Atlantic Division Preview: Toronto Raptors

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Atlantic Division Preview: Toronto Raptors

The first of our five-part installment reviewing the state of the Atlantic Division heading into the 2013-14 NBA season begins with the Toronto Raptors:

Toronto Raptors
2012-13 record: 34-48 (fifth place in Atlantic Division)

Arrivals
Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough, Dwight Buycks, Austin Daye, Julyan Stone.

Departures
Andrea Bargnani, Marcus Camby, Linas Kleiza, Quintin Richardson, Alan Anderson, John Lucas

Projected starting five
PG – Kyle Lowry
SG – DeMar DeRozan
SF – Rudy Gay
PF – Amir Johnson
C – Jonas Valanciunas

Fun fact
Of the 623 shots Kyle Lowry attempted last season, 199 (32 percent) were in the final three minutes of a quarter and 79 (13 percent) came in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Outlook
On paper, the Raptors have been a fringe playoff team for the past couple of seasons. Instead, the Raps have been the epitome of an underachieving team.

But maybe that’s a thing of the past? The team will have Rudy Gay for the entire season and big man Jonas Valanciunas is legit and a threat to be a 15-10 man this season. Plus, the Raptors have plenty of scoring depth in Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Steve Novak off the bench. The biggest asset for the Raptors could be Lowry and backup D.J. Augustin running the point.

Projection
While the Nets and Knicks will battle for the top of the division, the Raptors will slide in comfortably for third place with a realistic shot for a playoff berth.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors advance past Bucks despite blowing 25-point lead

NBA Playoffs: Raptors advance past Bucks despite blowing 25-point lead

MILWAUKEE -- DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and the Toronto Raptors squandered a 25-point lead late in the third quarter before holding on for a 92-89 victory Thursday night over the Milwaukee Bucks to take their first-round playoff series in six games.

Cory Joseph had five points in a 9-0 run in the final 2 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 1:27 left, to help stave off the pesky Bucks.

The Raptors move on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a series that starts Monday. They'll need to work on finishing off opponents in the second half.

Jason Terry's 3 with 3:06 left gave the Bucks an 80-78 lead, completing an unlikely comeback from the 25-point deficit with 5:16 left in the third quarter. The Raptors looked as if they were on cruise control after DeMarre Carroll's 3 gave them the 71-46 advantage.

Giannis Antetokounmpo spearheaded the second-half rally for Milwaukee. He had 34 points.

But the Bucks finished one comeback short.

The furious effort appeared to sap the energy of the young Bucks. Even Antetokounmpo, a renowned gym rat, looked tired with his hands on hips as he caught his breath during fourth-quarter breaks. He played 47 minutes.

Antetokounmpo finished 13 of 23 from the field but was 2 of 6 in the fourth.

The Raptors could finally breathe easy after DeRozan went 2 of 2 from the foul line with 3.1 seconds to play for a three-point lead. Tony Snell's inbounds pass on the ensuing possession was intercepted by DeRozan (see full recap).

Spurs advance: San Antonio beats Grizzlies 103-96 in Game 6
NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, helping the San Antonio Spurs advance to the Western Conference semifinals by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 103-96 Thursday night to take the series 4-2.

The Spurs now have beaten Memphis four of the five playoff series between these teams, and this was San Antonio's second straight win over the Grizzlies in the first round.

Tony Parker added 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Patty Mills had 10 points off the bench for the Spurs. San Antonio outrebounded Memphis 46-28, with 16 of those offensive boards. That led to 17 second-chance points.

Their semifinal with Houston will start Monday night in San Antonio.

Mike Conley scored 26 points, leading the five Memphis starters in double digits. Marc Gasol added 18, Zach Randolph 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Vince Carter had 12 points (see full recap).

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Ben Simmons

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Point guard? Power forward? TBD

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $6,168,840

Simmons in 2016-17
Ben Simmons missed the entire 2016-17 season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot on the final day of training camp.

He was ruled out officially in late February when a scan revealed his foot had not fully healed. Simmons was cleared to advance his training in mid-April.

This season was one of learning for Simmons. The Sixers implemented a multifaceted rehab program to improve his health, education and shot. This included studying game film with Brett Brown and working closely with shooting coach John Townsend.

Simmons also joined the Sixers to experience life on the road. During these trips, he spent time with point guard Jerryd Bayless, who is serving as a veteran go-to as Simmons learns the NBA backcourt.

Signature game
Since Simmons did not appear in a game, let's modify here. Simmons was no stranger to showing off his skills during pregame warmups, including this dunk in Indiana.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
Simmons' first step to prepare for next season is five-on-five work. The Sixers have to determine if that will include his participating in the summer league. This seems unlikely given Simmons' lack of full-contact basketball activity with his own team and the fact he was limited last summer when healthy.

The second step is learning the point guard position. The Sixers plan to start Simmons at the one next season, a role in which they believe Simmons can thrive because of his athleticism and court vision.

The Sixers will work with Simmons to continue improving his shot, specifically hitting free throws and finishing at the basket with both hands.

On Simmons
"I think that the question about whether or not Ben Simmons is a point guard or not, that will play itself out over time. But I don't think there's going to be a quick answer there. I know there's a commitment by the staff to make that happen."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"What I left Stockton (training camp) being so excited about was that he is an elite, potentially, defensive player. So was his father that I coached for five years. It's in his bloodline." 

Sixers head coach Brett Brown