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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.25: Blake Murphy: “Raptors Will Be Measured By What They Do Against Cleveland”

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 Raptors 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].”

9:16-10:09 on the injured Kyle Lowry’s importance to the team:

“Lowry is the engine of the team. Dwane Casey referred to him as the ‘queen bee’…you look at the things they do offensively, and even though his usage is 10 percentage points lower than DeRozan’s, Kyle Lowry is their best 3-point shooter, so when DeRozan is operating, Lowry is the best floor spacer they have to help DeRozan’s game. Look at their 3-point shooting since he’s gone out. It’s almost all catch-and-shoot. They don’t have any pull-up 3-point threats, and Lowry is one of the best, alongside Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving at pulling up, even from 30 feet, and that’s an element, especially in the transition game, that opponents have to pay attention to…The Raptors are obviously notorious for not moving the ball particularly well. Well, Lowry’s their best playmaker.”

27:16-28:36 on the Raptors’ chances against the Cavaliers in the playoffs:

“It’s tough. What we saw last year was that, when Toronto is at its best, they can hang with Cleveland. The two games that the Raptors won in that series and the two they won in the regular season, they played a good game. They ground things down a little bit, they made the game physical, and they matched up with Cleveland well that way. But what we also saw that time was, in the four games Cleveland won, they ran Toronto off the floor. And in the regular season meetings this year, Cleveland didn’t have a ton of trouble with them. That talent gap is obvious there. The fact that Cleveland can spread the floor across all five positions, and the way they’ve killed the Raptors this year is posting LeBron up, forcing the Raptors to send help and zone up behind LeBron, and then LeBron pings passes to shooters all over the floor. You add Kyle Korver to that mix, who wasn’t there when the Raptors last played them, and that’s pretty deadly…The one thing the Raptors are better able to do now is they’re a little more flexible lineup-wise…When the Cavs downsize…The Raptors have that option in Serge Ibaka, where last year they tried Bismack Biyombo in that spot.”

32:41-33:51 on DeMar DeRozan’s stellar efficiency:

“He might have the best post footwork now that Kobe is out of the league. What he’s been able to do is, a couple years ago those 20-footers he took became 18-footers, then they became 16-footers, and he’s able to get these shots off just a little closer now. And he’s added this nice floater game to his repertoire, where some of these shots that show up and maybe look midrange-ish or are on the fringe of the paint, those are better looks because he’s got a floater that he can make with either hand and take off from either foot. He’s got all these savvy moves in and around the midrange area…The biggest part of DeRozan’s overall efficiency might be that he doesn’t turn the ball over.”

Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod