The Toronto Raptors are in third place in the Eastern Conference.
It is hard to get excited about that given the Raptors’ recent run of postseason futility.
The past four seasons, Toronto has finished third, second, fourth and third in the East.
But it’s the way Toronto is playing that makes the Raptors look like a postseason threat.
The Raptors’ predictable, isolation-heavy offense has been replaced with a ball- and people-moving system that includes more options, three-pointers and pace of play.
Last season, only Phoenix had a worse assist ratio than Toronto. This season, the Raptors rank in the top 10.
DeMar DeRozan was coming off All-Star seasons in three of the past four years but embraced the changes. He is averaging more than five assists per game (nearly seven this month) after never averaging more than four in his first eight seasons. He is shooting more threes, albeit not particularly well, while maintaining his famously strong midrange game for his best overall shooting percentage since he was a rookie in 2009-10.
“It’s something that I feel like that I got mastered and I continue to try to figure out ways how to be better at it,” DeRozan said. “Me, understanding how teams are going to play me, the aggressiveness. Just trying to mix up the in-between game, going all the way, the pump fake, the passing.”
The Raptors also have had more help this season. They added shooter C.J. Miles, inserted “3-and-D” rookie OG Anunoby into the starting lineup, and have seen improvement from second-year reserves Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet.
Don’t engage NBA’s troll king
It appears that Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who destroys opponents on social media and on the court, was waiting for Tuesday’s win at Minnesota with something in mind.
Teammate Ben Simmons already started a “#RaisetheCat” social media trend for celebrating 76ers wins with fans photos hoisting their cats like Rafiki with Simba.
But after scoring 28 against Karl-Anthony Towns, aka “KAT,” Embiid posted a photo of him scoring on a finger-roll layup past Towns with the comment, “Euro stepping our way through Minnesota and we ended up raising the cat last night.”
Towns responded, “That caption was as trash as your picture quality.”
Embiid finished, “Better quality than your defense.”
Second scare for Teletovic
In December 2014, Mirza Teletovic was told that his life could have been endangered if he had boarded a Brooklyn team flight. That’s because he had just been diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs.
Like then, Teletovic was feeling unusually fatigued recently. This time, it was less of a mystery and the 32-year-old Milwaukee forward was diagnosed again with pulmonary emboli.
He will have an indefinite absence. When it occurred with Brooklyn, he missed three months.
Teletovic was shooting 46.7% from three-point range, helping him average 7.1 points in 15.9 minutes per game in 10 appearances before left-knee surgery. He was nearing the end of his knee rehabilitation to join a Bucks team vying for home-court playoff advantage in the Eastern Conference.
‘Alexa, open NBA All-Star’
The voting process for the NBA All-Star Game includes new facets, like voting via Amazon Alexa, double-voting days and early voting.
Voters will state, “Alexa, open NBA All-Star” to place votes there. Voters will be allowed two votes on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15.
Full voting begins on Christmas morning before a five-game broadcast slate, but early voting will open on the NBA app and nba.com at 10 a.m. (PST) on Dec. 21.
By the numbers
* New York’s Kristaps Porzingis became the first player in NBA history to have 35 points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and five made three-pointers in a game Tuesday against the Lakers.
* New Orleans’ Anthony Davis has posted more 25-point, 10-rebound games (117) before his 25th birthday than any NBA player except Shaquille O’Neal (166).
* Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony was shooting a career-worst 40% from the field entering Saturday night.