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Date Title Author
Apr 19, 14 Video: DeMar DeRozan vs Nets in Game 1 – It’s Not Pretty Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 19, 14 Emergency Podcast: Reaction to Game 1 Loss Steve Gennaro
Apr 19, 14 Quick Reaction: Nets 94, Raptors 87 – Game 1 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 19, 14 Ujiri Says “F**K BROOKLYN”, Wins the Internet William Lou
Apr 19, 14 And so, It Begins Andrew Thompson
Apr 19, 14 The Toronto Sun strikes hard at the Nets Sam Holako
Apr 18, 14 Raptors Lose Coin Flip to Bulls, Will Pick 20th; List of 20th Picks Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 18, 14 Deron Williams: “The key is to try to contain Lowry” Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 18, 14 Video: An Effective Amir Johnson vs Nets (March 10 – 8-14 FG, 16 Points) Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 18, 14 Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets by the Numbers William Lou
Apr 18, 14 Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets, 10 Strategic and Tactical Elements To Look Out For Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 18, 14 MLSE and the Raptors REALLY Don’t Want Us Selling Shirts Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 18, 14 Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets Q&A with The Brooklyn Game Blake Murphy
Apr 18, 14 Eating Ice Cream with the Enemy RR
Apr 18, 14 Doctor Is In Podcast, April 18 – Playoff Preview Steve Gennaro
Apr 18, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 18 Sam Holako
Apr 17, 14 Quotes: Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri React to Nets Wanting to Play Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 17, 14 MLSE Claims Copyright For “Kings In The North” Shirt; RR Prints New Shirts; Partial Proceeds to United Way Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 17, 14 2013-14 Raptors now litter franchise leaderboards Blake Murphy
Apr 17, 14 Look Out For This Play: It Beat Us Last Time, Let It Not Happen Again Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 17, 14 Season in Review Blake Murphy
Apr 17, 14 Podcast: Raptors-Nets Playoff Matchup 15-Minute Unedited Reaction Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 17, 14 Raps’ year ends with meaningless loss, bring on Brooklyn Garrett Hinchey
Apr 17, 14 [GIF] Chuck Hayes Inbounding To Nando De Colo With Game On The Line Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 17 Sam Holako
Apr 17, 14 Playoff Schedule Released, First Game on Saturday at 12:30 PM EST William Lou
Apr 16, 14 Reaction: Knicks 95, Raptors 92 Andrew Thompson
Apr 16, 14 We The North – Storm Sam Holako
Apr 16, 14 We The North – Huddle Sam Holako
Apr 16, 14 Man Amir Johnson Left Hanging Receives Reward from RR; Your Move @IamAmirJohnson RR
Apr 16, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Knicks – Apr, 16 Sam Holako
Apr 16, 14 [GIF] Here’s What’s Left of Paul Pierce #TORvsBKN Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 16, 14 How Important Is Lowry To This Team? forumcrew
Apr 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 16 Sam Holako
Apr 15, 14 The Raptors Don’t Appear Ready For What Awaits Them In The Playoffs Tim Chisholm
Apr 15, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, April 15 – With Jack Armstrong Nick Reynoldson
Apr 15, 14 Bucks Serve as Props as Raptors Ease to Franchise-High Win Total Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 15 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 14, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson (@IamAmirJohnson) Throws Down Jam, Leaves Man Hanging Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 14, 14 Reaction: Raptors 110, Bucks 100 Sam Holako
Apr 14, 14 Toronto Raptors – “Kings In The North” – Atlantic Division Champions Tee Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 14, 14 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, April 14 Blake Murphy
Apr 14, 14 “Roll With Amir” – Recap with Pictures RR
Apr 14, 14 The Superman Effect Garrett Hinchey
Apr 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 14 Sam Holako
Apr 13, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 13 – Undertow Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 13, 14 [GIF] Demar DeRozan Reduces Kyle Singler To a Pile of Leaves Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 13, 14 Late Reaction: Raptors 116, Pistons 107 – The Apologies Edition Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 13, 14 Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 13 – The Finish Line Prospect
Apr 13, 14 Game Day: Raptors @ Pistons – April 13 Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 12, 14 Not Exactly a Banner Effort Andrew Thompson
Apr 12, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 12 Sam Holako
Apr 11, 14 Reaction: Raptors 100, Knicks 108 William Lou
Apr 11, 14 [GIF] Lip Reading with Kyle Lowry Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 11, 14 Charles Barkley Says Raptors Are A Dangerous Team forumcrew
Apr 11, 14 MLSE Raises Toronto Raptors Season Ticket Prices Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 11, 14 [GIF] One fan’s hope for the next two games against the Knicks Sam Holako
Apr 11, 14 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, April 11 Blake Murphy
Apr 11, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 11 Sam Holako
Apr 10, 14 Breaking it Down: Coach Nick and Seth Partnow Details the Raptors Offense William Lou
Apr 10, 14 Raptors’ Defense Struggling without Amir Johnson Blake Murphy
Apr 10, 14 The Doctor Is In Podcast, April 10 – 4 Guys Talking Hoops Steve Gennaro
Apr 10, 14 ‘We all go through things…we all learn from them’ William Lou
Apr 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 10 Sam Holako
Apr 9, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan: There Will Be Blood Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 [Video] Jonas Valanciunas: “I’m just trying to fix my mistakes” Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 Reaction: Sixers 114, Raptors 125 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross With the Spin Move Three Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 Drake to Host ESPYs, Replace Letterman? Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 Gameday: Sixers @ Raptors, April 9 Blake Murphy
Apr 9, 14 Raptors 83% Chance to Finish 3rd; Bulls Breathing Down Our Necks Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 9, 14 Lowry’s Injury Has Given Valanciunas A Chance To Shine Tim Chisholm
Apr 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 9 Sam Holako
Apr 8, 14 Does DeMar DeRozan Have a Case for Most Improved Player? Blake Murphy
Apr 8, 14 [Excerpt] Cable Companies versus Sports Fans Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 8, 14 Poll: How Should the Raptors handle the Jonas Valanciunas situation? Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 8, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, April 8 – With Darren Andrade (Yes, We Talk JV) Nick Reynoldson
Apr 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 8 Sam Holako
Apr 7, 14 Breaking: Jonas Valanciunas Charged with Drunk Driving Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 7, 14 Patrick Patterson is serious at FIFA’14; doesn’t miss a beat pumping his Wildcats Sam Holako
Apr 7, 14 Raptors On the Precipice of Ousting The Toronto Sport Team Curse Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 7, 14 DeRozan throws out first pitch at Jays-game Sam Holako
Apr 7, 14 Finding Kyle Lowry: A Comprehensive Essay Prospect
Apr 7, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 6 – Target Acquired Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 7, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 7 Sam Holako
Apr 6, 14 Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 6 – The Finals Prospect
Apr 6, 14 Half-Hearted Victory, Quarter-Hearted Recap William Lou
Apr 6, 14 Reaction: Raptors Narrowly Escape Bucks Tim W.
Apr 5, 14 [GIF] Ooooh…JV, Bet That Was Painful Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 5, 14 [Twitter] Good Thing I Didn’t Trust The First Tweet Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 5, 14 Game Day – Raptors @ Bucks, April 5 Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 5, 14 Raptors Beat Pacers: This Team Is Bloody Impressive Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 5, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 5 Sam Holako
Apr 5, 14 [GIF] They said JV couldn’t shoot, they lied Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 5, 14 [GIF] Kyle Lowry Approves! Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 4, 14 [GIF] Jonas Valanciunas Plays Some Inbound Defense Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 4, 14 Reaction: Pacers 94, Raptors 102 – Nando De Colo Shines Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 4, 14 We’re Going to Take the Ball and we’re Going to Win Andrew Thompson
Apr 3, 14 Full Interview: Masai Ujiri on George Stroumboulopoulos Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 3, 14 DeRozan and the Next Man Up lead shorthanded Raptors to victory Blake Murphy
Apr 3, 14 Dr Is In Podcast, April 3 – May She Droop Never Steve Gennaro
Apr 3, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 3 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 2, 14 Reaction: Raptors 107, Rockets 103 William Lou
Apr 2, 14 Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, April 2 Blake Murphy
Apr 2, 14 Kyle Lowry to Receive Treatment During Day; Pre-Game Announcement Pending Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 2, 14 Let’s dust off Landry Fields Blake Murphy
Apr 2, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 2 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 1, 14 10 “Behind The Scenes” Points from Masai Ujiri’s Interview with George Strombolopolous Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 1, 14 Swimming Upstream on the John Salmons Issue William Lou
Apr 1, 14 Report: MLSE To Offer Playoff Tickets at Half Price to “Make Amends” Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 1, 14 Raptors lose game to good player, focus turns to Kyle Lowry Blake Murphy
Apr 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 1 Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 31, 14 [GIF] Kyle Lowry Injury, X-Rays Negative, Will Reevaluate Tomorrow Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 31, 14 Reaction: Heat 93, Raptors 83 Blake Murphy
Mar 31, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, March 31 RR
Mar 31, 14 Can DeRozan Buck Raptors Playoff History? Tim Chisholm
Mar 31, 14 [GIF] Dwane Casey’s Inbound Defense Stifles Orlando Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 31, 14 Laid Back Analysis of Raptors vs Magic Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 31, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 30 – Jilted Lovers Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 31, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 31 Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 30, 14 Player Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas vs Orlando Magic (6-8 FG, 20 PTS) Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 30, 14 Reaction: Raptors: 98 – Magic: 93 Tamberlyn Richardson
Mar 30, 14 East Executive: Nets Want to Face Raptors, Avoid Bulls; Slags Casey Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 30, 14 Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 30 – Playoffs Prospect
Mar 30, 14 Raptors-Magic: 6 Things to Watch For Andrew Thompson
Mar 29, 14 Jim Mora, Eat Your Heart Out Andrew Thompson
Mar 29, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Mar 29 Sam Holako
Mar 28, 14 Reaction: Raptors 105, Celtics 103 William Lou
Mar 28, 14 [GIF] Kyle Lowry Leaves Celtics Game With Injured Ankle (Update: He’s back) Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 28, 14 Gameday – Raptors vs Celtics, Mar 28 Sam Holako
Mar 28, 14 Player Highlights: Terrence Ross Lights Boston Up – March 26 Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 28, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 28 Sam Holako
Mar 27, 14 Greivis Vasquez Likens Parts of his Game to Manu Ginobili, Jason Kidd and Andre Miller Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 27, 14 12 Facts About Terrence Ross RR
Mar 27, 14 Game of Thrones: March Madness-Style Tim W.
Mar 27, 14 Dr Is In Podcast, March 27 – Enjoy the Magic Steve Gennaro
Mar 27, 14 No Bench, No Problem William Lou
Mar 27, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 27 Sam Holako
Mar 26, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 99, Celtics 90 Garrett Hinchey
Mar 26, 14 [Video] Lowry and Ross Threes Seal the W, Celtics Commentary Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 26, 14 Quick Note About DeMar DeRozan’s Clutchness and Shooting Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 26, 14 Game Day – Raptors @ Celtics, Mar 26 Tamberlyn Richardson
Mar 26, 14 Caption this pic Sam Holako
Mar 26, 14 Corrective Measures Needed Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 26, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 26 Sam Holako
Mar 25, 14 [GIF] That last play – what was going on? Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 25, 14 Reaction: Raptors 97, Cavaliers 102 – Disaster Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 25, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, March 25 Blake Murphy
Mar 25, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, March 25: The Dog Show Nick Reynoldson
Mar 25, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 25 Sam Holako
Mar 24, 14 Madness Reigns Supreme in Contest – Tell Us What Loser Should Do Steve Gennaro
Mar 24, 14 Evaluating possible first-round playoff opponents Blake Murphy
Mar 24, 14 We cheer for fourth-quarter warriors Blake Murphy
Mar 24, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 24 Sam Holako
Mar 24, 14 DeRozan and Lowry Sum Up Our Attitudes Towards This Team in One GIF William Lou
Mar 23, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 23 – Tears for Salmons Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 23, 14 Reaction: Raptors 96, Hawks 86 Andrew Thompson
Mar 23, 14 Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 23 – Amir Prospect
Mar 22, 14 Gameday: Raptors vs Hawks – Sun, Mar 23 Sam Holako
Mar 22, 14 PHOTO: The bane of my existence RR
Mar 22, 14 Making Sense of Last Night William Lou
Mar 22, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Mar 22 Sam Holako
Mar 21, 14 Reaction: Raptors 118, Thunder 119 Andrew Thompson
Mar 21, 14 Gameday: I get to see Kevin Durant live for the first time Blake Murphy
Mar 21, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 21 Sam Holako
Mar 20, 14 5 Things About the NCAA Tournament Tim W.
Mar 20, 14 Greivis Vasquez Rescues Raptors in Return to Bayou Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 20, 14 The Dr Is In Podcast, March 20 – Madness Preview Steve Gennaro
Mar 19, 14 Reaction: Raptors 107, Pelicans 100 William Lou
Mar 19, 14 Broken play ends in monster dunk by Ross RR
Mar 19, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Pelicans, March 19 Blake Murphy
Mar 19, 14 Small Mistakes Add Up, Raptors Lose to Hawks in OT 113-118 Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 19, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 19 Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 18, 14 Reaction: Raptors 113, Hawks 118 William Lou
Mar 18, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross’ Three RRRRRRRims Out Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 18, 14 ESPN Insider: Raptors a “Dark horse to make the NBA Finals” RR
Mar 18, 14 Patrick Patterson Out At Least Another Week With Elbow Injury William Lou
Mar 18, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Hawks William Lou
Mar 18, 14 The Bulldog of Bay Street via @caseybannerman RR
Mar 18, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, March 18 – Pizza Illuminati Nick Reynoldson
Mar 18, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 18 Sam Holako
Mar 17, 14 Toronto Raptors Seek To Gain Respect As Part of Their 2014 Milestones Tamberlyn Richardson
Mar 17, 14 Injury Updates: No Concussion for Lowry, Patterson’s Status Unknown William Lou
Mar 17, 14 “We weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way” Blake Murphy
Mar 17, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 17 – Striped Injustice Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 17 Sam Holako
Mar 16, 14 Reaction: Suns 121, Raptors 113 Andrew Thompson
Mar 16, 14 Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 16 – St. Patty’s Edition Prospect
Mar 15, 14 Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, March 16 Blake Murphy
Mar 15, 14 VIDEO: The Raptor set to return March 23, Stripes to D-League Blake Murphy
Mar 15, 14 Raptors Grab Impressive Memphis Scalp Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 14, 14 [VIDEO] DeMar DeRozan Nails Corner Three, Stares Down Memphis Bench Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 14, 14 Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 86 – Raptors 99: Raptors Grind Out Huge Win Tamberlyn Richardson
Mar 14, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross sprains ankle, looks to be OK Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 14, 14 [GIF] They said Dwane Casey couldn’t draw up out-of-timeout plays, they were wrong Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 14, 14 How Does This Raptors Team Stack Up Against VC’s 00-01 Team? forumcrew
Mar 14, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, March 14: Show us your BOO’s Nick Reynoldson
Mar 14, 14 Crowdsourced Gameday: Give us your predictions for Grizzlies @ Raptors Blake Murphy
Mar 13, 14 [Video] Steve Kerr Gives Raptors Some Props on TNT Zarar Siddiqi
Mar 13, 14 Highlights from Terrence Ross’ AMA William Lou

Video: DeMar DeRozan vs Nets in Game 1 – It’s Not Pretty

He had a miserable game, mostly of his own doing rather than due to strenuous Nets defense. He was 3-13 FG and never had a decent half-court possession the entire game. Combined with Ross, they were 0-6 in the first half and 4-17 for the game. He looked nervous and had a worse debut than Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Having said all that, this was a game where, when they view the tape, they’ll find plenty of correctable items. If the right defensive adjustments are made the offense doesn’t look distraught and nervous, we have a chance. Check the reaction post and the reaction podcast.

Emergency Podcast: Reaction to Game 1 Loss

As the title says, Game 1 is over (reaction here) and people need get things off their chest, so here goes. A Raptors Weekly Podcast with Zarar will follow tomorrow, until then:

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 (16:32, 16 MB). Or just listen below:

Quick Reaction: Nets 94, Raptors 87 – Game 1


Brooklyn Nets 94 Final
Recap | Box Score
87 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -12

Got predictably torn apart by Pierce in the first, as Casey chose to stick with the two-big lineup, at least to start. There was a shocking paucity of pick ‘n roll play with him going at Pierce, or anyone for that matter. Instead, we saw him get a post-up 20-feet out which ended up in a turnover. He’s a guy who feeds off of others, and when others aren’t doing their thing, his production takes a dip. He’s been getting a lot of love in the press lately, which I thought was a bit over the top. I expected him to at least come out with the same energy as Lowry, but nothing doing.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -1

I can forgive his first foul to jitters but the second was silly (knowing he already had one) and the third (picked up on a late rotation) was downright unforgivable. It also meant that we saw way too much of John Salmons which should be punishable by jail-time. Defensively, got stuck on Johnson’s hips too often and did a poor job of dealing with Deron Williams on switches for the most part.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 35 MIN | 7-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 18 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 6 TO | 17 PTS | -17

We got him involved from the outset which was great as he was key to digging us out of that early 12-point lead. He missed some makeable shots off of offensive rebounds and pick ‘n rolls, but overall a solid game. Was placed in help situations on Joe Johnson where he didn’t fare well, but then again Johnson is a pro.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 44 MIN | 7-18 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 22 PTS | -12

Amazing, what can I even say? Unfazed by the occasion and playing at full-steam for every second he was in there. Without him this is a blowout. That is all. Emotionally, he was at a different level than his teammates and has to feel aggrieved at their efforts.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 3-13 FG | 8-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | -10

Shaun Livingston had him in a straitjacket and made Vince Carter’s playoff debut look awesome. The shaky dribble was accompanied by timidity which meant his suspect ball-handling kept him strictly on the perimeter, and once he missed his first couple jumpers, he missed makeable shots too. He turned into a black-hole, not because he was ball-hogging but because his lack of dribbling skills hampered him from escaping even mild-mannered Nets traps. Also, any offensive play which started as DeRozan as the ball-handler was doomed.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +7

I thought he’d be used a bit more in a small-ball lineup, but nothing doing.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +5

Did well to supply energy off the bench and neutralize Pierce early, but struggled guarding him late. He’s obviously the guy we have to go with in a small-ball lineup, but when you’re looking at him to save you, there’s something else wrong (ahem, DeRozan). Offensively, I thought he was adequate and relatively composed given the occasion.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3

Was given some playing time so that JV could be spelled a rest. Boxed out adequately on a defensive possession.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9

OK, since he’s basically an offensive void I’m going to assume his job is to defend. Therefore, I’m to judge him on two things: 1) his defense which was quite poor and didn’t serve to slow down Williams or Johnson, and 2) his veteran steadiness, which was non-existent because every time he dribbles the ball I have to take Zantac for my heartburn. It’s gotten to the point where I’m not sure what he does well, if anything. I’m sure things will turn for the better (they can’t get much worse), but in this game he was null and void.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 29 MIN | 5-11 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +8

Solid game for a guy who’s getting his playoff feet wet. Composed on offense and even forced some turnovers on defense (one through a backcourt trap!). Yes, some of those shots aggravated you to no end, however, consider that DeRozan and Ross were flops and the situation almost demanded that he try to carry more of the load.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3

Another guy who I would’ve liked to have seen more in a small-ball lineup, given how poorly our offense was functioning.

Dwane Casey

Too late to react to the Pierce/Johnson matchup and unable to get DeRozan steadied through some set plays. The guy obviously needed help and Casey saw it fit to start possessions with DeRozan ball-handling – not good. Recognized that the Raptors needed to help on Joe Johnson too late (in the second half, believe it or not) which burned us and got Johnson going.

Five Things We Saw

  1. It should concern you that the Nets won this despite not being at their best. We’ll see a lot of coverage of how DeRozan and Johnson were absent, but so were Anderson, Teletovic and others.
  2. No fouls were called on the Nets in the fourth quarter, which is unreal because there was a lot of contact on multiple plays there.
  3. What bugs me is that we were beaten by predictable issues – Joe Johnson overpowering our wings, the Johnson/Pierce matchup, and Livingston’s unique advantage. There didn’t seem to be a plan in place to deal with any of this.
  4. As much as I hate Paul Pierce, the guy is a clutch dude that you can clear out for and you know you’re going to get a high-percentage look with the game on the line. The only guy we can do that with is Kyle Lowry, and it’s difficult for PGs (due to height, role) be that kind of guy.
  5. Our half-court sets were brutal, partly due to 60% of the starting lineup out taking a piss, but part also because we were forced to play in the half-court by the Nets, which is to their advantage. The good news is that despite all that, we were in the game and if we can repeat the defensive effort, and just figure out how to get average production from Ross, DeRozan and Johnson, maybe we have a shouting chance.

Ujiri Says “F**K BROOKLYN”, Wins the Internet

Masai Ujiri. The best.

But actually, FUCK BROOKLYN

via SBNation

And so, It Begins

I don’t know whether or not you’ve heard about it, but the Raptors are in the playoffs. It’s kind of a big deal. The city is buzzing with anticipatory anticipation. That last sentence isn’t a typo, I assure you. Poorly written, perhaps, but not a mistake. For while fans of the Raptors are falling all over themselves with excitement, the city as a whole is waiting for a couple of wins before it jumps on board. Toronto is one of the biggest bandwagon sports towns that way. They’re like overly cautious investors who want to wait for a sign of a sure thing before jumping on board. Just look at last year’s first round playoff “run” by the Leafs. When the Leafs drew the top rated Bruins, people were excited(ish) that the Leafs made the playoffs, but that excitement was tempered by the expectation of a quick series loss. By the time the Leafs had stretched the series to 7 games people were ready to tattoo blue maple leafs across their foreheads (Let’s not dwell on how all of that ended. I know I’ve already forgotten. What are we even talking about?…). The same was especially true for the Blue Jays, who have always enjoyed support but have never really been a big deal. Except of course for that 92-93 stretch when they won back-to-back World Series and they were the biggest thing that had ever happened to this city. Those guys were rock stars. Third grade kids growing up in otherwise casual sports fan houses knew the names of all three starting outfielders. Joe Carter got a sandwich at McDonald’s named after him. Roberto Alomar became a juice magnate. Who doesn’t remember which juice it is that has the McCain punch? They were the BIGGEST deal. If you were born in the mid eighties in southern Ontario like I was, you very well might have grown up thinking that Toronto was more of a baseball than hockey crazed place. For a few years, it felt that way.
And in 2001, it almost happened with Vince Carter and the Raptors too. That playoff run was a shared excitement that hasn’t been matched since for Raptors fans. Everybody was on board. There’s a joke to be made here that 20 years of fandom with one 2nd round playoff loss being the farthest we’ve ever gotten kind of makes us the 40 year-old virgin of sports fans. There’s a truth to that. But that’s also a part of why this entire city is timbering on the precipice of bandwagon insanity. This city has so much (potential for)enthusiasm for it’s sports teams. But they’ve been hurt before. Give them a reason to believe though, and the entire GTA will be deked out in purple. Kyle Lowry’s name, once rarely known to sports fan civilians, will suddenly be overheard in the lineups of thousands and thousands of Tim Horton’s from Oshawa to Aurora, Uxbridge, Ancaster and Orillia. Mark my words; if the Raptors get two games up in this series, millions of people are suddenly going to turn into the ‘da bears’ superfans from SNL. Chris Farley is our mayor already. And you know what? I couldn’t possibly be more excited about it.

(The everybody being superfans bit, not the Tommy Boy as mayor one. That one dances a little too close to the line between tragedy and hilarity for me, with neither one probably being what you’re looking for in a leader. Amir Johnson for Mayor?)

 

Match-ups to watch in the series:

Let’s get into the basketball nerdery of things here.

  • For all the talk about how Brooklyn has been the best team in the Eastern Conference for the last 3 months, what do they have to show for it? An offense that is exactly league average at 106.7 points per 100 possessions and a defense that is ranked 20th overall. 20th overall is also where they rate in SRS, a stat that ranks each team based on an amalgamation of their point differential and strength of schedule. That same rating system has the Raptors at 12th, with a positive 2.55-point differential compared to Brooklyn’s -1.58.
  • Thank you to the Toronto Sun for their Raptors vs. the Dinosaurs headline. The joke here, in case you were simply confused by the oxymoron that the Raptors are also dinosaurs, is that the stars of the Brooklyn Nets are old. There is truth to that. The question is, can the Raptors young, explosive players exploit that? The Raptors have played at an equally slow pace of play as the Nets this year, focusing on defence and half-court offence instead of transition scoring (which is a pity, given that they scored at an elite efficiency all season in transition). The Nets, acknowledging the limitations of their age, have accounted for this hole in their armour. They play the same philosophy of transition defence as the famously old Boston Celtics that form half of their team did. Instead of challenging for offensive rebounds, they start to retreat towards defence almost as soon as they’ve put up a shot. This sacrifices offensive rebounds for a set defence. It certainly helps on the one hand, as the Nets have the 8th best transition defence in the league, but it gives up on offensive rebounding. For a team as prone to isolation perimeter play, occasional chucking and 3-point shooting as the Nets are, this accounts for why they get blown out as badly as they do sometimes when they’re not shooting well or creating baskets offensively. They rank amongst the league’s worst in second chance baskets. That’s very good news for a Raptor’s defence that has stingy all season. It just isn’t great news for those helping for points in bunches out of transition. Running might be a smart move to tire Brooklyn’s old legs, but they’ll be ready defensively.
  • The Raptor’s defence matches up remarkably well against Brooklyn’s offence. The exception here is isolation defence, where the Raptor’s finished 24th in efficiency according to synergy sports. That’s OK. Brooklyn is much more scary on paper than in reality in one on one scoring. Joe Johnson might get you a big clutch bucket when you need it out of isolation, but his scoring has been much more reputation than reality this season. 16 points a game, 2.7 assists on 22% usage is not the stat line of someone poised to take over a series. Think Rudy Gay, and you’ll calm down a bit. He’s also scored a below average 0.88 points per attempt out of isolation. For whatever reason, Johnson has largely disappointed in the playoff ever since leaving Phoenix. Without Steve Nash’s ball handling wizardry and a fast offensive system that creates open shots, Johnson’s career playoff 3point shooting percentage is almost 10% lower than his impressive overall career shooting percentage. Thats because defences kick into overdrive in the playoffs and every shot that isn’t well created is very well challenged. Hero ball doesn’t work. Sorry Joe, but I’m not scared.
  • Johnson hasn’t been great out of post-ups either. If Brooklyn’s game plan is really to post up it’s guards, as some have talked about, then this series could be over quickly. Shaun Livingston has been the Net’s best isolation player all year. No, seriously. But only in post-ups. He’s been well above average in post-ups, compared to 3pt shooting, where he puts up 16% from deep. Yikes. The post-up efficiency is a real weapon, though not one thats going to win a series. Post-ups eat up about 10% of Brooklyn’s offence, and Livingston takes about 10% of those post up opportunities. For those of you who like math, please share with the class that that means Livingston post-ups account for 1% of Brooklyn’s offence. When it comes to defending those post-ups, Toronto fans should be proportionately worried. Post-ups are about footwork offensively and strength and positioning defensively. Kyle Lowry is 7 inches shorter than Livingston, but almost 20 pounds heavier. Vasquez is 6’6. Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan are both tall, long and athletic, and Amir Johnson’s help rotations to the post are as well timed as anyone in the league. Valanciunas has looked like a completely different defender over the last few weeks with his timing as well. He isn’t an elite rim protector by any means, but the result of how much space his huge body occupies when he’s in the right place at the right time has a big impact. Brooklyn is going to die a slow, inefficient death if it makes this series about post play.
  • Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose are two of my favourite people. Having said that, I don’t always agree with Simmons on basketball predictions and I cringe more than agree with some of Jalen’s conclusions. This week there was a major exception. In their playoff preview for Grantland, they pointed out how Kyle Lowry is the best player in this series and, more importantly, is the type of player having the type of season to completely take over the series. My name is Andrew Thompson, and I approve this message. Couldn’t agree more on this point with Bill and Jalen. Lowry is an animal; we know this. He’s going to abuse either Livingston or Williams on defence. He’s going to eat whoever he covers alive. We’ve only seen Lowry’s intense on ball defence in brief moments when needed this season, as the team defence as a whole has been much better and he’s carried a larger offensive role. But Kyle Lowry is one of the 5 best on-ball defenders in the entire NBA when he’s engaged, and he will be. My bold prediction is that he gets to the line 8+ times a game in this series too. He got 5 free throw attempts a game this season attacking the basket in the Raptors furious fourth quarters. Except to see that again.
  • If DeMar and Lowry combine for 15 free throws a game, which they very well could against a Brooklyn team that is one of the most foul prone teams in the league, watch out. It’s those old legs again. Reaching in instead of moving their feet, or fouling instead of giving up a basket once you’re already beat. The Nets only plus defenders are either in their late thirties in Pierce and Garnett, or their mid-thirties with injuries like Kirilenko. Kyle Lowry and DeRozan can abuse this defence by attacking out of the pick and roll. Make the defence bend and then take it to the rim. Play off that with the spot-up 3 point shooting that the Raptors have done at an elite efficiency this season and have Johnson and Valanciunas eating up the Nets porous rebounding with offensive boards and put-backs and you have your recipe. Let’s see if they can deliver.
  • Playoffs. This is awesome.

@marmaladejacko 

The Toronto Sun strikes hard at the Nets

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Raptors Lose Coin Flip to Bulls, Will Pick 20th; List of 20th Picks

I’ll let TSN explain it:

The Raptors, who finished the season with the same record as the Bulls, lost the coin flip tie breaker with Chicago this afternoon — as a result, Toronto will pick 20th in the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26th. The Bulls will select 19th.

Last time we lost a coin flip we got Terrence Ross (over Harrison Barnes I always presumed), so this may not be so bad. Here are the 20th picks from the last 10 drafts:

Year Team Player From
2013 CHI Tony Snell University of New Mexico
2012 DEN Evan Fournier
2011 MIN Donatas Motiejunas
2010 SAS James Anderson Oklahoma State University
2009 UTA Eric Maynor Virginia Commonwealth University
2008 CHA Alexis Ajinca
2007 MIA Jason Smith Colorado State University
2006 NYK Renaldo Balkman University of South Carolina
2005 DEN Julius Hodge North Carolina State University
2004 DEN Jameer Nelson Saint Joseph’s University

The guy currently slated to go 20th is K.J. McDaniels, a SF from Clemson, Junior who DX describes as:

K.J. McDaniels has emerged from obscurity to develop into one of the best all-around players in college basketball, helping his Clemson squad to a 8-6 record in the ACC thus far. McDaniels has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long, ranking very highly among top-100 prospects in a variety of categories, including points per-40 pace adjusted (6th overall), rebounding (4th among wing prospects), steals (4th among wings), and blocks (1st among wings and 8th overall).

Deron Williams: “The key is to try to contain Lowry”

Small tidbit from Mike Mazzeo of Nets Report in his article recapping Jeff Van Gundy’s analysis of the series. Deron Williams was asked about his matchup with Kyle Lowry and described it as the key point in the series:

“He’s tough. Very aggressive on both ends of the floor. Definitely the key is to try to contain him. He’s just a shot-maker. He’s making shots right now from everywhere.”

As the Eastern Conference scout in the article mentioned, Lowry has outplayed Williams this year. Here’s the Basketball Reference comparison for this season:

KyleLowryDeronWilliamsHead2Head

They can worry about out PG, but we really aren’t worried about theirs, are we? Deron Williams is the least of the “big three” the Raptors are concerned about, in fact, Shaun Livingston is probably ahead of him on the worry-meter. I don’t necessarily see Lowry as the key to the series, he’s going to get his points and have his impact, much like Joe Johnson will get his. It’s that secondary production from guys like Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez that, when going up against the Nets bench, could swing the pendulum. There’s more detailed tactical and statistical analysis of the series, including a chat with the enemy.

Video: An Effective Amir Johnson vs Nets (March 10 – 8-14 FG, 16 Points)

Amir Johnson could be featured against Paul Pierce on Saturday afternoon, with that in mind let’s have a look at Johnson in action against the Nets on March 10, a game the Raptors ended up losing 101-97. Johnson had a solid offensive outing and featured well in many pick ‘n roll scenarios with multiple ball-handlers. Have a look:

Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets by the Numbers

Numbers never lie, or so the saying goes.

Over the next few days, we here at Raptors Republic will bombard your eyeballs with a plethora of series previews. This edition will analyze the match-up through an empirical perspective. That means this will be the only preview that won’t feature the phrase “veteran playoff experience”, except when mentioned in jest. Your convenient narratives will be discarded,  doused in kerosene, and lit ablaze like a hibachi. No intangibles will be considered — it’s only numbers from herein.

Much like the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets’ aggregate numbers can’t be taken at face-value because their season encompasses two different teams. As everyone here understands, the Raptors are a different team since the Rudy Gay trade. Similarly, the Nets have been a different team since the turn of the calendar.

Despite great fanfare, the Nets sputtered to start the season. A slew of injuries, and a consistent bout of coaching turmoil ultimately culminated in a 10-21 start to the season in 2013. Flip the calendar to 2014, and the Nets have suddenly flourished. Aside from their recent two-game mini-tank job, the Nets won 35 games against 15 losses in 2014.

The change was simple, if not unexpected. When All-Star center Brook Lopez went down with a broken right foot, the Nets were forced to scrap their previous game-plan, and adopt a whole new identity as a small-ball team. Only, it’s not small-ball; it’s long-ball, as Devin Kharpetian of The Brooklyn Game so aptly described. If you were to read any scouting report on the Nets, make sure it’s Devin’s.

Paul Pierce’s seamless transition into the starting power forward slot has changed the Nets’ landscape entirely. Pierce has the bulk to match-up with power forwards, and has the rebounding ability to reasonably control the defensive glass. However, Pierce at the four presents the biggest threat on offense. On a smaller scale, Pierce is like Carmelo Anthony. He’s too big to be guarded by most threes — Ross is giving up nearly 40 pounds — and he’s too quick for most fours, even at the ripe old age of 36.

The success of the long-ball strategy is reflected in the lineup data. The five-man unit of Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Mason Plumlee and Deron Williams are a +4.8 points per 100 possessions in 284 minutes played this season. Switch Garnett in for Plumlee, and it bumps up to +17.8. Granted,given the Nets’ injuries this season, no unit has logged enough minutes which limits the ability to draw any solid conclusions, but one thing is clear — their long-ball lineup is dangerous.

Conversely, the Raptors’ starting five have logged a total of 716 minutes, which ranks 6th in the NBA for most minutes played this season, and posted a respectable +3.2 points per 100 possessions. The added minutes played, in theory, gives Toronto’s unit the advantage in experience and cohesion.

For the most part, Dwane Casey is a creature of habit when it comes to his lineups, which is a kind way of saying he’s stubborn and loyal to a fault. It’s likely that the two starting units — save for the inevitable swap of Salmons for Ross — will battle head-to-head for the majority of the minutes. A head-t0-head statistical profile is listed below. All numbers are expressed in terms of units per 100 possessions relative to league average. The exception is FG%, which is measured in percentage points.

starting units

The mismatches are immediately obvious. The Raptors should have a significant advantage over the Nets in rebounding, which makes sense given the Nets’ small-ball lineups. Similarly, the Raptors run a more pass-heavy offense, as evidenced by their edge in assists. However, the Nets will likely compensate by winning the battle for possessions, as they cause more turnovers (via steals), and feature four steady ball-handlers on the court, thereby limiting their own turnovers.

The difference between the two teams is also borne out in the season-long aggregate numbers. As outlined in the lineup data comparison, the Raptors hold should dominate on the glass. The plotted points are NBA rank in which smaller is better.

SEASON LONG TRENDS

And before you ask, the post-Gay numbers for the Raptors, and 2014 figures for the Nets is posted below. For the most part, the same trends hold true, except the Nets’ defensive rebounding numbers have improved significantly.

Based on the eye-test, the improved rebounding is a concerted strategy by the Nets to forgo leaking out in transition in favor of securing stay misses. Similarly, the Nets also favor eschewing offensive rebounding, because aside from Mason Plumlee, the Nets’ slow and plodding bigs need a head start with back-peddling on defense.

relevant stats

For a deeper look, let’s dive into the synergy stats numbers. A word of precaution: the play-type categorization is somewhat questionable, because after all, what is a play? For example, say the Raptors use a pick-and-roll to set up an entry pass for Jonas in the post, who then draws a double-team, so he kicks it out to an open shooter on the perimeter. Is that a pick-and-roll, post-up, or a spot-up? According to Synergy, it’s a spot-up, which is to say the plays are categorized by result, not process.

play-breakdown

The difference in the Nets and Raptors’ play-styles is partially illustrated in the chart above. The Nets like to run plays for Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in pick-and-roll scenarios, which is usually set up by their wing players — most notably Livingston — operating in the high post. On the other hand, the Raptors also run pick-and-rolls, but it’s usually as a means to set up spot-ups and post-ups. Lesson here? Exercise caution when extrapolating from Synergy data.

Finally, just to wrap this up, let’s lay out Vegas’ thoughts on the match-up. At the time of writing (04/17/14), the Nets are 15/1 to win the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are 20/1. As for Game One, the Raptors are -2.0 favorites at home, with the over/under set at 194. More money (53%/47%) is being played on Brooklyn than Toronto, so it appears to be a favorable line to bet if you’re bullish on the Raptors’ chances. Or not? I don’t understand how betting works because I’m not a degenerate gambler.

Prediction: Raptors in 7. The two teams are pretty equal.

Statistical support from NBA stats, basketball-reference, 82games.com, Synergy Sports and NBA Media Central

Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets, 10 Strategic and Tactical Elements To Look Out For

Will will follow up with a detailed statistical analysis of the series a little later in the afternoon, so I’m left to focus on some tactical elements of the Nets series, and how the Raptors have to excel in order to progress.

Adjusting to Small Ball Lineups

Two of the most used lineups by the Nets happen to be Williams-Livingston-Johnson-Pierce-Plumlee/Garnett.  It concedes size in the frontcourt for ball-handling and size in the backcourt.  The Raptors like to play Valanciunas and Johnson together, which means that if Valanciunas guards the biggest guy on the court (i.e., Plumlee or Garnett), it results in Johnson guarding Pierce.  This can be problematic on defense and beneficial on offense if Johnson.  The question is whether Casey retains Johnson in this matchup or gives the more nimble Patterson a crack at guarding Pierce, reducing the latter’s quickness advantage.  My view is that having Johnson guard Pierce is too risky because it moves our best interior defender away from said interior.  The Nets can exploit this quite easily and ask questions of Jonas Valanciunas’ help defense.  Like all things in life, this isn’t entirely black and white, and Casey has to find the right balance of when to use Patterson and Johnson in small-ball lineups.  One possible route to take is to have Patterson guard Pierce and shift Johnson to the center, leaving out Valanciunas.  Of course, pulling our biggest interior threat isn’t great, but nobody says this has to be a 48-minute move.  Finding the right balance of matchups by weighing them against fatigue, momentum and game flow is where coaches earn their money, and Dwane Casey is in the on-deck circle.

Use of Zone

30% of Nets shots are threes (compared to 28.5% for the Raptors) which is good for third in the league. They shoot 37% from three, meaning that it’s a good chunk of their offense. I posted a GIF from one the games with them this year showing examples of two poor close-outs on one possession. If that’s the sort of defense the Raptors intend to play, then they may as well raise the white flag. One strategy to counter their three-point shooting is the use of a 1-2-2 zone which does well to cover the perimeter. A matchup zone could also be effective, but leaves the threat of cutters, and given that the Raptors help/shot-blocking defense is left wanting at times, might be too risky. Essentially, over a seven-game series, Dwane Casey needs to have a few cards up his sleeve that give the Nets different looks. If he trots out with the same sort of defense, even a coach like Jason Kidd in conjunction with their veterans will figure out how to successfully attack. It’s no coincidence that the Raptors defense falling on tough statistical times (allowing more than 103 points in April and a free-falling defensive rating) has coincided with reduced use of zone defense by Dwane Casey, who previously had used it to good effect to throw off teams coming out of quarters. Let’s revisit that again.

Defend Without Fouling

In a series where superstar calls are likely to go the other way, the Raptors have to ensure that they defend without fouling.  The worst situation for the Raptors could be if they get into the penalty early in the quarter, and the Nets shoot free throws through Pierce and Johnson’s well-executed fakes.  This could prove disastrous as it slows the pace, which favors the older Nets far more than the Raptors, and turns this into a grind.  How well John Salmons, Terrence Ross, and perhaps Landry Fields do to contest without fouling is going to be a key factor in the series.   Pierce averaged a career-low 4.1 FTs this season – the Raptors have to keep him under that number.

Get to the Line

For the most part, the playoffs are a half-court game and in that setting a team has to grind out possessions even when the offense isn’t operating at a high efficiencies.   Read that as DeMar DeRozan being counted on to bail the team out when the offense is sputtering, and he can do that only if he’s able to get to the line consistently.  The onus here isn’t on DeMar DeRozan to drive in one-on-one situations, as that is not his strength.  It’s up to Dwane Casey to structure the offense and plays where DeRozan is in good positions to catch hand-offs, timely passes coming off curls, that see him going towards the rim with three-point shooters adequately positioned.  DeRozan, for his part, has to realize that the officials will be swallowing the whistle on the same plays where he got calls in the regular season.  This is going to be tough to come to terms with, but once he accepts this, he’ll realize that he’ll have to have an extra burst in his drives to get the result he desires.

Exploit the Center

The Raptors may be short on center depth, but they do have a center advantage.  Yes, Jonas Valanciunas presents a problem for any of Plumlee, Garnett, Collins and Blatche.   He’s done very well to improve the awareness in his offensive moves over the last month, and the Raptors will need to make sure that he’s well-fed.  Here’s the catch though: he is likely struggle to start the series due to nerves and the magnitude of the occasion, or perhaps the Nets recognize that sending a second defender throws him off and Valanciunas get flustered.  It’s how Casey responds to such tactics that will have far-reaching results.  Whether it be sending the helper’s man down the middle as a cutter, or moving the three-point shooter over by a few degrees – the Raptors have to make sure that Valanciunas is a well that they keep drawing water form – either through Valanciunas scores or Valanciunas-initiated offense.

The Shaun Livingston Problem

He’s tall, he has a mid-range game, and he can handle the ball.  He averaged 10 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds against the Raptors this season. Those are above his seasonal averages of 8.3, 3.2, and 3.2 with good reason.  He poses a matchup issue for Kyle Lowry because he’s very comfortable operating out of the post, and using screens to set himself up for open space around the elbows, from which he can drive or pull-up.  The Raptors will have some decisions to make regarding Livingston, but ultimately it’ll come down to whether they’re comfortable with Livingston taking on a scoring role at the expense of being a facilitator.  The Raptors may have the size at PG to stick with Livingston through someone like Julyan Stone, but playing the latter is tantamount to having an offensive void at one position, which Casey cannot risk.  If the Nets are featuring a Williams-Livingston backcourt, then the Raptors matchups work themselves out with Lowry guarding Williams.  If it’s Livingston alone at the point, that’s when you have to consider switching the shorter Lowry on Joe Johnson, tempting the Nets to operate out of an inefficient guard-post, and stick someone like Terrence Ross on Livingston and live with the consequences.

Offensive Rebounding

Brooklyn is the third worst defensive rebounding team in the league, only ahead of the Lakers and Milwaukee.  The Raptors rank 11th in offensive rebounding rate.  Put the two together and you’d surmise that this is an area where the Raptors have an edge. That edge, however, depends entirely on whether the lineup has Valanciunas and Johnson present, which is up for debate given the Nets’ small-ball tendencies.  From a personnel perspective, the Raptors have enough to get away with a lower shooting percentage by dominating the offensive glass.  For example, DeMar DeRozan’s shooting percentages dipped from January to February, February to March, and March to April.  He shot 41.6% in April and at 17.8 FGAs takes the  most shots on the team.  To withstand poor shooting nights by DeRozan, or Terrence Ross due to jitters, or simply surviving an off night from Kyle Lowry, offensive rebounds are critical.  Conceding offensive rebounds consistently is often a psychological blow for teams as it’s a deflating event that prompts the defense to start from scratch, which is exactly what the Raptors should aim to do.  If the Raptors are able to get more possessions through their perceived offensive rebounding edge, it affords them to play at a slower pace and increases the margin of error for shooting, both very valuable advantages.

Reacting to Ball Pressure

The Nets are third-best in the NBA at forcing turnovers (MIA, WAS).   They can apply pressure through Livingston, and have sound defensive players in Kirilenko and Garnett.  Possessions are the currency of the NBA and the Raptors cannot afford to have poor possessions that yield low-quality shots, or worse, turn it over.  Whether it be guys like Alan Anderson pressuring in the backcourt by playing DeRozan tight, or Garnett trying to get away with swipes against Valanciunas, the Raptors have to be cognizant of what the Nets are trying to do and anticipate their defense.  Easier said than done, and requires a ridiculous amount of tape-viewing to get right.  A good place to start might be to reduce the amount of ball-handling guys like DeRozan and Johnson have to do, both are poor ball-handlers and you can bet that when they’re dribbling, the Nets are smelling steals.  The Raptors do have Lowry, De Colo, and Vasquez that can handle the rock and they should be used as such.

The Stretch Four

You can throw any seasonal bench numbers out the window here because the playoffs are about matchups and more specifically, mismatches. Mirza Teletovic scares me in the same sense that Bostjan Nachbar did in 2006-07 – the Raptors have generally had trouble with stretch fours and Amir Johnson, for me, cannot cover the position well because he’s more comfortable staying inside and meeting offensive players rather than going out and covering them. Patterson, who like Teletovic comes off the bench, is a like-for-like counter and which big man has a greater impact off the bench could decide a game or two so in the series. Teletovic, when combined with guard like Livingston, can move without the ball well and has enough of a drive/shoot game to give the Raptors defense something other than their “big three” to worry about. The Raptors can’t afford to let their bench have big games and the second unit, led by Vasquez at the point, has to maintain enough offensive throughput to cancel out the contributions of the likes of Teletovic.

Passing Lane Accuracy

The foundational elements of the Raptors offense are good screen-setting and ball movement, which is a forced on and a by-product of not having a star player on the team.  This is much different than teams where reliance on a particular player to put pressure on the defense and create off of that is the norm.  In order for the Raptors offense to function fluidly, they need to be able to accurate, in-rhythm passes.  The Nets happen to be third in the NBA in steals and the Raptors are bottom-third in conceding turnovers to steals.  The Nets are excellent at ball denial in the post and perimeter, which means that in order for the Raptors to make inbound passes, post-passes to Valanciunas, flares to Ross, hand-offs to DeRozan, or even a simple point-to-wing after a down-screen, the Raptors have to have multiple options/angles to execute simple passes.

Let’s go Raps!

MLSE and the Raptors REALLY Don’t Want Us Selling Shirts

OK, they took down the other shirt too after it had 100+ sales, this after they had taken the previous one down after 200+ sales. I can’t even fathom what the “copyright infringement” is this time, but given that we have a playoff series to cover, we’ve decided to shift our attention to that. We certainly don’t have time to deal with stuff like this as we’re not staffed with a bunch of lawyers. We’ll relieve their legal team of weekend work and have this rather nefarious copyright claim investigated further, and come back after the playoffs with more good stuff.

Deepest apologies to the hundreds of people who bought the shirt, you have already been refunded in full. Back to basketball coverage.

Go Raptors!

Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets Q&A with The Brooklyn Game

We survived the MLSE takedown and have resurfaced with a better design anyway and a charity angle.

It’s finally here. After a long, six-year wait, there is Toronto Raptors playoff basketball to break down.

Because they basically threw up their hands over the season’s last few games, the Brooklyn Nets fell to sixth in the Eastern Conference to draw the Raptors. Did they tank for it, or did they just not prefer one outcome to another and let the chips land where they may? It doesn’t really matter, and considering Toronto’s seed was up in the air, too, it seems more likely Brooklyn just legitimately didn’t care, regardless of what Andray Blatche may be saying.

There’s plenty to be excited about in this series, but Zarar is going to touch down this afternoon with some of the key storylines in this series (and then Trilliam will come through with a stat breakdown for the nerdz). If you want a high-level take that leans on the opinions of William Lou and four others of relatively high intelligence, check out the ESPN 5-on-5 preview. If you want opinions from me and four basketball bros far smarter than myself, stay right here on this page.

To help set the stage for the series, I exchanged questions with Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game and enlisted the outsider opinion of three other very smart basketball bros. You shouldn’t take Devin’s words lightly – he’s a bright dude, and The Brooklyn Game does an excellent job of removing bias from their analysis of the Nets. I wish I could say the same for my answers, but what can you do?

Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game

Blake: Like the Raptors only later, the Nets underwent a huge mid-season turnaround. At a glance, the decision to utilize smaller lineups, specifically with Paul Pierce playing more power forward, was a key. What changed for this team when the calendar flipped over to 2014?
Devin: That’s the major difference. Ironically enough, the Nets performed their best once their best player got hurt, switching Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup for Brook Lopez and moving everyone but Williams “up” a position. It spread the floor and allowed Garnett to play at center, which has made a huge difference in their defensive efficiency. I call it “longball,” not “smallball.” Here’s more info on that.

Blake: Most likely double-technical: Tyler Hansbrough and Andray Blatche, Tyler Hansbrough and Kevin Garnett or Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Hansbrough?
Devin: Hansbrough and Garnett, easily. Blatche isn’t a technical magnet and probably won’t even play enough minutes with Mason Plumlee usurping his spot in the rotation. Garnett leads the Nets with nine technical fouls on the season despite missing 28 games and playing just 20 minutes per contest. If he doesn’t get into a scuffle with Hansbrough, that’ll be more surprising.

Outsider Interlude

Andrew Unterberger of The 700 Level (and he’s kind of, tangentially, a co-worker, I guess) shared his thoughts in 100 words:

Well, it wasn’t the series I was hoping for on either end–wanted that Bulls-Nets rematch of last year’s epic first-rounder, and thought Lowry/DeMar vs. Wall/Beal had sneaky classic potential–but it’ll do. Hansbrough vs. Garnett will be a bloodbath, Kidd and Casey have their history, and best of all, Kyle Lowry gets to avenge his February snub in favor of Seven-Time All-Star Joe Johnson in grandiose fashion. Clearly, this was the matchup the Nets wanted, and while I think the Raps will give Brooklyn all they can handle, with the way Brooklyn’s been playing since the calendar turned–when they’re actually trying to win, anyway–it’s hard to pick against the playoff-tested Nets vets in this one.

Real talk, though: Who do you think Vince Carter is rooting for?


Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game

Blake: Kevin Garnett averaged just 20.5 minutes and 6.5 points and played sparingly down the stretch, though the defense seemed to come around when he began playing more center. What do you expect from Garnett in this series?
Devin: I expect him to play more minutes, despite Kidd saying he’ll go with the same rotation. It’s the playoffs, after all. This is why they traded for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to lead them in the postseason. 25-30 minutes is my estimate, depending on Plumlee’s foul trouble and Blatche’s level of interest defensively. He’s also their defensive X-Factor — he deters drives to the basket and is by far their best big pick-and-roll/HORNS defender. If the Raptors aren’t scoring in the paint, he’s why.

Blake: What player on the Raptors poses the biggest match-up problem for the Nets on the defensive end?
Devin: Lowry. Duh. He’s an incredible scorer and he’s given the Nets fits in all four games this season. Deron Williams can be a good defender in spurts when engaged, but Lowry’s just too quick and strong for Williams to contain him by himself. They could switch Livingston onto Lowry, but then you’ve got to put Williams on either Ross or DeRozan, which I don’t see happening.

Blake: Number of interesting things Jason Kidd says in this series: over/under 0.5?
Devin: I’m assuming he slips up after one loss and taking the over.


Outsider Interlude

Jared Dubin of just about everywhere – but specifically Grantland, Bloomberg, and Hardwood Paroxysm – shared his thoughts in 100 words:

Remember in December, when we were all making jokes about how bad the Atlantic Division was? Fun times. A Rudy Gay trade, a Brook Lopez injury, and an Indiana slump later, and both Atlantic teams have a pretty legitimate argument that they’re the second best team in the East, regardless of where they’re seeded. This particular series will likely come down to how Toronto handles Brooklyn’s length on both sides of the ball. The Nets’ “long ball” alignment is challenging for a lot of teams, but Toronto has the size on the perimeter to match up with them pretty well. The key match-up, to me, is Paul Pierce and Amir Johnson. Pierce needs to pull Amir out of the lane so he can’t play help D on the Livingston and Joe Johnson post-ups, and Amir needs to victimize Pierce both on the block and in pick and roll situations. Whoever wins that match-up, wins the series, I think.


Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game

Devin: Despite the fact that they’re the sixth seed, some fans wanted the Raptors matchup because they feel more confident than against the Bulls. Do you think the Raptors are getting undersold? They don’t have a lot of stars, so how are they so good?
Blake: I’m not sure undersold is the right way to put it, because the Bulls are a pretty terrifying match-up for any of the five-through-seven seeds. I certainly wouldn’t want to play them. With that said, there are two factors that seem to make people shrug their shoulders at the Raptors: their best player is ‘just’ Kyle Lowry, and they’re the Raptors. But they’re very good, and Lowry is excellent, even if that fact isn’t universally known. You don’t post the best record in an entire conference, no matter how bad, over four-plus months without some serious talent. It’s more of a system-based, whole-better-than-the-sum-of-their-parts thing, but they’re also underrated defensively and have two, maybe three (Jonas Valanciunas) guys who can be trusted to score when needed.

Devin: It seems like the Raptors immediately got better once Rudy Gay left the picture. Was it that simple?
Blake: At the time, kind of. He was using almost 31 percent of the team’s possessions and had a true shooting percentage of -31, so simply re-distributing those possessions more efficiently was bound to help. Of course, Gay isn’t that bad and was bound to regress (as he did in Sacramento), but the near-instant regression for the Raptors and the introduction of a more holistic brand of ball reinvigorated the team and, just as important as the Gay trade, kept the Raptors from blowing things up further. I could write 5,000 words on this but, in short, Gay’s removal allowed for a bunch of marginal gains (DeRozan improving, Lowry with a bigger role, Ross/Valanciunas development) that added up to be a big deal.

Devin: Who should the Nets be afraid of that might not show up on the first page of a scouting report?
Blake: It depends on how good Lawrence Frank’s daily reports are, I guess. I’d assume the Nets are very familiar with the Raptors, having played them four times but what they may not realize is that since they last saw Toronto, Valanciunas has turned a major corner offensively. Since the March 10 loss in Brooklyn, he’s averaged 14.9 points and 10 rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting, up from 10.2 and 8.5 on 51.4 percent. He’s found his stride in terms of post-up offense and is finally making good decisions as the dive-man with consistency.

Devin: Despite leading his team to a division win, there’s not a lot of national press for Dwane Casey. What’s the skinny on him as a coach? Does he deserve more publicity?
Blake: Casey is tough to evaluate given what’s transpired the past three years. In his first year, the team was tanking, something Bryan Colangelo later admitted to. Still, Casey coaxed a No. 14 defense out of a team that gave Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Gray and Gary Forbes a combined 5,303 minutes. Last year, he did an awful job, but the team also underwent two pretty major turnovers, and the offense made strides. This year, the team is top-10 on both ends of the floor. So he’s now shown an ability on each end twice in three years. What do you make of that? Nothing from the numbers, really. He’s clearly got an effective plan when it comes to defense, and he understands what his players can and can’t do (except for John Salmons). Like any coach, he has issues, like offensive creativity in close games and playing John Salmons 6.6 minutes per fourth quarter. Is this enough words to say “I’m still not entirely sold, but I like him and, at worst, think he’s a solid defensive coach who needs a strong offensive assistant?”

Outsider Interlude

Michael Pina of Fox Sports, True Hoop Network, Grantland, etc, shared his thoughts in 100 words:

A Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors matchup is too juicy for the first round. Both teams are worthy of a spot in the Conference Finals, and both have a quality offense and acceptable defense. Both can go small, and both have capable bench players—ranging from Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson to Andre Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko—who fill their holes and know their place.

The Raptors deserve home-court for their awesome regular season, but this series is as good a candidate as any to go the distance, and even in their advanced age it’s so difficult to bet against Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Kevin Garnett in a seventh game. Experience is far from the only factor, but it must be accounted for.


Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game

Blake: What’s your prediction for the series, and what’s the key reason?

Devin: Let’s put it this way: I expect the Nets to have a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 at home. If they can close out, I’ll take them in 6. But if they don’t, I expect the Raptors to win a Game 7 at home. The Raptors have flown under the radar all season, but they’re a deep, talented team with players that know their roles and execute. It’ll be a tough, close series either way, and I think whichever team wins at home in the last two games is the one that’ll move on.

Prediction for the series… Who you taking, and why?

Blake: Raptors in seven, because WE THE NORTH dammit. I think the experience factor is apparent, though exaggerated. I think the teams are razor-close in terms of overall quality, especially when looking at just their play since the turn of the new year and their four meetings. I think Kyle Lowry is the best player in the series. And I think I’d be a bad fan to not pick the Raptors in a series so close.

We’re selling this copyright-safe t-shirt to get some funds for the site. They’re only $14.99, so do grab yourself one. Partial proceeds go to United Way. We appreciate your support.

Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

Eating Ice Cream with the Enemy

There will be series preview coverage all throughout the day here on Raptors Republic (pieces at 9, 11, 1 and 4, I believe), but if you want to sneak across enemy lines and read what those who cover the Nets are saying, here are three resources.

The Brooklyn Game – Not only is their layout fantastic and their coverage incredibly deep, Deven Kharpertian joined us for a Q&A that will be up later this morning.

Nets Daily – Reed Wallach has a really nice tactical breakdown of some key strategic elements of the series, which we had discussed over email.

Basketball Breakdown – A six-minute video on the tactical side of the series, well worth a watch. Coach Nick is neutral, by the way, covering the league as a whole, not just the Nets.

Doctor Is In Podcast, April 18 – Playoff Preview

It’s the wee hours of the morning and somewhere Dwayne Casey is watching tape of the Brooklyn Nets.  Likewise, the lads from the World Wide Round Table gathered under the moonlight to preview the Raptors playoff series with Brooklyn for this week’s The Doctor is In with Phdsteve.

Joined by Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog and Zarar (filling in for my brother Mike) we discuss the 2013-14 Raptors as a remake of the Bad Boy Pistons before launching into a an all-out overview of every imaginable angle to what Raptors and Nets fans can expect from this series.  Just some of the questions we explore are:

  • Who wins game 1?  And does winning game 1 even matter?
  • What about scheduling? Do the extra days off help or hurt?
  • How much does having experience factor into winning this series?
  • Should Raptors Republic get sued for making T-shirts?
  • What about defence? Who has the upper hand defencively?
  • Should the Raptors try and play small ball to adjust to the Nets?
  • Which team has the advantage when it comes to: benches, coaches, reputation?
  • #morecowbell
  • Young legs- myth or reality?
  • The refs, getting the calls, and conspiracy theories.
  • And so much more!!!!!

Be sure to stick around after the outro for a fun filled 2 mins where the talk continues “off the record.”

Note: there is some language in this podcast if you are listening with Grandma or the kids.

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter

You can follow Greg on Twitter @votaryofhoops and check out his work on the NBA drafts top prospects with my brother Mike at ESPN True Hoop Affiliate Bucksketball.com

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 (08:38, 66 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 18

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets | Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo Sports

I’m skeptical we’ll see much game-changing play from Garnett, who’s got a balky back and whom we’ve barely seen over the past two months. I think Ross and Johnson can hold their own defensively against Johnson and Pierce, and that Toronto’s athleticism will help them avoid major breakdowns on the Nets’ ball swings. The Nets have had trouble curbing point-guard production all season, and now they’ll get both barrels of Lowry, who averaged 22 points, six assists and 4.8 rebounds per game against them on 50/48.1/88.2 shooting splits this season.

10 Bold Predictions for the 2014 NBA Playoffs – Brooklyn Will Defeat Toronto Handily in Round 1 | Bleacher Report

The Raptors are a great story and a team that will undoubtedly become an annual staple of the playoff picture moving forward. But it’s rather difficult to bet against a team in the first round that’s led by Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and the offensive stylings of Deron Williams with help from key contributors like Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko. And here’s the kicker: According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, the last time the Raptors won the Atlantic Division and captured the No. 3 seed, they bowed out in the first round against Kidd’s New Jersey Nets.

What’s at Stake for Every NBA Playoffs Participant – No. 3 Seed, Toronto Raptors, Their Best Season Ever—for Now | Bleacher Report

The Raptors have an opportunity to have their best season ever and then follow it up with an even better one. They’re on their way to being one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, and Raptors fans should enjoy this taste, but there’s no need to savor it. Even sweeter things will come.

Nets still ladened with heavy burden of title hopes: Feschuk | Toronto Star

There’s more than enough evidence to suggest the Nets weren’t even thinking about Toronto when they hatched their late-season lay-down. Brooklyn’s Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn’t spend approximately $190 million in salaries and luxury tax charges, the biggest such bill in NBA history, dreaming of conquering Canada in an epic best-of-seven. Prokhorov’s is a team that fancies itself built for the championship conversation. With that in mind, it’s undoubtable that the Nets, in their brash maneuvering to finish as the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, were looking past the Raptors to what they saw as their best second-round matchup — the second-seeded Miami Heat. Though the Heat are defending champions, the Nets swept their four-game season series against LeBron et al. In other words: The Raptors, when they play their first post-season game in about six years on Saturday, won’t simply be gifting a rare moment of electric exuberance to the citizens of a relative sporting wasteland.

Playoff Scouting Report: What the Nets need to do to beat the Raptors | NetsDaily

Overall, the Raptors have some conflicting stats. Synergy says Toronto has the fifth highest transition rate of any team in the league. However, they rank 23 in pace this season. The team does like to push the ball into the frontcourt and apply pressure on the defense to get set. The Nets know that they are going to have trouble rebounding against the big frontline of the Raptors, so they might as well send one or two guys back to prevent the Raptors from getting too much time in the half court.Another common form of the Raptors offense comes from spot ups. The Raptors rank ninth in the league in the amount of offense through spot ups this season which is a testament to how much spacing they have on the floor. The Nets can stop this by closing out with a high hand and using their length to put a hand in Toronto’s shooters faces. However, this season the Nets did a poor job of defending spot ups, ranking 28 in that category, per Synergy.

Lewenberg: Raps look to squash playoff inexperience stigma | TSN

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Raptors are a young, inexperienced team. They’ve heard about too, it’s the narrative that drives this series. Lowry and Amir Johnson account for all 24 games of playoff experience in the Raptors’ starting lineup. Neither have been to the dance in five years, neither have ever started a postseason game. Meanwhile the Nets’ starters have played in 399 postseason games. They have six players who have logged more than twice as many playoff minutes as any Raptor. They’ll be reminded of it over and over again for two weeks and then, should they advance to round two, it’ll be revisited once again. They can’t run from it, not until they prove it’s a non-factor, but give them credit for the effort.

Raptors coach Casey to Nets: Be careful what you wish for | TSN

“Man, we’ve had a chip on our shoulder all year. We don’t care. It ain’t going to stop now,” said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan. “The same chip we had before the season even started, we’ve got it now. Nothing’s going to change, it don’t matter who we’re playing against. At the end of the day it’s a playoff team. Only the good teams make the playoffs, right? You’re going to have to play somebody good so it don’t matter to us.”

Inexperience doesn’t faze Raptors | Toronto Sun

It was downright funny, not to mention enlightening, to hear DeMar DeRozan deconstruct the whole experience disadvantage. “I mean, it ain’t like it’s rocket science or nothing,” DeRozan said about the game of basketball in the post-season. “Everybody keeps talking to me like, bringing it up like it’s rocket science or I’ve got to know trigonometry or something. You just figure it out. You just go out there. I’ve been playing this game long enough, I’ve been in the league long enough, been in a lot of situations, so it shouldn’t be hard.” And if you are Masai Ujiri or Dwane Casey, that is exactly what you want to hear from one of your key, young, players. Casey readily admits the game changes once the regular season is put to bed. Everything from more physicality, to more attention to detail, to fewer whistles comes into play.

Raptors’ Lowry thrives in N.Y. spotlight | Toronto Sun

Whether in Manhattan or Brooklyn, Lowry made sure he made the best of playing on two of the NBA’s biggest stages. Lowry averaged 17.9 points on 42.3% shooting (38% from three) against the league as a whole, but improved to 22 points a game on 50% shooting (48% from three) against the Nets and 23.5 points on 53/48% shooting against the Knicks. Against the Knicks, Lowry made a point of showing owner James Dolan what he was missing (Dolan nixed a deal with the Raptors that would have made both teams’ seasons quite different). When Brooklyn was on the docket, Lowry was mostly a buzzsaw. He made a good final impression against the Nets (21 points, seven assists, eight rebounds in a win) right before the all-star reserves wdere named, but, somehow, the East’s coaches made a huge error in picking Joe Johnson for the final spot over the far more deserving Raptor.

Raptors coach, GM shrug off Nets tank talk | Toronto Sun

“Good for them,” Ujiri said when the question of whether the Nets tried to orchestrate the matchup was raised. “You know what? We haven’t lost one second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the day, if we want to be a good team, we have to play good teams. We’re not hoping for anybody. We’re in the playoffs. You have to play. They can do whatever they want. We’ll be right here.” Ujiri agreed the Raptors have been underplayed in NBA circles since their inception, but put the onus on himself to change that. “That’s my responsibility, in some kind of way,” he said. “We have to build a brand that people want to see … We have to put a team together that’s competitive and wants to win. Our guys want to win. They’re competitive. I always say: When we get good enough, people will watch … I’ll tell you one thing: People will watch the Raptors, eventually. People in the States, people here. We want to play. We want to win. We want to compete out there.”

Raptors playoff history – a look at previous post-season appearances | Toronto Sun

One series win, three head coaches, five springs where the Raptors had chances, some legitimate, to make an impression. For the sixth time in the Raptors’ 19-year history, the franchise will be under the post-season microscope, beginning with Game 1 on Saturday afternoon against the visiting Brooklyn Nets. For the second time, the Raptors enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and Atlantic Division champions for the first time since 2007 when, oddly enough, they were matched up against the Nets when the team was based in New Jersey.

Toronto Raptors’ Amir Johnson, Brooklyn Nets’ Paul Pierce a key matchup in opening round | National Post

“We’ll see how we handle it,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, declining to give away any state secrets. “When they spread [the floor] with Paul, they’re lethal — a lot like [Oklahoma City] with Durant at [power forward]. There are things we can do to try to counteract that and take advantage of it.” It is interesting that Casey mentioned Oklahoma City. Johnson spent the majority of that game chasing Durant on the perimeter. The likely MVP scored 51 points in a Thunder win, but the Raptors were a series of odds-defying plays away from winning that game, which went into double overtime. “We can go small. But Amir is pretty athletic,” Lowry said. “He’s versatile. I think he can do a pretty good job of guarding guys and keeping Paul in front of him and trying to make Paul shoot over top of him.”

NBA playoffs: Ranking the first-round series by entertainment value | The Point Forward – SI.com

This is a sneaky good series with a lot going on, headlined by the new jacks vs. old hands narrative. To see the fresh-faced and bushy-tailed Raps in the postseason should be reason enough to tune in. Ditto for a chance to check out a Nets team of familiar faces as it kicks off its playoff run. The real draw, though, is just how testy and competitive the season series between these teams turned out to be. Three of the four games were decided by seven total points. The games were appropriately split 2-2 with neither team claiming any significant advantage. It should be a coin flip of a series made all the better by the fact that these teams talk. Any series with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce involved is bound to be chatty, and the Raptors have managed to dial up the game’s tension by playing well and responding in kind.

2014 NBA Playoffs: Toronto Raptors-Brooklyn Nets preview – ESPN

William Lou, Raptors Republic: The playoff-intensity version of Kyle Lowry is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Lowry is the catalyst behind the Raptors’ superlative chemistry, and he’s the point of attack on both ends of the floor. He leads the league in charges taken, he’s deadly from deep, and he’ll be the one with the ball in his hands when the Raptors need a bucket.

Send me your Raptors-related links and articles: [email protected]

Quotes: Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri React to Nets Wanting to Play Raptors

Dwane Casey on the Nets wanting to play them:

“It would tick me off if that was the case. . . If they did, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.  For us, we were going to take whoever came to us, whether it was Brooklyn or Washington or Charlotte. We were prepared for all three teams.”

Masai Ujiri on the same:

“Good for them,” Ujiri said. “You know what? We haven’t lost one — I know I haven’t and I can sense from the players — second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the day if we want to be a good team, we have to play good teams. We’re not hoping for anybody. We’re in the playoffs. You have to play.  ”They can do whatever they want. We’ll be right here.”

RR on the same:

Winning this series is going to be sweet.  I will personally drive down to New Jersey, collect the tears of all Nets fans and players in a giant bucket, and then bathe in them.

We can’t blame the Nets for angling to play us, we are the least experienced bunch and they have historical reasons to believe that this would be a favorable matchup for them.  The trouble for them is that the Raptors have beaten them when they’ve been at their best, and this collection of Nets “stars” have met with nothing but failure over their last two playoff campaings, so really, who should be worried?

It doesn’t say much for the Nets’ character or mental strength if they’re scared of the Chicago Bulls who have Derrick Rose out.  You would think they’d be hoping for a rematch with them to avenge last year’s playoff exit, but here they are gaming the system.

As for the pressure, it’s entirely on them as they’ve the high-profile assembled to win the East.

I look forward to this.

MLSE Claims Copyright For “Kings In The North” Shirt; RR Prints New Shirts; Partial Proceeds to United Way

front

We had over 200 sales on our awesome-looking Kings In The North shirt before we received communication from Teespring, informing us that they are unable to process the order due to a copyright claim. We presume it’s because we used the phrase “Toronto Raptors”. All orders have been refunded – sorry about that, we’re obviously very sad, we were kind of hoping it was George R.R Martin making the claim because that would be awesome.

It’s disappointing that they’ve come after us, a site that provides constant and continuous promotion of the Toronto Raptors brand, but hey, we understand that at the end of the day it’s about money and for every dollar you spend on RR, you give one less to MLSE. Also, guys, just contact us next time – way easier that way.

Where do we go from here? We print new shirts with the offending words removed, of course – same price, $14.99. Thank you in advance for purchasing – we appreciate it and will also donate partial proceeds to United Way.

Click here to purchase for $14.99 – we love you for supporting us.

2013-14 Raptors now litter franchise leaderboards

It’s been quite the season for the Toronto Raptors. What we’ll likely remember about this season years from now is “48,” the team’s win total for the year, the most ever in franchise history.

But the win total isn’t the only record the Raptors set as a franchise this season. In fact, between a few team marks and some impressive individual seasons, the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors have assaulted the 19-year-old Raptors record books.

Team Records
Obviously, the big one is “wins,” but this year’s Raptors team is also the most prolific 3-point shooting team in franchise history, as well. Along with the wins comes the mark for best margin of victory, which tells us that this isn’t a Raptors team that just got lucky all year in a reverse-Timberwolves of sorts. No Raptors team has ever beaten opponents this much and by this great a margin.

Stat Value Rank Previous Record
W 48 1st 47 (00-01, 06-07)
3FG 713 1st 648 (04-05)
3FGA 1917 1st 1681 (04-05)
MOV 3.24 1st 2.9 (07-08)

Individual Records
This franchise employed Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for a number of years each, so while there’s not a long track record of team success, there have been some very strong individual performances. Still, four Raptors combined to take down seven franchise records this season.

Stat Player Value Previous Record
3FG Lowry 190 177 (Morris Peterson, 05-06)
3FGA Lowry 500 496 (Damon Stoudamire, 96-97)
eFG% Johnson 58% 57.5 (Jose Calderon, 07-08)
FG% Johnson 56.2% 55.4 (Amir Johnson, 12-13)
FT DeRozan 519 504 (Chris Bosh, 08-09)
FTA DeRozan 630 617 (Chris Bosh, 08-09)
RB% Valanciunas 18.2% 17.7 (Chris Bosh, 09-10)

Note: Amir Johnson has actually had better FG% and eFG% marks but did not technically qualify in those years.
Having the top mark is obviously a big deal, but it’s impressive, too, just to rank among the best seasons ever. Those same four Raptors and one more now find themselves in the top-five seasons in various categories.

Stat 2013-14 Leader Value Rank Record Holder Record
FG% Valanciunas 53.1% 3rd Johnson, 13-14 56.2%
PTS DeRozan 1791 3rd Carter, 99-00 2107
WS Lowry 11.6 3rd Carter, 00-01 12.9
FGA DeRozan 1407 4th Carter, 99-00 1696
WS/48 Lowry 0.196 4th Carter, 00-01 0.208
3FGA Ross 408 5th Lowry, 13-14 500
FG DeRozan 604 5th Carter, 99-00 788
MIN DeRozan 3017 5th Stoudamire, 96-97 3311
PF Johnson 271 5th Johnson, 12-13 301
PPG DeRozan 22.7 5th Carter, 00-01 27.6

Career Records
The career record book is where any enterprising Raptor can really make a name, as nobody but Bosh has really stuck around long enough to leave a lasting imprint. That, combined with the unprecedented efficiency of a pair of post players, have current Raptors owning the best career franchise mark in a handful of stats (minimum 2000 minutes). Obviously, worse performance later in their careers could knock these players off their perches.

Stat Player Value Rank Previous Record
eFG% Johnson 57.8% 1st 56.6 (Matt Bonner)
TS% Johnson 60.4% 1st 58.9 (Matt Bonner)
FG% Johnson 57.2% 1st 54.8 (Rasho Nesterovic)
RB% Valanciunas 16.9% 1st 16.8 (Ed Davis)

With a young team that hasn’t had much stability beyond Johnson, you probably weren’t expecting many franchise record-holders…yet. The current group, however, find themselves climbing the leaderboard, ranking in the top-five for several career marks.

Stat Career Value Rank Record Value
BLK Johnson 421 2nd Bosh 600
TS% Valanciunas 59.3% 2nd Johnson 60.4%
WS/48 Lowry 0.17 2nd Marshall 0.179
FT DeRozan 1617 3rd Bosh 2997
FTA DeRozan 1984 3rd Bosh 3767
ORB Johnson 891 3rd Bosh 1369
PF Johnson 1299 3rd Peterson 1344
TRB Johnson 2380 3rd Bosh 4776
APG Lowry 6.9 4th Stoudamire 8.8
FG% Valanciunas 54.0% 4th Johnson 57.2%
FG DeRozan 2327 5th Bosh 3614
FGA DeRozan 5207 5th Carter 7944
PPG DeRozan 16.7 5th Carter 23.4
PTS DeRozan 6402 5th Bosh 10275
WS Johnson 27.7 5th Bosh 61.8
WS/48 Johnson 0.142 5th Marshall 0.179

Playoff Records
I know, I know, everyone’s focus is now on the playoffs. Well, if this is truly the start of a successful run for the franchise, all of the team’s playoff records will be in play: games (20, Antonio Davis), points (385, Vince Carter), rebounds (211, Davis), assists (115, Chris Childs), and so on. Go to the second round or further this season and then return next season, and the current roster could quickly own all of the franchise’s playoff marks. Hey, make a title run this season and they’ll probably do it…worth a shot, right?

Look Out For This Play: It Beat Us Last Time, Let It Not Happen Again

We had Amir Johnson guarding Paul Pierce, who as good as a defender he is, shouldn’t be covering a guy like Paul Pierce on the perimeter. Pierce faked him out easily, which prompted slight help from Lowry, whose man went to the perimeter and Lowry’s close-out was too hard. Pierce flared back out and Johnson was caught: he had to either help on the driving William, or go back out to cover Pierce, on which he was late. A case could be made that it was Valanciunas’ rotation to be made on the driving Pierce, but the bottom line is this: It’s tough to survive one perimeter fake which leads to a drive, very difficult to survive two. And the Nets are full of veterans that can execute perimeter fakes very effectively – look out for this in the series.

DistantElementaryCanvasback

Season in Review

So, umm, wow. What a season, right?

It’s honestly, truly been a wild ride from October to now, and I don’t think many thought the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors would be about to host a playoff series for the first time since 2006-07, or even be making their first playoff appearance since 2007-08.

Think about those dates for a second – the Raptors haven’t played playoff basketball since 2008. I’ve been writing about the team since the summer of that year and don’t have one “Raptors playoff post” in my portfolio. I wrote my first post for Raptors Republic on July 21, 2009 following a 33-49 season and subsequently covered a 40-42 squad, a 22-60 laughingstock, a 23-43 outfit, a 34-48 team and then, finally, this year, a playoff team.

And not just a playoff team. A likable playoff team, one that has players you really want to root for, one that seems to enjoy playing together as much as we enjoy watching them. It’s fun and it’s exciting, and while Friday here at RR will bring with it a ton of preview content for the series ahead, today I wanted to look back and relive the journey, with “favorite moments” from other writers interspersed.

October 29
Raptors Republic season preview.
The most optimistic RR scribe, William, pegs the Raptors for a 44-38 record. The most optimistic of our writers undershot the team’s record. Yes, a lot changed from the start of the season, but it serves as a reminder just how far this squad outstripped preseason expectations.

Sam Holako: Leo Rautins joining Twitter; this is a serious one for me: many of you know how much I’ve hated his style of commenting over the years, which naturally led to a deep seeded hatred of him to the point that I’d watch games on mute (or listen to to the radio), but God bless social media; he’s a dude and seems like a decent one at that. Swirsky can still go f**…

December 3
The Raptors blow a 27-point lead, lose to the Warriors by nine and fall to 6-11.
While the record would get worse after a loss to Phoenix, bottoming out at 6-12, this was unquestionably the low-point of the season. Things had already started poorly, but this was unbelievable. 27 points? They blew a 27 POINT LEAD? Andrew was right to title his post-game The Aristocrats.

William Lou: Remembering Rudy Gay’s brief 18-game stretch with the Raptors this season: 1) he banned stat sheets in the locker room, presumably because every player understands how percentages work. 2) The infamous OT loss to the Rockets when Gay shot 11-for-37 from the field. 3) When a subset of fans thought Gay’s off-season eye-surgery would fix his shooting woes, when the issue all-along was shot-selection. Thanks for the memories, Rudy!

December 8-9
The Raptors beat the Lakers in a fun 106-94 game, one they played without Rudy Gay because the next day, Gay was traded to Sacramento.
This is the big one. While at the time it looked like step two in a tear-down meant to free the team of bad contracts and bottom out, there were signs it would make the team better. Gay was using 31 percent of the team’s offensive possessions with a 42.1 true shooting percentage, numbers bound to regress to his career norms (and they certainly did in Sacramento, so good for him) but ones that were dragging the team down. The fans had turned on him, and when I saw him after the Brooklyn game on Nov. 26, he looked like a broken man. The trade maybe wasn’t supposed to send the team surging towards the top of the East, but handing the reigns to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, adding valuable depth pieces and allowing for more development from Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas all provided marginal gains that added up to make this a wildly different team.

Date Record O_Rating (Rank) D_Rating (Rank) Net_Rating (rank)
Oct 30 – Dec 7 6-12 101 (19) 102.1 (15) -1 (19)
Dec 7 – April 15 42-21 107.5 (9) 102.5 (8) 5 (6)
Through 81 games 48-33 106 (9) 102.4 (9) 3.7 (8)

December 12-ish
The Raptors don’t trade Kyle Lowry.
The rumoured deal would have been structured around Kyle Lowry heading to the Knicks for some flotsam and, most importantly, a 2018 first-round pick. The logic for the Raptors was to continue the tear-down by jettisoning one of the team’s best players and adding an asset that could help build for the future or be used to acquire something else later. Knicks’ owner James Dolan reportedly balked at including the pick, and instead Lowry remained with the Raptors, becoming the team’s MVP. This is, without a doubt, the biggest thing that didn’t happen to the Raptors this season.

Tamberlyn Richardson: The continual growth of our young core is reflected in multiple individual and team records, the most impressive of which is every starter registering career highs in points per game. My standout moment of the season came on the first road trip following the trade when Toronto beat Dallas in overtime and followed by becoming the first team to beat Oklahoma City on their home court this season. Underlying this record season is the ascension of Kyle Lowry as a leader who best embodies the Raptors’ no-quit, bull dog identity.

December 20-22
The Raptors pull off an unlikely 19-point comeback against the Mavericks on the road, and follow it up two nights later by becoming the first team this season to win in Oklahoma City, once again needing a big comeback to do so.
The Raptors had gone 3-2 since the trade, but the schedule and sample size were such that it was tough to glean much from it. This may have been the best – and most unlikely – two-game stretch in franchise history, but at the time it was still just that, a two-game stretch. Beneath the surface, however, it planted very legitimate seeds that this team was better than they were being given credit for.

Tim Chisholm: The five-game win streak after Christmas that solidified, for me, that the post-trade productivity wasn’t a fluke. Watching the pieces fit together once Dwane Casey had a chance to work with them and implement his system showed not only how well the pieces fit together but how capable the coach was at integrating all the parts. Suddenly ’13-’14 was a real season.

January 1, 5, 7
The Raptors shock the Pacers, then a few days later almost do it to the Heat, too, following it up by nearly stunning Indiana again.
They beat the top team in the conference and then hung with the two very best teams in the conference in back-to-back games. It’s always tough to think a team built momentum in a loss, but if it was possible, it happened here. This was right around the time of ”we out here like Michael Phelps” , and the Raptors had managed to get through some choppy waters with minimal damage. Of course, as I wrote at the time, they were at a point now where moral victories would no longer suffice.

Garrett Hinchey: January 1, 2014. The Raptors are on a mini-roll since the Rudy Gay trade, having upped their record to 14-15. Their opponent, the powerhouse Indiana Pacers, come into town with a league-best record and championship aspirations. Too much, too soon, right?
Wrong. 95-82 Raptors, as the team announces their arrival into the east’s elite with force in a wire-to-wire win. New year, new team, new attitude. Laughingstocks no more, all hail the kings in the north.

February 16
DeMar DeRozan plays in the NBA All-Star Game.
Hey, Lowry should have been there too, and All-Star nods don’t mean much in the win column, but this was a pretty resounding affirmation that people outside of Toronto were recognizing what had been happening. DeRozan, after all, is just the fourth All-Star in franchise history.

Doc Naismith: My favorite part has to be this last month or two with respect to the media (outside of Toronto & Canada) giving this team more credit and positive reaffirmation that is ever has since the club’s inaugural season. Mine and most NBA analysts thoughts coming into this year was one of opportunity for growth, development and experience for such a young core. The Raptors not only reinvigorated a die-hard fanbase, but they also put a franchise back on the NBA map that hasn’t been this alive since the Vince Carter glory days.

March 21
The Raptors lose in double-overtime to the Thunder.
Remember how I said earlier the time for moral victories had ended? Well, this is a great example of that. Earlier in the year or in prior seasons, hanging with the Thunder through two overtimes would have been a major victory, even in a loss. This had some positive signs, of course, and was the best game I’ve ever attended, but the fact that fans actually expected this one to end in victory as it was happening was an enormous divergence from the norm for this franchise.

PhD Steve: a season in review…in haiku

it has been a joy
to see those who wish to tank
have to eat their words

Tim W: My favourite part of the season was when the Raptors snagged the number one pick in the draft. Oh, wait…

March 23
The Raptors beat the Hawks.
That’s it, a win against a mediocre team? Not exactly. Once again, it was a fourth quarter comeback, their ninth of the season. Better yet, it led to the greatest GIF of all time.

Zarar Sidiqi: Winning that game in Brooklyn on the Patterson steal and jumper. It exemplified the team’s turnaround in one play: you had Dwane Casey reading Jason Kidd’s mind for the inbound defense, Patterson making the defensive play, giving it up to the floor general in Lowry, who in years past might have taken the selfish jumper. No this time, he read the defense and made the right dish for a huge win on the road.

April 14
The Raptors win their 48th game of the season.
The most wins in a single season in franchise history. Considering the franchise has only once won a playoff series, it would be hard to argue that this isn’t the most successful season in team history if they can win a round this year. 19 seasons, and this is the one with the most wins. And maybe the most fun, too.

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Podcast: Raptors-Nets Playoff Matchup 15-Minute Unedited Reaction

After the Nets tanked and the Raptors emptied the bench, which happened right after the Bulls lost, Will and I got together for a 15-minute pod. We react to the Nets-Raptors playoff matchup and the Nets’ blatant tanking in a 15-minute quick-fire pod where micro-analysis of the upcoming matchup is performed. Of course, the Raptors Weekly aired on Sunday is now entirely relevant again since Andrew and I covered the Nets matchup quite well, but here’s a more hot-blooded reaction to the Nets tanking anyway.

We talk:

- Nets tanking
- What could’ve been for Charlotte
- What it is for Washington
- Shift of EC Finals path is now BKN/MIA instead of WAS/IND
- Just what Blake does around here

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 (16:36, 20 MB). Or just listen below:

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Raps’ year ends with meaningless loss, bring on Brooklyn

To say last night was an exciting night for fans of Eastern Conference basketball (yes, we are out here!) would be an understatement, to say the least. Heading into game time, as many as five playoff seeding spots were still in doubt. The Raptors, for their credit, just needed one more victory to lock into the third slot – in a game against their underachieving division rival New York Knicks sans their best player and only All-Star. Still, though, you’d hope the Knicks would get up for this one, as much as the Raptors fan in you wanted to see them coast to the finish line (for the lack of potential injuries to key players, if nothing else).

The first half, though, provided little of that. Admittedly, I missed the first 6 minutes of the game, due to a tragic Sportsnet TV guide mixup where the Raptors game was actually a Mariners game, and the Blue Jays game was the Raptors game (if you try this come playoff time, Rogers, I swear to Jonas you’re in trouble). The Raptors shot over 60 per cent in the first quarter, bolstered by Kyle Lowry, who was absolutely unconscious from everywhere (finishing the quarter with an astounding 17 against mostly Knicks backups). There was a point in the quarter where the Raptors were shooting 9 of 13, and the Knicks were 5 of 20, and yet the Knicks managed to keep the game within striking distance due to an 8-3 discrepancy at the free throw line.

The second quarter began with Casey trotting out a lineup of Patterson, Hansbrough, de Colo, Vasquez, and the seldom used Dwight Buycks, and when they started heating up, it seemed like the rout was on. Vasquez was particularly impressive, picking apart the Knicks “defense” with some great drive-and-dishes and hitting open 3 pointers. One pass in particular to a streaking Nando de Colo, who also thrived in the small-ball drive and kick lineup, stands out.

Despite the history fan in me wanting Lowry to stay in the game and go for 60, Casey smartly held him out until late in the frame (which is both a good explanation of why I don’t work in the NBA and why my “Twitch coaches an NBA team” idea is dead in the water). JR Smith came back in and did JR Smith things, taking advantage of the Raptors’ inevitable cold streak, but the half ended with the Raptors up 13 and, seemingly, coasting to the finish line.

The third quarter, though, quickly brought that thought to a screeching halt. After a neat video at the half that showed former Raptors talking about what a special place the ACC can be at playoff time (Mugsy!), the Raps, despite their best efforts, returned to the court a little too satisfied with the game thus far, and the Knicks ripped off a 14-2 run to start the quarter that brought the score back within 1.

This also happened to be the time where the Bulls finally succumbed to the Bobcats in overtime, officially clinching the 3rd seed for the Raptors and leading to thousands of Raptor fans pleading for Casey and crew to get the starters the hell out of there. He did appease us somewhat, taking out Jonas, Amir, and Ross during the next timeout but leaving DeMar and Lowry in.

Side note: can someone please explain to me why the Knicks signed Lamar Odom for “the remainder of the season?” Just to lock him up before all zero of his suitors come after him in free agency? Are they expecting a godfather offer from an Italian team? I thought Phil Jackson was the person who was supposed to stop all this front-office madness? I don’t understand.

Back to the game, where the Raptors are clung to a slim lead through the third quarter. Inexplicably, it took Casey an additional 10 real-time (6 in-game) minutes after news broke to get Lowry, the final starter, out of the game – minutes which included no fewer than three Dwyane Wade-esque reckless drives to the hoop. God, Lowry/Casey. Give me a heart attack, why don’cha. The third quarter ended with the Raptor bench tied with the Knicks in what had essentially become a meaningless game, standings-wise. From this writer’s point of view, an injury-less fourth quarter was a success, no matter the outcome.

Side note number 2: I’ve never cheered for a team that another team was actively, obviously tanking to secure a playoff matchup with before. And I’ve got to admit, it makes me mad, as much as it makes sense for that team objectively. Seriously, Brooklyn? Not playing any of your starters? Playing a guy named “Jorge Gutierrez” 33 minutes, and Jason Collins 39? Getting crushed by CLEVELAND, of all teams? F*ck the Nets. F*ck the stupid Brooklyn Knight. Drake > Jay Z. Leiweke > Prokhorov, and Rookie Vince > New Jersey sell-out Vince. Bring it on. In the immortal, voice-crackey words of Brock Lesnar, I will see you, ON SUNDAY (Saturday, but the point stands).

On another quick tangent, good on Casey and the Raptors for playing tough until their seeding was guaranteed, as much as the threat of injuries loomed. People are coming to the arena to see a product, and it’s only right that teams keep the tanking to a minimum.

That all being said, thankfully, the fourth quarter began with the entire bench in the game, and it stayed that way (my favourite lineup was a super-small Buycks/de Colo/Vasquez/Novak/Hansbrough unit). There really wasn’t much to talk about even though the score remained close, seeing as neither team really seemed to care too much about the outcome – Steve Novak airballing a 3 from the centre of the court was the most memorable moment until crunch-time.

With 2 minutes to go, though, the game was tied at 90, thanks to some JR Smith heroics and some great efforts by a few Raptors, in particular, Vasquez, Hansbrough, and de Colo, who had a great 3-and-charge sequence late in the game. The Knicks took a 4 point lead with 20 seconds to go on a couple JR Smith jumpers (and the Raptors offence running through Dwight Buycks and a still-airballing Steve Novak), but Casey resisted the temptation to put his starters back on the floor as the team’s 49th win slipped away.

Hansbrough rewarded him with a really tough hoop that ended up being an and-one (missing the free throw), but was bailed out by a tough offensive rebound by Steve Novak, of all people (seriously, did he switch bodies with someone tonight?). A Buycks miss and a Knicks knock-out, and the Raptors had the ball down two with 6 seconds left in what had immediately become an immensely entertaining final few seconds.

Then the Chuckster threw it away. Oh well.

But then JR Smith missed the second free throw!

And then Steve Novak dribbled it off his foot. Oh well.

But then the refs reversed the call!

And then Nando de Colo didn’t get a shot off. Oh well.

Regardless of the hilarious final few seconds, the final score for the night was 95-92 Knicks. It’s a totally acceptable outcome for a team that played the first half like the game meant something, and the second half like it didn’t – which is exactly what they should have done.

On a bigger note, though, I’m seriously going to miss this season. As fans (particularly Toronto sports fans), we spend our lives watching sports, often through the muck and the mire, for that short moment of payoff when your team of also-rans somehow finally finds a way to break through. Five years from now, when we’re all upset about the Raptors finishing sixth in the conference, remember this season – a likeable team and coach that loved their city, a whip-smart executive making intelligent moves throughout the offseason and regular season, and, perhaps most importantly, a core of home-bred (sans Lowry) guys that we’ve cheered for and hoped the best for for years.

I’m excited for the entire team and can’t wait for the playoffs, but I’m most excited for Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan, who sat on the roller coaster with us for years while it slowly, agonizingly rolled up the track. We’ve finally hit the peak, and the fun part – where the coaster starts screaming down and they take the embarrassing photo – that’s now. What a season it was.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture here, too. What a season it was – with it was being the key words. It’s over. The journey, the waiting, all of it.

Saturday? That’s not a continuation. It’s another beginning – one this team earned, one they deserve, and one they will hopefully make the most of. You’d better be ready, Brooklyn. Because this team, these fans, this country has been waiting five long years for this moment. And we’ll damn sure be ready to welcome you to the ACC.

Playoff basketball, baby. Nothing like it.
Let’s go Raps. Nets, I hope your passports are up to date. We’ll be waiting for you.

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[GIF] Chuck Hayes Inbounding To Nando De Colo With Game On The Line

This is the play you don’t run if you care about the game.

Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 17

Rapid Recap: Raptors Lose to Knicks 95 – 92, Now Face Nets in Playoffs – Raptors HQ

No need to go too in depth on this one as New York gets the win due to the lack of playing time from Toronto’s key players. Once it was clear that Toronto had clinched the third spot in the Eastern Conference -towards the end of the third quarter we found out the Chicago Bulls had lost their final game, meaning Toronto nabbed third- Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey pulled his top troops and elected to go with Nando De Colo, Dwight Buycks, Steve Novak, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes down the stretch. And that was enough for New York, down 57 to 44 at the half, to climb all the way back for the win. In fairness, some of the Knicks’ comeback came early in the third quarter when Kyle Lowry and other starters were still in the game. New York used a 30 to 17 third Q to get back in this one and while the game mattered little in the end, periods like these will likely give Casey and his staff a lot of reason to get in the video room prior to the start of the playoffs…which start on Saturday.

Knicks 95, Raptors 92: “We’re gonna destroy in the NIT” | Posting and Toasting

Of course the Knicks gave up an and-one opportunity and a couple threatening rebounds to the Raptors down the stretch of their final game. Of course the last 20 seconds took like 15 minutes and included several unexpected opportunities for Toronto. The Knicks had to Knicks their final game, even if they ended up with a win. I’m blown away Steve Novak didn’t beat ‘em at the last second. And hey, it was a pretty fun win! Cole Aldrich– who made the best use by far of these meaningless games in the final week– dominated the glass, thwarted several Raptor shots, and dropped in a few buckets as well. Toure’ Murry hit some more threes. J.R. Smith shot the damn lights out and I somehow didn’t realize it until looking at the box score just now. Tim Hardaway Jr. did things, too. And that is it. The 2013-2014 Knicks are over (except for the NIT, like nbanyk said), and the offseason begins now.

Knicks 95, Raptors 92: Goodbye-ee | KnickerBlogger.Net

Mike Woodson: “Am I the guy for the job? I’m the only guy for the job.” #Knicks — Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) April 16, 2014 What do you say to that? You could have ripped off all your clothes and began simultaneously chugging grain alcohol and Mr. Pibb, and ran screaming, “WOOOOOOOODSON” as you hurtled into the oncoming traffic on the BQE (assuming you’re a city-dweller like me), or just collapsed in a giddy, delirious heap of uncontrollable laughter; either response would make complete and total sense.

Raptors fall to Knicks in regular season finale, will meet Nets in playoffs | Toronto Star

“It should be fun,” said DeMar DeRozan after the intriguing first-round, best-of-seven matchup was set. “We’ve just got to go out there and play. Go out there, study the film, study them, get ready for them. We know we can beat them. We beat them twice this year and they beat them once without me playing. So like I said, it should be fun. “We understand that they’re experienced and everything but hey, who isn’t? Once you come in this league you’re going against players all season that are experienced in some way. You just have to find a way to win.”

Lewenberg: Raptors draw Nets in opening round of playoffs | TSN

s”In my experience, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for,” Dwane Casey cautioned ahead of Wednesday’s finale. “You think you want to play a certain team then you start preparing for them and say, ‘wow that team’s pretty good’. Then you’ve got a dogfight. I think the best way to approach it is let the basketball gods decide.” Faced with a similar decision, Casey – who was an assistant in Dallas when he and Kidd won a championship together in 2011 – chose to play his stars against the Knicks and compete to win. That’s just one of the factors that separate these two teams, that creates a trace of animosity going into this weekend’s first-round matchup. Whether they care to admit to it or not, the Nets took their foot off the gas in the hope of maximizing the odds of facing an inexperienced Raptors team. Whether Toronto’s players or coaches care to admit it, that’s a slap in the face, or at least it should be.

Nets sit starters in finale loss, face Raptors in first round of playoffs | New York Post

“I want Brooklyn, personally,” Ross wrote. Now Ross will get his chance, after the combination of the Nets losing to the Cavaliers and the Wizards winning in Boston Wednesday night meant the Nets, who dropped to the sixth seed, will face the third-seeded Raptors beginning Saturday afternoon in Toronto. The Nets haven’t forgotten what Ross said. “Ross asked for this,” Andray Blatche said after Wednesday’s 114-85 loss to the Cavaliers, in which coach Jason Kidd sat all his starters. “So now, first of all, they’ve got to back up their words. “Right now, we’re going to go home, get prepared for Toronto. … We were able to rest some of our key guys, so we’re going to start practicing and going over our strategy tomorrow.”

Raptors end season with loss to the Knicks | Canada.com

Cole Aldrich made the tiebreaking dunk with 1:23 left for the Knicks, who won their final four games to finish 37-45. J.R. Smith scored 30 points, while Aldrich finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Kyle Lowry scored 22 points in 26 minutes for the Raptors, who finished 48-34. The Knicks charged back to tie at 74 entering the fourth by outscoring the Raptors 30-17 in the third. The game became meaningless during the period when Charlotte finished off an overtime victory over Chicago, meaning the Raptors could do no worse than finish tied with the Bulls. Toronto owned the tiebreaker as a division champion.

The Toronto Raptors are the #3 Seed in the 2014 NBA Playoffs | RealGM

Everyone going to the game better be loud on Saturday so we can take Game 1 against that squad from Brooklyn.

Raptors Already Setting The Bar Higher For Next Year | Pro Bball Report

“It kind of sets the tone for how you want your career to go,” Ross said. “So now you want to do more to make sure this becomes more consistent. You know it is going to be harder, so you just work that much harder to stay ahead of the curve.” It’s been a long time since anyone in a Raptors locker room talked about striving for 50 wins – can’t remember it ever happening – but after this season, it doesn’t sound all that farfetched. This team is young, willing to work hard and really does pull for one another. “All it takes is the right chemistry and the right group of guys and you can do whatever it takes,” DeMar DeRozan said. “You don’t need big name players, you don’t need this or that what people say you need and we are proof of that. We will continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and on to the next step.”

Kelly: MLSE takes first step in promised rebrand of Raptors with ‘We The North’ campaign – The Globe and Mail

This is a showcase for the new, Drake-abetted Raptors. The pop star had a large hand in the look and feel of the campaign, stopping in regularly for brainstorming sessions at home and on the road. “He inspired our thinking here,” Leiweke said. Whatever you make of it, you will admit the last word it summons to mind is “corporate.” This feels like work produced by an especially athletic art school. One that does a lot of daytime things in the middle of the night.

NBA regular-season grades for all 30 teams | The Point Forward – SI.com

I can’t understand why the Raptors’ success hasn’t produced more buzz. Just 12 months ago, NBA writers were brainstorming new and creative ways to mock the decisions of president Bryan Colangelo, as Toronto finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. And now? Toronto has claimed the Atlantic Division title, secured home-court advantage in the first round, placed swingman DeMar DeRozan (22.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists) on the All-Star team and in the Most Improved Player discussion, and enjoyed an All-Star-caliber season from point guard Kyle Lowry (17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds).

Raptors close to making announcement on new practice court | Toronto Sun

The goal is to have the new one completed “no later than late 2015” and MLSE will be working with Drake, its global ambassador, on putting a nightclub in the arena (as is the case in Miami), likely in the space currently occupied by the practice court.

Toronto Raptors are in tough against playoff-experienced Brooklyn Nets | National Post

However, for general Masai Ujiri, this season was never about wins or losses. Obviously that can get contorted as the games gain meaning at an exponential rate. Still, Ujiri’s job is to assess how good these Raptors are, and how good they can be. This summer will bring about a bunch of major decisions for Ujiri to make — not only addressing free agents Dwane Casey and Kyle Lowry, but also judging the value of his younger core players — and he is about to get a lot of useful data to assist him. There is no risk of the Raptors sneaking past another team, such as the Wizards or Bobcats, who might be a one-season wonder taking advantage of a messed up conference — just as some critics have painted the Raptors. The Nets are drenched in playoff experience: There are too many ridiculous statistics to choose from, but the Brooklyn rotation has played approximately 10.4 times the post-season minutes than the Raptors’ rotation. It is staggering.

Started from the bottom.: Now the Raptors are here, the East’s top challenger to the Heat and Pacers – SBNation.com

“I’m tired of going home early, watching everybody else play, watching my friends play,” swingman DeMar DeRozan said that day. “It’s sickening to me. I get tired of it. Me personally, I work my ass off so we can play in that moment, be a team in that eight, seven, six, whatever spot it is to have an opportunity to play. That’s my goal and I’m sure everybody on this team feels the same way.” It turned out DeRozan could’ve aimed higher. The Raptors are the Eastern Conference’s big surprise, and they’ll be the third or fourth seed when the postseason begins. How they got there was nothing short of extraordinary, especially in this city where expectations and bold plans have never lived up to the hype.

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Playoff Schedule Released, First Game on Saturday at 12:30 PM EST

‘Murica, meet the Toronto Raptors

Hey look! The Raptors will be on prime-time in the States! Here’s the full broadcast schedule, courtesy of Newsday:

Game 1: Saturday, April 19 12:30 p.m. at Toronto, ESPN

Game 2: Tuesday, April 22, 8 p.m at Toronto, NBA TV

Game 3: Friday, April 5, 7 p.m. at Nets, ESPN2

Game 4: Sunday, April 27, 7 p.m. at Nets, TNT

Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 30, TBD at Toronto, TBD

Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, May 2, TBD at Nets

Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, May 4 at Toronto, TBD at Toronto, TBD

According to the lovely and talented Eric “Buzzkill” Koreen (h/t: Seth Partnow on the nickname), the corps of Raptors beat-writers have yet to be informed of the Canadian broadcast schedule. One presumes that they’ll be shoved to Sportsnet One, or whatever they’re calling The Score nowadays, in lieu of some super-important NHL playoff games. Given that this is Canada, and it’s Rogers/Bell in charge, Ducks-Stars will probably take precedence over any sport played between tall men without knives strapped to their feet.

UPDATE:

Buzzkill Koreen reports that the start of game two will be pushed back to 7:30, rather than 8:00

Reaction: Knicks 95, Raptors 92


Toronto Raptors 92 Final
Recap | Box Score
95 New York Knicks
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 15 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -10

Amir enjoyed the freedom of a (relatively) meaningless game to uncharacteristically freelance at will on defense in the 1st quarter. He pushed Amare out of the low post, which was nice to see after Stoudemire eviscerated the Raps down low last week. And then Amir sat down.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -9

A year ago, how many of us were still angry about the Warriors tanking one spot ahead of the Raptors to snag Harrison Barnes one spot ahead of the Raptors grabbing Ross. A year later, who would rather have Barnes than Ross heading into this year’s playoffs and the next five years? Let’s see what kind of a leap Ross can make on Saturday in a game that actually matters.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 16 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -7

Jonas had a low post possession against Amare 2 minutes into the game from the right side of the block. Jonas has taken very few post-ops from that side of the hoop and not looked comfortable (or successful) on the occasions when he has. But Jonas looked strong and confortable faking Stoudemire inside before spinning baseline and dropping in a pretty off-hand hook shot. This guy can play. A slow-paced, physical series against the Nets is going to feature a lot of Valanciunas.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 8-15 FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 22 PTS | -10

The Bargnani deal was a train robbery, but the best thing James Dolan may have done for the Raptors this season was kai-bosh the Lowry trade. I don’t know why so many Knicks fans tear their hair out over James Dolan. I happen to think he’s one of the most kind, thoughtful and generous men on the planet. Unlike Kyle Lowry, who is a badmotherdude. Lowry put up a very respectable full game stat line in just 26 minutes of play.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | -11

DeMar was sloppy early on with turnovers. But I couldn’t care less, because he was attacking and looking to get to the hoop. The Raptors have been putting up almost a basket a game running DeMar around a pair of perimeter screens to hammer home a weak-side alley-oop. Love it. If that’s the game he brings to the playoffs (and limits the turnovers) then get ready to start hearing some TV analysts who’ve hardly mentioned the Raptors all season start getting excited about DeMar like they’ve just discovered something great that nobody knows about.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-5 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +5

Hansbrough really enjoyed playing with De Colo, who made a point of consistently looking for the Big Effort near the basket. Hansbrough could have had a few more baskets if he wasn’t surprised by a) someone actually rewarding him with a pass, and b) said pass coming from out of nowhere.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +14

Patterson is starting to look like his shot is back in rhythm, but he’s still missing the aggression that he was playing with before getting hurt. Granted, this game wouldn’t have been the wisest place for him to unleash it. He’s going to match up this weekend with Garnett and Teletovic in the all pick-and-pop all the time power forward showdown.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -6

Boxing out Cole Aldrich once would have helped his grade a bit here. Not passing the ball to the wrong team to effectively end the game would have been even more helpful.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2

Steve Novak airballed an open 3 with 4 minutes left in the game. He then politely ushered JR Smith to the basket for a transition slam with 2 minutes left. It’s cool though, because he made up for it with another airball 10 seconds later, prompting some courtside trolling from Spike Lee. Not his best MSG performance of all time.

Dwight Buycks, PG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 2 PTS | -1

Dwight hasn’t seen the court in a while and boy, did he want to make up for that. Buycks threw the ball away a few times when he got excited and tried to do too much. Why not, they were almost definitely his last minutes of the season. At least we can rest easy knowing that we didn’t foolishly bench a lights-out jump shooter all season.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +16

General Grievis always gets carried away with one or two extra heat-check shots, but the man does get buckets. And like the great Bill Russell says, this game always has been, and always will be, about buckets. How many backup point guards are there in the playoffs on Vasquez’ level? 3, maybe 4? You can make a case for Darren Collison, Patty Mills, CJ Watson and Jeremy Lin. I’m happy to have Vasquez out of that list.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +6

Nando De Colo plays basketball exactly like a San Antonio Spur. I really can’t think of a better way to compliment a player. De Colo could have easily had double-digit assists in the 4th quarter alone if he was passing to San Antonio Spurs instead of Buycks, Hansbrough, Hayes and Steve Novak.

Dwane Casey

It’s important to keep in mind that this game was completely irrelevant. Nobody got hurt, so it’s a win, regardless. Casey played General Grievis, Nando Calrissian, Dwight Buycks, Patrick Patterson and the The Big Effort as a five-man unit for a stretch through the 2nd quarter. Three point guards, two power forwards. Why? Because tonight, Dwayne Casey was the honey badger. And it was awesome. At least it was in the first half. It hurt to watch the end of the bench unit (sorry Landry Fields, but whatever it is you did, Casey still ain’t having none of you.) refuse to help Nando De Colo play functional basketball down the stretch, but they’ve earned those minutes.
I’ve been hammering the point that this team needs to run more since before the season tipped. In the first half, Casey let them play loose, and they played fast, and it was glorious. Granted, the Knicks were largely OK with the Raptors scoring on them, but still.

Four Things We Saw

  1. I’ve never watched a New York City game so quiet that you could hear individual fans voices like you could in the first half. The Madison Square Garden crowd could not possibly have given less effs about this game. JR Smith and the Knicks are now one.
  2. Raptors playoff tickets are most expensive in the entire NBA. It’s official; the Raptors are the new Maple Leafs.
  3. I’m pretty sure that @cornersniper’s head exploded with excitement in the perfect moment that was Nando De Colo hitting Tyler Hansbrough with a between his legs pass for a slam dunk.
  4. Either the Raptors backup bigmen weren’t putting up their best effort, or Cole Aldrich is a $12 million dollar a year player. Joe Dumars just got resigned, but isn’t Isiah Thomas the perfect person to replace him in Detroit to sign Aldrich? That frontcourt badly needs another overpaid C/PF.

We’re selling this t-shirt to get some funds for the site. They’re only $14.99, so do grab yourself one.

Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

We The North – Storm

Huskies Republic? How does that taste in your mouth? If the appearance of a husky towards the end of this seizure inducing video is any indication, this could be a prelude to more than just new uniforms next season. On a brighter note, Wolves are easier to market than Raptors i.e. Game of Wolves; The Howling Dead; The Big Fang Theory; the t-shirt potential alone might be worth it.

We The North – Huddle

Man Amir Johnson Left Hanging Receives Reward from RR; Your Move @IamAmirJohnson

really-awesome-man-really

After we posted this GIF of Amir Johnson leaving a gentle soul hanging, the man in question, Mark Littell, a Day-1 Raptors Fan who holds season seats reached out to reap the reward of a free Kings In The North Raptors tee, as promised by RR.

RR would like to thank Mark Littell for being a fantastic sport about all of this. To this day he maintains that Amir never saw him. Alternate theories suggest that since Mr. Littell was wearing the same clothing as a nearby security guard, thus causing confusion. However, true justice will only be served if Mr. Littell is given a personal high-five by Amir Johnson.

Do check out Mark’s set of promotional products which range from items such as Dora the Explorer party balloons to skydiving gear.  What a tremendous human being!

Gameday: Raptors @ Knicks – Apr, 16

You know what’s nice? The last game of the season being important because it determines playoff seeding and not the number of ping pong balls in the lottery. There is a lot riding on tonight, not just for the Raptors, but more than half of the playoff teams:

  • If the Bulls win and the Raptors lose, the Bulls finish 3rd
  • Washington can finish 5th if they win and Brooklyn loses
  • Charlotte can finish 4th if they win and Washington loses I made a gross inconsistency
  • Houston and Portland can swap positions Another gross mistake; I’m not good at this
  • The Warriors, Mavs, and Grizzlies can finish anywhere from 6th to 8th The Warriors have wrapped up 6th, Mavs and Grizzlies are fighting for position; good thing this is the last time I do this this season…really suck at it

What does that all mean? Tonight has the potential to be greatest night of regular season basketball the league has seen in a while, starting with the Raptors who wander into New York to face a Knicks team who didn’t get the memo that their season is over, they aren’t playing for anything, but have been beating teams above them in the standings rather handedly (Raptors, Bulls, and the Nets; in that order).

The Knicks…what a beautiful disaster their season has been: no 1st round pick; no playoffs; paying your president $12m/year to not be physically there…wasting another year of Carmelo’s career. It’s almost sad, but inspite of all that, they are playing spoilers this last week of the regular season. With Carmelo a game-time decision, the Raptors can’t be looking past them to the playoffs, they need to write their own destiny. Doesn’t matter who finishes 4th or 5th, the Raptors need to head into the playoffs on a winning streak, as well as looking the part of a team that knows what the playoffs has in store for them, and are doing something about it.

Keys to the game:

  • Keep Jonas engaged throughout the game: they’ve done a better of this as of late, but the loss to the Knicks on Friday was partly a result of them totally forgetting about the franchise in the second half. Amare is enjoying a bit of a resurgence as the season winds down, but after him and Chandler, their frontcourt is weak sauce.
  • Continue to bring Amir along in the controlled fashion he’s been going at since his return. While the Raptors need him tonight, they need him more during the playoffs where blue collar work horses take on a whole different level of value.
  • Raining threes: while it’s nice to see Vasquez and Lowry light it up, everything changes in the playoffs, and the Raptors need to start taking advantage of their athleticism and get to the rack. On Friday, the Knicks were more than happy to trap hard and let the Raptors put up three after three. Go at Chandler, get him into trouble, then double-down attacking their already weak frontcourt; that’s a recipe for success.
  • Focus: this isn’t the time of year where the Raptors play down to their competition. The playoffs bring out the best in everyone, and even sub-500 teams can’t be played down too.

The line is set to even on this; it’s basically hit or miss. A win would be very meaningful for this team, regardless of who-finishes-where in the standings; living on your feet and all that good stuff, right?

We’re selling this t-shirt to get some funds for the site.  Basically, we need to sell 50 for even one shirt to be made, so we need your help.  They’re only $14.99, so do grab yourself one.

Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

[GIF] Here’s What’s Left of Paul Pierce #TORvsBKN

No need to fret Raptors fans. The Nets might be trying to tank and get sixth so they can face us, but it won’t help them.

How Important Is Lowry To This Team?

Can we all agree Raps fans that we haven’t seen anyone this important to a Raptors franchise then we do with Lowry at the moment?

Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 16

Raptors’ assistant coaches the unsung heroes | Toronto Sun

Bayno is a former head coach at UNLV and a long-time assistant in Minnesota. Nurse ran a very successful program in the D-League and Mermuys came to Toronto after stints in both Houston and Denver. Nurse has brought his unique offensive flair to the Raptors while both Bayno and Mermuys are tireless developers, willing to go to the gym at any hour of the day or night to get a player some extra work. “Nick Nurse has come in and done an unbelievable job figuring out sets and bringing in a different type of offence, a more up-tempo type of offence,” Lowry said. “Jesse and Bayno? Their energy has been great. Their enthusiasm and pushing everybody to keep being aggressive and shooting shots and making sure that even if they miss a few, it don’t matter, just keep going.”

Raptors don’t care who they play in first round of playoffs | TSN

“We haven’t thought about it or talked about it,” guard Kyle Lowry said, about the ramifications of Wednesday’s schedule. “We’re just going to go out there and play our game.” Raptors coach Dwane Casey has been resting his starters — all-star DeMar DeRozan got the night off Monday. Casey said he would consider resting DeRozan again Wednesday, despite what outcome that might have on the game, and their conference seeding. “I’m more worried about us moreso than who we play. It’s about us. About our health, rest, whatever we decide to do in that situation. If we play Brooklyn, we play Brooklyn, if we play Washington, we play Washington, there’s no easy teams left in the playoffs right now, all the teams are very capable,” Casey said. “Brooklyn is probably more playoff-ready, but we can’t control that and we’re not going into this game trying to control that. I’m more worried about our guys’ health — rest if we rest them — and our rhythm. And it’s a fine line between the two.”

Nets, Wizards or Bobcats — who’s the Raptors’ ideal playoff opponent? | Toronto Star

The Raptors may not be the most athletic team in the NBA, but they could exploit a speed advantage over the somewhat senior Nets. It would be up to the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, two playoff neophytes, to feel comfortable right off the bat but their familiarity with the division rivals should be a boon. A size advantage up front would also be something Toronto might be able to take advantage of, if Jonas Valanciunas plays well.

“I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy”: Lowry on the cusp of greatness ahead of NBA playoffs | The Globe and Mail

When the 27-year-old arrived here in a 2012 trade with Houston, he was not fun. He was anti-fun. He had a way of eyeballing you that made you feel like he was reading something off the back of your skull. When he returned after the first year, he was different. Physically, but that was the least of it. When I begin a question like so – “Now that you’ve become the most important athlete in Toronto …” – Lowry pulls back and interrupts. “Do you really think that’s true?” he says. He’s really asking. He wants to know. Yeah, it’s true. It’s true because Lowry from a year ago would just have nodded along in agreement. More to the point, he wouldn’t be wasting his time talking to you in the first place. A bunch of reasons have been mooted as the catalyst for this shift – a heart-to-heart with GM Masai Ujiri, getting married, having a kid. Lowry lists them all off. “Sometimes, you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re the one who needs to change,” he says.

Raptors Set New Franchise-High for Wins, But Playoffs Ultimate Test | Raptors HQ

Campsall compares not the Bosh-led group though, but the vintage Vince Carter 47 win team with this year’s squad and at the time of its penning, statistically, you’d have to say the 2013-14 team comes out on top. I’m going to argue however that it’s too early to tell. The Carter squad not only made the NBA playoffs, but defeated a tough Knicks’ club in their second kick at said can, so let’s hold off on “Best Ever” titles until we see how this group performs.

The Biggest X-Factor for Every Team in the 2014 NBA Finals – Toronto Raptors: C Jonas Valanciunas | Bleacher Report

The biggest breakout (literally and figuratively), however, has yet to come. In an Eastern Conference lacking quality big men, this postseason can be 21-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas’ time to shine. To his credit, he’s finishing the season strong. In his last five games, the big Lithuanian is averaging 17.8 points and 13.4 rebounds. That includes a 14-point/21-rebound performance on April 11 against the Knicks as well as a 26-point/12-rebound night against the 76ers on April 9. Those kind of games will only help build Valanciunas’ confidence. With more development on the defensive end, he’ll be even more of a monster on the inside. Toronto’s trio on the perimeter has been good enough to carry the team to the third seed in the East, but Valanciunas’ potential emergence makes them a very scary team going forward.

NBA Playoffs: Ranking threat levels of each postseason unit | CBSSports

Why they’re dangerous: Everyone’s underrating them, when they’re the likely third seed. They have depth, size inside with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make up maybe the best backcourt in the East. And this team believes, which is dangerous. They have nothing to lose. Weaknesses: Defensive schemes can solve most of their players, who have almost no playoff experience. They close games by giving the ball to John Salmons. Reasonable ceiling: A thrilling first-round victory leads to a noble second-round, six-game loss to Miami. Reasonable floor: The Nets wind up facing them in the first round, and spring the upset. You can talk me into Washington knocking them off but you have to get awfully creative.

The Raptors’ Amir Johnson embraces life on and off the court. | SportsonEarth.com : Holly MacKenzie Article

Despite losing count of his ankle sprains long ago, Johnson never complains. Like clockwork, he sits at his locker after games, the messiest in the room, with shoes — mostly his, some stolen from DeRozan — strewn around him. Feet submerged in an ice bucket, he talks to reporters pushing their own deadlines because his candor is worth it. Johnson said his motivation to play through damn near anything stems from the simple fact he wants to always be there for his team. “It’s like, if you see somebody in trouble, your mindset, first reaction is to go help them, see what you can do,” Johnson said. “That goes on and off the court. If its a family member, anybody. If I see somebody in trouble, if I see somebody down, my first reaction is I’ve got to help them, by any means possible.” That dedication has endeared him to Toronto fans who expect passion from their players and embrace blue-collar work ethic above all.

Why are Raps playoff tickets the NBA’s priciest? | Sportsnet.ca

For starters, the Raptors post-season drought has driven away its fair share of fans over the years. As they flock back, those who stuck it out through the hard times are ensuring that they are in the house for the good times as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff absence this season also creates a void of sorts among local sports fans, whose other options for live events are limited to early season baseball and soccer. And we all know Toronto is a world-class bandwagon sports town, meaning that the Raps are attracting more and more casual fans as the post-season nears.

Masai Ujiri « The Jim Rome Show

Atlantic Division Champions banner | Being named NBA Executive of the Year in Denver | Bigger challenge in Toronto for him | Working in Toronto before | Changes | Rudy Gay trade | Finding chemistry after the Gay trade | Kyle Lowry | Lowry off the court | His story | Being from Northern Nigeria | His goal was to be an NBA scout | Getting an opportunity with the Orlando Magic | Meeting with Nelson Mandela

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The Raptors Don’t Appear Ready For What Awaits Them In The Playoffs

This weekend the NBA Playoffs tip-off, and for the first time in forever the Raptors will be participating. The club has put together what has arguably been their best regular ever, notching a franchise-best 48 wins (and counting) and securing the third seed in the East for only the second time in team history. As good as their regular season has been, however, the club does not look ready for what awaits them in the postseason.

The Raps have been in a noticeable funk for weeks now. Despite maintaining an impressive winning percentage since the All-Star break – 20-9, .690 – the team has struggled to maintain the defensive bona fides that defined them during their mid-season turnaround (their defensive rating has fallen to 9th on the season and has ranked 16th since March 1st). The focus and intensity that was once a game-to-game staple has become a wavering distinction that has driven Dwane Casey to burn timeouts like they were incriminating photographs. The club is allowing teams to shoot 46% from the floor since the break, and a scorching 48.8% in the first quarter of games. They either spot opposing teams big leads to start games or get big leads themselves and squander them shortly thereafter. Consistency has been lacking, and it’s because of their fall-off at the defensive end.

So, how has the club kept winning during this downturn? Their offence has caught fire. Since the All-Star break they’ve ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.8 points per 100 possessions), largely on the back of the team taking fewer shots per game but hitting those shots at a higher percentage. They’ve also been assisting more without adding turnovers and have been hitting threes at a higher-that-normal rate (DeMar DeRozan’s and Greivis Vasquez’s inflated April numbers have certainly helped with that last part).

In the Playoffs, though, you’d much rather be going in with killer defence than killer offence. Defence is habit and it’s repeatable. Offence comes and goes, and when opposing teams can really scout a club to take away their tendencies, those sky-high percentages can quickly fall back down to earth. Remember that Washington and Brooklyn are both top-15 teams in terms of defensive rating since the All-Star break, with Washington (Toronto’s likely opponent) sitting pretty at eight. The Raptors have veered away from what made them successful for the bulk of the season and that could work to undermine all of the good that it took to get them to this point heading into the weekend.

Most frustratingly, however, is the fact that all of this is totally understandable and perhaps should have even been expected in spite of the stellar December-through-February output that put the team just below the elite of the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors are not a typical third seed. They are a young, inexperienced team that earned their distinction as much by luck (in the form of a terrible Eastern Conference) as by merit. This is a team still trying to find its identity, still struggling to understand how to execute consistently over the course of an 82-game season and, considering how new expectations are for a team like this, those struggles are totally appropriate.

The problem is, in a way, us. We see a third seed that played so well for a good chunk of the season, that crawled into the top-ten in defensive and offensive efficiency, and we expect more. We expect the Raptors to perform more like a club that’s been here before, more like a club that understands the gruelling path that a winning team faces and how to manage it for an entire season. In an analytic-driven media landscape, the numbers suggest that the Raptors have perhaps leapt a step further than they actually have. This is an exceedingly young team. They are starting two second-year players and two veterans that have zero Playoff experience (heck, they have zero experience playing heavy minutes for a club over .500).

Even Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s spirit animal out on the court, has only played in thirteen postseason games and started exactly none of them. Considering all of this, why should the Raptors know how to prepare themselves for what is about to come? How are they supposed to be ready for a situation that is unlike anything they’ve experienced in their professional careers?

Look, no one should be happy about the fact that this team barely limped to victory against Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit, nor should anyone be impressed by their desultory loss to New York. The last week has been a fitting conclusion to a weeks-long span that saw the Raptors, as we thought we knew them, crumble under the weight of expectations, precious little rest despite logging a loooooooot of on-court minutes.

Nonetheless, the club did come out the other end with the best record in team history. They also look ready to at least make some noise against their still-unknown first round opponent, even if a first round victory doesn’t seem as inevitable as it did a few weeks ago. This season has always been about laying the foundation for the future, and in that way this stretch of mediocrity might be the best thing to happen to the club since they jettisoned Rudy Gay back in December.

You don’t have to look too far back to remember the club’s first full season under Bryan Colangelo, another regular season that was capped with an unexpected Atlantic Division banner. Colangleo, believing that his team was far further ahead in their development than they were, doubled-down on his current roster in the summer and watched the whole thing implode within eighteen months.

Masai Ujiri, on the other hand, has had a weeks-long look at exactly how far this team really is from where they want to be. This recent slide represents ammunition for Toronto’s high-priced GM when he hits the open market this summer. This team still needs a lot of work to be able to consistently be the kind of club that they need to be. They need players who can reliably execute Casey’s defensive game plans. They need more players who can create offence for themselves and others. They need a squad that can hold onto leads and exert their will on opposing teams better than this current assemblage has been able to manage.

To get there Ujiri cannot be precious about the assets that he has in his arsenal. Whether we’re talking about draft picks, cap space or popular current players, everything has to be on the table to help this team take the next step next season. Remember, 48-plus wins is now the benchmark. Simply nipping and tucking around the edges isn’t enough for this Raptors club to improve upon that mark. They are good, but they aren’t great, and as Jack Armstrong repeated – ad nauseam – during Toronto’s loss to New York, good is the enemy of great. Ujiri and the Raptors cannot be satisfied with good. They cannot look at what has happened this season and think that they’ve achieved anything. They capitalized in a season when the East was particularly bad and while that demonstrated a certain level of capability, that demonstration should serve as nothing more than a springboard. It’s a starting point, a way of saying that there are the seeds of something potentially great, but there is a lot of work left to be done before the team gets to where it wants to me.

So, as frustrating as it can be to watch the defence fail to get back in transition or to watch DeMar DeRozan disappear for long stretches or to watch the team struggle against the NBA’s bottom-feeders, think of it as a crucial step for the team’s development. Even if the team looks less ready today to tackle the postseason than they looked back in January, it’s all a part of a bigger process. Think of it as a defence against anyone within the organization thinking that they are any further ahead as a team than they actually are. It’s a little pain now that, hopefully, prevents the team from self-inflicting more pain later. It’s a desperately needed reminder that a third-seed earning, Atlantic Division-winning season doesn’t mean anything on it’s own – it just represents the first steps on a long journey to take this team where Ujiri and Tim Leiweke want it to go.

And that’s a good thing, because if the Raptors want to get out of their cycle of mediocrity, they have to stop overvaluing the meaning of any single season and keep a keen eye on the many seasons it’s going to take to achieve their goals.

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Talking Raptors Podcast, April 15 – With Jack Armstrong

This week on Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry discuss the week that was but more importantly, welcome a very special guest. On this episode, the guys were privileged to head down to the ACC and be joined by Raptors broadcast legend Jack Armstrong for a great chat.

They discuss:
-How Jack got his start in broadcasting.

-Preferable first round Playoff Match-ups.

-Is this team “one piece away from being a true championship contender”?

-How Chuck Swirsky is doing.

-Refs and the seemingly terrible relationship the Raptors have with them.

-Drake and what he’s doing for the team.

-How does this team stack up against the past teams in franchise history?

and so much more.

Jack is genuinely a great guy and the guys had a fantastic time talking with him. Thanks for listening and as always enjoy!

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (48:43, 70 MB). Or just listen below:

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Bucks Serve as Props as Raptors Ease to Franchise-High Win Total

Bucks 100, Raptors 110 – Box

Fanapalooza was in effect at the ACC; DeMar DeRozan was given the night off after ushering in the Atlantic banner to the tune of fireworks; There was a dude doing an oil painting on the sidelines of an in-game Ross dunk; The well-fed ACC crowd executed a flawed but respectable Mexican wave; and the night was capped off with an ever-so-tasty ‘Za made extra special by a franchise-high 48th win which was never, ever in doubt.

There was an opposing team at the ACC, namely the Bucks who were no more than a prop in a stage show. Their role on the night was reduced to playing mannequins to the Raptors shopping themselves to any shot they fancied, and it was the three they fancied. The Raptors were 14-32 (46%) from long-range and were in cruise-control past the first minute of the game.

This was a night of celebration more than competition, one which was long overdue given the meagre returns on past seasons. Even Kyle Lowry, the focused veteran who has been the Raptors’ heart and soul all season, decided to play around a little and shot the ball 24 times, a season-high by some distance.  It was an amiable night for everyone – Greivis Vasquez Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, everyone.  Vasquez got to shoot his floaters and trailer threes, Ross threw a few down, Johnson hit some “summer” threes, and Valanciunas dominated in the same fashion as he had in Milwaukee a week past.

The Raptors were up by 13 in the first quarter and extended their lead to as many as 22 in the second half, but it may as well have been 74.  Any time the Bucks got a couple in a row to cut it to 12 or so, the Raptors executed a modest and predictable play to get a score and pull the game back.  Even when the Bucks slashed it to six in the fourth quarter, you knew a response was coming and it did in the form of forced turnovers punctuated by more threes.  Given the quality of the opponent we can’t quite draw any conclusions about anyone’s play, except to say that the team is having fun, clicking well, and that this game served as a good stretching exercise before things get real in a week or so, regardless of opponent.

“It felt good to get my bounce back. It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”

- Amir Johnson

The Bucks did shoot 52% in the game, one which the Raptors didn’t necessarily approach with a view to tightening a leaky defense, but that of down-shifting on a back-to-back, so I’m not going to dwell on that little negative, nor am I going to read much into them crushing the Bucks 46-32 on the glass.  This was a glorified pick-up game where the outcome was settled very soon after tip-off.

Speaking as a fan rather than someone assigned to report on the game, it’s great to be in springtime (ignore the bloody weather for a second) and still have the best part of Raptors basketball to look forward to.  This has been a season of labour and toil.  The team has undergone a transformation, achieved surprised success and more importantly, sustained that success after the secret was out.  They’ve won big games, lost close ones, and have been in every contest. The Raptors remain the only Eastern-conference playoff team not to suffer a 20+ point blowout this season, and you already know about how we’re amongst the leaders in every meaningful statistical category since December.

The final game of the regular season looms large – Chicago is in Charlotte and the Bobcats have all to play for.  They’re one game back of Washington for the sixth seed and hold the tie-breaker, meaning that with a win coupled with a Washington loss, they could steal the sixth spot.  Washington, in turn, could move up to fifth with a win in Boston combined with Brooklyn losing to the Knicks and Cleveland.  Everything’s possible.  All teasier tors have to do is maintain their seeding is beat the Knicks on Wednesday, which is very much a possibility given how poorly we played last time out against them and how close the game was. Taking the longer view, with the Pacers grabbing the top seed the silver lining in a Nets 4-5 matchup might be that the second round, if we get there, might be easier than if we progress as the third seed.

“I’m more worried about us than I am who we play. I’m not going into this final game trying to control who we play. I’m more worried about our health, rest for our guys, and rhythm, and there’s a fine line between the two.”

- Dwane Casey

The playoffs will be challenging.  It would be foolish to discount the lack of playoff experience on the roster as a non-factor.  Playoff jitters are a fact of life, Vince Carter felt them, Chris Bosh felt them, and DeMar DeRozan will feel them.  There will be moments of self-doubt and hopelessness where every aspect of the game will seemingly go against them, and in those testing times it’s the safety net of the team that can buoy them.  Carter was eaten alive by Latrell Sprewell, Bosh was handcuffed by Mikki Moore, and the playoffs will bring rise to a nemesis for DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as well.  The difference between these playoff virgins and those of Carter and Bosh’s will be that this version of the Raptors is more likely to respond as a team rather than individually.  The mantra of the season has been collectiveness and winning without a bonafide superstar, and as much as you need a “star” to bring you playoff success, earlier versions of the Raptors had that player yet failed.  This group is the opposite, this wolfpack’s strength is in numbers rather than the size of one lone wolf, which makes them better equipped to handle the adversity that any playoff appearance surely brings.

Coming up a bit later, the Nick and Barry have Jack Armstrong on the pod but if you really can’t wait…

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Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 15

Raptor playoff games will be broadcast on giant screen in Maple Leaf Square | Toronto Star

If you haven’t been able to snag tickets to Raptors playoff games, don’t worry. Every game will be broadcast on the giant screen in Maple Leaf Square outside the ACC. “Party in the Square,” as the Raptors are calling it, will start two hours before tip off for all home and away games. DJs will provide tunes and prizes will be handed out. Admission to the party is free, but capacity is limited.

Raptors Raise Banner And Roll Over Bucks For Win Number 48 | Pro Bball Report

“They’re a good team,” Head Coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve been playing well. They are gearing up for the playoffs. Even minus DeRozan, it just goes to show you how much talent they have on that team. We fell behind, we tried to fight back. We got it under 10, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.” In Toronto, Drew’s comments sound like the eerily familiar voices of Raptors head coaches in seasons past and with the loss, the Bucks guaranteed themselves last place overall heading into the NBA Draft Lottery. The Raptors could afford to rest DeRozan against the Bucks who only had 9 players available as injuries have been an unpleasant theme in Milwaukee all season, however, the rationale really was to hopefully add some ‘pep to DeRozan’s step’ in the postseason.

No DeMar, No Problem – Raptors Rapture

Kyle Lowry made a strong contribution all game. When the Bucks looked like they were on the verge of completing the comeback in Q4, Kyle drove to the hoop several times for layups. He ended with 24 points. The Raps were expected to own the boards, and did, as two big men enjoyed double-double nights. Jonas Valanciunas’ 14 points and 13 rebounds was aided by hitting all 6 free throws he tried. Tyler Hansbrough’s run of disappointing efforts ended with 12 points and 11 rebounds. One memorable bucket occurred after he received a nifty behind-the-back pass from the always-surprising Amir. Solid passing was in evidence all night. The Raps had 25 assists, including 5 from the solid Nando De Colo, who has pushed aside the pretenders to earn regular minutes. Milwaukee received solid games from Jeff Adrien and top scorer Ramon Sessions, but surrendered 11 steals. With a short bench, they get credit for “winning” Q4 when by rights they should have been cooked. The Bucks had best hope for luck in the Draft Lottery, and good health next season, as they are a lot more hole than donut.

Toronto Raptors cap franchise’s best regular season with record victory

“I think it gets wiped away. I think you are who you are going into the playoffs,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “You’re not going to be 10 points better or 10 points worse, momentum or not. “I don’t think you’re going to become something if you have momentum, and all at once become a much better team because you’re playing well going into the playoffs.” On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled.

Raptors beat Bucks to capture franchise-record 48th win

“All it takes is the right chemistry, the right group of guys, and you can do whatever it takes,” DeRozan said. “You don’t need no big-name players, you don’t need this, that. . . what people supposedly say you need. “I think we’re proof of that, and we continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and it’s on to the next step.” The Raptors stumbled out to a 6-12 season start. The about-face came after the blockbuster seven-player trade in December that sentRudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Vasquez, John Salmons,Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes. “I’m glad we made the trade for those guys, they came in and they’ve done an unbelievable job and the coaching staff has done an unbelievable job also,” Lowry said.

Recap | Raptors 110, Bucks 100: Clinched! – Brew Hoop

We can finally exhale. With a 110-100 loss to the Raptors tonight, the Bucks locked down the worst record in the league, and thus will have the highest odds at landing the number one pick and no worse than the fourth pick in this June’s draft. Thoughthis wasn’t the intention at the beginning of the year, we’ve made it to this position. You may pop that champagne you have been saving in your refrigerator. Coming into tonight with a two-game cushion on Philly with only two games remaining, Milwaukee had to win out to not be the sole proprietor of the bottom slot in the the league standings. The Raptors, in their own battle to lock down the third seed in the East, had no plans to allow the Bucks a chance out of the basement, coming out early with way more energy than Milwaukee.

Raptors set franchise record with season’s 48th victory over Milwaukee – The Globe and Mail

“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests.

DeMar DeRozan credits hard work in face of record – Sports Mole

“It definitely means a lot,” DeRozan told reporters after the game. “If you really sit down and look at it, that’s big, to be tied with the franchise record and have a chance to break it. “We’ve come a long way. A lot of people wouldn’t have counted us to be in the position we’re in now. It’s definitely a credit to our hard work, both the players and the coaching staff.” The franchise record currently stands at 47 wins in a regular season, with Toronto needing one win from their final games to set a new tally.

Raptors set franchise record with season’s 48th victory over Milwaukee – The Globe and Mail

“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests. “It felt good to get my bounce back,” said Johnson, the fifth-year Raptor. “It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”

Tom Thibodeau not fretting over playoff matchups – chicagotribune.com

“You’re not going to sneak around people,” Thibodeau said. “If you’re going to be successful, you have to go through people.” In other words, all systems go and full speed ahead? This is known: The Heat rested LeBron James and Chris Bosh at Washington and the Heat got drilled by the Wizards, handing the Eastern Conference’s top seed to the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Raptors won their home finale against the Bucks. That means if the Raptors win at the Knicks on Wednesday, the Bulls will finish fourth and face either the Wizards or, most likely, the Nets in the first round. If they prevailed in that series, they would draw the Pacers-Hawks winner in the second round. It’s the same scenario if both the Raptors and Bulls lose on Wednesday.

Toronto Raptors cap franchise’s best regular season with record victory | National Post

On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled. “I know it’s ringing hollow, but we still have to continue work to get better,” Casey said. “We’re not where we need to be defensively, offensively for the playoffs. We’re not a veteran team that can take three or four games off and expect to come back and keep the rhythm.”

Raptors set franchise record for wins by downing lowly Bucks | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

And perhaps that’s how the team must play in the post-season, resorting to a style featuring solid ball movement and running in transition following stops or turnovers, basically trying to outscore its opponent, which is not in head coach Dwane Casey’s basketball DNA. What can be gleaned from win No. 48 is anyone’s guess, an evening that was more pre-season than end-of-season basketball with the post-season on the horizon. DeMar DeRozan would usher in the banner ceremony, engaging with the fans, then enjoyed his courtside view from the bench as the team decided to sit its all-star wing, even though DeRozan did dress in the event the Bucks somehow mounted a charge.

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Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

[GIF] Amir Johnson (@IamAmirJohnson) Throws Down Jam, Leaves Man Hanging

Amir Johnson is a great dude, and so is that dude in the blue shirt.  The dude in the blue shirt deserves better than paying for those expensive seats, getting up off his comfy 100-level chair to high-five Amir,  and then be left hanging.  RR advises Amir Johnson to find that man and send him a gift basket containing playoff tickets.  Now.  As a token gift, RR pledges to give that man a free Kings In The North shirt if he contacts us at [email protected]

Reaction: Raptors 110, Bucks 100


Milwaukee Bucks 100 FinalRecap | Box Score 110 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +20What more do you want from him? Second game back from injury, started the game gangbusters, and had to deal with the long, athletic, Bucks front-court, or Pachulia jamming elbows into his chest. A couple threes, a couple dimes…he’s the hero this city deserves (sorry Patman; we just like you, we don’t love you).

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 33 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +18I’d be more concerned if the rest of his game disappeared alongside his offense, but he did a great job of rotating on defense, getting out in passing lanes and chasing his man around the screens. I’m concerned with his inability to consistently score heading into the playoffs.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 27 MIN | 4-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +8This is not the Jonas we saw to start the season. This is not the Jonas I would have gladly flipped to Detroit for Drummond. This is the Jonas who came “this” close to losing it all with a stupid mistake, and has made a commitment to putting it behind him and doubling down. He was a beast tonight, and did a hell of a job against a quicker, more athletic frontcourt. I appreciate him swinging his elbows when he comes down with the ball.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 36 MIN | 10-24 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 24 PTS | +15Sick handles, sick buckets, sick. You almost forgot about him from time-to-time with Vasquez handling the ball so much, but as an off-guard, he’s lethal because of his playmaking ability. Picked up in the 2nd half where Vasquez left off and made a lot of things happen. When the Raptors need something to happen on offense, there should be no doubt who the ball should go too.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 8-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | +21There’s no question he belongs in this league; wish he didn’t think he needs to repeatedly defend that…it’s quite clear. That said, he made it rain in the 1st half, and makes a legit running mate for Lowry in the back-court. Pretty quiet in the second half, but Lowry picked up the slack like a good backcourt mate should. Sessions took a few too many liberties on offense, but you could see he tried to keep up; gotta appreciate that

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 4-5 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +6How did the Pacers not have a spot for him on their bench? Everytime there was a skirmish under the rim, or someone getting tangled up, he was there.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 19 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -6He grabbed the few rebounds Hansbrough couldn’t scoop up. Had a hard time with Adrien/Henson, but he rarely has to deal with opposition A-squad for extended periods of time.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -4He actually jumped to pass the ball from the corner, and ended up throwing it away, that sent the Bucks out on the break and cut the Raptors lead to 6. That’s all I can think about. Nando should have slapped him for that transgression.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -8Good with the ball, good off the ball, set a nice pace, but he’s not as good a shooter as you’d like. His ball movement and court-vision surprised the Bucks who couldn’t make any adjustments.

Dwane Casey
Did a great job of managing minutes, but not a good enough job of managing the game allowing the Bucks to make the 4th quarter run that forced him to play the starters down the stretch more than we all would have liked.

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Toronto Raptors Kings of the North T-Shirt

Toronto Raptors – “Kings In The North” – Atlantic Division Champions Tee

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Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, April 14

WAAAA BRENDAN SHANAHAN AHHHH RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!!!

Hey, guess what, an actual game is being played at the ACC on Monday, too. I know, secondary to a new president of the Leafs, but we’ve got to cover it, assuming it isn’t cancelled because the local media is still fellating Shanahan at Gate 6. If the game does go down, it’ll tip off at 7 p.m. on TSN, and features your 47-33 Toronto Raptors against the 15-65 Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks, in April? Well, here are a few reasons to care:

*The Raptors will be raising their SECOND Atlantic Division Champions banner to the rafters before the game. Please use the hashtag #bannerz when discussing on social media.
*The Raptors can set the franchise record for wins with a victory. The current 47-win mark is tied with two other seasons as the best mark in franchise history.
*The Raptors are tied with Chicago right now and own the tiebreaker. A win with a Chicago loss would clinch the three-seed and almost surely mean they avoid Brooklyn in round one, if that’s something you care about.
*With a loss, the Bucks will clinch the best lottery odds.
*Giannis Antetokounmpo.
*Jonas Valanciunas has been beasting of late (18.3 points and 11 rebounds on 60.7 percent shooting over his past eight).
*DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry making final statements for Most Improved Player voting.

To help us set the stage, I enlisted the help of Eric Buenning of BrewHoop.

1. The Bucks magic number is 1. As in, one Bucks loss or Sixers win locks up the league’s worst record and, therefore, the best chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. The Bucks are also assured of a top-5 pick already. This must feel good after a year of feeling bad. How would you rank your top-5 draft prospects, and was a 15-65 season worth it?

It really does feel good, though the process to get there wasn’t organic (read: this was soooooo not planned). It’s essentially a toothless smile after all the beatings they’ve endured this year, but whatever. It’s still a smile. They’re in this position and tomorrow looks a lot more promising than today.

With regards to the draft, the excitement for the best odds at the no. 1 is definitely there, but I think what Bucks fans are most amped (or maybe relieved) about is that no matter where they fall in the draft order, they’ll have a chance to pick up a premier prospect and add that to their small group of intriguing young talent. That being said, there is still a wish list within the broader wish list (mine goes Wiggins-Parker-Embiid-Exum-whoever, by the way…I think) that folks are surely going to argue about for the next two months. It’s fine; people have their preferences, but we Bucks fans can sleep easy knowing that one of these super highly touted guys will be dressing in Bucks gear next year. That’s nuts. This doesn’t happen too often ’round here.

Was all the losing worth it? Technically yes, because high draft picks are cool and exciting and the Bucks need that buzz surrounding them. The only concern I would have going forward is that this young little group of players that are here already (Brandon Knight, John Henson, Giannis, Nate Wolters, Larry Sanders, Khris Middleton) aren’t as good as they’re expected to be once the primary talent is brought in. There’s a fair amount of potential in that cast, but when you lose 65 or 66 games in a 82-game season, the question of ”well, are they really going to be any good?” has to creep into your mind a little bit. But, they’re all under the age of 25 and have pretty solid potential going forward, so we’ll see. I think this whole year was worth it if it means that this young group plus the pick(s) are the ones leading the campaign next year.

Milwaukee hasn’t beaten a .500 team since Dec. 6. Give me one reason Raptors fans should be even remotely worried about this game, which actually means something to Toronto.

I’m pretty sure there is some incentive among professional athletes to not be known as part of the worst team in the league any given year. As much as almost everyone around the situation wants the Bucks to lock down that worst record, I can’t imagine the players are like, ”yeah! Let’s try and lose and not be embarrassed about it!” So basically, if the Raptors have their sights set on the playoffs while Milwaukee is trying to not be the cellar-dweller, there could be a chance that Milwaukee steals a victory. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN, TORONTO.

Giannis Antetokounmpo. Still the best?

Yep. He’s certainly reached the limit on what he can accomplish on the court in his rookie season, but he’s still brought so much joy to a team that’s had so little to smile about. Some people have considered that over-saturation of a player who isn’t that good yet, but whatever. Let us be the slightest bit happy (even if it gets crazy once in a while) about something that’s gone well for us, please and thank you.

Despite owning the league’s second-worst defensive efficiency mark, the Bucks do a decent job chasing teams off the 3-point line above the break. Is this a positive sign for the defensive system, or is it simply indicative of the Bucks bleeding attempts in the paint and from the corners? (I’m stretching to find positives to say about their play, sorry.)

I have no idea, honestly. I can’t really say I’ve picked up on any patterns for this defense other than sighing deeply. Sorry.

O.J. Mayo has gotten quite fat this season. Milwaukee’s known for their beer, but what local foods do you think he’s been plumping up on?

Before I answer this, I want to express regret for not starting a Fatty Mayonnaise craze. That meme/photoshop would have gotten me ALL the retweets and groupies that come with high retweet totals.

So I looked up foods to avoid belly fat (which is where his gain has been, mostly), and I’ve come up with this list:

-pancakes
-ice cream sandwiches
-doughnut holes (glazed, probably)
-brats
-ice cream sundaes (you could totally see him hosting Sundae Sunday at his place, couldn’t you?)
-everything else

Vegas says: Raptors -11 or -12 depending on where you go, with an over/under of 205. No data is available on where the action is going.
Hollinger says: Raptors -14
Nelly says: Treat ‘em like they’re from Milwaukee, send ‘em Green Pay Packin

Blake says: Bullying is morally apprehensible but I would like for the Toronto Raptors to raise a banner and then raise the bar for ass kickings and raise the roof with their great play and raise expectations entering the playoffs. Raptors by one point for each heart Giannis warms during the game.

“Roll With Amir” – Recap with Pictures

Ed’s Note: This is a guest post by Sari Birnbaum (@sarimb), who attended the annual Roll With Amir event and tells us what it’s all about.

“Warrior”. “Humble”. “Determined”. “Heart”. These are just a few words used to describe Amir Johnson. He is the heart and soul of the Toronto Raptors, on and off the court. Not a game goes by where Amir isn’t diving on the floor after a loose ball, battling for a key rebound, or making us all hold our breath while he attempts yet another “summer three”.

Off the court, Amir is one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met. He is a fixture in the community, and loves taking part in events around the city. So it’s was no surprise that 4 years ago, in Amir’s first season with the Raptors, he decided to do something no professional athlete in any sport has ever done. He took 50 lucky fans to a Raptors game and dinner afterwards… on him! I was one of the lucky 50 to attend, and I have attended every year since.

The event is called “i Roll With Amir” and was held over two evenings last Wednesday and Thursday. Night 1 began at Home Of The Brave, where we picked up our tickets and were gifted with a Roll with Amir swag bag filled with a sweatshirt, t-shirt, and water bottle with Amir’s face and the event logo on them. We then went to the ACC, where we witnessed the Raptors take down the Philadelphia 76ers and inch that much closer to the Atlantic Division title (which they won 2 nights later.) Thursday was night 2 at Medieval Times, a place Amir chose because it reminded him of attending the show as a child in his hometown of LA. The night began with an hour and a half of socializing prior to the show. He greeted us as we entered and thanked us for attending.

A group photo was taken and we were told to line up – as he sat in a chair fit for a King – he spoke to everyone individually. Many excited fans met Amir for the first time. We moved into another room where Amir was “knighted”. Following that, we entered the Tournament court – and were seated at long tables – dinner was served and the show began. Demar DeRozan, along with his fiancé and young daughter, arrived to show support for their teammate and friend. I was lucky enough to be seated directly behind Amir and Demar, and watching them watch the show and interact with each other, has me so excited for the future of this team going forward. These are guys who genuinely like each other and enjoy being together. Our Raptors are in good hands.

On behalf of everyone in attendance, the biggest THANK YOU to Amir and his friend Veezy, for putting on another spectacular event. We can all look forward to what amazing idea they will have for Part 5! But first… a deep playoff run – this city, the fans and Amir truly deserve it!

The Superman Effect

Alrighty, first things first: I’m here to put myself at the feet of the RR faithful for missing my scheduled quick reaction post yesterday. The quick and dirty explanation: I’ve been away from the site for the last couple months while I finish my thesis, which was presented last week. The Pistons game was supposed to be my glorious reintroduction to RR to help bolster the rotation come playoff time.

Instead, my sleep-deprived, graduate school-addled brain convinced me that the game started at 3:30 Pacific time, instead of 3:30 Eastern. When I sat down to watch the game, I found myself looking at TV listings filled with Masters coverage and highlight shows, but nary a Raptor game to be seen. I then found an e-mail from Zarar asking where the hell I was.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t even pop on the site myself, as I’d somehow broken my computer charger the evening before.

In any case, the blame is mine, and it’s my bad. I’m sorry.

Now, enough of my rambling. Let’s get to the game, which was a pretty pivotal one once the Bulls lost the Knicks later in the day, as it not only tied a Raptor franchise record for wins but also pulled them back into pole position for the 3rd spot in the conference.


Game Recap

It’s hard to describe how dominant the Raptors looked at the start of this one. They came out of the gates like a house on fire, and offensively, everything (and everyone) was clicking. The Raptors’ strategy to begin the game seemed to be to feed Jonas and a much more spry looking (at least on offence) Amir Johnson as much as possible, with the intention of getting Detroit’s imposing Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond front line in foul trouble. The strategy worked, and both players had some nice buckets inside as Monroe and Drummond found themselves both on the bench less than halfway through the quarter.

More from RR:

In the end, that turned out to be more of a premonition than a great thing for the Raptors (holy crap, were there a lot of fouls called in this game), but in the first, it was a thing of beauty. With the lane wide open, it seemed like the entire Raptors team was either scoring at will or getting to the line (and, in multiple instances, both). The score quickly ballooned to 20-5 and you kind of felt like this thing was over before it had even started.

Side note here: Detroit is a super-talented team, but they’re a bit of a mess mentally. It seems like all of their stars ride a roller coaster all game in regards to effort. Like a big roller coaster, with loops and stuff, not the kiddy one that takes you around the perimeter of the park – one quarter, Greg Monroe is grabbing every board in sight, the next, he looks like he’s not sure what sport he’s playing. The weird thing is that their players don’t even ride the same roller coaster – they all peak at totally different times. It’s quite odd (and reassuring, if you’re a fan of the opposing team). But anyways.

The Pistons managed to claw back a tad thanks to some sloppy Raptor defence, which was a bit of a theme tonight, as you’ll see, but the Raptors ended the quarter up 42-26 – setting a new season-best for points in the first, and, quite likely having Casey and his coaching staff feeling like all that was needed for a win was three more quarters of coasting. This was evident in his lineups, which were far more evenly spaced in regards to minutes than they have been in games previous (though, again, this is partly due to the ridiculous amount of fouls we saw on both sides).

The second quarter began with a bench + DeMar unit that had the Pistons quickly keying on number ten every time the ball came near him. He hit a lot of tough shots today – including a four-point play in the quarter – but it’s tough to stay ahead while the number two option on the floor appears to be Tyler Hansbrough. Andre Drummond, obviously, dominated the matchup with Hansbrough – he dominated most of the game against everyone, honestly, and helped the Pistons out to a huge rebounding advantage, particularly on the offensive end, that allowed them to claw back in the game.

Seeing this disparity grow (offensive rebounding was at 20-4 Pistons at one point, and ended at 21-8), particularly with their vertically-challenged second forward unit, the Raptors seemed to try and make up the difference in possessions by gambling for steals. It was a strategy that paid dividends in some ways – the Raptor fast break was extremely effective – but also left perimeter players out of position regularly. Quite frankly, it looked lazy. The Pistons used the free space to cut the lead to 8 points with 30 seconds left in the half. That’s where the title of the article comes in.

You see, sometimes things don’t always work out your way on a team level. As a whole, you’re a step slow defensively, or your three-pointers aren’t falling. Your secondary scoring options are having up and down games. You’re getting horribly, horribly outrebounded. It’s a game that by all accounts, you should lose.

Yet for good teams, with legitimate stars, they often find a way to win, thanks to just sheer will and effectiveness of their top players. And, from a Raptor standpoint, this game turned into a two-part special: the Kyle Lowry show, followed by the DeMar DeRozan show.

With the Raptor offence struggling all over the court, Lowry took the opportunity to end the half with two huge spot-up three pointers that he sunk with a hand in his face, ballooning the lead to 14 just before the half and completely killing Detroit’s momentum. He then started off the 3rd with another, and continued to look for his own all quarter with aplomb. Lowry ended the 3rd with 14 of the Raptors 24 points in the quarter.

This was important, because aside from him, the third quarter was a train wreck. Detroit, led by their twin towers of Monroe and Drummond, absolutely DEMOLISHED the Raptors in all facets. Jonas, in particular, had an extremely rough quarter, being rejected by Drummond a couple times before losing his confidence and bricking a few short hook shots. It seemed like Monroe and Drummond were catching every Detroit miss and putting it back up and in, a problem exacerbated with an ineffective Jonas, a still-hobbled and burdened by 5 fouls Amir and an injured Chuck Hayes (he left the game on a Monroe poster dunk and later returned). Hansbrough and Patterson as a duo are just far too small to effectively guard Monroe and Drummond, and if you weren’t sure about that to begin the game, well, you sure as hell are now.

Somehow, someway though, the Raptors ended the quarter up 1. And by “somehow, someway,” I mean “Kyle Lowry.” This guy was absolutely everywhere, as usual – hitting spot-up threes, finishing tough buckets at the hoop, ripping rebounds away from Monroe, and just generally being a menace, a superman, KLOE. The Detroit broadcast team called him a star and said “we’d be hearing a lot more about Kyle Lowry over the next few years.” I’m fully convinced that if the Raptors were more popular, any semblance of the debate regarding Kyle Lowry staying in the city next year would be completely over. The guy should be the most popular athlete in Canada.

With Lowry taking a blow to start the fourth, the Raptors looked to DeMar DeRozan to continue Lowry’s path of singular destruction. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that DeMar was an all-star this season – his shot selection can still be questionable at times, particularly in the fourth when he attempts to take matters into his own hands.

When they start going down, though, wow, is it fun to watch. And man, does he ever look like an All-Star. With the larger Kyle Singler spending the entire quarter more or less draped all over him, DeMar hit a litany of tough shots from all over the court, ballooning the Raptor lead to 10 points and essentially sealing it with a massive dunk of Singler with a couple minutes left. His alpha dog status assured, DeRozan’s dominance seemed to have significant emotional impacts on the Pistons players, too – Monroe and Drummond became visibly more timid around the rim, and Jonas was able to repeat his early effectiveness to help finish the game off and at least make the rebounding disparity respectable. Even when Lowry fouled out with 5 minutes left, it didn’t feel like Detroit had any chance. That’s the superman effect. And it’s fun when not one, but two guys on your team can do it on the same night.

Was this a perfect win? No, not even close. The team defence as a whole was sloppy and the rebounding was abysmal at times. Was it a big win? You bet. And for your big players, sometimes big is a bit more of an incentive than perfect.


Breaking it Down

Because I missed the original airing of the game, I ended up watching it on NBA.tv (thanks, Zarar), which allowed me to pull some gifs. So let’s take a look at a few specific plays from the game:

1st quarter

This first clip is a good example of the Raptors’ early mindset, which seemed to be to feed Jonas and Amir as often as possible. It’s also a great example of how Terrence Ross has come along this season with his decision-making in the lane.

 1. Lowry moves the ball to a slashing Ross, who is picked up on a switch by Kyle Singler.

2. Noticing the switch, Amir Johnson (who looked far, far more mobile yesterday on offence, anyway), immediately breaks for the hoop. He’s picked up, belatedly, by Jonas Jerebko.

3. With Ross rolling hard to the basket, Greg Monroe stays back, both to put a body on Jonas and to avoid being taken out by a falling Singler, who’s overcommitted to helping on Ross.

4. Amir finishes the hoop and is fouled for a nice and-one. It’s plays like this that allowed the Raptor bigs to be effective. When the wings are creative in finding looks, the size disparity faced by Toronto against a team like Detroit isn’t nearly as pronounced.

This next play is another example of some creative work by the Raptors to free up space around the rim (as well as an example of great passing/athleticism).

1. Patrick Patterson sets a high screen on DeMar’s man (Singler).

2. Patterson pops and calls for the ball. Seeing his man open, Patterson’s check (Tony Mitchell), doesn’t hedge on DeRozan’s screen, and Kyle Lowry’s man sags.

3. DeRozan rises over a frantically recovering Singler, who is late returning to his check thanks to Patterson’s excellent screen and his own teammate Mitchell’s immobility during the play. Lowry delivers a perfect dime, the Raptors go up 28-12 (yes, the start of this game was super fun).

2nd quarter

As I said in my recap, things started to break down in the second as the Raptors started gambling for steals. Here, we see Nando de Colo and Amir Jonson making poor individual decisions that lead to an easy Piston bucket:

1. De Colo leaves his man (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, in the far left corner) to attempt to pick off a pass out to Monroe, who is standing near the three point line. Spoiler alert: Monroe doesn’t score from there. Ever. The ball is nearly stolen by de Colo and recovered by Detroit.

2. With de Colo out of position, Grevis Vasquez rotates in to help, finding himself checking Monroe. Once Monroe begins to rotate to the basket, Vasquez leaves him for Hayes, finding himself in no-man’s land.

3. Amir, who was guarding Monroe, rotates out to the line to guard a now wide-open Caldwell-Pope, who’s man (de Colo), is now standing on the free throw line. In his haste, he dives out to cover, biting on what can be described as a pre-pump fake. Caldwell-Pope shakes Amir and is left wide open for an easy basket.

4th quarter

In the fourth, some defensive issues continued, particularly when the duo of Patterson and Hansbrough was charged with guarding Monroe and Drummond:

1. De Colo, guarding Peyton Siva, is picked near the three point line by Monroe.

2. Hansbrough sags hard on Siva, leaving Monroe alone near the 3-point line. Patterson steps up to cover the rolling Monroe.

3. Hansbrough fully commits to the driving Siva as de Colo proves unable to get back into position. Monroe begins his move to the basket, and Patterson responds by pushing Monroe on the back, allowing Monroe lane position and an easy dunk on the heels of the Siva miss.

And this one is here for obvious reasons:

1. DeMar DeRozan over everything.

2. Superman effect.


Odds and Ends

1. Amir Johnson looked better than he did against the Knicks, but still not at 100 per cent. It was particularly clear that he still has a ways to go on the defensive side of the ball, where he was a step slow and ended up committing five fouls in just seventeen minutes.

2. It was the Pistons’ home finale, and yet you could hear fans chanting “let’s go Raptors” and “MVP” for Lowry when he stepped to the line. Pretty cool stuff.

3. The win puts the Raptors’ destiny back in their own hands. Two wins to close out the season, and the third seed is ours. Of course, that may not be what Raptor fans want in the end, depending on how the Miami/Indiana dogfight shakes out.

4. With the win, the 2013/2014 Raptors tie the team record for wins in a season, with two games to go – one against the lowly Bucks, and one against the Knicks. I realize that in the larger picture, it’s just a number, but it’d be great to see this group of Raptors own the record. They’ve worked extremely hard this season and been an absolute pleasure to watch, and, if nothing else, it would be a great way to commemorate the season that was in the annals of club history.

Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 14

Raptors fend off Pistons to tie franchise win mark | Toronto Sun

Sunday was another example of the Raptors getting pushed around in the paint. The Pistons outrebounded them 55-40, with a 21-8 edge in the offensive-boards department. A healthy and mobile Amir Johnson would go a long way to addressing that need and Casey knows it. “We definitely do,” he said when asked how desperately they need a healthy Johnson back. “Any time anybody gets 21 offensive boards tells all of our bigs there’s a need. It’s timing, it’s grit, it’s anticipation and a lot of those things that we didn’t have. They basically manhandled us in the paint and we’ve got to better than that.” Coming into the game it was the defensive slippage that was of most concern and while the Raptors held Detroit to just 41.7% shooting, the Pistons also scored 107 points which is way too many for a team that has struggled as much as Detroit. Casey, though, was most concerned with the beating his team took on the glass.

Rapid Recap: Raptors Fight Off Pistons to Tie Franchise Win Mark | Raptors HQ

Most fans will look back on this game as a bit of a disappointment. Once again, the Raptors played down to a level that shouldn’t be acceptable for a club that just laid claim to the Atlantic Division title. With that said, we witnessed yet another clutch performance from DeRozan who looks to be in top form just in time for the playoffs. In addition, we saw this team react to the loss of Lowry and not miss a beat. Detroit or not – a win, is a win, is a win.

Lewenberg: Raptors fans head south to watch record-tying win | TSN

Nearing the end of their magical, out-of-nowhere campaign, the Raptors continue to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Two days after clinching their second ever division title, they tied the team’s all-time win mark – previously set in 2000-01 and then again in 2006-07 – and have a chance to top it on Monday when they host the Bucks or in Wednesday’s finale against New York. “We talked about it as a team,” Casey said. “It wasn’t our goal going into the year but it’s good for this group. It’s something they should be proud of. They worked at it and it’s all their doing.” “Why not break it?” “It definitely means a lot, man,” said DeRozan, who scored 14 of his game-high 30 points in the final quarter Sunday. “When you look at it, if you really sit down and look at it, man, that’s big. To be tied with the franchise record and have a chance to break it. We came a long way. A lot of people wouldn’t have counted [on] us to be in this position that we’re in now.”

Raptors bounce Pistons, match franchise win mark | Toronto Star

There will be a banner-raising ceremony to mark the team’s second Atlantic Division title before the game as DeRozan and the Raptors chase win No. 48 on the year. Victory No. 47 was far from pretty but with so much on the line in such an unexpected season, DeRozan’s 14-point fourth quarter sealed a 116-107 win over the Detroit Pistons and kept Toronto on pace for a record-breaking year.

Toronto Raptors Tie Franchise Record With 47th Win | Pro Bball Report

The play in this game became sloppy and inconsistent and even the referees seemed to have trouble concentrating. Kyle Lowry was fouled out on successive lazy calls by the referees who couldn’t bother to pay attention long enough to get it right. Lowry was fouled out when Drummond tripped over his own feet all by himself. No one on either team had touched him, he just lost his balance. If the referee had of been actually watching the play instead of not paying attention, he would have gotten the non-call, nothing happened situation, right. It must be almost the end of the regular season and some of the referees – along with any number of the players – have one foot on the plane heading out on vacation already.

Toronto Raptors Beat Detroit Pistons to Tie Franchise Record of 47 Wins | Bleacher Report

NBA Preview – Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors – Apr 14, 2014 | CBSSports.com

“We definitely want to pass that record,” forward Amir Johnson said. “We’re still playing hard, we’re still working on our game for the playoffs so we’re still playing for something.”

Preview: Bucks at Raptors | Journal Sentinel

Send me your Raptors-related articles; I can’t keep track of them all rapsfan [at] raptorsrepublic [dot] com

Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 13 – Undertow

Andrew and I jump right back into the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon:

Part 1:

  • JV situation – we hear from JV
  • Knicks loss – issues guarding ‘Melo and Stoudemire
  • Dwane Casey explains the defensive problems we’ve having
  • Statistical drop-off in defense in April
  • ESPN’s new +/- stat and its Raptors application

Part 2:

  • Barkley supports the Raps, Kenny doesn’t – we get the audio
  • Early analysis of potential Nets matchup – Shaun Livingston is the topic
  • Are the Nets a bunch of old guys who were All-Stars, or a force to be reckoned with
  • Best advantage vs the Nets
  • Worst disadvantage vs the Nets
  • Experience counter

Part 3:

  • Listener questions – Amir’s hair, bench play, doubling JJ
  • Aaron Gray vs Dwight Buycks – heated, emotional debate
  • Look ahead to the final two games

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 (39:21, 47 MB). Or just listen below:

[GIF] Demar DeRozan Reduces Kyle Singler To a Pile of Leaves

Sources have confirmed that there was a two-car collision on the corner of Palace and Auburn Hills on Sunday afternoon. The victim, identified as one Kyle Singler, came into direct contact with a freight truck driven by one DeMar DeRozan. Singler, according to witnesses, chose to deliberately cross paths with the freight truck, much to his physical disadvantage and dismay. The below CCTV footage was released by the Detroit Police Department as a way of caution to others who might consider crossing paths with indestructible vehicles (video).

More from RR:

Late Reaction: Raptors 116, Pistons 107 – The Apologies Edition


Toronto Raptors 116 Final
Recap | Box Score
107 Detroit Pistons
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 3-3 FG | 2-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +2

What a God-send, can we give this guy a contract extension already? Seriously, if he was any more consistent he’d be a brick wall.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +17

Is there a stat like 1/2 triple doubles, because he almost nailed that with a 6/4/4 line. Sick player, sicker condo.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 30 MIN | 5-12 FG | 8-9 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +9

I want to be friends with this guy so bad. He’d totally let me crash at his place, bum a smoke, and playfully throw the XBOX controller at me after I crush him in FIFA.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 9-18 FG | 6-8 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 28 PTS | +8

Are you watching Joe Johnson? Are you watching? This is what an All-Star looks like you over-paid, under-worked mushroom head of a human being.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 10-19 FG | 8-10 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 30 PTS | +7

Hah, if you caught the pod posted today I chose not to talk about him because he wasn’t doing much all week. Well, tonight he did something. Like a lot and got a tweet from Lillard appreciating the work.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 11 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +3

It doesn’t matter what he does in the regular season, as long as he knees Garnett in the groin reducing the thug to a pile of leaves, I’m all good.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +6

Back to the bench, back to being a playa. I’ve ordered my gold-hemmed Patrick Patterson jersey and should be here in time for the playoffs. I’ll be at the ACC, just look for the guy getting the mad pu$$y. Three blocks tonight and they said he don’t play D.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2

Playa, meet Balla. Solid rebounding game against a frontline some call formidable. Chuck Hayes calls them a bunch of pansies.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5

Jesus man, even in a post where I’m giving everyone mad love, I can’t figure what to write for this guy. I presume he’s bored of the regular season and just waiting for the playoffs.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +3

Sixth man of the second half of the post All-Star game period.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -3

Someone needs to pull up his average distance run/minute stat. I bet it’s sky high.

Dwane Casey

Coach of the Year? Probably not, but definitely an extension.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Massive scheduling issue today on RR. Apologies.

    Feel free to write your own quick reaction and post it here.

Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 13 – The Finish Line

Ed’s Note: Glen Hogarth will be guiding you through the ins and outs of fantasy basketball from a Raptors and NBA perspective.

Time flies when you’re having fun and after today there’s only two games left in the regular season. On Monday the Raptors have their last regular season home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, who rank 6th from the bottom in points allowed this season at 103.4, which increases to 105.7 on the road and also allow 8.44 threes per game as well. On Wednesday the team will have an opportunity to take revenge for the lacklustre performance they gave last week against the New York Knicks and finish up strong as they head into the postseason. The Knicks are giving up 99.6 points per game on the season, which is good enough for 11th on the season, however allow 8.7 made three’s per game, making them the third worst team at guarding the perimeter.

I’m sure the Raptors are going to use these last two games to make adjustments to their defensive game which has slipped over the last month after being one of the few elite defensive teams of the year. If they can find that intensity and consistent effort that earned them that moniker earlier in the year, they have a shot at doing some real damage in the postseason. With many believing that 4th is locked up, we may see coach Casey decide to tinker with lineups and give needed rest or run to different players to get them ready entering the postseason. If so, it could make an impact to the end of your fantasy finals.

Gotta Have Em!

DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating drops from 35th down to 39th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last week, DeMar’s shooting percentage has been less than desirable, going 5.7/17.0 (.333 FG%) over the last 7 days. Despite that, he has averaged 22.0 PTS and hitting 0.7 three-pointers, with 4.0 REB, 5.0 AST and 0.3 STL per game. His points have largely come from his free throws, going to the line and hitting 10.0/11.0 (.909) helping to make up for his disappointing FG%.As long as DeRozan stays aggressive he will continue to find the charity stripe, which is often the way top players deal with shooting issues when they arise. He’s been very successful at finding open teammates as well, just another example of how DeMar has grown this year and has been able to stay effective.

Kyle Lowry – Season player rating drops from 13th down to 14th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. After it looked like Kyle may be out all week, he jumped back into the line-up and started where he left off, as the Bulldog of Bay Street. After only missing three games, Kyle came back and averaged 27.0 PTS off .500 FG% while hitting 3.0 three-pointers, with 3.5 REB, and 5.0 AST per game. He’s also brought up his free throw attempts, taking 9.0 per game since returning and shooting .889 FT%. The rest seemed to do wonders for Lowry, though he admitted that the while the week was great to help feel better, he joked it would take at least two months to recover from the long schedule of the regular season in the NBA. Well Kyle, we hope you recharged your battery, because we fans don’t want to see you start that two month recoup until July.

Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating bumps upwards again from 82nd to 81st and is owned by 97.3% of the leagues at ESPN. The 2.7% of the leagues that haven’t picked up the man should be ashamed of themselves. Over the last week JV went into full beast mode to help erase his past transgressions off the court on their day off. Well it worked, over the last seven days he has averaged 19.0 PTS off .564 FG%, with a whopping 15.3 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.3 STL and 1.3 BLK per game. He’s getting to the free throw line 6.7 times as well, but is hitting at only .650 FT%, below his season average of .751 FT%. I’m sure his dip in FT% is due to rushing his attempts some and exerting extra energy on both ends of the floor. He’ll quickly figure out to take a few extra moments to gain composure before his attempts and be right back on pace soon enough. Regardless, with the added production everywhere else, I’m sure fantasy owners are quite happy to see him continue to do exactly what he’s doing now. Dominating.

Keep An Eye On

Terrence Ross – Season player rating dips again from 116th down to 117th and is owned by 31.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last seven days T.Ross has struggled from the floor, shooting .368 FG%. Despite that he’s averaging 12.0 PTS and hitting 3.0 three-pointers, with 2.0 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.5 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. Still an effective option for any fantasy owner needing to add threes to their game, they must take into consideration his shooting nearly 9.5 shots, while only knocking down 3.5 per game. This is enough to affect your FG%, so if you’re in a close race in that category you may need to be weary of using his threes at the moment. With that said, Ross has been a solid percentage shooter throughout most of the season so it’s a gamblers option.

Patrick Patterson – Season player rating holds at 168th and owned by 0.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Patterson continues to get himself back into game shape and over the past seven days has begun to round himself back into the 2Pat we knew. He averaged 8.7 PTS off .466 FG% and adding nearly 1 three-pointer per game, with 5.2 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.8 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. If you did not stay in foul trouble during the New York game these numbers were sure to increase. You should consider that if Amir struggles to feel healthy again Patterson could be the perfect option on Monday’s contest against Milwaukee. I expect him to stretch the floor in both games and bring the level of defensive intensity that Casey expects from his entire team leaving him on the floor provided he stays out of foul trouble.

Amir Johnson – Season player rating drops from 59th down to 68th and is owned by 55.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir’s first game back left to be desired and still looked as though he could use some more time to recuperate. Failing to score any points he pulled down three rebounds, made two assists and had a block in 17 min. of action. This afternoon we will see if he is able to give more, and will be a good indication of what Amir Johnson we can expect in the last two games coming up. Hopefully with some added rest he’ll be ready to rock ‘n roll. Personally, I look to see him getting back to his season average of 29 min. per night by the time they go back up against New York on Wednesday.

They Try and Try

Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating drops from 152nd down to 155th and is owned by 43.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Since Kyle’s return GV’s numbers have clearly regressed. With Lowry out, Vasquez was averaging 36.6 minutes, however since his return he is only getting 16.0 per game most likely due to the return of 2Pat as well. In the last seven days he’s averaged 7.0 PTS off .444 FG%, with 1.0 REB, 2.5 AST, and 1.0 BLK. He has managed to hit 2.0 three-pointers per game during that time keeping him a possible option from behind the arc if you’re in desperate need.

Game Day: Raptors @ Pistons – April 13

Toronto entered Friday’s game with three items on their check list: clinch the Atlantic Division, tie a franchise record for wins and retain their position as the East’s third seed. Despite the loss, Toronto managed to clinch the division due to Brooklyn’s loss.

On Friday, six of the seven confirmed Eastern playoff teams swapped positions. Saturday the top two seeds switched back and the final seed (Atlanta) was confirmed. Seven of the eight teams have yet to cement their seeding, and aren’t likely to until the last games are played Wednesday.

This afternoon the Raptors will look to get back in the win column in Detroit before returning home to play Milwaukee tomorrow and finish the season Wednesday in New York.

Chicago, having supplanted Toronto as the third seed will be in New York in their own back-to back series with the back end at home vs. Orlando and they’ll finish in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Knicks who came into Toronto desperate have since been eliminated and will have no motivation to play the Bulls with the same intensity and will likely rest injured star Anthony.

If Toronto wants to regain the third seed they need to take care of business by winning their final 3 games and hope Chicago loses one of theirs. The difference between Toronto and Chicago in March and April is Chicago has one additional win.  

With so much jockeying back and forth within the standings it’s hard for the Raptors to pick a preference of position. Ultimately Toronto’s best bet is to do what they’ve done all year and rebound following a loss with a series of wins. That starts today in Detroit, so let’s examine the match-up.

Detroit Jonas throws down

Before we break it down, JM Poulard of ESPN True Hoop Network and writer for Piston Powered was kind enough to answer a few questions.

While Toronto is in a dog fight with Chicago to capture the 3-seed, Detroit had a completely different focus of maintaining their position in 23rd (or 8th in the draft lottery). Charlotte had the rights to the Pistons pick, however it was draft protected to 8.  One could assume the front office probably mandated Coach Loyer to make sure they didn’t climb higher and the team delivered on this promise. Since Chicago won Friday it guaranteed the Pistons will retain their lottery pick.  With this objective resolved, do you think Loyer pushes the squad to play spoiler versus Toronto and OKC to close out the season on a high note? 

Honestly, it’s really tough to tell. It’s not like the Pistons were actually winning a multitude of games when they were trying to do so. Detroit “boasts” a bottom-third league defense, and they are the proud owners of the second-worst clutch rating in the league per NBA.com.

Detroit’s warts have an amazing knack for showing up in late-game situations. Thus, if the Pistons want to play the role of spoilers, it might basically not matter.

This past summer Joe Dumars acquired free agents Brandon Jennings (3 years/$24 million) and Josh Smith (4 years/$53 million). On paper the signings looked to be upgrades, however I posted it had the potential for disaster given the caustic nature of both players. Sure enough they are both having terrible seasons: many of Jennings stats have digressed and Smith has put up the most 3-point shots of his career (265) hitting on only 26% and has the lowest FG% of his career. Is this simply a chemistry issue and what can be done moving forward so these two players live up to their salaries?  

Here’s the dirty little secret about Brandon Jennings: this is who he’s always been. Jennings is a low-percentage shooter that enjoys taking difficult shots off the dribble. Placing him alongside players that need the ball in their hands to be effective was never going to work out well. Still, Detroit’s offensive rebounding prowess certainly goes hand in hand with Jennings’ insistence to take odd shots.

As it pertains to Josh Smith, his evolution is somewhat understandable. He’s a power forward that occasionally drifts to the perimeter and settles for long jumpers. And yet, the Pistons have opted to play him at small forward without actually thinking through the consequences.

Smith is an underrated passer and solid defensive player when engaged, but Pistons fans will find that hard to believe since they’ve only seen that player sporadically. I don’t expect any change from Jennings going forward, but Smith can certainly be salvageable depending on the team’s philosophy and scheme next season.

On the subject of Dumars I’m surprised owner Tom Gores didn’t fire him after the debacle that brought Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to the Pistons. To that end, several media outlets report he will resign at the end of the season and there is speculation he may already have a position in Cleveland. His tenure includes several highlights (2004 championship) and lowlights (overpaying athletes, firing a succession of coaches and missing the playoffs the past 5 seasons). What are your personal highs and lows of the Dumars reign? 

Joe Dumars pulled off one of the best and worst moves in Pistons history in less than a year. Dumars drafted Darko Milicic while the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were all still on the board.

His best move though? Trading for Rasheed Wallace. That move turned the Pistons into a title team. Dumars had a great read on the pulse of the 2003-04 team, and that allowed him to turn it into a title contender. An argument could be made that he has never had a better feel for any of his teams.

As for tonight’s match-up, aside from containing Detroit’s impressive front court what do the Raptors need to do to shut down the Pistons?

The Raptors need to be ready to defend the paint. The Pistons take a lot of shots in the restricted area via drives, post-ups and offensive rebounds. Toronto has done a good job this season of thwarting Detroit at the basket with their interior players, which explains why the Pistons have only converted 41.5 percent of their field goals versus Toronto.

As long as the Raptors protect the basket area with the same fervor, they should get an opportunity to win the game.

Injuries:

  • Josh Smith: patella tendinitis, listed as doubtful
  • Will Bynum, right foot,  listed as doubtful

Detroit Jonas defends Drummond

Positional Match-ups

Back Court — Lowery and DeRozan have been stellar all season especially following a loss. What more needs to be said.

As per JM, Jennings loves to take difficult shots and forget about his wealth of talent in the front court. Add in the added incentive of showing off for fellow Californian and friend DeRozan and we could see some real crazy shots from him today.  Stuckey replaces the injured Bynum as a starter. Last time out Stuckey had just 3 assists and 1 rebound to show for his 26-minutes on court.

Advantage — Toronto will dominate

Front Court —The marquee match-up of the day will be between Valanciunas and Drummond who have both been on a tear (see below). Johnson is still rusty after so much time off, however given how important today’s game is and the fact he always gets up for his old team it should translate into a big afternoon. Ross was not happy with the whistle or the difficult task of guarding Melo Friday so we’ll hopefully see a rebound game from him today.

Drummond is a beast and Monroe is equally talented, however they both leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end. Singler replaces Smith at the Small Forward.

Last 3 games:

Valanciunas: 19 points, 15.3 rebounds

Drummond: 18.6 points, 19 rebounds

Advantage — As per JM, Detroit love to score in the paint so taking away the paint and grabbing rebounds will be the Raptors emphasis today. Drummond will get his, but Toronto will take the category by game’s end. 

Bench — Patterson appears back in form and will create nightmares for whoever guards him.  Vasquez will have to guard Rookie Siva who has been getting more minutes due to injuries and had some good moments but it’s the type of contest GV thrives on. Bottom line without Smith or Bynum the Piston’s bench is pretty slim and with Toronto back to full health it should provide a big advantage for the Raptors.

Advantage — Raptors

Team Rating:

  • Toronto: 46-33  – offense- 10th, defense- 8th
  • Detroit: 29-51 – offense- 19th, defense- 25th

Other notables:

  • A win today will tie Raptor franchise record for most wins in a season (47).
  • Toronto is 7-3 in last 10 while Detroit is 3-7.
  • Since February 10th, Toronto has only lost 2 consecutive games once.
  • Two previous games versus Detroit at ACC were won by 21 and 14 points

Vegas Says: As of post time the Raptors favored by 6.5, over/under: 206 with public favoring Raptors by 56%

Tamberlyn Says — Expect the Raptors to come out focused and pounce on the Pistons. Look for a full 48-minute effort especially on the defensive end. In fairness, the defensive slippage had a lot to do with Patterson, Johnson and Lowry all missing games due to injury so they’ll want to get back on track starting today.

Toronto will sweep season series and win by 10+ points.

 

 

Not Exactly a Banner Effort

For anyone watching this game at home, you should have had the opportunity to fill out your entire New York Knicks viewing bingo card. JR Smith unnecessarily jacking up double-digit 3-point attempts? Check. Carmelo Anthony taking a series of well-contested isolation turn-around or fadeaway jumpers from the baseline and somehow hitting all of them? Check. Amare Stoudemire hitting the deck and staying down with an apparent “injury?” Check. Tyson Chandler making a cartoonish stink-face and walking around with his arms held out in a “what did I do?” motion after every single foul call? Check. And finally, a complete defensive breakdown leading to yet another embarrassing loss for the Knicks? Che…oh wait. One short of the Knicks bingo on that one, and one win short of the Atlantic division title too (for like 20 minutes until Brooklyn hooked us up, but still).

This game was entertaining and close from the opening tip until the start of the 4th quarter, when the Knicks played like a team that needed to win to have any playoff chances, and the Raptors played like a team that just needed to keep playing because there were like 15 000 people there watching and it would have been really awkward if they’d just kinda walked out, which is what they probably would rather have done.

Iman Shumpert may only be in his third season, but his hair-cut has been in the league since 1987, and that veteran savvy really comes through on the defensive end. Shumpert was credited with 2 steals, but he was responsible for breaking up what felt like four or five offensive possessions in a row for the Raptors in the 4th quarter that helped the Knicks pull away.

Amare Stoudemire looked fantastic. He scored at will in the low post, nailed an early jumper when the Raptors dared him to shoot instead of drive, he slammed home a pair of dunks on cuts to the basket amidst the Raptors’ defensive breakdowns and played well in the pick and roll whenever the Knicks decided to take a slight reprieve from iso-ball. The Raptors simply couldn’t keep Amare out of the paint. He was able to establish position early and seal either Patrick Patterson or Chuck Hayes almost underneath the basket before he even caught the ball. The bulk of his points came as easy points in the low post where he simply bullied those two. Amare may not have demonstrated the dynamic explosiveness that once made him the best pick’n’roll scoring big man in the NBA with Steve Nash and on the 2010-11 Knicks. Perhaps his uninsurable knees have relegated that man to memory. But he was dominant as a scorer nonetheless, and Amare Stoudemire-if-he-can-stay-healthy could spell some trouble for an opponent looking to cruise to a first round playoff win.

Now, having praised Amare for his offensive talents, it’s worth noting that his defensive shortcomings, in particular his disinterest in boxing out for rebounds, were also on apparent display. Valanciunas jumped on the opportunity and put up a positively Mozgovian stat line of 14 points and 21 rebounds. He had 8 offensive boards and he took Tyson Chandler, who could not contain his driving hook shot without fouling, completely out of the game with early foul trouble. JV was +5 on the night, compared to a negative plus/minus rating for the rest of the starters (not including Amir Johnson, who played a productive 17 first half minutes coming back from injury but did not return to play). I’m not a large proponent of NBA plus/minus numbers, but in this case they back up what looked apparent on the court (As an aside, an exception to this rule is adjusted or real plus/minus, like the delightfully insightful new system that ESPN launched this week. I completely support any kind of advanced metrics that tell that Amir Johnson has the 12th biggest impact on the court of any player in the NBA.). The problem came with filing the power forward minutes when Amir couldn’t go in the second half, and even more so with plugging in any of the bench big men at Valanciunas’ spot whenever he needed a breather. Casey ran a lineup to start the 4th quarter that featured the 6’6 Chuck Hayes as the only nominal big man on the court. It did not bode well. The aforementioned Amare Stoudemire manhandled anybody not named Valanciunas (He shot 10 of 14 and easily could have had 34 instead of 24 if the Knicks had simply gone to him more) and anytime the Knicks dribbled past their defender on the perimeter there was absolutely nobody to challenge the shot at the rim.
With the exception of Kyle Lowry’s impressively smothering defense on Prigioni in the Raptors noble final 3-minute comeback attempt, it was a bad defensive game from everyone. Offence wasn’t the problem, as the matador defenders of the Knicks allowed the Raptors to score at a rate of 114.5 points per 100 possessions, which is about 3 points better than the league leading LA Clippers offense averages. The problem was defense, where the Raps gave up a whopping 123.6 points per 100 possessions to the New York basketball shorts, a full 13 points worse than the Milwaukee Bucks average with the league’s most woeful defense.

The Bad News:
With the Raptor’s loss and Chicago win, the Bulls leapfrogged the Dino’s for the 3rd overall spot. Chicago closes the season out @Knicks, home for Orlando, and then @Charlotte, whom they may then likely face in the first round. Not a cakewalk, but not a rogue’s gallery of opponents either.

The Good News:
Who needs to win when your opponents lose without you! Brooklyn lost last night too, causing the three greatest words in the English language to apply to the Raptors pursuit of the Atlantic division title: won by default! WOOHOO! Its banner time everybody! Which is good, because the rafters of the ACC are shameful. The Raptors have one division banner in their history, which hangs beside an ‘inaugural season’ banner. When we hang the 2013-2014 Atlantic division champions banner, can we please take down the embarrassing inaugural season banner? It’s a joke. It’s like your parents keeping a participant ribbon pinned on the family fridge for a decade after you lost the consolation t-ball final in the 2nd grade. That banner is not an achievement; it’s an embarrassment that screams that we’ve never won anything. And that sentiment is echoed by the fact that the only banner to be raised in the ACC the last 7 years says “Bon Jovi” on it, because I have absolutely no idea why. Really? Come on MLSE, can you not see how you’re inflaming what’s already a problematic sports-fan inferiority complex in Toronto?

Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 12

Raptors lose game but win Atlantic Division title | Toronto Star

The fact they will open at home regardless has to be of some solace. “It does, because we’re a young team and whoever we play . . . is going to be more of an experienced team, so being at home will help,” said Casey. “But it’s not the answer, it’s not the cure-all, it’s not going to win the game for you. We still have to go out and compete and do the things we have to do to win.” What matters, however, is how the Raptors are playing far more than who they will face. They were good for stretches against the Knicks on Friday but not for long enough and, uncharacteristically, they faded in the fourth quarter.

Lewenberg: Bittersweet celebration as Raptors clinch division | TSN

Toronto’s defeat, at the hands of a desperate Knicks teams fighting for their playoff lives, exposed a series of lingering concerns for Dwane Casey and his club. Meanwhile, with Chicago coming back from an 18-point deficit to knock off the Pistons, the Raptors fell out of the Eastern Conference’s third seed. Do they care who they’ll face in the opening round of the postseason, beginning next weekend, on Apr. 19 or 20? “No, not at all,” Lowry stated. “We’ve proved we can play with anybody in this league,” DeRozan added. “We understand that, so it really doesn’t matter to us.” He was not alone. The consensus in the room was just that, no, they’re not stressing over their first-round opponent, or so they say. In the grand scheme of things it could be the difference between the team’s second ever series victory or an early vacation, a reality they all seem to grasp, given their expressions of discontent upon learning that Chicago had won.

Knicks 108, Raptors 100: “This team, man.” | Posting and Toasting

Melo’s only consistent sidekick, save for spurts of help from his guards, was Amar’e Stoudemire, who had one of his finest games in by far his longest spin of the season. Amar’e waited on the weak side, caught passes out of good ball movement, and finished. Amar’e backed his man down, gained separation with a spin, and finished. Amar’e got touches in transition and out of the pick-and-roll and finished. The Raptors have decent interior defenders, and Amar’e jammed jams on all of them. Melo and the guards helped Amar’e out, too, by not just force-feeding him the ball but actually working around fronts and offering him bail-outs when help came. And he responded well, staying active off the ball and passing out a couple times when he was crowded. The begoggled one just had an especially lovely bounce for all his 40 minutes, and it even carried over to a weirdly productive stretch on the glass (11 boards in the first, 0 in the second half) and some spots of defense. Like maybe one or two defenses. A lot of fun to watch.

Rapid Recap: Raptors Capture Atlantic Division Title Despite 108 – 100 Loss to Knicks | Raptors HQ

Not quite how fans imagined things going down. Unfortunately, the Raptors put on a pretty sad display of basketball this evening and fans were left with no choice but to wait and see what the outcome of the Nets/Hawks game was. Luckily, the Hawks prevailed and Toronto nabs only its second division title in franchise history. However overshadowing the division title clinching was tonight’s game, another showcase of some suddenly porous Raptors’ defense. The New York Knicks shot 56 per cent in the first quarter and jumped out to a decent lead, and turned up the juice again to start the third quarter, dropping 33 points on Toronto and never really looking back.

No celebrations for Raptors after clinching division | Toronto Sun

DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, the longest-serving Raptors, adamantly stated at the beginning of October that they were fed up with all of the losing and the playoffs weren’t just a goal, but rather a certainty. In a quiet 1-on-1 moment, Johnson managed a wide smile and admitted it did indeed feel quite sweet to finally be division champs after so many years of being fodder for other, better teams. While DeRozan said “it sucks” to lose, he also at least said it was a proud moment. “It sucks that we lost the game, especially with us trying to hold the third spot, but it feels great to win the division. I don’t think anybody would have picked us to win it. That’s definitely a great accomplishment,” DeRozan said. Kyle Lowry echoed those thoughts. “It’s sweet and sour. It’s very sweet that we won the division but it sucks that we didn’t win it by a win. But we’ll take the division champs any day.”

Raptors defence looks inept in loss to Knicks | Toronto Sun

“I’m more concerned about getting better,’’ head coach Dwane Casey said when apprised of his team capturing the division. “It’s great for the fans, believe me. I’m excited for the fans, but I’m concerned about 30% (shooting) inside the three-point line (Toronto’s percentage against the Knicks). “This franchise has had a lot of ups and downs. It’s funny how the expectations change. We go from developing and now all at once we lose to Carmelo Anthony and a team like this. Believe me, we still have growing to do. “We just want to be ready to go into the playoffs with some momentum and not let a game like (Friday night define the unit). I tip my hat (to the Knicks). Sometimes someone just kicks your butt.”

Toronto Raptors outmuscled by New York Knicks, but manage to clinch Atlantic Division with Brooklyn Nets loss | National Post

In a vacuum, this was not a good day for the Raptors. The Bulls came back to beat Detroit, passing the Raptors for third place in the conference. If those seeds hold — and that is far from certain — the Raptors will play the Nets in the first round as opposed to the less experienced Wizards or Bobcats. It could also potentially put them on the same side of the bracket as the Heat as opposed to the struggling Pacers. Those are first world problems compared to where the Raptors started the year, but they represent the new reality. Both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan expressed a complete apathy about the identity of their first-round opponent. “We’re still anxious,” DeRozan said. “We still want more. We’re not satisfied with nothing [yet]. We understand we have much more basketball to play and a long road to go and we want to take advantage of it. Not just get there and say we got there, where people doubted us. We definitely feel like we can go in and make some noise.”

Is Terrence Ross Ready to Make the Playoff Leap? | Grantland

Reaction: Raptors 100, Knicks 108

Raptors die a slow and painful death at the hands of the New York Knickerbockers.


New York Knicks 108 FinalRecap | Box Score 100 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +7Looks like Dwane Casey didn’t have faith in his health, because he basically didn’t play at all in the second half. Let’s hope he comes back soon, because the Raptors defense absolutely stinks without him. Also, DeRozan’s effectiveness is also stunted without the ability to play freestyle two-man game with Johnson.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | -15Picked up five fouls because Melo’s superstar status must be protected at all costs. Every single one of his three-point attempts were open, and he didn’t sink enough to make the Knicks pay. Get ready for the playoffs when he’s guarding LeBron/George/Pierce’s superstardom.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 37 MIN | 5-14 FG | 4-7 FT | 21 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +7Dominated the Knicks in the second quarter, so naturally, his wings didn’t give him the ball at all in the second half, because that only would have made way too much sense. Beasted on the boards as he continued his recent run of dominance in the post. Struggled to guard Amar’e Stoudemire, who apparently took a time machine back to 2009.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 7-13 FG | 7-9 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | -8He tried. He really did. With the Knicks trapping so hard in the pick-and-roll, he couldn’t generate enough offense, although his assist totals would be much higher had DeRozan and Ross sunk some of their open looks. Found success when he called his own number.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 43 MIN | 6-18 FG | 12-13 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 26 PTS | -14Lots of shots, not enough points. Struggled whenever the Knicks trapped him. He either needed to split the double, or swing the ball before the trap was fully set. You can tell the difference in the efficacy of his sets without Amir in the lineup. His defense wasn’t so hot either. Didn’t look all too interested in the fourth quarter.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1Take it away, netw3rk: Tyler Hansbrough always comes in off the bench like a guy inside an IHOP who just saw some dude lean on his car.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -18Found himself in early foul trouble thanks to the refs falling for every Knicks flop. Hit his open threes, but didn’t see more shots because his wings couldn’t effectively deal with traps, which meant the Raptors couldn’t capitalize on finding him while he was open. Basically, he played a Steve Novak game.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5He played? If you say so, boxscore.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +6Sunk his fair share of shots, but did nothing to deter Carmelo Anthony. Luckily, he’s the Raptors’ defender de jour on the wing. I have a feeling that Salmons will find himself in the Gay/Turkoglu/Bargnani purgatory for Raptors fans, provided he lands a roster spot next season.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9He came in and missed a triple. Cool beans.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -1Horrible effort for Vasquez, who looked extremely slow on the court. Again, yet another Raptor perimeter player who couldn’t deal with double-teams, except he fared the worst. Couldn’t even generate any offense in the two-PG line-up. A forgettable day for YOLO.

Dwane Casey
You know, sometimes I wonder about Dwane Casey. I also wonder why Jonas was denied touches in the second half. I also wonder why every play coming out of timeouts were drawn up for DeRozan. I also wonder why he didn’t prioritize attacking Amar’e in the pick-and-roll. I also wonder why he went small with just Hayes as his lone-big at one point.

Six(!) Things We Saw

  1. Carmelo Anthony got the benefit of the whistle all night. I understand the existence of superstar calls, but Ross literally picked up 5 personal fouls for intruding on Melo’s shadow. That’s not cool, refs.
  2. Jonas Valanciunas didn’t see very many touches in the second half, which is odd, given that he destroyed the Knicks’ front-line in the second quarter. Just another questionable decision on a night chalked full of them.
  3. Why did the Raptors shoot so many triples? Because the Knicks trapped hard on the pick-and-roll, packed the paint on every drive, and were willing to concede open threes. There’s no problem with trading contested layups for open threes.
  4. The Raptors need to get Amir Johnson back if they even want to sniff a top-10 defense again. For the reasons why, read Blake Murphy’s excellent piece on Amir’s integral role in the Raptors’ defensive schemes.
  5. Before everyone freaks out, it’s one bad game. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, contemplate life, and then come back to the comment section. It’s not the end of the world.
  6. Extra note: Raptors clinch the Atlantic Division crown thanks to the Hawks, who defeated the Nets by a score of 93-88.

[GIF] Lip Reading with Kyle Lowry

Charles Barkley Says Raptors Are A Dangerous Team

So last night on “Inside the NBA” Chuck said the Raps are going to win a round in the playoffs and cause a little trouble for either the Pacers or Heat. Thoughts?

MLSE Raises Toronto Raptors Season Ticket Prices

Boom. Boom. Boom. Half a good season is enough for the ticket prices to be raised by about 9%, with the Lower Bowl Fanzone being hit hardest at 13%, and Balcony Prime 1 escaping with a 6.5% hike. I suppose if there’s a time to do it financially, now would be it. It just feels like a kick in the teeth because fans have supported this club through some rather, how do we say it, threadbare and pressing times, and this is how you get rewarded for it.

Area 2013-14 2014-15 % Increase
Courtside A $40,376.00 $44,489.00 10.19%
Courtside B $17,304.00 $18,668.00 7.88%
Courtside C $12,687.00 $13,705.00 8.02%
Side Prime $7,936.00 $8,571.00 8.00%
Side 1 $5,998.00 $6,487.00 8.15%
Side 2 $5,535.00 $5,991.00 8.24%
Side 3 $4,152.00 $4,491.00 8.16%
Baseline Prime $4,844.00 $5,236.00 8.09%
Corner $3,690.00 $4,005.00 8.54%
Baseline $3,460.00 $3,686.00 6.53%
Endzones $2,768.00 $2,962.00 7.01%
Lower Bowl Fanzone $2,261.00 $2,559.00 13.18%
Balcony Prime 1 $1,938.00 $2,064.00 6.50%
Balcony Prime 2 $1,661.00 $1,774.00 6.80%
Balcony 1 $1,200.00 $1,286.00 7.17%
Balcony 2 $1,061.00 $1,140.00 7.45%
Balcony Endzone $1,154.00 $1,238.00 7.28%
Upper Bowl Fanzone $562.50 $635.00 12.89%

[GIF] One fan’s hope for the next two games against the Knicks

Source

Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, April 11

The 46-32 Toronto Raptors host the 33-45 New York Knicks at 7 p.m. on Friday on TSN 2, with a chance to put a sizeable nail in the Knicks’ playoff-hope coffin.

The only relevant news items are that Andrea Bargnani is out, Kenyon Martin is almost certainly out, and Amir Johnson seems probable despite the questionable tag on the latest injury report. The Raptors are 2-0 against the Knicks this year from a Christmas-time back-to-back, and they also beat them twice in the preseason which obviously doesn’t matter, but it’d be cool to go 6-0 against the Knicks just because. The two teams square off again on Wednesday at The Mecca to wrap up the season.

To help us set the stage, we enlisted the help of Gus Crawford of Knickerblogger, who was so helpful and thorough with his answers that he saved me from writing much, since this will already push 2,000 words.

1. With the Knicks sitting two games out of the playoffs with just four to play, the Raptors can push the Knicks to near-certain lottery status (without the pick) on Friday. What would be worse – that, the Raptors waiting to officially end the Knicks season on April 16, or having saddled the Knicks with Andrea Bargnani? (#TakeThatMasaiUjiri)

Can I take “option four,” some combination of all of the above? As if being the New York Knicks wasn’t spicy enough, someone in the Knicks’ brass/CAA family managed to find something appetizing in the man once affectionately known as “Primo Pasta.” Had you not mentioned Andrea Bargnani in the phrasing of the question, I may well have entirely forgotten that he existed — you know, because he hasn’t suited up for a game since January 22. To answer your question, few things have been as frustrating for Knicks fans as the hypnotic hold that Masai seems to exert over the organization’s chief decision-makers. It would be somewhat poetic if Bargnani were to return for the April 16 matchup, and that proved to be the game that explicitly eliminated the Knicks from playoff contention, as some have suggested. 



While it would be nice to sneak into the playoffs, the cost of this underwhelming season does not amount to the excess baggage that comes with the aforementioned Italian stallion, and his egregious contract. Rumour has it that one mere glimpse at the gruesome details of Bargnani’s deal can have an affect not dissimilar to that of staring blankly at a solar eclipse, searing one’s eyes in an irreparable manner. It’s okay, though, at least they didn’t give up anything substantial in the tango with Masai Ujiri. Oh? I present, without any additional comments, Marc Berman’s summary of the transaction from July 2013:



“Because they were willing to absorb the final two years and $22.25 million of Bargnani’s contract, along with a 1.5 percent trade kicker, the Knicks weren’t asked to give up a big asset. They would part with two players with undesirable contracts in Novak and Camby. The Knicks don’t have a 2014 first-rounder, so they are not permitted to trade a pick until 2016.”



I think I’ll let R Kelly take this one.

2. Tyson Chandler’s defensive impact seems far smaller this season than in previous years. In fact, the Knicks’ D-Rating hardly changes with or without Chandler, though ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus metric still ranks him 21st defensively. Has Chandler lost a step, possibly due to his early-season leg injury, is it a motivational issue, or simply a matter of him not being able to make up the difference for a pretty bad cast of teammates?

A search party was sent out for “2012 Tyson Chandler” quite some time ago, but the results haven’t been too promising. Chandler earned the league’s premier individual defensive honour in 2011-12 by single-handedly vaulting a less-than-mediocre cast of sieves to a defensive rating of 98.4 across the lockout-shortened 66 games. His distaste for Mike Woodson’s defensive preferences has been apparent at least since his startling post-game remarks (saying the Knicks were “out-schemed” by Brooklyn) in late January and, realistically, even before that. Here is what he had to say with regards to the coaching staff’s penchant for persistent switching:



“I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility. I think switching should always be your last resort. That’s me, personally.”


Clearly, it doesn’t help Chandler’s cause that he has surrounded by such a ragtag crew of disinterested and/or inept defensive identities, yet the vibes surrounding his efforts have not been great. If it is any consolation, his individual defensive efficiency incrementally improved month by month, from January (108.0) to February (107.6) to March (105.7). There’s still plenty of room to move on that front, though. Aside from the opposition’s ability to light up the Knicks even with Chandler on the floor, perhaps the most damning metric on his continued slide is one that reflects his waning interior D. Chandler ranks just 37th in the league for opponents’ FG% at the rim (min. 50 games played and 5.0 attempts contest per game), allowing a very shaky 52.1% when within five feet of the basket. 



It’s a far cry from a player who was once — and very recently — unquestionably placed in the category of the league’s elite rim protectors, and one that (I guess) is best attributed to the unkind recipe of losing a step or two, growing tired of his teammates’ play, and feeling isolated in the constant switching scenarios.

3. Who wins in a game of 1-on-1, Chris Smith or Inflatable Raptor?

“You know the sad thing about betrayal?” Ominously, once again you have managed to illuminate a vestige of a bygone Knicks-ian era (albeit earlier this season) where “Chris Smith, #0, New York Knicks” was a thing in real life. I was in attendance at the ACC after Christmas where Chris Smith received 36 seconds of his 1:57 of burn in the orange and blue. All it took was a Kyle Lowry triple double and the Knicks to be utterly decimated to bring that moment to pass. I can never un-see those thirty-six seconds. 



I’ve seen Inflatable Raptor’s dance moves — he may not have the largest wingspan or upside, but he’s agile, has decent hops, and has assembled a solid internship underneath The Raptor and Stripes over the years. I’d set the line at Inflatable Raptor, -4.5.

4. The fact that Carmelo Anthony isn’t a great defender sometimes seems to push to far. That is, the gap between “excellent” and “mediocre” on offense is greater than that same difference on defense, so his shortcomings aren’t quite as impactful as what he does well. With another season in the books, where would you rank Anthony, overall, among the NBA’s top players?

I feel like Anthony’s stardom is the perfect sample of the ways of the “eye test.” If you allow yourself to sit back, ignore the white noise, and simply watch him effortlessly pour in perimeter shots and adeptly net his patented mid-range leaners, you’d think his game is almost unparalleled. And in many ways, it is. The “flavour of the month”/stat du jour for Melo is his season average — 27.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game — the first such combination to be amassed since none other than Shaq in the 2000-01 season. The refinement of his rebounding craft has been championed throughout the season, and perhaps not even enough. His defensive rebounding percentage has spiked up to 19.6% (a career-high), fuelling his per-36 average of 5.8 defensive ‘bounds. A case of “bounding and astounding,” as Clyde might say.

There is a strong, strong argument that could be made that 2013-14 has been Melo’s best individual season. Here are the categories where he has raised the bar and set a new personal best: 3P%, FT%, turnovers per-36, TS%, offensive win shares, total win shares. That list, in congruence with his typical offensive excellence, is the framework of the argument, and constitutes the bulk of the disappointment behind his teammates letting him down this season. All of that in a season where he has been ridden into the ground and nearing a stage where he may break down the 3000-minute barrier. 



The process of ranking players can be exhaustive, a little hollow (due to the difficulties of positional overlaps), and feel a tad arbitrary. Based on the above, I’ll try to accurately gauge his status with the among the league’s elite. He ranks 9th in PER this season (and 7th among players with at least 60 games played), and I’d fix him somewhere in the 9-12 range on the list of the NBA’s best.

5. Despite many jokes to the contrary, the Knicks aren’t egregiously bad, simply “bad,” with a point differential indicative of a 36-42 team. Their defense, though, leaves plenty to be desired. Specifically, they allow a ton of threes – is this a system issue, a personnel issue or a mixture of both, and what kind of action can the Raptors use to exploit it?

The Knicks are 12-7 since March 1, the 14th best record in that window, and yet they have managed that standing while allowing opponents to register 107.1 points per 100 possessions — 22nd in the L. Notice the disparity? The defense has been repugnant for the majority of the season, permitting precipitous perimeter shooting (as you mention), and conceding an opponent FG% of 61.5% in the restricted area. Not a great combination there. 



They have been blitzed by opposing backcourts all season long — including Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — and have failed to even remotely address high pick-and-roll situations. It is almost as if each and every guard has targeted Raymond Felton (as is the Knicks’ fortune) and licked their lips at the opportunity to blow by New York’s hapless defensive setup. What’s more, Mike Woodson’s recent weapon of choice — a Felton-Smith-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler starting lineup — owns a 111.6 defensive rating through 254 total minutes of shared court time, and 119.4 (!!!) in their past ten game appearances together. 



The formula for Toronto is pretty simple. Involve Amar’e Stoudemire as much as possible, attack Felton off the dribble, run the high screen-and-roll, and look to cause damage from beyond the arc. The Raps are on a streak of four games with 10+ made three-point field goals, and I wouldn’t expect that to end against the sketchy ‘Bockers D.

Vegas says: Raptors -5 with nearly a dead-even money split so far. 72 percent favor the over at 192.5 which is moderately surprising given that these two play at well-below-average paces. Then again, they’re above-average offenses, and what do I know?
Hollinger says: Raptors -7
Big L says: You don’t know me, just say whatsup, gimme a pound, that’s it

Blake says:

Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 11

Raptors playing dumbbell defence these days | Toronto Sun

No matter how many wins this Raptors group produces in the season’s final four, regardless of opponent in the NBA’s opening round, nothing will be gained if stops aren’t made, if rotations aren’t executed, if a mind-set does not change. “If we haven’t taught defence by now, we shouldn’t be coaching,’’ began Casey on Thursday following his team’s workout. “It’s a mind-set right now, it’s a focus.” Casey has been around the NBA block long enough to know how players and teams go about their business this time of the basketball calendar, a time when ballers are playing for contracts, when teams heading to the draft lottery are auditioning players for next year. Only the few elite sustain their level of play, playing a championship-calibre defence devoid of slippages.

Lewenberg: Raptors aim to plug late-season defensive holes | TSN

Thanks in large part to a soft schedule and their improved efficiency on offence, they are finding ways to pull out games that they have probably deserved to lose. In that way, progress has been made, as Raptor teams of the past would universally find creative and increasingly frustrating ways to squander winnable games. The red flag is routed in their recent slippage on defence, Dwane Casey’s bread and butter. With the postseason around the corner, Casey knows that mental and physical toughness is about to become more important than ever. He can’t help but be concerned with what he’s seen. “If we haven’t taught defence by now we shouldn’t be coaching,” he said following a Thursday afternoon practice session. “It’s a mindset right now, it’s a focus. It’s this time of year throughout the league, it’s an epidemic.”

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey has his players’ ears, and John Salmons would know | National Post

The Raptors have yearned for that type of stability for years now. June 2004 was the last time a general manager and coach ascended to their positions at roughly the same time for the Raptors, when Rob Babcock and Sam Mitchell landed those jobs, respectively. Last year, it was clear that general manager Bryan Colangelo and Casey, the Raptors’ coach, disagreed on some rather essential points. This year, it seemed like a lock for that pattern to continue. Colangelo was removed as general manager, replaced by Masai Ujiri, who was emboldened with a five-year contract. Ujiri retained Casey, but did not extend his contract, which ends after this season. The situation still looked like a petri dish capable of growing more organizational dysfunction. Yet, there was Casey on Wednesday, punctuating a four-game winning streak by harping on the Raptors’ diminished defence. He has continued to coach to his beliefs, and the players have not sensed any interference from above.

Raptors’ Amir Johnson gives back to ‘the greatest fans in the world’ | Toronto Star

Johnson proved yet again Thursday night just how much he loves the fans who support him and his teammates, by throwing 70 of them a party at knight-themed dinner show Medieval Times. “It’s just a token of appreciation for my fans because we have the greatest fans in the world,” Johnson said before the show began, a black velvet cape trimmed with gold threads and sparkles draped around his hulking frame. “The fans are what makes our team.” It’s not the first time Johnson’s given back to his fans. This is the fourth year in a row that he’s thrown his “I Roll with Amir” party. And last September, he handed out free copies of Drake’s newest album to fans at Yonge and Dundas. He picked Medieval Times for this year’s party because he has fond memories of coming to the show as a child. “It looked a lot bigger when I was a kid,” said Johnson, now six-foot-nine.

Video: Raptors’ Kyle Lowry warned for flop against Sixers | The Point Forward – SI.com

The NBA issued Raptors guard Kyle Lowry a warning for flopping on Thursday. Lowry’s flop occurred in the second quarter of Toronto’s 125-114 home victory over Philadelphia on April 9. With a little under six minutes remaining before halftime and Toronto leading 50-45, Lowry fell backwards to the court while attempting to take a charge. Elliot Williams pushed the ball up in transition and Lowry prepared himself for contact outside the protected circle. Instead of being run down, though, Lowry slowly drifted backwards to the court because the collision never took place. Williams was able to twist his way around Lowry before laying off a pass to Thaddeus Young. No foul was called on the play.

New York Knicks: Revisiting the Failed Kyle Lowry Trade | Buckets Over Broadway

Hypothetical situations — like how a team would perform with Player X on them — are nearly impossible to predict, but it’s clear Lowry could have helped the Knicks. How much? They’d be playing meaningful games right now, likely with a playoff seed sewn up. Perhaps they could have even found their point guard for the next few years if Lowry re-signed this summer. Would a very good point guard and a playoff spot convince Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York? Would it be worth giving up a pick and a young wing player? All tough questions to answer, but nonetheless interesting to hypothesize when looking at how this season turned out.

Breaking it Down: Coach Nick and Seth Partnow Details the Raptors Offense

Two outsiders broke down the Raptors offense better than I ever could.

If you don’t already, follow Coach Nick and Seth Partnow on Twitter, watch Nick on SBNation, and read Seth on Where Offense Happens. I guarantee you’ll learn a little something about the game of basketball.

Raptors’ Defense Struggling without Amir Johnson

I felt like writing about two things today: How much I miss Amir Johnson being in the Toronto Raptors’ lineup, and how disappointed I’ve been with the Raptors’ play of late, despite the fact that they’ve won four straight, seven of eight and nine of 12, with shorthanded wins against Houston and Indiana in that span. Turns out, Johnon’s absence and the team playing below standards are related.

Now, I fully realize that complaining about a team’s play during a winning stretch – especially at the tail end of one of the franchise’s best regular seasons ever – may seem overreactive. It’s the basketball version of First World Problems or some other offensive hashtag trending to shame us all for whining about generally meaningless problems. Still, there are concering signs right now, and with the focus changing from appreciating the season that’s been to how it can become the postseason that was, it’s worth worrying about.

We’ll focus on the last nine games, in particular, narrowing in on the last four games. Prior to this nine-game stretch, the Raptors had a solid win against the Hawks, a double-overtime loss to the Thunder, and a mediocre three-game stretch against the Suns, Hawks and Pelicans. The four-game stretch also leaves out the Miami loss and focuses only on wins. That is, this isn’t a cutoff selected simply to highlight a point, because the team wasn’t exactly peaking to that point (they weren’t struggling either, but they’re also not struggling now).

Have a look at how the performance has changed:

Raptors Since Dec. 8, All Games Last Nine Last Four
Record 40-20 7-2 4-0
O-Rating 107.1 109.8 114.7
D-Rating 102 107.2 106.3
Net Rating 5.1 2.7 8.4
Home/Road 30/30 5/4 1/3
Strength of Opp. 0.48 0.41 0.44

While the wins have still been coming, the nine-game stretch shows they’ve been far less impressive, with the team’s victory margins shrinking against a relatively weak stretch of schedule. The offense has still been humming, which is impressive considering that Kyle Lowry missed time and Indiana was on the slate.

But the defense, woof. They gave up 103 points to a Rockets team without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley and mostly without Terrence Jones, gave up 94 to a struggling Pacers offense, and then gave up 98 and 114 to the league’s two worst teams, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, respectively. Pace plays a part in there, sure, but the team’s defensive rating – which accounts for pace – has dropped from a top-eight mark overall to a bottom-five mark over the last nine games. And again, look at the strength of schedule in that time, and keep in mind that it’s likely inflated given the realities facing Houston and Indiana when the Raptors matched up with them.

Part of this struggle could simply be late-season malaise. The team is assured of a playoff spot, they’re fairly likely to have home-court advantage, and their top players have endured quite a workload. It’s completely possible they’ve noticed the incredibly easy stretch to end the season – once looked at as a possible advantage – and taken their foot off the gas. That wouldn’t be an issue if this were, say, Miami, who have shown an ability to “flip the switch” when necessary. But the risk right now is that the Raptors could be entering the postseason playing somewhere below their best basketball.

But they’ve also played some of these games without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, two of their three best players, maybe even their two best players, full stop. Lowry has gotten plenty of love for how well he’s played this year, and deservedly so, but it seems as if Johnson has once again slid into being underrated, at least by some.

He’s averaging a career-high 10.7 points on 56.2 percent shooting, which is obviously great, but many have pointed to how banged-up he’s looked at times (which is why I’ve suggested over and over the team give him as much time to rest his ankle as necessary). His rebounding and shot-blocking rates are down, his player efficnecy rating is only slightly above-average, and the emergence of Patrick Patterson has led some to broach the idea that maybe 2-Pat should be starting at the four (Tyler Hansbrough started over Johnson for four games earlier in the season, too).

Not to further my reputation as an unabashed Amir apologist, but don’t let that last paragraph fool you: he has been very good, banged up or not, and continues to be one of the team’s most important pieces. The role he plays is not one that stands out with conventional numbers, as most are surely aware by now – setting some of the best screens in the NBA, providing help defense, the ability to switch out onto guards in the pick-and-roll or handle the opposing team’s best non-guard, these are all immensely valuable but generally immeasurable.

There are some numbers that can help show his impact, though they can get complicated or messy. To wit:

*Of all Raptors lineups that have played at least 10 minutes together, Johnson appears in four of the top five in terms of net rating. If that time constraint is upped to 20 minutes, Johnson appears in three of the top five and six of the top eight.

*When Johnson is on the floor, the Raptors outscore opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions (PPC), compared to 2.8 when he’s off the floor. That continues a trend that’s been apparent for Johnson’s entire career, as his teams have performed 2.6 PPC better with him on the floor.

*Using ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus statistic (don’t be scared, the math is difficult but it matches up fairly well with conventional wisdom/the eye-test), Johnson has been the league’s 12th most valuable player per possession this season, adding 4.84 PPC over a replacement player. The fact that he’s played slightly fewer minutes than other top names pushes him all the way down to 17th in total value, showing him as worth 9.19 wins over a replacement player.

*Like with on/off-court numbers, this extends back years – Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) over 14 years shows that Johnson has been the league’s eighth-best player since 2001 in terms of impact on his teams, ranking 79th in offensive impact and 13th in defensive impact, improving his teams by 5.8 PPC (over 40,722 possessions, which is pretty crazy, though if you think that’s a lot, consider that Dirk Nowitzki has played 143,773 possessions in that time).

I get that numbers aren’t everyone’s thing, and some will just snark in the comments at nerds loving Johnson and why that doesn’t match up with real life. That’s fine, you’re welcome to do that.

But it’s also not really a surprise, if you’ve been watching, that the Raptors are surrendering 32.8 looks a game in the restrcited area over the past four outings (Johnson played just three minutes in that stretch), compared to 26.3 before Johnson went down. The teams they played in those games? They rank first, fourth, 20th and 27th in restricted area shots, so it’s not just a case of sample bias. Opponents shoot just 47.8 percent at the rim when Johnson is guarding them, per NBA.com/stats, 19th best among qualified players, the same mark Howard allows.

There’s a great volume of evidence building that shows that Johnson is one of the most valuable assets in the NBA. Just because he’s not the traditional scoring four that some want, or a beast on the glass, doesn’t mean he’s not very, very good. Many Raptor fans already know an embrace this, others don’t.

Johnson’s return isn’t, on its own, enough to make me think the recent blip on the defensive end will just disappear, but he’s a really important part of what the team does on that end for about 30 minutes a night, and he’s definitely going to help a great deal. He allows guards to be more aggressive with their primary coverage, gives Dwane Casey more freedom in determining who and when to switch on pick-and-rolls, and, by being the primary rim protector, can lessen the defensive load on Jonas Valanciunas (which is suddenly important given how well he’s played offensively).

The team has to hope he returns at 100 percent, and that his presence helps push the defense back to being firmly a top-10 unit with Johnson as the anchor. Even at less than 100 percent, though, as he’s been for most of the year, Johnson brings immense value.

The Doctor Is In Podcast, April 10 – 4 Guys Talking Hoops

This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk ball and we have a discussion about all the action in NBA and NCAA while continually tying it back to the Raptors!  Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the prophet), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:

  • The Jonas “situation”
  • Why Raptors fans deserve better than Sportsnet Connected
  • The Raps over the last 7 days
  • What this team can do come the playoffs
  • Remembering Colangelo
  • and players from the NCAA whom the Raptors may have an interest in drafting

We get a bit silly this week and the pod is much more like 4 friends talking hoops than 4 reporters covering big stories.  Can you tell we are a bit excited about this team?  We hope you enjoy the pod and all the good vibes in the T-dot as we head back to the playoffs!

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter

You can follow Greg on Twitter @votaryofhoops and check out his work on the NBA drafts top prospects with my brother MIke at ESPN True Hoop Affiliate Bucksketball.com

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 (42:02, 40 MB). Or just listen below:

‘We all go through things…we all learn from them’

The Raptors played little-to-no defense, but the Sixers are historically bad.

All roads lead to Rome

I tend to get sentimental on account of the Raptors. It’s a weakness of mine.

For most of my life, the Raptors were little more than the laughing stock of the NBA. It’s sad, but it’s true. I experienced every season like a lucid dream. I bought into the hype, and I willingly suspended my rightful cynicism, but ultimately come April, I’d inevitably wake up, and find myself cheering for the likes of Sonny Weems and Solomon Alabi. It’s an all-too familiar routine.

In an desperate attempt to break the habit, many fans turned to the strategy of tanking. The idea of yet another season of hoping in hope was repulsive. Sometimes, things are so bad, change for the sake of change onto itself is good.

That’s the very same position that the Sixers found themselves in last off-season. Philadelphia’s distended run of treadmill trudging wasn’t nearly as long as ours, but they faced the same predicament. Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes all held promise, but as a collective, that team wasn’t going anywhere. When New Orleans offered a pair of picks, and a ticket off the carousel, GM Sam Hinkie happily forked over Holiday, and settled into a holding pattern for a tank-job of epic proportion.

As we know, Masai Ujiri chose a different direction for the Raptors. Rather than tearing down the walls, and strip-mining his team, he opted for optimality instead. He capitalized on a CAA-pimped Knicks, and shipped off Bargnani. He pulled a similar trick on the Kings.

Altogether, the moves paved the way for DeRozan and Lowry to take the reins, which has allowed the team to flourish. Instead of precious possessions wasted on line-drive bricks from Bargnani, or long-two iso-heaves from Gay, the Raptors ran pin-downs and pick-and-rolls. The difference has bore fruit on both sides of the ball.

But along the way, a sneaky side-effect reared its head — the absence of Gay and Bargnani freed up swaths of playing time for sophomores Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and both players blossomed. Much like Hinkie, Ujiri managed to till the soil and sow the seeds, only Ross and Valanciunas were given veteran stakes upon which to guide their growth.

Rather than letting Ross running wild on the perimeter without a leash — similar to that of MCW — he was taught the subtle skill of curling around screens, and finding opponents’ blind-spots for open spot-ups. Rather than having Jonas run aimlessly, crashing the board at random like that of the Sixers’ Henry Sims, Valanciunas learned the principle of verticality, and developed a post-game.

And although the Sixers’ process is less father along, the difference in results is already apparent.

Take last night for example. Yes, the Raptors’ defense was bad, but the game was never in question. For the most part, the Raptors led from start to finish. The Raptors couldn’t resist the temptation of playing up-tempo, which played right into the hands of the Sixers, but even though they were out of their element, the Raptors were still able to out-execute the opponent.

Consider the differences in their play. What’s the difference in the Suns ’7 Seconds or Less’ offense, and the Spurs’ meticulously orchestrated present-day attack? Randomness. Sometimes, NBA teams prioritize randomness, especially if they’re up against a superior opponent. More randomness means less place for order, of which favors the favored. The Raptors elected to run specific plays to get Jonas Valanciunas in the post, or have Lowry drive into the paint, draw extra defenders, and kick-out to find the open man on the perimeter. Conversely, the Sixers simply pushed the ball whenever they had the chance, and let the chips fall where they may.

And that’s not to say that Philadelphia’s play style was inferior. The results speak for themselves. When the benches matched up against each other, the Sixers ran circles around the Raptors’ snail-paced squad. My point is that eventually, when the Sixers intend to actually win NBA games, what purpose did this exercise serve for Carter-Williams? How did it serve Thaddeus Young, a disciplined defender in previous years, who was forced to repeatedly bail out his teammates on defensive miscues.

The truth, it doesn’t, at least not in a meaningful sense. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the Sixers — armed with a highly-touted prospect borne as the lone prize of a miserable and humiliating season — tread in the footsteps of the Thunder, and the Raptors’ bubble eventually bursts. If and when that day happens, I’ll gladly eat my words, and hope for the Raptors embark on a similar strip-down process of rebuilding. But until that day comes, I’m more than thrilled with the results of the present-day Raptors, who currently sit third in the East, in-line for a new franchise-high in wins.

It seems, at last, that the Raptors finally stepped off the treadmill, and they didn’t need to become the Sixers to do it. I, for one, am thankful for it.

jonasAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Peter Power

Jonas Valanciunas’ redemption

As you’re undoubtedly aware, Jonas has been mired in a controversy surrounding a DUI charge. While I’m happy the Raptors have finally arisen to the top of the Canadian sports story-stack, I’m disappointed that it was Jonas’ legal troubles, rather than his team’s success, that captivated audiences across the Great White North.

Valanciunas' teammates on his performance

Lowry on Jonas: “Much more aggressive. Much more hungry. He wants the ball. Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. And I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball, because he’s our big fella”.

DeRozan: “I hope everybody leave him alone. He understands we need him. We all go through things, especially at a young age and we all learn from them”

Personally, I think Jonas made a stupid and irresponsible decision, but by no means should it define his character, nor his career. Perhaps we’re ashamed to admit it, or to be fully truthful, but the incidence of driving under the influence is far more prevalent than that on legal censuses. As long as people understand the irresponsibility of their decisions, and seek to change their practice, they should be rewarded the luxury of forgiveness.

And, let’s be real here — Jonas is 21 years old. He and I were born in the same year, and I can personally (ron) attest: 21-year-olds are incredibly irresponsible. Maybe we don’t all get booked for DUIs, but we’re also not in a foreign country, constantly in the spot-light, and offered an open invitation to every party and opportunity to slip up wherever we go. His age doesn’t excuse him from his decision, but it should afford him some leeway in the matter.

Last night, Jonas made a concerted effort to redeem himself. Of course, succeeding or failing on a basketball court doesn’t tip the scales of morality one way or the other, but it was a relief to see his relief. As explained by Lowry, “basketball is like our space, our secret spot and that’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity”. Jonas came to play with a purpose, and thoroughly dominated the Sixers frontline. He executed a litany of beautiful drop-steps, he crashed the boards hard, and threw down a nasty jam over some dude named Jarvis Varnado.

He finished the night with a career high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in three days. That’s a good thing for both he and the Raptors.

lowryRon Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s as if he were never gone

Matt Devlin, as is his wont, had a hilarious slip-up on the broadcast. As per his “Ask Matt” section, he was asked for his picks for the Raptors’ most-improved, defensive player of the year, MVP, etc etc. He named Lowry as the defensive player of the year, he named Lowry the co-MVP (along with DeRozan), and stopped himself short of an answer for most-improved, presumably because one could connect the dots.

But here’s the thing: he’s right! Lowry is all of the above, and more to this team. He’s the facilitator, he’s the primary ball-handler, he shuts down the pick-and-roll, he takes charges, he fights through injuries, and most of all, he’s the closest thing this team has to a closer. With the game tight down the stretch, Lowry scored on four consecutive possessions to secure the win for his team. That’s what a leader does.

Assorted game notes

  • Patrick Patterson’s defense on Thaddeus Young was very impressive. He bodied him in the post, and he shadowed him step-for-step on the perimeter. Young hit a string of difficult shots in the fourth quarter, which inflated his numbers, but that doesn’t detract from Patman’s defensive effort.
  • Hey! John Salmons was a net positive on the court! It couldn’t possibly been because he got sufficient rest in-between games, right?
  • The Raptors’ bench unit coughed up the lead in the second quarter because they physically couldn’t keep up in transition. Also, it made little sense to run Novak out there against a small-ball lineup. He’s effective when he’s pulling bigs out of the paint, not when he’s tasked with closing out on threes, or defending in the post.
  • If you need a late-season boost in points and rebounds for your fantasy team, go pick up Henry Sims. He’s quick, mobile, and looks like he can effectively roll on pick-and-rolls.
  • If you haven’t already seen this turn-around three from Ross, you should. It’s kinda crazy.
  • There goes any hope of Lowry getting back to full health. In his words, one or two weeks won’t make a difference. He needs a full two months off before he’s 100%, which means he’ll be good to go in time for the Finals.

Cover photo credit: AP Photo, The Canadian Press, Peter Power

Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 10

Raptors play no defence in win over 76ers | Toronto Sun

With Kyle Lowry back in the lineup and playing like an all-star, with Jonas Valanciunas having a career scoring night and enough complementary pieces making plays on either end of the floor, the Raptors were able to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 125-114. Way too many points were surrendered and not enough stops made, too may blow-bys, vulnerable on the perimeter, areas the Raptors need to somehow address by the time the playoffs arrive next weekend or face the real possibility of a one-and-done post-season. With four games left in the regular season, home court is a definite possibility, a mere formality with Brooklyn dropping its game to the host Magic. Toronto’s magic number to clinch the Atlantic and earn home court is now one, a title the franchise can earn for the second time in franchise history by as early as Friday when the desperate Knicks come to town.

Jonas Valanciunas guides Toronto Raptors to win over lowly Philadelphia 76ers | National Post

“It’s been a rough couple of days, but I find power, find my energy to come out, fight,” Valanciunas said. “I felt really good [because of the] fan support, thank you to them. That felt great, because everybody supported me. I say sorry and [am] learning … to be better.” Irrespective of the incident, Valanciunas has been playing with the most confidence of his career, at least offensively. He has scored 65 points over the last three games, missing just 12 of his 39 field-goal attempts. “Much more aggressive. Much more hungry. He wants the ball,” Lowry, who returned with a 29-point performance after missing three games because of a bruised knee, said. “Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. And I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball, because he’s our big fella.”

Rapid Recap: Raptors take high scoring affair over Sixers 125-114 | Raptors HQ

Looking at the box score, you have some shiny offensive numbers from Lowry, JV, and Patterson among others. But the real story today was the defence — or lack thereof. Dwane Casey definitely won’t be thrilled with the way his team looked in this game. The Sixers shot 51% from the field in this one, and all time greats like James Anderson and Henry Sims had their way against the Raptors all night. Toronto got off to a fast start and held a 34-28 lead at the end of the first quarter. Every time Philly would make a run, the Raps would stretch that margin out back up to 6 to 10 points. The Raptors’ penchant for not putting teams away kept Philly interested throughout. After taking a 68-60 lead at halftime, and a 98-89 lead after 3 quarters, the Raptors stretched this out of ream once and for all when it was 116-110 Toronto. A couple of rare, good defensive sequences, combined with some shotmaking from Kyle Lowry had the Raptors winning this one comfortably 125-114.

Sixers Lose Close Game Against Raptors | Hoop 76

A dude in an Iverson jersey right next to press row got a cup of Coke poured over his head by the Raptors mascot. Thought that was a little aggressive.

Raptors 125, Sixers 114: A Moral Victory | Liberty Ballers

Maybe the Sixers aren’t the worst team in the history of the NBA. Not only have they gone 2-4 since their regrettable record-tying losing streak, they’ve looked pretty good in a couple losses, including tonight’s defeat to Toronto. It wasn’t all great–Thaddeus Young missed his first six shots and finished the night 7-for-16 from the floor for 16 points with only two rebounds, one assist and one steal. Jarvis Varnado got posterized twice by two different white guys, and Jonas Valanciunas pretty well ran riot, taking a 26-point, 12-rebound upper decker on Varnado, Young and Henry Sims. James Anderson hit three three-pointers early and spent the rest of the game taking heat check shots, only to find that his heat was not there. Kyle Lowry dropped 29 on the Sixers to lead all scorers.

Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas leads team to victory, days after DUI arrest | Toronto Sun

Head coach Dwane Casey did not back down when challenged before the game about the optics of playing an individual who had just been charged with a DUI. “We sent a message,” Casey said. “We sent a clear message that we don’t condone it. We’re disappointed. By playing him, it’s not saying we’re condoning it. I think the organization — Masai (Ujiri), myself, Tim Leiweke, Larry Tanenbaum — sent a clear message that we don’t condone it. “He’s innocent until proven guilty — until the process goes through the legal system. He’s still a member of the team in good standing.”

Lewenberg: Valanciunas’ career night comes in wake of arrest | TSN

“It’s a tough situation for him to handle, to be going through,” Lowry added, “but this is our sanctuary: basketball. We get a chance to be away from everything. Basketball is like our space, our secret spot and that’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity.” Scoring the first four points of the game, Valanciunas came out with a fire, a purpose and an air of confidence. He has been playing some of the best basketball of his career and those off-court distractions could not derail him. Leading the team with 23 double-doubles after recording just eight a year ago, Valanciunas has played 30 or more minutes and scored in double figures in eight straight games, matching a season-high. The biggest difference has been his comfort level and self-assurance, according to his teammates. The game has slowed down for him, he’s playing with patience and most importantly he’s not getting down on himself. “[He's] much more aggressive, much hungrier,” said Lowry.

These Raptors sure know their roles | Toronto Sun

“I’ve been on some selfish teams and some unselfish teams,” Hayes said. “It’s a great thing when you get on an unselfish team. It’s a great working environment but when there is selfishness involved, things can get ugly.” But that has not happened in Toronto this year. If guys have been unhappy with the minutes allotted them they have done a pretty solid job of keeping it to themselves. “In today’s NBA, young is where it is at,” Salmons said. “Veteran guys tend to sit more and more on the bench, but I’ve had teammates who were vets and sat and some took it well and some didn’t. It just depends on the character of the guy and we have high character guys here and it shows.” Hayes himself is getting more minutes these days than he did when he first arrived. It had to be tough watching Salmons and Patrick Patterson and Vasquez, three guys he came over with from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade, log minutes almost immediately while he sat waiting his turn.

Raptors Step Up To Hold Onto Third, Patrick Patterson | Pro Bball Report

“We all have our roles and certain rotation that we play,” Patterson explained. “Every time I come off the bench, I am backing up Amir (Johnson), certain times we play together and certain times we don’t, so I know my role and if I have to start, it is pretty much the same thing, the same opportunities, setting screens, popping, running in transition, rebounding shooting open shots, so it is pretty much the same thing. We all play alongside each other over the course of a game, so whenever one of our numbers is called, everyone is comfortable and everyone believes in one another.”

From Feel-Good to Fearsome: A Threat Looms in Toronto | Baller Mind Frame – Baller Mind Frame

If Toronto can in fact dispatch Washington in round one, their chances of success in the next series are largely contingent upon who they face: the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers. As things currently stand, Indiana is the second seed and the Raptors are more than likely salivating. Why? Mostly because Toronto’s sturdy ‘D’ presents problems for the Pacers’ anemic offense and because Valanciunas is a big body who can legitimately bang with Roy Hibbert and disrupt his game. Considering Hibbert was a distinct advantage for Indy last year versus Miami, curtailing his production could be instrumental in a Raptors upset. Lastly, the midrange shots Indiana famously foists upon its opponents are actually a staple crop in Toronto’s offense. DeRozan in particular loves the 16′-23′ shot, while Lowry pulls the trigger when necessary and hits at a decent 34.4 percent clip (per Basketball-Reference). No matter what happens, the Raptors are a fun team that plays good basketball.

Raptors’ magic number now one | Toronto Sun

“It’s not a goal whatsoever. I haven’t even thought about it,” Casey said of getting to 47 wins. “It’s not important. My whole goal right now is to get better defensively going into the next few weeks. … It’s going to be a short ride if we continue to play defence the way that we are now. “My thing is us. We’ve got to take care of our business. We’ve got to continue to work and improve in different areas to get better. Those things are good. It’s not a have-to goal. A have-to goal is containing the ball on the perimeter and keeping people in front of us.”

Raptors one game away from division title after win over 76ers | Toronto Star

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said. “It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.” Casey’s protestations aside, the chance to equal franchise history is palpable. The win over Philadelphia coupled with Brooklyn’s loss in Orlando put Toronto’s magic number to win the Atlantic Division at one. And the victory, combined with Chicago’s win over Minnesota, kept the Raptors ahead of the Bulls in the race for third overall in the East. An Atlantic title would give Toronto the tiebreaker with the Bulls. To further complicate matters, the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Washington Wizards in overtime on Wednesday to take over sixth in the East,

Leafs’ pain could be Raptors’ gain when it comes to fan passion | Toronto Star

“If they hadn’t made the playoffs this year, there wouldn’t be as much excitement heading into next season and, if anything, people would view the 20th anniversary season as 20 years of mostly inept play.” The Raptors fan base grew in 2006-07 when they won the Atlantic Division for the first time and the Leafs failed to make the post-season. But poor performances season after season whittled away fans until the Raptors were dismissed as almost an afterthought on the Toronto sports scene. This year, the team has already started building up its fan base by performing when expectations were low, said Richard Power, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Raptors handling of Valanciunas now, Camby 17 years ago reflects social change: Kelly | Toronto Star

This time there was no declaration of innocence for public consumption. In statements, the Raptors chided their man, calling themselves “disappointed.” They released a statement from the player, apologizing for “any negativity” the incident has created. The implication was that the facts, as expressed in a banal OPP press release, weren’t in doubt.

[GIF] DeMar DeRozan: There Will Be Blood

[Video] Jonas Valanciunas: “I’m just trying to fix my mistakes”

He had a career-high 26 points (Reaction post) after being arrested for a drunk driving charge a few days ago. Safe to say, he was focused tonight.

Reaction: Sixers 114, Raptors 125


Philadelphia 76ers 114 Final
Recap | Box Score
125 Toronto Raptors
Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 38 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +23

His threes irk me a little until I realize that they’re all coming out of good, rhythmic offensive flow and his shot just happens to be a natural end to a good possession. The Raptors missed his mobility and in an up-tempo game such as this where positional play goes out the window, his contributions are invaluable.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 34 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +6

Hit some huge threes in the third quarter to maintain that 7-10 point lead and ensured that the opening moments of the fourth weren’t nerve-racking. The defense? Meh. This was yet another game where a high pace, which you might expect him to savour, didn’t quite benefit him. Some nice passing play in this game, though.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 37 MIN | 10-14 FG | 6-8 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +14

You think he came out to prove a point that his recent off-the-court troubles weren’t going to affect him? He barreled his way to the rim like an eighteen-wheeler with a drunk driver drivin’, there’s no survivin’. Alright, that’s the last joke I’ll make. He is becoming quite fluid in his near-rim movements where you can pass him the ball on either block, run a pick ‘n roll anywhere on the court, and run hi-lows for him. That is versatility. The defense? He’s taking that principle of verticality thing a bit too far, I often find him being vertical in a defensive situation where he has no business being vertical. Post-Game Interview

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 9-19 FG | 9-9 FT | 5 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 29 PTS | +12

I got some issue with his defense against MCW, he got stuck on the latter’s hip far too often and got punished for it. Offensively, his swagger kind of fuels the team and when he hits those step-back threes, especially for four-point plays, it galvanizes the team. Good to see him back, he looked rested.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-14 FG | 9-10 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +7

Sometimes I think this is like that Face-Off movie where it’s Rudy Gay wearing DeRozan’s skin. Some quite questionable shooting for most of the game and when he took it to the rim after his contorted dribbling, the shot got sent back like an undeliverable letter. Then again, you kind of know that even in a bad game he’s going to end up hitting a clutch shot or two to make amends. Hopefully that holds true in the playoffs.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 10 MIN | 2-4 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -6

Good second-quarter cameo where he partnered with Patterson well in a smallish Raptors lineup with him at the five. I liked it, too bad we didn’t see much of it again. I thought playing him would’ve helped turn the tempo in our favor rather than a track meet, too bad Casey didn’t see it that way.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -3

This was not the game for him, and it showed when he was on the court. I’m not a big fan of that play where Lowry’s running a pick ‘n roll with him 24-feet out.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -6

Was spotted reading ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ on the bench.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 18 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +6

Played well in the first half, much more so than of late, but Casey thought Terrence Ross’s three-point shooting and athleticism to be of more value than Salmons, who isn’t quite suited for a fast-paced affair. Still, signs of progress from him.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +7

Good first half again, but like Lowry, victimized by MCG for not staying in front of him. The good news is that he’s orchestrating the offense a lot better of late, and has reduced his me-shots to the bare minimum.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 7 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -5

Casey turned to him for some ball-handling after Philly started pressuring the ball a little; jacked up a lot of shots in the brief time he was there which made for good entertainment. Somehow I feel that even when he’s playing bad, he’s more or less benign.

Dwane Casey

Got suckered into playing Philly’s style of game rather than ours, I didn’t like that. He’s gone away from the zone of late, which was a good mechanism of throwing the offense a different look. Couldn’t really adjust to Philly’s hot outside shooting, which almost cost us the game.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Philly was killing us from the three-point line, the perimeter coverages were way off, partially because the threat of MCW getting past our guards was too great and help was always needed.
  2. With Patterson tending to move around the court and not “stay home”, Amir Johnson’s absence was really felt. There was no shot-blocking threat for the Raptors and Philly recognized this well.
  3. The Raptors have been running some diverse offensive sets this year, a far cry from years past. One thing I would like to see more of is that hand-off play for DeRozan where he curls off the screen, it’s way more effective than having him dribble around the corner to get to the rim.
  4. Terrence Ross and his timely threes in the third quarter were the difference for me. Philly kept getting easy scores on account of their dribble penetration (Points in the Paint: 76ers 62, Raptors 46), and Ross’s answers in the third to keep them at bay were huge.
  5. The Raptors need to tighten up their defense, and it starts by playing the game you want to play. We got away with it against Philly and also a few days ago in Milwaukee. Need to fix that.

[GIF] Terrence Ross With the Spin Move Three

See below or click here.

Drake to Host ESPYs, Replace Letterman?

This was not met with rave reviews on some corners of the internet:

Drake is quite possibly the biggest bandwagon celebrity sports fan in the history of modern professional athletics, as he has a hilarious-yet-sickening tendency of latching onto the biggest athletes in American sports and celebrating their wins with them like his season tickets belong with the other WAGs.

Haha…little does this deluded writer know that “latching onto the biggest athletes in American sports and celebrating their wins with them” is the first step to making said athlete come sign for the team you support. RR salutes Drake’s master plan to land Kevin Durant and wishes him the best of luck.

As for the ESPYS, unless they have Anne Hathaway hosting it in her birthday suit, count me out.

Other corners of the vast bunghole that is known as the internet has taken a new swing at things, and go as far to suggest that he might be a candidate to replace Letterman:

He’s more than just a rapper, or just a singer. Regardless of your feelings about him, Drake can be charismatic and funny, and he’ll serve as a decent replacement for Jon Hamm, who was always a somewhat curious host. Maybe he’ll parley this into replacing Letterman. There is some precedent, at least.

At this point you might be wondering just why this is even on RR, and to that I remind you that he’s a global ambassador, which basically means he gets to park in handicap zones anywhere in the world and get away with it.

Gameday: Sixers @ Raptors, April 9

The 45-32 Toronto Raptors host the 17-60 Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Center tonight, with tip-off at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One.

This is exactly the kind of game where, under normal circumstances, a playoff-bound team may simply shrug and say ‘hey, whatever happens, we’re not going to worry too much about it.’ For the Raptors, however, the game matters.

First of all, the three-seed is still a contest, with the Raptors and Bulls tied with five games apiece to play. Because of a slightly easier schedule and ownership of the first tiebreaker, the Raptors are still favored for the spot, but it’s anything but assured. With Brooklyn looking like the certain five-seed, the three-seed takes on additional importance (and sure, look ahead to round two and a struggling Indiana team, but look past round one at your own risk). Washington can all but lock up the six-seed by beating Charlotte tonight, though a loss would mean the Bobcats are the likely first-round opponent for the three-seed.

In addition to the seed-jockeying, there’s also the matter of locking up the division. The Raptors are two games up on Brooklyn with five each left to play, meaning an additional year being added to THE BANNER isn’t a certainty yet.

There’s also this: By going 3-2 or better in these last five games, the Raptors would reach their best record in franchise history with 48 wins. Is this the best Raptors team ever? Should they win tonight, that’s something I’ll examine tomorrow. Should they lose, they are obviously the worst Raptors team ever. Primacy effect, in full effect.

As for the actual game, it seems as if Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson will both play. Both practiced on Tuesday, which has generally been a positive indicator under Dwane Casey. Lowry’s now had eight days off since he last played, which is hopefully plenty for the knee contusion to heal up. Johnson played last Wednesday, so he’s had about a week off to rest is bothersome ankle. Is it worth it to play them? On one hand, no, it’s the Sixers, so why risk it when they could instead have another two days off before the Knicks on Friday? On the other, it’d be nice to be able to ease them back in, and it’s probably not a bad idea to use the last five games of the season to find a groove and for Casey to nail down his non-injury rotations. My guess is they play and are capped around 30 minutes (Lowry) and 20 minutes (Johnson).

Jonas Valanciunas will also be playing, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Regardless of where you land on his DUI charge, the collective bargaining agreement is such that the team and league are unable to punish him, anyway, until the legal process plays out. Should he plead guilty, eventually there will be a (likely) two-game suspension coming his way, but the team has no choice but to play him until the process plays out. His teammates are mostly saying the right things, for what that’s worth.

Anyway, there’s a game to play. To help us set the stage, I reached out to Andrew Unterberger, who, along with banging out 10 million words on March Madness for my employer, also throws down at The 700 Level.

1. Since Jan. 6, the end of an unlikely four-game winning streak, the Sixers are 5-39, which is far closer to what everyone expected than their 12-21 record to start the year. In that span, they’ve been outscored by 14.1 points per 100 possessions, the worst in the NBA by a longshot. Where does this team rank among the all-time worst outfits?

Well, they rank pretty high, though I’d bet that of all the top 15 worst teams in NBA history–a list which the Sixers likely appear on–nobody else was half as OK as the Sixers are to be there. Not that Philly wanted to be historically bad this season, but they certainly weren’t proactively trying to be good–trading their best player, not signing or dealing for a single player past their rookie contract, and then of course, selling off three rotation guys (including their leading scorer) to the highest bidder, a bid which wasn’t even all that high. They knew what they were doing.

And believe it or not, the team’s actually been a lot better recently. They’ve won two of their last five, and of their last nine Ls–all coming against teams in the playoff race–only three have been by more than ten. Might not sound like a lot, and it certainly doesn’t make them finals contenders, but compared to where they were at a couple weeks before, this may as well be the ’83 championship team.

Oh, and if we’re putting the Sixers on the Worst Teams of All-Time list, be sure to carve out a spot there for the Bucks, who the Sixers have lost 26 games in a row trying to catch at the bottom of the standings and still couldn’t out-tank them. And they were actually trying to start!

2. Was Evan Turner sent to Indiana as some sort of false flag operation due to an unknown grudge Sam Hinkie holds against the Pacers?

Well, all of us Sixers fans had a good chuckle at the notion that Evan Turner would end up being The Difference for the Pacers in their race to the actual top of the standings with the Miami Heat. Not that a lot of smart fans or analysts really espoused that opinion, but there was Charles Barkley saying that the ET acquisition closed the book on the battle in the East–which may actually end up being true, but not in the direction Sir Charles was predicting.

Anyway, as for Evan being the dirty bomb that Hinkie unleashed on Frank Vogel and the Pacers for motivations known only to his sick, twisted mind…not totally implausible, but probably not the whole story. Truth is, the Pacers started their tailspin well before Evan got there: The Pacers had lost three of their last five before the trade, two of which were to the Magic and Wolves and one of which was a 73-point scoring night against the Mavericks.

Evan was never going to be the solution for the Pacers, which any Sixers fan could (and probably did) tell you right off the bat–his offense is too inefficient and ball-dominant, his defense is too sloppy, and he’s never been very good as a complementary player. But he isn’t the problem, either, and not even His Hinkiness could tell you exactly what is at the moment.

3. You suggested on GChat that I should allow you to be a Raptors fan for the playoffs, in return for me getting to share in the excitement of MCW+Noel+2 Lotto picks next year. What about this Raps team do you find endearing?

Well, I’ve greatly enjoyed the development of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. From his first few games as a Raptor, I was convinced Lowry was going to change the entire culture of basketball in Toronto with his drive and fearlessness. I was disappointed when it didn’t happen last year, but I feel vindicated that it’s eventually come to fruition. And DeMar, the Raps took so much crap for that extension they signed him to a couple years back, but I’d always liked him as a potentially elite scorer–it certainly felt like he was one whenever he played the Sixers, anyway. To see that be borne out this season is also somewhat validating.

And I’ve always loved Tyler Hansbrough. Nobody draws fouls–technicals, even–with the passion and shamelessness of Psycho T. Love watching him, love listening to his teammates talk about him, wish he was on my team. He’s also one of a number of really fun wildcard-type guys the Raps have: Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson…pretty much anyone except John Salmons, who single-handedly drags this team’s watchability level down about 35%.

Also, it’s always cool to watch a team that hasn’t had a lot of relevant moments in the league the past several years get to play exciting basketball again. They have great fans, great unis, a great home arena, a great mascot–two if you count Drake. It’s fun to have them be a thing again.

4. Poor Thad Young. I don’t have a question, I just feel so bad for Left Behind.

Yeah, you do gotta feel for Thad, but don’t shed too many tears for him. He’s gotten to do expand his game under Brett Brown this season in ways that never would have been possible under Doug Collins. He’s shooting threes, he’s reaching for steals, he’s handling the ball a ton–there was a time not that long ago where you cringed whenever you saw Thad crossing half court with a live dribble, now he might be the third-best playmaker on the team.

When Thad plays for a relevant team again–and I haven’t given up hope on that being the Sixers of two or three years from now–his game will be at its furthest level of development, and I believe this season will have a ton to do with that.

5. Despite the overall poor performance, the Sixers have won games before. Even if Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson sit, the Raptors would be favorites, but what bad habits should the team be weary of that the Sixers could conceivably take advantage of to steal a W?

Well, staying out of transition would probably be a good start for Toronto. The court has really opened up for Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten late in the season, particularly without Evan Turner needlessly trailing behind the play with his arm raised looking to be passed the rock, and while this team still struggles mightily to score in the half-court, they can go end-to-end as well as anyone. Well, not anyone, but, y’know. Some teams.

Also, keep an eye out for that boy Hollis Thompson. He may not look like much–nor does his stat line for the season–but he’s been absolutely lights out from beyond the past few weeks, hitting 18 of his last 26 triples. He and MCW have developed a nice catch-and-shoot rhythm, particularly with our new bigs Henry Sims and Jarvis Varnado–the first quality screen-setters the Sixers have had in about a decade–clearing space for the two of them up top.

And Sims…let him crash the boards at your own peril.

Breakdown
Vegas says: Off the board. It’s likely a case of Vegas favoring the Raptors regardless, but the line will swing dramatically based on the status of Lowry and Johnson (and possibly any context notes on Valanciunas). With both a go, it’s probably Raptors favored by 15 or more, otherwise by just a six or seven.
Hollinger says: Raptors -18
Will Smith says: Nothing. Will Smith don’t say nothing.

Blake says: This needs to be a summary ass-whooping. If Lowry and Johnson sit out, it’s another chance for the Next Man Up squad to continue their rhythm and fight for playoff minutes, and that motivation is probably enough given the talent level of the two teams. If Lowry and Johnson go, even with limited minutes, that opens up a pretty wide gap in team quality, one that no longer seems subject to the workings of randomness (the 76ers haven’t beaten a .500 team since Jan. 15). There shouldn’t really be much question here, and there’s not a lot of in-game stuff to break down. Playoff team, tanking team, win.

Raptors 83% Chance to Finish 3rd; Bulls Breathing Down Our Necks

Blake says:

What’s his source? This page which has tons of lines and charts and stuff.

Looking at it from an “Avoiding Brooklyn” perspective, the Raptors got to make sure that they finish, at worst, tied with the Bulls thus avoiding a 4-5 matchup with the Nets.  Chicago and Toronto are tied, and in case of a tie-breaker the Raptors would get the higher seed on account of their division title (forthcoming, we hope).

Here’s Chicago schedule:

@ Minnesota
vs Detroit
@ New York
vs Orlando – Back-to-Back
@ Charlotte

Here’s Toronto:

vs Philadelphia
vs New York
@ Detroit
vs Milwaukee (Back-to-Back)
@ New York

Winnable games everywhere for both teams, although Chicago has one more road game than the Raptors.  The realistic chances the Bulls have of dropping a game is probably in New York and in Minnesota tonight (Kevin Love returned from injury last night).  If Chicago drops one of those two games, it gives the Raptors a margin of error and affords them a loss in New York in the final game of the season.  Until then, though, we got to sweep things – starting tonight.

If the playoffs started today the Raptors would face the Wizards in a 3-6 matchup.  They have won the season series with the Wizards 3-1 and tied it 2-2 with the Nets.  The Raptors are also 2-2 against Chicago, which comes into the play in the unlikely event of Brooklyn grabbing the third seed.

Lowry’s Injury Has Given Valanciunas A Chance To Shine

All season long, Kyle Lowry has acted as a vocal mentor for Raptors’ second-year centre Jonas Valanciuas. He’s prodded him on the court, he’s supported him in the locker room and worked to get him the ball when the rest of his teammates feel free to ignore him.

However, Lowry may have given Valanciunas’ season the biggest shot in the arm yet by getting his knee bruised against LeBron James in Miami last week. Since that game Lowry has been sitting and Valanciunas has been thriving. With Toronto’s offensive options limited by Lowry’s absence (that’s 17.4 ppg sitting inactive), the Raptors have had to go in search of points elsewhere, and Valanciunas has been the key beneficiary.

In the three games since Lowry’s injury, Valanciunas’ has seen his scoring spike from 11.0 ppg to 18.0 ppg and his involvement in the offence jump to a heretofore unseen level. All of the Raptors are now working to get him involved in the offence, none more so, perhaps, than fill-in starting power forward Patrick Patterson.

What is happening now is the Raptors are putting a great deal of responsibility on Valanciunas’ shoulders and he’s handling it admirably. That not only helps his confidence but it builds trust between him and his teammates. When teammates feel like they can trust a young player to make smart plays when he has the ball in his hands they are more likely to let him see it. Moreover, when that player proves dependable enough to bail those same players out when they get themselves into tight jams (especially guys like DeMar DeRozan who see frequent double teams) they actively begin looking for more and more ways to get that player the ball.

[Also Read: Raptors 83% Chance to Finish 3rd; Bulls Breathing Down Our Necks]

That has a trickle-down effect as well. With increased touches comes an increased belief that you’ll see the ball again. That means that when Valanciunas gets a touch he doesn’t feel obligated to make a big play with it. He blends into the offence better, acting as much as a facilitator for the greater good rather than as just a token option, which (again) breeds more trust and confidence in his teammates.

This is doubly important given the time of year its occurring. The Raptors were in a visible funk heading into their first postseason in seven years. With Lowry out, however, the club has to find other ways to maintain productivity. Lowry had become the team’s safety net; a last minute bail-out option that was being overburdened too often in late-game situations. When the Playoffs roll around and teams get that much more time to key-in on scouting one team that was going to spell trouble. Lowry’s injury has forced other players to step-up and alternate avenues to be explored. While it hasn’t caused a reimagining of the way the teams plays, it has reminded guys that there are ways to win games without Lowry hurling himself into the fray on each and every possession.

What remains to be seen now is whether or not the club will stay active at getting Valanciunas looks throughout the game and how often Valanciunas sees the ball when Lowry returns. Again, Lowry is one of the few Raptors that has consistently looks to keep Valanciunas involved in the on-court action, but DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Valanciunas’ fellow big men need to keep looking for him, as well. Opposing defences are going to be planning to lock-in on those perimeter guys because Toronto’s offence is so perimeter-heavy; having Valanciunas be a consistent part of the team’s attack will make a huge difference not just in getting post scoring but also pulling some defensive attention away from the club’s big scorers.

Let’s also keep in mind that, in a lot of ways, this season is found money for the Raptors. They were thought to be setting-up for a rebuild, but instead they’ve pushed themselves into an unexpected postseason berth. This is a golden opportunity to test the mettle of the core players that Masai Ujiri has (mostly) inherited before having to make some big decisions about the  teams’ future this summer. Valanciunas remains a huge part of those future plans, and the team can only benefit by seeing how he responds to the pressure of the Playoffs as an active participant in the proceedings. Let’s face it, when Valanciunas is involved in the offence he is also more locked-in on defence, more apt to rebound, box out and set good screens and that that makes it easier for Dwane Casey to keep him on the court throughout the game and, most importantly, in crunch time. This little burst of effectiveness, brought on by Lowry’s injury, has given Valanciunas a platform to earn trust and confidence in the postseason – now the team just has to keep riding it.

Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 9

Raptors getting zoned in on playoff basketball | Toronto Sun

Hayes, who leaned heavily on Juwan Howard in his early days in the league to show him the ropes, said the biggest difference come playoff time is the focus that is required on every single play. “Every play you have to be zoned in mentally, offensively and defensively to what’s going on,” Hayes said. “You have to know what’s coming, what is going to happen. Everything is a counter. They are going to take away your first, second and third options, so mentally you have to be prepared to know what you will do next.” Hayes said it’s not so much what the vets are telling the young guys now as what the young guys have picked up through the course of the season. “It’s preparation,” he said. “You have 82 games to kind of get a feel for it, but now you really have to zero in on things. What happens is we will take away every team’s strength and they are going to take away our strengths so now what are we going to do to counter that? Mentally you just have to be prepared for it.”

Toronto Raptors won’t ‘brush aside’ Jonas Valanciunas’s drunk driving charge | National Post

MASAI UJIRI On a potential suspension: “What generally comes out, that’s the league policy. I can’t sit here and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to suspend him for two games or going to fine him.’ I will say this: As an organization, it’s not something we’re going to take lightly. It’s not something that I feel we’re just going to brush aside. He’s a young kid. At 21 years old, I look at all of you here and wonder what we were all doing at 21. There are mistakes that are made. But we also want to understand the seriousness of it. Then we’ll deal with it from there.”

Lewenberg: Raptors impart tough love on Valanciunas | TSN

The ramifications for Valanciunas – the player – are modest. He’ll continue to play. Any suspension he faces won’t take into effect until the beginning of next season, at the earliest. He will not be required to attend his initial court date on Apr. 22, shortly after the Raptors begin their first-round playoff series. He’s been enjoying one of the best stretches of his career and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue, assuming he can stave off the legal distractions that are likely to ensure. For Valanciunas – the person – the consequences are intricate. He has some damage control, some image repair to do. Most importantly, he has some growing up to do. In the last year, his second in the NBA, we’ve watched Valanciunas blossom on the court, sometimes losing sight of the fact that he is also growing and learning as a young man. Valanciunas – less than a month away from his 22nd birthday – made a mistake, a stupid one. Thankfully no one was hurt as a result.

Raptors’ Valanciunas apologizes for DUI | Toronto Sun

“We all know Jonas,” Novak said. “It was obviously a mistake. He’s said that, and it shows that it took him less than 10 seconds to come out and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ It’s so out of character for him that anyone who is even remotely close to him knows who he is, what he stands for and how hard he works and what this means to him. How much he’s improved over the past year, I think that’s very telling. I think we know that he’s going to be fine and he’s going to use this as motivation. I don’t even think anyone is very worried about it. It’s a serious thing but I mean that in a he’ll-be-able-to-focus way.”

Raptors: A lookback at others who had trouble with the law | Toronto Star

The popular guard had just left a Halloween party in the early morning of Nov. 1, 1999 when he was pulled over for speeding on the Don Valley Parkway. Brown didn’t get a speeding ticket, but he was charged with impaired driving after a breathalyzer test showed his blood alcohol content was above the legal limit. He was fined $2,000 and barred from driving in Canada for a year. But Brown’s conviction was later overturned when his lawyer argued the only reason the Raptor had been pulled over was because he was black. The case launched an investigation into racial profiling by police not only in Toronto, but across Canada.

Raptors Dwight Buycks, Toronto Is The Same As The States | Pro Bball Report

BarDown: Are the 2014 Raptors the new 1985 Blue Jays? | TSN

Does DeMar DeRozan Have a Case for Most Improved Player?

DeMar DeRozan has made a pretty serious leap this season. At 24 years old and in his fifth go-‘round of the league, DeRozan not only made his first NBA All-Star team, but he’s been the top scorer on what is officially the first playoff team he’s ever played for.

DeRozan is not the Raptors’ best player, as much as the 22.8 points stand out more than any other player’s statistics on the team. Kyle Lowry is this team’s best player, acting as the engine on both ends of the floor and the avatar for the entire team’s story and attitude this season. If you’re an advanced stats fan, you can make the case that Amir Johnson is right there with Lowry, though his contributions are obviously less superficial (screen setting, help defense, etc).

But not being the best player on the team doesn’t mean DeRozan hasn’t been incredibly important to the Raptors’ unlikely rise. After all, the trade of Rudy Gay left DeRozan as the offensive alpha and one of the dozen most relied upon offensive players in the NBA. DeRozan has answered that call, improving marginally in several areas and improving significantly in one particular area.

Marginal Improvements
Shot mix and getting to the line – Simply by adjusting the type of shots he’s taken, DeRozan has improved his true shooting percentage this season despite his field goal percentage actually decreasing. Even though his 29.9 percent mark from long range leaves plenty to be desired, it’s still a shot that is worth 0.9 points on average, something long twos would have to fall at a 45 percent clip to do. More importantly, DeRozan has bullied his way to the rim, leading to a career-high 7.9 free throw attempts per game, good for seventh in the NBA. Considering the mid-range heavy game he plays, that’s incredibly impressive, and it speaks to the work he’s done to get stronger (he’s also getting blocked far less often than in years past and producing more And-1s).

Rebounding – DeRozan still isn’t an elite rebounder for a wing – he ranks 26th in rebound rate among qualified guards and guard-forwards this season, behind teammates Lowry and Terrence Ross – but it’s an area he’s improved on for the second straight season. He showed great potential as a rookie and while he hasn’t quite got back to that level yet, the additional half-rebound a game he’s pulling down isn’t nothing.

Steals and blocks – DeRozan has made slight gains in both steal rate and block rate, speaking to his modest improvements as a defender.

Defense – DeRozan is probably still, at best, an average defender, but it’s an area he’s clearly done a great deal of work. An analysis of his defensive improvements and shortcomings would require its own post, but Synergy data shows that DeRozan is on the right path, particularly as an isolation defender, where he somehow ranks first in the NBA this season. That should be all you need to make you take these Synergy defensive classifications with a grain of salt, but his improvement in isolation situations and guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers is clear, as his ability to chase players on the move. Some of this has to do with the help around him (hi, Amir) and drawing the lower-usage wing assignment in most cases, but there are real improvements underneath all of that, too.

Play Type 2011-12 PPP 2012-13 PPP 2013-14 PPP 2011-12 Rank 2012-13 Rank 2013-14 Rank
Isolation 1.1 0.8 0.4 318 149 1
P&R Ball Handler 0.81 0.7 0.73 126 45 58
Post-Up 1.05 1.02 1.04 253 262 234
Spot-Up 0.89 1.05 0.92 118 273 121
Off Screen 0.91 0.8 0.82 91 56 47
Hand Off 1.36 0.79 0.62 n/a 38 13

Turnovers – Ball control has always stuck out as an area where DeRozan was fairly effective but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. His handle is one of the biggest criticisms of his game, but he somehow rarely coughs the ball up despite having it in his hands plenty. You may look and see his raw turnovers up to 2.2 a game, a career-high, but this loses site of the fact that his usage rate has also increased a great deal. Overall, DeRozan turns the ball over on just 9.4 percent of the possessions he uses, representing not just a career-low but the 21st-lowest mark in the entire NBA. Among players who use at least a league-average portion of their team’s possessions, only nine players turn the ball over less than DeRozan. That’s an incredibly valuable trait to have in your primary scorer.

The Key Improvement
The biggest improvement to DeRozan’s game has been, without question, his playmaking ability. 16 players averaged 18-3.5-2.5 like DeRozan did last season; this year he’s up to 22-4-4, joined by only James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Those are random cut-off points, sure, but there are very few players in the NBA who score, rebound and facilitate like DeRozan has.

And this was largely unexpected. In each year of his career, DeRozan had taken small steps forward in assist rate, from 4.9 percent as a rookie to 12 percent last season. This year, that number exploded to 19 percent, a mark that sits him just outside the top-50 in the league, with primarily point guards, superstars and Josh McRoberts ahead of him. He’s still not an elite playmaker, but he’s gone from being appreciably below-average to being comfortably above-average from the wing. Think his 22.8 points a game are nice? He’s also generating an additional 10 per game via assists, per Basketball Reference’s advanced play-by-play logs.

How impressive is a jump from 12 percent to 19 percent in terms of assist rate? Since 2000-01, there have been 235 player seasons where a qualified player had an assist rate between 11 percent and 13 percent. Only 27 of those also had a season with an assist rate higher than 18 percent, with most declining to the 12-percent range rather than improving from it; Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, James Harden, Kevin Love and Josh Smith are the only other players to have made the jump in a single season. Players simply don’t make that kind of a playmaking improvement in one year.

Does He Have a Chance?
Well yes, sure he does. Unfortunately, there are some other players who have made a significant jump this season as well, some of whom either started from an even lesser-known place or have had their breakout become a key storyline of the season, or both.

To try and find (and compare) MIP candidates, I developed a really simply formula called Improvement Metric that just uses box score stats. It won’t include much defense or team context, but since voters almost surely look at box score averages to help guide their vote, it can give us an idea of who they may look at and how they stack up.

IM = 2013-14 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36) / 2012-13 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36)

Put more simply, we summed all of the counting stats, subtracted turnovers and field goal attempts as proxy for efficiency and then put it on a per-minute basis. Scores were compared between years, showing a percentage improvement.

Running that simple formula, here are the 2013-14 leaders by “IM” or “additional statistical contribution.” (Note: players had to qualify in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, and Anthony Davis was left out due to a discrepancy between BRef’s qualification standard and NBA.com’s.)

Player 12-13 Score 13-14 Score IP Usg Inc
Marco Belinelli 6.56 10.76 164.0 0.4
Markieff Morris 10.77 14.73 136.8 3.5
Bismack Biyombo 12.40 16.85 135.9 -0.5
DeMar DeRozan 8.73 11.72 134.2 3.9
Lance Stephenson 9.49 12.68 133.6 4.2
D.J. Augustin 8.27 11.03 133.3 6.8
Draymond Green 10.21 13.54 132.6 0.9
Randy Foye 6.96 9.18 131.8 0.2
DeAndre Jordan 16.31 20.99 128.7 -3.8
Terrence Ross 6.14 7.85 127.8 -0.8
Brandon Knight 8.11 10.36 127.7 4
DeMarcus Cousins 17.70 22.28 125.8 4.2
Arron Afflalo 7.90 9.93 125.7 0.7
Jodie Meeks 7.27 9.03 124.2 2.3
Damian Lillard 10.26 12.70 123.8 1.1
Rudy Gay 9.96 12.28 123.3 0.5
Joe Johnson 7.26 8.94 123.2 0.4
Jamal Crawford 8.11 9.98 123.1 1.2
Ty Lawson 12.66 15.54 122.7 0.4
P.J. Tucker 10.12 12.35 122.1 1.5
Stephen Curry 13.85 16.62 119.9 1.7
Isaiah Thomas 11.24 13.47 119.9 3.4
Wesley Matthews 8.69 10.35 119.1 0.4
Kyle Singler 7.59 9.00 118.6 -1.6
Nicolas Batum 12.25 14.48 118.2 -1.7
Robin Lopez 13.29 15.56 117.0 -6.2
Mario Chalmers 10.17 11.84 116.4 1.2
Marcus Morris 9.45 10.96 116.0 1
Jae Crowder 8.95 10.25 114.6 -1.7

Plenty of names on the list make sense. Markieff Morris and Lance Stephenson have had some MIP love thrown their way; DeAndre Jordan, Terrence Ross, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard are improving with experience; and Marco Belinelli, D.J. Augustin and Randy Foye are having solid bounce-back seasons. There’s also seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who improved from being a six-time All-Star. Bismack Biyombo seems out of place, and a couple of names are missing, so it’s not perfect by any means, but it seems a fair proxy to start with.

The Likely Candidates (in no particular order)
Anthony Davis – He’ll probably win, having transitioned from impressive rookie to superstar. Personally, I hate giving the award to sophomores since this kind of progression is expected, but this represents a pretty extreme case.

Goran Dragic – His scoring average has jumped 5.8 points without much of a minutes increase, he’s getting to the line more and hitting more threes and his PER has exploded, plus he’s leading a surprise team to a potential playoff spot. If Davis is No. 1, Dragic is probably 1B publicly.

Lance Stephenson – The most highly-publicized case of a breakout player having a major impact early this season, it’s certainly possible that the negativity around the Pacers of late will hurt his case.

Gerald Green – He’s proof that I need to loosen the qualification requirements in the future, and he’s firmly in the top-five in buzz for the award. He kind of did this in 2011-12, too, but over just 31 games, so this year has been a real statement given where he was in 2012-13 and before 2011.

Isaiah Thomas – As great as he’s been, his actual performance didn’t change nearly as much as his workload did. He’s improved, to be sure, but he was always pretty good and struggles to stand out given his competition here.

Markieff Morris – He’s probably the winner using that IP formula, and he’s been a core piece of the aforementioned rise of the Suns. However, any chance he had to win the award will probably be cannibalized by the two teammates on this list.

DeAndre Jordan – He’s gone from being a valuable piece to perhaps the best rebounder in the NBA (he’s neck-and-neck with Andre Drummond) and has been able to see a rise in minutes for the first time since 2010-11 thanks to a steady foul rate and improved play. Still can’t hit a damn free throw, though.

Draymond Green – Green’s impact on the Warriors may be too below-the-surface to get him the appropriate love here (he’s also a sophomore), but rest assured his leap has made a big difference as Harrison Barnes backslid and David Lee missed time.

Kyle Lowry – You thought I’d slight my guy without a mention? Like with some others, the minor issue here is that Lowry has always been pretty good, and the jump from pretty good to very good is less noticeable. Ast%, PER, TS%, FG%, 3FG%, they’re all up, and the turnover rate is way down. Looking at things in the aggregate, Lowry probably has a really solid case – no player in the NBA has made a bigger jump by BRef’s Win Shares metric than Lowry this year, nearly doubling his 2012-13 total (5.6) with 10.8 this year.

DeMar DeRozan- Of course, this article was about DeRozan, not Lowry. It’s possible that, like with the Suns, they may cannibalize votes from each other. Given the names and resumes on this list, it’s unlikely that DeRozan has a shot at the award – his improvements may be too marginal in many areas rather than extreme in a single area. Still, even if DeRozan doesn’t become the first Raptors player to win an individual award since Vince Carter was the Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, that shouldn’t negate the fact that DeRozan has taken a big step forward this season. He’s a key reason this team has gotten where it has and a great deal will be placed on his much-improved shoulders come playoff time.

Season 3FG% FTA/gm PPG PER TS% Usg% Rb% Ast% TO% WS WS/48min Team +/- Effect
2009-10 0.25 2.5 8.6 12.5 55.4 18.1 7.9 4.9 9.4 2.3 0.066 -7.2
2010-11 0.096 4.9 17.2 14.5 53 23.2 6.5 8.6 9.8 3.2 0.055 -3.3
2011-12 0.261 5.3 16.7 12.8 50.3 25 5.6 10.8 10.5 2.5 0.054 3.9
2012-13 0.283 5.2 18.1 14.7 52.3 24.2 6.3 12 9.6 4.7 0.075 -1.9
2013-14 0.299 7.9 22.8 18.4 53 28.1 6.6 19 9.4 8.5 0.142 1.4

[Excerpt] Cable Companies versus Sports Fans

I was reading this article in Time and the following resonated with me from a Raptors context:

More importantly, these networks, and the powers than be in general in sports and TV, are well aware that live sports is the largest reason many Americans continue to cut a check for a monthly pay TV bill. Time Warner, which owns TBS, TNT, TruTV, CNN, and many other cable networks (and, for a little while longer, Time Inc. and Time.com), obviously has great interest in keeping levels of cable-paying households high. They want cord cutting to hurt, or at least be difficult and impractical for sports fans to circumvent, and moving the Final Four to cable does just that.

This is totally true. The Raptors are the only reason I have cable and I’m sure I’m not alone here. With Netflix, Hulu and “other sources” of getting your entertainment plentiful, the primary motivation for someone like me to even think about cable is live sports. The bad news for cable companies is that that won’t last either, because with increasing bandwith caps, the existence of offerings such as NBA League Pass combined with easy ways of circumventing location blackouts, fans will find a way to get to the content they want.

The issue here is ease. It’s not very easy for the “normal Joe” to get a VPN service or proxy service, configure and fire it up, startup league pass, and somehow project it onto your TV.  Things like Chromecast might help but that technology is a little ways away from being perfect. Certainly, it’s not a one-click solution like your TV, but give it time and someone from Silicon Valley will see to it that I don’t have to have the third-level Rogers package just so I can enjoy the local basketball team.

Poll: How Should the Raptors handle the Jonas Valanciunas situation?

You know the story, now tell us what the Raps should do:

Talking Raptors Podcast, April 8 – With Darren Andrade (Yes, We Talk JV)

On the previous episode of Talking Raptors, the podcast was hijacked and eventually destroyed by technology before it could reach any ears.

This week, the guys conquer technology and welcome a special guest, writer and media personality Darren Andrade. Darren joins Nick and Barry for a fun filled chat about the Raptors and what’s going on around the league.

They talk:

  • JV drinking and driving at Wasaga beach…
  • Paul George getting ‘catfished’ and whether that’s what’s destroying the Pacers. Or maybe it’s Andrew Bynum.
  • Jay Z vs Drake and what that would mean for a potential Raps vs Nets matchup.
  • Who the Raps want to face in the Playoffs.
  • and so much more.

Enjoy and thanks for listening.

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 (59:54, 86 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 8

Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas slapped with impaired driving charge | National Post

Ontario Provincial Police officers responded to a report of a silver car going through a drive through with open beer bottles around 2:30 a.m. A search of the vehicle revealed that the driver was under the influence of alcohol, according to various reports. “I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously,” Valanciunas said in a team-released statement released Monday evening. “I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”

Lewenberg: Raptors’ Valanciunas arrested for impaired driving | TSN

“I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously,” said the 21-year-old in a statement released by the team Monday evening. “I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”

Raptor Jonas Valanciunas charged with drunk driving | Toronto Star

According to an OPP release, open beer bottles were spotted in Valanciunas’ vehicle as he went through a drive-thru at 2:30 a.m. Police traced the vehicle to an address in town. After investigation, Valanciunas was placed under arrest there, charged with “Exceed 80 mgs.” It’s not clear who, if anyone else, was with him. Beyond the legal and safety implications, this creates turmoil in a locker room that was prepping for its first playoff appearance in six years. The hows and whys will become more clear on Tuesday morning, when Valanciunas will have to face a media onslaught after midday practice.

Raptor Jonas Valanciunas charged with impaired driving :: Newstalk 1010

At about 2:30 a.m., OPP officers responded to a report of a silver car going through a drive-through with open beer bottles inside. Police say they located the vehicle near a residence on Oxbow Park Rd.  After an investigation, officers determined that the driver was under the influence of alcohol while in control of the vehicle.  21-year-old Valanciunas was charged.  The charge carries a $1,000 fine and one-year license suspension for first-time offenders.

Jonas Valanciunas charged with drunk driving – CBC Sports

Second-year centre Jonas Valanciunas has been charged with impaired driving, having been stopped in Wasaga Beach, Ont., about 2:30 a.m. ET after allegedly being spotted with open beer bottles while travelling through a drive-thru. Police say officers located the vehicle at a home, where they arrested Valanciunas alleging he was under the influence of alcohol while driving. Valanciunas is charged with having greater than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and is to appear in court in nearby Collingwood on April 22.

We control our own destiny: Raptors’ Vasquez. | Toronto Sun

It’s too premature to speculate when Kyle Lowry (knee) and Amir Johnson (ankle) will be back, two starters who are key pieces with the post-season just around the corner, but each is making progress with no apparent setbacks. Greivis has filled in admirably for Lowry at the point, scoring and doing a solid job of protecting the basketball. Nando De Colo has been serviceable as backup, growing more comfortable as he gets more minutes. Without Lowry, though, the Raptors are susceptible on the perimeter, leading to far too many points in the paint. Johnson’s ability to show and recover on defence has been missed, while his ability to roll to the basket is second to none.

Chemistry carrying Raps through injury | Sportsnet

Still, with only five games left in the season, you have to like what you’re seeing out the Raps. This weekend, with two crucial pieces sitting out, they pulled out some big wins. You get the feeling that this team’s chances in the post-season will rest not on its stars, but on its depth and chemistry. For now, the Raptors are idle until Wednesday. It’s an opportune time to recharge some of the batteries, knowing full well that they’ll need everybody on board in time for the playoffs. “We need to get some rest, ” said Vazquez. “We need to get Kyle back. We need to get Amir back. We need to get back fully loaded to make a run.”

Is Raptors’ magical season sustainable or simply an anomaly? | Toronto Star

Is this core group good enough to be a perennial playoff team and legitimate contender to play for a championship? And what does general manager Masai Ujiri have to do to make sure growth is steady and that this isn’t a one-off post-season appearance that will simply tease long-suffering fans who haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2008? “I like their pieces,” said one advance scout for an Eastern Conference rival. “But they’ve got some work to do.” Ujiri has held all season that this is nowhere near a complete roster and his search for talent upgrades is all-consuming. But it would seem that the core is young enough and affordable enough that a natural progression and adding key pieces may not be too hard to accomplish.

Raptors fans demand better TV coverage, tired of taking backseat to Maple Leafs | Toronto Star

“If the Leafs had a good product this year, maybe it would make sense. But the fact that they’re not going to make the playoffs — why not get the city of Toronto behind a team that will?”

Breaking: Jonas Valanciunas Charged with Drunk Driving

Apparently he had open beer bottles lying around in his car:

Huronia West OPP say Jonas Valanciunas, 21, a $3.3-million-per-year centre for the club, drove his vehicle through an Oxbow Road drive-thru restaurant at around 2:30 a.m. with open beer bottles in plain view.

Investigating officers determined he’d been drinking and he was charged with over .80, his vehicle was impounded and his licence was automatically suspended.

From the Raptors:

We were made aware this morning of the incident involving Jonas Valanciunas and are disappointed he has put himself in this situation.

We take this matter very seriously as we have the highest expectations for all members of our organization.

At this time we are continuing to gather information and we will comment further when appropriate.

Statement from JV:

I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously. I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.

Apparently it’s usually a two-game suspension.

This sucks man. It’s not something I associate with Jonas, but we all have our crosses to bear and having a drink and going for a drive is apparently his.

This happened in Wasaga beach apparently, which is not surprising. Young Zarar has taken a few trips to Wasaga beach during his youth and I can attest that such behaviour is rather endemic around those parts. It’s something to do with the water, sun, scantily clad women, lack of police enforcement, private “picnic” areas, shady groves, and most of all, very readily available alcohol and other substances. Then again, all that doesn’t start till after May 24 weekend, so I’m not sure what Jonas is even doing there in April in a rainstorm. But hey, if he likes ice fishing when others are rolling in Vegas, then I’m not really surprised by this.

RR firmly stands behind Jonas in this tough time. We’re like the wife of the senator as he delivers his apology press conference after sending out pictures of his junk to random strangers. Yes, we’re almost like that wife, almost. She’s strong, supportive and most of all judgemental. RR is not judgemental. That is something we are not.

I’ll be curious to see if the team suspends him for such behaviour (they should), even though it might put our 50-win target and playoff positioning at risk.

Come back strong big fella.

Patrick Patterson is serious at FIFA’14; doesn’t miss a beat pumping his Wildcats

Raptors On the Precipice of Ousting The Toronto Sport Team Curse

Last week when Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson were both injured I panicked. Perhaps even I, the internal optimist wasn’t immune to the Toronto curse mindset. I’ve had copious conversations on why this season was different. I was one of the first to declare the trade (The Big Tease) would lead us to the promised land. I pointed to how adding depth and the right veterans (Chemistry Class) would allow for the growth of our core, specifically the sophomores (Flight Patterns Changing at ACC) and I continually highlighted milestones (Raptors Seek To Gain Respect).

So why the sudden worry?

It’s no secret Lowry and Johnson are my favorite players on the team, embodying the heart and soul of the squad, so it’s reasonable I told myself to feel the angst I was struggling with. But, truly I think I had simply fallen victim (momentarily) to the Toronto sports team curse. Just last year we watched the Leafs implode and the Blue Jays add a horde of mega million players only to finish one win better than the prior year.

As for the Raptors, it’s hard not to recall the absolute dejection I felt watching Carter’s shot clang off the rim in game 7 versus Philly. I remember fighting with the Bboyz (my term for a group of guys I attend games/argue about our Dino’s with) about wanting to play Washington instead of facing the then: New Jersey Nets in 2007, because I just knew Carter would take us down. And, these were the good years!

Hey, it’s hard to be a devoted fan of any Toronto sports franchise when it’s been years since any of our teams have been considered contenders. As Raptor fans we’ve had to endure:

  • Loss of franchise players/bonafide leaders: McGrady, Carter, Chris Bosh.
  • Witnessed players arrive via trades/free agency fail to live up to their potential: Kapono, Turkoglu, Gay.
  • Observed draft picks not measure up (Bargnani) or be traded away (Davis).

Then the mini win streak coupled with a few gentle ribs from the Bboyz thrust me back into reality and I had an epiphany. I came crashing back to earth to remember something very important: as much as the fan base has had to endure this torture, so too have the players!

DeRozan and Johnson have watched each season of their tenure pass by without a trip to the post season and heard the snickers as they’ve taken to the court. They, more than anyone have had to keep their heads amidst the media throngs who question the team failing year after year. It might hurt us as fans, but imagine how that feels as a player. From the time they first put on sneakers and played organized ball they wanted to compete, to grow and play on a winning team. Watch any interview with this year’s team and it’s a veritable certainty they are equally fed up with being cast aside as an afterthought within the Association.

This 3-game mini winning streak in truth is reflective of this year’s squad. It’s not just the next man up mentality it’s more than that. This squad is a team in the truest sense of the word. I recall the last second win in Brooklyn when Lowry looked directly in the camera and said “that was for you D” referring to the injured DeRozan. Ditto for Vasquez who opined “We won that for Kyle”  following the Houston victory. This team cares about each other, about the city, about the fans and most importantly about winning.

When I did snap out of my fleeting funk, I recalled some important facts regarding this season’s squad.  I thought I’d share these with you just in case you find yourself hit by the same temporary curse mindset.

Playoffs Confirmed

There are a couple of key components involved in the ascension to a playoff team: chemistry, consistency, continual improvement and pride.

Chemistry:

Perhaps the most obvious sign of chemistry is witnessed in the ball movement which was immediately evident by the increases in the team’s assists per game following the trade.

  • November: 17.6
  • December: 20.3
  • January: 23.8
  • February: 23.5
  • March: 20.9
  • April: 21.0

Outside of on court performance another key factor is we never hear of off court troubles for individual players or locker room problems.

Consistency:

For me consistency is best demonstrated in 3-areas: minimize losing streaks, compete every game (no blow-outs) and road records.

The Raptors have excelled in all these areas, especially since the trade:

Losing Streaks:

  • 2 losing streaks prior to trade: 3-game streak within first 6-games of season and a 5-game streak which ended the eve of the trade.
  • Since December 6, Raptors have not lost 3 games in a row.
  • In total, the Raptors have had five 2-game losing streaks (only 1 since the All Star Break).
  • This is a very heady stat when you consider the only other team not to have had a 3-game losing streak all season is the Clippers who, like Toronto have had five 2-game losing streaks. Only 4 other teams have had losing streaks of less than 3 games since January: Clippers, Chicago, Golden State and Memphis.

Compete Every Game:

  • Of the 5 teams above, Toronto is the only team who hasn’t suffered a blow-out of 15+ points since January. Since the trade Toronto has 3 losses of 13 points: twice to San Antonio (both within 8 days of trade) and once to the Clippers.

 

Road Record:

  • Only 5 Eastern teams have a .500 or better road record:
    • Miami: 22-16
    • Toronto: 21-18
    • Chicago: 20-18
    • Washington: 20-19
    • Indiana: 19-19

 

Continual Improvement:

In 7 Week Itch I touched on how the final portion of the schedule offered the right opponents to fine-tune for the playoffs.  March/April stats demonstrate growth is occurring:

  • Best field goal percent
  • Highest points per game
  • Improved 3-point shooting
  • Valanciunas offense and defense is dramatically improved:
    • To end of February: 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, +/- minus 0.8
    • March: 12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, +/- plus 2.5
    • April: 18 points, 9.3 rebounds +/- plus 11
  • Ross is also showcasing improvements and consistency:
    • To end of February: 10.5 points, 3 rebounds, 3-pointers: 1.9pg
    • March: 11.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3-point shots: 2pg
    • April: 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3-point shots: 2.7pg, +/- plus 4.0 (highest of season)
  • The bench has begun to mesh and is consistently producing
  • Veterans Hayes, Salmons and Novak are contributing (especially in the past week)
  • Copious areas improved from 2013: offensive rebounding, overall defense and fourth quarter dominance

Kyle Lowry

 Pride

Josh Lewenberg tweeted: the Raptors are 9-0 without at least one starter playing: (Johnson: 4-0, Lowry: 3-0 DeRozan: 2-0, JV: 1-0, Ross: 1-0).

Only the loss of Patrick Patterson resulted in multiple losses. I’m not suggesting we should go any length of time without the services of any of the starters, but the fact is this year’s Raptors may actually be the best team in the league at dealing with adversity.

 

 

Final 5 Games

When I cursed the schedule gods at the start of the season, I didn’t have the foresight to see how the final 2 months would work in the Raptors favor. Just like their 4-day rest in March, the current 3-day rest is equally timely.

Although the Wednesday Philly game appears irrelevant it actually has major significance; with a 10-3 record vs. their division, a win in Philly will put the Raptors out of reach in a tie-break situation for Brooklyn who has 6 losses (9-6). Brooklyn have 6 games remaining including 2 back-to-backs, 3 road games and a game in Miami who will be motivated to stop a Net sweep.

If Toronto wins the division they will also win a tie-break with Chicago for the third seed. The Bulls also have a back-to-back and 3 road games in their final 5-games with tough matches potentially against current spoiler team: Minnesota and playoff contenders Charlotte and New York.

Since the trade the Raptors have a winning percentage of 62% (68% since All Star). Given this consistency a safe guess is 3 wins resulting in what I called for February 4 which is a franchise best: 48 wins. (On Pace to Win 48) Whether Toronto attempts to sweep the last 5 will depend on how Chicago performs; a loss of 1 or 2 games by the Bulls would allow Casey to rest some starters in the final games.

Perhaps the greatest motivation for Toronto to take the third seed is how well they match up versus Indiana who appears fated for second place and are currently in turmoil internally. (Here’s an article featuring Raptor Republics William Lou’s take on a Bobcat versus Raptor first round match-up)

As we approach the post season and anxiously await the determination of our seeding and opponent I can say without reproach I’ve given in to the fairy tale season and firmly believe this Raptor squad is destined. Not just to gain experience, but to do what they’ve done all season: overcome the odds, face adversity, benefit from timely occurrences and maybe just maybe over achieve en route to a second, third and maybe even higher round. My hopes are they’ll do it not just for themselves, but for a fan base eager to dispose of this curse mindset once and for all.

Tipping off to an exciting week of basketball, enjoy.

DeRozan throws out first pitch at Jays-game

Finding Kyle Lowry: A Comprehensive Essay

Ed’s Note: Glen Hogarth takes an in-depth look at Kyle Lowry’s situation with the Raptors and how he fares in league-wide comparisons.

Will he stay, or will he decide to bring his game elsewhere? If he does stay, what will it take to sign him? Will they risk overpaying in order to keep him and the success they’ve found recently? With every Raptors fan wondering about the future of our team and if it will include Kyle Lowry, I thought it would be interesting to look at other point guards to compare them and use their career choices to see what the future may hold.

Looking back, Kyle Lowry was picked 24th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2006 NBA Draft. After breaking his hand in his first year while only playing in 10 games, he followed up in the second year of his rookie contract with a full 82 game season and found himself competing for the starting role with rookie Mike Conley. Midway through the 2008-09 season Lowry lost the battle and was traded to Houston, where he would find competition for the starting role again, first backing up Aaron Brooks, then sharing duties with Goran Dragic. Eventually both were replaced by Jeremy Lin. It was reported that Kyle had friction with the coaching staff in Houston, which hastened his departure. In July of 2012 he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and found himself once again competing for the starting role of his new team against Jose Calderon, a man who had bested all who have tried before him. Yet this time Calderon would fall short and be traded away, finally leaving Lowry to run an offense with no one biting at his heels for the first time in his career.

I must admit, I didn’t follow his career closely before joining the Raptors, so I must look into the soup of numbers to evaluate his past performance. When I compare them to this season, the biggest difference I see between them is a lack of consistency in previous years. Sharing time with another quality guard leaves the coach an option to give a quick seat to a player not performing, or to simply switch it up to help find a spark. It can also cause unnecessary stress and distractions for the players leading to inconsistencies, leaving numbers ranging all over the map.

Season

Games Played

MPG

Games Under 10 Points

Games under 5 Assists

2007-08

82

25.5

44 (.536)

55 (.670)

2008-09

77

21.8

58 (.753)

56 (.727)

2009-10

68

24.3

38 (.559)

35 (.515)

2010-11

75

34.2

26 (.347)

19 (.253)

2011-12

47

32.1

10 (.213)

10 (.213)

2012-13

68

29.7

27 (.397)

22 (.323)

Total

417

27.9

203 (.486)

197 (.472)

2013-14

74

36.3

7 (.094)

14 (.189)

As you can see, in previous seasons Lowry has struggled to score and assist the ball on a consistent basis. This season, on the other hand, has seen a vastly more consistent version of Lowry. It makes some questions come to mind. Are these numbers simply a result of sharing duties at the point in previous seasons and learning to play ball at an NBA level? Does this season’s dramatic change simply stem from extra minutes or has he matured as Ujiri recently eluded to as the reason for Lowry’s success? When looking at Lowry’s career numbers, they aren’t very impressive, but do help to illustrate the vast improvements made in his game this season.

LOWRY`S CAREER AVERAGES (includes current season)

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

11.6

.417

.791

5.4

3.8

1.2

16.9

.548

29.8

19.8

5.0

Of course, this is a contract year. The dreaded words that can curve the spine of even the hardest fan. These words can seep into your barrel of joy and sour the whole batch. They conjure thoughts of doubt and anger where unabashed joy should be. Lowry has given the Raptors and its fanbase a fantastic performance this season, worthy of an All-Star snubbing. Yet, adding two words as seemingly insignificant as “contract year” to his accomplishments and it makes people question the sincerity of his actions. Is this season just a “push-through-it-at-all-costs” attempt to get a C.R.E.A.M. contract, or has Lowry matured into the veteran floor leader we’ve seen this season, willing to step up and sacrifice himself to help the team to victory?

With too many stats in today’s world to fit on just one line, I’ve chosen a blend of classic and advanced statistics that I believe can help compare the players at the point guard position. Below is a table showing Lowry and a cross section of other comparable guards at various stages of their career. All have been through an impressive “Contract Year” in their career and have followed them up in different ways. First, let’s look at the current season and take note of the impressive win shares Lowry has accumulated. This clearly indicates the impact he has had on the success of the team this year. In fact, Kyle is #1 on the team in Win Shares with 11.0, followed by DeMar with 8.4, then Amir with 6.2, Jonas with 5.7 and Terrence with 3.9 so far this season.

NOTE: All highlighted areas throughout the article indicate a career high.

2013 – 2014 Season (as of Mar. 31)

Player

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

Kyle Lowry

27

36.5

17.5

.418

.814

7.6

4.8

1.6

20.1

.563

35.1

22.4

11.0

Russell Westbrook

25

30.7

21.1

.435

.822

6.9

5.7

1.9

23.9

.545

39.9

33.9

4.3

Rajon Rondo

27

32.8

11.5

.388

.649

9.5

5.0

1.3

15.1

.450

46.8

21.2

1.0

Ty Lawson

26

35.9

17.8

.432

.800

8.8

3.5

1.6

19.4

.554

38.9

23.0

6.0

Mike Conley

26

33.4

17.2

.444

.826

6.0

2.9

1.5

20.1

.541

30.4

25.0

7.0

Deron Williams

29

32.2

14.6

.457

.810

6.3

2.6

1.4

18.2

.574

33.7

21.9

5.1

Brandon Jennings

24

34.3

15.7

.376

.756

7.7

3.1

1.4

16.2

.490

34.8

23.4

4.0

Jose Calderon

32

30.7

11.5

.455

.836

4.8

2.4

0.9

15.5

.599

23.2

16.0

5.9

Jeremy Lin

25

28.8

12.4

.448

.816

4.2

2.6

0.9

14.3

.572

22.6

20.4

3.9

Eric Gordon

25

32.1

15.4

.436

.785

3.3

2.6

1.2

15

.540

16.6

23.1

2.7

Steve Nash

39

21.6

7.1

.369

.889

5.3

1.8

0.6

10.7

.462

36.6

19.7

-0.1

This season, Lowry has put up career high numbers in multiple statistics and ranks 7th in the NBA in assist percentage, as well as 8th overall in win shares. Should we expect him to improve upon this season consistently over his next 4-5 year contract now at 28 years of age? I’m not at all suggesting that he can’t, but simply warning that it would be unreasonable to blindly assume that he can. That said, assuming his performance this season can be duplicated through an upcoming contract, it’s fair to say that his current season salary of $6,210,000 deserves to have some more added to it. To figure out how much, I thought to look at each of those players statistics and salaries in the season leading up to their deal and how they followed it up the year afterwards, hoping to find a trend that can shed some light into that pit of darkness known as the contract year.

Russell Westbrook – Current contract for 4 years = $78,595,310

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘11-12

$5,082,416

23

35.3

23.6

.457

.823

5.5

4.6

1.7

22.9

.538

29.8

32.7

7.9

‘12-13

$13,668,750

24

34.9

23.2

.438

.800

7.4

5.2

1.8

23.9

.532

38.4

32.8

11.6

When Lowry was first being brought into the Raptors system, Colangelo told us he was a Westbrook-type player. Westie is a tenacious competitor on both ends of the floor. A top scoring option on any team, his desire to take it upon himself to win the game has been criticized as often for being in the way of Kevin Durant, as he has been praised for being half of a dynamic duo. Something to take note of, his skill set and numbers have continued to improve since signing his first big contract. Despite the recent setbacks of three surgeries on the same knee over the last year, this season he’s recorded many of his highest numbers. Lowry’s performance this season has shown the comparisons between the two were warranted. However, as good of a year as Lowry has been having this season, his numbers would still need to increase quite a bit to be at the same level as Westbrook from a purely statistical standpoint. Kyle’s impact this season though has been as instrumental to the success of the Raptors as Westbrook’s has to the Thunder. That said, Russell’s increased AST% (39.9 vs 35.1) and USG% (33.9 vs 22.4) over Kyle this season shows why Westbrook commands the extra dollars.

Rajon Rondo – Current contract for 5 years = $55,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘09-10

$2,094,922

23

36.6

13.7

.508

.621

9.8

4.4

2.3

19.1

.540

43.7

20.2

9.6

‘11-12

$9,090,911

24

37.2

10.6

.475

.568

11.2

4.8

1.8

17.1

.490

47.1

18.3

6.6

In 2006, Rondo was picked 21st overall, passed over by many would be suitors nowadays, much like Lowry who was picked 24th overall in the same draft class. At this point, both have become attractive options for any team, with their defensive prowess and desire to verbally lead the team on the floor. Both are effective on the offensive end as well, but in very different manners. Rondo’s court vision had helped the aging Celtics players they had until recently, stay effective for longer stretches. Aside from a drive to the hoop, which Rondo often uses to set up the assist, he’s not able to lead a team in scoring most nights as he is a streaky shooter at best. His poor free throw percentage makes it hard in late game situations for him to have the ball and be effective as fouling is a good option for his opponents. On the flipside, Lowry can score off the bounce or spot up for the shot. His excellent free throw shooting can be counted on down the stretch, keeping him as an effective option in late game scenarios. Looking at Rajon’s last contract year, we can see that his PPG have yet to be bested in the first 4 years of his deal, something I’m sure the franchise assumed would have continued to rise when handing out the dough. His AST per game, though already impressive continued to soar after the contract, which is where he was most obviously gifted. This is a good example, showing that while it may seem safe to assume that a player can continue to improve in some areas, often we see a player relax and lose that razor sharp edge after signing, leaving many other facets of his game to plateau or even regress slightly.

Ty Lawson – Current contract for 4 years = 48,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘12-13

$2,544,529

25

34.4

16.7

.461

.756

6.9

2.7

1.5

17.9

.549

30.2

22.3

7.4

‘13-14

$10,786,517

26

35.9

17.8

.432

.800

8.8

3.5

1.6

19.4

.554

38.9

23.0

6.0

In my opinion, Lawson is perhaps one of the closest comparisons to Lowry when considering their style of play.  Lawson has a slight shooing advantage, but Lowry is better on the boards. Each is capable on both ends of the floor and bring a bulldog-like mentality to each game. Both have also struggled slightly in the past at staying healthy for entire seasons. Lawson has rewarded the franchise after his signing by posting career bests in multiple categories, proving that not every player takes it easy after signing the dotted line. The question is whether or not Lawson’s contract is too large for what he brings, with the new cap in effect, his salary is roughly 18% of the team’s total before entering the luxury tax. Players need to have a pack mentality for the team’s sake when negotiating a contract. With everyone feeding off the same bone as it were, players need to leave enough meat for the others to stay strong. Take too much and they risk leaving themselves competing alongside subpar athletes. Much of any player’s individual success comes from the players around them and how they perform. Despite Lawson’s uptick in stats the team has not found success behind it yet, perhaps this result is just a byproduct of Denver’s current desire to tank for potential.

Mike Conley – Current contract for 5 years = $40,000,000 + $600,000 in possible incentives over last 3 years

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘10-11

$4,913,007

23

35.5

13.7

.444

.733

6.5

3.0

1.8

15.8

.521

28.0

18.3

6.6

‘11-12

$6,611,571

24

35.1

12.7

.433

.861

6.5

2.5

2.2

16.8

.523

29.8

21.0

6.4

Conley’s well roundedness and high level of defence makes him another strong comparison to Lowry. His contract is structured on an increasing scale, with his final season in 2015-16 pulling in $9,588,426. Far less than someone like Lawson with just as much if not more upside. At only 24 years old when he signed this contract he still has more opportunities to increase his salary, whereas in all likelihood by Kyle’s next contract, his effectiveness and salary will be on the downswing. Conley is another effective example of a player showing growth after signing a big deal. This year, Conley has improved his scoring ability, something he began to develop last season. When he signed this current contract, he wasn’t nearly the player he is today, however his contract has grown well in comparison each year to his skillset due to the increasing scale of the deal structured. This contract seems to leave the franchise flexibility and has that interesting “possible incentives” thrown in as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find details about what activates the incentives, only that they are worth an extra $200,000 each season. Im curious how incentives affect the cap if at all and if there’s a limit to how large they can be.

Deron Williams – Previous contract for 3 years = $43,623,857 Current contract for 5 years = $98,772,325

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘08-09

$5,069,449

24

36.8

19.0

.471

.849

10.7

2.9

1.1

21.1

.573

47.8

24.7

8.4

‘09-10

$12,323,900

25

36.9

18.2

.469

.801

10.5

4.0

1.3

20.6

.574

44.5

23.8

10.3

2011-12

$16,259,805

27

36.3

21.0

.407

.843

8.7

3.3

1.2

20.3

.527

46.6

30.1

4.1

2012-13

$17,177,795

28

36.4

18.9

.440

.859

7.7

3.0

1.0

20.3

.574

37.5

24.4

10.9

In contract years, the ball seems to go through Williams exclusively. He wants to be the floor leader and have things go his way.  Fresh off olympic gold medal performances both times, it was easy for him to impress. After signing his first extension, his numbers increased as did his ego. At least that was part of the excuse for Jerry Sloan leaving the Jazz and also why ultimately he was traded to the Nets where he has stayed. After he resigned his latest contract for the Nets, things began to go south.  Each season has seen a steady drop in his numbers across the board, and currently his contract vs output is one of the very worst in the NBA . His current deal includes a 15% trade kicker, which all but insures him staying with the organization until the 2016-17 season where the team has an Early Termination Option which will most likely be used if these trends continue. This is an excellent example how the worth of a player can fluctuate from of a combination of repeating injuries and a change in personnel, having to defer shots and touches to other players, making his contract a warning of what can come to pass when giving out large cash for a player. At times throughout his career, Williams attitude has come into question, something we’ve heard rumors of in Lowry’s old stomping grounds, but has been proved to be just the opposite all season long in Toronto.

Brandon Jennings – Current contract for 3 years = $24,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘12-13

$3,179,493

23

36.2

17.5

.399

.819

6.5

3.1

1.6

16.1

.468

29.1

23.7

5.8

‘13-14

$7,655,503

24

34.3

15.7

.376

.756

7.7

3.1

1.4

16.2

.444

34.8

23.4

4.0

Though younger than Lowry, he has a similar game as a scoring guard, a poor man’s kyle if you will.  Before this season began, both were thought of as among the best of the second tier of point guards around the NBA. Jennings was at his best during his contract year. The only negative, a drop in points from the year before, was solely on the fact he was one of only two good players on the team and defences were able to key in on his game. Despite that, he managed to shoot a career best .375 from behind the arc as well as earn a career high in assists before it was bested this season. Not ground breaking numbers but highs nevertheless. Having more talent around him this season in Detroit, has made Jennings take a career low in shot attempts. Perhaps its for the best as his shooting touch regressed from the contract year across the board. Right now, Jennings could be a window of what could be, if this season’s performance was all about the money for Kyle and he decides to cruise afterwards. It also shows how the mindset of the players around you can hurt the perception of your game.

Jose Calderon – Previous contract for 5 years = $45,484,610 current contract for 4 years = $29,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘07-08

$2,471,604

26

30.3

11.2

.519

.908

8.3

2.9

1.1

20.5

.575

42.3

16.8

10.2

08-09

$7,438,018

27

34.3

12.8

.497

.981

8.9

2.9

1.1

18.8

.561

41.0

16.9

7.5

2012-13

$11,046,591

31

29.6

11.3

.491

.900

7.1

2.4

0.8

18.8

.594

39.8

17.0

7.4

2013-14

$6,791,570

32

30.8

11.5

.453

.839

4.9

2.4

0.9

15.4

.597

23.2

16.0

5.9

Nothing is similar in these two player’s games other then they play the same position. Since Jose was the last PG of the Raptors, it only seemed right to look at Calderon to try and learn from any monetary mistakes. Both guards are effective in their own way, but overall Lowry is an upgrade from Calderon. Lowry’s time with him last year seemed to help Kyle learn to be a better vocal leader and a more effective assist man as well. On the other end there’s no comparison,  Jose will always be an all time Raptors favorite of mine, but the man’s defence left much to be desired. It wasn’t that he didn’t give effort, it’s just that it didn’t help. Efficiency is the name of his game and in his contract years Jose stayed true to form. This season has seen the Mavericks ask him to become more like Lowry, using his high percentage shot to pop 3’s and spread the floor instead of racking up assists for the team. If Calderon is any indication of what Lowry will do after signing his contract, there would be nothing to worry about as Jose is as professional as they come. Despite this, his contract was too high for producing below average defense, even with his efficiency and leadership. A contract similar to this could be a high end offer to land Lowry and have everyone be content, if Lowry continues to perform at his current level. With today’s salary cap as it is, Lowry would have to maintain his current standard of play to make it worth it though.

Jeremy Lin – Current contract for 3 years = $25,123,938

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘11-12

$762,195

23

26.9

14.6

.446

.798

6.2

3.0

1.6

19.9

.552

41.0

28.1

2.7

‘12-13

$8,374,646

24

32.2

13.4

.441

.785

6.1

2.6

0.9

14.9

.538

29.4

20.8

5.4

Perhaps no one has had a more impactful contract year then Jeremy Lin, who took the NBA by storm in a wave of Linsanity. He posted career numbers in almost every category that season and left the whole world inthralled. Despite his minutes going up after the signing, all of his numbers have taken a hit, in part due to a healthy and talented team around him taking up most of the touches. As fine a player as he is, Lin certainly never lived up to the hype. Most will never taste the juice he had over the span of 35 games. That said, his current contract is overpaid for what he does. Perhaps they make it back with international broadcasts and advertising, but it doesn’t represent what he brings to the team. When looking at his numbers it could be interpreted that he’s let his foot off the gas after signing the dotted line. This is a danger when giving a large reward off such a small sample size. When looking at Kyle’s entire career we should notice that only this season shows consistent high-end play, which would also constitute a reasonably small sample size as well.

Eric Gordon – Current contract for 4 years = $58,365,563 (player option in 4th)

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘10-11

$3,016,680

22

37.7

22.3

.450

.825

4.4

2.9

1.3

18.5

.566

20.7

26.5

5.7

‘12-13

$13,668,750

24

30.1

17.0

.402

.842

3.3

1.8

1.1

15.4

.523

19.3

29.4

1.1

In the 2010-11 season, Eric Gordon showed signs of being a devastating player in the making. A big time scorer with an ability to find his open teammates and hustle on the defensive end as well. In 2011-12 Gordon’s actual contract year, he was set to make $3,831,184. He started out where he left off, but found himself injured  for the season and was traded from the Clippers to the Hornets/Pelicans for Chris Paul in the off season. Eric later signed an offer sheet to leave New Orleans, but was retained as a restricted free agent by them after matching the offer. Since then, he has appeared to be unhappy about the organizations decision to retain him and he has since spent their time and money playing uninspired ball. Gordon’s numbers have regressed two years in a row, as he continues showing little interest in competing. The lesson here is to retain players who actually want to be in the organization and have the integrity to compete regardless of their situation. Being bitten after giving a large contract based on a small sample size and potential, strikes again.

Steve Nash – 2 Previous 4 year contracts: 1st = $40,250,000 The 2nd = $47,375,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘03-04

$5,750,000

29

33.5

14.5

.470

.916

8.8

3.0

0.9

20.5

.590

38.3

19.5

8.8

‘04-05

$8,750,000

30

34.3

15.5

.502

.887

11.5

3.3

1.0

22.0

.606

49.2

20.5

10.9

‘07-08

$11,375,000

33

33.6

16.9

.504

.906

11.1

3.5

0.7

21.1

.641

47.3

22.0

10.5

‘08-09

$12,250,000

34

36.4

15.7

.503

.933

9.7

3.0

0.7

19.5

.615

42.4

21.1

7.3

I bring up Nash because he aged like wine and most of my examples have been of players younger than Lowry. Both contract years above were signed as an older player then Kyle is now, showing that there can be nothing to fear with signing a 28 year old player. After all, Nash answered his first contract signing by winning back to back MVP titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06. He followed those years by increasing his assist average as well as his field goal and three-point percentages. Nash is a fantastic example of what hard work, dedication and focus can accomplish. He was worth every dime of his contracts in Phoenix. With Lowry entering the prime of his career, perhaps this is the time where everything will click and take his game to the next level. An interesting note, Deron Williams current 5 year deal is worth over $11,000,000 more than the 8 years of Nash where he won Back to Back league MVP’s and was considered by many as the greatest point guard of the generation.

In Conclusion…

There is no crystal ball, no future seer who can tell us what is in the heart and soul of a player. No GM can ever be certain what will happen after they make that deal. A player can step up or step out, they can play hard or they can get hurt. That’s why numbers can’t really tell you the whole story. They can be misinterpreted as the totality of a player, but rarely can they show us the whole picture, what’s inside a player, the integrity of an individual. So, what does Kyle Lowry want from the prime of his career? Is it just money? Or is it more, does he want to compete for something big and be on the front lines for it? If he does, then he must concede to a smaller contract. If we look at the 13 contracts from the 10 players found above, they averaged a 4.08 year contract earning $48,737,738 or $11,945,524 per year.  Not all of those contracts have panned out to be of good value either. Deron Williams’ second, Jeremy Lin, and Eric Gordon are all looking like badly overpriced deals. Calderon’s contract with Toronto and Rondo’s were both overpaid as well, but at least they were keeping their team interested in competing, unlike the others mentioned before. When looking at the cross section of player chosen, Lowry ranks 1st in Win Shares when comparing his contract year to all the other contract years found above. If I was asked to give a number I’d like to see Lowry sign for (and yes, I would like the Raptors to try and sign him to a new contract) I think a 4 year deal for $32,000,000 to $38,000,000 would be fair for both sides, leaving some cap room for others like 2Pat and later for JV and T.Ross down the line.

When I look at Lowry this season I’m reminded of another Philadelphia native, Alvin Williams.  Alvin always sacrificed himself for the good of the team, not a contract. He wanted to give them everything he had and did just that. He was an ultimate competitor for the Raptors, something we’ve seen from Lowry this season. I don’t think Kyle’s trying to deceive anyone, he isn’t just playing hard for a contract only to relax once it`s signed. I don’t think he wants to go elsewhere either. He`s been in other organizations and has seen first hand how easy it was for him not to fit in with other players and staff and how easily he could find himself on the bench. He certainly comes off as a player who wants to spend his time on the floor competing for a win, not sitting on the bench counting his benjamins. Supposedly he’s always asked a lot of his teammates, confronting them and holding them accountable. These things rubbed players the wrong way in other cities, but here his teammates responded with success. They buy into his leadership and feel comfortable following him into battle each night. Lowry and DeMar coexist as the Raptors leaders and mesh well together. It’s a good scenario for Lowry, with a solid core of young athletic players wanting to compete around him.

Only time will tell what will become of Lowry`s future.  For now, I plan on enjoying the Raptors in the playoffs and choose to believe that come next year, Kyle Lowry will be suiting up for the Raptors, ready to be that tenacious  bulldog we’ve come to expect. Hopefully it can be done at a reasonable cost.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 6 – Target Acquired

Andrew’s back on a packed ‘cast and we run things down and spark things up:

Part 1

  • Miami game
  • Kyle Lowry injury – to rest or not
  • Expectations of playing through injury and how different players are treated
  • LeBron James is insane
  • Houston win – Zarar was at the game
  • Dull but winning night at the ACC
  • DeRozan’s surprising stat line
  • Respect afforded to the Raptors “big three” compared to the others
  • Jonas Valanciunas is taking over and its not by accident
  • Terrence Ross doesn’t seem to realize what he’s capable of

Part 2

  • Big Bad Pacers go down – Andrew was at the game
  • Hansbrough and Hayes lead the way
  • Indiana’s quiet secret
  • An actual NBA fight? Haha
  • Greivis Vasquez saves the day in Milwaukee; verdict on his defense
  • Milwaukee’s length and how DeRozan handled it
  • Giving credit where it’s due, but also dumping on Milwaukee
  • Nando De Colo – MVP?

Part 3

  • Quest for 50
  • Philly game “analysis”
  • J.R Smith is awful and we hope he continues to be
  • NBA on NBC theme
  • How to boo Bargnani when he’s in street clothes?
  • Detroit scares you despite Josh Smith
  • Josh Smith pleads his defense

Listener questions returns next week – send your inquiries to @raptorsrepublic or use #rapcast

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 (46:03, 44 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 7

The key to the Raptors’ surprising season? Confidence on the road | Toronto Star

They have beaten the Mavericks in Dallas, the Thunder in Oklahoma City and the Grizzlies in Memphis; they have won on long, tough road trips and short one-gamers; they are one of just three Eastern Conference teams with winning road records and it’s set them apart. And it’s come totally out of the blue. “Even with a veteran team we had in Dallas and Seattle (as an assistant coach), it was tough to win on the road,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors assured themselves of a winning road record in 2013-14 by beating the Bucks 102-98 in Milwaukee on Saturday night. “Our focus has been good on the road for whatever reason. We keep the same routine, we try to make sure our travel is efficient, which is sometimes hard to do, so guys can get rest.”

Raptors must improve their starts to game | Toronto Sun

“We’ve got to learn,’’ said Casey of the need for better starts and better focus. “A lot of guys have not been in this position where you are being hunted and it’s a different feeling and approach. “It starts with our starters. They’ve got to come out and set the tone and everybody else will follow.” Getting Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson healthy and back into the starting unit can’t hurt, but even with a healthy Lowry and Johnson the starters have lacked that necessary edge and mental toughness required to start games. The good news is this group has a knack for making plays down the stretch, led by DeMar DeRozan, who got to the line at will against the Bucks, making clutch free throws and being aggressive. Home court in the opening round is very much a possibility as the Raptors have five games remaining.

Raptors point guard Nando De Colo making impact with new team | Toronto Sun

For a guy who doesn’t really have a defined position and whose role will probably have to be redefined once Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is cleared to play, De Colo is making the most of every opportunity. “Just being aggressive and playing my game,” said De Colo. “When a shot is open, you have to take it. Whether I’m playing the one (point guard) or two (shooting guard), staying focused on my job and nothing more.”

Dwane Casey & Raptors roster – how to manage the final 5 games | Raptors Rapture

The importance of finishing with the #3 seed can’t be overstated, and must be Job One. If the Raps run the table in their last 5 games, they cannot be caught by either Brooklyn or Chicago. I won’t spend a lot of time on playoff speculation other than to say the Raps need home court, despite their excellent results as a road team. Indiana, the likely #2 seed, looks vulnerable to a first-round upset. Assuming the Raps take care of the Wiz(?), we could retain home court for the second round, and avoid a confrontation with Miami, until the Eastern finals.

The One Team Every Projected 2014 NBA Playoff Team Wants to Avoid: No. 3 East: Toronto Raptors | Bleacher Report

The Bulls, who are tied with San Antonio for the league’s stingiest defense since the All-Star break, would be well-equipped to limit the damage of the Toronto trio. Jimmy Butler, in particular, would be a nightmare for either Ross or DeRozan, as he’s limiting opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.4 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 11.2, according to 82games.com. While Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have made strides this season, Toronto also lacks a defensive-minded center capable of shutting down the Bulls’ prolific frontcourt players. The trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson would likely power their way through the Raptors’ front line with reckless abandon.

Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 6 – The Finals

Ed’s Note: Glen Hogarth will be guiding you through the ins and outs of fantasy basketball from a Raptors and NBA perspective.

There’s only 5 games left! Raptors games that is. How quickly its all gone by. At least the end of this regular season doesn’t mark the end of another Raptors year in the record books. Instead of watching Uzoh and Anderson spoiling the Raptors draft position, we get to see the team fighting for third in the East and the franchises second ever division title. This week, they clinched the team’s first ever winning road record and with favorable matchups ahead they can earn a franchise best record as well, if they win out.

The upcoming week has only 3 games on the schedule, with the first coming on Wednesday in Toronto against the Philadelphia 76ers. Not a surprise that Philly is at or near the bottom of every defensive category kept. Allowing nearly 110 points as well as over 9 three-pointers per game, I expect every starting Raptor to fill the stat line that night. On Friday they play the Knicks who are desperately clinging on to playoff hopes, but are still on the outside looking in. This game has everything needed to turn into a slobber knocker of a game. Expect lower scores, lots of fouls and aggressive defense. Then back on the road to Detroit to face the Pistons on Sunday. Another subpar defensive team allowing over 104 points and 8 threes a game. With nothing to play for, they still may try to play spoiler to the Raptors and come out aggressive.

Injuries have affected the depth of the team, leaving players to step up into starting roles. As a fan, it means that these last 5 games are all that more challenging. However, as a fantasy owner this is an opportunity to take advantage of an available player getting lots of minutes.

Gotta Have Em!

DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating rises from 39th up to 35th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. This past week has shown defenses keying in on DeMar, trying to force someone else to beat them. DeRozan responded by putting his other skill sets on display handling the rock and dishing out dimes, while still managing to put up points. Over the last 7 days he’s averaged 23.2 PTS off .459 FG% and .857 FT%, with 3.2 REB, 5.2 AST and 1.2 STL per game. Some well deserved rest over the next couple of days should get DDs energy back up. With a chance to set some franchise records in the games ahead, expect DeRozan to finish the regular season up strong.

Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating continues to climb from 99th way up to 82nd and is owned by 95.0% of the leagues at ESPN. The big fella was on point all week long putting up some big numbers against some tough competition. Over the last 7 days Jonas has averaged 17.6 PTS off an impressive .694 FG%, with 9.4 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.6 STL and 0.8 BLK per game. Perhaps the best development recently has been his ability to draw free throws, getting to the line 5 times per game and hitting .800 FT% His ability to get to the free throw line and compete on the glass on both ends has made coach Casey look to go back to him down the stretch. This is the player that everyone has been waiting for and just a taste of things to come.

Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating bumps from 161st up to 152 and is owned by 44.9% of the leagues at ESPN. Since covering the starting role for the injured Lowry, GV has had 2 big fantasy games and no duds. Over the last 7 days he has averaged 14.6 PTS off .464 FG% adding 3 three-pointers per, with 2.6 REB, 3.4 AST and 0.6 STL per game. The three ball has been the real X Factor in Vasquez’s game hitting 15 over his last 4 games. General Greivis has really proven to be an excellent acquisition to this team. It’s amazing the negative outlook some still seem to have of him, clearly those people haven’t been paying attention to his contributions since the first few weeks with the team where he started in a slump. His infectious attitude has definitely factored into the teams confidence level down the stretch. Still available in over half the leagues still at ESPN, if yours is one of them, grab this guy and play him until Lowry returns. It’s a no brainer.

Keep An Eye On

Kyle Lowry – Season player rating drops from 12th down to 13th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. Kyle’s knee injury has been every fan’s and fantasy owner’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, much of the news has seemed positive and it appears likely he will be back in the lineup before long. With that in mind fans can breathe a sigh of relief, leaving fantasy owners in the balance hoping that their stat stuffer will come back sooner rather than later. With the next game not coming until Wednesday against the Sixers, it is possible we may see Lowry back into the lineup. That said, I wouldn’t bank on that as I assume the organization is looking to make an impact in the postseason and will want him to be ready for then.

Amir Johnson – Season player rating drops from 56th down to 59th and is owned by 64.7% of the leagues at ESPN. When Amir went down with injury this week against Houston, it appeared is that the injuries that he had been playing through finally got the better of him. With the franchise looking to make a splash in the playoffs, expect Johnson to continue to sit on the bench this upcoming week or have his minutes limited if he does come back. In the meantime, I’d consider swapping him out for 2Pat (or some other non-Raptors player if you’re into that kind of thing) who continues to look better each game back as he works himself back into the rhythm of the game. That said, this is Amir we’re talking about, so don’t be surprised if he plays all 48 minutes in Wednesday’s game instead of resting up on the bench.

Terrence Ross – Season player rating dips from 114th down to 116 and is owned by 27.1% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last 7 days T.Ross has seen both good and bad nights, leaving fantasy owners in the precarious position of should he or should he not be played on any given night. Over the past week he has averaged 11.0 PTS shooting .408 adding 1.8 three-pointers, with 5.2 REB and 0.4 AST. The past week has seen a surge of rebounding from the young fella, averaging 2 more than his season average. The increased floor time on a nightly basis also adds to his fantasy value, if only he could find consistency in his game. Perhaps with some time off and only three games on the schedule he can find some extra energy and that consistency he needs through practice and some well deserved rest.

They Try and Try

Patrick Patterson – Season player rating drops from 163rd down to 168th and owned by 0.4% of the leagues at ESPN. He’s back! And better than ever… Okay maybe not yet, but in each game he gets closer to the 2Pat we’ve all come to love before he went out. After a 12 game absence, he averaged 5.5 PTS off of .320 FG%, with 3.8 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.0 STL and hitting 0.8 three-pointer per game in his first week back. With Amir Johnson out for the foreseeable future, it seems a good bet that Patterson will be given increased minutes as he continues to find his rhythm. With only 5 games left in the regular season, its tough to assume that he will be an effective fantasy option before he knocks off all the rust he’s collected in his time off. As long as he’s ready come playoff time, Raptors fans will be content that he’s taking the floor and getting himself into shape to compete come playoff time.

Half-Hearted Victory, Quarter-Hearted Recap

This is your warning: I totally mailed in this recap.

A few things came up.

First off, I was only able to keep a half-eye on the game while I was at work. The NCAA Final Four games were on, and quite frankly, they were more interesting than an early-April contest between the surprisingly upstart Bucks, and the effort-challenged Raptors.

Second, after the shellacking the Raptors laid on the Pacers on Friday night, I made the mistake of mentally writing this game off as an easy win. Evidently, so did the Raptors.

Third, I must admit that I caught nary a wink of the first half. Every now and then, I peeked over at the boxscore, only to be ashamed and horrified at the prospect of the Raptors losing to the Bucks. My disgust with the Raptors game created the perfect opportunity for a dinner break. Word to the wise: Hero Burger is really expensive, but they’ll make you a delicious burger, and in my experience, burgers taste better than paper money.

Finally, I was covering for Zarar at the last second. You see, Zarar has a family, a beautiful wife, two adorable kids (including a newborn, which has presumably cut into his sleeping time like knives cut into things that are soft), the sum of which totals a life. Conversely, I neglect my family, I have no wife, zero kids (that I know of), and ultimately, very little life to speak of. Life trumps blogging every single time.

However, Zarar was kind enough to share with me his notes for the first half, of which I will further relay to you. They say brevity is the soul of wit, which makes Zarar the point of tangency between the late, great Christopher Hitchens, and the immortal Paulie Galtierri of The Sopranos.

JV bossing

DD handles suck

No pressure on perimeter – miss Lowry

Bucks converting mistakes to transition chances, about the only thing they do well

Bucks length a problem on defense

So, I must apologize once more, as I did not give this recap the verve and play-by-play analysis that this game most certainly did not deserve.

In short, the Raptors could be excused for their effort, as they were on the second night of a travelling back-to-back without two of their three best players in Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry. Although DeRozan struggled with the go-go gadget length of the Bucks, he managed to score when it counted in the clutch, and his backcourt partner in crime, Greivis Vasquez, managed to pick up the slack, scoring 26 points on just 15 field goal attempts.

Or, that’s the glass half-full viewpoint.

In the eyes of a pessimist, the game exposed some of the Raptors’ biggest problems.

The book on DeRozan is out – stick a lengthy defender on him, who can manage to stay in front of him, and not bite on his pump fakes. Bucks forward Khris Middleton managed to do this to great effect, keeping DeMar to 7-for-19 shooting. A cursory glance around the NBA playoff picture reveals three such defenders in the Nets (Andrei Kirilenko), Bobcats (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and Wizards (Trevor Ariza).

Similarly, the answer for Hayes is to exploit him in pick-and-roll situations. Much like the Raptors did with Roy Hibbert, Hayes’ lack of lateral quickness renders his effectiveness in defending the pick-and-roll to that of a stump in a field. I’m not entirely sure if that last simile was a thing, but it is now. Replace the word “Hayes” with “Vasquez”, and this statement is equally as valid.

Of course, neither viewpoint is entirely correct, nor entirely wrong. As they say, the truth lays somewhere in the middle. Or, I’m falling prey to the common logical fallacy of false equivalence. Either way, you’re getting my unfiltered thoughts on this post because I’m trying my darnest to fill a thousand word recap.

The efforts of Greivis Vasquez could not be understated, as he really did bail out DeRozan’s poor shooting night. He started the third quarter on fire, and single-handedly erased the Raptors’ 9 point halftime deficit. He scored eight points in just under three minutes to start the third, including a pair of triples. DeRozan would take two steps into the lane, look for Vasquez’s defender to leave him for a half-step, and rifle over a pass to Vasquez for a spot-up in-rhythm. Greivis netted his other two points in this mini-spurt by effortlessly gliding into the lane, and dropping his patented floater in the lane.

Of course, for every three points Vasquez scored on the night, he gave back two to Bucks guard Brandon Knight, who went from #RIPBrandonKnight to dunking all over Jonas Valanciunas, in rather emphatic fashion. Notice on that play, Greivis was completely crossed up, and left his sophomore big-man all alone on an island. Thems the breaks when Vasquez is on the court, and thankfully, he gaveth more than he tooketh last night.

The game remained close all the way down to its final minutes. With Patrick Patterson’s shot failing to fall, Chuck Hayes got the assignment to flank Jonas Valanciunas in the frontcourt to close out the game. Despite being the shortest big on the court, Hayes was able to use his veteran guile and his rambunctious bulk to ensnare defensive rebounds. His effort is to be particularly noted, as some dude named Jeff Adrien repeatedly pillaged the Raptors on the boards, which perplexed me because I had no idea that he even existed. I mean, I don’t like to brag or anything, but I feel like I’m pretty attuned with the goings on in the NBA these days, yet I didn’t know this angry-looking fellow who managed to score 15 points, and grab 10 rebounds against my Raptors.

The Raptors showed improved crunch-time execution, and managed to close out the game. DeRozan had success anytime he drove to the basket, and Jonas was extremely effective against the smaller Bucks bigs. More than anything else, the Raptors were able to run actual offensive sets, whereas the Bucks’ offense was buoyed by phantom loose ball fouls on Jonas Valanciunas. His reaction was similar to mine.

Thankfully, the Raptors were able to pull out the victory thanks to some clutch free-throw shooting on the parts of Ross and DeRozan. Credit goes to DeRozan for putting the Raptors up for good by pump-faking Middleton into the air, and colliding into him to earn a pair of trips to the line. In previous years, he did not have the savvy and presence in mind to make the move, which makes for a convenient analogy to conclude this game recap.

Like DeRozan, the Raptors have steadily matured throughout the season, and their incremental improvements have amounted to the difference between wins and losses in tight games, as evidenced by their last three contests. Perhaps that takeaway is far too positive for a four-point win against the Bucks, but it is 2:20 AM and quite frankly, I’m really bad at writing conclusions.

Reaction: Raptors Narrowly Escape Bucks


Toronto Raptors 102 Final
Recap | Box Score
98 Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 2-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +13

Stepped in for the injured Amir, but didn’t fill Amir’s shoes. Couldn’t hit much and couldn’t guard the paint.

Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 2-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +6

Not a game he’ll want to add to his resume. Couldn’t hit and couldn’t stop anyone on the other end,

Jonas Valanciunas, C 34 MIN | 7-11 FG | 3-5 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +10

A beast who controlled the boards, especially when during crunch time. Still lots of work to do defensively, but at least he kept his fouls down.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 37 MIN | 10-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +13

Might have given up as many points as he scored, but he kept the Raptors in this game.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 7-19 FG | 9-10 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | +3

Didn’t have a great game, but came up big when it counted. Took way too many shots when he wasn’t hitting, but did pass the ball enough to get 5 assists.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -6

Played sparingly and didn’t have much of an impact.

Chuck Hayes, PF 16 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -5

Played some crunch time minutes and grabbed a few boards. Other than that, not much of a factor.

John Salmons, SF 20 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -6

One of his better games lately, but still struggled shooting. Did have a decent game defensively.

Steve Novak, SF 3 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -6

He hit a shot when Adrien inconceivably stepped away from him when he had the ball 15 feet away from the basket. That is all.

Nando de Colo, PG 19 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -2

Played well in a point guard role and may be showing enough to have the Raptors show Vasquez the door at the end of the season.

Dwane Casey

The teams poor overall play wasn’t all his fault.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Valanciunas continues to play far more like the guy we expected to see before the season started than the guy who started the season. The Bucks didn’t have an answer for him inside and his rebounding, which was okay at the start of the season, has become excellent.
  2. Since watching the Bucks tends to be a painful exercise, I haven’t watched a whole lot of Antetokounmpo and was looking forward to see more of the Greek Freak, but he was a non-entity.
  3. With both Chicago and Brooklyn winning their games, the Raptors’ loss, especially against a team they should have beat, would have been a big setback with so little time left and so little room between the teams in the standings.

[GIF] Ooooh…JV, Bet That Was Painful

[Twitter] Good Thing I Didn’t Trust The First Tweet

kevin

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Game Day – Raptors @ Bucks, April 5

Tonight’s game versus Milwaukee launches a series of sub-500 Eastern Conference teams Toronto will play in their final six regular season games. Having secured a trip to the post season, Toronto’s emphasis now shifts to acquiring home court, ideally as the third seed.  Wins are crucial over this final stretch, so the fact Toronto ground out victories over top four seeded: Houston and Indiana without leaders Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson showcases the character of this Raptor squad.

Before we break it down, KL Chouinard, a writer and editor for Bucksketball a division of ESPN True Hoop Network was kind enough to answer a few questions.

After a 5-year absence from post season play Toronto fans are thrilled to be in the playoffs, but at the beginning of the season many were open to having a sub-par year just to be in the running to snag Toronto native: Andrew Wiggins in this summer’s draft. Given Milwaukee is guaranteed a top 3-pick, would you say he is the Bucks number one choice or would Embiid or Parker be a better fit?

It’s a tough question, and I’m not sure we’ll ever find out the answer (although I hope we do). The Bucks have holes all over, and they’ll be picking the best player available regardless of position. On the other hand, even the worst record only guarantees them a 25% chance of picking first. It is quite likely that the player they want most isn’t available to them even after the most tank-tastic of seasons.

If I had to pick my personal choice to improve the Bucks, though I would start with Wiggins.

It’s been reported young upstart Giannis Antetokounmpo has grown over an inch since training camp and is still growing! This season we’ve witnessed glimpses of brilliance on both ends of the court from him, and it’s obvious he has a huge upside. Given Milwaukee will add a top draft pick this summer what role do you envision he will take moving forward? Specifically: do you see him growing into a leadership role, will the offense be tailored for him to be one of the Bucks top scoring options and do you foresee a starting front court of Wiggins (assuming he becomes a Buck), Antetokounmpo and Sanders?

Giannis

There are a lot of comparisons to Kevin Durant, because they have the same body type, but I don’t think Giannis will ever approach Durant when it comes to scoring. He’s not that type of player. The strength of his game lies in transition and potentially in playing defense — provided he gets stronger and learns the nuances of fighting through picks and screens.

I could see Wiggins, Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders playing together but not as a front court, because they would need a power forward to help them rebound.

The Raptors have won the first two outings versus the Bucks, but the height of Henson bothered them and now with the addition of Sessions the back court could pose some issues for Toronto, especially if Lowry doesn’t play. Is the key to beating Milwaukee containing the back court of Sessions and Knight and keeping Henson off the boards? 

Lowry not playing would be a huge blow for Toronto. The last time these two teams played, he scorched Brandon Knight every single time Knight turned his head to provide defensive help to a teammate. Lowry finished with 23 points on 8 shots.

Henson doesn’t play enough minutes, so keeping him off the boards probably isn’t that big of a deal. But you’re right about Sessions and Knight. Those two are the Bucks’ big scoring threats. The Raptors need to avoid putting Sessions at the free throw line, and they need to overplay Brandon Knight to drive to his preferred right-hand side.

Finally: following a NBA record tying 26-game losing streak, Philadelphia seems intent on losing their way to catch the Bucks for the bottom seed. In your opinion is there an art to tanking and will the Bucks maintain their current position, so they enter the draft with the best opportunity to snag the top pick?

My gut tells me it will end in a tie. After ending the record streak, I think the 76ers are done winning this season. The Bucks probably have a win or two left. If they do end up tied, the teams share the ping pong balls and have a coin flip to see who gets the better pick in the event that both of them miss out on the lottery’s top-three picks.

I don’t see tanking as being artful in any way. It’s not hard to be bad.

Injuries

With the last two wins versus top seeds it makes sense to continue to sit Lowry and Johnson against the league’s lowest ranked team. Both are listed as questionable, but factoring in the Raptors won’t play until Wednesday the additional 5-days rest could be exactly what the doctor ordered.  For Milwaukee the absence of Ilyasova (a Raptor killer), Wolters and likely Mayo provides additional credence to sit the two Raptor starters.

Positional Match-ups

Back Court — Vasquez has shown glimpses of spectacular (Houston) and games with poor decision making coupled with poor defense, but in his past 5-games he’s averaging 12.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. DeRozan answered the critics without Lowry in the line-up garnering more assists, scoring at critical times and even taking Lowry-like charges.

Knight and Sessions have been lighting it up lately and as per KL’s response above will undoubtedly offer Toronto’s biggest challenge.

Advantage — Tie (if Lowry does suit up Raptors become overwhelming favorite)

Front Court — Friday night these teams faced the NBA’s top two defenses in the opening game of their back-to-backs. Middleton, Adrien and Pachulia produced 44 points and 24 rebounds against Chicago while Ross, Patterson and Valanciunas led the Raptors with 51 points and 21 rebounds against Indiana.

Raptor sophomores: Ross and Valanciunas have been growing in confidence with each win especially post All Star break, where the Raptors have a 66% winning percentage. Patterson returning as Johnson got injured seems to follow the plot of the Raptors’ fairy tale season. I find myself watching the on court communication between Patterson and Valanciunas and believe it contributes to Valanciunas improved positioning on both ends.

Advantage — Raptors dominate: expect more Raging Bull-like court stomping from our young center tonight.

Bench — Ironically, Toronto’s bench was abysmal with Patterson out, so you would anticipate the struggles to continue when he was inserted into the starting line-up, however the reverse actually occurred. If de Colo can produce an identical effort to Friday’s contest, this game could be over early. Expect Salmons, Hansbrough and Hayes as initial inserts but if the Raptors do their job early we could see a second half featuring Novak, Fields, Stone and Buycks.

The Bucks offer two young up-starts in Antekounmpo and Henson who can offer some exciting highlights. Friday night Larry Drew used just eight players.

Advantage — Raptors

Team Rating:

  • Toronto: 44-32  - offense- 10th, defense- 7th
  • Milwaukee: 14-59 – offense- 26th, defense- 29th

Referees:

  • Leroy Richardson
  • Steven Anderson
  • Mike Callahan

Other notables:

  • Raptors magic number to clinch Atlantic Division is 4 (assuming they win one of remaining division games versus New York x2 or Philly)
  • Raptors need 4 victories to set franchise record: total regular season wins (48)
  • Toronto is 7-3 in last 10 while Milwaukee is 1-9

Vegas Says: Raptors favored by 7, over/under: 197.5 with public favoring Raptors by 70%

Tamberlyn Says — The Raptors have shown their propensity to rise to the challenge, especially versus top seeded teams. Conversely, facing sub-500 teams the Raptors have flirted with disaster by playing down to the competition. I expect Casey’s pre-game chalk board to have two items written on it:

  • Don’t take Milwaukee for granted ( Boston, Lakers, Kings)
  • Be the master of your own destiny – win Atlantic Division and secure third seed

My gut says 20+ point blow-out but I’ll stick with a safe: Raptors by 12

Raptors Beat Pacers: This Team Is Bloody Impressive

Pacers 94, Raptors 102 – Box
I’ll raise my hand. I didn’t give the Raptors a chance when they announced that Amir Johnson was joining Kyle Lowry on the sidelines with an ankle problem. How wrong was I? The Raptors pulled out another win where they had to hold their nerves and play toe-to-toe clutch basketball for the entire duration of the fourth quarter and beat the Big Bad Pacers at their own game of physical interior basketball. This was about as good as a prep game for the playoffs as you’ll have, and what this will do for the collective confidence of this unit could be significant.

Patrick Patterson got the nod against David West and Greivis Vasquez started his second game in a row. The first quarter was about neither of them, it was about Terrence Ross. The sophomore had the defensive-minded Lance Stephenson on him, who was made to look pedestrian as Ross rubbed him off well-placed screens as he found himself open for two triples. Tip of the hat goes to Patterson for being extremely disciplined in his screen-setting, a rather underappreciated aspect of his game. Complementing Ross was Jonas Valanciunas, who likes to dish it against the slower Hibbert by being active enough for Hibbert to eventually lose interest in him.

Valanciunas was able to craftily get his shot off against the wide-spanning Hibbert by acting without hesitation and using his body extremely well. Dipping that shoulder into Hibbert reduces his chances of blocking the shot, and Valanciunas possesses enough awareness of his position around the rim that he can alter the angles and trajectory of his shot to fit the situation, a very valuable trait. He wasn’t shirking his defensive responsibilities either, playing sound positional defense and relying on the principle of verticality when it called upon to do so.

Grinding it out

“We’re a scrappy, grind-it-out team, so if one player goes down, we’ve got guys who can help off the bench and give us that same spark, that’s how we’ve been winning games.”

- Terrence Ross

DeMar DeRozan was jumper-centric but effective. His assists were well planned and weren’t the types where he gives up the ball to the nearest teammate at the first sight of trouble. A couple of his dump-offs to Valanciunas were simply brilliant and showed that he had planned on events to proceed in the way they had, rather than relying upon chance. After all this, though, the Pacers were up one after the first quarter and were shooting 52% to the Raptors’ 58%.

Defensively, the Raptors were missing. West was slaughtering the lighter Patterson, and when Valanciunas was switched on him, the latter was forced to concede the jumper which West welcomed. It was very much about offensive rhythm in the first quarter for both sides, and it wasn’t until the second, with Nando De Colo at the helm, that the Raptors applied enough pressure in the backcourt to force the Pacers into possessions where the tail end of the shotclock came into play.

Vogel on Raptors

“I think they’ve finally got what Coach Casey has been preaching along…. to play for one another like they did in Dallas when Casey was there”

- Frank Vogel

De Colo, who I doubt the Pacers spent a minute preparing for, had four assists in the second quarter, one in which he led the charge against a backtracking Pacer team that was surprised at the resilience of not just the Raptors’ first unit, but their bench. Tyler Hansbrough, the perfect antidote, for bullies like West and Hibbert, brought his trademark physical style into a battle which was ripe with emotion fueled by seething hostility, his history playing its part.

De Colo’s quarterbacking of the second unit, in combination with Jonas Valanciunas continuing to be a factor on offense, had the Raptors go up by 8 at the break. Indiana was caught unaware by the Frenchman’s panache with the ball, and the influence he had on the tempo of the game was considerable, as the pace of it was increasingly turning into a flavor too sweet for Indiana.

It was some irresponsible play from Greivis Vasquez that sparked the Indiana rally in the third. Being up eleven, there was a sense that the Raptors were in firm control, and it was a series of empty possessions punctuated by poor shots from Vasquez that gave Indiana a glimpse of an entry back into the game. Possessions that failed to test Indiana’s defense – which looked to be on the ropes – led to the Pacers getting a mini burst which gave them confidence.

George vs Salmons

“I just thought that he was holding on to me. Refs were letting it go, so I gave him a bump and he gave me a bump back.”

- Paul George

The Raptors were up five when John Salmons and Paul George were tied up late in the third, resulting in some pushing and shoving which appropriately culminated in a double-technical.  This woke George from his game-long slumber and Salmons was soon exiled to the bench in favor of Ross. The benching concluded a dull evening from Salmons who, instead of looking zoned in for the playoffs, is drifting into a malaise that the Raptors can’t afford. He’s making the current site poll look very much justified.

So here we were in the fourth quarter all tied up. The easy conclusion to the evening that was in the purview of the Raptors at the outset of the third was a distant memory, and what faced the Raptors was a daunting task against a momentum-heavy Pacers unit whose best player was playing inspired basketball after the mini-melee. Ross, being assigned to cover George, was having little luck as the taller Pacer swingman was able to get his shot off after effective moves that created space. Luis Scola was giving the Raptors trouble off the bench against a tired Patterson, who was again outmatched physically, just like he had been against West. However, that was about it for the Pacers.

The Raptors may not have had an answer for George (4-7 FG) in the fourth, nor for Scola inside, however, they did manage to neutralize the rest of the Pacers who were 2-10 in the fourth.  The Pacers have been brutal on offense since February and their lack of mobile players in the frontcourt means that spacing is often poor, which played right into the hands of the Raptors who had to defend quite narrow to get stops in the fourth.  The control the Raptors exerted on the boards was impressive: they outrebounded the Pacers 15-9 and limited Pacer second-chance points to two. Nando De Colo’s second spell may not have been as statistically significant as his first, yet he was the engine that spurred the Raptors on in the fourth, including a massive three-pointer which was an answer to one the Pacers had just hit.

Ross hit a huge three (and missed a couple which one can’t fault him for taking) and was immense on the boards in the fourth with five rebounds. DeRozan chipped in with a couple traditional jumpers and a layup, and it should be noted that all his scores came when it was a 2-point game or less. Jonas Valanciunas hit a clutch face-up jumper against Roy Hibbert, who Casey tested by putting in pick ‘n pop/roll situations.

The Raptors were helped by Stephenson going 1-on-4 on an impossible break and giving the Raptors the ball back up four, which essentially sealed the game. The Raptors had beaten a Pacer team that is, on paper, supposed to be their kryptonite. The Pacers have now lost 4 of 5 and 6 of 8. Let that not take away from the sheer will and determination the Raptors displayed to pull this one out. Brooklyn and Chicago had routine assignments on the night and it was the shorthanded Raptors who were under tremendous pressure to win, which they did in the same manner as they’ve played since the trade: as a team.

Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 5

Jonas Valanciunas powers Toronto Raptors past struggling Indiana Pacers | National Post

“I think it shows a lot about our team,” said reserve forward Chuck Hayes, whose 17 minutes of playing time had a lot to do with Johnson’s absence. “We’re missing two starters — one of our key players in Amir and probably the head of this monster in Kyle. It shows the true story of our team: how the next guy is always stepping up.” Jonas Valanciunas was huge late in the game, keeping several possessions alive with offensive rebounds. He finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. Terrence Ross added 24 points, making up for Lowry’s absence on the offensive end.

Short-handed Raptors take down Pacers | Toronto Sun

“You have to give the Raptors credit playing a heck of a basketball game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I thought the three starters they had in the game really stepped up. “All three of those guys — DeMar (DeRozan), Terrence (Ross) and Jonas (Valanciunas) just played out of their minds.” Down the hallway in the Raptors locker room, there certainly was no shortage of confidence. “(This win) means a lot,” DeRozan said. “With us, we feel like we can beat anybody when we step out there on the court honestly.” Of course, those victories would come a lot easier with Lowry in the lineup for the Raptors, who remained tied for third in the East with Chicago after the Bulls beat Milwaukee 102-90 on Friday night.

Rapid Recap: Pacers’ Woes Continue – Lose to Short-Handed Raptors 102 – 94 | Raptors HQ

It was the team play of the Raptors, on both sides of the ball, that stole the show. In particular, the Raptors’ ball movement was crisp, leading to open looks and efficient scoring chances. The assist numbers of the first half (TOR:15, IND:8) should serve as a testament to the Raps unselfish play out of the gates, and they never let up. Nando De Colo and DeMar DeRozan both stood out as the teams go-to facilitators in this one, a role left vacant by the injured Kyle Lowry. DeRozan and De Colo combined for 14 of the teams 23 assists (DeRozan had a game-high 9). On defense the Raptors managed to hold Indiana to 42.3% shooting and kept the Pacers under the 100 point threshold, both of which have tended to be variables in the equation for Raptors’ success this season. More impressive was the crunch time defense that Toronto displayed by smothering Indiana in the final quarter, giving up only 19 points on 36.4% shooting. That’s playoff defense if I’ve ever seen it – so we know at least one MLSE team can play defense and hold leads.

Post-Game Grade: Pacers Give One Away in Toronto | 8 Points, 9 Seconds

Look, this isn’t a good basketball team anymore. Forget whatever you thought this team was in December and just watch what is happening. They stink. On both ends of the floor, and there is no longer a single player on the squad you can rely on to produce. You honestly can’t even rely on anyone to play well. But the Pacers did play well tonight for almost the whole game. They just forgot about the final four minutes, when they did the equivalent of projectile vomiting all over their new girlfriend’s mom on mother’s day. They also were awful at the end of the second quarter. For the rest of the game, however, they played pretty damn well. As sad as that sounds — and as bad as losing to the Raptors without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson is — this was progress. You can pretend this is still a team that should beat a short-handed Raptors’ team even on the road. But it’s just not. So what we saw here was a bad team getting a bit better tonight, even in defeat.

Pacers final score: Pacers collapse late in 102-94 loss to Raptors | Indy Cornrows

Lance Stephenson was quite for most of the night, but came up with two big misses down the stretch that did little to help Indiana’s case in the closing minutes. Neither of Stephenson’s two layups with under a minute to go were particularly good looks and they were ill advised shots in both situations despite’s his ability to put in shots in unorthodox ways. While Stephenson can absolutely change the flow of a game for the better as he did against Detroit on Wednesday, he did just the opposite with his drives at the end of tonight’s game.

Despite injuries, Raptors down visiting Indiana Pacers – The Globe and Mail

“We’re a scrappy, grind-it-out team,” said Ross, who also added five boards. “So if one player goes down, we’ve got guys who can help off the bench and give us that same spark, that’s how we’ve been winning games.” Greivis Vasquez (eight points) and Nando De Colo (10 points) shared the running of the floor in place of Lowry (knee), contributing baskets at key moments. Patrick Patterson started in place of Amir Johnson (ankle), and his key contribution was leading the team with seven boards as the Raptors out-rebounded the Pacers 42-39.

Lewenberg: Shorthanded Raptors steal second straight win | TSN

A reluctant spectator for the second straight contest, nursing his bruised knee, Lowry refused to take the night off. Not that anyone truly expected him to. “He was like our second or third coach,” said Jonas Valanciunas. “He was kind of doing the same thing he does when he’s in the game,” added Terrence Ross. “Helping us with plays, drawing things up for us, being vocal.” The Raptors would rather have him in uniform, dressed in red and white while leading his team in the trenches instead of on the sidelines, but they have more than held their own in his absence. “With us we feel like we can beat anybody when we step out there on the court, honestly,” said DeMar DeRozan, who tallied 20 points and nine assists in his team’s inspiring 102-94 win over the Indiana Pacers. “They’re [a] top team in the East. We understand tonight was a big win at this time of the season.”

Raptors subs battle NBA’s toughest and win: Kelly | Toronto Star

“It just shows how good our team is, man,” said Hayes. “We’ve got a lot of depth.” The Raptors. And depth. Who knew?

Pacers Can’t Stop DeRozan, Valanciunas Or Ross, Raptors Win | Pro Bball Report

“Everybody came in and contributed,” Casey said. “Chuck Hayes came in and held fort in the post defensively. Nando (De Colo) came in and did an excellent job offensively. He got the tempo where we needed it.” John Salmons, who didn’t score a point, impacted this game in a big way as well as the ‘smash-mouth’ Pacers tried to impose their will on Toronto. “It was just physical play that got a little out of hand,” Salmons said. “We aren’t going to back down from anybody, not going to back down, not going to quit, we going to be there, we going to fight.”

Patterson’s return perfect timing for Toronto – Surrey Leader

“He did (look more comfortable),” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The rust is still there, especially on his shot. Usually those shots are money. “But it’s just going to take a little time and all the workouts in the world can’t duplicate the way the games are going to be. But he’s coming. Again, it’s going to probably have to come a little quicker than we expected.” Quicker because Amir Johnson is battling a bad ankle and sat all but three minutes in Wednesday’s game. And quicker because, with seven games to go, Toronto is battling for a favourable opponent in the post-season and needs all the help it can get. The Raptors (43-32) are third in the Eastern Conference and two-and-a-half games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the Atlantic Division title.

The One Team Every Projected 2014 NBA Playoff Team Wants to Avoid: No. 3 East: Toronto Raptors | Bleacher Report

The Bulls, who are tied with San Antonio for the league’s stingiest defense since the All-Star break, would be well-equipped to limit the damage of the Toronto trio. Jimmy Butler, in particular, would be a nightmare for either Ross or DeRozan, as he’s limiting opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.4 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 11.2, according to 82games.com. While Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have made strides this season, Toronto also lacks a defensive-minded center capable of shutting down the Bulls’ prolific frontcourt players. The trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson would likely power their way through the Raptors’ front line with reckless abandon.

[GIF] They said JV couldn’t shoot, they lied

[GIF] Kyle Lowry Approves!

[GIF] Jonas Valanciunas Plays Some Inbound Defense

Sick defense by the Future Hall-of-Famer (GFY, GIF). The man had a huge game, outplayed Hibbert, hit two huge face-up jumpers, took care of the glass, finished extremely well in tight quarters, and showed great emotion all night. Read the Quick Reaction.

Reaction: Pacers 94, Raptors 102 – Nando De Colo Shines


Indiana Pacers 94 Final
Recap | Box Score
102 Toronto Raptors
Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +7

Physically outmatched against West and it showed in the second half. Resorted to reaching from behind and got a few steals, even pumped up some points on offense. A bit surprised the Raptors don’t run more for him closer to the rim and choose to treat him like a scavenger.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 33 MIN | 8-17 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 24 PTS | -2

The confidence is flowing, that much is true. Ran Stephenson ragged though screens all night, and I don’t blame him for taking some of those “questionable” shots – he was hot and has a right to. Defensively, shaky in one-on-one settings against George, especially in the second half.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 34 MIN | 10-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | +11

Outplayed Hibbert for 90% of this game, the other 10% was when Hibbert gained position on him to score some inside. His finishing in the vicinity of the rim, as has been deliberated here of late, is outstanding, even in traffic. Got hard-fought offensive rebounds, moved very well without the ball when the Pacer bigs were pressing up top, and even hit a couple face-up Js, one late in the fourth.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 33 MIN | 4-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7

Here’s my gripe with this guy: when the Raptors were up 8 in the early part of the third, this guy took a couple very questionable shots that were converted to points by the Pacers, which eventually brought them all the way back. I can’t tolerate that sort of recklessness from a “steady” point guard. I give you that he hit a huge three in the fourth, but man, he walks a tight rope.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 40 MIN | 8-19 FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 9 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +9

Poor shooting night, but had a great first half where his passing was in full view, especially in finding people when he’s close to the baseline or under the rim. Hit a couple clutch jumpers in the fourth which answered some probing Pacer questions. It was good to see the Raptors pull this off without leaning on him too much.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -5

Throw it down, big man. Throw it down. On a recent pod, Andrew suggested that he won’t be part of the playoff rotation. It’s games like these which show why he will. Against a physical team like the Pacers, hustle and grit have a higher exchange rate than finesse and style, and so did Tyler deliver.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +1

Solid minutes against the much bigger Hibbert, displayed a shot-put like release when the ball was dumped to him, and on occasion took Hibbert to the rim like he was a toddler. Clogged the paint well, and I’ll forgive some of that slow-footed defense on account of giving his best.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +2

I’ve never seen a veteran make so many non-veteran plays. Way too vertical on defense, needlessly fouling George to spark the dormant wing into action, and playing in a sense of daze that you simply don’t expect from a vet like him.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +10

Huge second quarter performance where he upped the tempo, which is what the Pacers hate. The ball-handling against George Hill was supreme, and gave the latter a taste of his own medicine. When the Raptors were in a second-half lull, Casey called on him again and he delivered again, including a huge clutch three which tied the game in the fourth. He even drew this reaction from Lowry.

Dwane Casey

Great call on yanking Salmons, who just wasn’t with it. The trust in Nando paid off as well, and he managed Valanciunas’ minutes extremely well. Putting Hibbert in pick ‘n roll situations with Jonas was smart, and so was making Stephenson play defense by having him run around screens against Ross.

Five Things We Saw

  1. No Amir Johnson in the frontcourt which meant the pressure on the Raptors already thin frontline was huge. How did the team respond? By outrebounding the Pacers by three -42-39.
  2. Interior defense and rebounding in the fourth quarter was huge. Raps outrebounded the Pacers 15-9 in the fourth and had 8 second chance points in the quarter, to theirs 2. They restricted the Pacers to shooting 36% in the fourth.
  3. Terrence Ross’s recognition of defenses is improving considerably. You see him using screens so much better than last season, how he put Stephenson and George on his back a couple times was impressive. His favorite thing to do, though, is to make that diagonal, almost U-shaped run to come out for a wing three.
  4. Nando De Colo bothered the Pacers – it was almost like they didn’t plan for him at all. He surprised them with his pace in transition and surprised everyone with his shot-making. That drive where he missed at Hansbrough cleaned up was huge.
  5. Jonas Valanciunas is just a smarter player than Roy Hibbert. He’s not there physically yet, but if he closes that gap, there is no reason to think he won’t surpass Hibbert in every sense.

We’re Going to Take the Ball and we’re Going to Win

I started the week off by predicting a 3-1 week for the Raptors and a win over the Pacers tonight. Two hopefully minor knee injuries to two of the arguably most important Raptors later and I’m a little nervous about that pick. I stand by it, but seeing Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson in the layup lines would go an awfully long way towards assuaging my nerves about it.
On the bright side, the Indiana Pacers are in the midst of a complete mental breakdown. CJ Watson’s absence has been rough on a second unit that struggled mightily to score even with him. But the real problem has been the starters (not to be confused with The Starters, whose off-the-wall April Fools episode was genius). Paul George had to hit a last second 3 pointer that looked more like a QB throwing a 40 yard post bomb than a basketball shot just to sneak out a win the other night. Against Detroit.

David West has taken a small step back this season, and that’s been a big problem for an Indiana offence that secretly relied on him more than you’d think. West is down from 17 points and 8 rebounds to 13 points and 6 rebounds a game. It’s not just a case of playing less minutes on a veteran curve either, as his per 36 minutes stats have sagged comparably. Part of the Raptor’s occasional success against the Pacer’s has been Amir Johnson’s ability to contain David West. If Amir plays and controls David West, the Pacer’s offence should be easily corralled by the Raps. Amir Johnson makes David West cover more ground than he normally would guarding pick and rolls and running the court. In addition to his athleticism, Amir is strong enough to push back defensively against West’s high post bullying and battle him for offensive rebounds and put-backs. West has not had success against the strong and athletic power forwards in the league, rare though they be.

While David West is important to Indiana’s offense, Paul George is the key to it. His mid-range game, which was unsustainably hot to start the season, has crashed brutally back to Earth. But that’s not his only problem. George has struggled to drive to the basket. Between Hibbert battling for post position (which they will need him to be ready to do as a major cog of their offence if they hope to beat Miami in the conference finals, which suddenly feels like it’s putting the chicken before the egg) help defense doesn’t struggle to step into the lane when there is so little movement and effective off-ball screening and misdirection keep them busy. Evan Turner was been much better from 3-point range with the Pacers so far than the 28% he was shooting in Philly, but besides the fact that the 17 shots he’s taken are too small of a sample size to reach any meaningful conclusions, the rest of what he’s been in Indiana so far has been bad. He’s been a problem on defense, which is typical of a player in a new system, but especially so when it’s a system as quick and demanding as Indiana’s. It doesn’t help that Evan Turner has never been a plus defender and played the last year and a half for a Philadelphia team that could not possibly have given less ishes about defensive laziness.

If it seems like I’m really hammering the point here that the Pacer’s offence is vulnerable, it’s because it is. Like, it REALLY is. Since February 1st, the 76ers have been the only team in the league with a worse offence than Indiana. Which is to say, in a normal year wherein the most embarrassingly bad team in the history of the NBA was not currently playing, the Pacers would have had the worst offence in the league. So yeah, I like the Raptors tonight.

Things to look for:

Hansbrough owes a body slam to at least one Pacer to make up for trying to suplex Valanciunas a year ago.

The two Lance Stephensons. Lance was an all-star contender in the first half of the season. He now has 198 turnovers on the season, 18th most in the league.

Amir Johnson and Roy Hibbert are tied for the lead league in personal fouls coming in to tonight (260 apiece). Whoever picks up more harms is going to walk out of the ACC wearing the belt. If you think that neither one of these players knows nor cares about this title, well, you’re probably right. Let’s move on.

Valanciunas is closing in on Hibbert’s numbers. Not his defense, sure. But watch the matchup. Valanciunas is 15th in the league in total rebounding percentage. 20th in the league in rebounding, 17th in shooting percentage and he’s shooting 76% from the free throw line. That’s an awful lot of efficient contribution from a 21-year old whose still only playing 27 minutes a game.

Full Interview: Masai Ujiri on George Stroumboulopoulos

DeRozan and the Next Man Up lead shorthanded Raptors to victory

fRaptors 107, Rockets 103 – Box

The playing field was more or less even, perhaps even tilted in the favor of the home team, but the Toronto Raptors’ victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night feels like an important one.

The Raptors, after all, had to play without their most important player in Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with left knee soreness, an issue that is not due to any structural damage but, because of swelling and discomfort, wasn’t worth risking. It was the right call, albeit one that threatened to sink the Raptors. When Amir Johnson exited three minutes into the game – he tweaked his troublesome right ankle, another injury with no structural damage but one that could linger – things seemed dire.

This Raptors team has at times been buoyed by its depth and at times been sunk by its apparent lack thereof. A win would require a major game from DeMar DeRozan and at least a few reserves to respond to the challenge and seize the opportunity.

“Guys stepped in and stepped up,” head coach Dwane Casey summarized after the game, and it’s tough to find fault in that simple, somewhat cliched evaluation.

Look at Tyler Hansbrough, for example. Hansbrough emerged from the doghouse for some first-half run and had maybe the best half, offensively, that he’s had as a Raptor. He finished with just seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes, but he was the team’s best roll man in the first half when the offense was sputtering.

And look at Patrick Patterson. While he’s been a regular contributor since his acquisition, he was also in just his second game back from injury, still clearly working through rust. He hit a few shots and added some athleticism to the frontline that was desperately needed with Johnson out. Nothing special, sure, but the next guy down the line kept doing his job.

Look at Nando De Colo. A bit-player in San Antonio, De Colo still looks terrified to shoot the ball but played an important 13 minutes on Wednesday. He exited with just two assists, but he surely had another two or three so-called hockey assists, capably setting up the team’s action when Greivis Vasquez wasn’t handling the rock.

Jonas speaks...kind of

Whenever I talk to Jonas Valanciunas with the microphone off, he’s a really likeable, and often funny, guy. He’s fun and light. Turn the recorder on, though, and he gets really plain, really fast. Here’s his scrum from last night, and I almost got him to say something of value at the end (questions from RR in bold).

On resiliency
“We showed that we can play without those guys. I’m not saying that they are not important but we still have some good guys. Tyler came in, Nando did a hell of a job, Greivis did a good job. We have a long bench.”

On guys being ready
“You have to step on the court, be ready and do a good job. You come to play basketball every single night. Starters, not the starters, every guy is coming with 100 percent focus, hungry to win.”

On Dwight not playing
“I’m okay with that.” (laughing)

On Omer Asik being a capable replacement
“Yeah, he’s really strong and he knows how to play basketball.”

On the team’s FG% defense
“(How many) percent they shoot? That’s pretty good, huh? We’re just tyring to defend the basket, that’s our goal. 40 percent or 50 percent, we just want to defend the basket.”

On hitting his stride on the offensive end of late
“It’s me trusting in my coaches, teammates passing me the ball. I feel great on the offensive end.”

On improving decision making as the roll-man
“Some of the teams are blitzing, so you have to show roll to give an outlet for the point guard. You have to see all the floor.”


Even, dare I say, John Salmons played well for stretches. Checking James Harden is no easy task, but it was one that Salmons didn’t shy away from for stretches. He also must have known I was in attendance, as he hit a pair of threes and managed 12 points, his largest output since Feb. 3. He refused to accept my compliments on the two enormous, shiny chains he was wearing after the game, too. He knows.

As we go down the line, only Steve Novak had an off night, but even he managed a strong defensive performance by his standards.

And then there’s Vasquez, who was forced into starting duty and played a season-high 40 minutes. While he shot just 4-of-12, he finished with 15 points, four rebounds and eight assists, running a movement-heavy offense that finally got back to their unofficial benchmark of 20 assists each time out. It’s not necessarily surprising that Vasquez played well – he’s been much better since the All-Star break, and “I led the league in assists,” as he reminded me before the game. But again, another man stepped up.

“Every win is equally important and hopefully gives our guys some confidence to go where we need to go,” Casey said after the game.

His point about building confidence is interesting. Ideally, these are the kind of situations you run into early in the year, so that in the event injuries strike later, guys are prepared to step up. That didn’t happen with the Raptors, who have been lucky when it comes to injuries this season. Instead, the trying times are occurring late, when you’d prefer to have the team peaking. But having guys ready to step up and confident when they do so isn’t nothing – rotations shorten in the playoffs and depth becomes less of a game-by-game factor, but injuries still happen, and it’d be nice to feel more confident that the team’s success isn’t a house of cards of which Lowry is the primary support beam.

And now, we need to turn to the regulars who were still in action, because it wans’t just the depth that led to the victory.

Terrence Ross had a solid night on the offensive end and really contributed on the glass, scooping up nine defensive rebounds. He, too, took his turns on Harden, helping to keep the bearded star to 7-of-17 shooting (though it’s impossible to keep him off the line, so he still amnaged 26 points). He and DeRozan occasionally lost track of who had who in transition, leading to Chandler Parsons getting dunk after dunk, melting hearts in the process, but it was, overall, a strong outing for Trey Rozay.

Jonas Valanciunas had a fantastic second half offensively, too, picking up where Hansbrough left off. Valanciunas had 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and five rebounds in the second half, rebounding from a 1-of-3 first half with just a single board. You can see he’s making progress on the offensive end, and while it might be slower than some would like, the turnovers are down and the field goal percentage is up – over his past 11 games, he’s averaging 14.2 points on 59.4 percent shooting, grabbing 8.6 boards and turning the ball over just 1.3 times a night. It’s coming along.

Then there’s DeRozan, and things looked bleak early. Parsons was dunking everything, and the Raptors play log to open the game made it seem like DeRozan was the one who was injured, only the team had dressed the wrong player:

11:45 – DeRozan misses 19-footer
11:26 – DeRozan makes two-point shot
11:00 – DeRozan misses two free throws
10:33 – DeRozan misses 18-footer
10:00 – DeRozan bad pass turnover
8:48 – DeRozan assist
7:54 – DeRozan lost ball turnover
5:18 – DeRozan misses 17-footer
3:43 – DeRozan misses 11-footer

So DeRozan sat down with two points and two turnovers on 1-of-5 shooting in 9:16. From that point on, DeRozan played some of his best ball for 31:47. 9-of-14 shooting, 8-of-8 at the line, a three mixed in, six boards, two dimes, two steals and a huge charge drawn down the stretch.

He started the game out playing like hot garbage, and then for three quarters he put this undermanned team on his back. His final line won’t look all that impressive – 29 points on 19 shots is solid, but he’s scored more before and shot better – but the box score can’t do justice to his offensive impact, in particular carrying the offense alone at the end of the second quarter. He shot poorly again in the fourth – 2-of-7 – but then looked to distribute, setting up a Ross bucket and a late Valanciunas layup that essentially put the game out of reach.

We can’t look past the fact that Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley sat out for Houston and Terrence Jones played just 10 minutes. As mentioned off the top, the deck was stacked just as much against Houston as it was against Toronto. The Raptors didn’t beat a Western Conference playoff team shorthanded, they beat a shorthanded Western Conference playoff team, on the second night of a back-to-back, that was just as shorthanded or worse.

That’s relevant, but it doesn’t really change the narrative here. DeRozan traded buckets with Harden, one of the league’s best scorers, and every other player took on a role slightly larger than the one they’re used to taking on. It’s a learning experience you don’t wish upon your team, because it means guys are hurt, but it’s a positive one in retrospect, one that could matter later.

As Casey said when asked about how the team will prepare in the event Lowry and Johnson can’t go on Friday, there’s not really any choice in the matter.

“Next man up.”

Dr Is In Podcast, April 3 – May She Droop Never

This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk ball and we have a discussion about all the action in NBA and NCAA while continually tying it back to the Raptors!  Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:

  • The Raps over the last 7 days:
    • 102-100 loss to Cle, back to back wins over Boston, 98-93 win over Orlando and a 93-83 loss to Miami
    • The status of Kyle Lowry
    • #morecowbell
    • 42-32, 1st in Atlantic Division with 8 games to go.  Hard to be upset right?
    • If the Raps win 6 of 8 (which is doable even without Lowry) that gives them 48 wins. New high score!
    • But will it be enough to hold off Brooklyn for the Atlantic? Chicago for the 3 seed?
    • Is this the best season ever in Raptors franchise history?
    • So what does this mean for the playoffs? It’s looking like Washington or Brooklyn- as long as we hold our spot atop the Atlantic: how do we match up against each of them?

Then real briefly:

  • Wiggins declares
  • The final four
  • And Steve pays up on his bet….well kind of #mayshedroopnever

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter

You can follow Greg on Twitter @votaryofhoops and check out his work on the NBA drafts top prospects with my brother MIke at ESPN True Hoop Affiliate Bucksketball.com

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 (58:17, 56 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 3

Hanging on to Dear Life – Raptors Rapture

Kyle Lowry didn’t dress due to a knee injury, so Greivis Vasquez started at the point. His contribution was huge; 15 points and 8 assists, without a turnover. Amir Johnson injured (or re-injured) his ankle and was gone after barely 2 minutes of PT. Raps coach Dwane Casey decided on a power-forward-by-committee approach, so Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak all played significant minutes. Similarly, when Greivis needed a breather, Nando De Colo got the assignment. While the lanky Frenchman doesn’t look like a star in waiting, he played steady minutes, and is already of greater value than the departed Austin Daye. The visitors were missing monster centre Dwight Howard and pesky guard Patrick Beverley, so needed the scoring of All-Star guard James Harden even more than usual. They got it, as Harden poured in 26, despite the best efforts of Terrence Ross. Our best player needed to be just that, and DeMar DeRozan was. He sleepwalked through Q1, then electrified the Air Canada Centre with 15 points in Q2. DD was 6 of 6 from the floor, including an off-the-glass 3-ball to close the half. He didn’t let up in the second half, attacking the basket while drawing fouls. He ended with 29 points in 4o minutes.

1 “Balcony Prime 1″ Ticket for Round 1 | ShopLocket

Hushhh….playoff tickets.

Is Raptors’ luck running out? | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

Casey doesn’t want his team to ease back at all for the seasons’ final seven games. He’ll rest Lowry and Johnson only if they can’t play and he doesn’t want anyone to lower their intensity. “There’s a pride factor. You want to win. You want to win the division, you want to win to try to get home court. You want to try to do that. There’s no use in letting off the peddle now,” Casey said. “Every game for me is desperate but it’s not live or die or anything like that. We’re not going to risk a kid’s health to try to do that. If he can go he can and we’ll see from there.”

Raptors shoot down Rockets in NBA action | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

Without Kyle Lowry, who should have been an all-star, it was DeMar DeRozan, who was an all-star, stepping up, scoring when his team need him to be a scorer, defending and distributing late in the game. He even took an offensive charge, forcing a key Rockets turnover late in the evening. “Old-man’s game,’’ said Casey, an old-school way of lauding today’s hoopster. “Winning plays he’s learning to make and he’s making them now other than just scoring.”

Ultimate Rockets » Rockets rally comes up short against Raptors

“We just couldn’t get stops, the basketball was stuck on the offensive end, turnovers,” James Harden said, starting the list the Rockets thought they’d left to the first half of the season, when they ran through injuries the way they are now. “It was a variety of things.”

Ultimate Rockets » Rockets report: Signs of life present despite latest setback

Wednesday’s comeback from a 20-point deficit to within one point in the fourth quarter might have fallen short, but it did offer a reminder of what the Rockets had been missing. They faded down the stretch, with the Raptors holding on for a 107-103 win, but they said they did at least play a stretch with an intensity that’s been sporadic. “We just have to regroup,” said Jeremy Lin, who was 2-of-11 when he returned to the game with the Rockets down 20 and went 4-of-7 the rest of the way. “I’m proud of how hard we played, but we didn’t play great in terms of execution, in terms of coverages, a lot of little things.”

Can the Toronto Raptors Win in the 2014 Playoffs? | Bleacher Report

Objectively, there are plenty of signs indicating this is a team fit to win at least one series this spring. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things beyond Toronto’s control that could make postseason success more difficult than anticipated.

Don’t worry, be happy — and enjoy what the Toronto Raptors are doing | National Post

“Coach Casey is a no-nonsense coach, and I think our players are no-nonsense players, too,” says Ujiri. “There’s not a lot of BS going on. You know? They’re competitors. Kyle is a bulldog. DeMar competes. There’s no BS to them; when they don’t play well, they don’t play well honestly. It’s not because they’re dogging it; they come to work, they’re professional, the veteran guys are very professional, and that’s what you want.” In there is the key to this season, and to this team, and to not worrying too much about what calamity may come. This has been an honest season from this team, an honest effort. The city, for the first time in years, can be proud to be associated with the fight of this franchise. And it nearly didn’t happen. In February this roster was about one phone call from a controlled demolition, and the call would have carried Lowry away. But the call never came.

Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan Shines As Franchise Proves Stability

It would have made for quite the interesting subplot if Lowry was able suit up against his former team, the Western Conference juggernaut Houston Rockets, but on the other hand, riding the pine actually presented an opportunity for this club. A chance for the Raptors’ brass, and it’s fans, to witness what this squad is truly made of — to answer the bell without the default-leaning on its leader for support. As astonishingly as it sounds, Lowry hasn’t missed a game all season, until now. The Raptors’ philosophy has undoubtedly transformed into a playoff-caliber brand, but as evident in Monday night’s classroom study-session of its battle with the Miami Heat, the absence of Lowry has allowed for the Raptors of old to creep back into the picture at times, otherwise known as the matador-style defense while house hunting in jump-shot city.

Rapid Recap: Casey gets win 100 as banged Up Raptors Defeat Rockets 107 – 103 – Raptors HQ

The Rockets kept coming in the fourth, whittling the lead down to a single point and suddenly it looked like the Raps were going to need another of their vaunted fourth quarter performances to get out of this one alive. And indeed, that’s what they did, clamping back down on D, returning to the offensive attack centered around Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan that was so successful earlier in the game, and despite a few miscues in the final seconds, generally walked away with a very satisfying win. DeRozan led the Raps with 29 points and more importantly, made Kyle Lowry-worthy plays down the stretch at both ends to seal the W.  Jonas Valanciunas had only six rebounds but chipped in 15 points and had a team-high plus/minus mark of +15, echoing his importance in this one.

Raptors dig deep to hold off Houston Rockets at ACC | Toronto Star

“We have already proven we have a team. This is not two guys, three guys . . . it’s a complete team effort night in and night out,” said Vasquez, who played a season-high 40 minutes with 15 points and eight assists. “We’re only as good as the last two guys on the bench, which is Steve Novak and Landry Fields, and those two guys can play on any team in this league. “The biggest thing about our team is that we’re always ready, any of us, because you never know.” The win had major implications in Toronto’s chase for the second Atlantic Division title it the 19-year history of the franchise. Coupled with Brooklyn’s loss to the New York Knicks, the Raptors now have a 2 1/2 game lead on the Nets in the Atlantic Division with seven games left in the regular season.

NBA – How health has had impact on Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers – ESPN

The Blazers aren’t alone in parlaying good health into exceeding expectations. The Toronto Raptors have been healthier than any other team in the league en route to a near certain Atlantic Division championship, while the Indiana Pacers have stayed healthy as part of their challenge for the top seed in the Eastern Conference postseason.

Reaction: Raptors 107, Rockets 103

Unlike the Leafs, these Raptors refuse to wilt late in the season.


Houston Rockets 103 Final
Recap | Box Score
107 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4

Left the game early on with a sore ankle or knee, which looked to spell the end for the Raptors, but as they’ve done so often this season, unlikely heroes emerged, and made up for his absence. Get well soon, Amir!

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 35 MIN | 6-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 14 PTS | +8

Did a solid job guarding Harden, which is one of the most difficult defensive assignments in the NBA. With Lowry out, Ross was afforded a little more latitude on offense, and showed some creativity off the dribble. Hit his daily triple from the corner. Really helped out on the glass which allowed the small-ball unit to sustain itself.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 30 MIN | 4-7 FG | 7-9 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +12

Started slow, but finished strong. Flourished in the second half as the lone-big in small-ball lineups, which is something he has struggled with in the past. On the whole, his offensive rebounding and scoring provided a much needed interior threat. He also worked well in the pick-and-roll, which helped carry Amir’s slack. Threw a beautiful high-low pass to Patrick Patterson that literally made me squeal in happiness.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 40 MIN | 4-12 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +6

Poor shot-seection aside, he did a good job in Lowry’s place, and steadied the offense. He was exploited on defense, but that’s to be expected. Not turning the ball over in 40 minutes of play, while chipping in with 8 assists is very impressive. It’s almost as if someone knew that he could perform like this. Credit to that guy.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 40 MIN | 10-19 FG | 8-10 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 29 PTS | 0

He played James Harden to a draw, which is yet another landmark on his ascent this season. He was literally unstoppable in the second quarter as he dropped 15 points, including a 30-ft pull-up triple to beat the halftime buzzer. Really lackadaisical transition defense on Parsons in the first quarter as he conceded 4 dunks and a layup to the man they call “Handsome”, but he tightened it up later in the game.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 18 MIN | 2-2 FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -6

Provided energy, had a huge block, committed a foul before he even clocked a second in the game. Just another leaf in the Whomping Willow that is Tyler Hansbrough.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2

He’s back! He dropped a triple from the left corner early in the first quarter, and helped turnaround the Raptors’ weak start. His presence really means a world of difference for the second unit. In addition to his shooting, he also consistently makes high-IQ plays that contributes to a solid win overall. He would have played more minutes, but Casey wisely limited his minutes as this is just his second game back from injury.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 22 MIN | 3-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -6

You see? He’s not always a horrible NBA player. He just needs lots of rest, some luck, a sacrificial lambasting from the RR community, and bam, he contributes. He did a solid job guarding James Harden, hit his open kick-out threes, and even created off-the-bounce. The Raptors need this Salmons to show up in the playoffs.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | +6

Hit a triple like it’s his only job.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 13 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +2

He started off well, helping to facilitate ball-movement in the early going, but as soon as Vasquez left the floor, and he became the primary PG, he morphed into Nando de YOLO. The Raptors need to treat him like Cyclops treats eyewear — use protection.

Dwane Casey

You gotta hand it to the man. He might not have the sparkliest of X’s and O’s, but when has his team ever quit this season? The Raptors could have easily packed up their bags in the first quarter after conceding a 12-pt lead, but what did they do? They battled back. Why? Because Dwane Casey made the ballsy move to go small, which helped the Raptors build up a 20 point cushion. He has his made his fair share of bad decisions, but he’s also done a lot of good this year.

Five Things We Saw

  1. This is just an opinion based on observation alone, but Jonas Valanciunas seems to struggle at times when he’s the only big in a small-ball scenario. On offense, he doesn’t pick the right spots to crash for the rebounds, and on defense, he’s confused between knowing when to step up to contest shots, and when to hang back to protect the rim. With the NBA moving to embrace the “positionless revolution”, and its inclusive amalgamated positions philosophy, Jonas needs to work on being quicker, and smarter, especially in small-ball lineups. He adapted in the second half and fared well, which is a promising sign.
  2. Nando de Colo’s extremely questionable decision making makes him ill-suited to be the primary ball-handler in a lineup. However, when he serves as a secondary ball-handler, the opportunity to make mistakes is curtailed, and he greatly improves ball-movement. In a sense, he’s better at making the extra pass, than he is the initial pass.
  3. Houston’s defense really struggles without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley. Aside from Chandler Parsons, there wasn’t a single functional defender in their starting lineup.
  4. Playing “Gangnam Style” in celebration of Chinese Heritage Night is, quite frankly, racist. With 5, 000 proud years of history to its name, there is plenty of heritage, other than a pop-song by a Korean artist, to celebrate. As an Chinese-Canadian, I am thoroughly disappointed with the Raptors’ poor decisions on this matter. I get that Jeremy Lin only comes to Canada once per year, so the opportunity to cash-grab is limited, but it doesn’t have to be billed in a racist and ignorant way. Shame on you, Raptors game-ops. Ordinarily, I applaud your work, but tonight was a regrettable mistake.
  5. Fingers crossed for Lowry and Amir’s health.

Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, April 2

The 42-32 Toronto Raptors host the 49-24 Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, a game you can catch at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One. It’s a big one for the Raptors, as they’re presently tied with Chicago for the third seed in the East and only a game-and-a-half up on Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division crown and home-court advantage in the first round. It matters about the same to Houston, as Portland has moved within a game-and-a-half of them for home-court in the West, too.

But it won’t be easy for either side. The Rockets are on the second game of a back-to-back and are missing a key piece, while the Raptors may be missing a key piece. Let’s start there.

Injury Updates
Toronto: Kyle Lowry’s status won’t be known until pre-game media availability, which is around 5:30, give or take. Context clues point to him not being available, but the lack of an update following Tuesday’s re-evaluation may mean it really is up in the air. As much as it would hurt their chances, I’m hoping they play it safe and sit Lowry down, and then, at most, play him in a single game of the Friday-Saturday back-to-back. Longview, people.

Houston: Dwight Howard is out, Patrick Beverley is out, Greg Smith is out and Terrence Jones sat out on Tuesday with the flu. So the Rockets are without their two best defensive players, and in 827 minutes without either on the floor this season, the Rockets have surrender 119 points per 100 possessions, well above their 107 mark overall (that’s per NBAWowy.com, though NBA.com/stats has their marks much lower, though still worse without Beverley and Howard).

E-mail Exchange
To help us set the stage, I enlisted the help of Michael Pina of many, many places, including Red 94, the True Hoop Houston Rockets blog.

Obviously, any defensive game plan has to begin with James Harden, one of the top five scorers in the NBA. His Euro-Step is unstoppable, and he isn’t bad anywhere, ranking in the top-100 in just about every play category, per Synergy. He does appear less effective in straight isolations than on the move, which makes sense, but my question is this: what type of defenders have tended to do a good job limiting Harden? He’s shot under 40 percent on 16 occasions, so it’s possible (though he only scored less than 15 points in seven of those games, since he’s so prolific at getting to the line).

Defending James Harden is probably one of the three or four most difficult defensive tasks in the league right now. His step-back jumper is one of the scariest things you’ll ever see. Off nights generally feel more like his own undoing than a defensive strategy. Harden’s shot selection can be insane, especially from behind the three-point line. But in the half-court, teams should always try forcing him right, making him a distributor sooner than later out of the pick-and-roll—going above the screen every single time—and letting someone else (hopefully Omer Asik) beat you.

More handsome: Chandler Parsons or J.J. Redick?

Parsons, only because his hair game is more versatile.

Why do the Rockets hate threes? A year after setting the NBA record for attempts and in the same year their D-League affiliate has attempted 417 triples a game, the Rockets are all the way down to…the 10th-highest 3FGA/game mark of all-time. I think many thought Dwight Howard would open up even more threes – is this a case of Dwight needing his interior touches, regression from the most extreme season ever, or a bit of both?

Houston still loves three-pointers. They jack up a ton in transition and have yet to meet an open look they didn’t love. But personnel changes from last year have made the shot more of a useful weapon than necessary means for survival. Dwight Howard sucks up plenty of possessions in the post (a good thing) and draws enough attention to open up easier opportunities at the rim for guys like Terrence Jones. The three-point line was a novelty act last year, and the Rockets are far more dangerous with a somewhat balanced attack.

Daryl Morey and Mark Cuban in a No-Disqualifications match at Wrestlemania, who you got?

Morey. Size matters.

The Rockets defense has been pretty solid. Perhaps that’s not a surprise with Howard and Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup, but how concerned are you with the team’s defense while Beverley sits? In particular, Kyle Lowry should eat Jeremy Lin’s lunch, and it’s not as if James Harden can really help. (Note: Q&A took place before Lowry’s injury and Howard’s status confirmation.)

Beverley is fantastic at the point of attack and recovering to block a point guard’s shot. But he also fouls a TON on the perimeter, which isn’t so great when the other team gets in the bonus super early. (Strange enough, Houston allows 101.5 points per 100 possessions with Beverley on the floor. Guess how many they allow with Lin out there? 101.5.)

Houston’s defense is anchored by Howard and Asik. Both can do just about everything a big man needs to do as help defenders and immovable objects in the post. As long as one of them is on the floor, the Rockets will operate at a top-10 level. Chandler Parsons is quietly improving on the perimeter, though he’s still covered with warts on that end, and Harden meanders between working too hard and not working at all.

Beverley’s absence will hurt against Toronto, but doesn’t Kyle Lowry eat everybody’s lunch anway?

The Breakdown
Vegas says: Raptors -1 with 58 percent of action going to the favorite and 62 percent hitting the over of 203.
Hollinger says: Pick ‘em
Houston’s Slim Thug says: They say I can’t get in cause I’m dressed like a thug

Blake says: It’s really hard to call anything in this one. With a full squad against a Rockets team without Howard and Beverley and maybe even Jones, at home, with Houston on a back-to-back, this should be a win. The Rockets are good and the West fantastic, but the Raptors are on par when you take the injured players away, and they have the situational advantage.

Having said that, it’s Kyle Lowry with his status to be determined, the team’s most important player, and if it were me in charge the team would be taking every precaution with him. Too much is up in the air, so definitely stay away from the line – I’ll take the Raptors if Lowry gives it a go, otherwise I’d give Houston the egde. Lowry is worth a couple of points, and with the line this close he’s the deciding factor. Really bold, I know.

UPDATE (6:00 PM)

Kyle Lowry to Receive Treatment During Day; Pre-Game Announcement Pending

As per RaptorsMR, who I’ve always pictured like the above, the following tidbit of information has come to light:

So, prior to tonight’s Rockets/Raptors game, the Raptors will determine whether Lowry is good to go.

It goes without saying that if Lowry is out our chances of making a dent in the playoffs are slim to none, actually, they’re more like none.  A possible outcome here, and I’m speculating, is that since he hasn’t broken anything (X-Rays etc. negative), it’s likely a bruise or something similar that under ideal circumstance would require 2-4 weeks rest.  If that is the case, it’s best to shut him down for the remainder of the regular season to give him a minimum of two weeks rest, knowing full well that third or even fourth place might be under threat.  I’d rather have a healthier Lowry as a road playoff team than a wobbly one as a home one.

It also sucks for the man himself because he’s been having a fantastic season, and suffering an injury this late into a contract-year could have some bearing on his summertime offers.

On the plus side, we get to see more of Nando de Colo and Dwight Buycks! And maybe even Landry Fields will get to man the point-forward slot with great aplomb.

Let’s dust off Landry Fields

Yesterday, Trill Will stole my idea for a post and wrote about John Salmons, complete with a terrible title. Not to belabor the point, but I’m going to follow up a little bit before I drop today’s gameday post.

While Will’s conclusion is that Salmons isn’t all that terrible – he’s a negative on offense and a positive on defense – I would tend to disagree. He is terrible.

I don’t need any statistics to back this up, but consider the following:

John Salmons Stat Qualified NBA Rank (of 186)
PER 7.6 185
TS% 44.8 182
Rb% 5.5 154
Ast% 12.9 90
TO% 11 51

You want to know why Salmons plays over 20 minutes a game and is used as a secondary ballhandler on the second unit despite all evidence being contrary to the idea that he has offensive value? It’s that last column – Salmons doesn’t turn the ball over much, so he’s a safe play. He can dribble late in the shot clock without pissing himself.

He also doesn’t do anything with the ball – he doesn’t score well, he doesn’t facilitate well, and he doesn’t rebound. His average shot comes from 17.5 feet away, but the only time he ever scores is on threes, 92.1 percent of which have been assisted. He shoots just 26.7 percent on drives and 36.1 percent on pull-ups. And again, he doesn’t get assists. This late-clock creation or secondary ballhandling may exist, but it’s not effective. On offense, he is essentially a complete negative except as a spot-up floor-spacer.

The net result is disastrous for the Toronto Raptors offense.

With John Salmons on the floor, the Raptors score 102.8 points per 100 possessions. When Salmons sits, that number rockets to 108.8. That is the difference between a below-average offense and the league’s third best unit. And his gains on the defensive end don’t make up for it – the defense improves by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Salmons, yes, but the team is 2.6 points per 100 possessions better without Salmons than with him.

There aren’t great options to replace him. I realize this. Nando De Colo or two-point guard lineups with Greivis Vasquez leave the team somewhat exposed defensively, Steve Novak can’t reliably slide to the three, and Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan can only play so much.

So it’s time to dust off Landry Fields.

I know, I know, he’s been terrible. In 113 minutes (post-trade) with him on the floor, largely garbage time, the team has been outscored, and he’s one of the only players on the team for which that’s true. That’s a really small sample, though, and it’s tough to evaluate a player when totalling up a bunch of 30-second garbage-time appearances.

On the two instances since his return from injury that Fields has played, he’s actually looked pretty good. He played 25 minutes in the team’s March 2 win against Golden State, hitting 4-of-5 from the floor and grabbing six rebounds. In the March 30 win against Orlando, he shot 2-of-3 with two rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes with a +12 rating.

I understand that FIelds has basically burned any goodwill remaining with Raptors fans, and I can’t guarantee he’ll be any better than Salmons. It’s simply too difficult to evaluate a post-op Fields given how little he’s played. But Fields at his worst has been a more effective offensive player than Salmons, thanks in part to the enormous rebounding edge he provides. I’m sure Dwane Casey has his reasons, and the last time I saw Fields shooting at practice, his shot still didn’t look “fixed” – he’s still 0-for-5 on threes for the season, a key area he was expected to provide value – and maybe his confidence isn’t back yet. Those are valid concerns.

However, Fields isn’t that far off of Salmons in terms of defense, with the ability to guard three spots to some degree of effectiveness. He’s not the pick-and-roll defender Salmons is, but he’s solid, more athletic, and a far superior rebounder. Whether the defensive drop-off with Fields is enough to warrant playing Salmons over him is unclear. There are no double-blind tests in sports, and it’s certainly possible to craft a rotation in which either would be a helpful fifth component.

However, the reason I’d like to see Fields dusted off for some additional run right now is because the cost of experimentation is about to sky-rocket. Come playoff times, rotations shrink (or should). Casey is likely going to employ a rotation that looks like this:

Guard: Lowry, Vasquez
Wing: DeRozan, Ross, Salmons
Bigs: Johnson, Valanciunas, Patterson
Specialist: Hayes, Hansbrough, Novak

An eight-man rotation is the norm in the playoffs, and a ninth option will probably only be used situationally – Novak for spacing, Hansbrough for shit-disturbing, Hayes if the team faces a post-up threat. But look at that rotation and tell me what part scares you the most. It’s undoubtedly Salmons.

I’m not suggesting I’d be any more comfortable with Fields in that rotation; I wouldn’t be, at present. But Salmons is very clearly the team’s weakest link right now, and with eight games to go, there’s little harm in giving Fields extended run to find out if he can strengthen that final rotation spot. Maybe the time off and the re-tooling of his shot can pay dividends; maybe he’ll be incredibly motivated to run with the opportunity; maybe he’ll do something other than hit an occasional open three.

The game’s played on both sides of the ball, and there’s value in reliability and savvy on the defensive end. There’s also value in not playing 4-on-5 on offense, and experimenting with Fields over the next few games has the potential to add some athleticism and energy to the rotation that Salmons can’t provide. It’s worth a shot now, while the cost of trying is low.

Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 2

The Official Site of Canada’s Team | THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE TORONTO RAPTORS

A group of Raptors alumni, which included Alvin Williams, Morris Peterson, Muggsy Bogues, Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley, reunited in the Sunshine State in support the MLSE Foundation‘s “Sky’s The Limit” event. Some of the foundation’s tremendous supporters joined the alumni for a one of a kind experience that included dinner, accommodations, golf and, of course, the Raptors’ matchup with the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday.

HIP HOOP JUNKIES – A Toronto Raptors/NBA/Canada Basketball Blog: Mass Hypnosis: Media Hype more valued than Success

We’ve been hearing it for years from players, fans, coaches and everyone in between. The term “big market versus small market” and how it affects contract signings, trades and overall media attention. The list of examples are endless and at times equivalent to stubbing your toe every time you hear it. In my eyes, it’s a label which is not based on success but old fashioned attention and narcissism.

DeMar DeRozan Ready To Carry Toronto Raptors Into NBA Playoffs

As a rookie, DeRozan teased Raptor Nation from time to time with flashes of greatness that generally took place above the rim, and couldn’t help remind those in Toronto of another high-flyer that once wore purple named Vince Carter. Outside of DeRozan’s ability to land on the highlight reel however, there were more serious matters to attend to, and as he was leaving the only NBA team he’d ever known, Bosh handed the keys to the franchise to the unassuming 19-year old in the same manner that Carter had given them to a promising young forward six years earlier.

Why Raptors will fend off Bulls for third in East | Toronto Star

 Toronto plays Milwaukee twice (14-60) and Philadelphia (16-58) once. Milwaukee’s once promising season spun out of control hours after the home opener against the Raptors when star Larry Sanders tore a ligament in his right thumb during a bar fight and he missed 25 games. Then in February he was shut down for the season after he suffered a fractured orbital bone. Philadelphia just ended theirNBA record-tying 26-game losing streak. Both those teams are tanking to try to get the worst record in the NBA and increase their odds of drafting the likes of Canadian Andrew Wiggins first overall.

Raptors Playoffs: Craziness And Responsibility, John Salmons | Pro Bball Report

“Starting the season in Sacramento, we didn’t know we would be traded here and this team was going to turn it around and make a run, get to the third or fourth seed in the East and make the playoffs, all we saw was an uphill battle,” Salmons said. “For us, it’s a great ending to the (regular) season. The postseason never gets old. I haven’t been there the last two years. Going home early, it’s not fun. Watching everyone else play, competing and getting all that attention, it’s not fun being home.”

Raptors’ Lowry just does it | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

After his scrum with a handful of media types, Lowry was asked if there was a particular art to winning those loose balls when going up against men twice his size. Lowry looked at his questioner like the answer was obvious to anyone with half a brain. “No, you just go get it,” he said half smiling at the absurdity of the question or more likely the guy asking it.

Dwight Howard unsure of return date – Sports Mole

Howard, who will not play against the Toronto Raptors tonight, has averaged 18.5 points per game this season.

Rockets at Raptors : 3 keys to win – raptorsrapture.com

Omar Asik, who spells Howard, could start on half the teams in the NBA. It is a measure of how powerful the Rox are that they didn’t see the need to move him prior to the trade deadline, despite the rich payback he would have provided. Their self-restraint is paying dividends, as Howard’s ankle injury may prevent him from dressing. If so, Asik, veteran Francisco Garcia and Donetas Motiejunas will likely split the big man duties.

Five Toronto Raptors who will need to step up in Kyle Lowry’s absence

Fans will likely find out the nature and severity of Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry’s knee injury before Wednesday night’s game against Houston. Lowry hurt his knee in a collision with LeBron James on Monday evening, and Dwane Casey said the knee swelled up soon after the incident. The Raptors were set to re-examine Lowry on Tuesday, after initial x-rays were negative. However, they will likely wait until Wednesday to announce their findings.

10 “Behind The Scenes” Points from Masai Ujiri’s Interview with George Strombolopolous

A fantastic comment from RR reader, Alexey Ots, tells us what was and wasn’t aired from the Masai Ujiri interview with George Strombolopolous (brief video here): 

1) He retold the Lowry story about sitting down with him at the beginning of the season and challenging him to change the stigma of his reputation.

2) He said had a chat with Terrence Ross on Sunday March 23rd, about his sleeping habits, that he needs to get more rest.

3) He retold a story about meeting Nelson Mandela in Africa with Dikembe Mutombo, DeSagna Diop, and a couple of other younger players. Dikembe yelled at the younger players for not dressing better (they were in sweats) and told them to go back up into their hotel rooms and dress proper to meet Mr. Mandela.

4) George asked Ujiri about Phil Jackson’s impact coming to the Knicks and he said “He said he didn’t care, and that it wasn’t a factor to him” Then he just plainly stated and I quote “I HATE THE KNICKS!” – M. Ujiiri

5) I was in the crowd yelling “Raptors” loudly a couple of times during the applause and at one point, I yelled “RESIGN LOWRY” and GM Ujiri was looking straight at me. He had a deer in headlights type look, but then kinda smiled.

6) Talked to George afterward and asked him about asking him about resigning Lowry, He said he couldn’t ask that and that he wanted to ask him and also about Amir’s knee instead, but didn’t also.

7) Masai repeatedly made it known throughout the interview, that Toronto is his home that he loves it here and that he is fully committed to making the Raptors a top team over time. That he really doesn’t leave town in the summer, and his phone is always on for work purposes 24/7.

8) He credited BC for bringing him into the Raptors and making the draft picks of DD, Big V, and getting Amir. He says that the Raptors fans should give Colangelo more credit.

9) He thinks its crap that people perceive Toronto as a place players don’t wanna play at. He says look at the top teams in the east, Miami is nice sure, but he personally hates the city, and how anyone thinks its warmer or better in Indiana or Chicago is beyond him. Toronto is the best in his opinion.

10) When he walked out by me, I bowed to him and personally thanked him for fixing the Raptors. Just a very awesome person, who I am glad is the GM of my favorite sports team.

More updates from comments:

Oh yeah and ONE more HUGE one! Masai asked permission from Mark Cuban to speak with Vince Carter while the Mavs were in Toronto to play the Raptors earlier this season (and Cuban said yes), and it was inferred that Carter does want to rejoin the Raptors next season and finish his career here. Ujiri said he hopes that Raptor fans could forgive him and that his legacy with the team is a very important one.

 

Alexey Ots • 5 hours ago

5 extra ones real quick I just remembered:

1) George kept pressing him about the horrible job the referees have been doing, he said every time if George gave him the fine money he would open up about it.

2) Masai was asked about drafting some of the Canadian players from the tournament and he said he would definitely look at them, but once again if George paid the fine for him he would open up.

3) George asked him how close we were really to changing the Raptors name, and Ujiri said that was a question for Tim Leiweke who will be on George’s show in the next week or so.

4) Masai’s favorite movie as a kid growing up was Jordan’s “Come Fly with Me”.

5) He also enjoyed the “Fish that saved Pittsburgh” and the Kevin Bacon one “The Air Up There”. That these films got him interested in basketball originally.

The taping was on the 24th of March. If I remember any more I promise to post it.

Swimming Upstream on the John Salmons Issue

Taking an objective look at John Salmons, and assessing his role on this team.

The game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was the tipping point.

Before that game, to most fans, John Salmons was just another husky veteran that stood as an impediment to the prospects before him. When he took to the court, a collective groan was audible throughout the arena. As he left, no cheers of appreciation were heard.

But Kevin Durant changed the whole dynamic with one fell swoop.

The fan base has completely turned against Salmons since the Raptors’ improbable overtime loss to the Thunder. Suddenly, our expressed annoyance with his play turned into scathing critiques of his character. On the night of the game, the top 7 comments in the quick reaction, as ranked by upvotes, were all directed towards Salmons. Commentor lon66 summed up our sentiments rather aptly:

I had salmon in my fridge. I threw it out.

Adhering to no boundaries, the burning hatred for Salmons even torched the reputation of head coach Dwane Casey, who’s lineups and rotations have come under constant questioning, mostly on behalf of — you guessed it — Salmons. The only person to have benefited from the entire ordeal is Landry Fields, who fans suddenly bumped up from perennial pariah to unsung hero. The fact of life stands — fans will forever be fickle.

As fans, there is an uncontrollable urge to be reactionary, and hive-minded, but the collective hatred surrounding Salmons has lionized a legitimate debate that needs to be had — what role should Salmons play on this team?

First off, let’s throw out John Salmons’ boxscore numbers. In 21.8 minutes per game, Salmons is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 35.8% shooting from the field. If your gag reflex was activated upon glazing over his shooting percentage, don’t worry, the response was normal and warranted. Amongst all guards who have played more than 600 minutes this season, Salmons ranks second last in FG%. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Raptors offensive efficiency drops from 109.7 without Salmons, to 105.6 with Salmons, a difference of -4.1 points. In layman’s terms, that’s the difference between the Heat’s offense (109.5), and the Wolves’ offense (105.7).

Salmons’ aggregate numbers are a little deceiving, as his production seems to vary significantly with rest. In 8 games played with 3+ days of rest, Salmons is shooting 45.0% on 7.5 field goal attempts per game, including a sterling 52.4% from deep. Compare that to the 17 games he’s played on the second night of back-to-backs, where Salmons’ field-goal percentage dips to 23.8% overall, and 24.2% from deep.

shooting percentage

The effects of rest is also evident by the eye-test. At the tender age of 34, it’s Salmons’ legs are starting to fail him, which is having an obvious effect on his jumpshot. Without rest, Salmons gets very little lift on his jumpshot, especially when on pick-and-roll plays, where he likes to curl off a screen, step into the mid-range area, and shoot an elbow jumper.

first back

On the whole, Salmons’ offensive contributions are best evaluated through the lens of skills, rather than production. By in large, Salmons is capable of doing three things on offense. First, he’s able to function reasonably as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. As detailed above, his favorite move is to curl around a screen, and shoot the mid-range jumper, and the success of said jumper is dependent on rest. Second, Salmons is a capable ball-handler, and plays a secondary distributor role in the second unit to compliment Greivis Vasquez. Third, Salmons can knock down open three-pointers.

The same skill-evaluation approach can be applied to measure his defensive contributions, from which Salmons’ derives the bulk of his value. Salmons is a smart defender who understands his place in defensive schemes, and is able to use his wit to overcome his physical limitations.  Standing at 6’6, 216 lbs, Salmons is big enough to guard bulkier wings, and is tall enough to risk going under screens on smaller, quicker players.

He’s nobody’s Andre Igoudala on defense, but he does a reasonable job containing opposing wing players. According to Synergy Stats, Salmons has faced 100 pick-and-roll situations this year wherein the ball-handler has elected to shoot, and has conceded a mere 0.58 points per play which ranks 8th in the NBA this season. Granted, the sample size is quite limited, but Salmons has a history of being a smart pick-and-roll defender, ranking 18th, and 85th in points allowed per play in previous seasons. On aggregate, Salmons’ net effect on the Raptors’ defensive rating is +3.0.

Just as a refresher, Salmons is a negative on offense, and a positive on defense. He is able to shoot from deep, run a pick-and-roll and reasonably handle the ball, but his performance is significantly impacted by rest. Defensively, Salmons understand defensive positioning and has done a good job shutting down the pick-and-roll.

Currently, Salmons employs the unenviable role as the first wing off the bench. Typically, he subs in for DeRozan midway through the first quarter. He often shares the court as the secondary playmaker in the second unit. By minutes played, Salmons has logged nearly 57 minutes alongside DeRozan, Hansbrough, Patterson and Vasquez, which qualifies as his second-most utilized Raptors lineup this season.

Although he’s softened on his insistence of late, Dwane Casey also likes to play Salmons to close out games, which has sparked the majority of the ire surrounding his lineup construction. Salmons has shared the floor with DeRozan, Johnson, Lowry and Valanciunas for a whooping 98 minutes this season. That lineup has been largely ineffective, clocking in at -5.6 points per 100 possessions.

But the more pertinent question isn’t that of Salmons’ abilities — of which we know to be limited — but rather, who would fare better in his stead?

Between small-forward and shooting guard, the Raptors have a vacancy of 96 minutes to fill. DeRozan and Ross are already working overtime, clocking in at 38.4 and 26.3 minutes respectively, although it could be argued that Ross’ minutes could stand to be increased. Regardless, even if Ross played 30 minutes per game, the Raptors would still need to fill 28 minutes along the perimeter.

fields

Unfortunately, the Raptors realistically have nothing but cannon fodder to fill the void. Aside from Salmons, the options at small forward are Steve Novak, Landry Fields and Nando de Colo.

Dwane Casey only plays Novak at the four to open up spacing on the inside. In 507 minutes played this season, Novak has only logged 10 minutes at SF. While Novak could certainly stand to play more on the perimeter, the fact of the matter is that the Raptors face significant issues with spacing when they play two legitimate bigs (outside of Patterson), and the breathing room Novak provides is more valuable than any minutes he could mop up on the wing. Also, Novak is only an upgrade in one area (floor spacing), and would struggle to replicate the role Salmons plays.

Nando de Colo provides an interesting alternative to Salmons with his combination of ball-handling and shooting. At the age of 26, de Colo is younger and more mobile, but he also makes extremely questionable decisions on offense, as evidenced by his whopping 24.4 turnover percentage. In other terms, he turns it over once in every four possessions. There is a reason why people call him Nando de YOLO.

The most intriguing replacement for Salmons is Landry Fields, who is able to replicate every one of Salmons’ skills aside from perimeter shooting. Fields has decent size, quickness and awareness on defense, and he’s also able to handle the ball. He can’t shoot from outside the paint, which is a big issue as a wing player, but he’s able to make up for it by being a smart cutter. As a result, his true-shooting percentage this season is within 0.6 percentage points of Salmons’.

Ultimately, this exercise is moot, as there is no magic bullet solution. Every candidate has their fair share of warts, and Salmons might actually be the least homely of the bunch. One way or another, Dwane Casey needs to plug up roughly 30 minutes a night with little more than sop. Casey could platoon Fields and Salmons on back-to-backs in order to maximize Salmons’ effectiveness, but our longing for Fields is a product of absence, rather than merit.

So in short, Salmons isn’t as bad as we think he is, but he’s still pretty bad, only his replacements are equally as inept. We’re basically stuck between a rock and a hard place for the time being, so it’s best if we just get comfortable. Also I’m not good at writing conclusions.

Statistical support from NBA stats, ESPN and Basketball Reference

Report: MLSE To Offer Playoff Tickets at Half Price to “Make Amends”

According to a report in the National Post, the Raptors will be offering playoff tickets for half-price as a way to “make amends” with long-suffering fans. The report states:

MLSE, after long consideration, has opted to offer playoff tickets at 50% of the price of regular season tickets to make amends with fans who have not seen the Raptors make the playoffs since 2007-08. The initiative was spearheaded by Tim Leiweke, who views this as a “personal project” to win back fans lost under Bryan Colangelo’s leadership.

Obviously, this is an awesome move by MLSE and it shows what a great, caring organization they are. They could have easily raised prices but for them to make this sort of an effort speaks volumes to the leadership’s genuine love for the fans. I’ve always maintained that Tim Leiweke is a God-send, and this further proves that.

RR salutes MLSE for doing this. Stay tuned on how to get at these tickets. Presumably, they’ll be available on Ticketmaster soon enough.

On a related note, if you’d like to purchase cheap, below-cost, tickets for Wednesday’s Raptors vs Rockets game, get them here.

Raptors lose game to good player, focus turns to Kyle Lowry

Heat 93, Raptors 83 – Box

Kyle Lowry Injured
Let’s start here: Kyle Lowry injured his left knee in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Miami Heat.

Chasing an offensive rebound, Lowry collided with LeBron James, who is built like a brick shithouse. At first it looked as if Lowry may have hurt his head – he caught James’ right elbow to the chops – but on further inspection he also banged his left knee against James’ right knee.

Now, on the bright side, X-rays were negative, and he’ll be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Maybe it was a precaution, but the scary side of it is that Lowry was driven the 100 yards to the team bus, wouldn’t talk, and was said to be limping badly through TSA screening.

We’re going to break down the game, but really, little else matters here. Lowry is this team’s most valuable and most important player, full stop, and if he’s less than 100 percent heading into the playoffs, the team’s chances of pulling off a series win take a significant hit. The obvious concern now is missing Lowry over the next two games – at home against Houston and Indiana – games that are likely losses without him. From there, the schedule turns friendlier, but an extended Lowry absence makes Toronto’s grasp on the three-seed far more tenuous.

Standings Update
Related to that last point, the loss once again slides the Raptors into a tie with Chicago for the three-seed in the East. While Toronto owns any tiebreaker by way of being a division winner, they are not guaranteed the third seed as a division winner, as some seem to be confused about. All a division win guarantees you is a top-four seed – and not even home-court advantage in the first round – so that you aren’t stuck playing an Indiana or Miami in round one.

Anyway, the Raptors and Bulls are locked at 42-32 with eight games to go, while the Brooklyn Nets sit two games back. No other team is a threat to home-court advantage any longer, as it’s simply too late for Washington to make up four games. That also means, for the 70-80 percent of you who want Washington in the first round, that the third seed is really important, because it’s looking more and more certain the Wizards will own the six-seed.

Finally, a note to those of you looking ahead to a second round match-up: please stop. The Raptors have won a single playoff round in their entire existence. Focus on accomplishing that, and let the second round chips fall where they may. If you are still looking ahead, however, Miami and Indiana are now tied atop the East and the Pacers look like a far more promising opponent.

A strong opening 21 minutes
The Raptors came out looking strong, playing a really good first half until a few miscues in the final minutes turned a four-point lead into a three-point deficit. This, despite a pretty ridiculous foul discrepancy, one that led Dwane Casey to say at halftime, “It’s inconceivable that two physical teams are playing the way we’re playing and only have three free throws.” Credit the Heat for their…efforts?…I guess?

Despite some shaky refereeing and a bit of carelessness with the ball, the Raptors shot 57.9 percent in the half, led by an excellent start to the game from DeMar DeRozan.

Frustrations Mount
Here’s a minor issue I had with Dwane Casey last night, though it’s hard to tell if the blame is on him or the players: the Raptors ended the half clearly frustrated with the officiating, with poor body language and technical fouls looking assured soon enough. Coming out of the half? The same. Someone has to step up and calm the team down at the break and have them galvanize around the underdog treatment – the attitude they came out with made it seem like they had spent the break complaining about it to each other.

So they come out for the second half and their first four shots are jumpers from 19-feet or further. The calls didn’t come in the first half, but the proper response was to come out of the chute aggressive and force the referee’s hands, not be resigned to that fate and start shooting long mid-clock jumpers.

In any case, the referees played a major part throughout, unfortunately. The Raptors ended up with a +11 in personal fouls, just the fourth time all season they’ve had that large a gap (keep in mind that while the Raptors foul more than all but one other team, they’re also fifth in the NBA in drawing fouls).

With all of that said, you have no choice but to play through it. The Raptors attempted just 10 free throws, and DeMar DeRozan, in particular, followed up a strong first half with an extremely passive second half (the seven assists were appreciated, however, and he’s come a long way in that regard).

The Fourth Quarter
The Raptors could have been forgiven for lying down in the fourth. Entering the frame stuck 11 with Lowry ruled out for the remainder of the game, on the second night of a back-to-back, against LeBron James and the Heat, nobody would have blinked an eye if the subs played out the stretch. This isn’t that kind of team though, and, led by Greivis Vasquez doing his best Lowry impression, the team managed to trim the lead to three with 6:13 to play.

The Heat pulled away from there, however, mostly because they’re the Heat. Ignoring Jonas Valanciunas – to that point having one of his best offensive games – down the stretch seemed curious, as he got just a single touch in the final six minutes.

Nando De Colo, Landry Fields and Steve Novak all saw run over the next four minutes, and the result was the Heat pulling away on a 9-3 run. Each of those players has their utility, and the team needs to see what Fields can offer before the cost of experimenting skyrockets in the playoffs, but that’s simply too untalented a group to rely on for the key stretch of a tight game against an elite team (even with Novak going Novakaine and hitting 4-of-6 from long range).

Closing Thoughts
It wasn’t a bad loss, really. Frustrating because of the referees and the near-comeback, sure, but they were six-point dogs and lost their best player for the fourth quarter. Think having Lowry down the stretch instead of De Colo would have made a difference? Maybe not the difference, but certainly a difference.

Aside from Lowry, would you like to know the key difference in this game? In 39 minutes that James was on the floor, the Heat outscored the Raptors by 22. In the other nine minutes, the Raptors outscored the Heat by 12. Turns out he’s really good, and the Raptors don’t have an answer for him (for what it’s worth, Terrence Ross did as well as could have been hoped early, but Casey opted for MOAR JOHN SALMONS for big chunks).

Actually, let’s pull that out of the parenthetical:

James with Salmons on floor this season – 70.8 TS%, 36 Pts/36min
James with Ross on floor this season – 71 TS%, 33.3 Pts/36min
James overall this season – 63.9 TS%, 25.6 Pts/36min

If Salmons isn’t providing any additional defensive value – and that’s not necessarily the case, as this is a tiny sample subject to tons of confounding factors – there’s no point in him being out there. The time has long since come for Salmons’ minutes to be cut, as the team basically plays 4-on-5 on offense with him out there. Sure, “late-clock creation” and an absence of turnovers, but he’s shooting 35.7 percent and has, by far, the worst player efficiency rating of any regular on the team. When I watch the game, it sure doesn’t seem like his defense is any better than that of Ross or even Fields. He’s a “safe” veteran, and that’s a crutch that’s hurting this team for 20 minutes a night.

In Pictures
fivebench lebronpass1 lowrydown spacing spacing1

Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 1

Heat Defeat Raptors, 93-83 – Hot Hot Hoops

Mario Chalmers opened the fourth quarter with a basket, then rebounded Toronto’s miss the next time down the floor. The Raptors scored the next basket, and Andersen tipped in a Cole miss from deep to keep the difference at 11 points. Toronto scored the next eight points on the Heat. Valanciunas was fouled by Rio, but I’m not sure how, as the big guy was throwing knees and elbows in the air and Rio was just going for the ball. I guess there’s no need for sour grapes though, seeing as how the game finished up in the end. The Birdman ended the Raptors run with a three-foot offensive rebound/putback, earning a free throw (made) and reestablishing a six point lead. Rio had a nice alley-oop completed by the Birdman to keep the lead at five, and Miami forced a 24-second violation. The next time down, the Birdman grabbed an offensive rebound, but James missed an easy layup to let the Raptors stay within striking distance. Bosh scored his first basket of the quarter with four minutes left on

Miami Heat Index Blog – ESPN

Grade B – The Raptors jumped out to a 10-point lead in the second quarter, but couldn’t maintain it once their floor general, Lowry, was shook up after a collision with James. Lowry eventually needed to call it quits while DeMar DeRozan continued to showcase his improved playmaking skills and play himself into the discussion of most improved player, but the team’s turnovers proved fatal. Stay tuned for Lowry updates.

LeBron James, Heat turn on afterburners against Raptors | National Post

Greivis Vasquez scored 17 points, DeMar DeRozan scored 16 and Jonas Valanciunas finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors. Steve Novak added 13 for Toronto, which lost Kyle Lowry to a sore left knee late in the third quarter after he collided with James. Miami has now won 15 straight against the Raptors, the last 14 of those meetings coming since Bosh left Toronto and joined the Heat during the summer of 2010. It’s the second-longest current winning streak the Heat have over an opponent; they’ve beaten Charlotte 16 straight times.

Fears for Kyle Lowry in Raptors’ loss to Heat: Kelly | Toronto Star

“He bumped knees and it puffed up a little bit, so he couldn’t go,” Casey said. “The X-rays were negative, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he is tomorrow.” Watching Lowry writhing around on the ground has become something of a local sub-sport these days. It’s often more exciting than the games. He’s shaken off twisted ankles and pulled groins. Post-game, Lowry looks as if he’s wearing an ice-pack bathrobe. But from an early vantage, this one looks bad. We’re not advising panic, but we are advising strong medicinal remedies just in case. The injury happened late in the second quarter of a 93-83 loss to the Heat. Lowry had begun to run in on an offensive rebound. LeBron James was there first. James spun quickly and began driving back up court. They met in a pile. James collapsed the much smaller player, inadvertently nailing him knee-to-knee.

Kyle Lowry injured as Raptors fall 93-83 to Heat | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“Kyle, he’s a tough guy,” Raps forward Terrence Ross said. “He always comes through. No matter what he’s going to find a way to get back on the court.” DeRozan echoed those comments. “We know he’s going to be all right,” DeRozan said. “We’re all banged up right now, honestly. He usually gets up and goes, but he knew what was best for him. Sit out and rest. I understand we play in two days and take care of the situation. It sucks to not have him out there, but we understand the big picture.” Given the potentially devastating impact this turn of events could have on the Raptors chances throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs, the result of last night’s game was very much secondary.

Rapid Recap: Raptors Fall Short in Miami to Heat 93 – 83 – Raptors HQ

Another area of weakness that was particularly frustrating to watch was the play calling. I’m not sure what the game plan was going into tonight’s game, but the one thing that was clearly working early on was the use of Jonas Valanciunas in the post. But for some reason, that strategy was ignored once the second half started. Valanciunas made his presence felt in 16 minutes of first half play by scoring 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting and it seem as though the Raptors had found an weakness to exploit in the robust Heat defense. With Greg Oden also being out of the Heat rotation tonight (unsurprisingly), there was no player dressed for the Heat that could match up against the size and strength of the Lithuanian center. Unfortunately this matchup advantage was not obvious enough for the Raptors coaching staff to exploit, as Jonas was almost invisible in the second half and only saw three more shot attempts after being 5/6 on first half FGs. This has been a recurring theme lately and should

LeBron James Lifts HEAT Past Raptors | Pro Bball Report

The Raptors had their best success going inside to Jonas Valanciunas and the HEAT got to him early, enticing the young center into two quick personal fouls. Fortunately, Head Coach Dwane Casey got Valanciunas back into the game before the end of the quarter and he put up 10 points and 5 rebounds in the first half. Patrick Patterson substituted in for Valanciunas, but he also picked up 2 quick personal fouls and he definitely has some rust to work off before he gets back to his old self.

Quick Recap: Raptors lose 15th straight to Heat | Raptors Watch

PatMan was a bit rusty as expected. He missed his first shot from the right pocket, and on the ensuing possession, he was called for a blocking foul trying to take a charge on Lebron James. Patterson went 1-4 in just 8 minutes. Clearly Dwane Casey is going to ease him into the line-up slowly, so just the fact that he’s back into the rotation is positive for the Raptors. Both teams were trading baskets for the entirety of the first quarter. The Raptors – despite shooting 55.8% in the opening frame – found themselves down 24-23 to end the quarter.

Tyler, the Enrager: The Raptors Forward Plays the Heel | Grantland

Then there’s Tyler Hansbrough, who, despite relatively paltry scoring numbers, remains a foul magnet. You may find that annoying — you may find him annoying — but your resistance is futile. Hansbrough’s scoring and rebounding numbers may seem like those of a role player, but the NCAA’s all-time leader in made free throws is still getting hacked like a superstar. The hacking of Hansbrough is tough to explain, but some of it has a lot to do with his strange energy and ability to drive his opponents insane. Hansbrough plays like someone who has been marinating in Red Bull for 24 hours. Maybe he has; that’s none of our business, but something about his tense caffeine stare and his brooding body language drives other NBA players to irrational acts. There aren’t many good reasons to foul him, unlike the other guys on that list; relative to NBA stars, he has limited offensive skills, unless you consider drawing a foul a skill.

[GIF] Kyle Lowry Injury, X-Rays Negative, Will Reevaluate Tomorrow

Below happened in the second quarter (Direct: GFY, GIF). He continued playing on it till the end of the half and didn’t return. Tonight, when you go to sleep, make sure to lie in the fetal position and pray to the the Gods, both the old and the new. And also to the Red God. Valar Morghulis.

Update from the official:

Update from Dwane Casey’s post-game presser (video will be available on the dot com soon enough):

More from RR:

Reaction: Heat 93, Raptors 83


Toronto Raptors 83 Final

Recap | Box Score

93 Miami Heat
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 24 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -10I expected more, but Amir also appears to be banged up still. There just wasn’t a big impact from him in this one, though he remains the team’s most capable help defender by a long shot.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 24 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -12He started out doing a fair job on LeBron James, but Casey quickly lost faith. On the other end, Ross was largely invisible.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 32 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -13JV was pretty damn impressive, continuing an on-and-off trend in March. He shot well, he did a good job getting position in the post, and with the exception of one traveling violation, he handled Miami’s soft-doubles well. He also made good use of “verticality” on a LeBron drive late, altering the shot.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-11 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 11 PTS | -19Kyle Lowry wasn’t playing particularly well before he got hurt (see below), and he was visibly frustrated with the officiating. Still, as he goes, we go, so cross your fingers, and then cross those crossed fingers over other crossed fingers, and weave those into a “Get Well Soon” pillow.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 8-14 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | -8DeRozan had an excellent first half, shooting 5-of-7 with four dimes. He went just 3-of-8 in the second half, though, and the lack of whistles early seemed to get to him, rendering him far less aggressive than he has been and should be.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 8 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -3He was rusty in his first game back and hardly played in the second half, whether due to soreness or ineffectiveness. He brought some nice energy early, at least, but it’ll be a few games before he’s “back.”

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3This is just not a team you use Chuck Hayes against. It’s not his fault, really, he just only has utility in very specific situations.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 19 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +6Go away and never come back.

Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5Hey, he IS alive. This grade remains incomplete, but let’s see what he can do down the stretch here.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +3For a while we got Novakaine instead of plain old Steve Novak. Like a few others tonight, he did what he does – hit threes and try not to be a disaster on defense. That’s a lot tougher when an opponent has an athletic four, though.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 23 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-3 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 17 PTS | +6While his handle is still a little loose of late, Vasquez tried his best to step into the Kyle Lowry role in the fourth, scoring eight points with a lone turnover. One assist hurts, but take what you can get here – the backup had to step into a major role and he didn’t fall flat on his face.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2Has anyone else noticed he looks like mini-JV on the floor? He did what he does, but it’d be nice if he started flashing that 3-point stroke.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Not sure why Hansbrough is this deep in the doghouse, especially in a game where his foul-drawing ability would have been useful.

Dwane Casey
There’s not a whole lot you can do against the Heat. Casey tried multiple looks on LeBron James, but my feeling is that he went away from Terrence Ross too early and, as has been driving me crazy, rode John Salmons far too much. At least he showed a willingness to try different things, even dusting off Landry Fields.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Kyle Lowry banged knees with LeBron James chasing an offensive rebound in the first half. While the played through it for a while, he did not play in the fourth quarter, with the team only announcing he had a “sore knee.” Literally nothing from this game matters except for this.
  2. Cover LeBron James one-on-one, he scores.
  3. Cover LeBron James one-on-one with two help defenders in the paint, he scores, And-1.
  4. Double-team LeBron James, he finds a teammate for an open three.
  5. For what it’s worth, the Heat are now atop the Eastern Conference. For those of you unbelievably looking ahead to the second round of the playoffs (and please stop), that means the Raptors really want 3rd now, as Indy seems a far more favorable match-up.

Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, March 31

Hey, the Raptors play the Heat in Miami, at 7:30 on TSN. And I forgot to schedule someone to do the pre-game, because I’m an idiot!

Consider this your super-brief pre-game.

Here’s some news: Patrick Patterson draws back in, Dwyane Wade, Greg Oden and Ray Allen sit out.

Does that mean this is a winnable game? Considering the Raptors haven’t beat the Heat since The Decision, it still seems fairly unlikely, especially on the second night of a back-to-back, buuuut…who knows, maybe? They’re 6-point dogs and this is still LeBron James, but the Raptors have surely “played to their competition” for the last while, and it’s not tough to picture them playing this close enough for a late strike.

How bout it?

Can DeRozan Buck Raptors Playoff History?

The Raptors have assured themselves of their first playoff appearance since 2008. Great. This whackadoo season keeps marching on, defying preseason expectations and making mock of all of the recent trends that have plagued this organization. The point guard that was supposed to be traded has become the team’s most invaluable player. The swingman that was said by many (myself included) to be grossly overpaid now has people wondering if his contract might actually be below market value. The coach that was on the chopping block in November is now a fringe candidate for Coach of the Year. The GM that was supposed to be tanking may wind up overseeing the best regular season in team history.

Like I said; whackadoo.

So long as the team is bucking trends, though, they may as well start the prep work to avoid one of the most destructive postseason trends that has kept this team from making much noise in the NBA Playoffs: the trend of their All-Star choking in his first stint in the postseason.

When the team made their first playoff appearance back in 2000, it was largely on the back of Vince Carter’s stellar sophomore season in the NBA. The first-time All-Star averaged nearly 26-6-4 on 45.6% shooting and a 40.3% mark from behind the arc. He posted what would wind up being the second-best PER of his career at 23.4 (the best would come one year later) and for all intents and purposes he put Toronto on map as a legit NBA franchise.

When the Playoffs rolled around, though, Carter’s game fell apart. Stifled by New York’s relentless defensive attention, as well as the heightened expectations that come with being in the postseason, Carter wilted, and his team couldn’t make up for his struggles.

Carter scored only 17.5 ppg on a horrific 30% shooting clip (10% from three-point land). Dell Curry was the team’s only backcourt player that shot above 40% from the floor and Toronto was swept out of the Playoffs before they could even really get their feet wet.

Of course Carter would bounce-back the following season, using his experience in the 2000 Playoffs, as well as that summer’s Olympic Games, as a learning experience that would only make him a more deadly competitor in 2001.

Seven years later, it was Chris Bosh who pushed the team back into Playoff contention. It was his second All-Star season and first alongside a group of scrappy Euro-vets built under Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo. Despite missing thirteen games due to injury that year, Bosh was a force in pushing Toronto to their first Atlantic Division title. He averaged nearly 23-and-11 that season, shot just a hair under 50% and acted as a fulcrum for what was the best Raptors team since Carter’s shot infamously rimmed-out in Philadelphia back in 2001.

Like Carter, though, Bosh was not prepared for the meat-grinder that is the NBA Playoffs. His scoring and rebounding dipped precipitously, and his shooting fell to below 40%. He was hounded by New Jersey, especially by physical centre Jason Collins, and there simply wasn’t enough talent around Bosh to offset his reduced production – especially with Jorge Garbajosa out with a knee injury.

The Playoffs are unforgiving. Teams have the time to scout each and every wrinkle of a team’s attack, and for newcomers that can be a dramatic adjustment over the style of play in the regular season. For the Raptors and their lone All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, a repeat of history is a scary proposition, and one that could cost the Raptors a chance to advance to second round for only the second time in franchise history.

DeRozan has been struggling a little of late. His numbers haven’t dipped too much in March (though his shooting is down to 41.8% on the month), but he isn’t having as big an impact as consistently as has been needed in recent weeks. He’s been scoring lots, but he has also disappeared for large stretches of games. Not coincidentally, the team has had trouble putting away even the weakest of opponents and may be giving Dwane Casey an aneurism with their recent play in first quarters. Increasingly, it has been Kyle Lowry that has been the linchpin for the team’s attack, with DeRozan being a clear (yet potent) second option. Opposing teams have looked to play aggressively against DeRozan, knowing that he is easily frustrated when faced with physical defence, and on nights when the refs swallow their whistles that has spelled trouble for the Raptors.

In the playoffs, whoever the Raptors face will likely employ a DeRozan-swallowing strategy for exactly that reason. When Lowry is pushed, he pushes back harder. When DeRozan is pushed, he can be taken out of his game. Those are the only two players that an opposing team will have to consistently account for in a seven-game series against the Raptors, and so if an opposing team had to choose they’d probably look to bottle up DeRozan and dare Lowry to beat them four times on his own.

If history repeats itself, then that means that the Raptors will likely be sunk in round one. DeRozan will wilt under the constant pressure and Lowry will simply be overextended trying to keep the team afloat between bouts of effectiveness from Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Greivis Vasquez.

However, in a season of bucked trends, maybe the playoffs are exactly what DeRozan needs to be activated against this style of defence. Maybe instead of getting frustrated he rises to the occasion, learns how to play through ceaseless physical play and takes the next step as an NBA professional. Getting to see the same opposition for four-to-seven games in a row might just help him figure out how to read those defences better, to see where the pressure is going to come from and to beat it before it arrives or to make the right pass a half-second quicker which forces the defence into scramble-mode to keep up.

For a team as inexperienced as the Raptors are, a huge element in their success or failure in the postseason is going to be their first round matchup. However, if the Raptors can keep both Lowry and DeRozan effective for the duration of their series they have a chance of pushing through regardless of which team is pushing back. It wouldn’t be in keeping with how the Raptors have traditionally introduced their All-Stars to the postseason, but not much that has happened this season has been in keeping with team history. If the Raptors are going to keep bucking trends, they may as well work towards bucking their most destructive postseason tendency. While this would have been considered unlikely in most seasons, it would be perfectly in keeping with this whackadoo campaign where so little that has happened has any precedence in the seasons that came before.

[GIF] Dwane Casey’s Inbound Defense Stifles Orlando

Laid Back Analysis of Raptors vs Magic

I had to write the recap for this? Totally forgot but since I did watch bits of the game, albeit with an infant hanging around, I believe I possess sufficient authority to comment. You can take a couple different angles to this one, the most popular being that the Raptors should have comfortably won against a Magic team that is, frankly, terrible. On the other hand, you could commend the Raptors for pulling one off against a team that had beaten two playoff sides in Portland and Charlotte, and boasted a respectable 17-18 home record coming into this one.

[Read: Quick Reaction - Raptors @ Magic]

After the high of beating Boston and clinching the playoffs, Orlando could be seen as a potential pitfall instead of a routine trampling. In the second quarter, Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and Nando De Colo combined for 11 points as the Raptors won the second 30-11 and entered halftime with a comfortable 19 point lead. The half saw the return of Landry Fields into the lineup and the swingman looked fresh as a spring daisy all night dropping a modest yet effective 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assists and 1 block in a 17 minute spell that can best be described as encouraging.

With Salmons struggling again and Terrence Ross inexplicably on the bench instead of checking Victor Oladipo (16 points, 7-12 FG), Casey called upon Fields who looked to be up for it. This is obviously a good sign with the playoffs fast approaching and the Raptors wing depth being called into question of late. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were chugging along shooting a low percentage, so it’s good that Valanciunas gave the offense a much-needed interior left. I have visually transcribed his entire offensive game here:

What you don’t see in that video is that he was guarding Nikola Vucevic, whose 22 points were offset well by Valanciunas. Casey usually has Valanciunas guard the weaker opposition front court player, but chose to stick him on Vucevic this time. Last night, we’ll say that he played defense by having a good offensive game, if that makes any sense. He made Vucevic work and in the end it was an offensive wash, which basically means that the Magic’s best player had little net impact.

The third was a disaster, not so much offensively because you expect the team to go through dry spells, but defensively. The retaining wall of the Raptors success has been their defense and when you let Orlando shoot a whopping 67% in a quarter when they were coming in 19 down, it throws a wrench in the Raptors engine and speaks to the team stepping off the pedal. This late in the season teams like Orlando, with one eye on the Bahamas, usually whittle and die when they’re down by that much, so I almost, almost can’t blame the Raptors for letting up a little.

I think it’s a positive sign that the Raptors can be in second gear and still pull off road wins. A third quarter like the one they had would spell doom in the playoffs, so it’s good news that they have time to re-focus, get Patterson back, and hone in. They don’t have enough of a cushion in the standings to ease up, which I think is a good thing because it ensures that the team will be heading into the post-season playing meaningful basketball rather than playing out a string of inconsequential games where they have danger of losing form.

As it turned out, the game needed rescuing and who else but Kyle Lowry to do it. In the weekly pod we spoke about the reliance on Lowry and whether it’s a problem. In short, yes, it is, but that’s what big players are there for – having them rescue you when things aren’t going right is par for the course. Lowry had 9 points in the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 7 including a huge three from the corner which served to ice the game. I could gripe about the defense on Oladipo and why Ross wasn’t tasked with the job, but leave that for another day. Orlando did make a late run and had a chance to tie the game but Dwane Casey’s out-of-bounds defense struck again with a five-second violation which left Jacque Vaughan looking like an idiot (they’ve struggled with inbounding all season and they even took an extra timeout to set themselves up). Vaughan later called it, “just good defense by Toronto, denying the basketball in”. Below is the play:

John Salmons almost turned the ball over after receiving the ball on another inbounds play, but luckily it got deflected off a Magic body, sparing the ex-King further blushes. The Raptors escape Orlando with a win, and the main regret here is that our players had a chance to take half a night off but were called into way too much action in the second half on a first night of a back-to-back. Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan played 36, 37, and 38 minutes respectively, which doesn’t leave much in the tank for tonight against Miami. I’ll leave the final words to Casey:

“We’re happy about the win, but cannot be satisfied about the way we got it.”

Need playoff tix? Email [email protected]

Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 30 – Jilted Lovers

Andrew’s back, so is an old jilted lover and we talk Raptors.  James joins us during Part 4 to sprinkle us with his NBA insight. It’s all good as we also tell you how to get playoff tickets.

Part 1:

  • Props to Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan for sticking with the Raptors
  • Playoff matchups and talk of Nets wanting to face Raptors
  • Dwane Casey vs Tom T
  • Who has the coaching edge in Nets v Raptors

Part 2

  • Analysis and predictions of Miami, Houston, Indiana and Milwaukee games
  • James Harden and DeMar DeRozan
  • Why Landry Fields isn’t getting any burn
  • Lance Stephenson’s temper and his ejection
  • Pacers vs Raptors matchups so far this season
  • Milwaukee’s impressive commitment to losing
  • Leafs vs Raptors – Hey SportsCenter, we get it, Leafs aren’t very good

Part 3 – Listener Questions

  • How many minutes do you see both Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough getting in the postseason? Does one player get cut out of the rotation completely?
  • What sort of success in these playoffs will it take to interest high end free agent signings?

Part 4

  • James Herbert talks NBA
  • Houston’s slide
  • Western playoff race and the Vince Carter connection
  • Eastern playoff situation
  • How Iverson and Vince took different paths

If you’d like to submit questions and topics to the Rapcast, use the #rapcast hashtag on Twitter.

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 (52:09, 50 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 31

Raptors Rapid Recap: All that Matters is the Result. Raptors 98 – Magic 93 – Raptors HQ

For the first 2 and a half quarters, it seemed as if the Raptors would cruise to victory, as they managed the stretch the lead out to 21 at one point. Dwane Casey had even managed to get Nando De Colo and Landry Fields some burn by that time. If there's one thing we've learned about these Raptors, though, it's that they don't get blown out but don't blow teams out either. The Magic made a frantic run to wipe the lead out completely. The starter had to play more minutes that Casey intended in order to close this one out. Even then, the game ended in the sloppiest of fashions, with both the Magic and the Raptors turning it over in the final minute. With Brooklyn beating Minnesota, and Chicago facing Boston, the Raptors needed this W going into a tough week. At this point in the season, there's no time for moral victories and style points. Just get the job done.

Raptors Weekly, March 30 – Jilted Lovers

Andrew’s back, so is an old jilted lover and we talk Raptors.  James joins us during Part 4 to sprinkle us with his NBA insight. It’s all good as we also tell you how to get playoff tickets

DeMar DeRozan scores 28 as Toronto Raptors escape Orlando with win over Magic

Toronto led by as many as 21 points before having to stave off Orlando’s late charge. Trailing 96-93 with 8.9 seconds to play, the Magic had the ball and an opportunity to tie the game. But coming out of a timeout they failed to inbound the ball, turning it over on a 5-second violation. DeRozan was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to save the win. “They saw the 20-point lead and like any NBA team, they let their guard down,” Casey said. “That’s a development we’ve got to have — to keep the intensity, keep your foot on their neck and keep it down.”

Post Game: Toronto Raptors Pull Off Huge Victory in Orlando

There were no overly-concerning issues in the Raptors’ offensive game tonight. In the first half, the team did a great job of moving the ball and getting looks inside- they outscored the Magic 28-20 in the paint. In the second half, Toronto recovered from its defensive breakdowns with smart shooting. As a whole, the team shot 45.2% from the field and stayed consistent in their shot selection. Valanciunas was integral in the Raptors’ great offensive performance. When he gets into a rhythm down low and stays aggressive, he gives his team a scoring edge that’s hard to match.

Centers Valanciunas And Vucevic Battle In Raptors Win | Pro Bball Report

“(Valanciunas) did a good job offensively,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “Vucevic also had 22 (points) and that’s going to be a battle you are going to see for years. Those are two really good young players that are coming up in the league, so you are going to see those guys a lot going at each other.” Valanciunas scored 20 points on 6-8 shooting to go with 9 boards and Vucevic had 22 points on 10-13 from the field and 10 rebounds. Neither player was very effective stopping the other, but both were a deterrent of sorts defensively.

Raptors stay ready for when the call comes | Toronto Star

Yes, it took a bit of cut to Greivis Vasquez’s face for it to happen but Fields dusted himself off, got used to the speed of the game right away and made a significant contribution right away. Now, we can debate Fields vs. Salmons as the third wing until the cows come home (and I don’t know that one’s “better” than the other rather than “different” and I don’t think you can argue with the results) but it says a lot about Fields that when he was pressed into action, he produced.

Toronto Raptors 98 – Orlando Magic 93: we won, but… – Raptors Rapture

The Raps built a hefty lead in the first half using an unlikely lineup. Coach Dwane Casey, knowing he’ll need fresh legs tonight against the HEAT, rested his starters early and was rewarded with excellent play by the second unit. Nando De Colo, looking increasingly comfortable in Raptor red, made a couple of buckets, as did Landry Fields (remember him?) and Ever-Ready Steve Novak. Jonas Valanciunas was having the devil of a time guarding Nikola Vucevic, but was scoring himself. The Raps’ lead was 21 at the half, and up to 21 in Q3 before the shots stopped falling. DeMar DeRozan was productive, taking the ball to the hoop to draw fouls again and again. He ended up taking more free throws than the entire Magic squad (16-14), and missed only one. JV hit all 8 of his tries; indeed, without their aggressive takes, this would have been a loss, as Orlando made five more field goals than Toronto.

Raptors keep fans happy with record road win in Orlando: Kelly | Toronto Star

There were four drunken bros sitting at the baseline, shrieking at him like schoolgirls on Benzedrine. “JONAS!!” they wailed. Valanciunas retreated to the perimeter looking rattled. “JV!!” they screamed again. Valanciunas wandered back to the bench to hide. Every time he touched the ball, they leapt to their feet hooting. They only had eyes for two things — Valanciunas and the courtside beer server. (They were eventually cut off.)

Toronto Raptors beat Magic in Orlando | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

This one took contributions from almost the entire roster. Hell, Landry Fields has seen about as much court time as the injured team mascot has this year, but Fields played a bench-high 17 minutes and contributed four points, a couple of steals and a block in his most impactful game of the 2014 calendar. The Raptors were led by DeMar DeRozan, who had 28 points, including another solid performance in both getting to and converted at the free throw line. DeRozan was 15-for-16 from the charity stripe. For a half this one looked like it was going to be a cakewalk for the visiting Raptors. The Raptors were getting everything they wanted.

Magic vs. Raptors notebook: Inbounds miscue foils Orlando's comeback effort – Orlando Pinstriped Post

Trailing by three points, with possession and 8.9 seconds to play, Maurice Harkless lined up to inbound the ball for Orlando. Despite getting screens from Nik Vučević and Tobias Harris, Arron Afflalo couldn't get himself free. Harkless tried to signal for the Magic's final timeout, but referee Scott Foster instead whistled him for a five-second violation. "I guess he just didn't acknowledge me," Harkless said. "He said he didn't hear me, but I called timeout a couple of times." The second-year forward said he couldn't hear Foster counting down the time.

Sunday Shootaround: Amir Johnson, the improbable grizzled vet – SBNation.com

"You a rookie," Johnson said to the second-year swingman who has emerged this season as a starter and key contributor for the resurgent Toronto Raptors. "Until you've played the whole 82 games, you're a rookie. That's what the old heads told me." "I've played 82 games," Ross replied with the smile of someone who's had this conversation many times before. Not 10 minutes earlier, Ross told me this was one of Johnson's favorite ways of teasing him. "No you didn't," Johnson answered back. "You don't have 82 games under your belt."

Lewenberg: Valanciunas' locker room cheat sheet

'JV, you're 21-years-old," Bayno responded. "There's no centres in the league your age that are even playing much less averaging 10 points a game. You've had great games [but] when you have a two-point game, going up against a really good, tough [centre], you can't get upset about it." His message, the team's message, has never wavered. "You've got to do the other things to help us win." With that in mind Bayno put pen to paper, drawing up a list of attainable goals for Valanciunas, a cheat sheet consisting of basic fundamentals that can now be found taped to the right side of his locker. Outwork, outrun, sprint [Set] great, legal screens Step to [your] man Block out

Player Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas vs Orlando Magic (6-8 FG, 20 PTS)

Jonas Valanciunas (post-game interview :: box) countered Nikola Vucevic’s 22 points with 20 of his own as the Raptors beat the Magic in Orlando on the first night of a back-to-back.  Valanciunas has played at least 33 minutes in five of his last six games; Dwane Casey appears to be rewarding the big man for showing improved discipline when in the block and tracking his man on the defensive glass.  Up next is the weakish frontline of Miami on Monday night.

Be sure to check out the fresh Raptors Weekly podcast (aired on Sunday) and the Quick Reaction.

Reaction: Raptors: 98 – Magic: 93


Toronto Raptors 98 FinalRecap | Box Score 93 Orlando Magic
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 35 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -2Regardless of his stats, he gives effort every game and does the little things like setting screens and providing help defense. His offensive rebound late in the 4th was huge. If the bench can produce like they did early tonight, then Casey should rest Amir as much as possible so he can get those ankles right for the post season. I have a hard time giving him a poor score (even if he wasn’t at his best tonight) because I’m still picturing THAT offensive rebound and game winning put back from Friday which cemented the Raptors playoff berth.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 22 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -2Raptors trend of getting the sophomores involved early continued: by the first commercial break Ross already had 7 points and a rebound. Problem was he disappeared after that early onslaught. Granted, he didn’t get a ton of minutes in the second half, but that bodes well for him being well rested for Miami game tomorrow.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 37 MIN | 6-8 FG | 8-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +1As per above, the team is engaging Jonas on offense from the onset. It results in a full effort on both ends. Using these last few games to continue that trend will reap benefits to take into the playoffs. He finished first quarter with 10 points, 2 rebounds and a block.Of note: in the past few games he’s getting frequent trips to the line which merits asking the question: has he finally earned the refs respect or is he simply playing better? Leo highlighted how much Chuck Hayes is helping him with positioning on court so perhaps that’s why.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 36 MIN | 6-18 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 16 PTS | 0 Lowry must love playing the Magic as he tends to have huge games against them. He’s scored 33 and 28 points in previous games this season. Tonight he appeared content to focus on getting everyone else involved early. That was until the Magic made a big run and then he put on his closer hat and took over the game.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 6-14 FG | 15-16 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 28 PTS | -1Had a thunderous dunk in the second quarter while he was on the floor with the bench crew. Utilized his left hand a lot tonight successfully. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like he was working on trying things out vs. the Magic.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9Got an elbow to the throat and was his usual scrappy self, but stat sheet showed how ineffective he was.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 10 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5It’s easy to highlight his negatives: height, foot speed etc, but his mentorship of Jonas is worth it’s weight in gold. He might not have the skill of Zach Randolph or Al Jefferson but he has the same intelligence and old man game as those guys. In the past few games there is at least one play per game we see him use this knowledge to out smart a younger foe.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -1I’m wondering how much his back issues were playing into his results (or lack there of) the past two weeks. Last game he played much better and his mobility seemed improved tonight.Remember his defense and play in Chicago New Year’s Eve? Well one or two games like that could make the difference in wins this post season, so with Fields available I’m hoping Casey gives him the rest.

Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +12Vasquez took an elbow to the face requiring medical attention so Casey turned to Fields. He entered the game with 37-seconds remaining in the first quarter and promptly got a steal, a block and scored two points. Had a highlight dunk in second quarter.Last time he got multiple minutes was against Golden State when he provided a similar effort. It highlights the need to ask the question why he’s not getting more minutes especially in games requiring effort on defense.

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 10 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +5Not sure if it was the Orlando sun or if he just enjoys playing with de Colo and Fields but it was one of his better efforts.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -2When Magic cut the game to single digits and Raps went cold it was Vasquez who stopped the bleeding. Made some bad turn overs late in the game.

Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 8 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +11Got a rare showing of de Colo as the only point guard on court early second quarter and he didn’t disappoint. He took a hard foul to stop an easy Harris dunk, hit the floor hard and bounced right back up. I enjoy the way he moves the ball up court quickly, his crisp passes and his focus on getting the ball in the paint.

Dwane Casey
With Vasquez in the locker room getting 5-stitches for a Dedman elbow, Casey went with an unusual line-up of de Colo, DeRozan, Fields, Hansbrough and Novak. It was an odd mix but they went on an early 6-1 run. Perhaps we’ll see more of this going down the stretch especially if they can maintain/sustain a lead because it affords rest for key starters.Got his 99th win as Raptor Head Coach.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Is it possible the Raptors are playing with less stress now that they are ensured of a playoff berth? They certainly seemed to be clicking on all cylinders and carried a certain swag on the court. Even when the Magic fought back the game never seemed in question. Let’s see if they can take that into Miami where a win would psychologically do wonders for their confidence.
  2. It’s indisputable the Raptor’s leaders are Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson. When games get close you can count on one or all three to make a huge play.
  3. At season start I picked Nicola Vucevic as one of my top three players to win Most Improved. A myriad of injuries kept him off the court but he’s been showing lately why he merits that type of attention.
  4. Odds are Kevin Durant will win MVP but how Kyle Lowry isn’t even on the top 10 list considered is beyond me.
  5. In pre-game tonight Casey said Patterson MAY be back tomorrow… Hallelujah!  Check out the Raptors Weekly podcast which is fresh out of the recording studio.

East Executive: Nets Want to Face Raptors, Avoid Bulls; Slags Casey

According to Sheridan Hoops:

“Noah just wills that team and they find a way to win,” the Eastern Conference executive told SheridanHoops. “Noah is a game-changer. Toronto doesn’t have a game-changer.”

“My first impression would be the Raptors because they have less experience, not as good of a coach and the matchups are better,” the scout told SheridanHoops.

So apparently:

  • Nets are scared of the Bulls
  • Nets would rather face the Raptors who have less playoff experience
  • Nets think Casey’s not as good as a coach as Thibodeau, and would find the matchup easier

I remember in 2006-07 when the Raptors were looking to avoid the Nets on account of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson even though they had won the season series 3-1. Now, though, I’m not sure these Nets are as scary. In truth, the Raptors would have a coaching advantage in this matchup and I would actually count that as a tipping point.

What scares me is the officials. The NBA would no doubt like the Nets and their “star power” to advance to the second round, perhaps fancying a matchup with Indiana or Miami. That would be a lot more appealing than having the Raptors in the second-round. That, unfortunately, is the reason I would like to avoid facing the Nets.

Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 30 – Playoffs

Ed’s Note: Glen Hogarth will be guiding you through the ins and outs of fantasy basketball from a Raptors and NBA perspective.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the fantasy finals. For those who have made it there, we salute you. For the rest of you, I hope you paid attention to the little things that got those fantasy GM’s into position to win it all this season. If you did and stay sharp, you may find yourself in their shoes come next year. If not, I will be hosting a high-stakes fantasy league next season that you’re all invited to.

With four more games on the schedule for the Raptors it would seem like another good week to have them in your fantasy line-up. My only concern is that they have already played eight games in the last 14 days with four more on the schedule over the next six. All the extra floor time could equate to some tired legs and flat shots and therefore could translate into lower shooting percentages and totals. That said, this week holds some big playoff calibre competition for them to test where they’re at, as they gear up to enter into the postseason. The Raptors begin this week on the second half of a back-to-back facing the Heat in Miami on Monday, before defending their home turf against Houston on Wednesday. On Friday they host the Indiana Pacers, before they finish up the week in Milwaukee against the Bucks on Saturday in the second half of another back-to-back.

Third Seed Race Note: This being the toughest week left in the season, it’s possible for the Raptors to go 1-3 or even worse if they let their guard down and don’t respect Milwaukee after going up against three playoff bound teams and think they have an easy night. I believe the Raptors should go 3-1 with the Pacers (6-4) and the Heat (5-5) showing signs of struggling over the last 10 games, but they must bring their “A” games and be ready to walk through hellfire. This week is a possible swing moment for the Raptors, to either lose third-place or kick some serious ass and solidify their standings. Chicago is only one game back (depending on Sunday’s outcomes) and they have an easier 4-game line-up this week playing Boston, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Washington on the same nights as Toronto. LETS GO RAPTORS!!

Gotta Have Em!

DeMar DeRozan - Season player rating increases from 40th up to 39th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. This past week, DeMar struggled to earn as many shots at the line or convert a high percentage of baskets from the floor. Despite this, he still found ways to contribute to the Raptors and your fantasy team to get the job done. Over the last seven days DD has averaged 21.0 PTS off .405 FG% earning 7.0 FTA (down 2.9 attempts off his monthly average of 9.7) shooting .786 FT%, with 3.8 REB, 4.5 AST, 0.5 STL and 0.3 BLK. This season he continues to show new ways he can stay effective on the court. On the night he struggled against Cleveland scoring only 13 points, he made up for it by adding eight assists, four above his season average. With games against Miami in Indiana this week that are sure to get attention from the entire NBA, I expect DeMar to attack the basket and get to the line early and often.

Kyle Lowry - Season player rating holds at 12th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. In typical warrior fashion, Kyle continues to battle through injuries and ailments each game in order to help lead the team to victory. Kyle’s eight-game streak of scoring 20 or more points came to an end Friday night against Boston after only adding nine to the total for the night. Nevertheless, Lowry had another fine week averaging 19.8 PTS off .446 FG% and hitting 2.5 three-pointers, with 5.5 REB, 5.8 AST and 1.8 STL per game. Lowry has posted five or less assist in five out of the last six games, making some fantasy GM’s nervous after being used to a larger production in that category. Kyle struggled from the free-throw line as well, going 4.8 times per game but shooting only .579 FT%, well below his season mark of .813 FT%. Still, complaining about that would be like complaining about how a cloud wouldn’t let the sun shine on your cherry red Ferrari. I’m sure the prevailing winds will blow that free-throw cloud away leaving the high-octane Lowry shining in the sun.

Amir Johnson - Season player rating rises from 57th up to 56th and is owned by 94.8% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir keeps on keeping on as he continues to stuff those stats sheets. Over the last seven days he’s averaged 9.0 PTS off .567 FG%, with 8.0 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.0 STL and 1.3 BLK per game. Between his recognition of when to roll to the rim with his ability to stay in the passing lanes when his teammates attack he’s finding easy baskets. His desire to step up defensively and fill the gaps has shown in his stats line and floor time. With strong defensive teams upcoming expect offensive sets to run into the third and fourth options leaving players like Amir primed to pick up big points.

Keep An Eye On

Jonas Valanciunas - Season player rating continues to climb from 105th up to 99th and is owned by 86.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Since missing one game from a strained back, we’ve seen some of the most consistent basketball out of Jonas throughout the fantasy season. Over the last seven days he has averaged 11.3 PTS off .500 FG% while going to the free-throw line 4.8 times and shooting .895 FT%, with 9.5 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.3 STL and 0.8 BLK per game. This week’s match ups will showcase how Valanciunas has improved this season. He can take advantage against Miami and their lack of interior presence. His ability to battle against the size of Houston and Indiana will become an X-factor in their matchups as well. I expect JV to show up to this week’s games with a chip on his shoulder something to prove.

Terrence Ross - Season player rating moves up from 120th to 114th and is owned by 27.1% of the leagues at ESPN. The young gun was up to his old tricks and looking good. Over the last seven days T.Ross has put up 16.8 PTS off .436 FG% and hitting 3.0 three-pointers, with 3.8 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.3 STL while clocking nearly 33 minutes per game, all of which are at or above his season averages. He has hit 11 threes in his last four games, which no longer comes as a surprise. However, his steals and rebounding production has increased giving the second-year player added value. While Indiana allows the third fewest three-pointers per game in the NBA, Houston Miami and Milwaukee are all below the league average, which should give Ross the chance to have another good week overall from beyond the arc. If you’re in a battle for 3 point supremacy, don’t hesitate and pick him up now.

Greivis Vasquez - Season player rating holds at 161st and is owned by 37.0% of the leagues at ESPN. Since 2Pat being out with the injury, production from the bench has largely fallen on the shoulders of General Greivis. The pick and roll game with Amir has been great at keeping defences guessing and leaving him room to operate and pick up assists. His shooting percentage took a hit over the last seven days, he’s averaged 12.5 PTS off .362 FG% while hitting 2.0 three-pointers, with 2.5 REB, 4.0 AST and 0.8 STL per game. Vasquez has been good at playing the sixth man role and should find even more success when Patterson returns to the team, putting another threat on the floor in the second unit for the defence to worry about. Until he does return you can be sure that GV will have plenty of opportunities to score. Available on the waiver in over 60% of the leagues at ESPN, keep him in mind as an effective option for three-pointers and points as well as assists and free throw percentage.

They Try and Try

Patrick Patterson - Season player rating drops from 154th down to 163rd and owned by 0.4% of the leagues at ESPN. With rumblings of 2Pat getting close to coming back, thoughts wander to what he will be able to bring when he returns. Coach Casey has already mentioned his conditioning could be an issue. Just before going out, he had 15 PTS off .750 FG% adding 3 three-pointers, with 6 REB, 1 AST, 2 BLK and 1 STL against his former team the Kings. He was hustling hard and moving his feet on defence. If he can bring that type of game when he returns don’t hesitate to pick him up, as the Raptors have been in need of another scoring option off the bench since he’s been gone as well as someone comfortable covering the stretch 4 position.

Raptors-Magic: 6 Things to Watch For

1. After clinching their first playoff berth in 6 years on Friday night, the Raptors get a chance tonight to beat the team who took them down in the first round of those 2008 playoffs in the Orlando Magic. For those of you at home keeping track of the revenge factor in this game, here is the list of players from that series who are still on the roster to remember it today:
Toronto: Nobody.
Orlando: Jameer Nelson
Ok, so there probably isn’t going to be a lot of emotion felt on the court today about that series, considering that Jameer Nelson is the only player from either roster whose still with the team. Maybe carrying the kind of slights and lists of people for whom we will boo/seek revenge is reflective of a kind of NBA-fan insecurity that we can let go off.
2. DeMar DeRozan’s shooting. DeMar can’t seem to decide whether or not he’s a mid-range jump shooter or a slasher. Whether or not this is because the team’s offence needs him to create his own shot or it’s because he simply has the green light to put up a jumper whenever he so feels is an important question coming down the stretch. The DeMar that gets to the free throw line 8-10 times a game can help his team win a playoff series. The one that relies on 8-10 mid-range fade away jumpers a game might find himself doing the opposite. DeMar has scored over 22 points a game over his last 13 outings, and was a key 4th quarter contributor in several big wins during that span. But what he has failed to do in a single one of those previous 13 games is shoot at least 50% from the floor even once. He’s averaging a shade under 40% shooting over that period. Those kinds of numbers from a high usage player will simply kill you in the playoffs when teams are locked in on half-court defense. DeMar is going to have to start altering his shot selection, and the team’s offensive game plan will have to reflect and support that.
3. Victor Oladipo’s defense. What you hear from NBA talking heads about Victor Oladipo is that he is this great defensive player. The same has been said about Terrence Ross from the commentators on Raptor’s broadcasts this season. Ross can be a good on-ball defender and his defense has undoubtedly improved this season. But watching these two play today will give you a good opportunity to see the difference between someone who is a really good defender, and someone who is trying to be. Watch Victor Oladipo play defense when his man doesn’t have the ball. Then watch Terrence Ross or DeMar DeRozan do the same. I’m betting that you’ll see Ross get lost from time to time on defense and simply look like he is waiting at others. Victor Oladipo is going to get a couple of steals or turnovers tonight that are the product of him being active and either moving into position on his man or jumping into a lane before the play even starts. See if you can spot the difference.
4. Enjoy penciling in a win against Orlando for these last few weeks of the season while you still can. I wouldn’t be shocked if this Orlando team won 34 games next season and makes a lot of teams sweat out some close, hard fought wins in the process. They’re an extremely young, long and athletic team that is starting to slowly figure out just what their pieces are and how they’re going to fit together. When Oladipo, Afflalo, Vucevic, Nicholson, Harkless, Harris and the lottery pick coming to the Magic this spring all find an identity as a team they are going to be a very tough team to beat on a night-to-night basis.
5. Jonas Valanciunas’ excitement levels. Jonas has been getting more and more engaged with games in the last couple weeks as his involvement on offence has increased along with his playing time. He’s back to celebrating whenever he finally gets a foul call, puffing out his chest after baskets and, the most fun, frantically waving his arms around like an insane person when he’s guarding another team’s centre whose trying to make a pass from the perimeter. Those are my favourite. I’m almost positive that it doesn’t help at all, but damn it, at least he cares. And an excited and emotionally invested JV is putting up a double-double per 25 minutes played over a recent stretch of such enthusiasm. The matador style low-post defensive style of Orlando should hopefully unleash this Valanciunas yet again.
6. A Raptor’s win. Washington put it on Indiana the other night, making it clear that they’re getting their house in order leading into the playoffs. Brooklyn is only 2.5 half games back, and Chicago only 1. The Raptors have clinched the playoffs, yes, but there is a lot of time left to decide whether or not that’s as the 3 seed with home court. These kind of road games are the ones that the Raps simply have to win if they’re going to snag home court. The Raps have been able to deliver that against Orlando as of late, winning the last 6 straight games while holding the Magic to 88 points a game.

Jim Mora, Eat Your Heart Out

As the result of a horrible DVR tragedy, I was denied the ability to see this game in it’s entirety. That mean’s an early call to the bullpen, where Zarar Siddiqi and William Lou were gracious enough to come in and pitch a couple innings of relief. This is post-game report by committee, with each of us focusing in on one thing that we took away from last night.

Andrew Thompson:

Learning about last night’s 2-point win over the Celtics didn’t exactly buoy me with confidence at first glance. You’d like to see a team gearing up for an extended playoff run taking it to the lottery teams (like Miami’s evisceration of Detroit last night) down the stretch, rather than squeezing out a last second win at home. But try not to jump to conclusions, as I first did, because the final score doesn’t tell the story that’s worth pulling from this game.

The Celtic’s are not a great team. But these Celtics might be amongst the best teams in the league to have lost 49 games that they’ve managed to make interesting late. Nobody will ever remember that about the 2013-2014 Celtics, but it’s been strangely true. Very well crafted tanking. The point in bringing this up is to note that while the Raptor’s have had a bad habit of coasting against non-playoff teams and losing or almost losing games in the process, this is not an example. The Celtic’s got inexplicably hot shooting when they needed it, and they’ve also got a Rondo-Bradley-Green trio who can play shut-down defense on almost anyone for stretches of time. So resist the temptation to assume that this game was close because of a bad character effort from the Raptors. It was very much the opposite. In grinding out a win that felt like it mattered just as much for the players on the floor as it did for the 19,000 people celebrating on the TV footage that refused to properly save on my DVR, the Raptor’s demonstrated exactly the kind of chutzpah they’ll need in late April (when I strongly recommend that all of you do whatever you have to do to watch playoff games in real-time. Technology cannot be trusted.).

There’s something particularly encouraging about what the way the Raptors eked out this win says about their season. This game came down to 4th quarter execution, heads-up hustle plays, improved team defense and the Raptor’s ability to create points off of turnovers. Those are four of the most important things a team needs to do to make a run in the playoffs. In clinching their first playoff berth in six years last night, the Raptor’s executed on all four fronts.

The Raptors showed that this is no accident born out of Eastern Conference mediocrity. The last time Toronto made the playoffs back in 2008 it was in an “It’s an honour just to be nominated” but we know we’re not going to win kind of way. But this team is poised for something different. To borrow a soon to be incredibly tired phrase from every talking head on TV/radio talking about the playoffs, this is a team that nobody is going to want to play. Which means that we should all be excited to watch.

Zarar Siddiqi:

When, with the game tied, DeMar DeRozan’s layup in transition was sent into the first row by Jeff Green, I lamented the missed opportunity and wondered aloud just why DeRozan never finishes stronger when it counts. Moments later, he used those oft-maligned handles to fake Green inside and pull back out for a soft fade which put the Raptors up two. That sequence was a microcosm of DeRozan’s season in that he was more effective than spectacular. In the post-game interview, the relief and sense of accomplishment was evident. This was a playoff berth that was achieved organically, not through some marquee free-agent signing, nor on the backs of a “superstar”, but though a team coming together when nobody had expected them to, perhaps not even the GM.

The game also featured another moment, maybe one of learning and recognition for Dwane Casey. Casey, who isn’t prone to use offense/defense-specific subs late in games, chose to leave in Greivis Vasquez with the Raptors protecting a two-point lead with seconds left. Rondo, quite easily, took it right at him and scored. After Amir Johnson’s athletic put-back off a Kyle Lowry miss gave the Raptors a two-point lead, Casey didn’t repeat the mistake and put in John Salmons instead of Vasquez. The Celtics ended up shooting a tough, running, three-pointer that didn’t have a chance.

Allowing the Celtics back into the game when they were on the ropes at the end of the third wasn’t so much a lapse in concentration as it was Jerryd Bayless having one of those spells where he starts hitting anything and everything. As he was drilling one-on-one threes I had flashbacks to that game in Detroit when the Raptors came back from 35 down, mostly due to Bayless. If you’re interested, Bayless happens to be on his fifth team in six seasons (including two stints in Memphis) and is a free-agent this summer; it honestly feels that the Raptors face him 23 times a season somehow. On a pizza-perfect night at the ACC it’s hard to dwell on a furious but ultimately futile Celtics comeback, except that the Raptors do have some cleaning up to do before the post-season, regardless of who and where they play.

William Lou:

The biggest knock on Jonas Valanciunas’ performance after last season was his defensive short-comings.

That criticism was entirely fair — his defense was sub-par. He often looked lost in rotation, he was foul-happy, and the referees rarely extended to the bumbling big the benefit of the doubt. Also, he was only 20 years old, and his name isn’t Anthony Davis, which meant that his struggles were to be expected.

Flip the calendar to his sophomore season. Valanciunas is still under the spotlight, and we’re still nit-picking every move he makes. We change our minds, and recalibrate our hopes with each step on his journey. We invested heavily in Jonas’ stock, and we’re constantly clutching the phone, sweaty palms in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to dump, or to hold. We can’t help it — it’s our curse as fans.

But Jonas’ development isn’t for us. It’s for himself, and it’s for the Raptors. It’s not going to be linear. Rather, it will come out in spurts. Sometimes, the difference between his mid-season struggles, and his present-day success, is really as simple as simplifying the game, as Bill Bayno has done with his cheat sheet (h/t Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). It’s a thin line between failure and success.

Outwork, outrun, sprint
[Set] great, legal screens
Step to [your] man
Block out

And at times, we’re rewarded with a glimpse into the future; some sustenance for our surety. For example, today was the first time I’ve been left in awe of Jonas’ defensive ability. Roll the clip:

Why did this play stick out to me? Because Jonas did everything perfectly. First, he does a good job hedging Bayless on the pick-and-roll. He cuts off the sideline, and Bayless is forced to move away from Sullinger, and towards the middle. Notice how high up Jonas is on this trap:

1

After Bayless gets towards the middle, he manages to throw the ball over-top of Ross into Sullinger’s hands. However, despite hedging so hard on the initial action, Jonas is able to recover in time, and positions himself perfectly. He leaves enough space to guard Sullinger on a potential move towards the middle, while also making himself available on a closeout.

2

Turns out, Sullinger decided to drive, rather than spot-up. Jonas does a good job there by funneling him towards the middle, where help defense is available in the form of Amir Johnson. However, Jonas is able to parlay his quickness and length into an effective contest on Sullinger without Amir’s help. This is key because Amir is free to box out Olynyk on the weak side. Without fouling, Jonas stays with Sullinger on every step of his drive, and forces him into an extremely tough shot over a taller defender.

3

Finally, to top it all off, Jonas collects the defensive rebound, protects it at first, then hits up Lowry for the pass. Kyle is then able to take it the length of the court in transition for a layup. That right there is a perfect defensive possession from a 21 year old center. How about them apples, eh?

Morning Coffee – Sat, Mar 29

Toronto Raptors clinch first playoff berth since 2008 with win over Boston Celtics | National Post

There was a lot to dislike about the manner in which the Raptors clinched. Kyle Lowry turned his right ankle near the end of the first half, and had it re-taped during halftime. It could have been a lot worse, but Lowry did not look like his explosive self in the second half. To have any shot at winning a round in the playoffs, the Raptors need Lowry near his peak. Following the game, Lowry said his ankle was a bit sore, but that he was “good to go.” As well, the Raptors gave away a lead, failing to close out a team that had little to play for as far as the standings are concerned. The Celtics shot 53% from the floor. The Raptors have played inconsistently since Patrick Patterson exited the lineup three weeks ago because of an elbow injury. He could return Sunday in Orlando, and the Raptors need him badly to prop up a labouring reserve unit. Those are all real concerns, and they will be dwelled upon, to be sure.

Lewenberg: Raptors clinch first playoff berth in six seasons | TSN

“It’s a satisfying, kind of overwhelming feeling,” he described, following his team’s 105-103 victory over Boston, officially snapping the Raptor” five-year playoff drought. “It’s been six years since this team, this organization made it to the playoffs. This team has worked so hard. We deserved it. We’ve been playing our butts off, playing through injuries. We’ve had our ups and downs.” “We’ve made it.” Not lost on the team was the fact that they stole a game, their 41st victory of the season, that probably shouldn’t have come down to the final possession. Down by four with under three minutes to play, it looked like the Raptors would have to hope for a New York Knicks loss later in the evening or wait until Sunday to punch their ticket to the playoffs. They’ve been resilient all year, so why wouldn’t they be now? First DeMar DeRozan drained a fadeaway jumper, then Johnson hit the game-winning put-back layup. “It was fitting,” Dwane Casey said.

Rapid Recap: Raptors Clinch Playoff Birth – Beat Celtics 105 – 103 | Raptors HQ

Someone who’s likely not going to bed with a smile on his face, if he’s going to bed at all, is Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey. Yet again his team let a lesser opponent hang around and nearly steal a win, continuing a frustrating trend that his club seems to be caught in these past couple weeks. Despite an 86 to 73 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, the Raptors allowed the Celtics to storm back and eventually take the lead with about four minutes left. Boston scored 30 fourth quarter points and hit nearly everything they threw up as the Dinos defence offered little to no resistance.

Recap: Raptors 105, Celtics 103 – CelticsHub | CelticsHub

Bayless seems to be hell-bent on shooting Boston out of the bottom four. Get that paycheck, Jerryd. You know, just not at the expense of Dante Exum.

Comeback falls short, Celtics fall to Raptors 103 – 105 | CelticsBlog

Another day, another moral victory, another loss on the way to the lottery.

Raptors down Celtics, again, 105 – 103 | CelticsLife.com

Terrence Ross proved to be a problem for the Celtics yet again. Despite his inability to hit from downtown tonight, Ross was very active on both ends of the floor, disrupting passing lanes throughout the night and finishing with a nice (17 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL). The Celtics caught fire in the fourth, cutting a 14 point deficit to just 1 with six minutes to go. Bayless (20 PTS on 8-13 shooting) was in the zone in the fourth quarter and sank back to back clutch shots to give the Celts a 2 point lead with 3:30 to go. After bricking a mid range jumper, Jeff Green (16 PTS, 4 RBS, 2 AST) hustled back to make an awesome block on DeRozan to keep the game tied 101-101 with just under a minute to go. DeRozan remained unfazed, and swished a jumper immediately thereafter. In true Rondo fashion, Rajon answered with an angled drive and finish at the rim. Finally, with just seven seconds left on the clock, Amir Johnson cleaned up Kyle Lowry’s miss and the rest was history.

Rapid Reaction: Raptors 105, C’s 103 – Boston Celtics Blog – ESPN Boston

TURNING POINT The Celtics were down as many as 12 points early in the fourth quarter, but Bayless caught fire and his mid-range jumper with 4:52 to go pushed Boston out front 96-95. DeRozan and Rondo both hit tough shots in the final minute, leaving the score tied at 103-103 and Johnson followed a Lowry missed layup with a put back that provided the winning points with 7.1 seconds to go. A Jared Sullinger runner from the top of the key slammed hard off the glass on Boston’s last gasp. LOOSE BALLS The Raptors put up 52 points in the paint and 12 offensive rebounds led to 15 second-chance points (none bigger than Johnson’s final bucket). … Phil Pressey played 13 ½ solid minutes, handing out five assists while helping to facilitate that fourth-quarter surge. … The Celtics shot 52.6 percent overall, but were hurt by 16 turnovers (leading to 21 points). The Raptors shot 46.5 percent, but limited their giveaways (11 turnovers for 14 points).

Celtics edged again by Raptors | The Boston Globe

A furious run. A 4-point lead with 2:20 left. A brilliant stretch from Jerryd Bayless. It had all the makings for a difficult road win. But as the Celtics end this miserable transition season, it became painfully obvious in the waning minutes they would fall short once again. Amir Johnson’s putback of a Kyle Lowry missed layup with 7.1 seconds left completed a late Toronto rally and the Raptors sealed their first playoff appearance in six seasons by handing the Celtics a disheartening 105-103 defeat Friday night at Air Canada Centre. The Celtics had a chance to tie but John Salmons fouled Rajon Rondo with three seconds left, limiting Boston’s chance to get a good look at the basket. Jared Sullinger’s forced 25-foot runner clanged off the backboard, ending the Celtics’ eighth loss in nine games. It was predictable.

No defense for regression – Boston Celtics Blog – ESPN Boston

The Raptors ran a simple high pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry coming off an Amir Johnson screen that snagged Avery Bradley about eight feet beyond the 3-point arc. Trouble came when Jared Sullinger got caught leaning a bit and Lowry cut back a bit and raced at the basket. Sullinger managed to contest and force a miss, but Bradley failed to put a body on Johnson, who followed the play and completed the putback with 7.1 seconds to play Bradley and Sullinger are two of Boston’s better individual defenders, but their lapses hammer home the slippage that has plagued the Celtics. Instead of generating the one or two extra stops that Stevens desired in late February, Boston is giving up an extra bucket or two and hasn’t been able to win close games lately.

Amir Johnson’s winning putback clinches Raptors’ first playoff berth since 2008 | Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo Sports

This playoff berth has been assumed for some time, but it’s worth remembering just how remarkable the Raptors’ season has been. In early December, the Raptors sent grossly inefficient scorer Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a collection of veterans that included John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and Greivis Vasquez. At the time, it looked like a cap-clearing move that would begin a slow rebuilding process. Instead, the Raptors have gone 35-19 since the deal, one of the best records in the NBA over that stretch. A team that appeared to be setting itself up for the future has become a real player in the East.

Raptors’ bench rises to coach Dwane Casey’s challenge | Toronto Sun

Hayes said the challenge from Casey got their attention. “You just have to take on the responsibility,” Hayes said about following a talk like that with his head coach. “Obviously, he needed more from the second unit. More energy. More effort and, mentally, we had to be more into the game and that’s what we tried to do.” Hayes said the Raptors’ second unit feeds off getting stops and as that 51-7 deficit on Wednesday night suggested, there wasn’t a lot of that going on. That changed on Friday as well. “We know Pat is down and, obviously, he can’t perform right now. When he comes down we want him to be fully healthy. We don’t want this to be a lingering thing, so until then we have guys that can step up. We have different combinations of players we can put in a rotation and that’s been one of our greatest strengths since the trade, that depth.” The Raptors have 10 games remaining to get that second unit operating like it was.

In the Bonus: Raptors’ Ross much more than a dunker | Comcast SportsNet

Ross is making things happen all over the floor, something the Celtics know all too well after Ross lit them up for 24 points in Toronto’s 99-90 win over Boston at the TD Garden on Wednesday. Although Jeff Green had a neck injury which to some extent played a role in his sub-par performance (six points, 3-for-9 shooting), Ross is starting to show the potential be a lock-down guy. In January, he had to defend Indiana All-Star Paul George and in the two meetings, George scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. But what’s really starting to make him shine is his shooting. On 3s, he’s up to 42.3 percent shooting compared to 39.9 prior to the all-star break. There’s a similar spike in his mid-range numbers (38.2 post all-star break, 33.3 percent prior) and his scoring in the paint (60.9 post all-star break, 50.4 prior) as well.

Sam Mitchell quick to recall Raptors’ last playoff experience | Toronto Star

“If we hadn’t got so down we could have won that series, I believe that completely,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview Friday. “The mistakes you make in the first and second quarters? Those always come back to bite you.” The Orlando series, which Toronto lost 4-1 after dropping the first two games in Florida and winning the third at the Air Canada Centre, can be used as a learning opportunity for this year’s team, which clinched a playoff spot with a 105-103 win over the Celtics on Friday night. There are similarities in the lack of playoff experience between 2008 and 2014, and Mitchell knows it is a vital component of playoff success. “Until you actually start and feel the crowd, feel the intensity and the pressure, that’s when you realize what the playoffs are all about,” he said.

Toronto Raptors: Failures at tanking | Baller Mind Frame

The Raptors are a top 10 team in many of the measures that matter, while their prospective opponents simply are not. Unless something dramatic changes in Toronto’s play (Lowry wear-and-tear is the big story of the week), Toronto is odds-on favorite to get out of the first round. The question becomes whether the Raptors are capable of making any more noise than that. They’ll almost certainly run into the Pacers or the Heat, presumed since last May to be this spring’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup. And on paper either series would appear to be an emphatic loss for the Raptors, a largely inexperienced squad counting on a journeyman to run the offense (Lowry), a long-forgotten prospect to provide the team with its scoring punch (DeMar DeRozan), and an anonymous big man to patrol the paint (Amir Johnson). Of course the Raptors can’t get out of the second round.

Reaction: Raptors 105, Celtics 103

Playoff basketball for the first time in 6 years!


Boston Celtics 103 FinalRecap | Box Score 105 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -13Battled all game long, breathed life into the second-unit in the second quarter, fought hard for rebounds and HIT THE GAME WINNING BASKET TO SEND THE RAPTORS INTO THE PLAYOFFS! It was meant to be. We love you, Amir!

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 6-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | -3Scorching hot shooting to start the game. When DeMar subbed out early in the first due to foul trouble, he stepped up on offense and held the fort down. Glued to the bench down the stretch for no reason whatsoever, and Dwane Casey elected to play Salmons over Ross in a defense-for-offense situation, which is questionable. His length and athleticism netted him two steals in the third quarter.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 35 MIN | 3-6 FG | 7-8 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +9Dominated early, faded down the stretch. Provided a steady source of offense, rebounding and defense. Against a relatively height-challenged Celtics front-line, he held his own. Some key blocks on Rajon Rondo. Good stuff from the youngster.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +5Every Raptors fan shit a brick when he went to the locker room late in the second after tweaking his right ankle, but he managed to come back after halftime, and finished the game strong. His low statistical output was attributable to him taking it easy in the third quarter, but he stepped up when needed, scoring on a key drive down the stretch, and driving hard to the rim on the second-last possession of the game where Amir Johnson managed to collect the rebound.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 35 MIN | 12-27 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 30 PTS | -16Battled early foul trouble which held him to just 3 minutes played in the first quarter, but then he came back with a vengeance (and a LOT of shots). His mano-a-mano shootout with Jerryd Bayless ended in a draw, but DeRozan’s team ended up with the victory, and DeMar was the one who put the Raptors up 2 with a rainbow arching jumper over Jeff Green late in the fourth. He’s come a very long way.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9Crashed the glass for a buzzer-beating putback to end the first half. I don’t have anything else in my notes about him, so I’ll assume he did the usual energy + rebounding thing.

Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +15Chuck Hayes has leap-frogged Tyler Hansbrough as the first big off the bench, and he’s surpassed Jonas Valanciunas as Dwane Casey choice  big de jour for defensive possessions down the stretch. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but he did make a number of good plays tonight, including some solid put-backs, and a pair of slap-away steals on dudes in the post. Good stuff from the Chuckster.

John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +15He hit his first two shots and Toronto Raptors basketball Twitter exploded. He was entrusted to guard Rondo in the final minute, which was extremely questionable. Ended up doing a good job, fouling Rondo with 3 seconds left (he had a foul to give). See, he can do something positive when he gets enough rest. Maybe it’s time to put the pitchforks away (for now…)

Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2He was a decoy for a possession, but at least a strategically used one. Casey elected to run the high screen-and-roll with Lowry and Amir to end the game, and Novak provided floor-stretch. Cool beans. Incomplete because he didn’t actually do anything.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 24 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +5Played within himself all game long, and submitted one of his finest performances as a Raptor. Totally let Rondo blow by him on the Celtics’ penultimate possession, but that’s on Casey to for failing to sub him out when he had the chance to play OFF/DEF. Worked well with Amir Johnson in the pick-and-roll, and he hit his spot-up three-pointers. As I’ve preached many times with Gravy, less YOLO is more.

Dwane Casey
Forget his questionable offensive/defensive switches (or lack thereof) near the end of the game. Rather, focus on his play call to put the ball in Lowry’s hands with the game on the line. It was smart of him to run the high screen and roll with Lowry (best ball handler) and Amir (best screener). The Celtics panicked, switched on the play, Lowry got to the rim and drew Sullinger out of position on the contest. This left Amir wide open for the put-back. Smart play call there.

Five Things We Saw

  1. A healthy Amir Johnson makes all the difference. As fans, we tend to have a rather short memory (it typically spans the duration of one-game; we’re all recording on floppy discs, basically), but there’s a reason why everyone lavishes Amir with so much praise — he deserves it! When healthy, he can make the pick-and-roll work. When healthy, he’s active enough to shut down the pick-and-roll. When healthy, he can crash the offensive glass because he’s not too slow to get back in transition. I mean, he was able to make the second unit functional today. That’s a tall order.
  2. If Terrence Ross were able to dribble-drive on a consistent basis, the Raptors’ offense will instantly move from “slow, predictable, and average” to “slow, mostly predictable, and above average.” Right now, Ross only hurts the defense when he’s open on the three-point line. However, if he’s able to get past the flying defender on the closeout with any level of consistency, then he forces a big to step up and contain his drive, which opens up cutting lanes for everyone else. In short, this should be his next area of focus in his development. Or not. What do I know, I’m just a blogger.
  3. Does every interview with Chuck Hayes have to begin with a disclaimer from the interviewer that goes something along the lines of: “Hey Chuck, you really shouldn’t be any good whatsoever, but you actually did some positive things on the court. How did you manage to not suck?” Come on guys, he’s no superstar, and he has some obvious shortcomings, but he’s an NBA calibre player. There’s no need to diss the man every single damn time. Your artificial “Rudy” storylines are tired, and aren’t worth it.
  4. I’m not entirely sure why Leo Rautins and Matt Devlin insist on making Jared Sullinger out to be some sort of Frankenstein cross between Dirk and Shaq. Truth be told, he’s Big Baby v2.0 with a little more offense, and a little less defense. That’s all he is. Also, he shoots 25% on three-pointers, which is why the Raptors bigs aren’t closing out hard on his attempts.
  5. PLAYOFFS BABY! PLAYOFFS! FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 6 DAMN YEARS. PLAYOFFS! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! (also: I miss Patterson, but he’s slated to return. According to Nene doppelganger (and all-around good guy) Eric Koreen, he’s due back either on Sunday (vs the Magic), or Monday (vs Heat). Hooray!

[GIF] Kyle Lowry Leaves Celtics Game With Injured Ankle (Update: He’s back)

As the title says…

Update:

Gameday – Raptors vs Celtics, Mar 28

On the second night of a home-and-home, after winning in Boston for the first time in 6 years, the Raptors can win the season series against the Celtics at home. It’s not a stretch to guess why the Raptors are 10.5 point favourites: with a handful of games left in the season, the Celtics can’t be blamed for trying to “earn” (lol) more ping pong balls in the lottery. The reality is that this team is void of talent, and Brad Stevens did a masterful job of squeezing blood out of a stone. Ainge rightfully pulled the plug on this team, replaced Doc with someone who is better suited for getting as much out of rebuilding team, while also guiding, coaching, and mentoring along the way, and ruined a divisional rival in the process. This seasons Nets squad has made me very happy, but I still don’t want to see them in the first round, so the Raptors need to handle business tonight at home.

I went back and forth with Tom Westerholm of Celtics Hub:

Sam Holako: What was the main thing you took away from the home loss about the Raptors, and how they played?

Tom Westerholm: Even though it wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve ever seen, the Raptors really look like they enjoy playing together. Several times I noticed players going out of their way to high-five one another or help each other up. That kind of thing is often undervalued, especially in the analytics community, but the Raps really look like a cohesive unit both on the floor and in the peripheral stuff. That’s going to be very important in the playoffs.

Sam: With respect to DeRozan and Ross, if you had to choose between the two, who would you prefer and why?

Tom: For what Toronto needs, I would take Ross. No disrespect to DeRozan, who is probably the better player, but Ross is still under his rookie contract, and the fact that he shoots 40 percent from 3-point range is big. Neither player is ever going to be the best (or probably the second best) player on a championship team, and I would just rather have the cheaper-but-still-quite-productive option if I was building a roster.

Sam: BUT DEROZAN’S AN ALL-STAR!!!!!

Tom: SO WAS MO WILLIAMS. I’m kidding, of course. I have no problem with DeRozan making the All-Star team, although Lowry got snubbed, and Toronto would take a significant hit without DeRozan or Ross. If I could cherry-pick a player off Toronto, though, I’d rather steal Ross.

Sam: Since you brought Lowry up; he caused a lot of problems for the Celtics, and was the key factor in the win. What will be strategy to both neutralize him and exact some sort of revenge on the road?

Tom: Yeah, he…doesn’t suck at basketball. Boston’s defense has been surprisingly good at containing penetrators at the point of attack this year, which is huge since he’s so dangerous in the pick-and-roll. I honestly think Boston’s best chance at containing Lowry is hedging hard (since Lowry punished ICE defense with 3-pointers last game) and sharpening the subsequent defensive rotations. Realistically, though, revenge isn’t likely.

Sam: Dillinger seems to not suck at basketball either, but he could stand to trim down a bit, right? In all seriousness, what’s with this obsession with these juicy power forwards you have a history of (Davis, Glen)?

Tom: Given how slender Kevin Garnett is, I think the Celtics have averaged a very normal build at power forward over the past six years. Sullinger definitely does need to trim down, but some of that extra poundage is due to all the rest he needed last year for his back problems. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Sully supplemented that rest with lean proteins and vegetables, but such is life. Given a good offseason of work, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sullinger comes into next season 15-20 pounds lighter, which will improve his defense considerably. Sullinger is quite good at verticality but bad at moving his feet.

Sam: Olynyk continues your tradition of skinny forwards, and makes an odd pairing with Sullinger in the frontcourt. How well do these two work together, and is this the pairing of the future?

Tom: You’re j

Keys to the Game

  1.  Play Lowry more than 34 minutes. While Vasquez is the current media darling, from game-to-game, and frankly play-to-play, we don’t know if we’re getting Ginobli, Kidd, Miller, or Vasquez out of him. Which is fine for what he does for the 2nd unit, but if the Raptors are trying to win games, Lowry needs to be running things.
  2. Show up. I mean, I could go through a myriad list of things (let Avery Bradly shoot the ball whenever he wants; keep Sullinger off the boards and out on the perimeter putting up threes; if Rondo’s shooting, and not passing, that’s a good thing; anything, do anything, but do it with conviction) but the reality is that all the Raptors need to do is show up, not take this team lightly, and handle business.
  3. Not so much a key to the game, but PPat is expected to play, and not a moment too soon

A win today and we secure playoffs since the last time Bosh and his raggedy dreads were trotting up and down the court. With the Playoffs around the corner, as long as the Raptors don’t spot 10 point leads to start games, there might be opportunities to give Lowry a bit of rest heading into the playoffs.

UPDATE (5:39 PM)

My take? Ask Clay Davis.

Player Highlights: Terrence Ross Lights Boston Up – March 26

Ross was 9-16 for 24 points which included 5-9 from three as the Raptors beat the Celtics in Boston for the first time since 2008.  This was one of Ross’s best games of the year (box); his shot distribution was good and he supplied some key scores in the fourth quarter, including the three that iced it with 1:02 left.  They two teams face each other again tonight at the ACC.

Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 28

Toronto Raptors’ Greivis Vasquez a trick-or-treat player | National Post

The very nature of Vasquez’s preferred shots make him the ultimate trick-or-treat player — he can be extremely effective or look extraordinarily awful on any given night. In both of the Raptors’ recent multiple-overtime losses, Vasquez was essential. On Feb. 27 against Washington, he went 11 of 19 from the floor, and his success opened the floor up for others. In last Friday’s game against Oklahoma City, he shot 9 of 11 before fouling out in the second overtime. The Raptors probably would have won that game if he stayed on the floor, replaced instead by John Salmons. Since that game, however, Vasquez is shooting just 33%. The reserve unit that he often heads has been struggling badly without the injured Patrick Patterson. Accordingly, he said he will try to diversify his offence in the off-season, working harder on his three-point shot — he shoots a below-average 33% from beyond the arc for his career. Yet, there is something nice about seeing a player trying to make it in the league.

Greivis Vasquez Compares Himself to Manu Ginobili, Jason Kidd and Andre Miller | Bleacher Report

“I see myself like Manu Ginobili. He hits some crazy shots because he’s very crafty — probably with more athleticism than me. You’re always trying to pick up things from different players. Jason Kidd: At the end of his career, he wasn’t the fastest guy. But he was smart. He knew how to play the game. That’s something I wanted to reflect in my game.” Vasquez added Andre Miller to the list of guards who manage to succeed despite lacking elite foot speed. Those might sound like ambitious comparisons, but Vasquez emphasized the extent to which he was still learning the game, noting, “I think I’m going to be the point guard that I want to be in this league eventually.” He has some time, especially playing behind Kyle Lowry in Toronto. At the moment, Vasquez is averaging 8.6 points and 3.7 assists per game, a decrease commensurate with his role being reduced from his days in New Orleans.

Raptors Greivis Vasquez Loves This City, This Team | Pro Bball Report

Toronto is going to need Vasquez’s ‘A’ game to be successful in the postseason. The 6’6 guard has proven to be a great change of pace and style from starting point guard Kyle Lowry and when Vasquez is hitting his shots, the Raptors can go to a very effective two point guard line-up that allows Lowry to play off the ball. Toronto has won some games with big fourth quarter performances from Vasquez already and this is one player that wants to be in the big moments. “I can tell you this, I am not afraid at all,” Vasquez said. “I am not going to be afraid of the moment. I like big moments and that’s just my personality since college. I just got to do whatever it takes to help the team win games. Whenever my name is called, I am just going to go out there and do my job. I am ready to go. It’s all about confidence and believing in yourself and I got all of that.”

For Raptors, playoffs will be a whole new ball game | Toronto Sun

No one knows how players such as DeRozan, who has never appeared in a playoff game, will react when the pressure intensifies and virtually every possession is do or die. Not many teams start two second-year players, but in Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross there’s a wild-card factor any team will have to adjust. During one possession in Boston, Valanciunas and Ross ran an inside/outside sequence that showed patience, the kind of basketball the post-season demands. When adjustments are required as teams take away first and second options, Valanciunas has to be assertive in the post, while Ross cannot be settling for his jumper.

Greivis Vasquez Likens Parts of his Game to Manu Ginobili, Jason Kidd and Andre Miller

Greivis Vasquez, the Raptors’ highly entertaining point guard was quizzed about which NBA player he likens himself to and he singled out future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili (pay wall) as someone who he models his “crazy” shots after:

I see myself like Manu Ginobili. He hits some crazy shots because he’s very crafty — probably with more athleticism than me. You’re always trying to pick up things from different players.

No doubt contemplating his lack of foot speed, he drew another comparison, to yet another Hall of Famer who succeeded despite not having the speed of a cheetah, Jason Kidd.

Jason Kidd: At the end of his career, he wasn’t the fastest guy. But he was smart. He knew how to play the game. That’s something I wanted to reflect in my game.

It’s clear that Vasquez sees himself as a smart, slow, dude who has a place in the NBA. Vasquez refused to blame God for his physical shortcomings, pointing to yet another potential Hall of Famer as someone he relates to:

“I love the game. I study the game so much. It’s an example for young kids that you don’t have to jump out of the gym to be in this league. Andre Miller — he’s another guy that’s been in the league for so long. He’s not fast, but he still does his job. I think I’m going to be the point guard that I want to be in this league eventually.”

If Greivis Vasquez was a compound element, he’d be made of bits of Kidd, Ginobili and Miller, with a dash of Roko Ukic for good measure. It should be noted that Vasquez is out of contract for next season with the Raptors yet to exercise a $3.2 million qualifying offer. However, with aspirations such as above, he is sure to find a home. As is indicated by the current poll on the site, fans clearly want him back for next season.  Raptors Republic shares that sentiment, despite Vasquez being the source of multiple heart attacks and consistent high blood pressure for the writing staff this season.

Truth be told, Vasquez’s shot-making ability has saved the Raptors multiple times this season, especially in late-game situations.  His combination play with Kyle Lowry has been excellent, and has almost made fans look past his defensive shortcomings.  As noted on the weekly podcast by Andrew, he’s likely to look for a starting gig next season, but is likely to remain a backup, albeit a very capable one.  RR urges readers to look past his one-handed hook shots, or early-clock threes as necessary evils for his overall effectiveness.

12 Facts About Terrence Ross

Source

Game of Thrones: March Madness-Style

I was late to the Game of Thrones series. I happened to borrow seasons one and two last fall, not really knowing what to expect. It was not long before I was hooked and desperately tried to get a hold of season three immediately upon finishing the first two seasons. It was only after watching the penultimate episode of season three, did I remember seeing a parody poster for Game of Thrones, where the title of the series had been changed to ‘Everybody Dies’.

Anyone who has seen the end of season three will understand why I was reminded of this alternate title. It was jaw-dropping. I was so shocked and stunned, I actually had trouble sleeping that night.

Season four returns April 6th, and he very next night is the NCAA Championship game (with the Final Four games on the 5th). Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to those three days.

I thought it fitting that Game of Thrones starts up again the night before the NCAA Tournament ends because I don’t recall a tournament that “killed off” so many marquee players and teams so unexpectedly. After last weekend, Game of Thrones alternate title flashed through my head again.

Everybody Dies

The first shocking defeat was Jabari Parker and Duke losing to 14th seeded Mercer. Now, 14th seeds tend beat 3rd seeds every year or so, so it should have not been completely shocking, but Jabari Parker had just won Freshman of the Year Award and many picked Parker to help carry Duke to the Final Four. Instead, he became the Ned Stark of the tournament. And his exit was about as heroic, going 4-14 for the game and scoring just 14 points.

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A Magic-Bird-type Championship game between Parker and Andrew Wiggins went up in flames before the idea of it could even take hold.

Duke wasn’t alone in losing to an underdog. In the first round, there were eight upsets and in the second round, five more. After the first two round, all the number one seeds are still alive but two second seeds have gone home and all but one three seed is done. It’s a bloodbath out there.

Last week, I lamented about my inability to do well in March Madness pools, but apparently there is only one person left with the “perfect bracket” and he unfortunately isn’t going to benefit from it.

If you tuned into the NCAA’s to watch some of the potential lottery picks carry their team to the Sweet 16, you were out of luck, for the most part.

Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State were knocked out in the first round as well, but at least Smart put up more of a fight than Parker did. Smart was criticized by many for staying in school, especially after not having the season (individually and team-wise) than many expected of him, but at least he played impressively in his loss.

Tyler Ennis and Syracuse were bounced in the second round, with Ennis narrowly missing what would have been a game winning three at the end of the game. Instead of everyone talking about how Ennis came up in the clutch again, they talked about how Syracuse, and Ennis, couldn’t hit an outside shot to save their life. Sometimes the difference between an hero and going home early is an inch or two.

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Ennis’ fellow Canadian, Andrew Wiggins, scored an ineffectual 4 points in a loss to lower seeded Stanford the next day.

Wiggins, Ennis and Parker compromise three of the five All Freshman team announced by the NCAA just a couple of weeks ago, and the three of them went 12-41 in their three losses in the tournament. Another All Freshmen team member, Joel Embiid, didn’t even get a chance to play- out with a back injury until the third round, which, for him, never came.

Now, I’m not highlighting the struggles of some of the top freshman to suggest that the upcoming draft is overrated. Not in the least. I’m highlighting their struggles to suggest that maybe Adam Silver is onto something when he suggests raising the minimum age for the NBA would be good for the league.

While no one would suggest Parker, Wiggins and Ennis won’t make more money if they come out this year, all three would benefit from staying in college, and so would basketball fans who would get to watch them in the tournament next year, hopefully using their experience to go farther, rather than watching them toil for some lottery team as they learn things they should have learned in college.

Marcus Smart didn’t push Oklahoma State beyond the first round, this year, but he certainly looked far more ready than most of the top freshmen did in their losses.

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That’s not to say all the hyped freshmen struggled. One of my sleepers, Kentucky, with four top freshmen, was able to make it to the Sweet 16, and Julius Randle showed why he’s considered a top 5 pick in the upcoming draft, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in their last game against Kansas State.

Of course my other sleeper team, New Mexico, lost to Stanford in the first round.

To add insult to injury, the Stanford team included two Canadians I failed to even mention in the Canadians to watch portion because I figured their team wouldn’t last long enough to bother a mention. I guess that’s Karma.

I’m not even sure whether it’s in their best interest for me to mention their names. Of the six teams (Kansas, Syracuse, Wichita State, Michigan, Villanova and Iowa State) with Canadians I highlighted last week as potential Sweet 16 candidates, four were knocked out by lower ranked teams. Stanford was a team I didn’t mention and they’re on to the next round.

I also didn’t mention the Baylor team featuring two Canadians in prominent roles, and they’re also in the Sweet 16.

ABOUT THOSE POSSIBLE FUTURE RAPTORS

While I seemed to be the kiss of death for Canadians, most of the possible future Raptors are actually still playing in the tournament, so you still have a chance to watch most of them.

Nik Stauskas and Michigan are still alive, and Stauskas has played well, showing off both his shooting and passing skills, going 7-15 from three in the first two games and dishing out 8 assists in their second round game against Texas.

Kyle Anderson has played his usual good all around game in leading UCLA to the Sweet 16, but his teammate, Zach LaVine, has all but disappeared and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay another year if he continues to play like he has.

Kentucky’s James Young had a rough start against Kansas State, but followed it up with a good showing against Wichita State.

Elfrid Payton put up some rather impressive numbers (24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals) in a first round loss to Creighton.

Gary Harris has played decently for Michigan State, as did Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell.

Wayne Selden, on the other hand, had a very forgettable tournament, averaging just 2 ppg and 3 apg in his two games and might also benefit from another year at Kansas, especially if he moves up the totem pole with Wiggins almost definitely gone.

Rodney Hood shot poorly, but did play decently in Duke’s first round upset by Mercer.

T.J. Warren has already declared for the draft after playing very well for North Carolina State in a heartbreaking overtime loss to St. Louis.

CANADIANS STILL ALIVE

Despite Wiggins and Ennis being knocked out, as well as Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, there are still seven Canadian still competing in the tournament (not named for their protection), so you can watch Iowa State, Michigan, Stanford, Dayton, Baylor and Villanova with some pride.

Dr Is In Podcast, March 27 – Enjoy the Magic

This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk ball and we have a discussion about all the action in NBA and NCAA while continually tying it back to the Raptors!  Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:

NBA

  • The simple fact that Lowry is freaking amazing
  • The week that was for the Raps:
    • The OKC loss and just how damn good Durant is
    • The 4th quarter comeback vs Atlanta
    • Another last minute loss, but his time to Cleveland
    • Is Dwane Casey day drinking again? I mean have you seen some of his rotations
    • The next week has a stretch of winnable games: Bos, Bos, Orlando before Mia and Houston
    • Should we be worried about a Knicks or Brooklyn team on the rise
    • More Cowbell

 

NCAA

  • Andrew Wiggins: was he all hype? Did a quick Kansas exit hurt his draft stock? What about Jabari Parker?  Should they stay? Should they go?
  • What does your bracket look like?  Blair and Steve lick their wounds and count their losses
  • He is the prophet (ND State #pigfarmers)!
  • Florida vs UCLA and all the fun that comes with a game like that!

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter

Follow the prophet @votaryofhoops

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 (07:49, 73 MB). Or just listen below:

No Bench, No Problem

A bumpy ride on the Chuck Wagon, Dirk Sullinger’s magnum opus part deux, burritos and the woes of the bench.

You have to hand it to these Raptors. They sure do keep it interesting.

On paper, the game should not have been close. The Boston Celtics (23-48) boast an average defense, and the third worst offense in the league. Conversely, since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors (40-31) are the owners of the 10th best offense, and the 5th best defense. It shouldn’t have been close.

But then you zoom in, and look at the micro. The Raptors had lost 4 of their last 6 games. They were on the second night of a traveling back-to-back. The second unit had been a giant sinkhole ever since Patrick Patterson went down with injury. Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson were hobbled with nagging injuries. The little things add up.

[Whoa! You could save yourself a lot of time if you just read Garrett's Quick Reaction instead]

The Raptors got off to a good start in the first quarter. DeMar DeRozan, seemingly determined to rectify the his passivity in recent outings, attacked the Celtics off cuts and dribble drives which resulted in a number of easy points. Kyle Lowry made a concerted effort to deliver the ball to DeRozan, who was able to use his speed to get by Jeff Green. DeRozan finished the quarter with 11 points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field, to go along with 7 well-earned trips to the free-throw line.

Any missed baskets were cleaned up by Jonas Valanciunas, who capitalized on his size advantage over the Celtics’ stunted front-court. Jonas was active on the glass, collecting five rebounds, and pulled out a few moves in the post. He had 9 points by the end of the quarter, as the Raptors held the 31-22 point edge. (If you can’t see the GIF below, click here)

At this point, you should be able to guess what happened next. As is his wont, Dwane Casey elected to deploy his all-bench unit to start the second, which predictably coughed up the lead. Casey tried to introduce a new wrinkle by playing de Colo in place of DeRozan. Unfortunately, de Yolo promptly missed a shot and committed an extremely silly turnover because he’s Nando de Yolo (it’s all in the name, really). In the span of three minutes, the Raptors’ 9-point lead turned into a four-point deficit thanks to a 15-2 run from the Celtics. Rajon Rondo moved the ball methodically, carefully setting up his bigs on pick-and-pop plays.

To his credit, Dwane Casey bailed earl