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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.




NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Hey Raptors Fans, This Is What Success Looks Like

The Toronto Raptors have won 48, 49, 56 and 51 games over the past four NBA seasons and at 54 wins with 9 games remaining are likely to have the franchise’s first ever 60 win season this year. But even in the midst of an 11 win 2 loss month of March, doubters remain. Hey Toronto, this is what success looks like.

It’s been a while now that the Raptors players have looked listless, unfocused and possibly bored with the process. Once they got a double-digit lead in games over the rival Cavaliers and a nearly insurmountable lead on the second place Celtics, there just hasn’t been many situations that would really make a difference.

“We went thru it in Dallas, we went thru it in Seattle, so it’s not anything that’s new to our team,” head coach Dwane Casey said to explain the Raptors lack of focus in the win over the Nets. “It’s an NBA phenomenon.”

The Raptors have been starting games without the defensive intensity they showed earlier in the season. Up until March the Raptors were top 10 in fewest points allowed in the first quarter (26.2 points allowed) and finished the quarter up a respectable +1.9 points up on their opponents, but this month they’d dropped to 23rd at 28.8 points allowed and a misleading +0.1 points differential as its often been up to the bench to make up for the starters early malaise.

Call it boredom, a lack of focus, or just the realization they can beat most of the teams in the NBA if they just play hard for the last six minutes of the game. But as coach Casey points out, this isn’t anything new. In reality, this is what success looks like in the finals days of the regular season.

When you have a 50 win team in March, can the playoffs start soon enough?



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 LeBron James

Cavs LeBron James Has Already “Flipped The Switch”

There remains, albeit in diminishing numbers, those who insist the Cavs and LeBron James will simply “Flip The Switch” when the playoffs arrive and make yet another appearance in the NBA Finals. The issue being James had to flip that switch way back on February 7th just to slow a Cavs slide into oblivion.

On February 6th Cleveland rolled into Orlando only to be blown out 116-98 by a really bad Magic team. The loss punctuated a 7 win 14 loss slide that looked like it had no end and if not stopped, would put in question any chance at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs or, gasp, worse. In reality, home court in the first round remains at risk even now.

Fortunately Cleveland has one of the best players to ever play the game and he put those woefully inept Cavs on his shoulders and stopped the bleeding.

In the next game James put up 37 points on 72.7 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists to help the Cavs steal an overtime game 140-138 from Minnesota and start a four game winning streak where he was 30/9.5/13 and hitting 45.5 percent from three. Now that’s “flipping the switch.”

Ignore that big 10 player multi-team trade the Cavs reshuffled their roster with on February 8th. LeBron flipped that switch all on his own and it’s still turned on just to keep the in jury riddled Cavs from losing any more ground in the standings.

The four game winning streak ended with a loss at home to Washington, a team the Cavs needed to beat and are only clinging to a one game advantage over as of March 20, and James has had to average 30.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 9.4 assists just to keep the Cavs at a .500 pace, 7 wins and 7 losses.

Those past 14 games weren’t exactly against the best in the NBA either. Cleveland has only managed wins against Memphis (19-51), Brooklyn (23-48), Detroit (32-39), Denver (38-33), Phoenix (19-53), Chicago (24-46) and Milwaukee (37-33). (No they haven’t played any of Houston, Golden State, Toronto or Boston in this stretch – yet.)

The Cavs continue to cling to third place in the East, 11.5 games back of Toronto and 5 games behind Boston, but except for the two games against the Raptors at The Q their remaining schedule is soft enough for a James that has “flipped the switch” to protect his team’s precarious playoff seeding, a half game better than Indiana.

The Raptors likely don’t need to win either game in Cleveland to remain in first place, but they’d undoubtedly like to build on that 34 point beat-down they laid on the Cavs in January. The Cavs, on the other hand, need James to flip that switch up another level (assuming their is one) or risk going into the postseason looking like an also-ran for the first time since James’ return.

Raptors face the Cavs on March 21st and again on April 3rd.

Imagine if James slips back to those (very good) pre-flipped-the-switch averages of 24 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists during the Cavs 7-14 run?



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 Delon Wright

Raptors Delon Wright Has Embraced The Three-Ball

Delon Wright will tell you he’d prefer to pass the ball instead of shoot and head coach Dwane Casey obviously likes the young guard for his defense, but in this new Raptors offense, Wright is expected to score as well as do everything else and in keeping with the program, he has embraced the three-ball.

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

“With my nature being pass-first, I was passing up (three-point shots) a lot and they got on me about that. They want me to shot it more instead of passing.”

In his D-League rich and injury shortened first two seasons in Toronto, Wright only attempted 43 three-point shots in 54 NBA games. This year, however, he’s hoisted 125 threes in 57 games and he’s been knocking them down at an acceptable 36.8 percent. The 16 percent of his shots that he from three he took as a rookie is now almost up to 35 percent.

“My first year I wasn’t that comfortable because I was trying to fit into a role and I wasn’t comfortable with the position yet,” Wright said. “Now that I’ve been playing it the whole year, I’m comfortable shooting those shots and know where those shots are going to come from.”

Wright was a typical young guard coming out of college. He had a strong preference to drive when he did get the urge to score. It wasn’t easy, but Wright has bought into the Raptors new offense.

“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,” Wright said. “It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The impact of the three-point shot threat hasn’t just opened up driving lanes for others. It’s dramatically improved Wright’s ability to score from two as well. His two-point percentage has bumped up from 45.3 percent last year to 53.4 percent this year and he’ been finishing an impressive 65 percent of his shots at the basket. There’s nothing like the threat of a three-ball to open up a lane to the rim.

While the improvements haven’t always come in a straight line from the beginning of the season, in his last five games since coming back from a sore toe Wright has been hot from three, hitting on 47.1 percent of his 17 three-point attempts.

“He’s had an opportunity to score, making open shots, he’s being aggressive,” Casey responded to Pro Bball Report recently. “All those things he’s been doing and he’s doing a much better job.

“There’s nobody on our team that doesn’t have a green light to shoot. They know their shot.”

The Raptors new style of play has, sometimes grudgingly, made Wright and others on this team better players and it’s unlikely Toronto would currently be residing in first place if the change hadn’t happened.



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

DeMar DeRozan Gets Some MVP Love From The Western Conference

While the Houston Rockets James Harden is the run-away leader for the NBA’s MVP award this season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry singled out the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan as another worthy candidate. Gentry acknowledges that despite a great season his own star Anthony Davis isn’t even in this race. As it should be, it’s all about winning.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle quotes Gentry as saying,

“In my opinion, (James Harden) is the MVP of the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not even close, really, what he’s doing with his team and the numbers he’s putting up.”

“He’s been fantastic. He’s been unbelievable,” Gentry said of Davis. “I think the only difference in him not being heavily, heavily in the conversation is obvious we haven’t had the type of season that a Houston has had or a Toronto has had, you know with (DeMar) DeRozan and those guys.

“We just don’t have the wins that those teams have and I think that’s the difference in where he is on the scale of MVP as opposed to Harden or DeRozan.”



NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Closing In On First Overall In The NBA

On a seemingly ignored 10 game winning streak the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of passing the Golden State Warriors in the overall standings and are just three games back of the Houston Rockets who they have defeated twice this season.

These aren’t your Raptors of the past four years. Yes, those teams set club records with 48, 49, 56 and 51 win seasons and were better than anything fans in Toronto had experienced, but this team is on a pace never before seen north of the border and there is still an element of disbelief around the NBA and even in the local fan base. And that’s despite this winning streak really stretching back to late January at 19-2.

While the blow out wins in February were impressive, what deserves more notice are the recent hard fought wins over desperate teams fighting for playoff position. Games that in past seasons probably would not have ended in the Raptors favor.

Toronto crushed the Pistons hopes of sneaking into the playoffs by blowing them out at the Air Canada Centre at the end of February and a week later broke their hearts in an overtime thriller in Detroit that the Pistons had to win to stay in the playoff race. The Raptors also took wins away from the Wizards in Washington and the Pacers in Indiana in the fourth quarter with both teams fighting for home court in the postseason.

However, the signature win came against the Western Conference’s first place Rockets who came into Toronto on a 17 game winning streak having lost earlier in the season to Toronto in front of their home fans. The Raptors were playing their third game in four nights, but it didn’t matter as they held the NBA’s second highest scoring team to just 105 points.

The Warriors are experiencing injury woes and dropped a couple of road games recently. Currently Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb) and Kevin Durant (ribs) are all on the shelf, so there may be a few more losses coming before they get all their superstars back. Passing the Dubs in the overall standings is a very real possibility for the Raptors.

The Rockets, however, may prove to have too big of a lead. Houston has bounced back for three wins in a row after losing in Toronto. The Raptors can see first place overall, but there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in the way of James Harden and company running the table from here.



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 DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan Is Player Of The Week For An NBA High Fifth Time

The NBA announced Monday that Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan has been selected as Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played March 5-11. This marks the second week in a row and the fifth time this season DeRozan has received the honor, the most in the East.

In the West, James Harden has also been selected five times this season, most recently back-to-back in February. Not surprisingly, Rockets and Raptors are in first place in their respective conferences. The Trail Blazers Damian Lillard was selected from the West for this past week.

DeRozan averaged a team-high 24.8 points along with 4.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds as the Raptors won an NBA-best four games last week. He shot .453 (34-for-75) from the field and .833 (25-for-30) at the free throw line.

Highlighting DeRozan’s week was a 42-point performance during Toronto’s 121-119 overtime victory on March 7th at Detroit. He made a coast-to-coast dunk at the end of regulation and then drove coast-to-coast to assist on Fred VanVleet’s game-winning basket in overtime.  In a battle of first place teams, DeRozan scored 23 points, including the go-ahead basket vs. Houston on March 9th, snapping the Rockets’ 17-game winning streak.


NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Move To Number One In NBA Power Rankings

It isn’t easy for We The North to get much recognition south of the border, but after completing the season series sweep over the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are getting some much deserved praise.

In John Schuhmann’s Week 22 Power Rankings on the Raptors rose two places to head the list at number one.

The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.

Over at Sports Illustrated ,  Rohan Nadkarni also bumped the Raptors from the third spot to first overall.

Week 22 of the NBA season is here, and we’re seeing a shake-up at the top of the Power Rankings.

The Rockets have been bumped from the top spot after Toronto ended their 17-game win streak.

The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Over at, the CARM-ELO ranking system still has the Rockets first with the Raptors a close second. Both teams are given a 60 percent chance at representing their respective conferences in the NBA Finals.

ESPN Power Rankings have left the Raptors in third place behind the Rockets and Warriors choosing to ignore the recent losses by those teams and the Raptors NBA best 15-1 record since February 2nd. Occasionally it feels necessary to remind ESPN that the NBA has a team in Canada.

Despite seeing their 17-game winning streak come to an end against the Toronto Raptors, the Houston Rockets are in no danger of losing their No. 1 position in the NBA Power Rankings. And even after back-to-back losses without Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors still call their familiar No. 2 spot home for now.

While the Rockets were winning 17 in a row, the Raptors, almost unnoticed,  were almost as unbeatable and with the streak stopper against the Western Conference leader on Friday night, Toronto earned the top spot in the NBA and SI Power Rankings.



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

It’s Over: Dwane Casey Is Your NBA Coach Of The Year

As the seemingly hoped for collapse by the Raptors never materialized, recognition of what head coach Dwane Casey has been able to accomplish in Toronto this season was becoming just to hard to ignore. The pundits had already started to recognize Casey as Coach of the Year worthy and after his team completed the sweep of the NBA’s first overall Houston Rockets on Friday night, it’s over. Just give the man his award.

A couple of days prior to the big win over the Rockets, the NBA Writers Blogtable had unanimously picked Casey as their number one choice for Coach of the Year.

Steve Aschburner:  Casey has helped to reinvent the Raptors after another disappointing playoff exit last spring

Tas Melas:  Casey got multiple-time All-Stars to buy in to a new style of play. I thought it was unthinkable. That’s real coaching right there, and the bench’s success just puts it over the top.

Shaun Powell:  My choice by a large margin is Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors. I love how he has adapted and evolved his system to fit the needs of his players, and how the bench has developed.

John Schuhmann:  The Toronto Raptors are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ve changed their offense, have actually been more improved on defense.

Sekou Smith:  It’s not often you see a coach with his seasoning and stature scrap what’s been working and completely revamp his offense. Casey has always been a defensive mastermind, but to do what he’s done on the other side of the floor has been simply tremendous

On court success alone often isn’t enough to for an NBA head coach to get noticed. Every team and every coach comes into the season with certain expectations and the expectations for the Raptors upcoming season weren’t all that good.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton was forecasting the Raptors as 43-44 win team early in August.

ESPN’s Summer Forecast and  Bleacher Report pegged the Raptors at 47 wins.

Using its CARM-ELO system, evaluated Toronto as a slightly better than average team prior to the start of the season.

After back-to-back 50+ win seasons, even the positive predictions had the Raptors taking a step back this year and reasons weren’t all that hard to understand. Ujiri had shipped off veterans DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph.  Key rotation cogs P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson were lost to free agency and the only veteran addition was journeyman three-point specialist C.J. Miles.

President Masai Ujiri made it clear he was going to see what his young players and rookies could do and to be fair, no one knew in advance how this would turn out. Casey was going to be under the gun to get a team of two All-Stars, three veterans and a host of unproven players still on their rookie deals playing together and, by the way, change how the team had played in those previous 50+ win seasons.

Casey didn’t just succeed. He blew the doors off of everyone’s preseason expectations.

After 65 games, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors (48-17) have a 2.5 game lead over Boston and a 10 game advantage over the clinging to third place Cavaliers. projects them to win 61 games. They are beating teams by an NBA second best points differential of +8.6 and that young bench has the best Net Rating in the league (as a five-man unit). Only the Western Conference’s Rockets and Warriors have more wins (51).

Their style of play really has changed dramatically from the prior year. This season the Raptors are hoisting an NBA third most three-point shots (32.9) and are top 10 in assists (23.8) compared to last year when they were bottom 10 in three-point attempts at 24.3 and dead last in assists (18.5).

The changes were made in response to Ujiri’s frustration with not being able to get by the Cavs in the postseason. The Raptors two All-Stars had proven they could carry this team in the regular season, so the buy-in by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan was going to be as critical to Casey’s ability to make the changes needed as his ability to accelerate the development of his young players.

Give credit where credit is due. Casey has succeeded on both fronts.

Coach of the Year is a regular season award, so that handful of stubborn Raptors’ doubters should have nothing to say. What Casey has been able to accomplish this season is in a word amazing and there should be no argument from anyone on that front.

(Yes the season isn’t over yet, but as far as Coach of the Year goes, this one’s in the bag.)



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 Houston Rockets James Harden and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors A Slight Favorite Over The Rockets

In what has to be viewed as the biggest game of the 2017-18 season to-date, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors face the Western Conference’s first-place Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

ESPN affiliate gives the home court Raptors a slight 0.5 point advantage and  a 52 percent chance of winning.

Toronto (47-17) clinched a playoff spot this week with their sixth win in a row by beating Detroit 121-119 in overtime and holds a two game lead over second place Boston. The Rockets (51-13) hold a slim half game lead over the Warriors thanks to an impressive 17 game winning streak.

The Raptors defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113 way back in November and a series sweep would send a strong message to the few remaining doubters about just how good the team north of the border is this season.

The Air Canada Centre has been a tough place for opponents to steal a win. The Raptors have the best home record in the NBA at 27-5 where they pile on the points at 112.8 per game and outscore their opponents by a league best 11.9 points.

However, the Rockets are a league best 26-7 on the road this season, scoring 111.8 points and winning easily by a front-running 8.9 points in their opponents’ buildings.

It’s the NBA’s leading scorer and MVP front runner James Harden vs the Eastern Conference Player of the Week DeMar DeRozan and the NBA’s best bench. This should be a 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.




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Clutch DeMar DeRozan Looking Like An MVP

The Toronto Raptors had to dig themselves out of a deep first half hole in order to come back to defeat the Pistons in Detroit in an overtime thriller on Wednesday night and it was DeMar DeRozan looking like an MVP who came thru in the clutch at the end of regulation and overtime.

“It was a big play,” teammate Kyle Lowry said postgame about DeRozan’s coast-to-coast drive for a dunk and-one with 4.6 seconds left in regulation. “For him to do that in that situation is just MVPish.”

From the ESPN broadcast: “What a finish. That’s what an All-Star looks like folks.”

It was all DeRozan in the OT boxscore as well as he assisted on on a Pascal Siakam layup and made an 18′ jumpshot and-one as Reggie Bullock fouled him. Then in the dying seconds of a tied game DeRozan drives the length of the court again and with four Pistons collapsing on him at the rim he passes to a wide-open Fred VanVleet who hits the long corner two for the win.

DeRozan scored 42 points on the night for his fourth 40+ point game of the season.

With the win the 47-17 Raptors become the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season and return home to face the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night who are on a 17-game winning streak. Both teams are a conference best 31-8 versus teams in their own conference.

In November Toronto defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113. DeRozan leading the the Raptors with 27 points while shooting 7-15 from the field and going 13-16 from the charity stripe. James Harden led all-scorers with 38 points on a rough shooting night (8-25) that he made up for by going 19-19 from the free throw line.

DeRozan, leading Toronto to first place in the East, has looked like an MVP in Toronto this season. Harden, however, has led his team to first in the West (51-13), leads the NBA in scoring at 30.9 points per game and has an NBA best four 50+ point games including an NBA season high 60 point night.

Rockets at Raptors on Friday night could be an NBA Finals preview.



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 Jonas Valanciunas and Charlotte Hornets Dwight Howard

Are The Hornets Throwing Shade At Dwight Howard?

So maybe things haven’t quite worked out in Charlotte the way they had hoped this season and Dwight Howard, the $23.5 million man they acquired in the summer to shore up the middle, hasn’t made any noticeable difference to winning more games. So as the season winds down to its inevitable conclusion, have the Hornets starting throwing shade in his direction?

As politely as head coach Steve Clifford could say it, getting 16 points and 12 rebounds from Howard this season hasn’t made a difference and, you know, the NBA is full of players that put up stats that don’t mean much on losing teams.

“So much of numbers is going to be, you are going to be evaluated first and foremost by your impact on winning,” Clifford said.

By the way, the 28-36 Hornets are in 10th place in the East, 5.5 games out of eighth place with only 18 games left in the season. Miami would have to implode to give the Hornets a remote shot at making the playoffs as a sub-.500 team at this point. It’s all over but the crying.

“The nature of this game is this is that you have to try and play in a way that is good for you and your team is successful. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the way it starts and that’s the way basketball should work. It always has and it always will.

“The NBA is made of a number of guys that put up good numbers and your not going to win because of the nature of how they play.

“I think that he has played well, but obviously we’ve been inconsistent.”

It wouldn’t be fair to lay all the blame for a poor season in Charlotte at the feet of Howard and his coach doesn’t do that, unfortunately for this 32-year-old eight time All-Star, his good personal numbers haven’t made a difference to team that was 36-46 last year. They are on track to hit that same disappointing mark all over again and Howard is under contract at $23.8 million 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

NBA Refs Really Do Screw Over The Raptors More Than Other Contenders

You can thank the NBA’s Two Minute Reports for confirming what Toronto Raptors fans have known about for years. NBA refs really do screw over the boys from the North more.

Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight has run the numbers and the Raptors have been victimized by the referees 18 times in the last two minutes with the score within three points this season and that doesn’t count things like Jonas Valanciunas getting hit in the face on that game tying dunk on the Bucks that was later called incidental contact.

Of the teams in contention this season: Toronto (18 blown calls), Boston (17), Golden State (11), Houston (8) and (cough-cough) Cleveland (11), the Raptors are number one at getting screwed by the refs with the game on the line. The only solace might be the Celtics aren’t treated that much better, but being lumped in with the also-rans at the top of the disrespect chart isn’t anything to be happy about.

Apparently there is some justification to DeMar DeRozan’s frustration at not getting calls. He’s number five on the list identifying players who the referees choose to ignore when they’ve been fouled in crunch time.

Yes Toronto isn’t on the top of the bad calls list. That honor deservedly goes to Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets, but that’s historically consistent. Really bad teams don’t get calls.

However, the Raptors (and even the Celtics) are the best in the East and in third and fourth overall respectively in the league. They deserve better and the four-time All-Star DeRozan shouldn’t have to be among the league leaders in getting no respect from the referees.



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 Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Casey Says Raptors Will Bet On Their Bench In The Playoffs

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey plans to bet on his bench in the playoffs this year. When asked if he could play his 10-11 man deep rotations the same way in the postseason, Casey stumbled over a why wouldn’t I?

“We are going to find out,” Casey said after his bench beat up on the Wizards in Washington on Friday night. “The goal is to find out. Why not? What’s our record right now?

“Why change because of some rule book somewhere, if you find it, please send it to me cause I’ve been on some teams where you keep the same rotation.”

The Toronto bench hasn’t just been good this season. They’ve been outstanding and the eye test says they’ve been getting better as the season has moved along. But don’t just trust your eyes, the numbers confirm the five-man bench Casey rotates in is the best five-man unit in the entire NBA that have played at least 100 minutes together this season. In 207 minutes over 22 games, C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright have a top three offensive rating of 121, a top six defensive rating of 94.7 and a league best net rating of +26.3.

Now no one is going to confuse the Raptors bench unit with the offensive powerhouses in Golden State or Houston that lead the NBA in offensive ratings, but on most nights they are destroying their opponent’s second unit and are often giving the opposing starters brought in to stop the bleeding a rough time.

As Casey rotates in his bench mob, the pace of play picks up, the ball moves faster and opponents often struggle to adjust. As a result, the Raptors dominate the second and fourth quarters.

Toronto is the league’s best second quarter team with a net rating of +14. The next best second quarter team in the East is Charlotte at +4.5.

Toronto also has the best fourth quarter net at rating +8.7. The Celtics are second best at +7.3.

In February, these second unit guys were closing games out for the Raptors.



“We take a lot of pride in coming in off the bench and changing games,” C.J. Miles said.

The Raptors starting unit that has featured rookie OG Anunoby 44 times hasn’t exactly been terrible as they’ve posted a very respectable +12.1 net rating, but the bench can take at least some of the credit for the starters success as they’ve often been the guys to put their opponent on its heels.

Anyone who has followed the Raptors under Casey and president Masai Ujiri shouldn’t be surprised by a commitment to the young guys coming off the bench or a rookie in the starting unit. Player development has been front and center in each of the Raptors playoff runs under their management. The difference this time is, this bench looks like they’re ready to make an impact.



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 Drive For 60 Wins

Sitting atop of the NBA’s Eastern Conference after 60 games is a place the Toronto Raptors aren’t familiar with, but at 43-17 they have 2 fewer losses than second place Boston (44-19) while the preseason favorite Cavs (36-25) have slid to 7.5 games back and are at a real risk of slipping out of the top four. Toronto only has to close out the season going 17-5 for 60 wins, so it’s there for the taking if the Raptors want it.

For the first time in franchise history the Raptors should be favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals based on their dominating 27-8 conference record versus the Celtics 28-13 or the Cavs 26-14 and ESPN Basketball Power Index continues to reflect Toronto’s position by giving them a 24 percent chance at an NBA Title versus 4.2 percent for Boston and a 0.2 percent chance for Cleveland.

But games and playoff series aren’t played in mathematical models and it’s the stretch drive to the playoffs that will provide the best information about how these Toronto Raptors may fare after the regular season ends.

Of the 22 games remaining, Toronto plays 13 teams who are no better than eighth in their conference. Facing Detroit, Brooklyn and Orlando twice more each should help run up the Raptors Eastern Conference best points differential.

There will be interesting contests against Washington, OKC and Indiana (2x), but it’s the March 9th date at the Air Canada Centre against the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets that should be the most watched game of the season to this point (ESPN where are you?) Way back in November the Raptors won 129-113 in Houston.

However, the best indicators of just how effective this Toronto team could be in the playoffs comes with two games at The Q in Cleveland on March 21st and April 3rd. Then two games against the Celtics starting March 31st in Boston and back home on April 4th.

Toronto beat the Cavs 133-99 in January, but realize things might be different next time. Boston won 95-94 at home when DeMar DeRozan missed two potential go-ahead shots in the final 19 seconds in November. Three weeks ago Toronto got their revenge with a 111-91 pasting of the Celtics at the ACC.

It’s likely these four remaining games will determine if Toronto ends the season in first place or slips to second in the playoff seeding, but if the drive for 60 wins comes true, there is likely nothing that can stop the Raptors from claiming top spot in the East this year.

While is should be expected head coach Dwane Casey will put zero emphasis on reaching the 60 win mark, it is a point of pride for any NBA team and their fan base base, especially the first time.



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 Dwane Casey

Casey And The Raptors Slowly Gaining Respect

For some fans and “experts” being the winningest coach in Raptors history and the only coach to ever lead Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t enough to acknowledge the team with the best record in the East with only 25 games left this season should be considered the best team in the East, but slowly, grudgingly, this team and head coach Dwane Casey are gaining respect. And they deserve it.

As of the All-Star break ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight calculates that the Raptors are the only team in the East with a puncher’s chance (20%) at winning the NBA Championship and have a better than 50 percent chance of getting there.


ESPN’s NBA BPI Playoff Odds gives the Raptors an Eastern Conference best chance at a championship (26%). The Celtics are at dismal 3.6 percent and the Cavs at just 0.3 percent. Although the Cavs have started to reverse their downward slide with a trade deadline roster re-make.

These days the Raptors head coach is getting regular high praise from the opposition’s game callers as Toronto at 41-16 has built a two-game lead over the Boston Celtics and a 6.5 game bulge over the Cavs, but this wasn’t the way the “experts” thought this season would go. The preseason prognosticators had the Raptors as low as sixth place in the East and now Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports  has Casey on his short list for Coach Of The Year.

This season, he is among the small group of coach of the year candidates. It’s not just because of the Raptors’ record

Casey changed the way the Raptors play.

Casey implemented offensive changes. They shoot more three-pointers and run fewer predetermined sets, making them less predictable.

Defensively, they switch more, a sign of versatility on a deep roster.

Ujiri took a chance with this season’s roster. With a mantra of let the young guys play, he handed Casey a roster with few veterans, but lots of rookies and unproven players still on their rookie deals, and told him to see what he’s got. Apparently this was the right call and Casey deserves a lot of the credit for making it work.

“One of the hardest things to do in any sport is win and develop at the same time,” Casey said. “Our guys have worked hard and gotten better.”

But Casey is making it work. DeRozan is turning in an MVP-caliber season, and Lowry is an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season.

Rookie forward OG Anunoby, who is in the starting lineup, center Jacob Poeltl, forward Pascal Siakam, guard Fred VanVleet – all in their second seasons – and third-year guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright form a promising and productive youth movement.

Casey didn’t need to say it – again, as he says it every year he’s been in Toronto, but….

“We’re still not a finished product”

If coach Casey can lead this young roster to a first place finish in the East, he deserves to win Coach of the Year.

As Rob Mahoney says in Sports Illustrated,

None of this would be possible without Casey, whose seven years of equity in Toronto allowed for the Raptors to change shape. The NBA has seen its share of smart, well-intentioned coaches promise their team a more modern style. But there is always some star to cater to, some veteran to indulge. What made Toronto’s conceptual exercise into reality was the trust that Casey and his staff had built.

Continuity is often an undervalued asset in the NBA where coaches are seen to be hired to be fired, but it’s been the All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s trust in Casey and Ujiri’s willingness to give young players a chance to show what they got and his head coach a chance to show he can grow with his roster that has created this year’s version of the Raptors.

Casey’s success this season was finally thrust into the spotlight when he was announced as a head coach at the NBA All-Star Game, an honor reserved for the first place team in each conference (subject to certain restrictions). It wasn’t enough that he is coaching a Raptors team that set a franchise record for wins at the halfway point in the season and has real chance at surpassing the team’s previous best of 56 wins from two seasons ago. It took an All-Star appearance to get noticed.

This core has never been better. This franchise has never been better. For that, the Raptors can thank Casey, their third representative at this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

Maybe those talking heads on the ESPN and Fox talk shows should stop drooling over LeBron James in the hopes of yet another Cavs/Dubs Finals re-match and acknowledge there are other teams making noise in the NBA this 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 Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.

An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).

John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 36-16 
Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 39-15
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.
Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE

Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).

The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.

In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.

Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.

It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.

For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).

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 LeBron James

Cavs Suck

It hasn’t been a fun season for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and it’s only gotten worse since the Christmas Day loss in Golden State. To put it bluntly, with a record of 6 wins and 12 losses since the end of an 18-1 streak against the NBA’s also-rans, the Cavs suck.

It’s become the norm to see James hide his face in his hands after passing the ball to one of the Cavs brick-layers. He can’t hide his frustration and he’s stopped trying to. It’s affected his own play as well. Since when has it been normal for LeBron to get stripped or dribble the ball into the hands of an opponent?

Cleveland is not by any means out of contention. At 30-21 they are still seventh overall in the NBA and the only real risk they face is ending up in the unthinkable position of not having home court in the first round of the playoffs.

As bad as things look, and they look bad, the teams Cleveland is most likely to face in an opening playoff series aren’t giving them much trouble – except the Pacers who’ve taken three of four from the Cavs. Cleveland doesn’t want anything to do with Lance Stephenson (half joking) and the over-achieving Pacers in a first round match-up.

It’s the second round level of talent that’s concerning.

Since the 99-92 loss to the Dubs on December 25th, the Cavs have lost to:

  • @Celtics 102-88
  • @Raptors 133-99
  • Warriors 118-108
  • OKC 148-128
  • @Spurs 114-102
  • Rockets 120-88

The Cavs aren’t just losing to the better teams in the NBA, they aren’t even competing. This season, in games decided by 10 points or more, Cleveland has a losing 8-13 record and are the only team in the league’s top 11 teams with a losing record in games decided by double-digits.

It’s bad enough getting blown out on the road in Toronto by over 30 points, but losing by over 20 points in front of the now booing home crowd has to be especially disheartening.

Obviously something has to change and the easiest and usually cheapest way to give an under-achieving team a kick in the butt is to fire the coach. At this point, it couldn’t hurt.

The alternative is to trade away a rotation player or two, but with the way the Cavs have been playing, the guys they’d like to trade couldn’t have a lower value and no one should blame the organization for wanting to hang on to both of their first round draft picks. Unless James is willing to pick up his player option for next season, trading away draft picks would be border-line insanity.

With an estimated luxury tax bill of over $40 million, no team has committed more dollars to this season than the Cavs, so something has to give. The Cavs suck just isn’t acceptable.



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: and  @paul_saini



NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Finds His Stride

Maybe it was the pressure of signing a big dollar extension in the off season, but the Toronto Raptors young wing Norman Powell has had trouble finding his stride or even just holding onto a spot in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation this year.

While not every appearance has been a dud, Powell has struggled with his shot, his judgement and even his usually reliable defense, but maybe, just maybe, he’s back on track?

With C.J. Miles out with a sore knee, Powell is earning another shot at a regular spot in Casey’s rotation. Over his last three games Powell hasn’t disappointed, averaging 9 points, 61.1 percent shooting from the field and hitting on 5 of 9 three-point attempts.

“Not playing too much recently, going thru some ups and downs during the season, but I think it felt good just going out there and just play,” Powell said. “I am confident in my game and what I do, make or miss. I feel I am one of the hardest working guys out there. I am always in the gym working on my game, trying to improve.

“Eventually it’s going to turn around. I just work too hard.”

A starting wing spot was Powell’s to lose at the start of the season and he lost it after 12 starts to rookie OG Anunoby when he injured his hip in Boston. However, shooting 40.9 percent the field and 30.8 percent from three in those 12 games meant it was going to be easy for Anunoby to show he deserved to keep the starting job after Powell got back and Casey wasn’t about to take veteran three-point shooter Miles out of the rotation, so Powell didn’t have many minutes to go after on his return if he wasn’t playing at a high level.

Fans in Toronto should be used to Casey using an 11 or even 12 man rotation as this team continues to be focused on player development even with expectations of another 50+ win season and the possibility of finishing first in the East out there for the taking. So, Powell getting garbage minutes to stay involved and regular rotation minutes as soon as anyone in a guard or wing spot goes down isn’t a surprise.

This time, however, Powell has looked more like the player everyone was expecting to show up in October. Maybe, just maybe, he can hang onto a spot in the rotation and someone else will see their minutes cut?

If the playoff version of Powell that got him the big extension is on the court, it’s hard to sit him down.



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