Category Archives: NBA Columns

In-depth articles about players and events in the NBA

You are here: Home / NBA Columns
NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks to the media after the game 5 loss to the Raptors in Toronto

76ers Bet Big Men Will Win The NBA East

It’s only “opening week” in the NBA, but the Philadelphia 76ers sent a message in their home opener against the Celtics, small ball is out and big MEN will determine who will win the East.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps grasped what was going on in Philly right away.

The Philadelphia 76ers spent the offseason building a team focused on a very specific identity: being big and physical and imposing their will on their opponents at both ends of the court.

“Overall the mentality was to go in and [play] ‘smashmouth basketball,’ as coach says, and I think we did a pretty good job,” Sixers forward Matisse Thybulle said.

The object of the game was to wear the undersized Celtics down and as the game wore on, it became obvious the strategy was working. Even without the kind of shooting most teams in the NBA have tried to build around, Philly has the size and athleticism to make life miserable for guard oriented clubs.

Now whether or not “smash-mouth basketball” will get the 76ers past a Bucks team with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, and Robin Lopez is yet to be determined, but Milwaukee won’t be easily intimated and the NBA defending champion Toronto Raptors should be absolutely elated for an opportunity to play this style of play against a team that no longer has the shooting and play-making of Jimmy Butler.

The Raptors don’t have the dominance of a Kawhi Leonard at small forward anymore, but size is something they match up really well against. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are two guys no one is going to push around and Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby give them size, speed and skill at the forward spots. Head coach Nick Nurse must have seen the 76ers strategy coming as he’s already been experimenting with a lineup featuring all four of these bigs on the floor at the same time.

There should be a lot of enthusiasm for the gantlet 76ers head coach Bret Brown has thrown down. Small ball and threes are great for fantasy basketball, but smash-mouth interior ball combined with strategy and skill is a lot more fun to watch.

 

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. 

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Paul George

Clippers Bet Their Future On An Injured Paul George

Apparently the price of admission to land the Raptors free agent Kawhi Leonard was a second superstar and the Clippers bet their future in a big way to pull Paul George off the Thunder in a trade that should remind everyone of a Nets team in 2013 that gave up their future for a shot at a championship.

The Clippers are sending Oklahoma City their unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025, per ESPN

That’s a massive haul of five first round draft picks and two potentially very valuable pick swaps for George who could miss all of training cap and preseason recovering from a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder and  a torn labrum in his left shoulder per rotoworld

No one is suggesting George won’t recover and play well next season, but in OKC George didn’t win 50 games in either season or see his team get by the first round of the playoffs with a pretty solid roster and an MVP running mate in Russell Westbrook.

Like the Celtics, who got three first round draft picks and the 2017 pick swap that became first overall from the Nets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Thunder, who got an even bigger haul for George, could come out of this trade looking pretty good a few years from now.

As an added bonus, if the Thunder can dump $9.6 million of payroll, they can finally escape luxury tax hell after spending almost $90 million in tax over the past two seasons with George on the roster. If you’re sitting in OKC, you should be feeling pretty good about this trade.

It’s assumed Leonard was the puppet master pulling the strings behind the scenes to force the Clippers into the George trade and with the move they are now the L.A. team favored to win it all next season. High risk, high return, but in today’s NBA that’s what it takes to make you a real contender.

 

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 Paul Saini

 

 

 

Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant 2019 NBA Finals game 5

By Going All-In The Warriors Sabotaged Their Dynasty

It’s admirable that Golden State fought to the very end of the NBA Finals, never giving up hope, but by going all-in the Warriors have sabotaged their dynasty and opened the door for the rest of the West to stake their own claim next season.

And it didn’t have to happen. Whether Kevin Durant stayed or left in free agency this team had a chance to get back to the Finals again next season if only they could have accepted their inevitable defeat at the hands of the Raptors.

Now, instead of trying to re-sign a healthy Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to new long-term deals in July, the Warriors are now faced with some very difficult decisions.

There should be no argument that the dozen minutes Durant gave to the Warriors in game five before he was injured wasn’t critical if not the major reason their season was extended to a game six. However, it doesn’t even take hindsight to question if Durant should have played at all. The words coming from head coach Steve Kerr the day before made it obvious this was a bad idea.

“He’s going to practice with us today,” Kerr said when asked if Durant was any closer to being able to play. “He’ll get some extra work in with some of our younger players. We’ll gauge it from there.

“what he’s going to do today he hasn’t done”

So Durant, who hadn’t played since the second round of the playoffs and had just been cleared to practice with some of the young guys for the first time since then, was under serious consideration to play in the NBA Finals. If that isn’t rolling the dice, what is?

Even Kerr had words of caution, words he choose to ignore, immediately prior to the start of  game five.

“We’ll start him and play him in short bursts and see how he responds physically,” Kerr explained.  “I don’t want to put too much of a burden on him. It’s been a while, we don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Well, now we know.

Durant started and played six minutes before Kerr subbed him out for a brief 2 minute 17 second rest before putting him back in for his final six minutes before tearing his Achilles.

It’s easy to understand the pressure Kerr was under, the Warriors were a lot better with Durant on the court, but those weren’t short bursts, Durant was carrying a heavy burden and everyone knew it.

The Warriors had gone all-in for a chance to turn a Finals on the verge of slipping away around and while no one could have predicted the specific terrible injury that Durant suffered, it’s hardly a stretch to say everyone knew there was a real risk of something bad happening.

There never should have been a game six back in Oracle. This series should have ended in Toronto in game five and no reasonable person would have blamed Durant for not playing or Kerr, the medical staff or President Bob Myers for holding him out.

“You can blame me,” Myers said after the game.

No problem, as the person responsible for Warriors basketball operations, Myers is ultimately to blame.

The unforeseen impact of Durant’s sacrifice in game five was the Warriors would lose Klay Thompson to a torn ACL in game six. While there’s no one to blame or even second guess when it comes to Thompson’s injury, it occurred in a game that, but for going all-in, never would have been played.

Both Durant and Thompson are expected to miss most of, if not the entire, 2019-20 NBA season and while Durant could opt in to his $31 million player option and potentially allow the Warriors to cover part of his salary with insurance, both players are anticipated to enter free agency expecting max deals to be on the table for them.

Without at least one of Durant or Thompson playing next season the Warriors will be knocked down a peg and the the cost to keep both players on new max contracts represents a financial burden even a billionaire will find tough to swallow. Ownership will face some very tough decisions this July.

However, you can’t be mad at Golden State for going all-in, that’s what every fan hopes their franchise is willing to do when it comes to winning Championships, but it came at a cost. This five year dynasty has been sabotaged and it will take a huge financial commitment and no small measure of luck to get it back to the level it was at prior to game five in Toronto.

 

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.

 

 

 

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr 2019 NBA Finals

Kevin Durant Will Start For The Warriors, But

An hour before game time Warriors head coach finally confirmed all the speculation, Kevin Durant will play in game five, but it wasn’t until the third query that Kerr admitted Durant would start.

“Are we really going to go into it that deeply?” Kerr responded to the opening question. “He can play now. He’s been cleared, so he’s going to play.

“We’ll start him and play him in short bursts and see how he responds physically, see if his wind is okay and as the game goes, we’ll try to figure it out from there,” Kerr responded when asked how Durant will help Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  (oops?)

Kerr admitted he really doesn’t know what he can get from Durant, but he knows what he hopes he can get.

“I don’t want to put too much of a burden on him,” Kerr stated. “It’s been a while, we don’t know how it’s going to go, how it’s going to look, but just his mere presence makes a huge difference for us.

“I’m more hoping that Kevin’s return can sort of normalize the bench players’ roles.

“Kevin’s insertion changes quite a bit for us and so we have an idea of how we’re going to play and what our rotation will look like, and of course I’m not going to tell you.”

However, what Kerr is really banking on is his team just playing better than they have so far in this series.

“We got to cut down our turnovers,” Kerr said. “We had 19 the other game, and got to improve our defense.

“We do those two things, I like our chances.”

Kerr isn’t wrong. If the Warriors defense remains suspect and they keep turning the ball over so much, even Durant at 100 percent won’t matter.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors We The North and the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy at the pre-series media party

Toronto Raptors First Of Three Chances For A Championship

Everyone in Toronto wants to see the Raptors close out the Golden State Warriors in game five and no player wants to give their opponent a second chance, but this is just the first of three opportunities to win an NBA Championship for We The North.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “We got to keep some focus and improve on some things and make some adjustments and do the work. I think there’s a lot of basketball to be played yet. Again, we try to ignore what the score in the series is and be more concerned with making it a one-game series, if we can.”

There are no guarantees in pro sports and the Raptors have had first hand experience with losing games they could’ve should’ve won in every series they’ve played in during this year’s playoffs. It’s good to have second and third chances.

“(Our players) know there’s work to be done,” Nurse said. “I just think they just know there’s not a whole lot of energy to spend on celebrating before time. Let’s hope we understand that. We’re going to see tomorrow night. We have handled it so far, and let’s see if we can handle it again.”

The best player in the NBA Finals knows what his Raptors have to do in game five to end this series.

“Just stay in the same routine and just focus what’s in front of me,” Leonard said. “Obviously, as you said, human beings, we do think in the future. Been thinking in the future since the beginning of the season, just trying to get to this point. You just got to stay current and stay in your routine, be patient and not rush anything.

“It is pressure with any game. I don’t think it’s any added pressure to it. We still have to go out there and play a basketball game. Whatever game or significance of the game or time, you always want to play great defense and make a shot. It’s pretty much just a title over it right now.  Just go out and play. Play it, enjoy it and whatever happens we’ll see the results.”

And in a few short months the Raptors have gone from being All-Star Kyle Lowry’s team to following in the very big shoes worn by Leonard. They get their collective sense of calm from The Klaw, he’s just the same every practice, every game.

“Probably Kawhi, Nick Nurse, Danny, Marc. I think we just have a bunch of guys that are in the moment, understanding that we’re just going to keep playing and keep working,” Lowry said.

” We didn’t do nothing yet. We haven’t done anything. We still got to get one more win. It’s the first to four. You got champions coming in here and they’re going to play their butts off and play extremely hard. “

The thing to remember in Toronto is anything can happen in one game and that’s what the Warriors are hanging onto.

“Being down 3-1 in The Finals. We haven’t been in this position before in The Finals,” Stephen Curry said. “But for us it’s just a matter of, can you win one basketball game right now?

“Can you go out tomorrow, play an amazing 48 minutes, quiet this crowd that’s going to be probably unbelievable tomorrow, and slow down a team that’s been playing amazing, especially these last two games, and just win one basketball game and take it from there?”

Toronto is heavily favored to to win their first NBA Championship in game five, but in case everyone has forgotten, the Raptors are 3-0 in Golden State this season and will get another kick at the can if the Warriors put together an “unbelievable” effort in game five. And if that doesn’t go the Raptors way, there’s always game seven back in Toronto on Sunday.

That’s three chances to win a championship for a team with the patience and sense of calm to end this series in game five.

 

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 Golden State Warriors Draymond Green 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Are Questioning If They Can Outscore The Raptors

Is the old adage of Defense Wins Championships still true in today’s NBA? Well after scoring 109 points three games in a row and only squeezing out one win, the one-time defensive juggernaut Golden State Warriors are beginning to remember how they really won three of the past four NBA titles.

“For the most part I liked the way that we played offensively,” Stephen Curry said about game three. “I don’t think that’s going to be the issue for us to win. It’s all about our defense.

With a nod to Captain Obvious, if the Warriors give up 118 points like they did in game one in Toronto or 123 points like they did in game three at home, the likelihood of winning isn’t very high. The Warriors defensive rating in the Finals has been an unfathomable 116.2 and if that doesn’t come down dramatically, it isn’t going to matter who comes back from injury to save them.

“Any time you make it to the NBA Finals, you’re playing against another great team,” Draymond Green said. “So it’s always going to be challenging.

“We can sit and talk about the injuries until we’re blue in the face, it’s not going to change how Kevin’s calf feels or how Looney (feels).”

No one questions the Warriors ability to score, with or without the services of Kevin Durant, and even before Durant arrived on the the scene, the Warriors had built a roster that was the best on defense even as they piled up points from long range. But that was then and things have changed. This year it would be more than fair to question the Dubs defensive focus during the regular season (108.5 defensive rating) and, more importantly, in their playoff run thru the Western Conference (110.8).

Defense wins in the playoffs, especially in The Finals,” head coach Steve Kerr acknowledged. “So we got to play better defense.”

As off right now, a Raptors defensive rating of 110.5 thru the first three games has been good enough, even if it’s up dramatically from the 102.9 they put up as they ran thru the East.

The Warriors can score points. Klay Thompson and his deadly three-point shooting will be back for game four after missing game three, but it’s his defense his team needs.

“Just being able to guard their guards out there,” Thompson explained after sitting out game three with a sore hammy. “They looked comfortable yesterday. They were playing in great rhythm. So it makes you mad. You want to get out there and stop them. I’ll try and do that tomorrow (game four).”

As a reminder, the Raptors looked pretty comfortable in game one with a healthy Thompson on the court and hoping their guards will miss open shots like Toronto did in game two really isn’t a reliable strategy. All of the Warriors need to step up their defensive effort.

“If we’re going to keep scoring 109, we got to keep them to 108 and that’s the biggest thing,” Kerr said.

 

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 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. 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard by Larry Millson 2019 playoffs

Can The Warriors Defense Stop Anybody Anymore?

The Golden State Warriors earned a reputation for defense over their five year dominance of the NBA, but this year is different. KD or no KD, it’s valid to question if this version of the champs can stop anyone anymore?

No one questions the ability of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to put up big numbers and Kevin Durant only makes the Warriors’ offense even more dangerous, but this year teams scored on Golden State during the regular season at a lofty 108.5 points per 100 possessions and during the playoffs that’s ballooned to 110.8.

Head coach Steve Kerr can moan about transition points given up and Draymond Green can say he has to play better defensively against Pascal Siakam, but this team has been easy to score on all season and throughout the playoffs.

NBA Golden State Warriors Defensive Ratings 2015-2019

Last year Golden State put a sub-par defensive regular season behind them to become the best defensive team in the postseason, holding opponents under 100 points 10 times in 21 games including a stretch of five in a row. This year, they’ve only managed to accomplish the task trice, and two of the under 100 point defensive efforts were against the depleted and over-matched Trail Blazers.

The last couple of trips to the NBA Finals were against a Cavaliers team that was playing a weak brand of defense equal to what the Warriors have been up to this year.

In contrast the Raptors have won with defense this postseason, holding teams under 100 points 11 times in 19 games including a stretch of six in a row. They can argue it’s really 12 times as the Bucks only scored 96 points before that game headed to overtime.

Is it any wonder Kerr keeps saying the Raptors are built a lot like his team? We all have a tendency to live in the past.

“They’re very long and athletic, they’re tough, they get after you and they play well together,” Kerr said. “They got a lot of versatility. I think they’re actually a lot like our team, they can switch and guard different positions and that sort of thing.

“We got to play better if we’re going to beat them.”

What the Dubs have to do is find their defensive moxie of last year and show everyone they can still stop teams from scoring.

 

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 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.