Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Raptors
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Serge Ibaka says Raptors are ‘locked in’ for restart in Orlando

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Don’t sleep on the defending champions. Yes, Kawhi Leonard went home (and Danny Green went West, too), but Toronto proved to be no one-man show.  The Raptors are the two seed in the East with a 46-18 record, a +6.4 net rating that is fourth-best in the NBA, they have the second-best defense in the league, they have an emergent superstar in Pascal Siakam who is surrounded by other stars such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet. Toronto is playoff tested.

And the Raptors are “locked in” for the NBA restart, according to Serge Ibaka.

Here is what the veteran said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday, via Steven Loung of Sportsnet Canada.

“Mentally, I think we’re ready,” Ibaka said. “Mentally as a team, I can see from everybody, I think mentally we’re ready. We know what is waiting for us out there, now it’s time to get a little bit (of) game condition and then we’ll be good to go…

“I saw just how everyone is in great shape. They came here in great shape and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people are locked in and they’re ready mentally, and when they’re not. So I can tell you right now mentally everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”

Any run to the Finals out of the East goes through Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Raptors have the confidence of having beat them last season. It’s no secret the Raptors want to make a run at  Antetokounmpo in 2021 and a good showing by their young core in this postseason helps the “come join us” pitch (even if it is a longshot). Boston and its emerging young stars — and another elite defense — also are lurking as a threat.

Toronto, however, cannot be overlooked. VanVleet and Gasol are back healthy, Norman Powell has stepped up this season giving the team more depth, and Nick Nurse has been a master of putting players in the right positions to succeed.

Toronto is healthy and, to hear Ibaka tell it, in shape. This is a strong, deep roster that understands what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Raptors have not earned the rights to be favorites in the East heading to Orlando, but sleep on this team at your own risk.

Kendrick Perkins: No way in hell’ Thunder would’ve blown 3-1 lead to Warriors if they had me

Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook with Thunder
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Kendrick Perkins spent the 2015-16 season washed up on the lousy Pelicans.

Meanwhile, the Thunder (his former team):

  • Won 55 games
  • Eliminated a Spurs team that had an even better net rating than the 73-win Warriors
  • Pushed that 73-win Golden State to Game 7

Of course, Oklahoma City also blew a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals – a fact Perkins has used to poke Kevin Durant.

Perkins, via Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

“If I was on Oklahoma City, we wouldn’t have blown that 3-1 lead,” Perkins insists. “There’s no way in hell we would have blown that. I’m not saying because of me playing, I am saying just my locker room presence.

At least Perkins admitted his playing ability wouldn’t have tilted the series. He would’ve been a liability on the court.

But it’s beyond pompous for Perkins to give himself even this much credit.

The Warriors were ELITE. It’s to the Thunder’s credit they played so well in the series’ first five games. Then, Golden State kicked it up to an even higher level.

It didn’t look like Oklahoma City choked. The Warriors were just that good.

Really, the sequence of results might have play an out-sized role in how we remember the series. If Golden State went up 3-1, lost twice then won Game 7, how different is the narrative? It still would’ve been a seven-game series. How much randomness played into the ordering of wins and losses?

Even if some mental breakdown caused the Thunder’s blown lead (again, I don’t think it did), was Perkins really going to make a difference from the end of the bench? Perkins was a savvy veteran. But Oklahoma City – with Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka – was battle-tested. They weren’t going to rally around a deep reserve when they’re the ones actually out there competing.

If Perkins were on the Thunder, the odds are higher of him taking a spot from an actual contributor than turning the Western Conference finals.

Perkins can believe what he wants. He’s not the first retired player to inflate his own worth.

But more than anything, I’m taking this as a sign he and Durant aren’t back on good terms.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division. Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Toronto players, the last to face the Jazz in a game, tested negative for COVID-19

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There has been, rightfully, some pushback from people on how quickly NBA players have been able to get tested for the novel coronavirus. In a nation where the lack of testing (and with that, ability to track the virus) has hindered the ability to slow its growth, when Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive suddenly 58 other tests were readily available for the rest of the team and traveling party. That level of availability needs to be much wider spread.

That said, NBA players are getting tested and next up was the Toronto Raptors, who had played the Jazz just two nights before Gobert’s positive test stopped the Jazz from facing the Thunder. Fortunately, no Raptors players tested positive, the team announced (with one test still pending). That includes Serge Ibaka, who was matched up on Gobert most of the night.

Toronto players are still in self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution.

The entire NBA remains paused for at least 30 days as the league works to make sure the players stay healthy and awaits the clearance for large gatherings to resume.

 

Three Things to Know: If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next? Everyone is trying to find a balance when it comes to Coronavirus/COVID-19 precautions… well, not everyone. We all know and see the panicked people raiding your local COSTCO because they envision this is the first step in the zombie apocalypse, or whatever.

The NBA doesn’t want to be the business equivalent of the hysterical surburbanite stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water, Purell, Lysol wipes, surgical masks, and more toilet paper (for some reason) as they prepare for the pandemic end times YouTube conspiracy-theory nuts have convinced them is coming.

The league doesn’t want to be whistling past the graveyard, either.

Monday the NBA — along with the NHL, MLB, and MLS — announced they were closing locker rooms to the media before and after games for the time being. The league has said this is a temporary step. “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice.”

Following that logic to its conclusion… it’s a health concern to have 20 or so extra people around a locker room for 45 minutes before a game, but it’s still okay to pack 20,000 people in a building for a few hours to watch a sporting event?

I’m not suggesting the NBA should start playing games in empty buildings, as has happened in Italian soccer (and elsewhere). The opposite, actually. I think that would be a dramatic overreaction. The CDC has said this should be a community-by-community decision. The canceling of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells — a big part of the tennis tour — makes some sense, that is an international event that descends upon a community where people go to retire (nearly 2/3 of the Indian Wells population is 65 or older, the people most at risk to the disease). I’ve been to that event multiple times, let me politely say the crowd there skews much older than your average sporting event.

NBA games do not skew older, and the cities where NBA games are played have seen some cases but not the kind of outbreaks that have hit places such as the Seattle area. We are not at the “close the arenas” place yet.

However, it feels like we are closer to that than people realize.

Of course, the league is going to be quicker to close locker rooms (the media does not make the teams money directly) compared to keeping out fans (who do generate income for the teams when they walk through the door), but they have started down the road to get there. The NBA is consulting with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other experts on the course of action. Still, as the number of cases inevitably grows in urban centers — where teams are located — the NBA and its franchises will have to make some tough choices.

Can you imagine NBA games being played in empty arenas? It’s happened during major East Coast weather events before. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer can envision it.

NBA teams had to submit plans to the league today on steps to limit player/fan exposure at games, and for potential next steps. The conference call between the league and teams comes on Wednesday. After that, we should have some clarity, as much as anyone does with this disease right now.

2) Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic were putting up highlight plays in win over the shorthanded Bucks. Milwaukee, on the second night of a back-to-back (and third road game in four nights), sat just about everyone you can name on that roster Monday night: Giannis Antetokounmpo (sprained knee), Eric Bledsoe (knee), George Hill (leg), Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Donte DiVincenzo were all out.

The Bucks deserve credit for keeping it close, but the Nuggets got the 109-95 win. What was impressive for Denver wasn’t just the win, it was the highlights.

Jamal Murray had a Dunk of the Year candidate — until the bad call against him.

There is no way that is an offensive foul. The Bucks’ D.J. Wilson was moving, not vertical, not in the restricted area, and Murray did not use his off arm to create space.

Nikola Jokic’s football passes have become a thing and he did it again on Monday night.

Here is Murray to Jarami Grant — and the officials let this one count.

It’s a good win for Denver as they try to chase down the Clippers for the two seed in the West and hold off the Jazz (who are now two games back).

3) Toronto beats Utah and Rudy Gobert is a frustrated man. There were a lot of things the Raptors did right visiting the Jazz on Monday night. One was getting Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka going, both of them had 28 points on the night.

Another thing Toronto did right was isolating Rudy Gobert when the Jazz had the ball. Gobert finished the night with six points on four shots, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley did a poor job of finding him in the flow of the offense.

Gobert wasn’t getting touches, then he got in a little tussle with OG Anuoby that somehow led to an ejection with less than a minute to go in the game (this is a soft ejection in my book).

Gobert was emotional and worked up after the game, saying in the future if he’s going to get ejected, he’s going to get his money’s worth (via ESPN).

“I don’t think it makes sense to me. But next time, I’ll do justice myself so the official can eject me for a reason,” Gobert told reporters…

Gobert said Anunoby “tried to elbow me in the face.”

“And the guy that’s getting paid to protect the other players didn’t do his job,” Gobert said, referring to the officials. “There was a little altercation, and we both got ejected when I didn’t do anything back, pretty much, which I don’t understand.”

Not sure I blame him.

Utah had righted the ship and won five in a row before this loss. They need all the wins they can get down the stretch, they sit as the Four seed in the West, now two games back of Denver for the three seed, but also just one game ahead of Oklahoma City and falling back to the five seed where they would start the playoffs on the road.