Following Sunday’s huge statement win versus Golden State the Raptors enter an uncharacteristic four-day break which also marks the final seven weeks of the regular season. With several players nursing injuries varying from twisted ankles to sore knees, and I’m sure a number of undisclosed ailments, this break is a welcome gift.

On the other hand, Toronto has been on a tear of late winning 7 of their last 10.  Consider that those three losses came against the red hot Clippers, a 2-point loss to Chicago (the NBA’s second best defensive unit), and a triple overtime loss to Washington. Toronto could just as easily have gone 9-1.

However, with 15 games and four back-to-backs to play in March it stands to reason that this is the perfect sojourn given what lies on the horizon.  Specifically, the Raptors’ final 23 games feature 17 games against sub-.500 teams who represent an ideal test group to fine-tune untried strategies.

With this in mind I thought I’d highlight specific areas of emphasis the coaching staff may focus on this week.

End of Game Offense:

Thursday’s triple overtime game featured a rarity: final plays featuring something other than a DeMar DeRozan isolation play. At least we are seeing something different and perhaps a sign the coaching staff recognizes the need for variety.

Moving forward, many of us want to see the Raptors become less predictable and have a minimum of three options depending on match-ups.

  • As the designated closer, teams load up on DeRozan expecting an isolation play, so Dwane Casey needs to get DeRozan the ball in motion where he is much more successful as a spot up shooter.
  • Lowry has consistently been the wisest man on court stopping opposing runs and making timely and proper decisions. He should be the primary ball distributor on final plays with a series of options open for him to choose from.
  •  The NBA’s best fourth quarter differential is due primarily to having a strong defense, however having both Greivis Vasquez and Lowry on the floor helps the offense.  Options should be developed with Vasquez being the ball distributor so Lowry can spot up for a field goal or, depending on match-ups, run a pick-and-roll featuring one of the big men.
  • As per above, Amir Johnson has shown a propensity to score with players draped all over him and Patrick Patterson has made key shots such as his game-winner in Brooklyn. With zebra’s less open to calling fouls outside the paint at game-end, one option should definitely include a higher percentage shot near the rim.

Following the trade the greatest stride the Raptors made offensively came via increased ball movement and the uncertainty of who would take the shot. It stands to reason that they could achieve the same success at game end by employing the same strategy with players running patterns, spreading the floor and moving the ball.

By virtue of the opposition not knowing who will take the last shot it forces them to defend everyone and subsequently increases the probability of Toronto being successful. Casey can test his options in the final 23 games to see which ones work best. In fact, Casey should test the multi-optioned play to close each quarter and increase the team’s familiarity in running it.


Terrence Ross Dunks on Manimal

Defense:

The Raptors are ranked 7th in defense so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What they do need to do is focus on paint defense as most losses occur when they get manhandled in the key.

I’ve noted in the past few games there are quite a few plays where a trailing Raptor has a chance at blocking shots from behind the unsuspecting shooter. Terrence Ross, Patterson and Lowry have all utilized this move but DeRozan and Vasquez should practice this trick since they are often caught trailing a play on switches or chasing their appointed cover. It could produce an extra stop or two a game.

We repeatedly highlight the lack of a 48-minute effort against teams they know they can beat. Sunday proved that when the Raptors view an opponent as difficult they play defense for the entire game. With so many lower-end teams on tap it’s important the Raptors make a habit of not underestimating their opponent.

 Valanciunas:

The sophomore started the season on fire showcasing moves in the post with either hand and more importantly, he fired at will from 10 feet, occasionally moving as deep as 15 feet successfully. This offensive variety disappeared in the fall as he completely lost all confidence in his shot, electing to repeatedly fake his way to the basket. Recently we’ve seen him return to hit an occasional outside shot as teams are now staying down on him in expectation of the pump fake.

Jonas is the player who stands to benefit the most from this week and from the final 23 games. Time needs to be spent watching as much film as possible to show the young center where he can grow and subsequently get more touches and minutes. Let’s just say by Friday I hope he feels like he’s completed a diploma from the film academy based on hours of reviewing game tape.

Against the bevy of low seeds he needs to be encouraged to shoot. A confident Valanciunas who mixes up his offense will make the Raptors a much more difficult team to defend since teams won’t be able to camp out in the paint and driving lanes will open for his teammates.

Team Objective:

Indiana and Chicago have publicly stated they want the first and third seeds. While I don’t think any Raptors player should publicly out their desire to be third I do actually believe it is a goal.

Toronto battled the Hawks for months finally surpassing them, but while Atlanta has plummeted to eighth the Raptors have maintained their third seed. Now Chicago has supplanted the Hawks while the Wizards await their shot to step in as contenders. Could it be that Toronto will put all their critics in check by season’s end by simply remaining consistent?

Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
Jim Rohn

In my last article I called for Toronto to win the Atlantic Division, set a franchise benchmark with 48 wins and finish in third. Much of my reasoning had to do with Toronto taking care of business against the East, specifically their division.

I remain committed to this prediction for several reasons:

Since Toronto has managed to tie and win the series against Chicago and Washington, respectively, the next factor will be their divisional record and games they have left to play within the division.

Remaining Divisional Games:

[table]

Team,Record,# Remaining,1 Game,2 Games,3 Games,Total

Toronto,8-2,6,BKN/PHI,BOS/NYK,N/A,6

Chicago,7-4,5,MIL,INDY/DET,N/A,5

Washington,6-2,8,ATL,MIA/ORL,CHA,8

[/table]

Toronto has the best divisional record and the easiest schedule so unless Chicago or Washington start winning at a higher percentage than Toronto it bodes well for the Raps to remain third.

In terms of the Atlantic Division, only Brooklyn remains a possibility to catch Toronto which is highly unlikely. The key for the Nets is their back-to-back games in which they have only won both games once out of 13 tries. With 5 sets still to come and sitting 4 games back, it’s like handing Toronto another 5 losses to play with. Make sure you circle March 10, on your calendar as it’s bound to be a big game where the Raptors can send a very loud message to the Nets.

Closing Thoughts:

This week several players were bought out or released, with teams positioned for long runs in the post-season quickly adding them to their rosters:

Clippers: Danny Granger and Big Baby Davis

Oklahoma: Caron Butler

Chicago: Jimmer Fredette

Memphis: Beno Udrih

I still feel Toronto could use another front court player and thought of two possible candidates the Raptors could add prior to the post-season:

Kris Humphries: Though Boston has yet to release him he would be a great addition to the Raptors given he provides size and rebounding.

Ivan Johnson: Remember Ivan the terrible? Well he didn’t get the name without reason, so this one could be a stretch as his temperament may be an issue with a locker room full of positivity.  However, if Masai Ujiri was convinced he would play ball he could provide scoring and rebounding as well as a bit of edge.

Finally, as our Raptors embark on a week of healthy rejuvenation, practice and film work let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate the efforts of this year’s squad. For the first time since 2008 the Raptors are on the precipice of post-season play, a division title and a record-breaking win total. Those six long years have left many a fan parched for improvement, victories and something to celebrate in April, May and dare we say possibly June. It’s not exactly the seven-year itch, but the fact we finally found the solution is worthy of at least a happy scratch.

Tipping off to another exciting week of Raptor Basketball; follow me on Twitter: @TTOTambz

  • Vanlivin

    First quarter 2 man game Ross and JV gets them going and opens up everything else.

  • afrocarter

    Not sure how the theoretical acquisition of either Kris or Ivan can be viewed as a front court upgrade. Both are undersized. Perhaps either would be a step up from Hayes, but we’re talking about the 5th big off the bench.

  • FLUXLAND

    rebounding count: 1
    paint count: 3

    word count: I’m guessing over 1,200.

    “basic fundamentals”, eh?…fugazi success. Critics in check? Hardly.

    • What the

      Hi Fluxland ol buddy, did you watch KoMar last night ? he scored 32 last night with ease did you see it, did you see Flux ? hay do you know what was sweet ? watching NBA LP highlights and the guy goes ‘ Amir Johnson to KoMar DeRosan THE ALLSTAR looong jumper just inside the three point line’ and Flux my friend, I don’t have to tell you what happen, I got so weak in the knees I could hardly speak had to reach for a draw it was like something insida me I was shaking my head like losing my mind cause I just couldn’t believe what I’d just seen
      Somebody said it could be the transedendedeti feellng coming on, Wow Flux and it’s not even the playoffs

      • FLUXLAND

        I keep telling to you lay off the Kool Aid…it will make you call people, who played with C-Murder’s nephew, All Stars

    • Danno

      Hey Flux, as a “Raptors fan” you must really be enjoying this season with a team that plays hard, plays together and has won a lot more than expected… oh wait, naw… not as fun for you when you can’t come on and taunt the real fans over cheering for their team (basically, anyone who isn’t a bandwagon fan, as if there’s something wrong with that). For me, I’m glad I stuck with this team through the bad times, and I’ve really enjoyed the year, watching from home and going to games. Will we win the championship? 99% not, although 29 teams will not win – season has definitely been a success, and entertaining as hell. Please, give me some glass half empty reply about the season to entertain us! Can’t remember you ever saying anything positive in all your comments, basically ever.. must be rough these days. I miss your buddy FAQ, too. Just wanted to say hi, hope all is good!

      • FLUXLAND

        Thanks for the well wishes, glad you’re being entertained by the season.

        • What the

          it all about fun ain’t that right pooka ?

      • onemanweave

        Glad to see you are keeping track of our pal Flux. Don’t worry about FAQ. He’s here, just in another form. LOL. The guy I really worry about is Yertu. Depression is a horrible affliction.

  • mike, prague

    You think that humps is going to be released? I read somewhere, that he could/should be a keeper in Beantown.

    • Will

      Even if he does get released now, it’s too late for him to be eligible for the playoffs. He would only be able to help for the rest of the regular season.

      • Tamberlyn Richardson

        Last season the Spurs signed TMac on the last day of the regular season so I thought if Hump was bought out he could still be picked up.

        • Will

          Yeah, but he was eligible because he wasn’t on another NBA team at the playoff eligibility deadline. Because Humphries wasn’t waived earlier, he’s not eligible. Same thing applies to Ben Gordon who was waived after the deadline. He’s not eligible for anyone’s playoff roster.

  • Will

    Another nice article. I agree with your point about getting blocks from behind. I get a ton of them like that when I play pick up ball and they never see it coming.

    I don’t think picking up another big would be a great idea though, unless he’s an Aaron Gray type who’s got the size of a true centre, and doesn’t need playing time when we don’t need his size. Hansbrough and Patterson are both playing great in their own ways and I wish there were more minutes for them as it is. Also, I don’t think Humphries would be a good option since he wouldn’t be eligible for the playoffs.

    • Jerry Garcia

      well written…thanks

  • Marshall

    Love the idea of practicing some actual sets at the end of games. Throwing the ball to Lowry or DeRozan and asking for a miracle won’t get us far in the playoffs.

    • asifyouknow

      Form your mouth to Gods ears…..you are absolutely right…They are good buy they are not Michael Jordan .

    • TheSpiceTyrant

      This has already happened… More times than we’d think. It’s done in blowouts all the time

  • Paul

    Players released after this point are not eligible for post season play. There is no savior on the horizon.

  • asifyouknow

    Tamberlyn Richardson this is the best copy I’ve read here since I started coming into the site..
    Nothing to say except …GOOD JOB..

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Thank you, but real credit goes to Zarar’s editing job.

  • FREEJV

    has anyone seen our last 6 games lmao im 100% sure we re gonna at least have a 6 game winning streak going into playoffs unless we play the scrubs last couple games loool

  • FREEJV

    id rather be 4th right now and play washington 1st rd and indiana 2nd rd. no chance against miami

    • jacobd4

      You can’t really bank on the teams staying in the same positions. And i see miami taking first from indiana being only two games back.

      • FREEJV

        if miami is 1 st then 3rd seed is good.

  • jakdripr

    I’m not one to advocate losing, but I honestly wouldn’t mind falling the 4th if charlotte stays at 6th. The only team I don’t want in the first round is charlotte because we just cannot deal with big bodies. So I guess my point is, while the 3rd seed would be nice, if it means a first round match-up against the bobcats I can live with the 4th. Only reason I want the 3rd tbh is pride, every analyse keeps calling for us to fall, they’ve said brooklyn, washington, and atlanta would all pass us so I just want to prove them all wrong.

    • What the

      but Flux said the playoffs is a different ball game reg.season don’t mean jack and I trust Flux

      • FLUXLAND

        You should try formulating an original thought.. instead of regurgitating media, KG, or anyone else. Then again, sheep will always be sheep.

        • jakdripr

          I’m assuming from his tone that he’s being sarcastic.

      • jakdripr

        In or outside the playoffs bad match-ups are bad match-ups. Dallas lost to Golden state in 07 for this very reason(despite every analyst spewing the same shit you’re saying), and the only reason miami beat indiana was because they had a guy called Lebron James. If you can avoid a first round match-up against a potentially bad match-up I see no reason not to.

  • Bryan Colangelo

    I love how Raptor fans are so arrogant that they actually think Dwayne Casey doesn’t have set plays out of time outs, and he is finally ‘seeing the light’ by running plays.

    He’s been a NBA coach for 20 years, and has a full staff. Do you seriously think he doesn’t know how to run a play? He probably has binders and binders full of plays. He probably doesn’t run them because a) DeRozan and Lowry need the experience creating under pressure and b) you don’t waste out-of-bounds plays in the regular season against potential playoff opponents when the team is already doing well.

    Dwayne Casey and the staff correctly anticipating the Nets inbound play last month (?) was the perfect example of a veteran staff taking advantage of a rookie coach’s predictability.

    • TheSpiceTyrant

      Very true… this year the rotations have been tighter and since Gays departure there is play execution. The fresh assistant coaches – I believe- have made much of the difference.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      I’m sure Casey does have a series of plays he can call. I’m only commenting on the fact we’ve lost several games utilizing DeRozan in an isolation play.

      I agree with you that it’s probably best not to show our hand before the post season by showcasing those plays, however with this being such a young team the dilemma becomes getting them experience to form a natural habit which I why I suggested running the multi-option play to close all quarters.

    • Steverino

      If, as you say, he has “binders and binders full of plays”, do you honestly think he can’t waste a few in the regular season if it, you know, helps them win a game? You don’t think he’d have variations and alternates up the yin-yang? Gimme a break. Even if he only had, say, five different plays, you think the opposing team would be ready for whichever of the five they chose to run?

  • TheSpiceTyrant

    Here’s what I hope happens: raps stay at 3, avoid Brooklyn in the first round. Nets seem to get wins against Miami and could pull off an upset. Nets take the series, but just as Garnett gets a hernia and Derron kills another head coach, pissed off at the dumb plays he calls out, and the nets implode. We take the series in 7 and we get our chance to get spanked by Indiana in the conference final.

    • What the

      Sleepz says “so we get to playoffs then what?” KG says “anything can happen”… for me,I hope Bosh sleeps with King James mother and you all know the rest of story

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