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NBA San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference went through a season in 2015-2016 where they had one team break the all-time wins record with 73. Another team won 67 games and two more teams had over 50, but none of those teams brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy. So with the defending conference champion Golden State Warriors adding some guy named Kevin Durant. Can anyone in the West keep up with them?

1. Golden State Warriors

Key Additions- Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia and David West
Key Losses- Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut

Outlook – Let’s be honest here, the Warriors could have re-signed everyone and still would have been in this spot. They won 73 games and finished one game short of winning their 2nd consecutive championship. So what do they do? They go out and add one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant to a team that has the 2 time MVP in Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The real question is, can they find the same type of chemistry on this roster that they had last year?

2. San Antonio Spurs

Key Addition: Pau Gasol
Key Losses: Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw

Outlook – Well it had to happen eventually, Tim Duncan retired this summer after a stellar career in San Antonio. I’m not going to take up this entire space by talking about his career, but even though he didn’t have his best season ever, you have to mention how big of a loss it will be. Not to mention they lost Boris Diaw’s versatility as well. So how does R.C Buford and the front office fix that problem? You go out and sign future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to replace Timmy. Problem solved, now can Golden State stop the best frontline in the NBA in Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kwahi Leonard? One can only hope that we get this matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

Outlook – The Clippers get this spot by default. Oklahoma City lost Durant and no one else in the West behind them made a splash to pass them for this spot. They made some questionable contract choices (Austin Rivers), but they brought back Jamal Crawford and brought in guys like Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights for depth. The real question is with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being potential free agents next summer, can they make a deal for one of them and still remain a top player in the West? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions in Los Angeles.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions- Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner
Key Loss- Gerald Henderson

Outlook – Portland did a lot of re-signing of their main core guys like C.J.McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to extensions over the last few weeks. Then they brought in swingman Evan Turner and big man Festus Ezeli to a team that has Damian Lillard leading the way. Portland surprised a lot of people last year (Including this writer right here) and made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will not be surprising this year, but one can only wonder if can they be even better than they were last year? Head coach Terry Stotts will have this team at peak form come playoff time.

5. Utah Jazz

Key Additions- George Hill and Joe Johnson
Key Loss- Trevor Booker

Outlook – Yes, finally, the Jazz will make it back into the playoffs and this time they are dangerous. Joe Johnson provides a late game closer to go along with Gordon Hayward. Veteran point guard George Hill, allows Dante Exum to ease back into the NBA after missing last year with an ACL injury. The Jazz have so much young talent on this team and a top 7 Head Coach in Quinn Snyder, this is the year that all of the stars align in Utah. I didn’t even mention yet that they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Key Addition- Chandler Parsons
Key Losses- Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson

Outlook – The big story in Memphis was the re-signing of Conley to the richest contract in the league’s history. The number is still mind-blowing at this point, but now it’s time for him to earn it. Last season it seemed like every key player in Memphis was hurt as some point. They are finally healthy, All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley and newly added Chandler Parsons will help new Head Coach David Fizdale ease his transition to the main spot in Beale Street. Gone are the days of Grit and Grind in Memphis, but this team won’t be an easy out come playoff time.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions- Victor Oladipo and Ersan Illysova
Key Losses- Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye

Outlook – As much as I don’t want to put them here, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook (For Now). As long as he’s still in Oklahoma, the Thunder are a playoff team. Westbrook should have an MVP season and if you think 18 triple doubles were something, wait until this year. Now they have some BIG questions: Can Steven Adams can continue the play from his playoff run last year? Can Victor Oladipo be the 2nd scoring option and be light years better than Dion Waiters? Most importantly, can Enes Kanter live up to the contract that he signed last season? If the Thunder can answer yes to all of these questions, then they will be back in the Playoffs. If they can’t, the Russell Westbrook trade rumors will be at the highest level possible.

8. Houston Rockets

Key Additions- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene
Key Losses- Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones

Outlook – Well this should be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. New Head coach Mike D’Antoni has the perfect superstar to be the focal point of his team in James Harden. This team is loaded with shooters and athletic guys. The reason why the Rockets can’t be a contender is because Harden isn’t the best and most willing defender in the NBA and that could be a serious problems on that side of the ball. But the Good News is that Clint Capella will be in the top 10 in rebounding this season and with Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets will lead the NBA in 3 pointers made as a team.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Key Additions- Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Key Losses- Chandler Parsons, David Lee and Zaza Pachulia

Outlook – Mark Cuban strikes out again this summer on attracting a major free agent to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but he took Harrison Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can live up to his potential, the Mavericks could be on to something special. But what should scare Mavericks fans is that Barnes did go missing for major stretches over the past 2 seasons. But now that he doesn’t have to be in most cases a 4th option on offense, this could be the year the “Black Falcon” can finally soar. This will be the team that gets in the playoffs if Oklahoma City decides to trade Westbrook or if Houston can’t outscore teams or any of the previous teams on the list has a major injury. It would be nice to have Dirk have one more deep playoff run.

10. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions- None
Key Losses- D.J. Augustin

Outlook- Denver really didn’t do anything this summer besides re-signing Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller and drafting combo Guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Draft. The Nuggets are one of those teams that when you look at the roster, you see a lot of solid NBA players, but there isn’t one of them currently that screams out superstar. That’s why the Nuggets can’t break into the playoff list as of now. Now if they send a few of those solid pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and one of the 3 big men they have) for a player like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, then we can talk about meaningful games in April and May.

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Addtions- Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich
Key Losses- Tayshaun Prince

Outlook – This is the most exciting team in the NBA, point-blank. Not Golden State, not Houston and not even Cleveland. Minnesota is the place if you need to watch only one team all of next season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the franchise building blocks and rookie Kris Dunn could make the Wolves become the 1st team in the NBA’s history to have 3 consecutive Rookie Of The Year winners. No team has a better core under the age of 25 (Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Dunn, Ricky Rubio and Georgi Dieng), than Minnesota. But that is also the reason why I can’t put them in the playoffs just yet. Even though Tom Thibodeau is the brand new head coach and he’s the best defensive coach in the league, it’s going to take one more year before these Pups become Wolves and cause serious damage in the NBA.

12. Sacramento Kings

Key Additions- Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes
Key Losses- Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Acy

Outlook – The good news is that the Kings have one of the Top 6 players in the entire league in DeMarcus Cousins and he looks slimmer and in great shape playing for Team USA. After that, there isn’t much good news. The bad news is that there isn’t much around Cousins in Sacramento. Rumors are that Rudy Gay wants out and the only solid player they have returning is Darren Collison. They didn’t help themselves in the Draft and Kings fans are still waiting on Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore to finally live up to their potential. Adding Afflalo and Barnes will provide veteran help and fill the shooting guard and small forward spots, but without a direction for this roster, new coach Dave Joerger will be in for a long year.

13. Phoenix Suns

Key Additions- Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley
Key Losses- Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic

Outlook – Phoenix has a bunch of players at the same positions and it’s going to be interesting to watch Head coach Earl Watson try to put it all together. They ended up with two top 8 picks in the NBA Draft, but they drafted two guys that play the same position in Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss. Then they drafted Tyler Ulis making the Suns the only team in the NBA with five or more backcourt players from the same college (Kentucky). They have breakout superstar candidates in Devin Booker and Alex Len as the building blocks of a very good team. Now if they could move either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight to get that wing player they need, could they jump back into the playoffs? Knight and T.J Warren for Rudy Gay sounds really nice doesn’t it?

14. New Orleans Pelicans

Key Additions- Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill and E’Twan Moore
Key Losses- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and James Ennis

Outlook- Normally I would say that a team has an idea and an identity of how they are going be shaped and I don’t really know what the Pelicans are doing? They lost sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston and replaced them with Hill, Galloway and Moore for about the same amount of money. I’m not sure if that is considered an upgrade or even a swap of similar talent. From the looks of things, unless Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield can put up All-Star numbers, whatever superstar Anthony Davis does will be for nothing. This could be the worst team in the Western Conference, but Davis alone puts them one spot up from the bottom.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Additions- Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov
Key Losses- Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert

Outlook – The Lakers are going to be better than last year which is a good thing. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson form a solid 1-2 punch in the backcourt and Julius Randle was a double-double machine last year. They drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and he has all the makings of a franchise player in the next season or two. Now they went out and overspent on Mozgov in hopes that he will return to the 2015 playoff form that he had with the Cavaliers. They are adding pieces and at least they aren’t Brooklyn Nets bad. The good news is the young talent will have a great teacher in new Head coach Luke Walton. Now if they can just not give away all their pieces for Russell Westbrook, then the future will be bright in the City of Angels, but it’s going to take some time.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

In the Western Conference this year we all know what the Golden State Warriors have done with their signing of Kevin Durant to the already dangerous team they had in place. But the real question is who is after them in the best starting 5’s list? Well here are my opinions

1. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

Reason – Is there a real reason why they wouldn’t be number 1? I’m going to give one reason why, 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league are in this starting 5.

2. San Antonio Spurs – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol

Reason – They lost a lot of defense at the center spot with Tim Duncan retiring, but insert one of the most skilled big men in the league’s history in Gasol. Add him to Aldridge, arguably one of the best two way players in Leonard, the sharp-shooting Green plus the always dangerous Tony Parker and the Spurs are right back in business.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan

Reason – The number 2 spot was all theirs until the Spurs signed Gasol. Jordan established himself as one of the best in the league last season (1st team All-NBA selection) and his ceiling continues to grow. Paul and Griffin are in contract years, so you already know what kind of years their going to have. Redick has always been so consistent. Now if this team can add a replacement for Johnson, then they could be a serious challenger to be the best unit in the entire NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

Reason – Parsons brings a very athletic wing to go along with the same 4 guys that have been in Memphis for it seems like forever. He brings a lot of what Rudy Gay would have provided when he was in Memphis. The real question is, can he stay healthy? Two major injuries in the last 2 seasons puts up a serious red flag. Otherwise Memphis hit a home run in the offseason. This unit is really dangerous.

5. Utah Jazz – George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

Reason – Utah is my pick to be the biggest sleeper in the entire league. Johnson adds another solid shooter and closer to this group. Hill will provide a steady and solid starting point guard until Dante Exum is ready to take the job over and Hayward just fills stats sheets. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have the potential to be the best power forward-center combination not named Blake and DeAndre in the Western Conference.

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee

Reason – Portland adds Evan Turner’s all-around skill which should allow Lillard and McCollum to have more freedom to play off the ball. Aminu quietly had a solid season and if Plumlee can continue his play that he showed in the playoffs (7.0 ppg 11.8 reb and 4.8 ast) then this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Houston Rockets – Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela

Reason – This is a typical Mike D’Antoni lineup. Harden, Ariza and Anderson will let it fly from arc, Capela will grab all of the rebounds and Beverley will just be solid but not spectacular. Mind you this isn’t D’Antoni’s Phoenix style 7 seconds or less, but they could score just as many points as them. Look for Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to fight for the scoring title.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Illyasova and Steven Adams

Reason – If it was my choice Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter would be in the starting lineup, but with not having enough quality talent on the bench, you have to spread the wealth. Westbrook with this lineup could still surpass the 18 triple-doubles that he had last season. Adams is turning into a very good center and Roberson has shown signs of improvement each season he’s been in the league. Illyasova and Singler both bring solid outside shooting to this group.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns

Reason – We all know how special Towns and Wiggins are in the present and in the future. They are going to be dynamic and spectacular. As far as the other 3 guys in the lineup, that remains to be decided. Ricky Rubio has outstanding court vision but he can’t hit a jumpshot. Zach LaVine is talented, but can he play shooting guard? Dieng is a solid interior defender and matches well with Towns, but can he develop an offensive game to match? But we can all agree that this is the team everyone will be watching on NBA League Pass this year.

10. Dallas Mavericks – Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut

Reason – In the game of Father Time vs. All-Time great, Dirk is starting to lose the battle. This could be his last year being a franchise player. Now the real question is can Wesley Matthews regain his 2014-2015 season form in time to help out Dirk. Deron Williams days as being a top level Point Guard are over with and Andrew Bogut has to stay healthy. The big signing of Harrison Barnes leaves one to hope that he lives up to the contract.

11. Denver Nuggets – Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic

Reason – Solid group of 5. Nothing spectacular and each of them knows their roles and play them very well. Mudiay has the chance to really standout especially if he cuts down on the turnovers. This could be the year in which Gallinari breaks the 20 point per game club.

12. Sacramento Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins

Reason – Cousins is so talented but hopefully that new coach Dave Jorger will get the best out of him and the rest of this group. McLemore needs to find the tools that made him at lottery pick a short time ago. Collison is very underrated at the point guard spot.

13. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler

Reason – So many guys not playing should be the real story. Honestly, this lineup might not make it out of November because Devin Booker is ready to breakout and be a star. With Knight and Bledsoe on the roster it’s going to be a real problem getting him minutes right away. Both rookies (Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss) aren’t ready to be starters, so Alex Len has to play out of position for the time being.

14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik

Reason – The only reason why this unit isn’t last is because Anthony Davis is one of the top 5 players in the entire league. Ideally, Buddy Hield will join this group and move Evans and Hill into the frontcourt with Davis at Center. New Orleans better find a center quick because Asik is the worst starting center in the entire league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov

Reason – Well, it was a hard decision between spots 12-15 but someone had to be in this place. Russell, Clarkson and Randle will be solid players in this league but Deng is a bit older and is the perfect placeholder until Brandon Ingram explodes on the scene in L.A. But Mozgov better return to form to bring this unit out of last place.

 

 

Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 



 

NBA Indiana pacers Boston Celtics Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner

NBA Free Agency Deals – They Must Be Mad List

Salaries of NBA players in free agency were going to go up this summer. We knew this. The Salary Cap rose by over $20 million, so teams had more money to spend and the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners splits revenues about 50/50.

Most of the deals agreed to only look expensive when compared to past seasons, so don’t get your shorts in a knot over most of those big contracts being handed out, that’s just the new reality. They’ll be even bigger next summer.

However, that doesn’t mean every deal made was a good deal. This summer is no different than past summers in that respect. Some teams just can’t stop themselves.

New deals on the “What were they thinking – they must be mad” list include:

Los Angeles Lakers
Luol Deng 4-years $72 million
Timofey Mozgov 4-years $64 million
Jordan Clarkson 4-years $50 million

The Lakers headed into free agency suggesting they’d be prudent and cautious, then Mitch Kupchak lost his mind. So much for protecting salary cap space for next year’s really impressive crop of big name free agents.

Luol Deng at 31-years-old is in obvious decline. He’ll give you what he’s got and he’ll be a good veteran, but at $18 million per season …. really?

Do the Lakers know Timofey Mosgov is a career 6.9 point 5 rebound center?

The Jordan Clarkson deal is steep, but it’s for your own young player putting up good stats on a bad team, so you have to hope the GM knows what he’s doing in this case. (Not feeling all that confident right about now.)

Utah Jazz Joe Johnson 2-years $22 million

The 35-year-old Johnson’s stats have been in steady decline for 4 straight seasons – even taking that slightly better 24 game stint in Miami into account. He’s probably a nice steadying influence on a young team, but get used to the 40 percent shooting he was putting up for the Nets as that’s his reality and it’ll continue to get worse.

New Orleans Pelicans Solomon Hill 4-years $48 million

Hill averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds with the Pacers last season and the only saving grace to this contract is Hill’s age. Hopefully he’ll get better – a lot better.

Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner 4-years $75 million

So the list of top flight free agents wasn’t all that long this year, but that’s no reason to spend $19 million per season on a 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist guard like Evan Turner. This veteran will help Portland, he’s not a bad player or an unknown quantity, but he’s not a front line starter either and he’s getting paid like one.

Orlando Magic D.J. Augustin 4-years $29 million

$7 million per season isn’t big money under the new salary cap, but it’s money that should still get you a solid rotation player – a sure thing and D.J. Augustin is anything but a sure thing. Augustin’s impact on NBA rosters has been up and down like a toilet seat. Solid in Charlotte, awful in Indiana, nice in Chicago, Toronto cut him, okay in OKC, nice in Denver, couldn’t shoot again in his second stint in OKC. The Magic had better hope he’s a fit in Orlando because he’s theirs for the next 4 years.

The Tempting to Dump On Them List

New York Knicks Joakim Noah 4-years $72 million

If Joakim Noah is physically okay, no one will be laughing at the Knicks for this deal. If they got it wrong again? Everyone will be – “I told you so!”

Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore 4-years $70 million

$17.5 million per season just seems like a lot for a solid “3-and-D” wing who’s just okay at shooting the long ball and his three-point shooting percentages have been dipping in each of the past two seasons. Is betting on a 27-year-old to take their game up another notch reasonable?

Memphis Grizzlies Chandler Parsons 4-years $95 million

The Mavericks felt a little burned after giving Parsons a max deal to steal him away from Houston two years ago. Will The Grizzlies feel the same way two years from now?

Conley, DeRozan, Drummond, Beal, Batum, Whiteside, and Fournier grab headlines because of the massive size of their pending new contracts, but these players were always going to get paid based on what the CBA permitted. The numbers are big, but no one should have been surprised.

If your team didn’t make a list, don’t worry. It’s still early in the process. However, the longer things go, the more likely any deal that gets signed will look like a good deal – for the 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.

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

 

 

 


 

NBA Memphis Grizzlies Vince Carter

Grizzlies Vince Carter Comes Full Circle In Toronto

By Frank McLean

He is arguably the best player in the 21-year history of the Toronto Raptors. He is as Chuck Swirsky named him “Air Canada” half man half amazing. He is Vince Carter.

Carter made his annual appearance at the Air Canada Center Sunday night with his Memphis Grizzlies in a 98-85 loss to the Raptors, but sitting in press row and watching a 39-year-old 17-year veteran play the amazing thing you see is he still has something left in the tank.

He led the Grizzlies in the first half with 13 points and finished with a season high 16 points so yah he still can make a contribution to an NBA roster.

As regular readers of this site know I have covered the Raptors since day one and what I still can’t get over is that it’s been 17-years since he broke into the league during a lockout shortened 1998-1999 season.

When you check out the Raptors record book after all these years, Carter is still their all-time leader in points per game (23.4), player efficiency rating (21.8) value over replacement player (22.9) and winning percentage (.498).

He was this franchise’s marquee player and he made the Raptors known in the rest of the NBA and I mean in the United States where they didn’t pay attention to the two Canadian expansion teams from 1995, the Raptors and the then Vancouver Grizzlies.

It was a Sunday afternoon home game on February 27th 2000 that the “Air Canada” persona took place and the Raptors became known in the States.

Carter scored his personal best and still Raptors record 51 points against the Phoenix Suns in a 103-102 win. NBC was in town that day with Tom Hammond and Bill Walton describing the feat in front of a national television audience in the US of A.

The amazing win in the slam dunk competition a year later was an exclamation point, but what those two events did was make the fledgling Raptors franchise known and that’s what he will always be remembered for.

When I found Carter in the locker room Sunday night, I saw a smiling 39-year-old who was just happy to still be playing the game he loves and still healthy enough to average 14 minutes a night.

He admits it takes him a little longer to get ready for a game than it did 17 years ago.

“Yah I spend a little more time with trainers before the game than I did before,” he said laughing.

But how long will he continue playing?

“I just go year by year and listen to the body. Every now and then I’ll think about it. When I do know (it’s time), how do I approach that? It’s just tough accepting it because I enjoy playing still. I think when I don’t enjoy playing I will definitely let it be known.”

He has become the elder statesman on the team and 17 years of service time in the NBA will give you that status.

Carter speaks highly of how Charles Oakley took him under his wing when he came into the NBA and made him a pro both on the court and off the court. Just like Crash Davis did for Nuke LaRoosh in the movie Bull Durham.

When you talk to Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger he will tell you how much Carter has helped with the younger players on the squad.

“He’s always leader and always pulling guys off to the side to talk to guys,” Joerger said. “Whatever people might say about the new guys we have, you know what, Vince Carter is right over there in their ears. It’s all ‘Hey, here’s what we are trying to do on this’ or ‘You know what? Come with me to the airport’ or whatever it is. He’s a total pro on and off the court and all he cares about is the game and doing whatever he can to help.”

“When the coach comes in, new coach or whatever the case may be, and he’s trying to explain the offensive philosophies or whatever, you can only tell them so much,” Carter said. “Players are able to interact with other players and are able to say ‘Oh this is like what you ran with a certain team’ and (then) it makes more sense.”

There is one other thing that brings a smile to Carter’s face is when you mention that young Canadian kids, especially those who are now in the NBA, chose basketball over other sports like hockey because they watched him and Oakley and Tracy McGrady. He made basketball big in hockey-crazed Canada.

One of those kids is Raptors Cory Joseph who talked about playing against his idol after Sunday’s game.

“Watching him, Air Canada, I was in a lot of situations where I was out in the driveway doing things that he was doing back then,” Joseph said. “It’s obviously a great moment for me, being able to play against him now to see how far I’ve come. It’s great that he’s still here. It was definitely a special moment.”

As you can see Carter has evolved as a player and a person. We didn’t talk about how his ugly departure from the Raptors occurred because well that has been rehashed to death by the media every time he has come to town.

The fans have largely forgiven him. The standing ovation they gave him last year when he came to town when the team gave him that video tribute for their 20th anniversary brought him to tears.

Statistically, Carter is still the best player the Raptors have ever had, but that should change in the next few years as DeMar DeRozan slowly moves up the standings in the record book. More importantly, however, is Carter has grown comfortably in his own skin and has morphed into one of the NBA’s respected elder statesmen.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Rondo Mozgov Green

Celtics And Cavs Have Set The Market For Impact Players

Throw out all of your preseason expectations for this NBA season, no one in the Eastern or Western Conferences should be feeling all that comfortable about making it to the Finals this year.

The result has been a very good market for players that could – stress could – have an impact on the final standings and provide a team the edge once the postseason rolls around. Highly coveted first round draft picks are becoming the grease that moves deals along to completion. The future is now once again.

In the East, it was supposed to be the Cavaliers (currently in 5th place) fighting it out with the Bulls (currently in 4th place) for the right to represent their conference and all the hype streaming from NBATV and ESPN doesn’t change the fact that three other teams just might be better.

The Cavaliers weren’t shy about using their future-oriented assets this summer to create a roster that could compete for a title and with mediocre results through +30 games, they pulled the trigger hard again in January.

It’s a tough sale to believe J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert make the Cavs significantly better than Dion Waiters, but the Thunder greased this deal with a 1st round draft pick to make stage two of the Cavaliers plans happen.

The Cavs then – talk about greasing a deal – sent two 1st round draft picks to Denver for center Timofey Mosgov. Sure Cleveland was badly in need of a true 7′ center, but when did a career 6.4 point 4.9 rebound backup suddenly become worth two first round draft picks? At least the Cavs have a reasonable team option on Mozgov’s services for next season.

The real panic this season started out West when the Grizzlies and the Warriors started out hotter than hot and left teams like the Clippers, Mavericks and injury-hit Thunder and Spurs in their dust. The dust has begun to settle, but Celtics took advantage of some desperation in Dallas to start setting the in-season market for players high in mid-December.

It was hard to see how Rajon Rondo and his expiring $12.9 million contract fit into the very young Celtics plans – he didn’t, but President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge wasn’t about to part with his former All-Star without adding to his very deep collection of young players and 1st round draft picks. Dallas complied.

Ainge got everything he could have hoped for in return for a player he could have lost for nothing in July. Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick.

Ainge then flipped Wright and his expiring deal for another 1st round pick to the Suns.

Rondo is a legit starting point guard and could become an All-Star again if he stays healthy, but this could end up as a rental for Dallas – that was a steep price. Similarly, the Suns gave up a lot for a backup forward/center that could walk away in July.

Ainge is once again taking advantage of the opportunities and desperation in the Western Conference with a pending deal to send Jeff Green to Memphis that will net him yet another 1st round draft pick. If the deal goes down as described By Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Ainge will pick up a 2nd round draft pick as well by flipping trade ballast Austin Rivers to the Clippers.

Green has a player option for next season and could walk away as a free agent in July.  The steep price for rent-a-players remains high.

It has become a scary trade market for teams hoping to bolster their rosters for a postseason run. Potential impact players on expiring deals are commanding 1st round draft picks or more. This will have set the price high for other players that could be available on non-playoff bound teams and actually encourage general managers to test waters they might not have previously thought were worth dipping a toe into.

Orlando, Denver, Lakers, Minnesota and other teams are sitting on assets that could have a significant impact on their team’s future. Plus there are five teams in the East and up to 10 teams in the West that could be looking hard to find the deal that could take their team to the next level. This NBA trade season is shaping up to be exciting and expensive.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

MEM_Conley_Mike

Is The Grizzlies Mike Conley Still Being Underrated?

Mike Conley was the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NBA draft, so the Grizzlies and their fans had high expectations for the point guard out of Ohio State. However, Memphis got the fourth overall draft pick by winning just 22 games in 2006-07 and when they won just 22 games in Conley’s rookie season and only 24 the next year, there were rumblings that Conley wasn’t the savior they needed to lead the team. All that seems like a very long time ago now, but with the Grizzlies success over the past four years and this season’s unbelievable hot start, is Conley still being underrated even now?

 

 

“I always joke and say one day I’ll be rated and whenever that day is I’ll be a happy man,” Conley said. “I just do what’s right for the team and try to win and let everybody else talk after that.”

Maybe it’s the mid-teens scoring and steady 6 assists a game that throws the casual fan and the highlight reel conscious TV analysts off the trail, but the Grizzlies are more than a ‘Big Two’ of the 2012 All-Star and 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and two-time All-Star Zach Randolph. Conley has lead his team in assists every year since his rookie season and he has been no worse than the Grizzlies third best scorer in each of the last four years. When people bother to stop and take a look at his game, Conley is one of the better defensive guards in the Association on one of the best defensive teams as well.

It didn’t happen overnight, Conley has worked hard on his craft and continues to bring something new back after the summer even into his eighth NBA season. This year Conley has been averaging 44.9 percent on 3.3 three-point attempts per game and that’s up from 36.1 percent last year.

“I work on my complete game every year,” Conley said. “My first few years in the league I tried to bring back something new to my game every season and as I got better and better, the more (my) confidence grew and the more I believed in myself that I could do pretty much anything. So every summer I go out there and say I can’t get worse, I got to get better at whatever it may be and I go to work every summer.”

Some of what has been working for Conley and the Grizzlies is continuity. Their ‘Big Three’ of Conley, Gasol and Randolph has been together since the 2008-09 season, so the connections are strong and the style of play has been consistent for a long time now. This summer Randolph even took the unusual step of taking his team option for this season and signing a two-year extension instead of becoming a free agent next July.

“Our continuity on and off the court is better than most teams,” Conley said. “You don’t see families the way we are. It’s a real family atmosphere around here. We have guys that have been through everything together and we have lost a bunch of games together and we’ve won a bunch of games. We’ve learned how to be successful in this league together and that’s something that not a lot of players get the opportunity to be a part of and we don’t take it for granted. We go out there and play for one-another and try to win.”

The Grizzlies’ defensive style of play, lack of flash and grind-it-out in under-100 points per game doesn’t make it easy for individual players to get noticed, so Conley might just have to live with being underrated in some quarters. He doesn’t have to worry about being underrated by his opponents though, anyone playing against Conley on the court knows and respects his 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.

 

 

 

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014Vince Carter To Be Honored By Raptors‬

As part of the Toronto Raptors 20th Anniversary Season celebrations, the team will honor former All-Star and one-time franchise player Vince Carter after the first quarter of the game between the Raptors and Grizzlies.

 

 

 

Harden and Lillard

Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

The West remains a tough place to be an okay team with flaws heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and a supposedly good team is likely to be on the outside looking in again this year.

The biggest impact will come from teams that missed the playoffs last year getting better and winning more games. Unless some significant upgrades have been made over the summer, most of playoff teams in the West will win fewer games and at least a couple of them are going to be severely disappointed.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
 

Ranking The Middle

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Projected 50-32, last season 54-28
POR Batum and Lillard
Portland exceeded expectations last season and have staked a claim on a playoff spot for the foreseeable future. However, this team is built around their starting five playing huge minutes with little to no room for anything to go wrong.

The additions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should permit the Trail Blazers to maintain last season’s success, but that won’t be enough to win as many games as last year.
 

7. Memphis Grizzlies – Projected 49-33, last season 50-32

MEM Carter and Randolph

It took awhile for the Grizzlies to adjust to new Head Coach Dave Joerger last season, but eventually they became the same tough-minded defensive team that Lionel Hollins ran.

Vince Carter is an upgrade over Mike Miller and will give Memphis an offensive boost off the bench, but no one should be expecting any surprises from this group. The team isn’t build for the long term, but the Grizzlies should be able to hold their own in the West once again and be a tough out in the playoffs.
 

The Fight For Eighth

 

8. Denver Nuggets – Projected 46-36, last season, 36-46
Arron Afflalo Orlando Magic Media Day
After a record setting 57-win season in 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray last year. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer left in free agency. Danilo Gallinari missed the entire season. JaVale McGee only played 5 games and the Nuggets were hit by bad news all year.

This is Head Coach Brian Shaw’s second kick at the can and he should have all of his injured players back. Plus the addition of Arron Afflalo is a big boost to this lineup. Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov is a very solid starting five and if everyone can stay healthy, a bench featuring Danilo Gallinari, McGee, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye – who can all start if necessary – will make the Nuggets a tough team to play.

The battle for the final playoff spot in the West is going to be brutal once again. Any one of Houston, Phoenix or New Orleans has a solid shot of making the postseason. An injury here or there and everything changes.
 
9. Houston Rockets – Projected 46-36, last season 54-28
HOU Howard and Harden
The Rockets bet it all on acquiring a big name free agent to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden and when the smoke cleared, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin were gone and all Head Coach Kevin McHale had to replace them was Trevor Ariza.

The Rockets have a great one-two punch in Harden and Howard, but they are almost punchless after that. Joey Dorsey is a nice guy that can rebound as an undersized third string center, but isn’t much of a replacement for Asik. Lin and Parsons were the Rockets third scoring options and saved numerous games last season. There are no obvious replacements for what they brought on this roster.

Maybe someone steps up to fill the craters left by the Rockets loses, but at this point, it looks like there could be no joy in Houston this season.
 
10. Phoenix Suns – Projected 45-37, last season 48-34
Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day
The Phoenix Suns were a run-you-out-of-the-gym team last season and assuming some kind of a deal to bring back Eric Bledsoe gets done eventually, they’ll be just as dangerous and just as much fun to watch.

Unfortunately, in the tough and improving middle section of the Western Conference, holding steady means losing ground and the loss of free agent Channing Frye didn’t help the Suns prospects.
 

Risks and Obstacles

 
Anyone in the middle of the pack could be a playoff team in the West if the breaks go their way and the Rockets, Suns and Pelicans should all believe that last spot belongs to them. However, the risks in this group of teams are substantial. Players returning from injury, significant roster changes and noses out-of-joint after a rough summer will make claiming one of the final spots an adventure this season.
 

Who do you think takes 6, 7and 8 in the NBA Western Conference and makes the playoffs? Will one of these teams give up and embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams.
Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Warriors and Mavericks

 

MEM_Davis_Ed

Former Raptors Forward Ed Davis Grounded in Memphis

Ed Davis is in wait and learn mode with the Grizzlies as the bouncy popular former Raptors forward has been grounded in Memphis. Davis has only played in 4 of the Grizzlies last dozen games and only scored more than 2 points twice since the end of January as his minutes and opportunities to play have been cut way back since Marc Gasol returned to the lineup in mid-January.

The Grizzlies are led by the power combination of Gasol and Zach Randolph and with Kosta Koufos soaking up most of the backup minutes at center, there just aren’t many opportunities for this team’s forwards to see a lot of time. Head Coach David Joerger has James Johnson, Jon Leuer and can even go small if he wants and lately, Davis has been the odd man out more often than not. However that doesn’t mean Davis isn’t contributing in other ways.

“Even though I am not playing right now,” Davis said. “If I see something on the court, I’ll tell (Randolph) or Marc – the double team is coming from the baseline or the double team is coming from wherever. I have a great basketball mind myself, so we help each other. I can see a lot of things that they are not seeing because they are out there on the court so I try to help them as much as I can as they help me.”

Even while he was in Toronto, Davis never lacked confidence. An NCAA Champion with the Tar Heels in 2009, Davis was taken 13th overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2010 NBA draft. As top 10 rated draft prospect, the expectations for Davis as a rookie were high.

“When you are a rookie, you are just trying to feel your way,” Dais explained. “Just learn and just soak everything in and obviously with more experience you get more confident in yourself and your game and become more talkative.”

Toronto wasn’t a very good team in his 2.5 seasons with the Raptors and Davis didn’t have the All-Star big men to learn from that he has in Memphis. However, his play improved and he was one of the key players sent by Toronto to the Grizzlies in return for Rudy Gay. Davis has averaged better than a double-double per 36 minutes every season and Gasol and Randolph should be able to teach him some new tricks on the court and in the practice gym.

“You just learn all the little tricks and stuff that they have watching them practice and going against them every day,” Davis said. “There are things they can teach you and I ask a lot of questions. I’ll ask Marc why he did this move and learn like that. Marc is a lead by example and a vocal guy, so if something is on his mind, he is going to say it.

“It’s just putting in work before and after practice and having conversations and picking guys’ brains, learning from the veterans, learning from the coaches and learning from all the great basketball minds that are around you.”

The young forward understands his situation. The Grizzlies are in a fight for their playoff lives and Joerger is going to play Gasol and Randolph as many minutes as necessary to win a spot in the postseason. Davis will be grounded until his team needs him or Joerger feels comfortable resting his stars because a game is getting out of hand. He’ll just have to soak up as much as he can from off the court for now.

 

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

 

Check out:

Kings Quincy Acy: From Energy Guy To Offensive Threat
“I am on the court for more minutes (now),” Acy said. “So I get a chance every now and then to shoot a jump shot and stuff like that. From the opening (game), (Malone) encouraged me to take (the shot), but obviously not to force anything.”

TOR Valanciunas and Vasquez

Raptors Firepower Proves Too Much For Grizzlies Defense

The Memphis Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors were allowing the third and fourth fewest points in the NBA respectively heading into Friday night’s contest at the Air Canada Centre, but in the end, it was the Raptors firepower over the final 6 minutes that proved to be too much for their opponent to handle. Toronto went on a 19-6 run to close out a 99-86 victory in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

As expected, the game was hotly contested from the start with neither team shooting over 40 percent in the first quarter.  Zach Randolph carried the load for the Grizzlies with 10 points matched shot for shot by Jonas Valanciunas who also had 10 points.  The Grizzlies holding the early 24-19 first quarter lead only because of a 13-8 advantage on the boards.

The Raptors adjusted and fought back in the second quarter lead by a dozen points from Greivis Vasquez and some better defense on Randolph.  Head Coach Dwane Casey substituted in Chuck Hayes for the final 2.5 minutes of the half to disrupt the Grizzlies star power forward and the veteran did his job.  Toronto went on a 9-4 run to close out the first half with a 47-44 lead.

Both teams struggled to find shots in the third quarter, but they each hit over 60 percent of their attempts and Toronto added one more point to their lead courtesy of going 3-4 from the free throw instead of 2-5 like the Grizzlies.  The big news for the Raptors was they had 27 wins and 2 losses when leading at the end of the third quarter this season, but the Grizzlies were about to test that number.

The Grizzlies wiped out the Raptors lead and tied this game less than a minute and a half into the fourth quarter.  They even briefly held a 1 point lead with 7:25 left in the game and this game was tied at 80 with 6:05 remaining, but everything was about to fall apart for the Grizzlies from there.

Vasquez hit an uncontested three-pointer to give the Raptors the lead and then he stole a Nick Calathes pass and ran it in for a layup.  The Raptors, up 85-80, continue the run to 12-0 before surrendering another bucket and this game was in the bag.  A game that was hotly contested for 3.5 quarters between 2 evenly matched teams all went wrong for the Grizzlies at the end.

“They executed,” Mike Conley said.  “They made the right plays down the stretch.  We weren’t playing very smart basketball.”

“That basically was the game tonight,” Tony Allen said.  “I think those guys did a good job spreading us out, penetrating off those pick-and-rolls and leaving shooters on the perimeter to force us to stay out there.  A lot of times Valanciunas got a lay in to get them momentum going into each quarter. Personally I just have to be better down the stretch.  I kind of put this one on me, simply because I made bonehead mistakes down the stretch.”

Jonas Valanciunas missed his career-high in points by 1 as he led all scorers with 23 points and 9 rebounds.  Valanciunas really wanted that last rebound for the double-double.  Kyle Lowry played well all game at both ends of the court as he recorded 22 points, 12 assists and 7 boards.  Vasquez ended up with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists and was a momentum changer for the Raptors in both halves.

Terence Ross left after playing 20 minutes as it appeared he injured his ankle, but after the game, both Ross and Casey insisted this was just a tweak and nothing serious.

DeMar DeRozan, who was stifled by the aggressive Grizzlies defense through 3 quarters scored 10 fourth quarter points to finish with 16 points.

“JV (Valanciunas), they were guarding with his guy and he got to his sweet spot and Greivis (Vasquez) found him and that was because they were sending 2 guys at DeMar, 2 guys at Kyle, any of our perimeter guys,” Casey explained.  “They were blitzing them basically on pin downs and taking them out and our guys did a good job of finding JV rolling to the bucket and basically standing under the basket wide open.”

Valanciunas almost outscored Randolph and Gasol combined, but the biggest difference in the game was from the three-point line, Raptors shooting 9-17 from deep compared to just 2-8 for the Grizzlies.  Both teams made 18 free throws and Toronto held the 36-35 rebounding advantage.

Randolph had 16 points and 8 rebounds, but only 4 points after half.  Marc Gasol was held under 10 points and Mike Conley, who burned the Raptors for 29 points in November, was held to just 10 points.

With the win, the Raptors move to 10 games above .500 at 37-27 and improve their record against the Western Conference to 14-12.  The Raptors play the Suns next at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.

The Grizzlies fall to eighth place in the West at 38-27, but get to face the 0 for 19 76ers in Philadelphia on Saturday.

 

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.

 

Check out:

Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross Is Blossoming On Defense
“I have always been a defensive-minded player and I think the more I got to play the more it showed,” Ross said.  “Once you get confidence, you play at a different level, so I try to maintain my confidence, go out a play with the opportunity (Casey) is providing me.”

MEM Conley and Randolph

Raptors Ready To Battle Grizzlies In Toronto

The Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors are ready for a battle with the red hot Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. The Grizzlies are 25-9 in 2014 and fighting for their playoff lives, but the Raptors are 22-12 in this calendar year and only 3 games ahead of Brooklyn for the division lead. This is a big game for both teams.

Very early in the season, the Raptors went into Memphis and laid a 103-87 beating on the Grizzlies behind 62 points from their big 3 of Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. However, Gay is gone and the Raptors barely resemble that team anymore, so just wipe the slate clean. Both of these teams have been playing very well since the middle of December and are 4-1 over their past 5 games with the only loss going to the Nets in both cases. It’s hot vs. hot.

The Grizzlies and the Raptors are allowing the third and fourth fewest points in the NBA respectively. Toronto has the eighth best opponents’ field goal percentage and the Grizzlies the ninth best. The Grizzlies enjoy a bigger rebounds per game differential than Toronto, but both teams rebound well and where Memphis is more effective in the paint, the Raptors are the much better three-point shooting team, so their effective field goal percentages are almost identical.

Toronto is the better scoring team, averaging over 100 points per game and outscoring their opponents by +3.3 points on the season. The Grizzlies play slower, score less and only hold a +1.1 point scoring differential over their opponents. Memphis’ Achilles heel has been their inability to get buckets at times, but of course they have put up 109 points or more in 4 of their past 7 games.

Offensively, the matchup between Lowry and Mike Conley will be a key to the game. Defensively, will Tony Allen be able to control DeRozan and will Amir Johnson be able to handle Zach Randolph.

Marc Gasol will do his thing for the Grizzlies and Courtney Lee will be a familiar Eastern Conference opponent on a Western Conference roster for the Raptors. Terrence Ross will be a wild card and another three point threat on the wing the Grizzlies might have trouble with while John Salmons will be a familiar Western Conference veteran now coming at them from a new team.

They are well matched and have almost identical winning percentages against Western Conference teams.  Two very good defensive-minded clubs playing extremely well, one strong in the post on offense and the other more effective from the perimeter, all put together, it should make for a great game to 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.

 

Check out:

Stephen Brotherston at MoVernie Studio
Behind The Scenes – Covering The Toronto Raptors
Local celebrity interviewer Vernon Chang reached out to Pro Bball Report’s Stephen Brotherston to be his initial guest on the TorontoPath live video podcast’s inaugural show to talk Raptors basketball. Chang has interviewed many Raptors players at charity events over the years, but what fascinates this superfan the most is what happens behind the scenes and in the locker rooms before and after the games.

Raptors Blowout Grizzlies 103-87 Led By Gay

The Grizzlies have alternated wins and losses so far this season and since they were just blown out on the road by Indiana, a home victory over the Raptors would fit that pattern. However, this game looked a lot like the Raptors blowout win over the Grizzlies in Toronto. Raptors win 103-87 in Memphis as they ran away with this one after the Grizzlies tied things up at 70 late in the third quarter.

Memphis is starting the same lineup that took them to the Western Conference Finals: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. However, they haven’t looked like the same team this season.

Toronto is starting Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Head Coach Dwane Casey has his style of play, defense and rebounding working, but this group is becoming the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

First Quarter 26-20 Raptors

DeRozan opens the scoring with the corner three. The Grizzlies are finishing every play in the paint, but bricking every jump shot. DeRozan is 2-3 for 7 points after 6 minutes. Allen is the surprise scorer for the Grizzlies as he keeps getting into the paint and finishing – 3-3 for 6 points.

DeRozan stays hot. 5-6 for 13 points in the first 9 minutes. Grizzlies still bricking jump shots. The Grizzlies did score 14 points in the paint in the quarter, however.

Grizzlies close gap, but foul Lowry on a three-point attempt with 0.4 seconds left and he goes to the line and sinks 2 for a 6 point Raptors lead.

Second Quarter 55-44 Raptors

Rookie Dwight Buycks comes in as the Raptors backup point guard and starts out playing fast, but under control. Buycks with the steal, Ross with the finish for a 30-20 Raptors lead, but the Grizzlies go on a 7-2 run as Hansbrough is hacked on successive plays in the post with no call.

Before Miller entered the game, the Grizzlies couldn’t hit a jump shot, but they seem inspired by his presence. Tony Allen continues to lead the Grizzlies by getting inside and has 10 points midway through the quarter.

Gay has hit 3 three-pointers in the half on some nice catch-and-shoot plays. Aaron Gray, subbed in for Valanciunas, has done a nice job on Gasol.

Half-time stats

DeRozan leads all scorers with 14 points on 5-8 shooting plus he has 3 assists and 2 steals. Gay has 13 points and has hit 3-4 three-pointers plus he has 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. Lowry has 11 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and is 3-4 from deep.

Conley has 11 points and Allen has 10. Gasol has 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Ed Davis just has 1 point, but he has 3 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 fouls in 10 minutes.

The teams have 19 rebounds each. Memphis has 26 points in the paint. Raptors are 7-9 from deep.

Third Quarter 78-71 Raptors

Grizzlies start the half on a 6-0 run before DeRozan hits the short jumper off the offensive board, but Conley is hot now and hits the long jumper. Memphis quickly pulls to with 3 points. Conley has 10 points in 3.5 minutes.

Gay steps back on the broken play to nail another 3 and end the run. Next trip Lowry draws another foul on a three-point attempt. Lead back to 66-58.

Somehow Memphis fights their way back to a 70-all tie, but Toronto goes on an 8-1 run to end the quarter up 7 points. Raptors had 6 turnovers in the quarter to explain how the Grizzlies got back into the game.

Fourth Quarter

Raptors up their defense to start the 4th quarter getting a steal, a shot clock violation and force a long distance three-pointer from Miller that Ross rebounds and turns into 2 free throws at the other end. After the Grizzlies timeout, Randolph travels on the in bounds play. Conley is still hot, however, and hits another 3 for his 26th point, but he’s doing this alone.

Raptors keep scoring. Gay to Ross for the dunk, Raptors up 88-74 with 8 minutes left. Raptors go on a 22-4 run starting in the third quarter. Then Miller hits a 3, but Ross and Gay respond with mid-range jumpers. Raptors up 96-77 with less than 6 minutes left.

Grizzlies won’t quit and close to 96-84 with 4 minutes to go. Casey calls timeout. Raptors get the offensive rebound on the next possession and score after running clock, Raptors up 98-84.

Head Coach David Joerger waives the white flag with just under 3 minutes to go and pulls his starters.

Final stats

Gay led the Raptors with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots and shot 8-18. Lowry had 21 points to go with 3 boards, 6 assists and 2 steals. DeRozan finished with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Johnson scored 14 points and Hansbrough had 4 points, but Hansbrough was a team best +16 points while he was on the court and he took a beating from Gasol and Davis in the paint.

Conley led all scorers with 29 points on 12-19 shooting and had 5 assists and 3 steals. Gasol had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Davis finished with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks in 24 minutes, but he was a team worst -20 points while he was on the court.

The Grizzlies out rebounded the Raptors 40-37, however, the Raptors found their shooting touch and hit 46.3 percent from the field and 8-15 from deep. Toronto was 33-39 from the free throw line.

The 3-5 Grizzlies head out for a 4 game road trip on Friday starting with the Lakers, then visit the Kings, Clippers and finally the Warriors.

The 4-5 Raptors play the next 2 games at home. The Bulls visit the ACC on Friday followed by the Trail Blazers on Sunday. The Raptors then head out on the road for 1 game to face the 76ers.

Be sure to check out our Raptors Box Score and Pregame Report.

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 (3-5) at Grizzlies (3-4): Pregame Report

The 3-5 Toronto Raptors have moved on from a double-overtime loss in Houston to Memphis where they will face a 3-4 Grizzlies team that just took it on the chin – or in Quincy Pondexter’s case, on the nose – in Indiana. The Raptors lost 110-104 to the Rockets. The Grizzlies were dismantled by the Pacers 95-79.

The Grizzlies have been involved in a number of cost-saving moves over the past year including a 3-team deal that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto with Ed Davis headed to Memphis. The Grizzlies still have Tayshaun Prince from the Pistons as part of that deal.

While the Grizzlies were able to make up for the loss of Gay’s offence because of an All-Star year from Zach Randolph and Prince’s contribution, this season, it’s been different. Randolph is averaging only 13 points and 7.9 rebounds which is close to his injury-riddled season numbers of 2 years ago. Prince’s production has fallen off to about half of where it was in Detroit just before he was traded and Ed Davis is having trouble just getting minutes as Head Coach David Joerger predicted during preseason.

“(There was) nothing that (Davis) didn’t know,” Joerger said. “He was going to get what he earns and (he’s) in a situation where he was sitting behind 2 guys that have played in the All-Star game.”

So far, Davis is playing anywhere from 1.5 to 24 minutes a game with no consistency whatsoever and he’s received his most minutes during the recent blowout losses.

The Grizzlies are led by Mike Conley (18.9 points), Marc Gasol (15.7 points) and Randolph (13 points). Tony Allen (2.3 steals) is still an elite defender on the wing, but the depth of prior years teams isn’t there, especially when Jerryd Bayless is missing games with a sprained right knee. Quincy Pondexter broke his nose in Monday’s loss to Indiana.

The Grizzlies are being outscored by their opponents 98.9 to 95.7 on average and they have been out rebounded by 1 board on the season. Still considered to be a dangerous team, Memphis is off to a rough start.

The Raptors head into Memphis needing a win and tacking on the word – again – is appropriate, but becoming pointless. Toronto had a tough stretch of games to start the season and 3 of their 5 losses were to Miami, Indiana and Houston, so the Raptors need to find wins against other teams that are struggling early like the Grizzlies.

Toronto’s Head Coach Dwane Casey has found the pace his team can stay in games with and it has been dead last in the NBA. The Raptors rebound as a group before anyone leaks out on offense and the result has been a strong rebounding team that doesn’t run as much as one would believe from listening to their head coach. The benefit of finding and successfully imposing their own pace on other teams is the Raptors have been able to stay in games despite a woefully inefficient offense that just can’t seem to shoot straight.

The Raptors are scoring 96.6 points per game on average while giving up 95.9 and they have collected 44 more rebounds than their opponents so far this season.

Toronto is lead by Rudy Gay (19.3 points), DeMar DeRozan (17.8 points) and Kyle Lowry (12.4 points). The Raptors have a fourth player scoring in double-digits as well, Amir Johnson (10.6 points). Unfortunately, Gay is shooting 35.6 percent and DeRozan is shooting 36.2 percent or the Raptors winning percentage would be significantly higher.

This is another early season big game between 2 teams that were hoping to be doing better and are in need of a win. The Grizzlies need to find their form of last season and the Raptors scorers have to figure out how to shoot straight or the team that wins on Wednesday night in Memphis won’t really be much of a winner.

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 Preseason: Over 20 Exclusive Interviews

Over the past five weeks, Pro Ball Report has been able to talk one-on-one with many of the Raptors players and a few players from visiting teams to the Air Canada Centre. They all had a lot to say about the upcoming season. Here is a sample of the top quotes from preseason and the links back to the original articles.

Raptors Versatile Julyan Stone Is NBA Ready

“I feel good,” Stone said. “It is my first time back on the court in months so I am far from where I want to be and it is going to be a process for me to get there, but it is good to be back playing basketball.

“Right now it’s me being a defensive presence. I have so much more to my game, but right now, whatever it takes to stick, whatever it takes to get on the court, that is what I do. I have a passion for playing defense and I think that’s rare.”

Raptors Coach Casey Endorses Julyan Stone

“I have played point guard the past 8 years of my life,” Stone said. “But, I have also played at the 2 and 3 and in college it goes back to we had a guy named Randy Culpepper who was a 5’9 scorer, so he played a bit of 1 and 2, so I just wanted to see myself on the court.

“I have had to guard (fast point guards) all through my career, like (teammate) Randy Culpepper in college who was a 20 point scorer and an explosive guard, so guarding him in practice got me prepared to guard guys like Ty Lawson (in Denver). This was something I had to adjust my game to play the position I wanted to play. I have a defensive approach. I don’t like anybody scoring on me and dealing with guys of small size, I’ve had to take those ups and downs my whole career and now I feel pretty comfortable doing it. It is hard guarding them in pick-and-roll situations because they are so quick, but it all about forcing them to go where you want them to go and not to their spot on the court and I have learned different angles to get around their quickness and speed.”

Tyler Hansbrough Sees Raptors In Playoffs

“I think we can be a playoff team,” Hansbrough said. “I fully expect us to be a part of that. When I first got to the Pacers, we were not a playoff team and we gradually built to that, but I think (the Raptors) are in a better situation here. I think we have the pieces.”

Raptors Tyler Hansbrough Driven To Make An Impact

“That’s my style, but this is for me the way I want to approach the game,” Hansbrough said. “I try to come out and play hard, but also, it is a new year for me and a new team, so I am trying to make my impact early and I will try to carry that over (to the regular season).

“I am working really hard and I am a little more driven this year just because of the uncertainty and not knowing what’s out there. It is a new team so I am trying to get adjusted to things.”

Jonas Valanciunas: Raptors Are Hungry For Wins

“There were a lot of changes and now we are a lot younger,” Valanciunas said. “We are hungry for wins and hungry for tough matches. This group is much better than before.

“This is my second year, so I am much more comfortable, more ready and I can give more because now I know what is going on in the NBA.”

D.J. Augustin: Raptors Backup Point Guard?

“(Casey) just wants me to be aggressive and play free instead of trying to get adjusted to everything with the group of guys that I am out there with,” Augustin said. “It takes time, but that is what preseason is for. I am just trying to get better.

“It is hard (to learn new schemes), but that is what practice is for and preseason is for right now. We are trying to get that gel, that glue going and get our defense going and I think we’ll get it once the season starts.”

Raptors Terrence Ross Wants More Minutes

“(My goals are to) just get more playing time and help the team win whatever way I can and be a big asset to the team,” Ross said.

“(I am working on) getting to the basket, ball handling and getting stronger. Those are the three primary things,” Ross said. “Guys are better, stronger, faster, so you just have to find a way around it. Learn new techniques and put it to use.”

Will Raptors Terrence Ross Breakout This Season?

“Terrence is doing great,” Fields said. “He has really come a long way. You see the confidence and him understanding how good he can be. I tell everybody that, that is what I have been telling everybody all summer. Terrence Ross could be a perennial All-Star with his athleticism and the way he can shoot the ball. I mean, the sky is the limit for that guy and I can see that mentally he understands what that can be, but obviously, it is going to come down to him and how far he wants to go.”

Raptors Landry Fields Can Do More Than Shoot

“We have defensive principles that Coach instills in us every single day and when you understand that, then it starts to grow and you get the basic foundation,” Fields said. “Then you can start reading plays much earlier and anticipating once you have that core defensive foundation.

“You don’t have to be the fastest, quickest, most athletic player defensively, you just have to understand angles, you have to anticipate certain things. When you go against a quicker guy or a guy who likes to drive a lot, you have to give yourself a little bit of space, stay on your toes and when he pulls up, contest it well. There are so many good offensive players in this league, of course they are going to hit shots, but you just want to make it as hard as possible on them, make them go (past) their second to their third and fourth options.”

Raptors Quincy Acy Switching To Small Forward

“(I am) just training really, trying to take care of my body and prepare for the upcoming season,” Acy said. “(Working on my) jump shot and lateral movement, so I can move my feet to guard threes.”

“You can’t be as physical all the time because it is on the perimeter and you can’t use hands,” Acy explained. “Whereas in the post, it is all arm and leg battles continuously. It is just trying to gauge when and when not to use your physicality.”

Raptors Quincy Acy Trying To Find His Niche

“Just staying ready, that is the main thing. Just staying ready and looking like I belong when I get out there,” Acy said. “(Instant impact) has always been my place. The high energy, hustle, do all the little things. (I am) just trying to find my niche right now and that is going to be making smart plays, doing things to ignite the fans, ignite the team if we need a lift and that is my focus.”

Raptors Dwight Buycks Must Defend To Get Minutes

“It is definitely a defensive-mind camp for sure,” Buycks said. “Coach Casey trusts his defense more than anything. It is definitely a little tough. It is definitely a learning process. You try to pick up as much as possible, but these guys help me through it. You just have to be really focused and locked in.”

Raptors Give Austin Daye A Second Chance

“It was just because they signed Tayshaun Prince to a four-year deal,” Daye explained. “Coming back thinking I was going to start and coming back to a veteran who had been there for 9-plus years (after) signing a four-year deal doesn’t really help. I had a really good second year, a really good breakout year, but the coaching staff wanted to bring (Prince) back. It was just an adversity I had to deal with, something that I embraced (as a) challenge. Now I am really looking forward to coming here and helping this team.”

Raptors Austin Daye Maturing In Toronto

“I am getting more comfortable as time goes on,” Daye said. “Just learning the position more and playing the 4 – also playing the 3. I was able to play the 3 tonight (against Memphis) so it felt good, but I am definitely feeling more comfortable. I was in there for a longer stretch. It felt good to come in there and knock down some shots.”

Raptors Aaron Gray: A Coach-In-Waiting

“I have had a few experiences in my career (and I am) just trying to help as much as possible, especially going through pick-and-roll coverages and knowing what they are going to see,” Gray said. “As a big man, we are the only ones who can see it as well as (a point guard). As long as we are communicating and getting better, I think the young guys will appreciate that.

“It is just the type of person (I am). I am not the type of guy who wishes for other people on my team to do bad so I can succeed. I want to see everyone do well. This is my seventh year in the league. It is a blessing. I am thankful for everything that I have and I just want to see that kind of success for other guys.”

Can Angolan Carlos Morais Make The Raptors?

“It really means a lot to me to be the MVP of the African Championship and being here right now,” Morais said. “It is like a dream coming true and hopefully everything goes well.”

Raptors Carlos Morais Wants One More Shot

“I got some decent minutes (in Minnesota), that was good, I got to do a couple more things,” Morais said. “I scored my first three-pointer as an NBA player and hopefully I keep getting minutes, getting the trust of the coaching staff and get some answers.”

“I just turned 28 today,” Morais said. “I would say that it is helping me because I don’t make the mistakes I used to make in the past when I was 20, when I was 23 and I think that helps me a lot and should help this team as well because I really know how to react when things are not so good, when we are down. I understand what we have to do win the games.”

Is Chris Wright the Raptors ‘Freddy Krueger’?

“(Coach Casey) told me he loved me for what I bring to the table – hard work and effort – and those types of guys are needed on teams and that is what he told me to continue to do,” Wright said.

Jared Sullinger Breaking Out In Boston

“I was mentored for a whole year by Kevin Garnett,” Sullinger said. “He gave me the knick-knacks of what I have to do with bigs. There are scouting reports throughout the NBA and I know about everybody, what they do defensively, how they defend, so when you have someone like Kevin and you learn from him it makes life so much easier.”

Knicks Cole Aldrich Competing For A Spot – Makes Team

“It’s exciting to here,” Aldrich said. “To go through training camp with these guys, to learn with them, to work with them, it is special to me. Growing up you hear all about the Knicks and now to be a part of their organization, it is an honor.”

Knicks Toure’ Murry Is On The 15 Man Roster

“(Last year,) I played in the NBA D-League for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets affiliate,” Murry said. “The D-League is very similar to the NBA. I learned how to play slower when its needed and when to play fast and I learned the spacing, that’s most important.

“Being so long and athletic, (Coach Woodson) really liked that I pushed up on the ball full court and made the other guard work because when you have a guard pushing up on you it’s tough to run the offense and it takes time off the clock. Just be a nagging player and disrupt everything they are trying to do on the offensive end.”

Can Ed Davis Earn A Spot In Memphis?

“I have never played with great players like Marc or Z-Bo (Randolph),” Davis said. “They help me out a lot in practice. I get to compete against them every day and learn from them the little things that a trainer can’t teach you who doesn’t play the game.

“When I was (in Toronto), I didn’t have the opportunity to play with great players like Marc and Z-Bo, guys who would talk to you and really try to help you. It is just a good thing.”

Veteran Insights Into Every Raptors Player

“Kyle (Lowry) looks like he is doing what they wanted him to do. He is actually playing some defense and he is actually shooting the ball. This is what they wanted from him last year.”

“DeMar DeRozan looks like he has finally got it now going into his fifth year.”

“Rudy Gay seems interested. He seems enthused. He is shooting free.”

“Amir Johnson is going into his ninth year. You just hope he stays healthy.”

“(Valanciunas) is in his second year. Now he understands what the NBA is all about.”

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 Ed Davis Earn A Spot In Memphis?

Ed Davis was becoming a popular player in Toronto when the Raptors sent him to Memphis as part of the trade for Rudy Gay. Injuries had created opportunities and Davis had started 24 games for the Raptors in 2012-13 and he was averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game before he left town. However, Memphis was a team with championship aspirations in a tough Western Conference playoff race and his opportunities and minutes plummeted after the deal. In the Grizzlies 15 game playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, Davis was an after-thought playing a total of 48 forgettable minutes in just 8 of the games.

“(Davis) is a guy that needs to feel comfortable,” Head Coach David Joerger said. “Throwing him into a hotly contested Western Conference race last year was difficult for him.”

However, it has been a fresh start for Davis this summer. He got into the gym and impressed his new head coach. The results have been showing up in preseason games where Davis has averaged 10.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in 23.6 minutes per game.

“Ed had a good summer,” Joerger said. “(He) worked on his footwork, his conditioning, his strength in his hips and legs so that he plays a little bit lower. He has good confidence going right now. He is a lot more comfortable having a training camp under his belt and knowing exactly what our schemes are offensively and defensively.”

“I worked hard,” Davis said. “I went to Florida and had a good trainer and I just grinded it out.”

Joerger also credits better communication with his young power forward for the improved play. Whether it is good or bad news, Joerger believes in laying things out there and telling his players like it is. Davis plays behind 2 All-Stars and that situation isn’t about to change. The Grizzlies coaching staff worked hard over the summer setting expectations and building trust with Davis.

“I think the key is – and my assistants have done a tremendous job of it – I have tried to build relationships over the summer,” Joerger said. “Just talking to guys, you can’t to tell them what they want to hear – you have to tell them what they need to hear. Otherwise your word won’t be true. They would rather be communicated with and hear bad news than not communicated with at all.

“(There was) nothing that (Davis) didn’t know. (That) he was going to get what he earns and (he’s) in a situation where he was sitting behind 2 guys that have played in the All-Star game.”

However, playing behind highly successful big men in Memphis has provided Davis with a unique opportunity to learn to play his position. Toronto didn’t have an All-Star power forward or center to mentor Davis while he was there. The Raptors bigs were still developing their own games for the most part. Being able to learn from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is special.

“I have never played with great players like Marc or Z-Bo (Randolph),” Davis said. “They help me out a lot in practice. I get to compete against them every day and learn from them the little things that a trainer can’t teach you who doesn’t play the game.

“When I was (in Toronto), I didn’t have the opportunity to play with great players like Marc and Z-Bo, guys who would talk to you and really try to help you. It is just a good thing.”

There are hints that the Grizzlies would like to sign Davis to a contract extension before the season starts in order to avoid a restricted free agency situation next summer, but Davis’ situation is fluid and both the team and the player probably don’t have a good handle on what fair value is for his services yet. It’s not that a deal can’t be struck, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if one can’t be reached. Joerger is still trying to figure out how best to use Davis and which players he will be most effective playing with.

“Like I said, (Davis) has had a tremendous summer and how he plays with (different guys) – we are trying to figure out which combination (of guys) he can play with,” Joerger said. “Marc (Gasol)? Can he play with Kosta (Koufos)?” Can he play with Jon (Leuer)? With Kosta out, he has played very well with Jon. Is he better in a pick-and-roll system with (rookie Nick) Calathes and (Jerryd) Bayless or is better being the oft-big with Marc or Zach? Those are the things that (I) am trying to figure out in the preseason and it can be nerve-racking if you are a coach, but at the same time, it is a problem that you like to have because you have good players.”

Davis just seems to be happy that he is getting a real opportunity.

“There is nothing that I am not used to, but since the trade, it is just getting the opportunity, getting a chance to prove myself and getting the opportunity to be on the floor,” Davis said. “I am getting real familiar with the starters and the second unit. Whenever I am out there, I am just going to try really hard and try to stay on the floor.”

Davis has matured since he left Toronto last January. Getting knocked down is sometimes the right incentive to build you back up and becoming the forgotten man during an amazing playoff run undoubtedly sent a strong message to Davis that he had a lot of work to do this summer. That work appears to be paying off by impressing his new head coach and getting Davis the opportunity to show off the promise he had coming out of UNC in 2010 on a very good Grizzlies 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.

Raptors defeat Grizzlies 108-72

Coach Casey 2 The Raptors defeated the Grizzlies 108-72 in a game that didn’t go according to script for either team. This game started turning into a Raptors blowout after 6 minutes into the first quarter and the Grizzlies just never responded.

All it started out with different expectations when the Pro Bball report live updates started just ahead of tip off.

The Toronto Raptors play their final home preseason game Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies and Head Coach Dwane Casey plans on ramping up the minutes to his starting unit and tightening down his rotation in anticipation of the home opener against Boston. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas will start again, but the intrigue will be who gets minutes on the second unit. Look to see if young veteran D.J. Augustin backs up Lowry off the bench and if its Landry Fields or Terrence Ross as the first wing

The Grizzlies are expected to start Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Former Raptor Jerryd Bayless started the last preseason game for Head Coach David Joerger and figures to be a key player off the bench at both point guard and shooting guard as Joerger has been impressed by Bayless’ decision-making and shot selection in preseason. Joerger has been experimenting with the other former Raptor Ed Davis by playing him with Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol or one of his other young big men to see where Davis can be most effective.

Quincy Pondexter got the start in place of Mike Miller tonight.

Raptors go into Jonas Valanciunas on the first play and he scores putting back his own miss. Next play, Valanciunas grabs the offensive rebound off the long jump shot and stuffs it in. Valanciunas has 6 points and 5 rebounds 4.5 minutes in.

Mike Conley is carrying the early offensive load for the Grizzlies after a game off with 4 quick points and is replaced by Bayless at the halfway point of the quarter.

Kyle Lowry shows off the jets with the end-to-end one man fast break. Next play its Johnson with the move to get open and finish with the dunk 14-10 Raptors. Then Gay drills a 3-pointer 17-10 (and the rout is on.)

Raptors big men are handling the Grizzlies big men so far. Johnson just stripped Gasol in the paint at the 3 minute mark.

Casey keeps us guessing about his possible future rotations as Hansbrough, Ross and Fields come in at the same time. Fields and Ross score in succession as they both look like they got the message from Casey after the last game. Augustin is the first point guard off the bench as Casey stays with his veteran.

27-14 Raptors after the first quarter. The second unit got the message from Casey, if they want to be the second unit, they had better play like they deserve it. Valanciunas has 6/6, Gay 7/3, Ross 6 points in 3.5 minutes. Conley and Gasol lead the Grizzlies with 4 points each.

Conley back in to start the second quarter. Ross opens the scoring for the Raptors in the quarter.

Augustin, DeRozan, Ross, Fields, Hansbrough start the quarter. Allen, Davis, Leuer, Barrett, Franklin for the Grizz.

Fields has definitely come alive over these last few preseason games – jams home another basket 2-2 tonight.

Coach Casey brings DeRozan, Gay and Lowry back into the second quarter within 5 minutes as he moves closer to a real rotation.

Austin Daye gets into the second quarter – taking the injured Steve Novak’s minutes? – and he immediately hits the jumper to extend the Raptors lead to 39-19.

Lowry shows off his dribbling skills in the paint as he draws the defenders and tosses the ball back to the wide-open Hansbrough for the dunk. 42-21 Raptors.

Mike Miller comes in and proves he is still deadly from deep, but Daye immediately responds with a 3 for Toronto.

Gay is the first to 10 points in the game as he goes 2-2 from deep and 4-4 from the free throw line.

54-27 Raptors at half. Raptors out rebounding the Grizz 33-16 and shooting 47.4 percent to 26.2 percent for the Grizz. Gay 10/4 plus 1 steal and 2 blocks and DeRozan 10/5 plus 2 steals lead all scorers. Valanciunas 6/8 leads all players in rebounds. Conley and Bayless lead the Grizzlies with 5 points each. Gasol has 4/4 in 18 minutes. It looks like Gasol has been sleep walking through this game.

Raptors start the second half with their starting unit. Grizzlies return to the court with their original starting five.

This game has turned into a laugher. Amir Johnson for threeeeeee. 62-33 Raptors. Johnson can hit that shot, but apparently the Grizzlies defense didn’t get through Canadian customs.

DeRozan steps back and hits the three-pointer for his 21st point to make him the first to 20 on the night. Then the Raptors show off their Global Ambassador Drake who will be celebrating his birthday tomorrow.

Lowry has quietly got to 10 assists on the night. Valanciunas has 8/9 as he sneaks up on a double-double.

Julyan Stone checks in late in the third quarter. Next Quincy Acy checks into the blowout.

Valanciunas just got smacked in the mouth and he headed to the dressing room. Randoloph takes the flagrant foul and is out as that was his 6th personal foul. Aaron Gray subs in for Toronto.

Raptors have Gray, Ross, Daye, Stone and Acy on the court with 1.5 minutes left in the third quarter up 83-46. Grizz now have Bayless, Davis, Leuer, Franklin and Gaffney in the game. This hasn’t gone exactly according to script.

Buycks comes in with less than a minute left for Stone.

Davis just makes the turnaround hook for the Grizzlies and gets the and-one opportunity.

86-50 Raptors after three quarters.

Grizzlies start the 4th with a 7-0 run on 2 buckets by Davis, but Acy ends the short drought, 88-57 Raptors.

Greatly extended “garbage time” at the ACC, but the fans should get pizza tonight as the Raptors have 8 minutes to score 10 points and reach the magic 100.

Augustin getting some more run in the fourth on the floor with Buycks.

Carlos Morais and Chris Wright get into the game as both coaches have emptied their respective benches.

Austin Daye hits back-to-back three-pointers to take the lead to 100-66.

Carlos Morais hits a three, Chris Wright makes the layup and one!

Raptors 108 Grizzlies 72. Final. Raptors out rebound the Grizzlies 54-36.

Raptors play their final preseason contest in Milwaukee on Friday.

DeRozan led the Raptors with 21 points on 6-11 shooting. Gay had 15 points on 4-10. Daye hits 3 triples and finishes with 14 points. Valanciunas has 10 points and leads the rebounders with 9 boards.

Davis and Leuer lead the Grizzlies with 11 points each. Bayless had 10 points. Davis also collects a team high 9 rebounds. Gasol led the Grizzlies in assists with 6.

Note: Lowry has an injured left ring finger. Valanciunas gets 3 stitches on his chin. Stone left early after a hit to the thigh and Hansbrough has a sore thumb.

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.

Checkout the pregame report here

Raptors vs Grizzlies: Casey Getting Serious

Rudy Gay 2The Raptors play their final home preseason game tonight against the Grizzlies – Rudy Gay’s former team – and Head Coach Dwane Casey is going to start handing out the minutes in a form that more closely resembles what should be expected next week against Boston in the home opener. Despite the attempt at hyping Gay versus the Grizzlies and the return of former Raptor Ed Davis to the Air Canada Centre, this is a preseason game and fictional rivalries against former teams and teammates are not what this game will be all about for either squad. Besides, Memphis has already played a real game in Toronto post trade.

The Raptors starters have important tune-up issues to deal with as Casey has not been happy with the first quarter efforts from this group. Gay and company put up 29 points against the Knicks on Monday, but gave up 30 because they were out rebounded 17-9 in the first 12 minutes. A trend of good offense and suspect defense or a lack of early effort on the boards has been a trend in preseason and it’s a trend Casey wants to see corrected tonight and in the team’s final preseason game on Friday in Milwaukee.

The second unit hasn’t exactly been making Casey comfortable either as this group has too often started slow and some of the guys have arguably been outplayed by the supposed third stringers fighting for minutes. Against the Knicks, the reserves came out flat defensively in the second quarter putting up little resistance and Casey has seen this before. D.J. Augustin made a couple of nice offensive plays, but rookie point guard Toure Murry was more effective for the Knicks and that shouldn’t happen. Casey made a point about Terrence Ross’ slow starts as the young shooting guard can’t assume he’ll have 5 minutes to warm-up on the court before putting it all together for a big night. He’ll never get the chance in the regular season to put up a 27 point game like he did against the Knicks on Monday if he plays like he did in the second quarter of that game.

Memphis is also down to 2 remaining preseason games, so their starters should also see their minutes ramp up as they get set for their season opener against the Spurs. The Grizzlies gave starting point guard Mike Conley the day off against Atlanta on Sunday and former Raptor Jerryd Bayless led the team with 22 points in 24.5 minutes in the 90-82 win. Davis was second in scoring with 14 points and 8 rebounds in 26.3 minutes. Last game it was rookie Nick Calathes who played for PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban in Russia last season who led the Grizzlies with 10 assists off the bench. Calathes is 6’6 point guard and provides new Head Coach David Joerger some interesting options.

Toronto has been winning preseason games in the second half and in overtime during preseason and the play of guys supposedly in the third unit hasn’t gone unnoticed. Quincy Acy has been making an impact with energy, effort and a bit of surprisingly skilled play. Julyan Stone has been making the case that he is the best backup point guard on this roster even if he’s allergic to scoring. Who Casey plays in his second unit over these final 2 preseason games will be very telling about what the Raptors coaching staff sees in their reserves.

The real preseason starts tonight and roles, minutes and jobs are on the line in 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.

Ranking The NBA Western Conference Playoff Hopefuls

When ranking the NBA Western Conference, it is hard not to notice that coaching may have become the biggest determinate of change. The Clippers would still have doubters if Doc Rivers wasn’t running the show. It would be hard to not at least consider the Grizzlies a Western Conference Finals threat if Lionel Hollins was still there and how does an organization part with George Karl after he wins Coach of the Year?

After our top five of the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors, there are the weakened Grizzlies and Nuggets franchises that should be able to stay in the playoff picture followed by group of hopefuls where a debate should rage about the virtue of being a one-and-done playoff team in the eighth spot versus tanking for a better draft pick in June.

Too Good To Fail?

6. Memphis Grizzlies – 56-26 last season, projected 48-34

There isn’t anything more frustrating in professional sports than watching a well-built successful franchise knock itself down a peg in order to save money. 33-year-old Tayshaun Prince is an acceptable fill-in for Rudy Gay, but he is on the downside of his career and simply can’t provide the offense Gay did for 6.5 seasons in Memphis. The Grizzlies traded Gay to save money and they moved a plethora of lesser but solid players for the same reason.

The Grizzlies still have a good roster, however and if it wasn’t for handing the heading coaching job to Hollins’ assistant Dave Joerger, it might be easier to believe this would still be a 50-win team. Memphis is going to find out just how much an experienced and successful head coach contributes to a team’s record. It isn’t likely they are going to like the answer.

It is easy to sympathize with the financial realities of operating a small market franchise, but that isn’t going to help the Grizzlies win more games this season. The question in Memphis shouldn’t be if the team can stretch to win 50 games, but rather how far below 50 wins will they end up.

7. Denver Nuggets – 57-25 last season, projected 44-38

The Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray this summer. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Free agent Andre Iguodala spurned Denver’s offer to join the Warriors and free agent Corey Brewer opted for the Timberwolves. Danilo Gallinari is still rehabbing a partially torn ACL and hopes to return sometime in December, but the Nuggets will be starting this season without 3 of their top 5 scorers from last year and a brand new rookie head coach.

Big changes in management also mean big changes in style. The Nuggets were built to facilitate the open court style of Karl and new Head coach Brian Shaw is known for the Lakers’ triangle offense he played in and was schooled in as a player and an assistant coach in Los Angeles. Perhaps this explains why last year’s starting center Kosta Koutos was traded and JaVale McGee will be given his chance to play more than the 18 minutes a game Karl thought he deserved.

There are a lot of unknowns in Denver this season, but Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried should be able to stave off disaster and keep the Nuggets from slipping too much until Gallinari returns to provide some offensive punch. The number of wins above .500 will largely depend on Shaw, but the Nuggets are still a playoff team this season.

The Fight For Eighth

8. Minnesota Timberwolves -31-51 last season, projected 42-40

This is a roster bouncing back from injuries to Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, but each of these players have shown enough to get everyone excited to see what they could do playing together for an entire season. Minnesota didn’t wait for their best players to get healthy, this summer they picked up free agents Brewer from the Nuggets and Kevin Martin from the Thunder. A team that has been suspect on the wing for some time just got stronger.

The Timberwolves have spent nine years in the lottery and have experienced more than their share of bad luck and questionable management decisions, however, they head into this season with something new, justifiable hope. Healthy and a little deeper than in the past, it is Minnesota’s turn at the postseason again.

9. Dallas Mavericks – 41-41 last season, projected 40-42

No one believes the past two summers are what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban envisioned when he blew up his 2010-2011 championship roster. Dallas has a collection of talent for the second year in a row that screams .500-team. While this group could sneak into the playoffs if other teams stumble, the only truly redeeming feature of this roster is the less than $30 million in players’ salaries guaranteed after this season.

Dallas has a group of veterans in Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis who will put on a show, but there is no reason to expect they will do any better than last year’s Mavericks. Cuban has put his franchise on hold for another season.

10. Portland Trail Blazers – 33-49 last season, projected 37-45

There is some optimism around Portland this summer. They did pick up some players who could help the team garner a few more wins than last year.

Mo Williams is a solid veteran backup point guard and should play additional minutes at shooting guard if the Trail Blazers don’t mind letting rookie C.J. McCollum languish on the bench. Robin Lopez will be the team’s best center and let LaMarcus Aldridge play at his natural power forward position. The question becomes, how many minutes does Meyers Leonard get to play this year and which of Lopez and Leonard is the team’s center of the future. Thomas Robinson is on his third team after just one season, if Portland believes the fifth overall draft pick of 2012 has a future in the league, they have to find at least 20 minutes a night for him.

The Trail Blazers are too good to be bad and need to find minutes for their young players whether that results in wins or not. This season should have a slightly better record than last year, but winning is probably going to take a back seat to player development.

11. New Orleans Pelicans – 27-55 last season, projected 36-46

New Orleans projected starting unit of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson has an average age 23-years-old. This team’s best players are young, developing and a long ways from their projected prime and that is not usually the formula for a playoff appearance.

A lot of people suggested the Pelicans were making a run at the 2014 postseason when they exchanged Nerlens Noel and a future protected first round draft pick for Holiday, but maybe New Orleans just wanted a 23-year-old All-Star and thought they got the better of the trade. It would be hard to argue with them.

The Pelicans have question marks with their depth and potentially bigger unknowns with a couple of their starters. Eric Gordon had surgery on his ankle again in May and after playing in just 51 games over the past two seasons in New Orleans, whether or not Gordon will be the offensive player he was with the Clippers is unknown. The Kings tried to move Evans from guard to small forward and it would be stretch to say the experiment was a success in Sacramento. There is no reason to assume Evans can play small forward at a high level in New Orleans either.

In New Orleans, questions should be looked upon more as opportunities. This team has acquired some good young talent and their future is ahead of them. The current starting unit may gel and produce earlier than expected or take time to develop and future moves may be required, either way, the Pelicans are on the right path.

Risks and Obstacles

Any team hoping to land one the last three playoff spots in their conference is going to have risks and issues to deal with, but with the Grizzlies and the Nuggets seemingly locked into two of those spots, the rest of this group is really in for a fight.

Dallas will be waiting to take the last playoff if other teams stumble or decide to tank for a better lottery pick. Both Portland and New Orleans are going to be developing young players and letting the chips fall where they may. The Timberwolves, however, have the talent and the motivation to grab that last playoff spot if only that dark cloud of bad luck hanging over this team can disperse for a season and they are due, Minnesota has been waiting a long time to watch postseason action again.

Who do you think takes 6, 7and 8 in the NBA Western Conference and makes the playoffs? Which one of these teams will be first to embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to check out our Ranking of the Top Five NBA Eastern Conference Teams and our Ranking of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Hopefuls.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report. You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

 

Free Agent Tough Guy Bargains

If defense wins championships, the NBA’s best defenders should be among the league’s highest paid players.  Surprisingly, that is often not the case.  It’s the guys who can put the biscuit in the basket who get paid and that means there are difference-makers at the other end of the court that can be had for a comparable bargain.  This off season, there is no reason to believe anything has changed.

You have to be tough to play defense.  Basketball is a physical game.  The best defenders often have a mean streak in their play that makes them less popular with the fans, especially the fans from opposing teams.  This is our list of the best value tough guys available in free agency you don’t want to be playing against next season.

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies – $3.3 million last season

After nine years in the NBA, defensive specialist Tony Allen is still looking for that one big payday and at 31-years-old, he will still probably have to settle for less money than other players that can score more, but can’t touch him on the defensive end.

Allen doesn’t score a lot and he doesn’t have a three-point shot.  He is, however, one of the best perimeter defenders in the game today and not just from the guard position.  Last season, opponents shot below 38 percent from more than eight feet beyond the basket against him and his steal percentage of 3.1 was one of the best in the league.  A relentless pursuer of the basketball that rarely seems to be out of position, Allen would instantly boost the perimeter defense of any team he joins next season.

Matt Barnes, LA Clippers – $1.2 million last season

Matt Barnes has a prickly nature on the court; he is not a nice guy to play against.  Apparently some of that nature must stick around off the court as he hasn’t stayed in one place longer than two seasons over his 10 years in the league.  It can’t be his on court production that has him in free agency once again, this 33-year-old veteran small forward continues to play effective defense and decent enough offensive to be an asset on a contending team.

Barnes held opponents to a sparkling under 37 percent shooting from beyond eight feet while collecting almost a block and a steal per game coming off the bench last season.  He even shoots a decent percentage from three-point range.  This veteran hasn’t slowed down at all and will be a bargain for the team that signs him once again next season.

Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee Bucks – $6.7 million last season

Apparently Samuel Dalembert didn’t really fit into the Bucks plans last season as he only got into 47 games and played the fewest minutes of his 11 career since his rookie season.  However, it wasn’t for a lack of production.  Dalembert continued to block more than five percent of opponent two-point field goal attempts while he was on the court and rip down his typical 19.4 percent of available rebounds.  His per 36 minutes numbers, including scoring, were some the best of his career.

At 32-years-old, Dalembert can still be a defensive stopper under the rim and one of the best offensive and defensive rebounders in the game.  He isn’t going to land another big deal, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help a team next season.

Chris Andersen, Miami HEAT – $0.7 million last season

Just short of 35-years-old, Chris Anderson was almost out of league last season when the size deficient HEAT brought him on board and “The Birdman” didn’t disappoint.  A shot blocking phenom and solid defensive rebounder throughout his career, Andersen swatted almost six percent of opponents’ two-point attempts while he was in the game and collected 21.5 percent of the available defensive rebounds.  He didn’t score much, but that has never been a big part of his game.

Andersen played so well in Miami that many people wondered why Denver just let him go at the end of the previous season.  We can’t be sure how many more years Andersen can play the defensive energizer role, but he doesn’t look done yet.  The HEAT are expected to keep him around unless someone offers him a extended deal at more than the minimum.

Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets – $1.1 million last year

Andray Blatche played on the cheap last season for the Nets as Washington picked up the tab for the rest of his $7 million amnestied salary.  The Wizards remain on the hook for three more seasons, so the 26-year-old can afford to sign on the cheap for a while yet.

Perhaps the worst thing that happened to Washington after John Wall was hurt was watching Blatche pull himself back together and look like he could be better than the player they had originally signed to a long term deal.  Blatche averaged 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in just 19 minutes coming off the bench in Brooklyn.  He was one of the league leaders in steal percentage at 3.0 and he picked up his blocked shot effectiveness to that of four seasons ago.  The result was a career best defensive rating of 101 points allowed per 100 possessions

Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to get a young player back on track.  Blatche showed he can rebound effectively at both ends of the court, create steals, block shots and play defense.  All Washington can do is watch while they pay him to do it for someone else.

There are other tough-minded defensive players out there for diligent general managers to pick up on the cheap.  Let us know who you think could be a stopper on the cheap next season in the comments below.

 

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Center since 2009.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.