Not a good week for the club, we got clobbered in Denver and then put up little resistance against the Jazz with the defense going from bad to worse. We gave up 108.25 points per game and our league-worst defensive rating went further down a couple notches to 116.4. Thankfully Miami came to town and we were able to snap out of a three-game losing streak before falling in rather depressing fashion to the Magic. We’ve lost 4 of 5 and are 9th in the conference heading into a week that even the most optimist amongst us would classify as no more than 2-2. The pattern of winning two and losing two might start anew as we face Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Phoenix.

The Orlando game for me was a bit of a nightmare. It showed just how dependent we are on scoring, we went cold for 5 possessions and suddenly the Magic scrubs had taken the game over. Not having your defense to fall back on when things aren’t going right on offense is going to be the main challenge for this team. This could entirely be a personnel issue in that we simply don’t have good defensive players, but Triano needs to be held accountable because he publicly spoke of his faith in this unit’s ability to play team defense and he apparently also had a say in all summer transactions. Fourteen games in and it turns out both our GM and coach were way off on their evaluation of this team’s defensive abilities. Should we wait more before passing judgment? Does it really matter? I’m starting to hope that we remain around .500 or so till January and pull off a trade for the stretch run.

Positives

Marco Belinelli: I said he was feast or famine and last week he was all feast, hopefully he stays that way for us. He’s played like the super-sub we expected him to be and I like that he’s got a swagger about him. He had two big time performance against the Nuggets and Jazz where he averaged 17.5 pts and 4 rebs. The Miami game saw him handle the ball more and he notched 4 assists in only 15 minutes of play. He missed the Orlando game and his absence was felt as the Raptors bench struggled to score early in the crucial fourth quarter.

Amir Johnson: Too bad the team couldn’t pull through against the Magic because his great 14/8, 6-7 FG performance needed to be admired. He’s starting to have stretches in the game where he’s a defensive and offensive factor on three or four straight possessions, leading the opposing coach to call a timeout. The aggression he’s playing with is being rewarded which is usually the case. He wasn’t doing that early but having a chance to look at the team from the bench it’s not hard to figure out what’s lacking. He saw it and went about providing it. If Reggie Evans does come back and Johnson continues his good play, we could pack a hustle-punch or two.

Jarrett Jack’s lack of turnovers: Three straight turnover free games, a 17-point effort against the Heat including a couple big shots and an 11 assist game against the Magic. I don’t know what it means but he’s playing better and is driving more, which is what he was hired to do. Haven’t seen him get sucked in by those 20 footers too much last few days which bodes well. The defense isn’t what it was advertised as over the summer, but considering how awful he’s been to start the season it doesn’t take much for something to count as an improvement.

Negatives

Pick ‘n Roll defense: First and foremost, I blame the coach for not figuring this out. Everybody from Carlos Boozer, Eric Maynor, Dwight Howard to JJ Redick took turns exploiting what the Raptors give away on this set. The hedging is non-existing, the switching is random and the effort is minimal. Calderon, Jack, Turkoglu and DeRozan all get caught behind the screen leaving the ball-handler with multiple options. In the pre-season against Philadelphia I saw some trapping but that’s never happened since, no idea why not because it make sense to cause turnovers (2nd worst in league) since we’re unable to stop teams in their regular sets. It’s one thing to get physically beat on a play, another to play the incorrect strategy and further worsen your chances at a defensive stop. This is nothing less than shocking to me after my ears went sore listening to Triano laud the team’s defensive work.

Andrea Bargnani: Other than a strong showing against the hapless Heat, he struggled to get anything against the better teams as Nene, Lewis and Kirilenko all outplayed him. Averaging 9 rebounds for the week is a great jump from the usual 5, but the 10M dollar man needs to have an impact on both sides of the floor and that too, consistently. The return of the pull-up 20 footer is not a good sign, especially when it comes against slower big men who prefer you take that shot. When he does “put it together”, he does it for 5 minute stretches and we’re all waiting for him to put together a solid string of games where he’s a dominant force. Or am I asking too much?

Hedo Turkoglu’s utilization: Devlin’s reminded us to death about how he’s a “big time playoff performer” and we get it, but that shouldn’t mean Triano should give him the license to do whatever he pleases in the fourth quarter which so far has been going 1-on-1. He’s not an Ace of Spades that you can hang on to and unleash only when the game’s on the line. I still maintain that we should be going through Turkoglu a lot more in the first three quarters. The combination of Calderon/Jack is being scored open too often, they’re giving up 136 points per 100 possessions, this is well below the team number of 116. If Triano’s obsessed with having ball-handlers out there, Hedo’s a pretty good option. Turkoglu’s usage rate is 18.7%, that’s the lowest its been since the 2003-04 season.

Jose Calderon’s defense: Yes, I can blame him for other PGs having big games. Yes, basketball can be that simple at times and the box-scores can be that straightforward. AST/TO for the week was 2.3 but who cares, all I can remember is him being on Deron Williams’ hip instead of in front of him, Jason Williams going past him without a screen and Ty Lawson pulling some crazy sh*t on his watch. The offense is coming along with two 16 and one 14 point games but at what cost? Sorry, even after three years I haven’t accepted that we have a below average PG who will usually concede what he earns.

Coming along…

Using Chris Bosh: Technically, I should be putting him under positives every time but that would get old. Take the Denver game out and he’s had another great week. The five rebound total against the Magic was low but when you have Dwight Howard responsibilities you have to rely on your teammates to pick it up, they didn’t and we conceded 14 offensive rebounds. Taking one-shot in the fourth quarter didn’t jive well either. The Raptors forget about their best player far too often, he couldn’t get a touch in the fourth quarter on Sunday and didn’t have as many iso sets as he needed on the West coast. Sometimes we forget that he’s our main advantage and I find that hard to believe/accept/fathom. Triano, take note.

Looking ahead

Tue v IND: My man Roy Hibbert is averaging close to 12/9 for the 5-6 Pacers and playing big, I said it then and I’ll say it again – we never should’ve traded that 17th pick. Hibbert’s exactly the type of player we need, a 7’2″ 280lb C who plays his weight. Danny Granger’s pulling the weight of his contract with 25/7 and our old friend T.J Ford is dropping 10/4/3 as the starting PG. They started off losing three straight, won six straight and have lost three straight. All things considered, they’re probably in the same tier as us and since they got creamed in Charlotte on Sunday, it should make us weary of our next opponent.

Wed @ CHA: Where the Raptors suck at D and excel at O, the Bobcats are the opposite. Larry Brown’s got these guys playing defense and it shows in their 4th place defensive rating of 100.6. However, that’s offset by their 28th place offensive rating of 94. They’re cracked the 100 point plateau just three times and have been held below 80 five times, including a 59 against the C**tics. They snapped a 7-game losing streak at home to Indiana and at 4-9 are fighting with the Wizards and Knicks for something I’m not quite sure of. Keep an eye on Gerald Wallace, he’s netting 14/11 for them and is liable to explode against us. We should also see Stephen Jackson guarding Chris Bosh at some point.

Fri @ BOS: Can we f*&^%$g beat them already? Just once, in my lifetime!? The mega-c**t hit a game-winner on Sunday too which didn’t sit right.

Sun v PHO: If we lose by one on the road we should win at home, right? Phoenix will be in the second game of a stretch where they’ll be playing 8 of 11 on the road and trust them to try to get a couple wins early. It’ll be interesting to see whether Triano repeats the switching strategy on Nash/Amare, if he does the Suns will be ready with a plan. Fool me once…

RapsFan says 2-2, I concur, and phdsteve goes with 1-3. Here’s the podcast:

Click on the play button below or listen directly in iTunes, you can also download the file.

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