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10 Things: Raptors’ five-game win streak ends in bitter fashion

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 102-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

One — That was a bitter way to end the five-game win streak. The Raptors led for the entire game, save for the final five seconds, as a slew of unfortunate decisions went against them. It was not a well-officiated game in the slightest, with a missed travel call, a missed goaltending, and a handful of over-the-back decisions that all burned the Raptors in the fourth quarter — allowing the plucky Cavaliers to complete their valiant comeback. The Raptors didn’t do themselves that many favours either by not capitalizing on opportunities in the fourth, including missed point-blank looks or ill-advised jumpers, but they were just one possession short tonight.

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Two — The Raptors were not happy about the whistle in this game, and for good reason. Despite it being even in points in the paint, the Cavaliers took 19 free throws compared to only nine for the Raptors. It was absurd to see how much contact was permitted in this game, with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley constantly banging into people in the lane, but none of it was called. Allen finished the game without a single foul on his ledger, while OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes combined to take 40 field goals without a single trip to the foul line. Anunoby and head coach Nick Nurse both made passive-aggressive digs at the officials tonight, who were shockingly bad. There were even sequences where the Cavaliers were trying to intentionally foul, and even those were somehow missed.

Three — Anunoby got himself a reasonable look at the end. He was the obvious candidate to take the last shot since VanVleet was cold, and the Raptors did create a switch on the inbound where Anunoby found himself matched up against Allen. Anunoby smartly turned down the contested three out top in favour of a drive to the baseline, where he found a pocket of space between two defenders to rise up for a short jumper. The look went long, but Barnes crashed the glass from the weak side and nearly tipped it in for the game-winner. Anunoby will be a popular pick for the last shot this season, particularly in short-clock situations, because his size allows him to create space to fire it off. The execution was good, he just missed it.

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Four — Fred VanVleet might regret some of the shots he took in the fourth, where he was just 2-of-9 from the field. To his credit, VanVleet took plenty of difficult fourth-quarter shots in their recent games, but the matchup wasn’t there for him tonight. Collin Sexton hounded VanVleet, pushing and shoving him all over the floor without a call from the officials, and VanVleet responded to the aggression by forcing off-balanced looks.

Sexton fought hard to stay in front, and instead of resetting the play, VanVleet tried fadeaways and other off-balanced techniques to get his shot off which resulted in some pretty bad misses. And of course, it didn’t help that VanVleet had a layup that was goaltended by Cedi Osman in the last three minutes which could have flipped the game. In any case, it will always be a struggle for VanVleet to create space late in games because of his size, yet the Raptors need him to be aggressive at all times, so he will need to pick his opportunities a bit better.

Five — Barnes was up and down in his return from a sprained thumb. He was adjusting his hand throughout the game, which is hardly surprising given that he jammed his thumb last week, and it likely impacted his touch as Barnes missed a few of the push shots and short jumpers which have sustained him early on this season. Defensively, there were also a few sequences where Barnes was outmatched by Mobley’s length in the post, as Mobley was able to muscle to his spots and shoot over the top.

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But on the whole, Barnes was aggressive, he snagged six offensive rebounds, and was just as much of a problem for the Cavaliers in terms of his physical play. Late in the game, Barnes was tied up on a loose ball and flipped a 7-footer in Allen flat on his back, which is just one of many displays of outrageous strength for the rookie forward.

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Six — Gary Trent Jr. created two deflections on the final play for the Cavaliers. Both times he stripped Sexton, who had a hellacious night shooting 4-of-17 while being hounded constantly by Trent Jr., but both times Sexton was able to salvage the possession. That was the level at which Trent Jr. played all night, where he collected six steals and two blocks in an all-out effort on the defensive end.

Offensively, Trent Jr. played within himself, found gaps in the defence from both the arc and at the basket, while peppering in some fairly difficult makes. It might have been the best game he’s played as a Raptor when you account for both sides of the ball. Even though starting lineup changes are inevitable, there is no way Nurse can bench Trent Jr. while he is in this type of groove.

Seven — Pascal Siakam is nearing his return. Siakam got full clearance to return from the surgeon, and has already been in live practices over the past week. He was on the floor before the game participating in his usual warmup routine, going for a good 30 minutes on 1-on-1 drills and rounds of three-point shooting, before capping off his workout with an acrobatic dunk.

The Raptors have two days off for practice on Monday and Tuesday, before playing the Celtics on Wednesday, and if all goes well, Siakam will be back in the starting five to give the Raptors a fully healthy rotation for the first time all season. The main beneficiaries will be Anunoby and VanVleet, who won’t have to play so many minutes with Siakam coming in to share the load offensively.

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Eight — The fit with Siakam will be interesting, and it does force a concession somewhere in the lineup. The best option would be to put Siakam in place of Precious Achiuwa, who is the most underperforming member of the current starting lineup. The only downside to this move would be that the Raptors would be undersized in the paint, with one of Siakam, Anunoby, or Barnes having to wrestle with centers on a consistent basis, but the Raptors would undoubtedly have their best five players on the floor. Swapping Siakam in for Trent Jr. is another possibility, but that leaves them too light on shooting and Trent Jr.’s defence will be missed. Siakam could also come in for Barnes, but he’s already too productive to ever think of benching. Either way, it feels like the Raptors will have to sacrifice size or shooting.

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Nine — Siakam’s return will push Chris Boucher out of the rotation entirely. Boucher has been a train wreck all season, making rookie mistakes on defence that even the Raptors’ rookies wouldn’t do, while also being a non-factor offensively. Nurse benched Boucher after a disastrous first shift that saw Boucher get outmuscled in the post for an and-one, fail to rotate over at the rim for a layup, brick an open three, fumble a pass out of bounds, while also leaving his feet on a pair of pump fakes that allowed the Cavaliers to score.

Last season, Boucher was a productive player at a position of weakness, who made many of the same mistakes but hit just enough sidespin threes to make it work. Now he’s hitting under 20 percent from three, and all that’s left are the same unforced errors that would make even the most patient of coaches go bald. The offence will come around eventually, but he will always be limited by his inability to read the game. Rookies like Barnes and Dalano Banton have more discipline a month into their careers than Boucher who is now in his fourth season with the Raptors.

Ten — Nurse continues to use a platoon at backup point guard to great effect. Banton brings a change of pace and a dose of size which comes in handy around the rim, as he scored a quick 11 points in just nine minutes of play. Malachi Flynn is in for his quickness on defence against smaller guards, and for his outside shooting, and he collected three steals while knocking in a three. Flynn even took some of Svi Mykhailiuk’s minutes tonight, although that was more about the matchup than it was about Mykhailiuk’s individual production.





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Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll

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The Milwaukee Bucks easily defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, beating them with a powerful 127-108 final.

The team was led by Brook Lopez, who had yet another dominant game with 24 points and 9 rebounds.

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But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the team’s unquestionable leader, was once again in fine form and playing like the MVP candidate he is.

He scored 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.

That means that over his last ten games, Antetokounmpo has scored an average of 33 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on a 57.3% field goal percentage.

Not surprisingly, his team has gone 10-0 during that time.

Are the Bucks once again the most exciting and promising squad in the East?

The last time the Bucks lost was on January 21, when Antetokounmpo sat out and the Cleveland Cavaliers took them down, 114-102.

Since then, they have been on an eight-game winning streak.

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Antetokounmpo has been incredible this season, which is very impressive since he has long been one of the greatest basketball players alive.

But this season, he is playing with a resurgent desire to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.

He has stepped up and is taking his team to new heights but the rest of the team is right behind him and helping out in noticeable ways.

Jrue Holiday is scoring 19.1 points, Bobby Portis was making 14.4, while Brooke Lopez and Khris Middleton are also scoring double digits.

Every team wants someone like Antetokounmpo on the roster but they can only achieve true postseason greatness if the entire team is playing hard.

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The Bucks have a busy week ahead, taking on the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Boston Celtics in the upcoming days.

Will Antetokounmpo’s latest surge continue during that time?

The post Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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MLB Analyst Reveals A Must-See Realignment Plan

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It’s not a secret that MLB wants to expand from 30 to 32 teams.

Sure, they will have to solve the issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay, but the plans for an expansion are there, and several cities are shaping up as candidates to have an MLB team.

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The Athletic’s Jim Bowden took the time not only to come up with two viable candidates for the expansion, but to re-configure divisions and leagues as we know it.

“When MLB expands to 32 teams, it should forget the AL and NL. Embrace a dramatic geographic realignment,” The Athletic tweeted, with the graph of the new geographic configuration.

Bowden is proposing to eliminate the American and National Leagues and replace them for a more traditional, NBA-like Eastern and Western Conference.

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There are eight divisions with four teams each.

The two expansion teams will be, according to this hypothetical exercise, in Charlotte and Nashville so both will be part of the Eastern Conference.

The four divisions in the Eastern Conference would be East, Mid-Atlantic, North, and Southeast.

The Western Conference would be formed by the West, Pacific Coast, Southwest, and Midwest divisions.

The system follows a geographical logic: for example, the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Atlanta Braves, and the new Nashville team would be in the Southeast division.

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Will this work?

Would MLB be open to adopting a similar scheme?

Something will have to change with the two new teams.

On several levels, the proposal makes sense.

It may still need some work (Colorado on the coast instead of San Diego doesn’t feel right, for example), but it’s a fun idea to think about.

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Steve Wilks Is Hoping To Follow A 49ers DC Trend

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The San Francisco 49ers lost their star defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to the Houston Texans this offseason.

So they were in the market to find a new defensive coordinator with plenty of experience.

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Luckily for them, Steve Wilks was not given the Carolina Panthers job, and he was on the open market.

The 49ers and Wilks agreed to a deal to make him the team’s next defensive coordinator.

Wilks spent last season as the DC in Carolina, before taking over as interim head coach when the Panthers fired Matt Rhule.

Despite coaching a team that appeared to be tanking, Wilks had the Panthers playing very well.

He was the head coach for 12 games with the team, he led them to a record of 6-6, and was in contention for the NFC South title.

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It might not be long until he gets another shot at head coach.

The 49ers have had one of the best defenses in the NFL for some time now.

So it should not be a surprise that their defensive coordinators are getting head coaching positions.

Wilks was already a head coach for one season in 2018.

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He took over the Arizona Cardinals, and it was a complete disaster.

The Cardinals finished 3-13 that year, and Wilks was not brought back for a second season.

Some teams may be hesitant to hire him after that, but the Cardinals did not have a good roster.

Wilks will be working with some elite defensive players on the 49ers.

So there is no excuse for them to be a great defense again in 2023.

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But, Wilks is in the perfect spot to get another head coaching job.

He just needs to prove he can coach one of the best defenses in the NFL.

The post Steve Wilks Is Hoping To Follow A 49ers DC Trend appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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