Author: Kurt Helin

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

Raptors stumble in first step without DeMar DeRozan

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LOS ANGELES — The Toronto Raptors entered Sunday night with the best record in the East, a fast 13-3 start in part built in large part on continuity and balance — it’s hard to defend a team where on any given night Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross or Lou Williams off the bench can light you up, where five guys averaged double digits and a sixth is at 9.5 a game, where that unit plays defense on a string.

But pull one piece out of the Jenga tower and that balance becomes less stable, it teeters and can fall easily.

We saw that Sunday night in Los Angeles. To a man the Raptors recognized that and said they needed to find their stability again over the coming weeks.

DeRozan is out for an extended period with a torn tendon in his groin — history of the injury suggests at least six weeks, DeRozan hopes to be back in a month — and Sunday without him the Raptors struggled. An offense that usually shared the ball became isolation heavy. And their Top 10 defense crumbled for the night. The result was a Los Angeles Lakers win, 129-122 in overtime, behind a triple-double from Kobe Bryant, who seems to save up his best games for Toronto.

Without DeRozan the Raptors have a much smaller margin for error on both sides of the ball. Sunday night they didn’t adapt well on either end.

What was the bigger issue for Toronto, the offense or defense? Depends on who you ask.

“Offensively, I thought that we were a little out of rhythm…” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said afterwards, particularly referring to the team’s first half. “This is who we are and who we’re going to be, so we have to get it together. Everyone is happy during good times, We lost a couple games and now we’ll see what we are made of…

“A lot of our offense is built around, or for, DeMar. Getting into a rhythm that way, plus new stuff, and new positions, I would say (players roles are changing) a little bit. But we’ve been doing that for two years so it’s no excuse.”

“We’re not making any excuses, we just didn’t play defense,” said guard Greivis Vasquez, the guy thrust into the starting lineup with DeRozan out. “We scored enough points to win, we just have to play defense.”

To a man, the Raptors used the no excuses line. It’s something every pro sports team says when a key player goes down, and it’s been a common refrain around the NBA this early season when a raft of top stars — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and so on — have gone down for extended periods. Some teams have adapted better than others, the book is out still on Toronto.

For a Raptors team built on continuity they believe they should be able to adapt, adjust and step up better than we saw Sunday.

“Next man up,” Casey said spouting the pro sports cliché pregame. “It’s so true. I know it’s corny but that’s why you have a big roster. Injuries are a big part of the NBA….

“The year we won the championship in Dallas (Casey was an assistant coach) we lost Dirk (Nowitzki) and everyone thought the world was going to hell. But it didn’t, we stuck together and bonded, developed some confidence in the guys who had an opportunity to play, and you’ve got to look at it from that positive standpoint.”

The Raptors players talked about that too, being a better team when DeRozan returns, about finding a level of stability for the next six weeks.

In Sunday night’s loss Vasquez was right, it was the defense — the Raptors offensive production on the night was very close to their season average (using points per possession), but it was on the defensive end where the Raptors could have used DeRozan’s length and athleticism. Not that it would have mattered in the first half, when the Lakers just got hot and hit contested or just poor shots to the tune of better than 60 percent from the floor until deep in the second quarter. Everything fell for them. Plus Kobe was doubled early and with that started dishing the ball to open teammates — the Lakers are more dangerous when he facilitates (and other guys hit those shots).

Toronto players also saw defense as a more easily correctable issue. While DeRozan is an athletic and long defender it is Ross who often gets the toughest defensive assignment of the night and James Johnson comes off the bench to help get stops. It was the offensive side where the roles really changed Sunday.

“I think Kyle and I can play together…” Vasquez said after the game, and the pair combined for 48 points but on an inefficient 44 shots. “The offense wasn’t really the problem, it was our defense. There’s no excuse, we have to play defense as a team….

“Defensively as a team we do a great job collectively, it was more of a focus thing.”

DeRozan gave Toronto better than 19 points a game and a player defenses have to watch at all times. That’s not easy to just replace.

“He’s a franchise player, no question about it,” Casey said.

But this is life in the NBA. Always has been. Guys go down and the best teams adjust — the model everyone strives for is the Spurs, who never seem to miss a step even when Tim Duncan or Tony Parker are out for a night.

Toronto has work to do to get near that level, but they can be a much more dangerous team come the playoffs if they can become a little more Spurs like in the next stretch while DeRozan recovers. For Casey that starts with a better effort.

“(DeRozan’s absence) had nothing to do with the loose balls in the first half, the no box outs in the first half and, I thought, the soft play defensively in the first half…” Casey said. “Defensively I thought we had good stops but we didn’t come up with the loose balls and second shots. That has nothing to do with rhythm and more with wanting to get on the floor and get those.”

The Raptors don’t have the margin for error to let those little plays go anymore.

Elfrid Payton takes mental break, Gerald Green makes him pay with steal, slam (VIDEO)

Gerald Green, Darrell Arthur
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Rookies. They have so much to learn.

Like Orlando’s Elfrid Payton, who was clearly looking to his bench for instruction and while doing so stopped paying attention to Gerald Green who raced in, made the steal and threw down the slam. Lesson learned rookie — always protect the rock. Always.

Gerald Green was making all kinds of plays Sunday night. He was his own highlight package.

Gabrielle Union video bombs, takes over Dwyane Wade’s postgame interview (VIDEO)

A Night On The Runwade

“He did good for an old geezer.”

I’m all for anyone who shakes up the generally cliché and tedious postgame player interviews, so good on Gabrielle Union for jumping in and answering questions for her husband Dwyane Wade after he scored 27 points on 18 shots at Madison Square Garden to lead the Heat past the Knicks.

Of course, she’s got a movie coming out, so if you’re going to get the extra exposure now is the time.

PBT’s Sunday night NBA Winners/Losers: Kobe Bryant drops triple-double on Raptors

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night… except tonight, in the holiday weekend spirit, we’ve got just winners. Here’s what you missed while you try to get approval to build your own, real-life X-wing fighter….

source:  Kobe Bryant. Twice. Kobe gets the double winner tonight. First there was his play on the court where once again he saves some his best games for destroying the Raptors (remember 81?). At the start of the game Toronto doubled him when he got the ball and Kobe picked up four quick assists setting up teammates (he’s such a smart passer when he chooses to be, more on that in a paragraph). Toronto decided to go with single coverage and Kobe then hit his first four shots. And it was on. Bryant finished with 31 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds leading the Lakers to a 129-122 overtime win against the Raptors. Kobe turned back the clock for the night. And destroyed Terrence Ross in the process.

Kobe’s second win is because in the third quarter he picked up his career 6,000th assist on a nice little dish out to Wesley Johnson on the wing. Kobe is now the only player in NBA history to have more than 30,000 points and 6,000 assists. Some fans get stuck on him as an isolation heavy gunner, but he has an amazing basketball IQ and not only can pass but makes smart ones — he’s playing chess out there and is a couple of steps ahead of the play. You see that when he dishes.

His reaction to the achievement: “It means I pass more than people say.”

source:  Carmelo Anthony. When he went out with back spasms less than a week ago it was feared he was going to miss considerable time. Turns out it was just two games, he got back out there on Sunday night against Miami, and he put up 31 points (on 11-of-26 shooting, he wasn’t exactly efficient and did most of his damage from the midrange and 18 of his shots were contested). Derek Fisher didn’t ease ‘Melo back in, playing him more than 41 minutes. While there were moments he seemed a little stiff mostly he moved well and with him back the Knicks again showed some real grit and effort. Of course that wasn’t enough — the Heat still won 86-79 — but still it’s good to see Anthony back on the court.

source:  Pau Gasol. The Bulls finally have their starting five together and everyone’s getting to see what a great fit Gasol is with that group (and, Mike D’Antoni, you can see his still very effective when he gets the ball in his spots, not yours). Gasol had 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting plus 13 boards and, along with Jimmy Butler (26 points and was fantastic in transition) keyed the Bulls win over Brooklyn Sunday. Rather than describe Gasol’s game, we’ll go with the “one shot chart is worth 1,000 words” idea.


source:  Draymond Green. Out of what was otherwise a business-like ninth straight win for the Warriors, we need to give Draymond Green a shoutout — he has been fantastic all season and was again Sunday. He gets overshadowed at times because, well, Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson, but he led the Warriors with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting Sunday. Third time this season he’s dropped at least 20. The real key: Green has started every Warriors game and with him that starting five unit is +28.7 points per 48 minutes (it’s the same as per 100 possessions as GSW averages 100 possessions a game). When David Lee returns, Steve Kerr has to keep Green starting and bring Lee off the bench. Has to. Do not fix what already works.

source:  Gerald Green. Because he can do this.

source:  Reggie Evans. You remember him? The guy with the beard and the attitude? He’s been buried on the Kings bench with nine straight DNP-CDs, then with DeMarcus Cousins out he got thrown in Sunday and put up a big line — 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting plus 20 rebounds. That’s how you earn minutes. Not that it helped, the Grizzlies ground the Kings down and won their 15th, but good on Evans for showing why the vet should see more court time.

Kobe Bryant just destroys Terrence Ross with stepback jumper (VIDEO)

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES — On another turn-back-the-clock night for Kobe Bryant where he had a triple double (31 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) — why does he always do this to the poor Raptors? — what you see above was his best play of the night. And this highlight doesn’t even catch all of it.

Kobe got bumped by Terrence Ross as he stepped out to get the ball on the wing but there was no call. Bryant caught the ball and with it in his hands (and ignoring a wide open shot) Bryant stopped to complain to the referee. Mid-play. I’ve seen a lot of guys complain but not with the ball and open look.

Didn’t matter, then he just destroyed Ross with the stepback jumper. It looked like Iverson on Tyronn Lue from back in the day, save for Kobe didn’t step over him.

The entire play was vintage Kobe. Really, the entire night was. And the Lakers picked up an overtime win.