NBA

Watch: LeBron James hails this year's rookie class as the best since 2003

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LeBron James had praise for Raptors rookie OG Anunoby.

After sweeping the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the playoffs, LeBron James was complimentary of rookie OG Anunoby, who defended him for much of the series.

James also spoke on this year’s rookie class as a whole, giving it high praise by putting it in the same sentence as his own draft class from 2003, which included Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.

“You look at the rookie class from this year, it’s probably the best since 2003,” James said with a smile and laugh.

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Running it back may be Toronto Raptors' best approach after another disappointing end

Jay Asser 8/05/2018
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Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been the foundation for the Raptors.

The Toronto Raptors are stuck in a bad nightmare, with LeBron James their boogeyman.

After undergoing a promising transformation this season and heading into the playoffs with seemingly everything working in their favour, it was Groundhog Day all over again for Toronto as they met an all-too-familiar ending.

The Raptors were swept soundly in four games by James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, one year after suffering the exact same fate at the exact same point.

Toronto were also beaten in six games by Cleveland in 2016, meaning they’ve now failed three straight seasons to dethrone James.

The previous two exits undoubtedly stung for a franchise that seemingly plateaued as good, but not great. The pain of this year’s elimination, however, feels like something more.

This was supposed to be the Raptors’ time to get over the hump and vanquish their demons. While they were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, Cleveland were a weaker side than in years past. Star power, depth, home-court advantage… you name it, Toronto had it on their side.

The one thing they didn’t have and what ended up mattering more than anything was James himself.

Which is why as much as it seems like the Raptors should blow it all up instead of continuing to bang their heads against the wall, the best approach might be patience.

Toronto aren’t without their warts – their All-Star backcourt has a tendency to either go missing or revert to an archaic style in the playoffs – but this may well be a LeBron problem and not a Raptors problem.

We won’t ever find out, but who knows how Toronto would have fared if they had instead met Boston or Philadelphia – two teams that may also fall victim to the Cavaliers in the conference finals.

There’s a chance James is playing out West next season, and even though the Celtics and 76ers will continue to get better for the foreseeable future, the East will be more open with the best player on the other side of the bracket.

Even if James stays though – which seems like more of a possibility with every game Cleveland win in the playoffs – there’s something to be said about being a middle-class team. After all, only one franchise can raise a banner every year. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

That doesn’t mean the Raptors shouldn’t pivot and be more bold with their moves. But maybe that means trading one star, or firing Dwane Casey – not going nuclear and tearing it all down by pressing the detonation button.

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T.J. McConnell sparks Philadelphia 76ers to their first win in series with Boston Celtics

Jay Asser 8/05/2018
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T.J. McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4.

With his team fighting for its life and the season on the line, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown turned to an undrafted free agent.

It wasn’t Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, but back-up guard T.J. McConnell who provided the spark in Philadelphia’s 103-92 win in Game 4 at Wells Fargo Center to keep them alive in the playoffs.

After playing effective, but limited minutes through the first three games of the series (plus-20 in 37 minutes), McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Robert Covington for Game 4.

The move paid instant dividends for Brown as the guard raised the 76ers’ defensive intensity while providing playmaking on the other end, where he had 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with five assists and no turnovers.

Aside from the tangible impact McConnell had on the game, he also fired up the 76ers’ home crowd and lifted spirits with Philadelphia staring at a near-impossible 3-0 series hole.

“You need to come in with a spirit. You need to come in with a tenacity,” Brown said. “T.J. epitomises that, so we start him. To declare that to a team – and you’re fighting for your life – and to then put him in an environment that lets him do it makes more sense to me as a coach.”

McConnell is now far and away Philadelphia’s leader in plus-minus for the series at plus-38. That’s not only better than anyone also on Boston’s roster, but ranks ninth among all players in the second round.

His defence on Terry Rozier, who had his worst outing of the series in Game 4 – 11 points, two assists and 4-of-11 shooting – will be critical if the 76ers want to become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit.

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