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Raptors 90, Knicks 85 – Box

Great win in New York. The boys in red rode their third impressive start on the road to a win, this time holding on for a close victory. This against three potential playoff teams, although with the Knicks, the term “potential” may be generous at best.

We’ve seen 5 games now, and although he tailed off in the second half, what has gotten into Andrea Bargnani? It’s not just the efficiency, humming along at a TS of 59.2%, but the assertiveness of his play. Even his interview at the half was uncharacteristically passionate. “We’re nothing!” Did y’all hear him say that about their lead? Gotta love it.

Small sample size be damned, what’s the reason for some of these improvements? Don’t say it’s because he’s playing at his natural position, the 4, because he’s been playing a lot of that the last two seasons. Another possibility could be the coach, who has already made his mark on this team, is delivering the right message. Not to take away from the coach, because he’s been great so far, but the biggest reason might be the simplest one. The dude has trimmed down and is now a real problem for NBA defenses because of his length/quickness ratio that gives Leo Rautins wet dreams.

To give Leo some credit, his most accurate analysis in recent history came when he mentioned how a Knick comeback in the 3rd was washed away from the mere presence of Mike Bibby and Bill Walker in the last two minutes. He’s right, Mike Bibby just sucks. He can’t move and he doesn’t look like he can shoot these days either.

There is definitely a little more polish in the offense when Andrea sets up in his customary high-post area. One immediate difference post-Casey is that there is more motion around him. More cutters, and his assist numbers have reflected that he is finding these cutters. 2.8 assists, up from his career average of 1.2.

Bargnani got doubled very quickly a couple of times in the second half and once it converted into a nice high-low feed from Jose to Amir. However, the other couple of occasions, Jose had a wide open three which he missed. It’s not an easy shot, that clearly wide open three. Some people are built that way. Their minds wander and they over-think the shot. The point is that those double teams may become commonplace if Bargnani continues to beast offensively, and you want a guy lining up beside him that can hit that open three. I think right now the only other option is Rasual Butler.

Butler finally hit some threes. The team needs him to get going because he was starting to become completely useless otherwise. It’s how the NBA is now: threes can bring you back into a game and can finish off an opponent.

Not sure what DeMar is going to become, but it’s clear what he won’t be, and that is an elite slasher. It’s kind of disappointing, but he does not have the first step nor the handles to ever create that kind separation off the dribble. The kind of talent that allows great players in this league to close out games. You can bash all you want in the comment section, but the truth hurts sometimes. He is showing some range now, which will turn him into a quality shooter and open a little more of his game up. Question is, can this part of his game overcome his weaknesses?

The game was essentially won in the first half. A very predictable offense of Anthony driving and kicking out for threes was easily handled by a suddenly effective Raptors defense. Yes, New York doesn’t have the athletes outside of Anthony, but I think we all need to give the Raptors some credit for limiting them to 32 points at the half. The personnel hasn’t really changed all that much, but early returns show a drop from 105.4 pts to 96.8 pts per game allowed. Granted it looks like the Raptors have slowed the pace of the game down as well, but that’s a smart thing too isn’t it, to make the game a little more deliberate so that the opponent can’t get into a good rhythm?

The effort level on defense is clearly evident, the switches are tighter, players are singled out on breakdowns, it’s nice to see. If you look at Jose Calderon MINUS when Jay Triano was here, you have someone who is a game changer with his decision-making, excellent shot and Tim Tebow-like intangibles. This team has generally struggled when he’s been sitting on the bench, and it just seems that a competent coach can really maximize his talents. There, I’ve thrown sweet JT under the bus, and reversed the bus over his carcass. No more clipboards will be harmed again.

Fellow Republicans, we know this was a year where the only expectation was that we secure enough losses for a great draft position, but this team may once again disappoint you in that regard. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. It may be a combination of Andrea Bargani’s resurgence, improved defensive schemes and a healthy dose of good Jose. Whatever it is, this team has had a legitimate chance to win in all three of it’s losses. All three of the losses were to pretty good teams, and I’m not one to play this card too often, but the refereeing has stunk of entitlement that we are all too familiar with. On a side note, if you want parity in this league David Stern, then maybe you ought to give the underdog teams a more fair shake with the reffing once in a while. Despite all this, this team is one game from being .500 and part of you starts wondering already if this team is better than advertised.