Raptors have best defense Warriors have faced in this era

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TORONTO – In their five-year run as the NBA’s best team, the Warriors have ranked second, first, first, third and first in points scored per possession during the regular season. In the last three years, Golden State has annually scored even more efficiently in the playoffs despite facing better competition.

“I would imagine that we’re going to be encountering a few issues,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

“You’re going to have to figure them out. And maybe a help defender is going to have to save you at the end, or a help-the-helper defender may have to save you.”

That level of sophistication requires not just skilled defenders and not just smart ones, but a lineup full of both. A single misread or failed assignment can doom a defense against Golden State.

Toronto might just have the players to handle such a gargantuan task in the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol have won Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard, Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka have made All-Defensive teams. Kyle Lowry has been a perennial candidate for that honor. Pascal Siakam was arguably the Raptors’ best defender this regular season.

These are mostly veterans who can quickly recognize the Warriors’ unrelenting modes of attack and communicate well on the fly.

If there’s a weakness, it’s cohesion. Gasol was acquired just before the trade deadline. Though they played together for years with the Spurs, Leonard and Green are new to Toronto.

But the results have been so impressive already.

NBA teams averaged 110.4 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 107.1 – 3.3 better than the baseline.

The Magic averaged 108.9 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 96.2 in their first-round series – 12.7 better than the baseline.

The 76ers averaged 112.6 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 105.1 in their second-round series – 7.5 better than the baseline.

The Bucks averaged 113.8 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 106.7 in the Eastern Conference finals – 7.1 better than the baseline.

Adding those relative-to-the-baseline numbers produces what I call a Defensive Quality Score.

There’s no perfect way to measure a team’s defense in the playoffs. Regular-season results are a good indicator, but so much changes in the postseason. Playoff matchups matter significantly. But this method includes each level and gives teams more credit for sustaining good defense deep into the playoffs

The Raptors’ Defensive Quality Score (30.6) is by far the best of any team entering a series against Golden State in the last five years.

Here’s how all the Warriors’ opponents fared in Defensive Quality Score entering the matchup:

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Golden State’s offense doesn’t appear as overwhelming with Durant sidelined. But Stephen Curry can still be the center of an elite attack. Klay Thompson is an excellent secondary scorer, and Draymond Green‘s playmaking fuels so much when Curry gets blitzed.

This will be a challenge unlike any Toronto has faced this postseason.

But this will also be a challenge unlike any the Warriors have faced during their dynasty.

New Orleans spoils Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut in 115-104 Pelicans win

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 10 assists, Brandon Ingram added 21 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans spoiled Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut with a 115-104 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Anthony finished with 10 points while Portland leading scorer and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

Starting at forward and playing across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship over Kansas, Anthony scored the Blazers’ first points of the game on a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. However, he wound up missing 10 of 14 shots in what was the first game of his 17th NBA season.

Ingram looked spry in his return from right knee soreness that sidelined him four games, particularly on an authoritative, driving, one-handed dunk that got the crowd roaring in the opening quarter.

J.J. Redick hit 4 of 9 3-pointers and scored 14 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight and three of four. Kenrich Williams, who got the start at forward, filled the stat sheet with hustle plays, grabbing 14 rebounds to go with three steals and a blocked shot. He also scored eight points.

Holiday highlighted his night with a spinning dribble around Nassir Little for a driving dunk. In the second half, he scored on an unusual play in which he remained under his own basket, re-tying his shoes while his team advanced 4-on-5 into the offensive end. Holiday then came sprinting down court, took a handoff from Nicolo Melli near the 3-point line and exploded toward the rim for a layup.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anthony wasted no time getting his first shot off. His miss from 20 feet came within the opening 30 seconds and was Portland’s first shot of the game. Anthony also took Portland’s second shot, hitting his first of two made 3s.

But when Anthony tried to rise for a two-handed dunk in the first half, he was met with resistance by a member of the NBA’s rookie class when eighth overall draft pick Jaxson Hayes rejected the attempt.

Hayes closed out the half with his third block, swatting away a driving floater by Anfernee Simons to keep Portland’s lead at 54-53.

New Orleans seized momentum in the third quarter, going up by 13 on a sequence that began when Melli hit a 3 and then got the ball right back in a largely vacated Portland back court after Nickeil Alexander-Walker dove to swipe the ball away from McCollum. Melli went straight in for a dunk that made it 83-70.

Portland responded with three quick 3s — two by Kent Bazemore — during a 9-2 run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to six before Alexander-Walker, who had hit 11 3s in his previous two games, ended the period by banking in a straightaway 3 to make it 88-79.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s first bucket as a Trail Blazer

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That Carmelo Anthony started the first game he played for Portland speaks to why they signed him in the first place — this team is so shorthanded along the front line that the guy they just signed got thrown into the fire.

Anthony responded with a solid level of play. His first bucket was a wing three where both defenders went to CJ McCollum and left ‘Melo wide open.

Anthony played 12 minutes in the first half and had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and three fouls. The team was looking to keep him at around 20 minutes for his first game back.

Portland led New Orleans 54-53 at the half.

How a single computer folder and dogged HR official exposed former Kings executive’s $13.4M embezzlement scheme

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Just how close did Jeff David come to getting away with embezzling $13.4 million from the Kings while working for them? He already secured a new job with the Heat and was in the process of moving from Sacramento to Miami.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

On this Monday, walking through the Davids’ new front door is a dizzying procession of cable guys, utility workers and movers. Amid all of this, Jeff receives a phone call from a former co-worker with the Kings. Her name is Stacy Wegzyn, and she works in HR. Jeff last remembers sitting in her office in Sacramento just months earlier, being told that the Kings were going to eliminate his position. After a few pleasantries, she gets down to business. She tells Jeff she’s been going through his old files, and in doing so she found one labeled “TurboTax” that references an entity called Sacramento Sports Partners.

“I was just curious what that is and if those are documents that should go to somebody else,” Wegzyn says.

It’s a seemingly innocuous inquiry from an HR lifer. But it’s one that will dictate the rest of Jeff David’s life. If he knows that — or senses it — he doesn’t let on.

“No, no, no,” Jeff responds. “That was a … man, this is taking me back. Maybe 2015?”

Wegzyn presses on. She asks Jeff whether the documents contain anything that anyone with the Kings needs to see. Jeff assures her they can trash them because the entity isn’t around anymore. A few minutes after he hangs up, his mother-in-law, Nancy, is standing at the front door when an FBI investigator appears, asking to speak to Jeff.

If you like the NBA or true crime – let alone both – I HIGHLY recommend reading Arnovitz’s full piece. It’s riveting!

Warriors Kevon Looney cleared for on-court basketball work, will return soon

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At least someone on the Warriors is getting healthy.

Big man Kevon Looney, who played opening night and has since been sidelined with a sore hamstring and neuropathy (what the team described as “nerve-related symptoms”), has been cleared to return to on-court basketball activities, the team announced Tuesday. From the official press release:

He will participate in select practice sessions with the Santa Cruz Warriors this week and will re-join the Golden State Warriors over the weekend. We will continue to monitor his progress and will provide another update on his status on Sunday.

Looney has already been officially assigned to Santa Cruz.

This is good news for the Warriors, who have been starting Willie Cauley-Stein but desperately need more shot blocking and depth up front.

Anyone getting healthy is good news for a Warriors team that is 2-12 and has the worst net rating in the NBA (-10.4).