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23.02.2019 09:52
TORONTO - When Masai Ujiri and the Raptors hit a crossroads at this time a year ago, evaluating the sustainability of their unex Antworten

TORONTO - When Masai Ujiri and the Raptors hit a crossroads at this time a year ago, evaluating the sustainability of their unexpected turnaround, while weighing the merits of a potential rebuild, the decision to stay the course was aided by a changing landscape in their division. Cheap Vans Shoes From China . The Celtics - winners of the Atlantic in five of the last seven seasons - had recently hit the reset button, the Knicks and Nets failed to meet overzealous early-season expectations and the 76ers were, and continue to be, comically terrible by design. Opportunity knocked and Ujiri took advantage. Facing adversity 12 months later, the slumping Raptors find themselves in their most precarious situation since. Still, their woes pale in comparison to the varying degrees of misfortune that plague their neighbours in the division. A recently gutted Celtics team played the role of slump-buster on Saturday. Losers of four straight, the Raptors came into the game in search of the mojo that had fuelled their success throughout 2014. How would we know when theyve gotten their grove back, Dwane Casey was asked just ahead of tip-off. Youll see it, the Raptors coach responded. Youll see it. Everyone will see it. It didnt happen until about midway through the second quarter, but, when it happened, we saw it and we knew. The Raptors team weve become accustomed to - the one that grinds and outworks people - was back, albeit against a watered-down opponent. Plagued by first-quarter flatness, as Casey put it, over recent games, they stumbled out of the gate yet again, outscored after 12 minutes for the ninth time in 11 contests. Then, as suddenly as it vanished, the Raptors got their edge back, besting Boston 90-70 the rest of the way. I thought our defensive mojo was back, Casey said after his team snapped a four-game losing streak in their 109-96 victory over the Celtics. I saw guys moving their feet, cracking down, rebounding, doing the things we needed to do with activity and anticipation. We was tired of it, said James Johnson, who returned to the starting lineup Saturday evening. Everybody buckled in. Everybody took responsibility for what they were doing and we started playing Toronto Raptors defence. Less than halfway into the season, Toronto has the Atlantic all but locked up, almost by default. Saturdays win was their sixth in six games against divisional opponents, giving them a 9 1/2-game lead over Brooklyn in the Atlantic. Bostons fate was sealed during the summer of 2013 when Danny Ainge pulled the plug on the teams aging core, exchanging Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers for younger players, expiring deals and draft picks. Now, that liquidation process is nearing its completion. Over the last month, Ainge has jettisoned Brandan Wright, is in the process of moving Jeff Green and sent long-time Celtics star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks while accumulating up to 14 total picks (first and second round) in the next two drafts. In the Celtics and 76ers, this division features two of the most blatantly aggressive tanking franchises in recent memory - maybe ever. Meanwhile, the Nets are stuck in limbo, handcuffed by an aging core, sizeable contracts and an injured point guard (Deron Williams - out indefinitely with a rib ailment). The last-place Knicks - losers of 15 straight - have hit rock bottom, recently ridding themselves of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, while Carmelo Anthony contemplates shutting it down for the season. With both mismanaged New York franchises on the hook for the majority of their draft picks over the coming years, neither are in an enviable position in the near future. Expediting the rebuilding process is not easy, but its also not unprecedented. The Celtics won just 24 games in 2006-07 before utilizing the assets they had accumulated to acquire Garnett and Ray Allen, ultimately winning a title the following season. The Raptors themselves are proof that theres no exact science to turning around an ailing franchise. But even as the Raptors struggle to reestablish their defensive identity, make no mistake, any of these other four organizations would trade places with them in a heartbeat. And when was the last time that could be said? Barring an unforeseen fall from grace or a speedy rebuild effort from one of their counterparts, equally unlikely, the Raptors seem poised to maintain control of the Atlantic for years to come. JOHNSON PROMOTION After a series of uninspiring starts over their recent slide, Casey had been mulling over a temporary rotation shake-up. As expected, he pulled the trigger on Saturday, reinstalling James Johnson into the first unit in place of Landry Fields at the small forward position. Fields had started nine of 14 games for the injured DeMar DeRozan, sitting out with a concussion in between. Filling in for Fields, Johnson excelled, averaging 10.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 block and 1.4 steals on 62 per cent shooting in five starts last month. Most coaches are hesitant to give away a players starting spot as a result of injury - Casey has long been a proponent of this philosophy - so Fields got the job back upon his return. Ultimately the teams play, primarily in the first quarter and early in the third, forced his hand. Johnson found out about the change when he arrived to their pre-game shootaround less than three hours before tip-off. I came in at the regular time, got my work in, Johnson said. We split off to groups. I went to white squad (the second unit) like usual and coach switched me Logging 36 minutes in his return to the first unit, Johnson recorded a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, giving the Raptors a much-needed energy boost at the position. He covers up a lot of mistakes, said Kyle Lowry, who scored 19 points himself. He covers a lot of floor, a lot of ground. His effort has been unbelievable this season and we need him to keep it up. We love his energy, we love his enthusiastic nature and what he brings to the table. Johnson - a 58-per-cent-shooter and owner of the teams second-best defensive rating - has been one of Torontos most reliable performers on both ends of the floor this season. Still, Casey has been hesitant to increase the versatile forwards role, given his long-standing reputation of trying to do too much, primarily on offence. Slowly, the Raptors coach is coming around to the new and improved Johnson, who has made a concerted effort to play within himself in his second stint with Toronto. I think hes been under control, Casey said ahead of Saturdays game. James plays within himself. Hell do things just out of playing the game that he gets caught up in every once and a while on both ends of the ball, defensively and offensively. Hes becoming more disciplined from that aspect. Discount Vans Shoes .A. Dickey earned an American League Gold Glove on Tuesday to become the first Toronto Blue Jays pitcher to win the award. Cheap Vans Shoes China . PETERSBURG, Fla. .5 million contract with the right-handed reliever. Ziegler revealed the agreement via Twitter, saying hes "really excited to stay in Arizona for a couple more years, at least.It appears Jaromir Jagr still has some gas left in the tank. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the 42-year-old Jagr is close to re-signing with the New Jersey Devils. The report indicates it is a one-year deal worth in the neighbourhood of $5 million. "The deal is very very close but its not finalized yet," Jagrs agennt Petr Svovoda told the Star-Ledger. Cheap Vans Shoes Wholesale. "(Devils GM) Lou (Lamoriello) will let you know as soon as its complete." Jegr is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but wants to stay in New Jersey. "He loved his time there last year and thats where he wants to be," Svoboda added. ' ' '

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