After winning a championship, the Toronto Raptors followed up with another solid season. They finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 53-19 record last season, losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. With their core relatively unchanged, expectations were that the Raptors would once again contend for one of the top spots in the East.
To say that this season was a disappointment for the Raptors would be a massive understatement. Toronto finished the regular season with a dismal 27-45 record, which placed them 12th in the final standings. It was a wild and herky-jerky season for most teams, but especially the Raptors. Not only were they hit hard by COVID, but they played all 72 games on the road. They called Tampa Bay “home” for this season, but it was anything but that.
Now that the season has concluded for this team, players and coaches can return home and get some sense of normalcy back into their lives. They will have time to exhale, but as is life in the NBA, they will need to get back to work quickly. There are several issues that the organization must address before they prepare for the future and that all begins with their executive management.
Looking at this situation, several factors will determine the direction of this team.
One of the biggest strengths of this team is its core group of players. Both Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are under contract through the 2023-24 season. OG Anunoby is locked in through the 2024-25 season at a decent salary number. The real question comes with their veteran point guard, Kyle Lowry. While it is difficult to imagine him leaving, he will likely have plenty of suitors in free agency, many of which will covet his playing style.
The organization would like to keep its fearless leader, but it has to make business sense for them. VanVleet has shown the ability to lead the offense, but should they lose Lowry, they will likely need to go shopping themselves as the only other point guard on the roster is Malachi Flynn.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“He can bring the dog out of anyone.”
Teammates and Masai Ujiri discuss the impact of Kyle Lowry and his future with the Toronto Raptors pic.twitter.com/1BZoNjtJ62
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) May 20, 2021
Another strength this organization possesses is its continuity with the coaching staff and management. Nick Nurse obviously isn’t going anywhere, but the fate of Masai Ujiri is the one giant question mark that has been hovering over this franchise for more than a year now. Should Masai return, that continuity will continue to serve them well heading into the offseason. Should he move on, Toronto would have another puzzle to solve this summer.
While the coaches and players largely remained the same after their solid 2019-20 season, the on-court product did not. Last season the Raptors had the second-best defensive rating in the league at 105.0 but that skyrocketed to 112.5 this season, which was 15th in the league. Last season they held their opponents to 106.5 points per game, which was the best in the league. This season it ballooned to 111.7 which was 15th. Their ranking for net rating also dropped from 4th to 19th this season.
One major reason they struggled out of the gates this season was due to the loss of the frontcourt. Losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the same offseason is rough, especially when the guys you replace them with contribute absolutely nothing. The additions of Aron Baynes and Alex Len were massive flops, as they eventually moved on from Len. The only silver lining here was the emergence of Chris Boucher, who solidified himself as Toronto’s best big man on the roster.
The defensive slippage this season was a major concern for Nurse, and the fact that he was unable to fix that to a large degree implies that most of the blame should be put on the players for failing to execute. The inconsistent play of their top players was clearly something that plagued them all season.
There will be plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to improve heading into next season. It all begins with the NBA Draft Lottery on June 22. Now that the regular season is over, the lottery odds have become more clear. According to NBA.com, the Raptors have a 7.5 percent chance of landing the number one overall pick and a 31.9 percent chance of getting a top-four pick. The latter is important as this draft class has four consensus players that are all considered to be franchise cornerstone caliber players.
“Just like everybody else, you do the best you can to look into the future on what you think a guy may be five years from now.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 17, 2021
Most of the mock drafts have the Raptors picking around the 7th spot, which could net them a talented wing player like Scottie Barnes, Jalen Johnson, or Keon Johnson. Should Lowry not return, a guy like Davion Mitchell would seem to be a great selection as well. Toronto can also address many of their needs in free agency, as this year’s class is oozing with talent as well.
Toronto also has the luxury of developing its own young talent. They have proven to be one of the best at doing that, finding and grooming guys like VanVleet, Siakam, Boucher and Anunoby. The roster may be young, but most of these guys have solid experience and have flourished under established veteran leadership over the years from Lowry, Ibaka and Gasol.
The obvious threat would be the vacancies left by Lowry and Ujiri and needing to fill those voids. Their experience and talent will be difficult to replace but not impossible. Lowry might also not be the only guard that they lose. After trading for Gary Trent Jr. just before the trade deadline, the scoring guard is likely to hit free agency where he will command a high salary. The Raptors were well aware of this when they made the deal though, so it should not catch them by surprise.
Another threat that the organization must consider is the slumps that Siakam has been in over the past couple of seasons. Whether it is a mental block or something more serious, Toronto needs to get it ironed out before they begin next season. Every franchise player has off nights, but Siakam’s mysterious struggles were far too frequent.
There will be issues that pop up now and again, but none that should be too difficult for this team to overcome. Winning a title was an invigorating feeling for everyone within that organization, but returning home to Toronto for next season should feel equally as good.
NBA Daily: Milwaukee Bucks Face Unique Situation
Despite a successful season, Tristan Tucker looks at why the Milwaukee Bucks face uncertainty regarding their future.
Despite beating the dominant Brooklyn Nets in seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks face more uncertainty about their future than any other team in the playoffs. Last season, the Bucks accrued a 56-17 record that was good for best in the league. However, the team disappointed and saw a second-round exit at the hands of the Miami HEAT.
After that disappointing finish to a season that many believed would lead to an NBA Championship, the Bucks faced many criticisms. In response, Milwaukee rushed to fix many of those issues. Eric Bledsoe and a boatload of first-round picks were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday. The team then swapped out its bench rotation, filling it out with players like P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. The Bucks even got older rookies Sam Merrill and Mamadi Diakite to play quick spot minutes.
But Milwaukee’s biggest criticism was one that was left unresolved: the coaching situation. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner. Budenholzer first won the award after getting the Atlanta Hawks over 60 wins in 2014-15. Then, he did it again with the Bucks two years ago. Despite his metal, Budenholzer’s rotation decisions were met with criticism and confusion during the heartbreaking loss to Miami in 2020. Many fans around the league noticed that many stars were playing well over 40 minutes in big games and never played less than 36. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s big names sat for extended periods of time.
For reference, Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers played over 36 minutes per game in the playoffs last season. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo did the same for the HEAT. Both of those teams moved on to the Finals. On the other hand, Khris Middleton led the team with 35.5 minutes per game in the playoffs while Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 30.8 minutes a night.
Despite this, Milwaukee’s brain trust kept Budenholzer into the 2020-21 season. And so far, that seems like the right decision. The Bucks came back in a big way in the playoffs, being the only team to sweep another team, Miami, in the first round. Then, the Bucks battled back into the series against the Nets, evening the series twice after falling back the same number of times before eventually overcoming the then-title favorites. The team is now matched up with the scorching-hot Hawks and has gone down 1-0 in the series.
All seems to be going relatively well for the Bucks despite the current series. Budenholzer seems to have learned his lesson, his stars are all playing over 37 minutes per game. In fact, the whole rotation seems to be clicking.
Middleton in particular put together the best postseason performance of his career in Game 6 against the Nets. The former All-Star ended that contest with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, missing just five of his 16 shots. This isn’t new for Middleton, who is the face of consistency in the league. Outside of an injury-marred 2016-17 season, Middleton has averaged around 20 points per game for almost six straight years.
In each of the last two seasons, Middleton came within inches of securing a 50/40/90 season. Both seasons have seen a respectable amount of attempts from deep and the charity stripe. Middleton even became the go-to guy on offense for the Bucks. Just watch his and his teammates’ confidence in him as he buried a four-point play to ice Game 6 against Brooklyn:
It isn’t just Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing more aggressively as of late, securing 30 points on 20 field goal attempts in Game 6 against the Nets. “The Greek Freak” followed that performance up with a 40-point showing to clinch that series, officially avenging last year. In Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Antetokounmpo put up 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 41 minutes.
Holiday hasn’t had the best playoff stint of his career, but there’s no denying how absurdly better the team’s perimeter defense is with Holiday substituting for Bledsoe and George Hill. The team’s faith in Holiday paid off with a 33-point, 10-assist showing that saw the middle Holiday brother connect on five 3-pointers.
Some of the most notable changes came from Milwaukee’s bench. Forbes and Portis in particular took the next step as players this year. Both players took one-year bets on themselves in the offseason that are sure to result in paydays this summer. Portis and Forbes ranked third and fourth in the regular season in three-point percentage, respectively. Forbes in particular became notorious for how he torched the HEAT in the first round from deep.
And yet, despite the positives, the Bucks still face one of the biggest crossroads of any team in the playoffs. And it all depends on how deep this team can go.
Despite beating the Nets, Budenholzer is still on the hot seat. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the series win over Brooklyn will go a long way in determining Budenholzer’s future, the two-time Coach of the Year still hasn’t made the Finals as a head coach. If Budenholzer and the Bucks lose to the Hawks, who they are much better than on paper, it could have a ripple effect on the franchise. In fact, several reports indicate that the team is already looking at potential replacements if things go south.
Rick Carlisle Connected To Head Coaching Jobs With Bucks, Pacers https://t.co/RKk6TKOO49
— RealGM (@RealGM) June 18, 2021
It’s an odd turnaround for a team that is experiencing the high of knocking off the title favorites. Middleton had a poor Game 1, and the team likely doesn’t lose that game if he is clicking. But Budenholzer’s questionable rotation decisions still plagued the team, with seldom-used Jeff Teague seeing six critical minutes against Trae Young.
Firing a head coach — especially one as successful as Budenholzer has been in the regular season — is no small task. The move would likely come with several other staff and roster changes.
Despite how great Portis and Forbes have been for the team, it’s unlikely Milwaukee can afford either moving forward. Portis and Forbes both have player options for next season, Portis at $3.8 million and Forbes at $2.4 million. There’s no way either remains on the Bucks at that price with a weak free-agent class on the horizon. And unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the money to re-sign either to a huge number.
That path would lead to the team being extremely aggressive with what money and assets it does have. The team reportedly agreed to trade Donte DiVincenzo — who is now out with injury — for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade before Bogdanovic refused to be traded there. Other players like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have tradeable salaries and could help bring in another impact player.
If the Bucks went the distance, Budenholzer would most likely stay and the franchise would avoid a culture reset. Forbes and Portis probably still depart, but other free agents like Tucker would likely be more inclined to re-sign for a smaller salary.
In that case, the team would be more inclined to sit back and watch internal growth. Players like Jordan Nwora, Merrill or Diakite could fill the holes left by potential Forbes or Portis departures. That isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be aggressive, but there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that would see such a huge change if they were eliminated.
Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns was a Coach of the Year finalist. The Suns have the assets for internal and external growth if eliminated. The Hawks vastly improved from the last season, and have a direct pathway to getting better through guys like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. And the Los Angeles Clippers will likely retain Tyronn Lue and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, even if things go awry.
Unfortunately for Budenholzer, this is a unique situation. There haven’t been many do-or-die cases involving jobs this deep into the playoffs involving contenders. For Budenholzer, winning the title secures his job. If he fails to do so, it could spell the end of his Milwaukee tenure.
Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night
Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.
Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.
The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.
Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…
Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?
Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds
Phoenix Suns: -115
Los Angeles Clippers: -107
Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)
Phoenix Suns -1
Los Angeles Clippers -1
Los Angeles Clippers Preview
Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.
Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.
There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.
Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.
That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.
Phoenix Suns Preview
The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.
Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.
Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.
Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.
Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…
Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction
We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.
We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107
NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue
The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.
In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.
2021 NBA Championship Odds
With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.
Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard
It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.
After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.
Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise
The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.
Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.
It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.
Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks
Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.
Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.
That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.
Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.
Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!
Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions
The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.
Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.
It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.
Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online