From this vantage point, it’s obvious the residue of that nixed deal has impacted Calderon, a good guy who has been exposed to the cruel business of basketball and who hasn’t handled it properly.
In contrast, you have Evans, a slimmed-down version, but still a bruiser, crashing the glass, giving the Raptors extra possessions and playing each trip down the court as though it were his last.
Evans has been around the block, understands the bottom line of the NBA and is looking to make an impression, knowing full well that his future isn’t in Toronto in this, his contract season.
In Calderon, you have a point guard looking to find his groove. Based on the pre-season, he does not deserve the start, but how do the Raptors relegate him to the bench when they already know the fragility of his confidence, unless they want to risk further damage to his psyche.
It’s almost sad watching Calderon interact, a lost soul who almost seems out of place in a place that made him one of its core pieces when it became apparent that change was necessary.
There is no room for sensitivity in this cut-throat world, but Calderon appears to have taken the business of basketball too personal.
Maybe the light will finally go off when the curtain raises next Wednesday, but there’s been no evidence.
In Wednesday’s 110-103 loss to Chicago, Calderon missed all six of his shots from the field and did not score a single point in nearly 25 minutes.
No longer can the Raptors rely on the pick and roll, a one-time staple that presented open looks to Calderon when a defender went under screens.
They aren’t as bad as many of the U.S.-based mavens would have you believe, but they’re nowhere good enough, either, to have not even a single player play to a mediocre level.
But that has been Calderon during most of the pre-season, a marginal player who is showing no signs of turning the corner.
When it was pointed out to Raptors coach Jay Triano that there was perhaps a lack of urgency or energy at times from his team, he didn’t disagree.
“We got out-worked in the game but I’ll take a little bit of the blame for that. We practiced hard this morning, we went live this morning, we’ve been going hard yesterday and the day before.
“We just didn’t seem to have the legs. Our closeouts, which we’ve been working on every day, seemed a little bit slow and it allowed direct line drives and weak side guys were slow coming over.
“All the stuff that we drill are things that they kicked us with.”
At Air Canada Centre, the Bulls defeated Toronto 110-103 in a close game that saw the Bulls pull away in the final quarter. “I think they cranked it up a little bit, and we tried to and we couldn’t,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said afterward.
“I kind of take a little bit of the blame for that. We practiced hard this morning…we’ve been going hard. We just didn’t seem to have the legs.”
Still, he added, “it’s no excuse.”
After falling behind 27-22 after the first quarter, the Raptors’ energetic second line mounted a comeback. Toronto led by as many as 10 points before heading into the second half ahead 54-50. And while they trailed only by three heading into the final quarter, they could only chip away at the Bulls’ ten-point lead before time ran out.
Reggie Evans had 16 rebounds for Toronto, including eight in the first quarter. Leandro Barbosa led Toronto in scoring with 22. Andrea Bargnani added 19 points and three rebounds, although Triano wasn’t satisfied with his performance. “His game isn’t where it needs to be,” he said.
Jarrett Jack is so excited about the upcoming NBA regular season that he cannot even keep the number of hours that are in a day straight.
“I was watching NBA-TV yesterday, and they had the whole countdown: six days, 29 hours and 14 minutes-type thing,” Jack, the Raptors point guard, said before his team’s 110-103 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night. “And of course when I turn it on today it will be five days. The anticipation is starting to heighten. With all the moves that were made this summer, you’re just anxious to see everybody play. When opening day happens, I think everybody that loves basketball will be in front of their TV watching.”
Implicit in that is the fact that what has been going on for the last the last three-plus weeks is getting more than a bit old. Yes, we are getting to that time when the pre-season seems unbearable. (Some would argue that time, in fact, is all of the time.)
It is a good thing, then, that Wednesday night represented the Raptors’ second-to-last exhibition game, and last one at the Air Canada Centre.
“I think that everybody probably thinks that the pre-season is a little bit long and it drags out,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “We’ve tried as coaches to make the games meaningful so that we can maximize how much we’re getting out of them. But with the regular season a week away, I think it’s natural for everybody to get excited for what’s ahead.”
Before we can get to what lies ahead, however, we must acknowledge the present. Namely, the Raptors offence is still very much all over the place.
In some games, it has looked like Triano’s focus on ball movement has been a complete waste of time, with the ball stopping in the hands of DeMar DeRozan or Sonny Weems or Linas Kleiza. In others, the ball has moved around fluidly, validating Triano’s talk.
“I think we’ve been doing pretty well. And I think if you look at the stats through pre-season, I think everybody has been reaping the benefits,” Jack said. “It’s not just one guy, not just two guys, but a number of guys who have been the leading scorer, the leading point-getter. Oddly enough, most of the time it’s been somebody who has been coming off the bench. How typical is that of an NBA ball club?”
"I think the chemistry on this team is a lot better," Weems said moments later. "I think a lot of players last year…weren’t willing to be familiar with each other’s background. I think a lot of players on this team this year are willing to get along with each other and are willing to get to know each other. If you have a bunch of guys who really like each other, then your team can be successful and I don’t think we had that last year."
Toronto’s best player, Chris Bosh, left the Raptors in the offseason and his departure has forced the players who remain to fill bigger roles. Weems sees himself as someone who can keep the team unified even if they hit a tough stretch of games.
"I like to joke around and have fun, and once you get everybody loose then it’s like a bug and it just goes around the team. And I think that’s my job, to try and lighten this team up a little bit."
Weems also wants to contribute more on the court. Not much was expected from the 6-foot-6, 203-pound swingman last season, but his strong play down the stretch — Weems averaged 14.1 points per game in April, and had 18 or more points in five of eight games — represented one of the few bright spots on a Raptors team that failed to make the playoffs.
"He is more comfortable this year," DeRozan said. "I think last year a lot of stuff was uncertain with him and he really proved a lot of people wrong and this year he’s out there to do the same thing."
Toronto’s Leandro Barbosa played well off the bench, scoring 22 points in 30 minutes. He added energy and could contend for a spot in the starting lineup.
Barbosa showed chemistry with Jarrett Jack, who also came off the bench. Jack replaced Jose Calderon who was held scoreless while adding only three assists. Jack looked the better of the two, grabbing 12 points and six assists.
Jack produced some of the best ball movement in the first half.
Barbosa actually gave Toronto the lead at half-time, 54-50, as he hit a jump-shot and followed it with a steal and layup.
However, Chicago’s depth was the key. Bench players like Kurt Thomas, James Johnson and Brian Scalabrine outplayed Toronto’s bench in the second half.
DeMar Derozan and Linas Kleiza both had short flashes of good offensive play early, but seemed rather invisible at times in the second half. Derozan had 15 points, while Kleiza picked up 12.
Despite scoring 19 points, Andrea Bargnani continued his struggles on the defensive side of the ball, grabbing three rebounds. The Italian does not appear ready to be a starting centre in the NBA.
Scalabrine and Thomas responded well to more playing time available because center Joakim Noah sat out with flu-like symptoms.
”[The reserves] came in and made shots and played defense for us and got us going,” Rose said. ”That’s what we need from them every night.”
They certainly needed it Wednesday. The Bulls (3-4) fell behind by as many as 10 points in the first half, but produced a strong second half — particularly on the offensive end — to outscore Toronto 60-49 in the second half.
They survived struggles on the boards (a 45-36 rebounding deficit) and in the paint without Noah, but bounced back nicely from Saturday’s blowout loss at Orlando.
”It always feels good to win,” Rose said. ”We showed a lot of fight tonight the way we came back on a good young team and came out with a win.”
Still, there was much Thibodeau didn’t like — things he’ll no doubt emphasize in the Bulls’ preseason finale Friday night against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center and during the three days of practice leading up to the regular-season opener at Oklahoma City next Wednesday.
”I liked the way we played offensively a lot,” Thibodeau said. ”We shared the ball, we made good decisions and we scored effectively. But if we’re just going to rely on our offense, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Zack Cooper recaps the pre season game between the Chicaco Bulls and the Toronto Raptors.
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