I’m sorry to harp on this yet again, but Jonas Valanciunas was just a mess on defense. Maybe he’s a tad banged up (he was questionable for Monday’s game), and if so, he needs to sit and get healthy, because he was a total minus on the floor. He couldn’t move his feet whatsoever and kept getting blown up on defense.
The problem only gets worse when Valanciunas is asked to play with Luis Scola. Who’s idea was it, in this era of pace and space, to unite the league’s two slowest defenders? In the first quarter, Scola allowed Markieff Morris to blow by and he crowned Valanciunas. In the third quarter, Valanciunas returned the favor, was late on Markieff, and he dunked on Scola. A circus act, those two.
A night after the 11-game run was ended by a poor effort against the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors again struggled defensively, but the offence was firing, especially Lowry in the first half and DeRozan in the second and it ended 104-97 in favour of the Raptors.
Terrence Ross chipped in 16 from the bench, helping Toronto overcome a 30-point explosion from Suns forward Markieff Morris, making his first start in weeks thanks to the arrival of interim head coach Earl Watson.
Lowry scored 26 points, DeRozan 22.
The all-stars took turns bailing the team out and at times, they covered for each other.
Never was that more apparent than in the final minute of the fourth quarter, with Phoenix threatening, Lowry made a bad play out of a timeout and nearly threw the ball away. DeRozan tracked it down, buried a miracle three-pointer with a Suns player draped all over him and basically sealed the contest.
This was a tough road win. The second night of a back-to-back on the West coast after getting in late due to a snow storm. Plus, the team was down a member of the rotation because of Johnson’s injury. Lowry once again was forced to play big minutes, being out on the court for 41.
Still, Toronto persevered to get their 15th win on the road, second to just the Cavaliers in the East.
“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt would be coming after a coaching change,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They played us as well as they’ve probably played for a while.”
The best two-way performance of the night went to Terrence Ross, though. Ross was all over the floor — grabbing rebounds, forcing steals, and driving to the basket. His stat line of 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a steal belies his impact on this one. He had foul trouble early and the Raptors suffered for it. When he returned in the second quarter, Toronto went on an 11-0 run. Throughout the game, the Raptors looked a whole lot better with Ross on the floor.
Unfortunately, Ross’ performance flew in the face of Norman Powell’s first career start. In a clear attempt to keep his hot bench intact, Powell got the start for an injured James Johnson and looked out of his realm in 15 minutes, going 0-for-3 for a -1. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey gives Ross the bump to starter if Johnson is missing any more time. Toronto was clearly adjusting to a different look this time around, with just eight regular rotation players available.
The Suns continued their fourth quarter troubles by failing to score as much as the other team, quickly getting down 12.
The offence for the Raptors at times was rolling tonight. They shot 47% from the field, while getting major contributions from the bench unit. The dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the charge. Lowry was making it rain from beyond the arc converting on 5 triples and DeRozan was doing his part to make it known that he’s virtually unguardable – at least if your name is P.J. Tucker.
The Raptors also did a tremendous job of pounding the rock by getting to the charity stripe 32 times. Lowry finished with a team high 26 points.
DeRozan ranked second among Eastern Conference players in January, averaging 23.9 points and recording eight games with 20+ points. He shot .442 (118-for-267) from the field, .417 (15-for-36) from three-point range and .848 (84-for-99) at the free throw line. DeRozan scored a season-high 35 points January 8 at Washington and matched a career-high with 11 rebounds January 14 during an NBA Global Game in London, England versus Orlando. He also matched a career high with three consecutive 30-point games January 18-22, averaging 32.3 points during this stretch.
“It’s good, you see your two leaders and you know they can get along it’s a trickle-down effect, I feel like it’s big for our team and big for our young guys to be able to see guys of that caliber being able to get along and enjoy each other and don’t hate each other,” Carroll said.
“You look at a lot of teams and guys don’t like playing with each other and dislike each other. It’s a trickle down effect for the guys in the room.”
DeRozan previously won in April of 2015, Lowry in December of 2014.
Importantly, the duo has showed no signs of slowing down, alternating doing the heavy lifting when required, or combining to great effect.
Last year, DeRozan was injured early in the season and Lowry had to pick up the slack, resulting in a burnout that started in January of 2015 and which caught up to the team throughout the second half and into the playoffs against Washington.
DeRozan and Lowry have grown into one of the NBA’s most impactful pairs.
“I think they’re the best duo. Right now they’re behind Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), and they’re next in line,” Carroll said.
You win and people notice. Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were all recognized this week for their work in January. Well earned and well deserved. These guys have paid the price and their hard work is paying off.
Raptors 905 went 2-1 this week and saw the season-best win streak reach six games before finally losing in Erie. A big congratulations goes out to Ronald Roberts Jr., who was named to the NBA D-League Eastern Conference All-Star Team this week. Roberts will be the only Raptors 905 player to represent the host team at Ricoh Coliseum on February 13th.
Among the best: The combined play of Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (obviously), and Bismack Biyombo & Jonas Valanciunas morphing to form the Raptors’ MegaCentre.
The Raptors have to hope the deja vu doesn’t extend to the second half.
Last year, they followed their strong start with a feeble 16-18 finish and a brutally abrupt first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards.
The good news is the Raptors roster is better. Backcourt mainstays Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the midst of their best seasons, and Jonas Valanciunas continues to improve in the middle. Cory Joseph and Luis Scola add depth. DeMarre Carroll, the organization’s top offseason acquisition, will hopefully return from knee surgery, ready to inject the three-and-D skills that earned him a $60 million contract.
Faried would be a great weapon for Lowry in the pick and roll and would fit the Raptors up and down style like a glove. Faried has also shown an increased dedication to the defensive side of the floor and was originally selected by Masai Ujiri, so there’s a connection already formed between those two. A dynamic player like this is hard to come by:
With the acquisition of Thaddeus Young, the Raptors would add an athletic power player to their ranks. While undersized as a power forward at 6-foot-8, Young provides the talents of Patterson and Johnson combined and more consistently. He may not be an elite player, but with the current mix of players the Raptors currently possess, it wouldn’t make a huge difference. His 15 points and 9 boards per game would make him the perfect starter, allowing Luis Scola to add his unique skill set to the bench mob. And while the Raptors would be on the hook for at least two and a half years of Young’s existing contract ($11.2 million, $12.1 million and $12.9 million respectively), the new salary cap increase will make it seem like pocket change in the grand scheme of things.
“They’ve come a long way in so many areas,” Malone said Monday. “I can remember my father as the first coach in Raptor history trying to educate the fans but also the media. A lot of the guys that covered the Raptors at the time really weren’t (knowledgeable) so he would have sessions after practice with the media talking just about the game of basketball.”
The Raptors’ performance in last year’s post-season was considered to be a disappointment in some regard, but the underwhelming play against the Washington Wizards during a four-game sweep did not catch Ujiri by surprise.
“I think the roster was flawed a bit last year and I take the blame for that,” he said. “Defensively we were just not capable. We were not ready injury-wise. We had some bad momentum going into the playoffs honestly. That’s sports. You have to be ready.”
Ujiri sensed the decline in performance coming in the second of the half of the season and made sure to aggressively upgrade the team’s depth and defensive issues this past summer.
“The players we brought compliment what (coach Dwane Casey) tries to do,” he added. “We needed more two-way players and unfortunately DeMarre (Carroll) hasn’t played as much. Hopefully we can get him back this season but Cory Joseph has been a good two-way player and Biyombo has been a good two-way player. We tried to get better with that.
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