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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

A Cold Wind Of Change Blows Thru Toronto

A new air mass arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and with the more pleasant temperatures came a cold wind of change for the Raptors. The always ruthless Masai Ujiri has shipped the face of his franchise to San Antonio.

Thanks to ESPN’s WOJ, we now know All-Star DeMar DeRozan, promising young center Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected draft pick has been traded for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and “3-and-D” veteran wing Danny Green.

Maybe everyone in Toronto should have seen this coming. The face of the franchise had been BENCHED numerous times this past season in the fourth quarter because the soon-to-be Coach of the Year Dwane Casey had much better defensive options in his young second unit and offense was only rarely an issue for this team in their run to first place in the Eastern Conference. It was sold as rest, but that wasn’t always easy to accept.

DeRozan has earned his popularity with the fan base since being drafted ninth overall in 2009 and being thrust into the spotlight with the departure of Chris Bosh the next summer.

 

NBA Spurs DeMar DeRozan

 

DeRozan holds franchise records for regular season games played (675), minutes (22,986), field goals (4716), free throws made (3539), and points (13,296). In the playoffs, where DeRozan often gets flak, the All-Star never averaged less than 20 points and in his 51 career playoff appearances, he averaged 21.9 points.

Loyal to a fault and an excellent franchise ambassador, a frustrated DeRozan wrote on his Instagram page Wednesday morning,

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

But as previously noted, Ujiri is ruthless.

On a pure talent basis, Ujiri won this trade by a landslide. A healthy Leonard is arguably the second best player in the NBA with an all-around game that even LeBron James couldn’t claim this early in his career.

Leonard can do it all. From guarding the best player on the other team in today’s game 1-thru-5, to shooting the three (career 38.6 percent), hitting over 53 percent of his two-point shots and hitting a much higher percentage from the mid-range than even the mid-range assassin DeRozan. Leonard can control a game like only the historically elite in the NBA have done.

Of course there’s a downside or the Spurs would never have considered trading Leonard and it’s really hard to “win” a trade with San Antonio, buyer beware.

Aside from the FACT Leonard can opt out of his contract after this season and would rather be in L.A., this petulant 27-year-old sat out most of last season with pain that his team thought he could/should play thru.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games

But the risk is manageable. Green is a very serviceable veteran wing on an expiring contract and if Leonard leaves after a year, Ujiri will have cleared over $30 million off his payroll and escaped the Luxury Tax after just one season. Lowry and Ibaka will then be on expiring deals and the rebuild can begin in earnest. If Leonard is healthy and happy, Ujiri could end up the real NBA Executive of the Year no matter who gets the award. From a GM perspective, it’s a no lose situation.

It was a cold, calculated and ruthless move to trade a popular face-of-the-franchise who wanted to be a Raptor-for-life, but that’s who Ujiri is. If you’re an owner, he’s the executive you want. If you’re a fan of DeRozan, Ujiri just stabbed him in the back and his fans in the heart.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Wizards Otto Porter and Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins

Two Big Moves The Raptors Should Be Pursuing This Summer

If the Raptors actually want to take another step (questionable), they need to be making a big move this summer that give this franchise a chance to move beyond being just a good regular season team.

It shouldn’t take a lot to elevate a 59 win roster to the next level. A starting caliber forward/wing to pair with promising rookie combo forward OG Anunoby might be it and there are a couple of teams with a case of buyer’s remorse that have players who could fit the bill if president Masai Ujiri and his incredibly cheap corporate owners can be convinced to take on their bloated salaries.

After a run of five seasons averaging 52.6 wins and taking first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history last year, the constantly “building” Raptors have yet to even get a sniff at an NBA Finals appearance. It’s likely this had a big influence on Ujiri’s decision to fire long time head coach Dwane Casey, but after promoting from within to fill the void, it’s just as likely the organization was too cheap to give their organization’s most successful head coach the extension and raise his regular season record indicated he’d earned.

It’s the Raptors current (Bell and Rogers) and previous (Teachers Pension Plan) ownership’s propensity to maximize profits over winning that has handcuffed this franchise from spending at the level necessary to be competitive at an elite level. Unfortunately, regular season sellouts and a handful of playoff games probably does make the most money.

To compete with rosters like Cleveland and Golden State, a team has to spend deep into the Luxury Tax and, hopefully, this time, ownership will actually let Ujiri take on the additional salary necessary to give new head coach Nick Nurse a chance to get out of his own Conference.

It won’t be easy. As things sit, the Raptors will be a Tax team even before re-signing restricted free agent Fred VanVleet and last summer Ujiri gave away all of the team’s 2018 draft picks just to be able to dump enough salary to get below the Tax Threshold. The fear in Toronto is he’ll do it again, dumping Norman Powell in Brooklyn with another first round draft pick as compensation and then do nothing to significantly improve the roster.

But in order to to take the big step necessary to compete in an improving Eastern Conference Ujiri will need to spend more. If this team starts dumping salary again, they’ll be taking a step backwards.

Forget free agents. All the Raptors will have is the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. Ujiri needs to work his magic in the trade market and he’ll need to take risks to get better.

Fortunately there are a couple of team’s suffering from buyer’s remorse.

The Washington Wizards owe Otto Porter $81.7 million over the next three seasons, are at risk of being a Tax team and their run of on court success took a big step backwards last year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Andrew Wiggins to a max five year million extension that’s about to kick in and can see the Luxury Taxes in their future.

These two teams are motivated to make a deal.

Otto Porter, $26 million in 2018-19

Porter is a 25-year-old 6’8 small forward whose three-point shooting has made significant progress over his five NBA seasons averaging an impressive 44.1 percent last year. He’s considered a good defender and was third in scoring on the Wizards at 14.7 points per game during the regular season.

However, as the highest paid player on his team, he’s taking up way more cap space than a franchise that is no better than first round playoff fodder can afford to tie up and that’s before considering his disappearing act in the playoffs when the minimum salary veteran Mike Scott put up more points in 10 less minutes per game during the team’s first round playoff series loss to Toronto.

The Wizards John Wall’s massive three-year $122 million extension starts in 2019-20 and the combined salaries of Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal will top $92 million that year. Something has to give before then.

Andrew Wiggins, $25.3 million in 2018-19

When the Timberwolves signed the 6’8 small forward Wiggins to a max five year $146 million extension last summer, did everyone just forget head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t exactly known for being a young players coach? The team loaded up with veterans, broke a 13 year playoff drought, and Wiggins minutes, shots and production pretty much reverted to his rookie season numbers as a 19-year-old.

It seems pretty obvious, Thibs would be happier with a veteran than trying to get this former Rookie of the Year to live up to his potential under his tough love leadership style and they really need to dump his salary before  Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are eligible for their own massive new contracts a year from now.

Wiggins still averaged 17.7 points last season and 15.8 points in his five playoff games, but his three-point shooting hasn’t improved as expected and no one seems all that happy with his effort on defense. However, this still just 23-year-old Canadian has off the charts athleticism and potential and maybe he just needs a change of scenery to become the player he’s been envisioned as.

Like Porter, Wiggins will be the top paid player on his team in October, but considered no better than a third option. Wiggins contract is really just in the way.

Why Toronto?

Toronto has their own disappointing highly paid third option in Serge Ibaka, but he’s owed a lot less money than Porter or Wiggins.

Ibaka can play as a Stretch Four or Five and he’s a mobile defender for a big man, but at 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and shooting 36 percent from three, the $45 million he’s owed over the next two years is a lot of money. However, it’s only slightly more than half of what’s owed to Porter and it’s a $100 million less than what’s owed to Wiggins.

Both Minnesota and Washington can argue they need a three-point shooting big man that can block shots, but any deal here would really be all about the money. It’s money the Raptors have if Ujiri can pry it out of the clenched fists in corporate. Ujiri could find a young player to toss into a deal if it was necessary, Delon Wright being an obvious choice, but the salary savings alone should be enough.

Pairing up Porter with Anunoby would give the Raptors a young mobile forward pairing who could shoot the three-ball effectively and switch defensively onto just about any opponent. Last year Anunoby showed he has the size and speed to play power forward in today’s somewhat positionless game.

Wiggins is coming off a down year, but his potential is so high he’s worth the risk. Even as he develops his three-point shot, he’d be a strong third option offensively and hopefully a different coaching approach can get him to apply his skills on the defensive end consistently.

The Raptors would only be able to do one of these deals and the hit to payroll could make the Raptors Luxury Tax bill start to resemble Cleveland’s, but unless LeBron James is coming, one of these two players is probably the biggest impact move the Raptors can make this summer and its well past the time the Raptors started spending some of their huge profits.

 

 

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 Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and Cavaliers LeBron James

Raptors Look Confused After Game Two Loss To The Cavs

Take last night’s box score from the Cavs at Raptors game and only look at the Toronto half. The Raptors must have won? It’s all good, good enough for a victory and the Raptors looked plenty confused after a Game Two loss that wasn’t even close.

Toronto scored 110 points, shot an impressive 54.3 percent from the field, put up 30 three-balls and hit 40 percent of them. They out-rebounded the Cavs by one, got one more assist and only turned the ball over a very respectable 11 times. Their two All-Starts combined for 45 points on 18-33 shooting and sixth-man Fred VanVleet found his offensive touch with 14 points while hitting on 4-7 three-point attempts. Even rookie OG Anunoby was playing some solid defense on LeBron James, not that you’d know it from the King’s stat line.

“We were searching, just trying to find somebody, something to get faster, get more points on the board,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We were searching for offense, searching for spacing, searching for a lot of things.”

“It’s not over, we just got to take it one game at a time, (and) go from there” DeMar DeRozan forced out after the game.

“We need more effort, way more effort,” Kyle Lowry said searching for answers. “We got to play harder, somehow, someway.”

Toronto went into the break up two points 63-61, but it all fell apart in the second half when they couldn’t stop James who scored 27 of his 43 points over the final two quarters. The Cavs put up 67 second half points on 67.5 percent shooting from the field to go up 18 points on Raptors by the end.

Second year forward Pascal Siakam and Anunoby were in James’ face on nearly every shot he attempted, but he still made 13-19 after the half, mostly of the improbable variety.

“Tonight all the shots over his right shoulder, the step-backs, the fade-a-ways, the one where he hit the moon-ball over his right shoulder and came back with the next possession and hit one over his left shoulder from the free throw line, that was special,” Kevin Love said about James’ performance. “That was something that you get accustomed to, you kind of get used to, but tonight was in that fashion. I don’t know if, it’s my fourth year here, I’d seen that out of him, so it’s special.

“When he went over his right shoulder and then went over his left shoulder, he said when he got the mismatch he would do that. He actually called his shots this morning. That’s just one of the examples I could use about how locked in he was during the entire shoot-a-round knowing what was at stake for us.”

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was almost prophetic during the pre-game media availability when hoped for a big scoring night from his team.

“Each team tries to take away what each team does best, so the team who scores 130 this series, they got hot and played really well,” Lue responded to Pro Bball Report’s query. “I don’t see the 130 point games, but if so, I hope it’s us.”

The Cavs were hot in Game Two with the 128-110 victory and the confused Raptors were at a complete loss as to how to stop the barrage.

 

 

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 Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Waste A 21/21 Night By Jonas Valanciunas

By Frank McLean

Game One of the third annual Toronto Raptors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series was a big disappointment as the home team wasted a 21 point 21 rebound night by Jonas Valanciunas. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding a lump of coal in your stocking.

The Raptors lost this game, which by rights they should have won, 113-112 in overtime only because they couldn’t make one stinking field goal in the last 4:19 of regulation time.

They were leading 102-99 thanks to a Kyle Lowry layup, but then they proceeded to miss their last 11-field goal attempts. With the score tied at 105 with five seconds left they missed three easy tip-ins, two of them by Jonas Valanciunas and the other one by DeMar DeRozan.

Even in overtime Fred VanVleet had a shot to win it at the buzzer with a 28 foot jump shot that missed. The Raptors should have walked out of the Air Canada Centre with a one to nothing lead in the series on this night.

What hurts is that they ruined what I consider the second best single game playoff performance by a Raptors player.

Now the best is still Vince Carter scoring 50 points against Philadelphia in a second round series back in 2001. But what Jonas Valanciunas did Tuesday night scoring 21 points and adding 21 boards was an outstanding playoff performance.

Now I know some will argue that Bismack Byombo’s  26 rebounds against the same Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the conference final two years should be up there and I would put it number three. Why?

20 point-20 rebound games are as rare as no hitters by pitchers in baseball.

Valanciunas is the first Raptor to do this in a playoff game and when you include the regular season, he is only the third Raptor to do it period. Popeye Jones did it first in franchise history and Chris Bosh did it twice.

Four times in 23 years shows how rare this happens.

In his postgame scrum with the media Valanciunas was in the mood to talk about his 20-20 night. He agonized over the four minutes of regulation time where they couldn’t make a shot especially since he two cracks at it in the last five seconds.

“We missed some shots, easy shots ,“ Valanciunas said. “They were aggressive, playing real aggressive defense, but it’s on us. What you take away is you got to make shots, know what you are doing, we could have won this game.”

Valanciunas shot just 7-19 from the field in Game One. Meanwhile head coach Dwane Casey was complementary.

“I thought he played well. He had a wide open tip in at the end that I thought he could have finished but I thought Jonas played really well.”

Valanciunas success was based on the Cavaliers using a small line up which he was able to exploit.

“We made them pay for their small lineup, he has to continue to do that,” Casey added. “He’s got the advantage as far as post-ups, his tip-ins, his driving to the baskets and getting to the free throw line and rebounding. He did a heck of a job at the position.”

And that’s where the Raptors had success against the Cavaliers with Valanciunas controlling the paint all night and it’s something they can keep exploiting as long as the series goes.

The Raptors could have, I mean should have, won this game and have a one to nothing lead in this best of seven series. All they had to do is make one shot and as a result they wasted a franchise playoff record braking performance by Jonas Valanciunas.

 

 

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


 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

Cavs Are Giving Raptors C.J. Miles His Time To Shine

The Toronto Raptors signed the veteran C.J. Miles this past summer to be part of the culture change envisioned by president Masai Ujiri and heading into a second round playoff series against a Cavs team that refuses to defend the three-point line, this is his time to shine.

To make the culture change work, the Raptors needed a player who wasn’t afraid to hoist as many three-point attempts as time allowed and good enough that opposing defenses couldn’t afford to leave him. It must have been music to Miles ears as the veteran reserve fired a career-high 454 threes in the fewest minutes he’s played per game since he was 20, a decade ago.

To put things bluntly, the Cavs don’t defend three-point shooters. They gave up the 29th most three-point attempts in the NBA (31.7) this past season and the 28th most three-point makes (11.7). It’s a free-for-all out there beyond the arc and it almost cost them a first round exit against a fifth-place Pacers team that was 25th in three-pointers made this season. The Pacers took 27.1 (up 2.6 from the regular season), but the fact they could only make 0.7 more threes undoubtedly cost them this very close series.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are the polar opposites to the Pacers when it comes to three-point shooting. Toronto shot the third most threes in the NBA (33) and made the fourth most (11.8), but in three games against the Cavs, those numbers exploded to 14.7 made on 36.7 attempts. Miles hitting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts versus Cleveland. It’s a lot easier to shoot from range when no one is coming out to stop you.

This is redemption time for Miles. A career 36.1 percent three-point shooter on 3,249 regular season attempts, Miles hasn’t performed in the postseason. In prior year’s playoffs, he shot 26.5 percent on 98 three-point attempts and in the past two years with Indiana, he went just 7-36 or 19.4 percent from three. Miles has something to prove and he’s proving it.

Complaining that the Wizards were face-guarding him the entire first round and that it was hard to get open, Miles averaged 5.2 three-point attempts per game and hit on 38.7 percent of them (both represent playoff career bests). He actually shot better than his regular season average of 36.1 percent.

This is Miles time to shine, to run off screens and find no one there to challenge his three-point barrage and the Raptors will need him. Toronto outscored the Wizards by an average 9 points per game from the three-point line in their first round series and to beat the Cavaliers, they’ll need to do it again or better. Buckle up and fire away.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James vs Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Is The Third Time The Charm For The Raptors Facing The Cavs?

By Frank McLean

It’s the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting up in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and for the third time in a row overall. And everyone knew that if this Raptors team was going to make it to the NBA Finals they would have to hook up with LeBron James for another post season battle.

The Raptors had lost the Conference Final two years ago four games to two and were swept in the second round last year.

Their playoff record is not that great if you only look at the fact the Raptors are two and eight overall against Cleveland and their only two wins were at home. Toronto winless in the post season at Quicken Loans Arena.

But there are some differences this time around.

First the Raptors will have home court advantage for the first time thanks to finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. Including their three home playoff games with the Washington Wizards the Raptors are 37-7 at home and the Air Canada Centre is as tough a place for any visiting team to play in as any building in the NBA.

The Cavaliers only made one appearance in Toronto this year but they were thumped 133-99, thanks to the new Raptors style of play of distributing ball until someone has a good look and takes it. As opposed to the isolation style of ball where the focus was on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and all the Cavaliers had to do was shutdown the guard duo and that pretty well did the Raptors in.

They are also a tougher road team, including the Wizards, they are 26-18 overall and let’s not forget how big the game six win was in Washington. Not only did  it clinch the series early for a change, eliminating an anything-can-happen seventh game, but it proved that this team can win pressure-packed road playoff games.

LeBron James talked about the different Raptors team he and the Cavaliers will be facing this time around on Sunday after they eliminated the Indiana Pacers in a first round series.

“Kudos to Dwane Casey. First of all they’ve got like 10-to-12 guys who come in and produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench they come in with the same attitude and the same confidence as the starters. We don’t have much time to prepare so we’re going to go into Game one and just kind of wing and just go from there.”

The big question about the Cavaliers is how tired is James?

In their series with the Pacers it looked like James was playing all by himself against whoever the five players the Pacers had on the floor. James, single-handed, won this series.

In Sunday’s game seven he scored 45-points nine rebounds and eight assists, but with the Pacers trailing by two, 76-74 after three quarters, James was on the bench with a minor injury. And when James got back into the game they were able to get the lead to nine and they never looked back.

But James admitted after the game that he is tired and that he wanted to go home. He did say that with only one day to get ready for the Raptors they are going to wing it.

They didn’t have an easy first round series, don’t have home court in the second round, and that’s what happens when you finish fourth.

So, is this the year the Raptors take care of the Cavaliers?

Things are different for this third playoff series in three years between these Eastern Conference rivals, but one thing everyone was sure of. These two teams were going to have to meet one more time in the playoffs and maybe the third time is the charm for 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.

 

 

 

Toronto Playoff Triple Header At Jurassic Park Tonight

The Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, and TFC (soccer) are all playing key playoff matches tonight and fans are encouraged to arrive early if they want their spot in the Maple Leaf Square/Jurassic Park tailgate party to watch all the action. Gates open at 5 p.m. and the on stage programming starts at 5:40 p.m., but if past years are any indication, fans wanting to take in the festivities will need to arrive very early indeed.

As Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs continues, the Toronto Raptors will host the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m in a pivotal Game Five inside the Air Canada Centre. As usual, the Jurassic Park tailgate will be jumping.

Fans wishing to watch the Raptors game can enter Jurassic Park off Lakeshore Blvd.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing the Bruins on the road in Boston at 7:30 p.m. for a “win or go home” Game Seven. Temporary screens by York St. and Bremner Blvd. will broadcast the game to provide a combined tailgate experience for fans.

Leafs fans should enter Maple Leaf Square from York St./Bremner Blvd.

Once the Raptors game ends, the screens will switch to Leafs vs Bruins.

At about 9:30 p.m. fans will be able to watch Toronto FC face off against Chivas Guadalajara in the away (final) leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final being played in Mexico. It’s a chance to see MLS history in the making.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early as space for this event is limited and a full house is expected.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors Magic Number Is 30, 30 Three-Balls That Is

The secret to the Raptors 59 win season isn’t exactly a mystery. They fire up a lot of threes and the threat of the three-ball is what opens up the floor to get to the rim. When they aren’t shooting threes, the Raptors get a lot easier to guard.

“A lot of our three-point shooters had opportunities to shoot the ball and for whatever reason we were hesitating,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after practice. “When you look at the film, they had plenty of time. We got to let it go, got to let it fly.”

As we wrote at the start of this series. These Raptors live or die by the three-ball.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory.

And it wasn’t lost on Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after Game One.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us,” Brooks said.

In those first two games in Toronto, the Raptors hoisted 65 threes and won both games. In the next two in Washington, they turned down shots and only fired up 46 three-balls and that’s a losing formula for Toronto.

As Casey indicated, it wasn’t the Wizards defense that ran the Raptors off the three-point line on the road. It was guys like Delon Wright turning down open shots to make a pass or waiting for defenders to arrive so they could drive. These Raptors have to be willing to let it fly like have been all season.

Now back in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre it should be easier for the Raptors to get back to the game plan that was so successful for them this season. If Toronto can get up 10 threes in the first quarter of Game Five, make or miss, they should be expected to hold onto their home court advantage. If not, this could be a long night for the home team.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

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 Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Reward For Missing Raptors Bench: Best To Worst

Maybe it’s time for Toronto to offer a reward to anyone that can find their missing bench? Touted as the best bench in the NBA during the regular season, they’ve become the worst bench in the playoffs. The eye test backs up the numbers, it’s the Raptors starting unit that has been carrying the load against Washington.

This season the Raptors reserves led the league’s benches (per NBA.com) with  a net rating of +8.3 points and in the more straightforward plus/minus at +3.6. They weren’t just good, this bench turned more than a few games around for Toronto with their hustle and efficient play, but in the postseason, it’s been a different story.

With backup point guard Fred VanVleet on the shelf to start the playoffs, the Raptors second unit has had an embarrassingly bad -20.4 points net rating and a plus/minus of -7.3 points, both good for dead last among the playoff teams.

However, it hasn’t been VanVleet’s missing offense that’s the problem. The bench is scoring just 3.1 fewer points in 2.9 fewer minutes and they’ve been shooting the lights out from three-point range at 43.6 percent. The offensive production is fine, it’s the defense, rebounding, and a surprising drop off in sharing the ball that’s causing the problems.

In the playoffs the bench is garnering 6.8 fewer rebounds, 4.3 fewer assists and 1.2 fewer steals. Their defensive rating has shot up from a respectable 101.6 in the regular season to a terrible 120.1 in their three postseason games. The bench is only garnering 42.8 percent of the available rebounds which translates into lots of extra possessions for the Wizards.

With the numbers in full view, it’s easy to understand why the bench has looked so bad during the recent games.

It’s probably not fair to lay the blame at the feet of two second year players with a total of 36 minutes of playoffs experience between them prior to this season, but they kind of stand out and, even if they didn’t score, the hope would be Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl would hang onto their regular season chemistry and provide energy, defense and rebounding.

“We are letting them come to us and we are trying to react afterwards,” Poeltl said after the Game Three loss. “Me as a center, when I am guarding a guy like Scott or Morris, I have to find a good balance between being out for the shooters at the three and still being there to help at the rim for a guy like John Wall that’s coming down the lane. That’s really the difficult part for us to figure out.”

The Raptors big men off the bench simply aren’t finding that balance between guarding the three-point line and getting back to defend the rim and in today’s NBA where everybody shoots threes, that’s a big problem.

Between Poeltl and Siakam, their rebounds are down 2.3 per game, assists off 1.4 and steals have dropped to zero from 1.3. They are getting taken advantage off by a far more veteran group of Wizards big men that they haven’t been able to out-hustle or run into the ground. Those looks of “what did I do” as Poeltl picks up another foul or Siakam’s surprising lack of decisiveness (or confidence?) are not what Toronto has been used to seeing from these two all season.

Both Poeltl and Siakam exceeded expectations this year and they are going to get better, but the playoffs demand more than the regular season and these two are having to learn that on the job. Without the Raptors reserve big men playing up to expectations, Toronto’s bench will remaining “missing,” so they had better adapt fast.

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Are Wizards Still Using Last Year’s Raptors Scouting Report?

After a couple of games being shelled from deep in Toronto you’d think the Washington Wizards would have noticed that this isn’t last year’s Raptors team? But you could be mistaken, they still seem to be clinging to last year’s scouting report. From the postgame comments, the Wizards aren’t ready to accept that giving up a 122 points per game in their first round playoff series has been on them.

“There were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes,”Wizards guard Bradley Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. 

“There’s a lot of guys, we went over the scouting report, there’s guys making threes that’s not really their M.O. coming into the series,” Beal said after Game Two. 

“I really feel like it’s nothing crazy that’s beating us in terms of their sets and the offensive stuff that they’re running. I think we are just shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts, allowing guys to get open threes, allowing guys to get those shots, allowing guys to get layups. It has to be one or the other.”

The Raptors were the highest scoring team in the East this season doing exactly what Beal has described on a nightly basis.

So, are the Wizards actually looking at this year’s scouting report on the Raptors? Toronto was third in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in three-point makes this season. Almost everyone on the roster shoots threes. This team has nine players that attempted over 130 three-pointers during the regular season and outside of backup center Jakob Poeltl, everyone on the roster has the green light to shoot a three when open.

Even the Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas will shoot the three if he isn’t guarded. He was 30-74 from three during the regular season and is already 1-2 in this series.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.”

The only players on the Raptors averaging more than two midrange shots a game are are DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka and they both average over 3.5 three-point attempts per game. Toronto has shifted away from being a top 12 team in scoring from the midrange last season to a bottom six team this year. These guys score over 75 percent of their points in the paint or from three.

NBA Toronto Raptors

“They play really well together,” Beal admitted. “You got to respect what coach Casey is doing and how he meshed and gelled that team together.

“We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The drawing should probably include guarding the three-point line or this fan in Washington might not survive his next rant.

 

 

 

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

Raptors Show Hustle Over Hype In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

For the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night’s second game of their first round playoff battle with the Washington Wizards was uncharted territory. It was the first time the Raptors ever played a Game Two in a first round series up one game to nothing thanks to Saturday’s 114-106 win, so the worry was to keep the momentum up and not let down.

The theme of the night was written on the t-shirts that every fan had waiting for them at their seats “Hustle Over Hype”, that’s what head coach Dwane Casey wanted to avoid heading into Game Two, the hype after coming off a big win.

“When you get into the playoff situation, just because you win one game doesn’t mean anything,” Casey was saying before the game. “Behind one game, up one game, it’s a seven game series and you have to go on with that. It’s great to protect home court and have that mindset, but we are going into like we haven’t done anything.”

Well the Raptors past the test with a 130-119 win giving them their first ever two-games to nothing lead in a playoff series. They never let the hype of finally winning a game one get in their heads, but it was way they came out to start the game was something I have never seen in my 23-years covering the team.

They went on a 28-13 run to start the game ending the first quarter with a 44-27 lead that Washington would eventually cut to five with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors would get the lead back up to 20 points and eventually win by 11.

Toronto hit seven three pointers in the first quarter, 11 in the first half overall and were 13-of-35 for the game. They broke three franchise playoff records in the game,

The 44 points in the first quarter was a new record for points in a quarter in a playoff game.

They lead 76-58 at the half and the 76 points was new record for points scored in a half in a playoff game.

The 130 points scored overall is also a new record for points in a playoff game.

And don’t forget DeMar DeRozan who tied his playoff career high with 37 points.

But you have to give the Wizards credit, they did get the deficit down to five in the fourth quarter.

It was all John Wall, the Wizards best player, who did his best scoring 22 second half points and that is someone Casey said the Raptors will have to do a better job defending the rest of the series.

“He was going where he wanted to go with the ball,” Casey said. “We got to do a better job of getting down in the stance, containing the ball, and the bigs have go to do a better job of protecting the rim. And we have (in the past), and we’ve done it, so it’s something that can be done, we just did not do a good job in the second half tonight.”

You had to feel sorry for Wizards coach Scott Brooks who in his post-game media conference looked like he had been put through the ringer. He credited a C.J. Miles three-pointer that killed their comeback at down five points in the fourth after starting the final frame down 15.

“C.J. Miles hit a big shot and John (Wall) had a good contest. Give him credit, he stepped up and made that,” Brooks said. “The momentum shifted when he made that shot. Tough to overcome 44 points in the first quarter, tough to overcome seven threes in the first quarter, but somehow we managed to do it. We probably ran out of gas a little bit.”

But this is a different Toronto Raptors team and as I said I have not seen anything like this in 23-years the franchise has been around.

They started the game with a killer instinct and when the Wizards John Wall slowly chipped away at the lead, they never folded up like a cheap suitcase as they’d done in the past.

The Raptors passed the test, so now it’s on to Washington where there are more uncharted waters to navigate.

 

 

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 C.J. Miles

These Raptors Live Or Die By The Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors have been firing away from deep since before the season began. It was all part of the “culture change” promised by president Masai Ujiri and delivered by head coach Dwane Casey. These Raptors were going to live or die by the three-ball this season and they rode that change all the way to first place in the East.

“They are a good team,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said after losing Game One of their first round series with Toronto. “They are the number one seed for a reason.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us. They’ve been doing it all year, not 16 in a game, they averaged nearly 12 (three-pointers a game).”

From 8.8 made threes per game in 2016-17 to an NBA fourth best 11.8 made threes this year, the Raptors have embraced the three-ball and everyone shoots them. Even the guys teams aren’t prepared to guard outside like the high-energy forward Pascal Siakam, the historically paint-bound Jonas Valanciunas and the mid-range king DeMar DeRozan. It a volume approach as Toronto is just an average three-point percentage shooting team.

“DeMar even made some threes in the fourth,” Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “They were 16-for-30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes. They made them.”

That Toronto fired up 30 three-balls in Game One really should not have come as a surprise to the Wizards. Over their four meetings this past season, the Raptors averaged 31.3 three-point attempts and as a team, they see no reason to change what got them to this point.

“We’ve been playing that style since training camp,” DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “We’ve been pounding and pounding every single day, every single practice, every single shoot-a-round, every time we get on the court, we pound this style of play. Guys know where their shots are going to come from. (We) understand where to get shots from, where to get our guys shots from, it’s just second nature now. You have to go thru that training camp, preseason and early-on-season of doing it and now it’s just repetition and it’s second nature to us.”

The Raptors use the three-ball to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and versatile guard Delon Wright, who had a big impact in Game One.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.

“I’m a driver, so teams try to pack the paint on me, so I have to be willing to take that open (three-point) shot. It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The same mindset applies to everyone on the Raptors and it makes the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team very difficult to guard. About the only way to stop them is to hope they miss shots.

“It’s definitely a pick your poison,” coach Scott said. “We just have to do it better.

“VanVleet did not play, but Wright came in and had a terrific game. That’s why they are hard to guard.”

“I think their bench was great, especially C.J. Miles, ” John Wall said. “I think they played well, made some big shots and that’s what they are going to do every game.”

Three-point specialist C.J. Miles was acquired during the summer to help make the transition to a three-point shooting roster happen and he’s been living up to his end of the bargain. Miles hit an NBA second most threes off the bench at 155 on the season and he hoisted the League’s second most attempts while on the court at over one three-point field goal attempt every three minutes. He’s been prolific and, taken in context, very effective.

“That’s been the main focus of what they have asked me to do since I’ve been signed, to be that threat, to carry that threat, but it’s a testament to guys looking for me, guys screening for me and the coaches believing in what I do,” Miles told Pro Bball Report. “I work at it extremely hard to be that threat. Obviously it can get a little crazy sometimes, but it is what it is. That’s what I am put out there to do.

“I understand you are not going to make them all and you you think about the fact that shooting 40 percent from three is elite, so that’s four out of 10, so if I miss three, the numbers are bound to balance out. That’s the way I look at it. As long as they are good looks, that’s the biggest thing.

“If it comes to me putting (the ball) down on the floor, it’s got to be because they made me, not because I passed up a shot to do it.”

Miles has been critical in getting the Raptors young players to buy into the “new culture” and not turn down shots just because they missed a couple and the proof is in the results. This style of play has worked for Toronto.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

The concern about the Raptors since those early preseason games when it seemed every prospect knew their only chance of making this roster was to shoot threes at every opportunity was if the team’s All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan would stay on board at the first signs of adversity or an impact to their own personal stats. Now we know they’re on board.

Ujiri’s culture change is in full effect and these Raptors will live or die by the three-ball. As of now, it looks like they could ride this change all the way to the NBA Finals.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Don’t Have To Change A Thing For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors won Game One of their first round playoff series with the Washington Wizards Saturday 114-106 by not changing a thing about the way they played in the regular season.

That was the theme in the two days leading up to the first game of this series.

On Thursday DeMar DeRozan made that quite clear when he sat down with the media because some people still think 59 wins overall and 34 wins at home was somehow a fluke.

“We did it 82 games,” DeRozan said. “We won 59 games. If that’s not the ultimate understanding of what got us here wasn’t a fluke, it really worked, we’re not going to sway away from that. I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s going take us even further.”

And they did that. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey rolled out 11 players out of the 13 he dressed for Game One which is nothing different from what he did during the regular season. The subs known as the BENCH MOB contributed 42 of the 114 points scored.

That has been this teams MO all season, use everybody and make it work.

There seems to be a theory that come playoff time you have to shorten your rotation to eight players heck maybe seven. Casey has had success running out 10-11 men a night and let it be known that he does not subscribe to that theory.

“Our record, we had the number one bench plus-minus in the league, one of the best producing benches in the league and that’s who we are and that’s one of the main reasons I say that and we’ll stick to that,” Casey said.

Six players had 10 or more points. You could see the difference from other years in which everything was centered around DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They were sharing the ball looking for the best shot and taking numerous three point attempts.

Down 59-55 at halftime they went on a 11-2 run hitting four straight three-point shots and grabbing a 66-61 lead. They were 16-of-30 behind the arch for the game, plus the real C.J. Miles came back hitting four-of-seven.

The Raptors looked confident throughout the game. They didn’t get rattled when they gave up the lead, something that in past playoff games would cause them to lose focus and get so far behind they couldn’t catch up.

“We been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”

It’s only one game, but the Raptors showed a confidence they have never shown in a playoff Game One during the Dwane Casey era. If they keep playing this way, it’s going to be a long postseason run and they don’t have to change a thing.

 

 

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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 assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse

NBA Coach Firing Season Opens Doors For Raptors Jerry Stackhouse

By Frank McLean

In the NFL they call it Black Monday. The day after the regular season ends and head coaches who have had a bad year don’t want to answer their cell phones, check their texts or emails because they are going to get fired. The NBA coach firing season starts on Black Thursday and this year it got underway before the sun even had a chance to rise in the eastern time zone.

In what was one of the worst kept secrets in the league the New York Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek early Thursday as their plane landed in New York City after they finished the season knocking off the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

Hornacek probably knew the noose was coming when all three of his bosses, president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and player development director Craig Robinson, came along for the trip. They weren’t there to do a team evaluation, they know the Knicks stink and the job was to hand out a pink slip.

So since 2001 the Knicks will now be hiring their 11th coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001.

11 coaches in 17 years, now if that is not the definition of a poorly run franchise, what is?

Also fired was assistant coach Kurt Rambis. Hornacek and Rambis are the last remaining pieces of the Phil Jackson era, so now, finally, the new management team can hire their own people.

Meanwhile in Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond fired head coach Frank Vogel after two years on the job.

Vogel was a hire of previous management and it’s not because he had a 54-110 record with the Magic. They know he is a good coach and he had 250-184 record with the Indiana Pacers before Larry Bird fired him for reasons no could figure out after the Raptors eliminated them in a tough seven game first round playoff series.

It’s a case of Weltman and Hammond wanting to bring in their own coach.

In an article in Thursday mornings New York Post, Knicks beat writer Marc Berman listed names of possible candidates like ESPN commentator Mark Jackson, former and current head coaches David Fizdale, Jason Kidd, David Blatt, Doc Rivers if the Clippers release him and Raptors 905 G League head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

ESPN is already reporting that the Knicks have heavy interest in the Raptors 905 coach, but Orlando could also be a landing place for him and Stackhouse hinted he’s just waiting for his phone to ring.

“For a (NBA) team that needs a coaching change and we don’t know which teams those are, hopefully I get an opportunity to interview,” Stackhouse said after his loss in the G League Finals. “I hate speaking about other people’s jobs that haven’t even been taken yet. As those dominos fall, hopefully I get an opportunity to sit down and talk about what I’ve been able to witness being a part of the Raptors organization.”

Weltman is the former number two man to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and he would be crazy not to go after Stackhouse or Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse who is another hot candidate likely to get a shot at coaching an NBA team.

Probably, by the time this day is through, it shouldn’t be a surprise if more coaches are fired. It is Black Thursday.

Here’s a hint. If you are an NBA coach and you finished with a record below .500, don’t answer the phone. You may be unemployed before it’s time for dinner.

 

 

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

DeMar DeRozan Gets Some MVP Love From The Western Conference

While the Houston Rockets James Harden is the run-away leader for the NBA’s MVP award this season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry singled out the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan as another worthy candidate. Gentry acknowledges that despite a great season his own star Anthony Davis isn’t even in this race. As it should be, it’s all about winning.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle quotes Gentry as saying,

“In my opinion, (James Harden) is the MVP of the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not even close, really, what he’s doing with his team and the numbers he’s putting up.”

“He’s been fantastic. He’s been unbelievable,” Gentry said of Davis. “I think the only difference in him not being heavily, heavily in the conversation is obvious we haven’t had the type of season that a Houston has had or a Toronto has had, you know with (DeMar) DeRozan and those guys.

“We just don’t have the wins that those teams have and I think that’s the difference in where he is on the scale of MVP as opposed to Harden or DeRozan.”

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Closing In On First Overall In The NBA

On a seemingly ignored 10 game winning streak the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of passing the Golden State Warriors in the overall standings and are just three games back of the Houston Rockets who they have defeated twice this season.

These aren’t your Raptors of the past four years. Yes, those teams set club records with 48, 49, 56 and 51 win seasons and were better than anything fans in Toronto had experienced, but this team is on a pace never before seen north of the border and there is still an element of disbelief around the NBA and even in the local fan base. And that’s despite this winning streak really stretching back to late January at 19-2.

While the blow out wins in February were impressive, what deserves more notice are the recent hard fought wins over desperate teams fighting for playoff position. Games that in past seasons probably would not have ended in the Raptors favor.

Toronto crushed the Pistons hopes of sneaking into the playoffs by blowing them out at the Air Canada Centre at the end of February and a week later broke their hearts in an overtime thriller in Detroit that the Pistons had to win to stay in the playoff race. The Raptors also took wins away from the Wizards in Washington and the Pacers in Indiana in the fourth quarter with both teams fighting for home court in the postseason.

However, the signature win came against the Western Conference’s first place Rockets who came into Toronto on a 17 game winning streak having lost earlier in the season to Toronto in front of their home fans. The Raptors were playing their third game in four nights, but it didn’t matter as they held the NBA’s second highest scoring team to just 105 points.

The Warriors are experiencing injury woes and dropped a couple of road games recently. Currently Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb) and Kevin Durant (ribs) are all on the shelf, so there may be a few more losses coming before they get all their superstars back. Passing the Dubs in the overall standings is a very real possibility for the Raptors.

The Rockets, however, may prove to have too big of a lead. Houston has bounced back for three wins in a row after losing in Toronto. The Raptors can see first place overall, but there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in the way of James Harden and company running the table from here.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Move To Number One In NBA Power Rankings

It isn’t easy for We The North to get much recognition south of the border, but after completing the season series sweep over the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are getting some much deserved praise.

In John Schuhmann’s Week 22 Power Rankings on NBA.com the Raptors rose two places to head the list at number one.

The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.

Over at Sports Illustrated ,  Rohan Nadkarni also bumped the Raptors from the third spot to first overall.

Week 22 of the NBA season is here, and we’re seeing a shake-up at the top of the Power Rankings.

The Rockets have been bumped from the top spot after Toronto ended their 17-game win streak.

The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, the CARM-ELO ranking system still has the Rockets first with the Raptors a close second. Both teams are given a 60 percent chance at representing their respective conferences in the NBA Finals.

ESPN Power Rankings have left the Raptors in third place behind the Rockets and Warriors choosing to ignore the recent losses by those teams and the Raptors NBA best 15-1 record since February 2nd. Occasionally it feels necessary to remind ESPN that the NBA has a team in Canada.

Despite seeing their 17-game winning streak come to an end against the Toronto Raptors, the Houston Rockets are in no danger of losing their No. 1 position in the NBA Power Rankings. And even after back-to-back losses without Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors still call their familiar No. 2 spot home for now.

While the Rockets were winning 17 in a row, the Raptors, almost unnoticed,  were almost as unbeatable and with the streak stopper against the Western Conference leader on Friday night, Toronto earned the top spot in the NBA and SI Power Rankings.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors A Slight Favorite Over The Rockets

In what has to be viewed as the biggest game of the 2017-18 season to-date, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors face the Western Conference’s first-place Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

ESPN affiliate FiveThirtyEight.com gives the home court Raptors a slight 0.5 point advantage and  a 52 percent chance of winning.

Toronto (47-17) clinched a playoff spot this week with their sixth win in a row by beating Detroit 121-119 in overtime and holds a two game lead over second place Boston. The Rockets (51-13) hold a slim half game lead over the Warriors thanks to an impressive 17 game winning streak.

The Raptors defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113 way back in November and a series sweep would send a strong message to the few remaining doubters about just how good the team north of the border is this season.

The Air Canada Centre has been a tough place for opponents to steal a win. The Raptors have the best home record in the NBA at 27-5 where they pile on the points at 112.8 per game and outscore their opponents by a league best 11.9 points.

However, the Rockets are a league best 26-7 on the road this season, scoring 111.8 points and winning easily by a front-running 8.9 points in their opponents’ buildings.

It’s the NBA’s leading scorer and MVP front runner James Harden vs the Eastern Conference Player of the Week DeMar DeRozan and the NBA’s best bench. This should be a good one.

 

 

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.