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NBA Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and Cavaliers LeBron James

Raptors Look Confused After Game Two Loss To The Cavs

Take last night’s box score from the Cavs at Raptors game and only look at the Toronto half. The Raptors must have won? It’s all good, good enough for a victory and the Raptors looked plenty confused after a Game Two loss that wasn’t even close.

Toronto scored 110 points, shot an impressive 54.3 percent from the field, put up 30 three-balls and hit 40 percent of them. They out-rebounded the Cavs by one, got one more assist and only turned the ball over a very respectable 11 times. Their two All-Starts combined for 45 points on 18-33 shooting and sixth-man Fred VanVleet found his offensive touch with 14 points while hitting on 4-7 three-point attempts. Even rookie OG Anunoby was playing some solid defense on LeBron James, not that you’d know it from the King’s stat line.

“We were searching, just trying to find somebody, something to get faster, get more points on the board,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We were searching for offense, searching for spacing, searching for a lot of things.”

“It’s not over, we just got to take it one game at a time, (and) go from there” DeMar DeRozan forced out after the game.

“We need more effort, way more effort,” Kyle Lowry said searching for answers. “We got to play harder, somehow, someway.”

Toronto went into the break up two points 63-61, but it all fell apart in the second half when they couldn’t stop James who scored 27 of his 43 points over the final two quarters. The Cavs put up 67 second half points on 67.5 percent shooting from the field to go up 18 points on Raptors by the end.

Second year forward Pascal Siakam and Anunoby were in James’ face on nearly every shot he attempted, but he still made 13-19 after the half, mostly of the improbable variety.

“Tonight all the shots over his right shoulder, the step-backs, the fade-a-ways, the one where he hit the moon-ball over his right shoulder and came back with the next possession and hit one over his left shoulder from the free throw line, that was special,” Kevin Love said about James’ performance. “That was something that you get accustomed to, you kind of get used to, but tonight was in that fashion. I don’t know if, it’s my fourth year here, I’d seen that out of him, so it’s special.

“When he went over his right shoulder and then went over his left shoulder, he said when he got the mismatch he would do that. He actually called his shots this morning. That’s just one of the examples I could use about how locked in he was during the entire shoot-a-round knowing what was at stake for us.”

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was almost prophetic during the pre-game media availability when hoped for a big scoring night from his team.

“Each team tries to take away what each team does best, so the team who scores 130 this series, they got hot and played really well,” Lue responded to Pro Bball Report’s query. “I don’t see the 130 point games, but if so, I hope it’s us.”

The Cavs were hot in Game Two with the 128-110 victory and the confused Raptors were at a complete loss as to how to stop the barrage.

 

 

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 Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Waste A 21/21 Night By Jonas Valanciunas

By Frank McLean

Game One of the third annual Toronto Raptors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series was a big disappointment as the home team wasted a 21 point 21 rebound night by Jonas Valanciunas. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding a lump of coal in your stocking.

The Raptors lost this game, which by rights they should have won, 113-112 in overtime only because they couldn’t make one stinking field goal in the last 4:19 of regulation time.

They were leading 102-99 thanks to a Kyle Lowry layup, but then they proceeded to miss their last 11-field goal attempts. With the score tied at 105 with five seconds left they missed three easy tip-ins, two of them by Jonas Valanciunas and the other one by DeMar DeRozan.

Even in overtime Fred VanVleet had a shot to win it at the buzzer with a 28 foot jump shot that missed. The Raptors should have walked out of the Air Canada Centre with a one to nothing lead in the series on this night.

What hurts is that they ruined what I consider the second best single game playoff performance by a Raptors player.

Now the best is still Vince Carter scoring 50 points against Philadelphia in a second round series back in 2001. But what Jonas Valanciunas did Tuesday night scoring 21 points and adding 21 boards was an outstanding playoff performance.

Now I know some will argue that Bismack Byombo’s  26 rebounds against the same Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the conference final two years should be up there and I would put it number three. Why?

20 point-20 rebound games are as rare as no hitters by pitchers in baseball.

Valanciunas is the first Raptor to do this in a playoff game and when you include the regular season, he is only the third Raptor to do it period. Popeye Jones did it first in franchise history and Chris Bosh did it twice.

Four times in 23 years shows how rare this happens.

In his postgame scrum with the media Valanciunas was in the mood to talk about his 20-20 night. He agonized over the four minutes of regulation time where they couldn’t make a shot especially since he two cracks at it in the last five seconds.

“We missed some shots, easy shots ,“ Valanciunas said. “They were aggressive, playing real aggressive defense, but it’s on us. What you take away is you got to make shots, know what you are doing, we could have won this game.”

Valanciunas shot just 7-19 from the field in Game One. Meanwhile head coach Dwane Casey was complementary.

“I thought he played well. He had a wide open tip in at the end that I thought he could have finished but I thought Jonas played really well.”

Valanciunas success was based on the Cavaliers using a small line up which he was able to exploit.

“We made them pay for their small lineup, he has to continue to do that,” Casey added. “He’s got the advantage as far as post-ups, his tip-ins, his driving to the baskets and getting to the free throw line and rebounding. He did a heck of a job at the position.”

And that’s where the Raptors had success against the Cavaliers with Valanciunas controlling the paint all night and it’s something they can keep exploiting as long as the series goes.

The Raptors could have, I mean should have, won this game and have a one to nothing lead in this best of seven series. All they had to do is make one shot and as a result they wasted a franchise playoff record braking performance by Jonas Valanciunas.

 

 

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 C.J. Miles

Cavs Are Giving Raptors C.J. Miles His Time To Shine

The Toronto Raptors signed the veteran C.J. Miles this past summer to be part of the culture change envisioned by president Masai Ujiri and heading into a second round playoff series against a Cavs team that refuses to defend the three-point line, this is his time to shine.

To make the culture change work, the Raptors needed a player who wasn’t afraid to hoist as many three-point attempts as time allowed and good enough that opposing defenses couldn’t afford to leave him. It must have been music to Miles ears as the veteran reserve fired a career-high 454 threes in the fewest minutes he’s played per game since he was 20, a decade ago.

To put things bluntly, the Cavs don’t defend three-point shooters. They gave up the 29th most three-point attempts in the NBA (31.7) this past season and the 28th most three-point makes (11.7). It’s a free-for-all out there beyond the arc and it almost cost them a first round exit against a fifth-place Pacers team that was 25th in three-pointers made this season. The Pacers took 27.1 (up 2.6 from the regular season), but the fact they could only make 0.7 more threes undoubtedly cost them this very close series.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are the polar opposites to the Pacers when it comes to three-point shooting. Toronto shot the third most threes in the NBA (33) and made the fourth most (11.8), but in three games against the Cavs, those numbers exploded to 14.7 made on 36.7 attempts. Miles hitting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts versus Cleveland. It’s a lot easier to shoot from range when no one is coming out to stop you.

This is redemption time for Miles. A career 36.1 percent three-point shooter on 3,249 regular season attempts, Miles hasn’t performed in the postseason. In prior year’s playoffs, he shot 26.5 percent on 98 three-point attempts and in the past two years with Indiana, he went just 7-36 or 19.4 percent from three. Miles has something to prove and he’s proving it.

Complaining that the Wizards were face-guarding him the entire first round and that it was hard to get open, Miles averaged 5.2 three-point attempts per game and hit on 38.7 percent of them (both represent playoff career bests). He actually shot better than his regular season average of 36.1 percent.

This is Miles time to shine, to run off screens and find no one there to challenge his three-point barrage and the Raptors will need him. Toronto outscored the Wizards by an average 9 points per game from the three-point line in their first round series and to beat the Cavaliers, they’ll need to do it again or better. Buckle up and fire 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 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James vs Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Is The Third Time The Charm For The Raptors Facing The Cavs?

By Frank McLean

It’s the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting up in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and for the third time in a row overall. And everyone knew that if this Raptors team was going to make it to the NBA Finals they would have to hook up with LeBron James for another post season battle.

The Raptors had lost the Conference Final two years ago four games to two and were swept in the second round last year.

Their playoff record is not that great if you only look at the fact the Raptors are two and eight overall against Cleveland and their only two wins were at home. Toronto winless in the post season at Quicken Loans Arena.

But there are some differences this time around.

First the Raptors will have home court advantage for the first time thanks to finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. Including their three home playoff games with the Washington Wizards the Raptors are 37-7 at home and the Air Canada Centre is as tough a place for any visiting team to play in as any building in the NBA.

The Cavaliers only made one appearance in Toronto this year but they were thumped 133-99, thanks to the new Raptors style of play of distributing ball until someone has a good look and takes it. As opposed to the isolation style of ball where the focus was on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and all the Cavaliers had to do was shutdown the guard duo and that pretty well did the Raptors in.

They are also a tougher road team, including the Wizards, they are 26-18 overall and let’s not forget how big the game six win was in Washington. Not only did  it clinch the series early for a change, eliminating an anything-can-happen seventh game, but it proved that this team can win pressure-packed road playoff games.

LeBron James talked about the different Raptors team he and the Cavaliers will be facing this time around on Sunday after they eliminated the Indiana Pacers in a first round series.

“Kudos to Dwane Casey. First of all they’ve got like 10-to-12 guys who come in and produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench they come in with the same attitude and the same confidence as the starters. We don’t have much time to prepare so we’re going to go into Game one and just kind of wing and just go from there.”

The big question about the Cavaliers is how tired is James?

In their series with the Pacers it looked like James was playing all by himself against whoever the five players the Pacers had on the floor. James, single-handed, won this series.

In Sunday’s game seven he scored 45-points nine rebounds and eight assists, but with the Pacers trailing by two, 76-74 after three quarters, James was on the bench with a minor injury. And when James got back into the game they were able to get the lead to nine and they never looked back.

But James admitted after the game that he is tired and that he wanted to go home. He did say that with only one day to get ready for the Raptors they are going to wing it.

They didn’t have an easy first round series, don’t have home court in the second round, and that’s what happens when you finish fourth.

So, is this the year the Raptors take care of the Cavaliers?

Things are different for this third playoff series in three years between these Eastern Conference rivals, but one thing everyone was sure of. These two teams were going to have to meet one more time in the playoffs and maybe the third time is the charm for Toronto.

 

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Can Cavs Hold Onto Third In The East?

The battle for third place in the NBA East is tighter than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are crowded together with just one game separating third from fifth. So, can the Cavs hold on?

Cleveland 45-30, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Pelicans 43-32, Mavs 23-52, Raptors 55-20, Wizards 41-33, Knicks 27-49

On the road: @Philly 44-30, @NY 27-49

Philadelphia 44-30, 9-1 in their last 10 games

8 games remaining:

At home: Hawks 21-54, Nets 24-51, Cavs 45-30, Mavs 23-52, Bucks 39-35

On the road: @Charlotte 34-42, @Detroit 34-40,  @Atlanta 21-54

Indiana 44-31, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Warriors 54-20, Hornets 34-42

On the road: @Sacramento 24-51, @Clippers 41-34, @Denver 40-35, @Toronto 55-20, @Charlotte 34-42,

It’s obvious the Pacers have the toughest schedule and should be more worried about holding off the Wizards …. unless they want to slip into sixth place to avoid the 4/5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs which might not be all that bad of an idea.

Washington (41-33) still has to face the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics, so their road isn’t all that easy either.

Between the Cavs and 76ers, who each have 30 losses to this point, the 76ers have the significantly easier schedule and they’ve been red hot since losing to the Pacers two weeks ago. However, it wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise if the winner of their game vs the Cavs at Philips Arena decides who gets third.

The overhanging question about Cleveland’s season will probably be answered by the games against New Orleans, Toronto and Washington immediately before the big game against Philly. If the Cavs don’t take at least two of these three, the game at Philips might just be being played for pride.

If you have to speculate on who will finish third thru fifth in the East, right now it looks like 76ers, Cavs and Pacers in that order. Raptors and Celtics should plan accordingly.

 

 

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

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs LeBron James Has Already “Flipped The Switch”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Drive For 60 Wins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs Suck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue

Will The Cavaliers Make A January Panic Move?

The slip-sliding Bucks have panicked and fired head coach Jason Kidd. The Hornets are trying to trade everybody in an attempt to dump bad deals. Are the Cavaliers next to make a January panic move?

The Cavs have lost 10 of their last 13 games. That they don’t defend was only emphasized by giving up an incredible 148 points to the Thunder in front of their home crowd at The Q. So is firing head coach Tyronn Lue the solution to waking up this group of highly talented but bickering and aging veterans? Or is a big trade on the horizon?

The Cavs have issues.

  • Lue doesn’t have much rebounding and his team is a net -2.5 boards per game.
  • Starter J.R. Smith is shooting 37.3 percent from the field and the Cavs are no longer dominating from the three-point line.
  • Isaiah Thomas is just getting back from injury, is rusty on offense (they hope) and never was a good defender

It’d be nice to get someone that could rebound and defend the rim plus maybe a guard that could score and isn’t a huge liability on defense.

But even accepting the Cavs have issues, this team is significantly under performing at 27-19. It’s hard to believe they won’t start playing better by the All-Star break if they can just stay the course. There is just too much talent here.

Fire the coach? Better check in with LeBron James first as everyone believes the King is the one that really determines what happens on the court. His own pleas to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are some good players being dangled in the trade market, but every GM can see what’s happening in Cleveland. The Cavs will be bargaining from a position of weakness and the players they are likely to be wanting to off load have questionable trade value at the moment to say the least.

So what do the Cavs have to trade?

The Brooklyn Nets unprotected 2018 first round draft pick has significant value. They also have their own first round pick, but can’t package them together as they traded their 2019 pick (top-10 protected) to the Hawks.

A couple of players on somewhat valuable expiring contracts:

  • Channing Frye $7.4 million, who barely plays anymore
  • Isaiah Thomas $6.3 million, do you really believe his leg is healed 100 percent and is he even the right fit on the defenseless Cavs?

Players they’d love to dump off themselves, but will undoubtedly have to include a draft pick just to start the conversation:

  • A slumping J.R. Smith $13.8 million, + 1 more year guaranteed +1 non-guaranteed
  • An injured Iman Shumpert $10.3 million + player option remaining

A couple of rookies that should attract some interest:

  • Cedi Osman $2.6 million
  • Ante Zizc $1.6 million

Reality is, anyone not named LeBron James could be available if the move has the potential to stop the bleeding.

A James’ favorite, Tristan Thompson $16.4 million + 2 more years, might have to go.

Even Kevin Love $22.6 million +1 more year + a player option is an unlikely possibility.

There may be no better target than the Charlotte Hornets who will part with Kemba Walker and he’s really good. Unfortunately the price will be taking on a player with a big contract few teams will be able to stomach.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out:

Overloaded with bad contracts and untradable assets, the Charlotte Hornets have made All-Star point guard Kemba Walker available in trade discussions

The Hornets had already made available Nicolas Batum (four years, $100 million), Dwight Howard (two years, $47 million), Marvin Williams (three years, $42 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (three years, $39 million), league sources said, but those players and their contracts are largely unattractive in the marketplace.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has gone deep into luxury tax territory and even deeper into the red from a financial standpoint to get LeBron James into the NBA Finals for three straight years and if he wants to have any hope of keeping the King around past this season, he’ll have to commit to keep losing money and getting back to the Finals year-after-year.

The opportunity to land a player like Walker should look like a godsend.

Walker is earning  a bargain $12 million salary with another year left on his deal, but the Hornets will be pushing the Cavs would take on the nearly $100 million still owing to the under performing Nicolas Batum.

Batum hasn’t lived up to his promise, so he’s a big gamble, but Gilbert hasn’t exactly been afraid to gamble. However, Batum isn’t going to solve the Cavs rebounding woes and there is another player the Hornets would consider packaging with Walker.

The oft maligned Dwight Howard ($23.5 million + 1 year remaining) is  averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and a top five 12.6 rebounds. He’s also in the top 10 for blocks at 1.6. Maybe he’s “soft” but Howard is a true center and at the moment, he’s a big missing piece in the Cavs roster.

The Cavs should be working hard to land Walker before some other team snaps him up. A healthy 2017 All-Star point guard averaging over 20 points, 5 assists, 3 boards and shooting 35 percent from three isn’t that easy to find.

The Cavs have also been linked to the Clippers Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan. That pair could make a huge difference in Cleveland. The only issue being, unlike the Hornets, the Clips are just a half game out of a playoff spot. They shouldn’t be all that interested in tanking for what the Cavs can send back.

The rumor mill has suggested George Hill ($20 million + 1 year + 1 year not guaranteed) could help Cleveland and he’d be a solid veteran add, especially if the Kings will take back some of Cleveland’s junk. To be determined.

As much as the Cavaliers, and a lot of other NBA teams, go through a January funk and feel pushed into to doing something, anything to get out of it, the question in Cleveland really is, will they make a panic move?

Gilbert could be losing money and not getting to the NBA Finals for years if he gambles. If he doesn’t gamble, he could lose LeBron James.

 

 

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 and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Inch Closer To First As Celtics Slump

The Raptors made up ground on the front running Celtics without picking up a ball on Tuesday night as Boston extended their slump to four losses in a row by losing to the Lakers 108-107. Toronto also benefited by a Spurs beat down of a Cavs team in disarray 114-102.

After tonight, standings in the East are:

  1. Celtics     34-14     – – –
  2. Raptors   31-14   -1.5
  3. Cavaliers 27-19    -6
  4. Heat          27-20   -6.5

It doesn’t get any easier for the Celtics in the short term. They still have three more games on this Western Conference road trip and will face the Clippers on the back-to-back, then a trip to Golden State and finish off in mile-high Denver.

The Cavs had a team meeting before the game that apparently had no impact on anybody. Losers of 10 of their last 13 games, things are looking bad for Cleveland right about now.

It was already a good night in Toronto before the conclusion of these two games. The Raptors Kyle Lowry was announced as an NBA All-Star for the fourth consecutive season. He will be joining fellow four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan at Staples Center February 16-18 in the 67th edition of the NBA All-Star Game.

 

 

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 Raptors Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers Isaiah Thomas

The NBA Shows Its Disrespect For Toronto Yet Again

So the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka gets a one game suspension for almost fighting and the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat offender Isaiah Thomas just gets fined for actually decking Andrew Wiggins with a vicious hit to the throat. But no one should actually be surprised. That’s just the usual lack of respect the NBA shows for its only team not in the USA and the overt favoritism towards certain other clubs.

Both Serge Ibaka and James Johnson got suspended for one game each after being ejected for nearly fighting in a game at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Both players threw what could be viewed as “hostile” elbows in a heated pushing match that, as usual in the NBA, never actually evolved into a fight.

While almost fighting in the NBA is risking a suspension and the punishment isn’t all that usual, Ibaka’s been in fake fights before,  but it’s hard to ignore the kid gloves treatment the league office chose to use in Thomas’ case.

This isn’t the first time Thomas lost his temper and tried to take the head off his unsuspecting opponent. As reported by A. Sherrod Blakely in NBC Sports Boston in April 2016, he’s done this before.

The Celtics got a bit of good news on Saturday with the NBA deciding to not suspend Isaiah Thomas for his first quarter run-in with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder in Boston’s 111-103 Game 3 win on Friday night.

“I knew what I did,” said Thomas who added that he had not spoken with any league officials regarding the incident. “A slower version would like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody I would have hit them.”

Replays showed Thomas connecting with Schroder’s head while running up the court.

After the play, Thomas had to be restrained by teammate Jared Sullinger.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on the NBA for buying into Thomas hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the head with what should be called a punch an accident for a second time.

Ejected for the fourth time in his career, Thomas showed no remorse and denied doing anything wrong. Tell it to the video!

Thomas said after the game that it was inadvertent and that he was going for a steal. – ESPN

No one in Toronto really wants to believe the NBA uses a double standard when it comes to Toronto, but the examples just keep on coming.

On Thursday when the Cavaliers visit Toronto for the teams first tilt of the season, Thomas will be in the lineup and Ibaka will be in street clothes and the NBA doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Can The Raptors Go Undefeated In December?

If the Toronto Raptors want to keep up with the Celtics and Cavs in the East they need a run. Boston had an early 16 game winning streak and Cleveland hasn’t lost in their past 12 outings, but Toronto’s brutal schedule has turned and it’s time to make hay if the Raptors want to keep pace with ESPN’s preseason favorites.

Optimism heading into December should be high. Only two of the teams Toronto will face had a winning record at the start of the month although they do have to face one of them twice. It’s a 14 game stretch that should turn into a pile of Ws.

 After beating the Pacers on December 1st, the Raptors next seven games include the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets plus home-and-homes against the Suns and Kings. Combined these opponents have barely won a third of their games. Losing to any of them, even on the road, would be a huge disappointment.

If they sweep thru this riff-raff, the Raptors will be on a 10 game winning streak, but then they’ll face a Charlotte team that’s always given them trouble. The Hornets have struggled with injuries and haven’t looked good this season, but a Raptors win over the Hornets, especially on the road, has never been easy.

Then it’s a home-and-home against the surprising +.500 76ers. The Raptors crushed Philadelphia at the Air Canada Center in October by 34 points, but that was with a DNP-CD Joel Embiid. It’s going to be tough to win both ends of this series.

After Christmas the Raptors should able to take care of Dallas and Atlanta, but they’ll face a real test against an OKC team that has been very good at home even if their overall record has been beyond disappointing.

A safe prediction for December would be 10-4 giving Toronto a very respectable 23-11 record  (67.6 winning percentage) at the end of the calendar year. However, a good result would be 12-2 and if this team plays up to their full potential with no letdowns, there is no excuse for not coming away 14-0 and heading into 2018 on a 16 game winning streak that matches what the Celtics were able to do.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Cavs King James for Halloween 2017

NBA Halloween Hangovers

Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect young men to give up an excuse to party when the opportunity presents itself, but as is often the case, there is a price to paid for having too much fun and maybe a bit of a Halloween hangover contributed to some of the NBA blowouts the next night.

 

LeBron James was feeling good after a team meeting Joe Vardon reported on Cleveland.com ahead of Wednesday night’s disaster at home against the Pacers.

“It was needed and we’re receptive, and the best thing about it is guys got out everything that they wanted to, even with it being early in the season,” James said. “It was good, so, see how it translates on the floor too.”

It didn’t as the Cavs were embarrassed 124-107, but at least they had some Halloween fun.

As Vardon illustrated after the loss, the Cavs have now sunk to depths no one saw coming.

Here’s where the Cavs stand defensively this morning:

30th (worst) in the NBA in defensive rating (111.3), the primary statistic most use to give an overall grade.
30th in 3-pointers allowed (14.0 per game).
30th in 3-point field goal percentage (.418).
27th in opponent’s field-goal percentage (.470).
27th in opponent’s points per game (111.9).
22nd in opponent’s points off turnovers (18.6).

Head coach Tyronn Lue assuming the role of Captain Obvious summed things up.

“Lately we just haven’t been really good defensively,” Lue said.

No one is going to suggest the Cavs season is going down the tubes because of a Halloween party, but maybe, if only for appearance sake, everyone could have taken the night off to study film instead?

King James hasn’t released his claim as the scariest player in the NBA, it’s just the Cavs who haven’t been nearly as scary as they should be to start the season.

Lost in a 12 game Wednesday night slate of games were a couple of other teams looking like they were also suffering from a Halloween hangover.

The Toronto Raptors were on a two game road winning streak when they rolled into Denver after having Halloween night off and laid an egg losing 129-111. Even the preview by SB Nation Denver Stiffs Daniel Lewis had the Raptors winning this one. To put it mildly, Toronto’s veteran starting unit stunk looking exactly like a group that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before.

The Wizards had even less of an excuse than the Raptors as they dropped a 122-116 game to the rebuilding Suns at home.

Maybe the Wizards should have hit the sack a little earlier on Halloween night as well?

Well here’s hoping everyone had a fun Halloween and the Cavs and Raptors don’t eat to much turkey on Thanksgiving as they both have to play the next day.

 

  

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.

 

 

 

Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder and Washington Wizards Otto Porter

Early Favorites For The NBA Most Improved Player Race

Like every other award handed out to NBA players after the season is over, the Most Improved Player isn’t going to be a completely fair race. To even be an early favorite, several things pretty much have to be in the players favor right from the start.

First off an MIP has to be on a team that garners some attention. If you’re not in the playoffs or at least in contention for the postseason, it’s going to be pretty hard to win … anything.

Also, it would really help if the player could average over 20 points per game and that average is up from the prior season by over 5 points per game – the bigger the increase the better. Sure the other stats matter, but nothing captures attention in the NBA more than scoring.

Over the last five years, the MIP race ended like this:

Last year the next four top vote getters were Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Otto Potter and Isaiah Thomas and three of them should be early favorites this year.

It’s worth noting that Antetokounmpo was 3rd in voting in 2016 and top 10 the year before that, so he was a guy everyone should have (did) see coming.

In no particular order, our early favorites for the MIP in 2018 are:

Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets landed Paul Millsap in free agency they solidified their hold on a playoff spot and gave Jokic his chance to turn last year’s second place MIP votes into a spot at the top if he can continue to improve.

He’ll need to average well over 20 points per game, but don’t count him out.

Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic exploded after the trade from Denver to Portland going from 8 points per game playing limited minutes behind Jokic to over 15 points as a starter. The Trail Blazers exploded with him in the lineup as well, winning 14 of the 20 games he appeared in.

On the season Nurkic only averaged 10.2 points per game, so if can improve even a little on his first 20 games with the Blazers and his team gets back to the postseason, he’s going to get a lot of votes.

Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert

After losing Hayward to the Celtics, the Jazz need Gobert to be in contention again for the MIP award if they are to get back to the postseason. After a 4.9 point improvement in scoring last year, there will be opportunities for Gobert to up his offensive production yet again in Hayward’s absence.

Someone has to carry the scoring load on this defensive-minded club and it seems pretty clear Gobert is now their best player.

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter

Porter is developing into an elite two-way player with deadly outside range and the only thing that appears to be holding him back is greater utilization. Porter only got 10 shots per game last season and had his team’s (ugh!) 12th highest utilization rate.

Unless the Wizards coaching staff has been living under a rock this summer, they’ll be working on ways to get their most effective scorer more involved with the offense. Look for a big jump in scoring from Porter next season on a team that should win over 50 games for the first time in four decades.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jae Crowder

The only knock on the Cavaliers in recent years has been the roster was old and wasn’t winning as many regular season games as expected. This was a team that needed what an energetic two-way 27-year-old forward with three-point range could bring to the table.

Twice before Crowder has gotten votes for MIP, but this could be his year.

Crowder fills a need on a Cavs team that wants LeBron James to play fewer minutes and take more time off during the regular season. He will get his opportunity to shine on a team that loves to hoist the three-ball and needs his younger legs to soak up minutes. Don’t be surprised if Crowder has a career year.

Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka

The Toronto Raptors have been looking for a third impact player to support Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and they believe they’ve found him in the three-time All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka.

However, the Raptors will be looking for a lot more than just defense from Ibaka in a lot bigger role than he has been limited to in the past. Ibaka has evolved into a 40 percent three-point stretch-four/five and he’ll get his chance to show off all of his offensive range this season.

If the Raptors can get back to the 56-win pace they ran at for a season and a half up until mid-January last year and Ibaka gets the offensive opportunities his new three-year $65 million contract suggests he will, then he could be a surprise contender in this year’s MIP race.

There are other interesting candidates like the Pacers Miles Turner and the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, but neither of these teams are likely to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the voters.

The last time a player from a non-playoff team won the award was when Kevin Love became an All-Star for the first time in 2011. So, it’s not impossible, it’s just a very high bar.

 

 

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 Jae Crowder

Is Jae Crowder The Jewel Of the Cavs – Celtics Trade?

Jae Crowder had to be included in the Celtics trade for Cavs star Kyrie Irving. Isaiah Thomas is on a bargain contract and they needed Crowder’s salary to make the trade math work, but before next season is over, he could be seen as the jewel of deal.

Crowder produced for the Celtics last year. Second in points scored during the regular season with 999, ahead of Al Horford’s 952 points and the best three-point shooter on the team averaging 39.8 percent on 5.5 attempts. Crowder was a two-way player who could hit the three and in today’s NBA that’s one valuable guy.

He was seen as a throw in when Boston got him in a trade with Dallas in 2014, but he became so much more than that as described by Basketball Insiders Jesse Blancarte. 

At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

Crowder has been seen by some as a throw in again this time around, but he could be the difference-maker the Cavaliers need to challenge the best in the West in the Finals.

With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.

The Cavs new forward isn’t a one season wonder either. He got his opportunity to play starter’s minutes in Boston and he produced across the board over the past two seasons. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens let him play and Crowder rewarded his confidence with offensive production and a rapidly improving jump shot.

Crowder should find his offensive opportunities improved in Cleveland playing with a superstar who likes to set up his teammates in LeBron James and other shooters opposing defenders can’t leave in Smith, Love, Korver and Frye. The high powered offense of the Cavs should give Crowder even more opportunities to show off his complete game.

Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

While he may become a jewel on the court, he’s an even more valuable addition to the money-losing Cavs in the front office.

Now on the team with the highest payroll in the NBA and an estimated luxury tax bill approaching $60 million for the upcoming season, Crowder will likely be the only player in Cleveland averaging double-digit scoring that doesn’t have an eight figure salary. He earns a bargain $6.8 million this year and $7.3 million and $7.8 million in the following two seasons. He may be the best bargain not on a rookie contract in the entire league.

With Thomas looking for $30+ million a season next year and Irving demanding a $200+ million max extension the year after that, it’s players like Crowder who make those kinds of deals work under a punitive luxury tax system.  A real jewel of an acquisition.

 

  

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 and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.

Conclusion

If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?

 

  

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about 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.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Cavs Fleece Celtics In Trade For Kyrie Irving

Sometimes you just have to tip your hat as the Cleveland Cavaliers new general manager Koby Altman pulls off a blockbuster trade for his disgruntled All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving by fleecing the Boston Celtics for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, 3-and-D forward Jae Crowder and the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick as reported on NBA.com.

The Celtics are happy with the trade. Thomas was demanding a max contract next summer and to put things bluntly, he was a defensive hole in Boston’s defense that division rival Toronto walked thru with ease last season. However, in Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge own words, he gave up a lot in Jae Crowder that will immediately help the Cavaliers this season and going forward in part because of his very team friendly contract.

“Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered,” said Ainge.

Crowder was one of the Celtics better defenders and at 39.8 percent, one of their best three-point shooters. He’ll fit in perfectly on the Cavaliers and with LeBron James finding him opportunities to score this season, he’ll undoubtedly produce more than last year’s 13.9 points per game.

The Celtics wanted Irving because he is an elite offensive player with two full years (plus a player option) left on his deal at about $20 million per season.

“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years,” said Ainge. “He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”

Irving is all of what Aigne gushed over and at 6’3, he is harder to abuse defensively than the diminutive 5’9 Thomas. However, Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game last year compared to 25.2 points from Irving, so James shouldn’t feel like he’s lost anything in terms of scoring with his new guard.

The other players Aigne give up in this deal were surplus to the Celtics. Crowder was standing in the way of this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum and last year’s third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown. His departure opens up minutes for two players the Celtics are justifiably very high on.

However, the Celtics fixing their overstaffed roster to make room for rookies and sophomores doesn’t preclude the Cavs from walking away as the big winners in this deal.

They get a year with Thomas before he can enter free agency at the same time as the tight-lipped James, so if James isn’t re-signing next summer, they can start the rebuild phase with three additional desirable and controllable young pieces in Crowder, Zizic and the Nets draft pick.

In the meantime, the Cavs head into the upcoming season without an unhappy Irving and a replacement at guard in Thomas that shouldn’t diminish their chances at returning to the NBA Finals plus a hard working 3-and-D forward that should improve their slim chance at getting past the Warriors in the West.

“This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does,” said Altman. “We look forward to Isaiah, Jae and Ante joining us and also felt that the unprotected first round pick in the deal was very important for us and our future as well.”

The Celtics can only be described as heading into the season as a big question mark. A roster that was first in the East with 53 wins will start the year without four of their top six scorers from last season and only four returning players in Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

While the additions of Gordon Hayward and Irving are impressive, any team with this many changes to key rotation players can’t be expected to get off to a fast start. It’s going to take time for this group to learn to play together and gel as a unit.

A rough start to the 2017-18 season should be anticipated in Boston with the Cavs looking like they completely fleeced the Celtics on this trade.

 

  

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.