I’m a little nervous because the human instinct or the natural way that guys come back from injury is by doing too much. That’s going to be a hard thing for him, to pull back from trying to be the DeMar that he was before injury instead of letting the game come to him. We’ll have those conversations. I think that a lot of our stuff, a lot of our offensive packages are built around DeMar and Kyle. We’ve kind of moved Kyle into his spot in our stuff, when Greivis [Vasquez] is in or when Lou is in. We’re not doing anything new. It should be pretty easy for him. Will his production be as high as before he left, with his conditioning and timing to work on? We’re expecting that [rust]. It is a concern, but not a huge concern.
First joking question of the New Year’s Day scrum with the injured Raptors shooting guard is whether he’ll play Friday night in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors. “No, no,” he laughs. “I’ll be watching.” Fast forward five minutes or so and the conversation circles back to if he has a firm date in mind to return from a groin and hip tendon injury that’s already robbed him of 16 games. “We could have, but we probably won’t say nothing,” he said. “We could have, we couldn’t have. Everybody will know when everybody knows. It could be tomorrow.” But wait, didn’t he just say it wouldn’t be Friday?
DeMar DeRozan is getting closer to rejoining the Raptors’ lineup after taking part in a full practice on Thursday for the first time since tearing a tendon in his groin on November 28 in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. There’s no set return date but DeRozan should be back on the floor at some point between January 8-18 as Toronto is home for six straight games. Yahoo’s Marc Spears reported at the time of the injury that the Raptors expected the 25-year-old shooting guard to miss a month of action.
“It may seem like I’m patient, but I go crazy watching the games or being at home and not able to do my normal routine that I’d be doing if I was playing,” DeRozan said on Thursday, in advance of the Raptors’ game against the Warriors in Oakland on Friday. “So it’s tough. It’s not an easy thing at all.” Thankfully, DeRozan is inching closer to his return to the floor. On Thursday, he went through his first full practice since the injury, and the Raptors have practices planned for Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday, too.
“We could be losing and I would be back there trying to fight the hurry up to get back because I feel like my team needs me,” DeRozan said. “That hasn’t been the case at all since I’ve been out. It makes it that much easier for me to go to sleep at night and get my rest and do my rehab so I can get back to 100%.” DeRozan clearly hasn’t lost his sense of fun as he toyed with the media who were trying to get him to put a firm date on his return. “We could have (put a date on it), but we probably won’t say nothing,” he said teasing those holding the cameras and microphones. “We could have, we couldn’t have, everybody will know when everybody knows.”
To suggest that Golden State’s Stephen Curry owns the Raptors might be an understatement. In eight games against Toronto, he’s averaging 28.1 points and 8.5 assists, his best numbers against any NBA opponent . . . Toronto hasn’t won in Oakland since February of 2004, a span of nine regular-season games . . . One-time Raptor guard Leandro Barbosa averages 5.7 points in about 12 minutes a game for the Warriors . . . The Raptors, beaten in Portland on Tuesday, haven’t lost two in a row on the road so far this season . . . Golden State centres Andrew Bogut (knee) and Festus Ezeli (ankle) are out.
Just three seasons ago, the teams combined for 46 victories. In leading their respective conferences this season, the Warriors and Raptors had already combined for 49 victories before the calendar flipped to 2015. “They’re kind of in the same boat that we are, coming from garbage,” Green said. “The past couple of years, they’ve continued to build and build. “You’re talking about two teams that — for the most part — haven’t really been there. You’re talking about two teams that really started from the bottom and are now at the top. It’s a big game. You want to say that every game is the same, but that’s just not true. This is a big game, and we have to know that. They’re going to come out and try to go at our necks, and we have to come out and go after theirs.” Toronto’s turnaround has come under the guidance of head coach Dwane Casey, who was promised an interview for the Warriors’ job in 2011, but the Warriors got impatient while he was busy winning a championship with the Dallas Mavericks.
Last season, the Warriors split the season series with the Raptors. Golden State will need to play a sound game on both ends of the floor to defeat the Raptors sans DeRozan. According to NBA.com/Stats, Lowry is fifth in the NBA in points per game on drives at 6.8. On top of that, Toronto ranks sixth in the NBA with 45.3 points in the paint per game via Team Rankings. The Warriors’ perimeter defenders will be put to the task of minimizing the Raptors from entering and scoring inside the key. Additionally, keep an eye on the heavy-weight matchup of Marreese Speights vs. Jonas Valanciunas. Without Bogut, Golden State will likely continue to play a ton of small-ball lineups. The lack of an interior presence will cause Speights to have his hands full in defending the pick-and-roll as well as helping off of penetration.
The Raptors’ offense scores 111.7 points per 100 possessions, and is the second best offense in the league. Despite lacking big offensive firepower, the Raptors are highly efficient due to their lack of turnovers and their ability to draw fouls. They average 11.5 turnovers per game (least in the league), and 25.9 free throw attempts per game (third in the league). The Warriors will need to be aware of this on the defensive end, and will have to work extra hard to force turnovers without fouling. Opponents average 16.3 turnovers and 24.3 free throw attempts per game against the Warriors. The Warriors have thrived on defense by challenging shots and only allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent against them, so they will have to adapt their defensive plan if they are to succeed against the Raptors.
The Warriors and Raptors have a number of similarities that should make their matchup quite compelling. They are both unselfish, defensive-minded teams and incredibly deep clubs that move the ball and set a complex series of screens to free up shooters. As for the depth, the Raptors have nine players averaging roughly eight points or more a game. The Warriors have eight who average seven or better. Moreover, both teams’ point guards have emerged as arguably the best in their respective conferences. Stephen Curry’s already expansive game continues to grow, as does Kyle Lowry’s in Toronto. “This is one of those games that’s definitely going to be a playoff-type atmosphere,” Green said. “It’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us.”
A quick look at Lowry’s peripheral statistics and the improved box score numbers should come as no surprise. He’s taking exceptional care of the ball. Only 8.1% of his possessions result in a turnover, that’s the fourth best mark for a starting guard with a usage rate above 20%. He’s also been one of the most effective players at getting to the basket. Lowry’s 217 points scored on drives ranks just behind James Harden (240) and Monta Ellis (231). The mix of team and individual success of late has vaulted Lowry into the conversation of the game’s best players — his stats show he absolutely deserves to be there, and has deserved to be there for some time.
One has to wonder if the Raptors motive for the short stay in Fort Wayne was to protect their 19-year-old rookie’s confidence from being shattered by what had become a meaningless trip to the D-League to get playing time that wasn’t really forthcoming. The biggest benefit from this experience may be to convince the Raptors ownership to invest in a sole affiliate relationship with a D-League team – even if they have start their own franchise from scratch. The only positive aspect of the early return is Caboclo is about to get a visit from his family. “On January 7th my Dad and my mother will come and stay about 20 days,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report before Christmas. “I talk to my family every week.”
After being demoted to the D-League on Christmas day, the 19-year-old rookie appeared in three games with Fort Wayne, averaging 4.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 13.0 minutes. His highlight was 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes in his first game Dec. 27 at Iowa.
To put the effort into perspective, the Canadian sport marketing landscape is understandably spearheaded by campaigns surrounding ice hockey. Brands like Molson Canadian lead the way with their marketing efforts around the sport via their partnerships with the NHL and Hockey Canada. Molson’s various #AnythingForHockey campaigns around the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics or the current 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship have been consistently met with praise by Canadians as a way of successfully promoting nationalism around the events. But in addition to the Raptors’ franchise-best 24-8 record through 32 games of the 2014-15 season, “We The North” also correlates with what couldn’t be a more exciting time for basketball in Canada. With record-breaking numbers of Canadian-born players in the NBA and tremendous growth of grassroots programs across the country, “We The North” goes hand in hand with what truly is the golden age of Canadian basketball.
No more hero ball at the end of games Seemingly the only play in Dwane Casey’s end of game playbook: a variant of hero ball. Give the ball to Lowry and have everyone else get out of the way. There are some variations to this play… sometimes Lou Williams will get the shot and sometimes it’s DeMar. Regardless of who has the ball at the end, the shot is almost always the same: a long two—which is contested more often than not. The play has failed more often than it has worked. 2015 should be a year of experimentation; go ahead Dwane Casey, try out some new plays. Go wild! Trust me, most fans would rather see some creativity at the end of games instead of Lowry taking (and usually missing) that contested jumper. Whether it be running Terrence Ross off a couple of screens to get an open three or even something as simple as a double screen for Lowry; as long as there are no more isolation plays, most fans will be happy.
All the while, the numbers have more than spoken for themselves. Per NBA.com (media stats require subscription), Toronto is currently logging the third-highest net rating in the league (7.8), trailing only the Golden State Warriors (11.6) and Dallas Mavericks (7.9). That includes a stellar offensive rating of 111.7, good for second in the NBA and nearly six full points ahead of where the Raptors charted a season ago. And while the defense has slipped somewhat (down from a ninth-ranked 102.9 last year to a 14th-ranked 103.9 this season), the return of DeRozan—a versatile wing defender capable of checking three positions—should aid that cause significantly.
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