Raptors 101, Rockets 117 – Box

That was ugly for many reasons, not the least of which is that zero defense was played. I don’t quite know where to begin. Whether you talk about perimeter, interior, help, or any other of flavor of defense, the Raptors did not care to play it. I don’t know if it`s people just not being on the same page (like the bigs) or Casey being tuned out, but it`s clear that the message that the foundation of this team is supposed to be defense isn’t getting through.

If you cared to watch the full game, you will have seen countless instances of cases where pairs of defenders were completely out of sync of what each other was supposed to do. Valanciunas and Bargnani may as well have been on different planets whenever somebody strolled down the lane; whichever one of our PG/Bigs were defending the pick ‘n roll, a slip or bounce pass which sliced open the defense was too easy to make (see Patterson/Lin or Asik/Lin). My mind short circuits when I see the transition defense. Half the time the Raptors don`t get back, and the times they do they never seem to force the other team to reset. You know, when a team realizes that even though they have numbers, the defense is well-positioned enough that it forces them to enter the half-court set instead of hoisting up a bad shot. A Houston player was never more than a side-step away from evading whatever defense was in transition. Poor, very.

The warning signs were here early and the loudest one was the Raptors’ willingness to play a full-court game, which is exactly Houston’s strength and is an area where the Raptors can’t hope to endure. You knew that even if the Raptors somehow miraculously managed to stick in this one, the ease at which Houston got their points was going to be the ultimate difference. Bottom line is we can’t out-gun teams, and any chance to do so is replicating the follies of Jay Triano’s time.

The collective stench raised by the team’s defense performance drowns out any individual performances and reduces their merit to the point where talking about it is meaningless. Terrence Ross’s showing, and defense of James Harden, was impressive, mainly because this turned into a game which suits him – open court, free-flowing, less accountability as it’s already a blowout, and a chance to throw down some nice dunks. Job done, but what does it mean really? Andrea Bargnani was on fire, doing no different than what he does every night, which is hoisting up shots. Last night they went in and he looked good.

The same can’t be said about DeRozan, who got lured into taking early jumpers, with nary a rebounder underneath the rim. It sounds simple and it’s relevant: he’s got to be a drive-first player because he’s not a good enough mid-range jump shooter to be anything else. Maybe in time he can develop his pull-up game enough to warrant a blind eye being turned when he pulls up in transition for an 18-footer, however, that time isn`t now. On the road against a tough opponent, you expect a leader of the team (and he is that, given his contract and the status crowned to him by the organization) to establish the tone of the game, yet he played right into Houston`s hands.

The Raptors only made 12 trips to the line last night, and unlike in other games this season, it was for lack of trying. The three guys responsible for doing so (DeRozan, Bargnani, and Lowry) went there a combined 6 times. This isn’t so much important in terms of offensive production (the Raptors did shoot 48%), it`s more to do with setting the tone for the game.

If you were counting on Kyle Lowry to have any sort of incentive to make Houston regret trading him, fool you were. Jeremy Lin, who has been struggling, was made to look like the Lin of those 10 games in New York as he put up 16/10 and kept Lowry on his toes with the usual herky-jery moves. Lowry, in turn, mustered up a 3-10 and 3 turnovers, and looked anything like a player who could provide for, let alone inspire, his teammates on this night. It’s difficult to accept that the Raptors still haven’t managed to nurture or sign a guy who can be a leader on the court.

Down by some in the first, by more in the second and by hell of a lot more in the third, meant the game was out of hand, thus rendering the fourth as premium garbage time, complete with the token run made by the team receiving the pounding. In a Rapcast earlier, I suggested that Casey needed to be commended for getting this group to play hard, not so last night. The fear here is that the 3-12 record combined with anticipated losing of some upcoming games will completely sap the remaining enthusiasm about this season. If you were thinking that the schedule will somehow turn in our favor and we’ll get all these games back, let me tell you that’s never ever happened in Raptors history. We never win the games we’re supposed to win, and we’ll invariably drop games like Washington at home.

A note about the strength of schedule, you might’ve been fed some information that the Raptors have it really rough, but according to basketball reference, we’ve had the 7th easiest schedule in the league. Yes, there might have been a lot of road games, but there also have been games against Indiana, Philadelphia, Utah, Orlando, and Detroit.

I suppose I could talk about the three spot a little and how Dominic McGuire and Linas Kleiza are serving to be one of the worst rotations we’ve ever had. I’m not going to do that, though, because you already know that. You already know that the signing of Kleiza was a mistake, and you already know that the only reason he’s on the team is to baby-sit Valanciunas. I suppose that’s being of some benefit to the organization.

A Casey comment:

I don’t know what the reasons were that we didn’t come out ready to play…we can’t allow our type of defense to regress where we get into a tit-for-tat type of game…we didn’t bring the defensive focus…I was disappointed in our focus to start the game and to start the third quarter.

Sure, Houston came out blazing to start the 1st and 3rd, but let’s not kid ourselves that that was the reason we lost. Casey’s larger point of the team coming out flat, both in their focus and defensive effort, is the issue here and that’s probably the more scary problem. The body language out there was not great last night, either. Whenever somebody scored there were accusatory looks being exchanged and indications of frustrations boiling over. In all likelihood, the playoffs are already out of reach, but it’s still early enough to make this a season where some progress can be marked. To achieve that, though, the team persona has to improve.

The main constraint on the Raptors improving are that there aren’t any players coming in any time soon. We’ve committed to Bargnani and DeRozan, and to a lesser extent Kleiza, Johnson, and Lowry. There’s likely no first-round draft pick this year, and the draft isn’t exactly great to begin with. Our trade assets have never been high, with Calderon probably the tastiest of the picks. And I’m not even sure Colangelo will be allowed to make any more moves if the team goes south. After all, how many changes does an NBA GM get? That too in one organization.

It’s bleak times as usual if you’re a Raptors fan. Our best near-term hope is that:

  1. The overall defense finds its way to improve from being bottom-third in the league.
  2. Two of DeRozan, Bargnani and Lowry produce on an efficient clip on a nightly basis.
  3. Our bench production (whatever happened that depth?) is such that we can sustain those second/third quarter periods without digging a hole.
  4. Casey figures out his rotation, sub-patterns to the point where we have the best possible unit for that night on the court when it matters.

The Quick Reaction has player ratings.

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