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NBA Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson

Raptors Lose Patrick Patterson To The Thunder

It was inevitable that the Toronto Raptors were going to lose Patrick Patterson to free agency this summer because of luxury tax constraints, but at least he’s heading West to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a three-year $16.4 million dollar deal. The Raptors will only have to face him twice a year.

Patterson was the last of the four players Toronto received from the Sacramento Kings in December 2013 in the Rudy Gay trade that turned the Raptors from soft perennial losers into a four-time playoff team. He will be missed.

Once again Patterson should have a solid shot at the starting job at the start of the season and maybe in Oklahoma City the role suites him better. For reasons no one could understand, including Patterson, he could never get comfortable in the starting line-up with the Raptors and it wasn’t because they didn’t need him in that role.

The big forward was an above average defender with genuine three-point range and over the past four seasons he figured prominently in a number of Raptors victories. However, his three-point shot had a nasty habit of disappearing at precisely the wrong time.

Raptors fans will remember this career 36.8 percent three-point shooter hit on only 30 percent of his attempts from three during the run to the Eastern Conference Finals two springs ago, going just 3-11 in those last three games against Cleveland.

In this year’s playoffs, Patterson shot 30.8 percent from three over the 10 games, but only 22.2 percent in the Cavs second round sweep of the Raptors. He was part of the reason president Masai Ujiri lamented about the team’s three-point shooters not hitting three-point shots in the playoffs.

Those playoff blips aside, Toronto consistently played better with Patterson on the court. He was a ball mover and reliable defender. The classic glue-guy and the Thunder are sure to appreciate the stability he can bring to a team at both ends of the court.

The hardest part about seeing Patterson leave for the Thunder is, at that salary, he’d still look really good in a Raptors uniform.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Paul George

Thunder Win, Paul George Heads West

In hindsight it’s obvious, the Pacers didn’t want Paul George to stay in the Eastern Conference, so it’s off to the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for guard Victor Oladipo and second-year big man Domantas Sabonis.

In effect the Thunder have managed to trade the assets they got for Serge Ibaka last summer from the Magic for George this summer. Thunder general manager Sam Presti knows how to deal.

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

Harden Or Westbrook Cause Co-MVP Is A Cop Out

By Lindsay Dunn

In NBA history there has never been co-MVPs and the Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be the first.

Almost a year to the date of his last NBA game Kobe Bryant is making headlines again. When asked about the current MVP race in the NBA Bryant said, “We might see our first co-MVPs this year.”

Or not. Maybe we should start handing out “Participation Awards” too! Co-MVP is a cop out.

This isn’t a conversation that just started this year because the ‘Black Mamba’ said it on ESPN Sunday. This is a conversation that has been going on for years. In 2015 it was debated that James Harden and Steph Curry should get co-MVP honours. In 2010 fans argued that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James should share the award. It’s not a new conversation and it’s not a debate that will end this year.

Co-MVP’s are not new in the professional sports world either. In 2004 Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award. Both of their teams finished with the same record and each player individually had impressive seasons. Three times in NFL history there has been a tie for MVP.

It’s not unheard of for an NBA award to go to two athletes either. The Rookie of the Year Award has been shared more than once. In 1995 a baby faced Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared the trophy. In 2000 Elton Brand and Steve Francis shared the award and in 1971 Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie split the honors.

However, that was for the easily bruised egos of some rookies. This year it’s two former veteran teammates seeing their names being thrown back and forth for the big prize. They know the game and can live with the results.

“I just play, man,” Westbrook told the Houston Chronicle when asked about the MVP race. “I go out and play every night and play at a high level like I do every single night and try to help us win. I’ve been knowing James since he was little, and we both grew up in California. Being here, it’s a blessing to be able to have people you grow up with in the NBA. It’s something you don’t take for granted and friendships are something I don’t take for granted. James is a good friend of mine, and I am a good friend of his. Obviously, I know he’s playing well and his team is doing well, but I know he competes every game.”

Here is a look at their numbers after 73 games played:

FG%: Westbrook 42.3%, Harden 44.8%
3PT%: Westbrook 33.4%, Harden 35.2%
FT%: Westbrook 84%, Harden 84.8%
REB: Westbrook 10.5, Harden 8.0
AST: Westbrook 10.4, Harden 11.3
TO: Westbrook 5.3, Harden 5.8
PTS: Westbrook 31.4, Harden 29.4
Triple Doubles: Westbrook 37, Harden 19

Westbrook (#1 overall) and Harden (#2 overall) are one-two in the NBA scoring race and an off the charts triple-double feast. Harden leads the NBA in assists with Westbrook in third. The are also both also destroying the NBA turnover records (oops). Harden leading the charge with 428, Westbrook trailing with 392. The next careless leader this year is John Wall, almost 100 turnovers behind Westbrook with 296. Harden overtaking George McGinnis’ 1974-75 single season ABA record of 422 turnovers.

A big difference in the two players claim on the MVP title is their team’s overall performance. Harden has helped the third place Rockets to 51 wins so far while Westbrook’s sixth place Thunder lags far behind with 42 wins.

There are clear differences in each player’s game, leadership and team, so it shouldn’t be any more difficult than in past seasons to pick a winner.

With Westbrook and Harden dominating the headlines on an almost daily basis with highlight reel worthy performances, it’s easy to forget that at 32-years-old LeBron James may be having the best statistical season of his career. Kawhi Leonard is enjoying an outstanding season offensively and defensively on a much better team. Then, least we forget, 2015 and 2016 MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors, they own the Thunder and Rockets.

There are no rules for this award and the case for sharing it isn’t any more compelling than it has been in the past. This isn’t “Little League”, there is only room for one MVP.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

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

1. Golden State Warriors

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

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

2. San Antonio Spurs

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

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

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

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

4. Portland Trail Blazers

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

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

5. Utah Jazz

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

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

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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

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

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

8. Houston Rockets

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

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

9. Dallas Mavericks

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

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

10. Denver Nuggets

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

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

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

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

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

12. Sacramento Kings

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

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

13. Phoenix Suns

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

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

14. New Orleans Pelicans

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

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

15. Los Angeles Lakers

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

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

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 



 

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Thunder Serge Ibaka Is Being Shopped

As suggested earlier by Pro Bball Report, opportunity knocks for Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri as the Thunder are shopping the three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team power forward Serge Ibaka.

As discussed two weeks ago,

Once again Thunder GM Sam Presti will be feeling the heat and he can see it coming … like James Harden, Jeff Green and Reggie Jackson before him, Serge Ibaka will be a free agent next summer and Presti must know by now, he isn’t getting three players on big contracts in OKC, he needs to re-jig his roster again.

The 26-year-old four-time NBA block leader has been in decline over the past two seasons, but his numbers are still impactful at 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game in 2015-16. It’s worth the gamble that he’ll rebound in a contract year.

Ibaka needs a change of scenery. His once feared percentage of shots blocked in 2011-12 is now half of what it once was and his scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting has dipped noticeably in each of the past two seasons as well. However, he’s still putting up good numbers for a starting power forward and it shouldn’t be hard to convince oneself he’ll bounce-back big in a contract year.

Ibaka’s contract is a modest $12.3 million, so putting enough salary together shouldn’t be an issue in completing a trade and the Thunder don’t have a draft pick in 2016, so Ujiri can help Presti out big time with the 9th and 27th overall picks available for the Raptors to grease a trade.

Patrick Patterson and Nogueira for Ibaka straight up with the possibility of the 27th 2016 first round draft pick being put on the table should get Presti’s attention.

This deal would only be possible because Patterson is the much cheaper version of a “3-and D” power forward and once again Presti is looking for ways to pay Durant and Westbrook true max money while surrounding them with the complimentary talent the Thunder can afford to hang onto.

This would be a case of the rich getting richer at the expense of a small market team, but it is well past the time Toronto starting acting like the highly profitable big market team that it is.

 

 

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 Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant

Reliable Source Says Kevin Durant Staying With The Thunder

Take it from someone who should know, Serge Ibaka told TMZ Sports Kevin Durant will be back with the Oklahoma City Thunder next season.

Serge Ibaka says he’s not sweating rumors of Kevin Durant bolting the Sooner state proclaiming to TMZ Sports he’s 100% sure KD’s sticking around.

“Everybody’s staying.”

Okay, so TMZ isn’t your usual source for sports news, but there’s logic behind Durant staying for at least another season or longer.

Durant fits into the 7-9 years of NBA experience range when determining his maximum starting salary this summer, so he can sign a deal starting at about $25.9 million. He will have 10 years of NBA experience after next season which, with the anticipated increase in the 2017-18 salary cap, means he could ink a new deal starting at an estimated $35.4 million next summer. A $10 million raise isn’t something Durant or his agent are going to just blow off.

If Durant stays in Oklahoma City, his team will retain his full Bird Rights even if he signs a one-year deal this July, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him to a new deal a year from now. If he signs a one-year deal with any other team, that team will need to have the salary cap space to ink him to a new max deal next summer. Some teams may be able to accommodate this scenario, but it means they’d have to actually plan for it and that’s a lot of planning to attract a guy who isn’t even likely to leave his current team.

If Durant wants to maximize his earnings, he’ll sign a one-year deal with the Thunder this summer and then a new five-year deal worth well north of $200 million next summer to stay in OKC.

 

 

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 OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Two Big Moves To Make The Raptors Real Contenders

As we watch the Golden State Warriors dismantling the highest priced opponent in the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how good LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers really are. Sure they could be looking at what might be considered major tinkering this summer, but the Cavs are the “Beasts of the East” and the Raptors as constructed will still be considered just the next best team despite their youth and success this year.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri Ujiri has performed nothing less than miracle moves since his arrival in Toronto. An opportunist par excellence, he’ll need what might look like another miracle or two this summer in order to get his team over the hump against a Cavs team that will always be the heavy favorite as long as King James sticks around.

Ujiri needs to make a big splash like he did as the Nuggets GM when trading for Andre Iguodala. A second or third tier star player who can take a good team to the next level, but the NBA draft comes first, so player oriented trades might have to wait.

Heading into this year’s draft, Ujiri is preparing to select 9th and 27th overall, but even he was adamant that his team can’t afford to get any younger. He needs to trade up, trade out, and/or trade some of young guys he already has stashed on his roster. There is only so much room for players under development on a Conference Finals team and the Raptors already have too many.

Trade target Minnesota Timberwolves

Ideally Ujiri would talk the Lakers into trading the number two pick in the draft for the 9th, 27th, Terrence Ross and one of Delon Wright or Lucas Nogueira, but those kinds of deals are rare – even if the Lakers have so many holes in that roster that they should seriously consider it.

However, Minnesota, who picks at five, has been looking for what Ujiri could offer for years and now they are actually ready to take advantage of the shooting they’ve been seeking.

Proven three-point bomber Terrence Ross and the 9th pick for the Timberwolves 5th pick gives Minnesota a shooter ready to stretch the floor next season for all those young athletic guards.

For the Raptors, it’ll let them target SF Jaylen Brown, PF Marquese Chriss or Canadian guard Jamal Murray, any of whom are likely more NBA ready with a higher upside than a player they’ll be able to get at 9th. Plus, this move would free up the salary cap space to re-sign Bismack Biyombo.

Trade target Oklahoma City Thunder

Once again Thunder GM Sam Presti will be feeling the heat and he can see it coming. Kevin Durant likely signs a 1+1 contract that will earn him $35 million per season a year from now. Russell Westbrook is a free agent next year and likely signs a similar deal to Durant and will be inking +$35 million two years from now. Then, like James Harden, Jeff Green and Reggie Jackson before him, Serge Ibaka will be a free agent next summer and Presti must know by now, he isn’t getting three players on big contracts in OKC, he needs to re-jig his roster again.

Ibaka needs a change of scenery. His once feared percentage of shots blocked in 2011-12 is now half of what it once was and his scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting has dipped noticeably in each of the past two seasons as well. However, he’s still putting up good numbers for a starting power forward and it shouldn’t be hard to convince oneself he’ll bounce-back big in a contract year.

Therein lies Presti’s biggest problem, if he doesn’t make his move during this summer, he knows players on expiring deals are fetching nothing at the trade deadline and a good season by Ibaka likely prices him right off the Thunder roster in free agency.

Durant should be expected to re-sign this summer only to be a free agent again next summer with Westbrook. Presti needs to have a roster these guys can feel comfortable coming back to or the 2017-18 Thunder could be a lottery team with no big stars.

If he is willing to take the risk that could elevate the Raptors from pretenders to contenders, Ujiri could solve Presti’s problem.

Patrick Patterson and Nogueira for Ibaka straight up with the possibility of the 27th 2016 first round draft pick being put on the table should get Presti’s attention.

However, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey will be reluctant to let Ujiri trade Patterson for anyone as the 27-year-old stretch-four is a key part of Toronto’s solid perimeter defense. Also, Patterson made 46 more threes than Ibaka last year and he hit them at a much better percentage.

Still, even Casey would have to admit Ibaka is the better offensive player, rebounder and rim protector. This deal would only be possible because Patterson is the much cheaper version of a “3-and D” power forward and once again Presti is looking for ways to pay Durant and Westbrook true max money while surrounding them with the complimentary talent the Thunder can afford to hang onto.

Raptors are Ahead of Schedule

Ujiri and Casey are quick to point out their program is ahead of schedule. They didn’t expect the Raptors to be in the Eastern Conference Finals this quickly, but they can’t put that Genie back in the bottle now. Expectations have been set. Their players are ahead of projections, so now Ujiri has to look at what he can do to take his team to the next level.

For three years in a row Ujiri has pulled off the unexpected trade or signing that has elevated his team. Nothing less than that is expected this summer.

 

 

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 Oklahoma City Thunder Nazr Mohammed

The Other NBA Farewell Tour You Should Notice

By Lindsay Dunn

Fans and media have been fixated on the Lakers Kobe Bryant farewell tour this year and unfortunately it has almost totally eclipsed the pending retirement of another long time NBA veteran. The farewell tour of 38-year-old center Nazr Mohammed.

1004 regular season games plus 83 playoff games and still counting, Mohammed is a two-time NCAA Champion, an NBA Champion and has played 18 seasons with seven different teams in the NBA. Those are the numbers that follow current Oklahoma City Thunder player Nazr Mohammed as his final NBA season winds down.

In October it was announced that Mohammed had finally retired from the game, but fast forward five months later and the Thunder brought Mohammed out from retirement and signed him for the remainder of the season. In his final few months in the league he is seeing limited minutes on the court on a team led by 2016 All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but that hasn’t stopped him from the grind and love of the game.

“I’m just focused and dedicated to whatever a team wants me to do and needs me to do and I just try to stay ready,” Mohammed confirmed when the Thunder visited Toronto.

He was the final pick of the first round of draft in 1998. A draft class that includes Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. The big man still remembers wearing his navy blue suit when the Utah Jazz selected the NCAA champion 29th overall for their roster.

“I still have my draft day suit and I can still fit it,” Mohammed said with laugh in front of his locker. “It was nice and baggy and it had pleats in the pants. I haven’t worn a suit with pleats in my pants for a very long time.”

Nazr is known for his work on the NBA court and for bleeding Kentucky Blue. He won two championships with the Kentucky Wildcats in 1996 and 1998. If you follow him on social media or talk to him about the university you might think he may transition into a role with his alma mater, but don’t put your money on it, coaching isn’t in his future.

“You won’t see me coaching,” Mohammed said. “That takes a lot of patience. I think my wife has had enough patience for me paying 18 years, so I don’t see her having much more patience having me coach.”

In a career that has lasted more than triple the NBA average, the 2005 Championship with the San Antonio Spurs is one of his top highlights.

“I have so many favorite moments,” Mohammed reminisced. “I was fortunate to win a championship and get to play with so many great players. I’ve been really fortunate in the career that I have been given.”

While the NBA championship may go down as one of his favorite moments, there are hundreds of memorable moments from a career that spans thousands of minutes on the hardwood. From his infamous throw down, literal throw down of LeBron James in 2013 when he was playing with the Chicago Bulls, to his tussle with the ultimate trash talker Kevin Garnett in 2009, the devoted NBA fan will miss his presence.

 

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

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Small Ball Too Much For The Thunder

In the first and third quarters it looked like the star power of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would simply overwhelm the Toronto Raptors playing their second game in two days, but when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey went small, the entire tenor of the game changed and it was the Thunder that looked out of sorts.

“We had a hard time defensively trying to stay big when they actually ended up going small and moved Carroll to the 4-spot,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan explained. “When they played small, we had a hard time. That’s when the fouling started.”

Cory Joseph 1

After getting down by 10 points in the first quarter, the game turned for Toronto when backup point guard Cory Joseph entered the game. Despite only scoring 2 points and recording 2 dimes in the quarter, Joseph was a +12 and helped lead the Raptors to a 1-point lead going into the half. His impact would be just as big with his team down by 8-points heading into the fourth quarter and Casey would use him in a two-point guard lineup with Lowry for the entire final frame.

The change in the lineup opened up the game for DeMar DeRozan who took advantage of the Thunder’s inability to adjust to the Raptors new approach and draw foul after foul, getting to the free throw line 15 times after the first quarter. DeRozan led Toronto in scoring with 28 points on the night.

“We put DeRozan too much to the free throw line and that was the difference in the game,” Donovan observed.

The free throw line kept the Raptors in this game and was a huge factor down the stretch as Toronto overcame an 8-point deficit with 5 minutes left to win 103-98. However, like the previous night in Dallas, it was their stifling defense as much as their offense that made the difference. The Thunder failed to make a field goal during the Raptors run and manage to score on just 5-6 free throw attempts over those last 5 minutes.

“I don’t know how much they made baskets coming down the stretch as much as they made an enormous number of free throws and for us, we weren’t able to make baskets or get to the free throw line,” Donovan said.

The Raptors went 10-10 from the charity stripe over those last 5 minutes, DeRozan (4-4), Jonas Valanciunas (4-4) and DeMarre Carroll (2-2) going perfect from the line, but Toronto also shot 4-8 from the field as momentum swung heavily in the Raptors favor with the game on the line.

A quick look at the boxscore makes the Raptors comeback victory seem beyond improbable. Durant had 27 points, Westbrook had 22 points and 16 assists, and Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 15 points. The Thunder had five players scoring in double digits and shot 47.6 percent from the field to just 41.8 percent for the Raptors.

However, the Thunder picked up 29 personal fouls to put Toronto on the free throw line 39 times plus they had 19 turnovers, 8 by Westbrook.

DeRozan got help from Kyle Lowry (17 points), a double-double from Jonas Valanciunas (17 points and 11 rebounds), Carroll’s 13 points and defense on Durant, plus the unexpected impact of Joseph (9 points). Joseph was a +22 points in a game where no other player was in double figures unless there was a minus sign in front.

With the win the Raptors move to 5-0 on the season and remain the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference. Casey told his players to get some rest before they play Orlando on Friday and the Heat on Sunday.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

OKC_Durant_Kevin

Kevin Durant’s Foot Surgery Could Take A Year To Fully Heal

When NBA superstar Kevin Durant had yet another surgery on his right foot at the end of March, it wasn’t revealed that the bone had cracked again and doctors had turned to a treatment best described as experimental. The bone graph used to strengthen the area takes on increased meaning in light of this new information. There is no guarantee Durant will be back to his old self when the 2015-16 season starts.

 

This is a huge season for the 6’10 do-it-all forward as he is about to become a free agent next July and is in line to sign biggest contract in NBA history. The only caveat being he needs to prove that his foot is solid and he can still play. Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding reports that there are no guarantees with respect to Durant’s treatment.

Durant broke the bone once and then turned to dramatic measures via this synthetic INFUSE bone-graft protein—the type of push-the-envelope medical choice that athletes increasingly are making to maximize their bodies’ possibilities.

“The data supports that he should come back stronger and should never have a problem with this again,” Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon Robert Klapper said. “That’s the answer that you have to give. But nobody knows for sure.

The good news is Durant has already been taking steps to get back on the court and has been involved with Team USA practices to a limited extent. However, he has to remain careful as this surgical procedure can take up to a year to fully heal.

Durant is cleared to play fully now on a “healed” bone. But when doctors say it is “healed,” it is healed enough that based on basic evidence it should not break again; the bone will continue to heal on some small level for more than a year.

“I can’t do too much no more,” Durant said. “I love putting in work; I love being out on the court. But early on, I have to ease back into that part of it.”

Other NBA big men have suffered through similar problems and eventually made it back to their old selves on the court. Nets center Brook Lopez appeared to accomplish the feat last year, but the intervening period between injury and successful treatment isn’t necessarily easy or smooth as Durant has already experienced himself.

Durant’s return to the court in Oklahoma City will be one of the biggest stories of the season as he instantly elevates the Thunder to contender status, but it is probably better to keep the pressure to return low and not try to rush the process. As one of the NBA’s brightest and most popular stars, everyone wants to see Durant return to a long, healthy and spectacular career that isn’t derailed by recurring foot problems.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

TOR Ross and Valanciunas

Ross And Valanciunas Lead Raptors Past Thunder

Meeting and exceeding some very high expectations this season in Toronto means the sophomores Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas have to take another step and in the Raptors preseason tilt against the Thunder in Wichita Kansas on Friday night, they did just that.

The game turned into a 19 point blowout for Toronto and the unlikely lineup of Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, Bruno Caboclo, Tyler Hansbrough and Greg Stiemsma played most of the fourth quarter, however, Ross and Valanciunas left their mark earlier on.

The Raptors gave Ross the green light to shoot when he’s open and the 23-year-old put up 18 shots in 25.5 minutes and hit 9 including 4-10 from deep for 22 points to lead all scorers. They were not all catch and shoot or fast break opportunities, he made some nice moves to shake the defender and nail the jumper.  It was a solid all-around effort.

Valanciunas had 14 points in 20.7 minutes by getting to the free throw line for 6-7 and generally working hard in the post.  He was matched up with Steven Adams who played well, but fouled out in 24 minutes.  Valanciunas was a noticeably heavy load down low.

The two teams starting units each scored 62 points and provided some excellent minutes for each other to work off the rust.

However, the Thunder has injury problems beyond just Kevin Durant and their bench was put to the test by the Raptors very deep second unit.  They didn’t fair much better against Toronto’s training camp invites.  It got ugly fast when Coach Scott Brooks pulled his starters.  The Raptors reserves are fighting for minutes and jobs, they weren’t about to let up.

Lou Williams looked like he was playing a team from the summer as he scored at will with a very quick 11 points.  Hamilton continues to show he can fill the basket – at least in preseason games.  He had 13 points on 5-9 from the field.

The most impressive player on the court for the Thunder was 22-year-old shooting guard Andre Roberson.  He gave DeMar DeRozan a hard time while shooting 7-9 for 15 points to go with 10 rebounds and 3 assists in 34.9 minutes.  His over-aggressive defensive on DeRozan put him in foul trouble early, but Roberson played well with 4 first half personal fouls and managed to stay on the court.

DeRozan might want to thank Roberson for the practice.  The Raptors All-Star got to the charity strip for 11 free throws in 22.7 minutes and had to work for his points.

Amir Johnson left the game after playing just 12.7 minutes when his left foot was stepped on.  Watching him hobble off the court on one foot was disconcerting, but the incident that caused the injury didn’t look like something to be worried about.

Greivis Vasquez missed the game with a possible concussion.  He was struck in the head by a ball during shoot-around.

The Raptors next preseason game is against Maccabi Haifa in Toronto on October 22.

 

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.

 

 

TOR James Johnson Vasquez and WilliamsIs The Raptors Rotation Already Set For The Season?

Last year’s franchise record setting starting lineup is back and unless someone gets hurt, they’ll be the starters for every game this season. Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas led the Raptors to the best record in the entire Eastern Conference (41-22) after the seven-player trade with Sacramento in December.

 

 

 

OKC_Durant_Kevin

No Thunder in OKC, Kevin Durant Is Injured

It has been widely reported that Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will miss six to eight weeks with a right foot injury that may require surgery.

An irreplaceable scorer, Durant averaged 32 points per game last season on 50.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range over 81 regular season games. He also contributed 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

The Thunder will miss Durant badly at the start of the regular season in about 2 weeks from now and may not see him in a game until sometime in December. However, don’t feel too bad for OKC. This team has depth and while their shot at finishing first overall in the Western Conference has taken a huge hit, their ability to stay in the playoff picture should remain undoubted.

 

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.

 

 

Griffin and Chandler

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

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

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

The Top Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risks and Obstacles

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

Who do you think will put forth the effort it takes to be first in the NBA Western Conference? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

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

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Eurobasket Predicts Spain To Defeat Team USA At World Cup

Confidence is high among some of the media covering the 2014 World Cup in Spain starting on August 30 that Spain is built to defeat the heavily favored Team USA.

Eurobasket.com’s Mohamed Ramadan sees the match-up between the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and teammate Serge Ibaka as pivotal to Spain’s success.

“Ibaka is the only player in the Spanish roster capable of defending NBA’s most valuable player Kevin Durant. Both are Oklahoma City players training most of the time together, and having same length 6’10 each. Durant is for sure faster but Ibaka’s combination of athleticism and knowledge of his teammates game could lead him to succeed in this heavy task.”

Ramadan criticized Spain’s coach for not using Ibaka more on Durant at the London Olympics allowing Durant to score 30 points in the gold medal game. Team USA will not understimate the host team from Spain who likely represent their toughest challenge at the World Cup. The home court advantage will be significant and Spain has a roster of proven international and NBA talent that has been playing together for years. There will be no getting used to one another or adapting to new roles, everyone on Spain knows what is expected from them and has done it before.

Spain features 6 NBA players: Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Victor Claver, Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol. However, they also carry 4 teammates from Real Madrid: Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes. Plus teammates Juan Carlos Navarro and Alejandro Abrines from FCB Regal. Both home court and team chemistry will be with the Spanish side.

A lot of the discussion surrounding who will ultimately play for Team USA revolves around making sure they can deal with the size and experience of Spain. Team USA will be a favorite heading into the World Cup, however, this tournament could prove to be their toughest challenge is quite some time.

 

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.

 

 

Durant and Johnson

Overtime Thunder Theft By Kevin Durant In Toronto

It might seem hard to believe, but the Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson was playing outstanding defense on the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant as the “Slim Reaper” (who hates that nickname) scored 51 points on 15-32 shooting in a double-overtime thriller and the visitors really had no business walking out of the Air Canada Centre with the 119-118 win. At the end, it was 2 improbable long range three-point shots by Durant that helped to wipe out an 8 point deficit with 49 seconds left in the game. Shots that wouldn’t have even mattered if Toronto’s veteran John Salmons could have hit his free throws in the final 10 seconds, Salmons bricks both attempts just before Durant hits the game winning bomb. All Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey could do was marvel at the Thunder’s superstar and hope for better luck from his veteran next time. All Salmons could do was sit facing his locker with a towel over his head – everyone has days like that.

The game had a lot of story lines, not the least of which was the Thunder had held back Russell Westbrook the night before in Cleveland so he wouldn’t have to play back-to-back games. Initially it was Westbrook and Durant carrying the scoring load for the Thunder, but early in the third quarter, Westbrook went down. It was an ordinary enough looking play, Westbrook gets the ball open at the three-point line and Kyle Lowry flies at him. It appears like Westbrook is trying to draw the foul by stepping towards Lowry and there is a knee-on-knee collision with Westbrook’s surgically repaired right knee. Westbrook immediately goes off limping. Postgame Head Coach Scott Brooks relayed that Westbrook said he was okay – he didn’t look it – and he’d be re-evaluated tomorrow.

For the Raptors, this was the very popular Johnson’s 500th NBA game and he had a big one. In just under 50 minutes, Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds on 12-19 shooting from the floor in a game where buckets where hard to come by. Johnson did a great job getting the ball out of Durant’s hands all game as the Raptors best defense was to let anyone but Durant shoot. As a team, the Thunder minus Durant were shooting under 35 percent from the field and Johnson’s defense kept giving the Raptors a chance, his 5 blocks and 2 steals were huge. To top things off, it was Johnson who tied the game 96-all near the end of the fourth quarter with the offensive rebound and put back to send things to overtime.

Despite the score, this was a titanic defensive battle with neither team shooting over 40 percent from the field through 48 minutes. The Thunder tried to go big in the first half and the Raptors didn’t just hold their own, they outplayed them, in part because of some huge contributions from Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. Two times Hansbrough blocked Serge Ibaka in the post and then ripped the ball away from him like a bully taking some little kids lunch money. The frustrated Ibaka picking up a technical foul and all Hansbrough said postgame was it wasn’t me this time, I didn’t do anything – but, yes he did.

Reggie Jackson had to pick up the slack once again with Westbrook out of the picture and the Thunder guard produced. The only other real scoring threat on his team besides Durant, Jackson had 25 points, 12 rebounds and got to the free throw line 10 times.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan scored 25 and 33 points respectively, but they had to do it on a volume of shots. The Thunder defense was tough and the biggest beneficiary was Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez was hot, 9-11 from the field for 21 points as the Thunder were not going to let Lowry or DeRozan beat them. The Raptors backup point guard had 7 fourth quarter points and was 2-2 for 4 points in the second overtime when he was fouled out on an All-Star gift call. Durant flew at him as he was lining up a three-point shot and Vasquez got hit with the offensive foul. Now that call was offensive. Not only did Toronto lose the free throws they should have got and Vasquez for the reminder of the game, but because Terrence Ross was sitting with a hip contusion, the 0-4 shooting Salmons closed out the second overtime and had a turnover to go with his 2 missed free throws during the dying seconds.

It became obvious during this game why the Thunder had acquired Caron Butler. He plays defense at a level their young wings can only dream about right now. Butler was 1-9 shooting, but when he fouled out near the end of the first overtime and Jeremy Lamb entered the game, the Raptors immediately found their offense and it wasn’t until Vasquez fouled out that the Thunder could stop it. When you have Kevin Durant on the perimeter, scoring isn’t your team’s biggest concern.

“I thought we really dominated during the overtime and at the end he just hit some big time shots,” Vasquez said. “If you got Kevin Durant on your team, you are safe. You know, he’s like Jesus. At least he makes unbelievable shots. It’s funny because we went to high school together and now I see his development and how he plays in this league and he probably has to be the best player in the world right now.”

It was a tough loss for the Raptors and could become a bitter victory for the Thunder. Ross’ hip contusion will be re-evaluated in the morning, but it was believable was Ross said it wasn’t nothing. The same can’t be said about Westbrook’s injury.

 

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

 

Check out:

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

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

 

OKC Westbrook and Durant

Raptors Expect To Face Russell Westbrook In Toronto

Russell Westbrook was given the night off in Cleveland on Thursday so the Thunder could avoid playing their star guard in back-to-back games when they came to Toronto and played the team that snapped their 13 game home winning streak back in December.

Westbrook returned from knee surgery just under a month ago and the Thunder has been limiting his minutes. It is far more important for Oklahoma City to get to the postseason rested and healthy than worry about whether they end up in first, second or third place in the Western Conference.

Point guard isn’t the Thunder’s only concern. Starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are not expected to return until the regular season is almost over. In their absence, the results have been inconsistent. The Thunder have defeated Houston and Chicago, but split a pair of games with the struggling Lakers.

When the Raptors defeated the Thunder earlier in the season, there were no excuses. Westbrook and Kevin Durant led their team in scoring, but they just shot 13-33 with 11 turnovers between them. They may have something to prove in Toronto.

The Raptors will be short-handed heading into Friday’s game as well. Patrick Patterson is still resting a sore elbow and Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play last game because of a stiff back. Amir Johnson played last game on a sore ankle, but he rarely takes time off to heal.  Valanciunas did warm up with his team on Wednesday, so it’s possible he’ll be ready to go in this one. Toronto will need him.

On paper, the 49-18 Thunder (heading into Thursday’s action) shouldn’t have anything to worry about from the 38-29 Raptors. With Westbrook and Durant, the star power decidedly belongs to Oklahoma City. If the Raptors get into a shootout with this team, things will get ugly pretty fast. Toronto’s best chance at the unlikely season series sweep over the Thunder will come at the defensive end of the court. If the Raptors can hold this high powered offense in check and turn them over like they did earlier this season, they’ll have a chance.

 

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

 
Check out:

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

Former Raptors Forward Ed Davis Grounded in Memphis

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

 

TOR_Lowry_Kyle

Raptors Reclaim First In The Atlantic Division

Put the call to Tank Nation on hold, after 25 games, the Raptors have reclaimed first place in the Atlantic Division and this time it wasn’t because they defeated the deliberately bad Philadelphia 76ers.  Toronto went into the hottest team in the NBA’s building and walked out with a hard fought 104-98 victory.

The league leading Oklahoma City Thunder had just defeated the Spurs 113-110 in San Antonio on Saturday to extend their unbeaten streak to 9 games and they were typically laying down double-digit beatings on every team they faced during this stretch.  Not to mention, the Thunder were 13-0 at home before tonight.  The chances of a Raptors victory looked slim indeed.

This game didn’t go according to script right from the beginning, however.  The quick 4-0 Thunder advantage vanished as quickly as it appeared as the 2 teams traded the lead several times and it was Toronto that ended the quarter on 4 points by Kyle Lowry to go up 25-21, Lowry leading all scorers with 9 points.

The scoring pace became frenetic in the second quarter, but surprisingly, the Raptors kept pace with the Thunder’s offensive prowess to outscore them 37-35.

OKC_Durant_KevinToronto took a 62-56 lead into halftime and built on it early in the third quarter, but with the score 68-57, the Raptors suddenly went cold.  The Thunder went on a 24-4 run to seemingly take control of this game over their pesky weaker opponent and took an 11 point lead into the final frame.  Durant and Westbrook taking over with 11 and 10 third quarter points, respectively.

SAC_Salmons_JohnAs Head Coach Dwane Casey did in the overtime win over Dallas, the fourth quarter became John Salmons’ time.  With the 12-year veteran wing Salmons initiating most of the offensive sets and regularly defending Kevin Durant, it was the Raptors turn to control the game.  Within 5 minutes, Toronto had cut the lead to 2 points and with just over 6 minutes to go, they started a 10-0 run to go up 98-93.

TOR_Valanciunas_JonasThe Thunder didn’t fold and Durant tied the game on a three-pointer with 1:39 left, but it was the Raptors that scored the final 6 points to escape with the win.  The play of the game was a Jonas Valanciunas block on a driving Westbrook with 28 seconds left and Amir Johnson diving on the floor to secure the rebound and call timeout.  Casey made the right play calls at the end and when Johnson and Lowry made their free throws after getting fouled to stop the clock, this game was over.

The Thunder went as far as Westbrook and Durant would take them.  In the final quarter, the Thunder was outscored 29-14 as their 2 stars combined for just 7 points.  For the game, Durant had 24 points on 5-16 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, but turned the ball over 6 times.  Westbrook had 27 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 turnovers.

The Raptors hadn’t lost on the road since the Rudy Gay trade and were looking for their first 4 game road winning streak since 2002.  Casey incorporated 3 of the players he received from Sacramento into his rotation and this team hasn’t looked the same since.

Lowry, who has been playing his best basketball since his arrival, had another big game with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals.  He has been deadly playing off the ball with either Greivis Vasquez or Salmons in fourth quarters.

TOR_Johnson_AmirJohnson collected his fifth double-double in the past 9 games with 17 points and 13 rebounds as he is becoming an impact power forward under Casey.  Valanciunas, with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 fourth quarter blocks continues to figure things out and is developing into the post threat and defender this team needs.  DeMar DeRozan had his second poor shooting game in a row with 17 points on 7-20 from the field and he will have to get used to some extra attention from defenses in this new rotation.  Salmons had 14 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, but his impact is better reflected by the +22 points differential while he was on the court.

Raps BannerThe first place Raptors moved 1 game ahead of Boston with an 11-14 record after the Celtics lost to Indiana and fell to 12-17.  Brooklyn at 9-17 is 2.5 games back.  Toronto is a different team on the road where they are now 7-6 on the season.  They have also played surprisingly well against the West and sport a 5-6 record against the supposedly superior conference.  Toronto is 1 of just 4 teams in the East to be outscoring their opponents on average this season.

The Raptors move on to play San Antonio on Monday.

The Thunder play Christmas Day in New York against the Knicks.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.
Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

OKC_Durant_Kevin

Raptors (10-14) at Thunder (22-4): Pregame Report

At 22-4, the Oklahoma City Thunder enjoy the best record in the NBA and they are coming off a 113-110 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Saturday. The 10-14 Toronto Raptors only rationale for hope on the road against a team this good is the Thunder might be tired – probably not.

OKC_Westbrook_RussellWith All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook leading the charge, MVP candidate Kevin Durant scoring at will from anywhere on the court and Serge Ibaka guarding the rim and averaging nearly a double-double, the Thunder don’t lose to sub-.500 teams on the road and they haven’t lost to anyone at home yet. This team just doesn’t play down to the level of their competition very often, if ever.

However, the Raptors haven’t lost on the road since the Rudy Gay trade, running up a 3-0 streak away from the Air Canada Centre after beating a veteran Mavericks team in Dallas. Team chemistry has been better since the 3 newcomers from Sacramento were inserted into the rotation.

SAC_Vasquez_GreivisGreivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons have made an immediate and positive impact on the Raptors. They will give the Raptors second unit a chance against the Thunder’s reserves. Toronto’s challenge will be to still be in the game by the time the Thunder has to go to their bench.

TOR_Lowry_KyleOver the past month, Kyle Lowry has been playing his best basketball since he arrived in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan’s game is maturing and he is averaging a team best 21.5 points per game on the season. Amir Johnson has 4 double-doubles in his last 8 games in which he averaged 18.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. However, the Raptors are starting 2 second year players in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and they will be in tough matchups against Durant and Kendrick Perkins.

The Thunder beat the Raptors 104-92 the last time these 2 teams met. Westbrook scored 23 points, Durant had 22 and Ibaka 19. The Raptors were led by the departed Alan Anderson’s career high 27 points. Johnson had 19 points, Lowry 10 and DeRozan scored 11 points on 4-16 shooting.

The Raptors have a chance – albeit a slim chance – to win 4 in a row on the road for the first time since 2002. From a positive viewpoint, this team has played up to their competition in almost every game this season (and down to the level of their competition as well unfortunately). Don’t expect the Raptors to just mail this one in.

The Thunder are on the longest active winning streak in the NBA right now at 9 games and they would be beyond mad at themselves if it ended in front of their home fans to a sub-.500 team from the NBA’s weak Eastern Conference.

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.