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DeRozan and Pierce

Raptors To Face Wizards As Hawks Punt Game To Bulls

Don’t say no one saw this coming. The Toronto Raptors easily defeated the Hornets 92-87 to claim a franchise record 49th win and the Atlanta Hawks punted an 18 point lead in the third quarter to lose to the Bulls 91-85. The gift from the visitors gave Chicago third place in the Eastern Conference and means the first place Hawks avoid a likely second round matchup with the Bulls. Instead, the Hawks will get the winner between the fourth place Raptors and the fifth place Wizards in the second round.

The Hawks must have decided they wanted to play Toronto in the second round instead of Chicago as seldom used John Jenkins, Elton Brand and Austin Daye played the entire fourth quarter combining to go 0-8 from the field and scoring just 1 point. Reserves Mike Muscala and Shelvin Mack soaked up most of the remaining minutes and shot 4-10 to put up 9 points in a 13 point quarter. With this unit on the floor to close out the game, the Hawks went over 4 minutes without scoring a point to give up the lead and then only managed to score 7 points over the final 5 minutes of the game. The Bulls scored 21 points over the final 12 minutes to pull out the win.

It’s not like the Hawks were forced to go deep into their bench. No starter played more than 27.2 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. Al Horford had 14 points and 7 rebounds shooting 7-10 from the field in 22 minutes. Jeff Teague shot 5-11 for 10 points in 22.7 minutes and Dennis Schroder had come off the bench to score 21 points in 16.7 minutes, but he was quickly sat down in the fourth quarter after hitting an early three-ball. The Hawks got what they wanted in this game in every sense of the word – Practice, rest and no possibility of seeing the Bulls again before the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Toronto the Raptors lead by as many as 17 points and never really lost control of this contest from the tip. Head coach Dwane Casey stuck with a tight nine man rotation, only giving Lou Williams the night off to rest. Kyle Lowry worked on his long ball and defense, finding the range from beyond the arc six times as he scored a game high 26 points. Jonas Valanciunas practiced his post moves on Bismack Biyombo and scored 18 points on 9-11 shooting. The Raptors got in the work they needed at both ends of the court in preparation for the postseason.

Prior to the game, there was a story that the fifth place Wizards Paul Pierce had said the Raptors don’t have ‘it’ which created a lot of interest from the Raptors players. At the end of the Raptors-Hornets game, the Bulls were still playing and DeMar DeRozan suggested Pierce had better hope for the right outcome or he’d find out what the ‘it’ is.

“Paul Pierce, he always got to say something,” DeRozan said. “He said something last year. He just got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says. He just better to hope that Chicago – however it has to work – win or something so he won’t see what the it is.”

The Raptors played against Pierce (with the Nets) last year in the first round of the playoffs. There is nothing like a genuine rivalry between players to spice up a playoff series and we have the Hawks to thank for making it happen.

 

 
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.

 

 

 

Rose and Teague

Hawks To Choose Between Raptors And Bulls Tonight

The Atlanta Hawks will almost certainly get to decide who they will face in the second round of the NBA playoffs on the last day of the regular season. A loss to the Bulls puts Chicago in third place and headed to a second round matchup with the Cavs. A Hawks win likely hands the Raptors third and puts the Hawks on a collision course with the Bulls in round two.

The Toronto Raptors will be going for a franchise record 49th win in front of their home crowd against a listless Hornets team that’s lost five in a row including an 18-point loss to Toronto a week ago. The final score flattered the Hornets. The Raptors had held them to just 45 points over three-quarters and coasted in for the win.

Even if Toronto rested their starters tonight – which isn’t expected – the Hornets aren’t likely to put up enough of a fight to matter.

Atlanta will even have the benefit of knowing if the Raptors have tied the Bulls with 49 wins about an hour before their own game at the United Center has finished – not that they should care. The first-place Hawks have no reason to be playing any of their starters later than midway through the third quarter and that’s if they don’t just decide to rest their entire starting unit. They have every reason to be protecting their key players from possible injury at this point. They are not going to become ‘rusty’ between now and the weekend.

A cynic might suggest the Bulls and Raptors have been carefully working their way towards the three, four finish that now seems likely. Chicago hasn’t fared well against the Hawks and while the Raptors won three of four against Atlanta that hasn’t even slowed the speculation that Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls will be tougher postseason opponent.

Waiting in the wings to mess with whatever ‘plans’ Atlanta may have in pre-selecting a second round opponent is fifth place Washington.

The Raptors swept the Wizards this year and took three of four last season. No matter how much love Washington gets from the TV analysts, the Raptors haven’t seemed to notice they aren’t suppose to just plain own the Wizards.

Last season the Bulls drew the Wizards in the first round and couldn’t stop them from scoring. This year they split the regular season 2-2, but were outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game. The Bulls have solid reasons to go all out for the win at home tonight in order to avoid going to Washington.

The NBA tries to get every game that matters on the final day of the regular season to end at the same time to avoid teams picking their postseason opponent, but with the Raptors and Bulls, it probably isn’t going to matter.

It would be a shock if Toronto didn’t win its’ franchise record 49th game in front of the home crowd leaving things up to the game between Atlanta and the Bulls to determine if Chicago winds up in third – but it’s probably just up to Atlanta.

Unless the Hawks really want to set up the possibly of a second round tilt against the Chicago, they have no reason to try and send a message to the Bulls tonight as giving their key players at least some time off has far more value. The Bulls on the other hand have every reason to want to go out with a win in front of the home crowd and that probably suits Atlanta just fine.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Irving and Teague

Disrespecting The Hawks And Overrating The Cavaliers?

The Atlanta Hawks have cruised to a 60 win season in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Unchallenged, they’ve been resting starters for over a month now, so why all the blatant disrespect about their chances to come out of the East? It isn’t hard to find an answer. LeBron James has led the Cavaliers back to respectability, but is everyone overrating the thrown together Cavaliers chances versus the experienced and cohesive Hawks?

This season’s success didn’t appear out of nowhere for Atlanta. This will be the Hawks eighth consecutive trip to the postseason. The starting lineup (suspended) GM Dan Ferry put together features players in the prime of their careers, players with a lot of postseason experience.

Kyle Korver – 67 postseason games
Paul Millsap – 55 postseason games
Al Horford – 48 postseason games
Jeff Teague – 36 postseason games
DeMarre Carroll – 11 postseason games

There are no playoff rookies in the Hawks starting lineup and even the guys who will come in off the bench have been in the playoffs at once before. This group won’t be rattled or surprised by what they are about to face.

It’s fair to say a team is as good as their record, and unchallenged at 60 wins, the Hawks should be getting a lot more respect.

After four trips to the Lottery, the Cavaliers are relevant again, but only because of James. This 50+ win team went 2-10 in games without James on the court and he is the only player still in the prime of his career that the Cavs can really turn to for some playoff savvy – unless they are planning to rely on J.R. Smith to provide some leadership?

Kyrie Irving – 0 postseason games
Kevin Love – 0 postseason games
Timofey Mozgov – 5 postseason games
J.R. Smith – 51 postseason games
LeBron James – 158 postseason games

What James brings to any team in experience and talent is immense, but unlike those teams in Miami, in the Cavs starting unit, he’s completely unique.

The apparent depth of experience on the Cavaliers bench could prove to be misleading. Tristan Thompson nearly plays starters minutes and has no postseason experience. The Cavs will need his rebounding just to make it to the Conference Finals. They will also likely need Matthew Dellavedova to set up in his first trip to the postseason as well making four key players on this roster that have never been here before and will need to perform like they have.

The hope in Cleveland could come down to if some guys in their mid-thirties – Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones – can provide that playoff experience and stabilizing force if (and when) the pressure the mounts. Whether or not they can still do is to be determined. Iman Shumpert’s timely return from a right quad injury could prove to be more impactful to the Cavs playoff success.

Even James was careful not to oversell what to expect from the Cavs in their first season as a unit. Wise words from a player that’s been there and done that.

When the playoffs start, it’s all about the hype. There is a clean slate for every team that made it to the dance, but how a team has played in the regular season and what postseason experience they bring to the table still matters. Cinderella doesn’t often make it past the first round and inexperience is a killer in the postseason.

Based on their record and experience, the Hawks should be favored to make it out of the East. Anything less is disrespectful. James can and probably will carry the Cavaliers farther than his own words of caution suggest, but to anoint them as the best team in the East is overrating what they’ve brought to the table. Cleveland has a tough mountain to climb if they are to escape their own conference in their first season together and that isn’t overstating things.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

TOR_Williams_Lou

Raptors Return To Atlanta To Show Who’s The Boss

By Frank McLean

If you are a Toronto Raptors fan, you have to love Friday night’s 105-80 beat down of the Eastern Conference leading Hawks right in Atlanta. The victory gave Toronto a 3-1 win in the season series.

When they arrived in Atlanta, the Raptors were still reeling from 110-89 loss to the Hawks in Toronto on January 16th. In that game the Raptors totally forgot to play defense in the second half and gave the game to the Hawks by turning the ball over 19-times.

On Friday night they turned the tables. They closed the paint to the Hawks making life difficult for all-star guard Jeff Teague to drive to the hoop and Atlanta’s usually lethal 3-point shooting went ice cold.

Toronto led by just 4-points at halftime, but they held the Hawks to just 13-points in the third quarter and led by 19 going into the fourth. In other words this game was pretty much over.

The Hawks turned the ball over a shocking 23 times Friday night. As a team the Hawks were just 8-for-38 behind the 3-point line and Kyle Korver was as frigid as the winter weather on east coast going just 2-for-11. The Hawks find their success when sharing the ball, but Toronto’s defense held them to just 19-assists.

Raptors Head Coach Dwayne Casey was pleased with his team’s effort.

“Our defense, mainly starting in that third quarter, came out with an intensity we needed,” Casey said. “We were in the same spot we were in that game in Toronto, close for two quarters and then they came out and busted it open in the third. That was our challenge at halftime, not to let that happen. Our guys came out and dug in and met that challenge. That’s the way we have to play.”

Two other factors that played a major part in the Raptors win were DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams.

DeRozan wasn’t selected to this year’s All-Star team. He was there last year, but missing 21-games in the first half the season due to injury hurt his chances. Friday night he came out and scored the Raptors first 8-points of the game and finished with 21-points and 8-rebounds. He let people know that he is still one of the best guards in the NBA.

Atlanta native and former Hawk Williams reminded his old team that they made a mistake by trading him to Toronto. Williams scored a game-high 26-points and made a career-high 7 three-point shots on 10 attempts from beyond the arc. Back on November 26th, in the Raptors last visit to Atlanta, Williams chipped in with 22-points in that win. The Raptors are now 11-and -1 when Williams is Raptors leading scorer in a game and 16-and-3 when he scores at least 18-points.

You might think the Hawks wished they had a little Sweet Lou Friday night, but this really all goes back to the Raptors loss in January in Toronto. The Raptors were embarrassed at home and there was a little payback this time around. They were not going to let it happen two times in a row, but as Casey always says, “today’s game is just one-in-82.”

So it’s on to Houston Saturday night and the Raptors first of two meetings this year with the Rockets and NBA’s leading scorer James Harden. Friday night was the start of four games in five nights on the road and 9-of-11 away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto is now 16-8 on the road this season and they will have to keep playing a stifling defensive road game if they want to have any success in this year’s playoffs.

 

 

Veteran 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.

 

 

BKN_Kidd_JasonMilwaukee Bucks, How The Heck Do They Keep Winning?

You got to hand it to the Milwaukee Bucks. A team that was considered a major rebuilding project at the start of the season with a brand new coach in Jason Kidd, not much was expected from this club, but after their 82-75 win in Toronto Monday night over the Raptors, they have now racked off 4-straight wins. – Frank McLean

 

Teague Harden Nowitzki

Raptors Resolve To be Severely Tested After The Break

The 36-17 Toronto Raptors hold down second place in the Eastern Conference, leading the Chicago Bulls by 2.5 games, but you’d hardly know it from the buzz around the NBA and their resolve to hold onto that spot is about to be severely tested. Toronto starts a four-games-in-five-nights series on the road against teams with a combined winning percentage of 66 percent and they kick things off against the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

It might seem strange, but the Raptors could actually be looking forward to the trip.

“I think we do better on the road honestly,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Me and Kyle (Lowry) was talking about that one day. We feel that we are the underdogs again when we are on the road. We just feel that everybody is against us and we thrive off that pressure. It’s just us when we go out there. It’s 15 guys and the coaches against everybody in the arena.”

The Raptors get slagged for building up their record against bad teams and playing in the relatively weak Eastern Conference, but everything isn’t as it appears or maybe those disparaging the team’s record are just lazy?

Toronto, at 14-12, is one of just six teams in the NBA with a winning record against other winning teams. The others being Atlanta (19-7), Chicago (15-11), Golden State (17-7), Memphis (17-11) and Houston (15-14). The Raptors are 8-6 against the six winning teams in the East and 5-5 against the top eight in the West. Toronto has held their own against the best in the NBA this season. They have also been almost as good away (15-8) as at home (21-9) with big road victories over Cleveland, Atlanta, the Clippers, Bucks and Wizards.

This upcoming four game road trip could be described as at another level, however.

Friday in Atlanta against the 43-11 Hawks represents a test of Toronto’s early season dominance of the East’s best team. Toronto holds a 2-1 series advantage and beat the Hawks in Atlanta 126-115 on November 26, but lost the last match in Toronto 110-89. A win in Atlanta now would go a long ways to establishing the Raptors as a Conference Finals contender.

Where Atlanta plays the team game, to beat Houston on Saturday will require the Raptors to somehow, someway slow down the Association’s leading scorer James Harden. The Rockets and Raptors have identical 36-17 records and they both own winning records against other winning teams. This should be a close game.

After a day off, Toronto visits the 27-26 New Orleans Pelicans. Losers of four of their past five games prior to All-Star weekend including three-in-a-row to Chicago, Utah and Indiana, the Pelicans are at risk of sliding even further back into the NBA’s Draft Lottery (which probably isn’t a bad thing). This should be the easiest game of the four (with some trepidation.) Ryan Anderson (sore elbow) and Anthony Davis (sore shoulder) were still as questionable after the break and Jrue Holiday (right leg) is out indefinitely. The Pelicans season is about to go down under the weight of injuries once again.

The Raptors finish off the road trip in Dallas against the 36-20 Mavericks with Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo back in the lineup and newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire expected to come off the bench. Dallas, for all of their firepower (106 points per game), has a losing record against winning teams and is obviously searching for the tweak that will make them a serious threat in the playoffs. It shouldn’t take long to find out if Stoudemire is that tweak.

As long as the Raptors manage a 2-2 split or better, the trailing Bulls, Wizards and Cavs will not be able to catch them during the road trip and an even split would represent a solid result for Toronto. However, of the four teams they are facing, only Atlanta has the better record and in the Raptors two previous sets of four-games-in-five nights, they have collected seven wins to just one loss.

Playing back-to-back games has been a Raptors strength this season. They have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. These next two back-to-back sets are going to severely test that record.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Casey close up Media Day looking downRaptors Coach Casey Reminds Doubters He’s Been Here Before

“I’ve been there before, winning 60 games, winning a championship. I know what it takes. I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but I do and probably a lot of people in here don’t believe it, but I do. I promise you,” Casey said.

 

 

Raptors bench 1 by Paul Saini FYLMMHow Tough Are The Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. In the withering four games in five nights sets, Toronto has seven wins in eight games including the back-to-back overtime wins over the Nets and Wizards on the road last weekend.

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

Atlanta Hawks Are Set To Stretch Their Lead In The East

The Atlanta Hawks right now are the best story in the NBA. Friday night in Toronto, the Hawks came into the Air Canada Centre and schooled the Raptors to a tune of 110-89. The win was their 11th straight on the road, adding to their franchise record, and their 11th straight overall. The last time the Hawks won 11 straight was back in the 1997-1998 season.

So when the Hawks woke up Saturday morning in their hotel in Chicago, where they will play the Bulls that night, they were 32-8 atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference and a five full games in front of the Washington Wizards, and five and half up on the Raptors and Bulls.

So what has been the turn-around for the Hawks? Legendary Hawks player and broadcaster Dominique Wilkins answered that very question before Friday’s tilt with the Raptors.

“We have 10 guys that can shoot the basketball and we play outstanding defense,” Wilkins said.

The shooting part showed up in Friday’s game. The Hawks shot an amazing 64-per cent from the field, stumping Toronto’s defense all night. They were also 12-21 from behind the three point line. Early in the game the Hawks could see that the Raptors could not defend from behind the arc. So when they had the chance DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver just let it fly.

The Hawks also choked the Raptors offense in the first half, holding them to just 19-points in each of the first and second quarters. The Hawks closed out the first half on a 14-6 run.

When you talk to the Hawks players they know they have a chance to make a statement.

“We have a chance to do something special this time,” Hawks star center Al Horford said. “We have to keep getting better and it’s up for us to keep playing well and (not) be satisfied. We are half way there and we got to keep going”.

After their game in Chicago Saturday night, the Hawks return to Atlanta for a seven game homestand, their longest of the season. The Hawks own the best home record in the East at 16-3.

Six of seven teams coming into town have a record of below .500. The toughest game and the one everyone will be watching is January 30th against the second place team in Western Conference, the Portland Trail-Blazers.

So it doesn’t look like these Hawks are going away anytime soon. And they will be a story we will be watching for the rest of this season.

 

 

Veteran 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.

 

 

Valanciunas and Horford

Raptors at Hawks – The Postgame Show With Co-host James Borbath

Dino BloggerJoin Pro Bball Report Editor Stephen Brotherston and Dino Nation’s James Borbath as we discuss the aftermath of the Toronto Raptors road game in Atlanta against the Hawks. The video podcast will start shortly after the conclusion of the game. (about 10 pm ET)

Submit questions during the Postgame Show on the Google Hangout or at anytime prior to or during the Show on twitter using the hash-tag #PBRPost @stevesraptors @DNBorby

Google Event page: Join the Google Hangout

or watch on Youtube here.

Pregame Ramble:

The Raptors are 12-2 heading into tonight’s action and defeated the Hawks at the ACC on opening night in Toronto. The Hawks are 7-5, but they are 5-1 at home. Toronto is 3-1 on the road and can get off to the best start on the road in franchise history if they can get to 4-1 by defeating the Hawks tonight.

Toronto also has an opportunity to match the best stretch of wins in team history with a victory. Toronto has won 10 of their last 11 games and is one win shy of a stretch in 2002 when they won 11 of 12 games at the end of the regular season.

Something has to give and we’ll review everything that happened right after the game.

 

 

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.

 

 

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Teague Lowry Valanciunas Horford

More Raptors Franchise Records Could Fall In Atlanta

The Toronto Raptors travel to Atlanta on Wednesday for a rematch with the Hawks after defeating Atlanta 109-102 on opening night at the Air Canada Centre. The 12-2 NBA leading Raptors are 3-1 away from home this season and have rallied from double-digit deficits in each of their last two road contests. Toronto has never started a season 4-1 on the road.

The 7-5 Hawks are 5-1 at home and riding a two-game winning streak after defeating the Pistons 99-89 in Atlanta on Friday and taking down the Wizards in Washington 106-102 on Tuesday night.

In their first meeting, Toronto appeared to be solidly in control all evening and led 98-82 with 6.4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then the Hawks picked up the pace and closed to within 4 points over the next five minutes. The Raptors defense finally stiffened and Toronto won the game on free throws over the last 46 seconds, but not without some anxious moments. Atlanta made 13 three-pointers against the Raptors including 3 during their five minute comeback attempt.

In the Raptors last game against the Suns in Toronto on Monday, it was a fourth quarter barrage of three-pointers by the visitors that eliminated a 17 point Raptors lead and nearly cost Toronto the game. Once again the Raptors defense stiffened in time to win 104-100, but the cracks in their perimeter defense were made apparent once again.

Toronto is, however, on a 5 game winning streak and backup guard Lou Williams was named Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week for games played November 17-24. Williams scored a career-high 36 points on the road in Cleveland on Saturday. Toronto leads the NBA by scoring 11.6 more points per game than their opponents and turning the ball over 5.6 fewer times per game. The Raptors are not beating themselves.

In Atlanta, the Hawks former All-Star center Al Horford is still rounding into form after returning from last season’s injury, but he has shot 70.5 percent from the field over his last 5 games, so there are signs he is shaking off the rust.

2014 All-Star Paul Millsap is the only player in the NBA this year averaging at least 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Millsap has also scored in double-figures in 35 consecutive games dating back to last season, the longest streak of his career.

Kyle Korver is the only player in the NBA shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the line. He has scored double digits in 7 games this season and the Hawks have won the last 5 times he has scored at least 12 points. Korver scored 20 points and shot 6-7 from deep in the Hawks loss to Toronto.

Forward Mike Scott gave the Raptors fits on opening night by stretching the floor and hitting on 4-6 three-point attempts. He is shooting 38 percent from three-point range on the season.

If Toronto can control the pace and guard the three-point line effectively enough, the end result in Atlanta shouldn’t be any different than on opening night.

The Raptors have an opportunity to match the best stretch of wins in team history with a victory. Toronto has won 10 of their last 11 games and is one win shy of a stretch in 2002 when they won 11 of 12 games at the end of the regular 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.

 

 

 

DeRozan Lowry Randolph GasolNBA Dominance Rankings

Who is the top dog in the NBA these days? Pro Bball Report takes the subjective out of ranking NBA teams to determine who has been the most dominant to-date.

 

 

Williams and CousinsRaptors Williams And Kings Cousins Named NBA Players Of The Week

The NBA has announced that the Toronto Raptors Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

 

 

Lou Williams phone interview close upRaptors Lou Williams Impresses Coach Casey With Defense

“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

Atlanta Hawks Need Al Horford To Be An All-Star To Win

Make no mistake, the Atlanta Hawks playoff hopes rest on the very broad shoulders of one Al Horford and the Horford that can take them back to the postseason is the player that has played at an All-Star level. Atlanta was a solid +.500 team with Horford in the lineup last year and an abysmal 22-31 without him, so Head Coach Mike Budenholzer is very glad to have him back on the court to start this season.

 

 

“It’s great to add a player like Al, he can impact the game in so many ways,” Budenholzer said. “Defensively, his versatility and activity can have a big impact and offensively, obviously he is a very good player.”

Unfortunately Horford is coming back from a pectoral tear that caused him to miss most of last season and severely restricted what he could work on during the summer and in preseason. By no means is Horford in NBA game-shape nor has he completely shaken off the rust of not playing. The Hawks are 2-3 to start the 2014-15 season and Horford’s play is up and down like a toilet seat.

“Conditioning is something that’s hard to get without playing,” Budenholzer said. “Throughout the course of the preseason we (tried) to progress his minutes each night and I think he is in a good place, but I don’t think it would be fair to say he’s coming off of a normal summer and a normal preseason. It is going to take him a little bit of time conditioning-wise.”

Horford has sandwiched two 20-point efforts in between three games where his offense wasn’t up to its usual level. In his most recent game against the Knicks, he shot 3-13 for 6 points to go with 6 rebounds, but that doesn’t mean Horford isn’t having a positive effect. Even as he shakes the rust off of his shooting stroke and regains his conditioning, other players are benefitting from his presence.

“Al is such a threat and he can do so many different things,” Budenholzer said. “He is a great midrange shooter, so everybody knows that if he’s open or has an opportunity, the defense has to honor or respect that. He is working to expand his range and he is just always a threat. He can go up and get the ball above the rim. He can score on a catch-and-go. He is just so versatile. Defense, if they load up to other people or are more concerned about the shooters, then he is just one more threat that we can add to our group.”

The biggest beneficiary appears to be Kyle Korver. Last year Korver shot over 50 percent from three-point range on over 6 attempts per game while Horford was healthy, but that dropped off to 45 percent on 5.2 attempts after Horford was injured. The Hawks floor spacers need Horford to keep defenders off the three-point line as badly as Horford needs players like Korver to spread the court.

This season Korver has ramped it up another notch shooting 61.3 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per game to further emphasize what Horford does for his team even when he’s not back to his old All-Star level.

“Al has such a presence and such a poise at all times and everybody is excited,” Budenholzer said. “I think he can calm us when times are hard. He is a good balance for me. He is a good balance for the whole group. When he speaks, people listen, so his leadership is invaluable.”

Horford’s leadership is invaluable to the Hawks, but Atlanta will need more than just his leadership to be a +.500 playoff bound team this season. They need him to find that All-Star form and those All-Star statistics he had prior to his injuries.

It could take all of November before Horford fully finds his regular season form, after all, he barely played during preseason. However, this team has shown they can win with him and they already look a lot better they did without him.

 

 

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.

 

 

Lowry Irving Wall RosePredicting The NBA Eastern Conference 2014-15 Regular Season

7. Atlanta Hawks – Projected 43-39, last season 38-44

 

 

Teague Lowry Valanciunas Horford

Raptors Pregame Bullets Podcast – Vs Hawks 10-29-2014

The Atlanta Hawks visit Toronto to open the Raptors 20th NBA season on Wednesday night. The Hawks owing the longest consecutive streak in the postseason among Eastern Conference teams at 7 years and the Atlantic Division winning Raptors hoping to build on last season’s unexpected success.

Pro Ball Report editor Stephen Brotherston provides his pregame comments about the Raptors home opener.

 

 

Expected Starters

Atlanta: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas

Injuries

Atlanta: Al Horford, expected to play after only 2 preseason games may not be back to his usual All-Star form yet.

Toronto: none

Last season

Atlanta: 38-44, but played at a 45-win pace with Horford in the lineup.

Toronto: 48-34, but played at a 54-win pace post Rudy Gay trade.

Preseason

Atlanta: 4-3, 101.1 ppg for, 99 ppg given up

Toronto: 7-1, 97.3 ppg for, 92 ppg given up

Notes

Both teams returning all five starters from last year.

Lou Williams was traded by the Hawks to the Raptors this summer and will be a key player off the bench for Toronto.

Raptors Head coach Dwane Casey is now the longest serving head coach in the Atlantic Division.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Season Preview Event screen by MoVernieToronto Raptors Season Preview Party Makes A Big Impression

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bosh and Anthony

Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Eastern Conference Pack

The Heat and Pacers will not be fighting it out for Eastern Conference supremacy in the NBA this season. Both teams took huge hits to their rosters this summer and it will be a fight for them just to remain in the playoff hunt.

Other teams see their opportunity with the changing of the guard. There will be a battle to make the playoffs in the East this season and backing in with abysmal play like Atlanta did last spring may not be an option.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Middle

6. Miami HEAT – Projected 44-38, last season 54-28

For all intents and purposes the HEAT have exchanged LeBron James and his career average 15 win shares for Luol Deng and his 6 win shares. It doesn’t require a lot more analysis than that.

The HEAT still have their hobbled superstar Dwyane Wade who will win them games when he isn’t too sore, too tired or just flat out being even the night off in an attempt to extend his career. They also have Chris Bosh who can significantly up his scoring and rebounding if he backs off on his defensive effort like he did in Toronto.

Miami won’t be a bad team, but Wade isn’t going to suddenly become “Flash” again and Bosh proved he couldn’t carry a team when he played for the Raptors. The HEAT are a decent enough collection of talent to have a good season and a thanks-for-coming handshake at the end of the first round in the playoffs after making their opposition work for it.

7. Atlanta Hawks – Projected 43-39, last season 38-44

The Hawks were three games above .500 with Al Horford and nine games under without him. Not a whole lot has changed in Atlanta. The good news is a torn pectoral muscle is kind of a fluke injury and there is reason to hope the Hawks will have their two-time All-Star back for the entire season.

This is a team that appears to be trending water at the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with little reason to believe they will overachieve and only injuries knocking them out of their spot. A big concern is still Big Al. Horford torn his left pectoral muscle in 2011 and his right pectoral muscle in 2013, fluke or not, a reoccurrence would be bad news for the Hawks.

Atlanta is heading into a season full of distractions that will be hard to quantify on the court. The team is up for sale and new owners always signify change and that is a major distraction. General Manager Danny Ferry stuck both feet in his mouth this summer and how this eventually plays out is yet to be determined. As he’s on an indefinite leave of absence pending something or other, front office stability may be in short supply all year.

Fortunately, the Pistons, Knicks and the Nets can’t exactly claim to be bastions of stability either.

8. Detroit Pistons – Projected 40-42, last season 29-53

There is only one reason for believing the Pistons will resemble a cohesive basketball team and that’s Stan Van Gundy. The impact of coaching is often underestimated and a team with as much individual talent as Detroit should be better. Van Gundy will scream at Andre Drummond until he plays defense instead of chasing blocks. Josh Smith might actually start to cringe when he receives the ball on the three-point line and is thinking about shooting and Brandon Jennings will be hearing very loud messages about what a point guard’s job is. There’s a chance Van Gundy’s style of coaching will even get a very unhappy Greg Monroe to start buying in.

The revolving door in the coach’s office looks like it’s been fixed and the players should believe its Van Gundy’s team now and that can go a long ways to getting everyone on the same page and pulling together instead of working for themselves.

9. New York Knicks – Projected 37-45, last season 37-45

Front office logic might stop this franchise from ending up in ninth place for the second season in a row. If ever there was a team that should tank a season, the Knicks are it. In 2015, the Knicks have their first round draft pick (they don’t in 2016) and this team could desperately use an influx of high-end young talent.

New York made some moves during the summer to add pass-first point guard Jose Calderon and defensive center Samuel Dalembert, but it would be a stretch to say these changes have improved the Knicks prospects. Even the Knicks expected Amare Stoudemire to breakdown before the end of his contract and he cannot be relied upon. They also took on an injury prone Andrea Bargnani last summer and he’s lived up to that reputation.

Carmelo Anthony re-upped with a monster five-year deal and he could lead the NBA in scoring, but that isn’t going to result in more wins. It will be a year of waiting for contracts to expire and breaking in rookie head coach Derek Fisher.

10. Brooklyn Nets – Projected 35-47, last season 44-38

The Nets shot their load last season with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett supposedly taking Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Garnett showed his age, Williams’ ankles were worse than a senior citizen’s and Lopez’s feet literally broke down again. The season was salvaged by Shaun Livingston and Pierce, but they both moved on during the summer.

The over/under on big men’s feet should probably be set at two surgeries and Lopez blew past that to become a charter member of the “show-me” club. The Nets need Lopez to just maintain last year’s pace and even at that, the season remains in some doubt. The 38-year-old Garnett and 33-year-old Andre Kirilenko are the Nets best forwards. 33-year-old Joe Johnson is their best player and 30-year-old Deron Williams has many more years of wear-and-tear than his age. A couple of injuries – which shouldn’t surprise anyone – and the Nets season could implode.

The best rationale for the Nets holding it together in the face of adversity is the hiring of Lionel Hollins as Head Coach. It was the best long term move the team could have made this summer. Then there’s the Hawks right to swap 2015 first round draft picks to motivate the front office.

Risks and Obstacles

Anyone in the middle of the pack could be a playoff team in the East if the breaks go their way and the Pistons, Knicks and Nets should all believe that last spot belongs to them. However, the risks in this group of teams are substantial. Injury prone players, new head coaches and controversy will make claiming one of the final spots in the postseason an adventure.

Who do you think takes 6, 7 and 8 in the NBA Eastern Conference and makes the playoffs? Which one of the teams in the middle will be first to embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the East? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

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

 

 

Thibodeau and Casey

Every Playoff Spot In The NBA East Is Up For Grabs

The home stretch for playoff seeding in the NBA Eastern Conference kicks off this week in a big way as no team knows where they will end up and only the top 4 teams have guaranteed themselves a spot in the postseason so far. First place is still up for grabs and thanks to the Hawks run of 6-20, both the Knicks and the Cavaliers are now eyeing the eighth and final playoff spot in the East as attainable over the last 2 weeks of the regular season.

Battle For First

Indiana Pacers, 52-22, 8 games remaining, leading

The Pacers have let the HEAT back into the race for first in the East by going 5-5 over their past 10 games and they have a tough schedule ahead. Spurs, Pistons, Raptors, Hawks, Bucks, HEAT, Thunder and Magic give them an even split of 4 tough and 4 easier games remaining. They’ll need to beat the HEAT again to stay ahead in this race.

Miami HEAT, 50-22, 10 games remaining, 1 game back

The HEAT would be in first place already if they could have pulled out the win in Indiana and the rematch in Miami should decide who gets first place. The HEAT face the Raptors, Bucks, Timberwolves, Knicks, Nets, Grizzlies, Pacers, Hawks, Wizards and 76ers. The schedule might look easier than Indiana’s, but there are 7 teams fighting for playoff position or even survival in that group. The HEAT can’t afford to slip up if they want to pass the Pacers.

Battle for Third

Toronto Raptors, 42-31, 9 games remaining, leading

The Raptors can essentially win the Atlantic Division and get a lock on third place or give the advantage to the Bulls depending on how their next 3 games go. Toronto faces the HEAT, Rockets, Pacers, Bucks, 76ers, Knicks, Pistons, Bucks and Knicks. It’s likely no matter what happens this week, the Nets will stay in close proximity to the end.

Chicago Bulls, 41-32, 9 games remaining, 1 game back

Looking at the schedule, the advantage has to go to the Bulls. Facing the Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Wizards, Timberwolves, Pistons, Knicks, Magic and Bobcats gives them the most winnable schedule among the teams with a shot at third place.

Brooklyn Nets, 39-33, 10 games remaining, 2.5 games back

The Nets refuse to go away in the Atlantic Division race and have given themselves a chance to overtake the Raptors. However, a slightly more favorable schedule than Toronto may not be enough to overtake the Raptors if both teams continue to win the games they should. The Nets face the Rockets, Knicks, Pistons, 76ers, HEAT, Magic, Hawks, Magic, Knicks and Cavaliers.

Battle for Sixth

Washington Wizards 38-35, 9 games remaining, 4 games back of third

The Wizards are too far back to make a serious run at a top 4 spot in the East and they are about to face a serious challenge for sixth. The Wizards play the seventh place Bobcats twice and have a game left against the HEAT. Things could get interesting fast if the Wizards lose in Charlotte on Monday. Washington’s remaining schedule is Bobcats, Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Bobcats, Magic, Bucks, HEAT and Celtics.

Charlotte Bobcats, 35-38, 9 games remaining, 3 games back of sixth

The Bobcats can determine their own destiny. Beat the Wizards twice and claim sixth for their own. Their remaining opponents are the Wizards, 76ers, Magic, Cavaliers, Wizards, Celtics, 76ers, Hawks and Bulls.

Battle For Eighth

Atlanta Hawks, 31-41, 10 games remaining, leading

The Hawks have lost 20 of their past 26 games and their last 6 in a row or there wouldn’t be a battle for eighth. The Hawks face 76ers, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons, Celtics, Nets, HEAT, Bobcats and Bucks. If they can win even a few games and hold off the Cavaliers, they should still sneak into the playoffs.

New York Knicks, 31-43, 8 games remaining, 1 game back

The Knicks have both put themselves in this position and given themselves a chance to get out of it, but they are going to have to play better than they have all season to close the deal. New York plays the Jazz, Nets, Wizards, HEAT, Raptors, Bulls, Nets and Raptors. That’s 7 playoff teams in a row to close out the season. They have to win to get in, excuses won’t cut it now.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 30-45, 7 games remaining, 2.5 games back

It’s been a rough season for the Cavaliers, but with 7 games left, they might just have the most favorable schedule of the 3 teams competing for eighth. They can’t do it on their own, but neither the Knicks nor the Hawks should be considered locks to win any games. The Cavaliers face the Magic, Hawks, Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks, Celtics and Nets. They have a chance.

It will be a big week for all the teams in the East vying for position and as usual, if they don’t get their work done early, they risk not being able to count on the top teams in the league playing their best players over the last few games. Once seeding starts to settle out at this time of year, some pretty funky looking lineups and results can start to happen, you can’t count on the top team that beat you last week taking care of business against the team you are competing with next week.

The difference this year from prior seasons may be that no one will be secure in their seeding right up until the final couple of games. It should be a great 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.

 

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Pro Bball Week in Review 03/30/14
On Pro Bball Report last week: free Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough has playoff toughness, Patrick Patterson set to return, Terrence Ross on defense, Raptors can set a road wins record, pregame and post game stories and a lot more.

Amir Johnson in scrum

Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson Scares Teammates In Win

Amir Johnson has been the Toronto Raptors iron man for playing through injuries. An unassuming steadying force at both ends of the court and Head Coach Dwane Casey’s go to big man, when it looked like longest tenured Raptor might be going down with a hyper extended knee near the end of the win over the Atlanta Hawks, it caught everyone’s attention.

“When (Johnson) grabbed his knee, I kind of cussed at him to make sure he was alright,” DeMar DeRozan said.

“He had my heart in my throat a little bit,” Casey said.

Johnson is known for playing when hurt in Toronto and he’s earned a reputation for motivating his teammates by giving more than it appears he should have to give. Referring to Johnson as the team’s ‘heart and soul’ isn’t going too far.

“(Johnson) is our heart and soul, so when that happened it kind of scared us a little bit,” Kyle Lowry said. “He gives his all and he makes everyone else give their all too.”

“I’ve seen Amir get hit by a Mack truck and get back up,” DeRozan said. “I always hate to see him go down, but one thing about him, Amir will play through any and everything, but he kind of scared me tonight.”

Of course Johnson just grimaced in pain, hobbled to the bench for the timeout and went straight back out on the court leaving just about everyone wondering what it would take to get Johnson to voluntarily come out at the end of a game.

The game against Atlanta wasn’t something to be saved as an example of how to play basketball however. The Raptors stunk in the first half. Within 4 minutes Casey subbed in Tyler Hansbrough for Jonas Valanciunas and less than a minute later he put in Greivis Vasquez for Kyle Lowry. This team just wasn’t ready to play a 1 pm start. Even Nando De Colo got in before the end of the first quarter. The substitutions helped a bit, but the Raptors as a group was a lifeless, sloppy turnover machine that was inexplicitedly only down 49-42 at the half. Vasquez led the Raptors in scoring with 10 points because of 3 driving layups in a row to start the second quarter or the score in this game would have been as ugly as the play. DeMarre Carroll out-hustled the Raptors on his way to 15 first half points.

Toronto’s players got an earful at half-time.

“I am still sleeping at 1 o’clock,” Lowry said. “But we came through today. Casey came in and he yelled at us a bit for not being prepared to play at 1 o’clock.”

“(1 o’clock games) used to be easy,” DeRozan said. “They are kind of tough, but we got to do it, just figure out a better routine for us. He came in yelling (at half-time) and once Casey is yelling, you do your job or you are going to be hearing him yelling after the game. We were playing terrible in that first half.”

Apparently, the loud reminder to be prepared worked – eventually. The Raptors did slow the Hawks offense down in the third quarter, but Atlanta was up 71-60 heading into the fourth quarter and Toronto still hadn’t found any offensive rhythm. It didn’t take long for one of the NBA’s best fourth quarter teams to turn it on in crunch time though.

“We are just resilient to be honest,” DeRozan said. “We just understand how important the game is coming down to the fourth quarter everything matters. Our attention to detail steps up, we understand we have to pull out a win somehow someway.

“The hunger to win just kicks in and when it comes down to me and (Lowry), (we) try to pull our team to victory.”

Toronto outscored Atlanta 36-15 in the fourth quarter, starting with a 13-3 run to close to within a point and closing on a 15-2 run to complete the improbable double-digit comeback victory.

Lowry going 5-5 for 13 points in the final quarter while DeRozan piled in 10 points on 3-6 from the field as the Raptors pulled away 96-86 at the end. The Hawks, who had been shooting 50 percent from the field through 3 quarters, suddenly couldn’t buy a bucket shooting 6-22 over the final 12 minutes.

Casey must have yelled himself out at half-time as he was pretty calm after a game in which his players only really showed up for the final quarter.

Lowry led all scorers with 25 points and DeRozan had 21 points. Carroll and Paul Millsap had 17 points each for the Hawks.

If the 39-30 Raptors want a shot a tying or bettering the franchise record for wins (47), it all starts this week with 13 games left. Toronto plays in Cleveland on Tuesday, at Boston on Wednesday, versus Boston Friday and at Orlando on Sunday.

If Coach Casey can lead the Raptors to 3 more road wins, he will set a franchise record (beating 20 road wins in 2000-2001). Toronto has never finished a season with a winning record on the road. Some regular season records are worth going after.

The Hawks play Phoenix on Monday and face a tough week with the Knicks only 2.5 games behind them in ninth place.

 

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.

 

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No Salary Cap Space For You Toronto Raptors
As we watch the Toronto Raptors going down the stretch fighting for third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a chance to set a franchise record for wins, the early season Tank Nation crowd are still muttering, ‘there’s no cap space, we won’t get Wiggins, too many free agents, will Kyle Lowry and company stay in Toronto?’ The short answer to all of that is, if President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri wants to keep his team together, there is no salary cap space for the summer of 2014.

Teague and DeRozan

Raptors Lose An OT Shootout In Atlanta 118-113

The formula for success against the Raptors this season has been to get them into a shootout and just let Toronto go off offensively.  They won’t outscore you and they’ll forget to play defense.  After losing to the Hawks in Atlanta on Tuesday 118-113, the Raptors are 0-12 when their opponent scores at least 110 points.

The Raptors started out with a winning formula.  The Hawks without Al Horford are vulnerable inside and Toronto went to Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson early and often to run up a 26-17 first quarter lead and hold the Hawks to just 25 percent shooting from the field.

The only problem was both the Raptors big men picked up 2 early personal fouls that severely limited their first half minutes and when Head Coach Dwane Casey went to his bench, the Hawks found their offense.  Without rim protection to stop him, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague went off for 12 second quarter points on his way to a monster game that would keep his team in this contest and eventually take it in overtime.

“It was the second quarter that got us,” Casey said.  “We wanted to keep the three out of the game and they got it involved in the second quarter and they had a 32 point quarter which was huge.”

Teague was relatively quiet in the first and third quarters when Valanciunas was present, but near the end of the third quarter, the Raptors young center felt something in his back and the trainers sat him for the rest of the game with a lower back sprain.  Teague went off for 11 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t just his scoring that hurt the Raptors, Teague also had 4 steals to go with his career high tying 34 points.

Toronto scored easily and often in this game and the fourth quarter was no exception.  The Raptors hit 60 percent of their shots and scored 28 points and that should have been enough, but in the quarter the Hawks turned them over 7 times, including 4 steals, to pick up the net 7 extra points on turnovers they needed for the tie at the end of regulation.

At times it seemed like rebounding was keeping the Hawks in this game, but the Raptors out rebounded them 50-40 and Atlanta only had 2 more offensive boards during the game than Toronto.  Atlanta scored 22 points off 15 Raptors turnovers while Toronto only managed 12 points on 9 Hawks turnovers.  Atlanta ended up with 13 more shot attempts than the Raptors.

“The other thing was our turnovers,” Casey said.  “I just thought we were causal with the basketball.  (We) had a lot of opportunities to attack and we were causal and soft with our passes and they took advantage of it.”

The Raptors shot 49.4 percent for the game and were led by 29 points and 10 rebounds from DeMar DeRozan, but the All-Star was just 1-4 for 2 points in the overtime.  Kyle Lowry had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists and Valanciunas had 16 points and 5 boards before he left after just 20.4 minutes. A total of 6 Raptors players scored in double-digits.

Valanciunas’ situation for his next game remains uncertain, but an abundance of caution from the Raptors is likely with their sophomore center.

“I stopped and hyper-extended my back,” Valanciunas said.  “I can’t tell much about it.  I felt pain and that’s it.”

The Hawks Paul Millsap had the first triple-double of his career with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.  Kyle Korver added 16 points.

The Raptors have a right to complain about the officiating at the end of this game.  DeRozan was called for a highly suspect charge with 1:02 left in regulation and then DeRozan was charged with a turnover – losing the ball out of bounds with 33.2 seconds left – when a replay was pretty clear that the ball had hit Korver’s fingers on the way out.  However, like Casey explained postgame, the Raptors blew this game in the second quarter.  It should never have been in the hands of the referees at the end.

The Raptors play again in New Orleans on Wednesday.  They have another shot at the Hawks in Toronto on Sunday.

The Hawks don’t play again until Friday against the Pelicans.

 

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.

 

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Toronto Raptors Look After Nando De Colo And His Girlfriend
“She is Spanish,” De Colo said.  “It’s okay, she was with me in San Antonio, so after a year and a half, she knows this kind of life.  Now to come to Toronto, it is just a new life and new city and everything is different, but it’s a new experience, so it’s exciting.”

ATL Teague and Millsap

Will Raptors Push The Hawks Closer To The Playoff Ledge?

It wasn’t that long ago the Atlanta Hawks were doing okay.  On February 1, the Hawks were 25-21, a half game ahead of the Toronto Raptors, solidly in the middle of the pack for a playoff spot and that was without their All-Star center Al Horford who was lost for the season after Boxing Day.  How things have changed.  On Tuesday, the Raptors have a chance to help push the Hawks a little closer to the eighth place playoff ledge – assuming someone else in the Eastern Conference wants it.

The Hawks lost 8 games in a row in February before beating the woeful New York Knicks only to immediately start a new 6 game losing streak.  Since their win on February 1, Atlanta is 5-14 and their record only looks this good because they just won 4 games in a row.  That fact those wins came against the Jazz, Bucks, Nuggets and Bobcats isn’t bothering anyone in Atlanta right now.

However, the 14 losses in 15 games opened up the faint hope clause for the suddenly surging 27-40 Knicks, who, after winning 6 games in a row, believe they might have a chance of catching the Hawks.

Toronto had a hand in that first big Hawks losing streak when they dismantled the falling birds 104-83 behind 31 points from DeMar DeRozan.  The Raptors were headed in the other direction in February, going 12-6 since a loss on the road to Portland on February 1 and they are battling for third place in the Eastern Conference with the Bulls.  The Raptors haven’t lost 2 games in a row for over a month and they need to continue putting away teams like the Hawks if they are to hold off Chicago.

The Hawks can blame all of their problems on injuries, but the final playoff spot in the East is still theirs to lose and when Paul Millsap is on his game, they have an All-Star who can make a difference.  Also, point guard Jeff Teague is averaging a career best 16 points and 31-year-old rookie center Pero Antic returned from injury on March 5 and has been shooting the lights out from three-point range.  It would be a mistake to look past Atlanta, but because of their strong start to the season, it’s unlikely anyone will.

As of now, New York is hoping the Raptors continue to win games as Toronto gets a second shot at the Hawks on Sunday and the Knicks have 5 games to make up on Atlanta in the loss column.

 

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.

 

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Chuck Hayes Changing The Raptors Fortunes in 2 Minutes
“My job is to defend,” Hayes said.  “If they have a low post player that is getting a lot of easy buckets and getting our guys in foul trouble, my job is to come in there and kind of slow him down and give him a different look.”

Thibodeau and Casey

Underestimating The NBA Eastern Conference Again

The annual woe-is-me calls are emanating from your favorite NBA analysts, if only my team was in the NBA East.  First, get over it.  Second, injuries screwed up the Eastern Conference this season, but once the teams began to adjust, there was nothing to apologize for.  Outside of the Atlanta Hawks inability to deal with losing All-Star center Al Horford for the season, injuries to the Knicks and Detroit’s inability to find anything resembling team chemistry, there’s been nothing wrong with the top eight teams in the East.

Sorry, Minnesota, but you can’t be under .500 in your own conference, division and lose critical games to Eastern Conference teams during your recent home stand and expect any sympathy and one team in the West that deserves to be playoff team is going to miss out – that’s life, it isn’t always fair.

The top 4 in the West are tough, as tough as the top 2 in the East, but since those other soon to be Eastern Conference playoff teams (minus the eighth seed) made their mid-season adjustments, they have just as just as good , if not better than, the next 5 in the West.

Brooklyn Nets 32-30, 6th place, current run 22-9

The Nets lost Brook Lopez early on and injuries to Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko hurt their start badly, but in 2014, they are winning 71 percent of their games and that’s pretty much what was expected if the season hadn’t started out so poorly.  The Nets are 9th best in points allowed this season and 14-11 versus the West.  They won’t win 50 games and it might be too late for them to win the Atlantic Division, but any team that disrespects this group of proven All-Stars does so at their own peril.

Chicago Bulls 35-28, 4th place, current run 26-12

Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has a lot of respect around the league and his team’s number 1 ranked defense should put a scare into any playoff contender no matter what their record says.  The Bulls lost Derrick Rose for the season after 10 games and traded their leading scorer Luol Deng for luxury tax relief at the beginning of January, but instead of falling apart, they pulled together and got better.  Since December 19, the Bulls have won 68.4 percent of their games and that’s nothing to gripe about.

Toronto Raptors 35-27, 3rd place, current run 28-14

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s mantra this season was he would let the players determine what he would do next.  A 6-12 start that meant Rudy Gay was gone and he’d try something else.  It worked.  Since the 4 players the Raptors got back from the Kings arrived, Toronto has won 66.7 percent of their games and that’s at a rate no one saw coming.  The winning isn’t by accident, Head Coach Dwane Casey’s players are giving up the 4th fewest points allowed in the NBA and they have a winning record against the Western Conference.  The Raptors had the talent to be a playoff team in October, but the chemistry just wasn’t there, now the chemistry has everyone scratching their heads and wondering if this could become the best season in the franchise’s history.

Charlotte Bobcats 30-34, 7th place, current run 15-11

The Bobcats weren’t supposed to be here.  The signing of Al Jefferson aside, they were too young and inexperienced to win this season.  Apparently someone forgot to tell Kemba Walker as the Bobcats prized point guard is finally starting to show those clutch leadership skills that made him famous in college.  In a recurring Eastern Conference theme, the Bobcats allow the 5th fewest points in the league.  They might be offensively challenged, but good luck trying to score on this group.  Charlotte has won 57.6 percent of their games since January 11th and that’s good enough to challenge for a playoff spot in either conference.

Washington Wizards 33-30, 5th place, current run 31-23

After a 2-7 start, the Wizards have hung around the .500 mark for most of the season only to finally break through and stay above it recently.  Winning 57 percent of their games after the first 9 is a reasonable level for a playoff team.  Kind of reminds one of a decent 8th place team in the West.  The Wizards are 12th for points allowed.

Atlanta Hawks 27-35, 8th place, current run 2-14

The Hawks were 4 games above .500 just a few days after Horford was lost for the season at the end of December and by some miracle, they were still 4 games above .500 on February 1st.  However, backup center Pero Antic missed over 6 weeks after January 23rd and their other center Gustavo Ayon was lost for the season on February 19th.  The collapse of the Hawks is understandable, they were expected to be a .500 club with everyone available.  The inability of the Pistons, Knicks or Cavaliers to take advantage of the situation is the bigger mystery here.

If you were wondering if the East had the weakest final 6 playoff seeds in living memory, you need to check the record books a little closer:

2009 Atlanta 4th, 47 wins
2008 Cleveland 4th, 45 wins
2007 Toronto 3rd, 47 wins
2006 Denver 3rd, 44 wins
2005 Boston 3rd, 45 wins
2004 Miami 4th, 42 wins

Those records didn’t ruin the NBA playoffs and similar finishes in the East this year won’t ruin these playoffs either.

The current Eastern Conference playoff seeds 3-7 hold down the number 1, 4, 5, 9 and 12 spots for the fewest points allowed in the NBA.  They don’t have the offensive flash of their Western Conference counterparts, but isn’t the analogy, scoring can win in the regular season, but defense wins in the playoffs.  Play on.

 

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.

 

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High School Basketball Star Aquille Carr Is Back On Track
Everything didn’t go as the 5’7 high school basketball phenom Aquille Carr had hoped after he decided to forego college last spring.  He has found his trip to the pros a lot tougher than he expected.   “I am looking at Summer Leagues, but I am not (considering) not getting drafted,” Carr said.  “We are just thinking about getting to the NBA.”

TOR_Hansbrough_Tyler

Raptors Celebrate Break: Crush Listless Hawks

The Toronto Raptors decided to celebrate the upcoming All-Star break early by laying a beating on a listless Hawks team that seemed to have moved into vacation mode just a little ahead of schedule.  After a slow start the Raptors bench injected some energy into the game and helped wipe out an early deficit.  A 1-point game at the half, the Raptors got up 10 points midway through the third quarter and the Hawks just stopped providing any resistance over the final 12 minutes.  The 104-83 final score reflected just how easily the Raptors ran away with this game in the second half.

Both Toronto and Atlanta started out this contest like their minds were already elsewhere as neither team looked like they were planning on hitting any shots initially.  After almost 2 minutes, the Hawks did start an 8-2 run that lasted a couple minutes before going stone-cold until the halfway mark of the quarter.  However, the Raptors couldn’t take advantage and it wasn’t until Tyler Hansbrough was substituted in for Jonas Valanciunas that Toronto could get any traction.  Valanciunas was 0-5 from the field to start and Toronto shot just 29.2 percent in the opening quarter, but the Hawks could still only manage a 5-point lead.

“I think both teams were on vacation before the game started,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey.  “This is the toughest time of year.  A couple of weeks before All-Star break is very difficult.  In my 20 plus years in the league, it has always been that way.”

The energy from Hansbrough and Greivis Vasquez turned things around for the Raptors and Toronto’s starters heated up as the game moved along, but unfortunately for the Hawks, they had no response and shot just 12-40 after half as they basically capitulated.

DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 31 points, regularly torching Kyle Korver for easy points.  Kyle Lowry impressed with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 13 assists and in his second start in a row, Patrick Patterson put up 14 points and 6 rebounds.  Valanciunas was 0-8 before he finally sunk his only basket of the game in the fourth quarter.  He did, however, grab a game-high 14 rebounds.

“I commend our guys for coming out and focusing in the second half and getting defense into the game, getting physicality into the game and making sure we had attention to detail at the defensive end,” Casey said.  “(Valanciunas) just needs a rest.  He needs a mental rest.  He was trying.  I thought he did a good job of rebounding.  He couldn’t buy a bucket.”

A lot of credit should go to Vasquez, who shot 5-10 for 12 points and Hansbrough with 8 points and 7 rebounds as their presence on the court seemed to jump start the team.

Korver extended his streak of made three-pointers to 120 consecutive games with a pair of long range bombs.  Gustavo Ayon had 18 points on 9-11 shooting and 10 boards for the double-double as the only regularly noticeable Hawk on the court.  Paul Millsap has 17 points on 4-8 from the field to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists and Jeff Teague had 13 points and 6 assists in efforts that would be best described as flat.

The Hawks have now lost 5 games in a row and are badly in need of the All-Star break.

“We will all recharge and re-energize and we will come back and build on a lot of the positive things that we had in these first 50 games,” Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said.  “I don’t think tonight or even the last few games are reflective of our group.  It is a high character and it’s a resilient group and I think that our challenge is to come back to a lot of the things we were doing well early.”

The Hawks won’t have it easy after the break.  They return on Tuesday to face the Pacers in Indiana and then go home to play the Wizards on Wednesday.

Toronto plays the Wizards in Washington on Tuesday and goes home to face the Bulls on Wednesday in back-to-back games with huge implications for the Eastern Conference standings.

Currently the Raptors are 1.5 games ahead of Chicago, 2.5 games ahead of Atlanta and 3 games in front of Washington and Brooklyn.  The Bulls and Nets face off on Thursday before the All-Star break.

Check out our Game Info page and Pregame Report.

 

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

 

 

Also check out:

Raptors Tyler Hansbrough: The Instant Warrior
“Right now it is kind of what I have to do,” Hansbrough said.  “Obviously I am not playing larger minutes, so when I get on the court and opportunity presents itself, I just have to be ready to help the team.  That is the way I am looking at it, so when I go in that is what I am doing.”

Atlanta Hawks Media Day

Hawks At Raptors In A Game That Matters

The Hawks haven’t lost in Toronto since Chris Bosh was on the Raptors and Mike Budenholzer got his first win as a head coach in his second game against them in Atlanta, but that was before Al Horford was lost for the season and Toronto traded Rudy Gay for a bench.

Atlanta (25-25) has surprisingly managed to hang around the .500 mark all season and keep themselves in the midst of the playoff picture without Horford, but they come into Toronto on the second half of a back-to-back where they were out-hustled and out-played by the Bulls.  Chicago dominated the Hawks 57-28 on the glass and rode a 27 point second quarter lead to a 100-85 victory.  That kind of effort isn’t going to get it done in Toronto.

On the season, the Hawks are a middle of the pack offensive and defensive team that doesn’t rebound well or hold teams to a low shooting percentage.  Not surprisingly with Kyle Korver playing big minutes, they are very dangerous from beyond the three point arc.  Now that Paul Millsap is in the East, he has finally been recognized as an All-Star.

This is a big game for the 27-24 Raptors heading into the All-Star break.  Four teams are within 2 games of third place in the Eastern Conference and this head-to-head matchup against one of their rivals gives Toronto a rare opportunity to create some separation.  A loss would leave them a mere half game ahead of the Hawks and idle Bulls and open the door for Brooklyn to close to within 1 game in the loss column.

“Tomorrow’s game is huge,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey after practice on Tuesday.  “The fact that it is a team in the standings that is close to us in the conference.  They are playing very well right now.  It’s huge to take care of business before we go on the break.”

The Raptors have been a top 10 defensive team in opponent’s field goal percentage and points allowed, but they are susceptible to the long ball.  This will be a good test of where they are against a team they have beat, if a top 4 Eastern Conference finish is to be in the cards this 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.

 

Also check out:

Raptors Tyler Hansbrough: The Instant Warrior
“Right now it is kind of what I have to do,” Hansbrough said.  “Obviously I am not playing larger minutes, so when I get on the court and opportunity presents itself, I just have to be ready to help the team.  That is the way I am looking at it, so when I go in that is what I am doing.”

Raptors lose to Hawks 102-95: DeRozan 31 points

After losing 118-109 in their season opener to Dallas and putting up little resistance on defense all game, the Atlanta Hawks return home needing to prove that they are still a team to be taken seriously.

The Toronto Raptors provide just the test the Hawks need. Winners against the rebuilding Celtics 93-87, the Raptors are trying to gain entry into the postseason this year and to do it, they’ll need to knock off teams like the Hawks that occupied one of the last three playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference last year. Don’t expect the Hawks to give up that cherished position without a fight.

The Raptors starting lineup, carved in stone baring injury, is Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Look for Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin to come in off the bench. Head Coach Dwane Casey went with 10 players in their home opener.

The Hawks still feature starters Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Al Horford, but Utah Jazz free agents Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll started in the Hawks season opener in Dallas. The Hawks starters will play big minutes as Gustavo Ayon and Lou Williams are injured. Elton Brand is a key reserve and Head Coach Mike Budenholzer will have to cobble together what he can to complete his rotation until his injured players return.

Raptors will be wearing white tonight for the Hawks home opener. Steve Novak and Aaron Gray are on the inactive list.

First Quarter 25-24 Hawks

Raptors go inside to Jonas Valanciunas for a reverse layup to start the game. Atlanta starts out 3-3 from three-point range, but finishes quarter 3-8. Raptors hold rebounding edge 14-11.

DeRozan leads the Raptors with 8 points on 3-5 shooting. Gay has 6 points on 3-9 and Lowry has 4 points.

Horford leads the Hawks with 9 points and 5 rebounds on 4-6 shooting. Korver has 6 points on 2-3 and Teague has 5 points and 4 assists.

Austin Daye takes Novak’s spot in the rotation. He misses a 3-point attempt, but gets a putback at the rim.

Second Quarter 49-39 Hawks

Johnson hits a 3-pointer to give the Raptors an early 4 point lead and Valanciunas blocks Teague’s layup attempt, but this game stays close. Daye misses back-to-back 3-point attempts as if to emphasize the Raptors have looked better going inside. Both teams shot poorly during the quarter until a 13-2 run by the Hawks over the last 2 minutes.

Raptors shoot 23.8 percent in the quarter.

Half-time

Raptors out rebounding the Hawks 26-24, but Hawks are shooting 43.2 percent from the field and hitting on 6-14 3-point attempts. Raptors are shooting 34.9 percent and bricking 2-12 from deep.

Daye is 0-3 from deep and has looked over-matched on defense. Casey has gone 11 men deep, bringing in defensive specialist Julyan Stone for Terrence Ross. Raptors miss 5 3-point attempts in a row to close out the half.

Third Quarter 79-68 Hawks

Game has returned to the back-and-forth effort of the entire game minus the final 2 minutes of the half. Raptors needed a run, but it was the Hawks who go on a 11-4 run over 3 minutes to go up 18 points.

Raptors go on a run of their own to get back to within 10 points on a DeRozan 3-pointer. Unfortunately Toronto keeps losing track of Korver who keeps hitting open shots.

DeRozan has 21 points on 9-16 shooting. Johnson with 11 points and 6 rebounds.

Horford has 17 points and 15 rebounds. Korver 17 points on 5-7 from deep. Teague has 12 points and 10 assists.

Fourth Quarter 102-95 Hawks final

Casey brings in Dwight Buycks to start the fourth – the 12th man Casey has used tonight. Going back to 1:38 left in the third, the Raptors go on a 17-7 run capped by a DeRozan layup to close to within 5 points, 88-83 with 5:13 left.

Hawks respond over the next 1.5 minutes with a mini 5-1 run, but with 1:32 left and the score now 99-91, Gay drives the basket to get the Raptors back to within 6 points and blocks Teague’s layup attempt at the other end to give his team a chance with 59 seconds left.

Next play, DeRozan steps on the end line followed by Lowry leaping and passing the ball to Carroll on the next play and the Raptors comeback was over. DeRozan scores 10 points in the fourth quarter, but its not enough.

Raptors waste a 31 point game from DeRozan who shot 14-23. Gay was clutch in the final 2:17, but brutal through much of the game with 14 points on 6-23 shooting. Johnson had a nice game with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Lowry had 16 points on 5-7 from the floor. Fields played a good game off the bench with 4 points and a team best 9 rebounds.

Horford had a monster game of 22 points and 16 rebounds on 9-14 shooting. Teague shot just 4-13, but had 17 points and 12 assists. Millsap came alive in the fourth to finish with 15 points and 5 rebounds. Korver didn’t score after the third quarter finishing with 17 points on 5-8 from three-point range.

Raptors out rebounded the Hawks 42-37, but Hawks shot better 46.8 percent to 45.5 percent. Hawks also enjoyed a huge advantage from the free throw line 20-31 to 8-14.

It could be argued the Raptors lost this game during the Hawks 13-2 run to close out the half followed by a failure to keep track of the hot shooting Korver. Hawks were 10-23 from three-point range compared to 7-23 for Toronto and those points represented much of the Hawks ability to maintain a lead in this game.

Raptors play on Saturday in Milwaukee and Tuesday at home to Miami. Hawks play Sunday at Lakers and Tuesday at Sacramento.

Raptors box score

Raptors at Hawks Pregame Report

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

DeMar DeRozan web

Raptors (1-0) at Hawks (0-1): Pregame Report

The Toronto Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks could not have started their 2013-2014 seasons more differently.  The Raptors won a close defensive-oriented battle with the Boston Celtics 93-87 at home and held their opponents to just 11 second quarter points, while the Hawks lost their season opener on the road in Dallas 118-109 and gave up three 30-plus point quarters.  Only Jeff Green of the Celtics scored more than 20 points in Toronto and 5 players scored 20-plus points in Dallas.  The Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis laid a 32 point performance on the Hawks.

Opening games can be somewhat misleading, but tonight’s matchup in Atlanta should come down to a battle between Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey’s defense against Atlanta’s rookie Head Coach Mike Budenholzer’ San Antonio offense.

“Their system is exactly like San Antonio,” Casey noted.

Atlanta made some big changes in the off season, but no change will have a bigger impact than the arrival of free agent Paul Millsap from Utah to replace the departing free agent Josh Smith who now plays for Detroit.  Millsap had 20 points and 5 rebounds on 9-15 shooting against Dallas and provides a dangerous scoring threat paired up with two-time All-Star Al Horford.  Horford had 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 4 blocks in the first game.

“(Millsap) is a silent killer,” Casey said.  “He is just a solid old school hard-work guy who we are really going to have to be concerned about.  He and Al Horford – you have a double-barrel gun with those two and it is going to be a great challenge for Amir (Johnson) and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) and Tyler (Hansbrough) to guard them because they aren’t your traditional low post guys.  They are pick-and-pop, space to the short-corner and can knock down the free throw line jump shot, so there are a lot of different looks from those guys.”

It’s only been 1 game, but the Hawks were out rebounded by the Mavericks 42-33 and their 2 best big men only had 10 rebounds between them making this a situation worth paying attention to going forward.  The Hawks, like the Raptors, had 17 turnovers in their opener and that was fewer than their opponents which makes these early games even tougher to get a read on.

The Raptors have been dominant on the glass in preseason and they destroyed the Celtics on opening night, out rebounding them 48-33.  Hansbrough and Valanciunas both had double-digit rebounds in their first game with significant contributions on the glass from Landry Fields and Rudy Gay.  No one on the Raptors scored over 20 points, but the team shot 44.2 percent from the field and turned extra possessions into 20 more shot attempts than the Celtics.  If it wasn’t for a brief defensive letdown and some sloppy play midway through the third quarter, the Raptors first game would have been a blowout.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had poor shooting nights, but they played well defensively.  DeRozan started out shooting 1-8 with forward Jeff Green unexpectedly guarding him off the start, but shot 4-8 in the second half as the Celtics had to adjust their strategy in order to stop a Raptors run.  Lowry has a splint on the ringer finger of his left hand that will likely take some time to get used to, but it didn’t affect his defense or his ability to get to the free throw line where he shot 7-12.

“Kyle may not have had a great shooting night, but everywhere else, he did a heck of a job.  Defensively, clogging the paint, stopping the ball, he did a lot of good stuff defensively,” Casey said.  “I think one he gets used to the little deal on his finger, that is going to help him tremendously.”

Rudy Gay led the Raptors with 19 points and 8 rebounds and was clutch in the fourth quarter as he helped the Raptors go on a 12-2 run to put this game away.  Hansbrough almost single-handedly took the air of the Celtics comeback at the start of the fourth quarter with 3 quick rebounds, a putback, a block and then the free throw that tied the game at 76.  The Raptors will be looking for more of the same from both of these players tonight.

The road will be key to the Raptors hopes for a playoff run this season and Casey knows how much harder it is for young teams to get the job done.  Atlanta is one of those teams Toronto needs to beat, so this game is especially important.

“You always want to do a good job on the road,” Casey said.  It’s tough for a veteran team and a young team, but more so for a young team and being focused on the road – going in with the same seriousness and focus when you are not in your home arena is huge.  It is going to be a good measuring stick for us in these two games.”

Key matchups in tonight’s game:

Lowry’s defense vs Jeff Teague’s offense
DeRozan vs Korver?
Johnson and Hansbrough’s defense vs Millsap’s offense
Valanciunas vs Horford

What to watch for: Who on Atlanta will guard Gay – Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll?

Note: The Hawks are without Gustavo Ayon – strained right rotator cuff and Lou Williams – right knee surgery.

Be sure to check out our Raptors Box Score

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.