Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Feb 8, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Pistons 89 Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Pistons still without Caldwell-Pope, Drummond plays Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Report: Taxi drivers planning to strike during All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 How valuable are the Raptors’ trade assets? Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Raptors 3 Point Defense – Cause for Concern? forumcrew
Feb 8, 16 Read this oral history of Vince Carter’s 2000 Dunk Contest performance Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Raptors recall Bruno Caboclo from D-League Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons Feb. 08 Gavin MacPherson
Feb 7, 16 Finding the Right Mix Shyam Baskaran
Feb 6, 16 Competitive Raptors 905 fall to OKC Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 6, 16 Raptors Mailbag: A whole lot of trade talk, playoff matchups, St. Lunatics, and more Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors 905 obliterate Legends for 7th win in 8 games Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Report: Raptors ‘aggressive’ on trade market; Young, Faried & Morris possible targets Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Sim Bhullar & Satnam Singh set for historic D-League battle Friday Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Open Gym – Episode 12: East Side Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors-Blazers post-game debriefing with the enemy Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors continue rolling, win in Portland for first time since 2006 Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 5 – Chips on the Table Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 5 Sam Holako
Feb 5, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 110, Blazers 103 Sam Holako
Feb 4, 16 Drake accepts Reggie Miller’s All-Star ping-pong challenge Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan considered dunk contest, Vonleh out for Blazers Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Kyle Lowry in 3-Point Shootout highlights participants list for All-Star Saturday Night Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 James Johnson has ‘bad’ sprain, no timetable for return Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry: ‘We’ve got to get his minutes down’ Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 No need for the Toronto Raptors to make a trade — they’re winning Joshua Priemski
Feb 4, 16 The Improved Passing of Jonas Valanciunas Gavin MacPherson
Feb 4, 16 Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz hosting celebrity charity game during All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Blazers, Feb. 4 Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 4, 16 Dunk Contest field set: LaVine defends against Drummond, Barton & Gordon Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 4 Sam Holako
Feb 3, 16 VIDEO: Relive Donyell Marshall’s 12-triple game while it’s still a record Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 D-League All-Star day to include 905ers Suggs (3-point shootout) and Jordan (dunk contest); Patterson to judge Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Report: Raptors showing interest in Markieff Morris Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Raptors 905 waive Jay Harris Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 ArseTalk: The View from the Other Side Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 3, 16 Report: Raptors interested in P.J. Tucker Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 A closer look at Norman Powell’s first career start Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 16 Hump Day Ramblings: Markieff Morris and Al Horford Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 3, 16 Despite turbulence, Raptors land safely in Phoenix Michael Holian
Feb 3, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 3 Sam Holako
Feb 2, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Suns 97 Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Powell starts with Johnson out, shorthanded Suns start the Era of Earl Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Raptors 905 acquire John Jordan from Erie Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Players of the Month Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Game Day: Toronto Raptors @ Phoenix Suns – Feb 2nd Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 2, 16 Raptors concede winning streak in ugliest way possible Blake Murphy
Feb 2, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 2 Sam Holako
Feb 1, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 93, Nuggets 112 Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 James Johnson leaves game with sprained left ankle Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Valanciunas playing through thumb sprain, Caboclo assigned, #FreeNorm Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Dwane Casey named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Email exchange with RaptorsHQ: Should we worry about Kyle Lowry’s workload? Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Breaking it Down: Cory Joseph and dual screeners Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Nuggets, Feb. 01 Gavin MacPherson
Feb 1, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Feb 1 – 11 going on 17 Zarar Siddiqi
Feb 1, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 1 Sam Holako
Jan 31, 16 Raptors survive late collapse against Pistons Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 30, 16 Raptors 905 fall to Erie, see winning streak snapped; Caboclo and Bennett recalled Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Quick React: Toronto Raptors 111 – Detroit Pistons 107 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 30, 16 VIDEO: Drake joins Raptors broadcast Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 PHOTO: DeRozan and Lowry receive All-Star jerseys Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Pre-game news & notes: ‘Bloodbath’ to ensue, Ilyasova out for Pistons Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 16 Gameday: Raptors vs. Pistons, Jan 30, 2016 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 29, 16 Roberts’ huge night leads Raptors 905 to 6th win in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Ronald Roberts named to D-League All-Star Game, Scott Suggs in 3-point shootout Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 VIDEO: Raptors visit SickKids Hospital Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Caboclo and Biyombo to participate in Basketball Without Borders camp All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 The Grand Scheme: Franchise-Record Edition Michael Holian
Jan 29, 16 Credit Dwane Casey For A Bounce-Back Year Tim Chisholm
Jan 29, 16 La Decima: Raptors Put Away Annoying Knicks Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 29, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 29 – Super Best All-Star Friends Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 29 Sam Holako
Jan 28, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Knicks 93 Sam Holako
Jan 28, 16 Raptors set franchise record with 10th consecutive victory Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: The Raptor continues feud with Robin Lopez Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: Smart breakdown of details behind Raptors’ winning streak Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 VIDEO: Charles Barkley excited to get his All-Star freak on with Rob Ford Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry playing; Porzingis, Calderon and Anthony out; Silver talks All-Star Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 DeMar DeRozan named to 2016 All-Star team Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Anthony out for Knicks vs. Raptors, Calderon and Lowry questionable Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 DeMar DeRozan and the construction of an All-Star Joshua Priemski
Jan 28, 16 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Jan. 28 Gavin MacPherson
Jan 28, 16 Sting to perform at halftime of NBA All-Star Game Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Lucas Nogueira is hitting 3s, talking trash to teammates, and waiting for the chance to do more Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 28 Sam Holako
Jan 27, 16 Ronald Roberts ranked No. 1 D-League prospect Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Confirmed: Dwane Casey will not coach the All-Star Game Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Raptors 905 copying parent club, extend winning streak to 5 Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Raptors recall Powell and Nogueira, assign Bennett and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Canadians Wiggins and Powell highlight Rising Stars rosters for All-Star Weekend Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Kyle Lowry misses practice, questionable for Thursday Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 ArseTalk: The North Remembers Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 27, 16 Raptors recall Delon Wright an hour before D-League tip Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 16 Victory Affirmative, X-rays Negative: Raptors dodge Washington’s bullets Michael Holian
Jan 27, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 27 Sam Holako
Jan 26, 16 Raptors assign Wright, Nogueira, and Powell to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 X-rays on Kyle Lowry’s wrist come back negative, “I’m fine” Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Quick Reaction: Wizards 89 – 106 Raptors Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 26, 16 Pre-game news & notes: No Beal for Wizards, Casey says to enjoy the journey Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Raptors, Warriors named 2014-15 NBA team retailers of the year Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Canada lands in tough Manila qualifier for last shot at Olympic bid Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 Raptors recall Powell, Nogueira, and Caboclo Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 16 5 lessons Raptors can learn from Warriors and Spurs Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 26, 16 Gameday: Wizards @ Raptors, January 26 Matt Shantz
Jan 26, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S3 E10 – Good Times Nick Reynoldson
Jan 26, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 26 Sam Holako
Jan 25, 16 ‘Bench scoring’ not doing effective Raptors’ reserves justice Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 16 What the Firing of David Blatt Means for Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors Gavin MacPherson
Jan 25, 16 Monday’s Raptors 905 game postponed due to weather Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 16 Raptors Take Down Clippers in Convincing Fashion Shyam Baskaran
Jan 25, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Jan 25 – We’re Going Streaking! Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 25, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 25 Sam Holako
Jan 24, 16 Quick Reaction: Clippers 94, Raptors 112 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 24, 16 Pre-game news & note: Griffin still out for Clippers, hack-a-Jordan, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 16 Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Jan. 24 Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 16 Raptors aren’t convincing anybody yet RR
Jan 23, 16 Raptors Continue to Take Care of Business, Cruise to Win vs. Heat Gavin MacPherson
Jan 23, 16 Raptors 905 hold on in overtime for 4th consecutive win Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Raptors 905 game bumped from Sunday to Monday due to weather Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Quick Reaction: Heat 81, Raptors 101 Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Open Gym – Episode 10: Next Step Shyam Baskaran
Jan 22, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Bosh will be joined by Wade, after all Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Could Dwane Casey coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team? (Update: No) Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Raptors getting hurt on defense at both lines Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Heat without 4 starters, 6 or 7 players against Raptors on Friday Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 It’s the 10th anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game against the Raptors Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 The Grand Scheme: Raptors are thriving at the perfect time Michael Holian
Jan 22, 16 Raptors assign Powell, Nogueira, and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Gameday: Raptors vs Heat Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 22, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 22 – Kyle Lowry Over Everything Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 22 Sam Holako
Jan 21, 16 Raptors 905 ride dominant defensive performance to win 3rd straight game Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Kyle Lowry voted starter for 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star Team Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 PHOTO: Hats designed by Raptors for charity now on sale Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 James Johnson in a walking boot but Casey says he’s fine Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Figuring out Terrence Ross’ defense Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 PHOTO: Stance unveils NBA All-Star socks, including OVO colorway Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 Patrick Patterson and January Redemption Matt Shantz
Jan 21, 16 Forbes values Toronto Raptors franchise at $980M Blake Murphy
Jan 21, 16 DeRozan’s 34 leads Toronto Raptors to win over Boston Celtics Joshua Priemski
Jan 21, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 21 Sam Holako
Jan 20, 16 Quick Reaction: Celtics 109, Raptors 115 Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 VIDEO: Raptors play Amir Johnson a tribute video Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 Pre-game news & notes: I still roll with Amir Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 My 2016 NBA All-Star picks Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 Breaking it Down: Jonas Valanciunas showing encouraging signs at both ends Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 16 ArseTalk: Accountants rule the world Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 20, 16 Why Not to Spend – Cheapskate Edition forumcrew
Jan 20, 16 Gameday: Boston @ Toronto, Jan. 20 Greg Mason
Jan 20, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 20 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 16 PHOTO: Raptors reveal new OVO gear for Jan. 22 release Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 16 Raptors recall Wright, Bennett, and Caboclo from D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 16 #NBAstatement: Lowry & DeRozan showcase All-Star form in victory over Brooklyn Michael Holian
Jan 19, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 19 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 16 Raptors 905 hang on for 2nd win in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Quick Reaction: Nets 100, Raptors 112 Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Pre-game news & notes: No Bargnani for Nets, Raptors playing thin, minor Caroll update, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 Why Kyle Lowry gets my #NBAVote Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 DeMar DeRozan among 30 finalists for 2016 U.S. Olympic team Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 16 DIY or Die: the Toronto Raptors 2016 Offensive System Gavin MacPherson
Jan 18, 16 Game Day: Nets @ Raptors, Jan. 18 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 18, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Jan 18 – Beyond the Wall Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 18, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 18 Sam Holako
Jan 17, 16 What Happens if 2016 Playoffs is a Repeat of 2014 & 2015? forumcrew
Jan 17, 16 The Coast Looks Clear – Second Half Lookahead Shyam Baskaran
Jan 17, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S3 E9 – With Peter Stauskas Nick Reynoldson
Jan 17, 16 Raptors 905 beat Westchester Knicks in front of sold out crowd Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 16, 16 Raptors Mailbag: Ronald Roberts, Raptors Royal Rumble, redundant trade talk, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 16 Raptors assign Bennett, Wright, and Caboclo to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 16, 16 Jeff Van Gundy: ‘Toronto Raptors most under rated NBA team’ Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 15, 16 Open Gym – Episode 9: Junkyard Dog 2.0 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 15, 16 Fear and Loathing in Delaware: Raptors 905 Losing Streak Hits Nine Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 15, 16 VIDEO: Bruno and Bebe are The Weeknd, they are not a rapper Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 Powell using D-League to apply lessons from DeRozan’s mentorship Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 Lost: Season 2, Episode 1: Starring Bruno Caboclo Michael Holian
Jan 15, 16 The East Has Given Raptors A Chance To Push For More This Season Tim Chisholm
Jan 15, 16 Bench picks up cold-shooting stars as Raptors take London showcase in overtime Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 #379 – Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 15 – Steel defense, steal Batum Blake Murphy
Jan 15, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 15 Sam Holako
Jan 14, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 106, Magic 103 (OT) Blake Murphy
Jan 14, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Aaron Gordon in, Shabazz Napier out for London showcase, #NBAVote, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 14, 16 Kyle Lowry trails starting All-Star gig by 32K votes #NBAVote Blake Murphy
Jan 14, 16 Thomsen: ‘Canadians’ failure to vote costing Raptors All-Star start’ Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 14, 16 Drake, Steve Nash, and Jose Bautista to coach Canadian team in All-Star Celebrity Game Blake Murphy
Jan 14, 16 Masai Ujiri: A Trade History Matt Shantz
Jan 14, 16 Raptors to face Magic at 3 PM EST, Estimated TV Audience: Blake Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 14, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 14 Sam Holako
Jan 13, 16 A deep exploration of potential Raptors trade targets Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 16 Off-day news & notes: More pictures, Valanciunas army service, Magic injuries, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 13, 16 Do Toronto Fans Deserve an all-Raptor All-Star Game Backcourt? Aaron Nemtean
Jan 13, 16 Shifting the Narrative About Jonas Valanciunas’ Defense Gavin MacPherson
Jan 13, 16 Hump Day Ramblings: Raptors In The Spotlight Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 13, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 13 Sam Holako
Jan 12, 16 Underdog 905 still can’t slay Goliath, lose to Sioux Falls for 5th time in 3 weeks Blake Murphy
Jan 12, 16 Raptors Mailbag: Bosh, Bennett, Bargaining, and Bullet Club Blake Murphy
Jan 12, 16 Off-day news & notes: Raptors on Christmas, Carroll, All-Star information, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 12, 16 Building a Contender on a Knife’s Edge? forumcrew
Jan 12, 16 ArseTalk: I don’t care what DeMar DeRozan gets paid Zarar Siddiqi
Jan 12, 16 NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto should celebrate Canada Joshua Priemski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwane Casey

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

Five Things We Saw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raptors 104, Pistons 100

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

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

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

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

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

My feelings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier One – Forget It

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

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

Tier Two – The Knicks’ pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier Four – Useful player, useful salary

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

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

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

Tier Five – Other draft picks

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

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

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

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

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

Tier Six – Useful veterans

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

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

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

Tier Seven – Prospects

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

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

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

Tier Eight – Poison Pill Provisions

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

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

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


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

Tier Nine – Not going anywhere

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

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

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

Tier Ten – Lol, K

Anthony Bennett – $0.9M salary, expiring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dleague assignments dleague stats

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

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

The Incredibly Brief Scouting Report:

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

Recent History:

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

Matchup to Watch:

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

Injury Report:

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

What Will Make Me Happy:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Dave Eggen/NBAE via Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, let’s do this.

Trade Talk

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

Allen Ray’s probably available.

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

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

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

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

Sure there is! All things are possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Raptors/Raptors 905 Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

If that doesn’t give a clear picture…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh god, no.

Man, this is a tough one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raptors 905 136, Texas Legends 80 | Box Score

“Why are the 905 so good now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This should make a lot of fans happy.

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

Here’s Windhorst:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think both teams played OK and the better team won

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

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

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

Also: Kyle Lowry shooting from 30 feet is nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lowry, DeRozan spark Raptors past Blazers | Toronto Star

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

Raptors end long losing streak in Portland | Toronto Sun

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

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

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

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


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

Raptors hold off Blazers 110-103 | Raptors HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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


A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on

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

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

(Hint: It was both.)

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

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

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Toronto Raptors end Trail Blazers winning streak | Raptors Cage

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

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

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


A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

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

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

Takeaways: Lowry on fire from three-point range |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBA Guide To Winning | The Sports Quotient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rotation will look something like this:

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

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

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

I might be overtired. Sorry for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto 105, Portland 101

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

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

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

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


I really can’t wait.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, Morris is a bit of an outlier. Most players don’t carry the baggage he does, and most are just happy to be playing basketball for a living. However, developing a level of trust with not just the players, but the coaches, takes time. There’s a playbook to learn, too.

And if the Raptors are this good already, why take a chance on the unknown? Don’t get me wrong, the Raptors definitely need to address the power forward spot. Luis Scola is productive but old, Patrick Patterson appears to have a low ceiling, and Bismack Biyombo will never play power forward unless he develops some sort of touch from at least 15 feet, which isn’t going to happen. I wrote extensively on this earlier this season.

But the fact remains: Right now, the Raptors are very, very good.

There’s no need to rush into a trade when this season looks to finish just fine. If you can get a great piece at an unbelievable discount, sure, go for it. If you’re just looking to flip someone at the bottom of the bench for another role player, sure, that works too. But if the plan is to address both the present and future with a big move, it might be best to wait until the offseason.

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We’re past the halfway point of the season and the Toronto Raptors are still struggling to generate assisted baskets on the offensive end. Things have looked pretty good at times during their win streak but they still struggle overall, with the Raptors ranking second last in the NBA in assist percentage for the month of January. A brief stretch at the beginning of the month gave us a little glimmer of hope, as we saw some effective passing from centre Jonas Valanciunas in a variety of situations. That aspect of his game is obviously not on the level of someone like Marc Gasol yet, but he completed some difficult passes which strongly suggest that this is something that can be nurtured and developed into a legitimate offensive weapon.

We start with a nice read from both Valanciunas and point guard Kyle Lowry:

When Kemba Walker’s attention lingers on the screen coming from DeMarre Carroll we see Lowry dive straight to the rim. Zeller’s hands are down, waiting for the contact from a Valanciunas backdown so Jonas has a clear view of the passing lane and hits Lowry for the layup.

Valanciunas still has some work to do on his pick and roll timing but his passing after the catch is much improved. Batum is drawn all the way down to the paint because Cody Zeller can’t do much to stop Valanciunas in the middle of the paint and Carroll is the recipient of a nice kick out for an open corner three:

So far those are nice reads by Jonas but the passes don’t require much in the way of touch. This assist is set up by a great Lowry cut, who feels his man overplaying him a bit and changes direction, rubs his defender off Valanciunas in the high post and goes to the rim. Valanciunas does his part by delivering a perfect pass over the top:

In this example Cory Joseph makes a great cut and Valanciunas delivers a perfect bounce pass to him for the layup. I love this not just because of the cut and the pass but because Valanciunas was heading to the rim for a give and go in the event Joseph didn’t continue with his drive for some reason:

This pass is one of the most impressive of the bunch and is one that has me thinking his passing can be developed into a potent offensive weapon. Jonas catches a nice pocket pass but decides to post up instead of shooting, recognizes the weak double coming from the top and delivers a no look pass to Lowry in rhythm for a jump shot. Valanciunas had already shown some ability to kick it out when going across the lane but I don’t think there is any way he makes this particular pass a year ago:

The early January game against the Wizards may have been his best overall passing performance. Here we see some passes that require a timing and a light touch and he delivers them with precision. The first is a tough high-low feed to DeMar DeRozan, who is fending off the skinnier Otto Porter:

That’s not an easy pass to make. This is something I’d like the Raptors to do more when teams overplay DeRozan because they fear his post game against smaller defenders. Valanciunas can make that pass if DeRozan can seal.

The very next Toronto basket of that game was a perfect bounce pass from the perimeter to a streaking(for lack of a better term) Luis Scola for a layup. It looks basic enough but a year ago I don’t think Valanciunas could make that pass and there are a lot of starting big men in the NBA today who wouldn’t be able to make it:

I don’t think this one should be an assist because DeRozan manufactures this shot after receiving the pass from Valanciunas but the look away bounce pass is delivered well and is what allows DeRozan to attack without breaking stride. Even if it shouldn’t be an assist it’s a good pass:

Perhaps the best pass of the bunch is this gem from the Miami Heat game. Valanciunas catches the ball in the post, sees the double coming to try to force the turnover and throws a no look, over the head pass to James Johnson in the corner for an open jump shot. That’s some Gasol Brothers/Vlade Divac/Arvidas Sabonis style passing:

He’s far from being an elite interior passer at this point. He’s still prone to making some bad reads or missing opportunities due to slow decision making but it’s becoming obvious that he does have some passing ability and this should be developed. His growth may be stunted by the fact that he doesn’t see the ball enough – he can’t fully develop the ability to read a game speed defense in practice so he needs frequent touches in game. This presents a conundrum of sorts for the Raptors, who have to weigh the longterm benefits of a more reliable Valanciunas with the desire to win games now and may feel that more Valanciunas is a risk.

I don’t view this as a particularly difficult decision to make for a few reasons. First, the Raptors have made a longterm, big money commitment to Valanciunas so it’s in their best interest to have Jonas become the best player he can be. Second, assuming the Raptors stick with the current core and throw a lot of money at DeRozan they’re only going to take that next step forward if their youngsters develop skillsets that the team needs to have a more varied offensive attack and more consistent defense. Bruno Caboclo still looks to be a year or two of regular Raptors905 play away from being a viable NBA player and while Bebe Nogueira, Norman Powell and Delon Wright are all promising it’s still unclear if any of them have the potential to be anything but an infrequent contributor on the offensive end. Valanciunas has already shown a lot of offensive skills and on a per-minute basis is one of the most productive young big men in the game.

Developing an all-around game for Valanciunas should be a priority for the team and as much as his workouts with Jack Sikma in the offseason seem to have improved his confidence and face up skills he really needs to be featured more in the offense. The argument against that has typically been that he’s something of a black hole but at least for small stretches we’ve seen that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – give him cutters and he can hit them. If you’re going to generate assists on the Raptors you have to collapse the defense yourself with one on one play which is why the Raptors big men as a unit generate precious few assists. It’s difficult to fault Valanciunas for generating low assist totals in an offense where every other competent offensive big man is seeing significant drop offs in their own assist totals. It’s clear that there are systemic issues at play which are holding this aspect of his game back. The Raptors slow, plodding offense can benefit greatly from some increased movement and a bit of diversification, increasing frontcourt touches for Valanciunas with cutters keeping the defense occupied would be a good start.

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It is just way too lit for All-Star Weekend.

With the “regular” Celebrity Game and Rising Stars game Friday, the All-Star practice, D-League All-Star Events. and Slam Dunk/3-Point Shootout on Saturday, and the actual All-Star Game on Sunday, the weekend is already going to be busy enough. Plus, you factor in parties and charity events and the like on top of that, plus maybe an hour or two of sleep, and it would be tough to pack much more into a few days.

But you might have to try, because Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz are hosting a celebrity charity basketball game that weekend now, too.

The event will see the two rappers square off as player-coaches with a star-studded list of participants. All proceeds go to charity through I Can, We Can!, and tickets are now on sale. The event is brought in part by adidas and Red Bull and will take place at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, home of Raptors 905, starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 13. That conflicts with the D-League All-Star events taking place at Ricoh Coliseum, but this might be more of a draw for some (most).

Among the participants expected to suit up:

Raptors: Morris Peterson, Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams
Other basketball: Baron Davis, Rick Fox
Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, Joe Carter
Rappers: K Camp, Wale, A$AP Ferg

There’s also a Josh Johnson listed, though I have no idea if that’s the former Blue Jay, the rapping priest, or some other Josh Johnson. Here’s hoping Matt Devlin shows up to dunk on Wale.

There’s more to the event than just the game, too. From the I Can, We Can! website:

Along with surprise celebrity appearances, a celebrity and youth basketball game, Peter and various speakers will engage on the importance of setting goals, youth opportunities in Peel, and the importance of giving back. Peter’s goal books will also be given out breaking down step by step how to create goals with examples and inspirational inserts from Tolias Motivates and patterning organizations.

In addition to I CAN, WE CAN! Goal Books, the audience will be introduced to a new Goal Setting app which will be free to download for the public, as well as receiving branded t-shirts and wristbands.

After being inspired by various speakers, 2 basketball games will occur with music performances in between. One game will consist of 2 Peel Youth Basketball teams competing in friendly competition coached by Celebrity Artists. The second will be a celebrity basketball game which will include some Peel Police & other significant members of the community.

This sounds like a lot of fun, though I’ll be at the D-League events. If you end up going and want to pass along a report, we’d gladly take it.

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Pre-game notes for tonight’s game in Portland, 10 pm EST.

The Portland Trailblazers are on course for a playoff berth this season, which is somewhat surprising given their dramatic shake-up during the Summer which saw them lose LaMarcus Aldridge (among three other starters) rendering Damian Lillard as the de-facto alpha-dog on a team ready to rebuild.

Fast forward half-a-year, and the Blazers are 8th in the Western Conference, have won 5 straight, 9-of-11, and boast a top-3 scoring back-court in Damian Lillard and CJ Mccollum. The Blazers’ duo can score the ball from anywhere on the floor while creating their own shots, as well as open looks for others. Both can penetrate and get to the rim or suck defenses in before dishing out to an open threat from deep. Lillard especially is dangerous, as he can pull up from 30-feet in the same manner that Steph Curry would. Lillard only shoots 36% from three compared to Curry’s 46%, but it’s still a respectable enough number that you have to be pretty tight on Lillard on the perimeter, which can be super dangerous given how good he is at burning his defenders and creating off-the-dribble. Both Mccollum and Lillard are deadly even if they can’t get all the way to the rim, as they’ve developed a really solid mid-range pull-up / floater. Equally alarming: Lillard is just as comfortable pulling up from 25-30 feet as he is pulling the trigger with his feet just behind the arc, as noted in his 3-point shot-chart this season.


While the Blazers’ back-court is proficient offensively, they struggle defensively – not only on the perimeter, but as an entire unit. Lillard has been getting lost on screens defensively, and the help defense the Blazers’ big-men provide hasn’t been good – not consistently anyway. But the Blazers have improved. Understandably, with the amount of new faces in their starting lineup, the development of the team was always going to require patience, and it seems to be paying off. After dragging a bottom-10 defense by Christmas, the Blazers have dragged themselves out and are now 17th. This in large part has to do with the improved defense over this win-streak where the Blazers have held their opponents to less than 100 points in each of their last four games.

Once the Blazers’ top-10 offense (they currently rank 13th, just .8 back of 8th place Indiana) is coupled with an improved defense, they are a tough match-up – particularly for the Raptors who always have a difficult time beating Portland. The Blazers have won 12 of the last 13 match-ups against the Raptors, the last outing in Portland being a thrilling – and eventful – overtime loss where Lillard and Lowry both had big games, and the Raptors were victims of a bogus clear-path foul in OT.

Since the departure of Aldridge, the Blazers have suffered from a weak front-court which isn’t very impressive on either ends of the floor. For all the good that the Lillard-Mccollum duo brings to the table, Portland suffers a lot in other positions. Down-low is an area where Valanciunas can take advantage in and should receive touches early on to put Mason Plumlee to the test. At the four spot, Blazers power-forward Noah Vonleh is doubtful with a left foot sprain, which means that Meyers Leonard will likely start with Ed Davis coming off the bench. Leonard struggles a lot defending stretch-bigs, and his discomfort in that area should mean ample opportunities for Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson to do damage from deep.

This is a game where Cory Joseph can do a lot of damage too. Joseph’s ability to dissect a defense and blow-by traditionally-weak defensive guards like Lillard and Mccollum will cause all kinds of problems, and the Raptors should be able to string together some runs when Coach Casey goes with his double point-guard lineup. As noted above, the Blazers’ front-court isn’t great at help defense, so once you get inside, a plethora of options open up offensively.

A hidden-test for the Raptors could come at the three-spot where they’re incredibly thin right now. Norman Powell and Terrence Ross will have to deal with Al Farouq Aminu. While Aminu is not someone who can wear and tear you down like his back-court counterparts, he’s a high-octane type player who can put up 10+ points a night and rebound the basketball; and both Ross and Powell will at the very least have to match his energy.

Game notes:

  • Noah Vonleh (left ankle sprain) – doubftul
  • James Johnson (ankle sprain) – out
  • DeMarre Carroll (knee surgery) – out
  • If the Raptors win tonight, they will move to 34-16 – their best mark in franchise history through 50 games

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The field for the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest has been leaked by multiple outlets, and it might be a bit disappointing to Toronto Raptors fans. Not only is there not a Canadian in the event, but Norman Powell also won’t get his wish to participate in front of his home crowd.

There’s no Terrence Ross (a two-time champion), no DeMar DeRozan (a two-time participant), no Andrew Wiggins (deferring to a teammate), not even a Jamario Moon (presumed dead). Maybe they’ll at least have Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady judge?

Even without a Canadian flavor, though, the dunk contest promises to be awesome. The field is absolutely lit, headlined by defending champion Zach LaVine. Remember: LaVine turned in the best individual performance in a dunk contest since Carter and claimed afterward he saved his best dunk.

LaVine will be joined by Andre Drummond, Aaron Gordon (!!), and Will Barton, providing a nice mix of sizes and styles. The NBA continued the usual script of skewing young and mixing in a big man, and it will be interesting to see what Drummond can do outside of rim-destroying power alley-oops. Again, LaVine is a marvel, and Barton is one of the most exhilarating open-court players in the NBA.

The bet here is that LaVine retains – he’s too good to bet any other way – but there’s a non-zero chance that Gordon takes the crown from. He was ridiculous back at the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest and Les Schwab Dunk Contest, the Arizona Dunk Contest and, well, you get the point. He does this.

This is going to be a ton of fun.

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Feb 1, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) hugs Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (10) after the Blazers 106-103 win over Raptors at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the Raptors to make a win-now move | Getting Benched

First off, the frontcourt of Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola has been a season-long disaster. They’re two of the slowest players in the league, and their skillsets don’t mesh well. To Scola’s credit, his emergence as a capable standstill 3-point shooter has given them some options, but nobody guards him out there, and Valanciunas’s presence always leaves a defender waiting around the hoop, which isn’t idea because Lowry and DeRozan love to drive to the hoop.

Defensively, they can’t keep up in transition and even the most benign stretch fours – Markieff Morris, Marvin Williams and the like – torch them. Did anyone see the Phoenix game? Or the Nuggets game? Or the Cavaliers game? Or the Pistons game? Or the Warriors game? (you get my drift)

Every five-man unit that hosts both Valanciunas and Scola is a net minus this season. Every single one.

Me and the homie @demarrecarroll1 getting a good meal in.

A photo posted by Cory Joseph (@coryjoseph) on

Are Suns’ P.J. Tucker or Markieff Morris a fit for Raptors? | Toronto Sun

Tucker, a second-round Raptors pick way back when the team selected Andrea Bargnani No. 1 overall in 2006, has grown into a solid two-way forward who would help replace DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson, Toronto’s injured small forwards, who both could be weeks away from returns.

Tucker makes $5.5 million this season and is owed $5.3 million next, but it is only partially guaranteed if waived before June 30th.

He would be an ideal fit, even if Carroll returns to his starting role before the playoffs, because he is a career 35% shooter from three-point range and a proven defender.

On Tuesday, Tucker was draped all over DeMar DeRozan, who said he admired Tucker’s relentlessness.

“He makes the job hard but fun at the same time, because it’s a challenge,” DeRozan said of being guarded by Tucker.

First NBA Start

A photo posted by Norman Powell (@normanpowell4) on

Updated NBA Trade Rumour: Raptors interested in Suns’ P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris | Raptors HQ

Before his career took a mood-related nose dive off a cliff, Morris was averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 46.5 percent from the field (and 32 percent from three). The current season, the one where everything in Phoenix that could go wrong has gone wrong — with Markieff at the spiritual centre of most of the team’s problems — has been a rough one. It seems a change of scenery would do him some good. Is Toronto that new scene?

Again, it seems a forgone conclusion that any trade would have to include Patterson, one of the first round draft picks, and possibly even James Johnson, or some combination of Norman Powell and Delon Wright to make it work. I’ll let the armchair GMs work that out.

I defy the naysayers. I’m a True Believer. Follow @spaldingball to join us. #TrueBelievers #WeTheNorth #RTZ

A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on

Raptors reportedly showing interest in disgruntled Sun Markieff Morris |

The issue, beyond potential chemistry concerns, is that Morris’ game doesn’t fit all that well with what the Raptors are building. He has the tendency to hold the ball rather than moving it, and Toronto has tried to surround Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with players who don’t do that. He’s also not a great rebounder, and he’s been a more reliable stretch-4 in theory than in practice. The Raptors would like to upgrade at the 4 spot, but this might not be the answer.

Dar vienas lietuvis 😀 🇱🇹

A photo posted by Jonas Valanciunas (@jvalanciunas) on

Does it make sense for Raptors to pursue P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris? | FOX Sports

So what would it take to land Tucker or Morris? The Raptors would likely have to trade one of their “extra” first round picks. Toronto Sun, however, reports the Raptors may drive a hard bargain if they’re asked to surrender one of their picks.

“A source who would know said the Raps will not be adding four more rookies over the next two seasons, meaning there will be an opening for a move,” writes Ryan Wolstat. “Value will need to be coming back and a pick will not be dealt cheaply just because of the need for assistance.”

Raptors’ Ujiri wise in not wanting to make deadline splash |

“The storm is going to come at some point,” the Raptors GM told Sportsnet’s delightful duo of Tim and Sid this week, noting that it was difficult to enjoy the Raptors 12-2 record in January. “When it’s going well you prepare for when it’s not going to go well.”

“When the sun is out you can’t get a little Mai Tai and have a drink?” asked Tim Micallef, motioning a swig of the fruity cocktail, best garnished with a toothpick umbrella.

“Ah… no. The end goal is this,” replied Ujiri, pointing to a finger where he’d like to place a championship ring. “You have to keep figuring it out until it gets there.”

“You are the saddest man on an eleven-game winning streak I have ever met,” said Sid Seixeiro.

Raptors coach Casey wants to find Lowry extra rest |

“We’ve got to get his minutes down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said on Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Prime Time Sports on Wednesday. “Last night he was up to [42] minutes and we probably have to get him out sooner because we’re getting caught when there’s no stoppage in play, and we have a guy at the scorer’s table and there goes another minute.

“Those extra couple minutes add up over a period of the game and now he’s at [42] when really he should be at 36, 35 minutes.”

Raptors’ Powell knows his place in rotation, locker room | Toronto Star

“I thought I played within the offence and played defence, tried to make plays happen. I felt really comfortable out there.”
He looked a little tight in the early going of the game. He had a turnover in the first minute of play and picked up a foul a couple minutes later, before he stole the ball from fellow rookie Devin Booker. The longer he played, though, the more comfortable he looked on defence. His shots didn’t fall, but the Raptors have more than enough offensive options in DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” DeRozan said. “Mainly (it’s) just trying to make everything easier on him so he doesn’t have to think so much. He’s got a good feel on the defensive and on the offensive end we just have to keep it simple for him.”
Part of Powell’s opportunity came from Casey’s unwillingness to tinker with his bench. Terrence Ross has found his groove with the second unit and while he is a logical fill-in after James’ injury, he was too valuable in his present role and the bench is playing too well as a whole to make changes with it.

Patrick Patterson has become my most frustrating player to watch | RealGM

What exactly happened to his game? Happy he has 1 year left….hopefully he’s dealt before the deadline or moved this off season. I really thought he had a lot of potential here. Started off very promising – completely trailed off after getting his 3yr deal (Masai’s mistake).

The Biggest Issue Every Title Contender Faces Going into 2016 NBA Trade Deadline | Bleacher Report

The Raptors have to hope the deja vu doesn’t extend to the second half.

Last year, they followed their strong start with a feeble 16-18 finish and a brutally abrupt first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

The good news is the Raptors roster is better. Backcourt mainstays Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the midst of their best seasons, and Jonas Valanciunas continues to improve in the middle. Cory Joseph and Luis Scola add depth. DeMarre Carroll, the organization’s top offseason acquisition, will hopefully return from knee surgery, ready to inject the three-and-D skills that earned him a $60 million contract.

Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers: Thursday game preview | Toronto Star

Key matchup: Kyle Lowry vs. Damian Lillard.
Will Lillard feel like he has an extra something to prove, lining up against the Eastern Conference’s starting point guard in next week’s all-star game? Lillard’s numbers — he’s sixth in scoring at 24.2 points per game and seventh in assists at 7.1 — should have spoken for him and his inclusion in the game.

Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors: TV channel, projected lineups, game preview |

Portland has won a season-high five consecutive games and nine of its last 11 overall. … The Blazers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 107-95 on Tuesday. … CJ McCollum led Portland with 30 points, four rebounds and six assists. … Gerald Henderson provided a spark off the bench, scoring 13 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers pull away late. … Damian Lillard had an off shooting night, going 6-for-15 from the floor and finishing 12 points and 14 assists. … Lillard scored his 6,000th career point against Bucks, reaching that milestone in his 289th career game to become the third-fastest Blazer to score 6,000 points behind Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks, who each accomplished that milestone in 255 games. … McCollum passed the 1,000-point mark against the Bucks joining Lillard in the 1,000 club this season. Lillard and McCollum are one of three pairs of teammates to each have 1,000 points this season along with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

The Scouting Report: Toronto Raptors | Blazer Banter

But an underrated key to success for the Raptors this season has been the play of their bench. Portland’s bench has played well for most of the season, but the Raptors are going to be arguably their toughest test yet. Cory Joseph is going to give both Blazers point guards trouble with his straight line speed coming off the bench. After years of developing within the Spurs system, he’s a pick and roll monster and is going to get into the paint. Bismack Biyombo has looked like a steal since coming over from Charlotte as a back-up center and Patrick Patterson has been a solid rotation player for most of his career.

Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers: Preview & 3 keys to victory | Raptors Rapture

Like the Raptors, the Blazers are led by a powerful backcourt. Damian Lillard has been a dandy player since his first game in the league, and is rolling big numbers again. He’s tied with Russell Westbrook for sixth in scoring at 24 points, and sits eighth in assists at 7.2 per game [PG]. The Blazers had little to lose when they turned over the other guard spot to C.J. McCollum, as this season was expected to be a throwaway. McCollum, not being one to miss his opportunity, has been stellar, averaging 20+  points PG. They are the West’s highest-scoring guard pairing outside of a couple of Warriors named Curry and Thompson.

Vince Carter-led 2001 team was the best the Raptors have fielded | Toronto Star

The only team to win a playoff series was stacked with talent with Vince Carter in his prime, the veteran presence of Charles Oakley and Antonio Davis and the shooting of Dell Curry and Morris Peterson. It was an outstanding, deep team that many think would have won the East if Carter’s Game 7 shot in Philadelphia was good.

Masai Ujiri and the NBA Draft | RealGM

Ujiri sure can make a great trade and pays his player very well for better or worse, but he has frustrated me with his drafts choices.

Why has Ujiri not gotten more flack for his questionable at best draft selections? The Raptors could have real prospects in Hood, McGary, Capela, Anderson, Grant, Jokic, Powell, Clarkson but he picks 2 guys that could very easily bust and not even play in the NBA. Wright was an okay pick I think but I wanted Portis and imagine the majority of Raptors fans would agree. That 2014 draft though he was horrendous. makes me want to trade our picks even more because I don’t trust this guy to pick the best players available.

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The history of the Toronto Raptors is littered with weird statistical oddities, hilarious short-term player success stories, and moments and people who stick forever in your memory even though they have no business being there. It’s a beautiful, random part of sports fandom that may hold especially true for a franchise with a moribund history like the Raptors.

Donyell Marshall is the intersection of strange eras and teams and players and games, his March 13, 2005, performance standing as perhaps the apex of Weird Raptors history (with all respect to Ben Uzoh’s triple-double). It was on that date that Marshall tied Kobe Bryant’s two-year-old NBA record by hitting 12 3-point shots in a single game.

Donyell Marshall, he of a 35-percent career mark on threes and a 41.6-percent mark that season, rained hell-fire from beyond the arc over just 28 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers. He went 12-of-19 from long-range, finishing with 38 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block in what has to be one of the most jam-packed per-minute box score lines in team history (it’s a team record for points in fewer than 30 minutes). It was remarkable, unexpected, and bizarre – Marshall would never again score 30 points or hit more than seven threes in a game despite playing four more seasons. He’d ultimately play 131 games as a Raptor, averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds and ranking 10th on the team’s leaderboard in triples made.

The Raptors would win 128-110 opposite another key figure in the Raptors’ mythos (John Salmons), with Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson chipping in with respective lines of 25-10-5 and 20-8-8. Milt Palacio, Pape Sow, and Loren Woods all played, too, while Rafer Alston started at the point and Rafael Araujo played 17 minutes. And Drake calls this a time to be alive.

We highlight all of this today because Marshall’s record was seriously threatened on Wednesday.

It’s only existed this long because Steph Curry has allowed it to, and Curry nearly (rightfully) claimed it as his domain. Curry’s going to eventually have every other 3-point shooting record, and Marshall’s shared mark looms permanently as a victim-in-waiting. It’s just going to take a game the Golden State Warriors actually needed Curry to go off in, like his 11-triple, 54-point performance against the New York Knicks in 2013, or his 10-three outing from a year ago Thursday when the Warriors pulled away from the Dallas Mavericks late. That, or, you know, Curry just deciding, well, f*** it, it’s mine now.

Those two possibilities nearly merged Wednesday, with Curry dropping 51 points in a 134-121 victory against the Washington Wizards.

Curry came out a house afire, scoring 25 first-quarter points on 9-of-10 shooting with seven (!!) threes on eight attempts. By half, he had 36 points with eight triples, the Wizards having done just enough to hang around (74-60) to necessitate Curry trying in the second half. Two more came in a “quiet” eight-point third. Things stayed close enough late that Curry checked back in around his customary seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter…only to hit just a single three down the stretch, instead opting to attack the rim in order to close out the win.

He finished 11-of-16 from outside. He’s shooting 45.8 percent on threes this year and 44.3 percent for his career. He’s already just 54 triples from matching his own single-season NBA record and it’s Feb. 3. He’s 26th in all-time 3-point field goals…he’s 27 and has played 463 games. He’s going to re-write the shooter’s record book as he redefines how basketball is played.

It’s only a matter of time before Marshall’s record belongs to Curry. For at least one more night, Marshall remains a randomly relevant part of NBA history and a marquee piece of Raptors lore.

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Ronald Roberts is going to have some company at Ricoh Colisseum on Saturday, February 13. Raptors 905 teammates Scott Suggs and John Jordan will also be representing the host team at the D-League’s portion of All-Star weekend. The events tip off at 1:30 p.m. on NBA TV.

Roberts was voted as an All-Star by the coaches last week, at which time Raptors Republic confirmed a report that Suggs would participate in the 3-Point Shootout. Jordan, just acquired Tuesday, will participate in the Slam Dunk Contest, an event that usually rivals the NBA’s version. Here is a full list of the day’s participants:

d league allstars dunk dleague

Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson will judge the dunk contest along with Jordan Clarkson and Seth Curry. And yes, it does suck that Roberts isn’t dunking, but as he’s told Raptors Republic repeatedly when we’ve pleaded with him to change his mind, he’s told himself his next dunk contest will be the NBA version.

That’s not to say this won’t be a great showcase. Threatt is a monster and the defending champion, Tokoto can fly, and the 5-foot-10 Jordan gets to introduce himself to Mississauga fans in a major way. Look at this!

The pick here, though, is D.J. Stephens. Not only has he thrown down a ton against the 905, he’s quickly earned a reputation as one of the most exciting open-court players in the league.

If you’re skeptical that this will be good because it’s the D-League, here’s last year’s event.

On the shooting side, Fredette may be the favorite on reputation, but our nod goes to Suggs. Comfort might matter some in these events, and he’ll have ample opportunity to get accustomed to the Ricoh sight-lines in the week leading up to the event. But don’t sleep on Ingram, the 2010 winner of the event, either.

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And here we go.

The Toronto Raptors are showing interest in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN. This comes on the heels of his report that the Raptors are also interested in P.J. Tucker, and Stein calls it a virtual “lock” that the Suns make “at least one deal” by the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

A potential Morris deal is something we’ve talked about around here plenty, and it brings a host of questions with it.

Let’s start here: The framework would most likely be Patrick Patterson and a pick for Morris. If you’re not of the mind Morris is a certain upgrade on Patterson, this rumor probably isn’t for you. The Raptors’ salary structure is such that it’s really difficult to find a fair, workable deal without Patterson, and the Suns likely want more than to just be out of Morris’ contract, given the lip service interim head coach Earl Watson has paid to nurturing Morris and making him the offensive focal point.

That could just be lip service, of course, but it’s also a good way to re-establish a player’s trade value and a worthwhile evaluatory endeavor given that the Suns don’t have to give up on the very reasonable three years and $24 million left on his deal. They’re going to want an asset beyond one year of Patterson, and I’m not sure a Luis Scola-James Johnson-Delon Wright package is enough without a pick on top, either. In any case, the Raptors are almost surely surrendering a piece of their nine-man rotation and a pick, unless Ujiri has some magic brewing.

From there, the question falls on Morris’ perceived character issues. Not only has Morris grown irritable and pouty in the desert, but he and brother Marcus have pending assault charges, which is kind of a big deal. The fact that Morris has been openly critical of his organization following the trade of his brother, and was in the doghouse so deep that he received DNP-CDs despite being one of the team’s best players, is an obvious concern. He’s not exactly Bismack Biyombo when it comes to affability.

In terms of the impact on the locker room, my bet would be that Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey believe they’ve created a strong enough organizational culture to be able to bring in a divisive talent without much issue. Morris is pals with DeMar DeRozan and former perceived malcontent Kyle Lowry. It’s a risk, but the Raptors have put such a high value on employing quality people that they’ve pre-insulated themselves for such a move. That may allow them to get a depreciated asset at a discount relative to what talent would dictate. Organizational culture is important for a lot of reasons, and taking advantage of a market inefficiency for players who don’t fit everywhere could very well be one of them in this case.

(Note: The first version of this story included a note about the Casey-Morris-Kentucky connection, which doesn’t exist because the Morrii went to Kansas. This is why you don’t write at a Tim’s immediately after giving blood.)

On talent, Morris would be a big addition. He’s a big, tough power forward who rebounds well and can be an above-average, if foul-prone defender when fully engaged. He doesn’t have the 3-point stroke of Patterson, standing as a 32.4-percent career outside shooter, but he brings far more to the table offensively otherwise. He can act as the screener in the pick-and-roll, work dribble hand-offs, and create for himself in one-on-one situations. Morris’ numbers are depressed in a bad season and his efficiency and shot-selection have waned, but he has a really nice face-up game and can bully opposing fours on the block. He’s also a smart passer from the elbows, the block, or off the cut, an important consideration that could help keep the Raptors’ offense flowing through a third piece.

On the season, Morris is averaging 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 39.8 percent from the floor. There’s a good argument to be made that as a third option on the Raptors and with a fresh start in a winning situation, Morris could be much better.

I’d imagine the response to this rumor will be polarized. Some won’t want to mess with chemistry, while others will see the talent upgrade as a must-do. I’m leaning more toward the latter side even though I was on the former side earlier in the year. If this were the offseason, I’d be on board with this deal for sure, with little worry about the locker room with so much time for everyone to build a chemistry. I’m of the mind that you maximize talent and figure everything else out later. That’s riskier mid-season, but there are basketball and economic reasons behind Ujiri building such a strong culture, and this is exactly the kind of situation where he can leverage that intangible advantage.

The Raptors could have a chance to get a talented player on a good contract with lots of control for a solid player and a surplus asset they probably won’t have much use for come draft time. I’d understand either side of the argument, but leaving talent on the table is tough, especially if there’s a way to get the Suns to come off a first-round pick asking price.

(By the way, there are frameworks in which the Raptors could land Morris and Tucker, if you really want to take a swing. Patterson, Johnson, a prospect, and a pick works for the cap but it probably has to be the Knicks/Nuggets pick for the Suns to depart with both.)

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Raptors 905 have waived Jay Harris, the team announced Wednesday.

The 905 had to make a roster cut after acquiring John Jordan from Erie in a trade Tuesday. Cutting a point guard was a natural move given that four of the team’s 13 players were lead guards, but Harris is a bit of a surprise, given that he was the team’s second-round draft pick and one the team seemed really high on. The 905 have now waived the first three draft picks they ever made.

With Harris departed, Jordan figures to slot in as Shannon Scott’s primary backup when Delon Wright isn’t on assignment, with Ahston Smith standing as the third point guard and defensive specialist.

The 23-year-old Harris was averaging 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 16.7 minutes over 20 games while shooting 37.9 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent on threes. He’s also earned 10 DNP-CDs as head coach Jesse Mermuys toyed with his second unit, and Harris never really found a chemistry with his fellow reserves despite good individual offense. He has the tools to be a scorer, projecting as a potential microwave man well down the line, but his game is still pretty raw and one-dimensional.

The Valparaiso, Wagner, and Ilinois-Chicago product always came across as a nice, engaging presence around the team, if that quells any concern this may have been a non-basketball related move.

The Jordan-for-Harris swap represents a downgrade in terms of overall long-term upside, but the 905 needed steady point guard help pretty desperately. Despite the recent winning streak and general up-turn in performance since the calendar flipped, they still rank first in turnover percentage and 14th in total offense. The point of the D-League is long-term development, but this move makes some sense if the organization feels the lack of reliable point guard play was working as a detriment to the development of others.

The 905 are next in action on Friday at 8 p.m.

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What gets lost in the millions that the NBA spends on marketing for the league pass is the contribution of Leo Rautins. He’s been an effective salesman for League Pass since day one. It’s his repetitiveness and monotonous delivery of the same message over the decades that is solely responsible for the purchase of many a League Pass, including mine.  It’s not that what Rautins has to say is wrong, it’s that we’ve heard it all before. Many times.

So it is thanks to Rautins that for the past two years, I’ve been almost exclusively tuned in to the other team’s broadcast when watching Raptors basketball.  The opposite view gives you a very good idea of how teams rate themselves, and what they think of the Raptors team, and management.  Most broadcast teams are far more candid when evaluating the opposite team because the fear of any criticism coming back to bite them is greatly reduced since you’re not publicly badmouthing the hand that writes the cheque.  A good example of that is the tones with which Jack Armstrong uses to describe Lou Williams’ play this year as compared to last, and the same with Greivis Vasquez.  Today’s goat was last year’s hero.

There are some stark differences between how the Raptors are being evaluated this year as compared to last.  

Sense of Fear

There’s a genuine sense of anxiety bordering on fear when a team is facing the Raptors.  Even though the team has suffered some painful first-round exits the last two years despite having good regular seasons, there’s something about the season’s winning that is different.  There’s a recognition that this Raptors team converted the pain of the last two springs into a redemption mission that isn’t taking any prisoners.  I’m not suggesting the Raptors invoke the same sense of peril when a team faces the Cavaliers or the Warriors, but that teams know that they’re in for a very tough game.  From a Raptor fans’ perspective, I think this is what qualifies as respect.

Real Stars

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are now seen as legitimate stars.  There was a period where Lowry was considered the fat guy who butted with every head coach he played under. That reputation is long gone.  It’s almost as if his time in Houston has been stricken off the record, and that this Lowry is a different player.  He’s often being talked about as a legitimate Tier 2 player (BTW, tier 1 contains LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry) and that is something that has never happened before.  

The same is true for DeMar DeRozan, who is widely respected by every announcing team as a scorer to be reckoned with.  Whereas many fans see DeRozan as a good but limited player due to some key flaws (e.g., three-point shooting), that hardly registers on broadcaster radars, who are very weary of the attacking threat he brings.  I would say that Kyrie Irving is a comparable player in terms of fear posed when seen through opposition eyes.  Based on the hype around DeRozan, I honestly see a 0% chance that a team won’t offer him the max, three-point shot or not.

Surprisingly, even when Terrence Ross was struggling, he was being highlighted as man to watch out for because of his three-point threat.  His stock, even when it was the lowest in our eyes, was high elsewhere.


The Jurassic Park effect has taken hold.  The Raptors crowd gets some serious respect from announcers when they visit the ACC.  Many fans don’t like the in-game ops and often complain that they get in the way of watching the game.  There’s truth to that but over a 2.5 hour period, the ACC is a louder arena than most in the NBA, and it is widely recognized so as well.  The imagery that Jurassic Park gave us is something very unique in the league, and you simply don’t get that level of show from other fans.  That’s been a differentiator for many, and certainly for opposing announcers.


Nobody seems to remember that it was Bryan Colangelo who gave us Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, and that’s just fine for Masai Ujiri who, if he’s listening to the broadcasts, would hear how shrewd of a team-builder he is for accumulating the talent that he has on the roster.  The Raptors are viewed as a responsible and sustainable model, and a prime example of how to construct a team if you’re not in one of New York, LA, Miami, or Chicago.


Biggest closet Raptors fan: Jeff Van Gundy.  This guy will talk Raptors if given even the slightest opportunity.

Favorite announcing team: Brooklyn.  Hear me out.  They know their team is crap, and they genuinely enjoy watching the other team, even the Raptors despite the rivalry.

Least favorite announcing team: Boston – they refuse to credit any other team when they lose.

Worst analysis: Hawks – I swear, Dominique Wilkins has nothing to say and half the time it sounds like he’s gurgling salt water.

Best analysis: Charlotte – they have Dell Curry along with Stephanie Ready as color-commentators, and the latter especially provides a blend of analysis that is on point with minimal waste of words.


Overall, sometimes as Raptors fans we always feel the grass is greener on the other side, when in reality, everyone thinks the grass is mighty green right here in Toronto.

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The Toronto Raptors are one of several teams expressing interest in Phoenix Suns wing P.J. Tucker, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN.

Before anyone gets too excited, Stein follows by saying that the expectation is that the Suns will seek a “nice pick” as a return. The Suns are in the middle of a disastrous season, but even with 2015-16 lost, they may see enough value in keeping Tucker, a well-liked team-first player, around to help rehabilitate the organizational culture if an offer doesn’t move the needle enough for them.

One of the Raptors’ four first-round picks in the next two drafts would likely be enough to entice them, though salary matching poses a bit of a problem. Tucker earns $5.5 million this season (and $5.3 million next year), meaning the Raptors would have to send out either Patrick Patterson or James Johnson and a second piece (Luis Scola, Delon Wright, or Lucas Nogueira) to make the math work. Even if Johnson’s ankle injury isn’t serious, the second option might be reasonable, but flipping Patterson and a pick for Tucker is just shifting a hole from one place to another.

On fit and role alone, Tucker would be a nice addition if a deal doesn’t take anything from the rotation. A 2006 second-round pick of the Raptors, he honed his game overseas before finding a home in Phoenix in 2012. The Raptors were said to be in on the one that got away in 2014, but Tucker re-upped in the desert on a three-year pact. Since his return stateside, he’s established himself as a valuable multi-position defender and would bring another element of toughness and physicality on that side of the ball. He’s also a plus-rebounder for a wing.

Offensively, he doesn’t offer a lot more than shooting from the corners – he’s worked his way to a 35.6-percent career mark from outside and is even better on the short triple.

PJ Tucker

With the Raptors out Johnson and DeMarre Carroll right now, Tucker would provide immediate help on the wing. When Carroll returns, he’d have value as a versatile bench piece, capable of backing up the three and playing power forward in smaller looks. Essentially, he’d be brought in to upgrade Johnson’s rotation spot. Tucker’s ability to play some four could also open up other trade options, as Patterson’s salary is the team’s most useful cash-matching piece for a bigger deal. Tucker wouldn’t sacrifice much offseason flexibility, as only $1.5 million of his deal is guaranteed, making the 30-year-old a highly movable asset or low-cost stretch provision option.

Tucker is averaging 6.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals on the season while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent on threes. That’s modest production that you could reasonably balk at surrendering a pick for, but there aren’t exactly a lot of sellers right now, so options are limited.

The Raptors’ interest in Tucker is understandable. Given the team’s limited salary-matching assets, however, and the growing feeling that they should make an aggressive move with their surplus picks, Tucker seems like a potential near-deadline move. The Raptors probably only have the pieces to make one deal, or maybe two smaller ones, and so Tucker may be an option to circle back to if a bigger opportunity doesn’t manifest itself. If Tucker were to be the lone deadline haul, he’d represent an upgrade to the rotation so long as it doesn’t cost Patterson, and that’s certainly better than holding steady.

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Norman Powell’s been here before, but never quite like this.

At UCLA, Powell spent two years as a reserve, waiting for his opportunity to take on a larger role. He understood that would be his lot again this season as a second-round pick who more or less forced his way onto the roster with a ridiculous summer league performance. Up until Tuesday, his NBA career consisted 100 minutes over 20 appearances in the Toronto Raptors’ first 48 games, with multiple D-League stints to help further develop his game.

“I feel like the D-League is really helping me develop my game,” Powell told Raptors Republic in January. “That’s how I take it. I’ve been part of this, waiting my turn. It’s nothing new. This is just a part of it. It just motivates my grind. Keep that chip on my shoulder, continue to work, continue to keep that hard-hat on and know that my time’s gonna come. You gotta pay your dues as a rookie.”

Powell’s time came in the second half of Monday’s game against Denver, after James Johnson – starting to the injured DeMarre Carroll – sprained his ankle. Powell would play 13 second-half minutes, most of them in garbage time, and then draw the start Tuesday against Phoenix.

Head coach Dwane Casey giving Powell the starting nod was at the same time surprising and expected. Casey values role consistency and, like with Johnson starting for Carroll instead of Terrence Ross, having Powell leapfrog the team’s top reserve wing is a way to preserve the team’s rotations and the robust chemistry of the second unit. At the same time, Powell had been used sparingly and stood to exasperate spacing issues the starting lineup has long struggled with. Starting him also meant moving DeMar DeRozan to the three with less freedom to switch on the wings – Powell projects as a high-end defender across three positions, but he’s mostly checked ones and twos at either level this year because of his quickness. (Powell played 12 of his minutes as the nominal two [he team was a minus-4] and three at the three in the two-point guard look [plus-3 in three minutes].)

The results from Powell’s start were somewhat mixed, which should have been anticipated given the situation he was being thrown into and where he was being thrown in from. His final stat line – zero points on 0-of-3 shooting with one rebound, one assists, one turnover, two steals, and a minus-1 rating in 15 minutes – doesn’t do his performance justice. He didn’t blow anyone away, mind you, but he acquitted himself well in his first career NBA start.

In his current (temporary) role, Powell’s primary task is to provide defense. He’s a tenacious on-ball defender and generally chases players well off the ball, using his strength and footwork to get over or around screens. That was a tough task Tuesday against Devin Booker, who’s already improved leaps and bounds as an off-ball threat, a major development given his beautiful shooting stroke. It’s especially difficult when Tyson Chandler is the screen-setter, as Chandler freed Booker from Powell with a great screen early.

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Compare that to how Cory Joseph, the team’s best player at chasing around screens, fought through a Chandler screen and reversal.
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There was also an instance where Powell got caught floating too far off of Booker, guarding nobody in a help scenario.
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That’s a possession Powell has shown as recently as Monday that he can handle.
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You can see the exact moment Booker lost Powell, as there’s some confusion as to whether he or DeRozan is the weak-side help on Archie Goodwin’s cut.
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DeRozan collapsed to help as Markieff Morris reached the restricted area, too.
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DeRozan boxed out P.J. Tucker, at least, and Powell bumped Goodwin on the rim-run, but nobody noticed Booker stepping out. Powell recovered too late, but it’s not entirely on him – Lowry looked for a second like he may need the help on Goodwin, Scola was kind of just floating, and the Suns deserve credit for some nice misdirection with Tucker and Booker stacked on the weak-side and Goodwin cutting to the rim.

Other than those instances, Powell’s defense was solid. He made life mostly difficult for Booker, though the Suns sharpshooter went off (he had nine points on five shots in 11 minutes against Powell and 18 points on 14 shots in 27 minutes with Powell on the bench). He also showed he can stick with bigger players some, guarding Mirza Teletovic when the Suns went with their Three Big White Guys Lineup.

He proved to be the defensive pest most were hoping for, timing his help well to disrupt the flow of Suns’ ball-handlers. Some of those plays were gambles, but his gambles are also generally well-thought out ones. He’ll leave his man, sure, but he has a good feel for the spacing around him, and his quickness closing out affords him a valuable extra split second.

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The Suns’ offense was better with Powell on the floor, a symptom of several starters having an off defensive night, but Powell’s presence was a positive in terms of forcing turnovers. Phoenix coughed it up on 21.5 percent of possessions with Powell on the court. It helps, too, that Powell is quick up the floor and aggressive in joining the transition rush.

Off of a third-quarter steal, Powell quickly got back into the play and ran a solid low pick-and-roll with Scola, attacking off the catch and floating a nice pass for an easy bucket. (Not sure why I clipped these highlights together, but they’re back-to-back, at least.)

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The primary skill Powell has been working on with Raptors 905 is his ability to distribute for others off the bounce, and that’s an encouraging example. His straight-line drives are tough to stop, even if he’s not finishing well around the rim yet, and the next step is him being able to make smart, crisp passes when he meets traffic. Until he shows he can dot hat – he has at the D-League level, but that’s much different – NBA teams are going to sag off of him, defending his drives straight-up. That cramps spacing but also presents an opportunity, either for forays to the hoop of pull-up jumpers.
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Both of those shots missed but Powell made good decisions. He probably should have found Jonas Valanciunas on the attack from the corner, but even still, that 14-footer is something he can hit. He also saw a third body come his way because DeRozan was nearby and still isn’t being guarded like a 3-point threat, with recent opponents appreciating sample size. Powell will need to be more cautious of this kind of trap when attacking from the corner (his primary spot in horns sets), because unless he’s paired with Ross or Patrick Patterson, there isn’t going to be a great deal of room to operate.
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The biggest growth in Powell’s game in the D-League has been his passing off of high or side pick-and-rolls, but it’s unlikely the Raptors will ask him to do much of that outside of garbage time.
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So there was some bad but a fair amount of good, or if not good, decent. He didn’t play as poorly as the box score suggests, and I can’t imagine Casey was anything but pleased with 15 solid, if unspectacular, minutes from an untested rookie under dire circumstances.

It’s unclear if Powell will draw the start again Thursday. Johnson is set to receive MRI results Wednesday and the Raptors could opt to elevate Ross, sacrificing some continuity to help lift a space-starved starting five-some that hasn’t been very good even when healthy. Should Powell start, he’ll face another tough defensive test in C.J. McCollum. If Powell starts, it would behoove Casey to try to sub him out quickly, allowing him to be re-inserted when DeRozan sits (either alongside Ross or in two-PG lineups) to help relieve some of the pressure on the offense.

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It seems too coincidental that a player like Markieff Morris – a player who’s struggled this season and is playing within a discombobulated team – all of a sudden turns in one of his best performances of the season against the Raptors who are a team that could use his skill-set in a void that they’ve yet to properly fill.

Last night was a prime example of showcasing. If Suns executive Ryan McDonough is looking to move Morris – which he undoubtedly is, as Morris wants no part of the organization – then no one will be happier with Morris’ performance last night than he, apart from maybe Morris himself who has wanted to set sail from the sinking ship in Phoenix for 7 months now.

Morris would fill a void in a glaring hole that the Raptors have – the four spot. As things currently stand, the Raptors are quite pleased with Luis Scola’s play this season. His ability to stretch the floor and craftiness around the basket has exceeded expectations – so much so that he’s taken the starting spot from Patrick Patterson who was expected to run away with it. Patterson started the season severely under-performing and bereft of confidence – something that’s changed for the better in the past couple months which has seen his point production and shooting percentage both rise. He’s done enough now to earn himself a starting role, and a Scola – Patterson swap in the rotation could create fresh change and fix some first quarter problems. Yes, the Raptors have a really solid record, but they could get off to better starts. Currently, the Raptors’ starting line-up (With either James Johnson or DeMarre Carroll at the three), has a negative net-rating. Inserting Patterson might not dramatically fix the problem, but it would provide a better perimeter defender in the starting unit against starting stretch-bigs. Scola has been horrid dealing with those.

In order to keep a level head, we need to examine every angle. Morris’ performance last night was not the epitome of his season, and you might have a case to say the Raptors would be better off trying Patterson as the starting four instead of gambling on Morris.


Morris and Patterson are nearly identical – statistically anyway. Forget that they’re the same age – there is enough data to suggest that sticking with Patterson and moving him as your starting power forward would be the more sound move. With Patterson, you get the same numbers without the added baggage that Morris might bring, and you do it without tinkering with team chemistry. Both Patterson and Morris play the same amount of minutes, and Morris scores about four more points per game. This probably is correlated with Morris being a more focal point of his team’s offense than Patterson is. Per, Morris has a 26.1 USG%, while Patterson’s mark is way lower at 13.3. Patterson also shoots more efficiently from three and turns the ball over roughly twice less per game.

The counter to this argument is that Morris is in a cancerous environment and not playing to his full potential. Phoenix is a mess right now, and Morris has wanted out since June – and his numbers reflect that. Last season Morris was a different animal, averaging 15.3 points while shooting 46.5%. He was also surrounded by better players, which helped. Last season, Morris was pretty good at posting up from either side – either going inside or pulling up from the mid-range. Smaller power forwards especially have difficulty stopping him in that area. Outside, Morris doesn’t really stretch the floor, which, in a weird way might be a good thing. He doesn’t command much respect out there despite shooting the three last season at just over 30% – hovering around the same clip that Patterson currently does.

Perhaps it could also be argued that, based on the eye-test alone, Morris has more upside and more weapons in his arsenal than Patterson does. It’s hard to measure these intangibles, but Morris does have more highlight-reel moves and put-back dunks, and his 30 points last night were three more than Patterson’s career-high of 27.

It’s difficult to say how negative Morris’ baggage would be too. He once threw a towel at Jeff Hornacek for being yanked from the game, then got suspended two games, and then came back and apologized. Kyle Lowry and James Johnson came to Toronto with baggage too, but they’re both well-liked in these parts. Lowry and Morris also have personal ties and worked out together in the off-season. Morris also likes Lowry. That alone may be enough to dismantle any pre-conceived idea that there would be team chemistry issues if Morris was acquired. Anyway, if the Raptors were better on the court and won a playoff round or two, would anybody really mind if the Raptors didn’t get along behind the scenes?

Interesting perspective from Stan Van Gundy in Josh Lewenberg’s article from a couple days ago:

“I don’t think it’s a big deal, to be honest,” Van Gundy said, speaking generally and not specific to the Raptors. “I’ve seen and been around, been a part of staffs with great teams who got along really well and great teams who didn’t get along all that great off the court.  There are two separate things. I mean, I definitely think you need a chemistry, but it’s a chemistry on the floor.”

“A lot of guys can become great friends off the floor and get to a point they don’t want to challenge each other on the floor and everything,” he continued. “We’re in a business here and coaches, players alike, everyone’s been hired to get a result. When you lose sight of that, doesn’t matter. You can be the greatest friends in the world but if you’re not out there doing what it takes to get the result then you don’t have chemistry, you just have friendship.”

Phoenix is desperate, Toronto is not. Masai has all kinds of leverage in a potential trade scenario if this actually went down.

… So, what was that about Al Horford in the title?

He’s not on the block or anything, but a report from Mark Spears on Monday indirectly hinted at something, I think. From that same article, Al Horford makes his future pretty ambiguous.

“Atlanta has the potential for a guy like myself to maximize [the business] part of it,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “But obviously there are other cities, bigger cities that are more appealing probably [business- and marketing-wise]. The impact would be bigger if that is what you are looking for.”

The Hawks clearly want to resign Al Horford in the off-season. His contract expires, and while the Hawks have his bird rights, they have absolutely no guarantee that they won’t lose him for nothing, hence, are reportedly listening to offers. That’s not really news, of course. GMs answer calls all the time, but it gets a bit more real when there is a chance Atlanta might get nothing in return if he walks, rendering them a bit more active in acquiring something for Horford in return before the trade deadline.

Horford has long been requesting to move back to his power forward position, so that’s why he would be a great fit for the Raptors. De facto, Horford would on paper make the Raptors and instant finals contender. There are so many issues with taking a high-risk / high-reward road with the Atlana big-man, though. First, Horford would basically be a rental. The Raptors could re-sign him and it wouldn’t be a huge deal, but they’re not guaranteed in doing that, and given the huge assets you’d have to give away, cashing out on a huge win now move is ubber-risky.

The Hawks would probably want Valanciunas in return, and that is of course a gamble not worth taking, and it would defeat the purpose anyway, as it would then slot Horford in as the Raptors’ starting center. But if the Raptors can give up Patterson, James Johnson, a first-round pick, and one or two of Bebe/Bruno/Powell/Wright/Bennett – I think you pull the trigger.

The Raptors are on the brink of something here, have arguably their best team of all time, and won’t have many other opportunities to make a run at a finals appearance that are better than this. Chances are that none of the Raptors’ first-round picks will develop into a player as good as Horford has become, and the Raps’ have plenty of young blood and picks anyway. Horford has become better at stretching the floor this season, and would immediately make an impact.

Also consider this: Yes, reports are coming out that the Warriors could be a landing spot for Kevin Durant – which gives me a headache just to think about – but how enticed would Durant be to join a team like this, knowing he would be the alpha-dog of the best team in the Eastern Conference?

C: Valanciunas
PF: Horford
SF: Durant
SG: DeRozan
PG: Lowry

No, this isn’t PlayStation, but yes, that line-up would be enough to keep an opponent up at night.

Let’s take a crack at this.


Atlanta might not even consider this, but they probably would if you throw in a first round pick (preferably the Clippers pick). And of course, they would only even remotely think about it if they know there’s a huge chance of Horford walking this summer.

Knowingly, there will be some roasting in the comments regarding this idea. Two young assets and a first round pick for a rental? Seems insane, no doubt. But there is a window here to make a run that might not exist for quite some time. Masai has played his cards cautiously so far during his tenure in Toronto, and, quite frankly, it would be fun to make a move like this and just go for it.

On a side note, these ‘Hump Day Ramblings’ are going to be a weekly column. Somehow, I convinced Blake to let me do this (thanks dawg). The issue is this: I hate the name. It’s awful, and super lame. I’m down for taking any suggestions on what to call this weekly (Wednesdays) thing. Zarar has ‘ArseTalk’, and that’s pretty dope. I need a dope name for this too. If you have any ideas, give me a shout. For now, you’ll have to live with the lame title until we can find something better.

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AP Photo/Matt York

Raptors 104, Suns 97 | Quick Reaction | Boxscore | Pre-Game

In regards to the win streak, alongside the thought process coming into Tuesday night’s trip to Phoenix, chances are you backed one of two mindsets. Ones that are seemingly dividing this fan base down the middle:

  1. The Theory of Evolution: You believe in the notion that this team has graduated to the next level. While at the same time, buying the thought that the Raps are on the cusp of joining the league’s elite. If you view the 11-game run as a stretch of games where basketball IQ finally met their physical capabilities on a consistent basis, then we have something in common.
  2. Trust Issues: We’re all still waking up in a cold sweat over how last season ended, but if your frustration is lingering to the point where your guard won’t come down until postseason advancement takes place, you’re surely reluctant to treat this squad’s recent accomplishment as anything more than taking advantage of a soft schedule.

The truth of the matter is:

This club’s reality isn’t as cut and dry as the two-sided argument makes it seem; the rub lies somewhere in between.

But hey, half the fun of the regular season is trying to figure out the chaos. So following Monday’s defeat in Denver, it was only natural for both sides to drop the gloves. Now, whether or not some of the punches thrown were valid enough to land is another discussion altogether.

Enter the Phoenix Suns, and the perfect opportunity for the Raptors to get back on track. Not to mention the chance to prove that their new-found killer instinct is here to stay. Facing off gainst a team that’s spiraling out of control didn’t hurt matters, either.

To put the Suns’ shambles into perspective, Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit summed it up nicely in a Tuesday afternoon tweet. A recap dating back to July:

At least on paper, the Suns were ripe to be put of their misery. With the added insult of T.J. Warren’s season-ending foot injury hitting the wire just hours before tipoff, Raptors fans were preparing for a feast. Though with one not knowing how a club will immediately react to their Head Coach being relieved of his duties, this matchup did have a wildcard feel.

On the flip side, the bottom line of the Raps’ win streak is the fact that they’ve now earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to potential letdown situations. And no longer should we expect them to play to the level of their competition.

The Raps didn’t help reinforce that thought early on, though.


It’s become a broken record but their slow-start syndrome reared its ugly head once again, as a lack of defensive intensity led to Phoenix attacking the paint without much resistance in the first quarter. And overall, it ultimately became Valanciunas’ second consecutive defensive effort that left us shaking our heads.

It’s no secret that Scola won’t exactly come to his rescue, so “the onus is on Jonas” to speed up his awareness. But as always, having to overcompensate for mistakes made on the perimeter have to be taken into account.

The backlash over JV’s -10 rating, while justified, should be tempered when he’s often times left hung out to dry. On the other hand, overcompensation is a two-way street. When the perimeter doesn’t have Bismack-type faith in what’s behind them, gambling does have its perks.

With Detroit dropping 35 fourth-quarter points fresh in our minds, giving up a 32-spot to open things up didn’t exactly jumpstart our enthusiasm. But as the storyline progressed, so did T.O.’s energy level. And look no further than Joseph and Biyombo, who at one point were fighting each other for loose balls, as the club’s saving graces. An effort that led to a 14-1 second-quarter run. Considering the second half saw both club’s notch 52 points apiece, it became the difference maker.

With Lowry reaping the benefits of playing with the second unit, yet again, it’s another example of why we might not get our collective wish to see Lowry’s minutes decrease with any regularity. Too many lineup variations excel when he’s on the floor, whether he’s leading the starters or able to freelance with the bench.

But with DeRozan commanding a new level of respect, his on-court burden is further lifted when combined with what Joseph already provides. For the most part, the level of last season’s wear and tear doesn’t have the makings of repeating itself. Let’s hope so, anyway. And on this night, like many others, DeMar’s improved passing ability helped negate Lowry’s low assist total of four. Which again, leads to less work for K-Low to take care of.

T-Ross’s production also plays a major role in that area, much like his clutch shooting and aggressive defense did last night. In a game where the Suns kept hanging around, Ross provided daggers at both ends of the floor. His tendency to disappear (see Detroit) still pops up at random times but that’s happening far less frequently these days. So much so that the early season noise of his controllable contract eventually being traded has certainly quieted down.

Speaking of the upcoming trade deadline, and what might have been the biggest overall storyline this game had to offer:

Markieff Morris and Devin Booker helped solidify their status, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s widely known that Markieff wants out, and since that’s common knowledge it’s widely speculated that Phoenix will be forced to take a lowball offer.

Well, his near triple-double of 30 points, 11, boards and 6 dimes just may have salvaged what the Suns’ get in return. That lack of paint presence I spoke of earlier? You’re welcome, Phoenix.

Morris has long been a name discussed in this community. I wonder what the interest level among fans is now? Would his attitude come with him? What’s his Value Over Chemistry? What’s his Win Shares Per Hissy Fit?

Booker on the other hand, all but sealed his fate as a core building block when the trade deadline strikes. If he hadn’t already. His 27 points, 5 boards, and 6 threes has pumped his averages over his last five games up to 19 points, 2.6 threes, 3.8 boards while shooting at a 44 percent clip. He’s going nowhere.

Phoenix may have gone from a team about to burst on the Western Conference scene to a squad in disarray, but they sure know how to rock a draft pick.

Which reminds me, Norman Powell started this game! His jumpers which turned into floaters, need work. But just by the eye test, it’s easy to see a two-way player is brewing.

Still, his performance, albeit encouraging (especially on defense), did show the holes created by JJ being out. It was through no fault of his own, though, being slotted at the three is a tall order for any rookie. But on a larger scale, showed that the Raps can’t really afford anymore injuries. DMC, where you at?!

On to Portland…

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AP Photo/Matt York

10 things I saw from Raptors-Suns | Getting Benched

I’m sorry to harp on this yet again, but Jonas Valanciunas was just a mess on defense. Maybe he’s a tad banged up (he was questionable for Monday’s game), and if so, he needs to sit and get healthy, because he was a total minus on the floor. He couldn’t move his feet whatsoever and kept getting blown up on defense.

The problem only gets worse when Valanciunas is asked to play with Luis Scola. Who’s idea was it, in this era of pace and space, to unite the league’s two slowest defenders? In the first quarter, Scola allowed Markieff Morris to blow by and he crowned Valanciunas. In the third quarter, Valanciunas returned the favor, was late on Markieff, and he dunked on Scola. A circus act, those two.

Lowry, DeRozan lead Raptors over Suns | Toronto Sun

A night after the 11-game run was ended by a poor effort against the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors again struggled defensively, but the offence was firing, especially Lowry in the first half and DeRozan in the second and it ended 104-97 in favour of the Raptors.

Terrence Ross chipped in 16 from the bench, helping Toronto overcome a 30-point explosion from Suns forward Markieff Morris, making his first start in weeks thanks to the arrival of interim head coach Earl Watson.

Lowry scored 26 points, DeRozan 22.

The all-stars took turns bailing the team out and at times, they covered for each other.

Never was that more apparent than in the final minute of the fourth quarter, with Phoenix threatening, Lowry made a bad play out of a timeout and nearly threw the ball away. DeRozan tracked it down, buried a miracle three-pointer with a Suns player draped all over him and basically sealed the contest.

Takeaways: Raptors bounce back with grind-it-out road win |

This was a tough road win. The second night of a back-to-back on the West coast after getting in late due to a snow storm. Plus, the team was down a member of the rotation because of Johnson’s injury. Lowry once again was forced to play big minutes, being out on the court for 41.

Still, Toronto persevered to get their 15th win on the road, second to just the Cavaliers in the East.

Raptors start next streak with win over Suns | Toronto Star

“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt would be coming after a coaching change,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They played us as well as they’ve probably played for a while.”

Raptors narrowly beat the lowly Suns, 104-97 | Raptors HQ

The best two-way performance of the night went to Terrence Ross, though. Ross was all over the floor — grabbing rebounds, forcing steals, and driving to the basket. His stat line of 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a steal belies his impact on this one. He had foul trouble early and the Raptors suffered for it. When he returned in the second quarter, Toronto went on an 11-0 run. Throughout the game, the Raptors looked a whole lot better with Ross on the floor.

Unfortunately, Ross’ performance flew in the face of Norman Powell’s first career start. In a clear attempt to keep his hot bench intact, Powell got the start for an injured James Johnson and looked out of his realm in 15 minutes, going 0-for-3 for a -1. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey gives Ross the bump to starter if Johnson is missing any more time. Toronto was clearly adjusting to a different look this time around, with just eight regular rotation players available.

Final Score: Markieff Morris has career game, but Phoenix Suns fall to Toronto Raptors | Bright Side Of The Sun

The Suns continued their fourth quarter troubles by failing to score as much as the other team, quickly getting down 12.

57 points from Morris & Booker not enough to stop Toronto Raptors | Raptors Cage

The offence for the Raptors at times was rolling tonight. They shot 47% from the field, while getting major contributions from the bench unit. The dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the charge. Lowry was making it rain from beyond the arc converting on 5 triples and DeRozan was doing his part to make it known that he’s virtually unguardable – at least if your name is P.J. Tucker.

The Raptors also did a tremendous job of pounding the rock by getting to the charity stripe 32 times. Lowry finished with a team high 26 points.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant Named January’s Players Of The Month | RealGM Wiretap

DeRozan ranked second among Eastern Conference players in January, averaging 23.9 points and recording eight games with 20+ points. He shot .442 (118-for-267) from the field, .417 (15-for-36) from three-point range and .848 (84-for-99) at the free throw line. DeRozan scored a season-high 35 points January 8 at Washington and matched a career-high with 11 rebounds January 14 during an NBA Global Game in London, England versus Orlando. He also matched a career high with three consecutive 30-point games January 18-22, averaging 32.3 points during this stretch.

Lowry, DeRozan named East’s players of the month | Toronto Sun

“It’s good, you see your two leaders and you know they can get along it’s a trickle-down effect, I feel like it’s big for our team and big for our young guys to be able to see guys of that caliber being able to get along and enjoy each other and don’t hate each other,” Carroll said.

“You look at a lot of teams and guys don’t like playing with each other and dislike each other. It’s a trickle down effect for the guys in the room.”

DeRozan previously won in April of 2015, Lowry in December of 2014.

Importantly, the duo has showed no signs of slowing down, alternating doing the heavy lifting when required, or combining to great effect.

Last year, DeRozan was injured early in the season and Lowry had to pick up the slack, resulting in a burnout that started in January of 2015 and which caught up to the team throughout the second half and into the playoffs against Washington.

DeRozan and Lowry have grown into one of the NBA’s most impactful pairs.

“I think they’re the best duo. Right now they’re behind Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), and they’re next in line,” Carroll said.

Five Thoughts: Raptor awards, Van Gundy and more | TSN

You win and people notice. Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were all recognized this week for their work in January. Well earned and well deserved. These guys have paid the price and their hard work is paying off.

Road To The Six: Week 11 Recap | Toronto Raptors

Raptors 905 went 2-1 this week and saw the season-best win streak reach six games before finally losing in Erie. A big congratulations goes out to Ronald Roberts Jr., who was named to the NBA D-League Eastern Conference All-Star Team this week. Roberts will be the only Raptors 905 player to represent the host team at Ricoh Coliseum on February 13th.

Free Association: Should the NBA #LetNormDunk? Plus, fake trades & more |

Among the best: The combined play of Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (obviously), and Bismack Biyombo & Jonas Valanciunas morphing to form the Raptors’ MegaCentre.

The Biggest Issue Every Title Contender Faces Going into 2016 NBA Trade Deadline | Bleacher Report

The Raptors have to hope the deja vu doesn’t extend to the second half.

Last year, they followed their strong start with a feeble 16-18 finish and a brutally abrupt first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

The good news is the Raptors roster is better. Backcourt mainstays Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the midst of their best seasons, and Jonas Valanciunas continues to improve in the middle. Cory Joseph and Luis Scola add depth. DeMarre Carroll, the organization’s top offseason acquisition, will hopefully return from knee surgery, ready to inject the three-and-D skills that earned him a $60 million contract.

Toronto Raptors Should Trade For Kenneth Faried | Hoops Habit

Faried would be a great weapon for Lowry in the pick and roll and would fit the Raptors up and down style like a glove. Faried has also shown an increased dedication to the defensive side of the floor and was originally selected by Masai Ujiri, so there’s a connection already formed between those two. A dynamic player like this is hard to come by:

Three Trades Masai Ujiri Must Consider For The Raptors | Raptors Rapture

With the acquisition of Thaddeus Young, the Raptors would add an athletic power player to their ranks. While undersized as a power forward at 6-foot-8, Young provides the talents of Patterson and Johnson combined and more consistently. He may not be an elite player, but with the current mix of players the Raptors currently possess, it wouldn’t make a huge difference. His 15 points and 9 boards per game would make him the perfect starter, allowing Luis Scola to add his unique skill set to the bench mob. And while the Raptors would be on the hook for at least two and a half years of Young’s existing contract ($11.2 million, $12.1 million and $12.9 million respectively), the new salary cap increase will make it seem like pocket change in the grand scheme of things.

Raptors have come ‘a long way’ in 20 years, Nuggets’ Malone says | Toronto Star

“They’ve come a long way in so many areas,” Malone said Monday. “I can remember my father as the first coach in Raptor history trying to educate the fans but also the media. A lot of the guys that covered the Raptors at the time really weren’t (knowledgeable) so he would have sessions after practice with the media talking just about the game of basketball.”

Four takeaways from Raptors GM Ujiri’s interview with Tim & Sid |

The Raptors’ performance in last year’s post-season was considered to be a disappointment in some regard, but the underwhelming play against the Washington Wizards during a four-game sweep did not catch Ujiri by surprise.

“I think the roster was flawed a bit last year and I take the blame for that,” he said. “Defensively we were just not capable. We were not ready injury-wise. We had some bad momentum going into the playoffs honestly. That’s sports. You have to be ready.”

Ujiri sensed the decline in performance coming in the second of the half of the season and made sure to aggressively upgrade the team’s depth and defensive issues this past summer.

“The players we brought compliment what (coach Dwane Casey) tries to do,” he added. “We needed more two-way players and unfortunately DeMarre (Carroll) hasn’t played as much. Hopefully we can get him back this season but Cory Joseph has been a good two-way player and Biyombo has been a good two-way player. We tried to get better with that.

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Toronto Raptors 104 Final
Recap | Box Score
97 Phoenix Suns
Luis Scola, PF 19 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -8 +/-

Really not the night for lead-footed bigs with the Suns playing a pair of stretchy frontcourt players for stretches. Other than a charge and a corner three, this was a pretty rough one. Not the matchup for him.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-5 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -10 +/-

Scored well enough inside but was a mess defensively. He’s backslid some on that end after a really encouraging stretch and breaking up this starting duo is long overdue.

Kyle Lowry, PG 42 MIN | 8-15 FG | 5-10 3FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +3 +/-

Was the only one cooking early and then – SURPRISE! – helped the bench units dominate for stretches and pick up the starters’ slack. Obviously 42 minutes isn’t ideal, nor is six assists over three games, but this was a good bounce-back after two down games.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 34 MIN | 8-16 FG | 1-5 3FG | 5-9 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | -6 +/-

Five threes, and the only one that went in was a prayer? Bruh, maybe don’t buy into your own small sample. Scored well enough despite the presence of Tucker but didn’t provide much defensively and had a few bad turnovers. It was fine, and he single-handedly became a zone-buster early by attacking and distributing through the seams.

Norman Powell, SG 15 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -1 +/-

I’ll have more on Powell’s performance on Thursday, as I was really focused in on him early. Offensively, he made a couple of nice decisions and just missed shots, and his turnover was a miscommunication. He was really active defensively and caused some havoc, though he lost Booker a couple of times dying on screens. I’m grading on a curve here, which I think is understandable.

Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15 +/-

Pretty rough go of it for Patterson at both ends. Shot wasn’t falling, passed up a few open looks that forced tough late-clock decisions, and had his lunch eaten by Morris.

Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-5 3FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +3 +/-

Would it be a stretch to call him the team’s best player Tuesday? Maybe. Probably. But he turned in another great night, jumping passing lanes on defense, making smart decisions in transition, and knocking down shots when few of his teammates could.

Bismack Biyombo, C 29 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +17 +/-

Really nice energy off the bench and a better look against some of the stretchier Phoenix bigs. Would have liked to see Nogueira get a look, but Biyombo’s play dictated otherwise.

Cory Joseph, PG 27 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-1 3FG | 4-6 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +22 +/-

Played better offensively than his shooting line would suggest and better defensively than Booker’s would. Throwing him on Booker was a nice way to disrupt him off the bounce. Joseph is still dribbling too much of the clock away and picking up his dribble in tough spots, but he mostly makes up for it with funky takes and sound defense.

Dwane Casey

I don’t hang the early defensive issues on him given that he was audibly losing his mind trying to get guys into their assignments early. I groan at the minutes, too, but some of it is on the players to close things out better. No real issues with the rotation given the limitations, though I probably would have given Powell a bit more of a chance, maybe saw what Nogueira looked like against a quicker team, and broken up that starting frontcourt months ago. I know some groaned at the late DeRozan ATO but Casey values eating clock over getting a quality look early, which makes some sense given the quality of 1-on-1 players. It’s just ugly.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Devin “Literally Steph Curry” Booker is going to be really good and I am going to wind up having been very wrong about his upside. Archie Goodwin is a guy I was high on and is finally showing signs of life. Shout out to Sonny Weems and the Young Gunz.
  2. The final score’s a little ugly given where the Suns are, but keep in mind it was a segababa for the Raptors and teams historically get a post-coaching change bump. The Suns came out hungry.
  3. Anyone want to revisit Markieff Morris trade scenarios? I dismissed them earlier in the year when it sounded like the asking price would be high, but if all they want now is Patterson and a 2017 second, would you be game?
  4. That Lowry-plus-bench unit, man. It’s death to other teams’ rotations. It will be less of an edge come playoff time, though, when opposing starters will play more and rotations shorten.
  5. Can we have DeMarre Carroll back at 100 percent now please? K, thanks.

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Following an awful loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the Toronto Raptors have a chance to quickly right the ship. That opportunity comes against perhaps the most rudderless ship in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns. But things won’t be easy when the Raptors visit at 9 p.m. on TSN 1. Not only are the Raptors on the second night of a road-road back-to-back, an occasion in which the visiting team wins only about a third of games, but they’ll be quite thin on the wing, too.

The Suns, meanwhile, are painfully shorthanded but may get a boost in the form of new interim head coach Earl Watson. The Suns removed Jeff Hornacek from his post late Sunday night, and even if mid-season coaching changes rarely produce rest-of-season results, teams generally experience a one-game boost after a coach firing. In Watson, they’ll have an unrelentingly positive leader with a fresh young voice (he’s still just 36), one who has already spoken openly about trying to nurture the team’s more…umm, mercurial players like Markieff Morris.

So don’t take anything for granted Tuesday.

And hey, remember that time Archie Goodwin crammed all over Jonas Valanciunas? Me too, and I had nowhere else to put this.

Raptors Updates: James Johnson out
The Raptors were quick to rule James Johnson out for Tuesday’s game, per the team’s game notes. Johnson left Monday’s game with a sprained left ankle and was limping badly, though X-rays came back negative. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports that Johnson is set for an MRI. He’s also on crutches, per The Woz.

With DeMarre Carroll still sideliend, probably for at least a few more weeks, the Raptors could be quite thin on the wing for a little bit.

Norman Powell drew the start in the second half on Monday but the guess here is that T.J. Ross jumps into the starting role Tuesday. Head coach Dwane Casey is a fan of role consistency and would probably prefer to keep his four primary reserves in their regular rotation, tasking Powell with big minutes immediately may be asking a bit too much. Powell’s only played 100 NBA minutes this season, and while he’s been really impressive in the D-League and is certain to bring energy and defensive intensity, he might be best-served getting his feet wet off the bench.

UPDATE: Powell will start, maintaining rotation consistency everywhere else.

Assuming that’s the case, and remembering that Bruno Caboclo remains on assignment in the D-League, the rotation will look something like this:

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

Heavy minutes for Powell would be a worthwhile endeavor, if only for a few games, and I’m of the mind he’s earned a shot now that there’s a hole. Failing that, Johnson’s injury means Casey will lean on the Joseph-Lowry pairing more and more or less put small frontcourt lineups on the shelf, save for maybe a closing group.

Suns Updates: What a mess
The Suns are out a coach. They’re out Eric Bledsoe (knee) for the season. They’re out Ronnie Price (toe) and probably Brandon Knight (groin, no official update as of yet). Now they’re out promising and entertaining sophomore T.J. Warren, a personal favorite, for the season due to a broken foot.

So who the hell is left? The rotation will probably look something like this:

PG: Goodwin
SG: Devin Booker, Sonny Weems, Jordan McRae
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Markieff Morris, Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic
C: Tyson Chandler, Alex Len

Watson might get creative with his lineups in his first outing behind the bench, hence the guess that Morris starts. There’s an argument to be made, given personnel and the Raptors’ own situation, that the Suns should go a little bigger with Morris or Teletovic at the three some. He may also just roll the young guys out and see what happens, who knows?

The Line
The Raptors are nine-point favorites despite all of the reasons this could be a tough one. That line’s down some from Raptors -9.5 at open but still suggests the expectation is for the Raptors to bounce back. That would be an affirmation for those who opted to take Monday as a one-time blip, the result of physical and psychological exhaustion from a long winning streak. I’m of that mind, and so I’ll take the Raptors. I’m not touching the over-under of 200.

Raptors 105, Suns 94

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Raptors 905 have acquired point guard John Jordan from the Erie Bayhawks, the team confirmed Tuesday. In return, the 905 sent Erie the returning player rights to Luke Harangody, which they acquired in the expansion draft this offseason. The deal is still subject to the passing of physicals.

Jordan will be a familiar name to those who have been following along with the 905, as he’s played against the 905 twice in the last two weeks, including a 17-point performance on Jan. 21. In 18 games split between Delaware and Erie – the 87ers waived him in December, freeing him to land with the Bayhawks – he’s averaged 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 steals in 17.6 minutes while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and 3-of-7 from outside.

A four-year senior out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, the 5-foot-10 Jordan went undrafted this summer and failed to land an invite to summer league or a training camp. Over his four NCAA seasons, he averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 43 percent from the floor.

A quick lead guard who lacks an outside shot, Jordan stands to figure in to the competition for minutes behind Shannon Scott with the 905. Delon Wright has really lifted the offense when on assignment but otherwise the 905 have struggled with offense from the point guard spot, often tasking a wing (Scott Suggs, Norman Powell, or Axel Toupane) with being the primary initiator. Ashton Smith has provided solid defense when called upon but has also struggled with a high ankle sprain, while Melvin Johnson and Jay Harris are better suited as score-first options. I’m not sure Jordan moves the needle much or will even see regular playing time, but he’ll push the others for that backup role when Wright’s with the parent club.

In any case, an extra option probably can’t hurt. Despite a recent six-game winning streak and a major uptick in overall performance over the last month, the 905 still rank 14th in offensive efficiency and first in turnover rate

The interesting question now is who the 905 cut. The acquisition of Jordan pushes them to 13 non-assignment players, one above the maximum. Occam’s razor would suggest a guard, perhaps Smith, is outgoing, but there are other possibilities. DeAndre Daniels told Raptors Republic last week that he’s still a few weeks away from returning from a Jones fracture he suffered in July and he remains on the roster, though it seems unlikely they’d put him on only to take him off.

Raptors Republic is told that there’s nothing immediate happening with Ronald Roberts, in case anyone drew a very reasonable line from “Need to trim a roster spot” to “Best player on the team should have been called up by now.” The 905 don’t play again until Friday, so they have a couple of days to sort things out.

Harangody, by the way, hasn’t played in the D-League since 2012-13 and is currently playing in Turkey.

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The Toronto Raptors’ All-Star backcourt are sharing another honor together.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been named Eastern Conference co-Players of the Month for the month of January, the team announced Tuesday. They join head coach Dwane Casey in celebrating the team’s 12-2 month and 11-game winning streak with an award, as Casey was named the East’s Coach of the Month on Monday.

Cleveland Cavaliers fans are sure to raise their eyebrows given that LeBron James averaged 23.6 points on 55.2-percent shooting with 6.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists, helping produce a 13-3 record for the Cavs, but those are the breaks. Each month, the competition is going to be incredibly tight, and many Raptors fans felt slighted when DeRozan missed out on the December award in favor of John Wall (Lowry and DeRozan both received honorable mentions in November). Chicago Bulls fans may have a gripe given the month Jimmy Butler turned in, too.

It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice nod to perhaps the best month in franchise history for the Raptors. DeRozan earned Player of the Month honors last April, Lowry in December, but before that it had been since all the way back in 2007 (Chris Bosh) when the Raptors had someone take the monthly award. Lowry and DeRozan are now the first players in team history to win the monthly award more than once.

The fact that they’re sharing the award really couldn’t be more perfect. In their fourth season together, they’ve developed a terrific chemistry both on and off the court, growing as a deadly offensive tandem and as the most adorable friendship this side of Turk and J.D. Players sharing the award is fairly uncommon, with all five Atlanta Hawks starters sharing it last January and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sharing it in December of 2010 representing the only instances of a split award since 2002 (Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Michael Finley).

DeRozan trailed only Butler in East scoring for January, averaging 23.9 points on 44.2 from the floor, 41.7 percent from long-range, and 84.8 percent on 7.1 free-throw attempts per-game. He also added 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and one steal, turning in 36.1 minutes a night. Lowry, meanwhile, rebounded from a less efficient December to shoot 45.1 percent overall and 40.2 percent from outside, leading to averages of 21.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 2.4 steals. Lowry’s most notable contribution in his 39 minutes a night may have been the chemistry he found with the reserve unit, which really propelled the Raptors during their winning streak.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Infographic on the Toronto Raptors franchise record 11 game winning streak. <a href=”″></a></p>&mdash; Alan (@the__mvp) <a href=”″>February 2, 2016</a></blockquote>
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That means the pairing combined for 45.6 points, 24 rebounds, and 10.9 assists. That’s a two-man power trip that would make Triple H and Stone Cold blush. The workloads are a bit heavy but the results speak for themselves, and as it’s been suggested to me, that’s a future Raptors maybe-problem. (Personally, I don’t think the winning streak or the awards justifies that and my long-term concern remains, but this isn’t the place for that discussion.) They were really good and it led to the Raptors being really good, enough so that they’re now 32-16, second in the East and five games insulated from the third seed. It was a huge month in terms of how the rest of the season could play out.

The BFFs will also share the spotlight together at the All-Star Game in Toronto next weekend, with Lowry starting for the East and DeRozan coming off the bench. It’s a good time to be those guys and a fun time to be a Raptors fan.

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Great Expectations:

With the win streak over the natural instinct may be for the Toronto Raptors to relax and take their foot off the gas.

Post game comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan indicated they have no intention on doing that. Rather, they stated a need to put this loss behind them and get right back in the win column via increased defense. Duane Casey was a little less subtle in his message holding nothing back about his displeasure over the Raptors lack of effort and performance.

And while the Raptors now travel to Phoenix to face a squad who’ve historically played them well, these two teams are literally sitting at opposite ends of the NBA power rank ladder.

To wit: week 15 began with news the Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek had been fired while Duane Casey was awarded January’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. Even more reflective is the January performances of these 2 teams:

  • the Raptors notched 12 wins versus 2 losses
  • whereas the Suns posted just 2 wins with 12 losses.

In fact, if you look back even further in time you can see how these two franchises interpreted their efforts over the past few seasons and chose very different paths. In some ways the Suns over performing in 2013-14 may have led to the teams current demise. Ownership felt they were ready to compete for a championship missing only a single part. That was an aggressive viewpoint to take given they made this decision without even getting into the post season.

The following year the Suns literally imploded when they flirted with disaster adding a third guard to the backcourt. In the end they lost both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in their mishandling of the situation and with them the premise of why the team had improved. The Suns management has been the major issue via how they’ve handled player interactions which has taken a once cohesive locker room and turned it into a cancerous situation.

Conversely the Raptors who also over achieved in 2013-14 ended up losing on the final play of that intense Game 7. Toronto could easily have fallen down the same rabbit hole as the Suns did, especially after last season when a poor second half and sweep in the playoffs could have been over looked and written off as injury related.

Instead management took stock of what was working, what needed to change and set to shoring up their defense adding two-way players with grit. All while working in concert with keeping the core in tact and continuing to develop those strong relationships. Though we tend to focus on players, coaches and GM’s perhaps this Suns examples points to the strength of the Raptors top management and again reflects the need for a champion to be built with equal strength across the board.

With that let’s take a look at the particulars:

Walking wounded:



As per rotoworld and CBS Sports

Projected rotation:


Point Guard: (Brandon Knight), Archie Goodwin
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker Sonny Weems,   Jordan McRae
Small ForwardP.J. Tucker,   (T.J. Warren),
Power Forward:  Mirza Teletovic, Markieff Morris,
Center: Tyson Chandler,  Alex Len

Notes: if the Raptors are thin on the wings it’s an understatement to say the Suns are depleted at the point especially if Knight can’t go again.

Seeing Sonny back in the NBA brings back fond memories of the Young Gunz. Remember this dunk off aired on Amir TV? They all looked so young with Weems playing the role of BFF to DeMar.

With players going at each other right on the hardwood or in social media etc, this quality can’t be under stated. DeRozan’s ability to develop close knit relationships produces an intangible that can’t be taught – – trust.


Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
Small Forward: (James Johnson), Terrence Ross (likely to play at both SG and SF)
Power Forward: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
Center: (Jonas Valanciunas), Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Notes: The injury to Johnson will likely keep him out of the line-up meaning the Raptors are extremely thin at small forward. Factor in  Bruno Caboclo the third tier SF didn’t join the team on this trip.  Look for Casey to give Powell extra playing time with potential for spot minutes from Anthony Bennett. The other option would be to shift all the core guards up one position use Delon Wright for a few minutes to spell Joseph or Lowry and have DeRozan play some extra minutes at the SF.

Game Notes:

  • Late yesterday Earl Watson was named interim head coach of the Suns.
  • Tonight’s game mirrors the first meeting between the squads given the Raptors were on the second night of a back to back set while the Suns were on a days rest.
  • The Suns have won 4 of the past 5 games between the two teams.
  • Suns have lost 16 games (won 2) since Bledsoe’s season ending knee injury
  • Raptors rank in the top 8 of all three major categories: offense (6), defense (8) and net (6)
  • Suns rank in bottom 4 of all three  major categories: offense (27), defense (29) and net (27)
  • Suns are 2-19 in their past 21 games
  • The Raptors are 4-5 on second night of back to backs
  • The Suns are 7-2 facing teams on second nights of back to backs

Raps at Suns

Three Keys to the win:

Start a new win streak: all good things must come to an end and while it would have been nice for the Raptors to own the best win streak by a Toronto sport franchise they’ll have to settle for a tie (Blue Jays). There is no time to reflect on the record setting streak, rather they need to buckle down and notch the first victory of the next streak.

Focus on defense: playing on the second night of a back to back and short handed the Raptors need to power through their fatigue. Focusing their effort primarily on defense will allow them to get into a rhythm and stick around should they struggle again offensively. Theoretically the Suns won’t offer the same effort (as the Nuggets) on defense where they rank 29th, but see point 3. Specifically the Raps need to shut down passing lanes, play solid transition defense to stop fast breaks and crash the boards especially on the defensive end.

Play the opponent, not the record: while the Suns appear lottery bound and are injury depleted the Raptors need to be careful not to fall into the trap of playing the record. When a coach is fired it’s not unusual for the team to respond with an energized effort (except in Tyronn Lue’s case). The Raptors need to be extremely careful players like Markieff Morris don’t chose tonight to make a statement his issues were tied to Hornacek. Like last night’s opponent the Suns beat the Raptors earlier this season (107-102) so the Raptors must approach this game looking to apply the lessons they learned from that loss and even the series.

The line:

The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 9 points with an over-under of 200.5 and heavy early action leaning toward Toronto.

Getting back in the win column immediately is important, but Casey needs to be careful not to over utilize his All-Star backcourt to compensate for the shortage on the wings.

Assuming Johnson remains out for the remainder of the road trip these next 4 games arguably offer ideal opponents to test the rookies’ progress. Ujiri drafted Wright and Powell citing their advanced defense, so providing short relief for the core players with the emphasis to defend should be within their capacity. Furthermore, given the next 4 opponents are the Suns, Blazers, Pistons and T-Wolves who all utilize their own glut of rookies – – doesn’t it seem like the perfect time for that litmus test?

Prediction: Suns come out with a view to impress Watson (not to mention nothing to lose), but the Raptors showcase why they have been the most consistent Eastern Conference team winning by 5

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Raptors 93, Nuggets 112 | Quick Reaction | Box Score

There’s a reason Eric Koreen has taken to calling me and himself #TheReasonablists. It’s pretty rare that I find myself too high or too low after a win or a loss, instead staying somewhere in the middle and leaning on those Bayesian priors as my analysis and outlook make small shifts over the course of the season. (The exception, of course, being after the Game 7 loss to the Nets the day before my birthday during a serious breakup.)

Sometimes, this annoys people, which I understand. The entire nature of sports fandom suggests being reasonable shouldn’t be a part of the role description. It’s far more fun to buy in entirely, work the trade machine endlessly, dream on how major changes could shift the timeline, and so on, and just react however you instinctively react. Sports are an outlet first, and that entertainment should come in whatever damn form you choose. Just like someone calling for me to be more blindly optimistic or, I guess, supportive of the team in response to any negatives I might see isn’t going to change how I watch and analyze, me doing and thinking and saying those things probably won’t change anything for anyone else. That’s a terrible sentence, but it’s midnight and I’m disappointed and I might be a bit faded off the chocolate milk. You get what I’m saying, though: When it comes to sports, do you, and who am I to tell you how to be a fan?

On Monday night, the Raptors turned in what may have been their worst performance of the season.

To be blunt, they played like garbage. DeMar DeRozan scored well but was a zero defensively. T.J. Ross and Bismack Biyombo had a few good minutes and a few bad. Luis Scola was Luis Scola. Otherwise, it was almost entirely awful. The team shot 37.2 percent and allowed Denver to shoot 54.2 percent, including a parade of shots at the rim and clean outside looks (10-of-22). The Nuggets out-rebounded them by 14, more than doubled them in points in the paint, and moved the ball freely around a disengaged Raptors’ defense. Other than forcing turnovers, the Raptors offered little resistance. At the other end, they could do little damage anywhere but at the free-throw line, somewhere Denver was fine to send them fairly often if it means the paint was sealed off entirely and they were dribbling out the shot clock looking for seams and instead finding bad jumpers late.

It was a bad game. Kyle Lowry summed it up pretty well, borrowing from head coach Dwane Casey (courtesy Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun):

Coach described it best tonight. I’m going to take this stat-sheet and wipe our asses with it. I’m sorry, that describes the night for us, man. Tip your hat to the Nuggets, they played extremely well. We just didn’t have it tonight. They kicked our ass.

And that’s pretty much it, for me. That’s about all that needs to be said about Monday’s game. The Raptors came out dead flat in a notoriously difficult place to play on the first night of a road trip, and they got spanked. Embarrassed, really. And that’s not an OK thing for a good team that thinks it could be great to do.

And so I’m not going to tell anyone not to overreact to the loss. The comments in the quick reaction and our mentions had a lot of negativity, calls for Casey to be fired, I-told-you-sos about certain elements of the team or the loss, trade suggestions, and more. Nobody felt good about the game, and if that’s how you want to respond, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t.

All I can do is offer why I’m mostly unmoved by the loss. I already know the reaction that the points will get. I’ll hilariously get called a homer or a blind supporter or “literally Dwane Casey,” even though before and during the game I was being called the opposite of those things for predicting a loss. Those who are still angry will say this is making excuses for an inexcusable performance, which is only half right. There are reasons the team’s worst loss of the season doesn’t move the needle much for me, and I think they’re reasonable.

  • This looked like a loss coming in. The Raptors were five-point favorites but I called a loss beforehand. It’s the first game of a trip after a long home-stand, always a tough one to get up for. It’s in Denver, a notoriously difficult place to play. This Nuggets team is notably spry with several marquee victories despite a mediocre record overall.
  • The Raptors had also been gassing their key players during the winning streak. Not only was this a mental hurdle, but possibly a physical one. Kyle Lowry, in particular, looks either fatigued or mildly injured.
  • To that point, the Raptors were able to get Lowry and DeRozan some unusual rest on the first night of a back-to-back. if they were going to lose, it’s almost better they lost big for that reason.
  • On a related note, they got a long look at some of the prospects. The results were mixed, but Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira, Anthony Bennett, and Delon Wright all got far more NBA run than they had in some time. There’s some value in that.
  • The Raptors rarely turn in games like this. It’s only the sixth time they’ve lost by double-digits and the only game I’d venture they played even close to this poorly was the 20-point Miami loss early in the year. It was a complete aberration. This isn’t them.
  • The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak. There were concerns during the streak, ones people got irritated that I would point out, but for the most part the team played well and took care of business against a reasonably easy chunk of the schedule. They probably exerted too much energy in that stretch and may be a little worn out from it, and that started to manifest late in the Detroit near-collapse on Saturday. For the most part, though, Monday didn’t affirm any specific earlier concerns. The reality is, winning streaks take a toll. It’s incredibly difficult to be on your game night-in, night-out for such a long stretch, and while we’d like to think that’s the “mark of a champion” or something like that, even the Warriors admitted to their long winning streak eventually taking them off their game some. It’s mentally and psychologically exhausting, and a loss, probably one like this, was bound to happen.

Things are fine. More than fine, even. The Raptors are still second in the East, those 11 wins still provided a nice cushion in the standings, and everything good about the team you liked Monday morning still exists now. It’s one game, and everything is fine. Now, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed Monday’s game. Nor does it mean that turning in a wholly terrible game is acceptable. “Trap games” exist but they’re still avoidable, and the Raptors seemed to admit they just didn’t have it after the game.

For that and my reasons for letting it slide to hold, the Raptors have to come out Tuesday and get things done against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are a tire fire, but it’s the second night of a travel back-to-back and the Suns just fired their coach, meaning they could have the usual first-game boost for E-Shorty, Earl Watson in this first game behind the bench.

Monday doesn’t really tell us much other than that being perfect is hard. How the team responds Tuesday will be more telling about what might have gone into that loss.

Now, whether your author can bounce back from this piss-poor recap with a better Tuesday is another thing entirely.

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10 things I noticed from Raptors-Nuggets | Getting Benched

Good job by Casey to throw in the towel and keep DeRozan and Lowry on the bench for most of the fourth. There’s another game tomorrow in Phoenix. Had to play it smart with their minutes.

Raptors record streak ends with blowout loss to Nuggets | Toronto Sun

Jokic set career bests with 27 points and 14 rebounds, Will Barton and Randy Foye combined for 36 points off of the bench as Toronto’s reserves were outplayed for the first time in a while, along with the starters.

“You can describe it any way you want to: It was a stinker,” Casey said.

“That was one of our worst performances of the year. we played like we we playing in mud. You can blame it on the altitude or whatever it was, we stunk.”

Denver had surprised the Raptors in Toronto earlier this season and Casey had warned beforehand that the team wouldn’t be a pushover and that the air in Denver is always a factor.

Toronto’s 15-point deficit after three quarters was its biggest of the season.

“It starts with me, it was my fault, I didn’t get them ready to play, but you have one of these a year, we shoot 37% they shoot 54%,” Casey said.

Runs like the one Toronto was on are extremely rare and so are performances like Monday’s. Toronto isn’t as good as it looked the past few weeks, nor is it anywhere near as poor as on Monday.

Denver Nuggets snap Raptors’ 11-game win streak | Toronto Star

“Coach described it best tonight. He said we should take this statsheet and wipe our asses with it,” Lowry said, laughing and apologizing. “That describes this night for us. Tip our hats to the Nuggets, they played well. They made shots and we didn’t.”
No pro sports team in Toronto had ever won more than 11 consecutive games and it became clear early in this game that these Raptors wouldn’t be the team to hit win No. 12.
“They came out aggressive and we came out lackadaisical a little bit,” Lowry said. “As I said, coach said it best. I’m not even worried about (the loss). It’s over with, I’m worried about (Tuesday).”

Takeaways: Streak snapped as Raptors fall flat vs. Nuggets |

The Raptors were dominated in the paint.

Toronto was outscored by 22 points in the paint in first half, and only had 26 all game. The Nuggets finished with 60 and 17 fast-break points. The biggest factor inside was Nikola Jokic, who dropped 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting and 14 rebounds. Jock dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas from the outset, scoring the Nuggets’ first 11 points. J.V., who was questionable to play with a sprained right thumb, was held to just 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes.

Raptors Lose to the Nuggets, 112-93. The Streak Ends at 11 | Raptors HQ

Despite how tough this game was to watch as a Raptors fan, its hard to blame to Raptors for losing their first game in twelve tries. These things happen: teams sometimes run into a wall, and have bad games where nothing goes right, and to be clear, nothing went right today. For evidence, look no further than Lowry’s statline. Sure, his 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists are notably low, but he also missed 5 of his 8 free throws which is absurd. While the Raptors played poorly, Denver also shot lights out: any night where the bench duo of Will Barton-Randy Foye outscore Lowry and DeRozan is not going to be fun. Lets hope that the team forgets this loss, and is ready to begin a new winning streak tomorrow at Phoenix.

Recap: Denver Nuggets run Toronto Raptors out of Colorado, 112-93 | Denver Stiffs

The Nuggets needed a good game on both ends of the court to subdue the visiting Raptors and they got it. Denver held Toronto to 37% shooting while making 54% of their own buckets and notching 28 assists.  The Nuggets dominated the boards 49-35 as Jonas Valanciunas could not fight through his injured thumb to compete in the second half, and James Johnson did not return from his sprained ankle.  Denver did not let the free-throw adversity affect them, and they kept their poise (until that last minute with Miller) when it could have gotten chippy.  The Nuggets played team basketball in a way that hints at how much fun future years might be.  They forgot how to score in the third quarter but didn’t let up on Toronto, and they closed out the by winning the fourth quarter rather than letting the game get close. It was a complete effort.

#FactsOnly. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Nikola Jokic stars in Nuggets’ blowout win over Toronto | The Denver Post

The Nuggets entered the fourth quarter with an 80-65 lead. Will Barton, who had just four points on 2-of-9 shooting through the first three quarters, scored eight points in the first 1:38 of the final period to ensure Denver would not have to worry about letting a big lead slip away. Barton finished with 20 points as the Nuggets’ lead in the fourth quarter grew to as large as 27 points.

The Nuggets were staunch defensively for much of the night while defeating Toronto, which hadn’t lost since Jan. 4, for the second time this season. The first win against the Raptor’s snapped an eight-game losing streak.

Toronto Raptors crushed by Nuggets, winning streak over | Raptors Cage

You simply cannot let Denver score 112 points. The interior defense was unacceptable. JV and Bismack Biyombo did not get it done, as Nikola Jokic torched them for 27 points. Will Barton also poured in 20 off the bench. Denver shot a sky high 54% from the field.

Raptors’ Dwane Casey named NBA coach of the month | Toronto Star

Casey said the nod was “a great honour for our staff, for the organization.”
“My whole thing is when you’re not worried about who gets the credit, everybody wins,” he said.

Will camaraderie be a blessing or curse for Raptors? | TSN

Although they’ve probably been playing it up for the cameras a tad lately, their friendship is sincere and they’re not alone. For years the Raptors have prided themselves on the continuity and camaraderie between their best players and, this season more than ever, there seems to be a harmonious vibe around the entire roster.
“We do everything together,” DeRozan said. “We talk about everything, all the guys on the team. We joke around when we’re on the road. We try to take advantage of it, have fun and try not be so uptight and think about basketball 24/7. With that, we go out there and have fun with each other and try to pull out a win every single night.”
“The guys on this team — from the superstars, Lowry and DeRozan — all the way down to the guys who don’t play that much, [Lucas Nogueira] and Bruno [Caboclo], we all respect one another,” said reserve forward Patrick Patterson. “Everyone cares about each other; everyone wants to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. We all just truly and generally enjoy each other’s company.”
Of course, winning will do that, but it’s not unlike the question of the chicken and egg. What came first? Does winning breed chemistry or does chemistry breed winning?

Raptors’ Casey, Nuggets’ Malone well aware no NBA coach is safe | Toronto Star

“You’re always sad for any coach in college or the pros to lose their position,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was named the Eastern Conference coach of the month on Monday, after his team went 12-2 in January. “But it’s part of our job description.

“You sign a piece of paper and the only thing that’s not on there is the date you’re going to be let go.”

Coaching has always been a dependably fickle job. Casey’s enjoying the success his Raptors have had this year, with their franchise-record-setting win streak of 11 games and two of his players taking part in next weekend’s all-star game in Toronto, but he knows how quickly the coin can flip. He was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007 in his second season in charge.
It wasn’t that long ago people were wondering if Casey was the right coach for the Raptors after they were swept out of the playoffs last year.

Friendly Bounce Power Rankings: The Toronto Raptors climb | Friendly Bounce

3. Toronto Raptors (LW: 4): 10-0 in the last 10 games is great and almost every game they play is entertaining in some way. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan‘s friendship is the only thing in the league right now that is as great as the Warriors.

Raptors by the numbers: 11 stats from the 11-game winning streak | Eh Game

88 – Bench units in the NBA are expected to hold leads, not extend them. Over the 150 minutes that Cory Joseph, Ross, Patterson, and Bismack Biyombo have shared the court, the Raptors have outscored their opponents by 88 points. Primarily playing alongside Lowry, they’ve been Toronto’s most effective foursome.

Two Trades That Will Push The Clippers And Raptors Into Conference Contention | The Sports Quotient

The Raptors are in the prototypical spot to make a win now move. Toronto is likely getting the best production they will ever see from Kyle Lowry and their other backcourt star, DeMar DeRozan, who is on the last year of his deal and is due for a huge pay raise.
The one glaring hole in this Raptors roster has been the power forward position. Having Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola play the majority of the power forward minutes just isn’t gonna cut it in a conference that runs through Cleveland.
While acquiring Ryan Anderson isn’t going to improve anything on the defensive side of the floor, his elite shooting from the big man position could take this Toronto Raptors offense to new heights. Just

Raptors-Phoenix Suns: Tuesday game preview | Toronto Star

Key matchup:Tyson Chandler vs. Jonas Valanciunas.
A lack of experience jumps off of the page when you look at the Suns roster. Chandler, 33, will know what it takes to slow down a team like the Raptors. His numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he’ll make life tough for Valanciunas and is always a threat in the paint to any Raptors that puts his head down and goes to the hoop. Managing him in the paint will be Valanciunas’ top task.

Wan’t to be Raptors Republic’s Patron Saint?

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Toronto Raptors 93 Final
Recap | Box Score
112 Denver Nuggets
Luis Scola, PF 17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -11 +/-

Forced some turnovers early, which seems to be his modus operandi of late. He’s not quick by any means, but he’s so smart at recognizing a chance to trap, cut off space, or make a well-timed reach.

James Johnson, PF 10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -7 +/-

Left the game with a sprained ankle, which stands to make things difficult for the Raptors moving forward. Played quite poorly before leaving, taking a few silly gambles and getting bled on back-door cuts.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -19 +/-

Looked gassed pretty early in each stint, struggled with the super-active Jokic, and did a pretty poor job setting screens. Thought his team looked him off with good post position a couple of times, but it wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference. This was a bad one.

Kyle Lowry, PG 32 MIN | 3-12 FG | 1-6 3FG | 3-8 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -20 +/-

I generally try to avoid playing doctor and there are any number of things that can go into a bad couple of games. Still, after playing 41 minutes through a sprained wrist Tuesday, Lowry has shot 7-of-27 in the two games since, scoring 28 points with two assists. With a short night Monday and three days of rest coming up after Thursday, hope for a return to the regular Lowry form next week, if this is actually a matter of wrist/fatigue rather than just a bad couple of nights.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 28 MIN | 7-14 FG | 0-0 3FG | 10-11 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 24 PTS | -13 +/-

Waste of a solid night on offense, though he was fairly willing to give those points back at the other end. When he dished four dimes in the first, it looked like the ball might move well for the team, but then nobody else could score and the entire offense was DeRozan getting to the line. He does that well, but it wasn’t enough.

Anthony Bennett, PF 8 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +8 +/-

Got into it with Mike Miller, which is probably worth a higher grade. Hit the glass well. He’s still shown so little at either level to suggest he has an NBA skill that warrants playing time.

Patrick Patterson, PF 23 MIN | 1-6 FG | 1-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -16 +/-

Passed up a few open looks and still managed to go 1-of-5 from outside. Wasn’t the greatest of nights for the reserve group, and his cold shooting on largely open looks contributed. Tried to move the ball well, at least.

Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-5 3FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -16 +/-

Brought some nice energy initially, making a few plays on defense and sticking a couple of jumpers. Had a ridiculous ball-fake in transition that led to free throws, too. Lost the shooting touch outside the line and didn’t bring it as well on the defensive end in the third quarter.

Lucas Nogueira, C 14 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -3 +/-

Thought he’d be really up for an opportunity when the other centers weren’t doing a ton but slipped into a bit of a disinterested demeanor late. His length creates issues and he’s a smart, heady defender. Unfortunate they didn’t look his way on the roll a little more.

Bismack Biyombo, C 15 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | +3 +/-

Didn’t play horribly outside of a brutal three-minute sequence in the second quarter where he went Full Biyombo on the offensive end. Liked the move to give Nogueira a look early in a lost game just to see what he could offer, and that’s not an indictment of Biyombo, I don’t think.

Delon Wright, PG 6 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +4 +/-

Hit a pair of threes! That’s something he’s been flashing at close to a league-average clip in the D-League and would represent an important development in his game, particularly if he gets comfortable pulling up.

Cory Joseph, PG 28 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -6 +/-

Couldn’t help Lowry get the offense going when his lead guard needed a pick-me-up. Offensive malaise isn’t entirely on him but this was disappointing given how well he’d played, with or without Lowry, in the four games leading up to this.

Norman Powell, SG 13 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | 0 +/-

Asking him to take a few threes was somewhat unfair given his game, but they’ll need him to do that if he’s going to fill in for Johnson. Had a woeful time finishing but his energy and defense are palpable. I’m not discouraged.

Dwane Casey

Not sure any of this can really be hung on the coach. Almost to a man, the team played poorly. He tried going to the bench early, he tried dusting off Powell and Nogueira earlier than he normally would to spark things, and he conceded the loss in a fairly timely manner, sitting Lowry and DeRozan late. He also got T’d up, a rarity, for whatever that’s worth. I don’t think a 25-point game falls on the coach. If they come out flat again Tuesday, then sure. But don’t try to use this as a jump-off point for Casey hate when he had, like, 1.5 players playing well.

Five Things We Saw

  1. This game was bound to happen eventually, whether it was Monday or Tuesday or Thursday or whenever. It’s unreasonable to expect any team to be at their best for such a long stretch of time. It’s psychologically exhausting and, in the case of some players, physically so. So long as they reset well Tuesday, there’s nothing much to take from this game other than “winning every game is really hard.”
  2. The Raptors nearly hit as many free throws as field goals and both numbers were right around the Nuggets’ assist total. That about sums it up, yes?
  3. Nikola Jokic is an absolute monster. A hulking, beastly, unstoppable, beautiful monster. He somehow made Will Barton only my second-favorite opponent in a game, which I would have thought was impossible.
  4. The Blue Jays have won 11 in a row five times. The Leafs’ longest undefeated streak is 11 games. The Raptors’ now have an 11-game high-water mark. There’s something about that number. (Or, again, winning so much is really hard.)
  5. Enjoy the streak for a moment. That was a lot of fun, and people seemed to fall into two camps: Searching for negatives or ignoring them completely. The loss is a chance for everyone to give the stretch a nod of appreciation, recalibrate their analysis and expectations, and, in the case of the Raptors, re-establish a focus on longer-term goals, having now built a cushion for the No. 2 seed.

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The Toronto Raptors now find themselves perilously thin on the wing. Already down DeMarre Carroll for what’s believed to be about four more weeks, the Raptors may have lost the man replacing him in the starting lineup on Monday.

James Johnson took a bad spill in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets, requiring help to get off the floor and then limping to the locker room with Alex McKechnie. He has been ruled out for the game with a left ankle injury and is headed for X-rays, per Raptors Media Relations. The Sportsnet broadcast updated that Johnson has a sprained left ankle and that X-rays were negative.

He appeared to hurt the ankle on the fall, which came as he made an ill-advised attempt to steal the ball from Danilo Gallinari in transition after Johnson had missed a tough look at the rim.

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Should Johnson be shut down moving forward, the options at the three are, umm, not great, Bob. Head coach Dwane Casey would lean heavily on the two-point guard look to require just a single wing while likely inserting T.J. Ross into the starting lineup. Norman Powell could conceivably see minutes, or Anthony Bennett out of position at the three, but the most likely case is a lot of Ross, a lot of two-PG looks, and very little use of a small four. That’s not a death knell, but it’s hardly ideal to be down the team’s top two small forwards and forced into playing a two at the three, something they’ve tried to avoid as best they can this year.

UPDATE: Powell started the second half. Casey could be opting for role consistency here to keep that highly effective bench foursome in their regular rotation.

Prior to the injury, Johnson was having a pretty terrible night, shooting 1-of-2 with a pair of turnovers, two rebounds, a block, and an assist in 10 minutes. He fell asleep multiple times on defense and made a few curious decisions on offense.

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Of course, Johnson’s injury was the impetus for a Nuggets run, and hardly any Raptors were making good decisions Monday. It’s been a rough night for everyone through 24 minutes, and it only stands to get tougher with Johnson sidelined.

In 12 games starting for Carroll since Jan. 4, Johnson was averaging 5.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 19.4 minutes, shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 7-of-17 on threes. He’s filled in admirably, particularly against opponents who start a wing he can sink his teeth into defensively, though the starting unit as a whole in part due to some spacing issues. That five-some has been outscored by 1.5 points per-100 possessions in 203 minutes on the season and the Raptors have been 20.1 PPC better with Johnson on the bench since he re-entered the starting lineup.

On the season, Johnson is averaging five points, 2.2 rebounds, and one assist in 15.5 minutes, shooting 51.3 percent from the floor.

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The Toronto Raptors look to make it 12 wins in a row when they visit the Denver Nuggets for a 9 p.m. tip on Sportsnet One.

Jonas Valanciunas thumbs…up
The Raptors’ center sprained his right thumb on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons and was considered questionable for Monday’s game, per Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star. He is apparently a game-time decision, as we don’t have an update an hour before tip-off.

UPDATE: He’ll play.

Considering the Nuggets have a gang of centers, this is good news. Valanciunas has played really well at both ends since returning from his finger fracture earlier in the season.

We The Norm
Norman Powell wants to participate in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. That should really be all the NBA needs to hear to put him in it. All-Star Weekend is in Toronto, T.J. Ross and DeMar DeRozan aren’t going to do it again, and Jamario Moon ain’t walking through that door. Powell has ridiculous hops and could probably do some really cool stuff, plus it’s just smart from a marketing perspective to have a lesser-known player or two in the event to help build even more marketable players.

There’s also the matter of Powell being a funny, likable guy:

If Ronald Roberts isn’t going to do the D-League dunk contest – and he’s not – this is a pretty damn good Plan B for the weekend.

A quick James Johnson note
James Johnson is from Wyoming. This will never not be funny to me.

DeMarre Carroll traveling
Again from Wolstat – major shout out to The Woz – DeMarre Carroll is traveling with the Raptors on their current trip. That doesn’t mean he’s close to a return – original timelines suggested a late-February/early-March return – but if he can do his rehab on the road, why not?

Bruno’s snapchat is a treasure
Someone put together a bunch of Bruno Caboclo’s posts from Snapchat in a YouTube video. The dude is a terasure though, like Lucas Nogueira, I have no idea what’s going on (I ain’t on the snaps).

Bruno re-assigned to 905
Shortly before tip-off, the team announced they have assigned Caboclo back to Raptors 905 of the D-League. The timing is a bit strange given that the Raptors flew to Denver yesterday and the 905 remain in Mississauga until Thursday without a game, but perhaps Caboclo wasn’t actually traveling and the update is just late.

In any case, Caboclo will practice with the 905 on Tuesday and Wednesday and then likely travel with them for a Friday-Saturday back-to-back while the Raptors are off. He could be joined by a teammate or two, as well, as the Raptors are off for three days after Thursday night.

Raptors Lineup
With Carroll still out but Anthony Bennett recalled from the D-League, the Raptors rotation will look something like this:

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

Nuggets Lineup
Wilson Chandler (hip) remain sidelined for the Nuggets, Jameer Nelson (wrist) is out with a wrist injury (per the well-bearded Eric Smith of Sportsnet), and Joffrey Lauvergne (toe) is expected to be available if needed. The team also has Sean Kilpatrick up on a 10-day contract, so the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Mudiay, Foye, Johnson
SG: Harris, Kilpatrick
SF: Gallinari (swoon), Barton (sploosh), Miller
PF: Faried, Arthur, Hickson
C: Jokic, Nurkic, (Lauvergne)

The current starting group (with the uber-impressive Jokic at the pivot, not Nurkic) has been one of the team’s best lineups, outscoring opponents by 3.8 points per-100 possessions over 135 minutes. Switch Arthur in for Faried and they get even better, outscoring teams by 13.3 PPC in 97 minutes. Jokic is really good, Gallo is Gallo, Harris is coming along as a 3-and-D piece, and Muiday is taking strides.

Muiday was a bit of a tire-fire earlier in the year, sometimes a necessity for a rookie lead guard, but I’ve been encouraged his last few times out. The Nuggets as a whole, however, have been somewhat unimpressive since beating the Warriors on Jan. 12, dropping seven of 10, albeit against pretty solid competition.

The Line
The Raptors edged from 5.5-point favorites to just 5-point favorites, almost surely because I pegged tonight as a potential loss on the radio earlier. When Blake talks, Vegas listens. That’s not meant to be too negative, but the streak’s going to end at some point, and Denver’s a notoriously difficult place to play. If nothing else, Denver should play them tight, which would make tomorrow’s SEGABABA in Phoenix difficult (complete with the Suns getting the usual first-game-with-a-new-coach boost). I’ll take the Nuggets with the points and a slight under on the 204, which has come way down from 207.

Nuggets 103, Raptors 99

You can check out Gavin’s full preview here.

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Dwane Casey has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for the month of January, the NBA announced Monday.

Casey helped lead the Toronto Raptors to a 12-2 record for the month, which included the entirety of their current 11-game winning streak. That winning streak includes five wins against teams above .500 and an average margin of victory of 11.7, decisive stuff. The team’s played well enough that they’ve firmly established themselves as the favorite for the No. 2 seed in the East, just 2.5 games back of the Cavaliers and 5.5 ahead of the Bulls and Hawks. They’ve also played well enough that some expected the NBA to tweak their rules and give Casey the nod as the coach for the East All-Stars

This is Casey’s third time winning the award, giving him three of the four instances of a coach getting the honor in franchise history. He was given honorable mention in November and December, too.

Overall, the Raptors are 32-15 and rank sixth in offensive efficiency, eighth on the defensive side, and sixth in net rating. This, despite a great deal of missed time for Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll and a third of the roster being dedicated to prospects who have been deemed unable to contribute yet. Whatever your thoughts on Casey as a manager of the in-game minutiae – and his lack of offensive creativity is decidedly overstated – he’s firmly established that he’s a solid coach in the marco. Installing an entirely new defense and finding quick success despite heavy roster turnover, maintaining offensive effectiveness with several key pieces lost, fostering chemistry, managing through injuries, all of these are things that get lost when he calls a late-game isolation play or makes a curious substitution pattern or leaves Kyle Lowry in far too long. Those criticisms are fair, too, but on occasion it’s worth zooming out to appreciate that for three seasons now, he’s led a team that’s out-performed expectations.

Now, in terms of his lame duck status – the team holds an option on his contract for 2016-17 – well, I don’t think even a Coach of the Year award would make his job secure if the team were to lose in the first round again. Good can, on occasion, be the enemy of great, and general manager Masai Ujiri will face another tough decision this summer no matter how good a job Casey has done or will do from here.

Still, kudos to Casey on a job well done so far.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry received honorable mention for Player of the Week, which seems to be a weekly occurrence at this point.

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Raptors Republic and Raptors HQ get along for the most part. There are plenty of instances of the two sites collaborating on content, podcasts, meet-ups, and so on. But we don’t always agree. For instance, Daniel Reynolds, who runs the show over at HQ, and I disagree quite often. We prefer different brands of beard oil. He’s a film nerd, me a wrestling geek. He thinks he could beat me one-on-one, whereas I live in the real world, for the most part.

We happen to disagree some about the recent usage of Kyle Lowry and, to a lesser degree, DeMar DeRozan. After exchanging a few tweets about just that, we #TookItToGChat, then to email.  What follows is our exchange.

Blake Murphy: Alright, Dan. Listen. First we started discussing this through the official Twitter accounts, then it spilled into GChat, and only by force of geography were we able to prevent it from reaching the giant brawl crescendo that we’ve long been spiraling toward as the result of blog wars, hirsute competition, and your studio gangster 1-on-1 hoop threats.

So. I’m worried about the workloads of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. You, less so. I suppose we start with you calling me a fuddy-duddy for finding negatives in an 11-game win streak?

Daniel Reynolds: How dare you bring hirsute-ness into this, Blake. How dare you. For the record, I fully intend to escalate our blog war until there is only one of us left to tell Raptors fans, “Hey guys, let’s be reasonable.” And if that means I also have to son you on the basketball court, so be it.

There has never been a more Toronto sports fan thing than to find the downside of an 11-game win streak. Look, I understand that winning takes a lot of effort. There have been teams (the 2007-08 Rockets, for example) who’ve lost in the first round of the playoffs — from exhaustion, presumably — but I can’t help but come back to that fundamental sports principle, espoused by the grand philosopher Herm Edwards: You play to win the game. How do you argue that logic?

Blake Murphy: I argue with that logic with an example that should still be in everyone’s minds: The 2014-15 Toronto Raptors. The idea of “no naysaying in a victory” is one I understand but one that left a lot of Raptors’ fans with egg on their face a season ago. I remember being similarly pessimistic in the good times last year, decrying the lack of defense and Lowry’s workload, only to be told I’m too negative and pessimistic.

Now, to be clear, I am far less worried this time around. The 11-game winning streak has been mostly great, a lot of fun, and has helped affirm my growing belief that the Raptors might actually be the second-best team in the East. And in the case of the stars, DeRozan is used to roughly this workload, and Lowry is actually playing more than last year and has shown no signs of wearing down.

At the same time, Lowry’s averaged 39.1 minutes during the streak, an obscene amount. He and DeRozan both rank in the top seven in total minutes played on the season. Even if they’re in Ironman shape, the same shape that will allow me to dribble circles around you when we finally square off, that doesn’t worry you at all?

Daniel Reynolds: I’m glad you specifically mentioned Lowry’s minutes here because, really, that’s who we’re all worried about. Outside of that weird leg injury last year, I’m comfortable with DeRozan’s level of durability (and he is three years younger than Lowry). I’m willing to give him a pass.

I guess the question then becomes one of degree. Most high usage/quality players are in the 33-36 minute range; they play the most because they’re the best. So what’s the difference between Lowry’s 36.7 and, say, Russell Westbrook’s 34.2 or LeBron’s 35.7 or James Harden’s 37.3? How do we decide which workload takes more of a toll? Sure, having the ball in your hands all the time can be tiring (something you’d know nothing about, obviously), but Lowry has tons of support now playing off of Cory Joseph and DeRozan. Why do we have to — have to — freak out about this?

Blake Murphy: I don’t think anybody is freaking out, and you certainly don’t have to, but at some point the heavy workload in wins threatens to become a Pyrrhic victory.

I understand that the difference in minutes doesn’t seem all that extreme in sheer numbers. Sure, Lowry’s fifth, but he’s played only 56 total minutes more than, say, Paul George, who ranks 13th. I get that. And in terms of wear-down, the honest truth is we have no idea if and when to expect such a thing. Lowry’s in phenomenal shape this year, like DeRozan, and there are certainly plenty of examples of 37-minute-a-night guys holding up.

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

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

Daniel Reynolds: The Raptors aren’t winning the title this year, so this is all a Pyrrhic victory. That said, I will concede that the injury risk is always a very real thing. Losing Lowry or DeRozan for any extended period of time would basically explode all of the good vibes the team has engendered over the season’s first half. To be blunt: it would suck. I do support the idea of resting guys when a victory feels assured. If, like against Detroit, the other team starts making a run, then it’s up to Casey to decide how much that win is worth versus the risk to play his stars extended minutes. Not the easiest call, but I don’t get paid millions of dollars to yell at basketball players. Which brings us full circle: Do you think this win streak is starting to affect some of Casey’s decision making?

Blake Murphy: I don’t think so, no. Even earlier in the year, he would leave the main guys in with a sizable lead or deficit. It’s partially his fault for being over-cautious with individual wins with a low marginal product (and the risk having a huge potential marginal cost) and partially the reality of having a 10-man team. I’m no more or less concerned about it now than I was at the start of the streak, beyond some hand-wringing at Lowry playing when he doesn’t look 100 percent. What about you?

(By the way, while we’re conceding the other’s point some – at least one team has had a pair of players in the top 10 in minutes the last several years, so it’s not like the Raptors would be particularly special here).

Daniel Reynolds: Without all the fancy economics jargon, I’ll just say this: I think Casey (like every coach ever) has always and will always play the players he believes will bring the team the most wins. If it means he has to lean a lot of Lowry and DeRozan, he’ll do it. But I feel I should mention it’s not as if these guys are complaining about playing too much. Good players like to play, and they like to win. And the Raptors are winning. A lot. You think Lowry likes coming out of any of these game? I’m confident he’d try to play 48 minutes every night if he could.

The bottom line is, if you’re the Warriors or the Spurs you can rest guys, if you’re any other team in the league you have to play your best players a lot. The NBA is tough. Now, we’ve been agreeing too much here, so let me add this addendum: There will be no rest, no relief and no relent, Blake, as a I run roughshod over you in our one-on-one game. Book it.

Blake Murphy: Not sure what would make me feel worse: Winding up being justified in my workload concerns, or distilling your entire existence down to a single Vine loop with a crossover.

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For the better part of the season, Cory Joseph has impressed off of the bench for the Toronto Raptors. Given a four-year deal to return home as Kyle Lowry’s primary backup, Joseph immediately established himself as a factor on the defensive end, setting a refreshing tone that was entirely absent in the second-string backcourt a season ago.

He quickly forced his way into more playing time, resulting in he and Lowry sharing the floor together a great deal. The pairing has worked out wonderfully, with Lowry getting to work as a score-first guard and defensive ball-hawk while Joseph concerns himself with distributing and guarding the tougher of the defensive assignments. In the 679 minutes the two have played together, the Raptors have outscored opponents by an obscene 14.6 points per-100 possessions (PPC), per data from Lineups where Lowry stands alongside Joseph and the three other primary reserves have been particularly deadly, especially of late.

When untethered from Lowry, though, Joseph’s offense has been up and down. With only an exception or two, his defense remains sharp game-in and game-out, but there have been short stretches where Joseph’s offense disappeared. The team is 7.8 PPC better with him on the court overall and are roughly neutral when he’s on the floor without Lowry (holding serve is fine for a backup guard). He had a well-established slump due in part to an illness around the holidays, and during the team’s current 11-game winning streak, he his a skid where he shot 3-of-15 over three games with just six points.

The primary issue is that Joseph has sometimes struggled to navigate the pick-and-roll with Bismack Biyombo without the aid of Lowry to provide additional spacing and the option to reverse the ball effectively. Biyombo is an expert screen-setter, which helps, but teams will often load up off of Biyombo to protect against the drive, knowing Biyombo has little utility outside of the restricted area. Since Joseph isn’t a great pull-up shooter, he doesn’t have much recourse to punish defenses that do so.

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That’s something that can’t be worked around, though the degree of difficulty placed on Joseph’s drives is increased. As a result, he’s sometimes been guilty of over-dribbling or resetting the same action multiple times, habits that grind the pace to a halt and run the risk of tough late shot-clock looks.
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It’s a ludicrously small sample, but Joseph seems to be breaking out of whatever slump may have been taking place. In the four games since that three-game dip, the Raptors have gotten a bit more creative, unveiling a few new wrinkles to their standard Joseph sets to provide him with extra space and additional options. The result is 49 points on 21-of-34 shooting with 17 assists, likely his best four-game offensive stretch of the season.

The first thing the Raptors have done is set up a four-five stagger screen for their usual horns/high pick-and-roll. They used it at least twice with Joseph against the Pistons on Saturday, leading to good looks in each case.

In one instances, Patrick Patterson comes up high to set the initial screen for Joseph while Biyombo settles in just above the elbow. Marcus Morris drops off of Patterson as if to guard a standard high pick-and-roll and prevent Joseph from getting into the lane, which itself could create an opening for a Patterson pop outside the 3-point line. Biyombo steps up to set the second screen on Reggie Jackson while Andre Drummond similarly drops back.

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Biyombo erases Jackson, Drummond is a bit flat-footed, and Morris is in no-man’s land, leaving Joseph with plenty of options on the switch.
joseph stagger

They used a similar play with the screening order reversed, too, and it led to an open 3-point look for Luis Scola. Ostensibly, this same play could be used with Patterson (or DeMarre Carroll) as the second screener. In this case, Biyombo sets the first screen with Scola at the elbow, and the Pistons begin trying to “form a fucking wall” in the paint.
joseph stagger 2
Joseph probes the idea of cutting back to the middle off the Scola screen, where he’d have a free-throw line jumper or Biyombo on the roll (able to set an additional down-screen if needed), but instead cuts outside. Anthony Tolliver tries to keep Joseph from the rim, Drummond remains dropped back to contain the Biyombo dive, and Jackson is still trying to recover on Joseph. Scola casually takes a couple steps back and has all the time in the world to let fly.

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The Raptors didn’t just stagger the screens, either. They full-on set double-screens on occasion, a deadly tweak with Lowry as a spot-up shooter around the Joseph action.

Here, Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas both come high, and their men mostly stay back, unsure of which direction Joseph will use the dual picks.
joseph double
Joseph goes left, then cuts through the bigs in the middle, catching Aron Baynes flat-footed.
josep double 2
The intention here is to draw help off of Lowry in the corner, but while his man shades, he recovers fairly quickly to prevent a clean 3-point look. Instead, Lowry has Valanciunas with deep post-position or the option to attack a closeout. He does the latter and draws a foul.

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Later, the Raptors run something similar with Biyombo and Patterson screening. Joseph loses the handle some but still manages to exploit the chaos that ensues from the initial Drummond switch for a short jumper. Even before Joseph gets the ball, the Raptors have Jackson moving and guessing a ton.

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When the Joseph screen-and-roll is proving effective, the Raptors can add additional wrinkles, like Patterson slipping his screen and catching the defense entirely off-guard.

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I recently suggested that one way to keep the offense afloat when Lowry sits would be to stagger the rotation such that Joseph was working with Valanciunas more in those situations rather than Biyombo. The pair have played just 83 minutes together without Lowry, but the small-sample results, courtesy, are encouraging, specifically for Joseph. When Joseph plays with Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, or a super-small lineup and without Lowry, his scoring has been more efficient, his drives more frequent, and his distributing at its best.
joseph table
I still think that’s a worthwhile tweak to the rotation, but with more creative ways of initiating Joseph’s actions, the Raptors may be able to get a little more out of the non-Lowry second unit. The team has been a plus-24.3 PPC with Lowry on the bench over the last four games, an infinitesimally small sample of garbage time and minutes against opposing reserves, but an encouraging one. Those groups only need to avoid coughing up leads to help get Lowry some much-needed additional rest, and if Joseph stays in his recent offensive groove, that becomes a lot more likely.

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With the Toronto Raptors successfully defending their homecourt for 7 games and pushing their franchise record win streak into double digits and beyond with their 11th consecutive win they hit the road for a tougher-than-it-looks road trip. First up are the Denver Nuggets, sitting at 18-30 overall with a 9-15 home record. Despite their record they’re far from an easy out – coach Mike Malone is one of the better up and coming coaches in the game and their young talent is constantly improving as they get acclimated to the NBA. January featured some quality wins for them – Indiana, Golden State and Detroit at home and Washington on the road – along with some narrow losses to quality teams like Memphis and Oklahoma City so the Raptors may be in for a rough night if they take the Nuggets lightly.

Incredibly Brief Nuggets Scouting Report:

The Nuggets play a very egalitarian brand of basketball, the kind that a lot of Raptors fans would like to see implemented by Dwane Casey or whoever ends up replacing him. The ball doesn’t stick and no one player dominates the offense as players easily switch roles multiple times in a single offensive set and everyone gets a chance to make plays. The Raptors off-ball defenders are going to have to be very attentive because Coach Malone tends to implement set plays with options on options on options and without a single dominant scorer anyone on the Nuggets is a threat to off on any given night.

They have a very versatile group of players which allows for some lineups that can be difficult for opponents like Toronto to match. They can try to match your size up front with some combination of Jusuf Kurkic, Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne, then they can go small and space the floor with Danilo Gallinari at power forward. If they’re so inclined they can go smaller still and play Kenneth Faried and Gallinari together with three guards in a lineup that slower frontcourts will really struggle to keep up with.

Recent History:

The Nuggets beat the Raptors 106-105 in December in what was a pretty poor overall performance for the Raptors. They mounted a furious comeback late in the game but ultimately came up short despite 34 point outing from DeMar DeRozan. Both teams were dealing with significant injury issues, with the Nuggets missing Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Kenneth Faried out for the Nuggets and Jonas Valanciunas missing for the Raptors.

Player to Watch:

Nikola Jokic is a 20 year old 2nd round pick that nobody really expected much from this year but has quietly showcased an all-around skillset that should have him in the conversation for most promising big man in the game. The Nuggets are bringing him along slowly so his per-game numbers don’t match those of the higher-profile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis or Jahlil Okafor but his per-possession numbers are every bit as impressive. His defense still leaves a lot to be desired but offensively he’s everything you want in a modern big man: he’s mobile, able to shoot comfortably from distance, able to make quick reads and accurate passes and equally comfortable in the high or low post. Like most young big men his ability to defend will likely define his value but he has all of the tools necessary to be a force.

Injury Report:

Wilson Chandler is out indefinitely for the Nuggets and several of their big men – Jusuf Nurkic, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne and Kenneth Faried – have been facing a variety of ailments over the last few weeks but Lauvergne was the only one who didn’t play on Saturday against the Pacers. DeMarre Carroll is still out for the Raptors, who seem to be healthy otherwise with Kyle Lowry’s wrist evidently not bothering him much.

Keys for the Raptors:

1. Punish them inside. The Nuggets have some big bodies up front but Nurkic is the only one who can match the physicality of Jonas Valanciunas. Their guards are pretty athletic but for the most part those guys are very wiry or undersized and will have a difficult time with DeRozan inside of 12 feet. The Nuggets are also foul-prone, ranking 20th in opponents free throw rate. It’s important to feed Valanciunas in the post often and for DeRozan to avoid settling for shots outside the paint. If they go small up front it’s important for the Raptors to counter by feeding the ball to Valanciunas in the post and hitting him in open space around the rim where he will be able to finish easily – switching to the quicker Bismack Biyombo is exactly what the Nuggets want them to do

2. Keep the ball moving. The Raptors offense looks more fluid of late but when Lowry is out of the game ball gets very sticky – the Raptors assist percentage drops from 52.7 with Lowry to 42.6 without him. For all the improvements to his ball handling and passing DeRozan still passes mainly as a last resort and Cory Joseph has not really displayed much as far as point guard skills go. They’re both slashers by nature and need to make a consistent effort to allow the whole team to be involved in offense when Lowry is sitting.

3. Get shooters involved early and often. The Raptors really found their outside stroke in January and that’s been a big contributing factor to this win streak so it’s important to nurture that. Run Terrence Ross off some screens to see if you can spring him loose early and make a point of looking for kick outs to Patrick Patterson in early drives. When you don’t have a lot of shooters on the roster it’s important to keep the ones you have in a good rhythm. The Raptors really like getting Patterson and Luis Scola corner threes after they screen up top which is something they should look for early and often because that’s a shot the Nuggets surrender fairly easily – they’re 20th in corner three pointers allowed.


I’m just going to predict a Raptors win every night regardless of opponent until the streak ends. Raptors win.

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Too giddy to discuss matters of any real seriousness, we talk about the 3-0 week and check out how far the Raptors can take this thing, as a 6-game road trip looms. Shout out to our sponsor, Goldfinger Personal Injury Law.


  • 11 game win streak
  • Look back to Detroit, New York, and Washington
  • Lowry playing heavy minutes
  • JV’s double-doubles
  • All-Star coaching
  • Ross and Johnson filling in for Carroll
  • Upcoming six-game swing
  • Drake’s interview
  • All-Star activiites
  • More

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

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Raptors revelling in some beautiful chemistry | Toronto Star

So is it a chicken-and-egg thing? Does good chemistry beget team success, or does team success allow relationships to blossom that would otherwise be contentious? If Toronto was 15-32 rather than 32-15, would we be talking about good relationships or would players be sniping privately about roles and responsibilities or wanting some kind of change?
Stories of teams not necessarily close but still finding success are legendary and present a solid counter-argument to the “chemistry is everything” school of thought.
The Oakland A’s of the early 1970s won multiple World Series while battling each other; no one would have suggested Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal would break bread while they were winning a series of NBA championships; Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson took enough time away from considering beating each other to a pulp to become champions.
As Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy put it Saturday in Toronto — if you don’t win, chemistry is just something a few people might have taken in high school.

Lowry and DeRozan’s plan of success is working | Toronto Sun

The payoff was immediate both for Lowry and his team. This season he’s lighter on his feet, quicker to the basket and making opponents look silly as he stops on a dime and reverses course buying him the space he needs to get his shot off.

DeRozan has changed too, although physically he doesn’t look significantly different than he did a year ago. But on the court he is much more polished and effective. Now he bounces off defenders looking to muscle him and impede his path to the basket, where before he would get pushed off his line to the basket. Rarely has that happened this year. This season he powers through the contact and if he is driven off course finds a way back to finish at the rim.

Both men have put in the work and are seeing it pay off. Because of that, with 35 games remaining in the season the Raptors are five games clear of the third-place Chicago Bulls for second place in the East. They are 21/2 behind the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers for first in the East. Lowry and DeRozan are the primary reason for that standing and the rest of the league is taking notice.

DeRozan officially joined Lowry on the Eastern Conference all-star team this past Thursday when the coaches added him as a reserve. The announcement was mere formality. It was a given that DeRozan would be added.

Going to the mid-season classic together clearly makes it even a little more special for both.

Views From The Six: The Toronto Raptors Are Ready To Make Some Noise | The Sports Quotient

As Kyle Lowry enjoys a career year, Toronto still wouldn’t be making this much headway without a similar year from the second man of this dynamic duo, who was also named an all-star this year.
DeRozan is ninth in the NBA averaging over 23.1 points per game, but it’s how he’s scoring that’s taken his game to another level. While #10 can hit open threes in a gym, it’s just not his forte. Some people prefer blondes to brunettes. DeRozan prefers twos to threes. It’s no surprise that he’s second in the league in two-point field goal attempts. That being said, he is hitting a career high 32% from three and says he will take the open looks the defense gives him.
Now, how exactly does a volume shooter hit 44% of his shots when he’s not a good three point shooter? It’s not a simple answer; he does so in a lot of ways. DeRozan has improved as both a post-up player and pick and roll ball handler, which is easier with Lowry as a spot up threat. All of this has led to mismatches from switching, as well as more fouls drawn. DeRozan is currently taking a career-high eight free throw attempts per game (he’s 3rd in the league in free throws attempted) and hitting almost 85% of them, also a career high.

For Raptors James Johnson The Mad Scientist Approach Works | Pro Bball Report

“(I) come in here at nighttime, come here first, just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot til I find a rhythm,” Johnson explained to Pro Bball Report. “I finally recorded it. Told myself what to do like a mad scientist while I was feeling good. Told myself what I was feeling good about so I wouldn’t forget.”

For most of the season, it would have been hard to pick up on the fact Johnson was shooting better from range. He just didn’t shoot the long ball often enough to notice and it’s far easier to remember the bricks as that’s what everyone had come to expect when Johnson got brave enough to hoist from distance. However, his teammates have noticed. They are in the practice gym with him and can see the work Johnson’s been putting in.

“The guys are giving me opportunity to shoot and are trusting my shot and that’s a big key,” Johnson continued. “When your teammates are trusting your shot and passing you the ball when you are open in the corners or the wing, you feel some type of way about that.

“It feels good coming in at nighttime. I’m in the gym two hours, 2.5 hours, come down see Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) in here, so they know I want it. They know how hard I work.

Five reason the Raptors will win a playoff series | Toronto Sun

Chemistry. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy made a strong argument against its importance, suggesting friendship off the court doesn’t necessarily translate to chemistry on it. But in the case of the Raptors, the chemistry off it and togetherness within the locker room has transferred. The biggest thing, and DeRozan mentions this often, is everyone is playing for the guy next to them. It’s a sports cliche but for this team it’s reality. Success is team earned within that room so there is simply no room for selfish agendas.

Raptors-Denver Nuggets: Monday game preview | Toronto Star

Need to know: Nuggets are back home after a three-game road trip that ended with a Saturday overtime loss in Indiana . . . The rebuilding Nuggets are 18-30 and only 9-15 at home, where they usually have a decided advantage in the thin air . . . Rookie point guard Mudiay averages 11 points a game and is tops among rookies with 5.6 assists per game . . . The Raptors will be out to avenge a one-point loss earlier this season in Toronto . . . Denver struggles defensively, giving up more than 104 points per game on average.

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With a 32-15 record, the Raptors have now distanced themselves from third-place Chicago and lie just 2.5 games back of Cleveland for top-spot in the East. Up until now, they’ve played like a top-5 NBA ball club, hold a 14-7 record against teams with a +.500 record (third-best in the league), have beaten big teams like the Thunder, Spurs, and Cavaliers, and are now amidst a historic franchise run. So maybe, just maybe, Raptor fans should step back and smell the roses – even if the fourth quarter collapse last night was all too real.

We live in a ridiculously fun NBA-age, where despite the league being dominated by a historic team and there being a huge gap between the NBA’s elite and its minnows – anyone can beat anyone, and anyone can go on a run against anyone. If there was ever a time to cut the Raptors some slack for their disintegration during last night’s fourth quarter, it would be the same night – just minutes before, just 800 km away. Somewhere amidst the strange humdrum at the Air Canada Center where the Raptors had built a 20-point lead, the Philadelphia 76ers were completing their incredible 24-point comeback against the Golden State Warriors – only to see Harrison Barnes end their night with a 3-point dagger at the buzzer to prevent the game from going into overtime. Somehow, from a Raptors perspective, that entire ordeal in Philadelphia was timely, and served as a gentle reminder that even the best can suffer. Except in this case it wasn’t just the best, it was a giant going through a momentous season nearly collapsing against one of the worst teams in NBA history.

Mind you, the 76ers are actually playing better these days since acquiring Ish Smith. The point is this though: The NBA is a roller-coaster. Game-in, game-out, quarter by quarter – it’s a game of runs. Yes, what the smug Raptors went through last night as they nearly squandered a 20-point fourth quarter lead shouldn’t be ignored, but expecting perfection during an 11-game win-streak for a team who’s battled injuries to key players all season is perhaps, unjust.

The entire game was strange. It started with DeRozan and Lowry struggling to get going, and the Raptors were getting points from unlikely sources. In one instance, Biyombo did a dream shake (as well as Biyombo can do a dream shake) and hit a fadeaway on the baseline. During another offensive sequence, James Johnson hit a three. Just before that, Luis Scola picked up the ball from half-court and dribbled his way to the rim for a lay-up in transition.

The game was somewhat subdued after that. We had to witness Andre Drummond go 1/9 from the free-throw line, and then oddly fouling out. Odd, because Drummond didn’t receive his first foul until the third quarter. His struggles were threefold. Being fouled and missing free-throws at such an impotent rate strains you mentally and batters your confidence. It didn’t help that Valanciunas was working diligently to get the better of him on the boards; and Biyombo especially had a monstrous game down-low. By the end of it, Drummond was visibly frustrated.

Where the Raptors really took off was near the end of the third quarter and leading into the fourth quarter when Kyle Lowry – surrounded by players from the 2nd unit – went to work and opened up a lead which stretched to as many as 20. A huge part of this run was Cory Joseph, who turned in a really impressive game where he went 6/11 from the floor and brought all kinds of energy. CoJo did really well to get into the paint and there was little Reggie Jackson or Brandon Jennings could do to stop him.

Then, it happened.

“This game is fleeting . . . you can win 11 in a row and all of a sudden you lose seven, eight in a row if you continue to play with the lack of focus like we did in the fourth quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Hopefully we learned from it, we have to learn from it.”

Dwane Casey gets a lot of shade thrown his way for his insistence in leaving DeRozan and Lowry in the game during late-game scenarios when the Raptors probably have the game in the bag. That might be unfair, as the Raptors haven’t been able to close-out games as well as they should have. DeRozan’s foul-trouble last night saw him sit for a large stretch to end the third and open the fourth, so for him to be in the game late is not a huge deal – given he got rest in periods of the game where he usually plays. That said, Lowry clocked in 40 minutes, and he went 4/15 from the floor. It was a laborious effort and Lowry seemed to still be shaking off a wrist injury. Could Casey have taken him out when the Raptors were up by 20? Probably. Though the Pistons all of a sudden took advantage of an over-complacent Raptor team to cut the lead to four by the end of the game. They scored 35 points in the final frame and forced the Raptors to turn the ball over five times. Coach Casey probably felt that his hand was forced and that he needed to keep Lowry in to tame the Pistons’ run. The flip-side of this argument is that he should trust his bench more, and having a hungry 2nd unit to combat the Pistons would have been more conducive to the Raptors winning this game.

There are a lot of interesting things happening with the Raptors right now (quick opportunity to plug that fun broadcast segment with Drake from last night’s game), but there’s something really interesting / worrying to note amidst this 11-game win streak: The Raptors aren’t dishing out many assists – if any. Last night they had 12 – which was somehow three more than the Pistons had – and they now rank dead last in the league when it comes to APG. Is it worrying? Based on last season alone, it could be. The Raptors went through a similar patch before the all-star break last season where they were widely regarded as an ubber-fun team who plays iso-ball without any real offensive scheme. No one batted an eye, because it simply worked. Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry were on fire – but it didn’t sustain itself. Surely nightmares from last season’s collapse still linger. But although the assists are sparse, as Tim noted, the Raptors are moving the ball much better this season – so there’s that.

To close, I have to mention how incredible it is to watch DeMar DeRozan these days. Even when he struggles – as he did last night – he comes away with a game-high 29 points. When I saw that number, I was somewhat dumbfounded. It was a relatively quiet offensive output, but he did get to the line ten times, and his ability to get to the rim is completely prolific. De facto, DeRozan is the Steph Curry of getting to the rim.

Next up: @ Denver on Monday.

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Erie Bayhawks 100, Raptors 905 83 | Box Score

One team in the organization was bound to lose eventually. With the parent club Toronto Raptors locking down their 11th victory in a row on Saturday, D-League affiliate Raptors 905 saw their own six-game streak snapped at the hands of the Erie Bayhawks.

The 905 had turned a nine-game losing skid into a series of #proveems, finding themselves in the same situations they had floundered in previously and this time overcoming them. Two of those wins came against Erie, and Erie’s victory Saturday is a bit of an about-face – the 905 had learned how to beat a team after failing against them multiple times, and the Bayhawks managed to some out on the better side this time around after a pair of iffy outings earlier this month. That’s going to happen, as it’s tough for anyone, particularly a 11-19 team, to put an opponent away three times in short order.

Of all nights for it to happen, Saturday makes sense. The 905 were without Ronald Roberts due to knee soreness, decidedly their best player  and one they’ve struggled without. He ranks among the league leaders in several categories and the 905 have outscored opponents by 18.3 points per-100 possessions when he’s on the floor as a result. They’ve won just one of the seven games he’s missed and have been outscored dramatically when he sits. That’s inflated some by him playing the bulk of his minutes with other starters, but he has the biggest on-off impact on the team, and the 905 missed his energy and rebounding a great deal on Saturday.

Greg Smith started alongside Sim Bhullar in his place, with the 905 opting to bring Raptors assignees Bruno Caboclo and Anthony Bennett off the bench, perhaps to maintain some role consistency for that pair. Smith was decent but didn’t have a major impact inside, scoring seven points with six rebounds before fouling out in 32 minutes. Bhullar, meanwhile, had his first bad game in a while, scoring three points with six rebounds and four turnovers in 23 minutes.

Bennett wound up playing just two minutes before checking out midway through the first quarter. We’re trying to confirm what happened. Caboclo, meanwhile, hit 5-of-10 from outside to continue his recent trend of strong shooting. He’s now 12 for his last 20 and up to 33.1 percent on the season, which is encouraging. He finished the game with 19 points, eight rebounds, and five turnovers, the usual mixed bag. The bag was mixed on defense, too, as Caboclo was forced to play some four, and while he blocked four shots, he also picked up five fouls in 33 minutes. At that end of the floor, the team is looking for him to be in the right spots and making plays rather than avoiding fouls, and his aggression continues to impress. He’s getting there, slowly.

Note: The Raptors recalled Bennett and Caboclo following the game.

Really the only 905er who turned in a strong game was Melvin Johnson, who was 8-of-16 off the bench for 22 points. He’s been hot from outside forever, it seems, and while he doesn’t bring a lot else to the table, the team desperately needed that offensive spark on the bench.

That’s because the regular scorers struggled, as Scott Suggs went 2-of-12 for seven points with six turnovers and Axel Toupane shot 2-of-9. Toupane, who has dropped 30 twice in the last week, finished with 14 points thanks to 11 free-throw attempts, and he’s become a regular DeMar DeRozan in terms of free-throw volume of late. Shannon Scott had seven assists but the Bayhawks know him well enough now to give him a ton of space to shoot and overload him to pass, which put undue pressure on Suggs and Toupane as secondary initiators.

Overall, it was just a poor offensive night. Turnovers remain an issue for the league’s most error-prone team, and their 23 miscues led to 27 points for Erie. Even if they had taken care of the ball, they shot just 38 percent from the floor and 31 percent on threes, hardly strong enough execution to threaten Erie, who led for almost the entirety of the game.

Those turnovers led to some easy offense the other way. Erie shot 47 percent overall and 44 percent on threes, with Myck Kabongo and Jordan Sibert causing havoc by pushing things in transitions after forcing mistakes. Adreian Payne, on assignment from the Minnesota Timberwolves, lived at the line on his way to a 26-11-6-4-0 night, and Canadian Melvin Ejim continued to show terrific growth as a wing ball-handler and creator, scoring 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and dishing four dimes. I honestly think he’s got a shot to crack Canada’s Olympic qualifying roster with the way he’s looked over the last month.

There’s nothing to get too concerned about here. Head coach Jesse Mermuys will surely be irritated that some of the team’s earlier issues crept back in for a game, but he was also clear after the fifth win on the streak that the team still has a ways to go. A sub-.500 expansion team, however hot, was always going to have another bad night eventually, and it happened to come when their best player was out and one of their assignees was injured early. They’ll get nearly a week off to regroup before trying to get back on the right track against Texas on Friday.

Note: Sorry for the lack of the usual GIFs in this recap. I was having a lot of trouble with my YouTube stream.

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Detroit Pistons 107 Final
Recap | Box Score
111 Toronto Raptors
Luis Scola, PF 23 MIN | 4-9 FG | 1-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | -9 +/-Kobe really needs to give up the ‘Vino’ moniker to Scola who embodies that name just as Bryant symbolizes the Black Mamba. There are nights he has kept the Raptors in games early and others where he disappears versus squads with multiple athletic bigs. Tonight he stayed more along the middle of the road.

James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 1-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +4 +/-Don’t tell me Johnson didn’t see Drummond’s All-Star promo video showcasing AD delivering an elbow on him (never mind the dunk that precipitated why he delivered the cheap shot). The past few games he ‘s been absent on offense, but tonight he was active from the opening tip, He wasn’t as aggressive in the second half, but overall it was a positive effort.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 27 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -10 +/-Started the game with energy and it appeared he was ready to post some big numbers. Then he got saddled with a quick second foul (that belonged to Johnson) which forced his early exit.

By the time he returned his teammates were in a groove and he wasn’t getting touches. Notably he continues to show growth in the post in terms of his decision making, passing it back out and committing fewer turnovers. So, while his stats might not jump off the page I felt his performance was above average tonight (especially since Drummond was basically held in check though he did register a double-double)

Kyle Lowry, PG 40 MIN | 4-15 FG | 1-5 3FG | 9-12 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | -5 +/-The wrist must be a minor issue as Lowry was content to focus solely on defense taking only 4 shots in the first half. As the Pistons continued to battle he inserted himself more on both ends and did a great job of getting to the line. Interestingly he came close to registering a double-double but had no assists.

Was it his best effort? No, but he’s playing with a sore wrist and still manages to be “that guy” who stops the opponents run or sparks increased defensive intensity. Note to Casey: let him sit a game or two and get a little rest.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 34 MIN | 10-21 FG | 0-1 3FG | 9-10 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 29 PTS | -6 +/-His added muscle was meant for games like this. A number of times we witnessed him maintain his position or power through contact. Hit a circus hail Mary shot to end a 4.5 minute scoring drought. His passing and decision making out of double teams is much improved.

And while I felt he wasn’t as strong as he’s been through the winning streak how can 29 points, 3 rebounds and a tie for team high assists not merit an A?

Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15 +/-Given his recent production combined with how little Stan Van Gundy trusts his bench I expected him to have a big night. While that wasn’t the case he also only got 3 shot attempts. Is that on Pat Man or the team for not getting him the ball?

Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +8 +/-Like Patterson I expected Ross to have a huge night, but I forgot he was on the court. Also like Pat he had very few shot attempts and hit 50% of them (2-4).

Bismack Biyombo, C 21 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 6-8 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +14 +/-Notched another double-double and filled in admirably when JV got in foul trouble early. Made some big hustle plays which are becoming part and parcel of what he brings on a game by game basis.  Through the 7-game home stand the tandem of Biyombo and JV offered versatility patrolling the paint (not to mention they both demonstrated offensive improvements).

Cory Joseph, PG 28 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +9 +/-Was the X factor the entire evening, scoring, passing, defending and exposing Reggie Jackson or Brandon Jennings whenever he was on the hardwood. His entry into the game in the first half spearheaded the run resulting in a double digit margin. Again in the second half his arrival came as the Pistons were threatening to take the lead. Instead he spearheaded the attack which generated an 18 point lead. When Cory Jo brings this type of energy and focus off the bench along with his patented defense the Raptors are difficult to stop.

Lucas Nogueira, C DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | 3FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | +/-

Dwane Casey
He’s kept this team focused on winning so hard to fault him, but I did feel his rotations were a little slow especially late in the game (or his message to buckle down versus the scrappy Pistons). And, it does feel like if he trusted his reserves a bit more Lowry and DeRozan could gain a few extra minutes of relief. That said, how do you fault his coaching when he’s taken the Raps to previously unparalleled heights? The other factor at play is there is a reason all teams don’t go on double digit winning streaks. It’s hard to match the opposition’s effort and energy every night from a physical and mental perspective. That factor also gives the Warriors run and Spurs annual win streaks even more of a wow factor. Hey eventually the Raptors are going to lose, but for now let’s celebrate the fact it wasn’t tonight.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Unlike many squads in the Association the Pistons don’t concede games. Despite playing the Cavaliers Friday they continued to battle (all except possibly Drummond who seemed fatigued and disinterested). With the loss the Pistons are now 3-7 on the second night of their back to back series
  2. Drake joined Matt and Leo during the third quarter in his role of super fan, Raptors Global Ambassador, and cheer leader for the upcoming All-Star break. He called a few whistles by official 43 (Kent Mauer) questionable and referred to how much he looks like Christopher Walken. To that end… see the picture below and you decide.
  3. As per Matt Devlin with the win the Raptors matched their 2014-15 win total versus teams above .500. In fact only the Raptors, Warriors, Spurs and Bulls have winning records vs both the top 10 and top 16 teams. (the Bulls joined this group with 2 wins this week)
  4. The cuteness factor was on display as Lowry and DeRozan brought out their son and daughter (Carter and Diar) to receive their All-Star jerseys at center court. Well deserved gentlemen, well deserved!

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Fresh off of Saturday’s announcement that Views From The Six will be released in April, just in time for your boy’s half-marathon playlist, and the release of a new track called Summer Sixteen, Drake took his usual seat at courtside as the Toronto Raptors hosted the Detroit Pistons.

Drake also made his way to the broadcast table, where he joined Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins for a segment. He hyped the win streak, his new track, the play of the team, a new nickname for Bismack Biyombo. The dude is charismatic, actually engaged in the game, and generally a lot of fun. As always, I’m fully in favor of more Drizzy.

Check it out!

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The Toronto Raptors have two players in the All-Star Game for the second time ever and the first time since 2000-01.

With the team set to play their final home game before the All-Star break on Saturday, head coach Dwane Casey presented his star backcourt players with their official All-Star jerseys before the game. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were joined by their children for the adorable moment.

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The Toronto Raptors will go for their 11th victory in a row at 6:30 on Sportsnet One when they host the Detroit Pistons. It’s the final game on a seven-game home-stand and another solid test in a winning streak that’s lacked them to a degree. It’s also going to be a bloodbath, to hear head coach Dwane Casey tell it.

I suppose he’s expecting the game to be the type of grind-it-out slugfest he likes. If that’s the case, he better hope his defenders are up for an endless array of difficult one-five pick-and-rolls. It will be interesting to see if a potentially tired Pistons outfit is up for a challenge protecting their paint against the drive-happy Raptors.

The bloodbath won’t begin with many soldiers already on the sidelines, as both teams enter relatively healthy. (Update: Nevermind(

Pistons Updates
Jodie Meeks remains shelved with a foot injury and Spencer Dinwiddie is on assignment in the D-League. UPDATE: Ersan Ilyasova is a late scratch with a left thigh injury, per David Mayo of M-Live. Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were both listed as questionable but are playing.

That leaves the rotation looking something like this:

PG: Reggie Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Steve Blake
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock
PF: Anthony Tolliver
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Joel Anthony

While most may be concerned with Drummond’s rebounding and beastly finishing, what the Raptors should really be concerned with is the possibility of the Pistons sliding Morris to the four and putting Johnson in on the wing. That’s not a group they’ve used much, but it’s been highly effective, outscoring opponents by 23.3 points per-100 possessions in 62 minutes. To me, that’s their best bet to balance defense, floor-spacing, and play-making, but I’m not Stan Van Gundy.

Raptors Updates
DeMarre Carroll is still out for the Raptors while Anthony Bennett and Bruno Caboclo are with Raptors 905. That leaves the rotation as follows:

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

There’s no indication that Casey will be altering the rotation that’s won 10 straight games anytime soon, but it’s worth noting that the starting group continues to struggle. That five-some has now been outscored by one point per-100 possessions over 190 minutes, with the team slipping a little on both ends of the floor relative to their overall performance. That’s probably an issue that’s fine for now to maintain consistency, with the hope that Carroll’s eventual return will help.

Valanciunas vs. Drummond
Will and I spoke about the Pistons as a potential matchup on Friday’s podcast. We mostly agreed that it doesn’t seem too daunting a matchup, and the focus naturally falls on the battle between the two pivots.

Valanciunas owns the scoring edge in their historical matchup, while Drummond’s rebounded more.
Last season, Valancunas scored 90 points with 38 rebounds and nine blocks to 52, 51, and six for Drummond. This should be a lot of fun with both playing some of the best ball of their careers.

As for hacking Drummond, well, it’s something Casey is game to do if it presents itself as a potential advantage.

The Line
The Raptors opened as 7.5-point favorites and that’s edged down to Raptors -7. The Raptors should definitely be favored, particularly since Detroit played Cleveland at home on Friday (that’s a short trip, but still), tasking all of their non-Ilyasova starters with 30 minutes or more. But the Pistons are good and shouldn’t be slept on – they’re roughly average on both ends of the floor – while the Raptors continue to struggle putting teams away early. This has the makings of a Knicks-like game where the Raptors let the opponent hang around a bit too long and the final score is closer than the game flow would indicate.

Raptors 103, Pistons 97

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The Toronto Raptors wrap up a 7-game homestand tonight against the Detroit Pistons, playing some of their best basketball in franchise history. Coming off of their franchise record 10th straight victory on Thursday night against the New York Knicks, the Raptors have taken the Eastern Conference Standings by storm since the new year with a record of 13-2 in 2016, albeit against some of the sub-par teams in the league.

Tonight’s contest, however, will feature a surging Pistons squad that has come a long way from their mediocre playing style the past few years. Under Stan Van Gundy’s watch, the Pistons feature a talented squad fuelled by newly minted all-star Andre Drummond, a double-double machine, and could-have-been-all-star Reggie Jackson, who has developed into one of the premier point guards in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons are determined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, quite understandable for a franchise that has otherwise enjoyed so much success in their history.

Andre Drummond has been nothing short of spectacular for Detroit, averaging 17 points per contest and over 15 rebounds. He’s grabbed 20+ rebounds 10 times this season, and has also developed an offensive game in the paint shooting over 52% from the field. He is, however, once again having a terrible season from the free-throw line shooting an abysmal 37.7%.

The hack-a-Andre strategy has become an increasingly popular gameplan across the league when facing the Pistons, making for some slow, choppy games. Just ask the Houston Rockets last week, as head coach JB Bickerstaff inserted KJ McDaniels into the game solely for the purpose of fouling Drummond, repeatedly. McDaniels fouled Drummond an unprecented five times in the span of nine seconds, in a night where Drummond set the NBA record for most free-throws missed (23). Most nights, even DeMar DeRozan can’t attempt 23 free-throws, let alone miss that many. Let’s just hope that Dwane Casey will not have to adopt the hacking strategy, increasingly being viewed as a petty, unsportmanlike move. Not to mention, the Raptors should not have to resort to hacking Andre Drummond to win this game.

Unlike Stan Van Gundy teams of the past, the Pistons are a relatively strong defensive team and an average offensive team, sitting at 10th and 18th in those categories respectively. Detroit is coming off a loss against Cleveland, and will be looking to get back into the win column as they look to maintain their playoff standing, which is currently at 7th and a half game up on the Indiana Pacers.

The Raptors, meanwhile, seem to have gained the attention of the NBA, carving out a comfortable spot at second in the Eastern Conference, now with a 4.5 game lead on the third place Atlanta Hawks. All is well in Raptor land, as Toronto now gears up for the All-Star Game after having two all-stars confirmed on their roster in Lowry and DeRozan. It’s the first time in franchise history that the Raptors will be sending 2 all-stars to the midseason event, since Antonio Davis and Vince Carter back in 2001 in Washington DC. The Raptors actually had the same record, at 31-15, at this point last season, but in a tighter and more competitive Eastern Conference, this year’s record is certainly more respectable.

Though the East standings are nowhere near set in stone, with the Raptors in 2nd and the Pistons in 7th, tonight’s game could be a potential preview of a first-round series. The Raptors would likely be the favourites with a couple of years of playoff experiences under their belt with their current squad, compared to the Pistons, most of whom have never been part of a postseason game. Somewhat too soon to say, but I think most Raptor fans would prefer the Pistons over the Pacers or Heat, the other likely possibilities to land in that 7th spot.

A key to stopping the Pistons will be guarding at the point-of-attack, where the Pistons boast improved depth with starter Reggie Jackson leading the way. After making his way over from OKC last year, Jackson is enjoying playing the starting role with the Pistons, posting all-star numbers averaging 19 points, over 6 assists and 3 rebounds a game. He’ll be backed up by Brandon Jennings, the former 55-point scorer, who returned mid-season this year after 11 months off from an Achilles tear. Jennings, though still working his way back, is still a dangerous weapon that can catch fire from deep and cause havoc when he gets a first step on his defender.

Another important factor will be the Raptors play inside, as a key matchup to watch will be Jonas Valanciunas going up against Andre Drummond. JV is playing well after returning from his injury and will be looked upon to hold his own inside, not get into foul trouble (or perhaps he does, depending on the strategy on Drummond that Dwane Casey plans to employ), and get rebounding position against Drummond. Detroit is third in the league in rebounding, largely due to Drummond’s sheer dominant presence in the paint as he swallows up nearly a third of his team’s rebounds a night. JV will have to bring his A-game on the glass.

ICYMI: Coach Casey after practice Friday.

11 in a row would be something else. The Raptors will need this one, as they depart for a 6-game road trip to begin Monday against the Nuggets, followed by a back-to-back against the Suns on Tuesday. Not that the opponents are especially tough, but playing on the road in the Western Conference, and on consecutive nights, is always tough. But it’s hard not to imagine a 13-game winning streak at this stage. Keep the wins rolling.

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Raptors 905 132, Delaware 87ers 127 | Box Score

To get a feel for Friday’s Raptors 905 game, it’s probably only necessary to watch a single GIF. These are some of Ronald Roberts’ dunks as of the mid-way point of the third quarter against the Delaware 87ers.

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It was that kind of a night for the 87ers defense, who conceded the paint and the rim for the bulk of 48 minutes. The 905 weren’t necessarily much better on defense, accepting the torrid pace Delaware was pushing, but their offensive execution made up the difference. The end result was the 905 setting a new franchise-best with 132 points while shooting 56 percent from the floor.

The night had more bests, as Roberts wound up with a career-high 21 rebounds, 18 of them on the defensive glass. He added 27 points on 13-of-19 shooting, and the 905 have to be crossing their fingers that the hip injury that cost him a few minutes of the fourth quarter is a minor one. Of course, the team’s lone All-Star may not be long for the D-League, anyway. That short stint on the bench may have cost him a chance at D-League history, as his 27-and-21 came in just 31 minutes, and he would have had a reasonable shot at Jack Cooley’s 29-rebound league record. It was a ludicrous outing, the latest in a long string of them.

What Roberts can do against lesser forwards at this level seems unfair at times, and if he can continue to flash the 18-footer and provide solid defense, even against bigger opposition, there will continue to be fewer and fewer reasons for a team not to call him up.

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Roberts wasn’t the only one showing out in the team’s sixth consecutive victory, either. Shannon Scott dished a career-high 11 assists, Axel Toupane continues his recent run of excellent offensive play (21 points and eight assists), and Scott Suggs showed why he was chosen for the All-Star 3-Point Shootout, hitting triples in triplicate on his way to 24 points.

What’s encouraging for the 905 is that they’ve put together this winning streak without major contributions from players on assignment from the Toronto Raptors. The up-and-down has continued, and the assignees have played substantial minutes when assigned, but it’s been the core group of regulars doing the lion’s share of the work.

Perhaps that’s not surprising. It’s that same group that endured a nine-game losing streak without reprieve and that felt the momentum of increasingly better losses near a crescendo at the D-League Showcase. It’s a credit to that group – namely Scott, Suggs, Toupane, and Roberts, with contributions from the newly-acquired Greg Smith and the surging Sim Bhullar – that they’ve weathered the discomfort of role uncertainty and instability, and that they’ve been able to build a chemistry within an ever-changing roster. Every D-League team faces those challenges, but the Raptors have been among the most aggressive organizations in shuttling players up and down, and the 905 are an expansion team that had less than two weeks of training camp together, without several key pieces.

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Suggs and head coach Jesse Mermuys have talked a lot about this young, inexperienced team learning to win. Winning isn’t the endgame for a D-League team, but mounting losses can take their toll, and wins are important to provide positive reinforcement that the process is working. Over the six-game winning streak, the 905 have not only played better and taken advantage of a series of opponents closer to .500 than their five-times-in-three-weeks bully Sioux Falls, they’ve also been able to eradicate any residual concerns about losing games a certain way. The same situations have presented themselves, and the 905 have avoided repeating mistakes.

Building a big lead and blowing it? Check.
Going toe-to-toe and failing to execute down the stretch? Done.
Handing a game away with turnovers that lead to a big run? Yup.

On Friday, the 905 found themselves in a quick, early hole, something that hadn’t happened much of late. It took all of a quarter for them to flip a 10-point deficit into a 10-point lead. The 87ers chipped back away at it, even taking a lead back late in the third, but the 905 locked in and closed it out.

It wasn’t their most impressive win on the streak, facing a Delaware team that just lost Sean Kilpatrick and Jordan McRae to call-ups and still managed 33 free-throw attempts and 127 points. Still, it’s a win against the last team to beat them, and fouling too freely was really the only major issue. Delaware shot 44 percent from the floor and 11-of-33 on threes, with the 905 doing a nice job closing out on the threes they sometimes welcome in order to seal off the rim. Delaware grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to create some second chance points, which is going to happen when a team misses 55 shots from the field and still represents a low percentage.

The 905 took care of their own rim, took care of their own glass, and once again, the only thing they didn’t take care of other than Russ Smith (38 points, 16 of them at the line) was the ball. They committed 16 turnovers, which really allowed Delaware to dictate the pace and strained the defense some, handing the 87ers 24 easy points. But hey, if it’s going to lead to Bhullar transition blocks, keep them coming.

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From the Raptors’ perspective, Friday was a mixed bag. The team opted to only assign two players, Bruno Caboclo and Anthony Bennett, and both came off the bench to play only half the game. Bennett’s workload may be a conditioning matter or a game-flow thing, with the team’s other three bigs playing so well, and Caboclo fouled out in 24 minutes (with 3:32 to play).

When they were on the court, they both played fine, if unspectacularly. Bennett was less eager to shoot than in previous trips, shooting 4-of-7 for 11 points, five rebounds, and two steals. He was active defensively and the team played well with him at the four. The primary issue right now is that he should probably be focused on driving and spotting up, not shooting off-dribble twos, though he continues to flash a really nice step-back.

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Caboclo was a little less involved in the offense, functioning primarily as a spot-up shooter. He hit 2-of-4 from outside for eight points and did well crashing the defensive glass from the wing, pulling in five rebounds. He even helped toward the team’s 74 points in the paint, recovering a tough feed on a cut for a basket inside.
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It’s a little strange how focus has changed during the winning streak. When the team was losing, the attention naturally fell to the silver livings coming from the performances of the assignees. With the D-League regulars now in a groove, the assignees are rendered a part of the whole instead. That says a lot about the regulars, about the willingness of the players on assignment to be good team players, and on the entire organization for making those transitions easy.

That’s not to say the players on assignment aren’t the top priority. They are, and none have been benched or had their roles fundamentally changed in response to D-Leagues finding chemistry. Nor do the wins mean “it’s working” any more than the losses meant it wasn’t. The focus remains on the long-term, but like with the parent club’s 10-game winning streak, it’s fine, even encouraged, to take a step back and appreciate what’s happening on this run.

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Ronald Roberts’ exceptional play with Raptors 905 hasn’t earned him a call-up to the NBA quiet yet, but it did earn him yet another opportunity to show out on a major stage.

The D-League’s No. 1 ranked prospect was named to the D-League All-Star Game on Friday.

Teams are voted on by the D-League coaches. The game will pit 24 of the D-League’s best against each other on Saturday, February 13, at Ricoh Coliseum as part of NBA All-Star Weekend. Among those included are eight current NBA players and plenty of other names you’ll surely recognize.

d league allstars

Roberts currently ranks 16th in the league in scoring at 18.8 points per-game, shooting a higher percentage from the floor (60.9) than anyone in the top-50. He also ranked second in rebounding at 12.4 per-game and 10th in blocks with 1.6 a night. What’s more, the 10-18 905 have outscored opponents by 18.3 points per-100 possessions when Roberts is on the court, a far cry from their -3.3 mark overall. If advanced metrics are more your thing, Roberts ranks seventh in the league in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), providing an estimated 4.9 wins despite missing six of the team’s 28 games.

Roberts also had the numbers for All-Star inclusion a season ago but had left the D-League to play in the Philippines at that point, precluding him from being a two-time All-Star. This time around, he’s spurned a lucrative overture from one of the top European teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv, in order to keep “a foot and a half” in the door of the NBA. Things can change in two weeks, of course.

To be blunt, it remains a surprise every time Roberts takes the floor for the 905. He entered the season a likely call-up and I wrote ahead of the Showcase that it seemed unlikely he’d return from Santa Cruz with the team. I ranked Roberts as the third most-likely call-up following the D-League Showcase earlier this month, and both the names ahead of him (Sean Kilpatrick and Erick Green) have since gotten the call.

The NBA’s cut week cast some misfortune on him, as few teams who wound up with a roster spot are in need of a big, but there could still be plenty of roster churn ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline. The Raptors could theoretically still add him, too, if they opted to cut Anthony Bennett and make him an in-season D-League affiliate player once he cleared waivers or if they make a multi-player trade that opens up a roster spot for a frontcourt player. He can offer high-end rebounding, energy, and athleticism, with solid man- or help-defense, and he’s long and strong enough to guard either inside position despite standing 6-foot-7 without shoes.

The All-Star Game will be just another chance for him to put everything he can do on display.

The event begins at 1:30 p.m. and also includes a 3-point shootout and slam, dunk contest, but sadly, Roberts continues to insist he won’t dunk despite the best efforts of Raptors Republic to get him to change his mind. He told himself after participating in a college dunk contest that the next one he does will be the NBA version, a disappointment for D-League fans given Roberts’ ridiculous athleticism. The All-Star Game, which is sure to include a few Roberts lobs, will have to suffice.

There’s no word if any other 905ers will be participating, but Axel Toupane and Michale Kyser would be interesting dunk contest participants. Scott Suggs will participate in the 3-point shootout, according to Raptors 905 play-by-play commentator extraordinaire Meghan McPeak.

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The Toronto Raptors organization continues to impress with their charitable outreach. Friday marked the club’s annual trip to SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

The players seem to have taken as much out of it as the kids.

Sports are a conduit to making real, substantial differences in people’s lives, and the Raptors continue to maximize the opportunity before them.

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Bruno Caboclo will be in good company when he helps out with the Basketball Without Borders camp in Toronto over All-Star Weekend.

The Toronto Raptors sophomore will be joined by NBA legend Yao Ming, former teammate Greivis Vasquez, and please-let-him-be-a-future-teammate Danilo Gallinari. Those four are the primary instructors and will be joined by Bismack Biyombo, assistant coaches Jama Mahlalela and Nick Nurse, Jeremy Lamb, Natalie Achonwa, Jerry Stackhouse, and more. Masai Ujiri is listed among the camp directors.

The camp takes place Feb. 12-14 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and will bring in high-school age ballers from four different continents.

Per a release from the Raptors:

The high school age campers, coming from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, will have the opportunity to learn directly from NBA and FIBA players and coaches, including NBA Legend Yao Ming (China) and former BWB campers Bruno Caboclo (Toronto Raptors; Brazil; BWB Americas 2013), Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets; Italy; BWB Europe 2003), and Greivis Vasquez (Milwaukee Bucks; Venezuela; BWB Americas 2004).

“The BWB Global Camp is a great opportunity for these boys and girls to learn directly from players and coaches, many of whom have been involved with the BWB program for years,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations Brooks Meek. “The BWB program continues to teach values like leadership, teamwork and respect that have application on and off the court. I want to thank our partners FIBA, Nike and Fusionetics for helping make this camp possible.”

“This second Basketball without Borders Global Camp continues a fantastic initiative of the NBA and FIBA to provide a unique opportunity to bring the youth of the basketball world together,” said President of the World Association of Basketball Coaches (WABC) Patrick Hunt. “The players and coaches will work with the campers to enhance their skills, shape their character, and teach values that lead to success in life and our wonderful, global game.”

Players and coaches will lead the campers through a variety of activities on and off the court, including movement efficiency, positional skill development, shooting and skills competitions, 5-on-5 games, and daily life skills seminars focusing on health, leadership and communication. One boy and one girl will be named BWB Global Camp MVPs at the conclusion of the three-day camp.

The campers will attend the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night, and the 65th NBA All-Star Game at Air Canada Centre.

This is a great opportunity for the 53 kids from 27 different countries, and a great opportunity for the NBA to highlight its diverse player, coach, and executive base on a big stage. Toronto seems a perfect fit for the event, not only as the host of All-Star Weekend but as one of the league’s most multicultural cities. The event also serves to continue the long and terrific line of charitable work that the Raptors organization, led by Ujiri, is involved in.

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Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

How many of you had to frantically search the internet for the TNT feed last night? I understand that’s inevitable every time the Raps are going to be showcased on a mainstream stage, but it’s an annoying one just the same. One that can give the constant badgering of “What does a bank like BMO know about basketball” a run for its money. Especially when Sportsnet proceeded to air TNT’s coverage of the Bulls-Lakers matchup after the fact.

WARNING: Major rant coming in 3, 2, 1…

With the impending “government crackdown” on cable companies dictating what consumers have to pay for in order to get what they really want to watch, it’s understandable that an outlet like Rogers wants to milk its product every chance they get.

And the injustice doesn’t end there:

Already counting your savings? I wouldn’t just yet, as the optics of the story are troublesome.

The rather convenient service increases that Rogers announced last week might just be the tip of the iceberg. The government gets to come off like they’re fighting for the people while at the same time they’re overlooking the loopholes the ones they’re fighting against can exploit.

We’ve always wanted to be able to pick and choose what channels we pay for but with the prices of these “smaller packages” yet to be released, be careful what you wish for. Whether it’s the Raptors, Jays, or Leafs, not to mention the already overpriced Sports Package, supporting your favorite team could become an expensive proposition.

Note to self: Cancel cable subscription. It’s time to jump on the streaming bandwagon.

I should heed my own advice, though:

Talk about picking the wrong time to play your worst game (arguably) of the streak. I’d love to see a stat that tells us how many people actually stayed with last night’s action from beginning to end. But of course, I have faith that the Republic stayed loyal.

You could say that it was doomed from the start. Carmelo being out was one thing, but the late scratch of Porzingis is an entirely different animal altogether. I realize Anthony can be a one-man wrecking crew that’s enjoyable to watch (sometimes), but the way Kristaps has made every single draft critic eat their words and become must-see television in the process, TNT executives must have been regretting their decision.

However, by no means am I trying to crash the franchise-record party. One that should still be pumping its music as we speak. So the following will be a continuation of what I wrote a week ago today: Part One of my big picture perspective. By the way, the DJ is still taking requests…


While I’m at it, allow me to plug another article. Hey, the writing game is what it is. I’m going to promote my own stuff when it lends itself to the topic, otherwise it will just vanish into the blogosphere abyss.

It all connects, though. I swear.

In my Wizards-Raps review, I stated: “Plenty has been made about the Raps’ winning streak coming against the likes of either inferior or undermanned opponents.”

A great comment came after: “Which could be spun as a positive since the “old” Raps would have played down to competition.”

Whoever you are, SMH, preach on!

It’s actually a drum I’ve been banging all year after numerous letdown tests were failed early in the season’s first half. Particularly speaking of the no-shows against the likes of Denver, Sacramento, and Phoenix.

The point is: this is not that same team. There is far more discipline taking place. Hopefully, this is the new and here to stay Raptors.

Claims by the masses that the brakes should be pumped on this streak solely because of the level of competition or the absence of certain players needs to stop. But once again, when you add the aforementioned Carmelo and Porzingis to the list, that crowd won’t be silenced anytime soon.

The talking heads who have generalized this 10-game span are failing to step back and take it all in. Opinions are like you know what but there comes a time when a viewpoint resembles clickbait garbage.

It doesn’t take an analytical formula to see that the pieces are starting to fall in place regardless of who the team is facing.

Take Lowry and DeRozan for example:

At this point it might be wishful thinking that we’ll get to see K-Low’s minutes decrease. He’s just too important to how this club operates. Too many lineup variations end up needing him on the floor more often than not.

Enter DeMar, and the level his game has now risen to. If Porzingis has silenced his critics, DeRozan is then holding his at gunpoint. Laughing all the way to the max-contract bank.

But this team now has a way around the Lowry issue. He can still play 35+ minutes a night when DeMar now commands a new level of respect. Combine that with the pressure Joseph already alleviates, the odds of another second half swoon are slim to none.

Which leads to another duo. Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson are elevating their contributions at the perfect time. I’d like to see Ross get to the line more and PP putting a stop to his habit of passing up open threes, but as another commenter (Let it Rain) pointed out, that might just be getting greedy.

What adds to their timing being so perfect is the notion that the Raps’ most moveable pieces have brought their value back up.

If a trade is made, the affordability of PP’s contract and the controllable aspects that Ross’s provides will undoubtedly entice GM’s at the deadline.

The flip side, however, is an extremely positive one. Specifically referring to Ross, if he’s finally ready to harness his tools, the addition to help a postseason run may already be in-house.

We’ve been sucked into a state of euphoria before so I can’t leave without throwing caution on the excitement. I’ll let a snippet from Zarar Siddiqi’s latest, The North Remembers, do the talking for me:

“An impressive record, individual accolades, a revival of a much-maligned bench unit, and even showers of praise for the head coach would normally result in serious flag-waving and trumpeting of #WeTheNorth in our faces, yet that aspect of the enterprise remains fairly subdued, bordering on cautious. That is because we’ve been here before and this time want more.”

When it comes to this fan base, and this city as a whole, that way of thinking is long overdue. But with this squad’s confidence level never being this high, alongside the signs of encouragement residing at a level we haven’t seen before, the big picture is seriously bright.

Happy 10th, everyone.

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So… are we okay giving Dwane Casey credit yet?

As the Raptors have surged this season, credit has been dished out to slim Kyle Lowry, more efficient DeMar DeRozan, breakout Cory Joseph, roster architect Masai Ujiri and just about every role player after a two or three game bump in productivity. All deserved. The Raptors are, for the moment, firmly enmeshed in the number two slot in the East behind Cleveland, and it has taken all hands on deck to put them there ahead of early-season favourites like Atlanta, Chicago and Miami.

However, Casey is the one that had to actually make it all work. He had to adapt to a new coaching staff, integrate four major new pieces into his rotation (and then adjust for extended absences from Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll), deploy a redesigned offence and defence while also addressing weak points in his own execution like odd substitution patterns. It would be easy to say that what is happening this season is simply an extension of last year’s successes while accounting for its failures, but that is a gross oversimplification and it diminishes the job that Casey has done when everyone had him on the hot seat to start the season.

Let’s start with the re-engineered offence and defence. Were both needed? Absolutely, so only minor credit can be given for acknowledging the need. Still, knowing that something needs to be done and actually successfully fixing it are two very different things.

On offence, they may be clocking in as “less efficient” by the advanced stats (105.2 vs. 108.1 points per 100 possessions year-over-year), but the sustainability of their current style runs circles around what they were doing last season. There is far more player movement and ball movement, which puts more pressure on opposing defenses, and Casey achieved buy-in from ball-dominant guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to play that new style. DeRozan, in particular, is passing nearly five times more per game, and, perhaps more impressively, is receiving nearly ten more passes. It helps buy-in on passing more if you know you’re going to get the ball back, and Casey’s new schemes have achieved that end. While the team may not have seen much of an uptick in assists, they have gone from near the bottom to middle-of-the-pack in passes per game, which means that the ball is moving before isolations or pick-and-rolls kick in. Why is that important? Because it means that the offence has worked to scramble the opposition before the attack, which makes one-on-one moves more potent.

The Raptors are also collectively covering more ground on offence this season, logging 90.4 miles run per game while on offence this year, versus 8.83 last season, which means they’ve vaulted from 23rd in the NBA to 10th. You can see it anytime you watch the team play in the amount of off-ball movement that is occurring. The team is looking to move, to shift defenses, to get looks that are more repeatable and consistent rather than hoping an individual will simply ‘stay hot’ going one-on-one. When you have a team anchored by three isolation-happy players (Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas), achieving buy-in and success with a more ball-movement/player-movement style is impressive. He hasn’t forced anyone to be a different kind of player, instead he’s found a way to harness the way that the play and make it more effective and repeatable. That deserves credit.

Not as much credit, though, as taking a 23rd-ranked defence and moving it into the top ten. Ujii played a big role in this, bringing in players that actually value playing defence, but with the bulk of the team’s minutes still being eaten up by returning guys it fell on Casey to get the whole roster to rededicate to that end of the floor (while also teaching a new system to play in). The new schemes involving letting Valanciunas hang back near the basket and the team ‘icing’ pick-and-rolls is well-covered territory, but Casey’s willingness to admit his recent methodology wasn’t working and to change it is noteworthy. This is doubly true when one considers that one of the biggest knocks against Casey is his refusal to adjust his approach to the game. This year, he’s massively rewritten his strategies at both ends of the floor, and the club looks far more potent as a result.

Remember this, too: Casey spent nearly all of training camp and preseason on defence. It was a bold gamble, especially since he also had a revamped offence to introduce, but the team’s defence kept them in several games this when the offence was struggling, and now that the team’s offence is coming around his preseason strategy looks to be retroactively justified.

All of that, though, is actual basketball and full-time coaching. What really got people’s goats last season was Casey’s substitution patters, from the minute allotted to James Johnson to the disappearance of Jonas Valanciunas in fourth quarters. Now, substitution patters are important, since player deployment is a huge part of in-game strategy, but the teeth-gnashing that went on last season was a bit disproportionate to the actual ‘transgressions’. Still, this year Casey’s been deploying his troops about as well as you could ask for, with a particular hat-tip to the Lowry-plus-bench units that typically open second and third quarters. It’s a lineup that is destroying opponents right now and has played a major role in Toronto’s ten-game winning streak. Considering how agitated everyone was about how Casey used his rotations last year, this should represent the biggest public-facing year-over-year turnaround, the but he’s rarely given credit for this fix, either. It shows you how deep the antipathy runs in some circles for Casey that instead he’s being taken to task for not finding 90 extra seconds of rest for Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan here and there, in a complete misreading of the science of minutes and recovery that is beginning to take the NBA by storm.

Let’s remember, at the start of the season Casey was an easy choice for a coach on the hot seat that could be fired before seasons’ end. Players seemed fed up with him by the end of last season, he has only this year guaranteed on his contract, and it would have been easy to see so many sweeping changes tuned out by a club that had grown tired of his voice. In a season loaded with disappointments, a failure to improve by Casey would have hardly registered in the top-ten given early expectations. Instead, he regrouped, reimagined and according to ESPN’s math gurus has the Raptors on pace for a 54-win season, which would well eclipse the most hopeful early-season prognostications. These Raptors are really good, and while Casey certainly doesn’t deserve sole credit, given the amount of ink spilled over his failures a season ago it doesn’t hurt anyone to acknowledge that, hey, maybe he isn’t the worst thing to ever happen to the Raptors organization. Does he still have to prove he can win a Playoff series? Absolutely, and given where expectations are for coaches these days you can’t even say that Casey’s job is totally safe, but while we wait for April to roll around it’s worth pointing out that things are at least trending in the right direction… whether you want to credit Caesy or not.

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Knicks 93, Raptors 103: Box Score :: Quick Reaction

There are nights which are difficult for a team to get up for, and the Knicks missing three key players is definitely one of them.  There’s a natural tendency to play down to the level of your competition, much like when you’re posting up your 6-year old in the block.  That little thing has no chance of blocking your shot, so you try something fancy.  You try the sky hook, a double-clutch fadeaway, even a left-handed behind-the-back pass against her head while she’s tying her shoe, because you can’t actually be bothered and you may as well have some fun with it.  Now, the Raptors didn’t approach the Knicks with that level of patronization, but you get the point.

What helped the Raptors was that the game was on TNT, as it served to bump up the motivation needle, especially for its two All-Stars.  With limited credible offensive players (Anthony, Calderon, and Porzingis out), the Knicks started off pushing the issue on the break via Langston Galloway, and had Kyle O’Quinn start off hot against Luis Scola.  They build up a modest 5-point edge before Dwane Casey called timeout.

Thanks to our sources inside the Raptors locker-room (unrelated: shout out to Jeff), RR can confirm that Dwane Casey remained completely silent in that timeout with a simple note scribbled on the clipboard, of which an image we have acquired via our source (yo Jeff, wusup?):


A 9-2 run shortly ensued which gave the Raptors the lead for good, and from that point on it was an ugly game, that still saw the Raptors ride out to win on relative cruise control.  The Raptors pushed it to 14 in the second and the Knicks cut it to a single point to start the third, but it was rinse-and-repeat as the Raptors called another timeout, and came back with another 9-1 run to create distance.  The Raptors almost seemed annoyed that Galloway and Afflalo decided to play ball, because it meant the scheduled blowout wasn’t going to happen.

James Johnson, who had a poor first half often getting caught behind cutters, was the man Casey chose to put on Afflalo in the third, and his defense for the first time made a tangible difference. Terrence Ross didn’t have a great line but he was important in that second quarter run which created that 14-point edge.  During that span we also saw Patrick Patterson hit a three, drive in for a floater, and generally play with a level of confidence that is becoming consistent to the point where it’s bleaching out our earlier bad memories of him.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both shot 50% and had 26 points apiece, while playing 36 and 41 minutes, respectively.  Let’s be honest, when playing at home against a team like the Knicks missing three of their better players, that shouldn’t be needed.  Then again, our second unit isn’t like last season and can’t figure out how to sustain itself without one of Lowry or DeRozan sucking defenders their way.  It’s not a problem and you don’t need your bench to be fully self-sustainable so there’s no cause for alarm from a basketball point of view.  The high minutes, though? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Lowry or DeRozan enter the playoffs less than 100%, these are the games we’ll remember. 

You could be critical and say that Kyle Lowry is Dwane Casey’s playbook, but who in the league other than one or two teams doesn’t heavily rely on their best player?  I tend to view the Raptors offense more sustainable than last season, and that’s a big step in the right direction. 

It’s a 10th straight win for the Raptors and they’re getting contributions from all over the place.  Luis Scola had a very bright start against Quinn, Ross and Patterson are contributing with far greater consistency, and even Cory Joseph seems to have gotten over his mid-season downturn to again attack the basket and play strong perimeter defense.  

Jonas Valanciunas was 4-16 going up against Robin Lopez, but I did like the shots he took.  In my view, he needs to continue taking that mid-range jumper and adopt the DeMar DeRozan-approach of miss-till-you-get-great-at-it.   What’s positive about Valanciunas’ game is that since he’s much more closer to the basket this year, he’s becoming quicker at coming over to help against guards.  He feels a greater sense of responsibility when manning the paint, and his movement to contest drives is quicker and underrated. His rebounding has gotten better and he’s relying more on positioning and timing instead of reach on the boards (18 rebounds tonight).  

It’s not a win you celebrate with aplomb on account of the state of the opponent, but you’ll recall that we dropped this fixture earlier in the year and taking care of business has to be considered a sign of growth, even if it’s just the Knicks.

I’ll also defer to the always excellent Knickerblogger to sum this up for you:

In a game that can only be described as a pre-All Star break Pre-Season game, the Knicks hung around. That’s all you can really say because the Raptors were never in any real danger of losing the game, even when the Knicks managed to pull it to one in the middle of the third quarter. The Raptors feature really good guards, while the Knicks mainly feature human beings in athletic wear. Jerian Grant’s good numbers tonight look better than his perplexing, herky-jerky, indecisive play. He had a few moments at the end of the game in desperation time, but overall he looks overmatched. Afflalo had 20 on decent enough shooting, but he was blocked 5 times because he’s an Earthbound sort of life form like the rest of us. Some day the Knicks will employ a guard who can take over a game, but until then….we’ll always have Vujacicity….or something like that.

As for the Raps, what’s next?

Finally, had this convo on WhatsApp regarding one Philip Jackson:


Sorry for the short recap, but I got Blake and Will’s podcast to edit, and make sure to subscribe to our Soundcloud page for the latest audio from RR.

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10 things I noticed from Raptors-Knicks | Getting Benched

The Raptors really played down to their competition tonight. Offense got into a huge funk, missed 20 of 21 field goals at one point, and just kept making silly decisions. All the Knicks did was take away the paint, and the Raptors’ shooters (aside from Ross) just didn’t ever want to fire freely from deep.

Five takeaways: All-star backcourt has Raptors streaking |

Toronto becomes the first host city since Los Angeles in 1972 to have a pair of guards participating in the same All-Star Weekend. The Lakers had Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in their hall-of-fame backcourt.

The Raptors had two players in the All-Star Game in 2001 when Antonio Davis and Vince Carter represented the franchise. Tonight the Raptors’ current backcourt combined for 52 points and 14 assists. Both DeRozan and Lowry had 26 apiece on 50 per cent shooting from the field.

Game Rap: Raptors 103, Knicks 93 | Toronto Raptors

Terrence Ross continued to be a spark off the bench, despite a quite scoring night. Ross scored six points and made two of his six field goal attempts, but added five rebounds, an assist, a steal and two blocked shots. The team was a +23 when he was on the floor, showing the impact he can make even when he isn’t scoring.

NYK 93, TOR 103: Raptors’ All-Star Backcourt Tops Shorthanded Knicks | New York Knicks

It was a story of All Stars tonight in Toronto. Shortly before game time, we learned that DeMar DeRozan would join Kyle Lowry on the Eastern Conference squad, and also that Rising Stars Game participant Kristaps Porzingis would join Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony — and starting point guard Jose Calderon — in street clothes for the divisional battle.

The Raptors would close the first quarter on an 18-4 run, building a 14-point lead against the shorthanded Knicks by the middle of the second quarter. Derek Fisher’s club would fight back, cutting the deficit to one midway through the third, but couldn’t get enough stops to overcome Toronto’s decorated backcourt tandem; DeRozan and Lowry scored 26 points apiece to reestablish a double-digit advantage and maintain it down the stretch.

Quick Recap: Knicks vs. Raptors | KnickerBlogger.Net

In a game that can only be described as a pre-All Star break Pre-Season game, the Knicks hung around. That’s all you can really say because the Raptors were never in any real danger of losing the game, even when the Knicks managed to pull it to one in the middle of the third quarter. The Raptors feature really good guards, while the Knicks mainly feature human beings in athletic wear. Jerian Grant’s good numbers tonight look better than his perplexing, herky-jerky, indecisive play. He had a few moments at the end of the game in desperation time, but overall he looks overmatched. Afflalo had 20 on decent enough shooting, but he was blocked 5 times because he’s an Earthbound sort of life form like the rest of us. Some day the Knicks will employ a guard who can take over a game, but until then….we’ll always have Vujacicity….or something like that.

Raptors 103, Knicks 93: “Eh, good try, good effort.” | Posting and Toasting

Even though the Knicks hung around all game, there wasn’t anyone who stood out very much. Galloway did some cool stuff, including an awesome save on a ball headed out of bounds, but was mostly just okay. Afflalo scored 20 points, but it took him 17 shots to get there, and also I’m mad at him for hitting some kinda tough shots tonight but missing every conceivable important shot on Tuesday night against the Thunder.

Final Score: Raptors make history, beat Knicks 103-93 for 10th straight win | Raptors HQ

Missed free throws were the biggest weakness for Canada’s lone NBA squad early on, evidenced by the Raps shooting 72 percent from the charity stripe. Considering how well this team has done in that area this season it’s a non-issue, but one that’s worth pointing out regardless.

Just like every game during this streak, Toronto won in a variety of ways. The Raptors, who shot 43 percent as a team, were simply not getting their shots to fall (excluding the backcourt), however they once again stepped up big on the defensive end. Entering the contest, the Raptors were allowing a league low 92.6 points per game since January 6. The Raps have now won 21 straight games when holding their opponents to under 100 points.

Toronto Raptors set franchise record with win over Knicks | Raptors Cage

As mentioned before, the Raptors didn’t have to go against the most talented offensive threats when they played the Knicks.

Despite that, the Raptors knew that they had challenges on the defensive end of the floor that they could learn from after losing to the Knicks on Nov. 10. Unlike their previous game, the Raptors did a solid job at defending the three-point line. They allowed the Knicks to shoot 26.6 per cent from distance before the final four minutes of the game, where the Knicks scored three three-pointers with the game already sealed.

The Raptors were also all over the Knicks’ shot attempts, combining for 11 blocks. The biggest factor was James Johnson with 4 blocks, including this one on Aaron Afflalo who led the Knicks with 20 points.

Knicks Limp to a Defeat in Toronto | The New York Times

The Raptors led by as many as 14 before the Knicks chipped away in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 1 on a floater by Lance Thomas. But behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who scored 26 points apiece, the Raptors had too much depth.

Depleted Knicks fall to Raptors, 103-93 |

What appeared to be a one-sided matchup on paper Thursday was aided by Toronto’s late announcement that Kyle Lowry would start after suffering a sprained left wrist Tuesday. The Knicks countered with a roster that seemed like a throwback to last year’s troubles with castoffs and D-leaguers thrust into starting roles.

But the Knicks, who are now 0-6 without Anthony in the lineup, refused to fold.

Trailing by as many as 14 in the first half, New York whittled the deficit to one with a 9-0 run capped by a hustle play. Langston Galloway made a tremendous diving save of a loose ball, leading to a Lance Thomas jumper with 6:39 left in the third. But the Raptors methodically pulled away, opening the lead to 73-63 by the end of the quarter.

Congrats cuzzin!!! #imolderthanyou#2+1=3 #wannagoforamcflurryrun?? #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Kyle Lowry (@kyle_lowry7) on

NBA: How the Toronto Raptors’ formula could add up to Eastern Conference crown | ESPN

Toronto, the NBA’s fifth-largest market, is the best-kept secret in the league. The city is cosmopolitan, demographically diverse and the team packs the Air Canada Centre to capacity every night. Media scrums in Toronto are robust. The Raptors don’t have a rich history or legacy, but they’re trending up in all the leading indicators of franchise health.

In many respects, Ujiri embodies Toronto. He’s an international presence in a franchise that has long aspired to be the NBA’s international outpost. He came up through the grind of the scouting ranks, yet has none of the residual schlubbiness. That refinement is balanced by a populism that appeals to Toronto’s rabid, starved fan base. How many other execs in the league stand in a public plaza and drop an f-bomb on a New York borough — a gesture whose fine was well worth the free media ginned up from the clip.

Toronto made LaMarcus Aldridge’s short list last summer, and though the Raptors were a long shot at best, meetings with top-line free agents have a way of sending notice to NBA players and their representatives that an organization can hold its own at the league’s adult table. In Ujiri’s mind, gone are the days when players kvetched about not having “the good cable” at their condos in Toronto.

Robin Lopez, the saltiest. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Red-hot Raptors understand they have plenty to prove, eye playoff success | CBSSports

DeRozan said he doesn’t care how they are viewed outside of Toronto as long as every person who puts on a Raptors jersey is “playing for one another and for this country.” When it’s suggested that some see him and Lowry as a two-man team, he bristles.

“They’re delusional,” DeRozan said.

Eavesdropping from his neighboring locker, Lowry interjected: “Super delusional.”

“Outside of me and Kyle, the rest of the guys are just as important,” DeRozan continued. “Our bench has been playing extremely well, keeping leads and sustaining leads and gaining leads for us the last couple of weeks. It makes our job a lot easier.”

“Well put, son,” Lowry said.

Thursday NBA Roundup: Have the Raptors Finally Earned ‘2nd Best’ Label out East? | Bleacher Report

The key to Toronto’s hopes of giving Cleveland its comeuppance may well rest in Carroll’s hands—or, rather, on his knee. The Raptors’ ongoing run began shortly after their marquee free-agent signee underwent surgery on the same knee that bothered him in last year’s playoffs. But they’ll be hard-pressed to pester the East’s best wings—among them, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and, of course, LeBron James—without Carroll in the lineup once the postseason rolls around

Fortunately for the Raptors, he’s well on his way to returning to Dwane Casey’s rotation.

Chances are, Carroll won’t be back before his team and town host the All-Star Game on Valentine’s Day. The sooner he returns, the better-equipped the Raptors will be to not only hang onto the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, but close the two-game gap between them and the Cavaliers.

The Raptors won’t falter down the stretch this year. Here’s why. | The Washington Post

Over the past 10 games, only the Spurs and Atlanta Hawks have held opponents to fewer points per 100 possessions than Toronto, and only the Portland Trail Blazers are grabbing a larger percentage of available defensive rebounds. In fact, no team saw more of a spike in defensive rebound percentage compared to last season than Toronto, a testament to the progressions made by the team’s frontcourt.

All-stars Lowry, DeRozan lead Raptors to team-record 10th win in a row | The Globe and Mail

“This is big. I took pride in putting on this Toronto Raptors jersey ever since I’ve been here, and now to have the all-star game here and two guys in it, it don’t get no bigger than that, and it’s a blessing,” a reflective DeRozan said after the game, recalling the frustration of the groin injury that limited his season last year, and of the years he spent losing as a Raptor early on.

“Kyle and I, we sat down this past summer and said, ‘This is what we’re going to work on. We’re going to have to be great for this team to take the next step.’ Kyle did it with his weight loss, I did it by trying to elevate my game in new ways, and it’s definitely showing,” DeRozan said.

Raptors’ DeRozan joins Lowry on East all-star team | Toronto Sun

DeRozan is averaging career-bests in scoring (23 points per game), assists (4.1), free throw and three-point percentage while most of his advanced metrics are way up (including player efficiency rating, win shares, true shooting percentage, assist percentage and value over replacement player).

Coaches such as Doc Rivers, Frank Vogel and Brad Stevens have spoken highly of DeRozan all year, so it’s not surprising he was an easy choice. Players around the league have deep respect for him, as well.

“Even though he was an all-star (before), I think he’s gotten better this year,” Raptors guard Cory Joseph told the Toronto Sun.

“Everybody notices his three-ball. It’s incredible how much he gets to the line and you’ve been able to see it every day how crafty and tricky he is. It’s eye-opening.”

Chris Bosh mentored DeRozan during his rookie season, the final one for Bosh in Toronto.

“That was the major thing that I loved about him when he came into this league, he wanted to be a very good basketball player and a great player eventually,” Bosh said.

All-Star DeRozan on mission to prove doubters wrong | TSN

His All-Star selection is an indication that people are starting to come around and take notice, at least around the league itself. Still, he’s not exactly a household name, not yet anyway. Perhaps that’s because he’s a Raptor – an excuse thrown out there for just about every player the franchise has ever had, with the exception of Vince Carter. Perhaps it’s because of his ‘old school’ game, predicated on that mid-range jumper and getting to the line.
As the Raptors – winners of nine straight games – get national attention so is he, and he’s earned it, but those who know him best insist he still deserves more credit for what he’s turned himself into.
“I feel like he should definitely get more credit where it’s due,” teammate Patrick Patterson said. “He deserves it, he works so hard for it. He’s the heart and soul of this team, he’s been around on this team the longest and he’s been here through the bad, now he’s here through the good and he’s dedicated. So I don’t think he gets enough credit from his peers or from fans or from anyone who watches NBA.”
Some of it may have something to do with the gradual way in which he’s grown. It hasn’t happened overnight. It rarely does. As a result, his continued improvement has gone under the radar, at least until recently.

DeRozan overcomes unique challenges to reach second All-Star Game |

In this case, the numbers don’t lie. DeRozan, 26, is ninth in NBA scoring with 23 per game; second in free-throws made and third in free-throws attempted and on pace for a career-high 4.1 assists a game. He’s also posting a career-best defensive rating on a Raptors team that is 31-15 and in the hunt for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

He and Lowry represent the NBA’s second-highest scoring backcourt tandem behind Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Golden State. Perhaps most significantly, DeRozan has done it well into a career which not many believed would have resulted in the No .9 overall pick in the 2009 draft becoming one of the top players in the NBA.

But even as DeRozan was trying to find his way as a defensively uncertain shooting guard who wasn’t a particularly good shooter or ball-handler, he kept working at it. It was the doubts he encountered as the Raptors bounced around the bottom of the standings that helped energize him.

“You always think about the tough times, losing records, getting criticized,” he said. “People saying I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I am this type of player. All of the negativity you have to deal with. You look back on it and think about it. You really look at it and understand it as hard work. It’s cliché I know.

Congratulations, DeMar DeRozan! Named an NBA All-Star for Toronto 2016! | Hoop Heads North

This marks the first time since Vince Carter and Antonio Davis in 2001 that the Toronto Raptors will have two players on the same NBA All-Star Team. (Davis was named as an All-Star injury replacement that year for Grant Hill.)

Raptors set franchise record with win over star-less Knicks | Toronto Sun

The Toronto bench, which has been on fire the past week in particular and for a big part of the 10-game stretch, was solid again last night.

Recently it has been the duo of Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson handling the scoring load from the bench, but last night it was Cory Joseph and Patterson who combined for 21 points and once again provided that energy defensively making things tough on the Knicks.

Even with a tough shooting night for Ross – he was jut 2-for-9 from the field – he and Patterson were a combined plus-43 meaning even when they weren’t scoring they weren’t letting the opposition do much either.

Outside of DeRozan and Patterson early on and Lowry in the fourth, it wasn’t such a banner night for Raptors shooters. Collectively the Raptors shot just over 43% which was comparable to why the Knicks shot.

Banged-up Lowry helps Raptors gut out historic win |

“I just wanted to play for my teammates,” Lowry said. “I leave it all out there for those guys, because I know they’re going to leave it all out there for me.”

There’s impetus here. This past summer, shortly after the Raptors’ demoralizing first-round sweep at the efficient hands of the Washington Wizards, Lowry and DeRozan sat down to talk about the steps they wanted to take to make sure that never, ever happened to them again. Certain elements of that conversation will never be known (“some things we’re going to keep to ourselves,” Lowry says) but a major focal point was durability.

Last season the duo took turns watching their team play while wearing suits, as DeRozan missed 21 games in the middle of the year with a torn adductor longus tendon and Lowry sat out a handful at the end of the campaign with a variety of ailments before returning for the playoffs when he clearly wasn’t himself. All told, the pair barely had the chance to play together at full health and develop the take-over-the-game chemistry that they’re demonstrating on a nightly basis now.

Raptors win franchise-record 10th straight game | Toronto Star

What’s easily lost in this win streak is that it has come in the absence of starting small forward DeMarre Carroll. He’s expected back by the end of the regular season, another celestial blessing for this team as it sits two games back of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They’re happy, or whatever emotion that comes close to it for those unfamiliar with the feeling, to be on this streak and to be where they are with the all-star break inching closer. The focus is still on the playoffs and righting the wrong finish to last season’s first-round 0-4 exit.

“That’s the beauty of it for me, man, just as long as I can go out there, get up in the morning and dribble a basketball . . . I’m putting on the jersey and figuring out a way to be better and prove somebody wrong,” DeRozan said. “I’m going to figure out a way, that’s all I know. Until I’m an old man and I’m playing against guys who were born in 2005.”

Toronto Raptors: Ranking The Summer Moves | Hoops Habit

Bismack Biyombo is an interesting player, because he is one whose impact isn’t properly captured by statistics. He is regularly tasked with tough defensive assignments and is asked to protect the interior with the team’s bench unit. His on/off numbers say that the team is better with him on the bench, but the tough minutes he logs and the energy he plays with wear down the opposition and makes them think twice about driving into the paint.

His biggest contribution came in the 18 games he started when Valanciunas was out with an injury. He averaged 6.3 PPG and 11.6 RPG and helped the Raptors to continue their winning ways with his solid screens, rebounding and defensive intensity. There may not be a better barometer of how the team is doing than Biyombo. In wins, he has a +6.2 net rating and shoots 58.7 percent from the floor. In losses, he is a -15.8 net rating and shoots 39.5 percent from the floor. He may not be the most skilled or reliable player on the team, but he has served as a great change of pace backup center to Valanciunas.

Raptors’ Lowry, DeRozan detail elaborate late-night trips to McDonald’s |

“Whose idea was it to walk to McDonalds to get McFlurrys at like three in the morning? It was yours,” DeRozan said to Lowry.

“That was when I was fat, though,” Lowry quickly shot back.

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New York Knicks 93 Final
Recap | Box Score
103 Toronto Raptors
James Johnson, PF 16 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | -12 +/-Fully couldn’t recall much of anything he did in the first half, but he did well in the 3rd to shut down Afflalo who was quickly pulling the Knicks back into the game. In fact, his third quarter defense fully negated him being invisible on offense; I suppose it’s fortunate he only took three shots.

Luis Scola, PF 19 MIN | 3-5 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -11 +/-His three point range really opened things up for the Raptors in the 1st quarter, and even made a few impressive defensive plays for an old guy. Had a line item in my notes saying “defense wasn’t”: Wasn’t there? Wasn’t good? Just wasn’t? …probably.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 4-16 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 18 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -2 +/-Pulled down an incredible 18 rebounds in 28 minutes, and would have had more if he was able to box out Lopez better (to be fair, Lopez has a career because of his agility as a big man, so take it for what it’s worth). Poor shooting night, but didn’t force much which showed some maturity and restraint.

Kyle Lowry, PG 41 MIN | 8-16 FG | 3-5 3FG | 7-8 FT | 6 REB | 10 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 26 PTS | +15 +/-Moved the ball well offensively: came off the high-screen looking to get people involved, and seemed to make the correct decision every single time. Was very active in passing lanes, and putting pressure on the ball; was actually very impressed with his defense (didn’t it feel like he had at least 6-7 steals or was it just me?). MVP, man…

DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 9-18 FG | 1-3 3FG | 7-8 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 26 PTS | +3 +/-The man’s a two-time all-star; doesn’t matter what he did in a Raptors win (10 in a row-win).

Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +21 +/-This was a perfect game for him as far as I’m concerned: 1st half – offensive spark plug off the bench, hitting two very timely threes that seemed to deflate the Knicks some; 3rd quarter – checks in at the six minute mark (along with Ross an Bismack) and immediately injects energy into a Raptors team that came out of the half in body only (their heads were still in the locker room) helping the Raptors to finish the quarter on a 13-6 run.

Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 2-9 FG | 1-5 3FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +23 +/-I liked the shots that he took, but I hated how many of them he missed. That’s ok though because it didn’t impact his ability to defend. Wasn’t a great game for Terry (TJ? What are we calling him these days?), but the Raptors needed his defense and energy more than his offense tonight, and in that respect he came through.

Bismack Biyombo, C 20 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +12 +/-Still not sure what possessed him to shoot that jumper from the foul line, but at least Lowry grabbed the missed shot and the possession wasn’t wasted (yes, a Bismak jumper is a wasted shot, might as well kick the ball into the stands). His impact was huge in the third (along with 2Pat and Ross) where the three of them swung the pendulum back into the Raptors favour.

Cory Joseph, PG 24 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | 0 +/-Could take any quick reaction from any other game and put it here. Would have liked to have seen some of Lowry’s minutes come to him; not because he deserves more minutes (he does), but because Lowry didn’t need to be played for 41 minutes tonight.

Norman Powell, SG 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1 +/-A fierce four minutes. Fierce. Let’s give him a B just cause it doesn’t matter.

Dwane Casey
41 minutes for Lowry? Why not give Cojo more run? Especially in garbage time (what little garbage time we had that is). Got into trouble in the 3rd quarter with the Raptors coming out of the half flat-footed, but sent 2Pat, Bismack, and Ross into the game, and immediately things started to turn around. Overall, the Raptors looked very prepared defensively, but it took till the middle of the 4th before the game was comfortably out of the reach of the Knicks. Got his 10th win in a row, but it was a hard earned one against a team missing their two best players.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Team defense was phenomenal: 11 blocks, 7 steals – it really put them in a position to win the game when those shots were just not falling for the last 4 minutes of the 2nd quarter, and the first 6 minutes of 3rd quarter.
  2. 32pts 4blks 1stl 5ast 20rebs +57: the Raptors bench lady’s and gentlemen. Could have easily padded their stats while saving a few points against in garbage time if Casey threw them out there with 2-3 minutes to go in the game.
  3. The 10-game winning streak can only be overshadowed by DeMar’s 2nd all-star game selection (rightfully so btw).

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The 2015-16 Toronto Raptors have made franchise history.

With a 103-93 victory over the New York Knicks on TNT on Thursday, the Raptors won their 10th game in a row, setting a new franchise-best winning streak.

The previous record was set in 2001-02, when a Vince Carter-less, Mo-Pete-led squad railed off nine in a row to make a late playoff push. The 1999-2000 team is the only other edition to even reach a seven-game winning streak, so this stretch really stands out from a generally moribund franchise history.

Not that 10 games is all that impressive in a league context – it’s been done 259 times since 1946-47 – but the Raptors are just the fourth team to do it this season and the only Eastern Conference squad to reach double-digits. Here’s a quick look back at the streak, which has pushed the Raptors to 31-15, good for second in the East.

  • Jan. 6, @ Brooklyn – 91-74
  • Jan. 8, @ Washington – 97-88
  • Jan. 9, @ Philadelphia – 108-95
  • Jan. 14, @ Orlando in England – 106-103 (OT)
  • Jan. 18, Brooklyn – 112-100
  • Jan. 20, Boston – 115-109
  • Jan. 22, Miami – 101-81
  • Jan. 24, L.A. Clippers – 112-94
  • Jan. 26, Washington – 106-89
  • Jan. 28, New York – 103-93

You can pick nits with that list, given the low quality of competition and occasional struggles at either end. In particular, Thursday’s game was hot garbage for long stretches, with the Raptors tasking an injured Kyle Lowry with 40 minutes in order to beat a woefully banged-up Knicks squad because the Raptors, as is the case too often, couldn’t put a lesser opponent away.

Really, though, complaining too much would say more about you than the Raptors, I think. The game-to-game complaints are entirely justified and reasonable, but over an 82-game season and 21-year history, I think it’s allowable, perhaps even necessary, to take a step back, look at the big picture, and appreciate a weird, successful run. You can only beat the teams put in front of you, and the Raptors have done exactly that, in most cases in decisive fashion. The streak shouldn’t automatically allay any concerns you have about the team, but it shouldn’t be ignored because of those concerns, either. It’s been a lot of fun, and if the longest winning streak in franchise history isn’t cause for an appreciative smile, I’m not sure what is.

(OK, I know what is, but that can’t happen until late April.)

The Raptors will have a chance to extend the streak at home against Detroit on Saturday before embarking on a five-game road-trip heading into the All-Star break.

So, is this the best any Raptors team has ever played, given it’s the longest winning streak? I’m not sure I’d go that far, and I’m not willing to crunch numbers on quality of competition over previous streaks. What is becoming clear is that this may be the best “era” or core in Raptors history, with the Raptors on their way to hosting a playoff series for a third consecutive season. The team will ultimately be measured by their playoff success, and they need to win a series to put them up against the 1999-2002 group, but they’re on their way to topping that three-year stretch in total wins (they’re at 128 with 36 to go, versus 134 for that other group).

What say you? Is this your favorite Raptors group ever? Would a playoff series victory be enough for you to call this the best era in team history? Or is this just a 10-game win streak against mostly easy competition in the middle of a season that won’t be measured by the regular season at all?

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Every time Robin Lopez visits Toronto, there’s trouble. The more aggressive of the 7-foot Lopez twins hates mascots – “On a missing from God” to abuse them – and with The Raptor ranking among the best, the mutual disdain between the two is to be expected.

Plus, they have a long-running history. Earlier this season, in Lopez’ first visit as a member of the New York Knicks, he continued his long-standing feud with The Raptor by busting a Bristol board over his head.

The Raptor hasn’t learned his lesson, once again going to the poster board to get under Lopez’ skin on Thursday. It was met with the same response.

I love Robin Lopez.

-h/t my dude Chris Walder at theScore

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Coach Nick over at BBall Breakdown does great work. Whether it’s live-tweeting videos during games to highlight particular plays (or misplays), or breaking down players, plays, or entire teams, few go into the detail explaining NBA tactics like Nick and his team. Were I to ever coach youth ball, his site (and app!) would be my first stop, and as a writer, their site (and app!) is an indispensable tool.

With the Toronto Raptors on a nine-game winning streak, Coach Nick turned his attention north for his latest breakdown.

I’ve long tried to dispel the idea that head coach Dwane Casey doesn’t run plays or that the Raptors just roll the ball out and go one-on-one (a focus of our Breaking It Down section, but it’s come up elsewhere, too), and hopefully Nick’s detailed look at a few Raptors’ wrinkles, tweaks, and pet plays further helps to that end. It’s worth a watch as a Raptors fan, as it will make you more aware of things that are going on away from the ball, particularly at the offensive end. (Admittedly, I understand none of you will change your opinions on Casey at least until he wins a playoff series, but I digress.)

The most polarizing part of the video may be the section on DeMar DeRozan, who has continues to score well but sometimes does so at the expense of offensive flow. He’s passing well off the bounce and using the attention he draws to create for others, but a few instances of the offense stalling out look bad. There are also good sections on Cory Joseph’s defense, T.J. Ross’ offense, and more.


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It’s no secret that Charles Barkley loves him some Toronto. He’s on record calling Toronto and the surrounding area one of his favorite places, and there may be no player or personality more excited for All-Star Weekend in Toronto than Chuck. The dude loves The 6ix.

“Forgot Wayne Gretzky and Drake, I’m hanging with the mayor,” Barkley said on TNT ahead of the Raptors’ nationally televised game against the New York Knicks on Thursday, referring to city councillor Rob Ford. “Ex-mayor. He’s got more free time to smoke now. The way I look at it, he’s got more free time to get his freak on. So me and the mayor, we gonna have so much fun.”

He then went on to tell his counterparts not to act like they know him in Toronto (or Mississauga) because he’s got his own plans lined up.

I can’t wait to either run into him that weekend or hear the stories second-hand. We’re going to commission a team of local readers to be on Chuck Watch.

That weekend is going to be so much fun.

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The Toronto Raptors will look to set a franchise record with their 10th consecutive win on Thursday when they host the New York Knicks. The game tips off at 8 p.m. on TNT, or, in the likelier case you’re reading this from Canada, Sportsnet One.

It might not be the Knicks-Raptors showdown TNT had in mind, as the Knicks are without Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

Before we get to that…
DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star!

Knicks Updates
As mentioned, Anthony is out with a sore knee. He joins Cleanthony Early on the injured list, and Jose Calderon is out with a sore groin, too. You can read more about the fallout here.

UPDATE: Kristaps Porzingis was ruled out 45 minutes before tip-off due to an upper respiratory illness. Sources tell me he’s suffering from realness. (Seriously, this suuuuucks, he’s so entertaining.)

To help weather the storm, the Knicks signed former second-round pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo from Westchester of the D-League. Antetokounmpo has been largely unimpressive in three D-League seasons, but he looked really solid in two recent games against Raptors 905.

With those notes, the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant
SG: Arron Afflalo, Sasha Vujacic
SF: Lance Thomas, Antetokounmpo
PF: Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, Kevin Seraphin
C: Robin Lopez, Lou Amundson

Speaking of Calderon
I love and miss that guy. DeMar DeRozan does, too.

Raptors Updates
Lowry was a game-time call due to a sprained left wrist, but he’ll play and start. I don’t really see the point given how shorthanded the Knicks are and given how heavy a load Lowry’s already played under, but I’m not in charge.

DeMarre Carroll remains sidelined and Anthony Bennett and Bruno Caboclo are with the 905, so their rotation will look something like this:

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

The line
The Raptors are 10.5-point favorites with a 200 over-under. That line is probably subject to move half a point in either direction based on the pre-game injury updates, but it’s close to reasonable as is. The Knicks are better than anticipated but they’re yet to win without Anthony. Both teams play at a bottom-six pace, so the guess here is that they miss the over-under, even if it’s not exactly a defensive showcase.

Raptors 103, Knicks 88

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

Adam Silver on Dwane Casey
Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about the All-Star Game coaches on Thursday and made it seem as if no consideration was ever given to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey getting the nod.

Here’s Silver, courtesy of USA TODAY:

In the East, the team with the best record and the coach of that team, according to our rules, the All-Star coach. In this case, it’s Ty Lue, and he’s the coach. Remember, he was the associate head coach of the team, and every head coach in this league will tell you it’s not just him or her, it’s their entire staff, and that’s how rules work…There was no discussion about Dwane Casey becoming the coach of the East.

Silver also made it seem as if the league is readying to change the fan-voting procedure:

On (fan) balloting, it’s something we’ll continue to look at. We love the fact that fans have input into who the All-Stars are. As social media changes the world and is disruptive, it’s been mildly disruptive to our balloting systems as well. I know that’s something we’ll take a fresh look at.

Sam Amick then grossly overstated the impact of Drake’s Instagram post in support of Lowry and DeRozan as an example of the flaws in the system, but whatever. haters gonna hate.

Adam Silver on Sting
The NBA announced Thursday that Sting will perform at halftime of the All-Star Game in Toronto. It’s quite dumb. TMZ caught up with Silver, and the commish revealed that he’s still holding out hope Drake makes an appearance.

“And I’m hoping Drake comes out and does a little something with Sting, too,” Silver said. “So we’ll see.”

As for some others, well, they were more diplomatic than I care to be.

WNBA Playoff Format Change
The WNBA announced Thursday that they will change how teams are seeded for the playoffs. Regardless of conference or location, teams that qualify for the playoffs will be seeded based on record, complete with re-seeding after each round. They’ll also make their first two rounds single-elimination.

While that latter note will never carry over to the NBA, the playoff seeding is an interesting note. Deputy commissioner Mark Tatum played a role in the change, which could indicate the NBA is considering a similar tweak. It runs the risk of creating additional travel toll and wear-and-tear on players, but it’s a step toward a more balanced league structure.

The implication for the Raptors would be that they’d need to finish top eight overall rather than top four in the East to earn home court – in each of the last two seasons, they would have been on the road rather than at home.

Read This
Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN is a terrific writer. He wrote about the Raptors today. You should read it.

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The Toronto Raptors will have two representatives in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, as DeMar DeRozan has been named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, the league announced on TNT on Thursday.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the news about an hour beforehand.

The seven reserves for each conference are voted on by the coaches, who have a little more flexibility with positions than fans did for starters. Kyle Lowry jumping Kyrie Irving in the final stage of fan voting helped secure DeRozan a spot, as the competition for East guard spots was tight. John Wall, Jimmy Butler, and Isaiah Thomas also made the team as reserve guards, with two of the four requiring a wild card spot to make the team.

The East’s final roster looks like this:
G: Dwyane Wade
G: Kyle Lowry
FC: LeBron James
FC: Paul George
FC: Carmelo Anthony

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

DeRozan will join his teammate and partner in crime, Lowry, who was voted in as a starter by the fans. That’s just the second time the franchise is sending a pair of players to the All-Star Game. The only other occasion was in 2000-01, when Vince Carter and Antonio Davis took the stage. DeRozan also joins Lowry, Carter, and Chris Bosh as the only multi-time All-Stars in team history.

It’s a nice nod for the host team but not at all one that’s been influenced by the location of the game. At 30-15, the Raptors have been the second-best team in the East so far this season, and both Lowry and DeRozan are worthy of their All-Star berths.

We’ve covered Lowry’s candidacy plenty, and DeRozan’s been nearly as good on offense. The 26-year-old is averaging career highs with 23 points and 4.1 assists while also posting career-best marks in player efficiency rating, true-shooting percentage, and usage rate. He’s still average, at best, defensively, and his impact on the team hasn’t been as paramount as Lowry’s, but it’s really difficult to argue with his scoring volume and new-found level of efficiency. Comparing to his previous All-Star season, he’s been just as good or better, eliminating some of his mid-range shots for more forays to the rim, improving as a playmaker, and even hitting just north of 30 percent from outside.


The argument against DeRozan would be that the Raptors have been far better when he sits than when he plays, but some of that has to do with Lowry propping up bench units so well. It’s a concern, particularly in the event Lowry were to go down, but it’s not enough of one to look past his robust production when voting for the All-Star Game. I’m confident that DeRozan would have been a near-unanimous selection if coaches and media were polled league-wide.

The Raptors have two All-Stars for the second time ever, with the game in Toronto. It’s awesome.

The Western Conference side will look like this:
G: Steph Curry
G: Russell Westbrook
FC: Kobe Bryant
FC: Kevin Durant
FC: Kawhi Leonard

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

So, who are the biggest snubs in each conference in your mind? On the East side, I think they mostly got it right, though I had Reggie Jackson in (at the expense of Dwyane Wade) on my ballot. In the West, I think one of Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki would have had a case, particularly over Aldridge, but there’s nothing egregious here.

The game takes place on Sunday, February 14, at the Air Canada Centre.

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