Posts Tagged ‘Greivis Vasquez’

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

casey

Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Raps keep Lowry, still have more work


VIDEO: Free Agency: Lowry Remains a Raptor

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Toronto Raptors have taken care of the important business, agreeing to terms with Kyle Lowry on a new four-year, $48 million contract. After winning their division for the second time in franchise history and returning to the postseason after a five-year absence, they’re bringing back their best player. Lowry is a bulldog on both ends of the floor, and if he wasn’t the best point guard in the Eastern Conference last season, he was right there with John Wall.

The Raptors had one the conference’s best benches as well. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson arrived in the Rudy Gay trade in December and made big impacts. Patterson spaced the floor at the power forward position, while Vasquez’s passing was infectious. Toronto recorded assists on just 49 percent of its baskets before the trade and 60 percent after it.

The numbers spell out how important Patterson and Vasquez are. They had the two best on-court NetRtg marks on the team, with the Raptors outscoring their opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with Patterson on the floor and by 8.5 with Vasquez on the floor. In the playoffs, Toronto outscored Brooklyn by 53 points with Vasquez on the floor and was outscored by 64 with him on the bench. Patterson was a plus-30.  As it was in the regular season, they were at their best with those two guys on the floor.

If the Raptors want to build on last season’s success, they need to keep the bench together. If Lou Williams (acquired in a trade for John Salmons) is healthy, it could be even better than it was last season.

On Friday, Toronto reportedly agreed to terms with Patterson, a restricted free agent, on a three-year, $18 million contract. That’s Step 2.

Vasquez is another restricted free agent, meaning the Raptors can match any offer sheet he receives from another team. But with the new contracts for Lowry and Patterson, the addition of Williams, and the possibility of adding rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, Toronto is approaching the luxury tax line. And they want to make one more move.

After Joe Johnson beat them up in that playoff series, the Raps acknowledged that they need more size on the wing. Even if Caboclo is less than “two years away from being two years away,” that size would have to come in free agency, perhaps from an Al-Farouq AminuAlan Anderson, Jordan Hamilton or Richard Jefferson. The Raptors have the mid-level exception (or a portion of it) to spend on an outside free agent.

Adding one of those guys, keeping Vasquez, and staying under the tax line will be a challenge. If Darren Collison can get the full mid-level exception (from Vasquez’s former team) in Sacramento, Vasquez should surely be worth that much. Complicating matters is that Toronto is already paying small forwards Landry Fields and Steve Novak almost $10 million to ride the pine.

Back in January, SportsNet’s Michael Grange reported that the Raptors would be willing to go over the line “at the right time.” But if they bring everybody back, they’re still a team that lost in the first round.  Even if they add a piece, they still have a ceiling, especially if LeBron James remains in Miami. And if Jonas Valanciunas gets a lucrative contract extension next summer, it will overlap with the last two seasons of Lowry’s deal (and the last of DeMar DeRozan‘s), which may be the time to think about paying the tax.

So Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for him over the next couple of weeks. He got the most important deal done. But his team’s depth is just as critical to its success as its best player.

Patience or panic on South Beach?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: What’s up with Miami’s Big Three? David Aldridge and the guys check in …

Out of the blue, one week after the Big Three met for a meal before breaking for family vacations and whatnot, we’re to believe LeBron James is going rogue and leaving super pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the dark?

Yeah, sure. And Ben Gordon’s getting two years and $9 million.

Whoa. Hold that thought.

We’re now into Day 3 of free agency. Carmelo Anthony is onto city No. 4. And the Miami Heat have yet to make a first move. Supposed top targets, Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, are off the board, with both players re-upping with their own teams for more money than the Heat could have afforded.

And still, we have no clearer picture as to how much money Miami president of basketball operations Pat Riley has in his wallet. So we’re left guessing as to the true financial desires of each of the Big Three. Competing reports have pegged Bosh as being good with making $11 million next season — exceedingly below market value (Gortat will make $12 million next season) — or seeking as much as $18 million per. Wade reportedly would be fine starting at $12 million next season.

(Henry Thomas, agent to both Bosh and Wade, denies the lower figures as being accurate.)

James reportedly wants a max deal — projected to be around $20.7 million next year — and, truthfully, why shouldn’t he get it? But, James also knows the more he demands, the less cap space Riley has available to make the team, as James put it after losing to the Spurs in five games, “better at every position.”

The Big Three don’t seem overly concerned. James is on vacation snapping up tuna with his kids, and his agent, Rich Paul, has yet to set up a single meeting with another team.

Bosh has been having fun cheering on the USA at the World Cup.

https://twitter.com/chrisbosh/status/484060331056979968

And Wade seems to be enjoying being a dad.

https://twitter.com/DwyaneWade/status/483737248488513537

https://twitter.com/DwyaneWade/status/484422486449479680

There remains no evidence to suggest James has muzzled Wade and Bosh. Of course, we can’t prove he hasn’t either. So the longer the Heat don’t land reinforcements, the larger the concern grows (from outside, at least) that the Super Friends will call the whole thing off.

If James indeed will settle for nothing less than the max, and if Bosh and Wade are determined to collect at least $15 million next season (again, we don’t know this) … add Norris Cole‘s guaranteed money plus salary designated for James’ hand-picked, first-round selection Shabazz Napier, and Riley will be left with less than $10 million below the expected salary cap of $63 million.

That’s not much for high-end shopping. The Big Three, if they are committed to staying together, will have to act accordingly.

Good players still are available, starting with personal favorite Pau Gasol, who has already received phone calls from Riley, the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers. The Heat and Thunder each have the full mid-level exception of $5.3 million to spend. It’s would mark a significant pay cut for Gasol. That’s price of jumping to a contender.

At point guard, there’s been little mention of Toronto’s other sneaky talented quarterback Greivis Vasquez, a restricted free agent who likely can be had now that Kyle Lowry is locked up to a four-year, $48 million deal.

Steve Blake, Leandro Barbosa, Mo Williams and D.J. Augustin, who played so well after joining the Bulls midseason, remain unsigned. At the wing, higher-priced free agents like Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng will be more difficult to sign, but veterans such as Vince Carter and Shawn Marion shouldn’t be.

Three-point-shooting big man Channing Frye is out there. So is Spencer Hawes. A more physical post player, Jordan Hill needs a home, too.

Maybe James is going rogue. Maybe he has an internal clock ticking on Riley. Maybe James’ agent soon will begin calling rival general managers for a sit down.

But for right now, Day 3 of free agency, James, Wade and Bosh certainly seem to be taking it all in stride.

And Ben Gordon is getting paid.

Five that need to be moving on


VIDEO: Pau Gasol speaks at his Lakers exit interview

For LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and all of the front line stars, there are current teams tugging on their jerseys, pulling at their heartstrings, trading for rookie point guards, offering Brink’s trucks full of cash to get them to stay.

But in so many other cases the handwriting is on the wall and it’s time to go. Here’s a handful of free agents that would be best served by moving on:

Pau Gasol, Forward/Center, Lakers – After so many years as the designated whipping boy of the Lakers, it simply makes no sense at all to stick around on a team that has about as much chance of contending in 2015 as Staples Center does being hit by a meteor. His skills have lost their sharpest edges and he’s no longer an All-Star player. But he still gives a solid effort, averaged 17 points and nine rebounds last season and could make a nice backup on the front line of a team that is in the mix and needs a real pro. He won’t be looking to break the bank this summer, just find himself a place where he can fit in and be appreciated while he chases one more championship before his retirement.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Pistons — Unless somebody out there just loses their mind and lets the Pistons off the hook for former general manager Joe Dumars’ last big mistake by agreeing to take Josh Smith‘s bloated salary, a return to Detroit would just mean another year of frustration for Monroe. The three-headed monster with Smith and Andre Drummond on the front line did not work out and Monroe is going to be the odd man out in the rotation. After three straight seasons of averaging more than 15 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game, Monroe has shown himself to be solid, if not an elite level player. It’s time to find out if he can step his game up to the next level someplace where he’s not hemmed in.

Thabo Sefolosha, Guard/Forward, Thunder – When coach Scott Brooks pulled him from the starting lineup and rooted him to the bench in the Western Conference finals against the Spurs, it was a likely signal that Sefolosha’s limited game had finally hit its ceiling after 5 1/2 seasons in OKC. It was alright to have him in there for defense and 3-point shooting as long as there was enough offense in the rest of the lineup. But his shooting fell off badly last season and the Thunder need more of the punch they’ll get from playing Reggie Jackson or Jeremy Lamb in his spot. If he spends the summer working to repair that broken shooting touch, Sefolosha could find himself as a nice role player for a team that needs a defender on the wing.

Evan Turner, Forward, Pacers – It was a calculated mid-season risk that blew up in Larry Bird‘s face. The deal to essentially replace Danny Granger with Turner may or may not have been the first thread to unraveling the locker room in Indiana, but his play certainly didn’t produce anything that was positive. The jury is still out on the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. There were times when he was the best player on the 76ers’ roster, though he does need the ball in his hands. If the Pacers make the commitment to keep Lance Stephenson, there’s definitely no way he sticks. At just 25, there’s reason to hope that a change of scenery could jumpstart his game and his career.

Greivis Vasquez, Guard, Raptors — After their strong finish and ultimately claiming the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, you’d think the Raptors would do everything they could to hang onto starting point guard Kyle Lowry. If they do, it relegates Vasquez to the bench again. If not, they’re probably watching money and starting over again with a young prospect running the offense. Either way it means the journeyman — in the truest sense of the word — would be best served by being back on the move again. He’s not the model of today’s point guard that can be the quarterback and also get his own points. Instead, he’s an inconsistent shooter without a real nose for putting the ball into the basket. But he’s got good size, is an excellent passer and those attributes deserve to be on display on more than just a part-time basis.

Blogtable: Holding it together in Miami

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.


BLOGTABLE: What to do in Miami | Spurs faves in 2015? | Who wants to be Lakers’ coach?



VIDEO: The Heat address their loss to the Spurs and an uncertain future

> You’re Pat Riley. How do you convince the Big Three to stick around … and take a pay cut? Who – give me names – do you go after to give them some help? They need help, right?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pay cut? Did someone say pay cut? We’re all too hip and cynical to take that notion seriously. You’ve gotta get whatever you can get, as much as you can as fast as you can, because that’s what the other guy is doing, and besides, you’ll look like a chump if you don’t! Except then you notice that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are playing for about $29 million combined, and you cannot deny the role that plays in the Spurs’ sustained excellence. The help Miami can put around them is directly related to the budget they leave on the table for others. Who should that be? I’d only want to see Carmelo Anthony go there for the gawkability of the Heat going all-in on the “star” system and to actually witness Anthony making such a huge financial sacrifice for the title he claims to covet. My hunch, though, is that Miami would be better off shoring up its weakest positions – point guard and center.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe pitch is that they’re all better together than apart. Wade and Bosh certainly benefit sticking very close to LeBron. And it’s hard to see James going to play in Kobe’s shadow with the Lakers or repeating his Cleveland experience. Riley will make his obligatory run at Carmelo Anthony and, after what he pulled off in the summer of 2010, I’m not counting him out. That’s the kind of addition that possibly have a longshot chance of convincing the Big Three to take a salary haircut. I might also be interested in Pau Gasol, who at this point in his career, might be willing to take less for a shot at another title or two in Miami.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Big Three know this: If all three opt in, there will be no room under the current rules to to bring in players that can make an impact. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have to agree to opt out and re-sign at considerable discounts. The James can opt out and re-sign. As for help, obviously Carmelo Anthony has been mentioned at the top of Miami’s wish list, but that will take some real financial sacrifice from the Big Three and Melo. Until the Big three opt out and re-sign to lesser deals, it’s hard to determine how much money will actually be available to go shopping. A run at Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez, a cheaper option, to run the point would be great, or maybe Ramon Sessions. Kent Bazemore is a young, athletic two-guard with size, defensive chops and a potentially strong offensive game, who could backup Wade. How about Pau Gasol giving this team a real post presence and allowing Bosh to do his preferred thing on the perimeter?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I convince them that their real legacy is based on titles and that the chance to respond to setback is what will separate them from other champions, as the Spurs just proved. I’m Pat Riley. I’m good at the head games. “You are already crazy wealthy. Don’t you want the riches no one can buy?” The Carmelo Anthony conversation does make sense for this team in this time. That’s the longshot of getting a lot of people to take a pay cut, including the guy who forced a trade to the Knicks because he wanted to be in New York, but would be at the top of my list. It doesn’t get nearly the attention, but adding Kyle Lowry at point guard would equal a huge offseason as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comStaying together in Miami gives them the best opportunity to win more championships. Even though they had some defensive slippage this season, they still got to The Finals without much of a challenge in the Eastern Conference. They do need help, and guys like Shawn Marion (defense at the other forward spot), Carlos Boozer (rebounding, if amnestied by Chicago) and Steve Blake (ball-handling and shooting) might be willing to come for cheap in pursuit of a championship. But losing in The Finals to a team that good playing that well is not cause for major changes. If the Heat stay largely intact, they will give themselves a chance to win for the next few years. And that’s all you can ask for.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI remind all three of them of the four straight trips to The Finals, the two championships and all of the opportunities they’ll have to remain atop the Eastern Conference by sticking together and continuing to make sacrifices from a financial standpoint. And yes, they need help in the form of a point guard like Kyle Lowry, who can serve as a breath of fresh air and a catalyst for this group for years to come. It’s obvious that the Heat lost faith in Mario Chalmers during The Finals. They recognize the need for a more dynamic floor leader and they also know that they need another energy source for this team with Dwyane Wade clearly on the other side of the mountain of his career. They’ll also need to replenish the reserve ranks with veterans willing to join the championship search party and my first call would be to Shawn Marion.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If all three of the Big Three stick around under the current contracts, the Heat are effectively handcuffed. So if I’m Pat Riley, I talk to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and somehow convince them that they should take less — I guess you talk to them about longer deals if these deals are opted out of. And to me, that’s the most important thing — you have to do something to create some flexibility. Then the other thing I’d do is go find a point guard who can penetrate and create. If the midlevel is your threshold, maybe someone like, uh-oh, Patty Mills, or even instant offense like Nate Robinson. Either way, I think you have to have a point guard who can handle the ball and create for his teammates and take some of that burden off of LeBron’s shoulders.

Six factors that can separate the Nets and Raptors in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors: Game 7 Preview

TORONTO – How silly of us to think that one of these teams would win this series in six games. We should have realized that the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have some sort of reciprocal gravity that keeps one team from ever pulling away from the other.

They’ve played 10 games this season. They’ve each won five, with a total combined score of Raptors 767, Nets 766. Eight of the 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes.

So it’s only fitting that this first round series will come down to a Game 7 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

For the Raptors, this is an opportunity. A win would give their young core 4-7 more games of playoff experience against the defending champion Miami Heat. It would give head coach Dwane Casey additional job security. And it would help establish the franchise’s place on the NBA map.

For the Nets, this is another referendum. If they can’t get past the first round, what exactly did they spend $104 million in salary and another $92 million in luxury taxes on? And where the heck do they go from here?

“They have more to lose than us,” DeMar DeRozan said Saturday.

Indeed. But payroll won’t determine which team gets their first Game 7 victory (since the Nets came to the NBA). These six factors will.

The nail

Though the Nets lost Game 5, they established some things offensively. One of those was Joe Johnson operating from the middle of the floor, a set that made it difficult for the Raptors to double-team him. The Nets didn’t go to that set much in Game 6, instead using Johnson back in the low post and in pick-and-rolls with Deron Williams more often.

But the Nets did take the middle of the floor away from Kyle Lowry, who scored just three points in the paint or at the free throw line in Game 6 after scoring 14 in Game 5. They took away the Raptors’ primary offensive actions and often had them trying to improvise with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock.

DeMar DeRozan will make some tough shots, but if it’s only tough shots that he’s getting, Brooklyn is in good shape.

Minutes distribution

The Raptors have been at their best when reserves Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are on the floor. They may sacrifice some defense by playing big minutes with Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson on the floor together, but their regular small forwards have come up empty offensively all series.

Terrence Ross is gaining experience and John Salmons is a bigger body to put on Johnson. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey shouldn’t hesitate to go to the three-guard lineup early and often, because the positives on offense will outweigh the negatives on D.

Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson are a plus-23 in 54 minutes together, but played just 12 minutes over the last two games.

The 3-point line

Neither team has shot well from 3-point range in the series, but both teams have attempted 22 threes per game. If one team – or just one player – gets hot, it could be the difference. With the attention that Johnson draws, Brooklyn is more likely to get open looks. That’s why Alan Anderson has replaced Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup.

Patterson, of course, puts a fourth shooter on the floor for Toronto. He can punish the Nets’ defense for its focus on Lowry and DeRozan.

Toronto on the roll

One of the bellwethers of this series has been Amir Johnson, who has averaged 14.7 points in the Raptors’ three wins and 4.3 points in their three losses. A lot of Johnson’s production has come as the roll man, catching passes from Lowry and Vasquez. The Nets’ weak-side defender needs to meet the roll man – whether it’s Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas – before he gets too close to the basket.

Transition

Both teams have averaged less than 10 fast break points per game, but have been at their best when they’ve been able to get out into the open floor. Williams pushed the pace from the start in Game 6, which allowed the Nets to get into their offensive actions early in the shot clock and before the Raptors could get set. That produced easier shots.

When the Raptors made a little bit of a run in the fourth quarter, they were getting some easy baskets in transition as well.

Turnovers

After averaging 19.3 turnovers in the first three games, the Raptors have averaged just 13.0 in the last three. But it was an issue that popped up again in the fourth quarter on Friday, keeping them from being able to cut the Brooklyn lead to single digits. Any extended turnover issues in Game 7 (for either team) could end their season.

Raptors take out Johnson, even series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down how the Raptors blanketed Joe Johnson

NEW YORK – Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey would not commit to whether his team’s Game 4 win was about great defense or bad offense.

“They missed a lot of easy shots,” Casey said of the Brooklyn Nets. “I thought our team defense was really solid,” he said later.

A little from column A, a little from column B, and the Nets scored just 79 points on 87 possessions, the least efficient performance of either team through four games. The result was an eight-point victory for the Raptors that tied the first round series at two games apiece.

After coming back from 17 points down, Brooklyn had a one-point lead with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter. But they went scoreless on their final eight possessions of the game. The Raptors didn’t have much going on offensively themselves, but got just enough (a Greivis Vasquez 3 here, a Kyle Lowry running hook there) to complement their improved defense.

The Nets were able to get the ball to Joe Johnson, who had been abusing the Toronto defense through the first three games. But the Raptors were aggressive with their double-teams and quick with their rotations. Johnson couldn’t get to his spots in the paint and his teammates couldn’t take advantage of four-on-three situations. Down the stretch, the Nets missed two jumpers, committed four straight turnovers, and then sealed their fate with a 29-second possession that ended in a blown layup by Shaun Livingston.

“The last four minutes is normally when we feel very comfortable,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “We just got out of character … We were trying to do it individually instead of making a play for our teammate.”

Johnson, who had averaged 23.7 points on 26-for-43 (60 percent) shooting through the first three games, got just seven shots off in Game 4. He made just two. The Raptors went with a variety of post coverages and it worked.

“Sometimes we were going [with on the dribble," Casey said. "Sometimes we were going on the pass. Sometimes we were going straight up. I thought mixing it up kept them off balance a little bit. Hopefully, it did. I don't know."

"We were much more physical," Lowry added. "We were much more aggressive on the ball and we tried to make them get the ball to other players."

The Nets have other players. Pretty good ones, too. They don't need a big game from Johnson.

But his only teammate who looked comfortable offensively on Sunday was Paul Pierce, who scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Others were afraid to shoot or just shaky with their jumpers. It was like the veteran team shrunk in the big moment.

"I thought [Johnson] made all the right plays,” Kidd said, “but we couldn’t knock down a shot for him.”

The jumpers haven’t been there all series, really. After a 4-for-20 performance in Game 4, the Nets are a brutal 22-for-88 (25 percent) from 3-point range in the series.

Despite that, the Nets had been pretty efficient through the first three games. But when the Raptors took away Johnson, everything fell apart. Toronto was a top-10 defensive team in the regular season and looked like it for the first time in the playoffs. Well, sort of…

“I’m not fooled by anything,” Casey said. “I thought our defense was solid. But as far as just stopping them and taking them totally out of what they want to do … they got some good looks. We made a lot of mistakes in our schemes. So we’re going to have to go back and make some adjustments on our own to clean up some stuff, because some of the shots they missed … we don’t want to leave that to chance.”

Still, the Raptors took a step forward on Sunday. They showed resilience in the face of a more experienced team, a hostile crowd, a handful of injuries, and foul trouble.

“Matching their physicality was a huge key for us,” Greivis Vasquez said. “We got the win by playing their way, which is physical. And we were not afraid. We gained a lot of experience and a lot of confidence tonight.”

They also regained home-court advantage, with Game 5 back in Toronto on Wednesday.

Is it time for Casey to change his lineup?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Amir – The Heart and Soul of Toronto

BROOKLYN – Before Game 3 of his team’s first round series with the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was asked about having to abandon something that’s worked all season because you’re getting beat in a playoff series.

“That’s called adjustments,” Casey said. “You got to make adjustments and maybe throw out some things. We’ve already thrown out a couple of sets that we had in mind for the playoffs because it just didn’t work. There’s some defensive schemes that we looked at that didn’t work out. So we had to change. You have to, more or less, gamble a little bit and roll the dice and change some things, because you don’t have a season to work things out or a chance to look at the big picture.”

In the big picture, the Raptors need Terrence Ross, their second-year starting small forward with 50-point-game potential. In this series, they need something else.

Ross has shot 3-for-16 (2-for-11 from 3-point range) in the series, but his ineffectiveness has gone beyond that, because he hasn’t helped defensively either. For the most part, he’s been guarding Shaun Livingston, who hasn’t done too much damage. But as long as he’s out there, there’s a chance he’ll get switched onto Joe Johnson or Deron Williams, which is bad news. The Raptors’ defense has allowed a brutal 117 points per 100 possessions in Ross’ 63 minutes on the floor in the series.

The defense has been better with Landry Fields on the floor, but Fields is basically a zero offensively at this point in his career. And John Salmons hasn’t been able to make an impact either.

The Raptors are down 2-1, but they’ve had chances in each of their two losses. The Nets have outscored them 291-285 in the series.

“We just got to get more productivity out of one more position,” Casey said after Game 3. “[We're] searching a little bit in those three positions to give us a defensive stopper or add some offense out of that one spot.”

So where does Casey go in Game 4 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, TNT)? He said Friday that he likes the added “physicality” that Fields and Salmons bring to the table, but his best option may be to sacrifice the defense and play neither.

In the regular season and in this series, the Raptors have been at their best with Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson on the floor. But neither has cracked the 30-minute mark in any of the three games.

That’s tough to do when you don’t enter the game until late in the first quarter. Casey has been quicker to bring in his subs in the third quarter, but he’s still not optimizing his roster.

The Raptors haven’t gotten off to terrible starts. Their starting lineup was a minus-1 in the first quarter of Game 1, a plus-1 in the first quarter of Game 2, and a plus-0 in the first quarter of Game 3. But it’s been outscored (by 16 total points) in each of the three third quarters and is a minus-17 in 39 total minutes.

Vasquez, meanwhile, is a plus-31 and Patterson is a plus-13. The Raptors might be making a defensive sacrifice by playing a three-guard lineup of Vasquez, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but it can’t be worse than it has with Ross on the floor, and it would be the best move for their offense. They’ve scored 115.5 points per 100 possessions in 32 minutes with the three guards on the floor together.

A change (or two) to the starting lineup would give the Raptors their best chance at a strong start on Sunday and, more importantly, get Vasquez and/or Patterson on the floor longer. There’s no reason they shouldn’t each get at least 30 minutes of playing time in Game 4.

“We’re still going to look at that,” Casey said of a lineup change at practice on Saturday. “It’s not panic time, but we do have to look at that position and get more productivity out of that spot.”

Time is running out. A loss on Sunday would put the Raptors down 3-1 against a veteran club that knows it has matchup advantages. At this point, Casey can’t worry about the big picture.

Numbers preview: Raptors-Nets

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: 2013-2014 Raptors Top Plays

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there’s a first-round series that will help us determine the value of experience in the playoffs, it’s Toronto-Brooklyn.

The Nets have six players who have logged more than twice as many postseason minutes as anyone on the Raptors’ roster. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Jason Collins have all been to the conference finals or further.

But that won’t matter if the Nets aren’t able to slow down the Raptors’ top-10 offense, which they struggled to do in four regular-season meetings.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (48-34)

Pace: 94.4 (23)
OffRtg: 105.8 (9)
DefRtg: 102.4 (9)
NetRtg: +3.5 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Brooklyn: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

Brooklyn Nets (44-38)

Pace: 93.7 (25)
OffRtg: 104.4 (14)
DefRtg: 104.9 (19)
NetRtg: -0.6 (17)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Nets notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 in each location)
Pace: 92.5
TOR OffRtg: 107.0 (10th vs. BKN)
BKN OffRtg: 104.6 (9th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

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