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Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.



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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.



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





NBA East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls


Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?



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 playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.



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





Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.



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

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





Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Is The NBA East Waiting On LeBron James To Get Old?

Father-time remains undefeated and in the NBA East that may be the only thing that can stop the reign of King James. Soon to be 32-years-old, LeBron has taken his team to the NBA Finals six times in a row and he is the overwhelming favorite to carry his Cleveland Cavaliers there again this season. With many of the Cavs so called rivals choosing to hold onto draft picks and young developing talent, no Eastern Conference team even looks like they have made a serious attempt to dethrone the King this summer. Almost everyone in the East seems to be waiting on James to get old and/or injured for now.

The Cavs aren’t going to make it easy to compete either. They’ll be a luxury tax team again this this season – expected to be the only tax team in the East. The sole remaining outstanding question is how deep into the tax will re-signing J.R. Smith push them? Can Smith extract the $15 million per year out of Cleveland he’s looking for before training camp opens? The Cavs aren’t losing to anyone because of money.

While there were a number of outlandish contracts handed out this summer and a lot of good players got paid, there were some cheap head scratching deals done by players that would have helped any Eastern Conference team that actually thought they had a shot this season and some veterans who could help a team’s depth that are still available, such as:

David Lee – 2 years, $3.1 million, Spurs
Zaza Pachulia – 1 year, $2.9 million, Warriors
Marreese Speights – 2 years, $2.8 million, Clippers
Brandon Bass – 1 year, $1.5 million, Clippers
Terrence Jones – 1 year, $980,000, Pelicans

Still available:
Lance Stephenson
Norris Cole
Tyler Hansbrough
Josh Smith
Jason Thompson

There are a lot more names that could be added to either list who would be better than just about anyone’s 11-15th player.

Toronto Raptors

The 56 win second place Toronto Raptors seemed to be in the best position to make a bold move by cashing in their two first round draft picks and some young talent to go for it in the upcoming season, but the mantra in Toronto continues to be “we’re not a finished product.” That Toronto isn’t a finished product is true, but with two returning All-Star guards, a breakout playoff performance by center Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt and the anticipated return of a healthy ‘3-and-d’ stopper in DeMarre Carroll, president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t seem to even try to fill out his roster with veterans like the Cavs have done. After deeming other teams trade demands were too high, he ignored the numerous playoff proven veterans that were available on the cheap and in the East, he wasn’t alone.

With 8/10ths of last season’s rotation returning, the Raptors will be a 50+ win team again this season with a shot a first in the Conference, but they know the Cavaliers don’t really care about that and with good reason. It’s hard to identify any possibly available player or combination of players that would tip the scales in Toronto’s favor in a seven game series with the Cavs especially without Ujiri giving up the best of his young talent. So the Raptors doubled down on developing talent and kept their youth and their picks and signed four prospects to training camp invites to see if they could find another player to develop.

Boston Celtics

If the 48 win Celtics could have found a way to add another star player after picking up Al Horford in free agency, then maybe, just maybe, they’d be considered a threat to the King. The Celtics had more draft picks than any team could possibly add in one season, so when the trade market wasn’t any friendlier to them than it was to Toronto, they went about stashing what they could in Europe and jumping back on the player development bandwagon.

Boston should be a 50+ win team this year and challenge Toronto’s claim on the Atlantic Division , but with so many young players deserving and needing playing time to develop, it’ll be another interesting season for head coach Brad Stevens as he tries to balance between winning now and finding out what he’s got for a couple of years down the road when the James led Cavs might finally be gettable.

Indiana Pacers

Then there’s the Pacers. Indiana is betting on the resurgence of superstar Paul George to carry a veteran laden team to the next level. Respected head coach Frank Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan and the team waived good-bye to Ty Lawson, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. George Hill was traded for Jeff Teague, they traded a draft pick for Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson was picked up in free agency. Where Toronto and Boston brought back essentially the same rotation with tweaks they hope will fit in seamlessly for the better and are loaded with young prospects, Indiana used a wrecking ball and added veterans.

The Pacers won 45 games last year and should, if everything comes together as hoped, be better this year and no one can say they are waiting for James to get old. On the other hand, no one seems to believe the changes will put Indiana ahead of Boston or Toronto either.

Myles Turner is a player to watch for the future, but after that, the Pacers are a win now team that aren’t being given much of a chance of advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Realistically, the East is treading water waiting on King James to let them back in the game. Not that anyone would (should) admit to that, but waiting on LeBron to get old isn’t such a bad idea. He’ll be 33-years-old in another year.



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

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





NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.

2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.



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.





NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

NBA Eastern Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Barring in major trades or injuries between now and the start of the NBA Season at the end of October, most teams across the league have their starting lineups pretty much in place.

Starting units are very important. Just ask the Detroit Pistons, who had one of the the best starting lineups last year by many metrics, which carried them to the playoffs despite having one of the worst benches by those very same metrics. Who has the best one currently in the Eastern Conference? Number one should be no surprise:

1. Cleveland – Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson

They are the defending champions, so why wouldn’t they be at the very top. With Thompson and Love, teams have a hard time grabbing rebounds against them. We all know that Smith can go off from behind the arc at any point in time and Irving has entered the discussion being a top 5 point guard. By the way they have LeBron James on their team as well.

2. Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas

This unit made the Eastern Conference Finals without Carroll or Valanciunas being anywhere near healthy. DeMarre Carroll was brought in to be a defensive stopper and glue guy, and this will be the year he makes good on that reputation. Sullinger brings another scoring threat who can take pressure off the Eastern Conference’s best backcourt.

3. Indiana Pacers – Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner

So much talent here among this group of five. The three returning starters, Ellis, George, and Turner are very good. George is an MVP candidate, Turner could very well be the 2nd best player in his draft class, and Ellis is still a dangerous scorer. Now they add Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague to the mix? This Pacer team has a group that could be very special.

4. Detroit Pistons – Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond

Detroit had one of the best starting 5’s in the NBA after they traded for Harris at the deadline, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in the top five now, giving the young age of this group. Caldwell-Pope is the real key for the Pistons this year.

5. Boston Celtics – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson

This rating would be higher if they can find a way to replace Johnson without having to move Horford away from the Power Forward spot. Johnson is a talented defensive player, but he has a lot of issues especially with fouling that keeps this unit from being higher. Like last year’s Warriors, The Celtics best lineup may not be the starting one, given the strength of Boston’s guards.

6. New York Knicks – Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah

This team would be higher on this list, but there are so many injury flags with this group. If Rose and Noah can each play at least 65 games with this unit, Porzingis continues to develop, and Carmelo decides to lead this group like he’s leading Team USA this summer, then this rating is too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Ghilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller

Charlotte has one of the best defensive units in the league, especially with Kidd-Ghilchrist coming back off of injury. Batum, along with the departed Jeremy Lin, allowed Kemba Walker to play off ball a lot last season, which helped Walker to have the best season of his career. Williams is very underrated at Power Forward, and Cody Zeller has to step up and play at an even higher level if the Hornets want to back in the playoffs.

8. Chicago Bulls – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez

Fred Hoiberg wants a team that can go up and down the floor and be able to hit outside shots. The major issue is, well, none of the five listed here can do that. Maybe a style change will be in order in Chicago.

9. Milwaukee Bucks – Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe

This could be worse, Jason Kidd still wants to run Giannis at Point Guard and then this unit would have to use Rashad Vaughn or John Henson in the starting lineup. But the current 5 here is solid, especially if Carter-Williams can go back to his 76ers rookie season numbers.

10. Atlanta Hawks – Dennis Schröder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard

Kyle Korver will start the season at the shooting guard spot until one of the rookies ( Prince or Bembry) can adjust to the small forward spot which will allow Kent Bazemore to move to shooting guard. Millsap and Howard are All-Stars and Schroder is going to be very good in his first year as a full-time starter.

11. Washington Wizards – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat

The talent is there, but there are glaring issues. Bradley Beal hasn’t proven to be a consistent 70+ game a year player, but Markieff Morris should have a better season after looking lost after the trade to Washington. Wall is one of the top Point Guards in the league and Gortat was outstanding last year which was a good thing. Now, if Beal can live up to his contract and Porter can finally live up to his 3rd overall draft pick from a few seasons ago, then Washington could get back into the playoffs.

12. Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic

After a season of having poor paint defense, they traded for Ibaka to be able to play beside Vucevic. Payton has very good court vision, but still haven’t proven to be a good shooter. Fournier had a career year last year after being given starters minutes and will put up simlar numbers this year. The key for success is Gordon’s adjustment to the Small Forward spot.

13. Miami Heat – Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh* and Hassan Whiteside

I know there is an asterisk beside Bosh’s name; We don’t know if he is going to play at all this year. Whiteside is an elite defensive center and Dragic is a solid point guard, but the youth of Richardson and Winslow playing major minutes is going to be the key in Miami this year. Without Bosh, you’re looking at either Derrick Williams or Josh McRoberts at Power Forward.

14. Philadelphia 76ers – Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel

The 76ers are so imbalanced right now; all of their talent is in the front court positions. If they can flip a big man or two for help in back court, then this rating is bit low. Simmons has so much star potential, it’s ridiculous. Having Henderson and Bayless off the bench is fine, but starting is not a good sign.

15. Brooklyn Nets – Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez is a very good center, and Lin is an upgrade over last years group of Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Hollis-Jefferson is a solid wing defender, and Booker can provide a decent option at Power Forward. All five of these players are certainly fine on their own, but outside of Lopez, are all fringe starters.



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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.





NBA Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

How Badly Does The Kings Rudy Gay Want To Win?

It’s rumored the Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay wants to be traded and multiple sources confirm Gay, Ben McLemore and Kouta Koufos are all being shopped with the Pacers and Celtics supposedly showing some interest in Gay. However, the Kings aren’t exactly dealing from a position of strength and Gay’s value may hinge on just how badly he wants to win. Would Gay accept fewer minutes and a role off the bench in order to join a team with a chance of getting to the Conference Finals?

As Sactown Royalty’s Tony Xypteras says,

At any rate, it’s starting to feel like Rudy Gay’s relationship with the Kings has soured to the point of no return, and I’m sure now that Voisin (of the Sacramento Bee) has made Gay’s trade request public, it will only get worse.

Gay has been on the edge of stardom since his rookie season and perhaps the worst thing that happened to his career was the five year extension he signed after his rookie contract that paid him over $19 million in 2014-15. He never could live up to that salary.

Gay has always put up stats. His 10 year career average is 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. A combo forward that shoots 45.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range, but has only been to the playoffs once, lost in the first round and hasn’t been back for four seasons.

What has to hurt the most is the teams that traded him, the Grizzlies in 2012-13 and the Raptors 2013-14, have made the playoffs in every season after he was gone and both teams have since made an appearance in the Conference Finals.

Just maybe there’s a message here for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Gay. There are often sacrifices to be made if you are really willing to put winning first.

Last year was especially tough on Gay. The Kings had a better roster, but still couldn’t put it all together in a rare season when a .500 record earned you a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Sactown Royalty’s Blake Ellington reported in March,

A visibly exhausted Gay was asked if there has been a harder season for him than this one.

“No,” Gay said. “I don’t think any of us have been a part of something like this … It’s tough, it’s very tough. I’m not going to sit here and be like I’m happy with how we’re playing or what’s going on this season, because I’m not.”

Gay has looked disengaged on the floor for most of the season.

As the Kings inch toward closing the book on another failed season, Gay must be thinking about what the future holds for this franchise and his career.

At least Gay is on a much friendlier contract now. He’ll earn $13.3 million for 2016-17 and has a player option for $14.3 million in 2017-18. Based on how monies were being handed out this summer, that’s a decent deal for a proven veteran.

It isn’t hard to imagine how good the Celtic’s bench would look with Gay backing up Jae Crowder and soaking up minutes at the four spot in small(er) lineups. A Pacers rotation with Gay backing up Paul George and Thaddeus Young would be pretty scary as well.

However, the Raptors should be looking to get in on this action as well.

Forget the failed experiment using Gay as the focal point of the Raptors offense when he wilted under the pressure of being “the man” in Toronto. Look at Gay as DeMarre Carroll’s backup and a key depth piece in case of injury to any one of the forwards in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation. In other words, a big upgrade over what James Johnson brought to the Raptors last year.

The question for Gay in any of these situations is, how badly do you want to win?

The issue for the Kings will be they aren’t getting back a player for Gay that can put up the same stat line from anybody. It might take a while, but they are going to have to lower their expectations on the trade of a player who could walk in free agency next summer.

What might get Toronto’s attention is a package of Gay and McLemore for Terrence Ross, Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright. It’s somewhat of a lateral move, but the Kings would get a proven three-point threat under a favorable contract for three years and two prospects and the Raptors get a needed veteran forward for their push to repeat as Eastern Conference Finalists and a potential replacement for Ross in case Gay walks at the end of the season.

It will be very interesting to see how long the Kings are willing to leave Gay hanging out there on the trade market before they make a move.



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

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





Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Pacers Larry Bird Loses His Mind Fires Frank Vogel

Apparently Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird didn’t appreciate the efforts of head coach Frank Vogel this season. It was win in the playoffs or you’re fired despite leading a team that any rational person thought would be a challenge to get into the postseason let alone beat the 56 win Toronto Raptors.

“Frank is not getting fired, his contract is up,” Bird said with a straight face. “I made a decision not to renew it.”

Bird started the press conference with what can only be called “GM speak.” Those words executives use when they really don’t know why they are doing something, but they are doing it anyway.

“Sometimes my job really sucks and this was one of the toughest things I’ve done because of the respect that I have for Frank. I had time to think about it and watch the team throughout the year. I know a lot of you didn’t expect us to make the playoffs, but obviously I had higher expectations than most people about how our team should play and how far they should go in the playoffs.

“I just came to the conclusion that it was necessary for these guys to hear a new voice.”

Looking at how hard this team played in the first round of the playoffs after a surprisingly good 45 win season, one has to wonder if the 59-year-old Bird hasn’t become a bit delusional after all the success he has enjoyed during his very long basketball career.

Finding a new head coach that can get as much out of this collection of one superstar and some spare parts next season isn’t going to be easy. Coaches with Vogel’s ability to get maximum effort out of his players don’t exactly grow on trees. If the Pacers don’t take a step back under different leadership, Bird will be flat out lucky.

Vogel had 250 wins to 181 loses over his six seasons at the helm in Indiana. They were in the playoffs five times and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. It wasn’t Vogel’s fault Bird traded away future superstar Kawhi Leonard for journeyman George Hill, two-time All-Star Roy Hibbert was shipped out for a second round draft pick, All-Star David West gave up $10 million to play for the Spurs or that All-Star Paul George was lost for a season to a broken leg (last year).

Maybe Bird should be looking in a mirror if this season didn’t live up to his expectations. His head coach did a lot with what he provided to him and most people believe this team was on it’s up – at least it was until today.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Dance Pak

Will Game Seven Be Different For The Raptors This Time?

By Frank McLean

When sports fans hear the words Game Seven it’s something that gets them excited. There is nothing better in sports than a winner take all Game Seven of a best of seven series. Unless of course you are a Toronto Raptors fan where Game Seven has always led to disappointment. Promises, promises, but will Game Seven be different this time in Toronto?

The Raptors promised that they would treat Game Six Friday night like a Game Seven in this wild and whacky opening round dance with the Indiana Pacers.

They went into Indianapolis with the momentum after their 13 point fourth quarter comeback win at home in Game Five. They even had a four point halftime lead on the road and that was with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry struggling to make a basket again.

However, unless you have been in a coma since Tuesday night’s win, the Raptors fell apart again for the umpteenth time in this series and lost by 18 stinking points.

Now it’s Game Seven again, a personal hell for this franchise and for Raptors fans in general. Two years ago against Brooklyn, where they played as bad a Game Six as they did Friday night in Indiana, they came home to lose Game Seven on the final play of the game. A Game Seven loss that was eerily reminiscent to their Game Seven loss in 2001 against Philadelphia in their only other appearance like it.

The Raptors only series win in franchise history was a first round best of five in 2001 and if the series against Brooklyn and Indiana were still a best of five, Toronto would have advanced, but the league doesn’t play those anymore and well, you get the point.

After Friday’s game the players knew what was waiting for them when they got back to Pearson Airport was fan base who might have lost the faith. 21 years of watching a team grow into an NBA contender, but still one that keeps breaking your heart like the “little red haired girl” did to Charlie Brown.

“It’s different this time,” the Raptors said after the game, but why is that?

“Because this is a great team, this is a new team,” DeMarre Carroll insisted.

Carroll who was management’s number one free agent target in the off season has not been here for the other disappointments.

“I think we will respond. I know we will respond. I think there is fight in that locker room,” responded head coach Dwane Casey in his post game press conference.

“We cannot allow our offensive woes or whatever it is to go to the other end and we haven’t done that,” added Casey. “We have shot bad before, but we have gone to the other end and defended. We scrapped and we fought and I didn’t see that in the third quarter. We started the game that way so I know it is there. I have confidence in this group. I have faith in this group that they will come out and fight.”

Then there is Patrick Patterson who is one of five Raptors players left from the roster two years ago from that Brooklyn series.

“No matter what the circumstances are. No matter how bad we played, no matter what our situation or the scenario may be. If you’re a Raptors fan, you’re a Raptors fan for a reason, because you believe in this team, you’re a diehard Raptors fan and you’ve been with this team since it started in the early ’90s and that should be a good enough reason right there.”

What makes this Game Seven worse is that you have to wait until 8pm before it starts.

After television in the US not giving a dam about this series with start times like 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and 6pm on a weeknight, the series finally gets the primetime spotlight of a Sunday night. The one night of the week when people are home watching the television. Which means the hell of waiting for the game to start will pretty much ruin a few Sunday family dinners.

What do the Raptors need to do win this game.

Defend, defend, and defend.

You know Paul George will come up big as he is their star, so the Raptors have to limit what the rest of Pacers can do.

Does DeMar DeRozan have another 34 point game in him like in Game Five? He will be looking for a $25 million a year contract come the summer, but he hasn’t played like a $25 million a year player in this series.

That also goes for Kyle Lowry.

So here we go again it’s another Game Seven. The Raptors have promised it will be different. We’ll find out Sunday evening.

It will be fun, really it will be fun. It’s a Game Seven. There is nothing better in pro sports.



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

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


NBA Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey

Will It Be Deja Vu All Over Again For The Raptors?

By Frank McLean

To paraphrase the late great New York Yankee Yogi Berra, it’s deja vu all over again. That’s exactly what Toronto Raptors fans are thinking as we head into Friday night’s sixth game of this wild seven game first round playoff series with the Indiana Pacers.

As they get ready for the game in Indianapolis, fans, and yes even us in the media have not let the franchise forget that they were in the exact same situation two years ago.

In that first round match up with the Brooklyn Nets the Raptors went into game six up three games to two losing that game in Brooklyn then dropping game seven back in Toronto. Kyle Lowry had the last shot of the game at the buzzer to win, but it wasn’t to be.

Also, don’t forget game seven in 2001 when the Raptors made their only appearance in the second round of the playoffs. In the deciding seventh game against the Sixers in Philadelphia, Vince Carter had the ball in his hands for the game winning shot at the buzzer and like Lowry 13 years later, he missed.

Only five players and head coach Dwane Casey are left from the Brooklyn series two years ago and no one except for Raptors ace PR man Jim LaBumbard and broadcasters Jack Armstrong, Leo Rautins and Paul Jones are left from 2001.

“Somehow, some way, we have to flush what happened two years ago, or 20 years ago, to this franchise,” Casey said Thursday before the team left for Indiana. “The most important thing is now. Not two years ago, not thinking about what happened and those ghosts or demons or whatever.”

So the answer to end this thing once and for all and for this franchise to win a best of seven series is to win Friday night and avoid a game seven.

It won’t be easy. The Pacers left Toronto Tuesday night embarrassed. They dominated the Raptors for seven straight quarters dating back to the start of game four. They had a 13 point lead heading into the fourth in game five only to be held to nine points and Paul George held to two as the Raptors pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.

“You’ve got to come out fighting,” Casey added in his Thursday comments. “We know their backs are against the wall. We can’t go and get ambushed. We’ve got to go in with our high beams on, laser-like focus from the start of the game to the end of the game. We can’t go in and spot them 9-0 and think we’re going to have a chance to win.”

The theme of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices from the coaching staff is to treat game six like it’s game seven and end this thing now.

“Don’t let it get back home,” is what Kyle Lowry said in his media availability on Thursday. “We’ve got to try to take advantage of the opportunity that we have in hand. We know it’s not going to be easy. We know how hard it’s going to be. We’re going to go in there and be the more assertive team, just go out there and be physical and just fight for it, fight for every inch on the floor.”

It’s going to be a fight for sure. The Pacers will be up for the fight, and their fans will be ready as neither wants this to be their last home game of the season. The players want to atone for the game five disaster as well.

Somehow the Raptors have to keep up the intensity for 48 minutes what they pulled off in the fourth quarter in game five.

If not it could be ‘deja view all over again’ for the Raptors, or worse their own personal hell of ‘Groundhog Day’ heading back for a Game Seven.



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




NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Can Paul George Beat The Raptors By Himself?

In their first round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers have become in effect a one man show. All-Star Paul George is quite literally doing everything on the court for his team and question becomes, can he beat the Raptors by himself because it’s become obvious he is going to have to.

George leads the Pacers across the stats sheet in the playoffs so far. He is first on his team in:

Points scored 144, 80 more than the next highest scoring Pacer George Hill
Field goals made 43, 18 more than Myles Turner
Field goals attempted 91, 41 more than Monta Ellis
3 point field goals made 13, 4 more than George Hill
3 point field goals attempted 31, 10 more than George Hill
Free throws made 45, 30 more than Solomon Hill
Free throws attempted 48, 27 more than Ian Mahinmi
Defensive rebounds 25, 5 more than Ellis
Total Rebounds 30, tied with Turner
Assists 23, 5 more than Ellis

George is also a leader in the defensive stats where he is number two in:

Steals 9, Ellis number one at 11
Blocks 4, Turner number one at 15

The NBA Hustle stats paint an even more impressive picture about what George does for the Pacers beyond offense.

George leads all NBA players in the playoffs at charges drawn (1.2 per game) and loose balls recovered (1.6 per game) and he is third overall at ball deflections (3.4 per game).

Much of the credit for the Raptors struggles on the perimeter can be credited to George as he leads his team with 4.6 contests per game on three-point attempts.

When George comes off the court, the Pacers basically have nothing to stop the Raptors from scoring and their own offense goes in the tank as well and heading into Game Six tonight, it was reported after Thursday’s practice George is willing to play all 48 minutes if necessary to win.

“If that’s the direction that the game is going, I’m all for it,” George said after Thursday’s practice. “Whatever we got to do to win, I’m doing it.”

George already leads his team in minutes played at 189, 28 more than George Hill as he is playing just under 38 minutes per game. If George actually plays an additional 10 minutes, the questions becomes, will he have anything left in the tank to carry his team on both offense and defense in the fourth quarter?

Can George beat the Raptors by himself?



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

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




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

The Biggest Playoff Win In Raptors History

By Frank McLean

The thing about a basketball game is that it can change just like that. A team dominates for a long period of time, but in the blink of an eye momentum can change and in the playoffs, that can lead to the biggest win in franchise history.

That’s what happened in the fourth quarter of game five Tuesday night. The Indiana Pacers had dominated the Toronto Raptors for seven straight quarters dating back to game four Saturday afternoon.

Then an out of nowhere comeback by the Raptors to win this game and stay alive in this best of seven Eastern Conference series arguably becomes the biggest and most improbable playoff win in the 21 year history of this franchise.

The Raptors were down by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter and to be honest, many of us in the media were thinking about writing this team’s obituary for the 2015-16 season.

How could you not. Paul George of the Pacers had become the Paul Pearce of this year’s playoffs, totally dominating the Raptors at will, dropping three-point shots and attacking the basket just like Pearce did to the Raptors two years ago with the Brooklyn Nets and last year with the Washington Wizards.

But this is where a basketball game can change.

Up 90-77 to start the fourth quarter, Pacers coach Frank Vogel rested George. He already had dropped a series high 37 points in the game and was plus 25, but he would only score two more points the rest of the way.

All of a sudden the Pacers could not make a shot. The Raptors came out with an unusual line up of Bismack Biyombo, Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph and all of a sudden they made defensive stops that the team couldn’t make all night.

The Pacers could not make a shot, even after George came back into the game the Raptors continued on a 15-2 run which climaxed on a steal by Powell of a bad pass from Ellis to George and an uncontested fast break slam dunk to tie the game at 92.

The Raptors outscored the Pacers 25-9 in the quarter to win the game 102-99 and the momentum swung in the Raptors favor heading to Indianapolis for the sixth game Friday night.

So how did Casey come up with a group like he did to start the fourth quarter?

“Getting our butts beat by 15 or whatever it was. I thought we were going to go down with the guys that were swinging, the group was giving it to us physically, they were getting into them, so they were just scrapping and that is what the playoffs are all about,” Casey said. “Fight, toughness, want to and again for whatever reason we didn’t start the game that way, we ended up that way but we didn’t start that way so we know that there is another level that we can get to, that we got to get to if we intend to get one more game.

“It was team defense. One guy is not going to stop (George) and for whatever reason I thought our defensive help was there. One guy is not going to stop Paul George. He is such a great scorer.”

Before the game the spotlight was on DeMar DeRozan who has not been shooting the way he did in the regular season and along with Kyle Lowry if that duo doesn’t score 40 or more points the Raptors usually don’t win.

“(DeRozan)’s a confident player,” Casey said. “ A player that people made fun of me because I said we’re going to ride the guys that brought us here, that won us 56 games in the regular season. Guy’s don’t forget how to score and he did that tonight.”

DeRozan had the best game any Raptor has had so far in the series scoring 34 points and going 11-12 from the free throw line where he dined out all season.

With Lowry’s 14 points they combined for their regular season average against the Pacers of 48 points for the first time in this series.

“You can’t get frustrated have to do whatever it takes to win,” DeRozan said. “We ran a little bit of different sets to get better shots and change the tempo.”

There you have it. If you were at home and changed the channel after three quarters, and no one would blame you if you did, you missed the best playoff comeback in Raptors history.

They were 12 minutes away from facing an elimination game Friday night and instead lead the best of seven series three games to two, but can they keep the momentum and win this series?

That makes game six must see television and remember if they are losing going into the fourth quarter… “DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL”!



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




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors And Pacers Down To A Best Of Three

By Frank McLean

Now it’s down to a best two out of three games in this first round best of seven playoff match between the Raptors and Pacers.

The mystery is what the heck happened between games three and four? Why did the Raptors look so good in game three? DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry each scored 21 points and looked like they were getting out of there scoring funk. Jonas Valanciunas was rebounding as usual and Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph were scoring taking pressure off DeRozan and Lowry. They followed up a great road game after statement win at home with a dud.

In game four, the Pacers started on a 7-0 run and led wire to wire in a 100-83 win. DeRozan and Lowry combined for just 20 points and turned the ball over 17 times. Valanciunas scored 16 points, but only managed 6 rebounds as Indiana outdueled the Raptors on the glass for the first time in this series.

First you have to give credit to Pacers coach Frank Vogel who finally figured out how to stop Valanciunas from dominating under the basket. He made rookie Miles Turner a starter for the first time in the series pairing him with Ian Mahinmi giving them two bigs to stop Valanciunas from dominating on the glass where he had been averaging 16 rebounds a game.

But the Raptors just looked flat like they thought a win was inevitable and they would go home up three games to one. If they thought that the Pacers would not come out mad and hungry and play physical, not wanting to be down three games to one, they were stupid.

At Sunday’s practice back in Toronto, Raptors coach Dwane Casey explained how a team looked great in games two and three and played a stinker in game four.

“I know it’s simplistic and it’s probably too simple for me as a coach to explain, but the team that played the hardest in the two games that were won, they out-fought the other team,” Casey said. “They scrapped, they fought, their backs were against the wall, they played in desperate mode. And I don’t think we played in a desperate mode (Saturday). They did and I’ve said it all year, if we don’t play desperate, if we don’t play hungry, if we’re not the hungry team, we struggle. And we gotta play the desperate team, the hungry team, and (Saturday) should have been a good lesson for that.

“I don’t care if we play on the moon if we don’t come out and play like our backs are against the wall, hit first. We got hit first all (Game 4). They pushed us out of the way. Their guards pushed us around. Everything that they could do, they did physically, they hit first. And if we don’t do that (Tuesday), I don’t care where we play, it’s not going to be an advantage for us.”

Easier said than done for Casey, but when it comes to the adjustment game, the ball is now in Dwane Casey’s court and the question is how is he going to get DeRozan and Lowry in the best position to do what they do best and that’s make shots?

Here is the duo’s numbers after four games.

Between them they are shooting 40-130 from the field or 30.8 percent. DeRozan is scoring an average of 13.3 points a game, Lowry 15.5.

Casey may have tipped his hand Sunday on what his adjustment will be to get his guards open, especially DeRozan, by getting him to be a little more of a passer.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people and everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side,” Casey said. “And when we did that, we got good looks. Not all of them went in, but we got good looks.”

The good thing is the Raptors have home court back. They don’t need to win another game in Indiana.

The worry is the Pacers have figured out how to stop one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference.

We will see Tuesday night if their hunger is back and Casey has figured out a way to free up DeRozan and Lowry.  If not the series could be over.

Casey will receive the Rudy Tomjanovich Award trophy, which honors a coach for his cooperation with the media and fans as well as his excellence on the court, during an on-court ceremony prior to the Raptors’ playoff game Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers in Toronto.



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





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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

A Disappearing DeMar DeRozan Is Hurting The Raptors

The first four games of the Raptors-Pacers opening playoff series hasn’t been easy on Toronto’s two-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan. The Eastern Conference leader in free throw attempts this season can’t buy a whistle and in part that’s leading to an embarrassing number of turnovers, bad shots and otherwise ineffective offense. DeRozan disappearing on offense for long stretches during these playoffs is hurting the heavily favored Raptors who are returning to Toronto with the series tied at two games apiece after losing Game Four 100-83.

The second leading scorer in the East this season at 23.5 points per game, DeRozan is fighting to average 13.3 points so far against the Pacers. Twice he has gone without a single free throw and for the series he’s averaging 2.8 makes on 3.8 attempts from the charity stripe, that’s 4.3 fewer points per game than during the regular season.

Postgame DeRozan said he can’t remember stretch of games with so few free throws since his rookie season.

“My rookie year or something like that,” DeRozan responded postgame after going 0-0 from the free throw line. “I am still going to try to be aggressive and still try to draw fouls like I normally do, but I am not going to whine about it.”

The failure to get a call even when driving through traffic has hurt his shooting percentages and combined with a jump shot that isn’t falling, DeRozan is hitting on under 30 percent of his shots – 5.3 makes on 17.8 attempts.

The 8 points he scored in Game Four was the second time in this series and the second time in his 15 career playoff appearances that DeRozan has failed to score at least 14 points. He was averaging 22.5 points per game in the playoffs prior to this series.

As hard as it is for the Raptors to overcome poor shooting and a lack of production from their leading scorer, it gets even tougher when he’s turning the ball over as well and the Pacers are running up double-digit leads with him on the court in their wins.

In Toronto’s two wins, DeRozan has 4 turnovers (right around his season average of 2.2 turnovers per game) and the Raptors are +5 points (right around his season average +2.2 points) with DeRozan on the court.

In the two losses, their starting shooting guard has 9 turnovers and the team is -25 points. It is almost impossible to see the Raptors overcoming those kinds of numbers from their All-Star. Toronto’s bench is good, really good, but DeRozan is going to play over 30 minutes a game whether he’s got it going or not and that’s just too big a hole to dig out of.

The Raptors wins and losses in this first round playoff series don’t hang completely around DeRozan’s neck. His teammates are more than capable of winning games without significant production from him provided DeRozan isn’t part of digging too deep a hole. However, his astonishing inability to draw fouls all of a sudden deserves a less timid response than has been seen from the team thus far.

“I got to do a better job of getting DeMar cleaner looks,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “Get him open a little bit better. I got to figure out another way to try to get him better looks.

“We got to have him playing at a high level for us to have a chance to win the series and it’s up to me and the staff to come up with something.”

Maybe it’s time Casey risked getting fined by the NBA by letting the world know his All-Star guard isn’t getting a fair whistle. The whining and complaining during the game and afterwards by Indiana seems to working. The silence from Toronto isn’t.

Besides, Casey makes a reported $3.75 million, he can afford the typical $25,000 fine NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hands out for gamesmanship by coaches trying to influence his NBA Officials through the media. Don’t save your money, DeRozan needs more help than just a couple of revised play calls.



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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NBA Indiana Pacers Myles Turner

Pacers Turning To Rookie Myles Turner To Stop Raptors

For Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel desperate times call for desperate measures, so down 2-1 in the series, losing first quarters and getting killed on the glass, Vogel is turning to rookie Myles Turner. Anything to avoid getting crushed in the opening quarter like what happened in Game Three.



Lavoy Allen simply wasn’t having much of an impact, averaging just 2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.7 minutes as a starter in the first three games. Coming off the bench, Turner averaged 11.7 points, 5 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and shot 61.5 percent from the field in 24.3 minutes.

The 6’11 20-year-old will make some rookie mistakes, but he’ll play with a bit of fire and besides, Vogel really has nothing to lose at this point. If he can’t find a way to at least slow down the Raptors on the glass while putting up a few more points, this series will end in Game Five back in Toronto.

From the Raptors side of things, veteran forward Luis Scola has a habit of going off for big games when playing against an inexperienced opponent. One more thing to watch for in Game Four.



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





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Indiana Pacers Paul George 2016 NBA playoffs

Pacers Paul George Keeps Blaming The Referees

It might seem surprising that the player who got to the free throw line 12 times in Game Three and has been given free reign to abuse the Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan in this series was complaining about the officiating, but for the second postgame news conference in a row, the Pacers All-Star Paul George went on about how the Referees were adversely impacting his game.

As Gregg Doyel of the IndyStar so eloquently put it,

George also had words (definitely) for the referees, blaming them for his technical foul — “It’s the playoffs,” he said. “You’ve got to let some stuff slide” — and for his shooting difficulties (6-of-19).

“A lot of my shots,” George said of Raptors defender DeMarre Carroll, “He was getting away with hitting my elbow, hitting my wrists.”

George is frustrated and lashing out.

George also saw fit to accuse the referees of not letting some stuff slide – you know, as it pertains to him – in Game Two as well.

“The foul Kyle (Lowry) drew on me was a cheap foul,” George said after Game Two. “(The referee) came over and told me he messed up, but it happens.”

Only in the mind of a star NBA player was George’s foul on Lowry cheap or that he doesn’t get the star treatment from the NBA referees. The Pacers have enjoyed a significantly better whistle than Toronto in this series, being tagged with just 66 personal fouls compared to 79 for the Raptors.

George was fined $35,000 in December for public criticism of officials. His current comments are more polite, but no less critical and as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver likes to say, they are gamesmanship. So, where’s the fine?



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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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

DeMarre Carroll Brings The Raptors Defensive Intensity

DeMarre Carroll hit three three-balls, scored 17 points and frustrated the Pacers All-Star Paul George all night as the Toronto Raptors cruised to the 101-85 win in Indiana to take a 2-1 series lead in their first round match. This was the playoff tested ‘3-and-D’ forward the Raptors thought – no knew – they were getting when they signed Carroll to that big contract last summer. A player who could bring defensive intensity to the Raptors in the postseason.

“He is giving us intensity on the defensive end,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “That’s what we brought him here to do and hopefully his body responds well. He’s giving it to us on that end of the floor and his shooting and cutting is really helping us on the offensive end too with our spacing.”

This was just Carroll’s sixth game back after being cleared to play again following knee surgery in January and it was by far his best game. The Raptors finally willing to lift the minutes restriction on his playing time.

“It’s been a long time since I played that long,” Carroll said postgame. “It was great. It was a great feeling. I just to build off of it.”

The concern now is how he feels in the morning and Carroll even joked about his wife needing to give him a massage later, but the Raptors have shown an abundance of caution with their defensive stopper and the likelihood of a setback seems remote.

“I’ve been hurt a lot this season,” Carroll said. “A lot of people (might) sulk about it, but I’m just trying to move on, move forward and just try to come out and just try to keep helping this team win.

“The biggest thing coming off of injury is the mental state. You can get down on yourself mentally. I think I am strong mentally with all the stuff I’ve been through.”

This wasn’t the Carroll the Pacers had experienced during the first two games in Toronto. Being limited in minutes greatly reduced his impact on the court and Carroll never really found his rhythm, but that all changed when Casey told him to give all he could in Game Three.

“The biggest thing for me was just to come in and try to be physical, try to play my game,” Carroll said. “Coach (Casey) told me he was going to lift the minutes restriction. It kind of helped me, relief a little bit mentally that I’m not going to be restricted so I can play as hard as I can for as long as I can.”

It worked from the get go. Carroll was up into George from the first possession and George never looked comfortable dealing with his new adversary.

“(Carroll) just came back two weeks ago and so he is just probably getting his sea legs, the rhythm of the game, the speed of the game and now you go from regular season to the playoff intensity and that’s a huge step,” Casey said. “I thought tonight he looked closer to who he really is.”

“Tried to not let (George) get some feel good shots,” Carroll said. “Once he gets some feel good shots and see the ball go through the hoop, he’s a beast. The biggest thing for us is I make every shot harder and just keep trying to be physical with him. It’s going to be a collective group and I got to do my part.”

Carroll did his part and it made a difference. The scary thing from the Pacers standpoint should be he really is just finding his “sea legs” as Casey put it. Carroll is going to get a lot more comfortable and in rhythm the longer this series goes. This playoff veteran expects to win.

“It’s easy, it’s easy to do,” Carroll told Pro Bball Report prior to Game Two. ” Just we got to have the right mentality and you can’t take one game for granted.”



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




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Pacers Whine And NBA Disses Raptors At Free Throw Line

Somehow whining about foul calls doesn’t seem to suit head coach Frank Vogel’s “Smash-Mouth” Pacers, but by all indications his complaining hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

Suddenly, after leading the Eastern Conference in free throw attempts by a huge margin over the hack-a-Drummond brick-layer all season, DeMar DeRozan can’t get any respect from the officials. No the Pacers haven’t stopped bumping, hitting and what used to be called fouling the Raptors All-Star, but the NBA Officials appear to have pocketed their whistles whenever DeRozan has the ball.

Whining about calls has been an on-going strategy by Vogel who was fined $10,000 by the league for criticizing officials after losing to Toronto in the Raptors October home opener and it’s continued right up through the first two games of the playoffs.

“They’re going to throw their bodies into us, snap their heads back and swing their arms through legal defenders and hope the whistle blows,” Vogel told the Indianapolis media right before the playoffs started.

If you’re not going to change the way you play, the next best strategy is to get the way the game is officiated changed. Only through the rose-colored glasses of a head coach do the Pacers not foul on a regular basis.

The Pacers know they have no chance in this series if DeRozan continues to average 11 free throw attempts per game against them and it’s getting hard not to suspect the NBA officials have been instructed to view the game through Vogel’s eyes or maybe that should be Pacers All-Star Paul George’s eyes?

“The foul Kyle (Lowry) drew on me was a cheap foul,” George said after Game Two. “(The referee) came over and told me he messed up, but it happens.”

That in a nutshell sums up how the Raptors-Pacers series has been called to-date. If the Pacers foul, they are “cheap fouls” that the referees can or should choose to ignore. If the Raptors foul, well that’s another story.

Toronto played Indiana four times during the regular season and the Raptors guards absolutely torched them averaging 48 points per game. That’s changed in the postseason with a pocketed whistle at one end of the court.

In those four regular season games, Indiana was called for 27.8 fouls per game and the Raptors averaged 35.3 free throw attempts. Through two playoff games, the Pacers foul rate has dropped to 24 and the Raptors are taking 31.5 free throws.

The Raptors are the other hand are being hit with 26 personal fouls per game and the Pacers are enjoying 28.5 free throw attempts. That’s up from 21.3 Raptors fouls and 22.5 Pacers freebees in the regular season.

The impact of these swings is huge and it’s about the only way a seventh place team can hang with a second place team in the postseason.

The Pacers haven’t suddenly become hands-free in the playoffs and Toronto undisciplined. These games are being called differently from the regular season. Maybe it should be head coach Dwane Casey pointing out how the Pacers have been getting the “cheap fouls called” and it’s his guys getting knocked to the hardwood instead of talking about changing the way his guys have to play?

“How much did Stan Van Gundy get fined the other night?” Casey said. “The onus is on us to adjust. We got to adjust to whatever charge or whatever way the officials are going to go.

“Whatever way they are going to call it, we have to adjust to that and that’s what I told our team. If they are not going to call it, you have to go to plan ‘B’ and I think DeMar is smart enough to do that and he’s got to do that if they are not going to give him the calls when he’s attacking the paint, attacking the basket.”

This isn’t the way the NBA usually treats their All-Stars. Everyone has seen it. When an All-Star guard hits the deck trying to drive into the paint, they get the call and unless the NBA wants to become like FIBA, a jump shooting league devoid of spectacular plays at the rim, that’s they way the game has to be called.

What’s been happening in Toronto is flat out disrespect. This isn’t how the NBA game is played or officiated.

Equally disappointing is the lack of support DeRozan has been getting from the local Toronto media. It’s as if it’s DeRozan’s fault that he’s been laid out on the court without drawing the foul. Where’s the home field advantage in Toronto? Unfortunately, the Toronto media has a history of shoving dirt on all of their professional teams stars.

Even without any help from a more even-handed attempt to referee this series, the Raptors should still be able to eventually move past the very one-dimensional, one-player Pacers. They have the depth of talent the Pacers are trying to rebuild to after losing so many key pieces over the past couple of seasons.

However, what’s been happening so far is a discouraging sign. The NBA is first and foremost an entertainment property with preferred outcomes – not to be confused with fixed – players still determine who wins and loses, but with the way this series is being officiated, it doesn’t look like Toronto is one of those preferred outcomes this season.

Maybe it’s time Casey just paid the fine. It’s a lot better solution than sitting DeRozan in the fourth quarter or turning him into pure jump shooter.



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.