Philadelphia 76ers 85, Toronto Raptors 79

Before we start, check out East Coast and his great guest post here.

Just like we brushed off the preseason wins we should brush off the preseason losses. So Philly comes in to our building, beats us and sends an early message that they’re ready to contend for second spot in the Atlantic. It’s nothing we didn’t know before but at least we’re now positive that Elton Brand will have something to say about the standings before its all said and done. This was a prototypical Raptors/76ers game – their athleticism, speed and agility versus our…..whatever the hell we are. I can’t even qualify what the Raptors are trying to do on the court but I think we were trying to take advantage of O’Neal in the post, trying to use Bargnani’s size, exploit Andre Miller and maybe even make Iguodala or Thadeus Young play some defense by running Parker off 16 or so screens. At the end of the day it came down to fourth quarter execution and with O’Neal and Bosh safely glued to the bench and Iguodala being checked by Jason Kapono (insert joke here), the former penetrated the heart of our defense for a thunderous dunk which said, “Take that!”. Game over.

There was a ‘moment’ early in the game went Jamario Moon drove to the rim and Elton Brand brought him down with a hard, hard foul which was somewhat unworthy of the preseason and something you see in Game 6 of a playoff series. Moon got up and knocked the FTs down but Brand had sent the message: no easy baskets against Philly. None of the Raptors stood up to Brand or took issue with the hard foul (see, we’re pussies) but maybe they were right in doing so, I don’t know. I just wanted to see a reaction. Any reaction.

Don't hit the panic buttonChris Bosh said yesterday that he was ready ‘now’ for the season but as is evident by yesterday’s game, the Raptors are far from a well-oiled machine on either end of the court. Jermaine O’Neal is rustier than a coffin nail and Chris Bosh doesn’t know if he should drive, defer or post-up in any given possession. If you add up Bosh’s 1-5 FG and O’Neal’s 3-10 FG, throw in a little -14 in the rebounding department and its surprising that this one was even close. Our top three scorers came off the bench with Kapono, Willie and Bargnani chipping in an efficient 14, 12 and 10. The worst thing that can happen to the Raptors is Bosh and O’Neal offsetting and preventing each other from having good games. This was a game where having them on the court at the same time worked out against us because there wasn’t a plan on how exactly to use our weapons. Contrast this with Philly who recognize that Samuel Dalembert is a defensive force and consistently clear out space for Brand to make his move. The Raptors simply alternate Bosh and O’Neal touches which is basically high-school coaching. But its preseason so there’s no point in ringing any alarm bells. Yet.

Doug Smith serves as the apologist for Bosh and O’Neal’s play and says that its getting better albeit very slowly. There’s definitely a big learning curve here and as I’ve been saying since the trade, its up to Sam Mitchell to figure things out. He can’t just rely on O’Neal and Bosh “figuring out” what the right play on the court is given any situation, there needs to be a method and well-defined plays that consider fakes, drop-offs, shot attempts, rebounding position and second options. The chemistry between Bosh and O’Neal will not simply develop by increasing their playing time together, there’s a lot more to it than that and it does involve the three other players on the court. Hopefully Mitchell can figure this out before people start hitting the panic button. You can check out individual player grades here.

I appreciate and endorse what Bargnani’s trying to do. He’s getting into the lower block and trying to shoot over the shorter defender if he can’t take him to the rim. His jumper is looking a lot better and he’s recognizing that his advantage is in the post more than the perimeter. It doesn’t matter if he’s airballing his threes right now; all that matters is that he’s doing the ‘right’ thing on the court. Grabbing only one rebound in 26 minutes is a cause for concern but you look for any positives with him at this point. He had a few good defensive possessions where he was forced to trap a wing player on the perimeter by using his size and did so effectively, his pick ‘n roll defense was better than average and he didn’t get overpowered on defense. Of the 10 rebounds Jamario Moon got there were a few that could’ve gone to Bargnani – I mean its not like he was ball-watching today.

There’s an article about Moon’s exploits in the Sun today and it looks like its written by a 5 year old (I count 34 paragraphs). It’s very sad when our starting SF scores 7 points on 2-6 FG and gets outplayed by his counterpart and its hailed as “inroads were being made”. I mean come on. Come on. Huh, Come f*****g on. The guy grabbed a few defensive boards in a loss and suddenly that’s supposed to mean something? Is this a joke? Jamario Moon is an above-average defender. That’s where it ends for him, he will always under-perform in our lineup because he just doesn’t have the talent to be a starting small forward. The sooner we accept this and try to address this need, the better for the organization. He could be a real asset to us if his role was limited and he was allowed/taught what he does best: come into the game in the second quarter, get some blocks, grab some boards and slash to the rim.

The general defensive problems are highlighted by Michael Grange and its not surprising that perimeter defense and allowing G’s to penetrate is item #1. Grange hopes that we can iron out these kinks in the remaining five preseason games but I’m less optimistic. These aren’t problems that can be solved in practice, they’re not technical errors, they’re the limitations of a person’s physical ability. You can’t teach Calderon how to stop Miller blowing past him, good luck trying to teach Kapono how to guard Iggy on the perimeter with the game on the line, have fun with Parker and his commendable “fake hustle” defense (great effort but doesn’t really work). The best we can hope to achieve by opening day is learn how to play help defense and figure out how to rotate so that the weakest link in the opposition gets to take the shot. You know, find the opposition’s Jamario Moon and Will Solomon. As an aside I’d like to think that since Moon’s our best perimeter defender we’d be able to assign him Iggy and count on him to slow him down. No such luck.

Roko didn’t play because he was trying not to aggravate a rib injury which gave Will Solomon even more playing time. This man is not shy when it comes to shooting and possesses a good-looking shot that tends to go in. He’s quick, strong and looks like he could play the backup PG. He’s going to be a guy who will be able to get his shot off because the defense will give it to him; in other words he’s this year’s Jamario Moon. Teams will take the chance of Will Solomon beating you and he’s go to be careful of not falling into the Mike James trap. If Solomon’s taking a team-high 12 shots in any game, its a bad, bad sign. Good game though, showed ability on offense and tenacity on defense.

How about that Marreese Spreights (16th pick)? Wouldn’t come to work out for the Raptors but its not like it matters, we wouldn’t have picked him anyway. Look on the bright side though, we got Hassan Adams who would be wise to buy a nice wardrobe.

Raps lose to Philly. CSKA Moscow is next on Tuesday. I’ll be at this game.

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