Nine days after everybody wanted to fire the coach and trade every player we get to play the Hawks again. Since then we’ve had a team meeting, won three straight, but ended up losing to the best team we faced during the stretch, the Bucks. What will tonight bring? Some might say that it’ll be a test of character and a true indication of how serious this team is about the season, others might go with the “just another game” cliche, if only to avoid over-analysis in case of a loss. Whatever it is, the game provides a chance for the Raptors to prove that Atlanta was an anomaly and nothing close to resembling the truth.

Undeniably, you get the feeling that this season is all about winning two, losing one, winning three, losing four….500 basically. Nothing about .500 is surprising because most of us pegged this team right around the water-level mark, but that doesn’t stop it from being disappointing. As I was watching the fourth quarter of the Bucks game, I knew that we had no chance of coming back. Zero. It had nothing to do with Bargnani or Calderon being out, you just knew that too many things would have to go right for the Raptors to pull this out on the road. The porous unorganized defense I’m used to, but when we cool off from the outside it’s game over. Perimeter jumpers are our bread and butter and we’ve gone 13/56 (23%) from three over the last three games. Not going to get it done, not when the team is predicated on offense.

Bosh has been great to watch, but after him DeMar DeRozan is the guy I’m most enjoying. Maybe it’s because subconsciously I know that all that’s to come from this season is the young man’s development by playing high minutes while the team trots its way to mediocrity. He invariably starts the game strong and seems to get enough touches to make you think that he could be resourceful for the whole contest, but as game wears on you see less and less of him to the point where you forget that he’s a part of this team. Over the past four games, he’s only played 3:25 fourth quarter minutes, that’s it! The starters got a rest in the Chicago game but he didn’t play the 4th quarter or overtime against Washington, played 16 seconds against Milwaukee and played 3:09 against Minnesota.

This is despite him doing well in the first half and shooting 47% overall. 14 of the 20 lineups he’s been in during the first half over this stretch has seen the team have a positive +/-. By contrast, he’s only played in 14 lineups in the second half in which only 3 have yielded a positive +/-. He’s attempted 26 first half field goals of which 19 have come in the first quarter. During this span, he’s only attempted 6 second half field goals. So why this massive usage drop-off? I can’t explain it, he’s played well enough in first halves that it warrants the same number of touches (if not more) in the second. He’s not been a defensive liability by any means and has held his own on the glass – 4.5rpg. We need to have the activeness of DeRozan much more involved in our offense, not even for his development sakes but simply to win more games. The guy is more than just a rookie we’re bringing along, he can be a difference maker right now. I’d dig into more quarter-by-quarter analysis but at some point I’ll need to get to work.

The Republic seems to be split right down the middle on Bargnani. They used to be on Bosh too but his play this year has pulled a lot of naysayers over to his corner, at least so far. Bargnani’s got a 56.5 TS%, 17.2 DRB% and 11.2 TRB%, all career highs, so what is everybody complaining about? I think it’s about not living up to the standards of other traditional big men, for example 77% of his shots are jumpers which just doesn’t sit right with purists who are supported by history that this kind of center doesn’t produce wins, let alone titles. Bargnani is a unique breed, in the last 20 years there have only been 5 centers with at least three years of experience (like Bargnani) who average less than 6.5 rebounds while playing 30 minutes a game – Kevin Duckworth, Jason Collins, Mark Blount, Andrew Lang and Herb Williams. Hardly distinguished company. If you consider his career MPG of 27.5 and TRB% of 9.7, only once in the history of the NBA has a center been poorer at rebounding given those minutes and that’s James Edwards in 1989-90. My point? Bargnani is an experiment and the doubters have plenty of ammunition to go at him with. On a defensively challenged team like the Raptors, rebounding and defense (or lack thereof) will simply be given more attention.

If we look at the above criteria in terms of power-forward’s instead of center’s you’ll see that Bargnani’s stats are more comparable, still not great, but he definitely has more company than just five players. Will his defense be more acceptable to his critics if he played PF? Is there merit to his offensive game blossoming if he’s guarding shorter players?

Oh yeah, I’m supposed to preview the Hawks game. Does it really need a preview? They kicked our ass last time and we need a measure of vengeance. As bad as that loss was, this was the most haunting memory from that game. The game thread has the glitter and that’s all you really need, here are some things that would be nice to see:

  • Al Horford shouldn’t be backing us down like we’re two feet tall. He was 10-12 last time around and his shot-chart was more congested than A-Dub’s basement apartment. A little defensive resistance would be appreciated.
  • There’s some talk about bad defensive PGs, I don’t know where Jose Calderon ranks on that list but I know Mike Bibby’s not much better. Jack’s been playing very bullish on offense of late and putting Bibby on his heels could be doable. It’s hard to find advantages against the Hawks lineup but this could be one if we play our cards right. Then again, Bibby kills us, he’s shooting 60% against the Raptors over the last three seasons.
  • I know this is way too much to ask, but can you please bring that energy and focus we saw in the first quarter of the game in Washington for 48 minutes tonight? It’s not even a back-to-back, I’m sure you if you put your minds to it and take comfort in the fact that you’ve got Saturday off, it’s possible. Do it for the fans, I’ll even buy a DeRozan Huskie jersey if you come through.
  • Hedo Turkoglu’s searching for his game (it’s not here) and Triano isn’t doing anything to help him. He’s shooting 39% and 33% from three in December while only taking 10.5 FGs a game. He got outplayed by Ersan Ilyasova in the last game and was a complete and utter non-factor, that quick three he took late in the fourth quarter showed his frustrations. It basically said: I don’t know what plays we’re running but I heard on the radio that I’m supposed to be the fourth quarter guy around here so I better do something. Hmm, everybody’s still jogging back on offense, let me try this three, maybe if it goes in the press won’t hound me later…CLANG!!…oh well, we can always blame fatigue, and for f**k sakes, we did win three in a row. Give me a break. Note to Triano: Just take a page from Sam Mitchell’s single-page playbook and run the PnR with Bosh and Hedo 50 times tomorrow. Thanks.


    …and finally…




  • If we have to pick somebody off the bench to spell Jack, let it be Belinelli. As A-Dub said in yesterday’s post, just because you got ‘PG’ next to your name, doesn’t mean you have to play when the starting PG is injured. In the last two games he’s singlehandedlly conceded a run to two rookies, first to Flynn and then to Jennings. In other words: Banks? No Thanks.

Blogger’s Take

Let’s talk to Bret LaGree, the TrueHoop blogger for the Hawks who runs Hoopinion.

Pick one player other than Bosh on the Raptors that you’d like to have and why.

I’d like to have Amir Johnson. I have a weakness for youth, rebounding, and cheap contracts.

Something that scares you about the Raptors.

The Hawks want teams to shoot jump shots, hence all the switching on screens which creates a sort-of sagging matchup zone. Toronto wants to shoot jump shots and if they’re making them, the Hawks will be unable to force them out of that comfort zone.

How’s Mike Bibby’s defense like?

Bibby’s defense doesn’t look any better but because he understands his defensive limitations, mitigates them as best he can, and gets most of his minutes alongside the Hawks’ best defenders (Josh Smith, Horford, Williams, and Joe Johnson) his defensive on/off numbers are outstanding this year. That his backups are Jamal Crawford and the rookie Jeff Teague (who could become a good defensive player but gambles too much and struggles to defend the pick-and-roll) helps Bibby look good by that measure as well.

The Hawks are a 3.5 point favorite. Calderon and Bargnani participated in shootaround and are game-time decisions. Joe Smith is out with a thumb injury.

Jimmy‘s sim is pointing to a 106-104 Raptors win. Catch the game at Raptor Fan Friday’s at SCC. Be sure to support RR and take part in the contest for free tickets. If you’re going to the game, know that it’s Canada Basketball night.

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