Last 200 articles shown.
|Mar 11, 14||Potpourri: No Timeout Decision; Playoff (In)Experience; Raptors Matter||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 11, 14||Presented Without Context: Dwane Casey Throwing Hunnids||William Lou|
|Mar 11, 14||Challenge Accepted||Garrett Hinchey|
|Mar 11, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 11||Sam Holako|
|Mar 10, 14||Reaction: Raptors 97, Nets 101||William Lou|
|Mar 10, 14||Game Day: Raptors @ Nets, March 10||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 10, 14||Looking Ahead to the Raptors in the Postseason||Tim Chisholm|
|Mar 10, 14||DeRozan and Lowry Lead Raptors to Victory||William Lou|
|Mar 10, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 10 – Playoff Positioning, Herbert Hammers||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 10, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 10||Sam Holako|
|Mar 9, 14||Reaction: Raptors 111, Timberwolves 104||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 9, 14||Breaking it (Pin) Down: Terrence Ross||William Lou|
|Mar 9, 14||Patrick Patterson Sidelined 7-10 Days with Right Ulnar Collateral Sprain||William Lou|
|Mar 9, 14||Raptors Fantasy Forecast – Mar 9 “The Specialist”||Prospect|
|Mar 9, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, March 9||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 8, 14||Terrence Ross Doing an AMA on Reddit On March 13th at 3 PM EST||William Lou|
|Mar 8, 14||Ross Rolls, Cousins Controlled, Sacramento Slaughtered||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 8, 14||Video Compilation: Terrence Ross vs Sacramento Kings (18 pts, 6-8 3FG)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 7, 14||Reaction: Raptors 99, Kings 87||William Lou|
|Mar 7, 14||Gameday: Raptors vs Kings, Mar. 7||Sam Holako|
|Mar 7, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 7||Sam Holako|
|Mar 6, 14||The Purple is Back||William Lou|
|Mar 6, 14||“I, admittedly, tried tanking.”||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 6, 14||Dr Is In Podcast: I STILL need more cowbell!||Steve Gennaro|
|Mar 6, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 6||Sam Holako|
|Mar 5, 14||Do the Raptors Have an Optimal Pace?||William Lou|
|Mar 5, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast: Bad Tattoos||Nick Reynoldson|
|Mar 5, 14||7 Tips on How to Watch the Raptors With Wife and Kids Around||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 5, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 5||Sam Holako|
|Mar 4, 14||Hint of a Raptors Rebrand, And Yes, There’s Purple Here||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 4, 14||Potpourri: Ujiri’s “Dumb Luck”, DeRozan’s Appeal, and Flexibility||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 4, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 4||Sam Holako|
|Mar 3, 14||The 7 Week Itch: From Now Till The End||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 3, 14||Video Compilation: DeMar DeRozan vs GSW/Iguodala – Makes and Misses||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 3, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast – March 3: Transcendence, Vasquez Verdict, Booing Gay, JV Soliloquies||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 3, 14||Derozan Shines in Victory over Golden State||William Lou|
|Mar 3, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 3||Sam Holako|
|Mar 2, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 104 Warriors 98 – Mar. 2/14||Sam Holako|
|Mar 2, 14||Game Day: Warriors @ Raptors, Mar. 2||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 2, 14||“Next Man Up” – The Toronto Raptors and Your Fantasy Team||Prospect|
|Mar 1, 14||Is Toronto worst 3rd seed EVER?||forumcrew|
|Feb 28, 14||Breaking it Down: Johnson and Derozan’s Sleight of Hand-off||William Lou|
|Feb 28, 14||And Now For Something Completely Different||Andrew Thompson|
|Feb 28, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 28||Sam Holako|
|Feb 27, 14||Reaction: Raptors 129, Wizards 134||William Lou|
|Feb 27, 14||Gameday: Wizards @ Raptors, Feb. 27||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 27, 14||The Dr Is In Podcast: More Cowbell!||Steve Gennaro|
|Feb 27, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 27||Sam Holako|
|Feb 26, 14||Way Too Many Words About Pizza||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 26, 14||Kyle Lowry is Not a “Shoot-first” “Scoring” Point Guard||forumcrew|
|Feb 26, 14||Video Compilation: Terrence Ross vs Cleveland Cavaliers, 7-11 FG, 19 points||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 26, 14||Video Compilation: DeMar DeRozan vs Cavaliers – 12-25 FG, 33 Points||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 26, 14||Raptors Beat Cavs: Winning Ugly Sign of a Good Team||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 25, 14||Reaction: Cavaliers 93, Raptors 99||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 25, 14||What Will Happen If The Raptors Trade For An Elite Talent?||forumcrew|
|Feb 25, 14||There you have it, folks. Done deal.||RR|
|Feb 25, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast: With Eric Koreen (@ekoreen)||Nick Reynoldson|
|Feb 25, 14||Gameday: Raptors at Cavaliers||William Lou|
|Feb 25, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 25th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 24, 14||Ujiri’s Quiet Deadline All About The Future||Tim Chisholm|
|Feb 24, 14||What Would It Take For The Raptors To Get To The Eastern Conference Finals?||forumcrew|
|Feb 24, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast – Feb 24: Aim High, Err…I Mean, Third||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 24, 14||Raptors Rout Magic in Familiar Fashion||William Lou|
|Feb 24, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 24th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 23, 14||Reaction: Magic 90, Raptors 105||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 23, 14||Injury GIF: Amir Johnson Leaves Orlando Game with Ankle Sprain||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 23, 14||Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast – Feb 23||Prospect|
|Feb 23, 14||Gameday: Magic @ Raptors, Feb. 23||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 22, 14||Terrence Ross Shuts Down Kyrie Irving Leading Raptors to WIn||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 21, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 98 – Cavaliers 91||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Feb 21, 14||Last Minute Ticket Giveaway! [CONTEST CLOSED]||William Lou|
|Feb 21, 14||Spiraling Down the Rabbit Hole: The Scouting Report on Nando de Colo||William Lou|
|Feb 21, 14||Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Mr. America vs. Canada, Feb. 21||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 21, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 21st Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 20, 14||Video Compilation: Nando De Colo Highlights From Last 15 Games||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 20, 14||WojBomb: Raptors Acquire Nando de Colo in Exchange for Austin Daye||William Lou|
|Feb 20, 14||The Darkest Timeline: Casey, Derozan and Our Sanity||William Lou|
|Feb 20, 14||Raptors Battle Bad Luck, Good Defense but Fall Just Short||William Lou|
|Feb 19, 14||Video Compilation: DeMar DeRozan 11/25 FG vs Bulls – All Makes and Misses||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 19, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 92 vs Bulls 94||Sam Holako|
|Feb 19, 14||GIF/Poll: Did Jimmy Butler Foul DeMar DeRozan?||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 19, 14||Does the Rondo rumour have legs?||Sam Holako|
|Feb 19, 14||Gameday: Bulls @ Raptors, Feb. 19||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 19, 14||Raptors Signal Intent, Defeat Wizards in DC||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 19, 14||Sale: Below-Cost Tickets to Raptors vs Bulls Showdown Tonight!||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 19, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 19th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 19, 14||Compilation: Kyle Lowry 3rd Quarter Scoring at Washington||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 18, 14||Kyle Lowry on ESPN After Washington Win: The Rumours Don’t Affect Me||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 18, 14||Reaction: Raptors 103, Wizards 93||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 18, 14||Oh Hi There, Here’s a Kenneth Faried to the Raptors Trade Rumour||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 18, 14||Talking Raptors Episode 17 – Moonwalking at All-Star Weekend||Nick Reynoldson|
|Feb 18, 14||Gameday: Raptors at Wizards||William Lou|
|Feb 18, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 18th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 17, 14||Report: Toronto Raptors Interested in Rajon Rondo||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 17, 14||Report: Knicks Offering Shumpert + Warm Bodies for Lowry; Teague Possible||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 17, 14||Checking In on Jonas Valanciunas’ Development on Offense||William Lou|
|Feb 17, 14||Examining the Raptors’ Road to the Atlantic Division Title||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Feb 16, 14||The 2014 All-Star Game Quick Reaction Running Diary||Garrett Hinchey|
|Feb 16, 14||Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast – Feb 16, 2014||Prospect|
|Feb 16, 14||All-Star Saturday Night a House of Cards, as this True Detective finds||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 16, 14||All-Star Saturday Night: Terrence Ross, John Wall and Paul George Sweep the Podium In the Slam Dunk Contest||William Lou|
|Feb 15, 14||All-Star Saturday Night: DeRozan Eliminated After the First Round of the Skills Challenge||William Lou|
|Feb 15, 14||The Champ Returns||Garrett Hinchey|
|Feb 14, 14||The Raptors giving VDay tips||RR|
|Feb 14, 14||Live Blog: Rising Stars Challenge||William Lou|
|Feb 14, 14||Video Collection: Top-10 Raptor Dunkers Not Named Vince Carter||Barry Taylor|
|Feb 14, 14||Audio: DeRozan and Ross on ESPN Radio||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 14, 14||Bill Simmons – BS Report w/ DeMar DeRozan||RR|
|Feb 14, 14||It’s a Big Saturday Night for Compton||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 14, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 14th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 13, 14||Toronto Raptors at the NBA All-Star Game – Box Score Lines||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 13, 14||Dr Is In: College Ball, Bunch of Raptors Goodies, Third Seed Strategy||Steve Gennaro|
|Feb 13, 14||Wade could miss ASG, opens a spot for Lowry?||RR|
|Feb 13, 14||Raptors Clearly Establish Their Place in the Eastern Conference||Andrew Thompson|
|Feb 13, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 14th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 12, 14||Reaction: Hawks 83, Raptors 104||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 12, 14||WojBomb: Ujiri Reluctant to Offload Lowry||William Lou|
|Feb 12, 14||Sold Out! Below-Cost Tickets to Raptors vs Hawks Tonight!||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 12, 14||Gameday: Hawks @ Raptors, Feb. 12||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 12, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 12th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 11, 14||Compilation: Kyle Lowry’s 12 Assists vs Pelicans (Notice this one play)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 11, 14||Breaking it Down: Patrick Patterson the Shot Creator||William Lou|
|Feb 11, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast (incl. Video): With Aliya Jasmine (@aliyajasmine)||Nick Reynoldson|
|Feb 11, 14||Video Compilation: Kyle Lowry vs Pelicans – 19 pts, 8-13 FG||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 11, 14||Raptors Suckle on Kyle Lowry, Beat Pelicans, God Cries||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 11, 14||Video Compilation: Patrick Patterson vs Pelicans – 22 pts, 7-11 FG||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 11, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 11th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 10, 14||Reaction: Pelicans 101, Raptors 108||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 10, 14||Sold Out: Raptors Drake Night OVO Black and Gold Shirt||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 10, 14||Gameday: Pelicans at Raptors||William Lou|
|Feb 10, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast (Feb 10) – Reset and Reload||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 10, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 10th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 9, 14||Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast (Ex-Raptors Edition)||Prospect|
|Feb 9, 14||Quick Thoughts on Roadtrip||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 8, 14||Amir Johnson: I’m Playing Hurt||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 8, 14||Morning Coffee, Feb 8 – Clippers Loss Edition||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 8, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 105, Clippers 118||Garrett Hinchey|
|Feb 7, 14||Greivis Vasquez Still Finding His Way with the Raptors||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 7, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Feb. 7||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 7, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 7th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 6, 14||Demar Derozan to Compete in the Skills Challenge||William Lou|
|Feb 6, 14||Ten Stray Thoughts on a Thursday||William Lou|
|Feb 6, 14||Podcast: Dr Is In – Raptors on a Roll, Pau Gasol and College Ball on the Whole||Steve Gennaro|
|Feb 6, 14||Hard to Watch: Raptors lose in Sacramento||Andrew Thompson|
|Feb 6, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 6th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 6, 14||Video/GIF: Raptors Robbed, The Worst Call Ever||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 6, 14||Reaction: Raptors 101, Kings 109||William Lou|
|Feb 5, 14||Report: Raptors to Bring Back Purple Uniforms||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 5, 14||Gameday: Raptors vs Kings (Feb 5) – Return of Patterson, Vasquez, Salmons, Hayes||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 5, 14||Here’s What’s Changed Since You Left, Rudy Gay||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 4, 14||DeMar DeRozan: We Fight for the City of Toronto||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 4, 14||Video Compilation: Jonas Valanciunas Owns Jazz Defense||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 4, 14||On Pace To Win 48 Games, Raptors Face Deadline Day Decisions||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Feb 4, 14||Podcast: Talking Raptors – What’s in a Nickname?||Nick Reynoldson|
|Feb 4, 14||When the Routine win becomes Un-Routine||Garrett Hinchey|
|Feb 3, 14||Reaction: Raptors 94, Jazz 79||William Lou|
|Feb 3, 14||Kyle Lowry Wins Eastern Conference Player of the Week||William Lou|
|Feb 3, 14||Super Bowl Hangover Reading: Raptors vs. Jazz pre-game||Andrew Thompson|
|Feb 3, 14||The Toronto Raptors and Your Fantasy Team||Prospect|
|Feb 3, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast (Feb 3): Surging Forward No Matter What||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 3, 14||Morning Coffee: Feb. 5th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Feb 2, 14||Important: Steve Novak’s First Blocked Shot of the Season||William Lou|
|Feb 2, 14||Video Compilation: DeMar DeRozan Scoring vs Portland Trailblazers (36 points, 14-29 FG)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 2, 14||Raptors Show Great Spirit But Improbable Comeback Ends in Tears||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 2, 14||Reaction: Raptors 103, Trailblazers 106 – Heartbreak||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Feb 1, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Blazers, Feb. 1||Blake Murphy|
|Feb 1, 14||The Cupboard is Full, Once Again||Garrett Hinchey|
|Feb 1, 14||Video Compilation: Terrence Ross Scoring vs Denver Nuggets||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 31, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 100, Nuggets 90||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jan 31, 14||Terrence Ross Dunks on Kenneth Faried (Nuggets Commentary)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 31, 14||Audio: Jeff Van Gundy on Live TV: Kyle Lowry Should Be Selected Over Irving, Johnson, Wall and DeRozan||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 31, 14||Gameday: Raptors at Nuggets||William Lou|
|Jan 31, 14||Congratulations to DeMar DeRozan, 2013-14 NBA All-Star||Blake Murphy|
|Jan 31, 14||Ross Practicing for the Dunk Competition||Sam Holako|
|Jan 31, 14||Kyle Lowry Deserved to Be an All-Star||Blake Murphy|
|Jan 31, 14||Morning Coffee: Jan. 31st Edition||Sam Holako|
|Jan 30, 14||Per Marc Stein’s Report: DeMar In, Lowry Out||William Lou|
|Jan 30, 14||NBA All-Star Reserve Announcements Thread||William Lou|
|Jan 30, 14||Mid-Season Awards for Your Toronto Raptors||William Lou|
|Jan 30, 14||Anatomy of a Story: Raptors Talked of Trading DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 30, 14||Podcast: The Dr Is In Mailbag + No More Vince or Trade Lowry Talk||Steve Gennaro|
|Jan 30, 14||Raptors Beat Magic: Like Taking Candy From a Baby||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 30, 14||Video: Fans Boo Lack of Pizza; Madness Must End, Here’s How||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 30, 14||Morning Coffee: Jan. 30th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Jan 30, 14||Video Compilation: Jonas Valanciunas BOSSES Magic (14 points, 15 rebounds)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 29, 14||Video Compilation: Amir Johnson vs Magic (Featuring Kyle Lowry’s HUGE Rebound)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 29, 14||Reaction: Raptors 98, Orlando 83||William Lou|
|Jan 29, 14||Jonas on being selected for Rising Star sophomore team||RR|
|Jan 29, 14||Jonas Valanciunas Selected to the Rising Stars Challenge||William Lou|
|Jan 29, 14||Podcast: Talking Raptors Ep. 14 – Live From New York!||Nick Reynoldson|
|Jan 29, 14||Gameday: Magic @ Raptors, Jan. 29||Blake Murphy|
|Jan 29, 14||Morning Coffee: Jan. 29th Edition||Sam Holako|
|Jan 28, 14||Will Toronto’s Success Force Ujiri’s Hand At The Deadline?||Tim Chisholm|
|Jan 28, 14||An Informal Raptors Republic Commenting Policy||William Lou|
|Jan 28, 14||Dwane Casey: “We knew exactly what Brooklyn was going to run”||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 28, 14||Kyle Lowry (and Patrick Patterson) over Everything||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jan 27, 14||Vine Video: Kyle Lowry Hugs Masai Ujiri, He Ain’t Getting Traded||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 27, 14||GIF + Video: Patrick Patterson Game Winner versus Brooklyn (Nets Commentary)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jan 27, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Nets 103||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jan 27, 14||Stein: Lowry Likely To Be Traded||Zarar Siddiqi|
Dwane Casey’s decision (or the team’s, for that matter) to not call a timeout down by a point and 39 seconds left can be debated to no end.
On one hand, you call the timeout and organize offensively to get a good shot. On the other, you catch the defense off-guard. I was comfortable with winging it, as Lowry did, and if Salmons had swung the ball one more time, Ross would’ve had a three to take. In a similarly adhoc play the Raptors ended up winning the game last time in Brooklyn, so it reasons that using a similar strategy wasn’t exactly a bad idea.
Of course, the ensuing play where Lowry took a deep, contested, three with no ball movement or screens to speak of is another matter. And that was coming out of a timeout. My issue with that play was that there was a clear chance to get a quick two after the Johnson switch since Lowry had a fairly easy pass (lob, maybe?) to Johnson as seen in the below frame:
In case you wanted to know what playoff experience the current Raptors team has, here’s a helpful table:
That’s 10 players with a total of 152 playoff game experience. In comparison, Paul Pierce has 126 and Kevin Garnett has 115.
A Raptor loss used to be nothing more than part of the routine. Another day, another setback. You didn’t get upset nor lose much sleep over it because that’s what what was supposed to happen. The Raptors were supposed to lose and they played their part dutifully. That feeling is a far cry from what we’re seeing these days. Last night’s loss to the Nets hurt. When Ross turned that ball over, or when Lowry launched that ill-advised three, it hurt to the point where I turned the TV off and took a walk.
It was a sign that I still care and have expectations for this team. That is a 180 degree turnaround from yesteryear when the games simply blended into one another and the season was just one long blur mired in disappointment. Some wounds heal only when they’re deepened. And last night’s loss deepened the wound left by years of neglect and corrosion, but on the bright side it’s good to know there’s blood to bleed.
It’s exactly what the title says.
Sometimes, a game is just a game. Post-game, the scoreboard reads two final tallies – 101-97 Nets – just like it always does. The Raptors, after a valiant effort in which both teams both played through fatigue on the second half of a back-to-back, still have a modest lead in the Atlantic Division: they’re 3 games up on Brooklyn with 20 games to go; it’s hard to imagine that the Nets will catch the streaking Raptors, especially given the Raps’ strength of schedule from here on out. Last night was just a game; a blip, nothing more.
Sometimes, though, a game is much more than that. It’s a statement of intent, a warning from a potential playoff foe not to be taken lightly. It’s a veteran team standing up to the challenge of the young upstart, and the young upstart toeing the line and staring right back. No quarter was given last night, and none was expected, even with both teams playing on the second half of a back-to-back. The standings may not be too close, just yet; but they’re just close enough for a statement to be sent. The Raptors are probably going to win the division, yes, but they’re going to have to earn it.
Last night, the game between the Raptors and Nets became more than a game.
Was it pretty to watch? Not all the time – both teams scored in fits in spurts, with the Raptors taking a sizeable first quarter lead on the backs of Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson, giving the lead back (they were down 13 late in the third) thanks to some shoddy perimeter defence and a red-hot Deron Williams, and fighting back to tie the game late by what seemed like sheer force of will after losing an entertaining if not necessarily perfectly executed final few minutes.
The driver of the Raptor engine was undoubtedly Kyle Lowry, who (surprise, surprise) played the game at a fever pitch for every one of his 38 minutes. Sometimes, it worked to his detriment: he thrust up more than a few early-in-the-shot-clock threes that had me scratching my head, and the play call near the end of the game with the Raptors down 3 – a pick play that led to a contested attempt with Andray Blatche in Lowry’s face. His intensity also gets the better of him when it comes to dealing with the referees: last night, seemingly every call that went against Lowry, or against the Raptors with Lowry standing nearby, or against the Raptors with Lowry in the building, was followed by an earful to the referees from number 7. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and this is part of the package. We know this.
But the rest of the package? I don’t know what the Raptors would do without it.
It’s hard to make an argument at this point against extending Lowry – if Masai Ujiri balks at his asking price, Lowry’s agent can simply pull out film of game from tonight and ask: “what would the score have been without him?” My roommate and I had a brief debate about what the Raptors’ record this season would be sans Lowry, and we ultimately settled at a smidge over .500, at best. The man does things that no 6-foot tall point guard should do. Last night, he led the team in scoring, assists, rebounding – including a couple attempts where he absolutely ripped the ball out of a much bigger opponent’s hands – and steals (tied with Johnson and Hansbrough). He also drew not one, not two, but THREE charges, including a highlight-reel worthy attempt to stop a Marcus Thornton fast break in the first quarter where he – playing with two early fouls – caught the Nets’ guard from behind, slipped in front of him, and established position in a split-second. It was breathtaking, reckless, and the result of almost impossible effort. It was, in as many words, Kyle Lowry.
As is the case when most young upstarts are challenged by veteran opponents, the devil was in the execution, if not the Raptors’ effort level. DeMar DeRozan was held in check by some savvy Nets coaching and an uncharacteristically poor shooting night; Terrence Ross was largely invisible after the first quarter, and Jonas Valanciunas tried his hardest to take advantage of the league’s verticality rule and was undone by a few bad calls and some inconsistent offensive decision-making. Ironically, the worst performance of the night was turned in by John Salmons, who made a nice hoop and than chucked up a couple shots up like heat-check DeMar before ultimately making an extremely poor decision on one of the Raptors’ final plays, which ultimately ended with Ross dribbling the ball off his leg and out of bounds. These lapses, save Salmons, are to be expected from time to time from a young team, and on their own aren’t particularly worrying in the long run. The team missed Patrick Patterson and his floor-spacing ability/mobile perimeter defence a ton, as well, given the Nets’ small-ball lineups.
What is more troubling, though, was the inconsistency of Dwane Casey’s coaching decisions, which included sitting a red-hot Ross for extended minutes in the first half, not recognizing the inability of Steve Novak to play the four in a small-ball lineup (one big night does not a Patrick Patterson make), as well as the inability of Chuck Hayes to play at all, and a couple maddening inbound plays, including the aforementioned pick and roll for Lowry’s penultimate three-point attempt. In-game inconsistencies like these are not likely to get better given a seven-game series, and that makes a playoff matchup a bit terrifying given the two teams’ relatively equal skill levels at this point. You should not be outcoached by Jason Kidd. Period. End of story.
These things, by and large, are why the Raptors lost the game last night (that, and a three-point barrage late in the third quarter). And they do deserve consideration, and they’ll get their due in the Raptor front office and coaches’ room. But, for me, I choose to focus on the positives: Lowry; the superhuman effort put forth by Tyler Hansbrough, who would not be denied by any Net; the resurgence of Amir Johnson’s pick and roll play (he threw done two alley-oop layups from Lowry, mimicking my NBA 2k14 playing style); and my little brother’s unexpected appearance as the #spritefanphoto, which left me excited, yet laughing my head off.
Mostly, though, what I chose to focus on is everything this game means beyond the boxscore. Standings or no, the Brooklyn Nets have thrown down a gauntlet; one the Raptors have accepted without hesitation. The simple fact that a veteran team would play Toronto with this type of intensity in a regular-season game, on the second half of a back-to-back, shows how far the Raptors have come. The fact that they lost the game shows how far we have left to go.
One of these teams has the weight of unmet expectations, and the stopping of a torch-passing on their minds. The other one has validation – and everything still left to prove – on theirs. Twenty games left until the playoffs, and a likely rematch, where one of them will get what they want. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Paul Pierce — who wasn’t expected to play because of a sore shoulder — hit a huge three-pointer with 1:14 left to give the Nets their eighth straight home win. Pierce scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, the final point coming in the final second of the game at the free-throw line while fans stood and chanted his name. He also came up with a steal with 25 seconds remaining when Terrence Ross lost the ball. “He’s a competitor,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “No matter what position he plays, no matter what his health is, he’s out there trying to help the team win. He was big tonight.”
Over in one corner, DeMar DeRozan tossed a bottle to the ground and then turned away when people looked over. Confronted with the moment when it went definitively wrong — an overwrought five-on-four that ended with Terrence Ross losing the ball in a thicket — John Salmons shrugged as if he couldn’t remember the play. “What happened? I don’t know.” He knows. He just didn’t care to talk about it. When offered his chance to explain, Ross took a pass. Everyone gets a few of those. Ross just used all of his up. From now on, we’re on post-season footing. It’s ultimately pointless to play oracle, but it’s too tempting after Monday night. The Raptors had a 12-point lead early. They erased a 13-point deficit late. They lost 101-97, thanks in large part to Paul Pierce reprising his role as Methuselah in the fourth quarter.
“I knew the implications of this game. Maybe if it was a different type of game, (I sit out),” Pierce said. “But this was one of our biggest games of the year. Division rival, a lot on the line tonight, so you can always pen me in with those type of games.” Pierce was all over the floor in the final 12 minutes of the game, hitting a pair of shots beyond the arc, making four free throws and stealing the ball twice. The victory was critical for the Nets, who lost to Toronto last time they played, on Jan. 27, after Williams turned the ball over on an inbounds play with 12 seconds left and Patrick Patterson hit the eventual game-winner with 6 seconds left on the clock. “This was a big game. It give us the split,” Williams said. “We didn’t want them to get three up on us in case of tiebreakers. We gained a full game on them. That much closer to catching them.”
With the game tied at 94 and the ball in Brooklyn’s hands, Pierce and Deron Williams traded off attacking the basket before Williams found Pierce behind the three-point line. Pierce, well-contested by Kyle Lowry, buried the go-ahead jumper, putting the Nets up for good. Pierce wasn’t even supposed to play, but told Kidd earlier in the day he was good to go, and finished with 15 points and a team-high four steals. Pierce said that the play was originally designed to get the ball in either Williams’s or Joe Johnson’s hands, but that he’s always prepared for those moments. “I think it’s just confidence,” he said. “I’ve been that way since I was two years old, so I can’t help it.” Upon thinking of himself as a toddler burying clutch shots, Pierce laughed. I asked him how many game-winners he hit at two years old. “I remember my first game-winner,” he responded, “at eight months old. And it just grew from there.”
97-96 with 22 seconds, the Nets identity came into play. With a one point lead, Paul Pierce came up with his fifth steal of the game, leading to two converted free throws from Shaun Livingston. On the other end, Kyle Lowry took a contested shot which he missed,which eventually led to a 101-97 Nets victory. The victory puts the Nets just 3 games behind the division leading Raptors. Deron Williams & Shaun Livingston led the Nets with 18 points apiece, but behind Paul Piere’s 5 steals, the Nets escaped this game with a trilling victory. It was one of the best — if not the best victory of the year.
The Raps answered back and chipped away at the Nets lead late in the third as they went on a small run. During the fourth quarter, Toronto was always in close range with Brooklyn, but it was only until three minutes left in the game that the Dinos knotted the score thanks to some huge plays by Kyle Lowry. However down the stretch, Toronto couldn’t execute in clutch moments, and Paul Pierce hit a back-breaking three-pointer with Lowry in his face to put the Nets up for good. Toronto had its chances, but the Brooklyn Nets won a critical game with a final score of 101-97.
“We had some crucial turnovers,” Casey said. “Again, playoff type of basketball with physicality, I’ve said it forever that we have to get ready to play that style of basketball. We had three big-time turnovers because they got into us at the end of the game. That’s when you got to get into the defence (physically) and make plays. “(But) we’ve got to stay positive. It’s not the end of the world. We weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way. We knew that. This team here in Brooklyn is a championship-caliber team. They know the plays to make to win games. We’ve still got to learn that. We’re on our way but we still have some learning to do.” The Raptors aren’t great against savvy, tough, aggressive teams like Brooklyn or Chicago and also got a taste of a playoff-type atmosphere in the fourth, when the crowd got amped. Williams said the building was the loudest it’s been all season.
The Raptors have been one of this season’s pleasant surprises—a team many believed would be looking to unload its assets ahead of this summer’s highly anticipated draft, but instead finds itself firmly in the playoff fold. Unfortunately, according to NBA.com’s David Aldrige, all of this might be moot: “The Raptors do not want to give Lowry a big-money contract this summer along the lines of what other point guards who’ve signed extensions recently: Denver’s Ty Lawson (four years, $48 million), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (four years, $44 million) or New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday (four years, $41 million from Philadelphia).”
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Raptors drop close contest to the Nets.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 36 MIN | 8-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -2Fantastic offensively but a step slow defensively. Picked the Nets apart in the PnR, but failed to do much in the way of stopping the Nets’ small-ball fours on the perimeter. Being drawn out of the paint also put him out of position for rebounds. Some really solid blocks though.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 33 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +7Scored all 12 of his points in the first quarter, but disappeared down the stretch, save for losing the ball on a ill-advised drive into four defenders with the game on the line. Gave up too much size to Joe Johnson on defense and got burned a few times.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 22 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-3 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -12Not entirely sure why he played so few minutes. He didn’t look fantastic, but the Raptors could have really used his length to contend with Blatche’s largesse (or large-ass). Performed decently in limited minutes. Threw down a dunk, and had a nice block.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 8-16 FG | 1-1 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 21 PTS | -5This man’s will to win is the renewable energy source that will save our planet. He was just everywhere on both ends of the floor. He drew 3 (!!!) charges, was the only consistent performer on offense and almost dropped a second-straight triple double. He missed a game-tying attempt over Blatche, but the Raptors wouldn’t even have been in the game had it not been for Lowry’s heroics.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 35 MIN | 3-9 FG | 8-8 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -12Where art thou, DeMar? 14 points on 3-of-9 shooting is not going to cut it against a playoff team in a playoff atmosphere. Shaun Livingston’s quickness and length held him in check. Heck, even Alan Anderson’s defense held him in check. Didn’t do much on defense either.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 8-10 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +8“WELL IM THE BEST BRUISER IN THE GAME. WHEN YOU TRY ME WITH A SORRY BIG LIKE BLATCHE, THAT’S THE RESULT YOU’RE GOING TO GET. DON’T YOU EVER TRY TO TALK ABOUT ME!”*proceeds to bite everyone in the vicinity.*|
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +1He didn’t have a place in the game. Too slow to guard small-ball fours and too short to guard a legitimate center in Blatche. Basically, the story of his NBA career.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | 0So incredibly bad at times. If I had to pin the loss on one player, it would be Salmons. The Raptors got the rebound down 1, and Lowry pushed the ball up the court with DWill on the other end of the floor. Salmons had an open look from three, paused, waited for his defender to recover, paused, and finally, he handed it over to Ross with a short shot-clock. Dat veteran savvy.|
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -3
The only thing worse than Salmons’ play was Novak’s defense. He wracked up 3 personal fouls in four minutes trying to guard Mirza Teletovic. MIRZA TELETOVIC. Mirza drove by him for a layup, got the step and got fouled, and collected an offensive rebound over Novak’s back. Let’s just say I won’t be changing my disqus handle to “FREENOVAK” anytime soon.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 18 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2Not as bad as the boxscore says, but he was still fairly unproductive. With DeRozan having a poor game, the Raptors needed Vasquez to step up with his playmaking in the second unit, and Vasquez couldn’t get it done. He did collaborate with Amir for a few sucessful PnRs though.|
Head scratching decisions aplenty. For example, why draw up a play for Lowry to run PnR on the game-tying attempt? The Raptors are down 3, so the Nets were certainly going to switch. This meant Blatche was guarding Lowry at the three-point line, which is clearly not a good matchup. Also, way too many minutes for Hayes, and too little for Jonas. Got outcoached by Jason Kidd.
Prepping for tonight’s final regular season game versus intra-division rival Brooklyn; I found the number 5 permeating throughout my notes.
Before we break it down, John Daigle of ESPN True Hoop Network and blog writer for Brooklyn’s Finest was kind enough to answer a few questions:
At the deadline Brooklyn added Marcus Thornton. He adds versatility, 3-point scoring and ball handling to an already solid bench. Given Johnson, Pierce and Williams could all use some rest heading into the playoffs do you envision Thornton’s role will increase in the final 20 games?
I’d imagine Thornton’s role continues to evolve based on the sheer need for a role player such as himself. Since coming over from the Kings he’s logged 20+ minutes in six out of seven appearances, shooting at a slightly better rate. There’s no denying he’ll sprinkle in a dud here and there (Boston, anyone?), but that goes hand in hand with what he brings to the table. Take for instance his 25-point performance against Milwaukee. The Nets were reeling, the Bucks – for whatever reason – were sticking around and Brooklyn just couldn’t manage to gain an edge. Enter Marcus Thornton, who scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. He fills the void that we all imagined Terry would seamlessly mold into (spoiler alert: he didn’t) and that kind of style will allow him nearly all the freedom he wants on this roster.
Shaun Livingston entered the league when the trend of big point guards was growing in popularity, but a horrendous knee injury seemingly ended his career. Six years and ten teams later, Livingston is once again playing a crucial role as a starter. Aside from the fact Livingston is arguably the NBA feel good story of the year, what intangibles has he brought to the Nets and how much of the recent winning can be attributed to him?
Don’t get me wrong, Livingston has been outstanding recently. I just think when you talk about his season, you can’t go a paragraph without vehemently highlighting what he accomplished while Williams was sidelined. Injuries continued stacking, essentially forcing off-the-radar names such as Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Livingston into the lineup. But look at his numbers during that span: 9.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46 FG%. Nothing special, right? Of course not, and all because his impact (mostly) shined at the other end of the floor.
Currently allowing 107 points per 100 possessions, Livingston trimmed that number by an entire six points during his stint as a starter. I feel like he still struggles against smaller, more explosive guards, but hey, who doesn’t? The fact of the matter is, as much as Patrick Beverley (Rockets) is touted as an annoying on-ball defender, Livingston is that with an additional drive-and-kick game. His size allows him to avoid being bullied in the paint and his quickness makes up for the rest. It may be crazy talk, but if we’re ranking potential Net MVP’s, the discussion has to include Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, whatever guy told Jason Kidd to stop wearing ties and Livingston.
With the loss of Brook Lopez, the Nets revamped their style to small-ball with Pierce moving to power forward. Since January, Brooklyn is 21-9 and a game over .500. Small ball limits rebound opportunities, but the Nets now feature a wing heavy starting line-up who excels at scoring and moving the ball. What is the key to stopping this line-up?
Oddly enough, Brooklyn is their own worst enemy. It’s not really about stopping their scoring opportunities, though I’m sure that’s what teams prefer to hone in on. Their weakness is actually on the defensive side of the floor. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve probably seen the numerous small-ball numbers which display their vast improvements and, to be quite honest, those increments are factually dead-on. What they don’t show, however, is how the Nets now choose to gamble with percentages.
Let’s say Lowry receives a Johnson PNR at some point during tonight’s game. With no true center on the court, Brooklyn now makes an effort to overplay each and every pick, essentially assuming which direction the guard will choose to go. If Lowry goes left, the corner defender will creep up, the on-ball defender will take a few steps in and their teammate on the opposite side will, at the least, check the screener for a potential slash. If your head hasn’t exploded, this potentially leaves an open shooter at the opposite key. The thing is, you’re now forced to pass across the court, leaving either enough time for the defense to readjust or allowing the center to gamble on a steal. It’s a tough way to live, but as of now it’s paying off.
Garnett is the captain of Brooklyn’s defense, so how successful can the Nets expect to be in the next 20 games and the playoffs if his back continues to force his absence from the line-up?
Luck of the draw. If the Nets continue to grasp the sixth seed, they’re mostly likely looking at a first round match-up against, you guessed it, Toronto. And considering the youth on the Raptors, Brooklyn, if anything, could hang their hats on their accumulated experience. But if they survive an opening round, you’re looking at a seven-game slug-fest against either Indiana or Miami. The regular season will play itself out accordingly, but without KG, the juggernauts of the East will be an entirely different story.
Toronto sits atop the Atlantic with a 4-game lead and hold a 3-game edge in division wins. With no clear advantage in scheduling, is it safe to say this is a must win for Brooklyn to keep their hopes of winning the division alive or based on Williams comments is their goal simply to qualify as high as possible?
Consistency is clearly important, but right now it’s all about getting better. Guys like Plumlee, Collins and Thornton are going to matter come playoffs, so it’s crucial to continue giving them work. Fortunately, with a seven-game lead over the likes of Detroit (can’t play defense), New York (can’t play defense) and Cleveland (might play defense, but probably not), there’s room to work with. But that’s what makes this final stretch exciting, no?
Point Guard: Williams has a size advantage, however Lowry tends to play like a beast in these types of games (January 27: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals).
Shooting Guard: As per John’s comments Livingston has been brilliant on the defensive end and he’ll likely get the assignment to cover DeRozan who is due for a break-out shooting game.
Small Forward: Johnson presents a tough defensive assignment for Ross who fortunately has enough length to address Johnson’s height. Ross is shooting 69% from behind the arc since returning from his ankle injury (11 of 16).
Power Forward: For the second consecutive game Pierce took a shot to his shoulder and left the game with a stinger, but given the playoff implications I suspect he’ll play. Johnson tweaked his ankle Friday so he’ll need help defending Pierce.
Center: The biggest question tonight is will Garnett play. If Brooklyn wants a remote shot of catching the Raptors he will; if not, it speaks to how serious his back issues are. Last game Valanciunas held his own versus KG (20 points, 13 rebounds). The Nets are abysmal on the boards (29 RPG, 28 ORPG)
Edge: A coming out party for Valanciunas
Bench: Raptor killer: Blatche seems to produce his best results versus Toronto and Anderson will be amped to give it to his old team. Thornton has paid dividends, but following games where he scores 20 points his next game is less productive. Kirilenko will be a game time decision.
Patterson who had the key steal and game winner January, 27 is out (elbow). Novak’s been hot, Hansbrough gets up for these games and Vasquez could be a difference maker. The Nets rank 26 defending the three so expect Toronto to get a bunch up and exploit the gambles Brooklyn makes on defense.
Vegas says: Brooklyn favored by 2, public consensus leaning 51% to Brooklyn, over/under: 196.5
Tamberlyn says: Not since the Carter era can I recall a Raptor team with this type of swagger. They have a chip on their shoulder and they should. Pundits denounced Toronto’s chances of winning the Atlantic or maintaining the third seed, discarding the fact Toronto has occupied that position for the majority of the season. We are witnessing the rise of a young team with laser focus, intent on sending a message to their opposition, the media and the Association.
Tonight’s game will probably be a slug-fest regardless of who suits up. They know Brooklyn is a possible first round opponent and I fully expect Toronto to send the message regarding what Brooklyn can expect should they meet in April. I’m calling for a Raptor win by, (you guessed it) 5 points.
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At this point, it is basically a foregone conclusion that the Toronto Raptors are making the postseason. It would take an epic collapse to fall out of the Playoffs in a conference where a 26-35 record currently has Atlanta clinging to the eighth seed. Even for an organization that took a best-ever team record into the All-Star break in 2010 and still managed to screw up a postseason berth, falling out now would be borderline impossible. It won’t happen.
That means that, with just over a month to go until the Playoffs roll around, it’s time to start looking ahead to what’s in store for the Raptors after April 16th.
(As an aside, it still feels peculiar to be talking about the Raptors and the Playoffs this season. Heck, there is a chance that in this season, when they were supposedly looking to tank for Andrew Wiggins, they might wind up with their best record in franchise history! And that’s after trading away their most recognizable player. Okay, aside over.)
As well as they’ve played this season, though, the Playoffs are a different beast. Rotations tighten, intensity ratchets up and experience matters. Despite owning the third-best record in the East, there are some matchups that simply won’t benefit Toronto should the final standings not tilt in their favour.
Chicago demonstrated why back on February 19th. While the game was only a two-point loss, Chicago owned Toronto both physically and mentally all game long. They played at a level of intensity that Toronto looked unable to match over the course of an entire game. Chicago wants to own their opponents. They may not always win, but they will push you to the brink when they are on their game. While the two teams split the season series, the Chicago that Toronto saw on the 19th is the Chicago that Tom Thibodeau will be taking to the Playoffs, and they play the kind of basketball that grizzled Playoff veterans play when they do battle in seven-game series’. They are also exactly the kind of club that would feast on an inexperienced club like the Raptors in April.
That’s why if you’re the Raptors (or, rather, if you’re a Raptors fan), you’re probably hoping to avoid a first-round date with Chicago or Brooklyn when the Playoffs roll around next month. These are teams loaded with players who understand how the game changes in the postseason. They know how the games get more physical. How the games are called differently by the refs. They understand the pressure, both from within the team and without, and they know how to prey on inexperience, even if they couldn’t or didn’t do it during the regular season.
Also on RR today:
Raptors fans have witnessed this first hand. Back in 2007, the last time the club unexpectedly won the Atlantic Division, they were surgically picked apart by a veteran Nets squad led by Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. It wasn’t that the Nets were more talented, but they understood how to exploit the Raptors in the postseason. They amped up the physicality against Chris Bosh, which he didn’t know how to deal with (he shot .396 from the field in that series), they packed the paint and dared the Raptors to beat them from outside, knowing that they’ll get burned occasionally but trusting that they’ll win-out in the end (which they did), and they simply forced the game to be played at their pace, on their terms, and won it in six.
This isn’t a conversation about a young club getting dominated by a veteran squad in the postseason, though. Despite the staggering lack of Playoff experience on the Raptors (most of their main rotation has never played a meaningful minute in the Playoffs, and most of those that have possess only marginal experience), this is about veteran clubs understanding how to play a seven-game series. That Nets series seven years ago saw New Jersey win two nail-biters in Toronto, but they walloped the Raptors when the games were played in the Meadowlands. They exploited their little advantages to eke out a series win, because veteran teams understand the nuances of Playoff basketball in a way that young, inexperienced teams don’t.
If things shake out well for the Raptors, though, and they can land Charlotte or Washington in round one, things could work a lot more favourably for them. Neither squad has much to offer in terms of Playoff experience, and over the course of a seven-game series a healthy Raptors squad should be able to out-execute their opposition, or at least put themselves in a position to advance to round two for the first time since 2001. While both of those squads feature players that Toronto would have a hard time matching up with one-on-one (Al Jefferson and John Wall, respectively), on a team-to-team level the Raptors probably come out ahead.
The question is whether or not any of this means anything to the people tasked with running this Raptors squad. In a lot of ways the organization is playing with house money right now. The club has wildly outperformed expectations. Several players are having career-years out of nowhere. It would be easy for the team to say that any postseason experience is valuable, and that win or lose they will just be whetting the roster’s appetite for more in the future. After all, Dwane Casey has said repeatedly all season long that this year is as much about development as a postseason berth. While Thibodeau had his club grinding at a Playoff intensity in February, Casey may be more inclined to allow his team to play like they’ve been playing all season long, let the Playoffs arrive and let the chips fall where they may. Whereas most coaches might start experimenting with lineups, rotations and schemes that they will break out in full-force in the postseason, Casey may well keep working to get his young guys experience and his largish rotation playing time. That strategy may not exactly tune the team up for what Playoff basketball is like, but it maintains this season’s developmental goals and doesn’t over-invest in the meaning of this year’s surprise Playoff appearance.
In fact, that’s probably the biggest fear Raptors fans carry into this year’s postseason. It isn’t about whether or not the Raptors will acquit themselves admirably or not, it’s how deeply the club in investing in this season-long Cinderella story. Back in 2007, after the Nets dispatched the Raptors in round one, management doubled-down on a flawed roster, intoxicated by their unexpected success, and failed to build on their achievements as a result. The team got worse in each of the next two years because they never acknowledged how far away they were from contention despite their gaudy finish in the standings in ’07. Fans wouldn’t even be blamed for secretly hoping that the Raptors go down in round one to a more experienced club this year because it would send a message to management that this team ins’t ready, that it isn’t close and that more foundational work needs to be done before anyone should be satisfied with the makeup of the roster.
Whatever happens once the Playoffs are done, that the Raptors are almost assuredly going is still the real story here. The next month will be a fascinating one to watch, as we’ll get to see not only how the ever-shifting matchup situation plays out (if they Playoffs were to start today the third-seed Raptors would take on the sixth-seed Nets) but also how coach Casey chooses to tinker with his approach heading into the postseason – if at all. It was the Playoff berth that was never meant to happen, so how the organization chooses to approach it remains one of last intriguing story lines left to play out this season.
Same story as it’s been all season long.
The Toronto Raptors are 29-14 since the Rudy Gay trade (A.G). Let that sink in. The Raptors have a 67% winning percentage over their last 43 games. That’s more than half of an entire season.
Perhaps I’m the only one looking through this lonely window to the team, but I’m still reluctant to fully trust in what’s readily apparent. In a way, I’m the spurned lover who isn’t quite ready to embrace the same suitor. The years of hype and hoopla, when I full-throatily cheered on false prophets — Linas Kleiza, Hedo Turkoglu, Jermaine O’Neal come to mind — left me cautious and jaded. I can’t help but feel hesitant.
[You know who isn't hesitant? Andrew Thompson. Go read his quick reaction!]
Yet, all the signs are plain as day. The Raptors have the 10th-ranked offense and the 6th-ranked defense (per off/def-rating), and their A.G rankings shine even brighter. DeRozan has developed into an All-Star overnight, and Kyle Lowry finally found steady consistency and a bill of clean health. Terrence Ross has become an extremely serviceable 3-and-D guy, and his athletic potential is bursting at the seams. Jonas Valanciunas has been inconsistent, but the flashing beacon of potential is signaling to us that the shore is nearby. Amir Johnson remains as productive as ever, covering acres defensively and Patrick Patterson has been nothing short of a revelation. Why am I still doubting this team?
In truth, I have no rational answer to give, especially after performances likes last night’s 111-104 victory over the Wolves. Minnesota’s record is deceiving, as their peripheral statistics indicate that they’re a far better team than their record would suggest, and they had won 7 of their last 9 contests. They have one of the league’s 10-best players in Kevin Love, a bruising bear manning the middle in Nikola Pekovic, and a cadre of lengthy wing defenders. Aside from Ronny Turiaf and Ronnie Price, they were fully healthy, and they had a full head of steam. With Patterson out due to a right ulnar collateral sprain, I thought the Raptors were in for a long night.
Dwane Casey on the performance of his team: “I can’t say enough good things about those guys cause it’s going to take all of us, especially with Patrick being out”
And in most part, they were. The Wolves were ready and alert from the get-go. Rubio and Brewer’s pesky perimeter defense forced the Raptors into committing a litany of turnovers in the first quarter, and Amir Johnson failed to contain Kevin Love sans a double team. The Wolves made a concerted effort to run their offense through Love, and he managed 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists by end of the quarter. Johnson was too weak to hold his position in the post, and he was exhausted from having to close-out on Love on the perimeter. Amir’s fatigue, combined with Pekovic’s sheer bulk, led to the Wolves nabbing 6 offensive rebounds in the first quarter.
However, despite conceding the edge in both offensive rebounding and turnovers, the Raptors managed to keep the game tied at 32 apiece by shooting nearly 70% from the field.
The Raptors were firing on all cylinders. Amir Johnson attacked Love in the post and scored 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Terrence Ross sank all three of his field goal attempts — including two three pointers — and netted 10 points. Jonas dropped a silky-smooth jumper over Pek, Derozan sank his usual assortment of jumpshots and Lowry chipped in with four points and four assists.
The second frame featured a string of runs. The quarter started with a battle of the benches, and Toronto’s reserves thoroughly dominated their counterparts, outscoring them 10-0 over the first few minutes. Steve Novak played the role of small-ball four, and promptly drained a pair of triples.
Wolves head coach Rick Aldeman quickly reinserted his starters back into the game, which sparked a 17-2 run by Minnesota. Corey Brewer’s pesky defense smothered DeRozan, and he plucked a pair of steals. Pekovic and Love feasted on their diminutive opposition (Hansbrough played center) and JJ Barea flopped his way into being a decent NBA player. The Raptors squeaked into the half with a narrow 53-52 point lead.
The Raptors jumped ahead early in the third quarter. Terrence Ross sank yet another triple, and the Raptors found success by pushing the tempo. Credit goes to Kyle Lowry, who managed to rush ahead on the break, forcing the defense to collapse, and spotting open shooters on the perimeter with pin-point passes. He also skied for 5 rebounds in the quarter, and helped the Raptors even out the rebounding disparity. Greivis Vasquez was also very productive in the quarter, netting 7 points on four free-throws and a three pointer. He played alongside Lowry in a two-PG lineup, and he was able to capitalize on his height advantage over Barea. Toronto held a 7-point edge going into the fourth.
Dwane Casey rolled the dice and elected to start the final frame with his bench unit. Luckily, Novak sank his fourth and fifth triples of the game, and Vasquez managed to decidedly win the battle at back-up point. By keeping pace with the Wolves’ starters, Casey managed to keep DeRozan, Lowry and Johnson fresh.
The Raptors’ lead dwindled to as little as three with four minutes remaining in the game, but the Raptors were to execute effectively down the stretch. Jonas Valanciunas found Amir for a layup with a slick high-low feed from the elbow. On their next possession, Lowry and Valanciunas both grabbed an offensive rebound and managed to net extra looks for the Raptors. On their third attempt, Lowry penetrated into the lane, drew help defenders, and kicked it out to a wide open DeRozan spotting up from 17-feet. DeRozan followed up the next two possessions with a pair of free-throws, and a tough three-point dagger over Brewer. This effectively sealed the fate of the Wolves, who couldn’t stop turning the ball over on the other end.
Most impressively, the Raptors withstood the Wolves’ best punch. Kevin Love scored with a game high 26 points, and finished one assist shy of a triple double. Corey Brewer snagged 6 steals and dropped 17 points. Nikola Pekovic bullied his way to 17 points and Kevin Martin chipped in with 20 of his own, but it was not enough.
Demar Derozan on the victory: “We try to keep everybody’s spirits high even if it’s not going well on the basketball court and we don’t let nothing get down on us. That’s the cool thing about our team. We continue to keep it going.” (photo courtesy of The Associated Press)
It wasn’t enough to overcome a balanced attack led by Lowry and DeRozan. Kyle finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. DeRozan scored 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds. Ross, Amir and Novak all finished with 15 points apiece, and Jonas did his part by grabbing 9 rebounds.
The Wolves played to the best of their abilities, but the better team simply pulled away down the stretch. For the first time in many years, the Toronto Raptors are more than just the respectable darlings of the East — they’re a legitimately good team, and a threat to make some serious noise in the playoffs.
The success of this team — however serendipitous and unintentional as it may be — is real, and it’s time for this bitter bah-humbug, and any others out there, to love again.
They deserve it.
People keep talking playoffs like they know what’s up. This week on the pod I bring in two playoff veterans (in internet terms) who have seen it all and done it all (again, in internet terms). First up is Kyle Weldie of Truth About It which is the ESPN TrueHoop site for the Wizards. We ask Kyle who the Wizards would like to face and avoid in the playoffs and I guarantee you that his answer for who he’s like to face will surprise you.
We talk some about John Wall and DeMar DeRozan’s soon-to-be maiden playoff appearance, matchups and all that good stuff not related to tanking and also some Andray Blatche. And yeah, I ask him what he thinks of tanking and he feels he’s seen enough.
After that it’s James Herbert who reveals the scars left by Bryan Colangelo (they’re deep purple), gives his thoughts on what’s up with the Knicks and wonders what I think of Jonas Valanciunas’ playing time being slashed like a walker in The Walking Dead.
We assess the likelihood of anyone landing Eric Bledsoe, just what is wrong in New York, why Phil Jackson is even answering the phone, talk about the Rockets and Hawks in subsequent sentences and after all is said and done I key his car on the way out of the parking lot. Somewhere in there there’s Dwane Casey, James Dolan, Herbert’s childhood and a whole lot more.
Kyle Lowry once again provided tenacity in droves, picking up his fifth career triple-double and second of the season in a masterful performance. Each starter scored at least 15 points besides Jonas Valanciunas, who picked up nine rebounds in a quietly effective outing. Contributions came from across the board, a total team effort, a theme since Rudy Gay was dealt to Sacramento. Steve Novak replaced Patterson’s shooting touch with five three-pointers on six attempts and Chuck Hayes provided the grit, defence and rebounding that Patterson had been chipping in.
The Wolves had pulled within a basket with five minutes left. “This is their team,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said of his starting backcourt. “Down the stretch they really turned it on.” Down the stretch, the Wolves couldn’t convert enough around the rim, as they hadn’t all night, while the Raptors continued to make three-pointers. Four of their 14 threes came in the final quarter. The Wolves end their four-game homestand against Eastern Conference opponents by playing NBA-worst Milwaukee on Tuesday, with the season and any distant playoff hopes disappearing from sight. “We just have to do it better,” Adelman said. “We can’t hang our heads. It’s a good team that we played … We got beat. We’ve got to turn it around and come back Tuesday and get a win.”
He’d heard some chirping from the Timberwolves earlier in the game, but the last laugh is always the best, and as the ball ripped through the cords of the net, he turned to the bench, glared, let loose a couple of words not suitable for publication and trotted back down the court. It was the punctuation mark on a delightful fourth quarter for both DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as the Raptors dumped the Timberwolves 111-104 — and it looked like DeRozan was having all the fun in the world. “When you’re an all-star, you’re growing up, your true self starts to come out a little bit,” Lowry said of DeRozan. “He’s a quiet guy but when you’re winning and you’re a leader, you’ve got to do it.” And you’ve go to do it because it feels great to give as good as you get.
“It’s crazy,” DeMar DeRozan said of Lowry’s effort. “We all look at one another and realize, what can I do to help him out?” “Just seeing him going there, sometimes he comes out of nowhere and you see him snatch a ball out of a bigs hand, or coming over the top like he has a 42-inch vertical or something. That’s just Kyle, man. He’s hungry for the ball every time the ball goes up.” His passion, like his tenacity, has been contagious and his backcourt partner appears to have caught the bug. With just over a minute to go and the shot clock ticking down, up seven, DeRozan took a pass from Lowry. Situated in the left corner, with the Wolves’ Corey Brewer in his face, he drained the dagger, a three-pointer to put the Raptors up 10. On his way to the Raptors’ huddle, Minnesota having just called a timeout, a fired-up DeRozan turned to the Wolves’ bench and shouted a couple of R-rated words that did not sit well with coach Rick Adelman.
Remember all those blown games? The fourth-quarter losses when the HOTH just couldn’t avoid those three- or four-minute lapses and so many games got away from them? Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? Have said often, even as those defeats piled up, that they were perfect learning opportunities and it seems they have learned quite a bit. And when we were talking to DeMar about it, he made the point as well as anyone could: “That’s just the confidence we have. We have guys on this team one through five that can hit big shots. When you have that type of confidence, you never feel like you’re out of a game.” Confidence is a fickle thing, sometimes it goes as quickly as it comes but this group is as confident as any I’ve seen around this franchise in a very long time. Odd feeling.
The loss puts the Wolves at 31-31 on the season, and with Dallas notching a big win tonight over Indiana, the Wolves’ already-slim playoff chances are looking worse and worse. Despite some feisty play from the starting lineup, they were forced to play catch-up for essentially the entire game, and never fully recovered. “We just have to do it better. We can’t hang our heads, it’s a good team that we played,” Rick Adelman said after the game. “They’ve [Toronto] been playing really well and they have a lot of veteran players. They did a nice job of getting the win. We can’t hang our heads, we got beat. We got to turn it around and come back Tuesday and get a win.”
With the game still close as ever, the Raps were to put it to rest as a small three-point party emerged from the team. DeRozan and Lowry made a three point shot each, while Novak continued doing what he does best, making two three pointers. As well, the Raps were shooting 80 percent from that area. In the waning minutes with what looked like a Raptors win in the books, things took a quick turn. The Wolves’ Brewer was fouled on a late play, but instead of stepping to the line to take the usual two, he missed his second free-throw on purpose, secured the rebound, and put in the lay-up. He then attempted it again and while he wasn’t successful, Minnesota secured the rebound and nearly got the game to only two possessions.
But if the playoffs did begin today, Toronto and Brooklyn would face off in the opening round. And with two of the three games that have already been played between these two having been decided by a total of three points, Raptors-Nets could be one of the better first-round matchups. Beginning on Monday, when Toronto is scheduled to face Brooklyn for the fourth and final time, the Raptors will play five of its next 10 games against teams headed for the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Nets will be tested a little more than Raptors, with seven of their next nine outings against opponents bound for the postseason.
For the Raptors to reach more than 47 wins, they have to go at least 14-8 in their final 22 games. It is not impossible, but it will be a tough task. They have six divisional games left, they have six back-to-back games remaining, and they still play the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers one more time each. The Raptors have been playing solid basketball since December and they are likely going to have an opportunity to win each of their remaining games. However, will they learn how to play a full four quarters instead of mostly showing up in the second half? Will they learn how to close out games instead of allowing teams back in it? The Raptors have proven they can play with anyone and beat anyone. Now it is just a matter of consistently going out and doing it.
It can be argued that behind James Harden, DeRozan has been the second-best shooting guard in the NBA this season. At the very least, that deserves All-NBA consideration. First team? Let’s say Harden. Second team? Wade seems reasonable. Third team? It’s got to be No. 10
He helped make “Mozgov’d” and “posterized” synonymous with an incredible throwdown during the 2012-13 season. DeRozan is the kind of player who in years past has been forgotten by fans outside of Toronto. He’s always been an incredible athlete, but unless you followed the Toronto Raptors or stumbled across them on League Pass, you probably didn’t see enough to create any significant memories.
Q: So who or what movie was the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars? A: Man, I was actually surprised that “American Hustle,” I don’t think they won anything. Except for maybe costumes, maybe? Maybe costume design, it was either them or “The Great Gatsby.” Maybe “The Great Gatsby” won costumes. [Ed: “The Great Gatsby” did indeed win Best Costume Design; “American Hustle” didn't win any of the 10 categories in which it was nominated.] But there was an award that I felt like “American Hustle” should have won, or at least they should’ve won one.
When the schedules were announced in early August, the Nets’ news release mentioned games with the crosstown Knicks, defending-champion Miami Heat and the team’s mid-January jaunt to London where they faced the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors, justifiably, weren’t mentioned. This was a team that stumbled out to a 7-12 start before trading its best-known player, Rudy Gay, to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vásquez, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson. Less than two months later, those four helped steal a win in Brooklyn that ended a five-game winning steak and put the Raptors 2½ games over the Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.
DeMar DeRozan vs. Joe Johnso. Both all-stars, though DeRozan was a far more deserving choice. Johnson got in on reputation, but remains one of the best clutch players in the game and a solid defender. Johnson has shot 43% from three-point range over his past five games, but is averaging career lows in most categories and will have his hands full with DeRozan. Look for Kyle Lowry to try to make a statement against the Nets, since he didn’t make the all-star game because Johnson did.
Hit me up with your Raptors-related links: [email protected]
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 32 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-3 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | -8
Amir looked exhausted early on trying to cover Kevin Love. Caught out of position boxing out for boards and out of place trying to stick with Love around the perimeter. Injuries might have brought the mileage down on his motor for the time being, but it hasn’t stopped him from trying. 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting is pretty good for an off night.
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 5-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | -1
I dream of living in a world where Terrence Ross gets full minutes. It’s nice there. Every time Ross was on the court the announcers couldn’t stop gushing over his shooting, transition scoring, gravity defying rebounding potential and sharply improving defence. We’ll get to that world someday.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 24 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +3
Jonas got a chance to get involved early, so it was a game where he played engaged basketball. Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to stop Nik Pekovic from scoring once he’s got position low. So Valanciunas got scored on, a lot. Which had Valanciunas sitting on the bench, a lot. But breaking from habit, Casey gave big Val a chance to get back in the game late and it paid off. Valanciunas was the centre-piece of a key offensive possession late in the game that helped the Raptors break away from the Wolves when he set a high screen, rolled to the rim, drew in both defenders and then hit Amir with a beautiful pass for the easy and 1.
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 36 MIN | 5-13 FG | 9-10 FT | 12 REB | 11 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 20 PTS | +5
Kyle Lowry is a monster. on a terrible shooting night he still put up a triple double, dominated the flow and attitude of the game and refused to let the Wolves take this game. Kyle Lowry just plays so much bigger than he is. When you’re standing beside them, there’s hardly a difference in size to notice between Lowry and JJ Barea. But watching on TV, Lowry looks like he’s 6 inches and 60 pounds bigger because of the way he plays.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 8-17 FG | 7-9 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 25 PTS | +3
DeMar bailed out a lackluster game and bad opening quarter with a fantastic close to the game, hitting a series of tough and key shots down the stretch. Corey Brewer was making a living off of DeMar carelessly dribbling through the middle of the offensive zone in the early parts of the game. Those turnovers were the only reason that Minnesota stuck around in the first half of the game. It helps make those easier to swallow when you end the game on such a high note though.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +4
The big effort was not much of a factor in his time on the court. He lacked the size to contain Pekovic (which is to say that he too is human).
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | +1
Casey put in Hayes to try and contain a dominating Pekovic just as Pekovic came out of the game. Hayes would probably improve his offensive efficiency if he decided to actually aim his shots. Being right beside the basket can be a considerable advantage if you, you know, try to do more than huck the ball in the general direction of the backboard. It’s worth mentioning that Ricky Rubio beat Hayes in a jump ball.
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +5
It’s unclear why Salmons played so many of Ross’ minutes tonight. Shooting 1-for-6 doesn’t exactly explain it.
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0
Landry Fields getting subbed in for 8 seconds of defence a game just feels kind of mean. Casey treats Fields playing time like offering he’s offering him a high five and then pulling it away at the last second.
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 5-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +16
Novak is the basketball equivalent of a really good food vendor cart. Stick with me, because that’s not meant as an insult. Steve Novak only does one thing, but he does it really, really well. Like a dynamite BBQ food vendor that goes to trade shows, concerts, festivals and parks and absolutely kills selling BBQ ribs. It’s not enough to sustain an entire restaurant; it’s only one food option, and it probably doesn’t even have a side. But in the right circumstance, doing that one thing really well gives it a niche to exploit. Novak doesn’t do anything other than shoot 3′s, but damn, he does it really, really well.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 3-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +12
Tonight we learned that General Greivis hates JJ Barea. He took it right at him with increasing anger every chance he got. It’s an unnatural feeling to have so much fun rooting for the bigger guy whose bullying the little guy. But something about Barea makes me feel OK with that. Has anyone ever gone from universally adored to somewhere between annoying and despised so fast? The journey from the 2011 NBA finals to now has not been a popularity uptick for JJ.
Casey’s minutes allocation continues to be a source of curious frustration. But the defence that he’s been developing with this team over the last few years has finally started to come in to it’s own. It’s tough to complain too much when the team picks up a win on the road, so let’s save our sour grapes for another day.
A quick look at how Terrence Ross managed to shoot 6-for-8 from deep against the Sacramento Kings.
The Sacramento Kings are not good at playing defense.
They rank 24th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They allow the 5th most points per game. They allow an above-average number of three-point attempts and they commit the second most fouls per game. Pick your favorite defensive metric — odds are, the Kings rank near the bottom.
Their porous defense was on full display two nights ago. The Raptors scored 99 points — a smidgen over their seasonal average — and posted a sparkling offensive rating of 108.2. In comparison, that mark would rank 5th in the NBA this season.
The problems of the Kings defense cannot be pinned on one player alone. Isiah Thomas tends to gamble for steals, McLemore has all the awareness of a rookie in the NBA and DeMarcus Cousins gets foul-happy when he’s frustrated, but none of them are solely to blame for their defensive shortcomings. Rather, their problem would be best described as a general malaise. It’s a cop-out answer, but it’s apt. The Kings simply lack intensity.
The main beneficiary of the Kings’ malaise was Terrence Ross, who managed to shoot 6-for-8 from deep because the Kings had no answer to one of the most basic actions on a basketball court — screens.
At this current point and time, Ross’ most credible skill on offense is the ability to spot-up from deep. Last season, Ross’ shot was erratic and he wasn’t entirely sure of where to go on offense. This season, Ross has demonstrated increased awareness on offense, and he’s learned how to utilize screens to his favor. He’s leveraged his new-found nuance into better shooting from the field.
Part of Ross’ nuance is the ability to utilize screens, which allows the Raptors to set him up in his favorite spot: the left corner. Ross’ possesses quick foot-speed and works hard to get open. The action is simple, and it usually starts with Ross setting up on the opposite side of the ball. Ross cuts along the baseline, and he tries to get penetration by darting around two screens. Usually, the screeners are whichever bigs happen to be on the court at any given time. The play looks something like this.
Staggering the screens gives Ross the option of throwing different looks at his defender. The defender is forced to choose his fate on the first screen. If he trails baseline, Ross likes to leverage this by spotting up near the break because this forces his defender to run a longer distance. The gif above is one such example. Conversely, if the defender darts on the outside of the first screen, Ross likes to zig into the corner. Again, this forces defenders to run a longer distance, thus affording Ross more space and time.
The Raptors also like to run another more complicated play for Ross. This time, Ross starts on the strongside and moves to the weakside. However, the ball handler tracks his progress, and makes a similar move as Ross. While Ross is cutting baseline, a double pin-down screen is set by the point guard (usually Lowry) and a big. When executed properly, this creates a glut of bodies — each screener and their defender — which forms a pseudo-net for Ross’ defender. If everything goes to plan, the double-screen takes out three defenders, and the ball-handler is able to hit Ross wide-open for a shot.
Teams have clued into Ross’ shooting — people tend to notice 51-point games — and are guarding Ross more tightly, which is why more diligent defensive squads have managed to neutralize Ross’ shooting. However, it’s nice to see Casey and his staff drawing up subtle, but clever plays for Ross to get open, which bodes well for the playoffs. In a seven-game series, teams will figure out the Raptors’ favorite plays, so it’s up to both the players, and the coaching staff to invent counter-attack measures.
Just food for thought.
Time for the Raptors to start making some changes.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) March 9, 2014
This is a bummer. Patrick Patterson has been huge for the Raptors, averaging 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game on 49.7% shooting from the field. Luckily, the injury does not appear to be serious at the moment.
Assuming he misses the minimum 7 days, Patterson will miss tonight’s game against Minnesota, Monday’s game against the Nets, Wednesday’s contest versus the Pistons, and Friday’s contest against the Grizzlies.
It’s worth noting that the prognosis at the moment is a sprain, which is better than a tear. Earlier this season, Steve Blake tore the right ulnar collateral ligaments in his elbow and missed approximately a month.
In the meantime, Tyler Hansbrough will likely take over as the first big off the bench, and Chuck Hayes will likely see an uptick in playing time.
UPDATE (5:55 PM)
Patterson has been playing through the elbow injury, sustained it a few weeks back but aggravated it Fri. Docs recommended 7-10 days of rest
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 9, 2014
For most of you, this upcoming week marks the final matchup of the regular season for your fantasy league. Many of you already know if you’re in the playoffs by now or not, as well as who your matchup in the first round will be. This is where the fantasy specialist comes in handy. It’s key to know your opponents strengths and weaknesses before starting your playoff push. Look at how your categories matchup against your opponent and make note of the ones that are close. With those in mind, it’s time to search the waiver wire for the right player that will help tip the scales into your favour.
A fantasy specialist is a player who excels in one particular category, without hurting you in the rest. Quite often the most effective specialist is one who gets steals, blocks or three-pointers because these categories produce low totals throughout the week, making it possible for one player to contribute enough to turn the tides. They can often be found on the waiver wires this time of year and a savvy owner will be ready to rotate them into their starting line-up come playoff time to get that extra edge.
Perhaps no one on the Raptors fit this bill better than Terrence Ross. This specialist does his damage from behind the arc! In fact, Ross has hit 28 three-point shots in his last 10 games alone, including 17 in his last four outings. He’s also been a solid contributor in the points category as well, always an important category in the event of a tie. Over the last 30 days T.Ross has averaged 13.1 PTS off .505 FG% and .833 FT%, while hitting 2.8 three-pointers per game, with 1.9 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.9 STL and 0.4 BLK per contest. He may not contribute much to your rebounding, assist, steal or block totals, but the numbers still show that he’s capable of giving you something in any of those categories on any given night.
The reasons he’s such an effective specialist stems from his efficiency. Terrence’s impressive field-goal percentage over the last month is backed up by his .415 three-point shooting percentage on the season, converting on 118 of 284 attempts so far in his sophomore year. His minutes have been on an upward trend, averaging close to 28 min. per game this past month, as he continues to show defensive promise in Casey’s system. At this point in his rookie season, Ross often stood around looking lost on defence and didn’t seem strong enough to hit the three point shot. Clearly he had hit the rookie wall. In comparison, this year he’s moving his feet and staying in front of his cover, he’s rotating quickly, he’s hustling down loose balls and flashing on fast breaks. He’s also able to consistently hit shots from beyond the three-point line and seems ready to play into the playoffs. We’ve yet to see the best of the young man, but so far the developmental schedule for TDotFlight31 appears to be on time.
With only two games on tap for the Raptors this past fantasy week, one of which is still to come, it was hard to choose most of the guys if you play in a weekly league. That said, this upcoming week has four games on the docket (Brooklyn, Detroit, Memphis, Phoenix), meaning lots of floor time for your favourite Raptors players.
DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating drops from 45th down to 49th, and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. DeMar continues to treat his fantasy owners right, averaging 23.5 PTS off of .483 FG% and .818 FT%, hitting 0.5 three-pointers, with 2.5 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.0 STL and 0.5 BLK in the last two games. His efficient performances have been bolstered with double-digit trips to the free-throw line. In the last four games he’s earned 49 looks from the free-throw line, converting 39 of them. With defences trying to key in on him, DeRozan has continued to make his opponents pay by punishing them with on-point passing when driving the lane, finding his teammates the open look and picking up the assist. With an Atlantic division game on the line to start the week and potential statement games against the defence of Memphis and playoff bound Phoenix to end the week, look for DeMar to come in top form and ready to fill the stats sheets.
Kyle Lowry – Season player rating drops from 12th down to 14th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. In true pit bull fashion, Kyle came ready to play despite rolling his ankle in the triple overtime loss last week to Washington. Despite the injuries the little warrior has averaged 12.5 PTS off .208 FG% and .917 FT%, with 3.0 REB, 7.5 AST and 1.5 STL in the last two games. Despite the awful field-goal percentage Kyle has managed to offset it with 6 free throw shots per game, as well as add 2.0 three-pointers in that stretch. With four games on this week’s schedule and five games in eight days, any nagging injuries are bound to rear its ugly head. Expect Kyle to show up and give 100% as he always does. However, expect coach Casey to rest him if any of the games are well in control as he alluded to in Friday night’s press conference after the game.
Amir Johnson – Season player rating drops from 66th down to 75th and is owned by 53.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir continues to impress averaging 9.0 PTS off .615 FG%, with 9.0 REB, 3.0 AST and 0.5 BLK in the last two games. A perfect player to fill an open power forward or center slot and still available in nearly half the leagues at ESPN. Johnson has been crafty with the pick and roll play as of late, taking of defenders leaving him on the double team. Down the stretch Casey will continue to rely upon Amir to get the job done and help solidify third in East and the Atlantic title. Despite not earning a steal in the last two contests, expect Tall Money to continue to fill the stats line.
Terrence Ross – Season player rating slips from 120th down to 125th and owned by 17.2% of the leagues at ESPN. After missing only one game, Terrence came back from his ankle injury with 18 PTS off .500 FG%, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL and 1 BLK against Sacramento. He swiftly sunk six three-pointers all within the flow of the offense. Ross has developed nicely throughout the season, showing his first signs of maturity. It will be interesting to see how he and the team handles the step up of play and intensity from the opposition expected come playoff time.
Patrick Patterson – Season player rating rises from 138th back up to 137th and owned by 0.8% of the leagues at ESPN. 2Pat continues his excellent contributions averaging 13.5 PTS off .556 FG% and hitting 2.5 three-pointers, with 5.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.0 STL and 1.5 BLK over the last two games. He’s playing such efficient basketball right now, the way he moves his feet on the defensive end, fishing those passing lanes and protecting the rim, there isn’t anything this guy won’t do. When he can get 8 to 12 shots, Patterson becomes quite an effective fantasy option. When looking back over his last seven games however, he’s only been able to hit that zone three times. Despite that, adding 2Pat into an empty roster spot for a game certainly seems like a gamble worth taking. He is an interesting three-point specialist to keep in mind as he plays the power forward position, where players who hit 2+ three-pointers per game are few and far between.
Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating drops from 106th down to 110th and is owned by 71.8% of the leagues at ESPN. Jonas continues to struggle from a fantasy perspective. Over the last two contests he has averaged 12.0 PTS off .800 FG%, with 5.0 REB, 0.5 AST, 0.5 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. On the plus side, he’s finishing at a very high rate. The downside is that he’s only averaging 7.5 shots over the last two games. The saddest part is that those shots are up from the 6.6 he’s averaged over the last 30 days. Unfortunately his production just isn’t there and neither is his minutes, currently earning 24.5 min. per game, that’s 3 min. below his season average. As he continues to go through some sophomore struggles, expect coach Casey to keep a tight leash on the big fella with the ability to slide Hansbrough and Hayes into the line-up in his place.
Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating drops from 173rd down to 180th and is owned by 35.6% of the leagues at ESPN. The rematch against Sacramento was the first in nine games that Greivis failed to hit a three-point shot. Over the last two games he has averaged 8.0 PTS off .333 FG%, with 3.5 AST and 1.0 STL. Despite his numbers slipping from the weeks previous, I believe we will see some good production in the week ahead. With 5 games in 8 days, Coach Casey made it clear that he would like to rest Lowry if given an opportunity to. This bodes well for Vasquez if he can keep the floor time away from de Colo, but they are the 2 most likely recipients of any extra run from resting Lowry.
The 34-26 Raptors kick off a tough road back-to-back on Sunday night at 7 p.m. against the 31-30 Timberwolves on Sportsnet One. I know, I know, everyone’s going to be watching whatever they call the Geminis these days, but the game will still take place. From there, it’s off to Brooklyn for a relatively important road game on Monday against the Nets.
One day at a time, though, so let’s break down Kevin Love and company. When Minnesota visited in mid-January, the Raptors surprised with a 94-89 victory, holding Kevin Love to 7-of-19 shooting in the process, one of his worst outings of the season. Maybe it was the camo jerseys. Maybe he was out too late at Les Mis the night before. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely Love has another bad outing and it’s equally unlikely the Wolves go ice-cold from long range again. The work is cut out for the Raps.
While the Wolves don’t allow in inordinate amount of close looks, they do surrender the league’s highest opponent FG% within five feet. Is that a result of exploitable individual post defenders or more a lack of help defense being unable to cover when penetrators get past the first defender?
Their pick and roll defense has been really poor this year because they’re not stopping dribble penetration in that second level of the defense. They allow the initiator to get too deep into the middle of the defense and then it’s either a layup or it’s a dump down. The post defense has been good enough this season. The weird thing is the fouling situation. Pekovic and Love simply don’t foul guys. With Love it’s a concerted effort not to foul and he’ll end up not contesting shots to avoid fouls.
It’s a strategy that keeps their foul rate down (I think they’re best in the league at that) which helps their defensive rating overall. But ultimately it makes the defense look bad and causes them to look like saloon doors around the basket.
If the 2013-14 Wolves season were a movie, what movie would it be?
The Wolves would be the movie Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes had all of the components of a great movie. Nic Cage was a big star at the time, Gary Sinise is a brilliant actor. Carla Gugino is ridiculously hot. You’ve got a great storyline of a conspiracy and needing to break down why a murder happened and who is involved with all kinds of plot twists.
And yet it simply doesn’t work. It’s a very rewatchable and entertaining movie. You’re not mad that you experience it. But you walk away from it thinking, this just needs to be more.
While rare, Kevin Love does, occasionally, have an off night on the offensive end. Are those just cold shooting nights, or is there something specific defenses can exploit to try and shut him down?
Love had 19 points against the Knicks the other night in a loss and just looked terrible. He short-armed some shots in the post and admitted after the game that he simply didn’t feel right with the ball in his hands. That it felt weird. Anybody who has played basketball knows that feeling can happen. But there are things a defense can do to get him off his game.
The key is being physical with Love when the refs aren’t calling a lot of fouls. Love thrives on having space for outside shots and getting to the free throw line. There are times when guys like Amir Johnson play Love extremely physical and if he’s not getting the calls, he has a hard time adjusting his game. He’s better about it this season but it’s still an occasional issue.
Ricky Rubio famously told Alexey Shved to change his face. If you could have any two NBA players switch faces in a Face-Off experiment, whose faces would you switch?
JJ Barea and Andre Miller. It would be really tough because you really need to change their bodies and especially their asses. Miller’s ass is a huge weapon for him on the court because he knows how to use it to create space. Barea is good at creating space for shots inside but he really needs as much space as possible to be effective. Also he could be a better decision maker. Ideally, Miller would be their backup point guard.
True or False: The Wolves would be the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference?
True. If you look at a lot of the advanced team numbers, the Wolves are like the 13th best team in the NBA. Unfortunately 10 of those teams ahead of them are in the West. Put them in the Central or the Atlantic and they’d feast on the weaker competition, licking up the 3-seed in a season like this. But unfortunately they’re in the West and they just don’t have quite enough to be what they need to be out there.
Vegas says: Wolves by 4.5 with 57 percent of the action going their way; 60 percent like the over at 206.5
Hollinger says: Wolves by 3.5
Minnesota’s finest rock export, Soul Asylum, says: Say what you will, Clarnece…Karl sold the truck
Blake says: Zach’s point about bodying up Love is an important one, and the Raptors are in a good position to try and do so. Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough can try and bang with him, and even Chuck Hayes is an option, though he’d be in trouble if Love put the ball on the floor. Offensively, getting Patrick Patterson involved should prove helpful, forcing Love to either work or give up on late contest situations, which 2-Pat can help provide with his abilities in the pick-and-roll.
Not to focus everything on one player, but Love’s obviously the key. Kyle Lowry had a strong game last time, though it was mostly due to hot shooting rather than exploiting the lack of a second layer of defense. DeMar DeRozan can’t settle for mid-range shots like he did in their last meeting, and he can take a lesson from Terrence Ross, who attacked well against this defense.
There are ways to exploit what the Wolves don’t do well, is what I’m saying. However, I’m feeling pessimistic this morning, and I’m giving the Wolves a seven-point edge. This is a science, obviously, and that number was carefully crafted, not at all determined by how many pancakes I plan on eating.
A little context here for those of you who aren’t attuned with the latest hip-hopping trends. Reddit is a social media website that allows redditors to share items, discuss, interact and contribute to a web forum.
Individual interest topics — matters miniscule to monumental — are grouped into “subreddits”. For example, there is a subreddit for the NBA, which is fairly active and healthy. Conversely, there’s an entire subreddit devoted to GIFs of Carlos Boozer’s reactions, which is as awesome as you’d expect.
An Ask Me Anything (AMA) segment is one specific type of discussion on Reddit where selected questions submitted by redditors are answered by the host. In this case, Terrence Ross will be the one taking questions. If you’re looking for AMA’s by other notable NBA personalities, check out Daryl Morey, Danny Green and the multiple AMA’s by The Basketball Jones/The Starters(old)/The Starters (new).
In short, you have a chance to ask Terrence Ross a question on the internet. That’s kinda cool?
Being an active redditor (/u/ddaylewis, duh), let me issue a word of warning with AMA’s — the vast majority of questions answered are submitted in the first few minutes of the segment. This is because the questions at the top of the queue are dictated by a system of up-votes and older questions have more time to accumulate upvotes.
Ross’ AMA will start at 3 PM EST, which is a time when most people are busy. For those who have a question, but will be busy, here’s my solution: I will be on my laptop when the AMA starts, and I can ask your question(s) on your behalf. In the spirit of reddit (democracy by upvote), I will ask the three questions with the most upvotes in the comments.
And of course, we here at RR will recap and link to the AMA once it’s finished. It’s a brave new world.
Kings 87, Raptors 99 – Box
Rudy Gay comes back and gets booed, plays the way he did when he was with the Raptors and the Kings get blown out. Of course there’s no reason for booing him but that’s your ACC crowd right there. My theory is that they’re still so scarred by Vince Carter that some weird kind of muscle-memory kicks in every time they see a moderately talented ex-Raptor return to the city. They don’t boo Reggie Evans or Quincy Acy because they supposedly gave it their all, while Rudy Gay didn’t. Of course, there’s no evidence to suggest this but let’s not have facts get in the way of a good boo, especially when you’re committed enough to doing it on every touch. Ugh.
The main danger area for Sacramento is always DeMarcus Cousins for two reasons: 1) DeMar Cousins has serious size and skill that hurts you on both ends, and 2) we got nobody to quite matchup with DeMarcus Cousins. Thus it’s a good thing that DeMarcus Cousins picked up two fouls midway through the first and allowed the Raptors to extend a four point lead to ten by the end of the frame. A loud sigh of relief was heard in the ACC when the Raptors matched up Amir Johnson against Cousins on a switch, sparing Jonas Valanciunas blushes.
Offered the reprieve, Valanciunas thanked the fans and his coach by facing up against Cousins and knocking down some of his patented short jumpers, which look about as smooth as a porcupine hugging a hedgehog. On this night there were effective, and on one momentous occasion he even drew a foul causing me to erupt in what can best be described as relief.
DeMar DeRozan was being checked by a combination of Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay, who he didn’t see much of a challenge in. At least that’s what I could surmise after DeRozan upped the degree of difficulty on some of his shots to NBA2K All-Pro Level. That wasn’t enough to send the score into the red as Kyle Lowry was executing his semi-transition play where he dribbles the ball hard up the court only to find a trailer with good effect. The first-quarter assist disparity (7-1 Raptors) reflected the style of play for both teams. On one end you had the Raptors moving the ball, and on the other you had McLemore, Gay (guarded by Ross) and Isaiah Thomas going rogue.
Quick X’s and O’s note. Terrence Ross had a good-shooting game and one of the play that gets him open is a baseline screen, usually set by Johnson, followed by an elbow screen, usually set by Valanciunas, followed by him flaring out to the wing for a three. On this night he had a couple of those which got him going early, thus kept him going late. You can see all his field goals here.
Another X’s and O’s note while we’re at it. DeMar DeRozan likes that dribble-handoff on the perimeter and likes to turn inside, and when he does he has some options available to him, like a short pull-up or a drive. When the big in those situations steps out on DeRozan, the play sort of breaks down. It ends up with DeRozan being with the ball against a, more or less, set defense and trying his shoulder/pump fakes to get a shot off. Not pretty, might want to swing that ball when that happens.
Sacramento was a bit better in the second quarter. To be specific, it was Toronto’s perimeter defense, specifically Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan against Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore that let us down. The dribble-penetration was quite easy for their guards, and with Johnson glued to Cousins in the paint, the finishing became easy. Just as Sacramento was gaining some momentum, Cousins picked up his third foul on a push-off against Tyler Hansbrough, sending him to the bench. Side-note: Watching Hasnbrough and Reggie Evans go at it for a rebound is quite funny. Basically, they’re in some sort of ass-wrestling match where you win by resisting to throw an elbow to the chest for a foul.
Patrick Patterson had 15 points on 5-8 shooting included three treys, and more impressively, had a couple huge blocks near the rim which you didn’t see coming. You don’t associate the words “rim protector” with Patterson and I realize he’s not that, yet I suspect he’s going to continue to provide some steel down the middle when would-be adventurers like Thomas ply their trade inside. Good stuff, Patrick. And I’ll let the Quincy Acy fans who were bemoaning the seldom-used swingman’s departure in the Gay-trade as something to shed a tear about know that Patrick Patterson, currently, is 10 times the player Acy is.
“Most of all, he’s got that old-man strength. You’ve got to be strong to hold your ground against Cousins, he’s a beast in there … I thought his brute strength helped him hold his position. He knows him but, still, you can know him and still not be able to hold your spot. He did that and we didn’t have to double team.”
There was some suggestion that the Kings might make a game of it in the second half since Cousins, limited to only 8:32 in the first half, would play a lot more in the second. Those fears were rendered invalid when Dwane Casey made two moves against Cousins: 1) Sent occasional help whenever he dribbled to throw him off base, and 2) Switched Chuck Hayes on him. Hayes stripped Cousins twice in the third quarter which frustrated the latter to no end. Sacramento’s offense had a distinct shade of Rudy Gay about them and shot 40% to the Raptors’ 50% in the third. The main threat for the Raptors was again Ross, who had five of his six FGs assisted on, including three threes in the third, and 6-8 3FG on the night.
The lead at the end of the third was 17 and reached 23 in the fourth quarter before the accounting was complete at a 12-point margin.
So what did we learn? We learned that if you control DeMarcus Cousins through foul trouble, neutralize the Kings’ dribble penetration, they’ll be forced into jumpers which they’re not very good at making. When the Kings were having any moderate success they were going inside and edging up a 26-14 margin in points in the paint for the first half. In the second that number was only slight at 16-14.
For the Raptors it’s all about distribution. They had five guys in double figures and two others with 9 and 8 points. You can’t quite plan for that as an opposing coach, and so it was that the Kings were overwhelmed by Ross and Patterson’s outside shooting (Raptors were 10-21 3FG for the game), Valanciunas’s surprising scoring, and some timely defense in the third quarter. Leading from behind was Kyle Lowry whose 7 assists were a game-high on this rather lazy Friday night at the ACC which, I suppose, signified that the Raptors did well to not let the 4-day lay-off have adverse impacts. There’s been some talk of rebounding weaknesses in the squad of late and tonight they were only a -2 against a strong Kings frontline.
The victory matches the win total from last season with 22 games left. The Bulls lost and are now a firm two games back in the loss column. Up next are back-to-back trips to Minnesota and Brooklyn on Sunday and Monday, respectively. Coincidentally, the Nets will also be on a back-to-back as they face these same Kings the night before.
That’s about all this game deserves. Well done, Raptors, for exacting a sort of revenge on that whole BS foul against Kyle Lowry in Sacramento. I should also point out that tragedy struck late in the game as the Raptors only scored 99 points, snatching the pizza away from the malnourished ACC crowd, which responded appropriately and half-heartedly by booing.
Ross is now shooting 41% from three-point line this season, after shooting just 33% last year.
Revenge of the Raptors. Big time.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 4-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +1Nobody needed the 4-day break more than Amir. He looked spry, active and diligent. It’s the Amir we’ve come to know and love. Timely help defense, creating separation with his screens, and tossing down a dunk in the pick-and-roll for good measure. Here’s hoping that Casey finds a way to keep him fresh for the playoffs.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +11Screens + Kings = wide open three for Ross. The Raptors didn’t run anything complicated and they didn’t need to. The Kings wings mailed it in. Ross gladly capitalized.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 26 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +5Revenge game! Last time the Raptors played the Kings, Jonas was thoroughly dominated by DeMarcus Cousins. This time, Jonas jumped all over a visibly disinterested Boogie, and showed off his full arsenal of post moves. He dropped in a 10-foot jumper. He tossed in some hooks, He grabbed offensive rebounds and converted easy put-backs. The key to his success — aside from Cousins’ malaise — was making timely decisions.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 2-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +13Tweaked his ankle in the first quarter and looked a step slow thereafter. Knowing that his shot was off, Lowry used his craft and guile to generate free-throw attempts. Gambled a bit too much against Thomas on defense. Ho-hum from Lowry.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 33 MIN | 4-13 FG | 7-10 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +4Played very well early on, dropping long jumpers and driving into the lane. Slacked off later on in the game. With his teammates stepping up, Dwane Casey was afforded the rare opportunity to give DeMar some rest. Good job on the drive-and-kick. Bad job with shot-selection (as always).|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2Once you’ve seen Hansbrough play one game, you’ve seen all that there is to see with Hansbrough. Energy, Rebounding, Hustle, Crazy, Fouls. All of the fouls.It was hilarious seeing him contending for rebounds against Reggie Evans because that wasn’t basketball.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +92Pat is back! The Kings defense was slow to close out on the perimeter and Patterson capitalized appropriately. Popped out for jumpers and crashed the boards. Threw in a pair of nice weak-side blocks for good measure. He’s a man after our hearts.|
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 11 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9Solid Boogie duty from Chucky. He used his bulk to hold his ground in the post and utilized the swipe technique to great effect against Boogie. That’s all we could ever ask for from Hayes.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 24 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +6Rest for Salmons is like crack for Rob Ford — he needs it. Kept the Kings’ perimeter defenders off-balanced with his herky-jerky game.|
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -6He played.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +9It’s always important to evaluate process over results. Vasquez played the way he always does — YOLO-ly, and it didn’t work out for this game. When his heat-check shots go in, we cheer. When they don’t, I’m compelled to toss verbal jabs on twitter. The results aren’t always bad, but the process always is. He could be one of the league’s best back-up PG’s if he just made sounder decisions.|
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1He also played.|
Good job managing DeRozan’s minutes. He made the gutsy call to take out his two lead-dogs with 2 minutes left in the third while DMC, Gay and Thomas shared the court. The gambled paid off as the bench-unit managed to actually outscore the Kings’ starters by 5 in that stretch. Ran some nice plays for Ross and Jonas.
Rudy Gay might just be the most polarizing player that has ever donned a Raptors uniform. If you will allow, a brief history:
I know it’s not an accurate accounting of Gay’s 10 months in Toronto, but you see where I’m going: he will most likely get booed, even though he played hard the whole time, and never uttered a bad word at the franchise after he was banished, even though lots of people here took shots at him. #class
So after the probable booing, where does that leave us? A game! We will have ourselves a game after a weird five-game break in the schedule. The Raptors handled the Warriors on Sunday in convincing fashion. They stared down a better team, and didn’t fold when things got dicey; that’s convincing in my books. The Kings, on the other hand, are on a two-game win streak, having dispatched the equally bad Pelicans and Bucks.
I’m skipping match-ups, since other than Cousins, the Raptors should own. The Kings have no depth, and what players they do have…
suck aren’t up to par…I mean, Quincy Acy averages 15 minutes a game on this team.
Keys to the game
You see where I’m going, don’t you? The Raptors need to control Cousins. Do that, and this game is a lock. Given how the Raptors have been playing of late, we’ll see some Jonas in the 1st quarter, where he plays well, and makes some things happen, then slowly get ground into the court, and ultimately get replaced by a combination of Patterson and Hayes for the remainder of the game. Whomsoever is covering the quick reaction will give him a C, and all people will do is yell and scream how the effort in the 1st quarter should have bumped him to a B+, and how we’re so hard on him even though he played poorly in the 2nd quarter and was stuck on the bench in the 2nd half….sorry, I got carried away.
The degenerates have the Raptors as 6.5 point favourites with an over/under of 206. Feels like the Raptors will come out a bit sluggish, but pull up their laces in the 2nd quarter, and put the game away early in the 4th; Raptors by 8 on a night where Gay wants to show how efficiently he can shoot inefficient shots in the hopes of getting the last laugh in front of his old home crowd.
Note: sorry for the premature publish of the article. I posted it by accident and didn’t realize until my email blew up with many warnings (thanks for the heads up).
Post by RealGMer: “Terrence ross will be the best SG in the NBA in a few years if he can stay healthy. I haven’t seen anyone with his bounce, speed with the ball and going north/south, east/west with his size (he is almost on the same level as russell westbrook in terms of that). Once he puts on some more muscle and learns the game, add that with very good jumper only getting better, he will literally be unstoppable.”
This has felt nearly inevitable for a little while now, what with new global ambassador Drake turning up to the Air Canada Centre with a Vinsanity dino-throwback sewn into the lining of his suit jacket and the team’s new 20th anniversary logo bringing back the long-ago-jettisoned purple, font and jagged pinstripe elements, but the Toronto Raptors made it official Thursday: They’re bringing back their purple dinosaur jerseys for “select home games” as part of their 2014-15 celebration of 20 years as an NBA franchise.
Rudy Gay returns to the city he briefly called home for several months. Gay played less than a season for the Raptors, but left the city maligned by fans and analytical critics. Many people had written Gay off after his trade to the Kings, but he has taken off in his the capital city. As a King, Gay is averaging 20.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. And to the chagrin of his statistical detractors, he’s also shooting at a much more efficient clip – 50 percent from the field. He told media that his return to Toronto is just another game, but we’ll see if his play tonight suggests otherwise.
“(The trade) has allowed me to play more, get more accustomed to playing in games rather than just practicing,” said Raptors small forward Terrence Ross, who moved into the starting lineup after Gay was moved. “It helped a lot. I got a lot more opportunity.” Point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes were acquired from the Kings in the deal, and Vasquez and Patterson have been key contributors with both averaging nearly 10 points for Toronto.
The Raptors enter this contest well-rested after beating Golden State 104-98 on Sunday for their seventh win in nine games. DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points to lead five Toronto players in double figures. Ross, who is averaging 10.6 points, sat out with an ankle injury but returned to practice Thursday and will likely be in the lineup against Sacramento. An issue for the team lately has been rebounding on the defensive end. Toronto has allowed averages of 14.0 offensive rebounds and 15.3 second-chance points over its last seven, and coach Dwane Casey wants that to change once the team enters the home stretch. “Rebounding is our biggest bugaboo right now. Defensively we’re not great but solid, and we have to get those rebounds once we do get stops,” Casey said. “But I know rebounding is almost like shooting, some rebounders are born and its natural to have a first reaction to the ball.”
Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins poses arguably a bigger threat to the Raptors than Gay. The seven-foot centre dropped 25 points on Toronto last month, going to the free throw line 14 times, and is averaging 22.3 points and 11.6 rebounds a night. He’s the type of players the Raptors have no answer for. “That kid is so talented. He’s just blessed with his talent,” Vasquez said. “I don’t see anybody that has his footwork and his talent in the paint. He’s a pain in the butt to guard near the rim so we have to do a good job and be physical with him.” Friday’s game is the Raptors’ first since they beat the Golden State Warriors last Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. While it was a much-welcomed break, DeRozan said he’d had enough of the down time. “You always cry for a break for a couple of days, but when it comes, it makes you that much more hungry to get out there and play,” DeRozan said. “It was much-needed and I can’t wait to get out there and play.”
Nearly three months removed from his time in Toronto, Gay is enjoying a career resurgence as a member of the Kings. He’s scoring more points, taking three less shots per game while getting to the free throw line at a higher rate. He has shot 50 per cent or better in 23 of 37 games as a King, something he accomplished once in 18 contests with the Raptors this season. What’s responsible for his turnaround? It has a lot to do with the space occupied and the attention drawn by the Kings’ beast of a centre. “If you go back to his time in Memphis. when he had the luxury of playing with a very talented frontcourt in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. he was much more efficient with that line-up,” Malone pointed out. “So we felt that he and DeMarcus (Cousins), especially the inside-outside combination, would be very tough to guard.”
“Change is for the better, for both parties,” Gay said ahead of his return to Toronto. Apparently, and the veteran has handled himself with class, even as he’s been branded a scapegoat and the lone reason why the Raptors looked headed for the high lottery to start this season. To Gay’s credit, he recognizes that while he wasn’t the only problem, his career-low 38.8% shooting and career-worst 3.3 turnovers per game were hurting the Raptors significantly. “I was inefficient when I was here. I’m not anymore. I was when I was here,” Gay said, declining to provide a reason other than “it could have been a lot of things,” as to why his game was so off.
“He was put in a tough situation where he was looked on to be the saviour,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He’s a dynamic player, a big-time talent. He was brought here for the right reasons. It ended up turning into something that wasn’t meant to be.” It is easy to nitpick there. When the Raptors traded for Gay, Bryan Colangelo was facing his own expiring deal. That Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment allowed him to make a trade that added future salary commitments without knowing whether or not they would retain Colangelo lets you know how far away ownership was from a plan at the time. Other than a half-season, the Raptors did not lose a lot by trading for Gay — Jose Calderon was a free agent and Ed Davis is entering restricted free agency this season. However, they did lose some financial flexibility in the short-term.
Send me your Raptors related links for Morning Coffee: [email protected]
Feast your eyes on this purple goodness.
“See the thing about the old days, is that they the old days. Except, they’re also the new days, apparently.” — Slim Charles, probably.
That was Bryan Colangelo on Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Quelle surprise, I know. It was fairly obvious then, but it warrants examination because it’s kind of a slap to the face of the fan base. It’s no secret I’m generally anti-tanking, and while I understand the other side of the argument, it still drives me nuts.
What’s worse is that in the 2011-12 season, I was a season ticket holder. I paid good money to see more games than the product warranted, and while season tickets bring a lot of benefits, one is the promise of “first dibs” on playoff tickets. Even if it’s just a round, that’s not nothing when a group of five bros is deciding how many seats to split and who wants how many games.
Now obviously Colangelo wouldn’t be so brash as to throw Dwane Casey, his coach at the time, under the bus. That was nice, at least, but he explained what we pretty much all knew was going on:
“I didn’t come out and say Coach, you’ve got to lose games. I never said that. I wanted to establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that. But I wanted to do it in the framework of playing the young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that.”
The basketball gods did not smile on Colangelo that season. It’s hard to say it was karmic punishment given the aggressive tank-job the Golden State Warriors undertook to keep a hold of their pick, which was only top-seven protected, but maybe he had some bad karma built up.
In any case, the final game of the season was The Ben Uzoh Triple-Double Game, where Uzoh played 46 minutes and had 12 points with 11 rebounds and 12 assists, leading the Raptors to a 98-67 victory over the New Jersey Nets, pushing the Raptors record one game ahead of the Nets.
How bad did each team want to lose? Consider the minutes played in this one:
|Ben Uzoh||46||Jordan Williams||39|
|Alan Anderson||45||Johan Petro||39|
|Ed Davis||43||Armon Johnson||34|
|Gary Forbes||41||MarShon Brooks||31|
|Solomon Alabi||40||Anthony Morrow||29|
|James Johnson||19||Gerald Green||25|
|Jamaal Magloire||5||Sundiata Gaines||23|
Again, I paid money to watch this game. And Solomon Alabi played 40 minutes and then never played in the NBA again. Money better spent on liquor, to be sure.
So the Raptors won, finishing 23-43 and in a tie for seventh-last in the NBA with the Warriors. A lost coin flip later and the Raptors selected Terrence Ross instead of Harrison Barnes, who they reportedly would have taken seventh.
The bigger opportunity cost, however, is that losing that game to the Nets would have had them at 22-44, in a tie for the fifth-worst record in the league with Sacramento. The target was Damian Lillard, who would be drafted sixth overall by Portland with New Jersey’s pick.
Again: lose that game and this team has Lillard instead of Ross. Play your own game of The Butterfly Effect from there and see where the roster would be, but it wouldn’t include Kyle Lowry, it may never have included Rudy Gay and it could still have Bryan Colangelo shaping it.
Tanking didn’t pay off for Colangelo, but it very nearly did.
And the team did “develop” young players, as DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson were top-five on the team in minutes played. They trialed Uzoh, Gary Forbes and Justin Dentmon, too. Nothing really stuck – Johnson was good, anyway, Davis was flipped, and DeRozan’s development actually seemed to take a step back that he didn’t fully recover from until this season.
What’s frustrating in retrospect (and at the time), is that in 2011-12, Colangelo basically decided “we don’t have enough to compete.” Then he decided to go all-in, dealing a first round pick for Kyle Lowry and swinging for the fences with Rudy Gay. If he was rebuilding, he had the core of DeRozan, Davis and Johnson developing, joined by Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Instead, he pulled the trigger on win-now moves to save his job. It’s hard to fault him as an individual actor trying to save his job, but it’s incredibly easy to fault him for doing a piss-poor job understanding where his team stood at various points in time (a Colangelo-Raptors staple).
Anyway, I know that quote floated around over the weekend but I felt the need to vent further because I spent money and drove to Toronto to see Solomon Alabi play 40 minutes and Ben Uzoh take 19 shots. I suppose Colangelo got his just desserts or whatever, but that probably doesn’t make the fanbase feel any better.
This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in 2/3rds of 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) and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:
Fyi- no pod next week. The Dr Is In returns on March 20th.
“Sacramento took us to the woodshed out at their place last time,” he said. “Took our guys out and fed them, and then beat them the next night. “We owe them something coming in here.” The fraternization aspect of the NBA is unique to North American pro sports. There are relatively few players — 15 to a roster is the fewest of any of the big four leagues — and players tend to have known each other since they were teens. They hang out and play pickup games in the summer, they are each other’s best friends and confidantes, best men at weddings, godfathers to children. There is a kinship that runs deep. It is also a matter, in no small way, of age. The Raptors and Kings who hung out that night are relative youngsters, some have yet to develop all of their competitive instincts or truly understand that a “friend” may stand in the way of wins and, who knows, future earnings or success.
The challenge for Casey and the Raptors’ coaching staff will be in managing the rotation, loosening it enough to give the guards a breathier – together or separately – without sacrificing important games. “That’s the hard thing,” Casey acknowledged following Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got to buy them a few minutes here and there but every possession – not only every game, every quarter [but] every possession – is meaningful.” “When you start looking at scoring, we hit a drought the other night against Golden State right before the fourth quarter but we were just trying to buy minutes for those guys off the floor. It’s a catch-22.” DeRozan is fourth in the league, averaging just over 38 minutes per game, behind only Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Kevin Durant while Lowry is 14th, logging roughly 36 a night. Amongst NBA duos, only Houston’s pair of Harden and Chandler Parsons as well as Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson play more.
Toronto ranks just 15th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage and gives up too many offensive rebounds and points in the paint. Though the defence has been strong for months now, much of the good defensive work gets undone by shoddy work on the boards. “We have to get those rebounds once we do get (defensive) stops. Some of it is DNA, we’re going to keep continuing to drill it, drill it, drill it, but I know rebounding is almost like shooting, some rebounders are born and its natural to have a first reaction the ball,” Casey said. “We’re trying to create that, but it’s hard to do. I don’t want to put it all on the bigs … (but) our guards are doing a good job of rebounding, our bigs have to be quick to the ball, anticipate the ball.” With better rebounding the priority for the players, starting with Friday’s game against Sacramento, Casey said the coaching staff has a priority as well — spelling the team’s stars as much as possible.
Colangelo had been left to dangle in the wind, with ownership unwilling to make a call on his future. Having already admirably waited a year on Jonas Valanciunas, of course he was going to pursue a big-name player with the months ticking away on his contract. Why did MLSE allow him to is the big question, given his tenuous future. Simply put, MLSE made a mistake. Not enough thought was given to the impossibility of getting Gay to mesh with DeMar DeRozan, a player who also liked the ball in his hands and had limited range. Or to how adding one of the league’s highest-paid players would impact the team’s financial picture moving forward. Sure, Leiweke wasn’t around to give a sober second thought at the time, but why didn’t anybody else provide it? What was the rush and why was Colangelo given the power to make such an important call when Cope, for one, like a member of the previous board, was far from sold on Colangelo?
Since Salmons played his first game for Toronto, the Raptors have scored 6.5 more points per 100 possessions than they have allowed when he has been on the floor. Most of that is due to his defensive contributions, as the second unit has been particularly excellent on that end of the floor. The Raptors have allowed just 96.8 points per 100 possessions while Salmons has played, a figure that would be good enough for second overall in the league, behind only Indiana. Yet, his influence extends beyond that. “I think it was the Atlanta game here at home,” coach Dwane Casey said of the Feb. 12 game against the Hawks. “We were struggling offensively. He made a point, saying, ‘Don’t let our offence dictate our defence.’ He was exactly on the money. He just said that out of the blue in the locker room to the players, at halftime. That was a huge statement coming from a player. Usually coaches have to say [that].”
Jack and Leo say yes, the evidence says no.
The Toronto Raptors broadcasting crew receives a lot of flack, especially from the readers of this site.
Personally, I think they’re alright — Leo Rautins and Rod Black are literally the worst, but their drivel is effectively counter-balanced by Jack’s folksy wisdom and Devlin’s spot-on Brick Tamland impression. They’re not the best in the business, but the business isn’t exactly brimming with talent, nor innovation.
On the whole, they’re par for the course, and from time to time, Jack provides some insightful commentary. Although his stance on analytics is borderline “get off my lawn”-esque, I respect his coaching acumen and I appreciate seeing the game through his eyes.
That is, except when it runs contrary to evidence.
One of the narratives propagated by Jack (and sometimes Leo) is that the Raptors have a supposed “optimal pace”. Jack tends to gripe about this whenever the Raptors miss a few shots while pushing the tempo. His argument is that the Raptors are coached to be a defense-first, half-court oriented team. Therefore, it’s a bad thing when the Raptors step outside of their game. Surely, you’ve caught this quip.
His point about the Raptors being “defense-first” is definitely correct, and substantiated by the evidence. Dwane Casey’s track record of being a defensively-oriented coach is well-established. As you may recall, he was famously hired by Bryan Colangelo after his vaunted 2-3 zone defense propelled the Mavericks over the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. There’s also the whole “pound the rock” mantra, and the fact that the Raptors rank sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (fourth best after the Gay trade).
However, “optimal pace” argument doesn’t hold much water, at least not when it comes to the results.
And before I go on, I will readily concede that there are issues when it comes to the operationalization of pace. The current measures of pace (ie: pace factor) is rooted in the number of possessions in a given game. In theory, since the total time in a game is fixed, a higher number of possessions equates to teams playing “faster”.
Since this classification is based on outcomes, it sometimes confuses process with results. For example, if Lowry pushes the ball down the court, but the defense recovers in time, forcing him to reset, is that up-tempo, or not? There’s also the issue of discerning between team philosophy and personnel. On one hand, there’s the “7-seconds or less” Suns teams that treated every game as a track meet. On the other, Kevin Love hucks an 70-foot outlet pass to a leaking Corey Brewer. Both plays are technically “up-tempo”, but one is a matter of principle, and the other is a product of unique talent. The result is the same, but the process is different.
Despite its flaws, “pace factor” is a fairly accurate estimate of pace, and quite frankly, it’s all that we have to go on. By this criterion, the Raptors currently play at the 9th slowest pace in the NBA at a pace factor of 91.9. In comparison, the plodding Grizzlies are last at 89.8, and the frenzied 76ers are first with a score of 100.2. These results passes the eye-test — as Jack points out, the Raptors are a slow, half-court team.
However, Jack’s assertion of the Raptors having an “optimal pace” seems a little baseless. For starters, here’s a plot of the differentials of each game (Toronto’s points – Opponent’s points) versus the pace factor of each game. Can you spot a trend (hint: there isn’t one).
More specifically, Jack asserts that when the Raptors play worse when they speed up. However, the Raptors are equally as successful playing “up-tempo” versus playing below their usual rate (15-12 vs 18-14). Granted, the list isn’t exactly chalked full of championship contending teams — the likes of Detroit, Philly and Milwaukee are on there — but there are some decent teams included in the sample. Regardless, the evidence does not concur with Jack’s theory.
All this number crunching simply disproves Jack’s answer, but fails to address his original question: “is there an optimal pace for the Toronto Raptors?”
For that, the answer is unclear, and perhaps unattainable with statistics alone. Running multivariate regression with the dataset in hopes of a statistically sound conclusion is a little moot considering the limited sample size involved (only 59 games played). In lieu of more data, I turn to Jack’s methodology — what passes the eye test?
Personally, I think the Raptors do have an optimal pace; playing slow half-court basketball.
Playing at a torrid up-tempo pace simply isn’t possible — nor advisable — with this current roster, because there isn’t enough ball-handling ability. Lowry, Derozan and Vasquez shoulder the bulk of the ball-handling duties, and they all have their flaws in terms of pushing the ball. Lowry is an excellent ball-handler, but he’s too short to consistently finish in the lane (a la Westbrook). Derozan’s ball-handling is much improved, but he’s still not entirely polished in the open court, and he’s much better at finishing lobs or leak-out passes. Finally, they don’t call him Greivis Molassquez without a reason. In short, he’s pretty slow. The Raptors lack the horses to run.
However, could the Raptors benefit from playing a little more up-tempo by being opportunistic? Of course. For example, Ross could leak out a little earlier after missed shots, and potentially make himself a target for outlet passes. Similarly, Jonas could make timelier decisions after corralling the rebound, as opposed to methodically swinging his elbows around when no one is threatening the ball.
Of course, these decisions come at a cost. Leaking out earlier means having one less player available to snag the defensive rebound which has been an issue for the Raptors of late. Similarly, having Jonas make quicker decisions risks silly turnovers under the basket, and/or commentors setting this blog ablaze. It’s not exactly a bulletproof plan.
However, as the data bears out, playing faster doesn’t seem to impact the Raptors’ success, possibly because there are circumstances where playing fast is ideal. For example, the Sixers shoot a lot of long jumpers, and their transition defense is beyond awful. It only makes sense to capitalize by running. Similarly, it’s almost impossible to score on he Pacers in the half-court, so as long as the Raptors can ensnare the rebound, they should take their chances with a quick pass up the court.
Truthfully, with a team full of youngsters, it’s probably best that the Raptors take their time. At this point in his career, Jonas struggles with making the right decisions on a consistent basis, so it’s probably best to keep his options limited. The same also applies for Ross and Derozan, who both need to improve their ball-handling to serve as effective transition wing players.
And that circles back to the motto of this season — it’s all contingent on development. Can the players on this roster develop the capability to play faster when called upon? Can Derozan push the pace and break down a mis-matched defender sagging in the paint? Can Ross master the subtle balance between leaking out, versus staying back? Can Jonas rebound more effectively, and throw outlet passes? A true contending team dictates the tempo of play, but they’re also flexible and versatile. For example, the Heat are the 22nd slowest team in the NBA, but they can run just about anybody out of the gym when they play small-ball.
But for now, the Raptors are who Jack thought they were — a slow half-court team that grinds out victories.
On this weeks episode of Talking Raptors the guys recap the week that was and have some good fun doing so. They get excited for play-offs and talk Raptor player tattoos and more:
- Is Demar Derozan becoming THE man. Did we see it coming?
-Bryan Colangelo and his tanking comments.
-The disaster that is the New York Knicks, and what is going to happen to Carmelo Anthony?
-Allen Iverson has his jersey retired in Philadelphia. Is he one of the best of all time?
-They break down the Top 5 worst Raptor Player tattoos of all time.
-The next cast member in the Talking Raptors Movie is revealed.
You’re busy, you got a job, kids to feed, and a wife that wants you to change the filter which you, frankly, don’t see any need in doing since you did it, like, three months ago. In all this commotion and noise, just how does one follow the Raptors? If these kinds of questions are plaguing you, I have good news in the form of solutions. Note that this advice applies the other way as well, i.e., for women. But since I’m a dude, I can only give my view.
1. Basketball = Food TV
Kids these days are fed left-wing propaganda like Baby Einstein while they slur and spit their way into wasting half a bowl of expensive, organic baby food. As much as I think that Baby Einstein music is the best thing ever when you’re baked, it is a complete waste of time during meals.
If you are able to, somehow, combine the activities of feeding your child and watching the Raptors by making your child eat to the Raptors, you are truly a king. Much like the giraffe is bobbling balls in Baby Einstein, so is Greivis Vasquez for the Raptors. Your baby will simply not tell the difference.
Pro tip: You don’t need to listen to Matt Devlin or Leo Rautins go on about needless stuff, just play some Bach in the background while you got the Raptors on and your kid gets the best of both worlds.
2. Start working out
“Start working out? What? This doesn’t make any sense” is what I see you thinking. Wait and listen up. Your wife wants you to be in good shape, she wants you to be attractive, have a nice body, or at least not hang a Michelin tire on your belly button. Your strategy here is to simply start working out more which she can’t possibly object to. Once you have moved past this gate of approval, the next strategy is to schedule your workout between 7-9:30PM, with a break around 8PM for halftime.
Not only are you working out (for her and for yourself), you are actually catching the game (totally for you).
Pro tip: Use the baby monitor to listen to your wife to see if she’s complaining to your mother-in-law about your new-found love of exercise.
3. Take the kid to a Raptors game
This one’s a bit on the expensive side but just think about what you’re accomplishing by doing this:
1. You get to see the Raptors
2. You ingrain basketball in your offshoot
3. Wife gets a break from taking care of the child
Pro tip: Pretend the game went into triple overtime (your wife will never know) and head to the local bar after the game.
4. Massage incentive
Women love massages. It doesn’t even matter if you’re doing them poorly or even hurting them while doing it, they just love it. If you spend about half an hour massaging your lady’s back or something, they will view you as the greatest husband ever. This is a fact, no debates here. Time your massage to start at 6:30pm, by the time it ends at 7pm you will have gained enough goodwill that she will leave you alone for at least an hour, which should be enough to catch a half.
Pro tip: Massage her during halftime and the first few minutes of the third to watch the rest of the game undisturbed.
5. Perform a long-ignored task
Life is all about finding win-win situations, and some low-hanging fruit are chores that you had been asked to do but never bothered because they really don’t matter. The key is doing them in front of the TV. Remember that Ikea table that you never got around to assembling? Or those daycare applications that you were supposed to fill out? Well, this is the time to do them. In front of the TV. Whilst watching the Raptors.
Pro tip: Ironing is an activity that can be made to look like it takes forever. It’s best to move that ironing board down to the living room and start ironing EVERYTHING. Of course, do it between 7-9:30pm.
6. Make a game of it
The previous tip only works for when the work can be done in front of the TV. This tip covers the other cases.
Start making win-win bets with your wife. For example, “If the Raptors score 20 points in the first quarter, I will totally take the Christmas lights down tonight. If they don’t, no worries, you don’t have to do anything”. Then watch the game to see the bet play out.
Make bets that you know you’re going to “lose”, this way she’ll associate the Raptors as a trigger to getting work done, when in fact you’re the clever one who has carved out time out of nothing. Face it, you’d have to take those Christmas lights down anyway at some point.
Pro tip: Make bets that she can easily understand. For example, don’t bet things like “If Jonas Valanciunas gets X amount of offensive rebounds..” since she doesn’t know who Jonas Valanciunas is nor what an offensive rebound means. Try going for simple items like “If the Raptors score 80 points in this game…”
7. Baby as phone stand
Babies are small, but they’re totally big enough to have a phone rest on their bellies. If it’s your turn to feed the little one, all you have to do is fire up that formula, start league pass, and place the phone gently on the baby as you feed your progeny.
Pro tip: Use a VPN service like Private Internet Access to connect to League Pass to watch your area’s home games. Be sure to keep phone away from baby’s heart due to radiation and stuff.
Got any tips of your own? Please do share.
After the big win over the Warriors on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors big Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas could go home for the CBA mandated 2 day break that he was about to enjoy because this year, home is a lot closer than Lithuania. This past summer, Valanciunas married his girlfriend Egle Acaite and he likes having someone to come home to here in Toronto. “It’s been good,” Valanciunas said. “It’s good to have somebody who is (there to) support you outside of the basketball court, outside of the fans. It is good to have somebody.”
alanciunas’ box-score stats (10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, .508 from the field) don’t pop off the page, though the 21-year-old has been nothing short of solid. He’s shown flashes of skill in the low post and is picking up the nuances of NBA defense, to the point where he’ll soon be a reliable rim-protector. According to NBA.com, Valanciunas has allowed a respectable 50.9 percent of his opponents’ field-goal attempts at the cup. He may not be the primary driver behind Toronto’s 33-26 record this season, but his size, length, toughness and offensive competence can’t be ignored. Neither can the extent to which Charles Barkley mangled his name on national TV, much to the delight of basketball fans everywhere.
An eventual redesign is scheduled to be revealed for that 2015-16 season. “The next year promises to be one of the most important yet in team history as we celebrate the Raptors’ 20th Anniversary, but also prepare for the chance to welcome the world with the 2016 NBA All Star Game,” Leiweke said. Toronto rapper Drake, MLSE’s global ambassador has had a hand in the redesign process, which is being handled by Canadian advertising agency Sid Lee. Leiweke has said in the past that a gold and black colour scheme is one of the various options being looked at.
With a 3.5 game lead over the Brooklyn Nets (29-29) for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, the Raptors are well on their way to qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2007-08. Whether they’d be able to reach that level of success with someone else at the helm remains to be seen. A basketball team is only as good as the man or woman standing on the sidelines calling the plays. There are several intangibles that make a great coach, which include the ability to motivate, work a rotation effectively and organize a game plan. For the most part, Casey thrives in all of those areas. It’s not always pretty, but it works.
Playing the best basketball of his five-year career, DeMar DeRozan has validated his all-star status but has he evolved into a true franchise player for the Raptors? In this week’s Raptors Report podcast, TSN 1050′s Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson make DeRozan’s case, looking at his growth on and off the floor. On the contrary, second-year centre Jonas Valanciunas has experienced recent growing pains, are his confidence issues a cause for concern? What will the reception be like at the Air Canada Centre when Rudy Gay makes his much-anticipated return as a member of the Kings on Friday? To boo or not to boo?
Of all the confounding things about this Raptor season, the one that’s come to the fore lately to some of us is how shoddily the franchise is being, and has been, treated by its broadcast partner overlords since before the season began. Kind of shocking since, you know, the broadcast partners own the freaking organization, but it’s been amazing to see what’s gone on. In the last couple of weeks, they have had the start of games mysteriously moved from one network to another because – get this! – they had to show a rain delay of a car race and the end of a truly meaningless spring training game. How stupid is that?
Will the board work pick up? Part of the defensive slippage stems from poor work on the defensive boards. While Toronto excels on the offensive glass, too often lately opponents have been getting far too many second (and third chances). Toronto ranks just 15th overall in defensive rebound percentage. Whether its boxing out or putting up a better effort, the Raptors must limit the offensive rebounds being allowed. Amir Johnson’s rebounding numbers have dropped and Jonas Valanciunas leads the team at just 8.5 per game. The backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry ranks as one of the league’s best at rebounding, but the rest of the gang has to pull above its weight as well.
“I didn’t come out and say, ‘Coach, you have to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted him to do it in the framework of playing and developing the young players. With that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that.” What Colangelo described was not tanking, something he clarified in further interviews. In a league in which establishing a team that is capable of consistent championship contention is the goal and a punitive luxury tax is a reality, it is an open secret — if it is a secret at all — that each team does not try to maximize its win total each year. It would be poor long-term planning if they did.
Now 33-26 overall and 17-12 at the Air Canada Center, Toronto has beaten seven of its past nine opponents and hasn’t looked back since surpassing the .500 mark in early January. Even with their recent run of success however, the Raptors’ current position in the conference is becoming more precarious by the day. Currently on a rare four-day layoff, Toronto’s most pressing concern begins and ends with it’s potential position in the upcoming playoffs. With a 3.5-game lead over the charging Brooklyn Nets, however, a division title once considered to be in the bag is no longer a foregone conclusion. At the moment, the Raptors are locked in a battle with the Chicago Bulls for third in the East with the Wizards not far behind. Considering that just 3.5 games separate Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn, the outcome of a single contest could dramatically affect the pairings in the opening round of the playoffs.
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So MLSE has kicked off the 20-year anniversary of the Raptors thing. Here’s what the graphic looks like:
The ‘Raptors’ font is from those old Raptors jerseys, and they’ve gone with the Roman numeral thing with the XX. It’s too early to yay/nay this kind of approach until we’ve actually seen some jerseys and designs. However, the idea that the Raptors are at least considering purple, and have paid homage to their past by reintroducing the font is something that I’m quite happy about.
The purple and black has always been a good combination and possibly the best jerseys the Raptors ever had looked something like this:
As I’ve stated many a time, there’s isn’t a drastic rebrand needed. We need tweaks and to understand what those tweaks are to be, we need to look back at what was done right over the last 20 years and build on that. It appears the marketing team recognizes that.
We’ll never know since Masai Ujiri is unlikely to fess up to it, but I wonder what his intent was in the Rudy Gay trade. If it was to raise the white flag, then this entire season is the ultimate antithesis of Ujiri’s intent. In either case, I’ll take it since whatever his intent may have been doesn’t shadow the results that have followed.
Teams often end up reversing their fortunes by executing transactions that they had full confidence in at the time, just take a look at Amare Stoudemire to NY, Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, the list is endless. This is then chalked up to bad luck, poor drafting, and general failure to predict the future, a near-impossible task. In the Raptors case, the opposite seems to have happened and Ujiri just may have gotten it all right by getting it all wrong. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does other people since the results are what matters, rarely the intentions.
I do have confidence in Ujiri and it has nothing to do with the Gay trade. He seems to be a patient man looking to secure the long-term good of the franchise rather than bathe in short-term benefits, which is quite ironic given that his detractors accuse him of not taking the long view. For example, people criticize him for not flipping Kyle Lowry for a 2014 pick as if that was ever an offer, without ever realizing that even if the Raptors lose Lowry for nothing, the money he would have been paid could be parleyed to players like Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe this summer, netting the same effect (i.e., instead of a pick you get a starting-caliber player). Things aren’t quite as snug as I described that, but you get the point: losing Lowry for nothing frees up money to pay for free-agents.
Whatever your opinion of DeMar DeRozan may be, he is coming to be the kind of player that, dare I say, could be used to lure free-agents. Instead of having universal appeal and charm, he makes up for it in grit and pure results. If I’m Eric Bledsoe and I’m offered a contract by the Raptors, I’m looking hard at the possibility of forming a 2/3 punch with DeRozan. I’ll go as far as to state that DeRozan’s current appeal far exceeds whatever Chris Bosh had at any point in his Raptors tenure. DeRozan’s a wing player that isn’t plagued by selfish bouts, is an extremely committed individual, and has a growing reputation that is far different from the “fake toughness” that is to this day Chris Bosh’s watermark.
At the start of the season we had an expectations that perhaps Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan might lead the charge and become top-level players. It turned out that Terrence Ross has arguably overtaken Valanciunas, Lowry has been the most impactful player, and Valanciunas’s development isn’t as linear as we had supposed. As they say, man proposes, God disposes. It could now be that Valanciunas – a player considered untouchable last summer – is the asset that could be flipped to better the team rather than Lowry or even Ross. It’s pure speculation to even go there, yet it helps outline the possibilities that are in play this summer.
None of this even touches the draft where available point guards include Tyler Ennis, Vasilije Micic, and Jahii Carson. Nor does it consider that pretty much the entire Denver Nuggets team is on the block, not to mention similar situations in Minnesota and other clubs. Sign-and-trade options for Lowry aren’t talked about enough as well. Add all this together and it becomes foolish to suggest that the Raptors have locked themselves into mediocrity by winning in 2013-14. This is a very unpredictable period for the Raptors, a time where they have done well to acquire assets, retain their pick in a loaded (although, in my opinion, overrated) draft, and trim their payroll and contracts where the only truly “bad” contract is Landry Fields. All this adds up to extreme flexibility and thus implies unpredictability.
I’m enjoying this season and it’s not because I’m a happy-go-lucky fan that lives in the moment and doesn’t give a thought to the future. I have given it a thought and see more possibilities to get better than suffer a reversal.
Colangelo saw something in DeMar DeRozan. He drafted him. He vouched for him. He re-signed him a year before he had to. And if Colangelo was wrong about some things — OK, a lot of things — history has proven him entirely right on this score.
“I just told the guys. Don’t get in the vacation mindset,” Casey said following Sunday’s win. “This is an NBA mandatory players association deal. I wouldn’t, if I had my druthers, I’d rather not have it but I do know we have some nicks and cuts that we need to get corrected and mixed up. But we can’t have a letdown. We can’t get in the vacation mindset — well, we can relax — because Sacramento took us to the woodshed at their place last time. Took our guys out, fed ’em and then beat ’em the next night. So we owe them something coming in here and we can’t go into these two days off that we got, that we gotta have — mandatory, not because I wanted to give it to ’em — and then come back with two good days of practice before we play Sacramento.”
Has been sensational for the Raps in the past few weeks. His confidence in his three-point shooting and his ability to make difficult shots in the lane have been huge. He runs the team well and plays with wonderful enthusiasm. Major pick-up as a back-up point guard and he’s finally settled in to his role and comfort level in Toronto. Really fun/upbeat personality who loves the game and plays with a swagger. Fun to see it all coming together for him.
Canadian players have long dreamed of playing in Division I, but more and more, Division I coaches dream of signing Canadian players. The reasons behind Canada’s rise are varied and complex, but a few driving forces stand out. The Toronto Raptors and, to a lesser extent, the now-departed Vancouver Grizzlies, brought the NBA up north when they were added as expansion teams in 1995. Scrubb and his brother Thomas, also a starter for Carleton, grew up in British Columbia rooting for Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the Grizzlies. Churchill’s childhood in Toronto featured regular trips to watch Vince Carter with the Raptors. “People around my age,” says Churchill, “if they grew up in Toronto, there’s a good chance they grew up as basketball fans. Vince Carter just drew people into the sport in a way that no one else ever had.”
Following Sunday’s huge statement win versus Golden State the Raptors enter an uncharacteristic four-day break which also marks the final seven weeks of the regular season. With several players nursing injuries varying from twisted ankles to sore knees, and I’m sure a number of undisclosed ailments, this break is a welcome gift.
On the other hand, Toronto has been on a tear of late winning 7 of their last 10. Consider that those three losses came against the red hot Clippers, a 2-point loss to Chicago (the NBA’s second best defensive unit), and a triple overtime loss to Washington. Toronto could just as easily have gone 9-1.
However, with 15 games and four back-to-backs to play in March it stands to reason that this is the perfect sojourn given what lies on the horizon. Specifically, the Raptors’ final 23 games feature 17 games against sub-.500 teams who represent an ideal test group to fine-tune untried strategies.
With this in mind I thought I’d highlight specific areas of emphasis the coaching staff may focus on this week.
End of Game Offense:
Thursday’s triple overtime game featured a rarity: final plays featuring something other than a DeMar DeRozan isolation play. At least we are seeing something different and perhaps a sign the coaching staff recognizes the need for variety.
Moving forward, many of us want to see the Raptors become less predictable and have a minimum of three options depending on match-ups.
Following the trade the greatest stride the Raptors made offensively came via increased ball movement and the uncertainty of who would take the shot. It stands to reason that they could achieve the same success at game end by employing the same strategy with players running patterns, spreading the floor and moving the ball.
By virtue of the opposition not knowing who will take the last shot it forces them to defend everyone and subsequently increases the probability of Toronto being successful. Casey can test his options in the final 23 games to see which ones work best. In fact, Casey should test the multi-optioned play to close each quarter and increase the team’s familiarity in running it.
The Raptors are ranked 7th in defense so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What they do need to do is focus on paint defense as most losses occur when they get manhandled in the key.
I’ve noted in the past few games there are quite a few plays where a trailing Raptor has a chance at blocking shots from behind the unsuspecting shooter. Terrence Ross, Patterson and Lowry have all utilized this move but DeRozan and Vasquez should practice this trick since they are often caught trailing a play on switches or chasing their appointed cover. It could produce an extra stop or two a game.
We repeatedly highlight the lack of a 48-minute effort against teams they know they can beat. Sunday proved that when the Raptors view an opponent as difficult they play defense for the entire game. With so many lower-end teams on tap it’s important the Raptors make a habit of not underestimating their opponent.
The sophomore started the season on fire showcasing moves in the post with either hand and more importantly, he fired at will from 10 feet, occasionally moving as deep as 15 feet successfully. This offensive variety disappeared in the fall as he completely lost all confidence in his shot, electing to repeatedly fake his way to the basket. Recently we’ve seen him return to hit an occasional outside shot as teams are now staying down on him in expectation of the pump fake.
Jonas is the player who stands to benefit the most from this week and from the final 23 games. Time needs to be spent watching as much film as possible to show the young center where he can grow and subsequently get more touches and minutes. Let’s just say by Friday I hope he feels like he’s completed a diploma from the film academy based on hours of reviewing game tape.
Against the bevy of low seeds he needs to be encouraged to shoot. A confident Valanciunas who mixes up his offense will make the Raptors a much more difficult team to defend since teams won’t be able to camp out in the paint and driving lanes will open for his teammates.
Indiana and Chicago have publicly stated they want the first and third seeds. While I don’t think any Raptors player should publicly out their desire to be third I do actually believe it is a goal.
Toronto battled the Hawks for months finally surpassing them, but while Atlanta has plummeted to eighth the Raptors have maintained their third seed. Now Chicago has supplanted the Hawks while the Wizards await their shot to step in as contenders. Could it be that Toronto will put all their critics in check by season’s end by simply remaining consistent?
Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
― Jim Rohn
In my last article I called for Toronto to win the Atlantic Division, set a franchise benchmark with 48 wins and finish in third. Much of my reasoning had to do with Toronto taking care of business against the East, specifically their division.
I remain committed to this prediction for several reasons:
Since Toronto has managed to tie and win the series against Chicago and Washington, respectively, the next factor will be their divisional record and games they have left to play within the division.
Remaining Divisional Games:
|Team||Record||# Remaining||1 Game||2 Games||3 Games||Total|
Toronto has the best divisional record and the easiest schedule so unless Chicago or Washington start winning at a higher percentage than Toronto it bodes well for the Raps to remain third.
In terms of the Atlantic Division, only Brooklyn remains a possibility to catch Toronto which is highly unlikely. The key for the Nets is their back-to-back games in which they have only won both games once out of 13 tries. With 5 sets still to come and sitting 4 games back, it’s like handing Toronto another 5 losses to play with. Make sure you circle March 10, on your calendar as it’s bound to be a big game where the Raptors can send a very loud message to the Nets.
This week several players were bought out or released, with teams positioned for long runs in the post-season quickly adding them to their rosters:
Clippers: Danny Granger and Big Baby Davis
Oklahoma: Caron Butler
Chicago: Jimmer Fredette
Memphis: Beno Udrih
I still feel Toronto could use another front court player and thought of two possible candidates the Raptors could add prior to the post-season:
Kris Humphries: Though Boston has yet to release him he would be a great addition to the Raptors given he provides size and rebounding.
Ivan Johnson: Remember Ivan the terrible? Well he didn’t get the name without reason, so this one could be a stretch as his temperament may be an issue with a locker room full of positivity. However, if Masai Ujiri was convinced he would play ball he could provide scoring and rebounding as well as a bit of edge.
Finally, as our Raptors embark on a week of healthy rejuvenation, practice and film work let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate the efforts of this year’s squad. For the first time since 2008 the Raptors are on the precipice of post-season play, a division title and a record-breaking win total. Those six long years have left many a fan parched for improvement, victories and something to celebrate in April, May and dare we say possibly June. It’s not exactly the seven-year itch, but the fact we finally found the solution is worthy of at least a happy scratch.
Tipping off to another exciting week of Raptor Basketball; follow me on Twitter: @TTOTambz
DeRozan had one of his best games of the season against one of the NBA’s best defenders in Andre Iguodala. He went 10-16 and sprinkled jumpers all over the place (shot chart), almost making you not cringe every time he takes that long-two.
If he starts making with this sort of dead-eye efficiency, he’ll be edging closer to Joe Johnson in his prime-territory. Note that I didn’t say Joe Johnson right now-territory because Joe Johnson right now is nothing but an All-Star spot-stealing crook who has weird shoulder-neck-face proportions.
Usually when we create these videos we only show the misses, but as requested by our esteemed readers, we’ve now included misses. Sorry about the order of some of these clips, however I think you’ll get the point.
Cognitive dissonance is high on this ‘baby’ as the week that was is recapped using 10-dollar words including ‘transcendence’. Will actually falls into a trance and we discuss the guy who will boo Rudy Gay on Friday. We run down topics like DeRozan does defenses, analyse what’s right and wrong with Vasquez and there’s also talk of my dad’s view of selfishness.
There’s also a bit about Blake’s boyish looks, how Sam can’t be trusted, and the face of RR. The week is recapped, including a discussion of what the best win of the season was, a key play from the Wiz game, and the Raptors’ Achilles’ heel. Of course, we look back at the predictions from the last podcast and make fresh new ones.
Bryan Colangelo’s back on the scene and talking about how he tried to tank while with the Raptors, we muse at how just how poor of a job he did even at that (ahem, Ben Uzoh). There’s that a lot more including what to work on on the four-day mini-vacay and it seems that a return to a particular type of defense is top priority.
Raptors tighten up on defense down the stretch to snag victory against a formidable foe.
I’m not going to lie; I thought this was a sure win for the Warriors.
In my opinion, Golden State is a decidedly better team with legitimate championship aspirations, and I thought they matched up perfectly against the Raptors. Igoudala would shut down Derozan on the perimeter, Lowry and Curry would play to a standstill, and the rest of the Warriors would trump Toronto’s second unit. I even went as far as to predict a 20 point blowout loss in last week’s episode of the Raptors Weekly podcast.
Turns out, I was wrong.
The news at the start of the game was grim. It was announced at game-time that Terrence Ross would be unavailable, and I was worried that a hobbled Lowry (ankle injury) would struggle with chasing Curry around screens for an entire game.
However in his stead, Landry Fields stepped into his spot in the starting lineup and performed admirably. Fields stayed within his game and did his best Shane Battier impersonation on the court. He moved the ball well, flinging 30 passes in 24 minutes of play (in comparison, David Lee made 31 passes in 43 minutes, Iggy threw 24 in 30 minutes), getting the ball to the right players at the right time. He also made some timely backdoor cuts and even sprinkled in a pair of hook-floaters in the lane. It should be noted that the Warriors hid Curry — a poor defender — on him to avoid the Curry/Lowry match-up, but despite his lack of shooting ability, Fields was able to not hamper the offense by making good decisions.
As is his wont, Dwane Casey elected to feature Jonas in the post early against Bogut. On paper, the match-up seemex ill-advised given Bogut’s stature as one of the best defensive players in the Western Conference, but Jonas was up to the challenge. He worked hard to get position in the post, held his ground and presented an easy target for his teammates to hit. Once he got the ball, he strung together an impressive string of shots against Bogut — a turnaround lefty hook, a sweeping right hook, a fall-away short jumper, an open dunk.
Despite Landry and Jonas stepping up, the Warriors carried a 3 point lead going into the second quarter thanks to the combined efforts of David Lee and Stephen Curry. Both players scored 10 points apiece by repeatedly attacking via the pick-and-roll. Lowry compensated for his injury by playing with more aggression (if you can believe that) which led to early foul trouble. Needless to say, Greivis Molassquez didn’t exactly turn off the tap.
The second quarter was another story altogether. As usual, Casey trotted out the lineup of Vasquez, Derozan, Salmons, Hansbrough and Patterson to start the quarter, but instead of Derozan captaining the ship, it was Vasquez who managed to steal the spotlight. Vasquez managed to keep the Raptors close despite some lackluster performances for the bench. Patrick Patterson’s shot was off early on, and John Salmons was slower than the 510 Spadina during rush hour. He reeled off 10 points in a row, dropping a pair of threes and embarrassing Marreesse Speights with this wicked inside-out dribble:
In addition to Vasquez, Demar Derozan also chipped in with 10 points of his own in the second. Demar was mostly kept to the outside, but he hit 2-of-3 jumpers from the midrange, and he earned 6 free-throws. It should be noted that Derozan was the beneficiary of some “superstar” calls, which isn’t a slight on Demar, but rather it’s a sign of how far he’s come, and of course, it’s a welcomed sign for us fans. The Raptors shot 52.5% from the field in the first half and they carried a five-point lead going into the break.
The Warriors asserted themselves in the third quarter. Stephen Curry capitalized on Lowry’s bum ankles as he exploded for 14 points in the third by draining three’s and getting to the basket. The Warriors also made a concerted effort to crash the offensive boards, and Jonas looked overwhelmed in lieu of Golden State’s aggression. Their perimeter defense was also quite solid, and aside from David Lee’s incompetence, the Warriors did a great job contesting baskets, which led to the Raptors shooting just 28% in the third.
The Raptors managed to keep it tied going into the fourth by repeatedly trotting the stripe. Toronto shot nine free-throws in the quarter and sunk all of their attempts. Casey decided to trot out some peculiar line-ups, freeing the likes of Nando de Colo and Landry Fields in an effort to buy minutes for his starters, and luckily he wasn’t burned.
However, Casey compounded his mistake by leaving the bench out to start the fourth. A lineup of Vasquez, Derozan, Salmons, Hansbrough and 2Pat struggled to generate offense. In particular, Vasquez insisted on running the pick-and-roll with Hansbrough, as opposed to Patterson. Golden State responded by helping off Tyler, electing to double Vasquez instead. This shaved valuable seconds off the shot clock and prevented Vasquez from penetrating into the paint.
Fortunately, the Warriors’ bench proved to be equally as ineffective, and the game stayed tight until the starters subbed back in for the final stretch.
With the Raptors leading 97-95 late in the fourth, they elected to run pick-and-roll with Salmons and Johnson on back-to-back possessions. On the first, Golden States’ defense momentarily broke down, and Salmons was able to find Amir wide open in the lane for a dunk. On the second, Salmons worked himself free from his defender after curling around Amir’s screen, and knocked down a line-drive 16 footer.
Meanwhile on the defensive end, the Raptors forced the Warriors into turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions. Patterson and Salmons trapped Curry, which led to him losing it out of bounds. On their next trip down the floor, Derozan broke up a post-entry pass and finally, Patterson intercepted an errant pass from Bogut. Thanks to the Raptors’ aggressive defense, the Warriors scored just 3 points over the final 3:35 of the game.
And just for good measure, Derozan tossed in this incredibly difficult shot to hammer the nail into the coffin.
With the win, the Raptors improved to 33-26 on the season, and are tied with Chicago for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They now have a four day break before taking on Rudy Gay’s Sacramento Kings on Friday. Funtimes in Raptorland!
On a separate note, I would like to wish my father a happy birthday. Today marks his 49th year on Earth 1, which means less hair and more beer gut in the future. Love you, dad!
DeRozan iced the game within the last minute. With the shot clock winding down, DeRozan got Curry to bite with a pump fake, watched him sail by, and hit the long two-pointer to give the Raptors an eight-point lead. DeRozan thumped his chest with his fist, a rare emotional display. DeRozan said that in the moment, he thought of the criticism he had received in the past and the failure his team had endured. “Sometimes the emotions just get to you when you know you are doing something right that you have not been doing previously,” said DeRozan, who scored 32 points. “But you all know me. I’m quiet. That was just one of my blue moons. Curry had 34, although he struggled holding on to the ball late in the game. The Warriors had three gruesome turnovers in the final minutes.
Playing some of the best basketball of his career over the last couple of weeks, DeRozan needed just 16 shots – hitting 10 – to collect his 32 points, facing an elite wing defender in Andre Iguodala. For the third straight game, the fifth-year guard made at least 12 trips to the free throw line, knocking down 11. He’s also recorded six assists in three consecutive contests, the first time he’s done that in his career. “Coming in, I knew he was a good player,” said John Salmons, one of DeRozan’s newest teammates. “I knew he could really score the ball. I knew he was athletic, but from afar, you never know how tough a guy is. He gets the best defensive guy guarding him every night. Guys that are known just for their defence. He still plays at a very high level, so I give him a lot of credit because he does it night in and night out. That’s not easy to do.”
The defense is excellent, but on nights when DeMar Derozan dominates the perimeter and the opposing team is finding open shooters and nailing threes (8-22, 36.4%) and free throws (20-23, 87%), and turning the ball a total of nine times, it’s tough to combat that with a middling offensive attack. It all leads back to Curry. He’s played about four minutes less since the All-Star Break but Jackson apparently didn’t want the game slipping away and left him run the team the entire second half. A short-legged three around the three-minute mark epitomized what the sheer amount of minutes can and are doing to Curry’s slight frame. It didn’t help that it appeared he re-aggravated a shoulder injury on a drive to the basket late in the third quarter.
Landry Fields: Bad contract or not, if Landry Fields continues playing this way, he can carve out a niche for himself on this team as the playoffs near. He was at his opportunistic best offensively, didn’t take any shots he couldn’t make (i.e. jumpshots), and did a good job defensively on Curry/Thompson when asked. 8 points, 6 boards on 4 of 5 shooting. Good to see him again. Patrick Patterson: Dude just gets it done somehow. He was struggling shooting the ball 3 quarters into the game, but his shot came around and really came through for the Raptors in the 4th quarter. Hit some timely 3 pointers and as always, his mobility as a big man makes him a good defender of pick and rolls. 12 points and 5 boards off the bench. Solid as always.
In a bit of a surprise before the game, Casey chose to replace Terrence Ross, who was out with an ankle sprain, in the starting lineup with Landry Fields. Fields hasn’t played a whole lot this year. In fact the start Sunday was just his second of the year, his first coming that night in Los Angeles when Ujiri turned the team on its head with the Gay trade. Fields was a non-factor in that Lakers game but had an impact early with some solid defence on Klay Thompson and six first-half points. By using Fields instead of a John Salmons or a Vasquez, Casey kept his bench rotation intact.
Indeed, the Warriors started just 1-of-6 on threes, and their inability to hit from downtown made it difficult to go on consistent runs throughout the game. Even so, despite a cold 7-of-21 performance from downtown, the Dubs showed they could still have a solid offensive showing even with an inefficient performance form beyond the arc. Bogut also showed a surprising ability to stay out of foul trouble, committing zero personal fouls in Jermaine O’Neal’s absence. (Really, Warriors? A passport issue?). In short, the Dubs collapsed at the end of a close game, but they also demonstrated several promising signs upon which they can certainly build going forward.
It was a rough end to a day that had an odd beginning. Before he answered the first question of his pregame news conference, Jackson informed the assembled media that backup big man Jermaine O’Neal was not with the team because of a passport issue. The Warriors certainly could have used O’Neal, who has averaged 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in his past five games. Aside from Curry, Lee and Harrison Barnes, who combined for 65 points on 25-for-53 shooting, the Warriors had trouble finding offense against Toronto as the rest of the team scored 33 points on 12-for-35 shooting. The Raptors (33-26) have been playing that type of defense for a while now, having won seven of their past nine games and going without consecutive home losses since losing three straight from Nov. 26 through Dec. 1.
“You feel for him against a guy like Bogut but I thought he let the game come to him more, got some rebounds, didn’t get tied up as much with Bogut under the bucket, and that’s the key with him. I don’t want him totally relaxed like he’s on vacation, but it’ll ease his mind, take the pressure off, learn, have fun, run the floor.” Casey said he is giving his sophomore three areas to focus on. “Run and rebound. He can do those. Don’t worry about scoring. Maybe add screening into that mix. I think he can handle that. And I promise you his offence is gonna come … He’s gonna be a good player in the league for a long time and he’s just gotta take the steps.”
Golden State Warriors power forward Jermaine O’Neal missed his side’s clash against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday because he misplaced his passport. The 35-year-old could not travel with his teammates to Canada on Saturday and had to stay back in California. “Misunderstanding,” ESPN quotes Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said as saying. “We thought we had it.
Fields had played a grand total of 15 minutes in Toronto’s previous 29 games — he’d been injured and inactive and an afterthought. But when his number was called in a big game against an impressive Warrior backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Fields figured, “oh, what the heck.” “Would you have it any other way?” Fields asked rhetorically after the game. “Just go out there and be somebody.” Fields, who ended up playing 25 minutes with eight points and six rebounds, wasn’t the sole reason the Raptors emerged with an impressive 104-98 win at the Air Canada Centre, but his attitude spoke volumes. “I’m a defensive guy and guys that are willing to play defence are going to have a big advantage over guys that are not defensive minded, and Landry’s done that for us,” said coach Dwane Casey. “I just commended him on his professionalism, not playing at all (but) being ready when his number is called and that’s what the NBA is all about.”
“I don’t think we’ve beat him [Curry] since I’ve been here,” DeRozan said and with good reason: the Raptors were 0-for-7 against the Warriors with Curry in the lineup. Curry was hurt on March 4, 2012, when the Raptors won. Casey had much to be happy about after Sunday’s game. Landry Fields made his second start of the reason, finding out during pregame video work that Terrence Ross’s sprained ankle made him a no-go. Casey said he thought Fields’s length would present an issue defensively for the Warriors. It did.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +7
Quiet and consistent. Came out of his shell in the 4th with the game on the line: rolling to the basket while making a huge target for people to hit him with passes, and sticking to Lee like white on rice. I really have nothing much else to say, he was somewhat absent from my game notes.
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -6
Not worth the money, but he can be an asset when not hobbled by injury. Displayed a lot of his “awareness” on offense: never standing around idle, always cutting to the rim, and make big targets on those cuts. Rebounding was huge and very much needed. Not sure why he didn’t get off the bench in the 4th, but played very well when he got the time. The Raptors can use him on this stretch run if this is what they will be getting.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 23 MIN | 5-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | -2
At some point he’s going to need to finish a game, and not just any game, but a tight one where he made a contribution to the win. Was very hesitant on offense, and for all the movement and flailing limbs he throws up when it’s time to rebound, you expect him to have a better nose for the ball. I know I’m being rough, and blah blah blah five-years for a big man to develop but I have two words for you: Andre Drummond.
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 3-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +7
Not sure where his head was at, but he wasn’t fully engaged for most of the game. The stats were there, but just a little more of what he usually brings could have meant a little less of Vasquez trying to do too much with the ball; my nerves would have appreciated that.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 42 MIN | 10-16 FG | 11-12 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 32 PTS | +12
The definition of letting the game come to you. Everything was in the flow of the game, and against a very tough defender in Igoudala. As the plays became more important, and the game came down to the wire, he was there making big shot after big shot. There’s a reason he’s starting to get those superstar calls on the floor: dude is making a very strong case.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1
Loved how he paired with Patterson to give the Raptors a much needed boost off the bench in the 1st half in the front court, and just kept crashing the offensive glass with reckless abandon. He chased down everything and was rewarded with put-backs.
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +7
He came through in the clutch in a game that wasn’t promised to the Raptors.; the Raptors don’t win this game without Patterson’s effort in the 4th. His shooting in the 1st half left something to be desired, but the defensive was there throughout.
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2
That pass he thread to a rolling Amir in the paint with 2:30 left out of the timeout was ridiculous. Otherwise he did what was needed of him: calming veteran presence off the bench to help keep the wheels on in a game that could have got out of hand at any moment.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 23 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +10
Had alternating stretches of pretty good, and pretty bad. I’m having a hard time being subjective with Greivis since I’m not a fan, but you can’t argue that he had no business taking 7 threes.
In all fairness he was missing Ross who is tailor made for this sort of game, but his management of Fields in the 2nd half was sketchy (could have used more of Fields and less of Vasquez at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th. Called timely timeouts, and drew up real plays that the Raptors executed out of them.
A lot has changed since December 3, when Toronto faced the Warriors in Golden State. That fateful trip out west featured the last time Toronto has lost more than two games in a row and was punctuated by the Warriors 42 point fourth quarter that erased a 27 point Raptor lead.
Five days later Rudy Gay was gone and the Raptors embarked on a 26-14 turn around which has Toronto sitting atop the Atlantic Division and boasting the league’s best fourth quarter differential.
This second meeting features what amounts to a grudge match for the re-tooled Raptors who have every inspiration to provide a full 48 minute effort. There is the embarrassment of that loss, the streaking Bulls and Wizards who are vying to usurp Toronto for the third seed and the on-going desire of this Toronto squad to achieve respect around the Association. Unfortunately a rash of ankle injuries has befell the Raps leading to uncertainty of who’ll suit up today; Lowry practiced Saturday while Ross was on the stationary bike and Johnson is still playing at less than 100%.
With the hardest part of their schedule complete the Raptors will have 23 games remaining after today featuring 17 sub .500 teams and only seven games vs. the West. The Raptors will also be privy to a rare four-day mini break prior to what is surely another circled date on every Raptors calendar: Sacramento.
Before breaking down the specific match-ups, JM Poulard of ESPN True Hoop Network and Editor of Warriors World was kind enough to answer a few questions on the Warriors.
It’s no surprise Indiana and Chicago rank one, two in defensive efficiency, what is a bit of a surprise is Golden State ranks third. Many point to the addition of Andre Iguodala as the reason, but how much of this improvement can be credited to a much healthier Andrew Bogut?
Andre Iguodala certainly has helped tremendously on this end, but Andrew Bogut might be more important to the defense. He’s an irritant for opposing big men and does a wonderful job of contesting shots at the rim and clearing out his rebounding area.
Bogut lacks the mobility to jump out and trap in the pick-and-roll, but he makes up for that by camping in the lane and deterring cutters with a few hard shoves. The Warriors’ ascension in the 2013 playoffs coincided with Bogut shaking off the rust and playing at a high level, a clear sign that Golden State is a different group defensively when he is on the hardwood.
Last season the Warriors were anointed NBA’s Cinderella Team benefiting from the intangible of team chemistry which led to a deep playoff run. With the addition of Steve Blake at the deadline, this season’s squad features eight new Warriors who have yet to accomplish the same natural ebb and flow offensively. Does Blake represent the missing piece needed to elevate Golden State’s offense into the top ten?
This might be a cop out, but it’s too early to tell. Last season, Jarrett Jack had an odd knack for calling his own number late in games and actually delivering when defenses focused on stopping Stephen Curry. Jack’s ball-handling and killer midrange shooting gave the Dubs a huge boost.
Steve Blake is a different breed of point guard. He is more of a setup player that also converts open shots. In order for Golden State’s offense to thrive, they need a secondary and tertiary playmaker because they lack a quality second perimeter scorer. Iguodala fits quite well, but Blake might need to become slightly more aggressive to keep defenses honest.
At the start of the season I along with many NBA enthusiasts hoped for an epic Thunder vs. Warrior Western Final, but with 23 games remaining the Warriors are seeded sixth and are among seven teams separated by 7 games. Where do you realistically see the Warriors finishing and which team would they prefer to avoid in the first round?
I am already on record as picking the Warriors to go out in the first round of a tough Western Conference. The one team Golden State just cannot seem to shake is the Houston Rockets. James Harden and Co. just always manage to get the upper hand because of their interior scoring and long-range shooting.
Wednesday, Chicago held Golden State to 35.7% from the field, under 24% from three and marked only the seventh time this season the Warriors have failed to score 90 points. The Bulls utilized a defensive strategy that forced Curry to his left, cut off his second option and closed his passing and driving lanes. Is this the best way to shut down the Warriors potent offense or was that simply an anomaly?
There might be bigger forces at play as it pertains to the woeful shooting in Chicago. Stephen Curry has been struggling since All-Star weekend, and one can only wonder whether he is hiding an injury or just simply worn down.
With that said, the Bulls used a bold approach in defending Curry that I can’t recall any other team successfully utilizing: Defenders jumped passing lanes. With a shooter as prolific as Curry, disciplined defense is practically mandatory to ensure he does not get any open looks. Kirk Hinrich opted instead to abandon him at times and jump in front of passes for steals.
In addition, Chicago used three defenders on every possession to corral the Dubs’ leading scorer. Every time Curry put the ball on the floor in the pick-and-roll, he had to beat his man coupled with a big man and other player. There were plays to be made, but Curry was pressing and it resulted in a poor shooting night and multiple turnovers. The defensive strategy was certainly terrific, but the Bulls also benefitted from a struggling Curry
Point Guard: Steph Curry has unparallelled range, improved ball handling skills and finally has a back-up in Steve Blake who can relieve him of extended minutes. Coming into Sunday’s match Steph rebounded from a terrible outing in Chicago with a triple-double in New York in just 3 quarters of work. In games since the All Star Break Vasquez seems to have found his offensive niche including a season’s best 26 point outing in the loss to the Wiz. Kyle Lowry for his part has been the most valuable Raptor on the floor on a nightly basis, but turned his ankle badly in over time Thursday, however he claimed he would be available today.
Wings: Teams have been defending DeMar DeRozan with tall wing men of late (Butler, Deng) and he may face another in Thompson today, however if he avoids Klay he can expect to face one of the league’s best wing defenders in Andre Iguodala. Prior to Ross twisting his ankle Thursday I foresaw the game being won or lost at this position, but Ross’ status as of Saturday was questionable. It’s unfortunate as I for one was really excited to see which of the two sophomore wing men would rue the day. Harrison Barnes has been inconsistent in his second season following a break out Rookie campaign; in contrast Terrence is almost the polar opposite. Ross significance to the squad specifically on defense was obvious to all in the OT loss to Washington and is a positive sign heading toward the playoffs.
Edge: Warriors *if by some miracle Ross plays with no ill affect the edge switches slightly to Raptors
Bigs: Valanciunas has had some less than stellar outings post All Star Break, but he prefers to play typical Centers like Bogut and O’Neal. With the uncertainty of Ross or Lowry suiting up Jonas will need to replicate his February 21 second half performance vs Cleveland if the Raps have any chance of staying close today. Prior to the trade I would have leaned heavily in favor of the Warriors but the combination of Toronto’s younger crew of Valanciunas, Johnson, Patterson and Hansbrough vs. Lee and the vets (Bogut just returned from injury) have made this positional match-up much more interesting. Fouls could play a large role if either team’s front court get multiple whistles early.
Slight Egde: Raptors
The Bench: The Dubs have tinkered with their line-up all season trying to reclaim their offensive chemistry from last year inserting variations of Barnes, Crawford, Speights, Green and O’Neal into the mix. Conversely, since the trade the Raptors have had more on nights than off utilizing Hansbrough, Patterson, Salmons and Vasquez in a tight nine men rotation with the occasional sprinkling of Novak and Hayes. Not to keep repeating myself, but so much rests on whether Lowry and or Ross play today, if they don’t it’s likely Vasquez and Novak or Salmons would get the start and for those of you pining for more Nando De Colo you might just get their wish.
Edge: If Lowry plays Raptors if he doesn’t Golden State rules
The Line: Vegas says: The line has Golden State favored by 2 with a public consensus of 61.5% and an over/under of 201.5
Tamberlyn says: Both teams are capable of mounting double digit comebacks, but have been excelling based on their defense so today’s victor will undoubtedly be the team who stays true to their defensive strategy for the longer portion of the 48 minutes. Thursday we became very aware of how a key injury can totally disrupt a team, but to expect Toronto to compete without a main cog (possibly two) for 48 minutes is unrealistic. Should Lowry suit up the irony is today could come down to the final shot or it could be a 20 point blow-out. With those four days off looming and the memory of that 42 point fourth quarter there’s no doubt the Raps will be inspired, but unfortunately I suspect this banged up Raptor squad will ultimately fall short by a point or two.
Odd Fact: The Raptors have won games this season in a variety of ways we’ve not been accustomed to for many years and I’ve found myself repeatedly commenting “This is the biggest win of the season”. Entering today’s contest I know with certainty this team won’t give up and I’m hoping the squad can dig deep to muster an improbable win where I’ll undoubtedly tweet the above words for the umpteenth time this year.
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The “next man up” is a mentality that every athlete, coach or fan of athletics must buy into. It is a concept that roots itself in the belief that when a player goes down, the next man in line will step up and fill the gap. It is practiced in all team-based sports and its use goes back as far as men have been lining up shoulder to shoulder with shield and spear in hand, ready to go to battle against another like-minded group. In many people’s minds, sports is just a
sissified civilized version of war, where at the end of the battle everyone goes home in one piece… Hopefully. There are casualties in every war much like there are injuries in every season and when they occur it is up to the next man to step up and get the job done, for their team, for their fans and for their fantasy owners.
This practice was seen put into effect during the triple overtime war against the Washington Wizards on Friday night, when Terrence Ross went down with an unfortunate ankle injury. The young warrior tried to walk it off, but after several minutes of play the coaching staff smartly decided to err on the side of caution and pull him from the game. Though John Salmons started in place of the injured Ross in the second half and brought his standard veteran presence we’ve come to expect, ultimately it was Greivis Vasquez who stepped up and filled in admirably for the fallen Ross. General Greivis finished the night with 26 PTS off 11/19 shooting, with 4 three-pointers made, 8 AST, 2 REB, and 2 STL in 39 min. of action. This was the first time that Vasquez got over 30 min. of play since joining the Raptors, all it took was an injury and three overtime periods. Despite the reasons, Vasquez earned every minute of play and nearly found victory for the team in the process.
That game also showed warrior like efforts from several Raptors players including Amir Johnson who logged heavy minutes on his recently re-injured ankle. Kyle Lowry landed on Gortat’s war boats on a drive in the fourth. Despite rolling his ankle, he played every minute until fouling out in the third overtime period. Patrick Patterson started out hot, looking to erase his recent shooting woes, but took a mean shot to the face at some point during the game leaving a lump on his forehead and stars in his eyes. 2Pat came back to play some solid defence, but didn’t look too get his offense going after the hit. He was seen icing his face on the sidelines, hopefully he won’t have to go back to wearing the mask on Sunday against the Golden State Warriors. They may be warriors by name, but today Golden State will be facing a team full of them in Toronto.
The “next man up” mentality is just as important for a fantasy owner to have. When a player gets hurt on your roster the chance for sentimentality creeps in, often because of the good play that they gave you. Depending on the injury and calibre of player you may choose to sit on them, but in most cases it’s in your team’s best interest to drop that player and find a suitable replacement, especially if playing in a daily league. Injuries often open up opportunities for players to show how they can affect their team. This may be most easily seen in Los Angeles with Kobe and Nash injured this season. In their place Nick Young and Xavier Henry both had a chance to flourish earlier in the season and now with them suffering injuries, Kendall Marshall along with MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore most recently have all posted helpful fantasy numbers in their place.
DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating continues to rise this week from 47th up to 45th, and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. DeRozan has yet to hit a three pointer since the All-Star break, despite this he still averages 0.9 – 3PM on the season. That aside, DeMarvelous has been just that over the last week, averaging an impressive 30.3 PTS off .492 FG% and .818 FT%, with 5.3 AST, 3.7 REB and 1.0 STL per game. One reason for his lack of three-pointers of late stems from his decision to attack the rim and a desire to draw a foul. Over the last three contests DeMar is averaging a stellar 11 free-throw attempts per game. His ability to recognize space and his confidence to make the shot has made him one of the most dominant scorers in the NBA. This past week DeMar was the sixth highest scorer in the league and is currently sitting ninth overall (22.7) on the season.
Kyle Lowry – Season player rating holds at 12th this week and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. With only two games on schedule for this upcoming week, fantasy owners must take solace in the fact that IF he’s going to be out a week, this week would be the one to choose. That’s not to say he isn’t going to play, perhaps Sunday will give us a better indication of what’s to come. Over the last seven days Kyle has averaged 42 min. per game, .averaging 19.7 PTS off a troublesome .348 FG% while shooting .880 FT%, with 8.3 AST, 6.0 REB, 1.3 STL and hitting 1.7 three-pointers per game. The fantasy owner in me wants to see him back out on the floor being the tough competitor I know he is. However, the fan in me wants him to take some well-deserved rest this week to make sure he’s ready to compete down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Greivis playing well lately, the Raptors could afford to chance taking Lowry out of the line-up while ensuring his health moving forward.
Amir Johnson – Season player rating rises again from 69th up to 66th and is owned by 48.8% of the leagues at ESPN. If you were in need of a big and were one of the many owners who grabbed him this past week, then I’m sure you were happy. In the last seven days Amir has averaged 12.3 PTS off .609 FG% and .700 FT%, with 7.7 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.7 STL and 1.3 BLK per game. Tall Money is stacking up those stats with stats on top of stats. It’s amazing that he’s still available in more than half the leagues at ESPN. With the final games of the season coming down the pipe, expect coach Casey to rely more upon his veterans to get the job done. His vast array of hook shots in the lane and excellent pick and roll game is to be expected, the surprise is the two three-pointers made in the last three games. With the addition of the three point shot into his repertoire he quickly becomes a must-have at the end of your roster. If Amir still available in your league, consider picking him up before it’s too late.
Terrence Ross – Season player rating moves up again from 132nd to 120th and owned by 24.9% of the leagues at ESPN. T.Ross has played to impress over the last seven days, averaging 15.3 PTS off .593 FG% while adding a whopping 3.7 three-pointers, with 2.7 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.7 STL and chipping in 0.3 BLK per game. These numbers would have looked even more impressive if only he had been able to play beyond the first half of Friday’s game canning 3 three-point shots and totalling 11 PTS, 2 REB, and 1 AST. Had he been able to continue one could only assume that with three overtime periods of play his numbers would have been impressive. Today’s game against Golden State should give us answers to the playability of Flight31 in the upcoming week.
Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating continues upward from 189th to 173rd and is owned by 33.3% of the leagues at ESPN. In the last seven days General Greivis has continued to find success, averaging 17.0 PTS off an efficient .568 FG% while making 3.0 three-pointers, with 4.7 AST, 2.0 REB and 1.0 STL per game. The last month has seen Vasquez keeping a .473 FG%, proving his shooting woes are a thing of the past. Things are looking up for him from a fantasy perspective as he begins to find comfort with his spark plug role off the bench. With both Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry sustaining ankle injuries in Friday’s contest expect an increase in playing time for Vasquez this week.
Patrick Patterson – Season player rating dips slightly from 137th down to 138th and owned by 2.5% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last week we have seen 2Pat`s offensive numbers continue to fall, he currently averages only 3.3 PTS off .267 FG%. Thankfully he continues to add 6.0 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.3 STL and 1.7 BLK to offset his poor shooting. It was rumoured that his offensive woes stemmed from his inability to get comfortable behind the protective mask he’s been wearing since breaking his nose. His poor FG% shouldn’t hurt your fantasy team, as its off only five shots per game and he is still managing 0.7 three-pointers per game. I look to see Patterson get his shooting back on track this week with only two games on the schedule and a chance to get back into the gym.
Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating drops from 102nd to 106th and owned by 79.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Unless he’s being used for the rebounding stats, owners of Jonas have been disappointed over the last seven days. Aside from his 8.3 REB, his numbers continue to struggle with 5.3 PTS off .385 FG%, adding 0.7 AST and 0.3 BLK per game. With only two games on the schedule this upcoming week, hopefully JV will be able to refuel the tank and regain some composure. Something that could benefit him would be if he could learn to stop complaining about the calls and take that well-earned frustration out on the opposing team on both ends of the floor. Growing pains.
Tyler Hansbrough – Season player rating drops from 288th down to 293rd and is still owned by none of the leagues at ESPN. Limited minutes get in the way of Tyler Hansbrough as far as being an effective fantasy contributor. Despite his limited minutes (16 MPG) he’s managed to average 4.0 PTS and 5.0 REB per game. Perhaps his most impressive stat was his 5.0 attempts at the free-throw line this past week, making him third on the team in drawing fouls during that time, while only managing to hit 2.7 of them (.533 FT%).
*quote* No disrespect to the Raptors, but they may be the worst No. 3 seed I’ve seen since I started covering the NBA. What they are accomplishing is commendable, but Toronto being so high in the standings is very much a reflection of the sorry state of the Eastern Conference. *end quote* True or false?
Biology and basketball go together like fungi and alga.
Lichens are one of nature’s most fascinating creatures.
The term lichen applies to a classification of composite organisms whose very survival is predicated on symbiosis — or teamwork, if you will. Each lichen is composed of a fungus, and a photosynthetic partner, which is typically green alga. The arrangement is simple — the fungus surrounds the alga, and helps retain water and in exchange, the alga provides the fungus with oxygen and sugar. This quaint arrangement makes the whole far more sustainable, and more resilient than it’s parts, thus allowing lichen to flourish in the world’s most inhospitable environments. Through symbiosis, the fungus and its pairing alga forms more than just lichen, it forms one of nature’s hardiest pairings.
Which in a small way reminds me of Demar and Amir.
Over the past four seasons, Demar Derozan and Amir Johnson have shared the court for a whopping 5679 minutes, or roughly 3.9 days. Amir has overseen the entirety of Demar’s NBA career, but despite being the older — and therefore craftier — player, the duo have grown together as teammates, and they have even developed something of a pet play.
The play — forthwith referred to as “sleight of hand” — is simple, yet effective, because it plays on their strengths.
The action starts with Amir and Derozan lined up on the same side of the court. The ball-handler (usually Lowry) initiates the play by feeding the ball to Amir in either the high, or the mid-post. Once Amir catches the ball, he turns to set a screen for Derozan, who curls around him awaiting a hand-off. After the basketball exchanges ownership, Amir moves to fully position himself for a drag-screen. He first ensures that Derozan has space to operate, before rolling to the basket. The resulting action is similar to a pick-and-roll, only Derozan is able to catch the ball with forward momentum inside of the arc. It looks something like the following:
Sleight of hand is an effective play for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the play allows Derozan to catch the ball with momentum towards the basket, which frees up the option for Demar to drive into the paint, where he is most effective. Second, the play effective because Amir Johnson is one of the best screen-setters in the NBA. While no statistics are tallied on this specific play, it’s worth noting that Demar Derozan ranks 2nd in the NBA at 1.27 points per hand-off, and over half of Derozan’s 40 made baskets via the hand-off have been assisted by Johnson.
Like most successful sets, sleight of hand has built-in options to counter varying defensive tactics. The example above can be classified as option one, where Amir sets up in the mid-post. This iteration allows the option for Amir to slip behind the defense, and to short-roll to the basket. If the screen successfully barters Derozan some separation from his defender, Amir’s defender is forced to step up to contain Derozan’s penetration via a trap. However, if he steps up too far — as Tim Duncan does in the subsequent clip — Demar can make the easy pocket pass to Amir under the basket.
In option two, Amir hands Derozan the ball, but instead of setting a drag screen and heading towards the net, he stays high and positions himself for a potential kickout. This dissuades the defense from committing two defenders to Derozan’s drive, as the option exists for him to kick it out to an open Amir. Typically, that’s a trade-off that most defenses would happily accept, but in the case of conservative defensive schemes weary of aggressive double teams, or when defenders fail to recognize the play like Marcin Gortat in the subsequent clip, Amir’s presence helps open up space for Derozan.
However, the play loses some effectiveness when Johnson is out of the picture. Because of its simplicity, Coach Dwane Casey occasionally opts to run sleight of hand for Derozan while he’s on the court with the bench unit. However, this often isn’t as effective because the substitute player cannot replicate Johnson’s subtle timing and adaptive skillset.
For example, the play is sometimes run for Derozan and Patterson, but 2Pat isn’t nearly as good of a screener, nor as reliable of a finisher. The second part is key, because failing to create separation allows defenses to ICE the play — much like they would as if it were a pick-and-roll — which impedes Demar’s path to the paint.
In the clip below, Patterson breaks into the dribble hand-off, but his screen for Demar is very soft, and by setting it near the three-point line, he invites the Cavalier defense to momentarily ICE Derozan. To his credit, Demar recognizes this and pulls back towards the middle, but he’s unable to shake the surprisingly nimble Tristan Thompson and misses his jump-shot.
And that’s not to slag Patterson or any other players substituted into the equation — Amir and Derozan just have a level of familiarity with each others’ tendencies that only comes with experience. Amir knows Derozan’s timing, and Derozan is astutely aware of Amir’s movements. It’s an incredibly simple, but carefully orchestrated play that succeeds because of the players involved. By drawing on the strengths of both players — screen setting for Amir, attacking the basket for Demar — the sleight of hand allows two long-time teammates to flourish.
Which…is akin to lichen? Nope? Okay.
Last night was one of the stranger basketball viewing experiences you’re likely to get. It was fitting that it went to 3 OT periods, because this felt like 3 completely different games in one. After a good opening series of possessions, the next 30 minutes of gameplay looked mostly like a game that the Raptors were on pace to lose. That was followed by 20 minutes of game-time that was dynamic on both ends, getting the fans completely into an exciting game that the Raptors looked poised to win. Then that was then somehow followed by another 9 minutes of game-time (somehow taking over half an hour of real time) that ended with a late-night, punch-drunk feel to it.
For me, last night’s game was an eye-opening experience. Unable to start the game in real time, I DVR’d the game, and steered clear of texts, twitter and anything that might spoil the outcome of the game for me. Turning the television on well after I thought it safe to assume the game was over; my screen came to life in the midst of a timeout, the Raptors down 116-118 in 2OT. So much for that plan.
So of course I watched out the overtime before starting the game. The first play I saw was DeMar’s game-tying bucket against a Washington defense that would have any reasonable head coach Boeheiming. “Wow,” I thought, “that is some of the sloppiest defense I’ve ever seen!” With 2.7 seconds left on the clock, and not to be outdone, the Raptors did everything they could to give up a good shot to Bradley Beal, which he dropped as time expired. But before I could even start writing the first word of another sarcastic, run-on rant about Casey’s curious rotations and the Raptors undisciplined defense breakdowns that nobody would have enjoyed, something crazy happened. It was the very end of a game and the Raptors actually got a call: the basket was waived off. For a moment, the grouchy writer in me was subdued, and the celebrating fan returned.
Triple overtime started, and the grouchy writer in me jumped right back out, complaining out loud about DeMar’s lazy defense on consecutive possessions. Normally my angry yelling at the TV is unable to garner a direct response from the broadcast crew, much less affect the game. But as if hearing my complaints, Matt Devlin immediately put me in my place by announcing that DeMar was currently at 56 minutes played. OK, my bad. 56 minutes into an NBA game where you’re the primary cog on offense, I can understand reaching in instead of shuffling your feet on defense. I would be on the ground hooked up to an oxygen tank at that point.
It was then that I realized something important. It was like a voice spoke to me, teaching me something obvious that’s been bogging me down all season. “This is 3OT!” Jiminy Cricket whispered into my ear, slapping me across the face, “Quit being such a wiener and ENJOY IT!”
Lowry fouled out, and reality pointed to a final conclusion. The Hansbrough-DeRozan-Vasquez-Novak-Fields 5-man unit would probably challenge for the worst defensive numbers in basketball-reference history if they played a full game together; they weren’t going to get stops. Yes, the defense was bad. REALLY bad. The Raptors lost. But so what? It was triple overtime, the Raptors had rolled 3 ankles, were without their two best defensive big men and their two best defensive perimeter players, DeMar had played almost 5 complete quarters of basketball and John Wall is really good with cheat code speed. Who could complain about this? Look, if you were at the game, then I get it. Raptors fans care about nothing else in the world the way they care about getting free pizza in a 100+ point win. For the Raptors to cross the hallowed 100 point pizza-chant mark, only to have that dream of free ‘za ripped from your fingers is devastating. Just devastating. But you know who probably isn’t that upset about losing that game? Everyone who was there: because they had an awesome time! I hate the argument that wanting your team to full-on tank during a re-build somehow questions the quality of your ‘fandom’. It’s idiotic. But man, if you weren’t entertained last night…
Things I enjoyed about the rest of the game:
1. Watching a Washington professional basketball team move the ball around smoothly and selflessly to produce good baskets on offense is really unsettling to watch. There’s a groundhog-day vibe to it that makes me question whether or not I’m experiencing reality.
2. Amir Johnson. His ankle buckled on him on two consecutive offensive possessions when he tried to drive to the basket. It clearly isn’t right. But that hardly kept him from being effective. The Raps were +9 with Amir on the court. Normally I’m suspect of single game +/- stats, but when you play 43 minutes and your team gets scored on at will without you in OT, I’m inclined to say that there’s something to it.
3. Professor Andre Miller, PhD. He is one of those players you can’t help but subtly root for and enjoy, even when he’s playing against you.
4. Watching Al Harrington get a flagrant with the Cobra-Kai, sweep the leg move on Hansbrough.
Aside: Kyle Lowry and Tyler Hansbrough both have to be starters on the NBA ‘rubs guys the wrong way’ All-Stars. But who’s the captain? Hansbrough and Lowry are both sitting on dunk tank chairs over a pool of cold water at an imaginary NBA circus. There’s only one throw, and all of the NBA players, coaches and referees have to collectively decide whom to dunk. Who do you think they go for?
5. Terrence Ross becoming a key player on the team. He’s put up occasional stats (ahem, 50 point game) and highlights that are impossible to ignore. But his absence from last night’s game made it clear how valuable he has become to the Raptor’s rotation. General Greivis was a pivotal scorer in extended minutes off the bench, but Ross was clearly missed. That’s a good thing. I mean, it was a bad thing, but… you get the point.
6. Why couldn’t Valanciunas get back in this game when Casey was asking the swifter kids to put a jersey on and the Raptors couldn’t even pretend to guard the rim?
More on Valanciunas in a minute, I need to get to something important here. Last night I noticed that Vim is no longer the official sweatmop sponsor of the Toronto Raptors. We had a good run Vim. Staying on top of the sweat-mop game as long as you did is tough. There’s always someone gunning for your spot. Veterans like Mr. Clean and Pine Sol, up and comers like Tilex and the next generation with Mr. Clean-Mr. Net. Ultimately, Swiffer took the title. There’s no shame in that; the Swiffer line of floor-cleaning products is a powerhouse. Hell of a run, Vim, hell of a run.
Getting back to Valanciunas, I feel like it’s important to build some context around the increasingly hostile mood surrounding the man. Big men take time to develop. At Val’s age, Roy Hibbert was losing in the tournament to Davidson and being passed over in the draft, Marc Gasol was still 2 years away from the NBA, Tyson Chandler was barely getting 20 minutes a game and Amir Johnson was still averaging almost 7 personal fouls per 32 minutes played. Let’s give this some time to play out. Besides:
7. This season is turning out to be an awful lot of fun. How about we all try and enjoy it?
It was a game itself that was worth framing – not because it was a thing of beauty but because it captured nicely the Raptors season so far: this is a team that leaves it all on the floor, and not metaphorically. They actually get on the floor for loose balls, get sent to the floor after attacking the rim and have to pick themselves up off the floor after drawing charges. It’s a tough group, epitomized by Lowry who played 54 minutes and finished with 18 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and three steals and DeRozan, who played 57 minutes. “We rode him and DeMar so hard,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, voice almost spent. “ But every game is important. Every game, every possession, it’s hard to take them out.”
Ujiri has been with his new team less than one year, but has already made multiple moves that have propelled the Toronto Raptors to near the top of the Eastern Conference. Last summer, he shipped off former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for future draft picks. Less than six months later, he dealt the face of the franchise–Rudy Gay–in exchange for three role players, at best. But, somehow, the plan worked. Maybe there is a method to his madness?
Ross, who is morphing into one of the team’s best defenders, left after only 16 minutes and while he wasn’t wearing a boot or carrying crutches after the game, he was walking the arena corridors very gingerly.“You don’t miss something until you don’t have it,” Casey said of Ross. “It gives us one more defender, a shot-maker, and that was a huge blow for us, especially defensively. He was doing a good job and also gave us another defender to switch around on (John) Wall.”Lowry was in discomfort, too, although he’ll never admit it.He rolled his ankle trying to win the game with a driving layup at the end of regulation time.“Just a little tweak, that’s all,” he said.True to form, he played for another 13 minutes before fouling out but was a shell of himself; he would not, however, accept any platitudes for the way the team played.“No, we want to win at the game at the end of the day,” he said of the inevitable “moral victory” query. “We go out there every single night to win, we don’t go out there and compete and say, ‘oh, we gave it our best shot.’ We go out there and try to win every single game.”
As a team, the Raptors, until very late in the fourth, were outworked in a game that seemed to mean more to the visiting Wizards, losers of three straight to Toronto this season, than it did to the home team. Overall, Washington grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, registered 80 points in the paint, bested the Raptors 21-6 in second-chance points and held a 10-point edge in fast break scoring. Still, the Raptors were right there with a chance to steal a victory they probably didn’t deserve at the end of regulation and as the clock expired to close the first OT period. “I like the way we battled,” said coach Dwane Casey, “even through the foul trouble and also with injuries.”
It was John Wall that forced a steal at the end of the first OT when the Wizards needed to get a stop. It was John Wall that delivered with a vicious inside-out dribble to speed for the game-tying layup. It was John Wall that prevented Kyle Lowry from giving the Raptors the win with this play. (Note the Iverson-esque step over him after the fact). In the third overtime, it was John Wall who rescued the Wizards. It was Wall that stepped into the passing lane and beat Vasquez’s bounce pass to Tyler Hansbrough for the steal, leading to an Ariza dunk. It was John Wall that stripped Vasquez on the very next play, leading to another fast break and a four-point lead. It was Wall who, with the Raptors needing a stop down two, yo-yoed with the dribble, forced a switch with Hansbrough and delivered the hesitation dribble — a new move in his arsenal — for the blow-by and finish. Hell, it was John Wall that defended DeRozan on the next play, preventing the obvious quick two.
To sum up the overtimes, the Raptors’ offense wasn’t pretty and there was a lot of standing around, probably due to fatigue. On top of this, attrition set in as Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson fouled out and Kyle Lowry injured his ankle on a drive to end the first OT period. Lowry, being the warrior that he is, stayed in the game, but wasn’t nearly as effective after that. And with the Dinos’ best bigs out, Marcin Gortat proved to be too much in the paint, blocking Valanciunas a couple of times in key moments, and scoring at will. Once Lowry fouled out in the game’s waning moments, the Wiz went on a quick 4-0 run to take the lead for good, capitalizing on some forced turnovers when it counted most.
The Wizards won a triple-overtime marathon, 134-129, that doubled as the longest game in Raptors history — three hours and 32 minutes. By the end of the game, the Raptors were playing without four of their best defenders: Terrence Ross, who sprained his ankle in the second quarter, and Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson, who all fouled out. It is hard to recover from all of that. “We rode [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan] so hard, but every game is important. Every game, every possession — and it’s hard to take them out,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Even T-Ross, I never thought I’d say this, but we missed him. Our deck wasn’t full and I thought it hurt us.”
The latest sprinkling of second half magic from Toronto’s star backcourt flipped a game Washington was controlling back into a close contest. Though the other Raptors couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn in the third, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 22 of the team’s 24 points, powering an 11-0 run that followed a timeout by an angry Casey. Casey had plenty to be peeved about, though by the end of the evening, his team had once again earned his respect. Ross had 11 points, including three of his team’s seven three-pointers before exiting with a sprained ankle just prior to the end of the first half. Johnson rolled his own ankle a couple of times, DeRozan went down hard at one point and was slow to get up and Lowry hobbled through the first part of the overtime after crumpling to the floor after missing a potential game-winning layup to end the fourth. The Raptors bounced back off of the ropes in the fourth and actually had a chance to win, but Lowry’s driving layup wouldn’t fall.
It took a lot of heart for the Wizards to pull this one out. DeMar DeRozan and Greivis Vasquez combined for 60 points, including some of the most ridiculous made field goals I’ve seen this season. Vasquez knocked down a pull up three point shot in overtime that could’ve potentially been a dagger, but the Wizards continued to fight. Both teams deserve to get the ‘W’ tonight, but unfortunately only one was able to pull it out, and I’m glad it was the Wizards. Tonight’s game was certainly the most entertaining Wizards game of the season. They played their hearts out, extending their win streak to 5 and getting 2 games above .500.
Vasquez committed two costly turnovers in the final overtime, with Wall pilfering him and setting up a dunk by Ariza (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Martell Webster to give the Wizards a four-point lead. Vasquez was thrust into a larger role with the Raptors losing Terrence Ross to a sprained ankle at halftime.
On losing their key players, coach Dwane Casey said it was a case of ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’. “We lost three key players, and losing Terrence [Ross]. And you don’t miss something until you don’t have it,” Casey said. “It gives us one more defender, shot maker, and that was a huge blow for us.” “Even T-Ross, never thought I’d say it, but we missed him. Our deck wasn’t full and I thought it hurt us. We had to go with Demar longer, didn’t get a blow until probably about the 2 minute mark. So he went longer minutes in that stretch in the 3rd quarter because we didn’t have Terrence.” Casey said. Kyle Lowry attempted both the game winners at the end of the 4th—which Lowry turned his ankle, landing on Gortat, but remained in the game—and in overtime, both times coming up short on drives to the basket. Leading to a double overtime.
“My feet and back are hurting and I didn’t even play,” said Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman. “It’s hard to put this game into words, there were so many changes of emotion, ups and downs. They seemed to have control and then we seemed to have control. We kept after it and we were lucky enough, we got the three stops in a row down the stretch and converted at the other end and gave us a boost. I don’t know the last time we saw 108 shots for us in a game – they had 100 – and 80 points in the paint and I would think that has to be a record for us somewhere. Our guys gutted it out. It was a gusty win for us. Both teams played good. It’s just one of those games you hate to see one of them lose.”
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I need a smoke after that one.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 43 MIN | 5-10 FG | 5-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +9Fouled out on a really chintzy call, and it’s a shame, because he was great when he played. Could have done more to keep Gortat and the Wizards’ front-line off the glass, but he tweaked his ankle and fought through it. He played his heart out and couldn’t last to affect the game’s last two overtime periods. Pity.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +7Had it booming something vicious, y’know. Bradley Beal lost him around screens and Trey Rosay (it’s happening, deal with it) made hay in the left corner. He tweaked his ankle pretty bad (running theme) and had to leave the game after the first half.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 29 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -14I don’t want to hear comments like “what about his 10 boards”, or “oh he’s just 21!” because the honest to goodness truth is that outside of a few minutes in the first quarter, Jonas Valanciunas was absolutely brutal. He got benched for his play and rightly so. He only came back into the game out of necessity, and got blocked/dunked on by Gortat a total of four times in 2OT. He also decided to slam home a shot that was already going in, which resulted in offensive cylinder interference. I’m sure he will bounce back but he was terrible.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 54 MIN | 6-18 FG | 5-7 FT | 9 REB | 10 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | -2So much heart. Forget his two missed game-winning attempts (one of them almost went down), but he badly sprained his ankle tonight and he still played through most of the overtime periods before being chided with a call and fouling out. He grabbed 3 offensive rebounds in a squeaky tight set of overtime periods. Kyle Lowry over everything, man. B for performance, A++++ for heart.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 57 MIN | 11-23 FG | 12-14 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 34 PTS | -4Turned it on in the third OT and really carried the Raptors for stretches, but once Lowry fouled out, nobody could check Wall and they lost. Derozan was frustratingly passive in regular time, but when everyone else was tired in overtime, Demar attacked the basket, which is pretty amazing for someone who played a game-high 57 minutes.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | 0For some reason Dwane Casey didn’t want to throw him in for defense and rebounding, because those are the only two things he can do. Missed two key free-throws in 3OT.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +9Was in early foul trouble. Played horribly for most of the game, including gift-wrapping an and-one to Chris Singleton near the end of the third. Turned it around in the fourth and OT but he too fouled out.|
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0He played.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 34 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -20If Ross is out for a significant portion of time, this man might enter the starting lineup, and unless he’s fully rested (like, no back to backs, and he slept really well), he’s going to be a big minus. Didn’t do anything on defense and his offense was bricktastic. No lift on his jumper. Hey, I’m not knocking the dude, he’s just really old.|
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4He also played.|
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -6Dwane Casey played him in rare offense-defense type platoons, but didn’t run any plays for him. Weird playcall.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 11-19 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 26 PTS | 0YOLO VASQUEZ FOREVER. YOLO VASQUEZ FOREVER. As if you know he didn’t have this in him, because he proved the doubters wrong for one night. The only reason he’s not getting any higher of a grade is because 37-year old Andre Miller was blowing by him consistently, but his scoring and playmaking was huge. He wore down in overtime and committed some key turnovers. Got killed by John Wall.|
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Nah, I’m serious. He played too.|
Questionable choices at times. For example, with a chance to win it in regulation, he trots out Chuck Hayes for the final possession. Why? He had his good moments too, like putting Novak in for offense-defense switches, and he had to contend with 3OT’s and four missing players. He did what he could.
Once again on Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors host a potential playoff foe, this time against John Wall and the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m. on TSN.
It’s the fourth meeting on the season between these two and the Raptors have a chance for the sweep after a 96-88 win on Nov. 22, a 101-88 win on Jan. 3 and a 103-93 victory on Feb. 18. Do the Raptors just have the Wizards number? I’m not sure such a phenomenon exists, but they certainly do match up well.
That will go doubly on Thursday with Nene out of the lineup for Washington, replaced by Drew Gooden’s beard and a handful of others sharing spot duty. That doesn’t make this one a layup, but with another victory the Raptors will look even more like heavy favorites in the first round of the playoffs.
First consider the East standings (excludes Brooklyn’s Wednesday game against Portland):
Now consider the Raptors track record against teams in the 4-11 range in the East since the Rudy Gay trade:
|W||@ New York||2-1|
Regular season games are not playoff series, of course, and Charlotte looms as a problem. The Bulls wouldn’t exactly be desirable, either. But New York, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, these are all match-ups I’d feel comfortable with. Brooklyn is a bit of a wildcard in there.
Anyway, Washington is not all of these other teams, but yet another win against a team just a bit worse than the Raptors will further the growing narrative that this team rarely takes complete games off and, while they may have a bad half here and there, they’ve got the talent to take care of these match-ups even on a bad night.
That’s if they win. If they lose, obviously, we fire Dwane Casey and trade DeMar DeRozan and let Kyle Lowry walk as a free agent.
1. If the season ended today, the Raptors and Wizards wouldn’t face off in the first round of the playoffs, but it seems like a real possibility. How would you evaluate Washington’s chances in a seven-game showdown?
Now that Nene has been carriage’d for six weeks (and it could be more, who really knows), Toronto’s already distinct advantage in size inside is, well, heightened. With a healthy Nene, I think the Wizards could compete better than their 0-3 record versus the Raptors so far this season so reflects.
John Wall might say that he has a chip on his shoulder because of a Team USA ‘snub’, but Kyle Lowry, in going against Wall, clearly has shown his own chip-on-shoulder competitiveness (over the All-Star snub) in being the best point leader I’ve seen him be. (Admittedly, I haven’t watch a ton of the Raptors this year.)
If Lowry can keep the matchup even, I’d say that the Wizards would need really hot shooting just to push a series to seven games with Toronto. And at that point, anything could happen. Otherwise, right now, Toronto is the better team, even if I do think that the Wizards are better equipped (again, with a healthy Nene) to run offense out of the post when playoff basketball takes over.
2. Do you miss Jan Vesely yet?
Do I miss the potential of an amazing dunk, a #SlapBound, groaned excitement at the free throw line, or a ‘hilarity ensues’ battle with Tyler Hansbrough?
Of course I do.
Otherwise, Vesely’s entire situation was a frustrating and unsatisfying. I guess he’s Washington’s Rafael Araujo, although perhaps not that bad.
3. The Wizards have won four straight, despite missing Nene for a game and a half in that stretch. What has the team playing so well out of the All-Star break?
John Wall has been the driver and is slowly starting to take it to another level, and he’s slowly building more confidence (especially from the perimeter). The best part: he’s staying within who he is, a point guard. He’s not trying to ‘Carmelo’ his Wizards into the playoffs. Recently, after a win in Cleveland, Wall said this about Kyrie Irving (via WFNY): “We both do things great for our team. He’s probably a better offensive guy, skill-wise, and can basically take over games with his skills. I’m more of a point guard that likes to get his teammates involved and am blessed with the talents and abilities to get hot and able to score the ball.”
Wall has shown an improved grasp of pace all season, now he’s better at balancing when he needs to score and when he needs to create. He’s been pretty bad from the field when the score is close late in games, often opting for hero shots. But his drive and creation for Nene’s game-winning dunk against the Pelicans was a sign of growth.
It hasn’t been just Wall, several key Wizards have stepped up. Bradley Beal has scored consistently (58 points over the four-game winning streak). Marcin Gortat has really upped his effort in the rebounding department and has five straight double-doubles (82 total points and 56 rebounds). And after a bad outing after the break, against the Raptors, Trevor Ariza has hit 13 out of his last 20 3-point attempts, getting back to the groove he was in when he hit 10 3s against the Rockets in the game before the All-Star break.
4. Is John Wall the best, the goddam best, or merely very good?
To Wizards fans, he’s the best. (‘Goddman best’ would probably be at least winning one first round playoffs series like Gilbert Arenas.) And in the Eastern Conference, he’s becoming very, very good (partially default via injuries). The rest of the league? They’ve been put on notice. But nothing ever really counts unless you win in the playoffs. You don’t want to give people a reason to associate you with Steve Francis (five career playoff games) or Stephon Marbury (18 career playoff games and four first round exits until he spent time with the Celtics, making it to the second round (14 total games) his last year in the NBA).
5. The Raptors are 3-0 against Washington this season. Is this a case of “having their number,” or is their something you’ve noticed across the games that the Wizards fan remedy?
Toronto moves the ball very well, better than Wizards perimeter players (namely Wall, Beal and Webster) are simply ready for sometimes. Add the size inside willing to consistently give Washington a pounding, especially off the bench, and there’s certainly a number that’s been had.
But, the Wizards could help their cause a bit more. On the year they average 20.4 3-point attempts per game and 7.8 makes (.382), but against the Raps, it’s 4.7 makes to 14.7 attempts (.320). Washington has also averaged 1.6 more turnovers per game against Toronto than they usually do. Doesn’t sound like much, but these foremost areas have added up to change the dynamic of all three games. Still, Raptor ball movement has been the difference-maker, and I’m not wholly confident that the Wizards can suddenly keep up.
I also answered some questions for Kyle.
1. I mean, what if Chris Bosh does want to come back to Toronto?
HA. That’s not happening, didn’t you know we don’t get the good cable? In all seriousness, if he wanted to come back the franchise would have to consider it, but if it meant a max deal it’s hard to see how it would work. Bosh is a terrific talent and one of the best defensive bigs in the game, but it’s unclear if he’d be able to be the focal point of an offense. A Lowry-DeRozan-Bosh core sharing offensive duties, though? I’ve heard of worse ideas. (But again, not happening.)
2. So word on the street is that Raptors fans are ready to welcome Vince Carter back with open arms, and that they’re going to retire his jersey, and Rob Ford is going to declare every day Vince Carter day. What percentage of this is true?
The Vince situation is complicated, and the fans don’t feel one way or the other as a group. It will happen eventually and some fans will rejoice and others will groan, but it’s probably the right call if and when he apologizes to the fan base, which he’s still never done (I go into this more in that article I linked). By that time, however, Rob Ford will probably be Prime Minister and have no time for declaring city-wide days off.
3. Why not re-sign Kyle Lowry?
Honestly, unless he’s commanding more than a three-year, $27 million deal, I can’t give you a reason. He’s a top-15 point guard, general manager Masai Ujiri has said as much, and that’s about the rate you pay a player like that. He’s always had this talent but he’s finally found a situation that suits him, accentuates his best attributes and reigns in his primary negative, an over-competitive streak (he and Dwane Casey don’t always seem to see eye-to-eye, but you get the feeling there’s a deep respect and understanding there).
4. What percentage has Jonas Valanciunas progressed this season in comparison to the general expectations going in (and why, etc.)? And if you had to compare him to a type of bird, what type of bird would that be?
This is a tough one, because Jonas does a lot of things that make you lose your mind, good and bad. His defense is still a major work in progress and his face-up game is incredibly predictable (that pump fake is so slow). On the other hand, he’s physical and fiery, traits Toronto fans love, works his tail off, reportedly works hard to improve, and has developed some nice post moves.
To put a percentage on it, I’d say he’s probably only 75 percent of the way to where fans expected to see him this year and maybe 60 percent of the way to where they hoped to see him. Luckily, development isn’t a one-year, make-or-break proposition.
As for a bird, I’ll go with a heron, if for no other reason than they’re bad ass.
5. Really, how glad are you that the Raptors didn’t end up with Steve Nash?
The Nash situation sucks so bad, for him and basketball fans in general. You don’t wish that on your least favorite player, let alone one your favorites. In retrospect, it’s obviously good that they didn’t get him, but it didn’t even make sense in the present, either. It was a job-saving move from Bryan Colangelo, one that would have let him tie his value to a marketable Canadian superstar into his next contract.
6. Who is this Landry Fields character that I used to hear about years ago?
He is on Real House Husbands of Toronto.
Vegas says: Raptors -5.5 with 57 percent of the early action. Two-thirds are throwing down on the over at 195.
Hollinger says: Raptors -6
Wale says: Say it again, I ain’t hear you clear, stuntin’ in my rarest pair, I ain’t never scared
Blake says: I mean, we pretty much covered it in those enormous Q&As, right? Raptors by an even 10.
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:
“I promise you, I don’t even think about that,” Casey said. “That’s one thing that I can’t control. The only thing I can control is preparing this team each and every game.” The results are decidedly pro-Casey, of course. He came here before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season promising a defensive-minded style — one that packed the paint without the ball, while the Raptors slowed down on offence and did not focus on offensive rebounding — that would not hamper the team’s offensive production over the course of a game. Since the trade of Rudy Gay on Dec. 8, the Raptors rank 23rd in pace of play, fifth in defensive rating and ninth in offensive rating. How good is that? For the season, only four teams rank inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Three of them are championship contenders from the Western Conference: Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The Raptors are the other team.
Valanciunas is still a step slow to react as a help defender, problematic since the centre is the last line of defence and the quarterback of any Casey-led defensive unit. As the push to the end of the season and the playoffs continues, Valanciunas could continue to cede time to the veterans, who each are solid to spectacular help defenders. DeMar DeRozan takes his role as a team leader seriously and part of that involves making sure youngsters like Valanciunas stay up-beat, even when they’re struggling. “He’s at a point where he’s early in his career. We’ve all been through it,” DeRozan said. “Everybody’s not fortunate to be on a winning team and able to play the whole game sometimes. You’ve got to learn. It comes with experience. Right now he’s just talking to (Casey), figuring out ways he can be better and things he can help us with when he’s out there on the court.”
Kyle Lowry speaks with the media after practice on Wednesday.
Has Kyle Lowry finally figured it out, or is it a little too convenient that he’s playing the best basketball of his career in a contract year? Regardless of the timing, Lowry certainly has carried the Raptors throughout the season, stepping up as a scorer and showing the ability to run a team. The latter ability was always questioned in previous stops, but Lowry has addressed a lot of the complaints about his play this year. It’s hard to tell whether Toronto will keep Lowry around going forward, as he’ll be 28 this offseason and may not fit in with any plans to rebuild the roster. We’ve seen Raptors GM Masai Ujiri re-sign players to long-term deals just to flip them shortly thereafter, so maybe that’s the plan with Lowry if the Raptors aren’t competitive again next year with him as starting point guard.
Washington, which lost 103-93 at home to the Raptors on Feb. 18, made an under-the-radar pickup at the trade deadline, acquiring veteran guard Andre Miller from Denver. Miller’s style and pace of play is a perfect contrast to speedy starting guard John Wall. Also, for front-court depth after Nene’s injury, they signed veteran forward Drew Gooden to a 10-day contract Wednesday.
The battle at the point is always big between these two teams, but, switching it up, the shooting guard matchup should be crucial as well. Beal is one of the league’s best young players and has averaged 17.8 points over his past 10 games. Similar to DeRozan, Beal is a capable and willing passer, gets on the boards and doesn’t commit a high number of turnovers. As soon as next year, Beal will make a return trip to the all-star game more difficult for DeRozan.
It turns out giving Bryan Colangelo his walking papers in favor of Masai Ujiri, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, was a solid move from the jump. Colangelo’s big move before leaving Toronto’s front office was the acquisition of Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Gay is a proven scorer, but Ujiri felt he could improve the team by sending Gay to Sacramento in December. How did that work out? Well, Gay and the Kings are second-to-last in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and one of the NBA enigmas. The Kings are the only team in the league to have three players average more than 20 points and Gay is one of them. They just haven’t figured out how to play as a team.
On Feb. 18 at Verizon Center, the score was tied at 27 entering the second quarter. Then Vasquez helped the Raptors (32-25) break away. He assisted on the first field goal of by DeRozan, made a driving bank shot, assisted Tyler Hansbrough, then made consecutive shots in the lane. He played so well, Vasquez logged all 12 minutes of the second, getting six points and four assists to spot his team a six-point cushion at halftime. The Raptors led 84-70 after three quarters, and Vasquez was essential in holding off a run by the Wizards by registering six points and three assists in the fourth. In 26 minutes, he had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, seven assists and just one turnover for a bench that had 43 points in the 103-93 victory.
Like a fighter taking a bout on short notice, you can’t expect a writer forced into an assignment to be on his very best. Short training camp, meet less time to flesh out an idea or, you know, think of an actual basketball idea anybody cares about.
Instead of diving into anything basketball related, we’re instead going to talk about something of equal importance: pizza.
It’s no secret that a lot of people hate the current set-up between the Toronto Raptors and Pizza Pizza, whereby if the team wins and scores 100 points, fans can take their ticket to a “traditional” Pizza Pizza location the next day and redeem it for a free slice of pepperoni or cheese pizza.
I should really just say “who cares” or “get over it” or anything else the homie Eric Koreen said on the most recent Talking Raptors podcast, but I can’t do that.
And here’s why: anything that takes one of the most wonderful things on planet Earth – in this case, pizza – and makes it in any way a bad thing needs to be stopped. This is like turning unicorns into child-impaling death machines or having Phil Kessel suit up for the Montreal Canadiens (I’d say Team USA but, well, you know).
Pizza is normally such a glorious part of life that one lucky man has eaten nothing but pizza for 25 years. Seriously. Dude’s a hero. If this guy knew that here in Toronto, pizza was causing pain and annoyance, he’d probably be very upset. So would some other heroes.
If you’re unfamiliar, here are some of the issues with the current setup:
*Pizza Pizza is not the preferred brand of pizza for many pizza lovers. Okay, this has nothing to do with the setup, but it’s unfortunate that they’re the official pizza provider of the Raptors and the ones who give out the free slices. True story: their pizza is so mediocre that following the Raptors Republic Winter War tournament, I took a stack of free slice coupons that they donated to work and it took three days for someone to use one, and Pizza Pizza is literally right next door to us.
*Under the old system, it could reward fans in a loss, leading fans to cheer the team while losing if they hit 100 points. Some still seem to think this is the case, but it’s not.
*Stan Van Gundy doesn’t like it, and SVG knows best.
*Here’s the major reason though: It incentivizes fans, many of whom in the live audience can often appear…let’s say uninitiated, to be nice, to cheer for the wrong things. Now that pizza only comes only in a win, this is less of an issue, but you still have scenarios like on Jan. 29 when the Raptors scored 98 points in a win against the Orlando Magic but the crowd groaned as the clock expired, rather than cheer a 15-point win. Ditto for the 98-91 win on Feb. 21 against Cleveland.
So what should the Raptors and Pizza Pizza do?
Well, there are a few options: give out pizza for 100 points scored, give out pizza for a win, give out pizza for a win with 100 points scored, give out pizza for keeping the opponent under 100 points, give out pizza for keeping the opponent under 100 points in a win, change the pizza provider to somewhere much better, or just give me free pizza all the time, whenever I desire.
Each has it’s own issues. I’ve heard the defense thing suggested before, but here’s the core issue with that: as much as it might make hardcore fans roll their eyes, the team no doubt likes the crowd exploding for the 100th point. It comes across well on the broadcast and makes the ACC seem louder in general. It’s stupid, but in their eyes, any noise is good noise, I’m sure. Rewarding defense would take away that moment each game, save for perhaps a cheer at the buzzer that was coming anyway.
There’s also the financial component – giving out pizza just for wins is crazy, right?
Maybe not. Because I am the nerdiest of all nerds (shout out to Sloan), I pulled some data and made some assumptions to compare the cost of different promotions.
The table below shows the five-year cost associated with different “pizza thresholds,” using the assumption that giving away a slice of pizza costs Pizza Pizza $1. Over the past five seasons, the Raptors have averaged 17,473 fans for home games, so we use that as the attendance figure for every game, and we plug in four different “redemption rates” (the percentage of people who actually get their free slice – I’d guess this is probably below 25 percent but it wouldn’t make for much of an exercise using tiny numbers). Anyway, here goes:
|Claim %/Method||100Pts||W, 100Pts||Win||D 100Pts||W, D 100Pts|
In reality, these probably overstate the actual costs – the Raptors are more likely to lose against good teams, which draw bigger crowds, and win against bad teams, which draw smaller crowds. But you get the idea.
The cost of the different style ranges from $240K to $441K with a 25 percent redemption rate, a not insignificant 84 percent swing.
If you’re curious, here’s how often in the past five seasons each outcome has occurred (they’ve had 183 home games in total):
100 points scored: 82
Win with 100 points scored: 55
Limit opponent to 100 points scored: 101
Win, limiting opponents to 100 points scored: 70
It sure seems as if Pizza Pizza has chosen the “cheap” option here, opting for the giveaway that costs them the least. Maybe that’s the actual reason they changed the format this season, maybe it was because they didn’t want people cheering in a loss. Never forget that C.R.E.A.M., though.
So, if you want Pizza Pizza to reward wins, you’re looking at a 65 percent uptick in the cost of their current sponsorship.
Of course, there’s one other relevant number:
That was Pizza Pizza’s reported sales revenue for 2012, the latest data I could find (although it includes whatever the hell Pizza 73 is).
It now seems pretty silly to quibble over what amounts to about $4,500 for an additional giveaway, if it gets people to stop complaining about a promotion that your brand is associated with. So just give away a slice for a win.
In years past the shoot-first, scoring opinions of Kyle Lowry would likely stand true. This year, though, he’s proven to be a lot more.
Cavaliers 93, Raptors 99 – Box
Two possible angles on this one: 1) The Raptors won despite not being at their best, 2) The Raptors let a poor Cavs team hang around way longer than they should’ve. Both are right, one is glass half-full, the other half-empty. The reality is that the Raptors overcame sub-par performances from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, and had to rely heavily on DeMar DeRozan who had 16 points in the fourth quarter and 33 for the game. Lowry, tasked with guarding Kyrie Irving, didn’t have a great shooting night (3-15 FG, 9 assists) and Casey’s decision not to put Terrence Ross on Irving until the fourth almost cost the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas was a void offensively and a step slow all night. They shot 32 threes compared to only 24 FTs (of which 11 game in the fourth). These conditions aren’t ideal for a win, yet somehow the Raptors escaped Cleveland and stand seven games above .500.
Cleveland came out as they did a week ago at the ACC, aggressive on the boards and attacking through Kyrie Irving both on and off the ball. Their entire offense is either Irving splitting a screen or two to get into the paint, Irving stepping back to take a jumper, or Irving being handed the ball in a live-dribble situation off the screen. The man commands attention from interior players when he’s in the key, which leaves defenses vulnerable. Tristan Thompson and Cody Zeller both like to cut to the rim in those situations, and Spencer Hawes has enough range to bring out a Raptors big man to the wing, creating more space for Irving. It’s how the Raptors react to these dynamics that determine whether the game will remain close or not.
Poor shooting to open the game was remedied by Terrence Ross’s realistic revival. And I say realistic because this is more of what you expect from Ross: good three-point shooting, using the dribble to negotiate the initial close-out, being able to drop a pass when help comes at you, and rising and shooting the shot the defense concedes. Not 51-point games. The matchup had Ross being checked by shorter Jarrett Jack (fun fact: he’s been traded for Jerryd Bayless twice in his career), meaning that Ross had plenty of room to rise for his jumpers. He read Jack’s tendency to pressure on close-outs to create shots for himself, and got open in transition to receive the ball shot-ready.
Ross’s first half offense kept the Raptors buoyant and after a flash of the two-guard lineup with Lowry and Greivis Vasquez (two threes in the first half), the Raptors had a 14-point lead. This was despite zero production from Valanciunas, Lowry missing everything, the entire unit being very perimeter-oriented, and running some quite weird offensive sets including one in which Patrick Patterson initiated the offense from the elbow and tried to pass to a disinterested John Salmons in the block, failing to make the entry pass and cueing the Cavs break. You would have expected them to gradually extend this lead and put the Cavs in their place. Instead, they went scoreless for the last 3:10 of the half, committed unforced turnovers, and had the Cavaliers end on a 7-0 run, taking only a 6-point lead into the break. The Raptors didn’t self-destruct nor was the ball-movement bad, in fact, they were moving the ball side-top-side quite well. The problem was that they weren’t running anything going to the rim with Johnson, Valanciunas, or Patterson, and the two were reduced to being cover for the guards trying to find shots of their own.
The last two games the third quarter has been where the Raptors put away teams, not so much last night. Casey continued to play a random mix of Lowry, DeRozan and Ross on Irving despite Ross having great success against him. Irving had gotten into a groove in the first half and continued it by going 4-7 in the third. The Raptors offensive responsive never came, as this is how they started the third:
Very perimeter-oriented, and this included an Amir Johnson three as well. The six-point lead was gone and the Raptors were out-rebounded, out-second-chance-pointed, and out-points-in-the-painted in the third, which meant the margin heading into the fourth was a single point.
The fourth quarter is best summarized in bullets rather than prose:
It’s an ugly win, no doubt, but nobody should be complaining too much about road victories in the NBA. There’s something to be said about beating opponents when your’e not at your best, and I find it comforting that the Raptors seem to find an extra gear when they need it the most. Moving on.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 36 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 9 PTS | +5On hobbled ankles the guy delivered a sound performance. Defending without fouling used to be his weakness and how it’s his specialty. Was called upon to play heavy minutes in the fourth and kept Cleveland’s aggressive big men off the boards, and paid due attention to the onslaught of drives. Let go them threes man, let go them threes. I get if you’re open you got to have a go, but in the fourth quarter that shot is being offered to you rather than you evading the defense. Realize that.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 32 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 19 PTS | +3Can we stop giving this guy nicknames? Nicknames happen organically, you don’t have contests, debates, and discussions to create nicknames. If he’s going to get a nickname, he’s going to get one naturally, so just stop. Oh yeah, the game. The threes kept the Raptors in the game, early in the first he was the guy that got it going and also had a huge one in the fourth. The Raptors don’t expect much passing for him but over the last couple games he’s shown he can dribble-and-dish underneath. Casey didn’t choose to put him on Irving for some reason so didn’t really have a chance to lock-in on D, but when he finally did in the fourth, Irving had issues negotiating him. Nice dunk.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -11Sometimes he looks like a 58-year old arthritic man out there. A step behind the play on defense, a step behind his teammates on offense. It was almost like he wasn’t willing to step up and meet the Cavs frontline. Casey took him out for the fourth quarter and I can’t blame him for it.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 35 MIN | 3-15 FG | 7-7 FT | 5 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +1Poor shooting game, had to defend Iriving for the majority of the game which might’ve had an effect on that. Despite that, he had an impact. Iriving had a big line but Lowry’s individual defense was acceptable (took a huge charge in the fourth), it’s the Raptors rotations when Irving got into the paint after a screen that made things look bad. Didn’t let the bad shooting affect the distribution, which is a mark of a good PG.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 40 MIN | 12-25 FG | 9-13 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 33 PTS | +8Delivered in the fourth quarter which is what he’s going to be judged by going forward. The jumpers were too many for me but it’s not like they’re coming out of isolation ball. There’s good screen-usage, hand-offs, point-to-wing passing between him and his teammates before he steps back to launch that jumper. One of the better games this year for him defensively, especially when guarding Deng and Irving on switches.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +4He doesn’t need a blurb, it’s the same thing every night. In games like these where the opposition is trying to out-physical you, it’s great having a guy like this on the team.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | +14Played superb individual defense in the fourth quarter, helped well on the drives, and acted as the ‘first station’ of the Raptors attack in the fourth. Not a smooth offensive performance but that’s the beauty of this guy – he’s ugly productive.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2Defended Irving for a big stretch in this game when he wasn’t even well enough to participate in shootaround. Not seeing the logic here, the guy had some lower-back issues today and needed the night off.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +4Hit some big threes in the first half and also one in the fourth. Got taken a little advantage of by Dellavedova at times, but given the extensive usage of the two-guard lineup with him and Lowry, performed well. Defensively, he’s always going to let you down a little so you got to learn to live with that.|
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Bro, you should’ve played.|
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | He’s like a comet. You see him once every 75 years.|
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Nando no play.|
I do not get not starting Ross on Irving given the success in Toronto. I simply don’t, that alone risked this game and for that I cannot forgive him. Relying on DeRozan to bail you out isn’t a good strategy. Would’ve almost liked to have seen how Chuck Hayes would’ve handled the Cavs physical presence (I know I sound like a fool calling for Chuck Hayes).
Lots of talk about trading for elite talent. Names like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, and trading up to get Wiggins have come up in discussions. But what would it take to do that?
On this weeks episode of Talking Raptors the guys welcome special guest Eric Koreen! Eric is a basketball reporter for the National Post. Check him out on twitter at @ekoreen.
The guys discuss:
Previewing tonight’s game with Tom Pestak of Cavs the Blog.
I apologize, for this preview will be a fairly brief. Midterm season is in full-swing, and this 21-year old student has been running on a steady diet of coffee, four hours of sleep, and self-loathing for what feels like a month straight. Also, these two teams played a mere four days ago, and exactly nothing has changed, so I really don’t see the point in giving a full breakdown for this game. If you need a refresher of their last match-up, be sure to read Blake’s preview, Tamberlyn’s quick react, and Zarar’s recap.
Despite their shiny new acquisitions, these Cavaliers are still not a good team. Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes help fill gaping holes for this roster — namely outside shooting and perimeter defense — but they’re nothing more than hired guns, and they have yet to be inoculated into Mike Brown’s incredibly mundane offensive playbook. The young nucleus of the team remains unreliable, and cannot be counted on for consistency, which creates an awkward schism between developing for the future, and playing for the present. Things have been rough for the Cavs ever since Lebron left town, and despite great fanfare last off-season, the 2013-14 Cavaliers have been nothing short of a disappointment.
Here to tell us about suffering and pain, is Fyodor Dostoyevsky, err, I mean Tom Pestak of Cavs the Blog:
1. Zach Lowe seems skeptical of the Cavs’ recent surge, claiming that despite major personnel changes, the offense remains bland and the porous defense is still shaky. Is he correct in his assessment, or will you dare tempt the word of God and challenge the assertions of Mr. Lowe?
Hah. Blessed are those that hear the Word of God and keep it. The Cavs recent surge can be described in many different lights. Certainly, they played some weak opponents. However, their level of play was orders of magnitude better than previous weeks which saw them bludgeoned by some very bad teams. ”Bland” is an interesting choice or words. Clearly their offense was better during the 6 game win streak than most of the season. They were sharing the ball quite effectively and creating more easy baskets than normal. Defensively they’ve been a sieve since…well, for a very long time. There have been some mild incremental improvements but they are still a team that suffers at the point of attack and they lack a rim protector to cover up the warts.
2. Speaking of the new personnel, what role will Spencer Hawes play on this team once Anderson Varajeo returns from injury? As always, the Cavs front-court seems a little too crowded with five bigs (Zeller, Bennett, Thompson, Hawes, Andy) vying for precious playing time. Who will be the odd-one-out in the starting five?
Hawes has played pretty well in his two games with the Cavs. He gives them 2 things they desperately lack: passing and floor spacing. There probably won’t be an odd man out, just a few less minutes for each big. Varejao was playing too many minutes this season anyway, which may have led to his recent absence (which really seems more like a boxer resting up after going 15 rounds than an injury) Bennett’s going to hit the rookie wall if they try to play him 35 minutes a night like many Cavs fans would like.
3. Time for a little Canadian content (or “CanCon”, as we canucks call it). Anthony Bennett looks noticeably fitter, and he’s managed to string together a stretch of decent performance. Tristan Thompson switched handedness in the offseason, and he’s showing some promise of being more than JJ Hickson v2.0. Perhaps it’s a bit silly to ask, but are these two lottery picks (#1 and #4 respectively) the cornerstones of the future, or will one of them be dealt?
Bennett has recently looked like a rookie with upside, which is a huge relief for everyone. He has the skillset to be a star player but my guess is he’ll peak as a solid starter or a Lamar Odom (2009 version) X-factor off the bench. Tristan Thompson is a nice player, and clearly a hard worker, so you never want to say never, but I fear his lack of rim-protecting abilities and his inability to stretch the floor is going to make him a limited power forward in the NBA. Could he be a starter on a playoff team? Perhaps. He’s an elite rebounder, and puts together some strong scoring nights now and then, but he seems pretty far away from someone like Serge Ibaka, who most people still consider a role player. It should probably be stated that regardless of how the national NBA-sphere feels about the Cavs’ non-Irving core, the Cleveland faithful are pretty smitten with TT, Waiters, Bennett, and even Zeller these days. Everyone seems optimistic about each player’s future.
4. What’s the key to stopping the Cavaliers on offense? Close out on their shooters, and hope Kyrie Irving doesn’t catch fire? Along the same vein, where are the Cavs weakest on defense?
The only Cavaliers that must be respected off the ball are CJ Miles and Dion Waiters. And they’re currently hurt. Every other guard/wing on the Cavs will try to attack off the dribble. The best way to stymie the Cavs is to aggressively trap Kyrie Irving. Because the Cavs lack floor spacing shooters (Jarrett Jack has lost the ability/confidence to shoot spot 3s) and Kyrie Irving isn’t a great passer out of hard traps, cutting off the head of the snake, in this case, Uncle Drew, renders the Cavs offense “bland”. The Cavs transition defense is poor and they suffer against lightning quick point guards. They’ve done a better job recently of not giving up wide open 3s but for most of the season, drive and kick has really killed them. Last season bruising big men just killed the Cavs, that isn’t so much the case this season. It’s more the stretch 4s and active 5s.
5. Mini eulogy for Chris Grant’s tenure as GM?
A lot has been written and said about Chris Grant. I think most critiques have been unfair. No one really knows what most ails the Cavs. How abstract could the problem be? Could it really be “culture”? Or possibly on-court chemistry (“fit”). Maybe it’s a lack of talent that no one wants to admit. It’s still too early to say. So for Chris Grant’s eulogy, if you want to try to fit him into a narrative and keep it somewhat in line with reality: “Chris Grant mastered the CBA and built a foundation from draft picks. They did not fit together, at least, not before Grant was shown the door. He made some questionable moves that surprised no one when they failed. He made some great moves that surprised everyone when they failed.”
As Tom astutely mentioned, the Cavaliers elect to run their offense through their lead guards in Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving, which means the Raptors’ defense needs to be sharp at the point of attack. Irving and Jack are at their best when they’re getting dribble-penetration. This opens up opportunities for their teammates once the defense collapses. Luckily, they both tend to veer on the side of hogging the ball, so the Raptors defenders can afford to help when needed, especially since the Cavs are light on perimeter shooting.
Defensively, this Cavaliers team is a mess. When healthy, Anderson Varajeo plays the role of Amir Johnson on defense, playing sound positional defense and providing timely help rotations, but he is out due to a sore back. His replacement at the five is Spencer Hawes, whose defensive efforts most closely resembles a tranquilized Bargnani on stilts, which is to say it’s not good. Matthew Dellavedova is a giant pest on the perimeter, and Luol Deng — sans Thibs — remains vigilant on defense, but their efforts are betrayed by the malaise that wracks their teammates.
Point Guard — Irving is a gifted scorer, and despite his poor assist numbers, he’s an extremely capable playmaker, but Lowry has been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference all season. Jarrett Jack is an excellent back-up, but the same can be said of a healthy Greivis Vasquez, who is on a roll of late. More than any other position, this one has the most potential to make my prediction look silly, but the Raptors hold the edge at the one. (“but” count: 3)
Shooting Guard — The position is called shooting guard for a reason — you need to be able to shoot. Unfortunately for the Cavs, Bell-of-the-Dova can’t shoot, and he’s their only option at SG unless Mike Brown trots out a two-point guard lineup. Nobody hates Demar more than Raptors fans, but even the haters can’t deny that he’s got a huge edge in this fight. (“but” count: 4)
Small Forward — On his best day (51 point game aside), Terrence Ross provides what Luol averages. The sophomore could stand to learn a lot from the consummate professional. Trey Rosay (I’m sticking with it) had a nice game against Orlando, but comparing Harkless to Deng is like comparing flora to fauna. What? Seriously, my brain needs sleep. (“but” count: 5)
Front Court — I’m going to operate under the assumption that Amir will sit out tonight’s game, because let’s face facts — he can afford to sit out versus the Cavs. Patrick Patterson will likely take his place in the starting line-up. Jonas will struggle with defending Hawes on the perimeter, but the same can be said of Thompson on Patterson. (“but” count: 6 — seriously I need to learn how English works, and to sleep)
Bench — No Waiters, no Miles, no contest. I hope this game turns into a blowout because I want a little more Spicy Chicken (Nando de Colo nickname?) in my life.
The Raptors are above .500 on the road, and Cleveland is short-handed. While the threat of a scoring outburst from Uncle Drew looms large over the potential outcome, Terrence Ross’ quickness and length helped limit Irving to 3-of-14 shooting four days ago, so here’s hoping to an encore performance. Vegas likes Toronto as 3.5 point favorites, but I think that’s a bit modest.
Raptors by 8
DeRozan’s four assists on Sunday against the Magic give him 205 for the season, one more than his previous career-high, set last year. There are 26 games remaining for DeRozan to add to the total. And, wouldn’t you know it, DeRozan is starting to sound a lot like his coach, Dwane Casey, in explaining it. Experience is the key. “There’s not really too much new that you’ll see,” DeRozan said. “It’s all about the defender, how physical he’ll be with you, or if he likes to deny you the ball — little things like that, [player]-wise. But team-wise, there are not too many differences. You can’t do different stuff like [teams can] in college.”
Teammate Greivis Vasquez, who knows a thing or two about passing, having finished second in the NBA in assists per game last season, said DeRozan’s unselfishness has surprised him. When you’re the best player (on a team) and you’re getting your teammates better (opportunities), he’s giving everybody confidence,” Vasquez said. “That’s huge. No scoring guard in this league is really a great passer like that.” Toronto is 18-8 this season when DeRozan notches four or more assists. He managed five or more helpers only five times over his first three seasons. He’s done it 15 times so far during this campaign and already has set his single-season assist mark. Seven of those 15 five-plus assist games have been managed without committing a single turnover. His turnover percentage is just 9.4%, a career low.
“I want to make my teammates better,” said the Raptors’ guard, who continues to evolve as a distributer, averaging a career-best 3.8 dimes this season. “It just comes with experience and understanding. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, getting my teammates involved, looking for them.” The 24-year-old’s assist numbers have increased in each of his five seasons and his assist percentage this year (18.6) is more than three-times higher than it was in his rookie campaign (4.9). “He’s one of the best wings right now in the league as far as passing the ball out [of the double team] and he’s doing a great job of it,” Casey continued. “So that’s a big step in his growth process. It’s good to see and the more attention he gets the more he’s going to have to rely on that part of his game.”
No one, absolutely no one, lays any blame at Ujiri’s feet. The general manager who essentially laid the foundation for the Nuggets current roster, who put them in the position that they are today, waltzed out of town with his reputation intact and continues to be praised for the work he did in Denver. And it’s absolute nonsense. The reality is that Ujiri escaped to Toronto just in time, before his string of boneheaded decisions finally caught up with him.
Though the 26-year-old said he was able to participate, coach Dwane Casey kept Johnson out as a precaution. Johnson re-sprained his ankle in Sunday night’s 105-90 win over the Orlando Magic. He initially hurt the same ankle in a January 25 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
There should have been some suspicions that the Cavaliers may not have been full value for their recent success. The last 4 contests were against the Kings, Pistons, 76ers and Magic. The Raptors simply overpowered the Cavaliers in the second half on Friday, holding them to just 34 percent shooting from the field, while the Raptors got hot, hitting on 54.5 percent of their attempts for the 59-47 advantage. Raptors sophomore wing Terrence Ross giving Kyrie Irving fits all game as he held the All-Star to just 3-16 shooting from the field. The Cavaliers losing streak continued on Sunday with a loss at home to the fifth place Wizards 96-83. However, one trend has continued in the Cavaliers favor, they have now held their opponents under 100 points for 7 games in a row and that is a streak more in keeping with a Mike Brown coached team. The Cavaliers problems in their 2 losses have come at the other end of the court. Over the past 2 games, new center Spencer Hawes has averaged 12.5 points and 11 rebounds, Luol Deng 19 points and 9 boards and Kyrie Irving 16 points and 7 assists, but combined, they have shot 27-81 or 33.3 percent from the field. Cleveland isn’t winning many games with offense like that.
The Raptors go for their sixth win in seven games as they try to beat the short-handed Cavaliers for the second time in less than a week Tuesday night in Cleveland. Atlantic Division-leading Toronto (31-25) has tightened things up defensively, allowing 90.2 points per game – 6.3 below its season average – in its last five. That’s a big reason the Raptors could climb seven games above .500 for the first time since being 32-25 on Feb. 29, 2008. They held the visiting Cavaliers to 39.0 percent from the field in a 98-91 victory Friday, then limited Orlando to 41.4 in a 105-90 home win Sunday. Toronto shot 52.3 percent Sunday, including 9 for 17 from 3-point range, as Kyle Lowry led the way with 28 points.
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Masai Ujiri may be selling the line that he kept this Toronto Raptors roster together as a reward for their improved play this season, but the truth is that Ujiri’s reluctance to deal had everything to do with the future and almost nothing to do with what has transpired this year.
What the Raptors have done this year is nice. A solid group of workers have taken advantage of a weak conference and positioned themselves just below the East’s elite duo of Indiana and Miami (and by just below we actually mean over ten games below, which is good for twelfth in the league). A winning culture has begun to seep into the bloodstream and after five fruitless seasons that’s an achievement worth recognizing. However, it is not the reason why this team was kept together last week.
A Championship-calibre club is built around a transcendent talent. The Raptors don’t have a transcendent talent. That is why this team was kept together last week. Period.
If the team is going to start making meaningful moves, like unloading key rotation players or draft picks, it has to be done with an eye towards the future. Right now the Raptors don’t know what their future is because they don’t know who it is that they’ll be building their team around. They don’t know what position their transcendent talent will play, they don’t know what style he’ll play and they don’t know how much he’ll cost because they don’t know who he is yet. All the club knows is that they’ll need a transcendent player if they want to start assembling the Championship-calibre club that Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri insist they’re interested in running.
That’s why the Raptors were kicking the tires on acquiring Rajon Rondo last week. He seemed like a gettable player who qualifies as a transcendent talent. There have been points over the last four years when Rondo looked like he might have been the best point guard in the NBA. Not everyone will agree with that assessment (Rondo is an incredibly divisive player), but for a club looking to get into the transcendent talent game he represented a player worth pursuing.
Had they managed to acquire Rondo, the Raptors might have been able to start the process of making secondary moves to surround him with the right kind of complimentary talent. After all, once you know who you want to pin your future on, you want to jumpstart the future as soon as possible. Plus, in today’s NBA part of the goal of securing one transcendent talent is the hope that he can help attract another transcendent talents while visions of Larry O’Brien trophies dance in their heads. Get Rondo now and see who he can attract to Toronto in the summertime.
Of course, the Raptors did not acquire Rondo last week, so they opted not to make any moves of significance at all. It was the smart play. That’s because the roster as constructed right now is doing a lot to help the damaged reputation of the Toronto Raptors franchise by winning more games than they lose and playing every game in a competitive manner. The club wants outside talent to look at the Raptors and believe that if they joined up the team could make some real noise in the NBA. Every recruiting tool helps in professional sports, and there is perhaps no better recruiting tool than a winning roster and that will help Ujiri when he starts this process up again heading into the draft and summer’s free agency period.
And make no mistake, when that process heats up again he’ll again be on the hunt for a transcendent talent and he will explore every avenue possible to find one. He’ll be looking to offer packages of players and picks to move up in the draft, he’ll be looking at packages of players and picks to swap for someone else’s transcendent talent and he’ll be looking at his cap space and the free agent market with an eye towards making a splash in July. Ujiri knows that he can’t really get to work until he has someone to build around, so he will be relentless in finding that player until he has one in a Raptors uniform.
There is one potential wrinkle in all of this, and his name is Jonas Valanciunas. Unlike Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, Valanciunas’ ceiling remains a bit of a mystery. He’s definitely shown flashes that he could something really special in the NBA, but he’s still searching for consistency at this level and so it’s hard to get a great read on him as a finished NBA player. At this point it doesn’t look like Ujiri is ready to start tailoring the roster to suit his talents, nor does Dwane Casey look ready to start tailoring his team’s attack around Valanciunas and his skill set. Still, no talk about Toronto’s search for a star would be complete without a least a reminder that there remains a lot of growth to come from Valanciunas, and that the solution to Ujiri’s problems may already man the post for his basketball club.
If that’s the case, though, it still isn’t why Ujiri walked away (nearly) empty handed at the deadline. Ever the pragmatist, Ujiri knew that if he couldn’t get a transcendent talent then there was no reason to start selling off his assets. There is an order to things. First Ujiri needed to rid the Raptors of its dead-weight, which he’s done. Now he’s got to try and find that piece that he can use as an anchor to build his club around. Until he finds that piece the Raptors will remain a competitive club with a very real ceiling below the NBA’s elite. As enjoyable as this squad is right now, it’s not the club that Ujiri wants to hang his hat on. He wants something more, and since he couldn’t find it last week he’ll take a step back and redouble his efforts in June and July. We’ll have to wait and see if he can have any greater luck then.
Most have already commented that the only way the Raptors make the ECF would be if Indy or Miami suffer significant injuries to their star players, but lots of other interesting responses being discussed as well. Check it out.
Making her Rapcast debut is Tamberlyn and joining for two in a row is Will. We talk Amir’s injury, Ross’s resurgence and a bunch more.
Toronto improves to 31-25 after trouncing an injury-depleted Magic squad.
Sometimes, a competition is so fierce, scribes are not needed, and the legends write themselves. Sometimes, a mere smidgen of war-paint leaves the deepest of impressions. Sometimes, the fight is so compelling that the battle-scars themselves make paintings and poems redundant. Sometimes, when the fortunes of man are propped upon the outcome of battles, the story need not be told, they are simply understood.
However, none of the above applied to last night’s game between the Raptors and Magicians.
As an aside, I will be referring to Orlando’s professional basketball team as the Magicians because calling them the “Magic” sounds dumb. A team implies multiple teammates, and according to Merrian-Webster, (kids, look away if you’re reading this), “magics” don’t exist (okay now you can look again). So, Magicians.
Tipping-off was a mere formality — a tally was recorded in the W column for the Raptors before the game even started. That’s not to overstate the ability of this Raptors team, nor am I dismissing the validity of an NBA franchise. I’m simply pointing out that the scales were heavily tipped in the Raptors’ favor. The Magicians were on the road — where they are 3-26 on the season — and they were missing their their top scorer in Afflalo due to injury. Like most other days of the week that end in the suffix “-day”, it wasn’t going to be the Magicians’ night.
To their credit, the Magicians gave it their best punch. While the Raptors resembled a legions of sleepy-eyed Canadian hockey
nationalists zombies fans, the Magicians came out wands ablazing, stupefying and winggardium leviosaing (when you’re dropping HP references, it’s time to go to bed, Will) in the first quarter. Tobias Harris, having been newly freed from the shackles of playing behind Big Baby in the depth chart, dropped 10 points in the first quarter by curling around screens and stretching the defense.
Meanwhile, the Raptors tried to capitalize on a weakened opponent by featuring Jonas Valanaciunas in the post, which netted less-than-satisfactory results on offense. Jonas failed to secure decent post position against Nikola Vucevic, and failed to create permissible angles for post-entry passes. This lopped off significant portions off the shot clock, and forced the Raptors into settling for a myriad of lazy jumpshots. The Raptors ended the first quarter shooting 7 of 20 from the field, with 9 of their attempts coming from the midrange area (16-24 feet). This resulted in the shot-chart below:
As he is wont to do, Dwane Casey elected to go to his bench unit to start the second quarter, but the changing of the guard did little to alter the outcome. The offense continued to be sloppy, and in addition to turning the ball over, the jumpers continued to rain — and miss — from the dreaded midrange area.
The lone exceptions to the Raptors’ general malaise in the first half were play of Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson. Trey Rosay was active on defense, disrupting passing lanes and running shooters off their sweet spots. He also tacked on a pair of three pointers for good measure. Amir Johnson did his part by pouring in 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, scoring on easy putbacks and an assortment of hook-shots.
However, despite their best efforts, the Raptors’ lead tallied a mere 3 points going into the half thanks to poor shooting from Derozan, Lowry and Patterson. To be fair, none of them really forced their shots — the exception being Demar launching long jumpers in the first quarter, but that’s his game — they simply missed intentionally manufactured shots within the flow of the offense.
The trend reversed itself in the third quarter. The Raptors played with more urgency, and despite running largely the same sets — minus the sheer insistence of posting up Jonas — their shots were falling to the tune of 86% in the third quarter. Yes, that’s correct, the Raptors shot 12-for-14 from the field in the third quarter, including 5-of-5 from deep. They also shot a perfect 7-of-7 from the line. Please take a moment out of your day to graze upon the green in the shot chart below:
Kyle Lowry’s efforts in the third quarter were nothing short of magical (see what I did there?) As he did in their previous match-up, Lowry blew the doors off the game with a barrage of three-pointers. A visibly fired-up Lowry took matters into his own hands, and sunk all five of his field goal attempts, including four three pointers. He also cleverly drew a foul on a three-point attempt, and sunk his three free-throws. He did record five turnovers in the quarter, but he was the key to R.Kelly’s ignition, and his efforts helped his team win the third by a decisive 36-24 point margin.
From there, the Raptors simply rode their lead to the finish line. Tobias Harris continued to dominate, scoring a game-high 28 points (get him back into your fantasy lineups), including 11 in the final frame. The two teams played to a standstill in the quarter, and the large lead permitted the Raptors’ depth-chart bench members to briefly see the light of day. New acquisition Nando de Colo managed a five-minute stint, and chipped in with some rebounds and an assist. Greivis Vasquez played out the entirety of the fourth, and steered the team steadily towards an easy 105-90 point victory.
The only blemish in the game came in the middle of the third quarter, when Amir left the game with a sprained right ankle. Zarar gratuitously giffed the incident here, so you can see the injury for yourself. Unfortunately, this is the same ankle that Amir tweaked earlier in the season. His injury significantly hampered his performance and forced him to miss a pair of games. Ironically, the injury occurred the last time the Magicians were in town.
Anyhow, the Raptors walked away with an easy victory, and as Jay-Z would say, it’s on to the next one for the Raptors, who now sit 1.5 games up on the fourth place Chicago Bulls.
Plenty of things have become familiar for the Raptors during their franchise history, but being able to coast for 24 minutes and still comfortably collect a win is new. The Raptors took out the Magic 105-90 in a game that eerily mirrored Friday’s win over Cleveland: forgettable first half, nice run in the third quarter, cruise to a win. The Raptors are shooting 76% from the field over the last two third quarters, which is quite good. Of course, it is not the type of habit coach Dwane Casey would like his team to adopt. However, he did not even seem to be fully invested, refusing to hammer his team for the pattern. “Fighting human nature, is what I call it,” Casey said. “You look at their [17-41] record. You look at [swingman Arron Afflalo] being out. They just bought out [Glen] Davis. Human nature is what you’re fighting more than anything.”
The number that jumps out of the boxscore following this one is the 24 turnovers the Raptors committed, which was a season high for them. Still Casey wasn’t going to over react. “Some of it was the messiness and sloppiness in the first half,” Casey said. “Some of it was trying to do too much. Fighting human nature is what I call it. You look at their record, you look at them having their top player out. They just bought out Glen Davis, so human nature is what you’re fighting more than anything else.” Through a half, the Raptors owned a four-point lead on a Magic team that has won three games away from home all season. But in the third Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan found their offensive games and the rout was on.
In the third quarter, Kyle Lowry happened. To be fair, Lowry didn’t do it alone. Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan both came out of the locker room to open the second half with a little extra bounce in their step. Toronto’s wings combined to score the Raptor’s first 18 points of the half. This seemed to flick a switch in Lowry’s head, as he went on to score 17 of his game-high 28 points in the last six and a half minutes of the third quarter. Lowry ended the quarter with a step-back, fading three pointer at the buzzer, extending the Raptors lead to 15. Dagger. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, momentum was clearly in favour of the Raptors. Orlando couldn’t manage to close the gap, as Lowry and DeRozan continued to carry the offensive load for Toronto.
There was no bigger All-Star snub in the Eastern Conference than Kyle Lowry. He’s been the best point guard in the East and he proved it against Orlando with a scintillating offensive performance, in which he was drilling 3s and getting to the free throw line at will. Lowry finished with 28 points (7-for-13 shooting from the floor), including 17 in the third quarter.
Tobias Harris led the Magic with a season-high-tying 28 points and six rebounds, bedeviling Toronto with his ability to create for himself off the bounce. E’Twaun Moore added 16 points off the bench, aiding a Magic team which got precious little perimeter scoring elsewhere: Jameer Nelson surpassed Shaquille O’Neal on the Magic’s all-time scoring list, but otherwise had a forgettable night, going 4-of-9 for nine points. Victor Oladipo, who flanked Nelson in the Magic’s staring backcourt, didn’t at all resemble dynamo who made history on Friday, going 4-of-13 himself for 11 points and failing to make a significant impact at either end of the floor.
“Like I told our guys, we’re going to have a lot of games where we’re going to have to grind it out,” Casey said. “For whatever reason we struggle in the first half [and] come through, turn it on [in the second half], but I think that’s also a little bit of growth on our part. I’ve seen times when it had been a struggle for close to 40 minutes.” The Raptors have indeed turned a corner in that regard, establishing themselves as a lethal second-half club. Toronto has outscored, or tied, its opponent in the second half in 13 straight contests, holding teams to 39 per cent shooting and besting them by 91 total points during that stretch. Since the season-altering trade of Rudy Gay, the Raptors lead the NBA in second-half point differential, outscoring foes by 216 points, 47 more than the second-ranked Indiana Pacers. Led by its dynamic backcourt, Toronto missed just two of its 14 field goal attempts in the third, besting the Magic 36-24 and turning a three-point halftime lead into a 15-point advantage going into the fourth.
That’s the problem with our industry: patience,” says Coach Casey at the tail end of a February practice following a gruelling nine-day West Coast road trip where the Raps went a disappointing 2-3. “People want instant NBA stars, and that’s not going to happen. I don’t care what college players are out there, it’s going to take them time to come in this league and become stars. You’ve got too many veteran players right now who know the nuances of the NBA. “That’s what’s taken DeMar this time. He’s been a favourite of mine since I got here because I see the potential he has, and it’s probably taken a while because he’s had other guys here in front of him. He had Chris Bosh in front of him. Andrea, then they brought Rudy. But in defence of those guys, it has taken DeMar a little while to grow into this role. Now it’s his.”
Hit me with any Raptors-related articles: [email protected]
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 5-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +14Was having a nice game in the starting role again before he got injured. He kept pretty much every ball alive in the opening quarter when everyone was missing everything, and his wiriness was causing the bulkier, more robotic Magic big men some problems. Got his ankle kicked and had to leave the game, I say the Raptors give him two weeks off just to recuperate from a long season. Keep in mind that this guy goes 100% at all times and has been surprisingly durable playing multiple positions.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 29 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +12Showed some endeavor in his game, and went beyond just launching long, albeit in-rhythm, jumpers. That drive with a stop in the paint for a jumper is something we need to see more of. He’s an under-utilized source of offense and come playoff time, we’re going to need more than just Patterson to step up. Now that Ross is in the starting lineup, the expectations and associated game need to be raised appropriately.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 28 MIN | 1-2 FG | 5-7 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 7 PTS | +11Sometimes he doesn’t so much get a deer in the headlights look on defense, it’s more like a man tied to the train tracks with a bullet train driven by a drunk driver approaching. He needs to get a string of consistency going. After the great game against the Cavs, he should’ve followed it up with something meaningful, but all he could muster was making silly mistakes on offense. I mean, keep the damn ball up high when you’re making a move or a guard WILL strip it out. Also, some shot-blocking would be nice. His post-defense isn’t terrible, but in pretty much every other situation he’s lacking.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 7-13 FG | 10-11 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 7 TO | 28 PTS | +25Proved to be the savior in the third quarter again, a bit surprised it took him that long to realize that Jameer Nelson has prosthetics for legs, a head of cabbage for a brain, and the desire of a sloth. Some of those turnovers were blech no doubt, especially the one when he’s jumping at the top of the key without knowing if/where/when he’s going to pass. Good thing against the Magic you can get away with that.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 32 MIN | 9-17 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 5 TO | 24 PTS | +6Quiet game where he turned it up when needed, had it going early in the game and then picked it up in the third to put this one away. Defensively, he’s shockingly bad at times and on this night the quality of the opponent covered that up. Magic were missing AffflafflflfoolooLOL which helped his cause. Fought for post position a couple times but was starved of an entry-pass. His bread-and-butter remains running off baseline screens and catch-and-shooting from under the elbow.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 18 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | 0When he comes into the game I dedicated about two minutes just watching him and nothing else. It’s the same thing every time: pure activity and zero time wasted. The guy doesn’t take time making his moves, doesn’t stay still for a second on defense, and is always maneuvering for a rebound. Defended Vucevic well in his brief stint, but in a game which was already bordering on NBDL quality, his ruggedness was not as valued as at other times.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +6Missed a couple early jumpers resulting in a slow start but he still managed to contribute with some nice passes and steals. One of the good things about him is that he’s a two-way player so when he’s not hitting his shots, he’s still valuable and that’s something he doesn’t get enough credit for.|
|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 | -1Made an appearance, presumably by mistake.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PTS | +8Kind of drifting out there tonight, almost like he was in a hangover and going through the motions.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -2General Vasquez stormed in during the first quarter taking the enemy by surprise. He proceeded to fire heavy artillery including two long-range missiles which were on target. He later celebrated by decapitating his enemies and putting their head on spikes.|
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4That ain’t a name, that’s a soft drink. We got another masked warrior on our hands, and his first activity was to make a nice pass which led to a score. Coming from the Spurs, the expectations that he’s all fundamentals and very well-coached. This game did not dispel any of that.|
|Landry Fields, SF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Is he still with the team?|
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Just happy to be alive.|
Delivered another effective halftime talk. Now if we can do the same thing right before the game starts, that would be great.
Amir Johnson has left the game against the Orlando magic after twisting his ankle.
According to Matt Devlin on the TV broadcast, Johnson will not return for the game. As seen below, this does not look good. Johnson has been battling a sprain which he suffered against the Celtics on January 15. He sat out two games on February 10th and 12th, before making a return off the bench. He was promoted back into the starting lineup against the Cavaliers.
Johnson had 12 points on 5-7 shooting, 8 rebounds and a steal in 23 minutes before picking up the injury against the Magic.
Often in sports we see individuals who, when injured, decide to throw on their big boy pants, tie up their laces extra tight and step out on the floor ready to compete in spite of the pain. These competitors choices may defy logic, yet at the same time they can inspire their team to victory. Often the key to finding this success falls in the hands of the coach, to monitor and limit their minutes to make sure they stay effective and are utilized at the right time. Their gutsy play and no quit attitude demands respect from all who watch. Perhaps none better than Amir Johnson represents that type of player on the Raptors, as we have seen him step up time and time again when needed to play through injuries and help the team to victory. However, I do not come here today to praise him, but rather to draw akin to his warrior-like mentality, as I am fresh off of wrist surgery on my shooting hand. So, to stay effective I’m cutting straight to the chase.
At the trade deadline Ujiri managed to move an unused piece in Austin Daye and turn him into a potentially effective secondary piece in Nando De Colo. When given minutes in San Antonio last year, often to give Tony Parker a chance rest a spell, de Colo showed he could be a potent scorer and confident ball handler when given the minutes. With the Spurs this season he has averaged 4.3 PTS off .452 FG%, with 1.7 REB, 1.2 AST and 0.6 STL in 11.6 minutes per game. Unfortunately, passport issues delayed his debut, but I imagine we’ll see him this evening. I look forward to seeing how coach Casey will use him in the weeks ahead, because with the coach’s desire for multi-guard play, the combo guard could quickly notch out some floor time for himself, if he starts his tenure with the team on a hot note.
DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating raises this week from 49th up to 47th, and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. With a couple of subpar scoring performances against Cleveland and Washington (14 pts in each), DeMar’s PPG has taken a dip over the last seven days to 20.0 PTS, off of .423 FG% and .889 FT%. Since the All-Star break he has yet to hit a three-point shot or earn a steal. While I don’t believe this trend will continue, it is a concern as his added defensive production and one three-pointer made per game as of late were nice bonuses that his fantasy owners were becoming accustomed with. A rematch in Cleveland and a big game in Toronto against Washington coming up this week should see DeMarvelous in top form as these are important games for the Raptors to win. Expect big performances.
Kyle Lowry – Season player rating holds at 12th this week and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. Kyle has picked up where he left off before the All-Star break. Over the last seven days he has maintained his 18 PTS per game and increased his free-throw percentage to an impressive .941. Unfortunately, the trend of poor shooting from the floor that started before the break has continued, with .378 FG% off 15 shots per game. He’s making up for it with 8.7 AST, 4.3 REB and 2.0 STL per game. A small concern to note from Friday’s game, when sitting on the bench in the second half I saw Kyle rubbing at his knee, wincing some in pain. He’s taken a lot of hard bumps this year with all the charges that he’s drawn and has surely been playing through some fatigue as well. Hopefully there’s nothing to be concerned about, as fantasy owners and Raptors fans alike would not want to see any long-term problems arise due to Lowry playing through any injuries.
Amir Johnson – Season player rating climbs from 71st up to 69th and is owned by 40.2% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir has come back from the All-Star break with some much improved numbers. Over the last seven days he has averaged 9.0 PTS off .522 FG%, with 5.0 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.3 BLK and 1.3 STL. His only detriment has been his .429 FT%, but with only shooting just over two per game it shouldn’t hurt your team. Seeing production in almost every category is always nice for any fantasy owner and all this comes in just over 25 MPG. Look for Tall Money to maintain these numbers or even increase them in the week ahead with big games on the line for the franchise.
Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating raises from 108th up to 102nd and owned by 84.2% of the leagues at ESPN. JVs first two games after the All-Star break left much to be desired, but it seems that against Cleveland he managed to get things back on track. Jonas has shown that if he can get double digit attempts good things happen both for the franchise and your fantasy team. Over the last week he averaged 10.0 PTS off .636 FG%, along with 4.7 REB and 1.0 BLK in only 23 min. per game. It looks as though Big V has hit the “rookie wall” at this point in his sophomore season. This is something he didn’t get to experience last year because of the hand injury and it is quickly becoming obvious that conditioning will be a major factor to work on in the upcoming off-season. For now expect tighter minutes for JV as the coach is likely to monitor his minutes to have him rested and ready come playoff time.
Patrick Patterson – Season player rating continues to rise from 150th up to 137th and owned by 2.5% of the leagues at ESPN. 2Pat’s point production has come down since the All-Star break sitting at 7.7 over the last seven days, shooting .429 FG%. Despite this, he’s continued to add 1.3 three pointers per game, 5.7 REB and 1.3 AST and has increased his steals production up to 2 per game. His ability to not only play the stretch four, but to move his feet on defence and fish the passing lanes has come in handy and is a needed addition to the rotation. Look for his minutes to continue to increase in the week ahead.
Terrence Ross – Season player rating moves up from 136th to 132nd and owned by 15% of the leagues at ESPN. T.Ross is coming off his best performance since his 51 point night 12 games ago, going for 20 points and three steals against Cleveland. After not hitting a three-pointer in his first two games after the break, Ross found himself back on track hitting two on Friday. Though his output has varied over the past week (2, 9, 20 respectively) he’s managed to stay efficient, increasing his shooting to .483 FG% for 10.3 PTS, and adding a defensive presence with 1.7 STL per game as well. Despite a couple of off nights from behind the arc, Flight 31 is still a great source of threes on any given night averaging 1.7 over the last 15 days. If he continues to play better defense like he did on Friday, he should see more floor time again, which will equal greater fantasy value moving forward.
Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating moves up from 194th to 189th and is still owned by 30.5% of the leagues at ESPN. General Greivis has stuck to his guns and continued to play his game and over the last seven days has hit 1.7 three-pointers per game and has averaged 9.7 PTS off .500 FG%, with 3 AST and 1.3 REB in 19.3 minutes a night. The addition of Nando de Colo to the team is sure to affect him one way or the other. It will either motivate him to play at a higher-level or it will allow coach to give him a quick hook if he doesn’t play sharp.
Tyler Hansbrough – Season player rating of 288th, projected to go 294th and is currently owned by none of the leagues at ESPN. After being out with a bruised ankle for some time, Tyler has finally found his way back into the lineup as he moves up the depth chart in front of Chuck Hayes. Since the All-Star break, HansBro has been averaging 7.0 PTS off an impressive .714 FG%, while adding 5.3 REB and 1 BLK per game on nearly 20 minutes per contest. The opponents in the upcoming week offer a lot of front court depth and HansBro could be called upon for extra minutes if the starters get into foul trouble or fail to find that extra gear. If you’ve been waiting all year for that right moment to add him into your lineup for a night, now may be that time.
Hey, wake up from your nap. Yes, I know, you were up at 7 a.m. to watch Canada’s Olympic gold medal hockey game against Sweden, but that ended hours ago. Hell, you might even be sober by now. Even if not, there’s basketball on, at 6 p.m. on TSN, as your CANADIAN Toronto Raptors host those DAMN AMURICANS the Orlando Magic. Jingoism, baby!
We saw this game less than a month ago and it was exactly what you’d expect from a team leading their division and a team trying to do the exact opposite. Will it be more of the same on Sunday? I don’t know. It’s 3 a.m. and I just got home from work and I’m unclear if I want to try and sleep before the hockey game or just power through and then nap before my 5 p.m. shift tomorrow. Way she goes.
We talked about Victor Oladipo last time we exchanged emails and you were still high on him. Was Friday’s double-OT performance against the Knicks an affirmation of that, or did it move the bar up even higher for him moving forward?
Yeah, his performance against the Knicks on Friday (30 points, a career-high 14 assists, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals) simply confirmed what I believe. I said previously that Oladipo has star potential and nothing has swayed me from that opinion. He’s a special talent. But more importantly, he has the hunger and desire to continue getting better.
Without Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis, is there anyone you can see stepping up in their place? Maybe Mo Harkless can take on a bigger scoring load, or they can run more plays through Tobias Harris?
With Afflalo out (ankle), I think you’ll see a lot more touches for Oladipo. He’s comfortable shouldering a heavy load offensively, so that will likely be Jacque Vaughn’s plan of attack to circumvent the absence of Afflalo. As for Glen Davis’ departure, that simply clears room for Harris to become the full-time power forward like he was last season when Big Baby was injured.
The Raptors have opened as just five-point favorites, at home no less, with Afflalo and Davis out, coming off a 15-point Raptors win against Orlando less than a month ago. That seems…wrong, right?
I’m surprised the spread isn’t larger. The Magic are a horrendous road team (3-25) and they’re going to be without their best player. There’s always the chance that Oladipo goes supernova again like he did against New York and helps Orlando pull an upset, but I’d be surprised if Toronto didn’t win the game by double digits.
Seriously, I tweeted as much on Saturday, but how in the blue hell is this line Raptors -5? They were 10.5-point favorites on Jan. 29 when they hosted the Magic and beat them by 15. Since that game, the Raptors have gone 6-4, the Magic have gone 5-5 and the Magic have lost Glen Davis to buyout and Arron Afflalo to a sprained ankle. If you can still find this line when this posts, jump all over it.
And yes, that means I’m confident in the Raptors coming out with a victory. They rebounded alright following the disappointing Chicago loss, but they still didn’t beat a banged-up Cleveland team as well as you’d hope thanks to a sloppy first half. I don’t want to say they’ve “played down” to their competition coming out of the break because none of the three teams are terrible and they’ve still gone 2-1, but it feels like they haven’t found that “playoff push” gear yet.
There’s actually a real opportunity to build some momentum here, too, as the Magic are followed by the Cavs and Wizards again, a tough home date with Golden State a week from now and then a strange four-day break (for the NHL trade deadline, obviously). If the Raptors can pick up steam with a few more wins against lesser teams, they could be in a really strong position looking down the last 20 games of the year.
In any case, they have to beat the Magic first. Nikola Vucevic is a real problem on the glass and will prove a test for Jonas Valanciunas and Tobias Harris is a fantasy add who really won’t kill you on offence, but Oladipo is the focus. He’s the straw, he’s the engine, he’s the only player on the team capable of changing the game. He was held in check last time (12-2-3) but that hardly means things will be easy in that regard.
But the Raptors should win, and the five-point spread is a joke. Double-digits or my name isn’t Edward Blake Gretzky Lemieux Crosby Price Hart Storm Murphy.
Cavaliers 91, Raptors 98 – Box
The aftertaste of the Bulls loss has been gargled and washed away using the Listerine that are the Cavaliers. The shorthanded Cleveland (no C.J Miles or Dion Waiters) had won six straight coming in and started off posing the same problems as the Bulls: 1) a physical frontcourt controlling the boards, thus the game, and 2) pressuring the guards into quick, often sub-par decision-making choking the offense to a grinding, incoherent form.
Amir Johnson was back as a starter against the active Tristan Thompson, and Jonas Valanciunas faced the newly acquired Spencer Hawes. In the first quarter the Raptors pair went 0-2 FG with 2 rebounds, compared to the Cavaliers duo who were 4-5 FG and 6 rebounds. The Cavs were dominant in the frontcourt and I was having flashbacks to the Bulls game with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, even more so when the backcourt was misfiring (Lowry and DeRozan combined to go 0-8 FG in the first). To put it in perspective, Terrence Ross (20 points, 9-18 FG, 3 steals) was the only starter who had a bucket in the first quarter, and only one other player joined him in putting a ball through a basket: Tyler Hansbrough. The Raptors shot 23% in the first. The six-point deficit at the end of the quarter was a blessing because it easily could’ve been much worse hadn’t it been for Ross’s hot start which included two threes. If you’ve followed any of Ross’s patterns this year, you know that if he’s able to get out of the blocks well, he continues that throughout the game and last night was no different.
- Dwane Casey
- Terrence Ross
- Dwane Casey
The Raptors outscored Cleveland by 16 in the third and shot 70%. They outrebounded the Cavs 13-9 and doubled them 16-8 in points in the paint. It was as defensively dominant a quarter as I’ve seen the Raptors play. Fittingly, it was this Ross defensive play on Irving that symbolized it:
The Raptors headed into the fourth with an 11 point lead, which went up to as much as 15 before the token away-team run was made, and that too came far too late to be of any threat. The ship is righted after a stumble against the Bulls. Cleveland has been a tough opponent of late but they have been playing minnows in Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Detroit. Last night we saw them take an approach similar to the Bulls but this time the Raptors were able to counter sooner than later. Specifically, the run against the Bulls came in the fourth whereas adjustments against Cleveland were made and executed right at halftime.
DeMar DeRozan’s shot-chart isn’t pretty and on this night we’re fortunate not to have needed him, which is probably true for this Sunday against the Magic as well. It’s the long-term, though, where DeRozan has to find how to be productive when facing good defensive players such as Deng and Butler two nights previous. Trying to blow by them using the dribble isn’t going to cut it because he shows his drive in advance, and doesn’t have the dribble/quicks combination to pull moves like James Harden. The Raptors play Cleveland again on Tuesday and I’m very interested to see what adjustments DeRozan and Casey make for that one.
This is a win that good teams don’t celebrate much, so we’ll leave it at that. It’s just good to see the Raptors bounce right back after an excruciating loss. I’ll leave you with Nando De Colo and his luggage in the Raptors locker room:
Raptors battle back from a slow start and defeat the short-handed Cavs
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +1Amir is still rounding back into form and the box score might not showcase gaudy numbers but his presence on the floor improves the defense (even when it’s not functioning at it’s best). His screens and help defense are still team best. Score may seem high but I attribute our better defensive efforts to his solid defense.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 37 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +4Only player hitting with any consistency in first half (12 points) though he missed a spectacular dunk that could have added some much needed energy to offense. His defense on Irving was stymieing his every move and frustrating him at every turn. Best player on both ends this evening.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 29 MIN | 8-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +11Lowry made concerted effort to involve the big man early, but for the second consecutive game he failed to understand he needs to take the ball up with force until Lowry spoon fed him a gimme near the end of second quarter. Got the hook early (6 mins in) as he spent more time watching others grab rebounds instead of fighting for position. Casey must have found the perfect mix of cajoling and yelling as he reappeared in the third quarter a man possessed on both ends leaving only after he picked up a fourth personal foul (maybe one day Roy Hibbert can tell the zebra’s Jonas understands verticality!).|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 35 MIN | 5-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 9 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +2Not a stellar first half offense-wise, but as we’ve come to expect he does the intangibles at critical times such as key assists, steals or defense to stop runs. Overall team defense lead to a 28-10 run but Kyle was often the catalyst on both ends. I’m sure his middle name is Clutch.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 5-14 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +2Luol Deng demonstrated why he’ll be a key free agent come summer with his shut down defense on DeRozan in the first half. During the same time frame DeMar seemed to settle far too often for field goals instead of dribbling away from Deng or passing. This was all rectified following the half when it appeared he either chose to listen to Casey or change his approach. Wondering if he’s still suffering from a New Orleans’ hang over or if it was just the Deng effect.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1For the second consecutive game Mr. Energy brought exactly that off the bench while instilling toughness and hustle especially in minutes played with Amir. Aside from Ross he kept his team mates in the game in that abysmal first half|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +1It was a tale of two halves for Patterson who seemed slow and outmatched in the first half but energized and committed in the second. It wasn’t his best outing but the final 24 minutes definitely made me forgive and forget his first 24.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 19 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +4Had his hands full on defense guarding Deng and Irving however he performed better in the second half. His veteran leadership and ball handling late in the fourth beside Lowry allowed Toronto to maintain their lead and get the subsequent victory.|
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 6 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Hmm, well he was a +3 in his 6 minutes of playing time in first half and he managed to spread the floor with his presence shooting a rusty 0 of 2|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +8I’ll never be in love with the chippy in the lane; I cringe every time he attempts it. He continues to float between moments of brilliance for me followed by moments of: Of no he didn’t. Dare I say he seems to be finding his niche?|
Best move he made in the game was an early yank of a disinterested Valanciunas and based on Jonas’ play in the third quarter it was followed with an earful in the locker room. Obvious half time adjustments were made which led to immediate dividends as the Raptors took over in the third. I am pondering if a coach who has improved defense this much still isn’t getting the zebra’s whistle vs. inferior teams if he’ll ever get the call; which leads me to believe he’ll need to blow a gasket in a game that matters at some point.
Answer the trivia question below to win two free tickets to see the Raptors demolish the Cavaliers tonight at the ACC.
Q: In Chris Bosh’s final game as a Raptor, ________ (team) defeated the Raptors by a score of ____ to ____. Their highest scorer was _________ (player name) with _____ points.
Leave your answer in the comments. First one to get it right wins two balcony prime tickets (face value of $125).
A: The correct answer (as noted by winner “tootoo” in the comments) is: Cleveland won by 113-101. Their highest scorer was Antwan Jamison who scored 20 points. Lebron had 19.
Thanks for playing!
An innocent email exchange with Alex Dewey of Gothic Ginobili quickly goes awry.
William Lou (started drinking right after this question)
So this Nando de Colo…. he’s going to be the next Kobe Bryant, yes?
Alex Dewey (day drunk, without a doubt)
Kobe he’s not; that’s for sure. I think that actually underrates Nando’s ball-handling and passing abilities pretty severely. Kobe is more of a system passer. Sure, Kobe is smart, but he typically needs a set iso play or a pick to make a pass, which is typically accurate if not perfect. As we saw in 2011, Kobe’s ball-handling and passing comes and goes with his health. Shooting-wise, I’d give the edge to Kobe, though Nando has a better half-step on the elbow.
The better comp for Nando is prime Steve Nash, only with Amare’s swagger and a better 15-footer. It’s not so much that Nando can make a shot from anywhere, but that he can, and, even moreso than Nash, he also likes to get his teammates involved, to an almost-disturbing extent. Do you remember “The Giving Tree”? One of my favorite books. We typically (or I do) associate “The Giving Tree” with Steve Nash. But Nando de Colo is so unselfish and giving, he makes Steve Nash look like prima donna fellow Canadian Drake. You’ll like him, I think.
Shifting gears, OKC must be fuming they missed out on Daye, right? I bet that exchange after the deadline in Presti’s office must’ve been tense. ”What do you mean they got Daye?”
William Lou (2 drinks deep)
OKC must be fuming because your Spurs landed the next Kevin Durant.
Here’s the thing with Austin Daye: he’s the Cliff to Durant’s Chris. They’re both 6’11, can shoot the three, and they’re both slimmer than a garter snake (RIP Butchie). In both form and in essence, Daye and Durant are one in the same, like two peas in a pod. My guess is that they were separated at birth, taken worlds apart, but even the circumference of the globe dividing the two (erm, semi-circumference? Help me out here, it says you’re good at math in your Twitter bio) could not keep their growing legends from meeting.
And I know what you’re going to say: “Are you seriously comparing Austin Daye to MVP favorite Kevin Durant?” I will answer a question with another question “did Red Auerbach smoke girly blueberry-flavored cigarellos, or did he suckle on the poisonous teat of a Grade A Montecristo cigar?” Because that’s what Austin Daye is — he’s the world foremost victory cigar. If it’s nearing the end of a game, and you see Daye raising a long, slender finger above his head, you know you’re about to lose (or win big, the victory cigar goes both ways).
So in short, the Spurs just added Kevin Durant 2.0. Let’s just turn our attention to hockey because it’s a wrap for the NBA.
Alright, so the Raptors (like every other team in the NBA) desperately crave a wing who can handle the ball, shoot from range, and play passable NBA defense. I’m guessing de Colo fills that checkmark?
Alex Dewey (at least 8 drinks deep):
It’s funny: When it comes to this trade, the more I think, the more I drink (rhymes) Austin Daye might be the best victory cigar in the league. He might score like Kevin Durant (more like Kevin Day-rant-e). I can’t get over losing Nando. If Pop had just trusted Nando from the start, we might’ve never had to play a Game 6, much less lose it.
Nando did everything we asked, and more, and he did it perfectly about 38% of the time.
“Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen”
~~Sondheim, “Children Will Listen”~~
You ask about passable defense. I give you Nando de Gary Payton.
You ask about range. I give you Nando de Steph Curry.
You ask about ball-handling. Nando de Steph Curry, or, better, Jamal Crawford
That’s my warning to you. Careful what you want from Nando. He’ll give everything he has to become that player.
Wishes come true, not free…
Nando will listen.~
Anyway, I’m sobered up a bit (mostly by sheer sadness edit: he’s lying), and I think it’s time to be rational. Okay, so I look at Austin’s game and see a great player, but I see the mercurial rage at the center of it (Austin Daye is Not Nice). Will this rage subside when Daye hits his physical prime, causing a mild regression, or will Daye burn hotter than ever and make the league his plaything.
William Lou (bottle empty, hitting the Advil prematurely)
I didn’t realize that de Colo was such a fan-favorite? My impressions of him were always rooted in confusion — why is he a Frenchman with a Spanish name and an Argentinian face?
Anyway, more than anything else, us Raptors fans simply want to know one thing — can he run an offense better than Greivis Vasquez? Our second unit lacks playmakers and “shot-creators” (I believe in unicorns too). Can he run a pick-and-roll heavy offense?
As for Daye, I can safely say that I don’t know much about him because he simply never saw the floor in Toronto. He literally only served as the human victory cigar in the dying moments of blowout games. Hilariously enough, the 6’11, 200 lbs skeleton rack played 62% of his 33 minutes this season at center this season, so in that way, he’s like Lebron, because he can technically play all five positions (yet none well). My guess is that Pop will prop Daye in the corner, and only limit him to shooting spot-ups, although Daye has a perverse habit of wanting to handle the ball. He’s not bad at it, he’s just really horrible at it. Also, his freakish length is comparable to that of Giannis Alphabet Hands’, but Daye doesn’t throw up buck-horns, nor does he covet smoothies, so he’s not nearly as adorable.
Alex Dewey (bottle’s gone, settling in somewhere between lubricated and morose)
In all seriousness, Nando de Colo makes Greivis Vasquez look like Chris Paul. Vasquez is having a down season, but he’s been a capable-if-middling-at-best starter in New Orleans.
Nando is nothing of the sort. Nando is a brilliant playmaker, but his Achilles heel is that he isn’t really a good decision-maker in an NBA offense. He’s the kind of offensive genius that a) can’t really create his own shot (though he’s not a bad shooter), so is always compensating and b) is (if a genius at all) a genius wihout discipline, which at some point is just neural noise and turnovers and misses. Consistency is the key to the NBA, and yet, the only chance Nando has at an NBA starting job in his career is to embody the opposite strategy at any given moment: “Risk is the ally of the underdog.” Look, Rubio has flaws with his shot, but he’s immensely aware. That’s what I notice with great undersized or missing-jumper point guards (say, Rubio, Andre Miller, Kidd, Rondo) – they compensate for what they cost the offense with their almost supernatural presence of mind. And sometimes that’s not even enough.
Nando does not have supernatural presence of mind. He has the raw creativity. But the average presence of mind cancels out the creativity, and the low shot-creation ability puts him firmly into negative “bench-clearer” territory. He’s not young enough to hope for significant improvement, and he’s not really able to fit in the vast majority of NBA situations as he is. Make of all of this what you will.
On a positive note (as I alluded to earlier), Nando will make some of the most entertaining mistakes you’ll ever see. He evokes an entire European motion-heavy offense being controlled by a single person while wearing a blindfold. If he ever backpassed 40 feet to a center at midcourt while driving along the baseline on a break, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised. That’s just the sort of stuff he does. I fully expect some kind of pantheonic Drake reaction .gif to Nando doing something crazy from you Raps fans. I fully expect some kind of wonderful moment of brilliant passing to show you what he’s capable of, and then, in, like, the next minute, to make the worst pass in recorded time. The Nando experience is something special, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. And so will your announcers!
Also, his name is not Giannis “Alphabet Hands”. It’s Giannis Valsueenowasis. That said, I’m sure Austin Daye will play well in San Antonio. It’s their second favorite city (Austin), their favorite block of time (daye-time), and there’s always the faint possibility he has some adorable “come to queso” moment. Plus, he played with Brandon Knight at one point, which will probably be something Sean Elliott brings up at some juncture. And having a real NBA player to spell the Spurs’ injury-plagued lineups can’t hurt.
Hmm… I can’t really think of any questions. This trade has sort of rocked my world, and so I guess my only remaining question is: When will we finally know who has won this blockbuster? It’s alright to say “both”.
William Lou (Advil kicking in, #TeamGelCaps over #Capsules)
We got Kobe, you got Durant. This is as fair as it gets.
I’m watching Oklahoma City against Miami as I write this, coming off a full work day of covering the NBA trade deadline. It doesn’t seem fair to crash like this, going from all of that excitement and excellence to Toronto against Clevleand.
But hey, Nando De Colo, right? Things could be worse. This could be a bad team. Or it could be a kind-of-good team with Austin Daye on it. Things, they are looking up.
On Friday, the Raptors host the Cavaliers at 7 p.m. on TSN2, and it will be a seriously banged up Cavs squad that visits. Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles all stayed at home for the trip though newly-acquired Spencer Hawes is apparently en route to Toronto as of this writing. Here is a GIF of Spencer Hawes, at all times, always:
Point Guard – Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez vs. Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack
This is a pretty interesting match-up. Anyone would take Irving over Lowry if the trade were offered, but Lowry has been the better guard so far this season, All-Star selections be damned. They shoot nearly identical clips but Lowry shoots slightly more threes, giving him an overall scoring edge, and his assist, steal and rebound rates are also better. Lowry gets the edge on defense, too, so for one night, at home, this isn’t the negative it may have been assumed to be before the season.
Vasquez and Jack are interesting, too, assuming you find underperforming back-up guards to be interesting. Jack was shopped hard ahead of the deadline and has been unable to find the chemistry with Irving he’s shown splitting the backcourt with other guards in the past. Vasquez, meanwhile, may be turning a corner but maybe just had a good game before and after the break, it’s hard to tell with him this year. Just when I think I’m out, he pulls me back in, although less so when he’s clean-shaven because we no longer have a similar look.
Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and John Salmons vs. Matthew Dellavedova, Luol Deng and Alonzo Gee
Having no Waiters and Miles is a huge loss for the Cavaliers, not only stripping their second unit of their best scorer but also limiting their efficacy from downtown. Deng hasn’t been quite himself with Cleveland but remains a match-up problem on defense, capable of locking DeRozan down should the Cavs decide to match up that way.
The this-is-really-shallow-how-can-we-even-call-this-depth depth here gives the Raptors the slightest of edges, and you can expect to see plenty of two-point guard lineups from each side. That’s probably a good thing for Toronto given how effective the Lowry-Vasquez pairing has proven so far.
Slight Edge: Toronto
Bigs – Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansborugh vs. Tristan Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller
It’s easy to gloss over the Cavs bigs based on reputation but Bennett has been showing signs of life, Zeller has been pretty effective of late and the new Hawes-Thompson duo could prove complementary on offense. The Raptors still get the edge, but keep in mind that’s without Varejao – in a playoff series, the big rotation for the Cavs could prove troublesome.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strength – Offensive rebounding (sixth)
Weakness – Defending corner threes (26th in attempts allowed), Defending the rim (27th in restricted area opponent shooting, though they do a solid job limiting attempts), Shooting at the rim (30th in restricted area shooting)
Strength – Defending the mid-range (third best opponent shooting in mid-range)
Weakness – “Clutch shooting” (just 37.3 percent in the last five minutes of games within five points, though this isn’t as bad as you’d think relative to the league average, it just sticks out after Wednesday)
Note – the Raptors are so painfully average, they barely rank in the top- or bottom-five in anything
Vegas says: Raptors -7.5 with the action split evenly. 61 percent are taking the over at 196.5, which seems like a mistake given that both of these teams play at a bottom-10 pace.
Hollinger says: Raptors -12
A$AP Rocky says: I’m blessed, my bad, I forgot to sneeze
Blake says: I felt a little silly after predicting a non-narrow victory on Wednesday (I think I said nine points), so I’m inclined to respond by going extra-cautious here. The Cavaliers have also won six straight, and even though only one of those wins was against a team above .500 and injuries and the deadline deal threaten to make this a let-down game, I’m just not in a place, personally, to be incredibly confident. I’ll take the Raptors, because deep down I am an eternal optimist, but I want no part of that spread.
“You look at it: a third-place team. I think our guys have played hard. I think we do have some good young talent on the team,” Ujiri said. “On the other side, you also look at what some people call a not-so-good Eastern Conference. Tons of players are injured. How do you judge or how do you evaluate?” That does not mean Lowry, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and even DeMar DeRozan, the only Raptor currently signed through 2016, are guaranteed to be Raptors for another half-decade. Ujiri said he had conversations that he could re-visit in the summer, and that does not seem like empty talk. Ujiri’s mandate is to build a long-term contender; he will have to figure out who can be part of that success sooner rather than later. He will have to assess Lowry soonest of all, of course. The point guard will be an unrestricted free agent after this year, and was nearly traded to New York shortly after the Gay trade. By not dealing him, the Raptors open themselves up to the possibility that he will leave for no return at all, even though there does not figure to be a huge market for point guards this off-season.
“People are going to say it’s a contract year, but in our opinion the kid has played all out and he has given it his all,” Ujiri said of Lowry. “Kyle has adjusted. We set some good rules and had good talks with him (at the beginning of the season). He was up front with us and we were up front with him … and he is living up to his part and I think we have lived up to our part too and that’s how you build partnerships and we’ll see how he grows.” It’s no secret that the Lowry the Raptors had for the vast majority of last season was a mere shadow of the player he has been this season. Part of that has been health. Maybe even a large part is simply health, but the transformation has been far more than just physical. Look no further than Lowry on the bench this season. He’s up and cheering on his teammates and actively involved in everything going on in the game. Simply put, he’s a much better teammate this season than he was last. He’s pulling people aside and both instructing and encouraging them when mistakes are made or assignments are missed. Lowry has always been a guy who cares a lot of about winning, but he has taken that caring to another level this year.
At first glance the Austin Daye for Nando De Colo trade that’s reportedly just gone down reeks of a Colangelo move, trading just for the sake of looking busy. That’s what happened last year when BC ridiculously decided to trade a second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Sebastian Telfair. (I’m still mad about this one.) But based on salary reports, the move could actually have some off-the-court benefit before even getting to the on-the-court part, saving Toronto a few hundred thousand dollars next season. Daye wasn’t going to play unless 80 per cent of the team was suddenly vaporized by aliens so if you can move a piece like that for at least a bit of cap space, all good. And wait, there’s more! De Colo might actually play for Toronto this year. He’s averaged only 4.3 points and 1.2 assists in 26 games for the Spurs this season, but he’s only in his sophomore campaign and as a 6-5 point guard, might represent an upgrade behind Greivis Vasquez for the Raptors’ third-string PG role.
For Ujiri, the evaluation process has been muddled by his team’s unexpected success since the Rudy Gay trade in December and the porous Eastern Conference in which they’ve experienced said success. The result of that appraisal was somewhat inconclusive. Ujiri is still unsure what he has in the East’s surprising third seed but their recent play – and most importantly the chemistry they’ve developed – has piqued his interest enough to buy them more time. “You pray and you hope for chemistry and I think we found it a little bit,” he stressed. “We said we were going to give these players a platform and they would dictate where we go and to be fair, I think we’ve also tried to live up to our part of the bargain here and they have, too.”
Some may have hoped for a bigger deal, in which a player like Luol Deng would have been acquired, but it is clear that GM Masai Ujiri was A: hesitant about disrupting the chemistry of an up-and-coming team, and B: didn’t want to give up any future assets in a win-now move. As it is, the Toronto Raptors are neither better nor worse off, which given the hopes for the playoffs is just fine by me. Ultimately though, the team’s success will not be measured by how this season ends, but by how well the team plays for years to come.
There really isn’t a lot of mystery as to why the Cavaliers have been winning some games lately, the quality of their opposition notwithstanding, this team is finally playing some defense. Cleveland has surrendered 101.5 points per game on average this year, but for 5 games in a row, they have held their opponents to under 100 points and over the current 6-game winning streak, points against are averaging 93.7. Now that’s something Head Coach Mike Brown can build on. Interestingly, the Cavaliers have been without starting center Anderson Varejao for the past 4 games because of a sore back and he isn’t expected to play on Friday in Toronto. However, interim general manager David Griffin acquired the 76ers center Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline and it’s possible all of the necessary steps will have been completed in time for him to play his first game for the Cavaliers against the Raptors.
This is obviously a blow for the Cavaliers. Without Waiters and Miles, it’s hard to see how the Cleveland defense will be able to matchup consistently with Raptors best two wings, All-Star DeMar DeRozen and Terrence Rose. With Waiters and Miles out, this likely means an uptick in minutes for Jarrett Jack and possibly for Matthew Dellavedova. As for Varejao, this may mean that newly acquired center Spencer Hawes sees extended minutes in his first game as a member of the Cavaliers.
“We’re being a little more consistent with our defense, knowing that if we miss a shot or two we can get a stop and believe that somebody is going to make a play for us at the other end of the floor,” coach Mike Brown said. “Just the belief more than anything else.” All five Cleveland starters scored in double figures in Wednesday’s 101-93 win over Orlando, led by point guard Kyrie Irving’s 22. Irving also had seven rebounds and seven assists for the Cavs, who led by 15 after one quarter and never trailed. “We’re just coming together as a team and we’re enjoying the game out there more,” Irving said. “There are a lot more smiles and a higher level of competitiveness. We’re having fun, but we’re also competing. That’s what you want from everybody on the team.”
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Being a professional blogger and only having taken note of De Colo fleetingly, it felt right to spend some time watching film of our newest acquisition, and thus I did and the verdict is in: Yes, he is better than Austin Daye.
De Colo looks to have some shot-making ability in that he feels comfortable taking on a guy if need be and making a contested look or two. More noticeable is his off-the-ball movement, whether it be in transition or in the half-court set. Then again everyone on the Spurs is great at that so it’s to be expected. At least with De Colo you know that he’s been well-schooled in basketball over the last two years in San Antonio, which gives him a higher chance of fitting with the team-oriented ball the Raptors are playing.
Have a look at some Nando De Colo highlights over the last dozen or so games and you’ll get a good sense of what the player is about.
And so the timeless question has been answered. Yes, Austin Daye does have trade value, apparently.
San Antonio has traded Nando De Colo to the Toronto Raptors for Austin Daye, league source tells Yahoo Sports.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 20, 2014
UPDATE (3:20 PM)
Here’s the scoop on Nando de Colo. He’s a 6’5 combo guard who can handle the ball and sink open three-pointers at a respectable clip. He’s slated to earn $1.46 million this season, and he will be an unrestricted free-agent this offseason. He’ll probably split minutes at third-string point guard, and backup shooting guard.
With de Colo on board, the Raptors now have three capable ball-handlers off the bench. Austin Daye hasn’t seen the floor since Prince was on Apollonia, so good on Ujiri to turn dead fodder into potentially semi-conscious fodder.
More importantly, the passing of the trade deadline means Kyle Lowry will remain a Raptor for the remainder of the season, before becoming an unrestricted free-agent this offseason.
Choose your own adventure: in this edition, you’ve dropped the glass, and now you’re forced to clean up the mess with your bare feet.
What in the hell was that?
Let’s start from the end and work backwards.
Why did Dwane Casey call an isolation play for a limited ball-handler to attack Chicago’s best wing defender? Why? Was he intrigued by the outcome two possessions earlier, when Demar tried to go at Butler one-on-one, and airballed a long-two with Jimmy Buckets draped all over him?
And why not call for a screen? You had 10 seconds to make something happen! Why not have someone like Amir Johnson — who is an excellent screener, by the way — come over and try to create a mis-match? Worst case scenario, Chicago ICE’s the pick-and-roll, traps Derozan, and he has to cough it up, but guess what — that means someone is wide open! That means Johnson is probably rolling down the lane, unimpeded until a help defender rotates!
Or, perhaps have Patterson to screen Demar? ICEing the PnR doesn’t work when the screener can shoot the mid-range jumper. It’s not like Patterson hit this crazy game winner a month ago from…GASP, FROM THE MIDRANGE! In fact, why don’t you ever run pick-and-rolls with Demar and Patterson? Oh right, because that would only make too much sense.
But fine, you wanted to put the ball into the hands of your “All-Star”, your “go-to-guy”. And to be fair, Demar did carry your offense for prolonged stretches. If it wasn’t for Demar’s drives in the first quarter that netted him a dozen points, the game would have spiraled out of control pretty quickly. And I get that you Derozan is probably your best shot-creator in isolation — Lowry is too short to consistently get a clean look on his jumpshots, and unless he barrels into a big and draws the foul, his chances of sinking a layup over Noah and Gibson isn’t great — but that’s the thing: you don’t have to run an isolation play at the end of every game!
Or in other words, don’t fatten yourself up on fried rice when you’re at a Chinese buffet!
Alright, enough with Casey. Knit-picking a coach with hindsight in your favor is pretty low, so I’ll let him slide on his other transgressions — y’know, like not yanking a lifeless Jonas earlier, keeping Hansbrough on the bench when defensive rebounding was an issue — because the blame should fall on his team for not executing.
Like in the first quarter, when the Bulls just ran roughshod over the Raptors, seizing an 31-21 lead early on. Patrick Patterson inexplicably spent his hard-earned good karma on failing to body-up on Carlos Boozer, as the meme/gif superstar managed to score 9 points in the first quarter by simply out-muscling 2Pat. Amir eventually came in and stopped the bleeding, but the damage was done early.
And what was up with Jonas Valanciunas? He finished the game with 2 points and 2 rebounds (out of 7 rebounding chances) in 22 minutes of play. What was that? I believe in his potential and I still have high hopes for the kid, but how many NBA greats have ever poured in a performance of that caliber? He looked completely overwhelmed in the post, and struggled to both snag rebounds, and to box-out. The end result was Noah scoring on put-backs, and the Bulls netting 6 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone.
As an aside, here’s a sobering game to play with your friends — if you had could pick any center (played at least 50% of min at C this season) to win a playoff elimination game tomorrow, how many names down the list do you have to go before you got to Jonas? I’d rather have: both Gasols, both Lopez’s (when Brookie Monster is healthy), Noah, Hibbert, Boogie Cousins, Howard, Chandler, Horford (again, if healthy), Pek, Splitter, DeAndre, Bogut, Big Al, Varajeo and Bosh over him. You? My point is that Jonas isn’t yet a top-20 center in the NBA, and we should probably stop being surprised when he doesn’t perform like one.
Mercifully, the duo of Amir Johnson and Hansbrough came in to balance out the rebounding discrepancy. Hansbrough did what he does best — frustrate the hell out of his opponents — and he managed to turn the game into a giant wrestling match. He earned a double-tech for wrestling with Mohammed. He earned a double-foul for dragging down Dunleavy. Honestly, if Hansbrough’s grandmother was trying to box him out for a rebound, he would have probably thrown her an elbow as well. Last night, he was Psycho-T, and it paid off for the Raptors. Along with Amir, he steadied the interior and helped the Raptors get back into the game. After thoroughly outplaying Toronto, Chicago led by just 7 points going into the half.
And then Chicago’s defense simply smothered the any inkling of offense from the Raptors. Lowry’s jumpers weren’t falling and the sophomore duo of Ross&Valanciunas did little more than suckle on their thumbs (there’s your bright future, Raptors!). As sure as the rising of the sun, Casey panicked and subbed in John Salmons, who looked every bit like a 34 year-old playing on the second night of a back-to-back. He had no lift in his ill-advised jumpers (not that it would have helped) and Chicago’s lead ballooned to 15 points at one time.
Back came Hansbrough and Amir to start the fourth — albeit much later than everyone would have preferred — and the tandem steadied the defense once more. Lowry and Derozan took on the brunt of the scoring, and little-by-little, their efforts whittled the Bulls lead down to as little as four points.
However, this is when DJ Augustin — of all people — went off. There were moments during the fourth where I had to wipe the lenses, and re-affix my glasses because I was certain that Derrick Rose was back. DJA scored 13 of Chicago’s 24 points in the fourth, sinking prayer three-pointers and fall-away jumpshots, all the whilst pointing a giant middle-finger at the humongous egg on Masai Ujiri’s face. Vasquez started the quarter guarding Augustin, and despite Gravy sinking a three pointer here and there, he gave every single point back on the defensive end to DJ Freaking Augustin. Lowry playing with 5 fouls didn’t help either.
But the Raptors shook it off, and traded blows with the Bulls right until the very end. Dwane Casey went to Tyler Hansbrough after the timeout, and drew up a play for Hansbrough to fake the hand-off, and attack Joakim Noah in the post. That’s right, I repeat; Dwane Casey drew up a play for Tyler Hansbrough to post-up Joakim Noah. Hansbrough’s hook missed everything, but Amir Johnson was lucky enough to get the put-back and draw the foul. He hit the free-throw and the Raptors forced a 24 second shot-clock violation on the other end. Raptors had the ball, down one point, with 11 seconds left, and the win in their hands.
And then the final play of the game happened.
Raptors fall at home to Chicago for the second time this season. Demar finished with 32 points on 25 shots to lead all scorers, but it was all for naught. With the win, Chicago sits a half-game back of the Raptors for the third seed in the East, and every Raptors fan sits with shit in their pants at the prospect of potentially meeting these Bulls in the playoffs.
Choose your own adventure: This one is glass-half full!
Okay everyone, just take a deep breath.
I’m serious. Breathe in, breathe out. If you’re reading this with a coffee in your hand, take a nice long sip and think of happier times. Think of Vince Carter winning the dunk contest! Think of the 2006-07 Raptors that captured the Atlantic Division crown! Think of Lowry’s recent dominance! Think of…okay I’m out. Man this is a depressing franchise.
Look it wasn’t that bad. If anything, there were a lot of positives to take from this game.
Butler might have taken his lunch money on the last play of the game, but Derozan was feasting before that shot! Scoring 30+ points against the Bulls is really difficult! Here’s a list of players who achieved that rare feat since Thibs took over — sure there’s your Nick Young and your Chris Douglas-Roberts — but for the most part, it’s a star-studded list! And it’s not like Derozan just settled for long-twos — he shot 12 of his 25 field-goal attempts from inside the paint and he shot 11 free-throws! Demar soldiered out there for 42 minutes and ran a 2.7 miles, which is 29% more than any other Raptor! If you’re going to blame the loss on anyone, don’t throw your vitriol at Demar. He wasn’t the goat tonight, he was the GOAT, tonight.
Actually, he couldn’t have been the GOAT tonight, because that honor belongs to the tandem of Amir and Hansbrough. Somewhere along the way, our collective interests shifted towards the shinny new toy — affectionately known around these parts as “2Pat” — and we forgot our lunchbox heroes (miss you, Travis Snider!), but last night they showed us the error in our ways.
When 2Pat wasn’t strong enough to contend with Carlos Boozer on the block, Hansbrough came in and literally struck some fear into the Bulls. Amir Johnson picked up the slack for an over-matched Jonas and played Noah to a standstill on defense — a rare and impressive feat. That’s the benefit of having depth — when your starters aren’t getting the job done, you have a fresh corps waiting in the wings, chomping at the bit for that rarefied playing time. With Amir and Hansbrough manning the middle, the Bulls couldn’t sniff an offensive rebound, and they were kept to the perimeter on offense.
And how about that comeback? It’s a tired old tale, but the Raptors once again battled back from a sizable deficit in the fourth and put themselves in a position to win the game. Lowry and Derozan were performed well down the stretch, scoring just enough points to slice into the Bulls lead. Derozan’s alertness to pump-fake his defender into the air, thus drawing the free-throws was very clever, and Lowry’s turnaround three in Augustin’s face was huge. Without their steady contributions, the Raptors would have never made a game of it. Actually, that applies for the season as a whole. Also, let’s not forget that the Raptors were playing on the second night of a back-to-back. A lesser team might have just given up and conceded defeat — the Raptors fought until the end.
While we’re on the subject of the Bulls, let’s not forget how lucky they were, especially in the fourth quarter. DJ Augustin sunk a contested 30 foot three-pointer with the shot-clock running out! He also sank a fall-away jumper in the lane? Come on, he got lucky. Their other point guard, Kirk Hinrich, was also the beneficiary of this shot chart. I mean, look at this disparity!
I do have to give the Bulls some credit — they won because they were the better team last night. Noah was huge on both ends, steadying the defense whilst running the offense. I’ve always wished for Jonas to turn into a player of his ilk, but I know my hope is misplaced. Noah is one-of-a-kind, and aside from Marc Gasol, I don’t think any player in the NBA comes close to matching his impact on both ends of the floor. Maybe playoff Lebron gets there, but his defense is on cruise-control throughout the season. Noah is their backbone, and he was a huge reason why the Bulls were victorious.
Alas, I hate to be the sour grape, but I do need to deflect some of the blame to the referees. In total, they called 7 technical fouls on the game, which only seemed to irritate the players more than anything else. Aside from Hansbrough wrestling Nazr Mohammed in the second quarter, most of those technicals were unnecessary, and it slowed an already tardy game to a crawl, which made for a very poor viewing experience. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the phantom goaltend that was called on Amir Johnson in the fourth quarter. Replays showed that the “Doctor of Denial” did perform a successful basketot0my on Augustin’s layup attempt. To be fair, the refs did call a tech on Augustin for complaining (weird, because he was awarded the points), but that one point margin was the difference between overtime, and a loss for the Raptors. That has to be accounted for.
Finally, the Raptors simply lost a nail-biter to a better team. Even without Deng and Rose, this Bulls team with Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Tom Thibodeau is a 50-win team in the weakened East, and they’re likely better than the current iteration of the Raptors. They play very stringent defense, and they have enough playmakers between Augustin and Noah to patch together a passable offense. They love playing a slow, halfcourt-heavy game, and they would be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs, tougher than even the Raptors.
More importantly, this game exposed most of the Raptors’ flaws. If the Raptors want to make it past the first round of the playoffs, they’re going to need a couple of upgrades, most notably on the wing, and at center. The honest truth is that at this point, Valanciunas and Ross aren’t consistent enough to be counted on in games of importance, so it’s best to have a contingency plan. Nabbing a solid back-up center would be tricky — especially since there are already up to 5 bigs in the rotation at any given time — but the Raptors need a big body to contend with the likes of Noah and Hibbert in the playoffs. Same goes for the wing, where Ross’ inconsistency, coupled with Salmons’ inability to play heavy minutes, portends trouble. Grabbing a wing who can create his own shot would go a long way in a potential playoff run. The decision to upgrade, or stand pat through tomorrow’s deadline will be a matter of price.
Overall, this game showed us what we have with this current team. It showed us the good — the ability to mount comebacks, Derozan’s steady scoring, the defensive capabilities of the front-court — and it showed us the bad — see my other recap. What we have is this: the Raptors are probably the third or fourth best team in the East, and their success is predicated on two things; strong team defense, and backcourt scoring. We’re not battle-tested like the Bulls and the Nets, nor are we horrendously awful like the Cavs and the Knicks. We’re somewhere in-between, and it’s on Masai to decide whether we continue down the path below our feet, or to yank us off the path and start anew.
At the very least, we know this team will try their best and compete.
DeRozan had a strong outing but this game will most be remembered for the last two Raptors offensive possessions where the Raptors were held by the Bulls on account of some questionable out-of-timeout play-call by Dwane Casey.
Below is a video of DeRozan’s 25 shot attempts – he was mostly guarded by Jimmy Butler. DeRozan played 42 minutes while Butler played 46.
More from this game:
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 22 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -12A painful reminder of how desperate we are to get Amir back healthy in the starting five. Did an OK job, all things considered, but he really isn’t that guy to battle with the Bulls front court. Boozer owned him the entire time he was on the floor, and he didn’t fair much better with Gibson. Played sparingly in the 2nd half in favour of Hansbrough and Amir.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | -3Did a poor job of drawing contact on his jumpers, and in fact, seemed oblivious to the fact that Butler was running him down and blocking him from behind every time. Played some really solid defense, especially his perimeter rotations, but yea, forgettable night on the whole.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 22 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -13Quite possibly the worst game of the season for JV. Was out-classed by Noah, which is understandable, but to get out-muscled? How many times did we see Noah will his way to a rebound on either end of the floor? These sorts of showings aren’t acceptable, and frankly, are quite disappointing.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-13 FG | 7-7 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +8Was a non-factor stretches through the game thanks to foul trouble and fatigue. Legs weren’t there on his jumpers. No explosiveness off the bounce. Made a couple ballsy plays in the 4th quarter after picking up his 5th foul, but considering he had to deal with Hinrich and Augustin for the night, I expected much better; in fact, you could argue that both Bulls PG’s got the better of him. That three with a minute and a half left in the game came out of nowhere and energized the team, but it was a little too late.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 42 MIN | 11-25 FG | 10-11 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 32 PTS | 0Didn’t settle for jumpers, and in fact, attacked the paint relentlessly off the dribble. This is the sort of thing that All-Stars do on the second night of a back-to-back against a stifling defense. Single-handedly kept the Raptors in the game in the 4th, but just didn’t have the support from the rest of the guys to take it home. That last pay against Butler could have used a bit more creativity, but I’m just nit-picking at this point.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +9Went toe-to-toe with the Bulls front court and didn’t give up an inch. That 2nd quarter is exactly the type effort that was needed in this game, and without it, the game wouldn’t have come down to the wire. The stat-line wasn’t impressive, but the effort spoke for itself.|
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-3 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +12I’m good with easing him back into things (if you can call 27 minutes off the bench easing things in) to ensure his health for the stretch run and playoffs, but we really need him back in the starting lineup. There is no good look for the front court with Amir hobbled. Gave a big spark to the team off the bench, but we needed more out of him.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 24 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1Did what was expected, but was pretty invisible throughout the game. Had to go back to my notes for something to say, and noticed I didn’t write a word about him. A C sound safe.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -10So the good news is that he can get that running floater off at will; the bad news is that he has trouble making is stick. Provided a bit of scoring cover in relief of Ross, but when Hinrich is beating you off the dribble, things aren’t going well for you.|
Played a tight 9-man rotation, and for the most part had the right guys on the court at the right considering injuries and what not. On three occasions made a proper timeout call to squash a Bulls run. Had no problem with his game management until that last play of the game, where an ISO was called for DeRozan without an attempt to get him free off a screen or something.
The Raptors lost to the Bulls at home on Wednesday night in a playoff-type game at the ACC. The Raptors played from behind for most of the game, and had a couple chances to tie and take the lead late on.
Even though they labored, some good defense and a timely Lowry three had them right back in it. After DeRozan had airballed a long two (a very iso play), the Raptors were able to get a stop and hand the ball back to DeRozan to win the game. It was another isolation play with almost no ball movement and he came up against Butler once again, who didn’t fall for his fake but did flail his arms on the play.
Is this a foul by Butler or just straight-up good defense? Questions will be raised about the late-game play calling, especially about how DeRozan was put in situations where he had to create off the dribble in isolation, which is not his strength.
Ryan Wolstat isn’t one to just put something out there for sake of making a name for himself, or build his profile, so when he says the Raptors have interest in Rondo, there’s probably more to the story than filling empty cycles while the all-star game runs its course and teams get back to their routine.
When it to comes to Rondo, Ainge, and the Celtics, very little makes sense to me. Rondo has seemingly been shopped for as long as I can remember, which doesn’t sit right with me. The guy is young, in his prime, madly productive, and on a reasonable contract that probably will be his rate on his next contract.
Sam Holako: How is it that Rondo has been in trade rumours since forever, and Ainge hasn’t been attacked? It blows my mind that this chatter is allowed given his age, ability (injury notwithstanding), and salary.
Tom Westerholm: Part of the issue here is that Rondo rumors are rarely broached initially by Boston media. The usual guys will pick up on it from beat writers for opposing teams, but apart from the Chris Paul deal Danny Ainge tried to swing back when Paul was approaching free agency, it’s possible that the Rondo leaks are opposing GMs telling local media that a deal was close/possible when it really wasn’t.
Please note: I’m not saying this is definitely what happened. This is just what Celtics fans tell themselves has happened to make ourselves feel better about the situation. “He’ll totally re-sign in free agency. He totally hasn’t been turned off from the Celtics by being dangled around the NBA like a worm on a hook.”
Sam: Rondo squashed a deal that would have seen him exiled to Sacramento for Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore and a pick because he wouldn’t resign there; what had me scratching my head was that’s a lot of talent to give up IMHO. Yes Rondo is a top-5 PG in the league, but two young players and a pick that will probably be a lottery is a serious haul. Where am I going with this? There’s been talk about the Raptors interest in a Rondo deal, would a deal around Lowry be enough to get something done?
Tom: First of all, with that Sacramento deal, you can bet that the pick wouldn’t have been this year’s first rounder unprotected. And obviously, since it was Rondo who squashed the deal, you can also bet that Ainge was intrigued at the very least at the prospect of getting so much young talent plus a pick in exchange for a very-nearly-28-year old whose career timeline doesn’t necessarily fit with Boston’s future.
The Lowry question is a tough one. The pros: He’s an incredible point guard (sorry DeMar, Lowry totally deserved that slot), he’s extremely competitive (which makes me think he would fit with Jared Sullinger nicely), he won’t make the Celtics inconveniently better this season, and he’s probably not going to command a max contract. The cons: He’s a free agent this summer (so Boston would need some kind of assurance he would re-sign), he’s one month younger than Rondo, and frankly, he’s just not as good. The Celtics aren’t going to get equal value for Rondo if they trade him, but how much more than Lowry would Toronto be willing to give up?
What might be more intriguing for Danny Ainge is the idea that the Raptors could offer their own unprotected first rounder and the unprotected first rounder of another team (who would then receive Lowry) in exchange for Rondo. But I have a feeling we may be coming to that question soon.
Sam: We can’t give you our 2014 (unless we acquire another one) since we traded last years for Lowry #metta. What about something that looks like Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and our 2015 1st rounder (maybe top-3 protected if Masai is a better negotiator than Danny)? That gets you a young scoring guard on a rookie contract, a solid backup point guard (also cheap), a draft pick, and it probably makes your team worse while you have players that work hard. What say you?
Tom: I’ll answer this in two parts:
The first is easy. If this deal doesn’t include Lowry, there really isn’t any way the Celtics do it. They are perfectly capable of tanking with Rondo, so getting bad isn’t the main concern here. And although they said they wanted two first round picks and a case could be made that a first rounder plus Terrence Ross equates two first round picks, what the Cs really want is two first rounders plus a young player with All-Star potential (see Sean Deveney’s report from earlier).
If Lowry is included, this becomes a bit more complicated. Ross is a nice young player with plenty of potential, and Lowry himself could be the point guard on a good playoff team. I still don’t think the Celtics do it, if only because they aren’t in any desperate hurry to give away Rondo. He helps the future more than he hurts the present at this point.
HOWEVER. If Boston and Toronto could work out a third team content to give the Cs a 2014 lottery pick (not likely, I fully realize) in exchange for receiving Lowry, and the Celtics get Ross plus Toronto’s 2015 first rounder, I think Ainge would have to give the possibility some serious consideration. This possibility is why I think Toronto is really the only honest contender for Rondo’s services at the deadline. Meanwhile, the sheer improbability of finding a lottery team willing to surrender their 2014 unprotected pick is why I think Rondo stays put.
Sam: Give me a ballpark on his next contract.
Tom: This is really hard. Paying a point guard not named Chris Paul max money is rarely a good idea, and Rondo now has a history of knee injuries. Let’s assume Rondo stays healthy for the next year and a half: If his recent 3-point shooting holds (he’s at 38 percent so far this season), he could be in the $15-16 million per year range. If it’s merely an aberration, he could see Tony Parker-esque money at $12.5 million.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably gamble on the latter. Given all the variables, however, I’m really glad I’m not.
Sam: If the Raptors were to put together a deal similar to the (alleged) Sacramento one, would Ainge pull the triggering knowing he’d have to face Rondo 4 times a year?
Tom: I don’t think Ainge would rule out a trade just because it’s within the division. If Sacramento and Toronto somehow offered identical packages, he might choose Sacramento just for practical purposes, but if Toronto blew him away, I’m fairly certain he would take it.
Again, I don’t think he’d trade Rondo period. But if he did, I’m pretty sure he would take the best deal for Boston, regardless of the division.
Sam: Considering the CBA, it will probably be closer to $12.5, but lets split the difference and say $14.5m, I have a few numbers kicking around: 27 years old; $14.5m/year; top-20 baller…this is exactly the kind of player I want to build a team around!
Thanks, Tom, I appreciate it.