Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani reacts to a call during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Utah

Raptors have gone 8-2 without Bargnani. Coincidence?

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On December 10, the enigmatic Andrea Bargnani went down with a ligament tear in his left elbow. Two nights later the Raptors lost to the Brooklyn Nets to fall to 4-19 on the season.

But since then the Raptors are 8-1, including a thumping of the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Coincidence?

Yes and no.

We need to say up front that a lot of what has fueled the Raptors win streak is the schedule. The wins over the Blazers and Rockets in this stretch can be considered quality, but most of the wins are of the Hornets, Magic, and Cavaliers variety. Toronto is in the soft part of its schedule.

But so were the Clippers in December — you have to beat the teams in front of you on the schedule and earlier in the season the Raptors were not doing that. Now they are.

Because they are just flat out playing better without Bargnani in the rotation.

Their offense is scoring 8.3 points per 100 possessions better than their season average in the last 10 games, in part because they are just shooting the ball better (their eFG%, which accounts for the bonus of a made three, has jumped from 48.3 percent on the season to 52.7 percent the last 10 games).

Then on the other end of the floor, the Raptors defense is nearly 4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average.

Look at it this way, in games 11-20 of the season the Raptors were a -8.2 points per 100 possessions when you compare their offense and defense. In the last 10 games that is +10.3, which is second best in the NBA in that stretch.

No Bargnani has meant more Ed Davis, and he is showing off an improved jumper — he was spotting up against the Blazers and making LaMarcus Aldridge look a step slow. Davis was 9-of-12 for 19 points against the Blazers and has been strong the last 10 games — when Bargnani comes back Dwane Casey can’t take Davis out of the starting lineup. He has earned the right to stay.

DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry are playing well. Landry Fields is back and is contributing on the boards as he tries to figure out where he fits in the rotation. It’s all coming together.

We know the Raptors are going to be busy at the trade deadline. Bargnani will be shopped hard (and while there is a market for him it’s not one that brings back a lot of real talent or value). Either Calderon or Lowry will be moved (maybe in connection with Bargnani to add value).

But what we’ve learned the last 10 games is there are some pieces that can really work on that Raptors roster. They don’t have a star, but they have some pieces that can be part of a very good team. Now, whether Bryan Colangelo can put those pieces together is another question, but we know there are things that can work in Toronto.

And Bargnani is no longer one of them.

Report: Dwyane Wade’s cousin killed as innocent bystander in gang shooting in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This news is just sickening. In a world with just too much sickening news.

According to NBC 5 in Chicago (which spoke to police), Dwyane Wade‘s first cousin Nykea Aldridge was pushing a stroller down the street when she was shot and killed as an innocent in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

The 32-year-old woman, whom family identified as Nykea Aldridge, was apparently the unintended victim of a gang shooting, police said. She was walking around 3:30 p.m. in the 6300 block of South Calumet when two males approached another male and opened fire, police said.

Wade tweeted this.

Aldridge was on her way to a local school to register her kids (they had just moved) when the shooting took place. There has been a rash of gang and gun violence in Chicago in the past year, and Dwyane’s mother Jolinda Wade had just been on a panel on ESPN’s Undefeated talking about it.

Wade is coming to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls this season.

Our thoughts are with Nykea Aldridge’s family and friends.

Bill Walton blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13:  Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 Championship team Bill Walton is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Donald Sterling was the owner of the Clippers when they left San Diego to move to the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1984. He’s a greedy man who lived in Los Angeles, he owned a bad Clipper team playing in a fast-aging building in San Diego, Sterling was bouncing checks to the point the NBA was ready to take the team away from him, and the selfish owner wanted the team closer to him in a situation where he could make as much money as possible. To suggest Sterling (especially in that era) made any move that was not financially related would be just wrong.

Still Bill Walton — a San Deigo native — blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego.

He talked about it with the brilliant Arash Markazi of ESPN.

“When you fail in your hometown, that’s as bad as it gets, and I love my hometown,” said Walton, who grew up in La Mesa, 9 miles east of downtown San Diego. “I wish we had NBA basketball here, and we don’t because of me….

“It’s my greatest failure as a professional in my entire life,” Walton said. “I could not get the job done in my hometown. It is a stain and stigma on my soul that is indelible. I’ll never be able to wash that off, and I carry it with me forever.”

It was not on Walton. Not even close.

This was the Walton between the as-good-as-any-center-ever Walton that led the Trail Blazers to the title in 1977 and the Sixth Man of the Year Walton in Boston in 1985. The Clippers’ Walton was the one battling multiple foot surgeries that kept him out of most of multiple seasons in a row — something he could not control. And if you want to make judgements about how he was healthy before and after his time with the Clippers but seemed to get poor medical treatment on cheap Sterling’s team, go right ahead.

The move to LA was all about Donald Sterling. It was about his pocket book and what was convenient for him. There was a reason his team was at the bottom of the NBA for two decades (and that since he sold the team, while they have struggled to advance deep in the playoffs, they have been a more serious threat).

Bill Walton shouldn’t blame himself.

 

Jeremy Lin has cameo in Taiwanese music video. Because he can.

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You know Jay Chou as “Kato” from the Seth Rogen version of “The Green Hornet.” Well, you know him that way if you’re one of the people who suffered through that disappointing effort.

It turns out, Chou is basically the Justin Timberlake of Taiwan — actor, musician, good at everything he touches (except the Green Hornet, but that’s not on him). He’s huge.

And in his latest music video (above) he has Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin as a co-star.

There is pop-a-shot, a lot of ice cream references, and of course dancing in outfits that you and I couldn’t pull off in public. Just go ahead and watch it. You know you want to.

Expect to see Chou courtside in Brooklyn this season. They could use it, the Nets need a few celebs in house.

(Hat tip to  of CBSSports.com, apparently an avid follower of the Taiwanese music scene, and The Score.)

As expected, John Wall denies he cares what Beal, Harden, or others make

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29:  John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 29, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This was as predictable as Trump mentioning his wall in a stump speech he feels going flat.

Thursday, the Ringer reported that Washington’s John Wall was unhappy when he saw the money thrown around this summer at James Harden and even Wall’s teammate Bradley Beal. The quote that summed it up from an anonymous source: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

The second that story hit the web you knew Wall would deny it, and that came via ESPN’s The Uninterrupted (which has done well since it’s launch):

For both of you who hate video and prefer it written out:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better. Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

Two quick thoughts. First, talk to Wall for any length of time and it does become clear he loves basketball and plays the game with a passion. That shouldn’t be up for debate.

Secondly, everybody in the NBA compares salaries. Everybody knows what everybody is making. There’s another locker room measuring comparison equivalent, but I’m not going there. The reality is guys who were not free agents or up for an extension — and because of the length of Wall’s contract, that includes him — were shaking their heads at the money thrown around. Of course they wanted a piece of it. That’s different than jealousy, or lacking chemistry with a teammate because of it.

That said, Beal and Wall have never clicked like expected. Injuries are certainly a part of the issue, but it’s fair to question what else is going on, and if Scott Brooks as coach can change that.