Comment

Raptors travel to Washington to face Wall-less Wizards

image.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

Click here to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?

The Toronto Raptors prepare to face a familiar foe that they've already faced twice this season in the Washington Wizards. Through two games, the season series between the Raptors and Wizards is tied at one game apiece. And just like the previous two meetings, John Wall will be out of action for Washington. The Raps number one priority must be containing Bradley Beal; the all-star guard has averaged 32.5 points in two games against Toronto this season.

Toronto Raptors

C.J. Miles surprisingly appeared on the injury report last time out against the Timberwolves, so expect him to be a game-time decision for tonight's tilt. Last time the Raps battled the Wiz, it was DeMar DeRozan's 33 points that led them to victory. This meeting, though, I would not be surprised to see Jonas Valanciunas continue his strong play into the month of February. The Lithuanian finished January with averages of 13.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Washington Wizards

Since John Wall was ruled out for the next six to eight weeks, the Washington Wizards have played admirably without their star point guard. The Wiz have won two straight, including an impressive 102-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, Russell Westbrook struggled with his shot, but this was still a Thunder team that entered the contest riding a lengthy six-game winning streak.

Without Wall, it's clear this Wizards team has a limited ceiling, but that doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. With Beal and Otto Porter Jr. serving as the team's main offensive options, Washington still has plenty of weapons that can light you up offensively on any given night.

Watchability Ranking: 6/10

The Raptors once again face an undermanned Wizards team, which takes away from the appeal of watching this game. Normally, you could bill this game as two of the game's star back-courts going at it, but with one piece of the puzzle on the sidelines that is no longer the case.

Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Capture.PNG

Comment

Comment

Raptors get chance at revenge tonight against Timberwolves

raptors_timberwolves_basketball_61514934.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

Click here to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?


After a heartbreaking 115-109 loss to Minnesota just over a week ago, the Toronto Raptors get another shot at the upstart Timberwolves Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors are hoping their home court advantage will provide the difference this time around and help even the season series with the Timberwolves at one game apiece. It’s worth noting Minnesota enters tonight’s tilt on the second night of a back-to-back, so battling fatigue could become a factor for Tom Thibodeau’s squad, particularly the team’s starting five.

Toronto Raptors

Remember, last time these two teams met the game was played on the second night of a back-to-back for Toronto. This time, it’s the other way around, as Toronto enters as the more well-rested team prior to tip-off. Keep an eye out for Kyle Lowry. The Raptors all-star point guard dropped 40 points against Minny last week and is surely looking for another big-time scoring performance against them. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins went off for a team-high 29 points in last week’s win. If I was a betting man, I’d definitely wager against Wiggins having a repeat performance of that caliber. The Canadian youngster isn’t exactly the most consistent player in the league, and you never know what you might get from him production-wise on any given night. Rather than pay close attention to Wiggins, the Raptors need to figure out a way to stop Jimmy Butler. The star shooting guard didn’t play when the Wolves hosted Toronto last week. Toronto should have an even tougher time defensively tonight with Jimmy Buckets good to go.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Comment

Comment

Raptors host Lonzo-less Lakers at ACC

By: Josh Weinstein

Be sure to visit homestand.ca to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?

The Raptors look to right the ship following a disheartening loss to the Utah Jazz when they welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to town for an inter-conference matchup. Sunday marks the first meeting between these two teams since way back on October 27, when the Raptors edged the Lakers 101-92.

Toronto Raptors

Following his 28-point, 14-rebound, 4-block explosion, all eyes are on Jonas Valanciunas ahead of this one. Against a thin Lakers frontcourt, JV should be able to have a field day. Surely, he won’t be as dominant as he was against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz, but another strong performance can be expected from him. If Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan return to form (which they should against a poor Lakers defence), having the trio of the Raptors backcourt and Valanciunas operating at peak efficiency should overwhelm Los Angeles rather quickly.

Los Angeles Lakers

Lonzo Ball is expected to sit once again. It will be his seventh straight game on the sidelines, as Ball continues to recover from an MCL sprain. While head coach Luke Walton hasn’t ruled out a return for his prized point guard on the team’s current road trip, expect the Lakers brass to air on the side of caution in Toronto. They’ve made it clear they have no intentions of rushing Lonzo back before he’s ready to return. In Ball’s absence, watch out for Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma. Clarkson has been on fire his past four games – all Lakers wins – averaging nearly 26 points per game over that span. Meanwhile, Kuzma has been incredibly consistent for a rookie with averages of 16.5 points per game and 5.9 boards on the season.

Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 3.19.56 PM.png

Comment

Comment

Jan. 26 NBA 4-for-Four

andre_drummond_pistons_trade_fb.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

At Homestand Sports, we’re pleased to provide our weekly 4-for-Four to all of our readers. The goal of the 4-for-Four is to answer four questions weekly, with the goal of recapping the most notable storylines and trends from the past week of NBA action. Enjoy!

Also, be sure to visit homestand.ca to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?

THE PLAYER
Q: PLAYERS CATCH OUR ATTENTION IN UNEXPECTED WAYS. WHO'S ONE PLAYER LOCALLY OR NATIONALLY WHO YOU'RE WATCHING ESPECIALLY CLOSELY OF LATE?

I've had my eye on a couple of big men, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond have both been playing out of their minds for their respective teams.

Starting with Cousins, he recorded a monster triple-double earlier this week with 44 points, 24 rebounds, 10 assists, while adding four steals and one block for good measure. The tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis has been wreaking havoc in New Orleans this season and show no signs of slowing down. Whether the duo's front-court dominance can translate into a playoff berth for the Pelicans remains to be seen.

As for Andre Drummond, he played with quite a chip on his shoulder Wednesday night in his first game since being snubbed from the all-star game. The Pistons centre finished with 30 points, 24 rebounds, six blocks, and three steals in a losing effort. Even though the Pistons are outside of the East's top eight teams, Drummond was still deserving of all-star recognition due to his statistical dominance.

THE TREND
Q: IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START LOOKING FOR TRENDS WHEN IT COMES TO PLAYERS, GENERAL MANAGERS, COACHES, TEAMS OR EVEN THE LEAGUE AS A WHOLE. WHAT'S ONE TREND THAT'S STANDING OUT TO YOU SO FAR IN 2018?

I loved the idea of a draft to determine the all-star teams this season. The West has dominated the East in recent years in the All-Star game, so shaking things up and allowing the top vote-getters from each conference, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, to draft their own teams was clever. We'll now have teams comprised of talent from both conferences, which adds a much-needed level of intrigue to the game.

From seeing James and Kyrie Irving back on the same team, to having both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on Team LeBron, or the dominant Pels front-court of Cousins and Davis teaming up, there are plenty of storylines to look out for on February 18.

THE SURPRISE
Q: THERE ARE SURPRISE TEAMS EVERY YEAR, AND WHILE MOST END UP FADING AWAY, SOME
CONTEND ALL YEAR. ARE THERE ANY LEGITIMATE CONTENDERS AMONG THIS YEAR'S SURPRISE CLUBS?

After a quiet start to the season, the Miami Heat have been rolling of late. The team put together a seven-game winning streak and have won nine of its past 13 games. Goran Dragic has been the catalyst of the Heat offence over that span, averaging 20.5 points and 5.9 assists in his past ten games. The Dragon was inactive in Miami's past two games with a knee injury, but returned Thursday night against the Kings, scoring 23 points.

With the help of Dragic and the rest of the roster's hot play of late the Heat currently sit at 27-21, which is good enough for fourth in the East. There's no reason to think Miami won't sustain its level of play and clinch a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference.

THE READ
Q: WHAT'S SOMETHING SMART OR INTERESTING YOU READ RECENTLY AND WHY DID IT STAND OUT?

I loved reading a Yahoo sports article about how LeBron James is supposedly still pissed off at the Cavaliers for not acquiring Eric Bledsoe and Paul George when the team had the chance to in months past. It seems that no matter what the Cavaliers do, they somehow find a way to upset LeBron. All the evidence points toward this season being James' last in 'The Land'.

Comment

Comment

Raptors return home to host Jazz

By: Josh Weinstein

Be sure to visit homestand.ca to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?

After dismantling the Atlanta Hawks with ease, the Toronto Raptors return home with their sights set on a second win a row when they host the Utah Jazz Friday night.

Toronto Raptors

The Raps put forth a complete team effort in Atlanta on Wednesday to the point where the outcome never seemed to be in doubt. When Dwane Casey can confidently rely on any one of his rotation players – like Fred VanVleet, who scored a team-high 19 points on Wednesday in Atlanta – to play at a high level during any given game, it provides him such a coaching luxury. Casey doesn't have to keep his rotations set in stone when he has an abundance of options, which also puts the pressure on the Raptors players to constantly perform at a high level. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to thrive, otherwise the next man up could take their place.

Toronto can improve to an impressive 18-3 at home with a win.

Utah Jazz

This is the second time this season the Jazz get to face the Raptors. In the two teams' first meeting of the season back on November 3, Utah ended up dropping the contest 109-100 in Salt Lake City. Since then, Donovan Mitchell has truly emerged as one of the leading rookie of the year front-runners, scoring just under 20 points per game. The high-flying rook has been one of the few bright spots for Utah in a season that's seen many of the roster's players, including star centre Rudy Gobert, suffer through injuries. Now that the Stifle Tower is back, the Jazz gain some much-needed rim protection that hopefully, for the team's sake, helps them squeak back into a playoff spot out West.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Comment

Comment

Raptors look to bounce back against lowly Hawks

By: Josh Weinstein

Be sure to visit homestand.ca to purchase your tickets for the Hoop Talks Toronto Basketball Summit on March 28. Doug Smith, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Michael Grange, Eric Koreen, and Ashley Docking will be there. Will you?

After a four-day hiatus, the Toronto Raptors hit the hardwood Wednesday night in Atlanta, Georgia for a matchup with the Eastern Conference bottom-dwelling Hawks. Considering the amount of rest the Raptors have had entering this game, they should have no problems using their fresh legs to blow right past the Hawks for an easy W.

Couple the Raptors rested roster with the team’s play so far against sub-.500 teams, and Wednesday’s win is all but a guarantee. So far in 2017-18, Toronto has won a whopping 18 of 20 games against teams with sub-.500 records, which ranks as the best win percentage against such teams in the NBA. Expect that dominance to continue, as Dwane Casey and his staff clearly have the roster wired to never underestimate their opposition and to take care of the games that, quite frankly, they’re supposed to.

Kyle Lowry just dropped 40 points in his last game and has started looking increasingly comfortable in the Raptors offence with every passing game. Lowry will have to work hard on the defensive end containing the Hawks’ Dennis Schroder, but should be able to take advantage of a bottom-five Atlanta defence on the other end. While 40 may be a bit too much to top, Lowry certainly has the right matchup in place to go off once again with an all-around strong performance.

As for the Hawks, given their season is already lost and the organization is now racing to the bottom of the standings, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give young players on the roster more opportunity to develop. With the trade deadline fast approaching, guys like Ersan Ilyasova and Kent Bazemore could be on the move. A young up-and-coming rookie like John Collins would certainly benefit and receive a starter’s workload if one or two roster moves are made. Only time will tell what the Hawks will do, but the clock continues to tick towards February 8.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:  

 

Comment

Comment

Raptors get set for KAT and the T-Wolves

andrew-wiggins-demar-derozan-nba-preseason-toronto-raptors-minnesota-timberwolves.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

After edging the San Antonio Spurs in a defensive-minded game at Air Canada Centre on Friday, the Toronto Raptors look to sweep their back-to-back set when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. It’s the first time this season Toronto will get a look at the new look T-Wolves. With the additions of star swingman Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson in the offseason, Minnesota is finally ready to end its 13-year postseason drought and perhaps make a deep playoff run.

Toronto Raptors

It’s safe to say that at this point of the season, the Raptors are essentially on cruise control. The team’s new offensive formula is firmly in place, and it has worked wonders so far. Toronto simply needs to keep on utilizing the same offensive schemes they’ve used to date, so that come playoff time, moving the ball and playing the way they have been is essentially second nature to them. What’s most impressive to me so far in this Raptors season, aside from their wonderful new offence, has to be the team’s consistency. Dwane Casey’s club hasn’t lost more than two consecutive games at any point this season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

After years of downright awful basketball, the Timberwolves have finally given their fans a roster they can be proud of. This team has two superstars in Karl Anthony-Towns and Jimmy Butler, as well as nice complementary pieces in Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson. That five-man rotation has played together more than any other starting lineup in the league. Unsurprisingly, given their amount of chemistry, they wreak havoc on opposing starting fives. Facing a team like the Timberwolves is an immense challenge defensively, considering their abundance of offensive weapons.

Tip-off is at 9:00 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 11.06.52 AM.png

Comment

Comment

Jan. 19 NBA 4-for-Four

By: Josh Weinstein

At Homestand Sports, we're pleased to provide our weekly 4-for-Four to all of our readers. The goal of the 4-for-Four is to answer four questions weekly, with the goal of recapping the most notable storylines and trends from the past week of NBA action. Enjoy!

THE PLAYER

Q: PLAYERS CATCH OUR ATTENTION IN UNEXPECTED WAYS. WHO’S ONE PLAYER LOCALLY OR NATIONALLY WHO YOU'RE WATCHING ESPECIALLY CLOSELY OF LATE?

After averaging a triple-double last season, most expected Russell Westbrook's statistics to regress. I mean really, who would have anticipated Westbrook repeating his historic feat for a second consecutive year?

Well, so far in the 2017-18 season, Westbrook is darn close to averaging a trip-dub once again. How close? The Brodie is currently averaging 24.8 points, 9.9 assists, and 9.7 rebounds this season. While his scoring is down about seven points per game from last season, the Thunder superstar is averaging only one fewer rebound and half an assist less per night. Considering he's sharing the court with ball-dominant players like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook's statistical feat is all the more impressive.

If there's one thing we know about Westbrook, it's that he's one of the most motivated, hungry individuals and takes matters incredibly personally. Given he was just snubbed of a starting spot in the all-star game, I wouldn't be surprised if #0 tries to make a major statement in the season's second half.

THE TREND

Q: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START LOOKING FOR TRENDS WHEN IT COMES TO PLAYERS, GENERAL MANAGERS, COACHES, TEAMS OR EVEN THE LEAGUE AS A WHOLE. WHAT’S ONE TREND THAT’S STANDING OUT TO YOU SO FAR IN 2018?

There are always plenty of bottom-dweller teams that race to the bottom of the standings with the hope of landing the number-one draft selection come June. The Mavericks, Magic, Hawks, and Kings are all in the running to land the best draft odds, but one team that isn't far behind in the tanking race is the Los Angeles Lakers.

The rumour mill has been swirling in L.A. for quite some time now and it's no secret the Purple and Gold want to recruit one or two top-tier free agents this upcoming offseason. Normally, the Lakers would be inclined to tank for a higher draft selection. This season, though, Magic Johnson and the rest of the team's management has to ask themselves an important question: Will losing a boatload of games to try and land a top pick harm the team's chances of recruiting star talent in the foreseeable future?

As the season progresses, I'm interested to see what path the Lakers go down. Honestly, with the team's lack of talent, they may not have much of a choice. They'll have to hope that mounting losses doesn't deter from their chances at landing star free agents.

***It's also worth mentioning that Los Angeles must forfeit its draft pick if it lands at first overall in 2018.***

THE SURPRISE

Q: THERE ARE SURPRISE TEAMS EVERY YEAR, AND WHILE MOST END UP FADING AWAY, SOME CONTEND ALL YEAR. ARE THERE ANY LEGITIMATE CONTENDERS AMONG THIS YEAR’S SURPRISE CLUBS?

If there's one team across all four major sports for the past two decades that has exemplified what it means to be dominant, it's the San Antonio Spurs. Year in and year out, Gregg Popovich's squad rattles off 50-win seasons and postseason berths in their sleep.

Entering 2017-18 without Kawhi Leonard, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Spurs regress in the standings. Actually, it would have been expected. Yet once again, San Antonio is trucking along as a team on pace for 50-plus wins without the availability of its superstar talent in Leonard.

Aside from Popovich's excellence, LaMarcus Aldridge has been the main the reason the Spurs have been able to remain relevant. He's stepped up admirably as San Antonio's number-one scoring option, averaging nearly 23 points per game.

While this Spurs team won't likely make it farther than the second round or Western Conference Finals, it doesn't make their impressive start to the campaign any less impressive. Considering the immense succcess the organization has experienced, I would have never expected that I'd think of San Antonio as a surprising team. I guess there's a first for everything, right?

THE READ

Q: WHAT’S SOMETHING SMART OR INTERESTING YOU READ RECENTLY AND WHY DID IT STAND OUT?

Over at The Athletic, Danny Leroux published an excellent piece this past Tuesday focused on moves that some teams should consider making ahead of the trade deadline. Given teams are starting to figure out

As for podcasts that are worth listening to, The Ringer's Bill Simmons and ESPN's Zach Lowe reunited for a pair of podcasts on their respective networks. Boy, did listeners miss those two talking hoops! Whenever Simmons and Lowe are in the recording booth together, it makes for an excellent podcast.

Comment

Comment

Raptors ready to battle Spurs at ACC

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

Following a bounce-back, yet shaky win over the Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors prepare to play the first game of a back-to-back set tonight at Air Canada Centre. The Raps have a chance to improve their dominant home record to 17-3 with a win.

Just like last week's stretch against the Cavaliers and Warriors did, Toronto's back-to-back against the Spurs and Timberwolves presents an opportunity for the club to prove its worth against other top contending teams.

Toronto Raptors

With Kyle Lowry now back in the fold after recovering from his devastating fall against the Nets, the Raptors are essentially at full strength (minus Fred VanVleet). Lowry has picked up where he left off prior to his injury, serving as an offensive catalyst and spot-up threat for the Raps. His presence alongside DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt makes this Raptors team that much scarier for opponents going forward. Hopefully, both stay healthy going forward, especially in the postseason. The Raptors playoff success depends on it.

San Antonio Spurs

LaMarcus Aldridge will continue serving as the Spurs go-to offensive option, especially with Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely rehabbing his quad injury. Leonard has played in a grand total of nine games this season, yet the Spurs, as always, own an impressive record and are on pace for another 50-win season. Over the past two decades in the NBA, Popovich's Spurs have been a postseason lock every season. No matter who's on the roster, San Antonio is a contender. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Watchability ranking – 8/10

The Spurs have dominated the all-time series versus the Raptors, winning 32 of 43 meetings between the clubs. Over the past three seasons, though, San Antonio's dominance over Toronto has dwindled. Four of the five matchups between the teams over that span have been decided by 10 or fewer points. Given the Spurs are without Leonard, this game is really anyone's for the taking.

Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Capture.PNG

Comment

Comment

Raptors host Warriors seeking another statement win

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

After one of their most dominant games of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers that saw them win by a whopping 34 points, the Toronto Raptors hope to prove that game was no fluke when they welcome the juggernaut Golden State Warriors into town. Although a win over Cleveland was an unexpected and impressive accomplishment, beating Golden State will be that much more daunting a task. The Warriors enter Saturday's game having won seven consecutive meetings over the Raps.

Toronto Raptors

Dwane Casey's club is feeling pretty confident after a dominant performance versus the Cavs, but don't expect that to alter the team's work ethic going forward; if anything, a win like that will only make the team work harder. One of the more impressive characteristics of this Raptors team is how even-keeled they've been able to stay all season. Whether they win or lose, Toronto always comes out with the same level of intensity each game. So long as the Raps stay hungry and get everyone involved on both ends the way they have been, they'll be in good shape.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors, like every great team, tend to hit the cruise control button for most of the regular season. Even so, the Dubs regularly dominate their opponents and it's not hard to find out why. This is a team that has two MVP candidates in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant on its roster, as well as two other stars in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Even when one or two of those guys are out of the lineup, the Warriors still have enough talent to win anyways. As expected, Golden State is the clear favourite to repeat as champions. No one would be shocked if they do just that.

Watchability ranking – 10/10

Whenever Golden State comes to Toronto, the game becomes can't-miss television. Both teams have been exceptional to start the season and should put on an offensive showcase at the Air Canada Centre. There's plenty of star power in this one, too, even if Curry ends up sitting out with a sprained ankle.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

Capture.PNG

 

 

Comment

Comment

Introducing our weekly NBA 4-for-Four

By: Josh Weinstein

At Homestand Sports, we're pleased to introduce our weekly 4-for-Four to all of our readers. The goal of the 4-for-Four is to answer four questions weekly, with the goal of recapping the most notable storylines and trends from the past week of NBA action. Enjoy!

The Player

Q: Players catch our attention in unexpected ways. Who’s one player locally or nationally who you're watching especially closely of late?  

While there’s been plenty of incredible talent around the NBA since the 2017-18 season tipped off, I’d have to single out Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell as someone I’ve been watching closely. The rookie has taken the league by storm in first season, averaging 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists to lead the Jazz offence. Mitchell’s shooting percentages haven’t been exceptional so far, but that’s to be expected of a rook still trying to find comfort in the league. It’s less than halfway through the season and we aren’t even at the all-star break, so expect Mitchell to only get better with every passing game. He’s been the steal of the draft so far and is a star in the making.

The Trend

Q: It’s never too early to start looking for trends when it comes to players, general managers, coaches, teams or even the league as a whole. What’s one trend that’s standing out to you so far in 2016?

The trend that’s grasped my attention most has to be how, at least record wise, Eastern Conference teams have actually held their own in comparison to Western Conference squads. Traditionally, the West has had significantly stronger playoff teams than the teams out East. This season, though, the talent level is almost identical. As of today, the top-eight seeds in the Eastern Conference own a combined record of 201-127 (63% win percentage), which is nearly identical to the 202-130 (64% win percentage) record belonging to the West’s playoff teams. I’m interested to see if this trend continues so that by season’s end, each conference’s respective playoff teams collectively own a similar win-loss record. If I had to bet on it, I’d say the West teams pull away as the season progresses, given how the conference’s playoff teams haven’t had a worse win percentage than the East’s playoff bunch in over 15 years.

The Surprise

Q: There are surprise teams every year, and while most end up fading away, some contend all year. Are there any legitimate contenders among this year’s surprise clubs?

After losing Gordon Hayward just five minutes into their season, the Boston Celtics have rallied together and rattled off a 34-10 record so far in 2017-18. It’s incredible how much success this group has achieved, considering Hayward was supposed to be the second offensive option for the C’s this season. Young guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shown poise beyond their years, while Kyrie Irving has buckled down on both ends of the floor and evolved into the Celtics leader on and off the floor. Credit to Brad Stevens’ coaching job as well. Not many coaches would be able to adjust so quickly, let alone thrive, after losing a talent of Hayward’s caliber so suddenly. What makes Boston’s dominance even more impressive is how quickly the team’s new-look roster has come together after significant personnel turnover this past offseason. There are other teams that stand out, but of all of the surprise clubs this season, the Celtics extraordinary success has to be the most shocking.

The Read

Q: What’s something smart or interesting you read recently and why did it stand out?

Jackie McMullan’s piece on Kyrie Irving’s fallout with the Cavaliers and LeBron James plus his first season in Boston is an exceptional read. The article really takes you inside the star point guard’s mindset and helps explain why Irving’s thrived in his first season as the Celtics go-to option.

Also, if you're into podcasts, Adrian Wojnarowski recently sat down with Raptors star DeMar DeRozan for an in-depth conversation on a variety of topics, including his relationship with Kyle Lowry, why it's important for him to stay with the Raptors, and much more.

Both pieces of content really give you a deeper insight and fresh perspective on the life of NBA players that you can’t get anywhere else.

Comment

Comment

Raptors get set for biggest test of the season so far against Cavaliers

usa_today_10043533.0.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

The Toronto Raptors have been waiting for this moment for quite some time. Since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, in fact.

The Raps finally get a chance at revenge when they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night. There's quite a history between these two squads, given Cleveland has eliminated Toronto in each of the last two postseasons. You can expect Dwane Casey's club to use this game to show everyone that they mean business and truly belong in the contender category along with the likes of Cleveland and Boston.

Toronto Raptors

So far, the New Year has been very kind to the Raptors, as they've won four of their five games to start 2018. If you go even farther back in Toronto's schedule, you'll notice the team has an impressive 11-3 record in its past 14 contests. With each passing game, the Raptors seem to be developing more chemistry with one another, as well as increased comfort when it comes to moving the ball with purpose and creating good looks. If there's one negative so far this season, it's that Toronto is 11-8 against teams above-.500. To be the best, you've got to beat the best, which is something the Raps have struggled with somewhat this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Isaiah Thomas is finally healthy, which means we'll slowly start to get an idea of how this Cleveland team will be functioning, at least on the offensive end, come playoff time. It will take some time for Tyronn Lue to etch out a role for a dominant scorer like Thomas, but once he does, the rest of the league should be on high alert. LeBron James continues to fill the stat sheet each and every game for the Cavaliers, who after a slow start to the season, are starting to reestablish themselves as the team to beat out East. The team's defence is an ongoing concern and tends to plague them more often than not, especially against the league's elite. But with an offence as potent as Cleveland's, most nights they'll have no problem simply outscoring the opposition.

Watchability Ranking - 10/10

This game is as must-watch a game as any so far this season, largely because it will go a long way in showing how the new-look Raptors stack up against the East's most elite team. Also, you can expect a highly competitive contest for 48 minutes given the bad-blood and history between these two clubs.

Game-time is set for 8:00 PM ET. Below are the projected starting lineups:

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 3.46.00 PM.png

Comment

Comment

Raptors have win streak snapped by Heat in heartbreaking fashion

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

Wayne Ellington’s baseline layup fell through the mesh with 0.3 seconds remaining to hand the Miami Heat a shocking 90-89 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. With the loss, Miami extended its winning streak to five games. Meanwhile, Toronto had a five-game winning streak of its own snapped.

Even in defeat, the Raptors showed what their collective character is all about; all of Dwane Casey’s players embodied a highly competitive, tenacious, never-say-quit brand of basketball on Tuesday night. Over the course of the season, those characteristics have become ingrained in the Raptors’ DNA.

The team plane landed at 4 AM. The Raps were playing the second night of a back-to-back set. Kyle Lowry was unavailable, and Serge Ibaka was ejected early in the second half after getting in a skirmish with James Johnson. Toronto really had all the necessary excuses to lean on in the event of a poor performance. But lo and behold, Casey’s squad showed no quit.

Even though they were exhausted, Toronto battled back in the fourth, outscoring Miami 25-18 to regain a slim lead with only a couple minutes remaining. It would have been quite the comeback if not for Ellington’s last-second heroics.

Speaking of Ellington, the sharpshooter chipped in 15 points off the bench. Heat rookie Bam Adebayo was also terrific off the pine, finishing with a monster line of 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 32 minutes. Goran Dragic led Miami with 24 points on 10 of 21 shooting.

DeMar DeRozan had a rare off night from the field, converting just 10 of his 29 field goals to finish with a team-high 25 points. DeRozan did lead Toronto’s fourth-quarter comeback, but like the rest of the Raps was clearly exhausted.

With an off-day before Thursday’s game against Cleveland, expect DeRozan and the Raptors to rest up and bounce back with a stronger performance when the lights are shining brightest.

Comment

Comment

Raptors return home to host Heat

derozan-raptors.jpg.size-custom-crop.1086x0.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

Go to http://www.homestandsports.com/memberships/ to join Club Homestand for access to all Rivoli live events, pre-sale access, newsletter and more!

Home, sweet home.

The Toronto Raptors return to Air Canada Centre as they get ready to play host to the Miami Heat on the second night of the team’s back-to-back set. For Toronto, the team will be without the services of Kyle Lowry, after he suffered an acute back spasm in the closing minutes of regulation last night versus the Nets. Lowry is officially listed as day-to-day, but you can expect Raptors management to err on the side of caution and wait until their star point guard is 100 percent before clearing him to return.

Jonas Valanciunas has made his presence felt in two consecutive performances, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds on Friday, then 21 points and 13 rebounds on Monday against the Nets. The Lithuanian will be in tough tonight against a formidable interior presence in Hassan Whiteside. Expecting him to have yet another dominant game seems far-fetched. That being said, someone needs to be more involved offensively given Lowry is out. While Delon Wright is likely to be that guy, don’t rule out Valanciunas just yet.

Tonight’s matchup is a battle of win streaks, with the Raptors putting their five-gamer on the line against the Heat’s four. The Heat have won all four games during their streak by single-digits. That should change tonight, given Miami is up against a Raptors team that is leaps and bounds better than the previous competition the team has faced in its past four outings. Even without Lowry in the lineup, the Heat should not make the mistake of underestimating Toronto’s skill level.

Side note: DeMar DeRozan is averaging 35.5 PPG in four games since the calendar turned to 2018. He’s shown absolutely no signs of slowing down at this point, especially when the 3-pointer is a part of his offensive arsenal. That aspect of his game needs to be taken seriously by opponents going forward if it’s not already.

Tip-off is at 7:30 PM ET on TSN.

Projected starting lineups: 

Toronto Raptors (28-10)

  • PG Delon Wright
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Miami Heat (22-17)

  • PG Goran Dragic
  • SG Tyler Johnson
  • SF Josh Richardson
  • PF Kelly Olynyk
  • C Hassan Whiteside

Comment

Comment

Raptors extend win streak, but at a heavy cost

By: Josh Weinstein

DeMar DeRozan’s floater and subsequent free throw to complete an and-one opportunity with 26 seconds left in overtime helped the Toronto Raptors squeak past the Brooklyn Nets for a narrow 114-113 victory at Barclays Center. DeRozan was magnificent throughout this game, getting key buckets for the Raptors when they needed them most down the stretch to finish with a game-high 35 points.

Despite the fifth straight win, Raptors fans were left with an uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty as the final buzzer sounded.

At the 1:09 mark of the overtime period, Kyle Lowry went up against Joe Harris and Quincy Acy to try and haul in an offensive rebound. After failing to come down with the board, Lowry took a hard fall, landing square on his back. He took a quick breather, got himself up, then collapsed after trying to walk off under his own power. Lowry had to be carried to the locker room with the help of his teammates.

By the looks of it, Lowry’s injury – which was announced as an acute back spasm postgame –  should force him to miss some time. As for how long he’ll be out, that is yet to be determined. Expect Delon Wright’s workload to increase substantially with Lowry out of the lineup.

After finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes against Milwaukee this past Friday, Jonas Valanciunas nearly replicated the exact same stat line to a tee. The big man finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and one block in 26 minutes of action. Valanciunas has been plagued with inconsistent performances for the majority of the season, but his last two outings are very encouraging. With Lowry potentially missing time, the Lithuanian will need to be counted on for performances like these even more regularly in the short-term.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored a career-high 31 points and dished eight assists in the loss for Brooklyn.

The Raptors play the second night of their back-to-back Tuesday night against the Miami Heat at Air Canada Centre.

Comment

Comment

Red-hot Raptors look to keep rolling against Nets in Brooklyn

By: Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors seek a fifth straight win when they visit the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Monday night. The game tips off at 7:30 PM ET and is available on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

Toronto is off to its strongest start in franchise history with a 27-10 record, in large part due to the team’s newfound offensive approach that features more ball movement and 3-point shooting.

DeMar DeRozan has been the main catalyst at the forefront of the Raptors basketball renaissance, reinventing himself as an offensive distributor and surprisingly effective 3-point marksman. The Compton native ushered in the New Year with a franchise-best 52-point outburst and enters Monday’s matchup averaging 36 points and six assists since the calendar turned to 2018. As long as DeRozan is producing with this much offensive diversity and efficiency, the Raptors will always have a legitimate chance to win, even against the league’s elite. With matchups against Golden State and Cleveland later this week, Toronto will get a chance to prove just that.

However, before they arrive at those two challenging tests in the schedule, the Raptors need to take care of business in the final game of their road trip in Brooklyn.

The Nets enter Monday nine games below .500 at 15-24 and face a challenging, yet self-inflicted dilemma. Because of ill-informed trades, Cleveland owns Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round draft pick, meaning the Nets have really no incentive to tank for a high selection come June. With a lack of talent capable of helping them compete at a high-level on a night-to-night basis, and no sign of help coming in the foreseeable future, head coach Kenny Atkinson’s club is forced to settle for mediocre performances, at least until 2019.

If you had to find a bright spot on the Nets roster, it would be Spencer Dinwiddie. The 2014 second-round pick has filled in admirably at point guard for the injured D’Angelo Russell, averaging 13 points and a tad over six assists this season. With a very team-friendly contract that pays him just over $2 million this season and next combined, Dinwiddie appears to be a true diamond-in-the-rough for Brooklyn.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors (27-10)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Brooklyn Nets (15-24)

  • PG Spencer Dinwiddie
  • SG Allen Crabbe
  • SF Caris LaVert
  • PF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  • C Tyler Zeller

Comment

Comment

JV explodes in second half to help Raptors win big

By: Josh Weinstein

Jonas Valanciunas’ 20 points and 13 rebounds led the Toronto Raptors to a convincing blowout 129-111 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night. Believe me, the score made it look far closer than the game actually was.

Valanciunas punished the Bucks down low in the second half, securing numerous offensive rebounds and converting multiple and-one opportunities as part of his big night. The best part for JV, aside from his efficiency (8/9 FGs) was that it took him just 17 minutes to put up the impressive numbers that he did. Performances like these are few and far between for the Lithuanian, but if he can replicate efforts like these more often, the Raptors will be far better off for it.

DeMar DeRozan continued his recent trend of massive third quarter scoring outputs, this time scoring 14 of his 20 points in the frame. In the team’s last game on Wednesday, DeRozan scored 18 of his 35 in the third. The Compton-native has made a trend of bouncing back from slow starts in emphatic fashion when his team needs it most. He truly is a top-tier talent in this league, and claiming otherwise is foolish.

Serge Ibaka had another strong offensive game with 21 points on 8/12 shooting. If you take away his four misses from long-range, he was a perfect 7/7 from the field.

After Friday’s win, the Raps sit 2.5 back of the Celtics for first in the East. At 27-10, Toronto sits behind Boston in the standings in part because they’ve played five fewer games (and happen to have five fewer wins as a result). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raps continue to close the gap between them and the Celtics, considering the way they’ve been playing of late. Also, Cleveland can’t be overlooked at the moment as they’re right on Toronto’s tail.

Comment

Comment

Delon Wright's career night pushes Raptors past Bulls

sfl-miami-heat-delon-wright-s050316.jpg

By: Josh Weinstein

If you would have told me Delon Wright would finish Wednesday's game at United Center with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals, I would have thought you were crazy. The idea that Wright could set new career highs in points and rebounds without a starter's workload seemed improbable, and understandably so. But if there's anything the Raptors 124-115 over the Bulls taught us, it's that anything is possible.

Wright put forth an effort he won't forget anytime soon in Chi-Town, driving inside with creativity, while hitting shots from beyond the arc with ease. Aside from DeMar DeRozan he was the biggest reason why Toronto was able to pull away in the second half to earn a third-straight win.

Speaking of DeRozan, he continued his tremendous play of late, pouring in a game-high 35 points for the Raps. After a slow start in the first half, DeMar came to life in the third quarter by driving inside relentlessly and getting to the charity stripe. Once he saw the ball fall through the hoop a few times DeRozan started punishing the Bulls from the land beyond, nailing another five 3-pointers in the win. The Raps star shooting guard has now hit 10/17 3-pointers and gone a perfect 23/23 from the charity stripe in his past two games. 87 points in two games to start the New Year is quite the feat.

Lauri Markkanen and Justin Holiday carried the Bulls offensively with 22 and 26 points respectively, while Nikola Mirotic dropped 20 off the bench. Ultimately, though, the combination of Wright and DeRozan proved too insurmountable to keep up with offensively down the stretch.

Toronto has now won three straight contests over the Bulls, and three straight overall. The Raps next play against the Milwaukee Bucks for the second time this week on Friday.

Comment

Comment

Raptors host Bulls looking for 3rd straight win

By: Josh Weinstein

Having flipped the script against a Bulls team that dominated them in the win column for the better part of a decade, the Raptors host Chicago tonight at Air Canada Centre looking for their third straight victory against the club.

Fresh off an incredible 52-point performance, DeMar DeRozan looks to carry Toronto with another dominant scoring output. Obviously, he’s not going to reach near the 50-point plateau tonight – or will he? –  but even anything close to that level of production will be welcomed with open arms by his Raptors teammates and coaches.

Aside from DeRozan’s hot streak of late, another positive for the Raptors is that roster is fully intact health-wise. Sure, some players may see less playing time going forward, but at the end of the day having the luxury of depth is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Given the unpredictability of the injury bug, you never know when Dwane Casey will have to call upon the next man in the rotation. In addition to depth, having an abundance of talent will increase healthy competition among teammates for a spot in the rotation.

Even though they won’t be in contention come playoff time, the Bulls should not be overlooked tonight. With nice pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic, Justin Holiday, and Bobby Portis, plus second-year point guard Kris Dunn playing out of his mind lately, Chicago has the capability to shock a team with a strong effort across 48 minutes. While the Raptors certainly have more talent on paper, they don’t always put together a complete effort for four quarters, which has plagued them at times this season. We’ll see how they come out of the gates for a road matchup tonight.

Tip-off is at 8:00 PM ET.

Projected starting lineups:

 Toronto Raptors (25-10)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Chicago Bulls (13-24)

  • PG Kris Dunn
  • SG Justin Holiday
  • SF Denzel Valentine
  • PF Lauri Markkanen
  • C Robin Lopez

Comment

Comment

DeRozan starts off New Year with 52-point explosion against Bucks

By: Josh Weinstein

Someone get the fire extinguisher out because DeMar DeRozan was absolutely scorching hot on the offensive end all night at the Air Canada Centre.

The Compton-native opened up 2018 with a bang, setting a new Raptors franchise record with 52 points in Toronto’s 131-127 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Check out the rest of his incredible stat line:

52 points (17/29 FG, 5/9 3-pointers), 13/13 FTs, 8 assists, 5 rebounds

You can bet that Sports Illustrated author Rob Mahoney is going to rank DeRozan a whole lot higher in the magazine’s preseason top 100 player rankings next time around.

If you recall, Mahoney controversially ranked DeRozan as the 36th best talent in the league. In his evaluation of the shooting guard, Mahoney referenced his tendency to over-dribble, reluctance to take 3-pointers, and poor playoff showings as evidence to support the ranking, something DeRozan didn’t take kindly to.

Since then, DeRozan has made Mahoney eat his words, seemingly fixing all of the supposed shortcomings in his game from seasons past. Because of his team’s new-look pace-and-space offence, and plenty of reps in the gym when no one’s watching, the Raptors star now confidently shoots 3-pointers and gets teammates involved more than he ever has.

DeRozan’s career night helped improve his club’s home record to an NBA-best 14-1. It’s the Raptors best start at home through 15 games in franchise history. Better yet, Monday’s win helped extend Toronto’s home winning streak to a franchise-high 12 games.

The Raptors look to keep the good times rolling on Wednesday against the Bulls.

Also, it’s worth noting that DeRozan and the Raptors face the Bucks in a rematch on Friday.

Comment