But it was the defence that got the attention before yesterday’s game and Jay Triano’s troops responded in a much more balanced 84-79 loss to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.
Gone were the easy layups that the Sixers dined out on Tuesday night in London. Also gone was the easy penetration as the Sixers all but took up residence in the Toronto paint.
Philadelphia point guard Louis Williams, who schooled the Raps a night earlier as he cruised to the basket time and again beating his man on a regular basis, was bottled up last night to the tune of just six first-half points and finished with just eight.
"Our guys did a lot better on the defensive end," Triano said.
"I think the one thing we would like to do a little better is not foul them so much, but I’d rather be more aggressive than not. We were better at the defensive end for sure."
A new team and fittingly a new locker-room. Well, not really new, just dressed up.
Immediately upon entering the Raptors’ inner sanctum, and before you even get to the actual dressing room, the first thing you see is a tight, enlarged photo of the Raptors’ hands coming together in a pre-game huddle that will be repeated every time they take the floor. It’s one of those shots that catches the eye because it’s a little different but it’s the message it sends — togetherness — that is the real point.
On the opposite wall is the word Raptors spelled out with the initial letters in the words Respect, Accountable, Proud, Together We Shall Prevail, Organized, Responsible, Standards, all things the team is expecting their players to be.
Venture further in and more words to live by adorn yet another wall. This one reads: Do the right thing. Do it the right way. Do it that way all the time.
They’re going to score some. It’s a question of how many they allow at the other end. And isn’t it always?
Only once have they managed over the course of a season to hold their opponents to a shooting percentage less than what they hoisted up at the other end.
It’s an astonishing stat, and one that goes a long way to explaining why a Reggie Evans can walk in and after two nights of effort rebounding the basketball and leaning on his man, become the instant favourite of the ACC crowd, which really don’t see a lot of his kind in the home unis.
Meantime, Calderon’s defensive limitations have been apparent since he arrived in Toronto.
Trying to match him up with the likes of Williams, or this Atlantic Division’s other fleet-footed points in Devin Harris and Rajon Rondo, doesn’t figure.
Hey, Jose Calderon, how has Turkoglu looked in practice so far?
“Practice, what practice?” Calderon said.
Turkoglu is nearly two weeks into his tenure as the highest-profile free-agent signing in Raptors history, but has yet to do more than walk through sets at half-speed as the club has allowed him time off to recover after playing into June with the Orlando Magic and then competing with the Turkish national team through September.
“All the time, all the time,” Turkoglu said when asked if teammates were on him for being on light duty, even as they were going twice a day during training camp. “They’ve been killing me about [not] practising. ‘Go easy, don’t hurt yourself.’ I say, ‘Okay, I won’t.”
DeRozan missed all six shots in the second half, including two quick shots midway through the fourth quarter that earned him the first quick hook of his career. DeRozan was exciting in the team’s scrimmage in Ottawa at the end of training camp, but he has been inconsistent for most of the 10 days.
"He took two bad shots," Raptors coach Jay Triano said, explaining the quick substitution. "First of all, he’s got a teammate open in the post and he didn’t give it to him. The second time he takes a shot. He’s got to learn: play the team game and move the basketball. This is stuff that he’ll learn. It’s pretty tough to come off the bench when you’re not a three-point shooter and take a three-pointer the first time you touch the ball."
DeRozan seemed to get the message. "He was just telling me, when you come off the bench don’t take a quick shot because you’re cold and have got to get warm," the rookie said. "Wait until you get up and down the court a couple of times."
In the second quarter Amir Johnson bit through his upper lip and left the game to get stitches. Ouch! He then proceeded to gut it out by returning in the third quarter to play some more minutes. His night didn’t get any better in the third quarter when he had a player step on his back – yet he just bounced up and kept playing. After the game I talked with Amir about the abuse he took tonight and he told me, “It was crazy, I got ‘bowed in the mouth and the foul was on me!” Later he talked with me about how he’s been trying to wear a mouth guard but it prevents him from breathing properly so he’s tried to play without it.
Although the end result was the same (a loss to the 76ers), the second game in the back-to-back was much more entertaining and left Howland wondering just what the Raptors have in Sonny Weems….
The team traded him to Toronto for SG/SF Carlos Delfino, a move I guess I endorsed. The team had to shore up its small forward hole, and Johnson was the most logical trade bait (it wouldn’t make sense to sign the other two and then turn around and trade them). Plus, Johnson’s unbelievable foul rate in the Summer League scared me a bit.
Well, a couple games into the preseason (again, preseason) and Amir Johnson is absolute Windex for the Raptors. In their first game against the 76ers, AJ grabbed 10 rebounds in 22 minutes, and had a Win Score per 48 of 14.18, well above average for a big man. Again, preseason, but that’s what he’s capable of doing. In a rematch tonight with the Sixers, AJ grabbed 5 more rebounds in 18.5 minutes of action, but had a bit of a weaker game overall (getting 1 Win Score for a WS48 of 2.59). Okay, he’s got room to grow here, but he is rebounding the ball quite nicely.
Toronto Raptors: General manager, Bryan Colangelo is thinking 50 wins this year for the Raps. I remember the days in Phoenix when Colangelo would make great decisions (Nash, Amare) and continue to slide under the radar, humbly. Now, he’s projecting things, perhaps compensating for the lack of success on the court. For my own sanity, let’s hope he’s right. DeMarr DeRoZan might be the key (I’m going to randomly capitalize letters in his name all year).
The rookie had a better start in this one but he is clearly not near game shape. He seemed to be a lazier on D and winded at times. I am going to blame that on this being the 2nd game of a back to back. DeMar is working with a lot of hype around him and from the first two games it’s clear that he is far from ready to be thrown to the wolves. I would prefer he focus on the little things and just take in all the advice he is given. Jay Triano made it clear he wasn’t going to stand for back to back rookie mistakes and yanked him out after an ill-advised shot. I think he will get a chance to start but his leash may be shorter than the fans are expecting.
Marco Belinelli is awesome. He’s all over the floor, has better handles than you’d expect, but what surprised me the most about him is his hang-time (seriously). It’s not like Jordan by any means, but he had at least two drives I remember where he switched hands 2-3 times in the air and they weren’t easy finishes either. Ginobili is one of my favourite players in the NBA, and Rachel admitted Belinelli’s "got a little Manu in him". Also, his height always catches me off guard. He’s taller than I think – I always picture him as 6’3"- 6’4", but he’s definitely 6’5" almost close to being 6’6".
DeRozan had a better start as well with a strong first quarter and better overall play.
Sonny Weems who had promised the ACC crowd would see some excitement this preseason came through tonight with two impressive dunks. As Sonny didn’t play much last season in Denver, it was hard to know what the Raptors had acquired here. But the early line is Sonny Weems can play. Hopefully he continues to shine through the rest of the preseason and beyond.
Amir Johnson’s stats weren’t as good as in London but his play was much better. A nice sign that the Raptors may have indeed picked up a good young player. I’d expect we’ll see improvement each time out.
The Raptors still need name tags, because no one knows the other guy. Basketball is a team game based on how the team performs as a unit – a cohesive unit where timing and understanding your teammates is everything.
Right now the Raptors really don’t understand each other in a basketball sense which explains why their offence has largely been stagnant for most of the past 96 minutes. Giving heavy minutes to a group of offensively-challenged guys on the back-end of your roster doesn’t help either.
While many familiar faces are gone, the memory of Joey Graham still lingers. Except now its "Good Reggie/ Bad Reggie" with a visual reminder courtesy of Sonny. More on that below.