Posts Tagged ‘Amir Johnson’

More Patterson in Game 2?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors Game 2 preview

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors scored just 87 points on 92 possessions in Game 1 of their first round series against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. They need to find a way to keep Joe Johnson out of the paint in Game 2 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), but most of all, they need to get more buckets themselves.

That could mean more minutes for Patrick Patterson, a floor-spacing big.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 17 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in his playoff debut on Saturday, but was a game-low minus-17 (Nets 73, Raptors 56) in 35 minutes. He played well, but his teammates didn’t while he was on the floor.

One thing that can get All-Star DeMar DeRozan better shots is better spacing. And with Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the game, the Raptors’ spacing is not optimal. DeRozan shot 0-for-8 (0-for-4 from 3-point range) when the two starting bigs were on the floor on Saturday.

That’s just one game, but since they acquired him in the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have been at their best offensively with Patterson on the floor. It’s not just that he can hit 3-pointers, but his presence makes it a little bit harder for the opposing defense to put multiple bodies between the Raptors’ ball-handlers and the basket.

In the three games they’ve had him against Brooklyn, Toronto has scored almost 120 points per 100 possessions in Patterson’s 75 minutes. DeRozan has scored 28 points in the 39 minutes he’s shared the floor with Patterson against the Nets, shooting 8-for-13 from the field and getting to the line 12 times.

Patterson’s mark of plus-50 against the Nets is, by far, the best mark of any Raptor this season (next is Chuck Hayes at plus-21). If you count a November game with Sacramento, he’s a plus-80 in 101 minutes against them.

Still, we might we see more of Patterson (who played 26 minutes on Saturday) in Game 2. It’s only been a few weeks since he returned from an elbow injury, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey says that there’s no limit on Patterson’s minutes. Casey just has to space them out differently.

“You got to give him a little more of a blow between his extended minutes,” Casey said. Patterson entered the game late in the first and third quarters on Saturday, and stayed in until late in the second and fourth.

Casey went five-deep with his bigs in Game 1, bringing Patterson, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. The combination of Johnson and Patterson could be the Raptors’ best option – Toronto was a plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions in 215 minutes with the two on the floor together in the regular season – but the pair didn’t play at all together on Saturday.

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”

Batum Says He’s Earned All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Nicolas Batum has 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 14 assists

DALLAS – Portland Trail Blazers do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum readily admits that pal Tony Parker remains France’s No. 1 NBA heartthrob. Perhaps that gap will narrow a bit if Batum is selected to his first Western Conference All-Star team, an honor he says he would relish and, in all honesty, deserves.

NBA All-Star 2014His team’s 31-9 record, and his advanced stats suggest he is right.

“I look at all the small forwards in the West,” Batum told NBA.com Saturday night prior to putting up 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting with seven assists in a blowout win at Dallas. “You know, KD [Kevin Durant], is way up there, so can’t reach him he’s so far. But the West has to take a small forward after KD; I think it should be me. The West is crazy. I talked about it with Tony Parker two nights ago — I had dinner with him — that in the West, for a bench, to pick seven guys is pretty tough. KD is going to start at small forward, but I know if I get a chance to be on the bench to be a backup to KD, I would be very happy to do it.”

In his sixth season, the soft-spoken Frenchman is quietly having a sensational season playing on the league’s most potent offense. He’s averaging 13.4 ppg, scoring in a variety of ways, and posting career bests in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and assists (5.6 apg). His 46.1 field-goal percentage pales only to his second season in 2009-10 when he shot 51.9 percent, but played in only 37 games. He is shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. His lanky frame and long arms help make him a sturdy defender who often checks the opponent’s top scorer.

On any given night, the 6-foot-8 Batum will post double-digit points or double-digit rebounds or double-digit assists. On some nights he might do it in two of the three categories, if not all three. He owns two triple-doubles this season, plus one points-rebounds double-double and one rebounds-assist double-double. On many nights he flirts with — at least — a double-double of some variety.

As for the All-Star Game, the West’s frontcourt is crowded with contenders, but the majority are power forwards such as Aldridge, Kevin Love, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis, as well as center DeMarcus Cousins.

Delving into the advanced stats reveals Batum’s all-around value to the Blazers as well as his worthiness for a coveted All-Star spot. Here’s how he ranks among the league’s forwards in key categories:

> 1st: In offensive rating (113.5 points team scores per 100 possessions with Batum on the floor)

> 4th: In net rating (10.2, the difference between offensive and defensive rating) behind his teammate Aldridge, Indiana’s David West and Golden State’s Lee)

> 4th: In true shooting percentage (59.2 percent, adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) behind Miami’s LeBron James, Oklahoma City’s Durant and Toronto’s Amir Johnson

> 4th: In effective field-goal percentage (55.5 percent, adjusted for 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than 2-pointers) behind James, Johnson and Houston’s Chandler Parsons

> 3rd: In assist percentage (21.9 percent, percent of teammates’ field goals that the player assisted) behind James and Durant

> 5th: Among small forwards in rebound percentage (10.3, percentage of total rebounds a player obtains while on the court) behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Dallas’ Shawn Marion, James and Durant

Not too shabby.

Here’s Batum in his own words:

NBA.com: You are a unique player in that you can fill up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. Is there a player you modeled your game after?

NB: When I grew up, my favorite player was Scottie Pippen. He was a guy that could do everything on the court, on offense and defense, and that’s what I love to do. I love to rebound, I love to assist, I love to score points, I love to play defense. I love to do everything on the court, so that’s what I try to do every night.

NBA.com: You said you would be happy to back up Durant on the West All-Star team. Do you believe you have earned the right to do so this season?

NB: I think so. I mean we’re winning, so if we’re winning games — we’re top three in the NBA — we should get at least two guys. I don’t think we’re going to get three guys, but Damian [Lillard] and L.A. will make it for sure.

NBA.com: Do you go into a game with an idea if you will attack as a scorer or facilitator?

NB: It depends on the flow of the game. When I come in and I see like is it going to be Damian’s night or Wesley [Matthews]? I don’t know if I’m going to have a triple-double every night, but if I can do it, I will do it.

NBA.com: So your goal every game is to shoot for a triple-double?

NB: Yeah. if I get like a 14 [points], 10 rebounds, 11 assists, that’s my kind of night. I don’t think I can average a triple-double, I’m not saying that, but I am the type of guy that can do the 14, 8 and 7 every night.

NBA.com: Why do you think more players aren’t as adept in filling up the stat sheet in a variety of ways?

NB: The system we do have helps me to do that. I know all the players I have around me. I know where they are, I watch a lot of video and I know who I am. I just know and read the game situation what I have to do. If I get 10 assists tonight, I get 10 assists. If I get 15, 20 points, that’s what I’m going to try to do. I just adjust my game to the other guys and the coach [Terry Stotts] told me that this season I am going to be the key to success.

NBA.com: It seems a good number of observers are waiting for the Blazers to flatten out a bit after such a first half of the season, or are still not yet ready to declare this team “for real.” Is this team built to continue at its current pace and challenge for the No. 1 spot in the West?

NB: We had a tough stretch at the end of December, beginning of January, like we lost four games out of six. But we knew we were going to go through tough times. The good thing on this team is we are, OK, we lost those four games, but we got back on track, we regrouped, we stayed together and now we’ve got a five-game winning streak. We know that this is the first time we’ve done this. OKC has been there, San Antonio’s been there. Last year we only had 33 wins and were like 11 or 12 in the West and now we are like No. 2 and we will be No. 1 if we win [Saturday]. So after 40 games people might be surprised or expect us to fall down, but we know who we are. We know what we’ve done to be in this position so far, so we are going to try to do the same thing.

Blogtable: Your High-Energy Star

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Future pick: CHI or CLE | High-energy stud | DMC an All-Star?


Joakim Noah (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Joakim Noah (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Pick me a high-energy, give-it-his-all player you’d want on your team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAnthony Davis. Since you didn’t exclude No. 1 picks, I’m taking the 20-year-old. He picks up a can of Red Bull, the can gets a buzz. He’s scoring (19.1 ppg) and shooting (.523 FG%), he’s rebounding (10.2 rpg) and defending (3.2 bpg). He hasn’t been an All-Star — yet — so I figure he’s eligible.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re probably looking for me to name a scrappy, ankle-biting guard who lives for floor burns and turnovers. But I’ll pick LeBron James.  I don’t think he takes games or possessions off.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJoakim Noah. Simple, right?

Amir Johnson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Amir Johnson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Not sure about this one. LeBron James plays with a lot of energy and tries hard, so I’ll take him. But something tells me you’re looking for someone who might not quite have superstar skills. In that case: Denver’s Kenneth Faried. He generates most of his own offense and impacts games on defense and the boards through nonstop energy. He is going to have a long career because he refuses to get outworked.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comAmir Johnson. This is the fourth straight season that the Raptors have been much better both offensively and defensively with Johnson on the floor than with him on the bench. That’s not a coincidence and it’s not because he plays most of his minutes with other starters, because none of Toronto’s other starters have had nearly the same impact on the team’s numbers. Johnson is long, active and durable. He’s smart, knows his role on the floor, sets good screens, and just makes things easier for his teammates.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comTony Allen has always been one of my favorite players in terms of his raw energy and all-out effort, particularly on the defensive end. He’s the first guy that comes to mind. But I’ve been impressed with DeMarre Carroll‘s high-motor game this season with the Atlanta Hawks. I watched Carroll flat-out harass Kobe Bryant one night last month. He pestered Kobe in ways that few players in this league have attempted to over the years, showing no reverence for Kobe or any insecurities about putting forth that sort of effort against one of the game’s all-time greats. It wasn’t just Kobe and the bright lights, though. He does that all the time, regardless of the opponent. Carroll seems like one of those guys you see at the gym or at a neighborhood court who plays like his hair is on fire all the time and you can’t figure out why. It’s just the way he’s wired. He plays guts out all the time and that’s definitely the kind of guy I want on my team.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: This kind of goes to the Chicago/Cleveland question, but I’d take Joakim Noah in a heartbeat. He’s never been the most skilled player on any team he’s been on, but he’s always been the grittiest, toughest guy. His shooting form looks like someone tied his arms together, and aesthetically he may not always be pleasing to the eye, but after watching him beat Brooklyn in last year’s playoffs while basically playing on one foot, Noah forever earned my respect.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: Omer Asik is my pick. He’s not a bad locker room guy: he just wants more minutes to play, and a suitable role to fit into. He showed us that how productive he could be, if he got enough minutes.  It’s hard to believe that the Rockets could have made the playoffs without him in the last season. OK, maybe he’s just not as good as Dwight. Well, no matter where he goes next season, it will be fun to see this tough Turkish center play against Howard.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The Pacers’ Lance Stephenson is my favorite. He does a bit of everything and he has learned how to do it all at an All-Star level. He always gives it his all, and shines as an example of hard work for his teammates. Plus, he’s playing like an All-Star right now, so picking him is really easy.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Ginobili Ginobili Ginobili. Look, I can’t front, I’m a Manu-fanatic. He not only is high-energy and give-it-his-all, he also can actually play and has championship pedigreé. It’s a no-brainer.

Ujiri The Ultimate Chemistry Teacher




VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors are on a roll right now, winners of four straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Masai Ujiri‘s front office peers around the NBA should pay close attention to the way the Toronto Raptors’ star goes about his business. While some franchise architects like to work their so-called magic with the public watching intently, Ujiri has done a masterful job (first in Denver and now in Toronto) tweaking chemistry and getting results.

In fact, Ujiri has proven himself to be the ultimate chemistry teacher these days in terms of knowing how to tweak a roster just right. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers, Ujiri is making a strong push for repeat honors with the way the Raptors are playing since the Rudy Gay trade went down.

They are 9-3 and winners of eight of their last 10 games since moving Gay to Sacramento Dec. 9. It was a move designed to give the Raptors long-term flexibility and not necessarily an immediate jolt that has helped them climb all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

But Ujiri has a way of studying a roster, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and then being fearless in his attempts to change things for the better. Since Gay was jettisoned, the Raptors have scored huge wins over the likes of Dallas and Chicago, and most recently in Oklahoma City (where they handed the West-best Thunder their first home loss of the season) and kicked off 2014 with an impressive home win over the East-best Indiana Pacers.

As much as this is about the fine work being done by Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his staff, and of course, the contributions of a roster full of grinders like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and others, this is about the man who put it all together.

Ujiri just happens to have the magic touch right now. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the hard times his former team has fallen upon in his absence. The Denver Nuggets have lost eight straight games, their longest such skid since the end of the 2002-03 season. Veteran point guard Andre Miller turned the heat up even more by ripping first-year coach Brian Shaw after Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, making matters worse in Denver while Ujiri has his new team soaring.

A boss like Ujiri keeps those dustups contained, as best can be, or at least at a minimum and away from the public. You don’t have to worry about those sorts of altercations when working conditions are at a premium. And Ujiri has freed up virtually every key rotation player on the Raptors’ roster to do what he does best after the Gay trade.

DeRozan and Lowry in particular are allowed to play more to their natural strengths on the perimeter, while Valanciunas has become more of a focal point as well. Role players like Johnson, the ridiculously underrated Vasquez, who came over from Sacramento in the trade, and young journeyman forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson have become critical pieces in the Raptors’ current run.

“No one on this team is selfish; everyone accepts their roles,” Patterson told reporters after the Raptors outslugged Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to kick off the New Year. “No one wants to get more shots, no one wants to do more of this, no one is jealous of another player … we all understand what we have to do in order to make this machine keep rolling smoothly.”

The man responsible for making sure that machine runs without a hitch, of course, is Ujiri. He understands, as well or better than most right now, that team chemistry trumps just about everything else that goes on inside a team’s fabric in this day and age. Even the Miami Heat needed a year (and a Finals defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team that had off the charts chemistry) to figure that out.


VIDEO: The Raptors took it to the Pacers, kicking off 2014 in style before the home crowd

Kobe’s Eight Turnovers A True Rarity


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant gets off to a rough start in his return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Eight was the takeaway number from Kobe Bryant‘s return to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. Eight rebounds. Eight turnovers. In 28 minutes.

The eight boards, seven on the defensive glass, show that even with limited explosion and a fair degree of self-uncertainty, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard can always summon his supreme understanding of the game to leverage his body and attain position. He tied 7-footer Pau Gasol for most rebounds on the team. Only Toronto’s Amir Johnson had more, 10, in 36 minutes.

Bryant secured eight or more rebounds last season, when he averaged more than 38 minutes a game in 78 games, just 10 times (of course, Dwight Howard was around to snare double-digit boards most games). Bryant collected eight or more boards 13 times in 58 games in 2011-12.

For Bryant to get eight rebounds in his first game back from tearing his left Achilles tendon on April 12 is impressive, and just another way that Bryant will help the Lakers as he finds his footing.

And his handle.

Bryant was noticeably rusty with his dribble in the 106-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors. His initial explosion to dribble around defenders and get into the lane was clearly hampered, as was his patented lift on his pull-up jumper. The latter was made obvious when Bryant sized up DeMar DeRozan at the end of the first half, went up for the buzzer-beating jumper, but had it rather easily blocked by the Raptors’ wingman.

Of the Lakers’ 19 turnovers, tying their second-highest total of the season, Bryant committed eight. The Lakers had been pretty good at limiting turnovers in Bryant’s absence, averaging 14.7 per game, tied for ninth-fewest in the league. Bryant opened his season debut looking to facilitate and dropped some pretty passes. But his timing and rhythm, as he acknowledged after the game, were off, leading to eight of his passes — five in the second half and three during a critical, three-minute stretch in the third quarter — being picked off.

Toronto scored 22 points off L.A’s 19 turnovers with 15 coming off Bryant’s eight turnovers. They outscored the Lakers in fastbreak points, 19-4, nine coming off Bryant’s snagged pass attempts.

“My rhythm is completely out of sync,” Bryant told reporters. “But this is a start, and I guess a start is good.”

He also harshly graded himself an ‘F,’ and used a rather unflattering term to describe his overall game which included going 2-for-9 from the field for nine points. Bryant had one more point than turnovers and twice as many turnovers as assists.

So just how rare is an eight-turnover game for Bryant? Extremely. Few non-point guards have ever handled the ball as much as Bryant does and attracted so much concentrated defensive effort throughout his career, so naturally, turnovers are going to happen.

In his 17 previous seasons, only 22 times in 1,239 career regular-season games did he commit eight or more turnovers. That’s once every 56.3 games, or less than twice for every 82 games, the length of a full regular-season. In his first 10 seasons, it happened just nine times.

Bryant has made it through a season without a single eight-turnover (or more) game seven times. Four other seasons it happened just once. However, six have now come in the 137 games since the start of the 2011-12 season, an accelerated rate of one in every 22.8 games. Three came last year in his attempt to play Superman during a busted season.

In 2004-05, when Bryant finished second in the scoring race on a sub-.500 Lakers team, he had a career-high five games of eight or more turnovers. Four of those came during the narrow window of Nov. 21 through Dec. 25. Oddly, three of his now 23 eight-plus turnover games have come on Christmas Day (note to Miami Heat).

Speaking of the Lakers’ Christmas Day opponent, LeBron James, another rare breed of wing player who has consistently been the dominant ball-handler on his teams, is quite comparable to Bryant. James has 12 games of eight or more turnovers in 786 career games. In his 11th season, James is averaging one every 65.5 games. Through 21 games this season, James has four games with six turnovers and another with seven. That one came in Miami’s last game, and he has 13 turnovers in his last two games.

For players who control their teams’ offense and demand the opposition’s defensive focus, turnovers happen.

Bryant, 35, is facing the biggest challenge of his career and it will take time for him to regain his sea legs. His dribble will become stronger, his passes crisper.

Don’t overreact now, and don’t overreact when Bryant has another eight-turnover game. They happen. His more recent track record (not necessarily adjusted for his recovery time) suggests it’ll come some time around, say, the All-Star break.

No Looking Back For Raptors’ Lowry


VIDEO: NBA TV Canada takes a deeper look at Raptors guard Kyle Lowry

ATLANTA – Kyle Lowry doesn’t believe in looking back or wasting his time on what could have or should have been. The Toronto Raptors’ point guard has been through too much to fret about the past.

He’s focused on one thing and one thing only these days — leading the Raptors to a playoff bid and quenching the thirst of a devoted fan base that has suffered far too long without postseason hoops. It helps that Lowry, a player that Raptors coach Dwane Casey referred to as the “key to his team,” finally feels like he’s found a home.

In Memphis he was a fiery reserve but never handed the keys to the operation. And in Houston, where he started 109 games in three and half seasons, he was still trying to find his way in the league with an organization that was in flux.

“It’s not about what happened then,” Lowry said Friday morning before the Raptors faced the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). “I think I was absolutely in a great situation, the right situation in Houston. I got into that situation, unfortunately, with an injury to Aaron Brooks. But I think it was a great situation for me. And I feel like I’m in the same kind of place now. This is an opportunity league. To be effective, to flourish and do well, it has to be the right fit.”

And that’s exactly what Lowry believes he has with the Raptors’ current group. With he, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan as headliners and the supporting cast filled out with Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross, Steve Novak, Quincy Acy and others, Lowry insists the Raptors’ depth and balance is as good as ever.

“I think the playoffs is much more of a realistic goal for us this year,” said Lowry, a seven-year NBA veteran. “Last year we got off to such a bad start that it set us back and we were never really able to recover from that. But we’ve added some toughness this year with Hansbrough and we’ve added a shooter in Novak. We’ve had a full training camp with Rudy and DeMar. Jonas is year older and the core guys have been together and playing next to each other for four of five months. We’re all feeling better about things now and I think we have a chance to do some things that people don’t expect us to do.”

Casey is counting on Lowry to continue doing what he’s been doing all along in Toronto: serve as the Raptors’ on-and off-court leader. Casey recognizes a distinct difference in the Lowry we all see now and the one he was from afar years ago.

“Everybody thinks they are the player they’re going to be from the first month they are in the league, and that’s just not the case,” Casey said. “I think Kyle has learned some really valuable lessons over the years from his previous experiences in Memphis and Houston. He has grown into who he is as a player. He has really matured in so many ways. He’s slowed his game down and sees things in ways he probably did not early on in his career. He’s not that same, run-up-a-wall type of player he was. He’s much more cerebral now and understands the game more. He’s the key to our team.”

Lowry, 27, is also a player that Casey trusts implicitly. Lowry’s poise and leadership is definitely a commodity on the floor in today’s NBA.

“Bottom line is this is the perfect system for him,” Casey said. “He’s our quarterback and he has the freedom to run different plays and direct based on what he sees on the court. He can identify the matchups and go wherever he needs to go with the ball on that end of the floor. When he doesn’t do that he’ll defer to me and we’ll get together during time outs and evaluate what’s going on in dead ball situations and things like that and make our adjustments. But he’s doing an excellent job on the floor being a quarterback and understanding who needs touches and when they need them. He’s doing a heck of a job defensively and hawking the ball the way he has. But yes, the system fits him tremendously.”

It fits Lowry better than it has in the past, whether he wants to take a look back or not. And that’s exactly what the Raptors need.

Heat Do The Harlem Shake (VIDEO)



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Few teams work and play as hard as the NBA’s reigning champs.

And with the Harlem Shake becoming the latest viral video craze, the Miami Heat did what champions do and bested the rest of the field. Starting with the Chris “The Birdman” Andersen, LeBron “The shirtless King” James and Super Mario Chalmers all playing prominent roles in this hilarious video, along with Dwyane Wade in perhaps the best get up of all, a Kanye West College Dropout Bear costume.

Other teams have gotten in on this act, including the Magic, Raptors (courtesy of Amir Johnson‘s maneuverings), Suns and Hawks. But the bar has been raised, folks.

If you’re thinking about putting together your own crew for a Harlem Shake video, you better watch the Heat’s first and then ask yourself if it’s worth trying to top the champs?

Shaqtin’ A Fool: Vol. 2, Episode 8


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Shaq is back after a week off to once again chronicle some of the absurd moments in the NBA. This week, Shaq zeroes in on Lance Stephenson, Greg Smith, Blake Griffin, Amir Johnson and Kendrick Perkins. And sad news for his legion of fans, but no JaVale this week. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!

Even Perkins had to admit he deserved a spot this week …

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.