Kyrie Irving

A 2-2 week which could’ve been 3-1 or 4-0 if we had played a lick of D in San Antonio and Turkoglu’s effort had rimmed in. The disappointment in San Antonio was followed by two poor first half showings against the Bulls and Clippers, but the team found a defensive gear and pulled out wins in both instances. We’re 3-3 since the first roadtrip started and there can be few complaints, we’ve got two tough games coming up in Denver and Utah before returning home to face Miami and Orlando on the weekend. The character of this team is being tested early and I’d have it no other way.

Let’s check out the positives, negatives and so-so’s.

Positives:

Team Defense: After giving up 131 against San Antonio we’ve allowed only 93ppg in our last three games. Holding the Bulls to 89 might be considered routine and the Clippers are the Clippers, but the energy shown against the Suns in holding them to more than 11 below the season average on their home floor says something. Slowing the pace of the game to match our desired tempo and energy was the key, if you get the other team to play at the pace you prefer, your conditioning is less likely to be tested and the Raptors are doing that. We’re still dead last in defensive rating at 115.1 but there is a silver lining there – our defensive effort is better and we’re more comfortable with Triano’s schemes. The Raptors were also only a combined -8 in rebounding in the last three games, I suppose going -12 against a Duncan-less San Antonio woke the boys up a bit. We’ve also prevented teams from dominating us inside by giving up dribble penetration which has resulted in us allowing only 35 PINP this week. Triano’s strategy of making shooters make contested shots is paying off, opponents shot 14-50 from threes this week, that’s 28%!

Belinelli’s a factor: After a barren pre-season, Marco Belinelli is finally coming around and edging into the top 7. He went 15-28 FG (53%) this week and hit some big threes against the Clippers and Suns. 11ppg for the week is modest enough but with Jack struggling, he’s been the main threat off the bench. He also had a couple 3 assists game showing that when given the chance to facilitate, he can do it. The offensive firepower that was promised after the trade is starting to show, question is can he keep it up?

Turkoglu’s assertiveness: He averaged 10 shots per game in his first four games but has upped it to 13 in his last four. He had two 20 point games and shot 47% for the week; that’s including a miserable 4-12 against Chicago. After hitting some big shots late against Phoenix, he missed a couple he usually drains, but at least we know he’s still looking to be the man. The initiation of Turkoglu is close to complete and the only thing we should worry about is his health, a tweaked hip needs to be sorted out early. We don’t want that hanging around.

Honorable mention: Amir Johnson averaging 6.5pts and 6.75rebs for the week and hustling all the way.

Negatives:

Jarrett Jack in general: Is he a 1, is he a 2 or does he just suck? After being called out by ESPN as one of the most disappointing signings of the summer (5.8 PER), he didn’t do much to alter that opinion. 6 assists and 9 turnovers for the week, including one against Phoenix that literally cost us the momentum and eventually the game. His play can be characterized as lazy which is the last thing I expected of him, his passing has been terrible and he’s shown some signs of playing scared, killing his dribble early being one of them. He shot 36% (8-22 FG) for the week and his defense was porous, it can’t get much worse. Oh wait, his PER just fell to 5.26 which is sixth worst in the league!

Coming along…

Bosh keeps chugging along: For the week he netted 26.5 ppg and 11.25 rpg on 47% shooting. He’s laughing his way to the bank. Third in the league in rebounding, fifth in scoring, second in PER only to the injured Chris Paul. Can we give him a Player of the Week or something.

Bargnani’s still the same: The only center in the league that can average 4 rebounds for the week and still avoid the negatives sections of these posts. Much like one tunes out a nagging wife, I’ve accepted his faults and have become numb to his suspect defensive effort. As long as he keeps shooting high enough percentages people will be willing to look past his rebounding, he was 46% for the week which is acceptable. However, being 6/17 from three is not, that’s 35% shooting and frankly I’d rather have Belinelli or Turkoglu jack those up than Bargnani. He got lit up by Kaman, Frye and Bonner so what he took on offense was given right back.

Nesterovic: I wanted to add him to the negatives considering what a pointless signing he’s turned out to be, but then AltRaps reminded me that he’s nothing but insurance. Still, I’d like better insurance.

Honourable mention: Jose Calderon for averaging 14.25 points and 8.75 assists with a ridiculous AST/TO of 10.33. Would’ve been in the positives if it weren’t for the stinker in Phoenix.

Looking ahead

Tue @ DEN: The 7-3 Nuggets are beating teams by an average of 15 points at home, this includes a 105-79 shellacking of the Lakers. They finished their longest roadtrip of the season by going 3-3 and have settled in to play 7 of their next 9 at home. You might remember this as the 39 point loss that finally got Mitchell fired last year. Anthony is averaging 30/5 and it would be nice to have Antoine Wright suited for this one, should be fun. No altitude excuses.

Wed @ UTA: The 4-6 Jazz are also coming back from a long trip and will face the Raptors after a three day break. They’ve already lost at home to Sacramento and Houston and are a surprisingly bad defensive team – 26th in the league in defensive rating at 110.6. Injuries to Harpring, Korver and Miles have definitely had an impact and the Raptors could catch a break as Deron Williams is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game for personal reasons. Bargnani will take on Okur in a battle of perimeter oriented centers as Boozer and Bosh go at it again in what should be a physical affair. We’ve lost 8 straight to the Jazz, the most memorable loss being the TJ Ford implosion in those green jerseys.

Fri v MIA: The 7-2 Heat have played 7 home games, the most in the NBA. They’ve had a relatively easy schedule and have had one impressive win, beating the Nuggets at home. Other than that they’ve been feasting on the Wizards, Nets, Knicks, Pacers and Bulls. They’ve lost to the other two quality opponents they’ve faced, Phoenix and Cleveland in rather unconvincing fashion. Wade’s averaging 30/5 and bailed out the team with a game-winning three against the Nets at home, a loss that would’ve truly burst the bubble. Jermaine O’Neal has only missed one game and is averaging 13.6/7.8 on 57% shooting. This season means nothing to them, they’re lining it up for a big summer signing.

Sun v ORL: The 7-3 Magic have cooled off since we last saw them, they’ve gone 4-3 since losing by 28 in OKC, dropping one at home to Cleveland and losing in Detroit. The most impressive feat since has been a 122-100 demolition of the Suns at home. Rashard Lewis will be available after serving a 10 game suspension and this could be a Vince Carter appreciation night at the ACC. The Raptors had a great second half against the Magic but couldn’t overcome a lazy first half performance, that has to be on their minds and I’m thinking it’ll work out in our favor.

I’m going with a bold 3-1 with the only loss coming against Denver.