More than anything, Wednesday was a chance to see which combination of players worked well under head coach Jay Triano’s system, which players showed glimpses and who is more likely to ride the pine than get meaningful minutes.
There will be more nights such as Wednesday when the Raptors will struggle to score, create and make enough stops to give themselves a chance to win down the stretch.
At no time in the recent history of the franchise is so little being expected from a team following years when so much was expected, a bar that was set so high that 50 wins were once being projected.
What the fans saw on Wednesday was a big question mark, an uncertainty that isn’t likely to provide any more clarity when the Celtics visit on Friday or when Hedo Turkoglu makes his return on Sunday with his Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash.
All that is known is that Triano is drawing closer to naming his starting unit, a group he hopes will begin to take shape by the end of weekend.
Against the 76ers, Triano trotted out Linas Kleiza, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Jarrett Jack.
The unit looked okay and it did help the Raptors forge a 24-19 lead after the opening period.
Jack pushed the ball and DeRozan wasn’t shy in getting his shot off, though his jumper remains very inconsistent, Evans hustled, Kleiza wasn’t as aggressive and Bargnani once again struggled.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess which direction Triano decides to take.
Whatever Triano does, there will be areas that cannot be disguised, given the various shortcomings that exist.
If the guard known as the Brazilian Blur does nothing else this season other than teach young teammates how to best use their athleticism, it will be fine with Triano.
“Sonny (Weems) and DeMar (DeRozan) have (the speed) but they don’t have the experience that Leandro has in chasing and getting up and pressuring the basketball,” Triano said after the Raptors subdued the Philadelphia 76ers 119-116 in a double-overtime marathon at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. “That’s kind of one of the things hopefully they learned from playing against him and learn from watching him do. I think that they both have the talent to do it, they’re both working at it.”
They will have to go a long way to match what Barbosa has. Despite the coach’s suggestion, the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder is by far the quickest Raptor today and may be the fastest in team history.
He logged 35 minutes in Wednesday’s game, finished with 16 points and six rebounds and was as fresh at the start as he was at the end.
“His speed is the thing and he has been in that situation before,” Triano said of the seven-year NBA veteran.
“I think he’s a real tough guy to keep in front. He’s super quick, can get to the basket, can make plays. His experience is something we’re going to have to use a lot of.
“He was on the floor more for the way he defended (Wednesday). He did a real good job, they went smaller and he was able to chase guys and get right up on them. His defence was good and that’s why he was on the floor that much.”
Overtime was all about Jarrett Jack, whose heroics included a clutch three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining in the first overtime (which was answered with another three from the Sixers’ Evan Turner). In the second overtime, Jack scored three pointer, then crashed to the floor, sinking both his layup and free throw. DeRozan brought the game to 117-116 with about 30 seconds left, and with a quick no-look pass from Jack to Johnson, who scored, the Raptors took the game. “It was actually exciting,” Jack said after the game. “We showed some resilience.”
Barbosa, who played all ten minutes of overtime, earned praise from Triano. “I think his experience is something we are going to have to use a lot of. He’s on the floor more for the way he defended tonight.”
Jack was the Raptors’ top scorer with 24 points, while Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 18. Jack has continued to outscore Calderon in the preseason, finishing with 24 points and six assists, while the Spaniard had four and eight. Bargnani, who was 1 for 7 from the field after the first half, came alive in the final quarter and in overtime, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds.
There is no outbreak of Raptors fever given an off-season that was dominated by the departure of Chris Bosh. That meant the Air Canada Centre was merely dotted with spectators for the Raptors’ pre-season debut at home.
And plenty of the fans’ cries were directed at a familiar target.
“Come on Andrea,” one fan said, “you’re the biggest man on the court.”
“Jeez, the No. 1 pick,” another one said after a missed jumper, followed by what might as well have been the word “sigh,” just like in comic books.
Andrea Bargnani was the mark for the ire, of course, during the Raptors’ 119-116 double overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night. Sure, it is the pre-season, but shooting 11-for-48 over the course of the first four games of the year is going to make an impression, regardless of meaning of the games.
“It’s not like he lost a jumpshot over night, or lost the ability to score the basketball,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said of Bargnani before the game. “He’s proven that he can do that. It’s just a matter of him trying to acclimatize himself with the new guys, a completely different offence than we’ve had in the past, which has been put in place for a specific reason.
“We just want him to keep continuing to work on rebounding and playing defence. I have no doubt that he can score between 17 and 25 points per game. But that’s what he did last year, and we didn’t make the playoffs.”
That is all true. And on the rebounding front, he was a part of a team that managed an absurdly low 22 rebounds on Tuesday night in Chicago. So there remains work to do. (He watched a defensive rebound hit the floor before a teammate picked it up last night, but also followed up on his own miss for a putback. Baby steps.)
However, his offence remains a question, despite insistences to the contrary. Bargnani has rarely been the player in charge of getting his own shot on the Raptors. Has he done it on occasion? Sure. More of the time, though, his offence was set up for him by a point guard or off of ball rotation.
In the post, Bargnani has become a bit of a ghost. (Full disclosure: The Raptors have still not put any individual plays in for Bargnani, so a lot of that is by design.) He changed that a bit in the third quarter, going right at Elton Brand for a layup in the paint. He did the same thing in overtime, hitting a shot over somebody named Craig Brackins.
On the perimeter, he is still quick to the basket, but slow to make his decision. And that jumper? It is wayward. Another 6-for-22 clunker last night proves that.
Another Raptor that performed well was point guard Jarrett Jack, who finished with a game-high 24 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists and two steals.
This was Jack’s second start and his play was a pretty loud message to Triano that he deserves to be the regular starter over teammate Jose Calderon.
He has outperformed his Spanish counterpart offensively through the four games that the Raptors have played and has looked better defensively, moving quicker laterally than Calderon, with more active hands.
The Raptors will look to build on these recent revelations Friday against the Boston Celtics.
Let’s be frank and open from the start. The Raptors are going to struggle to win games this season. That does not mean they can’t compete in games, but they simply lack the talent up and down their roster to make a deep run into the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, I would be ecstatic if this team were able to win enough games to make the playoffs, though I really do not see that happening as things stand now.
Please don’t confuse my perspective as being pessimistic; I see it more as a realistic view. But with the improvements of the other teams in the East, namely Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Washington, and New Jersey, it seems like a tall order at this point. Not to mention that Boston, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte all made the playoffs last season and, at this point, are each at least as good as last season except for maybe Charlotte.
To what end if the Raptors do become a playoff team? Does that help or hurt them for next year? This team will learn from playoff experience, no doubt, but let’s face it. This team is rebuilding. So what are we getting? A trip to the lottery or the playoffs? Let’s take a look.
For much of the fourth quarter and the overtimes, Collins played a lineup that would hardly be considered his finishers: Turner, Holiday, Meeks, Brackins, and Brand.
The Raptors also punished the Sixers by going to the rim. Toronto’s DeRozan (16 points), Leandro Barbosa (19), Jarrett Jack (24), Sonny Weems, and even Linas Kleiza finished in and around the lane.
The Raptors outraced the race-happy Sixers, scoring 23 points in transition. The Sixers scored only 15.
"My two guards are my leading rebounders," Collins said. "That is a positive, but you’d like that not to be out of necessity. But that’s a huge concern for our team if we can’t rebound the ball or defend the paint."
Going forward, I believe the Raptors need to add a star-level point guard (many will be available in the 2011 draft) and move Calderon and need to add a true centre who blocks shots and rebounds at a high level. Bargnani, Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa and Amir Johnson are all nice pieces to have.
Solomon Alabi and Dorsey are cheap bigs with some upside, always useful to have arond. That leaves 5 spots for other players including a star PG that will eventually push Jack to the bench and a bruising 7-footer in the Brendan Haywood/prime Erick Dampier mold.
Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has Calderon, Evans, Banks and a $14.5 million trade exception (+draft picks if he foolishly wants to surrender them) as bait to land a top talent or two. With shooting guard, small forward and power forward all stocked nicely going forward, centre and point guard are the areas which need to be addressed. Historically speaking, those happen to be the two toughest positions to fill with quality, though there has been a run on elite point guards the past five years or so.
The Raptors knocked off the 76ers 119-116 in pre season action. Zack Cooper was there and filed this report.
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