With brilliant play since the All-Star break and a little help from his friends, Damian Lillard has led the Trail Blazers into sole possession of the Western Conference’s eighth seed (James Schumacher/Flickr).
With fewer than 10 games remaining on each team’s regular-season schedule, valuable playoff seeding is still up for grabs all over the NBA standings. Some teams, like the Celtics, Blazers and Raptors, look like they’re hitting their stride at just the right moment, building momentum that they hope will continue through the playoffs. Others, like the Hawks and Cavaliers, are just hoping that they can stop the bleeding before it’s too late. As always, the result is much debate and movement in the penultimate regular-season edition of our power rankings.
Biggest Jumps: Portland Trail Blazers (+8), Toronto Raptors (+5), Denver Nuggets (+5), New Orleans Pelicans (+5)
Biggest Falls: Minnesota Timberwolves (-14), Detroit Pistons (-9), Atlanta Hawks (-7)
Blake Murphy interviews second-year Raptors guard Delon Wright.
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O Canada! Our home and native land! Blake Murphy, who writes about the Raptors for ESPN TrueHoop’s Raptors Republic and The Athletic among other sites, joins the podcast to share his knowledge on team topics such as how trade deadline acquisitions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker enhance lineup flexibility and the irony of Jonas Valanciunas’ situation in that the better he plays seemingly the less chance he has of sticking around next season. Among other salient team-centric subjects, Murphy addresses how Kyle Lowry could have better handled his controversial wrist injury. Unfortunately, this episode does not come with universal healthcare, but here are some soothing excerpts to help alleviate those pains of yours. Plus, preexisting conditions do not preclude you from enjoying:
4:21-5:09 on Serge Ibaka’s fit with the Raptors:
“He’s had a nice positive impact. The 3-point shooting, he’s knocking down 40 percent of his shots on 4.5 looks per game. The best thing for the Raptors is that most of them have been above the break. Normally the Raptors get a lot of corner shooting, especially from their power forward position, but as Ibaka has played some center, he’s given them a nice pop threat, which is a different wrinkle for guys like DeRozan, and when he’s back, Lowry to use. The Raptors defense has been much much better since the trade deadline. They’re seventh in the NBA in Defensive Rating over the last 10 games. That’s not all owing to Ibaka, but he’s been a nice rim-protecting presence…Ibaka’s seeing a lot of time at center and in close games they’re closing with Ibaka [there].”
Holly Mackenzie interviews Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who is leading the league in drives to the basket this season (@stackmack/Instagram).
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Toronto will be hosting the NBA’s All-Star Weekend this season, and the timing could not be better. Just a tad more than 20 years since NBA basketball came to Toronto, the Raptors find themselves in second place in a competitive Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan is playing the most efficient basketball of his career, while his BFF, Kyle Lowry, is similarly turning in an All-Star-caliber season. We have the pleasure of being joined by the talented Holly MacKenzie, who expertly explains why life is so good in Toronto these days. Holly writes for Raptors.com, among many other outlets.
Some scintillating excerpts can be found below:
9:35-10:50: “Everything starts with [Kyle Lowry]. He does so much for them and the way that he plays, he’s such a competitive guy, it’s hard to not feed off of that… It’s cool to see his growth as a player, but also as a leader from when he came here to now. Seeing him know his teammates and learn how each guy can be motivated, watching him learn how to do that has been really cool to watch because you see the impact on the floor and you also see it within the locker room.”