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San Antonio Spurs Media Day

Ginobili, Parker, Duncan lead Spurs Past Raptors

The short-handed Raptors started out strong and fizzled out quickly against the heavily favored Spurs on Tuesday night in Toronto losing 116-103.  However, the game was never really this close after half, veteran teammates, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, leading their team in scoring once again.

The Raptors only had 10 players available after trading Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to Sacramento yesterday.  D.J. Augustin was cut to make room for the 4 players coming back from the Kings, however, the new additions wouldn’t be available until after tonight.  Tyler Hansbrough was still recuperating from a sprained shoulder as well, so Toronto was missing 2 of their regular rotation players.

TOR_Ross_TerrenceCompeting backup point guards Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks received playing time as did seldom-used Austin Daye.  Terrence Ross got the start in place of Gay instead of the more experienced Landry Fields who had started in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Toronto got off to a fast start 6-2 start and the Raptors lead just kept slowly growing until it was 36-24 at the end of the first quarter.

TOR_Valanciunas_JonasIn typical Raptors fashion, Kyle Lowry passed the ball to Jonas Valanciunas on their first possession for a dunk and Toronto kept going back to Valanciunas in the early going.  The Raptors big men seemed to enjoy the absence of Spurs starting center Tiago Splitter as both Valanciunas and Amir Johnson scored 10 first quarter points.  Toronto even dominated on the glass, out rebounding the Spurs 13-6.

The Spurs play appeared slower and more methodical than usual in the first quarter, but as Toronto went to their depleted bench and the Spurs brought out their impressive supporting cast, this game changed in a hurry.

The second quarter began with a 19-4 Spurs run aided by 3 Raptors turnovers and in reality, one should have just stuck a fork in the Raptor, it was cooked.  Led by 28 points from their bench, the Spurs just kept coming and went into the second half leading 59-53.  It was second year center Aron Baynes coming in off the bench who slowed the Raptors big men.  Plus, Toronto turned the ball over 7 times in the quarter and their depleted bench had all of 2 points.

SAS_Duncan_TimSan Antonio opens the second half with a 6-2 run and cruised through the quarter up by 6 to 10 points until a Duncan dunk with 3 minutes left led to a 10-3 run and a 15 point lead heading into the fourth quarter.  Baynes embarrassed Valanciunas with a shoulder-fake to drive for an uncontested dunk of his own.  Toronto’s rebounding advantage was gone at this point.  Each team had 28 boards.

Within 2 minutes, the Spurs were up by 20 points in the fourth quarter and extended garbage time was underway.  Ginobili led the Spurs with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists. Parker had 15 points and 6 assists. Duncan, Danny Green and Baynes had 14 points each.  The Spurs bench scored 61 points and no one on the Spurs played 30 minutes.

TOR_Johnson_AmirJohnson finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds and DeRozan had 19 points and 7 assists.  Valanciunas, with 14 points, didn’t score after the first quarter until there was less than 2 minutes to go in the game as he was out played by Baynes.  Ross hit 4 three-pointers, but shot 4-13 to log his 14 points.  Lowry had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.  Buycks had 10 points, 5 boards and 3 assists in the second half.  The Raptors bench picked it up in the second half, finishing with 26 points in extended but meaningless minutes.

Toronto plays the 76ers at home on Friday and visits Chicago on Saturday.

The Spurs visit Milwaukee on Wednesday, return home to face Minnesota on Friday and then are back out on the road Saturday to play the Jazz.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.

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

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs (15-4) at Raptors (7-12): Pregame Report

Last year’s NBA Finalist San Antonio Spurs are 15-4 this season and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this team is much better than the 7-12 Toronto Raptors.  It’s not that the Spurs are unbeatable or the Raptors should just award San Antonio the win and head on up to the practice gym, anything can happen on any given night in the NBA, but Toronto doesn’t have the experience or the talent to matchup with the Spurs if everything goes according to script.

The Spurs are scoring 101.8 points per game while holding their opponents to an NBA third best 93.1.  They boast the league’s second highest field goal percentage (48.8), fourth best three-point field goal percentage (39.7).  They don’t foul or send opponents to the free throw line very often and only 1 player even averages over 2 personal fouls per game.  Effective and disciplined, the Spurs have continuity and chemistry.  Until this group falls apart due to old age, not much is going to change.

The only Spurs ‘weakness’ is they have 5 players over 30 years of age and only 2 players under 23, but based on how the ‘old’ guys are playing, that isn’t much of a handicap.

TOR_Gay_RudyThe Raptors could be considered short-handed heading into tonight’s game, but only by those who don’t really follow this team.  Toronto traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings on Monday and then waived D.J. Augustin.  However, only Gay was a regular in the rotation and Landry Fields started in his place on Sunday as all 3 players to be traded were held out of the lineup and the Raptors beat the Lakers in Los Angeles.

TOR_Fields_LandryAlthough the Raptors might miss Gay’s scoring on any given night, he was shooting 18.6 shots per game at 38.8 percent from the field, so if they can find a similar number of shots elsewhere, scoring as a team shouldn’t decline and Fields can provide a similar level of defense at the small forward spot.  For all practical purposes, the team’s scoring at 97.7 points per game and 98.4 points given up shouldn’t be adversely affected by the loss of Gay based on how he played so far this season.

Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes are not required to arrive in Toronto until Wednesday and are not expected to play Tuesday night.  Vasquez will represent a significant upgrade at backup point guard and may foreshadow a future deal that sends starter Kyle Lowry out of town.  Patterson represents the type of young player President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has looked to add to his roster this season and will get a shot at earning minutes as a backup power forward.  Salmons and Hayes tenure in Toronto may be short-lived, but this team could use their veteran presence, even if they never set foot in a game.

What happens to the Raptors in the second game after trading Gay with all the ensuing rumors about virtually every other player on the roster won’t be known until after it starts.  However, if Sunday’s contest was any indication, the Raptors won’t look all that different than they have all season – minus the ball sticking on the three-point line as Gay tried to figure out exactly what he was supposed to be doing as a point forward.

The Spurs should still win.  The Raptors should still lose.  How the game actually plays out in between is a little harder to forecast as the Raptors try to figure out who they are now – again.

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 NBA Western Conference Teams

Ranking the top five NBA Western Conference teams just got a little harder than usual this season. The Lakers are not going to be in this group at the start of the season and it is worth noting that change all on its own. The Clippers are and don’t expect Lakers fans to be all that happy about it. However, there are more changes than just the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Lakers. The top five in the West is under renovation.

Every team faces risks and even the best in the West can have their season disrupted by unforeseen circumstances, but these teams are pretty deep and unless they lose a key star player for a significant number of games, they should be able to hold onto solid playoff spot fairly easily.

The Top Five

1. Los Angeles Clippers – 56-26 last season, projected 62-20

The Clippers are better than last season. 28-year-old Jared Dudley is an excellent replacement for last season’s 33-year-old starting small forward Caron Butler, equivalent but younger. J.J. Redick is a big upgrade over the former starting shooting guard Willie Green. Plus, five of the Clippers top six scorers from last season are back, so this team has continuity.

However, the Clippers will win more games because they upgraded their head coach. Doc Rivers has the respect of everyone associated with the NBA. Concerns about being out-coached are gone and if top-flight coaching really does make a difference, adding 10 percent more wins to last season’s total shouldn’t even be a stretch. Look for the best team in Los Angeles to compete for the best record in the NBA again this season.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – 60-22 last season, projected 58-24

The Thunder are contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years, however, this season like last season, they are going to face some serious competition.

The team had question marks about their ability to dominate the West after losing James Harden to the Rockets and those questions were compounded by the loss of Kevin Martin to the Timberwolves this summer, however, they will still coast through the regular season fairly easily on the backs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

This team is still deep and talented and has assets to trade if the young players Steve Adams and Jeremy Lamb are not quite ready for prime time in backup roles. Any slippage from last season will be slight.

3. San Antonio Spurs – 58-24 last season, projected 54-28

One day Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are going to pack it in after long and successful NBA careers. Unfortunately for their Western Conference rivals, that time hasn’t arrived just yet. Neither of these players are going to be better than last season, but this resilient Spurs team that looks a lot like last year’s NBA Finalist has to be the favorite to win their division once again. They are the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.

The only reason to project fewer wins than last season is the Spurs best players are getting older. Father-time catches up to everyone eventually.

4. Houston Rockets – 45-37 last season, projected 54-28

The Rockets have joined the list of serious contenders to advance to the Western Conference Finals because they won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Two bona fide big-time All-Star players has been the formula to contend in the NBA and the combination of Harden and Howard is as legit as it comes.

Last season Howard played with a bad back in bad situation and he still led the league in rebounding and was fifth in blocks. Assume Howard will arrive in Houston with something to prove.

Houston still has a situation to sort out with Omer Asik as last year’s starting center is not a power forward, but Asik is a very tradable asset, so this problem is not a bad problem to have.

5. Golden State Warriors – 47-35 last season, projected 51-31

No one is going to mistake the Golden State Warriors for a defensive juggernaut, but last season Head Coach Mark Jackson got a decidedly better effort on defense out of his offensive-minded players and the Warriors won 24 more games than the year before and got to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

The Warriors defense just took a huge step forward with this summer’s acquisition of Andre Iguodala. Jackson will be able to pair Iguodala on the wing with either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson and give opposing offenses a look this team hasn’t been able to show for years.

Andrew Bogut looks like he will be ready to start the season and re-create his big defensive presence from last season’s playoff run and Jermaine O’Neal can help out defensively as long as Jackson doesn’t have to rely on him for big minutes.

The only obvious risk in Golden State is how well Stephen Curry’s ankles hold up and he only missed 4 regular season games last year.

Risks and Obstacles

The top five teams in the West are all deep enough to deal with reasonable injury risks and still compete for home court in the first round of the playoffs and aside from the Memphis Grizzlies, it would be a surprise if any of the other teams in the Western Conference were able to bump them into the sixth spot or lower. However, each team faces the real possibility that key players will miss games to known injury concerns and if this happens at the wrong time, their regular season standing will be affected.

Anyone in our top five could end up first in the West if the breaks go their way, however, pushing the Clippers and the Thunder out of the way is probably too big a hill to climb.

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

The muddled middle of teams competing for a playoff spot at 6, 7 and 8 will be available for discussion soon.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report. You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

Cory Joseph Leads Canada Past Mexico

In the end, it was Cory Joseph leading Canada past Mexico 89-67, but the game didn’t start out that way and the result was in doubt well into the fourth quarter.

Canada came out like they had never played this game before as bad turnovers by Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson and Andy Rautins staked Mexico to an early 7-2 lead. Only the aggressiveness of Joseph driving to the rim provided any indication that this was the same team that had demolished Uruguay less than two days ago. Once Canada found their bearings, however, the game started to turn and their own 8-2 run put Canada back on top. Andrew Nicholson couldn’t miss in the first quarter and went 3-3 for 8 points. Thompson didn’t have much impact offensively today, but he shut down Mexico’s leading scorer Gustavo Ayon in the opening quarter.

Canada started the second quarter with a 21-18 lead, but missed their first six shots before Joseph put them ahead to stay with back-to-back three-pointers for a 27-20 lead. Fortunately, Mexico wasn’t fairing any better offensively. Joseph led Canada at the half in scoring with 12 points followed by Nicholson with 11 points on 4-4 shooting. The only player stopping Nicholson in the first half was himself as he kept picking up silly fouls. The quarter ended with Canada up 40-31 on a Jermaine Anderson long range bomb that refused to fall out.

Mexico opened the second half with 8 unanswered points as Ayon scored 6 points and Canada only managed a turnover, 2 personal fouls and 2 missed shots to start. Rautins broke Mexico’s run with a long range three-pointer that re-established a 4 point lead for Canada and then 3 three-pointers by Brady Heslip put Canada back up by 9. Mexico refused to go away in the third quarter, however, and this game was 60-58 at the start of the final frame.

The fourth quarter started slow and sloppy, but once Canada got up by 10 on a pair of three-pointers from Rautins, the rout was on. Canada outscored Mexico 29-9 in the fourth quarter to win this game going away by 22 points. This game was a remarkable display of long range shooting as Canada went 16-28 from deep led by Heslip (5), Rautins (4) and Joseph (3).

It might have been easy to overlook Joseph’s contributions on this afternoon with Rautins (19) and Heslip (21) putting on a show from long range in the second half, but Canada stayed in this contest because of Joseph’s aggressive play and the young guard finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The FIBA Americas tournament has been quite the coming out party for the Spurs backup point guard.

The Hawks recently acquired free agent big man Ayon continues to impress at this tournament beyond all reasonable expectations. He may have started slow today, but he finished strong and was almost able to keep Mexico in this game. Ayon had 19 points on 7-12 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Thompson, who kept Ayon in check for one quarter, ended up with 7 points on 3-12 shooting, but he did pull in a game high 12 boards.

Canada now sits atop of the second round standings with 3 wins and a loss ( 2 wins and a loss were carried forward from the preliminary round) pending the results of the two later games on Thursday. Their points-differential of +53 puts them well ahead of the other 7 teams in case of tie-breakers.

Canada faces Venezuela on Friday at 5:30pm ET, the Dominican Republic on Saturday and on Sunday Argentina.

Canada vs Mexico boxscore

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors