Toronto Raptors

Many NBA teams played their first regular season game Wednesday night. The results were pretty mixed with all-star-like and poor showings. It’s just the first game of the year, but here are how some former Texas Longhorns opened their seasons.

Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics point guard

He will get a ton of playing time over the next few weeks, as star point guard Rajon Rondo patiently recovers from a torn ACL from last season. So don’t put too much stock into his relatively average offensive display against the Toronto Raptors. In 31 minutes against Toronto, Bradley recorded eight points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals on 4 for 13 shooting.

Bradley has always been a defense-first guard, even at Texas. He can score but anything too much more than his career average of 6.9 points per game is an added bonus. Bradley did a nice job of limiting explosive, all-around-scoring guard Kyle Lowry. Expect his defensive efforts to be a constant for Boston all season long, even when Rondo returns.

D.J. Augustin — Toronto Raptors point guard

The total opposite of Bradley, Augustin won’t be seeing too much court time anytime soon, simply because starter Kyle Lowry is just a better, more proven NBA point guard right now. Augustin wasn’t too efficient with his 13 minutes Wednesday night. He needed seven shots to score five points, and he only added two dimes to his stat sheet. Much more efficient, distributive play is required to be a starting point guard in the NBA.

The best news about Augustin’s performance Wednesday night? His Raptors are 1-0.

Tristan Thompson — Cleveland Cavaliers power forward

Thompson turned in the first stud performance by a Longhorn so far in this infant season. He is the Cavs’ best player by far, and led his team to an impressive win against the newly-powerful Brooklyn Nets. In 35 minutes, Thompson put up 18 points and 9 rebounds on an efficient 8 for 13 shooting performance. He made Kevin Garnett work on the defensive end, and the expended energy took a bit out of Garnett — who was really a non-factor Wednesday — on offense.

If Thompson puts up these numbers consistently, this upstart Cleveland squad just might make a return to the playoffs.

LaMarcus Alrdridge — Portland Trail Blazers power forward

I’m saving the best for last here. After all, it’s indisputable that Aldridge is the best former Longhorn in the league right now. He didn’t really need last night’s all-star performance to prove or even reinforce that status. He played huge minutes, but as the face of the Blazers’ franchise, he is expected to carry this burden. He poured in 28 points on 12 for 22 shooting, along with four rebounds and two assists in 39 minutes.

Aldridge will need to be a more consistent rebounding machine if Portland wants to sneak into the west’s top eight in April. But the scoring will always be there, and he has plenty of mates to help him on that front all season long.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

For a team that only won 34 games last year, the Toronto Raptors surely are an interesting topic for discussion.

It seems as though the team has finally overcome the tragic loss of its mascot, Raptor, to a season-ending injury and is back on the upswing, and the team generated buzz recently when it decided to change its logo and color scheme in preparation for the 2016 All-Star game to be hosted in Toronto. But there’s a catch: The re-branding of the franchise will be assisted by none other than Toronto’s own Drake.

So I guess it’s true — nothing will be the same after the Canadian rapper gets his hands on the design of the only NBA team from the Great White North.

The Raptors are taking a page out of the Brooklyn Nets’ book, allowing a world-famous rapper to redesign their team, and they hope the results are as positive. After unveiling their new Jay-Z aided design, the Nets jersey sales jumped from last in the league all the way to fourth, and the team’s overall value jumped 48 percent.

Drake was recently hired as “global ambassador” for the Raptors, a team in severe need of a makeover after missing the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.

The team name, however, is one thing that will not change, according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Tim Leiweke, but Drake still has plenty of room to work with.

So get your creative juices flowing, Drake. Only time will tell if he will be able to beat out the older, distinguished Jay-Z in terms of NBA redesign, but one thing is certain: If Drake can even come close to replicating the beauty of these late-90s uniforms, his mission will have been an extreme success.

The Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors are also home to former Texas Longhorns: forward Jordan Hamilton and guard D.J. Augustin, respectively. Let’s take a look at their upcoming seasons.

Denver Nuggets

Last season: 57-25, third seed in Western Conference, lost in first round to Golden State Warriors 4-2

According to Zach Lowe’s season preview on Grantland, Denver is one of the western teams on the fringe of the playoffs.  

“The Nuggets are firmly in the mix for one of the last two playoff spots, but they’re in that mix — not above it,” Lowe said. “It’s going to be very tough again this season, though it’s unclear how many wins it will take to slide into the No. 7 or No. 8 spots.” 

The Nuggets are in flux heading into this season. The team lost versatile forward Andre Iguodala to the Warriors in the off-season. To help counter this loss, it signed journeymen guards Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, as well as interior scoring threat J.J. Hickson. These two guards contribute to an already strong backcourt featuring Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Hickson will boost Denver’s offensive attack on the block.  

The Nuggets are dealing with the loss of longtime coach George Karl. Lowe said that new coach Brian Shaw, although quite an experienced NBA coach, is already beginning to tinker with long-entrenched philosophies on both sides of the ball. Denver’s defense ranked 23rd in the league last season, so maybe a base defensive change is a healthy option. Regardless, this team needs to improve its on-the-ball defense and rely less on forcing turnovers.  

The Nuggets’ second-best player, Danilo Gallinari, will also miss the first portion of the season as he works his way back from knee surgery. Former Longhorn Hamilton will be one of the players replacing Gallinari. He is slowly coming into his own in the league. Last season he averaged 5.2 points per game in just under 9.9 minutes. He provides an instant scoring punch off the bench from all areas of the court. He’ll get important minutes and has quite an opportunity to prove himself early this season.

Bottom line: There are a few moving parts here. The Nuggets added some nice pieces in the free agency, but still haven’t addressed their glaring defensive needs. They’ll score in bunches, but will also allow points in bunches.  Denver will win 45 games and miss the playoffs — getting edged out by the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers.

Toronto Raptors

Last season: 34-48, missed playoffs

Toronto is an intriguing squad. The Raptors generally possess a nice stockpile of talent, yet have a reputation of underperforming. Things haven’t changed much this year. Offseason acquisitions Steve Novak, Austin Daye and Aaron Gray will provide some much-needed depth. Novak is always among the league’s leaders in three-point percentages. Add those pieces to the core of forwards Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and explosive guard Terrence Ross, and that’s a nice offensive group. The only offensive setback is the lack of three-point shooting outside of Novak and Gay.

The bench should be fantastic this season. Kyle Lowry, Novak, Tyler Hansbrough, Daye, Gray and former Longhorn D.J. Augustin will make up a complete and competitive second unit. Depth is no longer an issue with this club.

But rebounding and defense remain two glaring issues in Toronto. The Raptors ranked third to last in the league in rebounding last season. Defensively, they allowed 98.7 points per game, good for 17th in the NBA. Length and athleticism aren’t the problem — the problem is that those athletes aren’t particularly good defenders. The offense will hide these problems to an extent, but it has to rebound and defend better to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Bottom line: Toronto will miss the playoffs again — barely. It will win a few more games but its division is still difficult with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets miles ahead of the team. I’ll give the Raptors 39 wins this season — a steady improvement, but they’ll miss the playoffs by a game or two.

With the NBA season right around the corner, one team looking to improve on a few rough years is the Toronto Raptors. In a weak Eastern Conference, the Raptors’ budding young core hopes to crash into the playoff picture.

But the Raptors suffered a heartbreaking loss in their preseason opener that will almost certainly hinder the team’s postseason chances.

Initial reports have been confirmed that Raptor, the team’s mascot, will miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

This is a tough one, folks.

But so is the nature of sports — injuries are just a part of the game. As much as we hate them, injuries affect nearly every team year after year as the wear and tear of the game catches up to the athletes. 

They’re just not always this devastating.

Of course, an injury as severe as this one will bring up the usual questions: Is it time for the NBA to implement a stricter pregame mascot stretching policy? Does the league need to do away with the controversial trampoline events? Does NBA commissioner David Stern even care about mascots?

These questions still linger like Raptor on his way up for a front-flip slam (you will be missed, buddy), but at this point, there’s nothing we can do.

Nothing we can do except count down the moments until his glorious return.

He will be back. We believe in you, Raptor. Make us proud.

Sports and celebrities have always been intertwined; all athletes want to be celebrities, and all celebrities want to be athletes.  Most superstars satisfy these desires by following their favorite teams, wearing their jerseys, and cheering at games. From Spike Lee to Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio to President Obama, famous people everywhere bleed their team’s colors.

This holds especially true with rappers. Something about the rap industry brings out the true fandom in these performers, and it often carries over into their work. Here is a list of the top ten rappers who are defined by their teams.

10. Usher – Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)

Although it is unknown to even many Cavs diehards, Usher has been a fan since he became a part owner in 2005. Usher attended nearly every game the first year, but once the initial thrill wore off, fans stopped seeing him at the stadium. Rumors swirled that Usher was unable to pay his $50 million stake in the team, but as of today he remains a minority owner.

9. Drake – Toronto Raptors (NBA)

Although he can be regularly found at the club with NBA stars, from Lebron James to Chris Paul, the Canadian-born Drake is a fan of Canada’s only NBA team, the Raptors.  The rap game’s representative of the Great White North is pretty serious about his dedication to this team. He once said, “I am a Raptors fan to the death.”

8. Snoop Dogg – USC (NCAA Football)

While Snoop has several other professional fan allegiances, his true devotion lies with the cardinal and gold. He can often be found wearing his Trojan jersey at the Coliseum on game day. Athleticism even runs in his family; his son, Cordell Broadus, is a four-star wide receiver recruit with scholarship offers from ten schools, including USC.  If his dad has any say, his decision will be obvious.

7. Eminem – Detroit sports

Eminem grew up in and was molded by Detroit, and he has repaid the city as fan for a while. In the video for his new single Berzerk, Em can be seen rocking a shirt commemorating the late ‘80’s bad boys Pistons teams.

Slim Shady also discussed his Lions fandom in classic Eminem style during this recent bizarre interview during the Michigan vs. Notre Dame football game.

6. 2 Chainz – Atlanta Hawks (NBA)

Born Tauheed Epps in Atlanta, the 6’5” rapper now known as 2 Chainz has an athletic past. He received a scholarship to play D1 ball at Alabama State, where he played one season before he found his calling and joined the rap game. On his dunk at the end of this video, it seems as though 2 Chainz had a sense of flair on the court as well.

In Kanye West’s song The One, Mr. Chainz name-drops his favorite team, describing “sittin’ courtside at the Hawks game” before going on to explain that he is close enough to the action to trip a player with his Louis Vuitton shoes.

We love you, 2 Chainz. Never change.

Stay tuned for the second half of this list, coming next week.

Tony Parker had 34 points and 14 assists, and the San Antonio Spurs extended their season-best winning streak to nine games with a 113-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

Danny Green scored 13 points and matched his career high with seven rebounds, Tiago Splitter also had 13 points and Manu Ginobili added 11 for the Spurs, who have not lost since a 101-100 overtime defeat at Dallas on Jan. 29.

Parker went 12 for 12 from the foul line for San Antonio, which last won nine straight during a 10-0 stretch from Dec. 3-22, 2010. The victory was the sixth straight away from home for the Spurs, their longest run since winning eight straight road games to begin the
2010-11 season.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan failed to extend his run of five straight double-doubles, finishing with eight points and three rebounds.

DeMar DeRozan scored 29 points for the Raptors, who have lost three straight and eight of 10. Jose Calderon added 16 points and 11 assists.

Toronto guard Jerryd Bayless missed his fourth straight game with a sore left ankle, while forward Linas Kleiza was sidelined with a sore left knee. Leading scorer Andrea Bargnani sat for the 18th time in 20 games because of a strained left calf.

“We’re a little undermanned,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “If anybody is looking for a 10-day [contract], we’re looking for bodies.”

Toronto trailed by five points to begin the fourth, but used a pair of baskets by Calderon and a driving layup by DeRozan to cut it to one at 97-96 with 4:14 left.

San Antonio answered with a baseline jump shot by Gary Neal and a pair of free throws by Parker, restoring their five point advantage with 3:25 left.

Parker made all eight of his free-throw attempts down the stretch as the Spurs improved to 23-9 all-time against Toronto.

Green got all seven of his rebounds and made three of San Antonio’s six 3-pointers in the opening half as the Spurs, who shot 6 for 10 from beyond the arc, led 55-45 at the break.

Toronto battled back by making its first 10 shots of the second half. DeRozan scored 13 points in less than six minutes, and the Raptors followed with a layup from James Johnson that tied it at 66.

Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey yells to his team during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Oklahoma City last December. Casey is the new coach of the Toronto Raptors.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TORONTO — Dwane Casey hopes to bring a rugged, NHL-style of defense to his newest job in the NBA.
The Toronto Raptors hired Casey as their coach Tuesday, nine days after the Dallas assistant helped the Mavericks win the championship.

Casey succeeds Jay Triano, a Canadian who became a consultant after the Raptors finished 22-60. Casey was the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves from June 2005 to January 2007, compiling a 43-59 record.

Casey said his No. 1 goal is to give the Raptors a “defensive identity.” He partially credited the Mavericks’ performance against LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA finals to the breaking down of hockey video.

“Because we felt we were playing too soft against Miami to start the series,” he said. “And it really set the tone.”

“I don’t know a lot about of hockey. I know I’ll learn about it. But we spliced in those guys checking players up into the window, into the boards and that type of thing and that’s the way we want to play,” he said. “We want to make sure people feel us when they cut through the lane. And that’s a mindset, and that’s having a disposition — a bad disposition — when people come through your paint.”

Poor on defense, Toronto missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The Raptors have made it past the first round only once in their 16-year existence, doing it in 2000-01.

The Raptors want to start their improvement Thursday with the fifth pick in the NBA draft.

Casey won’t have much input on who the Raptors pick.

“I’ve learned over the years to step back from the draft because you have to hire trusted people with your scouting department and trust their knowledge,” Casey said. “You can give them your input into what you need and what you want, but the bottom line has to come from the scouting department.”

The 54-year-old Casey, who also was an assistant for 11 seasons in Seattle, is the eighth coach in Raptors’ history.

Triano stood quietly at the back of the news conference announcing Casey’s hire. Casey said he intends to use Triano as a “resource” and build on what he sees as a core of young talent that includes guards DeMar DeRozan and Jerryd Bayless, center Andrea Bargnani and forward Amir Johnson.

“Defensively, I’m going to be a hands-on control freak, so to speak,” he said. “Offensively, I’m going to trust and give them freedom.”

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo said he got a call from Dallas coach Rick Carlisle in the wee hours after the Mavericks won the championship.

“Rick Carlisle said, ‘Bryan, I want to know what it’s going to take to get Dwane that job in Toronto. It’s right for him, it’s right for you, it’s right for the situation. You need to strongly consider it,’” Colangelo said.

“He comes with exceptional support from people in very high places,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that are rooting for Dwane to do well here. They think it’s the right time,” he said.

DeRozan was at the news conference and said he and his teammates welcome the new commitment to defense.

“I think everybody’s definitely going to buy into it because we’ve got a young team and we could cause a lot of havoc on the defensive end,” DeRozan said. “I want to improve as a person and as a team player.”

Casey promised a free-flowing approach with the ball.

“The last time I checked, the reason why you win games is scoring, so we’re going to put a high premium on that too,” he said. “We want to keep the pace up-tempo with our young team because we have the athleticism.”