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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Who’s Having Second Thoughts About The Cavs Being Vulnerable?

By Frank McLean

Boy I was wrong. I thought that maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers were vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there was a slight chance they could be beat.

Boy I was wrong.

That was not the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went 21-20 in the second half of the season. The team that slipped defensively over last year. This team sure looked a lot like that Cavaliers team of the last two seasons in Game One versus the Raptors.

The score was 116-105 Cleveland, just in case you turned the television over to the Blue Jays game Monday night were they actually were winning their third game in a row over the Yankees.

Game One for the Raptors was typical of their playoff history since they entered the NBA, they lost. They are now 1-12 in the opening game of a playoff series.

Now let’s find the positive, they actually competed, but they just were not good enough to steal a victory. They would fight back go on a few runs to cut into the Cavalier’s lead and at one point in the second quarter went on a 18-3 run to only trail by a single point. But they couldn’t get over the hump.

It’s a fact in the NBA that your star players have to be your star players, and LeBron James was just that, dropping 35-points and grabbing 10-boards. That’s what your star player does. He makes a statement in Game One of a series, making sure your team does not lose home court advantage.

James has made comments about respecting the Raptors and it’s not a line that he shoots to the media, he does. He has also made comments about how rabid the Raptors home fans are. He knows the Raptors, if they play perfect basketball, might be the only team in the East that can upset the Cavaliers and the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker give them the best line-up in the history of the franchise. Based on the fact the Raptors won Games Three and Four in their playoff series at home last year, he knows that it’s not the Indiana Pacers they are playing who they beat four straight in round one.

Now if you’re the Raptors what do you do?

Tuesday at practice head coach Dwane Casey sounded more like a sports psychologist than coach.

“Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen them jump in and pull them both up at the same time.”

So what’s the plan? Maybe it’s time to go back and play a little tough physical basketball like I don’t know, like they did in the 1980’s.

The other second round series between the Celtics and Wizards has turned into not only a modern day scoring bonanza but some old time physical basketball too.

Heck Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth in Game One.

“All that’s in play,” Casey was coy Tuesday at practice. “We gotta get a little closer (to them). I don’t know if they felt us last night (Monday) whatsoever. We were half a step off, respecting their speed a little too much, we gotta make them feel us a little bit better.”

The Raptors do not have much room to make mistakes in any game against Cleveland. The margin of error is so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Conn Smythe, when he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a saying about being successful in hockey. “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the ice.”

Maybe the Raptors have learnt, “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the court.”

We’ll see if that’s the plan in Game Two. It might be their only chance.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Go From Greek Freak To King James

By Frank McLean

After taking care of the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors go to round two of the NBA Playoffs and this time their opponent is King James and the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a round earlier than last year.

At the beginning of the year it was expected that these two teams would face each other in the Eastern Conference Final for a second time in a row, but the season just didn’t go as planned.

It’s not just the Raptors, but fact of life for all the other teams in the East if they have any aspirations of making it to the NBA Finals the road there goes through Interstate-90 into downtown Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena where the defending champions live.

After winning their first 10-playoff games last year the Cavaliers up two games to nothing came to Toronto looking for the sweep, but then all of a sudden they found a Raptors team that didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and die. The Raptors won the next two games to tie the series, but would end up losing in game six to the appreciative cheers of their fans.

Which begs to question, are the Raptors the only team in the East that could put a monkey wrench in the bid for the Cavaliers to make it back to the finals for a third straight year?

Back in February you could see some cracks in the Cavaliers that made you think maybe their window as champions was closing. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving plus the loss of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks showed that when Lebron James doesn’t have his supporting cast around him the Cavaliers are beatable.

As a result the Cavaliers were 21-20 in the second half of the season and because of that they lost their grip on the top seed in the east to Boston and finishing second set up this second round match-up with the Raptors.

Cleveland’s defense was just not as a good as last year finishing 22nd after being 10th last season.

When you look at the defensive stats of the 16-teams that made the playoffs this year they were 13th in defensive ratings.

There was one point in the season where James was complaining in the press that they needed a playmaker to get him the ball. They had that in Dellavedova, but the Cavaliers let him walk to Milwaukee in the summer.

So when you look at that evidence you think like Lloyd Christmas in the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there is a chance.”

The Raptors do have a chance and you can thank two moves made by president Masai Ujiri at the trade deadline getting Serge Ibaka from Orlando and bringing P.J. Tucker back to the 416 from Phoenix.

He saw the window opening a crack and these two deals were made to make the Raptors better by making them a tougher team to handle in the paint with the sole object being able to stop LeBron James.

Ibaka gets to play the role Bismack Biyombo did last year and that’s to block the paint and scoop up rebounds while P.J. Tucker will get the assignment to shadow James and guard him close enough that he will know what brand of deodorant he puts on in the morning.

So the spotlight is on Tucker and he knows he has the dirty job of guarding the “King” and trying to limit his success?

“I don’t think his game changes,” Tucker was saying Sunday before the team left for Cleveland. “I think for the most part, when he’s aggressive and he’s trying to score the ball and he’s going, I don’t think it matters. I think when he gets a few to the rim, easy, he gets a few dunks, he hits a pullup, he hits a turnaround, and his three starts falling, he’s a feel-good player. If he’s hitting some regular shots, the tough stuff starts to fall. He’s probably the best player in the world. It’s still a feel game (for him).”

The addition of Tucker and Ibaka makes this team better on paper than last year.

The Raptors need to win one game in Cleveland to win this series since they do not have home court advantage in this round. And if there is game they can steal it would be game one since the Cavaliers will have gone eight days without playing since they finished their first round sweep of Indiana.

We will find out starting Monday night if the Raptors can finally slay the dragon of Ohio.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Pascal Siakam

A Raptors 905 Championship Was Never In The Plans Until Now

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Raptors 905 have a chance to win the NBDL championship in just their second year of operation when they host the Rio Grande Vipers in the third and deciding game of this best of three series.

Winning championships are rare. Not just in professional sports but you can throw in college, high school and even when you’re a kid playing house league.

I always think of the great Chicago Cubs hall of fame infielder Ernie Banks when it comes to winning championships. He played for the Cubs between the years of 1953 to 1971 and he never won a championship. In fact he never ever played one post season game.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse played 18-years in the NBA with eight different teams. He was able to get into a number of playoff games, but never won a ring.

In the NBDL it’s almost like you stumble across it by accident.

The NBDL stands for National Basketball Developmental League and all 23-teams emphasize the “DEVELOPMENT” first before ever thinking about a championship.

When I first talked to Stackhouse way back in November during the 905’s training camp Stackhouse said the goal is to “get these guys into the NBA. it’s not about winning championship’s, if I can get nine, 10, 11 of these guys into the NBA I have done my job”.

Now don’t think Stackhouse doesn’t want to win the title Thursday night, you bet he does.

When I brought up the Ernie Banks story he let me know that Jerry Stackhouse has never won a title either. “I played 18 years and never got all the way to the table”, he said. “Weren’t able to get the job done.”

Stackhouse really wants his guys to win more than he does for himself. I have watched him work all year with this team and he and his entire coaching staff for that matter have put their hearts and souls into making every player on this roster better players today then they were back in November.

Thus Stackhouse has let his group know how special an opportunity this is for them.

“It’s a great opportunity I tell these men take advantage of this opportunity. This group we have assembled this year will never be together again. I tell them take care of your brothers and leave it all out there, there is nothing guaranteed so let’s walk away whatever happens and leave it out on the floor.”

When Stackhouse said this group will never be together again he is not lying. Since all the players on the roster, except for players the NBA Raptors send down for work, are all under contract to the 905 chances are most of this group will either be in the NBA next year, or Europe or worst not being able to find a roster spot in some league will be working in the real world of a nine to five job.

Stackhouse did his job for sure this year. Two of his players were plucked off his roster early in these playoffs, Axel Toupane with the New Orleans Pelicans and Edy Tavares with the Cleveland Cavaliers . Tavares was named the NBDL Defensive Player Of The Year and instead of getting a shot at a NBDL title he gets a chance to go for the big one in the NBA.

Stackhouse has done a great job with players the Raptors sent down.

Fred VanVleet has worn a path going between Toronto and Mississauga this year. Monday night he was dressed for the big club in their game five win over Milwaukee and the dying moments of the game hit a three pointer and mad a big rebound. Tuesday night he was in Mississauga where he was a big factor in the 905 game two win scoring 16-points, grabbed seven boards and had nine assists.

Stackhouse’s face lit up when talked about VanVleet’s Monday night effort.

The plan was player development when the season started, but now they have a shot at a championship and Jerry Stackhouse and his group are going to take a shot it.

Winning a championship in the NBDL is probably the most difficult thing to pull off compared to let’s say baseball and hockey who’s minor league operations are set up by their sports to be true player development operations.

In hockey and baseball the entire rosters belong to their parent teams where all the players are under contract to that club. Stackhouse never knows for sure who will be on his roster from day-to-day, moment-to-moment.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Norman Powell Shines As Raptors Win Game Five

By Frank McLean

Game Five of this Milwaukee Bucks-Toronto Raptors series went according to form when you looked at the past performances of each franchise in Game Five of a seven game series.

The Bucks record was 1-5 in Game Five of a best-of-seven series on the road when the series is tied at two games apiece and the Raptors were a perfect 4-0 in Game Five of a best of seven series that was being played at home.

The Raptors won 118-93, so as Chuck Swirsky used to say when he worked in Toronto “you can book it”.

But of course there was more to this Raptor win then just having everything in the universe fall into line like it was supposed to. It was Norman Powell’s time to shine.

For the second straight game Powell started at small forward, which allowed Serge Ibaka to slide into the center spot, and Jonas Valanciunas to come off the bench and battle Greg Monroe when he came off the Bucks bench.

Powell was the Raptors leading scorer on the night with 25 points, adding four rebounds and four assists to go with three steals and a block.

All five of the Raptors starters were in double figures scoring along with the 10-points Cory Joseph chipped in off the bench.

It was a full team effort with everybody chipping in offensively and defensively. The team set playoff records with 118 points on a franchise postseason best 57.7 percent shooting. They dished 28 assists, 10 of them from Kyle Lowry who played 36 minutes with a bum back.

The Raptors dominance continued on the glass where they held the Bucks to an opponent’s postseason low 22 rebounds and just two offensive boards.

The ironic thing about this is that the Bucks on draft night in 2015 picked Powell in the second round and then traded his rights to Toronto along with a protected future first round pick for Greivis Vasquez.

At the time though Vasquez was someone the Bucks needed. They desperately needed a shooter, but little did they know he would get hurt and pretty much be done as a serviceable NBA player. But that’s the way pro sports go. You make a trade and you take your chances.

Powell was someone the Raptors really wanted on that draft night back in 2015.

“It was great job by our scouts and Masai (Ujiri) and Jeff (Weltman),” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about how the team was able to get Powell. “I remember he had a great workout when he was here. He is a very physical player and a tough kid which is needed in a playoff game.”

Casey is very fond of the fact that Powell is rarity in that he spent four years in college at UCLA where he was more prepared to be ready to play at an NBA level compared to the one-and-done in college and off to the NBA which is the type of player that the NBA draft is full of.

Powell’s shooting has gotten a lot better since he was drafted and the work he has put in to get better is one of the reasons Casey was not afraid to insert him in the starting line-up in Game Four.

“Just constant reps,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report’s query about his improved shooting. “Getting extra work in the morning, coming back late at night, watching film of Kyle Korver, Larry Bird, good three-point shooters and trying to make adjustments.

“It’ just the constant reps day-in and day-out trying to get better, tweaking it here and there and finding what’s comfortable with me and shooting with confidence. I put up so many shots before the game and days off that it’s just shooting with confidence and trusting in the work.”

Powell has sunk his last seven three-point attempts going 3-3 in Game Four and 4-4 in Game Five.

“They move the ball better with (Powell) in the game,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “They can spread the floor better, everybody can attack, everybody can make plays.”

As we head into Game Six on Thursday back in the state of milk and cheese in Wisconsin, the Raptors hope to change the form they have shown in past Game Sixes.

Lately, it’s been win Game Five at home, check. Then go on the road play Game Six and lay a giant egg before coming home to play Game Seven and win.

If they can get another full team performance like they did Monday, then, hopefully, they can change the way things went in the playoffs last year.

Winning the series in six games and getting a few days off before facing the resting Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs second round would help a lot.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Thon Maker

Bucks Develop Rookie Thon Maker The Old Fashioned Way

By Frank McLean

One of the most interesting stories of this Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series is watching the Bucks develop rookie Thon Maker the old fashioned way. They play him.

First it’s how he made it to the NBA where he was drafted 10th overall this past June by the Bucks one pick after the Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl. He has done it you can say the most unconventional way.

He was born in the South Sudan. At the age of six moved to Australia. He then moved to the United States to play high school basketball in Louisiana and West Virginia and the last two years was in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada playing for Athlete Institute prep school.

People knew that he was a special talent even before he was drafted.

A year ago he was fan attending Raptors playoff games with his coach. At one of those games Maker was sitting there and one of the refs working the game, who had seen him on ESPN, asked him “hey man, when are you going to get here? and Maker said, “He has even worked some of my games this year.” That ref was veteran Monte McCutchen.

When you talk to the 20-year old he is very unfazed over the fact that he is starting the NBA playoffs.

“Everything comes back around. A year ago I was playing high school ball here, and now I’m playing in the NBA”, Maker said. “Just going out there and playing hard. At the end of the day it’s just basketball, just got to continue to play the way I have been playing.”

Including the first four games of this Bucks-Raptors tilt, Maker has started the last 35-straight games for the Bucks and they have been 22-13 in that time.

Rookies don’t usually get to develop as starters in the NBA playoffs, but in the case of Maker it’s being done as a necessity. The Bucks are currently one of seven NBA teams that do not own and operate a D-league (“NBDL”) team like the Toronto Raptors do with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga.

As Bucks head coach Jason Kidd was explaining before game four.

“The idea is we don’t have a NBDL team so we didn’t want it to be a wasted year and we didn’t want to ship him somewhere,” Kidd said. “The options became slim, we needed to play him. Talking with the coaching staff , they thought let’s look at starting him and being able to benefit using his energy, but also giving him an opportunity to play so it’s not a wasted season.

“You look at his abilities, what he brings to the table, his speed at 7’0, his ability to shoot and then also his ability to play hard.

“Being a starter can help him grow hopefully faster, understanding he’s going against all-stars, or he’s going against quite a few talented players out on the floor when you go against the other starting group. Hopefully this speeds up the process.”

Veteran Jason Terry who is not easily impressed with rookies, but when you ask him about Maker, he is a believer.

“Thon Maker has a high basketball IQ,” Terry said. “His work ethic is great and the thing about him is his attitude. He’s not over-confident, he’s not cocky, but he has enough confidence to him have success against more veteran players in this league. Great kid, great teammate and he doesn’t play like a rookie.”

Not every rookie has the ability or skill set to develop at the NBA level. That’s why the D-League was invented. Someday the Bucks will have an NBDL team just not right now. Maker is that stereotypical Cinderella story from Africa, the United States, to Canada and now the NBA.

One thing for sure Thon Maker is a keeper and with Giannis Antetokounmpo this duo will be anchoring the up and coming Bucks for the next few years.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Have The Raptors Figured Out The Bucks?

By Frank McLean

As the Toronto Raptors head into Game Five Monday night at the Air Canada Centre their fans can take a deep breath that this series with the Milwaukee Bucks is tied two games apiece instead of it being a three games to one lead for the boys from Wisconsin and heaven forbid this Game Five being an elimination game. But have the Raptors figured out the Bucks?

After Thursday night’s 104-77 loss in Game Three where everybody who draws a paycheck from the Raptors organization stunk the joint out, the fact they were able to pull out a win in an old fashioned physical ugly basketball game was quite reassuring.

Now if you look at past form from the regular season only five times the Raptors lost a game by 15-or more points and in the next game they were 4-1. So really it should be no surprise that they came back and tied this series.

“I’ve always said we play better with our backs against the wall,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s a tough way to live, but I love our team’s resiliency, personality, but I wish we didn’t have to play a stinker before we play that way (like they did Saturday).”

Two factors led to this win.

First it was the change in the starting line-up.

Casey promised there would be changes after Game Three and he delivered on the promise by taking Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting line-up for the first time this season, moving Serge Ibaka to center and DeMarre Carroll to power forward and bringing in Norman Powell to start at small forward. It gave the Raptors a smaller line-up, but they were able to control the Bucks forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton who killed the Raptors in the first quarter in Game Three when they combined for 21-points. On Saturday they combined for just seven points in the first 12-minutes as the Bucks forward pair was stifled all game.

“Just to have a presence there, to put the defense in rotation,” Powell said about the new starting five. “We needed more drives, more kick-outs to have their defense scrambling because they’re so long. Their length is really disruptive, they’re blitzing Kyle and DeMar in pick-and-rolls so you need someone to attack, loosen up the defense and re-attack on the kick-outs or hit the shooters for open shots.”

Speaking of DeMar DeRozan, he is the second reason for the win.

After scoring only eight points in Game Three and not making one field goal, he single-handedly carried the Raptors offensively with 33-points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Your star players have to be your star players in the playoffs and DeRozan didn’t disappoint.

“Anybody who knows me knows I’m never too high and I’m never too low, no matter how bad things are or no matter how great things get,” DeRozan said. “I keep a level head and I understand bad things are going to come, and I accept it, just like I accept the great times. I knew lightning don’t strike twice in the same place.”

The thing about this Raptors-Bucks series is you don’t know what Raptors team you are going to see. They go from hitting three-point shots to not hitting three-point shots. They play defense in one game and then they look like they can’t stop a kids YMCA team like in Game Three. They have multiple personalities.

Going into Game Five the Raptors can breathe easy that they have regained home court advantage, but they cannot think that they have figured out the Bucks. Jason Kidd will have made adjustments that he hopes can free up the “Greek Freak” and Middleton.

It’s not just the Raptors that have multiple personalities, so does each playoff game no matter who is playing.

The last word should go to coach Casey as to what to expect in Game Five.

“There’s nobody you can take for granted in this league,” Casey said. “Every game is a different story, different opportunity for different people and we’ve got to come back because there’s a lot of things we can clean up from this game and I’m sure they’ll be making adjustments.

“We’ve got to change things also. I think it’s going to be a chess match for the next three games and there’s no edge. We’ve got to come back and play with the same personality as we did (on Saturday).

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Kyle Lowry Bounces Back In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

In his pre-game comments to the media before game two Tuesday night Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was still lamenting about the lack of enthusiasm he felt his team had in that 97-83 loss.

“We have got to play with enthusiasm,” Casey said. “I don’t think we were tired (Saturday night) if guys are tired then we will get them a (break).”

There was no questioning the Raptors effort in game two as they walked out with a 106-100 win though it did go down to the wire.

Even though the experts had the Raptors winning this best of seven series four straight, maybe five games at the most, the Bucks are not going to walk away and die and they showed that as they had a couple of shots to tie or win the game with 30-seconds or so left.

Two corrections the Raptors made from game one resulted in this win.

First they were able to free up Kyle Lowry and let him do what he does best and that’s shoot the basketball.

The Bucks played great defense in game one. They let DeMar DeRozan get his 27 points and Serge Ibaka get his 19, but the focus was on Lowry who usually can chip in with 22 or 23. Lowry only scored four points as they took him out of his game.

In game two the trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka had 22, 23 and 16 for 61 of the Raptors 106 points in the game. That’s the key to beating Toronto, you can’t stop all three, but if you take one of the trio out of the game you got a shot.

“I just went out there and played,” Lowry said after the game. “I went out there tried to make my shots and be aggressive. I got to the foul line nine times. I got aggressive early and went out there and played.”

Casey was never worried if Lowry was going to bounce back because he has coached him now for five years he knows what he has.

“He’s human,” Casey said about Lowry. “Everyone has a night like that (Game 1) and we can’t panic every time a guy has a tough night. This is a tough league, Milwaukee is a very tough grind it out type team and they are going to make it hard on you.

“It’s his competitive edge. He’s a guy that competes. Through the years where I have been in the trenches before and he always bounced back. It’s just who he is, he is a fighter, a competitor and I just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied the way he played in the first game.”

The second correction the Raptors had was with their defense. They concentrated on keeping the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo in check.

His final numbers were outstanding, 24-points, 15-rebounds and seven assists, but he had to earn every last one of them. Every time he drove through the paint at least two defenders were draped all over him not letting him take over the game like he did in game one.

He played 42-minutes but he just wasn’t a factor.

Khris Middleton, who Casey called the Bucks X-factor before the series, scored-20 but it just wasn’t enough.

The Bucks did fight even with all the adjustments the Raptors made and they were only down two-points (100-102) with just 57-seconds left when P.J. Tucker missed a pair of free throws.

Down four points with nine seconds left after Kyle Lowry hit a 20-foot jumper, the Bucks still had life with it being two possession game, but Malcolm Brogdon missed on a long three-point attempt.

The point is this Bucks team that was supposed to be a push over are far from it.

Yes the Raptors should win this series but to do so they are going to have to make more adjustments and as long as they make the right one’s they will be all right.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Matthew Dellavedova

Scrappy Dellavedova Screens Getting On Raptors Nerves

By Frank McLean

The gamesmanship has started in the Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series and it only took one game. Scrappy Matthew Dellavedova has been getting on the Raptors nerves.

The fact that the Bucks, who experts kept telling us should be swept four straight games, beat Toronto 97-83 would be enough. But now it’s Dellavedova and the illegal screens was he was allegedly running to set up Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This is why Dellavadova has a job in the NBA, his ability to set screens to let scorers do their things. This is what he did in Cleveland the first three years of his career, setting screens to make it easier for LeBron James.

It’s not for his offensive skills, he only averaged 7.6 points a game for the Bucks during the regular season, what he brought to a young developing team is his tough physical grinding game.

The Cavaliers sure miss him. James was complaining that the Cavaliers needed a playmaker. The problem was the guy he needed was traded to Milwaukee in the off season in a sign and trade for the draft right to Albert Miralles.

In Toronto on Monday at practice the Raptors let it be known that he was running some illegal screens in game one.

“He did set 18-screens and we did look at them,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was saying during his daily session with the media. “A lot of them weren’t legal.

“Now we’ve got to make sure we counter that and make the officials make a decision. The officials were saying that we’re not hitting (the screens) or running into them. We’ve got to make sure we have a confrontation, because he’s one of the great screen-setters in the league, just like John Stockton was. There’s no disrespect by saying that.

“It’s a respect factor for Dellavedova that he does set hellacious screens. You look at them in slow time, and believe me, they’re moving, they’re grabbing, they’re holding. He has set a precedent with it and they’re not calling it. We’ve got to make sure we set screens the same way, and now we show the officials those videos.

“It’s a credit to him that he sets screens that way and gets away with it.”

Meanwhile back in Milwaukee the Bucks were working out before they boarded their plane to head to Toronto for Tuesday’s game. Dellavedova spoke about an hour before Casey made his comments in Toronto. He talked about how it’s all about playing physical in the playoffs.

“I think in the playoffs, my game is suited to that,” Dellavedova said. “Where there’s a lot on the line, it’s going to be even more physical. If you want to win, you’ve got to put your body on the line.”

Dellavedova, who is from Australia, said the type of game he plays is typical of what you see all the time in international basketball.

“Internationally the game is a lot more physical,” Dellavedova added. “The way they set screens, if you go under a screen internationally, the big man is going to roll you down in to the paint, so you really can’t go under any screens. Often times when I go back and play with Australians in the summertime, it’s a lot more physical.

“All people set illegal screens in the NBA. If you follow it to the letter of the law, the rule is that your feet have to be inside your shoulders. I mean big men are always kind of setting it wide. That’s just how it is.

“You have to be smart and adjust to what the refs are calling.”

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, who was as a tough a guard to ever play in the NBA, admires his small 6’4 guard.

“It’s tough when you have a small, a point guard, that sets screens, as many as he sets in a game,” Kidd said. “He knows he’s going to get hit, being able to absorb that hit and he does it a lot. It can wear on you, but I think he’s someone who can take a hit. He understands sacrifice and his teammates appreciate that.”

We don’t know yet who the NBA will assign to referee game two. It will be interesting to see who they are and will they be paying attention to possible illegal screens.

The mind games have started, we got ourselves a series.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo

Raptors Must Stop The Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo.

By Frank McLean

Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, their neighbours down the hall at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors got an extra day to figure out how to stop “the Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That’s because the Maple Leafs took to the ice Monday night instead of the Raptors as they hosted game three of their first round battle with the Washington Capitals.

Antetokounmpo scored 28-points, a playoff career high in game one, leading his team to the upset win and P.J. Tucker, an NBA veteran who played his first playoff game in his long career on Saturday, says the Raptors have to guard the paint against the 6-foot-11 forward.

“We got to shut the paint down, the paint is gold in this series,” Tucker said. “It’s protecting the paint even more I’m going to sound repetitive, but it’s the same thing because he’s going to try to get to the paint. We’re trying to give him the shot, but he’s not going to take it, he’s going to try to get to the paint. For us, it’s defending the paint.”

Both the Bucks and the Raptors were working the paint hard in the first half. The Raptors outscored the Bucks 32-22 in the first 24-minutes but in the final 24-minutes of the game the Raptors forgot to drive to the hoop, but the Bucks didn’t and outscored the Raptors 18-4.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said that they played a game like it was in the middle of the regular season and not a postseason game.

“It wasn’t like they jumped out to a big lead or anything like that, but in the minutes where it was important we didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition,’’ Casey said. “DeMar (DeRozan) drives to the basket or Kyle (Lowry) drives to the basket and now it’s five on four or one on two or three.

“We need all five men or four men back to guard him (Antetokounmpo) and out of that make sure we are in scramble mode and have our scramble rotation in and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

There was a point in the game in the third quarter where there was a small window where maybe you thought the Raptors could pull ahead.

Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul and Bucks coach Jason Kidd decided to sit him to keep him from getting that fifth foul. Instead of the Raptors getting on a run of their own, the Bucks went on an 11-5 run without their best player on the floor.

As usual you don’t get any excuses from Casey when his team loses. He credited the Bucks for just flat out beating them in game one.

“They did a good job,” Casey said. “They beat us. They outworked us. They out-physical-ed us, they out-screened us in every area that you could possibly talk about and that’s what we showed the guys on film.

“To win in this league we have to play at another level. You can’t play on a regular-season level. You have to screen in playoff form, you have to cut in playoff form, you have to run in playoff form, and we didn’t do that long enough. We did it in some parts of the game, but not long enough.”

Traditionally the Raptors do much better in game two’s of a playoff series and the first order of business Tuesday night will be to find a way to stop the “Greek Freak”.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

     Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

New York Knicks Phil Jackson meme

Aging Hippie Phil Jackson Has Lost His Mind In New York

By Frank McLean

On Friday for only the second time since the beginning of training camp, September 23rd to be exact, the aging hippie that has finished the job of running the New York Knicks into the ground Phil Jackson spoke to the New York media to tell one and all why the Knicks stunk this past season.

In a 49-minute ego driven speech to the masses Jackson used the not recommended defense of “it’s not me it’s everyone else” as to why the season didn’t go right.

He claimed at first that yes as President of the team its failure is his responsibility, but then he went on and blamed everyone else.

His coach Jeff Hornacek, his moody and often injured guard Derek Rose, owner James Dolan , the fans and yes the media.

But the most of it was the finishing touches of his campaign to run Carmelo Anthony out of New York City because he is not on board with Jackson’s love of the triangle offense which has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone as a viable NBA offense.

Their end of the season exit meeting this week was not friendly to say the least.

Jackson started his rip job with, “Right now, we need players who are really active and play every single play. Defensively and offensively that’s really important for us. We faced resistance and we faced resistance at the top. We got rid of some guys early on that resisted, weren’t willing to be learners.”

That’s a hint that the reason the triangle didn’t work was because of Anthony.

But here is the problem that Jackson has with Anthony it’s that contract extension he gave him in 2014 which has two years left on it and 54-million dollars with a no-trade clause in it.

One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA was that Jackson was trying to move Anthony at the trade deadline in February. In order to move him Anthony would have to waive that clause and if he doesn’t like a specific trade option he can tell Jackson to “take a hike”.

It was believed that the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers where kicking the tires about a possible trade.

Jackson did admit that it’s going to be difficult to pull off a trade.

“Some teams called that weren’t amenable to Melo and his group,’’ Jackson said. “Some teams called that were but weren’t willing to give up core groups or members of their team which is understandable at that time of the year. So we said no.”

Jackson is hoping some team’s failure in the playoffs made make them want to try and make a deal.

“You’ve got teams going into the playoffs who could be eliminated right away and say, ‘That’s not good enough. We’re not good enough. We’ve got to go somewhere else,” Jackson said.

Jackson then went on to praise Anthony because like every used car salesman knows when trying to make a deal you have to point out all the good things about the car and not go on about the fact it has 150,000 miles on it.

“Carmelo has been great. He is who he is,” Jackson said. “He’s just, he’s an elite scorer, guy will be a Hall of Fame entry at some point, 10-15 years down the road.

“He has always carried the basic load for this team. I thought he stood up well this year in a lot of tough situations. I can’t regret it. I can’t go back and regret that. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out. This partnership together, somehow or the other didn’t click here with this team. But he has done his role and played his role quite well.”

Jackson needs to look in the mirror, if his ego will let him, and realize it’s his fault why the Knicks have regressed and not progressed.

He hired the coach, he traded for Derek Rose, he singed a broken Joakim Noah to a 72-million dollar contract, he accepted the job from James Dolan and realize the fans and the media don’t wear a uniform and play basketball for him.

His press conference all but proved that this aging hippie has lost his mind.

 

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

At 0-8, Game One Has Been Rough On The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Make no mistake, Game One has been a huge hurdle for the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. Over the history of the franchise, the Raptors are 0-8 in the first game of an opening series, losing to the Knicks twice, the Nets twice, the Pistons, Magic, Wizards and Pacers. It always seems like this team is behind the eight ball in the postseason.

Losing Game Ones at home has been especially painful as you are giving away your hard earned home court advantage, a big reason why a feisty Indiana Pacers were able to take the Raptors to seven games in their first round match-up last year.

Winning Game One is the challenge this year and head coach Dwane Casey is well aware of it.

“I think that’s our challenge in Game One,” Casey said. “We get so hyped up, there’s such a big, a lot of talk or whatever about the game, I don’t know if we overthink the situation and not just play basketball. I think the experience from last year is a huge help, and we thought that from the year before. Again, we’ve just got to go out there and do it and not overthink it.”

Game One wasn’t kind to the Raptors in the second round or the Conference Finals last season either, losing to the Heat in overtime at home and the Cavs on the road. The only Game One win the Raptors can lay claim to is a second round victory over the 76ers back in the Vince Carter era, but Toronto lost that series in Game Seven.

However, the Raptors are excited for the opportunity to go for another long post season run this year. In fact as soon as the final buzzer went Wednesday night in Cleveland in their last game of a long and grinding 82-game schedule and they hopped their charter back to Toronto, they felt it on the plane that now the games are going to be a different animal.

On Thursday, DeMar DeRozan was telling the media about that plane ride home.

“We felt it last night being on the plane and coming back with everyone just excited,” DeRozan said. “Everyone couldn’t wait to get in here (to Thursday’s practice). I came early, a couple of the guys came early just to get some work in. Just get completely locked it and embrace this feeling.”

It’s the fourth year in a row the Raptors have made it to the postseason. When you talk to fans and listen to them vent on sports radio it’s expected now that this team get to the playoffs every year and after making it to Eastern Conference Finals nothing less will be accepted. Things are a far cry from last April when the plea was, ‘please let’s just win a first round series for once.’

Kyle Lowry shares the feelings of the fans, his expectations are just as high. He wants a championship.

“The expectations should always be the same,” Lowry said. “They’ve always been the same for me. Try to win a ring.

“You don’t just get to the playoffs to get to the playoffs. My expectations are always chasing the ultimate prize. You play all regular season for the ultimate goal, to hold up that trophy.

“It’s always amazing and fun to make the playoffs and it’s a testament to how hard you worked during the regular season. It’s a little different. Now we’re supposed to make the playoffs. When we got there the first time, it was like … Well, let’s go out and play hard. Now we have to execute.”

Lowry is right, if the Raptors execute, they will be fine as their opponent is a Milwaukee Bucks team with little playoff experience and with home court advantage, Toronto is the heavy favorite.

It’s well past the time the Raptors started the playoffs off right with a win in Game One at home.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Malcom Brogdon and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry by Larry Millson

Young Bucks Are An Easy Opponent For The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Well it’s here for the fourth season in a row, the Toronto Raptors have made the post season and will open up at home with the Milwaukee Bucks in game one of their best-of-seven first round series.

When you look at this series it seems to be a rather, with no disrespect to the Bucks, an easy match-up and a rather easy route to the second round against an expected opponent named the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s of course if the Indiana Pacers don’t pull of the upset of upsets against the defending NBA champs.

The Raptors have beat the Bucks 12-times in their last 14-regular season meetings and won this year’s season series 3-1 outscoring the Bucks 105.8-96.5, so you can understand why fans in Toronto are smiling and thinking this is going to be a cakewalk.

However, two years ago Toronto’s first round match-up with the Washington Wizards was supposed to be a mismatch in the Raptors favor. Instead they were eliminated four straight, but that’s a lesson reasonably fresh on the Raptors minds and one these young Bucks have yet to experience.

When you look at the Bucks they are a young rebuilding franchise who finished sixth in the east at 42-40. They don’t have the deep roster yet to be considered a legitimate contender like the Raptors, but they do have a rising star in Giannis Antetokounmpo …aka “The Greek Freak”.

He is a six-foot-11 small forward with a wingspan of someone in the neighborhood of seven-three. And pardon the pun, the native of Greece has the body of a Greek god. His hands, they have been measured at 12-inches from the tip of his thumb to his small finger.

He averaged nearly 23-points and 9-rebounds a game during the regular season, so as you can imagine everything the Bucks do centers around Antetokounmpo.

“He’s a freak of nature for an athlete,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He reminds me so much of a young Magic Johnson as far as his length, his size, the way he can pass the ball and lord forbid he gets consistent on his jump shots. But his length and his ability to see the floor, his willingness to pass, he enjoys passing, and then his one-step from the top of the key to the rim laying it up or dunking it. That’s why he’s a freak. He’s totally different than anything else in our league.”

But when you talk about the Bucks Casey is aware that you can’t forget the other 12-players their head coach Jason Kidd will dress on Saturday.

Casey was very glowing in his comments about shooting guard Khris Middleton whom he calls the Bucks X-factor.

“Middleton has added another shooter to that group,” Casey said. “He stretches the floor out and him being a shooter, he has created more space for Antetokounmpo, so that is something that you have to be respectful of because he is the X factor.

“He stretches the floor out in transition, shooting the three, one-on one he’s an excellent iso player, so now do you put your best defender on him or do you put your best defender on Antetokounmpo? So he gives them another dimension offensively.”

The Bucks do have one player with recent championship experience and that’s Matthew Dellavadova who got it with the Cavaliers last year, but other than that this roster is not nearly as deep as the Raptors.

You know playoff games are officiated at a much tighter standard than in the regular season. The young Bucks don’t have the depth on their bench like the Raptors and with their second leading scorer, Jabri Parker (20.1 ppg) out for the season, if any of the Bucks starters get into foul trouble early in a game it could put them into an even deeper hole.

The Bucks do look like an easy opponent for the more experienced Raptors as long as they don’t forget the lessons of two and three seasons ago. You can’t take any team for granted in the playoffs. Raptors in 5.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

     Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough

Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough Should Be On NBA Teams Radar

By Frank McLean

The beautiful thing about the NBA Development League “NBDL” is that when you go to a game you never know who you are going to see. There are numerous players who are or who should be on many NBA teams radar.

Maybe it’s a first round pick from the NBA draft playing in the D-League to get the unlimited minutes not available with his NBA team so he can develop and make a contribution to the parent team. Or someone who excelled in the NCAA, but may not be good enough for the NBA like one-time NCAA player of the year Jimmer Ferdette.

One current under-employed NBA veteran trying to use the NBDL to get back to the big show is former Toronto Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough.

After spending four years with Indiana Pacers where he was their first round pick in the 2009-draft, Hansbrough signed a two year free agent deal with the Raptors and when that expired, he signed a one year deal with the Charlotte Hornets for the 2015-16 season where his career came off the rails.

In Charlotte he had the worst season of the NBA career. He played in only 44-games where he averaged 2.4-points and 2-rebounds in just 7.8 minutes.

On March first, after no NBA team taking a chance on him during the offseason and sitting out the whole season, he signed a deal with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL which happens to be owned by the team that drafted him the Indiana Pacers.

He has been a factor. In two games down the stretch run of the regular season he had games of 25 and 31 points. He also had a 23 rebound game and that’s where he was always excelled, a ferocious rebounder and a deadly shooter in the paint. He is averaging a double-double in Fort Wayne.

Currently the Mad Ants are in the NBDL Eastern Conference semi-final against the Main Red Claws with the winner of the best of three series taking on the Raptors 905 in the Eastern Conference Final.

On Monday night with his team facing elimination Hansbrough carried the Mad Ants in a comeback win to tie the series at one apiece and forcing a deciding game three on Wednesday night in Portland, Maine. Hansbrough put up 27-points and grabbed 15-boards in the game.

Pacers President Larry Bird has been in attendance for some games keeping an eye on who Pacers fans called “Psycho T.” A guy who’s defensive toughness, rebounding and scoring in the paint gave the Mad Ants a boost in their bid for the NBDL title.

Hansbrough, like any veteran who comes to the D-League, is there for one purpose and that’s to get back to the NBA. No one gave Hansbrough a 10-day contract which is a surprise when you see teams in the NBA who can use his skill set like maybe Cleveland? Just saying.

He was one of the all-time greats at the University of North Carolina, right up there with other alumni like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and current Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. His number 50 was retired after being named on the ACC’s first all-star in each of his four years there plus being the rookie of the year in 2006 and in 2008 was the ACC’s player of the year as well as all the other national player of the year honors.

Here’s hoping the Mad Ants win their series and the local Toronto fans get a chance to see Hansbrough comeback to the GTA to take on the Raptors 905.

He is the reason why the NBDL was formed in the first place, to give young NBA draft picks a chance to work on their craft and veterans a place to audition their talents.

Something says Hansbrough won’t be in the NBDL long.

 

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Miami Heat James Johnson

Miami Heat Still Have Improbable Life Left In This Season

By Frank McLean

Like cats, which according to legend have nine lives, the Miami Heat still have improbable life left in their 2016-2017 NBA season.

Friday with just 10-men dressed they scratched and clawed with the Toronto Raptors only to lose 96-94 and see their miracle playoff run pretty much get down to their last gasp.

Then sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference just behind Chicago, the Heat kept hope alive with a 106-103 win over the playoff bound Wizards while Chicago coughed up the improbable 107-106 loss to the last place Nets to bring both teams records to 39-41. Only a tie-breaker now stands between the Heat and a postseason berth with two games left.

The story of how the Heat got here is like the proverbial cat with nine lives.

On January 13th the Heat finished up a 1-and-5 road trip with a loss in Milwaukee. That loss put the Heat at 11-and-30 to start the season and if you suggested they had a shot at the playoffs you would have been laughed right out of the room. In reality the thought of tanking and trying to get a high pick in the draft lottery would have been more like it.

But then the Heat did the unthinkable and ran off a 13-game winning streak to improve their record to 24-30 and get right back in the playoff picture.

Since then, including Friday’s loss in Toronto, they have gone 14-11 and are at 38-41 they became the first team in the long history of the NBA to reach the 38-win total after starting a season 19-games below .500.

A smiling Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls the run his team has been on a challenge.

“We call it a challenge that’s the way it has been the last two-two and a half months. It has been like March madness, every game has been an elimination game.”

“Look our guy’s want this everybody knows what’s at stake,” Spoelstra added. “Our guy’s leave this out there every single night. I want them to enjoy this. These games are a privilege to play in, games that matter”.

There is no argument that the Heat don’t leave it on the floor every night. Look at Friday’s game. Every time the Raptors tried to pull away in the fourth quarter, the undermanned Heat would fight back. Down five points with 4.8 seconds left there was no letting up as Josh Richardson came down the floor and hit a desperation three pointer with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to cut the score to 96-94. But they just ran out of time.

Friday’s line-up featured two rookies from the NBDL Okaro White and Rodney McGruder who was in the starting five.

And pressed into a starting role is the slimmed down former Raptor James Johnson who says he is in the best shape of his career with a weight down below 250-pounds and five percent body fat. Spoelstra says that he doesn’t know where his team would be without Johnson.

The Heat finish up their schedule with a pair home games against Cleveland and Washington again, however, Chicago seems to have the easier schedule to finish the year.

The Bulls get Orlando and then Brooklyn again, so when you look at each team’s schedule the Heat have it tough, but as Spoelstra says, it’s lets go time.

“Let’s go to the next game, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. On to the next battle, people think that there are no meaningful games in the NBA. Well tune into the Miami Heat where every game is competitive.”

The Heat’s chances don’t look good, but they are going to go down fighting. That has been their M.O. since midway in January. No reason to think that will change now.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

 

NBA Washington Wizards Brandon Jennings / New York Knicks

Why The Knicks Fell Apart This Season Phil Jackson

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Washington Wizards hosted the New York Knicks for the NBA’s latest version of guaranteed win night which is what a team gets when they host the Knicks.

The Knicks didn’t disappoint as they lost 106-103 to drop their season record to 30-wins and 49-losses leaving them with only three more agonizing games left in their regular season schedule for their battered and bruised fans back in New York City.

If you remember back on December 22nd the Knicks were 16-13 and they looked like they were on their way to their goal of making a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So what went wrong? How did the train fall of tracks?

Before Thursday’s night’s game the Wizards Brandon Jennings weighed in on what went wrong with the New York media saying that once the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors started from Phil Jackson in January it all fell apart.

Jennings started the season with the Knicks after signing a deal with the club in the offseason.

After playing just 58-games averaging 8.6-points a game he was waived by the Knicks on February 27th and then signed with the Wizards on March first for the remainder of the season.

Anthony as we all know has a no trade clause in his contract and it’s known that Jackson was actively trying to move Anthony before the trade deadline. Jennings said that it definitely was bothering Anthony.

“It definitely took a toll, I think, on the team. Because it wasn’t even about basketball anymore, it was more about what was going on with Melo,” Jennings said. It was one of the wildest situations he has been in during his eight seasons in the league.

Jennings added that it was “cool” playing with Anthony, but went on to say that Anthony had “a lot of pressure on him dealing with stuff with Phil.”  Jennings went on to say that it just wasn’t fair what Anthony had to go through.

“I think it was just a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster for him this year with everything he had to deal with, which isn’t fair,” he said. “For a player to wake up every day and you’re hearing trade rumors and you might be gone and this and that. It was like a two-week span where everybody was hitting your phone about Melo leaving.”

Jennings has a point. The Knicks were in Toronto playing the Raptors in January just a couple of days after the first Anthony to be traded out of New York started when a story came out attributed from a former Jackson colleague that Anthony has to go because he can’t play the triangle offense.

By the time the Knicks came back to Toronto in March you could see that the rumors had taken their toll in the locker room and on the court.

Other factors have to be considered too. The roster mix just didn’t fit, they couldn’t play a simple defense and the fact they couldn’t or wouldn’t play the triangle.

But Jennings hit it on the head that once the Anthony trade rumors started that pretty well killed their season.

Of course the rumors won’t go away as speculation has it that the Knicks will pursue a trade in the offseason and Anthony has hinted he may agree to one.  Meanwhile things have worked out well for Jennings.

When he was waived by the Knicks it was a mutual parting of the ways by both parties.

“I’m on my contract year so I didn’t want to go home in April,” Jennings said about the matter. “I have a chance to go to the playoffs, so I’m really excited about that.”

Who wouldn’t be excited (to leave the Knicks this season)?

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross Exceeding Expectations With The Magic

By Frank McLean

Terrence Ross made his return to Toronto with his new team the Orlando Magic and even though for Ross it’s still “a little strange” being a member of the Magic, his new head coach Frank Vogel is happy to have him.

“He has played beyond expectations,” Vogel said when Pro Bball Report asked him about the short time Ross has been a member of the Magic.

Vogel has always been a big fan of Ross, having played the Raptors three to four times a year during his previous gig as the head man in Indiana. Vogel knew that Ross, when he’s hot, can be as deadly a shooter as anyone in the NBA.

Ross is entrenched in a special spot in the Raptors record book as one of only two players to have a 50-plus point game in franchise history when he tied Vince Carter’s 51-point record against the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago.

During his four and a half years in Toronto Ross was a key man coming off the bench for Raptors coach Dwane Casey. In Orlando, he has been in the starting line-up every night.

“I have always been high on Terrence when we played him when I was with the Pacers,” Vogel said. “I know what he can do and a lot of guys when you come into a new system you can exceed your expectations or fall short and Terrence has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of being a high character guy and fitting in well.

“His transition was seamless,” Vogel added. “He picked up everything very, very quickly on both ends of the floor. And he fits this style of play that we are trying to implement.”

The deal the Magic made sending power forward Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Ross signalled a change in their style of play from the start of the season.

In the off season the plan was to go big and play a physical style of basketball. They signed Bismack Biyombo to a 70-million plus contract in which he has turned into a backup center and they acquired Ibaka from Oklahoma City to join Nikola Vucevic to form a modern day version of smashmouth basketball.

As a result third year power forward Aaron Gordon was moved to small forward and it did just not work out the way the Magic had planned so they decided to change their philosophy midway through the season.

Putting Gordon back at power forward and having Ross at small forward is working out better for the Magic.

“Offensively it’s not just a catch and shoot game. The memories I have of him (Ross) are drilling those corner threes when we were over helping on DeMar and Kyle,” Vogel said. “We have really been able to put the ball in his hands in the dribble-handoff game and off screens. Not only is he knocking down shots but he’s making plays off the bounce. He’s a dynamic play-maker when he’s going downhill towards the basket and making good decisions with the pass.”

The changes the Magic have made will not put them in the playoffs this season. Vogel said the goal now for this group is to win as many games as they can down the stretch to give them a good taste in their mouth as they take off for a long summer offseason and come to training camp in October on a positive note.

One thing for sure Ross will be a key part in a Magic team that will be gunning for a playoff spot next season and the Magic are happy they have him.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Derrick Rose by Larry Millson

Can Things Get Any Worse For The Knicks?

By Frank McLean

Last week was not a banner week for the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise, the New York Knicks. The news surrounding Phil Jackson, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah was worse than all the losing. So, let’s work our way backwards and review the week that was for the embittered team.

On Saturday, not letting a deficit of 19-points at halftime deter them, the Knicks hung on to lose in San Antonio 106-98 and complete a perfect 0-for-4 west coast road trip and extend their losing streak to five games.

The Knicks have gone into complete tank mode, looking to get the best pick in the lottery and find a savior in the NBA draft to start their 100th rebuild since they won their last championship back in the early 70’s.

In the bizarre world of the Knicks, losing is good and losing big, even though they look like they are trying to follow the failed team building method of the Philadelphia 76ers, is “trusting the process.”

Meanwhile the guy running the show, Phil Jackson, might be expected to, you know, attend NCAA Tournament games for an up close and personal look at that one special player who might be able to play within his out dated triangle offense. Nah, that makes too much sense for the “Zen Master.”

Instead, when the Knicks left Los Angeles, Phil stayed behind to be present for the Shaquille O’Neal statue unveiling outside the Staples Center Friday night. Better to have your ego stroked and remind everyone you used to be a genius coaching all those championship teams in Chicago and Southern California and not the dummy you are thought off in New York.

Saturday saw the Knicks lose Joakim Noah to a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. It seems that Noah took an over the counter banned performance enhancing substance. It’s seems Noah decided not to pick the brains of the team doctors who can tell you what supplements you can take and which ones to avoid.

Noah took a supplement with androgen that help’s with testosterone. It tends to act like an anabolic steroid and hence is viewed as a performance-enhancing ingredient because it “provides many of the muscle-building and therapeutic benefits of testosterone.’’ An NBA source told the New York Post that some items have been removed from the list in the new CBA for next season, but this one remained.

Noah is on the injured list, so his suspension will start when he comes off and is healthy enough to play. He is expected to be eligible to return this season so his suspension will cover the end of this season and the start of next totaling 20-games.

Almost overshadowed were the comments from Derrick Rose. Acquired in an offseason trade from Chicago with one year left on his contract, Rose hinted he is not considering coming back to the Knicks.

“I’ve got more than enough money saved. If I stopped playing basketball now, I’ll be all right. I want to win. I want to be happy and feel at peace with myself wherever I’m at. But being at the negotiating table, you never know. I’m not going to negotiate with people where money is the number one thing I’m asking for. I want to win.”

It’s hard not to read between the lines that he is saying, “I’m out of here.”

“This will be the first time I’ll be a free agent,” Rose added. “I don’t know how that process goes. After the season, me, my agent, my brothers, family will have to talk about it. Of course I want to be here, just being in this environment, being in New York, being at the Garden every other night, it’s a blessing. But, again, I have to really talk it over with my agent and my brothers.”

Give him credit, he made sure he did not insult the city of New York. It’s just that the Knicks as a team to play for sucks.

That was the week that was for the Knicks. It will be fun to see how they can screw things up this week and next and next. Winning any more games might be the biggest mistake at this point. Oops, what was the point in beating the Pistons on Monday?

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Sitting In The Catbird Seat For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors return home Monday night to the Air Canada Center sitting in the catbird seat to start their stretch of their last nine games before the playoffs with a four game home stand against the Orlando Magic and an old friend Terrance Ross.

The Raptors officially punched their ticket to NBA playoffs for a franchise record fourth straight season on the back of their 94-86 win over the Mavericks in Dallas Saturday night which also was their fifth straight win in a row.

Schedule wise the Raptors are sitting in a great spot. Eight of their last nine games are against teams with a record blow .500. On the final night of the season they play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers the only team with a record better than .500 and if the game means nothing to the defending champions you can bet your life it will be another night of rest for Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

The Raptors have a great opportunity to improve their lot in the Eastern Conference standings with this soft schedule heading into the stretch drive.

They sit fourth at 44-29 3.5 games back of Cleveland and Boston who are tied for first and a game back of Washington who is sitting third.

The goal is to try and avoid a match-up with Cleveland until the third round which would be the conference championship. What helps is that they have the tie breaker with Washington so third place is realistic. They just have to keep winning.

Another benefit of winning five straight is that they have a seven game lead over the fifth place Atlanta Hawks and unless they really hit the skids over these final nine games they pretty well have home court advantage in the first round locked up. Home court was something three weeks ago that wasn’t a sure thing.

The Raptors are hot at the right time which is saying something since they have not had the heart and soul of their offense Kyle Lowry since the all-star break because of a wrist injury.

The three teams in front of them all have some sort of weakness.

First let’s look at the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers who are struggling to play defence right now. They are just 5-5 in their last 10-games. They dominate at home with a 28-8 record, but struggle away from Quicken Loans Arena and are barely over .500 at 19-17.

The Boston Celtics did not make any moves at the trade deadline which made General Manager Danny Ainge the target of the wrath from Celtics Nation. They have had trouble rebounding all season, but they are riding a four game win streak because they have been carried on the back of guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas scored 30-points Sunday in a win at home against Miami.

And last you have the Washington Wizards who will have barely seen the US capitol city they live in this month. They started off in Cleveland Saturday night their last 10-games of the regular season with their second five game road trip this month which finish’s with the last four games on the west coast against the Lakers, Clippers, Utah and Golden State in that order.

And when they are done with that road trip they only play two of their final five games at home.

As you can see, evidence points to the Raptors having a golden opportunity to move up in the standings and somewhere in their last nine games they hope to get Kyle Lowry back in the lineup.

The Raptors are sitting in the catbird seat. They have their destiny in their own hands and all they have to do is keep winning, something the schedule maker has made a doable task.

Somewhere quietly behind the scenes, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is smiling.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Rookie Center Jakob Poeltl Doesn’t Make Mistakes

By Frank McLean

On a team with deep playoff aspirations, rookies and young players in general often get nailed to the bench because they just make too many mistakes, but Raptors rookie center Jakob Poeltl may be one of the exceptions as he has cracked head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation post All-Star break.

“He’s always in the right place, very few mistakes, he’s very physical, he’s not afraid, he loves contact,” Casey said. “All those things add up, this is a physical game and he meets all those criteria.”

Back on draft night in June the Toronto Raptors had two picks in the first round. Their own and the ninth pick overall which they got from the New York Knicks in a deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to Broadway. However, with the Raptors coming off a season where they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history the thought was, what did they need with a draft pick? The need was for a veteran power forward to put them over the top.

With that ninth pick they found a seven foot center out of the University of Utah named Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl became an answer to a trivia question that night as he became the first Austrian born player in the history of the NBA.
The thought was Poeltl would be on the QEW highway shuttle between the Air Canada Centre and Mississauga playing most of his time with Jerry Stackhouse`s Raptors 905.

But with Jared Sullinger going down in the first preseason game with a foot injury Poeltl was able to get some minutes at the start of the season at power forward, but he eventually his lost his minutes to the Raptors other first round pick Pascal Siakam and found a spot on the bench.

Poeltl didn`t let it discourage him. He kept learning. It didn`t matter if he was on the bench, working extra reps in practice, or playing for the 905ers. He kept trying to get better.

It paid off this month with Poeltl taking Lucas Nogueira’s spot in the rotation and making a big contribution to team that is missing a big chunk of their offence without Kyle Lowry’s 23 points and seven assists a game.

Since the All-Star break, Poeltl has played in 11 games averaging 11 minutes, 2.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks and coach Dwane Casey has no issues bringing the rookie into the game.

“For me, just every time you put him in, he does something positive,” Casey was saying the other day at practice. “There’s that trust, not only with myself but with his teammates. He’s doing positive things. He plays with physicality. The only thing, and it’s not his fault, is cheap fouls, he gets a lot of cheap calls.”

Of course rookies in the NBA don`t get any love from the officials as the NBA is run like a feudal system where you have to earn your way up the respect ladder with the refs.

When you talk to Poeltl, playing the physical style of game that is demanded of professional basketball was the hardest thing to get adjusted to.

“Not now, not anymore, because I feel like I’m used to it already,” Poeltl said. “I’m still not the most physical player, but at least I’ve got adjusted to the new level of physicality in the NBA. But that was definitely a challenge to start the season, getting used to playing against bigger bodies and stronger guys.”

Poeltl has natural basketball instincts. His parents were athletes but roundball wasn`t their game, volleyball was.

“I don’t know,” Poeltl said. “I mean, I guess both my parents were athletes, I was always in love with sports in general, I was like playing around, playing basketball as a little kid. But it’s really just instincts. I don’t know where it’s coming from, I just feel comfortable out there and I feel like I know where I’m supposed to go.”

Regardless of where his natural instincts came from, the Raptors are just happy to have drafted him last June. His play of late has been a big help allowing the team to have a trusted back-up when Jonas Valanciunas needs a break.

Rookies don`t generally make an impact on a veteran playoff team, but this Austrian trailblazer has been the exception this month.

 

  

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson