Gameday: Sixers @ Raptors

The league’s worse offensive team, playing on a road back-to-back, is in town.

Lakers fired Mike Brown. I saw that coming the day he got hired.

It’s Philly at home today and the visitors are on a back-to-back after beating Boston last night. Kyle Lowry remains questionable due to his injury and is a game-time decision. Landry Fields is also questionable, in more ways than one. Despite not having Andrew Bynum to start the season and being widely criticized for their off-season, the Sixers come in at 3-2 with the two losses being to the red-hot Knicks. Unlike the Raptors, they’ve got some momentum on their side and are threatening to have the Raptors start the season 1-5, with a home game against the Jazz coming up. After that it’s on the road against Indiana and Boston, and those aren’t easy trips.

Thinking about this start a little more and you come to the conclusion that the game the Raptors have truly dropped this season is the home one against the Pacers since losses to the Nets, OKC, and Mavericks are to be expected. The panic button is still stashed away for now, and will remains so unless the Raptors can’t get at least one of two against the Sixers or Jazz. The problem, as identified by Casey himself, has been defense. As good as we’ve been in forcing teams to turn the ball over (2nd in Opponent TO% at 16.9% behind ATL), our transition defense has been poor and there are times when our aggressiveness on the perimeter has left tons of space underneath for back-cuts, forced players to make lengthy rotations, and has reduced the “recoverability” of our defense. Aggressiveness has its virtues and we love it; on closer examination of the personnel, however, it has may have more drawbacks.

Maybe these are growing pains of a team learning to work together, a team which has three front-court players who have never played with each other and three new starters. The DRTG is 106.3, down 2 points from last year (from 14th to 22nd), which has prompted Casey to do a good ‘ol gap analysis:

“Today we got after it, man,” forward Anderson said. “(Casey) posted the defensive percentages last year versus now and we could see where we let off. We want to get back to where we were at least last year and those will bring wins right there, just getting back to that.”

“We are going to get back to that,” Casey said. “We have to get those numbers down. Our major problem is not protecting the paint. We are stretched out. Our steals numbers are up and that’s not a number I like because that means our paint is open. Last year we were third or fourth in protecting against points in the paint and that’s what we have to do. That’s where our problems start. The other part is getting back in transition to give our defence a chance. Most of those are in the first quarter for whatever reason.”

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, is what the Raptors are finding out. It’s about balance, I suppose. Can’t be too aggressive because it leaves you open underneath, and when you don’t have a guy with Tyson Chandler`s mobility who can hedge a guard and come back to contest the baseline drive, you suddenly have choices to make. The poor play of Landry Fields (and let’s be honest, he’s been terrible on both sides of the court), having a defensive void like Bargnani starting, is likely to undo whatever good Lowry and Valanciunas bring. It sounds by Casey`s comments that he`s going to be asking the team to hold serve on defense by falling back and playing a traditional half-court set instead of gambling on perimeter passing lanes and trapping guards. He`s got the right center in Valanciunas to do that, I`m not sure about the other frontcourt positions.

Basically, Casey’s defense in Toronto relies on a slower pace and the current rate of 94.1 is well ahead of last year’s 89.3. In other words, slow down.

I’m not too worried about the Raptors, mostly because I find the games generally enjoyable to watch and have been conditioned to the losing. At least this year they have a real player in Kyle Lowry and I thoroughly enjoy Jonas Valanciunas busting his ass on the court. There’s no way he should be starting on any NBA team aiming to achieve anything of significance but given the situation in Toronto, he’s in a perfect role. Terrence Ross has been us grimace so far, not so much because he’s taking people’s eyes out with airballs, but because his nerves seem to be shot. He just needs to relax, not force shots and understand that he’s going to get his minutes whatever happens and that he doesn’t have to prove anything every time he’s on the court.

Back to Philly, and even though they scored a 100 against Boston last night they remain the worst offensive team in the league so you would expect the Raptors defense to hold up at home. Jrue Holiday is the leading scorer with 18 and Thaddeus Young far behind at 13.8. I expect the Raptors to realize the urgency of the situation and pull through at home.

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