It’s only pre-season…oh wait

Soooooooooo……….where’s that defense you been talking about?
Magic 125, Raptors 116 – Box

Caught this one on the PVR knowing the Raptors had lost. Was expecting a total crap performance and true to rumour, they started out like they finished in Memphis – spreading the cheeks wide open for unproven perimeter players. This time it was JJ Reddick (he of the Duke persuasion) and Ryan Anderson who I got laughed at for picking in my fantasy league. Things got better from there mostly because they couldn’t get any worse. They made a game of it because Orlando – who were missing Lewis, Carter and Pietrus – cooled off and we started moving the ball a little bit better. In the end it was a relatively close game with failure to defensive rebound and knock down a key open jumper serving as the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

Defense is a 48 minute thing and despite the long pre-season video sessions, coaching retreats, hand-holding and camp fire talks, the Raptors haven’t figured that out. This Orlando starting backcourt went 16-34 for 57 points. Ours had 18 on 6-12, do I really need to continue with this post? Problem was two-folds, the guards getting beat, mostly Jose Calderon in 1on1 and high screen situations and failure to recognize who you’re supposed to check in help and double situations. Go ahead and pull out any old recap from last year and you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to get at. Unnecessary help was also another issue in that miserable first quarter where we gave up 36 points, DeRozan leaving Reddick in the corner to help out on Nelson’s opposite-side drive when there was already help there was the pinnacle of the phenomenon. Or how about going under a screen for Nelson even though he burned you for a three for doing the exact same thing on the last possession. Same stuff as last year, disappointing part is, as I already said, Triano’s talk that this team was of a defensive nature. But hey, maybe they need more time to gel but god damned if I’m to believe that leaving a guy who has already hit 4 threes wide open is a chemistry issue, more like a “I’m too f***ing dumb to understand what I’m supposed to do” issue.

The only added twist today was Howard who I’ve always felt we should never double. Not because I’m a believer of the “let him get his but control the rest” theory but because there’s no reason to put our fragile defense through the test of close-outs, rotations and all that painful stuff if you don’t have to. I think our post-defenders are actually pretty solid, Bargnani and Rasho are competent enough to slow him down on their own, no reason to play right in their wheelhouse and test Howard’s passing ability, which by the way is pretty good. It’s bad enough that we’re forced to help on Howard and are leaving prime three point shooters open, it’s even worse when it’s Marcin Gortat who we’re helping on. I mean, Triano’s got to get a handle on his “help and recover” doctrine. The Magic shot 7-11 threes in the first quarter and had 17 for the game, that really was all there is to it.

Ryan Anderson was torching Andrea Bargnani early and was one of the main reasons for the Magic building up a lead that turned out to be insurmountable. Bargnani was leaving him wide freaking open; our man gets a lot of credit thrown his way in terms of man defense but that’s only true when it comes to the post. He’s a good defender against bigger matchups in the block, mostly because he doesn’t leave his feet, plays straight and isn’t very reactionary. Asking him to D-up a more mobile guy similar to him has always been an issue and Anderson gave him a taste of that early. He got some measure of vengeance in the second half by hitting four straight threes for 26/5 (Anderson had 20/6) but the numbers don’t tell the story. If you’re one of those people who like to use his jockstrap as a face-mask, I suggest you skip the next little section, I’m about to point out three great Bargnani fourth quarter plays which were nullified immediately on the ensuing possession because of his poor defensive play:

  1. He hit a three to cut it to 7 at 10:17 but failed to get the rebound on the next possession leading to two FTs.
  2. He hits another three at 8:49 to cut it to 6 but failed to fight through a weak screen leaving Anderson open for another three at 8:33.
  3. Drives and lays it in against Anderson at 4:05 to cut it to 4 but completely forgets to box-out Anderson who glides in for the offensive rebound and the dunk. Bargnani flails his arms implying that it’s not his fault. No, it’s your fault.

I also hate it when a commentator (Leo) makes a comment like “Maybe that made basket will get him going on the defensive end as is the case for many offensive players”. That is not a ringing endorsement, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. If your offense if failing, you try to make up for it on defense, not become a non-factor. Bargnani might be the only NBA player who needs a working offensive game to be involved defensively. In a game where the Magic shot 44%, there were plenty of rebounds to be had, especially against Ryan Anderson, but he only managed to get 4. As the above three examples allude to, how good of an offensive game does he need to have in order for us to look past his defense?

Bosh later alluded to the the guards’ and Bargnani’s defense referring to the threes:

“I think we came out flat defensively. We didn’t do the things defensively that we’ve been talking about since the pre-season, which is have all contested shots and give them one rebound. They had a lot of wide-open threes and that’s what killed us”

We shot 54% and had 116 points in this game so you might think that our offense is functioning as efficiently as a Rexdale crackhouse, not so much the case. I’m noticing a LOT of isolation sets with four guys standing around. I know it’s a cliche analysis but that’s really what it was; Chris Bosh bailed us out again with a monster 35/16 game but other than three of those scores, they were all results of individual brilliance and great effort. We ran one fully successful instance of the pick ‘n roll in the first half which saw Calderon hook up Bosh for a layup but excluding that it was very flimsy stuff by the Raptors – 1on1 play, basic reads and play it by the ear type high screens..meh. Asking your players to “spread the floor” and “move the ball” is nice and all but lacks substance which is often needed to succeed late in games. The Magic are by no means defensive stalwarts, not without Lewis’ length and Pietrus’ lock-down defense; the Raptors had plenty of chances today to run some good stuff but instead chose again to give the ball to Jose and have him use pointless high screens that go nowhere and serve as a formality that lead into the “real” play. I wonder how much of this can be attributed to our coaching staff who don’t have any notable experience designing NBA-proven offensive sets.

Whatever the case, I don’t like quotes that explain a loss through sheer stats:

“It’s difficult when you lose and you shoot 54 per cent and you out-rebound them (38-37),” said Triano. “But they made three-point shots ….. It’s not like we didn’t, we shot 59 per cent from the three-point line (10-17) but they just took more of them.”

Turkoglu had a good offensive game with 19 points on 8-13 and we saw again why he was signed. Problem is that he goes without having a say in the game for far too long at a time and that’s because Triano doesn’t have a single play which isn’t either an isolation or a high screen by a big for Jose. Whenever Turkoglu has the ball in his hands at the start of the possession, good things happen. Period. That’s all the thinking and analysis required here and it should be enough for Triano to test him as the primary ball handler. Yes, it makes Jose a little less useful but what’s the sense in giving Calderon his seemingly guaranteed 30 minutes if he’s not producing consistent offense for his mates. Or did Colangelo write minutes played into Jose’s contract? It seems painfully obvious to me that Hedo’s the better playmaker so why not just stick with him.

Reason for that is that it would make Jose and Jack handle less of the ball, which means Triano would have to find more alternate uses for them. Jose needs to get his outside jumper going, we’re lacking three point shooting right now and are counting on him to spread the floor. In fact, we were hugely counting on him to cut the lead to 3 with 2:48 left to play but he clanged a wide open right wing jumper. That was a real killer. Jack had another bad game, four turnovers, not providing any sort of guidance to the offense and losing track of Barnes and Reddick on key threes. Problem with him is that he’s too short, at 6’3″ you’re never going to make an off guard think twice about shooting over you and unless you’re playing high-energy tight defense and have a system behind you that can provide help, he’ll be more of a liability than a strength on defense. Reddick blowing by him in two 1one1 situations had to make Colangelo swallow hard. His offensive game was inexcusable, I was expecting him to get past Nelson and bump into Orlando bigs all night long for fouls, you know, show that bull in you we were told you had.

While JJ Reddick was burning the ACC down with his shooting, not once did we test this bloke’s defense. He was checking DeMar DeRozan and Jarrett Jack, surely we could’ve made him defend and force Van Gundy into a sub? Belinelli only played 5 minutes whereas Jack played 20 and Jose 30, where is the sense in that. We keep hearing Colangelo tout Belinelli’s playmaking ability but haven’t seen it. We keep hearing (and I firmly believe this) his good defensive abilities but don’t call on them, and instead, for the second game in a row have him on the bench when a guard was hot. I don’t think Triano’s subs are planned or thought-out, he’s rolling dice.

That’s basically all I have to say. A terrible defensive start leading to a big Magic lead. Orlando cools off and we get back into the game but when we truly need a stop, we can’t get one or if we do get one, we concede the key offensive rebound. The hilarious part of the game for me was Devlin describing the “skirmish” between Bargnani and Barnes who were both calmer than two guys fishing on a Sunday afternoon. Devlin called it like this: UH OH…HERE’S BARGNANI!! AND HERE’S BARNES!! WATCH OUT NOW, BOSH GETTING IN THERE..WORDS BEING SAID…UH OH…HERE WE GO….OH SHIT..OH SHIT..OH SHIT..THAT’S WHAT YOU LIKE TO SEE!!!

I’m not giving up on this team and nor should you. There are some positives to be drawn from today, our floor spacing has been good, Bosh appears to be in contract-year form and Turkoglu is playing as advertised. If we can get a handle on what to do defensively to try and prevent guard abuse and install some sets that make players like Bargnani, Belinelli and Jack consistent threats in all four quarters, we’ll be okay. Yes, it’s painful to see questionable effort in the first quarter of a home game against the Eastern elite and that worries me more than anything, but let’s see how this team reacts to adversity. I’d say we’re right in the middle of our first test right now.

Chisholm has more positives to speak of.

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