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Getting Siakam to regain All-Star form would raise Raptors’ ceiling

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It’s time to play.

Pascal Siakam has been cleared by his surgeon, cleared by the Raptors and is clear in his mind about the task ahead.

He will be making his return to an NBA floor for the first time after rehabbing off-season shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

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He confirmed Saturday that he’s good to go on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets at Scotiabank Arena, which will be his first game in Toronto since prior to the pandemic, stretch of more than 600 days, dating back to February of 2020.

“I can’t wait. It definitely sucked just being there watching,” said Siakam after practice at OVO Centre on Saturday. “I wanted to be out there throughout the whole process but I’m excited to be back out there and just be with your teammates and do whatever I can to help.”

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Siakam joins a Raptors team that has exceeded expectations so far this season, posting a 6-4 record through 10 games and establishing themselves as one of the better defensive teams in the league, committing to an aggressive, ball-hawking style which has them leading the NBA in steals and fourth in forced turnovers.

Siakam has had a front-row seat and been animated his support all season.

“I like it man. We have a lot of length and guys that do the same things and … we play hard and we can get after it on defence, and I think that’s gonna be our identity,” said Siakam. “The offence is going to come. we’re gonna figure each other out. We’re gonna get better. But the level of attention to detail on defence and making sure that we use our length and all that is going to be what’s going to make us tough to play games. And I think that’s what we want to be. And I love that.”

Nurse figures adding his leading scorer from the past two seasons and an all-NBA player who broke into the league as a versatile defender should round out his coverage options nicely.

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“I think that’s what I’m probably most excited about now is it gives us another really good defending wing in that rotation,” said Nurse. “So you can say well I think it’s nice to say [Sunday against the Nets] Pascal gets a crack at [Nets star Kevin Durant] then, OG, [then] Scottie gets him, there’s three guys instead of two and then one of the other ones maybes gets [James] Harden and you’ve got some size and some foot speed and some others, you know, good defenders all of them so it’s nice to have one more out there for sure.”

What Siakam can do to raise the ceiling of a team that has already raised the floor compared to most pre-season projections is fun to think about.

Siakam had a trying finish to the 2019-20 season, struggling miserably in the bubble and in the playoffs during the Raptors title defence.

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In 2020-21 in Tampa, Siakam started slowly as well and clashed with Nurse, earning a team suspension early in the year for walking off the floor in frustration and later getting into a nasty verbal altercation with his head coach in March as the Raptors season was spiralling.

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Both men claim it’s water under the bridge, but the question now is if Siakam can regain the form that made him an all-NBA player two seasons ago.

The rangy forward’s basic numbers were quite positive last season as he averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 45.5 per cent shooting while setting career highs for assists, steals and free throws made and attempted.

If there was an obvious area that suffered it was his three-point shooting. Siakam had evolved from a non-shooter early in his career to someone who could convert at or above the league average from deep on a high volume of attempts. He shot a respectable 35.9 per cent on 6.2 threes per game in 2020-21.

But last season Siakam shot just 29.7 from deep on 6.5 attempts as he shot more threes in transition and off the dribble.

A silver lining of his injury has been Siakam has had lots of time to work on his offensive package. He has been doing on-floor work for nearly four months and with limited restrictions as the injury was to his non-shooting shoulder.

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“He looks good out there,” said Nurse. “The numbers [in practice] look great, but you never know. I say this: I think his [shooting] mechanics have become very good; he puts in the time and now he just has to get used to the speed of the game and all of that kind of stuff.

“I would imagine he will shoot the ball a lot better this year than a year ago because I think he does it right. He’s working hard and I think there will be opportunities there. I think he’ll have some good looks this year. I think our offence and spacing and things like that are improving. It still needs some work but it’s improving.”

How many threes has he put up since being able to start training in July?

“I lost count,” Siakam said.

But it hasn’t just been shooting. The time off has allowed him to dive into all elements of his game, combining film study with on-court work. He’s worked closely with Raptors assistant coach Earl Watson on his mid-range game and where to look for passing angles against stacked defences also.

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“I think I got better definitely,” said Siakam. “Just continuing to play out of the post, understanding that most of the time you are going to have three people coming at you [so] you are not going to get to the rim every time. So having that mid-game is one of those things for me, even on my mid-range shot, just trying to get a little bit of lift and yeah, just reading the defence and how teams are playing you and try to score.

“At the end of the day they are going to double-team you and you have to pass out of it, but sometimes you have to figure out a way to score because that’s what great scorers do and I think that’s something I’m learning and I think I’m getting better at.

“Working with Earl, we watch a lot of different people. He would just randomly send me videos and the next day we would come in and talk about it and work on it on the court and just seeing different things. I think he is just opening my eyes to things I probably didn’t even see. It’s been great. Just continue to learn and hopefully, that translates onto to the court.”

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We get to find out beginning Sunday.



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LeBron James on whether Kyrie Irving can help Lakers: 'Duh'

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LeBron James has no doubt that Kyrie Irving would make the Lakers a contender, but he noted that he’s not in the team’s front office.



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NBA Roundup: Gilgeous-Alexander drops 42 in Thunder win; Clippers top Knicks in OT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points and Oklahoma City set a Thunder record for points to rout Houston.

Oklahoma City surpassed the 150 it scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 in a loss to the Rockets on Wednesday night. He bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals in the rematch, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists.

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Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points for Houston.

NETS 125, WIZARDS 123

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NEW YORK — Cam Thomas scored a career-high 44 points off the bench and short-handed Brooklyn overcame a 23-point deficit to beat Washington.

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Edmond Sumner also set a personal best with 29 points. Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving was out with what the team said was right calf soreness a day after he told the Nets he wants to be traded.

The Nets, who also played without Kevin Durant (right knee MCL sprain), T.J. Warren (left shin contusion) and Ben Simmons (left knee soreness), also lost Seth Curry (left adductor) and Markieff Morris (sore left knee) in the game.

Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 38 points.

SUNS 116, PISTONS 100

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DETROIT — Deandre Ayton had 31 points and 16 rebounds to help Phoenix beat Detroit.

The surging Sungs have won eight of 10 games, including a victory at Boston on Friday night, and have help on the way with Devin Booker nearing his return. The three-time All-Star guard has been out since Christmas with a groin injury, but dunked in warmups in another sign that he’s close to coming back.

Chris Paul had 14 assists for a balanced offence that didn’t need him to make shots, finishing 0 for 7 and without a field goal for the first time since March 18, 2017, when he helped the Los Angeles Clippers beat Cleveland by 30 points.

Mikal Bridges scored 24 points, Cameron Johnson had 20 points and Torrey Craig added 14 points for Phoenix. Saddiq Bey had 25 points for Detroit.

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BUCKS 123, HEAT 115

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had a triple-double with 35 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists and Milwaukee beat short-handed Miami for its seventh straight victory.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Tyler Herro added 24 for the Heat, who had just nine available players. Notable injured Miami players included Kyle Lowry (sore left knee) and Victor Oladipo (sprained right ankle).

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Antetokounmpo had his third triple-double of the season and 32nd of his career. The 11 assists matched his season high.

Antetokounmpo’s latest triple-double came two nights after he scored 54 points in a 106-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. During the Bucks’ six-game winning streak, Antetokounmpo is averaging 39.4 points, 14.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

WARRIORS 119 MAVERICKS 113

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SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds before injuring his left leg defending a drive and Golden State beat an undermanned Dallas team missing injured star Luka Doncic.

The Warriors said X-rays for Curry were negative, and he will have an MRI exam.

Draymond Green added 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for Golen State.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 25 points for Dallas. Doncic bruised his right heel in the third quarter of 111-106 home victory against New Orleans on Thursday night.

PELICANS 131, LAKERS 126

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NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James moved 36 points away from breaking the NBA career scoring record in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 131-126 loss to New Orleans on Saturday night that ended the Pelicans’ losing streak at 10 games.

James had 27 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists as he continued to close in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record total of 38,387 points.

Brandon Ingram scored 35 points for the Pelicans.

CJ McCollum had 23 points, highlighted by a late 3 to help New Orleans close out the final 3:14 on a 9-5 run that kept the Lakers at bay.

Anthony Davis had 34 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.

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CLIPPERS 134, KNICKS 128, OT

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NEW YORK — Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points, Paul George added 30 and Los Angeles beat New York in overtime.

After the Clippers lost a 17-point fourth quarter lead, Nicolas Batum’s 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer tied it at 115.

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The Clippers scored the first four points of overtime and never relinquished the lead. Leonard connected on all of his eight free throws in the extra session, finishing 12 for 12 from the line.

Norman Powell added 24 points for the Clippers and Marcus Morris Sr. had 17. Los Angeles has won seven of nine.

Jalen Brunson, who returned after missing a game due to a non-COVID illness, led the Knicks with 41 points. Julius Randle had 28.

BULLS 129, TRAIL BLAZERS 121

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CHICAGO — Zach LaVine scored 36 points, DeMar DeRozan had 27 and Chicago topped Damian Lillard and Portland.

Nikola Vucevic added 23 points and 11 rebounds as Chicago won for the third time in four games, erasing a 17-point deficit in the second half.

Lillard scored 40 points for Portland, and Anfernee Simons had 27. But the Trail Blazers looked a little tired in the second half of their third game in four nights. Portland had won five of six, including a 124-116 victory at Washington on Friday night.

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Tre White's 22 points leads USC to hard-fought 80-74 victory over Washington

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Tre White led the USC Trojans to the hard-fought 80-74 win over the Washington Huskies. White led all scorers on the night with 22 points and added eight rebounds on the night.



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