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

Associated Press
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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.