Josh Smith, Amir Johnson
Lord have mercy!
Magic 113, Raptors 90

Chris Bosh is far from the only reason why the Magic ran us over but you have to start with him because he is the supposed leader of the team and someone who others look towards when finding their own personal motivations. He’s supposed to symbolize toughness, hard-work and professionalism but lately he’s done nothing but put forth a dishonest effort, fold under pressure and appear altogether disinterested in the game. Right now he’s hurting this team. The effort from him and the majority of the team was so bad today that these guys don’t deserve to have websites dedicated to them. I understand if you don’t care about winning or losing because you got a guaranteed pay cheque coming your way, but can you at least pretend to care? If for nothing else other than for the paying customers to leave the arena somewhat content instead of with sore throats from all the booing.

There’s not even a point in breaking down this game from a technical perspective because the Raptors didn’t even show up to compete. Our problems are far from technicalities that can be corrected in practice through coaching or through tweaks in the lineup or any of these strategic measures. We have effort issues and that is the worst kind of issue to have. Given our place in the standings you’d think that this team would be willing to fight and claw to make up for what they’ve lost this season but no such luck; given our marginal talent you’d think every player would step up and try to make up for what they lack in God-given ability by playing smarter, harder and with more passion. Out of luck there too.

Everybody acknowledges that dribble penetration is a problem but I’m not sure everybody realizes just how deep-rooted and horrifying it really is. Obviously, the effort and determination to keep your man in front of you needs to be there which it’s not. This is bad enough but once you throw in the confusion of how to defend a pick (not the pick ‘n roll, just a pick) all hell breaks loose. Much like the Bucks the Magic used a simple high screen play – which didn’t even look to get the pick-setter involved after the screen – to carve open the Raptors defense which is confused between switching/fighting through/rotating. Calderon’s lack of lateral quickness doesn’t help and neither does Bosh’s decision to always step-out and never sag in these situations putting too much pressure on the always-late rotations. If you have to step out to meet the guard do it like you mean it ala Kevin Garnett. Sluggishly stepping out and mangling your footwork just makes the decision to drive by the guard too easy to make. And you wonder why dribble penetration is a problem?

The only thing that worked for us was Calderon using a similar play (i.e.: a high screen) to force a decision from the Magic big men about whether to step-out and help Nelson or to sag and protect the paint. Early on they opted to sag and he nailed his 18-20 footers, later in the game they decided to come out to him and he got a couple driving layups. That was it though, all the other times we ran this play the Magic were able to switch thus resulting in a reset of the Raptors play. Since we don’t have a double-team threat and now that our primary play has been neutralized, it was time to start jacking it up and what flowed forth was one-on-one moves by Bargnani, Graham, Solomon and Parker which the Magic were happy to live with because they know that we’re the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

The Magic didn’t even have to expend any effort in getting clean looks, they just brought the ball up the court and zipped passes to corner snipers who were left wide open by the defense which appeared to be lost in a trance. Bosh was always late in finding Rashard Lewis who drained four threes on him. He was late in picking up Howard in transition which forced wings to check Howard thus allowing Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson and Turkoglu clear paths to the rim for scores to kick-outs. Forget about guarding your man, the Raptors couldn’t even be bothered to locate theirs. The Magic run one of the simplest offenses I’ve seen, they give the ball to Howard and wait for him to score or attract a double. Usually he scores but when we do double (I assure you, a totally pointless one), he’s become a good enough passer to kick-out and off goes the swing sequence which we are helpless to defend. If they’re not doing that they’re giving the ball to Nelson/Lewis/Lee who drive ‘n kick us to death. We’re too slow, too weak and just don’t care enough to counter them. It’s stupid to expect anything from this bunch given their effort and talent levels and we’re all idiots for hoping/praying that this team can somehow turn it around and make something of a lost season.

Anybody else sick and tired of Jose Calderon apparently not being 100%? Devlin asked him, “Hey Jose, are you 100%?”. Jose didn’t say anything but smiled. That ill-conceived smile resulted in Leo Rautins and Matt Devlin reminding us that Jose was less than 100% and playing only because his team needed him every time he blew a defensive assignment. It’s okay though and I’d be total ass to criticize a guy who’s less than 100%. Seriously though, sit down, you’re hurting the team when you play inured and don’t for a second think you’re earning any points for heroism. This brings me to Will Solomon. Don’t get me wrong, he sucks and shouldn’t be on an NBA team, but the guy plays hard if not smart and he seems to want to fight for playing time and to me that alone is reason enough to give him some burn. He was the only Raptor with a positive +/- today and that’s not a meaningless stat, he played well in the second quarter which was the only one we didn’t lose. He scrapped for the rebounds, drove the ball looking to dish and dug in on defense. That’s more than I can say for anybody else (except Joey).

The last time we beat them we were without Jose Calderon and Jermaine O’Neal and were able to contain dribble penetration, picked up early fouls on Howard, won the hustle stats and got production from our wing spots, most notably Anthony Parker. Yesterday, Dwight Howard started off with 12 first quarter points, Jameer Nelson lit us up for 10 in the first quarter negating Jose Calderon’s 8 and giving us yet another perfect example of Jose’s defense offsetting whatever he gives us on offense. Bosh was nowhere to be found and remained on the perimeter all afternoon, had the ball stripped in the post twice and was involved in another miscommunication turnover on the perimeter. Bargnani played sound defense on Howard but the man is too tough and was hitting his hooks and FTs today which makes him unstoppable. Our feeble attempts at stopping him included sending Jose Calderon as the doubler which has zero effect because Jose’s too small and too weak to bother Howard. Actually, I’m not even sure if that’s a strategy or just Jose deciding he needs to double, somebody should ask Triano that.

The second quarter was our best one as Joey Graham and Will Solomon upped the tempo on the offensive end and held their own defensively. Jermaine O’Neal played better defense on Howard by pushing him further out and getting a couple scores, he’s still a turnover machine though. So after we held our own in the second and went down 6 into the half, the third quarter held great importance just like it did against Milwaukee. So what did we do? We failed. The Magic started the third on a 20-6 run in which we looked defeated, they were crisp in their drive and kick execution, swung the ball around purposely and drained their open looks. The Raptors had never looked worse, there was one play where the Magic swung the ball from corner to corner and then to the wing for a Courtney Lee three with nobody within 10 feet of him and worst of all, nobody was even trying to close him out. We were just standing there. After another Dwight Howard dunk and a transition hoop the Raptors body language said it all. It said that you should turn your TV off for the fourth quarter and try to find a good Super Bowl pre-game show.

One-Liners:

  • Tough game for Bargnani again, started off by airballing a three and never got going. Couldn’t hit a jumper which meant there was no reason for Howard to come out and defend where he’s the most uncomfortable.
  • The Magic ran three screen ‘n rolls in the first half which led to monster Dwight Howard dunks, that had to be deflating.
  • All the hustle categories were won by the Magic: PINP 40-30. Second chance points: 22-11. Fastbreak points: 11-5. Rebounding: 49-44.
  • Chris Bosh took a fadeaway over Gortat.
  • Mickael Pietrus’s three point shooting and slashing ability was in full display. He even drove baseline and challenged O’Neal for two FTs making every Raptors fan wonder why Moon can’t do that. It made me wonder what other offers Kapono had on the table when we whisked him away in the first minute of free agency.
  • The two worst +/- stats for the game: Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh with -27 and -23.
  • Parker, Bargnani, Bosh, Moon and Calderon going -10 to start the third quarter which was decisive. Graham, Solomon, Parker, Bargnani, O’Neal going +3 in that somehwhat inspiring second quarter. Ever wonder where I get these stats?
  • Parker was held in tight check today and couldn’t get any space to launch his jumpers. The Magic had adjusted from the previous game and were on him like white on rice.
  • Joey Graham took good advantage whenever the Magic switched the smaller Nelson on him. I was getting a little tired of watching our swingmen get neutralized by opposing PGs. It’s embarassing.
  • Raptors had mailed in this one early and were lucky to stay in it till the half and the Magic did the right thing by sticking a fork in us to start the half.
  • Magic perspective.

  • As with most Raptors losses, I’m not upset that we lost, it’s the way we did it. Zero effort.

Up next we got Cleveland, Lakers and New Orleans. This will get worse before it gets better. Check the Roll Call for more. There’s also Twitter which gets you the latest and greatest Raptors headlines as they happen and of course the RSS feed.