Playbook? What playbook?

Coming off yet another small-margin loss, the Raptors head into Sacramento tonight to try and take advantage of a fellow cellar-dweller in the 4-12 Kings.

Before we get into the analysis, I spoke with Jon Santiago of Cowbell Kingdom to discuss what could be an ugly basketball game but might turn into one of those “two bads make a good” games.

Hi there. Nice to see you. Not because I like you, per say, but because your record is almost as bad as ours. What’s been the main issue facing the Kings in their early struggles? Is it just a matter of immaturity, lack of talent, some Raptor-ish luck?

The talent is there for this Kings team. Unfortunately, the sum is not greater than its parts. The problem with this year’s team is that they’ve gotten in their own way. Arguing calls, engaging in hero mode instead of trusting each other and not realizing that games have been within reach if they just stick together as a team. Game management has also been an issue. Keith Smart has had trouble locking in on a set rotation, especially at point guard where he continues to yo-yo minutes between Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas.

DeMarcus “Can’t Call Him Boogie ‘Cuz We Still Have Alvin Boogie Williams” Cousins should, by all accounts, destroy the Raptors. He’s averaged 18+11 in his three games against them, and he’s a match-up nightmare for most teams anyway, let alone one that will have a rookie (Jonas), a sieve (Bargnani), and a hacker (Amir) guarding him at different times. But he occasionally no-shows for games, too. Do you see any way the Raptors can contain DMC?

Get under his skin. Annoy him. Frustrate him. Play physical with him. If you can make playing in the paint a dreadful experience, Cousins will settle from the elbows and shoot himself out of the game. That is how Valanciunas, Bargnani and Johnson have to approach their match-up with the Kings center this evening. As I said in my answer to question No. 1, the Kings get in their own way of success and Cousins is a prime example of that. When he feels things aren’t going his way, Cousins can go off the reservation and lose control of his emotions. That has cost his team big time this season and it wouldn’t be much of a shock if that happened again tonight against Toronto.

James Johnson, lolz. Thoughts?

He showed lots of promise coming into the season. He was by far (and probably still is) one of the Kings better defenders in preseason. But we see why he fell out of favor with Dwane Casey and the Raptors. As solid and energetic as he is defensively, Johnson has been such a detriment to the Kings on offense. He can’t shoot, which creates spacing issues, and doesn’t put himself in right spots on the floor. Like the rest of this team, he’s been a disappointment and it doesn’t seem likely he’ll turn things around with his minutes decreasing in recent games. But at the very least, the Kings can hang their hat on the fact that it took just a second-round pick to acquire the 25-year-old wing.

What can the Raptors try to exploit to escape from the Cowbell Kingdom with a W and ensure this isn’t a winless road trip?

Slow down the pace of the game. Do what the Indiana Pacers did last week and limit the number of possessions in this contest. A win was within reach for the Kings on Friday, but they carried themselves like it wasn’t because Indiana played such stifling defense. And if Tyreke Evans returns from injury, hope that he’s not 100 percent. Before bruising his left knee against the Timberwolves last week, he finally started to hit his stride and was a big reason their offense was catching up with their defense.

Tale of the Tape
Offensive Rating: Toronto 102.8 (20th), Sacramento 101.4 (26th)
Defensive Rating: Toronto 108.7 (25th), Sacramento 108.9 (28th)
Pace: Toronto 91.7 (18th), Sacramento 91.1 (22nd)
Strength: Toronto Ball Control (3rd lowest TO%), Sacramento Ball Control (10th lowest TO%)
Weakness: Toronto Hacking (29th in FT/FGA), Sacramento D-Reb (29th in DReb%)

Oh my does that ever look tantalizing for the Raptors. Finally, a team that is appreciably worse at both ends of the floor, won’t have a team rebounding advantage, and the ONLY team that sends players to the stripe more than the Raptors! Still, there is some decent individual talent on this squad.

Not noted here is that Sacramento has, by far, the lowest percentage of their field goals assisted on. They are a one-on-one team, and this is something that should, in theory, play to the Raptors advantage. The biggest problem with the defense has been over-helping, leaving shooters open and failing to recover. However, against a team that rarely gives up the pill, this will be less of a concern. They’re also not a strong perimeter shooting squad. I don’t advocate the excessive helping the Raptors have been doing, but at least tonight it shouldn’t be as detrimental as usual.

Positional Breakdown
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon v. Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas
Advantage:
Toronto
I have no idea why Thomas hasn’t gotten more run giving how good he looked last year. And I swear to Shuttlesworth, if Jimmer goes off in this game I’m taking the rest of the week off from the Raptors. Under normal circumstances, the Raptors should have a big advantage here. Brooks is quick and will be able to penetrate but doesn’t like finding teammates, so the Raptors over-helping on penetration may actually work out this time around. Lowry is the better all-around player and Calderon is a far steadier back up presence than whichever guard Smart rolls out behind Brooks.

Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus, Terrence Ross and Linas Kleiza vs. Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, James Johnson and Marcus Thornton
Advantage:
Wash
This is the rare game where DeRozan MIGHT be the best wing on the floor. Evans is highly overrated based on a rookie season that was only “great” if you look at the box score, not if you watched the game or looked at his secondary and efficiency stats. Since then, Evans has fallen off a cliff in terms of effectiveness. With that said, he’s still highly capable of big games and he’s going to make DeRozan or Pietrus work hard. I’m so sick of John Salmons being a thing. Johnson, well, we all know about him. He’ll probably get hooked quickly for firing up too many shots to try and “show us.” Thornton is the most effective of the King Wings and really needs to be traded off of this team ASAP to a team that can better leverage his highly-efficient scoring abilities. Raptors only don’t get the edge because they have no small forwards. Now that I write this, the Kings should maybe have an edge due to Thornton off the bench, but Evans isn’t fully healthy, and I’d have to scroll up to change it.

Bigs: Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson vs. Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Thomas Robinson and Chucky Hayes
Slight Advantage:
Kings
Call me crazy, but Cousins can be too beastly for me to safely say the Raptors are in the clear here. Thompson has carved out a nice role as a decent third big, though T-Rob has been disappointing as a rookie. Hayes is an all-defense undersized big and, though he’s listed at center, will probably be tasked with staying in front of Bargnani. He’ll likely oblige and fire up jumpers over the 6’6” Hayes, which would be a bad idea given how often the Kings send players who drive to the line. Jonas looked tired, Amir only shows up once in a while, and Ed keeps getting THIS close to establishing himself. Jonas might get in foul trouble against Cousins, who is a brute force, so look for Ed to get another chance to do his thing and seal up the defensive glass.

The Pick
Vegas Line: Kings -2.5
Hollinger Line: Raptors -1.5
Blake’s Pick: Raptors win by 13
Yeah, screw it, I’m getting ballsy. I don’t trust Cousins to NOT destroy the Raptors, but I just have a feeling that with so many close losses, the comeback in the second half Monday, and the tough couple of games ahead, the Raptors will lock in tonight. Homer.


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