The Way Too Early NBA Playoff Picture: Sorting out contenders from pretenders - Canadanewsmedia
Connect with us

Sports

The Way Too Early NBA Playoff Picture: Sorting out contenders from pretenders

Published

on


<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="NBA teams have played as many as 12 games, and while the season doesn’t really start until Christmas, it’s never too early to start making wild projections off small sample sizes. So, let’s try to figure out who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs based on what little we’ve learned so far this year.” data-reactid=”16″>NBA teams have played as many as 12 games, and while the season doesn’t really start until Christmas, it’s never too early to start making wild projections off small sample sizes. So, let’s try to figure out who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs based on what little we’ve learned so far this year.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1-4. They are who we thought they were

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Toronto Raptors (11-1)
Milwaukee Bucks (9-2)
Boston Celtics (7-4)
Philadelphia 76ers (7-5)” data-reactid=”19″>Toronto Raptors (11-1)
Milwaukee Bucks (9-2)
Boston Celtics (7-4)
Philadelphia 76ers (7-5)

It may not be the order we predicted, but at the one-eighth mark of the season, the four teams everyone figured for home playoff seeds in the East have given us no reason to believe otherwise. As predictable as the big picture has been, the Raptors, Bucks and Celtics have all offered surprises.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Toronto has been a juggernaut, even as Kawhi Leonard has missed four games for precautionary health reasons. Their depth is remarkable, with six players averaging in double figures, and they legitimately go 11 deep with plus players. Leonard has looked like an MVP candidate when he’s been on the floor, which is more encouraging than his absences have been concerning. Even when he’s not available, the Raptors have enough talent to be one of the East’s four best teams, and as the resurgent Serge Ibaka said recently, “I just can’t wait to see him at 100 percent. It’s going to be scary.”” data-reactid=”21″>Toronto has been a juggernaut, even as Kawhi Leonard has missed four games for precautionary health reasons. Their depth is remarkable, with six players averaging in double figures, and they legitimately go 11 deep with plus players. Leonard has looked like an MVP candidate when he’s been on the floor, which is more encouraging than his absences have been concerning. Even when he’s not available, the Raptors have enough talent to be one of the East’s four best teams, and as the resurgent Serge Ibaka said recently, “I just can’t wait to see him at 100 percent. It’s going to be scary.”

View photos

The stars are aligning on the Raptors around Kawhi Leonard. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Milwaukee has realized every imagination we’ve had for them in recent years. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s evolution makes him an MVP favorite this season, and yet new coach Mike Budenholzer might be the Bucks’ most important piece. The Bucks are the only East team to rank in the league’s top five in both offensive and defensive rating. Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova have opened up space, and they’re not only taking more 3-pointers than any other team in the conference (after ranking bottom 10 in that category a year ago), they’re making them at an East-best rate of 40 percent. Thursday’s blowout win over the two-time defending champs is Exhibit A of their transformation.

The Celtics look like it could be half a season before they take their rightful spot as the conference’s most dangerous team. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are still working their way back from season-ending injuries. The guys who rose to prominence in their absence during their conference finals run this past spring — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier — are all trying to force too much into more limited roles with diminishing returns. But there’s too much talent on this roster not to win games while they’re figuring it out, and there’s no doubt coach Brad Stevens will figure it out.

The 76ers are less surprising. The losses of Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli have predictably emphasized the shooting woes of Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons. But Simmons is still averaging damn near a triple-double, Joel Embiid is the most dominant center in the conference, and J.J. Redick can mask a lot of shooting woes. The Sixers may not be as good as they think they are, but they’re still really good.

5. A threat to get out of the first round

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Indiana Pacers (7-5)” data-reactid=”50″>Indiana Pacers (7-5)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Pacers nearly made real playoff noise last season, and this time LeBron James isn’t standing in their way. In a league that’s playing faster than ever, they’re grinding games, relying on Victor Oladipo to out-execute teams in the half-court. And he’s straight-up executing them. They’ve got good-but-not-great talent well into their bench, and they all play hard — a credit to coach Nate McMillan— and enough on their own to win most nights in the East, especially with Oladipo holding the reins.” data-reactid=”51″>The Pacers nearly made real playoff noise last season, and this time LeBron James isn’t standing in their way. In a league that’s playing faster than ever, they’re grinding games, relying on Victor Oladipo to out-execute teams in the half-court. And he’s straight-up executing them. They’ve got good-but-not-great talent well into their bench, and they all play hard — a credit to coach Nate McMillan— and enough on their own to win most nights in the East, especially with Oladipo holding the reins.

5-8. Playoff hopefuls by default

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Charlotte Hornets (6-5)
Miami Heat (5-5)
Detroit Pistons (5-5)” data-reactid=”53″>Charlotte Hornets (6-5)
Miami Heat (5-5)
Detroit Pistons (5-5)

None of these teams is exactly a thrill a minute, but somebody’s got to fill the final three seeds in the East, and these three well-coached clubs can make better arguments than anyone else at this point.

The Pistons have cooled off after a hot start, and while it’s still apparent that a team paying Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson a combined $74 million to be its Big Three has a standard ceiling height, there’s talent there, and new coach Dwane Casey is capable of maximizing it.

Contract Year Kemba Walker is one heck of a Kemba Walker, and that version of the now two-time All-Star point guard is averaging 28.1 points on 61.5 percent true shooting in the early going. Second-year sidekick Malik Monk is showing signs of tapping his potential, Tony Parker is doing Tony Parker things in a 36-year-old way, and the rest of the same-old Hornets — the ones who seem to play above their means every other year — are on an uptick this season. They can win games, and that’s good enough.

The Heat are still star-searching, but they’re always going to be competitive under coach Erik Spoelstra, and a trade for Jimmy Butler could catapult this team into the same tier as Indiana.

Frisky for the time being

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Brooklyn Nets (5-6)
Orlando Magic (4-7)” data-reactid=”63″>Brooklyn Nets (5-6)
Orlando Magic (4-7)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="It’s unclear whether the Magic are just the same team that started strong last season, only to fade back to the reality that’s been their last six seasons, and the Nets continue to climb out of The Pit that Billy King dug them, but there’s still a long way to go. Coaches Kenny Atkinson and Steve Clifford will squeeze every ounce of effort out of these teams (we see you Caris Lavert and Contract Year Nikola Vucevic), but the talent gap is too wide for that to make a meaningful difference this season.” data-reactid=”64″>It’s unclear whether the Magic are just the same team that started strong last season, only to fade back to the reality that’s been their last six seasons, and the Nets continue to climb out of The Pit that Billy King dug them, but there’s still a long way to go. Coaches Kenny Atkinson and Steve Clifford will squeeze every ounce of effort out of these teams (we see you Caris Lavert and Contract Year Nikola Vucevic), but the talent gap is too wide for that to make a meaningful difference this season.

Hard to believe they won’t be in the mix

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Washington Wizards (2-8)” data-reactid=”66″>Washington Wizards (2-8)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Yikes. The Wizards tried to pour Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and Austin Rivers into an already explosive chemistry mixture headlined by not-best-friends John Wall and Bradley Beal, and the results have been as expected. It took them a handful of games for them to start calling each other out through the media again, and somehow Washington remains convinced coach Scott Brooks can figure this out.” data-reactid=”67″>Yikes. The Wizards tried to pour Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and Austin Rivers into an already explosive chemistry mixture headlined by not-best-friends John Wall and Bradley Beal, and the results have been as expected. It took them a handful of games for them to start calling each other out through the media again, and somehow Washington remains convinced coach Scott Brooks can figure this out.

They should figure this out. They have too much talent to miss the playoffs in the East, and yet, if you’ve watched this team for more than five minute this season, they look ready for an early vacation.

Lottery-bound

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="New York Knicks (4-8)
Atlanta Hawks (3-8)

Chicago Bulls (3-9)
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10)” data-reactid=”70″>New York Knicks (4-8)
Atlanta Hawks (3-8)

Chicago Bulls (3-9)
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The return of Kristaps Porzingis will come too late, if at all, for the Knicks this season, and it’s really hard to win when Enes Kanter might be your best player. The Hawks have more interest in developing Trae Young than winning. Zach LaVine is good, which is not a thing I expected to say, and the Bulls are bad, which is something I definitely expected to say. And the Cavaliers are a dumpster full of gasoline that Dan Gilbert continues lobbing lit matches into from high atop his Quicken Loans Arena perch.” data-reactid=”71″>The return of Kristaps Porzingis will come too late, if at all, for the Knicks this season, and it’s really hard to win when Enes Kanter might be your best player. The Hawks have more interest in developing Trae Young than winning. Zach LaVine is good, which is not a thing I expected to say, and the Bulls are bad, which is something I definitely expected to say. And the Cavaliers are a dumpster full of gasoline that Dan Gilbert continues lobbing lit matches into from high atop his Quicken Loans Arena perch.

Other than that, these teams are fine.

View photos

Stephen Curry is shooting the lights out in Golden State, even better than usual. (Getty Images)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. The champs are here

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Golden State Warriors (10-2)” data-reactid=”99″>Golden State Warriors (10-2)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="We by no means wish this upon the Warriors, but they could suffer an injury to the second-best player in the world and still be the best team in basketball, notwithstanding Thursday’s loss to the Bucks.” data-reactid=”100″>We by no means wish this upon the Warriors, but they could suffer an injury to the second-best player in the world and still be the best team in basketball, notwithstanding Thursday’s loss to the Bucks.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Stephen Curry is that good. Here’s hoping his adductor strain against Milwaukee is nothing serious. There are few things more fun in basketball than when the Chef cooks for a full season. His 31.3 points per game lead the league on 52.5/50.8/92.3 splits — all well above his marks in the only unanimous MVP campaign in history. Warriors coach Steve Kerr is the only player in NBA history to shoot 50/50/90 over a full season, and Curry’s usage rate is three times higher than his mentor’s in 1995-96.” data-reactid=”101″>Stephen Curry is that good. Here’s hoping his adductor strain against Milwaukee is nothing serious. There are few things more fun in basketball than when the Chef cooks for a full season. His 31.3 points per game lead the league on 52.5/50.8/92.3 splits — all well above his marks in the only unanimous MVP campaign in history. Warriors coach Steve Kerr is the only player in NBA history to shoot 50/50/90 over a full season, and Curry’s usage rate is three times higher than his mentor’s in 1995-96.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Did we mention that DeMarcus Cousins is on his way back? Golden State is a cheat code. The only question we have for the Warriors is whether they can win 74 games and blow a 3-0 Finals lead. (I kid.)” data-reactid=”102″>Did we mention that DeMarcus Cousins is on his way back? Golden State is a cheat code. The only question we have for the Warriors is whether they can win 74 games and blow a 3-0 Finals lead. (I kid.)

2-3. Home seed-ward bound

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Denver Nuggets (9-2)
Portland Trail Blazers (9-3)” data-reactid=”104″>Denver Nuggets (9-2)
Portland Trail Blazers (9-3)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="We keep lowering our expectations for the Blazers, and they keep maintaining theirs, even if theirs seem too lofty. They are a team that knows how to play together, and every year Terry Stotts incorporates new faces into the mix. Zach Collins is improving as a rim runner/protector with range, and they’ve added two shooters — Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas — who are giving them a few extra triples per game. The Blazers are still the Blazers, and that was good for the third seed last season.” data-reactid=”105″>We keep lowering our expectations for the Blazers, and they keep maintaining theirs, even if theirs seem too lofty. They are a team that knows how to play together, and every year Terry Stotts incorporates new faces into the mix. Zach Collins is improving as a rim runner/protector with range, and they’ve added two shooters — Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas — who are giving them a few extra triples per game. The Blazers are still the Blazers, and that was good for the third seed last season.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Nuggets are a team that has learned to play together. Their defense hasn’t just caught up to the offense, it’s surpassed it, as Denver ranks second in the league on that end. If the Nuggets hold anywhere close to that, the Nuggets should fairly easily hold on to a home seed. Nikola Jokic is a wizard offensively, Jamal Murray broke out in a big way, Gary Harris is bound to start shooting more efficiently, there are weapons up and down the roster, and Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas are coming.” data-reactid=”106″>The Nuggets are a team that has learned to play together. Their defense hasn’t just caught up to the offense, it’s surpassed it, as Denver ranks second in the league on that end. If the Nuggets hold anywhere close to that, the Nuggets should fairly easily hold on to a home seed. Nikola Jokic is a wizard offensively, Jamal Murray broke out in a big way, Gary Harris is bound to start shooting more efficiently, there are weapons up and down the roster, and Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas are coming.

4-5. They’ll still be there in the end

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Houston Rockets (5-6)
Utah Jazz (4-6)
” data-reactid=”112″>Houston Rockets (5-6)
Utah Jazz (4-6)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Rockets looked really bad — again, in a loss to the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. In a cruel twist, just as their defense has begun to climb from the league’s bottom 10, their offense has dropped into the lowest five. Chris Paul struggled to shake defenders on multiple possessions against OKC, and it’s not a good sign that he’s entered into some sort of washed-up competition with Carmelo Anthony. Still, a 65-win team falling out of the playoffs, just because they lost a couple rotational players, would be unprecedented. So, this has to turn around, right?” data-reactid=”117″>The Rockets looked really bad — again, in a loss to the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. In a cruel twist, just as their defense has begun to climb from the league’s bottom 10, their offense has dropped into the lowest five. Chris Paul struggled to shake defenders on multiple possessions against OKC, and it’s not a good sign that he’s entered into some sort of washed-up competition with Carmelo Anthony. Still, a 65-win team falling out of the playoffs, just because they lost a couple rotational players, would be unprecedented. So, this has to turn around, right?

The Jazz haven’t fallen quite so far, but they had us believing their surge late last season would propel them into a top seed out West. Their shooting numbers have dipped across the board, but their middling defense after leading the league on that end a season ago is more surprising. The guess here is that the Jazz eventually strike the right chord between physicality and the new rules discouraging it. They’re still a player away from contention, but they’re good and deep nonetheless. This team is fine.

6-8. Looking a lot like playoff teams

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="San Antonio Spurs (6-4)
Los Angeles Clippers (6-5)
Oklahoma City Thunder (7-4)” data-reactid=”120″>San Antonio Spurs (6-4)
Los Angeles Clippers (6-5)
Oklahoma City Thunder (7-4)

The Spurs continue to be the Spurs, and DeMar DeRozan’s fundamental relentlessness seamlessly fits with a coach in Gregg Popovich who demands the same from everybody. It’s been more than two decades since San Antonio last missed the playoffs, and there’s still no reason to doubt them now.

The Clippers, like the Heat, are searching for stars, and they may find them this summer, but right now they have a lot of above-average players who play hard and well and expect a lot from themselves. And Shai Gilgeous-Alexander may prove to be the steal of the 2018 draft. This team just makes sense.

The Thunder breathed a sigh of relief when Westbrook’s ankle injury was better than the absolute worst, and then they dominated Houston without him. Their defense remains one of the league’s best, and so long as they don’t lose Westbrook or Paul George for any significant stretch, OKC should find itself settling into the low playoff seed they’ve become accustomed to in Kevin Durant’s absence.

Facing an uphill battle

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="New Orleans Pelicans (5-6)
Los Angeles Lakers (5-6)” data-reactid=”125″>New Orleans Pelicans (5-6)
Los Angeles Lakers (5-6)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In similar boats, Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both trying to keep afloat less-than-ideally constructed teams. They may be the two best players in the league (when LeBron is trying), and we imagine they can carry the Lance Stephensons and Solomon Hills of the world to the playoffs, but the West’s depth is a harsh reality. If anyone can dig their teams out of early holes, it’s these two, but they can’t do it alone. So, the agent they now share is probably concocting ways they can do it together .” data-reactid=”130″>In similar boats, Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both trying to keep afloat less-than-ideally constructed teams. They may be the two best players in the league (when LeBron is trying), and we imagine they can carry the Lance Stephensons and Solomon Hills of the world to the playoffs, but the West’s depth is a harsh reality. If anyone can dig their teams out of early holes, it’s these two, but they can’t do it alone. So, the agent they now share is probably concocting ways they can do it together .

Playoff sleeper

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Memphis Grizzlies (6-4)” data-reactid=”132″>Memphis Grizzlies (6-4)

With Mike Conley back alongside Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies are still gritting and grinding. Rookie Jaren Jackson is going to be really good, they have capable contributors throughout the roster, and Memphis is finally making its threes. My guess is their best four shooters won’t continue to make six 3-pointers a game at a rate of 47 percent, and when their shooting falls back to earth, so too could their win-loss record. Still, they could be elite defensively, and it’s tough to count out a healthy Conley and Gasol.

Not quite dead in the water

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Sacramento Kings (6-5)
Dallas Mavericks (3-8)” data-reactid=”135″>Sacramento Kings (6-5)
Dallas Mavericks (3-8)

The Kings are wildly exceeding expectations with contributions from all over a young and talented roster. Logic says it’s only a matter of time before a team that perennially picks high in the lottery finds its head above water. Is this the crack in the dam for Sacramento? The Kings play fast and fun, and they’re forging in the right direction, but at some point their negative point differential will yield the expected results. This isn’t going to be their year, but at least now you can see it on the horizon.

The Mavericks just need to turn it over to Luka Doncic already. They look dangerous when the offense runs through him, and they have solid veterans around the most dynamic young talent we’ve seen in Dallas since one of those vets was a young lad, but it doesn’t appear some of the older guard has realized its Doncic’s time now. Rick Carlisle will figure this out, and the Mavs will be capable of giving anybody a good run on a given night, but probably not enough nights to make it out of the lottery.

The hottest of messes

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8)” data-reactid=”139″>Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="I refuse to believe a team whose best player is sitting out games and sabotaging the organization from within until the front office meets his trade demand can contend for a playoff spot, no matter what kind of time machine Derrick Rose has discovered. So long as Jimmy Butler is actively joining the opposing team’s fans in waving his Timberwolves off the court, Minnesota is going nowhere fast.” data-reactid=”140″>I refuse to believe a team whose best player is sitting out games and sabotaging the organization from within until the front office meets his trade demand can contend for a playoff spot, no matter what kind of time machine Derrick Rose has discovered. So long as Jimmy Butler is actively joining the opposing team’s fans in waving his Timberwolves off the court, Minnesota is going nowhere fast.

Lottery-bound

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Phoenix Suns (2-9)” data-reactid=”142″>Phoenix Suns (2-9)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Following a 22-point blowout loss to the Nets, young Suns Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton criticized their own team’s chemistry and demanded a more unified effort against the Celtics on Thursday night, when the Suns proceeded to blow a 22-point lead in a devastating defeat. The team with the league’s worst offense and fourth-worst defense probably isn’t going to solve all of its issues over their next 71 games, no matter how often its young stars wish that transformation would happen overnight.” data-reactid=”147″>Following a 22-point blowout loss to the Nets, young Suns Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton criticized their own team’s chemistry and demanded a more unified effort against the Celtics on Thursday night, when the Suns proceeded to blow a 22-point lead in a devastating defeat. The team with the league’s worst offense and fourth-worst defense probably isn’t going to solve all of its issues over their next 71 games, no matter how often its young stars wish that transformation would happen overnight.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="– – – – – – –” data-reactid=”148″>– – – – – – –

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach” data-reactid=”149″>Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="More from Yahoo Sports:
Fed-up 7-year-old’s hilarious letter to Cowboys owner
Floyd Mayweather calls off fight against kickboxer
Le’Veon Bell sighting is followed by cryptic tweets
A hero’s welcome: The lives Watt helped save
” data-reactid=”150″>More from Yahoo Sports:
Fed-up 7-year-old’s hilarious letter to Cowboys owner
Floyd Mayweather calls off fight against kickboxer
Le’Veon Bell sighting is followed by cryptic tweets
A hero’s welcome: The lives Watt helped save

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Dwane Casey's Pistons hand Raptors third loss of season

Published

on

By


On his first visit back to Toronto since the Raptors fired him last spring, Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons slapped the NBA-leading Raps with just their third loss of the season, and his players spilled onto the floor shower their new coach with celebratory hugs.

Behind 30 points and 12 rebounds from Blake Griffin, Detroit – the sixth-place team in the Eastern Conference – orchestrated a white-knuckled 106-104 come-from-behind victory over the Raptors. Griffin concluded the emphatic night by saying the win was for Casey. Then the all-star delivered the zinger of the night when asked about his new coach’s ability to draw up game-winning plays.

“It’s not like we just discovered this today. We put in plays like that all the time in practice,” said Griffin. “He demands execution and we executed. Maybe to Toronto fans or to their GM it was a surprise, but not to us.”

Story continues below advertisement

Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors with 26 points and nine rebounds, had a chance to win it with the game tied 104-104, but made a costly gaffe instead. He was dribbling in for what could have been the game-winning shot when the ball ricocheted off his shoe and out of bounds with two seconds remaining. Reggie Bullock hit the final bucket for Detroit, and the Pistons flooded the floor in celebration.

“They were pulling for me. I appreciate that tremendously,” said Casey of his Pistons. “They felt for me. I was trying to deflect it as much as we could. Blake was the first one. ‘This is a great win for you coach.’ That means something when your star player comes to you and tells you that and other players join. We have a good unit. We may not be as talented, but we’re gonna be one of the scrappiest bunches in the Eastern Conference, I promise you that.”

It was the second straight loss for the Raptors, who fell to 12-3, while the Pistons – a club that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008 – improved to 7-6.

Kyle Lowry, who had 14 points and seven assists for Toronto, blamed a lack of communication.

“I think just talking, man. Communication. Open your mouth. We’ve gotta speak, we’ve gotta talk, you’ve gotta say something,” said Lowry. “Can’t play if you can’t say nothing.”

The lead-up to the game had been surreal. The likeable ex-Raptors coach held court for a lengthy media session after the Pistons’ morning shoot-around – one so large it looked like Game 7 of a playoff series.

He shook hands with all the familiar faces in Toronto’s sports media contingent. He joked that his young son, after spending much of his childhood in Toronto, was glad to find a Tim Hortons in their new Michigan neighbourhood, so he won’t go without Timbits.

Story continues below advertisement

Story continues below advertisement

Casey’s pre-game media session was no less jam-packed. He gushed about the talent he sees from afar on this year’s Raptors team, and spoke like a proud papa of the young players he helped develop. The well-mannered coach was stopped by well-wishers countless times in the arena’s basement hallway on his short walk to the visitor’s locker room, from media to stadium staff to season ticket holders.

A hearty standing ovation roared throughout a video tribute for Casey in the first quarter. Griffin had to tell him to stand up and acknowledge the crowd because Casey had been busy drawing up a play and didn’t see the video.

Shoulder soreness left the Raptors without Serge Ibaka on Wednesday, right in the midst of a strong run the Congolese big man has been having at the centre spot. Instead, the Raptors inserted Jonas Valanciunas back into the starting lineup for this game, set to battle with Detroit big man Andre Drummond.

The Lithuanian 7-footer got into some early foul trouble and little-used Greg Monroe was thrust into action already in the first quarter. Monroe came up with a 17 point, 7 rebound night, while Valanciunas would manage 14 points and six boards.

With Both Norman Powell and C.J Miles also off with injuries, the Raptors reached further down the bench to fill out their reserve corps. Malachi Richardson was brought in, fresh off a 34-point night on Tuesday with the team’s G-League affiliate, Raptors 905 (which included eight three pointers).

The Pistons, who had trailed by as much as 19 during the night, roared back on a 23-9 run and stole the lead in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, capitalizing on Raptor gaffes and turnovers. There were fiesty moments down the stretch – like a charge by big Drummond on Lowry and a swatting block by Griffin.

Story continues below advertisement

Pascal Siakam, decked in flashy teal shoes, had 17 points and seven rebounds while also spending much of his night chasing around Griffin. He thwarted the first of two Pistons game-winning in-bound plays with a monster block. But then ex-Raptor Jose Calderon executed the pass to Bullock, who scored the fadeaway winner.

The Raptors shot an abysmal 4 of 20 from three-point range and 10 of 17 from the free-throw line.

Next up for the Raptors is a Friday contest in Boston with the Celtics.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Olympic bid's demise creates roadblock for Calgary's infrastructure plans, mayor says

Published

on

By


Mayor Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, Alta., on Oct. 31, 2018.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Following voters’ rejection of holding an Olympic Games in Calgary, the city’s mayor says the billions in funding committed by higher levels of government for infrastructure is still needed.

In a plebiscite on Tuesday, 56 per cent of voters rejected holding the 2026 Winter Olympics and the promise that the Games could boost Calgary’s struggling economy. The vote was non-binding but the city and the bid corporation have both said the process is now over.

The result means the city, which prides itself as a winter sports destination, will no longer receive billions of dollars in promised federal and provincial funding that was contingent on hosting the Olympics.

Story continues below advertisement

“I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but Calgarians did say no to $4-billion in funding yesterday,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said on Wednesday, referring to funding promised by Ottawa, the Alberta government and the International Olympic Committee.

“Maybe we don’t need all those $4-billion if there are no Olympics, but we still need some of it.”

Mr. Nenshi, who supported the bid, said the federal government’s decision to delay announcing its funding for the Games until two weeks before the plebiscite might have contributed to the loss. City council had promised voters would have a month to study the bid, including the funding agreements. Instead, the public was presented with a last-minute document hammered out over a weekend of frantic talks to salvage a funding agreement.

“If the federal government had been to meet their deadline and get their numbers out more in advance, would we have a different response?” Mr. Nenshi asked as he spoke with reporters.

The bid’s demise puts a major roadblock in front of the city’s long-awaited plans for a fieldhouse, a multisport venue that would include indoor fields, running tracks and other facilities. The city has had such a project on its wish list for decades. Supporters of the bid insisted Calgary needed the venue regardless of whether it hosted the Olympics. The city’s $5.1-billion Olympic bid also called for the construction of 1,800 units of affordable housing.

Opponents of the bid argued holding the event would be too expensive and risky, and they rejected the idea that Calgary needed to host a multibillion-dollar sporting event to build infrastructure the city needs.

While some councillors have said they don’t expect the city to move forward with the fieldhouse in an era of austerity, Mr. Nenshi left open that possibility. However, he said the city does not have the money to build the proposed affordable housing.

Story continues below advertisement

Story continues below advertisement

Alberta Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda said the province, which had set aside $700-million for the Olympics, would review any future funding requests from Calgary on a case-by-case basis but no plans exist for a special fund to help the city.

Federal Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan did not make herself available for an interview. Her spokesman, Craig MacBride, said in an e-mailed statement that the $1.4-billion in federal money committed to the Games was dependent on a successful bid. Neither Ms. Duncan nor Mr. MacBride were immediately available to respond to Mr. Nenshi’s critique of the federal government.

Moshe Lander, who lectures about sports economics at Concordia University in Montreal, said if projects such as affordable housing or a renovated Olympic oval really are needed, the city should be able to make the same argument even without the bid. Mr. Lander said using the Olympics to wrestle money out of the federal and provincial governments turns the bidding process into a “hostage negotiation” that isn’t the best way to plan, or pay for, major projects.

“If you were able to make a compelling argument to the provincial and federal governments and get them to commit money to it, then I think you should be able to do that this morning without any significant loss of the strength of your argument,” Mr. Lander said.

Most of the investments planned for the 2026 Games were supposed to refurbish existing venues, many of them dating from the 1988 Winter Olympics. A number of bid supporters have warned that those venues will require a significant injection of cash in the next decade to remain up-to-date.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Happily ever after ending for Casey on fairy tale return to Toronto

Published

on

By


There was a high school dance kind of awkwardness to almost everything around Dwane Casey’s return to what is now called the Scotiabank Arena.

Masai Ujiri looked like he’d rather be a hundred other places Wednesday night. Casey had that big forced smile on his face in his pre-game media scrum, that appeared to be so part nerves, part excitement, part get me the heck out of here. And Nick Nurse, he is more the best supporting actor nominee in this basketball drama — he may have been party to the firing of Casey and certainly was party to his own hiring as coach of the Raptors, but when he was announced in all the pre-game noise as coach of the Toronto team, if there was applause, you couldn’t hear it.

And then the odd scene on the court, when the Detroit Pistons called timeout for the very first time in the first quarter, and the game night operators put the two-minute tribute video on the board to celebrate all Casey accomplished in his time coaching the Raptors. There were the owners of the team, George Cope of Bell and chairman Larry Tanenbaum standing and smiling and enthusiastically applauding.

When was the last time you saw owners giving a raucous standing ovation to a coach they had to approve the firing of just months ago?

If I’ve seen anything like this before on a sporting night, I can’t remember it.

The video, not surprisingly, was very well done. It had various views of Casey, numerous highlights and words and graphics outlining his many accomplishments here, and with it came applause from the Scotiabank crowd getting louder and louder and more enthusiastic as it ended with a thank you.

And odd, or maybe it’s just Kyle Lowry being an individual; Lowry left the Raptors bench during the time out, with Nurse apparently giving instructions and not turning to watch the video of the man who bright him to the NBA, but Lowry had to say something about the coach who helped turn from NBA annoyance to all-star. Lowry walked to near centre court, watched the video, stood there and applauded. No one was going to take that from him.

There aren’t many nights like this one on any team’s schedule. A beloved coach returning. Coaching against the best Raptors team we’ve ever seen. With the former assistant coach now in charge. And with Casey saying he has accepted his firing, he still doesn’t understand it.

The truth: He knows he and Ujiri had gone about as far down the road as they could have as working general manager and coach, even if Masai has another title. He knows there’s a point in time when you can’t work together any more, can’t trust each other, don’t believe in each other. That’s what happened with Ujiri and Casey. Essentially they fired each other, with only one of them able to make the decision.

It was definitive but it also meant for an uneasy and uncomfortable goodbye.

But here we are, with the Raptors 15 games into a new season, with 12 wins and three losses for Nurse the first-year coach, a win turned into a loss Wednesday night and after all the drama, the angst, the reality, the anxiety, the attempts at defining and explaining who did what to whom, there is a surprising win-win in all of this.

Ujiri has the team he wants with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, at least for this season and who knows how much longer.

Nurse has his first head coaching job in the NBA. It only took forever to get here. Casey provided him with the opportunity to get in the league and when Casey could have used some support from Nurse after the horrible sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers last May, his friend wasn’t there. That doesn’t mean as much today as his 12-3 record. First time coaching. Superb record. The drama is partly who cares drama now. So much is working out for Nurse in the early going, and never mind the fans barely acknowledged him on Wednesday night and the Raptors let a win turned into a loss.

And yes, after going through the indignity of winning coach of the year and getting fired after a record season, and wondering about misplaced personal loyalties, it was worked out well for Casey. He is coaching the Detroit Pistons, a franchise with a few stars and a roster in need of building. He is surrounded by the kind of basketball people he has hoped to be surrounded by in Toronto. And he’s getting serious money, five years, somewhere around $40 million US. Life changing money for a guy who never made a lot over the years. Now his kids and his kid’s kids will be taken care of forever.

So Ujiri wins. And Nurse wins. And Casey wins on a night when his Pistons made a last second bucket to win a game they had no business winning.

It’s all happily ever after. For now. For everybody involved as we now return to the scheduled portion of the regular season.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Canada News Media

%d bloggers like this: