Reaching the conference finals is never a bad thing in the NBA, and earning a spot in pro basketball’s final four for the first time often marks a turning point in franchise history and the beginning of longstanding status as a perennial playoff contender.
Although the Toronto Raptors’ appearance in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals was the franchise’s first, Dwane Casey’s crew was already thought of as playoff regulars before falling two wins short of a trip to last season’s NBA Finals despite their inexperience. But that series against the Cleveland Cavaliers was the culmination of three seasons of hard work and heartbreak, and with the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Atlanta Hawks all positioned to make some serious second-half noise, Toronto’s dream season isn’t likely to repeat itself anytime soon.
Entering the all-star break, the 33-24 Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games overall while registering only three victories in their first eight games of February. Unfortunately for residents of Raptor-land, relatively recent losses to sub-500 teams such as the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, and Orlando Magic [twice] have painted a terrifying picture of this team’s prospects, and Lowry’s now-infamous comments concerning Toronto’s troubles following a 102-101 loss to the Pistons on February 12th rattled Raptor nation.
“Keeping the same situations over and over, and not being successful, something’s got to give, something’s got to change,” said a concerned Lowry.
But when pressed for specifics about what exactly needs changing, the Raptors’ rock-solid point guard reverted to his usually-reserved self.
“I have an idea, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut, keep it very professional.”
While last season was definitely Lowry’s breakout campaign, he’s currently averaging career-highs in both points per game [22.8 ppg] and three-point percentage [41.7]. And in one of the league’s strangest statistical coincidences, he’s also averaging the exact same 4.7 rebounds per game that he’s averaged in each of the last four seasons. Obviously, Lowry isn’t the problem.
Following last season’s 56-win finish, the Raptors were rightfully pegged as the biggest threat to those living in the land of LeBron. Scorer-extradonaire DeMar DeRozan was re-signed to a new five-year deal in July. Lowry had a year remaining on his contract, and the off-season addition of forward Jared Sulinger was supposed to give the Raptors some much-needed bulk in the low-post and another big man with relatively decent range.
Although DeRozan has been among the league’s leading scorers all season by averaging a career-high 27.3 points a night, he’s doing it by launching a career-high 21.2 shots per game. Defensively, DeRozan has become an almost laughable liability, and his desire to become Kobe Bryant’s clone often forces Toronto away from its offense and prevents his team from putting together a full 48-minute effort on that end of the floor.
Maybe the first two games of Toronto’s regular season schedule told us everything we need to know about these Raptors. On October 26th, DeRozan led Toronto to a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons with 40 points in the season-opener, and center Jonas Valanciunas finished with a career-high 32 points to make them the first duo in NBA history to have 40 and 30-point games on opening night. All was well in Raptor-land, and the future seemed limitless.
But two days later the Raptors met reality, losing 94-91 at home to the Cavs in a game in which Toronto shot just 39 percent from the field and a useless 25 percent from behind the arc. DeRozan extended his hot start with a 32-point performance, but the Raptors missed five shots in the final minute of regulation, and although the final score reflected a closely contested battle, Toronto was clearly over-matched and never controlled the game.
As one of the conference’s top teams, the Raptors are supposed to beat a sub-par opponent like the 27-30 Pistons. But much like last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto simply couldn’t catch Cleveland despite having several last-minute opportunities to alter the game’s outcome, and so far, that’s a fairly accurate description of the Raptors’ season.
Prior to the all-star break, general manager Masai Ujiri showed Lowry that he was listening and dealt Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round draft pick to the Magic for forward Serge Ibaka. Along with his abilities as a rebounder and shot-blocker, Ibaka also brings playoff experience to Toronto, and with Sullinger still struggling to regain form following a foot injury, Ibaka’s arrival comes at the right time.
But ultimately, it won’t be enough to propel Toronto past Cleveland, and unless Ibaka’s arrival somehow sparks the change that Lowry referred to, Boston, Washington, and Atlanta will cause the Raptors plenty of headaches. In other words, the Raptors have nowhere to go but down after last season’s success. But as any fan of the New York Knicks would say, things could be much worse.
Knicks’ Owner James Dolan Bans Heckling Fan
New York Knicks owner James Dolan apparently has some thin skin when it comes to heckling over his horrendous run at the top of the Knicks empire.
That didn’t sit well with Dolan, who called the mad rude and abruptly banned him from attending anymore Knicks games and followed it up by having the man escorted out of the building by security.
NBA Announces Partnership with Puma
The National Basketball Association has officially announced that they have agreed to a multiyear partnership with Puma, who will now be recognized as an official marketing partner of the NBA, according to an official league statement.
“We are thrilled to partner with the NBA to bring PUMA to the next level in our reentry to the basketball market,” Adam Petrick, Global Director of Brand and Marketing at PUMA, said in a statement. “This partnership is a testament to the continued resurgence of PUMA within the basketball industry.”
Per the new agreement, Puma will not be allowed to feature athletes in their respective NBA uniforms and team logos has the brand looks to regain it’s once prominent presence in the NBA.
“PUMA played an important part in the early footwear culture of the NBA,” Dan Rossomondo, NBA Senior Vice President, Media and Business Development, stated.
“As PUMA expands its presence in the basketball market with new player relationships and a new line of basketball sneakers, becoming an official footwear partner of the league was a natural next step to help amplify the brand’s return to the category.”
The NBA has been busy with partnerships as of late. Just last week we reported on their new deal for the NBA G League and Twitch, where Twitch streams will now broadcast NBA G League gameplay, and Twitch streamers will be allowed to participate, via a unique partnership with them.
NBA G League Back on Twitch
The NBAGLeague’s official channel on Twitch, stated the following about their renewed partnership with the popular streaming platform:
“Thanks to a new partnership, you can now watch and co-stream any NBA G League game that is streamed on Twitch on your very own Twitch channel! So bring your hot takes, play-by-play, stat breakdowns, and fan rants because it’s your chance to put your unique spin on the broadcasts”
The news means even more attention will be put on the Twitch marketplace, and one would assume that there may be interest in the future in leveraging Mixer streams as well, if there isn’t already talk of that occurring.
The focus on co-streaming is particularly interesting as it brings a new level of interaction to NBA G League action, and a way for fans, and other Twitch streamers, to get in on the action like never before via a new co-streaming element.
Per an official press release: “Co-streaming is a feature unique to Twitch which allows a streamer to share another channel’s video feed, but with their own commentary and community. The result is a more personalized social experience. If you’re a streamer and want to give co-streaming a try, you can find a commentary-free broadcast to use on your co-stream”
This could be, potentially, a big tool for Twitch streams featuring NBA G League content to get incredible exposure, and a way for the NBA to market G League action on other Twitch channels, and via other niches, such as IRL streams.
Furthermore, it presents a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on female streamers who have a passion for broadcasting, or sports commentary.
On the surface, it seems like a win win for all involved.
Everything kicked off, officially, on February 8th, but here is the remaining schedule of games.:
UPCOMING TWITCH SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES ET)
Saturday, Feb. 9 — 8:30 PM — Memphis Hustle vs. Texas Legends
Friday, Feb. 22 — 8 PM — Agua Caliente Clippers vs. Wisconsin Herd
Saturday, Feb. 23 — 8:30 PM — Iowa Wolves vs. Texas Legends
Friday, March 1 — 8 PM — Fort Wayne Mad Ants vs. Wisconsin Herd
Saturday, March 2 — 2 PM — Capital City Go-Go vs. Raptors 905
Friday, March 8 — 8:30 PM — Raptors 905 vs. Austin Spurs
Saturday, March 9 — 7 PM — Windy City Bulls vs. Greensboro Swarm
Friday, March 15 — 8:30 PM — Agua Caliente Clippers vs. Texas Legends
Saturday, March 16 — 7 PM — Erie BayHawks vs. Canton Charge
Friday, March 22— 10 PM — Agua Caliente Clippers vs. Santa Cruz Warriors
Saturday, March 23 — 10 PM — Agua Caliente Clippers vs. Santa Cruz Warriors
Viewers can watch the original broadcast at on the NBA G League’s official Twitch channel, or they can choose to watch Twitch Partners and Affiliates who are planning on co-streaming the NBA G League this year.
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