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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 Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Home Opener Features Valanciunas Vs Drummond

The Toronto Raptors tip-off their 22nd season in the NBA by hosting the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night and a league that has in recent years been overlooking traditional big men, this contest features the recurring rematch of the paint-bound seven footers Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond.

Drummond and Valanciunas will always be linked in Toronto as Drummond is the defensive center the Raptors bypassed in the 2012 draft to take three-point specialist Terrence Ross because they had already drafted the young Lithuanian center Valanciunas the summer before and he was set to make his Raptors debut that fall.

Battle lines and future comparisons were set between the two young centers and while the Raptors have enjoyed significantly more team success since the centers rookie seasons, Drummond has easily won the popularity contest and created second thoughts in the Toronto fan base.

The Pistons finally made it back to the postseason last spring with a 44-38 record after six straight trips to the NBA Draft Lottery and were swept out in four straight by the Cavaliers. The 56 win Raptors returned to the postseason for the third straight time and eventually lost to those same Cavs 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Drummond has gotten all the publicity in this “relationship” as he has continued to put up ever more gaudy numbers during the regular season. Last year the Pistons center averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in 32.9 minutes while Valanciunas appeared to lag with just 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes as he split time with Bismack Biyombo.

Since Drummond and Valanciunas entered the league in 2012, the Raptors are 9-5 versus the Pistons and the two bigs are a lot closer in stats head-to-head than their regular season totals would indicate. Valanciunas averaging 14.9 points on 62.3 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 14 games versus Detroit. Drummond averaging 11.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his 14 games. One of the big differences coming at the free throw line where Drummond’s struggles have been epic, scoring fewer points on nearly twice as many attempts (36.5 percent) as Valanciunas (72 percent). Drummond has actually been getting worse from the charity stripe over the past three seasons.

This seems to be the year Raptors head coach Dwane Casey will finally be forced to “free Valanciunas” as Biyombo was lost to free agency and his replacement Jared Sullinger is going to miss a few months with a broken foot. On opening night, the Raptors backup center will be rookie Jacob Poeltl. For Toronto, there couldn’t be a better and more interesting matchup for opening night than Detroit.

Toronto will open the season missing Sullinger (left foot surgery), center Lucas Nogueira questionable (ankle sprain) and point guard Delon Wright out until December (shoulder surgery).

Detroit will be missing Reggie Jackson (left knee rehab).

Last year Toronto won the season series 2-1 outscoring the Pistons 105-103.3 with the edge coming at the free throw line 20.7-27.3 versus 16.3-26 and pretty much all of that discrepancy can be attributed to Drummond’s inability to connect from the charity stripe. So these two teams should be expected to put on a good show.

The Raptors won this year’s preseason game in Detroit 103-92 with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combining for 53 points in a blowout not reflected by the final score.

“They ran their stuff with a lot of tempo, a lot of speed and we weren’t able to match that,” (Tobias) Harris said. “The physicality got to us early on and that’s something we have to adjust to and really adapt to when we’re playing against teams that can impose their will. We have to learn and grow from it.”

But that was preseason and everybody is ready to get beyond what happened in those meaningless games.

“We are really looking forward to tomorrow’s game,” Valanciunas said after practice on Tuesday. “Enough of preseason, we need some real games.”

 

 

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 Brooklyn Nets Brook Lopez

Raptors Have No Reason To Take Nets Lightly

The Toronto Raptors welcome the Joe Johnson-less Brooklyn Nets to the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night having dominated them so far this season, but head coach Dwane Casey insists that’s no reason to take them lightly.

“They are still a team that has a lot of pride,” Casey said after shootaround. “You have an All-Star in Brook Lopez. I think is one of the top centers in our league. Thaddeus Young is one of the top power forwards in our league, so they have some firepower. We can’t look at their record. In the last six games they are 3-3 and playing at a high level. Out of their last six games they have scored over 116 points three times, so all those things are pluses for them and things we have to guard against. We have no reason whatsoever to go in any game and look at a team’s record, who they are, how they are playing and not come out and play our game cause when we do, I promise you it’s ugly.”

 

 

In their two earlier matchups, the Raptors have outscored the Nets 101.5 to 87, shot 47.3 percent from the field and outrebounded them 42.5 to 39.5.

The Nets have been bad this season, with or without Johnson. They have posted the fourth worst record in the NBA at 18-45 and have nothing to play for except pride, but in the NBA pride can win you games if your opponent doesn’t show up ready to play.

Lopez has averaged 26.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, a steal and 2.5 blocks against the Raptors this season and Young is averaging 11 points and 8 boards. They can carry this team on any given night.

A potential trap game because it should be a blowout, but as Phoenix, Denver and Minnesota found out recently, these Nets can still put up a ton of points in a hurry if you aren’t ready to defend.

 

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

 

 

 

Raptors Resolve To be Severely Tested After The Break

The 36-17 Toronto Raptors hold down second place in the Eastern Conference, leading the Chicago Bulls by 2.5 games, but you’d hardly know it from the buzz around the NBA and their resolve to hold onto that spot is about to be severely tested. Toronto starts a four-games-in-five-nights series on the road against teams with a combined winning percentage of 66 percent and they kick things off against the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

It might seem strange, but the Raptors could actually be looking forward to the trip.

“I think we do better on the road honestly,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Me and Kyle (Lowry) was talking about that one day. We feel that we are the underdogs again when we are on the road. We just feel that everybody is against us and we thrive off that pressure. It’s just us when we go out there. It’s 15 guys and the coaches against everybody in the arena.”

The Raptors get slagged for building up their record against bad teams and playing in the relatively weak Eastern Conference, but everything isn’t as it appears or maybe those disparaging the team’s record are just lazy?

Toronto, at 14-12, is one of just six teams in the NBA with a winning record against other winning teams. The others being Atlanta (19-7), Chicago (15-11), Golden State (17-7), Memphis (17-11) and Houston (15-14). The Raptors are 8-6 against the six winning teams in the East and 5-5 against the top eight in the West. Toronto has held their own against the best in the NBA this season. They have also been almost as good away (15-8) as at home (21-9) with big road victories over Cleveland, Atlanta, the Clippers, Bucks and Wizards.

This upcoming four game road trip could be described as at another level, however.

Friday in Atlanta against the 43-11 Hawks represents a test of Toronto’s early season dominance of the East’s best team. Toronto holds a 2-1 series advantage and beat the Hawks in Atlanta 126-115 on November 26, but lost the last match in Toronto 110-89. A win in Atlanta now would go a long ways to establishing the Raptors as a Conference Finals contender.

Where Atlanta plays the team game, to beat Houston on Saturday will require the Raptors to somehow, someway slow down the Association’s leading scorer James Harden. The Rockets and Raptors have identical 36-17 records and they both own winning records against other winning teams. This should be a close game.

After a day off, Toronto visits the 27-26 New Orleans Pelicans. Losers of four of their past five games prior to All-Star weekend including three-in-a-row to Chicago, Utah and Indiana, the Pelicans are at risk of sliding even further back into the NBA’s Draft Lottery (which probably isn’t a bad thing). This should be the easiest game of the four (with some trepidation.) Ryan Anderson (sore elbow) and Anthony Davis (sore shoulder) were still as questionable after the break and Jrue Holiday (right leg) is out indefinitely. The Pelicans season is about to go down under the weight of injuries once again.

The Raptors finish off the road trip in Dallas against the 36-20 Mavericks with Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo back in the lineup and newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire expected to come off the bench. Dallas, for all of their firepower (106 points per game), has a losing record against winning teams and is obviously searching for the tweak that will make them a serious threat in the playoffs. It shouldn’t take long to find out if Stoudemire is that tweak.

As long as the Raptors manage a 2-2 split or better, the trailing Bulls, Wizards and Cavs will not be able to catch them during the road trip and an even split would represent a solid result for Toronto. However, of the four teams they are facing, only Atlanta has the better record and in the Raptors two previous sets of four-games-in-five nights, they have collected seven wins to just one loss.

Playing back-to-back games has been a Raptors strength this season. They have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. These next two back-to-back sets are going to severely test that record.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Casey close up Media Day looking downRaptors Coach Casey Reminds Doubters He’s Been Here Before

“I’ve been there before, winning 60 games, winning a championship. I know what it takes. I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but I do and probably a lot of people in here don’t believe it, but I do. I promise you,” Casey said.

 

 

Raptors bench 1 by Paul Saini FYLMMHow Tough Are The Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. In the withering four games in five nights sets, Toronto has seven wins in eight games including the back-to-back overtime wins over the Nets and Wizards on the road last weekend.

 

 

Raptors (17-6) At Knicks (5-20) Preview

The hobbled 17-6 Toronto Raptors head to New York to face a 5-20 Knicks team that finally snapped their 10-game losing streak on Friday night in Boston.

The Raptors have gone 4-3 since DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin strain two weeks ago, but one of those loses one was in overtime and the other two were against the Cavaliers. Toronto has shown no signs of letting bad teams get the better of them and New York is one of this season’s truly bad teams.

The Knicks only recently got Carmelo Anthony back from a sore knee, however, Andrea Bargnani remains sidelined with a calf strain (that seems like that would be the fourth calf strain in 4 years), rookie Cleanthony Early remains out following knee surgery and now the Knicks have to work through missing J.R. Smith (partially torn plantar fascia in left foot) and Iman Shumpert (dislocated left shoulder). Expectations for New York were never very high to begin with, but now they are nonexistent.

The Raptors remain one of the top two scoring teams in the NBA at 108.4 points per game even without DeRozan and New York has shown few signs of being able to stop anyone from scoring. The really bad news for the Knicks is besides Anthony no one else has been a reliable offensive contributor. The Knicks average 94 points per game and play little to no defense. They are full measure for their winning percentage of 20.

Anthony leads the Knicks at 22.8 points per game followed by the Amare Stoudemire (13.5), the injured Smith (10.3), the sophomore Hardaway (9.6) and the injured Shumpert (9.3). There is no easily identified scorer in the Knicks reserves that could replace the scoring of the injured players.

After DeRozan (19.4 points per game) was sidelined, Kyle Lowry stepped up to become the leading scorer (19.7) for Toronto. Lou Williams is averaging 14.4 points off the bench and has had two 26 point games in his last three. Jonas Valanciunas (12), Terrence Ross (11.7) and Amir Johnson (10.1) are regular double-digit contributors, however, the Raptors have three more players coming off the bench that can also put up big numbers on any given night. Toronto isn’t a team opponents can focus on just one or two offensive threats this season.

Provided Toronto doesn’t play down to the level of their opponent and allow the Knicks to set the pace to their preferred slow crawl, the Raptors should easily win this contest in a double-digit blowout.

The big things most fans in Toronto will be watching for – besides former Raptors Jose Calderon and Quincy Acy – will be if Head Coach Dwane Casey activates rookie Bruno Caboclo and gets him some burn during what should be a meaningless fourth quarter.

The only real opponent the Raptors will be facing in New York will be their own complacency. If Toronto plays their game at their pace, the Knicks will only be able to stand around and watch.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Garnett Hibbert Vucevic DrummondRaptors Next Six Games Are Like An Early Christmas Present
On Sunday Toronto travels to New York to face the 4-20 Knicks. On a 10 game losing streak, the Knicks have lost the most games in the Association. Carmelo Anthony has a sore knee and is questionable. J.R. Smith has a sore heel and the Knicks are in a general state of complete disarray.

 

 

 

Raptors And Cavaliers To Battle For Contender Label

After going a perfect 3-0 on a recent road trip, the Cleveland Cavaliers return to Quicken Loans Arena to square off with the Toronto Raptors for the third time in 18 days. This early season rubber match will either solidify the Raptors claim as the best team in the Eastern Conference or signal LeBron James and the Cavs have figured things out and are on their way to the top spot in the East. The Contender label goes to the victor tonight.

Cleveland won the last battle against the Raptors with a 105-91 road victory on December 5th. The Cavs held Toronto to 35-86 (.407) shooting from the field and had a season-high 24 second chance points off of 15 offensive rebounds. The team also had 28 assists and three players finish with a double-double: LeBron James with 24 points and 13 assists, Kevin Love 15 points and 13 rebounds and Tristan Thompson 21 points and 14 rebounds.

However, field goal defense and second chance points were not the reason the Cavaliers turned things around in their second meeting with Toronto. In Cleveland Love had 23 points and 7 boards, James had 15 points and 10 assists and Anderson Varejao had 13 points and 12 assists. The Raptors were held to 40 percent shooting from the field and shot 8-24 from three-point range in both games. The Cavaliers enjoyed a bigger margin in second chance points in their loss than in their win and out-rebounded the Raptors by more as well. They also shot better from the field than Toronto in both games, but the results were completely opposite.

The difference between game one in Cleveland and game two in Toronto was the intensity the Raptors played with at both ends of the court. In Cleveland, Toronto held the Cavs to 43.2 percent shooting and 3-16 from the three-point line versus giving up 48.8 percent and 9-20 from deep in Toronto. In their first meeting the Raptors attacked the Cavs defense and turned Cleveland’s aggressiveness on defense into 42 free throw attempts. Lou Williams scored a career high 36 points because the Cavs put him on the free throw line 15 times. The Raptors are second in the NBA in free throw attempts and with or without DeMar DeRozan, Toronto needs to get to the charity stripe to be successful.

Also, Toronto made up for the Cavaliers far superior rebounding in game one by turning the Cavs over 20 times for 22 points. The Raptors are the second best team in the Association at looking after the ball and make up over 4 points per game on points off turnover differential.

The Raptors keys to victory remain the same. Look after the rock, put pressure on the Cavs to foul jump shooters and turn the ball over and play solid defense.

The Cavaliers need to do what they have been doing in their last two meetings with Toronto, but stay disciplined, look after the ball and reduce the unnecessary fouls.

Both teams need to play their own game without losing focus. The Cavs do look fragile when they become undisciplined and the Raptors will settle for outside jumpers if a team can clog the paint and stay down on jump shooters without leaping a shot fakes.

This early season rubber match could easily set the tone for either team as contenders or pretenders in the Eastern Conference. Get ready for a good one.

These two teams will wrap up their regular season series on March 4 at the Air Canada Centre in what will surely be a must see 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.

 

 

 

Nuggets Look To Rebound In Toronto Vs Raptors

The Denver Nuggets have enjoyed success against the Raptors in the past. Winners of 7 of the last 10 against the Raptors in Toronto, the Nuggets have also won 11 of the last 14 against Toronto in Denver, including each of the last nine going back to 2004-05. They have always played extremely well against Toronto in recent years with an average margin of victory of 13.8 points in 15 wins over the previous 10 seasons. However, injuries and inconsistent play have hit Denver hard lately and they will be looking at past success as a reason they can rebound from recent losses tonight.

Kenneth Faried (back), Randy Foye (torn ligament), JaVale McGee (tiba) and Nate Robinson (back) all missed Sunday’s game in Atlanta and the Nuggets were taken down 96-84 by the Hawks for their third loss in a row dropping their record to 9-11. The Nuggets could be rough shape again in Toronto.

Denver went 1-6 to start the season, recovered with an 8-2 stretch, but have lost badly on the road to the Wizards and Hawks in their last two games.

Prior to his 1-10 shooting performance against Atlanta, point guard Ty Lawson had been off to a great start this season, averaging 15.8 points, a career-high 10.3 assists and 1.53 steals in 36.5 minutes. He has registered 10 double-doubles this season, including seven straight games from 11/23 through 12/5. The Hawks are not winning many games without their star guard performing at a high level, but even a great performance from Lawson probably won’t be enough unless some of their injured players make a very quick return.

Toronto has split their four games since DeMar DeRozan has been out of the lineup with a groin injury, but it really hasn’t been their leading scorer’s offense that the team has missed the most. The Raptors averaged over 120 points per game in their first three contests sans DeRozan, but the team has slipped on defense and that is what Head Coach Dwane Casey was stressing in practice on Sunday. No one seems too worried about Toronto’s ability to score even without DeRozan.

Denver’s historical domination of Toronto has eased in recent years and the Raptors have earned a split with the Nuggets in each of the past three years. Centre Jonas Valanciunas averaged 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games against the Nuggets last season and the Raptors have been playing much better against Western Conference teams in general since last season. Last year Toronto was 16-14 versus the West and this year they are off to a 6-2 start against the supposedly superior conference.

The Raptors are being led by their star point guard Kyle Lowry who has scored 20+ points in each of the last five games (Nov. 28 -Dec. 5). This ties the second longest streak of his career. Lowry reached 20 points in eight straight games Mar. 14-26, 2014. Lowry is tied with Monta Ellis for the league lead in scoring over the last five games averaging 28.4 points. While Lowry has been putting the Raptors on his shoulders at various points during games this season, the Raptors strength comes from their depth. Toronto wins and losses games based on their collective efforts.

The Raptors should be anticipated to bounce-back after a poor overall game against the Cavaliers on Friday and show the defensive effort expected from a Coach Casey-led team.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Can The Cavaliers Get Revenge On The Raptors?

The Toronto Raptors visited Cleveland two weeks ago and laid an embarrassing 110-93 beating on the Cavaliers at The Q, so whether the players will admit it or not, there will be an element of revenge on the Cavs’ minds as they roll into Toronto after sneaking out of New York with a win on Thursday.

The game in Cleveland against the Raptors was worse than the lopsided final score indicates. LeBron James and company had just lost three games in a row and started out like a desperate team by building a 24-6 lead in the opening 7.5 minutes, however, from there Toronto outscored Cleveland 104-69 and the term ‘fragile’ was an excellent descriptor of the Cavs’ effort. James was subbed out with 6:20 left in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers were trailing 97-79 and Kyrie Irving came out two minutes later with Head Coach David Blatt waving the white flag early. There was no fight left in his team long before the game ended.

Both teams anticipate a different kind of contest in Toronto on Friday.

The Raptors have reached the unofficial first quarter mark of the 2014-15 season with a franchise-best 15-4 record. The last time Toronto had a winning record through the first 20 games of a season was 2003-04 when they started 12-8. The frequently lottery-bound Raptors have historically averaged 7.8 wins through their first 20 games.

These are not the lovable losing Raptors of years gone by, however. Head Coach Dwane Casey won Coach-of-the-Month last December after the trade that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento brought a useable bench to Toronto and he has just won the award again to start this season. Casey becomes the first coach in team history to win the award twice. The Raptors were a franchise best 13-4 in October/November this year.

Casey has enjoyed a relatively healthy roster since last season, but when DeMar DeRozan went down with an adductor tendon (groin) injury a week ago, he knew the Raptors would be missing their All-Star for a significant stretch of games. DeRozan will be out at least 4 weeks.

However, Toronto went 2-1 on their just completed three game Western Conference road swing without DeRozan, averaging over 120 points per game. Greivis Vasquez has stepped in as the starting shooting guard and averaged 16 points on 51.3 percent shooting from the field and 5.7 assists. Kyle Lowry scored a career-high 39 points against the Jazz and has averaged 31.7 points and 8.7 assists over the past three games. Scoring hasn’t been much of an issue without DeRozan so far.

In their first game against Cavaliers, it was DeRozan who held James to just 15 points and helped turn the Cavaliers best scorer into a passer, but that happened because Casey didn’t have the option to use James Johnson. On Friday, Johnson will be available and Casey has to be hoping the better defender can do at least as good a job as his All-Star scorer did on James.

The Cavaliers have been a tough team to figure out this season. Chemistry issues were to be anticipated, but the Cavs have been like Jekyll and Hyde. 1-3 to start the season, then a 4 game winning streak followed by a 4 game losing streak and now a new 5 game winning streak. Not that the recent wins over the Bucks and then the Knicks by the smallest of margins has been exactly awe-inspiring.

James did win the most recent Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week award after leading the Cavaliers to a 3-0 week. He averaged 25.7 points, 8.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. This is the second time he has won the award this season and the 47th time James has earned Player-of-the-Week accolades in his career, the most in NBA history. James can and has put the Cavaliers on his back more than once already this season.

Much like the first battle between these two teams, it will be the Raptors superior depth – even without DeRozan – versus the Cavaliers Big Three of James, Irving and Kevin Love. Toronto is 9-2 at home this season and has sold out every game. It will be a tough environment for the Cavaliers to get their revenge in, especially if they are still feeling fragile.

 

Note:

Prior to Friday’s game Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri will honor his hero Nelson Mandela alongside some of the world’s biggest sports icons including Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley among others. On the first anniversary of Mandela’s passing, The Giant of Africa will be an evening-long celebration of the late former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner while supporting the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ujiri’s not-for-profit organization, Giants of Africa.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

TOR_Williams_LouSweet Lou Williams Leads Raptors Demolition Of The Cavaliers

“We knew that team was going to come out of the gate roaring and they did,” said Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “We didn’t give in. We sustained our focus and our defensive disposition and just kept playing and that is what you have to do against a good team.”

 

 

TOR_Lowry_KyleKyle Lowry Steps Up For Raptors In DeRozan’s Absence

Kyle Lowry scored 27 points and handed out 13 assists in the Raptors’ win in Sacramento. It’s the second time in Lowry’s career that he scored at least 27 points and 13 assists in a game. The only other player in Raptors history with two games like that is Damon Stoudemire who did it twice during the 1996-97 season.

 

 

 

Raptors Finish Franchise’s Best Month Ever Against The Lakers

With 13 wins already, the Toronto Raptors will finish off November with the most wins in any month of the franchise’s history. The most Toronto had reached previously was 11 in March 1999, January 2002 and again in January 2014. They will also lose the fewest number of games in the opening month (Oct./Nov.) of a season (6 in 1999.)

The 13-3 Raptors will roll into Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday minus their All-Star DeMar DeRozan who is out indefinitely with a torn left adductor (thigh) tendon. He could be out for several weeks or even longer if surgery is required, but as Kyle Lowry said, “next man up.”

The Lakers are off to a terrible start and currently reside at the bottom of the Western Conference at 3-13. However, they have faced one of the NBA’s toughest schedules to-date and have picked up wins against Charlotte, Atlanta and Houston (yes, that’s all of their wins), so they are likely better than most of the other non-playoff teams in the West.

Future Hall-of-Fame guard Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game, but he’s taking 23.1 field goal attempts which is twice as many as any of his teammates and he’s shooting 38.8 percent from the field. However, the Lakers truly are a collection of parts thrown together at the last minute and they are just as likely to defer to Bryant as he is to try and dominant the offense. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers haven’t shown a lot of team chemistry, but if they find any, this squad would quickly become that much more dangerous.

The first-place Raptors have a three game lead over both Washington and Chicago. They are 4-2 against the top-eight teams in the East with wins against Washington, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Cleveland. Toronto is 2-1 against the top-eight teams in the West with wins against Memphis and Phoenix. They are 7-0 against teams under .500 this season.

Toronto’s backup guards Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez have shot a combined for a 49.2 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe over the last three games while contributing 30.6 points off the bench. Vasquez finally starting to find the form he had with Toronto last season and Williams fitting in like he has never played anywhere else. Their timing couldn’t have been better as these two players will be expected to pick up a lot of the slack during DeRozan’s absence. They are the next men up in Toronto.

The good news for the Raptors is when DeRozan missed three games last season, Toronto went 3-0 and Vasquez led the team in scoring as a starter in one of those games. There is no reason for the team’s confidence to be shaken because of their All-Star’s absence and this year the Raptors are a deeper squad.

The players on these two teams know each other well:

  • Ed Davis was drafted by the Toronto in 2010 and played there until 2013.
  • Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez were teammates in Memphis (2010-11) and New Orleans (2011-13).
  • Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields were teammates on the Knicks (2011-12). Lin played with Patrick Patterson in Houston (2012-13).
  • Jordan Hill and Chuck Hayes were on the Rockets (2009-10 and 2010-11). Hill was teammates with Kyle Lowry and Patterson in Houston (2010-12).
  • Carlos Boozer and James Johnson were teammates in Chicago (2010-11).
  • Nick Young and DeMar DeRozan both attended USC.

The Lakers have split the last two season series with the Raptors 1-1. Toronto has to ignore the records and come ready to play if they hope to get out of L.A. with a win on Sunday.

 

 

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.

 

 

TOR James Johnson Vasquez and WilliamsCan The Toronto Raptors Win Without DeMar DeRozan?

DeMar DeRozan has a torn adductor tendon (thigh), it’ll be a lot longer than just a few games, so how will GM Ujiri react? Can Vasquez, Williams and Johnson fill the gap?

 

 

Raptors Go For Their 10th Home Win In November Vs Dallas

The 13-2 NBA leading Toronto Raptors go for their 10th win at home this season against the 11-5 Dallas Mavericks in the second to last game in November.

It has been an unprecedented month for Toronto as the Raptors on a six-game winning streak have won 11 of their past 12 contests, average the second most points per game in the NBA at 108 and lead the league in points-differential by outscoring opponents by an average of 11.6 points.

The 11-5 Mavericks are the highest scoring team in the Association putting up an impressive 109.3 points on average. However, Dallas comes into Toronto on a bit of a slide after losing in Houston 95-92 minus Dwight Howard, losing to the Pacers 111-100 without Roy Hibbert or David West and barely eking out a win over the woeful Knicks sans Carmelo Anthony 109-102 in overtime.

The Raptors swept the season series with the Mavericks last year and All-Star DeMar DeRozan scored a career high 40 points on January 22. However, this isn’t exactly the same team the Raptors faced in 2013-14. Gone are Vince Carter, Jose Calderon and Shawn Marion and in their place are Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Jameer Nelson, but this team still lives and dies at the hands of future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki and proficient scorer Monta Ellis.

The difference between these two teams likely remains at the defensive end of the court. Head Coach Dwane Casey brought his defensive principles with him from Dallas and the Raptors are a top 10 team in points allowed again this season at 96.4. The Mavericks reside in the middle-of-the-pack defensively permitting their opponents to score 99.8 points per game on average.

The starting lineup for Toronto is anticipated to remain the same as it has been since Rudy Gay was shipped off to Sacramento last December: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Off the bench Eastern Conference Player of the Week Lou Williams hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since he won the award and James Johnson should be over the flu and his sore ankle for tonight’s game. The Raptors bench has been outstanding, scoring 50+ points in three of the last four games.

Nelson, Ellis, Parsons, Nowitzki and Chandler are expected to start for the Mavericks. Reserve Brandan Wright averaged 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1 block and 25.5 minutes in the two games against Toronto last year.

This should be another exciting and high scoring contest at the Air Canada Centre.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

We The North - picToronto Raptors In Unfamiliar Territory

Raptors reach very unfamiliar territory at 13-2, 4-0 vs the West & 4-1 on the road.

More Raptors Franchise Records Could Fall In Atlanta

The Toronto Raptors travel to Atlanta on Wednesday for a rematch with the Hawks after defeating Atlanta 109-102 on opening night at the Air Canada Centre. The 12-2 NBA leading Raptors are 3-1 away from home this season and have rallied from double-digit deficits in each of their last two road contests. Toronto has never started a season 4-1 on the road.

The 7-5 Hawks are 5-1 at home and riding a two-game winning streak after defeating the Pistons 99-89 in Atlanta on Friday and taking down the Wizards in Washington 106-102 on Tuesday night.

In their first meeting, Toronto appeared to be solidly in control all evening and led 98-82 with 6.4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then the Hawks picked up the pace and closed to within 4 points over the next five minutes. The Raptors defense finally stiffened and Toronto won the game on free throws over the last 46 seconds, but not without some anxious moments. Atlanta made 13 three-pointers against the Raptors including 3 during their five minute comeback attempt.

In the Raptors last game against the Suns in Toronto on Monday, it was a fourth quarter barrage of three-pointers by the visitors that eliminated a 17 point Raptors lead and nearly cost Toronto the game. Once again the Raptors defense stiffened in time to win 104-100, but the cracks in their perimeter defense were made apparent once again.

Toronto is, however, on a 5 game winning streak and backup guard Lou Williams was named Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week for games played November 17-24. Williams scored a career-high 36 points on the road in Cleveland on Saturday. Toronto leads the NBA by scoring 11.6 more points per game than their opponents and turning the ball over 5.6 fewer times per game. The Raptors are not beating themselves.

In Atlanta, the Hawks former All-Star center Al Horford is still rounding into form after returning from last season’s injury, but he has shot 70.5 percent from the field over his last 5 games, so there are signs he is shaking off the rust.

2014 All-Star Paul Millsap is the only player in the NBA this year averaging at least 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Millsap has also scored in double-figures in 35 consecutive games dating back to last season, the longest streak of his career.

Kyle Korver is the only player in the NBA shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the line. He has scored double digits in 7 games this season and the Hawks have won the last 5 times he has scored at least 12 points. Korver scored 20 points and shot 6-7 from deep in the Hawks loss to Toronto.

Forward Mike Scott gave the Raptors fits on opening night by stretching the floor and hitting on 4-6 three-point attempts. He is shooting 38 percent from three-point range on the season.

If Toronto can control the pace and guard the three-point line effectively enough, the end result in Atlanta shouldn’t be any different than on opening night.

The Raptors have an opportunity to match the best stretch of wins in team history with a victory. Toronto has won 10 of their last 11 games and is one win shy of a stretch in 2002 when they won 11 of 12 games at the end of the regular season.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

DeRozan Lowry Randolph GasolNBA Dominance Rankings

Who is the top dog in the NBA these days? Pro Bball Report takes the subjective out of ranking NBA teams to determine who has been the most dominant to-date.

 

 

Williams and CousinsRaptors Williams And Kings Cousins Named NBA Players Of The Week

The NBA has announced that the Toronto Raptors Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

 

 

Lou Williams phone interview close upRaptors Lou Williams Impresses Coach Casey With Defense

“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”

 

 

 

10-2 Toronto Raptors Slowly Gaining Respect

We-The-North also means we-the-not-on-ESPN, so it’s been taking a while for the boys in the south to start noticing just how hot the Toronto Raptors have started out this season. In the NBA, superstar players get most of the respect and teams that win without the marquee name players are only grudgingly acknowledged.

However, after dismantling the Wizards 103-84 to open a seven game home stand, beating the Western Conference leading Grizzlies 96-92 and then destroying a 7-5 Bucks team that came into Toronto on a three game winning streak 124-83 to close out their stay in Toronto at 6-1, the 10-2 NBA Eastern Conference leading Raptors are getting hard to ignore.

The Cavaliers Game Day Preview sums up the Raptors season clearly and precisely. Teams are expecting a rough ride from the Raptors.

The Raptors have the best record in the East and are coming off a 6-1 homestand. Part of that is their prowess late in games. On one hand, hey lead the league in double-digit comeback wins; on the other, they’re 7-0 when leading after three quarters. Over the last four games, they’ve restricted foes to an NBA-best 18.8 points in the fourth quarter, holding each below 40 percent from the floor. Like a baseball team going against a hot closer, it might be best to get to the Raptors early.

The Raptors have owned the fourth quarter this season, outscoring their opponents by a league leading 4.7 points over the final frame. What tends to get overlooked is Toronto led the NBA in fourth quarter scoring differential last year as well. For some reason, when the chips are down, the Raptors have been able to come back or put away teams in the fourth quarter ever since that game-changing trade last December.

The LeBron James led Cavaliers haven’t been enjoying early season success. As expected, throwing a All-Star team together with parts that haven’t played together before with a rookie head coach is proving tough to manage. The Cavaliers have the talent to be the class of the East, but like the HEAT of four years ago, it isn’t going to happen easily.

Ohio Fox Sports puts the two teams playing tonight in perspective:

The Toronto Raptors unexpectedly own the best record in the Eastern Conference, while LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ surprise start is more disappointing than anything else. So far, the Raptors look more than capable of taking the Atlantic again, already leading the second-place Nets by five games.

James has struggled at times in his first season back in Cleveland, but he’s been especially subpar over the last three games. He had 31.0 points per game while connecting on 61.3 percent of his field goals to lead Miami to a four-game season series sweep of Toronto in 2013-14.

Therein lays the Cavaliers hope on Saturday night. James has been a Raptors killer over his career and Cleveland isn’t beating any team unless their superstar has a huge night. It will be the Raptors depth and fourth quarter killer instinct against the All-Star laden Cavaliers that still haven’t figured out how to play together.

Bob Finnan of The News Herald, Cleveland Cavaliers Blog sums things up nicely:

It’s hard to say when is the best time to face the Raptors, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Only Memphis (11-2) has a better mark in the entire league. The Raptors have a lot going for them right now: a strong backcourt of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and backup Lou Williams. They also have bigs, including center Jonas Valanciunas. Their roster is deep and talented. Let’s not forget that they are well-coached with Dwane Casey.

Now that’s a lot of respect for a Toronto Raptors team.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Greivis Vasquez laughingHow The Raptors Are Winning The Fourth Quarter Every Night

“We have a deep team,” Greivis Vasquez explained. “We have guys that can do it on any given night. It’s a team effort. We are doing a good job at being focused and just waiting for an opportunity and we are taking advantage of that as a unit, as a team.”

 

 

 

Raptors Pregame Bullets – At HEAT 11-02-14

The 2-0 Toronto Raptors travel to Miami to face the 2-0 HEAT on the back-to-back after defeating the Magic in Orlando the night before. Former Raptors All-Star Chris Bosh is back to his old form on offense and current Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan piled in the points last night ahead of this battle between the old and the new in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Starters

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas

Miami: Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Shawne Williams, Chris Bosh

Injuries

Miami:
Josh McRoberts – toe, played on Saturday
Udonis Haslem – quadriceps, day-to-day
Danny Granger – hamstring, day-to-day

Records:

Miami 2-0, Raptors 2-0. Neither team has been tested so far.

Players to Watch

Former Raptors All-Star Chris Bosh put up 30 against the 76ers on Saturday and he needs to be the go to scorer for the HEAT this year.

Current Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan needs to keep pace with or pass the HEAT’s Dwyane Wade.

Game starts at 6pm ET and should be a good one.

Be sure to catch the Pro Bball Report Postgame Show on Google Hangout or Youtube immediately following the 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.

 

 

 

Vucevic DeRozan Lowry OladipoRaptors At Magic – The Postgame Show With Co-host James Borbath

Raptors Pregame Bullets – At Magic 11-01-14

The Toronto Raptors travel to Orlando for their first road game of the 2014-15 NBA season. Pro Ball Report editor Stephen Brotherston covers what you need to know ahead of tonight’s match-up in five information packed minutes or less.

Raptors (1-0) at Magic (0-2)

Starters

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas

Orlando: Elfrid Payton (R), Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Channing Frye, Nikola Vucevic

Injuries

Orlando: Victor Oladipo facial fracture, Kyle O’Quinn sprained ankle

Toronto: none

Players to watch:

Young centers Jonas Valanciunas and Nikola Vucevic go head-to-head in the post.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Teague Lowry Valanciunas HorfordRaptors Pregame Bullets Podcast – Vs Hawks 10-29-2014

 

 

Raptors Pregame Bullets Podcast – Vs Hawks 10-29-2014

The Atlanta Hawks visit Toronto to open the Raptors 20th NBA season on Wednesday night. The Hawks owing the longest consecutive streak in the postseason among Eastern Conference teams at 7 years and the Atlantic Division winning Raptors hoping to build on last season’s unexpected success.

Pro Ball Report editor Stephen Brotherston provides his pregame comments about the Raptors home opener.

 

 

Expected Starters

Atlanta: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas

Injuries

Atlanta: Al Horford, expected to play after only 2 preseason games may not be back to his usual All-Star form yet.

Toronto: none

Last season

Atlanta: 38-44, but played at a 45-win pace with Horford in the lineup.

Toronto: 48-34, but played at a 54-win pace post Rudy Gay trade.

Preseason

Atlanta: 4-3, 101.1 ppg for, 99 ppg given up

Toronto: 7-1, 97.3 ppg for, 92 ppg given up

Notes

Both teams returning all five starters from last year.

Lou Williams was traded by the Hawks to the Raptors this summer and will be a key player off the bench for Toronto.

Raptors Head coach Dwane Casey is now the longest serving head coach in the Atlantic Division.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Season Preview Event screen by MoVernieToronto Raptors Season Preview Party Makes A Big Impression

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knicks At Raptors In Montreal – The Final Test

Pro Bball Report Editor Stephen Brotherston discusses what to expect when the New York Knicks travel to Montreal to face the Toronto Raptors in each team’s final test of the preseason on Friday night.

 

 

Both teams open the 2014-15 regular season schedule at home on Wednesday.

 

 

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.

 

 

Calderon Bargnani Acy Former Raptors Acy, Bargnani, Calderon Now With Knicks

Raptors at Knicks preseason game in New York.  The Knicks now feature three former Raptors from just two seasons ago in Quincy Acy, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

 

 

Former Raptors Acy, Bargnani, Calderon Now With Knicks

Toronto fans are likely very disappointed by NBA TV Canada’s strange decision not to air the Raptors at Knicks preseason game in New York as the Knicks now feature three former Raptors from just two seasons ago in Quincy Acy, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Acy was a rookie in 2012-13 and the Raptors traded him to the Kings with Rudy Gay last season, but the young power forward was very popular in Toronto because of his heart and hustle. Acy remains a crowd favorite in his return visits.

Bargnani was the team’s controversial first overall draft pick in 2006 and was unfortunately promoted as the face of the franchise after All-Star Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach to join LeBron James. A talented big man with limited defensive and rebounding skills, Bargnani looked to be breaking out as an offensive force until injury after injury grounded him and Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was surprisingly able to off-load him on the Knicks last season. Bargnani isn’t expected to play again until after the regular season starts because – well – he’s injured again, this time with a serious hamstring strain. Toronto fans like to be reminded that his injury woes are now the Knicks problem.

Love him or hate him, Calderon was a very effective floor general for the Raptors who nailed down a number of franchise records over his 6.5 seasons in Toronto. A step slow on defense, but a great facilitator and team-first player, no one can doubt Calderon always gave his best effort on the court.

Calderon was the key to the trade that brought Rudy Gay to Toronto, so indirectly his trade brought in the players that Toronto rode to last year’s record setting season. The longer he’s been away, the quieter his detractors’ voices have grown. Calderon is an easy player to like as long as you are not relying on him to be a star as he is genuinely a nice person.

Unfortunately, Toronto fans will not be watching tonight’s game on TV .

The Knicks retained one of the best pure scorers in the game when Carmelo Anthony re-signed this summer. Calderon is an upgrade at point guard over Raymond Felton, however, the team swapped Samuel Dalembert for Tyson Chandler, so it’s very hard to see how this team will be significantly better than the group that won 37 games last season.

Installing a rookie Head Coach in Derek Fisher and a new offensive scheme courtesy of Phil Jackson’s influence suggests this will be a transition year as the Knicks await some $54 million or thereabouts of payroll to come off the books at the end of the season. The Knicks will also have their own first round draft pick in 2015 – was that a tanking sound in the background?

Toronto has their entire starting lineup back after a franchise record setting 48 win season, so the Raptors are on a different path than New York this year. However, that does nothing to reduce the interest in this game or watching the former Raptors players now with the Knicks.

Happy streaming.

 

 

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.

 

 

Bosh and AnthonyRanking The Middle Of The NBA Eastern Conference Pack

The HEAT, Hawks, Pistons, Nets and Knicks will all be fighting it out for playoff spots in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack.

 

 

Lucas Nogueira head shot closeupLucas Nogueira Is Not Quite Ready To Play For The Raptors

“I am feeling very good, better than two or three weeks ago, but I am not ready yet,” said Lucas Nogueira.

 

 

Kings Nik Stauskas Plays Raptors In Vancouver Sunday Night

Canadians Nik Stauskas and Sim Bhullar will play their first preseason games as rookies with the Sacramento Kings at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Canada on Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors.

Stauskas was drafted eighth overall by the Kings in June and comes into the NBA with a reputation as a dead-eye shooter from day one. At Summer League, Stauskas fired up 7.6 three-pointers per game and hit on 47.8 percent of them making him a player to watch.

The Kings stars DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay return, but the team let their 20 point per game point guard Isaiah Thomas go to the Suns in a sign and trade. This season it will be the veterans Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions guiding the club on the court and it’s possible the league will see a more disciplined team as a result.

Another King to keep a close watch on is sophomore Ben McLemore. The jump out of the gym wing had the typical rookie season in terms of playing time and results. The 2013 seventh overall draft pick needs to find his comfort zone and his shooting stroke. Tons of potential, McLemore will be competing with Stauskas for minutes and it’s hard to imagine how two players’ styles of play could be any more different.

The Raptors bring back 10 players from last season including the entire starting lineup. Newcomers Lou Williams and James Johnson are expected to feature prominently in the rotation once the regular season starts and these games offer them a chance to build some chemistry, but they won’t be the most interesting Raptors to watch in preseason.

The just turned 19-years-old Bruno Caboclo was a surprise 20th pick in the draft, however, at Summer League he looked like the typical NBA rookie and that’s a good thing. Athleticism, length and a decent shooting touch make him the Raptor to watch. How much has Caboclo progressed since we last saw him in July?

Greg Stiemsma likely has the 15th spot on the roster sewn up, but Will Cherry and Jordan Hamilton are there to push him. How much playing time the 15th, 16th and 17th guys President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri signed for the Raptors training camp roster get in these preseason games is a pretty good indication of which guy sticks around.

Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira played center in the top Spanish league for the past two seasons and has the height, length and athleticism to be a shot swatting phenom – that’s if the rookie can adjust. Bebe is the kind of defensive center that has both Ujiri and Head Coach Dwane Casey’s attention and we might get some kind of indication about how ready he is to play at the NBA level during preseason.

The Kings also feature Canadian of Indian descent Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is a monster 7’5, but has struggled with his conditioning and may not be ready for the NBA just yet. He has a training camp invite because – well – he truly is a monster and you can’t teach that kind of size. If his conditioning has improved over the summer, Bhullar could be a nice surprise.

 

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.

 

 

Dino BloggerWatch the Pro Bball Report Kings at Raptors Postgame Show immediately following the game.