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Three things from the Raptors win over the Pelicans and a whole bunch of mails

Quick and easy, just like all games should be.

Over about halfway through the third quarter, played in 2:02, no really important stuff happened and a perfect end to the trip.

And this stuff, too.

Finding his way

The improvement of Norm Powell over the course of this season has been nothing short of impressive and it continued unabated last night.

The coolest part is how much fun he seems to be having without showing even the slightest bit of intimidation or nerves.

The third quarter dunk was a perfect case in point.

Not only was it an outstanding play – kind of finishing across his body if that’s the best way to explain it – but the look on his face after and the primal scream made it a rather special moment.

The kid has been a revelation and they’d still be good without him but it’s nice to know they can throw a raw rookie out there and not lose too much.

The dental moment

There weren’t a lot of plays that made you sit up and take notice, the game was quite drab in that regard, so you take your interesting moments when they come.

And one was the Luis Scola Tooth play.

He gets whacked in the head inadvertently, wanders over to the bench and performs a little dental surgery on himself, pulling out half a tooth or so.

“It wasn’t all the way broken. It was just a piece of it but I kind of had to rip it off,” he said.

And the legend grows.

But it wasn’t the first time something like that has happened to his front teeth, either.

“It was the FIBA World Championships in Japan in 2006. It was versus New Zealand. First play of the game, I went to do a layup and kind of tripped and went to the floor face-first and lost all four of them.”

I am betting dollars to donuts that Pero Cameron of the Tall Blacks was somehow involved.

The things you see

I don’t have the analytics – and don’t really care if I ever see them – but I would imagine that about 90 per cent of Toronto’s first possessions of games and halves are run for DeMar or Kyle and maybe 9 per cent are for JV.

That makes sense because teams all want to play to their strengths right off the bat and those are Toronto’s strength.

So I’m thinking that perhaps something went awry to open the third quarter because the “Norm Powell dribble drive with about five seconds on the shotclock and dish to Scola for a corner three that beat the buzzer by about half a second” was not what they talked about in the huddle.

But the Argentina Ray Allen nailed it, Norm got one of his two assists and I saw something I didn’t expect.

A win all around, I’d say.

And now more mail than you know what to do with as I move on to the day’s business and the flight home.

Q: Hi Doug,

I am a long time reader and admirer of your work, but this is the first time I am writing in. Over the past few weeks I have noticed a bias in the officiating against the Raptors but the game against Houston takes the cake. Perhaps it is not a bias against the Raptors, but simply incompetence.

Does the Raptors organization have any recourse for that type of bias? I would like to think there is a formal appeal process to repeated bad calls, but I don’t know what it involves?

At this point I think the drop off in officiating this year is definitely having a negative impact on the game as a whole and I hope the NBA is working overtime to resolve the issue for next season because they are about to lose fans in the wake of the ridiculousness I have seen recently. Consistency from game to game to game is key! And is is sorely lacking this season.

Thanks for clarifying the organizations’ options in these situations.

A: I completely agree that the overall level of officiating has dropped off significantly in the last few years and I’ve always attributed that to the fact the league lost a lot of senior refs who knew how to control a game and have been replaced by young people who lack the nuance or experience to manage things.

But I don’t think by any stretch that it’s a Raptors-centric issue, I am dead certain that fans of other teams feel precisely the same.

And yes, there is recourse and most teams take advantage of it. I have been told the league office can be inundated with videos sent each morning by teams complaining about some egregious wrong that’s been done them and the league does take notice. Referees are held accountable and constantly critiqued by their bosses and are held out of playoff assignments, for instance, if their work isn’t consistently good.

I don’t know what the answer is other than to hope some of young and mid-career officials improve.

Q: Is it time to admit that erratic refereeing too often affects the outcome of  games.

Moe ,toronto.

A: No. As you just read, there issues but erratic play affects the outcome of games.

You want a scapegoat when your team loses? Look at the guys in uniform. Whining is unbecoming.

Q: Hi Doug,

Let’s turn the tables around. I’m going to Chicago for a few days next month and need your suggestions.  What are the top three must do/see places (tourist point of view) and what are the go to places for a bite to eat or a pint to drink?

A: Man, that’s a big city to condense to three things.

If you can, and have an interest in the game, going to Wrigley would be on the list, Navy Pier and the art institute would be important, I’d find a way just to stroll along the river and the Magnificent Mile to people-watch.

Food and drink? Rush and Division area has all kinds of good choices at varying price points and I don’t know what your feelings on a great, divey joints but if you go to Pippins on Rush, tell Doug the Bartender that Doug the Toronto Sportswriter says hello and enjoy the ambiance.

Q: I never miss your blog but it has been a while since I have written.

There was one line in Wednesday’s morning fare that totally surprised me: “(you should have seen my bewilderment the two or three times I was in a budget-day media lockup trying to make sense of what was going on)”

I had been thinking about asking what non-basketball, non-sports areas you had covered during your years as a journalist, but I would never have guessed “budget-day media lockup”!

Is that the most “different” (not sure of the correct word) topic you have covered?  Or are there other hidden experiences you have on your resume?

On a different note, you frequently mention traveling with some of the Raptors beat reporters (eg. Gumby).

Do you generally read what the others who cover the Raptors write? Or is it a sporadic thing? When the Raptors are going to play an opponent, do you check out what their opponent Grunts  write?

Who, if anyone, is a “must read” of the US national basketball writers for you?

A: I remember doing a provincial budget – or watching over others who wrote about it – in Newfoundland way back in the day and vaguely recall a federal budget one time and, yeah, that would have been right at the top of “most different” gigs although I’ve run the gamut of morning cop checks, editing town council stuff and looking after a tiny newsroom that was over-run with stuff. I knew how to develop my own negatives and make prints, worked with pressmen on colour separations for pictures (magenta, cyan, yellow and the black plates) and wrote headlines when you had to add up the character count to make sure they would fit (Ms were 2, Is were a half, a space was a half and if you had four columns of 48-point type I think it had to add up to 23?) so, there’s lots.

And yeah, I read whatever’s written about these guys basically daily and do check in with my buddies on the beat to see what’s up before we hit a town or someone comes to visit.

There are almost too many “must-reads” these days but the usual suspects are the major daily news websites like, Bleacher Report, ESPN and Yahoo; that’s a good starting off group.

Q: Hi again Doug:

I believed Lance Armstrong for the longest time, continuing to give him benefit of the doubt much past its due date.  His crash was devastating for me.  So, Sharapova?  Give me a break, please.  Been taking medication for many years which only boosts performance, and is not for the conditions she claims she has.  And finally now Dwight Howard.  He has the bloody nerve to say that ““I just think that it’s getting overblown, like I’m doing something crazy,” he said. “But again, I’ve never been a cheater, never been the type of player that has to do something illegal to win. It’s upsetting, but I can’t control it now.”

Really?  Using a substance to make it easier for you to catch the ball is not cheating?  Why is the league taking such a lenient view of this?   Why is he not suspended?  Is the league somehow protecting its image?  The image would certainly only be improved by serious repercussions for cheaters.  And surely we all agree that a cheater is exactly what he is.

A: It’s pretty simple, actually. It wasn’t cheating because it wasn’t against the rules; neither is the resin dust that a vast majority of players use. So, Howard didn’t do anything wrong and it was overblown.

What’s next? A to-do about the tacky tape they use to make their shoes a bit stickier than they’d normally be?

Q: Hey Doug – Recently did the 24 hour drive to Florida over the March Break and to kill time, I was thinking of all the sports teams in the various cities along the way. As driving through Pittsburgh I thought of how well they support the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. So my question is why have they never had an NBA franchise? They appear to have a solid fan base and I assume a basketball team could share the arena where the Pens play. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Your thoughts Doug?

Frank in Port Perry

A: I’ve never heard of Pittsburgh as even a place that would be remotely interested in basketball and without having a ton of information at my disposal, I bet it’s an issue where there’s not a lot of “extra” corporate money floating around and so much is invested in the three established teams that it would be hard to make it work.

And “sharing” an arena really makes it hard, paying rent instead of owning fully or in part puts a lot of financial barriers in place.

Q: Good Morning Doug,

All this consternation over who the HOTH will play in the first round. This is a seriously good team that when focused and rested are really good.

Is it just sports radio looking for talking pieces?

Demar is an allstar and has big numbers and love most of his game. The one part of his game that puts him below a notch is his penchant for getting stuck and them searching to pass. Happens at least 3-4 times a game which is a concern when the Raps play a good defensive team.

Can’t wait for the playoffs!

Richmond Hill

A: I totally understand looking ahead at who might be the first-round playoff opponent and while I don’t think it’s a thing, the consternation over it possibly being Chicago is in some ways understandable. Misguided, in my opinion, but understandable.

And because I’ve got nothing better to do, here we go again: These guys can be good enough to beat anyone and bad enough to lose to anyone and the end of April should be fun.

Q: Happy Easter Doug,

For some strange reason, many of the fans are anxious as to what the playoffs will bring and that if the Raptors do not go past the first round, the season will be a failure.  As I look back on this year, I have been very impressed with Demar and Kyle and coach Casey on what appears to be the best season in Raptors history from a win loss perspective.  Do you feel the last few years of playoff losses and experience will help the team this year.

I see a lot of teams resting their players as the playoffs come closer.  I don’t recall during the Jordan era that Michael and team had a lot of nights off for rest (could be wrong) – any thoughts on this – more from a fan’s perspective if they are hoping to see a player.

Lastly, what are your thoughts on the Cavs this year.  For a team that was so close to winning a championship last year with two of their stars injured – they seem like as a team there are some chemistry issues. 

Thanks as always,

A: I can’t count the number of times I’ve had quiet conversations with DeMar about the playoffs and the sting of last year and it’s real. So, yeah, I think the experience will be hugely beneficial and drive them and if it doesn’t, that’s troubling.

Rest – star players sitting out complete games – is a new phenomenon, I bet it’s not five years old and I honestly wonder how much a night off in March ever helps in late May or June. I think it’s a case of one team starting it (hello, San Antonio!) and others mimicking it.

The Cavs? It seems there is a level of dysfunction that few saw coming and I wonder if it’ll get fixed in time. I’m not close enough to it to know the full level of it or the true reason but you can tell. It’s there.

Q: Hi Doug,

Five days left in March and here’s the DeMarre quote from January 4: “You know how the Raptors do, we keep our stuff hush. I don’t want to say too much, but at the same time man, only if you knew, you know what I mean? Only if you knew.”

There’s no way we’d know what he means man, because that stuff’s been hush ever since. You know what I mean? 

More important, do you know what DeMarre means?

At what point should the Raptors be worried about DeMarre being game ready for the playoffs? And are they waiting around for him to ‘fix’ their defence? It’s been looking pretty lax since just before the All Star game — the same happened last year. You know what I mean?

Thanks for blogging.

David, Ottawa

A: The general consensus was he meant he’d been dealing with the knee issues a lot longer than the Raptors or he let on and that we shouldn’t have been surprised he all of a sudden had surgery. The Raptors are quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most secretive organizations in the league when it comes to injury information, recovery time and process.

I think you’re probably 10 days to two weeks away from when you should get really worried about him being back for the playoffs and I honestly cannot tell you – given the information I’ve gotten privately or publicly – whether that’s realistic.

But thankfully I wasn’t a guy who wrote the premature – and dead wrong – information that his checkup with the doctor in New York was for some sort of “clearance” and a step forward because all it was, was a routine step along the way.

Q: Hi Doug,

I haven’t done all of the calculations per se, but I’m not sure if the Raptors have clinched already.  At the present moment (Wednesday, March 23rd 8:45a.m.), we’re hearing that the Raptors can clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Detroit, Chicago, Indiana loss.  Since, the Pistons play Chicago on April 2nd wouldn’t that mean that one of those two teams can’t win all of their remaining games anyway?  I realize that we all know it’s inevitable when you’re sitting very comfortably in 2nd in the conference, but was just wondering if the NBA takes upcoming schedules like Detroit vs. Chicago into consideration before they announce a team as “officially” in for the playoffs.

John (Toronto)

A: Yes, the league takes everything into consideration, far more than fans do.  It is now, and was always going to be, a moot point but what they were looking at were the possibilities of three- and four-way ties for the final two or even three playoff spots and what those convoluted tiebreakers might possibly look like; it wasn’t just one circumstance.

Q: HI there,

Which of the Raptors benefitted the most from watching Warriors/Spurs last night? I’m guessing Ross. I don’t recall seeing any of the Spurs doze off during the game.

A: Because each player is unique and the teams are in such different circumstances, I’m going with none and I don’t presume any of them paid rapt attention to the game start to finish anyway.

Q: Earlier I sent you an obit for Johan Cruyff, the apostle of “total football”, that is, the philosophy that any player should be able to play any position interchangeably, today most clearly demonstrated by FC Barcelona, the team upon which Cruyff had such a profound effect. A completely different game, of course, but is there a basketball equivalent? Perhaps this is a useful model to describe the Golden State Warriors, with Draymond Green  the current prototype of a perfect player who can do anything. Or was Red Auerbach there a couple of decades before Cruyff? As a mental exercise, I find such apples-and-oranges comparisons endlessly entertaining: the new Wayne Gretzky is not Conor McDavid, but rather Stephen Curry.

James A., Victoria

A: I appreciated that obit and as I wrote the other day, I was a big admirer of Cruyff and Total Football back in the day.

I think trying to find a basketball equivalent is the Holy Grail, Golden State’s coming close, but as the game and the human body evolve, every team would love to have about eight guys between about 6-4 and 6-10 who all have well-rounded enough skills that they could play positionless basketball. I think that day will arrive but for now were  watching the infancy of the development.

I think the barstool conversation you’re talking about – trans-sports impact, etc. – would be wildly fun and entertaining and way better than “can the 2016 Warriors beat the 1996 Bulls?”

Q: HI Doug, I am curious as to why you feel their is such a long shot of signing Bismack JV?  Sure JV may be more gifted offensively but Bismack has shown that he can impact games with his energy,  rebounding and rim protection. If they sign Bismack they have a valuable trade asset in JV,  if they let him walk, they get nothing. It has been a nice surprise and luxury to have them both this year but if the team is going to get better, they should take the opportunity to get better by maximizing their assets.

I don’t see this as JV compared to BB. If they can’t keep them both, then it is JV compared to BB plus whatever assets/players that they can get back in a trade for JV.

We know your thoughts on what you think they will do but what would you do if you were Masai?

A: Mostly because I understand the financial and roster realities of the NBA.

But of course I would try to sign Biyombo, that’s never been a question, but – again – it may not be feasible. And since this is getting to the ridiculousness of Pops Mensah-Bonsu I’ll be clear as a bell: I would not trade Jonas Valanciunas to make room to maybe sign Bismack Biyombo. Why? Valanciunas is the same age, a better offensive player and not a bad rebounder at all and if I had to chose between the two, it’s the 23-year-old who is proven as opposed to the 23-year-old who has had a 70-game breakthrough defensives season.

However, trying to resign Biyombo at a price they can afford would be the first idea.


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