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.

Report: Kawhi Leonard didn’t travel with Clippers to Disney World, expected to arrive in few days

Kawhi Leonard in Orlando
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A Clippers-Lakers Western Conference finals – featuring Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James – is one of the most anticipated potential attractions of the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

But Leonard must get there first.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard did not travel with the team on Wednesday to Walt Disney World for the resumption of the NBA season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Leonard was given permission by the organization to tend to a family matter and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to join the team on campus in a few days, sources said.

Hopefully, everything is alright with Leonard and his family and he arrives as smoothly as this report indicates. The NBA has protocols for players who travel to Orlando after their teams. Leonard isn’t unique in having a personal issue delay his arrival.

But this situation bears especially close watching for two reasons:

1.  Kawhi Leonard might be the NBA’s best player. The Clippers are a top-tier championship contender. Leonard’s whereabouts hold more significance for the season than, say, Magic guard Markelle Fultz‘s.

2. The Clippers have misled to protect Leonard before. Though it was easy to see their logic, it leaves them with less credibility here.

Again, hopefully this is only a minor snag. We’ll know more within a few days.

Report: Nets signing Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford vs. Nets
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Most points scored in a player’s last game (among non-active NBA players):

  • Kobe Bryant: 60 (LAL-UTA April 13, 2016)
  • Jamal Crawford: 51 (PHO-DAL April 9, 2019)
  • Alec Peters: 36 (PHO-DAL April 10, 2018)

It’s time to remove Crawford from the list.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A defensive liability who needs the ball in his hands, 40-year-old Crawford can still make difficult shots remarkably well. But most teams can build a lineup and system that consistently create more efficient shots than the tough looks Crawford specializes in.

The Nets aren’t most teams.

Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie are both out. Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple Chris Chiozza and Tyler Johnson are an underwhelming backcourt rotation.

Crawford can add scoring punch. With the point guard-deficient Suns last season, he also showed passing ability, though a good team won’t ask too much of him.

Reminder: The Nets will keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy, Brooklyn would probably convey a later pick to the Timberwolves next season.

If nothing else, this is a tremendous personal achievement for Crawford, who badly wanted to keep playing. He has kept in tremendous shape for his age and built a strong reputation in the locker room, earning himself more opportunities.  If everything goes according to plan, Crawford will join Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to play 20 NBA seasons.

Stephen Jackson peddles another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, says he’s misunderstood

Stephen Jackson
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Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has drawn criticism – including from the Eagles – for posting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (incorrectly) attributed to Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson apologized twice and pledged to educate himself.

Stephen Jackson insists he’s being unfairly maligned.

Stephen Jackson:

Today’s word is assume. Assume.

To all my Jewish people, I love y’all. Y’all took the video the wrong way. I said he was right stemming from a conversation we had before I got on Live about how they’re handling him and how they handled Cooper when he said the n-word. They didn’t handle them the same way, and that wasn’t right. And that’s what I was talking about. I love y’all. You’ll never find a video or article of me saying I hate anybody. Let me clear that up.

Assume. Today’s word. As a black man, you get pulled over by the police, they assume you’re about to run. They assume you’ve got drugs in the car. They assume you’ve got a gun. They assume the worst, right?

I didn’t say nothing about Jews or supporting Hitler at all in that video. But that’s what they assume I said. And y’all wonder why we’re fighting for equality. Because y’all assume the worst from a black man. I love everybody. I’ve always stood that way. Love for all who have love for all. So, why would you assume I hate somebody?

Too often, apologies get labeled as a “non-apology.” This is a non-apology.

When he said DeSean Jackson is “speaking the truth,” Stephen Jackson sounded like he was talking about DeSean Jackson’s Hitler post – not a private conversation with DeSean Jackson, as Stephen Jackson indicates now.

A reminder of what Stephen Jackson said about DeSean Jackson (emphases mine):

He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he’s speaking the truth, right? He’s speaking the truth. You know he don’t hate nobody, but he’s speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others.

How do those bolded sections make any sense based on a private conversation between DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson?

If this is a case of Stephen Jackson simply not choosing his words carefully enough, it’d be far easier to forgive him. After all, he has now gone out of his way to say he loves Jews.

But Stephen Jackson doesn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt while he also spreads other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Fred Katz of The Athletic:

Police too often make negative assumptions about Black people. That should be addressed.

But, best I can tell, Stephen Jackson is being judged fairly here. He’s promoting anti-Semitic messages. He’s getting treated like someone promoting anti-Semitic messages.

Do I believe Stephen Jackson wants to be anti-Semitic? No. My best guess is his heart is in the right place while his head is in the wrong place. But Stephen Jackson is still spreading anti-Semitism. Even if that’s due to “only” ignorance, he can’t correct that until acknowledging his errors and learning from them. Blaming everyone else for misunderstanding him is not the answer.

Stephen Jackson is also wrong in his comparison to Riley Cooper, a white Eagles receiver who was caught on video saying the n-word in 2013. Like with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles released a statement criticizing Cooper. They didn’t cut Cooper. They also haven’t cut DeSean Jackson. Even if they eventually cut DeSean Jackson, I suspect they’ll follow similar guidelines: Deciding whether the player is good enough to offset the trouble caused by his reprehensible speech.

Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

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The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.