No Yao, No Problem

Rockettes 124, Raptors 112 – Box

Houston shot the lights out from downtown like it was NBA Live 95 and Pops Mensah-Bonsu wreaked havoc on the inside like it was personal. It all added up to a win for the Yao Ming slash Tracy McGrady-less Rockets tonight. That and the fact Jay Triano made no effort to turn to his starters in the fourth quarter to try to pull this one out. It’s kinda like that weird part of the preseason schedule, where the you’ve seen enough of how each player is coming around regardless of outcome but at the same time you want to start seeing your team actually put it all together and grabbing a few W’s before they starting counting for real. It’s a home game too, and you want to see how your revamped starting lineup reacts in those tight situations at some point. Let’s sincerely hope we see it on Sunday against the Celtics.

The Good

Everyone can stop panicking. Jose Calderon is starting to come around. I’m not saying he’s turning into the Glove, (that’s Gary Payton for all you younguns) but he’s starting to look like the Jose of two years ago. Good change of pace to create a couple of crafty drives to the hole and finishing. He’s trying too, people, when it comes to the defense. You can see the effort, and in the end that’s all many of us were asking for, right? I think he made good progress and it showed early in the game. He also pulled off a nifty drive in the 4th quarter, which is very encouraging, because sometimes it looks like Jose starts off like a house on fire and then reverts to a more passive version by game end. Could be the healthy groin, could be direct instruction from the coaching staff, could be Jarret Jack’s footsteps getting louder and louder behind him.

The offense from the starting unit looked good at times. It looked very structured, in a good way. Hedo showed flashes of his point-forward skills and you can tell it will benefit guys like Bosh and Bargnani because he definitely isn’t afraid to feed it to someone inside or cutting to the basket. A team of Jack, Bellinelli, Weems, Amir and Bargnani actually went on a run in the second quarter. You saw everything that makes you warm and tingly inside, like passing up open looks for easy layups and half-court traps. Yes, you heard it…half-court traps that didn’t work just once, but twice in a row.

Hedo Turkoglu made some nice plays as the point-forward. His playmaking is more aggressive than our starting point guard at times. He took Chase Budinger to the hole, who by the way absolutely sucked. I respect Houston GM Daryl Morey but I think he might have fudged this draft pick. Still, it’s impressive seeing someone 6’10” with those kind of skills. Some of the passes he delivered tonight were those “leading directly to a bucket” types that Jose seems to lack. Let’s hope some of these perimeter skills rub off on Andrea.

We also saw Demar DeRozan wide open on the offensive end due to all the attention the other 4 starters were receiving. This can only be a good thing for him, and he is definitely showing aggressiveness in taking advantage of these opportunities. I liked his defense early on. He forced a couple of tough shots and held his own when Shane Battier posted him up in the 1st frame. He also showed a bit of his mid-range game with a pull-up J from the top of the key. Let me tell you that the combination of elevation, fade, and high release he gets on his jumper, that it will be deadly once he gets comfortable with it. It’s practically unguardable. Another positive sign is that he’s getting to the line consistently this preseason. You can’t teach that stuff. Virtually every one of the premier scorers (and Corey Maggette) in today’s game get to the line at least 5-6 times a game. He’s a rook that’s barely 20 and he’s showing he can approach those numbers. There was one sequence where Battier shaded him to the left and he took it all the way to the rim with speed and coordination.

Chris Bosh is definitely as advertised…stronger and just as quick as before, and he knows it. He didn’t start settling for jumpers and worked the ball inside almost every time he had the ball. He’s going to get his share of “and 1’s” this year. Andrea Bargnani’s drives to the bucket are becoming more co-ordinated and controlled as every day passses. You don’t get that feeling that he just makes up his mind, puts his head down and barrels his way in as he did in seasons past. This is probably why you’re starting to see him dropping a few dimes. He had a couple tonight as well, especially a nice interior one to Amir Johnson in the second quarter.
When it comes to the good, look no further than Amir Johnson (and Sonny Weems to be fair). He had another great game, where he was active on both ends. He showed some good skill in finishing plays, when he wasn’t just throwing it down. I know he’s not 7 feet, but I think he’s the new kind of big in the NBA…quick jumper, can run the floor and finish, wreak havoc on the defensive end. Need to find minutes for this guy. Simply but truly, good things happen when he’s out there. I think that pretty much sums it up. The same can be said for Sonny Weems. It’s almost unanimous now in the Republic of Raptor, that he was a find. Trading for these two just may end up being the defining move of Mr. Colangelo’s summer, we’ll see.

I almost forgot, but Patrick O’Bryant played a mean 4th quarter, mixing it up a little bit inside. Better late than never. I’m sure there’s more about it in the Roll Call.

The Bad

Well we got shelled by the 3 ball all night and sure, you can say it was just one of those nights where everything fell, and that might be true to some extent, but many times Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza, the main aggressors, were wide open for their looks. The crafty Battier set up for the shot 3 from the corner and it took a little too long for adjustments to be made. Hedo blew more than one assignment in covering Battier, but he hit like 3 or 4 in the first quarter alone before any timeout was called to hopefully rectify the problem. At the same time, the Rockets were grabbing their share of offensive rebounds. Basically we weren’t covering perimeter nor were we securing rebounds inside. SOunds like a confused defense to me.

I know Pops was just abusing the Raps inside at times during the game. Barganani is to blame for some of this. I’ve thought of another idea for him. Give him a bonus for everytime he gets 3 in the key. Offense or defense. What will it take for this dude to get into the painted area? Since we’re on Andrea, gotta say one more thing. Enough of these pump fake, side step bailout prayers. Even when he actually takes the shot, usually 18 – 20 feet out, it’s a low percentage shot. And to top it off, he tries to throw himself into the defender while taking the shot, hoping for a call. Please stop. Don’t rely on the referees like that. It’s not going to work as often as you like, and it’s not the best area to be working out of. He’s still not very comfortable with posting up. He tried it a couple of times today, and the ball was stolen from him and you can just see that he’s still got a ways to go in that situation.

This game showed more than anything that our starting 5 will not be adequate defensively. This is just a fact. You have:

– A below average defender in Jose
– DeRozan is still a pup
– A questionable Hedo, doesn’t look great man-to-man but played as a starter on a good defensive team in Orlando
– Chris Bosh, who has been criticized for his D, but is striving to improve
– Bargnani, who is a good man defender but horribly inadequate when it comes to help defense

A good defender/rebounder would help this group, because the early returns aren’t pretty. Pretty ugly actually.

Which Brings us To the Ugly

Hate to do this, especially since Mark Cuban has praised them recently, and I think he just might be right. The replacement refs, at least they’re consistent and seem to treat everyone the same when it comes to blowing the whistle. Even LeBron.

Buuuuut, today we saw a Rocket drive to the basket and DeMar DeRozan took a charge. No, actually he got called for a block and the other player got called for a charge. Two fouls and tip-off at centre court. That’s more funny then ugly actually. Hey, at least every call is not carved in stone like it used to be.

Yes, and Chase Budinger. Ugly. Where do you start?

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