Nice read overall. Not gospel on all aspects (many of them have been well discussed in here already), but nice to see the coverage anyway.
"DeRozan delayed his interview, sheepishly, as back-up center Bismack Biyombo commandeered a microphone and waved it closer and closer to his face, a sophomoric gag that’s been around for decades, but nevertheless delighted Biyombo to no end. “Come on, man, focus,” said Biyombo, sarcastically pleading with DeRozan to begin his media session as he choked back deep-voiced giggles. “We got the win.”
The scene repeated with Lowry, who couldn’t understand why a microphone needed to be a few inches from his mouth until he realized that Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto’s starting 7-foot center, was on the other end.
“Hey, that’s expensive, man,” the mischievous Valanciunas shouted, when a working professional tried to bring an end to the hijinks by reclaiming the microphone.
“You can afford it,” Lowry cracked back.
“Next year,” Valanciunas replied, in reference to the four-year, $64 million rookie extension that will kick in for the 2016–17 season."
By any measure, the Raptors are legit. They are on pace for 56 wins, which would smash last season's franchise record of 49. Their +4.6 point differential would also be a franchise-best if sustained, surpassing the +3.2 mark set in 2013–14. Toronto has the league’s No. 6 offense and No. 9 defense, making it one of just five teams to rank in the top 10 on both sides of the ball.
“No, no, no, no,” Casey told SI.com, when asked if he’s raising the bar and encouraging his team to think of itself as one of the league’s top clubs. “We are still talking about how much we have to improve. I’ve won a championship [as an assistant with the Mavericks in 2011]. I’m not being braggadocios, but I know what it [takes] to get there. We haven’t earned the respect yet. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Edit - to the bold, WTF?
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve taken it from here, to up here,” Casey explained, raising his hand from waist level to shoulder level. “But the hardest thing in the NBA is to take that next step. And that’s where we are. We don’t even talk about being a contender. We’re the underdog still trying to get where we want to be.”
“You always look back and see what you could do better,” Casey said, reflecting on the first-round sweep at the hands of the Wizards. “A lot of it was our defense. We were such an offensive-driven team with Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, and in the playoffs the game slows down and it’s more of a defensive battle.”
Although Williams was the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year thanks to his scoring prowess, Joseph has represented a clear upgrade because his game is so complete. A native of Canada who earned a ring with the 2014 Spurs, the unselfish Joseph boasts a +9.4 net rating and has relished taking on the toughest defensive assignments.
“We’re getting more disciplined and we’re all buying into the system,” Joseph said. “It’s just about going out there and putting forth the effort now.”
“Chemistry–wise, we couldn’t be better,” Casey said. “There’s no egos, there’s no hidden agendas, there’s no guys wanting more minutes. Guys understand their roles.”
“You always feel pressure as a coach, but do you feel the pressure of losing a job? No, never,” Casey insisted. “My pressure is that I owe it to the players in the locker room to make sure they’re prepared and … that I’m putting them in position to be successful.”
One major step in that plan is a desire to lessen the playing-time load for Lowry and DeRozan down the stretch. Currently, both rank among the top six in minutes played league-wide, and Lowry’s inability to hold up physically down the stretch was a key factor in deciding the series versus the Wizards.
“We’d like to start watching Kyle’s minutes, watching DeMar’s minutes, making sure they’re getting some rest,” Casey said. “That’s going to be our key. How [Kyle] and DeMar are health-wise and physically is going to [determine] where we go in the playoffs.”
Whether or not Ujiri fortifies his squad before the trade deadline, these Raptors are fiercer, wiser, steadier and better balanced than last year’s group. Don’t let Lowry’s wisecracking, or DeRozan’s videobombing, or Valanciunas’s microphone goofing or Biyombo’s chuckling fool you: The Raptors look like they mean business this time.