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NBA Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs Dirk Nowitzki Gets A Potato For 30,000 Points

By Lindsay Dunn

30,078 and counting. That is the total points Dirk Nowitzki has in his long career with the Mavs so far and he has the potato to prove it. He hit the 30-thousand point milestone on March 7th against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ve got great support from everyone,” Nowitzki told Pro Bball Report. “Whether it’s on twitter from Kobe, Magic, LeBron or (Dwyane) Wade, it’s been really great. I’m blessed, but for me it’s over now. We are trying to fight for the playoffs.”

On Monday night Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks lost to the Raptors 100-78. The Mavs were held to just 12 points in the 4th quarter and were out played off the glass by over 20 rebounds.

“With a young team there are going to be some ups and downs,” Nowitzki said. “There are going to be some mistakes but you have to learn from them and get better.” And that they did. The Mavs had 36 points in the 4th against Washington Wednesday night and only had one less rebound than the Wizards.

Nowitzki has made it clear that he hopes to play his 20th and possibly his final season in the NBA with the Mavericks. But when asked about the road he has paved for other European players the ever talkative and jovial player shied away from the praise. “I just compete and I play my game. You know there were guys before me that paved the way for me. There were plenty of Europeans before me to play the game. If I have helped pave the wave for a couple of these guys now, that’s awesome.”

The 38-year-old who recently got a potato in the mail from a fan congratulating him on his 30-thousand-point milestone has not only watched how his game has improved but how the league in general has developed. “The sport has grown all over the world, not just in Europe but in China, Africa, Australia as well. I mean, it’s a global league now and it’s been fun to watch it grow over the last 20 years.”

If the 7ft forward retires after 20 seasons he would be in good company. He would tie the recently retired Kobe Bryant for seasons spent with a single franchise. “Everything will be unbelievable to me after my career is over. Something I will look back at with pride, but for now I just keep plugging.”

 

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter@LindsayDunnTV

 

 

 

 

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 Boston Celtics David Lee

Is David Lee The Power Forward Your Team Needs?

A lot of money has been spent on NBA free agents already and once Kevin Durant announces his decision on the 4th of July, what’s left of the big money should be gone fairly quickly. Then, finally, teams like the Toronto Raptors who have been waiting patiently on the sidelines because they had to take care of their own big name free agent and/or had little salary cap space to begin with can start to pick over what’s left.

This is phase two of the annual free agent frenzy. The stage where salaries revert back to what seems reasonable or even cheap by the standards of the first few days of the “July Moratorium.”

At this point in free agency, if you are looking for a proven power forward that can start or provide instant offense off the bench, the 33-year-old two-time All-Star who has played on three different teams in the past two years David Lee could be your guy.

Lee averaged 18 points and 10 boards in his first four seasons in Golden State before injuries cost him his starting job and Draymond Green exploded onto the scene. Since then he’s become a bench player with the Warriors, then Boston and finally in Dallas where he helped the Mavericks turn around a sliding season and hang onto a playoff spot.

Earl K. Sneed on Mavs.com quotes coach Rick Carlisle,

“You know, we acquired David Lee two months ago. I don’t remember the exact date, but when you acquire a player like that that’s been a two-time All-Star and has been in some successful organizations, you know, you want him to have a great experience,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle explained during his exit interview last month. “He did, and he helped us get to the playoffs. We wouldn’t have got to the playoffs without David Lee, and the word spreads. You know, veterans like him know other veterans, and the word gets out that Dallas is a high-level organization. And we take great pride in that.”

Lee’s productivity didn’t falter in a reduced role. He was still averaging a solid double-double on a per 36 minute basis because, for all of Lee’s shortcomings, he can still rebound and score.

Akshay Mirchandani on Mavs Moneyball writes,

Enter Lee. He averaged 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds with the Mavericks. Those aren’t flashy numbers, but he provided rebounding and a solid inside offensive presence off the bench that the Mavs didn’t have before his arrival.

Almost immediately, Lee became a reliable scorer for Dallas, scoring double digits in 11 of the 25 regular season games he played with the Mavericks.

Obviously Lee isn’t the long term fix to anyone’s basketball program, but he can still do what he’s always done. A career 53.3 percent shooter from the field that isn’t falling off and a superior offensive and defensive rebounder. If your team needs scoring and rebounding off the bench, he can still fill the gap better than most.

Lee told Stefan Bondy of the NY Daily News at the end of March he looking forward to free agency.

“I think I’ll have some good choices. And I look forward to playing three or four more years,” said Lee. “I feel like right now my body feels as healthy as ever. And I think going down in weight has made me feel a lot better and a lot more active. I feel as active as I was early in my career.”

On the right team in the right situation, Lee could be the power forward your NBA team needs for next season and it shouldn’t break the bank to sign him.

 

 

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 Houston Rockets Dwight Howard

What No One Is Saying About Free Agent Dwight Howard

By Bill Ingram

How times have changed for Dwight Howard. It wasn’t that long ago that he was believed to be the key to winning an NBA championship. He helped lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and appeared to be headed for superstardom and regular appearances in the NBA’s Big Show. Unfortunately, his career hit a snag (or at least a Brendan Haywood elbow) when a back injury caused him to miss a huge chunk of the 2011-12 season. It turned out to be his final season in Orlando.

The Magic built a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena for him, they fired an outstanding head coach for him, and then, sensing his lack of loyalty, they traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Heralded as the next dominant force in LA, another Shaquille O’Neal to pair with Kobe Bryant, Howard would spend just one season with the Lakers. The pressure of playing in LA and the constant pressure from Bryant to work harder and play better seemed too much for Howard, who managed just 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in a disappointing season for LA, which ended with a 0-4 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite his struggles, Howard was the biggest name in free agency during the summer of 2013. He talked to a number of the interested teams, but ultimately chose Houston, where Chandler Parsons and James Harden had been heavily recruiting him for months. The Rockets, too, heralded Howard as the championship harbinger, with fans talking about him as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.

Once, again, however, Howard fell short of expectations. It wasn’t entirely his fault, of course, as the Rockets’ dysfunctional front office gave him an unproven head coach in Kevin McHale and shoot-first, shoot-second co-star in James Harden, whose unwillingness to feed Dwight the ball was matched only by his unwillingness to play defense. Howard’s play became every more uninspired, going from 18.3 points per game in his first year to 15.8 in his second and then 13.7 in his third.

So what’s next for Howard? He has the ability to opt out in July, and it’s extremely likely he will do so. Yet no one considers him a top free agent target, with Kevin Durant, LeBron James (also option), Andre Drummond (restricted) and even former Rockets point guard Mike Conley considered to be more desirable. With that in mind, we take a look at the best options for Dwight as he looks to get his career back on track.

1) The Houston Rockets

The first option, of course, is the Rockets, who would like to have him back and can pay him the most money. Mike D’Antoni is now in place as their head coach, and there’s a chance that he could have the same kind of impact on Dwight as he had on Amar’e Stoudemire, who was a force to be reckoned with in D’Antoni’s offense in Phoenix. That’s a stretch, though, as D’Antoni couldn’t squeeze that kind of play out of Dwight when they were both with the Lakers. Of course, there’s still the matter of Harden’s lack of team play, but the bigger issue is at point guard. The Suns had one of the best floor leaders of all time in Steve Nash, and no matter who the Rockets sign or acquire this offseason they will not have a Nash-esque floor leader when the ball goes up on the 2016-17 season. What’s most likely is that Dwight will leave $23.2 million on the table in Houston and take radically less to play elsewhere.

2) The Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was less than impressed when Howard refused to even meet with the Mavs before singing with the Rockets. A strong argument could be made that the Mavs were closer to competing for a championship with Dwight in the mix than Houston was. The aforementioned Parsons has been in Dallas and still recruiting his friend, as he did in Houston three years ago. More importantly, for Dwight to return to prominence he has to change his game and there is no one better equipped to do that than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. No coach in the league is as good at analyzing a player’s strengths and weaknesses and using that analysis to maximize their effectiveness. He would ask a lot of Dwight, both on the court, in practice and in the locker room. He would demand that Dwight put himself second, become a good teammate and transform his game to be more than a dunker. He would demand that Dwight play hard on both ends of the court regardless of his touches. He would also make sure Dwight got plenty of touches in the right places. Like Houston, Dallas offers tax incentives that add to their overall attractiveness for a free agent. The Mavs aren’t contenders with Dwight in the mix, but they are far better than the Rockets would be with D2 back in uniform.

3) The New York Knicks

Most recently the Knicks have emerged as strong suitors for Dwight, and they have a solid case to make. Carmelo is still in his prime and one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA. He isn’t quite as inattentive to the defensive end as Harden, and he is a bit more willing to pass than Houston’s black hole. Derrick Rose is not the player he was before the knee injuries, but he is still a very capable floor leader and would make sure Dwight got plenty of looks right at the rim. Kristaps Pozingis had a stellar season and is reminiscent of the power forwards who benefitted from playing alongside Dwight in Orlando. The Knicks can also bring back elite shooter Arron Afflalo, giving Dwight plenty of options on the perimeter and therefore a little space to operate in the paint. Of course, there are issues in New York, too. If Dwight can’t get his attitude right or get his game back, he would struggle under the media scrutiny that comes from playing in the NBA’s largest media market. If Rose continues to struggle, the Knicks can’t just rely on Dwight or Carmelo to carry them. Finally, if Carmelo doesn’t play enough defense or pass enough for Dwight, their locker room will implode. It’s not a perfect fit, but there is interesting potential in New York.

At the end of the day, for Dwight to get his game back on track and return to the ranks of the NBA’s elite, he’s going to have to put his ego aside and start fresh. It’s going to take the right environment, the right coach, the right co-stars for that to happen, and the one place where all of those factors exist is in Dallas. The Mavs have had trouble landing their free agent targets, but there are plenty of reasons why they should land this one. It’s not a championship waiting to happen, but there are enough intangibles to make Dallas worth watching with D12 in the mix.

 

 

Bill IngramVeteran NBA journalist Bill Ingram has 14 years of experience in the public education setting, specializing in behavior management, and 17 years of experience covering the NBA.

(Reposted with permission from More Than Basketball)

 

 

 



 

NBA Dallas Mavericks Charlie Villanueva

Ex-Raptors Series: Charlie Villanueva Is Making A Difference In Dallas

By Frank McLean

11-years ago the Toronto Raptors chose a 20-year old forward from the University of Connecticut with the seventh pick overall in the first round of the NBA draft named Charlie Villanueva.

After one year with the Raptors, Villanueva spent three years with the Milwaukee Bucks and then five more with the Detroit Pistons before ending up with the Dallas Mavericks where he is currently in his second season with the team.

I had a chance to catch up last week with Villanueva when the Mavericks where in Toronto and he told me that after 11-seasons he is happy to be still making a living in the NBA.

“I’m still living my dream. 31-years old, it seems like yesterday drafted and playing for Toronto, time flies. It’s my 11th year in the league and that’s a blessing. There aren’t a lot of guys that can say they played that long.”

When he thinks about the year he spent in Toronto, it was different coming to a new country and there were some little things that were different from the United States.

“Yah I was 20-years old. The currency was different, y’all don’t get ESPN and the cell phones were different.”

He did say he adjusted to life in the great white north and the best thing that happened was that he had son when he was here and the smile lighted up the room when he mentioned him.

This current Mavericks team is an interesting group. The team made a massive wholesale change of the roster in the offseason to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Right now the Golden State Warriors are walking away with first overall. Then you have the powerhouse second place San Antonio Spurs, but the third through eighth seeds are wide open. Many experts questioned before the start of the year if the Mavericks had a shot a home court in the first round of the playoffs.

When you talk to Villanueva he disses those doubters.

“A lot of people doubted us with all the changes. We have seven or eight new players, people kind of counted us out. Each and every guy in this locker room believes in themselves and this team and what it is capable of doing.

“Can we make the playoffs? Absolutely we can get the third spot, we are right there. The season is still young we have the ability to get better and see what happens.”

Villanueva does use that magic word chemistry when talking about the Mavericks and that it is the best group of guys he has played with.

“We have a great team, great chemistry the way we bond on and off the court. We have a great group of guys, veteran guys who know how to play and know how to win. We have a leader in Dirk (Nowitzki). He is doing amazing things and he’s leading the pack. Guys are taking his personality the way he does things it’s terrific.

“But it’s a combination of everything, Mark (owner Cuban), Rick (head coach Carlisle) and Dirk. They put this together. This is a great group of guys. It’s the best bunch of teammates I have ever had.”

Villanueva is still making a contribution. He is averaging 11-minutes a game and just under six points a night.

Time will tell if the Mavericks get home court in the first round or make the playoffs for that matter, but one thing is for sure, Villanueva will be part of how their 2015-2016 season ends up.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors Luis Scola

Grinding Raptors Reflect Head Coach Dwane Casey

Just call last season an aberration, a team coached by the Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey isn’t supposed to be an offensive juggernaut.  This time around it’s back to grit grind and let the offense come around when it will. Casey preaches hard physical defense as a staple and his former head coach from the Dallas Mavericks Rick Carlisle laid out what this year’s Raptors are doing after losing his open opener to Toronto 102-91.

“They made it more their type of game,” Carlisle explained. “Physical, grinding, a lot of physical contact. They turned it into a boxing match.”

No sweeter words could be spoken to Casey.

“Our defense carried us,” Casey said. “We have gotten back to what wins in this league.”

Toronto leads the Eastern Conference with a 4-0 record, the best start in franchise history and the defensive-minded Raptors are scoring a 106.8 points per game, but it’s their opponents’ field goal percentage of 38.7 percent that defines this team so far. The Raptors are winning with defense and rebounding.

The addition of DeMarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph to the Raptors rotation infused a large dose of toughness that complements the toughness of their on the court leader Kyle Lowry. However, what often gets skipped over is the impact veteran Luis Scola has on this team.

Raptors Scola Lowry Valanciunas

Scola was a late insertion into Casey’s starting lineup during preseason, but he has had a big impact in the games that count. Scola rebounds and pushes Valanciunas to be more active on the glass – unless the Raptors young center wants to watch the “old man” take boards away from him that he should be getting. Scola is ripping down boards at a rate of 13.9 per 36 minutes and is second in total rebounds on the team.

Scola also provides the toughness of a veteran big man  who has seen it all and can still perform as he did against the Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki. Scola helped hold the future hall of fame big man to 1-4 shooting in the fourth quarter by crowding the foul drawing machine and keeping Nowitzki uncomfortable. As Carlisle noted, the Raptors were hanging all over him. It takes a veteran the referees respect to hang off of Dirk and the crafty Scola has been around long enough to have it.

Taking away the home opener from a veteran Western Conference team isn’t easy and it was made tougher because of some ice-cold shooting from some of the Raptors more reliable scorers. Carroll (1-8, 3 points), Terrence Ross (2-8, 4 points), Patrick Patterson (0-6, 0 points) were picked up by Lowry’s stellar 27 point 10 assist game and Scola’s 19 points and 12 rebounds, but it was defense that won the game. Toronto held Dallas to 27.3 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and just 5 points over the final 6.5 minutes to pull out the victory. Now that defines making it “more their type of game” as Coach Carlisle lamented postgame.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Raptors Resolve To be Severely Tested After The Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Who Wants The Pistons Josh Smith?

The Detroit Pistons have requested waivers on forward Josh Smith and will eat the balance of his $54 million contract rather than give away draft picks and take back players they would rather not have. It is commendable of Head Coach, President and chief bottle-washer Stan Van Gundy to admit that a very expensive player simply isn’t working out with his team and risk paying a very athletic forward to help out some other team. So who wants Smith?

Sacramento Kings 12-15

The obvious first choice is the Sacramento Kings who may have been the only team that Van Gundy was able to generate any trade interest in his rather expensive forward.

The Kings have looked like a potential playoff team in the West when DeMarcus Cousins has been in the lineup and adding a talented player like Smith would seem to be the type of move that could tip the scales in their favor. From the outside looking in, the only fly in that ointment could be Rudy Gay. How many tweener forwards that like to drive and aren’t known as effective floor spreaders can a team put on the court at the same time without clogging up the paint?

The Kings don’t need Smith’s rebounding and definitely can’t afford his three-point shooting, but they could use his help defense to boost their weak steal and block numbers.

The Kings probably don’t make the playoffs this year in a very competitive Western Conference without a significant addition, so they should be willing to give Smith a chance to be the guy that gets them over the hump.

With the Pistons paying out the balance of his contract, Smith should be willing to take the NBA veteran’s minimum over the next couple of years, but if he wants more cash, there are teams out there that can offer more. The Hawks, Bucks, Magic, 76ers, Suns and Jazz all have salary cap space available according to Basketball Insiders. The Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Raptors have their Bi-Annual Exception available and at least a dozen teams still have some usable portion of their Mid-Level Exception left. However, Smith will be in the favored position every NBA veteran seems to love – the ability to join a true contender without having to worry about getting paid.

The bigger question every contender will be asking is, will Smith be willing to accept the role his new head coach assigns him? There should be no doubt Smith could help a lot of teams, but it could be by coming off the bench or playing significantly reduced minutes from what he has been used to.

Smith has been to the playoffs six times and if that’s enough, he has lots of viable options and he can likely have a lot bigger say in how he is used, but if he wants to join a conference contender, his options suddenly get a lot tighter and the Kings really shouldn’t be on that list.

Houston Rockets 19-7

The Rockets could use help at small forward, but Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones have been great at power forward, so Houston doesn’t need help with their bigs. There may be mutual interest, but Smith probably doesn’t make them better and past history says playing Smith at small forward is inviting disaster.

Dallas Mavericks 20-8

After trading for Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suddenly have an obvious depth issue at power forward and a win-it-all-now mentality. If Smith wants his shot at an NBA title, he’ll be hard pressed to find a better situation than backing up Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas on the NBA’s highest scoring team. Add in Dallas having about $2.5 million in salary cap space and this looks like an easy deal for both sides.

Portland Trail Blazers 22-6

Another top Western Conference team with depth issues at power forward is Portland. The light-hitting Thomas Robinson is backing up LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers could really use a backup to reduce their star player’s minutes and provide some security in case Aldridge misses a few games here and there. Sitting at second place in the West, it shouldn’t take much to convince Smith that Portland is for real.

Los Angeles Clippers 19-8

If any team in the West could use a jolt to the system it is the disappointing Clippers. A team loaded with talent that has underperformed expectations and backup power forward is the obvious weak link in the chain. The Clippers would have to cut someone – say goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu or Glen Davis ( or Jared Cunningham’s salary isn’t guaranteed) – and add to their luxury tax bill, but they need Smith – maybe more than he needs them.

Toronto Raptors 22-6

The Toronto Raptors find themselves unexpectedly in first place and leading the Eastern Conference by two games over Atlanta and Washington. The only knock on the East’s highest scoring team has been in their decidedly average ability to grab rebounds and protect the rim – something Smith excels at.

The Raptors are a collection of players where team chemistry has made the total significantly better than the expected sum of their parts and any tinkering might upset the balance, so President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri won’t face any criticism if he passes on Smith. However, if Smith were to buy into the concept of putting winning ahead of personal playing time and stats, he could be the missing piece the Raptors need to come out of the East this season.

If Smith wants a bigger payday and/or lots of playing time, he should check out the Lakers, Knicks, HEAT, or any number of other teams he could likely talk his way onto without too much difficulty. A player like Smith on a cheap contract will be too hard for most general managers to pass up.

 

 

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 DeRozan Injured In Hard Fought Mavericks 106-102 Win

The Toronto Raptors could only watch as All-Star DeMar DeRozan slipped while driving down the lane early in the third quarter and went to the court in pain that was later confirmed to be the result of a left groin strain by Raptors Media Relations.

The game was physical and tightly contested and Dallas seemed to have the Raptors number for most of the night, turning them over an uncharacteristically high 17 times for 22 points in the 106-102 Mavericks road victory.

Raptors Republic: Video: DeMar DeRozan Injured vs Mavericks (Update)

DeRozan wasn’t having a good game, finishing 0-7 from the field for 0 points. DeRozan hasn’t been held to an ‘0-for’ since his rookie season and his presence was missed in the second half as the Raptors were continuously fighting back from big deficits that they could never quite eliminate.

The Raptors didn’t lack for effort. They out-rebounded the Mavericks 55-37 and put up 91 shots. Even the free throws were about the same until Toronto started putting Dallas on the free throw line in the final minute in order to extend the game. This game was lost on the 6 turnovers in the final quarter that helped negate the comeback the Raptors 38 points over the final 12 minutes could have produced. The Mavericks scored 8 points off those turnovers while giving up none off turnovers themselves.

Dallas was led by Monta Ellis with 30 points and 6 assists, but it was a collective effort by the Mavericks that produced the win. Tyson Chandler played tough defense inside as he picked up the 11 point 10 rebound double-double. Chandler Parsons had 16 points and 7 rebounds and Al-Farouq Aminu came off the bench to score 14 points. Dirk Nowitzki was held to 6-19 from the field for 15 points.

“It was hard fought,” said Head Coach Rick Carlisle. “I give our guys credit. We are a balance oriented team and we got to have a lot of guys pitch in to win. We are fortunate to get out of here with a win.”

Toronto was led by Kyle Lowry with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He really turned it on in the fourth quarter with 13 points. Amir Johnson scored a season-high 20 points and grabbed 9 boards including 6 at the offensive end. Jonas Valanciunas seemed to struggle at times offensively and only scored 8 points, but he was a beast under the basket, grabbing 12 defensive boards and 1 at the other end.

Once again the Raptors bench was effective, scoring 42 points and almost saving another game for Toronto. Greivis Vasquez scored 9 points in the fourth quarter as he contributed 14 points and 6 assists on the night. Lou Williams scored 16 points, but he missed those end of quarter three-pointers that had almost seemed automatic recently. Patrick Patterson had a 10 point 12 rebound double-double.

Raptors Republic: Quick Reaction: Raptors 102, Mavs 106 by Garrett Hinchey sums this game up from a Raptors perspective:

Even though the Mavs won tonight, the fact that the game ended up as close as it did is a positive sign. Winding up with 17 turnovers and keeping the final score within 4 against a team like Dallas is pretty impressive stuff and speaks to this team’s attitude. That said, they’re going to need to find a way to adjust to the West’s best if they want to be considered true title contenders.

ESPN Recap: DeRozan Injured In Raptors Loss notes:

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle won his 300th game with Dallas. He’s the third coach in team history to reach the mark, joining Don Nelson (339) and Dick Motta (329).

The Mavericks were just happy to get out of town with a win.

As part of the Toronto Raptors 20th Anniversary Season celebrations, the team honored former Raptors player Jalen Rose with a tribute during the game.

 

 

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

 

 

 

We The North - picToronto Raptors In Unfamiliar Territory

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

We The North - picToronto Raptors In Unfamiliar Territory

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

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

Really this should be titled, “Is It Time To Bet Against The Spurs?” Has a team that won 75 percent of their games in two of the past three seasons going to finally hit the tipping point due to age that everyone has been trying to forecast for years now?

Ranking the top five NBA Western Conference teams hasn’t gotten any easier this season. The difference between fourth and ninth is almost splitting hairs. The final positions of every team in the Western Conference playoff picture – including the Mighty Spurs – will come down to health, the unforeseen progress of young players and a significant helping of blind luck.

The Top Five

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Projected 59-23, last season 57-25

The Clippers ran into a wall of controversy last season that has been effectively resolved and they solved the biggest hole in their lineup with the acquisition of Spencer Hawes. Head Coach Doc Rivers now has an effective offensive weapon to bring off the bench when teams try to disrupt their momentum with a hack-a-Jordan to put the Clippers 42 percent free throw shooter on the line.

It seems like everyone has forgotten about Doc Rivers and his two young dominate big men that have evolved into young veterans. The Clippers still feature one of the best point guards of his era in Chris Paul and have a roster loaded with savvy veterans. It would be nice to see one more tweak to shore up the depth at guard or wing, but this is the Clippers year to shine.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Projected 58-24, last season 59-23

The Thunder are contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals again, however, it isn’t getting any easier.

Oklahoma City remains deep, talented and young. They also face the same issues at center with the effectiveness of Kendrick Perkins and the youth of Steve Adams when they face the best in the West. Sympathy levels around the league remain low for a team Kevin Durant, however.

3. San Antonio Spurs – Projected 56-26, last season 62-20

The Southwest Division is not going to take the Spurs down a peg, however, the improving Clippers and a healthy Thunder are not going to play second fiddle again this time.

Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (37), Tony Parker (32) and Boris Diaw (32) are all back and extremely important to the success of Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. Anyone who believes Pop was careful with his aging roster before – well – this season, expect him to take it up a notch.

The Spurs are tough, resilient and arguably the best coached team in the NBA. It really won’t matter what position they end up in, no one wants to meet them in the first round of the playoffs. The only reason to project fewer wins than last season is the Spurs stars continue to get older. Father-time catches up to everyone eventually doesn’t it?

4. Golden State Warriors – Projected 53-29, last season 51-31

The risk in Golden State is injuries. The Warriors improved defensively last season and still won 51 times despite games missed by Andre Iguodala (19), Andrew Bogut (15) and David Lee (13). The Splash Brothers make the Warriors an offensive machine with amazing comeback ability and if the team can stay reasonably healthy, upping last season’s win total should be a breeze.

The additions of Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa give the Warriors some much needed veteran depth at guard. Look for a Team USA Gold Medal bump from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson early on.

5. Dallas Mavericks – Projected 52-30, last season 49-33

The bottom half of the Western Conference playoff standings is going to look even more crowded than last season, mostly because the teams fighting to get into the playoff picture will be better.

Dallas wisely upped their playoff chances over the summer by improving defensively with Tyson Chandler and giving Dirk Nowitzki more room to operate by spreading the floor with Chandler Parsons. The Mavericks head into this season as a veteran team that will be even harder to guard on the perimeter and a little tougher to score on inside and that should be just enough to give them an edge over the next five best teams in the West.

Risks and Obstacles

No one in the West should feel too secure about their playoff position come April, there are teams not expected to make the playoffs who will make significant strides this season. However, barring disaster, pushing the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs out of the way is probably too big a hill to climb. Everyone else had better buckle up.

Who do you think will put forth the effort it takes to be first in the NBA Western Conference? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team 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 Eastern Conference Teams

There is change coming to the anticipated top five teams in the NBA Eastern Conference for 2014-15. Teams that stepped up unexpectedly last season are looking for more, player movement during the summer will have a huge impact and risks abound all around the Conference.

Jose Calderon Enjoys Playing With Veterans In Dallas

Jose Calderon is in an unfamiliar position after spending 7.5 seasons in Toronto before ending up in Detroit following a mid-season trade last year.  He signed with Dallas as a free agent and now in early February, he is on a team that’s 9 games over .500 and in a playoff spot.  For the first time in a long time, he’s not the ‘old’ veteran the coach is relying on to hold things together.  There are older, more experienced and more skilled players who are leaders in and of themselves on the court with him.

“Almost double (my experience), it is amazing, it is great and they know how to play,” Calderon said.  “For a point guard, they make everything easier and it has been great so far.

“There are guys who are going to make plays for you as well.  It is a different approach, we got veteran guys and we have Dirk Nowitzki, (Shawn) Marion, Vince Carter and they are going to be Hall of Famers at some point, so it is just different.”

The Mavericks have 4 rotation players older than Calderon and signed the 32-year-old point guard to a 4-year $29 million deal this summer.  However, Calderon wasn’t the only player added to Dallas’ roster for this season.  In yet another roster makeover, the Mavericks signed 16 players and waived 7 before the season started.

“We have 9 new guys this year,” Calderon said. “It took us a while to get used to each other, but even like that, we had a great group of guys and are doing really good so far and hopefully we will keep it this way.”

What must be nice for Calderon is, unlike in Toronto, there is no point guard controversy.  Player roles are defined and the team’s veteran status provides a lot of stability.  For Calderon at least, just being in a playoff fight after years in the lottery must seem pretty nice as well.

“Everybody is playing good, knowing their roles and we are trying to help each other,” Calderon said.  “It is a long season still and you know the way it is, it is so competitive that you lose a game and you can be out of the playoffs.  It’s been crazy, but we are right there and we got to keep working.

“At the end of the day, it is about winning games.  When you win, everything is easier – relationships, practices, games, just everything.”

It is obvious Calderon enjoyed his time in Toronto and wishes the best for his former teammates, but he is a lot more relaxed in Dallas and the game is easier for him now.  Playing with veterans has taken a big load off his shoulders.

“I think before (I had) the pressure to play good every night, to be able to make plays for (my) teammates, put everybody in the right position and do the right things,” Calderon said.  “Here it is more like basketball just comes to you, you just have to play.”

 

 

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.

 

 

Also check out:

Raptors Coach Casey Wins With All-Star Selections
This season started with speculation that Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s guy and therefore, his tenure in Toronto would be short-lived.  Now with 3 Raptors players selected to represent Toronto in headline events on each day of All-Star Weekend, perhaps it’s time to stop wondering about Coach Casey’s future.

Raptors Vets Turn Tide While DeRozan Sets New Highs

The return of Vince Carter and Jose Calderon to the Air Canada Centre should have taken second place to the fact this was a huge game for the Raptors, even if all the media coverage seemed to be on the soon to be 37-year-old Carter and for a while it looked like the Mavericks were going to blow their hosts out of the building.  Calderon had 10 first Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014quarter points and Carter added 5 points off the bench as the visitors romped to a 34-15 lead over the first 12 minutes seemingly unopposed.  Fortunately for the Raptors, Head Coach Dwane Casey has a bench courtesy of the Sacramento Kings and once Chuck Hayes got into the game, the bleeding stopped.

“The first quarter, I thought it was going to be a blowout,” Casey said.  “But, second half, we kind of got things back under control and defense back into the game.  You get into a free flowing game with a great offensive team like they are and you are in trouble.

“In the first quarter, our rotations were slow and non-existent.”

The Raptors veterans came in and settled things down.  The undersized center Hayes played defense, clogging the middle, making timely rotations and generally being a torn in the side of the Mavericks offense.  Hayes was +18 while he was on the court and never even took a shot.

SAC_Hayes_Chuck“The second unit came in with Chuck (Hayes) and Pat (Patterson) and got defense into the game,” Casey said.  “(They) got the rotations quicker, crisper where Amir (Johnson) and Jonas (Valanciunas) struggled.”

With Kyle Lowry fighting a flu bug, Greivis Vasquez stepped up to play big minutes, lead the team and halt Calderon’s assault on the basket.

“Kyle was sick,” Casey said.  “He had the stomach flu and was running back into the back every once in a while.  He was 0-10 and that’s an anomaly.

SAC_Vasquez_Greivis“Greivis is playing at a high level – 17 points and 7 assists – he did a good job of controlling.  He did a better job on Jose (Calderon) since Kyle was under the weather.  Jose got them going in the first quarter.  Greivis came in and did a much better job defensively.”

While the Raptors bench can take credit for stopping the Mavericks cold after the first quarter and Vasquez picked up the flu-stricken Lowry, as Toronto slowly made up that early 21 point deficit, this game became all about DeMar DeRozan.  DeRozan scored 12 of the Raptors 15 first quarter points and the Mavericks soon set about making his life miserable.  Quick double teams, pressure bordering on hard fouls, anything to get DeRozan off his game, but this time it wasn’t going to work.

“In the first quarter (DeRozan) wasn’t getting those flow shots,” Casey said.  “After that we started getting them (from) our offense.  He was running the pick-and-roll and they started blitzing him and he did a good job of finding (teammates) and the ball found him back and that was good.  He was being double-teamed, but being patient enough to get the ball back and (continue) to score.”

DeRozan was strong with the ball and didn’t let the pressure disrupt what he was trying to do.  His teammates recognized his success and when DeRozan gave the ball up to beat the pressure, he often got it right back.  The result was a highly efficient career high 40 point night.  DeRozan was 15-22 from the field and 9-14 from the free throw line with the Mavericks doing everything they could to stop him.

From Dallas’ standpoint, this was a game they should have won.

“We just have to do better,” Carter said.  “More so than it’s the second time versus the Raptors, it’s the second time this year for us and I think we just have to zero in on staying focused, staying the course, continuing to do what got us to this point.  I think sometimes you get comfortable and we are still learning how to win as far as winning big games.  Very frustrating, a game that we should have won regardless of whether Dirk ( Nowitzki) was on the floor or not.”

Head Coach Rick Carlisle had given the 15-year veteran Nowitzki the night off to rest.

Monta Ellis led the Mavericks with 21 points on 9-18 from the field.  Calderon only scored 3 more points after the first quarter for 13 points and Brandon Wright also contributed 13 points.

After a rough start, Casey put his sophomore center back into the game for the final 6:41 – even though Hayes was playing very well – and Valanciunas rewarded Casey with a strong closing effort of 5 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth quarter to push his totals to a 12 and 10 double-double.

Lest anyone forget, this Raptors season is still all about developing DeRozan, Ross and Valanciunas.  A win is just something nice to get.

The 25-19 Mavericks head out to Brooklyn to play the Nets on Friday.

With the 93-85 comeback win, the 21-20 Raptors head to Philadelphia on Friday.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page 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.

 

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Vince Carter Reflects And Reminisces

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Vince Carter Reflects And Reminisces

After losing a big first quarter lead and falling to his former team at the Air Canada Centre, ex-Raptors superstar Vince Carter talked about the game, the changing reaction from the ACC crowd and his impact on the young up and coming Canadians that are in the NBA or about to arrive.

About the crowd at the ACC:

Vince Carter, “It is a great feeling that (there were) cheers and people appreciate – you know – what I’ve done here.  It’s a work in progress.”

About the Canadians in the NBA:

Vince Carter, “It’s a great feeling.  For someone to kind of say – ‘you were my hero growing up’ and now you are playing against them – that makes me old.  That’s just like I’m a Dr. J fan and I couldn’t imagine growing up idolizing Dr. J and playing against Dr. J, so – I did play against Mike Jordan and I had a very strong appreciation for him, but Dr. J was number 1 in my heart and there’s Michael Jordan and I am playing against him, so well dang – I am very appreciative for it and glad I am still around to play against some of these guys that are now NBA players and future NBA superstars.”

Listen to the uncut audio using the link below:

Vince Carter At the ACC

Raptors Come Full Circle With Mavs Visit

A month ago the Toronto Raptors were heading out for a very tough Western Conference road trip starting in Dallas and Head Coach Dwane Casey was working hard to lower expectations for the post Rudy Gay era.  Casey’s team had just lost 2 of 3 at home including a heart breaking overtime loss to Charlotte.

Now after losing 3 of 4 games including another heart breaking loss to Charlotte on Monday, the Raptors have come full circle with a very tough veteran Dallas Mavericks team about to invade the Air Canada Centre.  Casey can only hope to see the same toughness and resilience the Raptors showed last time.

If Toronto had not dug deep for an impressive comeback win in Dallas, it is likely no one would be watching a division leading team playing in Toronto now.

Lest we forget what Casey was selling a month ago, it was player development ahead of winning games and a definite tone of resignation about the season.  The Raptors were lowering expectations for the road trip.

TOR_Casey_Dwane“We are still in the building process,” said Casey before the road trip. “It is about Terrence Ross, growing him, getting him better. DeMar DeRozan is still a work-in-progress. Jonas Valanciunas is still a work-in-progress. We are still building – still in the improvement process of getting these guys better until further notice.

“I love the challenge of coaching young players. I enjoy that.  I enjoy winning more, but I understand where we are and what we are about in the process of our program.”

Casey, the Raptors and their fans have all unexpectedly been enjoying winning since the their head coach laid out his understanding about where they were and if the team responds with the same effort and drive they showed after the last time the Bobcats beat them, the Raptors will get to keep enjoying winning.

In Toronto, it will either be the déjà vu all over again from December as the Raptors start a new winning streak or the kilometer wide but centimeter deep confidence in this team Toronto fans have justifiably developed will be proven correct once again.  Losing games in favor of developing players gets hard to take after 5 years in the lottery.

This is a big game for the Raptors.

 

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.

 

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“I have to get more consistency and I’ll get there,” Vasquez said.  “I did it last year – whether it was a losing team or not – you can’t take away what I have done.  I was a Western Conference Player of the Week – that was huge.”

Raptors Resolve Pulls Out A 109-108 OT Win In Dallas

The Dallas Mavericks ran out to an early 19 point lead in the second quarter, but in a manner reminiscent of how the Raptors often lose, they found a way to rip defeat from the hands of victory at the end of the game and again in overtime.

SAC_Vasquez_GreivisCredit the Raptors bench for finding the resolve to keep coming back when this looked like a contest of men against boys. The Mavericks had run up a 33-22 first quarter lead against sparse opposition. It wasn’t until after going scoreless for almost 4 minutes in the second quarter and the Mavericks up 41-22 that Greivis Vasquez finally ended the Dallas run with a jump shot and 2 layups as part of a 10-0 Raptors surge and Toronto controlled the rest of the quarter. The half ended with the Mavericks up 52-49.

“Their pride kicked in,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “They got tired of being kicked.”

The second half opened much like the first quarter except this time the Raptors kept pace with the high scoring Mavericks and after resolving nothing, it was Toronto that opened the fourth quarter on an 11-0 run to take an 89-81 lead with Vasquez scoring 8 points in the first 2.5 minutes. Former Raptors point guard Jose Calderon stopping Toronto’s run with his team’s next 11 points to bring the Mavericks back to within 1 point, 93-92.

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014In the dying moments, Calderon grabbed a defensive rebound and outleted to Shawn Marion for a 99-98 lead with 1:06 left and then assisted on a Marion jump shot with 20 seconds left for the 101-99 advantage. DeMar DeRozan, who was 3-14 shooting up to this point, finally hit a short jumper to tie the game, but he left 16 seconds for the Mavericks to play for the win. Dirk Nowitzki missed the jump shot and Brandon Wright missed the tip to send the game into overtime.

TOR_DeRozan_DeMarShooting 2-3 in the overtime, DeRozan put the Raptors up 109-108 with 1:10 left in the game, however, Dallas was to have numerous chances to walk out with a victory. On their next possession, Nowitzki missed 2 shots and Calderon missed a three-pointer before Toronto got the ball back. The Raptors failed to score and Dallas had 10 seconds to put together a winning play, but Ellis missed the 10 foot jump shot and the ball bounced around until time expired.

Almost unnoticed was the Raptors recently acquired veteran John Salmons who stepped up to guard Ellis in the second half and overtime. Salmons also contributed 5 important points towards the end of the fourth quarter.

“John Salmons, the veteran play helps a guy like Terrence (Ross) to watch and learn how to play a guy like Monta (Ellis),” Casey said. “I thought that he was one of the differences in the game.”

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014The Mavericks starting guards, Calderon and Ellis, had huge games. Calderon with 23 points on 7 three-point baskets and 9 assists. Ellis with 21 points and 11 assists plus 4 steals. Dallas superstar forward Nowitzki finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Former Raptors All-Star Vince Carter had 0 points and 6 turnovers in 18 minutes of action.

TOR_Lowry_KyleKyle Lowry had another impressive game for Toronto finishing with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Vasquez came off the bench to score 14 points on 6-11 shooting and was key to changing the momentum of this game. Jonas Valanciunas had the 18 point 13 rebound double-double as he took advantage of his size in the post. Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross and DeRozan had 15 points each.

SAC_Hayes_ChuckChuck Hayes, who was acquired from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade, played his first 2 minutes for Toronto in this game. Patrick Patterson has been taking the bulk of Tyler Hansbrough’s minutes since his arrival, although Casey continues to use at least 4 big men in his rotation since the trade.

“Greivis (Vasquez) came in and gave us a boost,” Casey said. “Patrick Patterson’s defense was huge.”

The Raptors continue their road trip on Sunday against Oklahoma City and then play on Monday in San Antonio.

The Mavericks play in Phoenix on Saturday and in Houston on Monday.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page 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 Lowering Expectations For Road Trip

The Toronto Raptors start a 4 game road trip in Dallas on Friday night and Head Coach Dwane Casey has been less than subtle about lowering expectations for his team in the post Rudy Gay era. This season has become overtly about developing the young guys and building for the future.

TOR_Casey_Dwane“We are still in the building process,” said Casey before the last game. “It is about Terrence Ross, growing him, getting him better. DeMar DeRozan is still a work-in-progress. Jonas Valanciunas is still a work-in-progress. We are still building – still in the improvement process of getting these guys better until further notice.”

The Raptors are starting Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. A lineup that includes 2 second year players who are still figuring out the NBA game and averages 24-years-old. After Wednesday’s overtime loss to similarly young Bobcats team at home, Casey continued to emphasize the need for tempered expectations.

“I love the challenge of coaching young players. I enjoy that,” Casey said. “I enjoy winning more, but I understand where we are and what we are about in the process of our program.”

Casey’s words are sweet music to the ears of the Raptors Tank Nation, but are a reminder of recent seasons past where the Raptors played hard and fell short as veterans watched from the bench while young players were ‘developed’.

TOR_DeRozan_DeMarThis group probably has too much talent and pride to grab a top lottery pick in June and solid NBA sources are confirming President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri isn’t done tweaking his roster for future considerations. Both DeRozan and Lowry are being shopped and it looks like Ujiri is primarily interested in first round draft picks and young prospects. Raptors Tank Nation dreams of a shot at Andrew Wiggins may be coming true.

The Dallas Mavericks headed in a different direction this summer. Where Ujiri cautiously added young players he could easily dispose of during or after this season, President of Basketball Operations Donn Nelson added veterans Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis on multi-year contracts and built a team that could win now.

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014Veterans Calderon, Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert have started most of the games for Dallas this season. Dalembert splitting minutes with former Spurs big man DeJuan Blair. While no one expects the Mavericks to contend for the Western Conference Finals, this team is 15-10 and could be a tough out in the postseason.

The Mavericks are favored to defeat the Raptors at the American Airlines Center, but Toronto has played up to their competition most nights. This contest should still be close. Lowry has played very well over the past month and DeRozan leads the Raptors in scoring and has multiple 30 point games already. The bench players Toronto received from Sacramento in the Gay trade have made the Raptors a better team in many respects.

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

 

Who Are The NBA Summer League Headliners?

The tournament portion of the Las Vegas NBA Summer League is underway and with pride on the line, there should be a bit more effort placed on team play and defense, but probably not. There have still been some great individual performances, however, with the possibility of more to come.

Jonas Valanciunas – 3 games, 20 points and 9.3 rebounds

Jonas Valanciunas has been feeling the love from the media in Las Vegas and many have the Raptors center pegged as the Summer League’s top overall performer. Three games of 18 plus points on 52.9 percent shooting and 24-27 from the free throw line, Valanciunas has been a force in the paint against Summer League competition. This has been a great place for the seven-footer to practice that running hook shot he likes to use as he sweeps laterally through the paint five or so feet from the basket. So far, defenses have either been letting Valanciunas practice the moves he is working on or fouling to stop him.

Thomas Robinson – 4 games, 9.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks

Things started slow in Summer League for Thomas Robinson, but he has been in beast mode these last two games. A 12 point 18 rebound effort in an overtime loss to the Bulls on Tuesday followed by a 13 point 17 rebound game in a close win over Atlanta. Already on his third team since he was drafted 5th overall last summer, these last two Summer League games are what should be expected from this naturally gifted athlete against this level of competition.

Andrew Goudelock – 3 games, 22.7 points

A scoring guard that played 40 games with Lakers as a rookie, but only one NBA game outside of the D-League last year, Andrew Goudelock can score. He put up 26 and 31 points in his first two games behind some great shooting, but only 11 points the next time when his shot wasn’t falling. It would be nice to see if the 6’ 2” guard could be a true point guard and facilitate some offense, but this might not be the right venue. Goudelock is hitting 60 percent of his three-point bombs in Summer League, but it has already been established he can do that. FC Barcelona is interested in signing Goudelock according to Sportando.

Jeff Taylor – 3 games, 21 points

A rookie with the Bobcats last year, Jeff Taylor is having a solid Summer League experience in Las Vegas. After three games of 19 points or better on decent shooting of 47.7 percent, Taylor and Cody Zeller (15.3 points) have been carrying the offensive load for the Bobcats. A successful NBA Summer League may be just what Taylor needs after his non-descript season last year.

Josh Akognon – 4 games, 20.5 points

Josh Akognon auditioned for the Mavericks on 10-day contracts at the end of last season and the audition continues in Las Vegas. The 5’ 11” point guard is making the most of it with three games of over 20 points and hitting 41.9 percent of his 31 three-point attempts. Akognon has followed up a 7-7 performance from the free throw line against the D-League Selects with an 8-8 effort against the Clippers to help the Mavericks advance to the second round of the tournament.

Malcolm Thomas – 2games, 12 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks

Malcolm Thomas has played 3 NBA games with the Spurs, 5 games with the Warriors and most recently 7 games with the Bulls since he left San Diego State in 2011, but after stints in the D-League and Europe, he now holds an NBA record. Thomas owns the all-time NBA Summer record for rebounds in a game with 22. It doesn’t matter what league he is playing in, 22 rebounds is really something. Thomas suffered a leg injury and didn’t play in the Bulls 3rd Summer League game.

John Henson – 2 games, 14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks

This isn’t really a surprise, John Henson was a very active player with the Bucks last season and where the thin-as-a-rail power forward has strength issues at the NBA level, he should dominate in Summer League. All we are really getting out of his performances here is confirmation that as Henson gets older and stronger, he’ll be a good NBA player.

Aron Baynes – 3 games, 11.7 points, 10.7 rebound, 1.7 blocks

This senior from Washington State played four seasons in Europe before the Spurs picked him up for 16 games last season. An off the radar 26-year-old seven-footer that has caught the eye of the Spurs, anyone want to bet against that? He put up 19 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks in his last Summer League game.

Some other Summer League participants that are getting noticed include Jack Cooley, Cody Zeller, Tyler Zeller, CJ McCollum, John Jenkins, Marquis Teague, Mike Scott and Deshaun Thomas.

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.