View Full Version : Started from the bottom by James Herbert

04-16-2014, 06:38 PM


04-16-2014, 06:39 PM
[QUOTE]As is often the case when Drake is involved, the production was met with snarky comments. Players, however, view Drake much differently. Patterson remembers joining him on stage with his Kentucky teammates in Lexington in 2010. He referred to Drake as someone he idolized, someone he looked up to.

"Whenever he's in town, whenever he's not on tour and doing his job, he's here," Patterson said. "He's been in the locker room, he's been courtside sitting in the seats, screaming, yelling, passionate. That Drake Night was phenomenal with all the passionate fans and the people wearing the OVO shirts. And then for him to help us out -- I think he just gave us [OVO] jackets, for him to do something as simple as that, it means a lot to us. Those things don't go overlooked."

It was around that time when the team started discussing the postseason among themselves. A couple of days after the Nets game, Casey cautioned against getting carried away.

"As Drake says, we started at the bottom," a smiling Casey said at shootaround for a game against Milwaukee. "I'm telling you. And still, we're trying to get there. And if anybody in this room feels like we have arrived or we're on the same level as Indiana, Miami -- you're fooling yourself. Or you're just looking for something to write, whatever. But we have not got there yet."

When Doc Rivers asked his Clipper players to name the Raptors' shooters before their game in Toronto on Jan. 25, he had to admonish them for leaving Ross out. Mostly known for winning the dunk contest the previous season, he was making 39 percent of his three-point attempts. Rivers' message didn't exactly get through. The Clippers continually left Ross open on the perimeter. He made five threes in the opening quarter and piled up 23 points by halftime.

"He was hot as a firecracker," Casey said. "Probably the basket looked like the Pacific Ocean to him."

The sold-out crowd got louder with each of his makes in the third quarter, and he set a new career high in scoring with a pair of powerful dunks in a 20-second span halfway through the period.

Ross, who averaged 9.3 points per game coming into the game, finished with 51, tying Carter's franchise record. He shot 16-for-29 from the field and 10-for-17 from behind the arc. The Clippers won by eight, but Ross' performance left Lowry almost speechless when asked to describe it. Over in Sacramento, another point guard watched in amazement.

"It was all in the flow, he didn't really take bad shots," Ross' ex-Washington Huskies teammate Isaiah Thomas said. "If he was looking for himself, he would have had maybe 60. It was a surreal moment."

Some attribute the Raptors' improvement to being rid of Gay's inefficient shooting, but that underestimates the players they received in return. Toronto didn't just remove Gay, it upgraded its bench and injected new life into the locker room.

Two days after Ross' explosion, Brooklyn led Toronto by one at the Barclays Center with 12 seconds on the clock. DeRozan, who would be named an All-Star reserve a few nights later, was sitting out with a sprained ankle.

A pair of layups from Vasquez and Salmons had given the Raptors a small shot at victory. Deron Williams inbounded from halfcourt, and Patterson stole the ball. He dished it to Lowry, who immediately fired a pass back. Patterson's ball-fake and jumper gave Toronto the win. No one was ignoring the ex-Kings anymore.

"No disrespect, we didn't get All-Stars in the trade," Casey said. "But we got very high-level basketball players with very high-level basketball IQs that play hard, that were also looking to show the league what they can do."

Their impact was immense and obvious to their new teammates.

"I used to thank them every day for coming to this team," DeRozan said. "I just used to say,

04-16-2014, 06:40 PM
[QUOTE]"If we had a team full of 10-, 11-year vets, then some of the things that guys want to do, we could do it," Casey said. "So that's the balancing act with guys that are competitors, that see things differently, that are computers on the court. But they got to understand they might not have a computer on the court, they might have a small calculator that you want to play with."

As well as the career highs of 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, Lowry has earned praise as a teammate and a leader. DeRozan, for one, is always quick to credit Lowry for his own breakout season. While some might dismiss it as a mere contract year improvement, he's appeared to put it all together on and off the floor. Casey, an ex-Sonics assistant who is also in the last year of his contract, likened Lowry's growth to what he saw out of Payton in Seattle.

"When we started to win, things started to change, Gary started to buy into what George [Karl] was talking about," Casey said. "[Rajon] Rondo is the same way in Boston. I think it's just a process the high-strung, very competitive, talented point guards who have the ball in their hands have to go through. Because they may see things differently than the coaching staff or their teammates, whatever. It's not a bad thing, it's a good thing because that means they're thinking, they have a vision. The key is molding that vision into what it takes for your team to win, and Kyle is certainly doing that for us."

With Lowry guiding the Raptors, they are 42-21 since the trade, the top record in the East during that span and fourth in the league. They've clinched the Atlantic Division and are closing in on the No. 3 seed with the best regular season in Toronto's 19-year history.

It's a strange thing in this city, this optimism. Fans no longer worry about Wiggins and the rest of the college crop. Now their chief concern is whether or not Lowry will re-sign, and in a television interview, Leiweke recently assured them it would happen.

Johnson and DeRozan could probably run for mayor. Ross and Valanciunas -- averaging 17.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and shooting 60 percent in his last 11 games -- have made significant strides. The Toronto Star reported that the franchise has set its sights on Kevin Durant two years from now and that Drake will be involved in recruiting.

Shortly before the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated from playoff contention, a "Let's Go Raptors" chant broke out at a Leafs home game. There's a 50-by-80-foot video screen in Maple Leaf Square outside the atrium of the Air Canada Centre, and people will be piling in there to watch postseason basketball.

The Raptors are the only team in their conference in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They still see themselves as underdogs, though, pointing to the fact that they made no regular-season appearances on ABC, ESPN or TNT.

Opponents compliment their unselfishness and trust on defense, while Casey still says they need to get much better and play with desperation. With the Pacers' late-season collapse, the path to the conference finals is not entirely unrealistic. A cynic could say a first-round exit or Lowry's departure would make this whole year a waste, but for the first time in a long time, there aren't a lot of cynics around here.

"What do they say,