It Doesn’t Matter Who The Toronto Raptors Play In The First Round Of The Playoffs

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All this buzz and discussion about who the ideal first round opponent for the Toronto Raptors would be in the playoffs is missing the mark.

The big focus right now should be on if the Raptors can fix their issues on the defensive end.

One of the main reasons why Toronto was able to have success this season is that for the majority of the season they were able to hold opponents to just over 90 points per game.

This month Toronto has shown slippage on the defensive end while allowing opponents to score 103.4 points per game.

Toronto has held opponents to under 100 points in only two of seven games so far this month.

It’s easy to point at Amir Johnson missing games this month as the reason why the defence isn’t performing at a high level. Johnson is 12th in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus according to ESPN and he’s 16th in the NBA in Wins Against Replacement (WAR).

Despite not posting gaudy stats, it’s clear Johnson is a key cog to the Raptors.

But it’s been more than the absence of Johnson. The team isn’t closing out on shooters like they should and they haven’t been rotating on help defence like they should.

“Our guys see the standings and the records but we can’t play that way,” Dwane Casey vented to the media last week. “We’ve got to pick our defence up and not have the mental letdowns we have been having.”

Toronto’s final regular season game is tonight in New York and it’s the perfect opportunity for the team to prove they won’t have a mental letdown. They have home court in the first round locked up and the Knicks will be playing without Carmelo Anthony. However, like New York showed last night against Brooklyn, just because Anthony is out it doesn’t mean they will be walked over.

It will be interesting to see what kind of focus Toronto plays with tonight and if they are able to tighten things up on the defensive end.

The Future Is Bright For The Philadelphia 76ers

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Losing sucks.

Being mired in a 26-game losing streak this season is more than just growing pains. It’s a losing streak that tied the NBA record and it was a frustrating experience for a young team barren of veteran leaders outside of Thaddeus Young.

But, despite this being a long and mentally exhausting season, it looks like long-term the 76ers will benefit from all the adversity the team and its players saw this season.

“I think all the players have improved” Brett Brown told me when I asked him about his highlights from this season. “It’s based on statistics. If you look at our guys – I don’t need to go through all of them – all of them have done something this year that they haven’t done in the past. Whether it’s an improved free throw percentage or three-point percentage or assist-to-turnover ratio (they’ve gotten better). We also have Nerlens Noel who has really developed while not even playing.

“I look back on this group with joy and tremendous fondness and affection because we have taken hits and they’ve shown they aren’t going to roll over. They are going to play hard tonight again.”

Brown was right as his team fought hard against a team that clearly had more talent. DeMar DeRozan was an all-star this season, Kyle Lowry should have joined DeRozan in New Orleans, and Jonas Valanviunas got some redemption after a horrible 72 hours when he scored a career-high 26 points while grabbing 12 rebounds.

All Philadelphia could do was have potential rookie-of-the year Michael Carter-Williams flirt with a triple-double. Their leading scorer this season, Thaddeus Young, was handcuffed and held relatively ineffective (7-17 from the field) thanks to some solid defense from Patrick Patterson.

Still, Philly was in this game until the final minutes and could have stolen the win. They gave Toronto a scare just like they did to Brooklyn earlier this month.

The Sixers are a young team that can gain a lot from moral victories like the close games against playoff teams like Brooklyn and Toronto.

“I think confidence is everything,” Brown explained. “I hope that we give our guys an empowerment and freedom to go play. I want these guys keeping their heads high and their chests out. They are all NBA players. Everybody talks about their resumes and their experience and their youth. It’s all true but I want them feeling bulletproof. I think the encouragement we give them is huge.”

Sure, the 26-game losing streak stings.

Being 2-8 over their past ten games isn’t much better.

But the future isn’t bleak for the Sixers. They have a talented coach in Brett Brown, a potential rookie of the year in Michael Carter-Williams and a player in Nerlens Noel who many pegged as being the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Throw into the mix that the team is likely to have two lottery picks again this June as well as a handfull of second round picks and it’s possible Philadelphia could be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later.

This season was a messy, depressing one for Sixers’ fans, but the future looks bright for the franchise.

2014 NBA Mock Draft

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Here’s a quick look at the top 30 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft:

1. Andrew Wiggins | SF | Kansas
2. Jabari Parker | SF | Duke
3. Joel Embiid | C | Kansas
4. Julius Randle | PF | Kentucky
5. Dante Exum | PG | Australia
6. Marcus Smart | PG | Oklahoma State
7. Aaron Gordon | PF | Arizona
8. Noah Vonleh | PF | Indiana
9. Gary Harris | SG | Michigan State
10. Tyler Ennis | PG | Syracuse
11. Clint Capela | PF | Switzerland
12. Doug McDermott | SF | Creighton
13. James Young | SF | Kentucky
14. T.J. Warren | SG | North Carolina State
15. Montrezl Harrell | PF | Louisville
16. PJ Hairston | SG | NDBL
17. Rodney Hood | SG | Duke
18. Jerami Grant | SF | Syracuse
19. Nik Stauskas | SG | Michigan
20. Adreian Payne | PF | Michigan State
21. Kyle Anderson | PG | UCLA
22. Willie Cauley-Stein | C | Kentucky
23. Clearanthony Earl | SF | Wichita State
24. Chris Walker | SF | Florida
25. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson | SF | Arizona
26. K.J. McDaniels | SF | Clemson
27. Zach LaVine | SG | UCLA
28. Shabazz Napier | PG | UCONN
29. Jahii Carson | PG | Arizona State
30. Andrew Harrison | PG | Kentucky