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Check out the preview for tonight’s game. Two weeks into the season we’re 3-3 and nobody should be complaining too much. There have been ups and downs, the ups have mostly come from our highly efficient offense and the downs from our porous looking defense. If you average the two you out you’re likely to find some solace in the way the Raptors have started this season. The early conservative estimates were 1-5 or 2-4 at this point and .500 is just dandy for me. We got four games this week and if we can go 2-2 in this little stretch we would have weathered a pretty big early storm. Before we get to some of the details, check out the podcast (approx. 30 minutes) with RapsFan and A-Dub summing up and looking ahead, even Milt Palacio’s name comes up. Click on the play button below or listen directly in iTunes, you can also download the file.

So, what to make of this team so far? Let’s check out the positives, negatives and the so-so’s.

Positives:

Chris Bosh: 28.5/11.8 on 52.6% shooting. Remember those MVP chants last year which we all knew were disingenuous? Well, if the home crowd chants that right now I doubt Vince would shrug it off. He’s been the most aggressive Raptor and is playing harder than he has ever before. Not sure how much of it is the upper body strength which has allowed him to bang on the boards, especially the offensive ones. It could also be a looser role where he’s not the first option on each play, thus allowing him to wander on offense and play like a baller instead of in a defined robotic role. Whatever it is, if he keeps this going he’ll be in MVP conversation at the very least when the season ends. That’s a big if though as last year he started tailing off right about now. I could be convinced to give this Chris Bosh max-money. However, the consistent defense is an issue as we saw against the Mavericks and the Magic. Early days.

Team Offense: 4th in the league in scoring at 107ppg and shooting 47%. This is with Jack, Belinelli and Calderon all having very so-so starts to the season and the offense not being fully installed yet. This is largely thanks to Bargnani and Bosh who are producing 46% of the Raptors’ offense (295 of 642 points). Bargnani’s shooting 52% for the year and if he keeps that number up, many can look past his rebounding. Speaking of that, he’s averaging 6.8rpg which is up 1.5 from last year. Hedo’s influence on the offense has been great and although he’s only had a couple massive quarters so far, he’s slowly but surely finding his space in our sets.

Bargnani’s Defense: Whichever side of the fence you’re on with him, you have to admit that you haven’t seen nearly as many of his ‘moments’ where he’s ball-watching. Yes, jogging backwards after taking a three instead of trying to get the offensive rebound is a bit lame, but overall, he’s held his ground reasonably well against Howard, Wallace and Nowitzki. And as I already said, a 1.5 increase in RPG is great and the added defensive effort hasn’t had an impact on his legs as he’s shooting a blistering 52% from three. Caution to the wind, part of the rebounding increase has been due to more minutes, his rebounding per 48 is up only 0.3 from last year – 7.8 to 8.1.

Negatives:

Team Defense: The defensive work of Calderon and Jack has so far been poor; both have consistently been exploited and other than a quarter in New Orleans, have looked very susceptible to penetration. The fitness level is open to questioning and we’re seeing too many quarter-long defensive lapses which have already cost us two games (Mavericks 3rd and Magic 2nd). This was the chief focus in pre-season so forgive me for holding it to a higher standard than a 29th place defensive rating (116.8 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Bench production: Jack’s AST/TO ratio is 1.78:1 and he’s shooting 35%. The second unit comes out playing hard but other than against Detroit, hasn’t provided the lift in energy that’s required of them. Belinelli hasn’t established himself as a regular off the bench and is misfiring on some very clean looks. The overall percentage is respectable at 45% (14-31) but his impact has been minimal and he’s been the 8th or 9th in the rotation behind (Jack, Wright, Johnson). It hasn’t come back to seriously hurt us because we’re firing on all cylinders but over the long run we need him.

Coming along…

Johnson: After a very bad start to the season where he couldn’t stay on the floor for more than two minutes, Amir Johnson’s being more aggressive and it has translated to some rebounds, in last week’s games he got 5, 6 and 7 rebounds. He’s third on the team in rebounding per 48 and is playing harder, if not smarter. The offense is still a long ways away and unless he’s got an uncontested dunk in front of him, he wobbles.

DeRozan: The rookie had a positive week but was the victim of some unexplainable substitutions which broke his early rhythm (against Chicago and Dallas). We’d all like to hear Devlin call his name more often and I don’t see Triano doing that because of all the other offensive options. It’s time for the rookie to be a little selfish in the opportunities that the offense presents to him. He’s the last guy on the floor the defense is worrying about and that alone should get you 4-5 good looks a game.

Wright: If you need a spark on defense, go to him. If you need to space out the floor, he’s the last guy you call on. Therein lies the conundrum, we lost Kapono who could space the floor but sucked at D, we gained Wright who’s a good defender but is a career 29% shooter from three. The 1-9 in Dallas was hard to watch and teams will continue to cheat off of him in order to deal better with Bosh, Bargnani and Turkoglu. If only Belinelli could be a solid defender at the SG, our issues would be solved. The art of hiding a player’s weakness while playing to his strengths is where coaches earn their money and Triano’s got two subjects in Belinelli and Wright.

Looking ahead

Mon @ SAS: The 2-3 Spurs are missing Parker and are considered to be ‘struggling’. However, the Raptors have served as the perfect antidote for struggling teams; the Spurs will come out looking to get a home W against an opponent that they consider to be inferior. The Raptors did pick up a win here last year so anything’s possible.

Wed vs CHI: Like the Raptors, the Bulls have collected a couple impressive scalps already by beating San Antonio and Cleveland. This game will be the second of a back-to-back for them so we’ll be looking to go 3-0 when that’s the case. Despite shooting only 42%, the Bulls have four games and that’s because they’re rebounding their misses. Fifth in the league in total and offensive rebounds, they wield two players averaging more than 10 rpg – Deng and Noah.

Fri @ LAC: There aren’t many easy nights out West but this one could be just that with the Clippers missing rookie Blake Griffin. After starting out 0-4, they’ve reeled off three straight wins against Minnesota, Golden State and Memphis, teams that could be considered in the same tier as them. Baron Davis is still shooting 40% but Kaman and Camby are at 23/10 and 10/10. The Raptors will not only have to deal with the explosiveness of Davis (can Jack finally slow down a good G), they’ll have to keep their big bigs off the boards.

Sun @ PHO: Phoenix is red hot at 6-1. We haven’t beaten them at home or away since they acquired Nash so it’s going to be hard to come away with a win here. We’ll get a chance to run up and down the court which is not what you want to do because that’s what they want you to do. Slowing the game down into a possession battle (like when they had Shaq) is the way to beat them. This would be a most impressive win and I do believe we have the tools to pull it off, it’s a question of our defense disrupting the Nash/Amare pick ‘n roll and staying with their shooters. Easier said than done.

Raps Fan says 3-1 with the loss coming in Phoenix, A-Dub says 1-3 with the win coming at home against Chicago, and I go with 2-2 and see the Raptors winning against Chicago and the Clippers.