NBA Fact or Fiction: Raptors to lose home court in playoffs?

Toronto Raptors centre Serge Ibaka (9) and Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) celebrate defeating the Golden State Warriors basketball action in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Frank Gunn/CP)

As the basketball calendar begins to heat up — aided in a big way by the upcoming FIBA World Cup in China — it’s time to check in on the latest from around the NBA in a late-summer edition of fact or fiction:

DeMarcus Cousins just became one of this era’s biggest “What If? players

Fact.

Devastating news for the newly signed Los Angeles Lakers big man on Thursday, as Cousins let out a scream and fell to the ground clutching his knee during an off-season scrimmage in Las Vegas. The verdict: A torn ACL, which will keep the seven-footer off the court indefinitely.

The injury is that much more devastating given Cousins’ recent history. In 2018, he tore his Achilles tendon, sidelining him for the better part of a year. When he returned, he was a shell of his former self, playing out a one-year contract for the Golden State Warriors last season.

Leg and foot problems are compounded for players of Cousins’ size, and the ripple effects of asking those body parts to counteract one another and compensate for those injuries is a common reason why some athletes are more injury prone than others.

The Achilles’ tear seemed a fluke, but now with a second major injury in as many years it’s nearly impossible to imagine Cousins, 29, returning to the all-star form we were all used to seeing, robbing us of one of this generations premier big men.

It’s been a couple of years since Cousins was in top form, so you may have forgotten why he was considered the top centre in the game — a lofty perch he’s unlikely to return to. He’ll likely be relegated again to role player duty, as was the case with the Warriors, once he recovers from the ACL tear, meaning we’ll never know just how good the oft-maligned but undoubtedly talented centre could have been.

Canada is in a world of trouble at the upcoming World Cup

Fiction.

Ok, so Team Canada are hardly medal contenders — at least not now that each and every NBA player on the roster save for Cory Joseph will not be participating. Earlier in the summer, hopes were incredibly high for Canada, which boasts the second-most number of NBA players outside of America.

But with those players withdrawing, whatever the reason, Canada’s hopes to qualify for the Olympics have plummeted.

Should they have? Probably, yes, but the team is now in a position to surprise people now that they’re no longer considered a major threat.

Instead of being favoured, Canada will go back to being underdogs, a position its occupied on the international stage since its last Olympic appearance in 2000 at the Sydney Games. And it will do so with an inventive coach in Nick Nurse and a roster that can break a game open, particularly in the backcourt where potent shooters like Kevin Pangos and teenager Andrew Nembhardt — two of five players who scored in double-digits in the win the team’s first exhibition game Friday morning in Perth against an Australian team predicted to easily advance past Canada in the group stage.

Canada won 90-70, and while you can’t read much into an otherwise meaningless game, Canada ran the Aussies off the floor and that high-octane, fast-paced, guard-driven style could surprise people and do damage in China once the World Cup tips-off later this month.

…And so is Team USA

Fact.

Keep in mind that expectations couldn’t be further apart for the two North American countries. For Canada’s depleted roster, just staying competitive will be a victory, but for the Americans, anything short of domination will be disappointing.

Obviously given the growth of the game internationally — we are fresh off a season in which a non-American born player was crowned MVP — the global talent level means that the days of USA regularly blowing out opponents by 60 are likely in the rearview, but with a roster made up entirely of NBA players, they are still the overwhelming favourites in a tournament like the World Cup.

But should they be? The short answer is yes, because it’s hard to argue with talent — to say nothing of an impressive coaching staff that features the likes of Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.

But that doesn’t mean there is legitimate doubt that the team will perform to expectations given their inexperienced, possibly ill-fitted roster.

Like Canada, USA’s top players passed on the tournament. A roster that would have starred the likes of James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Anthony Davis is now led by Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Donovan Mitchell — excellent players but unproven as winners, especially on this stage.

The seeds of doubt were further sown earlier this week when footage was released of a USA scrimmage blowout loss versus a team made up of G-League and overseas players.

USA forward P.J. Tucker said the video didn’t tell the whole story and that it came following a gruelling two-hour practice. But the damage was done and the U.S. look as vulnerable as they’ve been since professionals began suiting up for the team. For the first time in recent memory, they won’t have the tournament’s best player on their roster — that honour goes to Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — and a formidable field that includes powerhouse Serbia along with mainstays France and Spain could spell trouble.

The Toronto Raptors will begin the playoffs without home court advantage

Fiction.

ESPN released a roundup of win-projections this week, where it was predicted the Raptors will finish fifth in the standings, one spot below the Orlando Magic, and officially out of home court advantage.

How accurate is this? Obviously we won’t know for months, but on the whole, it does feel like many — myself included — are devaluing what’s left of the Raptors. Sure, losing Kawhi Leonard dashes the Raptors’ title hopes, but there’s still enough talent in Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell et al to be a formidable opponent in the new-look Eastern Conference.

It’s not a knock on Orlando, a young up-and-coming team who seem poised to build off their breakout season in 2018-19 and a surprisingly competitive first-round playoff series against the Raptors. But Toronto has proven ability and should see their regular-season success continue — especially if we see even more improvement from Siakam, who suddenly almost singlehandedly holds the key to unlock the team’s potential this year.

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