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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.

 
 

Cleveland Cavaliers shooters 2016-17

Not So Tough Cavs Backing Into The Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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take into these playoffs is that the key bench pieces in Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov and Dahntay Jones have been replaced by theoretical upgrades in Korver, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams.

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does the league do to stop this?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

Injuries Could Play Havoc With The NBA Playoffs

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

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

Golden State Warriors – Kevin Durant

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

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

Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith, Kevin Love

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

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

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

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

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry

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

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

Denver Nuggets – Kenneth Faried

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love

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

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

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

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

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

– NBA News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things just got interesting again in the East.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love and LeBron James

Cavs Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s good to be wanted”, Love joked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

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 Cavs LeBron James

There’s Some Whine And Gold From Cavs LeBron James

Every NBA player tries to sell they’ve been fouled on every play and conversely no one seems to believe they’ve ever fouled anybody, but usually the constant complaining about calls stays on the court as it’s universally acknowledged the NBA game is very hard to officiate with all of the overt acting going on. But, not this time, there was some classic whine and gold as LeBron James felt the need to complain about not getting enough calls going his way after the Cavs had a couple of tough road games in the West.

ESPN’s Dave Menamin reports,

James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10.

Much of James’ detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint … he feels contact is ignored.

“Yeah, I got fouled,” James said after the game, when asked about his outburst in Salt Lake City.

“It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is — the main thing is to win — but it is. It is. It is.”

James is hard to officiate for a few reasons. One, he is bigger and stronger than some of today’s centers. Two, he’ll play like a guard, a wing or a power forward in the same sequence, so he isn’t doing what other players do and that makes it hard to anticipate plays for the referees. And three, he gets treated like a superstar at the defensive end so his opponents have a right to complain about getting frequently whacked by James with no call.

Funny, you never hear James talk about what he gets away with and it’s a lot. James, the ever active and very physical defender, fouls at the unbelievably low rate of just 2.1 fouls per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers Luol Deng and Lou Williams foul less (2.0). James gets the “kid-glove” treatment from the referees on defense like no one else does, so maybe he should be expecting the referees are getting an earful every night about calling the game the same way at both ends?

It’s not like James is getting no calls. He is 15th in the NBA for fouls drawn per 100 possessions at 7.2. The leaders being Joel Embiid (12.9), DeMarcus Cousins (12), Anthony Davis (10), Isaiah Thomas (9.9) and Russell Westbrook (9.3). All of these players play a very different style of game from James.

James isn’t a post-up player like Embiid (6 post touches per game). James (2.3 post touches) makes his living starting on the perimeter and is one of the game’s best facilitators, so like the seemingly numerous guards who get to the line more often, James is better known for his drives. But James doesn’t drive to the basket as often as you (he?) thinks.

Top five in drives to the basket include Thomas (13.5), Westbrook (11.6) and Harden (11.3). James (9.5) is way back at 16th and he should know, no one gets a call on every drive even when there is some contact.

So, no one should pretend James spends the same amount of time fighting for space as the league’s centers and power forwards under the basket where claw marks on your arms and shoulders after games is the norm. He’s far too valuable getting other players easy buckets to be “wasting” energy in those battles, so he shouldn’t be expecting to get the calls other big men draw over the course of a game either.

You don’t get a call every time you are whacked fighting in the paint with another big man. The game has never been called that way and the NBA isn’t about to change that for James. Big men are expected to man up and expect physical contact under the basket without complaining.

James mini-rant was pure gold and he probably did it in the hope he’d get some more calls on this road trip. It doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t, but history shows us that sometimes it does and that only encourages more whine and gold from the league’s stars.

Maybe he’d be happier getting called for all those whack-down “great” defensive plays and drawing more fouls at the other end? Probably not.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Toronto Raptors Need To Add More Offense To Contend

It was bad enough in the NBA East before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for three-point marksman Kyle Korver, but now more than ever you need incredible offense to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals and even the Toronto Raptors averaging an East leading 110.6 points per game don’t have enough.

NBA EAST

No team in the East is holding opponents under 100 points per game and only three teams in the West are, but teams in the West are still giving up 104.7 points per game and they are scoring (105.4) at an even higher clip than the East’s inflated numbers.

The NBA is now a high-scoring, three-point shooting, defense-second league. You don’t stop players like Russell Westbrook (31.2 points), Anthony Davis (29.1 points), James Harden (28.2 points), DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points), Isaiah Thomas (28 points), or DeMar DeRozan (27.8 points), you outscore them or you fail. This year traditional scoring leaders like LeBron James (26.2), Kevin Durant (25.9), Stephen Curry (24.8), Kyrie Irving (24.3) aren’t even given much of a chance at a scoring title. You need more.

Cavs Nation on Facebook

The Warriors got theirs. They lead the NBA at 117.5 points per game with three players that can’t be stopped averaging over 20 points per game. The Cavs have their own triumvirate averaging over 20 per game, a bevy of shooters and a strangle hold on first in the East.

Most teams are lucky to have one reliable 20 point scorer and the Raptors with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are blessed with two, but even two isn’t going to be enough these days. When it seems like everyone that matters is giving up over a 100 points except the Spurs (97.5), you are fighting a trend that no defensive scheme is going to overcome – unless maybe you have a Kawhi Leonard on your team.

When you are leading the East in scoring, adding more offense doesn’t necessarily seem like the right solution, but the Raptors have been most often getting beat because they can’t always keep up in today’s shoot-out oriented NBA.

After an October anomaly, he Cavs have beaten Toronto 121-117 and 116-112 and as noted, Cleveland just added more firepower. The Warriors won by 127-121 and 121-111. Then losses to Clippers 123-115, Hawks 125-121, Bulls 123-118 and Rockets 129-122 only serve to illustrate what’s going on in the NBA.

Maybe Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is right that his team doesn’t need to do anything, but that’s except when it comes to the Cavs. It’s only reasonable to expect Cleveland to continue adding to their firepower between now and the last day to add players eligible for the postseason. The team Toronto can’t keep up with on the scoring front is going to add more scoring.

President Masai Ujiri has made it pretty clear the Raptors won’t sell off their young assets for short term gain. It’s been reported he tried to land Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka last summer and in all likelihood is still trying, but the price has to right. Otherwise, the fallback position of the Raptors and apparently even their closest competitor, the Celtics, is to wait this thing out and see what develops on what are still very young and developing teams.

They can always just wait on LeBron James to get old?

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Atanta Hawks Kyle Korver

Atlanta Hawks Crossing The Road To Rebuilding

We’re only barely into 2017 and the Atlanta Hawks will probably need the rest of the month to blow this whole thing up, but they are already crossing the road towards rebuilding despite still having a very real shot at winning the Southeast Division this season (for now).

The Hawks are at a crossroads of their own making. The core of this team is old, over half of this roster will be free agents in July and no one gives them a ghost of a chance of getting by the second round of the playoffs as constructed in a best case scenario. So, Kyle Korver is gone, Paul Millsap is expected to follow and things shouldn’t stop there.

This year’s starters Millsap, Korver and Dwight Howard are in their thirties as is sixth man Thabo Sefolosha and backup Kris Humphries. Millsap (PO), Korver, Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. (RFA) will be free agents along with Tiago Splitter, Humphries, and Mike Scott.

Sure the Hawks could have pointed to about $40 million in salary cap space next summer, but cap holds would have used up all of that and more and the Hawks are more worried about losing what they have for nothing than fantasizing about which free agents from other teams might be tempted to join them.

Another summer of losing their best player was (is still) definitely on the table and finding a replacement in free agency that would let them tread water again next year will be difficult to say the least.

So it appears that first round draft picks are the currency that will extract the Hawks veterans and in today’s NBA with exploding salaries, players coming in on rookie deals are the one class of asset management still has solid cost controls on.

To saddle the Hawks future with doom and gloom, however, would be a mistake. Dennis Schroder (23), Kent Bazemore (27) and Tim Hardaway (24) give them the start of a solid young core to build around and it should be possible to expand this group with players in their early to mid-twenties using their prime veteran players as trade bait. A complete tear down and rebuild from the ground up shouldn’t be necessary.

Millsap makes $20 million, so most teams will have to find at least $15 million worth of player contracts to send back and even if the Hawks get a decent first round draft pick in the deal, they aren’t going to accept players with deals extending past this season they wouldn’t be willing to keep on the roster. They should get at least one or two young players worth keeping.

While it might be hard to discern what the Hawks could get for their other players on expiring deals, they do have another impact player in Dwight Howard ($23 million, plus two more seasons totaling $47.3 million) who could take a contending team to the next level. Don’t laugh, Howard is averaging 14 points on 8.7 shots, 13.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks in under 30 minutes. 7th in the NBA with 22 double-doubles and his salary is only about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum so it isn’t as exorbitant as it sounds.

The Hawks may have “brought Howard home,” but things change and if the Hawks are willing to trade Millsap to get younger and acquire picks, they may as well start shopping the 31-year-old Howard as well. Korver is just the guy who got this party started.

 

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

The Cavaliers Should Trade For The Bulls Rajon Rondo

One teams’ trash can be another team’s need and about the only thing the Cavaliers need is a backup point guard, so if the Bulls are fed up with Rajon Rondo, the Cavs should be making a phone call.

It’s beyond clear the Bulls think they made a huge mistake by signing Rondo in the off season. The only good news is they can opt out of the deal before next summer and limit the damages, but it would be even better if they find some poor sucker – er other team – to give them something, anything back in return.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seems to be the most willing of anyone in the NBA to take on reclamation projects if they advance his team’s chances at a championship and he’s spent the money to prove it.

Cleveland isn’t worried about making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. They are only slightly concerned the Toronto Raptors pull off some miraculous trade that would actually have them worried about getting back to the NBA Finals. But, and it is a big but, with Kyrie Irving being backed up by Kay Felder (you’re excused for not knowing who that is?) and only Kay Felder, nabbing a reliable veteran point guard that could actually run the show when their real floor general LeBron James takes a rest would be more than just a little nice. Especially when it comes to boosting their regular season record and when they have to face the juggernaut that will come out of the West.

Sure Rondo has a history since leaving Boston of being more than just a little challenging to manage, but if he won’t toe the company line for James, he may as well hang up his sneakers. The Cavs are playing for Championships and Rondo could be a key cog in accomplishing that if he gets with the program – and the Cavs find a way to get him to Cleveland.

Somehow Rondo managed to talk the Bulls into paying him $14 million this season, so he doesn’t fit into one of the Cavs trade exceptions and Cleveland would have to send back nearly $12 million in salary to make the trade math work.

So, a trade isn’t going to be easy to do. Rondo’s value, other than maybe to Cleveland, isn’t that high, so the Bulls can’t expect to get a player back who’s a slam dunk and the Cavs aren’t that motivated to get a point guard to get fleeced.

However, Iman Shumpert makes almost $10 million a year and has shown himself to be a useful defensive guard. Add in Mo Williams $2 million expiring deal and the trade math works. The Bulls couldn’t realistically hope to do better and Shumpert could actually help them.

What the Bulls do at this point is anyone’s guess? Maybe management decides it’s head coach Fred Hoiberg that needs to go instead? But if Rondo is going to be riding the pine for $14 million this season, it behooves them to at least try to get something of value for that contract.

 

 

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

ESPN Favors Toronto To Represent The East In The NBA Finals

Apparently last year’s 56-win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals by Toronto wasn’t an aberration, it was just part of a trend as the Raptors led by their two All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have continued the journey this season and are presently favored to represent the East in the NBA Finals this year by ESPN.

ESPN’s Ben Alamar writes,

The Raptors have ridden their offensive prowess to the No. 2 spot in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and currently have the best chance to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals at 48 percent.

After playing their final game of calendar 2016, ESPN projects the Raptors to win 58 games this season, one fewer than the Cavs, but their Analytics team gives Toronto a 12.1 percent chance at an NBA title compared to just 8.9 percent for Cleveland. The Warriors continue to dominate projections with a 64.3 percent chance of winning it all this year.

While LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have a lot to say about how the rest of this season and the playoffs play out in the East, to this point Toronto has the top two offensive rated five-man units and the first and third best net rated five-man units in the entire league. So just maybe the objective analytics at ESPN is on to something.

 

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

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Are Ahead Of Last Year’s Pace At The Quarter Pole

By Frank McLean

As we sit at the quarter pole of this current NBA season for the Toronto Raptors things are pretty much the same as they were when the 2015-16 season ended in late May as Toronto was eliminated by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Final. The Raptors are the second best team in the conference.

After the Cavaliers knocked off the Raptors on Monday night for their third win against Toronto this season the standings looked like this, Cleveland sitting in first at 14-5, and the Raptors sitting in second at 14-7. Although, after 21 games last year, these Raptors were 12-9.

Forget the rest of the Eastern Conference, and yes just like last year you still have nine other teams fighting for the other six playoff  berths in the conference, but realistically if the Cavaliers and Raptors are at full strength roster wise, those nine squads are just not good enough to win a best of seven series against either team.

The Cavaliers know that there is only one team that could be a roadblock for them making a third straight appearance in the NBA Finals and that’s the Raptors.

“They have had our attention for a long time,” LeBron James was telling the media earlier this week in Toronto about the team that actually fought back and lasted six games in the conference final last spring.

“I think they’ve had the NBA’s attention. You don’t need them playing well and us not playing well or us playing well and them not playing well for them to get our attention. I think it’s there.”

“It’s a team that’s first of all well-coached,” James added. “It starts with their two-headed monster, (DeMar) DeRozan and (Kyle) Lowry. Their complimentary guys have been playing great. Their role players have been playing great. DeMarre (Carroll) and Patrick (Patterson), Terrence Ross coming in and giving them big minutes, obviously Cory Joseph being a solid backup point guard for them as well. Even some of the younger guys, they’ve been coming into the game have come in and played some good ball”.

Kyrie Irving also talked about the Raptors one-two punch at guard.

“Their two-guard set is one that just separates them in the league. DeMar, Kyle, they do an unbelievable job of leading this team offensively. And defensively, they compete every possession. They take advantage of different lineups you have because one of (Lowry or DeRozan) is on the floor almost every minute of the game.”

But still the Raptors are just the second best team in the conference and until they figure out a way to beat the Cavaliers they won’t be taking the next step of playing in the NBA Finals.

So the ball is in the court of president Masai Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman to make the trade that puts them over the top.

The Raptors are in a similar spot that the Toronto Blue Jays were in at the start of the 1990’s. After making the American League Championship series in 1985 and 89 and losing to Kansas City and Oakland, they needed to make a roster shifting trade to become a championship ballclub.

GM Pat Gillick made the trade that put the Jays over the top sending Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for Joe Carter and Hall Of Famer Robbie Alomar and as they say “the rest is history.”

So when do Ujiri and Weltman make the trade that puts the team in a position to make a championship run?

They do get their free agent signing of the summer, forward Jared Sullinger back around the all-star break from his foot injury suffered in the preseason. His defence and rebounding will help and it will be like getting player in a trade deadline deal without giving up someone.

But the question remains, does the Raptors management do something this year or wait?

The Raptors are getting the best season DeMar DeRozan has ever put out, averaging 28 points a game with 10 games of 30 points plus already.

But then you have starting center Jonas Valanciunas still not playing in crucial parts of games where you expect your starting center to play.

This team will win 50-plus games again, win the Atlantic Division title for a third straight year, and finish no lower than second in the East.

That’s why everybody will be watching what the Raptors do between now and the March first trade deadline.

Do they make a run now for a championship or wait until later?

Time will tell, but opportunities to win can be fleeting.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry

Three Is The Key For Raptors And Cavs

The game of the week in the NBA should be the rematch at the Air Canada Center between the 13-5 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 14-6 Toronto Raptors with first place in the Eastern Conference on the line. The style of play between these two teams couldn’t be more different, but the three is the key for both of them and it’s why Cleveland has beaten the Raptors twice this season already.

The Raptors are on a six game winning streak and the Cavs have dropped three in a row, but throw all that out as Cleveland is taking their opponents in last season’s Conference Finals seriously and LeBron James isn’t about to let his teammates put out another subpar effort.

The two teams have met on each others court already this season with the Cavs winning close games each time. A  107.5 – 104 margin of victory that can be attributed to Cleveland hitting on 12.5 of 32.5 three-point attempts while the Raptors were focused on the midrange and put down just 8.5 of 22.5 three-balls.

However, those contests came during the first 10 games of the season and things have changed dramatically since then for Toronto.

The Raptors started out this season looking like a team that had forgotten how to shoot the long ball, hitting on just 31 percent of 22.9 three-point attempts per game. DeMar DeRozan carried the team in scoring, but that just wasn’t enough against the Cavs.

Queue the next 10 games for Toronto after losing their second game to Cleveland 121-117 in mid-November and the Raptors got hot from outside and were about to get hotter. In the current six game winning streak Toronto is outscoring opponents 117.2 – 94.2 and they are hitting 50.6 percent of their 26.3 three-point attempts. While that’s still not at the same volume as the Cavaliers, the 13.3 makes matches the Cavs season average.

Cleveland is top five in three-point attempts (34.3), makes (13.3) and percentage (38.9), however, in their last two games they failed to attempt over 30 for only the second and third time this season. However, don’t anticipate they’ll shoot under 30 three-point attempts again in Toronto. The Cavs are deep in three-point threats with five players attempting more than four long balls per game.

The Raptors rarely get the respect they deserve from the US media who seem to forget the NBA Champion Cavs only won one more game than the Raptors last season. This third meeting between them is too close to call, but the three will be the key and neither team can have an off night from deep and be favored to win.

 

 

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

 

 

 



 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Go For First Place In The East Vs The Hawks

The surging (5-0) Toronto Raptors can claim a share of the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the slumping (0-5) Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

The Raptors improved to 13-6 on the season with an easy wire-to-wire 113-80 win over the Lakers at home on Friday night to move to within a half game of the Cavaliers who lost their third game in a row as they fell 111-105 to the Bulls in Chicago. Toronto now plays the rare at home back-to-back tonight and the biggest concern may be to not look past the Hawks to the rematch against Cleveland on Monday.

Atlanta started out the season at 10-5, but a left hip injury to All-Star Paul Millsap in Utah has sent a team that was already starting to slide into a tailspin. Millsap played through the pain in losses to the Jazz, Lakers and Warriors, but he was finally sat down in the Hawks last two games and he isn’t expected to play against Toronto.

On Friday night the Hawks were crushed 121-85 by the Pistons and have now lost eight of their last nine games. They have been outscored by their opponents 104.4 – 92.7 over this stretch, however, the Raptors need to be cautious as this team started the season at 9-2 and dominated their opposition 107.8 – 98.2 including big wins in Cleveland (110-106) and against the Bulls (115-107).

The Raptors, in contrast, have been red hot over their past five games, dominating their opponents 115 – 96.2 as their offense has been firing on all cylinders led by All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry who is averaging 22.6 points and shooting 62.9 percent from three-point range over that span.

DeMar DeRozan who was leading the NBA in scoring until recently has retouched reality during the winning streak averaging just 20.8 points over the past five games, however, even he is hitting on 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts and contributing 6 boards and 6 dimes per game as defenses have decided to get the ball out of his hands at any cost. That cost has been letting Lowry and the rest of the Raptors three-point threats see a lot of open looks and they’ve been sinking them at a 50 percent clip, so eventually opponents may decide it’s better to let DeRozan shoot again.

Head coach Dwane Casey continues to preach defense, but after giving up an average of 105.5 points per game prior to the winning streak, his charges have kept their opponents below that in each of the past five games. The result may still not be up to Casey’s standards (it never is), but at least the trend is finally in the right direction.

The Raptors have lost both ends of their two previous back-to-back sets this season, so they shouldn’t be overconfident.

If Toronto can claim this winnable game against the Hawks, they’ll improve to 14-6 and sit in a virtual tie with the idle 13-5 Cavaliers. Cleveland has already defeated Toronto at the Q and at the ACC this season, so expect the Raptors to be motivated on Monday.

Note: The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a six game homestand and the ACC has been sold out for 101 consecutive games including the regular season and the playoffs.  The streak began Nov. 11, 2014 vs Orlando and is the longest in franchise history.

 

 

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 Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

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

Raptors Face Ultimate Test Of Style Vs Cavs And Warriors

No one can say the NBA schedule makers don’t have a sense of humor. The NBA’s fourth place overall Toronto Raptors face the favorites in the Eastern Conference tonight in Cleveland (second place overall) and then return home on the back-to-back to face this season’s Western Conference favorites Golden State (third place overall) in Toronto. This will be the ultimate test of style for the midrange focused Raptors. The Cavs and the Warriors love the long bomb, tossing up over 30 three-point attempts per night and burying opponents in an avalanche of points.

Led by the NBA’s leading scorer and midrange specialist DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors reside near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts and makes and are 15th in the NBA (opponents shoot 34.2 percent) at defending the long ball. Overall their defense holds opponents to a 7th best 43.4 percent shooting versus the Cavaliers 8th best 43.8 percent and the high scoring Warriors NBA median 44.7 percent, but they all do it so very differently.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey sets his defense to protect the paint first then runs teams off the three-point line, but so far Toronto’s opponents are attempting an NBA 7th most 30.2 attempts in the restricted area, although, the Raptors defense here is holding teams to a 6th best 57 percent shooting. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise practicing against DeRozan that the Raptors are the NBA’s 2nd best team at defending the midrange (34.5 percent) and the fifth best team defending two-point shots (47.5 percent). It makes up for their very average defense of the three-point line.

As Casey often says, you have to take away something, and in Toronto they protect the paint.

The Cavaliers are one of the better teams at keeping opponents out of the paint altogether, giving up just 25.6 field goal attempts in the restricted area, but once there, teams score relatively easily (top 10 worst) at a 62.6 percent clip. The Cavs also give up a top 10 worst (41.9 percent) from midrange, but overall their defense has been more than adequate while scoring 109.4 points per game. It’s early in the season and the Cavs might be excused for playing just enough defense to win.

The Warriors “started slow” this season, but only by last year’s standards and they currently lead the NBA scoring 116.4 points per game. No other team has cracked 110 points on average. However, the Warriors give up 108 points per game, so they don’t appear to be winning with defense and their only losses have come when scoring 100 points or less themselves.

Opposing scorers that like to drive must be looking at the Warriors defense and licking their chops, it should be a big night for points. Golden State gives up an NBA 4th worst 64.4 percent opponent’s shooting in the restricted area. However, while the Warriors are bottom 10 at defending two-point shooting overall giving up 49.7 percent inside the arc, they are top 10 at defending the midrange (38.5 percent opponent’s shooting) and top 10 defending the three-point line (33.2 percent opponent’s shooting). They are a jump shooting team that can defend jump shooters.

The Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight at The Q where they completely dominated Toronto last season. Recently the two teams met in the second game of this season in Toronto with the Cavs pulling out a 94-91 victory on a last minute Kyrie Irving three-pointer followed by three-point misses by Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry. The Cavs were able to make their 12 made three-pointers standup in a tough defensive battle.

Toronto lost two close games with the Warriors last season by an average of 113.5 to 109.5 with Golden State sinking 27 three-pointers over the two games. If the Raptors want to steal a game here, they have to slow the pace down to something more to their liking and not get sucked into the “fun” of scoring easy buckets. The Warriors aren’t going to lose many shootouts this season.

The Raptors have been successful bucking the three-point focused trend in the NBA, but they face two of teams that have dominated by moving in this direction and these two games represent an early season ultimate test of opposing styles for 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.

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

 

 

 


 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

The Cavaliers Remain A Real Pain For The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

The NBA’s schedule maker has teased fans of the Toronto Raptors this year. The official opening of the 2016-17 season had the Raptors open the campaign at the Air Canada Centre with the Detroit Pistons and there was time when the Pistons would be a very compelling opening game, but not anymore!

Detroit was a surprising eighth seed in last year’s playoffs, but the roster they throw out on the floor now does not have a Prince or a Hamilton on it anymore. Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer weren’t coming out on the floor either.

To make matters worse the Pistons best player, Reggie Jackson, was out of the line-up with a knee injury and not expected back until sometime in December.

The next tilt on Friday night was the real opening night. The team the Raptors have to beat to make it to the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs made their first visit to the “SIX” since they knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference Finals in six games back in May.

In the last five months Cleveland has been a pain in the backside of Toronto sports fans. It used to be a city whose professional sports teams stunk and broke the hearts of their fans just like Toronto has experienced in recent decades.

In a matter of five months the Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors and won Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 NFL’s Browns did it in football. Then the Indians ended the Blue Jays dream of a World Series berth.

Toronto fans were ready Friday night and you could feel a buzz in the ACC like it was, oh I don’t know, opening night!

The Cavaliers did win a nail bitter, 94-91 and it was a defensive struggle that made an early October match-up look more like a playoff battle in May.

“Specifically on the defensive side, I thought we did exceptionally well,” Patrick Patterson said after the game. “Granted, they missed a bunch of shots, but I thought our communication, finishing plays with the rebound and just talking overall whether it was guarding our man or just help-side defence, I thought we did a pretty good job. Offensively, we just missed a bunch of shots we normally make.

“Defensive side of the ball, I think that is the only positive thing you can take away. Just our effort and our energy on that side.”

The Raptors did miss a few shots that if they made them maybe they would have gotten the “W”.

“Some of the same shots we missed, I know we’re going to make,” head coach Dwayne Casey said in his post-game comments. “There’s no consolation, they beat us. We’ve got to continue to believe in our offensive shots. Those are the same shots we’re going to make, but we have to take care of the ball. We can’t have 18 turnovers because it’s a jailbreak against that team.”

One big positive was DeMar DeRozan who had scored 40 points in the Pistons game and added 32 against the Cavaliers. His 72 point total for the first two games of the season is a new club record.

He averaged 23.5-points a game last season and is on pace to push that to an even higher average.

However one problem which has cropped up in the first two games of the season is three-point shooting where they have shot just 7-for-34.

A lot of that has to do with the extended absence of power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year free agent deal with the Raptors after spending the first four years of his career with the Boston Celtics.

Sullinger was supposed to fill the void of outside shooting, but he will not make his debut until February since he has a broken bone in his left foot suffered in the first preseason game of the year.

Sullinger should make a huge difference in the second half of the season and the playoffs for the Raptors.

However, it’s only two games down with another 80 to go before the playoffs begin and like last year, the 82-game regular season is just a glorified preseason schedule. Monday night’s game against the Nuggets should only serve to emphasize that fact.

This Raptors team has been built for a long playoff run, so don’t worry, time will fly, and April will come soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

 

 

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