NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

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bargnani.jpgLast season: 40-42, and a late-season meltdown kept them out of the playoffs. (If you need to add that to your Chris Bosh hate fuel in Toronto, so be it.)

Head Coach: Jay Triano, and despite the loss in talent you can be sure his seat is getting a little warm. (So is GM Bryan Colangelo’s seat, this is the last season of his deal and he is feeling the pressure to win now, which is not great for rebuilding.)

Key Departures: I don’t know if you heard, but Chris Bosh left to head to Miami. That might have made the news. But other guys lost include Hedo Turkoglu (Raptors fans were not crying over that one), Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic,

Key Additions: Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, Julian Wright and Ed Davis.

Best case scenario: Toronto doesn’t embarrass itself, that it puts out a respectable team with some pieces to build on.

For that to happen: The Raptors need what we all have been waiting for — the real Andrea Bargnani. The blossoming of potential and hype into a player who lead a team in scoring, who can be an All-Star level player. We’re not sure that this version of Bargnani actually exists, it’s more of a Yeti — something of legend people only catch glimpses of out of the corner of their eye.

This season the excuses are gone — Chris Bosh and Sam Mitchell are gone. Bargnani has to step up now. Late last season when Bosh was out and defenses turned their attention to Bargnani he wilted. This is his time, for the Raptors sake that can’t happen again.

Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa will need to prove they were more than just the role players they were given a chance to be before. Kleiza looked it during the World Championships, but proving it on an NBA level will be harder.

Also, the youth need to step forward and prove they can ball. DeMar DeRozan looked great during Summer League, and Sonny Weems shows potential as well. Jarret Jack to be steady.

Also, the Raptors need to play some semblance of defense.

More likely the Raptors will: Have nights of utter embarrassment and other nights where they look like they have something. They are going to get crushed in the paint and on the boards this season, and it’s hard to consistently win in this league when that is the case.

This season is about starting the rebuilding process, seeing what you’ve got and what works. Start reshaping the roster as you look for the next star you need. See if Bargnani really is a guy you can trust or not, them move accordingly. See if Kleiza can be a steady scorer, if DeRozan can take the next step or three. Jettison the pieces that don’t work and try new ones.

Hopefully Toronto will use all that youth and speed to get out and run. To get some easy buckets in transition. Their defense will keep them from being good, but they can be entertaining at least.

Prediction: 23 wins. It’s going to be ugly for a couple years, just try to keep focused on the big picture. Then hope that starts to come together.

Westbrook hits game-winner as Thunder beat Jazz 97-95 (VIDEO)

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —  Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with 1.4 seconds left, and the Oklahoma City Thunder stopped Utah’s six-game win streak with a 97-95 victory over the Jazz on Monday night.

Westbrook took over down the stretch and scored 11 of the Thunder’s final 13 points after going cold in the third quarter. He finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his 22nd triple-double of the season.

Alec Burks missed the final shot for the Jazz as time expired.

Victor Oladipo scored 18 for Oklahoma City.

Gordon Hayward led Utah with 17 points.

The Jazz rallied in the third quarter with a 13-0 run to take a 66-60 lead, but the Thunder pulled within three early in the fourth thanks to five straight points from Oladipo.

The Thunder took a 56-53 lead into halftime after Westbrook dominated the second, The dynamic point guard scored 14 in the quarter to give him 22 at the break.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Steven Adams returned from a two-game absence due to a concussion. … Reserve Enes Kanter scored 14 against his former team.

Jazz: Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan sat with his Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton during the game.

STAYING PUT

The Jazz announced Monday that ownership of the team and Vivint SmartHome Arena has been transferred from Gail Miller to a legacy trust in a move that ensures the team will remain in the family for generations. Miller said the primary reason for the transfer is to make sure the team stays in the state.

HOOD UPDATE

Rodney Hood missed his fourth consecutive game with a right knee hyperextension and bone bruise.

“The original timeline was 2-4 weeks and, as far as I know, he’s on track with that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s been in getting treatment and starting to do some work on the court. They’re doing all the different measurements and balance tests and all those things.

“He’s making good progress. But I don’t know if that means we’re going to see him later this week or next week. There’s another phase there to clear him for some more competitive stuff … and see how he’s feeling. But right now he’s feeling good.”

Terrence Jones scores 36, leads Pelicans past Cavaliers 124-122

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James‘ dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Two of Cleveland’s recent losses came against Western Conference leaders Golden State and San Antonio, but two others have come against teams currently outside the playoff picture in the West: New Orleans and Portland.

Kevin Love had 22 points for Cleveland, which could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).

Donatas Moteijunas scored 14 for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.

The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.

Embarrassed in a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against the defending champs. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of his right leg bruise lingering from a collision with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers – including two 3s – weaving drives and feisty put-backs.

Holiday, meanwhile, got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 22-point lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.

In the last second of the half, James executed a long inbound pass to Love, who converted a quick-release layup to make it 70-50.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.

Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E'Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.=

 

Heat’s Dion Waiters drains game-winning three to knock off Warriors (VIDEO)

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Last week Golden State crushed Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and Houston.

But none of those teams had Dion Waiters.

The final three of Waiters’ 33 points came on a deep pull-up three with 0.6 seconds left to give Miami a 105-102 upset of the Warriors. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall and 6-of-8 from three.

This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. This ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak and extended the Miami win streak to four.

Joakim Noah with as ugly a free throw as you’ll see. And he knows it. (VIDEO)

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Joakim Noah used to be a good free throw shooter, he’s hit 70 percent for his career. But he’s shooting just 42.9 percent this season.

And no miss was uglier than the one Monday night against the Pacers.

The best part of this airball was Noah’s reaction — he knew it was bad the second he let it go.

If you want to draw parallels with the Knicks’ season, go for it.