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Raptors playoff problems run much deeper than LeBron James

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LeBron James, according to former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, corrected a Toronto player on how to run a Raptors play during the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

That’s domination.

It’s the type of domination that can send opposing franchises spinning. Toronto fired Dwane Casey and replaced him with assistant coach Nick Nurse, and many people believe LeBron is responsible for the change.

LeBron’s Cavs swept the Raptors the last two years in the second round. The year prior, Cleveland beat Toronto in the conference finals in the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history.

But if Nurse is going to guide the Raptors to the postseason heights they desire, his challenge is far wider than beating LeBron.

Toronto played nine playoff series in the last five years under Casey. In all nine – even the four wins – the Raptors underachieved based on regular-season performance.

For example, Toronto outscored opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions last regular season. The Raptors’ first-round opponent, the Wizards, outscored regular-season opponents by 0.6 points per 100 possessions. So, I give that series an expected net rating of Toronto +7.3. In reality, the Raptors outscored Washington by just 2.1 points per 100 possessions – a difference of -5.2.

In the other example from last year, the Cavaliers outscored regular-season opponents by just 1.0 point per 100 possessions. With Toronto’s +7.9 regular-season net rating, that’d give the Raptors an expected net rating in the series of +6.9. But Cleveland actually outscored Toronto by 15.1 points per 100 possessions – a difference of -22.0.

Here’s how the Raptors fared in every series under Casey:

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Add all the differences, and it comes to -92.3. That is by far the lowest mark for a team that made the playoffs each season in a five-year span since the NBA adopted a 16-team postseason in 1984:

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The Raptors offense has stalled in the playoffs. Kyle Lowry‘s and DeMar DeRozan‘s isolations became too predictable and easy to shut down.

Nurse has played a role in trying to fix those problems, and maybe an extra year and the top job will help him get Toronto over the hump.

The Raptors’ regular-season success is commendable, but it’s no longer enough for them. That’s evident in Casey’s firing and Nurse’s ascension. The focus is already on the playoffs.

Nurse can’t just wait around for LeBron to leave Cleveland. The Raptors’ postseason problems are much more significant than one opponent, even LeBron.

Magic Johnson, Jennifer Hudson give stirring pre-All-Star tribute to Kobe Bryant

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CHICAGO — The spirit and legacy of Kobe Bryant have been celebrated all weekend in Chicago.

However, never better than before the tip-off of the All-Star Game on Sunday night when Magic Johnson spoke from the heart about Kobe, and then led a moment of silence.

Then Jennifer Hudson sang a tribute to him.

It was powerful.

Well done NBA. Well done indeed.

Adam Silver: I ‘strongly believe’ NBA will add in-season and play-in tournaments

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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CHICAGO – NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted to overhaul the schedule – including in-season and play-in tournaments – for the league’s 75th-anniversary season, 2021-22.

Instead, the Board of Governors vote planned for April was canceled.

Not because the ideas were unpopular, according to Silver. Because they were too popular.

“When we went to our teams, the Players Association and our media partners – probably the most important constituents in making changes,” Silver said, “the response we got was that, frankly, there was so much interest that they didn’t think it made sense to do it as a one-off.”

It’s easy to be skeptical of spin. But Silver is adamant.

“I strongly believe we will end up with some sort of in-season tournament and a play-in tournament,” Silver said.

The NBA will probably eventually have a play-in tournament. It makes a lot of sense, both competitively and financially. When those considerations align, things usually get done.

The league might even also add an in-season tournament. But it’s hard to find people actually enthusiastic about that idea.

Did Dwyane Wade violate judges’ agreement to keep dunk contest tied?

Dwyane Wade judging dunk contest
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CHICAGO – Dwyane Wade is a self-proclaimed Heat lifer.

Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. won the dunk contest with Wade as a judge.

You do the math.

On his final dunk, Jones got a 48. Then, Aaron Gordon dunked over terrified Tacko Fall… and got a 47.

The voting for Gordon’s last dunk:

  • Dwyane Wade: 9
  • Common: 10
  • Candace Parker: 10
  • Chadwick Bozeman: 9
  • Scottie Pippen: 9

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

With Common and Parker giving 10s and casting blame elsewhere, Wade, Bozeman and Pippen became suspects. The evidence points strongly at Wade.

Before the scores were even revealed a smiling Wade removed his earpiece, as if he knew the contest was finished. Notice how Common and Scottie Pippen both look at Wade after seeing the scores:

Wade danced around the controversy, never directly denying that he didn’t vote how he agreed he would:

Gordon’s final dunk was better than Jones’ final dunk. But Jones dunked better throughout the contest. Does that mean Gordon got robbed? At that point, yes. But Jones should have won the contest before then.

The bigger problem is judging dunks on a 6-10 scale. They should be judged relative to each other, and Jones’ were better.

Kobe Bryant’s legacy remembered, celebrated at All-Star weekend

Kobe Bryant jersey at All-Star Game
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CHICAGO — Kobe Bryant always seemed to be in top form when he stepped onto the court for the NBA All-Star Game. The league’s current best will try to match his effort when Team LeBron and Team Giannis meet on Sunday.

The All-Star festivities returned to Chicago for the first time since 1988 when Michael Jordan beat Dominique Wilkins in a slam dunk contest that remains the standard and scored 40 points to lead the East over the West.

But Bryant is casting a huge shadow over the events this weekend, just weeks after he and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed when their helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain near Los Angeles.

Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday night that the All-Star Game MVP award has been renamed in Bryant’s memory.

“We know that he’s watching over us,” the Lakers’ LeBron James said. “It’s our responsibility to just represent the purple and gold not only for him but for all the greats, everybody that’s ever come through the Lake Show. I really don’t want to sit up here and talk about it too much. It’s a very, very sensitive subject, but he’s with us every day.”

Bryant played on five NBA championship teams, won a league MVP award and two scoring titles in a career that spanned 20 seasons and has him poised to enter the Hall of Fame after he was announced Friday as one of eight finalists.

He was the youngest All-Star in league history, ranks second with 18 selections and took game MVP honors a record-tying four times, including on his home court in 2011 when he dazzled with 37 points and 14 rebounds. Bryant scored 20 or more seven times.

“The whole thing of paying respect to Kobe is awesome, so I think it’s going to be fun,” said Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, making his sixth straight All-Star appearance. “I’m hoping it’s really, really intense. Hopefully, we’ll give the fans one of the best All-Star Games ever.”

PAYING TRIBUTE

The support for Bryant and his daughter is uniform.

Team Giannis will wear No. 24 on its jerseys and Team LeBron No. 2 for Gianna, a promising player who wore that number.

All participants in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and 3-point, slam dunk and skills competition on Saturday wore patches showing the numbers 24 and 2 and nine stars to commemorate the victims of the helicopter crash. The patches worn Sunday will only have the nine stars since players will be wearing the numbers 24 and 2.

“He was the Michael Jordan of our generation,” Antetokounmpo said. “He was one of those guys that gave back to the game so much, gave back to the players. A lot of people when they’re so great, they don’t do that. There was a quote that said that talent is worthless if you’re not willing to share it, right? And he was one of those guys that was sharing his talent with us. He’s going to be definitely missed.”