Raptors set records, exorcise demons in Game 2 rout of Wizards

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Maybe the pessimistic Toronto fan base is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe the sports talking heads that watch NBA basketball on Christmas and during the playoffs expect a meltdown.

But the Toronto Raptors have started to believe in themselves.

Toronto set records and exorcised demons in Game 2 against Washington Tuesday night. Here are just a few highlights:

• They set the franchise playoff record for most points in the first quarter (44), the first half (76), and the game (130).

• They set the franchise playoff record for most threes made in a half with 11 (on 22 shots).

DeMar DeRozan looked completely comfortable in the postseason spotlight with a career playoff high 37 points on the night.

• When John Wall led a Wizards comeback to cut what had been a 23-point deficit to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors got back to executing and defending and quickly put the game out of reach again.

• Most importantly the Toronto Raptors had never been up 2-0 in a playoff series.

They are now after a 130-119 rout of the Wizards Tuesday night in Toronto.

Game 3 is in Washington on Friday night — the Wizards better bring a real sense of urgency to that game.

Because they didn’t on Tuesday night. This game was effectively over in the first quarter.

From the opening tip it was all Toronto, racing out to a 14-4 lead, hitting threes, with OG Anunoby getting seven fast points. And the run just kept going and going and going, soon it was 34-13 Toronto. They are getting shots at the rim and if the Wizards defense collapsed they kicked it out for an open three. The Wizards had no defensive answers.

On the other end, the Wizards stuck primarily with a Wall/Marcin Gortat pick and roll, which the Raptors defended well with two players so they could stay home on shooters. Energized by their offense, the Raptors were making defensive plays, Kyle Lowry in particular. The Wizards were the opposite. The Raptors just kept getting open threes.

Meanwhile, DeRozan just got to his spots on the floor, attacked, and tore the Wizards up.

“He’s grown a lot (in reading the game),” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Two years ago, I don’t know what he would have done, but he did an excellent job of reading what the defense was doing to him and making them pay.”

Washington made it a little interesting, cutting the lead to 10 after three quarters behind John Wall’s 22 points, but the Raptors had answers to every Wizards push.

For the Wizards, there are a lot of questions to answer going home to effectively a must-win situation.

How can a team down 0-1 in a series come out flat, without any sense of urgency in Game 2? How can they find some urgency before Game 3?

How can they get Bradley Beal going? He has averaged just 14 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting through two games, and hitting just 27.3 from three.

“The Raptors are doing a job with him, they’re being physical,” Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks said of Beal.”He’s missed some open shots, he hasn’t been able to get into the lane and to the free throw line…. We need him. We’re going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better. He will.”

How can Washington get Marcin Gortat going?

However, by far the biggest issue is Washington’s defense, which has allowed an average of 122 points per game through the first two in this series. The Wizards’ lazy defensive habits from the regular season have come home to roost in this series — the Raptors are moving the ball, cutting off the ball, penetrating into the paint then kicking out to wide-open shooters and the Wizards are being caught flat-footed on all of it.

Ty Lawson, signed just before the playoffs after having been in the Chinese league this season, played his first game for the Wizards and provided a little spark (especially with Wall in foul trouble at points). He had 14 points on 10 shots with eight assists. But Lawson was never a great defender, and he literally just joined this team — he has no defensive chemistry with his teammates. He’s not a long-term answer.

Washington has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. The other team had better show up Friday or this series is all but over.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.