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2014 NBA Draft: Nate Duncan’s Big Board

Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan ranks the top prospects on the eve of the 2014 NBA Draft, and adds a few likes and dislikes.

Nate Duncan



Here is my final big board of the top nine prospects, a ranking of how good I think the prospects are without regard to team fit or where they will actually be selected. Why only nine? Since my primary focus is actual NBA basketball, I did not have time to get into many of the prospects lower in the draft in the greatest detail after the NBA season ended. But this is based on watching hours of tape of each of the consensus top-10 prospects, in addition to other prospects who intrigued lower in the draft. The board also considers analytics models from Kevin Pelton, Layne Vashro, Andrew Johnson, and Dan Dickey.

The prospects are grouped into tiers, but note that this is a little different than the tier system used by some NBA teams and ESPN’s Chad Ford. For me, the purpose is merely to indicate where there is a big drop off in talent from one player to the next. Ford’s tier system rates overall talent level and is also used to indicate that teams should necessarily select another player in the tier if they fit more with team need.

Tier One

1. Jabari Parker

The newest pride of Simeon Career Academy is the most polished offensive player in this draft. He has a ton of moves and executes them all smoothly and quickly. Parker has crossovers, spin moves, step backs, postups, hesitations, jab steps, rip throughs, fadeaways and a solid jump shot with a high release. He also is quicker than he appears given his slightly doughy body. He has been compared to scoring forwards like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Glenn Robinson, and he is certainly right in the range with those players. If anything, he is more skilled than Anthony and Robinson, particularly off the dribble.

My general philosophy is that players who can play up (i.e., play a bigger position) generally should, as that creates the most matchup problems. Parker has power forward size at 6’9 with a 7’0 wingspan while weighing in at around 250 pounds. As a power forward, Parker is unlikely to be a great defender, but he’s a little bigger than guys like Anthony and Pierce so he should be able to hold his own against most power forwards. And he should take back whatever he gives away defensively playing the four on offense. In time, Parker should be effective as both the ballhandler and the screener in pick and roll. He did not have a ton of assists at Duke, but displayed solid vision on occasion and has the handle to facilitate the sort of hesitations needed to create and exploit openings coming off the pick.

Parker is the most likely player in this draft to average 20 points per game and to be an All-Star. Anthony is probably the best comparison for Parker–if anything Parker is a slightly better prospect at this point. On a per 40 minute basis, Parker slightly outperformed freshman-year Carmelo in every major category except assist rate. From a subjective standpoint, Parker is a better dribbler and passer than Anthony was at this stage. While he hasn’t the upside of a top-five player in the league due to his athletic and defensive limitations, Parker could easily be a top-15 player. Given how likely he appears to reach that ceiling, he deserves the number one pick in the draft.

2. Dante Exum

Last week’s scouting report on the East Melbourne product encapsulates most of my thoughts on him. He has the highest upside of any player in the draft outside of Joel Embiid on account of his blinding quickness, as he will be the quickest player in the league over 6’5. He also has an improving shot with solid form and is used to taking longer threes since he grew up with the FIBA three-point line. He also shows the vision of a pure point guard, allowing him to make the incisive passes needed to excel at the position.

His defense is going to be even more awful than the typical rookie’s at first due to his lack of high-level experience, and I did see some worrisome signs that he doesn’t always play hard in the floor game. But his lateral quickness will allow him to be a great defender if the effort is there. I think it is very possible Exum becomes a better player than Parker, but the greater certainty provided by the Chicagoan means he should be the number one pick.

Tier 2

3. Marcus Smart

At 6’4 and 227 lbs. with a 6’9 wingspan and awesome quickness and leaping ability, Marcus Smart will be the most athletic point guard to enter the league since John Wall in 2010. And make no mistake, Smart can handle the point just fine on both ends. Although it was an underutilized skill at Oklahoma State, he is very solid running the pick-and-roll for himself or others. His finishing is outstanding for a guard; he shoots 65 percent at the rim. Smart draws heaps of free throws, rebounds like a small forward (including on the offensive glass, where he can get up for tip dunks), has a gargantuan steal rate, and is relatively younger for a sophomore, making him a lot closer in age to some of the freshmen prospects than one might think.

All of this makes him an analytics darling, ranking number one in Pelton’s draft rater. His only real weakness is shooting, although that was exacerbated by the fact he took some awful shots at OSU. It is possible that was part of a counterproductive effort to prove to scouts he could shoot. Still, his solid free throw percentage means that he should improve, even if his left thumb-heavy form needs a lot of improvement.

At the NBA level, Smart should be unstoppable off the dribble and an excellent defender and ball hawk at either guard position. His strength and competitiveness might even allow him to be a change of pace defender on threes in certain matchups. With the injury to Embiid, Smart ranks a clear number three on my board.

4. Joel Embiid

Before the latest injury to his navicular bone in his right foot, Embiid ranked a clear number one on the board. While the Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons are a little overblown due to Hakeem’s vastly superior athleticism, Embiid’s defensive potential, skill level and awesome per minute production would have been too difficult to pass up.

The injury changes much of that.* First there is the chance Embiid never really recovers, or that he reinjures the foot. But even if he returns at full strength, the expectation is he will miss much of the upcoming year. For a player who was being drafted so high based on his potential rather than what he is now, missing nearly a full year of development time at a crucial age could really lower his ceiling.

*We will assume that physicals uncovered no further issues aside from the foot issue and the supposedly healed stress fracture in his back.  Obviously more injuries mean a further downgrade.

Nevertheless, the Cameroon native still has that same upside, even if it is less likely now that he realizes it. While this list was compiled without regard to the actual draft order, I believe Orlando and Utah at four and five should swing for the fences with Embiid if he is available. While those teams have some reasonable pieces (and I like Utah’s better than Orlando’s), neither of those teams have anyone on board who projects as even an All-Star at their peak. Winning championships, or even becoming a contender, requires successful risk-taking. Embiid could absolutely flame out, but how else are either of these small-market squads obtaining a superstar? This is an especially salient question considering both will likely have a mandate to improve next year instead of picking up another high lottery pick in 2015.

Unfortunately, the incentives of employment dictate against drafting Embiid. While I am not saying this is the philosophy of either organization, it is much easier for a GM to keep hitting singles in the draft and point to his solid draft record to maintain employment. If Embiid is drafted and he completely flames out, it could well lead to the firing of the GM who drafts him in the top-five. But if the goal is to potentially win a championship instead of continued employment, Embiid should get drafted in the top four.

Tier 3

5. Andrew Wiggins

As my scouting report on Wiggins indicated, I believe Wiggins’ offensive ceiling is lower than some believe due to his lack of moves and feel for finishing inside. Analytics models agree with me, as I have not seen a pure numbers-based approach which ranks him higher than tenth, and Pelton ranks him 19th.

That said, Wiggins will be an excellent defender, should evolve into at least a good standstill shooter in time, and is a monster in transition. Even if he never evolves into more than an awesome 3 and D guy who can also finish alley oops, he won’t be a bad pick here. And that seems his floor–he could still evolve to be Paul George offensively. While I do not think he has the upside to be a truly great scorer, it must be acknowledged that most disagree with me. In some respects, ranking Wiggins fifth is an acknowledgement that the consensus of other scouts on Wiggins’ upside is so much higher than my own. That potential puts him ahead of Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.

6. Julius Randle

The full scouting report on Randle provides more ammunition for this ranking. But in summary, Randle is the second-most likely player in this draft to average 20 points per game, though Smart and Exum both have much greater upside. He is a bull in the paint, but also is pretty explosive and has a very high skill level for a 19-year-old power forward. Although he lacks much defensive upside, his scoring and rebounding should translate. In this range, that is an excellent pick.

7. Aaron Gordon

The San Jose native’s best attribute will be his ability to defend positions two through four at an elite level. Although he is unlikely to be much of a star creating offense for himself due to his poor shooting and somewhat subpar finishing on drives, he is above-average at everything else. He is a near nuclear athlete, with a 39-inch vertical that accurately portrays his leaping ability. He hits the offensive glass, can grab and go in transition, and is fantastic filling the lanes or finishing dumpoffs inside with dunks. He is also an excellent interior passer.

While he handles the ball well and can attack in transition, he doesn’t have the greatest shake to really get by guys. Some have envisioned him as a handler in the pick and roll, but I do not think he has that level of feel or more importantly the shooting to keep defenders from going under the screen. And of course his execrable free throw shooting is a huge issue. Research I did a few years ago indicated that sub 60 percent free throw shooters almost never become decent jump shooters unless they also improve their free throw shooting. And he may well have some mental issues that could prevent that, because his form doesn’t look that terrible. Ultimately, it is hard to believe he will ever develop into much more than a standstill three-point shooter from range.

Nevertheless, Gordon’s defensive versaility, young age for a freshman, and his nice passing touch make him well worthy of this ranking despite his lower ceiling as a scorer.

Tier 4

8. Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic dominated the Adriatic League this past season as a 19-year-old. At 6’11, 280 pounds with a 7’2 wingspan, he has true center size and then some. A more thorough description of his quick feet and postup skills is contained within my scouting report, but he is quite firmly the second-best center in the draft. While he is reported to have some maturity issues, his physical tools are exceptional in every aspect except jumping, while he also has a nice touch. Pelton’s model also loves him, ranking him the third-best prospect in the entire draft.

9. Noah Vonleh

This space previously explained why Vonleh should not be drafted in the top-five range where he is currently projected, but also stated that he started to make sense later in the lottery. His quick feet, excellent measurements, rebounding ability and potential as a shooter are undeniable. A later pick makes the lack of upside from the limitations in his instincts as a scorer and rim-protector easier to live with. He still projects to develop into a starter in the league, and there is still some limited possibility he can turn his physical tools into stardom. It just seems unlikely given his overall lack of feel.

Check out Basketball Insiders’ final mock draft here.

Potential Steals

While a full ranking of the entire draft was not possible, below is a list of players I believe will overperform their draft position:

Vasilije Micic

Readers should be well-familiar by now with my affinity for Micic’s game.  The 6’5 Serbian point guard projects to be the best passer in this draft, and has one of the best handles I’ve seen on a European prospect. He is also a crafty finisher at the rim, and has a solid jump shot compared to most point guards his age.  Micic needs to cut down on the turnovers and will likely be a  defensive liability but you can’t teach his feel for the game. He is far undervalued as a mid-second rounder right now, as I believe he should be the third or fourth point guard off the board.

Artem Klimenko

The mobile center has been stuck playing in the lower divisions in Russia, which has curbed his development since I first saw him at the 2012 adidas Eurocamp.  But seven-footers with his quick feet and touch are rare, and he has a good frame with low body fat that should be able to add some weight if he can get into a U.S. strength program.

T.J. Warren

I ran out of time to watch as much film of Warren as I would have liked, but he is a master around the rim.  Watching him immediately after Andrew Wiggins was jarring, as Warren has such beautiful feel for putting the ball in the basket off the drive.  It has been said that he has only average athleticism, but I thought he applied it better than most to get into the lane and finish.  His jumper needs work, although his poor percentage was exacerbated by pretty miserable shot selection from outside.  Nevertheless, it is realistic for Warren to be a 20-point scorer in the NBA if everything breaks right.  That is very rare for players drafted outside the lottery.

P.J. Hairston

Some of the projections really like Hairston, and I have agreed from a scouting perspective going back to his days at North Carolina.  Hairston is reasonably athletic and uses his big body to get to the basket at times, but his shot is the real star. Hairston boasts an accurate and versatile jump shot that he can squeeze off at a moment’s notice.  He is being talked about in the 20s, and at that range he is undervalued despite the character concerns which forced him to the D-League from UNC.

Potentially Overvalued Prospects

Dario Saric

Saric was being discussed in the 8-12 range before he signed a two-year deal in Turkey that appears likely to knock him out of the lottery.  As was noted in the scouting report, that was a little high for him given the lack of a standout NBA skill aside from his passing.

Tyler Ennis

Ennis too was being talked about in the lower half of the lottery, although that appears to have cooled with him often projected around the 20th pick.  While Ennis is a reputed as a nebulous “winner,” it is difficult to see how he actually impacts the game in an above-average way at the NBA level.  Aside from his passing, he doesn’t have above-average quickness, shooting or individual defense.  Finishing at the rim is also a particular problem.

Shabazz Napier

How high would Napier be drafted had UConn not won the national championship? Great tournament performances have often been the springboard to being overdrafted, and Napier seems the most likely candidate here.  Napier is now being talked about as high as the 15th pick to the Atlanta Hawks, but would have likely been a fringe first-rounder prior to the tournament. Overweighting tournament performance is particularly problematic when a prospect has four years of less inspiring performances before that tournament. Aside from his shooting (which is excellent despite his odd propensity to kick a leg out for no reason), Napier too does not have any particular standout skills.  In particular, finishing at the basket projects to be a problem for him.  At 22, there is less upside left to project.   I believe Micic the superior prospect to either Ennis or Napier.

Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson

The analytics models love these two UCLA players, and perhaps that alone makes them worth a flier starting in the mid-to-late 20s.  But despite my respect for the analytics, their lack of athleticism really makes it hard to see how they can succeed at the NBA level.  Anderson has been compared to Boris Diaw, but it must be noted that 32-year-old fat Diaw is still much more athletic than Anderson is right now.  The Frenchman was a superb athlete in his youth, regularly throwing down alley oops when he played for Phoenix.  Anderson is not going to be able to stop anyone the way Diaw could, which means that he must be a focal point of the offense to make him worthwhile in the pros.  How many teams will find it beneficial to eschew their traditional offensive sets to let Anderson run the show, especially good teams drafting so late?

The scenario for Adams’ success is even murkier.  He is an even worse athlete than Anderson, recording an unheard of for a guard 24-inch standing vertical at the combine.  He was able to finish inside in college, but it was mostly through craftiness running the baseline, making cuts and offensive rebounding rather than beating anyone with the ball in his hands.  A lot of that was facilitated by having a big man in Anderson handling the ball and the Wear twins fanning out to the perimeter–in a normal NBA offense he will likely muck up the spacing. He is only an average shooter and does not project to be especially deadly beyond the arc.  Individual defense also is not his forte due to his lack of athleticism, although he does have preternatural anticipation for steals. Unless Adams can become money from downtown, is it hard to see how he gets his points in the NBA.

While I greatly respect the basketball IQ of both players and would like to see them succeed, the athletic limitations will likely sink them.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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