NBA Power Rankings Week 10 -- The Nuggets are climbing, but the hottest team is in the East - ESPN
3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 23-9

PREV. RANK LAST WEEK THIS WEEK
2 2-2 IND, CLE, @PHI
The Raptors concluded their 2-2 trip out west banged up. Kyle Lowry missed the final pair of games -- losses at Portland and Denver -- with a thigh bruise, and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet sat out on Sunday with back injuries. The Raps can take some consolation in Lowry's return to form before the injury. After a lengthy shooting slump, the point guard shined in back-to-back wins at the Clippers and Golden State, converting 17 of 31 field goal attempts. -- Arnovitz
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5 hours ago
The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings: Welcome the Celtics back to prominence – The Athletic [paywall]
1. Toronto Raptors (Previously 1st), 23-9 (+7.0 net rating)
I wonder where the Toronto Raptors’ ranking would’ve been if the game against the Nuggets happened before the rankings were submitted. Toronto missed shot after shot during an 18-0 run by Denver in that game. That stretch made it look like the Raptors were executing a perfect tribute to the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. No Kyle Lowry and no Fred VanVleet made the Raptors rely too much on Kawhi Leonard. Delon Wright and Lorenzo Brown had to overextend their roles. My god, they made Danny Green attack off the dribble so much. And Denver was happy to make CJ Miles and OG Anunoby beat them.

The Raptors will get healthy with their backcourt. And they’ll get Jonas Valanciunas back in a month or so. A fully healthy Raptors team looks a lot different than what we’ve seen recently, and they’ve still been pretty good during this stretch. Mostly, the Raptors need to make sure they have a more diverse plan on offense than ‘Kawhi, please save us.’ That’s where you need Lowry to be more of the scorer we’ve seen in the past. Toronto has months to fine-tune this machine before they get back to the playoffs to prove this iteration is above the past playoff failures of different star dynamics. This is still the top team in the Power Rankings, but it should be the Warriors again. My guess is we have a new number one next week.
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5 hours ago
NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets surge to No. 1 | SI.com
2. Raptors | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 23-9 | Previous Ranking: 1

Topping the Clippers and Warriors on consecutive nights was an impressive way to start a West Coast swing. It’s a shame the fans in Portland and Denver didn’t get to see just what Kyle Lowry brings to this team.
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5 hours ago
NBA Power Rankings: No. 1 Warriors, rising Nuggets headline most pleasant surprises for each team around the league - CBSSports.com
2 This isn't the first you've heard this, but the continued development of 24-year-old Pascal Siakam has been one of the many keys for the Raptors this season, and among the most surprising to those who haven't followed the Raptors closely the past few years. Jonas Valanciunas' injury will put even more of an onus on the versatile Siakam during the next month or so. Siakam used to ooze potential but would often play recklessly. As he's matured, you can see the game slowing down for him. He's third in the NBA in true shooting percentage.
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5 hours ago
Power Rankings | NBA.com
3 Toronto Raptors
Record: 23-9
Pace: 100.4 (18) OffRtg: 113.0 (3) DefRtg: 106.0 (7) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)

A 2-2 trip through L.A., Oakland, Portland and Denver isn't bad, given that the Raptors didn't have both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard in any of the four games. Lowry got his shot back before missing the last two games with a thigh contusion, though it would be nice to see him shooting well (and aggressively) again in a game he plays with Leonard. Lowry has a higher effective field goal percentage (57 percent on 149 shots) with Leonard off the floor than he does with Leonard on the floor (49.7 percent on 179 shots), though the Raptors' offense has been just fine (117.1 points scored per 100 possessions) in the pair's minutes together. When the offense has struggled (scoring less than a point per possession) has been when Lowry has been off the floor. After that trip out West, the Raps have a couple of important games within the East this week. They've already played the Celtics, Bucks and Sixers two times each, but Wednesday will be their first meeting with the third-place Pacers.
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5 hours ago
Podcast: Locked on Raptors #437 - Raptors drop two out west, Nurse slams refs w/ Vivek Jacob - Raptors HQ
In Episode 437 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley and Vivek Jacob break down the Raptors’ losses in both Portland and Denver over the weekend. They talk about OG Anunoby’s extreme struggles of late, Nick Nurse’s choice words about the officiating Kawhi Leonard has received, and other stray thoughts from the two games. Injuries: they suck!
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5 hours ago
4 things we learned from the Toronto Raptors' 4-game road trip - Sportsnet.ca
The Raptors roster, as we know, is deep. But naturally, as they go further down the bench, their reserves aren’t quite reliable enough to count on for wins.

On Sunday the team was without three critical players in Lowry, Siakam, and VanVleet (along with Jonas Valanciunas, who will be sidelined for at least a month). It forced Leonard into a high-usage outing, which is generally a good thing given how effective he is, but with Delon Wright in the starting lineup (more on him in a moment), and meaningful minutes going to players who haven’t had many reps this season in Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe, the regular rotation players were sorely missed.

Another starter was C.J. Miles, who has seriously struggled this season. On the roster as a much-needed three-point specialist off the bench, Miles is shooting just 30.8 per cent from deep — the lowest mark since he was a teenager in the 2006-07 season. He has a quicker first-step, it seems, compared to last season, but has been a little too aggressive and forceful in trying to attack the rim, and has missed countless opportunities on drives to the hoop as he looks to regain his form — and confidence — shooting the ball.

But there were signs of hope, or an eventual turnaround, on the road trip. On Friday versus Portland he scored a season-high 13 points.

Miles has “been a shell of himself,” as Nick Nurse put it after the Friday loss in Portland, but the coach added that his performance that night was closer to what we expect from the veteran shooter. With Lowry and VanVleet out on Sunday the team needed another strong outing from the veteran, but he managed to go just 2-of-9 from deep for a quiet six points.

Undermanned as they were, the Raps were still in contention to win Sunday’s game against the West’s top team, and it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the Nuggets pulled away for the win, and that in itself is somewhat encouraging nonetheless.  
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5 hours ago
Raptors’ focus now turns to maximizing Lowry-Leonard combo | Toronto Sun
The real issue for this team right now and going forward is finding a balance with Leonard and Kyle Lowry on the floor together.

To call this an issue is probably overstating things. They have co-existed and done so successfully. The 23-9 record is proof of that.


But to say they have reached the point where it’s seamless would also be overstating things.

The pair did not share a second on the floor together in the past four games.

Leonard sat out the wins in Los Angeles and Oakland while Lowry was down for the losses in Portland and Denver.

So in terms of making any sort of progress in finding that just-right balance when the two are on the floor together, the trip was a waste.

Ideally, the Raptors want the two playing at their peak simultaneously. 

The feeling around the team is this will come with time. So far the two most important Raptors have played 21 games together and another 11 when one or the other was out.

The team is 15-6 with both in the lineup and 8-3 with one of the two missing. Overall, they are winning at a .718 clip. With both in the lineup, they are slightly worse at .714. With one missing they are slightly better at .727.

In games (8 of them) without Leonard in the lineup, Lowry averages 21.1 points and 12.1 assists. In games when Leonard is sharing the floor with him (21 of them), Lowry’s number slip to 12.6 points and 9.1 assists a night.
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5 hours ago
Kawhi Leonard Didn't Know Who Lawrence Frank Was When Meeting Clippers Exec | Bleacher Report
So yes, a team like the Clippers should be fully committed to landing Leonard. At the moment, the Clippers have $48.7 million in practical cap space for the summer, enough to get at least one superstar free agent, but they will have options for clearing more space. Namely, the team can waive Avery Bradley and his partially guaranteed contract, freeing up another $11 million in cap space and bringing them close to $60 million overall.

According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, the team has sent executives to numerous Raptors and Warriors games, ostensibly scouting Leonard and Durant. And even if the Clippers can only land one of those players, they can use another max slot on Tobias Harris and bring a superstar into the fold on a team that has surprisingly started 17-12 and looks primed to make a run at a postseason berth.

One advantage the Clippers will have in their pursuit of Leonard is that it has long been rumored that the Raptors star wants to play in Los Angeles, where he grew up, and isn't particularly fond of the cold. And while it might seem like a bad sign for the Clippers that Leonard doesn't even know who Frank is, he's always marched to the beat of his own drum.

Leonard has been described as aloof, isn't particularly great at marketing himself and has acknowledged that he doesn't have social media. If ever there were a star player who wouldn't know a prominent member of a another team's front office, it would be Leonard. It's simply his personality.
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6 hours ago
Some fine-tuning should help Toronto Raptors get to the next level | The Star [paywall]
The rotation and the bench
Much of the confusion and disruption is the result of injuries and absences for a variety of reasons, but coach Nick Nurse is still doing a lot of experimenting with groupings at this point in the season.

They’ve yet to come up with a consistent rotation that staggers the playing time of key components like Leonard and Lowry to ensure one of them is on the court.

The days of five Toronto backups playing together and dominating are long gone, so it’s up to Nurse and his staff to figure out a rotation and give it time to develop some chemistry to see where it takes them.

There have been extenuating circumstances and Nurse is playing the long game with one eye focused on the post-season and how things work in April, May and June, But players like certainty, or at least consistency, in playing times and roles and it’s about time to give it to them.
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16 hours ago
RAPTORS BLOG: Shooting has to get better, but it’s not as bad as you might think | Toronto Sun
Some analysis: That record won’t mean a whole lot in the playoffs, where this season will be defined, if players keep bricking so many open shots. Under Nurse, the offence has run beautifully. Toronto is generating great look after great look. The problem is finishing the plays by making shots. It’s similar to how you can play great defence, but if you don’t haul in the defensive rebound to finish the sequence, all of the effort that went into getting stops proves meaningless. Nurse has focussed a lot on rebounding, but it’s not exactly his job to fix the poor shooting. It’s up to Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster to find some help. Everyone wants shooters, so it’s easier said than done, but C.J. Miles needs to be insurance, not someone the team is relying on (even if his career norms indicate shots will fall at some point).


Surprisingly, per NBA.com, Toronto ranks 10th in wide open (defender six feet away or more) three-point accuracy and generates the sixth-most number of those types of shot. That’s good. Not so good? The team ranks just 21st in open three-point shooting (defender 4-6 feet away). Worse still, when guarded tightly (2-4 feet), Toronto shooters have been awful, hitting just 22.9% of their three-point takes. Only three teams have fared worse.

So while the eye test says it’s just wide open misfiring, there are times where it’s been more apparent when opponents are close. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the Raptors is by far the highest number of three-point attempts have been of the wide open variety (18.3 attempts a game vs. only 11.0 open and just 4.1 when guarded tightly). Those completely open looks are the aim and the team surprisingly hasn’t been as bad as everyone thinks on them.

That said, VanVleet nailing a whopping 48.4% of his wide open threes, with Danny Green and Leonard at 44% and Lowry at 41% are skewing the numbers up a bit. Others like OG Anunoby (31%), Miles (34%), Serge Ibaka (32.8%) need to be better.

It’s too bad that injuries are starting to pile up for the Raptors, but if you believe in things being due, this run probably was. Over the past five years the Raptors ranked No. 1 in the NBA in fewest man games lost to injuries (per instreetclothes.com) and that includes missing the fewest minutes to injury in the league last season.
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19 hours ago
The Free Agency File: The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard strategy and why it’s more commendable than controversial – The Athletic [paywall]
The view from this vantage point? This revamped Clippers group — with the NBA’s richest owner $38 billion man, Steve Ballmer, at the top, the great Jerry West as his consultant, Lawrence Frank and his loaded front office, coach Doc Rivers and his rugged roster — is clearly going to do everything they can within the rules to up their odds at landing one (or maybe two) of the game’s greatest players. As well they should.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to outhustle the competition, especially when you’re a franchise that’s battling the lingering perceptions that come with three decades of dysfunction under the exiled Donald Sterling. What’s more, there’s a nuanced distinction that should be made about the difference between research and recruiting.

The former is fair-game, with teams gathering any and all intel (on and off the floor) that might help shape their eventual free-agency pitch. This involves scouting the player himself, constantly updating that file about his individual game and what sorts of teammates might eventually work best with his skill-set. This is even more pivotal for a player like Leonard, who played just nine games with San Antonio last season because of his mysterious quadriceps injury and is now adjusting to a new system and style in Toronto.

It also includes the periphery relationship-building that is equally important, learning who matters most inside said player’s inner circle and, in essence, what makes them tick. The gray area that comes with recruiting is where it gets trickier, not only because of tampering rules that govern such matters (albeit not very well) but because of the tougher-to-define desire across the league for some professional courtesy in such matters.

Yet the Raptors officials with whom I spoke, and who are hoping their mid-July trade with San Antonio to make him their centerpiece wasn’t a one-year rental, expressed no concern over the Clippers’ style. And if what transpired after that Raptors-Clippers game is any indication, it’s quite clear that this isn’t about getting Leonard to notice them or their efforts.

Not yet, anyway.
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19 hours ago
Kawhi Leonard free agency rumors: Raptors star still interested in Los Angeles despite strong start in Toronto - CBSSports.com
Even with how well the Raptors have played, this isn't much of a surprise at all. Throughout this offseason, when trade rumors were rampant, we heard often that Leonard's preference was to play for one of the Los Angeles teams -- either the Lakers or Clippers. Neither swung a deal, but that was in part because they can each chase him in the summer of 2019. After the trade happened a few months ago, we still heard that Leonard's first choice was to play in Los Angeles next season. 

This is just an unfortunate reality for the Raptors. Other cities are almost always going to be more enticing -- especially when it comes to Leonard, who is actually from Los Angeles. But this factor is one of the main reasons why they made the deal. In free agency, there's almost no chance that Leonard would have seriously considered the Raptors. But now, they have the entire season to show him first hand while he should stay. It may not work, but at least this way they have a shot. 
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19 hours ago
The Raptors Think Kawhi Leonard Gets ‘Ridiculous’ Treatment From Refs - Uproxx
“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim, and just absolutely getting held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it,” Nurse told reporters. “It was unbelievable to me. You can’t tell me one of the best players in the league takes a hundred hits in that game and shoots four free throws.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Nurse added. “The guy is one of the best players in the league. He doesn’t complain. They just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Leonard, for his part, was his typical reticent self when asked about how officials have handled the physicality on the floor.

“It’s been very physical. I just go with the next play,” Leonard said on Sunday. “I pride myself on just keep moving and keep going.”

Nurse might see a fine for what he said on Sunday, but the words are more symbolic and certainly could be worth the money for Toronto in the long run. There are lingering rumors that Leonard is focusing his free agent hopes elsewhere this summer, but perhaps one thing Toronto can show this season is that they’re on Leonard’s side. That’s something he clearly felt wasn’t the case in his last team.
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19 hours ago
10 things I saw from Raptors-Nuggets (Dec. 16) – The Defeated
Engaged: Delon Wright got the start with both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet sidelined, and he responded by playing with more energy than any of his teammates. Wright also showed a sheer determination for getting to the rim that is too often lacking. He’ll earn more minutes and a bigger role if he could play with this type of hustle every night.
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yesterday
Nuggets defeat Raptors for third-straight win | Mile High Sports
That deficit would not last long though as Toronto went on a 12-3 run to give them a 70-57 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the period. The game of runs would only continue as Denver followed with a 11-2 run to close the quarter and ultimately cut their deficit to 72-68 heading into the final 12 minutes. Denver’s latest run was sparked by Jokic, who had 22 points, seven rebounds, and three assists after three quarters of play.

After trailing by double-digits most of the third quarter, the Nuggets run to close the period allowed them to get within striking distance going into the fourth. Denver’s run would grow even larger as they began the fourth on a 7-0 run, which was capped off by a three-pointer from Murray to give the Nuggets a 75-72 lead with 9:50 left in the game. Another three by Murray just a few possessions later gave Denver an eight point lead as the Nuggets run grew to 23-2 and 12-0 to start the fourth quarter.

All the momentum Denver built up to begin the fourth only continued as the quarter wore on as the Nuggets still led 84-77 with 5:30 remaining in the game. That lead would get all the way up to nine points before a quick Raptors spurt cut the Nuggets lead down to three with 3:28 left in the game. Denver would continue to battle though as a Jokic floater gave the Nuggets a 92-85 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the game. A couple defensive stops and a few trips to the free-throw line was all the Nuggets needed as they found a way to pick up a 95-86 victory over Toronto.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who had a sold night finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Jokic did all that on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting from the field, while also chipping in two steals on the defensive end of the floor. Murray also had a big night for Denver with 19 points, while Craig and Monte Morris also added in 13 and 12 points respectively.

The Nuggets now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Tuesday night at home to face the Dallas Mavericks.
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yesterday
Nuggets’ second-half rally leads Denver to win over East-leading Toronto Raptors – The Denver Post
The best team in the Eastern Conference came to the Pepsi Center severely hampered without four-time all-star Kyle Lowry, most improved front-runner Pascal Siakam and invaluable backup guard Fred VanVleet. Not that the Nuggets and their thin bench had much sympathy.

“My message to our team a little while ago was ‘I don’t care who’s playing for them,’” Malone said prior to the game. “I think what happens, when you start focusing on who’s out, you’re worried about the wrong things. We have a job to do. … Teams look at us right now with players out, I think they think maybe they can just show up and beat us. I think we’ve shown teams, no, that’s not the case. We have more than enough players that are going to go out there and battle and compete.”

Malone didn’t want to put a specific timeline on it, but small forward Will Barton, who underwent surgery to repair hip and core muscles Oct. 23, is getting closer to returning. Tuesday will mark eight weeks since his surgery.

“So, if it’s in the next week to 10 days, it’d be great to have him back,” Malone said. “He’s such a versatile part of what we do and I know. The hardest thing for guys like Will, for Isaiah (Thomas) is not being able to play. Those guys are gym rats. They’re junkies.”

Jokic paced the Nuggets with 10 points in what was an otherwise disjointed first two quarters. They managed just 35 percent from the field while the Raptors held a 47-39 lead. From Torrey Craig to Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets tried plenty of different looks on Leonard, who had 10 points and six boards in the first half. The deficit might have been larger had Toronto not turned it over nine times.
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yesterday
Recap: Denver Nuggets outlast Toronto Raptors in a defensive battle, win 95-86. - Denver Stiffs
Denver kept pushing to open the fourth quarter while the Raptors missed on some golden opportunities. Murray had finally come to life and after he hit a three to cap a 7-0 run to start the quarter the Nuggets finally regained the lead. The Raptors had gone absolutely ice cold from the floor. Some of that was Denver’s defense and some of it was just incredibly bad luck. Murray was heating up on the Nuggets side, he hit a nice mid-range fade away and then buried a three to get Pepsi Center on their feet as the Nuggets lead grew to eight. Kawhi shook free for a dunk around the 7:45 mark to finally get Toronto a bucket in the quarter. Denver’s defense got a bit lax and they gave up some open looks from the perimeter but they were keeping the Raptors at arm’s length. They weren’t able to put Toronto away though. Murray had cooled off and missed a couple shots which gave Toronto another opportunity to close back in with the quarter going into the final three minutes. They pulled within five and it was clear the game was going to come down to half court execution. Toronto naturally worked the ball to Kawhi and the Nuggets chose to double and even triple team him. The strategy paid off when O.G. Anunoby missed a wide open corner three and Jokic knocked down a floater at the other end to put Denver back up by seven. The Nuggets still had trouble getting that nail in the coffin but time was rapidly running out for the Raptors. With 50 seconds left Joker got an offensive rebound and a put back which finally was enough to put Toronto away. Denver gets a huge win 95-86
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yesterday
Raptors swingman C.J. Miles is looking for meaning in smallest of moments – The Athletic [paywall]
This has been the push-pull for Miles as he has tried to find his rhythm. He is a shooter, so the idea is to shoot yourself out of a slump. It is fine to tinker with your shot selection if your 3-pointers are not falling, but it is never a good idea to get away from your strengths. When are you trying too hard, though? He is not an irrational confidence guy; again, he is a rationalist. Miles thinks about these things.

“Some of it is just me getting in my own way because you try to find that line when you’re in a slump,” Miles said. “You don’t want to overdo it. But at the same time, you want to let it come to you some and I got to a point where I was pressing, pressing, pressing. Then, I tried to back off and I backed off too far and missed some opportunities. Now, I just think I’m easing my way back into it. Sometimes you can’t run through the wall. You have to look for the weak spots.

“It’s just about finding (rhythm) and it’s on me too, to find some nights when I can consistently put some stuff together, and (that is how) my minutes will stay the same way. There’s a balance with both of them. Then, there might be nights where I’m playing OK, but Kawhi might be playing better. That is the problem when you have 14 guys playing extremely well. There are going to be nights where you are playing well and the guys before you have been playing good, too, and you have to get them back in the game. But I’ve seen everything. I have been here long enough.”

Averaging 14 minutes per game, Miles has not played less than this since his third season in the league. Even with injuries, the Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league, especially on the perimeter. He has played double-digit minutes in each game in December, though, so it is not as if he has been buried on the bench. He has received chances, if not ones long enough to settle in.

Against the Trail Blazers, Miles found those moments: a 3-pointer in transition, a shot from his sweet spot in the corner and, early on, a dunk for his first bucket of the night.

“The dunk helped, obviously,” Miles said. “Seeing an easy one go down.”

Not everyone was a fan of Miles’ easy-peasy two-handed jam, though. Miles’ wife, Lauren, who supports and roasts her husband in equal measure on Twitter, criticized the dunk. Miles used to be a high-flyer. What happened?
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yesterday
Nick Nurse and Kawhi Leonard are not happy with referees, but they should be more concerned about Raptors shooters – The Athletic [paywall]
“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

It should be no surprise that Sunday presented an extreme case. Not only were the Raptors missing VanVleet and Siakam, but they were also without Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell because of thigh, finger and shoulder injuries, respectively. At the best of times, Leonard’s space can get crowded when he holds onto the ball. On Sunday, missing three of their top playmakers, their best post scorer and two of their best perimeter shooters, the Nuggets had the greenest of lights to cheat off of Leonard.

How much validity you think Nurse’s claims have depends on your perspective. Before Sunday, Leonard was averaging 7.1 free throw attempts per 36 minutes, the second-most of his career. His free-throw rate was also the second highest of his career. Both trailed only his numbers in 2016-17, his last full season, when he was third in MVP voting.

“It’s been like that all year,” said Leonard, who had 29 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. “But in this era, with how the game is and how) the rules are today, I feel like I agree with Nurse. It was very physical but I just go with the next play. It could only get me ready for what’s to come. I just pride myself on keeping moving and keeping going.

“I’m playing the game so I’m not really digging in deep and seeing if (the whistle) was very tough tonight. (Nurse) is watching, being the coach, and seeing what guys are doing. But just some of my drives or coming off pick-and-rolls a lot or even just going to the basket, there’s a lot of hand grabs and bodying, which the rules say you ain’t supposed to do this year. But I take pride in just trying to think I can play in any era, so I’m just going out there playing.”

The Raptors were irate about the officiating in general on Sunday, and they certainly could have received more help. In particular, they were not happy about the technical fouls handed out to Danny Green and Serge Ibaka.

They had their chances to win the game, though, and the biggest problem was a common refrain: C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby just cannot hit open shots reliably. On most nights, Nurse can go to other options and sit them. On Sunday, he could not, and the bricks killed the Raptors.

Overall, the Raptors made just 7-of-35 3-pointers. Miles and Anunoby were the beneficiaries of 17 of those looks, and they canned only four. Miles is at 31 percent from deep for the year, and Anunoby just 30.
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yesterday
Game Recap: Raptors limp home, lose to Nuggets 95-86 - Raptors HQ
Unfortunately, we had to learn first-hand why there’s a reason Kawhi Leonard is considered one of the best players on the planet, because once he sat, the lead shrank to just four in less than two minutes time. So, onto the fourth quarter, up by four points!

You really hate to put an entire game on one player, because thousands of things happen that can change or alter the end outcome, but this game really felt like it could’ve been Toronto’s if they only had someone other than Lorenzo Brown to turn to at the end of the third/beginning of the fourth quarter.

Again, this isn’t on him — it’s not his fault we had injuries to the starting and top backup point guards, nor was it his fault Miles or Anunoby couldn’t hit an open three to save their lives.

By the time the Raptors scored their first points of the fourth, the final frame was almost half over and they were still down just six points. But with the way the game had been going and the way it had been played, you knew that points weren’t easy nor would they be easy to come by — especially in the final six minutes of a road game taking place in a city that’s five-thousand, three-hundred feet in the air.

The chances either team would hit 100 points in this game were close to nil, with the Nuggets 18-points away with fewer than six minutes remaining. So when Jamal Murray nailed a three to put the Nuggets ahead nine points with just over four minutes remaining — the grave felt all but covered.

The final pat of dirt on the casket came when Ibaka fouled out — along with a concurrent technical foul — with under two minutes remaining. Let’s leave this one where we found it folks. It was uneventful for long stretches; on average it was hard to watch, and at its best it was hopeful.

Kawhi led all Raptors with 29 points and 14 rebounds and was the sole bright spot on the evening.
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yesterday
Raptors' role players struggle to support Kawhi in loss to Nuggets - Sportsnet.ca
More vital than some help from the refs, Leonard could have used some help from his teammates.

The Raptors started the fourth quarter leading 72-68 and simply stopped scoring. The Nuggets grew increasingly aggressive, throwing more bodies at Leonard. He made the right play in pitching the ball to open teammates, the problem is no one could deliver the next play.

The Nuggets got exactly that as they exploded for a 23-2 run. Nikola Jokic scored 26 points on 19 shots while Canadian Jamal Murray caught fire in the fourth, scoring 15 of his 19 in the final period.

Toronto shot 1-of-13 from three in the fourth quarter with C.J. Miles missing all four of his wide-open looks and OG Anunoby going 1-of-5 on his. The pair have been struggling mightily from behind the arc all season and came into the game shooting 34 and 31 per cent, respectively, on ‘open’ or ‘wide-open’ threes, per NBA.com and those totals got worse as the game went on.

“In our fourth quarter we missed a lot of open shots,” said Leonard. “That’s when we have to hang our hats on defence and making the other team miss. It was just one of those nights.”

The Raptors did just that, which makes the loss more frustrating. Toronto held the Nuggets to 42.4 per cent shooting and won the rebounding battle 51-44, with Leonard leading the way there with 14 boards as he keeps adding to his career-high totals in that category.

There are no excuses – and it should be pointed out that the Nuggets were without two starters in Paul Millsap and Gary Harris and have played without key reserve Will Barton all year – but based on effort, the Raptors deserved better, at least in their coach’s mind.

“We played our butts off. We outplayed them. We outplayed them. No question,” said Nurse. “Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Nurse may be taking a little license there as he strived to get his money’s worth on his fine. Leonard came into the game averaging 6.9 free-throw attempts a game which is 10th in the NBA. He averages .367 free-throw attempts for every shot he takes which is 18th, but not far behind the likes of Kevin Durant (15th) or LeBron James (14th).

But on this night, four three throws seemed low, even if the refs seemed happy to swallow the whistle all evening as both teams shot just 30 free throws combined with the Raptors putting up 14 and the Nuggets 16.
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yesterday
Raptors’ Miles inching back to the player he is while keeping things firmly in perspective | Toronto Sun
In short, Miles had the kind of night he desperately needed. That it came in a loss was really irrelevant.

“He’s really been a shell of himself and that looked like him tonight,” head coach Nick Nurse said of Miles after the 128-122 loss to the Blazers. “He’s kind of inched his way back. I hate to say this but he hit a three late in a blowout game, I think in L.A. and that was kind of the start, played pretty good against Golden State as well, made a couple late in that blowout game and then he came in tonight and hit some good ones. Really got us back in the game there.”

It was Miles and Leonard, playing in his first game after a two-game absence, that led the charge late in the fourth whittling down an 11-point deficit with four to go to just two before the Blazers re-asserted themselves and pulled away.

But if this is the game that ultimately gets Miles back to being the three-point threat he was a year ago, then the loss will not have come in vain.

Miles’ situation was aptly summed up in the second quarter when he got a steal off a Nik Stauskas bad pass and had a clear halfcourt run to the basket without a Trail Blazer within 30 feet of him.

The running dunk he finished with will not make the highlights. He barely got off the floor, just high enough to nudge it into the cylinder. His own wife, one of the better Twitter follows out there, tweeted out “Weak dunk, bro.”

Miles laughed at the gentle rebuke from the mother of his child and the love of his life.

“What? She wanted more of?” Miles asked smiling. “It’s not the going up, it’s the coming down. But I’m not wasting my juice on that. Plus I wanted to make sure it went in, honestly. I’m not going to lie.”
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yesterday
Raptors go ice cold in fourth quarter and lose to Nuggets | Toronto Sun
Leonard was asked if Sunday’s game was any worse than what he has experienced this year.

“I’m playing the game so I’m not really digging in deep and seeing if it was very tough tonight,” Leonard said. “(Nurse) is watching being the coach and seeing what guys are doing. But just some of my drives or coming off pick and rolls a lot or even just going to the basket there’s a lot of hand grabs and bodying which the rules say you ain’t supposed to do this year. But I take pride in just trying to think I can play in any era so I’m just going out there playing.”

It probably didn’t help matters that most of the hounding of Leonard and clutching and grabbing was committed by Torrey Craig, a second-year player that has not been around long enough to get the benefit of calls.

But the Raptors could not blame all of this loss on the officials.

There was the 7-for-35 performance from behind the arc that played into this one in a big way as well.

C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby, two guys who the Raptors need to be solid from behind the arc were a combined 4-for-17 from distance. Throw in Leonard’s own 1-for-6 from behind the three-point line and Danny Green’s 1-for-4 and that is your four biggest threats in the long distance game going a combined 6-for-27 or 22.2% which is not a winning formula on any night.

A stretch from around the end of the third quarter going into the fourth, where the Raptors didn’t score a single point, also didn’t help matters.

With the loss the Raptors finish up the road trip an even 2-2 with a league-leading mark of 23-9.
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yesterday
Raptors’ C.J. Miles is starting to find his way beyond the three-point line again | The Star [paywall]
There is no doubt Miles hasn’t been effective often this season, shooting just 31.3 per cent from three-point range — he’s a career 36 per cent shooter from beyond the arc in 14 NBA seasons — but there have been extenuating circumstances. He hasn’t played fewer minutes per game (14.3) since the 2007-08 season; he’s only getting 3.3 three-point attempts on average per game, the fewest since the 2008-09 campaign; and he’s working his way with a new group of backups than the ones he was used to playing with last season.

Those aren’t excuses, just explanations.

“The players I play with have been different every time because I have been in and out. It’s just about finding (opportunities) and it’s on me too, to find some nights where I can consistently put some stuff together and then the more my minutes will stay the same way,” he said.

“There’s a balance with both of them. Then there might be nights where I’m playing OK, but Kawhi (Leonard) might be playing better. That is the problem when you have 14 guys playing extremely well.

“There are going to be nights where you are playing well and the guys before you have been playing good too and you have to get them back in the game. But I’ve seen everything. I have been here long enough.”

There have been signs of late that Miles and his teammate are is starting to figure things out, and he’s having a greater impact on the game.

In Friday’s loss in Portland, he had a season-high 10 field-goal attempts. He made as many three-pointers (three) as he has in any game this season and played 19:38, the second-longest run he’s had in a game this season.
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yesterday
Game Centre: Undermanned Toronto Raptors put up fight but fall to Nuggets in Denver | The Star [paywall]
Hitting a wall: It all went sideways for the Raptors toward the end of the third quarter. Leonard and Wright sat as altitude in the Mile High City started to take effect. The sluggish Raptors couldn’t get their offence going and the Nuggets took their first lead since the second quarter, as Toronto went 0-for-11 from the field until a dunk by Leonard more than six minutes after the team’s previous basket and Denver never looked back.
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yesterday
Finding perfect fit for Kawhi Leonard remains work in progress for Raptors | The Star [paywall]
Thirty-one games into an 82-game season — especially for a team that took a league-best 23-8 record into Sunday’s game in Denver — gives no cause to think there are any serious issues at play.

The Raptors have shown they can play and win at a fast pace, and they’ve shown they can play and win in a halfcourt game when Leonard’s skills and physical dominance are most useful.

All they need to work on is perhaps finding a better mix so that the switch from one to the other doesn’t catch any player unawares.

“We have to keep playing and flow and when it breaks down, get the ball to (Leonard) and still give him his touches,” Lowry said. “I don’t think it’s a situation where he hasn’t but he’s that talented where we’ve let him do a lot more offensively because he can do it. But as team we have to help him (and) be a little more assertive all around him, and make the game easier for him.”

Regardless of how “fast” the Raptors play or don’t play, there is no denying that Leonard’s unique talents make them better, and anyone who suggests otherwise hasn’t been fully paying attention.

Need a guy to get a bucket at a crucial moment? Leonard’s going to get the ball and everyone connected with team is fine with that. The other times? Each game presents its own unique challenges and, so far, the Raptors have accepted and met those challenges.

“His job is to make plays and score the ball as well,” Green said. “We are going to need that sometimes, most times. Especially when you are not shooting well or getting good pace or good ball movement you need to have a guy to give the ball to and say ‘Hey, get me a bucket.’

“He gives us that. It’s always an advantage. It’s never a bad thing. The game is a lot easier with him.”
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yesterday
Nuggets Beat Raptors, Extend Win Streak to 3 | Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic, once again, led the way for the Nuggets, scoring 26 points on 11-19 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes. After struggling early, missing seven of his first eight, Murray found his shooting stroke late. He connected on six of his last nine and scored 14 of his 19 in the fourth. Torrey Craig continued his hot shooting. Following a career-high 15-point performance in Friday’s night win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 6-foot-7, 215-pounder put up 13 points, knocking down three 3-pointers.

“He’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Malone said of Jokic. “He’s our franchise player. We’re committed to him. We believe in him. He’s the future of this team. Whether we have guys out or we have a full roster, we expect a lot from Nikola.”

Reserve point guard Monte Morris added 12 points, four assists and four rebounds off the bench and Mason Plumlee put up 10 points and seven rebounds to help Denver improve to 20-9 on the season.

“We knew had the whole fourth quarter left,” Murray said of his mind state when his team was down double-digits. “That’s a lot of playing time left and that’s not a lot of points.”

Leonard was nothing short of brilliant for the Raptors (23-9), putting up a double-double with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Raptors point guard Delon Wright contributed with 15 points and big man Serge Ibaka added 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 1:37 left.

With 21, the Nuggets dished out eight more assists than the Raptors and committed three fewer turnovers (9) than their opposition.
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yesterday
Four takeaways from the Toronto Raptors nine-point loss to the Denver Nuggets | NBA.com
A fourth quarter to forget

With 3:53 remaining in the third quarter, the Raptors held a 70-57 lead over the Nuggets. Denver proceeded to go on an 11-2 run to close the quarter, but Toronto maintained a four-point lead heading into the fourth.

Things went downhill in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets opened on a 12-0 run to take an eight-point lead and never really looked back.

Denver outscored Toronto 27-14 in the final 12 minutes of the game - Nuggets guard Jamal Murray scored 15 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) to outscore the Raptors on his own.

It was a rough shooting quarter for Toronto, as it went 4-for-23 from the field and 1-for-13 from deep. Kawhi Leonard (2-for-4) was the only player to shoot above 40 percent from the field while OG Anunoby struggled, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, finished the final frame shooting 11-for-18 from the field and knocked down two of their seven 3-point attempts. Toronto saw plenty of quality looks in the fourth quarter, but an inability to convert is what ultimately led to the team's downfall.

If there was any time Nick Nurse missed having three of his five players that close the game, it was down the stretch Sunday night.
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yesterday
G League Raptors 905 Scouting: Is Chris Boucher ready for his potential NBA moment? - Raptors HQ
They say “One man’s loss is another man’s gain” and that’s how it works in professional sports in general. With Jonas Valanciunas taking some time off to recover from Draymond Green’s chop, the Raptors recalled Boucher to shore up the team’s frontcourt depth.

For the foreseeable future, Serge Ibaka is the starting centre. Greg Monroe will be the main backup. It’s likely Boucher will only see minutes should there be some foul trouble issues in the front court, or during garbage time — for now. That is until Boucher earns the trust of his coach and his teammates.

In truth, there’s a lot to get excited about with Boucher. Here’s a review of the skills he’s shown in the G League so far that should be transferable — and some things he’ll need to work on.
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2 days ago
Game Preview: Nuggets and Raptors Meet in Battle of Top Teams | Denver Nuggets
Winning with defense: Friday’s win over Oklahoma City was the fifth time in the last 10 games that Denver has held an opponent to under 100 points. The Nuggets are 11-1 this season when they’ve kept their opponent under the century mark, a number that ties them with three other teams for the most in the league.

The Nuggets are allowing the third fewest points per game at 103.5 but tonight’s opponent is averaging the fourth most points in the league at 115.8. Denver is second in the league in holding opponents to shoot just 32.2% from three-point range, while Toronto shoots 35.3 from deep.

Next man up: The Nuggets have been plagued by injuries recently but have still found a way to win. After losing Gary Harris and Paul Millsap earlier this month and with Jamal Murray able to play but still banged up, the Nuggets have found success as other players step up into new roles. Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Trey Lyles have stepped up off the bench and have found themselves making key contributions late in several games. Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee have stepped into the starting lineup and have provided valuable defense and energy to keep the Nuggets at the top of the Western Conference.

Nikola Jokić doing it all: The Denver big man put on one of his most performances against the Raptors earlier this month as he recorded a triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists. Jokić is averaging 21 points, 11.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 1.8 steals in the month of December.

Tonight’s game will tip at 6 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV and the AltitudeNOW app. Fans can listen on Altitude Radio, 92.5 FM.
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2 days ago
4 Players Regretting Their NBA Free Agency Decisions
Not so long ago, Greg Monroe was considered a prime addition that could enhance pretty much every frontcourt for a contending team, but he finally settled for a 1-year 2.1 million dollar deal with the Toronto Raptors.

Even despite the fact that the Raptors are the best team in the Eastern Conference and arguably the best team in the NBA, he hasn’t been able to contribute the way he would like to. Over 13 appearances, he’s only been on the court for around 7.3 minutes a night, roughly averaging 3.7 points per game.
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2 days ago
Raptors-Nuggets Tipoff | Toronto Sun
DID YOU KNOW?

The Nuggets rank second in the league in opponents rebounding average, giving up just 41.4 a night. That could be significant with the Raptors unable to dress Valanciunas, one of their best rebounders … Denver has held opponents under 100 points in 12 of their 28 games and are well schooled in running teams off the three-point line. Opponents shoot just 32.2% from three against Denver, the third-best defensive mark in the NBA … Kitchener native Jamal Murray’s 48 points versus Boston this year is the highest scoring point total for a Canadian-born player in league hisstory. Andrew Wiggins held the old mark of 47 set back in 206-17.
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2 days ago
NBA Rumors: Raptors Could Acquire Bradley Beal For Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby & CJ Miles, Per ‘SB Nation’
Bradley Beal will undeniably be an incredible addition to the Raptors. He will give the Raptors a very reliable scoring option and an All-Star guard Kyle Lowry has been missing since Toronto traded his best friend, DeMar DeRozan, to the San Antonio Spurs. This season, Beal is averaging 23.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 block, and 1.0 steal on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and 34.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

A starting lineup featuring Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka will be a huge headache to any powerhouse teams in the league even to the defending champions, Warriors. The deal will also be beneficial for the Wizards as it will help them remain competitive in the Eastern Conference. However, it is highly likely that the Wizards will demand future draft picks from the Raptors in a potential deal involving Beal.
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2 days ago
Sunday game preview: Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets | The Star
TV: TSN

RADIO: TSN 1050

PROBABLE STARTERS

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka.

Denver: Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee.

KEY MATCHUP

Siakam vs. Jokic

Denver big man Nikola Jokic is an NBA unicorn, a freak of nature who is a great passer, fine shooter, huge physical presence and he tore Toronto up (23 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds) two weeks ago. Pascal Siakam won’t be alone defending him. It’s going to take a handful of players and different looks to keep him in check.
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2 days ago
Kawhi Leonard still focused on Los Angeles, which is bad news for Celtics' rival Raptors
Kawhi Leonard still focused on Los Angeles, which is bad news for Celtics' rival Raptors originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

This doesn't look good for the Raptors. 

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi Leonard, a free agent at the end of this season, is still focused on playing in Los Angeles. Whether it's for the Clippers or the Lakers, Leonard has not changed his desire for the west coast after starting the season 23-8 with the Raptors. 
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2 days ago
Nylon Calculus: Kyle Lowry is a different player with Kawhi Leonard - FanSided
Without Kawhi against the Clippers, Lowry was far more aggressive looking for his shot outside of the one spot above the key — three drives to the rim, two drives to mid-range shots, a curl 3, a transition 3, and a few spot-up attempts, all in all, a far more diverse offensive package.

Playing next to Kawhi, Lowry spent 56 percent of the time leading up to his shots on-ball covering an average distance of 14.8 feet. Given free reign of the offense against the Clippers, Lowry spent 67 percent of the time prior to a shot on-ball despite covering virtually the same average distance of 15.3 feet. The increase in time without distance indicates a more methodical approach to Lowry’s attack instead of as a complementary secondary player.

And it’s not just his aggressiveness that increases without Kawhi, across the board all of his statistics improve in the eight games played without Leonard. His assists per 36 minutes jump from 9.5 with Kawhi to 13.3 without. His rebounding per 36 jumps from 3.8 to 7.0. His steals per 36 jump from 1.3 to 1.9. The only stat that doesn’t noticeably improve playing without Kawhi is turnovers, which remains the exact same despite the bump in usage when Leonard is absent.

What’s clear from the data is that Lowry and Leonard have not yet found a rhythm that totally optimizes both players at the same time. And despite that, the Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference. Both are unselfish players who are exclusively focused on winning, it is only a matter of time until they find the right balance of aggressiveness. The Raptors are already a scary team, but if Kawhi and Lowry continue to find more scoring balance off of each other, they could be the stuff of nightmares.
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3 days ago
Potential pitfalls for Eastern Conference contenders | SI.com
TORONTO RAPTORS – YOUTH RELIANCE

This year’s Kawhi-led squad feels like a more legitimate title contender than last year’s group, especially after Wednesday’s demolition of Golden State. Leonard should be able to shoulder the offensive load more effectively than DeMar DeRozan in the postseason, and the Danny Green addition shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s the knockdown shooter Toronto lacked last season.

There’s the temptation to name Kyle Lowry as Toronto’s chief concern come playoff time given his postseason history. He disappeared from last season’s Game 4 blowout against the Cavaliers, scoring just five points on 2-7 shooting. Will Lowry rise to the occasion this season? He hasn’t done much to provide confidence in past playoffs. The Lowry concerns are valid, though with Leonard leading the way, a lessened scoring burden should bring out the best in the bowling ball point guard. It’s the rest of the supporting cast that leads to concern.

Toronto’s secondary pieces are an impressive group. Pascal Siakam is a lanky whirling dervish with a now-famous spin move, Fred VanVleet is a heady floor general and OG Anunoby has established himself as a leading defensive wing. Yet for all their collective talent, their readiness for prime time is in question. Siakam and Anunoby disappeared against Cleveland last year, overwhelmed by the stage. VanVleet was largely clamped by George Hill. Delon Wright wasn’t respected as an outside threat, nor was C.J. Miles in Games 3 and 4. The Cavs sagged inside and dared DeRozan to hit twos and shaky threes to beat them. Toronto was summarily swept.

Green should help siphon off some responsibility from Toronto’s young wings, but the pressure will still be on in the later rounds of the playoffs. The baby Raptors will need to make a major leap compared to last April for Toronto to win the East for the first time in franchise history.
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3 days ago
NBA Power Rankings: It's the Toronto Raptors and Everyone Else | Bleacher Report
Last Week: 1

The Toronto Raptors initially responded to last week's elevation to No. 1 with a 1-2 stretch that the rankings committee viewed as a personal affront. And then the Raps disassembled the Warriors by 20 in Oakland on Wednesday.

Without Kawhi Leonard.

On the second night of a back-to-back set.

Leonard's hip is a concern. He looked uncomfortable after he landed awkwardly in the fourth quarter on Sunday against Milwaukee and has missed two straight. No word on whether the Elf-abet includes DNP-hip.

Kyle Lowry scored 21 points against the Clips and 23 against Golden State, ending a funk to end all funks. He failed to score in double figures over a four-game stretch from Dec. 3 to Dec. 9 and put up a goose egg in 34 minutes against Milwaukee. It's safe to say a bucket or two from Lowry would have mattered in that 104-99 loss.

The Raps are exceptionally deep, and they're still comfortable members of the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the minimum bar for contender consideration. It also doesn't hurt that they're earning the approval of their biggest threats.

After Toronto held the Dubs to 93 points and outclassed the champs in every facet, Kevin Durant told reporters: "They're not an up-and-coming team. They're here."

That endorsement, along with a league-best 23-7 record and a plus-7.9 net rating that only narrowly trails Milwaukee's plus-8.4, is more than enough to retain the top spot.
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3 days ago
Greg Monroe steps into Jonas Valanciunas’ void, showing evolution in Raptors’ pre-requisites for role players – The Athletic [paywall]
Inevitably, almost every player on a good team gets a moment during the year like the one Monroe got on Wednesday in the locker room: Seasons are too long and injuries are too frequent for each of 11 or 12 players to not step into the spotlight at one point or another. Monroe inched his toe toward the glare on Wednesday, with five points and five rebounds in seven minutes. He was also a plus-seven on the night.

As such, Monroe’s teammates yelled out his nickname, urging him to do a spin on the catwalk to show off the different brand names he was sporting. Raptors reserve Lorenzo Brown, who has already received one of those moments this season, was the first to notice the attention Monroe was poised to get.

“Industry,” Brown said. “Industry. Industry.”

Translation: Monroe, for the moment, was “big time,” the Raptors’ go-to phrase for any role player who starts to earn camera time and the queries that come with it. The thing is, Monroe has been big time before, not such a long time ago.
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4 days ago
Lucky 13: Takeaways from the Raptors ending their 13-game losing streak at Oracle Arena – The Athletic [paywall]
The Raptors Are Not Better Without Leonard

I saw this sentiment a few times after the Clippers game, and I understand the thought at least a little bit: The Raptors are 7-1 without him with six double-digit wins and the schedule for those games has now grown impressive enough that it’s a thing.

Really, though, Toronto’s performance without him speaks to how good and deep the team is anyway and, at worst, highlights that even an MVP-level Leonard still isn’t fully worked into the offence yet. The Raptors’ passing and assist numbers are stronger when Leonard sits, as they have to rely more on the offence itself rather than individuals to create scoring, whereas Leonard can kind of operate as a secondary offence unto himself. Before his hip bruise, he seemed to be making real progress finding that balance and becoming a more ingrained part of the Raptors’ attack. It’s still relatively early for a new superstar to be working his way into an established setup.

Take the Raptors playing so well without Leonard more as a sign of what the ceiling could be down the line, rather than a worry he’s not fitting.
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4 days ago
Podcast: Locked on Raptors #436 - Raptors dismantle Warriors, JV goes down w/ James Herbert - Raptors HQ
In Episode 436 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley and James Herbert break down how the Raptors dismantled the Warriors so decisively en route to their 113-93 win on Wednesday, assess the Raptors’ big man rotation in the wake of Jonas Valanciunas’ thumb injury, and chat about James’ recent profile on the ever-improving Pascal Siakam.
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4 days ago
Raptors reach 'pinch me' moment of season with Warriors blowout - Sportsnet.ca
The Raptors are a team playing for more than pride and wins. There is surely more than a little extra motivation among the players at the moment. They are a team playing for their coach following the passing of Nick Nurse’s mother earlier this week. Nurse left the arena following the final buzzer and boarded a plane to visit with his family in his hometown of Carroll, Iowa and will rejoin the club ahead of Friday’s game in Portland.

Sure, the Raptors also benefited from an off-night from the Warriors’ superstar shooters — Klay Thompson and Curry shot a combined 2-13 from deep and missed many momentum-swinging attempts they normally make — much like the Milwaukee Bucks caught a break courtesy a rare scoreless night from Lowry in their win on Sunday. For the most part you only go as far as your stars will take you on any given night in the NBA.

Yet for the Raptors it’s the ‘other guys’ that have helped separate them from the pack this season. Of course there’s no overvaluing how much influence a good Lowry performance has can have on the team’s success, but when the rest of the team is on like they were on Wednesday it’s like cranking a Marshall stack to eleven.

Of all his improvements, Pascal Siakam’s biggest virtue is that he’s now a consistent contributor. Danny Green has been an absolute steal, leading the NBA in plus-minus by a healthy margin and bringing a level of authority to the team that has been missing in recent years. Serge Ibaka has been flat-out fantastic and looks like a whole new player; Fred VanVleet is a game changer and stepped up starting in place of Leonard; Delon Wright is starting to regain his form; OG Anunoby continues to ooze potential and is a problem when he’s looking to attack the rim; Jonas Valanciunas is playing the best ball of his career and has largely been too much for opponents to handle.

“They have a little bit of everything,” Curry said of the Raptors on Wednesday. At the moment it’s more than just a ‘little bit.’
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4 days ago
RAPTORS BLOG: Win over Warriors powered by Lowry, VanVleet | Toronto Sun
I’m not Dr. Woz, but the Internet says dislocated thumb recovery time is usually anywhere from two weeks to two months. Don’t expect to see Jonas Valanciunas back anytime soon. In fact, the Raptors announced on Thursday afternoon that Valanciunas would be in a cast for a month. That’s too bad. Valanciunas has been a good soldier for the team, moving to the bench most nights without complaint and has played perhaps the best basketball of his career.
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4 days ago
Raptors’ VanVleet is hurting but it hasn’t stopped him | Toronto Sun
VanVleet’s current injury is a back problem that extends from his lower back into his hip. It locks up at times. It spasms at others. It hurts almost all the time.

Pre-game, the Raptors trainers and medical staff do what they can to loosen it up, but there’s no getting around it. It’s bad right now.

“They can loosen it up,” VanVleet said. “Make it feel good before the game and then I go out there and get hit by a screen, fall to the floor. I run up and down and sit on the bench for 20 minutes and it feels how it feels. There’s ups and downs to it and you just try to play through it.”

We know it’s bad now because VanVleet is actually talking about it.

“I have dealt with it through my career,” the point guard said of the back problems. “This is probably the worst it has been just because I have had a plethora of injuries. It started with a hamstring in training camp and then a foot and then a toe and all of those things go together, but it is what it is. Hopefully, it’s nothing major or long term but right now I’m in the thick of it and trying to play through it.”

Pre-game on Wednesday night was simply a case of ignoring the pain and making the decision his body was telling him he shouldn’t make.

“It’s a tough stretch right now,” VanVleet said. “Probably the worst it’s been the last few games. Just something I am trying to work through. If you can go out there and lay it on the line and go to war with your teammates, you try it and try and play through it. I just made the decision before the game I would go out there and lay it on the line.”
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4 days ago
Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas out at least four weeks after having thumb surgery | The Star [paywall]
Monroe isn’t a flashy player — “he’s so slow, he’s fast,” Griffin joked — but he’s not some lifelong backup finally getting a chance to be a regular. The six-foot-11 left-hander has played in 602 games in his nine NBA seasons, starting 415.

“I feel comfortable playing with the pace everybody’s playing with,” Monroe said. “It’s just about staying ready, continuing to work. That’s all I’ve been focusing on. Once I’m in between the lines, controlling what I can control ... that’s the only thing I focus on every time, every day.”

The recall of Boucher from the G League to fill the roster spot is the next chapter in one of the most wonderful Raptors stories of the season. The 25-year-old, raised in Montreal, didn’t even start playing basketball until his late teens but has blossomed in unexpected fashion.

After spending last season on a two-way deal with the Golden State affiliate in Santa Cruz, Boucher earned his spot with the Raptors through an intriguing Summer League and training camp run.

He is raw, no question, but he has also exploded offensively with the Raptors 905, including posting a 47-point game Wednesday, a franchise record and a G League best this season.

Boucher is averaging 29.3 points and 11 rebounds per game in the G League. It’s folly to think he’ll be given the opportunity to come close to having that kind of an impact on an NBA game but having him practise every day against Monroe and Ibaka and get a few minutes here and there in lopsided games will likely hasten his development.
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4 days ago
Friday game preview: Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers | The Star [paywall]
KEY MATCHUP

Green vs. McCollum

Keeping Portland’s prolific backcourt (Damian Lillard, 27.0 points per game; C.J. McCollum, 22.0) in check is a key to beating the Blazers and Danny Green has his work cut out with McCollum. Green may not be as quick as his Portland counterpart but he’s a savvy defender.
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4 days ago
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors Preview - Blazer's Edge
Home-court advantage? The good news: despite their recent overall struggles, the Blazers are still a good at home. They have a 10-4 record this season at the Moda Center. They score nearly eight points per game more at home than on the road (114.9 vs. 107.1) and are giving up seven points fewer (106.3 vs. 113.3). The bad news: the Toronto Raptors are the best road team in the NBA. Toronto actually has a slightly better record on the road (12-3; 2 of those losses were in OT) than they do north of the border (11-4). This can mostly be attributed to their defense which seems to switch into another gear away from Scotiabank Arena. They own the league’s 2nd-best defensive rating on the road (with only the 18th best at home), and just held a healthy Golden State team to their lowest score at home this season (without the 2-time Defensive Player of the Year).
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4 days ago
Blazers Return To Moda Center To Host New-Look Raptors | Portland Trail Blazers
AT THE LINE: The Trail Blazers rank third in the NBA in free throw percentage (81.7%) while the Raptors are fifth (80.6%). Portland averages 23.1 free throw attempts per game while Toronto gets to the line 20.8 times per game.

• In two games against the Raptors last season, Damian Lillard averaged 34.0 points (56.1% FG, 40.0% 3-PT, 88.9% FT), 2.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.00 steal. Lillard has averaged 26.8 points per game against Toronto for his career, which is his second-highest scoring average against any team.

• CJ McCollum averaged 18.5 points (43.8% FG, 36.4% 3-PT, 71.4% FT), 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.00 block in two games against Toronto last season. McCollum has made at least three three-pointers in four of his last six games against the Raptors.• In two games against Portland during the 2017-18 season, Kyle Lowry averaged 17.0 points (40.7% FG, 41.7% 3-PT, 87.5% FT), 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Lowry has scored 20-plus points in five of his last eight games against the Trail Blazers.

• Kawhi Leonard has averaged 26.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.50 blocks and 1.25 steals in his last four games against Portland.
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4 days ago
Raptors: Move over Warriors, Toronto is the NBA's best team - USA Today
At 23-7 the Raptors have the best record in the league, and are worthy of it.

Lowry’s response has been particularly impressive. He tallied 21 in Los Angeles and 23 at Golden State, assuming control in the absence of Leonard and taking the team’s record in back-to-backs to 6-0.

Winning consistently without Leonard may not be possible in the postseason, but the squad has coped admirably on the occasions the former San Antonio Spur has been missing so far. Despite going 7-1, they’re not better without him, but it does speak to the true depth of the line-up and its extra parts.

Serge Ibaka is showing power and hunger, Pascal Siakam is having a transformative year, Fred VanVleet has blossomed into a master provider and Lowry, his temporary lapse notwithstanding, offers scoring power either with his own hand or as a facilitator.

It is a fun place to be around, joking and clowning in the locker room being the norm in the relaxed environment preferred by Nurse.

"Winning is always fun," Siakam said. "We’re having a good time."
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4 days ago
NBA: Early look at 2018-19 Coach of the Year favorites - Sir Charles in Charge
Nick Nurse inherited a team that went 59-23 last season and has done a great job with elevating the team’s play. A big reason for the Raptors strong start has been the addition of Kawhi Leonard who was traded to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, and other pieces.

The Raptors have the leagues second best offense and 7th best defense. On the nights that he’s active, Kawhi Leonard has looked every bit like the favorite for the NBA MVP award. This team has been consistently the best in the league.

Given how much DeRozan meant to the team and culture for Nurse to keep things not only afloat, but to have them as the NBA’s top team by record is very impressive.
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4 days ago
The Raptors Are Really for Real This Time - The Ringer
While Leonard still might not be entirely healthy—had the hip injury not kept him on the bench, the Raps surely would’ve sat him out of one half of their road back-to-back, as they’ve been doing all season (perhaps strategically)—he’s been nothing short of sensational in Toronto. He’s averaging 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.9 steals in 34.7 minutes per game, while shooting 48.8 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from 3-point land, and 85.9 percent from the free throw line, utterly dismissing questions about whether he could still be an elite force after last season’s bout with quadriceps tendinopathy. (Those worries about whether or not he’d show up in Canada seem pretty silly now, too.)

Leonard has been the immediate two-way upgrade over beloved former Raptors star DeMar DeRozan that president Masai Ujiri hoped for, putting Toronto in position to make the deepest postseason run in franchise history. Trading DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick for Leonard and Danny Green (who has been great for Toronto) wasn’t just about turning the page on last season. It was about seizing the opportunity to leverage what’s left of the primes of Lowry and Ibaka, to catch Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet on the upswing, and to package it all up for a title swing. A league-best 23-7 record and those two wins over Golden State suggests that this strategy is working so far. But “so far” only matters so much.

When you’ve come as far as the Raptors have during this golden era, all that’s left that matters is whether you can go any farther. If, once again, they can’t … well, Leonard can opt out of the final year of his contract and hit unrestricted free agency this summer, and even the most well-sourced NBA insider can’t presume to tell you what he’s going to do once he gets there. All we know for sure is that plenty of suitors will be waiting—hell, the Clippers apparently aren’t even waiting—to scoop him up and leave the Raptors superstar-less, right back where they started.

This all makes for a weird collision: a team so evidently soaring, yet still somehow stuck. The Raptors have been better than just about everyone this season, but they’ve still got so much up in the air, and none of that can change until the summer. All they can do is keep waiting and winning.
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4 days ago
Raptors' Valanciunas out at least 4 weeks after thumb surgery | theScore.com
The towering Lithuanian center dislocated his thumb during the second quarter of the Raptors' 113-93 win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night in Oakland.

The 26-year-old has averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in just 18.8 minutes per game, mostly off the Raptors' bench. He's currently scoring at a career-best 59.3 effective field-goal percentage.

The Raptors have already called in the reinforcements, calling up man Chris Boucher, the G League's leading scorer. In 14 appearances with the Raptors 905, Boucher has averaged 29.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game, emerging as one of the top talents in the development system this year.
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4 days ago
The Toronto Raptors Have Caught The Golden State Warriors' Attention - Forbes
The value of teachable moments

The Warriors post-game quotes showed the appropriate respect for the Raptors. Durant dismissed the suggestion that the Raptors are on the rise, saying “they’re not an up-and-coming team. They’re here.”  Curry focused on their versatility, recognizing “they got a little bit of everything.” Green straight up admitted that “they played better than us.”

That level of respect is something the Warriors never quite managed to muster for the Houston Rockets last year and may have led them to take that series a little too easily at times.

All of which perhaps explains Steve Kerr’s relatively relaxed demeanor. When asked who would have the edge in a potential NBA Finals matchup, he said “I would think we would have the edge at this point, now that they kicked our butts twice. If that were to happen I know we’d be ready to play”.

This defeat definitely represents what Kerr loves most in the regular season - a teachable moment. One of the early Warriors most impressive stats was that they went 146 regular season games without consecutive losses. The four-game losing streak the Warriors went on amidst all the drama last month was the first time they had lost that many games in a row since March 2013, an incredible stretch spanning 450 games.

For a team that wins so much, a good loss can be gold dust in the long run. And under Steve Kerr, the Warriors have rarely let a good loss go to waste. Against the Raptors there were no injury or schedule excuses. The Warriors got beaten and understand they got beaten. But they also know that the regular season is not where championships are handed out.
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4 days ago
Warriors vs. Raptors: This is Toronto’s year - SBNation.com
What do the Raptors have to prove before the postseason?
Thirty games is a reasonable sample size, but can the team produce like this all the way through?

Lowry’s been brilliant, and this could be his best season ever, but we’ve already seen a small blip where he fell off the Earth. He scored no points on 0-of-5 shooting in a blowout loss to the Bucks, and seven or less in the three games before that. Is the 14-point, 10-assist, good-defense-playing Lowry the real deal?

Ditto newfound star Siakam. He’s doubled his points per game to 14 on 10 percent better overall shooting, including 13 percent better three-point shooting. He’s getting to the line nearly twice as often by attempt rate, swooshing those tries 15 percent more often. He’s having a third-year explosion to say the least, but we know not to grade young talent on a curve. There are hiccups on the way to becoming an established player. How will 24-year-old Siakam handle his?

For now, everything is beyond smooth-sailing for the Toronto Raptors. They look and act the part of the best team in the league. The question is will we — and the Warriors — be saying the same in May?
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4 days ago
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