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NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard preparing

The Bucks And Raptors Win With Defense

The top two teams in the East will face off in the Conference Final and in contrast to their western counterparts, the Bucks and Raptors win with defense. The playoff advanced stats rating offense and defense heading into these series lay things out oh so clearly:

Teams         Offensive Rating       Defensive Rating           Net Rating

8-1 Bucks                  113.4 (2)                     98.2 (1)                       15.2 (1)

8-4 Raptors                108.5 (9)                  100.3 (2)                        8.1 (2)

8-4 Warriors              117.4 (1)                  111.8 (12)                      5.6 (3)

8-4 Blazers                  110.8 (5)                 109.7 (8)                        1.1

(The numbers in brackets represent the ranking versus all 16 playoff teams)

Draw your own conclusions about the Western Conference Finals, but it doesn’t look like the Blazers have enough fire power to get by the Warriors even sans KD.

While the Raptors like to play in transition, they played at a middle of the pack pace during the regular season and the second slowest pace (95.6) of any team during the postseason. The Bucks on the other hand have played fast all year and have played at the second fastest pace (103.3) of the playoff teams and much faster than even the Warriors (99.6).

In no small part pace is why the Raptors have held playoff opponents to a postseason best 96 points per game on average and have only given up more than 100 points four times. The Bucks have only held opponents under 100 points three times, but are still a third best 101.6 points allowed.

“It takes a lot of energy and effort to be great defensively,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re similar offensively — we want to play fast, we want to get out and run and move.”

“It’s a totally different style than we’ve just been through in our last two series,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense.”

However, getting past the pace of the game, the opponent’s statistics against these two teams are remarkably similar.

by Opponents           Bucks               Raptors

Opp FG%                  39.9% (1)              41.3% (2)

Opp 3FG%                31.7% (4)             31.5% (3)

Pts off TO                 14.4 (4)                  14.2 (3)

2nd Chance              9.3 (1)                   10.3 (2)

Fast Break               12.9 (8)                 11.6 (3)

PIP                            37.6 (3)                 37.3 (2)

Both of these teams have shown they can defend at an elite level, but their success on offense has come differently.

The Raptors rely on the playoffs second leading scorer Kawhi Leonard and he has been a nearly unstoppable force averaging 31.8 points, 53.9 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from three. The second option may be the fastest guy down the court Pascal Siakam averaging 20.8 points, 48.3 percent shooting and 30.9 percent from three.

Milwaukee leans on MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo who averages 27.4 points on 52.6 percent shooting and a developing three-point shot at 32.4 percent. The Bucks second option is the red hot three-point threat Kris Middleton averaging 19.1 points 42.2 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three, so the Raptors might want to draw on their recent experience defending J.J. Redick to hold him somewhat in check.

Both teams thrive in transition with Antetokounmpo leading the playoffs at 7.4 fast break points per game and Middleton contributing another 4.2 to the Bucks leading 20.6 fast break points. Leonard has been almost as deadly on the break at a third best 4.9 fast break points and Siakam contributing 4.3 to a Raptors third best 16.6 fast break points.

Somewhat surprisingly the Raptors hold the advantage 19.4 (2) to 14.9 (11) in points off turnovers with Leonard leading the playoffs at 5.9.

Not surprisingly, the Bucks get more of their points from the three-point line and the Raptors have thrived in the mid-range.

% of Points Scored         Bucks            Raptors

3-FG                                     34.5 (2)           30.9 (8)

Mid-range                           6.1 (14)          11.3 (7)

P.I.P.                                      42                    41.4

Fast Break                           17.6 (1)            16 (3)

off turnovers                       12.7 (12)        18.7 (2)

Toronto has been looking forward to playing at a quicker pace after dealing with the Magic and 76ers in a lot of half court sets, but their strength all season has been controlling the pace of the game and that’s going to be a tall task heading into game one in Milwaukee. Turnovers and three-point shooting are likely to decide this series.

 

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

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks to the media after the game 5 loss to the Raptors in Toronto

Has Brett Brown Coached The 76ers Out Of The Series?

Prior to the start of the second round playoff series between Philadelphia and Toronto, 76ers head coach Brett Brown was emphatic he wasn’t going to coach scared. This would be a strength vs strength event with his team’s superior rebounding holding off one of the NBA’s best on the fast break. Even after getting run out of the gym in game one, Brown doubled-down on his strategy of crashing the glass and pushed his guys to make the Raptors work even harder on defense.

“We have to be better offensively,” J.J. Redick said after game one. “We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

The strategy worked and the 76ers took the next two games dominating on the glass, impacting the Raptors scoring and head coach Nick Nurse was forced to change his rotations. Since acquiring Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, the big Spaniard had been sharing time Serge Ibaka at center, but in order to wrest control of the boards back from Philly, Nurse had no choice but to put them on the floor together.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together,” Nurse said after game four.

“It seemed to help their rebounding,” Brown said prior to game five. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand, I believe, the history that Marc and Serge have together with the Spanish National Team.”

With the boards even and the Raptors taking away the 76ers advantage in second chance points, Toronto had eked out a road win in Philly setting up Brown for the game five coaching disaster that was about to befall him in Toronto.

“If I was the coach, I wouldn’t even show the film,” Jimmy Butler said after game five. “Just move on. We got our ass kicked.”

In game five the Raptors finally won the battle of the boards 42-37, were +10 in second chance points and a worrisome +25 in fast break break points. Everything went wrong for the 76ers foreshadowed by Brown going way off script in his pregame comments.

“I would like it to be faster,” Brown said. “I think that when you look at what we do, when you look at the regular season and the success we had running and Ben Simmons strengths and the group that we have that you would would like the pace to be greater.

“Ben is gifted in that area. We have shown we are capable of playing that style.”

The Raptors couldn’t be happier to see a 76ers team trying to run with them. Brown has no one to cover Pascal Siakam in a fast paced game and the result of trying is almost guaranteed to produce a result like game one when the Raptors forward easily scored 29 points on them.

Then in an about face of the stated strategy that got Brown wins in games two and three, the 76ers coach started promoting a take the first shot available mantra.

“One of the things I tell my team, if you have a good look probably that will be the best look we are going to get this possession,” Brown said. ” There is an element that all coaches come into that pass-is-king, good-to-great, you have a good shot, he has a great shot. (BUT) in the the playoffs, I have learned is, or believe in, at times the best look and it could be the first look is the one you should probably take.”

In sports it can help to have a short memory, but you might want to remember what worked last week?

The 76ers trying to run with the Raptors is a bad strategy no matter how Brown tries to slice it and the concept of making Toronto work on defense instead of “taking the first shot” was what turned things around in game two.

Maybe there is nothing left Brown can do if the pairing of Gasol and Ibaka has taken away his team’s advantage on the glass, but feeding the Raptors transition game by jacking up the first available shot and trying to run with them is a formula for getting embarrassed.

Hang the crushing game five defeat in Toronto right where it belongs. On a coach trying something he knew wasn’t going to work. But the series isn’t over. The Raptors advantage has not been overwhelming when Brown has stayed with his team’s strengths.

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Did The Raptors Solve The 76ers In Game 4?

The second round playoff series between the Raptors and 76ers is a battle of contrasting strengths. Where Philadelphia has been a top rebounding team all season and is the undisputed leader on the glass in the playoffs, Toronto is known for their transition offense that runs on turnovers, misses and makes and neither team was going to back away from what has worked for them.

Thru the first three games Philly had owned the glass, collecting over 55 percent of the total rebounds, averaging four more offensive boards and dominating second chance points by a total of 25. Toronto had 20 more fastbreak points over those first three games, but they were down 2-1 in the series and head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t enjoying getting beaten up on the glass.

“The biggest thing was the rebounding,” Nurse admitted. “It just felt like we were getting pushed around a little bit in the last two games (games two and three) around the glass.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together.”

Just how desperate was Nurse to fix this rebounding problem? Well, in the four games thus far the pairing of Gasol and Pascal Siakam playing 96 minutes together was only netting the Raptors 47.2 percent of the boards and perhaps even more concerning, the pairing of Ibaka and Siakam was leading the Raptors to only 44.3 percent of the available boards. Say what you want about the issues of rebounding with “small line-ups” on the floor. Toronto was getting pushed around with two bigs on the court.

“Serge is not really a center,” Kawhi Leonard observed. “He’s a power forward.

“We did a good job at working on it at practice the last two days (after game three) and those guys (Gasol and Ibaka) spaced out the floor well, got to their spots.”

Nurse played Ibaka and Gasol together for 23 minutes in game four and the combination helped the Raptors garner 54.5 percent of the rebounds during their time together. It helped Toronto stay even with the 76ers on the glass for the game, wiped out the 76ers advantage in second chance points and the Raptors still were a +7 in fast break points.

“Tonight we just had more athleticism and size and it just looked that way and looked like the rebounds were affected by that,” Nurse said after game four.

“I think it was a size advantage for us believe it or not.”

This has been a series of coaches going with their team’s strengths, making adjustments and counter adjustments.  Now it’s up to 76ers head coach Brett Brown to find the next move.

Nurse found a way to counter his adversary’s biggest advantage in game four. If the 76ers can’t out-rebound the Raptors and continue to give up points on the fast break, it’s hard to see Philly stealing another game in this series. But Brown isn’t one to coach scared.

 

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

 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 Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons

76ers To Focus On Offense To Improve Defense In Game Two

Things didn’t go as planned for 76ers head coach Brett Brown in game one of his team’s second round playoff series with the Raptors, but he was dead serious when he said he wasn’t coaching scared. He likes his team’s offense and based on the comments from practice on Sunday, the focus will be on doing offense better to improve his squad’s defense.

“Adjustments rule the day,” Brown said at practice. Not that he was about to give away any secrets, but not to worry, his players were very talkative.

“We didn’t move (the ball),” Ben Simmons explained. “It’s not on them. It’s on us. Passing the ball and moving, cutting, slashing. We just got to be more consistent in moving the ball and passing.”

In a way it makes sense. The Raptors thrive in transition off of turnovers, missed shots and even made shots, but if Brown can find a way to make his opponents work harder on defense, those fast breaks and just plain fast offensive sets could be just a little tougher to execute.

“In game one there were too many missed baskets by us that was leading to their transition and getting out in the open court,” Tobias Harris said. “The biggest thing for us on the offensive end is to make them work for everything they have out there.”

Now that’s an honest assessment by the 76ers. The Raptors turn defense into offense as well as anyone in the Association. Philadelphia can’t afford to let Toronto run them out of the gym by setting the Raptors up for fast breaks.

Not surprisingly, the 76ers purest shooter didn’t like what he saw offensively in game one either.

“We have to be better offensively,” JJ Redick said. “Their defense was fantastic last night. We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

Therein lies the rub for this recently thrown together starting unit where every player can put up 20 or more points on any given night. Sacrifices will have to be made. Good shots passed up to give someone else a better shot and all those other postseason clichés that are sometimes true. Coach Brown will have his work cut out for him.

The biggest thing standing in Brown’s way may be….

“I played okay,” Simmons said and most of his teammates could’ve said the same thing…. except they lost.

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Danny Green

Does Defense Still Win In The Playoffs?

After a regular season in which every team in the NBA averaged over 100 points per game, every team in the postseason was over 110 and no team was even close to holding their opponents under 100 points on average, it would have been fair to question if defense could still win in the playoffs?

Pay attention and it looks like it’s still possible to play winning defense in the postseason of this new high scoring NBA.

Thru the Sunday night games of the second round, defense stands out. The best at opponent’s field goal percent, points allowed and defensive rating are making noise.

 …………………….opp FG%        Def. Rating     Points Allowed    (Record)

  1. Celtics              39.0                      94.6                   91.4                       (5-0)
  2. Raptors           38.9                      96.2                    92.5                       (5-1)
  3. Bucks               41.6                      99.8                 100.8                       (4-1)
  4. Rockets            41.6                    100.5                   98.8                       (4-2)

Boston has held their opponent’s under 100 points in four of their first five games and stunned the Bucks in game one of their second round series by keeping The Greek Freak and company to just 90 points. The Celtics have sent a message, this once mighty defensive team has their defensive intensity is back and the Bucks had better adjust quickly.

In Toronto fans have been lulled into thinking that with the defensive-minded coach Casey in Detroit and his offensive assistant coach Nick Nurse now in charge that defense wasn’t a focus of this year’s team. Apparently not.

“(The Raptors) have two defensive players of the year,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said in Toronto prior to game one. “Think about that in Kawhi (Leonard) and Marc (Gasol). And you have a first team all-league defender that I coached for I don’t know how many years in Danny Green. And we haven’t even talked about Kyle (Lowry) and (Pascal) Siakam that is taking off. So defensively this is elite.”

Brown isn’t wrong. Lowry leads the playoffs with 8 charges drawn, 12 loose balls recovered and is second with 21 defections.  Siakam has contested an NBA best 44 three-point attempts in the postseason. Coming off the bench in limited minutes, the almost-forgotten-at-times Serge Ibaka has the fourth most box outs.

After the 76ers 108-95 game one loss to Toronto that was only that close because of over four minutes of garbage time, Brown reflected further on the Raptors defense.

“You got to give credit to Marc Gasol,” Brown said. “He was the defensive player of the year for a reason. I thought Serge came in and did a good job athletically making it difficult for Joel (Embiid).

“The way Toronto guards, they really scramble well. They aren’t afraid of attacking penetration.”

The Raptors have held their opponent to under 100 points in five straight games.

In the Warriors-Rockets series, Houston had been playing better defense than their more highly-touted opponent and as a result had an easier route to the second round. But maybe Golden State got the wake-up call as they beat the Rockets 104-100 in game one with defense, holding Houston to 41.9 percent shooting from the field. Not that Houston wasn’t doing a good job defensively on everyone not called KD.

Defense is back in a big way and the easy scoring of the regular season is in the rear view mirror.

 

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

 

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Predicting the NBA East Playoff Seeds

The races that matter in the NBA East are all but decided if one is inclined to look past the first round of the playoffs. Predicting the top five playoff seeds has been pretty easy for quite a while now, but the bottom three seeds have gotten even tighter as the season winds down.

The Bucks are all but locked into first sitting four games ahead of the Raptors with six games remaining. The Raptors are all but locked into second place 4.5 games ahead of the 76ers and the 76ers are all but locked into third at 3.5 games ahead of the Celtics and Pacers.

The Celtics and Pacers are tied with one head-to-head remaining in their schedule that should decide who gets home court in a first round matchup.

  • 6th Detroit    38-37, (last 10: 4-6)
  • 7th Brooklyn 38-38, (last 10: 5-5)
  • 8th Miami      37-38, (last 10: 6-4)
  • 9th Orlando  37-39, (last 10: 7-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 35-40, (last 10: 5-5)

The fight for fourth will have a huge impact on which teams grab one of the bottom three seeds and because of their own playoff races, neither Boston nor Indiana can afford to take a night off. This should make for some good end of regular season viewing.

  • The Pacers play Orlando, Detroit twice, and Brooklyn.
  • The Celtics play Brooklyn, Miami twice, and Orlando.

Detroit has a tough schedule. Portland, Pacers twice, OKC, Charlotte, Memphis and the Knicks. If they don’t dramatically improve on their play over the past 10 games (4-6), they will find themselves on the outside looking in on April 13th.

Brooklyn‘s schedule could be even more daunting than Detroit’s. Boston, Milwaukee twice, Toronto, Indiana and Miami. The Nets best hope is that the Raptors and Bucks may be running out their third string for big portions these games as they rest up for the playoffs, and if the Nets don’t beat Miami on the last day of the regular season, they could be the odd team out.

Miami‘s schedule starts out soft and gets rough real fast. The Knicks, Boston twice, Minnesota, Toronto, Philadelphia, Brooklyn. Take one of two from the inconsistent Celtics and the Heat will feel pretty safe.

Orlando has to believe they’ve got a real chance to move up in the standings. Sixth place is not out of reach. A schedule of Indiana, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte has more penciled-in wins than any of the three teams ahead of them.

Charlotte looked like they were still in this race until they dropped a game to the Lakers. Now they have to face Golden State, Utah, and New Orleans on the road. At two games back, their season could be over before coming home to play Toronto and then getting their shot at Detroit and Orlando with what should be an easy win over the Cavs in between.

There is a very real possibility Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami, and Orlando all finish the season with a record of 40-42 and some unimaginable tie-breakers deciding their respective seeding.

  •  Detroit    40-42, (last 7: 2-5)
  •  Brooklyn 40-42, (last 6: 2-4)
  •  Miami      40-42, (last 7: 3-4)
  •  Orlando  40-42, (last 6: 3-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 37-45, (last 7: 2-5)

 

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

  photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

NBA New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis

Can Celtics Muscle Into The Anthony Davis Trade Talks?

It’s an open secret that the Boston Celtics want the Pelicans Anthony Davis, however, they are barred by rule from acquiring the superstar until July because of Kyrie Irving’s contract. Despite having the best assets to offer in trade, waiting patiently until the summer opens the door for the Lakers to scoop up Davis at the trade deadline, so Boston will have to muscle it’s way into the discussions now if they want to ensure this prize comes to them.

The Lakers can put together a package of players the Pels will be hard pressed to ignore. Per the ESPN trade machine:

NBA Lakers Pelicans

According to sources unauthorized to speak publicly on the deal, a Lakers offer for Davis would have to start with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and a first-round pick. Davis requested a trade from the Pelicans last week. –  Broderick Turner and Tania Ganguli, LA Times

The two teams can tinker with their preferred trade pieces, but at least one big Lakers contract will need to go to the Pels to make the trade math work and the Lakers can include a first round draft pick, so if no one steps up with a better offer, there is no reason for New Orleans to wait on Boston for a hoped-for better deal.

But Danny Ainge doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch. He can stick his nose in with two of the four first round picks he could be forced into using this summer plus an upgrade to the package the Pels could get if a three-way trade is possible?

Why would the Lakers entertain this? 1) LeBron James just might prefer to be reunited with Irving who must be shipped out if Davis is heading to Boston, and 2) doing a three-way deal could net them a first round draft pick and a deeper roster for this year’s postseason.

The Pelicans? Well, they get full value for Davis.

NBA Celtics Pelicans Lakers

The trade machine suggests everyone is slightly worse off, which can be an indication of a fair deal, but Boston gets to move Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown up a peg in their rotation and with Davis on board, they are, arguably, the NBA’s best shot at upsetting the Warriors (for real now).

The Pelicans get two players with future All-Star potential in Ball and Tatum, the rebuild looks more like a re-load.

Irving and James in L.A. is a core the Lakers management can believe in. This is a pair they can build around for a shot at a title during the King’s tenure. Besides, if the Pels are sold on Tatum over anyone the Lakers can offer and indicate they are willing to wait, this is probably as good as they can get.

There may be no better chance for the Pelicans to maximize their return for Davis than right now.

 

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 Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

Can DeMarcus Cousins Stay On The Court In Today’s NBA?

DeMarcus Cousins had a fabulous debut in L.A. against the Clippers with 14 points in 15 minutes while hitting three three-pointers. It’s obvious his offensive game fits with the Warriors style, but today’s NBA isn’t the same one this highly skilled big man left with a major injury last season. The League’s top fouler is going to have to find a way to stay on the court with referees on a mission to find reasons blow the whistle.

In his first game back, Cousins was called for two fouls in the first three minutes, picked up his third foul 32 seconds into the second quarter and got his fifth foul just 30 seconds into the fourth. NBA referees know Cousins and they know him for fouling early and often.

Cousins had been a top 10 player in personal fouls every season he’d played in the NBA until last year was cut short after just 48 games, but in 2017-18, he was on pace to lead the entire Association in fouls for the fourth time in eight years.

Ask the physical defenders around the NBA about how referees are applying the rules this season and they’ll tell you it’s a lot harder to defend without fouling this year. Scoring is up and it’s up for a reason and it’s on the players to adapt.

Now Cousins does not have to develop a big role to help a stacked Warriors team get back to the NBA Finals for a fifth straight year. Adding an unstoppable big man who fouls out early is scary enough to the rest of the Association. However, getting his personal foul rate down to a manageable level will be important to Cousins in July when he’ll be looking for a new long term max contract.

 

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 Kawhi Leonard

Beware The Spurs In Trade Talks For Kawhi Leonard

The rest of the NBA should know by now to beware of the San Antonio Spurs in trade talks and that includes Kawhi Leonard. When you are dealing with the Spurs, just accept the fact that somehow, someway you’re going to look bad afterwards.

There is perhaps nothing that gets NBA teams, their fans and the media more excited and willing to accept huge risks than the possibility of landing a true superstar talent and Leonard fits the description. No one is talking about this superstar’s injury history and it’s an annual event. (See Rotoworld)

Leonard was drafted in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and missed the Rising Stars Challenge game with a minor injury, but he played in 64 of the 66 games and that was the first and last time he got close to playing an entire season.

Over the next five years Leonard missed an average of 15 regular season games and the Spurs had every reason to believe last year shouldn’t have been any different as their doctors said he could play, but he didn’t and “choose” to sit out 73 contests.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games – so far. However, the big concern has got to be that right thigh as Leonard missed a month in November/December 2012 due to that one and it’s his right thigh that was was hurt in March 2016 and was the primary issue during all of last season.

The battle lines appear to be drawn around the Spurs team doctors who reportedly thought Leonard could play last year and Leonard’s own advisers suggesting he needed rest and recovery. When you’ve missed as many games as Leonard does each season, maybe Leonard was right? Then again, maybe the Spurs are starting to believe Leonard’s pain tolerance isn’t very high?

Suddenly an organization that never lets a star player escape is filling the rumor mill with trade proposals for a true franchise changing level talent. Not very Spurs-like and to the cynically minded, a huge warning sign.

Supposedly the trade offers for Leonard have been underwhelming so far, but maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how many games he played last season. Another superstar, DeMarcus Cousins, pretty much had to beg teams to make him an offer in free agency coming off an injury and Leonard’s injury situation isn’t nearly as straightforward as Cousins.

The end game in any trade for Leonard is to sign him to a new $200 million contract next summer, but if his past injury history is predictive of his future, the Spurs could be the big winners no mater what they get back in a trade.

Buyer beware.

 

 

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.

Confidently took vacation during the 2018 NBA Draft believing the Raptors weren’t about to do anything.

 

 

NBA Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

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

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

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

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

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

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

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

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

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

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors 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 Orlando Magic Khem Birch

Montreal’s Khem Birch Is Finishing His NBA Rookie Season Strong

It hasn’t been easy for Montreal’s Khem Birch to find minutes as an NBA rookie on an Orlando Magic team that features Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic at center, but as the season winds down, he has been getting his opportunities and he has looked especially strong over the past five games.

“He’s been playing great,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said prior to the team’s game in Toronto. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten to play this year he’s nailed it, just with great energy, great feel for the game offensively even though he’s not a big shooter.

“A post player, he has a little bit limited offensive game, but he hasn’t been a liability because of how well he plays with the pass. He’s very good in a short roll making a target pass, extra pass to the weak side, good decisions. Our bigs become quarterbacks and decision-makers when they get the ball in the pocket like that and he’s done a great job with that.

“He is active all over the court defensively with his hands, deflections, blocked shots and offensively keeping balls alive.

“Him playing overseas the last couple of years was invaluable to his development.”

Birch put up a line of 12 points and 12 rebounds in front of his friends and family in Toronto and has averaged 11 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 22.4 minutes over his last five games. His Mom was in the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“My Mom, my Dad, his wife, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, 11, 15 probably,” Birch said would be in Toronto to support him.

“(My Mom) already told me to make matching shirts and stuff.  I’m not really a fan of that, but what can you do. You can’t get mad people trying to support you. In the future I’ll look back and just be like wow, people really supported me. Now I’m just going to be embarrassed.”

He had nothing to be embarrassed about on that night.

Birch was in Toronto a couple of years ago for a predraft workout with the Raptors, but even after averaging a double-double at UNLV and blocking 124 shots that season, he wasn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA.

“I was kind of immature back then,” Birch explained. “Now I’m more mature. I’ve been thru a lot since then. These past two years I’ve been thru so much. If I had the same mindset now back then, I probably would have made it (to the NBA).

“A lot of guys take this for granted. I’ve been thru so much, now I know what it takes to make it. Not to take it for granted and to go hard.

“It’s a great experience, it’s a lifelong dream and it’s something on my bucket list (to play) in the NBA. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of wins this year, but I’m blessed to be here.”

If Orlando can figure out their mess of a roster, Birch should be back with the Magic again next season. The 25-year-old rookie has shown himself to be a prospect worth developing.

 

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

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Can Cavs Hold Onto Third In The East?

The battle for third place in the NBA East is tighter than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are crowded together with just one game separating third from fifth. So, can the Cavs hold on?

Cleveland 45-30, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Pelicans 43-32, Mavs 23-52, Raptors 55-20, Wizards 41-33, Knicks 27-49

On the road: @Philly 44-30, @NY 27-49

Philadelphia 44-30, 9-1 in their last 10 games

8 games remaining:

At home: Hawks 21-54, Nets 24-51, Cavs 45-30, Mavs 23-52, Bucks 39-35

On the road: @Charlotte 34-42, @Detroit 34-40,  @Atlanta 21-54

Indiana 44-31, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Warriors 54-20, Hornets 34-42

On the road: @Sacramento 24-51, @Clippers 41-34, @Denver 40-35, @Toronto 55-20, @Charlotte 34-42,

It’s obvious the Pacers have the toughest schedule and should be more worried about holding off the Wizards …. unless they want to slip into sixth place to avoid the 4/5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs which might not be all that bad of an idea.

Washington (41-33) still has to face the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics, so their road isn’t all that easy either.

Between the Cavs and 76ers, who each have 30 losses to this point, the 76ers have the significantly easier schedule and they’ve been red hot since losing to the Pacers two weeks ago. However, it wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise if the winner of their game vs the Cavs at Philips Arena decides who gets third.

The overhanging question about Cleveland’s season will probably be answered by the games against New Orleans, Toronto and Washington immediately before the big game against Philly. If the Cavs don’t take at least two of these three, the game at Philips might just be being played for pride.

If you have to speculate on who will finish third thru fifth in the East, right now it looks like 76ers, Cavs and Pacers in that order. Raptors and Celtics should plan accordingly.

 

 

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

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs LeBron James Has Already “Flipped The Switch”

There remains, albeit in diminishing numbers, those who insist the Cavs and LeBron James will simply “Flip The Switch” when the playoffs arrive and make yet another appearance in the NBA Finals. The issue being James had to flip that switch way back on February 7th just to slow a Cavs slide into oblivion.

On February 6th Cleveland rolled into Orlando only to be blown out 116-98 by a really bad Magic team. The loss punctuated a 7 win 14 loss slide that looked like it had no end and if not stopped, would put in question any chance at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs or, gasp, worse. In reality, home court in the first round remains at risk even now.

Fortunately Cleveland has one of the best players to ever play the game and he put those woefully inept Cavs on his shoulders and stopped the bleeding.

In the next game James put up 37 points on 72.7 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists to help the Cavs steal an overtime game 140-138 from Minnesota and start a four game winning streak where he was 30/9.5/13 and hitting 45.5 percent from three. Now that’s “flipping the switch.”

Ignore that big 10 player multi-team trade the Cavs reshuffled their roster with on February 8th. LeBron flipped that switch all on his own and it’s still turned on just to keep the in jury riddled Cavs from losing any more ground in the standings.

The four game winning streak ended with a loss at home to Washington, a team the Cavs needed to beat and are only clinging to a one game advantage over as of March 20, and James has had to average 30.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 9.4 assists just to keep the Cavs at a .500 pace, 7 wins and 7 losses.

Those past 14 games weren’t exactly against the best in the NBA either. Cleveland has only managed wins against Memphis (19-51), Brooklyn (23-48), Detroit (32-39), Denver (38-33), Phoenix (19-53), Chicago (24-46) and Milwaukee (37-33). (No they haven’t played any of Houston, Golden State, Toronto or Boston in this stretch – yet.)

The Cavs continue to cling to third place in the East, 11.5 games back of Toronto and 5 games behind Boston, but except for the two games against the Raptors at The Q their remaining schedule is soft enough for a James that has “flipped the switch” to protect his team’s precarious playoff seeding, a half game better than Indiana.

The Raptors likely don’t need to win either game in Cleveland to remain in first place, but they’d undoubtedly like to build on that 34 point beat-down they laid on the Cavs in January. The Cavs, on the other hand, need James to flip that switch up another level (assuming their is one) or risk going into the postseason looking like an also-ran for the first time since James’ return.

Raptors face the Cavs on March 21st and again on April 3rd.

Imagine if James slips back to those (very good) pre-flipped-the-switch averages of 24 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists during the Cavs 7-14 run?

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Charlotte Hornets Dwight Howard

Are The Hornets Throwing Shade At Dwight Howard?

So maybe things haven’t quite worked out in Charlotte the way they had hoped this season and Dwight Howard, the $23.5 million man they acquired in the summer to shore up the middle, hasn’t made any noticeable difference to winning more games. So as the season winds down to its inevitable conclusion, have the Hornets starting throwing shade in his direction?

As politely as head coach Steve Clifford could say it, getting 16 points and 12 rebounds from Howard this season hasn’t made a difference and, you know, the NBA is full of players that put up stats that don’t mean much on losing teams.

 
“So much of numbers is going to be, you are going to be evaluated first and foremost by your impact on winning,” Clifford said.

By the way, the 28-36 Hornets are in 10th place in the East, 5.5 games out of eighth place with only 18 games left in the season. Miami would have to implode to give the Hornets a remote shot at making the playoffs as a sub-.500 team at this point. It’s all over but the crying.

“The nature of this game is this is that you have to try and play in a way that is good for you and your team is successful. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the way it starts and that’s the way basketball should work. It always has and it always will.

“The NBA is made of a number of guys that put up good numbers and your not going to win because of the nature of how they play.

“I think that he has played well, but obviously we’ve been inconsistent.”

It wouldn’t be fair to lay all the blame for a poor season in Charlotte at the feet of Howard and his coach doesn’t do that, unfortunately for this 32-year-old eight time All-Star, his good personal numbers haven’t made a difference to team that was 36-46 last year. They are on track to hit that same disappointing mark all over again and Howard is under contract at $23.8 million next season.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.

An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).

John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 36-16 
Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 39-15
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.
Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE

Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).

The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.

In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.

Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.

It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.

For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).
 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs Suck

It hasn’t been a fun season for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and it’s only gotten worse since the Christmas Day loss in Golden State. To put it bluntly, with a record of 6 wins and 12 losses since the end of an 18-1 streak against the NBA’s also-rans, the Cavs suck.

It’s become the norm to see James hide his face in his hands after passing the ball to one of the Cavs brick-layers. He can’t hide his frustration and he’s stopped trying to. It’s affected his own play as well. Since when has it been normal for LeBron to get stripped or dribble the ball into the hands of an opponent?

Cleveland is not by any means out of contention. At 30-21 they are still seventh overall in the NBA and the only real risk they face is ending up in the unthinkable position of not having home court in the first round of the playoffs.

As bad as things look, and they look bad, the teams Cleveland is most likely to face in an opening playoff series aren’t giving them much trouble – except the Pacers who’ve taken three of four from the Cavs. Cleveland doesn’t want anything to do with Lance Stephenson (half joking) and the over-achieving Pacers in a first round match-up.

It’s the second round level of talent that’s concerning.

Since the 99-92 loss to the Dubs on December 25th, the Cavs have lost to:

  • @Celtics 102-88
  • @Raptors 133-99
  • Warriors 118-108
  • OKC 148-128
  • @Spurs 114-102
  • Rockets 120-88

The Cavs aren’t just losing to the better teams in the NBA, they aren’t even competing. This season, in games decided by 10 points or more, Cleveland has a losing 8-13 record and are the only team in the league’s top 11 teams with a losing record in games decided by double-digits.

It’s bad enough getting blown out on the road in Toronto by over 30 points, but losing by over 20 points in front of the now booing home crowd has to be especially disheartening.

Obviously something has to change and the easiest and usually cheapest way to give an under-achieving team a kick in the butt is to fire the coach. At this point, it couldn’t hurt.

The alternative is to trade away a rotation player or two, but with the way the Cavs have been playing, the guys they’d like to trade couldn’t have a lower value and no one should blame the organization for wanting to hang on to both of their first round draft picks. Unless James is willing to pick up his player option for next season, trading away draft picks would be border-line insanity.

With an estimated luxury tax bill of over $40 million, no team has committed more dollars to this season than the Cavs, so something has to give. The Cavs suck just isn’t acceptable.

 

 

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

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

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue

Will The Cavaliers Make A January Panic Move?

The slip-sliding Bucks have panicked and fired head coach Jason Kidd. The Hornets are trying to trade everybody in an attempt to dump bad deals. Are the Cavaliers next to make a January panic move?

The Cavs have lost 10 of their last 13 games. That they don’t defend was only emphasized by giving up an incredible 148 points to the Thunder in front of their home crowd at The Q. So is firing head coach Tyronn Lue the solution to waking up this group of highly talented but bickering and aging veterans? Or is a big trade on the horizon?

The Cavs have issues.

  • Lue doesn’t have much rebounding and his team is a net -2.5 boards per game.
  • Starter J.R. Smith is shooting 37.3 percent from the field and the Cavs are no longer dominating from the three-point line.
  • Isaiah Thomas is just getting back from injury, is rusty on offense (they hope) and never was a good defender

It’d be nice to get someone that could rebound and defend the rim plus maybe a guard that could score and isn’t a huge liability on defense.

But even accepting the Cavs have issues, this team is significantly under performing at 27-19. It’s hard to believe they won’t start playing better by the All-Star break if they can just stay the course. There is just too much talent here.

Fire the coach? Better check in with LeBron James first as everyone believes the King is the one that really determines what happens on the court. His own pleas to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are some good players being dangled in the trade market, but every GM can see what’s happening in Cleveland. The Cavs will be bargaining from a position of weakness and the players they are likely to be wanting to off load have questionable trade value at the moment to say the least.

So what do the Cavs have to trade?

The Brooklyn Nets unprotected 2018 first round draft pick has significant value. They also have their own first round pick, but can’t package them together as they traded their 2019 pick (top-10 protected) to the Hawks.

A couple of players on somewhat valuable expiring contracts:

  • Channing Frye $7.4 million, who barely plays anymore
  • Isaiah Thomas $6.3 million, do you really believe his leg is healed 100 percent and is he even the right fit on the defenseless Cavs?

Players they’d love to dump off themselves, but will undoubtedly have to include a draft pick just to start the conversation:

  • A slumping J.R. Smith $13.8 million, + 1 more year guaranteed +1 non-guaranteed
  • An injured Iman Shumpert $10.3 million + player option remaining

A couple of rookies that should attract some interest:

  • Cedi Osman $2.6 million
  • Ante Zizc $1.6 million

Reality is, anyone not named LeBron James could be available if the move has the potential to stop the bleeding.

A James’ favorite, Tristan Thompson $16.4 million + 2 more years, might have to go.

Even Kevin Love $22.6 million +1 more year + a player option is an unlikely possibility.

There may be no better target than the Charlotte Hornets who will part with Kemba Walker and he’s really good. Unfortunately the price will be taking on a player with a big contract few teams will be able to stomach.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out:

Overloaded with bad contracts and untradable assets, the Charlotte Hornets have made All-Star point guard Kemba Walker available in trade discussions

The Hornets had already made available Nicolas Batum (four years, $100 million), Dwight Howard (two years, $47 million), Marvin Williams (three years, $42 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (three years, $39 million), league sources said, but those players and their contracts are largely unattractive in the marketplace.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has gone deep into luxury tax territory and even deeper into the red from a financial standpoint to get LeBron James into the NBA Finals for three straight years and if he wants to have any hope of keeping the King around past this season, he’ll have to commit to keep losing money and getting back to the Finals year-after-year.

The opportunity to land a player like Walker should look like a godsend.

Walker is earning  a bargain $12 million salary with another year left on his deal, but the Hornets will be pushing the Cavs would take on the nearly $100 million still owing to the under performing Nicolas Batum.

Batum hasn’t lived up to his promise, so he’s a big gamble, but Gilbert hasn’t exactly been afraid to gamble. However, Batum isn’t going to solve the Cavs rebounding woes and there is another player the Hornets would consider packaging with Walker.

The oft maligned Dwight Howard ($23.5 million + 1 year remaining) is  averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and a top five 12.6 rebounds. He’s also in the top 10 for blocks at 1.6. Maybe he’s “soft” but Howard is a true center and at the moment, he’s a big missing piece in the Cavs roster.

The Cavs should be working hard to land Walker before some other team snaps him up. A healthy 2017 All-Star point guard averaging over 20 points, 5 assists, 3 boards and shooting 35 percent from three isn’t that easy to find.

The Cavs have also been linked to the Clippers Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan. That pair could make a huge difference in Cleveland. The only issue being, unlike the Hornets, the Clips are just a half game out of a playoff spot. They shouldn’t be all that interested in tanking for what the Cavs can send back.

The rumor mill has suggested George Hill ($20 million + 1 year + 1 year not guaranteed) could help Cleveland and he’d be a solid veteran add, especially if the Kings will take back some of Cleveland’s junk. To be determined.

As much as the Cavaliers, and a lot of other NBA teams, go through a January funk and feel pushed into to doing something, anything to get out of it, the question in Cleveland really is, will they make a panic move?

Gilbert could be losing money and not getting to the NBA Finals for years if he gambles. If he doesn’t gamble, he could lose LeBron James.

 

 

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.