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NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Raptors 905 Center Edy Tavares Named D-League DPOY

Toronto Raptors NBA Development League affiliate, Mississauga Raptors 905 center Edy Tavares has been named the 2016-17 D-League Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) by a vote of the league’s 22 head coaches.

Taveras (7-3, 265) appeared in 48 games for Raptors 905 this season, anchoring a defense that held opponents to a league-low 98.0 points per game and 42.8 percent shooting. Raptors 905 allowed 94.5 points per 100 possessions when Tavares was on the court.

Taveras tied for the NBA D-League lead with 2.7 blocks per game. On March 25, he recorded an NBA D-League season-high 12 blocks as part of a triple-double that included 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also averaged 10.6 points on 59.1 percent shooting (eighth in the league) and 7.7 rebounds.

A 2017 NBA D-League All-Star, Taveras helped Raptors 905 to a league-best 39-11 record. The team swept the Canton Charge in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and currently leads the Maine Red Claws 1-0 in the Conference Finals.

Taveras, who was born in Maio, Cape Verde, was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 43rd pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. He appeared in 12 games with the Hawks and owns career averages of 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.8 minutes.

He was recently called up by the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 12th.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Raptors Serge Ibaka Was Injured In Game One Vs The Bucks

When it happened the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka just lay there on the hardwood after attempting a jump shot in Game One as the Bucks ran back down the court and he didn’t move until the play stopped. It looked bad at the time. Anything from an ankle to a knee or worse as Ibaka had to be helped up and it took more than one serious attempt to get him on his feet.

Somehow he managed to finish the game, but eventually Ibaka had to admit he was injured on the play.

“Tough, it would be tough,” Ibaka said when asked if he could have played on Monday. “Don’t really think (I could play). But I’ve been there before, this is not the first time I’ve sprained an ankle. I did it before, things can be changed and tomorrow I can be 100 per cent.

“It’s getting better, better than two days ago. It’s day-by-day. Actually I woke up today a lot better, I’m walking perfect, so hopefully tomorrow I’m going to wake up and feel more better and be ready to go.”

The best news may in how Ibaka finished Game One playing on what we now know was a bad wheel. With the Raptors going a 4-17 ice-cold shooting in the fourth quarter, Ibaka, the lone starter to hit a shot, scored 5 points on 2-3 from the field.

There is an element of toughness to Ibaka. If he has anything to give, the Raptors will get it on Tuesday.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Game Two Belongs To The Raptors

As bad as Toronto has been at Game Ones in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, currently at 0-9, this team has, more often than not, found the next contest more to their liking and against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Game Two at the Air Canada Centre belongs to the Raptors and they had better deliver.

“It’s like deja va all over again,” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s the first to four. That’s what it is and we just have to go out there and take care of Game Two.”

Going from a bad NBA Lottery Team when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey first arrived to a playoff team and recently an Eastern Conference Finals contender happened faster than expected, but those expectations can’t be rolled back now.

Making the playoffs has become nothing special, so unlike the last three years, even the crowd at the Air Canada Centre showed up late and sat on their hands until they were told to do something. It felt like a regular season game in the building.

“The expectation of our program, where we started is definitely where we are now and it’s not going to end,” Casey said. “Each year you try to improve, get better, go further. The expectations have changed more so.”

After getting smacked in the mouth three years in a row on the opening afternoon of the NBA playoffs by a lower seeded team, one could be forgiven for thinking Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would have been ready for the physicality, intensity and often unfriendly whistle of the postseason.  But after a solid second quarter where the Raptors took a 5 point lead, Lowry shot 1-7 and DeRozan shot 1-8 and the pair only scored a single point in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee pulled away.

“The second half was abysmal,” Casey said. “We didn’t play with any pace, any movement. All of that led to tough shots, challenged shots.”

The Bucks were very physical with both of the Raptors All-Stars and a regular season whistle likely would have allowed them to live at the line in the second half, but the Bucks, with two rookies in their starting lineup, played as aggressively as the referees would allow and the Raptors didn’t respond in kind.

“They played hard longer than we did,” Casey said. “I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Fortunately for Toronto, stepping up in Game Two is something this team and their stars has done before.

The Raptors came back in Game Two against the Nets in 2014 behind a 30 point effort from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas stepped up with a double-double 15/14.  Last year against the Pacers Lowry had the near triple double with 18/7/9 and Valanciunas stepped up big again with 23/15 in the victory.

It’ll take a big game from from at least one of the Raptors All-Stars and someone else to pull out a Game Two win over Milwaukee.

“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We have to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

“I just have to play better,” Lowry said. “No if ands or buts about it. I have to play better.”

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Game One was the Bucks didn’t do anything the Raptors weren’t prepared for. Toronto had faced the Bucks four times this season, gone 3-1 and knew exactly what to expect from this long lanky team and their star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I was expecting everything,” DeRozan confirmed. “It’s on us, we don’t have any excuses. They have one (win) and it’s on us to take advantage of the next game at home.”

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots. We didn’t get back on defense.”

And the Bucks are under no delusions that the Raptors can’t play better.

“They are a very talented team,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Going through the process of the good and the bad, you look at DeRozan and Lowry, the core has been together so they’ve seen everything and understanding that, they’re very talented and they’re well coached. Casey is going to have these guys ready to go.”

Game Two at home belongs to Toronto. It’s up to them not to give it away.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Lowry And DeRozan Stumble In Game One Again

Game One of the NBA playoffs hasn’t been friendly to the Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and things didn’t go any better this year against the underdog Milwaukee Bucks in the usually friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre. The duo stopped scoring heading into the final frame and the Bucks walked off with the 97-83 win. This is the fourth opening playoff series in a row the Raptors duo of Lowry and DeRozan have failed to win Game One at home.

“We expected it,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about the Bucks defense. “Spacing, how we were attacking the pick and roll, we were expecting it. Couple of times they blocked a shot at the rim, but you have to expect that. Now the next time has to be in the dunker area to drop it off. All those things we didn’t execute.

“There is no excuse. I don’t know if we played hard enough to deserve to win, I thought they outplayed us. They played hard longer than we did. I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Lowry shot 2-11 for just 4 points and DeRozan was 7-21 for 27 points on the night, but the pair combined to score just 1 point in the fourth quarter as the Raptors were outscored 22-13 over the final 12 minutes.

“We miss a lot of shots that we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We didn’t get over 20 (points) in the quarters in the second half. That’s not like us. We shot 36 percent. We got to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

However, failing to score in Game One of the playoffs is nothing unusual, over the past four years. Lowry is averaging 11 points on 27.5 percent shooting and DeRozan 17.5 points on 28.8 percent from the field, significantly below their playoff averages of 18.7 points and 21.5 points respectively prior to this game.

“I have no clue,” DeRozan said about the Raptors Game One problems. “If I had an answer maybe we would have pulled it out tonight.

“We got to understand, we make it hard on ourselves.”

The Raptors found the length of the Bucks challenging, but like in prior Game Ones, it was the elevated physical play and loose playoff whistle that seemed to catch them off guard and that was a surprise that shouldn’t have happened considering this is the fourth time they’ve been thru this.

“I thought the guys did a really good job of using their length,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought they competed. I thought (rookie) Thon (Maker) made some great plays there in the third quarter, blocking shots when Lowry got to the basket or DeRozan got to the basket.

“I thought Moose (Greg Monroe) did a great job too in the pick and roll, knowing they were going to put him in the pick and roll and he was up for it this evening.”

The Bucks did compete and outplay their hosts in three of the four quarters. With two rookies in Kidd’s starting lineup, that shouldn’t have happened and shouldn’t be repeated in Game Two on Tuesday night in Toronto.

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots and gave them a bunch of fast break points. We already knew that’s what they thrive at. We didn’t get back on defense and that turned into them getting a win.”

The NBA playoffs are underway, but for the fourth season in a row, the Raptors didn’t hear the starting gun and dug themselves yet another hole to climb out of.

Leading scorers:

Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo 28 points, Malcom Brogdon 16 points.

Raptors: DeRozan 27 points, Serge Ibaka 19 points.

Bucks bench outscored the Raptors bench 28-19.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Cavs Grab Shot Blocker Edy Tavares From Raptors 905

A Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been searching desperately for any kind of big man help is about to sign the Toronto Raptors D-League affiliate 905 center Edy Tavares to a multi-year deal.

Tavares is coming off a first round playoff game with the Raptors 905 where he blocked 8 shots on the Cavs D-League affiliate Canton Charge.

“(Edy Tavares) has unbelievable talent,” Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said after the game. “The way he protects the rim for us. For the most part he just went up there and used his length. He has unbelievable timing.”

Shams Charania reports,

Tavares, a 7-foot-3 center, plans to sign a three-year contract with the Cavaliers on Wednesday, league sources said. Tavares has been a critical part of the Raptors 905’s championship contention in the D-League, averaging 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for the season.

Raptors 905 have advanced to the NBA D-League East Finals, but in the process they lost Alex Toupane to the New Orleans Pelicans after he scored a franchise record 41 points in the 905’s first ever playoff game. Now they are about to lose their starting center to the Cavs.

 
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira

Raptors Turn To Poeltl Power When Things Get Stagnant

In an unexpected turn of events, it’s been third year backup center Lucas Nogueira being bumped out of the rotation since the All-Star break and rookie Jakob Poeltl getting the nod when the Raptors are short-handed or things have gone stagnant for head coach Dwane Casey.

“I think most of it is me feeling more comfortable,” Poeltl told Pro Bball Report. “The experience that comes with every single game, you learn new stuff, figure out how to move around on the court better. I’ve been playing a lot more, so increasingly it’s going to get easier I think.

“It’s all about trying to figure out a way to get it done and I’m definitely not the most physical guy at my position, but there are other ways around it. You still got to play physical and use your other strengths.”

Casey was giving his rookie center some minutes before the All-Star break, getting into about half the games and averaging 10.8 minutes, 2.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, but where Nogueira was a +/- of +3.9 points in his time on the court, Poeltl was an inexperienced -0.7 points.

However, since the break, with Serge Ibaka soaking up extra minutes at center and Poeltl and Nogueira reversing roles in the rotation, Poeltl has been a +0.9 averaging 4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.3 minutes with only 2 DNP-CDs. Nogueira is a -0.6 in a dramatically reduced role.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Nogueira had been playing some of the best ball of his short NBA career and getting a lot of very productive run. A five-man lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Nogueira and Valanciunas had a net rating of +14.3 in 108 minutes and Lowry, Joseph, Ross, Patterson and Nogueira was a +15.4 net rating in 199 minutes.

Nogueira is in the fourth and fifth best five-man units the Raptors have put out there this season, however, the eye test and obviously in coach Casey’s opinion, Nogueira still has mental lapses and makes too many mistakes. Poeltl, on the other hand, gets nothing but praise.

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

“For me, just every time you put him in, he does something positive.”

While Poeltl has expressed concerns about his ability to be physical, compared to Nogueira, he’s a beast and any lack of physicality in Poeltl’s game rests solely in his own expectations of himself. Somehow, someway, he gets to the ball and opponents’ aren’t pushing him out of position. Averaging 8.2 fouls per 48 minutes since the break, Poeltl hasn’t been shy about being physical.

“As long as it’s not a bad foul, I don’t have a problem with getting three or four fouls a game,” Poeltl said. “If I use my fouls in a good way, not giving up and-ones, dumb fouls to send them to the line.”

It’s all about fitting in for Poeltl. Knowing his role and getting the job done.

“It’s not always about me getting more comfortable. It’s also about me developing a chemistry with my teammates on offense and on defense. Once you start playing with these guys more and more, you figure out how they’re playing and how you can play together.”

While it wasn’t expected that the rookie would be getting extra minutes at center after the All-Star break or Nogueira would lose his spot in the rotation, the move has been positive for the Raptors. Poeltl has tied his career best 12 points in a game three-times since the break and more often than not, he’s come into games and had an immediate positive impact.

He is a guy Casey can turn to when the Raptors get stagnant or lack energy on either end of the court.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Raptors 905 Use Crushing Defense To Advance To East Finals

Raptors 905 advanced to the East Finals of the 2017 NBA D-League Playoffs after beating the Canton Charge with crushing defense, 108-90 Saturday night at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga.

“Defense, great defense,” Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “The guys were locked in. I thought our game plan was sound. After Game One we had film to watch and we watched every possession on film. The guys hate that, but it gets us better prepared. I thought they came out with a ton of energy and great focus.”

The 905 dominated from tip, holding the Charge to 4-24 shooting from the field in the first quarter on the back of 5 blocks and numerous changed shots by center Edy Tavares. Tavares finished the game with 7 points, a game-high 9 rebounds and 8 blocks and it looked like the official scorer missed at least one block in the fourth quarter.

“(Tavares) has unbelievable talent,” Stackhouse said. “The way he protects the rim for us. For the most part he just went up there and used his length. He has unbelievable timing.”

Four of five 905 starters scored in double-digits with sharp-shooting guard Brady Heslip pacing the team with 21 points off the bench.

“I am pretty sure we are the best defensive team in the league all year,” Heslip said. “It’s been great for me, for my development. I’ve gotten a lot better as a point guard and as a defender. I play a lot of minutes and we’re the best defensive team in the league and that’s got to say something. I love it, playing for (coach Stackhouse). It’s been amazing so far.”

E.J. Singler (17 points) led the 905 in the opening quarter as they took a 38-13 lead. The lead was 65-35 at the half and hit a 38 point advantage in the third before the 905 put things in cruise control the rest of the way.

With the win, the 905 has won their first D-League playoff series and earned a berth in the Conference Finals where they will face either Maine or Fort Wayne.

NBA D-League East Finals

Just prior to the game the 905 found out they would be without the services of Axel Toupane who led the team in the Game One victory with a franchise record 41 points. Toupane has been signed by the New Orleans Pelicans for the remainder of the NBA season.

Two Toronto Raptors players were assigned to the 905 for this playoff game. Bruno Caboclo had 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Pascal Siakam contributed 13 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist.

Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Kay Felder led Canton for the second-straight contest, posting 22 points in the loss.
 
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll PJ Tucker Serge Ibaka Patrick Patterson collage

Magic Have Four Raptors On Their Radar This Summer

In the oops of all oops, an agent of an Orlando Magic player inadvertently tweeted out a list of the guys the team would like to target this summer by trade or in free agency and it looks like four current Toronto Raptors players are squarely in their sights.

CBS Sports NBA captured the image before the Magic realized what they’d done and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported on the team’s embarrassment.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said the lists are “not indicative of plans” and were “simply listing options, including some of which other teams have inquired about.”

Orlando Magic tweet

Included on the lists are the Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Serge Ibaka.

This lists are long and undoubtedly very preliminary, but they do give an idea of what the Magic could be going after in draft day deals and in July. This isn’t April 1st, are we sure this was an accident?

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

It’s Time To Give Raptors Coach Dwane Casey His Props

Coaches may be hired to be fired in professional sports, but not all of the time and not by all of the teams in the NBA anyway. Good teams value consistency, know how hard it is to win and by those measures, it’s time for everyone in Toronto to give Raptors head coach Dwane Casey his props. Things have never been this good or good for this long for the team previously slagged as being best represented by the soft cuddly children’s Barney the dinosaur.

An extensive ESPN panel recently rated all the NBA’s head coaches and tagged Casey as the eighth best and that’s a far cry from the never ending stream of fan experts on social media that have been trying to convince anyone who would listen that Casey can’t coach and a few in Toronto’s mainstream media that should know better.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team’s coach. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each coach on his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

NBA head coaches

The Raptors are about to head back to the postseason for an unprecedented fourth season in a row with home court advantage in the first round.

Before Casey, this organization’s best previous run was three trips to the postseason season in a row and only one-time with any real expectations of doing anything. Last season this team went to the Eastern Conference Finals and there are reasonable expectations they can get back there again this year.

Casey will hold the franchise’s top four records for wins in a regular season after the 2016-17 season ends with 48-34 in 2013-14, 49-33 in 2014-15, and 56-26 in 2015-16. The team is at 46-30 with six games remaining this year assuring they’ll do better than the 47-35 records held by Sam Mitchell in 2006-07 and Lenny Wilkens in 2000-01. He passed Mitchell (156-189) for the most wins by a Raptors head coach almost two years ago. In his six seasons with the Raptors, he already has a 256-214 record and he’s the only Raptors head coach with an overall winning record while with the team.

However, a winning record shouldn’t be the only method of evaluating a head coach. The respect of his players is critical to success on the court and after the season is over. Quickly, players your team has drafted or traded for will become free agents and no one wants to re-sign with a coach they don’t respect. If you’re good, you can get paid almost anywhere.

“The one thing that I respect about coach Casey is his being consistent,” DeMar DeRozan said after losing Game seven in the first round of the playoffs to the Nets in 2014. “He’s been the same Dwane Casey since he’s been here. Preaches the same things. Told me to stick with the same principles and it worked. Everything he said came together like he said it would. You got to respect coach Casey he never changed. You can go in his office, knock on his door and talk to him. You can text him, he’s a players’ coach. He’s a great dude. You can talk to him about any situation.

“It feels great because you don’t question if your head coach tells you something. You going to listen because he’s not just saying something just to say it. He’s not going to tell you something just to do it. There’s a reason why. Once you respect a man’s word like that, you going to work for it.”

Those words weren’t just words and those feelings extended beyond DeRozan. Proof came later that summer when Kyle Lowry signed a team-friendly four-year deal when the consensus was he could get more money elsewhere. Lowry didn’t really even bother to look. Mid-season acquisitions Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez also re-upped with Toronto on team-friendly deals.

It was a pattern that was going to repeat itself in the future even after a devastating first round loss to the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs the very next year. The Raptors players still believed in their head coach.

“I know Casey has a lot of flak,” said DeRozan after getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Wizards in 2015. “Casey is a great coach. I got to give him credit. He pushes day in and day out.

“I would like to assure (the fans) that it is definitely not (going in the wrong direction). We will be better next year.”

At the end of the 2015 season, Lou Williams signed with the Lakers, but he made it obvious he wanted to return to Toronto. Unfortunately, the Raptors needed their cap space to sign Cory Joseph. Amir Johnson had spent six seasons in Toronto going overboard as a voluntary team ambassador. He loved it in Toronto and wanted to stay, however, the Celtics made him an unexpectedly huge offer he couldn’t refuse and the Raptors couldn’t match.

Then with a year still remaining on their rookie deals, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas signed team-friendly extensions a year ahead of the well-known biggest increase in the NBA Salary Cap in league history, potentially, scratch that, with near certainty they were leaving a boatload of money on the table.

At the end of the 2016 season DeRozan had his chance to leave and as the second leading scorer in the Eastern Conference, he had his choice of destinations including his hometown Lakers, but he wasn’t even remotely interested in leaving Toronto and told anyone that would listen the same.

Bismack Biyombo said he wanted to stay as well, but no one was surprised when he took the $70 million offer from the Magic the Raptors couldn’t match. Biyombo does nothing to hide how much he misses playing in Toronto on his return visits to the Air Canada Centre. There was (still is) a lot of love and respect between Casey and Biyombo.

Part of the change in the perception of the Raptors as a place to play came as result of winning. Part of it came from president Masai Ujiri’s deft methods of dealing with NBA players. But, none of that would have worked if the players didn’t like playing in Toronto for their head coach.

If all you care about is winning, then you have to give Casey his props. He’s the winningest coach in Raptors history and with his next victory, he’ll have averaged 50+ wins a year over the past four seasons. Only Scott Brooks, Gregg Popovich, and Doc Rivers can make the same claim. (Steve Kerr will get there next season.)

If your evaluation is based on getting players to buy-in, then you need to look no further than the Raptors two three-time All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan. Neither of these players were All-Stars before Casey arrived and neither wanted to leave when they had their chance.

You can’t trick NBA players into thinking you know how to coach (for all those in Toronto’s social media that believe they know better.)

ESPN putting Casey into the top 8 of current NBA head coaches isn’t even a stretch. The real question is, how did they get him this low?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers JR Smith LeBron James Kyle Korver

The Cavaliers Got Real Old Real Fast This Year

Not old as in old news, the Cleveland Cavaliers were built as a veteran team and their age is finally catching up to them. LeBron James (32), J.R. Smith (31), Kyle Korver (35), Richard Jefferson (36), Deron Williams (32), Channing Frye (33), and James Jones (36) literally make up half of head coach Tyronn Lue’s available roster. Throw in a few injuries and no one should be surprised if the Cavs are looking more than just a little fatigued heading done the stretch.

Coaches (and James) love to play with veterans and they should. You know what you are going to get, but the older the veteran, the higher the risk of injury, the more careful you have to be about preserving them for the postseason, and the bigger the risk their natural physical abilities fade.

There is a reason why the NBA is often called a young man’s game. 82 games plus playoffs is a grind. It wears you down and the Cavaliers look like they are on their last legs. It’s a lot to ask of older players, especially defensively.

Losing four of their last five games and 11 of 19 since the All-Star break, the Cavs are backing into the playoffs. Once a sure-thing to finish first in the Conference, now even home court in the second round of the postseason seems to be in doubt. The Cavs have been a suspect team on defense all season and the longer it goes, the worse they’ve looked as recently discussed on the NBA.com blogtable.

David Aldridge: they haven’t been good for weeks now. This is a pretty large sample size. It can’t just all be that they’re bored or that the injuries have hurt their continuity.

Steve Aschburner: this looks more like an issue of fatigue, effort and focus.

Shaun Powell: aside from LeBron James, nobody is stellar. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are older and mostly living on reputation these days.

Ian Thomsen: They shouldn’t be this bad defensively. What appears to be ailing them more than anything is exhaustion.

Smith is just recently back from a thumb injury and no one should be surprised that the oft-injured Kevin Love missed a few weeks (again). Love’s body is older and more fragile than might be expected from a 28-year-old.

Now it’s the aging key defensive cog Jefferson with knee tendinitis and the sharp shooter Korver with sore feet. If you count on guys over 30, you better have solid backups for when they go down.

The really big piece of this conversation remains James. Playing a team high 37.5 minutes a game because he has to, the seemingly indestructible King is only human and he’s not as young as he was before starting his run of six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Asking James at 32-years-old plus to carry a team playing big minutes thru the regular season will eventually mean he runs out of gas in the 20+ postseason games it takes to play in the Finals. No one at any age plays this many games for this many seasons.

“As far as rest goes, I think mentally it’s good for players just to get away,” Durant said. “Not even worrying about having to go through shootaround or mentally preparing for their matchup or playing the game. I think mentally it does help when you get a day not to worry about basketball because we’re so consumed with the game 24/7.

“… But most guys do want to play, love to play and want to be out there. So I understand both sides. It’s not like I’m taking sides at all. I understand both of them, but sometimes you may need a mental break from it, especially when you’re that top-level player like LeBron” – Chris Haynes, ESPN Staff Writer

This is what the Celtics, Wizards and Raptors have been waiting for. A crack in the Cavaliers juggernaut they can exploit. Right now the Cavs look old and slow on defense and injuries to key players make their offense much less formidable.

There is no cure for old tired legs except rest. Some people might suggest swallowing one’s pride, giving James a couple of weeks off and limiting the minutes of Love, Frye, Smith and company until the games matter and just let the regular season chips fall where they may. The Cavaliers are just playing for the postseason? Right?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Raptors Undrafted Rookie Fred VanVleet Talks About His Role

That Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri was impressed with the undrafted Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet was kind of obvious going back to Summer League, but signing him to a team-friendly two-year deal and then keeping him on their NBA roster past training camp, that came as a surprise. Just what kind of role could he have as the fourth string point guard on a team that had just gone to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Maybe the signing was motivated by the injury to last year’s rookie point guard Delon Wright who wasn’t expected to be available until the new year, but the signing meant Toronto would have three rookies, two sophomores and two players from two drafts ago. Now that’s a lot of young guys needing a lot of development and no veterans on the bench in case someone got hurt.

Head coach Dwane Casey was going to be sending VanVleet down the QEW to Mississauga to play for the Raptors 905 often and any minutes with the big club would have to be squeezed out of the margins. This would be a challenging season for the rookie.

“It’s tough not being in a natural rotation,” VanVleet told Pro Bball Report. “Sitting for a while and depending on how the game is going, trying to come in and make an impact and I think the few games I’ve been able to come in and spark a run or just change the momentum of the game. I just stay ready, that’s part of being a professional is you don’t get to control when and where you play.”

VanVleet is typically getting his minutes out of blue without warning or any kind of consistency. He has to be ready to contribute and he isn’t going to get more than a minute or two to get his head in the game.

“I am not going to the coaches and asking them if I’m playing or what the rotation is,” VanVleet said. “I trust them and whatever they decide to do, I support it, so I’m definitely not complaining when I’m going in there, but it’s tough and it’s hard to get a rhythm, so that first trip up and down the floor trying get loose and figure it out and then you settle in for a little bit. For the most part I think I’ve been pretty good in those scenarios with few exceptions.

“Any time I get in there, I’m trying to contribute.”

Surprisingly VanVleet has been able to contribute in this unconventional role. There have been games where its been obvious like the recent games against Miami, Dallas and Chicago where he earned to right to play for about 20 minutes because of his positive impact. But it’s his overall impact in the 33 games he has played in that is more impressive. On average, VanVleet contributes.

This season VanVleet is a +1.8 points when he’s on the court and he’s played in just about every type of lineup imaginable in every situation from garbage minutes to key stretches in the middle of games and the fourth quarter. Don’t look at the 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists, instead look at a team best defensive rating of 89.6 points allowed per 100 possessions to get a better indication of what’s been happening with VanVleet.

“Earlier in the season we seen the potential, seen how composed of a point guard he is, seen how much he is working, his work ethic and how good of a player he is actually,” Cory Joseph responded to Pro Bball Report after the win over Chicago. “It’s paying off for us. We need him. A game like today he came in, he was a complete professional today. He was ready to go. He changed the game for us. Picking up full court, with steals, making the right plays. He’s a smart I.Q. player, nobody is going to rush him when he is on the offensive end. He is going to play hard strong defense. He was one of the main reasons we won the game.”

The Raptors have “let” VanVleet gain some experience in the NBA D-League where 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse could put him in the starting lineup and play him big minutes. It probably helped him early on, but the role is so different with the big club, it’s been VanVleet’s ability to adjust that has allowed him to enjoy some level of success with the Raptors this season.

“(The 905) that’s totally different,” VanVleet said. “You get way more time, play more minutes, feel the game out and make mistakes. When you are playing a short span, you got to be almost perfect in those minutes. They are not asking a ton out of me. They are not asking me to come and score 20 points off the bench, but I think part of being young and being a rookie is to come into a game with that fresh energy and maybe change the pace or speed the game up a little. It’s not always indicative in the score, but picking up a guy full court, turning him a couple of times just to change the flow of the game.  Obviously it’s different than being the main focal point of a 905 game, but it’s part of the process and I’m embracing it.

“I definitely go in (to a Raptors game) with the mindset that I’m not taking any plays off. I’m ready to play as hard as I can for those couple of minutes because it’s a short amount of time. I try to play like that all the time, but when you know it’s only five or six minutes, you go a little bit harder, go all out for those minutes while you are in there and try to contribute. I’ve never done that (short minutes) before, but the biggest thing that has helped me was that I was prepared to say nothing has changed, I prepare today like I’m playing and if I do, I do. I’m ready. If I don’t, it doesn’t hurt me.”

VanVleet has done well in his rookie season. He plays hard and doesn’t seem to get rattled easily. His +/- and defensive rating may be a little misleading as coach Casey pulls him when he gets in trouble and extends his minutes when things are going well, but things have gone well often enough that VanVleet has justified Ujiri’s faith in him as a player who will make it in the NBA.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph and PJ Tucker

Do You Believe In Cory Joseph Yet?

Do the Raptors and their fans believe in Cory Joseph yet? Has a 13-5 record with Joseph as the starting point guard changed any minds? And what does this kid have to do to get the respect his numbers suggest he should in Toronto?

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry vs Cory Joseph

Joseph doesn’t have the stage presence of the Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry. He isn’t expected to hit dagger threes in the fourth quarter to pull out wins when everyone else is bricking shots, but you can’t argue with what he has accomplished since Lowry had wrist surgery.

The Raptors have turned things around after a rough four weeks (5-11) heading into the All-Star break and are winning games again. Give credit for the improved defense to Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but those two forwards aren’t running the offense. Credit DeMar DeRozan for continuing to fill the basket, but give Joseph his props for running the offense. There has been no collapse in Toronto without Lowry and that has surprised a lot of people.

“Just getting better, getting more comfortable,” Joseph responded to Pro Bball Report. “Go out there, getting more comfortable with the minutes, the rotations and all that. Getting more confident and continuing to grow.

“I pride myself on playing defense and it’s definitely getting easier. We added two defenders.”

Cory Joseph may never completely be rid of the undercurrent that the Toronto Raptors only signed him because he’s Canadian. A justifiable public relations acquisition. The local kid who made it in the NBA, but has never been considered as a starter except as an injury replacement.

Joseph isn’t expected to be better than Lowry, but after the past month, no one should be panicking if Lowry misses a few games either. He’s earned the right to be considered more than just a backup. Maybe a lot more. Believe it.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Top 4 teams in the NBA Eastern Conference 3-28-2017

So Who’s The Best In The NBA East Now?

It’s finally happened, the Cleveland Cavaliers have surrendered first place in the Eastern Conference with their 10th loss in 18 games since the All-Star break. The idle Boston Celtics assuming the half game lead on the back of an 11-6 run over the same period.

However, it isn’t safe to just assume the Boston Celtics are now the best team. The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors have their own claims to make and the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers aren’t about to give props to anyone else reports ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne,

“That’s fine,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said when informed Boston had passed Cleveland in the standings with the 103-74 loss. “It matters more that we play better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in the 1, 2 or 3 seed, we need to play better basketball. That’s all it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything.”

Boston may temporarily hold down first place, but there are other measures that can indicate which team is currently the “best.” (NBA.com team stats)

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

The Raptors can lay claim to the best defensive rating and best net rating of the top four teams in the East, however, what is equally interesting is the Cavaliers terrible defensive rating. Only the Nets and Knicks are worse defensively than Cleveland this season.

The ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team, confirms the Raptors position at number one in the East. (Noting four teams in the West rank ahead of Toronto.)

However, the Raptors best argument for the strength of their team might come from focusing on just the games since the All-Star break. Notably, this period matches the concerns about the once heavily favored Cavaliers.

In the end, LeBron James and the Cavs have one stat they can hold over the three other teams challenging them in the East. In head-to-head games this season, the Cavs hold winning records over each of them.

It is going to take a lot to shake the confidence most of the talking heads will have in the Cavaliers ability to bounce back and play better once the postseason kicks off. The excuses relating to injuries and chemistry won’t count for much then and a LeBron James led team always makes it to the NBA Finals? Except for maybe this tidbit from the Celtics ESPN home page.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Celtics are in sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference this late into the season for the 1st time since the end of the 2007-08 season, when they won the title.

In the meantime, the Celtics are now favored to finish first in the East, but the Raptors can claim they are playing better, own the season series with the Cs and are the hotter team heading down the stretch. However, the best team won’t be known until the playoffs.

 
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Named 4-Time Player Of The Week

Press Release:

The National Basketball Association announced Monday that DeMar DeRozan has been selected as Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played March 20-26. He earns the honor for a franchise record-setting fourth time this season – November 7-13, December 12-18, January 9-15 and March 20-26. Prior to this season, DeRozan had won the award once during his eight-year NBA career (December 7-13, 2015).

DeRozan topped all Eastern Conference players averaging 33.3 points, while leading the Raptors to a perfect 3-0 record. He shot .488 (39-for-80) from the field, .769 (20-for-26) at the free throw line and averaged 5.7 assists.

DeRozan began the week by scoring 42 points during the Raptors’ 122-120 overtime victory March 21 versus Chicago. He scored 27 points in the second half and overtime, helping the Raptors rally from a 16-point deficit. DeRozan then scored 40 points March 23 at Miami as part of Toronto’s NBA-leading and franchise-record 19th double-digit comeback win, 101-84. He finished the week with an 18-point performance March 25 at Dallas, helping Toronto secure a playoff berth in four straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, currently ranks fifth in the NBA averaging a career-high 27.1 points through 66 games this season. The three-time NBA All-Star was selected ninth overall by Toronto in the 2009 NBA Draft and became the franchise’s all-time leader in career points (11,223), field goals made (3,991), free throws made (3,009) and games played (587) earlier this season.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Now Have Best Defense In The East

In a season that seemed to be slipping away from the Toronto Raptors at the All-Star break, things changed in a hurry after President Masai Ujiri brought Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker on board.

Prior to the break Toronto had the NBA’s 16th defensive rating, 8th in the Eastern Conference, at 106 points allowed per 100 possessions. Their hold on 4th place was tenuous and the mood in the locker room was a desperate cry for help.

“Something got to give, something got to change,” Kyle Lowry said after a one-point loss to the Pistons. 

“Help is always beneficial,” DeMar DeRozan said. “I never looked at help as a negative thing. If help is an option, why not?”

Help arrived and despite All-Star Kyle Lowry being lost after wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies,” the Raptors season turned around and the success has been built on defense.

In games Post All-Star break the Raptors sport an NBA’s 2nd best defensive rating of 100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, best in the East by 1.8 points better than Boston.

“The two guys our front office added, P.J. and Serge, are two excellent defenders,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We are doing nothing different. Our coverages are the same. It’s different people and those two men bring the energy, the toughness.

“For the first time that I’ve been in Toronto that we have two guys in the huddle that are talking defense. Usually guys are talking, how can I get my shot, how can I get touches. Those two guys are coming in talking about defense and that’s what you got to have cause the game in the playoffs is going to slow down.”

Casey has always been known as a defensive-minded head coach, but he hasn’t always enjoyed a roster with multiple defensive-minded players. So far, giving the coach the types of players that fit his preferred style of play has worked out pretty well.

Help has arrived and the Raptors can now lay claim to the best defense in the East. How good will this team look when they get the East’s top three-point threat (3.3 made threes per game) Kyle Lowry back?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers shooters 2016-17

Not So Tough Cavs Backing Into The Playoffs

It’s a little early to be gearing down and the Cleveland Cavaliers apparent lack of toughness is starting to wear on LeBron James as his team seems to be backing into the playoffs according to ESPN Staff Writer Dave McMenamin.

“We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it,” James said after an embarrassing effort by the Cavs in Denver. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

There should be no doubt, this year’s version of the Cavs isn’t as tough as last year’s NBA Championship team. Even when things were going well before the All-Star break and they sported a 70.9 winning percentage, the Cavaliers were giving up 106 points per game and winning with offense (111.3 points). That’s not how a tough team plays and since the break, things have slid backwards considerably.

In their past 15 games, the Cavs are 7-8, are being outscored 109-107.2, getting beat on the boards 45.7-42.4, losing the turnover battle 12-9 and letting opponents shoot 46.9 percent from the field. No amount of time off for rest and injury woes can fully explain what’s been going on since the break.

“There’s no comparison, man,” Kyrie Irving said. “Last year compared to this year, you can’t even [compare]. It wouldn’t be fair.

“We’re trying to go into the playoffs as healthy as possible. Everybody is getting back. It’s been a very, very weird season for all of us. Injuries here and there. Things to figure out. New player trades and stuff like that.”

You got to give Irving that it’s been a weird season for the Cavs. With the NBA’s highest payroll and all that talent, things should be different, but maybe James is right, it’s about toughness. McMenamin lays out what has changed.

The difference in Cleveland’s 2016 championship team versus the team the Cavs will take into these playoffs is that the key bench pieces in Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov and Dahntay Jones have been replaced by theoretical upgrades in Korver, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams.

The missing pieces from last season were tough players and their replacements were either old or discards or both when Cleveland acquired them. They were moves motivated by a desire to save money on the team’s pending horrendous luxury tax bill and if the ‘theoretical upgrades’ don’t pull through, it’s a gamble that could cost the Cavs first place in the East and possibly a chance to defend their title.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Whiteside And Ibaka To Miss Raptors At Heat On Thursday

Both the Raptors and Heat managed to win their respective games on Tuesday night, but both teams are expecting key players won’t be available when they clash in Miami on Thursday says Barrie Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Whiteside’s availability this week very much in jeopardy after 13 stitches were required to close a gash between the middle and ring fingers of his right hand, an injury that happened when he sliced his hand against the backboard as he attempted to block a shot by Suns power forward Marquese Chriss with 2:08 left in Miami’s 112-97 win.

The last time Whiteside had a laceration on his right hand, almost exactly two years ago, he missed three games

Toronto figures to be without Serge Ibaka, who was ejected Tuesday after exchanging punches with Chicago’s Robin Lopez.

Serge Ibaka’s one game suspension has been confirmed.

 

 

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Raptors Pascal Siakam Named D-League Performer Of The Week

Press Release: PASCAL SIAKAM NAMED NBA D-LEAGUE PERFORMER OF THE WEEK

The NBA Development League announced Monday that Toronto Raptors rookie forward Pascal Siakam has been selected Performer of the Week for games played March 13-19. He is the first Raptors 905 player to receive the honour this season.

Siakam, on assignment from the Raptors, helped guide the 905 to a 3-0 record for the week in which the team clinched the Central Division and Eastern Conference title for the 2017 NBA D-League Playoffs. He averaged 18.0 points (shooting 56.4 percent), 8.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 steal and 1.3 blocked shots.

Siakam began the week scoring a season-high 20 points in a 116-87 victory over the Austin Spurs at Air Canada Centre. He included nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in the effort. Siakam scored 18 points while recording seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks Saturday afternoon versus the Long Island Nets. He closed the week with a 16-point, eight-rebound effort the following night against the Nets.

The Cameroon native has played in four games this season with Raptors 905, averaging 17.3 points (on 50.9 percent shooting), 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 block. In 52 games (38 starts) with Toronto, Siakam is averaging 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Raptors 905 guard Brady Heslip was also considered for the honour this week.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Raptors Are Winning With Crushing Defense

The Raptors silver lining in the cloud of not having Kyle Lowry available after the All-Star break has been a forced buy-in to playing better defense and the numbers speak for themselves. When Toronto plays the crushing defense they are capable of, they win easily, but in a high scoring game without their second leading scorer and floor general, stealing a victory by out-scoring their opponent is hard to do.

In their seven wins post All-Star break, the Raptors are holding teams to just 91.4 points and are 5-0 when holding teams under a 100. When they give up over 100 points, Toronto is 2 wins and five losses.

“We got to make our stand on the defensive end,” said Norman Powell. “We can’t play an offensive game. Offensive games are not going to win us basketball (games.) You got to be able to get stops. You can’t just go back and forth scoring the ball. We got to get stops.”

Earlier in the season going back and forth scoring worked for the Raptors. If it wasn’t DeMar DeRozan, 12th in the NBA in 4th quarter scoring with 6.3 points, it was Lowry, 3rd best in 4th quarter scoring with 7.8 points. But with Lowry unavailable, getting bailed out by a big offensive comeback just got a lot harder to accomplish.

“That’s how we got to play,” said P.J. Tucker after holding the Pistons to just 75 points in Detroit. “Today was the definition of Toronto basketball, how we got to play. We didn’t win with our offense.”

After an embarrassing 123-102 loss to the Thunder in Toronto the night before, the Raptors rolled into Detroit on a mission, holding the Pistons to just one field goal in the first six minutes of the game and one field goal over the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Raptors know what they are playing for, an opportunity to move up in the standings if they can pull their defensive game together without having to wait for Lowry’s return.

The second place Celtics and third place Wizards have gone just 6-4 over their past 10 games and it isn’t about to get easier for them. Isaiah Thomas is expected to miss a couple of games (or more) with a right knee bone bruise. The Wizards are just a week away from a brutal five game road trip that could go 0-5.

The Celtics and the Wizards face-off on Monday and Washington hosts the 5th place Hawks on Wednesday providing the 4th place Raptors additional opportunities to make up ground.

“We are all looking at (the standings),” Powell said. ” We are all talking about it. We talk about how close the playoff seeding race is right now. This is the best part of the season, fighting for playoff position. Especially in the East, it is really close.”

The Raptors hope to get Lowry back at the end of the month, but they can’t afford to wait if moving out of the less desirable 4th place in the standings is going to happen and their only reliable way of getting wins for the moment is with the crushing defense they proved they could do against the Pistons (87-75), Mavericks (100-78) and Pelicans (94-87) recently.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson