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NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cracks Appear In LeBron James’ Cavaliers

After cruising through the Eastern Conference, what happened in the NBA Finals was hard on everybody with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe it was inevitable that cracks would start to appear in what had been a very successful organization on the court since LeBron James’ return.

It didn’t take long before the rumors LeBron James might leave next season if big improvements to the roster couldn’t be made. Then rumors of Kevin Love being shopped for Pacers star Paul George, Bulls star Jimmy Butler, Knicks Carmelo Anthony and there should be no doubt more rumors were on the way.

Sort of lost in the noise was the Cavs general manager David Griffin still didn’t have a contract for next season. If something didn’t get done, he wasn’t even going to be around when free agency opened.

Well something didn’t get done.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was this move was all on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Apparently James was advocating to keep Griffin around and it makes sense. Griffin had done a good job of surrounding James with talent, talent that wasn’t there when James first agreed to return to Cleveland.

Griffin spent freely via big trades and re-signing free agents, ignoring the financial implications. It was just what James wanted and the rumored trades would have significantly increased the team’s financial commitment to winning.

It leaves one to wonder if Gilbert didn’t consult with James because he already knew what the response would be. Losing big bucks year after year eventually has to take it’s toll, even on a billionaire.

He should be concerned. Other teams were already concerned about trying to cut a deal with a Cavs GM that didn’t have a contract for next month and that concern isn’t going to go away until Gilbert hires Griffin’s replacement.

Gilbert might think he can act as the team’s GM, but no one likes dealing with team owners directly on basketball decisions. There’s just too much that can go wrong or get flaky when dealing with unfiltered inexperienced decision-makers.

And not just Griffin, assistant general manager Trent Redden is also gone. Talk about leaving a team in limbo right in the middle of trade discussions ahead of the NBA draft.

As disappointing as the situation is for James, it’s worse for Gilbert. There were GM jobs out there to go for and he would have been a leading candidate – a month ago.

Griffin has a right to be upset by the situation even if he’s taking the high road on the way out the door. If Gilbert didn’t like the way Griffin built this team with his cash, he could have let him know after Game Five of the NBA Finals.

It looks like Gilbert has a candidate to lead his organization and, hopefully, hire a respected general manager to pick up the pieces of this potential disaster. He better get on that soon, real soon.

Nothing like putting your high priced team in the hands of someone who has never been in senior management before. But maybe the very business savvy James hasn’t noticed? Cracks, cracks everywhere.

Maybe Gilbert is trying to create hope in Boston, Washington and Toronto?

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan Pacers Paul George Raptors PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Pacers Star Paul George Puts Himself In Play

Pacers star Paul George has been rumored to be wanting out of Indiana for some time now, but with no action forthcoming from general manager Kevin Pritchard, he decided to put himself in play. He made sure “The Reliable Source” for NBA rumors Adrian Wojnarowski knew he wanted out of town and couldn’t be talked into re-signing next summer.

Make no mistake, the “rumor” and timing was deliberate. By making it seem likely he’ll only be a rental until next season when he can bolt to L.A. as a free agent, teams won’t give away the farm to get him and rebuilding teams won’t even look at the possibility. Plus, less than a week ahead of the NBA draft, good teams with a chance to contend for the conference finals might be willing to part with a prospect and a late first round draft pick and under the circumstances, that’s more than generous.

Pritchard might be hoping the Lakers would ante up some of that young talent, but thanks to Wojnarowski, they’d look like idiots for giving away anything of value for a player they can sign for nothing in a year.

If anyone thinks Boston is going to give up the talent they fleeced the Nets for to take a risk on a rental, they should think again.

The Clippers should be interested in taking a run at acquiring George as it would help them re-sign their own free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and remain relevant in the West. Not having a first or second round draft pick this year doesn’t help their chances though.

The Cavaliers may be temporarily in panic mode (that should pass), but the reality is, unless the Pacers are in love with Kevin Love, they’ll have trouble coming up with a package that Indiana would be interested in.

The Raptors should be the most motivated to take the risk and they do have some young prospects and a first round draft pick. President Masai Ujiri hates giving away any of his young talent, but for a chance at George, it should be possible to convince him to relinquish something Pritchard believes has value in a rebuild.

If Ujiri can re-sign his own free agents (and he believes he can), the Raptors could have a starting lineup of:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka.

That just might be good enough to win Toronto first place in the East during the regular season and let the chips fall where they may in the playoffs.

At the very least George has significantly upped the potential for excitement at this year’s draft.

 

 

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 OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

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.

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

ESPN Wasting No Time To Forget Toronto Exists

It took no time at all for ESPN to forget Toronto even exists as they forecast the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals again next year.

Sure the Cavs and the Dubs are heavy favorites no matter what any other team does this summer, but what the ESPN Forecast panel is predicting can only be called bizarre and insulting.

The third place 51-win Raptors don’t even get a sniff ahead of the Bucks team (4.4%) they eliminated from the playoffs, a 49-win Wizards team (2.2%) who they took two of three games from during the regular season or the dysfunctional Pistons (2.2%) who didn’t even make the playoffs.

This panel are either making a ton of assumptions about the inability of Raptors president Masai Ujiri to keep the key pieces of his roster together or, more likely, they just forgot Toronto has an NBA franchise.

The assumptions required to believe the Celtics will win the East next season are not any easier to make happen than those required for the Raptors to be back in the top three of the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards largely face the same challenges this summer that they faced last summer to take another step.

The Bucks are an up and coming team, but do they break thru next year?

The Pistons? Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t predict his team wins the East next year.

It might not be easy for the US based ESPN to remember “We The North” exists, but they could at least look at last year’s standings for some background info before forecasting next year.

There is no one in Toronto that shouldn’t take the Pistons being given a better chance than the Raptors to win the East as anything but a huge insult. Even the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Heat should be questioning how the Pistons are getting more respect from ESPN than they are.

 

 

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 Golden State Warriors Draymond Green

NBA Officiating – At Least Don’t Make It So Obvious!

No one should be put in a position of thinking the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t deserve to win Game Four of the NBA Finals. The Cavs shooting was outstanding and by comparison the Warriors were firing bricks, but damn it, why does it happen so often with NBA officiating that it seems obvious one team is being handed a big advantage.

Like just about every NBA player, coach and fan, Toronto Raptors free agent Patrick Patterson has seen this movie before. The referees put Cleveland on the free throw line 22 times in the first quarter providing overt help they didn’t need as the Cavs scored an NBA Finals record 49 points and built a lead they would never surrender.

Hopefully Patterson was careful enough in his tweet to avoid the wrath of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, but he wasn’t alone in his thoughts. The twitterverse was far more direct.

The worst part about that first quarter was the Cavs didn’t need the help as they were red hot from three, hitting on 7-12 attempts, but all those “extra” trips to the charity stripe set a tone and created a lead that turned what should have been a much closer game into a 20-point blowout.

Later the referees didn’t do themselves any favors when they handed Draymond Green his second technical foul for waving at Marc Davis after a soft foul was called on him in the third quarter. Everyone thought Green was done since he had already picked up a tech from John Goble in the first quarter. Then true comedy ensued.

From ESPN,

“I thought they called [the first technical] on Draymond,” Kerr said. “I thought I deserved it. But I thought I heard the PA announcer say that it was on Draymond. So then I thought the second one, Draymond was going to get kicked out, but they explained that the first one was on me.”

Asked about the officiating overall, Kerr said, “Nice try.”

“It was just an incredibly physical game,” he added. “That was obvious from the beginning. Ton of fouls called early, a lot of holding and grabbing and pushing and shoving. It got out of hand a little bit, and the third quarter it seemed like the game was stopping every time.”

Green did confirm he thought the first tech was on coach Kerr and the referees begged off by saying they weren’t paying attention? I guess we’re just supposed to laugh it off?

LeBron James had a 31/10/11 triple-double. Kyrie Irving scored 40 points and hit 7 three-pointers. The Cavs shot 24-45 from three while the Warriors were 11-39 and after gifting the Cavs a big advantage at the free throw line in the first quarter, the refs found their unbiased whistles – the Draymond comedy minute notwithstanding.

There’s a case to be made that the refs got the Dubs off their game in the first quarter, but the refs didn’t make Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each shoot 2-9 from three and if you don’t hit shots, there is no comeback in your future.

Blame the refs for those first quarter free throws, believe if you want that the NBA and their TV partners didn’t want this series to end so soon, but don’t blame the refs for the the Dubs three-point shooting. Almost everyone wanted a Game Five anyway.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

So What LeBron James Turns The Ball Over

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is feeling some heat for turning the ball over eight times in Game One of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but so what? It’s not like this is anything all that unusual for the oft described “best player in the NBA.”

If it seems like the ball goes thru James’ hands on almost every Cavs play that’s because it does. He’s one of the most used players to handle the ball for their team every year and, not surprisingly, that also puts him up near the top in turnovers as well.

This year he averaged 4.1 turnovers per game. 32 times he turned it over five or more times, 16 times it was six or more, but his team was still a respectable 20-12 in those games. Thrice he turned it over eight times with a 1-2 record, proving even the Cavs can get in trouble eventually.

But to put it in perspective, James still had a better than respectable 2.1:1 assist to turnover ratio during the regular season. So again, so what about all those turnovers.

Up until the Finals, James’ turnovers weren’t costing his team too much of anything in the postseason. He turned the ball over eight times in a first round Game Two win over the Pacers. The Cavs won Games Three and Four in Toronto with James handing the ball back five and six times respectively. Then he was turned over six and five times in Games Three and Four against Boston. All those turnovers cost the Cavs was one game they could’ve/should’ve won against the Celtics.

During the regular season against Golden State the Cavs split the series 1-1 and James turned the ball over five times in a one-point win and six times in a blowout loss. No one should be suggesting turning the ball over to the high powered Warriors offense is a good thing, but if James turns it over even four or five times, it shouldn’t be a determining factor.

James could be more cautious with his passes, take fewer risks on the fast break and limit his drives to wide open opportunities and his turnovers will drop to insignificant, but that’s not how the Cavaliers play and it’s definitely not how James plays.

The Cavs need to score to beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena and they aren’t going score by becoming a passive grind it out team. Where eight turnovers was too many for James, two or three probably means he isn’t playing like the force he needs to be if he’s going to give his team a chance to win Game Two.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Can The Cavs Afford To Keep Buying Championships?

LeBron James came home to Cleveland as much because the Miami Heat wouldn’t spend to win as much as Dan Gilbert and the Cavs promised they would. However, buying a championship caliber roster doesn’t come cheap and at some point, the question of affordability has to be asked. That was the whole point of the dramatically higher luxury tax rates the NBA instituted in the previous CBA.

As Kurt Badenhausen wrote in Forbes:

The reality is that owner Dan Gilbert has spent money at almost an unprecedented level. Last season’s $115 million payroll triggered a $54 million luxury tax bill. Add in benefits, (etc) and Gilbert spent roughly $185 million last season on his roster.

Gilbert’s massive commitment to spend whatever’s necessary to win a title led to a loss of $40 million last season

Gilbert spent the second most in NBA history (to the Nets) to put together his NBA Champion Cavs last season and he upped the amount committed to players’ salaries this year and next.

Thanks to another rise in the NBA’s Luxury Tax line, last year’s $169 million in player’s salaries plus tax is expected to drop by about $5 million this year even with the dreaded repeater tax of an extra dollar per dollar over the tax line added in. But if Gilbert lost $40 million last season, he could easily lose that much or more again this year.

Not much is going change in 2017-18. The Cavs are already committed to $126 million in players salaries for next year and that’s estimated to be $5 million into the tax with up to seven open roster spots to fill.

James isn’t about to let Gilbert cheap out either. He has a player option for 2018-19 and can keep the pressure on Gilbert to re-sign the team’s free agents and use the team’s exceptions to keep/add the talent James believes is necessary to get back to the NBA Finals again.

Keeping James happy is expensive and that, by the way, was the whole point of changing the luxury tax rules. It’s supposed to be hard to keep “super teams” together.

It isn’t hard to imagine Gilbert’s loses exceeding $100 million over a three year period with no end in sight and even a billionaire notices when that much cash disappears.

To all those finding the inevitability of a Cavaliers/Warriors NBA Final unfulfilling, how long this billionaire can afford to keep buying championship contending rosters is a important issue.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Why Cavs LeBron James Has Been Unstoppable This Postseason

The Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James has been unstoppable in thru the first two rounds of the postseason and what he has been doing different has make it impossible for opposing defenses to adjust.

Why the Cavs perennial MVP candidate has stepped up yet again in the playoffs isn’t a mystery to head coach Tyronn Lue, we just weren’t paying attention during the second half of the season.

“Since the second half of the season (James) really went to another level,” Lue said. “Starting the second half of the regular season and carried over to the playoffs and we’re just riding him right now. The way he has been playing is phenomenal. He is carrying this team.”

Coach Lue wasn’t blowing smoke about his best player’s improving performance.

In the first half of the season the Cavs went 30-11, but King James was a pedestrian (for him) 25.5 points on 51.5 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. However as his team struggled in the second half, James stepped up his game significantly.

The Cavs slumped to 21-20 over the final 41 contests, but James upped his game to 27.3 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 9.6 rebounds and 9.2 assists. If you weren’t facing him night-to-night, his impact may have gone unnoticed, but once the postseason kicked in, he took things up another notch. Saying James is carrying his team isn’t an overstatement.

The way to guard James has always been to turn him into a shooter, preferably from beyond the three-point line where he shot a more manageable 35.4 percent over the Cavs final 41 regular season games.

Unfortunately, that strategy hasn’t worked in the postseason.

“When LeBron is shooting the three-ball the way he is, at the rate he is shooting it, the average he’s shooting it, (the Cavs) are difficult,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They are very difficult to beat when he’s shooting the ball like (that).”

James ripped into the seventh-place Pacers averaging 32.8 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 9.8 rebounds and 9 assists in the four game sweep. He upped his three-point attempts from 4.6 in the regular season to 5.0 and he shot like a three-point specialist by hitting 45 percent of them.  He also abused the Pacers with 3 steals and 2 blocks per game, more than double his regular season averages of 1.2 and 0.6 respectively.

Against the Raptors defensive pressure, James launched an unexpected 6.8 three-point attempts per game and he filled the net at a 48.1 percent clip. There is no defense for that. While his stats for rebounds (8.3) and assists (5.3) where below his regular season averages and his steals (1.3) and blocks (1.0) came back down to earth, he upped his scoring to 36 points per game in another four game sweep.

Even Kyle Korver has been impressed, “LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin have been playing so good, especially LeBron knocking down shots.”

“No matter who I’ve faced over the last few years, myself, my teammates and the coaching staff have always just tried to raise our ability, raise our (intensity), raise our game plan, raise our attention span to go out and compete every single night no matter who the competition was,” James said.

If James can fire three-balls at the rate and efficiency that he has so far in this postseason, he just has to many options for any defense to contain. Right now, he is unstoppable.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver Is Living The Dream In Cleveland

By Frank McLean

There is an old saying that if you wait and be patient good things will come and after a long NBA career, Kyle Korver is living the dream in Cleveland.

For Korver good things came back in February when he was traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and he finally got his best and quite possibly his last chance at an NBA Championship.

Korver was brought to Cleveland for one specific skill and that’s his ability to come off the bench and hit three point baskets. A noted Raptors killer in his days with the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue used his ability to hit three’s to kill just about every Raptors attempt at a comeback in each of the four games.

In Sunday’s series clincher Korver did all the work he needed in the second quarter. With the scored tied 28-all at the end of the first quarter he played the entire 12-minute period going six-for-eight from the field, four-for-six behind the three point arc for 16-points. He finished the game with 18-points by hitting a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter, but like someone doing a mob hit he did his work in the second.

Korver is pinching himself each day when he realizes that he is with a future a hall of famer like LeBron James and other players in the Cavaliers locker room who will be considered.

“It has been a whirlwind couple of months for me and my family,” Korver said. “Everyday is great to be playing with these guys.”

Korver will be going to his third conference final in his 16-year career, but this time he doesn’t have to worry about LeBron James knocking him out, this time they are on the same team.

“This is the way it goes, when I was in Utah we lost to the Lakers every year. In the Eastern Conference in Chicago and in Atlanta we lost to Lebron every year, whether it was Miami or here,” Korver lamented. “It’s just so nice to be on the other side now, but nothing is guaranteed I know that, but this is an amazing opportunity for me in this part of my career.”

Korver’s role as a three point specialist is a lot like the designated hitter in baseball, where you come to bat three maybe four times a game and then you wait. Now in baseball all the stadiums have batting cages near the locker room where you can keep loose and hit live pitching out of a machine. Not so in basketball and Korver agrees that the comparison is close but he has to prepare different from the Edwin Encarnacion’s of the world.

“There is no place where I can practice shooting that’s for sure but I have to stretch and keep loose on the bench as there is no excuse for me to tighten up. When I’m put in the game my job is to make shots.”

Korver knows it’s LeBron James’ team, but what he and others in the locker room want is to take the pressure off him of doing everything.

“That’s what me and the rest of guys try and do when we are in the game, make shots and try and take the pressure of LeBron when he’s in there.”

The Cavaliers, in the four games against Toronto, shot 61-for-131 behind the three point arc for an incredible 183-points. Korver is a big part of an attack that has the three pointer as a featured weapon and because of his talents there, that’s why he is getting a shot at a championship.

If you wait long enough good things happen and for Kyle Korver good things are happening for him in Cleveland.

 

 

   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 head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Playing For Pride On Sunday

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said all the right things after Game Three, Sunday’s game against the Cavs is for pride. You don’t want to end your season at home.

So if I’m Casey I put on my Dr. Phil hat and my speech is… okay guys we have won four games in a row before right so it’s not so hard right.

Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts during his time coaching with the Raptors. During his media scrums because was always using the saying, “it is what it is guys”, to describe whatever predicament the team was going through at a particular time.

Heading into Sunday’s fourth game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Semifinal, which the Cavaliers have made the Raptors look like the victims of a drive by shooting, “it is what it is for the Raptors.”

The Raptors have to win four straight games to go to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year which after watching how the Cavaliers carved up the Raptors in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter in Game Three with a quick 8-2 run that tuned into 20-3, well it just showed that the Raptors are not in their class.

So if you are Dwane Casey what is your motivational speech to his teams?

During the regular season the Raptors had four-four game win streaks along with two three game streaks and a pair of six game win streaks, but in those win streaks they didn’t have to play four consecutive games against the Cavaliers.

Casey also needs to let his team know exactly what he said about them to the media in his post-game thoughts after Game Three.

“I’m still proud of our guys, I think we have a lot of fighters in that locker room. We came up short, but I do like how they responded. I loved the way DeMar DeRozan responded after they killed him saying that he couldn’t score.”

Casey has got to make sure that he has not given up on them because you know human nature after you have been beat like the Raptors have been beat you might give up on yourself.

Meanwhile over in the Cavaliers locker room they don’t seem to be taking for granted that they have this Game Four locked up and a sweep in their pockets.

LeBron James said after game three that the most important thing is to come out on Sunday and play their game.

“Our coaching staff once again will give us a game plan and it is up to us to go out and execute. It is a quick turnaround game on Sunday, we do not to be thinking about sleep or getting rest. We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”

Now you can hope, and if you are one to grasp at straws, you can hope that the 3:30 start and maybe Toronto’s outstanding nightlife might make the Cavaliers a little hung over and a soft spot to beat-em. But I doubt it.

It is playoff time and party time comes when Adam Silver hands the Cavaliers the championship trophy in June.

But upsets do happen in sports. Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was not run on paper. 20-horses went to the gate and ran a race.

Maybe the Raptors can win one maybe two, but they have to win four straight. It is what it is. Game Four is all about playing for pride.

 

 

   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 DeMar DeRozan

Even A Career Game By DeMar DeRozan Wasn’t Enough

By Frank McLean

After having the worst playoff game of his career Wednesday night, five points in 31-minutes of play, DeMar DeRozan redeemed himself Friday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Cleveland Cavaliers took a commanding three games to nothing lead in this Eastern Conference Semifinal with 115-94 win.

DeRozan played the playoff game of his life. He logged 41-minutes of court time and scored a career playoff high 37-points. It wasn’t enough as if I may paraphrase the Beatles, “he didn’t get by with a little help from his friends.”

For the first three quarter the Raptors were in this game, they actually had a punchers chance to pull this off despite the fact they were putting up numbers that in the modern day NBA does not lead to wins.

They were leading at halftime 52-49. It was the first time in this series the Raptors led at halftime. Heck it was the first time the Raptors have led at the end of any quarter in this series. But they still couldn’t make a shot behind the three point arch as they were OH-FOR-NINE.

They didn’t make a three pointer until their 13th attempt with 6:15 left in the third when Norman Powell broke the ice.

DeRozan had 21-points in the first half and had not even tried a three point attempt.

The Raptors were winning playing a pre-1980’s style basketball that was used in the NBA before they implementation of the three point line and they were still in this game down just a duce, 79-77, after three quarters.

But it all fell apart in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey gave DeRozan and Corey Joseph a brief rest to catch their breath. DeRozan had put in 33-minutes and scored 36-points while Joseph had put in 29-minutes filling in for the injured Kyle Lowry. They needed to catch their breath and get a little Gatorade in their body.

But in that 1:52 the Cavaliers went on a 8-2 run before DeRozan and Joseph could get back in the game. Unfortunately their return meant nothing as the Cavaliers added to the run making it a 20-3 blitz that pretty much ended the game right there.

DeRozan tried to carry this team on his back and win this game. Would a semi healthy Kyle Lowry have helped? Absolutely, but he wasn’t there and that was their lot in life and they didn’t win.

Before the game Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that in the first two games they weren’t taking their opportunities to make three point attempts.

The Raptors inability to make three point shots will be on their obituary when this series ends. They were a combined 15-of-43 in the first two games and on Friday, after missing their first 12-attempts, they were two-for-18 which makes them 17-for-61.

The Cavaliers are for the series are 45-for-90 behind the three point line, that’s a total of 135-points of the 356-points they have scored in this series. They have made exactly 50-percent of their shots which is how you win in the modern day NBA.

As we said earlier it was amazing that Raptors were leading at the half and actually were in a position to win this game.

In his postgame comments Casey said, “Sunday’s game is all about pride. You don’t want to get swept in your home building. Our guys will come out and we certainly need to do a better job than being two-for-18” (shooting 3’s).

Coming back down three games to nothing in a playoff series in North American sports is rare. You have a better chance winning the Powerball or Lotto 6/49.

The most it has been done is in the NHL where in 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. The New York Islanders in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the LA Kings in 2014 won playoff series down three-nothing. It has only been done in baseball once when the Boston Red Sox came back to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship.

It has never been done in the NBA.

But that’s the lot in the life the Toronto Raptors have been handed. It’s asking a lot for this team to pull off something that has never been done in the NBA win four straight after dropping three in a row to start a playoff series.

They don’t have anyone but DeRozan who can make shots right now. And even if the others in the lineup can hit some shots with any consistency, it’s probably too little too late and the Raptors season will probably be over before people sit down to their Sunday dinners.

 

 

   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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   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 LeBron James

Who’s Having Second Thoughts About The Cavs Being Vulnerable?

By Frank McLean

Boy I was wrong. I thought that maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers were vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there was a slight chance they could be beat.

Boy I was wrong.

That was not the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went 21-20 in the second half of the season. The team that slipped defensively over last year. This team sure looked a lot like that Cavaliers team of the last two seasons in Game One versus the Raptors.

The score was 116-105 Cleveland, just in case you turned the television over to the Blue Jays game Monday night were they actually were winning their third game in a row over the Yankees.

Game One for the Raptors was typical of their playoff history since they entered the NBA, they lost. They are now 1-12 in the opening game of a playoff series.

Now let’s find the positive, they actually competed, but they just were not good enough to steal a victory. They would fight back go on a few runs to cut into the Cavalier’s lead and at one point in the second quarter went on a 18-3 run to only trail by a single point. But they couldn’t get over the hump.

It’s a fact in the NBA that your star players have to be your star players, and LeBron James was just that, dropping 35-points and grabbing 10-boards. That’s what your star player does. He makes a statement in Game One of a series, making sure your team does not lose home court advantage.

James has made comments about respecting the Raptors and it’s not a line that he shoots to the media, he does. He has also made comments about how rabid the Raptors home fans are. He knows the Raptors, if they play perfect basketball, might be the only team in the East that can upset the Cavaliers and the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker give them the best line-up in the history of the franchise. Based on the fact the Raptors won Games Three and Four in their playoff series at home last year, he knows that it’s not the Indiana Pacers they are playing who they beat four straight in round one.

Now if you’re the Raptors what do you do?

Tuesday at practice head coach Dwane Casey sounded more like a sports psychologist than coach.

“Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen them jump in and pull them both up at the same time.”

So what’s the plan? Maybe it’s time to go back and play a little tough physical basketball like I don’t know, like they did in the 1980’s.

The other second round series between the Celtics and Wizards has turned into not only a modern day scoring bonanza but some old time physical basketball too.

Heck Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth in Game One.

“All that’s in play,” Casey was coy Tuesday at practice. “We gotta get a little closer (to them). I don’t know if they felt us last night (Monday) whatsoever. We were half a step off, respecting their speed a little too much, we gotta make them feel us a little bit better.”

The Raptors do not have much room to make mistakes in any game against Cleveland. The margin of error is so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Conn Smythe, when he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a saying about being successful in hockey. “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the ice.”

Maybe the Raptors have learnt, “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the court.”

We’ll see if that’s the plan in Game Two. It might be their only chance.

 

 

   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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson

Basketball Insiders Predict A Raptors Game Two Win

There aren’t a lot of basketball analysts willing to predict the Raptors can steal a game in Cleveland from a Cavaliers team that has had their number at The Q, but Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz thinks it’s about to happen.

Going out on a limb here and saying the Raptors steal Game 2. The role players hit their shots, Lowry and DeRozan have big nights, and this series is 1-1 heading to Toronto.

Yapkowitz nails the key to victory for the Raptors on the road. While role players are expected to perform better at home and should be expected to be the difference makers back in Toronto, players like Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell and/or last year’s impact postseason player Jonas Valanciunas will need to be big  Game Two contributors in Cleveland if the Raptors are going to even this series up at one apiece.

It’s not a crazy idea to believe the Raptors secondary scorers can have an impact. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka have attracted most of the defensive effort in the postseason, so those secondary scorers are getting a lot of open looks.

If they can start hitting those shots, the Cavs defense will start to look like it has all season – porous. If they are firing bricks, poor shooting makes suspect defense look pretty good.

As Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said recently, “We’ve got to score points. … We’ve got the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

Those role players have to start scoring tit-for-tat for the Raptors to steal a game in Cleveland.

 

 

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 Go From Greek Freak To King James

By Frank McLean

After taking care of the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors go to round two of the NBA Playoffs and this time their opponent is King James and the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a round earlier than last year.

At the beginning of the year it was expected that these two teams would face each other in the Eastern Conference Final for a second time in a row, but the season just didn’t go as planned.

It’s not just the Raptors, but fact of life for all the other teams in the East if they have any aspirations of making it to the NBA Finals the road there goes through Interstate-90 into downtown Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena where the defending champions live.

After winning their first 10-playoff games last year the Cavaliers up two games to nothing came to Toronto looking for the sweep, but then all of a sudden they found a Raptors team that didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and die. The Raptors won the next two games to tie the series, but would end up losing in game six to the appreciative cheers of their fans.

Which begs to question, are the Raptors the only team in the East that could put a monkey wrench in the bid for the Cavaliers to make it back to the finals for a third straight year?

Back in February you could see some cracks in the Cavaliers that made you think maybe their window as champions was closing. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving plus the loss of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks showed that when Lebron James doesn’t have his supporting cast around him the Cavaliers are beatable.

As a result the Cavaliers were 21-20 in the second half of the season and because of that they lost their grip on the top seed in the east to Boston and finishing second set up this second round match-up with the Raptors.

Cleveland’s defense was just not as a good as last year finishing 22nd after being 10th last season.

When you look at the defensive stats of the 16-teams that made the playoffs this year they were 13th in defensive ratings.

There was one point in the season where James was complaining in the press that they needed a playmaker to get him the ball. They had that in Dellavedova, but the Cavaliers let him walk to Milwaukee in the summer.

So when you look at that evidence you think like Lloyd Christmas in the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there is a chance.”

The Raptors do have a chance and you can thank two moves made by president Masai Ujiri at the trade deadline getting Serge Ibaka from Orlando and bringing P.J. Tucker back to the 416 from Phoenix.

He saw the window opening a crack and these two deals were made to make the Raptors better by making them a tougher team to handle in the paint with the sole object being able to stop LeBron James.

Ibaka gets to play the role Bismack Biyombo did last year and that’s to block the paint and scoop up rebounds while P.J. Tucker will get the assignment to shadow James and guard him close enough that he will know what brand of deodorant he puts on in the morning.

So the spotlight is on Tucker and he knows he has the dirty job of guarding the “King” and trying to limit his success?

“I don’t think his game changes,” Tucker was saying Sunday before the team left for Cleveland. “I think for the most part, when he’s aggressive and he’s trying to score the ball and he’s going, I don’t think it matters. I think when he gets a few to the rim, easy, he gets a few dunks, he hits a pullup, he hits a turnaround, and his three starts falling, he’s a feel-good player. If he’s hitting some regular shots, the tough stuff starts to fall. He’s probably the best player in the world. It’s still a feel game (for him).”

The addition of Tucker and Ibaka makes this team better on paper than last year.

The Raptors need to win one game in Cleveland to win this series since they do not have home court advantage in this round. And if there is game they can steal it would be game one since the Cavaliers will have gone eight days without playing since they finished their first round sweep of Indiana.

We will find out starting Monday night if the Raptors can finally slay the dragon of Ohio.

 

 

   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 Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Raptors 905 Center Edy Tavares Named D-League DPOY

Toronto Raptors NBA Development League affiliate, Mississauga Raptors 905 center Edy Tavares has been named the 2016-17 D-League Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) by a vote of the league’s 22 head coaches.

Taveras (7-3, 265) appeared in 48 games for Raptors 905 this season, anchoring a defense that held opponents to a league-low 98.0 points per game and 42.8 percent shooting. Raptors 905 allowed 94.5 points per 100 possessions when Tavares was on the court.

Taveras tied for the NBA D-League lead with 2.7 blocks per game. On March 25, he recorded an NBA D-League season-high 12 blocks as part of a triple-double that included 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also averaged 10.6 points on 59.1 percent shooting (eighth in the league) and 7.7 rebounds.

A 2017 NBA D-League All-Star, Taveras helped Raptors 905 to a league-best 39-11 record. The team swept the Canton Charge in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and currently leads the Maine Red Claws 1-0 in the Conference Finals.

Taveras, who was born in Maio, Cape Verde, was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 43rd pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. He appeared in 12 games with the Hawks and owns career averages of 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.8 minutes.

He was recently called up by the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 12th.

 

 

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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Cavs Grab Shot Blocker Edy Tavares From Raptors 905

A Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been searching desperately for any kind of big man help is about to sign the Toronto Raptors D-League affiliate 905 center Edy Tavares to a multi-year deal.

Tavares is coming off a first round playoff game with the Raptors 905 where he blocked 8 shots on the Cavs D-League affiliate Canton Charge.

“(Edy Tavares) has unbelievable talent,” Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said after the game. “The way he protects the rim for us. For the most part he just went up there and used his length. He has unbelievable timing.”

Shams Charania reports,

Tavares, a 7-foot-3 center, plans to sign a three-year contract with the Cavaliers on Wednesday, league sources said. Tavares has been a critical part of the Raptors 905’s championship contention in the D-League, averaging 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for the season.

Raptors 905 have advanced to the NBA D-League East Finals, but in the process they lost Alex Toupane to the New Orleans Pelicans after he scored a franchise record 41 points in the 905’s first ever playoff game. Now they are about to lose their starting center to the Cavs.

 
 

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

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers 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.

 

 

 

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.