No. 1: Key stretch begins for Raptors -- A season filled with hopes of a long playoff run and, perhaps, a first Finals berth is still on the table for the Toronto Raptors. But the loss of Kyle Lowry to wrist surgery (that he will hopefully recover from in time for the playoffs) plus a five-game road swing that begins tonight in Washington (7 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS) is raising some angst in Toronto. Frank Zicarelli of The Toronto Sun has more on what a road trip that could shape the Raptors' lofty hopes:
To say it’s bounce-back time for the Raptors would be stating the obvious — the team is about to begin a long road trip with a tip against the Wizards that carries the all-important tiebreaker.
By the time the Raptors return home, they can slide, conceivably, to the sixth seed in the East or, if they can somehow regain their form in Lowry’s absence, rise as high as the No. 2 seed.
All of a sudden, the Raptors’ red-hot start to the season has become a distant memory, talk of a historic offence — which was completely overblown and quite frankly ridiculous — is no longer in anyone’s mouth.
They managed to survive playing without Lowry because Toronto found a way to execute on both ends of the floor, stepping up in crunch time and overcoming double-digit deficits, sparked by DeMar DeRozan’s offence.
“We have to move the ball more and trust each other more,” said DeMarre Carroll, who missed all three of his looks from the field on a night when the veteran small forward was held to zero points.
Being more active on defence, swinging the ball on offence, setting harder screens — there’s so much on Toronto’s plate that needs to ironed out, an attention to detail that must be exercised Friday night for the Raptors to have any chance of pulling off the upset.
It’s almost as if the Raptors were living dangerously in falling behind Charlotte, Boston, Portland and New York, only to step up in key moments and be sparked by DeRozan in big-time moments when a bucket was required.
The team’s floor general will be with the team on its trip, but all he can do is offer moral support from the bench.
Carroll has gotten fewer touches in Lowry’s absence, but it’s the bench that needs an infusion. Lowry’s presence on the floor had a huge impact on the second unit.
And now that he’s unavailable, Toronto can’t rely on DeRozan pouring in 40 points.
Defensively, the Raptors need to be more locked in, force stops and get out in transition for potentially easier baskets.
“How we’re going to win these games is on the defensive end with Kyle being out,” Carroll said.
A win Wednesday and Toronto would have clinched the tiebreaker. They are now in a position where they have to go into Washington and win.
“I thought we had played lights out in the New York game,” said Casey, whose team came back from a 17-point hole against the host Knicks. “The Portland game, Boston game, all those games when we played with a tremendous amount of speed. We didn’t last night (Wednesday). It looked like we were playing in mud on both ends of the floor.”
The Raptors have now been given a moment to make amends and how they react Friday may go a long way in determining the balance of the season.
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No. 2: Rose sounds off about transition to triangle -- Earlier this week, news came from the New York Knicks that they will be instituting the triangle offense the rest of the season. They're making this change to pretty much determine who stays and who goes on their roster. That two-fold plan hasn't been met with the warmest of receptions and point guard Derrick Rose, a free agent this summer, chimed in on it after practice Thursday. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more:
Derrick Rose has a philosophy now with the triangle, a system still like a foreign language to the point guard: “Don’t F’ it up.”
That’s how Rose explained it Thursday in a wide-ranging media session Thursday, when the pending free agent opened up about his inner conflict with the triangle and his confidence issues regarding 3-pointers.
And let’s just say, Rose remains reluctant in his embrace of Phil Jackson’s system.
“S--t, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice?” Rose said when asked if he’s warming up to the triangle. “I just want to win games. Winning takes care of every category for an athlete.”
There’s a lot to soak in for Rose as the Knicks re-embrace the triangle. And there’s also a 3-point shot to practice that Rose has hesitated to unleash in games, for conflicting reasons. On one hand, Rose said Thursday he’s confident in his greatness. On the other hand, he said he doesn’t want to shoot 3-pointers out of fear for criticism.
“I could shoot them now, I just don’t want to,” he said. “I don’t have time to be dealing with the critics that come with all that. So I’d rather be efficient than just try things.”
Jeff Hornacek has encouraged Rose to take the open 3-pointers, if only to keep the opposition honest. Rose is so good at getting to the rim and finishing, he’s capable of scoring even when the defense knows what’s coming. But adding a 3-pointer would make Rose difficult to guard and space the floor. It also would help his free-agent value.
“He shoots them pretty well in practice. Sometimes he just needs to make sure to get the arc on them to give them a better chance of going in. If he can do that, that’s where I think the real pressure from point guards in this league come,” Hornacek said. “Derrick can get to the basket at will. So they play behind and clog the lane. If he can knock down those 3s, what’s a team going to do? Then it makes him more effective.
“He knows with his speed and his quickness, he can get to the basket,” the coach added. “And that’s where he’s really good. So he kind of relies on that. But there’s no reason he can’t mix it up a little bit and get a couple more of those in.”
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No. 3: Fizdale: Parsons feels like he's letting team, city down -- Chandler Parsons received one of the bigger free-agent paydays last summer, inking a four-year deal worth more than $94 million. Yet Parsons has been plagued by injuries all season, appearing in just 30 of Memphis' 61 games this season. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, though, isn't hearing that as he defended his player to some critics of the team's front office on Thursday. Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com has more:
Parsons, 28, is having the least productive season of his six-year career, averaging just 6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 34.2 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from three-point range. He’s played in 30 games and has averaged 19.5 minutes a night in his first full season back from a second knee surgery he underwent last March while with the Dallas Mavericks.
Parsons has voiced his disappointment with his performance throughout the season as he’s battled to regain his rhythm while also coping with a program designed to manage his minutes and incrementally build his workload. He’s remained the Grizzlies’ regular starting small forward, although he has been limited to about 25 minutes and rarely plays in the fourth quarter.
“I told you guys, my lens is different than everyone else’s,” Fizdale said before the team departed for Friday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. “I’d like to see some of these people come off some of the injuries he’s had and try to come out and play in an NBA game, and do it well. It’s difficult. So, I’m going to keep showing extreme confidence in him. I understand that it’s a real slow process. I’m happy that I have him for the minutes that I have him. We’re just going to keep working towards his rhythm.”
Parsons was ultimately signed to supplement the Grizzlies’ primary offensive threats as a reliable fourth option. But with 21 games remaining in the regular season, the hope is he’s not a work in regress despite carrying a plus-minus ratio of minus-7 in Memphis’ three games since the All-Star break. The Grizzlies (36-25) were one of four teams separated by 1 ½ games entering Thursday night for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, which guarantees home-court average in the first round.
“Maybe it will help (critics/fans) to know that nobody on our team works harder than him,” Fizdale said of Parsons. “He’s in here every day, all night, either getting treatment, lifting, shooting. My coaches with families are staying in here late at night with him, because he carries that weight heavier than anybody.”
Fizdale also hopes skeptics cut Parsons a break on social media, where he routinely engages followers with random Q&A sessions and is the source of backlash for sharing insight into his private life.
“They use it against him when they’re not playing well,” Fizdale said of Parsons’ critics. “‘Well, you shouldn’t be on there when you’re not playing well.’ When you’re playing well, you can get on there and tweet and everything else? So, I don’t get caught up in everything else.”
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No. 4: Lue's to do list for Williams, Bogut -- One-time 2005 Draft lottery picks and former Dallas Mavericks teammates Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut are both officially Cleveland Cavaliers. After Bogut was added yesterday and Williams a few days before that, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has about a month or so to get both players ready and as in the mix as possible for the 2017 playoffs, writes Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal:
After being dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline, Bogut reached a buyout agreement with the 76ers Monday and was waived. He cleared waivers Wednesday and committed to signing with the Cavs after talking to the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
The Rockets had over $3 mllion in salary cap space available to offer Bogut, but he chose a chance to win another title with LeBron James and the Cavs, who defeated his Warriors in The Finals in 2016. Wtih the Cavs, Bogut will earn about $390,000 for the remainder of the season.
In his 12th year in the league, Bogut averaged averaged three points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists, while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from the free throw line in 26 games this season. He has pulled down double-digit rebounds in 10 games. His career averages are 10 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while hitting 53.4 percent of his field goals and 55.6 percent of his free throws.
Griffin waited out a similar situation with backup point guard Deron Williams, whom they signed Monday. Williams, a teammate of Bogut's in Dallas, received a buyout from the Mavs and joined the Cavs after clearing waivers. He made his debut in Wednesday night's loss to the Boston Celtics in TD Garden.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue knows it will take time to acclimate Williams and Bogut to the system.
"We welcome guys here, when guys come in we try to make guys fit in," Lue said at shootaround Wednesday. "When (Kyle) Korver first got here, we turned down a lot of shots, we didn’t do the things we were accustomed to doing because we were trying to get him integrated, make him feel comfortable. Once he realized what we do and how we do things and we understood what he liked, I think it was a great fit for us.
"It’s going to be the same for D-Will early, it’s going to be the same for Bogut. But once we all get together and get on the right page, we’ll be a tough team to beat."
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Milwaukee Bucks will reportedly be signing Terrence Jones for the rest of the season ... The "good" Chicago Bulls showed up in last night's upset of the Golden State Warriors ... Can the Utah Jazz capitalize on a stretch of soft games on their schedule? ... The Boston Celtics want to lighten some of Isaiah Thomas' offensive burden if at all possible ... Great read on Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis and his Basketball Hall of Fame father, Arvydas ... Thunder coach Billy Donovan isn't worried about Victor Oladipo's back issues ... Defensive play has helped rookie Taurean Prince crack the Atlanta Hawks rotation ...