SOT6 Podcast - Episode 9

Episode 9 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptorss that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • 3- Count on the Playoffs.
  • Can they bounce back?
  • Lineup Change!

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors: "A Story To Tell" by Audiobinger
Intermission: "Intruder" by Ghost Town Riot
Blue Jays: "Nothin' Down' 1.3" by Ari de Niro
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

5 Keys For Success In Round 1

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


So here we are. The Raptors have made it to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in a row. This time as the number three seed in the Eastern Conference. Their first task is to face the sixth seeded Milwaukee Bucks; a team that the Raptors have gotten the better of 3 out of their 4 encounters this season. This ought to give Raptors fans some confidence for the chance of a 2nd round playoff opportunity, but nothing should be taken for granted in any playoff series (looking at you, Boston). "Anything can happen" is a phrase we hear quite often during the postseason, and recent history has shown that the Raptors have an uncomfortable tendency to stretch these series out to a full seven games. Moreover, the Bucks aren't a team to be taken lightly. They were my underdog pick to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season, constantly telling my friends "Don't sleep on the Bucks." This won't be an easy task for the Raptors, by any means, however it should be a series they ought to take. Given the depth of the roster, the new found defensive toughness they have exhibited, and DeMar DeRozan's continuos efforts to redefine himself as a player year after year, it's fairly easy to label this Raptors team as the "favorites" for Round 1. This isn't last year's Raptors squad. I like to call this team "Diet Cleveland," as I fully believe Toronto is the second best team in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, nothing comes easy in the postseason, and the Raptors need to be mindful of the lessons they have learned from past playoff experiences in order to capitalize on the warts Milwaukee has. Thus, these are what I consider to be the five keys for winning Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the Raptors.

1. Win Game 1

Simple right?

Well, not so much.

Appearing in eleven playoff series, the Raptors have only won the first game of any playoff series... once (against the 76ers in 2001). Setting the tone and kicking things off with momentum by winning the first game of any series is critical, and the Raptors should know this especially. Falling behind 0-1 out of the gate is discouraging, as it subsequently puts the Raptors in an immediate hole from the get-go. We are now in "every game matters" mode - big time - and the Raptors cannot afford to be put in a position where they have to immediately battle back and chase wins in the first round. This team wasn't built for that, but that's not to say they won't be able to overcome it should it happen. Having finished as the third seed, the Raptors were able to snag home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and it shouldn't be overlooked how important this will be for them. The Toronto crowd - as it has been well documented - is extremely vocal and involved, to put it mildly. It should not be overlooked how a home crowd is able to shift the momentum for a team, and the ACC is notorious for how loud it can get. If the Raptors are able to play with the toughness and aggression that they have been able to develop since the acquisition of both Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker (MY MAN, PJ!) with the addition of the intensity of the home crowd behind them, they should be able to win the first game of the series this Saturday. When asked what he had learned throughout the entirety of the playoffs last year, I believe it was Kyle Lowry who simply said "Win Game 1." 16 years is far too long. Win game 1.

2. Shut Down Antetokounmpo

Honestly, I want to type out his last name as much as possible so I can stop Googling it. Seriously, this guy is Mr. Copy/Paste. Anyway...

Antetokounmpo is the primary scorer for the Bucks and his stats prove this. This season, the Greek Freak led Milwaukee in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks... so almost everything. The success of the Bucks in the playoffs is going to heavily rely on the shoulders of Antetokounmpo and if the Raptors don't want to extend this series to 7 games, they must prevent him from being the player that he was during the regular season. Of course, this is much easier said than done and I don't want to minimize how special of a player Giannis is. For a player his size, he's able to play almost - if not literally - any position on the court, making him extremely versatile and difficult to cover. This versatility allows the Bucks to open up the court, creating space for Giannis to be the team leader in practically every category. Couple this with how he is in transition, he's beyond deadly. Yet, as I briefly touched on in the previous point, the Raptors have discovered a toughness through their defense that has transformed them from an offensive-minded team to an all-around solid one. Perhaps "shutting down" Giannis is a bit of a tall order. If we're being realistic here, shutting him down may not be possible, as he's an endless supply of energy and puts himself in a position to dominate. But, if Tucker can continue to do what he does best, which is play tight and aggressive defense, thereby forcing Giannis to make hasty decisions with the ball, the Raptors can at least contain him and limit his productivity. Let's not discount how important the defense from Patterson and Carroll will be, as well. All three will more than likely be tasked with restricting Antetokounmpo throughout this series.

By no means is this a simple task. But the Raptors are going to need to bring their A-Game when it comes to defending the Greek Freak.

3. A Productive Kyle Lowry

Coming fresh off an injury that sidelined him for 21 regular season games, the Raptors are going to need a productive Kyle Lowry right out of the gate. We shouldn't have any reason to believe that Lowry will be limited, as his production since returning has been very good - albeit, only 4 games (one of which was against a Cleveland squad void of Irving, James, and Love). Having played approximately 42 minutes in his first game since being sidelined, we shouldn't be concerned with Lowry having his legs under him, and he should be able to keep up the what should be a high-paced playoff series against the Bucks. 

Yet, what is difficult to erase from the back of our minds was Lowry's performance in last year's playoffs, specifically against Miami. However, the difference between this year's Raptors team and last year's is the amount of depth behind Lowry that they can go to. Cory Joseph was able to pick up the slack during Lowry's absence this year, shooting 48% from the field, averaging 11.2 points, 5 assists,  and 1 steal. Sure, they aren't numbers that are blowing you away, but couple that with how Delon Wright has developed (and is still developing) into a serviceable off-the-bench guard, we shouldn't be worried. Should Lowry find himself in a playoff funk again, the Raptors have reinforcements.

Ideally, though, we'd like this to be avoided entirely and have the Lowry we have seen throughout the majority of the year. I'm not at all concerned with the chemistry between Lowry and Ibaka, as many fans are. Professional players have a way of figuring things out, and I'm sure a simple conversation and some practice between the two is all it will take to be able to be on the same page (and I assume this has already happened). We can expect Lowry to come out swinging with all the intensity, swagger, and confidence he can muster. This will be vital for the Raptors' success. Although I mentioned that Joseph was able to fill-in nicely, he's still not Kyle Lowry and the Raptors would be better off being in a position where they don't have to lean on CoJo or Wright for long stretches. Thus, a productive Lowry is much needed if the Raptors are going to be successful during the first round of the playoffs, and beyond.

4. Get Big

This year, Jonas Valanciunas has been like night and day. For a large portion of the regular season, coach Dwane Casey was reluctant (if not completely adamant) to not have JV play more than a handful of minutes in the 4th quarter, if at all. Yet, in the past 10 games, he's been showing signs of life - averaging just south of 26 minutes, shooting 63%, and almost averaging a double-double with 12.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. If JV continues to be productive, the Raptors ought to have a beneficial edge.

Milwaukee lacks any real rebounding threat and this should be advantageous for the Raptors. Toronto finished as a top 10 team in rebounds, whereas the Bucks are dead last in the same category since the All-Star break. If Jonas can be aggressive under the boards and be that physical force that's able to finish under the rim, he may be that wild card we've envisioned him to be. Oh, and this...

Get ready...

A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Couple the production from JV with the type of rim protection we have seen from Ibaka all year, Toronto should be in great shape. Since joining the Raptors, Ibaka has averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 boards, 1.4 blocks, shooting about 46% from the field, and about 40% from deep. Consider Ibaka's playoff role to mimic Biyombo's from last year, but on a much higher level because Ibaka is a far better and versatile player. When you have a true power forward that's able to act as a center when the Raptors need to give JV a rest, as well as the versatility that Ibaka has, it's not hard to see how the Raptors ought to be able to capitalize on the size advantage they have. 

Get big, boys. 

5. Stay In The Moment

Look, it's easy to hand on to what the Raptors have been doing in the regular season and apply it to the postseason. As you have clearly seen within this article, I have done the same throughout. However, it can't be overstated how things can change on a dime and how the playoffs sort of recharges players, shifting them to a higher level. The Raptors need to ignore the noise of their past playoff hiccups, ignore their present woes (like their inconsistency from deep), and not worry about what happens if/when they see Cleveland in Round 2. They will be better served if they stay in the present and worry about these games as they come. 

This is not to say that they are worried about any of the things I've listed; they probably aren't. This may be the best Raptors squad ever assembled, and I don't have a lot of worries regarding their chances of advancing. They just need to take care of business as it comes to them and they'll be fine. I expect this series to go 6 games, tops. After that, anything can happen.

If the Raptors can do all of these things (easier said than done, I know), then this series should be no problem. Again, don't underestimate Giannis, Middleton, and Dellavedola and the damage they can inflict on teams. But with the combination of a healthy Kyle Lowry, a dominate DeMar DeRozan, dominate bigs like JV and Ibaka, and the defensive toughness Tucker has brought with him and integrated throughout the roster, I'll take the Raptors all day.

Raptors in 6. 


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 8

Episode 8 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Kyle Lowry Returns!
  • Review of the game against Miami.
  • 3-Count
  • Playoff seeding and scenarios.

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors Background: "Air" by Tab & Anitek
Intermission: "Light-Year" by Anitek
Blue Jays Background: "The Girl" by Roulet

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

Lowry Update - Proceed With Patience

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


Yesterday (Monday), Kyle Lowry was a partial "participant" in the Raptors' practice session at the BioSteel Centre. The details regarding how much work he put in, whether or not he is progressing, if he suffered any setbacks, or if he's closer to a return is still a giant unknown to us, as both Lowry and coach Dwane Casey were beyond reluctant to give concrete information. Courtesy of Josh Lewenberg of TSN1050 - 

Lowry was also interviewed following the practice. You can view that here -

There are three ways one can look at this type of behavior. Either A) Lowry and Casey literally have no idea when he'll return; B) they're getting tired of being asked how the recovery process is going and have resorted to full blow-off mode; or C) both. Now, before exploring what I think is the more likely case, I do want to stress that Lowry and the rest of the Raptors personnel (be it coach or player) are free to handle and divulge as much or as little information regarding anything as they please. It is simply their prerogative and up to them in regards to how they handle information. They don't owe anything to anyone and we, as fans, shouldn't feel contrary to this. In situations such as these, it's best to deal with what we know rather than speculate on what we don't. 

What We Know: 

Look, I can understand why a player and coach would be tired of answering the same question, ad nauseum. Having to be asked if there are any updates when you, yourself, haven't been given any solid updates by the medical staff is understandably annoying. Moreover, when a player is taking the subjective approach and basing his progress on whether or not he can do certain things - full range of motion, dribble, shoot, etc. - while being unable to quantify how long it will take to rejoin the team can be even more irritating. I get all of this. Further, it's not like he hasn't given any updates with his injury - I mean, he did say his wrist feels "good," so that's something! He just hasn't given us the updates that we want to hear - i.e. "I'll be back in X amount of days!" or "I'll be ready to go in a week!" You have to believe that if this was known to anyone, we would have a better idea by now, too.

Playing it safe and not being aggressive with Lowry's return is probably what is best for the team if they want to make another Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Lowry's goal is to be 100% for the playoffs. Considering the kind of offense he provided for the Raptors prior to his injury, how well they have been playing in his absence, and how the East is ostensibly any team's to take, having a fully-healthy Lowry will give the Raptors an advantage for a strong playoff push. Should they rush it, he runs the risk of suffering a major setback, rendering the Raptors a bit more vulnerable to elimination than I'm sure we feel comfortable with. Considering the Raptors have won 14 of 20 games without Lowry, there's absolutely no reason to rush it and we ought to have complete confidence that the entire team feels optimistic with how and where they will finish come playoff time.

We all know Lowry is a tough cat and certainly doesn't want to be sitting down towards the ending stretch of the regular season. He holds his fate in his own hands, and made this crystal clear as he more than suggested that it would be his decision as to when he returns - 

If we are to believe this, and there's no reason why we shouldn't, I think it's fair to expect Lowry to make an appearance for the final game or two of the regular season. Moreover, if it's solely based on how Lowry is feeling, that means his return (probably) won't be based on future x-rays or clearance from the team's physician. It's simply a matter of whether or not Lowry says that Lowry is good to go. Knowing his aggressive nature, we should expect him sooner rather than later. 

Thus, I believe that Lowry and the rest of the Raptors staff do not know when he will make his return and are probably getting a bit annoyed with being asked. Of course, it's fair to wonder how the All-Star point guard of your team is feeling after seeing him participate in practice (in any capacity) for the first time since being sidelined. But a little bit of secrecy doesn't mean it's a dark and gloomy cloud. On the contrary, it may be a sign of things about to be getting much brighter. I don't want to blindly point to a date to anticipate Lowry's return, but considering that he has, at the very least, begun to practice in some way, I think it's fair to expect him sooner rather than later. 

Remember, there are only 5 regular season games remaining, which includes tonight's game in Indiana. Lowry has already been ruled out for this contest, and considering it kicks off a back-to-back with the Raptors heading to Detroit tomorrow, I wouldn't expect to see him in either of these contests. However, Friday they host Miami for their final game in Toronto, so it's possible that Lowry could be good to go for that one. If not, playing in both contests against the Knicks and Cavaliers, respectively, is a real possibility.

But hey! Even if we don't see Lowry play in any of the remaining regular season games, it's not the biggest of deals. The team is playing very well, and DeRozan has been nothing short of phenomenal! Couple that with JV having a resurgence, Ibaka protecting the rim and contributing on offense, and Tucker being literally everywhere on the floor when it comes to defense, there's no reason to push it with Lowry. I mean, if having a completely healthy Lowry with absolutely no set-backs for the playoffs meant we wouldn't see him for the remainder of the regular season, wouldn't we take that?

I would. All day.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter @SouthOfThe6ix


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 7

Episode 7 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Recapping last night's game against Indiana.
  • 3-Count! JV! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?!
  • Raptors taking over the 3rd place spot!
  • Playoff positioning right now. Can they beat Cleveland?
  • Congrats to T-Mac and the HOF!

Music:
Intro - "Cash Rules" by Ari De Niro
Raptors Background - "Gnats" by Anitek
Bump - "Hookie" by The Mellowtones
Blue Jays Background - "Pipes" by Anitek
Outro - "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

Breaking Down Donnovan Bennett's "9 Reasons"

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


(Note: I started this piece earlier in the week and literally just finished listening to this week's Free Association. Some of my concerns that I had already laid out prior to listening were addressed on the show by JD Bunkis. I apologize if it seems redundant, but I explain it a bit differently while adding in my own points. No plagiarism or ripping off was intended, at all!)

Earlier last weekend, Donnovan Bennett wrote an article on SportsNet laying out 9 reasons why the Raptors ought to sign and trade Kyle Lowry in the off-season. Since then, many other beat writers, bloggers, and a few other reputable writers have commented on Bennett's piece, most of which opposed his argument. Seeing as though I consider myself nothing more than a blogger that commentates on the happenings of the Raptors, I figured I'd give my two cents. 

Before I get into this, I want to say that I like Bennett's work and I appreciate his contributions on SportsNet, specifically Free Association. Moreover, I appreciate how he doesn't back down from his position, regardless of the negative reactions amongst fellow Raptors fans on Twitter. Producing such a controversial piece takes balls, and backing it up calmly and proudly takes even bigger balls. However, challenging each point in order to deduce a solid conclusion would be beneficial in order to get a better understanding as to what the Raptors ought to do with Lowry. I'm not sure that I agree or disagree with Bennett's reasoning, so it's best to see if any of his points can be challenged, if not all of them. So let's try.

(Note: Before we get into the minutia, if you haven't read the article and have no idea what I'm referring to, I encourage you to do so. It's linked in the first paragraph of this piece.)

Most of the disagreement from the fanbase with Bennett's piece is centered around the love for their All-Star point guard. As I've mentioned in other articles, Toronto sports fans are possessive when it comes to their favorite players of their sports teams and loathe the thought of seeing them in another team's jersey (Edwin, anybody?). Emotion is a tricky thing and I don't think it should ever be used as a basis to reach a conclusion when dealing with an analytical challenge. Our love and appreciation for Kyle Lowry is completely irrelevant as to whether or not the Raptors should sign and retain him, rather than trade or not re-sign him at all. Therefore, it's best if we leave that component out of this entirely. Bennett didn't reference our love for Lowry in the least, but based on some of the articles that I have read that oppose Bennett's position, it's based a lot on what Lowry has meant to us as fans. I cannot stress enough how important it is to ignore this. GM's and Presidents that represent their sports team hardly ever put a lot of stock into this, as their job is to put together a team that gives them the best chance of winning games. Not who's loved the most. Is it something we can acknowledge and appreciate? Sure. But it's not the be-all-end-all.

Having said that, let's get into what Bennett actually did say. What I found interesting is that Bennett didn't need to make this entire list, as each point comes back to one key point - given Lowry's age, he's too expensive. This is pretty much Bennett's "...yeah, but!" to anything that can be used to challenge each of his other points. Consider his first point - 

1. The Raptors have internal options that can replace Lowry.

I urge you not to make the hasty conclusion that Bennett is suggesting that the internal options the Raptors (currently) have - Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet - are capable of playing like Lowry; he's not. In fact, he flat out states that they aren't as "spectacular" as Lowry from the get-go. What he is arguing are that this trio is a suitable replacement for Lowry, as a whole. Basically, he's suggesting that these three players combined can produce almost as well as Lowry can. Thing is, it's sort of hard to compare one player (Lowry) to those three when only one of them can play at a time. Lowry is consistently productive when he's on the floor, not to mention one of the most reliable to close out games next to DeRozan. Suggesting that Joseph, Wright, and VanVleet as a group can string together that kind of production during the course of 48 minutes is overambitious. Joseph has proven to be nothing more than a replacement level point guard. In other words, he wouldn't be the first option for starting point guard on a fully healthy team that's really contending in the playoffs. It's fair to say that Joseph has probably reached his peak and is what we have seen. You could say the same for VanVleet, as he's more than likely not going to bloom into a star player that a team can build around. Wright, on the other hand, is interesting because he has a boatload of potential and is just beginning to blossom. However, practically going all in on Wright and hoping that in the future he can produce like Lowry makes me a bit uncomfortable. I'm not saying that he won't or can't become that kind of player, but dealing with an unknown like that is too risky. Personally, I'd much rather re-sign Lowry to a max deal spanning over 5 years than keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Wright meets high expectations. It's sort of "the devil you know" kind of thing. When laid out like this, Lowry is the better option, all things being equal. However, what Bennett wants to say here is all things are not equal, and that those three are younger and cheaper than Lowry. You'll notice that it'll always come back to this.

2. His second point is what I consider his weakest and is pretty much irrelevant. Bennett suggests that Raptors fans should look at the recent players that the fans wanted to be re-signed, like Biyombo (his example, not mine). Aren't we glad we didn't re-sign him for the crazy amount of $72MM like the Magic did? Well, yeah... I am glad that we didn't re-sign Biyombo for that much, but this has nothing to do with Lowry. It's simply a false equivalency. Biyombo doesn't provide the same type of impact like Lowry does, which is why Lowry is more of a priority. I take nothing away from Biyombo's contributions in the playoffs last year. But, was Bismack a 3-time All-Star? No. Was he the anchor of this team? No. The comparison of the circumstances regarding the decision to re-sign or not re-sign Biyombo to Lowry is a bad one as it completely ignores the variables that make them two completely different issues. Bennett attempts to offer further evidence of an equivalency for this by suggesting that the Raptors have been better off giving minutes to Nogueira and developing Poeltl than re-signing Biyombo and, therefore, ought to have the same outlook with Lowry. The problem is, this completely ignores the addition of Ibaka and the rim protection he's provided as a replacement for Biz, as well as how Nogueira really isn't seeing these minutes as a result. The circumstances are simply not analogous and ought to be treated as such. Yet, again, what Bennett wants to say here is that Lowry is different than Biyombo (although he inadvertently regards them as the same....?) because he's older and more expensive. 

3. Bennett's third point is that a team does not need an All-Star [point]guard to win. 

This one is a bit tougher to argue, because for the most part it's true. Last year, although an all-around great player, Kyrie Irving was not an NBA All-Star. However, in 2015 Stephen Curry was, and in 2014 Tony Parker was as well. Giving his due, Bennett is correct, as the next point guard that was an All-Star and also won an NBA Championship was... Tony Parker in 2007. It's a fair point to make, but I think at this point he's arguing over semantics. Although a team doesn't need an All-Star point guard to win, they must have a guard that is both capable of moving the ball around to open up the floor and, by today's NBA standards, hitting threes on a consistent basis. Kyle Lowry provides this and more for the Raptors. Moreover, even though Irving wasn't an All-Star last season, he certainly played like one in the playoffs and, if he was a free agent coming into this season, he'd be paid the max; regardless of his absence at the All-Star Game. Further, Bennett's example that he laid out was of the 2004 Dallas Mavericks, as they let Steve Nash walk and explore free agency, as they had complete trust in Dirk Nowitzki as their primary scorer. Bennett suggests that, like how Nowitzki was the guy who got the ball when it mattered, the Raptors have that in DeRozan. Moreover, the Mavericks would end up winning an NBA Championship without Nash, so it all worked out, right? Yeah sure, but this isn't analogous. First of all, what Bennett failed to mention is that it took Dallas 7 years to win that NBA title without Nash. If we're trying to draw parallels here, are we sure that DeRozan can both be this same player he is now towards the end of his contract and do it 7 years from now (assuming he's still even on the team)? Second of all, Nowitzki was close to Lowry's age when he won an NBA title. How old you ask? Nowitzki was 32. Lowry is freshly 31. Let me ask you - if the Mavericks were able to offer a 31 year-old Dirk a max contract worth as much as what the Raptors need to give Lowry to keep him, don't you think that they would? Isn't that a no brainer?

I'll let that simmer. 

4. Bennett's fourth point is that Lowry A) isn't getting any younger and B) keeps getting hurt. Let's put aside B for a second. Had Bennett just wrote an entire article simply based on how Lowry is 31 and shouldn't be offered a max deal, he wouldn't need all of this other contestable stuff. It's hard to ignore how much the game of basketball wears a player down; specifically one that plays as many minutes as Lowry has. It's true that Lowry is getting up there in age (in terms of a basketball sense. 31 isn't old, I should know), but let's not forget that it took quite a while for him to find his stride and play to the level that he is. Lowry is a late bloomer, for sure, and you could argue that he's a "young" 31, in terms of where he is in his career. Thus, I'm confident giving him a max 5-year deal that will likely finish out his career. However, what I'm not confident in - and what I think Bennett and I can agree on - is that Lowry's age will end up catching up with him and he probably will play fewer and fewer games as each season passes. I think this can be expected, but I also think that when offering someone a max contract at 31, you are doing so knowing that you're going to be paying for about 3 years of solid production, while maybe eating the last two. If it means keeping this unit together and keeping the chemistry as it is, isn't it worth it?

In regards to this "keeps getting hurt" part, Bennett only sites three examples out of Lowry's injury history and only during his tenure as a Toronto Raptor. He states that Lowry has only played 82 games once throughout the course of his 11 year career, but failed to acknowledge that he wasn't nearly the point guard he is today while playing for Memphis and Houston, so there was no need to play him that much. Moreover, during his Raptors tenure, the amount of respective games he has played is 68, 79, 70, 77, & 56. Further, he only missed substantial time due to injury his first year with Toronto (2012) and this year. Yes, he did have elbow problems last year that prevented him from playing at the level he was capable of during last year's post-season, but to say he "keeps on getting hurt" is a bit of a stretch. 

5. His fifth point is the Lowry's playoff numbers are poor. I can't deny this and really have no basis to argue against it. The numbers are pretty bad, so I'm just going to give it to Bennett. If anything - and I admit this may be a stretch - I don't necessarily think that having poor playoff numbers only is a reason not to re-sign an important player that makes up your core. But I'd understand if the Raptors didn't because Lowry can't - or rather, hasn't - produce when it matters. I'll give this one to Donnovan. 

6. Bennett's sixth point is the point guard market is oversaturated, leaving the Raptors with plenty of options should things not work out with Lowry. Again, while this is true, do I really need to remind you all of how hard it is to sign stud players to a Toronto team? Quite often we hear how players don't want to play for Toronto because they have to deal with customs, or the currency, or moving their families, or it's too cold, etc. While I'm sure there will end up being some point guard that is willing to play for the Raptors, it's hard to imagine one that plays at the level of Lowry (but younger, right Donnovan?) would be willing to come to Toronto. I think this one is a layup (hahaha, silly basketball pun, hahahaha). Thus, while Bennett is right about the market, I think he's a bit overambitious of the Raptors' ability to acquire a point guard that will still allow them to compete.

7. His seventh point is that the Raptors need salary cap space. 

Bennett's main point of contention here is that the Raptors ought to prioritize re-signing Ibaka, as he presents more of a rare skill set that the Raptors have been lacking since Bosh. While I can agree with this, who's to say that they can't do both? Bennett assumes this will be a "one-or-the-other" type of situation. This is where he goes wrong, but I can understand why. The Raptors have yet to go into the luxury tax, so if history is the best indicator of the future, there's no reason to believe that they will. However, I think the Raptors front office understands the circumstances of keeping this core group together. The reason they haven't spent this much before is because they've never had anything that was worth spending this much for. Now they do. Knowing this isn't something I can prove or have any evidence for, my gut tells me that the Raptors would be willing to move forward with paying both Lowry and Ibaka. Call it a hunch.

8. His eighth point is the other half of the basis of his argument that couples with the age problem - there are cheaper options available. Again, while this is true, are they cheaper and capable of playing as well as Lowry? Or are they just cheaper? The latter option is much more likely to be the case, and I'm not sure how acquiring one of these cheaper options makes the Raptors any better off, in terms of contending for the playoffs. Bennett argues that there are three stud guards entering the upcoming draft, but will certainly be taken within the first 10 picks of the draft (and that's being generous!). While yes, these rookies will only cost the Raptors $3-5MM, Bennett assumes the Raptors will be able to acquire a pick high enough to land one of them. This, obviously, would involve a trade. Which leads me to...

9. Bennett's final point is that there could be a willing trade partner. He focuses mostly on the 76ers, as they've been rumored to want to aggressively pursue the Philadelphia native this off-season. My question is, why would Lowry agree to a sign-and-trade when he could just sign with the 76ers after opting out? If he knows the Sixers want him that bad (which, do we know this?), why wouldn't he just explore his options with them on his own? Sure, you could say that he'd do it to help out the Raptors - an organization that has been good to him and one that he has spent a lot of his time developing into the player he has become. But this is business. In the world of business, favors are rare and loyalty is even rarer. Bennett assumes that Lowry would be 100% willing to participate in a sign-and-trade and do the Raptors a favor. I am not. Moreover, we're also assuming that the Sixers would want to trade away a top 5 pick (I'm assuming it will be, granted) for Lowry. Why would we assume this? Based on a rumor? Isn't it Bennett who keeps pounding into us how Lowry's old and approaching the decline? If he "knows" this, surely Philadelphia does, too.  Further, the Sixers would end up giving up more than the Raptors would if they simply just signed him! The Sixers would not only be taking on that contract, but they'd also be giving up a draft pick for potentially one of these "stud" guards. Why wouldn't they just sign the stud guard? I don't see a scenario where there would be a sign-and-trade. 

Bennett's main point is simple - Lowry is too old for that much money. I don't agree. Bennett assumes that if the Raptors go forward with a Lowry deal, it will tie their hands in terms of spending ability on free agents in the future, but why worry about that now? It's hard to deal with unknowns, but all signs point to the salary cap continuing to rise. Right now, Lowry is the single best and realistic option for the Raptors moving forward, so signing him is almost imperative. If they want to continue to progress with what they've been able to build, the Raptors would need to bring back the co-anchor to this team next to DeRozan.

Further, holding on the Lowry provides the Raptors with much needed insurance. A big reason why the Raptors are winning games without Lowry is because DeRozan has taken over and played at an extremely high level. Flat out, this is his team. However, imagine what would happen if both DeRozan and Lowry were absent since the All-Star break. Where do you think the Raptors would be? We've seen who was heavily relied on when DeRozan missed time earlier this season - Lowry. Should the Raptors move on from Lowry, they'd be taking a huge gamble and would put an incredible amount of pressure on DeRozan as their main scorer. Should anything happen to DeRozan, who would be that scorer? Who would be the play maker? Who would the Raptors rely on to close out games? It would put them in a massive hole and having this tandem of Lowry and DeRozan is crucial for their success.

Don't be silly. Re-sign Kyle.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 6

Episode 6 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • VICTORY OVER CHICAGO! THE STREAK IS OVER!
  • 3-Count for all 4 games this week.
  • DeMar DeRozan the best Raptors of all time?
  • Should the Raptors prioritize signing PJ Tucker over Serge Ibaka?

Music:
Intro - "Cash Rules" by Ari De Niro
Raptors Background - "Roy" by JBlanked
Bump - "The Question" by JBlanked
Blue Jays Background - "Calling by Anitek
Outro - "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

If You Had To Choose - Tucker or Ibaka?

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


This whole topic may be a bit surprising for most of you, and I get it. I completely understand that the amount of games since the Players Only Meeting are minimal in comparison to the grand scheme of things. However, the impact that PJ Tucker has made is both noticeable and valuable; to the extent that I'm not beginning to lean towards the direction of hoping the Raptors prioritize resigning him to the team over Serge Ibaka.

I know, I know... "ARE YOU SERIOUS!?" is what you're saying. But don't close out this window just yet. Let me explain.

As many of you have seen, Tucker has been able to help reshape the Raptors from a predominantly offensive-minded team to a much more balanced one; prioritizing defense and toughness in order to position themselves better against the higher echelons of the Eastern Conference. You hear certain words tossed around on the reg when it comes to Tucker's style of play - toughness, gritty, grinder, fearless, aggressive, etc. These are elements that were lacking for the Raptors prior to the acquisition of Tucker at the very last minute of the trade deadline. Before his (re)arrival in Toronto, we more or less forgave the Raptors for their lack of a defensive presence, largely due to how much their offensive abilities seemed to mitigate this woe. With how well Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played offensively during the first half of the season, we could sort of turn a blind eye to the obvious defensive struggles both players exhibited, as the Raptors were winning games and sitting pretty as the second seed of the East. Yet, when one of those players would miss time due to injury, this glaring hole in the Raptors game was highlighted, and teams were taking full advantage. It was in dire need of being addressed. 

Now, you could argue that, since being acquired via trade, Serge Ibaka helped bring more balance to the Raptors by adding an element of defense that they didn't have prior. You wouldn't be wrong, either. In no way do I discredit the value a player like Ibaka has for the Raptors, as he is undoubtably that power forward that provides the rim protection the Raptors desperately needed since Chris Bosh. However, it's the intangibles that Tucker has provided for this Raptors squad that I believe adds a bit more value than what we've seen from Ibaka.

Before you say it - I definitely do not know the influence that Ibaka has on the Raptors. Also, I don't know if Ibaka provides these same intangibles that Tucker does. This is all true. I'm not in the locker room. I don't attend practices. I don't know what is said during games. I have no idea. It could very well be the case that Ibaka is just as influential - if not more influential - for the Raptors than what we've been told. Giving credit where it's most certainly due, consider this important piece of information via TSN's Josh Lewenberg -

I mean, that's a pretty big deal. Considering that this was a practice in late February, while Ibaka had only been with a Raptors for 10 days since being traded, it's ought to be recognized. Moreover, I'm willing to bet that it wasn't the only time Ibaka had stopped a drill during practice to help improve defensive abilities. I guess what I'm trying to make clear here is - I don't at all think that a player like Ibaka holds zero value off the court for the Raptors. What I am saying is, when weighing out the cost it would take for the Raptors to keep a player like Ibaka, perhaps it's better to spend some of those dollars on a player that won't necessarily command as a high of a pay-day; i.e. PJ Tucker. 

Don't get it twisted here, in no way do I think Tucker is the offensive equivalent of Ibaka. Not at all. The numbers speak for themselves, really. This season, Ibaka is averaging 15 points, 1.7 offensive boards (5.1 defensive boards, though), shooting just shy of 50% from the field (48.3%), while shooting 39% from deep, and averaging 12.5 field goal attempts per game. Comparing this to Tucker's offensive numbers, it's not really close. This season, Tucker has so far averaged 6.7 points, shooting 41.2% from the field, 34.3% from deep, averaging 6 field goal attempts, with 1.5 offensive boards (4.4 defensive) per game. Looking strictly at the numbers, it's hard to disagree that one would rather have the production executed by Ibaka. But when we consider that Ibaka will more than likely cost the Raptors a max contract (or close to it), while also considering that signing Kyle Lowry to a max contract (or close to it) will more than likely be their number one priority in the offseason, it's hard to see both of these things happening, given the Raptors' history. Unless other things happen during the offseason for the Raptors - ::AHEM:: like trading JV ::AHEM:: - it'll be hard for the Raptors to afford the same team they currently have, unless they go over the luxury tax. Going over the luxury tax has yet to be seen in Toronto, so I'm not going to throw this into the equation; yet, I'm not totally discounting it, either. I mean, if the past is a reliable indicator of the future, you can understand why I'd be hesitant to take it into consideration. But I digress...

Should the Raptors be unable to afford Ibaka, the defensive drop-off is considerable. Again, I take nothing away from Ibaka's ability to protect the rim and defend the perimeter and the value he brings to this team. That's not what this is about. However, while fully admitting that I'm assuming he won't cost a max contract, should the Raptors retain PJ Tucker, while finding an affordable power forward in Ibaka's stead, I don't necessarily think that the defensive drop-off would be that bad. Of course, this isn't as easy as it sounds. When looking at the UFA's heading into the offseason, it's not that pretty, in terms of the players that may not cost a max contract. Thus, I can understand why it's seen as a priority by many to resign a reliable power forward that's capable of starting. But, as mentioned, it seems rather difficult when we also prioritize resigning Lowry to the max in order to keep the core of this Raptors team together. I just don't see how signing both Lowry and Ibaka can be done.

But assuming that the Raptors can fill this gap by exploring other avenues (perhaps a trade?), keeping Tucker should be the next priority, after Lowry. His ability to defend while acting like this omnipresent force for the Raptors has both transformed and influenced this team. It's that influence that I think has been the catalyst for the Raptors since acquiring him. Speaking after the Players Only Meeting, Tucker was determined to let his actions speak louder than his words, stating - 

“It’s not about making shots it’s about us having competitive spirit and playing all these games like playoff games[...] A lot of people talked[...] It was a good conversation. Enough talking though. We have 14 games left it’s time to put it to action. It’s time for guys to go out and show that we care and that we care about each other and we want to do something special here. We have the team to do it.”

That, to me, screams leadership and perseverance. It's an element that was seriously lacking and was desperately needed. It's a part of the game that - as talented as they are offensively - Lowry and DeRozan may not be able to provide for the team without a guy like Tucker. Moreover, not only does Tucker influence the team in a verbal aspect, but he also backs up his words on the court and provides an energy that the players around him feed off of. When is the last time you saw DeRozan play the type of defense we saw him play against Chicago? Who was chirping in his ear? In a game that was seen as an absolute "Must-Win" for the Raptors, it was Tucker's influence and voice that lead the charge. It was the small things that made huge differences, like talking on defense, communicating to players and reminding them where to be while imposing himself as a force that wouldn't go away. It was Tucker that neutralized the Raptor-Killer Jimmy Butler, propelling Toronto to their first victory over Chicago after 11 straight losses. These are the things that a defensive specialist, like Tucker, can provide. Simply put, it's unlike anything the Raptors have ever seen before and needs to be kept as long as possible. 

I don't want this to be misread as me implying that the Raptors currently rely on Tucker to the point where he makes or breaks them. I take nothing away from the awesome stretch of games DeMar DeRozan has been able to put together, as he's been nothing short of fantastic. I also take nothing away from players that are slowly finding their stride again, like Patrick Patterson or Norman Powell. Moreover, I take nothing away from players that are slowly making their presence heard for the team, like Delon Wright and, to some degree, Jakob Poeltl. Honestly, the entire team is coming together since the debacle against the Thunder, which is highly encouraging considering the lack of Lowry. I also fully admit that I'm throwing around a lot of assumptions here. Maybe you don't prioritize resigning Lowry as much as I've illustrated here. Or, maybe the Raptors will go over the luxury tax, thereby signing both Lowry and Ibaka to max deals, while also retaining Tucker. There's a whole mess of scenarios that could happen that doesn't necessitate a choice between Ibaka and Tucker. I admit this. I'm just tossing out a thought experiment, asking if you had to choose one, who would it be? This doesn't mean it's a choice the Raptors will be faced with. Maybe it will be, maybe it won't. Lastly, I don't want to disregard the notion that Ibaka is capable of influencing the team in the same way. He very well could be, and perhaps currently is. Perhaps it's just a matter of it not being as talked about and reported. I'm not trying to convince you that Tucker is more valuable than Ibaka is, because I simply don't think this to be so. Basically, I'm considering the cost of what it would take to keep all of these highly valued players. Chances are, the Raptors won't be able to afford it. Therefore, how do you want these dollars to be spent?

Regardless, if there's one player that's soon to become a free agent that I want to be wearing a Toronto Raptors jersey next season not named Kyle Lowry, it's PJ Tucker. 

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below to leave your thoughts. Discussion is a good thing. 


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter @SouthOfThe6ix


Playoff Scenarios For The Raptors.

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


With only 13 regular season games remaining, the Raptors chances of edging the gap over the Wizards for 3rd place in the East are becoming slimmer. Currently, Toronto is exactly two games behind Washington, with the Raptors possessing the tie-breaker should they finish the season with the same record. Looking at both of their schedules ahead, it looks like both teams have equally difficult matchups, in what could prove to be pivotal games that decide each team's fate for the playoffs.

The Raptors would be better served if they finished the season as the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. This, of course, is assuming that Cleveland remains in the 1st seed, but this too may be contested as the Celtics are gaining serious ground, being only 1.5 games behind the Cavs. Couple that with the Celtics schedule being fairly easy for the remainder of the season, having Boston finish as the 1st seed may actually be beneficial for the Raptors, should they stay where they are. As you can see, it's a bit of a clusterfuck in terms of where the Raptors should finish the season, and how other teams finish may make or break the Raptors' chances to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Thus, examining all the likely possibilities would be beneficial to attain a better understanding as what would work best for the Raptors. Knowing that it is at least possible for the Raptors to finish as the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, I'll try to break down the different likely scenarios that the Raptors may face should this happen; in terms of who they would likely have to face if they want to reach the ECF once again. On the flip side, knowing that it's likely that the Raptors finish where they are as the 4th seed, I will do the same with this in mind. Thus, it serves best to examine what the Raptors are currently faced with in terms of finishing 4th, who they would likely have to face, and who the Raps fans should root for if we are to assume this scenario. Let's get to it.

Finishing 4th

As much as we don't want to admit it, the Raptors are likely to finish 4th, given the loss of Kyle Lowry for what appears to be the remainder of the regular season. The chances of the Raptors slipping down to the 5th seed are quite slim, as they stand 3 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks. As of today (Sunday, 3/19), the Hawks are 4 for their last 10, suffering three straight losses in their most recent outings against the Spurs, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers, respectively, with the last two games being played at home. Looking at their schedule ahead, it seems to be a bit more challenging than the Raptors', with the Wizards, Bucks, Celtics, and a back-to-back stint against the Cavs on the horizon towards the close-out of the season. With this in mind, Raptors fans can be confident that the Hawks will probably remain as the 5th seed, leaving the Raptors finishing as the 4th, in a worst case scenario.

Should this happen, the two teams will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Raptors fans ought to be encouraged with the team's chances of getting out of the 1st round against Atlanta, assuming Kyle Lowry is able to return from his wrist injury in time. Now, I understand that Atlanta owns the tie-breaker over Toronto, as they took 2/3 games during the course of the regular season. However, bear in mind that their most recent outing was without Lowry, and the Raptors only fell by 6 points, with only PJ Tucker finishing in the plus column, with a +5. With the addition of a healthy and consistent Lowry, as well as the Raptors being energized by another opportunity in the playoffs (I just love those intangibles), I'd be willing to wager on a productive Lowry, despite the recovery and the pessimism regarding last year's playoff performance (call me crazy). 

It's what follows the first round that interests me the most. Yes, if the season were to end today, and the Raptors defeat Atlanta, they'd have the extremely difficult task of facing the Cavaliers in the Conference Semi-Finals. The likelihood of the Raptors advancing past Cleveland to participate in another Conference Finals series is... well, let's face it... it's not very likely at all. Cleveland has this incredible not-so-secret weapon known as LeBron James, and the playoffs is when he shines the brightest. Throughout the playoffs last year, James averaged 26.3 points, shooting 52.5% from the field, 9.5 boards, 7.6 assists, at just shy of 40 minutes per game. Adding a player like Kyrie Irving into the mix, it gets a bit more discouraging. Again, in last year's playoff outing, Irving averaged 25.2 points, shooting 47.5% from the field, 44% from deep, 4.7 assists, and just about 37 minutes per game (stats via basketball-reference.com). Given that the refs tend to be a bit more lenient with the whistle during the playoffs, and how (we would like to believe) the NBA would love to see another Cleveland/Golden State NBA Finals, I think it's safe to say that the Raptors would once again fall to the Cavs, ending their hopes to reach two consecutive Conference Finals. But this isn't necessarily etched in stone. Hear me out.

As mentioned earlier, the Celtics are biting the heels of the Cavs, sitting just 1.5 games behind 1st place. With the ostensibly easy end-of-season schedule Boston has, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Celtics could attain that 1st seed, leaving Cleveland out of the Raptors way in the second round of the playoffs, should they get that far. If this were to happen, the Celtics would then face the Bucks to start the playoffs, assuming Milwaukee stays put. When looking at it this way, Raptors fans should swallow their pride a bit and cheer for the Celtics in hopes of gaining ground over Cleveland. Call me crazy, but I'd much rather face one of Boston, Milwaukee, Miami, or Detroit (the latter three teams could finish as the 8th seed) in the second round of the playoffs than Cleveland. Against any of those teams, I like the Raptors' chances. Plus, assuming Boston is able to get out of the first round of the playoffs (yet to be seen under coach Brad Stevens, mind you), the opportunity to see a Boston/Toronto 7-game Playoff series would be incredible. Just watch their most recent outing and tell me tensions wouldn't be at an all time high. Go ahead. Watch it again. Spoiler Alert: Raptors won... and it was awesome.

Thus, if we are to concede the notion that the Raptors probably won't gain ground against Washington, and are left as the 4th seed, begrudgingly hoping for Boston to attain that 1st seed may be what's best for the Raptors in the long-run. If it means a better chance of having another go at Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals, you'd have to take that. Granted, it's unlikely that the Raptors would be able to top Cleveland, much like they were able to do last year, but that's ok! Advancing that far in two straight playoff appearances is light-years ahead of what we previously thought Toronto would be capable of doing; even in our wildest of dreams. So, given this possibility, umm... go Boston??

Ugh.... yeah, go Boston! 

Finishing 3rd

Now, if you just can't stomach the thought of doing anything remotely close to rooting for Boston, I feel ya. This doesn't necessarily have to be the case, if we consider the possibility of the Raptors finishing as the 3rd seed. This would, then, avoid two problems - 1) rooting for Boston, at all and 2) having to face Cleveland in round two of the playoffs - assuming Boston also stays put at the 2nd seed. Both sound good to me! Unfortunately, the Raptors finishing 3rd is a bit more unlikely in comparison to the probability of them finishing 4th. Note that they are currently two games behind Washington for the 3rd seed, which is a lot of ground to cover in just 13 games. Yet, with the Raptors owning the tie-breaker over Washington, it's not too crazy to see this happening. As mentioned, Washington's schedule is just as difficult as Toronto's (all things considered), but they do have to get by Boston, Cleveland, the Clippers, and Golden State. You ask - "how is that just as easy as Toronto's schedule?!" Well, this is the time in which team's that have already clinched tend to rest their players; I'm looking at you, Golden State. If the Raptors hope to finish as the third seed, they can't afford for the Warriors to give Washington any favors by resting their stars. Warriors coach Steve Kerr has already begun this process, in light of the Kevin Durant injury, by resting players in a recent game against the Spurs for the second consecutive time against the team. If Kerr is willing to rest his players against a rival Western Conference team like San Antonio, I'm sure he wouldn't think twice about doing so against a team like Washington. He has nothing to lose.

But for funzies, let's consider the possibility that the Raptors are able to regain that 3rd seed, while everything else remains the same (that last part is important). If this were to happen, history would repeat itself and the Raptors would face Indiana in Round 1. Assuming the Raptors can once again edge out a series against Indiana, their path to the ECF is still bright. Again, if we assume everything remained the same with the exception of Toronto finishing 3rd and Washington finishing 4th, and if we also assume the Raptors are able to take down Indiana in Round 1 of the playoffs, that would leave the Raptors with a Round 2 matchup of either Miami (again) or... yep.... Boston.

Those that cannot stomach the aspect of routing for the Celtics may prefer this scenario, as it serves the Raptors better for the Celtics to finish as the 2nd seed. Otherwise, the Raptors would be faced with the troubling task of (probably) facing Cleveland in Round 2 of the playoffs, which I already covered in the previous scenario. Again, I'd much rather see the Raptors face a Dwyane Wade-less Heat in Round 2 of the playoffs, or the Celtics so we can have a more-than-just-entertaining 7-game series than to have to face Cleveland that early. The longer the Raptors can go without facing the Cavs in the playoffs, the better. Yet, the more likely scenario of the Raptors facing Boston in Round 2 of the playoffs would be the much more desirable options. 

Yes, please!

So, in the end, I guess it all depends on whether or not you can come to grips with the idea of cheering for the Celtics. If you can't, then you better hope the Raptors can gain some ground over Washington and take that 3rd spot back. If you can stomach cheering for Boston, then you must do so with the hope that the Raptors remain as the 4th seed. Given the schedule ahead, and given the Raptors will probably be without Kyle Lowry for the remainder of the season, we may have to swallow the notion of the Raptors finishing as the 4th seed. Which... yeah.... that means go Celtics.

I know, I know. I don't like it, either.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter @SouthOfThe6ix


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 5

Episode 4 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Discuss the embarrassing loss against OKC.
  • The Players' Only Meeting.
  • How PJ Tucker has earned much respect!
  • 3-Count over the win in Detroit!
  • Looking at the schedule ahead!

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

SOT6 Podcast - Episode 4

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Episode 4 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Recapping the game against Atlanta.
  • 3-Count!
  • Is this a Valanciunas resurgence?
  • Kyle Lowry's pushback to the media.

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

BREAKING: Kyle Lowry To Undergo Wrist Surgery. Expected To Return At The Playoffs

Well this sucks. According to the Raptors Media Relations' Twitter Page - 

Sooo yeah. This definitely puts the whole "Raptors getting the 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference back" thing a bit harder to accomplish. I don't have to explain how much of a huge blow this is to the Raptors. Lowry was the Raptors' leader in minutes played (as well as in the NBA, might I add). His scoring potential and established role for the Raptors is hard to replace. However, with the recent acquisitions of Ibaka and Tucker, as well as Cory Joseph stepping up in a big way since Lowry's absence (small sample size, I know), it shouldn't be viewed as if the Raptors are doomed. 

However, this will make the back-to-back games against Washington more of a problem, as Raptors fans were anticipating a Lowry return after tests showed no structural damage and a reduction in swelling. If players like Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell (#NormToTheFuture) can step up at the guard position, the Raptors should be alright.

If there is a silver lining, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the following - 

 If this should happen, it gives him an opportunity to play a handful of the remaining regular season games. 

Fingers crossed.

We See You, Isaiah.

I'm not one to immediately jump to the side of wherever my laundry is. I am a firm believer in objectivity when it comes to playing any sport. A call is a call, no matter who it's on. A foul is a foul, no matter who commits it. A flop is a flop (looking at you, LeBron James & Marcus Smart). Moreover, and what I want to focus on here, a hard and blatant foul is exactly that, no matter who commits it. This is especially important and something that I want everyone reading this to be aware of. To me, if a player on the Raptors, Celtics, Cavaliers, Warriors, Bulls, etc., commits a dumb, blatant, flagrant foul, to me, it's universally bullshit. Clear? Cool.

Friday night in the 2nd quarter of the Celtics/Raptors game, DeMar DeRozan committed a turnover on the Raptors' end of the floor. Isaiah Thomas got the ball and proceeded to drive down the court for a fast break, covered only by DeMarre Carroll. In the process, Carroll committed a hard and flagrant foul, pretty much pushing Thomas to the floor in what was clearly not a clean play. Moreover, the foul didn't appear to be one that was a simple "basketball hard foul," but from at least my point of view while watching it on my couch (arm-chair analytics at its finest here), it looked to have some aggression on the part of Carroll. I have no problem calling a spade a spade (do this with me, Celtics fans). Again, to reiterate, it doesn't matter if the player that committed this flagrant foul is wearing a Raptors jersey or not. There are better and perhaps safer ways to commit fouls to someone that's on a fast break. Call me reserved and/or too ethical here, but I just see no need for it. You can view the play here - 

Carroll's foul, however, isn't what I want to bring up. Although I mentioned this on the latest SOT6 podcast (which, by the way, I'm on iTunes! No, for real, I am! Subscribe! Just search for "South of the 6ix" on iTunes... cool), what I want to focus on here is what occurred after Carroll's foul. Now, fully acknowledging that there is really no justification for committing a dumb, blatant, flagrant foul (you're going to see this combination of words often here), there is also absolutely no goddamn reason to make a gun gesture with your hand in response to the individual that committed said flagrant foul on you. This is simply a demonstration of not only one's character, but of one's own arrogance and self-regard. You cannot convince me that gesturing your hand like a gun and pointing at a fellow athlete is appropriate or reasonable, even given a flagrant foul (remember that thing about calling a spade a spade, Celtics fans?). I guess in Thomas' mind, how dare DeMarre Carroll put his hands on Thomas in such an aggressive and blatant way! Obviously the most logical, reasonable, and coherent response in this type of situation is to point dick-finger guns at him, as if to suggest it's worthy of Carroll to be shot (again). Don't worry, Thomas. You can tweet all the eye-ball emojis you wish. It's appropriate, really. We now see you for what kind of person you really are. We see you.

In response to this, the NBA went on to investigate the gesture to see if there were grounds for a fine and/or suspension. So let's pause here for a second to recall a couple of times that the NBA have previously punished its players as a result of making certain gestures. In the 2015 pre-season, Gerald Green got nailed with a $25K fine for making a gun gesture towards... well, towards absolutely nobody in particular. Here - 

Maybe it's just me, but I think there's a clear difference in Green's gesture compared to Thomas', as the latter's was toward someone that has been shot before! But ok... I'll give Thomas the benefit of the doubt that he didn't know this about Carroll. He probably didn't. 

Further, earlier this season, Dwyane Wade was slapped with the same fine for making a throat-slashing gesture in his debut game with the Bulls against the Celtics. Here's the visual - 

Again, this gesture was directed towards absolutely nobody. Yet, in both instances, the NBA found it both necessary and within its right to fine the gestures as they were deemed inappropriate. Hell, it didn't even involve a gun! Fast-forward to the ruling of Thomas' gesture and...

I don't.... I just... what?!? OK, let's think about this for a minute. First off, how can any organization evaluate anyone's intention? This isn't something that can be put on display or really externalized here. Intent comes from within and the only person on the face of the planet that could possibly know what Isaiah Thomas' intent was is Isaiah Thomas. 

Secondly, compared to the aforementioned gestures that did get fined, I find it absolutely baffling that Thomas didn't receive, at the very least, the same fine. Consider how many flagrant fouls occur in the NBA in a season. Are we to suggest here that making such a gesture after a dumb, blatant, flagrant foul is acceptable simply because it was a dumb, blatant, flagrant foul? That makes absolutely zero sense. 

Again, I take absolutely no accountability away from Carroll. The foul was dumb and it definitely was not a basketball play. Yes, you read correctly: I do not excuse the actions of a player on my favorite basketball team. A novel concept, no? But by no means does this justify and/or excuse any player from making a gun gesture towards the player that committed the dumb, blatant, flagrant foul. If you think it does, then I'm sorry your logic and moral sensibility is beyond skewed.

Michael Grange of SportsNet.ca posted a writeup of the matter and expands on it better than I could. But you have to wonder how the NBA could possibly judge intent. I mean, how does such an investigation work?


NBA: Isaiah, did you intend to make a gun gesture with your fingers when you made the gun gesture with your fingers?

Thomas: No.

NBA: OK, works for us!


Regardless, as I alluded to earlier in this post, the response to the flagrant foul by Thomas says more about him than the act of the flagrant foul says about Carroll. This isn't some type of "I'M NOT GONNA TAKE THAT LYING DOWN!" response! This goes way beyond that. I'm all for standing up for yourself after a flagrant. Hell, you wouldn't even see this writeup if Thomas simply got up in Carroll's face after the dumb, blatant, flagrant foul. I'm all for standing up for yourself and reminding your opponent that you aren't one to be pushed around. Really, have a ball. But to make a gun gesture in response to a dumb, blatant, flagrant foul during a professional basketball game..... yeah, you're a special kind of idiot if you find that to be justified.

Don't give me this "stop being so sensitive!" bullshit response. This is a professional athlete, here. There's a certain level of accountability that is expected, as well as a certain level of professionalism to carry yourself like a normal human being. FOH with that! 

So yeah, Isaiah... keep tweeting out the emoji of eyes. Because we see you for what you are. 

I mean, if anything, this just makes me really want to see a Boston/Toronto playoff series even more. 

Drama.... am I right?!?

PJ Tucker Traded To The Raptors

Adrian Wojnarowski reported that PJ Tucker has been traded to the Toronto Raptors! For what, I'm not sure. More to come!

UPDATE 3:05 pm

The Raptors will send Jared Sullinger and two future 2nd Round Picks for Tucker. 

More to come...

UPDATE 3:18 pm

According to Wojnarowski, the Raptors will be trading their 2017 & 2018 2nd round picks to Phoenix. 

More to come...

UPDATE 4:38 pm

OK, now that I'm finally home, I am able to give a proper write up regarding the move that the Raptors made at the deadline (no need to rehash). 

First off, HUGE shoutout to Masai Ujiri for pulling this off. For what little the Raptors were able to trade to Phoenix compared to what was reportedly demanded in a trade for Tucker to three other teams, it's pretty remarkable. Consider the fact that the Raptors traded away two future 2nd Round Draft Picks (2017 & 2018) along with a player that, quite literally, had one good game with the Raptors against Boston. Just one. Also, let us not forget what the Raptors didn't give up; their other 1st Round Pick as well as any of their future talent, such as Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira, and Bruno Caboclo. When it comes down to it, the only two things of great value (at the present) that the Raptors traded away were Terrence Ross and the lesser of their two 1st Round Picks for Serge Ibaka. Seeing as though that's a different deal, entirely, it's pretty hard for me to find reasons to not like the Tucker trade and not not have complete confidence in the Raptors' ability to attain the 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference again. Gee-Zuss!

Now, I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't at least talk about the kind of player the Raptors are getting in Tucker. The main thing to keep in mind is: Defense. Defense. Defense! Tucker is a 6'6" 31 year-old small forward/shooting guard that's able to defend at the 3 and 4 spots. What makes Tucker valuable for the Raptors, however, is his aggressiveness and toughness against the bigger guards that are inclined to drive in the lane. With his primary role to serve as the backup to DeMarre Carroll, his numbers are satisfying. This year with the Suns, he's played 57 games, averaging 28.5 minutes primarily off the bench, 2.6 buckets a game with a FG% of 41.6% on the floor, and shooting 33.8% from deep. Not incredible at standalone value, but to have as insurance for Carroll and/or to alleviate the pressure on the rookies who, for the most part, aren't tested or ready in big-game situations, it fits the need that the Raptors have. Lastly, and not be overlooked (my friend, Jimmy, pointed this out), let's not ignore Tucker's shoe-game. Straight fire! This was by no means a splashy trade, whatsoever. However, I do believe (call it a hunch) that the reason it took to the very last minute of the 3PM deadline was because the Raptors wanted to see what Boston was doing, if anything. Which leads me to...

The Celtics did absolutely jack-shit! 

So, remember when Isaiah Thomas tweeted out this - 

And ALL these Green-Teamers went absolutely ape-shit, assuming that it meant the Celtics were ready to make a big splashy deal? Yeah, about that.

First of all, the reason these people went nuts over a simple emoji is because Thomas tweeted the same thing out right before the Celtics signed Al Horford. Therefore, according to those that just assume things, the Celtics were about to do something similar - as if the GM keeps in constant contact with his players as to what he's about to do (yeah, ok!). 

Moreover, I suppose Andre Drummond was in the trolling mood because, not too long after Thomas tweeted that out, Drummond tweeted the exact same thing - 

So, ya know, obviously it means that they're both heavily involved in their respective GM's jobs and know exactly what they're doing and when they're doing it. YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP!

On a more serious note, there's no way of knowing if there legitimately was anything in the works between the Celtics and Pistons regarding Drummond. Honestly, this type of information is rarely let out. Not to mention, Thomas did a little bit of back-tracking as to the "real" meaning of his tweet. Which.... sure. But as I mentioned in last weekend's pod, if the past is any indicator of the future, the Celtics weren't going to move the Brooklyn pick that they have for 2017 (and 2018), and for any of the players they were looking to attain, chances are they weren't going to give up what was needed to supplement the pick. Whether it was Paul George, Jimmy Butler, or Andre Drummond, the Celtics would have to give up a considerable amount. Being from the area and being surrounded by New England sports news, there was just no way Danny Ainge was going to pull that trigger. 

Thus, with the Celtics standing pat, they obviously didn't get any better, while the Raptors obviously did. Whether or not the Raptors improved enough to overtake the 2nd place spot in the Eastern Conference has yet to be seen. But with the inclusion of Ibaka and Tucker, it's hard to not be encouraged. Of course, "on-paper" doesn't mean jack shit. The players have to go out and play to the ability that I'm confident that they can. 

It's important to be reminded to not expect All-Star like results immediately from Ibaka and/or Tucker (or really at all). It takes time to adjust and to be familiarized with the playbook, as well as time to get familiar with their new teammates. Losing tomorrow night against Boston isn't a huge deal, so try not to overreact if they do. However, with Patterson reportedly set to return, and the fact the game is on primetime on ESPN, the stars seemed to be aligned to make this for an exciting game to watch. 

The biggest takeaway is that this may be the best all-around Raptors team in franchise history. Enjoy it!

 

Raptors Trade For Serge Ibaka

Rather than continuously add to the previous post, I figured that I'd just make a new one.

As per Adiran Wojnarowski, who broke the news - 

 

Yessir! The Toronto Raptors have traded Terrence Ross and the lesser of the two 1st Round Picks that they possess(ed) to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka has been on the Raptors' radar since the summer at the draft. In fact, reports indicate that the Thunder wanted Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson, and the 9th overall pick in exchange for Ibaka before dealing him to Orlando. When seeing how little in comparison it cost the Raptors to land the same player, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that patience has paid off.

I suppose since late last week and into the weekend, we should have seen this coming. When there's smoke, there is indeed fire. The trade rumo... sorry, rumour mill has been spinning, suggesting that the Raptors are actively pursuing a power forward to help boost the team out of the slump that they currently find themselves in. From DeMar DeRozan stating to the media that he "wouldn't mind help," to Kyle Lowry openly stating to the media that "something needs to change," the writing was on the wall that Masai Ujiri had to make a deal in order to get the Raptors back on track. 

In so many ways, this improves the Raptors on both ends of the floor. For starters, this allows Patrick Patterson to come off the bench, a role in which he has thrived in, specifically in the playoffs last year. Although our best defender, and arguably third most important player up to this point, Patterson is no team's starting power forward, in a perfect world. That is not at all a knock on him or his abilities. But to rely on Patterson to play that starting stretch-four role is a bit too much to ask for.

This is also makes our defense a bit more solid, as Ibaka can space out the floor much better than Patterson, and is an excellent rim defender. Picture Bismack Biyombo, but times 10. At just 27 years old (on paper....) and standing 6'10", Ibaka fills the glaring holes that the Raptors had all season. This much improves their rebounding (specifically on the defensive end), and he can mirror the role Patterson plays, acting as a stretch-four as Ibaka is able to hit the trey. While playing for the Magic this year - a team that includes Biyombo and Nikola Vučević, Ibaka played 30.5 minutes a game, averaging 15.1 points and shooting 49% from the field and 38% from deep, 6.8 boards, 1.6 blocks ("get that gahbage outta here!"....sorry... I'll just.... sorry.), and 1.1 dimes. When looking at numbers like this, and while knowing how clusterfucked the Magic were (and still are), this is extremely encouraging. Oh, and let's not forget that Ibaka has played in 89 postseason games! EIGHTY-FUCKING-NINE!

Although losing Ross means losing a bench piece that acts as a deep threat, the positive side is that this should allow Norman Powell to see the floor more and continue to develop. We've seen what it's like when Norm plays limited minutes and goes into crucial situations unprepared. It's..... it's just not pretty. But now with Ross gone, Powell should be able to expand his role a bit more and continue to flourish into, what looks to be, a big part of the Raptors' future.

Lastly, and this isn't something that should be overlooked, this should definitely boost the morale of the locker-room. With the clear dissatisfaction that I mentioned earlier that DeRozan and Lowry exhibited, Ujiri most certainly delivered for his team. It's a sign that he listens to his players and will do what it takes to make a push to go over Cleveland, even if it means acquiring a rental piece. Well done, Masai!

It shouldn't be overlooked how much of a class act Ross was regarding his departure, as shown by his tweet - 

 

Thank you, Terrence Ross. You were fun to watch and I hope you can strive and excel in Orlando. You handled this with class and poise. Best of luck.

Happy Valentines day. Share this love. Hopefully they can carry this momentum with a victory over Chicago (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!). I hear a certain Raptors killer isn't playing.  However, it should be noted that Ibaka most likely won't play tonight in Chicago, and perhaps even tomorrow. We should receive confirmation soon.

 

 

BREAKING: Serge Ibaka To The Raptors!

ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE!

It is said that only Terrence Ross and a 2017 1st Round Pick will be heading to Orlando. It is currently unknown which 1st Round Pick it is.

BUT FUCK YES! The Raptors get their power forward!

More in a bit!

UPDATE: 11:42am

The 1st Round Pick going to Orlando is the lesser of the two that the Raptors possess for 2017. This is a HUGE win for the Raptors.

Raptors still possess another 1st of their own for 2017. You have to imagine that there's a very good chance Ujiri is able to extend Ibaka this summer when he becomes an UFA. Also, with Ross gone, we should expect an uptick in Norman Powell's minutes (aka #NormToTheFuture)!

More in a bit again!

Defense and Scheming - What Went Wrong Against Minnesota

There's a legit blizzard going down in Rhode Island right now (where I live) so I didn't go to the office today. With an expected 10"-18" inches throughout the course of the day, I have had plenty of time to try and analyze what went wrong during last night's game against the Timberwolves. Let's get into it.

I really hate it when fans of a given team feel the need to put 100% of the blame on the coach or manager when they lose. This is simply because the vast majority of the time, the head coach or manager isn't the one responsible for the A) misplays during the game that shift momentum, B) lack of energy by the players, or C) fuck ups. Almost every time, the players hold the destiny of the team in their hands and will either make or break a game. Again, this is most of the time.

The main reason I hate this type of scapegoat reasoning is, besides the fact that it's not true most of the time, and besides it being a complete lack of investigation into where the players may have done one of the following three things I listed above, it's because it's so easy to blame the person that fans assume is ultimately and, moreover, completely in charge of the outcome. Something bad happened on the court? Fire the coach! A team gets blown out by a team like the Warriors or the Cavaliers? Fire the coach! There's absolutely no thought, no strategy, no investigation as to why a fan's favorite sports team got rocked, no. Just, fire the coach! To me, it's a hasty conclusion to a problem that is fairly complex. Again, this is most of the time.

Last night, on the other hand, the Raptors suffered an inexcusable loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in what should have otherwise been an easy victory. For the first half of the game, the Raptors looked to have found their rhythm and sort of re-gelled together as a team with DeRozan sliding back into the rotation for the second game since his injury. During that half, it was reasonable to conclude that the reason for the Raptors previous struggles was twofold - 1) DeRozan was injured, and 2) they simply weren't playing defense. Although there was a lot to be encouraged with during the first half of last night's game, the Raptors still looked like they were dragging ass on defense and got a bit too comfortable with their offensive production. But, yet again, the Raptors got shut down in the fourth quarter after looking like they had this game in the bag. But it wasn't only because the team didn't wake up on defense.

Again, I hate to do this, I really do, but the loss of last night's game is on Dwane Casey in large part. The Raptors were up after every quarter of the game until the very end. Jonas Valanciunas, who may have had his best game in recent memory, was able to get 16 points, 5 boards, shooting 7/7 in the field, and going 2/2 at the line. Yet, only played 26 minutes on the court. This is because of the way Casey schemed the matchups during the game. When the Timberwolves went small - Casey reciprocated. When the Timberwolves went big - Casey reciprocated. Why? For the life of me, I can't understand why Casey felt the need to equivocate the matchups. I don't want to imply that JV was dominating, but he was playing well enough to earn a much bigger chunk in the 4th than he did. With JV off the court, it was left up to Lucas Nogueira, who committed 4 personal fouls and surrendered much of the Timberwolves' offense down the stretch to Karl-Anthony Towns who pretty much took him to school. For the life of me, I can't understand why Casey felt compelled to put in Norman Powell for Terrence Ross in the 4th - who didn't play a single minute prior - to play the PF position and was clearly flustered and unprepared. If it's because Ross was also struggling on defense, then I can understand why; Powell, normally, plays more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball than Ross. But at least Ross was giving the Raptors some offensive production. 

It's not all on Casey, though. As I alluded to earlier, the Raptors relied too much on their offense last night, which may have caused them to get lazy on defense. The defense needs to step up and needs to start shutting teams down. Casey can't keep throwing shit to the walls to see what sticks. 

The Raptors should have walked away from this one with a victory, especially against a team that has both struggled to close games and has one of the worst benches in the league in terms of production. It's inexcusable. I absolutely hate using clichés, but Casey seemed to coach this game to avoid a loss, rather than to win it. When something isn't broke and is working, simply do not fuck with it

Having said that, I'm not comfortable enough to say that the Raptors have an upcoming game that they should win against Detroit. When it comes to this team and their lack of defense, it's hard to tell which teams they should be beating at this point. Fingers crossed, I guess.

Lowry, The Dip, and The Resurgence

OK, so much shit has gone down, so I'll try to unpack it as best as possible. The way that I see it, since the Orlando game on January 29th, the Raptors have seen three phases; albeit the third and most recent phase being quite new and brief. Since then, there have been six games that have really shifted the way this team is viewed, and perhaps that's a bit unfair when you look at the big picture. This entry may be a bit longer than I'd actually like it to be, but with so much that has transpired, I feel I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't mention what I feel to be important. Some of this may not be chronological, but it should all tie together in the end. So let's dive right in.

Kyle Lowry has been nothing short of phenomenal. There's really no other way to describe the effort he has been putting in, night in and night out. From becoming the sole leader during DeRozan's absence, to carrying the team in high pressure situations, to playing the past two games with the flu, you'd be naive to doubt the man's character and competitiveness. First thing's first - 

  • 3 Point Contest: With Stephen Curry bowing out of the 3-Point Contest during the All-Star festivities, Lowry has been selected (and has accepted) to compete in his stead, joining Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon, Kyrie Irving, C.J. McCollum, Kemba Walker, Wesley Matthews, and Nick Young. This is the second year in a row that Lowry has elected to participate in the contest, and looks to rebound off last year's performance. Although there are people that think it may be best for Lowry to skip the contest altogether and get some much needed rest (more on this in a bit), I think that any time the Raptors have an opportunity to be represented in any fashion, it should be taken advantage of. There's no reason to doubt that Lowry will be competitive, but there's also this understanding that practically everything that takes place during the festivities are for fun, leaving the level of physical exertion you'd see during an actual game at the door. I don't see this taxing him enough for it to be a concern. I mean, c'mon; we all know that if Isaiah Thomas was chosen instead of Lowry, we'd consider it unfair and biased. Let's just enjoy it. Lowry has been clutch from deep when it has counted this year. Which leads me to...

 

 

  • On His Back: Since DeMar DeRozan had to miss 4 games with an ankle injury, the offense has relied heavily on Lowry's back. During those 4 games, Lowry would practically be the most reliable scorer on the team, shooting 45% and logging in heavy minutes ( 44:51, 37:54, 42:12, & 39:12) during that span. You have to wonder if this type of volume on the court will be detrimental to Lowry when the Raptors will rely on him the most - in the playoffs. 

Right now it's a bit early to worry about seeding and trying to figure out which team the Raptors are most likely to face in the playoffs. With 30 games left to play, I don't really have much doubt that they'll climb out of the hole that they've dug themselves in and reclaim the 2nd spot in the East. Regardless of where the Raptors seed, though, it will be almost impossible to make it out of the first round with a gassed Lowry. I mean, last year they had a difficult time getting out of the first round series against Indiana, and this was with a more fit Lowry than we had previously seen. 

Regardless of winning only 2 out of 4 during DeRozan's absence, Lowry stepped in up in key situations, specifically during the Celtics loss. Look, I can't stand them either, and I live there. But Lowry did everything he could to win that game for the Raptors, basically going shot-for-shot with Isaiah Thomas in the 4th; finishing the game with 32 points. Most the blame for the loss was a result of piss-poor defense and complete lack of control with the ball, coughing up 15 turnovers and basically allowing IT to have his way with them. Yet, even though that was a bitter pill to swallow, Lowry made it clear that he'll put the team on his back whenever the situation calls for it. 

The dip in the standings and in performance needs to be addressed. The Raptors have struggled mightily over the course of the past six games (Orl, N.O, @Bos, @Orl, @Bkn, & LAC). Granted, the dip in production on the court largely has to due with the absence of both DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, it can't be denied that the Raptors still should have been able to win at least 4 of those six instead of 3 (it does make a difference considering the teams). There is absolutely no excuse to lose two in a row against Orlando, especially one of which being played on the Raptors' home court. There's no real excuse why the Raptors had to go to overtime against a team like New Orleans, while holding Anthony Davis to 18 points on the first of a back-to-back. I can grant the Celtics loss based on the night before, but to allow them to come back from an 18 point deficit in the 4th quarter is embarrassing. The biggest "well then!" moment was when Dwane Casey practically benched Cory Joseph in favor of Fred VanVleet as the back up point-guard for Kyle Lowry. This was largely due to Joseph's complete lack of defense during the stretch of games, and his inability to create any offense. VanVleet played extremely well in Joseph's stead, but we can't simply rely on an undrafted rookie to fill this position in the long-term. 

However, there were some bright spots. If there's one thing that we can be encouraged with, it's Norman Powell's performance and his ability to slide into the 2-spot if anything serious should happen to DeRozan. Right now, for me, any potential trade that the Raptors make should not involve Powell unless it's a legitimate game changer (say, Millsap plus and extension. Anything less is a hard no). During DeRozan's absence, #NormToTheFuture (still making this a thing) shot 52% from the field and averaged approximately 36 minutes on the court. His offensive efficiency has been encouraging, as well as his defensive capabilities in high pressure situations. I truly believe that Powell could be a piece that the Raptors could build around once the Lowry and DeRozan era comes to a close. The one thing, however, that he needs to work on is how he finishes after driving into the lane. Powell has the ability to create space and drive to the rim, yet can't seem to finish with the soft buckets once he gets into the paint. If he's able to fix that, expect his production to rise. He's earned the right to play more than just a handful of minutes a game. Trust the Future.

Lastly, if we are to be further encouraged, we need to look no further than the most recent game against the Clippers. DeRozan returned and you could clearly see that the flow of the game was much improved. Now, knowing off the top that the Clippers played without Chris Paul who's dealing with an injury of his own, having DeRozan rest the previous 4 games to get right will benefit the Raptors in the long-term. The ball movement was much improved, turning over the ball a total of 9 times throughout the entire game (compared to 11 against the Magic in their most recent outing, and 15 against the Celtics). Valanciunas was able to keep Blake Griffin at bay, while shooting 9/13 in the field, and grabbing 12 boards. Hopefully he has ditched the unconvincing pump fake that he seems to do whenever he receives the ball at the top of the paint, and continues to simply shoot it and stay in rhythm.

DeRozan also looked like he never missed a beat, shooting 11/22 in the field, nailing two (yes two) treys and logging 38 minutes. With a minute count that high on his first game back from an injury, there's little reason to doubt that DeRozan is now healthy and able to play at a high level. Assuming this, the Raptors should have no issue climbing back into the two-spot in the East. It's reasonable to believe that the Celtics won't continue to play at this level and will regress back to the mean. I still believe that, as they stand, the Raptors are a better team and will be able to perform as such down the stretch.

So if you're still in panic-mode, don't be. The Clippers game was very encouraging because the Raptors played as a complete unit with cohesion. I don't necessarily count the Brooklyn game because A) it was a 12:00p.m. start time game, which almost never happens, and B) it's Brooklyn. I consider Clippers to have been the "get-right" game that they needed to break out of this slump. Now with Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago looming (only the Detroit game to be played in Toronto), the Raptors need to carry this momentum and gain some ground in the East.

Just be patient. 

 

 

Keys To Tonight's Game Against The Celtics

The Raptors travel to my neck of the woods to face the Celtics in what (I hope) should be an extremely competitive game. With the Raptors trailing the Celtics by just a half-game for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, it should not be understated how important this game is in terms of momentum. So with that, here are - what I believe to be - the keys to tonight's game.

i. In Lowry We Trust: Kyle Lowry put on an outstanding performance in last night's game against the Pelicans. Aside from showing great leadership and at times complete selflessness on the court (more on this later), he drove the dagger with a game winning shot that no one thought would go in. Playing approximately 45 minutes, he was 11/21 in the field, 6/14 from deep, 5/7 from the line, and was a +9 for the game. Although the minutes have been much higher than we're probably comfortable with when it comes to Lowry, without DeRozan sharing the back-court, along with Cory Joseph not playing very well at all (understatement, I know), his playing time is simply a necessity if the Raptors want to win games. Lowry needs to show these same leadership qualities tonight in Boston if the Raptors stand a chance.

ii. Defens... sorry, Defence: The Raptors really need to step up their defense if they want to start winning ball games consistently, let alone tonight. Beside the fact that the Celtics seem to be on a tear, the lack of defense and complete reliance on their offense is really exposing the Raptors. Tonight, the Raptors must hustle and get back from transition much sharper. Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford have been destroying teams as of late. However, if JV can put up a performance much like he did last night against Anthony Davis, and perhaps have Powell cover IT for the better part of the game, the Raptors should do enough to disrupt the Celtics and get the W. And speaking of Powell...

iii. #NormToTheFuture: That's right, I'm making this a fucking thing. Hate on it if you must, but it's a thing, goddamnit! Norman Powell is the future of the Raptors. That part where I mentioned Lowry's selflessness earlier? Yeah, even he kept feeding the ball to Powell. I'M SAYIN'!

With the absence of DeRozan, Norman Powell has shown that he has more than earned far more than 9 minutes on the floor. Although he can get a little bottled up when driving in the lane, there's no question that Norm has the right amount of aggressiveness to completely shift the momentum (as shown last night). He has simply fearless. I mean, have you seen THIS?!

Just fucking unreal. Having said that, though, Norm's vision needs to expand a little bit, as it is becoming increasingly obvious that he plans on driving to the lane and attacking defenders. If he can collapse the opposing defense and kick the ball out to one of Ross, Patterson, or Lowry, the Raptors will have a better opportunity to hit shots from deep. That and, well, Norm seems to be allergic to layups lately.... yyyeeaaaahhhh.....

iv: Get Big, JV: Jonas Valanciunas proved that he can matchup with Anthony Davis on both ends of the court. He played with aggression and was a key contributor for the Raptors' victory last night over the Pelicans. He's going to have to harness that same energy tonight against Al Horford and play equally as aggressive. I understand that the Casey still wants to keep giving Lucas Nogueira minutes to give him that experience, but with a game as important as this against the Celtics, Jonas should be in for a big night. 

v. Short Leashes: As mentioned, Cory Joseph has been less than stellar lately, especially on defense. Add Terrence Ross to that list, too. The bench really needs to step up with DeRozan side-lined, allowing Lowry the opportunity to rest his body given all the minutes he's been logging. If CoJo can just stick to his defender and not be so "all over the place," while at the same time Ross being able to put up those shots from deep, it will serve the Celtics well while the starters in their lineups take some time to rest. This is critical.

So that's all I got. Living in New England and having these fucking Green Teamers everywhere, sticking their noses up to the Raptors (who THEY HAVEN'T EVEN BEATEN YET THIS SEASON!), I would REALLY love to see the Raptors take this one. ESPECIALLY without DeRozan. 

Plus, c'mon... get Dwane Casey the opportunity to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars. 

DeMar To Miss The Next Two Games... Again

I mean, tell me if you've heard (read?) this before.

As per Sportsnet's tweet -

Look, I can understand and appreciate not risking the health of one of your best players for the longterm. Quite frankly, the Raptors should be able to beat the Pelicans tonight without DeRozan, even if he wasn't hurt and Casey just decided to rest him because of the back-to-back. However, it's more of what is at stake here in terms of the standings and the lack of energy on the floor. Granted, it's still only January, if only for one more day, and the season is a little over half way through; there's plenty of games to play. Yet, with the fucking Celtics gaining momentum via Isaiah Thomas, and with the Raptors traveling to Boston tomorrow on a back-to-back without DeRozan, this is just terrible timing. 

If you're reading this and saying to your screen, "Sure, but this won't make or break their playoff hopes, and the Raptors can afford to lose one to Boston. No big deal." I get you, but I disagree to some extent. Yes, losing the next two games probably won't make or break the Raptors playoff hopes and it's very likely that come the end of the season, the Raptors will finish number two in the Eastern Conference. This is all reasonably true. However, I do think that should the Raptors lose tonight to New Orleans, and subsequently lose to the Celtics tomorrow, that's just a hole that would be difficult to climb out of.

Let's not forget, the Pelicans haven't been playing as terribly as we'd expect them to lately. They're 5 of their last 10, which includes victories over the Cavaliers, the Spurs, and yes, the Magic - ya know, that team that the Raptors just coughed up a very winnable game to. Obviously, we can't simply deduce that since the Pelicans beat the Magic, and the Raptors just lost to the Magic, therefore the Raptors will lose to the Pelicans. That's just silly and stupid logic. However, the Raptors are 4 of their last 10, which includes losses to not just the Magic, but the 76ers, the Hornets, and the Suns in games that we would think they should just take. It's cause for concern, for sure (NOT panic...yet). What I'm getting at here is, without a healthy DeRozan coupled with the recent struggles the Raptors are having (I don't want to say they're playing like dog shit but....... yeah, they're playing like dog shit), it's hard to feel confident in the Raptors chances to turn this around. 

Do I think it can be done? Of course, and like I said, tonight's game should be treated as a "righting the ship" game to get their asses back in gear. But I suppose, based on how poorly the Raptors have been performing, we should temper our expectations a bit.

But goddamnit! Of all games for DeRozan to miss, he's missing one against the fucking Celtics! Shit's weak.