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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

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.

This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.

San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.

On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.

“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.

As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”

What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.

“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.

On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.

“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”

What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.

The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

So what does the league do to stop this?

They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.

“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”

Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.

I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.

The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.

 

 

   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 & Delon Wright

The Raptors Will Be Relying More On Norman Powell

By Frank McLean

When Terrence Ross was traded to the Orlando Magic last week for Serge Ibaka one member of the Raptors stood to gain a lot more playing time and that’s second year guard Norman Powell.

Powell, whose rights were acquired by the Raptors on draft night in 2016 from the Milwaukee Bucks for Greivis Vasquez, has shown some spurts of brilliance in his year and a half with the Raptors. He has been a fan favorite and his two way play on the floor and hard work in practice is something head coach Dwane Casey loves and he will tell you that when asked.

He was factor in last year’s playoffs in the first two rounds against Indiana and Miami, but as a rookie he was not as successful against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was headed for their first ever championship.

This season during DeMar DeRozan absence due to his ankle injury he started and since DeRozan came back he has been a big cog in the fourth quarter providing impact off the bench like a fourth line player in hockey.


He’s only been averaging seven points and two rebounds a game, but in the last two games before the All-Star break with Terrance Ross gone he got to see a lot of time and he produced.

In 18-minutes against the Chicago Bulls he put up 13-points and the next night against the Charlotte Hornets he played 28-minutes and scored 17-points.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits that way Powell has been used it hasn’t made things easy for him.

“As a coaching staff, we put him in a tough situation. He starts one game and has a rhythm. He comes off the bench in the fourth quarter when we need him and it’s a different rhythm. That’s hard to do and it’s tough on him, but as I mentioned to the players, this is the NBA. You have a chance to do your job. If it’s two minutes, five minutes, the whole game, go in and do your job. And don’t forget what got you here. The dirty work, the grimy work. So whether it’s Norm or whoever is in that role has to remember that I got here by being a grinder, a tough defender at my position, and offensively do what comes naturally.”

Powell says it would be easy knowing what the rotation is going to be on a given night, but as the old saying goes, it is what it is.

“I think it would be easier knowing the rotations, knowing when you are going to go in, knowing when your name is going to be called, but it’s still the same thing for me. I have to go in there and produce and help on both sides of the ball, defense first. Take some of the workload off Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) when asked and just try to be productive in my minutes. That’s presented to me and I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity that I’m ready for.” 

Powell is happy for the opportunity to get more playing time, but he was close to Ross and this was a lesson that professional basketball is a business and sometimes you lose friends.

“I mean it’s crazy waking up and seeing not just your teammate, but a close friend of yours gone. Being here my first year and a half, I just wish him the best and thank him for everything we talked about and helping me along the way. All the best to him in his new situation. There’s an opportunity for him down in Orlando but, you know, he’s going to be missed.”

Powell’s opportunity almost vanished at the last second on trade deadline day when the team acquired the versatile defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, but before a game could be played, Kyle Lowry showed up with a sore wrist. A wrist injury that has now been determined will keep Lowry out of the lineup for a month or more. Minutes that supposedly had vanished were back on the table for the Raptors second year guards Delon Wright and Powell.

In the first three games after the All-Star break Powell has averaged 15.3 minutes, 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. It’s not the same role as he would have enjoyed if the team hadn’t of acquired Tucker, but it’s a role he likely gets to keep – for a while at least. Wright is averaging 13.7 minutes as the two young guards have been splitting the time the now starting Cory Joseph was playing off the bench.

Powell knows this is his opportunity to make a name for himself in the NBA and if the last five games are any indication, he’s not going to waste it.

 

 

   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 Terrence Ross

Raptors Give Terrence Ross A Fresh Start With The Magic

By Frank McLean

When the Toronto Raptors sent Terrence Ross and a first round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for big power forward Serge Ibaka, they gave their promising young wing a chance at a fresh start. An opportunity to realize his obvious potential without an All-Star standing in his way.

During my days covering the Toronto Blue Jays, the hall of fame general manager Pat Gillick would always tell us that you always have to give up something good to get something good back whenever you make a trade.

Ross in his five years in Toronto was definition of being a hot and cold player. A player Raptors head coach Dwane Casey put a lot of time and effort into developing and showed a lot of faith in despite the inconsistent results.

He is a 38-percent three point shooter lifetime and when he is good he is real good. Like the night a few years back when he scored 51-points against the Los Angeles Clippers tying the franchise record for points in a single game with Vince Carter.

Then there are nights when you watch him and he struggles. Nights when he couldn’t put a jump shot into Lake Ontario from the shore.

Struggling to become a consistent NBA player has been something that didn’t change during his five years in Toronto.

One of the reasons he wasn’t traded sooner by the Raptors was the fear that if he was moved the light might finally come on and the potential that was always there would come to fruition and Ross would become the All-Star he was projected to be.

“As you watch our team play, it’s no secret that sometimes we struggle to make shots, and I think his ability to do just that intrigues us,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said last week when acquiring Ross. “His age, his contract are all things that we feel are positives and strengths for us. As Terrence gets situated here, I think his ability to stretch the floor, his ability to score will help our team. I think it’ll help our team at both ends of the floor.”

Ross knows that the skill sets he brings to the table will  help the Magic.

“My shooting, my athleticism and defense. I think I can try to help with that when it comes to the wing position,” Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview last week. “I’m really just looking forward to playing with the guys, getting to know the team, getting to know the city, and just playing hard for them.”

“I had a great time in Toronto. I spent five good years there and grew a lot. The city accepted me and I have a lot of memories. But I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for Frank Vogel and play for the Magic and play for the city. I’m just excited about all this.”

Ross made his Magic debut Thursday night at home against the Portland Trail-Blazers where the Magic blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead in an eventual 112-103 loss.

It looked like Ross put the proverbial dagger in the Trail-Blazers when he hit a three pointer with 9:07 left in the fourth to give the Magic a 91-80 lead and then they imploded.

As Magic coach Frank Vogel told me in a conversation we had during the Magic’s recent visit to Toronto “we have to learn how to win” and that showed Thursday night.

Ross started and played 33 minutes, going 4-17 from the field for 13 points and 5 rebounds, so maybe Ross isn’t the one player the Magic need to put them over the top and make them a consistent playoff contender, but he is a start.

Then on Saturday night against the Hawks Ross played 35 minutes and shot 10-15 from the field for a game-high 24 points as the Magic won 105-86 as if to emphasize his potential.

Ross’ long term spot in the rotation hasn’t been decided yet. He may continue to start or he could come off the bench like he did with the Raptors, but one thing is sure Ross is getting a second chance with the Magic and he is going to make the most of it.

 

 

   

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 Jerry Stackhouse

Raptors 905 Coach Jerry Stackhouse Has Been An Instant Success

By Frank McLean

He’s only halfway through his first season as a head coach in professional basketball, but already Jerry Stackhouse is getting recognition for the job he has done with the NBA Development League (NBDL) Raptors 905.

After beating Canton 118-88, Stackhouse has the 905 sitting in first place in the Central Division with a 24-9 record, the second best in the league overall, just behind the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Defenders who are 26-8. So he got the honor of coaching the NBDL’s Eastern Conference All-Stars as part of the NBA All-Star festivities in New Orleans.

Coby Karl who is the head coach of the Defenders will be Western Conference coach, and if the surname sounds familiar it is. Coby is the son of legendary NBA coach George Karl who has over a thousand wins as an NBA bench boss.

After spending last year as an assistant on Dwane Casey’s staff with the big club over at the Air Canada Centre, Casey and team president Masai Ujiri thought he would perfect fit to replace Jesse Mermuys with the 905 who had taken a job as an assistant coach on Luke Walton’s Los Angeles Lakers staff.

Being a head coach in the NBDL presents a whole different set of dynamics than it does in the NBA, and Stackhouse has handled it with no problems.

You have a roster full of players who are trying to get to an NBA roster as well as having players sent down from the parent club who need minutes to develop which they can’t get on the NBA squad. When young players like Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright or veterans like Jared Sullinger on an injury rehab assignment are sent to Mississauga for playing time those non-Raptors players end up on the bench or not dressing for the game at all.

“He wants us to do every detail, to be perfect,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “Basketball is a game of mistakes and with him, (he wants) less. He works us very hard every day.”

“The 905 is like everybody is family. Everybody helps each other, the coach too.”

Balancing egos and keeping player agents happy are a big part of your job description. Fortunately, managing people is something Stackhouse is comfortable with.

“Managing people, managing the players, managing the different personalities not so much the basketball part of it is something I have been doing all my life and I feel comfortable with it,” Stackhouse said. “I think I’m a little bit father figure, little bit big brother. These guys are real young. Some of these guys I got they are kids aged 19-20. I’m a father figure to them but at the same time I have to forge a relationship with them so they can talk to me about things.”

One of the things Stackhouse and his coaching staff do every day at practice is run a drill where the coaches take on the players. At 41 Stackhouse is still in great shape and he will tell you he thinks he could still give some minutes in an NBA game if called upon. He can ball when he gets a chance to go one-on-one with his players.

But, Stackhouse will tell you his real joy is to get players to the NBA.

“It would be great to win the D-League championship, but my job is to try and help them (the players) get to the next level,” Stackhouse said. If we get 10 of these guys called up, man that would be the best thing to happen to me this season.”

Stackhouse earned his moment in the limelight at All-Star weekend as a coach and the work he has done so far has proved Casey and Ujiri right when they tapped him for the Raptors 905 job.

 

   

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.

 

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.

 

   

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

Raptors Kyle Lowry Carries A Heavy Load In Toronto

By Frank McLean

Okay Raptors fans who’s is averaging more minutes a game in the NBA this year than MVP candidates James Harden, Russell Westbrook and some guy named LeBron James. Would you believe Kyle Lowry?

At 37-minutes a game Lowry is leading the league with minutes played.  17-times this year he has logged 40-minutes or more in a game. He carries a heavy load in Toronto each and every night.

He has been the Raptors most consistent player because of his ability to log heavy minutes in a season where he has been one of the lucky ones to avoid extended stays on the injury list, which started in the summer league with Delon Wright and added Jared Sullinger in the preseason and more recently Patrick Patterson and his partner at guard DeMar DeRozan.

You wonder how Lowry is able to keep it up? Along with DeRozan he spent the summer with the USA Basketball winning the gold medal at the Olympics and had maybe a total of three weeks off before training camp rolled around for the current NBA season.

Lowry will tell you though he is enjoying every minute of it.

“I play basketball for a living. It’s very easy. It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun. At times you’re like I want to sleep in longer, but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon.”

Lowry and the Raptors have been enjoying something that the schedule doesn’t give you very often and that’s three days off before their next game. They also have games Tuesday and Wednesday before the team gets eight days off for the All-Star break.

Now Lowry along with DeRozan won’t get the full eight days off since they will be in New Orleans to play in the game, but with only four wins in their last 13-games, this break is needed.

But the problem for the Raptors is not just needing a rest. Their defence has disappeared and that showed in a Wednesday night loss in Minnesota.

Lowry as the leader of this team spoke Wednesday night about what needs to be done down the stretch to the playoffs because the defence has not been their consistently all year.

“Honestly, no it hasn’t,” Lowry said. “I think we had one good game where we shot 38 or 40% and we won the game. That’s one game this year. Other than that I just feel like we have to figure it out and it’s on everyone. It’s on myself to hold guys acceptable, it’s on DeMar to hold guys accountable, it’s on us to lead us. It starts with us. We got to both do it. Then DeMarre (Carroll) and (Jonas Valanciunas) and everyone else has to step up.

“Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something, we just have to figure it out ourselves. When I say something has got to give we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

Lowry has been ‘the man’ all season, averaging 23-points, five rebounds and seven assists. With DeRozan back from his ankle injury, the dynamic duo are averaging a combined 51-points a night.

This also Lowry’s contract year and a big payday of over $25-million a year will be coming his way.

He’s earned it. He has been the Raptors most reliable player all year.

 

 

  

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 L.A. Clippers Paul Pierce remembering the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce’s Last Hurrah In Boston Goes According To Script

By Frank McLean

Paul Pierce’s last hurrah on the court in Boston couldn’t have gone any better. It was like it went according to script, a special moment in a special career.

“It was really cool,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame in Toronto. “I don’t know what it meant to me, but that was as neat of a thing as I have been involved with that’s not playoffs. It was a fanbased, the way they received Paul was unbelievable.

“If you were a Boston fan yesterday you had one helluva day. The Celtics won, Paul Pierce makes the last shot and then New England wins (the Super Bowl). They had a good day yesterday.

“I look back on (the last play and) everyone got it. End of a game guys usually come down and jack shots, the game was over, but Austin (Rivers) came down, he knew to give it to Paul. Isaiah (Thomas) was guarding Paul, he knew to back up and give him a shot. It was like everyone kind of got it which is rare. Usually there’s that one guy with the ego that ruins the moment and it was funny, everyone got it. That was really nice.

“It was great to see what it’s like when you win something and do something in one city which I think more players should do more of. It’s really cool.

“I was a baseball White Socks fan and I stapled Dick Allen and George on the wall and they stayed there for years. They never left. Now you need Velcro.”

Excuse me a second if I sound like an old fart who thinks that things were better when he was younger than they are nowadays. I don’t think that way, but when it comes to professional sports in general I will make the argument it was better in the old days.

When I was a kid your sports heroes stayed with one team their whole career. If you were fan of a certain team like the Boston Celtics the Larry Bird’s the John Havlachek’s stayed with their team for their whole career. You just knew that when each season started your star guy was going to be in the lineup.

Paul Pierce who was drafted with the 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft never got to stay his whole career in Boston. He lasted 15-years with the green and white but then spent a year in Brooklyn and another year in Washington before playing the last two years with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers where he is going to hang it up after a stellar 19-year career at the end of the season.

On Sunday Pierce played his last game at TD Bank Garden where along with Rivers as coach he won his only NBA championship in 2008.

His best days are behind him. He has only got into 13-games this year averaging just four points and one rebound a game, but that didn’t matter to the Garden faithful who brought him to tears chanting “we want Paul” and his nickname “the truth”.

Rivers made the class move of putting Pierce in the starting lineup playing the first five minutes of the game. But with the fans still chanting for Pierce, Rivers put him back out there for the last 20-seconds of the game where took a pass from Doc’s kid Austin and hit a 28-foot three-pointer for the only points he would score in a game which the Clippers lost 107-102.

It was kind of like another Boston great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat in Fenway Park, but the difference here is Pierce was playing for the opposition.

“It’s a tough situation. You’ve been sitting for like the last two hours and then I had to come in there and get a shot,” Pierce said afterward. “But I’m glad I ended it that way. It was a lot of emotion running through. My teammates kind of felt it too. I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden. At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

“I never felt anything like this,” Pierce added. “I truly appreciate my time here. I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just — you really don’t know what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing.”

When asked about putting Pierce back into the game Rivers said, “I’m no dummy.

“So once I thought the game was in hand to Boston, we put him back in. And him making that shot just, that’s just, I don’t know what the heck that is.  That’s that only happens like here, or, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know who can sit that long and walk in on the floor and make a shot.”

Monday night the Clippers make their only appearance in Toronto this year and Pierce will not be hearing any cheers. It’s more likely he’ll be booed by the Raptors faithful.

In the 2013-14 playoffs in Brooklyn and the 2014-15 postseason in Washington he was the main factor why the Raptors were upset in the first round. His buzzer beating shots and his trash talking made him public enemy number one in the 416.

But when I think of Paul Pierce I think of him as a Celtic, not a Net, not a Wizard and not a Clipper. Too bad he never got a chance to play his whole career in Boston, but he did get a proper send off by the fans that a future Celtic hall of famer is deserved.

You see sports was better when we were kids.

 

 

  

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