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Blatche and Barea

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 5 J.J. Barea And Andray Blatche

As Team USA and Spain rolled to their fourth consecutive wins, Wednesday’s biggest studs were found in a battle between Puerto Rico and the Philippines as J.J. Barea and Andray Blatche fought to keep their team’s slim hopes of advancing beyond group play alive for another day.

Team USA found themselves in garbage time early, so Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski spread the minutes around during the 35 point blowout win over the Dominican Republic. Spain’s three-headed monster of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were far too much for France to deal with, but they shared the wealth and no one stood out on the stats sheet in the 88-64 win even if all of France’s big men looked overmatched.

Puerto Rico defeated the Philippines 77-73 on hot hand of the Timberwolves Barea who went on a personal 10-3 run that put his team up by five points late in the fourth quarter. Barea’s 30 point game was tops among all players on Day 5. As has been the case throughout group play, the Nets free agent power forward Blatche led the Philippines with his fourth consecutive double-double as the big man scored 25 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked 2 shots and had a steal, however, as usual, it wasn’t enough and the Philippines fell to 0-4 and out of contention for the next round.

The Suns free agent Hamed Haddadi is looking for a contract and he has been showing his value at the World Cup. On Wednesday he led Iran past Egypt 88-73 with a 23 point 15 rebound 1 steal 2 block effort that kept his team’s very slim hopes of advancing to the next round alive. It was Haddadi’s second double-double and second plus 20 point game as he has averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds on a team that doesn’t offer him much support.

The Pelicans new center Omer Asik put up 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and a block to help propel Turkey past Finland 77-73.

Pacers veteran forward Luis Scola led Argentina in scoring for the fourth consecutive time with 21 points and 14 rebounds in a 81-46 dismantling of upstart Senegal who had just won two games in a row for the first time ever at this tournament.

The Spurs free agent Aron Baynes keeps showing flashes of why this young big man should be able to land an NBA contract again this season as he led Australia past Mexico 70-62 with a game-high 21 points to go with 5 boards and 3 blocked shots.

Other Notables:

Angola’s Roberto Forte 21 points
Brazil’s Marquinhos Vieira 21 points
Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) 20 points
Lithuania’s Adas Juskevicius 20 points

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.

 

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.

 

 

Pau Gasol and Dieng

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 3 Pau Gasol And Gorgui Dieng

It was a short schedule of games at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain on the Labor Day holiday Monday, however, Bulls Pau Gasol and Timberwolves Gorgui Dieng put up some huge numbers in big wins for Spain and Senegal.

The Bulls Pau Gasol used his second dominate performance of the tournament to help Spain lay an 82-63 beating on Brazil. Gasol had 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Spain has won their first three games by an average of 28.7 points.

Senegal knocked off previously unbeaten Croatia 77-75 using a monster 27 point, 8 rebound, 3 assist, 1 steal and 2 block effort from the Timberwolves 24-year-old center Gorgui Dieng. In three games, Dieng has averaged 22 points and 11.7 rebounds. Behind the efforts of their young star, Senegal has their first two wins at this event since 1998. Croatia was led by the 76ers first round draft pick Dario Saric with 15 points, 4 assists and 6 rebounds and the Nets Bojan Bogdanovic with 15 points and 3 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns free agent center Hamed Haddadi scored a tournament high for the day of 29 points in Iran’s 83-70 loss to Serbia. Haddadi has interest from the Knicks and the Pelicans in the NBA for the upcoming season. Nemanja Bjelica of Fenerbehce Ulker had an 18 point 10 rebound double-double for Serbia.

Pacers forward Luis Scola scored 19 points to lead Argentina in scoring for the third day in a row as his team knocked off the Philippines 85-81. The Nets free agent Andray Blatche recorded his third double-double in 3 days with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in the loss.

Nikos Zisis got hot from outside hitting on 4-5 three-point attempts to score 19 points and lead unbeaten Greece past Puerto Rico 90-79. The former New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman had 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals and Timberwolves Jose Juan Barea had 21 points in the loss.

France beat up on Egypt 94-55. Egypt is 0-3 and has lost by an average of 32.3 points per game. No studs here.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.

 

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.

 

 

Brady Heslip by MoVernie (edited)

Can Canadian Brady Heslip Make The Timberwolves?

Canadian guard Brady Heslip isn’t the typical college player expected to make an NBA roster. He wasn’t drafted, he wasn’t even ranked in the top 100 by most mock draft boards. However, he earned a shot at making the Minnesota Timberwolves roster this summer at NBA Summer League and while playing for Team Canada.

 

 
He’s old for a rookie at 24 and he’s undersized for a shooting guard at 6’2, however, Heslip brings more to the NBA than the typical immature early entry candidate teams usually take out of the draft. Heslip can score and he’s proven it against some of the best playing for Team Canada over the past two summers. Seeing Heslip tryout for Team Canada for the FIBA Americas tournament last summer, it would have been easy to assume he’d be cut. There were bigger guards available to play, but he earned a spot on the roster and he wasn’t just a twelve man. Heslip was often a surprising impact player.

In in final year at Baylor, Heslip made 3.1 three-pointers a game shooting 46 percent from deep and Minnesota decided to give him a look at Summer League.

 


 

Heslip wasn’t about to waste this opportunity and in his final two games he averaged 15.5 points and made 7-10 three-points attempts.
 

 

After getting noticed in Las Vegas, Heslip brought that shooting with him to Team Canada for the summer where the undersized guard led his team in scoring on 4 occasions. 14 points against Georgia, 16 points versus Croatia, 18 points on Serbia and a 22 point effort in the final game against Angola. He also scored 11 points against Spain. Heslip was Team Canada’s floor spreader and the opposition left him at their own peril.

 

 

“Hopefully we can show off some of those guys while we are on that (11 game European) tour and get them employed,” Canadian Head Coach Jay Triano told Pro Bball Report. “It’s happened in the past. I think back to the 2000 Olympics and guys that played in the Olympics got jobs because of how well we did in the Olympics and they got better contracts.”

“(The players) get to be seen. If it opens up opportunities for our players to keep playing and become employed as basketball players then it’s a great trip.”

Currently there isn’t a spot for Heslip on the Timberwolves 15-man roster, however, with all the moves that the team has made recently, it isn’t hard to imagine how an opportunity to make the roster could happen. It will be an uphill battle to go from not being drafted to making an NBA team, but Heslip has been able to impress coaches before and earn himself a chance to play. He just might be able to do it 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.

 

 

Andrews Wiggins presser by MoVernie

Andrew Wiggins In Toronto For Endorsement Deal And Video

 

The NBA’s 2014 first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins visited his Alma Mater in Toronto, Glen Shields Public School (Concord, Ontario) on Monday to formally announce a major new endorsement deal with Canadian based BioSteel Sports Inc.

Andrews Wiggins Biosteel presser by MoVernie

 

BioSteel is a sports drink producer whose products are in wide use among both professional and amateur athletes. They were the first Canadian company step up and sign Wiggins to an endorsement contract.

 

Team BioSteel also includes NHL All-Star Carey Price, NFL All-Pro Dez Bryant and Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow. Their products are often found at pro sports camps.

 


Wiggins filmed a commercial for Biosteel while he was at Glen Shields Public School.

 

 

 

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day

It Was Time For The Timberwolves To Give Up On Love

Trading Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers could be heart wrenching for Timberwolves fans, but after a decade as a lottery team and nine seasons in a row of failing to win over half of their games, it’s time to admit that Love’s six seasons in Minnesota haven’t turned this team’s fortunes around.

It can be hard to say a guy that puts up 26 points and 12 boards has been a bust, the NBA and their fans are in love with Love around All-Star time, however, the biggest thing Love has been able to do for the Timberwolves is help (barely) to draw fans in opposing teams buildings.

In part because Love has been playing in the Western Conference, he wasn’t even able to enjoy the merger playoff success that Chris Bosh had in Toronto with the Raptors. Bosh was a 24 point 10 rebound All-Star before joining the HEAT in 2010, but as Andrea Bargnani so eloquently pointed out after Bosh left, the team didn’t win with him. Bosh only got to the playoffs twice in seven tries with the Raptors and his team only cracked the .500 mark for wins once. Putting up big statistics is not the same as being a winner in the NBA.

In many ways the Timberwolves had become the Chris Bosh led Raptors and the soon-to-be LeBron James run Cavaliers are probably hoping Love will fill the Bosh role beside James in Cleveland. Bosh’s numbers crashed as the outlet guy for James on offense and he had to play defense at the sacrifice of his rebounding numbers – 24 and 10 turned into 17 and 7, but Bosh went to four NBA Finals in a row. It was worth it.

It won’t be easy, but Love has the talent to sacrifice his own stats to become a key cog on a James led NBA Finals contender. Timberwolves fans just need accept that this was never going to happen in Minnesota and their team needed to get worse to get better.

The Raptors went through their own version of purgatory after Bosh left, however, with the 2014 first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins coming back in the proposed trade for Love, Minnesota will have a lot more potential to work with than Toronto did in 2010 if they can only accept the fact they just took a big step back this year to move forward a couple of seasons from now.

It was past the time for the Timberwolves to have given up on Love, sometimes love just isn’t enough. The team held out for a great return on the trade of their best asset and if they don’t waste a couple of seasons trying to become a playoff team out of the ashes too quickly, Minnesota could come out of this looking pretty good.

Of course, just after the proposed deal of Love for Wiggins and Anthony Bennett leaks out, there is a follow up rumor that Minnesota wants to flip the Cavaliers 2013 first overall draft pick Bennett to the 76ers for Thaddeus Young.

The implications of the rumor being the Timberwolves move the suspect Bennett for the enticing young veteran from the 76ers to get better right away and the 76ers improve their “Tank.”

The Timberwolves would probably be better off showing a little more patience. It’s been a decade already. What’s another couple of years to do this right?

 

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.

 

 

Raptors Logo photo

Sam Mitchell Leading Timberwolves Head Coach Candidate?

Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune has reported that, “the new favorite for the Wolves coaching position has to be Sam Mitchell.”

The former Toronto Raptors Head Coach was a power forward with the Timberwolves for 10 seasons between 1989 and 2002.  A true journeyman forward who survived in the NBA for 13 years through hard work, Mitchell averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds and started in about 25 percent of the games he played.  Because of his own experiences as a player, he expected a lot as a coach, recognizing that effort is as important as skill.

Often called a “Jimmies and Joe’s” coach, Mitchell was a motivator rather than an “Xs and Os” guy and he had a stubborn streak as to how he believed players could be best motivated that likely cost him his job in Toronto.  Hartman doesn’t think Mitchell got a fair shake when the Raptors fired him 17 games into the 2008-2009 season.

Mitchell had a record of 156 wins and 189 losses as a head coach with the Raptors and led Toronto to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.  He won the NBA Coach of the Year award in 2007 with a franchise high tying 47 regular season wins.

Mitchell would be a solid choice for a Wolves team that has seemed to lack something for a long time now.  Mitchell isn’t going to wow anyone with pretty plays called in from the sidelines during a game, but he he will push his players and the Wolves are a group that could use a hard shove.

 

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

 

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day

Indiana Pacers Are For Real/ Everyone Loves Kevin Love

The about face from the talking heads covering the NBA playoffs has been fast enough to make anyone’s head spin. All of a sudden, the first place Indiana Pacers might be good enough to challenge the Miami HEAT – shocking! Then one little news story about Kevin Love being unhappy in Minnesota out of New York and nearly every media outlet in every NBA city is thinking up ways their team can steal one of the most productive power forwards in the league from the Timberwolves – well it wouldn’t be the first time.

The Pacers made a statement in last year’s playoffs by taking the HEAT to seven games and despite a rather crappy second half to this season – by the Pacers current standards – Indiana is a better team this time around and an objective view of the HEAT is they are not any better and might have gotten worse.

Going back to last year, the Pacers have shown an inability to get up for lesser teams, a trait they showed in spades during the playoffs this year. However, since last year’s playoffs, getting up for a challenge hasn’t been a problem.

The top teams in the NBA haven’t changed from a season ago. It’s still Miami, San Antonio and the Thunder with the Pacers in the East and a handful of teams in the West making moves to challenge them. After going 2-5 in 2012-2013 against the HEAT, Spurs and Thunder during the regular season, this year the Pacers were 4-4. Between their regular season head-to-head record against the best teams in the league and their first place finish, this team has earned a lot more respect than they have been getting.

It’s only one game and the changing of the guard doesn’t happen until the challenger puts the champion away, but the Pacers deserve a lot more respect as a legitimate threat. They earned it.

That Kevin Love isn’t happy in Minnesota is old news. This story goes all the back to Love not getting a maximum five year deal out of the Timberwolves back in 2012 and the player option for the 2015-2016 season that put the team under the break the playoff drought or else hammer. The ‘or else hammer’ is starting to drop and it’s hard to see how Minnesota could convince anyone that this team is ever going to be more than a threat to eighth place in the Western Conference as currently constructed.

Whether ‘Love’s people’ are demanding a trade or not, the premise of the rumors about Love not wanting to stay on a team that has spent a decade in the NBA lottery isn’t hard to believe. The sharks are circling and if Love will agree to pick up his player option for 2015-2016, he is a very trade-able player.

Don’t look for verifiable confirmation of Love’s desire to leave or the teams he might want to play for. The NBA has rules about players making open trade demands. However, if there is one thing that fits with this situation, its Love is sick of losing. Any trade that will see the cooperation necessary to extract maximum value in a trade will put Love into a winning environment. The likelihood of Love voluntarily joining another rebuilding team is somewhere between remote and are you bleeping crazy.

This will be fun to watch – if you are not a Timberwolves fan- and if Minnesota wants to extract maximum value they will be shopping Love now – even if it takes all summer to find the right deal. Love to your favorite NBA team will be a story that just keeps on giving until a deal gets done.

 

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 Lowry and DeRozan

Kyle Lowry Triple-Double Leads Raptors Past Timberwolves 111-104

The Toronto Raptors swept the season series from the Minnesota Timberwolves for the eighth time in 10 seasons as point guard Kyle Lowry refused to let his team lose on the boards or on the score sheet. Lowry accumulated a 20 point 12 rebound 11 assist triple-double in the 111-104 victory.

“Kyle’s triple-double was huge for us tonight,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “We needed all of his assists, we needed all of his buckets and we needed all of his rebounds. It was a great effort on his part.”

This was Lowry’s second big game against Minnesota this season as he definitely has Ricky Rubio’s number. In Toronto, Lowry hit 6 three-pointers as he led all scorers with 24 points and added 5 rebounds and 6 assists while the Raptors held their own on the boards. However, in Minnesota, the Timberwolves big front line of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic helped keep their team in the game by crushing the Raptors on the offensive glass by a 10-2 margin in the first half and Toronto only led by 1 point despite shooting over 50 percent from the field at the break.

In the second half it was a different story on the boards as the Raptors, led by 9 rebounds from their starting point guard, out-rebounded the Timberwolves 28-14 and took control of the game.

Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) down the stretch really turned it on,” Casey said. “Kyle stuck his nose in there, penetrated, accepted a challenge and I thought they just did a heck of a job just putting their heads down and driving to the bucket. (They) came up with some big stops down the stretch and that was the game.”

Lowry grabbed 4 offensive boards in the second half and seemed to be everywhere at once. DeRozan appeared to be having a quiet night, but he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on route to a team high 25 points.

This game started and finished at the Timberwolves pace as the first quarter ended 33 all and the fourth quarter saw 28 points each put up. However, in the middle of the game, the Raptors were able to impose their will and hold their opponents to just 37 percent shooting while outscoring them 50-43.

Unlike Minnesota’s trip to Toronto, both Love and Pekovic had big games. Love may have put together one of the quietest near triple-doubles ever with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Pekovic contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds, Kevin Martin had 20 points and Corey Brewer had 17. The rookie Shabazz Muhammad kind of outshone Love in the fourth quarter with a very active 6 points, but overall, the Timberwolves got very little out of their bench.

The Raptors got 15 points from each of Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Steve Novak. Novak was filling in for the injured Patrick Patterson and hit 5-6 three-pointers off the bench. The Raptors reserves dominated the Timberwolves bench 32-16.

This was the Raptors 35th win of the season and with the victory they remain a full game ahead of Chicago for third place in the Eastern Conference and 4 games ahead of Brooklyn atop the Atlantic Division. This is only the seventh time in franchise history that the team has won 35 games in a season and in 5 of the 6 previous occasions, the Raptors were a playoff team.

Toronto immediately heads to Brooklyn for an Atlantic Division battle against the Nets on Monday.

The Timberwolves have now lost 2 of 3 games in a 4 game home stand against Eastern Conference opponents to drop their record to 31-31 and 5.5 games out of a playoff spot in the West with only 20 games left to go. It looks like Minnesota will be making their 10th consecutive trip to the NBA draft lottery in the near future.

Milwaukee visits the Target Center on Tuesday, but the Timberwolves have likely let too many opportunities to move up pass them by already.

 

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.

 

Check out our Raptors Game Info page.

And:

Timberwolves Have Become The Chris Bosh Raptors
Minnesota has a right to object, but in Toronto, we’ve seen this movie before. A pretty good looking team led by a bona fide All-Star power forward that just can’t seem to get over the hump. The Timberwolves have become the Western Conference’s version of the Chris Bosh led Toronto Raptors.

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.”

MIN Pekovic And Love

Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves Trying to Dominate Again

The 34-26 Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors kick off a back-to-back on the road in Minnesota against the Timberwolves on Sunday night and if history is any indication, this isn’t going to be a pleasant experience for the home crowd.

The Raptors defeated the Timberwolves in Toronto on January 17th 94-89 for their tenth home win in a row against the team from Minnesota and on Sunday, Toronto will get their chance to sweep the season series for the eighth time in the past 10 years.

This year, the about to be decade long lottery bound Timberwolves are above the .500 mark at 31-30 led by their two big men Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. The addition of Kevin Martin in the off season gave this team some badly needed scoring on the wing, but as of now, they still sit 5 games out of a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

In their only visit to Toronto, Martin led the Timberwolves with 18 points, but Love (16 pts) and Pekovic (13 pts) were held far below their season averages and this high scoring team struggled against the very defensive-minded Raptors. Once again, this will be a battle between the league’s fourth highest scoring team and the NBA’s fourth best defense.

For some reason, the Raptors Amir Johnson has enjoyed considerable success against Love that he once explained as just trying to stay in front of him and the Timberwolves haven’t been able to find a way to keep Pekovic in the game. This just hasn’t been a good matchup for Minnesota.

Kyle Lowry certainly enjoyed playing the Timberwolves in Toronto. He took advantage Ricky Rubio to score 24 points and nail 6-9 three-point shots last time and on the scoreboard, it was the Raptors superior three-point shooting that made the difference. Even though Minnesota is the 27th worst three-point shooting team at 33.9 percent, they took 18 attempts (down from their season average of 21.9) and connected on only 3. The Raptors on the other hand rank 12th in three-point shooting and they hit 11-24.

The Timberwolves are playing well since the All-Star break winning 6 of 8, but so have the Raptors and just put those tough Western Conference analogies to bed. After beating Golden State and the Kings, Toronto is 12-12 against the West while Minnesota is 17-22.

There are no easy road wins in the NBA and if the Raptors don’t play up to their own defensive standards, these Timberwolves can bury them in an avalanche of points, but somehow that just doesn’t seem likely.

 

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.

 

Check out:

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day

Timberwolves Have Become The Chris Bosh Raptors
Minnesota has a right to object, but in Toronto, we’ve seen this movie before. A pretty good looking team led by a bona fide All-Star power forward that just can’t seem to get over the hump. The Timberwolves have become the Western Conference’s version of the Chris Bosh led Toronto Raptors.

Raptors Win Tenth In A Row Over Timberwolves

It has been a decade since the last time the Timberwolves won a game at the Air Canada Centre as the Raptors took them down for the tenth time in a row on home court 94-89.  In a more current context, this was Toronto’s sixth consecutive home win as the Raptors have started protecting home court with a vengeance in the post-Rudy Gay era.

Minnesota never led in the game and Toronto led by double-digits in the mid-part of each quarter, but the Raptors could never completely put this game out of reach until the end and that should not come as a surprise.  The Timberwolves were the second highest scoring team in the NBA coming into tonight’s game at 107.1 points per game and number 2 ranked at offensive rebounding, so putting up points in a hurry is something they are good at.  However, Toronto held them to under 90 points and the only other teams to do that this season were the Pacers, HEAT and Spurs.

Amir Johnson opened the scoring for Toronto as if to remind everyone just how much he has enjoyed playing against Minnesota at the Air Canada TOR_Johnson_AmirCentre.  Over the past 4 seasons, Johnson has scored 19 points against the Timberwolves each time he has faced Kevin Love at home.  At the other end of the court, while Love is not someone that can be kept completely off the scoreboard, Johnson has done a good job defending this 25.6 point per game scorer.  The last time Love was in Toronto, he scored 13 points on 3-16 shooting.  In Friday night’s game, Love was held to just 16 points on 7-19 from the field.  After 3 quiet games in a row, apparently all Johnson needed was a little Love.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves for that Boston game,” Johnson said.  “Come out, get stops, get every rebound and we did that tonight.”

The Raptors stayed within 1 rebound of the Timberwolves, 44-43 and perhaps more importantly matched them with 12 offensive boards as Toronto controlled the pace and limited Minnesota’s typical big advantage on the glass.

Jonas Valanciunas struggled scoring against the bigger Nikola Pekovic, but he fought his way to a team high 11 rebounds.  The undersized Chuck Hayes came in off the bench to grab a season-high 9 rebounds in just over 19 minutes.  Love had a dozen boards and Turiaf came in to pull down 10, but the battle of the boards was even between the 2 teams.

SAC_Hayes_Chuck“Chuck Hayes came in and gave us 9 rebounds,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said.  “That was huge for us.  Our big guys stepped up – did what they were supposed to do.”

While Johnson was quietly pouring in points against the Timberwolves big men, the fireworks were coming from the long range bombs being hoisted with deadly accuracy by Kyle Lowry.  Lowry led all scorers with 24 points as he filled the net with a season-high 6 three-pointers.

TOR_Lowry_Kyle“(Lowry) is playing at a high level,” Casey said.  “This is the highest level he has played – the best I think he has played.  I think he has grown into that role of leader.  He has matured as a man – fatherhood – husband – has really matured him.  He has been a positive leader.  He is doing all the right things.”

“(Lowry) has always played at a high level, but he is shooting the ball really well,” Head Coach Rick Adelman said.  “A lot better than at any time from the three-point line, from the floor and from the free throw line, so that’s a big difference, but he has always been a really solid player.”

The Raptors hit 11 three-point shots to just 3 by Minnesota as Toronto used the long range jump shot to offset a 26 point disadvantage in the paint.

Kevin Martin led the Timberwolves with 18 points on 7-14 from the field and Pekovic shot 6-12 for 13 points.

In 11th place and 3 games under .500, the Timberwolves’ season seems to be slipping away, but Adelman doesn’t see things that way as the team returns home to play Utah on Saturday.

“You can’t look at it that way,” Adelman said.  “You have to keep playing.  You just have to move on to the next game.  We played hard tonight and Kyle (Lowry) made some big shots.  You can’t think that way.  You have to think about the next game and getting the win.”

With the win, the Raptors moved a half game ahead of the Hawks for sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.  Toronto plays the Lakers next on Sunday.

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.

 

Be sure to read:

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day
Timberwolves Have Become The Chris Bosh Raptors

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day

Timberwolves Have Become The Chris Bosh Raptors

Minnesota has a right to object, but in Toronto, we’ve seen this movie before.  A pretty good looking team led by a bona fide All-Star power forward that just can’t seem to get over the hump.  The Timberwolves have become the Western Conference’s version of the Chris Bosh led Toronto Raptors.

MIA_Bosh_ChrisChris Bosh was a perennial 20+ point 10+ rebound guy in Toronto who could put up monster games and carry his team to victory – some of the time.  But like Andrea Bargnani said after Bosh left (paraphrasing) – we didn’t win anything when he was here.

In Minnesota, Kevin Love could argue his numbers are even better than Bosh’s, but the results haven’t been there for him either.  Sure, Love has legitimately been an All-Star, but that hasn’t come with playoff appearances.

The Timberwolves, like the underachieving Raptors of the Bosh era, have talent.  They even have former Raptors starting point guard Jose Minnesota Timberwolves Media DayCalderon’s understudy from the Spanish National team Ricky Rubio carving up the league with assists like his mentor.  But the team continues to hover near the .500 mark and remain on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.  Something is missing.

It is easy to get mislead by Minnesota’s impressive +4.4 points differential which is eighth best in the NBA.  The Timberwolves can win games by big margins.  Unfortunately, they are still losing more than they win because they have the NBA’s worst field goal percentage defense and that is not going to get them anywhere close to postseason appearance.  The Timberwolves are 25th in points allowed this season.

What Minnesota does well is rebound at the offensive end led by Love Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day(3.3 offensive rebounds) and Nikola Pekovic (4.3 offensive rebounds).  Bosh had 2.9 offensive rebounds in his last season with the Raptors.  The Timberwolves have used these extra possessions and the NBA’s second quickest pace to generate a league best 89.4 field goal attempts per game.  A mark that is somewhat offset by their pathetic 43.4 percent shooting, but they are second in scoring with 107.1 points game.

The result has been a win 1, lose 1, win 2, lose 2, win 3, lose 3 type of season.  Like those frustrating Chris Bosh led Raptors, this team has the ability to defeat and lose to anybody on any given night.  Trying to outscore your opponent without defending has not been a very good formula for success in the NBA.

TOR_Casey_DwaneThe Dwane Casey led Raptors have been a different team since the Rudy Gay trade and Casey was able to get his players on board with his defensive philosophies.  On the season, the Raptors hold teams to an NBA third best 96.2 points per game and an NBA ninth best 44.4 percent shooting from the field.  Those numbers drop to 93.8 points and 42.7 percent since the trade.  The change has been equally dramatic on the offensive side of the ball for the Raptors.  Before the trade, Toronto was scoring 97.3 points on 42.4 percent shooting (which is even lower than Minnesota).  In the 19 games post trade, those numbers rise to 101.2 points and 44.5 percent.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raptors record is 13-6 in the games after Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento.

The Raptors are trying to emulate the controlled pace and physical style of play used by the Pacers and HEAT.  The HEAT take the fewest shots per game in the league at 76.8 and the Pacers are 27th at 79.4.  On the season, Toronto takes 82.1 shots per game compared to the Timberwolves at 89.4.

In recent years the games between the Raptors and the Timberwolves have been among the most entertaining – if also among the least promoted – and this clash of styles should produce another exciting contest at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.  It should also produce a bit of nostalgia for the Raptors fans of the Bosh era as they watch yet another team try to build a playoff team around a star power forward who obviously needs a lot of help.

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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Raptors Hilights From Win In Minnesota

Tyler Hansbrough 2Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey took advantage of the lack of TV coverage in Minnesota on Saturday to use 16 different players against the Timberwolves and under the circumstances, pull out an unexpected 104-97 victory.

The referees handed out 60 personal fouls in this game, 35 to the Raptors and sent Minnesota to the free throw line 50 times. Toronto added to their own woes by touching the ball after scoring a basket 4 times resulting in 3 technical foul shots as this is a point of emphasis during preseason. Toronto also turned the ball over 26 times making the eventually victory even more improbable.

However, the Raptors defense held the Timberwolves to just 36.4 percent while hitting on 50 percent of their own attempts. D.J. Augustin, who had only hit 1 shot before the game in Minnesota, was 3-6 for 8 points and the struggling Landry Fields hit 3-4 shots for 9 points. Austin Daye almost doubled his minutes played to-date in the preseason and hit on 2-3 three-point attempts to lead the Raptors in scoring with 12 points in 16 minutes.

The Raptors starters all played 20 minutes or less to give everyone else a chance. Only Steve Novak didn’t play and Casey mentioned Novak had a sore hand after practice back in Toronto.

For those on the Tyler Hansbrough watch, the Raptors rough and ready defensive power forward continued to show his offensive prowess with 11 point in 14 minutes on 5-7 from the field.

Quincy Acy got to play 16 minutes in Minnesota after impressing everyone at the end of the game against New York and the high energy combo-forward was a game high +13 as he continue to take full advantage of whatever opportunities he receives. Even Afrobasket MVP Carlos Morais finally got a chance, playing 12 minutes and hitting on 1-2 three-point attempts.

Casey has indicated he will not be cutting back his preseason rotation until the last couple of games. This will give the Raptors organization two more chances to evaluate the players fighting to get noticed.

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.

Raptors Preseason Heads to Minnesota Tonight

The Raptors only loss this preseason came at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Wednesday night 101-89, but the likely regular season rotation players for both teams played a relatively even game that saw a small Toronto lead evaporate when the tryout players got their minutes in the second half.

Minnesota has a strong team that should be in the playoff race all season and the tandem of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love will provide a great test for the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson once again tonight.

In the backcourt, Ricky Rubio and the veteran J.J. Barea will equally test the recently turnover prone Raptors point guards and hopefully Toronto will see a better defensive performance from the rookie Dwight Buycks than the last time these two teams met.

Both of these teams see themselves as being on the rise and ready to make some noise in their respective conferences. This should be a good preseason game once again.

Over the Raptors three preseason season games, one thing has stood out above everything else. The team is averaging 21 turnovers per game led by 3.67 turnovers from their starting point guard Kyle Lowry. The starting unit is playing hard, but sloppy and the fact Toronto is holding teams to just 41.9 percent shooting from the field is being lost because they are giving their opponents 12 more shots per game.

DeMar DeRozan has been an efficient beast in the paint. Driving, drawing fouls and making sweet interior passes. He leads the Raptors at 16.7 points per game, but is 0-5 from three-point range.

Rudy Gay has looked rusty, but he is still shooting 44.8 percent from the field and has gotten to the free throw line a team best 22 times. The grumbles of concern don’t really seem warranted so early in the preseason.

As Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri tried to tell the media, Tyler Hansbrough can be an offensive force. Third in scoring for the Raptors so far with 35 points, he is tied with Jonas Valanciunas for the most rebounds at 20 and is second in free throw attempts with 17.

Jonas Valanciunas is quietly looking like a starting NBA center.

Dwight Buycks has been getting more minutes than D.J. Augustin and where Augustin has done a decent job of running the second unit early in the game even though his shot isn’t falling at all yet, the rookie Buycks has been the more exciting player to watch. Head Coach Dwane Casey has put Buycks in during the third quarter to finish each of the past two games and where Buycks has started slow defensively each time, he is starting to show signs that he could be very good. The young point guard scored 10 points in a 5 minute span against the Knicks last game to help the Raptors pull out a win.

Terrence Ross raised our expectations with a strong performance in the preseason opener against Boston, but has disappointed with mental lapses and suspect effort in the last two games. He has left the battle for backup minutes at shooting guard wide open at this point.

Landry Fields can play defense and rebound, but has hit just 3-15 shots and missed 8 layups over the past two games. It is safe to assume his elbow issues are not fully resolved.

The battle for the last roster position is being won by Julyan Stone. Stone played 4 solid minutes and the Timberwolves and then 12 effective minutes against the Knicks. Carlos Morais and Chris Wright have only played 4 minutes between them so far and it is worth remembering, Stone is Ujiri’s guy. Stone seems to be growing on Casey as well and could be a dark horse candidate to backup the two spot.

The Raptors play Minnesota tonight at 8 pm. There is no TV coverage planned by either team at this point.

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.

Raptors Look at Buycks In Loss To Timberwolves

Dwight Buycks 2The Toronto Raptors lost 101 to 89 to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night in a game of two halves where Head Coach Dwane Casey took a hard look at Dwight Buycks after the break and a peak at Julyan Stone, Carlos Morais, Austin Daye and Chris Wright. After all, these games don’t count and Casey has players he needs to have a look at before the season starts.

For the Raptors, the game started out with the same level of sloppy turnovers they were playing with in Boston and the result was a 28-22 Minnesota lead after one quarter. They went into Jonas Valanciunas on the block against Nikola Pekovic on the first play of the game and Valanciunas drew the foul, but this was a matchup of different but equal centers. Pekovic scored 4 quick points when Valanciunas went to the bench midway through the first quarter, but quickly found things more challenging again when Casey substituted Valanciunas back in less than 3 minutes later. This was a good preseason matchup for both players to work on their respective games. Valanciunas played well, finishing with 9 points and 5 rebounds. Pekovic should be pleased with how he was able to impact the game as well.

Toronto got control of their turnovers in the second quarter and outscored Minnesota 37-27 to take a 59-55 lead into the half. The Raptors starters came out to start the third quarter, but halfway through, with the game 71-68 Raptors, Tyler Hansbrough replaced Valanciunas, Landry Fields replaced Rudy Gay, the rookie Dwight Buycks replaced Kyle Lowry, and a minute later Terrence Ross replaced DeMar DeRozan. Love didn’t exit the game for another 4.5 minutes and scored his final 6 points. Minnesota had an 8 point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

DeMar DeRozan was a bright spot for the Raptors all game and had 5 first quarter points by attacking the paint, a theme he continued for the rest of the game. DeRozan was drawing fouls, driving through traffic and finishing. Minnesota had no answer for him. DeRozan had 8 second quarter points and finished the game with 17 points on 6-7 shooting and 5-6 from the line. One of many DeRozan highlights was his finish of a Rudy Gay alley-oop pass that looked like it might have been too high, but wasn’t.

Steve Novak came into the game in the second quarter and quickly hit on 3-4 three-point attempts before half. The Raptors three-point specialist looked like he was in mid-season form. Novak is ready to play for real now. D.J. Augustin, who played badly on Monday against Boston, was under control and looked like the solid backup point guard the Raptors thought they were getting. Augustin hooked up Novak for two wide open three-point shots early in the second quarter and hit on one of his own in between.

Rudy Gay was 1-5 from the field in the first half, but 7-7 from the free throw line as he was deceptively effective. Gay guarded Kevin Love on the perimeter for while in the second quarter as the Raptors went small and slowed down an otherwise big night for the Timberwolves star power forward. A noticeably trimmed down Love had 20 points and 9 rebounds on 6-14 shooting.

Rookie point guard Dwight Buycks got a long hard look for 17 minutes in the second half and the Timberwolves took advantage. Buycks was a -13 on the game as he couldn’t handle the veteran J.J. Barea at all and the Raptors were not able to contain dribble penetration with Buycks on the court. It didn’t help that Terrence Ross looked lost on defense for most of this game as well. Both players had their moments. Buycks set up Ross for a wide open three-pointer on a drive and kick. Ross did have a well executed driving layup, but the bad outweighed the good for both players. The long range air-ball Ross tossed up with 11 seconds left on the shot clock should get some discussion in the morning.

Landry Fields looked like the player of last season. Four missed layups and 1-6 shooting, Fields actually turned down a possible layup attempt in the fourth quarter and passed out of the post. Fields did say he was still working through some inconsistencies with his elbow during training camp.

In his 4 minutes of action, Stone looked better than Buycks, if only because he could provide some resistance to Barea. Stone is a big point guard that easily has the size to guard wing players and has the quickness to give a small guard like Barea problems. Stone is definitely an interesting prospect. Morais got in this game at the end as did Daye and eventually Wright, but there wasn’t much to take away from this limited exposure as the teams only scored 1 point between them over the final 3 minutes.

Both teams had lots to take away from this game. Minnesota had nice performances from their big men and their guards. The only real concern was that Kevin Martin exited the game early for precautionary reasons due to a sore right Achilles. Toronto had solid games from their starters and key rotation players, but still has questions marks about whether Ross can be consistent, if Fields arm is really getting better and how long Buycks will play like a rookie. Stone possibly deserves a better look than just 4 minutes at the end of a 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.

Raptors Face A Strong Timberwolves Team Tonight

Coach Casey 2The Raptors play their preseason home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto was 2-0 against Minnesota last season, but many analysts, including Pro Bball Report’s projections, have the Timberwolves in the playoffs this season. This will be a good test of how well and how far the Raptors have implemented Head Coach Dwane Casey’s defense.

“With Pekovic inside and Love healthy, they are definitely one of the top teams in the West just because of the weapons they have,” said Casey after practice earlier today. “Martin is one of the best three-point shooters in the league, so they have a lot of weapons. Corey Brewer has made a niche for himself in the NBA. Even coming off the bench they have Dante Cunningham who didn’t play the other night. Derrick Williams is figuring it out and I like the team Flip has put together.

“(Ricky Rubio,) he really has grown. First year he had the typical rookie blues and struggles, but he has really grown. He has gotten stronger, most of all, he has gotten used to the NBA game and more confident. He has been playing ball since he was 12 I think. He is really a quality passer, quality scorer now. He gets you in transition attacking you, so he has really figured out the NBA game which is scary if you are an opposing team.

“Pekovic is one of the strongest players in the world – on the court – and he knows how to use it, how to play the game within the game and he is a handful. He is smart. He just knows how to play and he is a challenge for (Jonas Valanciunas).”

The Raptors played decent defense in stretches in Boston on Monday night, but they had a lot of careless turnovers on offense and were often caught trying to force things that just weren’t there. However, the team made up for many of their mistakes with effort and that aspect has to continue.

“We have been really focusing on defense and we will figure the offense out,” Casey said. “It will be something we keep harping about, taking care of the ball and not forcing it, not trying to make things happen that are not there.

“We always want to try to get around 13 or 14 (turnovers). I think we were number 5 in the NBA last year. We take pride in that, that is why the (26 turnovers) the other night was very alarming.”

The preseason is just practice for learning a team’s systems and getting the rust off, so the outcome and even the mistakes are not cause for serious concern at this point. Valanciunas fouled out in Boston and most of the fouls were caused by rookie-type mistakes that Valanciunas needs to get out of his system before the regular season starts. Playing against Pekovic tonight is just what the Raptors young center needs.

“This is a good lesson for (Valanciunas) to learn how to play against smart players like Pekovic,” Casey said. “J.V. is not a finished product. He has a lot to learn. He had a lot of rookie-type fouls the other night in Boston and he has to learn from that.”

The Raptors are serious about getting better this season and have their own (unspoken) playoff aspirations. Coach Casey believes winning teams play tough hard-nosed defense, so look for that to remain the focus of his team during the preseason.

“If you are serious about winning, you will figure (defense) out,” Casey said. “If you want to give lip service to the media and talk about winning, you will go out and just try to score a ton of points and out run everybody, but if you are serious about winning, you have to be serious about playing defense.”

Look for some different players in the Raptors lineup tonight. Quincy Acy, Carlos Morais, Steve Novak, Julyan Stone and Chris Wright didn’t get a chance to play on Monday and the Raptors have lot of decisions to make about who should be in the rotation and which player, if any, lands the 15th spot on the roster. If the Raptors players haven’t figured out what they need to do to get playing time this season, they really haven’t been paying attention. Look for increasing effort defensively as the preseason moves along.

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 NBA Western Conference Playoff Hopefuls

When ranking the NBA Western Conference, it is hard not to notice that coaching may have become the biggest determinate of change. The Clippers would still have doubters if Doc Rivers wasn’t running the show. It would be hard to not at least consider the Grizzlies a Western Conference Finals threat if Lionel Hollins was still there and how does an organization part with George Karl after he wins Coach of the Year?

After our top five of the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors, there are the weakened Grizzlies and Nuggets franchises that should be able to stay in the playoff picture followed by group of hopefuls where a debate should rage about the virtue of being a one-and-done playoff team in the eighth spot versus tanking for a better draft pick in June.

Too Good To Fail?

6. Memphis Grizzlies – 56-26 last season, projected 48-34

There isn’t anything more frustrating in professional sports than watching a well-built successful franchise knock itself down a peg in order to save money. 33-year-old Tayshaun Prince is an acceptable fill-in for Rudy Gay, but he is on the downside of his career and simply can’t provide the offense Gay did for 6.5 seasons in Memphis. The Grizzlies traded Gay to save money and they moved a plethora of lesser but solid players for the same reason.

The Grizzlies still have a good roster, however and if it wasn’t for handing the heading coaching job to Hollins’ assistant Dave Joerger, it might be easier to believe this would still be a 50-win team. Memphis is going to find out just how much an experienced and successful head coach contributes to a team’s record. It isn’t likely they are going to like the answer.

It is easy to sympathize with the financial realities of operating a small market franchise, but that isn’t going to help the Grizzlies win more games this season. The question in Memphis shouldn’t be if the team can stretch to win 50 games, but rather how far below 50 wins will they end up.

7. Denver Nuggets – 57-25 last season, projected 44-38

The Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray this summer. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Free agent Andre Iguodala spurned Denver’s offer to join the Warriors and free agent Corey Brewer opted for the Timberwolves. Danilo Gallinari is still rehabbing a partially torn ACL and hopes to return sometime in December, but the Nuggets will be starting this season without 3 of their top 5 scorers from last year and a brand new rookie head coach.

Big changes in management also mean big changes in style. The Nuggets were built to facilitate the open court style of Karl and new Head coach Brian Shaw is known for the Lakers’ triangle offense he played in and was schooled in as a player and an assistant coach in Los Angeles. Perhaps this explains why last year’s starting center Kosta Koutos was traded and JaVale McGee will be given his chance to play more than the 18 minutes a game Karl thought he deserved.

There are a lot of unknowns in Denver this season, but Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried should be able to stave off disaster and keep the Nuggets from slipping too much until Gallinari returns to provide some offensive punch. The number of wins above .500 will largely depend on Shaw, but the Nuggets are still a playoff team this season.

The Fight For Eighth

8. Minnesota Timberwolves -31-51 last season, projected 42-40

This is a roster bouncing back from injuries to Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, but each of these players have shown enough to get everyone excited to see what they could do playing together for an entire season. Minnesota didn’t wait for their best players to get healthy, this summer they picked up free agents Brewer from the Nuggets and Kevin Martin from the Thunder. A team that has been suspect on the wing for some time just got stronger.

The Timberwolves have spent nine years in the lottery and have experienced more than their share of bad luck and questionable management decisions, however, they head into this season with something new, justifiable hope. Healthy and a little deeper than in the past, it is Minnesota’s turn at the postseason again.

9. Dallas Mavericks – 41-41 last season, projected 40-42

No one believes the past two summers are what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban envisioned when he blew up his 2010-2011 championship roster. Dallas has a collection of talent for the second year in a row that screams .500-team. While this group could sneak into the playoffs if other teams stumble, the only truly redeeming feature of this roster is the less than $30 million in players’ salaries guaranteed after this season.

Dallas has a group of veterans in Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis who will put on a show, but there is no reason to expect they will do any better than last year’s Mavericks. Cuban has put his franchise on hold for another season.

10. Portland Trail Blazers – 33-49 last season, projected 37-45

There is some optimism around Portland this summer. They did pick up some players who could help the team garner a few more wins than last year.

Mo Williams is a solid veteran backup point guard and should play additional minutes at shooting guard if the Trail Blazers don’t mind letting rookie C.J. McCollum languish on the bench. Robin Lopez will be the team’s best center and let LaMarcus Aldridge play at his natural power forward position. The question becomes, how many minutes does Meyers Leonard get to play this year and which of Lopez and Leonard is the team’s center of the future. Thomas Robinson is on his third team after just one season, if Portland believes the fifth overall draft pick of 2012 has a future in the league, they have to find at least 20 minutes a night for him.

The Trail Blazers are too good to be bad and need to find minutes for their young players whether that results in wins or not. This season should have a slightly better record than last year, but winning is probably going to take a back seat to player development.

11. New Orleans Pelicans – 27-55 last season, projected 36-46

New Orleans projected starting unit of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson has an average age 23-years-old. This team’s best players are young, developing and a long ways from their projected prime and that is not usually the formula for a playoff appearance.

A lot of people suggested the Pelicans were making a run at the 2014 postseason when they exchanged Nerlens Noel and a future protected first round draft pick for Holiday, but maybe New Orleans just wanted a 23-year-old All-Star and thought they got the better of the trade. It would be hard to argue with them.

The Pelicans have question marks with their depth and potentially bigger unknowns with a couple of their starters. Eric Gordon had surgery on his ankle again in May and after playing in just 51 games over the past two seasons in New Orleans, whether or not Gordon will be the offensive player he was with the Clippers is unknown. The Kings tried to move Evans from guard to small forward and it would be stretch to say the experiment was a success in Sacramento. There is no reason to assume Evans can play small forward at a high level in New Orleans either.

In New Orleans, questions should be looked upon more as opportunities. This team has acquired some good young talent and their future is ahead of them. The current starting unit may gel and produce earlier than expected or take time to develop and future moves may be required, either way, the Pelicans are on the right path.

Risks and Obstacles

Any team hoping to land one the last three playoff spots in their conference is going to have risks and issues to deal with, but with the Grizzlies and the Nuggets seemingly locked into two of those spots, the rest of this group is really in for a fight.

Dallas will be waiting to take the last playoff if other teams stumble or decide to tank for a better lottery pick. Both Portland and New Orleans are going to be developing young players and letting the chips fall where they may. The Timberwolves, however, have the talent and the motivation to grab that last playoff spot if only that dark cloud of bad luck hanging over this team can disperse for a season and they are due, Minnesota has been waiting a long time to watch postseason action again.

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

Be sure to check out our Ranking of the Top Five NBA Eastern Conference Teams and our Ranking of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Hopefuls.

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

 

Defensive Center Greg Stiemsma Waived

There is always fallout from moves made during the July Moratorium and for teams looking to acquire a big young defensive center, the Minnesota Timberwolves are about to waive Greg Stiemsma in order to make room for Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and their own free agent, Nikola Pekovic.

Stiemsma’s agent Mark Bartelstein said this was purely a cap clearing move and had nothing to do with his client’s talent according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

“This was a cap move,” agent Mark Bartelstein said. “They like him. There are so many different variables right now with teams and their cap space. We’ll get through this [moratorium period] and see what happens.”

Stiemsma averaged 4.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 1.2 blocks in 15.9 minutes last year and over his two NBA seasons, he has blocked a eye-popping 6.8 percent of opponents two-point shots and averaged a defensive rating of 97 points allowed per 100 possessions. That defensive rating compares favorably to what Roy Hibbert did last season in Indiana.

It was just a numbers game for Stiemsma. Minnesota had drafted Louisville junior Gorgui Dieng to develop at the center position for next season and with Pekovic returning, they just couldn’t justify keeping Stiemsma around. The rest of the NBA knew this and the Timberwolves couldn’t get any value for him back in trade.

The 27-year-old Stiemsma went undrafted out of Wisconsin as a senior and played in Turkey, South Korea and the NBA D-League before getting his first 10-day contract with Minnesota in April 2010. He got another 10-day contract from Cleveland, but didn’t play his first NBA game until Boston picked him up in December 2011.

Stiemsma was owed $2.7 million for the 2013-2014 season, however, the contract is not guaranteed provided the player is formally waived before July 17, 2013.

Teams like the Toronto Raptors and now the Los Angeles Lakers who have been relegated to the sidelines during the July Moratorium should be all over this relatively inexpensive center who can provide some solid defensive minutes and may still have room to develop his game.