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NBA AM: Youthful Raptors Not Feeling Pressure

The NBA playoffs is often a humbling ground for the inexperienced. Can Toronto get past the experienced Nets?

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Can Raptors overcome inexperience and defeat veteran savvy Brooklyn Nets?

The Toronto Raptors was arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference after trading high scoring forward Rudy Gay back in December. Toronto finished the campaign on a 41-22 tear and snapped a five season playoff drought in the process, securing a third seed in the East.

But despite the team’s success down the stretch, many believe the Brooklyn Nets jockeyed to play the emerging Raptors in the first round of the playoffs rather than the more seasoned Chicago Bulls.

If true, on paper, the Nets’ strategy was seemingly a good one. After all, the NBA playoffs is a veteran’s playground which is typically a humbling ground for the inexperienced. Entering the playoffs Brooklyn’s roster contained more than 400 combined games of playoff experience and well over 16,000 postseason minutes on their respective resumes. For many Raptors players, the 2013-14 campaign is their first rodeo on the big stage.

The Nets were able to capitalize on their huge edge in experience, pulling away down the stretch to win Game 1 of the series on Saturday afternoon, 94-87, behind former All-Star forward Paul Pierce’s fourth quarter heroics. During many parts of the game, Toronto appeared rushed and out of control seemingly confirming the youth versus experience theory.

Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez readily admits the first game was filled with jitters but confidently says the team isn’t feeling any additional pressure heading into game two.

“We don’t feel pressure, man, at all,” Vasquez said following the team’s Monday practice.  “We feel like the first game, we were anxious. I haven’t been in the playoffs in two years. A couple of guys have been in the playoffs, too, but haven’t been out there in a couple years.”

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night and will be an important one for Toronto. Only 16 teams who have fallen 0-2 in a seven game series have emerged out of a possible 255 opportunities.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits game two is important but refuses to be believe a loss in it would be the ultimate doomsday for his young charges.

“It’s important we win,” Casey said. “Going down 0-2 is very difficult to come out of. Must win? I don’t think that means we’re done  [if we lose]. We want to win but we still have games to be played. It would make it very difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s dire. It’s tough, but it’s not over with if [we lose].”

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Joakim Noah wins 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year

Not much was expected of the Chicago Bulls after former MVP guard Derrick Rose suffered a torn meniscus back in November, but the team responded to challenge, secured another playoff berth and recorded the third best record in the league following the All-Star break.

One of the primary drivers of the team’s continued success without their franchise player in the rotation has been the playoff of All-Star center Joakim Noah. The seventh year center averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 blocks in 80 games this season.

On Monday, Noah was named the 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)  becoming the first Bulls player to take home the trophy since Hall of Fame legend Michael Jordan in 1988.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau fully credits Noah as one of the cogs of the team’s success and predicts the center has even more room for his game to expand moving forward.

“We are very pleased that Jo has been recognized as the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year. It is a richly deserved honor,” said Chicago Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. “He continues to grow as a player each and every year; he is now a two-time NBA All-Star, as well as NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Most importantly, he is being recognized for his contributions to winning.”

Noah finished fourth in DPOY voting last season but secured 100 out of a possible 125 first-place votes to coast to the hardware.  Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan finished second and third respectively.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman echoed Thibodeau’s sentiment that Noah is the heart and soul of the team and noted his competitive drive and leadership ability.

“Joakim is many things for our team and he has proven to be a terrific competitor, leader and teammate. But what Joakim truly is, is a winner,” Forman said. “He will be the first to say that this is a team award, but he sets the tone for our defense and I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of such a prestigious individual honor. The organization is very proud of Joakim and wants to congratulate him for being named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.”

The Bulls are currently down 1-0 to the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. Game two is set for Tuesday night in Chicago.

Make sure to also read: Gregg Popovich wins the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year award

Minnesota’s Rick Adelman retires from coaching ranks

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the market for a new head coach. League veteran Rick Adelman announced his retirement from coaching on Monday leaving a sizable hole in Minnesota to fill this summer.

Adelman will retire with the eighth most wins in NBA history, finishing with a total of 1,042 in stints with Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. Although his resume doesn’t include a championship, Adelman led the Blazers to two trips to the Finals and came one game away from leading Sacramento to the Finals in 2002.

Respect from coaches around the league poured in quickly once the news of Adelman’s retirement became widespread.

“He’s an absolute model of consistency, professionalism, integrity, and he’s a damn good basketball coach,” Miami HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said according to Mark Remme of Timberwolves.com. “He’s proven over the years as an innovator in so many different regards. Almost every single team in this league copies a portion of his offense.”

Adelman recorded 50 or more wins in 11 of his 23 seasons on the bench and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich believes the lack of a title on the resume makes him underappreciated to the casual fan.

“I’ve said many times over many years, he’s probably the most underrated basketball coach in the NBA,” Popovich said. “He’s done a great job every place he’s been. He runs good stuff, players enjoy playing for him, and he’s tenacious. He’s one hell of a coach.”

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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