steph

Podcast topics include favorite Raptors, what can Belinelli do to shoot better than 41%, Amir Johnson fan clubs, Bargnani and Bosh’s defense against the Lakers, Jay Triano’s offense, the Roll Call, talk about what needs to happen for the Raptors to surpass mediocrity (.500), the one thing Colangelo’s great at, the eeaaassy schedule and more. You can click the play button below or listen directly in iTunes (25:35 min). You may also download the file (8.99MB).

Phil Jackson referred to our defense as “tenacious and rabid” and that has everyone excited. Those are pretty hefty words considering where our defense has been this year, you think back to the games in Charlotte, Denver and Atlanta, and you get a sense of how much we’ve improved. The earlier schemes deployed by Triano weren’t working too well and he even admits to “making some changes to the way we do things on defense” in order to get to where we are. There’s still tons of room for improvement, but at least we can say that the effort is starting to be at the required levels.

We’re still prone to a defense collapse against anyone but I think that’ll always be the case given our personnel, but as long as the effort is sustained we should win more than we lose. Belinelli, Bargnani, and Jack deserve special mention for their efforts in individual matchups and the team as a whole has been making the effort to execute that extra rotation to make an uncontested shot a contested one. A guy who helps that defense is Reggie Evans, he has set himself a target return date of February 17th. When asked about how realistic that is, Triano said it’s possible but threw caution to the wind:

A lot of people are putting undue expectations on him. To have him on the floor we have to take somebody off the floor. Amir Johnson has been pretty darn good, I don’t think Reggie’s going to come back and be a saviour. He gives us something in the toughness, rebounding and defense factor which is something we can use.

There was a lot of Amir v Reggie talk in the pre-season but we never saw the showdown. I don’t think this is a problem at all, or if it is one, it’s a good one to have. As nice as a surprise Johnson has been, he’s foul-prone and hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency; he’s as likely to have a game-winning stretch than a game-losing one. Evans shouldn’t expect to play more than 10-15 minutes at the most and should see time in lineups involving poorer rebounders. Evans and Johnson are two different weapons and the only overlap here is that they’re bangers who aren’t great offensive players. Reggie is suitable to use whenever we’re playing someone like Al Jefferson, somebody who needs to be pushed out of the block, which is something Johnson might struggle with. On the other hand, Johnson is a much better weak-side shot-blocker and can use his length against matchups like Lamar Odom, as we saw on Sunday.

Triano commenting on the defense:

I think our defense has been very good in the last 26 games, it’s been very good. We’re in the top 10 in the league in defense, if we’re referring to before that, then we weren’t very good..Our guys have worked hard in trying to keep guys in front of him, do the things we’re supposed to be doing, we’re getting more physical and thus we’re gaining more confidence.

Our defensive efficiency was around 116 (points allowed per 100 possessions) through mid-December and nobody was within four points of us. Things are now a little bit tighter, we’re 109.6, still dead last but the “race for worst” has tightened with 10 other teams within 3 points. On another entirely different stat-note, my man DeMar Derozan is 25th amongst rookies in PER. Ouch!

I talked about the soft schedule coming up and it hasn’t escaped Chris Bosh’s eye either:

Our schedule is a little more favourable. We don’t play that many tough teams, we have more games at home, we have a chance to test. A situation like that, we can maybe capitalize and put a run together.

Check our next 10 games: MIA, @NYK, IND, @IND, NJN, SAC, PHI, MEM, @NJN, WAS. There’s two back-to-backs in that stretch where we play NYK and NJN on the second night, if we count those as losses, this should be at the very minimum an 8-2 stretch. That would put us 7 games over .500.

Marco Belinelli says that no coach has ever asked him to change his style of shooting. Well, it looks great when it goes in but he’s shooting 39%, 44% and 41% in his three seasons. We know that he’s a solid spot-up shooter with great range, so there’s little reason why those numbers shouldn’t be higher. There’s little discipline in his shot-selection and it’s the reason for his hot and cold streaks. I would take a page out of Anthony Parker’s book and apply it here, the man always took shots that he wanted to take. He started missing them as his legs got older and he couldn’t get the proper lift on his fades (remember those front-rimmers?), but Belinelli’s younger and has better range. There is no reason Belinelli shouldn’t be shooting at a 46% clip off the bench and scoring 12-13 points.

In John Hollinger’s ESPN Insider mid-season awards, he’s slotted Chris Bosh as #3 for the MVP race behind Lebron and Kobe.

I’m not one to abuse the trade-checker, but this might make sense and he is available.

Quality wins this season: Cleveland, Houston, San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas and Lakers. Bad losses: Indiana, Milwaukee (twice), Memphis and Washington. I’d say there’s an overall positive theme here.

We got a stat-heavy post coming for you later.