Knicks 103, Raptors 108 – Box

I’ll be honest, my mind is in a haze right now. Been a tough week of moving residences so bear with me.

Entertaining game for the Montreal crowd and a nice win for the Raps which should boost their confidence heading into the season opener on Wednesday. The Raptors showed again that they matchup well against teams who like to play a high pace. Barring the early transition defense which saw the Knicks score in under 10 seconds on a few occasions, the Raptors did a good job of expending that extra effort on defense in getting back on time. Their defense was good, but it was made to look better than it was by New York’s sloppiness – 26 turnovers. The Knicks only attemped 69 shots and lost despite shooting over 50%. That’s enough evidence to suggest that the turnovers, forced or not, won the Raptors (22 more possessions) the game.

Not sure why Reggie Evans was picked to start against Amare Stoudemire over the tall, lanky and athletic Amir Johnson. My fears about this matchup were confirmed early when Stoudemire was getting over and around Evans like he wasn’t there. Evans’ performance picked up as the game went on (11 rebs, 1 FGA), his effort was contagious and the rise he got out of the Montreal crowd after a great offensive rebound brought a smile to my face. He also dished out two sweet passes from the key to cutters for layups. When Amir Johnson came to the game, I expected him to put up a stronger stand against Stoudemire but he actually managed to do worse. His post positioning on defense remains very suspect and he conceded position in transition way too easily. For a guy his size and energy-level, you don’t expect to see that happen.

Although Johnson is a lethal finisher when he’s within 1 inch of the rim and nobody is within 3 feet of him, he needs to improve his finishing in traffic or at least not get blocked so hard that a TV viewer has to cringe. If Jose Calderon has been the most disappointing Raptor this preseason, Johnson is right behind him and nobody is quite talking about him. He’s still a good offensive rebounder but offensive rebounding is more about hustle than it is about using our head since concepts like boxing out and sealing don’t really apply. It’s his defensive rebounding that needs improvement and that’ll happen when he betters his positioning and awareness. Oh yeah, three fouls in 16 minutes. All bad ones.

Sonny Weems had a better game, after hitting a couple early jumpers he looked to suck the defense in by dribbling into the side and then swinging a quick pass over to the top. No surprise that he got rewarded with four assists, further confirming by belief that if this guy puts his mind and effort to things he can be an even bigger surprise than last year. But he’s got that look and feel about him that I know he’s going to let me down. For example, the way Bill Walker blew by him twice today made you wonder if he was up for the full 26 minutes he was out there.

The Knicks have done a complete 180 in terms of their style of play, in the 90′s they were all about grinding it out in the half-court and now the shot-clock rarely goes under 10 for them. At some point in the second half they did decided to play some defense and had the Raptors coughing the ball up. They caught on to the Raptors overplaying the perimeter and slid in for a few backdoor layups. Even though in the grand scheme of things it was chump change, it served as a warning that being overly aggressive can backfire.

Have to comment on the center combo of Bargnani and Andersen. Andersen was quite smooth today, fighting as usual on the glass but as a bonus he threw in some all-net mid-range jumpers and then took Amare to school by executing a shake ‘n bake followed by a baseline fade. It was like watching Michael Jordan except it was David Andersen. More of that please. Andrea Bargnani started doing the “right” things again and two early threes helped his confidence, it’s obvious that Triano’s made an honest effort to involve him early and it’s working to some degree. Unfortunately for me, what sticks out is how he let Raymond Felton pick the ball up from his feet and run it back for a layup. It was so bad that even Jack Armstrong called him out. One rebound in 24 minutes is just plain sad, more so when you compare it to Evans who got 11 in 20 minutes. Forget about rebounding not being your strong-suit, that’s just pure lack of effort.

Jose Calderon had a better game on both ends, lots had to do with him guarding Andy Rautins but at this point he’ll take what he can get. So what if Raymond Felton was bruising him and Jack whenever possible, that’s going to happen in every game this year, the important part is whether these two can punch back and get some points of their own. Kleiza is another one fading in and out for me, when the Raptors signed him, Colangelo talked about him operating a lot in the post but we saw very little (if anything) of that in preseason. He moves well off the ball and along the baseline, but needs to ease back on those mid-range jumpers coming off curls or an early screen. I’d rather Weems or somebody with a proven J take those.

Anthony Randolph. I have never been impressed with him and not sure why anyone would be, I think that whole “Golden State really doesn’t want to give up this guy” was all a smoke-screen to drive his value up and the Knicks bit. Andy Rautins is a lot of things but gun-shy isn’t one of them, his first three was launched with 18 seconds on the shot-clock on his very first possession. It’s like he insists on doing the opposite of what his Dad tells him to do. Good move, Andy, you’ve already bettered your father’s career.

So, preseason is over and what have we learned?

  • The Raptors are a better defensive team than last year, both effort and strategy-wise.
  • David Andersen was a solid signing.
  • Amir Johnson is basically the same player from last year.
  • The motivated, vibrant and healthy Jose Calderon that we all expected isn’t here yet. We still got the guy from 2008-09.
  • DeRozan’s jumper is getting better but it’s nowhere close to reliable and he’s still forcing the drive. Not necessarily a bad thing because we need someone to consistently get to the line, which he did a team-high five times today.
  • Andrea Bargnani doesn’t look like he’ll assume the role of the #1 guy on this team. Instead, we have a bunch of #3 and #4 guys, it’s not a bad thing for a rebuilding team as long as the team concept is instilled deep.
  • Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon are decent options at the point, but neither is starting caliber. I can’t help but feel that if we had some speed and vision at the point, we’d be an entirely different (and better) team with this exact same roster.
  • Linas Kleiza’s signing can go either way, not because he’s not a good player, but because he’s not bringing anything too different to the table than DeRozan and Weems right now. As I alluded to earlier, where’s his post-game?
  • The rumours of Leandro Barbosa’s demise were greatly agitated. I am impressed by his defense awareness, let’s hope it continues into the regular season.
  • For Reggie Evans to be good, his rebounding to shot-attempt ratio needs to be 10:1.
  • Raptors finished shooting 71% from the stripe in pre-season, this has to improve.
  • This team isn’t as bad as people are making them out to be, there will be long nights but there will be some good ones. 25-28 wins are possible.
  • This pre-season was fairly indicative of what the regular season will be like.

A blogger from WEEI.com asked my opinion on the Raptors and I responded to him over email and said the following:

26 wins. The Raptors aren’t as bad as ESPN is making them out to be. They could be on par or better than teams like Philadelphia, Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and New York, so there will be wins to be had. The defensive effort has been solid in training camp and if the Raptors can get consistent offensive production out of Andrea Bargnani and the Italian improves his defensive awareness, they have enough players who can play and carry the load. Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa can complement the youth of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but the question will be whether the Raptors can rely on their defense to keep them in games when their star-starved offense goes into a funk. Last year they were dead last in defensive rating, if they can become a middle of the pack team, it could be a decent rebuilding year but I don’t see the playoffs on the horizon.

About this game, I wanted to say that the Knicks and Raptors didn’t run their “real stuff” because they face each other for real in less than a week, but I just don’t buy it. These are two teams that completely play off-the-cuff.