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NBA Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Wake-up In The Second Half

By Frank McLean

Back in the days when I covered hockey the late Pat Burns used to always tell us in the media that you “have to be beware of the wounded bear”, whenever the Maple Leafs were going to play a top level opponent who were not playing up to their potential.

The Golden State Warriors looked like that wounded bear in game one of the this year’s NBA Finals and you can add the first half of game two as well. The Warriors did not look like the team that have won three of the last four championships.

Down 59-54 at halftime the Warriors came out and looked like the team we have seen for the last five years. Playing basketball like they were on the uppers, playing their usual fast pace game pushing the ball up-court never  letting the shot clock get down below 15-seconds and before you knew it they opened the third quarter on an 18-zero run leading 73-59. The Raptors didn’t know what hit them.

They Warriors hang on to win 109-104 to tie series at one game apiece.

“It felt like we should have been down by more than five”, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “For the first quarter and a half we really had a tough time scoring. So the last whatever it was, four, five, six minutes, the game loosened up and we finally broke free and started getting some buckets. We ended up with 34-assists, which is more like our team”.

Here’s how the Warriors finished off the game. They had those 34-assists on 38-made field goals in 82-attempts. In the first half they were 16-of-40 from the field on 12-assists but most of the good shots came in the last three minutes of the half.

The Warriors were being schooled in the paint in the first half being outscored 28-12, but in the second half the Warriors dominated the paint by a 24-16 margin.

“I thought just staying in the game at the end of the second quarter was also very important”, Kerr said about the 18-zip run. ”I think we were down 12- and the place was going nuts, we couldn’t score, and Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) both got loose and the game loosened up a little bit and we scored. We weren’t exactly making stops, but we cut the lead to five and could kind of breathe at halftime”.

“I think our guys felt a renewed life at the point and came out and just had a great run to take control of the game, and we were able to finish it out from there”, Kerr added.

Pretty much that’s how the Warriors have won games over the last five years, taking control of a game for a quarter and pretty much making it hard for the opposition to catch up.

Now as we head to game three at the always tough Oracle Arena in Oakland there is a good news and bad news facing the Warriors.

The good news was DeMarcus Cousins coming back from being on the shelf for six weeks with a quad injury.

Kerr was hoping to 20-minutes out of him but Cousins went out and played almost-28 with 11-points and 10-rebounds. But the physicality that he brought to the floor on the defensive side of things harassing Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry was an aspect of the game that was missing in game one.

But, and there always is a but, the injury bug hit the Warriors just a little bit.

First Klay Thompson pulled his hamstring which Kerr confirmed in his post game comments as well as Kevon Looney injuring a shoulder. Andre Iguodala went down hard on the floor with some sort of nagging leg injury which could or could not be factor from here on out.

There was also speculation from those in the media that cover the Warriors on a daily basis that Kevin Durant could be back for game three, BUT we will  have to wait for Wednesday to see if that comes to be.

The Warriors got the split that you need on the road when you don’t have home court advantage in a post season series.

They woke up in the second half of game two and the question now is will they stay awake and be the Warriors of old or, like the wounded bear, go back into the cave and hibernate.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

 

 

 

Raptors time out during Eastern Conference Playoffs vs Bucks game 4 by Larry Millson

The Biggest Game In Raptors History… Again

By Frank McLean

After Sunday night’s double overtime marathon win for the Toronto Raptors over the Milwaukee Bucks in game three of their Eastern Conference Final that cut the Bucks lead in the series to two to one, the big question was which team was going to be the most tired?

Game three was another night where you thought you seen everything you can from Kawhi Leonard he went out and did a little bit more.

He went out and played a career high 52-minutes out of the 58-minutes of game time, and scored 36-points on what it looks like an injury somewhere in his legs or thigh. He played the last 22-minutes of the game without taking a break.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse before game four said that Leonard told him on Monday’s off day that it a long way to game time and that he got some rest and that he was ready to go.

Nurse added in his comments that he likes to go with him for 10-minutes at a time before getting a breather but playing the double overtime “difficult circumstances”.

When game four started Leonard looked slow and sluggish. The Bucks were defending him with double and sometimes triple teaming him.

Khris Middleton was the main defender getting help from Brook Lopez, Ersan Iiyasova, and George Hill.

They pounded the living daylights out of Leonard in a style of defense that looked like the 1990’s Detroit Pistons. Somewhere if he was watching the game Bill Laimbeer would have approved.

Leonard was un-Leonard like thanks to the Bucks taking him out of the game in the first half with only five points and five rebounds but the Raptors led 65-55 at halftime because others stepped up.

Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet carried the load so for once it didn’t have to be Leonard being the hero.

Lowry had 18-points in the first half and finished the game with 25. He looked like the Kyle Lowry that Bryan Colangelo traded for a dominate guard who can carry a game by himself.

Gasol had 17. Powell with 18, Ibaka with 17 and 13 boards, and Van Vleet with 13 played their best game of the series when it was needed most.

After only scoring five points in the first half Leonard he scored 14-in the second to finish with-19.

They won the game 120-102 to tie the series two game apiece making this now a best of three and now making it to the NBA final and a shot at the Golden State Warriors seems more of a distinct possibility than it did four days ago.

“One of the biggest pluses was that we were functional in the minutes when Kawhi was not out there and tonight when Kyle and Kawhi was out there,” Nurse said post game.

“They are out there guarding tough players and making tough shots it’s good that we could play well and rest them.”

The Bucks problem was they couldn’t stop a Raptor that did not have a number two on his jersey.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said afterwards, ”you have to give Toronto credit they stepped up especially the bench. We are going to have to look at the film and see where we are defensively. We are going home now. These are two great teams and it’s going to be a hell of a series.

“We have to finish better at the free throw line and hit more threes.”

As we head back to Milwaukee for game five Thursday night we know one thing, the Raptors are going to have to win one game there if they are going to get to their first ever NBA Finals.

They are going to need everybody to chip in and help the cause like they did in game four and take the load off Leonard.

What they have done is added a new wrinkle for the Bucks to have to defend, they just can’t concentrate on Leonard now.

The Raptors showed Tuesday night that they have a chance to win this thing by winning the biggest game in franchise history

Game five Thursday will be next biggest game in franchise history, can’t wait to see how it will turn out.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

Kawhi Leonard at the free throw line 2019 playoffs

Raptors Kawhi Leonard Makes History In Game 7 Win

By Frank McLean

It took 18-years for it to happen again, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers to hook up one more time in a game seven of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final.

Every Raptors fan remembers the last one, May 20th, 2001 at then named First Union Centre where Vince Carter had the last shot of the game which if he made it would have put the Raptors in their first conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

As we all know Carter’s shot hit the rim and rolled out. The Sixers won. They went on to face the Bucks in the eastern final and then lost to the Lakers in the finals, but for Raptors fans they have felt that the bad karma this team has faced in the postseason would have been different if Carter had just made that shot.

Of course that’s just revisionist history but for the diehards of the red and white that’s what Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena is all about.

Turns out the fans were right. Hollywood could not have written a better script.

Game tied 90-all with four-pint-two seconds left in regulation time Kawhi Leonard with no time left hits a jumper from the top left hand corner inside the three point line. The basket bounced four times on the rim before it went in the hoop and the Scotiabank Arena became bedlam.

Leonard became the basketball version of Joe Carter who broke Philadelphia sports fans hearts with his three run homer in the bottom of the ninth in game six of the 1993-World Series that gave the Blue Jays the World Championship over their beloved Phillies.

And let’s not forget Doug Gilmour who scored a game winning goal in the playoffs in 1993 in the third overtime against the St. Louis Blues.

Leonard’s winner ranks right up there in the sporting lore of the City Of Toronto.

Leonard took the Raptors and carried them on his back for the entire series. The winning shot game him 41-points for the game in which he scored 15-of his points in the fourth quarter. It was his second 40-plus point game in the series (45 in game one) and his average for the series was 34.8-points.

“I knew it was game seven,” Leonard said. “I didn’t want to leave no shots in my mind, I just wanted to go out and leave it on the floor. This could have been my last game of the season and I would have had to wait four or five months to make another shot. I was going to leave it on the floor tonight just trying to will us there to win.”

Leonard had never made a game winning shot at the buzzer before he said after the game, which is something rather hard to believe. “I have never made a game winning shot like that it’s a blessing and something I will look back on.”

After the game a rather horse Raptors coach Nick Nurse thought the Leonard shot was going in.

“It looked like it was going in, it looked like it was going in the whole time for me,” Nurse said. “I thought it was a nice lucky bounce. I thought we were very unlucky for most of that game.”

Nurse was right they were a little lucky. The Raptors gave up leads in the third and fourth quarter and had to fight a scrap all night just to get the game to a 90-all tie.

Speaking of fighting and scraping that was Kyle Lowry’s MO the whole night.

He sat out most of the first quarter after getting two quick fouls to start the game. Then in the second quarter his left thumb popped out after fighting for a rebound with the Sixers James Ennins III.

“It just popped out,” Lowry said after the game. “It was loose making it hard to pass the ball. But we won the game and I can rest it.”

And Lowry’s thumb issue makes the last play of the game for Leonard’s winning shot even more amazing.

Nick Nurse described the play this way.

“We ran Kyle off the first option and then Kawhi looped under there (the basket) and he get’s it (the ball) and the top and it’s his call what to do.”

So now is the bad karma broken? Well time will tell that one.

Just like 2001, if the Raptors had won that game seven, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks and a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But for one night let’s enjoy what will be one of the three greatest endings of a post season game in Toronto sporting history.

Leonard’s game winning shot, Carter’s World Series winning homer and Gilmore’s winning goal.

I was lucky I was in the press box and got to cover all three of these gems.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Jimmy Butler

76ers Adjust First Vs The Raptors To Win Game Two

By Frank McLean

No doubt about it, the pressure was on the Philadelphia 76ers as they headed into game two of their second round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

The last thing they wanted to do was head back home down two games to none and having to still win a game in Toronto where Scotiabank Arena has been their personal hell.

Including their loss in game one the Sixers had lost 14-straight games in the 416-area code.

That came to an end with the Sixers on top 89-94, in a game that was a throwback to old time playoff basketball, rough and physical. A game, especially in the first half, looked like the main event on Monday Night Raw being played under South Philadelphia Street Rules.

The win is was what Sixers coach Brett Brown called “one we gutted out.”

The puzzle Sixers coach Brett Brown had all day Sunday to try and figure out was what to do with Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard in game one had one that was for the ages, even for him with 45-points and 11-assists. Pascal Siakam added 29-himself so combined with Leonard they duo combined for 74-of the Raptors 108-points scored in game one.

Game two Leonard scored-35 and Siakam added-21 for only a combined-56 points which gave the Sixers a better chance of keeping the score close before they were able to build up a 19-point lead at one point in the game.

Brown thought that the Sixers defence was as good as it could be but what he couldn’t believe was that with the amount turnovers his team committed that they led at halftime.

“The clear problem was our turnovers, if you looked at the first half and said we had 13-turnovers at the end of the second period, in Toronto, in the Eastern Conference semi-final game two, what do you think the score should be? If you limit our turnovers where they got 18-points off I think our spirit was just fine which led to good first half.”

What Brown did to change the look of the Sixers defense was to put Joel Embiid on Siakam and Ben Simmons on Leonard.

Brown after the game couldn’t say enough about Leonard who kept the Raptors in the game who had to deal with Ben Simmons on him the whole night.

When it came to Embiid, no one was sure until about ten minutes before the game if he could play. It wasn’t his knee bothering him this time but a bad stomach that had him spending most of his Monday in the bathroom.

Yep he actually gutted this game out so to speak.

But what really made the difference for the Sixers in game two compared to game one was the offensive brilliance of Jimmy Butler. He was a workhorse playing 43-minutes scoring-30 and grabbing 11-boards.

General Manager Elton Brand picked him up in November from the Timberwolves just for that purpose to be that game changing player come playoff time.

“He was JAMES Butler”, Brown gushed in his post- game comments.

“He was the adult in the gym. I get excited by the volume of three’s he puts up (4-for-10), he was a rock that willed us in certain situations.”

After the game the Raptors Kyle Lowry said that they now have to make adjustments as this series now shifts to Philadelphia for the next two games and that this is what happens in the playoffs.

So now the spotlight is on Nick Nurse and his staff to make adjustments.

Leonard scored-35 points and in game one-45 and is averaging-40 for the first two games of the series. The key is to find a way to free up Siakam so he can take a little of the load of the load off Leonard.

The Raptors could have and maybe should have won game two.

They missed a lot of shots like down three with a minute left in the fourth quarter when Danny Green missed a 25-footer which would have tied the game and who knows what way the game would have gone.

But in the end full marks to Brett Brown and his coaching staff. The pressure was on not go down two nothing in the series and they figured a way to win one and go home with a split.

It’s now the Raptors turn to make adjustments.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Magic Look To The Future As Raptors Ready For Round Two

By Frank McLean

The Orlando Magic are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future assuming they can keep what they got and continue to improve a roster with potential. Right now they look like the Raptors did four and five years ago as they were just starting to become a consistent playoff team.

The Magic finished the regular season on a 22-9 run to get the seventh seed in the NBA East, but superior teams like the Raptors are able to beat them in a seven game playoff series because they can shut down their offence pretty easily.

The Magic need to upgrade their offense in the off season. What the Raptors did was take out their number one threat, Nikola Vucevic, who averaged team highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds in the regular season, but in the playoffs was held to just 11 points and six boards. And Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

They also have ex-Raptor Terrance Ross coming off the bench as an effective scorer, but Magic head coach Steve Clifford did talk about the problem he has with his limited power on offence because if he starts Ross he has no one to come off the bench and give the team some energy if his starters struggle.

The 28-year-old Ross will also be an unrestricted free agent in July and he’s coming of the best season of his NBA career, so if the Magic want to keep the two players who accounted for almost a third of Orlando’s points scored this past season, they won’t have any salary cap room to go after free agents this summer.

Somehow, however, the offence and the defense is something that will be addressed by the Magic this summer.

They did hit the jackpot last summer landing veteran coach Clifford who got the most out his roster. He will make this team a playoff contender for years to come if management can get him the talent.

Odds are, we haven’t seen the last of the Magic.

Just some odds and ends as the Toronto Raptors wrap up the first round of the playoffs and turn their attention to the Philadelphia 76ers and round two.

First let’s look how this Raptors team is different than in the past.

They have made the second round of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but now this team has figured out that when you have your foot down on your opponents throat you put them out of their misery.

In game five they came out flying and before the first quarter was over the game was essentially over.

Kyle Lowry scored the first nine points of the game and helped kick start a 22-3 run and that had the Magic playing catch up the rest of the night.

And speaking of Kyle Lowry, this was the guy that everybody was freaking out on after game one when he scored no points and the Raptors only lost by three points. If he had made just two field goals they would have been winners.

However, over the first round series Lowry was a monster. His four game total of 48-points,18-rebounds and 34-assists was what star players are supposed to do in the playoffs.

And let’s not forget he was a PLUS-60 for the series.

Clifford was gushing about Lowry’s play.

“Well, I just think, what I see in him he has a lot of good basketball left, but what I see in him is I think he’s looked around and saying this is the best team he has played on, and this is the best chance that they have had. I think he understands that this is his best chance (at a title) and he is playing at a real high level.”

We have to mention Pascal Siakam who had some kind of coming out party in the first round, a party for those who have never seen him in the regular season.

In five games he averaged 22.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and double-double in games three and four.

Earlier in the season I had a chance to talk to Mike D’Antoni head coach of the Houston Rockets who told me how a bunch of his players played with Siakam over the summer and said, “you won’t believe how this guy has improved.”

“Well, we thought he was going to be much improved coming out of the season and the summer,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “But I’m not sure that anybody saw this coming, right? If anybody said the guy was going to do what he’s doing in the playoffs a year ago from now they were being optimistic.”

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard

The Magic Are Who We Thought They Were

By Frank McLean

After watching the way the Toronto Raptors handled the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in game two of their first round Eastern Conference playoff you would never have thought that the Magic were one of the best teams the last two months of the NBA regular season.

The Magic, 20-31 on January-31st, went on a 22-9 tear to finish the regular season and grab the seventh spot overall in the conference standings.

They also won their last four games and 11 last 13 overall and made the Amway Arena a tough place for visitors, winning their last nine home games.

But after stealing game one on Saturday in Toronto with a three point win, the Raptors led wire to wire to walk away with a 111-82 win in game two. It was a beat down where the Raptors made the Magic look like the New York Knicks. Leading by as much as 34-points, it was a pure blowout.

Magic head coach Steve Clifford was at a bit of a loss about the way their offense struggled. He credited it to bad decision making and that his team wasn`t moving the ball, and that it was sticking due to the Raptors good defense, but what upset him the most was his ball club looked like it did back in October and November.

The Raptors defense has taken Magic center Nikola Vucevic right out of this series with their constant double teaming of him, but Clifford called him a smart guy and that he knows he will figure it out.

A big difference for the Raptors was All-Star Kyle Lowry finally scored a point. In fact Lowry had 22 points with four rebounds and seven assists compared to the zero points he put up in game one.

“I made some shots,” Lowry said after game two. “I was being more aggressive when I was going downhill. I watched film and it showed, I needed to be more aggressive.”

“That’s him at his finest,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Lowry.

“Tonight he was charging up the floor and pushing the ball past, shooting, driving, kicking, making steals, hands on everything, rebounding, he was doing it all. That’s a big performance for him, I’m really happy for him.”

Another big difference was Nurse taking the limits off superstar Kawhi Leonard.

People were questioning why he was given so few minutes in game one after taking 22 games off in the regular season mostly for “load management”.

Nurse said after the game that there are no more limits as to how many minutes Leonard gets in a game.

“I took him out after a 12-minute stretch at the end of the third, and I told him he had a two minute rest and he is going back in, and he said he was ready now. So I think he is ready to play as many minutes as he can handle, and he can handle as many minutes as the game calls for.”

Nurse had to make one of those decisions on Leonard early in game two which is why coaches are paid the big bucks in the NBA. Just 2:30 into the first quarter Leonard picked up his second of two of the quickest personal fouls I have seen him get all season.

If this was a typical regular season game he would be sitting till at least midway through the second quarter, but Nurse kept him in there.

“I guess I had a decision to make there,” Nurse said. “I think at that point we were off to a good start and we were imposing our will in he game, and I figured I would roll the dice so our will could continue to be imposed.”

Nurse was rewarded with a dominating 37 point effort from Leonard.

So after two games of this best-of-seven series we have seen the good and bad of the Magic and the good and bad of the Raptors. 

Game three Friday night in Orlando should be quite the show.

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Predictable Raptors Game One Loss Proves Nothing

By Frank McLean

They say in life the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. If you are a fan of the Toronto Raptors you can add that the basketball team you cheer for will lose the first game of a playoff series.

On Saturday the Orlando Magic came to Toronto and knocked off the Raptors in game one of their Eastern Conference first round series 104-101. The Raptors now sport an all time record of 2-14 in the opening game of a playoff series in franchise history.

Now if you are a Raptors fan you can ask a couple questions.

First, what the heck happened to Kyle Lowry?

Lowry had another playoff game where he couldn’t hit Lake Ontario if he was taking jump shots from Lakeshore Boulevard.

He had zero points in 34-minutes of playing time. Zero for seven from the field, six of those attempts came from behind the three point line. He was also zero for two from the foul line.

He did add seven rebounds and eight assists, but if he made just two field goals, two stinking field goals, they probably win the game.

Lowry won’t put up a shooting stinker like that again in this series.

Second, some average player on the opposing team looks like a superstar.

Guard, and former Raptor D.J. Augustin, who averaged 11.7 points in the regular season, had a monster game one with 25 points.

Augustin will come back down to earth.

If you were paying attention over the last two months, you would have seen that the Magic where going to be a pest to whomever they would play if they got into the playoffs, and if you’ve been watching the Raptors in the postseason since their inception, you’d know they’d find a way to screw up game one.

But losing game one in the opening round of the postseason has meant nothing since the Raptors first 50-win season three years ago.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Is Raptors President Masai Ujiri On The Hot Seat?

By Frank McLean

The expectations for the Toronto Raptors as they start the 2018-2019 NBA season are the highest they ever have been and it had nothing to do with their season starting the same day pot became legal in Canada.

After being eliminated for a third straight year by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, team President Masai Ujiri knew that something had to give.

Changes had to be made and they were.

With James leaving the Eastern Conference and taking his talents to Southern California and the Los Angeles Lakers, the excuse that as long as James was in the east nobody else has a chance to win was gone.

First it was the big trade, a no brainer sending DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 protected first round draft pick to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

One of the reasons this team struggled in the playoffs was opponents knew how to stop the Raptors and shutting down DeRozan or his other sidekick at guard Kyle Lowry pretty much did the trick.

Leonard is a superior defender and a major offensive threat BUT… and there is always a BUT. He only played nine games last year for San Antonio because of a quad injury and a shoulder injury. Is he able to stay healthy for an 82-game schedule?

Also he has a year left on his contract and the word around the league is he wants to play in his home of Los Angeles.

The other move was dumping the longest serving head coach in franchise history Dwane Casey.

Seven years, three straight 50-plus win seasons, 320-wins 238-losses all time and coming off a franchise high 59-win regular season and as a reward, the NBA coach of the year award.

BUT… And as we said there is always a BUT, a 21-30 record in the postseason, one appearance in the conference finals and zero appearances in the NBA Finals.

So Ujiri promoted Nick Nurse, who the last five years was one of Casey’s assistants running the offense to his first head coaching gig in the NBA.

Big gambles for a team that thinks they are good enough to win the east and take a shot at a NBA title.

For Ujiri the option of a coaching change is something he has kept in his back pocket since he took over as President. Casey was hired by his predecessor Bryan Colangelo and any new General Manager or President gets a chance to hire their own coach before you can fully review their job of building a winner.

Casey was winning, so there was no need to make a change except for a losing postseason record and the way the Raptors seemed to wave the white flag and surrender against Cleveland every time.

In acquiring Leonard the Raptors have never had a player of his ability before in their 24-year history. A top-10 player, who some may argue is a top five player in the league.

Also if you are Ujiri these moves are not just to make the team better, which he has been obsessed with since he arrived here five years ago. But he has to answer eventually to for the team’s lack of playoff success.

When Ujiri replaced Colangelo five years ago he was hired by former MLSE President Tim Leiweke.

Now Ujiri answers to a different boss running the MLSE board, Michael Frisdhal. With this being his sixth season running the ball club it’s make the conference finals or bust for this team and if they don’t the next move could be Ujiri.

Will know in six months if this all worked.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered the Raptors 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

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 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 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 head coach Dwane Casey

Do The Raptors Want To Win 60 Games?

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.

McLean:

The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.

Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.

Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.

After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.

But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.

“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”

Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.

“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”

One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.

So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.

Brotherston:

The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.

“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.

“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”

Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.

“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.

“I just want to play.

“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”

The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.

Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.

 

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.

 

 

 

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 Jerry Stackhouse and Pascal Siakam 2017

Will The Raptors Lose Coach Jerry Stackhouse To The Knicks This Summer?

By Frank McLean

In professional sports when other teams look to try poaching your assistant coaches, or front office personnel it’s considered a compliment. It means your organization has been successful and teams which have not had much success will try to grab someone from a winning team in the hope that they can bring that success to them.

Such is the case of Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse. The work he is done with the Raptors G-League entry has not gone unnoticed in the front offices of the NBA’s other 29 teams.

After leading the 905 to the championship last season with a roster that had a lot of help from current Raptors Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Fleet, it was almost like they brought in ringers, but that wasn’t the case. It was player development and you can see it in their play on the big club this year.

This season, however, it’s been a different story.

With a roster that did not have half the talent that last year’s squad had, they started 4-9 and then went on a 27-10 tear to finish 31-19 and just one game back of the Westchester Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division.

After knocking off Grand Rapids in a one game playoff at home they went to Westchester Monday night and beat the Knicks in another one game playoff highlighted by a stifling defense that shutdown the baby Knicks. If they can beat Erie Saturday night they get a shot at back-to-back championships.

As a result, a story in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Post has the Knicks interested in Stackhouse being their next head coach as current head coach Jeff Hornacek’s future on Broadway could be in doubt.

Now if Stackhouse does interview with Knicks it wouldn’t be the first time he looked for work in New York City.

In 2014, after he had retired with the Nets as a player at 38-years-old, Stackhouse interviewed with then Knicks President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills as a player development coach and that’s what makes Stackhouse a good fit for a struggling team. He has proven he can teach the skills needed to be successful in the NBA and more importantly, teach you how to win.

The Knicks are a mess and they are going to have to start from scratch and rebuild and Stackhouse fits what they should be looking for in a coach. Unfortunately for the Knicks, as many as 10-other NBA teams looking for a coach in the offseason.

During the G-League Showcase back in January I talked to scouts and front office people from other NBA teams and they were all talking about the work Stackhouse has done. It would be a surprise if Stackhouse does not get a shot at an NBA head coaching spot this summer.

That’s what happens when you are good. Teams come for your people. The Raptors should be flattered.

 

 

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 Bruno Caboclo

Raptors Finally Ended The Bruno Caboclo Experiment

By Frank McLean

For Raptors President Masai Ujiri it was time to pull the plug on the experiment that was Bruno Caboclo. It was something where the team finally realized it wasn’t going to work for him in Toronto four years after they took him 20th overall in the draft out of Brazil.

Ujiri was doing some outside the box thinking. He saw a kid with raw basketball skills and at the time the Raptors were not even close to being a contender so he saw someone he thought they could make into an NBA player.

If you remember, this pick by the Raptors was so off the board that during their draft night telecast ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said he was “two years away from being two years away.”

But Toronto liked this kid so much they hid him from the other 29 NBA teams so they wouldn’t work him out knowing when they got him he needed a lot of grooming.

Unfortunately, during his first year in Toronto they did not have the Raptors 905 in Mississauga so they sent him to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of what was then the D-League, but they were independently owned and he sat on the bench and missed an entire year where his development was stagnant.

The only benefit of this first year fiasco with Caboclo was Ujiri convinced the Board of Directors of MLSE to pony up the money for their own G-League franchise, and as they say the rest is history.

Immediately after trading Caboclo to the Sacramento Kings for 22 year old guard Malachi Richardson at the trade deadline, Ujiri did not make himself available to the media, but the next day he talked about what was the thought process about the move.

“It was difficult for us because I thought it was just time. We tried to, we started the process a little late, which is something we failed at but I think we will learn from.

“At some point, I think there needed to be some separation where he goes and learns something different somewhere else. On that part right he is a real talented kid.”

Ujiri did confirm that because of Caboclo they hurried the process of starting up the 905 team.

“But in the process we got the D-League team a couple of years later and it’s a question from me whether he should have stayed over. There were little things Bruno needs to deal with that I think he’ll get better at.

“But at the end of the day, I thought this was better because for where we are with our young guys and for where he is to come and try and break through, it would have been like a challenge for him.”

With that last quote Ujiri was being very politically correct. If you read between the lines he is saying that he is just not good enough to beat out anybody on the current Raptors roster. And if you have watched their last four games where the starters have not played the fourth quarter because the leads are so big the bench is good enough to not blow a lead, so who is Caboclo going to beat out  to get playing time? This is a luxury the team has never had in its history.

So where does Caboclo’s career go now? Well there is no answer to that question right now.

When he did get into an NBA game with the Raptors, which was rare, he looked lost and just couldn’t keep up. When he would dress in a G-League game for the Raptors 905 he looked more at home, but consistency was his problem. He would have one amazingly good game and then have three bad ones for a player on an NBA contract.

So it looks like it could be back to the G-League, maybe Europe or even a return to Brazil for Caboclo in the future.

Should Ujiri be condemned for the Caboclo draft pick? No. Not every move a GM or President makes in professional sports works.

Caboclo is a great kid. Very polite and friendly to everyone he ever came across.

It was a move that didn’t work for the Raptors and it was time to turn the page.

 

 

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

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Career Year Comes With A Heavy Heart.

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is currently in what athletes call “the zone”, he is playing the best basketball of his career and he’s doing it with a heavy heart.

He averaged 25.2 points a game in the month of December which was a main factor for the team going 11-3. And in one of those games he had a then career high 45 pointer in a comeback win in Philadelphia.

He was named the NBA Player of the Week for the first week of the calendar year in 2018 where he averaged 35.7 points a game in three games and erased his career and Raptors franchise mark for points in a game on New Year’s night against Milwaukee by scoring 52.

But it hasn’t been easy for the Raptors All-Star.

DeRozan has left the team twice in the last few weeks to head home to Los Angeles to be with his father who is not doing well with kidney disease.

Heck it doesn’t surprise me that he is going this well with all that is going on his life right now. DeRozan is one of the most focused athletes I have covered in in Toronto in the 30-plus years I have been around Toronto sports. He ranks right up there with Robbie Alomar, the late Roy Halladay and Doug Gilmour for their coolness under pressure no matter what is going on.

Over the past weekend in New York,  Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter DeRozan as saying,

“I grew up in Compton, California, man, every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”

“I’m pretty sure everyone in here goes through life situations,” DeRozan added. “You live on this earth, you’re going to have some type of issue that occurs that’s close to you. It’s just a matter of how you handle it, how you go about it. I go about mine like a man, like a professional. I don’t complain. I don’t cry about it. I don’t make excuses. These are things you just got to handle.

“I just go out and play, I don’t think about the run (the last few weeks), I don’t think about nothing. I just love playing basketball. When you get in that zone and you are just going out there playing ball you are able to zone out and be in a different space than you are throughout the rest of the day doing anything else. Basketball is always that realm for me where I can just get in that mindset of feeling free.”

When you are a kid it’s usually your dad that inserts a love of a sport or sports in general and in the case of basketball it was his dad that helped him get the basketball bug.

“He is everything,” DeRozan said. “My dad put the basketball in my hands. My dad took me to the park. My dad pushed me. My dad was my dad. My dad was the reason I wanted to play sports, just like every other kid that looked up to their dad. That’s what he is to me to this day, and what he is to me forever.”

When you talk to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and you bring up DeRozan he will tell you that nothing he does will amaze you. One of the reasons players love Casey is that in this crazy world that is the NBA family comes first and he tells each and every player that.

  “This is his refuge here and he should use this as a refuge to get away from his issues and problems for those two hours,” Casey said. “But if he has to get away and go home for his family he knows he has the organization’s support to do that.”

DeRozan started week two off right in 2018 as he scored 35 points in Monday’s 114-113 overtime thriller in Brooklyn.

DeRozan is a special talent, no argument there. He is right when he says that we all have to go through something like this with a close family member at one time or another. It’s just life. We go to work every day because we have to. It’s just that when we do, we don’t do it in front of 20-thousand people in an arena and millions more watching you on television.

That’s what makes it more amazing to watch this run DeRozan is currently on.

 

 

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 Lakers Lonzo Ball

Are The Lakers Regretting The Lonzo Ball Draft Pick Yet?

By Frank McLean

When an NBA team, and for that matter any team in pro sports, is preparing for their respective drafts, a lot of work goes into who they are going to pick. Will they be able to fit in the way their team plays? Will they be able to fit in the locker room with their teammates? Even how much of a pain in the butt their agent could be?

In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers when they drafted Lonzo Ball they knew a unique problem came with the pick and that’s his father LaVar who is shall we say is outspoken!

This past weekend in Lithuania, where Ball has his two other sons playing pro ball in that country’s league, he ripped into Lakers head coach Luke Walton saying in an interview with ESPN.com that, “You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.’’

This isn’t the first time that Ball has ran his mouth off, he has been a constant critic of the way the Lakers use his son.

When you listen to him he comes across like boxing promoter Don King without the bad hairdoo.

This has not just got the Lakers upset but other coaches current and past have come out and shown they have got Walton’s back like Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who also is the head of the NBA’s coaches association. He is upset that ESPN being a major television partner with the NBA should not be writing about comments that are not true.

“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust that we built with ESPN.”

“Our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that,” Carlisle added. “Two years ago, he took a veteran team (the Warriors) and led them to 24-wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that he earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy now went against his employers on giving a big mouth like Ball the time of day.

“You guys want the cheap shots,” Van Gundy said on Sirius XM NBA Radio. “You want the hits. You want these like you said, clicks, whatever that means. It is part of the business, and it’s also a reason why this does lack journalistic integrity. It is a reason for coaches to unite and say, ‘No no, forget it, if we have to take this, then why are we giving of our time?’ It’s not like they’re going to violate any rule if they don’t participate with ESPN.”

I’m sure Van Gundy will hear about this from his bosses.

Some teams in the league have said they are considering revoking credentials of ESPN reporters who interview Ball. And here lies the problem. Ball is a big mouth publicity hound who thinks he is smarter than everyone else and he is a control freak who thinks he should run everything. The current ESPN way of presenting sports news is they love controversy, it fuels their talk shows like First Take and Pardon the Interruption and this is what has gotten the coaches association upset.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka along with President Magic Johnson and owner Jeanne Buss did their due diligence before they drafted Lonzo Ball. They got assurances from his father that he would not cause trouble for the team if they drafted his son.

He did not keep his mouth shut.

The team asked him in late November to please tone it down. He said he would. But his actions this weekend show he did not listen.

The Lakers are a rebuilding team. After a good start they had dropped nine of their last 10 games and that was expected, no one saw them as a playoff team this year.

Luke Walton is an excellent young coach. Rick Carlisle was right, his work with the Warriors filling in for Steve Kerr during his illness a few years ago showed that he can coach in the NBA. The Lakers don’t need this distraction from a family member. It may come to a point if his father won’t shut up they will try to trade him, but what GM would want to take on the headache of the dysfunctional Ball’s father?

I do have a problem with the coaches association trying to tell ESPN how to do their job. To me it’s like Donald Trump calling CNN, MSNBC and others fake news because they don’t report on his administration the way he thinks they should. That’s an attack on freedom of the press.

My take is some people, and myself included, are just fed up of hearing from Ball. But our opinion doesn’t matter because people still watch and read whenever Ball has an opinion and as long as they do ESPN and others will give him a platform.

I’m sure if you managed to get Rob Pelinka alone having a beer he’d tell you, I should never have drafted Lonzo Ball. No team needs this.

 

 

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

Is 52 Points From DeRozan Enough For Next Christmas?

By Frank McLean

Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?

Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.

In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.

“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”

Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.

The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.

Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.

They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.

Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.

This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.

Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.

Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.

Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.

But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.

So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.

The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.

The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.

Maybe next year?

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Halfway To A 1,000 Games, Coach Casey Keeps On Winning

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey quietly reached a milestone on their west coast road trip last week when he coached his 500th game with the basketball team.

In his seventh season with the team and following their win this past Sunday at home against Sacramento his won-loss record is an impressive 281-223. Currently they are sitting third in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8 record. They are definitely on pace for a third straight 50 win season and dare we say, maybe 60 wins.

The 20-8 record is impressive because of the tough schedule the NBA came up with. The Raptors have already played 16 road contests, in which they have completed all but three of their west coast visits and have won nine to go with the best home record in the league at 11-1.

The 20-8 mark is a lot better a start than anticipated because the team made a complete 360-degree change in how they play offense with constant ball movement and a lot more three-point attempts.

Looks like to me they caught on a little quicker than what many people thought.

But defense first is still Casey’s first commandment of playing winning basketball and they are in the top-10 in fewest points allowed per 100-poessions. When he came to Toronto, the team was 30th, dead last in defense.

It’s remarkable that into his seventh year as coach Casey has not lost his team. It doesn’t matter what professional sport we are talking about, a head coach’s shelf life is typically slightly longer than a quart of milk sitting in your fridge. Players after a few years just seem to tune them out.

Listen to the testimonials from his current stars.

“It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s a testament to him sticking to all of his guns and understanding his principles that he came in here with,” said DeMar DeRozan who is the only Raptor left on the roster from Casey’s first season with the team.

“Look at him now, he holds the record for wins and games coached, everything, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

“Always you face some ups and downs, some bumps, some downhills, but, if you are able to get back and if you are able to stay strong over those bumps, you are real then,” Jonas Valanciunas said of Casey.“He knows what he’s doing, he’s a great dude, he’s a great guy. He’s humble, he’s trying to win. That’s all that matters.”

And this from Kyle Lowry who has bumped heads more than a few times like a son does with his father.

“I don’t think our coach is ever happy, honestly. But that’s the one thing about our coach, he’s hard on us, and he’s tough on us. But we know that he wants us to be a championship calibre team, and that’s what we push for, and that’s why we respond to him so well.”

When you check out social media there are still people demanding that Casey be fired which again proves that it is the worst invention in the history of man when you hear some of the stuff being said… and it’s not just with respect to basketball.

Dwane Casey is the best thing that’s happened to this franchise period.

Casey was hired by former general manager Bryan Colangelo and when Masai Ujiri took over he could have fired Casey and brought in his own man, but he stayed with him and as a result the team has increased its win total from 23 in his initial season to 34 the next year then 48, 49, 56 and 51 last year. The Raptors are on pace to win more than 56 games this season.

If there is somebody better out there go get him, but I don’t see Greg Popovich or Steve Kerr leaving their current jobs.

I don’t think when Casey arrived in Toronto many pundits thought he would last 500 games. Hopefully, he gets another 500 games on the bench and maybe a trip to NBA Finals will finally come about.

 

 

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 Phoenix Suns Devin Booker

Will The Phoenix Suns Trust The Process?

By Frank McLean

The Phoenix Suns are this year’s mess in the NBA, a team which has become the salvage project of a once great franchise that has gone into the toilet and will have to “trust the process” to get back to where they once were.

You remember the Suns? The team that had Steve Nash, the mad bomber Dan Marjerle and Kevin Johnson. Then the must-see-TV offense coached by Mike D’Antoni with weapons like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.

Well dysfunction has set into this once proud franchise which looks a lot like the New York Knicks of the last few years or the New York Football Giants the way they have treated their superstar quarterback Eli manning the last couple of weeks.

The season started with Suns losing their first three games. Then point guard Eric Bledsoe started with the “get me out of this mess right now” plea and demanded a trade. The result of that was the firing of head coach Earl Watson after the third game by general manager Ryan McDonough.

McDonough felt the heat and rightfully so. The question was being asked if you didn’t like the job the coach was doing why didn’t you fire him in the off season? Why didn’t you bring in a new guy over the summer?

Talking to people who cover the Suns on a regular basis, they could not answer that question. Their response was that you think they would have made the coaching change in the off season.

Plus another question that no one could answer is, why would you hire a coach, like Watson, with zero NBA head coaching experience?

Watson was replaced by his assistant coach and former Raptors head coach Jay Triano. Triano has been in this position before. He is getting another shot as an NBA head coach because the situation here in Phoenix is the same as when he got the Raptors job where he was an assistant coach to Sam Mitchell and was tapped to replace him by then general manager Bryan Colangelo. Triano has also coached the Canadian National Men’s team.

Head Coach Jay Triano close upMcDonough was lucky to have someone like Triano on his staff to take over on an interim basis and help in the development of their young talent.

Long time Suns radio play man Al McCoy, who has seen his share of Suns coaches in his over 40 years behind the microphone, was gushing about Triano as a coach and person.

“He’s a great guy,” McCoy said. “More importantly he is a basketball guy, just loves the game and he is great with our young talent.”

Triano came back to Toronto Tuesday night with a Suns team sporting a 9-16 record and coming off a come-from-behind 115-101 win in Philadelphia.

The Suns now are in the major rebuild mode and have taken a page from the team they beat Monday night in the 76ers.

They have become a tanking rebuilding team trying to grab as many high lottery draft picks they can and develop young players.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News Triano said that that the comparison with the Sixers is bang on.

“We are in the same boat. Our young players have the same goals and I have the same aspirations for our young team to keep playing. Find the right way, play hard all the time and eventually we’ll get this thing turned around.”

They picked fourth overall in this past June’s draft and grabbed Josh Jackson and they already have from their first pick in 2015 guard Devin Booker out of the University of Kentucky.

Booker put the Suns on his back Monday night in their comeback win scoring 46 points after hitting a terrible two-of his first 11-shots but then hitting nine-of his next-16 and scoring 32 of his 42 points in the second half.

He is a special talent and this is the guy the Suns are building around.

The Suns lost 126-113 against the Raptors, but the young team didn’t quit. You can see they don’t have the talent to compete on a night to night basis with the top teams in the league right now.

Worst with less than three minutes left in the game, Booker strained his abductor muscle in a bizarre accident where he could not move any part of his body and had to be carried off the floor by teammates and the training staff.

Booker will be gone for the next two to three weeks and without him the Suns will be lost and it will be harder for to the Suns to, as Triano put it, “turn this thing around.” Not that it should matter.

The Suns are copying the Sixers plan of how to rebuild and the hope is they can soon be a force in the Western Conference.

One thing I wonder? Will Suns fans be willing to “trust the process.”

Time will tell.

 

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 G-League Toronto Raptors Kennedy Meeks

Raptors 905 Kennedy Meeks Is Trying To Change First Impressions

By Frank McLean

Being in professional sports is no different than anything else in life and that first impressions can either make the start of your career easier or make it a heck of a lot more difficult.

That’s what Raptors 905 center/forward Kennedy Meeks is going through right now.

Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Toronto Raptors back in July after being a major cog in the North Carolina Tar Heels run to the NCAA National Championship this past March, Meeks was one of the Raptors first cuts in training camp. But the Raptors not wanting to give up on a talent like Meeks signed him to their Raptors 905 G-League squad in Mississauga.

Meeks spent four years playing at North Carolina for one of the college games most legendary coaches in Roy Williams. The numbers he put up their make you wonder why he is in the G-League.

Meeks averaged 10-points and seven rebounds during his four years, and in his senior year he averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He is ranked fifth in the school’s history with 1,052 rebounds. His 152 offensive rebounds was the most of any Tar Heel since that stat started being kept in 1995-1996.

To top it all off in last year’s NCAA Tournament he grabbed 69 rebounds which was the most by any Tar Heel in an NCAA Tournament and in the semi-final against an Oregon Ducks team that was expected to win it all he tied his career high with 25 points and 14 boards.

So why is a guy like this in the G-League? That is a question I asked an assortment of NBA scouts I know and they all said the same thing,  he is not in shape.

And this is where first perceptions comes in and not being in shape when you start a professional career can be a deal breaker.

Meeks has played five games for the 905 before taking part with Team USA and their bid to qualify for the FIBA World Championships. He has put up some decent numbers playing the four spot averaging 11 points a game and  nine rebounds.

Meeks is going to get a chance to change that bad initial perception and when I talked to Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse he knows what Meeks has got to do to get better and he gets a little excited about his prospect’s potential. After all Stackhouse is one of the all-time greats to come out of the North Carolina program.

“He still has to work on his conditioning,“ Stackhouse said first thing. “He has to work on his body and he needs to change a little bit and have a little more lift. He has unbelievable savvy and some of the softest hands in the G-League. You see the ability of him finishing around the rim and the soft tip in’s will give us (as a team) a big lift on second chance points.”

When you talk to Meeks, one of the first things he tells you is that he has to work on his conditioning.

“I’m in the weight room trying to get stronger and working on my quickness and strength,” Meeks said. “Playing at the four (as opposed to center in college) there is a lot of running around and it becomes a bit harder and I’m trying to adjust and get into better shape.”

“The pace of the game is a little different,” Meeks explained comparing the pro game to that of college. “I’m learning how to make the correct passes, the spacing on the court and to listen to what the coaches are saying and buy into the game.”

Being a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel with Stackhouse, Meeks is not getting any special treatment. In fact Meeks will tell you it’s the opposite.

“I think he is harder on me than anybody else on the team,” Meeks laughs. “Because we are both from North Carolina he expects more because that’s the way it is when you play for North Carolina.”

Meeks is getting a chance to change a first impression that he is out of shape for pro ball. He is making the commitment to get better and the numbers he has put up in his brief time in the G-League show that if he can get in shape and stay there he could be a 10 point, 10 rebound guy and you can make a good living in the NBA or in Europe if you average that on a game-by-game basis.

Scouts are watching too and if he can get it in gear there is chance an NBA team will come calling later in the season with a 10-day contract and a chance to show what he can do.

   

 

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.