Raptors 103, Heat 120 – Box

At least the bar scene in Miami is good, not that the M.A.S.H. unit has much to celebrate after losing a seventh straight game, this time to the Miami Heat.

No Dwyane Wade? No Chris Bosh? No problem.

With the Heat lacking two of the three Heatles, we were treated to a reminder of what Pre-Decision LeBron looked like. It was a thoroughly dominating and exciting performance to watch; a true reminder of what the best player in the world looks like when he turns it up to that gear that so few have. His final line of 38-11-6 (14/29 shooting) somehow doesn’t quite illustrate the totality of his dominance. The Heat had a nice second quarter run with him on the bench while Mike Miller went H.A.M., but except for those seven minutes everything started and ended with James.

Playing primarily at power forward for the night, LeBron displayed a post game years in the hiding. His back-down moves, turn-arounds, and ability to get to the rim from any position were a joy to watch, even if they might need an asterisk due to the quality of the defensive opponent. Later, when James went perimeter-oriented, his unparalleled slashing ability was on full display. James showed he can be one of the best in the world playing either part in the pick-and-roll game, handling the rock or as the dive man, and if I were Erik Spoelstra I would be making greater use of these skills when Bosh and Wade return.

It’s scary to think how good this team is at its peak. They just won 20 of 21 before a four-game, injury-induced skid, and LeBron and Wade have yet to fully synergize in the half-court game. I know we all have a grudge with Chris Bosh, but his presence and importance can’t be ignored for this team either, even if they didn’t seem to miss him tonight with LeBron assuming the post scoring.

It was a thoroughly dominant performance, on a night when the Heat lineup sounded more like a lottery lineup (they started Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, James Jones, and the Il Na Na).

Mike Miller enjoyed a great night in support of James. Hopefully for him and the Heat, it’s the breakout he needed after suffering through his first 10 games back from a thumb injury. Just how big was Miller’s night? Well, in 121 minutes coming into tonight, Miller had scored 15 points total. He scored 19 in the first seven minutes of the second quarter alone, en route to a 32-and-10 effort (on 12/20 shooting, 6/11 from long range). A couple of those misses appeared to be heat-checks as well. I like Mike Miller, but it’s unfortunate that the Raptors play King Maker so often.

Okay, I get that this is a Raptors blog and not a Heat one. And I know we’ve been watching LeBron do this for almost a decade now. But I think a few hundred words is a small pittance to pay in appreciation of that performance. Yes, quality of opposition must be kept in mind, as the Raptors were playing their fifth game in eight nights, with a rotation so thin that they will probably re-sign Sundaita Gaines, and I hardly disagree with it (but seriously, Sam Cassell’s lookalike has not looked good). They played eight men, and one (Gaines) played just over five minutes.

So it’s not like the Raptors had much of a chance. I thought maybe they’d be inspired from the start from the 40-point drudging at the hands of the Magic on Friday, but it was actually the second half that kept the final score semi-respectable, perhaps out of desperation as another deficit was growing into the 30-point range.

It wasn’t all bad in Raptorland. While they were outrebounded 42-33 and the defense was more or less atrocious – the Heat shot 53% and went 16-of-26 on three-pointers, the majority of which were wide open – the Raptors showed spirit in clawing back early in the fourth. The lead got as small as seven before Jose Calderon rolled his ankle, allowing Mario Chalmers to hit an open three and start a late Heat rally to pull away.

After an awful first half in which the team had just FOUR assists to seven turnovers, Calderon found himself and got the offense into a strong second half flow. The team’s 16 second-half assists accompanied just four turnovers, and the shooting percentage climbed from 33% to 47% cumulative. You can discount the effort by claiming garbage time, which I couldn’t argue, but this hobbled and exhausted unit could have folded at halftime and really let things get ugly. This is the NBA, and moral victories are more or less nonexistent but this team has had no choice but to learn and grow on the job over the past few weeks.

For DeMar DeRozan, this fact rings especially true. DeMar has been a revelation in January, averaging 19 points per contest and posting some of his career-best games. Tonight was another defining performance, as DeRozan continually attacked the basket. He finished with 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting, and his four free throw attempts were not for lack of trying. The biggest change I’ve witnessed in DeMar’s game throughout the season is nothing technical, but mental – DeRozan no longer appears too timid to demand the ball, and he no longer avoids making plays after a miscue. Last year and earlier this season, I lamented that DeRozan would shy away from his offense when he made a bad play or two or three, and as the team flounders I believe he is realizing just how needed his scoring and development are.

I know the deeper stats do not support DeRozan as being at a high level (yet). His PER has hardly increased from last year (12.88 from 12.58, 35th among shooting guards), and his true shooting percentage has actually fallen. His five free throw attempts per game are probably too low and haven’t grown much with his usage, and his rebounding and assist numbers are such that you’re only looking at the points column in the boxscore. Still, DeRozan averaging 19 points a night in January without the assistance of a three-point shot is impressive.

To take the next step, DeMar is going to have to find ways to draw contact at the rim – he is a master at avoiding contact, which is a skill of its own but should be balanced with drawing contact. He’ll also need a three-point shot eventually, as he’s 6-for-39 for his career, and you really can’t be considered an elite wing scorer without one. Either or both of these things will improve his true shooting percentage. He’ll also need to improve his rebounding (41st among shooting guards) and assists (59th), but my point here is more about his growth as a scorer. His scoring increases have been largely volume-based, yes, but he’s not accomplishing it at a less efficient clip or at a detriment to the team.

On a semi-related side note, I couldn’t be happier that DeRozan is paired with Darryl Dawkins for the Dunk Contest, as Dawkins is the king of naming dunks, something that has been missing from the contest. Dwight Howard is apparently also in DeMar’s corner, and the crowd will likely be split in favor of Griffin (the Clipper) and DeRozan (the hometown player).

His counterpart in scoring, Andrea Bargnani, struggled through an up-and-down night. Coming in, he was playing some of his worst basketball of the season, shooting just 25.5% over the past three games. He started out the game attacking and being aggressive but soon fell into his bad habit of settling for low-quality jump shots. A 10-of-24 night isn’t horrible for 28 points, but his lulls in the second and fourth quarters were a part of large Miami runs. I don’t feel the need to pile on Bargs even further, as the bus has been backed over him more than a few times lately. His rebound total (four) was almost as ugly as his defense, which we’re used to, so it was good to see him get some semblance of his stroke back, even if it did vanish again late.

Elsewhere, Jose Calderon had a great second half, especially by comparison to his first. He finished with yet another double-digit assist night (13) and has the fourth highest assist average in the NBA for the month of January. Ed Davis did a good job on the boards but didn’t really try to exploit his quickness advantage against some of the more elderly Heat bigs. Amir Johnson did his usual, grabbing offensive rebounds and getting hustle baskets.

Really, there wasn’t much to expect from the Raptors tonight. They’re playing poorly, they’re short on healthy bodies, and they’re at the end of a long roadtrip. The Heat, while without two megastars, were otherwise well-rested and have the best basketball player alive.

The Raptors return home tomorrow with an off-day before hosting Memphis on Monday night. If you plan on watching the game, please be advised that I’m covering it and the Raptors are still winless on the year when I cover a game. I apologize in advance.

  • Bob

    Best player alive plays in LA , rings anyone ?

    • Blake Murphy

      Currently. Kobe certainly has the best career resume but in my opinion LeBron is the best at this moment.

      Unless you meant Blake Griffin…that guy is the best.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504323292 Cito Knickz

        atleast u know what your talking about blake….these guys and this rings crap…i guess horry is better than mj

      • matt

        I hate it when people say Kobe is better than Lebron because he one has rings and the other doesn’t. If we are talking about INDIVIDUAL talent, Lebron at the age of 25, is already a 2-time MVP, and if it wasn’t for joining Wade in Miami, he’d probably win it again.
        He’s right up there with MJ as the greatest player – Ignoring rings – to ever play the game of basketball. Kobe would be certainly be in the top 5/7.

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          Part of being the best is knowing how to win. Kobe knows how to win. LeBron is the most dominant player in the league, and the player with the potential to be the best, but right now, I don’t think either of them are the best. I don’t know who is, but both players have let their teams fail far too often considering the talent level on them.

          • nadir

            You say Kobe knows how to win, but then you say he has let his team fail?

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504323292 Cito Knickz

              ppl forget that kobe cried like a little bitch to be traded after shaq left…gasol cam and now ppl blow kobe’s nuts

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504323292 Cito Knickz

          thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i get so sick of when ppl bring up this crap about rings…thats like saying eli manning is better than dan marino

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504323292 Cito Knickz

        it’s crazy how life works tho…kobe raped a chick and ppl blow is hog like he’s christ…lebron switches teams and he’s hated like the devil

  • Thisguy

    They won’t win the championship this year. Not that many quality bench players. I don’t think they can stay healthy. They’ll remain a great regular season team. They need an outstanding center to carve out the middle. Boston will win the East. Lakers will win the West. Lakers take it all again.

  • Bo4

    Bob, the best individual player in the NBA is the player that you wouldn’t trade away one-for-one for anyone else. If I have Bryant, I’d trade him away to get James, period. Not even close. This year is the first time that James has a star (Bosh) & a superstar (Wade) to go with his megastar. I don’t like the makeup of the rest of the team, but can’t ignore the big three. Wouldn’t instantly bet the house against them come playoff time.

  • Red Baron

    A little (a lot) off topic, but playing Bargs as a Centre (Center?) just isn’t working out. Raps Mgmt just seems hell-bent on playing him as a 5, I guess because he is 7 Feet tall, plays decent man D, and at least last year showed he could block a few shots?. Now I know he would have issues guarding 3’s as well, but I think he would really be better as our starting 3 (that is what spot he played his whole pre-NBA life, and really what are we getting at the spot from Kleiza anyway?), Amir-Ed as our two headed Power Forward monster, and we obtain a true 5 to round things out (how long have we been singing this tune?). Bargs actually looked ok at times guarding LeBron (who plays 3) last night. I think a starting line-up of Jose (PG), Demar (SG), Bargs (SF), Amir (PF), and a defensive paint clogging Center would be a step in right direction. I think Colangelo not addressing the Center position in his 5 years in T.O. remains his biggest failing to date….he seems a bit obsessed with skinny Power Forwards as we’ve had full stable of them the last few years (Bosh, Bargs, Charlie V, Amir, Jermaine Oneal, etc.). Heck we looked good even with an ageing Rasho in the lineup when he was here, as he filled what we needed….a true Center who could anchor a passable defence….


      “he seems a bit obsessed with skinny (Power Forwards) as we’ve had full stable of them the last few years (Bosh, Bargs, Charlie V, Amir, Jermaine Oneal, etc.)”

      BINGO! You wanna add STAT to that list? (although, he can play the 5) or Alabi? Or Ed? How about Dixon or TJ for undersized at every position, basically.

      It’s just BC being BC. And it’s why I don’t get anyone blasting the players.
      This is all by design. He’s obsessed with a “high power offense” (read: ticket selling bball) and wants a team of gazelles running up and down the court. A true C would imply a notion of defense, which is not part of the design or a priority.

      And it’s why I don’t get anyone blasting the players or “demanding accountability” from the coach or GM. Last I checked, you demand accountability based on expectations. If D not a priority for them, I’m hard pressed to believe anyone is demanding it from the player. This is an offensive/athletic camp/farm.

      He gets the players he wants, he just can’t get them to play together because they all do the same thing. Players like Evans and talk of “culture change” are a deflection.

      • RapthoseLeafs

        [ “A true C would imply a notion of defense, which is not part of the design or a priority.” ]

        You mean like Chandler?

    • KJ-B

      I’ve said it before on here –Andrea Bargnani is the worst draft pick/decision in the history of the franchise– it totally devalued the classical skill set so valued in the NBA game vs. EuroBasket: shot blocking/rebounding/intimidation/drawing double teams in the post/cornerstone of everything you do on both ends of the court… Every PF that has suited up besides this guy is playing de facto center WHICH IS WHY BOSH LEFT, Colangelo was actually building the team around #7’s needs and not the Franchise’s…

      • cesco

        Going back to that (in)famous draft , Aldridge was a PF and Roy had known knee problems . In the following 3 years , if BC had traded Andrea for a middle of the pack defensive center , what was the guarantee that the team would have improved enough for Bosh to stay ? , after all the J O’Neill experiment failed didn’t it . I think that with Bosh and an average defensive center , the Raps would have been a middle of the road team but not a top team . Furthermore , had the trade for Chandler succeeded last summer and with the young ones improving ,the future would not be as desperate as it is now . BC is trying to land a defensive center but it is not easy .

        • KJ-B

          AGREED — but scouts in our department for whatever reason, CHA w/ MJ is guilty too, totally overlooked RUDY GAY!!! That’s the guy, I wanted back then, and even when Roy was ROY, I thought he was the best player in the draft, and the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Scottie Pippen– For whatever reason, our scouting staff/current GM loves to overrate European experience vs. college preparation…

          They claimed that Rudy should’ve domininated on UCONN that had like 4 future NBA players on it..! I mean J WaLL dominated on Kentucky last yr with similar talent but he was the pg and had the ball all the time… I just don’t know why we keep on passing on all world 3’s in this organization… Let’s see Iguodala, Granger, and Gay, I’d be happy with any1 of those guys… If Iggy is still available I won’t mind swapping him for Andrea and a pick/TPE…

          The perimeter is where the NBA game has changed the most after the advent of Jordan/Pippen and the non-handchecking rules that the L instituted to facilitate that type of open court play and more above the rim finishes at the rim… If not Iggy, I like Cdn Kris Joseph in the draft and a few other guys — not sold on Harrison Barnes, looks awfully finesse —

          • cesco

            Rudy Gay and Bosh would not have been compatible as they both want the ball all the time. Rudy is averaging 20.5 points per game to Andrea 21.4 . The rest of his stats are only slightly better than Andrea and his contract is much larger. I think that had Rudy been selected instead of Andrea he would have wanted a bigger contract than Andrea got and he may have bolted and go elsewhere since Bosh wanted max money and there would have been problems staying under the luxury cap.

            • Babyface_Killah

              Actually Rudy Gay plays with much ball-dominate PF in Zach Randolph and he seems to thrive playing with him. Even though I dont think Gay would have led us to a championship, I think he would be a better fit than Bargnani

            • KJ-B

              How would u know–you got a crystal bowl… Rudy Gay plays with the ‘Black Hole’ aka ‘Z Bo’ aka Zach Randolph, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol–essentially a team way better than the Raps–so I’m not sure what NBA you’re watchin’?! An athletic swing that can play 2-3 positions, guard almost any1, can hit outside, I guess Chris is really sucking with that Mia team, what were u saying again?

        • matt

          Aldridge can do a better job at center than Barney, and we already knew back then Bosh wasn’t a post up player, so why bring another player allergic to the post? that draft had everything to do with BC’s ego, than the team improving forward.

      • voy

        lets be serious, kj-b, and stop with the inflammatory, emotional rhetoric. andrea is the worst pick in the history of the franchise?!?! why? cuz you would have taken one other guy, Gay, who went at #9? Thats ridiculous. And please dont ever mention Rudy Gay in the same sentence with Scottie Pippen.

        • KJ-B

          Scottie Pippen was 6’7″ with the same long reach, same defensive prowess, same outside J (ok Rudy’s is betta) — so we must never compare modern playaz to legends, you’re kiddin’ right? Let’s just shut down the NBA right now and no one should ever try to be better than the legends that came b4…Blake Griffin should just quit right now because he’ll never be better than Malone/Barkley!?!

    • Theswirsky

      Bargs at the 3 is something I’ve wanted to see to. I know there are a lot that will claim its the worst idea possible… but he isn’t cutting it at C. Try it out (for more than a handful of games, or throwing him in there during the start of the playoffs)… see how it goes for the rest of the season, I just don’t see it making a difference in the W/L record

      Just on a side note… Bosh and Charlie V were not BC selections (he moved CV and even though I’m was never a fan Bosh was still a good player). I don’t really call O’neal skinny and even Bargs for that matter, although by all means as soft as can be. But you are right this team needs some real strength at the C. Just wish Reggie was 4 inches taller.

      • KJ-B

        I dunno, he might give up 40 or 50 points on the perimeter instead of 20, 30 in the paint — can we all just say this, #7 is a specialist and is best suited being a 6th man scorer a la Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford that’s only asked to do 1 thing: Score… On a team like Dallas, Chicago, Portland, OKC he’d fit in well coming off the pine to score 20 a night and no one’d be complainin’ bout his lack of D… Too bad it sucks for every1 involved that numero siete that he’s been made ‘The Franchise Guy’ by Gherardini/Colangelo..!

        It’s a painful thought him going against Iguodala/Granger/James/Pierce that’s NBA assisted sucide!

  • KJ-B

    Big Ups to DD who I’ve given pub ALL SEASON amidst the “No Money” Weems fangirlitis… Having said that I’d take a rugged wing scorer/outside bomber–even Sonny in the 4th Q with a lineup of DD, Jose, Special Ed, Amir to clamp down on both ends of the floor… #7 on LeBron was basketball disrespect at one of its all time levels–Bird, Jordan used to dis coaches/teams when they put a weak defender on him…

    So how bout those rebounds, a major part of playing D because, it is akin to playing properly positionally, LISTEN TO WHAT ESPN STAT GURUS HAVE TO SAY:


    If that doesn’t say clueless –the 3rd worse 7-foot rebounder in NBA HIStory is #7– then nuthin’ else will…Is he really as popular south of the border as some in MLSE and RR claim him to be??????

  • Aaron8007

    KJ-B you should be aloud to post if stupidity was the key to these forums. EVeryone on the raptors is basically a defensive liability. Amir is too skinny and weak, same for Davis, derozan gets outscored by almost every wing player and is also too skinny and weak to guard nba players, ANdrea is absolute mess when playing team defense and kleiza is too slow to keep anyone in front of him. SO you have 5 bad defensive players in the starting line up. That is why the raptors suck. You sound as smart as TIm W who blames global warming on Andrea.

    • KJ-B

      Oops my bad, Andrea Einstein–Andrea (as in the English girly version ‘An dree-aahh’)…

      • cesco

        Wake up from your drug induced stupor , Aaron said that everyone on the raptors is a defensive liability for various reasons (skinny and weak , help defense etc..) , no need to be an Einstein to see that is a fact.

        • Theswirsky

          EVERYONE is a defensive liability? Not a single player can hold there own? No one is even ‘average’? please…

          don’t try to bring everyone else down to ‘your guys’ lvl.

        • KJ-B

          So because ur boy #7 sucks–all of a sudden the WHOLE TEAM IS FULL OF CRAP PLAYERS??? Look in the mirror b4 u type– cause I don’t know what on earth ur looking at!?

  • KJ-B

    Thanx Aaron– I’ll call you Einstein from now on…

  • Buschfire

    last night was sad… Bayless got stuffed hard by Lebron, maybe that will teach him to pass first shoot second? lol i doubt it…. I was watching NBA gametime last night on NBA TV and Stackhouse was laughing at how bad our defense was yesterday…and well in general, then they mentioned the Orlando game loosing by 40 ewww… we are really a laughing stock south of the border…. weak sauce.

  • HJ

    Bargnani cost us too many possessions down the stretch in the game. Imo this is DeRozan’s team more than it is Andrea’s, and it is for him to take command of, and it is he that should be getting more touches in late situations….Is this losing something to stress over? I don’t seem to mind it that much with the impact it has on the draft status…as a fan, is it wrong to WANT to lose?

  • pizza247

    You’re kidding yourself if you think the dunk contest crowd will be split between Blake and DeMar. The collective Griffin hard-on will be fully erect in LA.

  • dave88

    I would love if Bcwould go out, get chandler , affalo, and start those two with ed davis.Bring andrea of the bench. Great interior defence and a great scoring punch off the bench…

  • AnthonyF

    DD burned again and again on d and still can’t shoot beyond 18′ which is unacceptable for a #2…. Add to that no rebounding ability and court vision…… but he is our future….. Meanwhile AB is to blame for everything….

    By the way let’s be honest regardless of how well Miami passed and our weak defense 16 for 26 from 3 point is an anomaly….. a great shooting day should have been 11 or 12, which would have resulted in a game down to the wire……. It was just one of those days where we played a rested hungry team who hit everything…..

    • KJ-B

      The dude’s 21.

  • AnthonyF

    I took a deeper in to DD’s development….. Still can’t hit an outside shot with any consistency at all and he has played well this 5 game road trip but averaged all of 2.2 rebounds & 1 assist….. For the season he is averaging 15.3, 3.3 & 1.7. I want to be excited about him, but those #’s are unacceptable for an athletic 2……. We’ll save the defensive arguments for those more astute….