Raptors Gay prepares to throw the ball into play from the end court in the first half of their NBA game against the Celtics in Toronto

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Toronto Raptors

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Last season: Raptors’ fans went into the season thinking the playoffs were a possibility, but it didn’t take long for that ship to run aground on the rocks of reality. The team defense struggled, Andrea Bargnani was Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas looked like rookie, Kyle Lowry battled injuries, nothing went as planned and everything fell apart.

But near the trade deadline the Raptors made a bold move, trading for Rudy Gay (from Memphis). It breathed life into the team, who went on to have 34 wins and finish ninth in the East. It was a move that provided hope for the fans, even if it couldn’t save GM Bryan Colangelo’s job.

Signature highlight from last season: With an athletic team there were a few to choose from but we’ll take DeMar DeRozan with the game winner vs. Orlando.

Key player changes: The biggest offseason move wasn’t a player, it was getting GM Masai Ujiri out of Denver to take over the organization. Under  Colangelo the Raptors were an organization  without a rudder; with Ujiri they will find a direction. It may take a couple years to build it, but he has a plan. Heck, he already traded Bargnani to the Knicks for actual players, when Raptors fans would have traded him for a rack of shootaround basketballs.

Toronto improved their bench this summer. Gone are Bargnani and Linas Kleiza. In are Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak and Austin Daye. Not mindblowing, but better.

Keys to the Raptors’ season:

1) Can they win with Rudy Gay and will he stay? The Raptors took a big risk and they took on a big salary when they traded for Gay, who will make $17.9 million this season. Next summer he can opt out and be a free agent (or he can stay for a final year at $19.3 million). Good chance he opts out (to get the security of a longer deal) so the two questions become: Can the Raptors win and keep Gay happy so he stays? Do they want to keep him?

Make no mistake, Gay is a quality player, a borderline All-Star averaging 19.5 points a game last season with the Raptors. But he is not efficient. He shot 42.5 percent for them and 33.6 percent from three, with a PER of 17.6. That’s good but speaks to a second or third option on a contender — maybe the corrective eye surgery he had this summer will change this, but that’s a roll of the dice. Plus, a lot of Gay’s skillset overlaps with DeMar DeRozan’s. So again, do you want to keep him or the less expensive DeRozan (especially if DeRozan has a breakout year)?

It’s a discussion the Raptors need to have thinking about the long-term. However, in the short-term if Toronto is going to make the playoffs this season, a lot of that falls to Gay.  He is going to have to lead this team by being more efficient (same with DeRozan and Lowry).

2) How big a step forward will Jonas Valanciunas take? The first time I saw Valanciunas at Summer League I did a double take — he had clearly hit the gym and his upper body had filled out considerably. He then used that newfound strength to overpower lesser players on the block. Valanciunas did the same thing at EuroBasket for Lithuania. He averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds a game with 1.3 blocked shots a game. Look for all those numbers to go up as he takes a step forward this season — and that step is another key to Toronto making the postseason.

3) Can Dwane Casey fix the defense? Coach Dwane Casey is on the hot seat: New GM, expensive star players. and playoffs expectations is a bad combo for the coach.  Plus Casey is in the last year of his contract. Casey is supposed to be a defensive guy, and two seasons ago the Raptors played solid defense for him. But last season they took a big step back and were 22nd in the NBA in points allowed per possession. That has to change, the Raptors need to be top 12 to make the playoffs. With Gay and Lowry the Raptors will find points, but they need to stop other teams from scoring. Look for Valanciunas to be the shot blocking force at the rim, but will that be enough?

Why you should watch the Raptors: Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are explosive. Once or twice a game — more against a team that wants to get out and run with them. Toronto has athletes. How well they play together is up for discussion, but this team is going to put up some highlights every night.

Prediction: 39-43. Like the end of last season this team is going to float around close to a playoff spot in the East this season — and if they defend, if Gay is a little more efficient, if Lowry stays healthy they can make it in. But can they really beat out teams like Cleveland and Detroit for a playoff spot. I’m not sold. Possible, but it really is going to be about the defense.

NBA: Spurs got away with two key fouls in crunch time BEFORE final play (videos)

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green, left, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Manu Ginobili (20) watch Tim Duncan (21) strip the ball from -Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The final play of Thunder-Spurs Game 2 was pure mayhem – five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds.

But what if that high-stakes ending were avoided completely?

If officials had gotten previous crunch-time calls correct, it might have been.

The last play mattered only because San Antonio was charging back from a five-point deficit with a minute and a half left. The Spurs trailed by only one when Dion Waiters inbounded the ball.

San Antonio probably shouldn’t have been that close.

The Last Two Minute Report featured three missed calls before the final play, each favoring the Spurs and two crucial.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored with 1:27 left, but only after getting away with offensively fouling Russell Westbrook. NBA:

Since Westbrook (OKC) is stationary, Aldridge (SAS) can establish himself in his path without giving him room to avoid the screen. However, Aldridge does not maintain his legal position when he pushes Westbrook off balance.

That doesn’t look like a clear offensive foul from the angle TNT showed, but the league reviews these plays from multiple angles. There’s enough obscured to believe an alternate view would show an illegal screen.

A correct call would’ve ended San Antonio’s possession and given the Thunder the ball up five instead of three.

On the ensuing possession, the Spurs forced a miss, but Tim Duncan got away with a loose-ball foul of Steven Adams to get the rebound. NBA:

Duncan (SAS) clamps the arm of Adams (OKC) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound

A correct call would’ve given Oklahoma City the ball with 1:11 left – another opportunity to run clock and add to its lead.

Duncan also committed a three-second violation with 55 seconds left, but the Spurs missed and Oklahoma City rebounded on that possession, anyway.

Especially considering that Manu Ginobili crossing the sideline should’ve been a violation before Waiters pushed him, the Spurs and their fans can’t reasonably claim officiating cost them this game

NBA official report says refs blew five calls in final 13 seconds of Thunder win

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This has to be a record.

Hopefully, this is one never broken.

The NBA’s official review found five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 win over the Spurs Monday night, and eight total in the final two minutes of play. Lead official Ken Mauer admitted to one after the game — missing Dion Waiters shoving Manu Ginobili back — but this goes into all the details. And this doesn’t cover Steven Adams getting his arm grabbed by a fan.

In short the NBA says: Manu Ginobili stepped on the line, Dion Waiters did foul Ginobili, Patty Mills fouled Steven Adams, Kawhi Leonard fouled Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka fouled LaMarcus Aldridge.

It’s a wash if you want to look at it that way, although it’s hard to look past that many errors. Whether you think it was a fair outcome probably depends on which team you’re rooting for.

Here are the calls from the final 13 seconds — both right and wrong — according to the NBA’s review (the time stamp of the incorrect calls are in bold):

• 13.5 sec: Manu Ginobili did step on the line while trying to guard Waiters inbound pass. The report says that should have been assessed as a delay of game, although the rule book says that in the final two minutes it should be a technical foul.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did shove Manu Ginobili and should have been called for a foul, with the ball awarded to the Spurs. Here is the league’s comment:

Waiters crosses the (out of bounds) plane during the inbound and makes contact with Ginobili that affects his ability to defend

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did inbound the ball within five seconds, a correct no call.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters was allowed to jump during the inbound pass, a correct no call. Here is the league’s explanation:

Waiters jumps during his inbound attempt, which is permissible under NBA interpretations of the relevant throw-in Rule No. 10, Section III, provided the player doesn’t leave the designated throw-in spot (laterally) or leave the playing surface (e.g., stepping into the stands) to gain an advantage

• 13.5 sec: The Spurs Danny Green did not Kevin Durant while KD was trying to get open for the pass, a correct no call according to the report. The comment:

Green and Durant briefly engage and separate during the inbounds play.

• 13.5 sec: Patty Mills does foul Steven Adams as he tries to get open for the inbounds play, there should have been a foul called.

• 13.5 sec: Kawhi Leonard did foul Russell Westbrook in the backcourt as the Thunder Guard tried to get open by grabbing his jersey, there was no call but it should have been whistled.

• 12.6 sec: Green did not foul Durant in going for the inbounds pass, a correct no call. The league’s comment:

Green and Durant make incidental body contact as they jump for the inbound pass. Green then cleanly strips the ball.

• 5.7 sec: Ibaka does not foul Leonard, this contact was incidental and a correct no call.

• 4.3 sec: Adams does not foul Mills in contesting his corner three. Here is the league’s comment.

Adams legally contests Mills’ jump shot attempt. Any contact that occurs after Mills has landed is initiated by Mills prior to him falling to the floor.

• 2.6 sec: Ibaka did foul LaMarcus Aldridge on his shot attempt off the rebound of Mills’ miss, Aldridge should have been awarded free throws. Here is the league’s comment:

RHH shows that Ibaka grabs and holds Aldridge’s jersey and affects his shot attempt.

• 0.5 sec: There was no foul in the scrum under the basket for the ball once Aldridge and Ibaka were tangled up. This was a correct no call. Here is the comment from the league.

Ibaka and Leonard make incidental contact with one another while diving for the loose ball.

Dwyane Wade ‘honored’ to be Prince’s favorite player

Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 2
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Dwyane Wade says he’s feeling “all kinds of emotions” after hearing that he was Prince’s favorite basketball player.

The Miami Heat star took to Twitter after hearing Prince’s comments in a 2012 Australian radio interview the late pop icon conducted with model Damaris Lewis.

Prince died last month at his Minnesota home at the age of 57.

Referees admit error at end of Thunder/Spurs, will add call to training in future

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It’s hard to describe the final play of the Thunder Game 2 win over the Spurs and the officiating during it for a family-friendly publication such as this. The phrase I want to use starts with “cluster” but that’s as far as I can go.

The officiating crew missed a host of calls during those final 13 seconds, but they have at least owned up to the most egregious one — missing Dion Waiters pushing off Manu Ginobili while the Thunder guard tried to inbound the ball. (Yes, Ginobili’s foot was on the line, but sorry Thunder homers that was not close to the most egregious miss at the end.)

After the game, the lead official Kenny Mauer admitted that error.

Now the NBA referee’s union released this statement:

Did that decide the game? No. We like to focus on things we can blame as going wrong, but the Spurs offense started 2-of-15 shooting on the night, was inconsistent, and they still had a chance at the end. This one play is not why the Spurs lost. Manu Ginobili said it well postgame.