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Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant 2019 NBA Finals game 5

By Going All-In The Warriors Sabotaged Their Dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, now we know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr 2019 NBA Finals

Kevin Durant Will Start For The Warriors, But

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

Toronto Raptors First Of Three Chances For A Championship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant

Warriors Kevin Durant Doesn’t Look Ready To Play Yet

The Warriors are in trouble. Down 3-1 with game five in Toronto on Monday night, the mantra remains, just wait until Kevin Durant gets back. But after today, don’t hold your breath. The early indications are he doesn’t even look anywhere near ready for a red shirt scrimmage let alone an NBA game.

“What he’s going to do today he hasn’t done,” head coach Steve Kerr said about Durant on Sunday.

“He’s going to practice with us today, and he’ll get some extra work in with some of our younger players. We’ll gauge it from there.”

The comments from Nick Friedell of ESPN put what happened crystal clear,

If Durant did get substantial work in Sunday, it wasn’t much.

Durant was not on the floor while the rest of his teammates got up some shots in the open part of Sunday’s practice, but made his way to the court as soon as media and cameras were cleared away.

he was one of the first players back into the Warriors’ locker room after the team’s brief workout. The 30-year-old reappeared a few moments later with two big ice packs wrapped around the lower part of his right calf and his right Achilles tendon.

Well, gauging it from what Friedell saw, Durant isn’t ready for a light practice, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kerr told us he was going to try something he hadn’t done yet. Apparently taking a few practice shots in front of the media is still too much to ask as the ice bags after “giving it a try” seem to indicate and a light practice is a long ways from a regular season NBA game.

Got to love the gamesmanship from Kerr during the NBA Finals though. He really does know how to play the media. Maybe we should just stop asking until we actually see Durant running around on the court?

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Draymond Green 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Are Questioning If They Can Outscore The Raptors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Wake-up In The Second Half

By Frank McLean

Back in the days when I covered hockey the late Pat Burns used to always tell us in the media that you “have to be beware of the wounded bear”, whenever the Maple Leafs were going to play a top level opponent who were not playing up to their potential.

The Golden State Warriors looked like that wounded bear in game one of the this year’s NBA Finals and you can add the first half of game two as well. The Warriors did not look like the team that have won three of the last four championships.

Down 59-54 at halftime the Warriors came out and looked like the team we have seen for the last five years. Playing basketball like they were on the uppers, playing their usual fast pace game pushing the ball up-court never  letting the shot clock get down below 15-seconds and before you knew it they opened the third quarter on an 18-zero run leading 73-59. The Raptors didn’t know what hit them.

They Warriors hang on to win 109-104 to tie series at one game apiece.

“It felt like we should have been down by more than five”, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “For the first quarter and a half we really had a tough time scoring. So the last whatever it was, four, five, six minutes, the game loosened up and we finally broke free and started getting some buckets. We ended up with 34-assists, which is more like our team”.

Here’s how the Warriors finished off the game. They had those 34-assists on 38-made field goals in 82-attempts. In the first half they were 16-of-40 from the field on 12-assists but most of the good shots came in the last three minutes of the half.

The Warriors were being schooled in the paint in the first half being outscored 28-12, but in the second half the Warriors dominated the paint by a 24-16 margin.

“I thought just staying in the game at the end of the second quarter was also very important”, Kerr said about the 18-zip run. ”I think we were down 12- and the place was going nuts, we couldn’t score, and Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) both got loose and the game loosened up a little bit and we scored. We weren’t exactly making stops, but we cut the lead to five and could kind of breathe at halftime”.

“I think our guys felt a renewed life at the point and came out and just had a great run to take control of the game, and we were able to finish it out from there”, Kerr added.

Pretty much that’s how the Warriors have won games over the last five years, taking control of a game for a quarter and pretty much making it hard for the opposition to catch up.

Now as we head to game three at the always tough Oracle Arena in Oakland there is a good news and bad news facing the Warriors.

The good news was DeMarcus Cousins coming back from being on the shelf for six weeks with a quad injury.

Kerr was hoping to 20-minutes out of him but Cousins went out and played almost-28 with 11-points and 10-rebounds. But the physicality that he brought to the floor on the defensive side of things harassing Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry was an aspect of the game that was missing in game one.

But, and there always is a but, the injury bug hit the Warriors just a little bit.

First Klay Thompson pulled his hamstring which Kerr confirmed in his post game comments as well as Kevon Looney injuring a shoulder. Andre Iguodala went down hard on the floor with some sort of nagging leg injury which could or could not be factor from here on out.

There was also speculation from those in the media that cover the Warriors on a daily basis that Kevin Durant could be back for game three, BUT we will  have to wait for Wednesday to see if that comes to be.

The Warriors got the split that you need on the road when you don’t have home court advantage in a post season series.

They woke up in the second half of game two and the question now is will they stay awake and be the Warriors of old or, like the wounded bear, go back into the cave and hibernate.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

 

 

 

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

Can The Warriors Defense Stop Anybody Anymore?

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

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

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

NBA Golden State Warriors Defensive Ratings 2015-2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It’s Raptors Defense Vs Warriors Offense In The NBA Finals

A throwback NBA Finals of offense versus defense is about to commence in Toronto as the high scoring Warriors try to impose their style and pace on the very stingy Raptors who have only made it this far because they’ve been able to shut down the “best starting five in the NBA” put together by Philly and the highest scoring team during the regular season at 118.1 points per game from Milwaukee.

Golden State has rolled over opponents in the postseason thus far scoring a playoff best 117.1 points per game while leading in field goal percentage (48.7%) and three-point shooting (37%), the repeat champs have earned the respect of analysts and bookies alike.

But the West isn’t like the East. Points have been a lot harder to come by as the playoffs progressed in the Eastern Conference as defenses tightened and the four lowest opponent field goal percentages all belonged to teams in the East that made it to the second round.

While the Warriors have cruised thru their opposition allowing 44.2 percent shooting from the field, 36.5 percent from three and 110.5 points per game, the Raptors won by holding teams in the 90s (99.6 average), stifling three-point shooters to just 31.3 percent and holding teams to 41.7 percent from the field.

“I think for us we have to really focus on getting our defense set, limiting them to one shot and being able to take care of the ball,” Norman Powell said.

“We’re able to switch. We’re able to do a bunch of different coverages. We know that they like to move it. They have plays they like to move without the ball. So just being really tight and locked in in our foundational defense, and being locked into the guys off the ball is the most important thing. It’s just going to be a full five-man job whoever is out there guarding all five of them.”

As Nurse has said, it’s 15 percent knowing what to do and 85 percent effort. The Raptors have won with defense because they have played with the intensity to get the job done.

“If you need a motivation to come out and play hard and play with passion and energy in the NBA Finals, you’re in the wrong field,” Powell stated.

The Raptors ability to defend at an elite level is about to be put to the test.

 

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

The Raptors Are The Finals Hotter Three-Point Shooting Team

What scares the rest of the NBA about playing the Golden State Warriors is their ability turn games on their head in what seems like mere seconds with the three-ball. We’ve never seen a pairing like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. This year these two guys put up 19.4 threes a game during the regular season between them and hit on over 40 percent, they’re scary great shooters. However, it’s possible the Magic, 76ers and Bucks have helped to prepare the Raptors for the coming onslaught defensively and just maybe it’s Toronto who’s the hotter three-point shooting team heading into the NBA Finals.

Regular Season Stats

Warriors 34.4 3FGA, 38.5% (3rd best)

  1. Stephen Curry 11.7 3FGA, 43.7%
  2. Klay Thompson 7.7 3FGA, 40.2%
  3. Kevin Durant 5.0 3FGA, 35.3% (questionable for the series)

First Round opponent: Magic 32.1 3FGA, 35.6%

  1. DJ Augustin 3.8 3FGA, 42.1%
  2. Terrence Ross 7.0 3FGA, 38.3%
  3. Nikola Vucevic 2.9 3FGA, 36.4%

Second Round opponent: 76ers 30.2 3FGA, 35.9%

  1. JJ Redick 8.0 3FGA, 39.7%
  2. Mike Scott 4.4 3FGA, 41.2%
  3. Tobias Harris 4.8 3FGA, 39.7% (76ers & Clippers)

Conference Final opponent: Bucks 38.2 3FGA (2nd most), 35.3%

  1. Malcolm Brogdon 3.8 3FGA, 42.6%
  2. Kris Middleton 6.2 3FGA, 37.8%
  3. Brook Lopez 6.3 3FGA, 36.5%

So what happened to the Raptors as they played their way thru to the NBA Finals?

Raptors (4-1) vs Magic

In game one against Orlando, the Magic hit 48.3 percent of their threes and Augustin hit 4-5 to score 25 points. As Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, “It took one punch in the gut from the Orlando Magic to understand we’d better start playing a lot harder,” and the Raptors held the Magic to 26.2 percent from three over the next four games. The hot shooting Augustin went 2-8 from three over the next three games

Raptors (4-3) vs 76ers

In their toughest test of the postseason to-date, the Raptors held Philly to 32.9 percent from three over the seven games and only once did the 76ers shoot better than their regular season average from deep. Harris, who shot 50 percent from three in the first round, only hit on 27.9 percent of his 6.1 three-point attempts against Toronto and Scott was a non-factor, although Redick did what he always does.

Raptors (4-2) vs Bucks

The Bucks fired up the second most threes in the regular season making the second most and only Houston shot and made more threes per game in the postseason thru the Conference Finals. Thru the first two rounds of the postseason the Bucks were shooting and making threes right at their regular season averages, then they ran into Toronto. Versus the Raptors, they were still putting up more than 38 three-point attempts per game, but they were only hitting on 31 percent of them. Lopez only managed to get off more than four three-point attempts twice in the series after averaging over six all season. All-Star Kris Middleton saw his numbers plummet from 6.7 three-point attempts at 46.7 percent thru the first two rounds to 37.5 percent on 5.3 attempts.

The Raptors turned the tables on the Bucks, outscoring them by an average of 7.5 points from three.

Thru the first three rounds, Toronto has held their opponents to a stingy 31.3 percent shooting from three. The Warriors, on the other hand, have surrendered a lofty 36.5 percent to three-point shooting.

NBA Finals

What may be getting overlooked in all the deserved hype about the Warriors vaunted three-point shooting is just how close this stat has been for both Golden State and Toronto during this postseason. While the Warriors made the third most threes during the regular season (13.3) and have made the third most threes in the playoffs (12), since the regular season ended, the Raptors have made the fourth most threes at a statistically insignificant difference (11.9).

In the Conference Finals, Toronto shot 14.3-38.3 or 37.4 percent from three against Milwaukee. While the Warriors, sans Durant, only went 11.5-31.8 or 36.2 percent from three as they cruised past Portland with Curry literally taking 48 percent and making 56.5 percent (6.5-15.3) of his teams three-point attempts.

Maybe the change in the Raptors fortunes from three shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The 76ers head coach Brett Brown certainly was expecting it as he kept saying Toronto has been the NBA’s best three-point shooting team since they traded for Marc Gasol. He’s not wrong. The Raptors finished off the final 23 games of the regular season hitting a league third best 14.5 threes a game at a league best 41.5 percent. Post All-Star break the Warriors hit 14.2 threes at 38.7 percent.

It’s hard to believe Toronto is going let Curry fire off better than 15 threes a game in the NBA Finals and it’s going to be incumbent on the Warriors to not let Toronto fire off more threes per game than they do or their better shooters are going to be offset by sheer volume. Plus Durant’s health could play a bigger part in the outcome of this series than most analysts are considering.

This NBA Finals has potential to be full of surprises.

 

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

  

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

LeBron James Is Against NBA CBA Maximum Salary Limits

As Stephen Curry agrees to a new NBA record $201 million contract which will be surpassed within a year, LeBron James couldn’t help but note just how much more valuable Curry is to the Golden State Warriors franchise than the NBA CBA maximum salary limits permit.

James is right of course and by putting maximum salary limits on what players can earn, the NBA has created the possibility of super teams coming together and dominating the Association.

However, it should be pointed out that James is a senior member of the player’s association that collectively bargained for the limits in the current CBA.

If there was no limit on an individual player’s salary, the superstars in the NBA could command nearly the entire salary cap space. Teams would pay it. James would get offers that meant the rest of the roster he’d be playing with would be on NBA minimum salaries. He’d likely take it to. That $400 million contract number would become very possible if he wasn’t limited by the CBA.

However, the potential future owner of an NBA franchise might not like the power a change like this to the CBA would give to players like James, Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George or James Harden and it’s been proven that without limits, owners can’t help themselves and their often huge mistakes would become franchise crippling.

So maybe James the player was acting like James the future NBA owner during those CBA negotiations?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

2017 NBA free agents Raptors Patrick Patterson and Timberwolves Shabazz Mohammad and Warriors Ian Clark and Pacers Jeff Teague collage

Some NBA Free Agents Your Team Can Actually Get

There is no more exciting time for most teams and most fans than NBA free agency, but it can quickly become the most disappointing couple of weeks in the off season when you strike out.

If a team is going to put all their focus into hitting a home run, they had better have a really good idea about why that player is going to choose them over all of those other opportunities because as you wait, the next best options are coming off the board.

Here’s our list of getable free agents that if you act fast, you just might just lock up before the competition realizes what happened.

Point Guard

Jeff Teague, Pacers UFA, 29-years-old

2016-17, 15.3 pts, 4.0* rbs, 7.8* asts, 1.2 stls, 35.7% 3FG

* career best

A former one-time All-Star, reliable starting point guard who has only played one year with the Pacers. While other teams are wasting their efforts pursuing Kyle Lowry and George Hill, impress Teague and solve your point guard issues.

Micheal Carter-Williams, Bulls UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 6.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 23.4% 3FG

The 2014 NBA ROY saw his minutes slashed in Chicago and made an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if your team is out of cap space and not planning on a postseason run, giving this big point guard another second chance might not be such a bad idea. He was an 11/5/5 player with 1.5 steals for the Bucks two seasons ago.

Shooting Guard

Dion Waiters, Heat UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 15.8 pts, 3.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.9 stls, 39.5% 3FG

It was a breakout season for Waiters and teams will have their eye on the possibility of stealing him from the Heat as his current team doesn’t hold his Bird Rights. Strike fast with a big offer while Miami is focused on Gordon Hayward and you might just steal him.

Ian Clark, Warriors UFA, 26-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 1.6 rbs, 1.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 37.4% 3FG

The Warriors only hold Clark’s early bird rights, so this is one player you can outbid a luxury tax sensitive team for. He put up those numbers in less than 15 minutes a game. It’s time he got his chance to show everyone what he’s made of.

Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves RFA, 24-years-old

2016-17, 9.9 pts, 2.8 rbs, 0.4 asts, 33.8% 3FG

While the Timberwolves are busy gloating over the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and looking for the next piece of the playoff puzzle, Shabazz is kind of sitting on the outside looking in, but this a solid young defensive wing who could become a real steal if, as the expression goes, “the lights come on” with a change of scenery.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Clippers UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 6.1 pts, 2.1 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 39.1% 3FG

The Clippers are in trouble and only hold Mbah a Monte’s early bird rights, so pile on and pick apart the carcass. This guy went from a defensive forward to a  much more valuable ‘3-and-D’ forward last season and there is a lot of teams that could use him coming off the bench.

Power Forward

James Johnson, Heat UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 12.8 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 1.1 blks, 34% 3FG

A non-bird free agent means the Heat have to use salary cap space to re-sign him, thus making James Johnson a great target for other teams. A breakout season that James should be crediting to the tough love he got in Toronto – the place where he finally figured out how and when to shoot the three-ball without it being embarrassing.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors UFA, 28-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 4.5 rbs, 1.2 asts, 37.2% 3FG

While the Raptors are distracted by Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, Patterson should be an easy target and a reasonable contract.

The ‘3-and-D” Patterson is one of those glue-guys who makes other people around him better even if he isn’t filling the stats sheet while doing it.

Center

Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs UFA, 27-years-old

2016-17, 5.1 pts, 6.5 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.8 blks

Dedmon played 17.5 minutes a game for Pop last season and that alone should put this guy on your radar.  The Spurs don’t hold his bird rights either, so he is very getable.

Zaza Pachulia, Warriors UFA, 33-years-old

2016-17, 6.1, 5.9 rbs, 1.9 asts, 0.8 steals

If your team needs an infusion of toughness, grit, nastiness, Pachulia can still bring it. Culture change in a 6’11 don’t give a crap how it gets done center. The Warriors don’t hold his bird rights.

 

If your team is on the cusp and has a load of salary cap space to burn, sure take a run at Hayward, Blake Griffin, or Paul Millsap. Not sure any of those big name free agents are using your team as anything more than a free lunch and a means to extract a better contract from someone else? Then move down a tier and get a player that can actually help move you closer to your goals before someone else gets them.

 

 

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 Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

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

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Draymond Green

NBA Officiating – At Least Don’t Make It So Obvious!

No one should be put in a position of thinking the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t deserve to win Game Four of the NBA Finals. The Cavs shooting was outstanding and by comparison the Warriors were firing bricks, but damn it, why does it happen so often with NBA officiating that it seems obvious one team is being handed a big advantage.

Like just about every NBA player, coach and fan, Toronto Raptors free agent Patrick Patterson has seen this movie before. The referees put Cleveland on the free throw line 22 times in the first quarter providing overt help they didn’t need as the Cavs scored an NBA Finals record 49 points and built a lead they would never surrender.

Hopefully Patterson was careful enough in his tweet to avoid the wrath of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, but he wasn’t alone in his thoughts. The twitterverse was far more direct.

The worst part about that first quarter was the Cavs didn’t need the help as they were red hot from three, hitting on 7-12 attempts, but all those “extra” trips to the charity stripe set a tone and created a lead that turned what should have been a much closer game into a 20-point blowout.

Later the referees didn’t do themselves any favors when they handed Draymond Green his second technical foul for waving at Marc Davis after a soft foul was called on him in the third quarter. Everyone thought Green was done since he had already picked up a tech from John Goble in the first quarter. Then true comedy ensued.

From ESPN,

“I thought they called [the first technical] on Draymond,” Kerr said. “I thought I deserved it. But I thought I heard the PA announcer say that it was on Draymond. So then I thought the second one, Draymond was going to get kicked out, but they explained that the first one was on me.”

Asked about the officiating overall, Kerr said, “Nice try.”

“It was just an incredibly physical game,” he added. “That was obvious from the beginning. Ton of fouls called early, a lot of holding and grabbing and pushing and shoving. It got out of hand a little bit, and the third quarter it seemed like the game was stopping every time.”

Green did confirm he thought the first tech was on coach Kerr and the referees begged off by saying they weren’t paying attention? I guess we’re just supposed to laugh it off?

LeBron James had a 31/10/11 triple-double. Kyrie Irving scored 40 points and hit 7 three-pointers. The Cavs shot 24-45 from three while the Warriors were 11-39 and after gifting the Cavs a big advantage at the free throw line in the first quarter, the refs found their unbiased whistles – the Draymond comedy minute notwithstanding.

There’s a case to be made that the refs got the Dubs off their game in the first quarter, but the refs didn’t make Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each shoot 2-9 from three and if you don’t hit shots, there is no comeback in your future.

Blame the refs for those first quarter free throws, believe if you want that the NBA and their TV partners didn’t want this series to end so soon, but don’t blame the refs for the the Dubs three-point shooting. Almost everyone wanted a Game Five anyway.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

So What LeBron James Turns The Ball Over

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is feeling some heat for turning the ball over eight times in Game One of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but so what? It’s not like this is anything all that unusual for the oft described “best player in the NBA.”

If it seems like the ball goes thru James’ hands on almost every Cavs play that’s because it does. He’s one of the most used players to handle the ball for their team every year and, not surprisingly, that also puts him up near the top in turnovers as well.

This year he averaged 4.1 turnovers per game. 32 times he turned it over five or more times, 16 times it was six or more, but his team was still a respectable 20-12 in those games. Thrice he turned it over eight times with a 1-2 record, proving even the Cavs can get in trouble eventually.

But to put it in perspective, James still had a better than respectable 2.1:1 assist to turnover ratio during the regular season. So again, so what about all those turnovers.

Up until the Finals, James’ turnovers weren’t costing his team too much of anything in the postseason. He turned the ball over eight times in a first round Game Two win over the Pacers. The Cavs won Games Three and Four in Toronto with James handing the ball back five and six times respectively. Then he was turned over six and five times in Games Three and Four against Boston. All those turnovers cost the Cavs was one game they could’ve/should’ve won against the Celtics.

During the regular season against Golden State the Cavs split the series 1-1 and James turned the ball over five times in a one-point win and six times in a blowout loss. No one should be suggesting turning the ball over to the high powered Warriors offense is a good thing, but if James turns it over even four or five times, it shouldn’t be a determining factor.

James could be more cautious with his passes, take fewer risks on the fast break and limit his drives to wide open opportunities and his turnovers will drop to insignificant, but that’s not how the Cavaliers play and it’s definitely not how James plays.

The Cavs need to score to beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena and they aren’t going score by becoming a passive grind it out team. Where eight turnovers was too many for James, two or three probably means he isn’t playing like the force he needs to be if he’s going to give his team a chance to win Game Two.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.

This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.

San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.

On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.

“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.

As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”

What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.

“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.

On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.

“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”

What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.

The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

So what does the league do to stop this?

They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.

“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”

Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.

I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.

The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

Injuries Could Play Havoc With The NBA Playoffs

So the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are a sure thing to meet in the NBA Finals? You sure? It seems like no one thinks either team is headed for an early exit – yet, but both teams could be in for a tougher time in the first two rounds of the playoffs than anyone anticipated and if their sidelined All-Stars aren’t back to 100 percent by the Conference Finals, all bets should be off on a three-peat in the NBA Finals.

But it’s not just the top two teams in each conference with issues. Injuries have hit a number of other teams this year hoping to make some noise in the postseason and if they aren’t aren’t back by now, optimistic assessments about how soon and how good key players will be aside, teams are worried – not that there’s much they can do about it now.

Golden State Warriors – Kevin Durant

An MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee that’ll be reassessed at the end of March. No worries, he’ll be back for the playoffs, right? Maybe, but in the meantime the Dubs are 0-2 without him and the Spurs are just 3 games back.

How good would a Warriors – Thunder matchup look in the first round if the Dubs can’t hold onto first in the West and KD is still watching from the sidelines mid-April – which is very possible. Russell Westbrook would only be slightly better motivated to triple-double his way into the second round vs GSW.

Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith, Kevin Love

The Cavs showed their true feelings about whether Smith and his broken thumb could be counted on for the postseason by quickly trading for Kyle Korver and the move has worked. Smith or no Smith, the Cavs got that covered.

They also showed their true feelings about Kevin Love’s “minor” knee surgery – is there a stranger term than “minor surgery”? They cut a young prospect to sign a waived 32-year-old Andrew Bogut who averaged 3.0 points in 26 appearances for the Lottery-bound Mavericks.

Sure Love could be back in the 4-6 week time horizon that would make him available for the playoffs and the Cavs are hoping that happens, but there are no guarantees and it’s unlikely he’ll return right away as the same 20 point 11 rebound power forward he was before the injury.

Bogut doesn’t replace Love and it’s a certainty the Cavs will not be as good without their starting power forward or trying to play Love as he goes through the inevitable soreness and conditioning issues that come with knee surgery no matter how “minor.”

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry

Lowry had wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies” that were causing swelling and pain and is expected back in time for the postseason, however, a month or more without the East’s leading three-point maker and the Raptors are going to have to adapt fast to hold onto home court advantage for the playoffs.

The team made big additions defensively with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to the trade deadline and now have both Patrick Patterson and Delon Wright back from injury, so they added depth just in time to compensate, but without their All-Star point guard, the Raptors aren’t the same threat they were earlier in the season. They are hoping for a very speedy and full recovery or this could be a return to the quick postseason exits of a couple of years ago.

Denver Nuggets – Kenneth Faried

After missing most of February with a severely sprained ankle, now the veteran forward has been out with back spasms and could miss another week? It doesn’t sound serious other than the 8th place Nuggets have been relying on the short-handed Trail Blazers to play worse than .500 ball to stay ahead of them.

Other notables include: Miami Heat Justus Winslow (shoulder), Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine (torn ACL), Milwaukee Bucks Jabari Parker (torn ACL), New York Knicks Joakim Noah (knee surgery), Orlando Magic Jodie Meeks (thumb surgery), Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid among others, Portland Trail Blazers Festus Ezeli (knee), Even Turner (broken hand), Ed Davis (torn labrum), Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles).

It’s hard to win without players your team was counting upon at the start of the season and it gets even harder in the playoffs. A last second return mid-April shouldn’t fill one with confidence either.

A Cavs vs Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals? Possible, but injuries aren’t making what seemed like a sure-thing in October nearly as 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.

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Toronto Raptors Need To Add More Offense To Contend

It was bad enough in the NBA East before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for three-point marksman Kyle Korver, but now more than ever you need incredible offense to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals and even the Toronto Raptors averaging an East leading 110.6 points per game don’t have enough.

NBA EAST

No team in the East is holding opponents under 100 points per game and only three teams in the West are, but teams in the West are still giving up 104.7 points per game and they are scoring (105.4) at an even higher clip than the East’s inflated numbers.

The NBA is now a high-scoring, three-point shooting, defense-second league. You don’t stop players like Russell Westbrook (31.2 points), Anthony Davis (29.1 points), James Harden (28.2 points), DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points), Isaiah Thomas (28 points), or DeMar DeRozan (27.8 points), you outscore them or you fail. This year traditional scoring leaders like LeBron James (26.2), Kevin Durant (25.9), Stephen Curry (24.8), Kyrie Irving (24.3) aren’t even given much of a chance at a scoring title. You need more.

Cavs Nation on Facebook

The Warriors got theirs. They lead the NBA at 117.5 points per game with three players that can’t be stopped averaging over 20 points per game. The Cavs have their own triumvirate averaging over 20 per game, a bevy of shooters and a strangle hold on first in the East.

Most teams are lucky to have one reliable 20 point scorer and the Raptors with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are blessed with two, but even two isn’t going to be enough these days. When it seems like everyone that matters is giving up over a 100 points except the Spurs (97.5), you are fighting a trend that no defensive scheme is going to overcome – unless maybe you have a Kawhi Leonard on your team.

When you are leading the East in scoring, adding more offense doesn’t necessarily seem like the right solution, but the Raptors have been most often getting beat because they can’t always keep up in today’s shoot-out oriented NBA.

After an October anomaly, he Cavs have beaten Toronto 121-117 and 116-112 and as noted, Cleveland just added more firepower. The Warriors won by 127-121 and 121-111. Then losses to Clippers 123-115, Hawks 125-121, Bulls 123-118 and Rockets 129-122 only serve to illustrate what’s going on in the NBA.

Maybe Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is right that his team doesn’t need to do anything, but that’s except when it comes to the Cavs. It’s only reasonable to expect Cleveland to continue adding to their firepower between now and the last day to add players eligible for the postseason. The team Toronto can’t keep up with on the scoring front is going to add more scoring.

President Masai Ujiri has made it pretty clear the Raptors won’t sell off their young assets for short term gain. It’s been reported he tried to land Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka last summer and in all likelihood is still trying, but the price has to right. Otherwise, the fallback position of the Raptors and apparently even their closest competitor, the Celtics, is to wait this thing out and see what develops on what are still very young and developing teams.

They can always just wait on LeBron James to get old?

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson