Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs’ Williams gets second opinion on thumb | Russell promises bigger things are in store for him | Report: DeRozan to opt out | Fredette still hoping for another NBA shot

No. 1: Report: Cavs’ Williams to get second opinion on thumb — The Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled with injury issues all season long and backup point guard Mo Williams is the latest name to land on that dubious list. Of late, Williams’ right thumb has been troubling him — the same thumb which Williams had two surgical procedures on in the past. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Williams is getting a second opinion on what’s ailing him of late:

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams traveled to New York during Thursday’s off day to receive a second opinion on his sore right thumb, a league source confirmed. Williams missed a week in December after reaggravating a thumb that has twice needed surgery to repair ligament damage.

Dr. Michelle Carlson, who practices in New York, performed both procedures — first in 2008 and again in 2013. Williams posted a picture to his Instagram account Thursday of a framed photo of him standing next to Carlson with the caption, “Best hand specialist in the world. New York weather off the chain today.”

Williams had pins inserted in the thumb during the previous procedures and has limited dexterity as a result, but he told the Beacon Journal last month he did not believe this injury was as serious as the two previous times he needed surgery.

Williams missed two months after surgery in 2013. The first surgery was performed following the 2007-08 season.

Williams has fallen out of the rotation with the return of Kyrie Irving, although it’s unclear now if the thumb was also a factor. He has not played in either of the Cavs’ two most recent games and only played during garbage time of last week’s blowout victory against the Orlando Magic.

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Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

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Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime | Jack injures knee, will have MRI | Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics | Pop says Crawford will be missed

No. 1:Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime After leading the Golden State Warriors to a historic 29-1 start to the season, Stephen Curry missed the last two games while resting a shin injury. It is no coincidence that the Warriors went 1-1 without Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. Curry made his return last night against the Denver Nuggets, but had to exit in the second quarter after aggravating his injury. As Ethan Strauss writes for ESPN.com, even down to six players, the Warriors managed to win in overtime even without the MVP…

After missing the two previous games with a left shin contusion suffered Monday against the Sacramento Kings, Curry reinjured the shin and departed to the locker room with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.

According to Curry, the injury occurred when a Nuggets player made contact with his leg in the second quarter.

“I got kicked,” Curry said after the game.

Curry confirmed it was a reinjury of his earlier contusion and said he was hit “right in the same spot, playing defense. It’s funny. I guess whenever you hurt something, [if] you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”

Curry’s injury left the Warriors with only six available players due to myriad other injuries.

Of the overtime victory Golden State gained despite depletion, Curry praised, “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well. Gutsy win.”

On how he felt going into the game, Curry said, “I felt pretty good, just somewhat fresh legs and didn’t have to compensate for anything. Just sucks that was the spot that I got hit in. See how it feels for Monday.”

Further elaborating on his prognosis, he added, “I know exactly what happened. It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s not as bad as the first time it happened, so that’s good news.”


VIDEO: Curry reinjures left leg

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Breaking down the parity in the East


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.

That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).

Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…

20151218_east_2-10_over

Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND

Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET

Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS

Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND

Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS

Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI

Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,

Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA

Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI

20151218_east_2-10

Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.

Blogtable: East hierarchy after December?

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


BLOGTABLE: George, Leonard, Butler or Green — who has developed most? |
How will Warriors fare on their road trip? | East hierarchy after December?



VIDEORick Fox and Brent Barry survey the NBA landscape from the past week

> The Knicks are 8-10 but face the easiest schedule in the East in December. Who will be the East’s top 4 teams – record-wise — come the end of this month?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com OK, so along with Philadelphia… What? Too soon? Fine, I’ll go with Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. The Cavaliers are the class of the conference, well on their way to figuring things out, and even Kyrie Irving‘s return won’t derail them. Next week could be brutal for the Hawks – back-to-back at Dallas and OKC, then Spurs at home – but the rest of the month is manageable. Chicago isn’t as good as its record but, unless Jimmy Butler‘s sore foot proves to be a big deal, the Bulls can’t have as many problems in December as they had in November (offensive hiccups, spotty energy, Derrick Rose‘s eye, Joakim Noah on milk cartons). I’m going with Miami over Indiana or Toronto because the Heat, after playing 11 of their first 16 at home through November, get nine of their next 15 in Miami as well.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Cleveland, Indiana, Chicago, Toronto. The Raptors schedule finally turns in their favor with a bunch of home games.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com It’ll be Cleveland, Chicago, Indiana, Toronto.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I don’t think the order changes much. It’ll be Cavs, Bulls, Pacers, Heat. And I suspect by season’s end, that will be the order as well, with the Raptors or Hawks possibly sneaking in. The Knicks? I still don’t see them as a playoff team, even with a smooth December. Like most rookies, Kristaps Porzingis will hit a speed bump, and it’ll happen soon.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com A much easier schedule should lift Chicago above Indiana. And Miami should stay ahead of the Raptors, who are missing a key piece. 1. Cleveland 2. Chicago 3. Indiana 4. Miami.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: How about the resurgent Eastern Conference? We don’t hear all of that whining about the “Leastern Conference” these days, which is a very nice change. As for the top four in the standings at the end of this month, I’m going with the Cavaliers, Pacers, Raptors and Bulls. But that said, being in the top four at the end of the calendar year guarantees not much of anything in a season where the competition for East playoff positioning looks like it could go down to the final night.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Cleveland will still be No. 1 as LeBron James continues to lean on his teammates to increase their intensity. The Bulls, with their home-heavy schedule, should edge up to No. 2 ahead of the more-challenged Pacers. And then let’s say the Hawks will make a move over the latter half of the month to move up to No. 4 in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, Cleveland, I think. And Atlanta, who will face an easier schedule just in terms of actually having some nights off. And then there’s Toronto, who is starting to round into form. And I also think Indiana is going to continue to develop into an elite team, as Paul George keeps returning to his pre-injury form.

Blogtable: What will Warriors’ record be after this long road trip?

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


BLOGTABLE: George, Leonard, Butler or Green — who has developed most? |
How will Warriors fare on their road trip? | East hierarchy after December?



VIDEOStephen Curry talks about returning home to play the Hornets

> What will the Warriors’ record be when they return to Oracle Arena on Dec. 16? If you have them down for losses, tell us who they’re losing to and why. If they will still be perfect, explain why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State will be 24-1 by the time it gets back home. I see two possible land-mine games on its schedule: Dec. 8 at Indiana and Dec. 12 at Milwaukee. The former pits the Warriors against a Pacers team playing a variation of the Golden State game, in a building that can be tough, with its own Kia MVP candidate (Paul George) at the peak of his powers. The latter is the tail end of a back-to-back that starts in Boston, at the end of the Warriors’ long trip. The Bucks beat Cleveland at home last month and have the ability, under coach Jason Kidd, to get riled up on special occasions. (It’s the day-to-day that has been Milwaukee’s problem.) The Warriors might be thinking about getting home by then, too, although now that I type that, their focus on finishing the trip strong probably will be the thing that gets them past the Bucks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: 24-1. Somebody’s got to beat them and a 7-0 road trip is just asking too much. I’m picking Indiana as the place the unbeaten season ends. Dee-fense!

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: 24-1 after losing to the Pacers to break the streak, the only way a 6-1 trip can be disappointing. The Raptors on Saturday would be another strong possibility, but the Warriors will be playing for the second time in five days, compared to the third time in four days for the Raptors. So much for home-court advantage. Why the Pacers? Because they’re good, Golden State will be five games into the trip, and I’m positive the Warriors will lose at some point this season. Or at least pretty sure.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It ends Saturday in Toronto. Just a gut feeling more than anything. Raptors will bring players that can score in bunches, which is the only way to beat the Warriors. And explain this to me, schedule-makers — why is it that the Warriors and Spurs don’t meet until 2025?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: 24-1. This is a tough trip, which has already given them one scare. They’re playing five good teams (Utah, Charlotte, Toronto, Indiana and Boston), and the other two games are the second night of a back-to-back. They’ve had some close calls already and Harrison Barnes‘ injury hurts. So my guess is that they pick up a loss in Indiana, and I would have added a loss in Toronto if Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t out.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much I love a good historical chase, I’ll be stunned if the Warriors make it home without at least one loss. This road swing they are on right now is treacherous, even for a team that has been playing in another galaxy this season. The Raptors and Pacers will give them fits. And if they don’t fall in Toronto Saturday, the Pacers will catch a fatigued crew at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Dec. 8 and put that first blemish on the Warriors’ record. As spectacular as they have played thus far, sooner or later the schedule will catch up to them.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They’re going to be 24-1. There will be no shame in their upcoming loss at Indiana. I’m not saying the Pacers are the better team. But the Warriors will be five games into a seven-game trip, and in Paul George and George Hill the hot Pacers will have defenders capable of getting into the Warriors shooters. Now, do I feel confident in this prediction? Not really.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHere’s the thing: The games I would be most worried about them losing are the second halves of back-to-back matchups, when they don’t have a night off coming into the game and would be more tired than they would otherwise. On this road trip they have two back-to-backs, and their opponents on those nights are: the Nets (5-13) and the Bucks (7-11)! So, not exactly the NBA’s elite. So I think they return to “Roarcle” at 25-0, and that much closer to 33 wins.

Blogtable: What was Kobe’s defining moment?

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


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?



VIDEORelive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 3 minutes

> What was Kobe Bryant’s defining moment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHe’ll probably get some love here for the championship teams he led in 2009 and 2010 without Shaquille O’Neal sharing the load. Someone might mention his MVP year or even a season in which he arguably should have won it. But to me, it’s the audacity, the brashness and the irrepressibility of his 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Bryant “went” where only the great Wilt Chamberlain ever had gone, as far as points in a single game, surpassing anything his role model Michael Jordan had done. Bryant might prefer the rings, partly because they’re more politically correct as personal achievements in a team sport, but let’s face it: he was a scorer and only one guy on one night ever did that bigger – and maybe not even better, in shot selection or highlight plays – than Kobe.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGame 5 of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in 1997. Kobe the rookie fired up airball after airball after airball in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Lakers were eliminated.  And the 18-year-old simply didn’t give a damn and kept right on shooting. That’s who Kobe has been for 20 NBA seasons — not always right, but never unsure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There are five of them. One on each finger. Choose a hand.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: If we mean a singular moment, then it’s his 81-point game. In terms of moment on a bit grander and more important scale, then I’d say his fifth championship. That gave him one more than Shaq, one less than Jordan.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game. Shaquille O’Neal was the more important player in the Lakers’ three-peat, Bryant’s fourth title came in a lopsided series, and his fifth came with him shooting 6-for-24 in Game 7 against Boston. The gold medal game in Beijing was a do-or-die situation that the U.S. had worked three years to get to and one of the best games I’ve ever seen. After struggling through the first 7 1/2 games of the tournament, Bryant took over late and lived up to his reputation as the game’s best closer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s nearly impossible to boil it down to just one. The title and Finals MVP he captured in 2009, his first title sans Shaq, sticks out to me. In order for him to shake the tag of being Shaq’s sidekick on those first three titles, he had to secure his legacy by showing that he could do it without the big fella. Once that was accomplished, he was elevated in the eyes of many. I think it validated all of the things he’d done up to that point and made him the unquestioned best player of his generation.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He is going to be defined by the Lakers’ Game 7 victory over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant was injured and shooting poorly and yet he fought to the end, true to his character.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSo many things come to mind, but when I hear Kobe Bryant, the first thing I think of is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, with the series on the line, as Kobe drove the lane, pulled up for a jumper and…dished a perfect alley-oop to Shaq. To me, that play perfectly encapsulated just how great Kobe was, as well as how dangerous a duo those two could be, at least when they wanted to be.

LeBron, Cavs vent after latest road loss


VIDEO: LeBron James was none too pleased after Cleveland’s loss in Toronto

From NBA.com staff reports

Even after falling in Toronto to the Raptors last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with an 11-4 mark. The troubling sign for them, though, has come on the road, where they are 3-4 and have lost three straight. After last night’s loss, Cavs star LeBron James questioned his team’s mental toughness and reports of a players-only meeting began to surface.

ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin reported the team did in fact have a players-only meeting while Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group did not report the same. Whatever happened after the game, this much is certain: there were some harsh truths doled out by James and some of his veteran teammates to the team’s younger players.

Here’s McMenamin’s report on the players-only meeting:

Following a 103-99 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a players-only meeting during which LeBron James and James Jones got on the team for its inconsistent play through the Cavs’ 11-4 start to the season, multiple sources told ESPN.com.

The loss to Toronto marked Cleveland’s fourth defeat at the hands of an Eastern Conference opponent this season — all of them coming on the road — and left the Cavs’ vocal leaders questioning the team’s mental toughness, something that has been a bit of a recurring theme so far this year.

Cleveland was outscored 31-16 from 3:46 remaining in the third quarter until 2:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, as Toronto ran away with the game.

“It’s all mindset,” James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

Cavs coach David Blatt absolved his team of any fault after the game, citing the fact that the Cavs were missing four key rotation players in Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Matthew Dellavedova (left calf).

“I thought that we got tired for obvious reasons. Very short-handed. Thought our guys played hard and I thought we ran out of gas,” Blatt said. “I thought fatigue played a big part of that, I really did.”

James, however, rejected his coach’s softer stance.

When asked whether fatigue was a factor, James said, “No. It’s not an excuse.” When another reporter asked whether injuries were to blame, James repeated, “It’s not an excuse.”

With the conference improving around them, James and Jones, who already have delivered halftime speeches this season to turn around stagnant team efforts, are trying to instill a sense of urgency in the group.

“It’s indicative of how we’ve been playing all year,” Jones told ESPN.com. “We haven’t been consistent. We haven’t been playing to the level of physicality and with the sense of urgency that we need to, that we set out to maintain.”

“For us, the season is about getting better,” Jones said. “It’s way too early in the season for us to even think that we’ve done anything or we’ve reached a level where we can’t continue to improve. So, we’re solid right now, but we have to get better. We’re not a team that’s chasing mediocrity. Being ‘solid’ isn’t good enough.”

And here’s Haynes’ report on the mood in the locker room after the loss to Toronto:

As soon as you entered the room, the mood was tense. There was a somber feeling of a squad that had just lost a playoff game. Players were visibly frustrated and shocked. Tristan Thompson’s head was tilted downward, as if he were ashamed of himself.

“It’s up to the bigs,” he said to cleveland.com. “We’re playing too soft. Not tough enough. We have to step up.”

This would be the theme of the evening.

Kevin Love and Mo Williams were sitting at their locker stalls quiet, with puzzled expressions glued to their faces. LeBron James emerged from the shower with a nasty snarl. The reverberations of an unacceptable outcome was everywhere.

Before the media was granted postgame locker room access, the players addressed a lack of toughness, heart and defensive awareness displayed in the fourth quarter Wednesday. James and James Jones demanded more.

“It wasn’t a team meeting. It’s just another game,” Mo Williams said of the postgame team chat. “When you lose games, we just discuss things we could have done better and we need to do going forward. That was basically it.”

After James addressed the media, he walked over to Jones, Kevin Love, Williams and J.R. Smith and began breaking down their defensive shortcomings very animatedly. He wasn’t quiet about it. He was trying to get a message across. Jones subsequently joined in agreement. It soon became a group discussion in the middle of the locker room.

Bismack Biyombo‘s name was mentioned. He came up with six boards and six points in the final quarter. He had two uncontested dunks in the final minute and a half that eliminated any chance of the Cavaliers making a comeback. Toronto had six “and-1s” in the quarter.

Cleveland didn’t intimidate Toronto at all. When asked, Bismack didn’t mince words about their roughhouse nature.

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told cleveland.com. “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

 

While players-only meetings haven’t been a harbinger of great things at other outposts this season (see: Sacramento and Houston), those were held in NBA cities where the squads are more or less failing to meet expectations. How the Cavs take this heart-to-heart talk may very well shape how their performance goes on the road (and beyond) as the rest of the 2015-16 season unfurls.

Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved


VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two teams that reached The Finals in June aren’t just off to strong starts. No, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the most improved teams in the league, statistically.

We’re just 10 days into the 2015-16 season, with only 74 (six percent) of 1,230 games in the books. So far, there have been some surprising results, some disappointments, and a lot of teams playing much faster than they did last season.

It’s still too early to draw any real conclusions from what we’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. If everything is put in context, it’s certainly worth looking into the numbers this early.

We’ll spare the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Rockets this week, and focus on the positive. Here are some notes on the league’s most improved teams and players through 10 days …

Most improved offenses

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  • Charlotte has turned some mid-range shots into 3-pointers, which will help long term. But their top-5 ranking is a result of two good offensive games this week after scoring less than a point per possession in their first three. They ranked last in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and in 3-point percentage last season, so they had nowhere to go but up.
  • If Golden State remains one of the league’s most improved offensive teams, they will challenge the ’96 Bulls record of 72 wins. You’ll see the MVP in the most improved shooters list below, but where the Warriors have improved most is in turnover rate and free throw rate. Those two numbers are more likely (than shooting or rebounding) to stay consistent from a team’s first five games through the full season. So that’s kind of scary.
  • New York was looking to run in its first three games, and more shots early in the clock gave their offense a boost. But here are their fast break points, by game: 19, 17, 10, 0, 0. They need to get back in the open floor.

Most improved defenses

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Most improved shooters

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  • Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his mid-range shooting in the second half of last season, but this improvement isn’t a continuation of that. He’s taken only three shots from mid-range this season, with 40 of his 54 shots coming in the restricted area. More layups = better shooting.
  • It’s not fair that Stephen Curry ranks as the third most improved shooter this season. But shooting 58 percent (19-for-33) on pull-up threes isn’t sustainable … maybe. Curry shot 42 percent on pull-up threes last season.
  • Blake Griffin is a mean 24-for-28 (86 percent) in the restricted area and an improved 21-for-45 (47 percent) from mid-range. The mid-range number is the more important one. Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper, but 47 percent (Dirk Nowitzki‘s career mark) is about as good as it gets from mid-range, where Griffin is still taking almost half of his shots.