Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James

Loss to James and Cavaliers leaves a bitter taste in mouths of the Raptors

- December 10th, 2014

Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland will stick with the Raptors for some time. In a gloomy locker room afterward, many of the players lamented their lack of fight, their inability to come up with timely rebounds and even their inability to get a fair shake from the officials. Oddly enough, it was the usually terse Kyle Lowry who was one of the most upbeat Raptors. Lowry didn’t have a great night, for the second game in a row his jumper wasn’t falling, but he did notch 14 assists against just a single turnover. To his credit, he said the team would move on and can play a lot better: “We could have done a few different things. It was poor execution on my part, and as the point guard, I’ve got to get into better situations,” Lowry said of being forced into a bad shot with the game still in the balance by Tristan Thompson, who has nearly a foot on him.

- As good as Lowry was early at running the show, and he was great, finding a dominant Jonas Valanciunas to finish off pick-and-rolls with dunks several times, Lowry and the rest of the Raptors completely went away from what was working for them in the fourth quarter. They stopped feeding Valanciunas, who had annihilated Cleveland’s frontline all evening, missing just a single shot on seven attempts and shooting six of Toronto’s 10 free throws on the evening (making them all). If you have something that is working so well, going away from it just doesn’t make any sense. Lowry and the other Raptors have to be smarter. Of course, not having DeMar DeRozan to share the load and having Greivis Vasquez unavailable due to the flu definitely made life tougher for Lowry and the other players on the floor aren’t necessarily capable of running a pick-and-roll with Valanciunas.

- Were the referees a bit dicey? Sure, but that’s nothing new when James is playing. The NBA has always given superstars like James, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade a far wider berth. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way the NBA works. Amir Johnson, in particular, was incensed about the way it went down, but I think he was just as upset about he and the other Raptors not being able to come down with rebounds at opportune times, something that also sunk them against the Cavaliers on Friday night. Again, Thompson needs to be accounted for on the offensive boards. He is an elite offensive rebounder. Valanciunas said they need to be far more physical with him and must push him away from the basket.

- I gripe at times about Casey’s decisions, it’s part of my job, but I also point out when he makes some excellent calls. Starting Landry Fields turned out to be a great move and it also served to inspire James Johnson, who didn’t get the promotion. Casey’s decisions down the stretch of how to deploy his big men were bang-on. With Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson proving to be the best combination on this night, Casey rode them. When he needed a bit of Amir with Valanciunas he tried that too. The right players were on the floor. The problem (besides not going to Valanciunas), especially against a great rebounding team like the Cavs, is Toronto doesn’t really have a complementary big for Valanciunas right now. Amir looks like a shadow of his former self on too many nights. He can barely get off the floor some nights (just two rebounds, though it’s amazing how effective he can still be on basically one leg and without jumping). He just can’t help Valanciunas on the boards at the moment. Meanwhile Patterson, for all of his strengths, is a below average rebounder, it is the weakest part of his game. Without DeRozan, playing Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough isn’t an option, because they don’t offer enough offensively. Clearly, when Masai Ujiri decides to make a move, getting an upgrade at power forward has to be the focus.

- There is no shame to losing to that team, especially when you don’t have your top scorer. Cleveland is not perfect, but in the East, you don’t have to be. The Cavs could win the conference and are going to come back to beat good teams on many nights because James is basically unstoppable. Once Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving heat up, the Cavs become a problem. Toronto just didn’t have enough answers. Part of the reason for that was because they were shooting themselves in the foot though.

 

 

 

Valanciunas dominates Nuggets and needs to keep it up; OT monkey off Raptors backs; Bench comes through led by “Patman” who hears everything

- December 9th, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before, but sometimes being lucky is as important as being good. Once again, the Raptors weren’t all that good and did their best to fumble away a game, before doing just enough to prevail. The team still has a long way to go and can’t play as haphazardly as it did against Denver against a good team and hope to win. There’s no excuse for letting a team finishing a back-to-back completely outwork a fully rested one. Denver wanted it more throughout the game and put in a lot more effort (with a couple of exceptions that we will get to).

- Denver players were left open far too often (might want to guard Wilson Chandler in the corner) and they missed a lot of shots later on in the game or else this one could have turned out differently. They attacked the boards and the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas aside, did not seem too inclined to go up with them.

- The main positive has to be the play of Valanciunas. He dominated Timofey Mozgov, who had been in the midst of a solid season. Valanciunas was aggressive and effective. He bullied the Nuggets down low and also showed a new trick when he went left in the post for a score instead of his preferred turn toward the right and the middle of the floor. With DeMar DeRozan out, Valanciunas needs to bring the attitude and aggressiveness he brought on Monday. He was coming off one of his worst outings of the year, against Cleveland on Friday, so it was good that he bounced back with one of his better games the next time out.

- Offence wasn’t the only positive where Valanciunas is concerned. He also arguably turned in his best defensive outing of the season. He was a stopper, even when each of the other Raptors were only offering token resistance. He had four blocks, five fouls and was completely engaged. He looked like a wall in the middle and Dwane Casey and his staff had to be smiling about that. The trick now is doing it again. And again and not just against the behemoths like Mozgov that seem to bring out the best in him. Do it against the quicker, undersized centres like Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, the opponent once again on Tuesday night.

- Speaking of new wrinkles, while Terrence Ross couldn’t buy an outside shot until one was needed the most, he looked good scoring off of the dribble. He is expanding his game in the absence of DeRozan, looking to put the ball on the floor to set up runners and even a hook. The more versatile Ross becomes on offence, the more effective he and the Raptors will be.

- For the second game in a row, Amir Johnson looked like his old self. He had a bounce in his step, set good screens and then … seemed to turn his ankle again. From there, he didn’t look right, but still converted a nice pick-and-roll at a pivotal moment. Still, with the way Valanciunas was rolling, it can be argued Valanciunas and Patterson should have closed the game, at least until Valanciunas picked up a sixth foul.

- Patterson obviously was great, hitting a career-best five threes including the one that forced overtime. On a night where Kyle Lowry couldn’t “hit the side of a barn with a bass fiddle” to steal a Casey quote (just 3-for-13), Patterson stepped up to provide the scoring the Raptors needed. Patterson was just as good afterward, telling the media, via TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg: “I hear everything. I hear the fans in whatever section, I can’t remember which one, there was a guy screaming, ‘Hey P-Pat.’ There’s another fan after I hit that three that says, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about PD-Patt,’ ‘Let’s go Pat-Man, save the day!’ I hear everything and I enjoy hearing it.” Great stuff.

- The Raptors still can’t stop teams off of the dribble. It’s a major concern. Ty Lawson is especially tough to corral because he is so quick, but he was just the latest point guard to go to town, creating open shots for his teammates. At least they came through when it mattered most, forcing Denver into a 24-second violation with the game on the line.

 

 

At Heat PPG: Lowry injury a reminder how fragile this whole thing is; LeBron James is an MVP too and like Durant, destroyed the Raptors; Toronto still winless in Big 3 era against Heat

- April 1st, 2014

Once again the Raptors hung around with the mighty Heat for much of a ballgame, but once again, Miami showed why it’s the class of the East down the stretch.

That LeBron guy had a lot to do with it. Despite a sore back, LeBron James reminded everyone why Kevin Durant won’t be the unanimous MVP, despite his absolutely insane, record-setting season. Other than forcing LeBron into six turnovers, Toronto had no answers. From Joey Graham and Jamario Moon, to a mild version of Shawn Marion, to Landry Fields and Terrence Ross, like the rest of the league, the Raptors have never had a player capable of slowing down the four-time MVP.

- Of course Kyle Lowry’s injury was the main story from Monday night. Don’t expect much of an update from the tight-lipped Toronto medical staff for a while. Going by past history, nothing will be revealed until just before tip-off against Houston on Wednesday. The early aftermath didn’t look good, with Lowry riding on a cart from the team’s locker room in Miami to the bus. He had to get up to go through TSA pre-screening and my colleague Mike Ganter said he did so while limping noticeably. Running into the freight train that is James knee-first rarely will leave somebody unscathed. But X-rays were negative and as long as their isn’t any significant damage, Lowry should be back before too long.

- But wouldn’t it be so Raptors if a season that has been such a surprising success took an awful turn? Let’s all hope this isn’t another Jorge Garbajosa season-destroying situation.

- Toronto’s still without a win against the Heat since the Big Three was formed. Even though Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen didn’t play in this one.

- The game was lost in the third quarter, when the Raptors kept launching long jumpers (even though Miami didn’t have an inside defensive presence besides Chris Andersen and even though Jonas Valanciunas had been going off in the first half – he took one shot in the third, two in the fourth, a continuing problem). Most of those shots went clankety-clank and, because Miami wasn’t playing too well at the other end, a huge opportunity was wasted. Toronto went nearly four minutes without a basket to start the quarter, failing to get one until Lowry went inside. Two minutes later, the Raptors finally scored again (a Valanciunas dunk). Throughout the quarter, Toronto consistently went a minute or two between scores.

- Would have liked to see Toronto exploit its size advantage more with Valanciunas, or even some Tyler Hansbrough, who could have gotten Miami into some foul trouble because of his activity rate and ability to draw fouls. Dwane Casey opted to go smaller. With Patrick Patterson back, the big man rotation will get even more interesting. Due to foul trouble and because it was a back-to-back, Amir Johnson played only 24 minutes.

- Not getting into the foul disparity other than to say it was a bit ironic LeBron shot more free throws than the entire Raptors team a day after DeRozan shot more than the Magic did.

Heat at Raptors: Raps hang around; Valanciunas dominant; Why match what opponent does when what you’re doing is working?

- November 6th, 2013

The Raptors hung tough against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat for a good portion of Tuesday’s game. Eventually, LeBron James took over, but the home side still had a chance, until a couple of shots didn’t fall and Miami was able to basically double its lead.

It was a bit of an odd night. Jonas Valanciunas dominated from the get-go, having possibly his best quarter of the season in the first. Miami’s small lineup (no Chris Bosh, no Greg Oden, not much Joel Anthony) couldn’t stop the Lithuanian big man and Amir Johnson was a tough cover as well. Taking Valanciunas out for a break early to regain his breath made sense. He played some more in the third quarter, but with Miami pulling away, he didn’t get back in until about four minutes remained in the game. By then, it was too late. Predictably, the Raptors clawed closer, but one wonders if the team would have had a better shot if Valanciunas had played the final seven minutes or so. Just as strange was no Johnson down the stretch at all. He’s the team’s most effective defender by miles and pretty capable on offence as well. The Raptors are better with him on the floor. Coach Dwane Casey said the team had to stay with only one big because Miami went small (with LeBron at power forward he wanted Rudy Gay or Landry Fields to match up with him) but it’s not clear why, over the years, through various coaches, the Raptors have been hesitant to press an advantage. Why is it this franchise always seems to bend and adapt to what the competition is doing instead of playing off of an advantage? Amir fouls a lot, so that’s likely why he didn’t get the chance to match up with LeBron, but it might have been worth a shot, given how effective the offence was with two bigs.

 

More thoughts:

- Terrence Ross provided some offence from the bench. He even passed the ball at least once. He’ll need to keep passing a bit to keep defenders honest.

- LeBron on joining an elite group of players with at least 10 points in 500 straight games: “It’s very humbling. I just go out and play every night and those are the results of it. When I see a stat like that, I’m like, wow, because I know the history, know the guys who paved the way for myself and my teammates and to be in such a great class like that, it’s an amazing feeling.”

- Casey on why he went small: “They were small also. Ray Allen was in, LeBron was at the four. We had a stretch of turnovers like five in a row, six in a row there and that broke our back.”

“I don’t think the small lineup (lost the game), I thought Jonas and Amir and Tyler, all three guys gave us (good play). They weren’t going big also.”

“No he’s not (hurt, speaking about Amir Johnson). I thought Tyler was doing a good job, Jonas was doing a good job and just rotating those guys in. They stayed with LeBron at the four and that’s why we stayed with Landry at the four.”

“They have one of the best power, point guard forwards in LeBron. You talk about why Amir’s not in there and those guys, you have to have somebody to stay out front to try to stay in front of them. Had Landry or Rudy in front of him. But he sees the whole floor and you have one of the best shooters on the planet in Ray Allen on the wing. We knew that coming in, we knew what we had to do.”

“Our guys battled. We put ourselves in position to beat the top team in the league and now the next step for our team is to bust through that, that’s our next step. Are we there yet, we’re not there yet. I see us getting better, see us improving again we’ve got 78 more games to go. It’s a tough month, we’ve got to fight through and continue to get better. Tonight I saw improvement out of Jonas, I saw improvement out of Landry Fields. We’re getting there.”

- Rudy Gay continues to struggle immensely with his shooting. Frustration looks like it is settling in a bit. On the plus side, he continues to do fine work on the boards. He didn’t contain James as well as he did a year ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA conference finals quick preview

- May 19th, 2013

I did pretty well in Round 2 (4-0, in fact and was bang on with Heat in 5 and Spurs in 6) bringing my playoff series prediction record to 10-2. But as we move to the NBA’s final four, here’s where it gets at least a bit trickier.

Eastern Conference Final

Miami vs. Indiana

This one should be closer than you’d think. It’s a superteam vs. an expertly constructed, balanced group that excels because of contributions from everybody.

Miami doesn’t really have an answer for Roy Hibbert, who has been playing some fantastic basketball throughout this post-season, but LeBron James makes a bigger difference than anybody in the league, and that’s why the Heat will prevail. Yes, the superb Paul George will slow James down a bit if matched up with him, but I see LeBron and Dwyane Wade getting Hibbert into foul trouble.

David West vs. Chris Bosh also will be an interesting matchup. Don’t expect Bosh to dominate, West will give him a challenge at both ends.

It’s too bad George Hill isn’t 100% healthy (even though he passed his concussion tests), because he’s a guy that could really give the Pacers a boost.

This is going to be a battle and this Indiana group probably knocks off last year’s Miami squad, but with Ray Allen and Chris Andersen providing lots of help off of the bench this year and James continuing the ascent that began with his dominating finals performance, Miami has enough to survive. They might be tested as much here as in the final though.

Heat in 7

Western Conference final

Spurs vs. Grizzlies

I’ve made a habit of counting out the Spurs in recent years – and regretting it – but, here I go again. The Grizzlies will upset the Spurs again. Marc Gasol is playing at a spectacular level and even though Tim Duncan has the best chance of just about anybody of neutralizing him, Zach Randolph will be there to pick up the slack and Tiago Splitter isn’t going to be stopping Z-Bo.

In a long, brutal series, which this one will be, I like Memphis’ youth over San Antonio’s vast experience. I’m not sure Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will be healthy enough in the latter half of the series after the pounding they will take to get the Spurs through. Early on in the series, Gasol will deter that backcourt from entering the lane and Tony Allen will make life tough for Manu.

The main reason for doubt is Memphis’ lack of a closer and Parker and Ginobili’s history of coming up huge in the biggest moments. Plus, homecourt advantage always helps and the Grizzlies don’t have a particularly fearsome bench.

The Spurs have the experience edge, but Gasol is an international champion and Tayshaun Prince has brought Memphis a proven winner with veteran savvy to help counter-act San Antonio’s pedigree. Prince has faced the Spurs on the biggest stage before and helped frustrate them with his defence.

Don’t expect high-scoring games and the Spurs might make me look foolish again, but:

Grizzlies in 6

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Heat Points Per Game:

- April 19th, 2012

So, that LeBron James guy is pretty good. Dwane Casey wants his Raptors to put on weight in the off-season in order to match up with guys like LeBron, but the thing is, not many people can do that. More realistically, the Raptors need to bulk up to match up with other players – nobody matches up with LeBron.

That said, Casey is urging his team to “throw the first punch” every night for the rest of this season (come out and perform well in the first quarter) and the team is doing that more often than not, including against Miami on Wednesday, which is a good sign.

- James Johnson continued his resurgence offensively with another good game, though his defence has slipped significantly from how good it was earlier this year.

- That LeBron buzzer beater play was something to see. One of the more entertaining plays to go against the Raptors this season.

Finals wrapup

- June 13th, 2011

So this is how it ends.

Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Or something like that. Hard to believe LeBron James checked out so thoroughly in the NBA final.

Congrats to the Mavs, a solid team with enviable depth. Consider, Dallas overcame the loss of Caron Butler, its rock-solid two-way small forward, backup centre and decent inside presence at both ends Brendan Haywood, and the man most thought would be its next star, Roddy Beaubois.

Have to believe Dwane Casey’s price just went up. Will the Raptors meet his price?

Casey is deservedly getting his props, especially with the way Dallas’ zone completely discombobulated the Heat.

But while he deserves the credit, it might be getting a bit overstated in that Miami is a team that can’t really shoot from the outside (Mario Chalmers and Eddie House being notable exceptions) and lives to get inside. Casey and the Mavs went with the type of defence best suited to stop a team like Miami. It wasn’t magic, it was common sense. That’s not to say Casey won’t make a fine choice in whatever city he ends up in. All signs say he will.

Until they got by Chicago, I thought Miami’s reign at the top of the NBA would commence next season. I thought they’d take a year to figure things out before they ran roughshod on the NBA. But once they beat Chicago I thought they had it figured out and would get it done this year.

Can’t say I’m upset I was wrong.

Quick thoughts on Game 3 of finals and congrats to latest Canadian star prospect Anthony Bennett

- June 5th, 2011

Will get to the finals in a minute but first …

Canadian basketball fans should get to know the name Anthony Bennett. He’s yet another stud Canadian prospect making noise. I was a bit late on Bennett, but have been told all year he’s the next big thing after the current crop playing in the NCAA and the players who went to the McDonald’s All-American and Nike games.

Bennett is a 6-8, 230 pound power forward from Brampton (very similar size to Brampton’s Tristan Thompson who is expected to become the highest drafted Canadian ever later this month).

Like Thompson, Bennett plays for Findlay Prep in Nevada.

Graduating Findlay player Myck Kabongo won MVP at last year’s Pangos Camp, a very highly regarded prospects camp in the U.S., while Bennett was named co-MVP this time around thanks to some tremendous performances.

Currently ranked 46th by ESPN in the class of 2012, most believe it is just a matter of time before he cracks the top 20, or higher.

As for the finals, some quick thoughts:

Dirk continues to be spectacular. Very few teams go to a big man in the clutch these days and even historically. Karl Malone was the guy for Utah and I can’t think of too many more examples at the moment.

That’s traditionally the time for swingmen or point guards to shine, so it’s pretty amazing how Dirk seems to score the last 10-15 points for Dallas in big games. He’s an all-time great.

Said in my piece in Monday’s paper that LeBron might get all the attention, but Dwyane Wade is the guy you want in the playoffs. He’s a killer. Not just on offence, where he’s brilliant, unless he goes into three-point chucking mode, but also defensively, where he’s an absolute terror – unless he’s outsmarted by Jason Kidd.

Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem continue to play underrated roles for the soon-to-be-champion Heat. They don’t show up much on the statsheet, but they’re invaluable.

Mario Chalmers, a guy Miami didn’t really want the past two years, is really earning his keep. Chalmers is nailing big shots like he did while at Kansas.

Shawn Marion is doing a solid job on James but Dallas can’t afford another 4-12 effort out of Marion. Somebody besides Dirk and Jason Terry needs to light it up for the Mavericks on Tuesday if they are to make this a series again.

These finals have been a treat for basketball fans.

Strange night for Chris Bosh. Started pretty well. Was awful in the second and third quarters. A bit better in the fourth until stinking it up late … but hit the game-winner.

One final thought. Dwayne Casey is doing a great job. He’s basically the defensive coordinator for Dallas and the team is buying in to what he is selling. Rick Carlisle has been fantastic as well, but I’d be shocked if Casey doesn’t get a head coaching job for next season, either in Toronto or elsewhere.

It is not easy to hold the powerful Heat well south of 50% shooting. Casey has helped make it happen.

Wade makes it a trio

- February 17th, 2011

To date the backlash of the big three deciding to hook up in Miami at whatever cost to their old franchises has been felt mostly by the two new newbies to South Beach.
That would be LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
James’ name is mud in his home state of Ohio. Likewise Chris Bosh learned Wednesday night just how unpopular his exit from Toronto made him after seven years in front of a previously adoring fan base.
Wade? He goes into Cleveland or Toronto and he gets cheered.
Wade admitted he realized this was done as much to mock his new teammates as in appreciation of his own game.
“That’s like a slap in the face,” Wade said. “We go back to Cleveland and I get cheered. We come here and I get cheered. That’s a slap in the face to these guys,” Wade said indicating Bosh and James beside him.
Then Wade, in a few words, joined Bosh and James among the ranks of the unpopular in both Toronto and Cleveland.
“It’s not I’m happy I didn’t have to go anywhere,” Wade said. “It’s just the decision that was made. Miami is just the better city. I’m not saying anything about Toronto but it wasn’t a focal point of mine. I wouldn’t come here and about Cleveland? I wouldn’t go there either. Miami was just the better city.”
Even James, the guy who thought it would be a good idea to go on nation-wide television and announce he was leaving his home to play in Miami saw that for the mistake for it was.
He buried his face in his hands and shook his head as Wade giggled nervously.
We don’t think Wade will have to worry himself about being cheered in either Toronto or Cleveland any time soon.
— Mike Ganter

LeBron is a supervillain; Raptor sign and trade for Bosh likely Friday; Cleveland owner’s letter was awesome

- July 9th, 2010

First, can’t believe LeBron actually did it. He is now LeDarth to me. One of the biggest sports villains ever. Sorry Cleveland fans.

What a great letter by Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert though:

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.

The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.

There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.

You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”

You can take it to the bank.

If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our “motivation” to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown “chosen one” sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn.  And “who” we would want them to grow-up to become.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called “curse” on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former “King” will be taking the “curse” with him down south. And until he does “right” by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland.

Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day….

I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:

DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue….

- -

Dan Gilbert

Majority Owner

Cleveland Cavaliers

Good luck with the championship part and you probably shouldn’t have enabled the guy for so long, but otherewise, great job.

Yahoo! is reporting via Twitter it looks like a Bosh sign and trade probably happens Friday. Toronto gets a TPE and a pick or two. Bryan Colangelo needs to get his own pick back and needs to not waste the TPE on an average player or two in order for the Raptors to come out of this whole thing in half decent shape.

Still, I think they are in trouble.

Finally, Michael Beasley has been traded to Minnesota. That opens up space for the Heat to go after a free agent like Mike Miller.