Bucks Win, Raps Lose...Yada Yada Yada.

Not really a heck of a lot to say about last night's game. It was a lot of the same things that we have seen in the past. Raptors competed in this one which is better than what we saw in a few of those games on the western road swing. But in the end the Bucks would put on a push at the end of the game and come out on top 104-98 to keep their playoff hopes somewhat alive.

Some things worth noting:

  • Demar DeRozan after one of his worse games of the season in L.A bounced back to the Demar we have become use to seeing.

  • Loved seeing Ed Davis and Reggie on the floor together. Andrea Bargnani should take note of the hustles that they show on the glass and defence.

  • Oh yeah Andrea was back. Did his normal I can score thing, but also his I stand around on D thing and is Rebounds are not my thing....thing.

  • Typical Jose 13 points 8 dimes in a loss and he had to leave with hamstring yet again.

  • Ed Davis showed some positive signs that he can be a shot blocker in this league. Raptor could use that badly.

  • 3 point defence still an issue Bucks a team that struggles to get points went 9-19 Shooting 47.4% from distance.

I will be honest was much more excited to watch our 3 Canadians in the McDonald's All American Game in Chicago. Myck Kabongo, Khem Birch and Kyle Wiltjer represented Canada in the McDonald's All American Game. Kudos to them for repping the Red and White in Chicago. Congratulations to them.

"NBAz in 7 Dayz"

Today, as promised, we will be discussing the hunt for "Rookie of the Year" and who makes the cut. But first, let's talk a little NCAA and rapper Jay-Z's visit to Kentucky's locker room after just making it to the Final Four. As the madness of March continues, NCAA fans watched the Kentucky Wildcats claim a berth in the Final Four by a win over North Carolina, 76-69. So naturally, if a well-known entertainer wants in on the locker room celebrations to give his kudos, there would be no objections, right? In Jay-Z's case? Wrong. Sure, these young kids just accomplished something wonderful and a visit from THE Jay-Z would be the coolest thing in the world if he wasn't part owner of an NBA franchise. The New Jersey Nets lists Jay-Z as part-owner of the team and NBA rules state team personnel are not allowed to associate with players who are not yet draft eligible. This may just be a case of Jay-Z or his handlers saying 'let's give these kids an extra thrill by a visit from a music legend'. But on the flip side, Jay-Z is no slouch. He is an intelligent and successful business man who has to know these rules. Put yourself in David Stern's shoes. If you were a young kid, playing NCAA ball, thinking about going pro and in walks a music icon you look up to and he happens to have personal connections to an NBA franchise, wouldn't you look at the Nets differently? Hence, the reason for these rules so no one is playing the 'unfair advantage' game. NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirms the league is investigating the incident. So we will have to wait and see about Jay-Z.

2011 Rookie of the Year Watch

This is a hard one to pick since most players in their rookie year are drafted to a team in transition or a rebuilding stage. So since these teams are often in need of serious help, putting all their hopes and dreams into a talented, yet unproven player in the NBA. This can be a lot of pressure for someone fresh out of college. How does this player handle the pressure? Does this player work well with others on the team and coaching staff? Does this player make the team relevant again? Most importantly, how does this player deal with adversity and do they raise the bar and make those around him better? These are all questions I need answered when choosing my picks for Rookie of the Year - here they are (in no particular order):

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: If we look at his on-the-court performance and stats only, DeMarcus Cousins is very impressive, especially in transition. He leads the league in winning turnovers per 48 minutes which puts him in the same class as Steve Nash (ranked #3), Dwight Howard (ranked #7) and Derrick Rose (ranked #10). He is approaching the top ten in both offensive and defensive rebounds and is really the player who contributes to the team's stability - on the court. Unfortunately, he still has to work on his character and work ethic which is why he did not make my choice for top rookie.

John Wall, Washington Wizards: I remember covering the NBA Draft with James, live blogging for the DNB and giddy at the prospect John Wall might be in a Raptors uniform this season. Alas, we were not so lucky and the Washington Wizards enjoyed the fruits of his labour this year. John Wall is another player working the floor and making a name for himself. The Wizards may sit at second from last in the East but not for a lack of production from Wall. He can score in transition and is second in the league for turnovers per game (behind Russell Westbrook) and is sixth in assists per game.

Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons: I really enjoy watching Greg Monroe play. He's not a flashy player but he seems to be doing all the little things which contribute to his team's success. He ranked #8 in Offensive Rebounds and #8 in Steals per Turnover which is indicative of his dominance as an inside player, one who can read the play and seize opportunities.

Landry Fields, New York Knicks: Landry Fields is one of those players you miss when they are not in the line-up. He started the first 72 games of the season for the Knicks and after riding the bench for a short while, has regained his starting position. He is one of only two rookies to be included in the top 50 in the league for minutes played (2, 369 minutes played) ahead of Lamar Odom and Deron Williams. He may not be making the top ten of any stats list but he knows how to deal with adversity, knows his role within the Knicks' system and is a real team player in my eyes.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: I know some are going to argue he should not even be eligible based on sitting out last season due to injury but for that very reason makes him my top choice for Rookie of the year. In the eyes of the NBA, Blake Griffin is considered a rookie since his injury occurred during the pre-season and he sat out the 2009-2010 regular season. But "sit around" he did not. For a rookie to sustain that type of injury (stress fracture in his left knee) before he's even had a chance to prove himself, would have been the kiss of death for any other player. But he battled back, working all of 2009-2010 with a trainer to be in top shape for when he returned to the NBA for this season. He is well-known for his dunks but he is not the one-dimensional player some argue he is. Stats don't count for everything but they do speak volumes: #4 in Rebounds per Game; #5 in Minutes Played, #5 in Offensive Rebounds, #3 in Defensive Rebounds and Total Rebounds, #3 in Double-doubles and the list goes on. On top of all this, he has made the Los Angeles Clippers relevant again. Although I think there are one or two others who are deserving of the title (minus Griffin), Blake Griffin is my Rookie of the Year. Hands down.

Thanks joining me again this week. Next Thursday, let's talk about picks for NBA Coach of the Year - so take the time to think about that over the weekend. I love reading your comments and suggestions - keep them coming by following me on Twitter (@ddegraauw) and on Facebook (Danielle de Graauw). Have a great weekend and see you on Tuesday for more NBA coverage in "NBAz in 7 Dayz".


Back On Familiar Grounds

After heading out on a 5 game round trip in which they finished 1-4, the Raptors return to the ACC for a Wednesday night showdown against the Bucks. With the Bucks potentially playing for a shot at that 8th seed, in which they are only 3 games back of the Pacers, the Raptor have a chance to play spoiler and give the Bucks a much difficult chance of gaining ground on the 8th seed. The Bucks are looking to put an end to a 2-game losing skid while the Raptors are looking to end a 4-games losing streak, all of which were lost on the trip out West.

The Basics: Toronto 20-53 (12-31 vs East), Milwaukee 29-43 (3-3 in last 6 games)

When Last We Saw Them: The Raptors last played quite a while ago on Saturday when they lost to the Clippers. After leading for most of that game, the Raptors once again suffered from their patented late game collapse and lost 94-90. Blake Griffin who was pretty quite for most of the game came alive in the 4th quarter and help lead the Clippers rally for the victory. Ed Davis continued his great play as of late finishing the game with 21 points and 11 boards, while DeMar Derozan struggled to find his shot and finished the game with only 7 points on 3-15 shooting.

Key Match-Ups: Andrew Bogut vs the Raptors bigs. Bogut may not be the most offensively skilled center out there, but he's a force on the boards and a huge defensive presence. Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani, if he does play tonight, will have their hands full trying to post him up in the paint and battling for the boards. Bogut can also go off offensively if there is little to no defensive pressure, so the Raptors may have to step it up defensively as well.

Other Things of Note:
  • Ed Davis has surpassed his career high in points in the last two games
  • Each of the Raptors remaining games are against Eastern conference teams
  • The Raptors finished 8-22 against the Western team this season
Injury Report:
  • Reggie Evans is listed as day-to-day with a sore right foot
  • Andrea Bargnani is also listed as day-to-day with a sore right ankle
  • Ersan Ilyasova is out for the Bucks after suffering a concussion a few weeks ago
Where It Is On: TSN 2

Top 10: Important Games Before the Playoffs

There are just about three weeks left in the NBA season and though teams heading for the playoffs may choose to rest their star/key players in preparation for the playoffs there are still quite a few important games left on the NBA schedule. While those non-playoff teams are now looking forward to the draft and others may be trying to play spoiler, the teams that are hoping to be playing for a championship may have their work cut out for them if they don't bring it in these meaningful games. So in today's Top 10 we will be looking at the most important games left for these teams with championship aspirations.

#10: Boston vs San Antonio, March 31st (Boston leads 1-0)
The Celtics haven't been playing their best ball as of late going 5-5 in their last 10 games, but this games against a Spurs team that is stricken with injury right now, will be a good chance for them to take down a good team and gain some ground on the Bulls.

#9: Chicago vs Orlando, April 10th (Chicago leads 2-1)
The Bulls have been perhaps the hottest team as of late in the league and have thus shown that they are legitimate title contenders, with both Boston and Miami less that three games behind, they are looking to solidify that lead and clinch that 1st seed. The Magic on the other hand are currently in the 4th seed and though they'll most likely finish with that seed, they will have to beat the Bulls in the playoffs if they want to advance to the Finals, and this game will give them a chance to beat an elite team and gain some momentum heading into the playoffs.

#8: Orlando vs Philadelphia, April 11th (Orlando leads 2-1)
The Sixers have been on of the surprises this season and have risen in the standings due to their stellar play over the last few weeks and with the Knicks struggles have slid into the 6th seed. They are only 4 games back of the 5th place Hawks and having a good record over their final 8 games, they could possible acquire that 5th seed of the Hawks don't play too well.

#7: Memphis vs Portland, April 12th (Series tied 1-1)
Both of these teams have seen their star players get injured, but yet they have both somehow found themselves in the playoffs and most likely holding onto those seeds and making the playoffs. While Brandon Roy has been back for a while now, Rudy Gay is done for the season, with a shoulder injury, but the Grizzles have been playing just as well without him. With the 6-8 seed only separated by 2 games, the winner of this game can gain some ground and even move up or end up dropping a seed.

#6: New York vs Philadelphia, April 6th (Philly leads 2-1)
After holding on to the 6th seed for quite some time the Knicks have struggled as of late and the Sixers have taken advantage of that and have moved into that seed and now have a 2 games lead over the Knicks. This game will prove to be crucial for both teams because NY could tie the season series with a win and if they finish the season tied with the Sixers, they could end up with that 6th seed if they had a better win percentage than the Sixers against teams in their division.

#5: New Orleans vs Memphis, April 1st and 10th (NOH leads 2-0)
The Hornets currently hold the 7th seed and are only 1 game ahead of the Grizzles who are at the 8th seed. So if theses games aren't important, then I don't know what is. The Hornets will be without David West though, so they'll need thier bigs to step up big time when going up against the likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

#4: OKC vs Denver. April 5th and 8th (Series tied 1-1)
Since the end of the 'Melo'-drama, the Nuggets have been on a roll, and have been playing better than many, including myself, expected. Denver sits in the 5th seed, 5 games behind OKC, for the 4th seed. Though it may seen like OKC may hold on to that seed, if they lose a couple games, especially these two to the Nuggets, we could see the Nuggets finish with that 4th seed.

#3: Boston vs Chicago, April 7th (Boston leads 2-1)
Plain and simple if Boston wins this game they move closer to that #1 seed currently held by the Bulls and if Chicago wins they further themselves from the Celtics as well and tie the season series.

#2: Miami vs Boston, April 10th (Boston leads 3-0)
The Heat have yet to beat the Celtics this season and with both teams currently battling for that 2nd seed in the East and currently separated by only half a game, this game could be huge for them. It'll also be crucial for them to at least prove to the world that they can beat the Celtics at least once this season and gain a bit of momentum heading into the playoffs where they'll most likely have to play them again.

#1: San Antonio vs LAL, April 12th (SAS leads 2-1)
Currently 3.5 games ahead of the Lakers in the 1st seed the Spurs are looking to hold on and end the season with the best record in the league. The Lakers though have been on a tear since the All-Star break, having lost only 1 game to the Heat, and have their eyes set on that 1st seed. Though this game is on the second last day of the season, if the seedings haven't been decided yet this game can play a huge part in determining that. The Spurs have also been hit by the injury bug lately, but their bench players can hold their own against the best teams.

As the end of the season swiftly approaches and the playoffs edge closer, teams will be looking to solidify their seeds and finish the season on a high note. Though the playoffs has a different intensity that the regular season, there will be several teams who haven't made the playoffs in years or have been swept in past years who will be looking to shake things up and make a statement to the rest of the league. But to do that they'll have to finish the season strongly, but nevertheless, it's sure to be an entertaining next few weeks.


"NBAz in 7 Dayz"

In case you haven't heard, another 'Big Three' are in the headlines. Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are all suffering from one injury or another and the San Antonio Spurs have no timeline for their return. Talk about bad timing. Or is it? Each player has legitimate injuries which need healing and time off. On the flipside, if they took a little extra time before the playoffs to rest, it wouldn't be the first time a team rested its top players. Look at LeBron in his last year with Cleveland: this move didn't work in their favour but Cleveland was also not in the spot that San Antonio is now. The Spurs are also without Antonio McDyess (sore back). A whack of injuries all at once comes as a surprise since there are 9 games left in the season and the Spurs have been relatively injury free up until this point. Even Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich admits in the case of McDyess, his extended rest may have something to do with the playoffs on the horizon. San Antonio's next game is Thursday against Boston. Coach Popovich thinks maybe Tony Parker and his left knee contusion could heal and make the line-up by then. However, he doesn't know when Ginobili and his left quad contusion will return or Tim Duncan and his sprained ankle for that matter. Maybe this is all a part of their strategy - to make their opponents think they are fallible and create the false confidence the Spurs are going to wobble into the playoffs. Fat chance. If I were Coach Popovich, I would be milking the time off for my starters and giving them the time to rest. Having the best record in the league right now gives you that luxury.

Someone who will not be living 'La Vida Luxury' in Cleveland Tuesday night is LeBron James. Let's talk about the second homecoming of the Miami Heat, Julian Wright and his misguidance and the Sacramento Kings in what could be their final days.

Wright not so Right

If you were an OK player making decent money playing professional basketball on a losing team, would you make the colossal mistake of refusing to play or would you fight for your right to be there? I would take the latter but Julian Wright of the Toronto Raptors didn't. He really is a good guy which is why this news came as a shock to me. In the Raptors' 138-100 loss to Golden State last Friday, Julian Wright is listed as "DNP [Did Not Play] - Coach's decision". Do we really believe Jay Triano woke up Friday morning and said, "Hmmm. Not feelin' JW today - he's a scratch". This is what I don't get. Julian Wright is making close to $3 million right now with one year left in his contract. I can see how anyone would not want to play against the Warriors and get pumped by almost forty points. Maybe the Raptors dealing a fair share of "DNPs" to Wright is their way of suspending him or 'dealing with it internally' as they put it, but it still doesn't sit right with me. Maybe they are giving him a chance because he is a good guy, knowing if they set him free now they would not realistically get anything to help him or the Raptors? All I know is, if this happened in the world outside professional sports, it would get you fired. End of Story.

"No Place Like Home" - LeBron James

This is what popped up on my Facebook news feed as soon as I checked it this morning. Knowing he is returning to Cleveland Tuesday night, I checked out some of the comments following. Most contained expletives either for or against. I will not dignify or legitimize them by a re-post here. However this one stood out for me as the one intelligent argument out of the over 900 posted: "Cleveland fans, you knew he was a free agent at the end of the season, you knew he could well move somewhere else. He did, did that honestly surprise you? He hadn't won a championship in Cleveland and he went where he thought he would have the best chance of winning. Get over it now, someone else will come along eventually". Someone else will come along eventually? Maybe. Are they getting over it? Yes and no. Cleveland Head Coach Byron Scott doesn't think the hype will be at the level it was last time but he understands the anger still exists and says both the fans and the team remember what happened last time they met Miami. The team has changed, too remember. Familiar faces for LeBron like Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao are both out for the remainder of the season due to injury. Plus, the Cavs traded Mo Williams, Jamario Moon and released Leon Powe since LeBron was last in town. Daniel Gibson, J.J. Hickson and Anthony Parker are the three remaining healthy players who actually played with LeBron. It seems like the fans and the team are moving on but clearly the goal for the team and Cavs fans alike remains the same: beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Sacramento Kings saying goodbye?

It is not yet a done deal but it looks like after 26 years of being in Sacramento, the Kings may be on the move. Sacramento Mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson describes the franchise's possible move to Anaheim as a slow and painful death. He met with Kings' owners Joe and Gavin Maloof last month and feels the team is on the move after this season. This is where things get a little weird for me. So after years of not getting public money to build a new arena, Kings owners began talking to Anaheim officials to see what their options were. Yet Mayor Johnson maintains that his city needs to focus on building a new arena with or without the Kings. This raises some major red flags if I was an NBA fan and voter living in Sacramento. If Kevin Johnson is the Mayor of Sacramento and he believes his city's true destiny is to be a professional sports town and the only thing standing in their way is a new arena, why couldn't someone with his obvious background make it happen? The crux of the issue surrounds public funding of a new arena. Joe and Gavin Maloof want it and Mayor Johnson wants to kinda-sorta-maybe give it. If the voters don't want public money used for the arena and this has been on the table for years, how does Mayor Johnson make his dreams of being the leader of a professional sports city or even keep his job for that matter?

Now, Kings owner Joe Maloof is making his first public comments about his franchise's possible move to Anaheim. According to a letter written by a city official to Anaheim's City Manager, the move could ruin Sacramento financially if the Kings default on a $73 million dollar (US funds) loan from the city. To put more salt on the wound, the letter also asks Anaheim to stop negotiations with the Kings. Clearly this did not sit well with Joe Maloof who told the Orange County Register he wishes Sacramento and Mayor Kevin Johnson would stay out of his business, saying the team has never missed a payment and is in good standing. In any case, Sacramento's season finale is April 13th at home against the Lakers - a game that could be its last in Sacramento. (Deep breath).

Thanks for joining me again today. Keep your comments and suggestions coming by following me on Twitter (@ddegraauw) and on Facebook (Danielle de Graauw). Remember to join me here on Thursday when we will be discussing our NBA Rookie of the Year picks. See you then and have a great week.

Toronto Suns Coming in 2011/12?

No the Raptors are not being named after the Toronto newspaper. But ever since Bryan Colangelo came to Toronto there have always been comparisons and rumours tied to his time in Phoenix. Add this to the latest rumours as it seems B.C will be back according to a story by Mitch Lawrence from the New York Daily News. That is not big news as it has been widely thought he would be. What is news is his former coach is in trouble in New York. The story suggests that if D'Antoni is let go he will not have to look hard for a job. He would come to Toronto and Jay Triano would be out.

While Jay Triano should be out, the reasons he should be are not because this team lacks offence. This team can't defend and it is not like Mike D'Antoni is going to bring a system that will change that. Steve Nash is not walking through the door. Well at least we don't think so. But even at it's peak of excellence, the Suns Colangelo ran were not a team that could win a championship. In the playoffs you need to be able to play defence at some point.

This is all speculation at this point. D'Antoni is still the coach of the Knicks and has not been fired yet. If Colangelo is going to rebuild this team in the pattern of his old Suns teams that will make them entertaining to watch. Especially if you plug say Kemba Walker into that system. But people want a team that will defend. They want a team that can you know actually stop someone from scoring. Not to mention if D'Antoni comes here he will put Pizza Pizza out of business. Seriously all that free pizza is going to ruin them. 100 points for a free slice...better make that 120 points.

This also would suggest that Andrea Bargnani will be part of the mix. Why would I say that. Simple, D'Antoni played ball and coached ball in Italy and you would think can relate to Andrea Bargnani on a much different level in comparison to Sam Mitchell or Jay Triano. He also is not likely to be concerned if he plays plays defence.

While I have always felt there should be a change of the coach for the Raptors this is not what I had in mind. D'Antoni had his best success with the Suns. In fact maybe his only success. People forget that D'Antoni had a short run with the Nuggets going 14-36 in 1998-99. His record in New York has been 97-141. In 4 full season starting in 04-05 with the Suns and Colangelo (For most of it) and Nash he averaged 58 wins.

Also if you are going into full Suns mode who exactly is going to make all these 3 point shots in the system? Well Colangelo does have money to spend under a new CBA and if D'Antoni was brought in you would think the roster will be fine tuned to his style of play. If this all comes to pass the Raptors will be trying to use slight of hand to avoid their real problem. That they can't defend. First step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The Raptors if they did go in this direction would not be doing that.

Also can this system even work in the Eastern Conference? That remains to be seen. While the natural instinct is to say it can. After all the Western Conference is the better conference. Look at the playoff race in the East if you care to argue. But when you look at the teams at the top of this conference they are teams that can defend. Boston and Chicago are teams that both have a defence first approach.

For those who dream of a Jeff Van Gundy or someone like him coming to save the Raptors. It would appear he is not walking through that door. Even the Suns in the post Colangelo and D'Antoni era came to realize that you have to at least play some defence to win. There has never been a team that has been able to outscore a team to death in this league to ultimate success. Raptors Assistant Alex English was a part of a Denver Nuggets team that tried to do that. From 79-80 to 89-90 the Nuggets were in the playoffs more than they were not. They won a lot of basketball games and scored a ton of points. But only one time did they make the Conference Finals in 84-85 losing to the Lakers. In a sense the Nuggets were the Suns before the Suns were the Suns.

This team may improve and may become very entertaining if they go this route. They could grow into a consistent playoff team. But if you crave more than that this might not be the direction to go. History tells us that teams like the Nuggets and Suns can win in regular season and can even have some success in the post season. But to win a Championship is not in the cards. Defence wins Championships, not flashy offence and entertaining basketball. If you get that as well it is a bonus. But there is no way to win without being able to defend. Eventually it catches up with you no matter how many points you put on the scoreboard.


9 Games To Go, 9 Questions To Answer

With 9 games to go let's take a look at 9 questions about the Raptors future going forward:

1. Bryan Colangelo's future with the Raptors? It has been the question that has hung over this season all year long. It was always suppose to be a formality but it has yet to become a reality. You have to wonder now if we still will see Bryan Colangelo next season. It still seems likely we will. But with the ownership of MLSE very much up in the air with the teacher's pension fund looking to sell their stake in the team it makes things a little less certain. Do we even know if Bryan wants to come back? If there was another opportunity in the league would he take it? There had been thoughts he could go to New York but with Isiah Thomas surfacing again in New York in some unknown advisory roll pretty sure that keeps B.C far away from the Knicks. Before you can answer any other questions you need to answer this one.

2. Jay Triano stays or goes? So many people want to find reasons for Jay Triano not to be fired. You have to figure that if Colangelo were to be gone Jay would be right behind him. Any new G.M that is going to have any real impact would almost 100% want to bring in his own coaching staff. But even if Bryan remains can he afford to stay with Jay Triano? Whatever you want to say about Jay the fact can not be denied that this team has not bought into his defensive system or his system on defence simply doesn't work. You can point the the Raptors lack of talent on that end of the floor as the reason. But it is up to the coach to find a way to make this team at least some what competent in terms of defence. I have yet to find a person that believes Jay Triano is the long term answer for this team moving forward. It is my believe the longer you keep him the more you are just wasting time. In a year that everyone admits was about development, in terms of defence this team has shown none. It has regressed in fact to be one of the worst teams on the defensive end of the floor that this franchise has ever seen.

3. Andrea or Demar? Who is this team ultimately being built around. Is it Andrea Bargnani or Demar DeRozan. Given the lack of improvement of Bargnani as a defender and a rebounder it would be truly scary if it is him. The Raptors also have stayed with Bargnani at the center position which seems to not be a good fit. In DeRozan he has shown a lot of improvement this season. Maybe not as much as people would have hoped for. But enough that you can see a day where people consider him the best player on this team. If you look around the league a team build around a dynamic wing player that is athletic is a lot more common than build around a big man. Other than a few franchises this is the case. The exceptions to the rules are true dominant traditional centers that rebound and defend. Bargnani is not that is he. I said as the start of this year the development of DeRozan was the key to this season. His development was the biggest factor. He needs to take over this team and become it's young leader. Bargnani is just never going to be that for this franchise.

4. Young Onez are one and done? It sure looks that way. Amir Johnson and Demar DeRozan will still be around. But with James Johnson coming on board it would seem that Sonny Weems days as a Raptor are coming to a close. It is something I think will have impact beyond just him being gone. We just got through talking about how important Demar DeRozan is for this franchises future. To toss his best friend over the side will be something that is going to bother DeRozan even if he never admits it publicly. He will say it is a business and will miss Sonny and all of that. But the chemistry and the relationship these 3 players built with each other and fans was something pretty special. While the basketball arguments for why this is happening are obvious, still it is sad that the Young Guns turned to Young Onez appear to be dust in the wind.

5. Reggie Evans say good bye or hello again? It is a very tough choice on what to do about Reggie Evans. When he has been out there he has been a force and a presence. The one guy that when he puts on a jersey on this team you know exactly what you get every single night. But the injuries to his foot are a big concern. He is sitting out with pain in that surgically repaired foot. I love Reggie and I think he adds a tremendous amount of value to this team. But I am very worried about these foot troubles Reggie is having. I am not sure you can be confident he can remain healthy. I know he will work hard. But it may be out of his control. If he was willing to take a short term contract at a very small number I think it is worth it. But if Reggie wants more than that it will have to be elsewhere. Reggie is perhaps my favourite person on this team. I hope for his sake he can be healthy and successful where ever he is playing. I am just not sure it can be here in Toronto. If it is Raptors will have a player that is a guy that commands respect in the locker room and just by his effort challenges others to match it. But to do those things Reggie has to be out on the floor playing and last two seasons that has been a challenge.

6. Draft Who, Draft What? I am pretty certain on what the Raptors need to do here. Point guard is what you want to draft. Assuming the Raptors luck is the same as it was in the season which is bad. That point guard you can watch in Final Four in the form of Kemba Walker. If you can't get rid of Jose Calderon at this point. Walker maybe a better version of T.J Ford and at his best could provide the same one, two punch Raptors had in the Forderon days. Kembaron? Jerryd Bayless has not shown to be a true challenge for minutes or Calderon's job. Kemba Walker will challenge Calderon and has the talent to surpass him. Calderon is just not a starter in this league. Walker has shown to be a tremendous talent and is the darling of March Madness. If the Raptors were to be lucky enough to get the number one pick they would likely have the chance to draft Irving from Duke. The only other player that might interest the Raptors is Harrison Barnes. The dynamic young freshman had a rough start at UNC but took big strides at the end of the season. These 3 players are likely the biggest difference makes the Raptors could hope to acquire in this draft.

7. Trade Bargnani? Many think if Bryan Colangelo is still on board there is no way this happens. Still there was a rumour in a New York paper that Bargnani may in fact be in play for the Knicks. While I don't think the Knicks have a package that would interest the Raptors enough to get Bargnani. After all they gave up a lot to get Carmelo Anthony. But the fact it is out there that Bargnani could be in play is news. I am convinced that unloading him now would be the smart move for this team. If you can find a team that is desperate enough to over look his lack of rebounding and defence for his offence you need to consider it strongly. Other teams have given up on first overall picks before. If you can get some actual value for him before he bottoms out you need to do it. Bargnani has reached the point that it would seem unlikely he finds God and is able to defend and rebound all of the sudden on a consistent basis

8. Ed Davis a part of the solution? It sure seems like it. Now he is not the Chris Bosh replacement that some billed him as when he was drafted. But he offers a solid rebounding presence and can be a decent defender in a good system with other players contributing to that system. He also has the potential to be something that Raptors have not had in a long time. A shot blocking presence that can change shots and block his share of them. Not since maybe Antonio Davis and Keon Clark were putting on the purple have they had this. Davis is not going to be a superstar. But he can be an effective part of a winning formula. Davis has surprised me this season given the amount of time he has missed. But he to his credit jumped into an NBA season and on most nights has looked like he belongs. You hope his development can continue on the right path. With a lock out looming who knows what that would mean for the Vegas Summer League. But DeRozan gained a lot of confidence from his time in Vegas last summer. You hope Davis would get a chance to do the same.

9. How much will the new CBA help the Raptors? When there is a new CBA no matter how it turns out Bryan Colangelo has done a solid job setting the Raptors up to be prepared for it. The general answer to this question for me is pretty simple. The more the owners win the more the Raptors win in terms of the CBA. Here are just a couple examples. If we get a franchise tag added to the mix. This gives you more control to keep your stars here to grow. Demar DeRozan can get better without the fear that he will be leaving. It also would give the team time to prepare should a player want out. It also would provide teams another weapon to avoid situations like the ones we have seen with James, Bosh, Williams, Anthony and Paul. Also if they eliminated the MLE this would cause players to really have to choose between money and winning. Would a guy really take a minimum salary to go play for a contender. Perhaps some older veteran players would but it makes it a much tougher choice for players to turn their back on teams with money to spend. Raptors will have money to spend and if the new system makes it easier for them to spend it. Regardless of the CBA we end up with Raptors are positioned well for it and that credit goes to Bryan Colangelo.


Raps Close Road Trip In Familiar Way

Add another to the walked wounded list. Andrea Bargnani would take a seat for this one with bone spurs. Amir Johnson, Barbosa and Calderon would all go not at 100%. While Reggie Evans remained out with problems with his surgically repaired right foot. Raptors would come in off worst loss in my opinion ever. But they did have success playing the Clippers in L.A. They have won 4 straight heading into this one vs Staples secondary basketball tenant.

Not a surprise that the Raptors had a much better effort in this one. They would play a scrappy first half and despite having no Bargnani and Demar DeRozan struggling they still got off to a 21-18 lead after the first quarter and would hang in for at 44-43 halftime lead. They were doing a surprisingly nice job dealing with Blake Griffin. It was a sloppy and scrappy affair with both teams showing at times why they would be heading to the lottery and not the playoffs. Clippers were shooting just 40.9% at the half and Raptors hoovering around 38%. Far from an instant classic.

Raptors were getting one of the better efforts from Ed Davis from him this season. Perhaps his best performance when all was said and done. The Raptors would build up a pretty decent lead by the time the 4th quarter had rolled around. They had a 7 point lead after 3 and they built that to 10 at one point near the mid point of the 4th. But as often happens the Raptors let is slide away. Griffin after a pretty quiet night by his standards would come alive late and lead the Clippers to the 94-90 win. Davis had 21 and 11 for a double double to lead the Raptors while Griffin by the end of the night had a pretty nice evening with 22 and 16.

Demar DeRozan struggled in his return home to L.A. He would get it going a little late but in the end for the first time since January was held under double digits scoring. DeRozan at one point was 1-11 in this one and would end up 3-15 with just 7 points. He did do some other things with 6 rebounds and a couple steals but it was a bad night for the kid from Compton California. Calderon was doing a solid job as a scorer despite just 2 assists he dropped in a much needed 16 points given the circumstances. Raptors really lost this game on the glass getting out rebounded 51-40. Another failure down the stretch and another loss bringing the total to 53 losses and counting with 9 games to go. They will not beat the record for losses in a season at 66 but they are looking like they will be in neighbourhood before all is said and done.

Here is the boxscore that will show you that the Clippers outscored the Raptors 28-17 in the final quarter.


Demar Goes Home To Take On Clipps

Rain, Snow or Epic loss the DNB Previews march on. Here is my thoughts heading into tonight's contest at Staples.

It can't be any worse than last night can it? Nah Can't.

Worst Loss Ever

Normally we would do a re-cap of a game. But there really would be not much point in doing so. After one quarter of play the Warriors losers of 6 in a row coming in had 45 points. They shot 81 percent in that quarter. At the half they had 84 points. A kid playing NBA 2k11 would have been hard pressed to match those numbers. But this was not a video game, it was reality and it was sad and pathetic. The 139-100 final was flattering to the Raptors it should have been worse.

I am tired of the excuses that are made for Jay Triano. The reality is when it comes to defence his team does not play it. The Raptors were short handed in this one with no Amir, Reggie and Jose Calderon would only play a half leaving with a hamstring injury. But all that said there was a complete lack of defensive effort on the floor on full display. Andrea Bargnani even Triano admitted earlier in the year has not improved as a help defender. He is let's be honest pretty much defenceless. While you can place the blame for that on Andrea it is Jay's job to change it. He hasn't and this team has had far to many performances like this. Sam Mitchell lost his job for far less. A Sam Mitchell team would rarely get total embarrassed as often as it has happened under Triano in less than 3 years. At the very least under Sam there was some evidence of accountability something that is clearly lacking under Triano.

I have watched this team for 16 years and been a fan for most of that time. I started covering the team with the blog for the last 3+ years. I have never seen a worse performance than what I watched last night. I was embarrassed personally for wasting my time watching this garbage. It was a low point in the 16 years that I have watched this team play basketball. If this team continues down this path to no where I am not sure that many can take it.

This was suppose to be a season about development. So ask yourself this question. Where has been the development on this team defensively, as a team, or even as individuals. I have seen next to none. That no matter what excuses people care to offer is on Jay Triano. He has failed to show any signs he can get a team to play acceptable defence on a consistent basis. While many will point to Bryan Colangelo for putting this group together, which is true some of the blame is his. That still does not factor in the lack of accountability on this team. The lack of perimeter defence, transition defence or anything with word defence in it.

Andrea Bargnani has proven to be a one denominational player and when he fails to do that he is a complete train wreck on the floor. He will never be the franchise player of this team for a very simple reason. No one can honestly have any respect for a guy that shows no effort on the glass or on defence. If you are a player scrapping for minutes on this team, how does it make you feel when you see that. I have heard the expression many times you want your best player to be your hardest worker. Andrea is not even close to that. Chris Bosh for whatever you think of him now, always gave an effort most times he stepped on the floor for a practice or a game. The guy that acts like a franchise player on this team is Demar DeRozan. He is not setting the world on fire with his defence either. But he is far less of a finished product than Bargnani and you do see a work ethic in DeRozan to give you hope for his future.

When you play Calderon and Bargnani on the floor together you are basically giving a team a 5 on 3 power play in basketball. One or both have to go. Which might be a tough task especially with Calderon who yet again pulled up lame. I remember I got hammered by some for calling him injury prone. Sorry to break the news to you folks but he is.

There are 10 games left in this season. While firing Jay Triano at this point is just a pointless and mealiness gesture. He has shown zero reason that he deserves to keep his job. If Jay Triano was from Boise, Idaho does anyone honestly believe he would have lasted this long? He out lived coach after coach as an assistant. He eventually was given the head coaching job making him the first ever Canadian Head Coach in NBA History. Jay Triano is a great person and a great Canadian, no one can or should take that away from him. That being said, do I care more about Jay than I do a franchise that I have supported from Day 1? Nope sorry I don't. His time is up and he needs to go. The longer he stays it is just wasting time.

After 16 years of this, I can honestly say that was the worse loss I have seen. I can also say as a fan it is one of the few times I have felt truly embarrassed to be a fan of the Raptors. Even when Kobe Bryant lit up this team for 81 you could rationalize that by saying well it was Kobe. There is no rationalizing away the fact the Jay Triano has coached this team to the bottom of the league on defence. He has to be gone if there is any hope for this team going forward.


Raptors Take Their Show To Cali

Here we go, game number 4 of this 5 game Road Trip trough Western Conference for the Toronto Raptors. So far they are 1-2 dropping the last 2 games after a surprising win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. So let's kick it off with some Cali beats and a preview of this one:

As mentioned this is a very late start look for your re-cap of this one tomorrow morning as I will be up early for my weekly appearance on the Team 990 in Montreal.


"NBAz in 7 Dayz"

Life is too short. Last week, my cousins were at the gym working out one minute and calling 911 the next. Kim was in great health: played golf, coached baseball and was a very active guy. So when he began showing the initial signs of a heart attack, his wife Bianca at first thought it might have been the practical joker side of him coming out. Sadly, this was not the case. As I sat listening to all the wonderful tributes to his life at his funeral on Wednesday, I reflected on what might be said about my life. I hope those lists would include my love of basketball. This MVP edition of "NBAz in 7 Dayz" is dedicated to Kim and everyone in my life who makes me feel like an MVP. I am truly grateful for my career, my family and everything in between. Thank-you for all your love and support.

Many broadcast journalists, including yours truly, will appreciate the legacy left by former SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley. He died early Monday morning after suffering a stroke at the age of 76 years old. During his 18-year ownership of the Sonics, the team made the playoffs 13 times, won four division titles and was in the 1996 NBA Final. Most broadcasters though, will also appreciate he was one of the first sports owners to broadcast games on both radio and television stations he owned and also created the first all-sports talk radio station. He will be missed.

Top 5 MVP Picks - You might be surprised

I love LeBron James and appreciate his style of play, his charity work and his character despite all "The Decision" hoopla. But he does not make my list. I also support the work and leadership of Kobe Bryant and while I appreciate his All-Star MVP status, he makes my list but is not my choice for regular season MVP. The NBA Most Valuable Player Award is an honour given to the most highly revered player during the regular season. Does this mean the most successful? Does the MVP always win a championship? Is this just a popularity contest like some high school Prom King contests? Regardless of it's reputation, here are my top five players who should at least make the discussion (in no particular order):

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: Let's face it. Kobe Bryant has been a regular season MVP contender for the last 4 or five seasons. Not that having an injury and playing through it should be an automatic criteria, but I think he should have won it last year based on this alone. I think some value needs to be placed on a player's ability to overcome adversity. But based on his team's roller coaster ride this year and losing twice to the three so-called Kings in Miami, I don't think he will make the cut.

2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: Although he is not my choice for MVP, he was right up there. Now, I don't believe he is the second coming of MJ himself but he made the Chicago Bulls relevant again. He has gone toe-to-toe this season with the best in the league and has held his own. He has been in the league for 2 years now and is really making a name for himself. He ranks third in field goal attempts, sixth in points per game and is also in the top ten for assists. Not a bad combination - this makes him a well-rounded candidate.

3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic: I almost did not include him in my top five based on his "foul" issues but I reconsidered. When you look at his stats, he is ranked in the top two in 16 categories, including number one in blocks, free throws and number two in rebounds. He is a tough player you want on your team going into any battle. He and I did the same thing in grade eight - write down a list of goals. Among Dwight's were: lead his team to a state championship and become the first overall selection in the NBA Draft. I wonder if somewhere on that list was NBA MVP.

4. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics: This was a hard one considering the depth of talent on the Celtics' roster and I endeavored to chose only one candidate per team. He is ranked in the top ten in three categories including number two in three-point field goal percentage. He is not dominating stats categories like Howard but Ray Allen is like the chocolate chip to the Celtics' playoff cookie. Without him, the team is just not the same. He is the consummate clutch player and performs well under pressure. Being in the league for 14 years gives you that experience.

5. My MVP Pick - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: Although I never believed the hype about Miami winning a championship based on assembling Wade, James and Bosh in the same city, I think a team's ability to beat this formation is a part of the measuring stick. The Thunder met the Heat twice this season and split the wins. In the game they won, the Thunder beat them by 11 points (96-85). Team success is another part of the MVP race because if said player is both talented and elevates the play of his teammates, his is MVP worthy in my opinion. Kevin Durant is both. He is an all-around great ambassador to the sport. He ranks number one in the NBA for points per game, averaging 27.9 and is really dedicated to the success of his team. He showed an example of this by coaching his teammate Serge Ibaka in the dunk contest (after his own victorious event got cancelled). At 23 years old and after being in the league for only 3 years, his time is now.

Thanks for joining me this week. I appreciate all your questions, comments and suggestions. Please keep them coming by following me on Facebook (Danielle de Graauw) and Twitter (@ddegraauw). Over the weekend, think about your Rookie of the Year choices and bring those to the table next Thursday. Until then, have a great weekend and see you on Tuesday for more NBA coverage in "NBAz in 7 Dayz".


Sun Burned Late In Arizona.

Raptors would find themselves in all to familiar situation leading most of the night they let it slide down the stretch and ended up in the losing column for the 51st time this season. Here is the re-cap with all the details of this one.

For all the rest of the stats from this one check the Boxscore. Raptors have the day off as they make their way to Oakland for a date with Warriors on Friday. After a surprising win to start the 5 game road trip Raps have dropped the last 2 and as such are 1-2 on the road trip.

Snow in Toronto, Suns in Arizona

It is your DNB preview of the Raptors and Suns. Here is my breakdown as we talk about Suns coming into this one off a triple OT loss to L.A. No secret the Raptors would like to take advantage of that with a fast start in this one. Have a listen to all my thoughts on this one.

Check back for the Recap in the AM. When is SPRING COMING...Like SERIOUSLY!!!

Top 10: Triple OT Edition

If you watched the Lakers-Suns game last night, you were witness to one of the most exciting, nerve-wrecking, nail-biting game of the season. If you missed if, well you missed one heck of a game. From Channing Frye showing how clutch he was to Kobe showing he's still "The Closer", to Ron Artest blowing kisses again and of course VC being VC, this game has to go down as one of the bests this season. Watching this game, which seemed like it would never end, you have to wonder what's going through the minds of the players and coaches with each minutes that passes. So in today's Top 10 we will be looking at just that.

#10: Josh Childress: If this game goes to another OT period I'll get some playing time right?

#9: Phil Jackson: Come on guys, lets end this thing already. I ain't getting any younger you know.

#8: Pau Gasol: Dang this game is long. Good thing I remembered to DVR Dancing With The Stars tonight.

#7: Vince Carter: Okay Vince, just think happy thoughts and you'll hit the next shot.

#6: Channing Frye: Why'd you pass the ball to Vince, Steve? He's already missed like 1000 game-winners in this game already.

#5: Kobe Bryant: That's how you perform in the clutch Lebron.

#4: Ron Artest: QUEENSBRIDGE

#3: Vince Carter: Come on Steve, pass me the ball. They say the 500th time is the charm right?

#2: Steve Nash: Why did I pass the ball to Vince, when we all know he ain't gonna hit that shot?

#1: Vince Carter: Seriously, triple overtime!!! If I had seen this coming I probably would have faked an injury or said I had a graduation today.

Hope you enjoyed today's edition of the Top 10. If you have NBA League Pass and missed that game last night, I highly recommend that you watch it, plus you'll get to see Vince brick a few game-winners.


Starting 5 Talking NCAA and Canada Hoops With Ray Bala

That is our guest today Ray Bala hanging out with us on our MGD night. He won the passes by knowing that Master P once was a Raptors if memory serves me correct. But his field of expertise is that of up and coming Canadian Ballers. So seeing as it is Madness time and my bracket is almost busted, lots of time to talk about all the Canadians in the tournament. We break down what happened with Cory and Tristan with Texas. How the addition of Myck Kabongo will help the Longhorns next year. In addition touch on the forth Canadian to join up at Texas from Canada in form of Kevin Thomas, who played in the Canada Grassroots program with all 3. We touch on all the other Canadians that were part of the Madness as well as start to look at what the Raptors could do in the draft.

The piece we talked about at the end on the Juno Celebrity Game Ray wrote is very amusing check it out. Seems like it was a fun event. I found out about it last minute or else I might have went down to check it out. Play in it? Heck no. But it would have been a blast to watch by sounds of it. Ray has been a regular guest with us for past few years to talk NCAA Hoops and I thank him for taking the time to stop by and pay us a visit.

Starting 5 With @Liston

I have mentioned in the blog, how when it started, I never real expected that it would introduce me to so many fantastic people as it has. I would rank near the top of that list our guest today in the Starting 5. He is Tom Liston a great sports fan in general and a very passionate Raptor fan as well. He has a background and works in finance. You might say if you didn't know Tom he fits the stereotype of the corporate suits that occupy the nice seats in the Air Canada Centre. But in knowing him nothing could be further from the truth. He has taken his background and has used some of that knowledge and applied it to sports. He writes for the folks at Raptors Republic doing some excellent pieces based on stats. I have never been a huge person for stats and think sometimes we have gone crazy with them. So we make for an odd pairing. But I do respect Tom and appreciate the work he puts in. He does a pretty good job of taking data and presenting in a entertaining format. Here is the most recent example of what he does at Raptors Republic. We talk everything from stats to business. If you listen to this interview I can almost guarantee you will be smarter for it.

Tom mentioned the all 4 one event and he has his own personal website and you can find more info on there. As we mentioned in the Interview the Team Up Foundation does great work. If you can afford to attend I would encourage you to do so. I would also make the point that MLSE should look to do events in a price range for the average person to take part in. I personal could never afford that cost. It is something I would hope the folks at MLSE consider moving forward. Something else that is for a good cause is what Eric Smith is doing. Eric has worked with some folks to create a T-Shirt to sell where the profits are going to aid the victims of the tragic events in Japan. Aside from doing a good thing it is a pretty cool T-Shirt. They are for sale online now and you can link here to purchase one. Both good causes and if you can afford to contribute to one or both please do. I thank Tom for taking time out to come visit with us here at the Dino Nation. He has always been supportive of me and the blog and it is a mutual thing as I have always been supportive of Tom. I look forward to having him back in the future as guest.

"NBAz in 7 Dayz"

DeMarcus, DeMarcus, DeMarcus. When will you ever learn. DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings has had many discipline issues this season including being fined by the team and missing a game in February after fighting with a teammate. There has also been a list of incidents involving DeMarcus, his coaches and his teammates and some verbal jousting. It doesn't end there. The latest involves DeMarcus being ejected from a game against Minnesota on Sunday after shoving the Timberwolves' Martell Webster. In the third quarter, DeMarcus attempts to set a screen and gets 'involved' with Minnesota's Luke Ridnour. Feeling no love from DeMarcus, Ridnour shoved Cousins, who then shoved Ridnour back. Then one of Ridnour's teammates Nikola Pekovic jumps into the fray to push DeMarcus out of the way and when Webster returns with his two cents, DeMarcus shoved him too. DeMarcus gets tossed from the game and Ridnour gets a technical foul. There are two problems with this scenario. One, DeMarcus already has a target on his back from his propensity for 'getting into it' with everyone around him. This leaves the referees with no grey area in which to judge his actions. Two, this is DeMarcus' rookie year and he is not making the best first impression. If he wants longevity in this league, he needs to go cold turkey and box his temper before it gets out of hand. As a player, you can have all the talent in the world but if you act as if you know everything and can't learn or be coached, your professional basketball career will be short lived. Andrew Bynum feels his pain. Let's talk about his suspension and a looming NBA lockout.

Bynum is suspended for two games

This call makes no sense. Compared to DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bynum who has little prior history of committing hard fouls, is not the type of player who is deserving of a two game suspension for fouling Minnesota's Michael Beasley. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson agrees with the flagrant foul and game ejection but like myself, does not understand how the further penalties were calculated. Even Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis thought Bynum wasn't up to anything malicious and thought he was just trying to protect the basket. But then Coach Rambis flips on this answer two days later after watching replays and supports the suspension. Andrew Bynum missed Sunday's game against Portland and will sit out Tuesday's game against Phoenix. In addition, Bynum will loose $250, 000 during this suspension for lost pay. This all seems a little suspicious and excessive to me. Is it a coincidence the DeMarcus and Bynum incidents came against the Timberwolves? Are the referees coming down on certain players and letting others go to appease Coaches like Kurt Rambis? Think back to our discussion last week : reporting inconsistencies in refereeing and 'making up' for mistakes or bad calls. It just makes me shake my head.

"It doesn't look good right now" - Dirk Nowitzki

Lockout or no lockout, some NBA players are preparing for the worst. Even if a possible lockout just cuts into next season, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki repeated his desire to rejoin the German national team as it tries to qualify this summer for the 2012 Olympics in London. I was thinking about this over the weekend - the last time the NBA had a lockout which cut into the regular season was 1998-1999. Back then, Dirk Nowitzki was just a wee pup by NBA standards, was drafted in June of '98 but stayed in Germany to play with his pro team. His desire to play with his German teammates again depends on how well his Dallas Mavericks do in the post season. Nowitzki says if the Mavericks go far he may just stay put. But knowing Nowitzki turns 33 in June and considers the 2012 Olympics as possibly his last shot at competing for Germany, I wouldn't count on him crying if the Mavericks fall in the first round.

The crux of the issue is money. The NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) believes only a small number of NBA teams are loosing money. The League thinks otherwise and wants a hard salary cap because they say more than half of NBA teams are loosing money to the tune of more than $300 million a year. According NBPA Chief Billy Hunter the hard salary cap would put an end to guaranteed contracts which he calls the "lifeblood" of professional basketball. He has a point. The hard cap gives the owners a guaranteed profit - so the security of income just switches sides and no one wants to budge. But Hunter's claim the league's money problems can be magically fixed by revenue sharing among the so-called small number of cash-strapped NBA teams is a little off base. I think part of the problem comes from decision-making. Letting buyers pick up NBA teams for the short-term gain of making their primary businesses look good without the focus being on the club itself. Both sides are contending to one version of the story. But think about it. If the NBA is threatening to lock out it's players because they say they are losing money, are they really? Wouldn't locking out your players/assets put you farther in the red if that was the case? I think the league has made ill-advised decisions and created a situation they don't like and now the players have some bargaining power, hence the hard stance against the NBPA. Something to think about.

Thanks once again for joining me this week. I have been enjoying all of your comments and suggestions - I have been really touched by the number of you who have taken the time to send me personal messages and providing me with feedback. I will endeaver to return all of them in a timely manner - I appreciate your support. Keep the feedback coming by following me on Twitter (@ddegraauw) and on Facebook (Danielle de Graauw). See you on Thursday for our continued discussion on the playoffs - remember we will be chatting MVPs on Thursday so be sure to drop in on the discussion. Have a great week.


Denver Deja Vu

It was the exact opposite of what we saw in OKC just less than 24 hours earlier. The Raptors did look good in the this second half of a back to back. Here is my recap with all the details in a quick and painless a way as possible.

Here is the Boxscore with the nasty statistical data. Have a couple interviews scheduled for today so come back and check them out. Suppose to be talking with Tom Liston who you may know from Raptors Republic or the RTZ or from Twitter @Liston. He makes his Starting 5 debut. Also suppose to hook up with Ray Bala the NCAA and Canada basketball guru from Raptors HQ.

Up next for Raptors is a match-up with the Suns on Wednesday. Forgot to mention in the Re-cap Amir Johnson was forced to leave this game at the half and did not return. His status for Wednesday will be up in the air.

3 In A Row?

It has been a long time the Raptors could say they were on a winning streak. While two in a row is not anything stunning it is something. The people cheering for ping pong balls are screaming why now. But just like when you slap down 5 or 10 bucks in your NCAA Office Pool it is a gamble. Not a gamble based on skill either. There is also those who are not as trusting that feel the NBA Lottery might not exactly be on the level. But forgetting about the draft and lottery balls as a basketball team what you want to see is progress. We are seeing some of that. DeRozan has become a consistent scorer. James Johnson is becoming that defending wing player the Raptors have needed for a long time. Andrea Bargnani may still not be tearing up the boards or impressing anyone with his defence. But he is doing what we take for granted and that is score and doing a lot of it. Reggie Evans and Leandro Barbosa are playing well and making the choices the Raptors will need to make about them much tougher. Ed Davis who struggled last night has showed signs that he can be a part of the future. This team is starting to figure some things out. While it won't change the fate of this season it does help.

When you look across the way at the Denver Nuggets as Raptor fans you might just be a bit jealous. Why do I say this? Look at how the Nuggets dealt with the Carmelo Anthony situation. While Masai Ujiri who came from the Raptors Organization did not see the situation as ideal in what he was forced to deal with. I would suggest Denver fans are likely a lot more happy than Raptor fans or Cavs fans are. Toronto and Cleveland rolled the dice and lost. Having seen that from the inside in Toronto gave Ujiri the road map of what he knew he had to do in Denver. Shocking as it may seem the Nuggets are actually playing well with both Mello and Billups gone. It was a pretty unbelieveable deal that he was able to engineer under the circumstances. Cashing in on the Knicks desperation to bring Anthony home to N.Y.C. Going to do this a little different today for the rest of this preview check it out in audio form all the same stuff just in voice rather than words. Yes TSN and Sportsnet jokes too.

A Little Bonus Material:

Amir Johnson made his way through The Score and a number of other media outlets to promote his Roll With Amir Contest Here is that from his You Tube the interviews were prior to his return to the line up this past Friday vs the Wizards.

Here is the link to Amir's website. Tried to find him on Friday to talk about this with him. But could not track him down pre-game. But kudos to him for doing something great for you Raptor Fans. As

The Raptors look to the future and try some things, we at the Dino Nation Blog are going to be doing the same. The goal is to make this site much more of a Multi-Media platform. More Audio and soon to more video will eventually be the goal. While we make these transitions feel free to offer your input. In the comments, on DNB Chat, On Twitter, On Facebook, If you see me walking down the street when I am in Toronto. It is all welcomed. I thank all of you that support the Dino Nation Blog and it will continue to do it's best to make this a place that you want to check out everyday and be a part of. I get told a lot about all the great steps I have made in the 3 plus years of this blog. But trust me when I tell you that it is far from where I want it to be and where it will be. I work hard not just for myself but for all of you.

Irony In OKC

I mentioned in the preview the last time the Raptors the last time Raptors won two in a row was on December 3rd. The team they defeated was the Oklahoma City Thunder. But Kevin Durant was a spectator that night and Thunder were coming into this one on a roll. Winners of six in a row. Not to mention this game was in Oklahoma City and the Raptors were in the midst of a team record 14 game road losing streak. Every single sign pointed to an easy win for the Thunder. But just like in March Madness upsets can happen and the Raptors would play like that plucky underdog in this one.

Raptors won the tip and Bargnani missed on a drive to the hoop. Kevin Durant nails a three, after a Calderon drive to the bucket Sefolosha would cut to the hoop and score and it was 5-2 Thunder. James Johnson would drive and score and make the and one free throw and it was tied at 5. Westbrook with a nice dime gave OKC the lead, after couple sloppy possession by both teams Perkins would get a slam to make it 9-5. Demar DeRozan and Kevin Durant exchanged hoops. Westbrook left Jose Calderon standing there. Then James Johnson made a three and was talking smack? Really James Johnson...not a smart idea. Not long after that Perkins would get in Amir Johnson's face and he would respond with a push and get teched up for it. Another Westbrook blow by and to this point this game was following the script you would have expected with OKC up 18-10.

Few empty trips for the Thunder and a wide open 3 from Bargnani combined with an earlier Raptor free throw would make it 18-14 Thunder. Speaking of the line Andrea Bargnani got himself there and made a pair it was a two point game. Reggie Evans checked in and got in the grill of Perkins and was able to draw a response and drew a technical on him. Calderon would make that and a jumper and Raptors led 19-18 currently enjoying a 9-0 run. Corner three would not fall for Westbrook and Raps would get out on break and make it an 11-0 run with Reggie of all people finishing on the break. Why Westbrook was not content going pick and roll and blowing past Calderon is a mystery to me. After a time out OKC would finally break free and get a couple baskets to re-take the lead 22-21. James Johnson on drive hits Reggie Evans who was being a factor scoring? No really he was. Westbrook took my advice but driving one against 3 was not what I had in mind. James Harden a frustration dunk after he was fouled on the floor. He would take an ill advised three and speaking of three on the other end Reggie Evans had his third basket since checking in. Evans almost had a 4th on a tap back at the end of the quarter but he would settle for 6 points and the Raptors happy to have 25-22 lead after 1.

Raptors started the 2nd quarter in a zone and James Harden made them pay with a 3 pointer and we were tied at 25. Barbosa the drive and the drop off for the offensive force that was Reggie Evans and he got fouled and heads to the line for 2. Not a good free throw shooter normally but makes both and Raptors were back up by 2. Thunder would hit another 3 and re-take the lead 28-27. Lead was flip flopping back and forth with the Thunder hanging on to the lead 30-29. Barbosa would get called for a charge but Bayless after a little trouble on the break would find Barbosa for the easy 2. Sonny Weems would add on two more to the cause and the Thunder had to be scratching their heads down 33-30 with a time out on the floor. Scott Brooks was coach of year for a reason as his team responded out of the time out again with two straight scores and were back on top 34-33. After the Raptors took the lead back another James Harden three would give the Thunder back their one point edge at 38-37 midway through the 2nd. James Johnson found a lane on the baseline and exploded down it for the slam. Thunder would answer that hoop and got a steal but James Johnson active hands would break up an easy score on the break.

Amir Johnson would draw a foul and get to the line and split a pair leaving this at even at 40. After a score on the next possession Thunder would make a sloppy pass and pay for it with a DeRozan dunk off the break and we were even again at 42 with a time out on the floor. Some Amir Johnson hustle gave the Raptors a couple extra chances to score that they failed to take advantage of. But the Raptors would gather a loose ball on the other end and a rare Bargnani hoop in the paint and the Raptors had a lead that Amir Johnson would expand on with his own bucket in the paint. After a couple OKC free throws a Barbosa drive and score gave the Raptors a pretty unexpected 48-44 lead at the half.

Thunder after a slow start for both teams a Westbrook drive to hoop not once but twice and this game was tied. He seems like he could do this almost anytime he wants why he not doing it more remains a mystery. Andrea Bargnani would get to the line and only manage getting 1 of 2 but nosed the Raptors back in front 49-48. Bargnani would miss a three but DeRozan got the board and put it home. Raps got on a roll and a DeRozan highlight worth dunk was enough to cause Brooks to call another timeout. Raptors after the Thunder had tied it went on a 8-0 run to lead 56-48. Perkins travelled as he put it in the basket but it would not count. Bargnani would extend the run on mid-range jumper. No travel this time and Perkins would finally end the Raptors 10-0 run with a nice lay in using the hoop to shield off the defenders. After Thunder got a couple hoops James Johnson who was doing a solid job guarding Kevin Durant got his offence on with a drive and score and Raptors were back up 8 with score 60-52.

Thunder would creep closer and the Raptors answer again to get the lead back to 64-56. Raptors were not going away but neither were these OKC fans who are some of the best in the NBA. Bargnani hit a shot and then got to the line made both and it was 68-58 Raptors with 3 to play in the 3rd. Bargnani had 10 in the quarter and DeRozan looking to match him with 10 of his own got called on the travel. But the Raptors were not stumbling at all in fact the got a Barbosa three to get lead to the largest point of the night to this point at 12. Kevin Durant was having a very quiet night thanks to James Johnson mostly but did manage to answer with a 3 of his own. Raptors were passing the ball well and Reggie Evans would benefit with a trip to the line and again made both. Raptors had a 10 point lead after 3. Raptors 76 Thunder 66 and the only question was could the Raps keep this up for 48 minutes.

A questionable foul call would go the way of James Harden and he made 3 at the line and Thunder were down a touchdown. Barbosa did not like the call but don't get made get even and he would nailing a three to get the Raptor lead back to 10. Thunder would get back to back hoops and crowd was getting into it. A steal and James Harden drew the foul heading to the line again. Thunder were having a bad night but Harden was keeping them in it. Made both and the Raptors lead the maxed out at 12 was down to 4. Another Raptor collapse coming our way. It was looking that way. Thunder had the crowd hyped and were trialling 81-77 with lots of time left. Demar DeRozan stepped up with a one handed runner and got Raptors back up a half dozen. It has hang on time for the Raptors. Bargnani gets a three after the Thunder split two at the line and Raptors led 86-78. But the Thunder were getting a lot of help from their 6th man and using it. Back to a 4 point game again but it would be DeRozan again stepping up to stop the Thunder burst and it was 88-82. Thunder got it back to 4 again and DeRozan slipped and had to call a time out as he was on the floor with no where to go.

Kevin Durant had been very quiet and well of his season totals but got to the line and made this a 2 point game the closet the Thunder had been in awhile. a loose ball and a tie up with exactly 5 minutes to go. Amir and Perkins would jump it up and Perkins would with the tap for OKC. K.D would hit a long two and tie this game up. This was looking like a case of close but no cigar for the Raptors. Durant on a jumper tried to give OKC the lead and could not hit. Raptors were struggling to get points as OKC had picked up their defence at the urging of their fans. Perkins got to the line and gave the Thunder the lead and you wondered if it would be for good. But he only made 1 of 2 and it was 89-88. James Johnson once again with a key basket on the drive and Raptors took the lead back. But the Thunder would answer and The Raptors failed to do so.

OKC called a time out with the ball up 91-90 looking to close this out and get a win. Thunder would turnover the ball out of the time out and Raptors would get a chance to re-take the lead that they had held most of the night. They could not and with 1:45 left the Thunder had all the momentum and it sure seemed like they could escape this one with a win. Durant got to the line again to chants of MVP he would make 2 at the line and Thunder led 93-90. The point was for most of this night Durant was not looking like an MVP and that is a big reason why Raptors were still in this. Barbosa tried for the tie and missed. K.D looked to close this out with a step back jumper but it didn't fall. Perkins would get fouled and get to line with 41.7 to play. He missed both and OKC was leaving the door open. DeRozan rebounded the 2nd miss and Raptors would call a time out. Barbosa has a easy look out of time out at 3 and nailed it. Raptors got a steal and had the ball tied at 93 with 21 seconds left. Barbosa would get the ball again and this time was the play maker getting a pass to Amir Johnson in the paint and a basket leaving OKC a little time left (1.4 seconds) to try to tie or win it. Thunder got the ball to K.D and a long 2 would not fall as it was an air ball. A stunning and fitting end to this game. 95-93 the Raptors shock the Thunder.

It was not a good day on the floor for Canada in March Madness. Texas on a questionable 5 second call lost to Arizona. Tristan Thompson and Cory Joesph's NCAA dreams were done for this season. Syracuse and their Canadian Joesph also fell. But the Raptors snapped a team record 14 game road losing streak in one of the tougher places to win in the NBA. It was unexpected and unreal. Full marks to James Johnson for taking up the challenge of locking down one of the best players in the game in Kevin Durant. Raptors had a tom of guys bringing it and they responded to the challenge and when adversity came in the 4th quarter they answered the challenge. Many times this season they have not. Full marks to the Raptors for a very unexpected win.


Oh Oh...OKC

The last time the Raptors won back to back games was December 1st and 3rd. That second win ironically enough was against Oklahoma City who at the time was without Kevin Durant. The will have him today and they will also have their big trade deadline pick up in Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder sit in 4th in the West with a five game lead over 5th for home court advantage. They enter the day two and half games out of 3rd. While the Raptors are fifth in the ping pong ball standings. There win over Washington left them two and half games ahead of the Wizards and Kings. Which in the ping pong ball standing is being behind. This starts a 5 game Western trip that will see the Raptors log some serious miles. After the game today it is a trip to Denver for a back to back tomorrow, then Wednesday visit to Phoenix, and another back to back in Oakland and L.A against the Warriors and Clippers on Friday and Saturday. After travelling to England earlier in the month they now face this road trip. It is just another difficult task in what has been a difficult season.

The Basics: Raptors 14-49 (3-5 in March) OKC 45-23 (6 Game Winning Streak)

When Last We Saw Them: Bargnani and DeRozan combined for 63 points. That was enough to power the Raptors past the Wizards at the ACC. Jose Calderon also played well and hit the shot that ended any doubt in the victory. While Reggie Evans is a rebounding machine and had 15 boards doing his thing as he has since returning to the line-up.

Key Match Ups: Westbrook the last time he played the Raptors had to be Superman. Today being the side kick or tag team partner of Kevin Durant for this one. Jose Calderon will have his hands full and this is a match-up he should lose 99 times out of 100. James Johnson who the Raptors have made it not secret is in their to play defence has one of the toughest assignments in the game today in guarding Kevin Durant. Then you have this new defensive duo of Ibaka and Perkins. This is without mentioning Thabo Sefolosha who could make life difficult for Demar DeRozan. Also without mentioning James Harden who since the trade at the deadline has an increased roll in the offence with Jeff Green off to Boston. Yeah there is a reason I picked the Thunder to make the NBA Finals. The reason is they are pretty good.

Other Things Of Note: Nate Robinson is out with a knee injury according to the Thunder's Game Notes. For people that have read the blog or heard me on the radio you will know how "disappointed" I am by this. Thunder/Sonics all time are 18-11 vs the Raptors. We all go on about Andrea Bargnani's lack of rebounding ability/effort, well he had 12 against the Thunder on December 3rd in the Raptors 111-99 win. Three things will be different today though, Kendrick Perkins was a Celtic when that happened, Kevin Durant was eating Pizza in locker room and was out with a sore knee and Reggie Evans is now back going after every rebound.

Where is it on? TSN (Wait aren't they suppose to be doing March Madness ??)