NBA Beat: Candace Buckner Breaks Down The Indiana Pacers

I recently had the chance to chat with Candace Buckner about the Indiana Pacers. We talked about how injuries have impacted the franchise, Lance Stephenson’s departure, if the team should miss the playoffs to secure a high lottery pick this summer and a host of other topics.

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Off The Dribble | December 13, 2014

This week on Off The Dribble we talked about the Toronto Raptors not sharing the ball enough, Carmelo Anthony plotting his way out of New York, things working out well for Steve Kerr and Kobe Bryant being on the verge of passing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

We were also joined by Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star to talk about the Indiana Pacers.

Click here to listen to this episode of Off the Dribble.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Indiana 106-94

Here are some observations, notes and quotes from Toronto’s locker room after beating Indiana 106-94:

  • Jonas Valanciunas was in rare form tonight joking around with the media and Toronto’s PR guru. He appears to have a great grasp of the English language, but there were a couple of times were translation issues caused awkward pauses as Valanciunas was trying to translate in his head or grasp North American slang.
  • Lou Williams has his Giant of Africa shooting shirt proudly displayed in his locker. He’s one of a handful of players who have the shirts hanging in their lockers in prominent places.
  • Lucas Nogueira: “It makes me feel sad when I miss shots.”
  • After Nogueira finished joking with the media, he made his way into the team kitchen and lounge area where he had another group of coaches and PR people eating out of the palm of his hand. The rookie is quickly becoming a favourite among the media, teammates and people who work for the franchise for his sense of humour and lively personality.
  • Patrick Patterson: “We have the sixth man of the year in my opinion in Lou Williams.”
  • Dwane Casey on some of the shot attempts from Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams tonight: “A couple of them where, umm… questionable, but we needed something to get us going and to blow the game open. They had the you-know-whats to put ‘em up.”
  • Jonas Valanciunas on rebounding: “You’ve got to have a smell for where the ball is going to bounce.”
  • Valanciunas on Terrence Ross having six rebounds in the first quarter: “I was boxing out so it was easy for him to get those rebounds.”
  • Valanciunas was rocking black socks with bright neon bugs. It’s an awesome look that I wish I could pull off.
  • Dwane Casey on improved rebounding numbers tonight: “Thank goodness! It’s something we have been preaching and we will continue to preach. I hope it’s been fixed, but I think (rebounding) is something that is going to be a recurring theme for us this season. We are getting (defensive) stops; now we need to come up with the ball by having five guys in the paint.”
  • Frank Vogel is one of the few NBA head coaches who does his own white board before the game. Usually an assistant coach is given this task to write up the game plan and share the scouting report for opposing players and teams.
  • Roy Hibbert raved about Tyler Hansbrough before the game and said he was one of the best players to ever play college ball. David West had some interesting insight into why some college stars like Hansbrough aren’t able to parlay that into success in the NBA.

Podcap: Raptors Hold On To Beat Pacers 106-94

Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, Jonas Valanciunas, Roy Hibbert and David West after Toronto’s win over Indiana.

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Catching Up With David West

David West chatted getting back to form after being sidelined with an injury, how injuries have ravaged the Indiana Pacers since this summer, why it can be tough for collegiate stars to adjust to playing in the NBA and how quickly things can change for teams in the NBA.

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Catching Up With Roy Hibbert

roy-hibbert

Roy Hibbert talked about how things have changed for the Pacers over the past 12 months, lots of changes to Indiana’s starting five this season and he raved about former teammate Tyler Hansbrough.

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Toronto’s Start To The Season May Be Fools Gold

The Toronto Raptors have raced out to an impressive start to the season and sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with an impressive record of 16-5.

Things should be rosy for the team, right? Wrong. The strong start to the season might be fools gold if the coaching staff and players aren’t able to address and fix some big issues currently plaguing the team.

Over the past few weeks Dwane Casey has told anyone who will listen that there are issues on the defensive end and he has been sneaking in court time with his players prior to games to work on those issues.

When I brought up the idea to Casey that Toronto’s start to the season might be fools gold he quickly agreed.

“I’ve said that from day one,” Casey admitted to me.“I don’t think I’ve changed (my stance). I’m not being pessimistic or anything, but I’ve said we’ve got a lot of room for growth. We have a lot of areas to grow in. There are a lot of areas defensively that we have to get better in and I’ve said that from day one. We have won a lot of games early and that’s great, but there are a lot of areas where we need to continue to improve on.

“Players individually need to improve on areas of their game to get to where people are now expecting us to go. It’s a big step. I understand how big that step is and we are pushing every day to do it and we are going to continue to. Again, I love our record, but we are a young team that has a lot of areas to grow with some guys that have a high ceiling but they aren’t there yet.”

As an outsider not privy to coaches meetings or team meetings, one of the obvious areas of growth for me is sharing the ball. Or, in particular, their general lack of sharing and playing is-ball so far this season.

Toronto currently ranks second in the NBA in points per game, yet the team is 22nd in assists.

This is what happens when DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams account for the majority of your field goal attempts as a team while other players – even starters like Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross – have to settle for the scraps.

Casey, however, doesn’t see this as an issue or something he needs to address with his team.

“Guys are making those shots,” Casey told me when I asked if the low number of assists was one of the issues he was worried about. “You want to share the ball and move the ball, especially when your shot’s not falling, but right now we are making shots. So it’s hard to say, ‘hey, move the ball’ and guys take a dribble, pull up and make a play. That’s what has been happening for us. Now, we do need to continue our emphasis on moving the ball. Play on the weak side. Multiple pick-and-rolls. Multiple passes. That’s what is hard about those games that we have won, because we did that without really moving the ball and without having a big commitment to the defensive end. There were spurts of defence but not the way we are going to have to play in order to continue to improve.”

Again, sitting atop the Eastern Conference isn’t something that the media or fans expected when training camp broke this Fall. But what was expected was for the team to take another step forward by winning a series in the playoffs and a strong start to the season has only served to ratchet up those expectations.

Making the playoffs and winning at least one round is still a realistic goal, however, the team needs to address some glaring issues on both ends of the court.

If they can’t play with focus on the defensive end for 48 minutes it will cost them games in the playoffs.

Toronto also needs to fix sluggish starts which will cost the team games against elite teams.

Likewise, if Toronto isn’t sharing the ball on offence or executing plays in their half court sets, opponents will be able to scheme for that easily in a best of seven series.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the coaching staff and players are able to address some of the larger issues effecting the team on the offensive and defensive end of the court. The reality is Toronto is barely a quarter of they way into the season so there’s plenty of time to fix issues the team is currently having. But, if some of these issues continue to plague the team as the season progresses, it will prevent the team from making any noise in the playoffs.

Due to the early success Toronto has enjoyed this season, the fans, coaching staff and players will likely view not advancing past the first round as a failure.

The responsibility is now on Casey to make the needed improvements and for the players to execute them so that this season’s strong start doesn’t turn into fools gold.

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After Beating Denver 112-107

Here are eight notes, quotes and observations from Toronto’s locker room after beating Denver 112-107 in overtime:

  • There was a sombre mood in Toronto’s locker room after the game. Between almost coughing up the win and a quick flight to Cleveland for the game tomorrow night, players were all business getting changed and getting out of there. Not the usual joking around happening.
  • Toronto went 9-33 from beyond the arc tonight. The one player who shot the ball well from beyond the arc was Patrick Patterson who went 5-7 while the rest of the team went a combined 4-26. Ouch.
  • Dwane Casey on Toronto’s three-point shooting tonight: “You have to continue to trust that they’re going to fall. Our guys have confidence in their shots.T-Ross was zero-for-whatever, and then he made that last one which was huge for us You have to continue to shoot it, and trust that they’re going to fall. I think that once we get in the rhythm of different lineups, different groups on the floor, I think we’ll get that rhythm offensively and defensively.”
  • Something unique and fun that Denver does in their locker room is instead of players first or last names on their lockers they use nicknames.
  • Brian Shaw had a quote before the game that’s sure to draw the ire of Raptors’ fans: “We looked at their roster on our board and they don’t have any superstars on their team. They have some good players – DeMar DeRozan is out right now – but they don’t have any superstars.”
  • Greivis Vasquez was rocking a unique “6” sweatshirt tonight. It had a 6 and hands praying. It looked almost like it was something made Vasquez made himself…
  • Lou Williams with a classic line: “You can’t make shots you don’t take.”
  • Dwane Casey also had another comedic gem: “We made a lot of mistakes tonight. But, that’s why they put erasers on pencils.”

Podcap: Raptors Hold On To Beat Nuggets 112-107

Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, Brian Shaw and Kyle Lowry after Toronto’s 112-107 win over Denver.

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Kyle Lowry’s Media Scrum After Being Named Player Of The Week

Kyle Lowry chatted with the media after being named the Player of the Week for the Eastern Conference.

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Excerpt from “Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South” by Andrew Maraniss

Cover

“We’re not prejudiced,” the men told him, “but we think you’ll understand why we have to do this.”

It was all quite civil. A peaceful August Sunday morning, the men dressed conservatively in dark suits, speaking quietly but firmly, standing in a small room just inside the entrance to the University Church of Christ.

Perry Wallace had arrived on campus several weeks early, before most of his classmates, to get a few math and science courses out of the way in a special summer Engineering School program before his schedule became crowded with basketball practices. He wanted to get a feel for the campus, to slowly test the waters of integration. New faces, new sounds, new smells, new surroundings. And new twists on the familiar. Perry had been a devout churchgoer each Sunday ever since he had been baptized in the tiny pool at the 15th Avenue Church of Christ. He had taught Sunday School classes, endured the taunts of the tough kids who hung out on the porches of the shotgun houses in the Bottoms as he walked by with his Bible. Attending a weekly sermon was as important a routine in his life as any.

That summer, when Sundays came around, Perry had woken up early, put on a coat and tie, and walked over to the church that Clyde Lee had recommended on one of Wallace’s first recruiting visits. The University Church of Christ was not affiliated with Vanderbilt but sat across the street from campus on the school’s southeast side, a few blocks away from Wallace’s dorm room in the Kissam Quadrangle.

Three or four Sundays, Wallace made the short walk to the chapel, quietly taking a seat in the back, the only black person in the place. A few folks would come by and say hello.

I know who you are.

I saw you play at Pearl.

Good luck at Vanderbilt.

Still, the room seemed cold to Wallace, as if the religion had been sucked out. Church of Christ was a conservative denomination whether the congregants were black or white, no instrumental music allowed, but over on the north side of town at least there had been a little more emotion, the teenage Wallace thought, even singing. Here, it seemed, people were just going through the motions. He sat in the back pews and asked himself the same questions over and over: What are these people doing in here? Where was the spirituality? They might as well be across the street at Burger King.

Uncomfortable as he may have been, Wallace knew this was the first of many tests he would be confronted with as a pioneer. He’d give it a go.

“Just a few years earlier, it would have been very clear to me not to go into that white church, because I was a child of segregation. I knew the rules. But in coming to Vanderbilt, part of the idea was that this was a new day,” Wallace recalled. “This was a new set of relations. They let me move onto the campus. [Alabama governor] George Wallace wasn’t standing at the door. So much seemed to be opening, so I went ahead and went to the church. And it was a lot easier to walk across the street to church than to find a way back to my old neighborhood without a car.”

Wallace made the short walk for the fourth or fifth Sunday, prepared to sit quietly in the back, prepared, once again, to try and figure out how these congregants practiced their religion.

Then they stopped him at the door.

Perry, come with us.

He followed a group of church elders into a side room.

We’re not prejudiced.

We think you’ll understand.

Some people in the church don’t like you being here.

They say they’ll write the church out of their wills if you keep coming.

We can’t have that.

You can’t keep coming.

Do you understand?

You need to go.

Now.

“OK,” Wallace said, “I understand.”

He walked out the door, past the worshippers on their way in, and continued back to his dorm room, largely emotionless. The old survival mechanisms handed down through generations of segregation kicked in: at once, he later concluded, he was denying his feelings and accepting the cold reality of the situation.

“There was a dangerous automaticity about the responses to exclusion and segregation,” he recalled. “You would try to suppress it or hide from it even as it was happening. Most of us at that point were not brave heroes, so we just said ‘OK’ in those situations. It was a lot easier to do that.”

He entered his dorm room much earlier than planned, loosened his tie, and sat down on his bed, coming to the realization that maybe America wasn’t changing as quickly as he had been led to believe. He was reminded of the first time he had learned about segregation, as a five-year-old boy stepping onto a city bus with his mom. While his mother paid, he took a seat next to a white man. Immediately, Hattie rushed over and lifted Perry up, ushering him to the back of the bus. “While I still didn’t understand what was going on, and it all seemed quite strange,” Wallace recalled, “I did what Mama said. I played by the rules and, in effect, sang the ‘Song of the South.’”

Excerpt from Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss (Vanderbilt University Press). © Andrew Maraniss, 2014.

For more on Strong Inside, visit www.andrewmaraniss.com. The book is available from bookstores and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24 and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/andrewmaranissauthor.com.

Magic Johnson Wants To See More Athletes Embrace Social Causes

“They have to get involved socially. They have to because it affects them, too. And it affects their families. They grew up in these situations; they must not forget that. They [were] once poor, they went to inner-city schools that didn’t have technology or computers, they didn’t have good books. See, I went through that whole situation. They went through that as well. A lot of their cousins are still going through that, so they must not forget that. I hope that they would do more. But you see LeBron (James) who is a great example of doing a wonderful job. When this first came out, when you think about everything that he stood up for — the Donald Sterling thing, when that mess happened, just now with these young people being shot down unarmed, he’s been right out front, so I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. If he’s out front being the best player, then the other guys usually follow the best guy. For us to change things, we have to get people to the table that can bring about change. We’ve got to do it in a peaceful way. What Nelson (Mandela) was able to do was bring people, motivate people, educate people, and then go have them go out and be his ambassadors to bring about change. You see? That’s what he was a master of. And so what we have to do in the States is do the same thing: bring about like-minded people who can bring about change. But not just lip service because we’ve had enough lip service. If it’s just talk and [African-Americans] still stay suppressed and think that people don’t care about them, then the same thing is going to happen. And so it’s going to be important that these meetings take place and we can really bring about serious change because the distrust and the disconnect is huge. Make no mistake about it. It’s bigger than we’ve seen on TV. Blacks don’t think that they’re ever going to get a fair shake; they think every time the police is coming, it’s going to be trouble. And so we’ve got to really make sure we can bring about serious change on everybody’s side. On minorities’ side as well as the law enforcement side, as well as the government side. ‘Cause everybody gotta come together on this thing.”

Magic Johnson talking to the media Friday at The Giant of Africa, a benefit organized by Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to honor the late former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela on the first anniversary of his death

Observations From Toronto’s Locker Room After they Lost 105-91 To Cleveland

Here are eight notes, quotes and observations from Toronto’s locker room after they lost 105-91 to Cleveland:

  • Tracy McGrady stopped by Toronto’s locker room after the game. He chatted with Kyle Lowry briefly and then Jonas Valanciunas sought McGrady out for a quick chat.
  • Amir Johnson spent a lot of time after the game soaking his feet and ankles in a tub of ice water and he also had a bag of ice on his left shoulder. When he finished icing down his sore body he limped to the shower. Anyone who doubts Johnson’s heart is crazy.
  • Amir Johnson: “I’m still taking beatings, but I feel good.”
  • The scene outside the Cavaliers locker room was pretty chaotic. A bunch of media folks and fans were waiting for LeBron James and Charles Barkley had a huge group waiting to chat with him. I remember growing up Barkley proclaiming that athletes weren’t role models, so it was great to hear Barkley tell a young kid: “Do well in school, kid.”
  • Dwane Casey on the Toronto Raptors hosting a night to honour Nelson Mandela: “It was a beautiful day and Masai (Ujiri) did a magnificent job putting this all together. To see guys like Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley and Dikembe Mutombo come in was great. All of the guys who were a big part of the NBA’s history were here to share the message that Nelson Mandela sent throughout the world. It was huge. Again, it’s bigger than basketball and that was the theme of the night for our players that whatever was going on upstairs was far bigger than basketball. I lived it. I went through it. I understand it. What happened tonight meant a lot to our players and it was a magnificent night for our organizations. They did a first class job. Again, I tell everybody Toronto is a great city, we have a great organization and we have a good basketball team.”
  • A bunch of players were going to an event Masai Ujiri was hosting after the game – I’m assuming it was part of the night honouring Nelson Mandela – so a handful of players were rocking their good threads. Bebe was rocking a glorious lavender suit while James Johnson was rocking a “newsies” look with slick suspenders.
  • Fun fact: Tonight I learned that Amir Johnson’s mom does Tae Bo with Magic Johnson back in Los Angeles.
  • Terrence Ross unwound after the loss by playing video games on his phone for a bit.

Podcap: Toronto Loses To Cleveland 105-91

Here’s audio from Dwane Casey and Amir Johnson after Toronto’s 105-91 loss to Cleveland.

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Dwane Casey’s Media Scrum Before Game Against Cleveland Cavaliers

Dwane Casey talked with the media about how the Cleveland Cavaliers have grown as a team since they played them last month, having James Johnson to tag team guarding LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the continued growth of Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors honouring Nelson Mandela tonight.

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