You are here: Home / Archive

Author Archives: Stephen Brotherston

You are here: Home / Archive
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.

 

 

 

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 NBA.com 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 FiveThirtyEight.com, 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.