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NBA Milwaukee Bucks Matthew Dellavedova

Scrappy Dellavedova Screens Getting On Raptors Nerves

By Frank McLean

The gamesmanship has started in the Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series and it only took one game. Scrappy Matthew Dellavedova has been getting on the Raptors nerves.

The fact that the Bucks, who experts kept telling us should be swept four straight games, beat Toronto 97-83 would be enough. But now it’s Dellavedova and the illegal screens was he was allegedly running to set up Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This is why Dellavadova has a job in the NBA, his ability to set screens to let scorers do their things. This is what he did in Cleveland the first three years of his career, setting screens to make it easier for LeBron James.

It’s not for his offensive skills, he only averaged 7.6 points a game for the Bucks during the regular season, what he brought to a young developing team is his tough physical grinding game.

The Cavaliers sure miss him. James was complaining that the Cavaliers needed a playmaker. The problem was the guy he needed was traded to Milwaukee in the off season in a sign and trade for the draft right to Albert Miralles.

In Toronto on Monday at practice the Raptors let it be known that he was running some illegal screens in game one.

“He did set 18-screens and we did look at them,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was saying during his daily session with the media. “A lot of them weren’t legal.

“Now we’ve got to make sure we counter that and make the officials make a decision. The officials were saying that we’re not hitting (the screens) or running into them. We’ve got to make sure we have a confrontation, because he’s one of the great screen-setters in the league, just like John Stockton was. There’s no disrespect by saying that.

“It’s a respect factor for Dellavedova that he does set hellacious screens. You look at them in slow time, and believe me, they’re moving, they’re grabbing, they’re holding. He has set a precedent with it and they’re not calling it. We’ve got to make sure we set screens the same way, and now we show the officials those videos.

“It’s a credit to him that he sets screens that way and gets away with it.”

Meanwhile back in Milwaukee the Bucks were working out before they boarded their plane to head to Toronto for Tuesday’s game. Dellavedova spoke about an hour before Casey made his comments in Toronto. He talked about how it’s all about playing physical in the playoffs.

“I think in the playoffs, my game is suited to that,” Dellavedova said. “Where there’s a lot on the line, it’s going to be even more physical. If you want to win, you’ve got to put your body on the line.”

Dellavedova, who is from Australia, said the type of game he plays is typical of what you see all the time in international basketball.

“Internationally the game is a lot more physical,” Dellavedova added. “The way they set screens, if you go under a screen internationally, the big man is going to roll you down in to the paint, so you really can’t go under any screens. Often times when I go back and play with Australians in the summertime, it’s a lot more physical.

“All people set illegal screens in the NBA. If you follow it to the letter of the law, the rule is that your feet have to be inside your shoulders. I mean big men are always kind of setting it wide. That’s just how it is.

“You have to be smart and adjust to what the refs are calling.”

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, who was as a tough a guard to ever play in the NBA, admires his small 6’4 guard.

“It’s tough when you have a small, a point guard, that sets screens, as many as he sets in a game,” Kidd said. “He knows he’s going to get hit, being able to absorb that hit and he does it a lot. It can wear on you, but I think he’s someone who can take a hit. He understands sacrifice and his teammates appreciate that.”

We don’t know yet who the NBA will assign to referee game two. It will be interesting to see who they are and will they be paying attention to possible illegal screens.

The mind games have started, we got ourselves a series.

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo

Raptors Must Stop The Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo.

By Frank McLean

Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, their neighbours down the hall at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors got an extra day to figure out how to stop “the Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That’s because the Maple Leafs took to the ice Monday night instead of the Raptors as they hosted game three of their first round battle with the Washington Capitals.

Antetokounmpo scored 28-points, a playoff career high in game one, leading his team to the upset win and P.J. Tucker, an NBA veteran who played his first playoff game in his long career on Saturday, says the Raptors have to guard the paint against the 6-foot-11 forward.

“We got to shut the paint down, the paint is gold in this series,” Tucker said. “It’s protecting the paint even more I’m going to sound repetitive, but it’s the same thing because he’s going to try to get to the paint. We’re trying to give him the shot, but he’s not going to take it, he’s going to try to get to the paint. For us, it’s defending the paint.”

Both the Bucks and the Raptors were working the paint hard in the first half. The Raptors outscored the Bucks 32-22 in the first 24-minutes but in the final 24-minutes of the game the Raptors forgot to drive to the hoop, but the Bucks didn’t and outscored the Raptors 18-4.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said that they played a game like it was in the middle of the regular season and not a postseason game.

“It wasn’t like they jumped out to a big lead or anything like that, but in the minutes where it was important we didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition,’’ Casey said. “DeMar (DeRozan) drives to the basket or Kyle (Lowry) drives to the basket and now it’s five on four or one on two or three.

“We need all five men or four men back to guard him (Antetokounmpo) and out of that make sure we are in scramble mode and have our scramble rotation in and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

There was a point in the game in the third quarter where there was a small window where maybe you thought the Raptors could pull ahead.

Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul and Bucks coach Jason Kidd decided to sit him to keep him from getting that fifth foul. Instead of the Raptors getting on a run of their own, the Bucks went on an 11-5 run without their best player on the floor.

As usual you don’t get any excuses from Casey when his team loses. He credited the Bucks for just flat out beating them in game one.

“They did a good job,” Casey said. “They beat us. They outworked us. They out-physical-ed us, they out-screened us in every area that you could possibly talk about and that’s what we showed the guys on film.

“To win in this league we have to play at another level. You can’t play on a regular-season level. You have to screen in playoff form, you have to cut in playoff form, you have to run in playoff form, and we didn’t do that long enough. We did it in some parts of the game, but not long enough.”

Traditionally the Raptors do much better in game two’s of a playoff series and the first order of business Tuesday night will be to find a way to stop the “Greek Freak”.

 

 

   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 Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Game Two Belongs To The Raptors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Lowry And DeRozan Stumble In Game One Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading scorers:

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

Raptors: DeRozan 27 points, Serge Ibaka 19 points.

Bucks bench outscored the Raptors bench 28-19.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

At 0-8, Game One Has Been Rough On The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Make no mistake, Game One has been a huge hurdle for the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. Over the history of the franchise, the Raptors are 0-8 in the first game of an opening series, losing to the Knicks twice, the Nets twice, the Pistons, Magic, Wizards and Pacers. It always seems like this team is behind the eight ball in the postseason.

Losing Game Ones at home has been especially painful as you are giving away your hard earned home court advantage, a big reason why a feisty Indiana Pacers were able to take the Raptors to seven games in their first round match-up last year.

Winning Game One is the challenge this year and head coach Dwane Casey is well aware of it.

“I think that’s our challenge in Game One,” Casey said. “We get so hyped up, there’s such a big, a lot of talk or whatever about the game, I don’t know if we overthink the situation and not just play basketball. I think the experience from last year is a huge help, and we thought that from the year before. Again, we’ve just got to go out there and do it and not overthink it.”

Game One wasn’t kind to the Raptors in the second round or the Conference Finals last season either, losing to the Heat in overtime at home and the Cavs on the road. The only Game One win the Raptors can lay claim to is a second round victory over the 76ers back in the Vince Carter era, but Toronto lost that series in Game Seven.

However, the Raptors are excited for the opportunity to go for another long post season run this year. In fact as soon as the final buzzer went Wednesday night in Cleveland in their last game of a long and grinding 82-game schedule and they hopped their charter back to Toronto, they felt it on the plane that now the games are going to be a different animal.

On Thursday, DeMar DeRozan was telling the media about that plane ride home.

“We felt it last night being on the plane and coming back with everyone just excited,” DeRozan said. “Everyone couldn’t wait to get in here (to Thursday’s practice). I came early, a couple of the guys came early just to get some work in. Just get completely locked it and embrace this feeling.”

It’s the fourth year in a row the Raptors have made it to the postseason. When you talk to fans and listen to them vent on sports radio it’s expected now that this team get to the playoffs every year and after making it to Eastern Conference Finals nothing less will be accepted. Things are a far cry from last April when the plea was, ‘please let’s just win a first round series for once.’

Kyle Lowry shares the feelings of the fans, his expectations are just as high. He wants a championship.

“The expectations should always be the same,” Lowry said. “They’ve always been the same for me. Try to win a ring.

“You don’t just get to the playoffs to get to the playoffs. My expectations are always chasing the ultimate prize. You play all regular season for the ultimate goal, to hold up that trophy.

“It’s always amazing and fun to make the playoffs and it’s a testament to how hard you worked during the regular season. It’s a little different. Now we’re supposed to make the playoffs. When we got there the first time, it was like … Well, let’s go out and play hard. Now we have to execute.”

Lowry is right, if the Raptors execute, they will be fine as their opponent is a Milwaukee Bucks team with little playoff experience and with home court advantage, Toronto is the heavy favorite.

It’s well past the time the Raptors started the playoffs off right with a win in Game One at home.

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks Malcom Brogdon and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry by Larry Millson

Young Bucks Are An Easy Opponent For The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Well it’s here for the fourth season in a row, the Toronto Raptors have made the post season and will open up at home with the Milwaukee Bucks in game one of their best-of-seven first round series.

When you look at this series it seems to be a rather, with no disrespect to the Bucks, an easy match-up and a rather easy route to the second round against an expected opponent named the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s of course if the Indiana Pacers don’t pull of the upset of upsets against the defending NBA champs.

The Raptors have beat the Bucks 12-times in their last 14-regular season meetings and won this year’s season series 3-1 outscoring the Bucks 105.8-96.5, so you can understand why fans in Toronto are smiling and thinking this is going to be a cakewalk.

However, two years ago Toronto’s first round match-up with the Washington Wizards was supposed to be a mismatch in the Raptors favor. Instead they were eliminated four straight, but that’s a lesson reasonably fresh on the Raptors minds and one these young Bucks have yet to experience.

When you look at the Bucks they are a young rebuilding franchise who finished sixth in the east at 42-40. They don’t have the deep roster yet to be considered a legitimate contender like the Raptors, but they do have a rising star in Giannis Antetokounmpo …aka “The Greek Freak”.

He is a six-foot-11 small forward with a wingspan of someone in the neighborhood of seven-three. And pardon the pun, the native of Greece has the body of a Greek god. His hands, they have been measured at 12-inches from the tip of his thumb to his small finger.

He averaged nearly 23-points and 9-rebounds a game during the regular season, so as you can imagine everything the Bucks do centers around Antetokounmpo.

“He’s a freak of nature for an athlete,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He reminds me so much of a young Magic Johnson as far as his length, his size, the way he can pass the ball and lord forbid he gets consistent on his jump shots. But his length and his ability to see the floor, his willingness to pass, he enjoys passing, and then his one-step from the top of the key to the rim laying it up or dunking it. That’s why he’s a freak. He’s totally different than anything else in our league.”

But when you talk about the Bucks Casey is aware that you can’t forget the other 12-players their head coach Jason Kidd will dress on Saturday.

Casey was very glowing in his comments about shooting guard Khris Middleton whom he calls the Bucks X-factor.

“Middleton has added another shooter to that group,” Casey said. “He stretches the floor out and him being a shooter, he has created more space for Antetokounmpo, so that is something that you have to be respectful of because he is the X factor.

“He stretches the floor out in transition, shooting the three, one-on one he’s an excellent iso player, so now do you put your best defender on him or do you put your best defender on Antetokounmpo? So he gives them another dimension offensively.”

The Bucks do have one player with recent championship experience and that’s Matthew Dellavadova who got it with the Cavaliers last year, but other than that this roster is not nearly as deep as the Raptors.

You know playoff games are officiated at a much tighter standard than in the regular season. The young Bucks don’t have the depth on their bench like the Raptors and with their second leading scorer, Jabri Parker (20.1 ppg) out for the season, if any of the Bucks starters get into foul trouble early in a game it could put them into an even deeper hole.

The Bucks do look like an easy opponent for the more experienced Raptors as long as they don’t forget the lessons of two and three seasons ago. You can’t take any team for granted in the playoffs. Raptors in 5.

 

 

   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 Toronto Raptors Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira

Raptors Turn To Poeltl Power When Things Get Stagnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

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

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

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

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

NBA head coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Raptors Undrafted Rookie Fred VanVleet Talks About His Role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph and PJ Tucker

Do You Believe In Cory Joseph Yet?

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry vs Cory Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Now Have Best Defense In The East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Sitting In The Catbird Seat For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors return home Monday night to the Air Canada Center sitting in the catbird seat to start their stretch of their last nine games before the playoffs with a four game home stand against the Orlando Magic and an old friend Terrance Ross.

The Raptors officially punched their ticket to NBA playoffs for a franchise record fourth straight season on the back of their 94-86 win over the Mavericks in Dallas Saturday night which also was their fifth straight win in a row.

Schedule wise the Raptors are sitting in a great spot. Eight of their last nine games are against teams with a record blow .500. On the final night of the season they play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers the only team with a record better than .500 and if the game means nothing to the defending champions you can bet your life it will be another night of rest for Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

The Raptors have a great opportunity to improve their lot in the Eastern Conference standings with this soft schedule heading into the stretch drive.

They sit fourth at 44-29 3.5 games back of Cleveland and Boston who are tied for first and a game back of Washington who is sitting third.

The goal is to try and avoid a match-up with Cleveland until the third round which would be the conference championship. What helps is that they have the tie breaker with Washington so third place is realistic. They just have to keep winning.

Another benefit of winning five straight is that they have a seven game lead over the fifth place Atlanta Hawks and unless they really hit the skids over these final nine games they pretty well have home court advantage in the first round locked up. Home court was something three weeks ago that wasn’t a sure thing.

The Raptors are hot at the right time which is saying something since they have not had the heart and soul of their offense Kyle Lowry since the all-star break because of a wrist injury.

The three teams in front of them all have some sort of weakness.

First let’s look at the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers who are struggling to play defence right now. They are just 5-5 in their last 10-games. They dominate at home with a 28-8 record, but struggle away from Quicken Loans Arena and are barely over .500 at 19-17.

The Boston Celtics did not make any moves at the trade deadline which made General Manager Danny Ainge the target of the wrath from Celtics Nation. They have had trouble rebounding all season, but they are riding a four game win streak because they have been carried on the back of guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas scored 30-points Sunday in a win at home against Miami.

And last you have the Washington Wizards who will have barely seen the US capitol city they live in this month. They started off in Cleveland Saturday night their last 10-games of the regular season with their second five game road trip this month which finish’s with the last four games on the west coast against the Lakers, Clippers, Utah and Golden State in that order.

And when they are done with that road trip they only play two of their final five games at home.

As you can see, evidence points to the Raptors having a golden opportunity to move up in the standings and somewhere in their last nine games they hope to get Kyle Lowry back in the lineup.

The Raptors are sitting in the catbird seat. They have their destiny in their own hands and all they have to do is keep winning, something the schedule maker has made a doable task.

Somewhere quietly behind the scenes, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is smiling.

 

 

   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 Toronto Raptors Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Rookie Center Jakob Poeltl Doesn’t Make Mistakes

By Frank McLean

On a team with deep playoff aspirations, rookies and young players in general often get nailed to the bench because they just make too many mistakes, but Raptors rookie center Jakob Poeltl may be one of the exceptions as he has cracked head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation post All-Star break.

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

Back on draft night in June the Toronto Raptors had two picks in the first round. Their own and the ninth pick overall which they got from the New York Knicks in a deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to Broadway. However, with the Raptors coming off a season where they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history the thought was, what did they need with a draft pick? The need was for a veteran power forward to put them over the top.

With that ninth pick they found a seven foot center out of the University of Utah named Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl became an answer to a trivia question that night as he became the first Austrian born player in the history of the NBA.
The thought was Poeltl would be on the QEW highway shuttle between the Air Canada Centre and Mississauga playing most of his time with Jerry Stackhouse`s Raptors 905.

But with Jared Sullinger going down in the first preseason game with a foot injury Poeltl was able to get some minutes at the start of the season at power forward, but he eventually his lost his minutes to the Raptors other first round pick Pascal Siakam and found a spot on the bench.

Poeltl didn`t let it discourage him. He kept learning. It didn`t matter if he was on the bench, working extra reps in practice, or playing for the 905ers. He kept trying to get better.

It paid off this month with Poeltl taking Lucas Nogueira’s spot in the rotation and making a big contribution to team that is missing a big chunk of their offence without Kyle Lowry’s 23 points and seven assists a game.

Since the All-Star break, Poeltl has played in 11 games averaging 11 minutes, 2.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks and coach Dwane Casey has no issues bringing the rookie into the game.

“For me, just every time you put him in, he does something positive,” Casey was saying the other day at practice. “There’s that trust, not only with myself but with his teammates. He’s doing positive things. He plays with physicality. The only thing, and it’s not his fault, is cheap fouls, he gets a lot of cheap calls.”

Of course rookies in the NBA don`t get any love from the officials as the NBA is run like a feudal system where you have to earn your way up the respect ladder with the refs.

When you talk to Poeltl, playing the physical style of game that is demanded of professional basketball was the hardest thing to get adjusted to.

“Not now, not anymore, because I feel like I’m used to it already,” Poeltl said. “I’m still not the most physical player, but at least I’ve got adjusted to the new level of physicality in the NBA. But that was definitely a challenge to start the season, getting used to playing against bigger bodies and stronger guys.”

Poeltl has natural basketball instincts. His parents were athletes but roundball wasn`t their game, volleyball was.

“I don’t know,” Poeltl said. “I mean, I guess both my parents were athletes, I was always in love with sports in general, I was like playing around, playing basketball as a little kid. But it’s really just instincts. I don’t know where it’s coming from, I just feel comfortable out there and I feel like I know where I’m supposed to go.”

Regardless of where his natural instincts came from, the Raptors are just happy to have drafted him last June. His play of late has been a big help allowing the team to have a trusted back-up when Jonas Valanciunas needs a break.

Rookies don`t generally make an impact on a veteran playoff team, but this Austrian trailblazer has been the exception this month.

 

  

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

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers shooters 2016-17

Not So Tough Cavs Backing Into The Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Not Rocky, Serge Ibaka Should Keep His Day Job

It wasn’t quite the ‘The Malice at the Palace,’ but the altercation between Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Chicago Bulls Robin Lopez will be talked about for weeks to come. Although, just maybe, as fighters, Serge and Robin should hang onto their day jobs.

On Tuesday night the Raptors were looking to break an 11 game losing streak against the Bulls and until the 3rd quarter it looked like they were going to make it 12 in a row.

Jimmy Butler hit a three-pointer with just under four minutes left in the third quarter and Ibaka collected the ball. This is when things got heated between the two. Ibaka apparently hit Lopez with an elbow beneath the basket which Lopez was not a fan of and slammed the ball out of Ibaka’s hands. The ol’ one -two punch ensued which resulted in both players being ejected. After the players separated Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire and Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic ‘got into it’ resulting in technicals for both teams.

The NBA announced on Wednesday that both Lopez and Ibaka would get one game suspensions without pay for throwing punches at one another. Magloire was fined a cool $15,000 for pushing Mirotic.

“What happened is we were playing physical basketball and he got frustrated,” said Ibaka postgame. “That thing happened where you just start pushing each other, like always happens when there’s contact, and then he throws a punch. You know, like a man, I had to defend myself. I’m not just going to be out there and watch a man like him punch me and just walk away. I had to defend myself. So that’s what happened.”

As for Lopez’ take, “Things got heated, we exchanged a few words and it kind of went from there. I’m not too surprised that it escalated. It happens sometimes.”

The exchange of punches itself looked more like a fight out of the WWE where they try and make it look like they hit the other wrestler but completely miss. The fight did cause an uproar in the Air Canada Centre. Anyone that could stand in the stadium was standing and were chanting, ‘Let’s Go Raptors.’

“If something like that doesn’t get your energy going and your competitive spirit going than I don’t know what will,” Fred VanVleet said after the game.

Cory Joseph echoed a similar feeling, “It gave us energy. Obviously we didn’t want Serge to fight, but it gave us that spark we needed.”

The fight not only got fans involved, but the team as well. Prior to the fight the Raptors were trailing the entire game, then late into the fourth quarter they went on a 15-0 run and took the game to OT where Toronto sealed the win 122-120.

“It got us going,” DeMar DeRozan said post game. “The crowd got into it, our fans love things like that, especially with it being a hockey city.”

In the locker room the players were talking about the fight just as much as the fans. When Ibaka was giving his postgame scrum Lucas Nogiera yelled, ‘What’s up Mike Tyson.’ A few moments later when DeMar DeRozan was giving his postgame interview you can hear Jonas Valanciunas yelling, ‘Way to fight Serge!’

If anybody was wondering who Robin’s brother and fellow NBA player Brook Lopez was rooting for, it may surprise you, “Maybe we’ll get a grudge match, who knows? I’m pulling for Ibaka, though.”

However, these players should stick to their day jobs. They would make horrible boxers.

“I don’t think that Serge Ibaka has a malicious bone in his body. He’s a competitor, so is Lopez,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t think either one of them will go down as ‘Rocky’ or anything like that.”

Fans in a hockey city may be surprised that a “fight” worthy of two minutes for roughing on the ice will result in Ibaka sitting out on Thursday night when the Raptors play the Heat in Miami as he serves a one game suspension. Lopez serves his “fighting” suspension when the Bulls host the Detroit Pistons at United Center.

 

 

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

 

 

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Raptors Are Winning With Crushing Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors team

Team Meeting Turns On The Raptors Defense In Detriot

By Lindsay Dunn

What a difference a day makes. After giving up a 123 points in a loss to the Thunder at home, the Raptors rolled into Detroit and held the Pistons to just 75 points for the 12 point win. Now that’s how it was envisioned Toronto would play after acquiring PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline. Stifling defense that held the Pistons to just 9 fourth quarter points.

The Toronto Raptors have been terrible in back-to-back sets this season as they headed into Detroit for the back-half of their most recent set after getting embarrassed by the Thunder the night before. An 8-8 record in the front half of back-to-backs had been followed by 6-9 the next night as Toronto has been blitzed for over 120 points in these sets seven times this season. After Thursday’s game head coach Dwane Casey felt the need to apologize and the players had a team meeting to hash out their feelings.

“I want to apologize to our fans to everybody tonight about the way we played tonight,” uttered coach Casey after the loss to the Thunder on Thursday night.

The final score flattered Toronto as at one point the Raptors were down by as much as 32 points.

“We had a chat,” a politically correct DeMar DeRozan said postgame. “It’s a simple as that. We expressed to one another our thoughts and that is that.”

Coach Casey wasn’t as reserved with his words. “That exhibition of basketball was unacceptable. The effort, the competitive spirit wasn’t there. That team came out and played like it was a championship game. We played like it was a mid season game and again it is not acceptable.”

The Raptors shot poorly as a team, but it was allowing Mr. Triple-Double Russell Westbrook freewheel his way to his 34th of the season with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists that really hurt.

One of the few highlights of the game involved a Raptor, but wasn’t a highlight many Raptors fans would like to watch again. Westbrook made a half-court pass that went through Cory Joseph’s legs and connected with Victor Oladipo who put it in the basketball with a layup. “I just saw him and Taj running,” Westbrook told Pro Bball Report. “ I saw them running all night and I passed the ball and it got through some traffic.”

A hard-nosed defensive specialist, Tucker has quickly become a vocal leader on the Raptors and he didn’t hold back his feelings after the game.

‘We can’t have efforts like this,” Tucker said. “It’s not about making shots it’s about us having competitive spirit and playing all these games like playoff games.”

“A lot of people talked,” Tucker said about the players only meeting. “It was a good conversation. Enough talking though. We have 14 games left it’s time to put it to action. It’s time for guys to go out and show that we care and that we care about each other and we want to do something special here. We have the team to do it.”

The Raptors offense was missing-in-action to start the game in Detroit, but the Toronto’s much maligned of late starting unit wasn’t about to let this game get away. The Pistons were held to just one field goal for almost six minutes to start the game and only 13 points in the first quarter.

Tucker has been preaching defense since his arrival in Toronto and he’s been in the ear of Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan. It must be working too. DeRozan may have played his best defensive game (ever?) in the win over Detroit.

“I talk too much,” Tucker had explained soon after coming to Toronto. “Defense is half talking. Serge (Ibaka) talks, DeMarre (Carroll) talks, DeMar doesn’t talk as much, but I got him talking a little bit. I think the more (DeMar) starts talking on defense too, we’ll be even better. Once he gets comfortable with it.”

DeRozan was looking pretty intense on defense in Detroit and it’s doubtful if Tucker really cares if it was comfortable. All Tucker cares about is the win.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors 50 wins 2015-16 season

Toronto Raptors Are Going For 50 Wins Again

The San Antonio Spurs have won 50 or more games in every season this century and they’ve already done it again this year, but the Toronto Raptors have only hit this milestone once in franchise history, so going for 50 wins again this year is a bit of a bigger deal for We The North.

After a hot 22-8 start to this season, the Raptors lost their mojo and were a slumping 10-16 the day before the All-Star break. DeMar DeRozan made what could only be called a cry for help as his team was sliding from second best in the East to a place that wouldn’t even have a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year, the current situation was demoralizing.

President Masai Ujiri had rolled the dice at the start of this season by keeping all of his players on rookie deals from the past two drafts and adding three new rookies to the roster. The team was young and inexperienced if anyone in the anticipated rotation got hurt and then, of course, their free agent acquisition Jared Sullinger broke his foot in preseason. It wasn’t going to take much to force head coach Dwane Casey to start playing a lot more youth than is usually found in a 50 win rotation.

Led by DeRozan and Kyle Lowry this team could score, but starting a rookie at power forward for most of the season and relying on youth to fill in for the inevitable injuries meant this team was giving up a lot of points.

Ujiri responded at the trade deadline by making the significant veteran additions of power forward/ center Serge Ibaka and forward P.J. Tucker. Both players significantly upgraded the Raptors defense and Ibaka provides an offensive presence at the four spot this team hasn’t seen since Chris Bosh left town for Miami.

These moves were all about giving the Raptors a chance to get back to the East Finals and a shot at getting past the heavily favored Cavaliers. There was plenty of time before the postseason to integrate them with Lowry and DeRozan or so it seemed.

At the time, Ujiri couldn’t have known Lowry was about to go under the knife to relieve pain and swelling in his wrist. Fortunately, the new additions were ready to become integral in saving the Raptors chances at 50 wins in the regular season. If Ujiri had stood pat at the trade deadline, the Raptors might have been fighting to stay above .500 without Lowry.

Thru 57 games before the All-Star break Toronto was outscoring teams 108.5-104.3, but they were allowing opponents to shoot 45.4 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three. A solid defensive team last year, this group was finding ways to lose close games and were 4-7 in games decided by three points or less.

Things changed in a hurry after the break. A 10-point win over the surging Atlantic Division leading Boston Celtics where the Raptors held their high scoring opponent (averaging 107.8 points a game) under 100 points.

In the first seven games since Ibaka and Tucker arrived in Toronto, the 5-2 Raptors have held opponents to 99 points on 43.1 percent shooting and 33 percent from three-point range. Both players have been superior at guarding the perimeter and making their presence felt in the paint, something Casey has been in an either or situation prior to their availability.

A split in the home-and-home versus the Wizards and a loss on the second half of a back-to-back on the road to Milwaukee are the only blemishes for the upgraded roster and that’s without the services of their All-Star point guard.

The current ESPN Eastern Conference Prediction has the Raptors finishing at 50-32.

50 wins will require Toronto take at least 12 of the remaining 18 games and if this team is as good as they hope they are, that’s a mark they should be planning on beating.

Their remaining opponents, 9 home and 9 away, include:

@ Hawks (5th place, 35-29)
@ Heat x2, Heat (9th place, 31-34)
Mavericks, @ Mavericks (10th place, 27-36)
Thunder (7th place, 35-29)
@Pistons x2 (7th place, 31-33)
Pacers x2, @Pacers (6th place, 33-31)
Bulls (8th place, 31-33)
Magic (13th place, 24-41)
Hornets (11th place, 28-36)
76ers (14th place, 23-40)
@Knicks (12th place, 26-39)
@Cavaliers (1st place, 42-20)

It isn’t going to be easy. At least 12 of the remaining games are going to be against teams with playoff positioning on the line, but these are exactly the types of games a team hoping for a deep playoff push needs.

Getting to 50 wins for the Raptors is more than a symbolic gesture. 50 wins or more without their All-Star point guard for the stretch drive would indicate this team is ready to make some noise in the postseason with him.

 

 

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 Norman Powell

Can Raptors Norman Powell Become A Fourth Quarter Star?

The Toronto Raptors second year guard Norman Powell is slowly gaining notoriety as a fourth quarter player. Someone head coach Dwane Casey can count on at critical points in the game to get a stop or more surprisingly, get a bucket and that’s something from a guy who earned his minutes as a rookie with physical play at the defensive end of the court.

Surprisingly Powell seems reluctant just go with the idea that he plays better in the fourth quarter. He takes pride in playing hard from the moment head coach Dwane Casey puts him in the game, but this isn’t about playing hard, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and coaches need players that can step it up in crunch time.

“I’ve talked about it,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It’s figuring out how to go in there and play all out hard basketball. It’s nothing about me taking my time to get ready or anything like that. I go out there and play hard, but being effective, being just a little bit more active, a little bit more smart in how I impact the game rather than just going out there and playing hard.

“I don’t feel that I am pushing at all. I take the same shots I take in the fourth as I do anytime I am on the court, it’s just whether or not they are going in. I’m not pushing myself or pressing as a lot of people think. I go in there and warmup or practice or workout the same way that I do in the game. Some nights in the first quarter or second quarter the shots are falling and everything’s good. I got the whole game going. Some nights it takes one, two, three shots and you get an easy one and it starts clicking all over again. It’s just about finding easy plays.”

It’s not just a causal observation, Powell seems to consistently find those “easy plays” in the fourth quarter and for some reason, they get easier to find after the All-Star break.

The under-sized second round pick peaked Casey’s interest early on. It isn’t often a rookie can bump and grab veteran players without picking up quick fouls and an unhelpful reputation with the referees, but Powell had the knack for physical defense without fouling and he got minutes while the Raptors first round pick Delon Wright was toiling away with the NBA D-League 905.

Now Casey never believed Powell could shoot and the rookie did little to dispel that in the first half of his initial season, so Powell was playing solely because he would play bump and grind defense, but sometimes things can change.

Injuries created opportunity and the rookie was ready to take advantage. After averaging just 6.5 minutes and 1.3 points on 27.5 percent shooting before the All-Star game in his rookie season, Powell became an impact player on offense after the break averaging 22.8 minutes and 9.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting.

An unexpected three-point shot appeared as well and the rookie Casey didn’t think had a jump shot started nailing 45.5 percent of his long balls, but maybe there were clues about his ability to shoot before this. While his offense was almost non-existent to start, when Casey played Powell in the fourth quarter, the rookie was hitting 33.3 percent of his threes when he wasn’t hitting much of anything else. Hints of a Mr. Fourth Quarter even from the start.

While Casey remained reluctant to believe in Powell’s shooting, the former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys had no such reservations. He’d seen what Powell could do in the summer after the draft and he believed.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Mermuys told Pro Bball Report last year. “One, he made a ton of shots in Summer League. He was knocking it down. Into our workouts after Summer League in L.A. and in the Clippers facility workouts, he was making a ton of shots and that was my message coming back out of the summer. I said look, for a guy that can’t shoot, this guy is making a lot of shots. It’s getting to the point where this isn’t, it can’t be just he’s hot. He’s shooting the ball really well. So, I felt really confident about his shooting ability coming out of the summer.”

Powell started out shooting this season like he did after the All-Star break last year, but his minutes were wildly inconsistent and he is currently averaging just 33.9 percent from three. Powell found himself behind Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll in the rotation, however, Casey kept looking for excuses to find him minutes, especially in the fourth quarter.

However, his fourth quarter offensive output also started to level off until it wasn’t really any different from the any other time in the game, but things were about to change. A Ross trade and an injury to Kyle Lowry has handed a consistent role to both of the Raptors second year guards after the All-Star break and it’s like someone flipped a switch on Powell’s fourth quarter offense.

Since the break, Powell has been averaging 10.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting, but it’s been in the fourth quarter where he has really shone scoring 7 points on 48 percent shooting and hitting on 42.9 percent of his threes. There much be something about consistent minutes, the stretch drive to the playoffs, and the pressure of the fourth quarter that brings out the best in Powell.

“It means a lot,” Powell said. “In our development, playing together, learning the game, learning how to be big time players in big time moments when you are playing meaningful minutes and it’s going to help us.”

It’s a big help to the Raptors when a second round draft pick can step in during his rookie and sophomore seasons and make a positive impact, especially in the fourth quarter.

After the All-Star break last year Powell averaged an impressive 4.2 fourth quarter points as a rookie. This year, thru six games, his post All-Star break fourth quarter scoring is running at 7 points. That’s higher than top 10 fourth quarter scorer DeMar DeRozan (6.6) is averaging this season. If he can keep this up, Powell is a fourth quarter star.

 

 

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