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NBA Milwaukee Bucks Thon Maker

Bucks Develop Rookie Thon Maker The Old Fashioned Way

By Frank McLean

One of the most interesting stories of this Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series is watching the Bucks develop rookie Thon Maker the old fashioned way. They play him.

First it’s how he made it to the NBA where he was drafted 10th overall this past June by the Bucks one pick after the Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl. He has done it you can say the most unconventional way.

He was born in the South Sudan. At the age of six moved to Australia. He then moved to the United States to play high school basketball in Louisiana and West Virginia and the last two years was in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada playing for Athlete Institute prep school.

People knew that he was a special talent even before he was drafted.

A year ago he was fan attending Raptors playoff games with his coach. At one of those games Maker was sitting there and one of the refs working the game, who had seen him on ESPN, asked him “hey man, when are you going to get here? and Maker said, “He has even worked some of my games this year.” That ref was veteran Monte McCutchen.

When you talk to the 20-year old he is very unfazed over the fact that he is starting the NBA playoffs.

“Everything comes back around. A year ago I was playing high school ball here, and now I’m playing in the NBA”, Maker said. “Just going out there and playing hard. At the end of the day it’s just basketball, just got to continue to play the way I have been playing.”

Including the first four games of this Bucks-Raptors tilt, Maker has started the last 35-straight games for the Bucks and they have been 22-13 in that time.

Rookies don’t usually get to develop as starters in the NBA playoffs, but in the case of Maker it’s being done as a necessity. The Bucks are currently one of seven NBA teams that do not own and operate a D-league (“NBDL”) team like the Toronto Raptors do with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga.

As Bucks head coach Jason Kidd was explaining before game four.

“The idea is we don’t have a NBDL team so we didn’t want it to be a wasted year and we didn’t want to ship him somewhere,” Kidd said. “The options became slim, we needed to play him. Talking with the coaching staff , they thought let’s look at starting him and being able to benefit using his energy, but also giving him an opportunity to play so it’s not a wasted season.

“You look at his abilities, what he brings to the table, his speed at 7’0, his ability to shoot and then also his ability to play hard.

“Being a starter can help him grow hopefully faster, understanding he’s going against all-stars, or he’s going against quite a few talented players out on the floor when you go against the other starting group. Hopefully this speeds up the process.”

Veteran Jason Terry who is not easily impressed with rookies, but when you ask him about Maker, he is a believer.

“Thon Maker has a high basketball IQ,” Terry said. “His work ethic is great and the thing about him is his attitude. He’s not over-confident, he’s not cocky, but he has enough confidence to him have success against more veteran players in this league. Great kid, great teammate and he doesn’t play like a rookie.”

Not every rookie has the ability or skill set to develop at the NBA level. That’s why the D-League was invented. Someday the Bucks will have an NBDL team just not right now. Maker is that stereotypical Cinderella story from Africa, the United States, to Canada and now the NBA.

One thing for sure Thon Maker is a keeper and with Giannis Antetokounmpo this duo will be anchoring the up and coming Bucks for the next few years.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

New York Knicks Phil Jackson meme

Aging Hippie Phil Jackson Has Lost His Mind In New York

By Frank McLean

On Friday for only the second time since the beginning of training camp, September 23rd to be exact, the aging hippie that has finished the job of running the New York Knicks into the ground Phil Jackson spoke to the New York media to tell one and all why the Knicks stunk this past season.

In a 49-minute ego driven speech to the masses Jackson used the not recommended defense of “it’s not me it’s everyone else” as to why the season didn’t go right.

He claimed at first that yes as President of the team its failure is his responsibility, but then he went on and blamed everyone else.

His coach Jeff Hornacek, his moody and often injured guard Derek Rose, owner James Dolan , the fans and yes the media.

But the most of it was the finishing touches of his campaign to run Carmelo Anthony out of New York City because he is not on board with Jackson’s love of the triangle offense which has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone as a viable NBA offense.

Their end of the season exit meeting this week was not friendly to say the least.

Jackson started his rip job with, “Right now, we need players who are really active and play every single play. Defensively and offensively that’s really important for us. We faced resistance and we faced resistance at the top. We got rid of some guys early on that resisted, weren’t willing to be learners.”

That’s a hint that the reason the triangle didn’t work was because of Anthony.

But here is the problem that Jackson has with Anthony it’s that contract extension he gave him in 2014 which has two years left on it and 54-million dollars with a no-trade clause in it.

One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA was that Jackson was trying to move Anthony at the trade deadline in February. In order to move him Anthony would have to waive that clause and if he doesn’t like a specific trade option he can tell Jackson to “take a hike”.

It was believed that the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers where kicking the tires about a possible trade.

Jackson did admit that it’s going to be difficult to pull off a trade.

“Some teams called that weren’t amenable to Melo and his group,’’ Jackson said. “Some teams called that were but weren’t willing to give up core groups or members of their team which is understandable at that time of the year. So we said no.”

Jackson is hoping some team’s failure in the playoffs made make them want to try and make a deal.

“You’ve got teams going into the playoffs who could be eliminated right away and say, ‘That’s not good enough. We’re not good enough. We’ve got to go somewhere else,” Jackson said.

Jackson then went on to praise Anthony because like every used car salesman knows when trying to make a deal you have to point out all the good things about the car and not go on about the fact it has 150,000 miles on it.

“Carmelo has been great. He is who he is,” Jackson said. “He’s just, he’s an elite scorer, guy will be a Hall of Fame entry at some point, 10-15 years down the road.

“He has always carried the basic load for this team. I thought he stood up well this year in a lot of tough situations. I can’t regret it. I can’t go back and regret that. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out. This partnership together, somehow or the other didn’t click here with this team. But he has done his role and played his role quite well.”

Jackson needs to look in the mirror, if his ego will let him, and realize it’s his fault why the Knicks have regressed and not progressed.

He hired the coach, he traded for Derek Rose, he singed a broken Joakim Noah to a 72-million dollar contract, he accepted the job from James Dolan and realize the fans and the media don’t wear a uniform and play basketball for him.

His press conference all but proved that this aging hippie has lost his mind.

 

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough

Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough Should Be On NBA Teams Radar

By Frank McLean

The beautiful thing about the NBA Development League “NBDL” is that when you go to a game you never know who you are going to see. There are numerous players who are or who should be on many NBA teams radar.

Maybe it’s a first round pick from the NBA draft playing in the D-League to get the unlimited minutes not available with his NBA team so he can develop and make a contribution to the parent team. Or someone who excelled in the NCAA, but may not be good enough for the NBA like one-time NCAA player of the year Jimmer Ferdette.

One current under-employed NBA veteran trying to use the NBDL to get back to the big show is former Toronto Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough.

After spending four years with Indiana Pacers where he was their first round pick in the 2009-draft, Hansbrough signed a two year free agent deal with the Raptors and when that expired, he signed a one year deal with the Charlotte Hornets for the 2015-16 season where his career came off the rails.

In Charlotte he had the worst season of the NBA career. He played in only 44-games where he averaged 2.4-points and 2-rebounds in just 7.8 minutes.

On March first, after no NBA team taking a chance on him during the offseason and sitting out the whole season, he signed a deal with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL which happens to be owned by the team that drafted him the Indiana Pacers.

He has been a factor. In two games down the stretch run of the regular season he had games of 25 and 31 points. He also had a 23 rebound game and that’s where he was always excelled, a ferocious rebounder and a deadly shooter in the paint. He is averaging a double-double in Fort Wayne.

Currently the Mad Ants are in the NBDL Eastern Conference semi-final against the Main Red Claws with the winner of the best of three series taking on the Raptors 905 in the Eastern Conference Final.

On Monday night with his team facing elimination Hansbrough carried the Mad Ants in a comeback win to tie the series at one apiece and forcing a deciding game three on Wednesday night in Portland, Maine. Hansbrough put up 27-points and grabbed 15-boards in the game.

Pacers President Larry Bird has been in attendance for some games keeping an eye on who Pacers fans called “Psycho T.” A guy who’s defensive toughness, rebounding and scoring in the paint gave the Mad Ants a boost in their bid for the NBDL title.

Hansbrough, like any veteran who comes to the D-League, is there for one purpose and that’s to get back to the NBA. No one gave Hansbrough a 10-day contract which is a surprise when you see teams in the NBA who can use his skill set like maybe Cleveland? Just saying.

He was one of the all-time greats at the University of North Carolina, right up there with other alumni like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and current Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. His number 50 was retired after being named on the ACC’s first all-star in each of his four years there plus being the rookie of the year in 2006 and in 2008 was the ACC’s player of the year as well as all the other national player of the year honors.

Here’s hoping the Mad Ants win their series and the local Toronto fans get a chance to see Hansbrough comeback to the GTA to take on the Raptors 905.

He is the reason why the NBDL was formed in the first place, to give young NBA draft picks a chance to work on their craft and veterans a place to audition their talents.

Something says Hansbrough won’t be in the NBDL long.

 

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Miami Heat James Johnson

Miami Heat Still Have Improbable Life Left In This Season

By Frank McLean

Like cats, which according to legend have nine lives, the Miami Heat still have improbable life left in their 2016-2017 NBA season.

Friday with just 10-men dressed they scratched and clawed with the Toronto Raptors only to lose 96-94 and see their miracle playoff run pretty much get down to their last gasp.

Then sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference just behind Chicago, the Heat kept hope alive with a 106-103 win over the playoff bound Wizards while Chicago coughed up the improbable 107-106 loss to the last place Nets to bring both teams records to 39-41. Only a tie-breaker now stands between the Heat and a postseason berth with two games left.

The story of how the Heat got here is like the proverbial cat with nine lives.

On January 13th the Heat finished up a 1-and-5 road trip with a loss in Milwaukee. That loss put the Heat at 11-and-30 to start the season and if you suggested they had a shot at the playoffs you would have been laughed right out of the room. In reality the thought of tanking and trying to get a high pick in the draft lottery would have been more like it.

But then the Heat did the unthinkable and ran off a 13-game winning streak to improve their record to 24-30 and get right back in the playoff picture.

Since then, including Friday’s loss in Toronto, they have gone 14-11 and are at 38-41 they became the first team in the long history of the NBA to reach the 38-win total after starting a season 19-games below .500.

A smiling Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls the run his team has been on a challenge.

“We call it a challenge that’s the way it has been the last two-two and a half months. It has been like March madness, every game has been an elimination game.”

“Look our guy’s want this everybody knows what’s at stake,” Spoelstra added. “Our guy’s leave this out there every single night. I want them to enjoy this. These games are a privilege to play in, games that matter”.

There is no argument that the Heat don’t leave it on the floor every night. Look at Friday’s game. Every time the Raptors tried to pull away in the fourth quarter, the undermanned Heat would fight back. Down five points with 4.8 seconds left there was no letting up as Josh Richardson came down the floor and hit a desperation three pointer with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to cut the score to 96-94. But they just ran out of time.

Friday’s line-up featured two rookies from the NBDL Okaro White and Rodney McGruder who was in the starting five.

And pressed into a starting role is the slimmed down former Raptor James Johnson who says he is in the best shape of his career with a weight down below 250-pounds and five percent body fat. Spoelstra says that he doesn’t know where his team would be without Johnson.

The Heat finish up their schedule with a pair home games against Cleveland and Washington again, however, Chicago seems to have the easier schedule to finish the year.

The Bulls get Orlando and then Brooklyn again, so when you look at each team’s schedule the Heat have it tough, but as Spoelstra says, it’s lets go time.

“Let’s go to the next game, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. On to the next battle, people think that there are no meaningful games in the NBA. Well tune into the Miami Heat where every game is competitive.”

The Heat’s chances don’t look good, but they are going to go down fighting. That has been their M.O. since midway in January. No reason to think that will change now.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

 

NBA Washington Wizards Brandon Jennings / New York Knicks

Why The Knicks Fell Apart This Season Phil Jackson

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Washington Wizards hosted the New York Knicks for the NBA’s latest version of guaranteed win night which is what a team gets when they host the Knicks.

The Knicks didn’t disappoint as they lost 106-103 to drop their season record to 30-wins and 49-losses leaving them with only three more agonizing games left in their regular season schedule for their battered and bruised fans back in New York City.

If you remember back on December 22nd the Knicks were 16-13 and they looked like they were on their way to their goal of making a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So what went wrong? How did the train fall of tracks?

Before Thursday’s night’s game the Wizards Brandon Jennings weighed in on what went wrong with the New York media saying that once the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors started from Phil Jackson in January it all fell apart.

Jennings started the season with the Knicks after signing a deal with the club in the offseason.

After playing just 58-games averaging 8.6-points a game he was waived by the Knicks on February 27th and then signed with the Wizards on March first for the remainder of the season.

Anthony as we all know has a no trade clause in his contract and it’s known that Jackson was actively trying to move Anthony before the trade deadline. Jennings said that it definitely was bothering Anthony.

“It definitely took a toll, I think, on the team. Because it wasn’t even about basketball anymore, it was more about what was going on with Melo,” Jennings said. It was one of the wildest situations he has been in during his eight seasons in the league.

Jennings added that it was “cool” playing with Anthony, but went on to say that Anthony had “a lot of pressure on him dealing with stuff with Phil.”  Jennings went on to say that it just wasn’t fair what Anthony had to go through.

“I think it was just a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster for him this year with everything he had to deal with, which isn’t fair,” he said. “For a player to wake up every day and you’re hearing trade rumors and you might be gone and this and that. It was like a two-week span where everybody was hitting your phone about Melo leaving.”

Jennings has a point. The Knicks were in Toronto playing the Raptors in January just a couple of days after the first Anthony to be traded out of New York started when a story came out attributed from a former Jackson colleague that Anthony has to go because he can’t play the triangle offense.

By the time the Knicks came back to Toronto in March you could see that the rumors had taken their toll in the locker room and on the court.

Other factors have to be considered too. The roster mix just didn’t fit, they couldn’t play a simple defense and the fact they couldn’t or wouldn’t play the triangle.

But Jennings hit it on the head that once the Anthony trade rumors started that pretty well killed their season.

Of course the rumors won’t go away as speculation has it that the Knicks will pursue a trade in the offseason and Anthony has hinted he may agree to one.  Meanwhile things have worked out well for Jennings.

When he was waived by the Knicks it was a mutual parting of the ways by both parties.

“I’m on my contract year so I didn’t want to go home in April,” Jennings said about the matter. “I have a chance to go to the playoffs, so I’m really excited about that.”

Who wouldn’t be excited (to leave the Knicks this season)?

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross Exceeding Expectations With The Magic

By Frank McLean

Terrence Ross made his return to Toronto with his new team the Orlando Magic and even though for Ross it’s still “a little strange” being a member of the Magic, his new head coach Frank Vogel is happy to have him.

“He has played beyond expectations,” Vogel said when Pro Bball Report asked him about the short time Ross has been a member of the Magic.

Vogel has always been a big fan of Ross, having played the Raptors three to four times a year during his previous gig as the head man in Indiana. Vogel knew that Ross, when he’s hot, can be as deadly a shooter as anyone in the NBA.

Ross is entrenched in a special spot in the Raptors record book as one of only two players to have a 50-plus point game in franchise history when he tied Vince Carter’s 51-point record against the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago.

During his four and a half years in Toronto Ross was a key man coming off the bench for Raptors coach Dwane Casey. In Orlando, he has been in the starting line-up every night.

“I have always been high on Terrence when we played him when I was with the Pacers,” Vogel said. “I know what he can do and a lot of guys when you come into a new system you can exceed your expectations or fall short and Terrence has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of being a high character guy and fitting in well.

“His transition was seamless,” Vogel added. “He picked up everything very, very quickly on both ends of the floor. And he fits this style of play that we are trying to implement.”

The deal the Magic made sending power forward Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Ross signalled a change in their style of play from the start of the season.

In the off season the plan was to go big and play a physical style of basketball. They signed Bismack Biyombo to a 70-million plus contract in which he has turned into a backup center and they acquired Ibaka from Oklahoma City to join Nikola Vucevic to form a modern day version of smashmouth basketball.

As a result third year power forward Aaron Gordon was moved to small forward and it did just not work out the way the Magic had planned so they decided to change their philosophy midway through the season.

Putting Gordon back at power forward and having Ross at small forward is working out better for the Magic.

“Offensively it’s not just a catch and shoot game. The memories I have of him (Ross) are drilling those corner threes when we were over helping on DeMar and Kyle,” Vogel said. “We have really been able to put the ball in his hands in the dribble-handoff game and off screens. Not only is he knocking down shots but he’s making plays off the bounce. He’s a dynamic play-maker when he’s going downhill towards the basket and making good decisions with the pass.”

The changes the Magic have made will not put them in the playoffs this season. Vogel said the goal now for this group is to win as many games as they can down the stretch to give them a good taste in their mouth as they take off for a long summer offseason and come to training camp in October on a positive note.

One thing for sure Ross will be a key part in a Magic team that will be gunning for a playoff spot next season and the Magic are happy they have him.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers JR Smith LeBron James Kyle Korver

The Cavaliers Got Real Old Real Fast This Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

Harden Or Westbrook Cause Co-MVP Is A Cop Out

By Lindsay Dunn

In NBA history there has never been co-MVPs and the Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be the first.

Almost a year to the date of his last NBA game Kobe Bryant is making headlines again. When asked about the current MVP race in the NBA Bryant said, “We might see our first co-MVPs this year.”

Or not. Maybe we should start handing out “Participation Awards” too! Co-MVP is a cop out.

This isn’t a conversation that just started this year because the ‘Black Mamba’ said it on ESPN Sunday. This is a conversation that has been going on for years. In 2015 it was debated that James Harden and Steph Curry should get co-MVP honours. In 2010 fans argued that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James should share the award. It’s not a new conversation and it’s not a debate that will end this year.

Co-MVP’s are not new in the professional sports world either. In 2004 Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award. Both of their teams finished with the same record and each player individually had impressive seasons. Three times in NFL history there has been a tie for MVP.

It’s not unheard of for an NBA award to go to two athletes either. The Rookie of the Year Award has been shared more than once. In 1995 a baby faced Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared the trophy. In 2000 Elton Brand and Steve Francis shared the award and in 1971 Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie split the honors.

However, that was for the easily bruised egos of some rookies. This year it’s two former veteran teammates seeing their names being thrown back and forth for the big prize. They know the game and can live with the results.

“I just play, man,” Westbrook told the Houston Chronicle when asked about the MVP race. “I go out and play every night and play at a high level like I do every single night and try to help us win. I’ve been knowing James since he was little, and we both grew up in California. Being here, it’s a blessing to be able to have people you grow up with in the NBA. It’s something you don’t take for granted and friendships are something I don’t take for granted. James is a good friend of mine, and I am a good friend of his. Obviously, I know he’s playing well and his team is doing well, but I know he competes every game.”

Here is a look at their numbers after 73 games played:

FG%: Westbrook 42.3%, Harden 44.8%
3PT%: Westbrook 33.4%, Harden 35.2%
FT%: Westbrook 84%, Harden 84.8%
REB: Westbrook 10.5, Harden 8.0
AST: Westbrook 10.4, Harden 11.3
TO: Westbrook 5.3, Harden 5.8
PTS: Westbrook 31.4, Harden 29.4
Triple Doubles: Westbrook 37, Harden 19

Westbrook (#1 overall) and Harden (#2 overall) are one-two in the NBA scoring race and an off the charts triple-double feast. Harden leads the NBA in assists with Westbrook in third. The are also both also destroying the NBA turnover records (oops). Harden leading the charge with 428, Westbrook trailing with 392. The next careless leader this year is John Wall, almost 100 turnovers behind Westbrook with 296. Harden overtaking George McGinnis’ 1974-75 single season ABA record of 422 turnovers.

A big difference in the two players claim on the MVP title is their team’s overall performance. Harden has helped the third place Rockets to 51 wins so far while Westbrook’s sixth place Thunder lags far behind with 42 wins.

There are clear differences in each player’s game, leadership and team, so it shouldn’t be any more difficult than in past seasons to pick a winner.

With Westbrook and Harden dominating the headlines on an almost daily basis with highlight reel worthy performances, it’s easy to forget that at 32-years-old LeBron James may be having the best statistical season of his career. Kawhi Leonard is enjoying an outstanding season offensively and defensively on a much better team. Then, least we forget, 2015 and 2016 MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors, they own the Thunder and Rockets.

There are no rules for this award and the case for sharing it isn’t any more compelling than it has been in the past. This isn’t “Little League”, there is only room for one MVP.

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Derrick Rose by Larry Millson

Can Things Get Any Worse For The Knicks?

By Frank McLean

Last week was not a banner week for the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise, the New York Knicks. The news surrounding Phil Jackson, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah was worse than all the losing. So, let’s work our way backwards and review the week that was for the embittered team.

On Saturday, not letting a deficit of 19-points at halftime deter them, the Knicks hung on to lose in San Antonio 106-98 and complete a perfect 0-for-4 west coast road trip and extend their losing streak to five games.

The Knicks have gone into complete tank mode, looking to get the best pick in the lottery and find a savior in the NBA draft to start their 100th rebuild since they won their last championship back in the early 70’s.

In the bizarre world of the Knicks, losing is good and losing big, even though they look like they are trying to follow the failed team building method of the Philadelphia 76ers, is “trusting the process.”

Meanwhile the guy running the show, Phil Jackson, might be expected to, you know, attend NCAA Tournament games for an up close and personal look at that one special player who might be able to play within his out dated triangle offense. Nah, that makes too much sense for the “Zen Master.”

Instead, when the Knicks left Los Angeles, Phil stayed behind to be present for the Shaquille O’Neal statue unveiling outside the Staples Center Friday night. Better to have your ego stroked and remind everyone you used to be a genius coaching all those championship teams in Chicago and Southern California and not the dummy you are thought off in New York.

Saturday saw the Knicks lose Joakim Noah to a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. It seems that Noah took an over the counter banned performance enhancing substance. It’s seems Noah decided not to pick the brains of the team doctors who can tell you what supplements you can take and which ones to avoid.

Noah took a supplement with androgen that help’s with testosterone. It tends to act like an anabolic steroid and hence is viewed as a performance-enhancing ingredient because it “provides many of the muscle-building and therapeutic benefits of testosterone.’’ An NBA source told the New York Post that some items have been removed from the list in the new CBA for next season, but this one remained.

Noah is on the injured list, so his suspension will start when he comes off and is healthy enough to play. He is expected to be eligible to return this season so his suspension will cover the end of this season and the start of next totaling 20-games.

Almost overshadowed were the comments from Derrick Rose. Acquired in an offseason trade from Chicago with one year left on his contract, Rose hinted he is not considering coming back to the Knicks.

“I’ve got more than enough money saved. If I stopped playing basketball now, I’ll be all right. I want to win. I want to be happy and feel at peace with myself wherever I’m at. But being at the negotiating table, you never know. I’m not going to negotiate with people where money is the number one thing I’m asking for. I want to win.”

It’s hard not to read between the lines that he is saying, “I’m out of here.”

“This will be the first time I’ll be a free agent,” Rose added. “I don’t know how that process goes. After the season, me, my agent, my brothers, family will have to talk about it. Of course I want to be here, just being in this environment, being in New York, being at the Garden every other night, it’s a blessing. But, again, I have to really talk it over with my agent and my brothers.”

Give him credit, he made sure he did not insult the city of New York. It’s just that the Knicks as a team to play for sucks.

That was the week that was for the Knicks. It will be fun to see how they can screw things up this week and next and next. Winning any more games might be the biggest mistake at this point. Oops, what was the point in beating the Pistons on Monday?

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

 
 

NBA Phoenix Suns Devin Booker

The Spotlight Is On The Suns Devin Booker (Again)

By Lindsay Dunn

Devin Booker. That is a name you are going to hear a lot about, not only in the next few days, but years to come. The spotlight is on the 20-year-old guard for the Phoenix Suns as he made history on Friday night taking his game to the next level.

Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics. At first glance you may think that was a typing error, but it’s a fact. In 44 minutes he scored 70 points. He shot 21 of 40 from the field, 4 of 11 from beyond the arc and a solid 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

“I’ve played with some great shooters,” Suns head coach Earl Watson said. “Ray Allen, Kevin Durant. (Devin Booker) has amazing potential. His stroke is textbook.”

The 2015 13th overall draft pick is the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a loss. “I got in zone, I got hot,” Booker said post-game. “I knew I was going to have to lock-in and my teammates kept finding me. When I hit 50 they just kept feeding me it.”

The last player to score 65 or more was Kobe Bryant who poured in 81 against the Raptors in 2006. That was 11 years ago and Bryant was 28 at the time. On Friday night Booker also broke a few Suns franchise records. He is now in first for having the highest-scoring game in franchise history and his 51 points in the second half is also a Suns record for points in a half.

While Booker went 21 of 40 from the field (52.5 percent), the rest of the Suns went 18 of 46 (39.1). Only two other players scored in double figures: Alex Len (11 points) and Leandro Barbosa (11 points).

The former Kentucky Wildcat became a household name for non NBA fans when he took part in the All-Star Game last season and when rapper Drake posted photos of him on his Instagram and wore his jersey on stage.

“I first met Drake in college at Big Blue Madness,” Booker explained. “I know Drake and Coach Cal (John Calipari) are good friends and that was the year that Drake air-balled the three pointer in the layup line. Whenever I see him I always get on him about that.”

During the 2016 All-Star Weekend the rookie at the time went head-to-head against the ‘Splash Brothers’ in the 3-point competition. Curry and Thompson beat Booker, but it helped make him a household name.

“Coming into the beginning of the season I realized people know who I am now,” Booker told Pro Bball Report when the Suns visited Toronto. “Last year people didn’t know who I was so I was getting a lot of open looks, clean looks but this year has been different. They are putting a lot of good defenders on me so I have to take it to the next level. It’s more mental than anything. It took me a little to get used to it.”

This season he became the youngest player in NBA history to record back-to-back games with at least 39 points. He leads the NBA with game-winning shots leaving no time remaining this season. His big night has moved him up to 26th on the NBA leaderboard for scoring.

‘There are beauty points, but it’s been a long season, my teammates keep pushing me, my coaches keep pushing me. We are working together to get wins. I feel like we are making the turn around and that playoff push that we have been trying to make.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Booker is the only player in the NBA this season with multiple quarters scoring at least 27 points and is the first player to do so multiple times in a season since Stephen Curry had two 28-point quarters in 2015-16.

As of March 24th Booker has the highest-scoring game of the season, passing Klay Thompson who put up 60 against the Indiana Pacers in October.

Already taking his game to the next level before his big night, Booker leads the 14th place Suns with 21.6 points per game in just his second NBA season. The spotlight is on Booker to stay.

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV

 

 
 

Cleveland Cavaliers shooters 2016-17

Not So Tough Cavs Backing Into The Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.

This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.

San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.

On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.

“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.

As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”

What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.

“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.

On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.

“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”

What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.

The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

So what does the league do to stop this?

They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.

“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”

Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.

I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.

The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs Dirk Nowitzki Gets A Potato For 30,000 Points

By Lindsay Dunn

30,078 and counting. That is the total points Dirk Nowitzki has in his long career with the Mavs so far and he has the potato to prove it. He hit the 30-thousand point milestone on March 7th against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ve got great support from everyone,” Nowitzki told Pro Bball Report. “Whether it’s on twitter from Kobe, Magic, LeBron or (Dwyane) Wade, it’s been really great. I’m blessed, but for me it’s over now. We are trying to fight for the playoffs.”

On Monday night Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks lost to the Raptors 100-78. The Mavs were held to just 12 points in the 4th quarter and were out played off the glass by over 20 rebounds.

“With a young team there are going to be some ups and downs,” Nowitzki said. “There are going to be some mistakes but you have to learn from them and get better.” And that they did. The Mavs had 36 points in the 4th against Washington Wednesday night and only had one less rebound than the Wizards.

Nowitzki has made it clear that he hopes to play his 20th and possibly his final season in the NBA with the Mavericks. But when asked about the road he has paved for other European players the ever talkative and jovial player shied away from the praise. “I just compete and I play my game. You know there were guys before me that paved the way for me. There were plenty of Europeans before me to play the game. If I have helped pave the wave for a couple of these guys now, that’s awesome.”

The 38-year-old who recently got a potato in the mail from a fan congratulating him on his 30-thousand-point milestone has not only watched how his game has improved but how the league in general has developed. “The sport has grown all over the world, not just in Europe but in China, Africa, Australia as well. I mean, it’s a global league now and it’s been fun to watch it grow over the last 20 years.”

If the 7ft forward retires after 20 seasons he would be in good company. He would tie the recently retired Kobe Bryant for seasons spent with a single franchise. “Everything will be unbelievable to me after my career is over. Something I will look back at with pride, but for now I just keep plugging.”

 

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter@LindsayDunnTV

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

Injuries Could Play Havoc With The NBA Playoffs

So the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are a sure thing to meet in the NBA Finals? You sure? It seems like no one thinks either team is headed for an early exit – yet, but both teams could be in for a tougher time in the first two rounds of the playoffs than anyone anticipated and if their sidelined All-Stars aren’t back to 100 percent by the Conference Finals, all bets should be off on a three-peat in the NBA Finals.

But it’s not just the top two teams in each conference with issues. Injuries have hit a number of other teams this year hoping to make some noise in the postseason and if they aren’t aren’t back by now, optimistic assessments about how soon and how good key players will be aside, teams are worried – not that there’s much they can do about it now.

Golden State Warriors – Kevin Durant

An MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee that’ll be reassessed at the end of March. No worries, he’ll be back for the playoffs, right? Maybe, but in the meantime the Dubs are 0-2 without him and the Spurs are just 3 games back.

How good would a Warriors – Thunder matchup look in the first round if the Dubs can’t hold onto first in the West and KD is still watching from the sidelines mid-April – which is very possible. Russell Westbrook would only be slightly better motivated to triple-double his way into the second round vs GSW.

Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith, Kevin Love

The Cavs showed their true feelings about whether Smith and his broken thumb could be counted on for the postseason by quickly trading for Kyle Korver and the move has worked. Smith or no Smith, the Cavs got that covered.

They also showed their true feelings about Kevin Love’s “minor” knee surgery – is there a stranger term than “minor surgery”? They cut a young prospect to sign a waived 32-year-old Andrew Bogut who averaged 3.0 points in 26 appearances for the Lottery-bound Mavericks.

Sure Love could be back in the 4-6 week time horizon that would make him available for the playoffs and the Cavs are hoping that happens, but there are no guarantees and it’s unlikely he’ll return right away as the same 20 point 11 rebound power forward he was before the injury.

Bogut doesn’t replace Love and it’s a certainty the Cavs will not be as good without their starting power forward or trying to play Love as he goes through the inevitable soreness and conditioning issues that come with knee surgery no matter how “minor.”

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry

Lowry had wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies” that were causing swelling and pain and is expected back in time for the postseason, however, a month or more without the East’s leading three-point maker and the Raptors are going to have to adapt fast to hold onto home court advantage for the playoffs.

The team made big additions defensively with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to the trade deadline and now have both Patrick Patterson and Delon Wright back from injury, so they added depth just in time to compensate, but without their All-Star point guard, the Raptors aren’t the same threat they were earlier in the season. They are hoping for a very speedy and full recovery or this could be a return to the quick postseason exits of a couple of years ago.

Denver Nuggets – Kenneth Faried

After missing most of February with a severely sprained ankle, now the veteran forward has been out with back spasms and could miss another week? It doesn’t sound serious other than the 8th place Nuggets have been relying on the short-handed Trail Blazers to play worse than .500 ball to stay ahead of them.

Other notables include: Miami Heat Justus Winslow (shoulder), Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine (torn ACL), Milwaukee Bucks Jabari Parker (torn ACL), New York Knicks Joakim Noah (knee surgery), Orlando Magic Jodie Meeks (thumb surgery), Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid among others, Portland Trail Blazers Festus Ezeli (knee), Even Turner (broken hand), Ed Davis (torn labrum), Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles).

It’s hard to win without players your team was counting upon at the start of the season and it gets even harder in the playoffs. A last second return mid-April shouldn’t fill one with confidence either.

A Cavs vs Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals? Possible, but injuries aren’t making what seemed like a sure-thing in October nearly as likely.

 

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.

 

Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love

NBA East Opens Up: Surgery For Love, Ibaka To Raptors

Never say the NBA season is a forgone conclusion. Big changes can happen and in an instant what seemed like a sure thing can be thrown into doubt. The certainty of the Cleveland Cavaliers defense of their title in the NBA Finals took a massive hit as Kevin Love underwent knee surgery just as the Toronto Raptors filled their gapping hole at power forward by trading for “Air Congo” Serge Ibaka.

Cavaliers forward and 2017 NBA All-Star Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee this morning at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. His return to play is estimated at approximately six weeks.

“I would love to be able to tell you that he’ll miss three games and be back,” general manager David Griffin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But I can’t right now because we don’t know.”

“Always concerned when guys are going down,” Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Love. “And we’re already limited as it is. Definitely concerned.”

– NBA News

The Toronto Raptors issued a similar statement last year about DeMarre Carroll. Carroll did return in time for the postseason, but it wasn’t until December of this year that his knee fully healed. There are no certainties when a player goes under the knife.

Love is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Cavs.

The Raptors have played the Cavaliers close over the past two seasons, losing 4-2 in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and losing their three regular season games to the Cavs this season by an average of 3.6 points, 110.3-106.7. Love torching the Raptors for 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds. His production isn’t going to be easy to replace.

The Raptors, currently mired in a 4-10 slump that can be traced to injuries to DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, will get a big boost from the acquisition of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was leading the Orlando Magic with 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks and will slide seamlessly into a starting power forward spot in the Raptors rotation that head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t found anyone to fill on an effective basis.

DeRozan is back and playing well and Patterson is day-to-day. The Raptors lost backup wing Terrence Ross in the trade for Ibaka, but sophomore Norman Powell is ready to step in to fill that role and many who follow the team believe Powell should have been ahead of Ross in the rotation already.

If the Raptors can stay healthy, the addition of Ibaka should give pause to anyone thinking the Cavaliers march to the NBA Finals is still a sure thing. The Celtics, Wizards and Hawks should also believe their chances of representing the East in the NBA Finals just took a big leap forward as well.

Things just got interesting again in the East.

 

 

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 L.A. Clippers Paul Pierce remembering the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce’s Last Hurrah In Boston Goes According To Script

By Frank McLean

Paul Pierce’s last hurrah on the court in Boston couldn’t have gone any better. It was like it went according to script, a special moment in a special career.

“It was really cool,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame in Toronto. “I don’t know what it meant to me, but that was as neat of a thing as I have been involved with that’s not playoffs. It was a fanbased, the way they received Paul was unbelievable.

“If you were a Boston fan yesterday you had one helluva day. The Celtics won, Paul Pierce makes the last shot and then New England wins (the Super Bowl). They had a good day yesterday.

“I look back on (the last play and) everyone got it. End of a game guys usually come down and jack shots, the game was over, but Austin (Rivers) came down, he knew to give it to Paul. Isaiah (Thomas) was guarding Paul, he knew to back up and give him a shot. It was like everyone kind of got it which is rare. Usually there’s that one guy with the ego that ruins the moment and it was funny, everyone got it. That was really nice.

“It was great to see what it’s like when you win something and do something in one city which I think more players should do more of. It’s really cool.

“I was a baseball White Socks fan and I stapled Dick Allen and George on the wall and they stayed there for years. They never left. Now you need Velcro.”

Excuse me a second if I sound like an old fart who thinks that things were better when he was younger than they are nowadays. I don’t think that way, but when it comes to professional sports in general I will make the argument it was better in the old days.

When I was a kid your sports heroes stayed with one team their whole career. If you were fan of a certain team like the Boston Celtics the Larry Bird’s the John Havlachek’s stayed with their team for their whole career. You just knew that when each season started your star guy was going to be in the lineup.

Paul Pierce who was drafted with the 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft never got to stay his whole career in Boston. He lasted 15-years with the green and white but then spent a year in Brooklyn and another year in Washington before playing the last two years with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers where he is going to hang it up after a stellar 19-year career at the end of the season.

On Sunday Pierce played his last game at TD Bank Garden where along with Rivers as coach he won his only NBA championship in 2008.

His best days are behind him. He has only got into 13-games this year averaging just four points and one rebound a game, but that didn’t matter to the Garden faithful who brought him to tears chanting “we want Paul” and his nickname “the truth”.

Rivers made the class move of putting Pierce in the starting lineup playing the first five minutes of the game. But with the fans still chanting for Pierce, Rivers put him back out there for the last 20-seconds of the game where took a pass from Doc’s kid Austin and hit a 28-foot three-pointer for the only points he would score in a game which the Clippers lost 107-102.

It was kind of like another Boston great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat in Fenway Park, but the difference here is Pierce was playing for the opposition.

“It’s a tough situation. You’ve been sitting for like the last two hours and then I had to come in there and get a shot,” Pierce said afterward. “But I’m glad I ended it that way. It was a lot of emotion running through. My teammates kind of felt it too. I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden. At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

“I never felt anything like this,” Pierce added. “I truly appreciate my time here. I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just — you really don’t know what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing.”

When asked about putting Pierce back into the game Rivers said, “I’m no dummy.

“So once I thought the game was in hand to Boston, we put him back in. And him making that shot just, that’s just, I don’t know what the heck that is.  That’s that only happens like here, or, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know who can sit that long and walk in on the floor and make a shot.”

Monday night the Clippers make their only appearance in Toronto this year and Pierce will not be hearing any cheers. It’s more likely he’ll be booed by the Raptors faithful.

In the 2013-14 playoffs in Brooklyn and the 2014-15 postseason in Washington he was the main factor why the Raptors were upset in the first round. His buzzer beating shots and his trash talking made him public enemy number one in the 416.

But when I think of Paul Pierce I think of him as a Celtic, not a Net, not a Wizard and not a Clipper. Too bad he never got a chance to play his whole career in Boston, but he did get a proper send off by the fans that a future Celtic hall of famer is deserved.

You see sports was better when we were kids.

 

 

  

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love and LeBron James

Cavs Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Frank McLean

Kevin Love is not going anywhere. If you don’t believe me listen to the guy who is listed as a player but acts like the real General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James.

As if to make a point, Marc Berman in the New York Post reported after the Cavaliers beat the New York Knicks 111-104 right in Madison Square Garden,

James said, “Kevin is here for a reason. We know why he is here. We know what he is capable of.”

James set Love up with the game winning three point field goal with 44-seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It’s the worst kept secret around NBA circles that the Knicks are looking to move Carmelo Anthony even though he does have a no trade contract.

Reports recently said that the Knicks offered Anthony to the Cavaliers in exchange for Love and well as you can expect the Cavaliers supposedly said no.

The Cavaliers are in a bit of a slump right now. They started the season going 23-6 in their first 29-games, but since then and counting last night’s win they have gone just 11-9.

A few weeks back James went public demanding that the Cavaliers find him a playmaker to get him the ball seeing that the Golden State Warriors went out and improved their roster by getting Kevin Durant in the off season.

After the game Saturday night Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue reassured everyone that Love isn’t going anywhere.

“Just because teams ask about you doesn’t mean you’re getting traded. Right now we have who we have and not looking to move one of our guys right now.”

But what does Kevin Love think about all this talk about him heading for Broadway? It always seems that since he came to Cleveland in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves he is always being mentioned in a possible trade.

“Comes with the territory,” Love said late last week in an interview with long time basketball writer Fred Kerber of the New York Post.  “When that stuff comes along, I’ve done a lot better job of letting things just kind of roll off of me. I think it’d helped me out on the court as well.”

Love is averaging a double-double 19.9-points and 11-rebounds a game while battling spasms.

“It’s good to be wanted”, Love joked.

“I predicted that. I said it doesn’t matter if I have an All-Star year, one side or the other, it’s always going to be there.”

February 23rd can’t come soon enough for Love who I’m sure will be checking his messages every couple of hours just to make sure he isn’t leaving the Queen City of Ohio.

Nobody wants to be traded. The feeling that no one wants you any more stinks. The positive that somebody wants you helps you get over being traded for somebody else.

Love is still an important cog in the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, he helps make LeBron James go and it was evident in Saturday night’s win over the Knicks where he scored 23-points and grabbed 16-rebounds.

It seems that the Knicks can ask and ask all they want, but if LeBron James and Tyronn Lue have anything to say they still have a lot of Love for Kevin Love.

 

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

L

The Magic Is Back With The Lakers

By Frank McLean

I’ve written many times about how the New York Knicks, one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, is a complete mess thanks to an owner who has no idea of what he is doing.

On the west coast another marquee franchise the Los Angeles Lakers have slumped into a poorly run lottery team since the passing of their owner Jerry Buss.

When the elder Buss passed away in 2013 the team was left in the hands of his two children, daughter Jeanie who would look after the business end of the operation and his son Jim who would take care of the basketball end of things.

Jeanie has done well keeping the business end of the operations going fine as the team is still a powerful brand regardless that it doesn’t show up in their win-loss record.

But the win-loss record is the problem and that’s where Jim comes in. The team stinks and instead of acting like an owner and hiring people who know what they are doing, he is running the show and has run the team into the ground.

Look at last season. Instead of trying to make the team better, it was all about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour and the celebration of a guy who’s best days were behind him.

He also began a feud with one of the all-time greats in the history of the Lakers history, Magic Johnson.

Johnson, who had a small ownership piece of the Lakers, became critical of the way Jim Buss was running the team. He didn’t like the hiring of Mike D’Antoni as coach in 2012. He thought they should have brought back Phil Jackson. He was also irked that they didn’t sign any high profile players.

“I’m going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” Johnson said in an article in December 2015. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago (2013-14), 21 wins last year (2014-15). Three summers now, we haven’t signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven’t signed any superstar. We’ve had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We’re going to have more this summer.”

Jim Buss fired back in a USA today feature.

“Magic Johnson going nuts on me? It’s like, ‘Really, dude? My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?”

Johnson left the organization becoming a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming a face of their ownership group.

That all changed on Thursday as Jeanie Buss brought back Johnson to be an advisor to her in all areas of business and basketball.

“We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Jeanie Buss said about the hiring in a Lakers press release.

“Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.”

Ever since the death of the elder Buss there has been a power struggle between the siblings.

Jim Buss said in 2014 that if the Lakers are not a championship team by the summer of 2017 he would step down. A championship is not going to happen this year, the Lakers are second last in the Western Conference and will be a lottery team.

The Johnson hiring by Jeanie is a step in the right direction. It looks like she is slowly taking over the full operation of the team and she did say last year that she expects her brother to fulfill his promise – at that time.

“Jim is calling the shots,” Johnson said, via the Orange County Register‘s Mark Medina. “I want him to understand I’m just here to lend advice. I’m not here to be anything but just give you some basketball knowledge.”

For now, Johnson will be able to help greatly as an advisor and will be show those in charge of the team how a championship team is run. He should know, he was there in their glory days. It’s a no brainer.

The NBA is poorer when its marquee franchises like the Lakers, Knicks are suffering.

The Jeanie and Jim power struggle was like one of those 1980’s prime time soap operas Dallas or in this case Dynasty. It’s going to take a while for the Lakers to be a contender again. The hiring of Johnson and Jim Buss eventually stepping aside is just a start.

 

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.