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Thread: ESPN Per Diem article: Raptors are 1 of 2 EC 'Cinderella' teams

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    Super Moderator CalgaryRapsFan's Avatar
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    Default ESPN Per Diem article: Raptors are 1 of 2 EC 'Cinderella' teams

    LINK: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/story...e/refresh/true

    * Thanks in advance to anyone who can post the entire article, given that you must be an ESPN Insider


    It's nice to see the Raptors getting some love and respect heading in the playoffs, after seemingly being left behind in recent weeks, in favor of the Bulls and Nets.

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    Raptors Republic All-Star Primer's Avatar
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    It's Cinderella season in basketball. The NCAA tournament officially tips off on Tuesday and as the world frantically tries to figure out where the shoe fits, let's turn our attention to the pro ranks.

    We should probably point out that Cinderella rarely makes a cameo in the NBA for two reasons. First, Cinderella has to win only one game in the NCAA to advance; in the NBA, it takes four just to move on. Luck only gets you so far in the pros.

    Second, it's hard to sneak up on anybody when there's 82 games worth of data at our disposal. From a minutes perspective, a 34-game college basketball season with shorter games is the equivalent to the NBA season wrapping up after 28 games, or a little more than a fourth of an NBA season. And some of those 34 college games can come against far lesser competition, which waters down what we "know" about a team.

    But with that said, there are still some teams that could surprise folks in the NBA playoffs. You won't find the Cinderella in the loaded Western Conference (every playoff team is a Goliath), but the East is a different story. As the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers struggle here down the stretch, the gap that separates them and the rest of the conference has shrunk.

    With about a month left before the regular season wraps up, here are two dark horses in the Eastern Conference who people may be snoozing on.

    Dark horse to make the NBA Finals: Toronto Raptors


    I get it: How can a No. 3 seed qualify as a dark horse? But even with the East's third-best record (38-27), the Raptors have been flying a bit under the radar. When sizing up the biggest threats in the East to take down the Heat or Pacers, history is on the side of the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets. We have seen Joakim Noah, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Tom Thibodeau make title runs. These Raptors, though, have never been down this road before, so our brains don't have anything from which to draw.

    But we need to take the Raptors very seriously. And here's why: Since trading Rudy Gay, they've played as well as Miami and Indiana. Believe it. The Raptors have gone 31-16 (.660) since Gay left the team on Dec. 8 and have outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions over that time. That's right in between the Heat and the Pacers in terms of point differential.


    Yes, they were a ghastly 6-12 before the trade, but they're clearly a different team now. And the next best East team since the Gay trade? Brooklyn, at plus-2.8. Not in the same stratosphere.

    Rudy Gay Trade Graphic
    NBA.com
    We tend to think of the East as a two-team race, but this Raptors squad has hung with the big boys for the majority of the season now. So why don't we consider them an elite East team? Again, it may be because the Raptors haven't been battle-tested in the playoffs. Tyler Hansbrough and John Salmons are the only players in Toronto's rotation that have started a playoff game. The next playoff minute for DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross will be the first.

    And that skepticism about the Raptors is understandable. After all, their 2-6 post-trade record against Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Clippers certainly doesn't breed optimism. But this is a two-way team, unlike the Bulls and Pacers, who pair a nasty defense with merely good offense. The Raptors rank fourth league-wide in defensive rating since the Gay trade, and, thanks to a stud backcourt featuring Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, they also boast the 10th-ranked offense over that time.

    No, the Raptors shouldn't be considered favorites to come out of the East. But over the past month or so, the Heat and Pacers have shown that they're vulnerable. And while most folks consider the Bulls and Nets as prime candidates to give them a scare, it's the Raptors who should have your attention.

    Dark horse to pull off the first-round upset: Charlotte Bobcats


    Have you seen Al Jefferson's numbers lately? The throwback big man is terrorizing the league by averaging 25.7 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 54.4 percent over his past 30 games. He now owns the third-best PER (22.6) in the Eastern Conference behind LeBron James (28.9) and Carmelo Anthony (25.1). He has scored nearly 100 more points on post-up plays than any other player in the league and his baseline jumper is as automatic as they come.

    A decade from now, we'll wonder how his 21-and-10 season wasn't worthy of an All-Star bid in a down season for the Eastern Conference. Actually, we can probably ask that question now. If the All-Star Game was voted as a season-long accomplishment and not just one through the first half of the season, Jefferson would probably get his due.

    [+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
    Al Jefferson has upped his performance on defense, as well as scoring this season.
    But what sets this Al-Jeff season apart from seasons past is that he's been a key member of a solvent defense. Jefferson doesn't have the lateral mobility or instincts to be a Defensive Player of the Year, but the Bobcats rep the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Coach Steve Clifford has been able to mask his team's deficiencies by implementing a conservative system that doesn't ask Jefferson to jump out to the perimeter in pick-and-roll coverage.

    The result is that the Bobcats are a poor man's version of the Pacers -- a defensive-minded team that slows the game down and pounds the defensive boards. The key difference is that the Bobcats take amazingly good care of the ball (NBA-best turnover rate) and they've injected some more 3-point shooting into their offense with the acquisition of Gary Neal (who's shooting a ridiculous 53 percent from deep for his new club).

    This is a well-coached group of players with an incredible scoring weapon on the block, which will come in handy when the game slows down in the postseason. With a 16-10 record since an overtime loss against Miami in January, there isn't much separating the Bobcats from the Pacers over the past couple of months. And if that is indeed the first-round matchup at No. 2 vs. No. 7, don't be surprised if the Bobcats push the Pacers to the brink. These aren't the same ol' Bobcats anymore.

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    Raptors Republic Superstar Axel's Avatar
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    It feels strange to have hope at this stage in the season.

    That said, I don't want the players to read articles like this and get the wrong mindset, we need to approach the playoffs with a huge chip on our shoulder.

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    Raptors Republic Superstar Superjudge's Avatar
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    I love it when a plan comes together

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    Quote Craig wrote: View Post
    I love it when a plan comes together
    I predicted all this in a post last year. I'll get the link...........Ah, some Mod must have taken it down as being too goofy.

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    This board will be hilarious if the Raptors get eliminated in 6 in the first round. I like the optimism...but I'm going to be a little bit more cautious than the majority of people.

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    Well, forgive me when I dont feel as optimistic as the writer. Recent developments...multiple ankle sprains, 2Pat's elbow which I hope does not morph into the Landry malady, DD looks spent with the heavy usage and it is starting to show late in games with the decision making, the bench doesnt look so good lately with the injuries and dependence on Chucky Hayes in the middle (shudder) and I hope JV's back makes a quick recovery. Our defense has sucked lately. Will the team have the gas to finish the season strong or limp into the p/o. This week's schedule will tell us more. Sigh.

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    Raptors Republic Rookie Ion66's Avatar
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    The one main thing keeping me from considering the Raps to be an elite team, is that there are teams that we have no answer for. Teams like the Clippers have our number. To be elite, I tend to think that an ability to reliably match up against any teams style or players, is required. I put us in the "Very good" category, when we are healthy. Still, anything can happen, and that's why we play the games!

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    Raptors Republic All-Star jacobdr4's Avatar
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    Nba game time did there own nba playoffs thing last night and had washington beating us in the first round. Keep on underestimating us dennis scott!

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    Raptors Republic Veteran Nilanka's Avatar
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    Quote jacobdr4 wrote: View Post
    Nba game time did there own nba playoffs thing last night and had washington beating us in the first round. Keep on underestimating us dennis scott!
    Did he provide an analysis? He'd need to justify Washington losing 3 of 4 games to us during the season.
    "I don't lie. I willfully participate in a campaign of misinformation." - Fox Mulder

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    Raptors Republic All-Star jacobdr4's Avatar
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    Quote Nilanka wrote: View Post
    Did he provide an analysis? He'd need to justify Washington losing 3 of 4 games to us during the season.
    I wish i saw it, turned on to it too late. Just caught it in the second round when he said miami beats washington because they are feeling confident after upsetting toronto.

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    Raptors Republic Veteran MACK11's Avatar
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    Quote Nilanka wrote: View Post
    Did he provide an analysis? He'd need to justify Washington losing 3 of 4 games to us during the season.
    He said we have no interior defense and that Gortat and Nene would over match Amit&JV
    He also said that we have noone yo guard John Wall and that Wall would have a field day against us

    Just to let you know Dennis Scott said this and he isn't the smartest basketball mind looool all he cares about is names

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    Raptors Republic All-Star 007's Avatar
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    If we're a cinderella, do we have to wear dresses during playoff games?
    The name's Bond, James Bond.

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    Raptors Republic Veteran white men can't jump's Avatar
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    Quote MACK11 wrote: View Post
    He said we have no interior defense and that Gortat and Nene would over match Amit&JV
    He also said that we have noone yo guard John Wall and that Wall would have a field day against us

    Just to let you know Dennis Scott said this and he isn't the smartest basketball mind looool all he cares about is names
    I actually think Washington will be really tough for us in a series because of Gortat and Nene. They're big experienced guys who we don't match up well against.

    However I also think we do have someone to guard John Wall. His name is Terrence Ross. He did a great job on Wall before having to leave with that ankle tweak the last time we played them.

    I still prefer Brooklyn. They don't play a "playoff" type of basketball. They're weak inside. Rely a lot on the 3. And they're pretty bad defensively. Experience counts for a lot, but I'd still rather play them.
    Last edited by white men can't jump; Fri Mar 21st, 2014 at 12:34 PM.

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    Raptors Republic All-Star JimiCliff's Avatar
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    Quote white men can't jump wrote: View Post
    I actually think Washington will be really tough for us in a series because of Gortat and Nene. Their big experienced guys who we don't match up well against.

    However I also think we do have someone to guard John Wall. His name is Terrence Ross. He did a great job on Wall before having to leave with that ankle tweak the last time we played them.

    I still prefer Brooklyn. They don't play a "playoff" type of basketball. They're weak inside. Rely a lot on the 3. And they're pretty bad defensively. Experience counts for a lot, but I'd still rather play them.
    Yeah Val doesn't seem to play Gortat very well. He does seem to play Nene well though - however, switching Val onto Nene and Amir onto Gortat isn't the kind of subtle strategic tinkering Casey likes to explore, so I doubt we'd see it.

    Another key matchup in that series will be Demar v Beal. No reason that Demar shouldn't shred him up, but I have no idea if he'll play balls out in playoffs, or if he'll turtle.

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    Raptors Republic Veteran white men can't jump's Avatar
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    Quote JimiCliff wrote: View Post
    Yeah Val doesn't seem to play Gortat very well. He does seem to play Nene well though - however, switching Val onto Nene and Amir onto Gortat isn't the kind of subtle strategic tinkering Casey likes to explore, so I doubt we'd see it.

    Another key matchup in that series will be Demar v Beal. No reason that Demar shouldn't shred him up, but I have no idea if he'll play balls out in playoffs, or if he'll turtle.
    Amir is not a good matchup for Gortat either though. Gortat ain't exactly Shaq. He's not going to singlehandedly win them the series, but he is a very bad matchup for us. Casey has cross-matched before. He's put Jonas on Griffin, or on Randolph. It can work, but it has to work for possibly 7 games. And we still don't have great personnel to handle Gortat.

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    Raptors Republic Veteran white men can't jump's Avatar
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    In the end, I think Ross would be our most critical player. The x-factor that could win the series for us.

    He can guard Wall pretty well. If it takes Wall until the 3rd or 4th game to find his stride against us, the series could basically already be over. As much as I hate their bigs, without Wall playing strong Washington is pretty fucked. And on the flip side he can score a bit and make Beal work defensively, where he's not exactly strong.

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    Raptors Republic All-Star JimiCliff's Avatar
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    Quote white men can't jump wrote: View Post
    Amir is not a good matchup for Gortat either though. Gortat ain't exactly Shaq. He's not going to singlehandedly win them the series, but he is a very bad matchup for us. Casey has cross-matched before. He's put Jonas on Griffin, or on Randolph. It can work, but it has to work for possibly 7 games. And we still don't have great personnel to handle Gortat.
    True, but I think he's better than Val.

    Either way, I don't think the advantage the Wiz may have in the post is nearly enough to swing the series their way.

    Wall is the main concern. I'm also scared of Andre Miller. That guy is insane in the playoffs. At this point he may be too old though; plus, he's a bit of a awkward fit for that team. Their best lineup might even be Miller-Wall-Beal-Ariza-Gortat/Nene or Miller-Wall-Beal-Nene-Gortat, but Wittman may not have the stones to go there, especially in crunchtime.

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    Raptors Republic Superstar Axel's Avatar
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    I'm less worried about Gortat because his impact is negligible if we can contain the perimeter players. Keep Wall from penetrating and then the help doesn't come off of Gortat. Force Beal out of catch and shoot, and his value decreases. Make Ariza do too much, and the Wiz are in trouble.

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    Quote Axel wrote: View Post
    I'm less worried about Gortat because his impact is negligible if we can contain the perimeter players. Keep Wall from penetrating and then the help doesn't come off of Gortat. Force Beal out of catch and shoot, and his value decreases. Make Ariza do too much, and the Wiz are in trouble.
    I generally agree that it all starts with Wall. That's why I think Ross is the biggest key for the Raps.

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