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NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors Should Be Judged By Luxury Taxes In 2018

Whether or not a team in the NBA East is serious about being an NBA Finalist will be judged by Luxury Taxes next season and the Toronto Raptors are not an exception. A willingness to pay the tax has been a long standing test of the resolve to win in Toronto and and elsewhere, and it’s a test that has left the fans wanting most of the time.

The Cavaliers are already committed to being a tax team next season with seven open roster spots still to fill in the summer. As much as the Cavaliers are winning now because of LeBron James, having the highest payroll in the NBA and a willingness to pay huge Luxury Tax bills has tipped the scales heavily in their favor. If an Eastern Conference team wants to compete with the Cavs, trying to do it on the cheap is laughable.

The new CBA gives teams a significant advantage with their own talent, but it makes many of the old tricks of the trade teams like the Lakers used to pull to add talent from other teams more difficult or even completely offside.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in February as much to acquire their “Bird” rights this summer as to add talent for the stretch drive and the playoffs. Now he’ll be tested by the tax if he wants to keep them.

NBA Toronto Raptors salaries 2017-18

There are many people in Toronto who will look at the numbers and think Kyle Lowry is gone. They won’t believe Ujiri really wants to keep his All-Star point guard when the team can likely remain a non-tax paying playoff team by re-signing Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker and letting Lowry walk.

However, no team is a serious conference finalist contender without at least an All-Star candidate point guard. Not in a point guard driven league.

Alternatively Ujiri could look to dump the salary of Jonas Valanciunas and/or DeMarre Carroll to significantly lower his Luxury Tax commitment, but to compete against the Cavs, he needs veterans in his rotation. Veterans like Valanciunas and Carroll, but not necessarily these specific players.

One advantage of bringing back one’s own free agents and keeping what he’s got is it gives Ujiri a bigger pool of players with which to use in the trade market. He might not keep a player for an entire season, but having a $15 million salary on the roster you could live without could be what’s needed for that big trade deadline deal.

That’s the old trick the Lakers used to great success in the past that can still work, hanging onto a big salary they didn’t need in order to use it as trade ballast in a big trade during the season.

With Ibaka back and Jakob Poeltl looking ready to take on a backup center role, Ujiri can shop Valanciunas and maybe acquire the three-point shooting wing or forward he needs.

If Ujiri is comfortable with a three guard lineup of Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, then he could look to swap Carroll for a less expensive backup. Although, if Carroll can get and stay healthy, he could be the answer as an expensive three-point shooting backup combo forward. It’s only money….

Concerns should only arise if Ujiri starts dumping salary just to get below the tax line.

Toronto was third in NBA attendance last season and the fans deserve to see their team willing to spend in order to put the best roster possible on the court. The Raptors have made a lot of money as a non-tax paying team over the past four years, they can afford to pay to keep talent for themselves or to use as trade bait.

Maybe $100 million in Luxury tax is over the top, but $40-50 million isn’t. This team should be judged by their willingness to make a big commitment to paying the tax in 2018. Otherwise, Ujiri is only pretending to want to compete for a championship. (The unlikely fleecing of another GM out of a star on a cheap contract notwithstanding.)

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

There are plenty of clues coming out about what the Toronto Raptors rotation could look like next season. President Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly trying to hide what he believes in and the direction he will be taking his team.

When doing the rounds with his corporate masters recently. (The Raptors are owned by Rogers and Bell who control Sportsnet and TSN respectively.) He did his best to clarify his comments about “culture change” and any perceptions regarding head coach Dwane Casey and his All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“Our culture is pretty good,” Ujiri told Tim and Sid on the Fan 590 just to set the tone for the entire interview.

“I am the problem solver here,” Ujiri said in regards to re-signing Lowry (and just about anything else.)

“I am confident (coach Casey) can pull those things off.”

As he has said since the beginning of his tenure as president (and general manager), Ujiri believes in developing his own talent and it is something he is doubling down on under the new CBA.

“The new CBA means a lot of players are going to stay where they are at,” Ujiri explained. “That’s just how it works. The way (the CBA) is constructed a lot of teams are going to have the ability to keep their own players. So we have to figure out ways with our own players.

“Drafting and developing our players is a high priority for us. We have to develop from within.”

There aren’t any false hopes about Paul George or Jimmy Butler arriving in Toronto anytime soon.

Ujiri is confident Lowry will re-sign with Toronto and not without a lot of justification. The Raptors and coach Casey made Lowry a three-time All-Star, his best friend is DeMar DeRozan, and they will pay him $30 million plus a season to stay.

He is equally confident about Serge Ibaka and more than few media reports suggested Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto. Ujiri has the checkbook to re-sign Ibaka to a $100 million plus contract as well. P.J. Tucker almost came out and said if Lowry comes back, he’s coming back.

It shouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out what type of ‘culture change’ Ujiri wants. He has always wanted a ‘tougher’ team and absolutely no one can ignore the need to have an excess of three-point shooting today.

Fortunately, the Raptors got a glimpse of what their future could look like in their first round series with Milwaukee.

On opening night, the Raptors starting line-up should look like this:

PG Kyle Lowry 22.4 ppg, 7.8 3FGA, 41.2% 3FG
SG DeMar DeRozan 27.3 ppg, 1.7 3FGA, 26.6% 3FG
SF Norman Powell* 15.6 ppg, 4.1 3FGA, 39.7% 3FG
PF P.J. Tucker** 5.8 ppg, 2.5 3FGA, 40% 3FG
C Serge Ibaka** 14.2 ppg, 4.5 3FGA, 39.8% 3FG

* Powell as a starter in 18 games last season
** Tucker and Ibaka as a Raptor after the All-Star break

A three-guard lineup of Lowry, DeRozan and Powell tore thru the Bucks in the postseason and represents the direction the NBA is headed but with a toughness that fits with coach Casey’s preferred style of play.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Powell will guard bigger players and was effective as a rookie guarding Paul George last year which is no small feat. It’s time to put Ujiri’s player development to the test and insert Powell into the starting rotation from day one.

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Tucker is just plain nasty. A combo forward who can guard either spot against anyone, just putting him into the starting rotation could be considered a culture change for the Raptors.

“The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see,” Tucker describes himself.

It looked like Ibaka had lost a step during the playoffs, but that’s only if you forget he was playing on a sore left ankle. Prior to that Ibaka was switching out onto guards and stuffing them at the three-point line. He represents a huge improvement in mobility and versatility over a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas.

This is a starting lineup that stretches the floor and can panic defenses trying to simultaneously guard the three-point line and the paint. Even DeRozan should be expected to improve on last season’s three-point shooting over the summer. No one should be surprised if he’s hitting 33 percent or more of his open threes next year.

Who backs up these starters isn’t even close to being decided, except for some obvious things Ujiri must be considering. Cory Joseph and a group to be determined including possibly one or more not even on the roster yet.

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

There will be battles for minutes off the bench and Ujiri could/should be looking to make moves to create opportunities for some of his young guys to develop or just to get a little closer to the luxury tax line. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker will put the Raptors $15-25 million into the tax unless Ujiri can shed some salary.

As much as Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, this may the time to sell high on Jonas Valanciunas and the unproven but very real possibility of him developing a three-point shot. With a salary of just $15.5 million and two years left on his deal, Valanciunas will have value on the trade market.

The temptation to keep DeMarre Carroll around will be high as his trade value is suspect. Although injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do in Toronto thus far, he remains a decent three-point shooting forward in a league where three-point shooting forwards are in demand. However, if Ujiri could move his $14.8 million in salary, it would really help lower the luxury tax bill. (Even if next year is finally the season he starts without being hindered by injury.)

Moving Valanciunas and potentially Carroll opens up minutes for last year’s rookie center Jakob Poeltl and forward?/center Lucas Nogueira.

Poeltl impressed as a rookie and seems poised to take a big step next season assuming Ujiri opens up a spot in the rotation for him. He doesn’t have any range on his shot, but he rebounds, has soft hands and good mobility for a big man. In keeping with Ujiri’s mantra of developing his own players, this is one guy that needs to play.

It probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ujiri or Casey, but Nogueira had a team fifth best plus/minus of +3.1 points last season. Sure he lost the few minutes that were available at center to Poeltl after the All-Star break trades, but Casey made a concerted effort to try him out at power forward and those efforts weren’t completely in vain. NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Look for Nogueira to be battling it out for minutes at the four (and maybe the five). Pascal Siakam, who started 38 games at power forward for Toronto last year but has a questionable jump shot, possibly a player to be traded for, or even the Raptors draft pick (if it’s someone like UCLA’s T.J. Leaf) could be in the mix at the backup four spot.

If Carroll is traded, the Raptors could be thin at small forward. Tucker can play both forward spots, but this could quickly become a big hole. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ujiri traded for a small forward prospect as no one will be planning on Bruno Caboclo being ready to play in the NBA next season – hoping maybe, planning, not a chance.

Backup guard is potentially the most interesting spot. NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Cory Joseph will continue backing up Lowry and as his three-point shooting was dramatically better up until the All-Star break last season, look for Joseph to solidify his hold on the role by coming into training camp after another summer of improving his shooting.

Delon Wright looked good after coming back from injury late last season, but he has competition from a potentially better three-point shooter in Fred VanVleet. Wright has more versatility than the undersized VanVleet and showed potential guarding the wing, but Casey hasn’t shown any reluctance to playing Joseph and VanVleet together. This could be the best and most predictable battle for minutes on the roster.

The Raptors starting lineup will be good, better than last season and another 50+ win campaign will be expected, but as Ujiri has said, that isn’t the goal.

“If we are just going to be stuck in second, third, fourth every year and some years we are disappointed in the playoffs and some years we are happy – that’s not the goal,” Ujiri stated. “The goal is to win a championship.

“The way we have played hasn’t worked the past three, four years to take us to the highest level and it’s one of those things we have to figure out a way.

“I hate losing to those guys (the Cavaliers). It drives me crazy.”

To get past the Cavs, it will take more than a better starting lineup and developing young players while the Cavs boast the highest payroll in the NBA doesn’t make it any easier.

Ujiri has to find a way via trade or a big step in the play of one/some of his young guys, but it has to be consistent with what he believes in. A copycat move isn’t going to work against LeBron James in the East or the Warriors in the West.

“We are not saying we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team.”

Ujiri has to find his own blend of grit, toughness and three-point shooting. Someone(s) out of Powell, Poeltl, Nogueira, Wright, VanVleet, Caboclo, a rookie, or an undervalued trade prospect had better take a huge step forward or next year will be another year Ujiri doesn’t get past the Cavs.

Although Ujiri really didn’t say anything new during his recent media tour, (if anything the Raptors president has been consistent since day one), in case you missed it, you can listen to Ujiri on Tim and Sid here.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Credits Coach Casey For His Development

Kyle Lowry owes a lot to head coach Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors for his current run of success and elevated status in the NBA. As a pending free agent, this three-time All-Star was not headed down the path of becoming a max player before being traded to “We The North” and it almost didn’t work out.

Memphis gave up on him after two and a half seasons and got a late first round draft pick back. Houston traded him to Toronto for a future first round draft pick and the Raptors tried to send him to the Knicks when president Masai Ujiri was in the failed process of blowing up his roster during Lowry’s second season in Toronto.

Luckily for Lowry and the Raptors, the Knicks meddling owner James Dolan stepped in to squash the trade after everyone thought it was a done deal. It’s hard to imagine how things could have gone well for the young brash Lowry in the dysfunction junction that is New York.

Instead of experiencing the revolving management and coaching door Dolan has created, Lowry listened to Ujiri and Casey, put the giant chip on his shoulder down and had a career year with the Raptors, leading his team to their first playoff berth in five seasons.

“Me and coach (Casey) we’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s been great,” Lowry said after the current season ended. “Coach Casey has allowed me to become a three-time All-Star. He’s helped me. He’s allowed me to be the player I’ve become. He’s allowed me to have a voice. He’s allowed me to grow. He has allowed me a lot of things and in that sense he’s been great to me.

“Of course we are going to butt heads. I think most coaches and point guards butt heads because they want to be better. They want to push each other to be better, but he has helped me tremendously.

“He has let me be me. He has let me grow to become a leader, a better leader, a better man, a better basketball player. Coach has always been in my corner, he has always had my back. So, at the end of the day, I think our relationship has grown from here to here.”

Before his arrival in Toronto, no one, absolutely no one, envisioned Lowry ever becoming an NBA All-Star. There was a lot of anger and frustration clouding Lowry’s view of the NBA. He didn’t think coaches believed in him or supported him and from his perspective, he wasn’t wrong, but once he believed the Raptors believed in him, he changed – on the court and in the off season. He earned those All-Star nods with hard work and a new attitude. An attitude that comes from your coach believing in you.

“(Casey) allows us to make mistakes,” Lowry explained. “He allows us to have a say in anything we are doing and he doesn’t hold us back. He wants us to go out and get better. He is pushing us to come back next year better and if you prove you can do something, he’s not going to stop you doing it.

“I remember the first year I was here, I’d shoot pull-up threes and he’s like, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ But, I proved I could do it, so he’s like, ‘shoot-em every time.’

“He’s a guy that you prove you can do it, he’s going to allow you to do it. He wants you to do it.”

While after eight seasons DeMar DeRozan is the face of the franchise, this now Lowry’s team. Lowry is the leader, the go-to-guy when things get tough and in a three-point shooting happy NBA, Lowry has evolved into one of the best long range threats in the Association. He appreciates everything the team and the community has done for him over the past five years.

“The city has been amazing to me,” Lowry said. “They have supported everything I’ve done. They have always had my back. When I try to give back to the community I don’t do it for anything but to give back to the community because they supported me. I want to support the communities that supported me. This place has been nothing but supportive thru the past five years.”

His teammates are hoping the support of the management, coaches, fans and themselves has been enough to keep their All-Star point guard in Toronto next season.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

Basketball Insiders Think Raptors Will Stay The Course

Options for Raptors president Masai Ujiri next season are limited and his best scenario will be to stay the course says Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler in his look at the future in Toronto.

1.  Attacking the free agent market to get better next next season isn’t an option as Ujiri has no real cap space to work with again this summer.

even if the Raptors said no thank you to all of their free agents, they would enter the off-season with $24.188 million in cap space. Said differently, that’s not even room for one max free agent.

2. Kyle Lowry will re-sign with the Raptors. For lots of reasons other than just the money. Lowry loves his life in Toronto and considers DeMar DeRozan “family.” Besides, there just aren’t many landing spots out there for a 31-year-old All-Star point guard that wants to win and get paid.

As much as people want to speculate about the future landing spot for Lowry, the likely outcome of the situation is he re-signs in Toronto on a whopper of a contract.

3. Serge Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto and the Raptors have done everything they could to make Ibaka love the move. Over and over again Ibaka has said he wants to play more at center and coach Casey accommodated him and not just to make Ibaka happy. Ujiri wants changes and Ibaka is the kind of change (a stretch-five that blocks shots) this team is looking for. Expect Ibaka to be back on a new $100 million plus contract.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri had been after Ibaka in trade for some time. Most in NBA circles believe that Ibaka made it clear to the Magic the only team he wanted to land with was Toronto

4. Patrick Patterson is likely the odd man out in free agency. He’s a “3-and-D” power forward that seems to get hurt every season and then loses his stroke. The Raptors would like to keep him as a backup power forward if the price is right, but the risk in free agency is he gets priced out of his value to Toronto.

As good as Patrick Patterson has been for the Raptors, he may be priced too high if they can reach deals with Lowry and Ibaka.

5. P.J. Tucker is a guy Ujiri acquired to fill a gaping hole at combo-forward and he impressed big time during the postseason. The Raptors want him back, but Tucker made it really clear after the season he wants to come back only if the Raptors are keeping their big name free agents – especially Lowry.

P.J Tucker has said he’d like to be back with the Raptors and his price tag might be reasonable enough to work even if the Raptors pay out big money to Lowry and Ibaka.

6. Ujiri will be active in the trade market, if not right away in July, later in the summer as teams are trying to fill holes in their rosters or ahead of the trade deadline. Moving one of his big contracts like DeMarre Carroll would make paying the luxury tax bill from re-signing his own free agents much less painful.

the situation becomes easier if the Raptors can off-load a bigger contract that no longer fits the plan going forward

Even Jonas Valanciunas could be on the block if the goal is to start Ibaka at center and let the cheaper Lucas Nogueira and  Jakob Poeltl compete for the backup center role.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas has meant to the Raptors, moving his $15.46 million salary would solve more problems for the future than he does as a player.

The Raptors are a 50 win team that been to the postseason four straight years and to stay on the radar in hockey-mad Toronto, that’s pretty much the floor and Ujiri knows it. The Raptors will “try to change the culture,” but they aren’t going to tank to do it. At least not voluntarily.

Look for head coach Dwane Casey and his two All-Stars, Lowry and DeRozan, to be back in Toronto again next season putting together another 50 win season and hoping they’ve found the magic (Ibaka) that can take them up another level. As Kyler explains, they don’t have much choice.

Be sure to check out all of Kyler’s analysis here.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casey is hoping for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks

Raptors Looked Lost And Confused In Milwaukee

This was supposed to be a first round series featuring the playoff tested and experienced Toronto Raptors taking on a young Bucks team with two rookies in their starting lineup, but it was the Raptors veterans who looked lost and confused in Milwaukee.

“We just look like we don’t know what the hell we are are doing,” Jonas Valanciunas explained postgame. “We just gave up from the start of the game.”

Toronto shot 4-18 in the first quarter of Game Three to get behind 32-12 and things didn’t improve from there as the Raptors dropped a 104-77 contest they were never in.

“It starts with us, myself self as a coach as far as having them ready to play in a hostile environment” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said trying to deflect blame away from his players. “They ambushed us. There is no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”

However, there is no excuse for not being ready to play in a hostile environment for the Raptors veterans. Except for P.J. Tucker, they’ve all been here before multiple times. They knew or should have known what to expect.

This hasn’t been a good series for the Raptors starting center. Valanciunas (10 points/ 8.7 rebounds) has been unexpectedly taken advantage of by the Bucks rookie “stretch” center Thon Maker (50% 3FG) and the usually favorable matchup with Greg Monroe (16 points/ 8.7 rebounds) hasn’t gone so well either.

An efficient and effective beast in the postseason in his past three trips, this year Valanciunas has been getting rushed into bad shots on offense, shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the series, and schooled at the other end, boasting a plus/minus of -8.3 points in 22 minutes per game. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he hasn’t been alone.

Among the Raptors veterans, only Serge Ibaka (45.9% shooting) and DeMarre Carroll (54.5% shooting) are hitting shots at better than 37.5 percent. Ibaka is making an impact, but Carroll doesn’t play enough or shoot enough mostly because the guy he is guarding, Kris Middleton (16.7 points), is second in Bucks playoff scoring.

It’s looked like a Raptors brickfest out there except from the young guys Delon Wright (50%), Norman Powell (50%), and rookie center Jakob Poeltl (42.9%).  The guys who weren’t supposed to play much are the only players with a plus in the plus/minus stat and it could be argued Wright has noticeably outplayed Cory Joseph, Poeltl has been more effective than Valanciunas, and Powell has been more aggressive offensively than Carroll.

“We’ll make changes,” Casey said. “We made changes going into the second half, but whoever goes in has to go in and make a difference.”

It isn’t easy making changes to a starting lineup when these are the guys who got you here, but the Raptors can’t afford to get run out of the building by the Bucks aggression in Game Four on Saturday. If this lineup, this rotation can’t adjust, Casey has to try something new.

“They just came out really aggressively and took (away) our easy points, took our normal rhythm shots, they took our rhythm away from us,” Valanciunas said. “They were into the ball, into people, not letting (us) screen easy.”

News flash, the playoffs aren’t supposed to be easy. The cliche ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ is true and the Raptors know it.

“Whoever plays the hardest is going to win the series,” P.J. Tucker said. “Nobody (should) got to hype you to go out and play hard. This is what we do. If you don’t have the moral (fortitude) to go out and fight in the NBA playoffs, then this ain’t the job for you.”

Ignore DeRozan going 0-8 in Game Three and ignore coach Casey’s promise of, “as a staff we have to do a better job of finding ways of opening and space for us to score.” The Raptors didn’t lose Games One and Three because the Bucks out-schemed them. The Bucks are winning because they are playing harder, pure and simple.

“We got to forget the plays, forget everything and come out with energy,” Valanciunas said. “Come out willing to play basketball, not Xs and Os, hard school basketball.”

“I still believe we can win the series,” Kyle Lowry said. “It ain’t over. It just sucks right now. It’s terrible right now. It’s a terrible feeling the way we just got our asses beat. So we better pick it up or it’s going to be a terrible feeling again.”

If the Raptors players Casey puts on the court don’t play harder and tougher from the start, no amount of game planning is going to prevent another terrible feeling after Game Four.

 

 

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

     Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Kyle Lowry Bounces Back In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

In his pre-game comments to the media before game two Tuesday night Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was still lamenting about the lack of enthusiasm he felt his team had in that 97-83 loss.

“We have got to play with enthusiasm,” Casey said. “I don’t think we were tired (Saturday night) if guys are tired then we will get them a (break).”

There was no questioning the Raptors effort in game two as they walked out with a 106-100 win though it did go down to the wire.

Even though the experts had the Raptors winning this best of seven series four straight, maybe five games at the most, the Bucks are not going to walk away and die and they showed that as they had a couple of shots to tie or win the game with 30-seconds or so left.

Two corrections the Raptors made from game one resulted in this win.

First they were able to free up Kyle Lowry and let him do what he does best and that’s shoot the basketball.

The Bucks played great defense in game one. They let DeMar DeRozan get his 27 points and Serge Ibaka get his 19, but the focus was on Lowry who usually can chip in with 22 or 23. Lowry only scored four points as they took him out of his game.

In game two the trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka had 22, 23 and 16 for 61 of the Raptors 106 points in the game. That’s the key to beating Toronto, you can’t stop all three, but if you take one of the trio out of the game you got a shot.

“I just went out there and played,” Lowry said after the game. “I went out there tried to make my shots and be aggressive. I got to the foul line nine times. I got aggressive early and went out there and played.”

Casey was never worried if Lowry was going to bounce back because he has coached him now for five years he knows what he has.

“He’s human,” Casey said about Lowry. “Everyone has a night like that (Game 1) and we can’t panic every time a guy has a tough night. This is a tough league, Milwaukee is a very tough grind it out type team and they are going to make it hard on you.

“It’s his competitive edge. He’s a guy that competes. Through the years where I have been in the trenches before and he always bounced back. It’s just who he is, he is a fighter, a competitor and I just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied the way he played in the first game.”

The second correction the Raptors had was with their defense. They concentrated on keeping the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo in check.

His final numbers were outstanding, 24-points, 15-rebounds and seven assists, but he had to earn every last one of them. Every time he drove through the paint at least two defenders were draped all over him not letting him take over the game like he did in game one.

He played 42-minutes but he just wasn’t a factor.

Khris Middleton, who Casey called the Bucks X-factor before the series, scored-20 but it just wasn’t enough.

The Bucks did fight even with all the adjustments the Raptors made and they were only down two-points (100-102) with just 57-seconds left when P.J. Tucker missed a pair of free throws.

Down four points with nine seconds left after Kyle Lowry hit a 20-foot jumper, the Bucks still had life with it being two possession game, but Malcolm Brogdon missed on a long three-point attempt.

The point is this Bucks team that was supposed to be a push over are far from it.

Yes the Raptors should win this series but to do so they are going to have to make more adjustments and as long as they make the right one’s they will be all right.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Game Two Belongs To The Raptors

As bad as Toronto has been at Game Ones in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, currently at 0-9, this team has, more often than not, found the next contest more to their liking and against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Game Two at the Air Canada Centre belongs to the Raptors and they had better deliver.

“It’s like deja va all over again,” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s the first to four. That’s what it is and we just have to go out there and take care of Game Two.”

Going from a bad NBA Lottery Team when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey first arrived to a playoff team and recently an Eastern Conference Finals contender happened faster than expected, but those expectations can’t be rolled back now.

Making the playoffs has become nothing special, so unlike the last three years, even the crowd at the Air Canada Centre showed up late and sat on their hands until they were told to do something. It felt like a regular season game in the building.

“The expectation of our program, where we started is definitely where we are now and it’s not going to end,” Casey said. “Each year you try to improve, get better, go further. The expectations have changed more so.”

After getting smacked in the mouth three years in a row on the opening afternoon of the NBA playoffs by a lower seeded team, one could be forgiven for thinking Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would have been ready for the physicality, intensity and often unfriendly whistle of the postseason.  But after a solid second quarter where the Raptors took a 5 point lead, Lowry shot 1-7 and DeRozan shot 1-8 and the pair only scored a single point in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee pulled away.

“The second half was abysmal,” Casey said. “We didn’t play with any pace, any movement. All of that led to tough shots, challenged shots.”

The Bucks were very physical with both of the Raptors All-Stars and a regular season whistle likely would have allowed them to live at the line in the second half, but the Bucks, with two rookies in their starting lineup, played as aggressively as the referees would allow and the Raptors didn’t respond in kind.

“They played hard longer than we did,” Casey said. “I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Fortunately for Toronto, stepping up in Game Two is something this team and their stars has done before.

The Raptors came back in Game Two against the Nets in 2014 behind a 30 point effort from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas stepped up with a double-double 15/14.  Last year against the Pacers Lowry had the near triple double with 18/7/9 and Valanciunas stepped up big again with 23/15 in the victory.

It’ll take a big game from from at least one of the Raptors All-Stars and someone else to pull out a Game Two win over Milwaukee.

“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We have to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

“I just have to play better,” Lowry said. “No if ands or buts about it. I have to play better.”

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Game One was the Bucks didn’t do anything the Raptors weren’t prepared for. Toronto had faced the Bucks four times this season, gone 3-1 and knew exactly what to expect from this long lanky team and their star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I was expecting everything,” DeRozan confirmed. “It’s on us, we don’t have any excuses. They have one (win) and it’s on us to take advantage of the next game at home.”

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots. We didn’t get back on defense.”

And the Bucks are under no delusions that the Raptors can’t play better.

“They are a very talented team,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Going through the process of the good and the bad, you look at DeRozan and Lowry, the core has been together so they’ve seen everything and understanding that, they’re very talented and they’re well coached. Casey is going to have these guys ready to go.”

Game Two at home belongs to Toronto. It’s up to them not to give it away.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Lowry And DeRozan Stumble In Game One Again

Game One of the NBA playoffs hasn’t been friendly to the Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and things didn’t go any better this year against the underdog Milwaukee Bucks in the usually friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre. The duo stopped scoring heading into the final frame and the Bucks walked off with the 97-83 win. This is the fourth opening playoff series in a row the Raptors duo of Lowry and DeRozan have failed to win Game One at home.

“We expected it,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about the Bucks defense. “Spacing, how we were attacking the pick and roll, we were expecting it. Couple of times they blocked a shot at the rim, but you have to expect that. Now the next time has to be in the dunker area to drop it off. All those things we didn’t execute.

“There is no excuse. I don’t know if we played hard enough to deserve to win, I thought they outplayed us. They played hard longer than we did. I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Lowry shot 2-11 for just 4 points and DeRozan was 7-21 for 27 points on the night, but the pair combined to score just 1 point in the fourth quarter as the Raptors were outscored 22-13 over the final 12 minutes.

“We miss a lot of shots that we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We didn’t get over 20 (points) in the quarters in the second half. That’s not like us. We shot 36 percent. We got to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

However, failing to score in Game One of the playoffs is nothing unusual, over the past four years. Lowry is averaging 11 points on 27.5 percent shooting and DeRozan 17.5 points on 28.8 percent from the field, significantly below their playoff averages of 18.7 points and 21.5 points respectively prior to this game.

“I have no clue,” DeRozan said about the Raptors Game One problems. “If I had an answer maybe we would have pulled it out tonight.

“We got to understand, we make it hard on ourselves.”

The Raptors found the length of the Bucks challenging, but like in prior Game Ones, it was the elevated physical play and loose playoff whistle that seemed to catch them off guard and that was a surprise that shouldn’t have happened considering this is the fourth time they’ve been thru this.

“I thought the guys did a really good job of using their length,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought they competed. I thought (rookie) Thon (Maker) made some great plays there in the third quarter, blocking shots when Lowry got to the basket or DeRozan got to the basket.

“I thought Moose (Greg Monroe) did a great job too in the pick and roll, knowing they were going to put him in the pick and roll and he was up for it this evening.”

The Bucks did compete and outplay their hosts in three of the four quarters. With two rookies in Kidd’s starting lineup, that shouldn’t have happened and shouldn’t be repeated in Game Two on Tuesday night in Toronto.

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots and gave them a bunch of fast break points. We already knew that’s what they thrive at. We didn’t get back on defense and that turned into them getting a win.”

The NBA playoffs are underway, but for the fourth season in a row, the Raptors didn’t hear the starting gun and dug themselves yet another hole to climb out of.

Leading scorers:

Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo 28 points, Malcom Brogdon 16 points.

Raptors: DeRozan 27 points, Serge Ibaka 19 points.

Bucks bench outscored the Raptors bench 28-19.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Will Play For The Raptors Again Next Season

It’s been widely assumed that the bromance between DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry all but assured the Raptors All-Star point guard would re-sign with the team next season. Well, the word out of All-Star weekend confirmed the team is feeling the same way according to Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler.

Over the NBA All-Star break, it was said pretty dramatically that Lowry is all in with the Raptors 

Sources close to the Raptors said this weekend there was almost no scenario in which the Raptors wouldn’t pony up the money

Lowry is playing even better than his “career year” of 2015-16 and is on pace for the most minutes (37.7), points (22.8), rebounds (4.8), and three-pointers made and attempted (3.3/7.9) at the best percentage (41.7) of his career. He is averaging half an assist per game better than last year as well.

He is the engine that drives the Raptors and without him, they would be a mere shadow of the team that has won three consecutive Atlantic Division crowns.

 

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors All-Stars Lowry And DeRozan Are Asking For Help

Mired in a 4-10 streak and watching team after team pass them in the standings, the Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are asking for help. No one is mentioning names or blame, but the only one that can help them in the immediate future is president Masai Ujiri.

It’s as much how the team is losing games as how many they’ve lost. In the first half of the season the Raptors went 28-13 and lost seven of those games by five points or less. While the result was positive, how they were losing was raising concerns from head coach Dwane Casey even then. In their next 10 losses, seven more were by five points or less and were punctuated by blowing double-digit leads to teams well below them in the standings.

Injuries, rehab assignments, and playing rookies aside, Lowry and DeRozan have a right to be very concerned.

“Something got to give, something got to change,” Lowry said after the one-point loss to the Pistons. “I have an idea, but I am going to keep my mouth shut, keep it professional. I am starting to get worried. It’s not going the way it’s supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so I am starting to get worried.”

“Help is always beneficial,” DeRozan said. “I never looked at help as a negative thing. If help is an option, why not?”

Patrick Patterson has missed 13 games because of a sore knee since the New Year, but things weren’t much better in the games he has played since then, so even when he returns healthy – probably post All-Star break – there won’t be a lot of confidence that it will be enough to swing the tide.

The best help would come from the outside via trade. An impact player who could shore up the Raptors porous defense or become a legitimate third scoring option and preferably both.

Ujiri likes to take his time and land the best deal possible, but maybe this time he needs to pull the trigger early and pay a little more. The Raptors players haven’t looked this disheartened since before the Rudy Gay trade in 2013. They need help now.
 

 

 
 

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

 
 

 

NBA TOronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Carries A Heavy Load In Toronto

By Frank McLean

Okay Raptors fans who’s is averaging more minutes a game in the NBA this year than MVP candidates James Harden, Russell Westbrook and some guy named LeBron James. Would you believe Kyle Lowry?

At 37-minutes a game Lowry is leading the league with minutes played.  17-times this year he has logged 40-minutes or more in a game. He carries a heavy load in Toronto each and every night.

He has been the Raptors most consistent player because of his ability to log heavy minutes in a season where he has been one of the lucky ones to avoid extended stays on the injury list, which started in the summer league with Delon Wright and added Jared Sullinger in the preseason and more recently Patrick Patterson and his partner at guard DeMar DeRozan.

You wonder how Lowry is able to keep it up? Along with DeRozan he spent the summer with the USA Basketball winning the gold medal at the Olympics and had maybe a total of three weeks off before training camp rolled around for the current NBA season.

Lowry will tell you though he is enjoying every minute of it.

“I play basketball for a living. It’s very easy. It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun. At times you’re like I want to sleep in longer, but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon.”

Lowry and the Raptors have been enjoying something that the schedule doesn’t give you very often and that’s three days off before their next game. They also have games Tuesday and Wednesday before the team gets eight days off for the All-Star break.

Now Lowry along with DeRozan won’t get the full eight days off since they will be in New Orleans to play in the game, but with only four wins in their last 13-games, this break is needed.

But the problem for the Raptors is not just needing a rest. Their defence has disappeared and that showed in a Wednesday night loss in Minnesota.

Lowry as the leader of this team spoke Wednesday night about what needs to be done down the stretch to the playoffs because the defence has not been their consistently all year.

“Honestly, no it hasn’t,” Lowry said. “I think we had one good game where we shot 38 or 40% and we won the game. That’s one game this year. Other than that I just feel like we have to figure it out and it’s on everyone. It’s on myself to hold guys acceptable, it’s on DeMar to hold guys accountable, it’s on us to lead us. It starts with us. We got to both do it. Then DeMarre (Carroll) and (Jonas Valanciunas) and everyone else has to step up.

“Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something, we just have to figure it out ourselves. When I say something has got to give we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

Lowry has been ‘the man’ all season, averaging 23-points, five rebounds and seven assists. With DeRozan back from his ankle injury, the dynamic duo are averaging a combined 51-points a night.

This also Lowry’s contract year and a big payday of over $25-million a year will be coming his way.

He’s earned it. He has been the Raptors most reliable player all year.

 

 

  

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Has Earned The Respect Of His Opponents

By Frank McLean

It was one of those things you took for granted was going to happen, but you weren’t quite sure until it was officially announced, the Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry would be going to his third straight NBA All-Star Game.

Lowry got the word Thursday night that the coaches had voted him on the Eastern Conference roster as a reserve and that he will be joining his Siamese twin in the Raptors backcourt DeMar DeRozan next month in New Orleans.

DeRozan, who had been a reserve last year, was named a starter in the fan/player/media voting two weeks ago.

Lowry has been one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference all season. He has averaged 22.7-points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists a game. You figured the coaches have got to pick him right?

“Of course I would love to have the fans voted me in,” Lowry was saying to the media on Friday.  “But for the coaches to vote you in, it means they respect your game, respect what you bring to the team.”

Meanwhile his coach Dwane Casey was saying he didn’t have to contact his fellow coaches around the league and put in a plug for his player.

“Not much (lobbying) because a lot of (the coaches) said they were all in. Kyle’s numbers and us hovering around second place spoke for itself .”

During his time in Toronto Lowry has become respected around the league. His play, hustle and the extra work he has put in the gym are major factors towards him making his third straight appearance in the All-Star Game.

Before Lowry came to Toronto he played in Memphis where he was drafted out of Villanova and then went to Houston. In both places he came with a reputation as an uncoachable player always arguing about the way he was being used and not going along with the game plan.

Lowry’s story is quite similar to that of another Toronto star of the past, center fielder Devon White of the Blue Jays. White came to the Blue Jays in a trade with the California Angels spent the next five years as an all-star and major part of Toronto’s two MLB World Championship teams.

White arrived in Toronto with the same reputation as Lowry, yet when you saw White play everyday, you saw a hard worker who played the game the right way and was a quality teammate.

When Lowry first arrived from Houston he knew he had a bad rap, but Dwane Casey and Raptors management showed him the right way to be pro and the results are there in black and white.

Lowry is ecstatic that he’s going to game again with his pal DeRozan.

“It feels great. It’s pretty cool to be able to say the things we’ve done from the end of May (including a gold medal win with the US National Basketball team at the Olympics) until now and continue to grow with me and him. It just shows the hard work, the passion, the dedication to be great and to win is there.

“He’s one of my best friends ever. We can hang out, go to dinner, hang out with our families.  My first year (with the Raptors) I really didn’t talk to anybody. I was trying to figure (things) out. It just happened to grow and we became leaders of the team, we took that upon ourselves on the basketball court and we developed a great relationship off of it.”

Lowry’s hard work and play on the court during his time in Toronto has made him a respected veteran and player any coach can trust with big minutes during a game.

This coming off season it will be time for Lowry to get the big maximum contract that veteran players get with his numbers.

It’s a no brainer that he will get that respect.

 

 

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

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Joins DeMar DeRozan As 3-Time All-Star

NBA coaches have affirmed what everyone was expecting, the Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry will be joining his backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan as a three-time All-Star in New Orleans.

This will be Lowry’s third appearance in a row at the NBA All-Star Game. This year he is averaging career highs in points (22.4), field goal percentage (46.9%), three-point makes, attempts and shooting percentage (3.2/7.5, 42.2%).

Lowry, voted in as a reserve, joins All-Star starter DeRozan who will also be appearing in an NBA All-Star Game for the third time. The Raptors starting shooting guard is averaging a career high 27.9 points on 47.3 percent shooting.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

Raptors Cory Joseph Scores A Career High 33 Points

The Toronto Raptors gave starting point guard Kyle Lowry the night off in Brooklyn to rest and Canadian guard Cory Joseph stepped in and stepped up to score a career-high 33 points on career highs in field goal makes and attempts (15-22) in the 119-109 road win.

“Kyle provides a lot of scoring for us, I knew that slot would be missing today, so I took it upon myself to try to be more aggressive,” Joseph said after the game. “Try to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me. They were giving up a lot of layups and short floaters, so that’s what I was taking.”

It was Joseph’s first start since last April and he played a season-high 37 minutes. However, DeMar DeRozan stole most of the limelight with a 36 point 11 rebound double-double.

The win marked the first time Toronto has reached the halfway point in the season with 28 victories, 2 wins ahead of last year at the same point (26-15) when the team set a franchise record 56 wins on the season and one win ahead of their previous best in 2014-15 (27-14) which finished with 49 victories.

Overshadowing a great performance from Joseph and the new midseason record was concern over Lucas Nogueira who left the game with blurred vision in his left eye and a possible concussion.

The Raptors play the second game of this back-to-back set on the road in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Lowry And DeRozan Need More Fans In All-Star Voting

The initial fan All-Star voting returns are in and just like last year, Eastern Conference guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are out of the top two in the preliminary returns. (Results as of January 5th below).

All-Star voting

 

Last year Kyle Lowry became just the third player in Toronto Raptors team history to be voted an NBA All-Star starter when he finished second among Eastern Conference guards in fan balloting with 646,441 votes. But, it took a late rally by the Raptors fans to overcome a deficit of more than 30,000 votes to help Lowry get in. (see NBA All-Star fan voting in 2016 below)

To-date the Raptors have spent the entire voting period on a western conference road trip while the Air Canada Centre was taken over for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, so basketball hasn’t been uppermost on Canadian’s minds. However, that is all about to change with the Raptors at home for 5 of the next 6 games.

It is going to take another big push by the local fanbase to get one of the Raptors guards into the top two of fan voting for Eastern Conference guards. However, winning the fan vote isn’t the only deciding factor this year. The fan vote counts for 50% with the other half split between a media panel and NBA players, but it’s unlikely a player outside of the top five in the fan vote has a chance.

The next fan voting update is Thursday, January 12th and voting ends on Monday, January 16th at 11:59 p.m. E.T.

Voting is easy. NBA fans may submit one full ballot each day through Twitter and Facebook using the player’s first and last name with #NBAVOTE, NBA.com, the NBA App and Google Search, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

The 2017 All-Star Starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, January 19th during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. E.T.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry 2016 media day

NBA News: Toronto Raptors Are Contenders

Surprisingly, though, it is the Raptors who enter play on December 27 as the NBA’s top-ranked team in offensive efficiency—not the Warriors, not the Cavaliers and not the Spurs.

Simply? The Raptors are benefiting from continuity and chemistry. Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are in their fifth season together and the pieces around them—Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll—fit within their system.

A few days after the Cavs scored one of their biggest wins of the season by defeating the Warriors, the Raptors enter play on December 27 trailing them by one game in the standings.

 

Source: Basketball Insiders Moke Hamilton

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Still Being Snubbed In The NBA MVP Race

Toronto Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry continues to be snubbed in the NBA MVP race despite leading his team to a 21-8 record and objectively dominating the land beyond as this year’s scariest three-point threat.  No disrespect to Stephen Curry intended.

According to ESPN, Curry leads the NBA in three-point makes, but Lowry is the lone representative in the top 10 in makes from the East and at 45.5 percent shooting from three, he’s the best shooter in the NBA among this elite group.

In today’s NBA, there isn’t anyone more valuable than a two-way player who can sink volume threes at a high percentage. It’s past time his impact garnered some notice.

At least he hasn’t had to suffer alone. It took until now for ESPN’s NBA Real Plus-Minus leader Chris Paul to finally edge into the 10th spot on NBA.com Sekou Smith’s list of MVP candidates.

The fans in Toronto know Lowry’s worth to the Raptors, voting him onto the All-Star team last year, but it’s the Eastern Conference’s leading scorer DeMar DeRozan who has been getting whatever love is available to “We The North” in the MVP race (currently 7th on Smith’s list.) Although, Basketball Insiders

6. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (Last Week: 6) 

Lowry has undoubtedly been overlooked this season because of DeRozan’s scoring streak early in the season. Lowry has been incredibly consistent on both offense and defense, driving to the rack with confidence and forcing turnovers against some of the best point guards in the league.

While DeRozan continues to pile in the points and confound defenses on most nights, this is Lowry’s team and when they get into trouble, it’s Lowry who takes over and changes certain defeat into just another Raptors win like he did on the road in Utah on the Friday before Christmas.

“For me, it’s all about winning games,” Lowry said after the game. “That’s all that matters. I’ll do whatever it takes to win games.”

Lowry personally stopped a Jazz resurgence that started while he was getting a couple of stitches in his upper lip during the third quarter with 19 fourth quarter points on route to a season high 36 points in the 104-98 win.

A oh hum 15-20 shooting from the field and a typical 4-8 from three point range, Raptors fans have come to expect nothing less from their All-Star, even against a Western Conference playoff team in its own building. It’s why Lowry brings out the passion from the local fan base and why he should be on somebody’s NBA MVP race list.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Claim NBA’s Top Offensive Rating From Warriors

Toronto Raptors defensive-minded head coach Dwane Casey would probably prefer to bury this news, but his team now has the top offensive rating in the NBA at 114.2 points per 100 possessions, tied with the high scoring Golden State Warriors.

Led by the Eastern Conference’s top scorer DeMar DeRozan (640 points) and the conference’s most prolific three-point maker Kyle Lowry (71 3FGM), the eighth slowest paced team in the NBA has been averaging 115.5 points over their past 10 games to score at the blistering rate of 120.6 per 100 possessions, that’s 4.3 points more than the Cavaliers and almost 6 points better than the fast-paced Warriors over this time period.

The Raptors haven’t exactly been forgetting about defense over this span either, coach Casey’s regular rants to the contrary notwithstanding. Over the past 10 games in which Toronto has gone 8-2, the Raptors have allowed 100.8 points for a differential of +14.7 points. On the season, the Raptors are outscoring their opponents by an Eastern Conference best +8.3 points. The Warriors led the West at +12 points.

This offensive surge has moved the Raptors up the NBA rankings in several key areas:

They are now fourth in scoring at 111 points per game, just behind the Rockets and Cavs, but well back of the Warriors (118).

At 47.5 percent shooting, they are second only to the Warriors at 49.8 percent.

Three point shooting at 39.4 percent as a team trails only the Spurs (40) and the Cavs (40.1).

The Raptors are the second best free throw shooting team in the NBA at 81.7 percent, with the third most makes (481) on the 10th most attempts (589).

Toronto leads the NBA in drive points per game at 22.3 on the sixth most attempts (30.7).

Although the Raptors bench often seems to take the heat for inconsistency locally, they have the highest Net Rating in the NBA by a wide margin at +14.1. The second place Spurs bench is +10.3 and the next best in the East is the Cavs bench at +4.1.

Coach Casey can point to one offensive stat that should make a defensive coach happy, the Raptors are third best at creating screen assists (12.6), just behind Charlotte and Golden State.

At 16-7, the Raptors are in the midst of another very good season and while the offensive numbers are impressive, Casey would rather see his team improve on their 15th ranked defensive rating (104.4). But it isn’t going to be easy when your team has the NBA’s second best Net Rating of +9.8 points per 100 possessions and they just keep on winning.

Note: the Eastern Conference’s first place Cavs defensive rating is ranked 17th at 104.7.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Guards Show Mid-Season Form In Detroit

The preseason tilt between the Raptors and the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday night gave a good indication about which team was ready to start the regular season and who still has a lot of work to do. The Detroit News James Hawkins reported on Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy’s displeasure with the effort he saw in his team’s final tune-up, a 103-92 loss that was worse than the score indicated.

“I have been happy with our team’s work ethic and how hard we have played throughout the preseason, but I wasn’t tonight,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I was really disappointed. I did not think that we competed hard enough tonight.

“They pounded us on the glass. I did not think we were very aggressive defensively. I do not think we did a great job contesting shots. I just do not think we battled hard.”

Toronto outrebounded Detroit 47-37 and won the turnover battle with 21 points off 14 Pistons turnovers to just 5 points on 12 opportunities provided by the Raptors.

The game was close through the first eight minutes with the lead changing hands three times, but when Van Gundy pulled his starters 8.7 minutes in and three points down, things quickly fell apart.

As Drummond exited for the 19-year-old rookie Henry Ellenson, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey replaced Jonas Valanciunas with third year center Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira and it all went downhill for Detroit. Patrick Patterson, who had subbed in for rookie Pascal Siakam a minute earlier, found Nogueira for a dunk and a minute later Nogueira grabbed Drew Crawford’s miss on a long three-point attempt for a layup. DeMar DeRozan scored his 10 point of the quarter with less than a second left after Nogueria rebounded a Marcus Morris missed three-point attempt with 18 seconds left in the quarter and nearly 12 seconds left on the shot clock.

Nogueira may have been beating up on a rookie, but that’s what he’s supposed to do at this point in his career and what Casey will need from him on most nights during the regular season. Bebe finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 effective minutes.

However, it was business as usual for Toronto’s All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as they combined for 53 points on 18-35 shooting from the field and outrebounded the Pistons starting backcourt 10-0. Backup point guard Cory Joseph piling on with 10 points, 6 rebounds and a team-high 4 assists. The Raptors guards imposed their will on Detroit.

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

Toronto led by 20 points late in the third quarter when Lowry and DeMarre Carroll were subbed out for Joseph and training camp hopeful Fred VanVleet and the Pistons went on an 8-1 run to close out the frame. VanVleet going 0-4 from the field for 0 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists over the final 15 minutes. The now veteran Joseph providing nearly half of Toronto’s fourth quarter offense with 10 points on 4-4 shooting as his team’s leader on the court with Lowry watching from the bench. The Pistons starters Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond salvaging what the could from this game against Toronto’s 2nd/3rd unit.

The Pistons will get a chance at redemption in the Raptors home opener on October 26th.

 

 

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.