Common themes are emerging whenever the Raptors lose. The predictors of recent Raptors defeats against opposition of dubious quality have been easy to spot, and the good news is that they are correctable. Emotions for those of us actually rooting for this team can turn quite intense when opportunities, seemingly there for the taking, against the C**tics, Lakers, and Bobcats slip away, but the fact that this observer is feeling any kind of emotion is a sign of progress in itself. After years of numbness the pain felt in these old bones is a signal that I do care.

William’s already provided a concise summary of events so allow me to take a step back and examine the broader triggers for these distasteful setbacks.

Underestimating the Opponent

There is only one reason why one NBA team would be down to another by 30 points and it has nothing to do with talent, ability, or payroll. It’s that they weren’t ready to play. This is perhaps the more disappointing aspect of these three losses, that the Raptors thought themselves to be in a position that they could get away without putting in an honest shift. Anyone can beat anyone, and the Raptors have trotted out to tip-off with something that isn’t confidence but neglect in preparation.

At the halftime of the Minnesota game, Rod Black asked Dwane Casey about “how it felt to be the hunted”, to which Casey shook his head and promptly kneed Black in the groin…um…I mean…quickly corrected Black by saying that “we haven’t done anything yet” and that any such talk is premature, hallucinatory, and most of all, wrong.  Similar comments have been heard from DeMar DeRozan as well, for example when he remarked that “we’re not a joke” on ESPN.  Although that one contains far less hubris that Black’s, why the topic of Raptors accomplishments is even coming up is to be questioned.  The recent successes have somewhat gone to the head and as much as you love to see the team believe in themselves, I fear the Raptors are overrating their own ability and thinking that the game is in the bag before tip-off.  We need to embrace the role of underdog and not have any delusions of being a franchise that has done anything but zilch.

Jumpers and Missed FTs

Kyle Lowry’s missed free-throw which would’ve tied the game with 24 seconds left was crushing and the lasting memory of this game, but far more pertinent is that that was the Raptors lone free throw of the fourth quarter.   Against the Lakers, when needing scores late the Raptors abandoned their drive and settled for the first springer on offer.  The fourth quarter free throw total in that game? 1-3.   Against the C**tics, much like against the Bobcats, a big early deficit needed to be trimmed and when the team was close to doing so, the stripe haunted them in the fourth: 5-9 FTs.

Whether their reluctance to drive is born out of a growing love of the jumper (ahem, DeRozan) or fear that the zebras will swallow the whistle, I do not know.  What is apparent, and it is crystal clear this, is that the Raptors are not putting enough pressure on the defense in half-court sets as they used to when they beat teams.  DeRozan, their primary means of getting to the line and stopping the clock, has adopted an approach where he’s rather peel off screens and take jumpers rather than use those same screens to create seams which get him to the rim, and further to the stripe.

Depreciating Big Man Defense

Amir Johnson has been, more or less, non-existent the last week.  Johnson has been averaging just 4.7 rebounds in these three losses and when trying to pinpoint why that is the case, you can throw out intangible factors such as effort or preparation out.  He is the consummate professional who has played hard even when there’s nothing to play for.  My theory on his dip is that:

  1. He’s not 100% – the ankle sprain he suffered in Boston is bugging him, affecting his jumping ability on the boards and his lateral movement in help situations.
  2. The 29.8 minutes he’s averaging is a career-high and once again he’s been asked to fight above his punching weight at center far too often.  The deeper issue is of the Raptors depth at center, the immediate is sparing Johnson some punishment.  When you saw him unable to bend down to reach for a Vasquez pass on the pick ‘n roll, you knew something was up.
  3. He’s a guy who needs to be involved in the offense to be at his best on defense, and in these three losses he’s 2-4, 6-13, and 1-4.  More concerning is that the Raptors aren’t running as much action through him as they were before, and he ends up finding himself with the ball in long-two positions instead of closer to the rim where his strengths lie.

I’m hesitant to call Jonas Valanciunas’s performances a sophomore slump.  In my view, he’s simply being overwhelmed by the variety of players he has to face every night and the unique challenges they present.  From Al Jefferson’s center of gravity-enabled strength to Pau Gasol’s languid but deadly arsenal to Roy Hibbert’s imposing presence, Valanciunas is simply too young and too inexperienced to handle these sorts of challenges without going through some valleys.

His struggles are a signal, what’s crucial is what Dwane Casey’s response will be.  His minutes can’t be tuned because the next center the Raptors have on the depth chart is Austin Daye, and he’s barely an NBA player let alone a backup center.  He also remains the Raptors only post-up threat, which speaks to both the scarcity of post-up skill on the team and the dearth of centers available.  The natural remedy for Valanciunas is simply experience, only that will teach him not to fall for Jefferson’s fakes when his shoulder’s turned away from the rim.

Many have noticed that he’s looked a bit stiff of late, his vertical is non-existent and his knees don’t appear to bend.  He finds himself tip-toeing to get rebounds rather than jumping and grabbing them, but I’m not going to dwell too much on that.  Much like Amir, he needs timely breathers since his usage-jump stemming from the trade, and the current center situation doesn’t afford him that.

DeMar DeRozan’s inner Rudy Gay

Every NBA player has a little Rudy Gay inside of him.  The one that begs him to be the hero instead of deferring to the team. The one that needs to be fed lest he devour you at night.  The one that wants the limelight, the All-Star votes, the recognition, the glory, the one that needs to be ‘The Man’, needs to justify the contract, needs to be in the headlines, needs to be the saviour.  Sadly for DeRozan’s inner Rudy Gay, this team does not need saviours, it needs soldiers who stand in unison under the standard of team play.

DeRozan’s role in the fourth quarter – when the game slows down, the value of possessions increase, the defense sets in – is not to play into enemy hands by taking low-percentage, out-of-context shots but to pressure the defense enough that the FTAs go up along with clean looks for Ross and the ilk.  DeRozan’s skill is increasing but he’s not at the level where he can single-handedly carry a team in the fourth quarter ala Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or LeBron James. DeRozan is the knife on the bayonet, not the bayonet.


The absence of Tyler Hansbrough who has missed nine-straight games due to an ankle injury cannot be understated.  He brings a measure of brute force and physicality to the frontline that none of the other bigs provide.  The extra possessions he generates and the contagious energy he produces is sorely missed, with their absence accentuated whenever Valanciunas and Johnson struggle.

Surprisingly, I found myself searching for John Salmons against the Lakers when Nick Young was going off, and also last night when the Bobcats were pressuring.  Injuries aren’t an excuse as relatively speaking, the Raptors have been lucky this season so I’m merely mentioning this for completeness.

I’m not buying the ‘regression to the mean’ theory here because these are teams the Raptors should have beaten pre-trade as well.  The games have ended up being competitive and the differences between winning and losing are identifiable and correctable.  The Raptors end up going 4-3 on a stretch I had expected them to go 6-1 on, which is disappointing after the promising 3-0 start.  Up next is a chance to regroup against the Mavericks at home where a win would reaffirm some lost faith.

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  • AxlT

    Also – the scouting report: This team is not surprising anyone anymore.

    • Dr.Scooby

      No doubt. Often, even I know where the next pass is going. If a mere fan knows how the offense flows, you can bet the Pros certainly do too.

  • Ds

    The silver lining in all three losses, if there’s any, is that they all came down to one favourable possession or one favourable call. I think that they understand now that nothing is given. It’s a good humbling experience.

  • truth be told

    If they were to continue to lose ‘winnable’ games and actually lose some games to ‘better’ teams, I wonder when some fans might consider an actual regression to the means?

    After their most recent 20 games the team we saw playing is the actual team now? Is this what Raptors Republic believes we should expect as Raps fans moving forward?

    You’re setting up the portion of the fan base who wants to believe you, for disappointment.

    • ac1011990

      Ya the past 20 games is not the new mean, it’s a hot streak. I bet Bargnani is still hoping to get past his slump and go back to his new mean which he established during those 13 amazing games he played

  • JustinN

    As much as I like the JV / Amir combo. I’d like a Greg Monroe / JV combo a lot more.

    Trade proposal:
    Greg Monroe for Kyle (expiring contract) and Amir Johnson.
    (Greg Monroe would need to agree to an extension)

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      Salaries wouldn’t match up… so we would probably have to take on Jennings contract and include a 2nd rounder or 2 at least

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  • ckh26

    Nice post ZS. I too ascribe that Amir is hurt. You just don’t fall off the side of the cliff like that and Amir will try to play through anything.

    Jonas may be seeing a wide variety of players/schemes et al but for the first time I see why the Lituanian national coach staples his talented butt to the pine at times. He is not aware of whats going on around him. Its focus. Casey giving him a “time out” on occasion hopefully will speed up the learning that you have to be aware of whats going on at all times. That your over matched is forgivable,, that your not paying attention with lazy passes and having the ball picked out of your hands because your holding it to low is not. We stay the course and hope JV picks it up on the mental part of the game.

    • ac1011990

      We stay the course because there is no other option left this year. Now we have to try and win all the games because tanking isn’t an option. Wel continue to see Ross and Jonas on the bench because of mistakes. If your in win now mode they don’t get to play through mistakes as much. If Hayes or Salmons are playing better then those 2 will get the minutes.

    • cracker

      I was under the impression the raptors as well as jv had requested that his minutes be limited playing for his home country. The thinking was they wanted him to be fresh for the start of the season.

      • ckh26

        Yes he tended to get “rested” right after he would lose his focus during Eurobasket. He didn’t get much rest when he was setting his screens without fouling, posting up close to the basket for his hook shot and cleaning the glass without issue. Funny how that works on either side of the Atlantic eh ?f

  • GoingBig

    There are problems to solve
    – time for the coaching staff to step it up – they have to monitor not just bad playing (JV,Amir) but sub-optimal playing (DD)
    – time for Masiri to get some depth at Centre (even looking at a 10 day contract)

  • asifyouknow

    Oh my God guys stop all this funeral!! lol
    Toronto is 5-5 the last 10 games
    Miami is 5-5 the last 10 games
    It happens to everybody!! they will get back in rhythm…

    • Dr.Scooby

      you’re comparing the Raptors to the defending champs!?

      • ckh26

        Nah.. He’s comparing that all teams during the season be they good or almost good hit flat spots.. But then you knew that and just made a smart ass remark. The other binary doofus ac1010101010 just trolls.

        • Dr,Scooby

          Naw, my point is this:

          Teams that are 5-5 in the past 10 games:

          Which one is not like the others? (Hint – it rhymes with Miami!)

          • ckh26

            Here are teams that are 6-4 in their last 10. Any of them being a last
            minute loss away from being 5-5 in that same 10 game span. Statistics
            can be used to make almost any point. All the guy was saying was all
            teams have flat spots during the season and used Miami as an example to
            illustrate his point.. But then you knew. that.

            Portland 6-4
            Denver 6-4
            Golden State 6-4
            Dallas 6-4

            • Dr.Scooby

              Yes, the difference is the Raptors are not as good as Miami, Golden State, Portland or even Dallas and have not earned the right to be forgiven so easily for a slump. Miami & Dallas have won championships in past few yrs, Portland & Golden State are genuine competing teams this season. The Raps have…overenthusiastic fans, who based on the franchise’s history have no reason to cut them any slack until they’ve proven themselves.

              • ckh26

                Yep the raps are not in the same snack bracket as Miami or Portland or GSW. Neither is Dallas. The point still remains. All teams, good or not so good hit flat spots during the season. Thats it. Nothing more sinister than that.
                Cut the raps some slack. This product and effort is better than we have seen for at least 3 years and warrants some enthusiasm amongst the fan base..

    • ac1011990

      Lolz previous 3 years Miami has won 2 championships and a finals appearance, the raptors haven’t even made the playoffs.

      • HST

        Hey thanks for letting us know! Any other hot insider stuff you want to share? It would really be appreciated!

        • ac1011990

          Apparently people don’t know, why else would you compare these 2 teams.

  • Dr.Scooby

    Anybody with basketball sense knew the Raps would come back to earth. They’re not going to be as bad as they were earlier in the year and they’ll have nights where they look like world beaters, but a few games around .500 is what this team is.

    If you’re a fan of the Raps going into the playoffs- pray that Lowry doesn’t get hurt.

  • Louvens Remy

    You forgot the 5th point. Losing is in their DNA. har har har! No need to panic. GoRapz!!

  • Harry

    “His minutes can’t be tuned because the next center the Raptors have on the depth chart is Austin Daye, and he’s barely an NBA player let alone a backup center. ”

    What about Chuck Hayes? He’s actually played really well the last couple of games and is even managing to score more than Johnson/Valanciunas.

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