With every offensive explosion, buckets-from-all-angles barrage and 30-point quarter, it's getting clearer: Nobody told DeMar DeRozan or the Toronto Raptors about regression.
Toronto cut the Milwaukee Bucks and their defense to ribbons during Monday's 122-100 win, flashing the depth and breadth of an offense that is now on pace to finish as the second-best in recorded NBA history (which goes back to the 1973-74 season in Basketball-Reference's database).
As for that Bucks defensive rating? It slipped from 11th to 12th. So there's your regression, in a manner of speaking.
The Raptors did their usual thing, relying on DeRozan's in-between moves and foul-drawing prowess along with Kyle Lowry's steady stewardship and a potent cast of reserve scorers. It was another prime example of how Toronto's historically effective attack continues to confound in its diversity.
And its oddity.
As the modern game prizes three-point shooting and tic-tac-toe passing, the Raps are doing their own thing. They rank 15th in percentage of points generated via the triple and 29th in percentage of field goals assisted. It's tempting to say they're doing things the hard way, which is why the expectation for slippage has been so pervasive.
But when DeRozan posts gaudy efficiency (30 points on 11 field-goal attempts) by shooting 15-of-15 from the foul line, and the Raptors blow open the game early with a season-high tying 69-point first half, you have to wonder whether the hard way for some is the easy way for others.
In addition to drawing tons of shooting fouls, Toronto makes things easier on itself in a handful of unusual ways.
Depth is critical, and it's hard to worry about DeRozan slowing down when backups like Norman Powell (20 points during a win over the Boston Celtics on Friday) and Terrence Ross have taken such clear steps forward.
Ross pumped in a dozen of his season-high 25 points during the second quarter, embracing the role of the spark plug perfectly, Eric Koreen of The Athletic observed:
One bucket exemplified the value of Toronto's ability to score off turnovers:
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Not every point the Raptors generate off a takeaway is so spectacular, but Toronto ranks third in the league with 17.6 percent of its points coming off turnovers, which adds scoring on the margins to compensate for low-volume three-point shooting.
Reserve lineups led by Lowry help, too, according to NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
In this game, Lowry and the bench put the hammer down:
There's a sizable "so what?" attached to all this talk of the Raptors and their surging offense: They haven't (can't?) beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Though their three meetings this year have been decided by a total of 11 points, the Raptors are 0-3 against the Eastern Conference's top team. That's disheartening but hardly fatal. Because Toronto is a study in the upside of luck and patience.
Remember, this group never would have stayed together if not for a teardown gone wrong three years ago, as NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris reminded us:
And by avoiding the big change after last year's conference finals failure, the Raps allowed chemistry and organic growth to jolt their offense and push the team's overall performance to new heights. Who's to say another few months together won't result in even more improvement?
If your only measure of success is beating LeBron James and the Cavs, you're going to be disappointed. You're also probably no fun at parties.
What the Raptors are doing right now is special, and while it's a mistake to say holding on to the second-best offensive rating of all time is sustainable, something about this run feels real. And different.
Toronto won't get another crack at the Cavs until the final day of the regular season—and then, barring the kind of regression that seems less likely every day, the teams will tangle in a playoff series during late May.
Hassan Whiteside: Philosophical Riddle
For millennia, truth-seekers and sages have wrestled with the nature of unobserved reality. Does an object, unperceived, exist? If no one is looking at the moon, for example, can its presence at that moment be proved?
Einstein wondered that, so you can rest assured it's a pretty good question. It's the tree-falls-in-the-forest thing.
So: If Hassan Whiteside performs a Eurostep, like this:
And American Airlines Arena looks like this, via Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:
Are we sure it really happened?
OK, yeah, I guess having video of the event in question provides sufficient proof. But Whiteside's performing for sparse crowds is becoming the norm. The Miami Heat's 112-101 win over the Washington Wizards improved their record to 8-17, and the few fans in attendance got to see Goran Dragic score 34 points in addition to Whiteside's surprising moves.
Still, injury-stricken and struggling against shaky foes like the Wiz, Miami is barreling toward a scenario where tanking is the only logical move. The Heat have done it before. How do you think they wound up with Michael Beasley all those years ago or Justise Winslow in 2015?
Miami is a champion of the speedy, splashy rebuild. Fans will be there to watch when the process is complete but, apparently, not before.
Myles Turner Is Better
Last year, he made three treys. Period.
This is relevant for a couple of reasons.
First, it ties in with the explanation for Indy's upset victory. As a team, the Pacers shot 17-of-36 from long range, while Charlotte managed to make 10 of 26 from deep but shot just 33.3 percent from the field overall. The Hornets' poor shooting might have had to do with the Indiana defense or bad luck, but the likelier explanation is karma.
Marco Belinelli refused to fling up a half-court heave at the end of the first quarter, making him a clear offender in the growing class of three-point-percentage preservers.
B/R's Michael Pina noticed and rightly called him out:
Oh, and the second reason Turner's three-point shooting is relevant is self-explanatory: He's getting better. That's why this section has the heading it does.
The Rockets Do It with Defense...Sort Of
You can't call the Houston Rockets defense good...or passable...or really anything with a broadly positive connotation. Not after it allowed the Brooklyn Nets to score 42 third-quarter points, and not while it permitted an obscene 68 points in the paint overall.
So, how about timely? Yes, let's go with timely.
Houston got a clutch block from Trevor Ariza on a potential go-ahead Joe Harris layup and a sneaky steal from Patrick Beverley during the final 15 seconds. Both were vital to securing a 122-118 win that extended the Rockets' win streak to seven in a row.
James Harden had 36 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. And in other equally predictable news, the sun came up.
One thing to watch going forward: The Rockets run into trouble when Clint Capela has to bang with a potent offensive center. Brook Lopez scored 26 points in this one, so Houston turned to Nene late during the game for some extra bulk. That's a fine strategy in a pinch, but taking Capela's lob threat off the floor removes a key element of Harden's attack.
If the Rockets don't figure out how to genetically combine Capela and Nene into a two-way center (don't put it past Daryl Morey), they may have to settle for mix-and-match pivot play against dangerous down-low foes.
Luke Walton Knows What He's Doing
DeMarcus Cousins hip-tossed Julius Randle, which is not allowed, but the Kings big man wasn't whistled. So when Walton lost it and fired off loads of NSFW (if you're a lip-reader) rhetoric at the officials—which resulted in his ejection—it was hard to fault him.
Bigger picture, though, this was a shrewd move by a head coach whose greatest skill so far has been procuring total buy-in from his roster.
With the losses mounting and reality setting in after a strong start, it's more important than ever for Walton to re-emphasize how committed and connected he is to his players.
Clips vs. the World
It's unclear how many rivalries the Los Angeles Clippers are currently involved in, but the number of blood feuds is approaching 29.
Everybody hates the Clips.
Los Angeles beat the Portland Trail Blazers 121-120 despite a critical late turnover that gave the Blazers life.
The affair was replete with technicals, ejections, shots to the face, efforts to exaggerate contact (including but not limited to head tosses, screams and crocodile tears) and every other chippy and duplicitous element common to games between the Clippers and whomever it is they've antagonized enough to bring down to their level.
When you're Los Angeles and you're sure everyone you play is targeting and/or morally wronging you, don't you at some point have to consider the possibility that you're the problem?
There's no epiphany coming for the Clips, who seem to thrive on this stuff. The other 29 teams in the league seem to like it a little less.
Monday's Final Scores
- Pacers 110, Hornets 94
- Raptors 122, Bucks 100
- Heat 112, Wizards 101
- Rockets 122, Nets 118
- Dallas Mavericks 112, Denver Nuggets 92
- Kings 116, Lakers 92
- Clippers 121, Trail Blazers 120