Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Dec 1, 15 Breaking it Down: Delon Wright and the little things on defense Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 15 David Price signs with Boston, Raptors lose key Kevin Durant leverage Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 15 Dwane Casey gets honorable mention in Coach of the Month voting Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 15 Raptors 905 expecting 10,000 students for Dec. 11 day game at ACC Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 15 Masai Ujiri, Raptors celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela at ACC on Saturday Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 15 The Luis Scola Experience Matt Shantz
Dec 1, 15 Rise of the Machine: Bismack is Boomin’ Michael Holian
Dec 1, 15 What’s Behind The Offence? Andrew Thompson
Dec 1, 15 Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 1 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 30, 15 NBA Rules Kyle Lowry Fouling Eric Bledsoe at 12 Seconds was Incorrect Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 30, 15 Roller Coaster Raptors – The Ups and Downs of the Season Continue Shyam Baskaran
Nov 30, 15 Feisty Phoenix Bench Snaps 4-Game Win Streak Greg Mason
Nov 30, 15 DeRozan talks Kobe retirement: ‘I need every move he has’ Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 30 – The Streak Shall End Here Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 30, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 30 Sam Holako
Nov 29, 15 Another Apology from NBA Coming Up? Kyle Lowry’s Clean Strip Called a Foul at 2:00 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 29, 15 Quick Reaction: Suns 107, Raptors 102 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 29, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: DeRozan with crafty take through double Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 15 Raptors 905 can’t cool hot hands, collapse late Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 15 Raptors recall Bruno Caboclo and Delon Wright Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 15 Gameday Extra: Suns @ Raptors, Nov. 29 Michael Holian
Nov 29, 15 Defense, Joseph’s game-winner help Raptors steal one in Washington Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 15 Breaking it Down: The game-winning possession Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 15 DeMarre Carroll: ‘I Suck (Tonight),’ fans make him feel better Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 15 Bismack Biyombo ties weird Raptors record in excellent showing Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 15 VIDEO – Cory Joseph Game Winning Buzzer Beater + Post-Game Interview Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 28, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Joseph and Biyombo put Beal on the floor Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 84 – 82 Wizards Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 28, 15 Pre-game news & notes: Nene, Gooden, Neal out; Dudley starts Blake Murphy
Nov 28, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Nov. 28 Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 15 Friday Mailbag: Johnson, bench scoring, D-League usage, and more Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 15 Johnson doesn’t talk to media, Casey says he knows his role Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 15 Raptors recall Delon Wright from D-League, re-assign him to 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 15 It’s Raptors Thanksgiving! Matt Shantz
Nov 27, 15 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov 27: Johnson’s minutes, Valanciunas’ injury fallout Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 27 Sam Holako
Nov 26, 15 Audio Special: Blake Murphy In-Studio Talking Raptors on Sportsnet 590 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 26, 15 James Johnson apologizes for “under-utilized” tweet Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 15 Views from Drake Night 3 Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 15 VIDEO: Delon Wright speaks after ‘perfect’ D-League debut Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 15 James Johnson’s mood? “Under-utilized” Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 15 4th Quarter Offensive Execution? 4th Quarter Offensive Execution! Andrew Thompson
Nov 26, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 26 Sam Holako
Nov 26, 15 Talking Raptors Podcast, S3 E5 – Drake Night Nick Reynoldson
Nov 25, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103 – 99 Cavaliers Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 25, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Carroll plays perfect defense, LeBron still scores Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 Raptors905 escape with win against Idaho Stampede Shyam Baskaran
Nov 25, 15 Audio – Drake In-Game Interview with Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 25, 15 Audio – Drake Media Scrum as Masai Ujiri Announces Rapper on #DrakeNight Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 25, 15 Pre-game news & notes: Dellavedova sits, Cunningham starts, Drake entertains Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 VIDEO: Jack and Strombo crush it in the Hotline Bling Booth Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 Ronald Roberts ready to make impact with Raptors 905, as long as he’s there Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 Toronto Raptors Early Schedule Difficulty Could Pay Dividends Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 25, 15 Mo Williams returning for Cavs, Dellavedova a game-time call Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Nov. 25 Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 VIDEO: Norm Kelly in the ‘Hotline Bling Booth’ at ACC Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 25 Sam Holako
Nov 24, 15 VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll in funny Humane Society PSA Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 15 Line-up Issues: It May Be Time To Get Weird Matt Shantz
Nov 24, 15 RR Roundtable: How secure is Dwane Casey’s job? Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 15 Raptors assign Delon Wright to D-League Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 15 Injury Duty: The journey ahead with JV on the shelf Michael Holian
Nov 24, 15 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 24 Sam Holako
Nov 23, 15 PHOTO: Raptors ‘holiday sweaters’ are on point Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 15 PHOTO: Here’s your free Drake Night swag for Wednesday Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 15 What the Raptors looked like with Jonas Valanciunas out Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 15 How the West Was Won and Lost Shyam Baskaran
Nov 23, 15 Raptors sneak by Clippers, 91-80, behind big first-half lead Joshua Priemski
Nov 23, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 22 – Biyombo’s Worst Nightmare Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 23, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 23 Sam Holako
Nov 22, 15 Quick Reaction: Clippers 80, Raptors 91 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: The Versatile Luis Scola Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 15 Raptors 905 pick up their first win in franchise history, beat Red Claws 96-87 Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 22, 15 Bismack Biyombo Starts vs DeAndre Jordan and Clippers Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 22, 15 Report: Valanciunas to miss 6 weeks Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Nov. 22 Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 15 Raptors Recall Center Lucas Nogueira from Raptors 905 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 15 Report: Jonas Valanciunas Opts for Rehab Over Surgery Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 15 Valanciunas injury a call for lineup creativity Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 15 This Week on Raptors Republic – Nov 21 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 21, 15 VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas talks injury Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 15 Pyrrhic victory snaps Raptors losing streak in L.A. Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 102, Lakers 91 Blake Murphy
Nov 21, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Kyle Lowry catches fire in 1st half Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Jonas Valanciunas leaves game with fractured metacarpal Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Raptors 905 fall to 0-4 with 112-93 loss to Maine Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Terrence Ross returns for Raptors vs. Lakers Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Pre-game news & notes: Kobe’s final meeting with the Raptors? Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Kobe Bryant will play Friday vs. Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 Great Scotts: Suggs and Shannon shepherding Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 VIDEO: Open Gym episode 4 follows Carroll in new home, season opener Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 15 DeMar DeRozan’s Contract Looms Large Over This Season Tim Chisholm
Nov 20, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Lakers, Nov. 20 Andrew Thompson
Nov 20, 15 World Not Crashing Around Raptors Matt Shantz
Nov 20, 15 Talking Raptors Podcast, S3 E4 – Dog Days of November Nick Reynoldson
Nov 20, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 20 Sam Holako
Nov 20, 15 Raptors 905 drop really fun home opener Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 15 Where Does JV Rank Among Centers After Game 13? forumcrew
Nov 19, 15 Breaking it Down: Failing to inbound out of timeouts Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 15 Raptors-Jazz post-game debriefing with the enemy Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 15 Raptors once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 19 Sam Holako
Nov 18, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 89, Jazz 93 Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Favors gets 50/50 and-1 call against Scola Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan dunks all over Rudy Gobert Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 Pre-game news & notes: What to do about Rudy Gobert Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 ‘Quick’ thoughts on lineup usage from Raptors-Warriors Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 NBA: Curry traveled late, call on Lowry was correct Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Jazz, Nov. 18 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 18, 15 Plenty to second-guess in would-be moral victory against Warriors Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 18 Sam Holako
Nov 18, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 110, Warriors 115 Sam Holako
Nov 18, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Steph Curry with the shot Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Pre-game news & notes: ‘They can’t do great things if they don’t have the ball’ Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Draymond Green, Klay Thompson playing Tuesday vs. Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Raptors 905 waive 1st ever draft pick Mike Anderson, reacquire Ashton Smith Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Raptors can’t explain slow starts, hot third quarters Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Raptors 905 to broadcast 9 games on NBA TV Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 The Toronto Raptors need to look forward at power forward Joshua Priemski
Nov 17, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Warriors, Nov. 17 Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 15 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 17 Sam Holako
Nov 16, 15 NBA admits incorrect late foul call on Cory Joseph vs. Kings Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 15 Drake Night 3 set for LeBron visit on Nov. 25 Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 15 Draymond Green has flu, Warriors proceeding as if he won’t play vs. Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 15 Trend Spotting Andrew Thompson
Nov 16, 15 Let’s not do this 4th quarter Valanciunas thing again Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 15 Raptors Fail to Finish, Lose to Kings Matt Shantz
Nov 16, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 16 – DeRozan Giveth, DeRozan Taketh Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 16, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 16 Sam Holako
Nov 15, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 101, Kings 107 Sam Holako
Nov 15, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: DeMarcus Cousins gets T’d up Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 15 Sim Bhullar will only play in Raptors 905 home games to start season Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 15 Pre-game news & notes: Gay in, Collison still out for Kings Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 15 Raptors 905 fall to 0-2 with 112-92 loss to Mad Ants Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Kings, Nov. 15 Shyam Baskaran
Nov 14, 15 Raptors 905 Lose Heartbreaker at the Buzzer; Positive Things Were Seen Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 14, 15 This Week on Raptors Republic – Nov 14 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 14, 15 Raptors 905 waive Ashton Smith Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 15 VIDEO – DeMar DeRozan’s 11 assists vs Pelicans; “It’s about getting my teammates going’ Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 14, 15 Valanciunas shoulders early load, Raptors heat up in win over Pelicans Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 15 Morning Coffee – Sat, Nov 14 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 Post-Game Audio: Dwane Casey and Patrick Patterson Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 Quick Reaction: Pelicans 81, Raptors 100 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Inflatable Raptor is a treasure Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 VIDEO – Jonas Valanciunas Comments on New Look with Cotton Stuffed in his Nose Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 VIDEO – JV Blocks Shot; Jack Armstrong Does Dikembe Mutombo Impression Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 DeMarre Carroll back vs. Pelicans Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis out vs. Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Pre-Game Audio: Dwane Casey vs Pelicans Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 13, 15 Raptors 905 acquire Nick Wiggins, Ronald Roberts Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 VIDEO: Open Gym episode 3 follows training camp, Bennett signing Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Toronto Raptors: 9 Games In – Separating Fact From Fiction Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 13, 15 Raptors assign Caboclo, Nogueira to 905; Roberts to join soon Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Raptors practice facility gets a name, OVO gear on sale Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Gameday: Pelicans @ Raptors, Nov. 13 Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 13 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 12, 15 Looking For Shooters forumcrew
Nov 12, 15 Raptors’ outside shooting slump an early concern Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 15 Raptors do what they’re supposed to, roll 76ers Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 12 Sam Holako
Nov 11, 15 VIDEO – Norman Powell’s Dunk vs Philadelphia 76ers Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 11, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 119 – 103 76ers Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 11, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Jahlil Okafor is a bad man Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 Masai Ujiri wanted fans to fill Maple Leaf Square for LaMarcus Aldridge Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 76ers down to 9 bodies as Richaun Holmes now out, too Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 DeMarre Carroll out vs. 76ers Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 Raptors 905 announce 11-man roster out of camp Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 Death to all-bench units Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 Sixers without Noel, Covington vs. Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 15 Game Day: Raptors vs 76ers Matt Shantz
Nov 11, 15 Raps Fall to No-Longer-Hapless Knicks, 111-109 Greg Mason
Nov 11, 15 #356 – Talking Raptors Podcast, S3 E3 – Don’t Panic Nick Reynoldson
Nov 11, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 11 Sam Holako
Nov 10, 15 Referees admit error on Carmelo Anthony out of bounds no-call Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 Post-Game Audio: Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross on Injury Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 10, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109 – Knicks 111 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 10, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: Cory Joseph gets friendly bounce on and-1 Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 Terrence Ross out at least 2 weeks with thumb ligament injury Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 VIDEO: Robin Lopez gets into it with The Raptor again Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross out vs. Knicks Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 Answering some questions about trading Terrence Ross Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 Carroll questionable vs. Knicks; Joseph could see more time Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 15 Pumpin’ the Brakes: Examining the Raptors’ New Roadblocks Michael Holian
Nov 10, 15 Gameday: Raptors vs Knicks Kiyan Sobhani
Nov 10, 15 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 10 Sam Holako
Nov 9, 15 The Raptors Lineup Stock Game Andrew Thompson
Nov 9, 15 What to do about Terrence Ross Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 15 PHOTO: Raptors reveal new OVO gear for Nov. 13 release Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 15 Raptors mail one in against the Heat and lose, 96-76 Joshua Priemski
Nov 9, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Nov 9 – On Course for 59 Wins Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 9, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 9 Sam Holako
Nov 8, 15 Quick Reaction: Raptors 76, Heat 96 Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 15 Grandstand Highlight of the Night: I don’t know, maybe box out Hassan Whiteside Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 15 VIDEO – James Johnson Halftime Interview vs Miami Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 8, 15 James Johnson draws start with DeMarre Carroll out Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 15 Pre-game news & notes: DeMarre Carroll out Sunday vs. Heat Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 15 Raptors 905 drop exhibition opener 102-83 to Erie Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 15 Gameday: Toronto @ Miami, Nov. 8 Greg Mason
Nov 7, 15 DeMarre Carroll questionable Sunday with plantar fasciitis Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 15 Breaking it Down: Where were these late in the 4th? Blake Murphy

When the Toronto Raptors selected Delon Wright with the No. 20 pick in the draft, the term “NBA ready” got thrown around some, to the point that there was moderate surprise when the Raptors followed up by signing Cory Joseph to a four-year, $29.9-million deal that bumped Wright to “PG3” on the depth chart.

The term “NBA ready,” as it pertains to most picks, is a misnomer. Few rookies are ready to contribute at the NBA level, and freshman by and large struggle to make the jump. There are exceptions, but teams shouldn’t have high initial expectations for the 20th pick, even if it’s a 23-year-old senior. But it was believed that thanks to his intelligent play, smart decision-making, size for the point, and general defensive aptitude, he could figure in as a back-up point guard right away.

It may have confused some, then, when Wright played 10 minutes over the season’s first month and was subsequently assigned to Raptors 905 of the D-League. Joseph has been exceptional in his bench role, Kyle Lowry is capably handling a large minutes load again (for now), and head coach Dwane Casey has opted to keep his rotation tight. With Wright not playing at the NBA level, the assignment made sense, as he quickly racked up 75 minutes of playing time in two games before getting recalled on Sunday.

Wright showed some encouraging signs in his two games with the 905, especially on the offensive end. His vision is unparalleled at that level, and his amoebic dribbling makes him a difficult check and a regular at the free-throw line. There were few nits to pick about how he handled himself with the ball in his hands. But Wright’s defensive performance, thought to be his ticket to early NBA playing time, was imperfect. If anything, it was thought that the speed of the game on offense may be the more difficult transition for him, but – and this is a risky extrapolation from two D-League games that may not be indicative of his practice performance at the NBA level – he appears to still be nailing down the intricacies of a more complex NBA defensive scheme.

In writing his scouting report while I was still with theScore, I wrote that “Wright’s size is a huge asset, and while he needs to fill out more, his length is great for the point and – along with his high effort and sharp anticipation – should make him a quality defender and dangerous ball hawk.” In a far more detailed scouting report after Summer League here at Raptors Republic, I wrote the following:

The same timing and anticipation he shows driving and passing manifests itself on defense. “Feel for the game” is a tough thing to describe and capture, but Wright decidedly has it. His ability to read the play leads to a lot of his steals – he’ll get some on the ball, too, but he also takes calculated gambles when he sees a player starting to pick up his dribble with the ball unprotected, or the opportunity to jump a passing lane arises. The latter particularly applies in the backcourt, where he’s a hawk on inbound plays like that annoying friend in 2K.

With anticipation and intelligence high on his list of strengths, the small mistakes he made over two games serve to prove not only that the term “NBA ready” should be buried because the jump in level of play is so extreme, but also that the D-League is invaluable. NBA practices may be intense, but things look a lot different when they come within the confines of an actual game played at full speed.

Two small areas Wright struggled in are understandable ones, but they’re worth a closer look.

Icing the side pick-and-roll
Among the changes the Raptors made to their defensive system this offseason was a change in approach for handling side pick-and-rolls. Last season, the Raptors welcomed ball-handlers to the middle of the floor as a matter of strategy, far more than any other team in the league. Here’s what that looked like:

This time around, the Raptors are doing what far more teams do and icing (or blueing, or downing) the side pick-and-roll. Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls did this to great effect, and Andy Greer, a veteran of that system, joined Casey’s staff this offseason. Icing tasks the player guarding the ball-handler to prevent them from using the pick, angling off their path to the middle of the floor and forcing them baseline. The sidelines work as an extra defender, and the idea is to give the ball-handler less space and more difficult passing options while eating away at clock if the team needs to reset up top.

The logic is sound, and John Schuhmann of found that offenses score worst in the pick-and-roll when iced.

This is an imperfect example, but DeMarre Carroll illustrates here what icing looks like:

Here’s a better example, with Bismack Biyombo playing the big man role in the ice expertly:

Icing may be somewhat new to Wright. I couldn’t find many good examples of him defending side pick-and-rolls with Jakob Poeltl at Utah last season, but I also wasn’t willing to invest a ton of time into it. Poeltl’s skill set suggests, to me, that the Utes would have been well-served icing, but college defenses are generally less complex and they may have played the side more straight-up.

In any case, it’s something Wright struggled with a bit in his first game with the 905.

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In the first example, Wright neglects to ice at all, and in the second he telegraphs an angle that is too vertical long before the pick comes, allowing Brandon Fields to jump the seam before Ronald Roberts realizes what’s happening.

“The only thing I would have liked to see him do better in that game was defend side pick-and-rolls,” head coach Jesse Murmuys said after Wright’s 9-of-9 debut. “We’re forcing down, and coach Casey is going to want him to be able to keep the ball on the sideline. That’s something that we could be better at.”

He did a better job of this against the 87ers on Sunday – the Sevens use a great deal of drag screens on the side, and the fact that none stood out as Wright misplays is encouraging – though that match-up turned into a disaster for the entire team defense late, with downing the sides the least of their concerns.

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“We did a better job of keeping the ball on the side and now the second piece is trying to force tough twos out of it,” Murmuys said after Sunday’s loss.

Helping off the ball
At Utah, Wright was the primary defender on the ball-handler most of the time. With the length to guard multiple positions and his status as the team’s top perimeter stopper, he didn’t spend as much time off the ball. That showed on a key possession late Sunday, as Wright, playing off the ball, incorrectly helped out of the strong-side corner, leaving the red-hot Sean Kilpatrick wide open for a triple.

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The desire to help in that situation is understandable, but the Raptors, as a matter of principle, try not to help off of the strong-side corner. The pass is too easy for the ball-handler to make when the shooter is that close, and there are too few bodies on that side of the floor in a position to rotate and close out.

On this particular play, the rotations called for Wright to stay, because Bruno Caboclo had the help on the drive. If Caboclo slid over to help, the 905 had Scott Suggs in a position to close out on either of two shooters or pick up the weak-side corner on a cut to the basket, and Melvin Johnson would have been responsible to rotate from the top on any subsequent pass outside.


Instead, Wright helps unnecessarily. Caboclo is left guarding nobody, and he can’t close on Kilpatrick in the event Jordan McRae, the ball-handler, gets to the rim through the double.


Had Wright stayed on Kilpatrick, maybe McRae’s foray to the rim is successful, maybe it’s not. The 905 are covered everywhere else on the floor, and once McRae kicks the ball out, there’s nobody to close out.


A contested shot at the rim is preferable to an open corner three, according to the organization’s defensive philosophy.

“That was a young player making a very big mistake,” Mermuys said Sunday. “That first one is Delon Wright helping off the strong side corner, which we don’t do. And that’s just being disciplined, being in that situation. That’s a great learning experience for him to get it out of the way now, down here in the D-League, where he won’t make that mistake hopefully up in the NBA, because it kills you, especially off a shooter like that.”

Watch what Cory Joseph does in the top corner on this play. He’s entirely capable of helping but the big is in position and Joseph’s role calls for him to stay tight to the strong-corner shooter, even if it’s Devin Harris:

Other notes
There were two other defensive plays that stood out as I was re-watching. Neither was indicative of any sort of trend, but they provide further support that Wright’s still figuring out where to be and when to gamble within the confines of his new system.

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In the first example, he has no idea who he’s supposed to be picking up, leading to an open three. In the second, he veers off from chasing his man cutting to gamble for a steal, which results in an open three.

What to draw from this
The main takeaway from all of this is Mermuys quote just above – this is a great learning experience, and Wright is afforded the chance to make these mistakes now instead of at the NBA level, where an over-help or a failure to ice could see Casey sit him right back down on the bench. One of the benefits of an exclusive D-League affiliate is the ability to install the same systems at both levels so that Wright can be focusing on the exact same principles whether he’s with the parent club or the baby Raptors.

None of this should serve to lessen optimism around Wright. He still played very well over his two-game stint, and Mermuys still spoke highly of him despite the occasional lapse in team defense. Wright and Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira before them are being sent down in order to get better, and everyone understands there will be bumps in the road.

Here’s one more on Wright from Mermuys:

What’s great about him is his intelligence. And he already, from summer to now, has a pretty good handle on the NBA game as far as some of the intricacies of defense and offense and spacing and those things. His knowledge of the game has definitely improved.

With all the guys coming down, my big focus is trying to take the pressure off of them and trying to really get them to relax and play and focus on some little adjustments and things he can improve on. Defensive rebounding for us could really help, icing the side, blueing it, keeping it down. Go out and play your game and let’s just try to get a little bit better than the last time. If you’re focusing on little improvements, I think it takes the pressure off. And we can see over the season some major improvement.

That’s exactly the point.

Note: None of this is meant to be serious, at all. The Price news broke and I wanted to keep my hands idle while I process it.

David Price has signed a seven-year, $217-million contract with the Boston Red Sox, according to a report from The Boston Globe.

This is a Toronto Raptors site, so forgive the interruption of regularly scheduled coverage with baseball news, but Price’s departure from The Toronto Blue Jays has Raptors-related ramifications on two fronts.

More important than those, first, it hurts. I was at Price’s debut with the Blue Jays, saw two other regular season starts, and was at Game 1 of the ALDS (I saw 20 games this season because I am an insane person). The last three months of the baseball season were three of the most fun I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan, so much so that they forced me to bring my walls down when it pertained to the Raptors’ hot start. It is cliched, I suppose, but I’ll never forget this summer, and the Blue jays will remain woven through every fabric of those memories.

So to Price, I say thank you for contributing to one of the coolest, most unifying stretches of sports fandom I’ll ever enjoy. Now get ready to get lit by this still-ridiculous lineup and lose your ace-off to Marcus Stroman.

Now, for the Raptors implications.

One: This is a big hit to the Kevin Durant free agent chase. While the odds of Durant leaving Oklahoma City in 2016 seem slim, some fans have continued to cling to hope that the presence of Drake, a phenomenal city with tons of momentum, Durant’s own rooting interests as a child, and the strong connection general manager Masai Ujiri can make with players would put the Raptors in the mix if he does (and if not, then in 2017). It’s a bit far-fetched and complicated by the Raptors’ less-than-ideal salary cap situation, but fans are free to dream.

The loss of Price puts the city out one marquee free agent and recruiter, and it kills the dream of a Price-Durant-Steven Stamkos haul in one sports calendar year. Durant, after all, appears to fancy himself a Price fan, and something tells me J.A. Happ doesn’t move the needle as a crossover personality.

Two: It’s an interesting emotional experiment ahead of DeMar DeRozan’s unrestricted free agency next summer. As a reminder, DeRozan holds a player option for next year that he’ll decline barring catastrophic injury, and he’ll be one of the top names in a thin free agent market following the cap explosion, when there will be far more money than talent. The collective bargaining agreement is incredibly restricting for veteran contract extensions, and DeRozan would be foolish to sign an extension under the conditions allowed. The most the Raptors could offer DeRozan right now is roughly $34.8 million over three additional seasons, a laughable amount given DeRozan’s likely market this summer. So he’s hitting free agency.

DeRozan is clear he wants to remain with the Raptors for life, but rumors suggested Price likes Toronto, too. The Raptors, like the Jays, may face a tough decision: Pay DeRozan as much as $25 million annually – less than Price’s deal, but roughly the maximum based on current cap estimates – or watch him walk. My reaction to the Price deal is that it’s justifiable not to match, tough though that may be emotionally, given the cost and risk inherent in the deal and the Jays’ own budgetary limitations. The presence of a salary cap in the NBA makes navigating the decision even tougher, as the opportunity cost of a DeRozan max or near-max deal is very tangible.

The DeRozan discussion is one best saved for the offseason, and these aren’t perfect comparables. DeRozan has a long history with the franchise, Price was a rental. Injury concerns for pitchers are far greater than shooting guards. The NBA has a salary cap. This is a Raptors site, shut the hell up about the Jays, Blake. And so on.

But if you’re a fan of both teams, your reaction to Price, an ace getting paid like one has never been paid before, leaving will probably be the same as your reaction if DeRozan, a very good non-star player about to get paid like a superstar, is allowed to walk.

Note: None of this is meant to be serious, at all. The Price news broke and I wanted to keep my hands idle while I process it.

Well, this isn’t going to start any kind of argument or anything.

Following an 11-7 month that has his Toronto Raptors atop the Atlantic Division, in a similar playoff position to last year, and on pace for a franchise-record 50 wins, head coach Dwane Casey was given an honorable mention in Coach of the Month voting for November. David Blatt and Luke Walton won the awards in their respective conferences, with Casey ranking as one of eight other coaches nominated.

So for anyone who’s going to get too riled up about this, consider that all this means is that Casey was considered to be worthy of acknowledgment by some number of people. He’s one of 10 coaches in the same boat, a third of the league.

Still, this is almost guaranteed to fire up discussion. Raptors Republic readers and tweeters seem largely polarized on the issue of Casey’s performance, and I’ve had to answer plenty of questions about his job security. It’s enough that we did an RR roundtable on the matter last week, and like the readers, are writers are mostly split.

Here are the facts: The Raptors are 11-7, on pace for the franchise’s best season, despite having endured one of the toughest schedules when travel is accounted for. They’re much improved on defense and the offense hasn’t slid quite as expected. They’re one of four teams in the top ten on both sides of the ball (seventh in offense, ninth in defense) as a result. The team is doing well, and that much can’t really be argued.

Here’s the kicker: There are parts of Casey’s performance, namely late-game execution, that remain unrelentingly frustrating, especially in his fifth year at the helm.

Despite being of the belief a mid-season coaching change would make no sense (and generally believing more than most that Casey’s a solid coach in the non-Xs&Os departments), I’ve always understood why fans get upset with him. I think claims that he alone has cost the team multiple games are too simplistic and ignore the very important role of players, and I think believing there’s some coach out there who can swoop in and fix the end-game management and free James Johnson and whatever else needs doing without losing anything on the defensive end or in the locker room (where we have no idea what does and does not disrupt or galvanize) is perhaps naive. No coach would represent a panacea, especially one brought in mid-season without the benefit of an offseason to make tangible changes. But I understand the frustration, for sure.

What Tuesday’s news tells us is that at least a few other people out there close to the game believe that with a road-heavy schedule, injuries to three rotation players, and four new faces in the nine-man rotation, Casey is deserving of some dap. I can’t say I disagree.

Perusing the Raptors 905 schedule, there’s quite an oddity on Dec. 11 – not only does the D-League squad get bumped to the Air Canada Centre, but they play at 11 a.m. on a Friday.

It turns out there’s a good reason why. The Dec. 11 home game against Maine is being promoted as a game aimed at students, with the franchise expecting “as many as 10,000 students and teachers from the Greater Toronto Area” on hand. That’s a lot of kids.

It’s also a great idea. The Toronto Blue jays take advantage of occasional weekday afternoon games during the school year, usually on getaway days, and downtown is littered with school buses. Considering the Raptors and Raptors 905 have a strong interest in helping build the game across the region (and country), this is a smart way to get kids to experience the game up close and in person, without the expense of a Raptors game or the chaos of an after-hour field trip.

“Introducing kids to our game at an early age promotes the health benefits of physical activity, value of teamwork and importance of sportsmanship,” Raptors 905 General Manager Dan Tolzman said in a release. “Our school-day game at Air Canada Centre is an exciting way to bring professional basketball to a wide scope of youth in our region.”

Plus, Bru-Tang is for the children.

As always, for ticket information, check out

The Toronto Raptors, general manager Masai Ujiri, and Giants of Africa will celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

The team revealed in a release Tuesday that several notable names will be on hand for a panel discussion on the Raptors’ practice court following the team’s game against the Golden State Warriors. Saturday marks the second anniversary of Mandela’s passing and “The Giant of Africa” will be a night dedicated to celebrating the life of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of South Africa. The event also aims to support the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ujiri’s own not-for-profit, Giants of Africa.

Ujiri and the Raptors hosted “The Giant of Africa” last year, too.

Here’s a list of expected attendees, from the release:

Damon Allen, CFL Legend
Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival
Jully Black, Canadian R&B artist
James Duthie, TSN sportscaster
Didier Drogba, international soccer icon
Winnie Harlow, international model
Bob Lanier, NBA Legend
Ruth Riley, WNBA & NCAA Champion (Notre Dame) & Olympic Gold Medalist
Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner
Mark Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner
Isiah Thomas, NBA Legend
Carol Tshabalala, media personality
Masai Ujiri, President and General Manager, Toronto Raptors

Conspicuous by his absence is Jonathan Bernier.

You can read more about Ujiri and Giants of Africa here, more about Mandela’s life here, and get a refresher on last year’s event here.

Luis “Vidal Sassoon” Scola was brought to Toronto as an insurance policy and little more.  At 35 years old he was supposed to provide a veteran presence in the frontcourt, and to help guide the younger Raptors big men.

He was never supposed to be a key contributor.  The majority of engaged Raptors’ fans spent the summer actively searching for a more accomplished full time starting power forward to join the Raptors.  The goal within these dreams was to have a starting caliber power forward (the most common name circled by fans at the time was Markieff Morris, due in large part to his summer trade demands which have since faded), with Patrick Paterson coming off the bench and Luis Scola available for emergencies.

I never would have bet that Scola would be a central figure to the Raptors starting line-up, and anyone who did I worry about some their compulsive gambling habits.

And yet, here we are.

Through 18 games, Luis Scola is averaging 23.6 minutes, the highest number for him since 2012-13.  Within these minutes he has put up some eye popping (for him) numbers, and has helped add new dimensions to the Raptors as a whole.

All of this after the starting power forward spot was supposed to be Patrick Patterson’s to lose.

Look at their advanced numbers to start the season:

Patrick Patterson 26 18 370 9.5 .492 .644 .038 10.7 6.9 1.6 0.7 15.2 15.0 .054 0.1
Luis Scola 35 18 424 16.1 .543 .173 .105 14.5 6.4 1.3 0.8 9.6 19.6 .135 0.2
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/1/2015.

Scola has Patterson beat almost across the board, which is a combination of Scola’s excellent play and Patterson’s inconsistency to date (man…his confidence level is depressing to watch).

The greatest surprise in this mix has been Scola’s shot selection.

Scola shot chart on Dec 1

More specifically, no one saw this three point shooting coming from Luis, which was the greatest argument to start Patterson over Scola in the first place.

Whoever started at power forward would be joining a starting line-up in desperate need of some additional floor spacing.  DeMar DeRozan has continued to torment fans with the ever consistent promise of developing a shot from long distance, only to return each summer without the added weapon, while Valanciunas is…well…he’s Valanciunas.

Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll need an additional long distance option for better balance on offense, hence Patterson, and Valanciunas needs a power forward who won’t always clog the paint but can help draw a defender to the perimeter.

But Scola is having a career year when it comes to shooting the three.  Before this season his career high in terms of three point percentage was just .250, and this was accomplished on just 20 attempts.  That’s 20 attempts all season.

This season sees him shooting an astounding 50 percent from long range.  In fact, through 18 games Scola has already drained more three pointers (14) than he has in his entire career to date (10); and if he maintains he current rate of attempts, Scola will exceed his career attempts by roughly game 34.

All of this is certainly not meant to say that he is the perfect fit.  He and Valanciunas are far from an idea frontcourt pairing due to their slow individual and combined foot speed, as their pairing can often leave the Raptors exposed to perimeter oriented big men.

But he was never intended to be the perfect fit.  He has already far exceeded everything that could be expected from him, and currently has his highest win shares per 48 minutes (.135) since his second year in the league (2008-09).

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Luis Scola era in Toronto.  Coming into the season I was actually anticipating him being flipped before the trade deadline.  Although this could still happen, there would now be a part of me that would initially be disappointed at Scola’s departure.  He has been a key contributor to an 11-7 record through a rather challenging start to the season.

We’re lucky to have Luis Scola, and even saying this still gives me pause for concern.  There is a big part of me that wonders whether this success can be sustainable, whether Scola can continue to shoot the three like he has been, if his body will hold up (lots of miles between the NBA and National Team commitments), and if the Raptors can continue to win with a makeshift frontcourt.

For now though, I’m trying to decide to hold back criticism until the time comes.  I’m simply going to enjoy every little play that Scola makes, the intelligence he often displays in the simplest of actions, and his glorious head of hair.

The Luis Scola experience has been fun, which is enough for the moment at hand.


Whenever public opinion on the Raptors turns ugly, one can generally file any criticism under a list of usual suspects. Whether it’s a call for Dwane Casey’s head, frustration over DeMar DeRozan’s decision-making consistently being inconsistent, the lack of faith in Valaciunas fully adapting to the NBA’s new style of play, or Terrence Ross’s inability to get out of his own way.

It’s funny how the landscape works, though, as that same rage after a loss can quickly shift to a heap of praise following a win. A give-and-take scenario that was present and accounted for the moment Bismack Biyombo was signed.

Depending on the Raps’ latest stretch, it will eventually reach the front office. Masai Ujiri will either be held in contempt or reside on the Mount Rushmore of Toronto’s GM’s.

But the intention here is not to mock the people who react with bandwagon viewpoints. If we didn’t get emotional, things would get stale pretty fast. The thought process I wish to encourage is that of seeing a situation through before declaring a verdict on a particular player.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but the players aren’t the only ones who have to sweat out an 82-game grind. We should all attempt to strike a balance. Holding players and coaches accountable is a must but, so is letting a story play out to its potential. Keeping an open mind when it comes to DeRozan and JV being a prime example. Even Casey is trending upward these days. Well, at least he’s showing flashes.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. When a player receives multiple chances to prove himself yet reinforces doubt time and time again, feel free to unleash your hot-take-on-Ross fury.

To be clear, I don’t pretend to think my rationale is that of the high and mighty. Hell, I’ll even call myself out. It’ll also allow me to re-introduce the story’s main character.


After the clash against the Clippers, I stated:

Bismack Biyombo won’t get one-dimensional matchups every night. I’d probably hold off on his role vs. the Clippers becoming the norm.

I was referring to his 31 minutes played. Which was far and away his highest total of the season up until that point. It was the first full game with Jonas on the shelf so a bump was to be expected. What I didn’t foresee was those minutes actually increasing in the games that followed.

The way I looked at it, he hadn’t earned absolute trust just yet. I’d even pump the breaks on suggesting he has now. Perhaps I can’t get past his offensive issues, which are still highlighted every time Lowry, DeRozan, and at times Joseph have to utilize the drop-off dish on drives to the rim and Biyombo is the only option under the basket. But even with those concerns, he makes up for it in more ways than one.

His motor is relentless, with an effort-level that every team in the league covets. There’s not many players around the NBA who truly don’t care about getting a certain amount of touches. While at the same time doing whatever is possible to make a positive impact.

Limiting the opposition’s second-chance opportunities has been a sight to behold. Whether it’s flat-out rejections (8 overall in his last two games) that lead to transition buckets or tirelessly fighting for the rebound. During his 35-board run in the three games before Phoenix, 25 of them (71%) were brought down in the defensive set.

It’s like the other team keeps trying to steal a Veggie Steamer from his kid:

That video may have been staged, but Biyombo’s rim protection is the real mccoy. Not to mention the fear he strikes in any guard or wing that’s about to penetrate the lane. Which T.O. arguably hasn’t had since the days of Marcus Camby, and to a lesser extent, Keon Clark.

His Blocks Per 36 Minutes and Per 100 Possessions are both experiencing a drop-off from last season (4.1 to 2.9, and 2.9 to 2.1), but that can also lend itself to believing the best of Biyombo is still on its way.

Bismack is just the latest of Ujiri’s offseason acquisitions to pay dividends early on. Like clockwork, Luis Scola’s inside-outside game has eased our Power Forward concerns, Carroll immediately filled the hole on the wing at both ends, and Corey Joseph’s emergence has almost single-handledly changed the way this roster operates in crunch time.

The original worry that Carroll and Joseph would result in an experiment gone wrong, as they were coming from far more disciplined systems, has been put to rest. The opposite has occurred.

But, and there’s always a but with this team, a few elephants remain in the room. The first revolves around the heavy reliance on Lowry and DeRozan carrying too much of the scoring weight, the second surrounds the lack of contributions off the bench, and perhaps most of all, the impending return of Valanciunas.

All of which connect to the question of just how long success can be sustainable for before Biyombo’s offensive woes reach the forefront.


If another second-half spiral is to be avoided, sooner or later K-Low’s and DeRozan’s minutes will need to be held in check. It’s imperative that Ross and Patterson snap out of their decline. Providing the proper backup not only helps the backcourt out, but it prolongs Biyombo’s presence in the first-unit at the same time. Hiding a player while playing him is the Raps’ new mandate.

As for Valanciunas, what exactly happens when Jonas comes back?

It does just go to show how much things can change over the span of a week. Numerous rotation questions surfaced as soon as Valanciunas went down. And now by all indications Casey will face even more when he returns.

The new NBA still collides with traditional aspects come playoff time, and once healthy, Valanciunas needs to step back in to continue his development. I can’t recommend playing Biyombo and JV together, as you don’t want plodders in the paint hindering drives to lane. Something that already needs to happen with more regularity. Besides, that plays right into the defense’s hands with neither of the two able to step outside.

Though a logjam of players who can contribute in different sets is a good problem to have. It’s just how their deployed that matters.

That’s yet another storyline that needs more time to figure things out.

Despite the discouraging loss to Phoenix, now is the perfect opportunity to implement the aforementioned give-and-take scenario. Give the second night of a back-to-back defeat the benefit of the doubt, but if after their two-day rest they’re still lacking assertiveness, take matters into your own hands. And there’s plenty on deck that suggests a roller coaster week is ahead.

Take your pick: Carroll’s return to Atlanta, the very first meeting with Emmanuel Mudiay, a rematch with the Refs Golden State, and the last chance to see Kobe Bryant perform on Canadian soil.


Oct 12, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) stops as he looks for a play against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Timberwolves 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

I was reading Kirk Goldsberry’s excellent piece yesterday on the decline of Kobe Bryant and there was a quote from Chris Paul about the Mamba that stood out to me.

“It’s like he was getting to a spot. Looking at that play, it’s like there was an ‘X’ somewhere on the court and Kobe was like, ‘Once I get to it, I’m like, boom.’ ”

Paul was talking about a particular Kobe shot from the 2006 playoffs, but it just as well could have been a quote describing the design of the Raptors offense last season, where everything was designed to try and get particular player’s their most comfortable shots from very particular spots on the floor. While some of that approach has stayed the same for player’s like DeRozan, it’s changed for Lowry, and gone are the high users of Vasquez and Williams, replaced instead with Joseph and Carroll. Let’s take a 538 inspired deep look at how the numbers are telling us that this year’s offense is different from a season ago.

The first place to look is at shooting. The Raptors are shooting less pull up jumpers and more catch and shoot, according to the player tracking numbers at’s stats database. The Raps are also shooting a little more frequently from inside 10ft. Both of those things are good signs. Carrying with that positive trend, the Raptors are shooting 3s better by and large. They’re shooting much better on their open 3s, and worse on their tightly covered 3s, which could be because Lou Will hit a preposterous number of poorly selected shots last season, but they’re also shooting much less of those well covered 3s for the same reason. The Raptors are getting less open shots on average by a few percentage points this season than last, missing the effective screens of Amir Johnson and too often having possessions that drag into the final moments of the shot clock when choice is taken away from whether or not to shoot.

DeMar DeRozan is shooting a disappointing but unsurprising 22% from deep. More of a let down has been the 34% from Patterson and the 28% from Ross. Corey Joseph shooting 36% and Scola hitting a ridiculous 50% from deep have been huge wins, as has been the even better than assumed 42% and 38% from Lowry and Carroll. Scola has already hit more 3s this season than the rest of his career combined. For his part, Joseph’s improved 3 point shooting fits in along his career long trend of improved shooting, mirroring his career best numbers from a season ago. If both or even one of Ross and Patterson can rediscover their stroke, the Raptors could be a very good shooting team. Which is why it’s a little surprising that the team is shooting less of them. 3-point shots are down, from 30% of the teams field goal attempts last year to 27% of them this season. However, despite the distance shooting struggles of Patterson, Ross and DeRozan, the team is shooting an improved 36% from 3 as opposed to 35% a year ago. Not a huge increase, but it helps. More importantly though, the Raptors are up to 11th in the league from an embarrassing 28th a season ago in terms of % of their 3s that are assisted. The Raptors are also getting more of their attempts from the corner so far this season. Together, this is reason to trust in the increased shooting%, and even expect it to continue to rise slightly as catch and shoot and open 3s are much more likely to go in over a large sample size.

Surprisingly, given the departure of Lou Will, the Raptors have actually played even more iso this year than last. The 2015-16 Raps are getting about 15% of their shots out of possessions where the shooter has had the ball for 6 seconds or more before releasing. On those opportunities, the Raps are shooting 40% from the floor and 16% from 3. Yes, they’re running a top 10 offense, but you also aren’t crazy to think that things look really bad when they get bogged down.

Perhaps the most important element of the Raptor’s offense has been the carry over of the team’s ability to continually get to the line, lead by DeMar DeRozan. The Raps are tied for the lead league in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, up from 4th a year ago. Free throws have accounted for about a fifth of Toronto’s points this year, a huge number. They’ve also jumped 4 spots from 11th to 7th in offensive rebounding. The second chance points created off of fouls drawn and offensive rebounds are buoying an otherwise average or worse offense. But when you can rebound and get to the line like they have, that’s ok. Just remember how much harder it is to do those things once it comes time for playoffs.

One of the few bad changes from last season to this one has been turnovers. A season ago the Raptors were one of the best teams in the league in terms of protecting the ball, and they spent a good portion of the season leading the league in turnover%. That isn’t the case this year, as their sloppiness has resulted in a turnover% that falls in with the bottom third of the league. Turbo Kyle Lowry is great, but one downside has been an increase in turnovers. DeRozan has also seen an increase in his turnovers.

Ball movement, despite some games where it’s looked much improved, has continued to be a fault. Overall, the Raptors are just as bad and maybe even worse at generating shots that are assisted. While they’ve greatly improved at moving the ball around the wing for better 3 point looks, they’ve gotten even worse at passing to generate good shot attempts from within 3 point range, which accounts for the much higher volume of their shots (74% of them!).

A year ago, the Raptors had dunks on just 4% of their shots and were nearly the league worst at generating layups. While dunks have fallen off, the Raptors have made up that ground and a little bit more by getting a much-improved number of their shots as layups. This year’s Raptors team is a bad mid range shooting team. They’re well below NBA averages, which aren’t good to begin with, between 10 feet and 3-point range. That’s not a damning number, really it’s just a continued argument for why the Raptors should take less of those shots, particularly DeMar DeRozan, whose insistence on isolation mid range jumpers over ball movement is the biggest hurdle holding him back from being a deadly efficient offensive player given his ability to draw free throws.

That’s the breakdown moving from last season to this one. The team is good but not great from 3, excellent from within 3 feet and good from the free throw line. In a league where you should be striving for the Moreyball 3s, layups and free throws, their talents lie in the right areas for efficiency. Better ball movement, less isolation and continuing to get to the line could make the Raptors a dangerous offense to contend with.

Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan

Today’s NBA no longer offers warm welcomes to volume shooting guards who convert around 40 percent of their looks and can’t notch a 30 percent success rate from three-point range. DeRozan is an understated passer, but he’s more Kobe Bryant at a time when the league is hot for Klay Thompson. And that brings the Toronto Raptors to a crossroads.  DeRozan isn’t expected to pick up his player option worth just under $10.1 million for 2016-17. There will be plenty of money floating around in free agency, and he’ll be trying to get his piece of the financial pie.  Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reported back in June that DeRozan will seek a max contract that pays him around $25.3 million next season. The Raptors have already committed money to more efficient wings in DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross, and they’ve long been considered a threat to poach Durant from Oklahoma City.

How does the Raptors three point shooting today compare with franchise history? – Raptors HQ

Now, the franchise leader for the Raptors in made 3s remains Morris Peterson – he led the team in makes for three non-consecutive years. Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, is hard charging at the record. He’s got 475 as of today, and given the rate at which he’s taking and making them this season (almost three of almost seven a game, good for 41.9 percent efficiency), it feels inevitable Lowry will take the lead. The Raptors as a team, however, may actually shoot less three pointers this year than the last two years, when Toronto put up 1,917 and 2,060 threes. Currently, the team averages just shy of 22 attempts per game (21.9) which, if that rate holds, would be good for 1,799 threes for the season. This puts them in the bottom third in the league in threes attempted (and threes made, incidentally), though the Raps are currently ninth in 3-point efficiency. Will things change? The team’s percentage is up to 36.5 percent (from 35.2 percent last season), but that remains to be seen.

Raptors by the numbers: Toronto in good company after first month | Eh Game – Yahoo Sports

All that attention paid to team defence in preseason is paying off, too, as the early returns have been terrific. The Raptors are 10th in defensive rating, allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions. After finishing 23rd in that category last season, the stark improvement can be attributed largely to two factors: the addition of premium defenders in Carroll, Joseph, and Biyombo and the decision to switch to a less aggressive pick-and-roll defence that encourages opponents to shot long two-pointers. Having a top-10 offence and defence in terms of efficiency is seen as the benchmark for being a complete team. The Raptors are one of three teams to be in the top 10 in both categories. The other two? Golden State and San Antonio. That’s some mighty fine company to keep.

Raptors’ DeMarre Carroll prepared for emotional Atlanta homecoming | Raptors | S

Asked earlier this year who the guy that was toughest to say farewell to when he made the decision to sign with Toronto and leave Atlanta, Carroll didn’t even have to think about it. “Bud,” he said. “That was my guy. I still talk to him. We were like father and son, best friends type relationship. Our relationship was real heart, but he was happy for me. He chucked up a couple of tears but at the same time it was great. I really felt a lot for him because without him I don’t think I would be in (this situation).” Without Carroll in the lineup, the Hawks are off to a solid start at 11-7, a half game back of the Raptors heading into play Monday night. Kent Bazemore has taken over Carroll’s starting small forward role and while he has been doing a solid job shooting better this year than he ever has and still providing solid defence,

Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry embracing the NBA’s trend of taking the long-range shot

“He’s one of our best three-point shooters. Why not use it? I don’t care if he’s our (centre). We’ve got to use it,” Casey said of Lowry, who is now shooting 42 per cent from three-point distance after going 4 for 9 against the Suns in a 107-102 loss Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. Before the game, he was at 6.9 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, comfortably the highest rate of his career. “He’s one of our best three-point makers. We’ve got some takers. He’s a maker. We’ve got to utilize that.” “What makes Kyle look so different is he’s one of the better three-point makers coming down in transition. Those are the ones he has to be intelligent with and smart with — those decisions.”

Hometown kid Cory Joseph makes good in Toronto | Hardwood Paroxysm

Joseph is a textbook case for looking at per-minute or per-possession stats. While he’s playing six more minutes per game than he did last year in San Antonio, his points and assists per 100 possessions have hardly changed. What’s different is that Joseph has, through 17 games, been more efficient, with a healthy, career-high .598 TS%, per That’s likely an unsustainable figure. He’s shooting 86% at the rim, which is an unbelievable rate and well above what he’s managed in the past, and 56% from 16 feet to the 3-point line, also Dirkian and unlikely to hold. In addition, only 18% of his field goals have been assisted, so while his usage is about the same as in years past, he’s getting less help creating the same number of opportunities. Sustainable or not, he’s helped the Raptors field a top-10 offense thus far. Joseph ensures that the Drakes don’t miss a beat when Kyle Lowry, looking Kate Moss skinny in a career year, hits the bench. Casey has used Lowry and Joseph together for 234 out of around 800 possible minutes, but he should probably play them together more; they have a net rating of +16 when they’re on the floor together.

Toronto Raptors prospect report: November |

It’s possible with the Raptors thin at centre, Nogueira will remain in Toronto even when Jonas Valanciunas returns. However, that wouldn’t do him much favour as similar to Caboclo, Nogueira needs to be on the court playing consistent minutes. “These guys just haven’t had the opportunity to play,” Lewis said. “They’ve developed numerous skills, but they’ve never been able to implement them in game situations. So the biggest growth for him is getting into games and being able to do everything that he’s been working on.” It’s a tricky dilemma for the Raptors. Nogueira is a spry, athletic big man that could help bolster Toronto’s bench, but he’d be chained to it for the most part, unlike the freedom he’s afforded with the 905.

Lewenberg: Raptors continue to emphasize three-point shooting | TSN

Toronto’s all-star point guard has proven he can knock down the three at a high rate. Lowry, a 26 per cent long-range shooter in his first four NBA seasons, has blossomed into the team’s best and most reliable marksman. He’s hit half of those 20 threes over the aforementioned two-game stretch and is shooting a career-best 42 per cent this season, leading the Eastern Conference in both attempts and makes. Without the injured Jonas Valanciunas, their most efficient low-post scorer, the Raptors are leaning on the deep ball more than ever. Over their last five contests, four of them wins, they have hit 10 or more three-pointers four times, shooting 41 per cent during that stretch. “That’s kind of the trend in the league now,” Casey said. “The analytical three. They’d probably rather have that than a good bank shot from outside the paint. So that’s the trend and we’re all going to it. Sometimes it looks like a crazy three but again, you want to get as many of those as you can – good quality threes and layups and get to the free throw line – and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s our philosophy offensively.”

The two-minute report for the Suns-Raptors game is out and the NBA has ruled that Kyle Lowry’s contest of Eric Bledsoe’s drive was a foul, but did favour Lowry in a different ruling against Bledsoe.

On the play at 12 seconds where Kyle Lowry was called for a personal foul when Luis Scola and him trapped Eric Bledsoe, the NBA did rule that it was an incorrect call.  The Raptors were in a fouling situation and the ref anticipated that Lowry would foul, when in fact Lowry’s trap was fair.

This allowed Bledsoe to extend the lead to three points (going 1-2 from the line). It’s hard to say whether this had any outcome on the game. Bledsoe’s a pretty good ball-handler and though the Raptors trap, if it had allowed to continue, might have forced a turnover, the chances of that would have been slim.

Ron Turenne - NBAE - Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors started the season 5-0. They then proceeded to lose 6 of their next 8, then won 4 in a row, and now, with another loss in the books against the Phoenix Suns, they continue their wayward ways. Nothing new except the unpredictable, offensively challenged, yet defensively sound (most of the time), Toronto Raptors.

So the key of today’s post is really going to be to try to break down the highlights of what we’ve seen go well, and what needs to change going forward. From injuries, to questionable coaching decisions, to impressive wins, we’ve seen it all. And we’re only a fifth of the way through the season.

The Bench

It’s no secret that bench has stunk it up this season. With Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson taking significant steps back this season, the regression and struggle has been real. The numbers don’t lie – here’s the breakdown comparing Terry’s performance after his contract extension as well as Patman’s numbers for the season, compared to their numbers from last year.

Terrence Ross table

Patterson table

While the regressions have been depressing, Cory Joseph has been nothing short of spectacular in his brief tenure with the Raptors thus far. The anchor off of the bench that has overperformed, Joseph has quite literally been the single-handed reason we’ve squeaked a few games out this season.

After watching this almost 30 times, it still doesn’t get old. And a great call by Matt Devlin I might add (thank god).

Bi-SMACK Biyombo

The initial feeling amongst Raptors fans when JV went down against the Lakers last weekend, was …oh no. Here we go with Bismack Biyombo in the starting lineup…just what we need for an already struggling offense. But what we’ve seen from Biyombo, while struggling slightly on offense, has been a strong defensive presence, opportunistic offense, and the occasional block that makes you stand up and out of your chair. Bismack continued his defensive onslaught with 4 blocked shots against the Suns last night. Keep it coming big man.

Coach Casey

Okay so I get it…fans want Coach Casey gone. But given that the team is still 4 games above 500 after arguably the toughest part of their schedule over, there is some optimism to be noted. Not to mention, the respectable record of 11-7 could easily be much better, with a few lucky bounces and better officiating. The Raptors have been in every game this season, except 1 (Miami, 3 weeks ago). Coach Casey can be better, but so can at least 5 or 6 of the players. However, two things are for sure when it comes to Casey this year (and to be honest, for most of his time here in Toronto):

  • The offensive execution continues to be a struggle and confusion on most nights. With no real plan of attack, Casey consistently reverts back to his comfortable and steady dose of DeMar DeRozan isolation plays, with the occasional Kyle Lowry green light. Not good enough. I will say though for the fans who believe the buzzer beater against the Wizards wasn’t exactly Casey’s call – you’re crazy. That was a designed play to keep Cory an open option on the weak side. And it worked like a charm.
  • Minutes distribution continues to be questionable, inconsistent, and doesn’t seem to hold players accountable. An interesting question asked by fans on most nights is – how do the minutes of Terrence Ross compare to those of James Johnson? Last night against the Suns, Terrence Ross in 14.5 minutes went 0/4 from the field (0/3 from 3) and had zero points (+2 on the game). JJ went 4/7 in 11.5 minutes and dropped 8 (+7 on the game).

ICYMI, here’s our Raptors Republic roundtable discussion on Coach Casey.

Good DeMar, Bad DeMar

DeMar DeRozan has easily been the most polarizing story for Raptors fans this year, as the rest of his teammates have either been clearly exceeding expectations or falling short of them. DeMar on the other hand, has continued to tease us with stellar offensive performances like those against OKC, and last night against the Suns. Inefficient one night, efficient one night, 15 free throws one night, 6 turnovers one night – we’ve seen the worst and best of DeMar this year. And most of the time when he’s bad, he’s bad at the worst times (think of Utah and Sacramento – great games for 3.5 quarters, before tanking in the last few minutes). But on the flip side, when DeMar is good, he’s really good. And most importantly, he attracts a second or third defender from the opposition – leading to easy assists. If DeMar can somehow shoot at a better clip (at or above 45% from the field) and continue to incorporate an effective passing game into his arsenal, the Raptors will be tough to stop on most nights. I can see this getting better as the season goes on.


The Raptors look to get back to their winning ways against the Hawks on Wednesday night in DeMarre Carroll’s first return to Hotlanta after joining Toronto in free agency. This is going to be a tough one – going into Atlanta’s gym hasn’t been friendly for the Raptors in the past. They follow that up with a back to back against the Nuggets at home to kick off a 6-game homestand (yes, a Thursday home game), and wrap up the week against Steph Curry and those perfect Warriors on Saturday Night (again, a Saturday night home game – weird). If the streaky Raptors can win against the Hawks, and even go 4-2 on their relatively easy homestand (aside from the Warriors game), we could easily be talking about a team that’s won 5/7 and owners of a 16-9 record in a couple of weeks. One game at a time, though – and the Raps have 2 nights to rest and prepare for that showdown in Atlanta.

The Raptors showed up with three-quarters of a tank and it just wasn’t enough to get them to the finish line. The Raptors fell 102-107 on the second night of a back-to-back to an energetic Suns team last night in Toronto.

The starters did their part in the first half, outscoring the Phoenix starters 43-23 but the Suns’ bench dominated, outpacing Toronto’s second unit 30-6. The Suns’ bench was particularly potent in the second quarter when Mizra Teletovic drilled 4 threes — many of them completely uncontested — en route to 14 points in the quarter and back up big man Jon Leuer scored 10 points of his own.

Down four at the half it looked like this one was going to slip away from the rather lethargic Raptors in the third. Whereas covering the perimeter plagued the Raps in the second quarter, rebounding and second-chance points proved to be the team’s Achilles in the second half. Toronto was outrebounded 24-16 in the second half, surrendering 7 offensive rebounds to a mostly small-ball Suns unit in the process.

To the credit of Toronto they never stopped fighting. Down 11 in the fourth, the Raptor’s second unit finally came alive — scoring 17 of the team’s 30 points in the quarter (no thanks to Terrence Ross) — and helped the team claw back within five before the starters returned alongside Joseph with about five minutes to play. The last five minutes were a dogfight that saw the Raptors tie the game at 95 with four minutes to play. Despite generally doing a good job of taking care of the basketball throughout the game (11 turnovers), the Raps committed three costly turnovers in the final 2:35 that helped fuel the final necessary Phoenix surge. After hitting a free throw with 12 seconds to play to give the Suns a three point lead, Eric Bledsoe sealed the game when he ripped the ball from Luis Scola’s hands as he methodically attempted a three at the buzzer.

This wasn’t a horrible performance from the Raptors, it was more a matter of a fatigued group not being prepared mentally and physically to  win the hustle battles that ultimately decided the fate of this game.

Most everyone will be sad to see Kobe Bryant go. The 17-time All-Star and 20-year veteran announced in a poem Sunday that this season will be his last, confirming long-held suspicions and ensuring his legions of fans won’t have to watch him physically struggle through another season.

It’s been a tough three-year stretch as Bryant battled through a trio of serious major injuries and began losing a one-on-one to time, the miles racked up on his odometer through two decades of deep playoff runs and international competition finally wearing out his tread. His fadeaways don’t have the lift, his first step doesn’t have the quickness, his soaking wet jumper has gone the way of the Indus. Absolutely none of his struggles serve to denigrate his legacy, even as they play out under far too bright a spotlight, one that will only get brighter now that his retirement is confirmed and he’ll unwillingly be given a Derek Jeter treatment of sorts. He’s one of the greatest of all time, a no-doubt top-ten player, a guaranteed Hall of Famer, and, depending on when you started watching, perhaps the most important baller of your lifetime.

While Bryant’s global reach is immeasurable, it would be hard to find someone he’s had a bigger impact on than Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. A Compton, Calif., native, DeRozan grew up idolizing Bryant, copping his moves, and becoming one of the last remaining players to fit the Kobe mold, reliant on a singular ability to get to the free-throw line and a knack for navigating the mid-range that’s becoming more and more rare. While Bryant took and made more threes (especially the “took” part later in his career), he’s never been all that effective from outside, and the core parts of Bryant’s game are and were the core parts of DeRozan’s, right down to their coaches trusting them to play hero-ball late in close games. DeRozan adopting that scorer’s mentality and that style of play isn’t a point for or against him, it’s simply what he is and how he became it, and it’s plainly obvious that he counts Bryant among his formative influences watching him play.

On Sunday, DeRozan spoke openly about the news of Bryant’s retirement, sharing that what was once a one-way idolization has turned into a friendship. “My man,” he called Bryant, having grown closer to the point that Bryant provided him advice and counsel during his recovery from his first major injury last season.

Here’s a larger chunk of what DeRozan had to say to assembled media, relayed here courtesy of Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press:

It’s crazy. The knowledge that he tended to give me every time I got the chance to be around him, especially at a young age, carrying over to the league, it was definitely an honour. I tried to listen as much as possible, soak in as much as I could all of the time. It’s crazy how much time flies.

I’ve tried to emulate and learn so much from him ever since I was a kid, watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him, from conversations even when I was in high school from playing against him, completing against him, being in big games with him. It’s definitely a sad, sad day but he’s been in the game a long time.

It don’t matter. That man has five rings, 17 all-stars, MVP. There’s nothing he hasn’t done. It’s just father time catching up with him, injuries catching up with him this past year. People will appreciate it when he’s away from the game.

Especially playing at a high level, doing the things he was doing. . . people don’t understand how hard that is. Even now, a lot of us find ourselves tired (on) back-to-backs. It’s tough. It’s really tough. To do it 20 years at a high level, you have to give that man every credit in the world.

DeRozan counts his favorite Bryant memory as the infamous 81-point game, something he’s talked about at length in the past. DeRozan first played against Bryant as a sophomore in high school, with Bryant refusing to take it easy on him. Given Bryant’s sometimes sociopathic work ethic and competitive drive, perhaps DeRozan could have considered the beating a compliment at the time.

The lessons have continued, as DeRozan told James Herbert of Eye on Basketball in April:

Kobe, he just told me what he did when he was young in his career. He watched so much film to understand every rotation, where he could pick and choose to get his shots off or pick and choose to get somebody an open shot. Little stuff like that, I really try to figure out by visually watching somebody else or watching your favorite player. Then once I’m in that position, I feel like I’ve been in that position before because I’ve been seeing it. I’ve watched it. That’s why I be so calm and relaxed a lot of times when I’m out on the floor.

The reverence DeRozan has for Bryant is obvious. Here’s more from Sunday confirming as much, this time thanks to Herbert:

I think a lot of people don’t understand Kobe. They look at Kobe like he’s an asshole. Which he’s not. He’s just one of them guys who wants every single thing out of the game of basketball. He sacrificed so much to do that. I think a lot of times people don’t appreciate that side of him. But, you know, my experience with him, he’s a hell of a guy. I think people won’t realize that until he’s away from the game.

“I’ma tell him I need every move he has,” DeRozan added, saying he’s taken all of his post moves from Bryant.

DeRozan hasn’t been able to ascend to Bryant’s level despite drawing inspiration from him, because few have ever ascended that high. He has, however, put up a 28-5-5 opposite his mentor…in a game in which Bryant dropped a 41-6-12. Because of Bryant’s injuries, the two guards have played against each other just nine times and didn’t do so at all last season.

They’ll have one more chance to on Dec. 7 when Bryant makes his last visit to Toronto. Unfortunately, that game comes on the second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers, so Bryant may not even suit up. If he does, expect an emotional moment when the game concludes, perhaps even with student having gotten the better of the teacher in their final meeting.

Andrew, Shyam and Zarar review the week that saw Drake Night, buzzer beaters and just to make sure we weren’t getting too high, a disappointing home loss was sprinkled in as well.

Part 1:

  • Cleveland win
  • Bismack Biyombo’s performance
  • The tweet that shook the world
  • Washington win
  • Casey’s decision to go for two down three
  • Whether that final play was a deliberate play call
  • Phoenix loss
  • Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson

Part 2:

  • Delon Wright at the 905
  • Dwane Casey’s critics
  • Atlanta surprising
  • Is Denver still a team?
  • David Aldridge picking the Raps over GSW
  • Would you pay money to see Kobe?

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

Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry embracing the NBA’s trend of taking the long-range shot | National Post

The three-point attempts might be rising, but as with everything else in Lowry’s game, the risks are carefully considered. Watching Lowry chase down the best possible shot is a fun sub-plot in any given game. In the second quarter, he kept drifting to his right as Carroll dribbled in the same direction. If he stood still, there would have been no shot; instead, the floor was spaced properly, and he took the pass and hit the shot. He has also made a habit out of coming around a screen, and instead of continuing a path toward the paint as DeMar DeRozan might, stepping back behind the arc for a three. “They’ll run him off some screens,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He’s very good knowing that if the guy is chasing him, he’s gonna curl and maybe get that quick shot off. Or if you go over the top, he’s going to fade to the side.” Even beyond somebody as accurate and meticulous as Lowry, the league has become far more liberal with long-range shots. The war on three-pointers is clearly over after the ascendance of the Golden State Warriors.

Lowry reinventing game alongside Joseph in new-look Raptors backcourt |

In the 196 minutes that the two point guards have shared the floor together this season, the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 17.2 points per-100 possessions, according to data from That makes them the most effective and one of the most used point guard duos in the NBA so far this season, and it’s little surprise that Casey has continued playing them double-digit minutes together as a result. That’s in part because while putting a second point guard on the floor is normally done to goose the offense, the Lowry-Joseph pairing has been locking opponents down, too. The Raptors have been much better at both ends of the floor with both point guards playing, per data from (their numbers differ slightly from the data as the two sites calculate possessions differently).

Suns drain 11 threes to stop Raptors 107-102 | NBA | Toronto Sun

Just when it looked like the Raptors were getting the message and clamping down on those Suns hanging around that three-point line, Teletovic got it going again with two more in the fourth. “We gotta stop putting ourselves in a tough predicament and fighting our way out when we don’t have a lot of time,” said DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors leading scorer with 29 points. “We find ourselves in that position a little bit too much. Once we clean up the little things on both ends it will be easier for us to close out games.” The Raptors actually wound up bettering the Suns in the three-ball department with 12 to the Suns 11, but the combination of the paint points and the threes put the Raptors in a hole. “If we had just cleaned up half the three-pointers and forced them to take difficult shots, we easily win this game,” DeRozan said. “It’s easy to talk about it and now we have to look at it on film and clean it up.”

Sloppy Raptors eclipsed by Phoenix Suns | Toronto Star

Kyle Lowry missed a layup he can make in his sleep, Cory Joseph threw a lazy pass that led to a turnover, an outlet pass that would have ignited a two-on-one break bounded into the first row of seats, and Luis Scola had a potential game-tying three-pointer blocked with seconds to go when the Raptors had to scramble off a busted play. “We’ve got to stop putting ourselves in a tough predicament and fighting our way out when we don’t have much time,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 29 points. “We find ourselves in that position too many times, and once we clean up little things on both ends, it’ll be easier for us to close out games.” Toronto’s lack of crispness was no more evident than in the myriad ways the Suns ran up a points total about 20 more than the Raptors had given up on average in a four-game winning streak. Phoenix got 46 points in the paint, which is bad enough, but it was made worse by the fact the Suns drained 11 three-pointers as well and turned 13 offensive rebounds into 14 points. Perhaps Toronto could have stolen a game with one of those coming into play but they had no chance with all of them going against the hosts.

Game Rap: Raptors 102, Suns 107 | Toronto Raptors

Eric Bledsoe blocked a three-point attempt from Luis Scola with 0.2 seconds remaining and the Raptors trailing by three. Although an exciting rally late helped the Raptors to tie the game with four minutes remaining, the 11-point fourth quarter deficit proved to be too much for the team to overcome on the second night of a back-to-back. The 107-102 loss to the Suns moves the Raptors to 11-7 on the season.

Raptors run out of gas late, lose to the Phoenix Suns 107-102 | Raptors HQ

But the Raptors couldn’t locate their offense and their defense at the same time. The Suns, playing small without Tyson Chandler, were gunning from the outset. They shot 40 percent from three, and had five players in double figures by the end. (And only two of them were starters–Brandon Knight with 16 points and Eric Bledsoe with 20.) The story for most of the game was the Raptors inability to mark Mirza Teletovic, who bombed away from deep to the tune of 6-of-7 from deep (7-of-9 overall) for 20 points. Jon Leuer also had himself a game for 16 points including threes and a couple of huge dunks, and TJ Warren added 15. It was a balanced attack for the Suns, who clearly took advantage at times of Toronto’s tired legs. “Well the problem was the second chance points,” said Casey after the game. “They had 14 second chance points to a team that was playing small.” There’s one stat that doesn’t exactly jump out at you in the box score. But Casey went further: “Again back-to-back is no excuse, running out of gas. In fact we shot better from the three than they did. Doing the dirty work, the gritty work are things we have to do.” It was a decidedly non-analytical way to summarize the game, but it offers the best explanation.

Phoenix Suns win fun, ugly game against Toronto Raptors, 107-102 | Bright Side Of The Sun

The fourth quarter was an ugly affair.  The Raptors chipped away at the lead until tying the game at 95 with four minutes left.  At that point, it felt like neither team wanted control of the game as silly turnover was followed by bad foul was followed by terrible miss until P.J. Tucker came up with a huge put back of a missed Markieff Morris jumper to put Phoenix up 103-97 with 1:03 left in the game.  From that point on, it should have been a matter of the Suns making their free throws, but they couldn’t even get that right.  Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren missed 2 of their 4 free throws in the final minutes, allowing the Raps a chance to tie the game on the final possession, but Eric Bledsoe blocked Luis Scola’s three-point attempt with 0.2 seconds left on the clock and that was that.

Suns put together complete effort to end Raptors’ win streak | AZ Central

The Suns had 51 bench points from Leuer, Teletovic and Warren and the fourth Suns reserve, Ronnie Price, was scoreless but had the team’s best plus-minus with the Suns outscoring the Raptors by nine in his 22 minutes. “We’re out there moving the ball, sharing the ball, being aggressive, making the right plays,” said Leuer, who made two 3s and twice drove for slams. “When you play the right way, get good shots and gets stops, the game becomes easy. “We really needed a win. We showed a lot of grit and determination, especially on the defensive end. It’s a great win to build off of.”

Suns rotation changes, defense improves as 4-game skid ends | Arizona Sport

Smart team defense is the name of the game. Against the Raptors, the Suns’ starting lineup may have struggled with Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Markieff Morris combining to shoot 30 percent on 46 combined attempts, but the defense — even with center Tyson Chandler sidelined with a strained hamstring — proved capable.

Suns high octane offence too much for Toronto Raptors | Raptors Cage

When the  Raptors play the Suns, very little defence is ever played. The pace of play was in favour of the Suns all night, and the Raptors played right into their hands. The Suns put up 94 shots and capitalized on their second chance opportunities. The Raptors didn’t look like they were all there on the defensive end. The likes of Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic were torching the Raptors’ bigs combining for 36 points off the bench. The uptempo game was just too much for the Raptors to handle as long shots led to recovered second chance opportunities leaving the Raptors’ defence scrambled and out of position on far too many occasions to recover in time.

DeMar DeRozan: Crunch Time Catastrophe | Hoops Habit

If you watch any good small ball team (or really any good basketball team period), they constantly keep the ball moving. The offense has to be fluid, in motion. Everyone needs to touch the ball on every possession if possible until the right look opens up. DeRozan brings all of that to a screeching halt. It’s not like the Raptors can’t get into a method of doing it, and they often are able to, generally through three quarters. DeRozan has even partaken in it before, so we know he can do it. But most of the time this simply isn’t the case, and instead what we get is No. 10 holding the ball for several seconds as he sizes up his man, then proceeds to drive into him and ends up taking a tough shot like a fallaway jumper. DeRozan plays like a poor man’s James Harden. Or maybe a rich man’s Kobe Bryant (sorry Lakers fans, I had to)? Where this has become a massive problem for Toronto is in the fourth quarter. For some odd reason, even if the Raps are playing well and they are moving the ball like they need to be, DeRozan seems to feel the need to play hero-ball and try to take over the final 12 minutes himself.

Horry Scale: Raptors’ Joseph drains winning three-pointer « | All Ball Blog with Lang Whitaker

Joseph may have come into the game shooting just 25 percent (4-for-16) from behind the arc on the season.  But he surely has not had a more wide open look at a trey, maybe in his entire career.  With the Washington defense looking as confused and ineffective as members of Congress, Joseph practically had time to order out for a pizza before he loaded up, let fly and found the bottom of the net.

Photo Credit: Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press

Send me any Raptors-related article/video/image/Tweet/Gram: [email protected]

In what was essentially a one-possession game late on, the Raptors got the short end of a stick from the official yet again.

Though the loss can firmly be blamed on the Raptors bench (or lack there of), Kyle Lowry does have a right to feel aggrieved. He tracked back on Eric Bledsoe to get a clean block at the rim, as can be seen below:

As per the league’s commitment:

“…the league will provide play-by-play reports regarding all calls and material non-calls that occur in the last two minutes of close games and during entire overtime periods. “

The two-minute report comes out on Monday afternoon.

Phoenix Suns 107 Final
Recap | Box Score
102 Toronto Raptors
Luis Scola, PF 18 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +2 +/-

The Phoenix bigs are all over the court on offense and defense. Scola tried to hang with them and even got some good looks but they were closed out very quickly, and given that switching was the preferred strategy when dealing with Phoenix, Scola’s minutes were cut short.

DeMarre Carroll, SF 37 MIN | 8-13 FG | 3-6 3FG | 1-3 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 20 PTS | +2 +/-

He usually guards the other team’s best wing player, and nobody would’ve picked Teletovic as being that, so he was on pretty much everyone but him. The three-point shooting is coming back and he’s one of DeRozan’s preferred targets. The defense and hustle will always be there. Given the bench’s struggles, you see him take shots that he would normally not take because like every other starter, they’re trying to compensate for the absolute zilch we’re getting off the pine.

Bismack Biyombo, C 33 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 4 TO | 2 PTS | -1 +/-

Good rim protection again, but oh man, using him as a screen basically means the ball-handler WILL be doubled. He’s Casey’s preferred choice at C right now because he doesn’t have to worry about him mismatches since Biyombo can cover a wider area of the court while still retaining good rebounding position. Got called for three offensive fouls on screens, one of them a big one in the fourth.

Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 5-14 FG | 4-9 3FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 17 PTS | -7 +/-

Bledsoe gave him tough time because he’s just so quick attacking off the screen and Lowry was always back-tracking. Bledsoe’s stronger so he can bump Lowry off quite easily which meant there was always a path to the paint for the Phoenix guard.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 37 MIN | 11-20 FG | 0-2 3FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 29 PTS | -6 +/-

All-Star game. Great point-forward play with Lowry and Joseph on the court, and had some drives through tight seams where he finished well. I have no complaints about his game today, the guy is under too much pressure to produce, especially when he’s playing with the bench unit who are producing nothing.

James Johnson, PF 12 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +7 +/-

Good offensive game and the only bench player who understand the value of slashing to the rim without the ball, and has the ability to actually drive and get to the rim. He was guilty on a couple of those Teletovic threes, but he was hardly the only one.

Patrick Patterson, PF 16 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -10 +/-

Hit two threes in the fourth but they were cancelled out immediately by Phoenix threes, and other than that he was hot garbage. Scared to touch the ball, let alone shoot it. His first option is pass, and his second option is going home and crying himself to sleep in the fetal position.

Terrence Ross, SF 14 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2 +/-

Can we re-appropriate some funds from his contract over to Joseph? Is that allowed? Another sad performance from Ross whose only notable play was saving the ball from going out of bounds by hitting it off a Phoenix player. Other than that, he may as well been sitting in Drake’s chair eating popcorn. Done with him.

Lucas Nogueira, C 6 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9 +/-

Came in, played well, got a dunk off of a DeRozan dump-off. For some reason was guarding Teletovic when he went off in the second quarter. Never saw him again, no idea why.

Cory Joseph, PG 33 MIN | 4-11 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -5 +/-

Good game overall, attacking the paint but you can just tell he’s forcing some shots because he feels the pressure of the other bench guys not producing. Knight and Bledsoe are a tough cover and he was a bit overmatched there.

Dwane Casey

Hard to blame the coach when your bench is doing zilch and your players are scared to play. Could he have played JJ more in favour of Ross and could that be a +5 in the scoreboard which would’ve meant a different result? Maybe. Overall, though, this one’s on the players, and more specifically, on the bench.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Their bench = 51
    Our bench = 25
  2. James Johnson needs to simply play ahead of Terrence Ross if the priority is to win games. The guy is an Amir Johnson parallel for us and I can’t figure out why Casey doesn’t have value his cutting, intelligence, and aggressiveness over Terrence Ross sucking his thumb.
  3. Thought DeRozan showed some great intelligence in this game of knowing when to drive, when to shoot, and when to pass. His teammates now expect him to pass and he’s also a more willing passer, provided his teammates are in the right spots. Good to see.
  4. There’s going to be an apology coming up from the league regarding the play at 2:00 which saw Lowry strip the ball cleanly on the break only to be called for a foul.
  5. The Phoenix backcourt is tough, and we saw Lowry can be countered by stronger PGs who simply wear him out on defense. Would be nice if we could switch someone like Ross over to Beldsoe to keep Lowry fresh, but unfortunately Ross is about as useful as a used bandaid.

DeMar DeRozan had himself quite the first half against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, helping keep a somewhat lethargic Toronto Raptors team afloat on offense. He put up a 17-3-5 line while playing all but four minutes in the first two quarters, living at the line and getting teammates involved off the dribble.

He closed the half in style, too, splitting an Alex Len-Eric Bledsoe double-team after losing P.J. Tucker in the pick-and-roll. This is James Harden-adjace.

Check out the fan-made highlight of the move on Grandstand here.

DeRozan would finish with 29 points, three rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 11-of-20. It was one of his more complete efforts of the young season so far.

Grandstand –  Sports Highlights from Fans in the Stands

On the new sports app, you can share your own Raptors highlights, and watch other fans’ videos straight from the crowd.

Download Grandstand on the App Store or at

The most encouraging quarter to date for Raptors 905 was followed up by three that felt more familiar, including the team’s second second-half collapse in as many games. The late struggles built to a fourth-quarter crescendo, with the Delaware 87ers ultimately pulling away with a lopsided 125-109 victory that should have finished much closer.

The 905 came out strong with another new starting lineup, one that saw Sim Bhullar start, bumping Ronald Roberts to the four and Axel Toupane to the bench. The move makes sense on several fronts, as Bhullar’s utility declines later in games as a function of his conditioning, and it’s probably easiest to manage his minutes as a starter. Starting Roberts at the four also gives the 905 a huge look to start games without sacrificing athleticism one-through-four, and it keeps Bruno Caboclo from checking power forwards from the outset. The second unit could also use the secondary shot-creating Toupane can provide.

Early returns were encouraging, and the 905 built to a 37-23 lead after a quarter. Delon Wright initiated the offense well, Roberts cleaned up around both rims, and the team’s defense looked more similar to the parent club’s than it has yet. The size and athleticism of the 905 was causing panic for the Sevens, who had little to go to on offense beyond Jordan McRae getting the edge on Caboclo around screens, sets that worked well until the 905 went away from that look as they shifted smaller.

More encouraging than anything else from the opening quarter was that the 905 turned the ball over three times. That’s been a major weakness for the team so far, and it’s put undue pressure on a defense that rarely gets the chance to set. Protecting the ball not only made for higher-percentage looks, but more looks in total, and it allowed the defense to thrive and help push the offense in turn. The first quarter was likely what general manager Dan Tolzman, who was on hand Sunday, had in mind when he constructed the hyper-athletic, positionally amorphous roster.

As it has often through seven games, inexperience set in, and the 905 slowly lost the handle on things. A bench unit that gained Toupane too often asked him to take late-clock jumpers when ball movement stalled, and head coach Jesse Murmuys was forced into quick substitutions to try to find the right mix of starters and reserves. The Sevens took advantage and chipped eight points off of the lead, with McRae and Sean Kilpatrick, two talented players on the fringes of the NBA, finding a real groove entering the break.

The third quarter saw the 905 settle some, though it was more a case of the offense flowing with a smaller look (Bhullar played sparingly, creating room for Toupane and Jay Harris to play alongside starters) than the defense getting a grip. McRae continued to put the 905 on their heels with north-south drives to the rim and the resultant kick-outs, and Murmuys called on reserve center Keanau Post to try to aid the communication and defensive specialist Ashton Smith to try to deny McRae the ball and make life more difficult for him.

Around the seven-minute mark of the fourth, the Sevens pulled ahead and Murmuys went back to his key starters, because of course he did. They played well in the first and early in the third, and the offense wasn’t going to be able to keep up without them. The earlier defensive execution didn’t accompany that group this time around, and the team began to make key mistakes trying to help on McRae’s aggressive forays to the rim. What had been a huge edge in points in the paint earlier dissipated, Kilpatrick made the 905 pay for every inch of over-help, and the offense began rushing things in transition trying to keep up.

The 87ers eventually pulled away, closing the game on a 19-6 run in the final 4:23.

It has to stand as a disappointing outcome for a game that saw the 905 take some encouraging strides. They finished with just 13 turnovers, a major improvement, but the timing of their turnovers – far too often in transition, turning a sure two into two the other way – were killer.

“At this point, I would like a shot on the rim,” Murmuys said about the type of transition looks the team is aiming for. “I don’t care where it comes from.”

The defense played on a string together early but eventually unraveled. Wright (20 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) and Toupane (17 points, six rebounds) had fine individual performances on offense but were guilty of defensive lapses and turnovers. Caboclo (17 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals) continued to take his lumps learning, with his shot selection occasionally found wanting (he was 6-of-20) and his help from the weak-side occasionally ill-advised, if effective (he had three blocks and did well to help alter drives).

Roberts was the only player who really had a strong game at both ends, scoring 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting and adding nine rebounds and three blocks. He tried to provide more vocal leadership from the back end, but he’s adjusting to playing more at the pivot and the changes in rebounding approach that come with that, and the 905 need to find a way to help Roberts on the defensive glass when he’s the primary help rim protector.

Murmuys spoke after the game about how letting McRae get going was an issue, and it was plain to see: Once he started finding success driving, eager 905 defenders wanted to help more, but they sometimes did so outside of the system. Wright helped out of the strong-side corner, as did a few others, and over-help on baseline drives left shooters open up top. The 87ers regressing from a cold shooting start hurt, too, as they hit 13-of-25 from long range.

“We let him get a head of steam and were unable to execute keeping him in front, trying to force mid-range jumpers and not giving him layups and free throws, which was the focus,” Murmuys said. “We did a better job of keeping the ball on the side, and now the second piece is trying to force tough twos out of them.”

McRae finished with an obscene 31-8-9 line on 11-of-19 shooting, and Kilpatrick hit 6-of-11 from outside en route to 37 points in part due to McRae’s willingness to pass and the attention he was drawing.

The 905 don’t have the guns right now to keep up in a shootout, with an 11-of-31 mark on triples dropping their season mark to 30.6 percent.

“We took care of the ball better than we have in previous game,” Murmuys said. “We had really great possessions of extra passes and ball movement where we broke the defense down and got great shots. We didn’t make a lot of those open threes tonight.”

Like with the other four losses (the 905 are now 2-5), the important thing to note Sunday is that there was tangible progress being made. It warrants consistent reminders that this is an expansion team that had a short training camp, added players late, is incorporating NBA assignees, and has two players that haven’t traveled with the team. Shannon Scott, their top defensive guard, was also sidelined with an injury for a second consecutive game.

The 905 are going to struggle at times,but the ball movement is improving, turnovers were down, and several players had strong one-way performances. Patience is paramount for Murmuys, staff, and fans, as it may take some time before the positives last for 48 minutes. The team has plenty of time to regroup and continue to iron out the finer wrinkles, as they’re off until a home game Saturday.

The Raptors recalled Wright and Caboclo following the game, by the way.

Photo Courtesy: IG Raptors905

The Toronto Raptors recalled Bruno Caboclo and Delon Wright from Raptors 905 of the D-League on Sunday, the team announced.

Both players were recalled following the 905’s loss to the Delaware 87ers. Neither will be active as the Raptors host the Phoenix Suns, as despite the drive from the Hershey Centre to the Air Canada Centre being reasonable within a 75-minute window, both players played at least 36 minutes this afternoon.

Recalling Wright isn’t surprising. The Raptors have been utilizing the close geographic proximity of their D-League affiliate masterfully so far, maximizing every available minute. Wright was sent down for a heavy workload and a few practices, recalled to practice with the parent club, sent back down when the Raptors went on the road, played big minutes again, and has now been recalled with a slow week in Mississauga forthcoming. The 905 don’t play again until Saturday, and head coach Jesse Murmuys told Raptors Republic on Sunday that Tuesday is scheduled as a rest and maintenance day for the baby Raptors. Calling Wright up, then, keeps him getting regular work in practice, brings another body to the backcourt for drills, and allows the coaching staff to touch base with him.

Wright played 73 minutes over two D-League games, scoring 44 points on 17-of-23 shooting and adding 10 rebounds, 11 assists, five steals, and two blocks. He shot perfectly from the floor Wednesday and filled the stat sheet Sunday, making some truly advanced plays with the ball in his hands at the offensive end. Defensively, he performed well when face-guarding but had some angling issues icing side pick-and-rolls, a point of emphasis for Murmuys. He was better in that area Sunday but had a few errors in judgment as a help defender Sunday, including coming off of a corner shooter on the strong side on a key fourth-quarter possession. The icing and the help rotations are justifiable things for a rookie to struggle with, and it’s a key reason why getting a full minutes workload in the D-League is a huge benefit – these things look far different in execution than they do in practice.

It’s unclear if Wright’s D-League time has wrapped for now or if he’ll be sent back down when the Raptors hit the road Wednesday. With the 905 off all week, the Raptors will have the option of bringing Wright on the road for an extra body or assigning him to continue to get practice time while having him nearby for the second half of the back-to-back on Thursday if need be.

Bringing Caboclo back up to the main roster is a less obvious call but still a reasonable one. It allows the coaching staff the opportunity to check in on his skill development while also getting him additional work in lieu of an off day, something made easier by the fact that both teams run the same schemes and run very similar practices.

In seven games with the 905, Caboclo is averaging 14.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks while shooting 37.3 percent from the floor and 25.5 percent on 7.3 3-point attempts. Those numbers are a mix of good and bad, but it’s worth remembering that the biggest step for Caboclo this season is getting minutes, which he has precious few of as a pro. Caboclo’s already at 215 minutes for the season, far more than the 87 he totaled across the D-League and NBA last season.

Offensively, Caboclo’s shot has great form and is mostly unblockable when he’s set. He’s still improving his footwork on pull-ups, and while he creates space for himself well with his length, his shooting mechanics suffer when he does. His handle is coming along, too, but his drives and still be out of control. Perhaps most encouraging, he’s at least seeing opportunities to pass when on the move now, something he was struggling with as recently as summer league. On the defensive end, he’s using his length well and staying active but is subject to getting bullied by strong opponents and has dealt with foul trouble in multiple games. That’s not a bad thing, as Caboclo helping aggressively and learning – he’s been playing a good deal of power forward, where his assignments change – is more important than him simply guarding his man in order to stay on the floor.

Expect Caboclo to be assigned back to the 905 on Wednesday.


Until last night, the season was lacking a signature moment that truly made you jump out of your seat; in a good a way, that is. I think I can speak for all of us when I say:

Thank you Joseph Bautista!

After such a quality effort at both ends, one Bradley Beal got well acquainted with, it was only fitting Cory Joe was in position to nail the game-winning corner three. Not to mention saving what seemed to be a gut-wreching collapse from taking place.

One couldn’t help but get the feeling something special was about to go down, though, once Lowry made it clear he was parking himself beyond half-court, taking himself and John Wall out of the equation. Casey deserves kudos for dusting off the playbook for that one.

I know the video has been posted in a few of last night’s pieces, as well as Blake’s post-gamer earlier this morning. But I really can’t help myself, it provides the perfect background music to write to. Here it is again, in all its glory:

Sunday’s tilt with Phoenix will be hard-pressed to match what went down in Washington, but coming home on a high can only help set the stage. A clash between opposite trends: one team gunning for their fifth victory in a row, the other attempting to save face by avoiding their fifth straight defeat. It’s no secret which one is which.

Look for the Suns to ramp up their compete level, though. A 19-point beatdown to the hands of Golden State, and a day of rest in between could cause some early trouble as the Raps’ are about to suit-up on the second night of a back-to-back.

But furthering the Suns’ embarrassing loss was the lackadaisical effort to stop the Warriors’ onslaught from behind the arc. 22 threes given up to be exact (15 in the first half). Golden State is the current gold standard, so nobody expected an upset, but cementing their status near the league’s basement (24th) in 3-point defense wasn’t an encouraging sign.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend a straight-up reliance on downtown shooting, not when a team starts to fall in love and neglects other parts of the game-plan. But when an improvement has been made from last season, the moment calls for a strength to exploit a weakness. The Raps’ 3-point attempts per game have dropped from 25.1 (9th) to 21.5 (23rd), while managing to stay in the upper-tier of the league’s percentage leaders (an 11th ranked 35 percent in 2014-15 has increased to a 10th overall clip of 36 percent). Whether that’s sustainable is certainly up for debate, but life without Valanciunas should allow for it to continue.

To a much lesser extent, another moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived… Well, perhaps just a chosen few will celebrate. Nevertheless, Sonny Weems is back in the building!

In case you missed it, Phoenix handed him a two-year, $5.8 Million deal this past offseason after spending previous seasons in Russia for CSKA Moscow. Though just like his time spent in a Raptors’ uniform, he’s essentially been squeezed out of the Suns’ regular rotation. Chances of him playing any meaningful minutes are minimal at best, but his cameo appearance offers a noteworthy backdrop.

Trivia: On August 18th, 2009, Weems was acquired in a four-player deal with Milwaukee. Who were the other three players involved?

Hint: Little did we know back then that one would end up on the short-list of all-time fan favorites.

Too easy? Try it without Googling next time. Actually, I totally had to Google it myself.

Judging by personal experience, Weems usually gets lumped in with the likes of Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, and even Rafer Alston whenever a conversation of past potential comes up. It’s a valid comparison for the most part but, Weems’ athleticism did stand out on a nightly basis. He’s only 29-years-old, so there’s still time to salvage somewhat of an NBA career, albeit most likely in a limited capacity. Let’s just hope five years from now Terrence Ross isn’t spoken about in a similar fashion.

But with the Suns on the schedule, the trip down memory lane comes with a detour. And possibly even a missed exit.

Remember those DeRozan trade rumours of 2013? A deal which supposedly involved sending Andrea Bargnani and DeMar to the Clippers for Eric Bledsoe. Which at the time, a major portion of public opinion scoffed at such a transaction being made. And that was before DeRozan’s game had ascended to the next level.

With Bargnani ultimately transforming into a journeyman, and Bledsoe now sitting atop the Suns’ food chain, one has to wonder if, hypothetically speaking, the majority of this town regrets their thought process. Especially when Bledsoe has busted of the gate posting career-high averages in numerous areas to start the year:

Previous: PPG: 17.0,  STL: 1.6,  3PM: 1.2,  FTA: 5.5,  FGA: 12.9,  FG%: .477,  EFG%: .489,  FT%: .800,  TS%: .578,  PER: 19.6

This season: PPG: 22.7,  STL: 1.9,  3PM: 1.9,  FTA: 5.9,  FGA: 16.7,  FG%: .480,  EFG%: .536,  FT%: 82,  TS%: .590,  PER: 23.2

If the clock was turned back, do you pull the trigger?

I used to think Ross was the most polarizing player on this roster, but with Terry’s asset value now in prove-it-or-trade-it territory, DeRozan officially takes top spot. I would guesstimate an even split down the middle. The very mention of DeMar usually ignites a fire of hot takes. And rightly so.

One could argue that 15 games of career-highs will come back down to earth eventually, and that’s logical. However, when they come attached with the most attempts he’s ever taken from the field with no uptick in minutes per game, one tends to lean toward an official leap being made.

The question would be what’s the trade off? Does DeRozan’s rim attack, height advantage (6’7″ to 6’1″) and knack for getting to the line trump Bledsoe’s defence, ability to seamlessly float back and forth from each guard spot, and across the board contributions?

DD is this squad’s co-captian, and I would like nothing more than give my stamp of approval. BUT, until said rim attack is asserted consistently, he leaves me no choice but to look the other way. Largely considering Bledsoe has built himself up to fit the league’s trending future. A bruiser who forces the issue, but one who can adapt to different styles. He’d be a K-Low clone if Lowry chose to hit the weight room instead of the treadmill this offseason.

Though when you add contracts and roster makeup to the mix, the tide shifts back. DeRozan’s cap hit is $3.5 million less than that of Bledsoe’s if you take into consideration that the Raps would have had to re-sign Bledsoe if a deal was struck in that timeframe. And who know’s if the stable of backcourt weapons Toronto now owns would have been assembled.

But living in the past isn’t healthy. Let’s unwrap the present further.


Phoenix crosses the border with a sizeable disadvantage. Starting Center, Tyson Chandler, is considered doubtful due to a hamstring injury suffered on Friday night. Leaving only the likes of Alex Len and Markieff Morris as the only formidable (I use that term loosely) threats on the blocks. Both own promising potential, but also possess a frustrating lack of stability.

T.O. has yet to feel the loss of Jonas Valancinuas, and that run should continue with a limited frontcourt in front of them. Scola should rebound offensively, and “Business” Biyombo, well, all indications point to a possible encore presentation.

Yet that doesn’t negate the Suns’ methods.

When leading the NBA in Pace at 102.9 possessions per game, it’s clear that attempting to pressure the defence is your first priority. Problems with Pace do come into play, however, when you notice the two teams that follow. Sacramento and Golden State come in at 102.3 and 102.2 respectively. Highlighting the fact that Pace has a misleading aura about it that it will guarantee positive outcomes for all involved no matter what. The Suns sat comfortably in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiencies before a recent swoon on defense sent the latter falling to a 21st-place tie. Not doing their Pace any favors in the process.

Speaking of defense, the Raps rank a tidy 8th in points given up Per 100 Possessions. Scratch that, let me do that again. HOLY MACKINAW, they rank 8th! Even when factoring in two losses, Toronto has held opponents under 100 points in 12 of their 17 games. Music to every fan’s ears. The renewed discipline has been this club’s saving grace.

Still, there’s plenty to worry about when Bledsoe won’t be the only rising star trying to push the envelope. Brandon Knight, who’s now predominantly roaming the two-spot, is now beginning to justify his 5-year, $70 Million contract in the offseason. Which is identical in length and overall amount to the one Bledsoe signed the previous year.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Bledsoe isn’t the only one who can boast about career-highs:

Previous: PPG: 17.8,  3PM: 2.0,  FG%: .422,  EFG%: .505,  TS%: .543, PER: 17.1

This season: PPG: 21.9,  3PM: 2.6,  FG%: .446,  EFG%: .519,  TS%: .557,  PER: 20.4

Knight’s played one more game than Bledsoe, totalling 16. Again, I’m willing to listen to the sample-size viewpoint. Both are the main cogs in the Suns’ engine so surely their surface numbers are bound to get inflated. But what passes more than just the eye test is at the same time their underlying percentages are coming along for the ride. Add in the fact that they’ve both been locked up for the long haul before the NBA goes cap crazy, which in turn will ease the burden their newly-signed extensions will have. SB Nation‘s Bright Side Of The Sun breaks down the Suns’ finances in this in-depth reference guide if you want to dive deeper into it.

It’s easy said than done but, neutralizing one of the Suns’ dynamic guards should be the point of emphasis. Considering Knight usually plays off-ball, a serious blow to their blueprint can be accomplished. Especially if the “K-Low and Co-Joe Show” retains its usage rate. And there’s no reason why it won’t. It’s been a thing of beauty.

DeRozan, if used CAREFULLY, has a chance to turn his ISO’s into steady production if opportunities to post-up either Bledsoe or Knight present themselves on a regular basis. Intriguing factors on the other end are the defensive prowess of P.J. Tucker and the ever-improving offensive game of T.J. Warren. Tucker will undoubtedly disrupt the offensive flow, and Warren is currently on a 62-point / 61 percent from the field run over his last three games. Though just like any given Sunday, San Antonio and Golden State can present plenty of garbage time stat-padding. Carroll rarely struggles twice in a row, so we’ll get the inside scoop.

I can imagine most of you are getting ready for an afternoon of Football, but sometime before the Raps’ 6pm tipoff, I suggest taking in some flashbacks of “Money” Weems. The first revolving around his time in Europe, the second just a reminder of what he can do on the court.

Prediction: Phoenix has too many current loopholes to compensate for. Raps 105, Suns 96.

Raptors 84, Wizards 82 | Quick Reaction | Box Score

With five seconds left in Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards, this post was prepared with the headline “Thank you for not coaching.” Things were that bleak late. And then John Wall missed a pair of clutch free throws and the Raptors bucked their own recent history to run a masterful play for a game-winning shot, one that Cory Joseph knocked down.

The outcome puts the recap in a bit of a tough position, because the Raptors probably didn’t deserve this victory. The Wizards were playing their fourth game in five nights and were down to 10 healthy bodies because of injuries to Nene, Gary Neal, Alan Anderson, Drew Gooden, and Martell Webster. The Raptors were playing their second game in six days, were theoretically quite fresh, and had plenty of time to prepare for a struggling Wizards team that dropped three in a row coming into this one, two of them in embarrassing fashion.

Instead of immediately going for the throat, the Raptors came out flat. The defensive effort was solid enough early, but nobody other than Kyle Lowry bothered to show up on the offensive end of the floor. DeMarre Carroll was missing wide open threes and an array of push shots, Otto Porter continued his role as DeMar DeRozan specialist from last year’s playoff series, and Bismack Biyombo served to gum things up inside and throw the floor balance off. Toronto coughed the ball up seven times in the first quarter and made several inexcusable miscues, missing open shooters or forcing the ball into openings that weren’t there.

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They saved themselves from a double-digit hole only by way of doing a nice job closing out on 3-point shooters after stymieing the initial attack. Want to know what Dwane Casey’s vision for the defense looks like when everyone times their help and hits their spots perfectly? They put it on display in the first:

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Unfortunately, the norm was more confusingly boneheaded plays like this:

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The proceedings felt quite familiar in the second quarter. Joseph provided a spark off the bench, Patrick Patterson gave them a few good minutes, Terrence Ross made a play that had William Lou buying back in and then another that had him quickly selling shares, and the return of the starters late in the frame led to a major push. This is the formula the Raptors have leaned on: Start slow, pick up steam into halftime, dominate the third, and let your excellent defensive closing unit take things home while DeRozan grinds the pace to a halt.

This time, the third-quarter surge didn’t come. The offense remained moribund, the turnovers remained plentiful, and the deficit remained at six. The Raptors trailed 68-62 heading into the fourth, and with Lowry at four fouls, things looked bleak. The Wizards had started knocking down their outside looks, Marcin Gortat was presenting problems inside, and Bradley Beal was doing far better against Carroll than could have been reasonably expected. The one saving grace was that John Wall was playing terribly, shooting 4-of-19 and looking somewhat disengaged at times on defense (he cryptically hinted Friday that he may be banged up).

Casey opted to trust Lowry not to foul – he averages a shade over one foul per-12 minutes – and play him for the entire fourth, a reasonable move given his earlier foul-dictated rest. That put Joseph on Beal for some crunch time possessions, and in what should be a surprise to nobody, he performed admirably. Wall continued to struggle, Biyombo was an absolute force, and the team’s defense kept things close, even as the non-Lowry offense continued to sputter along.

Watching the game to this point, it didn’t feel like the Raptors deserved to win. They really locked in defensively, sure, but their offensive execution was terrible (they wound up committing 22 turnovers, a mark that would make Raptors 905 blush) and they failed entirely to exert their toughness to put a tired, slumping team out of their misery early. How you win isn’t as important as that you win, but there’s something to be said for getting things done cleanly and expeditiously, saving yourself for the second night of a travel back-to-back on Sunday against a spry Phoenix Suns team.

Still, the Raptors were right there. They trailed by eight when Biyombo grabbed a defensive rebound with 3:45 to play. They cut that to four and forced a 24-second violation with 2:39 left. Lowry cut the lead to one with a huge triple as a trailer in transition with 1:19 left. There was momentum, there were timeouts, and there was a palpable sense the Wizards were trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

On the next possession, Lowry stole the ball from Beal, fired to Joseph, sprinted in transition, and got the pass back for a decent look from outside. But he stepped out of bounds. No big deal, still plenty of time, and the defense hadn’t allowed a field goal in several minutes. Biyombo contested a Sessions drive to the rim, Gortat couldn’t tip the rebound in, and Biyombo secured the the subsequent rebound.

With 42 seconds to play, the Raptors called a timeout. The collective dread of Raptors fans was actually quite enjoyable, because it was touching to know you’re sharing a feeling with thousands of people without speaking a word. It hasn’t been bad in every instance, but it’s lacked creativity and mostly involves DeRozan isolations. Maybe this time would be different?

Here’s a quick game recap: 42 seconds left, down 80-79. Both teams have timeouts left, so if the Raptors score, the Wizards will definitely be taking a timeout.

Casey makes the curious move of leaving Biyombo on the floor, borderline inexcusable given his lack of offensive utility, Patterson’s ability to help stretch the floor, and the existence of a Wizards timeout (Casey would have an opportunity to get Biyombo back in for defense). The play-call is all too familiar, too: DeRozan gets a running start moving across the top of the key, gets a pass and attacks the lengthy Porter, who hasn’t been put at enough of a disadvantage with the pre-pass off-ball action.

DeRozan misses on a brutal baseline pull-up attempt with a hand in his face, and the Raptors manage to tap the rebound back out for a second chance. DeRozan and Biyombo look to work a screen-and-roll with Porter and Gortat, but neither defender is paying Biyombo any attention, and so DeRozan is essentially double-teamed. He tries to drive through it, sees a passing lane too late, and falls down. Lowry’s forced into a late-clock heave that he misses.

The Raptors foul Wall, he makes a pair, and they calla 20-second timeout.

Again, a recap: 10 seconds to go, down 82-79. Again, Biyombo remains on the floor. Again, the Raptors go DeRozan isolation. Again, the Wizards double off of Biyombo, and DeRozan has little chance at the rim. Luckily, he’s bailed out by a silly Gortat foul – up three with the Raptors strangely opting to go for two, the Wizards should have been playing a “no fouls, no threes” defense, preventing the possibility for an and-one.

DeRozan makes the freebies, the Raptors foul Wall, and he misses both. Despite managing the last few possessions poorly, the Raptors have another chance.

Casey calls his final timeout, finally pulls Biyombo from the game (Scola is now the center with the regular closers), and calls for a beautiful play that leads to Joseph’s game-winner.

There’s a full breakdown of the final play here. It was well-designed and well-executed. Following the game, Casey explained his earlier reliance on DeRozan and why the final play was different.

“Big picture, he (DeRozan) and Kyle are our guys and Kyle had some tough looks I thought,” Casey said, per Wozzle of the Sun. “We had another option to go to DeMar and DeMar made a play.”

That, to me, sounds like DeRozan would have been well within his rights to try to score on his own on the last possession. I can only imagine the tone of this recap had he done so and failed. I’ve defended the psychology behind relying on your best players to score one-on-one late, but I’m so fervently against it in practicality that there may be no thing I like less about covering the Raptors than the late-game hero-ball. Credit to Casey and DeRozan for going a different route here, but a play like this – and this has come up in fourth quarters before, too – begs the question: If you have quality plays and multiple talented players to execute them, why go for the most basic, most easy to defend, least efficient option so often?

We recently had a roundtable about Casey’s job status, and Will asked me about it again on Friday’s podcast. I’m done answering questions about the coach of an 11-6 team, one on pace for the best season in franchise history, one with a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense, getting canned. A coach can have flaws and you can disagree with some of his rotations, decisions, and play-calling, and it’s not cause for him to lose his job. So please don’t even ask me.

And hey, maybe the earlier plays were just a rope-a-dope to set up the dagger.

Whatever the case, the Raptors are 11-6 and play seven of their next eight games at home. Things are going well, even when they don’t always appear to be.

The Toronto Raptors won a game on a buzzer-beater that was borne of a really nice ATO. I am Bruno’s wrinkled eyebrows and moderate surprise.

One of the biggest complaints amid the Raptors’ 11-6 start is that their late-game execution is often found wanting. The team leans far too heavily on DeMar DeRozan to score in isolation sets, eschewing ball movement, 3-point attempts, and often even just getting DeRozan moving to create an advantage before his attack.

That seemed like how Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards was going to play out. Here’s a big chunk of my recap coming in the morning that discusses the questionable strategic decisions in the game’s final minute:

Here’s a quick game recap: 42 seconds left, down 80-79. Both teams have timeouts left, so if the Raptors score, the Wizards will definitely be taking a timeout.

Casey makes the curious move of leaving Bismack Biyombo on the floor, borderline inexcusable given his lack of offensive utility, Patrick Patterson’s ability to help stretch the floor, and the existence of a Wizards timeout (Casey would have an opportunity to get Biyombo back in for defense). The play-call is all too familiar, too: DeRozan gets a running start moving across the top of the key, gets a pass and attacks the lengthy Porter, who hasn’t been put at enough of a disadvantage with the pre-pass off-ball action.

DeRozan misses on a brutal baseline pull-up attempt with a hand in his face, and the Raptors manage to tap the rebound back out for a second chance. DeRozan and Biyombo look to work a screen-and-roll with Porter and Gortat, but neither defender is paying Biyombo any attention, and so DeRozan is essentially double-teamed. He tries to drive through it, sees a passing lane too late, and falls down. Lowry’s forced into a late-clock heave that he misses.

The Raptors foul Wall, he makes a pair, and they calla 20-second timeout.

Again, a recap: 10 seconds to go, down 82-79. Again, Biyombo remains on the floor. Again, the Raptors go DeRozan isolation. Again, the Wizards double off of Biyombo, and DeRozan has little chance at the rim. Luckily, he’s bailed out by a silly Marcin Gortat foul – up three with the Raptors strangely opting to go for two, the Wizards should have been playing a “no fouls, no threes” defense, preventing the possibility for an and-one.

DeRozan makes the freebies, the Raptors foul Wall, and he misses both. Despite managing the last few possessions poorly, the Raptors have another chance.

Following Wall’s misses, Casey calls his final timeout. The clock reads 3.0, and he finally takes Biyombo out, returning Joseph to the game and sliding Luis Scola, who had entered for the last Wizards play, to center. So the Raptors have Kyle Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Scola on the floor, three seconds, and possession. Almost everyone assumes a DeRozan isolation is coming.

Here’s the initial setup. Putting Lowry deep in the backcourt may seem counter-intuitive since he was having such a great game, but it’s smart – it takes John Wall, a great defender and ball hawk, out of the play, and it really opens up the floor, essentially creating a three-on-three below the inbound.


Look at the way the floor is balanced there. The Wizards have to assume DeRozan is getting the ball. That means Otto Porter can’t really switch on any initial Joseph action, because he needs to stay tight to Scola to be able to help contain DeRozan off a screen. Temple and Sessions can switch or stick to their men depending on how the screen turns out, but the Raptors want to draw a switch since Sessions is an inferior defender.

From here, the Raptors get DeRozan on the move thanks to the Joseph down-screen. Temple is going to switch on to Joseph, Sessions is left to stay with DeRozan, and Porter is getting ready to help on the strong side off of Scola if need be.


DeRozan is going to be put in an advantageous situation unless Porter takes a major gamble and jumps the passing lane when DeRozan comes around. This is the kind of thing that is being griped about when a stationary isolation is called instead of running action to get the isolator on the move and his defender making decisions. DeRozan would be favored heavily facing Sessions one-on-one, and if he draws Porter, instead, having lost Sessions on Scola’s subsequent screen, he has ample space to get a head of steam.


It plays out as a best-case scenario for Toronto. Sessions stays with DeRozan but is a half-step behind and Porter over-commits to recovering on Scola. The floor has been spaced such that it’s a two-on-two, and DeRozan has an edge with the help out of position.


DeRozan receives the pass while turning the corner on Sessions, Porter is tight to Scola too far from the rim, and Bradley Beal isn’t going to have time to help now that the ball’s in. That leaves Temple with the option to help at the rim or let DeRozan get an unimpeded layup.


DeRozan still has a tough choice to make. It would be within his reputation to force a shot at the rim, and he has a size and momentum advantage that would give him at least a decent chance of drawing a foul.


He sees Joseph as Temple stumbles and opts to make what’s now an easier pass, albeit one that comes with 1.5 left on the clock


Here’s the play in full:

What’s interesting about this play is not only that the Raptors drew something up that wasn’t a DeRozan isolation, but that Joseph was the shooter in the corner. He entered play shooting 25 percent on threes and hesitating often with open looks, particularly when opposing guards went under screens. It’s the one area of his game so far this year that could be called in need of improvement, as it would make the deadly Joseph-Lowry duo even more formidable if Joseph’s a threat off the ball. The Raptors gave Joseph in the corner a test run in the first quarter, too.

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“Be confident in yourself. You’ve got to trust the work you put in,” Joseph said after the game.

That’s been a common refrain for Joseph as he works to expand his 3-point utility. He’s maintained that he was confident in his stroke despite his now-33.3-percent mark from long-range, and he’s just fine with being left open for the time being. If Joseph keeps hitting shots like this, the gravitational pull he’ll have on the defense could open up more options for Casey and DeRozan for future end-game scenarios.

“I know I can make it, I know I can knock it down,” Joseph recently told me for a piece at “So once I get my 3-point shot going, a lot of players will have to help out, play me closer. That gives Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) more room to operate.”

Yes. It also gave the Raptors a win on Saturday, and gaveJoseph some love from teammates and other Toronto sports figures.

Now THIS is how you take your individual frustrations out on social media, James Johnson. (I kid, I hope the Johnson truthers don’t come after me in the comments.)

Apparently upset with his 1-of-8 performance from the field on Saturday, Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll said he sucks in an Instagram post Saturday night. In the same breath, he praised the team’s fighting spirit in a narrow team win.

(Note: He originally had the caption “GREAT TEAM WIN!! We Fought Hard!!! I Suck but great thing about NBA.. It’s a TEAM Sport!!😁😁💯💯 #Blessed #jyd2point0 #Teamcarroll #wethenorth #GrindDaily” but changed it to “GREAT TEAM WIN!! We Fought Hard!!! I Suck (TONIGHT) but great thing about NBA.. It’s a TEAM Sport!!😁😁💯💯 #Blessed #jyd2point0 #Teamcarroll #wethenorth #GrindDaily”)

Carroll being disappointed in his own play is entirely justified. He missed several clean looks Saturday, his attacks against closeouts haven’t been succeeding all season, and before Wednesday’s game (I haven’t had access to the data since), he was in the 19th percentile for points per-possession on cuts, usually a forte of his. He shot 4-of-11 on Wednesday, too, and he’s now at 38.3 percent from the floor. Even his defense was found a little wanting against the Wizards, though, with Bradley Beal having a strong performance against Carroll. The Raptors eventually went small and Cory Joseph drew some Beal duty in support.

For the most part, he’s made up for that slump on the defensive end, and tonight was a rare blip to the contrary. He did as good a job as could be expected on LeBron James and he’s been the team’s best perimeter defender, bar none, when in the lineup. He’s also hitting 37.1 percent of his threes despite a cold start to the season and the off-night Saturday.

Really, Carroll doesn’t have a lot to feel badly about. The Raptors are winners of four in a row, and he’s been knocking down triples and defending at a top-tier level on most nights. All the respect in the world for eschewing complacency, though.

And don’t worry, his fans made him feel better!

Bismack Biyombo had perhaps his best game as a member of the Toronto Raptors on Saturday against the Washington Wizards. This, despite not scoring a single point and taking just a single field goal attempt.

The defense was at it’s usual effective level, and Biyombo had several highlight-reel blocks in the process. The Washington Wizards had a lot of trouble getting their attack game going, and the predictability of their drives began to allow the Raptors to better stay up on outside shooters and time their forays into passing lanes.

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He finished with four blocks and a steal, and even somehow kicked in two assists. Call him Bismack Biyrondo.

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More notable than even the defense Saturday was Biyombo’s work on the glass, where he hauled in 16 rebounds. That ties a Raptors record for the most rebounds in a game without scoring a single point. He joins Reggie Evans (October, 2010) as the only scoreless Raptor to grab 16 rebounds and joins luminaries like Popeye Jones and Jerome Moiso to go 0-and-10 for the franchise.

Biyombo finished one rebound shy of his career-high and eight off of Donyell Marshall’s franchise record of 24 in a game.

It’s all over the news, see for yourself. Check the react.

Cory Joseph was cooking off the bench for the Raptors in the first half on Saturday. A seven-point, two-assist quarter helped carry the load on offense while everyone but Kyle Lowry seemed to be having an off night, and Joseph provided one of the half’s better highlights.

Matched up opposite Bradley Beal, Joseph spun back toward the middle after Marcin Gortat cut off a sideline foray. Beal, caught on a Bismack Biyombo screen, can’t stay in front of Joseph, falling to the floor instead. Joseph than proceeded to fire a bounce pass to a driving James Johnson for an easy dunk.

Check out the fan-made highlight of the cross-up on Grandstand here.

Replays showed that Beal stepped on Biyombo’s foot, which limits the nastiness of Joseph’s move and the quality of the highlight some in retrospect, but in the moment it was worthy of the “ohhhhhh” you hear on the video. Joseph would finish the game with nine points and six assists in 34 minutes.

Oh, he also hit an enormous game-winning three.

Grandstand –  Sports Highlights from Fans in the Stands

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Toronto Raptors 84 Final
Recap | Box Score
82 Washington Wizards
Luis Scola, PF 26 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -9 +/-Relatively quiet game by Luis, but did well to score down-low on a few dissective passes from CoJo and DeMar.

Outside of that, he struggled to score outside the paint. Interestingly, he was double-teamed every time he touched the ball in the first quarter, and was unable to find the open man at the corner three.

DeMarre Carroll, SF 28 MIN | 1-8 FG | 0-3 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +3 +/-Out-of-character game from DeMarre. He struggled from the field – fine. His offensive inefficiency was something, but he also struggled on the defensive end – losing Beal often and getting switched off his man easily.

Carroll is a huge difference-maker when he’s on. The Raptors’ inept perimeter defense could’ve used a better effort from him tonight.

Bismack Biyombo, C 35 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 16 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 4 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +5 +/-I’m struggling to rate him. On one hand, he is an offensive zero – and that is the most polite way of putting it. He still can’t catch the basketball, and should – at no point in time – receive the ball in the post and be expected to score.

On the other hand, he is in God-mode on defense. What a beast. 4 emphatic blocks. #RimProtector #GimmeDat.

Also of note: He just dominated the glass with 16 rebounds.

Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 9-19 FG | 6-11 3FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 6 TO | 27 PTS | +6 +/-He’s an all-star. Put the team on his back once again.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 9-21 FG | 2-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 23 PTS | +3 +/-His stat sheet in the points column won’t look bad, but the rest of his line is uninspiring.

DeMar took too many bad shots – which is dumbfounding considering how great he is at scoring from the mid-range and in. He got to the line just twice tonight, and above all, his perimeter defense was atrocious, seemingly getting blown-by on every defensive set.

Also, at one point, he passed it to Biyombo in the post, but to his feet. Who gives him the green light to do these things? As Blake Murphy says, Bismack has feet for hands, so imagine what his feet are.

But hey, he did dish out the the game-winning assist. Take a C.

James Johnson, PF 5 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1 +/-He provided some nice minutes in his limited time on the court, including some nice drives to the basket.

Patrick Patterson, PF 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -4 +/-One of PatMan’s better games this season. His contribution was a huge reason why the bench kept the Raptors in this game. Nice job on the glass too.

Terrence Ross, SF 20 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | -1 +/-The same old Terrence we’ve seen nearly every game since his new contract was signed. He didn’t do anything particularly worse than anyone else. His three turnovers were right on par with DeMar’s 4 and Lowry’s 6 TOs.

But there is a certain lethargy about T-Ross.

Cory Joseph, PG 34 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +8 +/-And finally, we get to talk about the star of the night.

After each game, I say to myself, there’s no way I could like this kid more than I already do.


I said it again tonight, over and over again after he was providing the spark off the bench when the Raptors were struggling heavily.

After his game-winner, I’m certain that this dude is now officially my favorite player in the league. Thank you Gregg Popovich, thank you 6ixGod. God bless the mother that gave birth to you.

Dwane CaseyThe Raptors for nearly 48 minutes, were playing long-ball iso early in the shot clock, which was a huge reason they shot just 33% in the first quarter. Surely somewhere he should have emphasized a more tame game where the Raptors could run plays in the half-court set to get DeMar slashing into the paint which would have led to higher percentage looks.

Having said that, the Raptors held the Wizards to just 32.9% from the field. And Dwane did draw up a wide-open three for CoGod to win the game.

Four Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors and Wizards combined for 14/42 from the field in the first quarter (33.3% each). The overall difference was that the Raptors – over time – started hitting their shots and had their shooting percentage climb to 43%, while the Wizards’ FG % actually dropped even lower.
  2. What is it about this Wizards’ team that makes the Raptors’ perimeter defense look so fragile? If Washington shot just marginally better, they could have routed the Raps’.
  3. Huge factor in the struggle tonight despite the win: The Raptors got to the line just 14 times. On a typical night, the Raptors would quietly have an extra 10 or so points just from DeMar’s ability to get to the line alone.
  4. Two reasons why all Raptor fans will be smiling in their sleep tonight:1) John Wall missed two free-throws in the clutch
    2) Bradley Beal got shook

It’s the rare Saturday night game for the Toronto Raptors. It won’t be a full “Basketball Night in Canada,” as Alex Ovechkin is in town to set the last remnants of Jonathan Bernier’s status as the Leafs’ best goaltender ablaze. Instead, the Raptors swap places with the Capitals and visit the Washington Wizards. The game tips off at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One, and you can check out a full game preview here. (Truth About It’s preview, with an appearance from William Lou, can be found here.)

Nono Nene
Notable from the preview is that Nene will sit after injuring his calf on Friday. That means more Jared Dudley at the four, more DeJuan Blair off the bench (and subsequently fewer ACLs in the game), and occasion for the Raptors to go small themselves. Nene has been coming off the bench in favor of Kris Humphries.

Drew Gooden is also out with a calf injury.

UPDATE: The Wizards announced shortly before tip-off that Gary Neal is out with a groin strain. Neal is averaging 9.5 points and hitting 43.8 percent of his triples. His absence will mean heavier minutes at the two for Garrett Temple, who isn’t very good.

Humphries to the bench
It will be Jared Dudley starting at the four on Saturday, however, as head coach Randy Wittman has opted to send Humphries to the bench. That’s a change I speculated could be coming in the preview, as the Wizards have been 5.2 points per-100 possessions worse with Humphries on the floor. The former Raptors has been hitting threes at a rate like never before – 15 in total, on 36.6 percent from outside – but his rebounding is way down and he’s contributed little else.

Dudley is playing well after a somewhat slow start to the year following offseason back surgery. Acquired essentially for free in the offseason to help fill the stretch-four void left by Paul Pierce, Dudley is averaging 6.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 23.1 minutes while canning 46.7 percent of his threes. He’s a career 39.7-percent long-range shooter, one who will command close attention from Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson. The Wizards have been a remarkable 22 points per-100 possessions better when Dudley hits the court this season.

They (don’t) sleep
Nene was injured in a brutal loss to the Boston Celtics, the third defeat in a row for the Wizards at the hands of an Eastern Conference team they expected to be better than. That cold stretch may make some Raptors fans confident – the Raptors have edged from 2.5-point favorites to 3.5-point favorites – but head coach Dwane Casey is urging caution against sleeping on the Wizards.

“This team, if they have anything in their pants at all, they’re going to come in loud, upset,” Casey said of the Wizards, per Wozzle of the Sun.

Asked about last year’s four-game sweep at the hands of the Wizards, Casey admitted to a “tinge” of bad feeling and suggested the holdover Raptors should be “pissed” (per handsome Chris O’Leary of the Star) That wasn’t the refrain from everyone, with a new Raptors surprised at how big a deal the broadcast team was making the game and Patrick Patterson saying that regular season wins don’t mean much in terms of revenge.

As a minor note: A continued thank you to all the great beat writers who cover the Raptors. They’re incredibly welcoming to a blogger/outsider when at home, and running this site would be impossible without the benefit of their access and insight when I’m not around the team. It’s also a remarkably talented group, if a short one.

Speaking of beat writers, they’re not always providing hard-hitting, high-utility stuff.

Koreen’s tweet does raise an interesting question for a quiet Saturday evening, though: What’s the weirdest autocorrect your phone tries to force regularly? For me, it’s that my phone tries to correct a lot of things to “CEna.” That’s weird not only because apparently a type John Cena a lot, but because despite my frequent protestations, it always wants to spell it “CEna” with a capital E.

The last time the Toronto Raptors visited the Washington Wizards, it was to get swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

That memory still haunts for some, and the capital shellacking was the impetus for plenty of offseason change for both sides. The Raptors, reeling from an embarrassing and untimely defeat, turned over four players in their nine-man rotation, changed their defensive scheme, and attempted to carve out a new identity at both ends. The Wizards, realizing the success they had with more modern playoff lineups, put more chips into the center of the table investing in that strategy.

The early returns couldn’t be more different. The Raptors are 10-6, in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and hold marquee wins in Oklahoma City, at the Clippers, and at home against LeBron James and what was, at that time, a surging Cleveland Cavaliers team. The Wizards are 6-7 and have been blown out in three consecutive games, by Indiana, Charlotte, and Boston. That’s not to say last year’s playoff series isn’t still worth shuttering about. Losses of seven, nine, seven, and 31 make it seem as if Washington, without a ton of turnover on their own, may have Toronto’s number. But the Raptors wept the regular season series last year and the Wizards lost Paul Pierce, who stands as the primary aggravator of the present day Raptors.

All of that is to say, this isn’t a rivalry game or a revenge game or anything like that. The teams are both different enough, and on divergent enough paths, that last year’s passionless series is but an afterthought and fodder for the broadcast.

The one element from that playoff series that is worth carrying over is the small-ball approach Wizards head coach Randy Wittman employed. He shifted Paul Pierce primarily to the four, unleashed Otto Porter, and dared Raptors coach Dwane Casey to match up that way. With Casey reticent to use James Johnson as a Pierce-stopper despite his being brought in exclusively for that role, and without DeMarre Carroll around to play combo-forward, the Raptors wilted. The Wizards have stuck with that approach, starting Kris Humphries and his new-found outside shot while letting Nene dominate bench units.

Somewhat surprisingly, Washington’s offense has stalled out completely as a result. Humphries has hit 36.6 percent of his threes but hasn’t contributed much otherwise, Nene is scoring efficiently but playing less than 20 minutes a game, and the wing depth – paramount when Wittman wants to shift a small forward like Porter or Jared Dudley to the four – has been thinned out with injuries to Alan Anderson and Martell Webster. Washington ranks 23rd in offense, 23rd in total rebounding, and 23rd in defense, and Wittman, who was stubborn to modernize in the first place, probably has to be considering some sort of change.

Raptors: Delon Wright (D-League), Bruno Caboclo (D-League), Jonas Valanciunas (finger) all unavailable
Wizards: Martell Webster (hip), Alan Anderson (ankle) unavailable, Nene (calf) is out

Nene injured his left calf in Friday’s awful loss to the Celtics and confirmed after the game that he’ll sit against the Raptors. Valanciunas’ absence means no rematch of the always-fun Valanciunas-Marcin Gortat battle.

PG: Lowry, Joseph vs. Wall, Sessions
Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. The Kyle Lowry-John Wall matchup has the potential to be a ton of fun on Saturday. Wall got the obvious upper hand in the playoffs a season ago, but Lowry was at the conclusion of a season in which he broke down pretty badly physically. Both players are healthy now, and present one of the best head-to-head battles at a position we’ve seen yet this year. Wall is an insanely fast transition nightmare, a high-end on-ball defender, and perhaps the league’s best player at creating open corner threes for teammates. Lowry is leading the league in steals, using those plays to create chaos in transition, and destroying defenses with his north-south, head-down driving style. The edge goes to the Raptors because Cory Joseph can come off the bench to help try to contain Wall (particularly when Bradley Beal sits so Lowry can check a Gary Neal or Garrett Temple), and Sessions is a pretty one-dimensional reserve.

Lowry and Wall have met on 15 regular season occasions and four times in the playoffs. Wall has the playoff sweep but Lowry is 11-4 in regular season showdowns.

Wall Lowry
Wins 8 11
PPG 19.5 13.7
RPG 4.8 5.3
APG 8.5 7.0
SPG 1.6 1.6
TS% 53.4% 48.6%

SG: DeRozan, Ross, Powell vs. Beal, Neal, Temple
Another really interesting matchup, as Beal represents a sort of best-case modernized DeRozan. Beal’s been open about trading his long twos for threes this year, and not surprisingly, he’s been hot fire from outside the arc. That approach has also served to keep his free-throw rate depressed, the big edge DeRozan has against him. Where Beal adds efficiency from long-range and got most of his mid-range shots off of curls and screens, DeRozan uses his mid-range game for ill-advised pull-ups that force a defense to stay tight to him, leading to a plethora of freebies. Beal is a lights-out shooter, but DeRozan is a chess player inside the arc, recognizing that the only thing better than threes are ones, and accepting his own limitations as a shooter. Both players can also distribute for teammates off the bounce and should at least challenge the other with defense. The net result is that DeRozan is scoring at a slightly more efficient rate this year, but at 22, Beal’s ultimate upside is higher.

SF: Carroll, Johnson vs. Porter, Oubre
Porter became an entirely different player in the playoffs against the Raptors and he’s maintained some of that momentum for a big step forward in 2015-16. He’s been woeful from outside, though, and he’s not crashing the offensive glass as much as he did a season ago. Carroll has the edge here and should be free to cross-match on to the toughest opposing check, save for Wall, with a weaker defender sliding on to Porter.

PF: Scola, Patterson vs. Humphries, Dudley, Gooden
Dudley should maybe be starting at this point, but I wonder if Wittman doesn’t want to go so physically small, even if the team’s already gone theoretically small. The team is 5.2 points per-100 possessions worse with Humphries on the floor, and while he’s hit 15 threes after only hitting two his entire career before this year, his rebounding is down significantly and he’s not providing anything inside the arc. Dudley represents a tough matchup for Scola but a reasonable one for Patterson, and the Raptors fours will need to hit from outside to try to keep pace with one of the league’s more shot-happy teams. Carroll should probably pencil in here, too, as the Wizards lack a real post threat at the four and really push the pace, making them an ideal candidate to go small against. Expect to see Scola at the five some.

C: Biyombo, Nogueira vs. Gortat, Blair
Gortat is a problem, a physical behemoth who can also run with the team in transition. His aggressive dives from the pick-and-roll pull defenders in and open up those Wall corner threes, and he’s willing to use his body as a defender and for rebounds. He’s also a willing and effective passer, so Biyombo will have to handle him solo to prevent Gortat from exploiting the help from the corner. That’s what Biyombo’s here for, though he also means Gortat can hang around the rim at the other end.

The Line
The Raptors are three-point favorites on the road, which is a nod to how poorly Washington is playing. With their opponent on the second night of a travel back-to-back and the Raptors having played just once in the last five days, they should have the fresh legs to kick a struggling team while they’re down.

Raptors 106, Wizards 97

Happy Friday, everyone. And if you’re an American reader, Happy Thanksgiving. Plenty to be thankful for, not the least of which is content. And so on a relatively quiet Friday afternoon, I decided to answer some reader questions while I sit at the Mississauga Sports Complex waiting for Raptors 905 practice to conclude.

Let us.

Johnson, trades, and the 2nd unit

The Raptors don’t have much in the way of trade assets, something that’s exacerbated by the Knicks getting out to a good start to the season. They appear to be at least a fringe contender for a playoff spot, which would serve to decrease the value of the pick the Raptors are owed (which, as a reminder, could also be the Nuggets’ pick, as Denver has first dibs after the draft lottery).

Part of the issue with including so many prospects on the 15-man roster is that those players don’t have a great deal of value. Most teams tend to value their own assets more than other teams would, a bias known as the endowment effect. The Raptors have more information about their prospects, a better idea of where they are on the development curve, and perhaps a subconscious pull to see them through, lest they trade away an asset that ends up flourishing elsewhere. Young players also have small salaries, making it hard to work out deals for key contributors involving only a prospect and a pick.

So yes, if the Raptors are going to make a move, one of Patterson or Johnson would probably be included. The issue with Johnson is that his value probably isn’t very high, and his salary isn’t substantial enough for the Raptors to bring back a mid-level player in return. With Patterson, a team would have to be in the rare position of not competing this year but wanting to compete next year, as Patterson would eat into 2016 cap space. The availability of picks (the Raptors have four first-rounders over the next two drafts) makes this somewhat easier, but it’s pretty difficult to find workable trades for the Raptors, at least this early.

I wouldn’t put it past Masai Ujiri to make a move, probably one I’m not seeing as a possibility, but I think it would happen closer to the deadline, when more teams are sure of their 2015-16 outlook. This is a long way of saying “maybe, but I’m not optimistic.” 

I disagree that the bench offense is depressing entirely, because a lot of that had to do with Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo’s defense is important and valuable, but he’s a much better fit with the starters than the reserves, as there’s enough space and offensive talent to work around his shortcomings. Cory Joseph has struggled to run the team’s offense operating the pick-and-roll with Biyombo, especially without Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan on the floor, and that’s little fault of his own (look at how the Cavaliers defended Lowry on Biyombo pick-and-rolls late Wednesday).

Playing James Johnson in the post is still an option I agree with. I’ve been pretty vocal about a Patterson-Johnson frontcourt being an interesting small-ball front court duo the team could experiment with, and such a look would see Patterson stay outside while Johnson gets to freelance a little more inside the arc. The issue with post-ups, I’d anticipate, would be that the only lineups where it makes sense to give Johnson post touches would also be lineups in which he’s being guarded by a big man. It’s tough to send Johnson into the post when he’s playing the three unless Patterson’s on the floor and the team can invert the offense, too, as there aren’t enough shooters around him to maintain floor balance otherwise.

In any case, I think it’s something worth trying, if as nothing more than a chess move to throw a new wrinkle at an opponent.

No. Jordan is very talented. Biyombo isn’t on the offensive end, and he doesn’t have the hands or touch to warrant plays being run for him. Basically, how they treated him Wednesday was correct – he has to set screens because he’s the center, but he dives as a safety valve only, and you just hope he picks up enough trash around the rim to be a net-positive.

Joseph has been excellent, especially alongside Lowry, and the performance of the second unit isn’t entirely on him. His shooting percentage is probably going to come down to earth, but hopefully that’s met by a slight uptick in his 3-point percentage that helps make up some of the efficiency loss. Even if he’s not scoring quite as much, his forays to the rim have been incredibly effective and should stay as such – drive data suggests he’s Tony Parker-adjace in terms of scoring on drives, and even a bit of regression would have him in very elite company.

When it regresses some, though, bench scoring will be magnified as the issue it was expected to be before the season. As mentioned above, Biyombo’s a tough play with a second unit that lacks for offense, and it can put too much pressure on Joseph as a facilitator when head coach Dwane Casey takes both Lowry and DeRozan off the floor at the same time. So Biyombo starting may help the bench offense to a slight degree by forcing Casey to better stagger his substitutions and use more smaller lineups, but then the question you’re asking may become about the team’s leaky defense behind the point of attack.

Well, we’ll see, right? I think the biggest change to their playoff potential comes on the defensive end, where they’re far improved. I don’t believe that the axiom that whistles go away in the playoffs is actually true, and while DeRozan is a guy who can be game-planned for, there’s not a ton to do about a red-hot Lowry. The Raptors could use an additional shooter to help keep the ball moving and keep the drive-and-kick game effective. It’s kind of too early to answer this, as the answer lies in how flexible the Raptors are in changing their style, particularly with DeRozan late in games. I’m guardedly optimistic that their offense will be at least good enough to let the defense win them some games.

Lucas Nogueira

I’m going to leave the Johnson part of the question out, as we’ve covered it in pretty great detail this week. Check out this post and the links within for my thoughts on Johnson’s situation.

As for Nogueira, I’m skeptical he’s going to see much of a role, even with Jonas Valanciunas out. I’m not down on him as a prospect, even if he’s already 23, but I think his weaknesses are ones that Casey probably finds unacceptable right now. Namely, Nogueira is still adjusting to the team’s new pick-and-roll coverages. He’s a long, nimble guy who is well-served hedging on guards and contesting pull-ups, but unlike a year ago, that’s no longer what the system is asking of him. His instinct is to get out onto whoever is open, and the result in the D-League was occasionally that he’d lunge out at a guard taking a long-two, only to be put on his heels when the guard attacked the close-out.

There’s still room for optimism. He passes like few 7-footers can, he’s a quality rebounder, and his instincts around the rim on the defensive end are strong (despite grasping the new pick-and-roll scheme somewhat slowly, he remains a solid weak-side help defender). He can also step out nearly to the 3-point line.

Right now, it’s a case of a lot of little pieces not adding up into a total package yet. He isn’t exactly young, and I understand that people see “former ACB Defensive Player of the Year” and think he should be ready to play more. Maybe he is, but I think he’s going to have to show that to Casey in very small minutes to start.

Raptors and Raptors 905

I’m not sure the quality of Carroll’s looks have been quite good enough to suggest he’ll be back around the 40-percent mark, but it’s certainly possible. I’m planning to do a larger breakdown of where Carroll’s shots are coming from compared to his time in Atlanta, so I’ll have a better answer for you sometime in the near future.

As for Ronald Roberts and Anthony Bennett, I think Roberts may have more utility at the NBA level right now. I’m pretty high on him and think he could be an energy big on the end of someone’s bench. With that said, Ujiri was clear that the Bennett signing was not a one-year move but something with an eye toward his long-term development and potential. I think they’re committed to him for the season, and Roberts’ best shot at landing on the Raptors is if they make a two-for-one deal at some point and clear a roster spot.

I’ve written a fair amount about Wright this week – check this post out and the links within. To summarize quickly, I was pretty high on Wright at draft time and thought he might be able to contribute in small minutes right away. Obviously the team’s roster construction is such that they don’t need him to do that, but the 905 game was a good confirmation of what he is and might be: He’s funky enough to score in traffic despite not being the fastest or most athletic, he’s a disruptive defender, and he has plus court vision.

The big question for him is whether he’ll develop his shot enough to play off the ball with another point guard and whether he can add enough size to do the same on defense. I think the talent is there, but it’s tough to know how he’ll fare when he’s up against someone better than Brandon Fields.

Unfortunately, sending a player to the D-League doesn’t give you room to add another player. It’s not like the AHL or MLB where they’re off the active parent club roster once assigned, so sending three players at a time means the Raptors are out three players for games. With Jonas Valanciunas sidelined, assigning Norman Powell or Bennett would mean Casey has only 11 healthy players. That probably won’t matter most nights given how tight he’s kept his rotations, but it could matter in a blowout or if injury strikes. With that said, I’d expect those two and Wright to take turns making short trips like the one Wright is currently on.

Rap beef

William Lou is the center on account of being the only one with any size; someone mistakes his giant head for a basketball. We bring Garrett Healey back from Yellowknife to play the four. I take the role of James Johnson with a conscience at the three, hurting our floor spacing but trying really hard and banging into stuff. Sam spots up outside the 3-point line as the two-guard and never steps foot inside either arc. The Talking Raptors crew share point guard duties and argue over who should start. I have no idea how big Kiyan, Shyam, Matt, Andrew, and Michael are, but there’s your bench mob. Tamberlyn is a Steve Kerr-like shooting specialist who also serves as an assistant coach. Tim Chisholm coaches. Zarar is in the Stripes costume.

The Toronto Raptors are doing their best to put a quick stop to any drama surrounding James Johnson.

The emotional combo-forward took to Twitter late Wednesday night to express his #mood as “under-utilized,” comments that raised some eyebrows and required a subsequent twitter apology. Johnson declined to speak with media Friday, per TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, and head coach Dwane Casey said the matter is being handled internally.

Casey spoke openly about Johnson’s comments and Johnson’s role with the team in an appearance on Dean Blundell & Co. on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Friday, calling the tweet “no big deal.” Here’s more of Casey:

We’ve texted. Again, no big deal. There’s not going to be a formal get-together. He’s already apologized for it and it’s not going to change how we play or who we play or rotations or anything like that.

James does know his role. I’ve told him numerous times about his role and where he stood in the pecking order. As a staff we have to continue to communicate daily to remind guys of their roles. It’s disappointing because we have some positive things going with the team but our guys are mature. They understand it. James is not a vicious young man whatsoever. Those things are going to happen with 15 young men in the locker room.

Role consistency has been a major talking point for Casey this season, and it’s part of the reason why Johnson went from DNP-CDs to starting for an injured DeMarre Carroll. As a 28-year-old veteran who has experienced ample role change in the past, Johnson is perhaps best suited to play the role of “guy with the inconsistent role,” ironic as that may sound amid an expressed desire for role consistency. By having his minutes change dramatically by situation and matchup, it means less cumulative tumult for everyone else.

Johnson has a legitimate claim to more minutes, but he’s clearly the ninth man in Casey’s mind right now. The only way to change that is to make the most of the minutes he gets, something he’s been doing for the most part, and be patient. The latter must be incredibly difficult, but Wednesday’s game stands as a good example of why Johnson’s minutes are low: The team paid Carroll handsomely to play a major role, Patrick Patterson was playing well, Johnson can’t really play the three alongside DeMar DeRozan, and Casey shortened the rotation in a tight game against a good team. Johnson can play as well as he’d like, but there are going to be some nights that Casey is going to be justified riding other players. Conversely, there will be nights when Johnson figures to be a key player, either because of match-ups or poor play by others or by a desire to better manage Carroll’s minutes (please).

While some have tried to fan the flames by speaking vaguely about unspecified things they’ve seen when around the team, this all seems pretty simple: Johnson is a useful player who is playing less than he feels he should, and he erred in expressing as much publicly. Granted, I’m not around the team as much as the regulars, but Casey and the Raptors bringing Johnson back after he was dealt away once before suggests any personality conflicts are believed to be entirely manageable.

Will and I discussed the matter more on today’s podcast, and I broke down the legitimacy of Johnson’s gripe here. This should be the last we hear about any Johnson drama, at least until the next time it comes up.

The Toronto Raptors have recalled Delon Wright from Raptors 905 of the D-League, the team announced Friday.

Wright is being recalled for Friday’s practice session but will not accompany the team to Washington for Saturday’s game. Instead, Wright is likely to be re-assigned to the 905 for the weekend, where he’ll once again receive ample playing time Sunday.

Update: Wright went from Raptors practice directly to Raptors 905 practice Friday, getting in a double session.

This week for Wright is essentially a master’s class in how an NBA team is supposed to leverage an exclusive affiliate with close geographic proximity, borrowing from teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. Wright’s played 10 NBA minutes so far this season, and with the Raptors’ schedule light this week and the backcourt healthy, he was assigned to get additional run. He played 37 minutes for the 905 on Wednesday, serving that end, and he remained in the city, available to add an extra body to the parent club’s practice Friday. That also allows him to stay abreast of all things strategic with the main roster, and the logistics of the up-and-down couldn’t be simpler. Then, when the Raptors depart for the first leg of a road-home back-to-back, Wright will rejoin the 905 for more practice and is at the ready for Sunday’s home game if the Raptors were to suffer an injury Saturday. Failing that, he’ll play major minutes again Sunday as the 905 host the Delaware 87ers.

Expect Wright to be recalled again some time early next week. The 905 are off until next Saturday after Sunday’s game, while the Raptors have two practice days and then a Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back.

Head coach Jesse Murmuys told Raptors Republic on Tuesday that Wright wasn’t being assigned to work on any specific part of his game, but primarily to get minutes. He certainly did that, showing off his knack for carving into the teeth of a defense and getting to the free-throw line. In Wright’s one game with the 905, he was superb, scoring 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting. He didn’t distribute as much as expected but his teammates were ice cold from outside, muting his assist numbers, and he provided the stellar defense at the point of attack that is expected from him.

You can read more about Wright’s development in the original post about his assignment to the 905 and read a full break down of his play from college and summer league here. Check back after Sunday’s D-League game for another update on how he looked.

Newly signed Toronto Raptor Corey Joseph (right) addresses the media along with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri at the Air Canada Centre on July 9, 2015. Joseph is one of the many free agents the Raptors have aquired during the off-season. Brian B. Bettencourt / Toronto Star Brian B. Bettencourt/Toronto Star

Real (i.e. Canadian) Thanksgiving was over a month ago, but since the NBA season hadn’t started at that point I’m using American Thanksgiving as an excuse to be thankful.  So here it is, the Top 10 things I’m thankful for 16 games into the season:

Svelte Kyle

Kyle Lowry makes me feel things that I’m not sure I’ve never felt when watching the Raptors play.  Coming into the season in the best shape of his career (life?) has made a huge difference.  He has been a revelation and arguably the top point guard in the Eastern Conference.

He is currently averaging 20.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and a league leading 2.8 steals.  He is also averaging a career best 40.4 percent from long distance.

Simply put, Lowry has been a revelation so far.

Cory Joseph

After the start to his Raptors’ career, it’s hard to believe that anyone ever doubted Joseph’s contract.  Barely over a month into the season and his salary already looks like a steal.  He is currently shooting 69.4 percent from within five feet of the basket, driving into the lane at will, and providing defence that Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez couldn’t even if they were allowed to play as one person.

Masai Ujiri

It’s been a little over two years but I am still getting used to having a GM that I trust implicitly in their decision making.

Luis Scola, Stretch Four

Can you believe this guy?  At 35 years old, Scola has added a new element to his game that has been missing his entire career: a three point shot.  Before this season, Scola’s highest average for his career has been 0.2 attempts per game from long range, and his highest shooting percentage was 25 percent.

This season has seen Scola attempt 1.5 three pointers per game and shooting 47.8 percent from long range.  To put that in perspective, Scola has already drained more three pointers (11) this season than the rest of his career combined (10).

Tanking without Tanking

I’ve always reveled in every New York Knicks loss.   They’ve just always been easy to hate for me, but it’s nice to have added motivation to cheer against them.  With every New York and Denver loss, the Raptors move closer to the top of the 2016 Draft.

Despite a surprising 8-8 start for the Knicks, I still have hopes of a top 5 pick joining the Raptors next season, and it’s so much more satisfying that it will come at the expense of the Knicks and due to Bargnani.


ICE, ICE, ICE, ICE!!!  It is so satisfying to see the Raptors play a more stable defence that fits the players on the roster.  Allowing Valanciunas to sit back and protect the paint has made him far less of a liability on that end of the floor. After a terrible season last year, the Raptors are currently a top 10 NBA defence.

6-5 on the Road

With wins in Boston, Dallas, OKC, Philadelphia, and in Los Angeles against both the Lakers and Clippers, I am exceptionally pleased with such a strong start on the road.  They’ve lost some that I expected to be victories, and won some that I expected to be losses, but a 6-5 start on the road is a pleasant surprise for a team that has played the most road games in the league.


It’s rather terrible basketball most of the time, but it sure is nice to have a home for Bruno and Friends to call their own.  It’s nice to have an opportunity to overanalyze the youth at the end of the bench, and to let have Bruno already have played more minutes than he did all of last season combined.

And it’s free to watch live on YouTube.

A Competitive Eastern Conference

Of the 17 teams that are currently at or above .500, 11 come from the Eastern Conference.  The East also presently has a combined record of 41-36 against the Western Conference.  Finally!  I was getting so sick and tired of the many insults thrown at the East over the last few years.

Granted, they were well deserved insults.  Still hated them.  Now, 11 Eastern Conference teams have a .500 record or better against the West.  Our time has come!!

Small Samples Sizes

For they help contribute to all of the above being possible.

Blake and Will run down the week’s topics for the Friday pod.


Toronto Raptors are still Kyle Lowry’s team and will only go as far as he can take them | National Post

Coach Dwane Casey still doesn’t trust Valanciunas late in games, though that’s not an immediate issue now that he’s out with a broken hand. DeRozan, one of the franchise pillars, still takes a lot of shots and misses a lot of shots; the Raptors’ ceiling might stay where it is as long as he remains one of the two best players. But the bright spot to the young season is Lowry, who looks, again, like he could drag Toronto to its second-ever playoff series win all on his own. He started strong last year before fading, and the hope is that his newly svelte form and help from Joseph and Carrol will keep him fresh through a full season.

Lowry ‘carrying’ Raptors: Casey | Toronto Sun

Besides his production, Lowry also impacts games simply by how hard and determined he plays. “He does that, sets the tone. Let’s the other team know that, ‘hey, these guys are scrapping, it’s not going to be an easy night,’” Casey said of Lowry diving to the floor after loose balls. “When you see your best player going on the floor diving for the ball, it makes the other four guys out there thinking we have to do something extreme as well to keep this going,” added DeMar DeRozan, who was an all-star two seasons ago. DeMarre Carroll spoke afterward of how it feels almost like Lowry can simply turn it on and off at will.

Raptors’ James Johnson uses Twitter to vent frustrations | Toronto Star

“(Valanciunas’ absence) does cause an issue with our bigs’ situation,” Casey said earlier this week. “It’s going to be big-by-committee. Everybody has to be ready. It’s a disaster on one side, but it’s an opportunity for someone on the other side.” Heading into Wednesday’s game, Casey figured Johnson would be involved, going from power forward to centre in certain situations. “(It’s) not really a role change but the position will change. I think (Johnson is) going to be doing some things: one is defending, one is rebounding, one is making sure he plays within himself. “The responsibility will not change, just the position.”

James Johnson Watch Week 5: A humble reminder that Twitter is public | Raptors HQ

Pursuant to the reality-avoiding bender we’re on, maybe Johnson’s “under-utilized” mood is in regards to something besides basketball. Have we ever considered that? Have we? Think about it. Maybe the Johnsons were cooking up Thanksgiving dinner today and young James didn’t feel like his family was getting him involved enough. Maybe Johnson wanted to be given a fair chance to carve the turkey, or prepare some stuffing, or candy some yams. Maybe he would love it if someone asked him to pass a dish instead of just reaching over his plate. Dammit, maybe James wants to slice the pumpkin pie this year! Just some food for thought.

Toronto Raptors’ defensive specialist Bismack Biyombo proving his worth in place of injured Jonas Valanciunas | National Post

“Vocalness. Athleticism. Understanding where to be. Timing, he has great timing,” Kyle Lowry said, when asked what Biyombo brings to the team. “And just being able to affect shots without fouling, and clean up the defensive rebounds.” Biyombo is known for his rim protecting — Casey has said it’s “off the charts.” Critics have claimed he can do little else. But the six-foot-nine centre came up big on the offensive end Wednesday when Lowry fed him for back-to-back uncontested dunks in the dying minutes to put the game out of reach. “Those last couple of buckets were big for us. We needed them,” Lowry said. “And a guy like Bis, he doesn’t really worry about scoring …”

Toronto Raptors: 3 Ways To Survive Jonas Valanciunas’ Injury | Hoops Habit

Overall, it’s unfortunate that Jonas Valanciunas could end up missing six weeks with a fractured left hand. After inking a big money deal, this injury is the last thing the Raptors wanted from their star of the future. But for Jonas and his agency, they will feel slightly relieved that the injury came after the signing and not before the contract negotiations. The Raptors could very well contend for a top four in the East and overcome their first-round playoff exit hurdle. The defense is much improved, and the offense seems to have a better flow than the isolation-heavy one from last season. There is still room for improvement, and consistency is still an issue for this team.

Toronto Raptors: The implications from the West-coast swing | Raptors Cage

Now, the key to winning on the road is composure. Momentum can change in the blink of an eye due to the home team’s home-court advantage and their ability to feed off of the energy from their home fans. As demonstrated in all three road losses, the Raptors had a hard time of holding onto a lead late in the game (which is the opposite of earlier in the season when the Raptors got off to bad starts, but good finishes). Why is composure important? Because of the what happened to the Raptors in the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. Not only did the Raptors lose the series, but they got swept, which demonstrates a significant lack of will and determination to succeed. Now sure, last year’s playoffs were a little imbalanced with some teams being unfairly seeded and others should not have been in the playoffs in the first place. However, with the new seeding system, composure becomes all the more important for every playoff-bound NBA team. The most clutch players in the league are those with the most composure. These guys have ice-cold water in their veins and they always seem to come up in big moments. While I doubt the Wizards would have beat the Raptors without Paul Pierce, it does not take a single player to lift a team in the playoffs, but rather the play of the team as a whole. Each and every player on the roster needs to have the confidence, desire and commitment to success. Playing on the road in the opposite conference for a significant amount of time is a good way to test whether or not a team has these attributes, but winning these games show that a team is at that level.

Kelly: Drake’s dedication to the Raptors may be conditional | The Globe and Mail

Then Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke needed someone to take the heat off while they tore the basketball team apart and rebuilt it. Toronto’s No. 1 citizen had been trying to get on board with the Raptors for a while. He’d been ignored by all the suits before Leiweke. Now he was offered a central role as consultant and youth-culture wise man. He was told he could lead a planned rebrand. But instead of tanking, the Raptors got good. Even they were surprised. As a result, Drake’s one-man marketing smokescreen slipped off the radar. By the time he got around to presenting his vision for the new Raptors – the main change being the colour palette – he was ignored. That happened a year ago. Since then, Drake’s been an absentee cheerleader. He doesn’t talk about the team as much. He doesn’t come to games as much. He’s checked out. On Wednesday, he returned for the third annual Drake Night, acting as though nothing had changed.

Send me any Raptors-related articles/videos/pics/etc: [email protected]

Our man Blake was in-studio on Sportsnet 590 talking Raptors for the full-hour, check it out below as they cover everything Raptors. It’s a great listen and your drive in to work tomorrow should be fully covered.

Credit to Sportsnet 590 for the audio.

We’ve all been there: You wake up, remember what you tweeted the night before, and are filled with regret. That may have happened to James Johnson today, though to his credit he’s entirely owning up to his over-share instead of deleting the original tweet like I would.

Around midnight last night, Johnson tweeted “#Mood Under-utilized.” He has a legitimate point, as we discussed in greater detail here, but social media probably isn’t the best forum for such discussions. Recognizing that, Johnson apologized with a follow-up tweet Thursday, explaining that it came from a place of wanting to contribute, not general self-pity or unhappiness.

For as much as he shouldn’t have made the first tweet, I have a great deal of respect for him owning up to it, leaving the original up, and trying to move on from it. The original showed poor judgment, but the response shows maturity and a willingness to be accountable.

Again, a full discussion of the merits of his comments are linked above, and William Lou and I will discuss the matter further in the first episode of a new Friday morning Raptors Republic podcast. (Help us name that, by the way.) And shameless plug – I’ll be on Sportsnet Tonight (Fan 590) from 7-8 tonight, and I’m sure it will come up. There’s a good comment thread going in the earlier post, too, so it may make sense to join the discussion there rather than start a new one. But I’m not your Dad.

How many times can a professional basketball team host a night themed around a local rapper with a vaguely defined affiliation with the franchise and still have people care? The answer, we learned Wednesday, is “at least three.”

In what stands as a major credit to the public relations team of MLSE, the Raptors, Drake, OVO, and even city councillor Norm Kelly, Drake Night 3 absorbed an entire calendar day. Somehow, three years into a tradition that doesn’t actually celebrate anything, it doesn’t yet seem tired or redundant.

Wednesday saw the Hotline Bling Booth dominate the Toronto media conversation from sun-up to tip-off, with fans and local pseudo-celebrities able to film themselves dancing a la the former Degrassi star (or with their own moves) in the actual booth from Hotline Bling, folded up, driven down the road from a downtown studio, and reconstructed outside Gate 1 of the Air Canada Centre. Kelly got things started with an 8:15 dance in the booth with The Raptor, the latest in a long list of minor, mostly meaningless victories for Kelly’s team, who deserve some kind of award when 2015 is through. From there, Jack Armstrong, Strombo, the Dance Pak, and even Masai Ujiri stepped into the booth for at least a brief move or two.

It was all incredibly silly, but I think that’s kind of the point. Unlike the previous two instalments of Drake Night, Drake Night 3 had a deprecating self-awareness about it. Instead of being asked journalistic questions about what his role as global ambassador would mean for the Raptors franchise (Drake Night 1) or being tasked with pushing a Brooklyn-Toronto feud only one side saw as a rivalry (Drake Night 2), Drake Night 3 saw Drake field mostly tongue-in-cheek questions. Will Norm Kelly have a mix tape? (It’s a priority over Views From the Six.) Did you rehearse your dance moves for Hotline Bling? (They were all impromptu.) Would you do a remix with Adele? (He’d do her laundry, if she asked.)

Drake Night 3

A photo posted by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

It may be over-reaching to assume, but the Hotline Bling video itself and Drake Night 3 suggest, to me, a growing self-cognizance of the Drake brand. It’s always been there in part, as it’s tough not to be at least a little willing to laugh at yourself when you’re a serious recording artist who used to play a wheelchair-restricted teen on a cult Canadian television show. Drake entered the game a meme waiting to happen, and he’s done incredibly well to maintain that air of accessibility while also establishing himself as one of the preeminent pop culture figures of his generation. Drake isn’t “cool,” necessarily, but he’s immensely talented and largely affable, not to mention incredibly well-managed from a brand perspective. (There’s strong evidence, not the least of which is Ujiri speaking openly about Drake’s vision as a marketer and obvious intelligence, that Drake has a large hand in dictating the brand strategy himself, as he should.) Every move he makes, including the affiliation with the Raptors, which helps to keep a strong connection to his roots in the city and the city’s younger demographic despite spending less time here by necessity and luxury, is well-calculated and serves a purpose.

The Hotline Bling video almost seems like a heat check in that sense. He’s a rapper, a profession that demands those in its ranks to be cool above all else. Drake has dabbled in the odd studio gangster line, and maybe there is toughness and bad-assery at his core. But Drake isn’t at his best when he’s doing what most other rappers do. It’s part of the reason why What a Time to be Alive isn’t very good; Future is an ideal partner in popularity, for marketing, and perhaps even stylistically (that’s debatable based on taste), but not in terms of personality or spirit. Drake dominates the mixtape, but the two lack a certain chemistry, in part because they seem to be dramatically different people. Instead, Drake’s at his best in two modes: Painfully raw, emotional, and wistful (Heartbreak Drake), or genuine and kind of goofy.

In the Hotline Bling video, Drake throws all attention to image out the window. Or seems to. I shouldn’t presume to know his intention, and maybe he thinks the moves he busts out are all-timers. Personally, I thank him for recalibrating what the bar for acceptable dancing is – Drake’s moves aren’t objectionably bad, but they’re cheesy and easy, serving to make me, at worst, a replacement-level dancer. The video seems like a very meta exercise. He’s not really all that cool by traditional definitions, but he’s become so immensely popular that he can become entirely comfortable in his own skin. He can post gym selfies (he is looking quite swole, to be fair), he can say goofy things about doing Adele’s laundry, and he can step into a weird booth and just dance for three minutes, even if it has nothing to do with the song.

(A song that is terrible lyrically, by the way, something that gets overlooked because of the quality of the beat and hook, until game operations plays it 100 times in one night and you’re forced to face the reality that Drake is expressing ownership over an ex and essentially slut-shaming someone for moving on. I digress.)

Three minutes of unrehearsed, mostly uncool dancing is an incredible expression that “I’m untouchable.” The guy who was a crippled nerd on Canadian TV and got no reaction at the ACC when opening for Lil Wayne and T-Pain one January blew up the Molson Ampitheatre with a surprise appearance just a few months later and has been rising in popularity since. He has detractors, as all artists do, but the quality of his catalogue and the near unassailability of his image are independently remarkable, and interdependently unstoppable right now. Drake can seemingly do no wrong, the ultimate made man, and so he’s now just doing literally whatever he wants, because when everyone will accept whatever character you decided to portray, why not portray yourself, even if you’re more Carlton Banks than Usher Raymond?

So Wednesday seemed like an extension of that. Drake did this goofy video and has this somewhat silly annual Drake Night with the Raptors, and in this case the timing matched up perfectly to make for a really fun day around the ACC. There was the booth, there was immense TV and radio coverage (I was even on CBC Here and Now talking about Drake…seriously), there were new jerseys, free shirts and headbands, a ton of new merchandise to push, a freestyle verse specific to the Raptors thrown down by a “random fan,” and a ton of other goofy stuff. There was no veil of seriousness about Drake’s presence or role in luring Kevin Durant or anything like that, he was just there because he loves the team and the city loves him and he’s got enough bangers to play throughout an entire game without it getting stale. It was just Drake Night because an 82-game season is very long, Drake had some new merchandise to sell, and LeBron James was in town.

When he first signed on as global ambassador, he talked a lot about the city’s “momentum.” Following Pan-Am and a Blue Jays summer most will never forget, the Leafs hiring Mike Babcock, Toronto FC making the playoffs, Raptors 905 coming into existence, and the NBA All-Star Game coming here in February, Drake’s goal seems prophetic in retrospect, if not achieved. Toronto is an awesome place to be right now, especially for sports fans.

Drake Night 3 had nothing to do with that, really, but like Drake, maybe we’re all growing secure enough that we can embrace levity for a night and just have some cheap, silly fun. It doesn’t hurt that the Raptors won an awesome game and remain undefeated on Drake Night. As does Drake, and as does the MLSE organization. As intangible as the relationship is, it’s pretty clearly serving it’s purpose in adding value to the ACC experience, the MLSE bottom line, and Drake’s overall profile in the city.

Let’s do it again next year.

Delon Wright had about as good a debut as anyone could hope with Raptors 905 on Wednesday.

Assigned to the D-League on Tuesday to get additional run after playing just 10 at the NBA level so far, Wright made the most of his 37 minutes as the 905 hosted the Idaho Stampede. The No. 20 overall pick shot 9-of-9 from the floor, hit his lone three, and went 5-of-5 at the line, finishing with 24 points on perfect shooting. He also added two rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Here’s Wright after the game:

Head coach Jesse Murmuys told Raptors Republic on Tuesday that Wright wasn’t being assigned to work on any specific part of his game, but primarily to get minutes. Murmuys pointed out that Wright contributes in so many ways and on both ends of the floor, so the 905 weren’t necessarily looking for him to carry a scoring load. The D-League’s worst offense so far this season, the 905 instead leaned heavily on Wright, particularly early in the game as they built a 20-point half-time lead.

I just finished watching the game about half an hour ago, and the second-half near-collapse looked a lot like the 905 have for long stretches in the early parts of the season. Turnovers crept back in, which let Idaho get out and run a bit in the other direction, despite the speed and athleticism lineups without Sim Bhullar possessed. The lead dwindled to as small as a single point, but Ronald Roberts split a pair at the line and the miss bounced around long enough that the Stampede had no real chance at a game-tying or game-winning heave at the buzzer.

The 905 hung on for the 93-91 win to improve to 2-4 – read the recap here – but the story is Wright.

As Murmuys is quick to point out, the 905 exist foremost because of and for the development of the team’s NBA prospects, and Wright made the most of that opportunity. His forays to the rim are so unique and creative that he opens up baskets and lanes for himself that most players wouldn’t find, and his amoebic dribbling makes him a regular at the charity stripe as defenders struggle to figure out his path and timing. Wright didn’t distribute quite as much as expected, but the assist total was deflated some by teammates missing shots (non-Wright 905ers shot 42.6 percent and were 5-of-18 from outside). It was a great performance, an encouraging one, and one that Norman Powell was quick to ask about in the locker room after the Raptors’ own victory (he was really pumped for Wright).

It’s unclear if Wright will stay with the 905 through Sunday’s home game, as the Raptors play a Saturday-Sunday back-to-back and may prefer to have the additional body.

Ronald Roberts also made his 905 debut, finishing with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks. He stands to make a huge impact this season, which you can read more about here.

James Johnson wasn’t feeling the fun energy of Drake Night 3, and he didn’t seem particularly thankful ahead of Thanksgiving on Thursday.

Just after midnight, Johnson, who is always a fairly open book on social media, tweeted that his mood was “under-utilized.”

Ignoring that “under-utilized” probably can’t be considered a “mood,” it’s easy to understand why Johnson would feel that way. After DeMarre Carroll, he’s probably the Raptors’ next best bet to check LeBron James, but Johnson saw just 5:28 of action against the Cavaliers on Wednesday. He only played 6:50 on Sunday against the Clippers, too, a continuation of a somewhat strange usage pattern head coach Dwane Casey has employed for Johnson.

The logic behind Johnson’s role uncertainty makes some sense. He was sparsely used to begin the year but then started in place of an injured Carroll, as Casey wanted to disrupt as few roles as possible. It stood that asking a veteran who has experience with his role being fluid, like Johnson, was more palatable than slightly altering the roles of several younger players. When Carroll returned, Johnson was mostly back to the bench, until Jonas Valanciunas was hurt. When Casey wants to go with center-less lineups, Johnson, and particularly the Johnson-Patrick Patterson pairing, makes for a reasonable look in the frontcourt. Once again, asking Johnson to adjust is easier than, say, tasking Lucas Nogueira with big minutes right away, or thrusting Anthony Bennett into duty he’s not ready for.

But in the last two games, Johnson has stayed mostly on the bench, with Casey opting to shorten his rotations in Valanciunas’ absence. The result is that Johnson’s minutes logs read like a pharmaceutical stock: 3, 8, 2, 0, 0, 0, 26, 29, 30, 0, 12, 9, 15, 15, 7, 5. Johnson has played well enough, averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.5 minutes while shooting 55.6 percent, but it’s clear Casey prefers other options; Johnson is essentially the third-string small forward, power forward, and center right now, and he’s getting the cumulative minutes of each role rather than “ninth man” minutes.

Johnson’s somewhat of a strange player to evaluate, and whether correct or incorrect, it’s understandable why Casey might be uncomfortable with him at times. The Wake Forest product brings a lot to the table, but he’s often guilty of bumping into said table and knocking things over as he tries to set his dish down. He possesses great passing vision for a forward, can function as a secondary ball-handler, crashes the glass well, and is generally a strong man-to-man defender, at least on the ball. At the same time, his lack of outside shooting can cramp an already tight floor for the Raptors, he doesn’t always play within his skill set and role with the ball in his hands, and he’s frustratingly absent-minded when guarding someone off the ball, often losing his man on cuts and found wandering no-man’s land for steals. Whether it’s an attention thing or a challenge thing or just an oddity of his play, Johnson owns one of the biggest gaps between on-ball defense quality and off-ball defense quality.

Still, given the roster limitations Casey faces right now – he’s playing with nine proven, capable NBA players – Johnson figures to see more minutes at some point during Valanciunas’ Kobe-forced vacation. His impact has also generally been a positive one on the court, with many of the things he does not showing up in the box score. He has the best net rating on the team, with the Raptors outscoring opponents by 13.7 points per-100 possessions when he’s on the floor, although that’s aided some by playing primarily against bench units. It was the same story last year, when the Raptors outscored opponents by seven points per-100 possessions with Johnson, second among regulars to Tyler Hansbrough (again, the bench effect). In any case, Johnson is probably deserving of more than five or six minutes a night, especially within this team context, spacing fit be damned.

It’s difficult and cliched, but the better approach would be to stay ready and try to keep positive and hungry rather than tweeting displeasure on social media. There were reportedly locker-room issues with Johnson in his first stay with the Raptors, but he generally kept a cool head despite a similarly, albeit larger, fluctuating role a season ago.

The 28-year-old is a free agent after the season.


A big part of me would have been equally happy with last night’s win whether it was over Philadelphia or Cleveland. That the Raps beat Lebron James and the reigning Eastern Conference champions is fantastic, don’t get it twisted, but the fact that they did so by executing smart, cohesive team offense down the stretch is far more satisfying to me. Gone were the limp-ins to long DeMar isolations off of slow-starting perimeter dribble hand-offs. Instead we saw drive and kick penetration that broke down the defense before presenting a good shot, pick and roll that actually utilized the roll man and the ball working it’s way around to the third or fourth pass to the open shooter in the corner. It’s a sign that the Raptors are capable of beating a very good team when they play intelligent team basketball.

Kyle Lowry was the best player on the court last night. Skinny Kyle Lowry has been a whole new revelation this year, looking like an offensively polished version of the blur that burned the league with speed back in his earlier Houston Rockets days. He showed why he’s leading the league in steals per game right now, adding 4 steals last night and turning several of those into fast break points. Lowry has become a weapon in transition this season, and he burned the Cavaliers last night for a pull-up 3 when he was left unguarded and broke down the defense immediately on his way to the hoop whenever they left the door open. Tenacious defensive Kyle Lowry is back too, and that dude is a lot of fun. He scored a bucket in the 4th at one point, and then immediately made it clear on defense that there was no way he was going to allow Jared Cunningham to get to play. He was simply all over him, as if offended that the Cavs would actually allow Cunningham to try and handle the ball against him. He made about four attempts to steal the ball without fouling or giving up position before eventually poking it loose and rushing the team up for a transition score. Lowry’s execution working the high pick and roll with Biyombo sealed the game for the Raptors in the final minutes as Cleveland was able to score, but unable to stop Lowry and Biyombo from doing the same to chip into the Raptor’s lead.

Bismack Biyombo made huge offensive contributions late? No, seriously, he totally did! Despite recent speculation that Biyombo may have undergone elective surgery to have his hands replaced with his feet and vice-versa, Biyombo scored 6 of his 11 points in the decisive moments of the 4th quarter. He got to the line 7 times over the course of the game, mostly via his tenacious effort on the offensive glass. He screened effectively for Lowry, opening up driving lanes, and hammered home a dunk to help seal the win when the Cavaliers decided to abandon guarding him whatsoever in selling out to all out double the ball handler instead. This is a strategy opposing teams have used successfully at times this year, knowing how reluctant Raptors ball handlers can often be in the pick and roll to utilize the rolling big man. Lowry made great passes to Biyombo who simply had to slam the ball home, a shot he proved particularly more efficient in than woeful lay-up attempts so far this year. Biyombo also did a great job of affecting shots. It makes a world of difference to have a legitimate rim protector to force Lebron to kick out passes instead of lay-in his drives. Lebron created a wealth of open perimeter looks for his teammates still, but you’re more confident making Jared Cunningham or Mo Williams shoot from outside than you are with Lebron at the rim. Biyombo helped force the former of the two and was a lone defensive rebounding force in a game that really lacked considerable minutes from another true center on either team. Mozgov and Valanciunas both missed this game and both teams spent a lot of time essentially playing small or two power forward lineups.

I’d be remiss not to mention Luis Scola, the savvy veteran who continues to seem to have the ability to buoy the team offensively when they need him to. Scola was 7 for 9 in the first quarter alone, scoring all 15 of his points in the opening frame. Scola’s ability to post-up, find open shots for himself, cut to the basket and even spot-up from 3 stretch the floor has made him a far more valuable offensive option at the starting 4 spot than most of us predicted he would be.

The game was won by Toronto much more than it was lost by Cleveland, but Cleveland also did not look like a championship level squad last night either. Cleveland is going to be a bad defense a lot of the time when they’re relying on Williams, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love. That showed late last night, badly. The Cavaliers were either too tired or too lazy to make their rotations and it got Biyombo, DeRozan and Lowry easy baskets. I’m not taking anything away from the Raptors, they executed, but the Cavaliers either simply didn’t have it in the gas tank, or kind of just gave up late too. The result was passive aggressive Lebron James, who has sometimes seemed content to check out offensively late in games when his team is playing lazy or stupid as an attempt to try and prove a point to his teammates. As if to say, “fine, you’re not going to try, then I’m not going to carry you on my back and we’ll see what happens. Oh, you can’t do it without me? Maybe you need to listen to me and give a crap then!” The Cavaliers held a players-only meeting after the game where maybe some of that frustration was addressed directly. Regardless, the Raptors looked like a team last night that had it’s ish together and was heading in the right direction. Much more so than the Cleveland Cavaliers, and if you had of suggested that to me at any point during the latter half of the West Coast road trip the Raps just finished I would have scoffed at you, so that’s great to see. Yay, go Dinos!

Kyle Lowry leads Raptors to victory over Cavaliers | Toronto Star

So the Raptors’ 103-99 win over the Cavs on Drake Night in front of 20,140 fans at the Air Canada Centre should yield a good result on Casey’s litmus test. It could just be an affirmation of what was learned through the first two months of last season: That when Lowry is on his game, when he’s aggressive and scoring and when he looks MVP-worthy, he and the Raptors are a tough team to beat. Lowry scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and added six assists to take his team to its third win in a row, improving them to 10-6 and toppling the Eastern Conference-leading Cavs. Their three-game win streak was snapped and they fell to 11-4. James had 24 points, eights assists and six rebounds in the loss. Casey said Lowry handled the game well in that second half. “It’s always a concern when he gives you that look sometimes and it’s trouble,” he said. “But he did a good job of closing out. “He kept the pace and he kept the tempo and made stops, which was big. Closing out the game is something we didn’t do in a couple games last week. We had a couple of lapses but they weren’t very long. We have to shorten those gaps or lulls, whether it’s on the defensive end or offensive end.”

Raptors take down the King on home court | TSN

Toronto doesn’t win that game without Kyle Lowry – the lifeblood of this team. The simplest explanation for the Raptors’ success, when they’re succeeding, is Lowry. When he’s at his best, which has been the case for most of the season’s opening month, they’re capable of reaching a level that would be impossible otherwise. On Wednesday, he was the best player on a court that included James. Toronto’s all-star point guard shot 9-for-12 in the second half, when he scored 20 of his game-high 27 points and recorded five of his six assists. Lowry just so happens to lead the NBA in steals but the four he was credited for against the Cavaliers actually do him a disservice. He generated at least three or four more possessions for his team, out of nothing. One of them came towards the end of a dominant third-quarter. Lowry, the smallest player on the floor, dove into a crowd of Cavaliers to secure a loose ball and call a timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the 6-foot guard barrelled his way into the lane, got Cavs forward Tristan Thompson to bite on a pump fake and completed the play with a lay-up. “That’s what he do,” DeRozan said of his teammate. “That’s what he do. When you are that type of player that is your job. He is going to get everyone involved in the game and he’s going to score. We all do a great job of reading that and understanding [that] when he has it going we are going to ride him.”

Game Rap: Raptors 103, Cavaliers 99 | Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry finished with 27 points, six assists, three rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot in 38 minutes of action. He shot 11-for-17 from the floor, and went 9-for-12 in the second half, scoring 20 of his points after the break. In addition to scoring, Lowry sparked the team in the third quarter. Whether diving on the floor to get his hand on a loose ball, or tossing the ball up immediately after getting fouled in hopes of being awarded free throws, Lowry’s intensity was infectious.

Raptors edge out 103-99 win against Cavaliers as Drake looks on | Raptors HQ

On the Raptors side of things, it was a more disconcerting affair. By the end of the first half, two things were clear: Luis Scola can get things going when he wants to. He had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting by the end of the half, and had his way from anywhere. And the second: The Raptors miss Jonas Valanciunas’ relatively easy to produce offense. Without him, the team relies on, yes, one-on-one play and timely three point shooting to make things work. It looks great when it works – as it did to keep the game close – but for the tight first half, and stretches of the second, the Raptors fell back to some disquieting habits. Now, maybe it’s because he’s only six feet tall, but we often forget that Kyle Lowry is a force of nature, too. While he’ll never compete with Drake’s charm, or LeBron’s otherworldly aura, Lowry can take over a game just as easily. Well, maybe not as easily since it’s clear Lowry has to work extremely hard to make it happen, but tonight was one of those nights. “I was concerned getting that look [in his eye] sometimes means trouble,” said coach Dwane Casey of Lowry after the game. “But he did a good job of closing it out, he kept the pace, he kept the tempo after stops which was big.”

Cleveland Cavaliers lose 103-99 to the Toronto Raptors on Drake Night | Fear The Sword

Turnovers were one of the biggest stories of the first half. The Cavs turned the ball over seven times to the Raptors two, largely in part to the occasionally erratic play of Jared Cunningham and the rust of Mo Williams returning from an ankle injury. It was a little surprising to see the Cavs not post up more in the first half, especially with the absence of Jonas Valanciunas. Luis Scola or Patrick Patterson can’t handle Kevin Love in the post and it felt like a little bit of a missed opportunity. Although I can see how the team would gravitate to the perimeter with the number of open looks they were able to generate. The second half the Raptors continued to make a living at the free throw line. They continued to attack the basket and get the whistle. A combination of and ones, big threes and a couple bail out calls were ultimately too much for the Cavs to overcome as they eventually ran out of steam. A career night out of Bismack Biyombo was an unforeseen development. Overall the Cavs bigs performed poorly in protecting the paint and the amount of easy buckets Toronto got created too large of a mountain for Cleveland to climb, especially when they weren’t frequently rewarded for their own takes to the basket.

Recap: Toronto 103, Cleveland 99 (or, That Point Guard is Ripped) | Cavs: The Blog

52-28. That was the paint scoring advantage for the Raptors. It allowed them to overcome their horrible free throw shooting and inconsistent three point defense. The Cavs couldn’t stop Kyle Lowry from getting into the paint. Lowry bullied and stutter-stepped his way into the lane for 27 points and six assists. When it comes to Kyle Lowry, the stats are secondary. His physicality is consistently amazing. He takes on much taller players with force. He attacks opposing ball-handlers with a fury. Lowry is one of my favorite players to watch because it is clear that he is misery for the opposition. It’s a shame Delly wasn’t good to go for this contest. Lowry versus Delly should be required viewing. In fact, the Raptors provide many intriguing matchups for the Cavs. We saw what Carroll versus LeBron looks like last spring. The first quarter of this matchup featured a battle between Luis Scola and Kevin Love. Biyombo vs Tristan is interesting for contractual reasons as well. The Raptors could be a pain for the Cavs come playoff time. Ah yes, Bismack Biyombo. I love the guy. Many of us here at C:tB have pushed for his acquisition in some way or another over the past few years. He showed his value in this contest. Taking over for the injured Jonas Valanciunas, Biyombo provided great rim protection on defense and active rebounding and rolling on offense. He and Lowry provided the punch to close out the game. I know the ship has sailed, but how much does he make again? How many drives to the hole did Tristan allow? Ok, I’m done. No need to go there.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ road woes continue as Toronto Raptors win 103-99 |

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey acknowledged he’d been struggling with how to scheme the Cavaliers’ offense. Do they double James and leave their defense exposed, or do they attempt to play him straight up. “That’s been a thought the last couple of days,” Casey said. “You got to live with something. So, you try to stop everything, and you end up stopping nothing.” It was a mixture of doubles and single coverage, but primarily defensive specialist DeMarre Carroll took the assignment on his own and did an admirable job. James scored a team-high 24 points and was 11-of-12 from the line, but he was 6-of-16 from the field.

Raptors 103, Cavaliers 99: Raptors pull away in fourth quarter to hand Cavs their fourth loss of the season |

Cunningham struggled most of the night against the former All-Star Lowry. Cunningham finished the night just 2-of-10 from the floor and frustrations bubbled over late in the third when Lowry and Cunningham began jawing under the basket after Cunningham missed a couple of lay­ups. Lowry, a known trash talker, gave Cunningham a little elbow and Cunningham responded with a one-armed shove.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan power Toronto Raptors past Cleveland Cavaliers: DMan’s Report, Game 15 (photos) |

The Cavs’ performance was encapsulated by a sequence late in the fourth quarter. With 3:45 remaining and the Cavs trailing, 91-85, Tristan Thompson powered into the paint against DeMarre Carroll and missed an ugly jump-hook. Thompson looked to a referee for a call, but he was begging: Carroll played solid defense. Carroll rebounded and flipped to Lowry, who bolted over the timeline with Thompson alongside. Lowry kept going, leaned into Thompson and made a layup and drew the foul. Lowry sank the free throw for a 94-85 lead with 3:38 left.

Delon Wright finds Scott Suggs to seal the deal. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Raptors 905 (@raptors905) on

What transpired in Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room following disturbing loss to Toronto Raptors |

Before the media was granted postgame locker room access, the Cavalier players were addressing the team’s lack of toughness, heart and defensive awareness that was displayed in the fourth quarter. LeBron James and James Jones demanded more. “It wasn’t a team meeting. It’s just another game,” Mo Williams said of the postgame team chat. “When you lose games, we just discuss things we could have done better and we need to do going forward. That was basically it.” The Cavaliers were neck and neck with the Raptors for three and a half quarters before Toronto went on a 9-0 run to create separation to eventually pull off the victory. Head coach David Blatt said he felt fatigue and their numerous injures played a factor in the loss. “I thought that we got tired for obvious reason,” he said. “We are very shorthanded. I thought our guys played hard. I thought we ran out of gas.”

Delon Wright giving us his best Demar Derozan impression. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Raptors 905 (@raptors905) on

Toronto Raptors conquer 1st place Cavs on Drake night | Raptors Cage

DeMarre Carroll had the job on the self proclaimed “world’s best player” and boy did he make that statement look silly. David Blatt did as usual and rested James in the late 3rd, early 4th part of the game but when he was brought on to make the difference Carroll among others shut it down. The Cavs combined to shoot just 44% from the field this game with the Raptors making them work for just about every possession. The Raps did a solid job defending the rim with Biyombo in the middle holding James to just 5 fourth quarter points. What matters is the Raptors got key stops when it mattered and rode to victory.

Not much left for Drake to do other than become the Toronto Raptors’ Jack Nicholson | National Post

Before we get too cynical about the whole enterprise, Drake brought his mom to sit beside him in his courtside seats. You cannot stay mad at that. Still, we are getting to the point, following the Raptors’ 103-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, where we have to wonder where this marriage of convenience is going. It is easy to anticipate Drake will have a significant role during all-star weekend in February; that sort of event is made for his presence. The uniform alternates will also be a staple for years to come. What else is there for Drake to do in this role with the team, whatever there is? It was widely reported that the Raptors pulled back from a gold-happy colour scheme for the rebrand, and that nonplussed Drake. Regardless, the redesign is done. And we can now safely say that Drake’s light tampering that targeted Kevin Durant a few summers ago at a concert — remember that? — is not going to pay off. The notion that Drake’s involvement would seriously influence free agents was always a silly one.

Raptors continue to embrace relationship with music icon Drake | Toronto Sun

While Drake is not omnipresent or hands-on, the Raptors organization remains thrilled with the association nonetheless, knowing it does nothing but help grow the team’s exposure, marketability and the way it is viewed by players around the league. “He’s a special person. There’s no doubt. For somebody in the industry, whether it’s our industry or music, to stay on top all the time, it’s hard,” said Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, pointing out that creativity in both fields is essential. Drake is a big fan who keeps himself up to date with what is going on on the court for the club, but he’s not going to be involved in basketball decisions anytime soon, despite his enthusiasm.

Raptors edge out 103-99 win against Cavaliers as Drake looks on | Raptors HQ

On the Raptors side of things, it was a more disconcerting affair. By the end of the first half, two things were clear: Luis Scola can get things going when he wants to. He had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting by the end of the half, and had his way from anywhere. And the second: The Raptors miss Jonas Valanciunas’ relatively easy to produce offense. Without him, the team relies on, yes, one-on-one play and timely three point shooting to make things work. It looks great when it works – as it did to keep the game close – but for the tight first half, and stretches of the second, the Raptors fell back to some disquieting habits. Now, maybe it’s because he’s only six feet tall, but we often forget that Kyle Lowry is a force of nature, too. While he’ll never compete with Drake’s charm, or LeBron’s otherworldly aura, Lowry can take over a game just as easily. Well, maybe not as easily since it’s clear Lowry has to work extremely hard to make it happen, but tonight was one of those nights. “I was concerned getting that look [in his eye] sometimes means trouble,” said coach Dwane Casey of Lowry after the game. “But he did a good job of closing it out, he kept the pace, he kept the tempo after stops which was big.”

Drake leaving his mark in role with Raptors |

When the Raptor-Drake marriage was formalized by (now) outgoing MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke there were all kinds of connect-the-dots scenarios that tickled the fancy of Raptors fans. Wasn’t Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant a Raptors fan when he was a kid? Wasn’t he a Drake fan now? Hey, maybe, just maybe, Drake could convince Durant to sign with the Raptors when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2016. If only it were that simple. The odds of Durant coming to Toronto are slightly better than me getting a shoutout in Drake’s next single, but not all that much. There are limits to what Drake can do, as a team “employee” when it comes to interacting with players under contract with other clubs. Drake found out the hard way when his playful appeal to Durant from the stage at OVO fest last summer earned the Raptors a tampering fine. In practical terms what Drake provides Ujiri is another tool in his toolbox when it comes to connecting with the NBA’s elite. He moves in the same circles they do. They’re as impressed with his success as a worldwide musical phenomenon as he is with theirs as masters of the athletic universe.

Wright gives glimpse into future in dominant 905 debut |

“I just tried to use the ball screen into the paint because I was going to shoot at the last second but I kind of saw him open and I’m trying to make the right play,” Wright said after the game. “He made the shot, so I’m happy about that.” With the exception of that game-defining dime he dropped, just about the only negative to be found from Wright’s performance was his meagre three total assists on the night. However, for the majority of the game he was so effortlessly getting to the basket that the best shot was the wide-open lay-up he gifted himself nearly every time he decided to drive to the hole. Additionally, there’s still an adjustment period on his part with his new team and where his new teammates like the ball. “That’s a hard position [point guard] to play in the NBA and the D-League,” Mermuys said. “Running a team, being an extension of the coach on the floor and kind of running the show out there.”

Toronto Raptors: Using The D-League The Wright Way | Hoops Habit

Wright, for example, has played in just four games with Toronto. He’s played about 10 minutes total, which is barely enough time to do anything but get his feet wet. There is only so much you can learn sitting on the bench of an NBA team. Yes, there are important things you can learn while on the bench. You still get to practice with the team, you can talk to veterans, you have constant access to your head coach and the like, but ultimately, the only way to improve yourself is to keep working. And that means being able to play. Young bucks like Wright have nothing to lose and everything to gain from being sent down to the D-League. It’s not a punishment and it shouldn’t be considered one. It’s an opportunity to play, grow, and then come back stronger and better the next time you’re called back to play on your NBA team.

Carroll keeps his shoe game strong on and off the court | TSN

“I got these one designer shoes,” said Carroll. “I want to say they’re Louis Leemans. They’ve got rhinestones. I ordered them in from Paris. It took me like four weeks to get those shoes.” For Carroll, a deal with Adidas is a move closer of achieving the goal of having his own signature shoe. Following seeing their likeness in a video game or on a trading card, a personalized shoe is the next goal in line for many athletes. “I feel like the next step for me is probably – if I can’t get my own shoe – getting my logo on my shoes,” said Carroll. “So I feel like getting the logo on my shoes is the next thing in line.”

Fantasy Weekly: Lowry continues to excel |

The Raptors’ point guard has dominated opponents to begin 2015-16 with averages of 20.1 points, 2.7 3-pointers, 4.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.7 steals in 35.4 minutes. He’s shooting a career-best 40.8 percent from 3-point land and 89.6 percent from the free throw line. After being selected on average with the 26th pick, he ranks fifth in Yahoo! fantasy ahead of James Harden, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and other superstars.

NBA RUMOR: Raptors Trade for Taj Gibson? | Outrageous NBA Predictions

The proposed trade will send Gibson to Toronto in exchange for power forward, Patrick Patterson, and possibly some draft picks.

Send me any Raptors-related article/picture/video: [email protected]

Home, sweet home. Drake and his mom seemed to bring out the best of the Raps and everybody is feeling good. Especially Nick and Barry, who have dedicated an entire episode to the evening. In the fifth episode of Talking Raptors, the guys break down their thoughts on a victorious “Drake Night”.

They discuss:

  • Drake introducing the starting line up.
  • The shirt and headband giveaway.
  • The OVO uniforms
  • The Hotline Bling Box
  • Tom Cochrane sitting courtside?
  • Iman Shumpert and his Hotline Bling Remix…
  • The guys also take a quick look at social media madness and some nonsense happening around the league. All this and a bunch more.

We hoped you all enjoyed Drake Night. And we hope you enjoy this episode.

As always thanks for listening!

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

Cleveland Cavaliers 99 Final
Recap | Box Score
103 Toronto Raptors
Luis Scola, PF 30 MIN | 7-11 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | -3 +/-

His grading would’ve been higher had he maintained his hot start. He cooled off after the first quarter and Kevin Love scored on him with relative ease.

But in turn, Scola exposed Love’s inept defense and really set the tone to a solid start for the team.

Bismack Biyombo, PF 33 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-7 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +6 +/-

Bismack you are a freakin’ monster.

He is really thriving on the defensive end. In a sense, he brings the same kind of toughness that Charles Barkley once brought – always rallying the troops, getting under the opponents’ skin, and taking no prisoners defensively.

Really strong game on the glass tonight too, and anytime there was a switch defensively on the perimeter, he did well to stay in front of LeBron.

DeMarre Carroll, SF 41 MIN | 4-11 FG | 3-6 3FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | +1 +/-

Overall, phenomenal. Not because he was a monster offensively, but because he guarded ‘BronVember about as well as anyone can guard ‘BronVember.

Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 11-17 FG | 2-6 3FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 4 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 27 PTS | +10 +/-

Put this dude on the #nbaballot.

I’m becoming a huge fan of his transition threes which serve as timely back-breakers for the opposition. His huge offensive output in the third quarter (14 points) really set the tone heading into the final frame.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 7-16 FG | 1-1 3FG | 5-7 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | -2 +/-

He’s growing on me with his improved shot selection. His drive-and-kick game is on point, and he can pretty well get an awesome look every time he gets inside.

Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-6 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +14 +/-

He was relatively quiet, but hit some really timely threes which were huge not only for the team – but for his confidence.

Terrence Ross, SF 10 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -7 +/-

… Did he play?

Cory Joseph, PG 17 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -1 +/-

Relatively quiet but so conducive. He came in to this game at a time where the Raptors were playing iso-ball and immediately dished out two dimes and changed the flow of the game.

Like always, he’s an incredible slasher.

Dwane Casey

He’s pretty well doing everything right to compensate for JV’s absence. His plays out of timeouts actually look like plays, and the Raptors are taking good shots while being defensively sound.

Two Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors without Jonas have been super fun, which raises questions about how Dwane Casey will get the best out of this team when the Lithuanian returns as Biyombo has emerged, and the small-ball line-up seems to really work.

    Also of note: Raptors scored in the paint with relative ease, so inside scoring hasn’t been an issue without JV.

  2. Had some comments on Twitter that this game would’ve been iced earlier had the Raptors hit their free-throws (12-22 from the FT line). But just a note to combat that: The Cavs missed 13 free-throws themselves.

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to an opponent for making a great play. When the opponent is LeBron James, that happens far more often.

James was terrific Wednesday against the Raptors, as he almost always is. DeMarre Carroll is better equipped than most anyone to guard James, but even then the job description is making life difficult for – not stopping – James. To wit, Carroll played one particular possession perfectly, only to walk away having been scored on. It’s hard to tell how Carroll could have done a better job, save for stripping the ball.

Check out the fan-made highlight of the play on Grandstand here.

Sigh. Sometimes you just tip your cap. And hey, the Raptors won and kept James relatively quiet late, so no big deal, right?

James finished the game with 24 points, six rebounds, and eight assists.

Grandstand –  Sports Highlights from Fans in the Stands

On the new sports app, you can share your own Raptors highlights, and watch other fans’ videos straight from the crowd.

Download Grandstand on the App Store or at

GTA Stand up. For the second time in a row, Toronto and Mississauga win on the same night.

The Raptors905 squeaked by the Idaho Stampede with a final score of 93-91, thanks to a clutch game-clinching 3-pointer from Scott Suggs. After leading for most of the contest, the 905 went cold in the fourth quarter, but after a Delon Wright drive and dish to Suggs, who drained the three, the Raptors905 now join the Toronto Raptors with 2 straight wins.

Rookie point guard Delon Wright had a dazzling debut with the 905, scoring 24 points on a perfect 9/9 from the field, with 3 assists, including the game-winning assist to Suggs.

Delon Wright Watch:

  • 24 Points
  • 2 Rebounds
  • 3 Assists
  • 9/9 FG
  • 1/1 3PT
  • 5/5 FT
  • Minutes: 37

Bruno Caboclo Watch:

  • 12 Points
  • 5 Rebounds
  • 1 Assist
  • 5/9 FG
  • 1/3 3PT
  • 1/2 FT
  • Minutes: 19

For the complete box-score, game highlights and a full game replay, stay tuned to

The 905 look to make it 3 in a row against the Delaware 87ers on Sunday. Game time is 2pm.

As always, we cover the hard-hitting stories here at RR. Drake joined Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin and spoke about a bunch of topics:

– OVO jerseys
– How it’s so awesome that the city came together on this glorious night
– How Kobe Bryant is kind of not so good anymore but is still great overall
– His new album
– Raptors cohesion this year
– As a bonus, you get Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin drooling all over him

Masai Ujiri introduced Drake to the #DrakeNight crowd as teenage girls screamed in the background.

It’s all part of the King being in town and the hype has been tripled because of a booth. Check the pre-game notes to get yourself ready for tonight.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will be without Matthew Dellavedova when they take on the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

Dellavedova is dealing with a calf injury, one that hadn’t cost him any time yet. The loss isn’t disastrous for the Cavs, who will get Mo Williams back from a three-game absence, though Jared Cunningham will draw the start.

The biggest part of the Dellavedova loss is that the Cavs lose their second-most used lineup (Dellavedova-Smith-James-Love-Thompson), one that has melted opponent faces so far this season. Dellavedova is averaging 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in nearly 27 minutes a night, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes in the process. He’s taken pretty major strides from a season ago, expanding his game beyond open triples and annoying hustle plays.

The Raptors have moved from 1.5-point underdogs to three-point underdogs since this morning, settling in at the line I expected in the pre-game. You can check out the full game preview here.

Sorry for the delayed update, but it’s because it’s Drake Night 3 and Drake’s media availability, while entertaining, ran late. Drake fielded several questions, revealing there are plans for a Norm Kelly mix tape ahead of Views From the Six, that he considers LeBron James “like a brother” but his focus is on the Raptors tonight, and that he would do Adele’s laundry if she wanted. Drake also said he called general manager Masai Ujiri – who even did a little Hotline Bling dancing – to see how Jonas Valanciunas was doing the night he was hurt.

It was all quite weird but fun, which is kind of the point tonight.

It’s Drake Night 3 at the Air Canada Centre. It’s a beautiful, wonderful, amazing occasion.

As much as there’s a basketball game between a good and a very good team tipping off at 7:30, one that many of us will take seriously once it begins, there’s always room for levity. That’s what tonight is mostly about, I think: Sports are supposed to be fun and entertaining, and over the course of an 82-game season, we can lose sight of that.

So for as silly as the idea of Drake Night might strike you, or as ridiculous as the Hotline Bling Booth might appear (and is, to be clear), just embrace it. We can get serious once Drake’s player introductions are done.

So take a cue from city councillor Norm Kelly – I saw you at CBC an hour ago, give a homie love next time – and hit up the booth. Just don’t try to top the best Hotline Bling Booth appearance yet, courtesy of Jack Armstrong and George Stroumboulopoulos:

All of tonight’s Hotline Bling Booth Vines are being curated by the Raptors and can be found here (dap to bearded brother Dan Reynolds for pointing that out). If you participate tonight, tweet your video at the Raptors Republic account and I’ll retweet it.

Sadly, you won’t be seeing your boy in one. I rolled by at 4:30 and they wouldn’t let me participate. “Can’t have someone shutting it down so early,” they said.

After a long wait, Ronald Roberts is ready to begin his Raptors 905 tenure. If things play out like he hopes, it will be a short one.

“Oh, I’m playing,” a beaming Roberts told Raptors Republic about his status for Wednesday’s home game against Idaho.

He’s yet to appear in any of the team’s five games due to an ankle sprain. Prior to that, he missed training camp with the team because he declared for the D-League player pool too late. The 905 had acquired his rights, but Roberts was still deciding whether he’d spend the season in the D-League or take an opportunity abroad. He went the D-League route last season after nearly signing in France and ultimately left the D-League early for a brief stint of dominance in the Filipino PBA.

It’s a tough decision for many players on the fringes of the NBA. Overseas options can be far more lucrative – D-League salaries are capped at $25,500 – but the D-League offers a very quick path to the NBA. Roberts learned that first-hand last season when he was called up by the Philadelphia 76ers in December, though he wouldn’t get into a game during his three-day stint. Faced with more overseas options again this season, Roberts made a last-minute choice to stay stateside, where he’ll always be a phone call away for an NBA team in need of athleticism and energy in the frontcourt.

“I feel like I have a foot and a half in the door,” Roberts said.

He’s not wrong. NBA teams have shown plenty of interest in Roberts since he went undrafted out of Saint Joseph’s in 2014. The 76ers and Heat gave him summer league looks last year, with the Sixers opting to bring him into camp on a partially-guaranteed deal and make him a D-League affiliate player in Delaware, then giving him that brief in-season cup of coffee. The Warriors may have liked him, too, as Santa Cruz acquired his D-League rights at midseason.

This summer, the Raptors brought him to Las Vegas and liked what they saw enough that they gave him a reported $75,000 guarantee on a one-year deal. At the time, head coach Dwane Casey said Roberts had “a shot” to break camp with the team, but the late signing of Anthony Bennett took up the team’s 15th roster spot. Instead, that guarantee will act as a sort of supplement to his D-League salary, though he was not contractually bound to stay with the 905.

Now that he’s ready to play, he stands to provide a major two-way boost for the 1-4 baby Raptors. Head coach Jesse Murmuys seemed excited at getting Roberts into his rotation, even suggesting the 6-foot-7 forward could see time at center now that Lucas Nogueira has been recalled to the NBA. The 905 want to play a defensively versatile system predicated on pushing the transition game off of stops, and the hyper-athletic Roberts fits that mould perfectly. There’s a reason they surrendered a 2015 second-round pick, a 2016 first-round pick, and the rights to Kevin Jones to acquire Roberts’ rights (and a 2016 third-round pick) from Santa Cruz this offseason.

Last season, Roberts averaged 17.5 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 68.9 percent from the floor in the D-League. (“Eighteen and 12,” he was sure to correct me when I mentioned his “18 and 10” averages.) He’s also averaged 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds with a 61.2-percent mark from the floor in three summer league tournaments over the last two years, and he’s shot 70 percent over seven brief preseason appearances. To be frank, he’s probably one of the top five players in the D-League once he’s back on the floor, and he’ll be on a very short list of the most likely recipients of a 10-day contract when teams can sign them come Jan. 5.

The oddity of the D-League is that the best-case scenario for the 905 might be that they lose Roberts to an NBA team in short order. Graduating players to the NBA is a mark of strong scouting and player development, and it can reflect well on the organization, even if it means losing an asset in the process. The parent club Raptors have no claim to Roberts and don’t have an open roster spot, so he’s left to audition for 29 other teams while also operating within the context of what the 905 are trying to do. (Should Roberts sign with a team and then be waived, the 905 would maintain his D-League rights.)

Roberts said he’s been trying to help lead a very young team, something he’ll be able to do much more once he’s on the court, and Murmuys is likely to lean on him for easy offense, something this team has been lacking so far. Despite being 24, Roberts is perhaps the most established player on the roster, and he’s one of the few on the team who have done a tour of duty in the league already. That experience as a key contributor and the maturity it brings will be important to the personality of the team, and he’ll help with a few team weaknesses between the lines. His secondary bounce as a helper and rebounder around the rim will help clean up a troublesome area while also aiding the transition offense, and his prodigious offensive rebounding will help secure easy extra opportunities for the league’s worst offense.

Coming out of college, Roberts was given the dreaded “tweener” label, but positional versatility is becoming incredibly important. While he measured 6-foot-7 without shoes at the 2014 Portsmouth Invitational (where he was excellent), he also measured with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan and an 8-foot-9.5 standing reach. What he lacks in height he makes up for in functional size, and his 40-plus inch vertical makes him one of the most explosive bigs out there. It’s entirely reasonable for Murmuys to see him as a part-time center, especially given the lack of true, traditional pivots in the feeder league.

(Sadly, Roberts told Raptors Republic that he will not participate in the D-League dunk contest this year, even if it accompanies NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto, as expected. “I told myself the next dunk contest I do will be the NBA dunk contest,” he said.)

His game isn’t entirely predicated on out-jumping other players, either. He has great hands and is an adept, if not always willing passer, and he has a bit of a face-up game that he flashed in Vegas, roasting Doug McDermott on several possessions. It will be interesting to see how his jump shot – which can occasionally extend to 18 feet – and his footwork in the post have improved with an offseason of work and two weeks with the 905 staff. He’s added a bit of size that should help him defend the post, and his athleticism and length make him a disruptive face-up or help defender.

The 905 stand to give him the opportunity to showcase whatever he has to offer, as he’ll be one of their primary weapons moving forward. His ultimate NBA role is likely a smaller one as an energy big and rebounder off the bench, but Roberts is focused on helping the 905 win games more than showing off a specific skill for scouts. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.

If he makes the impact he’s expected to make, he may not be long for The 5ive.

At the launch of the season the Toronto Raptors embarked on the toughest schedule in the Association. Many pundits (myself included) felt if Toronto could be close to .500 or better through their first 15 games it would position the Raptors well with a more balanced schedule to finish the season.

Barring some sketchy whistles and poor clutch time offensive execution the Raptors record could easily be 12-3 instead of 9-6 which would place them atop the Eastern Conference. Given how the team jumped out of the gates last season and faded down the stretch the additional 3 losses may be a blessing in disguise as it will keep the squad hungry and focused.

You’ll often hear you can’t win a playoff berth in November, but you sure can hurt your chances by a slow start. Case in point, the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings all face an uphill battle based on their poor starts. More accurately, two of those squads also face some serious off court chemistry issues. This last point highlights another plus for this newly reformatted Raptors squad who has seemingly avoided those issues despite replacing 40% of their roster.

If anything the 2015-16 version of the Raptors appears even more cohesive on and off court than last year. And, with 8 of their next 10 games at home, (including a 6 game home stand) there is ample practice time to focus on fixing offensive issues. Of note, as much as fans may want to complain about the ridiculous 11 of 15 road games and 3 back to back sets to start the season the Raptors are one of the few teams with long home stands. The team has two 6-game and one 7-game home stand.  In contrast the Houston Rockets longest home stand is 3-games.

Closer to home a look at the Eastern Conference highlights some interesting schedule disparities to the teams Toronto will compete with to garner home court playoff seeding. Currently the Raptors sit in the sixth position. Examination of the squads schedules who rank ahead of Toronto provides some insight as to why Toronto’s 9-6 start might be under valued.

Schedule Thru Nov 25 Top 6

What the Schedule Says:

  • The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks have played very few road games to date
  • Of the 6 teams Cleveland and Atlanta have the most back to back sets (19) with the Cavaliers yet to play 17 sets
  • Chicago and Miami have played only one set of back to backs to date
  • Indiana and Cleveland have played the fewest games against the West to date
  • Atlanta, Miami and Cleveland have played the easiest schedules based on their opponent win-loss record to date
  • Miami had the longest home stand with 7 games
  • Chicago has the longest road trip remaining (7 games) with Cleveland, Miami and Toronto all with a 6-game road trip remaining
  • In review of teams who made the playoffs last season Indiana and Miami play these squads the most in total and Miami has the most games left to play against this faction.

Some other interesting facts to note:

Miami: The Heat have traveled West once this season for a single game in Minnesota. The next time they go West is December 29th for another single game versus Memphis. They don’t embark on a Western road trip until January 8th. The trip is a 6-game road trip to Phoenix, Utah, Golden State, Los Angeles (Clippers), Denver and finishes in Oklahoma City.

Cleveland: Like Miami, the Cavaliers had traveled West once also for a single game (Memphis). They travel to New Orleans December 4th for a single game. The Cavaliers first Western road trip doesn’t occur until Christmas Day starting in Golden State prior to games in Portland, Phoenix and Denver.

Atlanta: Though it’s early, the fact the Hawks have played the second fewest road games in this group coupled with the fact they’ve had the easiest schedule may end up being a factor later on. I still maintain the loss of DeMarre Carroll is an issue and we are seeing it specifically on the defensive end of the court. Though Atlanta boasts the 8th best offense they are in the middle of the pack defensively and rank 29th in rebounding. What isn’t clear is how the team’s game will translate on the road with 15 back to back sets yet to play, 25 games versus the West and 35 versus last season’s playoff teams.

Indiana: An interesting side note on the Pacers revolves around the opponents they have beat versus who they have lost to. Other than Memphis, the Pacers losses are to top defensive teams. Even the Memphis loss is easily explained given the Pacers allow the 8th most points in the paint. Since Indy has the second most games to be played versus the West as well as the second most games against last season’s playoff teams, this could factor into their record over the long term.

Chicago: The Bulls are the oddity in the group since they have beat top offense and defensive squads. They began the season looking to push pace and their defense suffered as a result. Through the last 2 weeks the Bulls have refocused their defensive efforts, returning to a top 10 defense (6th), but slid to 23rd on offense. This squad seems to get up for the big games and takes teams they should beat for granted. Of the teams on the board they have the longest road trip remaining.

In Review:

Whether you buy into strength of schedule mattering or not it does bode well for Toronto since they have completed the hardest part of their schedule this early. The fact they still have three lengthy home stands is beneficial since it theoretically should offer an in game advantage. Furthermore, coaches often lament on the lack of practice time, so lengthy home stands provide that in spades.

For the current 8 games in 10 stand, I suspect the team will work on their offensive issues and look specifically at how to address the loss of Jonas Valanciunas. Notably in the first half of the Clippers game, his absence resulted in better ball and player movement. DeAndre Jordan however was the exception not the rule of the match-ups Bismack Biyombo will face, so there are real issues to be addressed up front.

Recent player interviews specifically from DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph all point to the need to increase ball/player movement and the team being aware of that fact.  Cross your fingers their voices carry some weight with the team as any improvement in this area could translate into the team taking another step up the ladder. In hindsight Valanciunas injury may serve as a blessing in disguise if the squad can reduce iso-ball especially in clutch minutes and it will serve as a visual example of “how to” for JV on the sidelines.

For now, the Raptors can be satisfied with their early season results and take note of another stat which tends to separate the top teams. At the start of week 5 only three teams ranked top ten for all three major categories of offense, defense and net differential: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors!

Terrence Ross may have a contemporary to match up with Wednesday, as fellow 50-point scorer Mo Williams will be suiting up for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Williams missed the last three games with a right ankle injury but is ready to return, as he told Chris Haynes at shoot around.

It’s not immediately clear if Williams will take his spot back as the team’s interim starting point guard, as Matthew Dellavedova has played well with the starters in his stead. As discussed in our game preview, the lineup of Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson has been liquid hot magma over 51 minutes together, outscoring opponents by 34.2 points per-100 possessions. Williams, meanwhile, has only played eight minutes with that group, as it wasn’t a common four-some when Timofey Mozgov was healthy. Given how well Dellavedova’s played and Williams’ natural fit as a bench scorer, it wouldn’t be shocking for the Australian to hang on to the starting gig from here.

Except that Dellavedova is now a game-time decision due to a calf injury, as head coach David Blatt told Jason Lloyd on Wednesday. Dellavedova is averaging 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in nearly 27 minutes a night, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes in the process. He’s taken pretty major strides from a season ago, expanding his game beyond open triples and annoying hustle plays.

In any case, getting Williams back is big for the Cavs, who otherwise would have been leaning on Jared Cunningham for backup point guard minutes. Cunningham is a fine third guard but he plays a bit out of control and has struggled from the floor. Williams is a proven scorer who can spot up around James attacks or Love post-ups, and he can help alleviate the pressure on James by running the offense, even if he is more of a natural two-guard (by style) than distributor.

In 11 games, Williams is averaging 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from long-range. He’s proving one of the best bargains of the offseason and allows the Cavs to take things slow with Kyrie Irving’s return from a fractured kneecap. Once Irving is back, Williams will slide to a complementary bench role, leading the team’s second-unit offense and playing in two-point guard lineups as a serious outside threat.

Drake Night 3, OVO headbands, a Hotline Bling activation booth, the 9-6 Toronto Raptors back home, and LeBron James. What a time to be alive, indeed.

Tonight should be a lot of fun, with James and the 11-3 Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the ACC. James is always appointment viewing, and the Cavs come in somewhat shorthanded, leaving room for optimism. The Raptors, meanwhile, should finally be well rested after their five-game west coast road trip. That’s not to say anything will be easy, because the Cavs sit atop the East and own the league’s third-best point differential, albeit they’ve faced one of the easier schedules to date. Even banged up, they’re remarkably good, and it’s scary to look at where they are now, still without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, compared to where they were a season ago.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 1 and TSN 4.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword, who really seemed to lament not being able to make the trip from Manitoba for Drake Night and the Cavs.

Blake Murphy: So, uhh, the Cavs are quite good. And out of the gate this season instead of stumbling first. It’s terrifying from the perspective of a second-tier Eastern Conference competitor. Just how high is confidence that the Cavs can roll through to the NBA Finals once again, and what could conceivably stop them?

Justin Rowan: I’ll say my confidence is pretty high currently. The Cavaliers are currently at the top of the East without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert while also having Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Mo Williams also missing significant amounts of time. The depth this year is significantly better than it was last season with the growth Matthew Dellavedova has shown, the additions of Richard Jefferson and the return of longtime starter and now third string center, Anderson Varejao. Injuries are obviously the biggest concern, and if I had to identify an Eastern team with the most potential to test the Cavs it would likely be the Miami Heat. But outside of a major injury to LeBron James a second consecutive Finals berth seems likely.

Blake Murphy: Kevin Love looks far more comfortable than a year ago, and now that his shooting has regressed to his normal levels after a cold start, his numbers are striking. I’ve noticed the Cavs are using Love a lot more creatively, moving him around the floor rather than having him spot up. What are some specific ways they’re getting Love involved, and is there much that can be done to stop it?

Justin Rowan: Love is finally playing at a level that people are used to seeing him at. Last year was a combination of him being out of shape, hurt as a result, being used poorly and him taking time to buy into what the Cavs are doing. Physically he’s in the best shape of his career and that has had a dramatic positive impact on his mobility, defense and rebounding. Right now he has been the most productive post scorer in the NBA by a wide margin, but the most important thing is the number of touches he receives a game. His shot attempts are only up about two from last season, but with the Cavs new ball movement offense he gets the rock in his hands way more times than last year. He’s a brilliant passer for a big man so getting him lots of touches has opened up playmaking opportunities and he doesn’t feel he needs to force his offense like he did last season, because he knows more touches are coming. The Cavs have dramatically reduced the number of isolation possessions they use a game, so if you want to stop any one player you’d need to play defense on a string, reduce the number of breakdowns and play solid one on one defense. Otherwise you’ll surrender a lot of open threes to a team that doesn’t hesitate to launch away.

Blake Murphy: The Cavs play one of the slowest paces in the league and force nearly the fewest turnovers. Is that a schematic thing on the defensive end, and can we expect it to change some with Mozgov out of the lineup?

Justin Rowan: The Cavs will always play at a slower pace. It might increase a bit once Kyrie Irving returns and whenever Tristan Thompson is in for Timofey Mozgov. But LeBron teams typically play at a slow pace and are very focused on generating good offense in the half-court. They look to run whenever they get stops or turnovers and their efficiency in those situations is why they’re one of the better fastbreak teams in the NBA. But the number of post ups the Cavs run and how committed they are to getting good shots rather than rushing their offense will always result in a slow pace. A slow pace is one of the reasons the Cavs were able to give Golden State trouble in the regular season and in the playoffs shorthanded. Limiting the amount of easy transition baskets they get is essential to trying to slow down one of the most terrifying offenses the league has ever seen. So it’s a part of the Cavs identity I can’t really foresee them changing.

Justin pointing out the need to stop the Cavs in transition is interesting considering where the Raptors find themselves right now. Transition defense has been a bit of an issue for them despite not turning the ball over a great deal, in part because the Raptors are crashing the offensive glass more than any team in the NBA. That’s not something head coach Dwane Casey preaches – much the opposite, usually – and he’s expressed a need to eschew some of those opportunities to get back and get set.

That could be a tough sell Wednesday given both sides are missing their starting center. The Raptors may feel they have more occasion for crashing without Mozgov inside, as the Cavs are a top-five defensive rebounding team but take a bit of a hit on the glass when Mozgov isn’t sharing the floor with Love or Thompson. Meanwhile, the absence of Jonas Valanciunas means the Raptors are deploying either Bismack Biyombo, a strong offensive rebounder, or James Johnson, who loves to hunt for long second chance opportunities.

I’d imagine Casey emphasizes a quick retreat against the league’s No. 3 offense, especially when the Cavs have a single big or the Love-Thompson duo on the floor.

That duo is just difficult in general, and Mozgov’s absence may actually make the Cavs tougher to match up against. They’re 11 points per-100 possessions better with him off the floor so far this year, and tonight’s starting unit (if Mo Williams can’t go; Dellavedova-Smith-James-Love-Thompson) has eviscerated teams by 34.2 points per-100 possessions over 51 minutes together.

Without their own preferred small lineup, the Raptors have some tough match-up choices to make. DeMarre Carroll playing the four is certainly an option, but that either takes him away from James or tasks DeMar DeRozan with checking a big, something that won’t fly against Love (post-ups) or Thompson (rebounds). The smaller group is palatable when James or James Jones are at the four, which may be the case for small stretches. Instead, the match-up calls for Patrick Patterson to step up, as he may be the team’s best option to check Love when Carroll is on James. Coming off of two days off and with two more after tonight (Thanksgiving and Black Friday, how lucky), expect Carroll to basically draw James-shadowing duty and play 40 of the toughest minutes imaginable.

James, of course, is probably the best player in the world, or very close to it depending on how you rank some singularly talented players in the west. He’s averaging 25.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 51.7 percent from the floor. The Cavs are an obscene 29.3 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor, a number that may somehow understate his importance. For as good and as deep as the Cavs are this time around, everything starts and ends with James. Carroll’s done a nice job on James in the past, particularly in the regular season the last two years, but shutting him down is always a near-impossible task. God speed.

The pressure on the offensive end falls on the heads of the Raptors’ starting backcourt. Kyle Lowry will have a pest on him in Dellavedova and DeRozan could see some James coverage, but the Raptors may not get much in the way of second chance opportunities or interior scoring. On the bright side, James switching on to DeRozan late may prevent him from the end-of-game hero-ball we’ve all been rolling our eyes at of late.

Really, tonight comes down to DeMarre Carroll all over LeBron James and Kyle Lowry Over Everything.

Raptors: Bruno Caboclo (D-League), Delon Wright (D-League), Jonas Valanciunas (hand) are all unavailable
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (knee), Timofey Mozgov (shoulder), Iman Shumpert (wrist) are all unavailable; Mo Williams (leg) is questionable

The Line
The Raptors are 1.5-point underdogs at home. That surprised me a bit, as I had it penciled for three points and it hasn’t shifted at all. Perhaps I’m more terrified of James and the LOV3 GUN than the market, or the market is pricing in a Drake Night bump (the Raptors have never lost on Drake Night). The over-under feels a shade high at 198.5. I’ll take the Cavs (sorry) and the under.

Cavaliers 97, Raptors 93

Tonight is Drake Night 3 at the Air Canada Centre. The global ambassador himself will be on hand, fans will receive some sharp OVO-Raptors gear, and there will be a Hotline Bling activation booth. Yes, you can go and do your best Hotline Bling dance.

Toronto city councilman, twitter star, and Drake pal Norm Kelly was on hand Wednesday morning to kick off Drake Night by stepping into the booth with The Raptor.

This is all very silly, but silly is good. Fun is fun.

And ever since he left the city Lou, Lou started making less but putting up more…

Why the Toronto Raptors are paying DeMarre Carroll all that money | National Post

Much has been made about the Raptors’ seemingly eternal search for a small forward, but positional designation is more or less meaningless in today’s NBA. Carroll will be sliding over to power forward often during Valanciunas’s absence, and he was doing so even before the centre’s injury. What the Raptors have really been looking for is a sturdier, bulkier swingman who can passably guard the league’s bully wings, of which James is the best. (He also qualifies as “the best” in several other categories.) While there is no expectation that Carroll will shut down James by himself, Dwane Casey can at least hope that having Carroll means he does not have to cycle through an endless stream of options for James’ primary defender. There will be no, or at least not much, cycling between DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and Patrick Patterson.

Raptors’ Carroll won’t roll out the red carpet for King James | Toronto Sun

“Best player in the world, can do it on both ends, gets his teammates involved,” Carroll said of James after practice at the ACC on Tuesday afternoon. “The key thing is just to make it difficult for him. Get out there, make it difficult for him.” Sounds easy. It isn’t, though there are a few things Carroll will try to do when the East’s best team hits town on Wednesday for Drake Night. “First and foremost you just take away him scoring, taking away from those easy dish passes to guys for three-pointers. He can do it all, so we just make it difficult for him, always be up on him, being physical,” Carroll said. “He’s not going to have his best game, he’s going to score points, but he’s not going to have his best game.”

Carroll embraces challenge of guarding LeBron | TSN

With Jonas Valanciunas, the team’s most efficient scorer, out indefinitely rehabbing a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, their offence should continue to be a work in progress over the coming weeks. Carroll is one player who could see an uptick in scoring opportunities. In the first half of Sunday’s 91-80 win over the Clippers, he hit all eight of his shots and matched a season-high with 21 points to lead Toronto. Although his priority remains on the defensive end, his offensive game has expanded over the years – adding a three-point shot and mid-range floater, specifically – so, you shouldn’t be surprised to see him put points on the board. “I can score when I want to,” he insisted. “it’s just trying to get acclimated, understanding the offence. I’m a defensive-minded [player] first. As long as we’re doing well on defence, I’m happy. Offence is always going to be secondary. We’ve got a lot of scorers, we’ve got a lot of guys who can score the ball, so offence will come and go.”

Smith: Unselfish, defensive-minded basketball key with absence of Valanciunas |

To Casey’s point, that’s what happened on Sunday. After moving the ball so fluidly and unselfishly in the first half, Toronto looked like a completely different team in the second. The third and fourth quarters were plagued by a stagnant offence featuring little-to-no ball movement and almost zero communication. No one player can— or should— be singled out for the Raptors’ lack of chatter, but Kyle Lowry will need to be the one to keep Toronto on track in Valanciunas’ absence. Unselfishness from each player is paramount right now— not ‘hero ball’. Lowry can establish that selfless tone and style, just as he seemed to be doing with his big man during the first couple of weeks of the season. “It’s a synergy,” said assistant coach Jamaal Magloire of Lowry and Valanciunas’ on-court relationship this season. “They need each other in order to become successful. The more attention that Jonas commands makes Kyle’s life easier and the same thing vice-versa. They [understood] that it’s important that they play well together.”

Quick Stat Hits: With Valanciunas out, let’s look for a silver lining | Raptors HQ

If Biyombo is starting, who backs up the 5-spot? Well, judging by the first game and a half with Valanciunas out, we have our first big silver lining. Apparently, it will be James Johnson. Now, I’m of the opinion that Johnson is best as a wing defender, but he’s pretty great no matter what you ask him to do. Let’s take a look at his performance this year without Biyombo or Valanciunas on the floor with him.

Why The Toronto Raptors Need Kristaps Porzingis To Cool Off | The Runner Sports

t’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time for the Knicks and Nuggets to really stink up the joint, but it would be hard to play worse than the Lakers and Sixers, so they have their work cut out for them.  The Raptors may not end up getting a Top 5 pick out of the Bargnani trade, but it’s still something to keep your eye on over the course of this season.  If you ever get tired of watching a DeMar DeRozan isolation play or wonder why Bismack Biyombo is getting 4th quarter minutes instead of Jonas Valanciunas, at least you can smile when a Knicks or Nuggets loss crawls across the ticker on the bottom of your screen.  Zing!

James, Cavaliers will test Raptors’ off-season rebuild | Toronto Star

Back in Toronto with a two-game win streak that gave a five-game western swing a better hue at its end, Raptors coach Dwane Casey didn’t want the conversation to devolve into one-on-one match-ups. Still, Carroll highlights the changes that were made to this team in the off-season. He is the Raptors’ stopper, the guy who draws those mission impossible assignments when they roll through town. “It helps tremendously and that’s one reason why we have DeMarre here,” Casey said. “But again, with him, it’s still a team defence. “We’re not playing against the LeBron Cavaliers, we’re playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and so we’ve got a whole team to defend. (James is) a huge part of what they do . . . but we have a whole lot of people to contend with, with their unit. Kevin Love is playing at a high level, (Matthew) Dellavedova is playing really well. J.R. Smith is shooting the ball extremely well. We have to make sure we understand what we’re doing in every situation versus their ball club.” The Cavs will come in looking for their fourth win in a row, but have the bigger picture on the horizon, even if the quarter-mark of the season isn’t even yet upon us.

Movie night with @pdpatt, @cineplexmovies & @elevation_pics #PatPresents #Legend

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Kyle Lowry’s current value (Franchise player, will let us forget VCs legacy) | RealGM

Kyle Lowry is definitely in his prime, playing at a high level, and will be an all star for sure if he keeps it up. Hes making 12mll a year but tbh, he could easily be a max player out there. You might realize, looking at his stats, that he is an all around player, and also draws several offensive fouls. You could argue that Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard are more explosive, but Lowry is more intelligent, hes a no me-first player, and takes smart decisions the majority of time, he plays for the team, and his leadership is outstanding. My point is Kevin Durant would be the perfect fit to him, since Lowry is not like Westbrook. Lowry could easily be the PG of a championship team. Hes now the face of this team. Do you think he could get a max contract that way hes been playing? And my other point is it seems like he actually found himself in this team, and if he keeps it up, his legacy will be stronger than Vince Carter’s. Have you noticed how opponent commentators respect him? Yes guys, its happening again.

Toronto Raptors will need to find a way to score without Jonas Valanciunas: The Post-Up podcast | National Post

In our 22nd episode, Koreen and MacKenzie discuss what the Raptors will look like without Jonas Valanciunas, if the Golden State Warriors will ever lose again and preview the third annual Drake Night.

Ep. 11: Raptors vs Cavaliers, Jonas Valancuinas Injury W/ Zarar Siddiqi | Joshua Santos Report

It’s a new episode of Coast 2 Coast! On this podcast I talked with Zarar Siddiqi. Siddiqi is a writer and podcaster at ESPN Truehoop Network’s Toronto Raptors blog,

Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors – November 25, 2015 | Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have made at least 11 three-pointers in six of the last seven games and is averaging 10.2 three-pointers per game this season (3rd in NBA). The Wine and Gold closed out their homestand with a 117-103 win over Orlando on Monday, connecting on a season-high 18-35 (.514) shots from three-point territory, just one triple shy of tying their franchise record of 19 (11/15/14 vs. ATL). In Monday’s win over Orlando, the Cavs dished out a season-high 34 assists on 43 field made field goals, while having just 10 turnovers. On the season, the Cavaliers are averaging 25.1 assists per contest (4th in NBA).

Cavaliers-Raptors Preview | Yahoo Sports

The onus to score for the Raptors is now even more on the backcourt of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan after Jonas Valanciunas fractured his left hand in the second-to-last game of the trip. But it was Carroll (21 points) and Luis Scola (20) who stepped up in Sunday’s 91-80 win over the Clippers, while Bismack Biyombo started at center and finished with 14 rebounds. Casey said he anticipates playing small more frequently with Valanciunas out, which will likely include James Johnson getting time at center. That shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance against Cleveland, which is splitting its center minutes between Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao with Timofey Mozgov out with a shoulder injury. James has a personal nine-game winning streak in Toronto dating to his first stint with the Cavaliers.

Road To The Six: Week 1 Recap | Toronto Raptors

Raptor fans will be curious on the play of Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the two Brazilians – Caboclo started off the year looking great, showing the potential of why he was selected 20th overall more than a year ago. Through two games, the young forward averaged 20.5 points per game along with 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Caboclo struggled in the next three games, struggling with foul trouble and being held to just 11 points per game on 28% from the field. Minutes are the key to Caboclo’s development early on, and he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble to get meaningful minutes in the NBA D-League. Nogueira has also seen inconsistent minutes mostly due to foul trouble. Despite this, the 7’1 centre has looked very solid, blocking shots and setting up his teammates, a skill not many people knew he had. In just 22 minutes a game, “Bebe” has averaged 8.3 rebounds to go along with 3.8 assists and 2.8 blocks per game. His best game came in the squad’s home opener, flirting with a triple double with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 blocks. Nogueira will not be with Raptors 905 in the immediate future after being recalled to the Toronto Raptors.

Send me any Raptors-related articles/videos/images/podcasts: [email protected]

The Toronto Raptors’ marquee offseason acquisition counts himself a dog man. That shouldn’t be surprising given his name is Junkyard Dog 2.0 and because, well, dogs are great. They’re better than humans in many cases, and unquestionably better than cats, who want to control and kill you.

Anyway, DeMarre Carroll appears in a new promotional video for the Toronto Humane Society that was released Tuesday. It’s pretty funny, as Carroll gets his dunk attempt blocked when he’s distracted by a group of puppies. The spot is a part of the THS’s Adopt a Teammate campaign.

You can read more about Adopt a Teammate here. I highly recommend it. After never having a dog my entire life, I had one for a little over two years a while back and it was awesome (he wasn’t a rescue/adoption, but still). This is Jose, who was named after Calderon/Bautista and would be the best rim protector the Raptors have ever had.
I strongly recommend adopting if you can, and I’ll (hopefully) be doing the same in the spring.

And if you HAVE to go cat over dog, make sure it’s a junkyard cat born in gasoline and resistant to all fire.

Sometimes things are going really well, then you break your hand and have to get surgery.  And sometimes basketball is a metaphor for life…but I’ll leave that for each of you to apply to yourselves.

With Jonas Valanciunas on the shelf after foregoing surgery to repair his broken hand (opting for rehab instead), the Raptors will be without their starting centre for at least the next six weeks.  In reality, I have my fears that he could be out for a good deal longer.  This opinion isn’t based on anything factual, but only in my doubt in all injury timelines provided by teams.  They aim for the absolute best case scenario and reevaluate as time passes.

It doesn’t matter at this time though, as that’s a problem to face in six (or so) weeks, but it does give the Raptors plenty of questions to answer in the meantime.

Who takes Valanciunas’ spot in the starting line-up?

What’s it like to play significant minutes with an NBA centre that doesn’t have hands?

Can Lucas Nogueira earn any minutes after a successful D-League run?

What impact, if any, does Jonas’ absence have on the long-term outlook of the franchise?

And these are just a few.  The majority of the questions moving forward are related to line-ups.  Jonas leaves a big hole (literally and metaphorically) in the Raptors line-up, using nearly 30 percent of the team’s front court minutes.

Valanciunas is the team’s fourth highest scorer, he’s the second best shot blocker, and the top rebounder.  On top of that, he is second only to cult hero James Johnson in terms of net rating (+9.4).  He is a massive loss for a team that is short on options at centre.

To date on the season the Raptors have used 50 different line-ups, the vast majority of which simply do not matter.  Only five of these line-ups have played more than 20 minutes together.

Let’s start right there: we are a mere 15 games into the season which provides an incredibly small sample size in regards to line-up data.  For this reason it’s almost impossible to take anything from line-up data at this point.

The one group that you can possibly use data to understand would be the starting line-up that has already played a total of 175 minutes together.  After all, the Raptors current starting unit would already be the third most used Raptors line-up for all of last season, behind only the following units:

  • Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas (390 minutes)
  • Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Tyler Hansbrough (229 minutes)

Man…remember those hockey line-up changes?  Painful times indeed…

This year’s starters are on a near identically minutes track compared to last year’s group.  In fact, even if Valanciunas misses the expected 6 weeks (roughly 20 games), assuming further health (and no trades) moving forward it is entirely possible that they will still surpass last year’s starters in minutes together.

And yes, as stated earlier, line-up data at this point in the season is almost useless, but that case may be even more magnified when it comes to Valanciunas’ absence.  The most used line-up not featuring Jonas is simply the starting unit with Biyombo in his place.  This group has played a total of just 33 minutes together, 24 of which came in the last two games (including 18 minutes against the Clippers on Sunday).

Of the line-ups who have play a minimum of 20 minutes together to date, every line-up without Valanciunas has a negative net rating, the best of which (the 33 minute line-up mentioned above) has a -4.3 net rating.

(Ironically enough, Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, and Scola have an identical -4.3 net rating with either Valanciunas or Biyombo playing centre).

For the next six weeks the Raptors will have to experiment to find any line-up that could lead to success, which means that the fate of Toronto moving forward is even more so in the hands of Dwane Casey’s rotation choices…a thought that I’m sure scares many Raptors fans who are reading this.

The Raptors also play at a slightly slower pace with Bismack (96.08 possessions per 48 minutes) on the floor than with Jonas (97.21 possessions per 40 minutes).  Increasing pace may be the team’s best option during Valanciunas’ absence, which could lead to some strange looking line-ups.  In a time of need like now though, I’m fully on board with this.

My personal favourite would be trying James Johnson at centre for at least a few minutes a game in an ultra-small line-up.  If you’re looking for fun with small sample sizes, a group featuring Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll, and Johnson has played a grand total of one minute together this season (also on Sunday against the Clippers).

The ultimate small sample size here: this lineup has an offensive rating of 227.3, with a defensive rating of 0.0.  I’m willing to bet this isn’t sustainable (please read the sarcasm here…), but I’d at least be curious to see what Johnson could do with some additional minutes at centre.  It could limit the issues caused by his lack of floor spacing, while also providing him with a speed advantage on almost everyone at the position, while also having the weight (250lbs) and size to match other small-ball centres.

It wouldn’t be a solution for heavy minutes, but could be a good unit to experiment with.  Whatever the solution is, in my opinion it’s time to get weird.

More or less since the moment he was hired, Dwane Casey’s job security has been a popular topic of conversation on the Raptors Republics forums and in comments on articles. When general manager Masai Ujiri opted to retain Casey after an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards last spring, the discourse around Casey got louder, more polarizing, and far less open to dissenting opinions.

It reached a crescendo last week, as the Raptors dropped a third consecutive narrow defeat on the road to a Western Conference team. Even Monday, following back-to-back victories, articles generated comments about Casey that had nothing to do with the content of the piece. Along with the comments and forums, we receive regular tweets from a handful of followers demanding Casey’s job. We’ve even received multiple emails asking why we haven’t written a Casey hit piece.

The reasons are two-fold: Not all of us who write here feel Casey needs to go, and those who do have long expressed that belief and probably don’t feel the need to republish after every two-game losing streak.

Nevertheless, because it’s a popular topic for readers, I thought we should take the pulse of our staff and at least provide high-level answers about Casey, the job he’s doing, and how hot his seat is. I asked our writers five questions, suggesting a word limit that I probably should have “suggested” more firmly. Their answers are provided here (Sam, a noted anti-Casey voice, was unable to contribute), and I urge anyone who feels one way or the other about the Raptors’ head coach to answer them in the comments, too.

Note: William Lou is no longer with RR other than the podcast, but he recently wrote at length about Casey. You should read that.

1. Do you think Dwane Casey should be fired? Why or why not?

Blake Murphy: I don’t. When Ujiri opted to keep him this offseason, it meant keeping him for the entire year unless the season was a disaster. You don’t retain a coach, overhaul his staff, ask him to change his defensive system, and bring in three players suited specifically to his style of play and then turn around and fire that coach in November. Casey’s five-year tenure has been somewhat of a mixed bag and the playoff losses naturally stand out as the primary memories, but he hasn’t been objectionably bad. He’s been slow to adjust systemic issues and has under-performed relative to defensive expectations, but he’s also over-performed offensively despite having stars well-suited to uncreative iso-ball. The last point is on him, too, but if handing the ball to your offensive stars in crunch time was a fireable offense, half the league would be out of a job.

Casey has his flaws, to be sure. But he’s working four new players into his nine-man rotation, playing with five players on the roster who are essentially garbage time-only options as they develop, and asking those who are playing to employ a new defensive scheme. The Raptors also lead the league in road games and have faced almost a league-average quality of competition (one I’d bet looks tougher in retrospect once the East-West balance comes back in order some).

And despite all of that, the Raptors are 9-6, seventh in offense, and 10th in defense. They are a good team, performing to expectations. I don’t understand how people can look at all of the evidence and suggest that the optimal strategy is to can the coach mid-season. This is a discussion for a 10-game losing streak or the offseason, when Casey’s contract is up. The fact that we’re doing this post today astounds me.

Tim Chisholm: I do not. At least, not less than a month into the season. Casey has been handed a largely new rotation, the holdovers carry large flaws that he has to account for, and there are significant holes that he is trying to overcome (he doesn’t even have a legit starting power forward yet). If the team had started 2-13 then you can start to have that conversation about his suitability as head coach, but they are still at .500, they are mostly losing close games and they are doing it despite Patrick Patterson being a no-show, Terrence Ross being injured and ol’ stone-hands Biyombo leaving them 4-on-5 on offence for 17 minutes per game.

I don’t really know what fans expected out of this season. We’re still talking about a team without a legitimate superstar that employs three high-usage, isolation-happy players at the top of their rotation (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas). Casey may not be the perfect coach, and this may be a conversation to have in the offseason when they’re not contractually compelled to bring him back, but firing him fifteen games into the season seems ridiculously quick. Heck, even Sam Mitchell got until the seventeen-game mark before he was fired in 2008.

Andrew Thompson: Count me among those who were more than a little flummoxed when Casey was brought back in this past summer. That was the time to change course. I don’t think that the average fan understands just how precious little practice time these teams get once the season has started. Having loud voices or key players who are resistant to change makes it even more difficult to effect the style of play or implement completely new ideas or philosophies on the fly. Some things have gotten better this year, while other things (see fourth quarter offense, rotations and ATO plays) have stayed stagnant in the abyss. You can’t keep on making the same crippling mistakes and expect me to think that you’ll get better at those now. It’s been too long. Is DeMar selfishly responsible for forcing the ball into his hands for iso’s that consume entire shot clocks and lead to turnovers or heaves more often than good basketball plays in big moments? Or does Casey keep calling for those? Either way he takes some fault, but if he calls for them, then I’d love to see what DeMar looks like in a better-coached system before deciding on a contract. I can’t say the Raptors will be better off without Casey overall without knowing who comes in, and even then, it’s a serious uphill battle. Having said that, I don’t think he should be the coach moving forward next year, and I don’t think the Raptors win the title this year, so really, what does it matter if he goes now or in June? Should Casey be fired? Sure.

Shyam Baskaran: When the Toronto Raptors began the season 5-0, fans pointed to the boldness of Masai Ujiri in sticking to his guns with Dwane Casey and opting for stability, a defensive focus, and with a plethora of players now conducive to playing that style, all things seemed swell in Raptor land. Wins against the Mavericks and Thunder on the road were convincing and indicative of something truly special with this squad. Now, with losses against the Magic, Knicks, Heat, Kings, and Jazz, all teams we thought we could easily beat after that 5-0 start, the fan consensus has changed. Mediocre defense and lack of crunch time execution probably makes most of those fickle Raptor fans believe that after four and a half years here in Toronto, Casey’s time has come.

The reality is that while Dwane Casey can probably shoulder the blame for a lot of the Raptors’ early season struggles, keep the following things in mind:

• This is a pretty new team, with eight new faces and a completely new bench. I would think Casey needs at least 20-30 games for us to really get an idea as to whether it’s truly his fault (not to mention whether removing him alone will solve anything).

• The team has started the season with 11/15 games on the road. And despite what it seems like recently, we’re still a respectable 6-5 on the road so far, with wins against OKC, Dallas, and now the Clips. And don’t forget a near victory against the seemingly invincible Golden State Warriors. Yes, it was a loss, but it was impressive nonetheless.

• Coming into the season, the Raptors weren’t exactly expected to be world beaters. We were expected to be in the 44-50 win range, division winners, and likely a 3-6 seed in the Eastern Conference. Those targets, while not exactly easy, still seem very achievable given the relatively easier part of the schedule is yet to come. If it’s another first round exit come April, maybe we’ve got bigger questions to ask than just coaching.

Tamberlyn Richardson: I’m not a proponent of firing coaches mid season unless there is no other option. Casey has shown growth in some areas this year and I like the effect the new assistant coaches have brought to the mix.

Barry Taylor: Casey should be fired. He was never Ujiri’s guy and was supposed to go down with the tank after the Rudy Gay trade. On this most recent road trip his inability to call plays resulted in the team having to call back to back timeouts or turning the ball over to an expiring shot clock. Last year it was the isolation plays with Lou Williams and this year it’s DeRozan. His refusal to play JV late in games last year and James Johnson in the playoffs was beyond frustrating not only because of the moves themselves but his inability to provide a legitimate reason for them. He never explains anything. His press conferences and media scrums are constantly filled with cliches about pounding rocks, sticking to game plans and defensive execution. No real specifics, just some giant broad strokes. There’s no clear game plan or team identity.

Zarar Siddiqi: Yes, but only if you already have the next coach lined up and you intend to stick with that coach for the next five years. The next coach for the Raptors has to be the person that takes this team from playoff fodder to playoff contender, while developing the youth. If Masai Ujiri doesn’t have that person ready in waiting, there’s no point getting rid of Casey and handing the reins to one of his assistants. If Ujiri had full faith in Casey, he would’ve been extended by now and him being out of contract at this point says a lot about Ujiri’s mindset regarding Casey, which can be summed up as undecided.

Unlike last season, Casey’s been given his ‘type’ of players to work with so it’s only fair that Ujiri gives him a fair shot at working things out. Unless the Raptors have a disastrous regular season, that fair shot includes seeing how the team performs in the playoffs and whether lessons learned from failures past can be applied in a meaningful context.

2. Assuming Casey stays, what are the areas you’d like to see improvement in?

Murphy: Late-game execution is huge. The Raptors’ offense actually doesn’t grade out that poorly on crunch-time numbers, but putting the playbook away late kills me. Prior to the Valanciunas’ injury, I would have said creativity in his rotations, but he’s done well in that regard of late. So yeah, maybe keep the whiteboard in hand late instead of deferring to talented but imperfect one-on-one options.

Chisholm: I don’t know how he does it, but he has to stop DeRozan from isolating so much. DeRozan is wired to isolate, and you can tell it frustrates his teammates, and Casey has permitted it for years so it would be hard to rein him in now. Still, the team requires more ball movement and player movement on offence to become less predictable and DeRozan just can’t seem to find a way to buy-in to that structure, and Casey has to find a way to make that connection.

The rest of the problems with the club right now strike me as rooted more in unfamiliarity and the limitations of the roster. I am also not someone that limits the scope of the job to the 48 minutes of game time that coach is on public display for.

Thompson: The offense, especially late in games, can not be the same. The Raptors are wasting six seconds limping into a dribble hand off to get DeMar the ball on the perimeter and then hoping he can get to the line from there. Even out of time-outs. There is no creativity and no help. If you insist on a DeMar iso, at least run some actions to get him the ball in a more favorable position and bend the defense around him so the whole team isn’t ready to help.

Baskaran: One of the clear weaknesses we’ve seen is a lack of offensive execution and creativity down the stretch, with mostly isolation plays and no real plan to attack with other weapons on the floor like Cory Joseph, who has proven himself to be an efficient and reliable scorer. This was exemplified in the win against the Clippers, who despite our poor offense in the second half, refused to snatch the game away from the Raptors. While we could make the argument that Casey should be fired today for those reasons alone, why not give him another 15-20 games for the factors mentioned in question one, and if this continues to be an issue thereafter, then address the coaching situation seriously at that point. This could be likened to Sam Mitchell firing of 08/09 when the Raptors started 8-9 and after an embarrassing west coast road trip featuring a 39-point loss to the Nuggets, the Raptors quickly reacted with a firing and ended up nowhere with Triano filling in as interim.

Richardson: I was talking to a Houston blogger who loves Casey’s end-game management. Color me shocked as I thought he needs to improve the most in that area. Specifically player time management, reading and adjusting to match-ups and out of time-out plays. Assuming Casey is tasked (or has the ultimate say) in player development that’s the other key area I feel the Raptors have lagged in comparison to their opponents.

Taylor: Design a play. Create a play that involves some ball movement out of a timeout and doesn’t end with DeRozan taking a twenty foot jumper or the ball clanking off of Biyombo’s hands.

Siddiqi: Trust your offense and don’t succumb to the temptation of having your stars go one-on-one when it counts. You’ll lose a few games because of that, but you’ll be better off in the long run. We know that iso-ball doesn’t work when it counts, not when you have third-tier NBA players as your best players. We know he has some good offensive designs in that playbook of his, and it’s better to stick with them and better them so that by year’s end you have an offense that plays like the post-Gay trade unit. We’ll be a few games worse when it comes to the record, but that’s OK.

3. How much impact do you think a coach can have on a team’s W-L record over the course of a season? A playoff series?

Murphy: This is a tough one to answer. Why did I ask it then? Good question, but I doubt there’s a way to quantify it. A coach has an impact on so much outside of the 48 minutes of play, impact that I wonder if sometimes we underestimate. Conversely, I think we tend to overestimate a coach’s impact on individual games and possessions. That would be an understandable error given the primacy of late-game scenarios. In this case, I’d venture Casey’s contributions come primarily in the macro, whereas he struggles at times in the micro. A better micro coach isn’t necessarily going to add more wins if the larger-picture stuff isn’t there, too.

Chisholm: I think a heavy impact, but it’s about more than just strategy. How does he balance work and rest? How does he relate to his players? How does he manage expectations? How does he handle internal strife? Like just about every head coach talks about, the sets that teams run are largely the same, and you tailor your approach to the players you have. The other stuff counts just as much, and can have a massive impact on on-court success.

Thompson: Over the course of an entire season, starting in training camp, a coach can mean the difference between a completely dysfunctional team and 40 wins. Look at SVG in Detroit, Coach Bud in Atlanta or Kerr in GS. In a playoff series it matters even more. How many people think Scott Brooks needed to get fired simply because of how he handled lineups and adjustments in playoff series? There is a reason the vast majority of titles over the last 25 years belong to Riley, Jackson and Pop.

Baskaran: The coaches coach, but the players put the ball in the hole. It’s up to guys like Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll to take a heightened leadership role and bring the mental fortitude it takes to close out games. The talent-based NBA today is based mostly on players, and save for the exceptional cases (Popovich, Stevens, and Carlisle come to mind), the players make or break ball games. Just ask Luke Walton. The Raptors don’t exactly have the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant (pre-2013), Anthony Davis, etc. to carry the load single-handedly down the stretch – so if close games are lost, can it be purely on the coach to be better? Probably not. Over the course of a season, could we see may be 1 or 2 more wins through “better” designed plays and X’s and O’s? Maybe. Coaches guide and organize, but players on most occasions win or lose ball games. Top notch talent wins in the NBA – that’s the bottom line.

Richardson: LOTS! Going back to the Western Conference Finals between OKC and the Spurs, the changes Scott Brooks made won OKC the WCF and sent them to their first finals. Steve Kerr starting Iguodala was huge this year. In my opinion Rick Carlisle, Brad Stevens and Gregg Popovich are the best at game strategy and adapting in game. Erik Spoelstra is underrated and Mike Malone is a coach I see great potential in.

Taylor: The coach sets the tone. He implements a system and it’s up to the players to execute it. 90% of the outcome is determined by what the players do but it’s up to the coach to create the best opportunity to succeed. The Raptors aren’t an elite team yet and even if they had Popovich they wouldn’t win the title this year but at the very least they’d be able to organize a clean shot out of a timeout.

Siddiqi: Significant. Only because I think DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Jonas Valanciunas have more to offer than what they’re currently doing. I don’t think the Raptors have a system that caters to the strengths of these players, and that’s why you’re seeing spotty performances from a majority of these players, with fans begging for consistency.

4. Are there any specific (and available) candidates that you feel would make a good successor?

Murphy: Shrug. Ujiri knows a lot better than we would as complete outsiders, and I’d imagine if he kept Casey on without an extension, he may have eyes for someone who either isn’t available yet or isn’t quite ready yet. The staff of assistants has several potential future head coaches (Nurse was an early Ujiir hire, Kalamian and Greer are well-regarded) and there may be other first-timers worth interviewing at length. The only people we have information on are retreads, which I’m generally going to be unenthused about.

Chisholm: There is no one I’d be chomping at the bit to hire. Again people point to Jeff Van Gundy, who hasn’t coached in nine seasons, or Tom Thibodeau, who took forever to get hired and then physically broke his whole roster, but they don’t excite me. And guys without NBA experience might be good, but I’m not taking that to the bank. That doesn’t mean you just keep Casey forever, I’m just not going to pretend like I know with any certainty that a particular available candidate will be assuredly better. This is one of those areas where a GM has reams of information that the public will never have access to.

Thompson: Jeff Van Gundy or crazy Tommy Thibs are both very good coaches. The important thing is not to hire a re-tread that was fired because he was bad. In sports, teams keep on hiring and re-hiring bad coaches just because they’ve had the job before. Worry less about the name, you know the names of most long-time NBA coaches simply because they’ve existed, not because they’re good.

Baskaran: Realistically, there aren’t a ton of guys out there that could easily step in and take on the Raptors head coaching role. Unless Masai has Tom Thibodeau or a select few others on speed dial and ready to go, it’s not exactly going to be a piece of cake bringing in a new guy mid-season. An interim assistant coach may be the way to go, and well…quite simply that’s probably just not going to do much – a temporary shakeup maybe, but not the long term answer. Other candidates include Mark Jackson, Scott Brooks, Monty Williams, or Mike D’Antoni – all guys who have a completely different philosophy than Casey and after a full training camp and early season under Casey’s system, what could those candidates really do at this point? From a pure win-loss perspective, it’s really tough to say.

Richardson: I’ve enjoyed watching Brad Stevens adapt to the NBA and new ideas he incorporates. Something simple like using your entire bench so players give 100% and your stars aren’t over taxed is working in bean town. To that end, my choice (if) the Raptors were to make a change (and again, I don’t think that would happen until season end) would be someone not already in the NBA.

Option 1: Kevin Ollie – Like Stevens, Ollie would be coming from the NCAA environment and has won a Final Four Championship. Moreover, he was an NBA player so he understands the differences in the professional game. And, it doesn’t hurt he’s closely associated with Kevin Durant, who’ll be a free agent either this summer or sign one more year in OKC and then be available in the summer of 2017.

Option 2: Find the next Steve Kerr – As far as game knowledge I lean toward Brent Barry or Kenny “the Jet” Smith as options of former players who would make good coaches.

Option 3: If MLSE won’t go for the above options – Luke Walton (hey his team is 15-0) and the Warriors aren’t suffering without Kerr, so he’s proven himself in my book and knows all the tricks of the Warriors offense/defense.

Option 4: Pilfer the best organization and make history – hire Becky Hammon from the Spurs, making her the first female coach in the NBA. (Gee, I wonder why I would suggest that option).

Taylor: Spurs assistant James Borrego. He’s learned from the master in Popovich and can bring that Spurs pedigree to the team. It worked for the Hawks on a coaching front and seeing how well schooled Cory Joseph is suggests the Raptors are wise to take whatever San Antonio will give up.

Siddiqi: Go the Brad Stevens route and get someone like Shake Smart from VCU. He’s a defense-first guy who’ll come in without any presumptions, could relate to the players on account of his age, and will grow with the team. There’ll be some growing pains, which will be completely acceptable if the team plays with enthusiasm and purity.

5. Any additional thoughts on the matter?

Murphy: Can we please stop talking about firing Casey after every single loss? Let’s at least pocket it until the Raptors have had a sustained period of poor play. Mid-season coaching hires rarely do much other than reward the wrong person for regression to the mean.

Chisholm: Casey has just overseen two of the most successful regular seasons in Raptors history. They weren’t perfect, but very few teams have perfect seasons. He has to improve in some areas, especially in the postseason, but since this is a team that should really only be judged in the postseason I’m willing to give Casey until then to prove his worthiness of continued employment. If he face-plants again, time to go, but I want to give him that shot.

Baskaran: This is probably not the best situation to be in, and don’t get me wrong, yes Dwane Casey can clearly be better – especially on the offensive end. But simply firing the guy, while providing some instant gratification and excitement for fans, really isn’t going to have the impact that a well-designed trade, a players-only meeting, or perhaps just a few lucky bounces leading to some consecutive wins, could have on the rest of our season. Let’s see where we’re at after Christmas.

Taylor: Dwayne Casey sat behind me at a Jays game last year. The fan in me wanted to rip him for his lacklustre coaching but I was drunk and pussied out. He seemed like a really good guy too.

Siddiqi: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – JFK

The Toronto Raptors have assigned point guard Delon Wright to Raptors 905 of the D-League, the team announced Tuesday.

The No. 20 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Wright has played sparingly with the parent club as the team’s third point guard. With Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph proving healthy and effective, Wright has been relegated to mop-up duty, playing 10 minutes over four appearances. In those minutes, he grabbed four rebounds, committed one turnover, and missed all four of his field goal attempts.

Head coach Dwane Casey suggested before the team’s west coast road trip that players on the main roster other than Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira could see short stints with the 905 in order to get expanded playing time. With Nogueira recalled to cover for the Jonas Valanciunas injury and the Raptors playing one game in a five-day stretch, now is as good a time as any to get Wright some run. The 905 are at home for the bulk of the next few weeks, so brief assignments for Wright, Norman Powell, and even Anthony Bennett may be in the cards. It’s a good way for these players to keep their conditioning up at a full-game level while also providing the organization with a chance to see how their development in practice is translating to game situations.

At 6-foot-5, Wright has the requisite length to fit in two-point guard lineups, a must with the current Raptors’ roster construction. He needs to add strength to be able to capably guard twos, but his length and defensive acumen both suggest it’s something he’ll be able to do. His defense was one of the primary strengths entering the draft, with the two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive Team player standing as “NBA ready” as it pertains to guarding opposing ones. (Note: There is rarely such a thing as “NBA ready” for rookies.) We haven’t seen enough of Wright to know if his defense is carrying over to the NBA yet – guarding Lowry and Joseph in practice should certainly help – but he should be able to help lift head coach Jesse Murmuys’ squad at that end.

Offensively, Wright is a dribbling amoeba, never attacking the same way twice. His outside shot needs refinement if he’s ever going to play off the ball in the NBA, but he has the driving and distributing instincts you look for in a backup point guard. His style of play is fun to watch and his forays into traffic a treat, and he should be able to carve up most D-League defenses at the point of attack. That will help create easier points for teammates in an offense that has struggled through four games.

Wright impressed in two summer league appearances, and we did a full scouting report on him here back in mid-July. He averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 assists in those games and averaged three points and one assist in seven preseason games. He was a more robust stat-stuffer at Utah, where he averaged 15 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.3 steals over two seasons in a more substantial role, showing a good comfort level operating a more pro-style pick-and-roll offense.

The 905 expect Wright to be in uniform when they host Idaho on Wednesday. His assignment is yet another example of the value of having a D-League team nearby, as he’ll be able to get 30 minutes on short notice and, if necessary, return to the Raptors quickly.

(Ron Turenne/Getty)

Alongside that sickening feeling of déjà vu, where flashbacks of DeRozan sliding to the floor in agony early last season came back with a vengeance, I can safely assume we all experienced a wide range of emotions the very second Jonas Valanciunas seemed to have suffered a serious injury.

Whether it was thoughts of impending (or immediate) doom that quickly elevated to the realm of tank mode, or even if you had positive visions of what the Raptors can possibly achieve with a lineup of different looks, you’re not alone, I rode that roller-coaster as well.

Coming into the L.A. trip, Valanciunas had only missed three out of the Raps’ previous 177 games, so thinking at both ends of the spectrum was to be expected, as nobody really knows how life without Valanciunas will unfold over a prolonged period of time.

I can understand the temptation of Jamal Murray, or even the pipe-dream of Ben Simmons, but as we’ve had time to collect our breath, surviving this current predicament and salvaging the path the Raps were on to begin with remains a feasible task.

Though like Toronto clockwork, a wrench in the program always wants to fight back. I used to think the Raps starting the year with 11 of their first 15 games on the road was a blessing in disguise, not to mention being comfortable with any early season struggles. With the former lending itself to team chemistry, and the latter allowing for a sense of urgency down the stretch; one of last season’s missing ingredients.

Both still reinforce optimism, but what I didn’t account for was a major injury. And in a sense, a month and a half without the services of Jonas is like an extended road trip all over again. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Just think, what happens if DeMarre Carroll’s plantar fasciitis starts acting up again?

So, now that JV’s fractured ring-finger (left hand) has been officially diagnosed as a 6-week affliction, is this club up to the challenge? Well, that depends on whether or not they’re ready to evolve.

An insult to injury side note: Anyone else wonder why Valanciunas stayed in the game after getting hurt? I understand there was less than a minute to go in the first-half, but one has to question why a substitution wasn’t made. It would’ve resulted in the opposing coach getting to choose who shot JV’s free-throws along with him being unable to re-enter the game, but considering he was in obvious pain and then ultimately ruled out for the second-half, it should have been a no-brainer. Why put him at further risk?

Actually, wait, it all makes sense now. Terrence Ross returns, and the confusion runs rampant. Sounds about right.

But enough about Terry, let’s get back to evolving.


The Three-Man Weave

The business side of coaching only lends itself to a fan’s frustration. But to be fair, for as many times as this fan base has knocked Dwane Casey (myself included), we often fail to take into account his job security, or lack thereof.

A successful win-now coach is one who gets his contract renewed, particularly when that coach was a leftover employee of an old regime. If you keep making the playoffs, an organization will keep reaping the profit. Well, unless we’re talking about this town’s hockey squad, but that’s a story for another time.

With that said, Casey didn’t exactly need to make the development of JV a top priority in years past. Nevertheless, that doesn’t negate the fact that his maturation process was held in check for far too long.

And that’s what makes JV’s trip to shelf much more infuriating. The shift was underway. A trust was beginning to be established. Not only from Casey, but from his teammates as well. Specifically Lowry and DeRozan. So much so that I might be willing to overlook the fact that he still hovered around 28 minutes per game and his annual fourth-quarter neglect was creeping back into the picture.

However, it won’t take long to take that statement back. It speaks volumes when the winningest coach in Raptors’ history still has to earn the benefit of the doubt. But Casey’s chance to prove he deserves that recognition is at his next-six-weeks doorstep.

If there was ever a time to see Casey’s chops in action, it has arrived. His rotations will not only have to get creative, but timely to say the least. While offering up plenty of storylines in the process.

Will Scola’s playing time continue to seep into the Center spot? As well as the crunch time five? Is this the time we finally see JJ and Patterson gain back the productive rep they’ve previously earned?

I’ve always thought of them as Carroll clones, only problem being you’d have to morph them into one player. Though with what each brings to the table, we could see more of them switching in and out, or even playing together to help weather the storm. Especially if Casey commits to experimenting. His track record suggests otherwise, but the moment is forcing his hand.

Many preseason wishes called for DC, PP, and JJ to be allotted time in the frontcourt at the same time. And even though rebounding issues undoubtedly dissolved that trio from any kind of sustainability, along with Carroll making the latter two somewhat expendable afterthoughts with a healthy JV on the floor, it’s now worth a look. Besides, Bismack Biyombo won’t get one-dimensional matchups every night. I’d probably hold off on his role vs. the Clippers becoming the norm.

Perhaps the most intriguing factor in all of this chaos is a chance to see Bebe Nogueira get some meaningful run. Nobody is expecting his near triple-doubles for the 905ers to translate, but what can be expected is an extremely active skill-set.

With such a void now entrenched on the glass, that’s exactly the help this team can use. Yes, he’s still raw and semi-awkward, and will be taken advantage of, but here’s a chance to gain confidence at the next level. His improved passing and touch from the outside is garnering plenty of attention, enough for Raps to at least see where he’s at when brought into the spotlight.

I haven’t forgotten about the aforementioned three-man weave, however, and all of the above ultimately falls on the shoulders of this squad’s captains.

This could go one of two ways: refreshingly smooth (for a change), or completely haywire. The hope is that K-Low and DD realize what the mission should be. Getting everyone involved and aiding this re-adjustment period is not just key, it’s a necessity. The fear resides in the fact that both will ignore what’s in front of them and begin to overcompensate feeling they need to simply take over games. We’ve seen that movie before, and each sequel keeps damaging the integrity of the original.

Just like Fan duel commercials, or studio shows sponsored by Draft Kings, DeRozan’s selfish isolations may never stop. The same goes for Lowry’s inexplicable need to facilitate them, and even Casey’s habit for allowing them to happen (or better yet, urging them on). Still, an effort to decrease the amount of attempts is sorely needed, while encouraging a different approach at the same time.

The answer? How about increasing CoJo’s responsibilities for starters. 25 minutes a night will surely go up in JV’s absence, but it should have already taken place. Joseph, Lowry, and DeRozan together has worked wonders while alleviating DeMar’s perimeter duties. Well, that might change if Ross eventually cures his multiple personality disorder. Translation: Joseph, Lowry, and DeRozan together has worked wonders while alleviating DeMar’s perimeter duties. They should be deployed far more than they already are.

Though at this point, it really is ALL HANDS ON DECK!

Toronto Raptors can’t rely on Kyle Lowry to carry huge offensive load with Jonas Valanciunas sidelined | National Post

While the loss to Valanciunas will undeniably hurt — the Raptors just do not have a replacement for what he provides in terms of post scoring — the loss of DeRozan last year necessitated that Lowry take on the bulk of the perimeter creation on the team, with Lou Williams helping out. This year, DeRozan is still healthy, and Cory Joseph provides a sturdier understudy for Lowry than the team had on the roster last year. Still, the Raptors will struggle to score without Valanciunas, and that is when it becomes necessary to remember what happened when Lowry was overburdened last season. Biyombo, who started in place of Valanciunas on Sunday, generally kills the Raptors’ attack. Watching opponents simply ignore him on pick-and-rolls, because they know Biyombo cannot catch a pass on the move in traffic, will get painful for Raptors fans. Of course, Biyombo will not simply eat up Valanciunas’s 27 minutes per night. The Raptors will also use smaller lineups more often, with Carroll or James Johnson playing forward, and Luis Scola or Patrick Patterson at centre.

Taking the good and bad from Raptors’ road trip | Toronto Sun

“We should be better,” Lowry said when asked to assess the team after 15 games. “We are a little bit upset about that. But I guess you take the good with the bad and you look at it and say, ‘OK, we can live with it.’ But we really should be better than that.” This past road trip alone there are at least two and possibly three games Lowry is probably referring to that were there for the taking, although he didn’t specify. The just-completed five-game, eight day road trip that began and ended in California saw both the good and the bad in this team. The good was the fight the Raptors showed throughout, even coughing up winnable games in Sacramento and Utah and having one taken from them down the stretch by some questionable calls. You will never convince me the offensive foul call on Kyle Lowry in a one-point game with 15 seconds remaining in Golden State was the correct one.

Fantasy Basketball 2015-16: A Dozen Dimes, Volume 4 | numbeFire

Six weeks takes us into January, and that’s a long time for fantasy owners to sit on Valanciunas. If you’re in a league with a short bench and no injured reserve slot, this will be a tough pill to swallow, and you might have to cut the big guy loose. Do what you have to do, of course, but Jonas Valanciunas should be held wherever it’s possible to do so. He’s not getting the minutes that fantasy owners would like (27.3 per contest), but he’s still putting up top-100 value. If he ever gets the time on the floor that he deserves, his 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks (a career low and down from last year’s 1.2) would have a chance to creep closer to his 15.1-point, 11.0-rebound, 1.5-block career per-36-minute rates. Toss in the solid 55.3% from the field and 77.7% from the line for his career, and he’s always a threat to post early-round value. If JV’s absence causes Toronto to slip down the standings or if they ever part ways with coach Dwane Casey, there’s even a chance that Valanciunas returns to a more favorable situation for his value than when he left.

Fantasy Impact of Jonas Valanciunas and Marcus Smart | Today’s Fastbreak

During his absence, it appears the most significant beneficiary will be Bismack Biyombo (10.2-percent owned in ESPN leagues). In Toronto’s first game without Valanciunas, Biyombo slid into the starting lineup and logged 31 minutes, tallying six points and 14 rebounds. It seems that the fifth-year big man could have some decent value for the upcoming month or two. Biyombo has for years been a block-specialist who has never really earned the minutes to showcase much else. He could now have an opportunity to post double-figure rebounds consistently while also flirting with two blocks per game. But don’t expect much else. He’s not a scorer, and his career free-throw percentage is 54.1-percent (although he’s shooting 74.2-percent from the line this season). Basically, I’d only recommend adding Biyombo if you’re looking for a short-term solution to your rebounding and shot-blocking struggles.

Kyle Lowry’s current value (Franchise player, will let us forget VCs legacy) | RealGM

Kyle Lowry is definitely in his prime, playing at a high level, and will be an all star for sure if he keeps it up. Hes making 12mll a year but tbh, he could easily be a max player out there. You might realize, looking at his stats, that he is an all around player, and also draws several offensive fouls. You could argue that Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard are more explosive, but Lowry is more intelligent, hes a no me-first player, and takes smart decisions the majority of time, he plays for the team, and his leadership is outstanding. My point is Kevin Durant would be the perfect fit to him, since Lowry is not like Westbrook. Lowry could easily be the PG of a championship team. Hes now the face of this team. Do you think he could get a max contract that way hes been playing? And my other point is it seems like he actually found himself in this team, and if he keeps it up, his legacy will be stronger than Vince Carter’s. Have you noticed how opponent commentators respect him? Yes guys, its happening again.

Can the Toronto Raptors survive without Jonas Valanciunas? | Raptors Cage

2Pat has quickly gone from a fan favorite to a frustrating player. It’s so sad to see because he is such an awesome guy. There’s something missing this year – perhaps he isn’t as engaged because he lost the starting job. Patterson is averaging 20 minutes a game and is contributing just over 5 points a game – last year his scoring output was nearly double paired with much more efficient numbers. Regardless, now would certainly be a convenient time to break out of his slump as Patterson should see an increase in minutes. A Scola – Patterson frontcourt isn’t the worst sounding thing in the world.

Missing Jonas Valanciunas Will Test Raptors Improved Depth | Pro Bball Report

“We’re going to start Bismack to start out with to give him the first opportunity to play,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “There are going to be different people in that position. Luis (Scola) will be there, Lucas (Nogueira) will be there some so it will be manned by committee, but the experience that Biz gives us and his understanding or our defensive schemes, his ability to protect the rim, is what we need.” This is depth that the team has not had and should be able to keep things in check at the center position until Jonas can get back.

Is It Time For The Raptors To Panic In Toronto? | Raptors Rapture

The loss of Lou Williams, coupled with inconsistency of Terence Ross along with the early season struggles of Patrick Patterson is extremely telling. Ross just recently came back from a thumb injury (more on that) and Patman can’t find his shooting touch, averaging 37.3 percent from the field, 32.1 from 3-point range and a paltry 5.8 PPG on the season thus far. With very few options off the bench outside of Cory Joseph, we can’t expect much else until they get things back on track.

Ujiri, Raptors To Celebrate The Life Of Nelson Mandela At 2nd Annual All-Star Benefit Event | Toronto Raptors

‘The Giant of Africa’ tribute will celebrate Mandela’s life, legacy and ability to inspire positive change. Special guest participants will share stories and remarks on the impact that Mandela has on the world and how it transcends borders, cultures and time. The event will feature a panel discussion inside the Toronto Raptors’ practice court following the Raptors’ game against the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Special guests currently slated to attend include sports legend Didier Drogba, as well as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Tokyo Sexwale from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and international models Alek Wek and Winnie Harlow. ‘The Giant of Africa’ event will raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation as well as Ujiri’s Giants of Africa charity with the goal of continuing to create growth and development opportunities for African youth. The tribute to Mandela’s life will be honoured in-game as the Raptors take on the Warriors. To honour Mandela, the full Raptors and Warrior teams will wear special, limited edition, Adidas shooting shirts and the coaching staff and front office of both teams will don commemorative Giant of Africa lapel pins.

Will the Eastern Conference continue to out-play the West? | Nylong Calculus

The Diss’ Jacob Greenberg wrote about his feelings with the decline of the West’s non-Golden State Warriors powers on Sunday night. Certainly, entering the year, there were very high hopes for the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, et al. None of those four 2014-15 Western Conference playoff teams are currently over .500. In fact, the oddly good Dallas Mavericks are the West’s current No. 3 seed at 9-5. Out East, the No. 2 seed Miami Heat are 5-1 against the West. The No. 8 seed New York Knicks are 4-1. Even the impressively offensive-minded Charlotte Hornets have a 3-1 record against the West. It’s been an all-across-the-board showing from the NBA’s usually (L)Eastern Conference thus far.

All your Raptors-related articles/videos/images/stuff are belong to me: [email protected]

I am 29 years old. As such, I no longer get to submit a “Christmas list,” and my letters to Santa go unanswered (probably because the DMs to Mrs. Claus don’t).

If I still got such a list, the new Toronto Raptors holiday sweater would be somewhere near the top. The term “ugly Christmas sweater” gets thrown around a lot at this time of year, but there’s really not much ugly about the new sweaters in the Real Sports holiday line. Not to be a corporate shill – trust that there is no free cardigan coming my way – but these are really sharp.


You can check out the entire holiday line here (photo also courtesy that link), but these are the stars of the booklet right here.

Plenty of sports franchises have been jumping on the “ugly holiday sweater” trend in the last few years. The Drake Hotline Bling sweater is of the same vein (and is awesome). What’s your favorite holiday gear, sports or otherwise?

Fans attending Wednesday’s home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be decked out in black and gold.

The Raptors will be hosting Drake Night 3 on Wednesday, which you can read a little more about here. Following up on two years of solid gear giveaways that led to ludicrous secondary market prices, OVO is promising a return to black-and-gold shirts and – wait hold up. Head bands? Helllll yes. Free t-shirts are a dime a dozen (or, like, $150 each for prior Drake nights), but OVO bands? It’s lit.

Is Drake copping my style from high school by asking 19,000 civilians to wear sweatbands when they’re not participating in athletic activities? Maybe. Your boy’s an innovator, after all (nobody rocked a jersey+lulu lemon pants before the kid).

In any case, Wednesday should be a ton of fun with LeBron James and Drake in the house, plus all the free gear. Because the first home game in two weeks, with The King in town, wouldn’t have been hyped enough.

The Toronto Raptors began life without Jonas Valanciunas on Sunday, and it went better than they could have reasonably hoped.

While the Los Angeles Clippers played terribly opposite them and they nearly blew a 29-point lead, the Raptors still beat a presumed Western Conference playoff team and second-tier title contender on the fifth game of a west coast road trip. Apply whatever caveats you need to about how the Clippers are playing right now – not great, Bob – but a shorthanded Raptors team got it done under difficult circumstances.

Valanciunas is set to miss six weeks as he rehabilitates a fractured fourth metacarpal in his left hand, so it’s worth taking a closer look at how the Raptors’ rotation looked Sunday without him. The Clippers are under-performing on the defensive end and on the glass given their personnel, but their starting frontcourt stands as one of the most challenging the Raptors will run into. As expected, head coach Dwane Casey opted to start Bismack Biyombo in place of Valanciunas, playing him 31 minutes.

I suggested Saturday that outside of Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira, Valanciunas’ injury was a call for lineup creativity. Here’s how thing shook down Sunday.

Biyombo starts, plays too much
Here’s what I wrote about Biyombo over the weekend:

The primary fallout of the injury is that Biyombo is probably now the team’s starting center. That’s fine, and head coach Dwane Casey will probably want the defense he provides early in games rather than going with more offensively oriented lineups early. So long as it’s only the specifics, and not the scope of Biyombo’s role changing, this is an acceptable adjustment.

What the Raptors can’t do is shift the bulk of Valanciunas’ minutes to Biyombo.

In response, Casey played Biyombo for 31 minutes, which extends past the upper limit of his utility. He had the worst plus-minus of anyone on the team (-4). I am Bruno’s complete lack of surprise. A substantial chunk of those minutes saw him weigh down the starting lineup, as that group was outscored by four points in 18 minutes with him and turned around and outscored the Clippers by nine in six minutes without him.

That’s not necessarily a common trend with that foursome – they had performed roughly the same with Valanciunas or Biyombo so far this season, albeit in a small sample for the latter (sample size warnings abound for all lineup data so early in the year). Other lineups, however, have suffered a great deal with Biyombo, particularly the team’s closing unit (Cory Joseph in place of Luis Scola). Biyombo has laid waste to the awesomeness of that unit and did so again Sunday, though Casey quickly opted for a change after two minutes and a 1-of-7 shooting mark. In that 2:27 of play, the Raptors were outscored 3-2 and all Biyombo managed was a foul (he didn’t have any of the team’s three offensive rebounds or, shockingly, their turnover).

Biyombo has a place in the rotation, to be sure. He’s a strong defender on the block, he can capably switch on to guards and, if Casey shifted schemes, hedge well in the pick-and-roll with the agility to recover. And there’s the rim protection, something he’s elite at coming as the weak-side help.

With the team’s worst net-rating of any regular rotation player, Casey can’t lean on Biyombo for 30-plus minutes a night. He just takes too many other things off the table.

Nogueira non grata
That’s mixing languages, but Nogueira was nowhere to be found on the floor Sunday, a moderate surprise since he was the second and final traditional center on the active roster. This could be a case of Nogueira having flown in from Maine on short notice, without the benefit of practice and video sessions in preparation for the Clippers, or Casey wanting to experiment with creative lineups in a larger sample. There are a number of reasons Nogueira may not have played.

There’s also a chance Casey doesn’t trust him to play right now. That will almost surely have to change over the next six weeks, and the Raptors playing once over a five-day stretch should afford Nogueira plenty of practice time with which to get up to speed.

Here’s some of what I wrote about him Saturday:

There’s a lot of Nogueira in our post-game breakdowns from Thursday (a near triple-double performance) and Friday (a lesser outing with some encouraging signs), so check those out.

Nogueira’s inconsistencies are liable to frustrate Casey. An obscenely long defender with quick feet, Nogueira, like Biyombo, is capable of hedging hard on the pick-and-roll and even switching on to guards for brief stretches. He’s still having some trouble adjusting to this year’s more conservative scheme that asks him to drop back, and he’s too often on his heels as the dribble-attack arpporaches. Pick-and-roll defense was a major point of emphasis for his trip to the D-League, so expect NBA teams to attack him to see if his awareness has improved. Offensively, Nogueira’s a gifted player with terrific passing vision and a solid mid-range jump shot, but he’ll need to play within himself. He can be a clumsy screener and his dribble is a little loose. At the same time, he’ll make a couple of plays that few 7-footers have any business making and he’s a major threat for a high-low feed from the elbow to a cutter.

Casey would have good reason to be hesitant with Nogueira, but he has to be given some leash to prove himself with. He’s already 23 and played in the Spanish ACB league, so the team needs to measure his development against NBA talent at some point. The ideal time is when there’s only one other center healthy.

Let’s get weird
Again from the weekend, on playing without positions:

That same logic applies now. Valanciunas is hurt, and that’s something the Raptors can’t change; center depth was always going to be an issue if he got injured. That doesn’t mean the Raptors have to bow to convention and just shift everyone up a spot in the depth chart. Instead, Casey can get creative with center-less lineups that lean on the team’s athleticism and defensive versatility. It’s not the ideal way to run a team, particularly on defense, but ideal went out the window on Valanciunas’ second-quarter drive to the hoop. Get your best players on the floor and figure it out as you go.

Like he did in the second half against the Lakers on Friday, Casey opted to give center-less groups plenty of run Sunday. The Raptors played 17 minutes without a true center on the court, outscoring the Clippers by 15 points in that time. Again, this is a team against which that should be difficult, even if Blake Griffin turned in one of his worst games in recent memory. The Clippers don’t have strong frontcourt depth and Casey did well to stagger his substitutions such that he was playing his no-pivot look opposite similarly structured Clippers lineups. For as much as this won’t sit well with some readers, Casey has managed the six quarters without Valanciunas about as creatively as could be hoped, save for a few too many minutes for Biyombo.

Of the smaller groups, there are three particular things worth focusing in on.

*Luis Scola played 13 minutes as the team’s center. I suggested he may work as the de facto backup center now if Casey staggers his subs properly, as he’s an exceedingly strong 240-pounder. He’s on the shorter side and not particularly agile, but he’s a decent enough post defender and the Raptors don’t require agility from their center in their pick-and-roll coverages. Offensively, his Old Man’s Finest back-to-the-basket game is solid and he can help stretch a defense with his new-found outside shot.

The net result Sunday was favorable, with the Raptors outscoring L.A. by seven points with Scola at the five. The closing unit with Scola in place of Valanciunas (instead of Biyombo) was also effective, winning a five-minute stretch 12-8. That’s likely to be the team’s closing unit with Valanciunas out, and it will be interesting to see if they find the same chemistry the group had with the Lithaunian.

Scola as the team’s center isn’t a long-term or major-minutes fix, but it’s a reasonable look that you can probably get used to for at least a few minutes a game. It’s a good way to give the offense a jump when Biyombo’s off the floor and Casey can be selective about the defensive matchups he deploys it for.

*Patrick Patterson and James Johnson as a frontcourt. These two have had a nice chemistry all season long as complementary forwards, and sliding them up a position to share the frontcourt worked well against both L.A. squads. Patterson helps keep spacing in tact and Johnson provides offensive rebounding and secondary ball-handling. On defense, these two (and DeMarre Carroll when he’s on) can switch assignments seamlessly given their similarity in size. Johnson is a better on-ball defender and can take the tougher match-up, while Patterson is an intelligent system defender who’s rarely found out of position or making a bad read. The ability to pick up any of two or three men in transition should help what’s been a leaky defense off of misses, too.

The Raptors ditched Biyombo and Scola for five minutes against the Clippers and subsequently outscored L.A. 12-4. Johnson and Patterson played with Carroll only for a moment, but an all-bench-plus-DeMar DeRozan unit showed potential. Going without a center or Scola is a tough option defensively but it’s one that can really push the tempo and the transition game.

Lineups with Patterson and Johnson as the center have been very effective in 19 minutes this season, even though all but three of those minutes came with at least three reserves on the floor. It’s worth exploring more.

*More two-PG time. In news that should surprise nobody at this point, the Kyle Lowry-Cory Joseph pairing continued to prove effective. The Raptors outscored the Clippers by five in their 15 minutes together and by six in just nine minutes when the Raptors went with two point guards and no true center. The pairing made sense on paper as a small-minute deployment to goose the offense, but Joseph’s defense at either guard position has impressed more than expected, as has Lowry’s adjustment to playing off-ball more.

The duo have now played 189 minutes together on the year, outscoring opponents by 16.8 points per-100 possessions. Twenty minutes is probably about the upper limit of how much Casey can play together without over-taxing both, and putting too much of a burden on Lowry with Valanciunas out is a concern. Hopefully, Joseph’s presence mitigates Casey’s inclination to do so, especially since he’s run the second unit well enough when Biyombo’s not on the floor.

That last point is a trend worth watching more closely in the next few games. The Raptors may wind up better off giving Biyombo his minutes primarily with the starters, even though he may bring their performance down some, as the second unit is the one best served by going position-less. Bench scoring has been an issue this season, and freeing the bench group from having to work around Biyombo’s anti-gravity on offense could help them a great deal.

All eyes or on Casey’s rotations with Valanciunas out, and the early returns are encouraging. The Cavaliers will prove a mighty test Wednesday.

NBAE/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors have now completed the first 15 games of the season, with 11 games coming on the road, and have done so with an overall record of 9-6. With a decent 6-5 record on the road, the typical fan reaction may be that the road record could have easily been 8-3 (or even 9-2 if you consider the Golden State loss), and hence that we’ve gotten off to a poor start. Right?

Well my friends, welcome to the NBA. The reality is that unless you’re Golden State, San Antonio, or the 2010-2014 Miami Heat, you’re not going to win every game you’re supposed to, and once in a while, you’ll win a few games that you shouldn’t have (I’ll remind you that we scored a total of 28 points in the second half yesterday and still won against the Clippers – on any other night against an elite Western Conference squad, that’s a guaranteed L).

So, here we are. After a tumultuous 5 games, the Raptors are set to come back home to face off against King James and the Cavs on Wednesday in what will be another tough contest. Since we saw a bit of everything on the road trip, the important questions to ask would be – what were the factors that helped us win the 2 games against the Clippers and Lakers? And why did we lose 3 against the Kings, Warriors and Jazz? Here are some aspects we can take away:

Key Factors in the Wins

  • Team Defense: Save for a few moments in some of the games, the Raptors were mostly woeful on offense. So how did we squeak out victories against the Clippers and Lakers? Aside from a true lack of talent in the Lakers squad and dismal shooting from the Clippers, some credit has to go the Raptors defense that rotated hard, rotated quickly, and played opponents tight at the point of attack and along the 3-point line. On Friday, the Lakers were held to only 41 second half points, and the Clippers shot a combined 39% for the game on Sunday, and did not have a single quarter with over 25 points. Team defense travels, and will bail you out on most nights. Though the offense is probably more concerning at this point, the defense continues to be the saving grace for the Raptors in their wins. Prior to the Clips game yesterday, the Raptors moved from the bottom third of the defensive efficiency rankings into 13th. Keep it coming, Casey.
  • Luis Scola – put him in the HOF: Remember in pre-season when Patrick Patterson was christened to be the next starting power forward? Before he could get too excited, Luis Scola snatched that spot away like it was nobody’s business. And boy are we glad. Scola has been a no-nonsense, low-maintenance player that has consistently delivered for the Raptors with efficient scoring, and a surprisingly crisp three-point stroke. When the Raptors seemed down-and-out against the Clippers on the verge of losing their 29-point lead, it was Scola who provided 3 key baskets down the stretch to stop the bleeding. And sure, JJ Redick missing a few open threes certainly helped. This under-the-radar pickup by Masai may end up paying enormous dividends for the squad going forward.
  • CoJo – consistenly consistent: While the bench continues to struggle, another consistent glimmer of hope for the Raptors has been the play of Cory Joseph. While he didn’t necessarily shoot it well against the Clippers, Cory has been shooting lights out at nearly 55% this season, and is one of the leaders from the field at his position in the league. With a key basket late against the Clippers, tight defense, and overall stability at the point guard spot when the Raps go small with Joseph and Lowry in the back court to finish ball games (expect to see this way more with JV out), Cory Joseph was a key reason for the wins against the Lakers and Clippers. Talk about a steal at $7M a year. Once again, thank you Masai. Thank you.

Key Factors in the Losses

  • Extremely poor offensive execution: There weren’t exactly plenty of reasons the Raptors lost 3 games on this road trip, but one reason was pretty much the biggest factor. The lack of offensive creativity and execution down the stretch of games was almost depressing to watch. The 3 pointers weren’t falling in crunch time, turnovers were a huge issue, and simple isolation plays run for DeMar were not enough to consistently keep the Jazz and Kings at bay. To put it quite simply, DeMar DeRozan, while a solid scoring threat and reliable free-throw shooter and scorer, is simply not good enough (purely talent-wise) to be able to swallow all offensive possessions late in games. As a fan of DeMar myself (I’ll make it very clear that I’m not ripping on the guy alone), I cheer for the guy every time, but simply giving him the ball and forgetting about it is the not the solution. The Raptors have to find ways to run smooth offensive sets late in games early in the clock utilizing other weapons like Cory Joseph or DeMarre Carroll, instead of relying on just DeMar or sometimes Kyle to bail them out with tough shots or getting fouled – it’s simply not going to work. To compound matters, Jonas was adding nothing offensively to keep the defense honest and away from the three point line. Some of the blame should also fall on Coach Casey – perhaps a little too much time spent on defense in training camp? Who knows. But one thing is for sure – against the best of the best and in the playoffs, isolations in late-game situations for DeMar and/or Kyle are not going to be a consistent answer.
  • Refs: While I wouldn’t normally blame the zebras for single-handedly losing or winning a game, I can’t help but put some of the “blame” on the referees for the late-game whistle against Kyle in Oakland. After watching the replay probably 15 times, technically speaking, it was a foul (he was clearly grabbing an arm), but to call that kind of a foul in that juncture of the game (when almost no team in the NBA would get that called against them), was somewhat ridiculous. But hey, we were down by 1, so even without the call, we still had the task of scoring the ball to win the game. Not a guarantee.

Oh and in case you wanted to see that disgusting dunk on Gobert one more time, here you go. If dunks alone could earn you wins, this would be on the list.

Look Ahead for the Week

The Raptors hope to take their lessons learned from their 5-game road trip and get back at it against the LeBron’s Cavaliers on Wednesday night at 7 pm after 2 nights of well-deserved rest. They then head out to DC to face the Wizards on Saturday night (the first regular season re-match of their playoff series last spring), before completing a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns at home on Sunday evening. Playing without JV is going to be a challenge – but if Sunday was any indication, expect the Raptors to play small, continue playing tough team defense, and run a balanced team offense.

It’s a bit of a cliché at this point, but did the Toronto Raptors win last night’s game, or did the Los Angeles Clippers lose it?

The Raptors showed up to play, sort of, in the first half. They made 51.2 percent of their shot attempts, outrebounded the Clippers 26-17, and dished out 11 assists with only three turnovers. That was good.

The Clippers, on the other hand, shot 38.2 percent in the first half and dished out 10 assists with 13 turnovers.

At the half, the Raptors led 63-34. Great, right? It depends on how you look at it.

In the first half, the Clippers were a mess. There was essentially zero communication on defense, no urgency on cuts or screens, and plenty of hasty, questionable decisions on both ends of the floor. The Clippers haven’t been good lately. They’ve won just three of their last 10 games, with some of their losses to good teams but most to average or bad teams. Why they’re in this slump is anyone’s guess, but it’s real. Something’s going on.

From just after last night’s game:

You could certainly make the argument that the Raptors capitalized on whatever’s going on with the Clippers, or that they came to play with Jonas Valanciunas, or even that they held on when the Clippers made a run in the second half. And you’d be right. But there’s so much more to this game than that.

If you watched the Clippers’ game against the Golden State Warriors a few nights ago, you saw a completely different team. They were active, aggressive, and incredibly polished. That game alone reaffirmed that the Western Conference is much, much better than the Eastern Conference. Teams in the west play with an intensity you simply don’t see in the east.

So to see the Clippers as lackadaisical, unengaged and careless as they were in the first half was a surprise. Thankfully, the Raptors took advantage of that with good but not great basketball.

They relied heavily on Luis Scola, who finished the first half with 12 points, four rebounds and a sweet assist to Bismack Biyombo for a reverse dunky-layup thing. He even dove to the floor and fought for loose balls a couple of times. Scola’s 35, by the way. Kudos to him for a fantastic game.

Something must have happened in the Clippers’ locker room at the half, however, because the second half was a completely different game.

The Raptors seemed content to coast, relying on their seemingly insurmountable 29-point led. The Clippers, on the other hand, looked much more like the team that took it to the Warriors. They were focused and energetic, a far cry from whatever they were in the first half.

The Raptors scored just eight points in the third quarter, where they shot 18.2 percent from the field. Only DeMar DeRozan shot better than 50 percent in the third quarter, but he only took four shots. The Raptors were also out-rebounded by the Clippers, 17-11, in the third.

In the fourth, the tone of the game changed dramatically. Honestly, it looked a lot like playoff basketball in the Eastern Conference. Or Western Conference basketball in the regular season. Same thing, really.

Both teams played with an intensity not seen in the first three quarters. Cuts were crisp and efficient. Jump shots were jump shots, not set shots. All passes were bullet passes.

And when that happened, the Raptors were the inferior team.

Luckily, their 29-point lead from the first half was enough to keep them afloat, as the Clippers were only able to cut the lead to six when Wesley Johnson hit a 3-pointer in the corner off of an Austin Rivers pass. The Clippers outscored the Raptors 26-20 in the fourth quarter, and 46-28 in the second half as a whole. The Raptors ultimately came away with the win, 91-80.

This is what concerns people about the Raptors. Sure, they’re a good regular season team. They’re a talented bunch with depth at every position. But when push comes to shove, when the game is on the line, when your opponent is, well, good, can they win?

The answer is probably no, though we’re only 15 games into the season and the Raptors have a winning record of 9-6.

There were certainly some highlights in last night’s game. Three Raptors – DeRozan, Scola, and DeMarre Carroll – finished with 20 or more points, Biyombo snagged 15 rebounds, and Carroll scored in every way imaginable, finishing the game on 8-13 shooting (he actually made his first eight shots and missed his next five, but let’s stay positive).

We hear it a lot: the Western Conference is better than the East. Perhaps we don’t take that as seriously as we used to. The gap is still there, and it’s huge. The top Western Conference teams are considerably better than the top Eastern Conference teams.

The Raptors weren’t bad last night. They just weren’t as good as they need to be if they expect to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Still, a win is a win, and we’re one step closer to our third consecutive playoff berth.

Go Raptors.

Will and Zarar review a week that was salvaged by two wins at the Staples Cente. It’s an hour-plus pod so there are too many topics to summarize, though let it be said that the Raptors iso-heavy offense has not gone unnoticed.

Part 1:

  • Roadtrip salvaged
  • Surprise win against Clippers – nervous with a 30 point lead
  • Luis Scola dominating Griffin
  • Cory Joseph’d Ding up everyone
  • Smaller lineup dominating Lakers until Casey helped out
  • Why fans are skeptical about the offense
  • Talent dictates matchups
  • Refs and GSW; CoryJo getting hosed
  • Playing JV and Scola vs GSW
  • DD on Gobert vs Ross on Faried
  • Terrence Ross vs Austin Rivers
  • JV injury – options without him
  • Bebe talk

Part 2:

  • Blake Murphy
  • Raptors 905 pick up first win
  • Scott Suggs – anyone with a half-chance of making the big team?
  • Bruno in the 905
  • Dwane Casey not influencing what the 905 are doing; contrasting to other clubs
  • The opportunity cost of retaining Dwane Casey
  • DeMar under a different coach

Part 3:

  • Cleveland preview – it’s about what LeBron wants
  • Drake night; Will’s sweater
  • Raps complaining to the refs
  • Raptors biggest rivals
  • Washington’s new and improved
  • Phoenix preview; looking back on passing up on Brandon Knight
  • Sonny Weems
  • Starters logging heavy minutes
  • Raptors lack of backup SG
  • Who’s worse – Bennett or Ross?
  • The Bucks

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

Dwane Casey and the opportunity cost of continuity | Getting Benched

Casey and DeRozan have, effectively, served as the backbone for this era of Raptors basketball. We watched DeRozan develop from a pup into a full-fledged bloodhound and it’s been Casey who’s overseen the training. As with Casey, the opinion on DeRozan is split. He’s a relentless attacker and he’s solid in almost every aspect of the game, but he just can’t quit the midrange jumpers, and he’s hit a ceiling with ball-handling and outside shooting. DeRozan profiles as a good player with many obvious flaws. But he’s treated like a great player as if those flaws don’t even exist by Casey. And while it’s somewhat unfair to hold him to standards that we know he can’t meet, the game-to-game outcomes are still ultimately decided in large part by DeRozan’s performance. But what if DeRozan’s performance wasn’t all on him? And what would it look like if he wasn’t asked to carry the burden of being the no. 1 guy?

Raptors clip Clippers to finish road trip on a high | Toronto Sun

“I think this trip was a success even though we only went two and three,” he said. “I think it’s a success because every game was close. There were no blowouts. They all came down to the last minute except this one, so it just showed us our mental toughness. We know what we can accomplish now and this was definitely a confidence boost now.” The game also marked the first of what could wind up being 20 or so without Valanciunas. Casey went with a combination of Bismack Biyombo and Scola at the centre position while choosing to let Lucas Nogueira, who did not see the floor, ease his way back into the fold after a stint in the D-League with the Raptors 905. Biyombo gave Casey 14 rebounds and six points in just over 30 minutes while Scola moved back and forth between power forward and centre. “Biz, 14 rebounds I thought that was big for us,” Casey said. “I thought Luis did a good job in the post even though he’s undersized a bit. He’s smart, he knows how to play against bigger guys.

Raptors happy to end road trip with Staples Center sweep | Toronto Star

As coach Dwane Casey and the players have been saying since the season began less than a month ago, surviving a difficult early schedule and showing some kind of growth was almost as important as wins and losses. And finding out flaws that have to be worked on was equally significant, and in that respect this was a journey well worth taking. They blew games they probably should have won, they finished strongly with a weekend sweep of the Lakers and Clippers. and they now know full well what obstacles they have to overcome. “This whole road trip was tough, losing games that we know we should have won,” DeMar DeRozan said, citing blown leads in Sacramento and Utah. “That kind of dwells on you but we understood you don’t want to go out with a loss going all the way back home, you have to dwell on that for a five-hour flight back to Toronto. “We just wanted it.” The Clippers game was in many ways a microcosm of the entire trip. The Raptors looked as good as they have at any time this season in building a 29-point first-half lead but frittered it almost entirely away with some lazy second-half stretches.

Raptors survive challenging stretch of early-season schedule | TSN

t hasn’t necessarily been pretty, nor should we have expected it to be. Understandably, there have been some peaks and valleys at pretty much every facet of the game. Their offence – ball movement, three-point shooting and decision making in particular – has come and gone. The defence, while much improved (they’ve gone from the 23rd ranked team last year to 11th), has also been inconsistent. They’ve left some wins on the table, which can certainly be a source of frustration for those hoping to see them take the next step. Take this trip for instance. The Raptors had a fourth-quarter lead in each of their first three games – all losses by six points or fewer. Recently, their inability to execute down the stretch has stood out but they’ve also fallen victim to some missed opportunity, slow starts and even botched calls in the season’s opening month. If nothing else, the narrative is rarely boring. But the perception that they’ve been a moderate disappointment to this point is misguided. First, consider what they’ve been forced to overcome. In addition to the excess of games, the travel and the lack of practice time to begin the year, the Raptors have had to work seven new players into the lineup while installing a modified system on both ends of the floor. DeMarre Carroll, the club’s biggest off-season addition, missed three games and has been playing through a nagging foot injury. Terrence Ross, one of their best shooters, was sidelined for almost two weeks. Now, they’ll be without their starting centre and most efficient player for an indefinite stretch as Jonas Valanciunas recovers from a fractured hand.

Raptors beat Clippers 91-80, despite nightmare finish | Raptors HQ

Today, the Raptors took advantage of an apathetic Clippers team from the tap. With Bismack Biyombo starting for an injured Jonas Valanciunas, most of the offense started up top with DeMar DeRozan. Rather than dribbling ad nauseum though, DeMar spread the floor evenly, providing plenty of hockey assists to players around the floor. One of the recipients was DeMarre Carroll, who shot 8-for-8 for 21 points in the first half. With Blake Griffin in foul trouble early, and everyone else on the Clippers looking like they had just rolled out of bed, the Raptors jumped to a previously unthinkable 29-point lead at the half. Of course, that was only the beginning of a bizarre afternoon. Looking every bit a team that had Starbucks as their halftime snack, the Clippers turned into a ball-hawking defensive team in the third quarter. The Raptors turned inward, as they often have this season, forcing isolation to the tune of eight total points in the frame. When put in a box score, it’s something to behold.

Toronto Raptors get huge statement win against Clippers | Raptors Cage

The LA Clippers are said to have the best bench in the NBA. Their starters also include offensive weapons everywhere such as Blake Griffin, All-Star Chris Paul and old Raptors favourite Paul Pierce. Tonight they were held to just 80 points. In the second quarter they put up just 11, which is still better than what the Raptors did in the third. DeMarre Carroll grabbed four steals and the Clippers gave up 19 turnovers, 6 of which were on Griffin. The defence was solid tonight, the Clippers had no quarter over 25 and when it mattered most the Raptors were able to get back to back stops and re-establish a strong lead. Really good stuff from Carroll, Scola, and Joseph.

» Last Call: Toronto Raptors 91, Los Angeles Clippers 80 | Clippers Blog

MVP: During the stretch where Toronto took their lead from 10 points to 29, it seemed DeMarre Carroll could be seen on every play on both ends of the floor. He finished the game with 4 steals, 5 rebounds, and tied for a team high 21 points on 8-13 shooting, all scored in the first half of the game. That was … lethargic: The Clippers have had a recent history of sluggish play in matinee games, and the first half of today’s game was a shining example of that. The team would only score 11 points in the 2nd quarter, which is the second lowest scoring 2nd quarter for the Clippers since Chris Paul became a member of the team and only the fifth time the team has score 11 or less points in a quarter in that same span. X factor: The Toronto Raptors are one of the league’s best teams in terms of free throw attempts as well as free throw percentage. This game was no different; the Raptors had 31 free throw attempts and converted 29 of them to the tune of 93.5%.

Atrocious 1st Half Sinks Clippers, Who Lose 91-80 to Raptors | Clips Nation

Speaking of Luis Scola, he was absolutely murderous tonight. He only had 20 and 8 on 8-16 shooting, but every time he scored it either stopped a Clippers run or piled on top of them at the end of the shot clock. DeAndre seemed very hesitant to leave the paint against him, yet Scola’s most lasting specialty has been his great midrange jumper. There must have been a bad scouting report, or DJ was very unaware of who he was guarding. The other Toronto hero/Clipper villain was DeMarre Carroll, who poured in 21 in the 1st half and was everywhere on defense. He was kept under wraps in the 2nd half, but continued to make plays, whether through steals, drawing offensive fouls, or getting offensive rebounds. He would look amazing in a Clippers jersey, I can say that much.

Clippers Can’t Overcome Slow Start Vs. Raptors | Los Angeles Clippers

X-Factor: Luis Scola – The forward, who was averaging fewer than 10 points per game, left Sunday’s matchup with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, trying Carroll for made field goals. Scola also added eight rebounds.

Different starting lineup for Clippers but same poor result | LA Times

If anything good came out of Sunday’s game for the Clippers, it would be the team’s play in the second half, when they outscored the Toronto Raptors, 46-28. That was only the fourth time in 11 games the Clippers have won the second half. Not that it helped much since they started the half trailing by 29 points. The Clippers came out of their locker room eight minutes early to begin the second half and Coach Doc Rivers said it may have helped. “I’m assuming they decided we’re coming out early, get loose. Get ready,” he said. “And it actually worked. They came out and played a dang good third quarter. “

Clippers have harsh words after 91-80 loss to Raptors | The Orange County Register

Sunday, the Clippers trailed by 29 points by halftime, allowing the Raptors to score 63 points. They followed that by holding them to eight points in the third quarter. They eventually got to within six in the fourth quarter, but poor shot selection helped the Raptors get the necessary cushion. Frustration postgame, Clippers players said, is to be expected. “It’s because we’re losing,” Redick said. “Things happen during the game, and your frustration level increases or decreases based on the final result. It’s a level of toleration you have either with yourself of other people. … The end result dictates your mindset.” Right now, the Clippers’ mindset is a little scattered. Bad offense has led to bad defense; troubles getting stops has caused the offense to lose movement. They’re up to play the NBA’s defending champs and, by their own assessments, not playing hard enough on other nights.

Third loss in a row leaves L.A. Clippers frustrated | Los Angeles Daily News

The Raptors scored only eight points in the third, with DeMarre Carroll, who scored 21 in the first half, held scoreless. The third ended with the Raptors up 71-55. “They came out and played a really good third quarter,” Rivers said. “If there is a silver lining, it’s that we didn’t play awful in the third quarter. At some point, you are going to fight back and I thought that right in the beginning of the third, you could see we were finally here. “Whether we could win the game or not, it was going to be make or miss.” There were makes in the fourth quarter – including a big 3-pointer by Wes Johnson with 7:30 left quarter that cut it to 73-67 – but by that point, the load was too much to bear defensively. It’s not too late to fix what ails them, but the problem seems to be finding the answers.

Rapid Fire Recap: Clippers Torn Apart By Toronto Raptors 91-80 | NBC Southern California

The Clippers had cut the Raptors lead all the way down to six points with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. After a Toronto basket, Blake Griffin made a layup, but was called for a controversial offensive foul. Replays showed the call was questionable at best, but the Raptors came right back with a two-point basket from Luis Scola and extended their lad back to 12 points.

Toronto Raptors Hold On, Defeat Los Angeles Clippers 91-80 | VAVEL

This wild basketball game featured two halves in which were very one-sided but not just for one team. Toronto dominated all facets of the game in the first half jumping out to an enormous 63-34 lead at the break. The Raptor defense put loads of pressure on the Clippers’ players, and LA struggled to make shots. On the other end of the floor, the Raptors did a fantastic job moving the ball; something they have struggled with this season. The outstanding team basketball resulted in many open looks and made baskets. Leading the way on both ends of the floor in the first half was Carroll. Carroll was on fire, going eight-for-eight from the field including two three-pointers for all of his 21 points. Everything was going the Raptors’ way, but the second half was an entirely different story.

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AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Toronto Raptors 91 Final
Recap | Box Score
80 Los Angeles Clippers
Luis Scola, PF 31 MIN | 8-16 FG | 1-3 3FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +3 +/-

Owned Blake Griffin in that first quarter. Beat him down the court, finished against him in the block, got rebounds over him, and then nailed a key mid-range J in the fourth. By the end of the game, Griffin was welping like a little puppy begging to be put down.

Bismack Biyombo, PF 31 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -4 +/-

Got the start and never left the paint on both ends. In fact, he remained within the key during halftime, post-game, and is now reportedly purchasing a condo in the Clippers paint. The Jordan matchup was a good one for him, one where he can stay home and collect the ‘bounds.

DeMarre Carroll, SF 39 MIN | 8-13 FG | 2-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +16 +/-

Man on fire. One of those games when you throw up anything and it’s going nowhere but down. He was pulling up in transition, jab-stepping Pierce, and even his dribble-moves were coming off. On the other end, had Pierce on lockdown mode and walked off the court with the Staples Center exploding behind him ala Michael Bay. Had a key steal against Rivers in the fourth, baited Griffin into an offensive foul late on, and hung with Redick on switches to contest shots.

Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 2-11 FG | 1-4 3FG | 8-8 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 13 PTS | +14 +/-

Not a great game offensively, but at least didn’t let Paul get off. Uses that Scola/Biyombo screen to burst into space to his right seemingly every time and the Clippers perimeter defense was keen on helping which made his decision to pass pretty easy. The fourth quarter D on Paul was nice, didn’t allow any space for Paul to get into the paint on screens.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 4-16 FG | 0-2 3FG | 13-14 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 21 PTS | +11 +/-

Struggling with the iso-game but that didn’t stop him from hoisting it up. It didn’t matter in the early going since Carroll was flaming hot, but when the Clippers made their run, each DeRozan possession felt like an inevitable outcome. Gotta look up the stats on this, but he seems to possess the ball more than the PGs in the fourth quarter. The saving grace here was that when he did get in trouble, he tried to pass.

James Johnson, PF 7 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +6 +/-

Not a good game, he slashed after the catch on the perimeter without any idea of what he wanted to do with it. Once he saw Jordan waiting, ran out of ideas and Casey yanked him.

Patrick Patterson, PF 14 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -3 +/-

When someone figures out what he’s good at, could you please let me know? I remember when Jason Kapono used to play for the Raps, he was one who did zilch but shoot the open three, and Patterson is that, minus the threes. The guy seems too weak to muscle on the glass, too devoid of confidence to make the three, and always short of one of quickness or strength to matchup defensively.

Terrence Ross, SF 16 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8 +/-

Stealing money. Got crossed by Austin Rivers, committed lazy fouls, missed open jumpers, and had the IDGAF look plastered on his face. Get off my court.

Cory Joseph, PG 24 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +4 +/-

Strong first half where he ran the offense with Lowry on the court, and supplied some tenacious D on the wings which bothered Paul. Had a key score after he turned on a screen to finish at the rim to put the final nail in the coffin.

Dwane Casey

Good call on the Biyombo start. Not good how an iso offense basically let the Clippers back in. I support the JJ yanking, and I liked how he stuck with the tight rotation to salvage this roadtrip. Yes, the high minutes is a concern but we needed to get this one.

Two Things We Saw

  1. Game of two halves, man. First the Raptors built up a huge lead on account of some awesome shooting. Second half Clippers chipped away and you know it was going to be tight. If a couple of those Rivers and Crawford threes had gone in, it was nail-biting time.
  2. The Raptors defense was actually fine in this game, it was their one-and-done iso offense which kept the Clippers in it. I know Casey’s on record saying that training camp was all about defense, so I’m being patient with this thing, but damn, we have ZERO going on.

Luis Scola had a pretty strong first half, hitting threes, backing people down, finishing on Blake Griffin.

One of those “ah, haven’t seen that one in a while” was this cut from the top of the key which he stopped short on and pulled up for a J.

Check out the fan-made highlight of one such triple on Grandstand here.

Grandstand –  Sports Highlights from Fans in the Stands

On the new sports app, you can share your own Raptors highlights, and watch other fans’ videos straight from the crowd.

Download Grandstand on the App Store or at

Five games into the D-League season, the Raptors 905 have finally registered their first win. Today’s game in Maine against the Red Claws was a laborious one, and suddenly, I have a new-found respect for Blake Murphy for taking in all these D-league games, because quite frankly, it’s 48 minutes of torturous basketball.

But the D-league exists – because it has to. Because once in a blue moon a Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, or Lou Williams emerges. And, for all the mundane basketball it provides, it’s necessary to develop players like Bruno and Bebe while keeping them in game shape.

Bruno: 20 MIN, 2/8 FG, 9 PTS, 8 REB, 2 BS, 3 TOs

Here’s the thing – most people care about the 905 because of Bruno. Yes, to an extent, also Bebe and Bhullar – but mostly Bruno. So here’s the Caboclo update right off the bat: He was not a focal point of the offense today. The 905 offense goes mostly through Jay Harris and Scott Suggs (more on those two below) who were both scoring the ball pretty efficiently. You can tell that Bruno’s talent level and upside is a notch or two above the majority of the pool around him, but he has some barriers he needs to overcome, because he’s probably not going to make it in the NBA until he at least starts dominating the league he currently plays in.

The good

Despite his relative uninvolvement, you get the feeling he can make a big play on virtually every possession he’s on the floor. He hit a big three to cut the deficit to three points late in the fourth, then he grabbed a key rebound and iced the game at the free-throw line. While he struggles still defensively, his length causes opposing attackers problems as he can still block shots if he gets blown by.

The bad

His decision-making isn’t nearly as good as his athletic ability. On defense, Bruno tends to bite on fakes and leave his feet too early. Offensively, he’ll throw up shots that make you scratch your head – shots that a player of his talent-level shouldn’t be taking. I’m taking about fade-aways at full-speed that don’t even draw rim.

Today, he got into foul trouble quickly, which limited his minutes. His 5th foul was picked up in the third quarter.

His biggest weakness today though was his inability to keep his dribble alive. When he’s closed down, he tends to stop in his tracks and just hold the ball while the defense resets.

If I’m Masai Ujiri, I’m sending a memo down to Jesse Mermuys which emphasizes the following agenda: Make Bruno your go-to guy. Run more plays for him, and let him grow. Really, his development needs to be emphasized. By half-time, he took the least amount of field goal attempts of all active players on the team. That’s half his fault, and half the coaching staff’s. While nothing was being run for him offensively, Bruno was also quite passive on offense.

No Sim Bhullar or Lucas Nogueira today. The former only plays home games, and the latter is in LA with the Raptors to face the Clippers – a game which is tipping-off imminently as I type this. This gave more opportunity to Walter Pitchford.

Pitchford was impressive in one area in particular: interior defense. He was quick on defensive rotations against a Red Claws team that moves the ball really well. Once Pitchford got into his defensive positions, he altered shots efficiently. Unfortunately, he was a zero on offense – going 1 / 6 from the field and taking ill-advised shots, including a couple contested threes early in the shot clock.

A game of runs

The 905 got off to a really great start – opening up a 10-2 lead. A big part of that was their interior defense. Maine went inside on nearly every single possession during that stretch, and the 905’s interior defense was a wall – drawing three offensive fouls during that period. But as the game settled down, the 905 really struggled on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they had no answer for Jordan Mickey who was scoring at will. Mickey is essentially the D-League #RaptorKiller version of Joe Johnson, finishing the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Offensively, the Raptors really struggled too – failing to score in the final six minutes of the first half. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Raptors came back thanks to big offensive outpourings from Jay Harris (18 pts) and Scott Suggs (19 pts). While Suggs was the team’s leading scorer, I was mostly impressed with Jay Harris. Harris has a Lou Williams style to his play – he’s agile, has a quick cross-over, and can score inside and out. He also has a seemingly infinite motor – always moving, always full of energy.

All in all, it was a solid first win for the 905. Enjoy the Clippers game, y’all.

Bismack Biyombo will start against the Clippers today at 3:30 PM EST.

In 14 games this season, Biyombo is averaging 17 minutes and producing 4.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and .9 blocks a game. He’s shooting a surprising 74% from the stripe as well. Biyombo has started 136 games in his career, playing 28.4 minutes and averaging 5.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.

Going up against Jordan should be a manageable matchup for Biyombo who likes to stay close to the basket, and Jordan isn’t the type of player that can pull Biyombo out of his comfort zone. Here’s hoping Dwane Casey assesses the matchup on the night before making the starting C decision.

Of course, this is all happening because Jonas Valanciunas is now expected to be out for about 6 weeks.

Jonas Valanciunas will be sidelined for six weeks as he rehabilitates a fractured fourth metacarpal in his left hand, according to a report from Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

This is a huge blow to the Toronto Raptors, who entered the season with depth questions at the center position. Bismack Biyombo will be over-exposed in starter’s minutes, Lucas Nogueira is still largely unproven (he was recalled from the D-League yesterday), and the team could be forced into using some very creative lineups to get by. You can read more about the rotation fallout from the injury here.

Valanciunas broke the finger in the second quarter of Friday’s game against the Lakers. X-rays revealed the break and after further tests, Valanciunas reportedly opted to rehabilitate the injury rather than undergo surgery. You can check out his comments on the injury here.

The timeline for recovery suggests this is a bit of a worst-case scenario for a fractured finger. There was some optimism that because the fracture was on the index finger of his non-shooting hand, he may not be out too long. That’s obviously not the case, and the Raptors will be without their starting center for a quarter of the season. Six weeks covers 20 games on the schedule.

Apologies for the brief post, but the links within should provide all the additional context you need.

The Toronto Raptors close out their five-game west coast road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, with a 3:30 p.m. tip off on Sportsnet.

The trip has been disappointing so far, with the Raptors dropping three tight games in a row before winning an ugly one against the Lakers on Friday. The Raptors lost center Jonas Valanciunas in that game, making Sunday’s affair difficult to project. Bismack Biyombo probably stands to start, Lucas Nogueira is back from Raptors 905, and head coach Dwane Casey should experiment with some fun, position less lineups in response.

The Clippers are off to a slow start, with their newfound depth failing to prove effective so far and their defense ranking a leaky 25th in points per-100 possessions. They’re also one of the league’s five worst rebounding teams despite the presence of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, a blessing for the Raptors as we figure out what they’re rebounding strategy will be without Valanciunas. The Raptors should be able to get to the line frequently against a foul-prone Clippers perimeter defense.

I’m mailing this pre-game in a little bit because it’s Sunday morning, but to help set the stage, I traded emails with Roscoe Whalan of ClipperBlog.

Blake Murphy: A tough loss to the Golden State Warriors that saps you of your energy for an easier opponent the next night? Been there, bro. How fatigued is this Clippers team entering Sunday’s game, and how likely is it some or any of the team’s key rotation players rest?

Roscoe Whalan: The team is a combination of beat up, banged up and emotionally pretty vulnerable right now — heartbreaking losses to the Warriors tend to do that to you (you guys know what I mean, right?). In both the losses to Golden State and Portland this week the team has sputtered down the stretch (outscored 39-13 in the final five minutes of their past two games), which is a little surprisingly considering they were coming off three days rest before that. Paul Pierce will return Sunday after coming out of his cryogenic chamber, which is something and hopefully Friday’s disaster in Portland at the very least helped Redick and CP3 round back into some form. It should be a full squad Sunday but I can’t say for sure that it’s a 100% healthy one.

Blake Murphy: What the hell is going on with Lance Stephenson? I get tweaking the starters based on match-ups, and I know he’s a mercurial guy, but there’s something to be said for role consistency, is there not? Has his play been as objectionably bad up close as it’s seemed as a more occasional observer?

Roscoe Whalan:I don’t know, I was hoping you’d be able to answer that. Doc says it’s all about match-ups but I entirely agree that when it comes to a guy that’s as enigmatic as Lance you need to spend some time trying to crack the lock — and that won’t happen with him plastered to the bench in the middle of November. He’s been fine but for the most it’s looked like he’s trying so hard to do the right thing (extra passes, etc.) that he’s inadvertently doing the wrong thing and subsequently having minimal impact on the game. Giving him some more rope may pose a number of other problems but it also might help if there’s any hope of digging out whatever remains in there of Indiana Lance.

Blake Murphy: I don’t really have any long-term concerns with the Clippers, but the current state of the defense seems troubling. What, specifically, on that end can a team like the Raptors target, since there isn’t much hope of flowing the L.A. offense down?

Roscoe Whalan:Well, you’re a lot more positive than many of us folks over in Clipper Land. The 6-6 start is a hurdle but this team is certainly talented enough to iron those woes out over time. Rivers toned down the way the Clips guard the pick-and-roll, which means less hyper-aggressive-big-man-shows and a lot more staying at home. That said, the conservative scheme does leave room for wide open jumpers — it’s something the likes of Lowry and Derozan will certainly get to snack on in Sunday’s matinee. Oh, and rebounds. Besides DJ the Clippers have been awful on the glass.
Roscoe Whalan: What was more important for the Raptors to change this offseason: the roster or the psyche?

Blake Murphy: They’re related, really. To have any chance of winning a playoff series, the roster needed major tweaking. They needed better perimeter defenders and more balance to the offense, ends that Carroll and Joseph served. But those changes also speak to a mental shift. I don’t think the team was broken psychologically by the sweep, but the team had accepted a sub-optimal identity of a one-on-one team that won on the offensive end. That doesn’t fit the coach or any of the non-DeRozan players. So, in a very wishy-washy answer, the roster changes were more important but they were borne of the team’s acceptance of a poor ideological identity the season prior.

Roscoe Whalan: The Clippers are 6-6 and the Raptors are 8-6. Does this whole “East is better than West now” chatter have some validity or is it just a blip on the radar of a long season?

Blake Murphy: I think it’s a blip, to be honest. The East is certainly better and deeper but the balance of power isn’t even close to having swung. You look at the standings page and you can make the case for a handful of West teams getting better than they’ve played and the opposite in the East. Plus, the bottom of the East is a flaming tire fire; at least the West’s dregs compete. It’s nice that the East could play closer to .500 ball this season, but the fact remains that Cleveland is the only team that would be a top-four or top-five team in the West.

Roscoe Whalan: It’s been two years since Bruno Caboclo was drafted. Is he holding steady and now just two years away from contributing?

Blake Murphy: I’m not sure about two years away from contributing, but he’s at least a season away. The Raptors’ investment in a D-League team was in large part to facilitate Caboclo’s growth, and he’s going to spend the entire season getting heavy minutes in Mississauga. That’s crucial, because Caboclo is a baby in basketball terms. Sorry to throw a lot of numbers at you, but prior to his assignment, Caboclo had played only 756 “professional” minutes, all in low-competition environments (24 in the NBA, 277 at summer league, 153 in preseason, 62 in the D-League, and 240 in Brazil in his draft year). In one week since being assigned, he totaled 138 minutes with the 905. He’s nearly 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, athleticism, and a quick, fluid jumper; I have no idea what he’s going to become as an NBA player, but I still maintain it’s worth investing to find out.

The Raptors are 6.5-point underdogs, which feels right, at least until we figure out what they’re going to look like without Valanciunas. Enjoy your Sundays, fam.

In light of the Jonas Valanciunas news, the Raptors have made the expected move of recalling Bebe.

He will join the team in Los Angeles as they take on the Clippers on Sunday afternoon.  You can check out our 905 coverage to learn how Bebe’s been doing. Overall, though, Bebe has played in 4 games and averaged 9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 22.1 minutes of playing time.  

The man’s length is a factor on the glass and in help situations in the D-League, and it remains to be seen how it plays out in the NBA.  His slight build tends to work against him in the NBA where he’s easier to box out than in the D-League where guys are generally not as strong, and Bebe simply outjumps them to keep it alive via the tip and collect the rebound.

His best skill remains his passing, where he has a keen eye for ball-distribution from the high-post.  Unfortunately, he has no jumper whatsoever so expect teams to simply sag off of him and dare him to shoot if he does get the rock. I can see Casey using Bebe as part of a mobile lineup, where unlike Valanciunas, Bebe would be asked to press and hedge hard instead of laying back.  It all remains to be seen, and it all starts on Sunday afternoon.

As per Yahoo Sports, JV is opting to take the quicker road back to playing basketball again:

After undergoing further tests on Saturday, Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas will bypass surgery on the fracture in his left hand, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Valanciunas injured his hand on a swipe from Kobe Bryant in Friday’s win over the Lakers. Blake has already covered what the Raptors might do without JV in the lineup and the big man also lamented on his misfortune following the game yesterday.

The healing time for such injuries is anywhere between 6-12 weeks, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if Valanciunas is out till the new year.

This should serve as an opportunity for Bebe to showcase his skills, and I’m not saying the Raptors should do this, but Chuck Hayes is out there. The thought of Bismack Biyombo playing starter minutes is a scary one because it basically means that on any pick ‘n roll, the guard will be doubled and ball-handlers on the already-sputtering Raptors offense would face greater pressure.

The smaller lineup of James Johnson, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph was a very effective one against the Lakers, and could be a go-to move for Dwane Casey if he chooses to stick without a real center, but then again, evaluating a lineup’s effectiveness against the horrible Lakers is not a good idea.

The Raptors are 9th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, and losing their best rebounder is sure to hurt.  The question is whether Casey goes for a big-for-big replacement via Biyombo or Bebe, or opts to go smaller.

The Toronto Raptors will be without Jonas Valanciunas for an undetermined amount of time after the center fractured the fourth metacarpal in his left hand Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The severity and location of the fracture will play a large part in determining Valanciunas’ timeline. He’s set to undergo further testing after the initial X-ray revealed the fracture, and there’s some cause for optimism. While Valanciunas missed 18 games with a similar injury in his rookie season, that injury was to his shooting hand. If this fracture is closer to the top of his finger, it’s presence on the non-shooting hand could allow for a quicker return to action.

This is all speculative, however. Valanciunas is out, and probably will be for at least a few games, and the Raptors need to figure out how to respond.

Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira
The primary fallout of the injury is that Biyombo is probably now the team’s starting center. That’s fine, and head coach Dwane Casey will probably want the defense he provides early in games rather than going with more offensively oriented lineups early. So long as it’s only the specifics, and not the scope of Biyombo’s role changing, this is an acceptable adjustment.

What the Raptors can’t do is shift the bulk of Valanciunas’ minutes to Biyombo. Biyombo was brought in as a defender, a backup who can provide a different look than Valanciunas and help against tougher interior assignments. He’s a strong rebounder at both ends, an agile pick-and-roll defender who can switch on to guards and recover back to his man, and his rim-protection numbers are some of the strongest in the league over the last three seasons.

Unfortunately, an experimental surgery left him with hands for feet and feet for hands, rendering the Raptors 4-on-5 on offense when he plays. He struggles to catch passes when stationary and his clumsy dives to the rim are made all the worse by his inability to corral a ball. He does some damage as a finisher around the rim, but the Raptors’ offense often gets gummed up when Biyombo takes the floor, as teams feel entirely comfortable doubling the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll or abandoning Biyombo outside of the restricted area. In 16.9 minutes, he’s averaging 4.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks while shooting 40.4 percent, a mark that’s sure to regress but not to a high enough mean to make 30 minutes a night palatable.

The net result is that the Raptors have been 17.3 points per-100 possessions (PPC) worse with Biyombo on the floor this year. Some of that comes from him playing with bench units instead of the starters, but his impact is dramatic on shared lineups. Here’s a look at how the team plays with Biyombo inserted into Valanciunas’ six most common lineups:


Comparing lineup data like this is an exercise in very small sample sizes, so it’s difficult to learn too much. What’s clear, though, is that some lineups that are very effective with Valanciunas get hamstrung when Biyombo takes the court, most notably the team’s preferred closing unit – the starters with Cory Joseph in place of Luis Scola have been killing teams to the tune of 27.2 PPC, but they’re getting doubled up when Biyombo is out instead.

So it’s fine to star Biyombo, but his limitations are such that the team should probably cap his minutes around 25.

That means there will be minutes off the bench for Nogueira, who figures to be on a flight from Maine to Los Angeles right now for Sunday’s game against the Clippers. Nogueira has been itching for the chance to get some NBA run, and Casey mentioned before departing that the team thought long and hard about keeping him up for depth during the trip. The organization ultimately decided that minutes with the 905 were more valuable, and Nogueira’s responded by playing fairly well.

There’s a lot of Nogueira in our post-game breakdowns from Thursday (a near triple-double performance) and Friday (a lesser outing with some encouraging signs), so check those out. He’s averaging nine points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.8 blocks while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, and he figures to get at least 10-12 minutes a night while Valanciunas recovers.

That total could be inconsistent, as Nogueira’s own inconsistencies are liable to frustrate Casey. An obscenely long defender with quick feet, Nogueira, like Biyombo, is capable of hedging hard on the pick-and-roll and even switching on to guards for brief stretches. He’s still having some trouble adjusting to this year’s more conservative scheme that asks him to drop back, and he’s too often on his heels as the dribble-attack arpporaches. Pick-and-roll defense was a major point of emphasis for his trip to the D-League, so expect NBA teams to attack him to see if his awareness has improved. Offensively, Nogueira’s a gifted player with terrific passing vision and a solid mid-range jump shot, but he’ll need to play within himself. He can be a clumsy screener and his dribble is a little loose. At the same time, he’ll make a couple of plays that few 7-footers have any business making and he’s a major threat for a high-low feed from the elbow to a cutter.

This is a player who was getting regular run in the Spanish ACB league two years ago, one of the best leagues on the planet. At age 23, he should be ready for minutes.

Note on starter, Biyombo/Nogueira pair
There’s an argument to be made that Biyombo shouldn’t start and the Raptors should go with two power forwards. I can’t bring myself to get too upset about the starting lineup – I’m far more concerned with minute loads and who closes out games. Casey’s a defense-first guy and I’d expect he goes defense-first with Biyombo, and the starting group has been fine with Biyombo inserted in.

Nogueira could start, too, similar to how James Johnson started when DeMarre Carroll went out. That was done as a matter of role preservation, tasking Johnson with a big adjustment and keeping everyone else’s role the same. That doesn’t really apply with Nogueira starting here, because while it would keep Biyombo’s role similar, Valanciunas’ injury is going to force a ton of changes in the rotation. Casey also hates poor defensive starts, which starting Nogueira risks.

There’s also the matter of Biyombo and Nogueira playing together for an insanely long frontcourt that could be successful defensively. Count me out. As a bench unit when Valanciunas is healthy, the experiment could be worthwhile, because Nogueira can play far enough away from the basket on offense. But the team is already perilously thin at center now, and playing your only two natural options together seems a poor deployment of resources.

Let’s get weird
So if I’m only comfortable with Biyombo getting about 25 minutes and I’m unsure Nogueira will get more than 15 or so, that means the Raptors need another answer at center. The Raptors are probably looking at 8-10 minutes playing center-less basketball.

And hopefully more, because this could be a lot of fun.

When the Raptors signed Carroll this offseason and were rumored to still be in on Wesley Matthews, I wrote an in-favor piece that focused on positionless basketball. The logic at that time was that the Raptors didn’t have their pick of the market, so finding round pegs for round holes at efficient prices wasn’t realistic. Instead, talent was the most important thing, and if the Raptors could acquire talent, they could figure out fit later.

That same logic applies now. Valanciunas is hurt, and that’s something the Raptors can’t change; center depth was always going to be an issue if he got injured. That doesn’t mean the Raptors have to bow to convention and just shift everyone up a spot in the depth chart. Instead, Casey can get creative with center-less lineups that lean on the team’s athleticism and defensive versatility. It’s not the ideal way to run a team, particularly on defense, but ideal went out the window on Valanciunas’ second-quarter drive to the hoop. Get your best players on the floor and figure it out as you go.

To Casey’s credit, he didn’t give in to sticking with a center on Friday. Biyombo didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, and lineups without a center outscored the Lakers by 12 points in 16 minutes.

Lineup Minutes +/-
TOTAL 16 +12

Extrapolating results from a game against the Lakers isn’t wise, but the Raptors have dabbled with no-center groups for short minutes throughout the year.


That’s encouraging, and there are two specific looks I think we’ll see a fair amount of.

Luis Scola at center
Scola is the most natural of the power forwards to shift to center. He’s only 6-foot-9 but he’s 240 pounds and plays a more ground-bound style. Offensively, it seems a natural fit given his post game, and his ability to step out to the 3-point line (he’s 10-of-20 on the year) could really stretch defenses. It’s a riskier proposition on defense, where Scola lacks the quickness to cover much ground in the pick-and-roll and isn’t a strong shot blocker, but the Raptors may be able to gameplan around that or deploy Scola at the pivot based on opponent substitution patterns, avoiding the most egregious mismatches.

Of the 52 minutes referenced above, Scola was the de facto center (there’s not really anyone playing center) for 37 of them. That includes seven minutes in Valanciunas’ role with the closing unit – essentially, the starters with Joseph in place of Valanciunas – and that’s a look I think you’ll see a fair amount of.

Patrick Patterson-James Johnson frontcourt
With the exception of one minute with a super-small lineup, the non-Scola minutes referenced above had something in common: Patterson and Johnson shared the frontcourt. This, I think, may be the key to getting through a prolonged Valanciunas absence.

Each player has their shortcomings, but they prove complementary parts. Patterson’s shooting ability lets Casey invert the offense and have Johnson play more inside, and Johnson is an active enough rebounder and on-ball defender that Patterson’s weaknesses are covered for to a degree. Johnson has proven capable of guarding most any player type, and Patterson is smart enough to help and recover where necessary while guarding multiple positions. Most importantly, they can switch and cross-match as needed.

In 81 minutes with those two on the floor together this year (a lot of it at the forward spots rather than the frontcourt positions), the Raptors have outscored opponents by 18.1 PPC.

The suggestion here is to shift those two down a position, unlocking a versatile position-less defense. If Carroll is on the floor, too, even better, as those three can change assignments on the fly. That extends some to DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, too, though those two need to be protected from the bulkier opposition. Johnson-Patterson is going to be a common reserve duo and could really help goose secondary scoring and force turnovers to push the transition game. It’s susceptible as a set defense, but there are no perfect answers when you lose your starting center.

Basically, Casey should throw positions out the window and go with a “best five” mentality more often, with a quick hook for both of his traditional centers. Playing someone just because they fit a positional definition at the expense of the five-man unit is hardheaded at best, as is Casey’s occasional assertion that he has to match lineups to an opponent’s choices. Forget that. You’re at a disadvantage anyway, so play an unorthodox style that best suits your talent and figures to make an opponent uncomfortable.

Let’s get weird with Valanciunas out.

Other Notes
*This could mean minutes for Anthony Bennett. He’s been bad when he’s played but he’s big enough to help inside and he fits with the Patterson-Johnson strategy outlined on the defensive end. He’s also an active rebounder, something the Raptors may need.

*Don’t even bring up trades. The Raptors have 15 guaranteed contracts, few workable trade assets, and nobody is going to value their prospects more than they do. Plus, there’s a small silver lining here in getting to see what they have in Nogueira. A panic trade for an injury that may only be in the two-to-four week range is not how you should be responding to the news.

*This should also mean even more of Lowry-Joseph. Going small in the frontcourt shifts everyone “up” a position, and Joseph has proven capable of guarding twos. The early success of this duo has allowed Lowry to focus more on scoring, and the Raptors are killing teams (+17 PPC) when they share the floor. More of this, please.

It’s a been an up and down (mostly down) week for the Raptors where last night’s win against the Lakers was the saving grace. There’s also the 905 who are doing their best Philly impression at 0-4, and it all amounts to another packed week at RR.

Jonas Valanciunas left Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday due to a fractured fourth left matacarpal. He remains without a timeline for a return, as the team wants him to undergo additional tests following the initial X-ray.

Valanciunas spoke with reporters following the game:

The Raptors would go on to win but the injury looms as a major hit for a team that doesn’t have a ton of great options at the five.

Raptors 102, Lakers 91 | Quick Reaction | Box Score

Let us just get this out of the way off the top: Against most other teams, the Toronto Raptors don’t walk away with a win on Friday night.

Coming off of three consecutive narrow losses, games that were played intensely and could have gone either way with better execution or a few fortuitous breaks, the Raptors came out dead, save for Kyle Lowry. Whether it was the mental or physical exhaustion from the tough losses and the fatigue of the five-game west coast road trip or a matter of overlooking a now-2-10 Los Angeles Lakers outfit, the Raptors didn’t really show up to play.

They’d wind up winning 102-91, mostly because they’re a much more talented team than the Lakers.

Things also turned around when head coach Dwane Casey was forced to use some funky lineups in the second half, as center Jonas Valanciunas fractured the fourth metacarpal in his left hand late in the second quarter. Valanciunas wasn’t playing well to that point and his absence accidentally unlocked effective lineups for the Raptors in this instance, but it makes the ugly victory a Pyrrhic one. The Raptors are thin at the pivot and if Valanciunas misses a significant amount of time, Casey is going to have to get very creative. More on that in another piece later today.

Prior to the injury, the Raptors were relying almost exclusively on Lowry. He had an unbelievable first half, knocking down five triples and scoring 19 points with five dimes. He had a hand in well over 50 percent of the team’s points at the break, and without his singular offensive dominance, the Raptors would have found themselves in a much deeper hole than their 50-49 halftime reality.

Lowry is at his best scoring when he doesn’t need to serve the competing need of facilitating, something he’s been able to focus on more and more as Cory Joseph carves out a larger role alongside him. Some have taken issue with Lowry’s more scoring-focused ways, but it’s a necessity and a luxury in the current offensive environment, and he’s generally good at leveraging a hot stretch to help create for others.

He also drew a foul on Nick Young which not only stands as the best Swaggy P highlight, but also snapped Young out of his hot shooting start.

Direct Link

Lowry got away from the distributing some in the second half, in part because he’s struggling from inside the arc and deferred to others to initiate. He’d finish 0-of-4 on twos and 7-of-11 on threes, tying a career high for triples in the process. “I can’t make a two right now, so might as well shoot threes,” he said after the game.

It would be nice if his running mate DeMar DeRozan would take a lesson in recognizing what’s working and what isn’t. DeRozan’s final stat line was fine, but – and you’d never guess this without me telling you – the fourth-quarter offense stalled when DeRozan started to look for clear-outs every possession or two. It’s a delicate balance because yes, DeRozan can seal games with ridiculous moves like this that very few players can pull off…

But the outcome too often looks like this, with a glaring lack of floor balance, space, and attention from the defense to anyone not named DeRozan…

And the team is quite capable of moving the ball when everyone’s engaged…

Despite the cries of fans that Casey doesn’t have an offense or doesn’t run plays, that’s patently not true. The Raptors can move the ball and have a few pet plays designed to get their one-on-one players on the move in an advantageous situation before attacking. They just seem to go out the window late sometimes.

As always, I get it. Asking your best one-on-one scorer to go score is an easy sell and Casey and DeRozan have a great comfort level established. Playing opposite Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest one-on-one scorers of all time, it’s difficult not to remember all of the big shots he’s hit playing that way. That’s a serious psychological error, because even Bryant one-on-one at his peak was at times a sub-optimal strategy, and the Lakers have been an example for the last several years of the damage sticking to hero ball without the requisite artillery can do. DeRozan is a very talented scorer, but this team’s offense, particularly with the closing unit, is strong enough that they don’t need to rely on him so much. His crunch-time usage rate right now is obscene, his crunch-time efficiency even more so.

In any case, the Lakers aren’t particularly good, and the Raptors finally caught a break in that regard.

The rest of the team joined Lowry in playing functional basketball in the second half, and the bench in particular woke up. Patrick Patterson turned in one of his better performances of late despite a cold shooting night, James Johnson auditioned for the role of super-weird center after a shaky first half, Joseph was Joseph, and Terrence Ross is back! Oh…

A rough opening stretch aside, Ross played fine, and a return to form for him coming off of injury will be paramount if the Raptors want to go small with Valanciunas out. Those lineups will only work with at least two outside threats on the floor, and the Raptors don’t have a lot of those. In theory, Ross’ athleticism also makes him a good cross-matching candidate and for some positionless transition defense.

Again, more on how to deal with Valanciunas’ injury tomorrow, but it’s worth a quick look at how the Raptors did without a center against the Lakers:

Lineup Minutes +/-
TOTAL 16 +12

Entering play Friday, I had centerless Raptors lineups down as a net-even in 30 minutes of action. It’s not reasonable to extrapolate from a game against the Lakers, who were willing to matchup with a smaller Metta World Peace-Julius Randle frontcourt through the game’s final minutes, but those are encouraging minutes. The Patterson-Johnson pairing has potential, like it did at the forward spots a year ago, because it gives Casey the option of inverting the offense and avoiding having Johnson on the perimeter (tonight’s corner three notwithstanding). Biyombo, meanwhile, didn’t see the floor in the fourth.

How much Casey decides to stick with those groups moving forward is a question for another time, but credit him with not sticking to traditional thinking and forcing Biyombo out there. The Lakers probably would have matched with Roy Hibbert and negated some of the edge because this is Byron Scott, anyway.

With the more athletic lineups unlocked, the Raptors took back the rebounding edge and started firing from outside, going 7-of-17 on threes in the second half. The Raptors opted not to go deep into the bench for Anthony Bennett, Delon Wright, or Norman Powell, and that helped, too, as the tighter rotation took advantage of a long stretch of ineffective Lakers bench-ball.

A lot of smaller things went right. The Lakers are bad, they didn’t employ an optimal strategy given the Raptors’ circumstances, and some unfamiliar Raptors units found a quick chemistry. On balance, the Raptors probably didn’t deserve a win, but games aren’t played in a vacuum. Having played one of the toughest schedules in the league so far, reeling from three consecutive narrow losses that threatened to shake their confidence, the Raptors had the benefit of a “schedule win.”

They needed that. We needed that. Drake needed that.

Toronto Raptors 102 Final
Recap | Box Score
91 Los Angeles Lakers
Luis Scola, PF 25 MIN | 5-11 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -13 +/-

Your new crunch time center had a ho-hum game. He got to work in the post a little bit, scoring his crafty buckets. The defense wasn’t great, though, and the schemes have to change dramatically if he’s going to play pivot.

DeMarre Carroll, SF 34 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-6 3FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | -5 +/-

Heated up late from outside when it was much needed. Was all over Bryant but Kobe had a few throwback possessions. Hope he’s healthy, because he’s a PF for a bit now.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 18 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -5 +/-

Played abhorrently at both ends before breaking his hand.

Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 7-16 FG | 7-11 3FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | +14 +/-

Ridiculously hot first half saw him cool down in the second, but it’s not a game at half without his shot-making. “I can’t make a two right now so I might as well shoot threes,” Lowry said after the game.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 34 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-2 3FG | 7-8 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | -6 +/-

The final stat line isn’t too objectionable but he really gummed up the team’s offense in the fourth quarter. A smaller unit found a good flow, and his ball dominance put an end to that.

James Johnson, PF 15 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +10 +/-

Some really good minutes from the man who may now be the team’s backup…center? Johnson could be a big part of funky lineups with Valanciunas out, and he turned in a strong second half (after a poor first) in response.

Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +21 +/-

The player who needs to step up most with Valanciunas out, Patterson showed an awareness of that and attacked the glass more aggressively than he normally does. He still doesn’t seem super comfortable in his jumper.