The Toronto Raptors are 4-5 since the All-Star break and the reason is their offense, which is scoring just 98.3 points per 100 possessions in that time, 24th in the NBA.
What’s wrong with the offense? The head of the snake is in a slump. All-Star starter Kyle Lowry is shooting just 33.3 percent in his last five games and 26.1 percent since he played on the big stage in New York. He’s also been turning the ball over a little more. And it’s not just him, DeMar DeRozan is shooting 36.4 percent since the All-Star break and 16 percent from three.
To their credit, Lowry and DeRozan owned up to their poor play speaking to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
Asked to describe his game at the moment, Lowry had a quick response: “Me? I’m trash,” Lowry told reporters. “I’m trying to figure it out right now, to be honest with you. I don’t know (how to fix it), that’s why I’m in here, working hard and trying to figure out what to do to get myself back on track.”
DeRozan did not duck away from that assessment of the status of his own game.
“Right next to the trash can (that Lowry’s) is. Both trash,” DeRozan told the Sun, matter-of-factly as he signed merchandise following his media scrum.
Slumps during a season happen to everyone. Toronto is solidly in the playoffs out East and is likely ending up the two or three seed (Chicago isn’t catching them without Derrick Rose), so the first round is at home. This isn’t damaging them.
But if the Raptors are finally going to get out of the first round and making an even deeper playoff run, they need the Lowry that played so well fans voted him an All-Star starter. That he recognizes the problem and is working on it means you can bet it will be solved.
Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?
The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.
The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)
The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
A few quick thoughts on that list:
• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.
• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.
• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.
Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.
In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.
His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.
Hopefully, Williamson is OK.
And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.
Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.
But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.
Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.
Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.
So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.
So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.
We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.
Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.
Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.
I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.
But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.
Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.
Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:
The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.
The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.
But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.
Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.