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Three things after the Raptors beat the Heat and a ton of weekend mail

Quite aside from the fact overtime ruined a perfectly good 7 p.m. start, that wasn’t nearly as taxing a game as it could have been.

So there’s this and more mail than you can probably handle and if you’re able to figure out what time it is, have a good day.

The third rail of his game

Yeah, DeMar was his usual self offensively – he was ticked about the three missed overtime free throws as he should have been – and he did as good job as anyone on Joe Johnson – it was the focus of the game-over tome – but there was something else, too.

That’d be a couple of outstanding overtime assists that were just as vital to the eventual outcome as anything.

The first was a nifty dish in traffic at the rim for a Jonas Valanciunas dunk that was Toronto’s first basket of the overtime.

The second was giving up the ball in transition to an in-rhythm Patrick Patterson, who made a three-pointer to give the Raptors a lead they would never relinquish.

The 38 and 10 were nifty totals and numbers we’re kind of used to, those two passes were smart, correct basketball plays that underscore his value in all facets of the game.

More awareness

I don’t think anyone would suggest that Cory Joseph had a particularly good game; his numbers were off, his energy seemed a titch down, his impact wasn’t what it usually is.

It was the end of the third quarter, they had been playing like poop and were down four and fading.

Joseph is running the last possession, he does what he does, probe the paint and see what’s there and ended up making a really smart, heads-up pass to Patrick Patterson, who drained a corner three.

I’m sure Joseph, who was on the left side of the paint, saw Patterson cruising the baseline towards him because he moved ever so slightly to the middle of the lane to allow Patterson room to drift to the corner, knowing full well the defender trailing Patterson would take a split second to pay attention at the rim in case Joseph went all the way.

Just a smart, quick decision by both Patterson and Joseph that ended up getting them a pretty important basket.

Quietly efficient

A very solid 20-10 night from Valanciunas, who overcame a rather blah start on the glass to more than hold his own down the stretch.

And on a night when Biz wasn’t his usual self, Casey went a bit away from his norm and didn’t do as much offence-defence substituting in the fourth quarter.

But what I liked, and what Dwane remarked on was that JV, despite playing a crafty veteran in Stoudemire and a quick big in Whiteside, was decisive and only had one turnover on the night.

“The last couple games, I don’t know if he had the yips as far as catching the ball,” was how Casey put it. “Tonight he didn’t. He was going against a shot-blocker. He was getting it up quick before Whiteside could react. That’s what you’ve got to do against a guy like that.”

And now, more mail than you could possibly want.

Q: Greetings Mr Smith,

A little off center perhaps, but I am still kind of chuckling over the remarks attributed to Mr Gossage.  It would seem that changing times have not been an easy thing for some, I can appreciate the challenges in this, however methinks that virtually no one has ever been able to stop time and progress/change. Perhaps life would be brighter if accepting change was an easier skill for all to master.

I think I just heard my wife say something about “hypocrite”.

In any event would you care to share your thoughts on balancing the respect and traditions of, in this case anyway, baseball with reinventing the experience relevant to those that play and spectate these games today?

Thanks for what you do,

Doug from B-ford.

A: My thoughts are that it’s impossible to report it and put it in any context that would make sense and I was a little confused by the fact anyone thought Goose Gossage had much relevance these days. That said, it did give folks at spring training a couple of days of stories that were better than “who’s going to be the utility infielder” and, professionally, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Q: As well as observing DeMar’s ability to finish with his left hand, he makes astonishingly athletic and strong moves to the basket.  Did a couple against the Hawks where he was sandwiched between 2 players and twisted and turned his way to the basket and scored.

Question then, as a prognosticator of the future, what should Masai be willing to pay DeMar in terms of a long-term contract?  Gotta keep this guy around.

Secondly, read some stuff that Masai may shop the Raps draft pick even though it may be a lottery pick since he has some promising youngsters on the bench.

Wondering about the progress of Bruno.  Is he really good enough to make the roster any time soon, or would making the pick be a better option, even though this year’s draft crop is apparently a rather average bunch?

And finally, concerned about Kyle’s back. Bad back sidelined him last year for several games. Think coaches need to find him some rest, even though it may mean losing a game.

Back-to-back coming up with Chicago and Milwaukee….maybe play him in Miami game, and rest with the Bucks….not disrespecting the Bucks but gives Wright some much-need playing time before playoffs.

Impressed with Powell’s defence…great kid.  Any possibility he might assume more point guard duties moving forward?  Seems to have good hands with the ball.

Thanks….a lot.

A: Lots here so I’ll rattle through ‘em quickly, if that’s okay with you.

DeMar? They’ve got to be willing to pay the maximum, whatever it may be under the new cap numbers because someone else will for sure. You can debate “worth” until the cows come home but that’s what it’s going to cost and, frankly, I think right now they can’t not keep a multiple all-star about to enter what could the prime of his career around.

Bruno? He’s far better than he was (I know, low bar) and I could see him pushing for NBA minutes next year but with the other kids (Powell, Wright, Nogueira) I think they’re young enough anyway and should explore using that pick in a package to land someone with experience. Not give away the pick, mind you, but use it as an asset if they can.

Kyle and back and rest? Trust me, they are quite mindful of making sure he’s solid in late April, which is still a ways away and will unquestionably give him more nights off. And with the four-games-in-five-nights stretch coming (Chicago, at Milwaukee, day off, at Indy, Boston) I am virtually certain that neither DeRozan nor Lowry will play all four. Wouldn’t surprise me if each got one of the road games off and I wouldn’t be shocked if they gave Valanciunas and Joseph a rest night in there as well.

Q: So it is March break and what to do with the kids, so I asked if they want to go to Milwaukee to catch a Raptors game on Tuesday. I booked the Hyatt which seems walking distance to the Bradley center. Just wondering if in your numerous travels if that is a good location and what local watering/eating establishments you would recommend.

A: I know that Hyatt well, have stayed there a few times over the years (they didn’t have a full service Marriott in downtown until a couple of years ago) and you can see the arena from the front door, it’s that close. Solid hotel for sure.

I take it that your kids are relatively young but if you’re looking for good spots, there’s a place directly across the street from your hotel called Major Goolsby’s that’s an excellent sports bar, there’s a higher-end steak place called Mo’s that I can recommend and a really good mid-range restaurant bar called Elsa’s used to be a don’t miss road stop.

And if you’re into very, very good greasy spoon, sit-at-the-counter diners for breakfast at any time in the day, George Webb’s is about a 90-second walk from your hotel and is an absolute don’t miss.

It’s not a real vibrant downtown but it’s got its spots.

Q: Hello Doug,

Kind of all over the map with this stuff –  without the Sadly Departed and Still Dearly Missed (and how are y’all??!!) Doug Smith Blog Comment Availability these thoughts and things tend to accumulate and build up over the course of a few days…

Anyway, here goes: I’ve been trying to follow the recent events in the Ed O’Bannon-NCAA lawsuit. Apparently the story I read this morning informs that as of last Wednesday the NCAA’s seeking a 30-day extension to file a petition to have SCOTUS hear the Ed O’Bannon case. The Supreme Court’s weighin in? Have you been sort of following this, too? 

Is this as big a deal as it sounds? Is anything changing for students (either current or former?)? 

The OUA Mens’ and Womens’ Basketball Finals are on this weekend – and this is a bit of a public service announcement – but if any Ottawa and Toronto based Irregulars are looking for something fun to do with your kids as March Break begins, these games are terrific entertainment. Will you be going to the Mens’ Final at the Mattamy Centre, Doug? Should be a great one – Carleton and Ryerson! And in Ottawa, the Womens’ Final features hometown Gee-Gees versus Ryerson (again! quite the program they’ve got there!) in the Finals and Windsor versus McMaster (think Mr. Grunwald will be there cheering them on???) in the Bronze Medal game, both at UofO’s Montpetit Hall. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if these Championships were carried live on TV for all to enjoy? Maybe one day there’ll be enough channels. Or something.

And continuing with basketball (I know! A real change for ‘all over the map’ me…) I read the groupings have been decided for Rio 2016 basketball and in the Mens’ competition there’s a (what you correctly identified) Group Of Death featuring Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Lithuania. As well as “OQT3”. Now, is Canada playing in the OQT3? I couldn’t find an official numerical designation for any of the qualifying tourneys? And the Womens’ groupings were announced as well; what do you make of the group the Canadian Women find themselves in: good? bad? or might their collective mindset be ‘who cares, bring ’em on!’?

One more thing. Did you know that March is Nutrition Month? (Gee. Wonder if there are lentils in my lager? pulses in my pale ale? At least we know they can make vodka with beets. Not that I’d necessarily be inclined to drink that brand…) And just in time for a month where we’re all supposed to focus on healthy eating and such, there was revealed at my local farmer’s market the undeniably perfect food: A Quad Chocolate Brownie. And this already fabulous food contains – wait for it! – A Yummy, Gooey Butter Tart. Yes!  Right inside the brownie! The ultimate Decadent Dynamic Duo. I can pick you up one if you’d like. Or I could enquire (and this would obviously make more sense economically) about volume discounts on bulk purchases… 🙂

Salut! And I hope you’re doing exceedingly well.

Lorie P, London

A: I haven’t paid much attention to the O’Bannon case over the years but in the litigious times in which we live, I’m not surprised anyone’s trying to move it all the way to the most important court in the land. I do understand, though, that it could very well mean a seismic shift in the distribution of money in the NCAA and if trickles down to get kids a stipend, I’m all for it.

In the FIBA thing, there is no designation yet for which men’s qualifying team is which, they’ll wait to see who comes out and then put them in Rio pools based on world rankings.

The Canadian women got, I think, a very good draw, depending on which two qualifying teams join them. Being the same group as the United States guarantees they can’t see them in the medal round until the semifinals at the earliest.

Nutrition Month, you say? Duly noted.

Q: Hiya Doug

This question is a follow-up to your Saturday response that teams are “coddled on charters”.  Do teams’ charter flights include extra-large seats?  Most airplane seats are deficient in leg room and width for even shortish, portly individuals….and NBA players, and most coaches, are huge human beings.  Or does everyone just take a row apiece and stretch out sideways?

Mike D, Toronto

A: Oh, yeah, the entire plane is first-class size seats; not the “pods” you’d see in some business class sections but all those big, comfy seats, just two to a side.. And I’d guess there are maybe two-thirds the number of rows of seats front to back as there are in a usual airbus so there’s all kinds of room that way, too.

It’s opulent.

Q: It was announced that Peter Holt (who?) was stepping down as CEO of the San Antonio Spurs. To quote; Johnny Carson; “I Did Not Know That” and I doubt many people did as he kept his nose out of basketball issues leaving R. c. Buford and “Pops” to run basketball Ops. That worked out kinda well eh? Don’t blame Spurs fans if they get a bit antsy. That is a great example of a special situation. I can’t imagine what it’s like to support Brooklyn Nets or the Sacramento Kings!

Here in Toronto ; when the executive authorized pay packages to attract top talent ; although BC may have swung for the fences; there was a good nucleus of talent. Masai has built upon that…as a previous seasons ticket holder that has morphed into an”events” attendee; I feel confident I will be entertained more often than not. Also , having Wayne Embry as an advisor is special. I feel good that the Team is in good hands.

What is your sense that the current management has to win a playoff series. I get that playoff tix cost a small fortune and last years exit reflected poorly on many levels. Why the rush to draw the line in the sand? Especially this year; as the East is looking like an old school dogfight and the team has been pretty damn consistent despite challenges to their business plan.

For a team ; that is 2nd in it’s division…there is a lack of a buzz! But very high expectations.

A: I don’t think there’s necessarily pressure on Masai and the Henchmen for the team to win a series with job loss the ultimate consequence and I also think he sees the benefits of patience and consistency. That said, it’s a results-based business and three straight years of failing to win even a playoff series would give cause to question the group and contemplate significant change.

I do, however, think this management structure is the most calm and reasoned than has been in place in a good, long time.

Q: Doug, I didn’t realize that Biyombo is only 23 years old – a baby in NBA terms.  He’s been a pleasant surprise to date.  How do you assess his future potential on the team and in the league?

A: Yeah, he’s a kid for sure. He’s already an elite defender whose offence is coming around so his potential is great, here or somewhere else and I can see him being a valuable rotation player for years to come.

Q: Hi Doug

Maybe the most trivial question of the season but here goes: Watching a TSN documentary on the Raptors the other day and one scene showed them walking up to the plane stairs at the Denver airport outside in a snowstorm earlier this season. Why don’t they use those enclosed walkways to get from the terminal to the plane?

Barry Ward

A: Not the most trivial in the least. I saw that, too, but what it didn’t show is that the bus basically drove up to under the wing of the plane and they would have had to take about 20 steps to get inside. That’s done for comfort, to save time instead of walking through a terminal and for security concerns. Some airports have covered stairs, I’m surprised Denver didn’t or didn’t use them that night but, really, it wasn’t a hardship at all.

Q: Greetings, Mr. Smith,

Can you think of a sports ‘movement’ through the years that has had a broader following or a greater impact than We The North? (Outside of Europe anyway.) Would you say there was maybe a carryover last year from the Raptors playoffs season into the Jays early season — that exploded when Boy Wonder AA worked his magic, dropped his mic and rode off into the sunset? Is We The North a two-team thing now?

What do you make of the progress of Bismack this year, at both ends of the court? Would he maybe be in the conversation as a top 5, or maybe even top 3, candidate for Most Improved Player? Would you rate the tandem of Valanciunas and Biyombo up there with the Kevin Willis – Eric Montross combo?

Let’s say you were itching to put together a softball team of fellow grunts. Who’s on first and what’s on second, etc.?

Thanks for blogging along.

David, Ottawa 

A: I don’t know exactly who came up with We The North and I know they started using it a bit earlier than they had planned (it was supposed to start the 20th anniversary season but they pushed it up for the Brooklyn series) but it’s been the best sports marketing thing in Toronto that I can remember. Far better than, say, “It’s a bloody big deal” or “We won a Cup in 1967, what else do you do you want” have been.

But I think it’s unique to the basketball and that’s fine; the TOD should find someway to riff on bat flips or somesuch.

JV and Biz? Best centre duo in franchise history, by a wide margin, I’d say.

Time after time we hear about how good the Bulls are “on paper.”  You look at the names they have and it’s an impressive lineup, for sure, but in reality they have an aging Gasol, plus Rose and Noah have been hobbled by injuries and will likely never regain the elite form they once had, especially Rose.  Are you tired of hearing about how good they are “on paper,” and do you think this current group is past its prime?  Having said that, they do have the Raptors number so is this the one team you absolutely do not want to see in the first round of the playoffs?

Dr. Justin

A: I wouldn’t say I’m “tired” of hearing about the Bulls because I don’t think they’ve been a dominant story all season but they have been an interesting one for many reasons.

I think they need some adjustments to the roster, I’ve thought that since before the season began, so in that regard, yeah, this group is past its prime. That doesn’t mean it’s not still good, though.

And as I’ve said too many times to count, it really doesn’t matter to me who the Raptors play as long as there a lot of flight and hotel options for the road portion of any series. But I’ve also said this too many times to count: Toronto’s capable of beating any Eastern Conference team in a series, just as it’s capable of losing to any of them.

Q: Hi Doug,

For someone like you who has been covering the Raptors for years this year must be a lot of fun. If the MVP voting was held today in your opinion where would Lowry finish ? Obviously Curry would be first but I see Kyle Lowry as either second or third as the most valuable player to his team.

Cheers, have a great weekend.

Neil in B.C.

A: I will fully admit that the mood around a team that’s 43-20 is far better than the mood around a team that’s 20-43 so, yeah, in that regard it is more fun without question.

I think Lowry is likely to be in the top five in MVP voting and I’m sure I’ll have him on my five-man ballot but I really haven’t done enough hard thinking on the vote to figure out if he’d be two, three, four or five. I do think he will finish higher than any Raptor ever has.

Q: Hi Doug,

I’ll get right to it, I’ve been a huge Patterson fan since he got here and have enjoyed watching him improve over the years.  Do you think that his shot not being consistent this year has helped the rest of his game grow?  I know he’s a smart player but wonder if his defense and rebounding would be AS good this year if he was hitting shots.

Zack in formerly Hazelville

A: I know Pat’s smart enough to have realized he needed to do something to make sure Casey had faith enough to keep playing him extended minutes when he was scuffling with his shot earlier in the season but he’s always been cognizant of his defence and rebounding so to suggest he worked harder at it kind of takes away from what he did as a  matter of course. I think one thing people might have missed a bit is that when his three-point shot was off, he put the ball on the floor a bit more than he might have before and became more effective with his floater and mid-range game.

Q: Hi Doug

I just finished reading your blog this morning and after reading your Crawford story came to the conclusion that there is a book somewhere inside you that is waiting to be written. Just a sampling of anecdotes like the Crawford one. You could even change the names to protect the guilty.

How about Tales from Jurassic Park ™  or Old Man and the Three?

A: Books are hard and time-consuming and I’m not as young as I once was and still work pretty hard at the day-to-day grind so I don’t know. I also don’t know how broad an appeal it might have. That said, if I somehow managed to stick around for a quarter of a century with this group – and that’s closer than I’d like to think — I might have time to putter on a bigger, rather self-indulgent project.

Q: Doug…The two biggest sports stories of my life are the ’72 series and Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics revelation. But the biggest “one day” event was,by far,the first Ali/Frazier fight which is 45 years ago as I write this (March 8)…the build up was years in the making, as everyone waited for Ali to get back in the ring and the electricity in the air at MSG that night was over the top…do you have any memories?…

A: Man, I can’t believe it’s been 45 years.

I remember a lot of anticipation for that fight, especially because I was growing up in a border city and was greatly influenced by the United States media. Of course, it was a different era and the hype was not all-encompassing like it would be today and we didn’t take the opportunity to go to either Toronto or Buffalo to watch it on grainy closed-circuit TV; there was just a lot of anticipation t get up the next day and read about it. And read was all we could do because there weren’t even any video highlights allowed until long after the bout was over.

Q: Hey Doug,

My wife and I are big time fans here on “the Rock”, we don’t miss a game or your column and blog. Question from the last game versus the Rockets. I noticed that there wasn’t any on the ball pressure when Harden was bringing the ball up the floor. I know that coach Casey likes to get back and set up defensively but in turn the other team gets to walk it up and set up offensively. Why wouldn’t they try to force things more and disrupt the Rockets flow, as well they got in early in the morning, 4 am was mentioned on the pregame. Why don’t more teams “press” occasionally? Keep up the good work……….

Derek and Patricia from Corner Brook

A: Aside from junking up a game or altering tempo for a couple of possessions, anything akin to a full-court, man-to-man press simply doesn’t work in the NBA. The ball handlers are too good, you can’t hand-check a guy to slow him down and all of a sudden it turns into a situation where the defence playing four on five and even bad teams will pick you apart in those circumstances.

The few times I’ve ever seen it be effective is when a team that’s way down trots out some goofy lineup that’s all about trapping and rushing and pressing and that might work for a handful of possessions at best.

I send you an earlier question about Sharapova’s drug bust. Here is a much better article on the situation.

I agree that it is interesting that Maria Sharapova did her own drug bust announcement. What is also interesting is her statement of innocence. Don’t know if you saw this article (what you don’t keep up with Aussie media?!).

From the article [My comments],

“Also known by the trade name Mildronate, the drug was developed in Latvia for the treatment of ischaemia (inadequate blood flow to parts of the body, especially the heart and other ­organs). It is widely used to treat angina and heart failure in eastern Europe but has yet to be approved for use in the US, where Sharapova lives, and Australia. Latvian pharmaceutical company Grindeks, which produces the drug, boasts on its website that it will also improve “work capacity of healthy people at physical and mental overloads and during rehabilitation period.’’ Can’t imagine that increased [oxygenated] blood flow is of any value to an athlete.

It came to be banned because “Two studies conducted last year showed widespread use of the drug among athletes. Scientists tested 8320 random urine samples of professional athletes and found that 182 had meldonium present (2.2 per cent). That was high enough for WADA to decide it wasn’t being used by athletes for the reason it was therapeutically intended,’’ anti-doping expert Richard Ings said.

An even more alarming Russian study, cited by the German broadcaster ARD, which uncovered the current Russian doping scandal, found that of 4316 Russian samples taken last year, 724 contained traces of meldonium (17 per cent).

How could she think she would not get caught? What do you think would be an appropriate punishment.

A: I’m running this out here so folks who haven’t seen those stories can but as we’ve seen as the week has progressed and information about meldonium has surfaced, this sordid tale is far from over.


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