Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

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No. 2: Beverley fine with playing the villain — Houston point guard and professional agitator Patrick Beverley has no problem playing the villain in his matchup with reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry. In a bottom line business, Beverley cares only about doing his job, and that’s making things as uncomfortable as possible for Curry (as he tried to do in the blowout loss in Game 1). As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports, Beverley is completely unfazed by the hype surrounding his altercation with Curry, who is listed as questionable with a sore ankle for Game 2 tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT):

Rockets guard Pat Beverley became the center of attention for his brief altercation with Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Booed throughout the rest of the game, Beverley said he was unconcerned with the reaction of fans or attention on his matchup with the league’s MVP.

“I don’t care about that (stuff), man,” Beverley said. “I come out here to play basketball, man. I’m not out here trying to make it about Pat. It’s about the Houston Rockets, trying to steal a game.”

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No. 3: Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy — As far as tactics go, the Hack-a-DeAndre (Jordan) technique has a proven track record of results for the team employing that strategy. Portland coach Terry Stotts did it in his team’s Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, but its not necessarily his preferred way to handle things. Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com explains:

If Portland Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts wants some sort of rule change in regard to fouling poor free-throw shooters, he furthered his cause here Sunday night.

The Trail Blazers fouled the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan intentionally a few times in the first half and third quarter when the game was reasonably close, but later on, when the issue was all but decided and the Clippers were holding a lead between 17 and 20 points, Stotts had his players foul Jordan incessantly. Jordan ended up shooting 18 free throws, making eight, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

I’ve always been against any rule change instituted because a player can’t make a free throw. Let the player and his coach worry about that. But there’s a mounting chorus within the league — from Commissioner Adam Silver on down — lobbying for a rule change that would make it a stiffer penalty for intentional fouls. And I’m guessing those people love games like this they can use as examples of what it does to the spectator experience.

Afterward, Stotts said, “Well when you’re down and you have an opportunity to extend the game, it’s the playoffs. As long as he’s in there, it’s something you have to employ. I know it’s not necessarily pretty but you’ve got to do whatever you can to try to extend the game and win a game.”

Clipper Coach Doc Rivers did a little fouling of his own, too. He had his players foul Portland’s Ed Davis a few times. And Rivers, I believe, keeps Jordan in games to absorb the fouls because he wants a rule change that seems more inevitable with every foul-shooting circus like this one. It would certainly seem beneficial with a big lead late, just to remove Jordan. But Rivers seldom does that.

“Everyone does it,” Rivers said of the late fouls. “I guess it’s better to do it when you’re ahead than behind. That’s actually been proven. But when you’re down, you might as well, so I don’t see any problem with it.”

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No. 4: The graduation of Dion Waiters — For all of the time he’s spent as a lighting rod, both in Cleveland and now in Oklahoma City, Dion Waiters has evolved into something much more. The Thunder reserve swingman has graduated to the next level of his career playing alongside Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Our very own Lang Whitaker caught up with Waiters in advance of tonight’s Game 2 matchup between the Thunder and Dallas Mavericks (8 p.m. ET, TNT):

Fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters is averaging the fewest points per game (9.8 ppg) of his career. Waiters is also probably playing the best overall basketball of his career. It speaks to Waiters’ continuing basketball education that he realizes the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

As the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Waiters joined a rebuilding Cavaliers team with plenty of shots to go around. But as part of Cleveland’s rebuild following the return of LeBron James, Waiters was traded to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder just missed the postseason last year while Kevin Durant was out injured.

This season, things finally fell into place for the Thunder and Waiters, as he played in 78 games for the 55-27 Thunder. Waiters made his playoff debut last night in the Thunder’s 108-70 win over the Mavericks. Waiters chalks up his 1-of-9 shooting game to being overexcited. But it’s worth noting, Waiters also netted a +17 plus/minus rating thanks to two rebounds, two steals, three assists, and making an effort on the defensive end.

We sat down with Waiters after practice Sunday, where the guy who used to relish going one-on-one is now talking about hockey assists and giving up good shots for great shots.

DION WAITERS: I’m excited just to be here first and foremost. I’m blessed. My first playoffs ever. I was real excited yesterday, too excited. I’m glad I got one game under my belt now.

NBA.COM: You were too fired up?

DW: I was too hyped. I came out like that. But I needed one of those games, needed one of those to get those emotions out. I’m fine now. Guys were telling me how crazy it would be. You just see it, the stands with people wearing blue and white. It was great.

NBA.COM: What’s the transition been like for you, into this organization as you’ve learning your role here?

DW: I mean, of course, it’s different. My rookie year, my sophomore year, I was able to play and play a lot. I was one of the go-to guys. My rookie year and sophomore year I got better each year, but we were losing. My third year, LeBron came, and things just weren’t going right. I got traded in January, came here, and when I got here, I just felt the love. Everybody connected. The atmosphere, the love, the people that really want to help you. And I knew what it took to be a pro, but over here it was pro’s pros. If practice is at 11, these guys are here at 9, out on the floor, setting an example. So I started trying to beat them here. I see what it takes. And they do it every day, no breaks in between, they got the same routine. When I got here, instantly I got better. Of course, you’ve got to make sacrifices. You’ve got to find your niche. When I got here, unfortunately KD had gotten hurt, so Scott Brooks let me play, and that was some of the most fun basketball I’d had, being one game away from the playoffs even though I ended the season strong. I knew coming here with KD was going to be different, because that’s what he does, he scores. And a guy like me, I need the ball. So I’ve tried to make different adjustments now, as far as like, working on being able to catch and shoot. I’m at like 40-percent now on catch-and-shoot situations, so that’s great. I was a guy who had to take you off the dribble. Now that I’m here, I don’t always have to do any of those things because I’ve got two top-five players in the League in Russ and Kev. I know I can score the ball, but now I want to show other people that I can defend, that I can get to the lane and make plays for myself and others. And one thing about here? You’ve gotta understand, some games you might have a big night, some games you might have 10 points. But what did you do to impact the game? I’m learning that. I’m only 24 years old. Just by me being here for a year and a half, I’ve gotten so much better as a player, as far as developing a consistent routine, I feel like my body is good, just working and continuing to work on an everyday basis. So it’s been a great ride for me so far, man. I’m enjoying every moment, and it’s about being patient, being patient. I know my time is going to come, I’ve just got to continue to work hard and be a part of a winning team and enjoy it. You can’t substitute anything for winning. I was losing my first three years. Just to win 50 games alone is great.

NBA.COM: Man, you need to have a radio show.

DW: I should?

NBA.COM: Yes, you should. Because you can really talk.

DW: (laughs) When I first got here, I was just talking without making sense. I used to hate watching myself in interviews.

NBA.COM: You talked about making sacrifices with your game. What kind of things have you pulled back on, what have you emphasized?

DW: Just trying to figure out when to be aggressive. I’m always going to be aggressive, that’s who I am. But learning the difference between what’s a good shot and what’s a great shot?

NBA.COM: What is the difference?

DW: It’s a good shot when you’re open, but a great shot if you’re open but you’ve got a guy open in the corner, and the defender in between comes to you and you kick it to him. Or if you make the hockey assist or get an assist. I can always get my shot off, I feel. At the end of the day, when you’re a scorer, you think scoring first. That’s just your mentality and your instinct. But here we’ve got so many great players who can make plays. Sometimes you even make a pass, get the guy the open shot, and it might come right back. Those type of things, I’m learning each day. I would say, coming into the league you really don’t know what to expect and you learn on your own, on the fly. That’s the difference between me three years ago and now. I’d say I was a pretty good, smart basketball player, but now I know the difference, and you know when you’re wrong and when you take a bad shot.

NBA.COM: I don’t know if you mean to, but you keep talking about your “sophomore” year in the NBA, and it’s almost like you’re talking about college. Now that you’re in your fourth season, does it feel like you’re a senior ready to graduate?

DW: That’s exactly it. I’m ready to take off. But we still have to focus on the task at hand right now. That’s my whole thing, I’m ready for that next step. That’s what it is man. I know what it takes.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Brooklyn Nets have tabbed Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as their new coach … The Boston Celtics will have to work without Avery Bradley for the remainder of their first round series against the Atlanta HawksReggie Jackson‘s untimely outburst cost the Detroit Pistons dearly against Cleveland … A Celtics living legend says Al Horford is not a great player

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