2-0 for the short week and four straight overall. The opponents weren’t exactly Goliaths but job well done by the Raptors, they got the two things that they could possibly get out of this stretch – momentum and confidence. In a game as psychological as basketball, those are prerequisites and will come in handy when we face stiffer, truer tests against Charlotte, Orlando, San Antonio and Philadelphia. As great as the last week was, things will quickly turn to the regular gloom and doom variety if we have a poor showing against competition which serves as a better barometer. In a conference where a four game win streak takes you from being out of the playoff picture to the fifth seed, anything can happen.
Our defense in the second game was very disciplined, sometimes the Raptors hold the other team to a low shooting percentage only because the they missed wide open looks, not so this time. Belinelli’s defense on Hamilton/Gordon got some flak elsewhere but in my eyes he defended him as well as he can, dodging screens by staying on his toes and contesting as well as one can. If Wright’s assist-filled cameo was showcasing for a trade, it worked out well, and his appearance doesn’t necessarily mean DeRozan’s being penalized for his play.
The Nets win was routine but the Hornets win was nothing short of impressive. The talk coming into the game from the Hornets camp was all about revenge for what happened in New Orleans but the Raptors beat them pound-for-pound, bum ankles or not. The game started the trend of Hedo Turkoglu handling the ball more and sharing it equitably with Jarrett Jack, whose great determined play has been the staple of this run. Turkoglu is averaging 7.75 assists in these four games, that’s 3.35 higher than his season average. Is it as simple as Triano figuring out that the obvious thing to do is or is it Jack/Turkoglu being a more suitable combination? Probably a bit of both, but we shouldn’t discount the simple cause-and-effect of Jack giving up the ball early in the shot-clock or initiating whatever action he has to run early.
The Raptors have been tremendous in late shot-clock situations, whether it be Bosh, Turkoglu or Jack taking the initiative to make something out of nothing. The offensive execution was tested against the Hornets and Pistons in fourth quarter situations and we were up to the task. However, the Bobcats’ 3rd ranked and the Magic’s 6th ranked defense awaits and both teams have humiliated us this season, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Raptors respond in both games. The Bobcats hammered us by 35 and we’re 0-3 against the Magic, wins here would signal a true turnaround of the team, not just a warm feeling which is what we have now.
The San Antonio game will be Matt Bonner appreciation night so look forward to him grabbing 7 offensive rebounds and hitting four threes as the fans become utterly confused whether to boo or cheer. The Spurs have won 8 of 10 and there’s not much evidence of Tim Duncan’s apparent decline, he’s netting 20.2pts and 10.4rebs while the healthy-again Tony Parker is spurring the offense with with 16.4pts and 5.7apg. We’ve seen Jarrett Jack handle Chris Paul, Devin Harris and Jonny Flynn to a good degree, but Parker will be a real test of his lateral quickness, not that a pass/fail in the matchup will mean anything in the long run. The Raptors (no matter who is playing) will have trouble defending a quick PG, it’s the level to which you make that PG work on the other end that determines how well you’ve done, and in that regard Jack has been phenomenal with his aggressiveness. Turkoglu’s also getting more comfortable:
“We’re starting to realize how good we can be, we’re still progressing and need to learn about playing 48 minutes … when we figure that out too I think we’re going to be really good and you’ll see more [streaks] like this, 4-0 and 5-0 and even more.”
Just like it has been for the past three games, Andrea Bargnani’s performance will be key in beating any team which has big bigs. We’ve seen him torment Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace and Emeka Okafor recently and that’ll need to continue against Howard and Duncan. After dropping 26 against the Magic in the first game, he was held to 11 and 12 the last two, fouling out in one and collecting only 2 rebounds in the other. It’s no surprise that the only Magic game that was close was the first one. Although fans will always want him to shoot less threes than he’s shooting, it should be noted that Bargnani has moved his game inside. Somewhat. Have a look at his shot distance range per 40 minutes and you’ll notice that he is, proportionally speaking, shooting less threes this year than he did last and is opting for a more mid-range jumpers than ever before.
Taking the shot location concept a step further and viewing it in the context of the whole team, you’ll see that the Raptors are 24th in the league in allowing “at the rim” shot attempts. This could speak of our weak perimeter defense and tendency to allow dribble penetration. This is obviously not good and I was surprised to see the Lakers dead last in this “statistical” category. After watching their game against the Kings, I noticed that the Laker’s almost encourage dribble penetration! With the shot-blocking threats of Gasol and Bynum in there, they’re very comfortable letting guards challenge them at the rim as Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans recently found out. They’re 14th in the league in shot-blocking but that stat is very misleading as it doesn’t take into account shots altered.
I’d also like to commend Leo Rautins for stating how Bargnani gets the short end of the stick on fouls. The two fourth quarter fouls he picked up against Detroit were total BS, the Raptors should make a tape of these things and send it to the NBA. After Tim Donaghy mentioned that the league instructed the officials to give Kobe Bryant the benefit of the doubt after the Lakers had sent in a tape of 25 plays where a foul should’ve been called, there’s no reason not to. I’m not suggesting that Bargnani will suddenly be given preferential treatment, but at least the officials won’t be jumping to conclusions based on what they expect to see rather than what actually happened.
Trivia time. Per 48, Chris Bosh is the leader in points scored for the Raptors at 23.5. Who is second? Take a guess, don’t look it up, just think for a second…answer’s coming up….Patrick O’Bryant. Yup, it’s POB, I couldn’t believe it myself, but he is netting 29.3 per 48. What does this mean? Do we start POB? I don’t know, but it’s hard to argue with the stats.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the well wishers including those who emailed in, I really appreciate it. No podcast this Monday because of the holidays, baby and what else but like we did with Tim Chisholm, we’ll make it up.