The western swings ends with us going 2-3, which is what most had predicted at the start. The only variance between the expected and the actual was where one of the wins came from. The consensus was that it would come against Sacramento when in actuality it came in Denver. Ho hum, these kinds of things happen. There wasn’t anything net new presented on this trip that made would make you change your opinion about where this team is on the Eastern conference totem pole.

They’re a team-oriented unit that functions when ball-movement is high and reliance on a singular player is low; they count on DeRozan and Lowry to produce when the offense isn’t at its best; their bench is dependent on Vasquez, Salmons and Patterson; they’re thin at the big man position; Valanciunas has a lot to learn defensively; Terrence Ross has a ton of work ahead before he becomes consistent, and his 51-point game is just that, a single game; Amir Johnson, as confirmed, is playing through an injury. And yes, Greg Monroe would be nice.

Steve Novak’s appearance on the trip was somewhat of a surprise given how tight Dwane Casey’s rotations have been, but with the Raptors down big in a couple of those games he was called on to supply shooting, which he did well. He went 5-11 from threes and was a big part of the comeback in Sacramento. If nothing else, he reminded people that he’s still around and can shoot, which can only help his value as the deadline approaches.

The “softer” part of the schedule with dates against New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington (twice), Chicago, Cleveland (twice) and Orlando is up next and there’s no reason to think why the Raptors can’t gain some momentum here, while hopefully creating space between themselves and the surging Nets. The equation for wins hasn’t changed: play aggressive but responsible defense and move the ball on offense.

The Raptors gave up a 100+ points in four out of the five games on the trip, prior to that it had taken them a stretch of 14 games to give up 100+ points that many times. You can attribute that to road weariness, dip in form, terrible officiating, or a host of other factors, but in any case you expect things to normalize and the Raptors to go back to their December/January ways against the upcoming schedule.

For me, this trip reinforced the importance of DeMar DeRozan’s shot-making ability. Check out some of his shot-charts on the roadtrip and for a period of time before that. The key things to note is how is percentage in some of those “long two” areas dipped: 9% dip form the far left, close to a 40% dip form the right elbow, and a 22% dip form the far right.

Last 5 Games
Shotchart_1391920790677
14 games in January before that
Shotchart_1391920847450

That’s the area he’s trying to master which also happens to be a range that defences are willing to concede, acknowledging their preference for him to settle than to drive and get to the line. Of course, a player can’t drive on every single play so I understand DeRozan trying to extend his game because it’s the only way he can become a true scoring threat. As frustrating as it is to see him take that shot, one has to keep in mind that as pretty as the Raptors sit in the East standings, player development is still a big part of this season. I don’t mind suffering through a season of DeRozan testing those jumpers as long as at the end of it he becomes consistent from that range.  It’s not like he’s bailing on the drive completely or is afraid to do so.

In the fourth quarter, with things tight, you’d prefer to have him drive but nailing those jumpers in someone’s face might do more for his development and confidence then forcing his way to the line for two FTs. Getting to the line is his strength, but as much as you have to utilize your strengths, so must you develop areas where you’re weak. Catch-22? Sort of.

In retrospect, here’s what the five games were about:

Denver: Oh what’s that Denver? You’re missing Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson? Yes, we’ll be taking advantage of that.

Portland: Lots of jumpers missing in the first half, lots of jumpers made in the second half. Game on the line and DeRozan dribbles it off his foot. We’ll call this learning and not giving up.

Utah: The Jazz – typical young team, plays hard to stay in it but lacks experience, veteran presence, and know-how of winning to actually pull it off.

Sacramento: They jump on us but we don’t die and fight back. Game on the line and we’re fleeced by the refs which is predictable since with Kevin Johnson and Adam Silver in the festive crowd, the fans must go home happy.

LA Clippers: Clippers out-match us everywhere and Griffin is allowed to do anything he wants on offense by the refs and a limping Amir Johnson. Casey resorts to a Hack-a-Jordan which gets everyone’s panties in a fit for some reason. It’s a legitimate strategy so no idea what Doc Rivers is moaning about.

That’s it for now.  We got some fantasy talk coming up a little later today where we look at the current crop of Raptors and take a peek at how ex-Raptors including D.J Augustin and Rudy Gay are doing.

Let’s go Raps.

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