ICYMI from Raptors Republic
Points of emphasis.
– Valanciunas vs. Whiteside, the battle to protect the rim, and looking for foul trouble.
– Who draws DeMar DeRozan for the Heat, and how do the Raptors line up defensively?
– The Heat play small, but all of their wings are big – what’s the best counter-approach for the versatile Raptors?
Jonas Valanciunas is not bothered by Hassan Whiteside – Whiteside isn’t the kind of player that bothers Valanciunas on either end of the floor. He’s not a stretchy big man who will kill the Raptors if left unattended, pulling the Raptors big man away from the paint; in fact, of all the players on the floor he may be the one you want to shoot the ball. He’s also not the kind of defender that bothers a power player like Valanciunas, his strengths are more about his timing and his quickness getting up. It doesn’t really matter how quickly you reach the apex of your jump when you’ve just been knocked backward by a shoulder to the sternum. This season Valanciunas scored 15 points per game on 57% shooting against Whiteside and he may be able to occupy Whiteside enough to keep him from dominating the paint on the defensive end.
Former teammates square off
One of the more fun storylines of the series will be the point guard battle between former teammates Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. They’re still close despite having battled for minutes over two seasons in Houston, going at it in practice daily.
“Me and Goran, we have a great relationship,” Lowry said. “We shared some time together in Houston and it’s definitely going to be a good challenge, it’s going to be fun. At the end of the day, he’s still a guy I respect, he’s earned the respect of the fellow NBA players. I’ve watched him be my backup, to the guy starting over me, and him going to Miami and playing well…His game’s changed, my game’s changed. It was like five years ago so we’re both different players. You can watch film and go back to what you saw in practice but it’s a different team, different sets, different approaches.”
Those practices? Pretty intense, according to DeMarre Carroll, who played five games with the 2010-11 Rockets.
“It was great man. You got one feisty bulldog and then you got another feisty European so it was great,” Carroll said. “Back then I wasn’t really playing so I could just sit on the bench and watch these guys and it was great.”
Lowry and Dragic have squared off 11 times since Lowry departed Houston, with Lowry winning seven, and Carroll correctly pointed out that both players are far different – and improved – since their time together.
Articles from the Internets
The Raptors have been a fucking joke for two decades. They’re one of the worst franchises in NBA history.
But at least the support has always been there. Raptors fans might come off as a conceited bunch, complaining about a DeRozan miss after three-straight makes or slandering Dwane Casey for the most minute of coaching decisions, but understand that it comes from a place of love.
Millions of people actually watched that garbage for 82 games a season just for the chance of a Raptors team that would one day make us proud.
Nothing has ever come easy for this franchise, so we’re always on alert for the first sign of trouble. They’ve let us down before so we’re careful not to hope. It’s been put up or shut up for the longest time, and at last, they’ve shown us that it’s possible. No, they’re not perfect. But I’m proud of this team.
That it was so hard only makes it so much sweeter.
THE BIG PICTURE: Can either of these teams be consistent? Miami blew out the Charlotte Hornets in Games 1 and 7 of the first round, but everything in between was rocky. The Raptors barely survived against the Indiana Pacers, dropping Game 1 at home and even surrendering a fourth-quarter run before hanging on in Game 7.
In the first round, we saw the Heat at times look like an offensive juggernaut, pushing the ball and making open 3-pointers at will. We also saw them look ordinary, bricking jumpers and failing to score 90 points in three straight losses. Toronto had stretches where it looked like the deep, disciplined team that won 56 regular-season games, but at other times it got sloppy and rushed things.
This is the most compelling matchup in the semifinals, and it’s hard to pick just one head-to-head storyline to focus on.
An entirely new matchup
Due to injuries and a bit of roster turnover on both sides, the Heat and Raptors that square off Tuesday will be dissimilar to the teams that met four times during the year. Dragic, Deng, Whiteside, Wade and Johnson all missed at least one game against Toronto, Valanciunas missed the second meeting, and DeMarre Carroll is yet to see the Heat this season, a pretty major difference.
“I’ve guarded both of them,” Carroll said of his familiarity with Johnson and Wade. “Joe I know last year quite well from the Brooklyn series. We went toe-to-toe in that one. I know Joe. I’m probably more familiar with Joe, but it doesn’t matter.”
And all of those injuries are not to speak of the remarkable emergence of two second-round picks late in the year in Josh Richardson and Norman Powell. Both players should figure in to their respective rotations to open the series, playing important defensive roles.
“It will be fun for me. I think I played a total of six minutes against Miami. The first time, I think I guarded Wade like three times,” Powell said of one of the players he models his game after.
Carroll will probably draw the Johnson assignment more often than the Wade one, as the Raptors seem better staffed to chase Wade around in part because of Powell’s emergence.
DeMar DeRozan vs. Dwyane Wade
Another matchup that slightly favours the Raptors, which is no slight on Wade, an all-time great … He’s no Paul George and DeRozan had a tough time getting his shot off against George. He turned into a volume shooter in Game 7, forcing his shot too often when he should have served as a facilitator … Rookie Justise Winslow will get into DeRozan, but his younger legs and athleticism match up well against Wade … DeRozan has to defend and take away driving lanes — the Raptors can live with Wade settling for jumpers and DeRozan needs to stay in front … DeRozan’s size matches up well against Wade when he wants to operate out of the post.
Edge: A big weight was lifted off DeRozan’s shoulders following Sunday’s Game 7 win. There’s momentum and no P.G., which is why the edge favours Toronto.
HEAT VS. RAPTORS (Heat in 6): I hope I’m wrong. For the Raptors to win this series, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have to be a lot better than they were in Round 1, both with productivity and efficiency. You can’t waste possessions against a team that is so talented and this efficient and can’t get away with lots of missed shots and poor shots against elite players because they make you pay dearly. I feel confident that both Lowry and DeRozan will be better. They are excellent players who can and will play better. But Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic are all big-time, legit offensive playmakers that have to be held in check, so Toronto’s D has to look like it did in Game 7. Raps beat Miami three of four this season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Toronto has to play a lot better offensively overall than they did in Round 1 to win this. Miami is too good to have games where you bring less than your best. In addition, don’t expect the benefit of the doubt from the officials in this series. The Raps gotta earn it and play through adversity. As I said, I hope I’m wrong. My heart is with the Raps, but my head says the Heat – thankfully, there usually isn’t much in my head, anyway. Let’s hope for a terrific series. Enjoy.
The guys begin with a review of the Raptors-Pacers series and recount the range of emotions throughout game seven.
Then JD and Donnovan focus on the upcoming series with the Miami Heat and disagree on how much Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Joe Johnson should be feared.
They end the show discussing the amount of celebrity sighting that will be seen courtside in Toronto and Miami throughout the series.
And what were Lowry-Dragic practices like?
“You got one feisty bulldog and then you got another feisty European so it was great,” Carroll said.
“Back then I wasn’t really playing so I could just sit on the bench and watch these guys and it was great. They went pretty hard in practice. You could tell there was tension, but at the same time they had to play with each other and one guy was starting and the other guy wasn’t so it was one of those things. I’m very encouraged and very excited to see this battle.”
As is the rest of the NBA world.
Lowry doesn’t think either player will have much of an edge based on ancient practice skirmishes, though.
“His game’s changed, my game’s changed. It was like five years ago, so we’re both different players,” Lowry said.
“You can watch film and go back to what you saw in practice, but it’s a different team, different sets, different approaches.”
Dragic does not defend anywhere close to as well as Indiana’s George Hill, so that should be helpful for Lowry, but he is a much more dangerous offensive player.
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Offering a max contract to DeRozan will be much more permissible now, even if the series shone a light on some very real issues. The series win shone a light on the foundation beneath.
“We’re going to ride with him emptying that clip. I don’t care if he shot 40 times. He emptied the clip, and we won. That’s all that matters,” said Kyle Lowry, intercepting a question to DeRozan about his 10-of-32 field goal shooting on the night.
That’s an answer for the cameras, but this team is built on a bedrock of trust between Lowry and DeRozan. Letting one walk would’ve been too demoralizing, too great a step backward manifested in how the rest of the team would respond. There are still questions about what he really contributes when he’s shooting 30 percent from the field, not getting to the line and monopolizing the offense with bad pull-up twos, but those questions have been asked in this series. Optimistically, he continues to work at his game over time. Between maxing him or letting him leave, however, neither solution may be perfect, but one is much, much better. This is a precious team — don’t break it up.
And Casey, out here getting forehead kisses from Masai Ujiri! He may not be completely blameless, either. The fourth quarter anemia reflects the very worst elements of his Raptors tenure: stagnancy in the offense, slow in-game adjustments, etcetera. He’s far from a perfect coach, but he’s already had to confront some of that noise. Casey has already adjusted his starting lineup, replacing Luis Scola with Patrick Patterson, and in Game 7, he entrusted 23 minutes of playing time to rookie Norman Powell over Terrence Ross. Patterson and Powell were significant contributors to the win, and they should remain key heading into the second round. That’s real progress.
On the other end of the world-weary spectrum, 115-year-old all-star Kyle Lowry had already dropped back into combat mode.
“You said you’re worried about …” a reporter began.
Lowry cut her off.
“You said ‘worried?’ … ” – pause to stare – “I’m focused on the Heat. I’m focused on the Heat.”
On the subject of beating Indiana – only the second playoff series win he’s been a part of during a decade in the NBA – Lowry was deliciously blasé: “It’s something we did. It’s over with.”
You get where he’s coming from, but that doesn’t wash. This was more than a step on the road to somewhere. This was passing through NBA Heaven’s Gate (Toronto Entrance).
The Raptors have simultaneously closed off a long, bad chapter and opened up a whole series of possibilities.
We could move immediately to obsessing about the matchups, but it is important to first note that the Raptors cannot lose to Miami. Even if they’re defeated.
Given how low they were, they’ve exceeded expectations.
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For Miami, Dwyane Wade is a future Hall of Famer who knows from experience how to win a championship both as an alpha dog and backup singer. He flows back and forth between the two on this edition of the Heat. The team’s leader and still it’s best player, Wade has done a great job of taking over when he needs to and helping to establish his teammates when its needed. He’s averaging 19 points per game, tied with Luol Deng for the team lead, while also leading the team with 5 assists per.
His backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, might the most interesting player in the series. Dragic has looked largely out of placed and wholly underutilized since being acquired from Phoenix at last season’s trade deadline. Dragic is only a couple of years removed from being considered a legitimate NBA all-star caliber player, and will show plenty of flashes of that ability against the Raptors.
One thing to watch for will be the matchup between Dragic and Lowry, former teammates on the Houston Rockets. Lowry was a starter in Houston before losing his job to the up-and-coming Dragic, prompting the Rockets to ship Lowry to Toronto.
Can DeRozan break free against strong defenders?
Miami has a lot of looks to throw at DeRozan. None of them are on Paul George’s level, but rookie Justise Winslow isn’t far off and gave DeRozan trouble earlier this season.
The former Duke star has length, athleticism and smarts, but DeRozan solved him in a March meeting (50% shooting and 15 free throw attempts).
The Heat will start either Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng or Joe Johnson on DeRozan before Winslow enters and the rookie Josh Richardson is another option.
If it’s the veteran Wade early, DeRozan must tire him out and try to goad him into fouls.
Can Toronto’s backcourt get going?
After facing the smothering defense of George Hill and Paul George in Toronto’s first-round series, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be thrilled to receive a reprieve against Miami. Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade present nowhere near as much of a formidable defensive threat, which should allow the two All-Stars to get into more of an offensive groove than they did against the Pacers.
In that first-round series, Lowry shot just 31.6 percent on 14.0 field-goal attempts per game, while DeRozan only hit 31.9 percent of his 138 shots across all seven games. Both were particularly dismal from three-point range, knocking down just 10 of their 61 tries. Hill held Toronto players to just 29.7 percent shooting during the series, 13.3 percentage points below their average, while the Raptors knocked down only 36 of their 96 shots (37.5 percent) against George, 6.0 percentage points below average. Seeing as Indiana had the league’s third-ranked defense during the regular season, allowing just 100.2 points per 100 possessions, the series-wide struggles of Lowry and DeRozan weren’t necessarily a surprise.
Miami’s defense during the regular season wasn’t much worse than Indiana’s, finishing seventh in the league while allowing 101.5 points per 100 possessions, so the sledding won’t necessarily be much easier for Lowry and DeRozan. With Hassan Whiteside lurking in the middle, both must be wary of driving into the paint, lest they’re ready for their shot to end up in the sixth row. For Toronto to have any chance of moving on to the conference finals, though, both Lowry and DeRozan need to be far more efficient than they were against Indiana.
I know Toronto had a better season record by eight games, won three of four vs. Miami and enjoys the home-court advantage, but still. Toronto advanced despite being outscored overall by Indiana in the last series, only the second time that has ever happened. And the Heat has better depth, more offensive talent and, most important, the playoff experience Toronto lacks.
Even coach-turned-TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy says Miami would be his clear favorite here, and we’ve had a soft spot for JVG ever since that melee in the 1998 playoffs vs. the Knicks when Van Gundy — wispy combover askew – latched onto the pistoning leg of Alonzo Mourning like a Chihuahua humping a redwood.
Then again, my thinking the Heat should win this series may be wishful thinking. That, too, I will admit.
Journalists are supposed to be neutral. Impartial. Nope. Sorry. Not here.
If I were any more a homer in this series I’d be wearing a Dwyane Wade jersey and have my face painted alabaster (White Hot) as I typed these words. There would be a “Let’s Go Heat!” chant playing in the background on a continuous loop. Every once in a while, for no apparent reason, I’d pause to exuberantly shout, “Dos minutos!”
The reason for my impartiality is simple.
I want what everybody connected with the Heat from Micky Arison and Pat Riley on down wants. I want what every Heat fan wants. I want what South Florida wants.
A shot at LeBron. Not at the Cleveland Cavaliers — at LeBron.
LeBatard also said that Bosh may get involved with the NBAPA to seek allowance and push the Heat to lift the restraint on him. It’s such an unusual situation because nowhere else in sports is the best player kept off the floor when he wants to play — except here. The Heat can’t justify playing him when the experts say no.
Bosh would surely change the landscape of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Bosh averaged 19.1 PPG and 7.4 RPG this season before sitting out the last half. However, the Heat made their strongest push since Bosh has been sidelined. He surely could add some needed depth behind Hassan Whiteside even if the Heat decide to stay small.
Had it not been for these strong performances and another burst of energy from Biyombo, the Raptors’ season likely would have ended and DeRozan’s absurd 10-for-32 shooting line would be receiving more publicity than his 30-point outburst.
That’s not to say that DeRozan’s aggressive performance was useless. It wasn’t an efficient showing (though Kobe would have been proud), but the Raptors still needed every one of his points to keep their season alive. They will need more high-scoring performances from DeRozan and strong showings from Biyombo, Lowry, Powell, Joseph, Patterson, Valanciunas, Ross, Carroll and anyone else who plays in order to knock off the Heat in Round 2.
Thats’ because the Raptors’ primary weapon isn’t their backcourt, it’s their depth. A plethora of weapons is what allowed the Raptors to win a franchise-record 56 regular season games and finally advance out of the first round. It’s now up to that depth to extend the team’s dream season.
Powell only averaged 18 minutes a game in the Indiana series, but he made the most of those minutes and could very well be looking at an increase in playing time in the Eastern Conference semifinal with Miami, primarily because the Heat employ two players in Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson who require the kind of special defensive attention players such as DeMarre Carroll and Powell provide.
Powell has already found a role and his shooting has only expanded it.
“What I expect of him is to continue to be an elite defender, like I said earlier in the season,” Casey said. “His three-point ball has gotten to be a part of his repertoire, but it’s not the most important part. It used to be just gravy, but it’s gotten to be a little more important now because he’s proving that he can do it.”
Casey was asked point-blank if Powell might see a lot of Wade in the series.
“If that happens, if that matchup is there, if we have that matchup, again, it’s a challenge,” Casey said, keeping his cards very close to his vest. “Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson is a challenge for any team. They’re veteran scorers, they’re born scorers, they’ve done it for a long period of time, in the playoffs. It’s a challenge for whoever guards him. I’m not saying Norm’s going to guard him, but whoever guards him, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Powell lights up at the very suggestion that he might be on Wade.
“It’s going to be fun,” Powell said. “Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modelled my game after growing up. He was a role model for me. It’s going to be fun for me in the minutes I do get to guard him. I’ve been watching him my whole life, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Lowry and DeRozan as creators
As mentioned off the top, both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have full reason to breathe a sigh of relief after beating Indiana. With George Hill and Paul George now in the rear view mirror, neither player should see the same level of deterrent for their drives to the rim.
DeRozan, who has two healthy elbows, will have the limelight — as he’ll likely have Wade guarding him in the starting unit and a rookie in Justise Winslow providing some size off the bench. With these guys on him, it’s no wonder he averaged 29.8 points on 49% shooting against the Heat this season.
More importantly for the playoffs, his assist rate was higher in four games against Miami (23.4%) than his season average (20.8%). As the game slows down and the Miami defense collapses on DeRozan with double teams, it’ll be about making dumpoff passes to Valanciunas like the one shown below, or kicking the ball out to the corner shooter. DeMar needs to be a willing passer, something he often was not in the first round, where his assist rate cratered to 14.5%.
As for Lowry, we can’t expect that his shot will get any better as time passes. He was just 10-for-50 from outside 20 feet in the first round, and the bricks he put up in Game 7 indicate that the elbow is getting worse, not better. Without any significant period of rest, it’ll be paramount that Lowry continues to make hustle plays and avoid turnovers. He also needs to get to the rim where, at the very least, he’s shown the ability to make layups and cause havoc around rebounders.
The Heat aren’t quite as proven as they appear. Between the name on the front of their jerseys, a collection of recognizable veterans and the three championship banners raised since 2006, Miami seems like a perennial contender for the crown.
The organization may qualify as such, but this particular core doesn’t. Not including Bosh, only Wade and Haslem are the remaining roster pieces from those title-winning teams. The current rotation includes a big chunk of playoff neophytes—namely, Hassan Whiteside and rookies Richardson and Justise Winslow—plus a handful of veterans who’ve yet to experience the NBA Finals stage.
This is only the second career playoff appearance for Dragic and first as a starter. Lowry has played eight more postseason games than Dragic, and DeRozan has played over 500 playoff minutes more than Dragic.
But add Wade to the equation, and the balance shifts so heavily to Miami’s side, it could break the scale.
Just consider this: The Raptors, as a franchise, just secured their second-ever playoff series win and have never advanced beyond this round. Wade just completed his 22nd postseason series victory and has three championship rings in his jewelry collection.
Meet the supervillain: Dwyane Wade
Raptors fans despised Paul Pierce in the playoffs. Then Paul George. Now it will be Wade. The veteran of 13 NBA seasons currently shares the playoff lead for field goals (56) with George and Kemba Walker. The 34-year-old has adapted his game in recent years, and while he may not be as athletic, he’s still very creative. So Toronto may enlist several players to guard him, likely DeMarre Carroll or rookie Norman Powell. “Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modelled my game after growing up,” Powell said. “He’s really crafty with the ball and a great post-up player. He uses his body so well, he finishes and gets to the line and he’s a great pump-fake guy. It will be really a test for me not to get in early foul trouble.”
Lowry wasn’t the only all-star guard to have a horrible shooting series, with DeRozan converting on 31.9 per cent of his attempts to average 17.9 points against the Pacers.
Raptors fans should feel a bit relieved that DeRozan averaged 29.3 points on 48.8 per cent shooting against the Heat this year. His style of play reminds NBA fans a lot of Wade, who’s midrange game has made him an icon. They will be able to go head-to-head with one another by exchanging buckets, but it’s not likely we see either player take a chance at guarding their crafty counterpart.
After Game 6 in the Heat versus Hornets series, it’s clear that Wade hasn’t lost any of his ability to be clutch down the stretch of games. He’ll be a problem for the Raptors, since he can create his offence in many different ways, such as posting up defenders. The Raptors will be in trouble if they can’t find a way to contain the 19 points on 47.1 per cent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and 5 assists he’s averaged for the Heat against the Hornets.
“Preparing for Miami is a lot different than preparing for Indiana”. Lowry said. “They are an in the paint team. So we have to do our job of getting back in transition and keeping them out of the paint.”
Throughout the series the All-Star backcourt shot poorly. In the first game, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both struggled. Lowry was 3 of 13 in field-goal attempts while DeRozan was 5 of 19. It doesn’t stop there they were also 1 for 10 from 3-point range and missed 7 free-throw attempts. In the blowout of game 6 where the Raptors lost 101-83 Derozan scored eight points and was 3 of 13. Game 7 is when it mattered and as Coach Casey says it best “DeRozan got his swagger back”. DeRozan scored 30 points (was 10 of 32).
Coach Dwane Casey believes his team will not play as tight as they did against the Pacers now that they are finally past the first round.
“ They will play freer, play basketball not worry about history and everything everyone is writing and who is going to be here who is not going to be here.” Casey said. “I think guys will be freer now. We have a tough Miami team coming after we had a tough Indiana team . It’s going to be a physical battle just like this series was so we can’t relax but I think the team will be play freer.”
To say there was no pressure on Casey and the Raptors players would be beyond misleading, the pressure of Game Seven was intense and Ujiri didn’t just kiss Casey afterwards, he was heard shouting, “There goes that monkey.” Until a team wins a seven game playoff series, they haven’t done it. The Raptors should be better in the future because of this win.
Coach Casey has won more games each season since he took over five years ago and for the first time in franchise history, the Raptors won more than 50 games in a season and finished higher than third place in their conference. Things have never been this good for basketball in Toronto, so not surprisingly, Ujiri made it unequivocally clear that Casey would be back next season no matter what happened in the postseason and he was pleased with the progress of his team.
After taking a team to a completely unforeseen 56 win regular season, you’d think the guy would have earned a little slack and a lot of respect from the media that covers him. Ujiri has always said what he meant, and meant what he said. Win or lose, Casey’s job wasn’t on the line in Game Seven against the Pacers.
Winner of the Professional Basketball Writers Association 2015-16 Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors a coach for his cooperation with the media and fans, as well as his excellence on the court, Casey has a good relationship with the local media. He can poke the media bear and get away with it because of the effort he puts into being available and cooperative. Sometimes it hard to figure out why the media wants to poke back?
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Cover Illustration Source: Asur Illustrations