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10 Things: With VanVleet out, Trent Jr. leads the way for red-hot Raptors



Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 139-120 win over the Houston Rockets.

One — The win streak hits eight games as the Raptors remain the hottest team in the NBA. Even with Fred VanVleet sitting out the second night of a back-to-back to rest a sore groin, the Raptors still had more than enough firepower to collect their third blowout win in four nights all on the road. Granted, some of the opposition has been comically bad, but the Raptors showed enough professionalism to build up a lead and to maintain it until the end. With his bench stepping up, Nick Nurse was able to extend his rotation and everyone on the floor was able to contribute towards this feel-good win.

Two — Trent Jr. led the way with 42 points, which is just shy of the career-high 44-point explosion that he put up shortly after being traded to the Raptors at last year’s deadline. With VanVleet out, Gary Trent Jr. took on the added responsibility of leading the team and was dominant from start to finish. Trent Jr. showed off the entire scoring package, complete with the pull-up jumpers in isolation, the driving layups past his defender, the movement off-ball on curls or cuts, the sly moves to bait fouls, and also a handful of self-generated baskets off his work on the defensive end as three of his five steals were directly converted into transition baskets. And not to be overlooked with his 42-point night, but Trent Jr. just collected 10 steals in the span of 24 hours, with five each against OKC and Houston.

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Three — Trent Jr. is taking the next steps as a scorer by creating on his own. That was one of the holes in his game last season after arriving in the trade was that he would be efficient playing alongside other playmakers who were setting him up, but he had poor shooting nights when asked to do it on his own or when he came off the bench. There can be a tendency for Trent Jr. to fall in love with the mid-range jumper, which is still very much a part of his game, but he’s also diversifying his isolation game. He’s consistently able to set up the pull-up three using dribble moves to sell the drive, paired with his rehearsed footwork to side-step or stepping back to create the space to shoot. He’s also getting downhill effectively, and while he lacks the outright explosiveness or quickness to burst at the basket, Trent Jr. makes up for it with craft including hook shots and push floaters to evade the shot blocker. He’s also quietly leaving his leg out slightly on his jumper which has drawn shooting fouls, and there is even the occasional pass to spot the cutter when he is double-teamed.

Four — Anunoby was excellent when needed in leading the second unit at the start of the fourth quarter. OG Anunoby ordinarily shares those responsibilities with Pascal Siakam, but his fellow forward was limited due to foul trouble, which meant it was up to him to lead an on-the-fly lineup with Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton, Khem Birch, and Chris Boucher. Anunoby was hardly alone in his efforts, but he knocked down two threes, forced a stop at halfcourt which allowed him to lob it up to Boucher for the alley-oop, and he drew two defenders on a post-up which he spun into a high-low pass to Birch behind the defense for a layup that put the Raptors up 19. That was perhaps the only shaky moment in the entire game with the Raptors having to turn to an unfamiliar group, and Anunoby held it all together.

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Five — The Raptors sustained all game with their full-court press. Nurse broke it out in the first quarter just as a way to spark his team on the defensive end given that they allowed 41 points in just the opening frame, and it immediately produced two stops leading to baskets. Nurse returned to the strategy all night, especially when his bench was in the game since they had more energy than the starters, and the Rockets just couldn’t solve it. Even in the fourth quarter, after the Rockets turned it over twice in a row against full-court pressure, head coach Stephen Silas called a timeout to explain for the umpteenth time how to advance the ball. And yet, on the ensuing possession, Kevin Porter Jr. got the ball tipped by Banton, found himself trapped in the corner with Boucher coming over to help, and coughed it up yet again by swinging his elbows out to clear space. The Rockets literally couldn’t handle a middle school strategy.

Six — It’s becoming routine to see Siakam dominate. He is in such a rhythm where 20-point quarters and halves are just commonplace. Siakam did the bulk of his damage in the second quarter, exploding for 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the frame, including a three and two free throws, as he beat the Rockets literally every time down the floor. His post moves would make Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon proud, as he sent the current day Rockets swiping at his shadow as he got to the rim, and even towards the end, when the Rockets started to converge on him with double teams at the end of the clock, Siakam was still able to beat the coverage by spinning over his shoulder for a fallaway jumper that caught nothing but net. That push got the Raptors in front, and it kept them there for the rest of the night, even as Siakam’s evening was cut short due to foul trouble. Given the way the Rockets guarded him, Siakam could have gone for 50 in this game if he had a mind to it.

Seven — Flynn made the most of his extended run with VanVleet out. Flynn made three highlight jumpers, including two heavily contested stepback threes, and a slick crossover into a pull-up at the elbow, but what caught Nurse’s eye were the intangibles. Small things like being able to handle the press and bring the ball up safely, getting his team set up in their sets, being scrappy and helping on the glass, digging in and swiping in the post against players much bigger than him — those are the qualities that Nurse is asking from him. And while Flynn’s game is more predicated on scoring, Nurse has a firm standard for anyone who steps on the floor in terms of defensive effort, and Flynn matched it.

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Eight — Birch had his longest run since undergoing nose surgery. He was able to play 17 minutes and collect perhaps the best play of the night where he crashed the glass for a rebound, and while falling over he threw a pass over his shoulder right to Anunoby in the shooting pocket for three in the fourth quarter. Birch specializes in the little things like screening effectively, extra efforts on the glass, and using his athleticism to collect stops on defence. He jumped the play to pick off a full-court pass, and chased down Porter Jr. from behind for an impressive swat.

Nine — Nurse will have to get even more creative in managing his lineups with the addition of Young at the trade deadline. Thaddeus Young gives Nurse four frontcourt players to choose from off the bench along with the existing trio of Birch, Boucher, and Precious Achiuwa. None of them provide consistent outside shooting, but they all hustle and defend at a high level. Odds are, Nurse won’t use all of them each night, but Young should slide ahead of Birch and perhaps even Achiuwa in the pecking order once he settles into his new team.

Ten — The Rockets were so bad defensively that they literally scored on themselves. At the end of the game, after the Raptors kindly took the turnover to end the game, all the Rockets needed to do was inbound and hold it for three seconds for the clock to run out. But instead, Porter Jr. decided to try a trick shot where he bounced it hard off the floor and it actually did trickle over the rim. Except, this was against his own basket, and there was still time left on the clock when it happened. The officials waved it off for some strange reason, even though Flynn did his very best to campaign for the two points since he touched it last.

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Nick Wright Has A Theory On Who Leaked The Kyrie Irving, LeBron Report



(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)


The Dallas Mavericks have absolutely no chance to trade for LeBron James.

The only way they get LeBron is by either trading him for Luka Doncic — which is obviously not happening — or hoping the Lakers waive him for whatever reason and then sign him to a veteran’s minimum deal — again, not realistic.


Considering that, Dan Patrick asked Nick Wright on his show about who he thought had leaked the report of Kyrie Irving allegedly reaching out to James to ask him if he would like to join him in Dallas.

After careful consideration, Wright claimed that the leak could’ve only come from Kyrie, as he’d be making himself look like a good employee by trying to get the team better, thus putting more pressure on the Mavs to sign him to a max contract extension.

Wright added that he thought the initial report was interesting because it also mentioned that the Mavs had internal discussions about trading for LeBron before the deadline, even though LeBron wasn’t eligible to be traded because of the CBA.


Per the FS1 analyst, that leak came from the Mavs, as they wanted to show Luka that they were exhausting all avenues to try and make the team better, even though they risked looking foolish.

His theory makes sense, especially with al the rumors about Doncic not being happy in Dallas.

That’s all a part of the business as well, and sometimes, what happens behind closed doors is even more important than what takes place on the basketball court.

The post Nick Wright Has A Theory On Who Leaked The Kyrie Irving, LeBron Report appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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NBA Insider Reveals What Chris Paul Wants Moving Forward



(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


The Phoenix Suns shocked the NBA after they reportedly told Chris Paul he would be waived.

Paul arrived in Phoenix in 2020, set to help Devin Booker compete for championships.


They did it in their very first year together, losing in the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now, the Suns reportedly have plenty of options for Paul but the point guard is clear on what he wants for his career.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Paul wants to run it back with the Suns and keep sharing touches with Booker and Kevin Durant.

However, the Suns have different options for him, including stretching his contract and waiving the player, a trade involving him and Deandre Ayton, or simply re-signing him in free agency.


In recent days, Kyrie Irving and Fred VanVleet have been linked with the Suns, and the Paul news couldn’t surface at a better moment.

Free agency is weeks away from its beginning but many teams are already making moves to get the pieces they want ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season.

Paul is one of the best and most talented point guards of all time, but with his age, it’s easy to say why the Suns could move on from him.

He averaged 13.9 points, 8.9 assists, and 4.3 rebounds in 59 games this season.

When the postseason arrived and he was hurt, the Suns played faster without him, which could be another reason why the team is looking to cut ties.


Paul can still provide good things for his team, but only the Suns have the final word on this.

The post NBA Insider Reveals What Chris Paul Wants Moving Forward appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Blue Jays’ Daulton Varsho reaping rewards of improved plate discipline



For most of the season, Daulton Varsho‘s offensive production has been like an underwhelming approximation of his 2022.

That looks like it might be about to change.

Although Varsho’s .222/.290/.404 line might not leap off the page, he’s been significantly better recently, slashing .267/.323/.533 in his last 15 games.


Without context those numbers look excellent, but not like a blazing hot streak. His 136 wRC+ in those games is star level, but not outlandish for a hitter having a strong stretch. 

The way Varsho has authored his recent success is even more encouraging for the outfielder than the results, though. One reason for that is the fact that he simply isn’t striking out. 

The 26-year-old entered the season with a career strikeout rate of 24.0 per cent and he’s gone down on strikes just four times in his last 15 contests, posting the lowest K% of his career over a span of that length.

The clearest explanation for this stretch has been far better plate discipline from Varsho. While he hasn’t piled up walks during his recent stretch, he’s chasing fewer bad pitches.

In his last 15 games, he’s chased just 22.7 per cent of pitches outside the zone, far less than his 34.9 per cent in the first 46 contests of 2023. While he’s taking more pitchers’ pitches, he’s been as aggressive in the zone as ever, swinging at 73.3 per cent of balls in the zone — a rate matching his approach earlier in the year (74.1 per cent).


At the same time that Varsho has cut down on his strikeouts, his power stroke has come alive. His ISO in his last 15 games sits at .267 and he’s hit four home runs — including a 446-footer that is his longest of the season, and the second-longest of his career.

That power production is supported by contact-quality numbers that are significantly better than what he managed earlier in the season.


Average Exit Velocity

Hard-Hit Rate

First 46 games


86.2 mph


Last 15 games

90.0 mph



If Varsho had gotten a few more bounces going his way in the last three weeks he’d be in the midst of a sizzling run that would be elevating his 2023 numbers in a profound way.

As it is, he’s in the middle of a stretch where he’s doing everything right by avoiding strikeouts and making hard contact consistently, but his rewards haven’t been proportional to the quality of his at-bats.

Varsho’s luck isn’t going to magically even out over the rest of the season, but what he’s doing now may have something to tell us about where he can go from here. 

It’s not realistic to expect him to run a single-digit strikeout rate while providing considerable power, but the fact he’s capable of doing that for a couple of weeks at a time is undoubtedly a good sign for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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