back jumper over Ersan Ilyasova – and he showed off his wingspan on defence, swatting Nate Wolters’ shot from behind. “I thought it was special,” Casey said. “The kid’s a beautiful kid. Like any other kid he’s learning and growing in the NBA. As a coach, I see him growing everyday and know what he needs to work on, but it was great to get an opportunity to get him in the game.” Led by starters Kyle Lowry (20 points, nine rebounds on the night) and Jonas Valanciunas (18 points, 12 rebounds), the Raptors dropped 37 first-quarter points on Milwaukee, the NBA’s fourth ranked defensive team entering the game. But it was Toronto’s bench that really put the game out of reach. Chuck Hayes pushed around the Bucks’ bigs, Greivis Vasquez had 11 points in his best outing of the season and Williams led all scorers with 22, beating the buzzer with three-pointers at the end of both the first and second quarters.

Raptors dominate in rout of Bucks | Toronto Star

The fact is, the game had deteriorated into a pick-up game by the time the benches cleared, but every one of the Raptors’ 13 dressed players scored points; from the two young Brazilians to Williams, Chuck Hayes, Landry Fields and Greg Stiemsma. The bench contributed 57 points in all. “Our bench guys, they work as hard as anyone,” Casey said. “They get their work in and come back at night and get extra work in. To be ready, to be prepared when your number’s called because you never know. You’ve got to be ready to go.” The game was total domination by the Raptors, who at the end of a record 6-1 homestand, are now headed to face LeBron James on the second of back-to-back nights. Friday’s game was gearing up to be a trap . . . but fear the dinosaur.

All Good Things Come To An End: Raptors 124 – Bucks 83 | Bucksketball

Honestly, I don’t know what this game means. Does it bring down expectations, which, to be fair, were probably getting a little out of control after Wednesday’s game? Absolutely. But, at the same time, I don’t know that a 41-point loss necessarily means this team’s 7-5 start is meaningless. The Raptors made 15 three-pointers and seemed to hit everything around the basket. Much of the onus falls on the Bucks’ defense, but good teams like Toronto, which sits atop the East, by the way, have nights like that. I don’t know what the next month or so will hold, but Saturday’s matchup with Washington will reveal a lot about this team’s ability to bounce back.

Raptors clobber Bucks ahead of showdown with Cavs | The Globe and Mail

The Cavaliers were widely considered a pre-season contender for the NBA title after James rejoined them following a four-year stint with the Miami Heat, with whom he won two championships. The Ohio native opted out of the final two seasons of his contract with the Het to sign a two-year, $42.1 million deal with the Cavs, where he has teamed with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The four-time NBA MVP is averaging 25.5 points per game – good for second in the league. But his Cleveland squad is off to a shaky 5-6 start. This week, the NBA’s biggest star admitted to local media that as he is teaching this Cavs squad to win, his patience is being put to the test.

The Toronto Raptors crush the Milwaukee Bucks at the ACC

The passing was magnificent, the team shot over 50% and made 15 out of 25 threes. Everybody was clicking, and everybody who played scored. This was the first time the Raptors led by 50 in a game in their franchise history. Lou Williams led the team with 22 points and two ridiculous buzzer beating three-pointers. Kyle Lowry also chipped in with 20. If the Raptors keep swinging the ball like they have the past two games, their offence can beat any team. The Bucks came into the game as the fourth best defence in the league but looked overmatched from the word go.

Recap: Raptors spank the Bucks in Bruno’s NBA debut | Raptors Watch

From the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, the Toronto Raptors handed the Milwaukee Bucks an old fashion whoopin’ cruising to a 124-83 victory in their final game of a seven game home stand. Lou Williams has really found his game in Toronto. He led all scorers with 22 points. Coboclo played the entire fourth quarter and received a warm welcome from the Raptor fans. You knew it was one of those nights for the Raptors when 7:35 in the second quarter and the Raptors up 16, the Raptors took a play right out of the San Antonio Spurs playbook as Vasquez hit a cutting Chuck Hayes who then kicked it out to Pat Patterson in the corner and instead of shooting the rock, Patterson made the extra pass to Vasquez who drilled a three.

Caboclo Debuts in Raptors 124-83 Blowout Of The Bucks | Pro Bball Report

The blowout started in the first quarter as the Raptors scored 37 points and only a pair of late three-pointers from Ersan Ilyasova kept Milwaukee within 10 points, but it was only going to get worse for the Bucks from there. Toronto scored 34 more points in the second quarter to take a 71-45 lead into the half and if the Raptors could keep up the pressure, Caboclo and Nogueira’s NBA debuts were assured. The rookies had nothing to worry about as the Raptors were not about to let up in the third quarter, expanding their lead to an all-time franchise high of 45 points by the time the period ended. Caboclo started the fourth quarter and helped the Raptors set a new high water mark of 52 points as he hit his second three-pointer to make the score 116-64. Caboclo finished with 8 points on 3-6 from the field including 2-3 from three-point range, a block and a rebound in 12 minutes. Who says this kid is two years away from being two years away? The final score of 124-83 was 1 point shy of the franchise’s biggest winning margin set in 2008 against the HEAT.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Thumping Milwaukee 124-83 | Hoops Addict

Dwane Casey: “If we are going to be an elite team – or grow to be an elite team – we need to make sure we take care of business. Whether it’s a quarter, a possession, or whatever it is, we need to keep that business like mindset and not get caught up in all the craziness around us.”

Are the Toronto Raptors Legitimate NBA Title Contenders? | Sir Charles In Charge

While it’s still relatively early in the season, the Toronto Raptors have been nothing short of spectacular. They have a chance to be strong contenders in the Eastern Conference if they continue their outstanding play, however in the meantime, they have to stay hungry and look for areas to improve. As Dwane Casey said, consistency will be vital for this team’s long term outlook, so it’s crucial they don’t let this hot streak get to their heads. If they can do that, there’s no question that the Toronto Raptors destined for greatness, and could very well make a strong playoff push once April rolls around.

Toronto Raptor Greivis Vásquez on investments and business | BNN

Watch Interview

Raptors-Cavaliers: Saturday game preview | Toronto Star

Both teams coming off a back-to-backs; Raptors routed Milwaukee at ACC while Cleveland lost in Washington . . . Toronto hasn’t won a road game against a team that boasts LeBron James in five years . . . Brampton’s Tristan Thompson is the most-used backup on the Cavaliers roster . . . Kevin Love is shooting lower than 40 per cent from the field heading into Friday night’s game . . . First of three meetings in the next three weeks for the teams . . . Dion Waiters started three games before being sent to the Cleveland bench in favour of ex-Raptor Marion.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Bruno Caboclo, DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas after Toronto’s 124-83 win over Milwaukee.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (12:12, 11 MB). Or just listen below:


Milwaukee Bucks 83 FinalRecap | Box Score 124 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +30His contributions don’t show on the box score as well as Jonas’, but he was impressive in his own right tonight, making smart decisions on the pick and roll and blocking Milwaukee’s athletic lineup when they did manage to get by their initial defender (he had 3). In an night of scoring, he didn’t stand out, but was a big part of the Raps breaking out to an insurmountable lead. Shocker.

Terrence Ross, SF 24 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +34Like most of his teammates, his shot was automatic tonight, but I’m particularly impressed with how he handled the length of Giannis Antetokounmpo on both ends of the floor, using some crafty dribbling to create separation on offence and working hard for positioning on defence pre-pass.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 6-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +20You could tell he was relieved to have to battle with the Bucks’ skinny (albeit athletic) front line after having to handle Z-Bo and Marc Gasol on Wednesday, and he responded by dominating the glass. He had 12 boards in 21 minutes and played the kind of tough-nosed game we need to see from him against the association’s top teams. That said, a great game to get his mojo back.

Kyle Lowry, PG 26 MIN | 6-10 FG | 5-7 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +32Absolutely dominated the game for stretches in the first half, and didn’t play late as the game was already decided before the 3rd quarter even began. Took a charge with the team up 30, which is basically him personified.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 29 MIN | 1-8 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | +36Had a tough time getting going tonight against the Bucks’ length. His game is a lot more predicated on one-on-one situations than the rest of the Raps, so it may have been a bit of a case of this not being a favourable matchup, or it may have simply been a bad game. That said, if you’re going to have an off night, tonight was the night. Did a good job contributing in other ways, which has been a promising sign from him so far this season.

Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +25Didn’t hit early, so the team stopped looking for him. Why wouldn’t you, with everyone else scoring at will?

Bruno Caboclo, SF 12 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -3I admit the A+ is a homer grade, but I’m pretty sure I blacked out when he threw down that alley-oop. Proved that he can shoot at the NBA level if nothing else, hitting a couple threes, and added a huge block for good measure. The fan base is absolutely enthralled with this guy, and it was great to see him have a solid debut.

Chuck Hayes, C 13 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15He came, he saw, he played good defence and hit a runner. That’s a runner more than anyone expects from him. Keep doing your thing, Chuckster.

Lucas Nogueira, C 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -7Played in a weird garbage time lineup (Fields/Bruno/Vasquez/Stiemsma/Bebe) in the fourth with the game out of reach, and got his feet wet by grabbing some boards and scoring his first NBA points on an alley-oop from Vasquez. Looked uncomfortable with the ball, but it was his first game. Welcome to the NBA, big man.

Greg Stiemsma, C 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -1Got in in garbage time, hit a shot, grabbed some boards, and fouled some guys, as advertised.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +13He, more than anyone else, needed a game like tonight to get back on track, and he made some excellent decisions with the ball all night, finding open looks for himself and creating easy ones for his teammates with some great passing – getting the two Brazilians their first NBA points in garbage time on some gorgeous alley-oops. Here’s hoping this is the start of a turnaround for him.

Louis Williams, SG 19 MIN | 7-14 FG | 3-3 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +18In a night filled with impressive performances, his was probably the most impressive. Absolutely dominated the game offensively, hit not one, but two buzzer beating 3s (at the end of the first two quarters) and managed the offence extremely well, getting the bench unit out in transition and putting away the game early. Well done, Lou. Well done.

Landry Fields, SG 9 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -7What can I say? Apparently his time to shine is when you’re up 50 against the Bucks. That dunk off a missed Nogueira free throw was pretty.

Dwane Casey
Not much to critique here seeing as the game was out of reach halfway through the second, but he got Bruno in there for 12 minutes. On a night where nobody deserves a bad grade, how can you give the coach one?

Three Things We Saw

  1. This was absolute, total domination by the Raptors. The 41-point margin of victory is the largest in team history, and they supplemented that with a plus-20 rebound differential, which is far more important moving forward.
  2. The Bucks took a beating tonight, so it’s hard to get a feel for them as a team from this game’s performance, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from them soon. They’re young, clearly athletic, and got some good stuff done in transition, particularly in the first half when the game was still somewhat up for grabs.
  3. Yes, this is just an early-season blowout against an expected non-playoff team, but enjoy this one, Raptor fans. A huge win, a 6-1 homestand, the best record in the conference, 8 points from Bruno, and Cleveland coming up tomorrow night. This, friends, is as close to basketball nirvana as it’s gotten here in a long, long time.

Although this team certainly has chemistry, sometimes there can be opportunities that are just too good to pass up. That doesn’t mean that the chemistry is suddenly lost, but it can certainly inhibit the team’s functionality. By wondering what targets should the Raptors consider, I’m wondering either underrated players or players who are good but in a bad situation.

The Raptors have taken five of six on their current home stand, which wraps up on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks at 7:30 p.m. on TSN.
The Bucks may be rebuilding and have bottomed out a season go, but make no mistake, this isn’t just a speed bump on the way to Cleveland on Saturday. Milwaukee is decent, maybe even good, and they pose a handful of interesting problems with their ridiculous length all around the court.
Comparison TOR MIL
Record 9-2 7-5
O-Rtg 113.4 102.1
Rank 2 25
D-Rtg 103.6 102.1
Rank 9 5
Net Rtg 9.7 0.1
Rank 3 15
To help set the stage, I reached out to good friend James Herbert of Eye on Basketball, who was beating the Bucks drum during the offseason. If anyone expected this team to compete, it was Big Herbz.
Blake: The Bucks have started the season an impressive 7-5. Nobody saw this coming. Not a single person I know – coworker, friend, someone I’m following – not a single one thought the Bucks would win more than, oh, 25 games. I had them for 24. If anyone even predicted 32 wins, they would have been called crazy. An idiot. A lunatic. A troll. Since no person exists, it’s hard to retroactively think like them, but say you were such a nutjob, what is it about this team that would have had you thinking 30-plus wins?
James: If I was the president of the Milwaukee Bucks Nutjobbery Society, I would have pointed to (a) the development of second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has as much potential as anyone in the NBA and showcased significant signs of offensive improvement at summer league, (b) the possibility of bounceback seasons for Larry Sanders O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley, (c) the Jason Kidd new coach bump and (d) the addition of passing supergenius Kendall Marshall.
In retrospect, had I nutted that job or jobbed that nut, I’d be in a position to be gloat about some of this. Now, excuse me while I step into the garden, drink iced tea and eat some peanuts.
Blake: The “Young Bucks” nickname…yay or nay? I get that Young Buck was the best part of G-Unit, and it’s kind of clever, but all I can think of is the Ring of Honor/Dragon Gate USA tag team.
James: Yay! I prefer it very much to the other options: Buckyouths, Mini-Bucks and the Bucks of Little Experience.
Blake: The Bucks are 25th in offense but #TheyTheFourth in team defense. The latter seems, if not real, then close to it. They were a top defense in 2012-13, have length for days, Larry Sanders is back, and Jason Kidd appears to be a pretty good coach, when given length to work with. Are you buying in to this team as, say, a top-eight defense, and is that enough for them to win 35?
James: I’ll buy top-10, at least. Milwaukee hasn’t played many good offensive teams, but Kidd has these guys playing hard and the length is real. That’s enough to win 35 if we’re assuming the offense will improve throughout the season and the East remains mostly terrible.
Blake: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers are up dramatically – per game, per-36 minutes, by efficiency metrics – and he’s looking like a good bet to be in the Most Improved Player discussion. Other than raw numbers, what’s better about his game? Why, with everything else improving, are his assists the only thing trending downward?
Giannis 2013-14 2014-15
Pts/36 10.0 16.7
Rbs/36 6.4 8.2
Ast/36 2.8 2.0
TS% 51.8% 58.2%
PER 10.8 17.2
James: He’s awesome. The Bucks are really having him attack the basket lately. They’re going to him late in games. The numbers are cool, but the real difference is in how confident and comfortable he is. Antetokounmpo grew — literally and figuratively, ha! — from the beginning to the end of his rookie season, and he’s made an even larger leap now. The assists declining is actually a good thing; naturally a distributor, he has to be reprogrammed a bit to take advantage of the matchup nightmare he presents as a scorer.
Blake: Jabari Parker’s numbers are a little south of where some expected them, but to me he’s looked pretty solid on the offensive end. Maybe not as NBA-ready as he was touted, but he’s still the best scoring rookie. What’s your impression of Parker so far?
James: Parker is fine. He was always only “NBA ready” as a scorer, and there was no reason to expect anything different. Kidd’s done a good job in alternating him between forward spots depending on the matchup, and he’s capable of doing good things with the ball. There are some questionable habits in terms of defense and shot selection, but he’ll put up numbers as long as he keeps getting these minutes.
The Raptors are 8.5-point favorites, which seems a little steep considering how spry the Bucks have looked and how close the Raptors have been playing lesser teams. Maybe they look ahead to Cleveland, maybe they don’t, but in either case I think Milwaukee represents a tough challenge, mentally and strategically.
I’d go into more detail but it’s late and I’m tired and, really, everyone is just going to sleep on the Bucks until half when it’s like “whoa, the Bucks are pretty good,” and then the Raptors will have to hustle their way through a second half that’s harder than it should be. For a five-point win.

Toronto Raptors recent home stand has certainly been sweet | National Post

“It’s very difficult to do, to play at home this many games in a row,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters on Thursday. “Psychologically, it’s tough to go through the grind, the monotony of every other day or whatever the schedule was. I think our guys mentally fought through that. That’s something that’s a credit to them. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them, fight through things mentally, be focused, don’t let outside distractions get you out of what you want to do. I’ve been relatively pleased.” Due to the nature of the league, the Raptors’ schedule is set to turn dramatically. Following the Milwaukee game, the Raptors play the Cavaliers, Suns, Hawks and Mavericks, four teams that range from playoff threats to championship contenders. They will then go on a three-game western road trip, albeit against three of the Western Conference’s weaker teams, depending on your opinion of the upstart Sacramento Kings. The schedule does not get truly gruesome until Christmastime, when the Raptors will go on a six-game road trip that includes games in Chicago, Portland and Golden State. The Raptors are yet to play a Western Conference road game, and a record approaching .500 in those 15 contests would be a massive accomplishment.

Raptors’ Hayes always prepared to help | Toronto Sun

“Even though the playing time hasn’t been there, I’m just as involved as DeMar (DeRozan) in the (team scouting meetings.) I’m just as involved as Kyle (Lowry) in the pre-game planning. They ask me for my opinion, I give it, if I see something, I’ll make a recommendation.” Hayes knows what he is talking about. Giving up half a foot every game, for nine years, is something very few NBA players have ever been able to carve out a long career doing. But Hayes has a sky-high basketball IQ and is a master of positioning. Superstar Memphis centre Marc Gasol, a 7-foot-1 bruiser, raved about Hayes’ defence after the Raptors stunned Memphis with a lock-down performance in the fourth quarter. “There are certain games that matchup to my skill-set, there’s some that may not. Regardless, I’ve still got to be ready,” Hayes said, admitting that he had a feeling he’d see some time against Gasol or Zach Randolph. “I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season (and) I’ll be read

Lewenberg: Hayes embraces role as Raptors’ quiet difference maker | TSN

A match-up with the Grizzlies’ intimidating frontcourt is one Hayes generally has circled. In today’s changing NBA, forcing most interior players to adapt their game and step out to the three-point line, there aren’t many teams that feature a physical, throw-back style big man who makes hay in the post. Memphis has two of them in Gasol and Randolph. In his 10th NBA season, Hayes says he doesn’t have to watch much tape or do much research to prepare for an opponent like this. “It’s all up here,” he said pointing to his head. “They don’t do nothing different than they did the last four, five years. I learn from experience. I knew there was a high possibility that I would go in last night, so I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season and I’ll be ready tomorrow.” “He knows who he is and what match-ups that he’s needed [in],” Casey said. “There’s certain match-ups that he’s good [in] and he knows that before we know it because he’s been in the league so long. That’s why you have veterans. That’s why veterans are so important in this league, in those positions. He has a good idea of what he’s supposed to do.”

How The Raptors Are Winning The Fourth Quarter Every Night | Pro Bball Report

“We have a deep team,” Greivis Vasquez explained. “We have guys that can do it on any given night. It’s a team effort. We are doing a good job at being focused and just waiting for an opportunity and we are taking advantage of that as a unit, as a team. T Ross came through tonight. He was struggling at first and then in the last quarter basically he took over. Lou (Williams), he scored for us too. Chuck (Hayes) came out – he hasn’t played in like 5 games – and did his job. So, it’s totally a team effort.” The Raptors have been led in fourth quarter scoring by Jonas Valanciunas, Ross (3x), Kyle Lowry (2x), DeMar DeRozan (2x), Lou Williams (1.5x) and Patrick Patterson (1.5x). It quite literally feels like a different player has been stepping up in crunch time each and every night. The voices from the Raptors locker room last season still ring true. There are no egos on this team. The players are here to win games and are ready when Casey calls their number, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to sit, watch and cheer when someone else’s number is called. They are playing for something bigger than themselves and it shows.

#NorthernNostalgia Week four: Toronto Raptors commercials | Raptors Cage

Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors: Friday NBA game preview | Toronto Star

The Bucks needed triple overtime to beat the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, but at 7-5 Milwaukee has to be considered one of the early-season surprises around the league. . . . Prized rookie Parker averages 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 46 per cent from the field. . . . Antetokounmpo and Parker form one of two sets of teenagers to start for NBA teams this season. Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the others. . . . Milwaukee’s Wednesday win in Brooklyn came a day after a victory over New York. In 21 back-to-backs last season, the Bucks failed to win both games even once. . . . Toronto will once again be without backup forward James Johnson, sidelined with a severely sprained right ankle although he was out of a walking boot on Thursday.

NBA Preview – Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors – Nov 21, 2014 | CBSSports.com

The Bucks (7-5) have won three in a row after not winning consecutive games last season. They can earn their eighth victory 29 games earlier than in 2013-14 after not reaching that mark until Jan. 22. Milwaukee had dropped five straight overtime games going back to last season prior to Wednesday’s 122-118 triple-overtime win at Brooklyn. Brandon Knight made a tying 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the second overtime and free throws with 5.6 left in the third overtime. Knight was 5 of 20 from the field and missed what would have been the winning layup with two seconds left in the first extra period. “My teammates trusted me to make the next shot to force a third overtime, so that’s really what it’s all about,” Knight said. “And we stuck through it as a team.” Rookie Jabari Parker scored a season-high 23 on 8-of-13 shooting and is shooting 55.1 percent over his last seven games after hitting 36.1 percent in his first five. At 3-4, Milwaukee is already two road wins shy of its total from last season. The Bucks haven’t won three in a row away from home since their first three road contests in 2012-13.

Toronto Raptors: 5 Reasons They Are Elite | Hoops Habit

Having depth is something that teams must have down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, and it has made the difference for quite a few championship winners over the years. Toronto has built their team very well around having a deep roster, and there aren’t too many teams better than them in that category. The scoring off of the bench could use some better play, but they have the potential to make that improvement. It’s going to be very intriguing to see whether or not the Raptors’ bench can begin playing up to their potential. They have the ability to take control of games against opposing second units, but they have’t been doing that as much as they could be. Expect to see their bench continue to improve this season as the year moves along.

Despite all the breaks that have gone the Raptors’ way, their record still sits at 9-2.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t championship contenders. No, the Raptors don’t have a superstar. No, there isn’t an all-consuming rim protector anchoring the defense. No, their young players haven’t blossomed into stars quite yet.

But their record is 9-2.

Yes, some things have broken right for the Raptors this season. Yes, they’ve played an easy schedule so far, ranking 26th in Basketball-Reference’s strength of schedule metric. Yes, they pulled a few wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies out of the fire. Yes, the Grizzlies were stricken by a team-wide flu that KO’ed five of their rotation players. Yes, the Raptors have caught a number of teams on the wrong end of a back-to-back.

But their record is 9-2.

No, the Raptors’ success isn’t necessarily indicative of their team’s strength. No, the Raptors won’t continue to shoot an absurd number of free-throws. No, Toronto’s offense won’t continue to produce like the second-best attack in the league. No, the Raptors’ defense isn’t as robust as their sixth-ranked defense suggests. No, Amir Johnson and his papier-mache ankles won’t continue to mask the team’s defensive flaws.

But their record is 9-2.

Yes, Raptors fans are excited about the team. Yes, this team’s success came out of sheer luck. Yes, the Rudy Gay trade galvanized the squad in a way that continues to baffle most fans. Yes, the Raptors have a few players who are overperforming their career norms. Yes, the Raptors’ best back-up center is Chuck Hayes. Yes, Chuck Hayes is a f*cking boss that saved the day last night. Yes, we love everyone in this town, even Vince and Chuck Hayes.

But their record is 9-2.

No, the Raptors didn’t take care of Chicago at home. No, the Raptors didn’t beat Miami on the second night of a back-to-back. No, the Raptors could not sink free throws to save their lives in that game. No, it’s not preferable that the Raptors aren’t 11-0 right now.

But their record is 9-2.

I know I’m being repetitive. I know that. I know that process is more important than results because process determines future results. But it doesn’t mean we should just throw away everything this team has accomplished because things aren’t perfect under the hood.

Regarding the schedule, the Raptors can only play who is on the court. They’ve played some shitty teams, snagging two wins against Orlando, a win against the Celtics, a win against the Sixers and a win against the depleted Oklahoma City Thunder. But they’ve won every single one of those games. They’ve done what is asked on them in those games. It wasn’t always pretty, but they won. They’ve taken care of what they can control. How can you really ask for more? The Bulls (without Derrick Rose; big surprise there) lost against the Pacers and Celtics. Games aren’t played on paper. Good teams do lose to bad teams once in a while.

And yes, there are some big holes on this team. Amir can’t stay healthy, and he’s the anchor of the defense. Greivis is struggling, big time. James Johnson can’t possibly sustain this level of production. The hockey lineup changes by Casey is baffling. DeRozan is struggling to score efficiently besides toeing the line a million times per game. Valanciunas looks winded every time he’s left out on the court for too long and his movement is still incredible robotic. Terrence Ross is wildly inconsistent. And yeah, they’ve been extraordinarily healthy for most of the last two seasons.

Ask any reasonable fan, and they’ll tell you as much. For all the good vibes surrounding #WeTheNorth, Raptors fans are still the same bitter cynics at heart. We know this is a pretty good team that falls two or three steps from being elite. We know that. We understand everything isn’t going as well as their record would belay.

We’re allowed to be excited about the team’s success — they’re 9-2, have you heard? We don’t know how exactly it’s happening. We just want to enjoy it for what it is. We’re not out there telling people we’re threats to dethrone Cleveland and Chicago. Wins are fun. People are excited. That’s it.

What we don’t need, as a fanbase, is to be constantly put into place for being excited. We don’t need condescending reminder of the team’s flaws. Yeah, we know. We watch every friggin’ game. Have you seen the comment boards after games? It’s littered with critiques and nitpicks.

But thanks, anyway, for giving us the perspective we so sorely lacked, Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball and the Hardwood Paroxysm network (who, aside from this recent episode, I thoroughly enjoy and respect as a basketball analyst). What would we do without your sobering takes on the Raptors? I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’d rather be excited about found money than I would be bitterly gripping about how my income can’t reliably come from change off the street.

Three things happened last night that would have seemed all but impossible a mere 18 months ago. First, the Raptors honoured Vince Carter with a video tribute in a moment that brought tears to Vince’s eyes and felt like it genuinely mended the past between the Air Canada Centre fans and the former hero they once called ‘Air Canada.’ Second, the Raptors got an impressive win over arguably the best team in the league thus far this season. Third and finally, the Raptors and their fans became engulfed in a derisive flame war on NBA Twitter that had nothing to do with Vince Carter, and everything to do with NBA fans and writers feeling like Raptors have gotten too big for their britches, sort-of-speak, and feeling compelled in turn to argue how this does not prove that the Raptors are definitely title contenders. Last year’s poo poo platter of an NBA roster in Philadelphia beat the Miami Heat in the early season, before setting the all-time record for consecutive losses, so I would have believed at least the second item of the previous list to be possible if prognosticated a year and a half ago to me. But the first and third would have seemed comically far away. But now here we are, cool with Vince, battling for first place in the NBA and being argued about in the spotlight about whether or not we’re contenders and mocked for believing too much in our team. This is completely new, completely fantastic territory.

 

Putting that narrative aside, let’s get to what we saw last night.

 

It turns out that James Johnson has been just as big of a presence on the bench unit as we all thought he was. Landry Fields got four minutes of run in his stead and the audition all but definitely won’t be getting him the part in Casey’s ten man rotation. The 5-man bench unit had some of their least effective run together last night, especially in the first half. Vasquez unleashed a trio of shots at one point that each refused to have contact with the rim: an air-ball attempt from 3, a floater that bonked off the side of the backboard and a banked-in 3 pointer that, as much as we might mock, represents ¾ of the Raptors margin of victory. Tyler Hansbrough fell hard on his shoulder again last night, taking him out of the game. Valanciunas got some 2nd quarter minutes with the bench unit in a game where he struggled to contain Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, who went for 18 and 18, and 22 and 12 respectively. Those two are a nightmare for any big man, which is to say that that’s exactly what they were for Jonas as well. The best way to contextualize the Raptors awful 2nd quarter is to bring up how the basketball artist formerly known as Prince(Tayshaun) drove casually past his man, through the lane and dunked on Valanciunas. There’s never been a reason to be proud of that happening, but if this was 2005, there at least wouldn’t be as much reason for embarrassment. In 2014, when Tayshaun Prince’s offensive game is barely a whisper, that can’t happen. He shot 6 of 8.

 

It’s not surprising that the Raptors struggled offensively against the grit and grind Grizzlies for much of the game last night. Gasol seemed to scare the Raptors out of the protected area. DeMar didn’t have to face Tony Allen or Courtney Lee, as both were out with a virus, but he struggled instead with himself. DeMar forced his game at times last night, scrambling with the ball, forcing long jumpers before the end of the shot clock and fishing for free throws on pump fake jump shots that just weren’t being called. He battled through, put up 21 points and finally started finding his way to the rim in the 4th quarter. But the Grizzlies were able to take away his efficiency by only sending him to the line twice.

 

This game, as with any other impressive win the Raptors have had against a top opponent the past two seasons, came down to the 4th quarter. It turns out that the Raptors are kind of great in the 4th. You might have heard a little something about this trend mentioned somewhere between once and a hundred times in between Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins playful flirtations on Raptors broadcasts. It’s a thing. And so is the Raptor’s play in the 4th. The Raptors defense in the 4th quarter locked in, and did so last night with some uncommon lineups. Chuck Hayes, brick wall extraordinaire, had his number called, and he played great. Post defense is tough, especially against freight trains like Z-Bo and skilled 7-footers like Gasol. Hayes gives up at least 4 inches to both players, but did a great job against both. Hayes forced Gasol into taking some very difficult turn around jumpers that, just because he looked like Dirk in hitting, doesn’t mean he wasn’t very well defended. Defense in the post is all about quickly shuffling your feet into position, taking away space and staying on your feet. There are people who can do this well. The reason why Hayes can guard low post big men so much more effectively than others is because while doing those things well, Hayes is also impossible to shoulder out of the way or back down in the process. Gasol threw shoulder after shoulder into Chuck’s chest, turning from side to side in an attempt to widdle his way into the low post. He didn’t budge an inch. Marc Gasol is around 280 lbs.! Hayes kept his ground and maintained his footwork, challenging every shot or fake without jumping. This should be appreciated.

 

Hayes wasn’t alone with his 4th quarter defense, as Amir Johnson’s hobbled ankles allowed him ten minutes of his best basketball so far. Amir played important minutes on Gasol, cut inside off of a screen for a crucial late basket, blocked Z-Bo at the rim late and was perhaps the only Raptor last night to understand the importance of boxing out and rebounding.

 

The Raptor’s biggest basket of the 4th quarter, unsurprisingly, was a beautiful layup from Kyle Lowry. Lowry drove hard, twisting his body around the Grizzly defender in place to draw the charge and dropped in the highlight reel layup. What was surprising about the 4th quarter offense was Terrence Ross taking over. I don’t know what got in to the young man, but he had a confidence in his game and a swagger in his step that we haven’t seen this season. Ross drained 3s off the dribble and in the face of defenders. He drove to the basket. He was taking alpha dog ‘I got this’ shots and drilling them, putting up 14 4th quarter points. Maybe he did it for his hero, Vince. Maybe he did it for himself. Maybe he did it for Lisa Ann. I don’t know, and I don’t care, but god damn do I want to see him do it again.

It’s a stretch to say that the Raptors proved their title contention in last night’s win over Memphis. Yes, the Grizzlies were without two key starters in Tony Allen and Courtney Lee and missing multiple bench guys as well. But guess what, injuries and illness happen in the playoffs too. One game of the regular season should never been seen as a macrocosm of who any one team is or what they’re ultimately capable of either way. You’d be a fool to discount this game or argue it as a sign of a forthcoming Larry O’Brien trophy. It was an important, quality win over a very good Grizzlies team. I feel good about this game, I feel good about Vince Carter, and I feel great about this team. Nobody needs to worry about May and June. That’s more than enough for now. Who’s up next?

Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas needs to learn from Chuck Hayes | National Post

If the Raptors are to hit their ceiling as a franchise, they need Valanciunas, a potentially excellent two-way big man, to be able to defend the Gasols and Randolphs of the world. There are not many of those players, but good teams — the teams you play in the playoffs — tend to have one. It can be argued, with some merit, that Valanciunas needs those minutes now, even if it costs the Raptors a win. It is impossible to say what the right move, long term, is. But at least Valanciunas is paying attention. “He plays really good defence. He’s an experienced player. He has the timing,” said Valanciunas, who was a team-worst minus-12 in his 22 minutes of play despite some positive moments. “As you have the touch in the shooting, he has the feeling on the defensive end.”

Toronto Raptors have strong fourth quarter to beat undermanned Memphis Grizzlies in Vince Carter’s return | National Post

“No matter the start, it’s all about the finish,” Kyle Lowry said of Toronto’s blistering early-season 9-2 record. Lowry added 18 points while Lou Williams finished with 13 and Jonas Valanciunas added 10 points. Marc Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were missing five players. Zach Randolph added 18 points and a game-high 18 boards, who boast the NBA’s best record (10-2). “I am really proud of our guys, they gutted it out, played for each other, and encouraged each other,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. The Grizzlies were missing Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih. The five were treated in hospital for dehydration, and flew back to Memphis on a special charter flight.

Raptors beat Memphis Grizzlies in battle of NBA conference leaders | Toronto Sun

With 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Grizzlies’ lead down to four, Dwane Casey countered the return to the floor by Gasol with his move of the night — bringing in Hayes. From that point on the Grizzlies’ twin towers found the going extra tough, scoring just nine points between them. And, truth be told, that was too much as far as Hayes was concerned. He played textbook defence on Gasol on one possession only to see him hit a turnaround fade-away jumper from 11 feet. The next time down, he pushed him out a little farther, this time all the way to 19 feet and Gasol did the same thing. “I was about to kick the scorer’s table when he made that (second) shot,” Hayes said. “I’m happy I kept my cool.” Hayes said it was all a matter of know-how and experience that made this particular night such a successful one for him and the Raptors. “I’ve played against those guys a while,” he said of Gasol and Randolph. “I’m familiar with their tendencies. I do my best and interpret it to my teammates, give them a heads-up. Be ready as if they need me to go.

Raptors Play Catch Up Again with Vince and the Grizzlies, Win 96-92 | Raptors HQ

As the Raptors’ offense cranked up, as Kyle Lowry made big plays (he had 18 points) and DeMar DeRozan kept the team in it (he went for 22 points), as Vince got to tearfully appreciate the Toronto faithful, it was Hayes’ presence that moved the Raptors. He slowed the two-man wrecking crew of Gasol and Randolph. It’s been these kinds of unlikely performances that have been the story for this team so far in this young season; the depth of the roster finding ways to win. “I was bummed because they said they made four field goes in the fourth and two of them came on me,” Hayes said. “I was kind of irritated by that.” At least Chuck is keeping a level head.

Raptors’ Lowry always plays tough against Grizzlies | Toronto Sun

Memphis coach Dave Joerger on the snowstorm before the game: “The weather is awesome. I’m from Minnesota, so I get it.” Joerger also had kind words for the Raptors. “They play the way I think good teams play. They take care of the basketball, they’ll guard you, they rebound very physically and they get to the free throw line,” he said. “Everybody knows their role, they’ve got a good starting five. They’re very solid all the way through and what I think that’s going to lead to through their season is they are not going to have that big hit where you lose four games out of five.”

Raptors earn intense victory over Grizzlies | Toronto Star

And they did it when Casey dusted off the 31-year-old Hayes and his Old Man Strength. Hayes hadn’t played a second in three of Toronto’s last four games — his role is mainly going to be mop-up all season — but he was out there grinding against Gasol and Randolph down the stretch. His stats were hardly startling — one rebound and no points in 10 minutes — but his contribution was off the charts. “He’s an old vet and you’ve got to have those kind of guys on your roster, on your bench, ready and willing to accept his role,” said Casey. “He knows who he is, he’s one of the better big men defenders in the league, he’s got a low centre of gravity and he does a great job. He was our MVP coming in and slowing down Gasol and putting a stop to him.”

Raptors Proving They’re for Real and Other Takeaways from Wednesday’s NBA Action | Bleacher Report

Memphis got out to a six-point halftime lead, riding a physical second quarter from Zach Randolph. Toronto trailed by six heading into the fourth, but that’s when Terrence Ross caught fire. The third-year forward poured in 14 points in the period, and Kyle Lowry drilled a tough step-back to ice the game with eight ticks remaining. Though Memphis was missing several players (including Tony Allen and Courtney Lee) because of a bug making its way through the team, this was a major statement win for the Raps. Marc Gasol piled up 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, and Randolph contributed 18 points and 18 boards. The Grizzlies didn’t give this one away by any stretch. Toronto took it. In big-picture terms, the Raptors’ win should eliminate any lingering concerns about their staying power. There was a sense that Toronto hadn’t done enough over the summer to improve its prospects, and with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers getting stronger, there was reason to believe Toronto would fall short of the franchise-best 48 wins it amassed in 2013-14.

Raptors 96, Grizzlies 92. The New Flu Game. | 3 Shades of Blue

Wing defense. A guy like Terrence Ross is one of those players who, especially when the Grizzlies are so shorthanded, could wind up going career-night against the Beale Street Bullies (TM with apologies to the Flyers). Well, he didn’t, but he and Derozan combined for 16-of-36, and Derozan’s 21 was huge in keeping the Raptors in it when the Grizzlies built leads of 6-8 a time or two. Derozan’s length made it hard for the Grizzlies-an ace like TA can play several inches up to guard a guy with a two-mile wingspan, but for QPon/Carter/even Conley a time or two, it’s tough to contest with any effectiveness. Could Derozan be trying to show John Hollinger the error of his ways ?

Report Card: Grizzlies vs. Raptors | Player Performance Rankings | Grizzly Bear Blues

I am learning as I do more and more grades that the A+ is reserved for amazing games that should be remembered. I think this is one of the single best coaching performances that the Memphis Grizzlies organization has seen since Hubie Brown roamed the sidelines. Being down five key rotation players against what is possibly the best team in the Eastern Conference and competing is an amazing feat. He blended the starters with the rookies and gave Tayshaun Prince ample opportunities to be successful. It would have been a much deserved Grizz win if not for fatigue and Kyle Lowry’s massive stones.

Post Game: Toronto Raptors edge out Memphis Grizzlies | Raptors Cage

It can be successfully argued that Memphis has the most dominant frontcourt in the entire NBA. With James Johnson sitting out due to injury, the Raps were left shorthanded in stopping the bigs from scoring. While Mike Conley and vetern Tayshaun Prince had solid offensive performances of their own, it was the Raptors’ signature ability to close which stole the game from the River City. Hayes and Amir Johnson successfully congested the paint and limited their opponent’s opportunities around the rim. The only complaint here is continuity. This team needs to apply their fourth-quarter defensive mentality to all 48 minutes- it’ll save us all the stress of a valiant comeback.

Raptors 96 – Grizzlies 92: TRoss finds the range | Raptors Rapture

While this game showed how far Jonas Valanciunas still has to learn about playing against the NBA’s best, our team also demonstrated its resilience, and our coach his flexibility. The psychological value of this win can’t be overstated. After the second-half bellyflop against the Bulls, the Raps needed this victory – and got it.

Grizzlies fall in Toronto as Vince Carter gets honored | Beale Street Bears

First off, the Grizzlies were undermanned, playing with only 10 players due to five players being out with a stomach virus. The most notable of those players was Courtney Lee, who has been the catalyst to this team’s early success. Had the Grizzlies had his three-point shooting, his defense, and his 15 points, they probably would have won this game really easily. Secondly, the Raptors are a really good team. They improve to 9-2 overall and 7-1 at home. Winning in the Air Canada Centre isn’t easy for any team in the NBA, and so the Grizzlies can take great comfort in knowing that a lot of teams are going to lose in that building this season. What this really means, is that this is a game that they weren’t supposed to win.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Memphis 96-92 | Hoops Addict

DeMar DeRozan was fired up after the win and was yelling while walking up the tunnel and into the locker room. What was he saying? I couldn’t really make out exactly what he was yelling. All I could decipher was a bunch of excited smack talk about beating one of the NBA’s top teams so far this season.

Vince Carter tears up, fans cheer during Raptors video tribute | Toronto Sun

Forget thawing, a near decade of animosity vanished in a flash, as the video of Carter’s high-flying Raptors days was met with a standing ovation from the ACC crowd, along with loud cheers. Carter, looking surprised, mouthed “wow” and had to dab away tears from his eyes with his shirt. Fittingly, once Carter checked into the game, he was booed every time he touched the ball, marking a return to normalcy. “It was an amazing feeling to relive it as it was happening. As each play was happening, I could remember it like yesterday,” Carter said afterward, calling his tears “an honest reaction.” “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful.”

Lewenberg: Turning the page, Raptors celebrate Carter’s legacy | TSN

Moments after the montage began, the sellout crowd – still filing in at the time – rose to their feet. If there were boos they were drowned out by an overwhelmingly positive ovation. Carter stood and watched from the visiting bench. He used his warm-up shirt to wipe the tears running down his face as he pointed to his heart and waved to the fans in appreciation. “It was a great feeling,” said the 37-year-old, who played in 403 games over six and a half seasons with the Raptors. “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful for it.” “They asked me earlier how you would feel, how you would react and you can’t prepare for that, whether that was a surprise or you knew it was coming. It’s just an amazing feeling, amazing just to be in the moment and to see it, and to kind of relive it as it was happening. You see all the stuff and you see all the people that you played with and as each play was happening, I can remember all that stuff as if it was yesterday. It was awesome.” Toronto’s current players were among those standing for Carter.

Kelly: Vince Carter is not a bad guy, but by the end he was a bad Raptor | The Globe and Mail

No matter how much revisionism we exercise on this subject, the basic fact is that Carter gave up on this team. He engineered the fallout with management. Three years on, he was still the knucklehead who decided to fly to his college graduation ahead of the biggest game of his career. He was an undeniably great performer, and a so-so teammate. Even in his athletic dotage, he retains that odd combination of genuine charm and spasmodic denialism. He’ll tell you he takes the blame, but nothing’s ever really been his fault. It’s a very human trait, one that’s amplified in professional athletes. What makes it weird is Toronto’s tortured insistence on wrenching some sort of dramatic reconciliation out of this guy. “Tell us you didn’t mean it, Vince.” It smacks of desperation.

Is Kyle Lowry an MVP Candidate? | RealGM

Getting into late November the best player on one of the best teams in the league record wise…


Memphis Grizzlies 92 Final

Recap | Box Score

96 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 34 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-1 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -2The guy just brings his lunchpail and goes to work, no matter the opponent. His issues – along with Jonas – on keeping the Memphis bigs off the glass can’t be excused, but he provided his usual brand of up-tempo basketball and made his presence felt. He impressed me most on the pick and roll, where he made smart passes when necessary and made the slow-footed Z-Bo pay when he didn’t close out in time.

Terrence Ross, SF 34 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -3Was a complete non-factor for the first 3 quarters, but exploded in the fourth, almost single-handedly getting the Raptors back in the game after going on his own 8-0 run. That brings his grade up a couple notches, but I can’t get over the fact that Tayshaun Prince basically “son”-ned him on both ends for most of the game.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -12Interesting game for Jonas in that he seemed absolutely content to bang in the blocks on the offensive end – and did so quite well, besides missing a bunny in traffic – but on the defensive side of the ball, he seemed passive, particularly after the shot goes up. Against a team like Memphis, we need Jonas to really have a nose for the ball in order to keep the rebounding numbers somewhat even. Tonight, that didn’t happen, which is why Chuck Hayes finished the game.

Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 7-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | -5I’ve run out of superlatives for this guy. No matter which way the game is turning, he plays his signature hard-nosed style of basketball, makes the right plays, gets in the middle of every play (one contest against Z-Bo in the fourth was particularly brazen), and hits a dagger with 8 seconds left, of course. When he’s out there, you never feel like this team is out of it.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 10-22 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +3A quiet, effective game from DeMar, which is not something I thought I’d ever type about him a year ago. He seems to be making better and better decisions with the ball each game, and attacked the rim with aplomb once his shot stopped falling in the second half. The refs did him ZERO favours tonight, either. He must have loved the fact that Tony Allen wasn’t out there, but for my money, this was one of his more impressive performances against a really tough opponent.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Surprisingly effective defensively against Marc Gasol in the minutes he played, but he was – rightfully – replaced by Chuck Hayes on the bench unit in the fourth quarter. On nights like this where the opposing players simply have him outmatched size and skill wise, he’s going to struggle, and he was a non-factor for the most part.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +10Hit his open looks in the first half, where he was the primary offensive weapon against his slower-footed Memphis check. His man defence has always been impressive, and he got a few stops one-on-one against Marc Gasol that he had no business getting.

Chuck Hayes, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8Entered the game in the fourth, and the Raptors immediately went on a run that brought them back into the game. Coincidence? I think not. Took a huge charge late in the game with the Raps struggling to hold onto their lead. The guy is who he is, but he always seems to find a way to impact the game in a positive way.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | +6Made some questionable decisions with the basketball at times – you can’t just run under the hoop and expect your pass to make it back out to the 3 point line – and had his issues with Carter defensively. Patterson and Williams picked him up offensively, but this wasn’t his night.

Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +11He’s DeMar, with the size dial turned down and the circus shot dial turned up to maximum. VERY impressive tonight offensively – got a chance to handle the ball in the second quarter and did a good job speeding up the Raptor offense, which had been a problem for them all game. Hit some shots he had no business making, and got fouled when he had no business getting fouled. He’s a great weapon to have off the bench, and tonight, he was a difference maker.

Landry Fields, SG 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +1Came in in the first half as an ostensible James Johnson replacement. Touched the ball once, promptly lost it, and we didn’t see him again.

Dwane Casey
Struggled somewhat in getting the game turned around to the Raptors’ tempo, but he made a key substitution late – getting Hayes into the game – and stuck with it, which is not an easy thing to do. Made his usual smart decisions on timeouts, and managed the rotation reasonably well with Johnson out, minimizing the damage Fields could cause.

Four Things We Saw

  1. This game felt like a heavyweight fight the Raptors were never really in – until they were. The first 3 quarters were characterized by slow-tempo basketball and a huge rebounding advantage by the Grizz, with only a few shooting runs keeping the Raptors in it. In the fourth, though, the tempo picked up, the crowd got into it, and the game completely turned around.
  2. The refs really swallowed their whistles tonight, didn’t they? Going into the fourth, the Raptors had just 8 free throws, and ended with 13 total for the game. I don’t think it affected the outcome at all, but it gave the game a really gritty feel, which helped make it seem like it was the Grizzlies’ to lose. When Mark Gasol got hit in the eye and the home crowd thought he flopped, I half expected a riot.
  3. I’m trying to stay diplomatic in the whole Vince argument, but the tribute the team did to him tonight was really classy and not as over-the-top as I expected. I’d imagine the over-the-top one will come at some other point.
  4. Yes, Memphis was missing a couple key guys, but this was a statement win – a comeback against the team with the best record in the league – made all the more impressive by the fact that it was Memphis who took the heavy punches for the first few quarters. When you can beat good teams playing THEIR style, you know you’ve got something. A great win that this team should be proud to hang their hat on, and unquestionably their most impressive of the season.

DeRozan was solid, Ross came alive, but here are the two plays that iced the game.

Chuck Hayes’s magnificent, glorious charge

Direct Link

Kyle Lowry’s late bucket to ice it and make it a two-possession game

Direct Link

Memphis arrives in Toronto with an NBA best 10-1 record on the heels of a rout of Houston. Timing is everything in sports and unfortunately the offensive explosion by the Grizzlies over the Rockets came at the worst possible time for the Raptors.

 

 

While Toronto has been idle since defeating Utah on Saturday the Memphis game versus Houston seemingly offered Toronto a small advantage. Unfortunately Memphis jumped out to an early lead en route to a Rocket thrashing allowing all their starters rest and simultaneously provided critical minutes for their bench who capitalized by appearing to finally gel. Prior to Monday the Grizzlies bench has been arguably their main weakness having been outscored in all but four of their eleven games.

 
More worrisome and disappointing for the home team will be the absence of James Johnson thanks to a severely twisted ankle courtesy of a camera woman’s annoyingly close placement to the end line. Any hopes we had of James Johnson being available were obliterated when Johnson was observed wearing an air cast Tuesday. Further compelling this frustration is Johnson historically has his best games facing former teams.

 
Certainly the Raptors will need to produce a full 48-minute effort on both ends, attack the boards with abandon and learn from the lessons of the Chicago loss to make up for Johnson’s absence. This season’s team has been touted as deeper and this match-up will test that assertion.

 
It may seem odd to place so much importance on one player’s absence given the new depth of the Raptors, but James Johnson has arguably been the second best player (sometimes best) on court through the Raptors 8-2 start.

 
With another test waiting in Cleveland this weekend the added pressure to win rests on the East’s top team who has yet to convince some pundits their record is more than favorable scheduling.

 
To that end, you might find the comparison of these two teams surprising; while I assumed Memphis would have huge advantages, analysis of their stats highlight two teams with virtually not much separating them.

 
Strength of Schedule:
Toronto has definitely benefitted from the unusually high number of home games to start the year and the caliber of talent they’ve faced. However their strength of schedule listed on ESPN.com as .483% is literally only one percentage point higher than Memphis who is listed at .482%.
Through the first 10-games of each team their opponents’ records are eerily similar:

  • Toronto: 47-61
  • Memphis: 42-66

Note: for comparison sake I omitted the Houston game which would push Memphis’ numbers to 51-68

 
Points For/Points Against:
Toronto:

  • 1060 total points scored – 106.0 per game
  • 964 total points against – 96.4 per game
  • Point differential of +9.6

 
Memphis:

  • 1083 total points scored – 98.4 per game
  • 1006 total points against – 91.4 per game
  • Point differential of +7

Note: Memphis’ numbers prior to the Houston game were: 96.4, 91.3 and + 5.1, so the win vs. Houston saw their numbers jump in offense and point differential by 2 points in their average.

 

Key Ranking Stats:

 

Toronto:

Points per game: 5th

Rebounds per game: 25th

Assists per game: 28th

Opposing points per game: 9th

 

Memphis:

Points per game: 18th

Rebounds per game: 24th

Assists per game: 18th

Opposing points per game: 1st

 
Traditional Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

 

  • Field goal percent for both teams is 45%
  • While Memphis has a better 3-point shooting percentage Toronto has been climbing the ranks after a poor start. In addition, Toronto averages an additional +7.1 attempts and +1.7 makes per game.
  • Though Toronto gets to the line close to 4 additional times, don’t expect the whistles to be as friendly facing the Association’s number one team
  • The area I was most shocked by was rebounding; I anticipated Memphis to have a huge margin on Toronto however they are fractionally better in every rebounding category.

 
Advanced Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

  • The crux of tonight’s match-up on paper comes down to the slimmest of margins between the Raptors offensive advantage per 100 possessions: +3.7 versus the Grizzlies defensive advantage -3.5 per 100 possessions.
  • Toronto plays at a quicker pace (+2.7 possessions per 48-minutes) than Memphis who will try to grind the Raptors into a slower pace.

 
Miscellaneous Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

  • Examining the intangible factors once again Toronto has the edge on the offensive side and Memphis has the edge on the defensive side.

 

Note: The chart links take you directly to NBA.com, unfortunately the charts appear too small when copied as pictures

 
Positional Break Down:

 
Guards: Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan vs. Mike Conley/Tony Allen

 
Conley is arguably the most under rated point guard in the league and very adept at controlling pace, but this type of game is one Lowry has prepared for all summer. Expect Lowry to come out with that look in his eye with the goal of energizing the defense and getting everyone involved on offense early especially Valanciunas and Ross.

 
DeRozan faces another defensive specialist in Allen however DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble should tip the scale in his favor especially if his shot is falling early which will open the lanes for everyone. Historically Allen has played DeRozan tough holding him to some of his poorest scoring performances, however last season it appeared DeRozan was beginning to figure out Allen scoring 16 and 18 points respectively in the series.

 
Edge Raptors: Though Memphis will clog the paint the tenacity of Lowry will be the difference

 
Front Court: Terrence Ross/Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas vs. Courtney Lee/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol

 
Lee has been off to a blistering start shooting 56.6% from the field and 62.1% from behind the arc, so Ross will have his hands full. Ross has been steadily improving on the offensive end actually hitting the same number (2) of three’s as Lee per game. The key will be for Ross to keep Lee busy on the offensive end and to take the challenge of limiting him on the defensive end.

 
Without James Johnson available Amir Johnson will need to forget about his ankles and have one of his prototypical nights we’ve become accustomed to. Cagey vet Randolph defies all logic by his ability to pull in rebounds and score with equal aplomb while defying anti-gravity by barely ever jumping.

 
Valanciunas will best be served by remembering what the older Gasol brother did less than a week ago at the ACC and channel his effort from Saturday versus another European. Last year Valanciunas had two games at opposite ends of the spectrum vs. Memphis initially scoring 4 points with 7 rebounds and in the second excelling with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Gasol is already being cited as a potential MVP candidate and for good reason. Last season Memphis sputtered when he was injured, but his return ignited them to one of the best second half records. Gasol is arguably the best passing center and he captains the best defense of the Association.

 
Edge Grizzlies: This has the makings of an all out battle under the rim especially if Valanciunas and Johnson can utilize their younger bodies to protect the rim and take the battle to the grind house front court of the Grizzlies.

 
Bench:
Greivis Vasquez/Lou Williams/Patrick Patterson/Tyler Hansbrough (Chuck Hayes/Landry Fields) vs. Beno Udrih/ Vince Carter/Jon Leuer/Quincy Pondexter/Kosta Koufos

 
Prior to James Johnson’s injury the Raptors had a distinct advantage in this area. While Memphis’ bench has only outscored their opponent four out of eleven games the Raptors in contrast had done so in all but one game. Besides, the thought of seeing a psyched up Johnson was ever so appealing.

 
Through the first 10-games our hockey line bench has scored an average of 35.9 points per game with a plus 10.1 point differential and our lowest scoring night was 27 points. In contrast Memphis’ bench averages 29.6 points per game with a negative 4.7 point differential and their lowest scoring night was 10 points.

 
The non-game related question regarding Memphis’ bench will center on how the ACC crowd responds to Vince Carter. A special film tribute scheduled to occur sometime during the first quarter will hopefully quell the boo birds who fairly have that right, but entering our twentieth anniversary this young franchise needs to start embracing and showcasing our history. Regardless of whether you like him or not, Vince Carter is the defining star of this young franchise. Personally, I can’t imagine recalling the franchise early years without referencing his historic slam dunk win or the associated pride many of us felt when it occurred.

 
Edge Raptors: Even without Johnson available the numbers are just too strong in Toronto’s favor. This would be the ideal night for Vasquez to break out of his slump and replicate his effort vs. Memphis from a season ago: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 of 5 from three.

 
Memphis will be looking to avenge the 2-losses the Raptors served up last season: 103-87 and 99-86 while the Raptors will look to make their own statement by continuing their current win streak vs. the Grizzlies. For this to occur Toronto should look to take advantage via their bench and potential three-point prowess which were keys to their success last season when the Raptors held Memphis below 28.6% and 25% respectively from three while they shot over 50% on both occasions. The boards will also play a big factor as whoever controls them will have the distinct advantage.

 
The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 194.

 
I’m antsy to make a call on this one in lieu of jinxing them but my gut says Memphis is due for a loss and the Raptors want to prove their mettle so I’ll predict a close game with the Raptors taking the win via a typical dominate fourth quarter.

 
As for Dwane Casey’s statement he won’t be making snow angels whether the Raptors win or lose – not to be contrary, but if Toronto manages to hand the NBA best Memphis squad just their second loss I’ll be the first to don my parka and make an angel, snow or not!

 
Enjoy the game and be sure to check back here for the post game quick react.

Toronto Raptors trying to ease the workload of star guards Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan | National Post

So far, the Raptors have succeeded in easing the burden on Lowry and DeRozan. Through 10 games, Lowry is playing a smidge more than 33 minutes compared to 36 last year, while DeRozan is at 34 instead of 38. The math is simple enough to figure out: Following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors were particularly thin on the wing last year, with the unreliable John Salmons as the primary backup to both DeRozan and Terrence Ross. That led to Casey playing DeRozan more often and also using two-point guard lineups frequently, which led to increased time for Lowry. Lou Williams and James Johnson have effectively replaced the exiled Salmons. Johnson’s versatility has given Casey more options on the wing, while Williams has played next to backup point guard Greivis Vasquez more than Lowry has. Johnson has a severely sprained ankle, and there is no timetable for his return. That will complicate Casey’s task, surely.

Raptors will need to bear down against Grizzlies | Toronto Sun

While talented, Memphis prides itself on its “grit-n-grind” identity, its throwback style of basketball. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol live in the paint, a pair of old school big men who can shoot the ball, but love backing down overmatched opponents. The Grizzlies also love to get after the opposition, pressing them into turnovers with quick hands and athleticism. Few do that better than Mike Conley or Tony Allen. “They are playing very, very well offensively and they play that grab, hold and hit style of defence that wins in the playoffs,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They’re one of the top teams in the league right now.” For Hansbrough, the biggest challenge will be containing the Grizzlies on the backboards. “It’s going to be a challenge, especially when you’ve got Zach Randolph and Gasol down there,” he admitted. “You’ve got to keep them off the glass, I think that’s going to be the most important part, kind of limit their easy touches down low and try to prevent them from getting the ball for offensive rebounds.

Lewenberg: Raptors to honour Carter in Wednesday’s return | TSN

How will it go? No one can possibly know for sure. With Carter and his new team, the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, in town for a match-up of unlikely conference leaders, the Raptors will honour VC in a video tribute sometime during the first quarter as part of their continued 20th anniversary celebrations. It’s a decision that’s sure to spark controversy and awaken an ongoing, decade-long debate in and around Toronto: Does Carter’s Raptor legacy merit any kind of salute? And if so, to what extent and at what time is it appropriate? The breakup was unquestionably ugly, something that neither party is especially proud of, although no one has fully embraced their share of the blame. The franchise mishandled Carter for most of his tenure, especially towards the end. They failed to build a contender around him and alienated him with botched draft picks and the hiring of Rob Babcock.

Do You Want the Raptors To Honour Vince Carter? | Raptors HQ

It’s been buzzing around on Twitter for most of the afternoon: When the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Raptors tomorrow for their game at the ACC, the arena is set to play a video montage to honour Carter.

Vince Carter to get video tribute at Raptors-Grizzlies game Wednesday | Toronto Star

The team plans one of the many video tributes they are paying to icons of the past to help celebrate its 20th anniversary and no one is iconic as Carter, who will be honoured during a first-quarter timeout. Guessing the reaction is difficult because there are those who will not let go of a decade-long anger at Carter and how vociferous they will be can’t be told. But there is a greater context that should be taken into consideration. “Never mind what happened with him 10 years ago,” was the gist of the point the high-ranking team staff member made. “They should cheer him for what he did for basketball in Canada.” It’s tough to argue with that logic.

Raptors need to make peace with their past | Sportsnet.ca

But I don’t want to see the Raptors become the Maple Leafs or, in some ways, the Toronto Blue Jays – the latter of whom have, mercifully, realized in recent years that there is a fine line between honouring back-to-back World Series winners and hitting the current group of players over the head with it. It wasn’t just “Flashback Fridays,” which led to underground printing of t-shirts that read “Turn The Page Tuesdays” by players in response. It was the constant reminders on the Rogers Centre video board; the constant feting. It is interesting that it took the return of Paul Beeston as president and chief executive officer for a new balance to be struck. It was Beeston, one of the faces of those back-to-back titles, who decided to low-key the 20th anniversaries of the 1992 World Series and the follow-up 1993 win.

Raptors-Grizzlies: Wednesday game preview | Toronto Star

The right ankle sprain suffered by Toronto’s James Johnson has been termed “severe” by the team. He’s out for this game and for the foreseeable future . . . The Grizzlies come in with the best record in the NBA — 10-1 after drubbing Houston in Memphis on Monday night . . . Conley left that game against Houston in the third quarter after getting hit on the shoulder . . . Grizzlies are considered the best defensive team in the NBA and up a league-lowest 91.5 points per game.

Toronto Raptors’ Most Startlig Statistics of 2014-15 Season so Far | Bleacher Report

Entering his third year in the league, Valanciunas was expected to see an increased role in an offense that’s relied heavily on the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. As Lowry told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat back in September: “We can’t just do all guard-oriented types of things. We have to make sure he’s more involved and have to put a little pressure on him to score the ball.” While his numbers haven’t taken an enormous hit, Valanciunas has yet to establish himself as much of a low-post presence because, frankly, he hasn’t had enough of an opportunity to do so.

Kyle Lowry: ‘Wanted The Pressure On Me’ The Morning Show – CBS Sports Radio

Lowry, who was a free agent this past offseason, could have signed elsewhere but elected to stay in Toronto, which finished with the No. 3 seed in the East last year. “I think the situation was perfect for me,” Lowry said. “We had 11 guys coming back. The continuity was there. Overall, I think it was the best situation for me to win and (be) a big part of it.” Lowry, 28, was a star at Villanova in the mid-2000s. He was drafted by Memphis, spent three seasons there, and then spent three seasons in Houston before signing with Toronto in 2012. Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds last season. This year, he is averaging 18.3, 5.8 and 4.8, respectively. Why did it take him so long to find his niche in the NBA? “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s just a thing where I took the right situation. The NBA is all about situation and opportunity. I believe the opportunity came and the situation is the right one. A lot of people go through that same type of situation and try to find themselves. For me, it took a little longer, but I’m happy I found it.”

NBA News & Rumors: Raptors Could Trade For Kenneth Faried | Realty Today

“Faried was a fan favorite in Denver, but multiple sources with knowledge of the Nuggets’ thinking maintain the team “isn’t crazy about him,” particularly Shaw,” Arnovits reported. “But with Faried’s boffo showing last summer with Team USA and a loyal following in Denver, the media-conscious Nuggets caved, adding yet another imperfect 4-man to their lot.” The Raptors are expected to be one of the leading suitors for Faried because of the player’s association with general manager Masai Ujiri, the guy that drafted him 22nd overall in 2011.

Ten Thoughts Through Ten Games: Part One of Two | Raptors Rapture

The past few years have been tough on Raptors fans. Underwhelming performances, head-scratching trades and free agent signings, a long playoff drought; it seemed that almost anything that could have gone wrong, did. Things have changed for the better now. The Raptors have become a team that is expected to win their division and one that should be able to move past the first round of the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, fans can actually be optimistic about the season at hand. With the way the roster is structured, this feeling should become the norm for the next couple of seasons. Breathe it in and enjoy, Raptors fans, it’s been a while.

Air Canada Centre Reviews, Toronto Raptors | Stadium Journey

It is impossible not to notice the massive amount of Leafs history hanging from the rafters, but the arena and team have gone out of their way to ensure Raptors fans feel at home. There are large murals at the ends of the 500-level seats and a ring of ‘We the North’ banners top the 100-level section. Before entering the arena, fans will notice the massive black and white ‘We the North’ banner on Bay Street and this theme continues throughout the public-access Galleria as well as in the concourses. The arena’s exterior facade does well to incorporate the building’s history as the postal terminal for the city and ornate carvings of canoes, airplanes, and other historical delivery methods grace the stone walls. At the west end of the arena is Maple Leaf Square, rechristened Jurassic Park during the Raptors’ playoff run where tens of thousands of supporters packed the square and overflowed down Bremner Street to watch the game free on the big screen mounted to the side of the building.

Theyr’e going to play a video of Vince Carter at the ACC in the first quarter to “honour” him for his service to the Raptors. So, basically they’re doing what all Raptors fan do every few weeks or so on YouTube: nostalgically drool over Carter reverse-dunking on Chris Mullin, feeding Theo Ratliff his crotch, and having Dikembe Mutumbo smell his armpits, to name only few of the NSFW acts that Carter performed in his early but oh-so-memorable career.

<insert some generic lines here about the fractious relationship between him and the fans over the years and how Rob Babcock’s the real villain>

The whole saga has been regurgitated so many times that it’s lost any relevance it might’ve had, and this is coming from a guy who burned a jersey in New Jersey.  The club, when it was sadly and somewhat reluctantly honouring former players on its fifteenth anniversary during a 40-42 season, chose to quietly ignore and thus deride Carter.  It was a cringe-worthy elephant in the room which we all avoided eye contact with.  Now, five years later, under a new regime keen on retrospectives and desperate to seek out historical relevance, the franchise is looking to formally mend it’s relationship with Carter, perhaps even paving a way for a retirement party held at Real Sports, which would be hosted by @MatterOfKat dressed in a purple Carter jersey, Oy vey.

I’d like to offer some more suggestions.

It’s fine to honour Vince Carter for the moments of joy he’s provided us, but I’d suggest that equal measures be taken to ridicule Rob Babcock for his contribution to my high blood pressure.  Perhaps we can organize an effigy burning at halftime, complete with a rioting mob.  We could even have Wayne Embry make a guest appearance to light the ceremonial first match, and have Chuck Swirsky do a live play-by-play as a crude version of Babcock is set to fire.  At the end of it, Vince can collect the ashes and do a LeBron powder thing as the crowd goes nuts.crutches

I’d say take it a step further and induce Level 99 nostalgia by having Vince play the first two minutes of the second quarter in a Raptors jersey. That just might bring the ACC crowd to the fetal position whilst sucking on their thumbs.  Just as they’re recovering from seeing their long-lost hero throw one down on a confused Tyler Hansbrough, execute the ultimate encore by having Mugsy Bogues parachute down from the rafters to throw a perfect alley-oop to Vince, who, wanting to test the fans’ psychological limits, chooses to not dunk but lay it in, sending the crowd into sheer delirium.

It wouldn’t be a proper ceremony without a classic Vince injury so it’s best that perennial crock, Landry Fields, present Vince with specially made crutches which he can hobble off with as well-orchestrated jeers rain down from the ACC upper deck, with Drake looking on disappointingly.  These jeers, of course, would be brought to you by BMO.

With the actual game now a distant memory, a man sitting courtside who everyone had noted as odd but ignored, tears off his suit, throws away the monocle, and tosses his bowler hat into the second row and reveals himself to be Tracy McGrady.  A picture of Carter and McGrady is projected on the big screen and on to the court – the two hug and the game is called a draw.  What a night!

vincecartertracy

Who would’ve thought that the health of James Johnson would hold such significance so early?

The former Raptors-reject is quickly becoming a cult hero of sorts, with his brazen approach to defense giving the Toronto faithful the type of hero we so subconsciously crave. Johnson’s defiant personality lends itself well to emboldening the “We The North” company line that the marketing department so wants us to subscribe to. Always inflamed, never feeling respected, and a man unto his own, Johnson is the poster-child for the type of identity the Raptors are trying to manufacture.

The bigger reason we’re talking about him isn’t, of course, his personality or his neck tattoos, it’s that he’s been playing very good two-way basketball. He’s recognized that the Raptors roster, though talented and brimming with potential, lacks a steely presence on the wing and has made the role his own. DeMar DeRozan may bring the scoring, Terrence Ross may occasionally delight with his mid-air theatrics, but neither are players that another wing in the league would fear being defended by. If anything, the opposite might be true: wings would seek out opportunities to play against them.

Not so much with James Johnson, at a mobile 6’9″ and 250 lbs, Johnson is 30 lb and 55 lb heaver than DeRozan and Ross, respectively. The unique bit about his size is that it doesn’t affect his lateral movements on defense because plays the angles and anticipates movement, rather than purely reacting. His lower body strength makes it very difficult for offensive players to back him down, meaning that the only variable that can fluctuate with him is effort and discipline, and he’s been stellar on both fronts.

The risk that accompanied his signing was that he may not accept his role and strive for something more than his talents afford, which is behaviour symptomatic of being on a losing team, something the Raptors were in his first stint. The tide has turned, though, and the Raptors are currently on winning ways, which serves to check Johnson’s innate but so-far controlled desire to ball dominate, in favour of team basketball.

The dearth of options at the wing will also exacerbate the impact of Johnson’s injury. Terrence Ross has shown very little in the way of being a defensive option, and even though he’s only in his third year, his defensive demeanour doesn’t exactly fill you with any hope that he’s going to bring the D in the 3-and-D. If a player like Avery Bradley can build a reputation of being a good defender in year two, there’s no reason that Ross – who has arguably better tools – should be this far behind.

Dwane Casey has completely lost trust in Landry Fields, and I’m sure the latter’s injury history isn’t helping either. On last check his elbow was as fragile as a dry twig. After that it’s Bruno Caboclo, who can’t get ahead of Fields. Even if he somehow managed to find his way into a uniform, Dwane Casey isn’t the type of coach that’s about to trust a 19-year old.

And so we find ourselves lamenting the potential loss of James Johnson, a player that you may have felt could be quite easily found on the periphery of the league, drifting between the D-League, Europe, and the association. Maybe the hurt felt by his potential absence speaks more to what the rest of the roster has to offer, than what Johnson brings, but one thing is definite: despite shooting only 20% from three (which was supposed to be his main offense) the Raptors need him.

Surprisingly, he’s featured mostly at power forward in Dwane Casey’s tempestuous flirtations with smaller lineups, which is different than last season in Memphis where he primarily played the three. It’s this versatility in combination with his defense that has him sitting firmly within Dwane Casey’s circle of trust. The offense he’s provided has been bonus, and has come at times where the team desperately needed a boost, likely due to Casey fielding all-bench lineups that went through scoring droughts.

What’s also attractive about Johnson’s offense thus far is that it’s a product of his defense.  You won’t find many instances where he’s taking over a possession, or going rogue midway through the shot-clock. Instead, he’s managed to find his points in transition, usually after helping to create a turnover or low-percentage shot.  It’s this pressure that he puts the offense under that is going to be missed, because the Raptors don’t have a like-for-like replacement for it.  Kyle Lowry is the only wing player that tends to hound players above the free-throw line, and in combination with Johnson, it presents a formidable challenge for wings when Casey does decide to pressure.

With rebounding an issue, the Raptors have been relying on this pressure to anchor their defense, and it’s worked out to a 7th ranked TOV% of 14.1.  With Johnson out, this prospects of the Raptors defense wills suffer, resulting in more possessions that the team will actually need to defend.

There was a pseudo-debate in the summer about what the greater area of concern was: backup center or small forward.  As it stands right now, both are issues due to the mixed results put forth by Tyler Hansbrough, Patrick Patterson’s early season inconsistency, and Terrence Ross’s single-dimension play.   James Johnson has, until now, done well to mask the deficiencies at small forward and provided a rather unexpected offensive thrust, but going forward who fills that role remains to be seen.

Injuries bring opportunities as well. In the podcast we talked about whether Ross would see more minutes or whether Casey would opt for stretching DeRozan.  The latter is a risky ploy, especially with the new trend of reducing minutes in favour of fresher legs in the playoffs.  With that in mind, testing Ross in extended minutes (currently playing 26.5, on par with last season) against a toughening schedule isn’t exactly attractive, but if there’s a time where you want to see what the third-year man is made of, this might be it.

Toronto Raptors’ defence will need to adjust with James Johnson out with an injury | National Post

“His ankle is tender,” Casey said on Monday. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. It’s a pretty good sprain on his ankle.” Casey would not give a timetable, and the Raptors do not have to say anything definitive regarding his health before Tuesday afternoon, the day before they play host to Memphis. However, nobody with the Raptors sounded particularly optimistic about his status. Johnson was on crutches after the game on Saturday night. It will be interesting, then, to see how Casey responds. The next-man-up philosophy would have Landry Fields in line to absorb most of Johnson’s 19 minutes per game. Casey has used a five-man bench unit a lot, to the frustration of some fans. Nonetheless, the group of five reserves — Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — has outscored opponents by an average of 26 points per 100 possessions in their 49 minutes together.

James Johnson out with severe ankle sprain | Toronto Sun

Johnson had been playing extremely well in his second tenure with the Raptors. He leads the team in blocks per game, ranks fourth in steals and assists and first among regulars in field goal percentage (57%). Casey said replacing Johnson would be “a gang effort” and indicated that DeMar DeRozan might spend more time at small forward, or little-used Landry Fields might see some minutes. “Someone’s got to take up that slot. Next man up: just because a man is down, the next guy behind him has got to be ready to play, to perform. Whoever that is. “Injuries are part of the NBA. That’s why you have 15 men to a roster.”

Lewenberg: Raptors’ Johnson could miss time with ankle injury | TSN

While the same size is still unquestionably limited, in the 194 minutes that Johnson has played this year, the Raptors are holding opponents to 89.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark of anyone on the team. They’re allowing nearly 19 points more (108.3) per 100 possessions in the 286 minutes he’s spent on the bench. Of course, so much of that is a testament to his versatility – his ability to switch off on almost any player, defending nearly every position on the floor and co-existing in whichever unit he’s out there with. Offensively, he’s been a pleasant surprise. “James has been playing very under control, within himself is what I like to call it,” Casey said ahead of Saturday’s game. “He watches film diligently and studies the film. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s cut down on a lot of those mistakes and playing within himself has really, really given him an opportunity to score more and have the ball in his hands and build the trust with him teammates.”

NBA Starting FIvess Showing Unity This Season # 4. Toronto Raptors, Plus-16.4 | Bleacher Report

What makes this group click is they work together to find the best shot. Much of that has to do with the backcourt creating opportunities and then making the right decisions about when to shoot and when to pass.

Armstrong: Thoughts on Vasquez, Butler, Favors and more | TSN

This is a bit of an adjustment period for Vasquez, as he deals with slightly reduced minutes (21.5 to 18.5) and he’s struggled with his shooting (.340 FG% and .250 3P%) and he’s only averaging 2.5 assists per game. He seems to be pressing a bit when he’s out there, because opportunities are tight with the addition of Lou Williams and James Johnson in the perimeter rotation. I look at it all as a positive problem team-wise, yet something to keep an eye on to see if Vasquez will earn a bigger role (he and Kyle Lowry were quite effective together last season) as the season progresses. I love his energy, guts and swagger, but this means there’s lots of internal competition, which is good. Terrence Ross must be feeling it, too – if he’s inconsistent, I have no doubt that Dwane Casey, with greater options now, won’t hesitate to play a Vasquez, Williams or Johnson in his place, with which I agree. Again, this is a nice issue to have.

Toronto Raptors’ Greivis Vásquez joins MoPals’ board of directors | BetaKit

While Vásquez’s international connections will be a benefit to MoPals, the young guard indicated that his decision was partially motivated by his newfound Canadian connection. “I am committed to Toronto and to Canada,” he said. “I want to win championships and would love to stay here for as long as possible. I think Toronto is one of the greatest cities and Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. And this is my way of supporting my new home!”

Raptors Power Ranking Poll Week 3: Quick Change | Raptors HQ

Let’s be honest, outside of that seesaw opener against the Atlanta Hawks and the crushing of the Beal-less Washington Wizards, the Raptors opponents have been, ahem, lacking. Sure, they beat up on Orlando twice (and once, just barely), annihilated Utah in a fourth quarter assault, muscled their way past both Boston and Oklahoma City, and took a break playing that team from Philly (was that a regulation NBA game?) But they lost to Miami – a team they haven’t beaten since pre-Lebron 2010 (a team that “featured” Jermaine O’Neal). And they lost to Chicago – a team that will definitely be standing in their way in the playoffs.

Why is Bruno not in the D-league? | /r/torontoraptors

I don’t get why he is riding the pine for the Raptors this season where he could get a lot of playing time and develop in the D-league.

Williams a spark off the bench for Raptors | Hope Standard

“He’s cool under pressure,” Casey said recently. “He can get his own shot most times without screens, without help. . . He did that in Philly. He really didn’t have a chance to do that in Atlanta because of injuries. We have all of the confidence in the world that at the end of the quarter when the clock is winding down, that he’s going to get a good shot.” Williams — listed generously at 6-1 and 175 pounds — learned how to make up for his slight stature from another undersized player: NBA legend Allen Iverson. Williams played with Iverson in Philadelphia where the Sixers drafted him in the second round, 45th overall, right out of high school.

Entering the fourth week of the 2014-15 season the Toronto Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied with Golden State for the third best record in the Association. Though 10-games is a small sample size, looking at the numbers we can decipher some interesting facts as to why the Raptors have ascended to the upper tier.

 
Offensive Rating: Toronto ranks fifth in the NBA with 109 points scored per 100 possessions. A closer look has the Raptors in a virtual 3-way tie with New Orleans and Portland while Dallas is first and Cleveland has surged into second. Boston and Chicago are the two other Eastern teams who crack the top ten.

Offensive Rank Week 3

Defensive Rating: Toronto is tied for seventh with 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Eastern Conference has five teams who rank in the top ten defensively of which Milwaukee who ranks second is the only Eastern team in the top five. Washington ranks sixth, Indiana is ninth and Chicago completes the top ten.

Defensive Rank Week 3

 

Teams Ranked Top Ten in Offense and Defense:
Only four teams rank top ten in both offense and defense with an equal split of East and West representatives and once again Toronto makes the grade:

  • Golden State: seventh in offense and third in defense
  • Portland: fourth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
  • Toronto: fifth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
  • Chicago: ninth in offense and tenth in defense

 
Net Rating: Using the formula of taking a team’s offensive rating and subtracting their defensive rating provides the overall net rating. This principle reveals Toronto (8.4) as the highest ranked Eastern team sitting in fifth overall. Chicago ranks eighth, Washington is ninth and Cleveland tenth.

Net Ranking Week 3
The net ranking isn’t necessarily the best way to isolate the top ten teams especially with teams who allow their opponent to score above the league average. Conversely a team who ranks in the top ten defensively and can put points on the board has a greater propensity to rise up the chart. For example, Houston was in the top ten offensively last week but following the low scoring game vs. Oklahoma on Sunday (69-65) they fell out of the top ten offense however still find themselves first in defense and third in net ranking.

To be fair this early in the season one game like this can completely skew the numbers and subsequently a team’s placement. Case in point the offensive explosion by Cleveland this week versus New Orleans (118), Boston (122) and Atlanta (127) found them jumping to second in offense (110.7) yet they rank twenty-fifth in defense allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions and of the 3-games above only held Atlanta under 100 points.

 
Turnovers: Toronto ranks first for fewest turnovers with 11.6 per 100 possessions. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider the amount of individual ball handling the Raptors utilize. Three other East teams rank in the top ten: Cleveland (4), Detroit (7) and Washington (8).

 
Free Throws: The Raptors rank second for Free Throws Made (24.4) and Attempted (31.4) behind Sacramento who ranks first in both categories. Cleveland (7th in attempts/5th in makes) and Chicago (9th in attempts/makes) join Toronto as the only other Eastern teams in the top ten. The Raptors get to the line because they aggressively take the ball into the paint and have three players in DeRozan, Lowry and Williams who are masters at drawing fouls from outside the paint.

 
Points: Toronto ranks fifth in scoring with 106 points per game. Two other Eastern teams in the top ten are Cleveland who ranks third with 107.9 ppg and Boston who is fourth with 106.6 ppg.

 
Plus/Minus: A category every team aims to be in the top tier is plus/minus differential which highlights how much a team is winning or losing by. Toronto rank second with a plus 9.6 per game average and are the only Eastern team in the top five. Chicago (4.3) and Cleveland (3.8) also make the top ten however their point differential is less than half of Toronto.

 
Opposition Turnover Rate: While Toronto is taking care of the ball with the fewest turnovers in the Association they are also forcing turnovers on the defensive end ranking third by forcing 18.9 per 100 possessions.

 

Steals: A category the Raptors have shown improvement in over last season is steals. Through the first 3-weeks Toronto is tied with Memphis in sixth with 8.5 steals per game.

Steals through week 3

 
Fourth Quarter Dominance: If there was one area Toronto wanted to carry forward this season it would be their league leading fourth quarter dominance. Happily this trend continues with the Raptors ranking first with a plus 4.9 point differential. Though other Eastern teams made the top ten none of them (Atlanta, Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte) factor into the top ten of the other main categories.

 
Clutch: Looking closer at how the Raptors perform in clutch situations we find the Raptors are by far the best team in the NBA with a 143 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. Looking at the top Eastern teams (Chicago, Cleveland, Washington) their closest competitor is Cleveland almost 30 points lower with 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Putting this into perspective Toronto’s clutch net ranking is plus 38.4 while Cleveland has a plus 9.6 differential.

 
Intangibles: This is another area the Raptors are showcasing their growth. Specifically, the Raptors rank third for the points they score off turnovers with 20.9 per game, sixth in scoring off second chance points with 14.8 per game and are tied for eleventh in fast break points with 12.9 per game.

 
Arguably more impressive is Toronto ranks first in not allowing teams to score when they do turn the ball over holding teams to 12.6 points per game and rank sixth for the amount of points their opposition scores on the fast break with 10.3. While there are definitely areas of the defense to clean up these stats highlight teams are not scoring as much this season in transition and Toronto is quick to respond on the defensive end following a turnover.

 
Miscellaneous: Other areas the Raptors are performing above average are PIE where they rank eighth, Pace where they rank eleventh and while they rank sixteenth in three point percentage this is a huge jump considering they’ve climbed from almost dead last the first week of the season.

 
Individual Honors:

 
Kyle Lowry: I’d love to take credit for my constant tweeting on the subject, but regardless of how it occurred Kyle Lowry climbed into the top ten MVP candidates this week. He makes his inaugural appearance at number 7 on the list. Considering the fact Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are ranked after our team captain it’s actually pretty heady company he joins.

 
Terrence Ross: Though there has been great debate on the boards regarding Terrence Ross’ growth or lack thereof this season the stats showcase some interesting numbers which point to his improvement:

  • First in offensive rate – when Ross is on the court the team scores 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
  • Defensive rank: of the starters Ross has the second best defensive rank (teams score 104.2 points per 100 possessions) which ranks him above DeRozan (104.5) Lowry (105.2) and Valanciunas (106.3) respectively
  • Second in net rating for the starters with a +9.9
  • Second on team for Pace behind only Vasquez meaning the team scores more often when he is on the court
  • Ross’ 57% true shooting percentage and 51.8% effective field goal percentage ranks first on the team
  • Surprisingly Ross ranks second in rebound percent with 51.3%

*Note: though Greg Steimsma and Landry Fields do register at the top of some categories they were removed from this analysis based on their lack of playing time.

 
Amir Johnson: Yes we all know he is playing injured, but the fact remains he is still the defensive mainstay on the Raptors even with James Johnson giving him a run for his money in some defensive categories. Amir ranks first in all rebound categories: 28.2% in offensive rebounds, 77.4% in defensive rebounds and 54% overall. His +11.9 net rating ties with James Johnson as team best. And, he ranks second in effective field goal percent (51.6%), third in true shooting percentage (56.1%) and has the highest PIE of the starters with 56%.

 
Raptors Who Rank in NBA Leaders:

 
Scoring:

  • DeRozan ranks 16 with 21.2 points
  • Lowry ranks 32 with 18.3 points

 

Rebounds:

  • Valanciunas ranks 28 with 8.0 rebounds

 
Assists:

  • Lowry ranks 20 with 5.8 assists

 

Steals:

  • DeRozan ranks 7 with 1.9 steals

 

Field Goal Percentage:

  • James Johnson – 57.4% *10
  • Amir Johnson – 55.8% *14
  • Valanciunas – 50% *tied 32
  • Lowry ranks 44 with 48.5%

 

Free Throw %:

  • Vasquez – 93.3% *6
  • Ross – 90.9% *10
  • Patterson – 83.3% *42
  • DeRozan ranks 46 with 82.8%

 

Three Point %:

  • Amir Johnson- 50% *9
  • Patterson ranks 24 with 42.9%
  • Ross – ranks 29 with 41.7%

 

Blocks:

  • James Johnson tied at 21 with 1.4
  • Amir Johnson tied at 22 with 1.3
  • Valanciunas tied at 22 with 1.3

*Note: these players do not appear on NBA.com leader board likely due to the number of attempts however their stats rank them as listed

 

Moving forward there are clearly areas the Raptors need to clean up, specifically lowering opposing team field goal percent as well as improving their rebound and assist totals. An argument can be made however that Toronto has been successful at driving the ball and getting fouled, affecting those assist totals. Certainly we’ll be watching closely as we move into the next ten games with a close eye to see which of the above categories improve.

 

For now the fact the Toronto Raptors find themselves once again in the top ten of both offense and defense in the league is definitely a positive to build upon. Today NBA.com and ESPN ranked the Raptors as the eighth best team behind only Chicago in the East.

 
Perhaps the best pronouncement of the early season came via Mike Fratello dubbed the Tzar and Rick Fox who exclaimed Saturday on NBA’s Game Time:

Fratello: “Excuse me, ah Chicago, Cleveland: Toronto is the number one team in the East!”

 

Fox: “Say it again – We The North!”

 

Enjoy the games this week as the Raptors face first place Memphis on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Friday and offensive juggernaut Cleveland on Saturday.

The podders look to make sense of Dwane Casey’s rotations in the aftermath of a week that saw the Raptors punch out the Magic and Jazz, but fail another early Eastern test against the Bulls.

Part 1

  • Bulls game
  • Not doubling Gasol
  • DeMar DeRozan v Bulls
  • Big man lineup v Bulls
  • Bench effective – but in a different way, assists down
  • Hockey shifts again – does it work – analytics response?
  • Magic/Jazz 1-3 quarters vs 4th quarter

Part 2

  • James Johnson injury – what’s the impact? Who steps up?
  • Does Terrence Ross have it in him to step up?
  • Lisa Ann talk
  • Freedom given by Casey to Ross

Part 3

  • Jonas Valanciunas – best rebounder, worst playing time
  • Valanciunas playing with fear…of the coach
  • Reasons why JV’s playing time is reduced
  • Completely uninformed speculation on JV’s personal life
  • Is JV’s lack of mobility being addressed the right way?
  • Going small – conditions where it works; tradeoffs
  • Big man depth coming back to bite

Part 4

  • Rebounding to be tested vs Memphis
  • Vince Carter boo birds will be out
  • DeMar DeRozan vs Tony Allen – Will DeRozan do anything different?
  • James Johnson availability vs LeBron James
  • Predictions
  • When will Bruno play? The politics of veteran presence
  • Under what scenario will Landry Fields play
  • Raptors excellent FT shooting – reasons for excellence – not just DeRozan
  • TNT’s wrong analysis
  • Zarar shows his age again

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (45:37, 43 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors still have some holes in their game | Toronto Sun

Two things I’d like to see Valanciunas change in his game: (1) Stop with all of the shot fakes. He can hit a mid-range jumper. If you are open, fire away, without hesitation. Faking, putting it on the floor and attacking isn’t the best option for Valanciunas given he is a 7-footer without ridiculous speed and athleticism and because he also doesn’t protect the ball well enough. Again, he can make those shots and should take them. The exception would be when he is closer to the bucket and can use an up-fake to set up the driving hooks which have turned into a solid part of his game. (2) Valanciunas must take better care of the ball. He brings it down too low too often — something players are usually taught not to do — which leads to strips, steals, caroms off of feet, etc. But he’s getting there and the more confidence Casey and his teammates show in him, the better he will be.

Raptors would sorely miss James Johnson | Toronto Sun

Consider the player efficiency rating that ESPN uses to gauge and compare individual rating based on per-minute productivity. Despite being a defensive specialist, which is one area that outside of blocks and steals doesn’t really get measured by this formula, Johnson is still the second-highest rated Raptor on the list behind only Kyle Lowry. Johnson’s PER is a stunning 20.91 which is 37th best in the NBA. Lowry’s PER of 23.08 puts him 18th overall in the league. It’s not a perfect stat but it is the best one in terms of measuring the impact on a game a player has. Johnson’s per game average of 7.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and almost a steal a game doesn’t sound like a huge deal but when combined speak to the impact he has had on the Raptors’ early-season success.

Raptors’ Casey, DeRozan have relationship that transcends basketball | Toronto Star

It remains to be seen how this coupling of a young yet old man and very much the same guider will take the Raptors, but it’s impressive to consider how far they have come. DeRozan is an NBA all-star, Casey is mentioned these days in discussions about the better coaches in the league and it’s large part because of the relationship. Those values, those traits they unequivocally display, have everything to do with where they are and how far they’ve come and will be the thing they most remember. “I think you appreciate a person even more when you go through the tough times with them,” said DeRozan. “When you see success after that, it’s special.” Special, like the two old souls from different eras who are far more similar than they are different.

DeMar DeRozan: A Rough Start to the Season | Hoops Habit

To date, the Raptors have done just that by accumulating a record of 8-2, and putting themselves alone atop the Eastern Conference at the ten game mark. But where things appear to be going swimmingly for Toronto, a problem exists below the surface … DeMar DeRozan is struggling to match his output from last year. This isn’t to say that DeRozan is playing poorly (his Player Efficiency Rating is higher than last year), but he has yet to show the regular improvement in production that has defined his career to date. A notoriously hard worker, both in and out of season, DeRozan is renowned for his work ethic and ability to add to his game each offseason. So far this year, DeMar has instead displayed a regression in a variety of different areas.Simply put, prior to Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, there has been something wrong with DeMar DeRozan this season.

NBA East Leading Raptors Live Up To #WeTheFourth | Pro Bball Report

Most of the Raptors fourth quarter scoring differentials have been 5 points or less, however, what is worth noting is Toronto’s tendency to pour it on when needed at the end. Toronto only led the Thunder by 3 points heading into the final period and used a 27-18 quarter to pull away for the win. At home to Orlando, Toronto trailed by 11 after the third and used a 32-17 outburst to pull out the 4 point win. On Saturday the Raptors used a strong third quarter to get a 4 point lead over the Jazz and then blew the game open with a 35-21 fourth quarter.

Last night’s game was the perfect example of the difference between a winning team and a losing team.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

In the NBA, just about any team can stick with any other team for three quarters. This often gives fans of losing teams a poor indication of just how far they are to being a winning team. We saw it last night, with the Jazz keeping pace with the Raptors for most of three quarters, last night, before succumbing to lack of talent, youth and poor decision-making.

If you just watched the first half of the game, then what you saw was a Utah Jazz team that might have looked on the same level as the Raptors. At halftime, the Jazz were ahead by three points, were shooting about the same from the field and were more than doubling them in assists (more on that later). In fact, the Jazz really looked like they were in control for most of the game, up until that point.

The clue was the fact that despite the Jazz looking like they were doing everything they wanted and appeared as though they were outplaying the Raptors, Toronto was always hanging around. Because that’s what good teams do.

Raptor fans can probably remember being on the other end of that, when the Raptors would look like they were outplaying one of the better teams in the league, except they could never put the game out of reach, and most of the time the better team ended up winning.

Now the Raptors are one of the better teams.

In my pre-game analysis, there were three things I highlighted to watch for, and all three made appearances in the first half. After a couple of poor shooting games, DeMar DeRozan went 5-8 in the first quarter, including making a very nifty pass to Valanciunas on a drive. And Valanciunas went 3-4 and grabbed five rebounds, playing as aggressively as we’ve seen him all season. In fact, he had, by far, his best game of the season, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds while playing a season high 34 minutes.

Casey has apparently attributed Valanciunas’ lack of minutes to matchups and the opposing teams playing small-ball, but my feeling is that Casey too often lets the other team’s coach sets the tone rather than force him to adapt to what Casey wants to do. It obviously helps if Valanciunas is playing well, because when he is there aren’t a whole lot of teams that can match up with him.

raptorsjazz.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

While the first quarter did look good for DeRozan and Valanciunas, it was also a continuation of two troubling trends for the Raptors. The first is the team’s penchant for one on one play. We saw that in the just 2 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and the 15 assists on 43 field goals for the entire game, for an assist rate of just 35%.

On the other side, the Jazz had 10 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and 22 assists on 33 field goals for the entire game. That’s 67% of their field goals off of assists.

If the Raptors want to get to that next tier, then that’s going to have to change.

This also brings up the other trend, which is teams driving the ball on the Raptors and getting open shots. At the beginning of the season, one of the things I mentioned I wanted to see on defense is less help and less scrambling, which tends to lead to more open looks, especially from three. And we saw that last night, with the Jazz getting a ton of open looks early before getting cold in the second half.

But the Raptors did end up winning, and let’s look at some of the reasons for that.

As I said, the Raptors’ play for most of three quarters was not all that much to write home about. But like all good teams, when it mattered most, guys like Valanciunas, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez all came up big, hit big shots, grabbed big boards and made big plays. And keep in mind three of those four players are bench players.

With the game on the line, the difference between the Raptors and Jazz was glaring. While the Raptors made plays and did what they needed to do, the Jazz too often resorted to forcing plays and trying to do too much. Suddenly the passing stopped and the one on one play began. In fact, in the second half, the Jazz only had 6 assists to the Raptors’ 8.

This is the difference between the teams that win and the teams that lose.

The Jazz may have some nice, young talent (and I was very impressed with what I saw from Dante Exum, despite his turnovers- I think he may be starting by this time next season), but they are still a ways off from being a winning team.

The Raptors are already there.


Utah Jazz 93 FinalRecap | Box Score 111 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 23 MIN | 0-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +9He looks like he’s playing at 60% so the couple of days off will do him some good. I still think the starting unit plays better defense when he’s on the court, especially Valanciunas and Ross. His stats don’t jump out at you, but a key block and assist (when they were in short supply) in first half were pivotal.Came out more aggressiveness defensively in second half. In conjunction with Jonas they manned the paint much better which forced Kanter and Favors into more outside shots. The minute he left the game in the third quarter the Jazz got back to back scores inside the paint.

Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +9Held Gordon Hayward scoreless in first quarter and to just 12 overall which is big considering Hayward averages 19.9 PPG. Delivered a sweet pass to Jonas in the paint. He tweaked his ankle, had to get it re-taped, but returned late in the second. Obviously the ankle wasn’t that hurt based on that awesome dunk in the third.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 34 MIN | 7-12 FG | 3-6 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +20It’s no secret Jonas gets up for games versus Enes Kanter and tonight was no exception. We’ve been urging him to go up with force at the rim and tonight he delivered in that regard both in scoring and rebounding. Near the end of the second quarter he fought off three Jazz players for the offensive board and got the score (off a goal tending call).His BEST game this season.

Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 8-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +19Distributed the ball early specifically making sure to get Valanciunas and DeRozan rolling. Attacked the paint but the refs weren’t obliging with the whistle.Came out to start the second half with a purpose after the half making sure to move the ball up court quickly, ignited the team with his energy and spearheaded the scoring which saw the Raptors overtake the Jazz on the score board.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 10-17 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 27 PTS | +17If you think he doesn’t care or isn’t aware he’s had two consecutive tough games his 10 point first quarter tells you otherwise. Three times in the first half when the Jazz collapsed on him he passed out of the double and triple teams quickly.After a first half with zero trips to the line he was determined to get there in the second half (5-6 in 3rd).

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2It’s hard to knock someone who plays with so much intensity. We know every game what we’ll get from him: he’ll fight for every board and attempt to block every shot whether he’s successful or not you can’t deny the effort.

James Johnson, PF 14 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +1What superlative can I use that hasn’t been already said. He has become the main defensive presence on the floor and is using solid decisions with the ball in his hand. If he keeps this up he’ll need to be considered for Defensive Player or Sixth Man at year end.Turned his ankle pretty badly which affected his minutes late (or I’d rate him even higher). Hope he’s healthy for Memphis game because he epitomizes a player who gets up to play versus his old teams as witnessed against the Bulls

Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +9His shot wasn’t falling from behind the arc in the first half but he was aggressive on the offensive boards and we saw him work inside the paint more. Overall a workman type effort.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +1He was better than his last outing however it still feels like he is looking for his shot more than distributing. Lets hope over time he will develop a chemistry with his court mates which will make the bench even more deadly. Got his shot rolling in the 4th.

Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +7Was missing in the first half, but as he showed in the fourth quarter he can still get hot at any time. Kind of reminds me of the old adage shooters who miss, just keep shooting until they hit. Giving him an extra mark just for taking a charge with the Raps up 16.

Dwane Casey
The win ties Lenny Wilkins for second most in Raptor history (113). Now he’ll set his sights on Sam Michell who ranks first with 156.It’s hard to fault him for the Raptors defensive lapses because as always he is on the sideline screaming at them to pick it up. Gets a higher than average score for playing Valanciunas extended minutes and for tying Wilkins with second most wins in Raptors history.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Raptors are now 5-1 at home and 4-1 in their current home stand. Of note: last season Toronto got their eighth win on December 13th.
  2. Raptors still have a tendency to relax against teams they feel they can beat. On more than one occasion tonight they got up by 5 or more points only to relax on the defensive end. This was specifically notable when both Amir and Kyle weren’t in the game which showcases how pivotal they are to the teams’ energy and defense.
  3. Raptors didn’t get a free throw until 2:54 remaining in second quarter. Got 21 in the second half to make up for it.
  4. Utah Jazz have a young athletic team who is playing with a great deal of confidence. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would likely be a playoff team.
  5. Don’t ever underestimate DeMar DeRozan! He is a student of the game and a hard worker so the fact he was looking to pass out of double teams and mix up his offensive variety tells me he’ll do whatever it takes to make the team better.

Let’s face it, the Utah Jazz aren’t generally on most people’s must-watch list, even when they were a good team. Back when Stockton and Malone were pick and rolling their way around the NBA, they were most people’s definition of boring (truth be told, they were actually one of my favourite teams, then). And now that they aren’t winning, no one is lining up to see the team. On Grantland’s annual NBA League Pass rankings, the Jazz came third last (the Raptors came 11th).

That’s not to say there isn’t reason to watch this game. First of all, it’s likely the Raptors will get a win, since they aren’t likely to lose two in a row at home, after losing a tough one against the Bulls Thursday.

The Jazz have some nice, young talent and their future looks fairly bright. Gordon Hayward may not be underpaid, after striking it rich in the offseason, he’s rarely mentioned among the top young players in the league despite his all around talent. This year might change that. Although it’s early, he’s averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding, seems to have regained his shooting touch he had early in his career and is doing his best to earn his paycheque.

Another player who seems to finally be living up to his potential is Derrick Favors (or Favours, when he plays in Canada). The key player coming back to Utah in the Deron Williams trade, Favors improved marginally each year, but never made the leap most expected of him. This year he’s scoring 16.3 ppg on 53% shooting, while still being a force on the defensive end and on the boards.

Enes Kanter has not improved nearly as much as one would have hoped, since the Jazz took him at number three, in 2011 (two spots ahead of Valanciunas), but he’s still a serviceable center who can rebound, defend and score a little bit. And he’s still only 22 years old, so it’s a little early to write him off just yet.

Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas

And then there’s the Australian.

When the Jazz chose Dante Exum with the 5th pick, it certainly wasn’t unexpected, but there were many who pegged Exum as a bust. The entire basketball resume consisted of a Nike Hoop Summit and a few international games, which made a lot of people very uncomfortable about making any judgements on him.

Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose touted him as the next lottery bust.

But then in preseason, he started to turn heads. That’s not to say he’s going to be an All Star anytime soon, and his numbers certainly don’t jump out at you, but he’s definitely got talent. And five years from now, it’s doubtful the Jazz will regret taking him where they did.

The Jazz are sitting at just 4-6, but they are coming off a big win in New York last night. But the Raptors are going to be on a mission after their loss.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Is DeRozan Slumping?

As William Lou already pointed out, we’ve seen a drop in DeRozan’s offensive production, so the question is whether he’s slumping, or team’s are starting to figure him out. In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. DeRozan is a good scorer from inside the arc, but he’s still not a consistent threat from three and his defense still leaves a lot to be desired.

He’ll no doubt figure it out soon and return to his regular production, but until then the Raptors need to make sure they get offensive production from elsewhere.

When Will Casey Unleash Valanciunas?

Jonas hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in a game so far, and is now averaging fewer minutes than in his rookie season. But while his shooting percentage is down, his production is actually career highs in just about every other category. He just can’t stay on the floor.

Valanciunas has struggled defensively, this year, and he’s still got the maddening habit of bringing the offense to a grinding halt when he gets the ball in the post, which makes actually going to him counter productive.

Despite the WInning, Are There Things To Be Concerned About?

The Raptors are in 5th and 6th in Defensive and Offensive Rating, and are tied for first in the East, so does that mean there’s nothing wrong?

Well, no.

Apart from DeRozan’s struggles, the Raptors are right near the bottom of the league in assists, which tends to mean a lot of one on one play. Teams can defend this unless you’ve got a Kobe or LeBron, so improving ball movement should definitely be a priority.

BREAKDOWN

STARTERS

The Jazz actually have a decent starting five but the Raptors could be better at every single position.

Edge: Raptors

BENCH

The Jazz’s bench is very young and very shallow. No contest.

Edge: Raptors

COACHING

The Jazz don’t Tyrone Corbin, anymore, so no matter what, this is a plus over last year. Quin Snyder might be a good coach, but it’s too early to tell.

Edge: Raptors

PREDICTION

The Jazz may give it a run, but are overmatched.

Score: Raptors 105 – Jazz 98

DeRozan’s 3-for-17 performance last night highlighted many worrying trends.

It’s been a trying season for DeMar DeRozan.

Saddled with the responsibility of carrying a team with playoff hopes, DeRozan is struggling to find the tricky balance between being assertive and being stubborn.

Small sample size caveats apply, but his numbers though nine games bare out his troubles. 20.6 points and 8.8 free-throw attempts per game is nice, but they’re underscored by a nasty mix of a career-high 29.4 usage rate with a career-low 50.1 true-shooting percentage. Even more worrisome, his assist rate has dropped back to near career-norms at 13.3, down from 18.9 last season. He’s shooting worse, shooting more, and passing less.

To be fair, it’s very early in the season, and DeRozan has plenty of time to turn his season around.

But some worrying trends are emerging. His trying performance last night against the Bulls — in which he scored 10 points on 17 shots — highlighted many of his struggles this season.

Settling for jumpshots

He is one of the best midrange shooters in the league. I know, he’s an analytical nightmare.

Dwane Casey

DeRozan’s heavy reliance on the midrange game is ultimately his most divisive trait as a player. It’s his bread and butter, and when his shot is falling, his game looks utterly unstoppable. And as noted by Casey, DeRozan is a decent midrange shooter. He regularly shoots over 40 percent on shots between 10-16 feet out, putting him in the company of players like Carmelo Anthony in terms of midrange accuracy.

In the abstract, the shot is fine. DeRozan usually gets decent separation from his defender on his attempts, and it’s an easy play for the Raptors to run. However, DeRozan runs into trouble when he becomes over-reliant on his jumper.

Take the play below, for example. DeRozan receives a hand-off from James Johnson, sets his feet, and pulls up over Jimmy Butler.

Again, the shot is fine. But pay close attention to how Butler is playing the shot. He dares DeRozan into the attempt, being perfectly content in sitting back to guard the drive. It’s all about process — 40 percent on a two-point shot is a good outcome for the defense.

Even more important is the context. The Raptors were trailing by 16 midway through the fourth, and DeRozan had only hit one jumpshot on a dozen attempts up until that point. Settling for semi-contested jumpers early in the shot-clock isn’t the ideal way to revive a team.

It’s all about balance. DeRozan isn’t going to stop shooting midrange shots, nor is anyone suggesting that he abandon his favorite weapon. It’s a matter of him picking his spots. Against the right match-ups, pulling up is fine. But settling for jumpers with the team in a hole isn’t smart.

Put it another way: DeRozan is averaging 7.3 pull-up attempts per game, connecting on 34.8 percent of his attempts thus far. Conversely, Rudy Gay is also pulling up 7.3 times per game, but he’s shooting 39.4 percent. When you’re shooting worse than Gay on jumpshots, it’s time to reevaluate the strategy.

Relying on the whistle

DeRozan’s greatest strength on offense is undeniably his ability to toe the stripe. He is averaging 9.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes played, which ranks fourth among all players this season. The only three players ahead of him are two unstoppable centers in DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, and the Eurostepping, head-whiplashing James Harden. This is a really strong trend.

The endeavor for free-throws is good. Aside from open shots around the basket, free-throws are an extremely efficient result, especially for a good shooter like DeRozan. Drawing contact and going to the line is something DeRozan does well, and something he should continue doing.

However, DeRozan has made a habit of sometimes driving wildly in hopes of the bailout. At times, it works, especially against weaker defenders. But when the whistle doesn’t come, like on the play below, DeRozan has no counter.

Therein lays the struggle with hunting for free-throws. The outcome of being awarded with two free-throws is good, but being solely reliant on the whistle isn’t. DeRozan doesn’t have a second option on the play above. It’s either get fouled, or launch a bad shot. It’s made worse by DeRozan’s incessant complaints to the officials.

Posting up bigger players

DeRozan’s hard work over the summer added a new weapon to his arsenal: the post-up game. He flashed signs of a decent post-up game last season, but he abandoned it after the Rudy Gay trade.

This season, DeRozan has made a point to attack in the post, bearing mixed results. Against smaller defenders, DeRozan has looked solid. Here’s a breakdown I wrote about DeRozan punishing Magic guard Evan Fournier. His footwork is solid and his strength allowed him to back Fournier deep into the paint.

However, against bigger players, DeRozan’s post game amounts to little more than fadeaway jumpers.

Using the fadeaway as a counter is fine. DeRozan gets good elevation and the shot is mostly clean. But ultimately, it’s the same dichotomy with all his midrange shots. Jimmy Butler knows exactly what he’s doing on the play above. He takes away DeRozan’s ability to step through by leaning on his left, and giving him the fadeaway, just like two GIFs prior, when he took away the drive leaving DeRozan with only the jumper.

The trouble is, the fadeaway is DeRozan’s only counter in the post against bigger players. DeRozan either shoots a low percentage shot, or kicks it out to reset the offense. It’s a bad outcome either way. He either needs to develop a more effective counter, or scrap the idea of posting up bigger players altogether.

Defensive negligence

In all fairness, DeRozan has improved significantly on defense through the first six seasons in the NBA. Although he isn’t a lockdown defender by any means, DeRozan has progressed to the point where he isn’t just a defensive sieve.

However, there are occasions where DeRozan takes nights off defensively, mostly in an effort to save energy for offense. That was the case last night.

Here’s DeRozan making a feeble attempt to fight through a screen.

Here’s DeRozan caught slipping while ball watching.

Conserving energy on defense is a fine idea in general, especially because DeRozan is counted upon to shoulder such a heavy burden on offense and in terms of minutes played.

But on nights where the match-up is clearly swung out of favor, DeRozan needs to admit defeat and find ways to contribute otherwise. Getting shut down by Butler is fine — he’s one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. Constantly falling asleep on defense is not.

As a closing note, it’s early in the season, and I’m confident that DeRozan can turn it around. However, there are a few worrisome trends starting to emerge. Hopefully, DeRozan can nip them in the bud, and return to all-star form.

It’s a shame that the Raptors and Bulls had to play the second half last night. Had the game ended at half, this post would have essentially been a James Johnson celebration with .gif after .gif of James Johnson casually eurostepping over and around Doug McDermott to bucket after bucket. Unfortunately for us all, both teams came out for the third quarter, where one team played basketball, and we’re left instead with a second loss in the column and an empty void where that James Johnson love letter would have been.

The Raptors played their first game on national US TV since 2002 last night. Perhaps in an effort to show viewers what they’d been missing in that time, the team seemingly tried to pack in the entire Raptors fan experience over the previous twelve years into that one game. They came out going shot for shot with a championship contending team: the 2014-15 Raptors. In the second quarter, their bench unit went on a surprising and highly entertaining tear by James Johnson and the backup point guard to take them into the half with a 7-point lead: the 2011-12 Toronto Raptors. The team then came out for the third and got slapped in the face in the third quarter, getting trounced at both ends, with DeRozan unable to sink anything and the defense looking as unorganized as it ever has under Dwayne Casey, with strange lineups and substitutions only seeming to make things worse: the 2002-12 Raptors. After curiously keeping most of the starters on the bench until well into the 4th quarter, the Raptors fought back into the game, got hot from 3, locked down on defense and got huge plays from Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson to bring the game to where you started getting excited that they might pull off the comeback, only for them to run out of time and lose a close one: the 2012-14 Raptors. It was an interesting collage of teams on an emotionally draining run down memory lane. Hopefully next time we can just watch the 2014-15 Raptors the entire time; they’re a lot more fun.

 

TAKEAWAYS:

 

DeMar DeRozan

Let’s keep our Toronto sports fan DNA in check for another couple of days if we can and try not to overreact to a second straight bad-shooting night for DeMar. They happen, and they especially happen against Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibideau. Jimmy Butler vs. DeMar DeRozan was billed on TV as the key matchup coming in to the game, and Butler came out the decisive victor in that category. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Butler is really, really good defensively. DeRozan struggled against his size backing him down into the post and trying to create space to shoot over him. Butler is too smart and the Bulls too well coached to give up free throws to DeRozan in the mid range, which is something he is often able to do against other opponents. And the Thibideau defense has always given Toronto’s side attacking offense fits in the paint, where it’s weakside rotations are always able to bring in help to bolster an already waiting Noah or Gibson, who are terrors at the rim on their own. DeRozan couldn’t find any space in the paint and only took 4 free throws all game. It happens. Enes Kanter is not Noah, Quin Snyder is not Coach Thibs and the Utah Jazz, while spry, are very much not this Chicago Bulls team. So keep those overreactions in check and look for DeMar to bounce back against the Jazz on Saturday.

 

Pau Gasol

The stories of Pau Gasol’s demise have been wildly exaggerated. He destroyed us last night. Anyone who watched Gasol in the 2012 Olympics or 2010 finals shouldn’t be surprised. He is a really, really good scorer. If you know any Lakers fans, you might enjoy showing them Pau’s highlights from last night and asking them how they’re enjoying the Carlos Boozer experience in his stead. Mike D’Antoni is starting to look better and better to Lakers fans everyday right now, but as helpful as a comparison to Coach Byron Scott might be for one’s legacy, let’s not forget how dead wrong D’Antoni was about Pau. D’Antoni essentially put Pau out to pasture the last two seasons. Crazy. That guy can still play. Gasol killed us last night on 12 of 19 shooting for 27 points with 3 blocks and 11 boards.

 

The Hansborough & Patterson Defensive Experience

Yikes. I hope Hansborough is OK, after falling hard in the 4th quarter trying to bail out a spectacularly bad defensive possession with one of his patented fouls. But he was as bad as he he’s ever been on the defensive end last night, against a Chicago offence that, while improved (they’ve topped 100 points in every game but one this season) has been well outside the league leaders under the current regime. During the Bulls 3rd quarter surge and early in the 4th quarter, the Bulls badly exposed Hansborough and Patterson while Casey steadfastly sat Valanciunas and rested Amir’s ankle. While rim protection is usually the hole in this pairing, the Bulls exposed them individually. Hansborough got completely out of place on defense repeatedly, and was left scrambling after easy layups like an oddly enthusiastic, forever beardless version of James Harden. Credit to the Bulls for briefly looking like the Spurs over this stretch, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Bulls were running simple movements off of one or two actions with their big men and turning it into uncontested layups at the rim for a big. That can’t happen. Hansborough was sprinting out to the 3 point line to challenge a Joakim Noah 3-pointer that is never going to happen. Two possessions later he left Noah wide open to cut to the rim in an attempt to double team an 18-foot Gibson jumper. There is no reason for any of that. Patterson, for his part, was problematic in the other direction. He was borderline laid back about switching and unconcerned with denying space or the ball. It’s as if he feels like he has to be the unproductive chill ying to Hansborough’s less than helpfully frantic yang. Casey’s face vacillated between anguish and rage whenever the camera would show him during this stretch. It wasn’t enough for him to, you know, make a substitution, but I can guarantee it’s going to come up in practice.

 

Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson has been the glue guy on this team forever. But the difference defensively when he is on the court, and offensively when his ankle is letting him run as he did in the comeback 4th quarter last night is absolutely huge. I dream of a world where a healthy Amir can play a Thibideau-inspired 40 minutes a game.

Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas found himself burdened with a spot on the bench through most of the second half, despite being on pace for a comfortable double-double with 8 points and 8 boards in just 23 minutes. Jonas is so close to putting so many different parts of his game together, but admittedly still not quite there on much of it. One thing that stood out last night was his screening. Jonas approaches the perimeter with enthusiasm—he is more than willing to play his role. But just as he handicaps his post game by hesitating upon catching the ball, he’s similarly hesitant to establish his picks. There may be reasons for this, such as to keep the defender guessing as to which side the screen is coming from, but it isn’t working out. More often than not Valanciunas ends up a full half step behind where his screen should be or find that the wing defender is able to jump around it before he’s even set. Valanciunas is enormous, this shouldn’t be happening. Kyle Lowry has adapted to Valanciunas’ style of screen and used it to dance around for open spot-ups. That can get some open looks, but there is a pot of gold waiting to be found if they can figure out the pick and roll. Marc Gasol is no more limber on his feet than Jonas is, and of similar size, and his screens consume defenders whole. Valanciunas needs to focus on setting firmly into place earlier and ensuring his seal. Right now, he’s losing out on pick and roll opportunities and too often relying on the ball handler to carry him through the play. Valanciunas is scoring on floaters and 4-foot push shots instead of dunks when rolling because he’s allowing both defenders to be an active part of the pick-and-roll defense. It looks as if he understands this; but he’s just a little hesitant or unsure of himself. He’ll get there.

 

James Johnson

James Johnson is our silver lining of the night, going 6 for 6 in the second quarter and completely ruining Doug McDermott’s night. James Johnson has perfectly filled the defense/scoring/aggression void at the forward spot in the roster. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Johnson was an interesting but tempered and inefficient player during his first run with the Raptors, and his subsequent stint in Sacramento, where smart basketball spent the last near decade going to die, didn’t help. Sacramento has, until this season’s start, been a place where interesting and highly redeemable players (see: Patterson, Patrick and Vasquez, Grievis) go to be forgotten in a myriad of chucking, bad defense and worse chemistry. But as anyone slugging out the second half of the season watching the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies on league pass last year can tell you, James Johnson was a wildly underrated part of that team’s dominant post-all star game stretch of play. So far Toronto has gotten the Memphis Johnson and not the Sacramento one. At this rate, if Masai is able to get anyone who’s wasting away on the Sacramento Kings bench, I’m automatically typing him in as a key contributor (I see you Carl Ladry, I see you).

 

To bring things to an end: yes, the Raptors lost. For the most part, it was not an overly well played game either. They got beat. But let’s walk away from this game with this possibly insane and absolutely biased question. Looking at the whole picture and the season so far, am I crazy, or are you completely OK and maybe possibly even happy to have Kyle Lowry instead of Derrick Rose on your team?

The Chicago game clearly showed that we’re not a top tier team in the East yet (let alone the league as a whole) and are solidly second-tier. So what do we need to reach the next level? What’s your solution?

Raptors get reality check vs. Bulls: Arthur | Toronto Star

You prove something every night, but Thursday night was a test. It was the first time the Raptors had a regular season game on national TV in the United States since 2002, in a game where Hakeem Olajuwon was a Raptor, and Patrick Ewing played for Orlando. As someone who was there put it, “oh, it was sad. They were blocking their own shots.” This was a big stage, and the best team Toronto has faced. Before it started, Masai Ujiri looked out at the court and wondered what would happen, what he would learn. Tim Leiweke bounded around like a great puppy, hugging people and laughing. Amir Johnson bounded out of a room saying “Big game, TNT baby, TNT.” It’s a small thing, a Thursday night game, in the grand scheme of the league. For some teams, it’s routine. Not here. And there were no evident nerves, not really. There wasn’t any stage fright. DeMar DeRozan forced some shots, and Greivis Vasquez tried to dunk on the six-foot-10 Nikola Mirotic, but at least those were aspirational mistakes. The officiating let some heavy contact go, but that’s the game. That’s one of the central challenges of Chicago — you have to match their will. “It’s a Chicago team with the toughness and physicality that you’ve got to defeat,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, beforehand. “They added a cerebral winner in Pau Gasol, who’s won championships before. But they’re a team that we compete well against as long as we meet their level of intensity and physicality on both ends of the floor. Everybody talks about defence, but against this team, you’ve got to be physical on offence, and bust through their grabbing and holding and that type of thing.”

Raptors get blitzed in third en route to loss against Bulls | Toronto Sun

Casey spent the better part of the past two days talking about the physical challenge the Bulls presented and how his Raptors would have to match it to have any hope of staying with them. Through the first half, and certainly the fourth quarter, the Raptors did just that but the 35-14 pounding the Bulls put on them in the third settled the matter for all intents and purposes. “You know that is the kind of game you’re going to have against (Chicago) and it’s a hard game to play,” added Casey. “But you have to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps and grinds.” The Raptors actually had a seven-point lead at the half and were feeling pretty good about themselves before the Bulls stole every bit of momentum and then some back in the third. “We let them get in a rhythm,” shooting guard DeMar DeRozan said. “I think we kind of had the game under control until the third. They just came on strong. They got a couple of turnovers and a couple of fouls and that got them going. Before you know it, we are trying to slow them down and play catch-up at the same time.”

Raptors don’t quite belong in NBA’s elite just yet | Sportsnet.ca

So the question – after the Raptors were fairly convincingly dismissed 100-93 despite having a seven-point lead at half time – what does this say about a club that is well on their way to be providing Toronto basketball fans with their best ever November? Are they the guys who failed to meet the dress code? The one’s who got too rowdy and got sent out on their butts? They went down fighting, but you know they would: After trailing by 16 with six minutes left the Raptors cut it to seven with two minutes to play after a stumbling Derrick Rose turnover resulted in a Terrence Ross triple. A Lowry steal and an Amir Johnson dunk cut it to five 20 seconds later and the crowd at the ACC could be heard through the television sets of our great neighbour to the south, but that was a close as they got. But the encouraging ending aside, the truth Friday morning will be that the Raptors couldn’t close the deal on their home floor. Was it because the bright lights crept into their focus as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey feared? Or are the teams inside those ropes simply better, bigger, tougher, more experienced?

Raptors’ DeRozan stymied by Bulls | Toronto Sun

By the end, Butler had hit 7-of-10 for 21 points, including a clutch jumper late, while DeRozan had struggled mightily. When playing against stellar defenders, DeRozan has a tendency to try to fade off of them, often fruitlessly, instead of trying to create for his teammates or looking for second-chance buckets. However, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said afterward that DeRozan missed a lot of shots he would normally make and urged him to keep taking those shots. DeRozan was coming off of a 4-for-15 shooting performance against Orlando, though he had shot well in the previous two games. He said he isn’t worried and knows there will be “nights like this” and added: “If this was two years ago, I’d think it was the end of the world, but we’re only nine games in. I’d rather have (these) games now than later on.” Before this one, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had called DeRozan a “legitimate superstar” and he certainly game-planned against him like he was. Butler forced him into mistakes and shots with an extremely high degree of difficulty, instead of DeRozan forcing the action.

Lewenberg: Raptors schooled by Bulls in early-season test | TSN

In the end, it turned out to be more of a lesson than a test. To compete with the big boys, the elite teams in the NBA – to which Chicago is among – they can’t live like this. You can’t lose focus for even a few minutes, let alone an entire quarter. Leading by seven at intermission, and with the US spotlight focused on them, the Raptors looked like a team out of Chicago’s league in the third quarter. Going into the game they had not scored fewer than 20 points in any single quarter this season. On Thursday, the Bulls bested them 35-14 in the third, effectively ending the game 12 minutes before it became official. “We withstood their punches in the first half but in the third quarter they got us on our heels and we stayed on our heels,” Casey said. “You know that’s the kind of game you’re going to have against them. It’s a hard game to officiate and it’s a hard game to play but you’ve got to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps, the grind. And we didn’t meet that challenge in the third quarter. It’s a four-quarter game and that third quarter did us in.” The Raptors’ offence – crisp in the second frame when they shot 55 per cent – went dormant in the third. Chicago’s trademark physicality forced Toronto out of its comfort zone. They shot just 29 per cent while the Bulls, led by the veteran savvy of Gasol, hit 12 of their 18 attempts from the field.

Simmons: Step forward, step back for Raptors | Toronto Sun

“For me, if want to be acknowledged, you have to win. It’s very very simple. If you’re not a winning team, I don’t care what city you are in, you’re not going to be noticed. If you want to be good, you take this as a regular game, a normal game. I love that the feeling (of excitement) is out there. But if you want to be good, this is what you aspire to be. You aspire to be noticed, to be great, I don’t want to make this (appearance) a high for us.” The Raptors game was on TNT in the U.S. Thursday night. On the broadcast they mentioned the snow. “I knew they would,” said Ujiri. “My wife was in Washington today. It was snowing. I’m not sure what would be mentioned there.” On TNT, Charles Barkley couldn’t help but mention hockey and Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, just to fit in. We are nothing if not a country of sporting cliches. A country that Ujiri has come to embrace. “We’re one team, one country,” he said, part of the WeTheNorth mantra. “We have to continue to grow and grow our fan base. The other stuff, it’s all excuses. It’s snowing, so what? It’s snowing in other cities. We should be appreciated and stand tall for what we are and what we’re doing.

Raptors Learn Lessons (Hopefully) in Loss to the Chicago Bulls | Raptors HQ

“That’s a good experience for us, you know, we coming off the win streak,” Jonas Valanciunas said afterwards. “So that’s good like a cold shower for us.” It was Valanciunas with eight rebounds (four offensive) in the first half. He added eight points but watched again and again as Pau Gasol, who finished with 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting, carved the Raptors’s interior D. Jonas watched the rest of the game from the bench. Cold shower, indeed. James Johnson, the hero of the Orlando game on Tuesday, looked to build on his hero status with 16 points in the game (12 in the first half) on 7-for-9 shooting. Despite a defensive fury exhibited in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, Johnson’s effect seemed to shrink as the game went on. His words of wisdom? “Just move on,” said Johnson. “A lot of shots that we take and make didn’t go in.” A simple lesson.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Losing 100-93 To Chicago | Hoops Addict

Dwane Casey on Pau Gasol’s big game: “One of the things we wanted to do was take the 3-ball out and to a certain extent we were able to do that as they were 4-15. Coming into the game they were one of the top 3-point (shooting) and transition teams in the NBA. We just felt like we were going to make him score and make it as hard on him as we could, but not go into a double team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all of those guys open on the weak side. We went to more traps there in the fourth quarter, but, again, he’s good at what he does and he made it hard on us.”

Bulls Win, But Who Cares. | Blog a Bull

The Bulls went into the half down 7, but they used suffocating defense to hold the Raptors to just 14 points in the third quarter, while racking up 35 points. As a team, Chicago shot 66.7% from the field in the third. They just got seemingly whatever they wanted. Pau was cooking, Dunleavy was hitting from outside, Taj was flushing easy finishes off of smart passes by his teammates. It was all working. This continued up until there were about 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, as the lead peaked at 18 points on this Rose fast break finish.

Derrick Rose Suffers Another Injury in Chicago Bulls’ Win | Pippen Ain’t Easy

The Bulls managed to slow down Toronto during an all-around team effort and eked out a 100-93 victory without their floor general. It took until over four minutes into the second quarter for Rose to score his first field goal, and he only had seven points at the halfway point with Pau Gasol leading the way by scoring 19. The second half was when Chicago truly turned on the jets, though. They outscored the Raptors in the third quarter 35-14, and Rose hit some vintage floaters and layups in the fourth quarter before his injury sent him to the sideline.

Recap: Bulls give Raptors a lesson | Raptors Watch

The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third frame, which is too bad, because they out scored the Bulls 79 – 65 in the other three. “I think we just didn’t play our game from start to finish.” Lowry said. “We played our game in spurts tonight.” The ugly third quarter was one problem, but another problem was Pau Gasol who scored 27 points on 12/19 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. The Raptors just had no answer for Pau. “We were going to try to make it hard on him (Gasol), but not go and double-team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all those guys open on the outside. We went to more of a trap in the fourth quarter but, you know, he is good at what he does. He made it hard on us.” Dwane Casey said.

Gasol Torches Valanciunas And Raptors In 100-93 Bulls Win | Pro Bball Report

However, the Raptors would have trouble blaming the referees for this loss as too much of the damage was either self-inflicted or handed to them by Gasol in the paint. The veteran big man looked like he had found the fountain of youth in this contest as he posted 27 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The Raptors came out flat offensively in the third quarter, let their 7 point first half lead quickly slip away and then let the Bulls finish the period on a 10-0 run for an 80-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Gasol continued his dominance over Valanciunas and sent him to the bench in less than 5 minutes for all but 11 seconds the rest of the way. For some unknown reason after Johnson carried the offense for the Raptors in the second quarter, Toronto didn’t go back to him in the third and fourth quarters and he only scored 2 more points on 3 attempts. Johnson did add 3 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks for a very solid line of 16 points on 7-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks in 24.3 minutes, but it looked like he could have done more if given the chance.

One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan « NBA.com | Hang Time Blog with Sekou Smith

Last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in shots (both made and attempted) in the restricted area. But they also ranked sixth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), getting to the line 31 times for every 100 shots from the field. That (and shooting those free throws at the league’s fifth highest percentage) helped them rank ninth in offensive efficiency. “There’s a knack by our guys to get in the mid-range area and get fouled,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in the preseason.

How good are the Toronto Raptors? | SBNation.com

The problem with Toronto’s drive-at-all-costs offensive approach is that it doesn’t lend itself to great fluidity. Toronto doesn’t have many players adept at setting others up for shots. Lowry, as brilliant as he is, leans toward the shoot-first spectrum among point guards. DeRozan has improved his reads, but he, like Williams, is a scorer. Vasquez fits the profile, but has become more shot-happy since coming to Toronto. Terrence Ross is a spot-up player without much vision. All this explains why Toronto is in the bottom half of the league in passes per game for the second straight year and trending downward. Toronto was 17th in total passes and 22nd in assist opportunities last year; they’re down to 21st and 29th in those categories, respectively, this season. This is the flip side to being a low-turnover team: fewer passes means fewer chances to throw errant passes, but it also means fewer passes. This isn’t a fatal flaw in the regular season, but it could hurt them come playoff time when teams lock in on top offensive options. The Nets provided a blueprint for opponents in last year’s playoffs, shutting off DeRozan’s easy passing reads on post ups and forcing Lowry to create offense for himself.

Bulls’ Noah rips into media at ACC | Toronto Sun

“You don’t come back to the injuries that he’s come back from without (caring). I’m just watching the power that you guys have,” Noah said. “You guys (the media) can really just portray somebody as something that he’s not. Because I know how much he cares about this game. I see it every day. We’re all in this together. This is not a one-man team. “I know sometimes it’s frustrating he gets injured. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world. That’s so f—— lame to me. Relax. He’s coming back from two crazy surgeries … everybody needs to chill the f—- out. I’m sorry for cursing, I’m passionate. I don’t like to see him down, he doesn’t say that he’s down. I don’t like people portraying him and judging him because it’s not fair to him.” Rose had declined to apologize at shootaround on Thursday morning when asked if he could understand why some people have questioned his commitment to the Bulls and his teammates. He responded, “no, but I could care less. “Really I was just being myself. As long as I’m being myself, that’s the only person I can be.

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Paul Gasol dominates the Raptors as the Bulls make a statement at the ACC.


Chicago Bulls 100 FinalRecap | Box Score 93 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 5-7 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -6Other than a momentary third quarter offensive resurgence, didn’t do much. Forget checking Gasol, he couldn’t even get the weakside rebounds available to him, and appeared to be firmly rooted to the ground in every situation where, perhaps, jumping might help. He was on the floor as a center when the Raptors made a small but ultimately fruitless run, during which he looked far more engaged.

Terrence Ross, SF 32 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +1I can’t point to a single positive quality other than making the occasional open jumper, and you have to be disappointed in the overall impact he’s having on the game. 3-and-D? How about just sticking with Mike Dunleavy, and when he did try to close-out, he did it in a way which would make Jose Calderon shake his head. Right now he doesn’t deserve to start, his three-shot foul on Dunleavy with the Raptors down 5 and the clock ticking down sealed our fate.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -11Strong to start the game and got weaker as the game progressed, which coincided with Gasol getting stronger. Got benched in the second half, somewhat unfairly, cementing my feelings that he’s become the coach’s favorite whipping boy. He was one of the few bigs actively fighting for rebounds but defensively, eaten alive by the much more experienced, Gasol, who has a variety of moves to get his shot on the rim in 1v1 situations. But that’s as much on the coach as anyone.  I could not understand why he got benched in the second half, given he was the only big man able to rebound in traffic.

Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 8-19 FG | 1-3 FT | 8 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -3Needed to take the game over in the third when things went south, and instead deferred. Rose got past him a few times in the first half, and Lowry had a few good moments of his own, but overall, as the best player on the Raptors, he was missing in that crucial third. Sensed the Bulls stepping off the pedal in the fourth and propelled the team to a late comeback. I thought he had a chance to attack the wobbly Rose much more often than he did, and force the Chicago defense to come out and not just camp out for easy rebounds.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 3-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -2Shot the Raptors out of the game in the third. On the weekly pod I mentioned that this game was going to come down to how he would handle Jimmy Butler, and that was a big part of the game. He got shut down again by a lengthy wing (remember DeMarre Carroll) who pressures his dribbling with constant reaches, forces him further out than he likes, and is quick enough to stay with him. Didn’t have enough catch-and-shoots or hand-off plays and was reduced to a jump shooter, and a poor one at that. The defense sucked, too. I’m actually quite OK with him trying out his jumper as long as the shots are clean. But when they’re not going in and the opposition is feeding off of your misses, it’s time to drive.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Came in, got injured after falling on his back and left. At least while he was in there he tried to get rebounds, which already gives him an above-average grade.

James Johnson, PF 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -1Very energetic first half where he pressure up top causing turnovers and scoring, played excellent one-on-one defense, and played very intelligent offense by schooling rookie, Doug McDermott, and even chewing up Butler in the block (DeRozan, take note, that’s how it’s done). Unfortunately, his coach iced him in the third quarter and he didn’t see the floor until three minutes left in the third, by which time the game was out of hand.
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Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -7Victim of extremely poor court spacing, meaning guys like Dunleavy, Butler, and Hinrich were always available to cover his potential looks, and the guy doesn’t have a back-down game where he can take guys who are checking him outside, inside. He had one meaningful shot, a three in the second quarter when Gasol didn’t come out. Other than that, useless on offense and impotent on defense, the latter of which I forgive since Gasol had already warmed up by the time Patterson had his shot on him. Also, got stripped twice under the rim on plays he should’ve scored on.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 7 PTS | +2Completely irresponsible. Had a brief stretch in the second where the bench shined, mostly thanks to James Johnson. The rest of his night was filled with bad passes, lazy defense, and poor decisions. The no-look pass pass he threw behind his head right under the basket was converted to a three-point play on the break, which might be the silliest play of the night.

Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -9Good second quarter stint, but by the time Casey called on him in the second half, the game was out of hand and all he could do at that point was start jacking up shots. He did, and he missed.

Lucas Nogueira, C Has not entered game MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS |
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Dwane Casey
No plan to tackle Gasol, who continued to abuse every Raptors big with nary a help defender in sight. Iced our best player on the night, James Johnson, in the third during which time the Bulls took complete control. Couldn’t figure out what the court balance should be, resulting in the Bulls dominating the boards. It’s almost like he had no plan, or at least a poorly communicated plan, for the Bulls’ interior strength.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third quarter. Some stats from that frame:Points in the Paint: Bulls 16, Raptors 8
    Second Chance Points: Bulls 4, Raptors 0
    Fastbreak Points: Bulls 6, Raptors 0
    Rebounds: Bulls 12, Raptors 8
    Assists: Bulls 8, Raptors 3It was the quarter from hell
  2. The rebounding has been a major issue all season which has been masked by maintaining a positive turnover ratio and shooting a high percentage, but when you come across a team that’s actually rotating out to shooters and pressuring the ball, the number of possessions become a much greater factor.
  3. This crazy notion of playing small against a big Bulls lineup didn’t compute. I get that you want to play “your” game, but not when it comes to rebounding. The Raptors were doing well with Valanciunas in there fighting for rebounds, all we needed to do was send some help against Gasol to contain him. Instead, we tried to bring Gasol out by playing a lineup featuring Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson, which just meant Noah and Gasol/Gibson would be able to control the paint. Once we started missing jumpers from the outside (the potential advantage of going small), it all back-fired.
  4. The Raptors did supply some excellent pressure defense in the fourth quarter to get back in the game down 5. I realize you can’t play 48 minutes like that, but we really need to see much more of that, especially since we have the personnel that are suited to that kind of play.
  5. A loss isn’t the end of the world. The Bulls have what the Raptors don’t: experience. That’ll come with time, and these games, if nothing else, are a learning experience for both the players and the coach. The Raptors didn’t quit in this game which is very important, they fought back and perhaps if the game was 5 minutes longer, would’ve won. What’s important now is the response. After the Miami game, it was great. Let’s do that again.

The Raptors enter tonight’s game versus the Chicago Bulls as top dog in the East, tied for best overall record, unbeaten at home and the longest active win streak in the NBA. Many attribute Toronto’s early season success to their consistency of personnel and ease of schedule. While constancy does lend itself to a short hand on court, perhaps the greater x-factor is the much improved second unit who has coined themselves The White Squad.

 
Chicago arrives with an extra day of rest and the law of averages would seem to favor the Bulls since the Raptors have won 5-straight. Regardless of the victor, the game will offer an initial idea of how Toronto stacks up against a team favored by many to represent the East in June. As much as I join those excited to see how our starting-5 measures up against the Bulls, it’s actually the benches I’m most eager to compare.

 

A busy summer of free agent movement included the much touted arrival of center Pau Gasol to Chicago and given their leap in offensive ranking his addition is delivering on its intention. Raptor General Manger: Masai Ujiri, added two key players that didn’t receive nearly the same hype, but are paying dividends similar to the major trade of 2013.

 

Lou Williams appears to be returning to the form he displayed three years ago when he won the Sixth Man Award and has gelled quickly in his scoring role with the team. Williams never fully recognized his potential in Atlanta owing to an ACL injury. Now, 18 months later Williams more closely resembles the player he was in Philadelphia. Veteran leadership is a commodity every team values, but few teams have 10-year vets who haven’t reached their prime on the payroll. Williams joins Amir Johnson as the second such vet 28-years old and under.

James Johnson slam 2

James Johnson is proving to be the key defensive cog the Raptors longed for last May with his ability to guard virtually any opponent or position. The older and wiser Johnson is showcasing a new maturity and acceptance of the role Coach Duane Casey envisioned for him in his first stint in Toronto. On more than one occasion this season Johnson has been the best player on the court and his energy off the bench has sparked the team in a manner only Kyle Lowry consistently demonstrates.

 

 

Less than a tenth of the way into the season the Raptors have already established some early trends:

  • Scored 100 points in all 8-games ranking first in the NBA with an average of 107.00 PPG.
  • Get to the line 33.4 times per game (2nd in NBA)
  • Taking care of the ball averaging 11.4 turn over’s per game (3rd in NBA)
  • Conversely the Raptors force their opponent into the third most turnovers with 18.6 per game.

While these stats are exciting there are arguably two other factors which highlight why Toronto has gotten off to such a hot start:

  • In review of the top ten ranked offenses and defenses only 2-teams appear in the top ten of both: Toronto and Houston. The Rockets rank first in defense and eighth in offense for a net ranking of first overall. The Raptors rank seventh in defense and third in offense for a net ranking of second overall.
  • In seven of their eight games the Raptors’ bench has outscored their opponent. The lone game this didn’t occur was versus Washington when Coach Randy Wittman elected to rest his starters and play his bench extended minutes.

 

We often don’t know the full ceiling of a team until a quarter or half way into the season because new additions need time to adjust to systems and teammates. Since the Raptors new players form almost half the bench it stresses how impressive the above fact is. Certainly there are still kinks to be worked out as Greivis Vasquez is still adjusting to his new line mates and has yet to return to last season’s form.

 
And, while Coach Casey’s use of the hockey type line-up change came under great scrutiny the fact it’s producing these results while simultaneously offering rest for his starters is encouraging.

 
Personally I’m reminded of the 2003 Detroit Pistons bench nicknamed the Alternators who famously utilized the hockey line-up change and dominated opposing benches. Of note, that Piston team resembles the current Raptor squad in that they were extremely deep, but featured no typical franchise star. They surprised many by winning the East and were considered heavy underdogs in the finals facing the Lakers. As we know the Pistons became champions and Chauncey Billups became the first non All Star to win MVP.  Coincidentally Billups has served as a mentor to Kyle Lowry who has firmly taken the captaincy of the Raptors in hand.

 
While a deep bench offers security in the case of injury the other aspect it ensures is it creates a more competitive environment. In Wednesday’s media scrum Casey pointed to Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan’s improvements as being aided by the presence of James Johnson in practice. In fact the nickname The White Squad came about because of the white shirts the bench dons in these sessions.

 
While I await tonight’s heavy weight battle I know a win or a loss won’t signal the inevitable end of season outcome, however it will for the moment offer an initial gauge for the Raptors to build upon.

 

 

For those of you wondering how the team is feeling regarding this blistering start perhaps it was best described by another of the key bench contributors: Patrick Patterson. Following Tuesday’s win, Rod Black asked “How does 7-1 sound?” Patterson’s response: “Should be 8-0, but 7-1 sounds good.
Enjoy the game and check back here for the Quick React immediately following the game.

This is the big one: win or lose, how the Raptors play against the Bulls tonight will either validate their hot-start, or add fuel to the fire of spite from those claiming 7-1 because of poor competition…if only life were that simple, right? The reality is that Raptors handled business against weaker teams in a gifted start to the season. What we also saw in those games was that even though they were playing lesser teams, they were still playing NBA level talent, and displayed a ton of grit when things weren’t going smoothly. You have to appreciate if nothing else.

Regardless of outcome, the expectation is that they don’t rollover and let the Bulls walk over them, that they put a full four-quarters of effort, so that jokes like this aren’t told anymore…funny as they are…

This Bulls team has a lot of its own ifs as well. If Rose and Noah are healthy, if Gasol plays like it was 6 years ago, if Butler can be that second shot maker they so desperately need, if Thibs can draw up an offensive play that is inspired…in spite of all those ifs, this Bulls team has started 6-2 while Rose and Noah missing a handful of the games to injury. Concerned? You should be. Insurmountable? Nope.

Both teams have dominant point guards. Both teams have elite wings. Both teams have a big-mobile front court. Both teams are deep. Both teams are confident heading into this game. The stage is set for a solid game between two well-matched teams. Must watch national TV.

To get a sense of this Bulls team, Jason Patt from Blog a Bull lent a hand with some questions:

Sam Holako: He’s missed a couple games, but Rose has looked good early; what’s been your assessment of him?

Jason Patt: The fact that there has been Rose drama this early in the season is disappointing, but when he actually has played, he has looked much like his old self. We can throw the Bucks game out because he wasn’t close to 100 percent and probably shouldn’t have played in that game. Otherwise, he has been aggressive and explosive, and his presence is felt on both ends of the court.

Rose is currently on a minutes limit to preserve his body, so his individual numbers don’t look all that impressive. (17.5 and 5.8 on 45.3% shooting) However, he’s putting up 22.9 and 7.5 per 36 and the Bulls have been absolutely dominant when he is on the court. In the 110 minutes he has played, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.

Rose’s full arsenal has been on display, including his array of floaters and crazy drives to the rim. The only real complaint about his offense is some questionable shot selection, as he’s taking nearly five threes a game despite making just 31.6 percent of them. Less PUJITS, please.

While most think of Rose has an offensive guy, he has made great strides on the defensive end. Heading into Monday’s game against the Pistons, Rose’s opponent counterpart PER was 6.1, according to 82games.com. Kyle Lowry will provide one hell of a test and that matchup should be fun to watch.

Sam: So as someone who took a risk on Rose in fantasy, is this early drama soreness from lack of playing the last two years, or something to be more concerned about?

Jason: First off, I took Rose in fantasy, too, so I feel your pain. I think what’s going on with Rose is basically just a new mindset he has, as evidenced by his quotes today. He’s not going to gut things out in the regular season if he’s not feeling right because he’s thinking long term. Not great for fantasy peeps for sure, but hoping it’s great for the Bulls’ championship hopes. The fact that he sprained BOTH his ankles at the same time is somewhat odd, but hoping it was more flukey than anything after landing on somebody’s foot.

Sam: So lets assume that he and Noah stay healthy, Gasol continues his beast mode, and Butler continues his early audition for the all-star game; can this team win it all this year?

Jason: If they stay healthy, the Bulls can absolutely win it all this year. They have star power, depth and the ability to be elite on both sides of the ball. Some of the kinks are still being worked out with Rose, Noah and the newcomers, but there’s some serious potential here. If things go right, they’re more balanced than the team that went to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and may be the favorites because of the Cavs’ weak defense.

The growth of Butler is huge. The Bulls have been looking for a legit second shot creator alongside Rose going back to when he was the MVP, and Butler might be that guy. Butler has always been able to get to the line at a solid rate, but he has improved his playmaking abilities off the bounce and his jumper looks improved after really struggling last year. If the Bulls can rely on Butler to create offense when the going gets tough down the stretch, that’ll be huge for their championship chances. I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet, and that elite wing D will be super helpful against the likes of LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan.

Sam: Klay’s assertion that he’s the best two-way shooting guard in the league clearly isn’t a forgone conclusion. So I noticed you mentioned they are favourite against the Cavs weak defense, but nothing about the Raptors…I will forgive you, but how do you match-up with us after a handful of games under our belts?

Jason: When I was writing that, I actually thought about including the Raptors in there. Heading into the season, I figured they were in that second tier, and while I ultimately think it’ll end up that way, they’re certainly making the case to join that elite tier in the East.

I haven’t had the chance to really watch the Raptors yet, but I know the team is largely the same as last year plus a couple nice additions in Lou Williams and James Johnson.

I do know Kyle Lowry continues to be awesome, and obviously the Lowry vs. Rose match-up is the one to watch. But there are good match-ups all over. The Bulls have a wing defender in Jimmy Butler to match up with DeMar DeRozan. Terrence Ross will have an athletic advantage over Mike Dunleavy, but Dunleavy is a wily vet. The starting frontcourts are both solid, and while Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are the bigger names, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are underrated. Both teams also have quality depth.

When you look at some of the numbers thus far, both teams are quite similar. They’re both near the top in ORtg, with the Raptors a tick more efficient because they don’t turn the ball over. On defense, the Bulls haven’t been quite as good as usual thanks to some struggles on the defensive glass, but they’re still good and the Raptors haven’t really been killing teams with offensive rebounding.

All in all, these are two evenly matched teams at the moment. I think a healthy Bulls team is better in the long run, but both teams should finish in top half of East.

Sam: What can we expect the game-plan to be tonight?

Jason: Rose always seems to rise to the challenge when playing other top point guards, so I would imagine he’ll look to be super aggressive against Lowry and try and get him in some foul trouble. Lowry means so much to the Raptors, so getting him out early would be helpful.

The Bulls have also looked to Pau a lot on offense, and I’m sure that’ll continue, although how he’s used could depend on who’s guarding him. I would think Jonas because of size and length? If that’s case maybe we see Pau on perimeter more and have Noah try and use his size advantage on Amir.

The Bulls have also been a much improved three-point shooting team this year, so watch out for that on drive-and-kicks, passes out of the post and a few bad threes that Rose will likely take.

Defensively, Rose and Butler will be counted on to shut down Lowry and DeRozan, and the bigs will try and replicate the rebounding performance from the other night when they out-rebounded the Pistons. The Bulls will ICE the crap out or PnR, so there likely won’t be many good three-point looks available, but there should be plenty of mid-range open.

I know the Raptors don’t turn the ball over much, but they gotta watch out for Butler in passing lanes. He seemingly gets a couple steals a game by aggressively playing those lanes.

Sam: There was some rumbling in the summer linking Taj with the Raptors; can you see the Bulls trading him in an effort to improve given Pau’s addition, and what would you want in return?

Jason: Even with the addition of Pau, I can’t see the Bulls trading Gibson. He has improved so much over the past few years and is very important to the what the Bulls like to do defensively. While Noah and Gasol are the starters, Gibson will still see plenty of minutes and will likely close some games depending on match-ups. Noah and Gasol also have a history with injuries, so having Gibson around is great insurance in case one or both miss time.

IF the Bulls even thought about trading Gibson, they’d likely seek some wing help. If we’re talking about a deal with the Raptors, DeRozan would obviously be the guy the Bulls would like to get, but I’m assuming that’s simply out of the question. So then you move to a talented young player in Ross, who would be intriguing. I personally wouldn’t make that trade (there would also have to be another player involved to make money work), but that’s the kind of deal I think would make some sense if they were shopping Gibson around.

Key Match-ups

Point Guard

Rose has already missed four games for a myriad of reasons, but has been aggressive when in the lineup. Lowry needs to attack him and keep him on his heels from the tip. Much like Rose, Lowry has a history of rising to the challenge; the key here will be for him to fight Rose off while creating for others in the flow of the offense. In the second unit, Vasquez will have his hands full with the speedy Brooks and wily Hinrich, but meh, I’m not so worried.

Shooting Guard

This needs to be stressed since he’s more than just a defensive presence: DeRozan will have to make do with chasing him around the court on defense, after be hounded defensively himself by Butler. I like DeRozan in this match-up with his ability to get the line, but it feels like this will be more of a wash in terms of advantage. The bulls can dress Hinrich at the two and give the Raptors something to think about with two ball handlers, but that doesn’t really strike fear into my heart either. I like Hinrich, but am surprised the dude is still playing.

Small Forward

Ross has shown flashes so far this season, but nothing resembling consistency which is exactly what can be expected from Dunleavy. Dude is taller, and can shoot over Ross, but will have to deal with him off the bounce which may not work out well for him. Johnson can be expected to step in and provide suffocating defense and the occasional brick from behind the arc, but he deserves it. While it feels like the Raptors have the edge here, i’m not convinced it’s enough to sway the game one way or another.

Front Court

Lets just lump PF an C into one big category and be a bit worried. Replacing Boozer with Gasol has been tremendous. Adding Mirotic, who could be starting, has been tremendous. Having the luxury of Gibson, who is very much like Amir, is tremendous. Lets not forget Noah. Probably the best front court in the league, and a major reason for their early season success. Amir is not 100%, so we will see a rotating door of rotation in an effort to find what works. Expect to see 2Pat and Stiemsma get extended run.

Bench

Both teams are deep, and both benches have come through in a major way so far this season. I like the Raptors on the wing a bit more, but the Bulls might have clawed some of that advantage back in the front court

Prediction

It’s nice to have stakes so early in the season, a measuring stick if you will. The Raptors have had the easier schedule, but have shown quite a bit of grit and determination; attributes that are KEY to a winning team. The Bulls have dealt with their own injury problems, but still stand at 6-2, a game behind. The fear here is that the Raptors wont come swinging out of the tip, and expect to grind their way back in the 4th quarter, which would be a bad idea. It feels like this is a game against well matched opponents, who both need to make an early statement to each other. This has the makings of a great game. The gamblers have the Raptors as 2.5 point favourites, in a low scoring affair with an over/under of 196.5, which means this is a wash with the Raptors hosting. I expect this game to come down to the wire, and be a close, defensive affair. Lowry with the game-winner; Raptors by 2.

This week on Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry take a look at the red hot Raptors. With the team doing well, the guys look at ways to keep the good times rolling. It’s a good time to be a Raptors fan!

They discuss:

-Retro Jerseys, Camo Jerseys, Sleeves on Jerseys.

-Other people starting to notice the Raptors in a big way.

-Confidence and is too much a bad thing.

-The Terrence Ross revival and a possible connection to Lisa Ann.

-After whistle goaltending habits.

-Players and their Instagram activity.

They also talk about Dirk, Kobe and their respective milestones. The Chuck Hayes Minute and more.

Thanks for listening and enjoy!

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (28:25, 27 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors face Bulls in meeting between best of the East | Toronto Sun

The new-look squad has not needed much time to gel, rocketing out to a 6-2 start and looking far more potent than usual offensively. Rose, playing in four of the eight contests after suiting up just 49 times over the past three seasons, has averaged 17.5 points and 5.8 assists (Kyle Lowry averages 18 points and 5.8 assists for the sake of comparison), shooting 10% better from the field than he did during his brief, 10-game return last year. Gasol has looked rejuvenated following his shaky finish in Los Angeles, the supporting cast is excellent and Tom Thibodeau remains one of the finest coaches in the game. Not surprisingly, the 7-1 Raptors see this one as a barometer of just how good they really are. “You’ve got to give them credit, to have a player like Rose back and the success they had last year without him. You’ve definitely go to continue to put them up there,” DeMar DeRozan said following practice on Wednesday.

Swirsky: Health key to Raptors’ success | Sportsnet.ca

It’s easy to get carried away in November and December about where you think [a team will end up], but the truth of the matter is it all depends on the health in April, and I’ve been through this with the Raptors many, many times. I went through this with Vince on a couple of occasions. In 2002, coming after the 2001 [Eastern Conference semi-final appearance], and I’m looking at the club and we had just added [Hakeem] Olajuwon, and I thought, “You know what, maybe we can squeeze just one year out of him and get to the Finals and this is worth it.” But it didn’t happen. If the teams [this season] stay healthy in the East I think you’re looking at the Bulls, the Raptors, the Cavaliers, the Heat, and Washington. This thing is going to be so competitive come playoff time that it’s going to depend on, again, health. If everyone’s healthy then I think this thing is wide open.

Raptors-Bulls: Thursday game preview | Toronto Star

This one’s for all the marbles. Well, all the marbles less than an eighth-way through the regular season; Chicago is 6-2 and nipping at the heels of the 7-1 Raptors . . . Rose should play barring any morning mishaps; his sprained ankles were good enough to let him play Monday against Detroit . . . All Gasol has done so far is average about 19 points and 10 rebounds as one of the top free-agent acquisitions anywhere in the league . . . Chicago’s defence isn’t operating at its usual other-worldly level but the Bulls still allow teams to shoot only 42.7 per cent against them, fifth-best in the league . . . Six-foot-10 rookie Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls is a solid stretch four who could cause serious matchup problems for the Raptors.

Raptors will be good barometer for Bulls | DailyHerald.com

The Raptors finished with the same record as the Bulls last season (48-34), so their fast start isn’t a big surprise. The team is well-constructed, beginning with rising star DeMar DeRozan. A college teammate of Taj Gibson at USC, DeRozan is averaging 21.9 points. Point guard Kyle Lowry is off to a good start. There’s another athletic wing in Terrence Ross, and size in the middle with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. The significant new addition is guard Lou Williams, averaging 10.9 points off the bench. Depth became a strength last season when Toronto landed Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade. “They have a really solid 10-man rotation,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Lowry is terrific. I had a chance to be around DeMar DeRozan with Team USA and he’s a legit superstar.”

Lewenberg: Raptors taking advantage of early-season home cooking | TSN

“[We're] all about protecting home court,” stressed Patrick Patterson. “Having the fans out there be behind us 100 per cent is not something we take for granted. Every single night we step out on that court here in Toronto, we want to win, we want to play hard, we want to protect home court and we feel like we have the best home-court advantage in the league. Every night we step out there we want to show the world why.” The Raptors have sold out three of their first five games at the ACC this season and rank seventh in the NBA in average attendance. After losing eight of their first 12 games at home last season, the Raptors became one of the league’s most daunting teams to face in their own arena once Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and company arrived in the trade from Sacramento. Since the start of the 2014 calendar year, Toronto owns a record of 26-7 north of the border. With four games left to go before they hit the road again on Nov. 22 – visiting the Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back – Dwane Casey has stressed maintaining a consistent approach and routine. Hosting games on alternating days, Casey has been holding practice at the same time each afternoon. The same can be said of morning shoot-arounds on game days.

Chicago Bulls (6-2) vs Raptors (7-1): 3 keys to victory | Raptors Rapture

Chicago has significantly rolled over their roster, and highly regarded coach Tom Thibodeau deserves credit for successfully integrating the new faces. He’s done so while welcoming back point guard Derrick Rose, whose last 2 seasons were lost to serious injury. Whether Rose can ever again be the unstoppable scorer he was in his MVP season of ’10-’11 remains an unanswered question, but he’s averaging over 17 points and 5 assists in ’14-’15. If he’s a spent force, you can’t prove it with those numbers. His backcourt mate is Jimmy Butler, who started his career as an energy & defense guy, but is displaying some serious scoring touch these days, averaging over 19 Points Per Game [PPG]. Pau Gasol moved over from the Lakers, and both he and his new team are happy he did. Chicago has had a reputation for years as a team of muckers who win ugly, low-scoring games, but not this year. They rank sixth in PPG at 104, three points behind the league-leading Raps, while still holding opponents under a century. Pau scores and rebounds at a double-double rate. He’s complemented nicely with another veteran gunner, Mike Dunleavy. Joakim Noah jumps centre, and everywhere else. He’s a perpetual motion machine on the boards, a fine passer, and will drive you up a wall when you try to score on him.

Bulls-Raptors Preview | SI.com

The Bulls’ supporting cast has had to step up at times as well with Rose being bothered by two sprained ankles that have limited him to half of the club’s eight games. Chicago (6-2) has gone 3-1 without Rose, but he was in the lineup Monday and scored 24 points in a season-high 32 minutes of a 102-91 win over Detroit. Rose said in an interview this week that his decision to sit out games has to do with thinking of his future and not just this season. He’s been a game-time decision since suffering his ankle injuries against Cleveland on Oct. 31. “Derrick’s a (heck) of a player,” said Joakim Noah, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. “To have your best player on the court, floor general, means a lot. When he’s out on the court, he demands so much attention it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everyone else.”

Dwane Casey Explains How DeMar DeRozan Has Evolved As A Player | Hoops Addict

Dwane Casey raved to the media how DeMar DeRozan has evolved as a player the past few seasons.

Another Rumored Kevin Durant Free Agent Destination: Toronto | SportsGrid

“We all know what a big-time market Toronto is in and of itself, never mind having the whole country, which has become increasingly basketball crazy… I wouldn’t be shocked if Masai [Ujiri] goes really hard at Kevin Durant in a couple of years and gets in the mix. I’m not saying they’re gonna get him but I think he’s unafraid in that way to really pursue the great player and sell them on a situation where there’s pieces around you, you can win here, we can chase championships, you can get all the big endorsements, all the big outside things that you want are available to you here.” Sure, we’re probably reading way too much into this little comment, a comment that doesn’t come from Durant’s camp, or Toronto’s camp, or anyone else’s. But just the idea of Durant in Toronto is exciting. If Durant is going to move on, Toronto’s roster is a great fit for him (a backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with Durant at forward sounds deadly), and the fan base proved this past postseason that they’re arguably the most passionate in the league. It just makes sense. Now, we’re a long way away from Durant’s free agency, and the Raptors will likely join every other team in the league in vying for his services if and when the time comes. But if Washington isn’t a lock to get him, Toronto should be the next team up.

Raptors James Johnson Is Proud of His Passing | Pro Bball Report

“I think the big play for me today was either the throw ahead to Patrick Patterson or when I dropped it to Greivis or when I dropped to Patterson for the three-pointers,” Johnson said. “It changed the momentum of the game.” Those were all big plays and Johnson gave up his own potential run at the rim to drop a pass to Patterson for the uncontested three-pointer that capped an 11-0 run and tied the game at 83 early in the fourth quarter. What is surprising is Johnson had his own huge scoring play late in the game with a big time slam that put the Raptors up 97-95 and that wasn’t the play Johnson wanted to reminisce over. As has been noted before, this isn’t the same Johnson the Raptors saw two years ago. This Johnson knows and accepts his role and he has been excelling because of it.

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With the Raptors playing the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in advance of a highly anticipated showdown on Thursday (nationally televised in the US!) against the Chicago Bulls, every tuned in basketball fan north of the border was thinking “trap game.” The Raps had already beaten the Magic handily earlier in the season, and with the team tops in the NBA at the moment, a win seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

So, too, did me writing a full-fledged recap of this game, until I was pulled into work late last minute (quick tangent: if you value your sanity, DON’T work election campaigns). Instead, with time and words at a premium, you get a running diary (click here for Zarar’s quick reaction). Let’s get down to it.

Pregame

  • Two quick notes here: first off – does anyone out there like these camo uniforms? I realize the significance of them and all (it is Remembrance Day), but good lord almighty are they difficult to take. If you genuinely like these, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
  • Secondly: Rod Black informs the viewers that BRUNO is in the active rotation tonight! Excitement level for this game just went from “meh” to “Mehhh????” Here’s hoping we see a blocked 3 pointer.

1st Quarter

  • 12:00: No surprises in the starting lineup for the Raps. Orlando goes with Payton/Fournier/Harris/Frye/Vucevic, which is long on athleticism and, well, length, but short on defence.
  • 11:00: Lowry with a neat drop-off to T-Ross for an early 3 pointer. I like what’s appeared to be the Raptors’ ongoing strategy of getting him involved in the offence early – he needs it to stay engaged. The team is completely different when he’s hitting out there.
  • 10:10: Jonas goes one on one with Nik Vucevic for the first time. It’s arguably the game’s most intriguing individual matchup. Jonas shanks a dunk attempt but is able to corral the rebound and finish strong.
  • 8:55: I can’t decide if I like Elfrid Payton’s hair, or if it’s just too Sideshow-Bob-ey. Leaning towards the latter.
  • 7:57: Channing Frye cans a 3 – he has 11 of Orlando’s first 13 points, and they have an early 13-9 lead. Match-ups like this are going to be nightmares for Amir, and with the league tending towards shooting bigs, it’s an area that the coaching staff is going to have to work to address. James Johnson, methinks.
  • 6:30: Vucevic with a nice jumper from just outside the painted area, and Jonas tries to answer with the exact same shot on the next possession. Guess how that turned out? Know your limit, play within it, big man.
  • 6:00: We’re into the first commercial break, and the Magic lead 18-14. Early thoughts: the Raptors need to tone down the sloppiness – Terrence Ross, in particular, has missed two breakaway layups, and, for the love of Bruno, will someone please get out on the perimeter and contest a 3?
  • 5:10: We get the tip that Elfrid Payton’s dad was a bit of a CFL legend (second all time in sacks!). Dial is turning a bit more to “like the hair.” What can I say, I’m a sucker for Canadiana.
  • 3:30: Vucevic beats Jonas easliy down the floor for a breakaway dunk, and Evan Fournier scores on the fast-break on the next possession. Casey calls for Hansbrough to try and up the effort level. He’s now checking Vucevic – I have a feeling this won’t end well.
  • 3:10: Hansbrough HACKS Vucevic on what should have been an uncontested dunk (captured in the article photo). Winds up being called a flagrant 1. Casey, you brought this on yourself.
  • 3:10: Vucevic misses both free throws. Hansbrough: “That was my plan all along!”
  • 2:50: We head to commercial break after a Lowry turnover leads to Evan Fournier free throws. So this is where all the turnovers have been hiding. 26-19 Magic. Too early to be worried, but this doesn’t look good so far.
  • 1:00: Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon check into the game, much to the joy of fans of NBA Live ’04.
  • 0:00: A missed DeRozan jumper (he’s 2 of 8 to start the game) ends the quarter. 32-24 Magic. Two big things to look at here: first, Channing Frye is en fuego (he’s 5 of 7 for 13 points), and second, can someone do something about this turnover situation? The Magic are scoring at will in transition, mostly because of sloppy possessions that are giving this athletic Magic team lots of easy looks. Slow it down, take your time, everything will be alright.

2nd Quarter

  • 12:00: The Raps go with their 5 man bench unit to start the second, and, aside from a really scary individual matchup in Hansbrough/Vucevic, I’m happy to see them. These guys do play a lot of iso ball, which should limit the turnovers somewhat. Here’s hoping someone heats up.
  • 10:02: Aaron Gordon is a more hyperactive version of James Johnson. In related news, he might be my new favourite player.
  • 9:30: Vasquez, surprisingly, seems to be the one who has settled things down a bit for the Raptors, driving through the lane to set up a Patterson 3. Seven point game. An in-game graphic says the Raptors only have four turnovers thus far, which seems impossible.
  • 8:45: Lou Williams draws fouls like Bob Ross draws little trees. Dude is a wizard. He heads to the line as we come back from a commercial break. Jonas has replaced Hansbrough, with Casey hoping for a size advantage after Vucevic comes out. He’s guarding Channing Frye on the defensive end, which scares me to no end.
  • 7:26: Frye, mercifully, misses an open 3. James Johnson misses an open layup on the other end. Missed fast break layup count is now at 4 for the Raptors.
  • 6:55: Missed fast break layup count now at 5.
  • 6:20: The Raptors, realizing that it’s 2014, finally start taking the ball at Ben Gordon. James Johnson works him down in the post, which winds up with an Amir Johnson putback. Basketball’s an easy game, sometimes. Magic by 9.
  • 5:14: In case you were wondering whether Lowry still has balls of steel, he just took an Aaron Gordon charge. The size of freaking globes, those things.
  • 4:50: With the starters back in, a DeMar DeRozan jumper brings Orlando’s lead down to 5. Things seem to have settled down a tad, particularly when it comes to the defensive rotations. It helps that Orlando’s outside shooting has cooled off, too.
  • 4:10: Jonas bricks a free throw before making the second. Something about him seems off tonight. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It might just be having to deal with a load like Vucevic in the post, who Orlando is clearly running their offence through.
  • 2:59: Valanciunas gives up an easy rebound to Channing Frye, who pops out and hits an uncontested 3. Dwayne Casey calls a good timeout with the Raptors down 9, but something clearly has to change, here. There’s no fire in this team right now.
  • 2:40: I know Casey’s handcuffed somewhat by the rotation, but it scares me that the answer to “we need more strength on the boards” is apparently “Tyler Hansbrough.”
  • 1:50: Nothing makes me immediately discount a TV drama then when Matt Devlin’s plug ends with “ONLY…. on Bravo.” National TV against the Bulls, this is not.
  • 1:29: DeMar heads back to the locker room early. No reason is given, though I have a feeling it might be simply due to frustration more than anything.
  • 0:31: Kyle Lowry gets called for a carry as he single-handedly tries to pull his team closer before the half (he’s got the last 5 for the Raps). It’s almost surprising to type as I’m sure it is to read. Also, Evan Fournier more points than any Raptor. It’s just been that kind of half.
  • 0:00: The half ends with the Raptors down 60-51, and it honestly could have been more if not for this team’s supernatural ability to continue to get to the line (they’re 11/13 at this point). Not a happy living room right now.
  • 0:00: Bruno is seen heading to the locker room in his warm-ups. Living room’s a bit happier.

Halftime: Assistant Coach Bill Bayno points out the Raptors’ issues with transition defence and a lack of intensity as reasons for the Raptors’ early deficit: “we have a target on our backs, and they came out and punched us in the face.”

First off, let’s take a second to think about how shocking it is that the Raptors can be legitimately described nowadays as a team with a “target on their backs.” After the last decade, that’s nothing short of amazing. To add to Bayno’s comments, it’s clear that the Raps need to do a better job of chasing Orlando shooters off the 3 point line – their traditional-style bigs aren’t doing them any favors, matchup wise – and find a way to generate some open looks. With the long-armed Magic, perhaps it’s a bit of creativity in transition that’s lacking, instead of taking looks-open-oh-shit-it’s-not layups. Also, Bruno.

3rd Quarter

  • 11:40: Evan Fournier twists through the lane for a layup. He’s making mincemeat of Terrence Ross right now – not for a lack of effort, which is concerning.
  • 10:50: Kyle Lowry now has the Raptors’ last 10 points, dating back to the second quarter. You can always count on him to pick the team up when they need him. Let’s see if the rest of the guys follow.
  • 9:00: I will say this for Terrence Ross: even though he’s struggled tonight on defence, his effort level has not wavered at all, and he’s contributing offensively, mostly as a kick-out option. It’s nice to see the maturity coming along.
  • 8:22: Last 3 possessions for Jonas: blocked from behind, misses put-back at the hoop, offensive foul. It’s really not his night.
  • 7:20: “DeRozan with 2 assists tonight… He’s got to… read… how they play him, and look for others at times.” Jack Armstrong informing us that passing the ball is, indeed, a part of basketball.
  • 5:33: 72-62 Magic after a gorgeous turnaround jumper from Vucevic over Amir’s outstretched arms. He hasn’t put a ton of points on the board – he has just 9 – but his hands are all over this game. He’s got 5 assists to this point out of the low post.
  • 4:20: “Honey, who is that homeless person on the floor?” “Oh, that’s just Luke Ridnour.” Good lord, man, get a shave.
  • 3:41: After working the shot clock down to 2, DeMar throws up a contested 3 that is easily blocked. It seems that, apart from Lowry, the rest of the team is still asleep – they’re having a really tough time putting any sustained runs together, and at times they’ve just looked downright lost. Thank God for Lowry, though. Without him, this game would be over already.
  • 2:25: Evan Fournier finally looks human, airballing a 3 and reminding us that, yes, this is indeed Earth.
  • 2:00: Platoon swap out of the break with the Raptors down 9. Two consecutive turnovers to start their second half as a unit. Starting to get legitimately scared this game might slip away.
  • 0:00: Raptors still down 11, 83-72, after 3 quarters. Very little positives to take from the 3rd, besides the fact that Kyle Lowry is absolutely playing his ass off on both ends. It might fall to him to bring the team over the line.

4th Quarter

  • 11:50: A Tyler Hansbrough and-1 is called back for a lack of continuation. I assume the ref had a stroke at actually seeing Hansbrough finish through contact at the rim, because that was a BRUTAL call.
  • 11:00: Eugenie Bouchard outs herself as a Heat fan! I’ll have to have a serious chat with her once we’re happily married 5 years from now.
  • 9:49: We’re tied. It all happened so fast – but an 11-0 run from the Raptors second unit out of the quarter has completely turned the game around. Lou Williams has been the catalyst (man, can get shoot in tight spaces), but it’s been a serious change when it comes to the team’s energy level on defence and out in transition that’s been the difference. The starters had better take these guys out for dinner after the game.
  • 9:45: I’m still stunned about what just happened. Three quarters of bad basketball mitigated by a minute and a half. Man. This Raptors team.
  • 8:45: Greivis Vasquez is such an emotional player, which both helps and hurts him. Running on adrenaline after the Raptor run, he bricks a way too early in the shot clock 3 on one end, and commits a careless foul on the other. Orlando’s back up 3, and he’s 1 of 8 on the night. He’s quickly pulled for Lowry, rightfully so.
  • 7:15: I’ve been hard on Hansbrough, but he’s doing a really credibly job of keeping Vucevic away from the hoop right now. That, along with James Johnson doing James Johnson things, has really changed the look of Orlando’s offence. #AllHustleNoMuscle
  • 6:40: Patrick Patterson hits a huge 3, giving the Raptors the lead, celebrates with the Tiger fist pump/scream combo. Reminds us, once again, that this team really, truly gives a shit. It’s my favourite thing about the Raptors right now.
  • 5:30: Lou Williams draws a charge on Tobias Harris. He is EVERYWHERE right now. His best game as a Raptor, by far.
  • 5:15: Lou Williams brings the missed open layup count to 6. I shouldn’t have said anything. Dammit.
  • 3:50: Williams exits for Terrence Ross after some truly excellent minutes. I was hesitant to start the year, but if he can bring that most nights, count me as firmly on the bandwagon.
  • 3:20: I was about to type out how I wished Casey had kept Williams in the game, but Terrence Ross just nailed a 3 off a DeRozan dish to tie the game at 95. Guess that’s why I’m not an NBA coach. Well, that, and my general lack of basketball knowledge.
  • 2:20: Evan Fournier hits a 3 to give the Magic the lead back after a James Johnson dunk. Rrrr.
  • 2:00: Can I also add: James Johnson is the Lou Williams of the Raptors’ defensive setup. He can, at times, completely change games on that end on his lonesome. This quarter, he’s stood up multiple Magic drives and also blocked Channing Frye in the post.
  • 0:38: James Johnson misses a chance in the lane to put the game away with the Raps up 1. He’s probably not the guy you want taking that shot, despite his defensive excellence.
  • 0:13: Johnson grabs a huge board, his 10th, after an Orlando miss, leading to an intentional foul to stop the clock. Patterson is ultimately fouled and sent to the line.
  • 0:11: Patterson misses the first. Petey, my heart!
  • 0:10: Patterson hits the second. If anyone gets the reference in that last line, post it in the comments. I’ll buy you a beer. No Googling.
  • 0:05: Tobias Harris blows a weird turnaround jumper that would have tied the game. Oh, right. It’s the Magic.
  • 0:00: Ross hits two free throws. 104-100. Ball game. Mood is happy, once again, in the living room.
  • 0:00: No Bruno, though :(. Next time.

Well, there you have it. Three bad quarters, followed by one really good one to close things out, and the Raptors end up with a pretty forgettable victory. The biggest positives to take away from this were the performances of Lowry, Williams, and Johnson, who were outstanding. It also serves as another reminder that this team is never out of games, even when it feels as if they should be by all accounts.

That all said, a win is a win is a win, and regardless of how harrowing it was, the Raptors now stand at 7-1 with a huge matchup against the Bulls looming. I have a feeling that a lack of motivation won’t be an issue there.

Toronto Raptors’ James Johnson is ‘spicy and crazy’ and also good at defence | National Post

“We’re going to win this game. If there’s any other thing on my mind, any doubt in my mind, then I shouldn’t be the one who’s going to guard him,” Johnson said of his mindset. “I’m confident. I like to be in those kinds of situations.” Sure enough, the ball was swung to Harris in the corner, beyond the three-point arc. Johnson did not bite. Harris dribbled to the middle of the floor and faked. Still no bite. Harris rose up for a contested shot, and missed. Ball game. The Raptors won a game they did not deserve to by a score of 104-100. Johnson’s role is narrowly defined. He is there, primarily, for those moments. Even in games in which he does more, like on Tuesday — he had a team-high 10 rebounds in 22 minutes, and operated as the screen man for a few Kyle Lowry pick-and-rolls — your attention is drawn to that aspect of his job. And it’s crucial.

Raptors come back to beat Magic | Toronto Sun

For three quarters the undermanned Magic had the Raptors right where they wanted them. They were moving the ball and finding the open man and draining threes like they were a team of Kyle Korvers. Just when it seemed like the Raptors would finally pay the price for their early indifference with just the second loss in eight games, the Raptors bench arrived to save the night. Led by Lou Williams scoring , who continues to confirm his fourth-quarter credentials, and Patrick Patterson who looked particularly good himself in the fourth, the Raptors finally started seeing some shots drop. The defence, which had been so horrendous through the first half — Orlando had first- and second-quarter totals of 32 and 28 points — started to pick up in the third thanks in large part to Johnson, who had his most impactful game since re-joining the Raptors. Johnson was all over the court, defending his own man and helping when another member of the Magic got a step on one of his teammates. He also took over the rebounding duties almost single-handedly, finishing with a game-high 10 despite just 21 minutes of court time. Normally his contributions aren’t quite as obvious, but on this night there was no missing Johnson.

Raptors steal one from Magic at ACC | Toronto Star

Finally giving the Raptors a defensive presence, and sealing off Tobias Harris on the game’s pivotal possession, Johnson helped spark a shocking fourth-quarter comeback as Toronto beat the Orlando Magic 104-100 for its fifth straight home victory. Johnson had just six points but he grinded out an outstanding fourth quarter as Toronto out-scored the Magic 32-17 in the final 12 minutes to get to a franchise-best 7-1 on the season. “Spicy to me is a guy who is always going crazy, doing some stuff,” Vasquez said of Johnson. “But I’ll tell you this man, he reminds me a lot of Tony Allen when I was in Memphis. You need someone crazy in the locker room. He’s not afraid to fight for you or anything like that. He’ll die for the whole team, including you guys.” With the starters mainly shabby — Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas were entirely ineffective and DeMar DeRozan struggled through a tough night, getting hammered at every turn — it was up to the Raptor bench to salvage the night.

Lewenberg: Unheralded Johnson fuels Raptors comeback over Magic | TSN

When the second unit takes on the starters in the practice, the five reserves always wear white. The bench group embraces the competition. Individually they each know they could start on many teams around the league. Collectively they know they can give the starters a good run. “White Squad always gets it done,” Johnson boasted. “Pat celebrates by yelling ‘White Squad.’ And we all chime in with it.” On Tuesday, that unit changed the game. With all five reserves on the floor, Toronto opened the final quarter on an 11-0 run to erase the deficit and pull even with the Magic. Patterson scored nine of his 12 points in the frame, Lou Williams eight of his 14, giving the Raptors the spark the needed offensively. But Johnson was the unsung hero with his defence and rebounding.

Raptors Declare “We the Fourth” in Comeback Win Over Magic | Raptors HQ

“Our resiliency, never back down, never surrender, no matter what the deficit is,” said Patrick Patterson, whose 12 points (on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-for-3 from three), were crucial for the Raptors comeback. “We’re always going to fight hard, we’re always going to battle.” Patterson wasn’t the sole architect of the Raptors fourth quarter surge. Lou Williams exploded in the second half with 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, all in 15 minutes. He carried the team until Kyle Lowry could come in and deliver his usual heady, angry play. In 36 minutes, Lowry put in 19 points (while shooting 50 percent from the field, and humiliating Luke Ridnour a few times) to go with six rebounds and seven assists. But the key, as Patterson confirmed, was getting stops. And for that, the hero for the Raptors was none other than James Johnson. “He was huge, he was really huge,” said Coach Dwane Casey. “I thought he came in and gave us a disposition, a presence defensively.”

Raptors 104, Magic 100: Toronto’s bench ends Orlando’s upset hopes | Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Orlando Magic dropped their second straight contest Tuesday, 104-100, to the Toronto Raptors, squandering a lead they took in the first quarter and built to as much as 11 on several occasions. Toronto’s second unit went on an 11-0 run against Orlando’s reserves in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, tying the score and setting the table for its starters to take command. Orlando got 23 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists from Tobias Harris and another 18 points, with five three-pointers, from Channing Frye in Frye’s best performance since joining the club as a free agent in July. But the Raptors’ hot start to the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the game.

Orlando Magic collapse in fourth quarter and lose to Toronto Raptors 104-100 | Orlando Sentinel

In July, the Magic attempted to sign Patterson when Patterson was a restricted free agent. Orlando executives sought Patterson because of the long-range shooting he can provide from the power-forward spot, and Patterson displayed that skill Tuesday night, sinking all three of the 3-pointers he attempted. One of those treys provided the ninth, 10th and 11th points of Toronto’s fourth-quarter run and tied the score 83-83 with 9:50 to play. Vaughn immediately subbed Fournier, Harris and Vucevic back into the game for Aaron Gordon, Ben Gordon and Harkless. But the damage had been done.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Orlando 104-100 | Hoops Addict

Dwane Casey: “We can’t be annoyed when teams come out and give us their best shot.”Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross appear to be in a battle to see who has the flashiest kicks. Both players had bright neon kicks in their lockers.Speaking of kicks, you probably can’t tell on TV that Vasquez takes a Sharpie to his shoes and writes motivational stuff on ‘em. Pretty cool, though.

Five-Star Review: You can’t stop the Toronto Raptors – CBSSports.com

Toronto let Magic big man Channing Frye get entirely too open too many times to start the game, and he piled up 16 points by halftime, making four of his five 3-point attempts. The Raptors entered the fourth quarter trailing by 11, then scored the first 11 points of the period en route to a 104-100 win. Orlando deserves credit for competing, moving the ball and finding good shots for Frye and Tobias Harris — who had a 23-13-5, by the way — but Toronto is too talented to keep messing around. At least in Toronto head coach Dwane Casey’s eyes. “Where we want to go as a team, we can’t be playing like that,” Casey said, indicating that his post-game speech to his team probably wasn’t positive. This was later confirmed. “[You] probably would have thought we lost,” guard Lou Williams said. “But he’s our coach. He expects a high standard from us. He expects us to play at a high level. And tonight was no different — he didn’t feel like we played a great game; he let us know it.”

Post Game: Toronto Raptors escape with big W over Magic | Raptors Cage

It will not bode well if the Raptors take 3 quarters off against tougher teams. It was simply a matter of intensity tonight, and when the Raptors needed to really turn it on defensively, they did. Sure, there were some calls that didn’t go there way, and the Magic hit some incredible shots, but for the most part, the Raptors defense sucked until the fourth quarter. If they played with that 4th quarter intensity to start the game, the result would have been similar to the past two contests against Washington and Philadelphia. Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Channing Frye, and Nikola Vucevic combined for 84 points. I don’t know what it was, but the Magic kept making the extra pass and finding these guys open. The Magic shot 48% from three – pretty indicative of how the night went.

Recap: Raptors fight back to beat Magic | Raptors Watch

The Raptors were having the same struggles they had in Miami before they nearly came back and won that game (somehow): Lack of ball movement and bad defense. They pressed onward though, and when the fourth quarter rolled around, the Raptors were a different animal. Led by Patterson and Lou Williams (who had a combined 17 points to start the fourth quarter), the Raptors went on an 11-0 run and erased Orlando’s 11-point lead in two minutes. Two minutes was all it took for the 11-point cushion to vanish.

Raptors Teach Magic Fourth Quarter Lessons in 104-100 Win | Pro Bball Report

DeMar DeRozan had a rough night, shooting 4-15 from the field and scoring 16 points. Kyle Lowry did his best to hold the starting unit together as he scored 19 points on 16 shots and collected 6 rebounds and 7 dimes. Terrence Ross had a nice shooting night, hitting 4 three-pointers and scoring 17 points. However, the accolades in this game belong to the second unit. Lou Williams was huge, scoring 14 points in 15.6 minutes. Patrick Patterson played big minutes because of his defense and was 3-3 from deep and 4-5 from the field for 12 points. James Johnson was all over the place, dishing to open teammates, playing defense, grabbing 10 boards and slamming home a go ahead dunk with less than 3 minutes left in the game.

B.S. Report: Zach Lowe – Raptors Talk at 41min

Grantland’s Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons take a look at the problems with the L.A. Clippers, marvel at Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, and ask whether the Raptors could make the Finals.

Finding Perfect Rotation for the Toronto Raptors | Bleacher Report

The second unit, which was considered a weakness last season after averaging the fourth-fewest points (26.1, per Hoopsstats.com) in the NBA, has stepped up in a major way. The additions of Lou Williams (10.9 points) and James Johnson (6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds) are a huge reason why it now ranks fifth in points (36.0, after seven games) and eighth in efficiency (40.0). While several members of the bench have experience as starters earlier in their careers, the players understand their roles and why it’s important to remain sharp.

Scott Stinson: Believe the standings, the Raptors are no fluke | canada.com

More significantly, the Raptors know that the hot start is not indicative of a team that is playing flawless basketball. Tuesday’s game was a perfect capsule of what has occasionally plagued them this year: they allowed the Magic to rain three-pointers — they hit 12 on 25 attempts — and were trailing by nine points at both the half and three-quarter marks. Stiff defence in the end and typically brilliant play from Kyle Lowry in the fourth allowed the Raptors to escape with a 104-100 victory and push their record to 7-1. “We are making a lot of mistakes at both ends of the floor, but the good thing is, we are finding a way to win, which is progress for us,” said Casey. “Last year, two years ago, we would have kicked those games in a heartbeat. But our guys have developed and learned how to find a way … to get on to the good end of the scoreboard.”

Five early overachieving teams in NBA season | Comcast SportsNet

The Raptors were expected to be among the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but they are looking to do more than just that. Kyle Lowry continues to display the kind of leadership this franchise has never had, not even during Vince Carter’s glory days. And the role players on this team are not only talented, but they have the pain of losing in the first round last season as added incentive to play at the highest of levels, all the time. But what really separates them from a lot of teams here in the early going, is how they have been able to impact the game at both ends of the floor. Toronto’s averaging more than 107 points per game this season which is tops in the NBA. Defensively, they’re just as tough as they were a year ago. They are limiting foes to 95.9 points which is positions them eighth in the league in scoring defense.

Toronto Raptors: Masai Ujiri to Target Kevin Durant in Free Agency | Tip of the Tower

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, general manager Masai Ujiri will be doing everything within his power to make this dream become a reality. The Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports NBA Insider was making an appearance on a Tuesday segment of TSN Drive with Dave Naylor: “I wouldn’t be shocked if Masai goes really hard at Kevin Durant in a couple of years and gets in the mix. “I’m not saying they’re going to get him, but I think he’s unafraid in that way to pursue the really great player and sell them on the situation…You can win here, chase championships and have all the big endorsements and outside things available to you. I think that’s a big part of Masai’s plan.”

I can haz yo linkz??!? [email protected]

After the game tonight against the Magic, Greivis Vasquez compared James Johnson to former teammate, Tony Allen.  Vasquez played with Allen his rookie season in Memphis, when he featured in 71 games, playing 12 minutes:

“Everybody knows he’s a little crazy,” Vasquez said. “But personally, I love his craziness. Should’ve gave him a couple ISOs today. I’m just playing, don’t let Casey know that.” Vasquez was then asked to expand on what he meant when he referred to Johnson as “spicy.”

“Spicy, to me,” Vasquez began, as everybody’s ears perked up, “is a guy that is always just in his own lane, going crazy, doing his own stuff. But I tell you this, man: he reminds me a lot of Tony Allen when I was in Memphis. You need somebody crazy in a locker room. He’s not afraid to fight for you or anything like that. He’ll die for the whole team.”

When Johnson, who also played with Allen in Memphis, was prompted for a response, he was pleased”

“I’ll take that all day,” Johnson said. “I love Tony Allen. I got the chance to play with him last year and I learned a lot from him. I’m just trying to bring it over here and carry it over here.”

Johnson was instrumental in the Raptors comeback.  He had 6 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal, in 22 minutes of playing time.  He was also a game-high +13 against the Magic, a game in which the Raptors lost three quarters but managed to outscore Orlando 32-17 in the fourth.  Johnson also defended the seemingly unstoppable Tobias Harris in single coverage on the final play, forcing the swingman into a contested shot.   Read the Quick Reaction for more.

You also might recall Tony Allen being discussed in the Raptors lockerroom indirectly when Rudy Gay referred to DeRozan as the best shooting guard he’d played with.

With the Raptors up two, they were called upon to defend a Magic offense that was shooting at 48% clip and was 12/25 from three. Here’s the full play with analysis right after:

Direct Link

No pressure on the inbounder: Casey didn’t risk the inbounder (Channing Frye) finding a way to a shooting position after receiving the ball back after the pass.

Sticking to perimeter shooters: DeRozan sticks to Frye – notice that he didn’t even help on the drive by Harris for the shot. No help is provided from Lowry either on the Harris drive. Earlier in the game the Raptors were getting burned with their guards helping, on this play they stuck with their checks. Same is true for Ross.

No switch: Johnson and Patterson did not switch, Johnson did very well fighting through the somewhat mediocre screen and getting into a face-up defending position against Harris. At this point in the play, the odds are already in the Raptors favor given that Magic have not gained any advantage thus far. In the case a switch had happened, no doubt the ball would’ve been dumped to Vucevic for a post-up against the smaller Johnson.

Patterson does not come out: Patterson was tempated to help on Harris driving, but trusted Johnson to come into position and defend the play. If Patterson had helped, a pass to Vucevic would’ve been a layup.

Patterson boxout: In the case the switch did not happen (which it didn’t), the Magic plan was to crash the offensive boards and Patterson’s box-out on Vucevic is supreme.

Raptors rub one out against the Magic despite playing horribly.


Orlando Magic 100 Final

Recap | Box Score

104 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -5Trash game. On his heels all night and slow-footed on rotations, both interior and ones on the perimeter covering Channing Frye. Maybe the Raptors were better off giving him the night off because he hurt them out there. Got benched thankfully.  Did run the hi-lo on this play with JV which the Raptors should do much more of.

Terrence Ross, SF 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | -2Hit his threes including a huge one in the fourth, but just not enough for me. Defensively missing for long stretches, wasn’t able to contain Fournier, and seems to be drifting on offense, not attacking and only waiting to be setup. There needs to be a target set for him in terms of getting to the line, because he’s way too passive and isn’t slashing enough. It may sound harsh given his offensive game, but I really expect a little more in areas other than shooting from him.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 20 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | -9Basic rules to follow: don’t bring the ball down. Ever. Don’t switch off on defensive boards. Expect a pass when you’re open in the paint. Read the scouting report for the guy you’re guarding. He was absolutely awful on defense against Vujevic and in help situations. The only saving grace was a couple in-traffic rebounds, but even that was offset by missing chippies.

Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 8-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 7 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +1Turned it on when it counted, again. I felt like, if he wanted, he could’ve scored when he wished but chose to pick his spots against Ridnour and Payton. The latter’s length caused some slight issues, but his hard drive forward, stopping on a dime, and then pivoting for a pass or shot is quite unstoppable. His charges are becoming invaluable, and without him nipping those Orlando runs, this could’ve been an insurmountable lead heading into the fourth.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 4-15 FG | 8-9 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -3Too many low-percentage jumpers and was in the refs’ face too much about them. He did keep the offense ticking in the first half but the refs soon caught on to the fact that he was, first and foremost, looking for the foul. Got absolutely eaten alive by Tobias Harris, who he was too light for on both ends. Did hit two big FTs late in the game and one thing you have to admire is that he’s zoned in for 48. He may not do the right thing every time, but I do appreciate him trying to push through when adversity hits instead of drifting off.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9Was brought in for Valanciunas after his early struggles but didn’t exactly make much of a difference. Not his type of game, what with the Magic running the break every chance, working outside-in and swinging the ball on the perimeter. He did try to take out Vucevic which I appreciate.

James Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +13Another strong game off the bench, missed a couple gimmes, but set good picks, passed up tempting looks which were undoubtedly bad shots, and supplied some measure of perimeter defense against the Orlando bigs who were running rampant against Johnson and Valanciunas. Great defense against Harris on the final play. This guy is a revelation.

Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 4-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +9Hit a couple big shots, especially the one early in the fourth that signalled the Raptors comeback. It’s encouraging to see his shot return, but much like the rest of the team, his defense was inadequate. Gambling for steals in post-up situations with no help behind you is a very bad idea. Still, though, him and James Johnson were the most effective Raptors frontcourt combo for the game, so there’s that. Missed a FT late, but made up for it with a blockout on Vujevic on the last Magic possession.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 1-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +4Horrible shot selection, that three with 21 ticks left on final possession of the quarter has to be the dumbest thing he’s ever done. Defensively, he didn’t just try. I can’t count how many times he gave up on the screen ‘n roll. The Magic guard were just way too nimble for him.

Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +3Awesome. Huge lift off the bench in that late third, early fourth. The jumpers were going in on the pull-up fades, hit a huge three-pointer, and most of all for me, quelled the Orlando wing threat by playing the passing lanes, getting a steal, and disrupting their flow. What a trade!

Dwane Casey
Couldn’t get the team to wake up for this one, which pisses me off. Didn’t really plan for Frye, because he was getting wide open looks, and probably should’ve switched to the smaller Johnson/Patterson front court earlier. But at least he did switch. I don’t know whether the Raptors coverage was a coaching or execution issue, but I do know that he didn’t have the team up for this game.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Three-point defense was not there. Magic shot 48%, Frye had clean looks all night, and not until the fourth quarter were the adjustments made. This is dangerous living, and even with JV and Amir in there, the effort should’ve been better. I found too many players were switched off to start the game which scares me.
  2. Lou Williams and James Johnson are providing a major boost off the bench. The later is active and playing intelligent basketball, and the former is finding his offense just when the Raptors need him. The Magic were running on made FGs in the first half and absolutely ramming it down the channels and the Raptors were struggling to cope. Johnson and Patterson helped cope with that in the second half.That all-bench lineup Casey plays isn’t looking too shabby, despite defying common logic.
  3. The Raptors bench outscored the Magic 36-14 – they bailed the starters out. DeRozan was being blanketed by Harris, JV was just off, Johnson was non-existent, meaning guys like Patterson became even more critical.
  4. Once again, taking care of the ball with only 12 turnovers offset the lack of assists (only 16) and overcame the often one-on-one play. This isn’t a recipe to succeed, but at least it’s holding us over while we find our feet in this early season.
  5. Ugly win, probably didn’t deserve it since Magic won three quarters. But hey, I’ll take it. We’re 7-1, heading into a statement game at home against the Bulls who have Derrick Rose back. That too, on TNT. Bring it on.

A solid listen via TSN Toronto 1050 with Dave Naylor and Bruce Arthur. Woj even goes on to call the Raptors “the sleeping giant in the NBA”. That’s a BIG statement.

When the Orlando Magic were on the verge of losing their second All NBA center to free agency in less than 20 years, the Magic decided to take matters into their own hands and trade him instead of risking losing him for nothing. Rarely do teams trading away a superstar end up “winning” the deal, but with Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala bolting their new teams after only a year, that’s exactly what happened with Orlando.

The big prize for Magic was Nikola Vucevic, a young 7-footer with rebounding and scoring skills who had shown a lot of promise in Philadelphia.

Fast forward 2+ years and Vucevic has blossomed into possibly the best true center in the Eastern Conference, leading the Magic in scoring and second in the league in rebounding. He’s also become a nifty passer. If Vucevic doesn’t make the All Star team this year, it would only be due to the Magic’s poor record and certainly not his play.

In fact, against the Raptors in their first meeting, Vucevic hurt them whenever he was on the court with his inside play and ability to hit the outside jumper. In just 33 minutes, before fouling out, Vucevic scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, many of those in traffic.

While Orlando is just a couple of years into their rebuild and still a year or two away from being a playoff team, they aren’t without their talent. Although much of it is young and inexperienced.

Casual NBA fans will probably look at the Magic roster and wonder who the hell these guys are, but players like Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Maurice Harkless are young with lots of potential. and anyone who watched the first game saw Dewayne Dedmon, an undrafted 7-footer who has played on three NBA teams in two years, as well as having a stint in the D-League, look like a monster, blocking 4 shots, grabbing 4 rebounds and scoring 6 points in just 16 minutes of play. In fact, in only 9 minutes per game, Dedmon is averaging 1.2 blocks per game.

Plus, the Magic have a few veterans, in Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour and Channing Frye.

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While their record is only 2-5, the Magic are not only a team with promise, but an entertaining one to watch. And a lot of that has to do with rookie Elfrid Payton, who I profiled before the draft. While the two weaknesses he displayed before the draft, shooting and turnovers, have continued in the NBA, he’s the second most important player on this team, behind Vucevic. Despite being a rookie, he’s shown himself to be an absolute pest on defense and has the makings of an excellent floor general.

It’s the other first round pick that is a little more of a puzzle. Aaron Gordon became one of the biggest prizes in the draft with his athleticism, work ethic, high basketball IQ and underrated skills, so when he became the fourth pick in the draft, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t seem to have figured out quite what to do with Gordon, giving him inconsistent minutes and no identifiable role. He has the makings of a Kenneth Faried-type energy player, but with better defense and a better jumpshot.

Of course, Gordon won’t have much of an impact, yet, and not against the Raptors tonight.

The Raptors are on the other end of the scale than the Magic. They’re currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 record and the biggest point differential in the league. They have a top ten offense AND top ten defense. That’s not to say the Raptors can take the night off, however.

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In the last game against Orlando, the Magic stayed with the Raptors until the final few minutes. As mentioned earlier, they had their hands full with Vucevic and despite Valanciunas making more progress this season, Vucevic had his way with Valanciunas in their first game. Jonas needs to faceguard Vucevic when the ball goes up and keep him off the boards at any cost. He also needs to guard him tighter on the perimeter. Vucevic shoots more than 50% from the field outside of 16 feet, where he shoots more than a quarter of his shots. Jonas tends to be tentative when defending that far away from the basket, so that’s something the Raptors are going to have to keep an eye on.

On the other end, the Raptors have to go to Valanciunas in the post to try and draw fouls and get Vucevic out of the game. Vucevic’s defense has improved, and Valanciunas only shot 2-8 from the field, in the last game, but getting Vucevic in foul trouble should be the main goal.

The other thing to look out for is three point shooting. While the Raptors have one of the better defenses in the league, they still struggle to contain opponents’ three point shooting, and Orlando is one of the league’s better three point shooters. A lot of the Raptors’ struggles, in this area, has to do with the help-style defense the Raptors play, collapsing on opponents’ drives to the basket and inside play. If Vucevic comes up big again and causes the Raptors problems, it might leave the Orlando shooters open.

While the Raptors are unbeaten at home and should win again tonight, it could end up being a close game.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS

What’s Up With Valanciunas?

A lot was expected of Valanciunas this year. Now in his third season, a noticeably stronger Valanciunas had worked hard all summer to take a bigger role this season, especially on offense, but so far his production has dipped over last season and he’s still showing the same tendency to bring the offense to a halt when he’s got the ball in the post. He’s only reached double digits once, in rebounds and he’s actually playing fewer minutes than he did last season.

Expecting a big game against Vucevic is probably asking too much, but we need to see more from him.

What Happened to the Three Point Shooting?

Last year, the Raptors were one of the better three point shooting teams in the league. This year, they are below average and the only Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson are hitting consistently from beyond the arc. Lowry, a career .349 shooter, is only hitting .269. DeRozan still hasn’t learned to shoot consistently from three. Vasquez is shooting a career low from three and Lou Williams doesn’t seem to have regained his shooting form he had pre-injury.

When Will Aaron Gordon Be Unleashed?

As mentioned above, Gordon hasn’t quite found a consistent role on the Magic, but he’s actually producing very well in limited minutes. If he can gain the trust of Coach Vaughn and get more minutes, Gordon could be one of the more entertaining and impactful players in the East.

BREAKDOWN

STARTERS

The Raptors have more talent. Period. While they don’t have an All NBA talent, they have two potential All Stars, one of the better role players in the game, in Amir Johnson, and a potentially great big man, in Valanciunas. Plus, Ross is showing himself to be a very good three-and-D guy.

The Magic have some good players, but they are young and mistake prone.

Edge: Raptors

BENCH

The Raptors have one of the deepest teams in the league and while Orlando has some talent off the bench, in Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour and potentially Aaron Gordon, they’re simply no match for the Raptors’ bench.

Edge: Raptors

COACHING

Dwayne Casey may not be one of the best coaches in the league, but he’s one of the better ones. Jacque Vaughn, on the other hand, might be out of a job before the All Star break.

Edge: Raptors

PREDICTION

I don’t think it will be as close as the game in Orlando, but it should be entertaining.

Score: Raptors 110 – Magic 94

Toronto Raptors atop the Eastern Conference ahead of Orlando Magic game | National Post

There is ample reason for optimism, though. The Raptors are third in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating. They have shot the second most free throws in the league, and their starting lineup has outscored opponents by an absurd 46 points in just 63 minutes — the best raw total in the league. In playing the likes of Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia and the undermanned Thunder, the Raptors have had a soft schedule so far. However, despite DeRozan’s protestations, it might indeed mean something. “If you’re leading early on, I think that just breeds confidence,” guard Lou Williams said. “Especially with a young group of guys that set a goal that they want to be good, they want to be at the top of the East, they want to be one of those teams that’s talked about.”

Raptors second unit is pushing starters | Toronto Sun

You can bet that Terrence Ross got up 500 shots last week and stepped up his game considerably because he knows full well that James Johnson has been giving the team strong minutes behind him. The depth has also helped when injuries have struck. Patrick Patterson has come in for Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough and the other big men have helped spell Jonas Valanciunas and Johnson. Hansbrough has been far more effective this season and his offensive advanced stats are stellar. Dwane Casey is enjoying the options his front office has provided. “James (Johnson) has played his role very well, as a defensive player (guarding) multiple positions,” Casey said. The coach says Johnson’s ability to guard every position but centre has allowed him to be more creative and to use Vasquez and fellow guard Lou Williams at times alongside Kyle Lowry in a three-guard lineup.

Toronto Raptors’ early ascent feels real: Arthur | Toronto Star

That being said, the Raptors are 6-1, tied with Houston and Memphis for the league’s best record, with the best point differential in the NBA, before you take the Sixers exchange rate into account. The Raptors are in first place. Everyone be cool. “It don’t mean nothing right now, honestly,” says DeMar DeRozan, who is scoring more per minute than he has in his NBA career. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re seven games in, honestly, we know we have a lot more to improve on.” “We’re still working on a lot of stuff, trying to figure out what we are, trying to figure out our identity,” said coach Dwane Casey, who only had to introduce two new offensive sets this season. It’s early, he kept saying. It’s early. “You going to tell me San Antonio, look at their record right now, you going to tell me they’re not going to be in the money?” Yes, this is true. There is so far to go. But let’s hold onto this moment for a second, OK?

Weekly Rap: Scary-good Raps can improve further | Sportsnet.ca

he Raptors current seven-game homestand features three games worth circling on the calendar. The first resulted in a 103-84 win over the Washington Wizards on Friday night, while the second and third are Toronto’s upcoming dates with the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors will have no problems getting revved up to play those marquee matchups, but before those two games they host the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz—teams that, on paper, the Raptors should handle. Will Toronto be able to fight human nature and stay focused on the task at hand against the Magic and Jazz?

Lowry’s Best Assists to Raptors Come Off the Court | Basketball Insiders

Lowry embraced the position as the Raptors’ social planner to help build chemistry. He organizes team events such as trips to the bowling alley and the movies. When the Raptors play against the 76ers in his hometown of Philadelphia, he invites the entire squad to his house the evening before the game. Forget about hotel room service, the Lowry family delivers five-star treatment. “We have a nice big home-cooked dinner,” Terrence Ross said. “His wife and his mom cook for us. It’s good, too. He brings his barber in … He’s got pool tables, video games, we watch the games there. We’ll get to Philly around 6:00, get to his house around 9:00, won’t leave until 11:00. It’s fun being at his house.” For as many group events as Lowry plans, he also develops one-on-one relationships with his teammates. Just as he formed bonds with veterans when he was a young player, he does the same with those starting their careers.

NBA MVP Watch: Who Are the Early Favorites? | numberFire

Number four might be the unlikeliest of our five candidates to actually win the award when all is said and done. Nonetheless, Lowry has really emerged as a star in this league. He’s a hidden gem north of the border, but he’s really come out this year as a man on a mission to put Toronto right back into the playoff mix. Now that he’s getting paid like a top guard, Lowry is proving himself worth every penny. Through seven games, he’s our fourth ranked player with a nERD of 18.5. Lowry’s the main reason his team sits pretty at 6-1. He possesses a 29.6% share of his team’s total nERD of 62.5. As the “King of the North” and leader of the Raps, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowry is in and out of our top five throughout the season.

Raptors’ Lowry becoming a star | Philly.com

He produced consecutive eye-dropping performances this past week against two of the NBA’s elite point guards: the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo (35 points, including a key steal late in the game) and the Washington Wizards’ John Wall (triple-double, his Raptors-record fourth). “I think he’s a stud,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the muscular 6-foot-1, 204-pounder. “He’s a bowling ball. He’s a pit bull. . . . He’s grown on me.”

Raptors should be thanking Steve Nash | Toronto Sun

Lowry averaged over 29 minutes a game in his first season with the Raptors and last year started 79 games while setting career highs in minutes (36.2), points (17.9), assists (7.4), rebounds (4.7) and three point field goal percentage (38%). This past summer, he signed a four-year deal, reportedly worth $48 million and is one of the key components on what is considered one of the best young teams in the NBA. “I really thought Steve was the kind of guy that could have helped and taught Kyle some things. But Kyle’s a bulldog,” said Colangelo. “He’s an type A personality, I’m really glad to see the coach (Dwane Casey) letting him go a little bit and allowing him to express some of that freedom out on the court. And he answers the bell.” Colangelo said when the Raptors traded for Lowry they projected him to become a top-10 point guard in the NBA, in the hopes that he could eventually push that to top 5. Turns out, he is nearing that status now and along with DeMar DeRozan gives the Raptors one of the best guard tandems in the league.

Raptors proving teams can win without losing – Sportsnet.ca

Adam Silver owes Masai Ujiri a thank-you letter. He should accompany it with a hefty donation to the Toronto Raptors general manager’s Giants of Africa Foundation. And while he’s at it he should arrive at James Dolan’s door with some flowers and a vintage guitar for the wannabe rock-and-roller and owner of the New York Knicks.

DeMar DeRozan is gratified to see the growth of college teammate Nik Vucevic | Orlando Sentinel

Vucevic always has been impressed with DeRozan’s game. Last season, DeRozan earned his first All-Star selection and helped the Raptors win the Atlantic Division title. This past summer, he played for Team USA when it won the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Meanwhile, DeRozan and the Raptors continue to improve. DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, is averaging 22.7 points per game. Toronto, which is off to a 6-1 start, will enter Tuesday night’s matchup against Orlando with the best record in the Eastern Conference. “You always want to see people that you know well do well,” Vucevic says. “DeMar is a guy that I was pretty close with in college. We were in the same class. We were both freshmen. He really improved his game a lot, and I’m very happy for him. He’s a guy that works really hard and spends a lot of time in the gym. It’s really great. I’m happy for him.”

Toronto Raptors’ Lou Williams’ ability to draw fouls both a science and an art | National Post

“Shot fakes? I don’t pump fake,” Williams said after Sunday’s victory, in which he scored 16 points in 18 minutes. “Nah, I just create contact.” Williams’ methodology is a little different than we are used to in Toronto. He does not have the series of moves and counter-moves that DeRozan has, nor the head-down, just-try-to-stop-me approach that Lowry uses. Williams’ ability to draw fouls is as much both art and science. It is effective. Statistics from John Schuhmann at NBA.com show DeRozan was sixth in the league last year in free throws attempted per field goal attempted in the restricted area — a quick way to determine a player’s ability to get fouled in non-traditional spots on the floor. (Atlanta’s brilliant Kyle Korver was first). Williams was eighth in the same category.

Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors: Tuesday NBA game preview | Toronto Star

Magic are still without promising young guard Victor Oladipo, out with a facial fracture. . . . Orlando comes in off a loss in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon despite 27 points and 12 rebounds from Vucevic, who is turning into an excellent young centre. . . . Mississauga’s Andrew Nicholson has fallen far out of favour in Orlando, a Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision in four straight games. . . . Orlando’s two wins have come on a Tobias Harris buzzer-beater over Philadelphia and in overtime against Minnesota. . . . To commemorate Remembrance Day, the Raptors will wear camouflage jerseys, with a twist. They will be the short-sleeved T-shirt-style jerseys in camouflages so they’ll be even more hidden. . . . The Raptors have never started a season with five straight home wins. . . . Toronto has won eight in a row over the Magic, including earlier this season in Orlando.

NBA.con Power Rankings – Raptors Come in at #4

Toronto (6-1) Pace: 97.1 (10), OffRtg: 109.4 (3), DefRtg: 99.9 (7), NetRtg: +9.5 (3) With no Bradley Beal, we didn’t get an answer on the better-backcourt question, but the Raptors’ easy win over the Wizards on Friday was a good way to start a seven-game homestand. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been consistently good, but Terrence Ross’ 3-point shooting (8-for-13 over the weekend) is more noteworthy.

Armstrong: Five quick thoughts on Raptors, Olynyk, and more | TSN

Team off to best start in franchise history at 6-1. Think back to the dark days of the 4-19 start during the 2012-13 season and how far they’ve come. From that point on, his teams have gone 84-64 and that includes a 6-12 start last year. Nice to finally have a good start this time around. Bottom line, the Organization has stayed patient with Coach Casey and they’ve been rewarded for it. Lots of work still to do and ground to cover with 75 games to play yet it’s nice to briefly reflect on how far they’ve come. Leadership has had a lot to do with it. Coaching does matter a whole lot and Casey has paid his dues and deserved a second chance after the plug was pulled way too early on him in Minnesota. Good things happening for a good guy.

BALLnROLL – Jonas Valanciunas Is The Centre of Attention

“The attention is not taking my humbleness,” Valanciunas responds when we ask him about the added focus on him going into this season. “I haven’t proved that I’m the best centre in the league, so I have a lot of things to do.” That response would more than likely be reiterated by Raptors coach Dwane Casey, a guy who isn’t short on praise for his big man when he performs, but someone who also isn’t shy about doling out criticism and restricting minutes when he slips up. Last season Casey kept his centre on a relatively short leash—Valanciunas has a tendency to get into foul trouble and Casey has shown a reluctance to let him play through early fouls. He’s also had issues defending the pick-n-roll during his early going in the league and Casey, a defensive-minded disciplinarian, has let the media know when he’s been unhappy with Valanciunas’ defence.

NBA Preview – Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors | CBSSports.com

As they look to extend the best start in team history, the Raptors will try to open 5-0 in Toronto for the first time in 11 years as they continue a seven-game homestand against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night. Toronto (6-1) is averaging an NBA-best 107.4 points after shooting a season-high 56.6 percent in Sunday’s 120-88 home win over Philadelphia. The Raptors moved alone atop the conference for the first time in their 20-year history. “They are one of the best teams in the East right now,” 76ers guard Tony Wroten said. DeMar DeRozan needs 21 points to pass Andrea Bargnani for third on the Raptors’ all-time list. He hit 8 of 12 from the field and all eight free-throw attempts against the 76ers for 24 points.

Magic-Raptors Preview | FOX Sports

“It feels good to start good like this,” center Jonas Valanciunas said. “We’ve got to do this every game.” Toronto, seeking its best home start since going 5-0 in 2003, faces an Orlando team that has scored 90.3 per game while dropping three of four on the road. The Magic (2-5) have also averaged 90.0 points during an eight-game losing streak to Toronto and have reached 100 four times while going 2-29 in their last 31 on the road. Both road wins in that span have come against the woeful 76ers on Feb. 26 and on Wednesday. The Magic were outrebounded 45-31 in a 104-96 loss at Brooklyn on Sunday as they failed to win a third straight. The Raptors held a 50-40 rebounding edge in a 108-95 win at Orlando on Nov. 1. ”A lot of times, rebounding is position, your early work,” coach Jacque Vaughn said Sunday. “I think we can continue to address that and take care of that.”

Photo Credit: Casey Campbell

I can haz yo linkz???!? [email protected]

Alot of criticism of Casey’s substitutions and rotations so far this season. So much that we’re curious to know what the fans think of it? If ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Or is there still an area of improvement Casey can make at this point?

The Raptors are tied for the best record in the NBA.

They possess the third-best offence in the league at 109.4 points per 100 possessions and have leaped up to seventh in defence at 99.9 points per 100 possessions against. They are best in the NBA at taking care of the ball, they are second-best at getting to the line (using free throw attempt rate as a metric) and their club’s starting five has the fifth-best plus-minus rating in the NBA (for what it’s worth, their five-man bench unit is sixth-best).

It’s tempting to dismiss all of this since we’re only beginning the third week of the season, but that would be overly cynical in this context. Any NBA observer worth his or her salt knows that a seven-game stretch hardly represents a large enough chunk of a season to draw meaningful conclusions from, and if we were talking about a team with a history opening seasons like this I’d be quick to dismiss it — but we’re not. What these Raptors are doing is unprecedented in their history. They are tied for the best record in the NBA. If you’ve been suffering through most of the last 20 years of Raptors basketball, you know that’s worth something.

Expectations can do funny things to teams. The Raptors have fallen victim to the pressures of expectations many times before. Usually they spend summers after successful seasons overplaying their hand — and overextending their resources — trying to prove they belong by importing expensive new talent. The pressure to make it all work has, historically, crumbled the foundation of the team rather than reinforced it. So to watch a Raptors team, coming off of one of their most successful seasons ever, jump out of the starting gates on the way to a 6-1 record is meaningful, even if it has only been two weeks.

When the club was struggling on defence in that first week, and guys like Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams and Terrence Ross were struggling to make an impact on the court, the team still took care of business and won games. Sure, it was generally against bottom-feeders like Orlando, Boston and the injury-ravaged Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s not like this team has a history of consistently dispatching clubs below them in the standings (Charlotte, anyone?). When teams can struggle and still win games, that’s meaningful, too.

Dwane Casey talks a lot about disposition. He came to Toronto talking about changing the club’s disposition back in 2011. Just about every coach that preceded him said the same stuff with different words, and so really there was no reason to expect that Casey would actually be able to do what he set out to accomplish. It’s hard to articulate exactly how pervasive the malaise that surrounded this team was. Perhaps the best way is to point to the fact that it is only now, in his fifth season with the organization, that can one start to accept the fact that he may have actually succeeded. He made a point of singling-out the focus the team executed with after last night’s thwacking of the Sixers. They are the ultimate cellar dweller in the NBA, but the Raptors got up for them, buried them early and kept them down. They weren’t distracted by Philly’s horrid record or D-League-calibre roster, they came to play and treated them as though they were any other team in the NBA. Disposition.

Now, of course, the club has to do it over a longer period of time. They have to maintain the attacking style that’s seeing them live at the free throw line. They have to ensure that the tight defensive rotations that allowed them to pummel Washington and Philadelphia are a nightly occurrence. They have to continue taking care of the ball, because this team will never be a killer assist team (they just don’t have the passers for that). They have to find a way to improve on the glass, because they are just getting beat there too consistently (they are ranked 18th in the league in allowing offensive boards). They can get away with that against the clubs they’ve been playing but elite teams will obliterate them there. The Raptors also need to start hitting their three-point shots with more consistency. They’re down at 31.5% right now, good for fifth-worst in the league, and that’s going to need to improve because they can’t always count on officials giving them friendly whistles (nor can they expect that team’s won’t adjust to their attacking style) to prop up their offensive attack.

All of that is for the weeks and months to come, though. Right now, the Raptors are tied for the best record in the NBA. They’ve lost only once since the season started back in October and they are in a great position to give themselves an early cushion with this seven-game home stand the league gifted them with. There will be plenty of time then to pick through the minutiae of Valanciunas’ wonky around-the-basket percentages or James Johnson’s impact off of the bench. Right now, the Raptors re tied for the best record in the NBA.

Take time to pause. It’s worth acknowledging.

Huge win, huge dunks, huge grandma glasses.

Game Recap

Toronto demolished Philadelphia by a score of 120-88. DeRozan was awesome. Ross was great. James Johnson ended some random Sixers’ career before Sam Hinkie could end it for him (for a future second-round pick, of course). Hugs and daps all around to the Raptors for not taking their opponents lightly.

The win pushes Toronto into a three-way tie for the league’s best record at 6-1. The lopsidedness of the win also bumped up the Raptors’ plus-minus on the season to +11.3 per game, tops in the league.

There’s not much else to say. Raptors good. Sixers bad.

Thoughts on the Sixers

brett-brown-sixers
Now if you will allow, I want to speak my peace on the Sixers.

You have to hand it to the Sixers. It takes a lot of balls to tank this blatantly. There is a legitimate chance that this team could set a new NBA record for futility, which is ironically already owned by the Sixers.

There’s a sick ingenuity to their plan. Having monopolized the draft through hook and by crook, the Sixers managed to keep their cap clean, and boast a bounty of prospects and picks. They could become anything.

If they wanted to, the Sixers could cash in all at once and rebuild overnight. They lived through the struggle so another team didn’t have to. Say, in a few years, the next Kevin Love or Dwight Howard – whatever disgruntled superstar of the day – becomes available. The Sixers could trade in their blue chippers and get off the schnide. In effect, they are renting out misery for the hope of a better tomorrow.

Or, they could simply hold onto their prospects and cash in. A core of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Michael Carter-Williams and whichever prospect they land next summer would rival that of any other team. They could take the bird in the hand, or the two in the bush. Either way, the future looks bright.

That plan is well and good on paper. It might work, or it might not. Either way, it’s the decision that Sixers ownership and management chose.

But I do want to say a peace for their fanbase, of whom are bearing the full brunt of losing. Whether fans like it or not, the Sixers’ plan is being thrust upon them. Each loss, each fill-in Brandon Davies, each future-for-now-Thaddeus-Young-for-a-middling-pick trade is a bitter pill imposed on the Sixers’ paying customers.

It’s not that the Sixers are unique in their decision to rebuild. Plenty of teams have, and are, employing this very strategy in hopes of a come up. I’m not slagging the Sixers for their choice. It’s probably the best move for their future.

Rather, I’m denouncing the unflinching fashion in which they have chose to employ this strategy. A fanbase and its team are one in the same. They’re supposed to be pulling in the same direction.

But that’s not what the Sixers are doing. They haven’t made a single concession to their fans. Not one. Not one legitimate NBA player signed this offseason. Ticket prices weren’t lowered. Fans don’t even get to watch the fruit bore from last season’s impotence, as Joel Embiid is out for the year with a broken foot and Dario Saric is trapped overseas. Not one concession. The Sixers have the fanbase by the ears, and are willing to drag the fans kicking and screaming to whatever promise land may lay ahead.

Again, I want to reiterate the positives in the Sixers’ plan. Given their situation when Hinkie and a new management group took over, the path beneath their feet is absolutely the correct one. It’s the ruthlessness that I take exception to. Sixers management is dictating to fans when games matter, and when winning matters. That’s fundamentally wrong. Fans, players and coaches decide when games matter, and to have it robbed from them is wrong.

And at the very least, don’t make jokes about the situation. Seriously. Y’all just lost by 32 and your own Twitter account is making jokes? Come on.

Miscellaneous

Terrence Ross and confidence

It’s nice to see Terrence Ross breaking out of late. When he’s engaged in the offense, his defense follows suit. He’s the bridge that takes the Raptors from good to great. When he is confident, his mind is set to attack, rather than his default placidity. Shots like the one below isn’t good in the abstract, but it signals Ross’s confidence, which is so very good for the Raptors.

DeRozan’s hard work paying off

DeRozan’s post-game is really emerging as a legitimate weapon. He can bully smaller guards on the mid-block and create a decent shot whenever he wants. His footwork is much improved, which led to improved balance. The improved balance has allowed DeRozan to more easily generate separation on his fadeaways, allowing him to make plays like this.

Act like we’ve been there

I’m noticing a trend. After every loss, the comment sections flare up, searching for sacrificial lambs. Questions about the team’s long-term success gets called into question. Conversely, after wins, comment sections light up in positivity, the team is hailed as one of the elite in this league, daps all over.

The point isn’t to not react. That’s what we’re supposed to do. I’m a fan like everyone else and we ride on the emotional roller-coaster together.

But we should aspire to the attitude of “act like we’ve been there, even if we haven’t,” because it really does apply. All this success is new to us, and we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not an elite team just yet, nor is the squad fundamentally doomed to fail. It’s early in the season, and as much as we would like to yell and scream, let’s keep perspective. Plenty can change between now and the playoffs. If we’re going to yell and scream after every game, we’ll be exhausted come time for playoffs.

Drake

Let’s just take a second to appreciate that Drake chooses to lay his head in our bed. We’re truly #blessed to call him our own.

Apologies for the incoherent and sloppy writing. It’s 3 a.m. and there really isn’t much to be said about the Sixers. Raptors won, as they should have. Good on them for taking care of business.

A 4-0 week and we’re still at home for the next one, things are setup for things to happen. The only thing sweeter than the Raptors is the mood in the pod.

Part 1:

  • Review of Philly, Washington, Boston, and OKC games
  • James Johnson impact
  • Terrence Ross over the week
  • Kyle Lowy – MVP?

Part 2:

  • The streak against Orlando
  • Lookahead to Chicago on TNT
  • Utah Jazz preview
  • Raps earning the refs respect

Part 3:

  • Throwback jerseys – what’s next?
  • Best and worst

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (40:48, 39 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors first in East, breeze by no-name Sixers | Toronto Star

They didn’t slip at all, jumping out to a 33-20 first-quarter lead and coasting home. Casey called the performance “professional” and it was from the aspect that the Raptors got a bad team down and didn’t let it get any hope. “We’ve been in a lot of games where we had big leads and we lost them, especially with a team like that, that’s not going to give up,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 24 points while playing only 26 minutes. “We’ve been (trying) to put our foot on people’s necks when we get a lead and not give them any hope. We didn’t let up, at no point. They probably hit a couple of threes, two threes in a row, and we picked up the defence again. . . . That’s the way we have to play when we gain leads.” The Sixers were, in a word, awful. They started a lineup that would perhaps contend for a D League title and brought even more suspect talent off the bench. They were missing key pieces in the injured Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, but it’s hard to imagine two more young players making any kind of difference.

Raptors crush lowly 76ers | Toronto Sun

The team moved to 6-1 for the first time and more importantly, took sole possession of top spot in the Eastern Conference after seven games or more for the first time with a 120-88 annihilation of the Philadelphia 76ers. Sure, it is pretty early to point out these things, but considering it has taken 20 seasons for it to happen, the Raptors might as well live it up. To the credit of the team, the high-flying Raptors did not get stuck in a dreaded “trap game” on Sunday against the woeful Sixers, now 0-6 and looking like a smart money pick to shatter the NBA’s all-time record for fewest wins in a season. Toronto shot 69% in the opening quarter and 61% in the first half, compared to Philly’s 40%. The Raptors also got to the free throw line at will, building a 17-5 attempts edge in the half against the overmatched Sixers defenders.

Raptors Win, 76ers One Game Closer to 2015 Draft | Raptors HQ

Similar to the Washington game, the Raptors looked better defensively out of the gate. Help defence was flying, as the Sixers regularly settled for 1-on-1 play with Tony Wroten, who led Philadelphia with 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Chris Johnson chipped in 16 off the bench, but may be remembered better for getting denied by Terrence Ross. This one was never all that competitive (fans got their pizza with 8:10 left) – those looking for entertainment elsewhere could look to Drake’s eyewear or Karter Lowry’s outstanding varsity jacket. Props to Dad for raising a patriot.

Lewenberg: East-leading Raptors dispose of winless 76ers | TSN

“I thought we were very professional and took a very professional approach,” Dwane Casey said following his team’s rout of the 76ers in a 120-88 victory. “Those guys are a young team and I knew they were going to come out and play hard, and they did that in the first few minutes of the game. Our guys played the way we should play.” Facing a cast of characters that even the staunchest hoops head would have difficulty picking out of a line-up, Toronto took the lead less than two minutes into Sunday’s contest and never relinquished. DeMar DeRozan was the first to identity and exploit a glaring mismatch, welcoming JaKarr Sampson – an un-drafted rookie – to the league, attacking him to the tune of seven points in three minutes. By the end of the opening quarter, they had scored 33 points, two days after dropping 28 on the Wizards, shooting 69 per cent – a percentage that didn’t drop below 60 until early in the third frame.

Game Rap: Raptors 120 Sixers 88 | Toronto Raptors

Just an incredibly efficient night at the office from DeRozan. The All-Star shot 8-for-12 from the field and hit all eight of his free throw attempts on his way to a game-high 24 points to go with six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 26 minutes of work. Not a second of that floor time was in the fourth. Head coach Dwane Casey took notice of his leading scorer’s refined approach. “One thing I thought DeMar (DeRozan) did a great job with is he took what the defence gave him. If they gave him a drive he took it; he didn’t force things, he kicked it out and found shooters and his spacing was good. There are going to be nights where he’ll have the match-up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to score.”

Sixers Blown Out in Toronto | Hoop76

McDaniels is clearly the second round keeper the 76ers hoped they could lock up at a below market rate for multiple years before the season started. They may not have gotten the four-year deal they wanted but the 76ers have to be happy with what they have after nights like tonight. There were a few missed defensive rotations and ugly three point attempts but the highlight-worthy blocked shots and willingness to attack the rim more than made up for it. At a point in the fourth quarter the chance of catching another K.J. highlight was the only 76ers-centric reason to still have the game on.

Brandon Davies Falls From Grace, And Other Unfortunate Events: Philadelphia 76ers 88, Toronto Raptors 120 | Liberty Ballers

After years of despising everything Lou Williams stood for, I found myself watching him today and not totally hating it. Sam Hinkie has helped us all move on, and the Lou Williams Hate Advisory Index (LWHAI) can be retired for good. This truly is a new era at LB.

Kelly: Raptors, Sixers blowout a tale of two teams | The Globe and Mail

Do you have a beer-league team at work? A bunch of friends, every one of them well into the middle-age slide? Usually only practise 10 minutes before games? Do you usually draw those mutants from Maintenance, most of whom you are pretty sure are ringers? Right, well, you’re still better than the 76ers. The 76ers are an exaggerated version of Raptors squads past. The key difference – they were purpose-built to lose. Fielding a roster of promising greenhorns and D-League scrubs, they’re doing a hell of a job at it. This is no longer an NBA team. It’s a human study into the long-term effects of tanking. To their credit, they are triers. Most of their trying involves taking hopeless fouls and missing free throws. They were down 19 early, at which point the Raptors engaged their autopilot. They haven’t had the opportunity to test that much this year, so it’s good news to find out it still works. It finished 120-88. Standouts for the Raptors: Everyone. Standouts for the 76ers: the team psychologist, his therapist and everyone in their lives who has to listen to them talk about basketball.

Recap: Raptors bully 76ers, take top spot in the East | Raptors Watch

The 76ers were getting carved up defensively, and without exaggeration it can be said their defense was completely non-existent at times. The Raptors did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to do it. At one point in the second quarter, Amir Johnson was so wide-open from three that he actually took about five seconds to shoot the ball before sinking it from behind the arc. The Raptors went into the half up 60-45, shooting 17/17 from the free throw line. There were flaws though – the Raptors had 12 turnovers at the half and 20 overall. That’s nine more turnovers than they’ve had in any game this season.

Post Game: Toronto Raptors show no mercy vs Philly 76ers | Raptors Cage

The Raptors had some fun tonight as they hosted the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. The Raps showed no mercy as they thrashed the tanking squad by a score of 120-88. The W puts the Raps at an impressive 6-1 to start the season – giving them the sole position at the top of the Eastern conference. Feels good. This game wasn’t particularly close at any point. The Raps were up by 41 points at one point. All dressed players got a chance to contribute tonight, and it was definitely a good opportunity for the rotational players to log some rest after a relatively heavy past couple of days.

Raptors 120 – Philadelphia 76ers 88: Blowed ‘em up real good | Raptors Rapture

Toronto was led once again by the ultra-efficient DeMar DeRozan, who needed a mere 25+ minutes to amass 24 points. Several of his buckets were spectacular, and he continues to draw fouls, hitting all 8 attempts from the charity stripe. Kyle Lowry is still struggling with his 3-point shot, but hustled and defended in his usual fashion. His turnovers outnumbered his assists 4-3, but that won’t happen often, and was moot against the punchless 76ers.

DeMar DeRozan: Analytical Anomaly | SLAM Magazine

Outside of that simple logic, the other elements of DeRozan’s game are anomalies in today’s NBA. Last season, he attempted only 210 three-pointers, 106th most in the League. He’s a maestro of the mid-range; often taking five or six dribbles before cocking the ball above his shoulder, fading away from the basket and launching a 17-foot turnaround over his defender. Through five games this season, 40.8 percent of his shots have come from 15-19 feet, the zone otherwise known as the anti-Houston Rockets long two. “I don’t care about analytics at all. I could give a hell about ‘em,” DeRozan said. “I don’t try to base myself off machines, I just try to take advantage of everything within that arc.” It’s a strategy coach Dwane Casey is comfortable with. “I know he’s an analytical nightmare, but he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the League because he does get to the free-throw line,” Casey said. “So it kind of equals itself out and I don’t have to fight with the analytical people all the time.”

How has Demar Derozan’s work ethic influenced your life? | RealGM

I want to start off by saying that I”ve been watching the Raptors for as long as I can remember. Players have come and gone, but no one has influenced me in the way Demar has. Lets forget for one second all the negatives we criticize his game for here on realgm. But just his work ethic how has it influenced your life? I used to be a lazy S.O.B not caring about my health or what I wanted to do with my life. Since Demar was drafted I followed him closely I immediately fell in love with his work ethic. Staying at home watching game footage instead of partying on New Years or using his left hand all off season just to get an edge on the court. I admired his work ethic and decided I wanted that too. I changed my life I hit the gym I studied hard I didn’t let anything get in the way of what I wanted. I went from 210lb to 165lb. My first year of university I did horrible, but second year I improved a bit by third and fourth year I was thinking of medical school. I am now a UFT med school student. I want to take this time to thank Demar Derozan for showing me just how far hard work can get you even if you don’t have the natural talent.

The Raptors’ Only Hope is Love | Raps In 2016

There is a long list of very good players who refused to play here, demanded a trade or simply left without a goodbye. Three of them might go into the Hall of Fame. We developed them as kids and gave them freedom to learn through mistakes.  We loved them.  They didn’t love us back. Not Kyle Lowry though.  He came back. Like his mother said, “How can you not want to go back to a city that showed the kind of love they showed?” There is no team without Kyle.  Love brought him back.

Toronto Raptors Are Number One | Pro Bball Report

The surprising Raptors play their next 5 games at home and face the 2-5 Orlando Magic on Tuesday.  Since Toronto defeated the Magic in Orlando 108-95 a week ago and neither the Rockets, Grizzlies nor Warriors play on Monday, Toronto’s stay atop of the NBA standings may not be short-lived. Argue all you want about strength of schedule, teams can only play the opponents scheduled in front of them and the Raptors have taken care of business through their first 7 games.  First place overall is theirs to enjoy – for now and when fans are used to seeing their team fighting for position in the NBA Draft Lottery, it would be just plain wrong to not let them celebrate when things are looking this good.

I can haz yo linkz??!?! [email protected]

Raptors crush Philly to take Eastern Conference pole position.


Philadelphia 76ers 88 Final
Recap | Box Score
120 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 18 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +4

Was listed as questionable for the game but figured, meh, better get a shootaround in. He’s pacing himself this season, taking the precautionary rest, taking a possession or two off when he sees fit, and taking the long view for the season and the playoffs.

Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +28

Had a play where he drove the ball into traffic and didn’t pull-up, lean sideways, or stop short, and actually layed it in. More of that please. He’s already a good spot-up shooter, and we need to see more than just three-point shooting from him. Had a couple steals, but Philly’s passing is so careless that that’s the least he could do. Thought he let his checks get off too many threes, which is ironic since he talked about the importance of scouting reports after the last game.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 5 TO | 12 PTS | +11

This guy’s angry at the world and it shows. He’s pushing guys walking back up on defense, getting a little too aggressive in post-up situations, and quite sure if he saw a gun lying around on the scorer’s table during the game, he’d use it. Finished his gimmes today, had the usual couple post moves, and was also starved for touches. On that note, one play that I fully expected the Raptors to run more this season was him and Johnson in hi-los, I think I counted one pass between the two this game, and for that matter, all season.

Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 5-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 14 PTS | +15

Must be tough to get up for a game like this and kudos to him for showing up. If you blame him for being sloppy with the turnovers again, realize that he sees who’s guarding him and will take chances that he normally wouldn’t. He is the ultimate stop-gap for the Raptors right now, in that if things are teetering even slightly, bring Lowry in and he’ll put an end to it.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 26 MIN | 8-12 FG | 8-8 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | +10

Quietly efficient again. Guarded by some lanky defenders, the type he has known to have trouble with, he made good use of pump-fakes and step-ins to get himself into areas where the defense has to either let him take his shot, or foul him. Defensively somewhat suspect in the first quarter against Wroten, but picked it up and closed out the shooters going forward.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 19 MIN | 2-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +27

They passed him the ball a bit more today, and he sure did disappoint. Not that he missed shots or turned it over, just that once he caught it he didn’t quite know what to do with it. You basically have to hit him in perfect stride on the right hand with just the right amount of velocity on the pass for him to finish. Still, we’re not judging him on that here, and let’s take a bow to Tyler for slugging it out and being the most energetic Raptor on the court (well, maybe James Johnson aside).

James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +19

Hallelujah! This guy continues to be the opposite of James Johnson V1. I’d say he’s gotten a few upgrades, to name a few: new and improved brain processor where he realizes when it’s his time to shoot, and when it’s not (note: it’s usually not). Increased RAM which allows him to try harder for longer stretches of the game and give consistent effort, and a PCI slot which enables his coach to communicate with him. The guy’s bringing the defense, getting up in people’s faces, and basically causing havoc. Also, this.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +25

Another meh game, I feel that his threes need to be falling for him to get back to his full confidence. Still leaves his feet too much on defense, and since he’s a guy who needs his offense created for him, needs to be in-sync with Vasquez off the bench to be effective. Right now, he’s a man somewhat lost in the rotation, especially when Hansbrough’s in there killing the spacing for him.

Chuck Hayes, C 6 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -6

MIP 2014-15.

Greg Stiemsma, C 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9

I miss Jordan Hamilton.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +18

Came in as part of a three-PG lineup and did well running the show. I find him fairly easy to grade because he’s measured on how well the offense runs when he’s on, and it did fine today. He did get torched on defense multiple times, but whatever.

Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 5-9 FG | 5-6 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +24

Forced a few shots and rightfully so, this was the game to do it. Slowly getting his rhythm back and we’re all very happy for him. Hit another end-of-quarter three which has become somewhat the norm.

Landry Fields, SG 6 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -6

We finally know the answer to the question of when Landry Fields gets to play: when we’re up 30 at home against a winless team.

Dwane Casey

Three-PG lineup with Vasquez, Lowry and Williams. Scored on 3 of 4 possessions. Boo for not activating the Brazilians for this foreseeable blowout. Had a chill night where little thinking was required.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Raps shot 69% in the first to assume control. Good to see them get a quick start again, obviously, the pre-game speech was about not taking the opposition lightly and they didn’t.
  2. Philly shot 34 threes, that’s double of what the Raptors shot. Clearly their strategy is to hope that they get hot and stay in the game, worked for about 8 minutes
  3. The Raptors were up by 41 in this game.
  4. You can’t really read much into this game, so I won’t. I’ll leave it at this: in year’s past the Raptors have been known to drop a stinker at home in a game they were expected to win, and it’s encouraging to see a level of professionalism in the team.

Lazy Sunday in effect, so I thought we look at some stats over the first few games of the season.

  1. Raptors have shot more FTs than their opponents in 5 of the 6 games (they were -1 against the Wizards); Related: they’ve been called for less fouls than their opponents in every game. Also related: the Raptors are third in the league in FT Rate (the number of free throws they attempt for every field goal attempt) at .44.  Teams ahead of them are Sacramento (.503) and Houston (.44).
  2. The Raptors are best in the league in terms of ball protection, with only 9.1 turnovers being committed every 100 possessions.  Dallas is second at 10.4, and the worst are the undefeated Golden State Warriors at 18.7.  The Raptors have turned the ball over fewer times than their opponents in 5 of 6 games, in the other against Washington, both teams had 13.
  3. Despite not shooting 50% in any game this season, the Raptors have the league’s second-best offense with a rating of 112.7 (Dallas is #1 at 115.6).  They have also scored 100 points in every game.
  4. The Raptors have had more steals than their opponents in 5 of 6 games, in the other against Washington, both teams had 5.
  5. We don’t take too many long jumpers! The Raptors are firmly in middle of the pack at 14th in terms of average distance of shot, 12.8 feet. The shortest? Pelicans at 10. 5 feet. Longest? Clippers at 14.8 feet.
  6. The Raptors are fourth for corner three attempts – 30.3% of their threes are from the corner (they’re shooting 35% from there, which is a really poor rate).   Related to shooting: only 44% of their 2-pt field goals are assisted  (Suns, Nets).
  7. The Raptors have the fourth highest margin of victory at 8.17.  The three teams ahead of them are Golden State (15.75), Houston (14.67), and Portland (8.6).
  8. The Raptors are the fourth-worst rebounding team in the league at a DRB% of 71.1% – teams worse than them are Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago.

The Toronto Raptors are off to their best start in franchise history at 5-1. They rank second in the NBA in offensive efficiency (third on an opponent-adjusted basis), 12th in defensive efficiency (10th on an opponent-adjusted basis), have decided to never, ever turn the ball over ever again, and appear to be back on track on defense after a startling blowout win over Washington.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic now provide a potential pair of trap games ahead of Thursday’s nationally televised (!!!) game against the Chicago Bulls.

The Raptors have been good, but they’ve been susceptible to poor stretches far too often. Rather than taking their foot off the gas for a few games to ease into Chicago, it’d behoove the team to instead hit the throttle and lay waste to the 76ers on Sunday. It’s the first game of the year I’m attending, so part of me hopes they play poorly enough that it’s a close win in the fourth quarter, but I’d be disappointed at a higher level if that were the case.

Raptors 76ers
Record 5-1 0-6
O-Rating 112.7 97.0
Adj. Rank 3 30
D-Rating 103.9 106.9
Adj. Rank 10 20

There’s no question the Sixers have been bad, though their defense has been surprisingly spry without Michael Carter-Williams and, for one game and perhaps Sunday, Nerlens Noel. They also have some fun pieces who are playing for their basketball lives, which should mean their “compete level” (ugh) is generally high. They’re bad, but no NBA game is a certainty.

To help set the stage for this oen, I reached out to Andrew Unterberger of The 700 Level (and many more cool basketball and music places). Dude knows his ball and is always a blast to catch up with. If you don’t walk away from this pregame with a new appreciation for the Sixers, well…I guess I still can’t blame you because it’s the Sixers, but still.

Raptors Republic: It’s Year 2 of a pretty terrible situation for fans in Philly. With perspective and distance, the strategy they’re employing makes a ton of sense, and it’s always fun to watch rookies develop, but how frustrating have the past, oh, 18 months been, and has it changed how you approach your relationship with the team?

Unterberger: Actually, I’ve enjoyed the last 18 months immensely. The 3-0 start to last season was basically the high point of my basketball-watching life, but even during the 26-game losing streak, I greatly enjoyed the experience of watching this team of forgotten cast-offs, draft refugees and other NBA ephemera trying to figure out how to win games with a virtually empty toolbox. I’ve found that it’s thoroughly possible to enjoy basketball without caring abut wins and losses—you fall in love with the players who cycle through, you appreciate the little developments in the players who may one day be part of your team’s core, you get tickled when they do better than expected, and when they fail they usually fail hilariously. It’s kind of fun to watch basketball for its own sake, with no immediate hopes or expectations.

The only really frustrating part is the injuries. Michael Carter-Williams keeps taking longer than expected to return from various maladies, if Nerlens Noel was ever fully healthy for more than a week at a time it’d be pretty shocking, and who knows when we’ll actually get to see Joel Embiid on the court. But otherwise, unless you’re a casual fan or a beat writer, I’m not sure how you couldn’t love this team at least a little bit.

Raptors Republic: There’s been a ton to like about Nerlens Noel so far. He causes chaos defensively, he can pass much better than I expected, and he seems to be some instinct development away from being a contributor at both ends. He may not play Sunday due to a bum ankle, but just in case, fill us in on the Noel experience so far.

Unterberger: Nerlens has been a pretty mixed bag so far, though one of those mixed bags where if you feel like you’re patient enough to get through all the raisins and cashews, it’s mostly chocolate chips at the bottom. He has no real post moves and a terrible jump shot, he’s a smart passer but he’s not that accurate yet, he’s pretty lousy at catching the ball and his rebounding instincts are downright terrible so far. But even as a super-raw rookie, he can still impact a game like few players in the league–his defensive presence in the paint is a game-changer, and his hands on the perimeter are just as good. Watching him shut down Dwight Howard in the post the other night was pretty eye-opening as well.

One way or another, Nerlens blows up defensive possessions like few other big men, and it’s very exciting to see what he can do on offense once he’s playing with longtime BFF Michael Carter-Williams. You know, an actual point guard.

Raptors Republic: Someone who WILL play on Sunday is the man I wanted the Raptors to take at No. 20 in June, K.J. McDaniels. He is the goddam best. What have you seen from him so far?

kjmcd

Unterberger: KJ is a shot-blocking athletic marvel with enough smarts and physical dexterity to also shut down James Harden on the perimeter. He’s shown pretty nice shooting tough so far, and even some minor ball-handling stuff, and he just always seems to be where the action is in the half-court, skying for offensive rebounds, scrumming for loose balls and just getting after it. He was third among rookies in scoring for a while, practically without even trying.

He can basically be everything to all people, he still has a ton of room to grow and I am really irritated that the Sixers didn’t lock him down for more than his rookie year and don’t sell his jersey in their team store yet. How every NBA team passed on this guy this summer is totally flummoxing.

Raptors Republic: There’s “a looter in the riot,” and then there is “a team full of looters competing to loot the most in a riot with shit burning all around them.” The latter is the 76ers. How difficult does their situation make it to evaluate individual players? Of the non-MCW/Noel/KJMcD players on the team, who seem like legitimate, looting-free keepers?

Unterberger: It’s tough, but it’s not like anyone on the team last year besides MCW put up any real stats, even with all the opportunity and playing time in the world. Tony Wroten has certainly played like a keeper so far this season—through six games, his numbers are legitimately All-Star-ish, and his ability to get to the net even when every defense in the world knows that all he really wants to do is incredibly impressive. He might not be able to coexist full-time with Michael Carter-Williams, but he could make himself a mighty interesting trade piece soon enough.

Hollis Thompson, we’d like to see something more from him fairly soon. He ended last season on a three-point shooting tear and had a strong summer league, but his stroke from deep has mostly eluded him this year and he shoots free throws like a kid being forced to eat Brussels sprouts. We hoped he could be a 3-and-D specialist someday and he still might be, though K.J. now seems already further along that path.

Otherwise, we like Jordan McRae (currently playing in Australia for no clear reason) and Jerami Grant, but the latter hasn’t even played yet with ankle issues. Shved has been frisky and Luc Mbah a Mote had a double-double Friday somehow. Best not to get too attached to some of these guys, though—I still haven’t gotten over Hinkie cutting Royce White last year before the season even began, and I can’t go through that again.

So there you have it. My dude K.J. McDAMNiels filling the highlight reel, and a few other intriguing pieces to keep an eye on. Obviously, reading that, the impression you should come away with is that this game is eminently winnable for the home team.

I couldn’t find a line as of this writing (it’s Saturday afternoon), probably because the statuses of Noel and Amir Johnson are unclear. Last season, the Raptors won all four meetings between the teams, winning at home by eight and 11, and on the road by 10 (pre-trade) and 11. This year’s Raptors team is probably a shade better while the 76ers are a shade worse (don’t forget they’re without Thad Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Carter-Williams compared to a season ago). I’d guess the line comes in at low double-digits, and the Raptors should probably win this by 15 or so on home turf.

Instead, I’ll throw objectivity out the window and call for a six-point win, so that I can see a game with a semi-decent closing stretch. Selfish, sure, but this is my pre-game. Enjoy the game, everyone, and just remember as you watch the Sixers: this is what a lot of you wanted for the Raptors’ franchise after the Rudy Gay trade last season. I prefer where we’re at currently, myself.

Oh yeah, the game’s at 7 p.m. on one of the Sportsnets.

Previewing The Sixers Road Trip – Liberty Ballers

Sixers vs. Raptors: There’s no word yet on whether Nerlens Noel will be active for Sunday’s contest, as he’s rehabbing a sprained left ankle suffered against theOrlando Magic. The Chicago Bullsattacked the low block well with Pau Gasolin Nerlens absence, which is a good sign for Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is averaging 11.2 PPG and 7.6 RPG. It’s a perfect matchup for Toronto, the fifth highest scoring offense in the NBA versus the 23rd overall defense. Expect Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to put on a show at home.

Raptors (5-1) vs Philadelphia 76ers (0-6): 3 keys to victory

(1)…start fast. Can they replicate the Q1 demolishment of Washington? Perhaps not, but it’s a noble goal. (2)…pay attention to Tony Wroten. If Terrence Ross can’t hold this guy down, James Johnson will be in the game on the trot. (3)…beat up their second unit. Greivis Vasquez is overdue for a big game, and Lou Williams should have some fun against a short-handed gang of D-Leaguers.

Amir Johnson (ankle) managed to practice Saturday and is considered questionable for Sunday’s game against the 76ers, TSN Sports reports. | theScore

Amir Johnson (ankle) managed to practice Saturday and is considered questionable for Sunday’s game against the 76ers, TSN Sports reports.

The Evolution Of The Raptors DeMar DeRozan | Pro Bball Report

“Since I’ve been in the league I’ve been the type of guy that gets to the free throw line,” DeRozan said. “I take pride in getting to the free throw line and being top 10 in attempts. It’s just my style of play. It makes the game come easier if you get to the free throw line.” DeRozan only got to the free throw line 2.5 times per game as a rookie and he had the bruises to prove he was trying to get there more often. The next three seasons were better, but consistent at about 5 free throw attempts per game. DeRozan needed to work on his handle, outside shooting and earning the required respect of the league and its referees. It might not be fair, but it’s harder to earn that respect on bad teams, fortunately DeRozan developed a reputation as a player that worked hard and kept coming. He really wanted to be a top 10 free throw shooter in the NBA and he was learning more every season.

Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors: Sunday NBA game preview | Toronto Star

The Sixers have lost six in a row to open the season, including a three-point loss to Chicago in their last outing. . . . Guard Michael Carter-Williams is on the shelf with a shoulder injury, while rookie big man Nerlens Noel missed Friday’s game after spraining his left ankle on Wednesday night and is questionable for Sunday’s game. And their top draft pick last June, Joel Embiid, is out with a right foot injury. . . . Amir Johnson sat out the second half of Friday’s Raptor win over Washington with recurring pain in his left ankle, but was pronounced fit to play by coach Dwane Casey after Saturday’s practice. . . . In sweeping last year’s four-game series with the Sixers, Toronto averaged 111 points per game.

Drake Celebrated The Toronto Raptors’ Victory Over The Wizards By Taunting Wale On Instagram – MTV

Drake playfully tagged Wale in a scoreboard image of the Raptors defeating Folarin’s favorite team, the Washington Wizards. At the time the pic was taken, Drake’s face appeared on the jumbotron and the score was 86 to 64. Drizzy’s simple caption? “@wale.” The Raps ended up taking a 103-84 victory to remain undefeated at home. Drake might just be a lucky charm for the 5-1 squad.

It’s a great time to be a Raptors fan. In what was easily their best game of the season, the Raptors beat the Wizards 103-84 on a night that felt electric from the get-go.

The Raps, who were giving up almost 30 first quarter points a game coming in, came out very active on both ends, forcing the Wizards into a number of long twos early and holding them to 18 points on 8-of-26 shooting in the opening period. Offensively, Derozan and Ross set the tone connecting on a combined 7-of-10 shots for 18 of the team’s 28 first quarter points. Ross, who opened the game with a 3, was especially impressive going 3-for-3 behind the arc for the quarter. The Raptors didn’t just shoot well; they also created a number of scoring opportunities off of penetration, including two easy baskets for Amir off of dump off passes.

The second unit held down the fort for almost 4 minutes to start the second period. Lou Williams looked very comfortable as the second unit’s primary offensive weapon, finishing with a team leading nine points in the quarter, including an and-1 three from the corner.

Direct Link

Also Read: Quick Reaction with GIFs
Listen To: Post-Game Podcap – Wizards at Raptors

Derozan continued to let the game come to him, finishing a perfect 2-for-2 from the field and 4-for4 from the free throw line. For the half Derozan finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Kyle Lowry, who didn’t take his first shot until 4:20 to go in the second quarter, ended the half with seven assists and 5 rebounds. Defensively the Raptors were once again locked in, holding the Wizards to 17 points in the quarter and 35 points on 27.9% shooting for the half. This is especially impressive considering the Raptors allowed 35 points in the first quarter against Boston a game earlier. Below you see the Wizard less than impressive shot chart from the first half.

The Wizards did not shoot well.

The Wizards, down 24 at the half, came out fighting in the third by going on an 8-0 run early in the quarter. Lowry showed that he is one of the best floor leaders in the league by responding with a 7-2 run of his own, pulling the Raptor’s lead once again above 20.

Direct Link

The Raptors lost Amir in the third to a pre-existing ankle injury. He did not return but he stressed after the game that he did not reinjure the ankle and he expects to play in the next game.

Things were pretty sloppy in the 4th and the Wizards climbed back to within 16 points before Casey reinserted the starters midway through the quarter. The only positive was that this enabled Lowry to collect his fifth triple double his career on an assisted Patterson three with 1:14 left in the game. A wild Raptors crowd closed out the game with a very loud “Let’s Go Raptors!” chant, capping an awesome night of Raptors basketball.

A couple of other random thoughts on the game:

  • Jonas still clearly has a bad taste in his mouth from when Gortat torched him for 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 134-129 triple overtime loss to the Wizards in their final meeting of the 2013-14 season. Jonas looked downright angry most of the night. I thought he channeled the energy well, finishing with 9 points and 9 rebounds in 28 hard fought minutes.
  • The only minor gripes I have about the game were that the Raps allowed 16 offensive rebounds for the second straight game. Also, they were actually a little too pass happy on some of their drives when they forced drop off passes instead of taking the easier shot. Ross was especially guilty of this, but his ability to get past defenders tonight was awesome.
  • Lowry is just SO good at picking his moments and leading this basketball team.
  • Really nice job on both ends for Demar. Nothing was forced and it was an all-around top notch performance from one of the best shooting guards in the league.

Raptors' Wish Granted: Toronto Beats Washington and Ascends to 5-1 – Raptors HQ

The only negative note occurred whenAmir Johnson tweaked his ankle at some point in the third quarter. He gamely tried to play on it afterwards but, with the score ballooning away from the Wizards, ultimately sought the bench as a precaution. The Wizards, let by John Wall's eight point, 3-for-13 performance, played from behind the entire night. They shot 3-for-19 from three as a team, and 36 percent from the field. Every other team stat between the two squads broke fairly even, but when you shoot like that you're not going to win many NBA games. "Over the long run they understand we can't start games the way we've been starting them," Coach Dwane Casey said after the game. And while a coach's job is never quite done, Casey had to be pleased with the game's outcome.

Raptors Set A Franchise Record With Win Over Wizards | Pro Bball Report

“It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping,” confirmed Head Coach Randy Wittman after the game. Washington started out missing 10 of their first 11 shots and only scored 35 points in the first half as the Raptors cruised to a 24 point half-time lead that they rode to the 103-84 victory. Terrence Ross played his best game of the young season, scoring 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had a game high 25 points, but the night belonged to Kyle Lowry. Fresh off a 35 point performance against the Celtics, Lowry recorded his first triple-double of the season with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Washington 103-84 | Hoops Addict

Ross bristled briefly and appeared flustered when he was asked what it was like matching up against Paul Pierce again. His teammates, however, howled as the question was asked. My assumption is Ross took that playoff series against Brooklyn to heart and there’s a chip on his shoulder to prove he can stop Pierce. Mission accomplished tonight as Pierce was held to eight points while going 3-11 from the field.

Toronto Raptors Cruise in a Win Over the Wizards

Defense: A+ Finally. After shoddy defense through the teams first five games, the Raptors were locked in from the word go. The Wizards shot 36.1% from the field and 15.8% from three. John Wall in particular was shut down, registering eight points on 3-13 shooting. Granted, some of his shots were just off regardless of the defense, but give credit where credit is due, the team from the north played their first great game on the defensive end. The rotations were on point, they swarmed to the ball and they held the opposition to under 85 points. A great effort all around.

Raptors roll over Wizards for franchise-best start | Toronto Star

“Man, I’ve said everything positive I could say about him. I’m about to start saying negative things,” DeMar DeRozan said of his back-court mate. “Nah, I’m playing. I love him. Love Kyle Lowry.” The Raptors did it with a great first quarter for the first time this season. After letting teams score at will almost every night, Toronto harassed Washington into eight straight misses to open the game, led by 14 points eight minutes in and was never really threatened. All the harping coach Dwane Casey had been doing was worth it, just in the nick of time. “It was definitely important, especially the way we have been starting off games and the way we started off in Boston (a 16-point first-half deficit),” said DeRozan, who led all scorers with 25 points. “This is the way we have to be all year. We have to rely on our defence and the offence will come. If we play that way defensively every night, we will be fine.”

Toronto Raptors deliver new-age rout of Washington Wizards on throwback night | National Post

“Amir and [Valanciunas] really came in and gave us that rhythm that they have as a first unit: their screening, their spacing, their running the floor, their understanding how to screen DeMar [DeRozan’s] man, how to screen Terrence [Ross’s] man,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “No disrespect to Pat [Patterson] and Tyler [Hansbrough], but there are angles and understanding of feel for how they like to do it. Amir is one of our best players at doing that.”

Game Rap: Raptors 103 Wizards 84 | Toronto Raptors

"I think we played well from start to finish. I think we still made some mistakes but I think there’s a lot more positives than negatives to take from this game, finally we can say that." – Kyle Lowry, on the Raptors total team effort "It's a collective effort. All five have to try and slow him down in transition. Show him five bodies every time we got back and not just leave it up to Kyle (Lowry) to try and get in front of him." – DeMar DeRozan, on the defensive effort required to stop Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall "I got to the gym last night and just kept getting shots up to try and get my touch back. Anytime your shot starts to fall it feels like one of those nights. I guess things just went my way."- Terrence Ross, on regaining his shooting touch

Ex-Raptors star Carter should be honoured, former teammates say | Toronto Sun

“Personally, what he’s done for my career as far me passing the ball and getting out of the way. He’s done a lot not just for us for a team, but just for this country. You see the Canadian players now that are in the NBA … they’re all a testament to him. That shows what he does, not only for the Raptors, but what he did for this whole country.” Carter, now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, will make his lone visit this season on Nov 19, but so far, the team has only honoured former players. Davis said he takes pride in being on the formative squads with Carter that helped build the game of basketball so much in Canada. “You never know what the affects are going to be,” Davis said. “If what we were doing can inspire a young basketball player or a young kid to want to play basketball, then, yes, you have to feel extremely proud about that.”

Once a NBA top dog, Glen Grunwald dons new title at McMaster University | The Globe and Mail

How times change. Grunwald is now the new athletic director at McMaster University in Hamilton and lives in Burlington, Ont., a long way from the power and panache he once enjoyed. His budget is $12-million (Canadian) and he has to concern himself with a student-athlete population of around 700, encompassing more than 30 teams, everything from ultimate Frisbee to the cheerleading squad. “I can’t say it [McMaster] was the place I thought I’d wind up, but you never know where life takes you sometimes,” the affable 56-year-old said in a recent interview. “I’ve been fortunate to have been taken to a lot of good spots. And this is the latest one.” And it begs the question: Can a man who has spent 22 years of his working life as a senior NBA executive find contentment toiling in relative obscurity as a Canadian university sports administrator? “It just seems like the right fit for me at this time in my life,” Grunwald said, insisting he could see the McMaster job being “long term.”

Recap: Raptors blow Wizards straight out of the ACC | Raptors Watch

Toronto Raptors veterans Alvin Williams and Antonio Davis see team as ‘a force to be reckoned with’ | National Post

Davis, who played 310 regular season games for the Raptors, admitted “misconceptions” about coming to play in Canada may have hurt the team in signing some free agents but believes the word is spreading about how good it is in Toronto. “Winning kind of solves everything,” Davis said. “If you’re winning, guys want to come here.” Williams said he thinks the current version of the Raptors has “the same type of togetherness” as the teams of the early 2000s. The big difference was earlier teams had more experience and Vince Carter. “I think we had more vets that had been through the wars, that had been through the battles,” Williams said. “And, we had a young superstar, so we had a little more I think.”

Wizards vs. Raptors final score: 5 things we learned from a game we'd rather forget – Bullets Forever

2. The bigs came up small: It's unfair to some degree to tie a player's production to his salary, but I'm going to do it anyway. Nene and Marcin Gortat will make over $24 million combined this season. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson make about $16.5 million. Yet it was the latter trio that dominated the painted area, as they often do in Wizards-Raptors games. How do your starting big men go a combined 3-12 in the paint? How does Gortat only shoot two free throws? Two plays stood out to me. On one, Nene made a beautiful baseline spin move on Valanciunas, only to lose his balance and wildly fling a sidearm spin of some kind off the side of the backboard. So much for going up strong. On another, John Wall forced Kyle Lowry into a wild floater, only for Valanciunas to wedge rebounding position and beat Gortat to the ball.

Raptors continue hot start by beating Wizards | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

The starting five, which has looked stuck in mud despite getting off to a 4-1 start, were looked in from the tipoff. The game was more than three minutes old before the Wizards managed a basket as Paul Pierce, the guy who ended the Raptors first-round playoff hopes with that block of Kyle Lowry last spring in Game 7, connected with a jumper. The Wizards would only score 18 in the first quarter and be held to just 31% shooting while the Raps were humming along at a 55% clip and had a 10-point lead after 12 minutes. Dwane Casey’s second unit, which has been as big a reason as any that the team came into the game 4-1, continued their fine form of the early season so when the starters returned they did so with a 17-point cushion.

Finally something for the Raptors to celebrate | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

Davis, who retired in 2006, fit that bill, at least near the end of his tenure in Toronto. When he was traded to the Raptors in 1999 from the Indiana Pacers, the Oakland, Calif., native was thrilled because he got a chance to start. But after five seasons in the Great White North, it became clear he wanted out. You’ll recall how he famously groused about how his eight-year-old twins weren’t getting a proper “American” education in Toronto (never mind with his salary he could have flown in an MIT professor to be a tutor and put the dude up at the Four Seasons). “You know, the metric system, when they go to school every day and they’re singing the (Canadian) national anthem,” Davis said. “Some of those things are going to pass as they’re kids. As they grow older, there are some different things they need to learn. “I’m a little worried about it now because they’re really starting real school — first and second and third grades — and I think those grades are very important”.

DeMar DeRozan will make guards remember the post | Crossover Chronicles

he post game is kind of dying. More and more centers are inching away from the paint and the 3-pointer has become a widely accepted and necessary weapon in the NBA. So who are the kings of the low block? Believe it or not after your Al Jeffersons and Kevin Loves and Blake Griffins, the best player on the low block might be a guard. Lance Stephenson and DeMar DeRozan are taking up the mantle left by long time post savants from the guard position like Andre Miller and Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson. It is a rare gift to have the footwork, size and strength to play in the post — and it takes the right team able to appropriately space the floor — as a guard.

The Raptors blowout the Wizards in purple jerseys.


Washington Wizards 84 FinalRecap | Box Score 103 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +17His ankle-roll to rebound ratio was solid tonight. Got caught flat-footed for a couple rebounds in the first quarter but did a commendable job of defending without fouling. Remember when we used to complain that he couldn’t stay on the floor because of fouls? Once he left the game, the defense dipped, which is to be expected.

Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 7-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +19Started off hitting his threes and keeping Pierce in front of him, even picked up a charge against Wall after which he looked winded. If he’s going to be one of those players that’s only useful when his three-point shot is going in, it’s a problem, so I was more happy that he played a role on defense, which is probably what Casey is more pleased to see.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 3-5 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +19Didn’t get many touches and when he did, made use of them. It feels like he’s got a beef with Gortat, maybe it’s a European thing, or maybe he saw this as a benchmark game which he’d be measured against. Battled on the boards, and managed to prevent picking up a third foul after being hit with two early.  Here’s an example of bad defense, and to even it out, here’s him doing the sky hook.

Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 10 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 13 PTS | +17He’s like a dad teaching his little girl how to ride a bike. He lets her go but keeps his arms right around her shoulders in case she stumbles, so he could catch her and show her the way again. If you think of him as a quarterback, he was handing the ball off to the running back most of the game, and in the moments where the team needed him, he threw a 50-yard pass. Some uncharacteristic turnovers, but otherwise another complete game, topped off by a triple-double, and that’s after he got elbowed by Pierce. Also, got to love how he hits the boards in traffic.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 7-13 FG | 11-11 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +12Another composed and efficient evening where he didn’t let riff raff like Garrett Temple slow him down. He was amazing off the ball with his misdirections (1, 2) and got at least three hoops based on pure intelligence. Keep shooting the jumpers man, it’s what’s going to make you a big time scorer in the league.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -1A couple silly fouls, and I really feel he’d get more rebounds if he just normally extended his arms to catch the ball instead of flailing at them like a toddler. The ball’s right there, he has position, yet it manages to go through his arms, hit his shoulder, go between his legs, hit his ankle, and then he somehow gets called for the foul. I like the hustle, keep it up, and note to everyone else: throw this man a pass on the ‘roll once in a while. Good job battling their physical bigs, it’s a “tall” order. Badum, tishh.

James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +1Good stuff all around. He really does increase the defensive intensity on the court. With Ross doing well, his minutes were cut short but still managed to have an impact in that third quarter when the Wizards were trying to make a run.

Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +9Poor defensively in face-up situations, left his feet a little too early, and I felt like he didn’t read any of the scouting reports. The shot’s slowly coming back and he looks more comfortable, but there’s definitely more to come from him. Remember, he was injured to start training camp so that’s something.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 0-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2Came in and dropped some dimes, took some bad shots, and was more or less benign.

Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-5 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | -1Torched by Andre Miller and was the reason the Wizards weren’t getting completely blown out; made amends with a few scores but overall a defensively disappointing game. It’s encouraging to see him get some points on that move where he crosses over to left and leans back for the fade – it’s his bread and butter.  Oh, had a four-point play.

Landry Fields, SG 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1He exists.

Dwane Casey
Played the hockey units again which seem to work – they were plus in all the lineups. Called the right timeouts, and inserted Lowry back into the game during that early 4Q Wizards run. When you got things clicking like this, that’s all he needed to do tonight.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The Wizards shot 30% in the first half, and it’s not because they were missing shots. The Raptors D was intact, and you could tell they’d made a concerted effort to start the game better. The intensity, for the first time all season, was there to start the game.
  2. The Raptors were up by 28 in this game at one point in the first half, so the last three quarters were quite boring, and the Wizards never made a serious runs.
  3. The Raptors offense has another gear – if they ever figure out how to use Valanciunas’ post-game to setup the rest of their offense, much like they use DeRozan’s mid-range shooting, it could get scary.
  4. The rebounding was fixed with the Raptors being -1 at 50-49. Lowry was fantastic in helping out as he got his triple double including 10 boards, very much the best player on the court.
  5. The Raptors have now passed two out of three early tests this season, albeit this was one was against a depleted Wizards roster.

Conor Dirks of Truth About It drops by to answer some questions.

It’s about that time. The Washington Wizards swoop into town in a battle between two under-performing 4-1 teams. First up, here’s Conor Dirks of Truth About It to answer five pressing questions about the Wizards (neé) Bullets. You can (and should) follow Conor on Twitter, especially if you want to see RTs famous Wizards commenter Wzzzznutzzz. Also, on a personal note, congratulations to TAI editor Kyle Weidie!

1. How is Paul Pierce’s transitioning back to playing small forward? He spent most of last season masquerading as a smallball four. Is he holding up defensively?

Randy Wittman has been surly (even by his standards) when asked if Paul Pierce will ever get a chance to move over to that smallball four position he occupied during Brooklyn’s climb back up the standings last year. According to Wittman, the Wizards have too many big bodies in the frontcourt to loan minutes to Pierce. Then again, this is the man who told Kevin Love (and maybe Trevor Booker) to stop shooting 3-pointers. On Tuesday night in Manhattan, Pierce had his best game of the season, trailing Wall for above-the-break 3-point attempts, pushing the ball on offense, and pestering Carmelo into seven turnovers and 8-for-23 shooting. Pierce is no Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, but he makes up for it by adjusting over the course of the game. I was impressed to see him plant his feet on the spot behind the 3-point line that Anthony was headed towards, do his patented “no hands” showing, and force an awful shot that had to be launched off-balance.

2. Explain Garrett Temple’s new found success. How did he transition from D-League fodder to long-range sniper? He’s shooting 51.9 percent from deep on the season.

Garrett Temple walked into his local bookstore (if those still exist) and purchased a paperback copy of That’s Me in the Corner: How to Get Paid Playing with John Wall by Martell Webster, with a special foreword by Trevor Ariza. There’s been a certain amount of glee among long-time Temple defenders in his new-found shooting touch, but like your question implies: this evolution has been drastic and unexpected. The Wizards, without Beal and Webster, have relied almost exclusively on Garrett Temple to provide the corner 3-pointers that Wall creates with incredible frequency. It will be interesting to see if Temple, who spent his offseason working on his shooting touch, can keep this up until Beal returns.

3. What’s up with Kris Humphries? From the boxscore averages, he looks to be struggling. One would think that the marriage of Humphries with Randy Wittman’s mid-range heavy offense would result in the perfect union.

I’d been wondering the same thing. It was almost an universal assumption that Humphries and Blair would play ahead of Kevin Seraphin. It seemed that Seraphin, who struggled mightily until Washington’s game against New York, may have gotten the nod without much merit. But on Wednesday night, Marcin Gortat said something interesting in the locker room:

“You know, we have a few players on the bench that we want … them to get better. We need Kris Humphries to get in shape, get in the basketball rhythm. He’s a player we need, and we’ve got to help him out.””

So, maybe he’s still working himself into shape. Aside from that, I’m still looking forward to seeing what he can do in less limited minutes.

4. On a scale of 1-to-10, how much do you miss having JaVale, Swaggy, Blatche and Gilbert on your team.

This is such a complicated question. I don’t miss JaVale and 7-Day Dray at all. Nick Young the person, I miss. But Nick Young the basketball player? He never took the game, or this team, seriously enough to stick long-term He and our next subject, Arenas, once contrived a fake Gilbert injury story so that Young could play a few extra minutes. And as for sweet Gilly, one of the most unique NBA players of the last few decades…I wish it didn’t end like it did. That said, Gilbert is “living the life” after the NBA, still posting on Instagram frequently, with posts running the gamut from Wizards nostalgia to promoting his new infidelity app, Invisible Text. He’s becoming harder to like by the day, but I’ll always appreciate his candor,

If you couldn’t tell, you kind of tapped into a vein of coursing ex-Wizard neuroses. Sorry about that. Final score: 3.

BONUS: What is Jan Vesely up to these days?

I actually know the answer to this. Jan is playing for Fenerbache Ulker in Istanbul this season, after receiving (according to him) only one NBA offer in the offseason, which was contingent on him “proving himself” before being handed any significant role. From Jan’s perspective, he shouldn’t have to prove himself anymore in the NBA. Jan’s perspective is flawed, however. After three NBA seasons (two teams), 162 games (25 starts), and 2,455 total minutes, because he still hasn’t proven he can hang with the world’s best, he’ll always have to prove himself in the future.

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Point guard – Even

John Wall, Andre Miller vs. Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez

Watching two of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference pitted against one another is going to be a treat. After turning in four somewhat passive performances to start the season, Lowry finally commandeered the offense Wednesday against the Celtics. The result was a 35-point performance on 12-of-17 shooting. Wall is scratching the surface of his potential — a scary thought because he’s already one of the league’s best playmakers. The two will likely play to a standstill, just as they did in four meetings last season.

Miller versus Vasquez should be hilarious, mostly because they both manage to be productive despite being slow as molasses. Vasquez tends to get up for games against his hometown Wizards. In the Raptors’ double-overtime thriller against the Wizards, Vasquez dropped a cool 26-point, 8-assist performance, carrying the load for Lowry who had fouled out.

Shooting guard – Raptors

Garrett Temple, Otto Porter vs. DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams

DeRozan and Williams haven’t exactly gotten off to tremendous starts. Both players are shooting under 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from deep. Williams hasn’t yet meshed with the second unit, struggling to generate offense on anything other than isolation drives, while DeRozan has been sunk by two weak shooting performances against Boston and Atlanta.

Luckily, both Williams and DeRozan have been unstoppable in getting to the charity stripe. Williams has done a great job of attacking off the pick-and-roll and drawing fouls on account of his herky-jerky jumpshot. DeRozan, on the other hand, has made an effort to leak out in transition, which has helped to inflate his already bourgeoning free throw totals. Both players are averaging over seven attempts per 36 minutes.

Temple and Porter are the Wizards’ interim fill-ins while Bradley Beal is out. They’re both limited to spot-ups on offense. As long as rotations and closeouts are on-point, Porter and Temple should be relatively easy to hold in check.

Small forward – Wizards

Paul Pierce vs. James Johnson, Terrence Ross

It’s no great secret that Ross has gotten off to a terrible start. Although his numbers (eight points, a couple of rebounds) look fine, Ross has mostly drifted in and out of games, rarely making his presence felt. For the most part, Ross has looked like the same player who took a giant stinking dump during the playoffs last season.

However, I also don’t entirely hold Ross’s struggles against him. The Raptors are almost never running plays for him to get open looks anymore. Ross is highly dependent on others to set him up, and the Raptors looked to have scrapped the double pin-down play that was once a staple of Ross’s offense.

As for the Wizards, despite how much I personally detest him, 37-year-old Paul Pierce still has it. He isn’t too keen on chasing guards around screens, so again, more pin-downs for Ross would be nice.

Power forward – Even

Nene, Kris Humphries vs. Amir Johnson (likely; ankle), Patrick Patterson

Nene is the Wizards’ version Amir Johnson. He’s the injury-prone big who holds the key to Washington’s success. Nene was a beast in the playoffs last year, badly outplaying Joakim Noah to help power Washington into the second round. He’s strong, he’s mobile, he can shoot and he has great defensive instincts. He just can’t stay healthy.

The battle at backup will be one to watch. Humphries posted a strong season in Boston last year, extending his range out to beyond 20 feet, while retaining his tenacity on the glass. His addition was supposed to add much-needed depth to Washington’s frontcourt, but he’s struggled thus far, losing play time to a suddenly rejuvenated Drew Gooden of late. Patrick Patterson has also struggled, though his 15-point performance against the Celtics was extremely encouraging. Patterson holds the key to the Raptors’ second unit, and without his presence, the bench is reduced to isolation play from its guards.

Center – Even

Marcin Gortat vs. Jonas Valanciunas (likely; hand)

Gortat is a mobile pick-and-roll threat who provides decent rim-protection. Having spent the majority of his career around two elite passers in Wall and Steve Nash, *pour one out* Gortat has learned to play with excellent timing and awareness on offense. He provides an interesting comparison for Valanciunas’s development. My thinking is that Valanciunas will eventually top out as a slightly better version of Gortat that is better at defending the rim.

A fully healthy Valanciunas should be able to keep Gortat in check. The key is to protect the rim and encourage Gortat to shoot the midrange shot, but he’s fairly decent at that too. Gortat connected on over 40 percent of his attempts from between 10-16 feet last season, mostly as a result of playing pick-and-pop with Wall.

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3 Keys to victory

  1. Keep the Wizards out of the transition game
    • Randy Wittman’s teams love to play in the midrange. As long as the Raptors get back in transition — no easy task with Wall pushing the pace — the Wizards will settle into a halfcourt offense, of which is largely designed around creating midrange looks.
    • The easy solution is to trade offensive-rebounding opportunities for the ability to recover in transition.
  2. Screen Wall, repeatedly
    • Wall is a diligent defender, but he loves grovelling for steals and cheating around screens to guard the drive. Running him around screens is an easy way to get open looks.
  3. Guard the corners
    • Wall loves to create looks for shooters in the corners after starting the initial action out of a pick-and-roll. Leaving someone like Miller or Porter open is fine. Failing to check Temple is not. The challenge is on Lowry and Amir to effectively contain pick-and-rolls without needing help from a third defender.

Prediction: Raptors 102, Wizards 96

Vegas says: Raptors by 4.5, O/U 197.5

Destiny’s Child says: My name

Al Pacino says: *belligerent yelling*

Will says: Home court advantage and Beal’s absence hurts the Wizards. Temple and Porter have off nights shooting while Lowry does a decent job of keeping Wall in check. Amir makes his triumphant return with three put-backs and two twisted ankles.

Update: Valanciunas, Johnson “doubtful”

With the Raps off to a 4-1 start, Nick and Barry are back to give you their thoughts on the past 5 games. The season is in full swing and so are the guys.

On this week’s episode they discuss:

-Terrence Ross… What is going on?

-Stripes is unfortunately STILL in the building.

-SportCheck’s #MyNorth campaign.

-4-1…The good, the bad and the ugly.

-Israel Gutierrez, Kevin Durant and Wale.

-What’s happening with our defence?

They also check in on things going on around the league, like Lance Stephenson’s absolutely wonderful .gif.
This and more!

As always, thank you for listening and enjoy!

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (26:01, 25 MB). Or just listen below:

DeMar DeRozan becoming one of Raptors greats | Toronto Sun

Today’s professional athletes are known to be hard workers, but DeRozan takes it to a different level, which is why he has been able to steadily improve, to the point that he made his first all-star appearance in 2013-14. Earlier this summer, former Raptors head coach Jay Triano said he was not shocked at all about DeRozan’s progression, since he had always been a relentless worker. “Even when I was coaching and he was a young player and we were playing him to gain the experience that he has now, the kid came back every night at 6 O’clock, it was like clockwork,” Triano told the Sun. “The door in the locker room would open and it was almost like a beeper on a watch going off. You’d look and you’d go, ‘it’s got to be 6 o’clock and it’s got to be DeMar,’ and sure enough, he was coming back and getting extra shots. The great players don’t just do what everybody else does, they find something else to do to make them better and DeMar was like that.”

DeMar DeRozan Says Chris Bosh Made Him The Player He Is | FanSided

“He was tough on me from the standpoint, I think he knew how good I could be,” DeRozan told Basketball Insiders. “I was the starting guard with him, (Hedo) Turkoglu, (Andrea) Bargnani, Jose Calderon. I was the only rookie out there. A lot of mistakes I made, he would just be hard on me about it so I could be better. He was a good dude. He’s a good friend of mine.” In what proved to be a changing of the guard, Bosh ended up leaving the Toronto Raptors to join LeBron James in South Beach with the Miami Heat while DeMar DeRozan took over as the franchise player in T-Dot.

Raptors Celebrate 20th Anniversary Nights | Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors will play host to the Washington Wizards this Friday, November 7 in the first of seven 20th Anniversary Nights presented by Air Canada. The team will wear the original road purple jersey for the first time since May 4, 1999. All fans in attendance at Friday’s game will receive a special edition throwback purple t-shirt, which features the names of every player in team history designed within the claw logo. Former Raptors Alvin Williams and Antonio Davis will also be on hand to help kick-off the anniversary celebrations. Four Raptors alumni will be featured with a bobble-head giveaway throughout the season.

Armstrong: Five thoughts around the NBA | TSN

JAMES JOHNSON (Raptors): Been very impressed with his energy and play making ability.  Has had some wonderful drives and neat passes so far.  His defensive awareness and ability is top shelf and is a game-changer at the three or four spot off the bench.  A good get the second time around. Just keep playing under control and good things are ahead for him.

Views From The 6: Early Season Trends | Raptors HQ

With the caveat — and it holds for almost everything in this piece — that it’s early, the Raptors are allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which currently places them in the bottom third of the league. Early numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but just by the eye test, games like the first half about Oklahoma City and the entire game against Miami (save for a bit of the fourth) where guys were just getting to the basket at will is concerning. The lack of effort thing is another eye test measurement, but in the last three games, the Raptors have trailed 31-26, 30-23 and 35-23. This team is talented enough to fight back from these deficits, but it’s almost as if they know that, and succeeding from coming back to win (which they did against the Thunder, and last night against the Celtics) is a type of positive reinforcement for them. These poor starts will eventually catch up to them, and they’re not going to get away with that against better teams. It should be pointed out we’ve been working with a patchwork front court last few games, and the presence of Amir Johnson on both ends of the floor and how he solidifies the rotation has played a role in the inconsistent play. Casey should eventually figure out how to maximize his bench and the best five-man lineups to put out there in terms of mixing and matching all the pieces he has.

Raptors, comfortable and confident, taking advantage of roster cohesion | ProBasketballTalk

Of course, the Raptors’ goal is not only to get a head start on clicking during the regular season. They want to go deeper in the playoffs than last season, when they fell in the first round. Again, their familiarity should help. In the previous five years, four teams returned five players who started at least 60 games from a team that lost in the first round. All four – the 2011-12 Spurs, 2011-12 76ers, 2010-11 Thunder and 2009-10 Spurs – advanced in the playoffs. Obviously, there’s a selection bias. Only teams that believe in their starters bring them all back. But that’s the point. Toronto has a good general manager in Masai Ujiri, and he chose to keep this team intact. Maybe Lowry deserves the most credit. A free agent this summer, he received interest from the Heat and Rockets before re-signing with the Raptors. But after taking care of his team’s top player, Ujiri re-signed Patterson and Vasquez on player-friendly contracts in order to keep the core together.

Why Raptors James Johnson Isn’t The Same Guy This Year | Pro Bball Report

Johnson learned the hard way that teams in the NBA don’t owe a player anything. After the Kings opted to let him go following the 2012-13 season, he was waived by the Hawks before the 2013-14 season started and Johnson ended up in the NBA D-League until the Grizzlies needed an injury replacement in December. Johnson played well for the Grizzlies, but didn’t make a big enough impression to stick after the season ended. He has good reasons for knowing he can’t take anything for granted. However, Johnson is better than before, picking up the nuances of the game from players like Zach Randolph last year and Kyle Lowry as he prepared for this year. Already Johnson has displayed the defensive energy that he has been known for and an unexpected ability to finish through contract, something he often struggled with earlier in his career.

Nba | The North Star: Kyle Lowry’s Continued Rise As Raptors Leader | SPORTAL

Lowry’s rise is no longer news, though he shouldered the load in Toronto’s 48-win season beneath a cloud of doubt concerning his motivation. Once viewed as a cantankerous, combative figure in the locker room, few could absorb his development and maturation without remaining conscious of the carrot dangling at the end of the tunnel—unrestricted free agency, and the overwhelming likelihood of a hefty pay day. The Raptors returned the favour in kind during the offseason, committing to Lowry as the team’s defining personality, and locking him up with a four-year, $48 million contract. Five games in (small sample size notwithstanding) and with a handful of new point guard deals since doled out for context, and it looks as if Masai Ujiri’s valuation of the 28-year-old hit the mark.

Johnson’s absence at centre of Raptors’ slow starts | Sportsnet.ca

But it is one of those bench players, Greivis Vasquez, who wondered earlier this week whether the absence of Amir Johnson – missing for three games with an ankle injury – wasn’t a large part of the explanation. Johnson was a good first-quarter performer for the Raptors when the team blossomed into a contender in 2013-2014, collecting more steals and rebounds and posting a higher field-goal percentage in the first quarter than any other player on the team. True, he logged more first-quarter minutes, but Johnson’s energy and ability to produce without needing plays drawn up for him is an important first-quarter asset for any team. Few players on this team have as many recipes for chicken salad as does Johnson, if you catch my drift. “Amir … we’re all just so used to having him out there,” Vasquez said. “It’s not just his energy. It’s what he does. He might not get 40 points but we need him for the rest of us to get baskets.

Toronto Raptors: A Deceiving Start | The Runner Sports

First of all, let’s look at who the Toronto Raptors have beaten so far this year.  Atlanta, Boston, Oklahoma City, and Orlando aren’t exactly world-beaters this year.  Those teams are 4-13 so far this season, so the Raptors should beat those teams.  The one loss was at the hands of the Miami Heat who, at 3-2, are the only team above .500 that the Raptors have played so far in this early portion of the season.  Now, there’s something to be said for beating the teams that you’re supposed to, but even those “easy” wins have been much tougher than they should have been.  Atlanta was only down 4 with 35 seconds left, Orlando was down 5 with 4 minutes left, and Oklahoma City was down 7 with 3 minutes left.  Boston had a chance to tie Wednesday’s game with a 3-pointer at the end of regulation.  It’s great that the Raptors came away with the wins, but you’d like to see them put away those teams earlier.

Raptors view Celtics as threat in Atlantic Division | Green Street

The Celtics are hoping to replicate Toronto’s turnaround behind their own headstrong 28-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo and burgeoning young shooting guard Avery Bradley in the second year of coach Brad Stevens‘ tenure. The Raptors are recognizing their effort. “They’€™re definitely very talented,” DeRozan said after scoring 23 points on 25 shots in a 110-107 win in Boston. “They’€™ve got a great coach. They’€™ve got a hell of a point guard in Rondo. They’€™re still learning and still growing. You’€™ve got a talented kid in [Marcus] Smart, so they definitely have a chance and we definitely have to look for them, especially in our division.”

#NorthernNostalgia week two: The birth of the Raptors brand | Raptors Cage

Tomorrow night’s contest against the Washington Wizards is marketed as the first “20th Anniversary Night” of the season. Players will wear vintage throwback jerseys and fans in attendance will receive a commemorative t-shirt reportedly featuring the names of every player to ever don the purple/red.

Raptors vs. Wizards preview | Toronto Sun

Washington has looked good early, despite being without gunners Bradley Beal and Martell Webster. Wall has picked up the slack, averaging a career-best 21.4 points per game, little-known Garrett Temple has played 35 minutes a night at shooting guard, averaging 13.8 points, hitting a ton of threes and big men Marcin Gortat and Nene have been excellent. Paul Pierce has been a nice fit, benefiting from the many open looks Wall sets up. Washington has won four straight since an opening night loss to Miami, including a two-point, overtime thriller over Indiana on Wednesday. This will be the Wizards third game in four nights and the fifth in seven nights for the Raptors.

Raptors-Wizards: Friday game preview | Toronto Star

The Raptors still have Jonas Valanciunas (hand) and Amir Johnson (ankle) listed as questionable but if they don’t go, it’s a tough, tough matchup for a smallish Toronto front court . . . Wizards are 4-1 after an overtime win over Indiana on Wednesday, even without injured guard Bradley Beal. Temple has filled in admirably and averages almost 14 points per game . . . Pierce is taking the place of departed free agent Trevor Ariza and gives the Wizards another grizzled veteran to go along with backup point guard Andre Miller . . . Antonio Davis and Alvin Williams will be at the game as part of Toronto’s 20th anniversary celebrations, and the team will wear the purple pinstriped road jerseys that debuted in 1995 . . . Washington is trying to start a season 5-1 for the second time in history; the Raptors have never been 5-1.

Raptors (4-1) vs Washington Wizards (4-1): 3 keys to victory | Raptors Rapture

One difference which favours the Wiz is the presence of ageless Paul Pierce, last season’s Game 7 heartbreaker. He starts at small forward, where Terrence Ross has recently struggled. The Wizards’ bench includes rebounder Kris Humphries, savvy veteran point guard Andre Miller, smallish forward DeJuan Blair and underachiever Kevin Seraphin. The Raptors can win this game, but without Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson (both listed as “questionable”) are in tough.

I can haz yo linkz???? [email protected]

Raptors 110, C**tics 107 – Box
There are some games where if you lose the sky is falling, and if you win, there’s little celebration because that’s what you were supposed to do. This was that kind of a game, albeit with high end-to-end drama.

The creaky defense that has been giving way was at the forefront in Boston, with the Celtics starting a whopping 9-9 from the field. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were man-handling Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough in the paint, and the early rebounding discrepancies were only slightly less embarrassing than the 79% the Celtics shot in the first quarter (check out a Celtic grab a rebound with four Raptors standing around). The defense was a shambles with no coverage underneath, bizarre matchups presented to the Celtics right from the start of the set, and wildly unorganized rotations that yielded three-point shots which the home team was draining.

Here’s an early harbinger where there is no plan for providing help underneath. Not having Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson hurts, yet that’s not an excuse for this level of breakdown this early in a game:

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Another problem was captured in this frame, where Jeff Green is left wide open due to a baseline trap, with Hansbrough being tasked with a rotation that he’s extremely slow to make, and something he’s not used to doing:

rotation

Finally, to give you a taste of how poor the defense was, I’d like to point out two examples. First, in transition, the Raptors did not check their man, or communicate about Celtics leaking right after the shot. The example below has Kelly Olynyk beating everyone down the floor for an easy two after a missed shot.

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And here’s the absolute worst defensive possession I’ve seen this year. It’s got Lou Williams guarding Jared Sullinger for some reason, and then the Raptors conceding an offensive rebound for a Boston three.

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This was the kind of start that the Raptors had, and not surprisingly they were getting punished. The Celitcs backcourt likes to press and attack, they’re built for that kind of basketball and the Raptors obliged by taking quick one-on-one shots which gave the Celtics even more incentive to push the tempo.

[Also read: The Quick Reaction - Celtics vs Raptors]
[Check out: Toronto Raptors - Worst Rebounding Games Ever]

They were up by as many as 16 in the first half, and it would have been more if it weren’t for DeRozan scoring some early buckets preventing 6-2 runs from becoming 8-0 runs. He was being covered by Jeff Green, making it now official that opposing teams prefer putting taller guys with good reach on him. Credit to DeRozan, he didn’t turn the ball over and took shots which you have to consider are high percentage for him. Yes, they’re jumpers, but they’re jumpers that will be his bread-and-butter when it’s all said and done.  Learn to live with him as long as he’s mixing it up with his drives (5-6 FT).

Two Raptors helped make a dent in the second quarter: Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams. Lowry had 17 in the first half, including this massive three which quelled the tide. Williams, who saw himself playing the point instead of the ineffective Vasquez, added an element of stolidity which slowed the game down and allowed the Raptors to operate methodically instead of in a sense of panic, where the only thing to look forward to was the next wave of Boston attack.

As the steady offense lent confidence to a defense whose unlikely saviours became foot-soldiers like James Johnson (great dunk) and Chuck Hayes, the big comeback was almost made complete by halftime with Patterson draining this three in transition. A note on Patterson – he had some issues guarding Sullinger in the block, and even Olynyk at times, but unlike Ross, he provided enough offensive punch to warrant court time and played good defense on the final possession of the game.

I couldn’t understand why Dwane Casey even attempted to matchup Grevis Vasquez with Rajon Rondo, the latter was torching the former and it was entirely predictable. This was a very negative matchup for the Raptors, not just because Rondo was blowing by Vasquez, but because it fractured the already fragile Raptors defense, resulting in chaos. With little offensive output from the fledgling Terrence Ross who Jeff Green was eating alive, the last thing the Raptors could afford was giving up easy baskets and that’s what the matchup enabled the Celtics to do.

A three-point halftime deficit was a blessing, and the Raptors had to have felt that they’d been let off the hook.

James Johnson permanently replaced Ross in the third quarter because Jeff Green was having a picnic with him. There’s a moment of frustration for Ross that the camera was able to catch right before he was benched. The current problems with Ross’s play are as follows:

  • He stop short on his drives and tends to either go for the floater, a leaner, or a pull-up – none of which he is particularly good at. Smarter thing to do is to just pull a DeRozan and try to get fouled. Go from there.
  • Defensively, he struggles against players his size or bigger. Not because he’s a terrible defender, but because he’s not a strong one. He gets pushed, stuck on peoples hips, and is unable to recover.
  • His three-point shot isn’t falling at a high enough clip for Casey to live with his defense.

The comeback was on in full force in the third, with Kyle Lowry leading the charge and DeRozan doing his thing. The decision-making on offense improved and the Raptors were giving what the aggressive Celtics defense was conceding, rather than shooting their way against a set defense. This play where Lowry realizes that he doesn’t have numbers, pulls back, waits for DeRozan bursting down the channel and laying it off is a perfect example of the smarter basketball the Raptors played in the second half:

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The spark the aforementioned James Johnson provided was also critical. His perimeter pressure paid of and directly resulted in points on multiple occasions, the best example of which was this score for Lowry:

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The icing on the third quarter was provided by our second-quarter hero, Lou Williams, who the Raptors cleared out for against Evan Turner to fantastic effect. The Raptors comeback was complete and they had reclaimed the lead after three quarters, which felt like an eternity ago from when they were up 2-0.

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This was always going to come down to defense and clutch playmaking, both of which the Raptors weren’t short of in the fourth. The Celtics continued to dominate the glass and ended the game with a ridiculous 55-24 advantage, which I understand to some degree since two of the Raptors’ best rebounders were out, but still, 31 boards? It’s mind-boggling.

The defense picked up and Lou Williams reading the play and playing the passing lane early in the fourth set the tone. After that, it was more of James Johnson pressure leading to points, and finally Kyle Lowry stepping up on both ends – his charge here galvanized the team and gave them that extra burst of energy needed to finish off a game on a back-to-back:

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Some credit needs to be given to Dwane Casey for managing his star players’ minutes over the back-to-back/3-in-4.  Lowry and DeRozan were limited to 31 minutes apiece against the Thunder, which helped them play 36 and 40, respectively, last night.

I have to pause and give some credit to Chuck Hayes, he was the most effective in stopping Jared Sullinger. He battled him for position instead of settling for playing face-up defense, and bodied him in a way that Patterson and Hansbrough didn’t.  He wore Sullinger down just enough that his shots started front-rimming and he didn’t have the energy to attack the offensive glass on some key possessions where the Raptors secured a rare defensive rebound.

The Celtics remained within a shout because of their three-point shooting and ended up tying the game after the Raptors had gone up by 8, and with the game tied, a statement was made:

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This was a perfect play and symbolized just what the second half was all about. Defense first and aggressive on offense. The whole “Lowry vs Smart” thing was put to bed on this decisive play, and DeRozan’s raw emotion after the thunderous dunk echoed both, relief and joy. The Raptors tandem had delivered. However, this was Kyle Lowry’s night, and it was only fitting that he alone came out for the encore to ice the game and a 35-point (12-17 FG) night:

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Let’s also not overlook the defense played on the last possession. I was nervous about this given how the Raptors were dropping back against driving guards, allowing kick backs to the top of the key for open threes. This time the pressure on the ball was good, the catch-point was further away, and Patterson did well to defend without fouling.

Did the Raptors play a great game? Absolutely not. They’re still finding their way on defense, integrating their reformed bench, and compensating for two missing starters. They were obliterated on the boards and once again gave up 50%+ shooting. Their saving grace turned out to be committing only 7 turnovers, and forcing 27 which led to 28 points. The Celtics backcourt are equally aggressive on offense as they are on defense, which cost them because you can’t go at a 100% clip all the time.

In my years of watching basketball, there are some things I never do and one of them is complaining about a road win on a back-to-back. You take those any chance you get. This Raptors unit may not yet have the consistency and chemistry it showed last year, but one quality has already shined through: when they’re down, they’re not out. There’s a spirit in them that believes no deficit is too large, and as a supporter watching, you just feel that there’s enough in there that you don’t ever want to change the channel.

Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Video Credit: TSN Canada, NBA

After every game, post the best three Raptors of that game. First place gets 3 points, second place gets 2, and third place gets 1. For each game one of our members will add up the points and then track the standings throughout the season to see who we as the fans vote as the most valuable team member come the end of the season.

The Raptors were out-rebounded by 31 on Wednesday night in Boston which was their worst margin ever. Here’s a list of games where the Raptors have been out-rebounded by 20 or more. In total, there’s been 25 such games, in which the Raptors are 5-20.

Date Opponent Result ORB DRB TRB Opp ORB Opp DRB Opp TRB Diff
11/5/2014 @ BOS W 110-107 6 18 24 17 38 55 -31
12/3/1997 @ UTA L 98-115 12 16 28 24 34 58 -30
12/1/2004 @ ORL L 108-129 6 26 32 14 47 61 -29
1/23/2013 @ MIA L 116-123 (OT) 7 21 28 16 37 53 -25
2/19/1998 v CHI L 86-123 10 25 35 22 38 60 -25
12/6/2004 @ NJN L 86-88 6 30 36 19 42 61 -25
1/22/2006 @ LAL L 104-122 4 23 27 18 33 51 -24
10/29/2008 @ PHI W 95-84 10 23 33 23 33 56 -23
2/5/2002 @ WAS L 94-99 3 24 27 22 28 50 -23
1/4/1997 @ DET L 74-118 11 17 28 14 37 51 -23
3/3/2004 @ WAS L 70-84 11 27 38 14 47 61 -23
12/2/2009 @ ATL L 115-146 8 21 29 15 36 51 -22
3/6/2007 @ WAS L 109-129 9 18 27 17 32 49 -22
11/5/2005 @ DET L 84-117 3 32 35 16 41 57 -22
12/10/2006 v POR L 83-93 10 24 34 13 43 56 -22
2/27/2004 @ BOS L 75-88 9 23 32 14 40 54 -22
11/18/2006 @ DEN L 109-117 10 27 37 18 40 58 -21
2/26/2003 @ CHI L 95-103 12 20 32 16 37 53 -21
12/26/1995 v MIL W 93-87 13 14 27 18 30 48 -21
11/14/2001 @ GSW W 89-82 11 27 38 20 39 59 -21
1/15/1996 @ NJN L 83-108 6 28 34 19 36 55 -21
3/1/2002 v POR L 81-91 10 27 37 24 34 58 -21
11/4/2002 v CHI W 109-105 (OT) 15 33 48 29 39 68 -20
4/9/2005 @ CHI L 97-110 6 27 33 21 32 53 -20
3/7/2001 @ LAL L 85-97 8 25 33 17 36 53 -20

Source: Basketball Reference
Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Kyle Lowry’s 35 leads Raptors over Celtics | Toronto Sun

Head coach Dwane Casey mixed and matched until he found something that worked, which ended up being a smaller lineup, featuring Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez in the backcourt. Once Terrence Ross re-entered, the starters also played much better than they had in the first. The Celtics shot just 9-for-24 in the frame, while the Raptors found their form. After yet another Lowry bucket and a Celtics miss, Lou Williams raced down the court and sank a buzzer-beater to end the third, giving Toronto its first lead since Patterson opened the scoring. It was Boston’s turn to fight back several times in the fourth. The Garden has not been kind to the Raptors and it looked like another horror show in the making early on. Toronto had only snapped an 11-game losing streak in Boston last March. Casey said the 4-1 record is nice, but there is considerable work to be done. “I’m proud, but we can’t be satisfied,” he said.

Kyle Lowry leads Raptors past Celtics | Toronto Star

The Raptors trailed by as many as 16 points but pulled away with some aggressive defence and clutch shooting down the stretch. Lowry was again a driving force for the Raptors, leading the team with 35 points. “The guys said (Tuesday) I wasn’t aggressive enough. And with us missing JV (Jonas Valanciunas) and Amir (Johnson), me and DeMar (DeRozan) had to be more aggressive tonight,” said Lowry. That aggression came at both ends of the court. Under pressure from the Raptors for the last three quarters, the Celtics coughed up 27 turnovers. One of the most impressive — and clutch — was a fourth-quarter steal by Lowry.

Lewenberg: Lowry carries shorthanded Raptors past Boston | TSN

“The play of the game was the steal [Lowry] had at the end,” Dwane Casey said. As the whistle blew – DeRozan would go to the line to cap off a three-point play – Lowry turned to face the Garden crowd, arms spread at waist level, and let out a roar. At the moment, he had that look in his eyes. He had that same look, or variations of it, from the second quarter on. Most of the NBA is familiar with it by now and it doesn’t usually bode well for whomever is on the other side. “He’s got that angry face,” said Patrick Patterson. “That’s what he always looks like.” There was no way Lowry was letting his team lose that game. “Yesterday they said I wasn’t aggressive enough and with us missing [Jonas Valanciunas] and [Amir Johnson] I had to be more aggressive tonight,” said Lowry after scoring 35 points – his highest as a Raptor – on just 17 shots in Toronto’s comeback 110-107 road win over the Boston Celtics Wednesday.

Recap: Kyle Lowry Beats the Boston Celtics in Raptors’ Comeback Victory | Raptors HQ

The Toronto Raptors appear to be slow starters. On the second night of a home-road back to back, the Raptors were given all they could handle by a tough Celtics team that has been competitive in every game in spite of its record. After last night’s porous defensive effort, Amir’s continued injury absence was a cause for concern heading into tonight’s game. Once news came that Jonas Valanciunas would be out as well, this had the look of a game the Raptors would struggle to win.

Game 4 Grades: Toronto Raptors 110, Boston Celtics 107 | CelticsHub

I’m going to continue to laud Brad Stevens in this space: I really liked his late-game substitutions tonight. For example: After Marcus Smart dribbled too long and was ripped by Kyle Lowry, Stevens yanked him for the offensive possession following the timeout. On the next defensive possession, Stevens sent him back in to redeem himself. That’s a quick way of letting Smart know he messed up without sapping his confidence, and it’s the kind of thoughtful coaching we’ve come to expect from Stevens. So. ANOTHER A+.

Sloppy play buries Celtics vs. Toronto | CelticsBlog

Look, the Celtics did a lot of things well tonight. They moved the ball, they hit the outside shot, you’ve got to feel great about Boston’s enormous 55-24 rebounding edge, Jared Sullinger was an absolute animal with 19 points and 16 boards, Kelly Olynyk came through with a big double-double of his own (18 points, 13 rebounds), Marcus Smart had another solid night (despite the late turnover) and Rajon Rondo racked up his 30th career triple-double. Man, does Rondo look good or what? However, you can’t turn the ball over 27 times and expect to win a ballgame against a good team. Hell, even against a weaker team. Hats off to the Raptors, who battled all night and showed why they are such a tough team to deal with. Persistence and execution is what separated them from the green in this one. Had the Cs just taken better care of the ball, we could be celebrating a victory right now, but these growing pains are part of what comes with a youth movement.

Quick Recap: DeRozan, Lowry come clutch in win over Celtics | Raptors Watch

The team experienced a bit of painful déjà vu on the defensive end early on. Much like the Thunder started 8 for 9 from the field on Tuesday, the Celtics made quick work of a lackluster Raps’ defense, jumping out to a 25-9 lead on 11/12 field goals. Sullinger in particular posted 8 points and 3 boards in the 1st quarter. A couple of and-1’s from Williams and Lowry contributed to an 8-0 run, but the improved ball movement did nothing to stop the bleeding; the defense allowed the deficit to increase to 12 by the end of the 1st Q. Boston commenced the second quarter by tackling the Raptors’ poor transition defense courtesy of an Avery Bradley three, and Rondo commanded the paint with several difficult layups. The team showed why they currently lead the league in fewest turnovers, but struggled to convert their jumpers, and the absence of the bigs attributed to a large discrepancy on the glass.

Celtics Notes: Kyle Lowry Puts On All-Star Show; Vitor Faverani Back In States | Boston Celtics | NESN.com

The Raptors were missing their starting frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, and it showed early, as the Celtics made a living of attacking the rim against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough. Kyle Lowry was an animal for the Raptors, leading all scorers with 35 points and kick-starting Toronto’s comeback. Lowry also came up with the play of the game when he stripped Celtics point guard Marcus Smart to set up DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning dunk. “He’s just really good,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the Raptors point guard. “I mean, he’s a bull. When he drives the ball, you can’t stop him from getting what he wants because he separates from his body. He scores the ball, he makes huge defensive plans like he did against Marcus late. I said before the game he probably should’ve been an All-Star last year, and it looks like he took that one seriously. Because he sure looked like one tonight.”

Green Street » 5 things we learned in Celtics’ loss to Raptors | WEEI

The Raptors fought their way back into the game during the second quarter by outscoring the Celtics 31-22, and most of the damage was done late. Toronto finished the quarter by scoring 20 points in the last six minutes of the half to go into the locker room down by just three points. The Raptors got a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter to finally take the lead, 88-86. Kyle Lowry did most of the damage in the middle quarters; he had 23 points in the second and third periods alone and 31 total heading into the fourth.

Post Game: Kyle Lowry pours in 35, Raptors down Celtics | Raptors Cage

he raptors allowed the Celtics to score 35 points on nearly 80%shooting after the first quarter. There was a point where the Celtics converted on 8 straight field goals with the Raptors failing to make a stop. Luckily the Raptors picked up their defensive efforts after being down 16. They made the Celtics turn the ball over 27 times leading to 36 points off those turnovers. James Johnson, Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry all made concentrated defensive efforts to get Toronto back in the game. If the Raptors plan to keep winning their gonna need a complete defensive effort for four quarters as they’re not good enough yet to just flip on the switch and get stops.

The Only Thing You Need To Know About the Celtics’ Loss to the Raptors – Celtics Blog | Boston.com

This setback was the third in a row for Boston. It likely stung more than any other defeat this season since the Celtics so obviously gave away the win with their miscues. Boston had 28 turnovers on the evening, including nine in the fourth quarter. The Raptors scored 36 points on those mistakes, including a go-ahead three-point play from DeMar DeRozan following a Marcus Smart turnover that broke a 105-105 tie with just 28.9 seconds remaining.

Kyle Lowry teaches rookie Marcus Smart a thing or two | The Boston Globe

Smart and Lowry have been facing off for about a month now, since the preseason when Smart admitted he gave Lowry too much respect during a loss in Toronto. So Smart has been itching to exact revenge, but Wednesday wasn’t the night. Lowry carried the Raptors with 35 points, including a fadeaway 18-footer with eight seconds left to give the Raptors a 3-point lead. Lowry, like Smart, is a muscular bowling ball who attacks the rim with vigor and finishes with a soft touch. Smart should attempt to emulate him. “Yeah, I definitely think he’s a guy he should look up to and learn from, but there’s a lot of guys in this league like that, and there’s only one Kyle Lowry,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s a unique player. He’s different than Marcus in a lot of ways, but Marcus can certainly learn from him, as well as many others.” Lowry was an afterthought when he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, traded to Houston to make room for Mike Conley. He was a victim of the Rockets’ salary cap binging and traded to Toronto in July 2012. He has turned himself into an All-Star-caliber player and understands Smart’s journey.

Lowry has 35 points, Raptors beat Celtics | ESPN

With big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas sidelined, Lowry took over for the Raptors in the second quarter and carried them from there. “He came out aggressive,” forward DeMar DeRozan said. “We need him to do that.” DeRozan had 23 points and Patrick Patterson added 14 for Toronto, but it was Lowry that Boston coach Brad Stevens praised. “I said before the game that he probably should have been an All-Star last year,” Stevens said. “It looks like he took that one seriously because he looked like one tonight.” It came after the Raptors fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter. “We can’t be that way,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It shouldn’t have to come from me to crack the whip at every turn to get us going.” Rajon Rondo led Boston with a triple-double of 13 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Jeff Green had 20 points for the Celtics, who have lost three straight after a season-opening win over Brooklyn.

THE POST GAME THREAD: Toronto Raptors 110 – Boston Celtics 107 /r/bostonceltics

Kyle Lowry and Evan Turner played really well for the Raptors tonight.

Taking in opening night with Masai Ujiri | Sportsnet.ca

And, most importantly, he fought the urge to tank away the 2013 season, and was rewarded with a surprise playoff appearance and unprecedented expectations in 2014. Even with all that success already in the rearview mirror, Ujiri can barely watch the Raptors play. Not because he’s indifferent—quite the opposite—Ujiri can’t stand to watch because he’s so emotionally invested. “I do random things during the game,” he admits. “I just can’t watch. Sometimes I go up in my office and work. Other times I’ll drive home in the middle of the game. “Everybody around here refers to Game 7 last year. I didn’t see most of it. The big comebacks and lead changes against Brooklyn. I didn’t see most of them. I’m not sure why. It’s hard to explain. I just do random things to get my mind off the game.”

I can haz yo linkz? [email protected]


Toronto Raptors 110 FinalRecap | Box Score 107 Boston Celtics
Tyler Hansbrough, PF 24 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2Basketball players are creatures of habit and they flourish when given a defined role that doesn’t change. For Hansbrough, that’s coming off the bench and playing with reckless abandon. Before the game Dwane Casey talked about his hesitation in changing that role and Hansbrough’s play tonight showed why. He lacked his normal physical style of play and finished with four points and five boards in 23 minutes. Another scary stat is he finished with a +/- of -2.

Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -7You have to give Patterson credit for playing within himself and not trying to force things. He scored 14 points on only six field goal attempts. Impressive.

Terrence Ross, SF 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -4There was a bit of a buzz tonight on twitter about James Johnson bumping Ross out of the starting five. Sorry, I’m not buying into that. Yes, Ross wasn’t able to find his groove shooting the ball (1-5 from the field) and Jeff Green went off for 20 points against him, but I’m chalking this up to a bad game against an underrated player in Green. Plus, Green needed 16 FGA’s to score those 20 points.

Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 12-17 FG | 9-10 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 35 PTS | +4Lowry was a beast tonight. He had a tough time finding a groove in the first quarter due to being hounded by Rajon Rondo (taller player) and Marcus Smart (larger build), but he found his groove in the second quarter. He finished with a game-high 35 points and two big steals.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 9-25 FG | 5-6 FT | 0 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | -1DeRozan got off to a slow starting going 1-5 from the field in the first quarter. You have to give him credit for being relentless as he kept attacking all night (25 field goal attempts) and still managed to score 23 points. He stuffed the stat sheet with six boards and two steals.

James Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +10The idea was for Johnson to use his athleticism and size to give Jared Sullinger fits. Safe to say that didn’t work out as planned as Sullinger scorched Toronto for 19 points and 16 boards. To be fair, it’s tough for Johnson to battle Sullinger when he’s giving up 40 pounds.

Chuck Hayes, C 12 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +4Hayes only played 1:49 in the first half, but he managed a +/- of +8. So there’s that. He also played like a wrecking ball during his limited time on the court which was a lot of fun to watch. Poor Marcus Smart will be feeling the collision the two had for the next few days.

Greg Stiemsma, C 12 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +1He came into the game and made an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor for the Raptors. His modest stats won’t pop off the box score, but he was a big part of this win.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +10Has Vasquez met a three-pointer he hasn’t fallen in love with? Last night he went 1-7 from beyond the arc against Oklahoma City and tonight he went 1-2 against Boston. His scoring is usually a great spark for the second unit, but tonight he went 3-8 from the field. He needs to find other ways to contribute when his shot’s not falling.

Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | 0Williams came into the game and gave Toronto an instant spark as the Raptors went on a 9-2 run to end the first quarter. Williams scored five of those points and he finished with 11 points. It’s also worth noting the buzzer beater he had to end the third quarter and give Toronto their first lead since it was 2-0.

Dwane Casey
Do you give Casey blame for yet another slow start by his team? Or, do you give him credit for another hell-raising halftime speech to rally the troops? I’m going to give Casey credit for waking up a lethargic team.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Toronto allowed Boston to start the game shooting 12-14 from the field while getting a lot of easy looks in the paint. Meanwhile, Toronto seemed to be afraid to even venture into the paint – despite Boston lacking an intimidating rim protector – and shot 7-17 during that same stretch.
  2. Kyle Lowry willed Toronto to the win and his steal in the final minute of regulation lead to the DeRozan dunk. Everyone will rave over DeRozan’s dunk – and rightfully so, it was filthy – but it was Lowry’s steal that set the entire sequence in motion.
  3. Sorry, I’m not buying into the idea of James Johnson bumping Terrence Ross out of the starting five. Johnson gives the team a great spark off of the bench and Raptors need the three-point shooting – or at least the threat of it – that Ross provides.
  4. Patrick Patterson is a silent assassin. Or maybe a ninja. He quietly scored 14 points including a huge three late in the fourth quarter after Boston tied up the game. He went 4-6 from beyond the arc tonight.
  5. Marcus Smart needs to work on his jumper, but the kid has a lot of potential. He hit a huge three late in the fourth to tie the game at 105. He went 3-7 from beyond the arc and scored 12 points. He’s a bulldog on defence.

He hurt his hand last night and is now out. This means Bebe is in full effect. And if he’s not available, Chuck Hayes and Greg Steimsma. My money’s on Steimsma getting the start. With Johnson already questionable, we’re looking at Patrick Patterson getting the start along with one other guy we simply don’t trust.

The Raptors face a pesky Celtics team tonight in Boston. The Raps handled their business last season against the Celtics, going 3-1. This year’s group appears to be a much tougher matchup with the return of Rajon Rondo and additions such as Marcus Thorton and Marcus Smart fortifying their second unit.

Boston Quick Facts:

  • 1-2, with losses on the road against Dallas and Houston.
  • Improved offense: 108 points per game — 2nd in the league. Offensive rating 108.4 — 11th overall.
  • Defensive Woes: 109 points allows per game — 29th in the league. Defensive rating 109.4 — 23rd overall. They’ve protected the rim better than expected so far. Opponents are shooting 53.2% at the rim, good for 15th in the league.
  • Bring your running shoes: 99.7 pace — 2nd highest in the league.
  • Excellent ball movement: 2nd in assists per game, 3rd in points created by assists per game and 1st in assist opportunities per game.

Keys to success for Toronto:

  • Win the free throw battle: This should be a lopsided matchup as Toronto averages the 2nd most free throw attempts per game and Boston averages the 2nd least FTA per game.
  • Protect the ball: The Raptors’ excellent ball protection, a league low 9.8 turnovers a game, will be put to the test tonight. Boston has forced the 5th most turnovers and the 4th most steals per game so far this season.
  • Transition defense: 19.4% of Boston’s baskets come off of fast breaks. This percentage is second only to Golden State.
  • Protect the paint: Boston is among the shortest teams in the league and so far they’ve had their shot blocked more times per game than any team in the NBA. Nevertheless, the Celtics score a league high 51.9% of their points in the paint.
  • Box Out: Boston is 2nd best offensive rebounding team in the league so far.
  • Break out of the three-point slump!: Toronto has been collectively terrible from beyond the arc so far this season, ranking 28th in 3 point percentage at 25.5%. The good news for the Raptors is that Boston is allowing the highest 3-point field goal percentage in the league at 42.3%.

Look for Boston to come out aggressively after falling behind big in the first half of each of their two losses. Don’t be surprised to see Brad Stevens employ a havoc wreaking three-guard lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Rondo and Marcus Smart in spurts throughout the game. The Raptors are still very much the favorites in this one but a win on the road in the tail end of a back-to-back will not come easily. What’s more, most fans agree that something has been just a little bit off with the Raps so far this season, despite the 3-1 start. If the Raptors are successful in forcing Boston into outside shots, getting back on D and regaining the three-point shooting prowess they showed last season, then they should improve to 4-1.

All stats for this article provided by NBA.com.

Toronto Raptors may have escaped with win over Oklahoma City Thunder but it still felt sad | National Post

The real problem is on defence, though. Oklahoma City was pushing 70% from the field into the second quarter, with the Raptors failing to rotate in the half court and run back in transition. They won this game because the Thunder missed 11 free throws and turned the ball over 21 times, both of which could be casually related with being undermanned and overworked. “It’s not going to get it done,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “I told them until my eyes turned red and they’ve had that speech a lot. So, until it sinks in, it’s going to be a roller coaster.” At least when you’re on a roller coaster, you get to experience some dazzling heights.

Oklahoma City pays visit minus their superstars: Arthur | Toronto Star

The Oklahoma City Thunder came to town Tuesday night, dragging around suitcases full of bad luck. Durant, the reigning MVP, was sporting a walking boot. His shrieking bird-of-prey partner, Russell Westbrook, was nursing a broken hand. There were extras in the neighbouring hospital beds, and the Thunder had eight players active. It got worse, later. They were down to seven when Perry Jones left with a knee injury, and six when Reggie Jackson limped off with a thigh contusion. Jackson came back but Sebastian Telfair was ejected, and three of the six available Thunder players finished the game with five fouls. Kendrick Perkins sat alone on the bench, a great sad statue. After the game, Serge Ibaka had both knees and his left ankle in ice — he said he and Jackson were dealing with ankle injuries — and Steven Adams had ice wrapped around his right forearm. “It feels like a nightmare, and I’m ready to wake up,” said Jackson.

With strong second half, Raptors beat Thunder | Toronto Sun

For a team that built its success a year ago on defence, this Raptors squad is paying scant attention to the concept. Yes, they can score. Hell, last night even with their starting five struggling to score, they still reached 100 points and that’s largely because of the depth that guys like Vasquez and Lou Williams provide. But defensively, the want-to just doesn’t seem to be there. Even after what many considered a wake-up call in that loss in Miami on Sunday, the Raptors came out and allowed a team with eight players, a number that was down to six by game’s end as Sebastian Telfair was ejected with two minutes go for treating Tyler Hansbrough’s head like a punching bag, shoot 61% in the first half and lay another 30-point first quarter at the Raptors’ sluggish feet. “Sometime this year we are going to find some defence from somebody somewhere,” head coach Dwane Casey said sounding more wishful than expectant of that. “I don’t know when but we are going to find it.”

Lewenberg: Raptors win ugly over wounded Thunder | TSN

Coming off their first defeat of the campaign, Casey’s club vowed to get off to a quicker start against a hurting, albeit scrappy opponent. Instead, the Thunder hit eight of their nine attempts and shot 71 per cent in a 30-point first quarter. It wasn’t until late in the third, early in the fourth quarter that the home team turned up the heat, or – just as likely – Oklahoma City ran out of gas. Any positives to take from the night? “No, I don’t think so,” Kyle Lowry responded. “A win,” said DeRozan, his team’s leading scorer with 16. “That’s about it. A win. Honestly. They hit a lot of open shots. We let them shoot a high percentage in the first half and we had to fight back and get in. We’ve just got to learn from it. We can’t keep digging ourselves a hole and expect to fight back and everything to fall in our hands. So that’s one thing we definitely have to take from it.”

And then there were seven: Thunder fall in Toronto 100-88 | DailyThunder.com

Scott Brooks said he came away “encouraged” by the performance, and it’s easy to see why. The Thunder somehow had the game within reach, even nibbling the Raptors lead down to seven with 3:34 left. They got a stop, but a mistimed pass by Sebastian Telfair stopped the burst, and the Raptors came back with two points on a Patterson tip-in. After that Nick Collison layup that cut it to seven with 3:34 left, the Thunder scored just one point, coming on a Steven Adams free throw. They just didn’t have anything left to give. Quite an effort, and certainly positive in a lot of ways, but still: The Thunder are 1-4. And now might just have seven players available for Friday’s game against Memphis.

Thunder vs. Raptors: Injured Oklahoma City fall to Toronto, 100-88 | Welcome to Loud City

I cringed every time anyone went near the basket. Perry Jones left the game after colliding knee-to-knee with Patrick Patterson. Reggie Jackson was repeatedly on the floor grimacing in pain or getting attended to by trainers. At this point, I’m going to start taping my ankles and wearing a knee brace while I watch these games. It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse (that’s a positive, I guess?), but man, the Thunder can’t afford any more injuries. I’m just worried the basketball gods may go after the fans if they have no more players to go after. Be aware.

Recap: Raptors Defeat Short-Handed Thunder 100-88 | Raptors HQ

With the absence of the Raptors’ regular starting power forward and center, Patrick Patterson (14 points, two threes, eight rebounds, two steals, one block) and Tyler Hansbrough (12 points, seven rebounds) were big contributors, while Greg Stiemsma also got in some meaningful minutes (posting four points and three offensive rebounds). The other starters were mostly quiet, although DeMar DeRozan chipped in a team-high 16 points and Kyle Lowry added 5 assists and 0 turnovers, moving his season-long ratio to 23:2. Lou Williams put up 12 points in only 19 minutes, including 9 points in the fourth quarter. Terrence Ross did this (via Raptors Republic):

Observations From Raptors’ Locker Room After Beating Thunder 100-88 | Hoops Addict

Lou Williams was struggling to unplug his phone charger from the top shelf in his locker. He had to get Chuck Hayes to give him a hand. #ShortGuyProblems

Raptors beat depleted Thunder 100-88 | ESPN

“It feels like a nightmare and I’m ready to wake up,” Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson said. The Thunder (1-4) are off to their worst start since going 1-15 to begin the 2008-09 season. Serge Ibaka had 25 points and 11 rebounds for a short-handed Oklahoma City team playing the second game of a back-to-back. Jackson added 13 points and a career-high 14 assists. Lou Williams scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and Tyler Hansbrough got eight of his 12 at the free-throw line as the Raptors improved to 3-1. The Thunder began the game with eight active players and finished with six. Less than a minute into the second half, forward Perry Jones went down clutching his right knee after colliding with Toronto’s Patrick Patterson. Jones, who banged his knee in Monday’s loss at Brooklyn, had to be helped to the locker room and was unable to return. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and evaluate it again,” coach Scott Brooks said.

Post Game: Toronto Raptors barely get by crippled Thunder | Raptors Cage

To add insult to injury (literally), Perry Jones III and Reggie Jackson both got banged up mid-game. To put things into perspective, the Raptors were going up against 2, maybe 3 players that deserved to even have a spot in a rotation, while the Raptors pumped out their full rotation. Jonas Valanciunas left mid-way after getting bumped in the face, and Amir Johnson was also out once again, however it really was no comparison. The bottom line is that this game should have been over by halftime, however it wasn’t over until late in the 4th quarter. The outcome of the game was a 100-88 victory, which puts the Raptors at a cool 3-1. That being said, it took a strong fourth quarter to overpower a depleted Thunder team that literally had no options for their exhausted players. The Raps were clearly cruising for most of the game, however if there is one thing they should have learned from last season, it’s that every game should be tackled with 100% intensity.

Recap: Raptors lose, Thunder lose. Everyone lost. | Raptors Watch

In fairness, the Raptors played – for the most part – really well offensively. The ball movement was much ameliorated tonight. 22 assists were handed out, and there was constant slashing leading to open looks. The problems mostly stemmed on the defensive end. Those problems tended to fade away when James Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, and Tyler Hansborough checked in. Immediately when Stiemsma entered the floor, he grabbed a rebound, then contributed to forcing a shot clock violation on the ensuing defensive possession. Hansborough had his best game of the season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again – Tyler Hansborough is the most improved player on the roster this season. Of course, him and J. Johnson will still do things that will pull your hair out. James Johnson at random times thinks he’s Joe Johnson, and Tyler Hansborough took two three-pointers tonight: One of which hit nothing but thing air.

Raptors still seek personality despite hot start | Sportsnet.ca

Coaches being coaches, before the game Raptors’ Dwayne Casey was trying to turn what should have been as close as a night off as you can get in the NBA – adding to the OKC woes was that Toronto was the second game of a back-to-back and the end of a five-game, 10,000 km tour to start their season – into some kind of dangerous trap. “It’s a nightmare,” said Casey before the game, ignoring the raised eyebrows in the audience. “Guys are looking at eight guys, they don’t know half of them, but they’re dangerous. It’s a wounded animal. Brooks, when told of Casey’s comment: “I’m sure he’d be thinking it would be a bigger nightmare if our entire roster was here.” Instead Brooks has been getting used to the NBA’s defending MVP sitting in on coach’s meetings and waving towels on the bench, where he’ll likely be until mid-December, most are projecting. “KD is an amazing player and teammate [but] I’m tired of having him in my huddle,” said Brooks, whose team dropped to 1-4 on the season.

Deeper Raptors Bench Continues To Establish Identity | Toronto Raptors

“There were a lot of games last year where me and Kyle had to play 40-plus minutes at times because we had to hold a lead or fight back, just because we didn’t have as strong of a bench as we do now,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got a couple guys that can take the load off when it comes to that. There are some games when we might not have to come right back in at our normal time because the second group has got it going. I think that goes a long way.” Signing James Johnson and acquiring Lou Williams over the offseason helped Toronto to add depth to its bench. Williams brings reserve scoring and the ability to heat up quickly if the starters are having an off night. Johnson gives the Raptors an athletic wing defender to slow elite scorers and create his own baskets off of broken plays.  Success in the NBA is rarely as simple as just adding players to your roster, though. Things take time. Chemistry has to be built and optimal lineups have to be discovered. The first few weeks of this NBA season will be about head coach Dwane Casey experimenting with his deeper bench to see what rotation feels best.

Toronto Raptors: Is NBA Sleeping on a Contender? | Hoops Habit

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Atlantic Division is again in shambles. The Philadelphia 76ers continue to tank, while the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks are sources of uncertainty. The one team without significant question marks: the Toronto Raptors. Toronto has never repeated as Atlantic Division champions, but this is a different Raptors team from ever before. It’s not dependent upon Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, nor is it star-oriented in its nature. This is a balanced squad. Toronto has improved upon a team that won 48 games in 2013-14. Not only are the young players one more year wiser, but the recent acquisitions are of significant value. In 2014-15, the Raptors will continue to be one of the most balanced teams in the East. It needs its stars to rise and its young guns round into form, but both of those goals are attainable. So long as the Raptors stay healthy, the team is built to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. It’s all about continued development.

Raptors Are Winning The Grind Early This Season | Pro Bball Report

“Some nights you are going to have it and some you’re not, it’s early,” Hayes said. “Obviously we didn’t have the spark when we needed it to start the game, really the whole first half. That’s why we play two halves.” The Raptors gave up 30 points and 70.6 percent shooting from the field in the first quarter to a depleted visiting Thunder team before the second unit came in and slowly changed the tenor of the game. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win and Hayes warns that a team can’t dwell on what’s past or this league will eat you up emotionally. “Some nights you are going to be in rhythm and some nights you’re not,” Hayes said. “It’s a marathon. It’s game four out of 82. Me or anybody else, you can’t dwell on it. You move on, we have another game tomorrow. “It’s a grind. It’s a marathon. You can’t wear your emotions on your sleeve in this profession because it will eat you up.”

Tipoff: Raptors vs. Celtics | Toronto Sun

The Celtics got off to a stunningly quick start to the year with 67 points in the first half against Brooklyn, but haven’t been close to that good since. In fact, these days they are suffering from the same one or two quarters of bad basketball that have hampered Toronto’s efforts this year. The Celts gave up 40 in the first quarter in Dallas and despite a valiant comeback effort came up five points short to suffer their second loss in three games.

Raptors-Celtics: Wednesday game preview | Toronto Star

The Celtics came close to an epic comeback against the Dallas Mavericks Monday night. Having trailed by as many as 31 points, the Celtics closed the gap to just a single point late in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t complete the rally. . . . Canadian 7-footer Kelly Olynyk is averaging just under 11 points per game for the Celtics. . . . Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup in time for the Celtics’ season-opener, despite breaking his hand in September, an injury which was originally expected to keep him sidelined until late November.

15 Interesting Stats From the First Week of NBA Action | numberFire

Average free throw attempts per game for the Toronto Raptors through three contests. The Raptors were one free throw attempt off tying their franchise record on Saturday, tossing 48 freebies against the Orlando Magic. They only reached the 40 mark once all last season and are now averaging exactly that per game, with both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry taking over 10 each per contest. That’s a pace they’re not likely to maintain, but the added aggressiveness in getting to the line bodes well for a team that has posted the league’s fourth-best offensive rating (113.3) through the first week of action.

Terrence Ross to Memphis? | RealGM

Trade Koufus, Calathes, Allen for Ross, Nogueira, Chuck Hayes’ 5.5m contract.

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Oklahoma City Thunder 88 FinalRecap | Box Score 100 Toronto Raptors
Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 36 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +9After a bit of a rough start to the season, had a great statement game when his team needed him. Stretched the floor efficiently on offense, and got out of his three-point funk going 2-2 from behind the arch. Provided sorely needed defense on the block in Amir’s absence. Even though Ibaka had a solid showing, Patrick kept him in check better than we could have asked him too.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +10I’m somewhat conflicted with his performance. For me, his performance in the 1st quarter was unsure, rushed, and lacked polish, but he turned up the dial on defense in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, and hit a couple key shots when they were needed. Unfortunately, in a game where it was necessary to attack the Thunder zone, Ross did very little of that, choosing to live on the peripheral.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -6His beard makes me uncomfortable; too amish. Was able to get solid position in the low post on offense, and got his hands on more offensive rebounds than he had any right to. I got the sense that he was angry, and had Telfair not face-raped him, got the sense that a fist-fight may have broken out with Adams.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 2-7 FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +7Anybody else get the sense that he’s lost confidence in his shooting? We’ve become accustomed to him making the right basketball play with the ball in his hands, but on more occasions than I would like to count, the right play was a shot and he unnecessarily swung the ball to no avail.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 4-12 FG | 7-9 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +7Masterful at attacking the zone defense AND getting a good shot out of it (or went to the line). Seemed to be the only person to understand that the way to break the zone is to attack it. He did a lot of running around screens to get open, giving me the same warm feels I used to get watching a young Richard Hamilton constantly on the move around the court.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 2-6 FG | 8-10 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +13What else do you want him to do? 8-10 from the line? Aggressive moves in the offensive paint. Crashed the boards. Bitch-slap to the face by Telfair. Yea, solid.

James Johnson, PF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2Bad shot selection aside, was instrumental in leading the second unit in the second quarter comeback. His on-the-ball defense was second to none, made aggressive moves to the rack, moved the ball around crisply (mostly). This is what we expected of him the 1st time around, but am very happy to be getting it now.

Chuck Hayes, C Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5This guys is not the answer to any question I would ask; bothers me to see him on the floor.

Greg Stiemsma, C Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +11Made 4 solid defensive plays in a row in the 2nd quarter as part of that run. Found 2Pat in the low post with a perfect feed for a layup. Drew a charge. Did it with grace. While I wanted the Raptors to keep Jordan Hamilton, it’s a great luxury to have Stiemsma as your fourth big.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 18 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7Along with DeMar, attacked the zone defense regularly, and got into the lane for his tear drops. Did a good job of anchoring the 2nd unit, but would have been nice to see him move the ball a bit more on the perimeter; 7 threes in 18 minutes is a bit much. More so when you miss 6 of them.

Louis Williams, SG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 4-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +5He likes being here, and we like having him. I was hoping for him to make an appearance earlier in the game with Ross playing like doodoo, but the dude is a pro. Knows his role, takes good shots, leaks out on the break, nice handles, nice jumper. Could make a case for 6th man of the year if he can get claw more of Ross’ minutes.

Landry Fields, SG Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | lol

Dwane Casey
Did a fantastic job of managing minutes (was forced to play Patterson 36 because Ibaka was on a mission) with the Raptors heading to Boston tomorrow for a 4th game in 5 nights. Was able to fix the ball movement and free throw issue (I’m sure the Raptors shot hundreds of free throws over the last two days) from the Miami game.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Ignore that first quarter where the Thunder shot 70% (or whatever) from the field, and the Raptors were able to nicely clamp down defensively; 58 points over the last three quarters of the game. Contesting jumpers, not scrambling on the pick-n-roll, tight rotations…granted the Thunder were obscenely short-handed, but they are still a well coached team that were executing against their plan tonight.
  2. While the Raptors were brutal from the floor, they kept themselves in the game by punishing the Thunder off their turnovers (30), and hitting their free throws (28-33). It really was the small things that wont them the game tonigh