Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 25

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Raptors' Leonard voted starter for NBA all-star game | CBC Sports

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard has been voted an Eastern Conference starter for the NBA all-star game in February.

Leonard, who was also a starter in 2016 and 2017 when he played with the San Antonio Spurs, finished second in voting behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was named a captain along with LeBron James of the L.A. Lakers.

Leonard, acquired in an off-season trade along with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poetl, currently ranks fifth in NBA scoring averaging a career-best 27.6 points and 7.9 rebounds through 36 games this season.

James and Antetokounmpo were the leading vote-getters from each conference, making them the players who will choose who plays on which team for the Feb. 17 matchup at Charlotte.

Raptors can laugh now about Harden’s historic season, but he’ll be a problem to deal with on Friday | Toronto Sun

Harden’s 36.3 point per game average would be the seventh highest in NBA history and the most since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 for Chicago in 1986-87. The only recent comparables are Bryant averaging 35.4 and Allen Iverson 33.0 in 2005-06.

“It’s not even fair, that’s crazy,” Siakam chortled when told Harden had breached the 60-point mark.

Siakam had just lost a tough game to the Indiana Pacers and been involved in a scary incident which resulted in Pacers all-star guard Victor Oladipo being lost for the season, but he still couldn’t help but laugh and marvel at Harden’s current run.

“He’s just so talented and the things that he’s able to do. He’s been on … I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Siakam continued. “It’s amazing to watch and will definitely be a tough matchup for us.”

Those were teammate Danny Green’s sentiments as well.

“Heard he had 61 tonight, so, looking forward to guarding that in a couple of days,” Green deadpanned, bringing down the house.

The Rockets surround Harden with quality shooters, knowing he can break down defences and either pile up points himself, or find good looks for others. Harden is tied for third in assists per game at 8.3, behind former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.

No limit to James Harden's potential individual accomplishments – Sportsnet.ca

He is averaging 43.1 points a game over a nearly unprecedented 20-game stretch since a rash of Rockets injuries forced him to shoulder a greater scoring load than the defending MVP ever has before, which is saying something. He’s scored at least 30 points in every game since Dec. 13, the longest such streak by anyone not named Wilt.

Over its course, Harden has turned his already profligate game up to 11, getting to the line more and taking more threes than anyone thought possible even a couple of seasons ago. Right now, he’s on pace to set records for three-point attempts and free throws made per game.

He lives outside the arc, baiting defences with his ever-deepening range and either lets it fly or dives past over-committed defenders on his way to the rim, and he’s always playing for fouls.

In a league where freedom of movement for offensive players has become legislated, Harden has mastered the black art of forcing referees to make calls.

In putting up a career-high 61 points under the theatre-style lighting at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, Harden showed what can happen when you push the modern game to its logical extremes.

No one has ever taken at least 20 threes and 20 free throws in a single game before and guess what?

It works.

Rockets' Paul upgraded to questionable vs. Raptors | NBA.com

Thanks to the scoring exploits of reigning Kia MVP James Harden, the Houston Rockets have managed to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race despite several key injuries.

Reinforcements may be on the way soon for Harden and Co., though, as star guard Chris Paul’s status was upgraded today. Paul, who has been out since late December with a hamstring injury, is listed as questionable on the team’s official game notes for Friday’s home game against the Toronto Raptors (8 ET, ESPN).

Reserve guard Brandon Knight — who appeared in 12 games this season — has also been upgraded to questionable. Knight missed the first 25 games of this season with a left knee injury and has been out the last six games because of left knee soreness.

Kawhi Life in Toronto: Keeping your head down, doing the work – Raptors HQ

We’re still hung up on the weather over here, except now we’ve moved into the second stage (for now) of every Toronto winter. Yes, after the freezing cold, and then the snow, comes our favourite time: the days of slush and muck. If you’ve spent any time walking around downtown Toronto after a snowfall and after temperatures warm up just enough to kick-start the thaw (for now), then you know one thing. It is a dang mess — people are slipping and sliding every which way, it’s possible to get splashed by a passing car zooming through a puddle, and everything just feels wet.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Daniel, why are you bringing up all these shitty weather things into a column about Kawhi Leonard, he of the famous desire for warm Los Angeles climate all the time? I’ll tell you why: because there are solutions to life’s problems, even ones as intractable as the weather in a given locale such as Toronto. Last week, skating. Today’s answer: the PATH.

Toronto’s PATH system is both ever present and firmly obscure. We know only for sure that south of, say, Dundas there are entries into a mysterious underground network. Where those tunnels may go, and where we’ll pop up when we decide to exit this sunken place are matters still very much left up to a guess. This, I’d argue, is part of the charm of the PATH. It’s a model that’s been modestly duplicated around the Yonge-Bay-Bloor nexus, featuring a set of wildly divergent design aesthetics (seriously, head to a foodcourt there and be prepared to be transported back in time), and the city’s midtown and uptown centres. (The “little tunnel that could” around Yonge-Sheppard is something to see, if you know it’s there and how far it goes — so far.)

The Raptors’ challenge won’t get harder than James Harden | The Star

Harden’s scoring exploits in the last month or so are jaw-dropping: He set a career high with 61 points in New York on Wednesday; he has scored 30 or more points in 21 straight games; he has had five games this season with 50 or more points; and, in 11 January games, he is averaging a stunning 45.3 points per game.

Unfathomable. And done without the presence of two key teammates in Chris Paul and Clint Capela. That makes Harden the Rockets’ indisputable No. 1 threat and brings all the defensive attention that comes with the role.

“He’s a pretty unique challenge,” Toronto guard Danny Green said in what might be the biggest understatement of the NBA season.

The historical context is that, while Harden is doing unimaginable things, he is still not near the career bests of the great scoring machine, Wilt Chamberlain.

Harden’s 21 straight games of 30 or more points pales in comparison to Chamberlain, who once went 65 straight games with 30 or more and also tossed off streaks of 31 and 25 consecutive games at that level.

Harden’s January scoring average is equally astonishing for this era but Chamberlain had, in the course of his career, 11 months in which he averaged 40 or more points. He also has 10 of the 11 best months ever, a list interrupted only by Kobe Bryant in 2006.

Still, what Harden is doing is incredible and the Raptors will have to find some way to try to limit the damage he does Friday night.

Raptors' Leonard buys Southern California home worth $13.3M

For fans of the Toronto Raptors who may be freaking out about this headline, take a deep breath, relax and read this through.

Yes, Kawhi Leonard did, in fact, drop a cool $13.3M on a gorgeous Rancho Santa Fe, California home, according to the Los Angeles Times, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is going anywhere anytime soon.

The location of the house is roughly 3 hours away from Los Angeles. So for those jumping to the conclusion that he is now destined to be a member of the Lakers or Clippers next season when he hits free agency, you may want to relax. That would be quite the commute to endure every day.

For those interested in seeing what this quite expensive home looks like, feast your eyes on this absolutely beautiful piece of real estate.

Pacers’ Oladipo out for season after injuring knee against Raptors | The Star

“It’s very, very tough to see this happen to a guy who is so positive and means so much to this team,” co-captain Thaddeus Young said Thursday. “But we can’t just go be sad. We have to go out and grind out wins and stay together through thick and thin.”

Young and his teammates demonstrated what that might look like Wednesday night after Oladipo crumpled to the ground awkwardly as he tried to defend an outlet pass against Toronto. He was taken off the court on a stretcher with 4:05 left in the first half. Team officials announced during the game it was a “serious injury” to his right knee but waited until Thursday’s MRI to provide more details.

Even without their leader, Indiana managed to end a five-game losing streak against the Raptors by holding on for a 110-106 victory. They will need to play the same way throughout the much more challenging second half of the season and presumably into the playoffs.

“What we’ll miss most is him getting a bucket down the stretch,” point guard Darren Collison said. “He’s a guy you can give the ball too to and he’ll get a bucket down the stretch. Teams that don’t have a best player like that struggle with that. But we know what we have to do.”

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