Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry. He’s the emotional leader of the Raptors, and the sole All-Star to represent Toronto this season. After missing games in March and April with a back injury, the All-Star finished the season on a positive note, scoring 26 points in a tight win over the Hornets. Every player wants to be fit at the right time of the season, and Lowry shared his thoughts to the waiting media on the eve of the playoffs. ”This is what we play for,” Lowry said. ”Now it’s the time where it gets a little bit more serious.”
Marcin Gortat had eight points in 14 minutes and was the only starter to appear in this one. But for the big picture has the hot hand and has to be ridden for every dollar of the $12 million he’s making for the postseason. He’s the only Wizards player to start all 82 games.Defending stretch fours — in this case Kevin Love who was 5 of 6 on three-pointers in just 18 minutes — remains a trouble spot whether using starters or reserves. Does Kendrick Perkins ever not travel? With the score tied at 99 with less than one minute left, Matthew Dellavedova found Perkins — he of the nine-step travel violation that went uncalled last week — took at least four steps en route to the rim. It wasn’t the only time that Perkins had happy feet in this game, but this missed call was the most obvious of them all.
This Washington group, under the guidance of head coach Randy Wittman, have come into their own over the past two seasons. They made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, and were beaten by the Indiana Pacers in the second round after upsetting Chicago. The club started this season on a roll, with their best record in the first nine games since 1974-75. Despite a lacklustre campaign in the closing weeks — the team is under .500 since the all-star break — they’ve gone on to post their highest win total in 36 years (46-36 record), with the added depth and winning pedigree of Pierce, who signed with Washington in the off-season.
“We really try not to get caught up into expectations, because sometimes that can be a distraction a little bit and kind of detour us from goal,” said DeRozan, while adding the team has done most of what it set out to accomplish. “Being resilient. Always being the underdog. Never having expectations placed on us. Just never paying attention to that and understanding we’re just continuing to get better. And the biggest thing, just not us players, but whole the city and the organization, was just win.” “We’re fine,” Greivis Vasquez said. “I think we have enough experience right now. We have all-stars. We got guys that can hit shots. Guys that have been in this position. So it’s no excuses. We got to go out and make it happen.”
Nash officially hung up his sneakers last month, though he had fought through debilitating injuries through his three-season tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Yeah, I think it is always going to be — if not always, for a long time I’m going to be going through this transition because I did something so passionately for so long,” Nash said at the Toronto Central YMCA where he was in for an appearance on Wednesday. “It was not only what I did, but it was my routine and my outlet and all those things so it’s definitely a transition, but I also had a pretty good year and a half where I was coming to terms with it as I fought to get back on the court and I think that kind of helped me in an odd way,” he said.
Least Improved: Terrence Ross Needless to say, this wasn’t the breakout campaign many expected from the third-year swingman, who has seen his game regress to the point that Dwane Casey pulled him out of the starting lineup for chunks of the season. Ross has been a gunner whose shots miss more often than not, and aside from flashes of defensive aptitude, he’s hardly become the 3-and-D stopper we all thought he’d become. The low point came during a seven-game stretch in January that saw Ross’s minutes and production drop off dramatically. How dramatically? He averaged 18.5 minutes and just three points per game and shot 18.9, 23.5 and 50 percent from on field goals, threes and free throws, respectively.
It begins this weekend at the ACC against the No. 5 seed Wizards, a team that matches up well against the Raptors, despite Washington losing its season series against Toronto. There is speed and explosiveness in John Wall, shooters and bigs that will pose problems for the Raptors. For the record, the Raptors beat the visiting Charlotte Hornets 92-87 on Wednesday night in as nondescript a game one will ever see as Toronto won its 49th game of the season, a franchise high. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were in prime form, which bodes well for the playoffs. Against the Wizards, they mu
“Last year, for me, I just called that a throwaway season,” Williams said during his first month with the Raptors. Lou Williams has averaged 15. 5 points a game this season, the best of his 10 years in the NBA, as he often spurred energetic comeback runs. The highly-valued Raptor is playing 25.2 minutes a night and has hit numerous buzz-beating end-of-quarter or game-winning shots. April has been his best month this season, a period in which he averaged 20.3 points and handled 29.3 minutes a night off the bench. Williams’s value was made even more obvious Wednesday night during Toronto’s 82nd and final regular-season game, when the team chose to limit his activity to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Going into Wednesday night, he had played in all but one of Toronto’s games this season, and according to coach Dwane Casey, was feeling some general soreness.
DeRozan took the court before the game to address the sellout Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800, saying: “We want to thank y’all for being the best fans in the NBA. Enjoy the game and enjoy the playoffs.” The Raptors head into the post-season on a high, after firing on all cylinders Wednesday. They shot a sizzling 49 per cent, and when James Johnson took flight for a huge putback jam with just under five minutes to play, it put the Raptors up by 16 points. They cruised through the final five minutes, and crowd stood and cheered the playoff-bound team through the game’s final minute. Lowry looked in playoff form in his fourth game back after missing nine of 10 with a back injury, shooting 8-for-15 — 6-for-9 from three-point range — and adding seven assists.
Last off-season, Ujiri did as little to the roster as he reasonably could. The changes happened around the edges, the salary commitments were kept reasonably short, and the roster stayed in tact, more or less. Ujiri, essentially, wanted to expand the sample size on which to judge this roster. Given last year’s sudden turnaround, that was understandable. On Saturday, the Raptors’ “found money” era officially ends. The process has started, but the playoffs will allow Ujiri to judge every part of this organization. There are many valid reasons to expect Pierce is right about the Raptors, if not the implication that his team is somehow above them. The Raptors now have their chance to prove him wrong in person.
“Im ready,” Arenas wrote this week. “The #DMV is ready….toronto yall dont want these problems…CANADA im sorry but ur players still dont know ur national anthem songz…unless #drake put that in a song…yall just wasting 5 mins of warmup time…im just saying we have older players..and that #bengay runs out by time the game start….#BULLS u better not drop that game tomorrow….or we frying up some bologna and yes were gonna keep the ring on it..hahahaha #trashtalking101 i need my tickets front row #MsJones” Someone get me a Gilbert Instagram decoder ring. Anyhow, if Arenas shows up in the front row of a home playoff game to talk trash to the Raptors….well, it worked for Wale and RGIII.
“Paul Pierce has always gotta say something,” said the Raptors’ leading scorer. “He said something last year [too], he’s always got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says.” “It?,” asked Dwane Casey. “Whatever ‘It’ is. I have to ask Paul what ‘It’ is. Everybody’s got their opinion. If he feels that way about us, or whoever else. That’s something we’ve always [done]. You’ve got to go out in this league and prove it to people if they don’t feel like we have ‘It’. We have to find out what ‘It’ is.” “He’d just better hope Chicago [loses] or whatever’s got to happen so he won’t see what ‘It’ is.” With Chicago’s win – locking the Bulls into third and a match-up with Milwaukee – DeRozan and the Raptors will get their chance at redemption, an opportunity to show Pierce they have “It”, whatever “It” is.
Earlier this week, the Wizards forward told ESPN.com he wasn’t worried about the Raptors because they didn’t have the “it” factor. “Paul Pierce has always got to say something,” DeMar DeRozan scoffed. “He said something last year, he’s always got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says. “He’d just better hope Chicago or whatevers got to happen so he won’t see what ‘it’ is.” DeRozan was speaking before the Raptors learned their playoff opponent. Chicago’s victory over Atlanta later Wednesday night meant Toronto plays Washington. Had Atlanta won, Toronto would have faced Milwaukee. Lowry rolled his eyes when asked if Toronto has the “it” factor. “Yes, we do,” he said. With a post-season of experience under their belts, DeRozan said they’ll be ready when the ball is tossed up on the playoffs on Saturday.
Defence: A It’s really not a daunting task defending the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets. The Raptors held them to 42% from the field and only 36% from beyond the arc. The Raptors did a good job of closing out on their man Hornets could only muster up 15 dimes for the night.
Instead of facing the Bulls, who the Wizards beat in last year’s playoff series and have enjoyed a fair share of success against recently, they’ll be facing the Raptors, who have dominated their recent meetings. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Raptors are 6-1 against the Wizards, including 3-0 against Washington this season. While the Wizards’ recent track record against Toronto isn’t encouraging, the Raptors’ performance since the All Star break should provide a glimmer of hope for Wizards fans. Since the break, the Raptors are 13-16.
“It means a lot. We are not satisfied. We’re not done yet. The real season starts this weekend and that’s what we have been building for. Again, every year is part of the growing process. Two division titles in two years is important for this organization. It’s a growing profess. I’ve seen it happen over the years and have been a part of different organizations that have won and we are getting to that level. We are not there yet, but we are getting there and this year is another step.” – Casey on setting a new franchise record for wins
Wizards – Scoring (Bradley Beal 26.0*, John Wall 19.0), Rebounding (Kris Humphries 9.5), Assists (John Wall 9.0) Raptors – Scoring (DeMar DeRozan 21.0, Lou Williams 19.7), Rebounding (Patrick Patterson 6.3), Assists (Kyle Lowry 6.3) What’s new: Both teams thrived early in the season before fading in 2015. Since Jan. 1, the Wizards are 24-27 while the Raptors are 25-25. Star matchup: Point guards John Wall and Kyle Lowry represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game this season. Key matchup: Toronto’s ability to spread the court with shooters burned Washington’s big man lineup with Marcin Gortat and Nene the past two seasons. Drew Gooden’s stretch-4 skill set likely leads to a bigger role especially considering his production in the final meeting between the teams back in February.
Damon Stoudamire, recognized Wednesday night by the Raptors to wind up the team’s “celebration” of 20 seasons, isn’t about to get greedy in his current gig as a Wildcat assistant. “I’m not trying to come to Canada and get all the good players,” he said. “I just want one good player.” That’s not an outrageous request seeing how Stoudamire is partially responsible for the explosion of basketball in Toronto and across Canada. He was the first star the team employed 20 years ago, a small left-handed point guard who became the league’s rookie of the year and a darling to Toronto fans who admired not only his skill but his competitive nature just as much. Saddled with a group of teammates who were cast off from other teams because of flaws in their games and their characters, Stoudamire almost single-handedly kept the Raptors in some games and helped popularize the game to the point the GTA produced back-to-back No. 1 NBA draft picks.
Damon Stoudemire returned to Toronto as part of the Raptors 20th Anniversary celebrations. He talked with the media about beating the Chicago Bulls his rookie season, why Russell Westbrook is his favourite point guard in the NBA, almost being teammates with Allen Iverson here in Toronto, recruiting and social media.