Toronto Raptors vs Indiana Pacers

The Extra Pass: The Raptors press pause, plus Wednesday’s recaps

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When Masai Ujiri jumped from the Denver Nuggets to the Toronto Raptors to take over as general manager, the objective was clear. Ujiri was to do what he does best: tear it down, and try to salvage as much value as possible from the mistakes made by the previous regime.

Ujiri hasn’t failed to live up to expectations. Getting a future first-round pick from an organization as dysfunctional as the Knicks…for Andrea Bargnani? Magic. Dumping Rudy Gay’s potentially massive deal next season on the Sacramento Kings? Smart.

There’s been some major addition by subtraction going on, as the Raptors are very clearly a much better team on both ends without the inefficiency of Gay and the ineptitude of Bargnani.

Dwane Casey, who looked to be playing the role of a lame duck coach, has cobbled together the 8th best defense in the league. Casey is often criticized, but he hangs his hat on defense, and the Raptors have bought in on that end.

Toronto’s vastly improved play (they’re at .500 and would host a playoff series if the season ended today) presents an interesting situation. Can the Raptors put their rebuild on hold? Is giving Ujiri a yellow light in potential trades, particularly given what he’s been able to pull off so far, the best thing for the long-term health of the franchise? Can Ujiri maintain the respect of the players and coaching staff if he continues the rebuilding process when the Raptors are playing their best basketball in a very long time?

Perhaps these are good problems to have, especially opposed to more hopeless ones — like not having enough talent. Toronto has been there, done that.

And while it seems unlikely that Ujiri will stop wheeling and dealing altogether, there are landmines everywhere on the roster. DeMar DeRozan, the player most likely to go in a full rebuild because of his long-term deal, may be the hardest worker and biggest fan-favorite on the team.

People can and will fall  in love with this group, so long as Ujiri lets them. While a general manager’s job isn’t to coddle fans, Ujiri will have a hard time selling the desire to create a “winning culture” if he puts a stop to one that’s developing.

Half measures in the NBA are usually met with derision. You should be all-in, or all-out, all the time. But the Raptors are a good example of why everything isn’t always so cut and dry. Every team wants to reach the same destination, naturally, but there are detours unique to each franchise along the way.

For the Raptors, that detour has been brought on by more winning. Good on them if they ride it out.

D.J. Foster


Nets 102, Warriors 98: Brooklyn was without Deron Williams in this one, but still managed to end the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak thanks to 27 points from Joe Johnson, a nice overall performance from the bench unit and a throwback fourth quarter from Kevin Garnett. KG had 11 points in just eight minutes of the final period, to go along with three rebounds and two steals — one of which came against Stephen Curry on a critical possession with just 12 seconds left. Curry and Klay Thompson both had below average shooting nights for the second straight game, and played 45 and 43 minutes respectively on the second night of a back-to-back set to end a long seven-game road trip. That’s not ideal for the Warriors, and they may need to trade for some additional help if they want to achieve their ultimate goal this season. –– BP

Spurs 112, Mavericks 90: We’ll go out on a limb here and point out that when four of your team’s starting five, including your franchise’s best player combine to shoot 10-of-36 fro the field, you’re probably not going to win on that particular night. The box score on the Mavericks end looked like a horror show in that regard, with only Monta Ellis and Vince Carter managing to finish in double figures scoring. The Spurs were efficient as always, shooting 52.6 percent as a team with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan leading the way with rock solid performances. — BP

Raptors 112, Pistons 91: Toronto has solidified itself as the third best team in the East since trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento, and the Pistons continue to struggle in fourth quarters to the point where it’s becoming as darkly comical as it is predictable. Something happens to Detroit at halftime, and whatever it is needs to change or the team will have trouble snapping out of a losing funk that’s now reached six straight games. In this one, the Pistons managed just 37 second half points as they were outscored by 25 points over the game’s final two periods. — BP

Hawks 97, Pacers 87: Sometimes, it’s easy to explain why an elite team lost to an average one, and this was a prime example. When Roy Hibbert disappears, so does the Pacers’ status as one of the league’s best teams. Hibbert couldn’t do much of anything offensively, and finished 1-of-8 from the field with two points and four rebounds in 22 minutes. That contributed to an inefficient 11-of-25 performance from Paul George, but for a Pacers team playing its fourth game in five nights, this was a schedule loss more than anything else. The Hawks had five players finish in double figures, and led by as many as 25 points. — BP

Wizards 102, Pelicans 96: Washington took charge of this game with a 12-0 run to start the second quarter on a night they got good bench play from guys like Garrett Temple and Jan Vesely. It looked like the Wizards would get a laugher, leading by 23 in the fourth quarter, but a 21-4 New Orleans run made it interesting late. Trevor Ariza had 21 points including some key threes, and John Wall had 20. Eric Gordon led a listless Pelicans team with 23. — KH

Rockets 113, Lakers 99: Houston got focused in the third quarter and ran away with it behind 38 points from James Harden. We broke this game down in more detail here. –KH

Suns 104, Timberwolves 103: Minnesota continues to find painful ways to lose close games — Phoenix went on a 9-1 run to close out the game capped by a Gerald Green bucket to come from behind to steal a win. This was a Suns team without Eric Bledsoe on the second night of a back-to-back, but they executed at the end of the game and once again the Timberwolves did not — Minnesota is now 0-10 in games decided by four points or less. Some of that is bad luck, but some of it is just execution under pressure and this team has to figure out how to do that if they are going to get over .500. Goran Dragic had 26 for the Suns, Kevin Martin had 20 for the Timberwolves. — KH

Trail Blazers 110, Magic 94: Orlando actually led much of the first three quarters and looked like they might pull off an upset — mostly because the vaunted Blazers offense was off, shooting just 41.8 percent through three quarters. Orlando also got a boost from Arron Afflalo, who had 14 of his 22 in the second quarter. Then Portland woke up for the fourth, shot 60 percent, knocked down 5 threes and won the final 12 minutes 39-19. Ballgame. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points for Portland. –KH

Clippers 111, Celtics 105: Every win the Clippers get without Chris Paul in the lineup is a good one — they are 3-1 since the injury. The Clippers raced out to a 26-10 lead behind Blake Griffin, who had 11 of his 29 in the first quarter. Then of course the Clippers relaxed and Boston fought back, but in the third the Clippers regained control and held on for the win. Jamal Crawford had 26 for the Clippers. Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford each had 24 for Boston. Oh, and Griffin destroyed Kris Humphries on a dunk. — KH

Kevin Durant moshes at Kanye West concert, Steve Kerr calls it ‘great workout’ (video)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) == Steve Kerr joked around on what became a post-mosh Monday, feeling some of the natural pressure before his Golden State Warriors get going at last with all the weight of trying to win another NBA championship on their star-studded shoulders.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year said he cut short practice given Kevin Durant‘s jostling in the mosh pit at a Kanye West concert the previous evening.

“He got a great workout last night,” Kerr said with a smile.

Kanye performed at Oracle Arena, where KD will become THE show Tuesday night for the defending Western Conference champions. And MVP Stephen Curry, too, of course.

“We all have pressure. That’s a good thing,” Kerr said Monday. “The alternative is, `Maybe we can win 30 this year instead of 25.’ Who wants that? Unfortunately, a lot of the teams in the league have that, teams that are going through rebuilding stuff, and they’re trying to get where we are. So we’re in a really enviable position. We know how lucky we are to be together with this group. We understand the responsibility that comes with it, and that’s fine. It’s a good position to be in.”

A day away from his highly anticipated Warriors debut, Durant insisted he had no idea just how much daily interest Golden State would generate before the season even began.

How much Durant’s every move would be intently watched – whether it was his concert-going or riding the BART train to get around.

“I never had a chance to get to a show. I was always moving around, Olympics and traveling a lot,” Durant said of attending West’s show. “I’m glad he came through here. I was telling all my friends. I’ve always told them I wanted to get in a mosh pit. It was amazing.”

Durant had no concerns about anything going wrong with all those people in tight quarters.

“I’m covered, man. I’m covered by a higher power upstairs, no matter what happens,” he said.

Four months after squandering a 3-1 series lead and losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and Cleveland, the Warriors are ready to start fresh without any thought on chasing the regular-season wins record they now hold at 73. They will host San Antonio and Kerr’s former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, on Tuesday night.

“It’s the Spurs, so it makes it even more fun,” Kerr said.

Golden State also will honor TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is fighting leukemia, with a special T-shirt for all fans at the opener.

Kerr has said all along Durant would need time to adjust.

“He’s light years beyond where he was three weeks ago,” Kerr said. “He’s embracing the chaos, for sure.”

With Durant and so many new players, Kerr still expects everything to take time before the Warriors really start clicking. Kerr wasn’t even on the bench for last season’s opener, missing the initial 43 games and a record 24-0 start while dealing with complications from a pair of back surgeries.

Next week might be even bigger for Durant, whose former Oklahoma City Thunder visit on Nov. 3. Golden State rallied from 3-1 down to beat OKC in the Western Conference Finals.

Durant’s departure was a big deal. It still is.

“I think they’re just looking for something to grab onto and make it a story,” Durant said. “We understand that. That’s one thing I actually didn’t understand coming in here. Everything’s going to be taken and used as a headline. It’s definitely a learning experience for me not used to all this coverage around a team. That’s just part of the job. That’s why we get paid the way we do and that’s why we are who we are as players. You’re kind of prone to criticism.”

New center Zaza Pachulia got a glimpse of the attention and hype surrounding the Warriors on media day last month.

He’s ready to embrace it.

“We take it as a compliment because it means you’re doing something right. It means you’ve got good talent here, it means that people want to know about you more than anybody else,” he said. “It’s a huge year for us, a big season, kind of what we expected with a lot of expectations, a lot of eyes on us.”

LeBron James responds vaguely when asked about Carmelo Anthony joining Cavaliers

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks battle for position during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (and Chris Paul) said they talked frequently about winning another Olympic gold medal together. LeBron and Anthony both said they’d take a pay cut to play with each other (and Paul and Dwyane Wade). In 2014, Anthony reportedly tried to join LeBron on the Heat or get LeBron to join him on the Knicks.

But none of it came to fruition.

LeBron skipped the 2016 Olympics. He also left Miami for the Cavaliers in 2014, and Anthony returned to New York. Again a free agent the last two years, LeBron re-signed with Cleveland.

What about a LeBron and Anthony teaming up on the Cavs?

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of

“We have a lot of conversations,” James said Tuesday of his relationship with Anthony.

Did any of those talks center on Anthony coming to Cleveland?

“Maybe. Maybe not,” James said.

Anthony can’t opt out until 2018, so he’s not signing in Cleveland anytime soon. Plus, the Cavs will likely still be capped out then.

Anthony holds a no-trade clause, which allows him to dictate when and where the Knicks deal him. Would he be open to Cleveland? A trade based around Anthony and Love makes at least a little sense.

This line of thinking probably isn’t what Love wants to hear, but he at least knows to expect it now. Not even a championship can quash all the rumors that find this team.

It just goes with the territory of being LeBron’s teammate.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report: