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NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors Magic Number Is 30, 30 Three-Balls That Is

The secret to the Raptors 59 win season isn’t exactly a mystery. They fire up a lot of threes and the threat of the three-ball is what opens up the floor to get to the rim. When they aren’t shooting threes, the Raptors get a lot easier to guard.

“A lot of our three-point shooters had opportunities to shoot the ball and for whatever reason we were hesitating,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after practice. “When you look at the film, they had plenty of time. We got to let it go, got to let it fly.”

As we wrote at the start of this series. These Raptors live or die by the three-ball.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory.

And it wasn’t lost on Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after Game One.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us,” Brooks said.

In those first two games in Toronto, the Raptors hoisted 65 threes and won both games. In the next two in Washington, they turned down shots and only fired up 46 three-balls and that’s a losing formula for Toronto.

As Casey indicated, it wasn’t the Wizards defense that ran the Raptors off the three-point line on the road. It was guys like Delon Wright turning down open shots to make a pass or waiting for defenders to arrive so they could drive. These Raptors have to be willing to let it fly like have been all season.

Now back in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre it should be easier for the Raptors to get back to the game plan that was so successful for them this season. If Toronto can get up 10 threes in the first quarter of Game Five, make or miss, they should be expected to hold onto their home court advantage. If not, this could be a long night for the home team.

 

 

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 Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

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 Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Reward For Missing Raptors Bench: Best To Worst

Maybe it’s time for Toronto to offer a reward to anyone that can find their missing bench? Touted as the best bench in the NBA during the regular season, they’ve become the worst bench in the playoffs. The eye test backs up the numbers, it’s the Raptors starting unit that has been carrying the load against Washington.

This season the Raptors reserves led the league’s benches (per NBA.com) with  a net rating of +8.3 points and in the more straightforward plus/minus at +3.6. They weren’t just good, this bench turned more than a few games around for Toronto with their hustle and efficient play, but in the postseason, it’s been a different story.

With backup point guard Fred VanVleet on the shelf to start the playoffs, the Raptors second unit has had an embarrassingly bad -20.4 points net rating and a plus/minus of -7.3 points, both good for dead last among the playoff teams.

However, it hasn’t been VanVleet’s missing offense that’s the problem. The bench is scoring just 3.1 fewer points in 2.9 fewer minutes and they’ve been shooting the lights out from three-point range at 43.6 percent. The offensive production is fine, it’s the defense, rebounding, and a surprising drop off in sharing the ball that’s causing the problems.

In the playoffs the bench is garnering 6.8 fewer rebounds, 4.3 fewer assists and 1.2 fewer steals. Their defensive rating has shot up from a respectable 101.6 in the regular season to a terrible 120.1 in their three postseason games. The bench is only garnering 42.8 percent of the available rebounds which translates into lots of extra possessions for the Wizards.

With the numbers in full view, it’s easy to understand why the bench has looked so bad during the recent games.

It’s probably not fair to lay the blame at the feet of two second year players with a total of 36 minutes of playoffs experience between them prior to this season, but they kind of stand out and, even if they didn’t score, the hope would be Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl would hang onto their regular season chemistry and provide energy, defense and rebounding.

“We are letting them come to us and we are trying to react afterwards,” Poeltl said after the Game Three loss. “Me as a center, when I am guarding a guy like Scott or Morris, I have to find a good balance between being out for the shooters at the three and still being there to help at the rim for a guy like John Wall that’s coming down the lane. That’s really the difficult part for us to figure out.”

The Raptors big men off the bench simply aren’t finding that balance between guarding the three-point line and getting back to defend the rim and in today’s NBA where everybody shoots threes, that’s a big problem.

Between Poeltl and Siakam, their rebounds are down 2.3 per game, assists off 1.4 and steals have dropped to zero from 1.3. They are getting taken advantage off by a far more veteran group of Wizards big men that they haven’t been able to out-hustle or run into the ground. Those looks of “what did I do” as Poeltl picks up another foul or Siakam’s surprising lack of decisiveness (or confidence?) are not what Toronto has been used to seeing from these two all season.

Both Poeltl and Siakam exceeded expectations this year and they are going to get better, but the playoffs demand more than the regular season and these two are having to learn that on the job. Without the Raptors reserve big men playing up to expectations, Toronto’s bench will remaining “missing,” so they had better adapt fast.

 

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 Dance Pak

The NBA Playoffs Are Going Exactly As They Should

After the first two games of the NBA playoffs, the results are lining up (almost) exactly as they should. Apparently, your team has earned their record over an 82 game regular season and the 2-0 leads and 1-1 splits are right where they should be – except for you Portland.

Eastern Conference

Raptors (59-23) 2-0 vs Wizards (43-39)

The 59 win Toronto Raptors were a dominant at home this season and were 23-3 against the rest of the East in their own building. The inconsistent Wizards backed into the final playoff spot and were under .500 on the road. The only people that were surprised by Toronto winning the first two games at home were the ones insisting Washington was better than their record. They’re not.

Celtics (55-27) 2-0 vs Bucks (44-38)

Just toss out all those “problems” the Celtics were supposedly facing this season. Boston was who the were regardless of the players coach Brad Stevens put on the court and are full value for their 55 wins. The Bucks have a star and have under-performed expectations all season. Why would anyone think things were going to change in the playoffs?

76ers (52-30) 1-1 vs Heat (44-38)

The 76ers raced up the standings at the end of the season with a 16-0 streak that has masked some of the growing pains that should be expected from a young team in their first playoff appearance in half a decade. Add in the loss of All-Star Joel Embiid to a fractured orbital bone and the more talented 76ers will have to overcome some adversity. The Heat won the Southeast Division and have veteran players and a playoff tested head coach that makes them better than the sum of their parts.

Cavaliers (50-32) 1-1 vs Pacers (48-34)

The four-five match-up is supposed to be this tight. It is not an upset for the five seed to advance. On February 6th the Cavs lead the Pacers by two games in the standings and LeBron James had to average a near triple-double of 29.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 10 assists over his team’s final 30 games just to maintain that lead and hold onto fourth place in the East. There isn’t the width of a piece of paper difference between these two teams unless James puts up monster numbers and even then it’s tight.

Western Conference

Rockets (65-17) 2-0 vs Timberwolves (47-35)

The Rockets were the class of the NBA this season and were tied with Toronto for the best home record in the NBA. The T-wolves snuck into the postseason for the first time since 2004 (not a typo) and are a poor road team. It’s good experience for the young stars in Minnesota and that’s about it.

Warriors (58-24) 2-0 vs Spurs (47-35)

The defending NBA Champions seemed disinterested in the regular season as they coped with untimely injuries while racking up the third most wins in the Association. Even down a recent MVP in Stephen Curry, they still got one in Kevin Durant. The Spurs didn’t win 50 games for the first time this century and look ready for a rebuild. No disrespect, but without Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps) for most of this season, they just don’t have enough scoring to be competitive with the Warriors.

Trail Blazers (49-33) 0-2 vs Pelicans (48-34)

The regular season records of these two teams says it all. This is a three seed vs a six seed, but they were only one game apart. This should be a toss up, but the stars having been saying differently. As Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said, “You can’t win if good players play bad.”

In Portland, Anthony Davis (28.5 ppg) and Jrue Holiday (27 ppg) are playing great while Damian Lillard (17.5 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (20.5 ppg) are shooting terribly, so the Pelicans left town up two games. This situation shouldn’t last, but it’s probably too late for the Blazers to pull this series out of the fire.

Thunder (48-34) 1-1 vs Jazz (48-34)

It doesn’t matter if your team has Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, they still only won 48 games and only got the four seed on a tie-breaker. The Jazz aren’t scared of those “big names” and they shouldn’t be. They have their own up-and-coming bright star in rookie Donovan Mitchell and so far OKC can’t stop him.

Predictions:

East: Raptors, Celtics, 76ers, Pacers

West: Rockets, Warriors, Pelicans, Jazz

But I wouldn’t be counting on any series currently tied at 1-1.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Are Wizards Still Using Last Year’s Raptors Scouting Report?

After a couple of games being shelled from deep in Toronto you’d think the Washington Wizards would have noticed that this isn’t last year’s Raptors team? But you could be mistaken, they still seem to be clinging to last year’s scouting report. From the postgame comments, the Wizards aren’t ready to accept that giving up a 122 points per game in their first round playoff series has been on them.

“There were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes,”Wizards guard Bradley Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. 

“There’s a lot of guys, we went over the scouting report, there’s guys making threes that’s not really their M.O. coming into the series,” Beal said after Game Two. 

“I really feel like it’s nothing crazy that’s beating us in terms of their sets and the offensive stuff that they’re running. I think we are just shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts, allowing guys to get open threes, allowing guys to get those shots, allowing guys to get layups. It has to be one or the other.”

The Raptors were the highest scoring team in the East this season doing exactly what Beal has described on a nightly basis.

So, are the Wizards actually looking at this year’s scouting report on the Raptors? Toronto was third in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in three-point makes this season. Almost everyone on the roster shoots threes. This team has nine players that attempted over 130 three-pointers during the regular season and outside of backup center Jakob Poeltl, everyone on the roster has the green light to shoot a three when open.

Even the Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas will shoot the three if he isn’t guarded. He was 30-74 from three during the regular season and is already 1-2 in this series.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.”

The only players on the Raptors averaging more than two midrange shots a game are are DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka and they both average over 3.5 three-point attempts per game. Toronto has shifted away from being a top 12 team in scoring from the midrange last season to a bottom six team this year. These guys score over 75 percent of their points in the paint or from three.

NBA Toronto Raptors

“They play really well together,” Beal admitted. “You got to respect what coach Casey is doing and how he meshed and gelled that team together.

“We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The drawing should probably include guarding the three-point line or this fan in Washington might not survive his next rant.

 

 

 

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 C.J. Miles

These Raptors Live Or Die By The Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors have been firing away from deep since before the season began. It was all part of the “culture change” promised by president Masai Ujiri and delivered by head coach Dwane Casey. These Raptors were going to live or die by the three-ball this season and they rode that change all the way to first place in the East.

“They are a good team,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said after losing Game One of their first round series with Toronto. “They are the number one seed for a reason.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us. They’ve been doing it all year, not 16 in a game, they averaged nearly 12 (three-pointers a game).”

From 8.8 made threes per game in 2016-17 to an NBA fourth best 11.8 made threes this year, the Raptors have embraced the three-ball and everyone shoots them. Even the guys teams aren’t prepared to guard outside like the high-energy forward Pascal Siakam, the historically paint-bound Jonas Valanciunas and the mid-range king DeMar DeRozan. It a volume approach as Toronto is just an average three-point percentage shooting team.

“DeMar even made some threes in the fourth,” Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “They were 16-for-30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes. They made them.”

That Toronto fired up 30 three-balls in Game One really should not have come as a surprise to the Wizards. Over their four meetings this past season, the Raptors averaged 31.3 three-point attempts and as a team, they see no reason to change what got them to this point.

“We’ve been playing that style since training camp,” DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “We’ve been pounding and pounding every single day, every single practice, every single shoot-a-round, every time we get on the court, we pound this style of play. Guys know where their shots are going to come from. (We) understand where to get shots from, where to get our guys shots from, it’s just second nature now. You have to go thru that training camp, preseason and early-on-season of doing it and now it’s just repetition and it’s second nature to us.”

The Raptors use the three-ball to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and versatile guard Delon Wright, who had a big impact in Game One.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.

“I’m a driver, so teams try to pack the paint on me, so I have to be willing to take that open (three-point) shot. It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The same mindset applies to everyone on the Raptors and it makes the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team very difficult to guard. About the only way to stop them is to hope they miss shots.

“It’s definitely a pick your poison,” coach Scott said. “We just have to do it better.

“VanVleet did not play, but Wright came in and had a terrific game. That’s why they are hard to guard.”

“I think their bench was great, especially C.J. Miles, ” John Wall said. “I think they played well, made some big shots and that’s what they are going to do every game.”

Three-point specialist C.J. Miles was acquired during the summer to help make the transition to a three-point shooting roster happen and he’s been living up to his end of the bargain. Miles hit an NBA second most threes off the bench at 155 on the season and he hoisted the League’s second most attempts while on the court at over one three-point field goal attempt every three minutes. He’s been prolific and, taken in context, very effective.

“That’s been the main focus of what they have asked me to do since I’ve been signed, to be that threat, to carry that threat, but it’s a testament to guys looking for me, guys screening for me and the coaches believing in what I do,” Miles told Pro Bball Report. “I work at it extremely hard to be that threat. Obviously it can get a little crazy sometimes, but it is what it is. That’s what I am put out there to do.

“I understand you are not going to make them all and you you think about the fact that shooting 40 percent from three is elite, so that’s four out of 10, so if I miss three, the numbers are bound to balance out. That’s the way I look at it. As long as they are good looks, that’s the biggest thing.

“If it comes to me putting (the ball) down on the floor, it’s got to be because they made me, not because I passed up a shot to do it.”

Miles has been critical in getting the Raptors young players to buy into the “new culture” and not turn down shots just because they missed a couple and the proof is in the results. This style of play has worked for Toronto.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

The concern about the Raptors since those early preseason games when it seemed every prospect knew their only chance of making this roster was to shoot threes at every opportunity was if the team’s All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan would stay on board at the first signs of adversity or an impact to their own personal stats. Now we know they’re on board.

Ujiri’s culture change is in full effect and these Raptors will live or die by the three-ball. As of now, it looks like they could ride this change all the way to the NBA Finals.

 

 

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 OG Anunoby

Rookie OG Anunoby Is The Raptors Version Of Otto Porter

It was just plain lucky that a college injury allowed OG Anunoby to fall to Toronto at 23rd in last year’s draft. The 6’8 combo forward came back months ahead of schedule and ready to play at the start of this season where he has shown all the potential to become the Raptors version of the Wizards Otto Porter or more.

The Wizards signed Porter to a $106 million extension last summer, but the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft didn’t exactly have a rookie season to remember. A hip flexor injury cost him three months at the beginning of the season and when he returned, he barely played. It wasn’t until his second season in 2014-15 that he got minutes almost worthy of his draft status and as a second year player, those numbers weren’t as impressive as Anunoby put up this year.

Anunoby (2017-18): 74 g, 20.2 min, 5.9 pts, 2.5 rbs, 0.7 asts, 47.1% FG, 37.1% 3FG

Porter (2014-15):       74g, 19.4 min, 6.0 pts, 3.0 rbs, 0.9 asts, 45% FG, 33.7% 3FG

Although both players are legit 6’8 and are elite athletes, Anunoby has the advantage in physical tools across the board. (Based on NBA predraft measurements)

OG                          Otto

Weight                        232 lbs                    198 lbs

Reach                          8′ 11.5″                    8′ 9.5″

Wingspan                   7′ 2.25″                    7′ 1.5″

Hand length                 9.25″                      8.75″

Physical attributes aren’t the be-all and end-all in the NBA and heading into this year’s playoffs, Porter has a distinct advantage in experience. His length and athleticism made him a natural defender and in his fourth season he became one of the NBA’s elite three-point shooters earning him that massive four-year extension. While Anunoby performed well from the three-point line for a rookie and his defensive game is showing a lot of promise, he’s got a lot of development ahead of him to match what Porter has gone thru during 343 regular season games and 26 more in the postseason .

Through Anunoby’s rookie’s rookie season he’s been hot from three, then cold and finally recovering to shoot 46.7 percent from three over his last 14 games since returning from a mid-season injury on March 16th. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can stay hot throughout the playoffs.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has given Anunoby a lot of latitude because of his defensive potential and flexibility summed up by his postgame comments after a recent game against Indiana.

“(Anunoby) did an excellent job,” Casey said. “I thought he did a heck of a job. He did a tremendous job of getting into (Victor Oladipo), being physical, using his length and size and we need that. That’s the OG that we need defensively. He made it hard on Oladipo.”

It wouldn’t be fair to put all the onus on Anunoby to offset what Porter will bring to the Wizards on offense and defense in their first round playoff match-up and fortunately the Raptors don’t have to. Casey can call on the more experienced and playoff standout (in first round series) Norman Powell or the 13-year veteran C.J. Miles who will make Porter work hard to defend the volume of three-point shots he can put up. Casey could even match up the fast and versatile Pascal Siakam on Porter if he becomes a problem from the outside.

Anunoby vs Porter is an interesting playoff match-up between a developing rookie and a young veteran with similar games and physical attributes. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can grow up fast playing against a guy the team hopes he can surpass in the future.

 

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 coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Show Unprecedented Improvement Under Coach Dwane Casey

Quietly north of the border over the past seven NBA seasons head coach Dwane Casey has led the Toronto Raptors out of the lottery wilderness to the top of the Eastern Conference in a show of unprecedented steady improvement in the modern game. It’s a feat that hasn’t been seen in over 35 years and has only been done twice before in NBA history.

Casey is the third coach in NBA history to improve his team’s win total in six of seven seasons. The others were Boston’s Red Auerbach (1955-56 to 1961-62) and Phoenix’s John MacLeod (1974-75 to 1980-81). – The New York Times

Inheriting a team that won just 22 times the year before he got there, Casey has won 23, 34, 48, 49, 56, 51, and 59 games in successive seasons. His win total in Toronto of 320 and winning percentage (57.3%) dwarfs any previous coach in Raptors history.

An unwavering coaching philosophy based on defense-first earned Casey the trust of his team’s star player (on arrival his only star) DeMar DeRozan because of his consistency. There never has been a reason to second guess Casey’s motives and his players appreciate it. It is the primary reason his players accepted the dramatic changes to how he wanted them to play this season with nary a complaint. 

Recognition of his achievements south of the border hasn’t come easily and, somewhat surprisingly, during his tenure there have even been calls for his head coming out of Toronto. Coaches may be hired to be fired, but the complaints about Casey have been beyond ridiculous.

Now with his fifth NBA Coach of the Month award in the past five seasons and a team exceeding everyone’s expectations, Casey has been getting some significant applause for what he has accomplished. ESPN’s Jeremias Engelmann puts this season in perspective.

Vegas bookmakers had the Raptors pegged at 47 wins, a drop of four wins from last season.

Cut to eight months later, and the Raptors’ bench is regularly mopping the floor with opponents.

the Raptors’ starting unit also outscores opponents by a healthy margin of around six points per 100 possessions. However, it’s the bench that comes in and usually puts the game out of reach.

the majority of the credit has to go to Casey and his staff for pushing all the right buttons, and ultimately creating the sixth-strongest bench since 1997 with an average age of just 25.

And as ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes,

They have surged past Boston and Cleveland, and by any metric, they are closer peers to the Western Conference superteams than to anyone in the East. They are the only team ranked in the top five in both points scored and allowed per possession.

They are unpredictable, harder to grasp. Casey has mothballed a lot of set plays. … Everyone is free to launch 3s and drive.

“We’ve been through the heartaches and the letdowns,” DeRozan says. “This time, with this new approach, we feel comfortable.”

To be blunt, DeRozan looked pretty comfortable in the previous two seasons as the second best scorer in the East. So it came as a surprise that he stayed comfortable giving up his own points to record a career best in assists this season.

The Raptors rode this new approach to a franchise record 59 wins and it’s an accomplishment deserving of recognition. However, Casey convinced his players to do it for a chance to go further in the postseason than ever before. If they have success in the playoffs, look for another franchise record for wins next season.

 

 

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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 G-League Toronto Raptors 905 Lorenzo Brown

G League MVP Lorenzo Brown Joins Toronto Raptors For The Playoffs

Last night at the Hersey Centre just before Game Two of the NBA G League Finals, Toronto Raptors two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown found out he was this year’s G League MVP and soon after the Raptors converted his status to a standard NBA contract just in time for the first place Toronto Raptors playoffs.

 

 

 

Brown is now eligible to participate for the Raptors in the postseason.

The big point guard has appeared in 14 games with the Raptors this season, averaging 2.3 points, 1.1 rebounds and 9.8 minutes and hasn’t looked out of place because of his defensive presence. He scored a season-high 11 points on April 9th at Detroit and recorded a season-best five assists on January 11th vs Cleveland.

Brown earned his NBA G League MVP by averaging team highs of 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 32 games (all starts) for Raptors 905.

The 2017 defending Champion Raptors 905 had the third best record in the G League at 31-19 this season and went 25-7 with Brown in the lineup. They were the only team in the G League to hold opponents to under 100 points per game on average over the regular season.

The Raptors 905 advanced to this year’s Finals by defeating the Grand Rapids Drive, Westchester Knicks and Erie BayHawks in single-game elimination contests. Brown averaged a team-high 20.2 points and 8 assists in five G League playoff games.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Khem Birch

Montreal’s Khem Birch Is Finishing His NBA Rookie Season Strong

It hasn’t been easy for Montreal’s Khem Birch to find minutes as an NBA rookie on an Orlando Magic team that features Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic at center, but as the season winds down, he has been getting his opportunities and he has looked especially strong over the past five games.

“He’s been playing great,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said prior to the team’s game in Toronto. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten to play this year he’s nailed it, just with great energy, great feel for the game offensively even though he’s not a big shooter.

“A post player, he has a little bit limited offensive game, but he hasn’t been a liability because of how well he plays with the pass. He’s very good in a short roll making a target pass, extra pass to the weak side, good decisions. Our bigs become quarterbacks and decision-makers when they get the ball in the pocket like that and he’s done a great job with that.

“He is active all over the court defensively with his hands, deflections, blocked shots and offensively keeping balls alive.

“Him playing overseas the last couple of years was invaluable to his development.”

Birch put up a line of 12 points and 12 rebounds in front of his friends and family in Toronto and has averaged 11 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 22.4 minutes over his last five games. His Mom was in the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“My Mom, my Dad, his wife, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, 11, 15 probably,” Birch said would be in Toronto to support him.

“(My Mom) already told me to make matching shirts and stuff.  I’m not really a fan of that, but what can you do. You can’t get mad people trying to support you. In the future I’ll look back and just be like wow, people really supported me. Now I’m just going to be embarrassed.”

He had nothing to be embarrassed about on that night.

Birch was in Toronto a couple of years ago for a predraft workout with the Raptors, but even after averaging a double-double at UNLV and blocking 124 shots that season, he wasn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA.

“I was kind of immature back then,” Birch explained. “Now I’m more mature. I’ve been thru a lot since then. These past two years I’ve been thru so much. If I had the same mindset now back then, I probably would have made it (to the NBA).

“A lot of guys take this for granted. I’ve been thru so much, now I know what it takes to make it. Not to take it for granted and to go hard.

“It’s a great experience, it’s a lifelong dream and it’s something on my bucket list (to play) in the NBA. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of wins this year, but I’m blessed to be here.”

If Orlando can figure out their mess of a roster, Birch should be back with the Magic again next season. The 25-year-old rookie has shown himself to be a prospect worth developing.

 

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 G League Raptors 905 East Champs

Spurs Take Game One From Raptors 905 (with Highlights)

Derrick White scored a game-high 35 points for the Spurs in Austin on Sunday night to take Game One of the best-of-three NBA G League Finals from the defending champion Mississauga Raptors 905. The final score was 105-93.

 

 

The Spurs also got big nights from guard Darrun Hilliard who had 23 points and 17 points from Nick Johnson.

905 guard Lorenzo Brown led his team once again with 20 points while center Kennedy Meeks chipped in with a double-double of 13 points and 10 boards.

 

 

The Spurs were able to capitalize on strong three point shooting in the opening quarter, hitting on 60 percent from beyond the arc to take an early 30-23 advantage. Hilliard recorded 10 points in the quarter to pace Austin. Raptors 905 pushed back in the second frame, spearheaded by Brown’s 12 point effort in the quarter. After the opening 24 minutes of play, Austin went into the break up 54-49.

After a 27-27 draw in the third quarter, the two teams headed into the final frame with Austin ahead 81-76. In the fourth quarter, Austin converted at a 53.3 percent clip from the field to edge the 905 24-17 in the frame and earn the Game One victory.

Both teams now head to Mississauga for Game Two on Tuesday, April 10 with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.

 

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

Raptors Have An Old Fashioned Enforcer In Serge Ibaka

Basketball might look like a non-contact sport to the uninitiated and basketball fights more often resemble rough horse-play than anything else, but intimidation can be very real in the NBA and toughness is still a valuable and necessary commodity. While the Raptors have toughness in players like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas, they have an old fashioned enforcer in Serge Ibaka.

“It is very important when you are a team where you think you want a championship one day or you are a team with an opportunity to go far in the playoffs, you have to have toughness,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report. “You have to because in the playoffs things get ugly, things get tough, that’s why you need toughness.”

Ibaka has only been with the Raptors since last year’s trade deadline, but he’s already been in two fights where, gasp, real punches have been thrown in anger. Ibaka was ejected last season in March for exchanging blows with the Bulls Robin Lopez and this season in January for throwing punches with James Johnson of the Heat.

“It’s good,” Fred VanVleet explained to Pro Bball Report. “You want to have a tough guy quote en quote or enforcer and Serge has kind of taken that on himself to do that. Obviously we’d like him to save his money sometimes, but sometimes it’s needed and he kind of walks that line of when it’s needed and when it’s not.”

“It’s important in the league where we are now, people oughta to know, because people like to attack the weak(er) people,” Ibaka said. “If they know this guy’s nice or he’s weak, they are always going to come (after) you. (You need) a guy out there who if you go after (a teammate), he’s going to respond and that gives you a better chance for people to respect you out there.

“On a team you always need someone like that who is going to be there for his teammates, stand up for his teammates.”

The three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player from 2011-2014 who led the NBA in blocks from 2010-2014 has seen his game evolve under the pressure for big men to hit the three-ball, but he still likes to mix things up in the paint.

“He does way more than just try to be an enforcer out there and you saw that tonight with his shooting, spacing the floor and obviously his defense that we depend on him for,” VanVleet said.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Ibaka is second on the Raptors in blocks with 94, rebounds with 469, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in personal fouls with 203. But as VanVleet wants us to remember, Ibaka is third on the Raptors in scoring at 12.8 points per game, fourth with 106 made threes while shooting a respectable 35.9 percent and fourth with 372 made field goals shooting a solid 48.4 percent.

Ibaka has evolved to become more than just a paint-bound player, defensive specialist and sometime enforcer and the media adverse big man would like people to know he’s not the same guy off the court that you see treading line between toughness and hot head on the court.

“It’s hard because people really don’t know (me). They think this is how you are,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes people off the court they can’t look at (me) differently. That’s the hard part. You don’t want people to think about you off the court like that.”

 

 

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 win no 57

Raptors Crush Pacers To Secure First Place In The East

The Toronto Raptors built an 18-4 lead before the visiting Pacers knew what hit them as they held visitors to 5 points below their previous worst this season of 38 at the half and 10 points below their prior low of 83 for a game this year as Toronto cruised to a new franchise record for wins in a season at 57 and secured first place in the Eastern Conference with the 92-73 win.

The Pacers couldn’t buy a bucket all game as no one in the starting lineup made more than two field goals and Indiana shot a season low 29.9 percent as a team.

“(The Raptors) defense has been solid, there offense has picked up. They have put together a bench that is playing very well,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan prior to the game. “They have put themselves into a position to have this kind of success.”

The Raptors defensive-minded power forward Serge Ibaka was red hot from the start, scoring 10 first quarter points and finishing with a season-high 25 points on 10-13 shooting while matching his career best of five made three-pointers. No one else scored more than 12 points on either team.

“(Ibaka) is a weapon,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He has developed that like a lot of players that go through the league. They develop the offensive end. He is a definite three-point shooter.”

The victory also established a new franchise record for wins at home (33) with one home game remaining against Orlando on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played 28 minutes each and finished 12/5/8 and 9/5/9 respectively as Casey didn’t have to rely on his All-Stars to get the job done on this night.

“There is a sense of gratification of watching the growth of the program,” Casey said. “(The) development of the program from scratch and building it to the number one seed in our conference.”

However, Casey is thinking about the start of the playoffs a week from now and, unlike some other coaches, is more worried about keeping his guys ready to play than giving them any significant time off.

“That’s bull crap,” Casey said about resting guys. “We may give a guy some time, but we can’t think rest, we got to think rhythm. If you’ve been around the last couple of years, you’ve seen what shutting guys down a few games does to your body. We may rest a guy maybe a few minutes or a game, but there won’t be anybody who is going to take the rest of these next three games off because we just now in these last couple of games got a sense of rhythm.”

The Raptors don’t want to face another slow start in the first round of the playoffs.

On another note, the Raptors affiliate, Raptors 905, defeated the Erie BayHawks in the G League Eastern Conference Final 118-106 led by two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown with a game-high 28 points. The 905 will head to Austin, Texas to defend their G League Title on Sunday April 8th at 7:00 p.m. Game Two will be at the Hersey Centre in Mississauga on April 10th with Game Three, if necessary, back in Austin on April 13th.

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira

Is The Raptors Secret Weapon Lucas Nogueira?

With the Toronto Raptors on the verge of finishing atop the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history as they set a new franchise record for wins in a season, there shouldn’t be much that isn’t known about this roster. Two four-time All-Stars and the best bench in the NBA, but maybe this team has a secret weapon in third string center Lucas Nogueira that could be a difference-maker when the Raptors are in trouble.

“When Lucas is locked in, I think Lucas is one of the best centers, shot blockers, shot changers in the league,” Kyle Lowry said after the Raptors recent win over the Celtics in Toronto. “It’s unfortunate sometimes his rotations haven’t been good for him all year.

“He’s a true professional. He’s been coming in and getting his extra work in and when he’s playing, he’s been good.”

It’s fair to say Nogueira has been a true professional this season, unfortunately that statement would have been a lot harder to make in the past. The fun-loving big Brazilian center has come across as entitled, unfocused, and soft in past seasons, but his natural gifts made everyone around him hope he could put it together and this year, there’s a case to be made that he’s doing it.

In his 47 games this season Nogueira has put together a team best defensive rating of 96.7. Steady reliable Fred VanVleet comes in second at 99.6 in his 73 games.

When it comes to blocking shots, Nogueira’s been swatting away an insane career best 8.3 percent of the two-point shots while he’s been on the court. To put that in context, the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis is the official leader in that stat this season at 6.4 percent. Jakob Poeltl is next best on the Raptors at 5.4 percent and Serge Ibaka swats 3.7 percent. (Toronto has the second most blocks per game in the NBA this season.)

But it’s Nogueira’s defensive play since the end of February as his teammates started taking their collective efforts off the defensive end that really stands out. In his last 12 games, Nogueira has a defensive rating of 76.4. Over the same time period Delon Wright has been the Raptors best regular rotation player on “D” with a defensive rating of 102.9.

“He gives us a presence at the rim,” Fred VanVleet said. “He makes those intangible plays in the game that are rare for a big.”

And he does make those intangible plays that are rare for a big man, but Nogueira still has to fight the perception that he’ll lose his focus the longer he’s on the court, so coach Casey remains reluctant to use him unless Poeltl and Jonas Valanciunas aren’t getting the job done.

This year Nogueira has been ready to play when Casey calls and he’s been seen so little by the Raptors opponents that he really is like a secret weapon. It is almost impossible to prepare for the impact of a focused Nogueira as his game is completely different from Poeltl or Valanciunas as was readily evident when Casey subbed him in against the Celtics on Wednesday night. (Nogueira had a plus/minus of +19 in 17.8 minutes.)

It’s worth noting Nogueira will be a free agent at the end of this season. He’s talented, motivated, and needs to prove he deserves a new contract next year. History has shown that can be a dangerous combination if you’re on the other team.

 

 

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 G-League Toronto Raptors 905 Lorenzo Brown

Lorenzo Brown Leads Raptors 905 To G-League East Finals

Lorenzo Brown scored the first two points of the night for the Raptors 905 and led his team to a 92-80 victory over the first-place Knicks in the NBA G-League East Semi-Final at the Westchester County Center in White Plains New York on Monday night.

As he has done all season Brown continued to be the catalyst for the 905 attack recording a team-high 18 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.  Kennedy Meeks (13 points, 14 rebounds) and Alfonzo McKinnie (10 points, 11 rebounds) contributed double-doubles for the 905.

Isaiah Hicks scored a game-high 23 points for the Knicks, who also received a 20-point effort from New York Knicks assignment player Damyean Dotson and a near triple-double of 16 points 10 assists and eight boards from starting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.  However, the 905 bench offset the huge offensive output by the Knicks starters, outscoring the Westchester reserves 45-21.

Westchester jumped out to a big 18-4 early lead on the strength of three quick trifectas and three layups while the 905 couldn’t buy a basket. Fortunately, the 905 bench came in and turned things around to pull within three points, 26-23, at the end of the first quarter.

The game stayed close thru the second and third quarters with neither team able to put together a run and it stayed that way until the 905 hit back-to-back three-pointers to go up by eight points with 6:15 left in the game. The Knicks rallied back to close to within four points before the 905 clamped down on defense over the final four and a half minutes to outscore their opponent 10-2 and secure the victory.

Raptors 905 will continue its quest to defend their NBA G-League title Friday April 6th on the road against the winner of Tuesday’s contest between the Erie BayHawks and Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the single game elimination Eastern Conference Final.

 

 

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 Lorenzo Brown

Lorenzo Brown Leads Raptors 905 To Playoff Victory

Raptors 905 battled until the final whistle in their NBA G-League Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in front of 2,253 enthusiastic fans at the Hersey Centre, earning a 92-88 victory over Grand Rapids Friday night led by their two-way contract star Lorenzo Brown. 

“Both teams played really good defense,” 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said after the game. “I expected this game to be a battle and it absolutely was. At the end, Lorenzo stepped up and made some big plays for us and we got the stops that we needed on the defensive end.”

The starting guards would feature prominently throughout this game as Brown and Grand Rapids Drive guard Kay Felder posted game-high 24-point efforts. The 905 also benefited from timely points from Toronto Raptors assignees Alfonzo McKinnie and Malachi Richardson who had 8 points and 5 points in the fourth quarter respectively to earn the victory. McKinnie hitting the game winning basket with 28 seconds left on a play called by Brown on the fly.

“Malachi came up and gave us some life there in the second half,” Stackhouse said.

“I was so proud of Lorenzo. I didn’t call that play (at the end), that play he called for Alfonzo to get that (winning) shot in the lane, they called that on the free throw down there. They saw something there and I think that’s the growth of a point guard being able to call things on the fly.”

“We tried to call (that play) about eight times,” Lorenzo explained. “But (coach) Stack, he thought something (else) would work, so we kept going with what Stack wanted to do. They kept taking away our hammers and me going downhill so we had to make some adjustments and got them confused because they kept switching and Alfonzo had the hot hand at the moment so we had to go to him and he made the big play.”

The game was tightly contested from the tip with Grand Rapids leading 50-49 at the half.  Nothing was decided until the final minutes when the 905 broke a 82-all tie with less than 5 minutes left on a 6-0 Brown lead flurry.

Brown assisted on a McKinnie jumper and then scored on two quick drives to the rim, the first one leaving the Drive looking lost and confused.

“I definitely carried,” Brown admitted. “I don’t know what the refs was thinking, I definitely carried, but I got away with it.”

Raptors 905 now head to Westchester for a second-round meeting with the Eastern Conference Champion Knicks.  The game will take place Monday, April 2 at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBA TV.

 

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 LeBron James

Can Cavs Hold Onto Third In The East?

The battle for third place in the NBA East is tighter than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are crowded together with just one game separating third from fifth. So, can the Cavs hold on?

Cleveland 45-30, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Pelicans 43-32, Mavs 23-52, Raptors 55-20, Wizards 41-33, Knicks 27-49

On the road: @Philly 44-30, @NY 27-49

Philadelphia 44-30, 9-1 in their last 10 games

8 games remaining:

At home: Hawks 21-54, Nets 24-51, Cavs 45-30, Mavs 23-52, Bucks 39-35

On the road: @Charlotte 34-42, @Detroit 34-40,  @Atlanta 21-54

Indiana 44-31, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Warriors 54-20, Hornets 34-42

On the road: @Sacramento 24-51, @Clippers 41-34, @Denver 40-35, @Toronto 55-20, @Charlotte 34-42,

It’s obvious the Pacers have the toughest schedule and should be more worried about holding off the Wizards …. unless they want to slip into sixth place to avoid the 4/5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs which might not be all that bad of an idea.

Washington (41-33) still has to face the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics, so their road isn’t all that easy either.

Between the Cavs and 76ers, who each have 30 losses to this point, the 76ers have the significantly easier schedule and they’ve been red hot since losing to the Pacers two weeks ago. However, it wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise if the winner of their game vs the Cavs at Philips Arena decides who gets third.

The overhanging question about Cleveland’s season will probably be answered by the games against New Orleans, Toronto and Washington immediately before the big game against Philly. If the Cavs don’t take at least two of these three, the game at Philips might just be being played for pride.

If you have to speculate on who will finish third thru fifth in the East, right now it looks like 76ers, Cavs and Pacers in that order. Raptors and Celtics should plan accordingly.

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas

16 Blocks Shows Why The Raptors Will Be A Force In The Playoffs

The Raptors blocked a season high 16 shots in their 114-110 win over a desperate Nuggets team still clinging to the hope of a playoff berth and reminded everyone Toronto is still a top five defensive team.

The Raptors block the second most shots per game of any team in the NBA at 6.1 and they do it as a collective. No one on the Raptors is in the top 15 for blocked shots this season, even though Serge Ibaka leads the team at 1.3 blocks. It’s guys like Lucas Nogueria who blocks an insane 8.7 percent of opponents’ two-points attempts in the very limited minutes that he is on the floor. The surprising Jakob Poeltl who already has 96 blocks this season, and even the guards chip in. Backup Delon Wright at half a block per game is sixth in the NBA among point guards.

In the game against the Nuggets, Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, the starting point guard, had four blocks each. Nogueira had three blocks in seven minutes. Poeltl blocked one shot.

With no obvious dominant shot blocker in the regular rotation, Toronto has the ability to make any opponent’s attempt at the rim an adventure as they’ve swatted away 460 shots this season – and the season isn’t over yet.

The recipe for success in today’s NBA has been to shoot threes or layups and relegate the midrange to a distant third choice and it’s a change the Raptors finally embraced this season. After finishing last season as a bottom 10 team in three-point attempts and makes, this year they are third in both categories.

However, in what may be an even more difficult feat to accomplish in today’s three-ball happy NBA, the Raptors lead the Association in allowing the fewest three-point attempts (25) and makes (9). No where was this feat made more evident than when the Raptors held the NBA’s more prolific three point takers (42.5) and makers (15.5) the Houston Rockets to 9-27 from three in the Raptors 108-105 win on March 9th. It was the only setback the NBA’s first place overall team has faced in their past 28 contests.

The Eastern Conference’s first place Raptors have alternated wins and loses since their 11 game winning streak was snapped by the Thunder 10 days ago as the team has looked like what can only be described as tired. However, they have three full days off before their next tilt against a surging but injury riddled Celtics team in Boston.

After Boston the Raptors re-visit the Cavs who outscored them 132-129 a week ago and then play the Celtics at the Air Canada Center where the crushed the Cs 111-91 in February. These games will test Toronto’s ability to ramp up their vaunted three-point and rim defense against the best the East has to offer and show they will be a force in the playoffs this year.

 

 

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

 

 

Pascal Siakam From Bricklayer To Raptors Best 3-Point Shooter?

No one saw this coming so perhaps that’s why opposing defenses continue to forget about the Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam when he’s standing at the three-point line, but the season’s first-half bricklayer has become his team’s best outside shooter – at least he’s been good when no one is guarding him.

Over the past four games Siakam has shot 6-9 from three-point range and he’s hit a team best 60 percent of his three-balls over the past 10 games. Sometimes it still looks like he’s shooting against his will, but they are going in anyway.

“I just continue to try to be confident, I work at it every day,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “I am improving, (but) a lot of the shots that I missed at the beginning of the season they just didn’t go in.”

It’s perhaps the biggest understatement about a shooting slump ever. Siakam went on a 1-27 streak from three in December and was hitting just 16.3 percent of his 1.9 three-point attempts per game until things surprisingly turned around early in February. He went 1-2 from three on February 8th after a 1-7 start to the month and has continued to find the range since, and, maybe, got just a bit more selective by reducing his attempts to just 1.2 per game.

Over his last 21 games Siakam has hit on 44 percent of his threes. He knew in today’s NBA he had find at least some semblance of a three-point threat eventually, it just didn’t seem likely he get there this quickly.

“No, well I think I did, I was going to evolve to that, I didn’t know how quickly,” Siakam stumbled over explaining his developing three-point range. “The game is evolving and you got to evolve with the game.”

For most of this season anyone watching Siakam setting up in the corner cringed when the ball was swung around to him because he was the guy opponent’s knew they could help off of without consequence, but no longer. Siakam was told to keep shooting no matter what, it was an important part of the Raptors new offense and now they are going in.

“I think that’s the confidence the team gives me,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report in January. “They see my work and know I’m working on (my three-point shot), so they trust that I put the work in and to shoot it when I’m open.

“I make it in practice. So I got to keep working on it and I got to keep doing it.”

The MVP of last year’s NBA D-League Finals didn’t come into the season with a jump shot, but it looks like he’s heading towards the postseason with a pretty good one.

 

 

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.