Last week, we ran a post from @Betropolitan listing the incredible odds on winning the Eastern Conference for teams other than the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. It seemed strange at the time that the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls were the third choice, at 25-1, but it was a reminder that Vegas is all-knowing.
And those oddsmakers look even smarter this morning after the Raptors put together their signature win of the season, defeating the mighty Indiana Pacers 95-92 last night to reach .500. The Raptors have won eight of 10 games since Dec. 13, when the majority of the players acquired from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay deal made their Toronto debuts.
What made this victory even more head-scratching was the margin of victory.
Indiana came in with a five-game winning streak — with all of the victories coming by at least 14 points.
What are they saying about it north of the US-Canada border? Let’s check in with Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, who has been covering the Raptors since they were an expansion team:
“The players were slapping hands with the fans and the smiles went from ear-to-ear as the celebration raged inside the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. It had been another unexpected victory, another gritty, gutsy, physical performance against one of the best teams in the NBA and the feeling of accomplishment was palpable. The Raptors may not have truly arrived anywhere yet; they are young and unproven with no track record of sustained success, but wins like Wednesday’s over the Indiana Pacers are showing that the journey can be a helluva ride. “I think it’s another huge step as far as their growth is concerned, and I truly mean that,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors beat the Pacers 95-82 for Toronto’s fourth straight win. “They’re growing, they’re developing, they’re getting better.” Truer words were never spoken. In the last two weeks, on a journey that’s now gotten them to .500 on the season at 15-15, the Raptors have come up with an increasingly impressive series of wins. They won in Dallas and then beat the best team in the Western Conference in Oklahoma City. They swept a home-and-home series with the New York Knicks and pulled away in the fourth quarter to win on the road in Chicago. And all they did Wednesday night was beat the team with the best record in the league (the Pacers had won five straight and were 25-5 going into the game) in rather convincing fashion. They were as tough and as physical as Indiana all night, they were not for a second intimidated in any fashion and they got another outstanding fourth-quarter performance to win going away. The most interesting thing about this recent Raptors streak is figuring who might come up biggest at the most important moment of a game. Wednesday it was DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry who took over in the fourth quarter when Toronto outscored the Pacers 29-19. DeRozan, frustrated to the point of selfishness at moments in the first three quarters, had 10 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth, including four straight free throws late in the game. And Lowry was probably better. He had a season-best 14 assists against just one turnover in 34 minutes, he scored 13 points and may have sealed the outcome when he stood in the paint and drew a charge from 7-foot Pacers centre Roy Hibbert with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, the sixth foul that ended Hibbert’s night. “We keep a chart of all the charges and he’s … way ahead of everybody as far as charge-taking is concerned,” Casey said of Lowry. “It’s not unusual, he’s a tough kid, he’s willing to give his body up for the team and he just has a knack for taking charges.”
And now for a look at other news from around the league:
METTA ON SHELF AFTER PRP THERAPY
Metta World Peace won’t be coming to the rescue for the Knicks, who checked in at an abyssmal No. 28 in the Kamenetsky Bros. latest Power Rankings. He is on the shelf for at least two weeks, after seeking out advice from Amar’e Stoudemire and deciding to undergo PRP. From Mark Berman of the New York Post:
“Metta World Peace said one of the reasons he has decided on a blood-spinning therapy known as platelet-rich-plasma Jan. 6 is because it was recommended by a handful of players, including Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire never has publicly revealed he had PRP on his knees, but World Peace said it’s true. World Peace also said Kenyon Martin has had a similar procedure. World Peace won’t play on the Texas triangle trip and said he will sit out two weeks after the procedure. meaning he should be back around Jan. 20. Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez are the two most famous athletes to recently undergo the therapy, which can help with arthritis. World Peace, according to a source, has an arthritic left knee that needed to be drained Monday for the fourth time since the regular season began. “I spoke to Kenyon and Amar’e about it, and they’re still playing,” World Peace said.
POPOVICH APPLAUDS PARKER’S APOLOGY
The hubbub over the “quenelle” appears to be dying down for Tony Parker. From Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
“Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he is proud of All-Star point guard Tony Parker after his apology for a photo showing him making a gesture widely deemed to be anti-Semitic alongside a controversial French comedian. “I felt bad for him. Tony doesn’t have an anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or anti-Christian bone in his body. That gesture was made three years ago and at that time he thought it meant something totally different. Which it did, to him. It’s morphed into something else over time. But it’s a tribute to his maturity and his leadership to understand it has morphed, as he found out, into something pretty hateful. He realized he needed to say something, that’s it not appropriate. There’s enough bigotry and racism and hatred in the world already. That thing has been taken too far. When he was informed of that and understood it, he was very quick to denounce it and understand what he had to do. So I was proud of him. Parker was photographed in 2011 with French comedian/political activist Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala making a gesture known as the “quenelle.” (Teammate Boris Diaw has also been photographed making the same gesture with Dieudonné.)
LATEST ON BYNUM
The Bulls don’t want him; the Heat don’t want him; the deal with the Lakers for Pau Gasol is apparently off the table.
So what will the Cavs do with the former Al-Star center now suspended for contuct detrimental to the team? Well, it’s safe to say the rumor mill will be churning for the next five days. He is a nice breakdown of the possibilities from Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today:
“The Cavs are off the hook the rest of his salary this season if they cut him by the Jan. 7. This option also allows Bynum to pick the team of his choice if he clears waivers, which is expected because it’s unlikely another team wants to pay the full amount of his deal by claiming on him on waivers. USA TODAY Sports reported the Los Angeles Clippers are one team that would have interest in Bynum. The Miami Heat have been mentioned as a potential suitor, and Heat President Pat Riley often has his eyes on available big men. However, the Heat don’t have significant interest in Bynum, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Bynum. The Heat have 15 players on their roster and would have to cut a player to make room for Bynum, and the Heat also have one reclamation project at center in Greg Oden. They also spent a significant portion of the preseason season and first month of the season getting Michael Beasley’s commitment. At this point in this season, it’s doubtful they want to dedicate crucial time to ensuring Bynum buys into their philosophy.
More on Bynum from K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Last season, at least two teams inquired about absorbing Richard Hamilton into their salary-cap space near the trade deadline, but both also asked for a first-round pick to take the veteran guard off the Bulls’ books. The salary dump could have dropped the Bulls below last season’s luxury tax threshold. But sources indicated at the time the Bulls refused to entertain those offers, with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf signing off on the tax payment to keep the first-round pick. That example should quell any lingering whispers of the Bulls trading Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum, whom the Cavaliers are shopping after suspending him for conduct detrimental to the team. The second half of Bynum’s $12.25 million salary can be waived before Jan. 7. That means, if the Bulls were to trade Deng for Bynum and waive him, they could save roughly $20 million in salary and tax payments. That isn’t happening, according to sources. As previously reported, the Bulls hope to re-sign Deng this summer in free agency. Also as previously reported, though the Bulls aren’t seeking to trade Deng, if a team offered a rotation player and first-round pick in advance of February’s trade deadline, they would consider such an offer.
ANDRE MILLER TAKES HIS FIRST DNP-CD
As the Denver Nuggets lost their eighth consecutive game last night, falling to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, Andre Miller did not take his warmups off — which never happens. The DNP-CD — the first of Miller’s career — ended a streak of 239 consecutive games.
And Miller was not happy about it.
More from Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post: “After the Nuggets’ eighth consecutive loss, 114-102 to Philadelphia on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, J.J. Hickson agreed with the notion that the Nuggets have hit rock bottom. But that point may have come earlier, in the second half, when Andre Miller, headed for his first healthy scratch, decided he would verbally take it out on coach Brian Shaw. Miller yelled about the disrespect he felt he was being shown by sitting. And if he was being disrespected, he’d do the same to the Nuggets’ first-year head coach. “There’s a time and place for everything,” Shaw said. “In the middle of the arena in front of everyone … I just tried to calm it down.” Asked if Miller understood the reasons for his one-game seat on the bench, Shaw said, “You’ll have to ask him.” But by that time, Miller had already left.
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. You can find him on twitter @SheridanBlog.