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Three Things to Know: Toronto is best team you’re not talking about

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) DeMar DeRozan drops 45 on Sixers, and the Raptors are the best team you’re not talking about. The Toronto Raptors have won 11-of-12, same as the Warriors and Rockets in that stretch, and they have a better net rating (+13) in those dozen games than either of those much-discussed powerhouses. Toronto has the best defense in the NBA and the third best offense in the league in that stretch. The Raptors have been flat-out destroying teams.

It’s time to talk about just how good the Raptors are this season.

You can ask the Sixers. DeMar DeRozan dropped 45 on them Thursday — while TNT was showing other teams — and Toronto beat Philadelphia 114-109. DeRozan is evident of the changes the Raptors have made on offense, hitting a career-high six threes Thursday night.

DeRozan thrives in the midrange, he has taken 62 percent of his shots there this season (hitting a very good 48 percent of them), but last season he took 71 percent from there — now he’s getting to the rim more and taking more threes, leading to the highest true shooting percentage of his career, 58.7. He’s become more efficient, a microcosm of Toronto as a whole. Last season as a team the Raptors took 41 percent of their shots from the midrange, this year that is down to 30.3 percent, and what is up are shots at the rim some and three pointers a lot. DeRozan is isolating less, getting a few more buckets in transition, and the Raptors are moving the ball more — last season only 22 percent of DeRozan’s buckets were off a teammate’s assist, this season that’s up to 29 percent.

Toronto looked on paper like a team that would step back this season — Patrick Paterson and Cory Joseph were gone hurting their depth, and this team’s lack of ball movement made them defendable. Now, the ball moves, C.J. Miles and rookie OG Anunboy have stepped up with tremendous seasons, the depth is fine, the defense is better, and the Raptors haven’t missed a beat. Record wise, they are right there with Cleveland and Boston at the top of the East, but nobody is talking about them that way. Maybe it’s time to do that.

The Raptors have made this 11-of-12 run against a softer part of the schedule, something that will change as the calendar flips to 2018, but on the season they have the same strength of schedule as the Warriors (middle of the NBA pack). The Raptors are legit, knocking on the door of the top two teams in the East this regular season. Can they break through that door in the postseason is the question, but I wouldn’t count this team out.

2) Michael Beasley goes off for 32 as Knicks beat Celtics. Every team has rough stretches over the grind of an 82-game schedule,  a few games of terrible performances on both sides where any of 29 other NBA teams could beat them. Boston seems to be in one of those. The ballet that was their switchable defense seems off, the offense is inconsistent and relying too much on Kyrie Irving, and the rebounding problems are back. Blame a busy part of the schedule, blame injuries, blame the new Republican tax plan if you want, these things happen to teams.

Thursday night you can blame the Knicks’ Michael Beasley, who dropped 32 on the Celtics and was getting MVP chants at the Garden.

The Knicks got that despite Kristaps Porzingis going 0-of-11 from the field. This is the kind of quality win the Knicks need as they fight to stay ahead of Miami and Philly for one of the final playoff slots in the East. It’s also a reminder that the Knicks are good at home (15-5 this season) but need to find a way to win on the road because those games are coming (2-9 so far away from MSG).

As for the Celtics, they need to snap out of this by Christmas Day, when they will be showcased against the inconsistent Wizards (who you know will bring it that day).

3) Bulls win streak ends at six, but I guess the Cavaliers are pretty good. The Bulls couldn’t keep winning forever. The dream had to die. And like so many dreams of opponents in the last decade, they died in the hands of LeBron James.

Cleveland beat Chicago 115-112 Thursday in a game where the Bulls were competitive most of the night but it ended with the Cav’s 12th straight home win. That ended Chicago’s win streak at six, and for Bulls fans it’s a little bitter to see Dwyane Wade making plays to beat them after he bolted after one season in the windy city. It was Wade and the Cleveland bench outplaying everyone on the Chicago bench not named Nikola Mirotic that got Cleveland the win. For the Bulls, they fought hard on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, but in the end, like every other team in the league, they did not have an answer for LeBron James, who had 34 points and 9 assists.

Some Bulls fans will lament that with this little win streak, the Bulls would now be fourth in the NBA Draft Lottery (Atlanta, Memphis, and Dallas are worse), but you can’t ever blame a team for playing hard and winning. That’s the sign of a good culture being built amid the rubble. If you’re rooting for your team to lose, that’s a hard life as a fan.

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.

Raptors outlast Bucks in 2OT to take Game 3 of ECF

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Don’t count the Toronto Raptors out yet.

On Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and his bench mob outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 118-112, in 2OT.

Finally back at home, Toronto showed up in the biggest way possible, and in exactly the way they had been needing in Games 1 and 2. Pascal Siakam, a non-factor in those contests, scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, grabbing 11 boards to go with three steals. Norman Powell scored 19 off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers.

Of course, the Raptors were led by none other than Leonard, who had 36 points and dominated at the free-throw line, going 12-of-13. Toronto’s best player also had nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, Game 3 was about Toronto finally hitting on all cylinders from the 3-point line. Where before almost no players outside of Leonard were able to get it going from deep, Game 3 was a much different story. Eight Raptors combined to make at least one three each, and Toronto shot 37.8% from the arc.

By the same factor, the Bucks struggled. As the home crowd pushed Toronto forward, Antetokounmpo and his squad just couldn’t get it going. The first half only treated the Raptors right, who scored 58 points. And although Antetokounmpo started to come on a bit better in the third quarter, the game eventually developed into a bit of a rock fight by the fourth.

Toronto looked like it had sealed up the win the end of regulation. Fred Van Vleet came up with a crucial block on Khris Middleton on the final possession, but the Milwaukee guard scooped up the loose ball and put it back in the hoop to push it to extra time.

By the time the second overtime rolled around, Antetokounmpo only had one foul left to give. The Bucks’ superstar then fouled out just 36 seconds into the second overtime while trying to draw a charge on Siakam.

That allowed Leonard score eight of Toronto’s 15 points in the second OT en route to the six-point victory.

It took a wondrous night on defense for the Raptors to force Antetokounmpo to shoot just 5-of-16 from the field. Even still, Milwaukee’s star had 23 rebounds and seven steals, and it took until he fouled out in the second overtime for Toronto to grab a win.

The Raptors should be happy about what they were able to accomplish on Sunday night. Getting wins at home in a crucial playoff games is what championship hopeful teams should do. Still, it took every single ounce of what Toronto had, and even then it was only just barely enough to grab their first win of the series at home.

Nick Nurse will need to build on what he learned from Game 3 and see if they can improve upon it to level the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Report: Grizzlies interviewed Igor Kokoskov for head coach gig

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The Memphis Grizzlies now have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Many believe that Memphis will trade Mike Conley and draft Ja Morant as a means to move the franchise forward.

The only problem? The Grizzlies still don’t have a head coach.

Memphis fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff and demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout back in April. The Grizzlies are moving forward with some non-traditional front office hirings that include Jason Wexler, Zach Kleiman, Rich Cho, and Glen Grunwald.

According to one report, at least one inquiry has been made about the head coach position: former Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov got a shot to interview with Memphis.

Via Twitter:

Memphis is taking its time selecting their coach, and it’s not necessary that the team has someone in place leading into the draft. Whether the next guy will be “the guy” or simply “the guy who helps them rebuild in the future” we aren’t yet sure.

Kokoskov got a raw deal in Phoenix, with many feeling as though the Suns wasted their hiring of the Slovenian national team’s coach by not drafting Luka Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick last year. It would be nice just to see him back on an NBA bench at the start of next season.

Draymond Green on techs: ‘I was doing more crying than playing’ (VIDEO)

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Draymond Green believes he’s the best defender ever. The Golden State Warriors star was certainly incredible against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, with the Warriors beating the home team, 110-99.

But one thing that has bothered Green’s detractors over the years is how much he speaks to the referees, particularly to his own detriment. It’s one thing to work referees the way that Chris Paul or Damian Lillard or James Harden does. It’s another to continuously antagonize refs en route to a whole mess of technical fouls, which have been a problem for Green in the playoffs in the past.

But Green has been pretty subdued when it comes to technicals this postseason, and that’s apparently in due to a concerted effort by the Golden State forward to curb his attitude and realize that he’s doing more damage than good.

Via Twitter:

This postseason, and particularly this Western Conference Finals, have been an interesting shift in the narrative around Green. Where before it seemed like haters could glom onto how much Green whined, at this point he’s simply dominating the Trail Blazers from a play standpoint and nothing else.

It’s been impressive to see, and I think all of us are happy to watch Green play the way he has without flapping his gums and putting the Warriors at a disadvantage because he wants to yell at the boys in gray.