It’s been tough to pin down who the Raptors are this season from game to game. The names on the jerseys and the 5-man lineups that have played together have been under so much flux in the last two weeks that it’s tough to expect anything else. In the last week we’ve seen the Raptors lose in unimpressive fashion to a bad Bobcats team at home, and win against a tough Mavericks team on the road. Your guess is as good as mine as to which Raptors team comes out to play today, but there does seem to be something to quality opponents bringing out better focus and effort on the court. Which is good, because the Raptors can not afford any stretches of undisciplined or uninspired play against the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led OKC Thunder.

Some teams take nights off against teams they know they’re better than, which often as not surprises them with an L on the record column. The Thunder are not one of those teams. Their only loss this season to a non-title contender was the second game of the season against a spry Minnesota team without Russell Westbrook. Since the lockout, the Thunder have only lost 12 games against non-playoff teams. Of those 12, 4 of those losses were against teams like the post lockout Kevin Love-Ricky Rubio Timberwolves who would have been playoff teams if not for injuries later on in the season, and another was the last game of the season when the Thunder essentially rested their entire starting lineup. So we’re left with 7 losses in 3 seasons to non-playoff teams. OKC simply does not take nights off.

What I’m getting at here is that this is the Lloyd Christmas “So you’re telling me we’ve got a chance!” part of the breakdown. The result isn’t a foregone conclusion, but if you’re short money for last minute Christmas shopping, putting what money you have on the Raptors moneyline is almost guaranteed to end up leaving you as that broke guy who gives everyone handmade ‘gift certificates.’ Despite what the wisdom of Lloyd Christmas suggests, an IOU is not as good as money.

Having said that, the Thunder are not the juggernaut they were with Harden, or even the one they were with Kevin Martin in that role. The Thunder are divided into two teams. There is Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lamb, who have both been sensational from beyond the 3-point line, and then there is everyone else, who have been sensationally bad from deep. Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have gone a combined 72 for 253. That’s 28.4%, which isn’t DJ Augustin bad, but is exactly what DeMar DeRozan shot from beyond the arc last season. Remember your reaction to every single 2012-2013 DeRozan 3 point attempt? That’s how OKC fans feel every time someone not named Durant or Lamb spots-up. OKC is not the 3-point machine they’ve been in the past. The Raptors have let opponents shoot 37% from 3 this season, which has been a product of the occasional zone defense, freelancing for steals on man coverage and a general apathy towards the defensive suggestions poor coach Casey was screaming from the sideline to start the season. The defensive attitude has improved, and the result is a slightly better than average defensive rating. Less Steve Novak has meant less zone defense, and less open jumpers.

Terrence Ross has been starting at small forward. I’ve enjoyed the minutes from Ross, whose stock I’m still buying up. Any minutes on the court help his development, so I’ll take them. But he doesn’t play like a forward on either end of the court, and the Raptors do not play a position-less Miami Heat style. Matchups matter. Terrence Ross can play that spot, but the larger forwards like Durant make it clear that Ross is a guard, not a forward. Having said that, if ‘he can’t guard Kevin Durant’ was an argument against a player’s value, there would only be six players in the league to have a discussion about. Expect Kevin Durant to do whatever kind of Kevin Durant things he wants to.

The good news though: Grievis Vasquez is faster than Derek Fisher! Vasquez not being a defensive liability is exciting, because General Greivis can do some very entertaining things on the offensive end of the court, especially out of the pick-and-roll. Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher trying to guard pick and rolls together is every bit as much defensive basketball schadenfreude as Steve Novak. It’s like watching hurricane news coverage of people trying to walk against category 3 winds and rain.

Kendrick Perkins is fascinating. Did he really think that his NBA grump title belt was under fire when he tossed Joakim Noah out of the Thunder change room this week? He sounds exactly like an angry old man yelling from his front porch at those damn neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. You don’t need to defend that title Kendrick; you are the undisputed champion of sour looks, angrily swearing as you storm off to the bench without making eye contact with any teammates and confusing competitiveness with taking absolutely everything too seriously. What is the over-under for Perkins vs. Hansbrough awkward and/or hard fouls followed by intense head shaking and stinkfaces? Both players average 18 minutes a game. If we assume that they’re on the court for half of that time together, that’s 9 minutes. The over/under has to be 9, right?

Finally, my main focus in watching the Raptors through this road trip is on the only player promised to be on next year’s team: Jonas Valanciunas. Watching to see what Jonas Valanciunas shows up and how the Raptors decide to use him remains one of the more interesting storylines from game to game. You can guarantee that one of the Raptor’s first two possessions will always be a Valanciunas post-up. They go to him twice in the first two minutes, and then usually wait until the start of the third quarter to hit him on the block again, regardless of whether his possessions look good or bad. The variance between the effectiveness of Jonas’ post game from night to night is notable. He let’s himself get pushed a few feet out of the low post before he can get the ball, and his fake-pump-fake is a drinking game, not a basketball move. Everybody knows he isn’t taking that shot, so when he bends his knees for the pump fake, then fakes like he’s going to put the ball on the floor, then goes back to the pump fake, and then does nothing (all the while with his defender waiting patiently with complete certainty that he isn’t going to do anything), take a shot. Because you know he isn’t going to. Which is too bad, because Jonas has touch, speed, size and co-ordination near the basket. It’s very easy for him to score there; he just needs to believe that and do it. And then he’ll need the team to give him more than two attempts in a half at it, but baby steps, baby steps.

Finally, your benediction for this Sunday sermon:

Player A per 36 minute career stats:
12pts, 57% FG%, 1.5 assists, 1 steal, 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
Player B per 36 minute career stats:
13.7 pts, 54% FG%, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 blocks

Now consider that Player B has spent his entire career playing with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, while player A has slugged it out with Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry. I’m not trying to besmirch the good names of anyone in that latter list who hasn’t appeared in a string of hilariously bad Primo pasta and sauce commercials, just to say that player B, Serge Ibaka, has had an incredible boost in quality shots, wide open spacing and meaningful experience from playing with 3 different 1st team All NBA quality players. Player B, Amir Johnson, has put up equally impressive numbers while having played more time on the court with Sonny Weems than he ever has with a 1st, 2nd or 3rd All NBA quality player. That matters. The lesson here, as always, is that Amir Johnson is really good, and we should all appreciate him. Now go forth, and enjoy the game.

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41 Responses to “So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?”

  1. ckh26

    On your theme there is a chance. There is a chance to win tonite but its less of a chance than to win the Atlantic Division.

    The Nets have just lost Brook Lopez for the balance of the year. Deron Williams is the kind of thing you desparately want, pay for it and almost immediately regret you did it. He can’t carry this team. That leaves Joe Johnson and Andrey Blatche and the promise of a returning Andre Kirelenko. They have to play at a .600 clip just to get close to winning 40-42 games. Tall order.

    The Knicks are a lost group. Carmelo Anthony is going to want to do it all and that hasn’t worked well for anyone out so far. They are hurting at PG and they to have to play at a .600 clip to get to 40-42 games. Lots of games coming up against the West that will further bury the boys from Gotham.

    Boston will turn into a pumpkin by the end of January. A big western road swing starting in January against the likes of Portland, OKC, Denver, Clippers and Golden State and then a homecoming to Houston should give Tommy”Homer” Heinsohn gasping for air. Oliver Stone is less of a conspiracy theorist than Tommy as he lines up the reasons for the Celts demise. At that point they will wave the flag and trade Rondo.

    Philly is just bad. Stinky bad. Ole ! defense at best and they have signaled their intent to wait it out for a year by fielding the team they have. Expect MCW to come down with pink eye and Nerlens Noel regardless of his health to remain in witness protection. Thad Young may get moved for almost anything if Milwaukee continues to head south in the great tank race.

    And that leaves ? Yep… Us.! .. In any other year it would be great.. This year the faithful will have to battle emotion and pragmatism. Cheer to win.. or turn your head and hope we finish low enough to have a chance at a draft pick in the low number range. Before you go all out on pragmatism… remember that almost every draft has a bunch of can’t miss phenom’s. They really do. We also have serious folding money to be spent on the other way to build a team via free agency and we have a talent evaluator at the helm to do it in Ujuri.

    • Slick

      Actually a great post I must say! I’m on let’s win band wagon. A true fan. Not wanting my team to lose! Scratch that. Win win win! Make playoffs. We have money to spend next year. Guys need the wrost hand experience in playoffs. But as always everyone has the rite to there opinion. I personally just don’t understand how actual fans could watch and want there team to lose. Don’t get it. Never will. Go raps! Build around jv Amir dd. you’re rite every year there’s talent I’m draft. It just so happens we have a Canadian guy which is understandable and we think he’s gonna bring us to playoffs or championship next year. I wouldn’t trade non of my young guys just because of that! Especially when they’re putting in the work. I would wait and let him sign with raps when he’s a free agent! Or pull a trade off after wards! Tanking is too risky and pointless!

      • Dave

        You are right. There are many knowledgeable people who know basketball, but are not fans in any sense of the word if they want the team to lose. Tanking is something that money men might wish for on some nights, but not fans. Never fans.

        • Mexiballer

          Do you remember the scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber that the Jim Carey pic is referring to?

          • ckh26

            Sorry no I don’t. More of Will Ferrell fan for flat out slapstick sophomoric humor. Which I do like. A lot… Frank the Tank and Rick Bobby are staples.

      • David Montford

        You tankers never show which teams in sports who have followed your advice win championships.
        Detroit in NFL, still hasn’t come close.
        Edmonton in NHL still on the bottom.
        Memphis in NBA purposely tanked when traded Paul to the Lakers.
        List goes on and on.
        You people are losers.
        You can’t show in the NFL, NHL, or the NBA wear tanking consistently produces title teams.
        Totally arrogant losers.

        • ac1011990

          Lolz first of all i love how after the game people decided to reply on my comment and thumbs me down. Second of all i really hope this team gets in the playoffs and gets creamed then next year when we get our butts kicked by teams like the magic and sixers people will see what the pro tankers wanted. While you guys sit here in bliss over winning a completely useless atlantic division,teams are stocking up with young assets, remember in a few years guys like Lebron, Wade, Kobe, Duncan etc are retiring, the next batch of superstars are ready to make there marks. The last time i checked this team has ZERO players with superstar potential, it doesnt mean we dont have some decent pieces but ZERO guys that could get us over the top. The next batch of superstars include guys like Durant, Westbrook, Irving, Wall, Davis, Harden, and so one do you see any of those in a raptors uniform lolz NOPE. This is the NBA the underdog never gets the championship, your not going to see the LA Kings scenario here. Our only hope of getting a superstar is from the draft, none of those guys are coming here no matter how much we hope.

          • Roger MacIntyre

            Let me see if I understand you? You sit and watch a game and hope for your team to lose? From my experience, sports teams that excel do so from the ground up by building and promoting a style the organization wants to play. It is about character. No professional organization of any kind can progress by starting to move backward.

            I have never posted on this site, or any Raptor site for that matter, but after reading your remarks I simply had to speak up.

            Consider the signing of Tyler Tyler Hansborough and how he plays when you want to think of what MU is thinking. Tanking is what a few executives have tried in the past and what many casual sports fans may perceive as an actual plan. It is not, “character”, or team building.

            I think we all know that the NBA is a talent league and that the Raptors are unlikely to be able to sign any big names as they are right now. But, building the organization with character and toughness will give the Raptors a brand and an identity. Perhaps I am just smitten with MU and foolishly believe that he is a man with an identity who would see, “tanking”, in the same way as I do; a loser who would cheat to win. Cheating, no matter the environment is NEVER winning.
            I would rather the Raptors lose every year for the rest of my life knowing they did it with character than win by tanking.
            And one last thing to consider; Cleveland got the best player in the world from the draft a few years ago. How did that work out for them? Getting the best player out of this upcoming draft would be nice. But at what price? Trading developed young players? Selling off assets which crumble the foundation. Can you imagine day one with our new Rookie from the draft? Start there and work forward and hopefully he is not a bust? If he is great do we suddenly become a hot spot for signing the types of players we can’t sign now? I suspect that will NEVER be the case. Consider Indiana when you are thinking about where you would like to see the Raptors heading. Sure Paul George is playing way over his expectation in Indiana, but the Pacers built, just like the Raptors will, with character.
            I am glad there are people in the world who think like you do though, it makes me feel better about myself.

            • ac1011990

              I cheer for my team to build the right way for once so i dont have to keep watching them lose for the next multiple years. I dont cheer for the Raptors only when they win, I, like most of the fans here have watched for many years. Im not happy watching a mediocre product anymore, I want us to become something more then the losers we are perceived and what we are. Building through the draft is not cheating, what i feel is unfair is how all of the little market teams never get stars because they dont have girls in bikinis year round, or Nike and Adidas headquarters around the corner. In till the playing field for every single team is evened out, teams like us live and die by the draft. I feel we are a piece or 2 away from being a fairly good team, i do not want Masai to completely ruin the foundation of this team, I just want to add to it. The only way to do that is through the draft. All these so called anti tankers keep saying there are other ways to build a contending team, and thats great, but we have never been able to land an elite talent through free agency or trades. Other GM’s are not stupid, nobody gives you a star without something back, we dont have the assets to bring in a major star, unless we rip through the foundation of the team by trading a Valanciunas or Derozan, i do NOT want that. Building a winning culture only happens through continuously winning, not going on streaks in the middle of the season. The team is perceived as garbage among the other fans and the players, dont believe me watch the interview with Chuck Hayes on his first day here. I dont want the raptors to be called Craptors over and Over, i dont want players to come into our building and think they can play down to our talent level. I dont understand how people who want this organization to build the the team we all love properly for once are called trolls and non fans. If your happy with watching a mediocre team, good for you, i actually want to watch us in the eastern finals or hopefully in the finals.

              • Roger MacIntyre

                Thank you for your much clearer perspective. We are not as far apart as I thought. I just want to point out one thing though; we cannot go about getting a HIGH draft pick by tanking while maintaining a winning attitude. I suspect trading Kyle Lowry would easily be about all we need to get where you would like the team to go. Since DD is signed and our rooks are secure a Lowry trade would not change the foundation. I would, begrudgingly admit it might be best for the team long-term. This is not tanking though. This would be, ‘bigger picture”. And, barring some kind of miracle, likely drop us out of the playoff picture. But until the trade happens I do want our guys to go out and win. It is great experience for our young team.
                If I am to be honest, I did not know Lowry had this kinda game in him. His value has to be through the roof right now. If we can obtain a decent draft pick for him I think this well be the single move we would need to fall far enough. Yes he is only one player, but he is a catalyst for the offence and defence and he does things on the floor which impact the game in so many ways.
                I suppose we all want the same things for the future of our organization. But coming onto a public forum and denouncing a WIN of any kind does not make any sense to me. Win when you can and move assets when it makes sense to. This is not tanking, it is sound management. “Tanking”, would only be the result.

                • ac1011990

                  Gald you see where im coming from, Il be honest these were some very good wins the passed couple of days. A year or so back id be so happy but not anymore, i’ve drank that kool aid many times before, it hasnt gotten anywhere. lolz theres a saying, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Ive been fooled many times before by these mid season win streaks, each time hoping that maybe they finally got it, maybe they actually can make it to the playoffs. Im done waiting for this team to try and get it together. We have some great pieces in Derozan, Valancinus and Ross but we could really use that one elite player to finally get something good going, something that can last longer then a win streak of a few games. I agree, taking Lowry out and replacing him with future assets may be enough, i also realize Amir might have to be sacrificed to, obviously not for cheap, but he has to much of an impact. I realize that the players go out there and try their bests every night, and they want to win, but im not happy with what i’ve been seeing for many years now. Nobody wants the players to go out and purposely lose, thats cheating, if Masai lowers the ceiling of the current team while acquiring future assets and simultaneously upping the current draft pick to me thats a proper “tank”

                • Roger MacIntyre

                  Amir is one of the very best value players in the entire NBA and the fact he wants to be in Toronto and is only 26 makes him, IMO, untouchable! Yes they would immediately start to lose a lot and this would surely give us a couple of balls for the lotto, but I would not trade an already solid piece for, regardless of potential, a prospect. Let’s face it draft picks are just prospects. Not to mention it takes years of development. To me if we are making deals they need to be expiring contracts or even T Ross who is still unproven. Not guys who are Toronto guys and have a love for where they are and a willingness to break bones to make it work. If I am upstairs in the ACC I see DD and Amir as two pieces which will retire in Toronto. Neither is a marquee player, but both are guys I would want with me in the trenches.

                • ckh26

                  Can’t agree more on your perspective on Amir and DD. Watching them win last nite in OKC and against Dallas was brilliant. They want to win. They want to win in Toronto. He and Amir are a couple of character guys with skills that you need to have on your team. They don’t have to be the very best but you don’t get that grinf*cker smile from them. Its genuine.

                  For the tankers I really do understand the why and the logic behind it… but how about this bit of karma. Wiggins goes where he goes and after 4 years he leaves to come home to Toronto. The reverse McGrady/Stoudemire effect and he gets his monetyary contract windfall regardless.

                • ac1011990

                  If hes as good as advertised he’ll get a contract extension or he’ll go into restricted free agency. If he turns out to be good itl most likely be 8 years till he comes here, if he wants to that is

  2. IMO

    Player B, Amir Johnson, has put up equally impressive numbers while having played more time on the court with Sonny Weems than he ever has with a 1st, 2nd or 3rd All NBA quality player.

    He’s Player A! 🙂

  3. Andrius

    A funny recurrence is that if JV gets more than 10 shots and hits half of them he gets 10 rebounds. Keep feeding him the ball and let him see that ball go through the basket, he starts playing that much harder in the defensive and rebound game

  4. Regina Rap Fan

    I wanna see JV give Perkins that vicious elbow of his, it’ll be a moral victory for him,,, just before he gets murdered by Kendrick :s

    • AB4EYE

      Masai said we wouldn’t get caught in no mans land but that’s exactly where we’re headed. There is no doubt in my mind he’s upset about the winning but baring giving away players with trade value he can’t do anything about it.

      Ujiri got lucky in the construction of Denver with getting Lawson for future protected first round pick after the T-Wolves picked him after already having to many PG and with no Carmelo Anthony to trade for an historic return the odds of doing that quick rebuild here without a top lottery pick is going to very slim.

      • mike, prague

        Well, purely theoretically you have to go through no mans land to get to the promised land. Maybe The Masaiah believes in himself so much that he sees himself getting this team to become top 10 team and contender over the course of the season. Or maybe … he just hasn’t started.

  5. Adrian

    HELL YA! In OKC they make it happen. i havent seen a Raptor team this resilient since Carter days.

    • wrooster

      I’ve heard of glass half empty guys, but you’re more like a broken glass guy it seems. Anyway, I’m sorry the game didn’t turn out the way you would have liked.

      • AB4EYE

        I’m sorry foolish people rooting for meaningless wins now are going to be the same one crying when we still suck in 3 years.

        What long term positive does this win have? Its only going to have a shot to hurt us, are we suddenly not going to trade Kyle or other players now? And If we don’t how is that going to make us any better?

        They could lose in game 7 of the East finals on a 3/4th court buzzer beater and this season would still be a fail.

        • KevinWarren

          From a Thunder fans view, your cupboard is definitely not bare. You have some good young pieces to build around and whether or not you have enough, the players you do have can learn a lot from winning tough games on the road. If you do need more, winning now will pay off when you get them. Players want to win. They expect to win. No good can come from teaching them it’s best to lose.

          They played well tonight and deserved the win. Congrats.

        • HogyG

          The fans here cheering for “meaningless wins” as you put it aren’t the ones crying. It’s the pro-tank fan base that’s crying now and will more than likely be the same ones crying later for anything short of a championship. A fan of any sports team should root for their team to bring a competitive effort on a nightly basis, regardless of what they want in the long term. The fact that “fans” can post negative comments after handing a top team with the last undefeated home court their first loss of the year and your only reaction is “what long term positives does this win have?” makes me question your ability to comprehend the meaning of sports. The fact that you can come on here after beating perhaps the top team in the league and refer to it as “Basketball hell” should make you ashamed for being a Raptors fan.

          It’s one thing to find solace in a loss because of a deep upcoming draft, it’s quite another to chastise a win for the same reasons.

          Great win by the boys tonight! Here’s hoping they keep you in “basketball Hell”.

          Go Raptors!!

    • ac1011990

      Lolz its going to be great watching a team like the sixers with MCW, Noel and 2 high picks this year beat us for the next 10 years. Well at least we’ll always have the memory of our sub .500 Atlantic division victory woohoo.

  6. unknown

    And just like Lloyd Christmas…that chance was realized.

    Tank, no tank…who cares. We just beat OKC in OKC. Nobody else can say that yet this year.

  7. KevinWarren

    Good game. That was a big win for y’all. Congrats. Good luck the rest of the way. Go Thunder!

  8. Dave

    Tanking is something that happens to abysmal teams, it shouldn’t be something that is hoped for. Really, if the raps were to trade away all their talent to ‘Tank’, they would be back to square one again. If the raps ‘Tank’ this year like everyone seems to want, are we not looking at 3-4 years before the raps can even hope to possibly contend again? or is this years draft class so good that the player they draft is going to instantly ascend to superstardom and single handedly turn this team around? I am not going to claim to know basketball, but I watch it alot, and this team doesn’t look too bad to me. They have some financial flexibility now and some guys coming off the books next year. Why not just enjoy the ride instead of screaming for them to lose and exacerbating the ‘players don’t want to play in TO’ paradigm.


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