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NBA Denver Nuggets, Team Canada and Kentucky Wildcats Jamal Murray

Nuggets Jamal Murray Is Representing “We The North” Well

By Frank McLean

“We the North” was a marketing slogan the Toronto Raptors adopted a few years ago to announce to the rest of the NBA that the only team not located in the United States of America was finally a legitimate contender and it gave its rabid fan base a rallying cry so to speak.

“We the North” could also be a rallying cry for basketball players born in Canada as each year more and more players with a Canadian birth certificate can be found on NBA rosters making major contributions to their team’s fortunes.

On opening night this year there were 12 Canadian born players on NBA rosters. The only country to have more native born players in the NBA is the United States.

The latest is Kitchener, Ontario’s Jamal Murray who after playing one year at the University of Kentucky for John Calapari is now with the Denver Nuggets where the hope he is the last key to make them a legitimate playoff team.

Being drafted by the Nuggets (seventh overall) Murray was the player they had circled that they wanted on draft night. “It’s a good feeling to know that you were being selected by a team that really wants you.”

Head coach Mike Malone is bringing him along slowly, giving him a chance to just relax and learn how to play in the NBA. Mainly because this is a guy the organization really wanted and he is not going to ruin him as a potential NBA player.

“We tell Jamal (this) all the time. Listen, whether you go out there and score 20, or you score zero, we still love you, we still believe in you and we know that at some point, you are going to do great things for this franchise,” Malone said recently about Murray. “What I love about Jamal, and it’s a big credit to his mom and dad, he’s a well-balanced kid and for a young kid, he’s very poised. He doesn’t get too low, he doesn’t get too high.

“He’s a young man, 19-years old and won’t be 20 until February. A lot of poise, a lot of confidence, shot-making ability, can get his own shot, but he’s more than just a shooter and scorer, he can play-make and rebound for his position as well.”

When you talk to Murray he is very soft spoken. Like a true Canadian, not a braggart not full of himself, but he is confident of his abilities.

“Don’t look at yourself as a rookie,” Murray said. “A basket is a basket, free throw is a free throw,” was his advice to himself. “You just have to go out there and shoot efficiently and not over-think it. At the end the day it’s just a game so you can’t put things in your head to give yourself excuses.”

“I worked for it to happen, I truly believed it would happen,” Murray added.

Murray says the one big difference between college and the NBA is that everything about the game is faster and that you have to adjust your reaction time because everything is happening at a faster pace.

He is getting 20 minutes a night and averaging almost 8 points game which is a good chunk of minutes for a rookie to get his feet wet in the NBA.

He is with one of the good young coaches in the NBA in Mike Malone. He was doing wonders in Sacramento and winning games with another Kentucky product named DeMarcus Cousins until ownership fired him because the wins weren’t exciting enough.

He will make a great mentor for Murray.

Murray is in a great place in Denver and he’s going to be all right, making the basketball community in “We The North” proud.

 

 

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

Jerry Stackhouse Takes His Next Step As A Coach With Raptors 905

By Frank McLean

After one year as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, NBA great Jerry Stackhouse has taken the next step in the journey to become a head coach in the NBA someday by heading over to Mississauga and taking over as the head coach of the NBDL Raptors 905 in their second season.

The opening at the head coach’s seat came available when Jesse Mermuys, who ran the team in its inaugural season, took a job with the Los Angeles Lakers to be on new head coach Luke Walton’s staff.

In a conversation I had recently with Stackhouse he said that Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and team President Masi Ujiri thought that this would be a great opportunity for him.

Stackhouse also picked the brain of another Raptors assistant Nick Nurse who spent six years coaching in the NBDL and he decided to go for it.

“It’s an opportunity to get some coaching reps,” Stackhouse said.  “I get a chance to teach these guys (players on the 905) a lot of what I know. I’m learning a lot of different scenarios. I’ve got the first seat and it’s a good experience for me.”

The roster of the 905 this year is going to be able to tap in to a guy who during an 18-year NBA career was a Raptors killer on the court.

His career started in 1995 with Philadelphia and had stops in Detroit, Washington, Dallas, Milwaukee, Miami, Atlanta and Brooklyn.

It’s in Brooklyn in 2012-13 where head coach Avery Johnson used Stackhouse as a player coach and he asked him to join his staff, but that fell through when the Nets decided to fire Johnson.

When I asked him about his coaching style, Stackhouse said he has learnt from all the great coaches he has played for. However, the first name he brings up is that of the late great North Carolina Tar Heel coach Dean Smith who he played for at that university.

“I try to coach the game similar to Smith,” Stackhouse said.

“Doug Collins is one of my favorites too,” Stackhouse added. “He was the best Xs-and-Os coaches I ever played for.”

Being a head coach in the NBDL is more than just coaching basketball and Stackhouse knows that. You are dealing with young players who were drafted by NBA teams and did not make it or were not drafted at all. You have a roster of players who still don’t want to give up the dream of playing in the NBA.

“I’m a little bit of a father figure and a little bit big brother. These guys are really young. Some of these guys, I’ve got kids their age 19-20. Myself, I’m a father figure and I want to forge a relationship with them so they can be open and talk about their game and their goals.”

And what goals does Stackhouse have for the upcoming season.

“My goals would be to win the D-League championship, but my (real) goal is to help the guys get to the next level. If we get 10 of these guys here right now called up to the NBA that would be the best thing that could happen to me this season.”

That in a nutshell is the purpose of the Raptors 905, to get players ready for the NBA.

Last year you saw players like Norman Powell and Delon Wright parlay their time in Mississauga into minutes with the big club downtown. Stackhouse knows that being on the Raptors coaching staff last season and he’s ready to get this year’s crop of 905ers ready for the big show.

 

 

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

Stuff Happens To The Raptors Powell, Siakam And Poeltl

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors they were hoping the Celtics free agent big man Jared Sullinger could fill the one hole they had in their starting line-up, but sometimes in sports, just like in life, circumstances play a big part into how your lot with a team is going to go. Like the T-shirt says, “Stuff Happens”.

In the case of four different players on the current Raptors roster the “stuff” that has happened since the start of the off season has affected them good and bad.

First you have to feel sorry for power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year six-million dollar contract in the summer in the hopes of parlaying that into a long term mega-deal as an unrestricted free agent next summer just like Bismack Biyombo did.

Sullinger and bad luck hit smack on in the Raptors first preseason game when he landed on the foot of one of his teammates and will be out of the line-up till around the All-Star break. However, bad luck for Sullinger has turned into an unexpected opportunity for rookie forward Pascal Siakam.

Drafted 27th overall in the first round out of New Mexico State the rookie is getting a chance to start games and bring an element of his game, speed.

“Speed is a great advantage to have,” Siakam said. “As a big man being able to run the floor I think a lot of big men don’t do that. The fact that I can do that on a consistent basis is great. I’m just trying to use all my advantages and be able to help my team win.”

As a result of Siakam’s success a major contributor from last season’s playoff run, Norman Powell, has become a forgotten man. Powell says he just has to keep working hard and earn head coach Dwane Casey’s trust.

“I trust Norm,” Casey said. “It’s not about trust. It’s about it being hard to play 11 or 12 guys. It’s not trust at all. Hell I trusted him in the first round of the playoffs last year as a rookie, so it’s not about trust.

“It’s just he has a guy like DeMar DeRozan in front of him on a hot streak and DeMarre Carroll who is our defensive guy who is healthy now so it’s a tough situation for him to be in. Then there’s Terrence (Ross) shooting the ball the way he is shooting, so he’s got a triple-headed monster he’s fighting against.”

Meanwhile at center the Raptors other first round pick Jakob Poeltl is getting a chance to play some quality minutes because the Raptors did not re-sign Bismack Biyombo this past summer.

This past Sunday he got a chance to start against Sacramento with Jonas Valanciunas out with a knee bruise. He got a quick lesson in how to deal with big centers in the NBA. In this case DeMarcus Cousins.

“It’s like every other game,” Poeltl said about the Sacramento game. “Learn from it, watch what we did, what we did wrong, and try and improve that. Obviously, it was far from a perfect game from us today and from me personally, too. So look at it and try to learn from it.”

As you can see circumstances have changed the complexion of the Toronto Raptors line-up and with the playoffs not until the middle of April you can be sure that more “stuff” will happen to change the line-up a few more times.

 

 

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 New York Knicks Derrick Rose

Don’t Be Fooled, The Knicks Are Still Struggling

By Frank McLean

Stop me if you have heard this before. The new NBA season is almost two weeks old and as the saying goes, “some things just stay the same”, the New York Knicks are still struggling.

Friday night the Knicks took a disappointing 1-3 record into Chicago where they took on a Bulls squad who had a 3-1 mark to start the campaign.

What made this a big early season match-up was the return to the Windy City of two former Bulls standouts, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Rose a Chicago native was acquired by trade in the off season where the Knicks parted ways with center Robin Lopez. Noah was signed to a $72 million free agent deal and neither player had been a factor heading into Chicago.

Noah was scoreless in two of the Knicks first four games of the season. He was brought in for defense, but was benched in this past Wednesday’s 19 point home loss to Houston.

Rose coming into Friday night’s game was averaging 15 points a game and shooting 47 per cent from the floor, but the knock against him is that he is not setting up his teammates. He only had 10 assists in their first four games.

“It sucks,” Rose said on Thursday of the 1-3 start. “I’ve been on teams where there’s a culture and we’re trying to build a defensive culture here and it takes time.”

“It’s us coming in with the right intensity and having the will to fight,” Noah contributed. “Obviously we have a lot of work to do. It’s not the end of the world. There’s a lot of talent on the team. We got to stay patient.”

“The defense has been taught and preached,” said Knicks new head coach Jeff Hornacek. “Sometimes it comes down to just taking it upon yourself to stop somebody and not look for help. We just can’t let the guy drive by and have two-step advantage and say: ‘Help me, help me.’ ”

The Knicks are desperate for help. They have given up at least 112 points in each of their three losses.

Hornacek also pointed out to the New York media on Thursday that he is not sure if the team is paying attention to the “scouting reports” they get on their opponents and also questioned their conditioning and if offensively the wrong players are asserting themselves.

Last season’s rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis is having a bit of an early sophomore slump. When opponents put a small line-up on the floor he is having a tough time defending smaller forwards who have quickness and speed.

Porzingis misses Lopez who was able to get the ball to the 7’3 forward. He went scoreless on Wednesday night which had Hornacek scratching his head. Why can’t his teammates get him the ball to exploit his size?

Guard Courtney Lee added his “two cents worth” with an idea as to why their defense stinks. He said it’s because they practice against triangle sets and not the pick-and-roll offenses most other clubs use.

Well you know in any discussion about the New York Knicks sooner or later the dreaded “triangle offense” would be brought out.

Two years ago Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan paid $60 million to Phil Jackson to turn this thing around. However, Jackson won his NBA titles with the Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers as a coach, not the General Manager which is his portfolio in Gotham.

He ran the “triangle offense” as a coach and he insists his coaches run it as well.

It worked for Jackson because he had Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to run it. It’s a scheme that does not seem to fit in 2016 because the game has changed, defenses are more complex.

However, Friday night in Chicago, the Knicks won 117-104 and their record is now 2-3.

Even though they pulled out a win, the Knicks are still 29th in the NBA for defensive efficiency and are giving up a brutal 109 points per game. They are also dead last at grabbing defensive boards pulling in just 70.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds. The median for defensive rebounding in the NBA is currently 77.9 percent. With just an average offense, this isn’t a formula for winning many games.

This team hasn’t made the playoffs in three seasons and Dolan doesn’t like to miss the extra revenue home playoff games at Madison Square Garden brings to his bank account. However, if Hornachek can’t get the Knick to defend, for the fourth straight year the Knicks will look like guaranteed win night when they show up on your schedule.

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

The Cavaliers Remain A Real Pain For The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

The NBA’s schedule maker has teased fans of the Toronto Raptors this year. The official opening of the 2016-17 season had the Raptors open the campaign at the Air Canada Centre with the Detroit Pistons and there was time when the Pistons would be a very compelling opening game, but not anymore!

Detroit was a surprising eighth seed in last year’s playoffs, but the roster they throw out on the floor now does not have a Prince or a Hamilton on it anymore. Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer weren’t coming out on the floor either.

To make matters worse the Pistons best player, Reggie Jackson, was out of the line-up with a knee injury and not expected back until sometime in December.

The next tilt on Friday night was the real opening night. The team the Raptors have to beat to make it to the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs made their first visit to the “SIX” since they knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference Finals in six games back in May.

In the last five months Cleveland has been a pain in the backside of Toronto sports fans. It used to be a city whose professional sports teams stunk and broke the hearts of their fans just like Toronto has experienced in recent decades.

In a matter of five months the Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors and won Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 NFL’s Browns did it in football. Then the Indians ended the Blue Jays dream of a World Series berth.

Toronto fans were ready Friday night and you could feel a buzz in the ACC like it was, oh I don’t know, opening night!

The Cavaliers did win a nail bitter, 94-91 and it was a defensive struggle that made an early October match-up look more like a playoff battle in May.

“Specifically on the defensive side, I thought we did exceptionally well,” Patrick Patterson said after the game. “Granted, they missed a bunch of shots, but I thought our communication, finishing plays with the rebound and just talking overall whether it was guarding our man or just help-side defence, I thought we did a pretty good job. Offensively, we just missed a bunch of shots we normally make.

“Defensive side of the ball, I think that is the only positive thing you can take away. Just our effort and our energy on that side.”

The Raptors did miss a few shots that if they made them maybe they would have gotten the “W”.

“Some of the same shots we missed, I know we’re going to make,” head coach Dwayne Casey said in his post-game comments. “There’s no consolation, they beat us. We’ve got to continue to believe in our offensive shots. Those are the same shots we’re going to make, but we have to take care of the ball. We can’t have 18 turnovers because it’s a jailbreak against that team.”

One big positive was DeMar DeRozan who had scored 40 points in the Pistons game and added 32 against the Cavaliers. His 72 point total for the first two games of the season is a new club record.

He averaged 23.5-points a game last season and is on pace to push that to an even higher average.

However one problem which has cropped up in the first two games of the season is three-point shooting where they have shot just 7-for-34.

A lot of that has to do with the extended absence of power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year free agent deal with the Raptors after spending the first four years of his career with the Boston Celtics.

Sullinger was supposed to fill the void of outside shooting, but he will not make his debut until February since he has a broken bone in his left foot suffered in the first preseason game of the year.

Sullinger should make a huge difference in the second half of the season and the playoffs for the Raptors.

However, it’s only two games down with another 80 to go before the playoffs begin and like last year, the 82-game regular season is just a glorified preseason schedule. Monday night’s game against the Nuggets should only serve to emphasize that fact.

This Raptors team has been built for a long playoff run, so don’t worry, time will fly, and April will come soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 


Raptors Draft Double-Double Machine Pascal Siakam 27th Overall

By Frank McLean

With all the hype of the Raptors having the ninth pick overall as a result of a deal with New York that saw GM Masai Ujiri dump Andrea Bargnani on the Knicks, it’s easy to forget still they had a first round draft pick of their own this year.

At 27th overall, Toronto took sophomore forward Pascal Siakam from New Mexico State University.

Siakam is a double-double machine and this past season he led all Division One schools with 27 and ranked in the top ten in rebounds. The native of Cameroon averaged 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks last season. He also received Honorable Mention All-American from Associated Press and was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the year.

His scouting report says he is very long, athletic and quick off the floor. He is a great rebounder and shot blocker with a range of 15-feet. Draft Express describes him as,

A 6’10” power forward with an imposing 7’3” wingspan, Siakam has several physical tools that give him a solid foundation as a draft prospect. In addition to his measurables, he has a motor that rarely stops along with great speed and agility to boot that allows him to move around the court with ease.

Siakim had a bit of a Canadian connection at New Mexico State. His coach Paul Wier was a point guard at York University in Toronto and was also head basketball coach at Don Bosco High School in Toronto.

The Raptors worked out Siakam in Buffalo, New York the same day they worked out Poeltl. Just like Poeltl, his visa could let enter Canada with no problems, but he would not be able to get back into the United States.

Siakam and Poeltl both have two years NCAA experience which gives them a chance to get minutes with the Raptors, but don’t be surprised if they end up with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga. However, as we saw with Norman Powell this past season, if you show you can play, Dwane Casey will give you a shot with the big club.

 

 

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.

 

 

 



 

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NBA Toronto Raptors Jakob Poetl

Raptors Get Their Man In Jakob Poeltl

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors got the guy they wanted in the NBA draft Thursday night. With the ninth pick in the first round they took a seven foot Austrian named Jakob Poeltl.

Pronounced (Ya-hib Pert-l) his name is going be a nightmare for radio and television sports casters, but at forward, he is what the team is looking for.

He has spent the last two years playing at the University of Utah, and in 2014-15 he was a teammate of current Raptors guard Delon Wright.

He is a power forward and center. In his two years playing in the Pac-12 Conference he averaged 13.3 points a game, eight rebounds and one assist.

This past season he was the winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award given to the top center in the NCAA.

In a conference call with the Toronto media, Wright gave Poeltl a glowing job reference and said he is a player.

“He was legit before he came to Utah,” Wright said. “When he came to Utah he could pick and roll. A lot of big guys can’t pick and roll hard, but he can hard and he’s got great hands.

“When he came to Utah he was learning English, but he could speak a little. He’s a guy that jokes around, a great teammate and a very hard worker.”

The hard work part is what you have to do stay on a Dwane Casey team. What impresses Casey is that he is schooled in the fundamentals.

When asked in Brooklyn at the draft about getting to play with Wright, Poeltl was excited to have a friend in already in the 416.

“I’m super stoked about that”, Poeltl said. “It’s so great to know that I’m already going to have somebody there that I know that’s my friend, and I talked to him a lot throughout this process and he’s told me only good things about Toronto. It’s like an unbelievable feeling right now.”

About being a Raptor Poeltl told Casey that he knew about the team and that he watched them in the playoffs. That was something that impressed Casey as well as his knowledge of the entire NBA.

“I’m so excited that the Toronto Raptors put their trust in me,” Poeltl added. “I think I can be a guy who’s out there always fighting, always trying to get better. I think I’m far from done being a player like I can improve a lot I feel like, and I hope I can help out this organization these next couple years. ”

“He is an excellent basketball player,” Casey said. “Fundamentally sound, he needs to get used to the NBA game, speed and quickness. His foot speed is quicker than JV’s (Jonas Valanciunas) was at his age.”

Casey and the Raptors front office saw that speed first hand on June 17th when they traveled down to Buffalo, New York to work him out.

Poeltl is in the United States on a student visa. There was no problem with him entering Canada, but he could not re-enter the United States, thus forcing the trip to the Chicken Wing capital of the USA.

In a year where there wasn’t one player that came out of college and jumps out at you as the first pick, the Raptors got a player at position, power forward, that they need.

It’s safe pick and he has the best chance of not failing at the NBA level where some scouts fear that Ben Simmons and Buddy Hield could end up as big time flops.

Casey did confirm that GM Masai Ujiri was working the phones all day trying to move up in the draft, but as it worked out, they got their guy when the it came time to make their choice at number nine.

Poeltl also plays center, so with the possible departure of Bismack Biyombo, he could fill a void there as well.

This pick could turn out to be a quiet steal and another feather in the cap of GM Masai Ujiri.

 

 

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 New York Knicks Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose, What In The World Are The Knicks Thinking?

By Frank McLean

One day before the NBA draft the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls hooked up for the first big trade of the offseason.

The Knicks sent centre Robin Lopez, guards Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant to Chicago and in return, the Bulls sent guard Justin Holiday, the second pick in the 2017 draft and the big ticket item in the deal point guard Derrick Rose to New York.

Rose at 27 years of age is a former MVP and has one year left on his current contract at $21.3 million, but the knock on him is that he has a bad jump shot, can’t attack the hoop (any more) and does not play defense.

Oh and let’s not forget one important thing… He has a lingering bad knee.

When you look at the deal from the outside, this is just the latest dumb trade where the Knicks pickup another player who has bad wheels like Carmelo Anthony.

Rose first hurt his knee in the 2011-2012 season and when he came back, he had lost the speed he had when he came into the league.

The knee made him sit out the entire 2012-2013 season, play only 10 games in 2013-2014 and just a little more than half the games in 2014-2015, but at least this past season he was actually healthy enough to play in 66 of the Bulls 82 games.

For someone who the Bulls picked first overall in the 2008 draft, was the NBA rookie of the year and the 2010-2011 NBA MVP, the knee injury has made him a mere mortal.

In the first four years of his career he averaged 21 points and played in 89.4 percent of the Bulls games. Since then he has only averaged 16.9 points and only been able to suit up 38.7 percent of the time.

So when you look at his medical history you go great, he can’t stay healthy, hasn’t played a full season in over five years and if he gets hurt again and with Carmelo Anthony’s knee forcing him to miss time when the Knicks have to play on back-to-back nights, well this why this team keeps struggling.

This is a huge one-year gamble for Phil Jackson, and speaking of Jackson, he seems to be going against what he has said in the past.

First he wanted a coach who would worship his triangle offense. Then he hired Jeff Hornacek as his head coach. In the past Jackson has constantly told the media “I don’t need a point guard” – now he trades for Rose.

You wonder if someone other than Jackson is making these decisions? Like maybe Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan who thinks he is a basketball expert and the main reason the Knicks have stunk for the last 10 years or so.

The Knicks desperately want to make the playoffs this season. If this doesn’t work, they will be lucky to win 20 games.

However, there is an upside to this deal. The Knicks want to be a huge player in free agency next summer and getting the last three years of Lopez’s contract off the books, as well as Calderon and Grant, could leave them with just three players under contract and just $35 million in salaries when the salary cap is expected to be close to $110 million.

This future flexibility assumes Jackson (or Dolan) doesn’t wipe it out by signing guys (with issues) like Dwight Howard to a max deal this summer or maybe Rose’s former teammate and friend Joakim Noah who is coming back from injury.

Meanwhile over in Chicago the Bulls who finished ninth in the East and were supposed to be a major playoff player this year are shaking things up.

When Rose heard he was going to be shopped around in a trade he wanted to go to New York City. Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Wednesday the club was eager to add Lopez, who he said adds “toughness” to the Bulls roster.

“As we said at the end of last season, we are committed to exploring every option to improve this team,” Forman said. “This trade is a significant step in that process. Our goal is to get younger and more athletic, and this trade moves us in that direction and allows us to start changing the structure of our team. In Robin Lopez, we are acquiring a starting center who is a good defender, good rebounder, and brings a toughness to our team. Jose Calderon is a proven veteran who can run an offense and knock down threes. Jerian Grant was high on our draft board last year as someone with a great skill set and positional size. All three players are great teammates and have tremendous work ethic, and we are excited to welcome them to the Chicago Bulls organization.”

Forman’s comment about work ethic is the key phrase here, when I talked to members of the Chicago media who cover the Bulls they all said to man that work ethic was something the Bulls did not have.

So in a nut shell this a great deal for a Bulls team who are trying to rebuild and bring some much needed character to a roster that had none. In New York, this is another deal where it looks like the Knicks are trying to put together a fantasy league roster instead one that can win in the NBA.

Editor’s Note:

Rose is also mired in a sex scandal set to go to trial when the NBA preseason starts in October as reported in the NY Daily News.

The Knicks aren’t just getting a perpetually injured former NBA MVP in the blockbuster deal that will bring Derrick Rose to New York − they are also getting yet another player mired in scandal.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald scheduled the trial for Oct. 4 − the same day the NBA’s preseason begins.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 



 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

LeBron James Promise To Cleveland Becomes A Reality

By Frank McLean

Back in 2010 LeBron James was considered “persona non grata” in Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio. He had made the dumbest decision in his life by holding his own one hour television special on ESPN called “THE DECISION” where he told the world that as a free agent he was taking his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.

Two years ago he came home with the mission to bring a professional sporting championship to Cleveland. A city which last had a championship winner in the original Cleveland Browns who won an NFL championship in 1964, which was so long ago this Championship was three years before the merger with the AFL created the Super Bowl.

In sporting terms, this was the “stone age”.

Down three games to one in this year’s NBA Finals James literally willed his team to the title.

He scored 41 points in Games Five and Six, and in Sunday night’s clincher he pulled off a triple double of 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

In no uncertain terms he pulled a Michael Jordan, he refused to lose. As a result he also won the Finals MVP for a third time.

He fulfilled his promise to the people of Cleveland that he made in a letter published two years ago in Sports Illustrated. He came home to win a championship. He had said it would be “hard to deliver and would be a long process.”

Oh yes, it was a long two years.

James has been accused of being the team’s real General Manager. When the Cavaliers fired their head coach of a year and a half David Blatt midway through the season after they had already acquired 31 wins, it looked like James had his hands all over the change at the time. However, Blatt’s replacement Tyrone Lue proved that he was running the show in an incident when James tried to take over the huddle during a timeout in a game and Lue supposedly said “shut the bleep up.”

So I think the notion he was running the show was a little out of line.

The thing that amazes me about James is that when things go wrong for the teams he has played for, Cavaliers or Heat, he gets the blame for it even though he is putting up the numbers.

During this year’s Finals James was taking flack for being just 2-4 in previous NBA Finals and after the Cavaliers had lost the first two games of the series, the fact he was headed towards a 2-5 mark was being used to blame him for previous teams’ failures.

One person in the NBA who can’t understand this is current Warriors executive Jerry West. West in his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers was 1-8 in the Finals, always losing to the Boston Celtics.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him, honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West said in interview during the Finals to ESPN. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year. He wins. For people to criticize him, I think that’s why he really resonates.”

And that in a nutshell is why the Cavaliers are the champions today.

The four years James was in Miami, the Cavaliers were a pitifully bad Lottery team, with him they are champions.

James fulfilled his promise to make the city of Cleveland a winner again. He also proved that maybe he is really the MVP of the league and the best player in the game.

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Improbable Raptors Have Beat The Cavs And The Referees

By Frank McLean

What was considered improbable five days ago has happened, the Toronto Raptors have tied their Eastern Conference Final with the Cleveland Cavaliers at two games apiece.

The two wins the Raptors pulled off at home in the looney bin known as the Air Canada Centre has shown once again the resilience of these players that started in training camp in October and has extended to the first four games of what is turning into an epic Eastern Conference Final.

The fact that the Raptors in the last two games have not only had to play the Cleveland Cavaliers but the National Basketball Association referees and the feudal system that they operate on makes it even more amazing.

We take you back to the fourth quarter of Game Three Saturday night when the Raptors did not go to the free throw line once in the entire fourth quarter.

Afterwards in his postgame comments Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made it known three times that officials need to be consistent in their calls and he couldn’t understand how a team could not go to foul line for an entire quarter.

As a result of his comments the league fined Casey $25,000 for expressing an opinion that was not appreciated.

So what happens in the first half of Game Four?

The Cavaliers did not get whistled for a personal foul in the entire first quarter and they did not get a personal foul called against them until four minutes or so into the second quarter. The Raptors did not get to attempt a free throw in the entire first half, which going back to the fourth quarter of Game Three, meant they went three straight quarters without seeing the free throw line.

This is the way the NBA game officials operate. As far as I’m concerned the crew led by Monty McCutchen was sending a message to stop the bitching and that we can fix you.

Now I’m not saying they were trying to fix the game in Cleveland’s favor, but what I’m saying is that from what I have seen in the 21 years covering the league is that these guys – if they don’t like you – will try and to use their influence to effect the outcome of the game.

Let’s be honest here, if you think any team in the NBA, no matter what their won-loss record, can go three quarters without fouling anyone, then you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Now things got better in the second half, as the Raptors shot 14-19 from the free throw line, but it was the best scoring night ever from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combining for 67 points that meant the old Raptors are back.

What also has helped is that the Cavaliers three-point shooting has come back down to earth. In Games Three and Four, they were a combined 27-82 behind the arc.

Also Kevin Love’s disappearance, going 5-23 in Games Three and Four, and not playing in the fourth quarter Monday either because he was hurt from stepping on a referee’s foot or because he has just stunk for someone on a $100 million contract?

Regardless of what has been thrown at them, the Raptors have taken advantage of Cleveland’s mistakes they have used it to win two games in a row.

However, Cleveland still has the home court advantage, so the Raptors have to win a game in Northeast Ohio and they haven’t won a game in Quicken Loans Arena this season.

Which means that they probably have to do it Wednesday night and they will likely have to do it against both the Cavaliers and the NBA’s inconsistent officiating.

 

 

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 Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Bismack Biyombo Wags His Finger At The Doubters

By Frank McLean

Back on July 19th after most of the big names that were available in free agency were signed, the Toronto Raptors quietly announced they had signed free agent center Bismack Biyombo who had been with the Charlotte Hornets.

It was a two year deal with the second year being a player option.

Saturday night with Raptors down two games to none and coming home to the Air Canada Centre looking to find something to get them going against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Final, Biyombo put on arguably the best single game performance in Raptors playoff history, grabbing 26 rebounds and blocking 4 shots in the 99-84 win.

The energy he created on the floor was contagious. It carried over to his teammates and into the overflow crowd of 20,207 in the arena. Not to mention the Dekembe Mutombo finger wags after he blocks a shot or the Usain Bolt poise after a monster slam dunk.

He extended a giant wagging finger to the Cavaliers, to the rest of the United States and especially to ESPN who didn’t want the Toronto Canada based Raptors in these Eastern Conference Finals.

Where would the Raptors be without him this year?

Backing up Jonas Valanciunas in the middle, Biyombo has had to twice take over the starting role this season and the Raptors did not miss a beat.

Back on November 20th in Los Angeles against the Lakers Valanciunas broke his left hand and then missed the next 18 games. Biyombo embraced the starting role and the team went 12-6 over that 18 game span. He set what was then a career high 20 rebounds in a game against the Dallas Mavericks and then broke that mark with a 25 rebound game against the Indiana Pacers in March.

Then in Game Three of their Conference Semi-Final against the Heat Valanciunas suffered a badly sprained ankle and has been out ever since. Cue Biyombo who has grabbed the starting job and has filled in admirably in the big man from Lithuania.

As far as I’m concerned Biyombo’s 26 rebound performance ranks right up there with Vince Carter’s 50 point game the 2001 Conference Semi-finals with the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the 2001 series the Raptors had split the first two games in Philadelphia winning Game One, but in Game Two Allen Iverson dropped 54 points to send the series back to Toronto even.

In Game Three Carter responded scoring 50 points himself and setting a Raptors record for points in a playoff game, a record which still stands today, and briefly giving the Raptors control of the series.

“He was huge,” head coach Dwane Casey said about Biyombo’s Game Three performance. “He played a big time game. He’s the spirit of our team. He made sure to take care of his job.”

Patrick Patterson feels that the whole team just feeds off his energy.

“From Biz, every single possession, whether it’s him grabbing a rebound or even at the free throw line. No matter what he does, when Biz is out there, you can feel the energy he is giving off and it rubs off on all of us.”

Casey has went as far to compare him to Dennis Rodman, minus the dyed hair and body rings.

“I appreciate it,” Biyombo said humbly about the comparison. “But at the end of the day I’m Bismack Biyombo and Dennis Rodman is Dennis Rodman.”

Word is that Jonas Valanciunas is now being listed as a game time decision for Game Four and if JV can get out on the floor it would give back to the Raptors the two headed monster at center that has been very successful this year.

If he can’t play, Biyombo will be ready to start again and try and lift the team to tie the series.

One thing for sure, the Raptors would not have won 56 games in the regular season without 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.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

No Sweep For You Cleveland Cavaliers

By Frank McLean

Down two games to nothing to the Cleveland Cavaliers and with seemingly the whole world against them, ok maybe the entire basketball media in the United States was still pissed that they did not an Eastern Conference Final with their god Lebron James against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors came home and pulled a win out of their hat with maybe their best performance of the playoffs 99-84.

The Raptors are now 7-2 at home in these playoffs. It’s where they have played their best basketball in these playoffs.

“Specifically, our guys have performed better, with more confidence, for whatever reason, a little bit more juice”, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was saying before the game. “I’ve never put a number on it, but I just feel like just reaction time, enthusiasm, whatever it is, it just seems to be more here, especially in the playoffs. I think we perform much better here at home.”

Led by Bismack Biyombo’s all-time Raptors record of 26 rebounds and DeMar DeRozan’s 32 points, the Raptors hustled all over the floor with the ball and without it.

They have grabbed a little of the momentum back in this series. They also stopped the Cavaliers attempt at going for a perfect 16-0 record to win a championship.

The Cavaliers sweeping Detroit and Atlanta and winning the first two in this one were just one win away from tying the 1989 and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers who won their first 11 games to start the post season.

BUT… and there is a big but, the lack of consistency that comes from the NBA game officials reared its ugly head in this game. Saturday’s crew was headed by veteran Ken Mauer, along with Marc Davis and Pat Fraher who also have been in the league a long time as well.

It seems like they have been told to focus on Kyle Lowry. Lowry had two quick ticky-tac fouls assessed to him in the first quarter, then in the second he is given a foul which everyone saw was committed by Terrance Ross thus taking Lowry out of the game for pretty much the whole first half.

The amazing part is that Lowry was still able to put up 20 points playing only 32 minutes in the game.

It seemed like the referees wanted to decide the game themselves rather than let the two teams do it.

“I just know our guys are resilient,” Casey after the game. “They’re playing through a lot, playing through a lot of physicality, getting hit and fouled. We shot zero free throws in the fourth quarter, zero. That’s frustrating, but our guys played through it, so that shows a sense of toughness, a sense of togetherness. People have written us off all year.”

Three different times in his postgame comments Casey made sure to say that we have the best officials in the world and it’s a tough game to officiate, but we have to have consistency in the calling of the game.

You can tell right there that Casey was trying to plant a subliminal message to the three officials who the league will assign to work Monday night’s fourth game. The NBA head office took notice, so, not surprisingly, Casey received a $25,000 fine for sending that message and he won’t know if it paid off until after Game Four.

What irks many players, coaches, the media and fans is the way NBA referees operate in their own feudal system in the way they treat star players compared to the peasants who fill out the rest of the roster.

LeBron James did not get called for a single personal foul in the first half. You can’t tell me or anyone watching that James did not commit a foul in the first half, but that’s the way it is in the NBA and it’s been like that for years. James didn’t even get fined for the Flop Heard Around the World when he flew backwards like he’d been shot when he thought DeMarre Carroll had hit him. It was his own player who lightly touched his face by accident and James tried to sell the call as if he’d been slugged.

The Raptors have made sure this Eastern Conference Finals will not be a four game sweep and they will be heading back to Cleveland for Game Five Wednesday night. We’ll know after Monday’s fourth game if the series will be tied 2-2 or if the Cavaliers will have the hammer coming home up 3-1.

One thing for sure, in Game Three the Raptors showed they were the team that deserved to be here, sticking it to everybody else who really didn’t want them to go this far in the playoffs.

 

 

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 Showing Frustration For The First Time

By Frank McLean

I was not in the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night to see the second game of this Eastern Conference Final. I watched it from the comfort of home, but I didn’t need to be in Cleveland live to see for myself that for the first time this year that dreaded F word coaches hate use “Frustration” is showing in the Toronto Raptors.

That will happen to team who had 56 wins in the regular season and had not lost two games in row since March 23rd and 25th. This team has had more highs than lows this year.

The Raptors had been consistent all season. In fact, it’s something that head coach Dwane Casey preaches so much that team is probably sick of hearing it.

“If you are consistent you don’t have these highs and lows,” Casey said in Cleveland prior to Game Two.

“If you get emotionally high and emotionally low, you are never going to be successful in this league. You got to have consistent emotional approach and a consistent physical approach. I think that plays into us bouncing back throughout the year.”

However, human nature being such, when you have constant success and every time things start to go wrong you able to figure it out, and then suddenly everything you try doesn’t work, that dreaded “Frustration” can show up.

That’s what you see in the Raptors after two spankings in Cleveland and the player showing it the worst is point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry’s playoff statistics are like looking at a heart beats on an EKG graph. When Lowry can score 20 or more points in game, and he has only done it in five of their 16 playoff games, the Raptors are 4-1. Seven times he has scored 12 or fewer points in these playoffs.

Lowry is starting to show it in front of the world. With 2:30 left in the second quarter in Game Two, and score tied 46 all, he headed for the locker room. He said wasn’t hurt after the game, he just needed to decompress.

While he was in the room the Cavaliers went on a 12-2 run to close the first half.

It wasn’t just Lowry who stood out, the body language of the whole team as they headed into the locker room at half-time looked like the victims of a drive by shooting. The Cavaliers offensive power can make you look like that.

“You may be seeing something I don’t see,” Casey said after the game. “I don’t see quit. They beat us two games, but I don’t it’s not over yet.”

Casey is right the series is not over. The job of Casey and the rest of his coaching staff is to not yell and scream at their players, because it’s not their fault the Cavaliers are the better team. What they have to do is their best job of convincing them that it’s us against the world. The Raptors aren’t that bad. Counting the playoffs, they have won 64 basketball games this year, and in the regular season they did beat Cleveland in two out of three times (both times in Toronto).

But in reality, this is how a team becomes playoff tested, getting beat by a team that was expected to be in the NBA Finals. When this series is over, the Raptors will know what it will take to contend for a championship in the future.

Being around this team like I have all year I expect them to come out flying at home in Game Three trying to win one for the home fans, but the frustration is starting to show. It’s only human nature when you finally run into an opponent who is better than you and you can’t find anything to stop them.

 

 

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

 

 

 


Cavs LeBron James

Cavs LeBron James Has Raised The Bar In The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

What did we learn from the Raptors 31 point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final? The Cavs have raised the bar and are way up there.

The Toronto Raptors have raised the bar too. They finally made it to the final four of the playoffs, but their bar has a ways to go to reach height of where the Cavaliers have placed it.

When you watched the game Tuesday night, live in the Quicken Loans Arena, or in your living room on your big flat screen TV, you saw the Cavaliers have something every NBA team wants and that’s an elite player that puts you over the top like LeBron James.

Elite players like James are guys that make you a championship contender. As far as I’m concerned there are only three of them in the league right now, James, the current MVP Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

James only had to play 28 minutes, but that’s all he had to play to make a statement and guarantee a victory.

He was a perfect 7-7 from the field in the first half, finishing the game 11- 13 for 24 points and six boards, but it’s what he does running the offense that’s most impressive. He is his team’s best facilitator, setting up teammates and putting them in the right spot where they can be successful. He is not just a guy who hits jumps shots and can drive to the hoop.

Ball movement is the key to how the Cavaliers run their offense says their head coach Tyrone Lue.

“This year we are just trusting the pass more, more ball movement, more pace. This year we understand who we are as a team. Who we want to play through, who we want to go through and I think it has made it easier for the guys.”

Having a healthy roster also makes it easier for James.

In last year’s NBA Finals James was missing his big man Kevin Love who had his left shoulder dislocated by Kelly Olynyk in their first round match-up with the Boston Celtics. Love is a double-double machine, always in that 19 point 12 rebound neighborhood, like he was in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

He also sets Kyrie Irving up to make those big three point shots which are usually daggers in the hearts of their opponents.

Without Love and James trying to do everything, the Cavs fell to a Warriors team which many felt if the Cavaliers were healthy they could have beaten.

You have seen the determination in his eyes if you watched any of the Cavaliers games in the first two rounds. James has unfinished business to take care off. He came back to his native Ohio to bring Cleveland a championship, a city in which none of its teams has won anything since Jim Brown led the Browns to an NFL title in 1964.

You know he won’t admit it, but Dwane Casey while standing on the sideline and watching his team get their butt kicked had to be wondering what life would be like if he had James on his team.

“On the top of my head, when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be right there at the top,” Casey said about James.

“I don’t know if fans appreciate what they see with James. I think we take some of it for granted like we did with Kobe (Bryant) and when I was coaching against Michael (Jordan). We did (with) Michael. It’s going to be the same thing.”

The Raptors have had a great season, the best in their 21 year history and that cannot be taken away, but in order to win a championship in this modern day NBA you need to have an elite player. The Cavaliers have that elite player which is why the city of Cleveland, Ohio might finally get the championship that the Indians and Browns have failed to provide.

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Are You Ready To Believe In Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey Now?

By Frank McLean

With the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, are you ready to believe now?

So how did this happen? How did the Raptors finally go from pretender to contender?
It was one man, Dwane Casey.

“I still don’t think he gets a lot of the credit that he (Casey) deserves,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround in Cleveland. “He stuck to everything since day one. Casey hasn’t changed one bit. When you have a coach like that (who) sticks to what he thinks is right, it gets you here years later.”

What a difference 15 years makes.

Unlike game seven of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semi-Final in Philadelphia, no one on the Raptors had to attend their college graduation ceremony on the morning of what was then the biggest game in franchise history.

The seventh game 15 years later in Toronto with a different opponent, the Miami Heat, had no drama off the court. All of it was on the court and that’s what it should have been.

But who saw this happening, a fourth quarter blow out win which finally sees the 21-year old franchise making it to the conference finals and just four wins away from a shot at their first appearance in a championship final.

Maybe that’s getting a little carried away, but it’s a fact the Raptors are just four more wins away from a chance to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. The words Toronto Raptors and NBA Champions have never been used together without people rolling on the floor with laughter.

Sunday’s 116-89 win finally moved this franchise from Canada from the punch line of a bad joke to a legitimate NBA contender. They made the final four and in the United States the way they look at sports no one takes you seriously until you are one of the final four teams standing. And with the NBA being a United States based league having just one team in another country, making the final four is the only way Canada is going to get any attention.

When Casey was brought to Toronto by former President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo in 2011 he was fresh from winning an NBA Championship as an assistant coach for Rick Carlisle’s Dallas Mavericks. He brought 16 years of NBA coaching experience with him including a year and a half as the head man in Minnesota. He knew the ingredient that makes you a contender in the NBA is defense first.

He also brought the patience to never deviate from the program and a belief in the players on his roster.

It showed right from the beginning of the playoffs against Indiana with the struggles of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The shooting woes of the two Raptors guards was so well documented that a whole forest of trees was cut down to supply enough newsprint for sportswriters to write that these guys have to go.

Lowry was in the slumps of all slumps, he couldn’t make a basket and DeRozan well he just isn’t a playoff performer and if the Raptors sign him to max contract the person who does that should be fired or so said Toronto’s media naysayers.

Then duo combined for 63 of the Raptors 116 points in the Game Seven win over Miami. The winning formula for a Raptors has been, if the duo combine for 40 or more points, the Raptors win. “Empty the clip,” as Lowry explained earlier.

Every time you asked Casey about Lowry and DeRozan he would tell you that he never doubted they would get out of their funk and that “players like them don’t forget how to score, it’s like riding a bike you don’t forget how to do it.”

Casey will not sit on his laurels though and in his postgame comments Sunday he is still keeping his eye on the prize so to speak.

“I’m not a sentimental person,” Casey said. “For this program, from where we were to where we are, it’s important. We did what we set out to do. Again, we’re not done yet. I know what it’s like to win a championship and I’m not saying we can do that, but I think this group is hungry and never, say never. I know one thing our guys will compete and that’s all you can ask at this time, play hard, lay it all on the line for 48 minutes, no matter who is out there.

“Personally, it’s rewarding to see for our coaching staff, but we still have a series to go in the Eastern Conference.”

Also kudos have to go with current Raptors basketball head Masai Ujiri who could have let Casey go when he came on board. It’s the right of any new boss in sports to come in and bring in their own people. He didn’t and that’s a credit to Ujiri who saw that he already had his man to run the bench.

But like Casey said it’s not over yet, the next chapter is the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The pundits have this being another Cavaliers four game sweep and yes with this Raptors team being battered and bruised and missing their big man in middle Jonas Valanciunas, it’s going to be a lot tougher to go up against LeBron James.

The Cavaliers are on mission, they have unfinished business against the Golden State Warriors.

However, coach Casey will have his team ready to play with their usual defense first game plan and I wouldn’t bet on a four game Cleveland sweep.

Not with Dwane Casey running the show.

 

 

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

Game 7 Is The New Biggest Game In Raptors History

By Frank McLean

For the second time in this 2016 playoff run and for the third time in the last three years the Toronto Raptors will host a Game Seven, but this time it really is the biggest game in Raptors history as a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals hangs in the balance. You should be there if you can get tickets or at least head down to Jurassic Park!

For the third time in the last three seasons, the Raptors failed to win a Game Six and eliminate the need for the 50/50 crap-shoot that a seventh and deciding game of a playoff series can bring. They are now zero and seven when they go into a playoff game leading in a series after the Game Six loss Friday night.

The defense was not there Friday night for the Raptors. It was the first time in the series that the Heat were able to put 100 plus up on the board without overtime.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, in what could be called an act of desperation to avoid elimination, went with a small eight man rotation. Josh McRoberts was the tallest at 6’10, while the other seven players average height was just under 6’6.

It was another adjustment in a series of one coaching adjustment after another that worked for Spoelstra. His small line-up worked as the Raptors defense could not stop them, especially guard Goran Dragic.

Toronto held Dwyane Wade to 22 points and when you keep Wade to around 20 points, you usually have a chance to win, but Dragic went off for 30 points, a career best in the playoffs, which turned out to be the magic formula to get the Heat to a Game Seven.

“Last year at this time we were all on vacation,” Spoelstra said. “So often in this business people tend to want to search for the easy route. There’s usually not an easy way in a seven-game series, certainly not with a second and third seed going against each other. This is the path and now we’ve pushed it to a Game Seven.”

To be honest if you thought the Heat with their championship pedigree would allow themselves to be eliminated at home you obviously have not watched this team in playoffs over the last five to seven years. Even without LeBron James, there are too many proud veterans like Wade that would not allow that to happen.

Overmatched is the one word that can describe what the small Heat attack against the Raptors D.

“Offense was not the issue,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey after the game. “We needed to get stops. The defensive end was our nemesis tonight.”

DeMar DeRozan, with a shoelace on his thumb, and Kyle Lowry combined for 58 points, however, the rest of the gang could only add another 32, but even at that, if they could have made a few stops, there would have been no need for a Game Seven.

“Ball containment, keeping it in front of us,” Casey added about the team’s defensive problems. “Dictating direction in terms of which way we wanted to send the basketball. They dictated to us how fast they wanted to play. They set the tone from the tip. I don’t think anyone had a good night defensively.”

“It is just our one-on-one defense,” DeRozan summed up what the Raptors need to do in Sunday’s game seven. “We have to buckle down and not rely on help so much. Everyone has to man up and do their job.”

Winning 56 games in the regular season gave the Raptors the second seed in the East and home court advantage in this best of seven series. It’s the reward for all the hard work they put in since opening night at the end of October.

With Hassan Whiteside’s knee and Luol Deng’s wrist injury, the Heat are down to just eight small players and lost a chunk of their height in their roster.

Two things Toronto needs to do Sunday in Game Seven are make some stops on the defensive end, and one more game of 40 points plus from the duo of DeRozan and Lowry. That should be enough to send the Raptors to Cleveland Tuesday night and uncharted territory – the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

 

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

 

 

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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Won Because DeMar DeRozan Played Hurt

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors won game five of their series with the Miami Heat Wednesday night the old fashioned Raptors way, DeMar DeRozan was shooting the basketball and it was going in the hoop.

It sounds simplistic, but when DeRozan and his partner in crime at the guard position Kyle Lowry combine to score 40 or more points in game, the Raptors usually win. It’s one of the few givens in life like death and taxes.

However, the duo has struggled this postseason. Lowry has been in the worst shooting slump of his career and DeRozan has as well, but in Game Five against the Heat, DeRozan was 11-22 from the field and a perfect 11-11 from the foul line for his playoff best game of 34 points. Lowry attempted 25 shots from the field, made nine, but was 4-9 from behind the three point line and chipped in with a solid 25 points. Added together, they combined for 59 of the Raptors 99 points on the night.

Lowry had his best game of the playoffs in this series back on Saturday in Game Three with a 33 point performance, but he and DeRozan have not been completely in sync in the same playoff game for the whole postseason. That is something the Raptors and their fans have been waiting for.

“We can disparage them all we want and talk about how bad their shooting is, but you don’t forget how to score the basketball,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s going to come back. When? You hope it’s within this series, but it’s going to come back. We have faith in those guys. They carried us the entire season and not one-time did we doubt their ability to score the basketball.

“And now they have to ramp it up again for the next game.”

DeRozan has taken a beating in the press and on social media over his lack of performance in the playoffs. He can opt out of his contract at the end of the season and go for a max deal in the neighborhood of $20-25-million per season. One Toronto sports writer actually said on Wednesday that if the Raptors did sign DeRozan to a max deal that person should be fired.

DeRozan’s performance in Game Five was a gigantic “stick it” to his detractors.

The fact is he played the game hurt, the thumb on his shooting hand is hurting and hurting bad. He played through the pain. Many stars have sat out with less pain and just shut it down.

In the fourth quarter DeRozan re-injured his thumb and made a bee line to the locker room. He was followed by the Raptors Director of Sports Science Alex McKechnie. The cagey Scotsman did his best MacGyver imitation by using a shoelace on DeRozan’s thumb and he came back and finished the game.

“Thousand dollar shoelaces” is what DeRozan called the device.

When asked, what does the thumb hurt like? DeRozan said, “it hurt likes a blow torch.”
That’s pretty graphic.

Plain and simple the Raptors don’t win without DeRozan sucking it up and playing. He played like the legendary war horses of the old days in the NBA.

That’s why the Raptors head to Miami up three games to two instead of being down three games to two.

They need DeRozan and Lowry to keep up doing what they did Wednesday night if they want to advance to the Toronto Raptors first ever Conference Final.

 

 

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 and Kyle Lowry

Raptors And Heat Look to Win Ugly In Game Five

By Frank McLean

After watching Game Four of this Miami Heat-Toronto Raptors conference semi-final, you might scratch your head and ask, was that really professional basketball I just watched? That game was ugly from both team’s perspective.

Missing their big men in the middle , Jonas Valanciunas for Toronto and Hassan Whiteside for Miami, both teams had to improvise so to speak.

What hurts from a Raptors standpoint is that they had an opportunity to win this game and they let it slip away.

The problem was they couldn’t stop Dwyane Wade who scored 30 points in the win and willed the Heat to the win, that’s what the great players in the game do.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey sat down with the media yesterday when the team returned from Miami after opting to spend the night in South Florida instead of flying home after the game.

“Everyone’s upset we lost, which they should be, but nobody’s pushing the panic button because it’s such a competitive series,” Casey said.

It has been a competitive series for sure, even though the basketball has not been pretty.

“They’re not shooting the ball well, it’s written history,” Casey added. “We know about it, Miami knows it. We’re trying to do things to get around it. We’re trying to create more offence with those guys struggling the way they are, but again, they’re going to be our guys because at some point they’re going to get their rhythm, their shot. Someone else is going to step up and they may be more of a decoy or whatever, but’s not like we’re going to bench Kyle and DeMar and go away from them. They’re our guys. We believe in them. They’re our two all-stars and sooner or later they’re going to come through or be a part of what we’re trying to do.”

The struggles again go back to the lack of scoring from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The duo were a combined 6-28 from the field for 19 points. Lowry fouled out and that did not help. DeRozan was 4-17 and has a thumb injury that is hindering his shooting.

“I thought that was our biggest nemesis, containing the basketball,” Casey continued. “Dwyane Wade was just putting his head down and attacking our paint. I don’t care if you have Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell back there. One dribble to the rim, there’s not many big guys that are going to (get over to help).

“Our defence hasn’t been atrocious, but it could be better,” Casey said. “It could help our offence more by getting stops, getting out on the break a little more.”

The Raptors have been decent on defense. The Heat averaged 108 points a game against Charlotte and the Raptors have held them to under a 100 in this series.

Toronto can still win this series.

They must attack Wade and make life difficult for him.

Lowry can’t foul out of the game early like he did in Game Four. He needs another big scoring game like Game Three.

If DeMar DeRozan’s thumb is hurting, he needs to become a Jose Calderon and be a ball distributor and set his teammates up for the perfect shot.

Let’s see what happens, it might not be pretty, but ugly wins count the same as the pretty one’s.

 

 

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, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll

It’s Next Man Up For The Raptors Again

By Frank McLean

Like a good mystery story the current second round playoff match-up between the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat has taken twists and turns as you try and figure out how this is all going to end.

In Game Three both teams lost their big men at center, Jonas Valanciunas for Toronto with an ankle sprain and Hassan Whiteside of Miami with a knee sprain.

Valanciunas is out for the rest of the series and Whiteside will miss Game Four at the very least. No word if he will be able to go in Game Five Wednesday night back in Toronto.

So with the two big men out for each team this series will get small, real small.

The line-ups might remind older basketball fans of the old World Basketball League in the late 1980’s and early 90’s that was the brain child of Boston Celtics hall of fame legend Bob Cousey. It was for players six foot five and under. No tall people allowed.

However, from the Raptors point of view, it’s next man up at the center spot. Bismack Biyombo will get the start, a few inches smaller than the seven foot Valanciunas, but he brings the same type of game as a ball of hate.

NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Biyombo started 22 games earlier in the season for Valanciunas while he was out with a broken hand. The Raptors were 16-6 in those games and in one of those games he set what was then a personal high with 20 rebounds against Dallas. Then on March 17th he set up his own St. Patrick’s Day massacre as he broke a club record by hauling in 25 rebounds against the Pacers in Indiana. Biyombo also led the team with 133 blocked shots during the regular season.

Biyombo can more than do the job.

Getting Biyombo was part of the remake Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri did with this team in the summer. There was no depth at the center spot last year, but now there is help until the big Lithuanian can get back into the line-up if the Raptors are fortunate enough to advance and face Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Final.

“I was happy from day one, he’s stepped up when the time to compete comes,” Ujiri said at practice on Sunday about Biyombo’s play this season. “And when his chances come, it’s been really good for us, so it’s another chance but also Bebe (Lucus Nogueira) and Jason Thompson. The coaches I’m sure will figure all this out.”

Ujiri didn’t mention his name, but the seldom used James Johnson can fill in at the center spot as well.

“I’ve done it before. It’s nothing new, it’s nothing that I can’t do,” a confident Biyombo said on Sunday.

“I think I have shown enough. It’s just you get to play more and you get to do a lot more things. That’s about it. “I have shown that I can guard small. We switch a lot (defensively) when I’m on the floor, one through five. So there’s nothing that will surprise me, but as a team we have to find a way to keep them (the Heat) under 100 points. That has been the key for us to winning a playoff game.”

Keeping the Heat under a 100 points will be a key for the Raptors to win this series. The total score for the first three games is 287-285 with two overtime games, showing that no one team is running away with this series on the scoreboard.

So Bismack Biyombo come on down, you are the next man up.

 

 

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 Heat Dwyane Wade and Raptors DeMar DeRozan

How The Raptors Can Beat The Heat In Game Two

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, but that isn’t enough for these guys. In Game Two the Raptors want to show they can beat the Heat and advance to the next round.

The big story coming out of Tuesday night’s Game One loss to the Miami Heat was not the fact that Kyle Lowry couldn’t hit the side of a barn door with his shot. They lost in overtime 102-96 after coming back to tie the game at 90 on Lowry’s miracle half court shot and only lost in the extra period because the Heat’s superstar Dwyane Wade took over.

Unlike their Game One loss to Indiana where it looked like someone forgot to tell them that the playoffs had started, this time they competed and all they need to do is clean up some things and they’ll be fine.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey mentioned in his post game comments Tuesday night that there were some stretches in the game where they didn’t execute on the offensive and defensive end of the floor, but he did like their fight and that the tempo of the game being a lot faster than the Indiana series was a benefit to Toronto. As long as they execute in certain situations they would be all right.

The one Heat player who killed them Tuesday night was guard Goran Dragic.

It looked like Dragic could be the Paul George in this series. He was 10-for-20 from the field in Game One and was three-of-four from behind the three-point line for a game high 26 points. Adding in Wade’s 24 points and the guard duo combined for 50 points giving the Heat they type of backcourt offense that Lowry and DeMar DeRozan usually give the Raptors on a regular basis.

In the third quarter Dragic and Wade combined for 19 of the 22 points the Heat scored.

As a team the Heat shot 44.9 percent from the field and they were 72.7 percent from behind the arc and that became the theme of the Raptors Wednesday’s practice, to work on making stops to the Heat’s outside shooting.

“It wasn’t a focus coming in, but it’s a definite focus now,” DeMarre Carroll said. “(Dragic) opened up our eyes. We have to prepare for him, just like we have to prepare for Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. I think we’ve got to prepare for everything, one through five, on their team because they’re kind of similar to us in some ways. They all can score.”

Carroll also said that he was a little ticked off at the way Dragic was holding and pushing off on Raptors defenders before driving to the hoop and he made that known to the refs.

“I’ve got to keep my money. My wife told me I’ve got to buy Pampers and milk and all those other things,” Carroll added. “But, nah, I’m just telling the ref, you know, just watch out for certain things. But they did a good job, it wasn’t the refs’ fault. We as athletes put the refs in a tough position because we always complain. So, I think they did a good job.”

If the Raptors can clean up the defense on the Heat’s guards and don’t forget forward Joe Johnson who only had 16 points but could go off a quick 30 points at any time. If they have help available on the defensive end, Casey said they will be fine.

“We can do a better job of having help ready and available, bringing help from different situations, different areas, getting back in front of (Wade and Johnson),” Casey said.

So unlike the Game One loss to the Pacers where the Raptors had a laundry list of mistakes to correct, focusing on the Dragic and Wade combo should mean the Raptors will be able to beat the Heat in this 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.