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When Masai Ujiri was announced as the new president and GM of the Toronto Raptors, most Raptor fans were ecstatic. After living through the wheeler-dealer roller coaster of bad decision-making that was Bryan Colangelo, the more measured and conservative approach of Masai Ujiri seemed like a breath of fresh air.
After Carmelo Anthony forced a trade to the Knicks, not long after Ujiri took over, Ujiri was roundly praised for being able to acquire more than he was expected to from the Knicks, while also keeping the Nuggets in the playoffs and winning 50 games that season1.
His arrival in Toronto heralded a new, brighter chapter for an organization that had missed the playoffs 13 times in its 18 years of existence and had become a punchline for fans south of border. Ujiri was touted as a hero after being able to get ANYTHING of value for Andrea Bargnani and then was able to turn the massive overpaid Rudy Gay into some useable pieces that sparked the Raptors into a winning record that pushed them into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
This year, the Raptors should win close to their franchise record 48 games and have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history.
So what’s the problem?
Well for starters, after beginning the season 24-8, the Raptors are just 18-21 in 2015 and have lost 13 of their last 18 games. Dwane Casey, who every loved last season, has coached himself out of a job. They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and fan optimism is as low as it’s been since Colangelo was walking the halls of Air Canada.
While Ujiri doesn’t have the history of bad deals that Colangelo did, it’s often what Ujiri doesn’t do that hurts him.
When he first took over the Nuggets, some may remember the criticism Ujiri took for the length of time he took to iron out a deal with the Knicks for Anthony. Had the Knicks been smart, they would have simply backed out of the deal and waited until summer to sign Carmelo outright, and had that happened it would have been disastrous for Denver.
While Denver had a winning record every year Ujiri was running the franchise, he was never able to acquire an All Star or get past the first round of the playoffs, even when they won 57 games. And part of the problem might have been Ujiri’s unwillingness to take risks.
The only reason Ujiri traded Carmelo was because he was forced to, and even then he waited longer than he probably should have. His next big trade was dealing Nene for JaVale McGee, a risk, to be sure, but Nene had been on his way out of town for years, seemingly, and had been signed to a large deal that Denver immediately regretted when his injury woes continued. McGee was less a risk than the best Ujiri could get for an over-paid and often-injured Nene.
During his tenure in Denver, he never tried to swing for the fences in any deal and opted to remain competitive, after trading away Carmelo, rather than risk a full rebuild, which probably would have been better for the team, long term. In fact, the team’s fortunes have declined since Ujiri left, and not necessarily because he left. Ujiri made few bad deals (although the McGee trade wasn’t good and he overpaid Danilo Gallinari), but he also failed to turn the quantity he had in Denver into quality. We kept waiting for Ujiri to package several of the team’s decent players to grab a star, but he never did. He left Denver with a roster full of mostly overpaid players whose value had already peaked.
In Toronto, Ujiri’s trade of Bargnani, while definitely in favour of the Raptors, was certainly not a risk. In fact, not trading him would have been the bigger risk, considering how despised he had become among Raptor fans. Same goes for Rudy Gay, whose horrible contract and otherworldly inefficient play had made him almost as much a pariah as Bargnani was.
It just took the Raptors stringing a few wins together to stop Ujiri from completing a rumoured deal sending Kyle Lowry to New York, sending the team into a full rebuild. Instead, Ujiri decided to play it safe and stay with a roster that was clearly not as good as it seemed, but was good enough to be a playoff team.
This past summer, Ujiri decided not to risk upsetting the chemistry of a first round playoff team that had won just 48 games2 and decided to focus on bringing back relatively the same roster, rather than try and make any big changes. This strategy pleased the fans, who were happy to finally have a winning team, but, let me paraphrase here, a GM who is worried about pleasing the fans will soon be joining them.
In playing it safe, Ujiri has built a team that was never going to be as good as many fans hoped. Even with the poor play over the last three months it’s unlikely Ujiri will make any huge changes to the roster. His conservative approach may be more palatable to fans than Colangelo’s shotgun approach (make a bunch of trades and hope one of them turns out), but so far the results are eerily similar to Colangelo. Both took over the team after winning Executive of the Year. Both inherited coaches who inexplicably lead unexpectedly decent defensive teams to a franchise record win and Atlantic Division title in the first year, and then followed it up with a disappointing season, while still making the playoffs.
After his disappointing second season, Colangelo stayed true to who he is and made a big trade to right the ship (trading for Jermaine O’Neal). It’s likely Ujiri will stay true to who he is and only do what is necessary. Firing Casey, no matter how the playoffs go, would be the safe thing to do. Same with letting Lou Williams walk. But it’s a good bet that the core of the team is safe, despite the fact they probably shouldn’t be.
Raptor fans are too loyal and have been wronged for too long to continue to be handed ginger ale and be told it’s champagne. Ujiri’s recent comment that hinted he would like to bring Wiggins to Toronto was a nice thought, but the time to do that would have been last summer, when he was actually available and before he showed he how good he truly will be. Trading DeRozan and Amir (for example) for Wiggins would have been a major risk, but that’s what great GMs do. Jerry West traded a top 10 center, in Vlade Divac, for high school rookie who lasted until the 13th pick in the draft. Even R.C. Buford traded a young PG who had become a favourite of Gregg Popovich for an unproven rookie who couldn’t shoot and dropped to the 15th pick. Neither Kobe Bryant nor Kawhi Leonard were sure things, and trading away good, young, productive players was certainly a risk that could have backfired, but that’s what makes West and Buford great is their willingness to take risks3.
Fans may not like the idea of trading a Lowry or DeRozan or even a Valanciunas, but those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Glen Grunwald tried to hold together a flawed roster too long and Rob Babcock ended up as the GM. Then Babcock waited too long to trade Vince Carter and got relatively nothing for him.
Bryan Colangelo took over a team whose best player was Chris Bosh. Instead of realizing the limitations of a team built around a second banana (at best), he tried to make it work until it became obvious enough to Bosh that he left.
Now the Raptors are stuck with a roster full of decent to pretty good players that is simply too limited to become the team Raptor fans deserve.
Raptors run out of steam, concede 39 points in the fourth quarter the Chicago Bulls.
In a 116-103 loss to the Bulls, the Raptors were exploited as the one-dimensional team that they are. When Greivis Vasquez was drilling bomb after bomb, the Raptors looked good. As DeMar DeRozan thrived in the mid-range, they looked as if they could beat Chicago. And then those things disappeared in the fourth quarter, and so did the possibility of victory. The Bulls scored on 17 of their 22 possessions in the fourth quarter, shooting 60 per cent for the evening. “They scored 39 points [in the fourth quarter],” Casey said. “That’s a thing that’s been our Achilles’ heel all year, and still is.” Yet, when in doubt, Casey still tends to lean toward offence when choosing between his admittedly limited options. For Casey, it has been difficult to find a lineup with much balance. He has been criticized for not using Jonas Valanciunas enough, but you can understand his hesitation, especially when either Vasquez or Lou Williams is on the floor. It does not take a brilliant tactician to try to put the slow-footed centre and one of the quickness-challenged guards in a pick-and-roll and wait for the rest of the Raptors defence to collapse around the initial breakdown. Even with fleeter lineups, the Raptors can be easily exposed. Amir Johnson, in particular, has fallen off from his past performance. Yet, with a three-point lead, James Johnson came off, leaving Williams, Vasquez and DeRozan as the Raptors’ perimeter defenders. The Raptors likely were not winning this game with any lineup, but they were going to have to rely on the Bulls to miss some open looks with this unit. But the Bulls kept making.
“We ran out of gas a bit, but that’s no excuse. We didn’t get it done in the fourth quarter.” The Raptors had 16 assists after three quarters. They ended with the same number. “I thought our lack of energy, or whatever it was, stopped the ball movement as well as their defence,’’ said Casey. “Again, that as one of our Achilles heels on the offensive end. We started getting stuck and they played the passing lanes. “You have to compete with force on the offensive end and we didn’t do that down the stretch. I thought the ball movement stopped not only in the fourth quarter, but the entire second half.” Crushed in Chicago last Friday when the Raptors had no resistance in the paint, Toronto’s fight and competitive spirit was much better Wednesday, a night following a late-game heartbreaker against the host Pistons.
The Raptors unravelled with a decidedly lacklustre performance on defence. The Bulls’ Tony Snell came off the bench to rack up nine points in the fourth, while starting guard Aaron Brooks dumped in two threes, including a 25-foot pull-up jumper with less two minutes to go that served as the final dagger for the Raptors. In the end, Chicago shot 60.8 per cent from the field, and more than 52 per cent from beyond the arc. As Casey put it, “There’s not a lot of defence being played in that situation.”
But lost in the hubbub was a more important point, the Raptors didn’t start competing until it was essentially too late. “It came down to us not being in fight mode until we got hit first, and we didn’t start fighting until the second half,” Casey said. “We’ve got to play desperate to be effective.” That was the Raptors calling card for the second-half of last season and the first half of this one – the good old days, in other words. Now that might be the only hope they have. Only their tenancy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference has preserved the illusion that the Raptors are a team that needs to be reckoned with. And the potential that Lowry can play at something approaching an MVP level – something he hasn’t done consistently since Christmas and can’t be relied to do anytime soon given that he already required a three-game maintenance holiday after the all-star break and lasted only 10 minutes in his return to the floor Tuesday after missing two games with a back injury — seems more remote all the time. Those were the circumstances before the game ever started. The frightening thing is there are no obvious reasons why they will change any time soon, which is a problem given Toronto has 10 games left in the regular season.
They’ve gone 18-21 since the new year, dropping to fourth in the East, in danger of losing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks have turned into juggernauts. Lowry, who carried the team in DeRozan’s absence, has spent 2015 worn down and injured while DeRozan, mired by timidity after returning from a groin injury, is only now starting to pick up the head of steam that earned him countless trips to the free-throw line and a spot at the 2014 All-Star Game. And all of this is overcast by the big defensive elephant in the room. The ball-pressure and double-teaming defense, an undercurrent to their success after the Rudy Gay trade, has completely vanished this season. Since Jan. 1, only five teams have performed worse defensively. Post-whiplash, a fan base already heavy on emotional extremism — remember the frenzy at the Air Canada Centre during last year’s playoffs? — is reacting to something as overlooked as defense with a familiar refrain: panic. Overhaul the defense. Overhaul everything. Fire the coach. Fire Drake.
Last year around this time, they had punched their ticket to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and, naturally, it was cause for celebration. They had done it on their own, controlling their destiny as they approached the end of the season in an upward trajectory. Perhaps at that point, hanging with a superior Bulls team for three quarters would have meant something, but times have changed. “That doesn’t count,” Dwane Casey said after his team allowed Chicago to score 39 points on 15-of-20 shooting in the fourth quarter, falling 116-103. “In the win-loss column, it’s an L. We competed for three quarters but [when] a team shoots 61 per cent, 52 from the three, scores 116 points, that’s not a lot of defence being played in that situation.” Same old song and dance for a team that hasn’t played much defence since their once historic campaign took a turn for the worst. The Raptors were 37-17 after four straight victories over elite opponents back in February – well on pace for their first ever 50-win season. Since an impressive showing in Atlanta, they have dropped 13 of 18 contests, including all 10 to winning clubs. Now, it seems unlikely that they’ll even match last season’s franchise-record total of 48 wins. To do so, they’ll need to go 6-4 the rest of the way.
We should be angry. This team should be angry. The Bulls went off for another huge fourth quarter, this time for 39 points. The Raptors’ D could offer little resistance as Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell (17 points in 17 minutes, by the way) and Nikola Mirotic dropped bombs from all over the court. When winning time came, the Bulls found ways to make plays and expose the Raptors. And that malaise, oh it felt crushing. Coach Dwane Casey said the team “ran out of gas.” He didn’t say it was an excuse, but the apparent exhaustion feels deeper than the kind experienced on a typical back-to-back. Toronto isn’t just looking forward to the playoffs now, it feels like they’re looking forward to the end of the season. This is where we end up when expectation turns to disappointment, and disappointment turns to reality. With less than a minute to go, the crowd drained out of the arena. What else could be said? Sigh. Shrug. The Raptors are just not good enough.
This was a pretty frustrating game for a lot of it. The Bulls had a really good offensive game going through 3 quarters, thanks in large part to some awful Raptors defense, but they couldn’t seem to get stops against Toronto. It didn’t feel like the Bulls were playing bad defense, per se, the Raptors just seemed to be making some tough looks. The thing about relying on making insane shots, though, is that those shots usually stop falling at some point. Unfortunately for the Raptors, their crazy shot-making largely disappeared in the fourth quarter. They shot just 6 of 18 from the field in the final frame after shooting 50.8% from the field in the first three quarters, including a sizzling 8 of 15 (53%) from range. While the Raptors’ unsustainable offense of making heavily contested jumpers dried up, the Bulls’ offense took off from their already excellent game. The Bulls got whatever they wanted in the fourth, shooting a bonkers 15 of 20 (75%) from the field and 4 of 6 from deep. In all the Bulls outscored the Raps, 39 to 21 in the final quarter to blow them out in what had been a close game, with the Bulls trailing, for much of it.
When asked what the difference was after the game by ESPN’s coverage team, Jimmy had this to say. “Halftime,” Butler said. “We knew we had to stop turning the ball over, and we didn’t give up. Our guys made the right plays on both ends of the floor, and it resulted in a win.”
Jonas Valanciunas kept trying to get Pau Gasol to bite on a head fake but the Spaniard wasn’t going for it. Valanciunas needs to establish an ability to hit a jumper before offenders will bite on pump or head fakes. Teams know that Valanciunas is shooting 62% in the paint but less than 50% anywhere outside of the paint. This is basic scouting report stuff that teams have compiled on Valanciunas.
At the core of the Raptors struggles in the past month has been their lackadaisical play on the defensive side of the ball. Tonight would be no different. The Bulls shot a blistering 60% from the field and a 52% from beyond the arc. The Bulls were exposing the holes in the Raptors’ porous defence, almost scoring at will in the fourth quarter. The Bulls attack was a highly balanced one, as five players put up more than 15 points for the game.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-5 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -4 +/-That statline for me was a great “wait, what?” moment – poor Amir looked like one of those guys who gets his hands on every single loose ball the other team touches. He battled, but he can only do so much against Gasol and Noah, even when he’s at full strength.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 36 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -1 +/-His first half was the best he’s played all season. The Raps seemed to pull a few plays out of DeMar’s playbook for him, and he scored off curls in the midrange and drove and dished, in addition to his usually-dangerous 3 point shot. He cooled off in the second half, but it’s because he didn’t shoot. When the guy is this hot, you have to keep feeding him the ball. Had his issues chasing Dunleavy around Bulls screens, too.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 31 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +3 +/-Dude worked his tail off tonight. Loved the battling against Chicago’s veteran front line on the boards, loved the post play, really loved the kick out pass to an open Vasquez on the pick and pop. Pau Gasol gave him plenty of trouble outside the key, but Jonas made him work for it, which is, honestly, all you could have expected him to do.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 31 MIN | 7-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 22 PTS | +1 +/-Without him, the Raps aren’t in this game after three quarters. He was more or less unconscious from 3 for the entire game, and through that set up the rest of the offence. Unfortunately, his defence was as bad as we’ve come to expect, and that’s a huge reason why the Raptors lost. That said, he, like Lou Williams, is going to lose half a grade because of his struggles on the perimeter. Unlike Williams, he went underneath the screens rather than try and fight through them, with similar results. Guy was the MVP tonight, but it needs to be pointed out.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 39 MIN | 7-19 FG | 6-6 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -16 +/-I wasn’t unhappy with how he started the game – he let the team ride their hot hands (Vasquez and Ross) and did some nice work as a facilitator. He managed to get his scoring numbers up in the second half, but it seemed to come as a result of the team losing the passing rhythm they seemed to have re-found in the first half. Bad technical to end the third, regardless of how you feel about the reffing, and he looked really tired down the stretch. I hope he doesn’t get ridden too hard with Lowry out.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 4 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -8 +/-Got four minutes of run, and didn’t do anything notable, besides get big-brothered by Pau Gasol.|
|James Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 2-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -5 +/-Hey, he played! That’s something. Thirteen minutes is still far too little time, but when he was out there, he was effective for the most part, finding his way to the rim offensively and allowing the Raptors to mix and match starters around him with his ability to guard small-ball fours. Got eviscerated by Nikola Mirotic a couple times, but I’m convinced that guy’s not human.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -17 +/-Didn’t score, but did a lot of the little things you’d like to see – his post passing was better than usual, and he did a great job with tip outs and other hustle-type plays. I would have loved to have seen him utilized more to stretch out the Bulls bigs, but it didn’t hurt the Raps for 3 plus quarters. He wasn’t why the Raptors lost tonight.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 8-13 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | -18 +/-I kind of like point guard Lou. It seems like a role in which he’s a bit less hesitant to waste possessions, and he was very effective on offence (late in the fourth, the only effective player on offence) all night. His inability to fight through Bulls screens on the perimeter (along with Vasquez and Ross) is a real issue for these Raptors sans Lowry.|
I’m not giving him anything higher than a C tonight – that’s residual from last night’s debacle. That said, he earned the highest grade I’d consider giving him by having the team fired up and ready to go for the first half, finally remembering James Johnson was on his team, and doing a good job of mixing and matching lineups. Was the team’s defence good? No, not even close. Was this the best effort we’d seen in a good, long while? Yes, definitely. He’s a problem, but he’s not the reason the Raptors lost tonight.
Four Things We Saw
- It was totally refreshing to see the way the Raptors starting this game – fully reliant on ball movement and scrambling hard on defence against a good team, it’s no stretch to say that the first quarter was the best the team had played since the All-Star break. The Raps only had 2 turnovers at the half, and finished the game with 7, which is a nice stat.
- Of course, that refreshing nature turned to cynicism when you realized that the good times couldn’t possibly last. Chicago is a REALLY good team, even without Derrick Rose, and they ground through the Raptors’ hot stretch, slowly picked holes in the defence (which turned out to be setting off-ball screens on their perimeter shooters) and eventually caught fire in the fourth, coasting to a win.
- This was a tough loss, but it wasn’t a soul crushing loss – the Bulls are a better team, and the Raptors did well to stay in the game (lead, even) for as long as they did on the second half of a back to back. Fatigue really looked like a factor late, especially for DeRozan. Overall, though, this was a nice bounce back performance, and against a team that isn’t the calibre of the Bulls, the Raps might have won via blowout.
- This post – and my grades – my sound a little optimistic, but taken apart from everything that’s happened in the last couple months, this was a perfectly passable performance. That’s not exactly inspiring, and there are real, serious flaws here that need fixing, but tonight’s game, taken in a vacuum, was actually pretty good until the Raptors lost their legs down the stretch.
Most would agree that Casey isn’t a fit for this team as a head coach. Not everyone reached this conclusion at the same time though, so what was your #CaseyBreakingPoint?
The Raptors are in trouble, to the extent that I’m here today writing this article, doing something I thought I’d never do. That is, I’m about to draw a parallel between Josh Smith and Lou Williams.
Now, we can talk about the similarities in the poor decision making of both the above shot and the one Lou Williams took last night – but the comparison doesn’t stop there. Perhaps Josh Smith’s biggest weakness is not his poor shooting, it’s the fact that’s he completely oblivious to just how much he hurts his team when he takes those shots.
So he keeps taking them, when in reality if he just sticks to rebounding, shot-blocking, and interior scoring, he’d be much more valuable.
Unlike Josh Smith, Lou Williams can shoot. At some point though Dwane Casey needs to intervene, pull Lou aside, and tell him that he’s hurting the team’s chances at winning when he goes into hero mode in late shot-clock scenarios.
Lou: "If you've been watching Raptor basketball, right to left crossover 3-point shot, that's just the shot I shoot at the end of quarters"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 25, 2015
Lou: "No different w/ the game was on the line. Thats a shot Im comfortable with, thats a shot that I make, thats the shot I missed tonight"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 25, 2015
Lou can hit that shot – no quarrels. But contrary to what he says or beleives, that’s not a shot he makes. For a while most people have been speculating just how unreliable Lou’s end-of-quarter isos are, but here are the stats to prove it.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 25, 2015
On to tonight’s game.
What you need to know about the Bulls..
By now Raptor fans have had it up to here with not only losing to the Bulls – but also getting schooled by them in every matchup this season. Tonight, it’s not going to get any easier. Derrick Rose may be out, but Jimmy Butler is back, and Kyle Lowry’s absence is already confirmed.
The biggest story in the Windy City – and perhaps the entire Eastern Conference – is the emergence of Nikola Mirotic who is going to put up a good fight alongside Andrew Wiggins for this year’s ROY award. Mirotic has been on a mission to put himself on the map in March. He’s coming off of a 28-point performance in a win over the Hornets on Monday, and is averaging 21 points and 8.2 rebounds this month.
Four times the Bulls have played against the NBA’s elite in March (Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder twice). In those four games, Mirotic has scored a combined 54 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“Dude can play…. I knew it was just a matter of time before he got that confidence in the game,” said Jimmy Butler. “He just starts playing and not looking over his shoulder.”
“What Niko is doing right now with this team in the situation we are in, I think, is remarkable,” said Gasol. “He’s doing great. You have to give him a lot of credit and I hope he continues to play at this level for us the rest of the way.
“This month he has been spectacular,” Gasol added. “It’s very difficult for a rookie to put up numbers like that, but obviously he has experience, has been an outstanding player for a couple of years in Europe. He is flourishing in front of us, doing a great job, great things, great poise, too. I love it and it helps us a lot.”
What’s great about Mirotic is that not only does he pad the stats sheet, but he does it in an aesthetically-pleasing way.
Here’s a fun game to play: How do you think Mirotic would develop as a rookie under Dwane Casey?
*Kiyan opens can of worms, leaves room*.
Backcourt: Greivis Vasquez, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross vs Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy. Edge: Raptors.
Tough call without Lowry – especially considering the fact that Aaron Brooks is playing really well in Rose’s absence. But DeRozan appears to be back in all-star form and is making better decisions with the basketball. If he continues to attack the basket and get to the line, the Raptors will have a good chance to steal this one.
Frontcourt: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas vs Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol. Edge: Bulls.
Clear-cut. Pau Gasol has been completely rejuvinated this year and looks like the NBA champion he once was. In three games against the Raptors this season, Gasol has averaged 9.7 rebounds and 17.3 points on 48.6% shooting.
Tip-off is at 7 pm EST.
Ok, so the Raptors bucking their struggles and getting things rolling over the last 12 games against bad teams heading into the playoffs storyline didn’t exactly get off to the start that any of us had hoped for last night. Instead we saw a team continue to collectively check out on a defensive scheme that everyone but the coaching staff seems to acknowledge is completely broken. I don’t know how you implement a brand new defense with only 1/6 of the season left, but I do know that you can’t simply ride out what you’ve got when your entire roster quits on the scheme you’re playing because they know it’s going to fail before they even start. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Raptors had absolutely no problem executing last night against the Pistons. On that theme, let’s go all-in with the bandwagon criticism of Casey, steal a gimmick from a better writer and go over all of last night’s ‘Thank you for not coaching’ highlights.
- Anthony Tolliver was punishing the Raptors in the first half by draining wide-open 3 after wide open 3. Amir Johnson has struggled all season long to guard the perimeter and his injury restrictions just don’t allow him the mobility to stay with a stretch 4. He can’t play any help defensive down low when his man is on the perimeter, taking away from his biggest defensive positive, and every time he tries or gets involved in a nearby pick and roll, his man is left wide open for an unchallenged 3. After 4 first half instances of this exact breakdown, you’d think it might be time to change the approach? Not so much. You’d think that maybe this is an opportunity to get James Johnson into the game at the 4 spot? Tolliver isn’t a concern down low, so James Johnson seems like an ideal candidate to be able to better follow him around the perimeter. No, really? No minutes for James Johnson when you’re getting stretched out and hurt for it but Hansbrough is going to get some run and we’re willing to experiment with a Lou Williams-Grievis Vasquez-Terrence Ross backcourt (you’re never going to believe this, but that trio was not spectacular defensively)? Ok, then.
- Seriously though, James Johnson got a DNP coach’s decision. I’m not advocating for 36 minutes a game from JJ, but I don’t see how he isn’t an option, and a valuable one at that. Casey needs to explain why Johnson can’t even get a look in these games.
- WHY IS VASQUEZ PLAYING LATE GAME DEFENSIVE POSSESSIONS? THIS IS NOT A NEW QUESTION/PROBLEM. HE’S BEING SPECIFICALLY SUBBED IN FOR DEFENCE! I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!
- What’s that? Vasquez fouled off ball immediately after being substituted in for Terrence Ross with a minute and a half left because he couldn’t keep up athletically with Reggie Jackson? But who could have possibly foreseen this? Are you insinuating that putting a slow footed guard known for bad defensive decision making on the court specifically to guard the most athletic guy on the floor whose been attacking all game isn’t the best laid course of action? Well, the good news is that at least the results turned out just as poorly as you’d imagine, much the way they usually do in this scenario.
- There are some of you out there who might advocate for running an actual play when you have possession of the ball down 2 points with 18 seconds left on the clock. It’s an outside the box kind of idea, I know. But let me ask you this, why bother running an intelligent play for 2 points when you have a guard whose perfectly willing to put up a 28-foot contested 3 because you didn’t call a play or a timeout and nothing was materializing so I guess he had to do something? Didn’t think about it like that, did you? I mean, sure, the play is unlikely to work out, and it’ didn’t. Sure, you had the opportunity to use a timeout when you saw that things were not developing well, but people don’t appreciate just how good it feels to be able to finish a game and know that you’ve still got timeouts in hand! And yes, fine, I’ll admit it, it’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable when you say in your post game press conference that you drew up a pick and roll to get an open shot but it didn’t really work out because a) that still doesn’t explain why you didn’t call a timeout to reset and, even more so, because b) both Lou Williams and Amir Johnson contradicted you in their interviews saying that there wasn’t a play drawn up at all and that’s why Lou figured that he may as well shoot before time expired. Does anybody else know I feel?
- While we’re on the theme of being driven insane by bad decision-making, let’s take a minute to look at just how heavily the announcing crew mailed it in last night. Their keys to the game last night were: Road Offence, Road Defence, and Rebounding. You think? Great call boys, you’re right! Offense, defence and rebounding will almost definitely play a roll in this game! Also playing a factor, bouncing the basketball and making sure that they’re able to put the ball through the hoop at least one more time than the other team does. Offense, defense and rebounding? Don’t just list the three main aspects of the game of basketball; try at least a little. Tune in to tonight’s game in Chicago, where the three keys to the game will be filling out the lineup card in a neat and timely fashion, making sure everyone is wearing sneakers and the appropriate basketball attire, and emphasizing scoring more points than the other team.
The fact that the entire defensive game plan was to take away the three-ball pounds home just how poorly that first quarter was for Toronto. “It sucks when you lose a game by a possession or two when you could have played hard the whole game,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We just got to get it together.” Detroit scored 37 in the first quarter, 21 of those points coming from beyond the three-point line. The 37 marks the second highest by an opponent in the first this year. The only worse butt-kicking came in Golden State, where the Warriors went off for 40.
“I twisted the wrong way and it gave out,” Lowry said after game. ”It’s probably the same injury, so I’m going to have to take my time and get it right.” The Raptors would be wise to rest their star point guard and odds are that’s what their going to do. There’s almost no chance he suits up in Toronto’s game Wednesday against Chicago and it would be surprising to see him back for at least a couple weeks. Greivis Vasquez will step in for Lowry in the starting lineup. “I would rather for him to get totally healthy before he comes back so he is totally ready down the stretch run,” said head coach Dwane Casey.
The problem for the Raptors is, even if they clinch the Atlantic Division on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls at the ACC, or whenever it surely happens, it won’t have very much meaning. All the division title will mean is a nice banner to hang in the rafters next year. The Raptors have not won a game against a team currently above .500 since Feb. 20, losing nine straight. Sure, only eight of their 11 games are against teams above .500, but eight of those are against teams still fighting for a playoff spot or trying to improve a seed. “I can see glimpses (of improvement) in areas, but then you go back in other areas,” Casey said explaining his lack of celebration. “The curse of getting out early in the race is human nature. Now we’re cracking the whip, cracking the whip, cracking the whip, pushing, pushing, pushing. I think you see a lot of teams in the league doing that now. It’s a different hunt, other than scratching and clawing to get there. Fighting human nature of relaxing and complacency.” The Raptors have a lot of work to do in their last 11 if they want to go deeper than the opening round. The Pistons used their third different starting point guard in the four-game season-series. All of them — Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin and now Reggie Jackson — have all had superb nights. Jackson contributed 28 points, nine assists and five rebounds; point guards are clearly trending against the Raps.
Van Gundy was pleased to see so many players contribute for the Pistons. Caron Butler hit a couple of early 3-pointers to help kick-start the Pistons’ offense. Tayshaun Prince was 2-for-9 from the field but had a big basket with a minute left to give Detroit a 105-102 lead. And Jodie Meeks’ only two points came on a pair of free throws with 1.6 seconds left that finished the scoring. “Those are the kinds of things that winning teams do,” Van Gundy said. “Everybody finds a way to make a contribution and then Andre had a couple of his best defensive possessions, maybe of the year, down the stretch.” The Pistons’ four victories during the last five games have come against teams that are holding down playoff positions – Memphis, Chicago, Boston and now Toronto. “I’ll say this, when you’re coming off 10 losses in a row, I don’t care if you’re beating the Little Sisters of the Poor. You just want to win. But we’ve beaten good teams. Memphis, Chicago, Boston had won nine out of 10 at home. These guys (the Raptors) are going to have home court in the playoffs.
Sure the Pistons almost coughed up a double digit halftime lead, but despite almost assuredly missing the playoffs, Van Gundy has this team playing with a lot of energy, and more importantly they seem to finally be gelling. It’s nights like this–when the Pistons three best prospects, Drummond, Caldwell-Pope, and Jackson, all go for 20 plus points and impact the game in a variety of ways– that should encourage fans about the direction of the franchise moving forward.
Thanks to 22 second-half freebie attempts in all, most of which came from DeMar DeRozan attacking the basket, and Lou Williams, the Raptors came all the way back from what was once an 18-point Pistons lead to take a couple different one-point leads. Impressively, though, the Pistons answered each fourth quarter deficit with a run, 7-0 and 7-2 respectively, to capture the win. Drummond finished two rebounds shy of another 20-20 (21 & 18). Jackson led all scorers with 28 points and was one assist shy of a double-double. KCP had 26 points on 17 shots (5-9 from three). The Pistons have won three straight and, with 11 games remaining, are only 4.5 out of the No. 8 seed. They couldn’t, right? Nahh….
The Raptors almost made their fans’ trip worth it. They clawed back from an 18-point deficit midway in the third quarter to take a 91-90 lead on DeRozen’s jumper with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter. “I’ve said this even when we’ve come back,” Van Gundy said. “People make too much of that. It’s an NBA game. Those things happen all the time. We’ve been on both sides of it. “It’s a 48-minute game. Whoever scores the most at the end of 48, wins. I’m not the least bit concerned with blowing the lead. As a matter of fact, just give me an 18-point lead every night and we’ll go from there.” But the Pistons did some clawing of their own. They struggled in the fourth quarter, when they shot 46% on free throws (5-for-11) and 36% from the field. But they did just enough. Jackson appealed for the key replay review with 1:18 left and the Pistons leading, 103-102. Tayshaun Prince’s skyhook 18 seconds later sealed it.
With 23 seconds remaining, Pistons up two, Reggie Jackson air-balled a three-pointer, leaving the door open for the Raptors to force overtime or win a game they probably had no business being in to begin with. Down by as many as 18, Toronto trailed for most of the night. With Casey declining to call his final timeout, Lou Williams brought the ball up and killed the clock. Running a play we frequently see from the high-scoring reserve at the end of quarters, Williams stepped back and launched a 27-foot three-ball that ultimately rimmed out, sealing Toronto’s fate. “We had just scored on the same play,” Casey said after the game. “We call it the three-quarter fist. It’s a high pick and roll, for whatever reason Lou decided not to use it. Again, you have to trust it. The first screen didn’t set and we probably could have called a timeout with six seconds but I thought Lou would attack. It was a set play we had already called but we missed the screen.” Evidently Williams didn’t get the message. “We didn’t call a play,” Williams said. “Once I got across half-court and realized we weren’t going to call a timeout, to me it became a routine play for me. If you’ve been watching Raptor basketball, right to left crossover three-point shot, that’s just the shot I shoot at the end of quarters. So that was the same scenario for me. No different that the game was on the line. That’s a shot I’m comfortable with, that’s a shot that I make, that’s the shot that I missed tonight.”
“They got us every which way. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was a lack of focus. Lack of intelligence and we’ve got to be better. We were much better in the second half with reading the situation and understanding who was rotating. Our job in the first and second half was to take out the three ball.” – Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, on his team’s first half defence
That was just gross. The Pistons racked up 37 points in the first quarter, had 60 at the half, and at one point led by 18 during the second half. They made 12 of their 29 threes, a lot of which were uncontested. If you shouldn’t blame Casey for that last play, you can certainly blame him for playing either Greivis Vasquez or Williams over Terrence Ross down the stretch. For the first time in recent memory, Ross played exceptionally good defence against the oppositions best perimeter player. In this case, he was able to repeatedly cut-off Reggie Jackson from the paint, helping the Raptors claw back in this one. When Jackson had Vasquez on him, he exploited him for profit. Jackson had nine of his 28 points in that final quarter. The only reason this isn’t an F is because of the Raptors effort in that final quarter. However, it came way too late.
First, James Johnson needs to play more. He has been a wonderful addition for the Raps this season, offering acrobatic shooting around the rim and lockdown defence. Aside from Kyle Lowry, he is probably the squad’s best defender, with the ability to earn stops at power forward, small forward or shooting guard. He only plays 19.9 minutes per game, putting him at ninth on the team’s depth chart. But, he could be so much more than his current role for the Raptors dictates, especially in the playoffs, where defence wins far more games than offence. Another player worth considering is Chuck Hayes, who has received sparse minutes this year. Hayes plays only 8.7 minutes per game, but could offer much needed toughness to the power forward or centre spot. Hayes is a defensive specialist with no interest in doing anything but make life miserable for opposing bigs. He could take some minutes from Patterson and Amir Johnson, who have not been the strongest defenders this year. Casey should be looking to make some rotation adjustments in the 11 games his team has left before the playoffs. They clearly need to find defensive solutions, so Johnson and Hayes might provide some answers.
Pre-All-Star break Ross was shooting a disappointing 36.8 percent from three-point range, but after the break that has ballooned to 41.5 percent. For a player who has been reluctant to drive and rarely gets to the free throw line, a nearly 5 percent bump in his three-point shooting is huge. Casey’s generous assessment of Ross’ play isn’t without some merit. Prior to being reinserted into the starting lineup, Ross was a +0.3 points per game while he was on the court and that can only been described as terrible on a team winning 60 percent of their games. Since rejoining the starters nine games ago, Ross is +2.6 points while on the court – not great, but at least respectable. On a relative basis, maybe Casey’s high praise isn’t so far off base even if there remains massive room for improvement.
Photo By Duane Burleson/AP
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Dwane Casey spoke to the media after the game and offered up an explanation why an isolation 28-footer with no passes made was the best shot the Raptors could get.
Raptors lose to half Pistons team. Casey draws up greatest play ever.
Let’s relive some magic together…
Then this happened.
Sure it wasn’t the last time the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons squared off this season, having played twice since the now infamous James Johnson dunk, but who really remembers the last two games between the two clubs.
December 19 marked a time in the season where Toronto and Detroit could hardly have been further from one another in terms of success. Toronto was flying high and leading the conference with a record of 21-6, while the Pistons were struggling to a disastrous record of 5-22.
Everything seemed to change for the Pistons just a few days later when they waived Josh Smith, choosing to pay him at least $26 million to not play for them again.
The Pistons went on to win their first seven games after waiving Smith, and then stretched this success to win 11 of 13 games. Detroit went from being one of the worst teams in the league to suddenly being in playoff contention (your regular reminder that the bottom of the Eastern Conference generally sucks).
Since this stretch the Pistons have been a team defined by inconsistency, much like Toronto. Detroit seemed to go out of their way to alternate wins and losses before losing 10 in a row, with their last four games looking like this:
March 17, win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
March 18, double digit loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
March 21, 107-91 blow-out of Chicago.
March 22, overtime victory against Boston.
What the hell can be expected from Detroit these days? They feel like a lesson in randomness.
And that’s good news. As inconsistent as Toronto has been over the past few months, Detroit has been so all the more. Little structure, significant changes from day-to-day, and a roster filled with pieces that don’t fit in obvious ways.
Trading for restricted free agent Reggie Jackson, despite already having money tied up moving forward in the currently injured Brandon Jennings. Relying on the aged and inconsequential Tayshaun Prince despite the youth throughout the rest of the roster. The questionable fit between Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and the many questions surrounding the impending unrestricted free agency of Monroe after he chose to sign a one year contract last summer.
- Andre Drummond has been even more dominant on the glass as of late, hauling in 15.5 rebounds per game in the month of March (8.5 defensive, 7 offensive). This is up from his season average of 13.
- Where his rebounding has jumped recently, his already atrocious free throw shooting has somehow been even worse. The month of March has seen Drummond shoot just 32.4 percent from the charity stripe, compared to 38.5 percent on the season. How could he possibly be getting worse??? To put that in perspective, 118 players in the league are shooting a higher percentage from three point range (minimum 2 attempts per game) this month. Despite it making the game uglier to watch, Drummond fully deserves any hack-a-Shaq treatment he receives.
- Reggie Jackson has not been an efficient scorer (41.2 percent from the field, 29.4 percent from three, and just 1.9 free throw attempts per game this month), but he has produced a fairly well rounded game by adding 9 assists (hampered by his 3.4 turnovers) and 4.6 rebounds per game.
- Tayshaun Prince is seeing 24.9 minutes per game this month…24.9!! This makes me sad.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been showing his potential over the last few games, scoring 15 or more points in his four straight. This includes games in which he scored 20, 24, and 27 respectively.
Keys to Victory:
- Protect the glass. Detroit is the fourth best rebounding team on the season, collecting 45.4 rebounds a game. With the Raptors devoid of any elite individual rebounders like Drummond, this will need to be a complete team effort. Amir and Jonas need to focus on boxing out Monroe and Drummond in particular, while the guards come in for support.
- Get to the line. Toronto averages the fourth highest number of trips to the free throw line, while also being tied for the second best team free throw percentage. In contrast, Detroit commits just 19 fouls per game, the seventh lowest number in the league. Something’s got to give in this respect.
- Don’t underestimate the opponent. The Raptors have a bad habit of too often playing to the level of their opposition. This allows them to match up with teams that are more talented than they are (not so much recently), but also means that inferior teams can get the jump on them. Detroit is a lottery team (putting it kindly), but still need to be respected.
Pistons keep it close early, but Raptors pull away in the second half and walk away with a 9 point victory.
For all of his limitations, the Raptors are a much better offensive team when Williams is on the floor compared to when he is on the bench. The team has found enough ways to compensate for his poor individual defence that his presence is a massive positive for the Raptors. Although he is having the worst shooting year of his career and has fallen off dramatically as a three-point shooter in the new year, he is getting to the free-throw line at the highest rate of his career. He shoots 86 per cent from the free throw line, which more than makes up for his at-times frustrating choices. Of the Raptors’ five main perimeter players, Williams has the best true shooting percentage — which factors in three-pointers and free throws. “I told him one game — this was at the beginning of the season — ‘I thought I was good at getting to the free-throw line, but you’re up there as well,’” DeRozan said. “It’s just fun when he’s out there because he’s competing. With him only weighing 120 pounds to be able to do the thing he’s doing, it’s definitely amazing to witness.” Two main questions surround Williams, who becomes a free agent this summer: Should the Raptors bring him back? And should this team, given its flaws, rely less on Williams than it currently does?
“He knows when to tag, he knows the system … He’s kind of the anchor on defence,” said Casey. “It took him a while longer to get his sea legs, to get in NBA condition, to get into a situation where, mentally, he could take the hits, the blows, the bumps without being affected by it. And I think now he’s getting to that stage of the season.” With just 12 games left until playoffs, DeRozan’s solid game couldn’t come at a better time, especially as the Raptors have struggled to play to their early-season groove. They have won just six of 17 games since the all-star break, four of which have come in the past week and a half. “If (DeRozan) remains focused like that I think we can do some special things,” said Vazquez, who has been starting at point guard in Lowry’s place. “He works extremely hard and, unfortunately, this year injuries held him back just a little, just a touch. But he’s getting back to his own and he’s helping us win.”
“Just getting my rhythm [back],” the 25-year-old told reporters following practice Monday afternoon. “Ever since I came back, it was tough, bouncing back from my injury, just getting my legs back under me, getting my rhythm that I had before I got hurt. Really just playing with the ultimate confidence and feeling good again.” “It took me a while,” he continued. “It took me a while but even when I was struggling when I first came back I was trying to fight through it the best way that I could and I knew it was going to come around at some point.” Indeed, DeRozan never seemed to get down on himself. Even after that Feb. 28 loss in New York, he insisted that he’d bounce back from the mid-season slump and be better for it by the time the playoffs rolled around. The following game, and first in March, he dropped a season-high 35 points on Philadelphia and hasn’t looked back since.
However, a closer examination of Valanciunas’s impact yields observations that are a far cry from what most NBA fans think about the young big man. With the deadline for an extension of his rookie scale contract approaching quickly, the Raptors will have to make a critical decision. Early deals for players finishing their rookie contracts are the best bargain the league offers, but Valanciunas may represent a case where the team is best off staying put. This season, Toronto’s overall net rating is +3.2, ranking ninth in the league and sandwiched between the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, per NBA.com/stats. However, when Jonas Valanciunas is on the floor, that rating dips all the way to -1.1, closer to low seed teams like the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. Via NBA.com/stats, Valanciunas is the only Raptor with more than 212 minutes [of whom there are 11] to hold a negative net rating. In fact, when he’s on the bench, their net rating skyrockets all the way to +7.8, a figure that would rank second only to the Golden State Warriors. No other member of the team has an off-court net rating higher than +5.3 (Terrence Ross). In near dramatic fashion, Valanciunas is easily the Raptor of those qualified 11 with the worst on court/off court split. In total, the Raps hold a top five offense (107.8 points per 100 possessions) and a bottom 10 defense (104.6). When Jonas plays, though, the offense falls from fourth to 11th (104.5) while the defense becomes worse than every team besides the Minnesota Timberwolves, L.A. Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks (105.6). It’s a significant swing that puts a mid-to-high Eastern Conference playoff seed in the company of lottery teams.
Whether it is lack of basketball acumen, a deficiency in leadership, defensive breakdowns that have gone unaddressed for far too long, whatever the case may be this Raptors team is not equipped to win a playoff series — no matter the opponent. Too many people in this market know very little about basketball and for too long the many mavens in the media, which grows with no end in sight, keep feeding the masses this bunch of crap that the Raptors are playoff-worthy. They’ve entertained and they’ve put together win streaks that have inspired, but at the core of this team is a lack of defence and a toughness that can get easily exposed.
If the Raptors take care of business, they should realistically be looking at anywhere between 50-52 wins. Simply put, they will be favored in essentially every game moving forward, and should start to pick up some steam late in the season. While they will likely lose a few just because of the nature of the game, every game aside from Chicago and Houston should be a win if the Raps are playing with the intensity that is needed.
The 26-44 Detroit Pistons come into Tuesday’s game against the Raptors having won three of their last four matchups, including a hearty comeback victory over the Chicago Bulls Saturday night. A highlight through this stretch has been shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He drained 27 points in an overtime victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday, and has scored 21.5 points on average over the past four games. Greg Monroe, meanwhile, is reportedly not likely to suit up against the Raptors because of an injured leg.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored seven of his 27 in overtime, Andre Drummond had 18 with 22 rebounds and Reggie Jackson added 17, 11 assists and nine boards as Detroit even helped the Raptors move closer to the Atlantic title with Sunday’s 105-97 win at Boston.
Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star File
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After battling through the first major injury of his six-year career, DeMar DeRozan is starting to round into form in March.
Andrew and Zarar huddle after the Knicks game to reflect on the week, the significance of the rest of the season, and off-season contemplations.
- Those brighter horizons delivered with 3 out of 4 wins
- Chicago loss predictable, manner of which disheartening
- Defensive structure still non-existent
- Talented players still without a defined role, and we’re 70 games in
- Is effort an issue with the Raptors play as Casey continually points out?
- Twitter questions
- Tyler Hansbrough picking up on the March Madness
- Should the Raptors sign JV long-term this summer (like they did with DeRozan)?
- The slow-developing Raptors offense
- Dwane Casey’s extension
- Patrick Patterson’s comments on apprehensiveness heading into the playoffs
- What can we accomplish in the remaining 12 games?
- Lookahead to the week
Overall, the Raptors are a team that seems a bit too married to the rigidity of those roles. It is why DeRozan is averaging 16.2 field-goal attempts per game, with 46.3 per cent of those on pull-ups in the midrange, despite shooting a poor 34 per cent on those shots. It is why Jonas Valanciunas took one shot in 24 minutes on Friday night in Chicago — unless he has an obvious mismatch, there are not many efforts to get him looks that he does not get for himself via offensive rebounds. It is why Williams so often ends quarters with the ball in isolation. Having roles defined can be wonderful. It is great for players, especially young players, to know what is expected of them on a game-to-game basis. However, the Raptors have been mediocre since Christmas. On a team with more urgency, that could have led to structural changes with the roster or style of play. The Raptors, though, are trusting that the first two months of the season are out there waiting to be re-discovered. That is a considerable leap of faith.
There is a unique feeling about the final game of any professional season, and this one had it despot the fact there are still 12 games remaining. It’s something along the lines of ‘This couldn’t mean less’ and for all intents and purposes it didn’t mean that much for either team. The Raptors certainly needed the court time to work on their defence and short of anything else, they got that. “I felt like tonight was an overall great team effort,” Patterson said. “I believe no one got hit with a backdoor. Everyone was communicating, talking, I heard that a lot tonight. Focussed on rebounding. I thought we did great sharing and moving the ball, so overall offensively and defensively it was a great night. Defensively I thought we did a great job communicating and talking and carrying out the coaches game plan.”
“We know what we want to get right before we get to the playoffs and try to have some momentum going there,” said Hansbrough in the locker room after the game. He added that the presence of Williams, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, helped draw defenders away from the paint to open up passing lanes for some easy threes. “Lou’s such a focal point, and just knowing where to go so he can find you,” he said. Ahead of the game, Casey was once again emphatic the Raptors need to find their defensive gumption, especially as the post-season creeps closer. Toronto has allowed more than 101 points per game on average this season, putting their ability to stop baskets in the bottom quarter of NBA teams. To change that, Casey said Toronto should work on recapturing the mindset that each game matters, instead of laying off to wait for the playoffs. “I’ve sensed somewhat of a complacent approach a little bit,” said the coach. “For a young team still trying to get their rhythm, trying to get our defensive focus, we can’t do that.” Echoing Casey, DeRozan said the team “stayed disciplined for the most part” Sunday, adding they can’t get too comfortable with their solid grip on the Atlantic Division. “Day by day. Game by game. We can’t look no further than after the next game,” he said. “We have to be playing our best basketball going into the playoffs.”
The real hero of the afternoon was Tyler Hansbrough as he dropped a season-high 18 points in 17 minutes off the bench. For someone who’s ridiculed on a regular basis for failing to hit shots around the rim, Psycho-T was sound and efficient in creating contact and banking in his shots under the basket.
Andrea Bargnani came in to the game pistole fumanti. The up-faking mad man flung together a magical first quarter scoring nearly half his points, ripping down all three of his rebounds and rejecting an unsuspecting short fry. He stopped contributing some short time thereafter.
Although the score may tell a different tale, the Knicks never gave up in this game and did not lose due to a lack of trying. Lance Thomas surprised everyone at the Air Canada Centre by leading his team with 24 points. Andrea Bargnani was the only other Knick to reach double-digit numbers in points with 16. I was hoping for a big game from Bargnani against his former team; not all wishes come true. Especially if you are a Knicks fan. The Knicks were playing catchup with Raptors the entire game, and could never quite get there. They truly did the best they possibly could with the players they had available, and that is all we can ask from them at this point.
Coming off a disheartening defeat in Chicago on Friday, and an embarrassing loss to these same Knicks last month, this was a game they absolutely needed to get, one way or another. Encouragingly, they actually looked like a playoff team should going up against a 14-win opponent. With the exception of a brief drought to begin the third quarter, Toronto was in control from start to finish. In accordance with a vow they made following the loss in Chicago, they were locked in on the task at hand rather than looking past a comically bad team that – to their credit – has taken them by surprise before. “We’ve just got to stay focused and understand that every game still matters,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. “We’ve got to take something from every game even though we’re still going to the playoffs. We can’t relax. We’ve still got to keep focus and get better every time we step on the floor.”
It has been over a month since the Toronto Raptors have won more than two games in a row. The team has struggled to establish any sort of momentum down the stretch, allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls to climb back into the race for second-place in the Eastern Conference. Now, with an impressive blowout in New York (106-89), the Raps have a great chance to finally get back on the proverbial horse of success and earn a solid win-streak. The Raptors truly need every win they can muster if they plan to catch the Cavs. They are now a full three-games back, sitting in third ahead of the Bulls. While third wouldn’t be horrendous, second would be preferable. Considering the Raptors only have two more games left against teams above .500, earning a solid record with their remaining contests and catching up to the Cavs should be doable. It will require adequate contributions from the team’s many important players, as well as a much more consistent and dedicated effort than they have been demonstrating recently.
Again, it’s the Knicks. This shouldn’t mark a defensive turnaround for the Raps, but they did enough to contain the threats. Lance Thomas (who?) finished with 24 points, and fan favorite Andrea Bargnani dropped 16 however that was about it for the Knicks. On an unrelated note, just how amazing would it be if the Knicks re-signed Bargnani to a long-term deal this offseason after the late surge he’s been on?
DeMar DeRozan put in another strong game for the Raptors, leading the way with 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field (including 6-for-6 free throws) to go with seven rebounds and a team-high five assists. DeRozan also had multiple dunks against the Knicks, including a highlight-reel worthy putback slam in the first quarter.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 24 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-2 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | +4 +/-
Watching him on the court reminds me playing with gumby and pokey dolls, problem is Amir’s ankles aren’t going to bend back. Once Kyle Lowry returns from his back contusion Casey needs to find some games to rest him. A healthy Amir is a priority for the post season.
|Terrence Ross, SF 31 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +14 +/-
His offense seems to be back on track albeit not at a level we’d expect. The issue continues to be his defense. Today it was hit and miss and this is facing the woeful Knicks.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 27 MIN | 6-12 FG | 5-5 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +12 +/-
An area he’s improving upon is his passing. Case in point he passed off to Amir 2Q while surrounded by several Knicks and passed out of double and triple coverage who were collapsing on him in the post. He still needs to work on improving his positioning in the post. A couple of occasions I noted Vasquez wanted to get him the ball, but he was behind the defender which makes the path to get him the ball more difficult (and resulted in a turnover on one such attempt). Still, involving him early and often is important b/c of his high FG%. Couple that with his improved decision making and ball handling and it should result in consistent advantages. To reiterate what most people have said all season the team needs to make this a point of emphasis in their final games leading to the post season.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 34 MIN | 5-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +12 +/-
Got off to a slow start notching only a turnover in the 1Q. When he returned to the court 2Q he moved the ball better getting a bunch of hockey assists. While DeRozan and Williams both had numerous assists I won’t penalize him for not registering as many as he was often the one spearheading the ball movement.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 8-15 FG | 6-6 FT | 7 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | 0 +/-
Had 2 impressive dunks in the first half and seemed to be intent to get JV the ball (more than he has previous games). I held off writing too much about him til later in the game because he has a tendency to have a couple great quarters of mixing up scoring with passing and then that disappears as he returns to iso ball. Today he carried it through the game.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 7-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +8 +/-
We never have to worry about effort when Psycho T hits the court. Whether he was buoyed by his alma mater (North Carolina) performing well this weekend or if it was just a coincidence his performance today resulted in 9 points and 3 rebounds in the first half alone. Imagine if the basketball gods had gifted him with an additional 2 or 3 inches in height how much more of a force he’d be. His best overall game this season.
|James Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +15 +/-
When he sailed through the air hitting Alexey Shved it was the Russian’s shoulder his legs made contact with! Not hard to imagine after witnessing that how JJ kicked the ball off the hoop as rumored. His activity was improved today and he made a couple strong moves to the basket. He looked to be more like himself after a couple of questionable outings. Note to Casey: Get him some consistent minutes and THIS is what you can expect.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +10 +/-
Watching the combination of Patterson, JJ and Hansbrough on the court 2Q showcased something closer to the defense we witnessed early in the season. Subsequently the Raps built their biggest lead during this period and outscored the Knicks 16 -0 in the paint. His numbers don’t represent how well he played.
|Bruno Caboclo, SF 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-
The Toronto love affair with Bruno continues as the fans chanted “Let’s go Bruno”. Be nice to see him get a few more minutes and maybe down the stretch we will.
|Louis Williams, SG 27 MIN | 4-11 FG | 4-5 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +12 +/-
Despite only scoring 4 points by the 3 minute mark of the 3Q he also had 4 assists, so the fact his shot wasn’t falling he at least tried to do something other than iso ball. Was one of his cold days of shooting but he made efforts to involve his teammates (more than normal)
I’ll credit Casey for recognizing the line of JJ, Pyscho T and Patterson had it rolling. However, given these are the sad-sack Knicks shouldn’t he be focusing on getting JV as much time and touches as possible? And just as I type this he puts JV back in the game, He also called time-outs at the appropriate time.
Five Things We Saw
- News yesterday of Steve Nash’s retirement was met with well wishes from former teammates/teams, opponents, coaches and fans. The common thread throughout the messages was how Nash inspired them and how much respect he’s earned. Certainly he holds partial credit for the trend of today’s teams utilizing a fast pace and increased passing having showcased in Phoenix how it could be successfully utilized. He represented Canada well both as a participant in the Olympics and as a role model.
- Was anyone else shocked to learn Andrea Bargnani is only 29 years old? Must be from all those seasons when he was a Raptor that felt like a decade each.
- As I noted above the combination of JJ, Hansbrough and Patterson represented our best front court production specifically on defense.
- Watching the ever animated Tom Sterner’s half time interview coupled with Kyle Lowry photo bombing in the background was both humorous and surreal
- With 12 games remaining the Raptors are 42-28. They face just 2 teams in that period with a record above .500 so the dream of 50 is still alive IF THEY TAKE IT ONE GAME AT A TIME AND FOCUS ON DEFENSE. The magic number to clinch the Atlantic Division is now 4 (it’s really 3.5). One more win by the Raptors against a division rival also puts the tie-break in their favor since they are 11-2.
Expected news here. Lowry stays out, Vasquez starts, and we might see a Bruno sighting. Bring on the world-beating Knicks.
With just 13 games to go, if the Raptors are going to hit the 50 win mark for the first time in franchise history (which requires 9 more wins), then beating the Knicks this afternoon is imperative. While they only have two games left against teams above .500, 7 of the 13 games left are on the road, where they are only slightly above .500 themselves.
Thankfully, the Knicks have the worst record in the league right now, even worse than the T-Wolves, who the Raptors beat this past Wednesday. And quite frankly, the T-Wolves starting five look like Hall of Famers next to the Knicks’. The Knicks were even blown out by the 76ers on Friday night. That’s a new level of bad.
And just to ensure they’re going to stay bad for the rest of the season, they running their offense through former Raptor Andrea Bargnani, who is playing even worse for the Knicks than he did for the Raptors. Enough said?
Okay, one more thing about Bargnani. He’s averaging fewer rebounds per game than 6’6 guard, Alexey Shved and only slightly more than 6’2 D-League point guard, Langston Galloway. But you need to remember that Bargnani does more important things than rebound.
To make things more interesting, the Knicks are starting three players they waived earlier in the season. Yes, you read that correctly. Three of the players in the starting lineup were actually waived by the Knicks already this season. That may be a first in NBA history. And a big middle finger to Sam Hinkie and the 76ers for thinking they know how to tank a season.
The Knicks absolutely stink and the Raptors are just begging for the season to be over. I’m not sure there’s all that much more to say.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Will Raptor Fans Still Boo Bargnani?
It’s been two years since Bargnani was shipped unceremoniously to the Knicks and his departure coincided with the Raptors not sucking, anymore, so I don’t see Raptor fans even caring about Bargnani’s return to Toronto.
I’m just kidding, they’ll boo.
Will Valanciunas Play More Than 25 Minutes?
In his last 10 games, Valanciunas has played fewer than 25 minutes 6 times. So much “ink” has been used in the last few months about Dwane Casey’s unwillingness to use Valanciunas more, that I don’t think we need to spend much more time on it. But the fact is with just 13 games to go and Valanciunas being the Raptors’ only consistent inside scoring threat, you’d think it would be important to play him as much as possible.
But with Bargnani being the Knicks center and his unfortunate allergic reaction to paint, it’s a good bet that Casey will end up trying to match up with the Knicks rather than forcing them to match up with him and go with a small lineup for most of the game.
Are these the last days for Lou Williams as a Raptor?
Back before the trade deadline, I wrote an article that discussed a number of trade possibilities for the Raptors, and a number of readers were horrified that I would even suggest trading Lou Williams, despite the fact he’s in the last year of his contract. At the time, Williams was one of the best 6th men in the league and the Raptors were at least playing decently. Since then, his play has been bordering on awful and the Raptors have gone 15-16.
Lou Williams has always been a chucker, even when he was in Philadelphia, and he brings little else to the table but scoring. When he’s not hitting, that’s a problem, and in the last two months, Williams is shooting horribly and adding nothing else.
Williams return seemed fairly likely a couple of months ago, but that has changed. Now, spending money on a shooter who can’t shoot seems like a waste of money for a team already overpaying Grievis Vasquez, to the tune of $6.6 million, to come off the bench at the guard position.
Did you miss the part where I said 3 of the starters were actually waived by the Knicks earlier in the season and another starter is Bargnani?
The Knicks starters are bad, and the bench isn’t much better. They have Quincy Acy, so Raptor fans might enjoy his return.
Do you think, if Derek Fisher knew the collection of players he would be coaching the last couple of months of the season with, he would have still taken the job? It’s really hard to gauge anything about Fisher’s coaching ability when you have to play Andrea Bargnani 30+ minutes a game because he’s one of the few healthy players on the team who would even make most other team’s roster?
Edge: Who Knows?
With Kyle Lowry questionable for the game, the Raptors need to actually play defense, not take stupid shots and for Casey to coach half decently, so it’s really up in the air, isn’t it?
With the Raptors willingness to play down to their competition, any Raptor fans who actually attend this event will no doubt be treated to a game no one will want to talk about or remember, even if they win.
Score: Raptors 104 – Knicks 92
Apologies for the scattered post-game report, but I’m still battling a nasty case of bronchitis, reducing my effectiveness to Terrence Ross levels. And there’s not much to say about this game, is there? The Raptors quality of play is such that you can pretty much call a win or loss depending on the type of opponent in front of you. A struggling Minny comes to town, meh, we can pull that off even if we play poorly, but a road trip to Chicago, chalk that one up as an L all night long.
The manner of this loss might be a more depressing than most, because we were so thoroughly outplayed from the start that the gulf between a depleted Bulls squad and a Raptors one missing Kyle Lowry was nothing short of grand. The Raptors defense has now reached comical levels, and I’m surprised somebody doesn’t play the badum-tish sound effect every time a Raptor tries to desperately and unsuccessfully close-out an open shooter. The Bulls got such great looks out of simple sets, and the Raptors defense was so unable to cope with simplistic actions in the first quarter, that you feared what the night lay in store.
Take for example a double-screen set by Noah and Gasol for Dunleavy against DeRozan – clean look from the wing which he drills. Or how about Aaron Gordon catching the sideline inbound, driving to the rim off a screen, laying it back to the rolling screener for a lay-in. Or simple misdirections behind a screen leading to back-cut layups against Terrence Ross. It was so easy for the Bulls that you wondered what the point of having five Raptors out there was, other than to collect the rebound in case the Bulls missed an open jumper. They shot 58% from the field in the first half on their way to a 12-point lead but it may as well have been a 30-point lead, because the Raptors didn’t have the torque or tenacity to ever mount a challenge. The microcosm of the first half had to be at the end of the second quarter when Lou Williams went iso-ball and missed his usual 1-4 clearout, and the Bulls ran a play in 8 seconds to get Dunleavy an open three which he drilled. Embarrassing. The second half offered even less, and the lead soon ballooned to 20+. In the end, the defense was too porous and the offense too rife with friction and static to mount any serious comeback. The token fourth quarter run lacked any sort of conviction and was extinguished before it even started.
Jonas Valanciunas had one shot in this game, and I’m not convinced that even if he had 20 it would’ve made a difference. This was a heartless and gutless defensive performance that would be tough to overcome with any measure of offense. The greater concern is that we have some talented players in James Johnson, who you would think would be easy one to find a spot for in the rotation. He plays hard, doesn’t complain, is efficient, can make shots, drives both directions, and is a great defender, yet despite all that Dwane Casey’s unable to find a hard spot for him in the rotation. The same is true for Ross, as horrible as he’s been, he’s a spot-up shooter whose spot-up shooting isn’t even being utilized. Valanciunas, who has been thoroughly misused and more alarmingly, mismanaged, looks like a chicken with its head cut off. DeRozan is left to create offense the only way he’s been taught how, which is through sheer brute force which more often than not results in inefficiencies. There’s nothing clicking about this team, and there are only 13 games left in the season. In fact, I can’t point to one habit, trait, or quality of this team that you could attribute to sound coaching. Nothing.
You can’t really use injury as any sort of excuse, and the same is true for fatigue. Those are items that every team faces and need to be managed, not surrendered to, which the Raptors seem to have done. As we head into the playoffs, there isn’t a matchup that doesn’t scare the daylights out of me. Our defense can only be bailed out by a spectacular offensive night, and our offense can only be bailed out by a iso-heavy hot-shooting night by one of its inconsistent parts. That’s not a repeatable pattern for success, and relies on sheer chance. I’m left with more questions and complaints than answers or suggestions, because it’s almost like we’ve wasted the season and need a full training camp to reset our defense and instill something resembling a structure to our offense.
We got 13 games left, and at this point it doesn’t matter if we lose all 13 as long as we develop at least a couple good defensive habits which could be useful in the playoffs. For a change, and as I’ve said this a thousand times already this season, the Raptors have to stop this madness of collapsing not just in the paint, but on the perimeter. The defense is so stretched, and guys like Vasquez and Patterson are asked to make such long rotations that they’re winded by the second quarter. Unfortunately, we haven’t used the season to develop any sort of interior defense, so it might be too late to ask Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to stay put and focus on making interior rotations to cover for each other, because both are so used to pressuring and hedging beyond the elbow. I’m rambling, I know, but man, something needs to change.
Maybe we simply switch to more zone, allowing us to conserve energy and make close-outs easier, but that leaves rebounding exposed and Valanciunas isn’t intelligent enough yet to read zone movements, and Amir Johnson, sad to say, isn’t nimble enough to play in one. Whatever the case may be, Dwane Casey has 13 games to work something into the defense where we’re able to, if not consistently, then at least get needed stops in cases where the game is tight. He’s got a lot of work to do and not much time left. The sad part is that despite the 40+ wins, the season looks to be a wasted one.
Hey – sign up for the second annual RR 3-on-3 Tournament held in Toronto on June 21st. The last one was a a blast, and this one promises to be as well.
The Raptors lose to the Bulls. Nay, get blown the *&^% out.
The Toronto Raptors are a sort of basketball experiment. Not an intentional one, mind you, but an experiment nonetheless. They weren’t supposed to be here, but have managed to (relatively speaking) succeed.
Masai Ujiri came to Toronto in the summer of 2013 with the goal of turning Toronto into a contender for the NBA Championship. When being introduced he spoke with fondness of his return home to Toronto (a line now stolen by LeBron James), having worked within the organization prior to his hiring in Denver, but also spoke with extreme confidence that he could play a significant part in bringing the Raptors to relevance.
Relevance…that’s an important word when it comes to the Raptors. Outside of Vinsanity, the Raptors have far too often been viewed as a little brother within the NBA landscape. Being given the hand-me-downs, getting everything secondhand, and dwelling in the room at the end of the hall.
That’s the situation that Ujiri came into, but he has always spoken about the Raptors as if in regards to a sleeping giant. A wave that has yet to hit shore and show its complete strength.
But at the time of his arrival the Raptors were coming off a season that saw them finish 10th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-48, in large part due to a mini resurgence that came at the hands of Rudy Gay.
A lottery team without a lottery pick, and a franchise with significant financial commitments on its roster.
Masai would leave his first mark on the franchise just 40 days after his hiring, when he shipped Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for the corpse of Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, a 2014 second round pick, a 2017 second round pick, and, the real prize, a 2016 first round pick (the lesser pick between the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets).
The reshaping had begun, but outside of some free agent signings (most notably Tyler Hansbrough) the Raptors would enter Ujiri’s first season with an almost identical roster as the previous year.
And this is where Ujiri’s accidental experiment truly began.
Despite having some success after the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto started the season just 6-12 before Ujiri jettisoned Rudy Gay (plus Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray) for Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Greivis Vasquez.
As we all are well aware, this was supposed to the beginning of the end for the Raptors season. Ujiri began shopping Kyle Lowry to New York (thanks, James Dolan!) and was ready to begin a rebuild with the hopes of Andrew Wiggins.
But once again, things started to click. The Raptors finished first in the Atlantic Division for just the second time in franchise history.
Once again, Ujiri did the reasonable thing. When something’s working, don’t fix it. Masai simply tinkered by stealing Lou Williams away from the Atlanta Hawks, while also using the end of the bench to store and hopefully develop two young prospects in Bruno and Bebe. He also re-signed Dwane Casey to a three year contract to bring him back as head coach.
Things couldn’t have started much better. After a 24-7 start to the season Toronto looked as if they would cruise to the first 50 win season in franchise history.
Which brings us to today…
Things aren’t working right now and the wheels appear to have come off. There is still time to finish the season well, but it feels as if this accidental experiment of a roster is coming to a close.
It’s the reason that Ujiri left himself with an exit strategy. He was clearly never married to this rendition of the Raptors. Lou Williams was acquired with the knowledge that he had just one year remaining on his contract, Greivis Vasquez was brought back on just a two year deal, and the third year of Casey’s contract is a team extension (which means a firing this summer wouldn’t cost the team much).
Only Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry were signed to long term contracts, and both appear to be team friendly moving forward.
It’s been a fun two years, and I believe that the future of the franchise is bright, but it is starting to feel like Ujiri is already beginning to write the team’s eulogy for this summer. With three draft picks in the next two years, plenty of young talent already on the roster, and a clear leader already on the roster in Lowry, the team is well positioned for a minor rebuild.
All of this could be meaningless. The Raptors could correct their recent play and make a run at the Eastern Conference finals and Ujiri could let his experiment play out a little longer, but the odds seem slim.
If the season continues along his recent trajectory, it will be fascinating to see how Ujiri responds this summer. Ujiri may not have a set plan for a teardown, but he has set himself up to do just that. Always good to have a plan ‘B’ ready.
- Record: 41-27 (4-6)
- Eastern (3)
- Atlantic (1)
- 110.7 ORTG (4)
- 107.3 DRTG (25)
- 93.5 Pace (18)
- 73.6 DRB% (21)
- 0.551 TS% (5)
- DeMar DeRozan 19 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 6.9 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg
- Record: 41-28 (4-6)
- Eastern (4)
- Central (2)
- 107.1 ORTG (10)
- 104.9 DRTG (13)
- 93 Pace (22)
- 74.3 DRB% (17)
- 0.534 TS% (16)
- Jimmy Butler 20.2 ppg
- Pau Gasol 12 rpg
- Derrick Rose 5 apg
- Pau Gasol 2 bpg
- Jimmy Butler 1.7 spg
It’s a match-up of Eastern Conference powerhouses, but it’s unclear who will suit up for the two teams.
If you’re itching to put a lot of stock in this game, I can understand that but you’re heading in a dangerous direction. Chicago has been nursing a bundle of injuries and even though they may get some guys back, there’s still rust that needs to be played through.
Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson are all on the shelf, and even though Butler and Gibson practiced on Thursday, Gibson is the only Bull that might play. This is great news for Toronto because Butler has been a lockdown defender guarding DeMar DeRozan.
But is it any surprise that the Bulls are nursing injuries in March? This feels like it happens every year and I think we know who is to blame for that. Tom Thibodeau, as good as he schematically, loves to play his guys a ton of minutes. Thibs challenges the law of averages and usually comes out on the wrong side, which might be why there’s a oft-reported rift between Thibodeau and management.
Getting rid of Thibodeau would be a bad idea, in my opinion, for this reason: the Chicago Bulls basketball team is always competitive. It doesn’t really matter who is wearing the jersey, Thibs has that bunch ready and chomping at the bit. Their recent record doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but you can’t look past Chicago. They prepare and play damn hard every second.
Toronto should win this game, even if Kyle Lowry doesn’t play. But we know that “should-win” games are nothing close to guaranteed with the Raptors’s recent run of form. Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol are really solid players and could cause problems.
Lowry (?), Vasquez vs. Brooks, Hinrich
Lowry is questionable to play after suffering a back injury during the Minnesota game. Even if Vasquez has to play starter minutes, we should win this match-up. Brooks is a scorer and me-first type of player who will likely feast at the sight of Vasquez guarding him. But Brooks getting his isn’t the best thing for the Chicago offence, so if he resorts to selfish play, that might benefit Toronto. Hinrich is a player whose best days are clearly behind him, but Thibodeau still loves the guy so he hangs around and collects cheques. He’s a decent defender but a huge liability offensively. Cool glasses, though.
DeRozan, Ross, J. Johnson, Williams vs. Snell, Dunleavy, Moore
Thibs is rolling with Dunleavy-Snell on the wings. That should fire up DeRozan and Ross (if Ross can even be fired up at this point) because Snell is a good defender but still green and Dunleavy tops out as an average defender. I assume Snell and his long arms will guard DeRozan. Toronto has been effectively neutered when playing the Bulls because of Butler’s fine work on DeMar, but with a younger, weaker defender, DeRozan should feast and attack early. It is concerning that Golden State’s gameplan for Toronto noted DeRozan just doesn’t pass, but tonight, it would be justified.
Past that, I would say we are still deeper on the wings. James Johnson, if he plays, is a crafty scorer than provides good defence and the 6 man Lou Will can get his even against great defences, so he should wreak havoc immediately.
I’m concerned with Ross and following Dunleavy through all the screens, though. Dunleavy doesn’t look the part, but he’s a nifty scorer with range and Ross has to navigate through lots of off-ball screens in order to cover him. I have little confidence in Ross’s effort at this point but if he follows his check defensively, maybe he can disrupt the ailing Bulls offence.
A. Johnson, Valanciunas, Patterson, Hansbrough vs. Noah, Gasol, Mirotic
This is a really tough call. The Bulls frontcourt has been playing well, but Noah is still hurt and has to shoulder a bigger load. Gasol is enjoying his renaissance in Chicago though and he’s been honestly fun to watch. Mirotic is Chi-City’s version of Lou Williams; he even loves to pump fake just as much as Lou.
I’m concerned about Toronto’s defence. Pau killed us earlier in the year, exposing Valanciunas’s youth by putting in work in the post. Gasol can post-up, play in the pick and roll or pick and pop, and JV just hasn’t shown the ability to guard those. People rag on Dwane Casey for sitting him, but seriously watch his defence. I’m positive that the same people who clamour for JV to play more against Portland did not watch him defend that night. JV is a nightmare in that scenario, and Chicago will likely start their attack through simple PnR action.
Who knows what we will get with Amir, too. I like him just as much as the fanbase does, but I’m realistic about his inconsistency. A springy Amir can guard anyone on the Bulls, but a weak Amir is going to kill us.
Mirotic is the guy who concerns me the most. He’s an inside-outside threat and played well recently. I’m honestly not sure about his defence, but he comes in and fills it up, so Toronto must have an answer for him. While Noah has struggled this year, Mirotic has picked up the funky-frontcourt-guy slack. If Mirotic gets going, we’re going to have a bad time.
I’ve got to give the advantage to the Bulls because Noah, Gasol and Mirotic are all great players. I’m really not sure if any of our frontcourt guys are better than those three, either.
Toronto can win this game. Chicago is very, very average; just look at their O and D ratings. But we’re pretty damn average too and defence is a rare occurrence in Raptorland. I think the Raptors will win, but I expect an ugly game in front of a wild United Center crowd.
You heard it on the radio, you seen it on the TV show. It’s time for some ball. After last year’s successful tournament (pics, videos), and eventual finalists, champs, and MVP, we’ve decided to do it again.
What: Summer Smackdown – The 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament
When: June 21st, 2015 at 9:00 AM
Cost: The cost per team is $100.
How to Sign Your Team Up
You can pay online via credit card (service charge), or send $100 via Email Money Transfer to [email protected] (make sure to send your email as well). This will reserve a spot for your team, after which we’ll follow up directly with you to get jersey sizes etc.
Rules and FAQs
- This is a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with one substitute allowed, for a total of maximum four people per team. There are a maximum of 16 teams allowed
- You must be 18 years of age or older to participate in the tournament
- Like last year, this is a round-robin plus knockout-stage competition with each team guaranteed to play at least four games
- The deadline to submit your team for the tournament is April 10. There are only 16 spots available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and they will go fast
- This is a tournament for all skill-levels and if history is any indication, it’ll follow the normal distribution. Most of all, though, everyone is guaranteed to have a lot of fun and meet great people
- Winners and runners-up will receive prizes
- All participants receive a Raptors Republic reversible-mesh jersey
We’d like to thank Pizza Pizza for supporting the tournament.
Once again, you can get your team in by paying $100 via Email Money Transfer to [email protected] (be sure to provide your email), or by simply paying below:
Late in the third quarter against Minnesota, Valanciunas spun toward the middle of the floor, where a second defender was waiting for him. In the past, Valanciunas has gotten in trouble in that sort of situation, holding the ball too long and often turning it over. He has shown little recognition of double teams early in his career. On this play, Valanciunas was remarkably poised. Without even picking up his dribble, Valanciunas identified Greivis Vasquez in the corner, passing him the ball. Vasquez hit the uncontested three-pointer. “That’s another step in my game,” Valanciunas said on Thursday. “I’ve got to find a way to see the open pass, find a way to see open teammates. That’s what I’m working on. I want to get better at that. One pass is not enough. We’ve got to get some more.” If Valanciunas remains methodical and indecisive in the post, the Raptors will not trust him to touch the ball in the fourth quarter. However, Valanciunas can be very effective as a low-post scorer, and the Raptors’ perimeter-oriented offence needs some of that interior scoring to diversify their attack. If Valanciunas can learn to deal with the extra defensive scrutiny, the Raptors will benefit in the playoffs.
“Yeah, he’s more excited every single day,” Patterson said. “Just happy, cheerful, joyful and anxious to start the day, every single day, because at the end of the day, he knows when he leaves us here, he’s going home to see his son. “On the court, it’s the same thing,” Patterson said. “He’s happier, he has more pep in his step, a little bit more bounce and you can see it every game. He’s been playing exceptionally well since his son was born.” Again it’s been only three games but even the numbers are livelier. In the first 63 games of the season, prior to Jonas Jr.’s arrival, Valanciunas had put together solid numbers, shooting 56.1% from the field, averaging 8.6 rebounds and 12 points a night. His plus-minus lagged a bit at minus-0.7 but, all in all, not bad numbers for a guy in his third season and still learning. Since he became a father for the first time, Valanciunas has gone up against Robin Lopez of Portland, Roy Hibbert of Indiana and Gorgui Dieng of Minnesota. In those three games, he has shot 80.8% from the field, pulled down an average of 12 rebounds and scored 14.3 points a night. With Valanciunas on the floor over those three games, the Raptors were a plus- 2.3
“He’s moving well [today] but he’s just sore,” the head coach added following a Thursday afternoon practice session at the Air Canada Centre. “Nothing structural, no structural damage.” Given the unpredictable nature of back ailments, it’s unlikely that his status will be known, one way or another, until just before the game. There’s a strong possibility that the team opts to play it safe, sitting their most important player out for a contest or two as a precaution. “It would be tough,” said Patrick Patterson. “Of course we’d rather have Kyle out there than not out there but at the end of the day, we want him healthy for the playoffs. We don’t want him hurt, we don’t want him to have any nagging injuries or tolls on his body once the playoffs start.” With general aches and pains building up late in the season, the Raptors gave Lowry three games off, amounting to a week’s worth of rest earlier this month. Since then, the all-star had looked like his old self again, averaging 18.4 points (up from 11.9 in February) and 6.4 assists, and shooting 49 per cent from three-point range (up from 24 per cent) in seven outings.
The Toronto Raptors cannot seem to catch a break, suffering yet another set back in their 105-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night (March 18). Sure, the win felt good, but it was probably not worth hearing the news that Kyle Lowry has suffered some description of a back industry. Though it doesn’t look serious yet, it isn’t a good sign for the Raptors, who can’t afford to lose Lowry right before the playoffs. In fact, the Raptors are currently locked in a tight race for second-place in the Eastern Conference with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Currently, the Cavs have a two-game edge, but the Raps still have 16 games to close the gap. It’s possible, but only with a healthy Lowry, who has often been the only bright spot for the Raptors over the last month or so. The team has limped badly since the All-Star break, struggling to sustain wins or gain any sort of momentum. Plus, with their next game being a must-win against the Chicago Bulls, Lowry’s role for the Raptors couldn’t be more pivotal.
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For the second time this season, James Johnson is out of the rotation.
You’re the GM and you have the money to upgrade only one position on the Raptors this summer, which would it be?
The buzz coming into Wednesday night presented the best of both worlds. Headlining the event was Andrew “Maple Jordan” Wiggins finally making his Canadian-soil debut, but lurking in the background was a chance for the Raptors to continue to chip away at their haunting inconsistencies. With the Timberwolves only healthy enough to manage an 8-man lineup, odds were in the fans favour of witnessing both a victory, and a moment to bask in the glory of the hometown kid. Throw in a few visions of Wiggins eventually ending up in a Raps’ uniform, along with a Sam Mitchell sighting on Minnesota’s sidelines filling in for the ailing Flip Saunders, and this tilt had the potential to cure your lingering St. Patty’s Day hangover.
Now, potential can sometimes resemble DeRozan on the wing, staring down JV in the post who’s calling for the rock. A dangerous proposition, indeed. Or how about Wiggins’ teammate, Anthony Bennett, the other noteworthy Canadian product. The Brampton native was unable to suit up due to an ongoing ankle injury, but remains shout-out worthy as long as we’re spreading the local love. The No.1 overall pick in 2013 still has time on his side, but prospects of reaching the level once thought are currently stagnant.
Did Worlds Collide In Harmony?
Well, let’s begin with Wiggins. The main attraction is deserving of his own section. Yes, this is the Republic, but the moment calls for the Raps to receive a little silent treatment to start. I can’t sit idly by and act like that performance against the Blazers didn’t occur. A day off in between games, coming off one of their more promising showings (amidst their fall from grace), and an effort that lethargic shows up? Regardless of Portland’s execution, the home crowd was entitled to their weekend ending on a much more positive note.
A road win in Indiana, not to mention Lowry’s fashion statement, was enjoyable and reassuring of what this team is capable of, but it still falls in line with the season’s mixed-bag of tricks. The doghouse is firmly occupied.
But wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to be leading off with Wiggins? Frustration has a mind of its own sometimes.
As for the kid from Thornhill, Ontario, it was not meant to be in his homeland debut. To be fair, early foul trouble snaked any notion of finding a rhythm, or even a seat off the first-half bench. The second-half (6 points in the 4th) held plenty more assertion, and in flashes a glimpse of why so much promise is bestowed upon him. A blazing first step, developing low-post repertoire, and a cool and collected demeanour. But nothing ground breaking here, I’m preaching to the choir with that assessment. Even his numbers on the glass have a respectable future, he’s just too active.
Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger were more than happy to pick up the slack, however. 56 points and 15 rebounds were dropped by the pair. Budinger by way of the dirty work, and K-Mart deconstructing Toronto from the outside going 5-for-9 beyond the arc. And this isn’t even a Casey criticism, as the onus of recognizing when to front Martin should be automatic. Especially when the opposition is undermanned and there is little inside presence to speak of.
Hold up a second. The Raptors won, though. And still sit 3rd in the East. Well, at this point that season-long fallback
excuse option means nothing. If this trend continues (this year’s broken record), say hello to a Game 7 vs. Milwaukee, where Toronto is down by three with five seconds to go. Oh, and the Raps just turned the ball over.
Feed The Beast
Normally, cashing in 21 points, 7 boards, 4 dimes, 2 steals, and perfect 12-for-12 from the stripe would earn endless praise; but when that process includes 28 percent shooting, the spotlight shifts from DeRozan to Valanciunas. Did JV ask out of the rotation in the first half due to being under the weather? That remains unclear. What’s at the forefront is JV’s 20th double-double of the season, and how he was carving up the Wolves’ frontline.
What keeps the rest of us on high alert is the never-ending Casey conundrum of his minute allocation. Wednesday marked the 4th straight game he hasn’t eclipsed the 26-minute mark. These episodes are getting old, but the mission will never be completed unless the drum is repeatedly beaten. At the very least, we’re doing our part! Casey came to his senses later on with JV’s reinsertion, but the prior neglect almost proved too costly.
My season’s drum: Take advantage when a team presents an inferior inside unit, that much is obvious. But go the extra mile at the expense of that mismatch reversing itself to benefit the postseason and this team’s future. Not to mention Casey’s job security. Which might explain his “matchup-based” system. Hopefully, times change in Chicago.
- As Tamberlyn stated in the Quick React, the Raps better hope K-Low’s “back contusion” is nothing serious, as this squad is truly not going anywhere without him at the helm. Although, we’re all in for a little less clamouring at the Ref’s (blown calls or not) while the opponent is already attacking in transition. Let’s face it, this is Toronto, benefit of the doubt in the NBA is non-existent. Even at home. But now i’m complaining, moving on.
- JJ is averaging 10 minutes over his last five games. And that’s being generous considering two of those including last night hovered around half that mark. T-Ross was efficient going 6-for-9, with 3 timely treys, but when goose-eggs are lighting up the rest of his counting stats, not to mention Lou’s old habits rising to the surface, it’s time for an explanation.
- 5 players hit double-figures, and the turnover battle was won (13-18), but why does this victory feel so sketchy? Are the Bulls on Friday night’s horizon? Is the notion out there that this brand of hoops simply won’t suffice in a playoff atmosphere?
Lesson Learned, Again
Anticipation is what keeps bringing us back. If not, you’re in the wrong business. But always remember the odds of a new-style NBA game transforming into the And 1 Streetball Tour are extremely high. Especially when the Raps are in the building. Skip To My Lou, where you at!
A Parting Shot
In honour of Sam Mitchell making an appearance, one has to revisit the clip, Story Time With: Jalen Rose, from Grantland:
“We’re taking our lumps right now,” Mitchell said of his young players logging heavy minutes, all while losing a lot. “But we’re taking them with a purpose.” This is a fate that could have been in store for the Raptors. Had they not caught fire immediately after trading Rudy Gay in December 2013, it is likely the team would have been broken up and sold for parts, with a rebuilding process implemented. They might not have wound up with a legitimate building block like Andrew Wiggins. Rest assured, games in March and April would have felt meaningless. And, sure, the last month of this Raptors season is not overflowing with purpose. However, as the Raptors sleepwalked through a 105-100 win over Minnesota, it came across as far better than the alternative. Picking apart a win — and this was a very flawed victory by a significantly flawed team — is better than not caring about a loss.
“They outworked us in the beginning,” Casey told reporters post-game, referencing how Minnesota guard Kevin Martin came out hot and drained 18 points in the first quarter, the most damage an opposing player has inflicted against the Raps in a single frame all season. Martin finished with 37 points. “We waited till the end to turn the heat up and obviously you can’t do that in the NBA.” Wednesday’s victory brings the Raptors to 41-27 on the season, and marks the first time Toronto has been able to string two wins together since the after the all star break, when they travelled to Atlanta to beat the Hawks 105-80. That was Feb. 20, almost a month ago.
“Again, we didn’t set the tone defensively,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “We allowed them to come out and set the tone offensively. They got in a rhythm offensively and once you let a great scorer like Kevin Martin get going, it’s kind of contagious and the rest of the guys start shooting the ball well. We waited until the end to try and turn the heat up and you can’t do that in the NBA.” It’s a recurring theme for the Raptors, this playing down to their opponents and, while it didn’t catch up to them on this night, it’s a habit that eventual will haunt them one day. That eight-man Timberwolves roster — playing without the likes of Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett, Gary Neal and only some of starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who played limited minutes on a sore right ankle — stayed right with the Raptors all night. Most of it was on the strength of Martin, who has killed this Raptors team before. He went off for 18 points in the opening quarter, a season-high in the first period for a Raptors opponent, and didn’t really slow down the rest of the night finishing up with a game-high 37. The Raptors had no answer for Martin — the Minnesota version of Lou Williams — while Williams himself, despite numerous attempts, couldn’t keep pace, going just 2-for-12 on the night. The Raptors’ saving grace turned out to be the one guy on the bench who wasn’t feeling that great. Despite asking out after playing just 2 1/2 minutes in the fourth, Valanciunas finished with his 20th double-double of the year with 15 points and 15 boards.
By the time the Raptors chase Wiggins, he’ll be closer to fully formed. Asked about it, Wiggins smiled his impossibly wide smile and said, “I love Minnesota. They treat me nice up there. I plan to be there a very, very, very long time.” Everyone should probably just calm down about it for now, and enjoy the fact that Wiggins is the Canadian player of this generation. We have enough NBA players for one of them to be misidentified on Canada Basketball night by the Prime Minister, which is a hell of a thing. And as for Andrew Wiggins, everybody knows his name.
Jonas Valanciunas had a 15-point, 15-rebound double-double in 24 minutes of action. Valanciunas shot 7-for-9 from the floor and has made 21 of his last 26 shots over his last three games. The performance from Valanciunas was even more impressive, considering he was feeling ill and asked to be removed from the game down the stretch. “I thought he battled getting his 15 rebounds,” said head coach Dwane Casey post-game. “I hope he gets sick all the time if he plays that way.”
For the Raptors, it was just another in a string of games where the defence was poor. In this one, the offence did enough to eke out a 105-100 victory over the now 14-53 Timberwolves. With so much hype around the visiting Canadian, it was one big Lithuanian who was the engine for the Raptors. +15 in 24 minutes, Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points, 15 rebounds, and one shiny dime in a dominant performance against a young, skinny Timberwolves frontline. The big man was on the floor for the Raptors’ best run of the night, an 11-2 start to the third quarter that gave them the lead for good after a 54-54 split in the first half. When he left the game, the Timberwolves made their runs, including two in the fourth quarter that put a good scare into a healthy Raptors lead. One could argue Valanciunas could’ve played more (nine minutes in the first half is a light workload), or that James Johnson, the Raptors’ most skilled post-up player, should have played more than five minutes against an undersized and inexperienced Minnesota team. Those arguments, however, seem to be falling on deaf ears. The Raptors also got 21 points from DeMar DeRozan and 15 from Terrence Ross in the win. Kyle Lowry left the game in the third quarter with a back contusion and did not return. His status will be watched closely in the coming days.
If it hadn’t been for a late Kevin Martin miss and a back-breaking Ricky Rubio turnover with just under 1:00 to go, Minnesota would’ve been in position to steal this one. Which would’ve been kind of fun, especially considering the Raptors’ scheming, borderline-tampering ways.
This was the rare game in which the Wolves were severely out-shot by their opponents at the free throw line. The officiating was spotty to be sure, but the Raptors were certainly the aggressor. The Wolves were within one possession a couple of times in the closing minutes but a forced jumper by Martin that clanged off the rim was followed by a Toronto bucket and a costly Rubio turnover to more or less ice the game for the home team.
Toronto ran the ball well and mainly controlled the pace of the game, despite finishing with a slightly lower shooting percentage (44) than Minnesota (48). DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 21 points, 12 of which came from the free-throw line, and Jonas Valanciunas added 15. Kyle Lowry, whom the Wolves were most concerned about heading into the game, was held to only nine points and left the game with a back contusion following the third quarter. Minnesota held its own in the final quarter, and a few times it looked like the eight-man team might pull off a win. However, a crucial error occurred with a Martin miss and subsequent turnover by Rubio. With only 1:27 remaining in the game, the six-point deficit proved too wide for the Wolves to recover from. Considering the number of injuries the Wolves are dealing with and the talent of the 40-win Toronto squad, Wednesday’s game held numerous positives for Wolves fans, despite the loss.
While the Raptors held the Wolves to only 100 points, that is more of an indictment on the talent level on the Wolves than to the stinginess of the Raptors defence. The Raptors allowed Kevin Martin to light them up from deep. Allowing the Wolves, a team 25th in field goal percentage to shoot 48% for the evening isn’t the kind of defence that contender needs to play. Rebounding: C+ No team really dominated the other on the glass, but the Raptors were outworked on the glass 45-39. Allowing the likes of Chase Budinger to come away with 8 boards definitely isn’t a winning recipe. Luckily for the Raptors, Valanciunas was a monster on the glass coming away with 15.
Casey has trotted out 11 different starting lineups over the course of the season, the majority of them coming as a result of an injury. There was no need to tinker with a winning formula. Moving Ross to the bench from Jan. 19 to March 4 was designed to reinvigorate a struggling swingman who was dealing with lapses in confidence. Giving Patrick Patterson the start on Feb. 27 against the Golden State Warriors was simply Casey’s way of experimenting and trying new things. All of the prior adjustments made by the head coach have ultimately led us back to the same starting lineup and a similar rotation with which the Raptors began the year. Change for the sake of change is unnecessary. Casey knows this. There was always a rationale behind every move he made, even if his moves were few and far between. His complacency with the rotation doesn’t make it an impeccable product, though. He’s merely found a comfort level with playing certain guys at certain times in specific lineups.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +6 +/-
His stats don’t scream awesome but the team was shooting 50% and holding Wolves to 38% when he left the game (coupled with JV inside).
He raised his compete level when Lowry left the game and made his biggest play at 1:27 of the 4Q getting a steal and throwing the ball ahead to Lou Will for an easy open court lay-in. Still can’t help but believe he needs to get some rest heading to the post season, so we get a fully healthy Amir for when it matters.
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 6-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | -1 +/-
Could it be we finally saw some emotion from Ross? He came out looking energetic, hit 2 three pointers and was active on defense. For me it was good to see him show some fight (maybe all the talk about Wiggins actually got to him!) Despite some miscues on defense we got a better overall compete level from him for the entire game. At the same time he was the worst plus/minus of all the starters and only one to register a negative (-1)
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 15 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +15 +/-
It took until 4:52 of the first quarter for JV to miss a shot since the arrival of his son. I don’t usually jump all over Casey but why the hell was he sitting the rest of the first half? After 9 minutes he had 4 points, 7 rebounds, a block and was a plus +7. Same note as Amir re: the Raps were manning the paint, rebounding and defending and seemingly had the game under control until Casey took them both out.
Apparently Casey got the memo at the half finally forcing Mitchell to adjust to him.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 26 MIN | 2-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +8 +/-
He seemed to want to replicate the start he had in Indy and was pushing the ball early. I don’t have issues with his first half as he only took 5 shots and was the guard who sat with JV/Amir when they were shooting 50% while holding Wolves to 38%. When he took that really hard fall mid 3Q and came up grimacing I held my breath and literally asked the basketball gods for it not to be serious as the next play he headed straight off the court. Reports were he suffered a back contusion. Raptors better hope it’s nothing serious because we aren’t going anywhere without him!
While he played 26 minutes and could have a lower grade (a B when he left the game), this mark represents more of what he means to the team!
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 39 MIN | 4-14 FG | 12-12 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | +10 +/-
Started the game aggressively driving the paint and got 7 of his first half points from the line. HOWEVER his 1 of 5 shooting doesn’t come close to defining his poor shot selection while teammates stood open watching him! He did get 4 assists in the first half BUT that number could have been much higher. When Lowry left the game he seemed to get more aggressive which wasn’t necessarily a good thing given his FG’s were 3-11 by the 7:30 mark of the 4Q.
As much as he was terrible from the field (4 of 14) he hit a huge 2-pointer with Wiggins in his grill late in 4Q, got to the line 12 times, had 7 rebounds and manned up as the captain in the absence of Lowry.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 8 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -4 +/-
Brings the energy ever time he hits the floor, yet he was part of the crew that allowed the Wolves back into this game.
|James Johnson, PF 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/-
Not sure exactly what’s up with JJ. Has he lost confidence? Is he disenchanted with his playing time? Just feels like one big game from him could turn things around. To that end, he NEEDS minutes to do that.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -3 +/-
From my perspective he was the best player on the court the first half scoring 10 points with an assist, 2 rebounds, a block and a steal. He was also noticeably the most active defensively. Wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, however he does look to be coming back around from his sore knee given that first half
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 25 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -4 +/-
I’m torn about Gravy given he was terrible defensively with a minus -6 at the half and had a careless turnover. While I wish he would pass more I can’t help but admire his confidence and swag. Nothing ever seems to get to him and he did TRY to stay in front of Martin. In fact it was GV who actually stopped KM by closing out on him forcing a travel/TO.
With Lowry out he took over the PG duties managing 11 points and 5 assists. That has to count for something.
|Louis Williams, SG 25 MIN | 2-12 FG | 3-5 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +2 +/-
First half we got the cold Lou Will where he went 1 of 5, however unlike DeRozan he seemed to force fewer shots grabbing 2 assists and registering a plus +2
His cold shooting continued in the 2H and punctuated the fact the Raptors end up in much closer games when his shot isn’t falling combined with inconsistent defensive efforts. Arguably his best play of the game came with the shot clock ticking down preciously close to a 24 second violation when he drove the ball to the paint, but recognizing his cold touch passed out to an open Vasquez who nailed the three and put the last nail in the Wolves’ coffin.
He must have ripped the team a new one at half as they came out much more focused to start the second half. Still the fact he only played JV 9 minutes with the start he had is unconscionable!
FINALLY got the memo 2H choosing to FORCE Sam Mitchell and the Wolves to adjust to having JV on the floor!EDITED TO ADD: Apparently JV ASKED to come out as he is ailing???, but he looked spry to finish the game so not sure about the validity of that statement.
Five Things We Saw
- If you thought Sam Mitchell wouldn’t have the Wolves pumped up to play the Raptors despite an injury ravaged bench you don’t remember our previous coach. My best memories of him were his disdain for the media and him jumping all over the court when a then young Raptors squad also playing with a depleted bench beat (I think) the Clippers on the road. These young Wolves may only have 14 wins but they’ve played Memphis hard on a couple of occasions, lost by a mere 3 points to GSW, come back from 20 down to beat Washington by 20 and also beat the Blazers.
- Every time I watch Wiggins I think of a pogo stick. While he seems to have hit the rookie wall you can see the promise he shows, specifically the fact he appears to let the game come to him. Tonight he was a little uncharacteristically forcing a few things (home town nerves?). Comparing his season numbers to fifth year DeRozan he shots better from the field (43.5% to 40.%) has the same rebound ave (4.3) and is far superior from behind the arc (32.7% to 21.3%). If you want a true example of what Wiggins can become (and you have NBA League Pass) go watch the Cavaliers vs Wolves game from January 31st. Pay specific attention to how frustrated LeBron James gets by his inability to stop AW and the no quit of Wiggins who refused to back down despite giving up probably 60 lbs to LBJ.
- The Raptors have owned this match-up: the Wolves haven’t won in Toronto since January 21st, 2004
- As much as this wasn’t a pretty game and the Raptors played down to their competition the vets (Amir, DeMar and Lou Will) made smart plays at the end of the 4Q to ensure the win. Of note, they got the win which is the important thing, but they’ll need to step up (and hope Lowry can play Friday) on the defensive end for a full 48 if they plan to beat Chicago.
That’s the difference between a young squad and one who’ve played together for a while. These Wolves will only get better once they learn how to close out games.
- As much as many will extol on how we should have hammered Wiggins and company even great teams like San Antonio play down to their competition, losing to the Knicks last night. Though the Raptors need to build some better defensive habits for a full 48 the fact they have 3 wins in the past 4 games is a little more encouraging.
The DeMar DeRozan of a year ago is missing in action.
Most loyal Raptors Republic readers are well aware of how much I wanted the Raptors to try and get Andrew Wiggins before and after the draft. Even after Cleveland drafted him at number one, I was a proponent of trying to get in on the inevitable Cleveland-Minnesota deal the entire world knew was coming. Most Raptor fans bristled at the suggestion of trading away DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, which would have been the minimum cost for acquiring Wiggins (Minnesota was originally looking for immediate help in exchange for Kevin Love, which is why they preferred the Golden State deal where they would get Klay Thompson), and apparently so did Masai Ujiri.
While the Raptors are likely going to set a franchise record for wins this season, their play since Christmas has raised numerous questions about the future of the current roster and the logic in standing pat last summer. While the team would certainly not be sitting 3rd in the Eastern Conference right now, if they had made the trade, having a player like Wiggins would certainly change the outlook for the team.
Let’s be clear, Wiggins has been better than advertised this season, and this after being the number one pick in what was considered a loaded draft (although one that has been beset by injuries).
Wiggins’ season stats don’t exactly jump out at you, but he increased his numbers across the board each month until he hit a bit of a rookie wall at the end of January (he’s continued to score, but his shooting percentages went down in the last month and a half). He’s a much better three point shooter than many thought he would be, is already arguably a better defender than DeRozan is and has the potential to be among the best in the league on defense.
What may be most impressive, however, is how refined Wiggins’ post game is for a player so young. Players like Jordan, Kobe and LeBron all added their post game after several years in the league, realizing how much more effective they are with it. At just 19 years old, Wiggins has the footwork of a veteran in the post, and it’s one reason he’s been able to score so consistently all season despite the fact his driving game is hindered by his lack of ball handling skills.
Ujiri recently hinted that he wanted to eventually add Wiggins to the Raptors’ roster, but that’s a topic for another article.
While Wiggins is the headliner of Minnesota’s visit to Toronto, the T-Wolves also have some other interesting players on the roster that makes the team’s future as bright as it’s ever been, despite their horrible 14-52 record and despite trading away three players who started much of the season for the T-Wolves without getting all that much in return. The problem is that few of the current players have been even remotely healthy for most of the season. Speaking of which…
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Who Will Suit Up For The T-Wolves Tonight?
Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Shabazz Muhammad have missed a total of 144 games this season and Kevin Garnett’s vaunted return only lasted 5 games before injuries took him out. In fact, tonight Muhammad, Anthony Bennett and Robbie Hummel are out for tonight and possibly the rest of the season, while Garnett, Rubio, Pekovic and Gary Neal are all questionable. That’s 3/5 of what would most likely be the starting lineup if everyone was actually healthy.
There are only two players on the entire Minnesota roster that has started more than 29 games for the team this season, Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng, who has only started as many as he has because of Pekovic missing 35 games.
As it is, it’s likely Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Dieng and a player they borrow from the Raptors will start tonight. That is unless one of the questionable players become unquestionable.
Which Kyle Lowry Will Show Up?
After playing at a near elite level for the first couple of months of the season, Lowry has since been about as consistent as this season’s Family Guy. He racked up a triple double against Indiana on Monday the day after going 3 for 11 and barely hitting double digits in scoring against Portland.
When Lowry plays well, the Raptors are competitive. When he doesn’t they usually lose.
Since he’s returned from sitting out three games due to general injury, Lowry’s production has actually improved, so it does give hope for the last 15 games of the season.
Is This The Beginning Of A Turnaround?
We all know how poor the Raptors’ record has been in 2015, but their schedule has also been quite tough. Yes, they’ve lost against the Knicks, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Detroit and Charlotte twice, but 20 of the 34 games they’ve played in 2015 have been against teams above .500 and the team went on three West Coast trips, all against playoff teams.
Of the 15 games left, 11 are against teams currently out of the playoffs, including against sub-300 teams New York, Lakers and Minnesota (twice).
There is still a decent chance the Raptors will get to 50 wins, and winning against a depleted Minnesota will be a good indication on how the rest of the season will go.
With a T-Wolves roster at full strength, Minnesota’s starters actually compare fairly well against the Raptors’ starters. Of course, since few of Minnesota’s regular starters will even play, they simply don’t have the the same level of talent.
In Minnesota’s game against Brooklyn on Monday, their entire bench consisted of Chase Budinger, Justin Hamilton and Lorenzo Brown. And if you’ve heard of more than one of those players then congratulations, you’re one up on me.
Remember when Flip Saunders was considered one of the better coaches in the league and he was leading the Detroit Pistons to three consecutive Conference Finals? Well, that was a long time ago and he’s done very little since then to add to his legacy. While his team will be lucky to win 15 games this season, Casey’s job is probably more in jeopardy.
Despite the obvious advantage the Raptors have over the struggling and depleted T-Wolves, this is actually a dangerous game for Toronto. After such a resounding win against the surging Pacers, it would be very easy for the Raptors to relax against an opponent they know they should beat and play down to them, as they often do to sub-par opponents.
The Raptors don’t need to try anything new or do anything out of the ordinary, they just need to show up, work hard and play consistent basketball in order to win.
As I said earlier, this game will actually be a good indication on how the rest of the season will go. If they relax and lose, then 50 wins is almost definitely out of reach. If they go out, play hard and beat an inferior opponent, then they could still hit that so-far-unreachable mark.
Score: Raptors 120 – Timberwolves 101
This week on the return of The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk Raptors basketball! Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:
- The improved play in last 7 days: Heat, Blazers, Indy etc
- 50 wins. Will it happen? If so- where do the last 10 wins come from?
- More playoff chatter:
- Indiana & Boston look to replace Miami as potential 8 seed.
- Milwaukee looks like a probable match-up: thoughts on Mil vs Toronto?
- MVP of the league…who you got? Lebron? Westbrook? Beard? Brow? CP3? Ninja?
- NCAA: Bracketology, The Final 4, Day 1 upsets, and sneaky picks
- We will be back next week and every week for the rest of the season
- The podcast has a new sponsor whom we will be introducing very soon- so stay tuned!
- And we will be adding a new member to the round table @DaveHendrick_AI
But when DeMar DeRozan, the longest serving Raptor, was asked about the slide and its implications, he seemed surprisingly unperturbed. “All we’ve got to do is get it turned at the right time, especially going into the playoffs,” DeRozan said. “We all know what we can do. We’re not in this position by luck or anything of that nature. Sometimes it just takes that flick of the wrist.” DeRozan used the phrase “flick of the wrist.” But he just as well could have used “flip of the switch.” The way the Raptors have been operating most of the past few weeks, after all, more than a few of them appear to believe they have the ability to do precisely that on the eve of the postseason—flip the proverbial playoff-mode switch and in an instant transform themselves from slumping to surging. How else to you explain the relative calm emanating from a club that’s lost 13 of 16 games? “It’s a marathon, man,” said Amir Johnson after Monday’s win over the Pacers. “Why not pull a San Antonio? Somehow they hang around all season and then they just hit the gas. The next thing you know, you’re in the Finals.” Leaving aside whether or not pulling a San Antonio is advisable or doable for a franchise that still hasn’t won a best-of-seven playoff series in its 20-season history, Casey isn’t fond of the idea. And, for the record, he said Monday that doesn’t think his team is partaking in such a strategy.
It’s been a revealing season for Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors. They’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA and yet an afterthought for some, as teams in Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago — and that’s just in the Eastern Conference — have garnered more and more of the spotlight. Lowry, of course, is used to being overlooked and underrated. He’s dealt with it his entire career. And that won’t change just because he earned his first All-Star nod this season and is the catalyst and leader, on and off the floor, for one of the top teams in basketball. In fact, we’re certain that Lowry and the Raptors will have to continue to scrap for anything they get … which exactly the way Lowry likes it. We dig deep on his journey — past, present and future — on Episode 193 of the Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Kyle Lowry.
Dwane Casey will continue to preach it until he’s Kentucky blue in the face, stressing defence, hammering home the importance of containing the dribble, controlling the boards and protecting the paint. It’s Casey identity, the one aspect to basketball that can overcome any shooting slump, compensate for any hostile environment on the road and is the true barometer for any post-season success. There have been glimpses from the Raptors this season, but perhaps this team, regardless of any victory or sustained stretch of wins, is too trigger-happy from the perimeter, less inclined to feed the post and fundamentally flawed when it comes to playing defence. But each time they do play defence and each time an opponent can’t make shots, contested or open, it provides Casey with some hope. In the final analysis, this Raptors team will be judged when the post-season arrives, a time when every possession must be treated as though the game and its outcome is on the line.
As we approach the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, it is time to start focusing on exactly which lineups work best together for the Toronto Raptors. Let’s take a look at the offensive, defensive and net ratings of the Raptors’ top lineups.
Perhaps most notable is his drop in free throw attempts per game from last season. He averaged 8.0 in 2013-14 and is only getting there 6.8 times a night now. This is where DeRozan gets a lot of his points, because although he’s a poor overall shooter (40.0 percent) he is a great free throw shooter (81.6 percent) and his percentage there hasn’t dropped off much from last year. Speaking of poor shooting, DeRozan’s TS% (true shooting percentage) is only a measly 49.2 this season. That’s the lowest of his career. By contrast, Dwyane Wade’s TS% is 53.8 and he’s well past his prime due to injury. Yet, DeRozan’s usage percentage is the highest it’s ever been this season at 28.2. He’s having the game run through him now more than ever and he’s not delivering. He’s falling off. And this is one of Toronto’s several issues.
DeMar said, “It’s definitely important that you guys were able to open your imagination, you know, educate yourself at an early age, see the bigger picture out there in the world, you know, read books and expanding your mind, learn something new every single day.” One touching and cute moment was when First Book Canada presented a gift basket (full of books) to DeMar’s daughter Diar so that she can also become a great reader and learn new things. A youth from the organization presented the gift to Diar and Diar simply used her two strong little arms grabbed the gift bucket nicely with a smile on her face. Tom Best said “She is as strong as her dad, she has the DNA”, and laughter broke out.
The good news is that the Raptors are only going to play two teams that are currently over .500 in their last 15 games. Those teams are the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets. The bad news is that they will play the Bulls twice in important games, which will help settle the race for third-place in the East. So, if the Raptors can properly execute against the teams that they should easily beat on paper, the 49 win total is easily in their grasp. It probably won’t be that simply, as it rarely ever is in the NBA. Upsets happen, but it’s the job of head coach Dwane Casey and his team to limit them. They need to return to the form they played with early on in the season, where they moved the ball unselfishly and played more active defence.
Overall, Mitchell’s coaching record is 156-189 (.452), all with Toronto. It will be fun to see him go up against former Wolves coach Dwayne Casey, who was perhaps also wrongfully fired by his old team. Casey went 33-49 with a ragged Wolves roster in 2005-2006 and was fired after a 20-20 start the following season. Over the past year-plus in Toronto, the Raptors are 88-61. (That’s better than the Wolves have been in over a decade.) At any rate, watching Mitchell take the reigns will be a different experience. Tanking injuries are once again important to watch heading into this road back-to-back. The Wolves would beat the Knicks at full strength, so they may just rest Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Gary Neal, and Kevin Garnett for a couple more games and play them at home on Sunday.
Players to watch: Wolves G Zach LaVine is coming off an erratic game in which he scored 20 points, hit on four of six three-pointers but also turned the ball over six times. F Chase Budinger’s 18 points Monday was his second-highest single-game total of the year. Raptors G DeMar DeRozan has scored 21 or more points in seven of eight games, averaging 24.6 ppg in that time.
Wiggins is the face of Canada’s burgeoning basketball scene. Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian to go first overall in the draft in 2013. But Wiggins, who followed suit last summer, has had far more success on the court than Bennett, his Wolves teammate who will not play Wednesday because of injury. So when Wiggins takes the court at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night, it will be more than exciting. “I think it will be a big, big deal,” Wolves assistant Sam Mitchell said. He was head coach of the Raptors from 2004-08, winning coach of the year honors after the 2006-07 season. Mitchell, who will coach the Wolves Wednesday with Flip Saunders in Ohio with his ailing father, was in Toronto as the basketball groundswell was beginning. He knows how important Wiggins is in Canada. “You’re talking about the prodigal son,” Mitchell said. “He’s gotten so much hype. Things have changed there. Basketball has grown so fast. Oh, yeah. This is going to be big.”
The Toronto Raptors will see a familiar face when they face off against the Timberwolves on Wednesday night with Sam Mitchell serving as Minnesota’s head coach in place of Flip Saunders, who will miss the game in Toronto due to personal reasons.
The Raptors have 40 wins on the season and where once it appeared they would easily become the first team in franchise history to win 50 games, that is nothing close to a certainty anymore. They have to finish 10-6 to finish at 50 wins. There are so must win games on schedule — two with Boston, two with Minnesota, games with the Knicks, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Brooklyn and the Lakers. That’s 10 possible wins. But there there’s two with Charlotte, and games against Portland, Houston. Fifty is possible, not probable. More important than that is how they play. How they grow. How they get ready for the playoffs. And how fast they can get back to where they used to be.
The Raptors have enjoyed themselves while winning six straight and 18 of 19 against Minnesota (14-52), which has averaged 90.9 points during a 10-game road skid in the series. The Wolves’ last victory over Toronto away from home came by a 108-97 score Jan. 21, 2004.
Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star
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With all the negativity floating around the Raptors (and by extension, the posts on this site) right now, I felt like it was high time to inject some positivity. Sure, there may not be much of a point to the rest of the Raptors’ season, but there is still something every red blooded Raptor fan is looking forward to: playoffs. April 15th is the last day of the regular season, and then the fun starts – the pundits mispronouncing Jonas’ name in multiple inexplicable ways, picking apart Lou Williams, DeMar DeRozan doing ballhandling drills in a film studio to a Pitbull song, all of it.
I LOVE the playoffs. And the carrot of the Raptors making it through the first round, or mayyyyybe more (hey, they won last night?), is far more than enough to get me through a semi-depressing Trailblazers loss on a Sunday.
That’s why I’m putting this to you: put on your foresight caps, Republic, and let’s do some prognosticating. Who do you want to see the Raptors play in the first round this year?
Note: We’re excluding anyone below Charlotte in the standings, even though it’s possible Brooklyn or even Detroit could sneak in. I’m also disqualifying Cleveland though I suppose the Raptors and Cavs could potentially finish 4/5.
Current record: 30-36, 9th in the East
Season head to head: Raptors lead 2-0, two games left to play
Pros: This is the ultimate “happy to be here” team… Raptors have these guys covered at literally every position… KELLY OLYNYK IN THE PLAYOFFS (in Canada)… Good chance to make their presence felt against an up-and-coming division rival… Exceedingly winnable, Raptors would be favoured everywhere.
Cons: Isaiah Thomas could go ham and win a couple games by himself… Marcus Smart could take out DeMar or Lowry at the legs and I wouldn’t be shocked… KELLY OLYNYK IN THE PLAYOFFS :(… Underrated defensively… One of the East’s hottest teams… Very well coached.
Random Raptor stat line: 6 points for Stiemsma! Got 12 minutes of playing time in the November 5 matchup even though it was just a 3 point win, and went 2 for 2 from the field and the line (and committed 3 fouls to boot).
The verdict: The chance of this happening are totally dependant on the Raptors catching fire – I could see Boston moving up to 7th more easily than I can see Toronto catching Cleveland for 2nd, but you never know. Regardless, it’s a dream matchup: a marquee city, a division rival, and a very beatable opponent. Also, I’d love to see the fallout of Masai yelling “F*ck Boston.” Rating: seven Shavlik Randolph years in the league (how?).
Current record: 29-36, 10th in the East
Season head to head: Hornets lead 2-0, two games left to play
Pros: Lacking a bonafide star, unless you count Al Jefferson… Chance to beat a team peripherally related to MJ… Equally as inexperienced as the Raptors, come playoff time… Literally nobody in the states would pay attention to this series, taking the heat off the Raptors… Lance Stephenson.
Cons: The Raptors just don’t seem to matchup well with these guys, have been killed in regular season matchups dating back two years… Defensive stalwarts abound, and MKG might be the league’s best wing defender in waiting… Kemba F*cking Walker… Literally nobody in the states would pay attention to this series, putting all the pressure on the favoured Raptors… Just watch all the ESPN pundits pick Charlotte in this one.
Random Raptor stat line: Landry Fields started and played 10 minutes in the matchup January 8, and threw up the classic 0/0/0/0/0/0/0 stat line, took no shots and was a -21. That’s dedication.
The verdict: Given both teams’ spots in the standings, this one is a bit of a long shot (the Raps would likely have to catch Cleveland for second, and Charlotte would have to move up to 7th), but it’s a nightmare matchup for Toronto for all sorts of reasons. A loss to Charlotte in the first round is the most depressing realistic scenario out there for the Raps, and, to boot, it’s almost certain to be a boring series. Rating: zero Bismacks.
Current record: 40-28, 4th in the East
Season head to head: Bulls lead 2-0, two games left to play
Pros: This team can’t stay healthy, and the spectre of Derrick Rose looms over every game… Get to watch the inevitable/hilarious Jonas/Noah confrontation… Bulls are slumping almost as bad as the Raptors lately… High profile matchup, would get the team some exposure… Would definitely be a 4/5 matchup, meaning the winner plays Atlanta and not the Cavs.
Cons: Tom Thibodeau… Pau Gasol… Jimmy Butler… Nikola Mirotic… I could go on.
Random Raptor stat line: How’s this for a complete game? In their first matchup on November 13, James Johnson put up 16 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, 4 blocks, and 4 steals on 7 for 9 shooting. Swoon.
The verdict: This matchup would mean both teams slide a spot in the current standings, but it’s not impossible – the Wizards are only a game behind the Raptors, and half a game behind the Bulls. This is that classic “play hard in a loss” type matchup for the Raptors, who will certainly not be favoured no matter whether they have home court advantage or not. It’ll likely provide some great basketball, some moral victories, and a first round exit. Rating: Three Doug McDermott SI covers.
Current record: 30-36, 7th in the East, Raptors beat them last night
Season head to head: Raptors win 3-0
Pros: Raptors have owned this matchup this year… Indiana doesn’t seem to be able to keep up to the Raptors’ pace… Doesn’t have a go-to scorer that can punish the Raps’ poor defence… Guys, this team starts Solomon Hill.
Cons: Genuine sleeper… Impeccably coached… Playoff experience… Paul George looms over everything.
Random Raptor stat line: Let’s go with Lowry’s slump busting 22-10-11 triple double from last night.
The verdict: The Pacers are the team currently scaring the crap out of every East contender, as you know that a first round series would be a knock-down, drag-out affair, even with Paul George out. However, this is a matchup that works better for the Raptors in some ways than a team like the Cavaliers. I feel like the Raptors would be favoured, even with George, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him back in the lineup. Rating: Five bench players with zero points.
Current record: 30-36, 8th in the East, beat Cleveland last night
Season head to head: Tied 1-1, one game to go.
Pros: No Chris Bosh… Older, injury prone squad… We win the fan matchup in a landslide… No real bench to speak of… Raptors finally snapped a 16-game skid against the Heat last week.
Cons: Had to snap a 16-game skid against them last week… 4/5 of that starting lineup is bonkers, even with Bosh out… Lot of savvy veterans with playoff experience, championship pedigree… Well-coached… The young-ish Raptors have to play road playoff games in Miami, AKA party central… DOS MINUTOS.
Random Raptor stat line: Patrick Patterson got his first start of the season with Amir Johnson out in these teams’ first matchup. His response? No points in 15 minutes. C’mon, Pat.
The verdict: I would LOVE to see this matchup, but I have a feeling it’s a bit of a pipe dream, unless the Raptors dominate the rest of the year and sneak up to second. With that being said, this would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the young Raptors: a very winnable matchup against a veteran laden team that’s sure to both push them and give them confidence going forward. Rating: DIEZ MINUTOS.
Current record: 34-32, 6th in the East
Season head to head: Raptors lead 2-1, but Bucks held Raps to 75 points in last matchup.
Pros: Less playoff experience than the Raptors… Chance to get revenge against Jason Kidd… Get to watch the Greek Freak play a playoff series… Raptors’ most impressive win of the year came against these guys… The Raptor > Bango the Buck… Mallory Edens.
Cons: These guys are LONG and have proven they can seriously crush the Raps with defence… The Greek Freak would make his playoff debut against the Raptors… Nice veteran bench that can help deal with inexperience… Ultimate wild-card in the playoffs.
Random Raptor stat line: There’s only one answer for this.
The verdict: I’m optimistic about this one, which is good, because it’s one of the more likely possibilities. I don’t feel like the Bucks have the consistent enough scorers to hang with a team like the Raptors, who will likely win a game or two just due to Milwaukee not being hot from the field. That said, I could absolutely see the Buck steal a game – or the series – with defence. Rating: Seven foot wingspans (ugh. I’m sorry).
Current record: 39-28, 5th in the East
Season head to head: Raptors won 3-0
Pros: Raptors have owned this matchup this year… Might actually have a coaching advantage, if you can believe it… Chance to get some playoff revenge against Paul Pierce… Washington needs their full team together to be effective… Close enough for home fans to travel… Would be a seriously intense series, as a rivalry’s developed between these teams… Lowry vs Wall for 7 games could be a breakout for both of them.
Cons: John Wall could steal multiple games, so could Bradley Beal… The spectre of Paul Pierce looms… One of those matchups that the U.S. media will play as a guaranteed Wizards win… G Man is in our lives for a couple weeks.
Random Raptor stat line: Kyle Lowry mini triple double alert! He went for 13, 11 and 10 in a Rondo-esque performance on November 7.
The verdict: I feel like the Raptors own the Wizards, which is reason enough for me to pause. These teams are closer than the 3-0 season matchup indicates, and although I do feel like the Raptors would be favoured no matter who has home court advantage, there are enough guys on the Wizards that scare me enough to drop them a couple points. Rating: Seven Drew Gooden beard points.
What do you think? Anyone you’d like to see the Raps face off with in the first round?
Sampson had his long hair and Kyle Lowry has his headband. Looking like an aerobics instructor from the 1980s, Lowry notched his second triple-double of the season as the Raptors comfortably handled the Pacers in Indianapolis, 117-98.
In perhaps the most consistent quarter-to-quarter performance in months, the Raptors didn’t need to rely on any late heroics to complete the season sweep of the surging Pacers. Kyle Lowry opened the game with a tough, step back three and kept the ball rolling from there, finishing the first half with a Westbrook-like 12 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. The biggest scare of the game came at the end of the second quarter when the Pacers narrowed a once 14-point gap to four by turning a number of early shot-clock misses by the Raptors into points on the other end.
The Raptors quickly undid the damage inflicted late in the second quarter by opening the third hitting four consecutive threes as part of a 14-3 Toronto run. Valanciunas was a total stud, collecting a number of loose balls and second chance points, and finishing with 8 points and 6 rebounds in the quarter.
The fourth was somewhat of a grind-it-out, ‘we’re not going to f*ck this up’ affair, as the Raptors got to the line 16 times and clamped down on defense, holding the Pacers scoreless for the final 3 minutes and 16 seconds.
- Four quarters of solid basketball. No heart medication needed for this one.
- Lowry looked like his December self: spunky, fearless and en fuego.
- Three point shooting:
- The Raptors opened each quarter with a three and hit twelve of them in the game. They shot 52.2 percent from beyond the arc.
- Lowry was 5-8 from deep. He’s shooting 51.2 percent from deep after six games the month of March. (He shot 24 percent in 10 games in February).
- The Pacers, on the other hand, shot 2-of-19. The Raptors D was pretty good in this one but the Pacers also simply missed a number of open looks.
- Defense: The Pacers shot 43 percent for the game and a dreadful 22 percent in the fourth. I thought Jonas did an especially nice job against Hibbert in the first half. Hill got by Lowry on a number of occasions but nevertheless, Lowry looked more committed defensively than I’ve seen from him in a while. It wasn’t a brilliant defensive performance from the Raptors, but it’s a step in the right direction.
- Rebounding: The Raptors owned the rebounding battle 51 to 36.
- DeRozan’s second half restraint: After firing up a number of questionable shots in a 5-of-15 first half, DeMar took only four shots in the second half, while getting to the line 9 times.
- DeRozan’s shot selection in the first half (see above).
- James Johnson DNP-CD. Two thoughts on this: 1.) He’s too good not to play. 2.) Casey is creating a potentially volatile situation late in the season.
- The Raptors played loose, ‘unconscious’ basketball (term coined by Pacers’ broadcast team), which was nice to see, but that also led to a lot of questionable shots early in the possession. Nature of the beast, I suppose.
For a team that was making 51.2% of their shots, the Raptors led 58-54, even though they had built as big an advantage as 14 points. Once again, they had a tough time containing the dribble. What kept the Pacers in the game was the team’s ability to protect the basketball. It’s very unusual, remarkable, in fact, for a team to play an entire half by not turning the ball over, which is precisely what the Pacers managed to accomplish. When there’s little pressure on the ball, that’s what you get, an Indy team that will run off turnovers, but one that likes to play in the half court. At no point did Indiana lead and one point the Raptors had a chance to create additional separation, but shot selection and an inability to make sustained stops prevented the visitors from truly taking command.
The Raptors, not long after, spent the first half doing what they do best — happily endeavouring to outshoot an opponent while paying occasional heed to the getting stops. Ultimately, it should be noted, the visitors sprinkled in enough credible work on the defensive end to carve out a win, 117-98. Kyle Lowry did most of the heavy lifting, notching his seventh career triple-double with 20 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. But it was a team effort all the way. DeMar DeRozan had 22 points. Jonas Valanciunas added 14 points and 12 rebounds. And more to the crux: The Raptors held the Pacers to 43% shooting from the field. Given that the Raptors came into the game allowing opponents to shoot at a 46% clip — the fifth-worst defence in the league this season — it was fine enough labour. Toronto’s win-loss record improved to 20-6 in games in which they hold foes under 45% from the field. “That’s the way we’ve got to play,” said the coach after it was over. “That was one of the best close-to-48 minutes we’ve had in a while … We faced adversity and we attacked it. That’s the mark of a good team.” The win was nice enough — especially given the Raptors had lost 10 of their previous 12 games, especially given they were playing on the second end of a back-to-back that began with Sunday’s 16-point home loss to Portland. What was better were the signs of a team upping its intensity. The Raptors out-rebounded the Pacers 51-36. And they improved to 9-6 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season, which spoke, Casey said, to the team’s resilience. “There’s fight in this group,” Casey said, even if the recent returns haven’t always shown it.
Both Williams and Lowry wore their cotton crowns, and DeRozan considered donning one, too, on what turned out to be a special night for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors (40-27). Toronto won for only the third time in 13 games, but finally earned its 40th in fewer than 70 games for the first time in franchise history. It also pulled off a season sweep of the Pacers, something last done in 2000-01. And not surprisingly, Lowry and his new digs were right in the middle of it. He went 7 of 13 from the field, matched his season high in rebounds and became the first Toronto player since Alvin Williams to post consecutive 100-steal seasons. Williams did it three times from 2000-03.
“I was almost about to put it on too,” DeMar DeRozan said of the red headbands worn by Lowry and Lou Williams, the first time either guard has played with them this season. “But the headband ain’t my style. [Lowry’s] going to start rocking it until something bad happens, watch.” It’s a good thing he’s not superstitious, or he may never take it off. Moments after turning in his finest outing of the season, and one of the best of his nine-year career, Lowry tossed the souvenir to a fan above the tunnel in a symbolic gesture as it appears his headband-wearing days are over. “No, I’ve got to have something in the pocket,” said Lowry, who recorded his seventh career triple-double – 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists – in Toronto’s 117-98 victory over the Pacers. “So the headband is done, don’t worry about that again.” Professional athletes are very much creatures of habit, of routine. A change, any change, can be a nuisance. Lowry and DeRozan both experimented with a sleeve on their shooting arms in a game last month before ditching it at halftime. So, why the headband? Lowry said he did it for fun, a one-time thing, hoping to change things up. Because, why not?
The Good: Not to much as far as the Indiana Pacers are concerned. They started poorly and were outplayed wire to wire by a Toronto Raptors team that, at its best, showed the it is just better than Indiana. The Pacers did only commit 4 turnovers in the game, however, which reversed a trend of ball control looking like a problem again in recent games.
On Monday night, the previously red-hot Indiana Pacers dropped their second straight game with a 117-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors. After winning seven straight games, the current streak in the opposite direction comes at a perilous time for the Pacers (30-36), who are still holding on to postseason hopes near the rear of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Still, the Raptors (40-27) needed some uplifting of their own and earned only their second road win in the past six attempts. “That was one of the best 48 minutes we’ve had in a while,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. Conversely, it was one of the worst 48 minutes of defense the Pacers have had in a while. Indiana neglected the 3-point line, allowing the Raptors to make a dozen shots from deep. The Raptors controlled the glass with a 51-36 rebound edge and scored the most points by an opponent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season.
While the Pacers have well documented struggles against teams that pick up the tempo, as noted by season sweeps by Denver and Phoenix, that doesn’t do much to console that general lack of execution. The Pacers were sloppy, and not in a turnover sense; the Pacers had only four turnovers the entire game. But there was a notable sloppiness in how they closed out on shooters, defended without fouling, came up with 50/50 balls, and finished plays around the rim that snowballed into a frustrating night, especially on the defensive end. The Pacers allowed 47.6% to Toronto in their 117-98 loss, but worse than that, allowed the Raptors to shoot 12-23 from beyond the arc. Obviously, three point defense is a crap shoot on most nights, but it didn’t appear Toronto was all that threatened by the way Indiana was defending the three point line, especially early in the third quarter when the Raptors hit three consecutive threes as the Pacers defense looked too worried they were going to foul rather than challenge the shooters beyond quick fakes. However, fouling the shooter was an issue for the Pacers. The Raptors shot 33 free throw attempts on a night when the Pacers only committed 22 fouls. Indiana did a terrible job defending without fouling, just as they did a terrible job rebounding period. The Raptors outrebounded Indiana by 14 and dominated the 50/50 plays, not only in regards to loose balls, but especially in rebounding.
“We didn’t do anything differently tonight that we had in our seven-game winning streak. The difference was Toronto made tough shots. They forced some shots but made them while others we played recently missed those same shots. They’re a tough team. They play tough. They’re good. Give them their due.” -Pacers guard C.J. Miles
It’s pretty clear that Kyle Lowry’s three-game break has done wonders for him. Notching his second triple-double of the year with 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, Lowry looked startlingly close to the player he was during the Raptors hot start. Another encouraging sign: he is now 22-43 (51.1 percent) from beyond the arc since his return. That scorching pace is probably unsustainable, but it seems safe to assume his 24.0 percent clip from deep in February will go down as an outlier, especially since shots like this are now going down for the Raps’ point guard Lowry wasn’t the only one turning back the clock to the Raptors’ November and December heyday. Lou Williams had a Lou Williams kind of night – dropping 24 on 8-17 shooting, and making up for his porous 1-6 on threes with a 7-7 night at the stripe. DeMar DeRozan did his thing too, eclipsing the 20-point mark for the seventh time thanks in large part to his ability to get to the line (the team shot 27-33 on free throws as a whole). All of those factors contributed to the Raptors’ offense finding a level that is has rarely reached during their recent dip. Coming into the game, Indiana boasted the seventh best Defensive Rating in the league (100.0) and during its last 10 games, had been the 2nd-best defensive squad behind only the Utah Goberts. Putting up 117 points on that stout a defense provides cause for optimism.
The Raptors have an unspoken goal of 50 wins this season and with 15 games remaining their objective is in sight. Toronto has the easiest remaining schedule in the Association with their remaining opponents winning just 40.5 percent of their games on average. Except for the Bulls home and away and the Rockets at home, all of their remaining opponents have sub-.500 records. The Raptors have never won more than 48 games in their franchise’s history. Toronto is at home on Wednesday in the first of their two remaining meetings against the 14-52 Timberwolves.
Photo by Darron Cummings/AP
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Raptors win behind a triple-double from Kyle Lowry.
One month ago if you were to suggest that the Raptors would be underdogs in a match-up versus the Pacers, you would have been dismissed immediately, but that suggestion may not be so far-fetched now.
The Raptors have disposed of the Pacers twice already this season, getting big performances from their backcourt on both occassions. In their first match-up on December 12th at the Air Canada Center, Lou Williams scored 26 points off the bench, Jonas Valanciunas out-rebounded Roy Hibbert 14-2, and the Raptors out-scored the Pacers 50-32 in the paint.
About a month and a half later, the Raptors went into the Fieldhouse for another victory behind DeRozan’s 24 points, Kyle Lowry’s near triple-double, and 42 points from the second unit.
Tonight, the Raptors travel to Indiana with little trace of the confidence that was apparent in those two victories.
Two wins and ten losses make up their record in the last twelve games.
What you need to know about the Pacers…
Straight up, Indiana is on the rise. Before slipping against the Celtics – a direct rival for that 7th/8th seed – on Saturday, the Pacers had won 7 straight. The improved play brings them up to 5 games below .500, and 3.5 games behind Milwaukee who lie 6th.
The ressurgence will make for a very interesting end to the Eastern Conference playoff race between Indiana, Boston, Miami, and Charlotte, who are all one game away from each other.
If you really want to measure just how good the Pacers are playing right now, you can assess it with one simple question: Just how urgent is the return of Paul George?
Answer: It’s not urgent.
A few weeks ago, the answer would’ve been ‘desperately urgent'; but Paul George himself would tell you otherwise now.
“They’re playing so well, they’ve come together, to shake up the chemistry and add another body, another player in there… I don’t want to be that guy that destroys what these guys have going,” Paul George said.
The Pacers have one glaring weakness right which the Raptors can magnify with some defensive intensity. That weakness is turnovers. For the most part, the Pacers have done a good job to take care of the basketball during their win streak, but have comitted a combined 37 turnovers in their last two games.
Frontcourt: Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson vs Roy Hibbert, David West. Edge: Raptors
Is there a more annoying big-man duo in the NBA than that of the Pacers? It would be an interesting debate to have, but popularity isn’t why I gave the edge to the Raptors here. Valanciunas usually matches up well with Hibbert, and Amir does a good job defending power forwards who can stretch the floor to the mid-range game.
Backcourt: Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry vs Solomon Hill, C.J. Miles, George Hill. Edge: Raptors
DeRozan is one of the lone bright spots for the Raptors during this slump, but the key match-up here is George Hill vs Kyle Lowry. Lowry is in a funk right now, while George Hill is playing some of the best ball in his position in the Eastern Conference. It’s his play that currently makes Paul George’s absense easier to handle. Lowry needs to keep Hill in front of him and in check, because once Hill is open or gets by you, he’s really dangerous on the offensive end. During this hot streak for the Pacers, Hill has averaged four more points per game than his season average of 14.
I’m actually going to give Indiana the slight edge off the bench here. While Toronto’s second unit is better on paper, the Pacers have been getting huge scoring contributions from Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson. Also, the Pacers actually lead the league in bench scoring with 41.8 ppg. Stuckey has been a really good addition to the Pacer’s depth.
Tip-off is at 7 pm Eastern.
Four things were abundantly clear at the ACC last night: Damian Lillard is very quick, Robin Lopez isn’t wrong about mascots, LaMarcus Aldridge is very, very good and the Raptors defense is not. As long as LMA and Lillard were running pick and roll together and the Blazers were moving the ball around to the open shooter, the Raptors never had a chance. The Blazers badly exposed the Raptors trapping and switching defense scheme simply isn’t designed to stop a competent modern NBA offense. The Raptors were nothing special on offense, but this game was lost defensively, and there was nothing the Raptor or any of his inexplicably present friends could do about it.
The Blazers are a very well coached team. One of the things that their staff does particularly well is scouting opponents. A part of the Blazers shot-right-out-of-a-cannon start to last season had to do with their staff having individual specific scouting reports and positional breakdowns ready on each player’s ipad for them to watch on the bus, plane or in the hotel room before and after games. This process went even more in-depth, with the staff updating those ipads in-game with video of how each player’s matchup was developing, how they were being guarded and what passes or lanes the opponent was leaving open for them right then and there. This cerebral level of preparedness has enabled the Blazers to adjust to their opponents at an extremely high level over the last 18 months. For all the credit that their scouting team is due, that kind of sophistication and effort is hardly necessary for an NBA playing against this Raptors team by now. The scouting report is simple, and the book has been freely available for months.
The Raptors have been something ranging between exposed on a good night to embarrassed on a bad night by any team that is able to kick the ball out of a simple side pick and roll and quickly work it around to a weakside spot up three-point shooter. The Raptors defense is a dinosaur, designed to aggressively trap big men on the side and ball handlers who are more intent on playing an individual game and quickly run out of room. It’s capable of squeezing 20 turnovers out of a team like Miami who is incorporating new pieces, missing others, doesn’t share the ball well and is looking for individuals to make plays. But it’s the exact kind of defense that offenses like San Antonio, Atlanta, Phoenix(RIP), Houston and Golden State are designed to punish. San Antonio isn’t the only team whose discovered the value of ball movement and three point shooting; that’s kind of the whole theme of the league right now. If your defense has a specific design flaw that gives up gobs and gobs of wide open shots to the type of offense that the entire league is moving towards, you have enormous problems. The Blazers unquivocably exposed this last night. Portland shot 45% as a team from 3 last night, and there was nothing fluky about that. Not because they’re the greatest 3-point shooting team of all time, but because of their 29 attempts from deep, there were maybe 3 that were contested. The Raptors were so out of sorts from switching and then sprinting out to challenge the shooter only for the ball to swing to the next open man that Portland had probably 30 different possessions that resulted in someone taking a spot up jumper without anyone within 6 feet of him. Kudos to the Blazers for knocking down shots and executing the right game-plan.
Offensively, the Raptors fell victim again to a recent trend. They played half of the game looking perfectly fine on the offensive end, while the other half they played clearly affected by how things were going defensively. The Raptors fought back at times, twice cutting the lead down to single digits, only to see it slip right back up to 13 or 15 points. Whenever the Raptors played their game at their pace, the offense was perfectly functional. But too many times it looked like Lowry or DeRozan in particular wanted to force something quick out of frustration or desperation out of what was happening defensively. The Raptors needed to play at their ceiling offensively in order to stay in the game, and as soon as they would in any way get away from what they needed to do, they would lose two more quick possessions, fall back 5 more points and lose more confidence and intensity.
Valanciunas was lost at times guarding the pick and roll and trying to stay in position and aware to challenge shots defensively in this game. That would explain in part his only having played 22 minutes if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same critique applies to every player on the floor for the Raptors. Offensively, Valanciunas was playing great, scoring 7 for 7 at will on Robin Lopez, adding 3 offensive rebounds and being one of the lone Raptor big men interested in defensive rebounding. It’s getting more and more difficult to understand why Valanciunas is sitting on the bench for almost the entirety of the second halves of these games. Where does the team see themselves going in the playoffs if they can’t figure out how to make Valanciunas a functional part of that journey? Does it feel like you’ve heard this before?
Say what you will about the difference in talent between the elite teams in the East versus the elite teams in the West. LaMarcus Aldridge made it clear last night that the Raptors simply don’t have anybody on his level. That’s fair; but the Raptors were equally embarrassed last night by Dorrell Wright and Steve Blake as they were by LMA. That’s the result of coaching, scheme and the intelligent use of talent. The Raptors have the talent to score on anybody, but last night’s game was yet another example of them playing a defense that they don’t have the right personnel to play and isn’t a relevant system anymore even if they did and how it and losing continues to anchor this team mentally and emotionally. Oh, bother.
Will makes his hosting debut and is joined by Andrew and Sean Woodley from Raptors HQ, to tackle the losing, the winning on the horizon, playoff matchups, Amir Johnson’s contract, and a lot more.
|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -22 +/-It’s tough to single out any one Raptor for the team’s defensive woes, but Johnson sure felt like a liability in the first half, rotating extremely slowly, and, most notably, losing his man on the fast break numerous times, which led to teammates like Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry checking LaMarcus Aldridge. He pulled it together somewhat in the second half, upping the defensive intensity and being a big part of the pick and roll offense that brought the Raps within 8 at one point. Numbers aren’t bad, but this was a Jekyll and Hyde game for him.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -11 +/-A difficult night for Ross, who struggled guarding Nicholas Batum and couldn’t get anything going offensively before being replaced in the rotation by James Johnson midway through the third. I want to highlight an excellent pass he made to a driving Amir on a third quarter baseline drive, because a) it’s nice to see his drive awareness developing and b) that was the only thing resembling a highlight he put up tonight.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 7-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -16 +/-22 minutes??? Only 7 field goal attempts?? It seemed like the Raptors forgot Valanciunas was on the floor, because everything he did when he got a chance was a positive. He had his troubles guarding Aldridge in the post and keeping the Blazer bigs off the glass, but he was the team’s most effective scoring option by a large margin and showed a great amount of versatility, even hitting a midrange jumper off a pick and pop. GET THIS GUY THE DAMN BALL.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 35 MIN | 3-11 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 10 PTS | -11 +/-Came into the night like a house on fire, scoring 8 points in the first few minutes, but his game tended more to the distribution side of things after it became increasingly clear he was going to have a tough shooting night. Lillard is a tough matchup for him, especially defensively, and it seemed like his general intensity waned as the game went along. I don’t feel like he forced up shots, which is a good thing, but he definitely lost the battle of all-star point guards, in all aspects, tonight.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 35 MIN | 9-18 FG | 4-5 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 22 PTS | -15 +/-The most effective Raptor on the floor tonight, save for Jonas, who is disqualified due to (WHY?? WHY????) lack of shots. I’ve become particularly impressed by his ability to read defences off the bounce – seems like he’s making the right play, be it shot or pass, far more often than not nowadays. His hustle on the boards was evident and he ended up second on the team in that category after Valanciunas. The biggest reason this game was even as close as it was.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 13 MIN | 2-2 FG | 4-5 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +7 +/-He’s undersized, he’s limited, yadda yadda, you’ve heard this all from me before. That said, I LOVED what he brought to the table tonight, scrapping with Aldridge, jumping passing lanes, getting and-1s and battling with Chris Kaman (which was all kinds of hilarious for many reasons). Got called for an offensive foul and a travelling violation, but generally, he worked his tail off and was, quite honestly, the only Raptor big who was even remotely disruptive on defence.|
|James Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | -6 +/-It was a smart move by Casey to swap Johnson for Ross when the game was still somewhat in doubt, with the Raptors down double digits but looking frisky in the third. The move immediately paid dividends, as Johnson’s tough nosed defence helped pull the team within 9 within a few minutes. However, individually, we saw some errors we aren’t accustomed to from Johnson – push off offensive fouls, traveling, losing his man on defence – that made you question whether the team’s early effectiveness wasn’t because he simply wasn’t Terrence Ross (and missing the same shots).|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +3 +/-Did a reasonable job spacing out the floor offensively in the first half, but had an impossible time keeping his check off the boards and was possibly the Raptor big most susceptible to losing his man on the pick and roll. The team is hedging hard off screeners, meaning that bigs need to hustle their butts back to re-pick up their checks, and it felt like more often than not Patterson doing that either meant a switch by a guard or a wide open Blazer. Add that to a nonexistent second half offensively and you wind up with a C-.|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0 +/-Chuck Hayes, where art thou.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 18 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -2 +/-Liked what he brought to the game for the most part – he was useless guarding Lillard (not a surprise), but did a good job orchestrating the offence and spearheading the ball movement the second unit worked to great effect early on. He tailed off late, like all the non DeMar and Jonas Raptors, but without him, you felt like things could easily fall apart at times.|
|Louis Williams, SG 20 MIN | 2-8 FG | 7-8 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -7 +/-If you’ve seen a Lou Williams game, you know how this one went. He chucked up more shots than his percentage demanded, yet found himself still scoring his points due to his otherworldly ability to goad defenders into fouling (twice on threes tonight). Showed some nice chemistry with Vasquez in the second quarter too. His defence, though, like all the Raptor wings, was just not adequate tonight.|
|Landry Fields, SG 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0 +/-Bruno Caboclo, where art thou.|
I don’t really know what to say here – as a coach, you can’t force your guys to rush hard on switches, but you need to take some of the blame for such a defensive meltdown. On top of that, the decision to not feature a red-hot Valanciunas in the offence was beyond perplexing. I liked the decision to replace Ross with Johnson in the lineup late, but feel like that could have (and should have) been eased into earlier. Just because Johnson isn’t playing regular rotation minutes doesn’t mean he can’t get a couple in the first half. Seriously, though, the biggest problem is the defence – when teams are shredding you like this regularly and you bill yourself as a defensive mind, you will be judged on that, fairly or unfairly.
Four Things We Saw
- First big stat: Three point shooting. Raptors were 5 of 18, mostly on off the dribble looks. The Blazers were 13 of 29, nearly all off quick ball movement and inside-out plays. The Raptors did a better job of closing out in the second half, but by then, the shooters were hot and the damage done.
- For as negative as my player writeups may sound, this game certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve seen the Raptors play. The team hung with a strong Portland team for three plus quarters – it felt like this game was in play even when the home squad was down 16. The offence was more than adequate for most of the night before tailing off late.
- That being said, something need to change about this defence. I don’t know if it’s a system overhaul, or moving someone out of the rotation, or more Chuck Hayes, but the amount of easy looks the team gave up tonight is going to make it impossible for them to beat teams at this level. In a horribly ironic twist, it seems like the two spots the team is most vulnerable is either at the hoop or behind the tree point line – coincidentally the most effective spots for an offensive team to shoot.
- Man, I wish Hansbrough had any semblance of basketball skill. If the whole team adopted his mentality, I can’t help but feel like the defence would improve substantially. Spazziness isn’t sexy, but constant movement is the first step towards disrupting the passing lanes that seem to be wide as a freeway at this point.
If the effort versus the Heat is any indication, buckle-up for tonight’s East-West clash against Portland. One that can be viewed as a pivotal point in the Raptors’ season. Which version of this squad will show up? The frustratingly stagnant troops who withered away nine of their previous ten, or the ball-moving, revenue-sharing Raps who woke up just in time to face Miami. Sunday night will certainly shed some light on the subject. Let’s see how the official numbers stack up coming in:
- Record: 43-20 (7-3)
- Western (3)
- Northwest (1)
- 107.8 ORTG (8)
- 102.3 DRTG (4)
- 94.2 Pace (13)
- 76 DRB% (7)
- 0.542 TS% (10)
- LaMarcus Aldridge 23.3 ppg
- LaMarcus Aldridge 10.5 rpg
- Damian Lillard 6.2 apg
- Robin Lopez 1.6 bpg
- Damian Lillard 1.3 spg
- Record: 39-26 (2-8)
- Eastern (3)
- Atlantic (1)
- 110.7 ORTG (4)
- 107.3 DRTG (23)
- 93.4 Pace (19)
- 73.2 DRB% (24)
- 0.549 TS% (6)
- DeMar DeRozan 18.9 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.6 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 6.9 apg
- James Johnson 1.1 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg
In A Bubble vs. The Big Picture:
Normally, as opposed to fixating on a single game’s impact, I would lean more towards the broader representation; in the grand scheme of things, whether or not progress is shown is what truly should receive the most attention.
But when you consider only 17 contests remain before the do-or-die mentality sets in (otherwise known as the NBA playoffs), exceptions to that rule are present, and both scales of judgment are worthy of equal footing.
Amidst Toronto’s recent downward-spiral, a few bright spots rose from the carnage. Specifically referring to the fundamentally sound first-half in OKC, and the second-half uprising in San Antonio. Both of which led to the four-quarter display finally making its long-awaited return. Let’s just hope Friday the 13th marked a positive omen for the rest of the stretch run instead of its usual evil nature.
Those head-scratching splits in also adhere to a larger problem. Sustainability against the league’s upper-tier has essentially been non-existent. The rest of the Association’s top teams (I still place Toronto in that category) manage to scout and adjust to the Raps game-plan (or lack thereof) with relative ease. Although, there is plenty to be said about T.O. free-styling their game scripts to make the opponents job that much easier.
Here is where the bubble comes into play. As much as the season’s grind should be taken into account, there really is no excuse if a repeat performance doesn’t come to pass against Portland. A notch in the win column is not what we’re after, rather a duplicate showing in the concerted effort department is what’s now bordering around an absolute must.
There is no “second night of a back-to-back” excuse waiting in the wings, no long-distance travel lag to act as their built-in defence; comforts of home are in full effect. With motivating factors already in place, anything less than a gritty 48-minute attitude is simply unacceptable. Inconsistencies are expected, but it’s time act accordingly.
Point Of Attack:
It’s been brewing since Charlotte, but nothing says redemption like flirting with a quadruple-double. K-Low has put up stat-lines of 19 points, 8 boards, and 8 dimes before, but throw in 7 swipes on top, and you have the potential of Lowry’s re-awakening coming full circle.
Pick your poison when placing past blame. Overuse, undisclosed injuries, a gambler’s mindset, or my personal choice of criticism: lazy contentment on both ends. Well, old school K-Low is trending back in style.
The spark of desire is back, you can see it. How many people loved his outburst in Texas? Demanding the all-out effort! I would venture to suggest not a soul disapproved. Even Spurs’ fans has to be impressed.
Portland holds the uncanny ability to control the game’s tempo, relying heavily on snub turned eventual All-Star Damian Lillard; DL sits 5th in minutes per game. A skill-set that also comes attached with an 8th overall Offensive Win Share rating of 6.1, and a 7th overall Total Win Share rating of 9.1. Two stat realms that K-Low has previously travelled.
But that game management is unique. The Blazers rank a pedestrian 29th in Total Free-Throw Attempts, one spot above the docile Knicks. At the same time, they also limit their opponents to the fourth least trips to the stripe.
That original version of Lowry must now soar to new heights. The clutch factor is seemingly back. and so is the dirty work, but by no means is this No.7 circa late-November, early-December. Not only does Portland’s lock on its lane need to be picked for Toronto to prevail, but in order to capitalize on above-par showings in 8 of the team’s last 12 quarters, an overall improvement must take place.
Astonishingly, KL made a grand total a zero trips to the line against Miami. And in six of nine games since the break, he’s clipped well below his season and career averages (4.6 and 3.9).
You’re beginning to set the tone once again Lowry, trade in the unwarranted jumpers for a new lease on life. Your best Steve Nash/Tony Parker impression is needed, it’s time to install under the rim penetration.
- A page needs to be taken out Bebe’s D-League debut last night, not to mention it being deserving of a shout-out in its own right. To put it mildly: 18 points, 19 boards, and 4 blocks isn’t exactly reflective of what will translate on the big stage. But in only 27 minutes of action, Nogueira was active on both ends of transition all night long, something the Raps’ bigs need to take heed of. If this keeps up, could Bebe receive a little late-season action? With the way Casey runs his ship, that could be wishful thinking. But a story is potentially beginning here.
- After taking the night off for the birth of his child, Jonas Valanciunas will be back in the lineup. And the watch over his minutes, defensive prowess, and involvement in this offence resumes right along with it. With the Blazers ranking 5th overall in Total Rebounds (19th on the offensive side), and a lowly 28th when it comes to Points In The Paint Per Game, JV’s presence should be welcomed back with open arms and used to its advantage. Even when the LarMarcus Aldridge matchup rears its unsavoury head, while LA channels his inner Al Horford and strays outside the paint, the recommendation is to allow JV to play through the pain of checking him. I will reiterate the banging drum, Valanciunas is no longer at a point where a view from the bench will aid his development, on the job learning is now at the forefront.
- The heart of Portland’s minimal production on the offensive glass speaks to similarities between these two teams. Portland and Toronto rank 6th and 9th, and 3rd and 9th, in 3-point attempts and 3PAr (3-point attempt rate) respectively. Both employ a go-for-broke philosophy. But let’s keep in perspective, the Blazers install a far more structured system when taking into consideration the effectiveness of each. A 5th to 15th disparity exists in the percentage category.
- The recent loss of Wesley Matthews should see that gradually decline, but a 52 percent clip against the Pistons on Friday reveals plenty of backup. Let us not forget about the ball-moving edge, once again held by the Blazers. This time a 9th to 21st discrepancy occurs. But you don’t have to inquire very far for a renewed sense of optimism. However, only when this kind of rock-sharing exists with JV as an active participant will the Raps ascend to the next level.
Fun fact: Raptors made 340 passes last night, up from their season average of 282.
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) March 14, 2015
To quote Dazed And Confused‘s Mr. Payne: “It’s like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle…’Men! 50 of you are leaving on a mission. 25 of you ain’t coming back!”
One game does not act as a reprisal of good fortune, and it will take a hell of a lot more than just Friday’s fundamentals to restore complete faith. On the other hand, it does make for a little good will gesture.
With Lowry trending north, and prone to somewhat streaky play, pencil him into your Daily Fantasy lineups. It’s time for the Raps to stop taking what’s given to them, and become the bully.
That faith is dwindling, but it still resides. I can see the Quick React now: Blazers 109, Raptors 111 – In Overtime Thriller Part-Two!
There’s more at stake this time around. So, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Toronto. Please and thank you.
“Now I’m going to be able to sleep good tonight,”
– DeMar DeRozan, post-game
Five years it took for DeMar to finally beat the Heat, so it’s no wonder a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. The last time he saw the Raptors take down Miami was when he was a rookie. It’s a shame there was never a win recorded against the ‘big three’, but the fact that the Raptors are heading into the playoffs knowing that they can beat Miami is comfort on it’s own. Slim chance, but if the Raptors finish 2nd in the East and Miami somehow jumps up to 7th, the Raptors will go into that series with the ice already broken.
Slim chance indeed though. The Heat are currently 9th, while the two teams above them – Indiana and Charlotte – are on a tear and among the hottest teams in the conference.
Last night’s victory had implications far greater than the win / loss column. Dwane Casey had limited time in the regular season to get this team back to playing basketball the right way. Better to achieve that during losses than racking up empty wins. Last night, it was the best of both worlds as the Raptors finally started looking like the team that catapaulted itself to first in the East before Christmas.
Ball movement and defense
“The ball moved extremely well,” said Lowry.
The Raptors racked up 26 assists last night – nearly six more than their season average. 26 assists in one night is pretty dope for any team. League-leaders Golden State average 27 apg, while the Hawks are just behind them at 25.6. The Raptors’ two most prolific scorers – DeRozan and Lowry – combined for 14 of those assists. When those two start sharing the ball, it’s contagious and the rest falls into place. Confidence ensues.
Confidence leads to many things, one being improved defense. The Raptors did a solid job defending the perimeter, causing the Heat to miss their first nine shots from deep, and 18 of their 23 overall.
On the flipside, Miami struggled on both ends of the floor. For all of the good that Hassan Whiteside does (12 rebounds, 3 blocks), his individual defense is cringe-worthy at times. At one point during the third, Lou Williams penetrated from the perimeter and then casually skipped past Whiteside for a lay-up… That he missed. That he missed the lay-up is irrelevant though, it was a play that summarized the Heat’s performance pretty well. There were some moments of brilliance individually, but the Heat struggled greatly as a whole.
The Raptors had (statisitcally) postitive contributions from everyone apart from James Johnson (+/- -4) and Greivis Vasquez (+/- -16). Pairing most of Johnson’s minutes with Vasquez was probably the biggest factor in JJ’s +/- rating. Johnson played just 12 minutes, but still managed to get us out of our seats.
Two things I probably enjoyed more than I should have..
1) Vintage Dwyane Wade schooling DeRozan when the game was already over. With 1:15 remaining, Wade got DeMar to bite on a pump fake, then banked it off the glass for an AND-1. Don’t hate me, I’m just a sucker for savvy veteran moves like that.
2) Charles Oakley’s response when asked whether he thought he’d ever have his own bobblehead: “Well, I have a head, so you never know what could happen.”
Next up: Vs Blazers on Sunday
Against the Heat, Lowry had 19 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and seven steals. According to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, it was the first time this season any player had recorded a four-by-seven game — meaning he had at least seven in four different statistical categories — this season. “I thought it was back to old Kyle, moving the ball,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “He made his shots. He made his threes. That was huge. It opens up the floor when you do that.”
The game was a touch Oakley: A little ugly, a touch nasty, a touch scrappy. The Raptors did something they haven’t done in weeks: They worked hard on defence. They worked together on defence. They moved the ball. They played like a team. For one game against a less than sterling Miami team, minus Chris Bosh, they looked like a team. The win matters more than anything else that happened. The win comes first, the rebuilding of the foundation comes after that. Casey knows what he’s up against. He talked about his team in a long conversation just before the all-star break, before the slump came, in concerned tones. He sounded like all coaches sound most days — concerned. And then, so much of what he said started to unfold before his and a discerning public’s eyes. Casey worried about the Raptors defence, worried about playing “too fast” on offence, worried about them not sharing the ball, worried about them not playing smart, worried about the nights when they were strong offensively they were weak defensively and on the nights they were strong defensively they were weak offensively. “We have to start putting that together,” he said. He has to sell that now while working on the in-season rebuild.
For one night the isolation-heavy offence was gone as the Raptors moved the ball freely and easily as they counted 26 assists on 34 made field goals. And while they weren’t the second-coming of Oakley’s old New York Knicks defensively, they did come out with purpose as they held the Heat — in a nip-and-tuck battle for the eighth seed in their first post-LeBron James season — to just 36.6 percent shooting in the first half before taking the foot off the gas somewhat in the second. “It felt good to go out there and play, share the ball, get out of this funk,” said DeMar DeRozan who offset a 3-of-12 shooting night by going 12-of-13 from the line and adding six assists. “We just needed to see it and get familiar with how we were playing and get back in a rhythm.” The win was the first against the Heat in five years and 16 games. The last win for Toronto over Miami was back when Sonny Weems and Hedo Turkoglo were Raptors.
“Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see ’em first hand. It was kind of bad. It’s kind of bad for guys on this level, from what I had to do, and watching them going through things, practice, game planning,” Oakley said. “Just mindset. The mind is not — you don’t have to be strong to play this game no more. “I don’t know what it is. They just roll you out there like a basketball. That’s why … you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don’t think it, they don’t know how to play together. So that’s one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don’t love the game. They play the game, but they don’t play with their heart.”
But on Friday, thanks in part to some credible defence and the occasionally shoddy efforts of the 29-36 Heat, the Raptors found some relief from the deluge while enlivening a crowd that hadn’t celebrated a home win in more than a month. Playing without starting centre Jonas Valanciunas, who was celebrating Thursday’s birth of he and wife Egle’s first-born son, Jonas Jr., Toronto rode an efficient performance by Lowry (19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and a career-high seven steals in 36 minutes) to an easy victory. For a team that had been grumbling about selfish play of late, 26 assists on 34 field goals was a key stat. “The ball moved extremely well,” said Lowry. It moved, in other words, like Oakley, the quotable clotheshorse of the Vinsanity era who wore charcoal-grey pinstripes and looked trim enough to play. He’s always been a rambler, and these days he said he spends time “here and there — all over.” Las Vegas. Chicago. New York. And sometimes Toronto. He is still known to occasionally pop into the Raptors practice facility for a workout. “I never got fat,” he said. And he hasn’t lost his unique gift for chewing it.
The last we saw of Lowry, he was coming off his most visibly frustrating night of the season. He had laced into his teammates during a second-quarter timeout as they trailed San Antonio by 20. The consensus from players and coaches since, is that it was a necessary, albeit rare, public display of emotion. Not just from Lowry, but for a young team with quiet leaders. Part of being a leader, perhaps the biggest part, is accountability and being able to look inward and correct your own behaviour or performance. On Tuesday, Lowry said he had to be better and on Friday he was. The point guard’s game management was a bit more subtle this time around, but no less important. Since returning from a three-game absence, he had been putting up empty numbers, scoring late in lost contests. On this night, he was nothing short of brilliant – his best game since December. Lowry was the quintessential floor general – communicating, directing traffic, making the extra pass, which for most of the evening seemed contagious. At one point, during a timeout in the second quarter, Lowry walked over to the coaching staff – huddling on their own before addressing the players – to offer his input.
“Yeah, we just gotta see it,” said DeMar DeRozan after the game. “Once we just see it, you know, get back familiar, you know, how we were playing, we could gain a rhythm.” That’s how it went tonight as the Raptors played confidently and competently for most of the game’s 48 minutes. And DeRozan, for his part, appeared to be getting back into his previous groove. Yes, he shot 3-for-12 from the field, but his 12-for-13 from the free throw line, after a week’s worth of games where he barely touched the strip, felt positive. “Yeah, just doing it. You know I think sometimes they said when it rains it pours, we was in a shower for awhile.” But that was more the secondary concern. The primary concern was the Raptors stalwart Kyle Lowry. He’s been having a poor 2015 – despite the All-Star starting appearance. After missing three games, most fans were wondering when we’d see the old Lowry again; fearless, relentless, and deadly from anywhere on the floor. Tonight, an answer: Lowry had a line of 19 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and seven steals. He shot 7-for-12 from the field (and 5-for-8 from three). That is an All-Star line; that’s the Lowry we know.
“We just couldn’t quite … we just couldn’t quite,” Wade said. “Whatever that next word is, we just couldn’t quite do it. It was one of these games where even when it felt like it was starting to go right we turned it over too much and gave them too many easy opportunities.” The Heat trailed by 21 points with 10:32 left in the game and cut the Raptors’ lead to 11 with two minutes to play. The rally was more a product of Toronto’s own turnovers, however, than anything the Heat accomplished. The Raptors had 17 turnovers in the victory. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry turned in the game’s best performance. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and seven steals. DeMar DeRozan had 18 points on an off shooting night (3 of 12), and Lou Williams had 14 points off the bench despite going 4 of 12 from the field. In other words, the Raptors won ugly in what seemed like a repeat of the Heat’s frustrating road loss to the Washington Wizards last Friday. In that game, the Heat rallied from a 35-point deficit but lost by a point.
“We just couldn’t quite do it,” Wade said. “It was one of these games where a lot of things, even when if felt like things were starting to go right, we turned it over too much and gave up too many easy opportunities.” This time, the Raptors had an answer for every Heat surge. The closest Miami got was when Henry Walker scored a layup to make it 66-56 with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter. The Raptors responded with a 3-pointer by Terrence Ross on the next possession. Moments later, the lead was 18 after forward Patrick Patterson hit a jumpshot to make it 77-59.
Toronto went 85-68 with under nine minutes left and a sigh of defeat escaped my mouth. If there is a comeback coming, now would be the time. Miami must of heard me. The Heat went to their super small but energetic lineup and went on a 7-0 run led by two Dragic drives and the Heat trailed the Raptors 96-82 with under four minutes remaining. Wade then said it was his turn, going on a personal eight-point run as Miami trailed by 100-90 with a minute remaining. To no one’s surprise. the deficit proved too much as the Raptors closed out this one, winning 102-92.
The Raptors had four strong defensive quarters and held the Miami Heat to 92 points on 44.3% shooting. The perimeter defense was especially stout as the Heat went 5-23 from downtown. They also swiped 12 steals from the opposition which led to 18 points off turnovers. Overall, this was one of the better performances in the past two weeks.
Whiteside, who’s been one of the revelations of this NBA season, could have been a Raptor after playing with Toronto’s summer league team during the off-season. Toronto, he said, apparently wasn’t interested. “Nah, man. I was with their summer league team all summer. And I think they went with Greg Smith. I mean, Greg Stiemsma. Greg Stiemsma, they went with. That was their decision. Ain’t nothing I could do about it. I’m with the Heat.” The 7-footer has been averaging 10.9 points, 9.8 assists and more than two blocks per game since moving into the starting lineup this year. Stiemsma, meanwhile, has appeared in a handful of games, and scored just 14 points all season.
Photo by Turenne
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|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 27 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +3 +/-
Initially I wondered how long it would take for Psycho T to piss off Hassan Whiteside in the game, however Whiteside played under control almost to the point that it appeared he also dialed back his defensive intensity. Credit Hansbrough for keeping Whiteside engaged by playing him aggressively. That alone was worth his time on the court.
|Amir Johnson, PF 25 MIN | 5-8 FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +6 +/-
Curiously the zebras whistled Amir and Patterson with 2 quick fouls but allowed the Heat to commit the same fouls without damage. Being saddled with the fouls meant he couldn’t play as aggressively but the entire front court was great at contending in the paint, on the glass and overall. Perhaps they’ve figured out the Raptors will always be the underdog and with their current malaise they won’t get benefit calls the rest of the season.
|Terrence Ross, SF 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +8 +/-
Whether you agree or not, I’ve seen steady improvement from Ross over the past 5 or so games. His energy and compete level has risen at least to a level closer to what is acceptable. Between Ross and Lowry they held Dragic and Wade in check early not allowing them to pass the ball or get easy scores. When Ross first left the game Dragic had just 5 points and ZERO assists. His shot wasn’t falling but Lowry refused to stop going to him until he hit a couple.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 7-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 8 AST | 7 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 19 PTS | +19 +/-
From the get you knew he was dialed in. His first half was closer to the defensive intensity we want from him nightly. By the half he had 9 points (on 3 of 4 three pointers), had 5 assists, 3 rebounds, THREE STEALS a block and was a team high PLUS 20! The end of the third quarter epitomized his play all night, he kept the ball alive among the trees and just refused to give up he got the rebound, then got the steal on the missed shot which culminated in the Raptors scoring. Safe to say Lowry is back! Overall his numbers reflect an even performance through each half which perhaps speaks to why he is the Raptors captain… they follow their leader! He came close to a quadruple-double with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and SEVEN STEALS
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 3-12 FG | 12-13 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +6 +/-
When he involves his teammates he is a more productive player. As I input his first half info I note he has 3 assists so lets see if he continues this through the entire game. On a whole it appears he is definitely gaining his confidence and leg strength back as his last 3 games he looks closer to pre injury DD. Case in point his dunk at 10:15 of the 3Q. Plus a return to the free throw line does show he’s playing with more intensity and driving the paint again like he did to start the season. Overall a much more even effort from DeRozan with 6 assists and 6 rebounds plus 18 points. Of note: I was going to give him a B or B+ but the fact he is passing the ball (which is what we ask of him) and going hard to the basket again merited an extra mark in my mind.
|James Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 3-5 FG | 1-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -4 +/-
Though he made some bad plays trying to move too quickly, on a whole his first half was stellar including the fact HE was the one to close the half on a Miami team expectantly waiting Lou Williams to shoot. He had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and a block in the first half, however he was a minus -4. Somewhat disappointing he didn’t see the court in the second half, but when we are controlling the game on both sides it’s hard to question the decision. I thought perhaps he could have been inserted at a minimum after the 2 turnovers, but I’m not the coach.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +14 +/-
Though I have no evidence to prove this point (other than he sat a game after the injury) I think Patterson is still hurting from the knee injury he sustained I believe in Dallas. Still without Valanciunas in the line-up we could see how the bigs work together “on a string” when one isn’t just parked in the paint. From an effort standpoint he always brings it and battled for boards tonight despite being undersized.
|Chuck Hayes, C 9 MIN | 0-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | +1 +/-
Whether you are a fan or not I love his basketball IQ in terms of how he works to get other players passes leading to scores. He may have a lack of verticality but he blocks out and has a calming effect that seems to rub off on his teammates. Recently I learned (via a Bill Simmons article on Tracy McGrady) Hayes was considered the captain/leader of the Rocket team who went on a 22 game win streak. Makes sense now why he’s so chill looking.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | -16 +/-
Ummm the good: great fake pass to the corner leading to an open bucket. The bad 3 careless turnovers and no assists first half. I don’t think he purposely meant to hurt Johnson however I was screaming at my TV saying WHY GRAVY? You are up by 20 points and a move like this just wasn’t necessary. It could have been the thing that swung momentum for the Heat. Just not a smart play. However, he was also responsible for hitting some shots in the second half on a couple of occasions where the Heat could have swung the momentum. If nothing else Gravy has supreme confidence and swag. Still his minus -16 was a team worst (and JJ’s is less relevant since it came solely in the first half) and when Chuck Hayes has as many assists as you I think it’s time to do a bit of a gut check
|Louis Williams, SG 23 MIN | 4-12 FG | 4-6 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +13 +/-
Got to give him kudo’s for throwing off the Heat by feeding Johnson for the dunk to end the half. The way Casey was jumping on the sideline it did look like he actually called that play! He never got fully rolling tonight, but I’ll take this effort given he was competing with the team defense and didn’t try to attempt too many iso plays. He gets his score almost solely for passing the ball to JJ to end the half!
Called good time outs when Miami would try to go on a run. There was THAT JJ dunk which seemed like a play call from the bench. Had his team well prepared to face the Heat without JV. They controlled the pace, contested in the paint and battled on the boards despite the presence of Whiteside. If we are going to blame him when the team doesn’t play with focus we have to credit him when they do.
Five Things We Saw
- First: Congratulations to Jonas Valanciunas on his new baby boy. I’m now wondering if the slippage we saw from him (lack of effort/focus) following the Cleveland game had more to do with impending fatherhood. It did seem odd to me at the time and I was extremely frustrated by his play. Seeing how the Raptors front court moves in concert defensively without him though does highlight the area of his game most requiring improvement.
- Raptors controlled pace, shared the ball (ball movement) were more energetic, played defensively as a unit and just looked so much more cohesive. Now the trick is to build upon this effort and continue these habits through to the end of the year. Portland is up next and if there is a team we should WANT to beat up it’s the Trail Blazers. Hey maybe a strong showing versus Portland could close the bad circle of when the train went off the tracks back on December 30th.
- They won 3 of the 4 quarters with the fourth quarter being the only one they lost. In fairness part of that can be attributed to some whistles Miami got that the zebra’s weren’t calling the entire game and part of it was Raptor turnovers. Though we ask for 48 minutes of full effort I imagine it’s easier said than done. Plus we only lost the 4th quarter by 5 points so I’ll give them kudos on the full game effort.
- Apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back can be credited to the combination of no Chris Bosh and little Valanciunas Jr’s arrival, perhaps this will kick start a winning streak for the Raptors. They still need to get a win in Miami where they’ll have an opportunity April 11th.
- I guess it’s good they won because I pretty much guaranteed it after the last game!
Congratulations to Jonas Valanciunas for becoming a father.
Welcome to Raptors basketball, where the plays are made up and the practices are like the plot line in a porno film. They just don’t matter.
What else is one to conclude after having watched the Raptors repeat the same mistakes over and over again, to the point where the post-game press conferences are hard to differentiate from each other, not least of it because they decided to use the same damn #WeTheNorth background for home and road games. Whether it be the lack of inside-out play, the poor shot selection, the mysterious rotations, or the head-scratching offense, everything’s sort of blended into one giant cauldron of monkey excrement that people are starting to care less and less about.
The losses can now be easily anticipated and even the stretches within a game have a sense of predictability to them. Come to think of it, the Raptors over the last three weeks have looked what the Raptors usually have looked like. The narrative at the deadline was that Masai Ujiri lack of action was due to, 1) him seeing how far this unit can go thus providing him with more information prior to the summer, 2) not disrupting the chemistry the team had, and 3) not making short-sighted moves at the expense of long-term stability.
I think we all know what the ceiling for this team is even in a weak East – it’s a second-round playoff berth. No more, and especially so under a rigid coach like Dwane Casey who specializes is motivation rather than tactics. The chemistry angle I just don’t get because that “chemistry” the team displayed last season is nowhere to be found so there’s nothing to disrupt. The only stat you need to look at is assists. The Raptors are an iso-heavy team that has few team concepts embedded in its offense, and none in its defense. Lou Williams may have rap songs written about him and may have provided some highlights this season, but he emits a very predatorial and self-absorbed attitude coming off the bench and it seems to have permeated into the starting lineup as well. Far be it for the team’s ills to be blamed on Lou Williams, it’s more that the coach hasn’t been able to integrate a very good offensive player into a what-used-to-be a good offensive system from a year ago.
Finally, the short-sighted moves angles is another one that people tend to blow out of proportion. The team has been struggling tremendously on defense for the better part of three months now, and nothing Casey has done is able to move the needle on that end. They needed to acquire another big man at the deadline, or at the very least another guard who has some idea of how to defend. Even if the price was a first-round pick, I don’t think it would’ve been too high because as it stands, the Raptors are an absolute joke on defense, and worst of all, nobody seems to mind. I concede that bringing in one player isn’t going to change all that, but a jolt of some sort might have been needed. Just look at Cleveland’s moves as an example of a positive effect it can have.
As the Raptors face Miami at home tonight, this marks the only realistically winnable game they have this week. After getting thumped in San Antonio and facing Portland on Sunday, the 29-35 Heat who have Chris Bosh out for the rest of the season give the Raptors their best chance of the week. After the Heat it’s the surging Pacers, Wiggins and the Timberwolves, and the Bulls. What I’m getting is that we’re not facing Philly anymore so there’s no respite. The 50-win mark which looked like an inevitability when the team stood at 24-7 is now a huge doubt. The record since that Denver win is 14-19. During these 33 games, the Raptors have the league’s 25th ranked defense, and are also 25th in assists. This is a team that’s not playing any defense and does not share the ball – it’s actually alarming that they’ve won 14 games playing this sort of basketball.
This idea that there’s “nothing left to play for” since we’ve secured home-court by way of winning the division is unfounded. This roster’s stature isn’t big enough to warrant that kind of an approach to the remainder of the season. We’re not the 2008 Celtics or the 2004 Pistons where we have the veteran leadership or the intelligence to hit an on/off switch. There is no on/off switch, and if this team thinks it has one, it’s a grave problem that the coach should be held accountable for.
The play of Jonas Valanciunas is a topic that seems to come up after every game because fans appear to believe that his misuse is hurting the team. I agree, it is, but it’s not like he’s the answer to our woes. Even if Casey leaves Valanciunas in there for the full fourth quarter, the chances of Valanciunas actually having a sustained impact are low. His offensive and defensive development has slowed down this year, and he’s behind where he should be at this point in his career. He does some impressive things, plays hard, but much like Terrence Ross, hasn’t really blossomed into his potential under Dwane Casey’s dubious and unproven player development system.
Casey’s “player development” approach seems to be to throw minutes at someone and let them figure the rest out under the vague advice of “play hard”. You could argue that Valanciunas has learned more in the month and a half he was with the Lithuanian team than he has with the Raptors this season, and that’s because we’ve seen very little evidence of actual one-on-one coaching making him a better player. How he hasn’t learned to read a double-team coming a mile away from shorter players, and make an outlet pass is puzzling. It’s almost like it’s never even been practiced, since I can assure you, that is not a very difficult skill to teach if you hone in on it for a couple weeks.
Offensively, I think we can all agree that the Raptors offense is guard-dominant, doesn’t appear to value ball-movement, and is very static. Part of it are the natures of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who both feel the need to lead the team as they’ve been quoted many times. The problem is that they’re confusing “lead” with “carry”, and are trying to carry the team by taking shots that are very detrimental to the group, without reprimand from the coach. Casey, perhaps for fear of not angering his best players, has chosen to turn a blind eye to this play and instead focuses on low-hanging fruit like James Johnson’s occasional three and Jonas Valanciunas’ box-outs.
What worked for Kyle Lowry in November/December isn’t working now. His step-back jumper doesn’t have the legs in it. It’s not a great shot to begin with, and with teams now putting longer defenders on him, it makes it that much harder. The scouting report for that shot is out and teams have adjusted. The supporting cast isn’t doing much supporting, and with DeMar DeRozan obliging defenses by taking the first available bad shot, it means Lowry doesn’t quite have a chance to reinitiate his offense on the same possession again. With DeRozan out, he had ample chances to probe the defense twice, or even three times, but with the inefficient DeRozan out there, Lowry’s chances to score are diminished.
The Raptors problems are all solvable through organization and structure. Some measure of offensive balance which dedicates itself to not just giving Valanciunas the odd post-up, but persists with him by way of organizing a whole set for him (e.g., a baseline double-screen which frees him up for a catch-and-layup) would help diversify a very predictable offense. Having DeMar DeRozan be banned from taking baseline fadeaways would be a good start as well, especially because it sets such a bad example for the rest of the group.
Defensively, it is madness to stick with what we’re currently doing because it’s been proven to not work with a whole lot of lineup permutations. The Raptors can’t afford to be getting carved up within the first 10 seconds of the shot-clock, and have to limit the amount of weak-side wing help they provide. Even if it means Valanciunas picks up three fouls playing help defense, or if Bebe needs to be called in to man the paint, it’s still better than the strategy of having Patrick Patterson trying to close-out guards on opposite ends of the court on the same possession.
Dwane Casey spoke about experimenting with new techniques, such as giving Patrick Patterson a start, which is a good approach to tuning things ahead of the post-season. He even mentioned the creation of new plays, which is something that is long overdue. After all, posting up Amir Johnson on the lower left elbow and having DeRozan misdirect only to cut baseline is far too predictable. At least there’s some sparks going off in Dwane Casey’s mind and he’s doing something about the funk instead of repeating the “wanting 7 or 8 guys who want to play” line, because that was getting tedious.
It’s easy to fling mud at Casey right now, he’s pretty much bungled up pretty much every in-game situation in 2015, his “scramble group” approach to winning fourth quarters has bombed, his team is one of the worst defensive units in the league which also happens to go through crippling offensive droughts. At least there’s a glimmer of hope that he’s trying something different. I have no idea what it will yield, likely nothing, but as you watch the games from this point on, let’s see just exactly what Casey will tweak. For a team with six assistant coaches, you hope that something fresh can be produced relatively quickly. And if we see DeMar DeRozan take a 19-footer with 18 on the shot-clock, chances are Casey’s lost the plot.
Funnily enough, season-seat holders have been receiving calls from MLSE reps to renew their tickets for next season at an increased price, and the timing could not have been worse. The same rep that, in response for me asking for a purple jersey had said, “we don’t need to give free stuff anymore, we’re #1 in the league” is now making cold calls.
Right, the game. I’d like to see who defends Dwyane Wade, and I hope it’s DeMar DeRozan. For a guy in his sixth year working under a defensive coach, you’d think he’d have developed some sort of defensive capability by now. On the other end, he’ll probably be guarded by Luol Deng, who has bothered him to no end in the past (as have most lengthy threes), so I’m looking forward to seeing if DeRozan continues to surrender to defenses by taking cringeworthy shots, or recognizes that something different might be in order.
I’m picking the Raps by 7.
On this weeks Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry reunite to discuss the tumultuous times in Raptor Land. They attempt to find reasons for the recent slump and try to navigate through the recent ongoing problems with the team.
The Raptors announced today that Lucas Nogueira will be sent to the D-League.
The Toronto Raptors announced Thursday they have assigned centre Lucas Nogueira (No-GARE-uh) to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League. Nogueira will continue to be included on the Raptors’ roster and will remain on the team’s inactive list. He is expected to be in uniform for the Mad Ants on Saturday when they play host to the Delaware 87ers at 7:30 p.m.
Nogueira made his NBA debut November 21 versus Milwaukee and grabbed a season-high five rebounds in nine minutes of action. He has played a total of 23 minutes in six games with Toronto this season, recording six points and 11 rebounds.
A native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nogueira was selected 16th overall by Boston in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Raptors acquired his rights June 30, 2014 from Atlanta. He spent the 2013-14 season with Estudiantes Madrid in the Spanish Liga Endesa and averaged 6.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 16.0 minutes in 18 games.
Tune in on Saturday night to see Bebe ride the bench for the Mad Ants, who have been so gracious with giving Brazilian Raptors ample playing time during their important schedule.
All jokes aside, surely Bebe will get more burn than Bruno, right? Afterall, he’s not nearly as raw and does have a DPOY award in Spain’s ACB under his belt.
It’s been a disappointing season for Bebe, briefly featuring in just six games this season. This kid has the potential to be a solid rim protector, but it’s a shame he may never get a proper opportunity to demonstrate his skills with the team. In that sense, the D-league is a good option at this stage.
Good luck Bebe.
Things could get interesting over the Toronto’s final 20 regular season games as Dwane Casey is on the hot seat.
Toronto has a firm grasp on the Atlantic Division and as such have a lock on home court in the first round in the playoffs. While winning back-to-back division titles looks great on paper, the reality is the distinction doesn’t mean much and is like spraying cologne in a garbage can in a lacklustre attempt to mask the pungent scent.
The Raptors are stuck in a huge funk after starting the season 24-7. The team is just 14-18 in 2015 after enjoying the best record in the Eastern Conference on December 31.
Toronto finds themselves mired in a nasty 1-9 skid and the schedule doesn’t show any signs of letting up and giving the team a chance at a couple of easy wins. But it’s not like Toronto has taken advantage of “easy” games recently as they have had some tough losses in 2015 against the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and the Charlotte Hornets.
Yes, the same Knicks team that is currently trying to secure as many ping pong balls as they can for the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery and will likely finish with the worst record in the NBA this season.
Toronto also had tough losses at home to Cleveland and on the road in Oklahoma City already this month.
Getting crushed by the San Antonio Spurs earlier this week didn’t give fans warm fuzzies, either.
Casey admitted last week that he will spend the final 20-something regular season games tinkering with his starting line-up, rotations and adding some new plays.
“We have been throwing in some plays and some sets,” Casey admitted to the media last week before a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Patrick (Patterson) starting the other night was a semi-experiment. We are going to do some other things. We still got to get our zone in for those situations you may see some of that. The hard thing right now is that there is very little practice time so that time you use in the game is part of your practice. I hate to minimize games like that, but it’s kind of what it is. We are going to be doing some other things like that. At the same time, we want to win. We aren’t going to dismiss that at all. At the end of the day, we want to compete to win, but the number one thing is to try new things and try to get better.”
Hearing a coach admit that he’s tinkering with playing rotations, starting lineups and adding new plays in the stretch run of a playoff push is the equivalent of waiving a white flag and throwing the towel in on the season.
Casey is admitting that there’s something seriously wrong with the team, but ever more worrisome, he’s also admitting he has no clue what’s wrong and how to fix it. That’s a huge red flag for Masai Ujiri, the rest of the front office, and, more importantly this season, to the players in Toronto’s locker room.
Casey’s right that the final 20 or so games of the season are meaningless because Toronto essentially has the Atlantic Division locked up and with that, home court in the first round.
There’s also merit in facing the Atlanta Hawks in the second round as they’ve beat that team twice this season.
But when a coach admits in a roundabout kind of way that he’s unable to put a patch on the dam that’s about to burst it puts a huge target on a his back.
When you throw into the mix that only the following season of Casey’s contract is guaranteed – the third season is a team option – and it makes firing Casey this summer an easy option if Toronto flames out in the first round of the playoffs.
The fact Casey is a holdover from Bryan Colangelo’s tenure means that Ujiri won’t have as much loyalty to him as he would to a coach he had personally hired.
Toronto’s one hope in the first round might be facing the Washington Wizards who are slumping right now too and don’t appear to have any answers either.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Toronto’s final 20 games play out and what happens in the playoffs. If the Raptors flame out in the first round then Casey could find himself on hot seat.
Can Terrence Ross contribute? Can Amir Johnson stay healthy and produce when it matters? What is the Raptors crunch-time unit?
Offensively this team is going to score. If it’s not Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan carrying the load in the starting five there’s always Williams and Greivis Vasquez in the second unit to pick up the scoring not to mention Patterson. But defensively this team is lacking. Casey had been preaching a need for more desire on that end, but more recently his pleas seem to be centred more on a desire for some defensive intellect on his team. At this stage the only answers have to come from within that 15-man roster. And a Salmons-like presence among that 15 does not exist.
I really don’t understand what happened to this guy. It’s almost like he achieved his goal with the all-star team selection, and he decided to take the rest of the season off. Not only is he being extremely timid on offence, but he is also playing terrible D. wth happened to him?
Whether it’s by Toronto or somebody else, what kind of deal do you see him getting? Keep in mind the cap is changing.
Toronto has shot less accurately, turned the ball over more frequently, and allowed more second-chance and fast-break points in the first quarter than any other frame during its slide. The biggest drop-off has been on the offensive side of the ball, where the Raptors are generating buckets at a rate (93.7 points-per-100) that would top only the dead-last, league-worst Philadelphia 76ers (92 points-per-100) over the course of the full season. Digging into that a bit, it seems like the biggest issue is a steady diet of early midrange jumpers. One-third of Toronto’s first-quarter shots over the last 16 games have come between the paint and the 3-point arc, with stars Lowry (44.2 percent of his first-quarter looks from midrange) and DeMar DeRozan (a whopping 56.7 percent of his opening-frame shots) standing as the largest culprits. The backcourt leaders have combined for just about half of Toronto’s first-quarter field-goal attempts (10.1 of 20.4) during this stretch, and both are shooting less than 37 percent in opening frames since the start of February as the Raptors have flagged. Sluggishness, settling, low-value contested shots … it’s all a recipe for slow starts, putting the Raptors behind the eight-ball more often than not over the last five weeks.
March 15 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers: This will be a tough one, but the Raptors have to start winning tough ones if they want to climb back up the East. The Trail Blazers are 41-20, putting them right near the top of the dominant Western Conference. The Blazers will be missing Wes Matthews, who has probably been the team’s third best player this season. The Raps will have to capitalize on the 3-point shooting the Blazers will lack without Matthews. DeMar DeRozan should have the chance to step up and show why he was made an All-Star last season. As always, the team will rely on his offensive production, including his ability to ignite the Raptors with a powerful dunk.
Williams couldn’t wait to become a Raptor. Acquired from the Pistons at the trade deadline in 2001, the veteran forward immediately jumped in his car and drove to Toronto so he could be at practice the following day. That was just the beginning. Self proclaimed the Junkyard Dog, his energy and love for the game was contagious, not just on the court but throughout the arena, where fans frequently chanted for JYD. His style of play was easy to appreciate and identify with. Williams made the most of his ability through tenacious effort, particularly on the defensive end and on the boards. He filled a crucial role off the bench as the Raps won their first and only postseason series and helped them make an unexpected playoff push in Carter’s absence the following year. To this day, his bark still resonates with Raptors fans.
Pictures by Gunshow
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This week on the return of The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk ball and we have a discussion about the 2014-2015 Toronto! Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:
- The Raptors season to date
- The biggest surprises
- The positives
- The negatives
- And if the results of the last 10 games are a fair representation of the team’s quality
- The Casey Conundrum? The team has 38 wins and is 1st in Atlantic Division but there is a popular sentiment that Casey is holding this team back. We take turns weighing in on whether or not this is a valid criticism
- If there is one thing I love, its cowbell! So #morecowbell (for new listeners, this means we talk about why Jonas is not getting more playing time)
- Is this the best season ever in Raptors franchise history?
- What does this mean for the playoffs? Whether its Washington or Cleveland or Charlotte, how do we match up against other teams in the East and how deep a playoff run can this team make?
- We will be back next week and every week for the rest of the season
- The podcast has a new sponsor whom we will be introducing next week- so stay tuned!
- And we will be adding a new member to the round table @DaveHendrick_AI
- Lastly, my apologies for the dips in sound quality. Next week we will be better. Promise.
Follow me too! @therealphdsteve
The city of Toronto is notorious for a number of reasons. Whether or not it is truly worthy of its “No.1″ status is up for debate, but there is a definite downside.
To get specific, well, how about our horrendous public transit system, the outrageous maintenance-fees on condos with shoddy construction, or the judge of character shown when it comes to electing public officials.
Only 10 percent of the money raised from your “Crack Auctions” will go to Mount Sinai Hospital? 10 percent?? Even you’re better than that, Robbie.
This is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to a major city, but as the annual state of affairs of T.O.’s sports scene gets mixed in, where an optimistic beginning tends to transform into an episode of betrayal rather quickly, one can acquire a special distaste for the B.S. that is constantly shoved down our throats.
Call it a curse, call it inferior talent, or side with the coaching-ineptitude majority; one thing remains clear, despite it all, you have to love the fact that we keep coming back for more. We may be gluttons for punishment, but we stay loyal.
So a shout-out is in order. Not to the players suiting up (non-deserving at the moment), but to the fans. To the hardcore section, the casual observers, the ones who actually wish to have a civil conversation about a difference of opinion, and even to the ones who troll unjustifiably; who’s only mission is to spew hate just for the hell of it. Hey, they’re people too. Sort of.
Besides, as much as at-times it seems like we all despise one another, the fact that we’re still all in this together remains. Even Coach Casey is welcome to join the party, although it might get awkward if Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau are on the guest list.
Perhaps it’s because the wounds are so fresh, but the overall vibe in this town has changed for the worse. The Raptors squandering nine of their last ten doesn’t help promote much positivity, odds of the Leafs regaining respectability yields little faith, and to top off the trio of disappointments, Marcus Stroman’s season-ending ACL tear acts as a crushing blow to Blue Jays’ chances.
One might think that the tale of two promising showings (first half in Oklahoma, second half in San Antonio) would breath new life into all of us, but that’s wishful thinking when scars run deep.
A recent tweet from RR’s own, Nils “Doc Naismith” Linnenbruegger, says it all. An exercise that carries over to not only the Raps’ struggles, but to the city as a whole. It might do everyone some good.
— Nils Linnenbrügger (@DocNaismith) March 10, 2015
Now, in an effort to keep the misery to a minimum, I will try to inject some needed enthusiasm. An attempt at lightening the mood. I know, crazy right; but here goes nothing.
A week this Thursday marks the beginning of the NCAA tourney, an event that even the NBA stretch-run plays the background for. It will also be St. Patty’s day, so be sure to plan ahead and book the Friday off beforehand, as hangovers are much worse when the beer is green.
In the spirit of the upcoming Madness:
Let’s give the Raps their very own bracket. The purpose of this in-house tournament: to find out which player (or authority figure) represents the utmost importance to the team, with multiple variables at play. Taking into consideration what each currently brings to the table, as well as their future worth.
The following rankings are a result of every single analytic angle run through the gauntlet. An extensive film session took place, numbers were crunched, and hours of sleep were lost.
Actually, ok, full disclosure: Essentially they were compiled through a random selection of Raps’ games on my DVR. Not to mention a pot of coffee, and a pack of smokes. I had to deal with the stress somehow.
The way my bracket plays out, bring on the hate, I mean conversation:
Sweet Sixteen Casualties:
Chuck: Chucky, the Chuckster. Fans love you, you can set a mean screen, and you’re reportedly a locker room favourite. But you are clearly not in this team’s future plans.
Sweet Lou vs. Patman: this matchup is a fight to the photo finish. Both have brought countless contributions to this organization. However, PP advances due to a combination of a longer track record and added depth at a position that’s more in need. Then there is that elephant in the room of Lou’s contract for next season, as whether he is retained is anybody’s guess. It was sight to see Lou’s game featured during Lowry’s absence, as he showed he’s fully capable of playing a more prominent role. On the other hand, a more structured environment is just not Lou’s style.
Johnson vs. Johnson: Is it a foregone conclusion that Amir’s days are numbered? All signs are pointing in that direction, especially if Toronto plans on being more than just an average player in Free Agency. The annual energy spark was finally back to his old tricks in Texas, but the overall deterioration has been evident. As for JJ, the man who is currently being phased out of this club’s rotation yet again, he simply brings much more versatility. And his production when this team dealt with their early-season shambles must be accounted for. Add in the contracts, and JJ wins in a landslide.
Bebe: Extremely raw, but Nogueria has the look of a future contributor, especially on defence. But for now, take a seat rook. More on Casey when he faces a more formidable opponent.
Vasquez: In terms of what this team needs to improve upon, GV gets lost in the shuffle. He’s a matador on defence, but clutch (at-times) on offence, while being able to facilitate when needed, and provides ball-movement when Lowry fails to punch in. In Toronto’s hierarchy, however, Vasquez gets shoved to the side.
Hansbrough: If only Psycho T’s fearlessness was part of JV’s mentality. But the underused physicality, even in already limited action, will be missed. Peace, Brough.
T-Ross vs. Bruno: This is were it will get controversial. Remember those times when the notion of keeping T-Ross over DeRozan was a thing? That’s not still a thing is it? I also remember when T-Ross was that future piece this franchise simply could not part with, who was untouchable via trade. Well, Ross may be showing signs of coming back to life, but that previous role has since been filled. As much as it has been clamoured about that Bruno is light years away from producing, has the eye test not been passed? A work in progress, I get it, but James Johnson with an outside shot eventually? I’m buying what I’m selling.
Fields: The expiring contract can’t come soon enough, but contrary to popular opinion, Fields has made his mark on this squad. Defensive prowess mixed with a non-turnover mindset. Just pull up the Brooklyn series, in flashes he helped immensely.
The Elite Eight:
K-Low vs. Patman: I’d be waisting your time attempting to make a case here. PP was valuable enough to get to this point, but the buck stops here.
JJ vs. Casey: Well alright then, the fight we came to see. Was it the plan to re-implement T-Ross back into the starting lineup all along? Quite possibly, but judging from Casey’s timeout playbook, it’s tempting to think he doesn’t keep future moves in his back pocket. TR is slowly but surely re-acquiring his past swagger, so a temporary pass will be given out. But if the moment of JJ himself rekindling his minutes doesn’t come full circle, then a revoking will occur. It’s looking like either the Bucks or
Bullets Wizards as a first-round opponent, let’s just hope he doesn’t wait until the third-quarter of Game 3 with the Raps down 12 for the restart.
Still, Casey holds JJ’s role hostage. Therefore he advances by default.
JV vs. Masai: Powerhouses collide. With both holding power over the other when it comes to analyzes what their future will look like. This is not Denver, the Raps have more talent to work with, and Masai can’t be given a full grade as of it. The fact that he has vowed to attain a Canadian player is great window dressing, but not exactly solving anything. JV holds the trump card as the only inside presence worth building around, or used to get something of value in return.
DeRozan vs. Bruno: The end of line for Caboclo. As much as Bruno represents a sweet upside, we still must live in the now when considering DeRozan is only 25. I used to think T-Ross was this club’s most polarizing figure, but DD has since taken over. A whipping boy and saviour at the same time. Both sides of support deserve listening to, as DeMar is a totally different player from quarter to quarter. But he remains the Raps best rim attacker, with room still to grow.
The Final Four:
K-Low vs. Casey: The notion of the Point Guard becoming an extension of the Head Coach is one that’s hard to believe in this case. When was the last time Casey has preached any kind of offensive blueprint? While in-game adjustments have been at best hit-and-miss. If this season continues to plummet South, the ax will fall on DC well before any player in his first year of a new contract. Even if that point-guard enjoys masquerading as a roaming shooter.
JV vs. DeRozan: As close as it gets in this tourney. Yes, I purposely set out to have these two square-off in the semi’s. DeRozan has been the main culprit when it comes to continuously ignoring JV in the post, and he needs to face his demons head-on. DD has also the led the charge of freestylin’ in the half-court set. The IQ exists, we’ve all seen it, but if status-quo remains, the Raps will be an inevitable first-round exit annually. JV gets his revenge, at least in this arena.
Lowry vs. Valanciunas: If you’ve stayed with me this far, and haven’t let the warmth outside call for your attention, you might have reached the same conclusion. I wouldn’t blame you, though, we’ve been trapped in hell for the past few months.
He may be suspect on defence, lack a killer instinct, and needs to work on his predictable footwork, but JV exists as this squad’s most important puzzle piece. What Valanciunas can grow into will fill exactly what the Raps have been searching for, seemingly for ages.
The NBA may have become more perimeter-foucused, and now makes its living on the pick-and-roll, but until Toronto owns the arsenal to capitalize on that notion, they play with the cards currently dealt. Mix in the fact that Lowry is reaching his 30’s, and the value JV can fetch if the project ultimately fails, the Lithuanian deserves the throne.
In the meantime, a little flashback and film session could help Casey and company regain their fundamentals, and recapture their lost discipline. I wonder if Norman Dale is available.
Stop me when you have heard this before: the Raptors found themselves down big against a premier team and rallied late to make things close before eventually losing.
It is becoming increasingly frustrating to watch (and write about) this team. They are a known quantity and have been for a while; a poor defensive team with an inconsistent offence that relies on individual brilliance rather than team play. Last night’s 117-107 loss against the Spurs epitomized that description.
First half – Raptors hang around for six minutes, get sonned for the next 18
The Raptors started out okay, shooting well and controlling San Antonio early a bit. Toronto’s cause was helped by some poor shot selection by the reigning champs. Then, things went downhill after a Spurs timeout, where they really settled in and looked like the team that blew the doors off the Heat in last year’s finals.
A lot of the Spurs success started with the horror that is Greivis Vasquez’s defence. From that previous sentence, I think you can see why it is frustrating and arguably, boring, to watch this team sometimes. We know Vasquez is a terrible defender, we know that a screen will render him useless and we know there was a very slim chance he could slow down Tony Parker with any consistency. We just had to watch him get torn apart possession after possession.
His cause was not helped by his teammates either. Danny Green and Marco Belinelli were cutting through the defence, running off the ball to create havoc. Their defensive counterparts typically lagged behind, supplying open shooters for the penetrating guards.
Toronto was settling into their simple, jump-shooting offence too. You know what they say: if there’s one way to get back into a game when you’re down big on the road, it’s by taking a ton of mid-range jumpers!
Lowry was heeding that advice. Check this shot and just take in all the reasons why this is a bad decision.
Checklist for judging “is this a good jumpshot?”:
– Are you open? No.
– Is there anybody in rebounding position? No. (JV was setting a screen.)
– If you’re taking a long shot, are you behind the line? No.
– How much time is left on the clock? 18 seconds (!!!)
Lowry made this, but who cares? I guess when you’re down 20 and have struggled to score so far, you take what you can get. I still think process really matters for this team, and if they plan to take the next step this season (i.e., make the second round), they have to continue to run their stuff offensively. There were other examples of poor shot selection from other Raptors but this was one that stuck out. (Also in that poor shot selection category: DeRozan baseline fades.) Toronto would put a little offensive run on in the last few minutes, but the Spurs matched them and held a 61-41 advantage at half.
Second half: Good Raptors show up but fail to save Bad Raptors from first half
I think some people would watch the second half and say, “You know what? It’s a good thing they kept playing hard. Some teams would just give up if they were down 20 but Toronto kept going.” That’s kind of a crock, though. When is the last time a playoff team just said “well, dang, we’re down big so I guess that is it”? Teams do not do this, it’s really just a stupid narrative to draw positives out of a bad situation. “They played hard” is PR, so I don’t want to credit them for doing what everyone does.
I will credit Toronto for their plans to hit the paint in the second half. Amir and DeRozan had dunks; Patterson had a little floater. That is a Raptors offence you can be proud of. Something you probably weren’t proud of? Their defence. Toronto were on the wrong end of a 12-6 run to open the third but man, did they gift the Spurs some points. Duncan and Kawhi hooked up for an alley-oop on a play that was just a simple down screen, but none of the Raptors picked up on it.
Toronto would hit their stride though. They were running well in the third, with Lowry taking the ball and pushing the tempo. Amir looked great, skying for a couple of alley-oops himself. If you were looking for energy, the Raptors were supplying it. Duncan and the Spurs couldn’t keep the Raptors off the glass either, so when the Raptors didn’t have a chance to run, they were still creating extra possessions (and easy looks) with offensive glasswork. Toronto was down 14 going into the fourth quarter, which shouldn’t feel good, but in the flow of the game, 14 allowed for a little bit of optimism.
Now, Toronto’s comeback attempt was fun to watch offensively, but they couldn’t get stops. The high-post lob passes to cutters were resulting in nearly-uncontested lay-ups and honestly, defending those kinds of cuts takes effort and slight awareness. Toronto lacked both of those last night, and have lacked that for quite a while.
Sweeping the season series with the Spurs was always going to be difficult, but getting blown out after winning the first is discouraging. Toronto has a decent break before facing the Heat, who are struggling, but with the Raptors’s problems cemented, don’t expect to see many changes. They’ve now lost 9 of the last 10. Get thee to the playoffs.
Quick plug for Toronto-area basketball fans. The CIS national championships are taking place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (old Maple Leafs Gardens) this week. The CIS is Canadian university basketball, and honestly, it’s decent ball. Carleton and Ottawa are really fun, and Carleton’s got a player (Phil Scrubb) who could make a Summer League roster and turn some heads. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, consider the CIS tournament.
Casey was asked about Kyle Lowry’s profanity-laced mid-second-quarter-huddle takeover when the Raptors were at their lowest and quite frankly looking like they couldn’t care less about the game. Lowry didn’t even let Casey get started as he launched into his tirade punctuated by multiple cuss words and then angrily stomped away from the huddle. It was one of the few things Casey actually liked in the game that wound up a 117-107 Raptors loss. “I was glad to see somebody had a give-a-crap level,” Casey said sounding a lot like the hockey coach he shares the Air Canada Centre with. “That’s what it has to be about and it shouldn’t be just one guy. I should have two, three, or four guys upset and teed off that we are playing that way. I shouldn’t be the only one jumping up and down and going crazy and cursing guys out or getting on guys. It should be all the guys caring.” For most of the first 24 minutes Tuesday night the needle on the give-a-crap meter was barely pushing past zero as the Raps got down by as many as 22 in the first half before righting the ship somewhat in the second for a more respectable 10-point loss.
He’d also been speaking about the need to move the ball more on offence. Instead, the Raptors wound up with just 18 assists on the night. “I’ve been saying it all year, and you guys are tired of hearing it … and I’m sure (the players) are, too. It’s not going to change. It’s the truth. You don’t win in this league without being a defensive-minded team and sharing the ball offensively,” a slightly frustrated sounding Casey said, repeating a theme he’s touched on many times during this slump. The Spurs have won six straight games. The spiraling Raptors, meanwhile, have lost a demoralizing nine of their last 10 games, including a 103-98 defeat at the hands of the league-worst New York Knicks.
Was that first-half beating, complete with Lowry’s emotional tirade, the kick in the ass they needed? “It’s nine [losses] out of 10 [games],” Toronto’s all-star responded, irritated at the implication they might require added motivation following this latest loss, 117-107 to the defending champs. “[Expletive]. We need to play. We don’t need no kick in the ass. We’ve literally been getting our ass kicked. So we shouldn’t need that type of first half. We should be able to go out and do it.” Lowry’s post-game F-bomb was a rarity for him and to his credit he caught it immediately and apologized to the cameras and recorders that captured it. But that brand of unbridled passion, similar to what he unleashed on his teammates during that earlier timeout, needs no apology. They could use more of it.
“I shouldn’t be the only one jumping up and down, looking crazy and cursing guys out. It should be all the guys caring, because we put a lot of sweat equity into this and we can’t let it go down the drain right now. We work too hard to let it go and we have to be more like we are in the second half. All I need is seven or eight guys to put their hands in the circle, be committed and play like we did in the second half.” – Casey, on a fiery Lowry taking over a huddle during a Raptors timeout
Everybody was hitting shots in this one. What’s best about Marco is he rarely ever forces a shot, and when he’s hitting those open looks, he’s as dangerous an offensive bench option as there is in the league from the perimeter. Still…the defense. I should probably stop holding that against him. I’ll just dock it a tiny bit.
The Raptors came out with a sense of urgency, but the Spurs just wore them down too much in the first half, and Toronto couldn’t fully recover. Terrence Ross couldn’t find his groove on offense, shooting 2-for-9. Valanciunas had to sit early in the third quarter with four fouls. No one on the team was hitting from deep. Some life shown from Demar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson in the third cut the Spurs lead to 11 just before the end of the third, but a Matt Bonner corner three put it right back up to 14 to head into the fourth. The Raptors wanted to speed the game up to lightning speed for the fourth quarter, and were able to reduce the lead to six ith just under three minutes to go. As bad as it is to have a 26 point lead cut down to six, I never found myself too worried. Perhaps it’s an effect of how well the Spurs have been playing lately, or maybe I’m just a biased, optimistic Spurs fan. Whatever the case, my gut feeling that the Spurs wouldn’t lose this game held true. After an impressive comeback from Toronto, the Spurs held on. Although they gave up a big lead in what seemed like a walk through the park, it was still a fun win. Tony is continuing to shine, Danny was knocking down his threes, Tim Duncan didn’t miss all of his shots (Yay!). I think Kawhi had about five dunks? Maybe 20? I’m not sure. He ended up with 24 points, 11 boards and FIVE steals. It’s like you can literally see him getting better every second he’s on the floor.
Three-point shooting was a big key for San Antonio in the win as the team converted 11-of-18 attempts from deep compared to Toronto’s poor 8-of-26 effort. The Spurs also did a great job of getting to the line, making 24-of-30 tries. The Raptors finished the game 13-of-18 from the charity stripe. Both teams rebounded the ball well with Toronto barely edging out San Antonio 46-45 in rebounding. Ball control was also great with the Spurs just committing 11 turnovers, only nine giveaways for the Raptors.
What no one could disagree with, however, was the Spurs came out with decidedly more energy and effort for the opening half, especially the first quarter where they snatched nine offensive boards –four by Leonard– to Toronto’s one. With Manu Ginobili missing the game due to a stomach flu, Gregg Popovich opted to play his three big guns heavy minutes early on, with Leonard going the whole period and Parker and Tim Duncan subbing out with just 57 seconds to go. Parker zoomed past for three layups and Danny Green hit a pair of early threes and the Spurs were up 28-17 after one. It was more of the same in the second quarter, though the Raptors finally showed some life on the boards against the second-string. Green swished two more bombs, getting a four-point play on the latter, and moved past Sean Elliott to fourth all-time in Spurs history with 564 made threes. Marco Belinelli rained in a couple too as the bench finally got into it, and Aron Baynes added seven points inside. The Spurs shot 61.1 percent in the quarter while holding the Raptors to 34.6 percent, and led comfortably 61-41 at half.
While Parker and Leonard provided San Antonio provided San Antonio with 47 combined points, Danny Green also chipped in 19 points, as he had a consistent rhythm beyond the arc, where he lit up the outside by making 5-of-6 three pointers in 26 minutes. While Green had the hot hand, so did some of the Spurs’ other shooters, as Marco Belinelli went 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, Patty Mills 1-of-4, and Matt Bonner 2-of-2. As a team, the Spurs shot 11-of-18 from beyond the arc on the night. Parker mentioned after the game that where San Antonio was struggling to make threes on the road during the Rodeo Road Trip, they’ve found a consistent rhythm as of late back at home.
Danny Green is nothing if not honest. He was yanked just 35 seconds into the game after sending Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan to the foul line. His transgression? Forgetting Gregg Popovich’s directive to avoid reaching on DeRozan, who has adopted James Harden’s tactic of holding the ball out on drives in the hopes of drawing shooting fouls. Green returned to knock down five 3-pointers, moving past Sean Elliott for fourth place on the Spurs’ career list with 565 makes.
It looks like we may have to change the grading system tonight after Kawhi Leonard’s effort against the Raptors. An “A+” just doesn’t give enough justice to the kind of night the 23-year-old had. Leonard flashed max-contract material on Tuesday with his 24 points, 11 rebounds, and five steals. His defense was also great, limiting Toronto forward Terrance Ross to a poor 2-of-9 shooting night. Did we mention he also put Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas on a poster? Need we say more.
The usual symptoms were present once again tonight: Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan settling for too many long twos (a combined 10-for-27 from the field) and Jonas Valanciunas was less than stellar on defense and on the boards in 21 minutes of play. There were positives: Amir Johnson put up 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, perhaps aware of all the talk about his decline in the last few days. Lowry shot 10-for-19 from the field, scoring 32 points in the process. We’ve reached a point where the lackluster play has extended to beyond just a small sample size to wonder if things will continue to be this way for the rest of the season. A first round match-up against the Washington Wizards — who haven’t been lighting the league on fire in the past few months — still remains favorable, but having confidence in the Raptors coming out as the better team over a seven-game series is at an all-time low right now.
The same issues continued to plague the Raptors last night as the teams propensity to settle for long twos, accompanied by lacklustre defence, kept the Dinos trailing for most of the game. All wasn’t negative though. In perhaps his best performance since returning from injury, point guard Kyle Lowry shot 10-for-19 from the field, scoring 32 points and keeping the Raps in the game late in the fourth quarter. But as his been the case recently, the Raptors late-game charge was too little, too late. At this point, doubt is probably creeping in to the mind of Raptors’ fans. Amid this losing slump, having confidence in the Raptors over a seven game playoff series is difficult to maintain.
Along those lines, another important question to ask regards the long-term future of Amir Johnson. He was a fan favourite with the Raptors long before the current team became popular, but there are concerns about if he will remain in Toronto past this season. The 27-year old (I can’t believe his age. It seems like he’s been around forever.) will become a free agent at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. And given his ongoing battle with injuries, combined with his dip in form this season, there is every chance the Raptors will not re-sign Johnson in the summer. I should stress, this doesn’t mean Toronto won’t attempt to negotiate a new deal altogether. However, I can see there being a decent-sized gap between what the team and Johnson (or more specifically his agent) believe he is worth. What will likely factor in is how Masai Ujiri and company decide to measure Johnson’s worth, when deciding what to offer him. For example, from a statistical standpoint, the 2005 NBA draft pick is on course to record the worst rebounding average (5.8) of his six-year tenure in Toronto.
“It is on our minds, to get a Canadian player, or Canadian players,” Ujiri said after the forum. “We’re studying it. I even considered last year hiring somebody to concentrate on just Canadian players. I think I’m going to go through with it. The growth of the game here is so big. It’s the fit. We’re at a time where we feel we can maybe take our time and study it a little bit so it’s the right fit, and not do it just to do it. It’s going to come. There’s no doubt in my mind. It’s an obligation that I think we have to fulfill.” It is that last part that is a bit curious. As cool as it would be to see a Canadian player in his prime playing for the Raptors, it no longer feels as if it will take a concerted effort to make it so. A funny thing has happened as Canadians have come rushing into the NBA since 2011, with eight first-round picks in the last four drafts: It has become less and less notable when a Canadian has made his annual or twice-yearly appearance in Toronto. Last week, there was no sense of occasion when Tristan Thompson came to the Air Canada Centre, because we now know it is going to keep happening and happening and happening.
Masai Ujiri wasn’t exactly speaking at a local fish fry, let’s give this collective some credit, but this sort of on-record nonsense doesn’t make Ujiri, the Raptors, or Canadian basketball fans look good. Raptor fans would no doubt love to see a Canadian-born player on their roster, but they’d pass on dozens of Canadian additions if it meant adding someone who could help with the team’s defensive rebounding woes. They’d love Andrew Wiggins on their roster, but not because he’s Canadian. They’d want Andrew Wiggins because he’s Andrew flippin’ Wiggins – the NBA’s Next Great Thing.
The Raptors’ instant offence off the bench has thoroughly enjoyed his first year in Toronto and would like to extend his stay. As a free agent at the end of this year, Williams was asked in a Q and A with ESPN about his plans for the future. The response seemed to indicate that he had already requested an extension with the team. Williams though said Tuesday he only meant to say he had discussed it with his agent, not with Raptors management.
ESPN.com: A lot of the shots you shoot are off-balance, fadeaways. What’s up with that? LW: I can’t shoot straight-up. I’ve always played crooked. One of my coaches says I play backwards. I do everything backwards. I don’t have coordination. It’s weird to watch me play. … It’s just something I’ve developed over time, fading away from guys, using my size. I have bigger defenders on me, and it’s just about creating space.
Another thing that was clear during his appearance is that Ujiri has a lot of passion for growing the sport of basketball in Canada, which is great news for the next wave of emerging Canadian talent.
Historically, Jonas Valanciunas has had some growing pains. Typically for his career, he’s tended to have one of the worst net ratings on the team. The offence sputters with him on the court, and the defense in particular falls through the floor. This has been true even for the first part of this year. But over the past 15 games, JV has suddenly become one of the only bright spots in a terrible run of basketball. In that time, Jonas has ranked second out of the regular rotation guys in on-court defensive rating, behind only James Johnson. Meanwhile, he’s posted middle-of-the-pack on-court offensive ratings compared to the rest of the team. He’s also become our only reliable rebounder. With him on the court, the team puts up a 23.7 Offensive Rebounding percentage (ORB%) and a 75.8 Defensive Rebound percentage (DRB%), both average numbers. Without him? 20.3 and 69.3. Very poor.
Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
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|Amir Johnson, PF 33 MIN | 8-14 FG | 0-2 FT | 14 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +1 +/-The last few days have seen some increasing speculation that Amir Johnson could very easily be playing his last games in Toronto as the season moves forward. On the last year of his contract, Amir has a cap hold of $10.5 million for next year, meaning that if Toronto is wanting to be players in free agency they will almost assuredly have to waive his rights. He is aging and is increasingly injured, has been the heart of the Raptors team for so many years now, and yet was easily the best Raptor tonight. He was brilliant tonight, and no argument can be made to the contrary.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 25 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +1 +/-Terrence feels like the little brother of this team. He’s clearly talented, but happily defers to the rest of the group by taking a backseat. Missed some open shots, but also managed to work his way into space well. Rankings are based to a certain extent on the expectations coming in, and Ross’ are generally pretty low.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -19 +/-The Raptors third quarter run happened with Valanciunas on the bench, but that isn’t indicative of what Jonas provided. Jonas rebounded well (let a few slip through his fingers), shot a high percentage, and was once again regularly looked off by his teammates. With that said, Duncan is just too crafty for Valanciunas.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 43 MIN | 10-19 FG | 7-7 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 32 PTS | -3 +/-Tony Parker is good again…and he took it to Kyle Lowry tonight. Parker is incredibly illusive, which caused fits for a Raptors team that makes it a point of over-rotating on defence. Toronto’s scramble defense gave San Antonio the ability to create multiple mismatches on every position. Lowry is a far better defender than he has shown in Casey’s system this year, but it still sucks to see.On the other end though, Lowry played a solid game. Efficient shooting numbers, led the team in assists, and brought an intensity to the court in the second half.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 39 MIN | 8-18 FG | 5-7 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | -7 +/-Played a brutal first half, but was incredible to end the third quarter. Some poor decision making by DeRozan saw the ball in his hands for entire possessions. And yes, DeRozan should be seeing Kawhi Leonard in his nightmares for the foreseeable future.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +5 +/-I’m pleased with Hansbrough tonight. Didn’t play in the first half, but brought the full Hansbrough package in the second half. Great energy, fought for every rebound, and was his usual irritating self. Even as a fan of the Raptors there are times when I want someone to hit him. He just seems to deserve it.|
|James Johnson, PF 5 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -7 +/-Just over three minutes into the second quarter, Lowry passed it to James just outside of the restricted area. Instead of going straight up with the ball, James decided it was better to attempt a 360 degree lay-up. It didn’t work. There is a reason why he only played five minutes in the type of game his defence would normally be sorely needed.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 2-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | 0 +/-Patterson’s offence is still missing, but outside of that he provided what the Raptors needed in the second half. Some solid defense, kept the ball moving, and was the best rebounder in the second half. The Raptors desperately need him to return to his midseason shooting form, but still have to be happy with the rest of his game tonight.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 15 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -10 +/-While Lowry was beaten by Parker, Vasquez was embarrassed by anyone and everyone. He regularly lost his man away from the ball and was consistently blown past by his man. He didn’t facilitate well, didn’t shoot well, didn’t do much well.|
|Louis Williams, SG 23 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -11 +/-There were times when Lou Williams was forced to guard Kawhi Leonard…much like the rest of his game tonight it wasn’t pretty. Lou Will is either incredibly hot or the coldest player in the game. Tonight was all ice…|
Ujiri’s yearend exit meeting with the coaches could just be making Casey watch the first half of tonight’s game. For a coach who is so well thought of due to his defensive system designs, he sure has settle on a system that creates consistent mismatches for the opposition. So much scrambling…so many problems. And yet, he did a strong job with the rotations in the second half.
Five Things We Saw
- San Antonio finished the first quarter with 9 offensive rebounds, and attempted 13 more first quarter shots than Toronto. The numbers don’t do the ugliness justice. The Spurs forced their will on Toronto and dominated early. Many of these offensive rebounds were the result of wings/guards coming in as extra rebounders, while the minority were the result of poor box outs by Jonas and Amir.
- In total, the first quarter saw the Spurs outrebound the Raptors 16 to 6…16 to 6! This has been a recurring issue for several weeks and will need to be resolved before the playoffs kick off in April. Toronto managed to battle back to out rebound San Antonio by 1, while also collecting five more offensive rebounds than the opposition.
- When there are seven minutes remaining in the first half, and Matt and Jack are already resorting to pointing out people in the crowd with connections to Toronto, you know it’s likely going to be a very long night for the Raptors.
- My feed of the game kicked out for the final few minutes of the second quarter. It took me a few minutes to decide whether this was a good thing or not.
- If the Raptors played the entire game as they did the second half they could have escaped with a season sweep of the defending champs. An ugly first half doomed them.
Nearly a year later, it doesn’t appear Ujiri has any regrets. “Trust me, I ain’t taking that back,” Ujiri said Monday night at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s Canadian Basketball Speakers forum. “I hope we play them again. I’ll say it again.”
The Raptors have lost 8 of their last 9 games, and it’s gotten so bad that even the generally even-keeled Tim Chisolm is writing eulogy-like articles about them. While many people’s hopes for the season have died, there are still a whole bunch of games and a playoff series or two to be played. Unfortunately for the spiralling Raptors, tonight they ride into San Antonio to play the ever improving Spurs, winners of five in a row.
While neither the Spurs or their fans have panicked, even when they momentarily dropped below the 8th spot in the West earlier in the season, the Raptors and their fans all seem to be doing some heavy soul searching and many seem to have given up. This is the difference between a franchise that has won one fewer Championships in the last 20 years than the other franchise has playoff appearances (the Spurs have 5 Championships to the Raptors’ 6 playoff appearances).
This season, San Antonio has rarely looked like the team that dominated the playoffs last year. They have had to overcome numerous injuries to key players, have endured two 4 game losing streaks this season (last year, they didn’t lose more than two in a row all season), and have simply not played as well when they have all been healthy. As a result, last year’s Champions are currently sitting at the 7th seed in the tough West.
But there are a few interesting facts. The Spurs are only 7 games behind last year’s pace, when they won 62 games and looked dominant from opening day. And if they were in the East, they would be sitting in the second spot, just ahead of Cleveland. If that doesn’t highlight the disparity between the two conferences, I don’t know what does.
Also, the current 7th and 8th teams in the West, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, had the two best records last year (you think Memphis and Golden State are not looking forward to those playoff matchups?).
The Spurs have a long history of ramping things up for the playoffs, just as the Raptors seem to have a history of falling apart on the way to the playoffs (2010 season, I’m looking at you!).
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
How Will Casey Try and Right the Ship?
Dwane Casey knows his job is on the line and there’s a lot of pressure to try and give the team some momentum going into the playoffs. The team’s defense has been inconsistent at best and even though the offense is still rated among the top 5 in the league, one just has to watch them for a game to realize that there are major problems on that end, as well.
He’s gone back to the starting lineup that started the season, but the results have been mostly the same. Tinkering with the starters isn’t going to give the team the changes on defense and offense they need. Casey needs to try and figure out what is going to work in the playoffs, and start doing that. What that is is anyone’s guess.
Will The Real Kawhi Leonard Please Stand Up!
Kawhi Leonard has the physical tools and the skills to be a dominant player in the league, but he’s the perfect Spur in that he’d rather just be part of the team. After what many consider to be a disappointing season, the Spurs’ recent winning streak has coincided with a more dominant Leonard. In the last 3 games, he’s averaging 22 ppg on 58% shooting, while also rebounding and defending in his usual manner.
Unfortunately, his three point shooting at a career low and it doesn’t appear to be getting better. If the Spurs are going to be successful, they need Leonard to be able to hit that outside shot. The Spurs offense depends on it.
What Happened To The Raptors’ Front Line?
At the beginning of the season, the Raptors’ front line appeared to be a strength. They had the young Valanciunas who spent the summer getting stronger and training with Hakeem Olajuwon, as well as Amir Johnson, the ever dependable lunchpail guy who seemed to make the team play better whenever he was on the floor. And on the bench they had Patrick Patterson, a stretch four that probably could start for several teams, as well as Tyler Hansbrough, the tough and annoying (to the other team) power forward. They also had Chuck Hayes and the newly signed James Johnson, who could slide over to four in a small lineup.
But Amir might be having his worst season as a Raptor and Valanciunas hasn’t made the jump expected of his, and there are now real questions about how good a defender he is. One thing that many haven’t noticed is the decline in Patrick Patterson’s game in the last few months. He seems to have lost his touch from outside, shooting just 30% from three in his last 14 games.
Tim Duncan is going to be turning 39 next month, but he was still an All Star this year and has been the backbone of the team once again. Tony Parker is having his worst season in more than a decade, as he’s struggled with injuries, but he’s starting to look like the old (younger) Tony Parker in the last few games. Quietly, Danny Green is having one of his best seasons, and is really what Terrence Ross should aim to be.
About the only Raptor who hasn’t been struggling of late has been DeMar DeRozan, who is playing like he was at the beginning of the season.
The strong bench of the Spurs is one of the things that allowed them to dominate the regular season last year and go into the playoffs with the starters so well rested. That bench remains mostly intact, but not quite as effective as last year.
Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez are having excellent seasons, but the rest of the bench seems to have gotten worse as the season has worn on.
The Raptors won the last meeting in Toronto, but the Spurs rarely lose in San Antonio and the Raptors have been playing horribly on the road. Include the fact that both teams are going in opposite direction, and you’ve got difficult game ahead for Toronto.
Score: Spurs 98 – Raptors 89
Johnson’s worth, though, is not redeemed with a deeper look at the Raptors’ numbers. That is new: From 2010-13, while the Raptors toiled in sub-mediocrity, Johnson routinely lifted up whomever he played with. One season, he had the best individual plus-minus of any player in the league on a sub-.500 team. This year, the Raptors have allowed points at nearly the same rate with Johnson on and off the floor, and the offence has benefitted with him on the bench. Worrisomely, the Raptors have been outscored with Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas sharing the court. The Raptors’ other main frontcourt options have been more successful. More than anything, the Raptors’ collective woes work against Johnson staying in Toronto. As the Raptors have struggled, it has become clear that the Raptors do not have enough talent on the roster, as is, to create a legitimate contender. If Ujiri hopes to make a significant splash in free agency this off-season, he will likely have to sacrifice Johnson and Lou Williams to create enough space under the luxury tax to change the composition of the team. And it just so happens that in Patrick Patterson and James Johnson, the Raptors have enough options at power forward that are signed through next year that Johnson could become expendable.
This team can be good. The proof is in the record. They’re just not good enough to sustain that kind of drop-off from 40% of the starting five on any given night. We’ll cut Kyle Lowry a little slack here because he’s just back and finding his way after a three-game absence, but he needs to get it going soon, too. Tuesday night against the Spurs will mark the third game of his return. Casey used Sunday’s game as an example of what happens to the team when more than one of its key minutes eaters is not delivering on the same night. “I thought down the stretch last night our bigs weren’t consistent,” Casey said. “We had a rotation that was pretty good in the first half. Second half and the end of the game we would have liked to have Amir in where we could blitz a little more. JV trying to blitz was not good. It’s not who he is or what he does.”
DeMar DeRozan definitely appears to have recovered fully and is playing some good ball right now, averaging 28.5 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting in four March games. The problem with this is he’s only taking 4.3 free-throw attempts per game in that span, a number that’s actually inflated because of the 10 trips to the charity stripe he had last Monday against the 76ers. The Raptors are 11-1 when DeRozan takes 10 or more free throws so there’s a direct correlation between his freebie attempts and team success. The Raptors need anything to get back on track right now, so why not put emphasis on getting DeRozan to the line?
The Raptors still lead the Atlantic Division by a whopping 12 games – more than any other division leader – over Boston and Brooklyn. Winning their division guarantees them no worse than the fourth seed but they could still relinquish home-court advantage if the fifth-place team has a better record. If the playoffs were to begin today, they would host the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards, who are in a similar tailspin. The Wizards have a record of 13-19 since Jan. 1 and they too have lost eight of their past 10 games. All-Star point guard John Wall recently admitted to feeling “beat up”, a familiar concern for those who have watched Kyle Lowry’s game deteriorate in Toronto. Of course, the simplest explanation for the Raptors fall from grace is Lowry’s dip in production, which may or may not be injury-related. Through the seasons first two months, the Raptors’ point guard was putting in MVP-calibre work, masking many of the team’s warts and taking them to another level. Since then he’s been average, at best. He averaged 16.6 points on 37 per cent shooting in January as they began to lose. Those numbers fell to 11.9 on 34 per cent in February before the team decided to give him three games off to rest his aches and pains.
With the recent slide, it appears as though Raptors fans may once again be heartbroken come May. One of the team’s potential first-round opponents is the Indiana Pacers, who have quietly posted a net rating of 8.8 over their last 13 games, going 11-2. If Frank Vogel’s squad can continue the torrid pace, they could shoot up the standings. They could also be getting superstar wing player Paul George back in the lineup before the playoffs begin making them a truly fearsome foe. I seem to remember another Paul ending Toronto’s playoff run a season ago.
“We are an NBA team, it’s important we look for talent everywhere, but it is on our minds to get a Canadian player or Canadian players,” Ujiri said at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, after he had delivered his address. And then Ujiri dropped a mild bombshell. “We are studying it. I even considered last year hiring somebody to concentrate just on Canadian players and I think I’m going to go through with it because the growth of the game here is so big,” he said. “It’s the fit. We can maybe take our time and study it a little bit so it is the right fit and not do it just to do it. It’s going to come, there is no doubt in my mind. It’s an obligation that I think we have to fulfil. We are a Canadian team and I think to have Canadian players, I think will be phenomenal.”
Another thing that was clear during his appearance is that Ujiri has a lot of passion for growing the sport of basketball in Canada, which is great news for the next wave of emerging Canadian talent.
Nearly a year later, it doesn’t appear Ujiri has any regrets. In fact, the confident GM would like another crack at the Nets, who eliminated the Raptors from the playoffs in seven games in 2014. “Trust me, I ain’t taking that back,” Ujiri said Monday night at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s Canadian Basketball Speakers forum. “I hope we play them again. I’ll say it again.” Ujiri’s comment prompted laughter from the audience, according to the Toronto Sun. He chuckled, too, the newspaper reported.
It’s been back-to-back starts for Ross now and his presence in the line-up creates better spacing and movement. But now for the big question: Can he produce on a consistent basis? Ross hasn’t shown the ability to sustain his focus and performance for extended periods. This will be a significant early career test for him. At some point, it’s got to lock in and become habit. The 3 spot has been an issue for the Raptors and the opportunity is there in the present. It won’t be there forever, though. The time is now.
It is a far different crew than the one Toronto beat 87-82 in February at the Air Canada Centre, warned Raptors coach Dwane Casey after a video session and practice Monday afternoon in San Antonio. There’s nothing, really, the Raptors can take from that February clash as a lesson for this time around, Casey said. “Not really, they’re a different team. Different mojo, different energy, different swagger, different intensity than they were at that time. I think they were kind of in a malaise, sort of like we are now,” said Casey. It’s a stroke of bad luck, but there’s no point in dwelling on it, Casey said. “Timing’s everything, and we’re catching them at a time when their mojo is back, their swagger is back, their championship mentality is what we’re trying to do,” Casey said.
the Raptors come to town Tuesday night. Toronto’s struggled mightily (losers of nine out of their last ten) during one of the tougher parts of their schedule, with the team’s only win coming against the Sixers. Both Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan have shot terribly in that stretch, and their role players haven’t stepped up to make up for it. Toronto has enough talent to compete every night, but it still doesn’t seem sure what to make of its parts. Starting center Jonas Valanciunas still doesn’t get regular playing time at the end of games; Terrence Ross has regressed in Year 3, and Derozan is what he is at this point — an effective, but flawed, offensive player. As a team they’re capable of moving the ball well and spacing the floor, but their leading scorers (Lowry and Derozan) average 32% and 22% from deep, and often resort to hero ball. I don’t expect San Antonio to shoot 33% from the field, as they did in their loss in Toronto, and I don’t expect the Raptors to play as terribly as they have. A game in the high 90s – low 100s seems probable, and I think the Spurs hold on for a sixth win in a row.
DeMar DeRozan- When healthy DeMar DeRozan is one of the best wings in the league. He is averaging 18.8 points and 4.2 rebounds this season. He is averaging 28.5 points over his past four games so the Spurs must be aware. Kyle Lowry- Kyle Lowry is in a slump but he’s still one of the better point guards in the league. In the past 7 games Lowry is averaging 13.9 points and 4.9 assists. His season averages are much better, 18.1 points, 6.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Jonas Valunciunas- Jonas Valunciunas has stepped up his game this season. The 22 year-old center is averaging 12 points and 8.6 rebounds. The problem with Valunciunas is his inconsistency as shown in the past week. After going for 26 points and 11 rebounds against Cleveland, he went for 9 points and 6 rebounds against Charlotte.
Finally close to full health and producing points at a high rate, the Spurs go after their sixth consecutive win Tuesday night against a visiting Toronto team that’s having trouble at both ends of the floor. The Spurs (39-23), just 2 1/2 games back of a top-four seed in the Western Conference, shot 48.9 percent and hit 9 of 22 from 3-point range in Sunday’s 116-105 victory over Chicago in the third of a six-game homestand. Since averaging 95.9 points on 43.6 percent shooting over a 2-5 stretch, they’ve scored 111.2 per game and shot 47.9 percent during their longest streak since a season-high eight-game run Nov. 17-Dec. 1.
The Raptors’ last win at the AT&T Center was in 2007.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Press
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The power rankings are out and the Toronto Raptors are sliding down.
Is there any point to the rest of the Raptors season?
There are two ways to look at the Raptors’ heartbreaker in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
It’s a solo pod with Zarar holding back his tears as he recaps the drudgery that is watching Raptors basketball.
Credit Westbrook, though, for keeping his cool in a game his Thunder would go on to win 108-104. It was not a particularly good shooting night for the hottest thing in the NBA these days, but his overall game remained on target and, by night’s end, his fifth triple double in the past six games was enough to get Oklahoma City over the hump and prevent a second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback by the Raptors here. It was here a year ago that the Raptors scored one of their biggest wins of the year, coming back from nine down after three quarters for the upset. This time around, the deficit after three quarters was seven and, while the Thunder didn’t have Kevin Durant in uniform — he played in last year’s game — Westbrook circa 2015 proved to infinitely better than the Westbrook of a year ago. He finished with 30 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds despite some early struggles.
A downcast DeMar DeRozan shook his head when asked how difficult it was to control somesome with as many tools as Westbrook, who did everything from rain down three-pointers, drive to the basket, pull down rebounds, and dish off slick passes. “If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know. It’s definitely tough. You have to give him credit. Their best player out and he’s stepping up. They’re fighting for a playoff spot,” said DeRozan, who again led the Raptors in scoring with 20 points. Hitting a theme he’s touched on more than a few times this season, Raptors coach Dwane Casey bemoaned his team’s lack of intensity at both ends of the court for a full 48 minutes. “That’s the difference. We have to put together two halves,” said a frustrated-sounding Casey. Even with just three quarters, Westbrook managed to blow a hole through the Raptors defence. Midway through the third quarter, Westbrook hit a wide-open three-pointer to give the Thunder a 71-68 lead. He turned to the cheering crowd, thumped his chest in celebration, and let out a roar. His emotions had been building throughout the game, as he yelled at officials, glowered at the Raptors, and occasionally mugged for the crowd.
Bounce Back Game For T-Ross: In his second game back with the starting lineup, Terrence Ross got back to business. Ross scored 20 points against the Thunder, shooting 7-for-12 from the floor and made a season-high six three-pointers, on 6-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Ross also added four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 26 minutes of action. After a brutal stretch to start 2015, a productive Ross in the starting lineup would be a huge boost for the Raptors to close out the season.
Thunder’s MVP candidate, Russell Westbrook, continued putting up historic numbers for his team, registering his fifth triple-double in six games (and seventh of the season). His 30 points led all scorers, his 17 assists tied a career high, and his 11 rebounds, four steals, and one blocked shot were just gravy. Make all the quadruple-double jokes you want about his nine turnovers; he destroyed the Raptors all night long. The Thunder bigs, Serge Ibaka (21 points on 10-for-15 shooting, seven rebounds, five blocks) and Enes Kanter (21 points on 9-for-14 shooting, 12 rebounds, four assists, and a block), gave the Raptors more than they could handle down low as well, as the Thunder scored 52 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle 49-33. Jonas Valanciunas only had one defensive rebound in 30 minutes of action and that’s about all you need to know about his performance. As has been the case more often than not lately, the Raptors will lick their wounds and try to get back in the win column in the next one. They head to Texas to take on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, so it won’t exactly be easy.
Westbrook notched his seventh triple-double of the season, and his fifth in six games. It was just part of it, kind of ho-hum in a way because he didn’t have 50-15-20, which at this point, almost seems like what it will take to grab our attention. But most importantly, the Thunder won, which hasn’t exactly been a given even with Westbrook’s monster games. The issue in those other games hasn’t been the crunchtime decision-making of Westbrook, which is the easy angle. It was more about the Thunder’s lackluster defense, something that was biting them again for most of this one. But behind an impressive tone set by Andre Roberson out of halftime, the Thunder cranked it up on the defensive end, quit turning the ball over, and let the Westbrook show commence and take them to where they needed to be. Of Westbrook’s 17 assists, 13 went to either Kanter or Serge Ibaka. Five of Kanter’s nine baskets were set up by Westbrook, eight of Ibaka’s 10. Westbrook got the supplementary scoring he needed by creating it himself. And it helped they actually made their looks. “Guys are making shots, man,” Westbrook said. “These guys put a lot of work in throughout the summer, throughout the year, and my job is to find a way to get them easy shots and they’re knocking them down.”
Let’s make something clear. The version of the Oklahoma City Thunder pre-February 19th would not have won this. This current post-Reggie Jackson squad did, and for more than a few reasons. The team did it’s usual thing, running it’s offense mainly through it’s superstar, but it was the role players who came up big tonight. Enes Kanter, the newly acquired big man, had a double-double, and when OKC couldn’t get shots to fall, all they needed to do was dump it down to Kanter and let the offense flow through him, whether it be a low-post score or a kick-out pass off a double-team. There was no element of any of that a month ago.
In addition to his triple-double, Westbrook had 9 turnovers. The second quarter was especially ugly, with Westbrook racking up 5 turnovers in the frame. Other than that, Westbrook was spectacular. He knocked down a long midrange jumper, and two free throws in the final minute that would prove to be too much to overcome for Toronto. Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka were on the receiving end of most of Westbrook’s dimes. The starting big men for the Thunder combined for 42 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks.
The Raptors finished the game shooting only 42.9% from the field and only 40% from beyond the arc. There were many moments in the game where Raptors fans across the country let out collective groans at the questionable shot selection, particularly by Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. In addition, when your starting bigs only score 14 points on only 15 shots, your team is one that is easily shut down. The performance of Terrence Ross was a notable bright spot. Ross put up 20 points and hit a season high six threes. If Ross can somehow make this kind of performance a regular thing, it would go a LONG way in breaking the Raptors out of their serious struggles.
Of greater concern, the Raptors seem to have lost their edge in the fourth quarter, a time of the game they dominated in 2013-14. Outscoring opponents by 195 points in the fourth last year, the best mark in the Association, they’ve dropped to 13th in that category this season, besting teams by just 11 points overall. They’ve been outscored by 55 in the final frame since Jan. 1, ranking 27th over that span. On Sunday they flashed some of that rare late-game magic. Trailing by seven after three quarters and by as many as 12 early in the fourth, DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors made a push, cutting the deficit to two with 15 seconds remaining. Appropriately, Westbrook sunk the game-sealing free throws. He had hit the dagger moments earlier. DeRozan was asked how tough it is to slow down Westbrook, a legitimate MVP candidate, after the game. “If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know,” the Raptors’ guard responded. Few have of late. With Durant sidelined, the point guard has taken his game to another level. His critics are still out there. ‘He’s inefficient, he’s not clutch’, some say. He was both of those things and then some against Toronto, recording 30 points, 11 rebounds and 17 assists for his fifth triple-double in the last six games.
Casey often looks past Valančiūnas in favour for a more mobile front court of Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson. When healthy, Amir Johnson is a hyperactive monster on both ends of the court. However he has been riddled with ankle injuries this season, and simply doesn’t have the size to match up with opposing centres. Patterson provides a valuable outside game, shooting 39% from beyond the arc this season. Patterson is great on pick and roll coverages, however he struggles mightily on the boards, never averaging over six rebounds per game. Both Patterson and Amir mesh well with Valančiūnas, however when they are the only bigs on the floor, it can cause problems for the Raptors on the boards, as well as defense. Defense and rebounding have been an issue for Toronto this season, ranking 26th in rebounds per game and a lackluster 22nd in opponents points per game. Valančiūnas has struggled on pick and roll coverage, still learning the nuance of an NBA defense. However he is Toronto’s only real rim protector, especially with Amir Johnson’s injury issues this season. Valančiūnas is leading the team in rebounds per game, while being second to James Johnson in blocks per game, with just over one block per contest. While Johnson and Patterson give Casey the ability to switch coverage and scramble more on defense, the lack of rim protection when Valančiūnas hits the pine has been problematic for the Raptors, who have struggled to stop teams from having their way in the paint.
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The Raptors fought to the end, making noise in Loud City. But you can now book 8 of their last 9 games in the loss column.
As per Raptors media relations,
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) March 8, 2015
Caboclo was sent down to the D-League on Feb 18 since the chances of him getting time with the team was unlikely. Now, though, things may be different and since Dwane Casey prefers to use a “scramble group” consisting of smaller guys. Caboclo could fit in that mould of a player, as he can cover a lot of ground, so this could be indicative of something more than a regular call-up to get some practice time in.
Caboclo did register his fair share of DNPCD’s but did manage to get into four game games (game log) where he played a whopping total of 23 minutes. Clearly, the D-League system isn’t working for the Raptors who need Caboclo playing a lot more if these stints are worth anything. His best game came against the Westchester Knicks where played 10 minutes in a blowout, going 3-5 for 8 points.
In the four games he went a combined 4-23, and his D-League shot-chart looks like a California wildfire – of note is his shooting percentage near the rim.
- Record: 38-24 (3-7)
- Eastern (4)
- Atlantic (1)
- 110.8 ORTG (4)
- 107.1 DRTG (23)
- 93.3 Pace (20)
- 73.3 DRB% (24)
- 0.551 TS% (5)
- DeMar DeRozan 18.7 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7 apg
- James Johnson 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
- Record: 34-28 (7-3)
- Western (8)
- Northwest (2)
- 106.2 ORTG (14)
- 103.5 DRTG (11)
- 95.2 Pace (7)
- 75.4 DRB% (10)
- 0.528 TS% (20)
- Russell Westbrook 27.4 ppg
- Enes Kanter 8.9 rpg
- Russell Westbrook 8.1 apg
- Serge Ibaka 2.4 bpg
- Russell Westbrook 2.1 spg
Russell Westbrook’s Historic Month:
When your name is getting included with the likes of greats like Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan you know you are playing with the big boys. What Westbrook has been doing is other worldly, but closer examination of his numbers showcases the team is better when he doesn’t shoulder too much of the load:
Thunder provide perfect template for Raptors:
As I touched on in my past article the Thunder are the perfect model for the Raptors as they look to grow their core and build into a long term successful competitive franchise. OKC made their playoff foray 2009-10 losing in the first round, returned the next year to lose in the second round to eventual champs Dallas and in their third season made it to the finals. Injuries played a factor the past two seasons, but this being the sixth season since their uprising began it appears ownership and GM Sam Presti have decided to go all in filling all the potential gaps in the roster at the deadline.
Because the Raptors got out of the gate so strong it’s hard to want to remain patient, but with cap space, draft picks and a developing big in Valanciunas plus our core pieces it might be wise to use the Thunder as the model for future success.
Guards: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson
I think the adage out of the frying pan into the fire may have been created precisely for situations like what Kyle Lowry faces today. Let’s hope the cobwebs and rust were cleared in Charlotte following his 3-game sojourn and provided him with the the extra mojo required to face undeniably the hottest player in the Association. As per above, Russell Westbrook has been on a journey of epic proportions and shows no signs of slowing down. For the Raptors sakes they better pray he does attempt over 30 shots since the numbers point to losses for the Thunder when he does. And history is on the Raptors side as Westbrook hasn’t had his best performances against Toronto who he’s had his third lowest scoring average against (17.7ppg). If nothing else this match-up provides ample incentive to clear your Sunday evening so you don’t miss a second of this game.
In Andre Roberson the Thunder have replaced Thabo Sefolosha with a younger version of the defensive specialist. He won’t be lighting up the Raptors from the field, but his 6’7″ stature will cause no end of problems for DeMar DeRozan. For his part one would hope DeRozan has spent some time in the film room regarding his lack of ball distribution of late. Upon his return from injury he appeared to have increased his vision on the court and subsequently was doling out assists at a higher level, but recently his dimes have seemingly disappeared from his repertoire. Part of this can be explained during Lowry’s absence and the insertion of James Johnson as a starter was partially responsible since opposing defenses were slacking off Johnson to apply extra pressure on the Raptor guards. Assuming Casey sticks with keeping Ross in the starting line-up it should allow the Raptors to spread the court again and subsequently allow DeRozan and Lowry with the capacity to move the ball with more freedom.
Thunder Westbrook Who are we kidding, if you can put your name beside Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Pete “the pistol” Maravich it’s a veritable certainty you have arrived at the pantheon of greatness.
As noted during the time James Johnson was a starter the Raptors defense improved, but the offense sputtered. Much of this was due to the lack of floor spacing since opposing defenses chose to utilize Johnson’s man as an extra help defender on the Raptor guards. The result was the guards were shut down in isolation, but their passing lanes were also clogged. With Ross putting forth a middling improvement it did seem to make sense to return him to the starting line because he at least offers the possibility of another 3-point shooter. For many, Ross’ regression this year has been head scratching, specifically in terms of his defensive effort, but the past 3 games he’s posted slight improvements including a career high 7-assists versus Charlotte and he’s averaging 10 points per game in his last 5 games.
Our other third year stud Valanciunas has definitely shown improvements with consistency arguably being the one area we’d all like to see improved. Today however he’ll get to face one of his favorite European opponents in Kanter, so odds are he’ll be amped for the challenge.
As for Johnson, my hopes are he can put together two solid efforts versus the Thunder and Spurs and then Casey will institute a similar rest period for him like he did for Lowry. Of note while doing my rounds checking out the league leaders I was surprised to find Amir Johnson (58.1%) and Jonas Valanciunas (56.4%) are ranked 3rd and 4th for best field goal percent in the Association.
Oklahoma City has fostered their already impressive front court of Ibaka and Steven Adams with the addition of Kanter who is a youthful upgrade from Kendrick Perkins and the emergence of Mitch McGary. And, that doesn’t even factor in last season’s MVP: Kevin Durant who is likely to return to the line-up this week.
Overnight the Thunder went from having what was considered their greatest weakness to arguably the deepest front court in the Association.
Edge: Thunder Though Valanciunas could have a monster game facing Kanter and Amir could have an “on” day with his ankles the Thunder just have too many options in the front court for the Raptors to realistically counter.
Lou Williams is posting some heady numbers and on nights when he plays like he did against Cleveland it’s hard not to earmark him as the second most important player on the team behind Lowry. He boasts a PER of 20.1, a career high TS% (true shooting percent) of 56.5%.
James Johnson didn’t resemble the player we’ve become accustom to this season in the last outing whether that was a factor of adjusting to returning to the bench or if he just had an off game. Since twisting his knee in the Houston game Patterson (who missed the New Orleans game) hasn’t been moving well on the court. Hopefully a day of rest will help his mobility as his presence will be essential tonight if the Raptors want to have any chance of taking down the Goliath that is OKC.
As I highlighted above the trade by Sam Presti was a brilliant move to foster their depth and fill all their holes, however the key in my opinion was the addition of D.J. Augustin. He isn’t James Harden, but in essence he provides the same effect given he offers a different style from Westbrook, uses a different pace and compliments Westbrook perfectly. Looking at how poorly Detroit have performed since the trade it makes me wonder if they underestimated the value of Augustin. Currently I’d rank him as the best back up point guard in the Association and when you put him beside Westbrook it’s a pretty daunting back court to contend with.
McGary was considered a bit of a flyer by many given he had undergone back surgery then early this season he fractured his second metatarsal, and when that healed he missed games due to inflammation in his tibia. When he finally got on the court he showcased a deft touch around the basket with a potential high ceiling and his exuberance off the bench is a bonus.
As per hoopsstats.com Toronto has the fifth ranked bench to Oklahoma City’s eleventh rank, however since the trade OKC has been climbing in all bench stats and is actually performing at a higher mark than the Raptors through the past ten games. You can factor in Kyle Lowry missing time, but the reality is Durant and Adams have been out so suffice to say the Thunder are so deep now that even when they are missing two starters they continue to improve with their upgraded depth.
Slight Edge: Thunder … Caveat: if Lou Williams and James Johnson have a great game they could offset the Thunder’s depth especially if the Raptors bring their A1 defense
- Kevin Durant: continues to rehab his foot, didn’t practice Saturday so will likely return this week some time as per Rotoworld
- Steven Adams: broken bone in hand, practiced Saturday and is likely to return tonight as per ESPN
- Steve Novak: had an appendectomy – out for 2 weeks
- None listed
While everyone is rightfully concerned about the Raptors malaise there are some weaknesses that can be found even in the top teams:
- Atlanta continues to have issues with tall, athletic front courts (case in point Philly Saturday night or Memphis, New Orleans, Raptors or Bucks)
- Though Cleveland have been arguably the hottest Eastern squad (Indy not withstanding) even they have an Achilles heel: looking at the games they played through February until March 6th they went 10-5. Of those games they played 7 teams who were seeded 6th or higher to a 4-3 record. Taking into account the Wizards were getting shredded by everyone I removed them from this equation, so looking at the other 6 games Cleveland was .500 (3-3) however those opponents averaged 104.83 points per game which would rank 27th in opponent scoring!
The odds makers have Oklahoma City favored by 7 points as of posting which makes sense given how well they play at home, Toronto’s current malaise and the depth of their squad. On the other hand Toronto tends to get up for Oklahoma City so it could be a closely contested battle should the Raptors bring a focused defensive effort for a full 48 minutes. The fact which tilts the scale in OKC’s favor is Toronto beat them last year on their home court (an area the Thunder take major pride in), so given how hot Westbrook has been coupled with the projected return of Adams and depth of their squad it’s likely the Thunder will prevail.
Greivis Vasquez is more than just a backup.
“I thought as the game went on he got his rhythm,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He got his feel for the game, he got his conditioning, he got his legs back. It took him a little while but I thought he gave the effort on the defensive end. He was into the ball and then I thought he found his shot late.” Lowry missed three games — against New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland — while recovering from a variety of unspecified minor ailments. The Raptors lost to the league-worst Knicks, then beat the Sixers to snap a five-game losing streak, before going down to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As a team the Raptors shot a woeful 40.7% from the field and made just seven of its 22 three-point attempts. Even those numbers were skewed by a trio of late threes by Lowry, who at least left the game having seen his shot go down with some consistency, if only over the final few minutes. Casey admitted the starting five overhaul probably had a negative impact on his bench as well as the growing pains that were evident within the starting group Friday night. “We have everybody back healthy now so we have to get that rhythm back, get our rotations down and stay together,” Casey said. “The guys were dejected after the game. They were down but if we fight and scrap and play in the desperate mode the way we ended the game for the entire game we won’t feel like that.”
Only Philadelphia ranks lower than the Hornets in offensive efficiency this season, yet the Raptors allowed them to score over 100 points on 47 per cent shooting, becoming the fifth straight opponent to break the century mark and third in a row to eclipse 25 assists. Defensively, communication has been an ongoing challenge for a team that lacks vocal leaders on the floor and often leads to fractured possessions when the opposition moves the ball or forces a switch on the pick and roll. DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson are the most experienced in Casey’s system, both soft spoken players who lead by example more than anything else. At 22-years-old and in his third NBA season, Jonas Valanciunas is still getting comfortable in his role as the anchor of their defence. Much of that responsibility of directing the defence falls on Lowry. “Talking can alert you to a lot of different things and we’ve got quiet guys naturally,” Casey said. “That’s something the other night against Cleveland when [Terrence Ross] got pinned in, they kind of snuck in and got him from the backside and set a back screen. On the film, you see the coaches jumping up and down, yelling, screaming. But the players on the court should be able to anticipate that, see that and a lot of that comes from experience, anticipation, having confidence in what you’re saying. It helps a lot and that’s one area defensively that would help us tremendously is talking, communicating and alerting your teammates.”
The game was decided by two big runs. After keeping the lead manageable for most of the first half, Charlotte was allowed to suddenly break the game open to double digits to end 2nd Q up 53-44. The Raptors had a 4-minute spell during which they only scored two points. Then, after clawing back in the third frame, the Raps once again let the game get away from them in the middle stages of the fourth quarter. After scoring three points in a horrible seven minute spell, during which Charlotte took a 97-78 lead, the game was just about done. Lowry hit four 3s in garbage time to make the scoreline look more respectable than it really was.
“Me and DeMar, and JV, we’ve got to set the tempo, try to press it inside early and get that going. Our second unit, we’re a jump shooting team. That’s what we are to be honest, but we’ve got to find a way to get ourselves in the paint a little bit better, attack more and not have DeMar being the only guy shooting free throws.” – Lowry on not settling for jumpers “We play defence in spurts. We look good in spurts. We get stagnant a bit, give them a rhythm, a little run and we’re fighting back. We’re so up and down with that. We’ve got to be consistent with that throughout the whole game, and depend on our defence. Don’t worry about our offensive side. As long as we play defence on a consistent basis for 48 minutes we’ll be in every single game.” – DeRozan on the Raptors needing to focus its attention on defence
The Toronto Raptors never looked to be in control of the game, even when it was close, and eventually the Hornets managed to slowly pull away from them in the fourth quarter. The Hornets did this with some very impressive ball movement, and getting players into the spots where they can succeed most. Their method of attack was an inside out strategy that they used a lot last season. Someone would dump the ball in to Al Jefferson down low, and he would either work on his man in the post, or immediately fire it to a player moving on the wing, who would then get the chance to shoot, or pass it off to another option in the corner. If all else fails then they dump it back down to Big Al, or kick it out to Mo Williams, and let them create their own shot. This was effective all game and kept their offense at an efficient pace throughout the night. It was especially effective for Jefferson, who happens to be playing some great basketball since the All-Star break, and tonight was no exception. Even though it took him 21 shots, Big Al finished the game with 23 points, and also manged to pull down 13 rebounds, while dishing out six assists.
Holding a 77-71 at the start of the fourth quarter, Charlotte unleashed a 20-7 run on the Raptors to grab hold of a 97-78 lead with 2:41 remaining in the game to put things out of reach for Toronto. During this stretch, the Raptors would go nearly five minutes without scoring as they were unable to keep pace with the red-hot Hornets. In the end, Toronto did tack on some garbage-time points but it was too little, too late as the Raptors lost to Charlotte for the sixth-straight time.
The game got chippy in the third quarter, leading to official Joey Crawford calling a pair of double-technical fouls. The first two were called on Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas. The second two were called on Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson and Toronto’s Terrence Ross.
2h ago NBA TORONTO RAPTORS CHARLOTTE HORNETS Raptors fall to Hornets in heated affair The Canadian Press Comments (3) NBA: Raptors 94, Hornets 103 CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Mo Williams is playing so well that Hornets coach Steve Clifford has no plans to sit the 12-year NBA veteran even when Kemba Walker returns from a knee injury next week. Clifford said he plans to play Walker and Williams together because “they’re two of our best three scorers.” Williams proved that again Friday night. Williams made four 3-pointers and scored 23 points, Al Jefferson had 23 points and 13 rebounds, and the Hornets beat the Toronto Raptors 103-94 in a game featuring six technical fouls handed out by longtime referee Joey Crawford. Jefferson was 11 of 21 from the field en route to his team-leading 19th double-double of the season. Williams had 15 points in the second half as the Hornets won their fourth straight game. It was a big win for Charlotte, which entered the night in the eighth and final pla
Given the team’s top position in the Atlantic Division and this year being the first since 2001 that the Raptors experienced a season-ticket sellout, Hopkinson said, ticket prices could have been raised even more. But he said, “This is not a time where you go and get greedy.” “What we don’t want to do is choke this … We are having a nice little run right now and I think we are on pace for a record for wins, but we haven’t won anything yet,” he told the Star. “We have to be very, very cautious that we are not pricing fans out of the building or we will wreck this thing.” He also pointed out that the announced increase isn’t much of an increase at all because six years ago, prices were rolled back about 16 per cent due to the Raptor’s poor performance after losing shooting guard Vince Carter. Since then prices have been eking up slowly to the point where they are now on par with the rates before the drop.
Photo by Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
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After yet another loss, Dwane Casey faced the media with the enthusiasm of a man being asked to take the trash out on a cold, windy, -40 degree night. Not just any old trash, but trash that you forgot to take out last week and is now piled up, which means you’ll be having to get real creative to get all that cardboard in there.
To start things off, he was asked about the horrible defense his team plays and to point out what part of his horrible defense is more horrible than the rest.
The main thing is one-on-one defense, keeping the ball in front of you, containing the ball, not getting broken down which causes chain reactions, and that’s where it starts. We got to get stops, we got to contain [the ball], keep it front of us, and then challenge it. It’s simple basketball.
A brave soul then went on to mention that his team had gotten slaughtered like a lamb 56-32 on the boards, which Casey confirmed. He even went so far as to point out that he specifically had asked his soldiers to be cognizant of the glass threat:
They pounded us on the boards, long rebounds, short rebounds, getting pushed around in the paint. Getting second attempts at it. One of the things going in was to get a body on someone, anybody.
[Rebounding ] has been a huge concern.
Good to know that getting outrebounded by 24 boards is a product of a specific plan of not getting outrebounded. I’m thinking that pre-game he should’ve asked his guys not to worry about rebounding at all, since that can’t have been any worse than what we witnessed.
He was asked about James Johnson and Terrence Ross again, and Casey backed Ross’s three-point shooting and importance once again:
We got to get Terrence going again. He’s our three-point threat, he opens up the floor for Kyle and DeMar. Gives us spacing. Again, it’s nothing that James [Johnson] has done wrong, James has played well, but from a spacing standpoint on the offensive end, we need [Terrence Ross] in the lineup.
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for. The Jonas Valanciunas issue. How our big man and best rebounder plays 23 minutes (benched for the full fourth) in a game where we got killed on the glass by 24 is a mystery we need the CSI crew to get on stat. At least this time Casey acknowledged that he was flat-out wrong:
We were in scramble mode. I probably should’ve got him back in, but I thought the scramble group of Amir, Patterson, and James Johnson was going to give us a little more speed and quickness but it totalled us on the boards.
When the Hornets got Jefferson in to matchup with Patterson, perhaps something should’ve clicked in Casey’s mind, but nada. Honestly, I think some fans might have a better sense of what’s going on in the game than Casey does. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but there’s ample evidence to suggest that Casey’s reads of the game are more often wrong than right.
Sick of this.
|Amir Johnson, PF 26 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +8 +/-Amir Johnson took a beating from Al Jefferson. Big Al did his best to regularly establish position and to aggressively back down Amir on a regular basis. Amir hardly yielded any ground and held his own until a held defender was able to come. Constant battling on the boards, the regular moment of injury concern (looked to hurt his arm late in first on a jumpball against Jefferson), and overall good help defense…the standard Amir game we have come to know and love.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 32 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +3 +/-Ross shows streaks of usefulness, and then he does something like airball a wide open three pointer with two minutes remaining in the first half. I never know what to make of Ross, and regularly buy and sell my T-Ross stock. Currently I’m selling…but I don’t think anyone outside of Ujiri is buying it at the moment.But that breakaway dunk midway through the third quarter…followed by a perfect three from the top…and six assists on the game…anyone have stock they want to sell for cheap?|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 2-3 FG | 5-5 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +6 +/-It makes me sick the number of times that Valanciunas gets looked off when he has established position in the post. What makes it worse is that he is so often only utilized when he moves further out on the baseline where the pass is easier to make. This allows Jonas to do his patented, and ineffective, “quick” drive towards the lane. Jonas hit his only field goal attempt of the first quarter, and all five of his free throw attempts. Love a big man who can get those free points.Loved that Jonas didn’t back down when Kidd-Gilchrist started talking trash early in the second half, leading to both getting charged with a technical.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 9-22 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | -11 +/-Lowry showed noticeable rust early after a three game layoff and made a few sloppy turnovers, but it was nice to have him back. 22 points on 20 shots isn’t going to cut it. At least he bodychecked Lance…|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 39 MIN | 14-26 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 30 PTS | -4 +/-Great shooting from DeMar. After hitting just three of his nine first quarter shots, DeRozan found his rhythm in the second half and dominated the game offensively, while also chipping in a five assists. You can argue with his shot selection, but when he is cooking offensively it is something to behold.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 5 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -2 +/-Hansbrough has an ugly but helpful game. He is a plus defender, tries to attack the boards after every shot, is willing to scrap and fight with any opponent, and is the type of player you love to play with and hate to play against. If Hansbrough ever writes an autobiography it simply has to be titled “Ugly, but Relatively Effective: The Hansbrough Story”.|
|James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -17 +/-Does James Johnson have the best Euro-step in the NBA today, or the best Euro-step in the history of the game? I almost giggle every time that James drives the lane. So much fun to watch him move.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -11 +/-Does anyone know why Patrick Patterson missed the game? Wait, what…he led the bench with 27 minutes played? Overall, Patterson played decent defense, hauled in 5 rebounds, and managed 2 assists, but missed all three of his shots on the night. With so few shooters on the team, and Lou Williams clearly struggling, the Raptors could have used a more assertive Pat Pat tonight.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/-Played just three minutes, and had zeros everywhere outside of his 1 assist…and yet, he remains Charles Hayes.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -7 +/-Vasquez seemed to struggle with his return to the bench. His shot wasn’t falling, he wasn’t moving the ball well, and his defense was…it was his usual defense. When Greivis and Lou both struggle on the same night, the Raptors bench play is virtually nonexistent.|
|Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 1-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -6 +/-That wasn’t pretty. Wiliams missed his first six shots before finally hitting a runner early in the fourth quarter. It would be his only made shot on the night. 4 points on 9 shots tonight, compared to 26 points on 8 shots versus the Cavs.|
Casey called a timeout with roughly three minutes remaining in the first half. The result? A spinning, fading, isolating shot by DeMar DeRozan. It’s moments like these that drive me crazy about Casey. He should be able to draw up something more creative during a timeout. After all, that is the point of a timeout!!!! Did Casey forget his clipboard in the lockeroom?
Five Things We Saw
- After a few months of experimenting with the starting lineup both due to Casey’s preference (Vasquez in for Ross, James Johnson in for Vasquez, Patterson in for Amir, etc.) and due to injury, the Raptors returned to their opening night starters by starting Terrence Ross as the team’s small forward. Although Ross has been struggling this season, this is the starting lineup that carried Toronto last year and early in this season. With just 20 games remaining, this is likely the starting lineup the Raptors will have moving forward.
- I know he gets a lot of criticism due to his ugly, but improving, jump shot, but I would have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on my team any day of the week. He does so many little things that help his team, and shows what appears to be a very high basketball IQ.
- After returning from commercial break during the second quarter, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was being played through the arena. I assume that this was intended as a clever insult towards Canada, and not as an attempt to energize the crowd. Well played Charlotte…well played.
- I’m worried that I hallucinated this, but Toronto ran an actual play to end the first half. Lowry drove the lane due to a screen set by Sir Charles Hayes. When Jefferson stepped up to defend the penetration, Amir was able to create an open passing lane for Lowry by driving baseline. But serious…other people saw it right? It wasn’t just me…right?
- Joey Crawford loves him some technical fouls!!!
After a short hiatus due to travel, the guys are back once again. On this weeks episode of Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry fall right back into their groove. They chat about the struggling Raps and about some interesting things going on in the league.
Kyle Lowry is all rested up and ready to return.
We can now see the finish line.
With just 21 games to go, we’re entering the last quarter of a long 82 game season, and it’s time to start looking ahead to the playoffs and beyond.
With Chicago beating Oklahoma City, last night, giving them sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors now sit in a virtual tie for third with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s come down to a three team race for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seed between Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago. Barring a complete collapse, Atlanta is too far ahead to be caught, and Washington is struggling too much and have too tough a schedule the rest of the way to try and grab home court advantage.
At this point, it appears Cleveland is the favourite for the second seed. They do have a tougher schedule than either the Raptors or Bulls, but they also have the best record in the league, since January 15th, and appear to have finally gelled. Plus, they have that LeBron guy, and as Raptor fans saw in the game on Wednesday night, he’s not a bad card to have in your hand.
So that means it’s down to Toronto and Chicago.
Toronto has 21 games left, including 9 at home and 13 games against sub-.500 teams. Chicago also has 21 games left and 9 at home, but have one less game against sub-.500 teams. Toronto has games against New York, the Lakers and Minnesota twice, while Chicago has games against New York and Philadelphia twice (all sub-.300 teams). Their roads ahead are very similar and it may come down to the last game to see who gets the 3rd seed and who gets the 4th.
Which spot they end up getting may not seem all that important, but there’s a shadow looming that may cause big problems come playoff time.
The Indiana Pacers.
Right now, the Pacers are half a game out of the 8th seed (and just one game out of the 7th seed) and for most of the season have looked nothing like the team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons. Well, that is until recently. They’re 9 and 2 in their last 11 games and have beaten Golden State and Cleveland twice during that streak. While they lost Lance Stephenson to Charlotte, most of the roster that helped the team win 56 games last year is still intact. Plus, Paul George, who endured a devastating injury over the summer with Team USA, is close to returning.
Indiana is probably not the contender they used to be, but they are the team that nobody wants to play in the first round. They’re the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Eastern Conference.
The question is what seed will they end up with and who will they face?
While the Wizards are 6-14 in their last 20, they’re still 7 and a half games ahead of the Pacers and it’s highly unlikely the Pacers will be able to close the gap in just 22 games.
The Pacers have a tough schedule ahead of them, with 12 games at home, but only 10 against sub-.500 teams. If they continue to play as well as they have, it’s conceivable that the Pacers go 12-10 over their final 22 games. This would not put them in reach of the Wizards, but the Bucks have a very tough schedule ahead of them and are just 2-6 since trading away their most productive player, Brandon Knight.
If the Pacers jump up to the 6th seed, then that would mean whoever grabs the 3rd seed (Toronto or Chicago) will have to face them in the first round.
It’s true the Raptors have beaten the Pacers in both games they’ve played them this year, but a healthy Pacers is not a team anyone will want to play over a seven game series in the playoffs.
The best scenario for the Raptors is for the Pacers to finish with the 7th seed, and face Cleveland in the first round, although it’s probably not something LeBron would be excited about. The Raptors are 3-0 against Washington and 2-1 against the Bucks, and neither of them are finishing the season strong.
For the Raptors, getting the 4th seed might actually be the best scenario. It would pretty much guarantee they don’t face the Pacers in the first round, and it would allow them to avoid Cleveland in the second round. The Hawks may have the best record in the league, right now, but I don’t think anyone would argue they’re a more dangerous playoff team than the Cavs. The chance of the Raptors beating either team over a seven game series is slim, but given a choice the Hawks are probably the preferred opponent.
PAST THE FINISH LINE
While the Raptors are on pace to break the franchise record for wins, even with them sputtering at the end, and have a good chance to make the second round of the playoffs, there looms the question of what would constitute a successful season for the Raptors? And, more importantly for Dwane Casey, what would allow him to keep his job?
With their schedule, it’s probable the Raptors will win somewhere between 10 and 14 games over their final 21. That would give them between 48 and 52 wins to end the season. Considering where they were just two months ago, anything below 50 wins would have to be a disappointment. It’s the playoffs, though, that will probably decide Casey as well as the rest of the roster’s fate.
A lacklustre showing in the second round (or a first round exit), could mean some changes are coming. Although Masai Ujiri is taking the long, slow approach for this team, it’s apparent, over the last couple of months, that there are some serious issues with this roster. A coaching change may be all that is needed, but don’t be surprised to see some roster changes, as well. Especially since this team’s ceiling is looking more and more like Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks.
Amir Johnson, Lou Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes and Landry Fields are all unrestricted free agents this summer, and it’s conceivable none of them will return, especially if Ujiri decides changes need to be made.
It could be far more tempting for Ujiri to use the cap room to go after the star player the team needs to try and get over the hump than re-sign Amir and Lou, eating up their cap space, and return with relatively the same team next season. This summer has a number of tempting free agents available, like LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap and Draymond Green, all of whom would be great fits on the Raptors.
Of course, these are all questions that will have to wait until the season’s over the answer. Just keep them in the back of your mind, for now.
While JaVale McGee was not able to reach an agreement with the Celtics, can we stop suggesting the Raptors should go after him, please? Unless you’re trying to tank (and I’m going to guess they don’t want to), adding an inconsistent and low I.Q. player to a team that struggles with consistency and making good decisions, is probably not something you want to do. Plus, his defense actually isn’t all that good, despite his shotblocking.
JaVale McGee is like the defensive version of Andrea Bargnani. Yes, they’ve both got many of the tools to be very good players on defense or offence, respectively, but having the tools and knowing how to use them are two very different things. Plus, while both players are not nearly as good on their “speciality” end of the court as they should be, they can be downright hideous on the other end of the court.
On a side note, something about teaming up McGee with Bargnani seems like too perfect an idea. On paper, pairing these two would seem like a match made in heaven – Bargnani is offense, McGee is defense – but the fact that their strengths are vastly overrated and their penchant for comically bad plays would be a team killer. And it’s exactly this reason that McGee MUST sign with the Knicks. They’re desperately trying to lose, but would still love to get fans out to watch, and if you’re going to be bad, why not be a trainwreck?
- Record: 38-23 (4-6)
- Eastern (3)
- Atlantic (1)
- 111 ORTG (3)
- 107.1 DRTG (24)
- 93.3 Pace (19)
- 73.3 DRB% (24)
- 0.552 TS% (6)
- DeMar DeRozan 18.4 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7 apg
- James Johnson 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
- Record: 26-33 (4-6)
- Eastern (8)
- Southeast (4)
- 100.9 ORTG (29)
- 102.8 DRTG (8)
- 93 Pace (22)
- 79.6 DRB% (1)
- 0.501 TS% (29)
- Mo Williams 21.6 ppg
- Al Jefferson 8.8 rpg
- Mo Williams 8.9 apg
- Al Jefferson 1.3 bpg
- Kemba Walker 1.4 spg
After a much-needed win against the Philadelphia 76ers and a much more impressive showing in a loss to the Cavs, the Raptors head to Charlotte to face the Hornets in desperate need of a win to keep pace in the race for the number 2 seed.
A Charlotte game for Raptors fans typically means two things: first, it’s going to be an oddly paced game. The Hornets play one of the least visually appealing styles in the league, largely due to personnel – with Kemba Walker sidelined, the Hornets are reliant on Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, and a bunch of non-scorers – and playing style. Charlotte is impeccably coached by Steve Clifford, who preaches stifling defence, often at the expense of offensive style. That’s seen in their league rankings above – the Hornets rank 8th defensively, but next to last in O-rating.
The second thing Raptor fans know to expect from Hornet games is that they’re likely to be closer than you’d expect, and potentially heartbreaking. Charlotte has, oddly, owned this matchup for the last couple years, complete with Kemba Walker backbreaking overtime shots and everything else you’d expect from a subpar team beating a superior one game after game. The Hornets won the first matchup this year 103-95, and these teams still play twice more after this – meaning this is a big game for the Raptors. That friendly schedule down the stretch doesn’t mean much if you can’t beat the teams in front of you, and a win for the Raptors here would solidify some confidence in the squad moving towards crunch time (and, god forbid, a playoff matchup).
Kemba Walker, of course, will not be suiting up for tonight’s game. It’s unlikely Kyle Lowry will either, though as of writing this that hasn’t been confirmed. In their place will be Greivis Vasquez and the surprising Williams, who has been rejuvenated since arriving from the Timberwolves. In defiance of Charlotte’s playing style, I expect the matchup at the point to be an all-offence/no-defence type of affair, and it’s quite possible both 1s could lead their team in scoring at the end of the game.
Likely, though, this game will all come down to execution on the part of the Raptors, who are a far more talented team. Charlotte has some excellent individual defenders, so ball movement, rather than the Raptors usual iso-heavy style, will be a key in getting – and keeping – a lead. I’ll take the Raptors by 3, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte snuck this one out. In either case, I have a feeling it’ll be an ugly one.
During a loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday evening, Raptors coach Dwane Casey did that. Casey has been hesitant to use Valanciunas in fourth quarters, and with some good reason: Valanciunas has the worst net rating of any rotation player on the Raptors. (Interestingly, his presence hurts the team’s offence more than its defence.) The Toronto defence calls for strong hedging on pick-and-rolls and lots of scrambling to chase three-point shooters off of their mark, and Valanciunas’s lack of speed works against that strategy. That was exposed at times against the Cavaliers, with James Jones and J.R. Smith taking wide-open threes in Valanciunas’s final five-minute stint. The Raptors certainly had defensive shortcomings during that span, ones the presence of the fleeter Patrick Patterson or Amir Johnson might have helped address.
Casey isn’t condoning a style of physical play that results in players getting hurt, but he’s seen over the years how the game has changed, a perimeter-dominated game featuring more small ball than physical basketball. Jonas Valanciunas committed a hard foul on James late in the third quarter on Wednesday, the kind of foul playoff basketball would feature. After the officials reviewed the play, it was ruled a flagrant one. “Not just LeBron but anyone who drives the lane you want them to feel you,’’ said Casey. “That’s an old NBA adage and we’re not doing it enough. You don’t want to hurt anyone. “You don’t want free layups. I’m not promoting you hurt anyone.” After watching the Valanciunas sequence, Casey came to one conclusion. “It was a good, hard clean foul.” Good on Valanciunas for denying James a dunk.
“He played huge,” Casey said. “This was one game that he came in and I thought he dominated. They were blitzing Lou (Williams) and DeMar (DeRozan), and Greivis (Vasquez) did a great job of finding him on the roll.” Dominated indeed, this night you could see the maturing of Valanciunas right before your eyes. With 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter, James is driving to the hoop and all of a sudden Valanciunas drops “King James” to the floor with a hard foul.
Having lost six of their last seven games, there is immediate pressure on Lowry to return. But there’s also the need to have him healthy down the road, for the stretch drive and what the Raptors hope will be a long playoff run. “When you have your floor leader, your star . . . that’s what you want (available). They make those plays (that lead to wins),” Casey said with a bit of longing in his voice. The Raptors, though, need Lowry to be healthy enough to play his game. “There are things I want to get healthier,” Lowry said Thursday. “I want to get back to a higher level.” Lowry said he was proud of his teammates’ effort in Wednesday night’s 120-112 loss to the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Air Canada Centre. The point guard was at his animated best on the bench as play got rough in the late going. Among the most physical Raptors was big man Valanciunas, who was a powerhouse with 26 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes — and hauled James to the floor, drawing a much-talked-about flagrant foul.
Aside from the fact that it was unbelievably naieve to think that one win over a team that began the current campaign 1-17 was enough to do anything more than temporarily change the mood in Toronto’s locker room, the issues presently plaguing this team simply can’t be solved overnight. At the front of the line, having Lowry serve as both the Raptors’ starting point guard as well as their main offensive weapon has provided endless opportunities for the entire team to suffer whenever he’s not playing well, and leaves Toronto offensively-rudderless the minute he gets hurt. Before Lowry guided the Raptors through their recent rise to relevance, just the potential of losing DeRozan was enough to send panic through the streets of the CN Tower city. But now, Lowry is this team’s unquestioned leader, and it’s the potential of his long-term absence that keeps Raptor-fans awake at night. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to further develop his offensive game by feeding-off of Lowry’s ability to draw double teams, DeRozan has often used the point guard’s presence as a reason to step out of the spotlight despite leading the team with a career-best 18.4 points per game.
While that nastiness was a joy to see, the more notable development for Valanciunas has been his refinement as an offensive player. He was relied upon to keep the Raptors in the game during Saturday’s debacle in New York, draining 14 points on 71.4% shooting in the second half. He still struggles when teams bring the double-team at him, but he has made marked strides in his game this season – to the point where it seems Dwane Casey is finally ready to trust him late in close contests.
But a granular look at Toronto’s offense shows that success is simply not sustainable, especially in the playoffs. First and foremost, the Raptors lack any real continuity on offense, as they 22nd in the league in assists per game (20.6) 25th in passes per game (281.3) and 20th in points created by assists per game, meaning that they rely too heavily on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan creating something off the dribble. Their lack of ball movement is not because of poor point guard play—Lowry averages seven assists per game—but because of head coach Dwane Casey’s apparent lack of offensive imagination. Which is obvious when the Raptors are forced to set up shop in the half court, where they seem confused and lackadaisical. Toronto holds the ball for 20.1 seconds per possession (3rd-longest in the NBA), which is an outcome of most of their players staring at Lowry dribbling for brunt of the possession, and then hoping something good happens at the end.
Ross has been the real dud, regressing significantly from his sophomore campaign. Compared to Vasquez, he has the far higher sealing. Ross has freakish athleticism, a penchant for massive dunks and a smooth shooting stroke. However, he can’t seem to put his skills together. Instead, he looks lost offensively and defensively. His 3-point shot has fallen off the radar, with Ross only making 37% of his attempts. He lost his spot as a starter this season and he is quickly losing favour in Toronto. The team still wants to turn him into something, but it is unclear what.
Much to the dismay of Carter, who pushed for Julius Erving to get the gig, the inexperienced Babcock was hired on to be the team’s third GM in June of 2004. A couple weeks later, he was tasked with making a crucial, possibly franchise-altering draft selection. So let’s face it, the setup here was not great. With Carter on the wing and sophomore Chris Bosh entrenched as the team’s starting four, Babcock looked to fill a need by adding a big body, the 6-foot-11, 280-pound Araujo. “He’s not a project,” Bobcock had said after going off the board to select the BYU product. At 24 years old and with a “hockey mentality” (again, Babcock’s words), he was touted as a player that could step in and contribute immediately, helping to turn around a talented roster in a tailspin. Less than three years later, Araujo’s brief and uneventful NBA career was over. He appeared in 139 games, starting more than half of them, without making an impact. Despite his size, he blocked just 16 shots and shot 41 per cent from the field.
In this thread we will discuss some of the problems the Toronto Raptors are facing and how we, as RealGM forum posters, can help the team improve. Dwane Casey consistently does not play Jonas Valanciunas in 4th quarters, even when Valanciunas gets really good stats on the points and rebounds. He instead puts in players who average less points and rebounds, so statistically the team is scoring less points and grabbing less rebounds in the 4th quarter – a critical mistake. Any real coach would consistently play Valanciunas at least 38 minutes per game, including 10 or more minutes each 4th quarter. In addition, late-game play calling has always been an issue. Casey consistently runs plays for Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Lou Williams to take shots. However, when you look at the shooting percentage of these players, they only shoot around 40% while players like James Johnson, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas are shooting around 60%. Clearly, he should be running iso post plays for those players. He does not understand that these plays will have a success rate of 60%, while letting those guards shoot will only have a success rate of 40%. Clearly it is wrong for him to run these lower-percentage plays. Although James Johnson is starting, Dwane Casey still has trouble playing him in the 4th, just like Jonas Valanciunas. Last night against the Cavaliers, LeBron James scored 15 points in the final 6 minutes, all with James Johnson on the bench. We, as RealGM forum posters, know that if James Johnson had been in the game at the time, he would have held LeBron James at most 5 points in the last 6 minutes, guaranteed. Playing James Johnson would have resulted in an automatic win for the Raptors.
The problem is that Toronto doesn’t have much experience at utilizing their edge in the paint. The Raptors live and die by the jump shot and this must change come playoff time. John Henson is lanky with good block timing but he doesn’t have the size or strength to match up with Jonas Valanciunas. His aggressive performance against the Cavaliers was a positive step but consistency is the key when it comes to Jonas. Valanciunas must be able to post up while maintaining control of the ball as Milwaukee’s guards will swipe at him every chance they get. Opponents know that Jonas wants to use his signature left to right hook and he must find some counter moves that he is comfortable with to keep the defence honest. The key to this series will be on the glass and boxing out will be essential as the Bucks rebound at every position. Milwaukee is probably the most favourable match up the Raptors could see but it will not be as easy some fans expect.
They might be the relatively easy mark on this three-game road trip, but the Hornets seem to have the Raptors’ number, winning the last five meetings. The Raptors haven’t won in Charlotte since March 29, 2010.
The Hornets hope Gerald Henderson will be in line for another big performance against Toronto this Friday night when the Raptors come to town as he’ll likely square off against DeMar DeRozan, who missed the first game this season against Charlotte because of a groin injury… Gerald Henderson dropped a season-high 31 points in Toronto on Jan. 8 and has been really heating up lately in large part due to the Hornets recent acquisition of Mo Williams, who has done an exceptional job in Charlotte’s offense of helping to space the floor and facilitating for players like Henderson… Henderson is averaging 17.5 points over his last four games and has also hit two three-pointers in three of those four games despite averaging only 0.5 made three-pointers a game overall on the season… Averaging 18.4 points on the season, Toronto’s leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, helped the Raptors snap a season-high five-game losing streak with a 35-point outing against Philadelphia on Mar. 2 after averaging only 13.8 points during the skid… DeRozan’s shooting has been an issue this year in Toronto as he is connecting on a career-low 39.4% from the field, including 23.2% from three-point range… With All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry sidelined with a finger injury, the Raptors have had to shuffle their lineup around a bit recently so don’t be surprised if DeRozan ends up starting at small forward against defensive specialist Michael Kidd-Gilchrist which would leave Henderson with a favorable matchup against backup Greivis Vásquez… Regardless of where he plays, DeRozan is still a dangerous scorer who will be relied on heavily for a Raptors teams seeking revenge against Henderson and the Hornets on Friday night in Charlotte.
The Hornets’ Jan. 8 victory at Toronto was as impressive as any this season. Henderson had 31 points in that game.
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With about 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter during last night’s Raptors – Cavs matchup, LeBron James drove to the basket in what was supposed to be a routine two-points. Little did he know…
.. That Jonas Valanciunas was about to throw him to the ground. Although Valanciunas earned a flagrant 1 while enraging LeBron James, the decision was conducive to what the Raptors are trying to establish this season.
Forget LeBron’s ensuing two missed free-throws and the message that was sent with that foul – it’s the bigger picture that matters. This team has lost its swagger and last night was the first time they’ve showed some ‘cojones’ since that game in Atlanta. And before that, ‘swag’ was few and far between.
I know what you’re thinking – why in the bloody hell am I writing an article about swag? Because in the NBA, you need it. You need to make it clear to opposing players that they need to think twice about coming into the lane. You need to make it clear that it’s not ok to come into your house, and start dancing on your court.
If I were Dwane Casey, I would replay that GIF over and over again everytime the Raptors are about to play against LeBron James. Ditto for anytime an opposing player taunts the team. How many years did Raptor fans suffer, having to hear their team being labeled as ‘soft’? Don’t let me take you down that dark tunnel now.
Finally, those days are long gone. Getting rid of the ‘soft’ label may almost be as important as establishing a winning culture in Toronto.
This is not just an opinion from the outside looking in. Discussions about being soft and lack of swag come from within the locker room itself.
“I think this game can really set us up to get our swag, our confidence back. We lost but shared the ball, the scoring was spread out, we had guys play extremely well and we took the lead, the crowd got into it and that’s playoff basketball right there. For us it’s a great learning process. We’re playing for something down the road.”
– Greivis Vasquez, post-game
Furthurmore, Valanciunas shared his sentiments on the Raptors’ lack of swag – albeit in different wording – after the blowout loss to Golden State:
“We were kind of soft, too soft… We’ve got to man up and show that we can [hit first].”
So why is swag important? Simple – it has direct correlation with confidence. If the Raptors don’t have one, they don’t have the other. And that’s been apparent in these past few games apart from last night. Ironically, the one game the Raptors show their teeth and start fighting they lose. I wouldn’t worry about that much. The importance in the win / loss column these days is moot. On the one hand, there is ambition to break the franchise record and break the 50-point mark; and on the other hand there are more important forces at play.
The Atlantic division is all but clinched. The Raptors can come first, second, third, or fourth. It doesn’t matter. It’s all one in the same. Coming first or second might actually translate into disastrous territory, as the 7th and 8th seed are currently occupied by Toronto’s two bogey-teams: Charlotte and Miami. Third place would be ideal, since Milwaukee is probably the easiest foe of the lot. Washington would be tough, but arguably no tougher than a seven-game series against the Bobcats and Heat.
That’s all assuming the playoffs started today, of course.
So what are the more important forces at play?
Valanciunas needs to keep developping as a player from now until the post-season. Forget season-to-season progress, we need game-to-game progress. Last night’s performance was encouraging, but his usage needs to consistently meet the 20-25% territory.
Dwane Casey needs to instigate that move.
Dwane Casey also needs to insert Terrence Ross back into the starting lineup. I realize James Johnson is vastly superior to Ross, and that Greivis Vasquez links up well with Lowry in the backcourt, but the great thing about JJ is that he can put up his numbers and help out from any role given to him – he’s just that good. Terrence Ross doesn’t have the same luxury or mental stability to do the same. Ross’ numbers have taken a huge hit since he’ s been demoted to the second unit.
We can presumably all agree that moving Ross to the bench was a pretty sound move. He was missing rotations, getting blown-by defensively, and his shot just wasn’t falling – even the good ones.
In hindsight, you can conclude that the experiment to demote Ross failed. Nothing wrong with Dwane Casey coming to grips with that reality either. The team started to slump, and Terrence Ross died a little inside.
Ross’ confidence has been battered, and he’s mentally too fragile to handle it. Being around these guys you can see their emotions off the court too. There is a difference between the mental state of Jonas Valanciunas, and that of Terrence Ross. The former gets distraught with lack of playing time but continues to play efficient basketball in his limited minutes; and the latter gets completely rattled emotionally, to the point where he can barely speak, and it dramatically affects his form on the court.
Inserting Terrence Ross back into the starting line-up would not only do good to Ross, but also to the team. Statistically, the most efficient five-man starting line-up Dwane Casey has put out this season is the same one that blitzed through the opening quarter of the 2014-2015 campaign: Kyle, DeMar, Terrence, Amir, Jonas.
Keep the mojo going Dwane, steer this ship and stick with what’s working.
The once powerful Raptors offense has slowly been atrophying over the last two months of play. The coaching staff has taken the heat for a lot of this, and a lot of that is valid. Lowry and DeRozan’s slumping shooting has been at the heart of it, with DeRozan and Vasquez both feeling compelled to shoot every and anything in sight. It’s felt like unless Lou Williams was consuming the court in embers, the Raptors offense was pedestrian and too easily guardable. It’s looked more like a schematic problem than an execution issue at times, and that’s a potentially huge issue. Let’s break down some of the team play type stats to look at where points are, or are not coming.
Using Jonas Valanciunas effectively has been a problem. I wrote a long article last week talking about how Big Val’s personal stats are completely at war with his team effectiveness stats, and how the way the team is utilizing him is probably partially to blame for this. In this past week’s Rapcast, William Lou brought up how infrequently Jonas is used in the pick and roll despite his effectiveness. Jonas is scoring 1.2 points per attempt as the roll man in pick and roll situations, an outstanding number that his him in the 87th percentile of NBA big men, according to NBA.com. Jonas is shooting 65% in those situations and getting to the line on 18% of those attempts. That’s money. And yet, Jonas is only being used in the pick and roll on 9% of his plays, an unpardonably low number. This isn’t an isolated scenario though, as James Johnson has been an even bigger beast as a roll man in a smaller sample size. In 17 possessions as the role man, Johnson is shooting 78.6% and scoring 1.47 points per attempt, the 5th most efficient roller in the league. Johnson is playing this role on just 4.3% of his plays.
It’s not as if the Raptors don’t run the pick and roll; Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson have combined for over 200 attempts as the roll man. They’ve both been in the top 80% of NBA players in efficiency on those plays as well though, suggesting that more would probably be more. Pick and roll has become the staple of the NBA. It’s a pick and roll league. The Raptors have big men who are very good at scoring in that situation, and they need to be used more in that scenario.
Ball handling is at the centre of a lot of the team’s offensive issues this season, as they simply do not have many players comfortable handling the ball, let alone creating offensive for themselves or each other. Each of Toronto’s 4 top guards in Vasquez, Williams, Lowry and DeRozan average an incredibly high usage percentage as a result, with all of them coming in over 20% and Vasquez the only player who isn’t closer to 30% than 20. Those 4 guards have been the focal point of the team’s offensive, consuming the lions share of the teams shots, possessions and set plays. How has that worked out for them?
Lou Williams has run 262 possessions as the pick and roll ball handler, and he’s averaged 1.03 points per possession in that role. That’s in the top 96th percentile for ball handlers. If you feel like Lou has been great on offense this year, it’s because he has been. Lowry comes in at 0.82 points per possession in the pick and roll, a number that is above average but not spectacular. DeMar DeRozan and Greivis Vasquez are both averaging 0.76 points per possession as the ball handler, at the 51st percentile. Pretty much half of the league has been more efficient than DeMar or Greivis have been in trying to finish as the ball handler out of the pick and roll. Considering that we’re talking about 390 of the Raptors possessions this year just in that play type alone for those two guys, that’s a problem. Neither of them are using their bigs enough in the roll game. Defenders know this and compound the problem, setting their defense to take away the pass and force a bad shot from the driving Raptors guards.
The Raptors love to use dribble hand-offs as pseudo screens to get players like DeMar and Lowry the ball in motion out of the half court. It was their primary play type last season that Brooklyn punished them in the playoffs by taking away. The Raptors are still using it a lot, but seeing shots come out of it less than they were a year ago, as the copy-cat league has learned how to predict and defend it. Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry are both scoring well out of a limited use of this play, putting up 0.97 and 0.94 points per possession shooting off a hand off. Lou Williams has trailed behind at 0.89 points, while DeMar has fallen well below the Mendoza line, scoring 0.77 points per possession on 52 such shots. It occupies the highest percentage of his play types of any of the guards and he’s shooting worse than a full three quarters of the league in that situation. The Raptors are putting an oddly inordinate amount of work in the half court struggling to make a clearly telegraphed dribble hand off set happen that is rarely working out in a good shot, and more often than not leading to a bad isolation if there isn’t a shot. This has been the DeMar set of choice, and the NBA has demonstrated far too clear of an ability to either defend it, or use it against the Raptors, knowing the DeMar is willing to take a bad shot out of it. DeMar’s numbers have looked strikingly Rudy Gayish since coming back from injury, and so has his style of play.
When the Raptors offense devolves into isolation, the results have been mixed. When Lou Williams has been off, the 2nd unit has completely and utterly perished. Having said that, Lou Williams has been among the leaders in isolation isolating scoring this year, and he trails only James Harden in frequency and attempts, so the good has far outweighed the bad. Lowry’s isolation numbers have stayed well above average too, despite the struggles that lead to his extended rest. James Johnson has been a wrecking ball in isolation as well, banging pretty well whatever joints he wants to. Even Terrence Ross has surprisingly good iso numbers, reigning enough jumpers in his limited opportunities to put him in the top quarter of the league. Valanciunas has been an absolute disaster in isolation situations. How bad has he been? He’s been so bad in isolation, he’s been even worse than DeMar! The only difference is, Valanciunas has only taken 11 shots in isolation. DeMar has taken 114 in just 40 games. This. Is. A. Problem. DeRozan is scoring 0.81 points on an unacceptably high number of isolations. Why are we running this as a regular set? It’s not even just out of desperation, the Raptors spend several possessions a game running actions designed to get DeMar the ball in an isolation set. It’s an exercise in insanity. If 5 DeMar DeRozans played together running exclusively isolation sets against the Philadelphia 76ers, they would lose by 13 points. Please, stop this nonsense.
The Raptors coaching staff needs to tweak the offense heading down the stretch if they don’t want it to atrophy in the playoffs. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for coming up with something to start the season that best utilized the unique skill set of the guards that they had, consistently building shots for them on the specific spots of the floor where they felt most comfortable and able to succeed, and getting a crazy amount of free throws from unconventional spots on the floor. But as the league has learned what they’re doing and scouted their offense, those shots have become more contested, and taken away before they can even happen. When you’re playing an offense designed to get a specific player a shot from a specific spot on the floor, it becomes easy to guard once it’s figured out. The defense knows the play, and the Raptors have struggled to create good release valves and second options. But that’s not a reason to panic. The team’s bigs in Valanciunas, Patterson and special agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation) are all scoring at highly efficient rates, and the team is slowly realizing that. If they can figure out how to better incorporate those players skill sets into a bigger part of the team’s offense, it will allow them to dictate matchups to Eastern Conference teams lacking size, and free up more space for their talented guards whose numbers have dropped under the swarm of defense. This coaching staff is not offensively challenged; let’s not forget that they designed the scheme that lead the league in offensive efficiency out of the gate. In the last week they’ve showed a couple instances. Terrence Ross is often inactive on the wings, stretching the floor and looking for a 3. Knowing that he’s been slumping, and knowing that he isn’t a serious threat to drive, defenders have gotten sleepy sitting on him. The team has used this to have Ross cut hard to the basket in the half court off the weak side and leap up for an alley-oop. It’s a smart and simply play that is reflexive to how teams have played the Raptors, gets easy points and helps boost the confidence of a young player whose role has diminished. That’s an example of good coaching. Hopefully we can see more like this from a once great offense that might not be able to maintain being good if it doesn’t adapt.
The emergence of Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside after washing out of the NBA for a couple years shows that tall guys with long arms and half-decent court sense can be dominant. We’d be crazy to let go of Bebe with his massive wingspan and quick feet. In a few years he’ll be great. What do you guys think?
The Raptors can hold their heads up high after a 120-112 loss to the Cavaliers last night. Unlike the train wreck that occurred at home last Friday against the Warriors, the Raptors battled Cleveland to the wire after falling behind by 19 points in the third quarter.
The first quarter was a fun brand of basketball from both teams. The Raptors moved the ball, involving Jonas early and often, and ended the quarter with eight assists and only one turnover. DeRozan, who was clearly intent on getting to the rim instead of launching contested bombs, led the way for the Raptors with 12 points. On the other end, James Johnson and Valanciunas struggled to defend LeBron in pick-and-roll situations, which resulted in a number of easy baskets for Mozgov like the one you see below.
LeBron finished the quarter with four assists.
The second quarter turned out to be the Raptors’ Achilles heel. Offensively, the Raptors – particularly Terrence Ross – missed several open looks, but the bigger problem was on the defensive end, where there were a number of breakdowns. Kyrie Irving blew by Vasquez repeatedly but the bigger dagger was the long ball. James drew Raptor power forwards into his sphere again and again out of pick-and-rolls, creating wide open looks for Cleveland’s stretch fours on the perimeter. Kevin Love hit all three of his three-point shots and finished with 11 points in the quarter. James Jones also hit two wide-open threes.
It looked like things might go the way of the Golden State game early in the third but Toronto refused to let that happen. After falling behind by 19 points, the Raptors went on an inspired 15-8 run that included a monster slam and two big three pointers from DeMar.
Valanciunas was an absolute beast in the quarter, scoring ten points, pulling down six rebounds and tackling LeBron James to the floor to prevent a dunk with 18 seconds to play.
Riding the momentum of the run that ended the third, Lou Williams absolutely stole the show in the fourth, scoring 14 of the Raptors first 17 points and finishing with 21 points in the quarter. Terrence Ross hit a three to put the Raptors up 96-95 with 6:14 to play but LeBron simply proved to be too much for the Raptors to handle. Noticeably angry after the hard foul at the end of the third, LeBron went into beast mode after the Cavs blew the lead, stream rolling his way to 17 points in the quarter and burying the Raptors’ comeback hopes in the process.
- This was a spirited effort from Toronto but without Lowry the talent gap was simply too much to overcome.
- LeBron is like a magnet and nervous defenders really had a difficult time knowing who was responsible for guarding whom when James ran the pick-and-roll.
- It’s amazing how much better Cleveland’s spacing is since shaking up their roster. They’re now 20-4 since starting the season 19-20.
- Not sure what was up with Patterson. I am usually a fan of his defense but he wasn’t with it last night, especially in the second quarter.
- Terrence Ross got off to a slow start but he was locked in on both ends in the fourth quarter: 12 minutes, 8 points, 3-3 FG, 2-2 3PM
- Valanciunas was awesome. Some glaring defensive lapses in the first half but goodness gracious I loved the feistiness. It’s amazing what happens when you give him the rock: 26 points, 12-17 FG, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks.
- Last night was only the second time DeRozan hit 2 threes in a game all season.
“Everybody takes him for granted,” says Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He does it so easy. There’s no way an intelligent basketball person would have LeBron not mentioned as an MVP candidate. It’s asinine even to think that way. “They’ve got the best basketball player in the world right now.” “If you want to win one game, you want to win three games, five games, whatever, I think everybody in this league would say, I’m going to take LeBron first, and I’ll build my team from there,” said Cavs guard J.R. Smith. Toronto, in this game, was resting point guard Kyle Lowry, who is their LeBron. It’s a combination of physical and mental toll, according to those who know. He sat for a third straight game. In the first quarter LeBron went out of his way to slap hands with Lowry on the Raptors bench. He must know how it feels.
There are a range of technical elements the Raptors need to tighten up – a number of blown rotations both in the second quarter hurt them as much as anything that happened down the stretch — but just as important is getting ready to scrap and claw, something they showed they still have in their arsenal. Hang on to that and they’ll be okay. “It was huge, the fans were great,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “It should be a reminder to us. We got back in the game against one of the top teams in the league, that’s what you’re playing for, to play with that kind of emotion and desperation.” The Raptors luxury of the hot start has given them time to sort things out now even as things are going briefly sideways. Entering the game they have a 12-game lead over Brooklyn in the Atlantic Division. Short of something catastrophic, they will win the division. They were 10 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the top-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors will not be winning the Eastern Conference. The matchups from the second, third or fourth spots don’t seem to matter that much. So as dispiriting as it might be pushing the Cavaliers to the limit only to fall short, the only way it should reverberate is the Raptors let it cloud the big picture. And the big picture is that the Raptors remain on course to enjoy home court in the first round of the playoffs and if they can squeeze out a 12-9 finish, they will become the first team in franchise history to win 50 games. Even 11-10 improves on the franchise record set last season.
Such was Toronto’s lot on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, its 120-112 defeat sealed when too many open looks led to too many three-balls by the visitors, no defence for LeBron James when the King imposed his will in the final quarter. It was the Cavs’ third consecutive win over the Raptors. There’s no such thing as a moral victory in the NBA and, by no means, should the Raptors take any consolation from their effort, especially late in the third quarter and into most of the fourth when they played on the same level as Cleveland. They didn’t win because they weren’t good enough in the first half, late in rotation and not enough offence. When they did elevate their level of play, it wasn’t enough, each run matched by a Cavs play on offence. Naturally, it would be James who initiated most of the action, deferring to teammates or taking over with his offence when he was looking to score.
The Raptors would go on to lose the game, as most expected they would. They were without Kyle Lowry once again, resting an accumulation of bumps and bruises for the third straight contest. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are the Eastern Conference’s hottest team, having won 20 of their last 24 games to move into a virtual tie with Toronto and Chicago for second place. They were outplayed by a better team, playing better basketball with the best player in the game, but they were not outclassed. If there’s a positive to be taken out of their sixth loss in seven games, it’s that. “I was disappointed we got down 19,” Dwane Casey said. “But I was proud of the way our team fought and scrapped. Like I told them, the more we can build on that and the more minutes we can play the way we played, in the desperation mode in the second half [the better].”
The first was Sweet Lou going supernova, as he does from time to time, for 26 points on 7-of-8 shooting (he missed a single two point field goal). Those are numbers from which runs are born. The second came from a single play: Valanciunas tying up Lebron as he drove down the lane for an easy basket. The crowd exploded and momentum charged the other way. (For his part, Valanciunas also had a great game throughout with 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting and 11 rebounds; he even got late fourth quarter minutes.) So, ask a fan as they left the arena if they enjoyed themselves. The Raptors lost by eight points, and looked casually outclassed for stretches as Lebron picked apart the team’s defense and pounded whoever tried to guard him (James Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross) into submission. He finished with 29 points, 14 assists, six rebounds. And yet, positive vibes. The Raptors went down swinging. They played admirably without their leader Kyle Lowry. They put themselves in a position to win. The game was fun. Lebron James may be inevitable, an unanswerable basketball tsunami that coolly builds in force towards victory. But relentless physics is one thing, emotion another. It doesn’t mean the Raptors (and their fans) shouldn’t attempt to surf the wave. Cowabunga, dude.
James was instrumental in staving off Toronto, scoring 15 of his game-high 29 points in the final quarter. He had another wobbly moment at the free throw line — missing a pair after a flagrant foul by the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas and missing five of 13 overall — but his attacking and penetrating game was sharp and decisive. Consecutive three-pointers by James in the final minutes gave the Cavaliers needed breathing room. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out a game-high 14 assists.
After thumping Boston at The Q the previous evening, Cleveland was cruising again on Wednesday, extending their lead to 19 points early in the third quarter. But Lou Williams caught fire to close the quarter and his teammates followed suit to start the fourth. And at the midway point of the fourth, Terrence Ross’ trey gave the Raptors a brief one-point lead. But less than a minute later James Jones buried his fourth triple of the night, the Cavs eventually pushed their lead to nine and never looked back.
The Cavs, on the second night of a back to back, overcame a hungry team that spent about 10 minutes completely unconscious. It was as gritty a win as the LeBron-Less win over Portland. Kyrie wore the cape in that one, tonight he shared it with LeBron: 29 Points (15 in the 4th quarter) and 14 assists.
But you knew the Raptors run was coming, and come it did. Lou Williams had one of his trademark games where he performs like one of the best reserve guards in the game. He was fouled on two three point attempts and made all six free throws, he went over the top of screens while running the Pick and Roll and nailed three pointers, he had it all going. He had 26 points on 8 shots, which is insane efficiency. He’s one of my favorite players, but it’s not something he does every night. On a night when the Raptors played without Kyle Lowry, he really stepped up. LeBron James, though, wasn’t interested in the Cavs giving this one up. He attacked relentlessly and hit some dagger threes. With the Cavs spacing, the lane really opened up for him. 29 points on 16 shots, 14 assists and just three turnovers, six rebounds. He was incredible, and the Cavs needed every bit of it.
When you face a team built around 3 all-star players it’s difficult to get stops. With that being said the Raptors did whatever they could to contain LeBron but it simply wasn’t enough. Early on his penetration allowed him to become a distributor, which saw the likes of Love and Timofey Mozgov getting early touches. The real killer for Toronto was looks LeBron was able to create for James Jones who delivered trey after trey after trey after trey (4 if you were counting). If it wasn’t LeBron’s penetration killing the Raptors it was Kyrie in transition using his ability to change speeds breaking down the Raptors defence. A couple of unbelievable LeBron James three-pointers and just like that…the game’s out of reach. Once again…great effort gentleman…great effort.
DeMar DeRozan was slumped in his chair. Visibly dejected after the lost. He was staring blankly at the stat sheet. After he returned from his shower he spent a lot of time with a towel draped over his head staring at his locker. Didn’t talk with teammates. Consummate pro while talking with us media grunts even though you could tell he just wanted to go home.
“We are sneakily doing that. We have been throwing in some plays and some sets. Patrick (Patterson) starting the other night was a semi-experiment. We are going to do some other things. We still got to get our zone in for those situations you may see some of that. The hard thing right now is that there is very little practice time so that time you use in the game is part of your practice. I hate to minimize games like that, but it’s kind of what it is. We are going to be doing some other things like that. At the same time, we want to win. We aren’t going to dismiss that at all. At the end of the day, we want to compete to win, but the number one thing is to try new things and try to get better.”
There is none of that similar fascination with LeBron James, legend of this generation, and NBA player who has no equal. He is the most decorated athlete in professional sport this side of Tom Brady, maybe the most important. But the world doesn’t stop for him in Toronto the way it did for Jordan, back when basketball and celebrity seemed so very new. Back then, in the first years of the NBA here, there was no expectation of ever winning much of anything. But Jordan was so special to Toronto, in this city where being there, being seen, always means so much. He was the place to be. He was a show. He was a destination. We loved him and the event, even if we didn’t give much of a hoot about basketball or about a Raptors team not yet on the rise. It has been so very different with LeBron James. His appearances don’t move the needle a whole lot. There is no special buzz in the Air Canada Centre when he’s around. That is partly an indication of the maturing of a basketball market, but also the maturing of the local team. But it’s partly because that first love is rarely replicated as time moves on.
Emo-LeBron courtesy of his Instagram
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Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Lou Williams, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan after Toronto lost 120-112 to Cleveland.
Passionate come-back effort falls short as Lowry-less Raptors fail to contain Cleveland’s shooting.
Since the trade deadline, the Minnesota Timberwolves have become one of my favourite League Pass teams to watch. Kevin Garnett wearing a #21 jersey has just the right amount of nostalgia and Ricky Rubio is healthy and dropping dimes that make me jump off of my couch.
But what has really caught my attention has been the emergence of Andrew Wiggins. Sure, he won Rookie of the Month the first three months of the season, but his game was plagued with inconsistency and hesitation.
During the month of February, Wiggins announces his arrival to the NBA by averaging 16.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Even though it’s been fun to watch Wiggins grow and develop this season, it has been a bittersweet experience because it hasn’t happened in a Toronto Raptors jersey.
Last season the Raptors almost got into the Riggin’ for Wiggins sweepstakes when they traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a bunch of spare parts and they had a deal in place to trade Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks. When the Knicks had a change of heart at the last minute – better known as buyers remorse for getting burned and giving up too much for Andrea Bargnani – they bailed and Toronto went on a surge which would see them win the Atlantic Division and have a first round series which won the hearts of basketball and sports fans across Canada.
Andrew Wiggins struggled out of the gate during his rookie season averaging 12.3 points in November while shooting less than 40% from the field. Despite struggles adjusting to life in the NBA and the pressures of being the top overall pick, Wiggins was still named Rookie of The Month in November, December and January.
On the flip side, Toronto raced out to a 22-6 record to the season and one of the best records in the entire NBA. Fans across Canada were quick to jump on Toronto’s bandwagon.
For a short, brief period of time, fans forgot how close they had come to landing the hometown kid. Toronto had one of the best teams in the NBA while the local prodigy was struggling to adjust to life as a pro.
But things have flipped since the start of February.
The Raptors limped to a 4-5 record in February while Wiggins stole the show during the Rising Stars challenging during all-star weekend. I posted a picture on twitter of Wiggins rocking a Canada flag on his jersey and fans of the Raptors ate it up.
Kyle Lowry stole some attention during all-star weekend when he started the game after being voted in as an all-star due to fans and a couple of key Canadians rallying for his support. But the issues facing the team weren’t masked by some flash during all-star weekend.
Toronto had big wins against the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks in February, but losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and a New Orleans Pelicans team missing Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson stung.
Ending the month on a five-game losing streak highlighted by a loss to the Knicks didn’t help instill any faith that the team was turning things around.
Toronto is now sinking in the standings while Wiggins is starting to take flight. The combination of those two things has left fans of the franchise frustrated and bitter that the team doesn’t have a bright future while Wiggins would look great in purple or red.
Last season DeMar DeRozan was an all-star when he averaged a career-best 22.7 points per game while shooting 42% from the field. This season his scoring has dipped to 17.8 and he’s shooting 38% from the field.
Kyle Lowry started off the season great, but he had to rest against the New York Knicks and he missed the game against Philadelphia to help rest his body. The rest is much-needed as Lowry averaged 11.9 points and 5.3 assists in February.
One of Toronto’s core building blocks for the future, Jonas Valanciunas, has found himself stuck to the bench for most fourth quarters this season. Despite being an analytics darling, he is only averaging 26.3 minutes per game this season.
Fans have gotten frustrated that Valanciunas hasn’t been able to carve out a niece for himself on the team this season despite showing flashes when given the chance to play through mistakes.
Toronto’s other young building block, Terrence Ross, lost his spot in the starting unit and was rumoured to be on the market leading up to the trade deadline.
So, while Toronto has floundered on the court, their two young pieces, Valanciunas and Ross, don’t appear to offer much hope in the near future of being pieces Toronto can count on during the stretch run this season.
Wiggins, meanwhile, is looking like the kind of star an NBA team can build around.
As Blake Murphy wrote about earlier this week, fans are now realizing that chemistry isn’t always sustainable.
William Lou also addressed the current lack of leadership on the team.
In short, Toronto now finds themselves in a mess, despite leading the division. I also look like an idiot for last week saying that February would just be a blip on the radar that is an 82 game season.
Masai Ujiri faces an interesting summer when the team has a lot of cap room – if they renounce the rights to Amir Johnson and Lou Williams – and the possibility of hosting a first round series in the playoffs for the second straight season.
However, despite some success on the court this season and the potential to make big moves this summer, fans are starting to wish the team had tanked last season so they could have had a shot at Wiggins.
There’s likely to be a lot of angry and bitter fans if Ujiri elects to rip things apart this summer and go with a rebuild when if he had done that 18 months earlier the team could have had a chance at Wiggins.
A report from Marc Stein of ESPN links the Raptors to recently waived center JaVale McGee.
- Record: 38-24 (7-3)
- Eastern (4)
- Central (2)
- 110.6 ORTG (4)
- 106.1 DRTG (18)
- 92.4 Pace (24)
- 74.2 DRB% (17)
- 0.551 TS% (5)
- LeBron James 26.2 ppg
- Kevin Love 10.2 rpg
- LeBron James 7.2 apg
- Timofey Mozgov 1.7 bpg
- J.R. Smith 1.8 spg
- Record: 38-22 (5-5)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 110.8 ORTG (3)
- 106.6 DRTG (20)
- 93.3 Pace (19)
- 73.3 DRB% (23)
- 0.55 TS% (6)
- DeMar DeRozan 18.3 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7 apg
- James Johnson 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
After LeBron’s Cavs lost to the Heat on his return to Miami on Christmas day, Cleveland was sitting in the 5th spot in the East and there was a rumour that LeBron had said to Dwyane Wade, his former teammate, that if things didn’t get better with the Cavs that he would return to the Heat. They both denied this, but it spoke to the state of LeBron’s present team.
During the offseason, when he returned to Cleveland to great fanfare and then the team traded for Kevin Love, many had them pencilled in as the Eastern Conference representatives in the Finals in June. By Christmas, though, there were a lot of doubts about the Cavs’ future. The loss against the Heat was followed by the Cavs going 2-9 and falling to .500, a game behind Milwaukee and just ahead of his old team Miami, in the standings. Many questioned whether trading for Kevin Love was a mistake, especially considering how well Andrew Wiggins is playing in Minnesota.
While Christmas Day wasn’t a good day for LeBron and the Cavs, things couldn’t have looked rosier in Toronto. The Raptors were sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, half a game ahead of the surprising Atlanta Hawks and on pace to win 62 games.
Things have changed quite a bit for both teams since then.
The Cavs have gone 19-4 in their last 23 games and a win against the Raptors would put them in a virtual tie with Toronto and Chicago for second place in the East.
Meanwhile, while the Raptors have not been a disaster since Christmas, they’ve certainly struggled. Their win Monday against Philadelphia gave them a .500 record in 2015 and they’re now in danger of dropping to the fourth seed (thankfully, with their Atlantic Division lead secure, fourth is as low as they will fall). Only Washington has had a worse turnaround than Toronto since New Year’s.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
When Will Kyle Lowry Play Again?
Lowry has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury, and at the time I write this, it’s unknown whether he will play tonight. A better question than “will he play”, is whether or not it would help. As has been discussed at length, Lowry has struggled mightily in 2015 and that’s coincided with the team’s struggles. To make things more complicated, Greivis Vasequez has actually outperformed Lowry since New Year’s and it will be interesting to see if the team starts to play better the longer Lowry sits out.
Lowry is in uncharted territory for him. He’s an All Star and for the first time he’s considered the team’s present and future at point guard. It was unreasonable to think he could keep up the level of play we saw from him in December, but his poor play hasn’t seen any signs of recovering, and it’s likely the Raptor’s coaches and head office hope the time off will help. We’ll see, since the Raptor’s success has been so closely tied to Lowry’s play.
Should Valanciunas’ Role Be Increased?
Raptors Republic’s own Andrew Thompson wrote a fantastic article last week that took a look at the curious case of Jonas Valanciunas, and I highly recommend reading it. With the Raptors in a slump, it might be time for Casey to try and experiment a little and perhaps expand Valanciunas’ role, especially on offense.
Despite what it may seem, Valanciunas does play in the fourth quarter a pretty average amount for his position around the league. In fact, he plays the same amount in the fourth quarter as Andrew Bogut and more than Omer Asik, Marcin Gortat and Kevin Garnett. It would be nice, however, to see him play more while the Raptors try and find their way.
Has Kevin Love Finally Found His Groove?
When Love was traded to Cleveland, it seemed like a match made in heaven. The thought of him running pick and rolls with LeBron gave the rest of the league nightmares, but he never seemed to fit in and look comfortable on Cleveland as the team struggled. His three point shooting, which was supposed to help open up the middle, didn’t seem to make the trip over from Minnesota and his defense was even worse than advertised.
Love’s certainly not playing at the level expected still, but he’s shooting much better and his defense has been slightly less horrible in the last month. If the Cavs really want to contend this year, then Love has to play at a level at least similar level as he did in Minnesota.
LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are all playing at a higher level than anyone on the Raptors.
Cleveland has more playoff experience on their bench than the Raptors have on the entire team, and the addition of Kendrick Perkins gives them a tough post presence and another player with a ring. Along with that experience, they have a few young players, including Canada’s own Tristan Thompson, who give them a boost as well. The Raptors have more firepower, but the Cavs are actually a little deeper, as long as everyone is healthy.
David Blatt was a risky and somewhat surprising hire considering the fact that Cleveland
had already signed planned on signing LeBron. Most thought Cleveland would choose a more established coach and one who had experience coaching in the NBA. Blatt had a great reputation in Europe, but most realized there would be a steep learning curve transitioning to the NBA. He brought with him a European-style motion offensive that was in-vogue after the Spurs romping the Heat in the Finals. That seemed to be abandoned quickly, as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate.
It’s still difficult to tell whether Blatt has what it takes to stay as a head coach in the NBA, which is also true for Dwane Casey, who fans are already talking about replacing this summer.
While the Cavs are
coming off back to back losses 1-2 in their last three, the loss against Indiana was without LeBron and Sunday’s loss against Houston was a nail-biter in overtime that could have gone either way. These are two teams that seem to be headed in two different directions and even at full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Raptors. Without Lowry, and without him playing like he was in December, it’s difficult to imagine the Raptors pulling out a win, on this one.
Score: Cavs 101 – Raptors 97
Now, with Lowry resting — there is no timetable for the all-star’s return to the lineup, but there is no urgency to get him back until he recovers from an assortment of ailments — Vasquez is the starting point guard. And he is the starting point guard on a team that has struggled to move the ball well. “That’s my goal from now on, if I start or if I don’t start: trying to get 10 assists. That’s my job,” Vasquez said. “That’s what I do best. We’ve all got to do what we do best, whatever role you have. At the end of the day, we’ve got to eliminate those one-on-one plays, the selfishness. “We were coming in with so much pressure, trying to solve the whole situation [during the team’s five-game losing streak]. Everybody was trying to get the answer. We did it a bit selfishly. I put myself first; I took some bad shots. I made some mistakes.”
Then along comes a win over the host 76ers and all is well in Raptorland. It would be foolish to assert such a statement, but wins, no matter the opposition, breathe life into a team that was clearly struggling with its identity. Philly made 52.6% of its shots with the visiting Raptors needing a season-high 35 points from DeRozan to produce the win. Vasquez has never lost sight of the big picture, even as the bandwagon began to swell. Toronto isn’t equipped to win an NBA title this season, but Vasquez knows the franchise is pointed in the right direction. And when it comes to his role, he’ll do whatever it takes. “I just want to win,’’ said Vasquez. “I just want to play in May.” Whether it’s Vasquez or any other player in the NBA, the difference between starting or coming off the bench is mental. When one starts, one is virtually assured minutes, barring early foul troubles, getting into a rhythm made easier given the nature of a starter’s role.
Ironically, Toronto’s defence has been better of late. Though the Raptors gave up a whopping 103 points (on 52.6 percent shooting) to a crew of relative unknowns in Philly, the team had been better at locking opponents down of late. Even during the five-game losing streak (which included blowout losses to Houston and Golden State) Casey’s crew had crept back to the middle of the pack in many defensive categories.
Starting to get the picture? The isolation heavy offense that the Raptors resort to is significantly unsustainable and inconsistent. If DeRozan, Lowry, or Lou cannot create offense on any given night, the Raptors offense goes kaput. Thus, the Raptors winning or losing seems to heavily rely on these three, and given how inconsistent have been offensively, it’s lead to an inconsistent Raptors offense. DeRozan is an interesting case, because we all know what he’s capable of (H/T last night). His injury really has taken away from his aggressiveness, and the shooting slump has been concerning. However, DeRozan is the type of player that improves as the season goes on, and he should start to pick it up. We’ve seen Kyle Lowry save the Raptors many times, and I think anybody could have told you that the team needs him more than anyone in wins. Given that, Lowry is also relied upon to bail the Raptors out, and he’s usually trying to be a hero when the Raptors are on the verge of a loss. The spike in his field goal attempts exemplifies this. The huge drop-off in Lou Williams’ production is particularly interesting. His FG% in losses is substantially lower than in wins. Does that mean Lou is the x-factor here? Potentially. It also means that he needs to shoot a lot less and stop chucking in situations where the Raptors are in a hole.
“Every team in this league goes through it. We feel it’s magnified because it’s us,” said Casey, whose Raptors won the Atlantic last season but were bounced by the Nets in the first round. “All the good teams go through it. But it’s how you come out of it and learn from it. If you go through it and don’t learn anything, you just get your butt kicked.”
The Raptors have the 20th-ranked defense in the league, which is far less than ideal. Teams with true title hopes tend to have their defense lying at least in the top 15. To go along with that, DeRozan has been having a rough season (poor shooting, groin injury) and Kyle Lowry has dropped off significantly ever since he ran out of gas in the game against Portland back on Dec. 30. But all is not lost! Toronto does still hold the third-best offense in the league, and they’ve got a deep bench that will be extremely helpful in the slower paced games of the postseason. And, hey, would you look at that! They also won’t have to play any teams from the Western Conference unless they make it to The Finals. So that’s a bonus. It’s still going to be one heck of a struggle though, make no mistake. If the playoffs began right now, Toronto would be playing Miami, which is a scary team to have to play in the first round. And yet maybe this is all just as DeRozan said after the win against Philly.
By January, things for Toronto were on the upswing. The team was working on an eventual five-game win streak and had dug themselves out of an aforementioned hole in the early season. They went into New York and their big name free agent Hedo played a monster game: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 8-for-16 shooting, 3-for-8 from 3, 7-for-9 from the free throw line, two assists, two steals, a block and only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was what around $10 million a season got you. It may have been a weird team, but it was a good weird at the time. After the comeback win (against a Knicks team that was 18-26 at the time, but never mind that), Hedo gave us his most indelible moment, an interview with Jack Armstrong that came to define his protracted Toronto career.
Photo by Casey Campbell
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Ah…this feels familiar. After months of winning, and a season that saw the Toronto Raptors jump out to an Eastern Conference leading record of 24-7, Toronto has hit a serious speedbump. Now? Toronto lost five in a row prior to their win last night in Philadelphia, and struggled through a February that ended as their first month without a winning record since Rudy Gay was shipped out.
4-6…February was not kind to Toronto. February saw four games where Toronto scored less than 90 points (only one was a win), a game where the Raptors were absolutely destroyed by Golden State, and a pathetic showing to a New York Knicks team that started a frontcourt of Lou Amundson and Andrea Bargnani.
Outside of a narrow victory against the San Antonio Spurs, and a blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors must be thrilled to see the calendar flip over to March.
And it all felt familiar. Winning early in the season was amazing, but after 20 years of mostly losing efforts it felt rather foreign. Most fans, myself often included, seemed to be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something had to eventually go wrong. After all, they’re the Raptors.
So much is going wrong as of late for the Raptors that it’s tough to narrow down what exactly the root of the problem is. Just as when it was all going so well earlier in the year it was tough to point toward any one thing the Raptors were doing so well.
The truth of the matter is that the Raptors aren’t the team that blew away the competition early in the year, just as they aren’t the team that can’t seem to buy a bucket as of late. What they are is likely somewhere in the middle.
Despite the recent string of loses, Toronto is still on pace for a franchise record 52 wins, has the fourth highest rated offense in the NBA, and has a 12 game lead on Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division.
Life could be worse….it could also be better at the moment…but it could be a lot worse.
After all, outside of Cleveland, Atlanta, and seemingly Indiana (I love Frank Vogel), every team currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture has its own set of problems.
The Chicago Bulls have lost Derrick Rose to another knee surgery, and as of yesterday have lost Jimmy Butler for 3-6 weeks due to an elbow sprain. We can now expect to see heavy minutes from players like Kirk Hinrich.
Washington is still missing Bradley Beal and was one of several teams to have a worse February than Toronto, finishing the month with a record of just 3-9.
The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to incorporate a new starting point guard in Michael Carter-Williams after trading Brandon Knight for him at the deadline, had to go through a difficult process recently with Larry Sanders, are missing Jabari Parker for the season, and list Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo as day-to-day.
The Heat will be without the services of Chris Bosh for the remainder of the season due to blood clots in his lungs, have Josh McRoberts sidelined due to knee surgery, and trade deadline acquisition Goran Dragic is dealing with a troublesome back issue.
Basically, life currently sucks for almost everyone in the Eastern conference playoff picture, and for many of these teams life sucks more than it does for Toronto.
Small level of comfort in that, but it’s true. Toronto isn’t dealing with any serious injuries (assuming Kyle Lowry is truly day-to-day), is not trying to fit any new players into their system, is seeing considerable development from Jonas Valanciunas as of late, and is still on pace for the best season in franchise history.
Life as a Raptors fan has historically not been kind, but let’s try to accept this current stretch as a mere blip on the radar that can be worked through.
The history of the franchise makes it seem like the sky is falling whenever the team enters into a small losing streak, but in reality it’s just a raining at the moment. The Raptors still have 22 games to get things sorted before the playoffs; let’s hope the clouds part before April.
It’s time to empty out the mailbag.
Is Toronto’s hardcore Rap-act back in full effect? Or was it due to the fact an inferior opponent was in the building? The rub lies somewhere in the realm of the latter receiving a slight edge, but a bottom line still remains; the 5-game funk has officially come to an end!
The defence remained highly problematic — the Sixers scored 54 points in the paint, shot 53% and notched an absurd 32 assists (Golden State leads the NBA at 27 per game) and Jonas Valanciunas was ignored down low all too frequently, but that can be dealt with later. Greivis Vasquez had 12 points and five assists in place of Lowry and Lou Williams was good off the bench, scoring 21 points, along with five assists and no turnovers. DeRozan exploded for 15 points in the first quarter, his top scoring 12 minutes of the season and had 18 by the break, the most he had scored in an entire game over the past week. “I was out six weeks without playing basketball, that was the longest I’ve ever been out since I’ve been in the NBA, and just getting accustomed to playing night in and night out my typical minutes, my style of play and everything. My rhythm was a little off,” DeRozan said of the slump. Now, he hopes all of that is over with.
“I’m taking my time and [the] coaches wanted me to get some rest and some time off and I think in the long run, this will help me and help the team out.” Lowry’s wounds seem to go beyond general mid-season bumps and bruises. They’re more significant than most realize. Among them are a series of injuries to his right (shooting) hand. The guard dislocated his right ring finger in a January loss to Memphis, also suffering an abrasion to the same hand when diving for the ball against Washington a few weeks later. Casey believes that could be partially responsible for his shooting woes – Lowry shot 34 per cent from the field last month, 24 per cent from three-point range. True to character, Lowry has kept his injury report in house, often declining to share that information with the media. Even some of his own teammates are unaware of what’s been ailing him specifically. “He won’t let anybody in on it,” said Patrick Patterson. “I’m surprised he lets the trainers in on it. Kyle is such a hard worker. He’s such a bulldog. He doesn’t show any weakness. He doesn’t show any pain. He may be hurt, he may have bumps, cuts, bruises on his body and I’m sure he does right now, which is why he’s taking some time off because he’s in pain, but whoever we play, whoever the opponent is, whatever the circumstances are, Kyle doesn’t let anybody know, whether it’s his teammates or the opposition. Kyle, he just keeps it all to himself and just focuses on the game.”
Throw in a Raptors team that has been mired in its worst slump of the season, and sitting and watching becomes even harder. But the fiery point guard says he’s had to learn to think about the long game. In this case, the NBA post-season. For the second straight game, Lowry sat out as the Raptors played his hometown Philadelphia 76ers Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Against the woeful Sixers, it turns out they didn’t need him after all, as they snapped a five-game losing streak with a 114-103 victory. If left to his own devices, Lowry admitted, he probably would have been out on the court. “At the same time, you are getting older in your career and you’ve got bigger plans than to try to go out there and force and force something, especially when you have bumps and bruises, where you can take some time to get healthy, the long term is the plan, the long term for our season is really the goal in mind,” said Lowry. Without Lowry, the Raptors lost to the league-worst New York Knicks 103-98 Saturday night, extending their losing streak to five games. Against the Sixers, the Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter for their first win since Feb. 20. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 35 points.
Worst performance: Sixers rookie Jerami Grant had four points in more than 28minutes, shooting 2 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 4 from beyond the arc.
Eight different players attempted at least seven shots for the Sixers on Monday night with four players getting between 10 and 13 shots. Then again, with starters Jason Richardson and Robert Covington out with nagging injuries, the Sixers needed to move the ball. “I think Ish did a fantastic job,” Noel said. “He was moving the ball and keeping the defense honest. I think the whole team is playing well and I think the team play opens up everything for me.”
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, a former all-star himself, made up for the loss of Lowry. DeRozan exploded for 35 points. For good measure he added nine rebounds and five assists. “It didn’t matter who we got this win against, we needed this win to get the monkey off our backs and get our confidence back,” DeRozan said. It’s amazing that even a team that is 16 games over .500 like the Raptors can slowly lose confidence with a bad stretch. As for the Sixers, they continue to play hard because every time out on the court is another audition. Players like guard Ish Smith (19 points off the bench), Robinson and others are trying to make a favorable impression.
The teams exchanged scoring runs in the third quarter, but when DeRozan decided to stop settling for long-distance jumpers and resume his onslaught on the defenceless rim, the Raptors really started to take off. Entering the final frame, the visitors had built up a seven-point cushion. In the fourth, Toronto’s superior talent put the pedal to the metal, establishing a healthy double-digit lead. That would be all she wrote as the 76ers dropped their seventh game in the last eight outings. With the win, the Raptors swept the season series for the second consecutive year.
No Kyle Lowry? No problem for the Toronto Raptors. They snapped a six-game losing streak and continued their dominance of the 76ers, notching a 114-103 win behind a standout performance from DeMar DeRozan. Despite the best efforts of Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and the rest of the Sixers lineup, DeRozan poured in 35 points and did his best to make up for the absence of Kyle Lowry. The formula for Sixers games has tilted since the trade deadline, with defensive regression traded for a boost on the offensive end. A number of contributors emerged off the bench tonight, with newcomers Thomas Robinson and Ish Smith chief among them.
There aren’t many fingers to point at here for the loss, it was just a team that the Sixers don’t have enough power to beat. The Sixers managed to shoot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, although missing six foul shots did hurt. Regardless of the outcome, there were a lot of positives to take from this game. The Sixers scoring 103 points without Robert Covington and Jason Richardson is a good sight.
lthough the plunging Raptors snapped their five-game losing streak, Philadelphia brought out several solid performances from a variety of players. The offense was uncharacteristically efficient tonight, shooting 52.6% from the floor and assisting on 78% of all field goals. A strong performance by DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors bench ultimately pummeled the Sixers, but the flow and efficiency of the offense leaves a positive mark. The Sixers will hope to build on tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder on Wednesday.
Never a good sign when your team allows 100+ points to one of the worst scoring outfits in the association (90.1 ppg). I could not name three starters on the 76ers but developed a better understanding of their personnel when I would see the likes of household names Ish Smith, Henry Sims and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scoring easy baskets. Fortunately, the Raptors were bailed out defensively by forcing turnovers against an inefficient offense amassing 16 by night’s end, leading to 19 points. As a whole, the defensive unit held the Sixers to 52.6% shooting.
“Deebo is a shot-taking, scoring guard in this league so we need him to take shots,” Vasquez told the Sun Monday, using DeRozan’s nickname. “Some of those shots, people might not like them, but we do like them and he has to take those shots, he’s our guy and when he makes those shots, we are good and so far it’s working pretty good. We’re still second in the East right? It’s not like we ain’t going to the playoffs. I told Deebo, he’s the franchise and franchise players, sometimes they go through struggles, but that’s when they find their character and he has a big-time character.” DeRozan is mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, but seems content to try to shoot his way out of it. Earlier this season, the 2014 all-star posted a number of big assist games, usually without many turnovers and the offence was operating in a far more efficient way when that was happening, but the Raptors seem to prefer DeRozan acting like a true-and-true scorer. You might think it doesn’t make much sense, but it does to them.
Identifying the problem is one thing. Solving it is a much more difficult proposition, especially for a roster with so many players whose offensive game is predicated on creating one-one-one against their defender. Per Synergy, the Raptors have three players — DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams — who rank in the top 30 in offensive isolation possessions. While Lowry is shooting 44.4 percent in iso possessions, DeRozan and Williams are both shooting below 36 percent. As a team, Toronto has the fifth highest offensive isolation possessions in the league, but it is near the bottom 10 in team field goal percentage in those situations. The Raptors are a perimeter-oriented team, and while ball movement can help the team create easier shots, this is Toronto’s identity. The Raptors rely on their top options on offense to create for themselves and the rest of the team to hit its open shots from beyond the arc. With 22 games left in the season, the team’s offensive approach isn’t going to change. And despite all the criticism of how they’re scoring their points, the Raptors are still fourth in the league in offensive efficiency. But the amount of isolation possessions, especially in the fourth quarter, and the team’s reliance on low-percentage shots, make the Raptors a very volatile team, as we’re seeing right now. It does not bode well for the playoffs. In their 37 wins this season prior to Monday’s win against the 76ers, the Raptors shot 47.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from three, averaging 21.9 assists and 12.4 turnovers. In their 22 losses, they’re shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 28.7 percent from three, with 18.4 assists and 14.5 turnovers in those games. During that aforementioned five-game losing streak, the Raptors shot 40.4 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from three. They’re a jump shooting team, and as simple as it may sound, when the shots aren’t falling in, they’re not going to win many games, because the ability to create those easier shots they speak about just isn’t there.
Well, my wife tells me I can’t pick my nose in the airport anymore—too many people watching! I really love to interact with fans as much as I can, but you’re right: it’s pandemonium. Family grounds me. I try to spend as much time as possible with my two princesses—my wife and my baby girl, who just turned one.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 27 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +4 +/-Tried his best to pull the Raptors’ team defence up by their socks in the first quarter, but couldn’t do much to stop the Sixers’ parade to the basket. He didn’t do anything poorly, per se, but just didn’t have the kind of impact you’d expect him to have in a game where he’s essentially playing Nerlens Noel and a bunch of undrafted projects. Kind of invisible.|
|James Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +1 +/-Quite a “meh” game, though the team intentionally looked away from him on offense in what appeared to be a concerted attempt to get Valanciunas and DeRozan going. His two blocks were nice, including one huge chase down effort, but those were negated by his two turnovers and three fouls. We shouldn’t be expecting Johnson to carry the offensive effort, but his drive/low post game are both easy scores against Philly. Just wasn’t needed tonight.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | +12 +/-As usual, the Raptors made an effort to get him going early, and he showed a couple nice post moves that resulted in a score and a couple trips to the line. After that, though, he totally disappeared offensively as things shifted back to the outside. He gave up a ton of open midrange shots to Henry Sims and Jerami Grant that they converted, but I’m willing to overlook that tonight because he was the only thing coming even close to rim protection that the Raptors had. He was probably worried that it’d just be a parade to the hoop if he left the paint. He may have been right.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | 0 +/-Good shooting numbers, and he did a solid job of facilitating the offence, getting the ball into the hot hands on the court and generally making the right decisions. He was eviscerated on defence by Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan, however, which was a big reason why the Sixers seemed to live at the rim for the first few quarters. A Jekyll and Hyde performance. Come back soon, Lowry.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 12-24 FG | 10-10 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 35 PTS | +13 +/-A complete game for DeRozan, and one that was sorely needed. It came at the expense of his team at time, but that’s what teams like the Sixers are for. Got to the free throw line regularly, but picked his spots, hitting the midrange when it was there and smartly moving the ball around the court when lanes weren’t open. A very nice bounce back performance after some rough outings.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 6-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +7 +/-An ugly start – missing his first two wide open looks – gave way to an extremely efficient second half, where he made pretty much every shot he took. Inside, outside, you name it, he had it. Defensively, I would have liked to have seen some more aggressive work at the rim, but it’s important to keep in mind that when he plays in a rotation with Hansbrough the two of them are essentially taking turns playing out of position. A strong effort tonight, and one nearly as necessary as DeMar’s.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1 +/-Really liked how he went at Nerlens Noel despite his size disadvantage – wound up with a big block and a nice dunk for good measure. He’ll always have his own physical limitations playing as what is essentially an undersized 5, but did all he could tonight with what he had. Good work.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +10 +/-Apart from some rough Jerami Grant rim stuffery, was essentially relegated to spot-up three point duty with DeMar and Patterson carrying the bulk of the scoring load. He did fine from out there, hitting 4 of 7 three point attempts.|
|Louis Williams, SG 30 MIN | 6-15 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 21 PTS | +9 +/-I was actually quite pleased with his work facilitating early – he seemed to be making a big effort to not take as many YOLO shots as necessary and fed the ball to DeRozan and Patterson on the regular. Then he went “hey wait, I’m Lou Williams!” and started jacking up early in the shot clock 3s. He got to the line enough to be a net positive tonight, but when you’re 2 for 9 from 3, that’s entirely too many 3s. He can put up points, though, and helped carry the scoring load when DeRozan was on the bench.|
I don’t have a lot to criticize from a coaching standpoint other than the effort in what was a must-win game. Early on, the Raptors seemed to be waiting for Philly to give them the ball, giving up the lane on what seemed to be every possession. The intensity turned up about halfway through the third, and won’t kill you against a team like the Sixers, but the defensive lethargy was concerning. Beyond that, though, I thought he did a solid job managing rotations and guiding the ship to the finish line.
Four Things We Saw
- 54 points in the paint from a team like Philly is just unacceptable, doubly so when it seemed like the reason they were so plentiful was because of general disinterest in defending the hoop. It made watching the first half defensively quite difficult at times, and it was only because of the fact that the Sixers are barely an NBA team that they got away with it for so long (then again, that might be why they did it, too).
- Don’t let that make you think this game wasn’t a good win, though. Sure, it could have been a huge blowout if all things went well, but in the end, this was a much needed wire to wire win that featured a much-needed bounceback performance from the guy expected to carry the load for the team with Lowry out. Winning against Philly might not mean as much as it would over say, the Cavs, but a win of any kind is important at this point.
- It would have been nice to see Hayes, Stiemsma or even Nogeuira get some run tonight against the Sixers with the team struggling to guard the rim. This is the kind of matchup where you can get away with having one net zero on offence, and against Philly there shouldn’t be a reason to have to stick with a 9 man rotation.
- I really liked what I saw from both DeMar and Patterson tonight. Two very complete games (DeMar threatened a huge triple double before his assist numbers tapered), and seeing that consistently will be essential to challenging the conference’s top teams until Lowry returns (and after, obviously).
Somewhat expected news here. Kyle Lowry will continue to rest and will not play against Philadelphia tonight.
In 2015, the Raptors have a losing record (13-14). What better way to get back up to .500 this year than a trip over to Philly?
Yeah, the opening paragraph is in no way intended to comfort you. Actually, it’s probably worse than you initially thought.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) March 1, 2015
Thankfully (for the sake of being well-seeded), the Raptors blitzed through the initial part of the season and then started off the ‘8-games from hell‘ with a 4-0 record. With that cushion and an Atlantic Division clinch, it really doesn’t matter that the Cavs – who are all of a sudden looking like contenders – are just one game back of the Raptors. Really, the Raptors will live with being interchangeable between 1st and 4th. What matters most is fixing their current issues in time for the post-season.
Those problems, in large part, have been discussed to death. Blake’s got you covered.
The Raptors are in Philly tonight for another game in the Eastern Conference’s abyss.
What you need to know about the 76ers..
Beleive it or not, the 76ers are currently better than the Knicks, and more likeable to. They are basically a collection of Jason Richardson and young (and partly injured) talented players. They are also absolutely littered with future draft picks and have zero aspirations for the 2014-2015 season apart from player development.
After acquiring Javale McGee along with a 2015 first-round pick before the trade deadline, the 76ers waived McGee last night.
As a whole, the 76ers can be unpredictable, because regardless of how bad they are, they give it their all every night. After blowing out the Wizards by 18 points on Friday, they went to Indiana last night and were blown-out by 20, losing leading scorer Robert Covington in the process due to an elbow injury.
Yes, at a whopping 13.2 ppg, Covington leads the 76ers in scoring. Of course, this has a lot to do with the departure of Michael Carter-Williams who is averaging 14.6 ppg.
Covington scored a team-high 18 points in Philadelphia’s last meeting against the Raptors in January. Nerlens Noel – a potential future cornerstone for the franchise – had a career-high 14 rebounds.
Frontcourt: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas vs Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims. Edge: Raptors.
I use the term ‘edge’ loosely. It should really read ‘eclipse’. Noel is a great prospect but he’s still raw and Amir Johnson should get the better of him. Ditto Valanciunas vs. Sims.
Backcourt: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, DeMar DeRozan vs Isaiah Canaan, Jason Richardson, Robert Covington. Edge: Raptors.
Still no word (at the time this was written) on Lowry and Covington’s status for tonight. Regardless, the Raptors are vastly superior in this department. DeMar is notorious for his shot selection this season, but against the 76ers, he shoots a solid 52% on the year. Jason Richardson has torched the Raptors in the past, but he’s on the very tail end of his career now. Shut him down. No excuses.
The edge off the bench goes to the Raptors as well. Although Philly has a solid second unit (10th in the league in scoring), they face injury concerns. Tony Wroten is out for a while, and the loss of MCW and McGee makes their squad pretty thin.
Tip-off is at 7 pm EST.
It took me a long time to get started when I sat down to write this. I knew the general tone of what I wanted to say, which is just something I’ve tweeted out a few times when the Toronto Raptors have struggled this year:
When your success is based on an ethereal chemistry that can’t be described or quantified, it’s sudden disappearance is difficult to remedy.
But I couldn’t get going. I toyed with the idea of writing an entire diatribe about the team’s recent struggles using lyrics from Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Alkaline Trio and other bands of that ilk. I thought about doubling down on a mid-January piece about the team’s across-the-board defensive struggles. I thought about just bailing on the 9 a.m. slot altogether.
The difficulty with beginning to write something that tries to figure this team out amid an abjectly terrible five-game losing streak is that I never quite knew how to write about them when they were succeeding.
It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot over the last 14 months, as the success of the Raptors has caused quite a bit of cognitive dissonance on my part.
I firmly believed, as many did, that the trade of Rudy Gay was the beginning of a tear-down. I liked Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson enough, but I definitely didn’t think the deal made the Raptors appreciably better. The 2013-14 season was the most fun I’ve had in seven seasons blogging about the team and I fully embraced it as it was happening, but there were times I was left debating myself about their true talent level.
In the macro picture, I don’t love the way the Raptors play. Their offense can be uncreative and repetitive, and it’s hardly an aesthetically or philosophically pleasing way of operating. A talented player beating a defender one-on-one is kind of the core of basketball, but the game can be so much more beautiful, strategic, and entertaining than that.
Much as fans have enjoyed comparing the Raptors’ offense to the San Antonio Spurs, the comparison is wholly laughable. The Raptors move the ball sometimes, but they run Loop 4, a few wrinkles out of their standard horns set, and a handful of other pet plays and otherwise design their offense around clearing space for one-on-one attacks. They rank among the league’s most ball-dominant teams and they don’t do a noticeably effective job creating efficient looks for each other.
Disliking their style is a personal preference, and the Raptors have succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations playing as they do. That’s where some dissonance has come in. It also creeps in because I don’t really believe how they operate on offense is all that sustainable.
Teams appear to be figuring things out, and those talented players the team relies on so heavily have been struggling. Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and DeMar DeRozan have taken the most shots on the team this season and have shot a combined 40 percent. The next two highest in shot totals – Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez – are shooting 40.6 and 40.5 percent, respectively. That’s not good, and it’s been even worse for the big three since the turn of the calendar.
Field goal percentage isn’t a very good way to evaluate an entire offense. Williams, DeRozan, and, to a lesser degree, Lowry, are among the league’s best at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Williams also hits threes (Lowry does, too, but he’s at 31.6 percent for the year), Lowry creates for others, DeRozan has grown as a facilitator (recent forcing of shots not withstanding), and all three players turn the ball over less often than they notice Jonas Valanciunas with a mismatch in the post, which is to say they rarely turn the ball over. These reasons are why the offense has succeeded despite poor overall shooting marks.
The issues with such a strategy are several fold, and it’s concerning that warts are already being exploited in February. Come playoff time, teams will have stronger individual defenders for one-on-one battles and stronger team defenses overall. They’ll also have the benefit of detailed scouting, which will make those assignments even easier. A first-round opponent is going to be shading Williams heavily to drive left, and they’ll have a rim protector ready to employ the concept of verticality every time Lowry sets up for a high pick-and-roll at 35 feet for his north-south acometida. Not that he’ll get the ball much, but teams will also know that Valanciunas reacts to double teams in the post like George Michael Bluth reacting to keys being thrown his way.
Defensively, the team’s system just doesn’t fit the personnel. The success of the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense, with all that length and athleticism? That’s great, and it’s been done using basically the same defense the Raptors use. But Toronto lacks the length, individual perimeter defenders (Aside: How good is Khris Middleton defensively? Damn.), and rim protection to pull it off capably. The Bucks don’t have terrific rim protection, either, but it becomes a far bigger necessity when the Raptors’ perimeter defenders parar. For a while, the defense worked. For a much longer while, it hasn’t.
On the season, the Raptors rank fourth in offense and 17th in defense. Since Jan. 1, those ranks are 13th and 21st, respectively. They’re 37-22, second in the Eastern Conference, and on track for the best regular season in franchise history.
The current slide warrants patience, like the earlier four-game skid did. Things could very well turn around on a dime, as they have before.
The issue, I guess, is that I’ll have little explanation as to why. A lot of this team’s success has been built on an intangible chemistry, a chemistry the organization bet on in the offseason and bet on again at the trade deadline, believing the synergy between these pieces will re-emerge despite warning signs that it maybe shouldn’t have existed in the first place. The issue with anointing your ineffable chemistry as sacrosanct is that chemistry in basketball often times seems tenuous and fleeting. Chemistry is incredibly valuable to a team, but something that can’t really be explained or understood can’t really be relied upon as sustainable.
(Brief aside: I worried that introducing James Johnson into the locker room would risk messing with the chemistry, another cause for dissonance on my part. I’ve loved Johnson on this team and he’s been one of their most consistent two-way producers. But even in his case, his success is a little tough to accept on its face. He’s shooting 67.8 percent on drives! That’s by far the best mark for anyone in the league who’s made 100 drives, more than 10 percentage points higher than the next best player and 11.9 percentage points higher than LeBron James. He’s been awesome.)
There’s a cliché that what’s not broken should not be fixed. There’s not a companion cliché for what to do with something that’s broken, but you can’t describe how it’s broken, and you never had the blueprints for how it was put together in the first place. That’s where I’m at with the Raptors, wondering what to prescribe to get them back to a state I couldn’t describe in the first place.
I’ve been told I’m at times pessimistic about the team because as a writer and fan, doing so is a win-win – either they win and I’m happy, or they lose and I was right and I have more to write about. I think that might be true to a small degree, if I’m being visceral. I think the larger element at play is that I’m logical and analytical by nature, and I like things to have tidy explanations. My inability to explain what makes the Raptors work is admittedly difficult for me to reconcile at times. But I don’t know how electricity works, either, and I still believe in it.
The Raptors stumbled upon something without really meaning to, and it’s been incredible. Every moment watching the team at their high points has been amazing, enough that when there are low points, it’s easy to remember the good times and just trust that they’ll come back and that will be the dominant feeling. And that might be the case. It’s a romantic notion that the Raptors will emerge from another valley to once again become the team none of us expected to believe in a little over a year ago.
I want that to be the case. I want to be that romantic. If it does happen, I may not have any idea how they fixed it, but I’ll be damn glad.
An 0-4 week serves as the backdrop of a podcast where DeMar DeRozan’s selfishness, Dwane Casey’s planning (or lack thereof) is front and center.
“We’re good though,” Johnson interrupted a questioner after Saturday’s loss in New York City who was pointing out things have not gone well during this five-game losing skid. “We’re still good … We can’t feel sorry for ourselves even though we’re losing.” DeRozan said the team would be a “scary sight” when it gets rolling again. Greivis Vasquez put the current situation bluntly, though: “Our confidence, our swagger is just gone,” he said. “We are going to gather ourselves and talk. It is not going to be easy. It is time for us to be men and face the situation. This is when you find out who is who. We have a solid team. Now we have to show what we are made of. “We are second in the East we beat some good teams. Five teams from the West. They were good wins for us. We have proven we can do it.” Now, they will have to prove it again.
“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Greivis Vasquez told reporters afterward. Sure, they did. Everyone said that. It isn’t the play sets, or offence, or effort, per se. Confidence is part of it, but the Raptors’ main problem is existential. At the beginning of the season, this team knew who it was – an outsider with a puncher’s chance. Now, it has no idea. The erratic, up-and-down performances started the moment the Raptors began to consider everyone else’s notion that they might be a dark-horse championship contender. They aren’t. They aren’t even close. They’re two or three players away. A point of order – 20 NBA teams are two or three players away from a title. What the Raptors need now is to rediscover who they are. If America is the native country of basketball, Toronto is its Island of Misfit Toys. There isn’t a player on this roster that hasn’t, at some point in his career, been an afterthought. Most have had their skills or character or basic make-up loudly doubted by their employers. A few have just been ignored. Most have been effectively fired. It’s a patchwork crew of guys who at some point were weighed and judged and found to be second-rate. But it all works together. Ujiri and Lowry were both right. The Raptors time is now. The question is “Time for what?”
Part of the reason for the fall, said Vasquez, is that the Raptors no longer have the element of surprise they did earlier this season. There’s no longer any flying under the radar for a team that made the playoffs last year and got off to a strong start this season, Vasquez explained. “The season narrows down. Games start getting harder. Teams prepare for us. Now we’re not the Cinderella team any more. Teams are really preparing for us,” Vasquez said. The Raptors also need to get back to talking and working together the way they did in more successful times. “It’s a collective effort. I don’t think we’re doing it collectively, and that’s the bottom line. We have to play defensively help each other out, offensively we have to move the ball,” said Vasquez.
Covington overcame a 5-for-15 shooting performance to score a team-best 18 points in the loss to Toronto in January. Noel had a career-high 14 rebounds and 12 points while the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was held to eight points on 4-of-14 shooting. DeRozan, scoring 17.8 points per game, averaged 25.8 in his previous six matchups but enters this one in a shooting slump. The guard has connected at 33.7 percent in his last 12 games and missed 38 of 52 attempts in his past three contests.
The Sixers have used 26 different starting lineups this season.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
On the surface, the Raptors improved upon their dumpster-inferno display just one night prior. For the most part, ball-movement was present, the one-on-one selfishness dissipated (sans DeRozan), and wealth was shared with six players reaching double-figures. But eventually, their inconsistent past and current way of life reared its ugly head. At this point, wins and losses take a backseat to the Raps overcoming their demons. But with the losing-streak now hitting five games, re-embracing the fundamentals that got them here is this squad’s new reality.
Chicago has caught up, and now officially holds the East’s 2-seed. With Cleveland currently in the midst of a league-wide assault, and the Wizards separated by a mere 3.5 games, prospects of losing home-court advantage are dangerously close to the edge.
In the 24 hours leading up to Saturday night’s tilt in NYC, it’s fair to say Raptors’ fans held one of two mindsets. The population was either eagerly awaiting a chance to erase the burning imprint of incompetence shown against Golden State, or in a form of protest, chose to sit this one out entirely.
I wouldn’t place any fault if you fell in the latter category, Friday’s collapse was certainly cringe-worthy. Not to mention this matchup wasn’t exactly #LeaguePassAlert worthy on paper. The Knicks’ have failed in every respect to live up to their city’s “Mecca” moniker, as New Yorkers are currently suffering from depression, waiting patiently for the Triangle Offense to take shape.
But hopefully we all remained hardcore, and continued to sift through the Raps’ rubble.
Before we investigate what went down in the Big Apple, a moment of remembrance and recognition calls for the spotlight.
Anthony Mason passed away on Saturday, after ongoing heart problems. The former Knick, and bruiser-in-the-paint with underrated touch and passing skills provided basketball fans annual entertainment during his run in the 90’s. The kind of player who was beloved at home, and hated on the road. But the type that every fan secretly wished played for their team.
He was just 48-years-old. May he rest in peace.
Speaking of a franchise’s former players. They may be far removed from Toronto’s current state of affairs but fans will always remember the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon suiting up on Canadian soil. The forever hard-working and fan-favourite, JC, was forced to the shelf with an Achilles injury, but “Baby Dirk” Bargnani must have had this contest circled on his calendar. Perhaps the latest Primo Pasta edition.
As we all know, Bargnani is capable of teasing a fan base with occasional outbursts. With the Knicks’ victory and Bargs’ 19-point effort now in the books, you can chalk-up a tidy average of 20.3 points, 7.0 boards and 44 percent from the field in his last three games.
If only he wasn’t labelled this city’s hardwood-saviour so early on, things could have been different.
And I will now begin to put down the whiskey glass (a useful distraction from Friday). Proceed with caution New York!
But as much I would like to sit here and rag on the Raps’ 1st overall pick in 2006, credit is due. At least for one night, the 7-foot Italian saved a little bit of his dignity.
A shout-out to Quincy Acy as well. He may have been a DNP on this evening, but Acy had his moments in a Raptors’ uniform; at the very least, worthy of acknowledging.
Two key aspects dropped just before tipoff. Kyle Lowry was given the chance to relax as a resting spectator (giving way to Greivis Vasquez receiving the starting nod), and the insertion of Amir Johnson back into the starting lineup after the “matchup” switch against the Warriors.
Whether K-Low endured too many moments of overcompensation during DeRozan’s extended absence earlier this season, or the floor general is dealing with undisclosed ailments, one can’t deny that this was a welcome idea. Let’s face it, Lowry is flat-out gassed on multiple levels. The deterioration in gameplay is no longer the elephant in the room that nobody speaks of.
It came at a snail’s pace, but it’s about time the city as a whole has spoken up in regards to No.7. He is the leader of this squadron, a well-deserved All-Star, and everybody loves his skill-set and tenacity. But it seems as though his fandom bought him silence on the subject for far too long, as if Lowry was deemed untouchable from criticism.
I get it, Lowry is the poster-boy for turning around this organization. Doldrums of inadequacy have been replaced with supreme optimism in a short timeframe. But if we can’t call out the team’s captain, we are not doing our jobs correctly. We are not just happy to be here anymore.
Overall, Vasquez did an adequate job filling in. Although, a little overshadowed by his run-in with the heat-check gods, who usually reserve their presence to whisper in Lou Williams’ ear from time to time. A few timely 3-pointers in the second half helped mask his overall 38 percent from the field.
But GV did most of his damage in the facilitating department. Six assists won’t have him featured on Smitty’s Top Five but Vasquez continued to implement lane-penetration. The once dynamic part of Lowry’s game that has recently found its way on the back of a Toronto milk carton. Perhaps a view from afar can result in Lowry getting his act together. Word has it that KL might also be on the sidelines Monday night in Philly.
As for the starting lineup moving back to its regular scheduled programming, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Pattterson’s name being announced with the starting unit. Especially considering the fact that Amir Johnson is simply playing through pain on a nightly basis.
JJ at the 4, and PP at the 3, or an intertwined vice-versa can open up a new ideas for this team, ones that certainly deserve more attention than just matchup-based nods. Let Special Agent Johnson cement himself under the rim even further (there isn’t anyone on this roster that employs his post arsenal), while Patman creates the space that is so desired more so than already provided.
This recap cannot end without singling out Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan. Two players on opposite ends of notoriety against New York. Well, actually a continuation of the Raptors’ other fallen star.
It was another day at the office for DD’s shooting woes. Add another 20 percent (3-15) to his recent resume. And make it a grand total of 34 percent over his last 10 (54-158).
But what was most alarming was DeRozan’s lack of awareness. On the fast break, and in the half-court set.
Sure, missed dunks happen all the time, but the embarrassing missed slam on what was an easy transition bucket transformed into an 360-attempt suggests a non-committal vibe of getting back to those aforementioned fundamentals. With the club’s current sub-par status, dropping the easy two and getting back on defense should be the leading mindset.
It’s passable, as in 9 times out of 10 he makes it, but the moment didn’t call for the sideshow.
Then came JV mishap. With Valanciunas capitalizing on the mismatches down-low, DeRozan took it upon himself to selfishly neglect the big-man and turn the possession into another one of his mid-range jumpers.
One has to question where DD’s head is currently at, especially when allowing Tim Hardaway Jr. to elude him time and time again on defense. Which actually caused Valanciunas to foul-out while in help mode with just over 3 minutes to go in a game still up for grabs.
As for JV, the punch-clock continues, but the act of getting this squad’s force in the middle more involved remains sketchy at best.
While we’re examining recent stretches, you can add another night of efficiency to JV’s campaign. 75 percent to go along with his 56 percent over the course of his last 10 (35-68). To the camp of naysayers that repeatedly suggest Valanciunas benefits greatly on put-backs and tip-ins, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his game is evolving. It’s just up to Casey and company to promote the process.
Up next: A trip into the Wells Fargo Center to face another bottom-feeder in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers. But if we’ve learned anything from Saturday night, there is not a team in the league that can now be taken for granted or deemed inferior going in.
Ok, deep breath. The anger will subside, but the frustration will likely never come to an end.
Feel free to join in on this stress-releasing exercise,
After a close but ultimately humiliating loss to a Knicks roster resembling a D-League squad, Dwane Casey, Amir Johnson, and DeMar DeRozan spoke to the media.
|Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -2 +/-Knows Andrea Bargnani well and it showed early on with his highlight Statue of Liberty dunk on the pasta eating Knick. Shortly after though Bargs drove into Amir hard which had Johnson holding his shoulder afterward. But, like many of you say “we don’t need excuses” and our man Amir won’t bring any. He held Bargs at bay but was sapped with early fouls which kept him off the floor for big portions of the game.|
|James Johnson, PF 33 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-3 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +4 +/-Seriously can anyone jump as high as JJ from a standstill. At 3:31 of the second quarter he rebounded ball and took it the length of the court. Cleanthony Early got blocked by him twice in the first half (2 of JJ’s first half 3 blocks). At times it felt like there were two James Johnson’s on the floor he was EVERYWHERE.
The 2 three balls he took early 3Q aren’t his shot but given how well he was doing everything else it’s hard to complain. He was the best player on the court AGAIN
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 6-8 FG | 4-6 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -6 +/-Looked early like he could dominate his counterparts getting easy rebounds, but he picked up 2 quick fouls sending him to the bench courtesy of the Italian we love to hate.
The team finally starting going to him and Tony Brothers & crew responded by doling out 3 quick fouls which took him off the floor again.
To Casey’s credit he sent JV back in, but playing with 5 fouls meant the big man was tentative on defense. He stayed in the game until 3:11 (when he fouled out)
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +4 +/-This opportunity to rest Lowry coincided with Vasquez desperately seeking to recover his gravy. Put up a few YOLO’s but for the most part mission complete. I wondered to myself as he fed Amir in the post if Jose was reminiscing on the side line “I used to do that” (poor guy)
Two big 3’s by Gravy brought them back within 6 with time remaining.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 3-15 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -1 +/-Um, missed 360 dunk … Embarrassing much? That will end up on Shaqtin a fool for sure. I was torn between thinking is he feeling that good? or he better bring it now and post some big numbers so “the dunk” isn’t what we focus on post game. He had 9 points at the half and provided essentially ZERO defense on Hardaway Jr. electing to go under screens (WHY?)
One specific play in the 3Q where he went up in the paint (missed) for a contested shot and JV was just to his left wide open had me screaming at my TV : PASS THE BALL DeMar! Ditto for the 4Q when JV yelled for the ball and DeMar ignored him for a contested bad shot. I mean seriously at the end of the day forget the 3 of 15 that dunk said it all.
Just after writing the above point, DD made his best move of the game stealing the ball and driving it hard to the basket then Patterson grabbed the rebound and scored to pull them within 2 with 33.2 seconds remaining. (still, it wasn’t enough to erase that missed dunk, his poor defense or worse his poor shot selection)
|Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | -6 +/-After going down on a play early left the floor limping (that knee still isn’t right)
Hit two big threes at crucial moments in the game.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | 0 +/-Hansbrough entered sporting a lovely red scratch line from his Ezeli encounter last night and immediately brought the Hansy touch to the floor, flailing about for rebounds and pushing his opponents out of the way. Shouldn’t we create some sort of key stone cop music for him at the ACC? Just saying|
|Terrence Ross, SF 16 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14 +/-As much as we berate him for not attempting to drive he did so last night and he did it again tonight. He seems to (dare I say it) finally be understanding he won’t get the calls until he does it on a nightly basis. He made a huge gaffe at the end of 3Q by not going for the rebound, but watching the replay back it looks like he was preparing to jump when Thomas pushed him forward so I’ll cut him some slack.|
|Louis Williams, SG 33 MIN | 6-16 FG | 8-9 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | -4 +/-He must have heard that he dropped to third in the NBA for points off bench because he hoisted a couple of “no, no.. yes” shots. The fact remains Lou is going to shoot us into games and shoot us out of games on this night his 12 first half points helped bring us back from down 10. I can’t give him below a B- because he scored 22 points and had 2 rebounds and 3 assists|
Glad he’s finally chosen to give Lowry rest to allow those pesky injuries to his elbow, thumb (and whatever else we don’t know about) to heal or at least improve. Now he needs to keep doing that and find the same rest periods for Amir through to season end. Use these last games wisely Mr. Casey.
Also give him credit for shifting JJ onto Hardaway Jr. to start the 3Q. Honestly though how much of this falls on Casey on how much on the players? That is the question
Five Things We Saw
- The fact the Knicks took the first quarter and led by 7 (22-15) didn’t worry me… hey they are the Knicks. but then the game kept going and things didn’t improve.1Q Raptors shot only 31.6% to NYK: 41.2%, Neither team hit a 3 pointers, Knicks were +3 on assists and +4 on rebounds
2Q: Raps improved FG% to 40%, Knicks shot 41%, Toronto also got their 3 ball dropping hitting 5 in the quarter, they closed the rebound gap and had only 5 turnovers at the half. As low as the 7 assists seemed they only had 2 in the first quarter so it was a gradual improvement. However, it does beg the question DeRozan had ZERO assists at the half…. what happened to the assist master that returned from injury????
- 3Q: Raps shot 41.7% and lowered Knicks to 39.7% were +1 from 3 had 6 fewer free throws, and tallied 5 4 assists in the quarter keeping their turnovers down at 8Raptors played with more energy on defense which was immediately evident based on the Knicks getting repeated 24 shot clock violations or late shot clock attempts.
The Raptors found themselves in hot water in the front court with Patterson and both Johnson’s having 4 personal fouls each. Regardless of the zebra’s & Tony Brothers continued dislike for our front court this game shouldn’t even have come down to the 4Q.
- 4Q At 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter our starting 5 had as many personal fouls as the entire Knick team. JV had some good minutes but the fouls ended up hurting him. Casey can’t control what the zebra’s will call or whether they’ll dole out equally punishment for similar tasks so that’s not on him. It does make me wonder though if the team took it hard at the Knicks to start the game if this might have been called differently.
- Does any other NBA team get toasted by their previous players as badly or frequently as the Raptors? Bargs jumped into the Hot Tub Time Machine taking full advantage of every second Amir wasn’t on the floor to go off for one of his better outings. Good thing Calderon wasn’t playing or it could have been a long night! To that end, the Raptors always seem to play down to their competition which is a dangerous habit to continue with 16 sub .500 teams on tap and many of them fighting for a playoff spot. They got a second life with the missed dunk by Amundson on the same bucket DeRozan missed on. That’s 2 more blocks by the NY rim than most of the players had.
- Remembering Anthony Mason: He was a big hulk of a man who was a surprisingly good passer and nimble on his feet. When he fouled players it looked like they would feel it for days. And he had one of the most infectious smiles ever to grace the court. Gone too soon, may he rest in peace.
- Record: 37-21 (4-6)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 111 ORTG (3)
- 106.3 DRTG (17)
- 93.3 Pace (18)
- 73.1 DRB% (24)
- 0.55 TS% (7)
- Kyle Lowry 18.3 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7.1 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
- Record: 11-46 (2-8)
- Eastern (15)
- Atlantic (5)
- 101.3 ORTG (28)
- 110.5 DRTG (28)
- 90.6 Pace (28)
- 72.5 DRB% (28)
- 0.512 TS% (28)
- Carmelo Anthony 24.2 ppg
- Amar’e Stoudemire 6.8 rpg
- Jose Calderon 4.7 apg
- Samuel Dalembert 1.3 bpg
- Iman Shumpert 1.3 spg
After a truly hellish stretch of opponents that included no fewer than 6 title contenders (and the Pelicans), the Raptors will get a little respite on the second half of a back-to-back, as they travel to New York to face the saddest organization currently in professional sports. It’s a break that’s sorely needed after last night’s thrashing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors (and no, I’m not going to overreact – unless there’s trouble tonight).
Seriously, look at this roster. The Knicks’ depth chart is currently topped by a Cleveland castoff (Lou Amundson), a second round rookie (Cleanthony Early), a 10-day callup turned key roster cog (Langston Galloway), plus Jason Smith and Jose Calderon, two guys who I feel genuinely sorry for but probably shouldn’t be starting at this point in their NBA careers. Andrea Bargnani led this team in scoring the other day. Andrea Bargnani!
Bargnani and Calderon (and Quincy Acy) are probably the part of this game that bring the most interest to Raptors fans from an opposing team standpoint – while they were in Toronto, all had stretches of extreme popularity of varying lengths, but were moved in order to make way for the current, more well-balanced roster. It’s particularly sad to see Calderon stuck in this mess, as he’s one of my favourite Raptors of all time, personally, and one of the team’s most well-respected alumni. It’d be nice to see him finish his career out in a place where he can contend for a title, but alas. Acy, as well, probably deserves better than this, and Bargnani, well… Let’s be honest, this is exactly where he should be.
In the middle of a back to back, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about matchups, but the Raptors should win this game in a walk if all goes according to plan. The Knicks will certainly get up for a division rival, but the disparity in talent here is huge, and barring a random massive game from someone like Tim Hardaway Jr. (who’s certainly capable of doing so), it’s difficult to see where they will find the points to be competitive. That means that the Raptors only path to a loss is through a lack of effort or a poor shooting night – two things we’ve seen against the Knicks this season in a December matchup. They were able to pull that one out, 95-90 in overtime, which likely bodes well for tonight, as it’s likely the bottom of an expected performance spread.
I apologize for not offering more poignant commentary and analysis here, but it’s difficult to analyze a team who’s best player is out for the season and who just jettisoned their other top scoring option in order to try and finish at the bottom of the barrel. I may be eating crow tomorrow, but I’ll say Raps by 15 despite their inconsistent play as of late, and I feel like I’m being pessimistic.
(Seriously, though. Poor Jose Calderon. Maybe the Raptors can sneak him onto the team plane at the end of the night.)
The Raptors need a leader.
My eyes still hurt from staring into the flames of burning garbage for two hours as the Raptors were spanked like naughty school boys in front of 20,000 fans last night at the Air Canada Center.
The game started off with a ferocious James Johnson block and then fell off a cliff immediately thereafter. The Raps had the worst first quarter in franchise history, shooting an abysmal 1 for 19 from the field. Instead of working the ball inside after a rough start from the field, Lowry and DeRozan continued to fire away, missing 12 of the Raptors first 15 shots before being pulled from the game. Jonas had one shot attempt in the quarter. On top of the terrible shooting, the team also turned the ball over 6 times. Despite only shooting 34.8 percent on the quarter themselves, the Warriors were up 27-11 after one.
The second quarter was actually pretty okay for a fleeting moment in time, as the second unit brought the game within ten. Vasquez made a concerted effort to move the ball, Terrence Ross was aggressive and hitting his shots, and for a second there it looked like the Raps might make a game of things. But, alas, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes checked back in and the smack down continued as Golden State went on a 27-14 run to close out the quarter. T. Ross led the way for the Raptors in the quarter with 7 points.
Things went from tragedy to farce in the third as the Warriors absolutely toyed with their hapless opponents. The Raptors gave up 44 points in the quarter, allowing the Warriors to shoot a ridiculous 18 of 22 from the field.
Dwane Casey was so disgusted with the team’s energy that he pulled his entire starting unit with 8:45 to play, after they were outscored 13-2 to open the quarter. There were, however, a couple of entertaining nuggets from the quarter. For example with 3:05 to go in the quarter the Raptors had 48 points, Curry and Thompson had 47. The most exciting moment came courtesy of Festus Ezeli and Tyler Hansbrough, who got a little salty with each other after Festus gave Hansbrough a throat chop.
Strangely enough Terrence Ross continued to go ham, dropping 10 in the quarter.
The Raptors actually played pretty well in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t matter because they were down 41 to start the period and no one cared. All of the starters returned to open the final period except for Lowry. Jonas played really hard and did this.
The real highlight was watching Chuck Hayes and Greg Stiemsma man the court together for the final six and a half minutes. It was as wonderful as you’d expect.
Things got super strange to close out the quarter, as everyone was basically waiting for the game to end and Jack Armstrong started cracking jokes about newspaper obituaries.
- This was embarrassing. The Raptors didn’t lead once the entire game and frankly they didn’t even put up a fight. DeRozan and Lowry are in some kind of funk and they’re trying to hammer their way out of it by taking turns forcing the issue, rather than moving the ball and letting the offense work for them.
- If it took a huge loss to help Ross get some of his mojo back moving forward, then it’s a win in the long run.
- We’re in a rut. We’re tired. Our stars need to regain their confidence. A couple of bounce back opportunities against New York and Philly will give them a chance to do that before another big test at home against Cleveland. How we respond to this embarrassing loss will say a lot about our team.
DeMar DeRozan seemed to take recent criticism of his shot selection to heart, making several forays into the paint. So, instead of missing contested mid-range shots, he was deterred by Warriors shot-blocker Andrew Bogut closer to the rim. The starting lineup, which featured Patrick Patterson replacing Amir Johnson, managed just one assist in 112 total minutes of playing time. That is basically impossible. The second unit was better, but still lacking. Terrence Ross had 18 points, his best offensive outing in weeks, but a lot of it was just the result of making difficult shots. At one point, Ross tried to take defensive player of the year candidate Draymond Green on in isolation, had the ball poked away from him, re-collected it tried the same thing again. The shot missed, the just result for a poor idea. The contrast with the Warriors was stark, if predictable. One first-quarter possession had the ball move from side to side back to the original side, resulting in a totally open three-pointer for Klay Thompson. It was the first of three consecutive possessions that ended up in clean looks for Thompson, only one of the best shooters on the planet. It is not a matter of bad scouting on the Raptors’ part; just, when a team moves the ball that well, the other team can get whatever it wants. When a team does not move the ball crisply, a player has to make an excellent play on his own. One of those things is tougher than the other.
ounds like fun. Friday night was an incredibly one-sided show, but it was a show. The Raptors, of course, usually score with iso basketball. The Golden State scouting board read, “much of what they do reverts to 1-on-1.” “We didn’t share the ball the way we usually do. When we share the ball, that’s where we’re at our best,” said DeMar DeRozan, who spent too much time attacking alone. “Golden State showed a great example of it. They moved the ball extremely well . . . that’s the way we’ve got to get back to playing, not be so stagnant. For myself, too.” Iso may yet become Toronto’s fatal flaw. Of course, Friday night, everything was fatal. But at least the killers were fun to watch.
Friday night’s debacle against the Golden State Warriors was the ugliest yet. They went 1-of-19 in the first quarter of their 113-89 homecoming defeat. Their frigid start set a franchise record for offensive futility for a period, and it was entirely on merit. This was not a case of a team missing makeable shots. This was a case of a team consistently forcing the ball into the teeth of a very good defence and missing one highly contested shot after another. If you’ve been to an am