Shoddy shot selection continues to sink Raptors

- February 25th, 2015

It was another tough loss on Tuesday night for the Raptors in a game that could have gone their way had they played a bit smarter. Similar to what went down in New Orleans, in fact. Losing three straight after the stunningly easy win over Atlanta to open the post-all-star break portion of the schedule isn’t the end of the world, but some things need to change if the Raptors want to stay on track.

- Following the loss to the Pelicans, Dwane Casey said his team’s shot selection leaves something to be desired, that the team falls in love with three-point attempts too often instead of driving to the basket. This corner would argue that the extremely difficult two-point attempts favoured by DeMar DeRozan are a bigger issue. Like Rudy Gay before him, DeRozan seems to need to hit some sort of quote of two-point attempts on many evenings. Some games he doesn’t play like this – he moves the ball with aplomb and looks for his teammates – but too often, he forces up brutal attempts by the half-dozen. That needs to change, if that’s even possible. Patrick Patterson said the Raptors are too ISO-heavy and try to do too much on their own instead of playing the team game. The East-leading Atlanta Hawks assist on 67.6% of their baskets, the Raptors draw assists just 54.5% of the time, fourth-fewest in the NBA.

- If DeRozan wasn’t capable of playing more effectively, we wouldn’t harp on this, but he has shown many times what type of player he can be when he moves the ball. A great example of what DeRozan could be doing came late in third. On a break, he could have forced a tough jumper but instead, made a great pass to Patrick Patterson for three. When he attacks, he usually either gets to the free throw line or creates open shots for his teammates. When he settles, bad things happen. Since going to the line 35 times in the final three games heading into the break (just shy of 12 per outing), DeRozan has made just 14 appearances at the line in four games (3.5 per game).

- Add up way too many turnovers on the wrong spots of the floor to bad shot selection and nearly always, the result is going to be a defeat. The Raptors shot smartly enough through the first quarter and carried it through the half (53.3% shooting) and committed just seven turnovers, but only led by six against a solid Dallas team. The Raptors weren’t great in the third, but neither was Dallas, so this still could have been a win, had the fourth not been a bit of a disaster. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined to miss all six of their attempts, the team shot just 32% (2-for-7 from three) and Dallas turned six turnovers into nine points and that was pretty much the difference.

A few more observations:

- J.J. Barea treated the Raptors the way he usually treats Canada while playing for Puerto Rico. He was a sparkplug.

- Patterson got the yips late, committing two of the team’s worst turnovers in the game.

- The mistakes down the stretch just added up and were too many to overcome.
- Positives would include looking for Jonas Valanciunas early – especially Lowry – the strong play at both ends in the first half from the team and the play of James Johnson, who was once again arguably the best Raptor on the floor.
Some grisly stats:
DeRozan shooting 36% in February Lowry 35%, Patterson 40% (30% from three after 45% earlier in year), Lou Williams 33%, team 42% for Feb. 26th in NBA. 22nd in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. Though those perimeter players (and Patterson) have been woeful, James and Amir Johnson and Valanciunas have all shot at least 60% from the floor in February, yet barely see the ball. Not exactly a winning formula is it?

- The bright side – Toronto’s defence has been No. 4 overall in February.

Troubling signs as Raptors collapse against Pelicans

- February 24th, 2015

It all looked so promising early on. Responding to a lethargic performance in Houston that disappointed head coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors came out aggressive and intense against New Orleans. The defence was superb particularly from Kyle Lowry, James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and nobody could stop Valanciunas inside. But that all faded and eventually, “they played harder than us,”  Lowry said of the Pelicans. That’s two out of the past three games that an opponent “threw a bigger punch” than the Raptors and seemed to want it more. That’s a bit troubling.

- Also troubling: The lack of creativity on offence. The Raptors are a three-point shooting team and that’s not going to change, as Lowry also pointed out, but how can a team that runs such efficient out of timeout plays, be so brutal at the end of quarters and of games? The Lou Williams isolation plays don’t work, because there is no variety and opponents know what to expect. You might get a call on the road with your six foot guard driving into a 7-foot shot-blocker once or twice a season. It’s just a bad decision by Lowry, the success rate is tiny. Even Casey said the team wasn’t running the plays and was just trying to “take an opportunity to do something different.” Again, troubling. DeMar DeRozan’s 22-foot fadeaways? Also troubling. DeRozan has been extremely effective when he moves the ball, doesn’t force his shots and takes what the defence is giving him. That’s the all-star version of DeRozan. We have only seen it sporadically. Perhaps it is patience that Lowry and DeRozan lack? Instead of forcing, if they’d just slow it down and make better decisions (like keeping Valanciunas involved) the Raptors would be a lot more threatening and it would be far easier to see them as a legitimate contender to make the Eastern Conference Finals or at least win a round and nearly take another. Right now, that seems like wishful thinking. Masai Ujiri gets this. It’s why he didn’t make a small move and it is why huge changes are coming the next two summers as he puts his stamp on a team that is still heavily-dominated by Bryan Colangelo acquisitions.

- Lou Williams was badly missed in Houston and Patrick Patterson was badly missed in this one. The team has grown used to closing games with Patterson on the floor and obviously couldn’t, due to his knee injury. Patterson is one of the three best pick-and-roll defenders on the team and also has a habit of hitting big shots for the club. If he had been healthy, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

- The play of Terrence Ross is still a gigantic concern. They let him play the entire second quarter and Ross only scored once on four tries, didn’t grab a rebound and like usual, didn’t get to the line. He did make at least one big shot though. All they can do is be patient in the off-season, as nobody will trade anything of value for him at this point with his value cratered.

- The coaching staff has been great all season and I’ve been the first to point it out and don’t want to seem like I’m piling on today, but why play the starters so much in the third? Three of them played the whole frame, DeRozan only a minute and a half less. Of course they were going to be tired in the fourth with Patterson sidelined. Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough should have battled against the plodding Omer Asik, allowing Amir Johnson or Valanciunas to get some rest to be fresh for the fourth (part of the reason Valanciunas didn’t play during the decisive final minutes was because the team said he didn’t have enough in the tank …). The team was up 11 when DeRozan split a pair of free throws half-way through the third, that was the perfect time to give the bigs and Lowry a break (or even up eight with three minutes left). Give the Pelicans full marks for coming back, but part of it was due to Toronto’s fatigue.

- The Raptors are adamant that James Johnson is not an infallible one-on-one defender – he makes a lot of mistakes, he just covers up for them extremely quickly – and Tyreke Evans still had his way with him, but still believe Johnson on Evans would have made more sense than Greivis Vasquez. Evans likely still blows by Johnson, but Johnson would have made him work harder and perhaps thrown him off a bit. Still, why don’t players back up off of Evans? He is a well below average shooter and a fantastic driver. Give him more room and dare him to shoot over you.

- Amir Johnson got annihilated down low, mainly by Alexis Ajinca. The Pelicans shot 10-for-13 against him at the rim, just 4-for-9 against Valanciunas.

Raptors not named James Johnson fail to bring it in Houston and nobody picks up slack for struggling stars, injured Lou Williams

- February 22nd, 2015

- The Raptors played like a team finishing a tough back-to-back on Saturday night in Houston. Not surprisingly, that’s because they were. Even though they got some rest in the fourth quarter the night before, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan looked way off in this one early on. They shot 2-for-9, combined, in the first quarter. When they went just 2-for-11 in the third quarter, that was basically the game. They just weren’t in it, something Dwane Casey felt was a problem for the whole team. ““When you don’t come out in this league ready to play mentally and physically, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your behind handed to you,” Casey said afterward. “Tonight we didn’t come out with the right mind set. They were the hungrier team. They did all the hard and grimy things that we did Friday in Atlanta.”

- Overall, it was a hideous shooting night for Toronto’s two best players (2-for-13 for Lowry, 4-for-14 for DeRozan). With Lou Williams out due to an ankle injury, there was nobody to pick up the offensive slack, to make up for their struggles. Lowry is now a troubling 37% shooter (30% from three) over his past five games. He has averaged just 5.4 assists against a whopping 3.4 turnovers per game in that span. The hope is the all-star break gave Lowry the rest he needed to get back into top form. He was excellent in Atlanta, but turned in one of his worst outings on Saturday.

- No shame to losing to a strong squad in a building that has a loud crowd when you didn’t get much sleep. Houston, even with Dwight Howard injured, is a good squad. If Howard returns, the Howard rebound to a streaking Corey Brewer should be an effective wrinkle. As is, the team seems to be missing something (depth perhaps) to really challenge the West’s big boys, but a good team nonetheless. It was a lot to ask taking out both the Hawks and Rockets in a road back-to-back. Still, Casey didn’t think they were mentally in it and believes there is no excuse to not be ready to compete, even if you are tired. And hey, Houston was playing for the second night in a row too and still doubled Toronto’s energy.

- James Johnson was excellent. He has been quite a good fit in the starting lineup. He played excellent defence on Kyle Korver on Friday, then made life far more difficult than usual for James Harden, an MVP candidate. Johnson blocked a couple of Harden’s shots, crowded him and made him work. Harden had five turnovers and Johnson causes a lot of them. At the other end, Johnson was by far the best Raptor. Consistent throughout, Johnson got to the line and finished when he wasn’t getting fouled, on the way to a career-best 27 points. He also had four steals and four blocks. Johnson just needs to find a teammate playing at his level, because right now, no other Raptor is excelling (save for the absent Williams).

- Yes, the referees were letting them play. Yes, it seemed to impact the Raptors mentally a bit -  further proving Casey’s point that they weren’t mentally ready for this one.

- It was a season-high 25 turnovers for the Raptors and the first time they had as many turnovers as made field goals in a game in 20 seasons. Toronto only got two free throw attempts from its bench and Terrence Ross remains missing in action.

- A game after defending the rim like a team full of Bill Russells, the Raptors stunk guarding the inside, allowing Houston to shoot nearly 50% at the rim. Only Jonas Valanciunas, maybe the second-best Raptor in the game, proved a deterrent down low (Houston shot just 1-for-7 at the rim against him, 21-for-38 against rest of team).

 

Raptors fulfill the prophecy – “Boomin’ out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will” – throttle first-place Hawks again behind hometown scoring machine

- February 21st, 2015

In case you missed it, Raptors global ambassador Drake recently released an extremely popular mixtape, complete with a track called 6 Man that begins with a shout out to Lou Williams, Toronto’s scoring machine, who has probably been the premier sixth man in the entire NBA this season. No reserve has nearly as many 20+ point games as Williams this year and he has been the key factor in a few of Toronto’s biggest victories this season (remember the comeback in Cleveland?), including Saturday’s stunning blowout of the East-leading Atlanta Hawks. Think Williams enjoys showing his hometown club what they are missing (the Hawks inexplicably gave Williams and Lucas Nogueira away last summer in a money-saving effort)? Williams has averaged 15.3 points against them in just 21.8 minutes in four meetings as a Raptor, shooting 51% from the field and 56% from three (by far his best numbers against any team, efficency-wise). His second quarter explosion (11 points on perfect shooting was huge, since only he and DeMar DeRozan could shoot straight in that frame 2-for-16).

- Of course Toronto isn’t going to hit 43% from deep every night and Atlanta, a team filled with sharp-shooters is not going to shoot 21% on 38 attempts more than two other times this season, but neither marks were merely flukes. Atlanta didn’t get the same number of wide open looks it usually gets from deep. Early on, the Raptors set a tone by rotating quickly and getting a hand up on most of the attempts, making them far more difficult shots. Even if they were a bit late, Toronto’s defenders did a good job of getting a long arm and hand into the line of vision of the Hawks players (Kyle Korver was listed as 2-for-11 on uncontested shots, but many of those labeled uncontested discount the fact a Toronto player was flying at him a millisecond after he released the shot). The defence on mid-range attempts was even better. The Raptors swarmed the Hawks, pressuring them into many tough shots. It was the best the defence has looked in some time.

- Being rested really helped the Raptors in this one, but Atlanta had a ton of rest too (even if most of them were at all-star weekend) so don’t think that was a huge advantage or anything. No, I believe the Raptors throttled the Hawks in large part because they wanted to send a message to management that they appreciated the vote of confidence. Masai Ujiri declined to make a move, knowing that this science experiment has yielded chemistry at a level that is rarely seen in pro sports. Everyone knows this isn’t a true contender, but with nothing available worth messing the current chemistry up, the Raptors stood pat, and the players clearly appreciated it.

- Speaking of rest, being able to hold DeRozan and Kyle Lowry out in the fourth will be huge, since there are still three more games in the next four nights on this run.

- Jonas Valanciunas had a rough game offensively, but he owned the glass and had two more blocks. Atlanta shot just 2-for-8 at the rim against Valanciunas and 1-for-4 against Amir Johnson and 1-for-4 against James Johnson and 3-for-7 against Patrick Patterson.

- The activity from Amir Johnson and James Johnson defensively gave the Raptors a big spark. The defence is just much more formidable with Johnson starting at small forward and Greivis Vasquez returning to his more effective role as the captain of the reserves.

- Dwane Casey moved to .500 with the Raptors, a remarkable achievement considering the roster he was working with early in his tenure here. To return to a Drakism to close – started from the bottom indeed.

 

Raptors still have Washington’s number; DeRozan just gets it done; Lowry play was vintage Kyle Lowry

- February 12th, 2015

As we said here the last time the Raptors took on the Wizards, sometimes teams just match up well against certain opponents and seem to have their number. That seems to be the case with the Raptors, as three wins in three tries this year against Washington indicate. Toronto also blew out the Wizards at the Verizon Center last year and the Raptor players seem to be able to do whatever they want offensively against John Wall and Co. Sure, the shooting percentage might not always look great, but whenever they’ve needed a big play, a big shot, or a game-changing offensive play, they have come through. The fact that both Nene and Marcin Gortat never seem to both play well against Toronto at the same time also might be a factor – and not having to go up against Bradley Beal doesn’t hurt either.

- Speaking of poor shooting numbers, DeMar DeRozan is shooting a career-low 39.4% from the field, yet his presence in the lineup is absolutely vital for the Raptors. In this case, shooting percentage is not everything. DeRozan gets to the free throw line at an elite rate (more on that here). He takes all kinds of pressure off of Kyle Lowry, giving the Raptors a two-headed monster on offence. His ability to draw fouls puts the Raptors in the bonus earlier in games and also forces opposing coaches to go to their bench players earlier than they would like to. When DeRozan is moving the ball, he also creates plenty of good looks for his teammates. He also has taken strides defensively and is averaging 1.3 steals a game. Particularly when he is at his natural shooting guard position, the team’s defence just looks better than it does when he is absent. The team is 24-8 when he has played this season.

- The Raptors have been subbing offence for defence or vice versa late in games more often recently. It was a great call to put Jonas Valanciunas back in for Lou Williams in the dying seconds. The big man’s length made Wall’s desperation potential winner far more difficult. You try shooting over a nearly 8-foot (when he is straight up and jumping) wall.

- At one point, there was a footrace between Lowry and Wall, perhaps the NBA’s fastest player. Nobody thought Lowry had a chance to win the race, but he did. Lowry slid on the ground to come up with the ball (sticklers would say he traveled, but it was too entertaining a play to call). “Calculated risk, baby, calculated risk,” Lowry said of his decision to abandon the spring and hit the court. “I’m pretty smart when it comes to that type of stuff.”

“It hurts, but it doesn’t matter, because we won the game. At the end of the day, we won the game and I’m excited that we won the game and we’re going into the break on a high note,” Lowry said.

- “That’s him, that’s the type of player he is. That’s Kyle Lowry,” DeRozan added.

- Final word to Dwane Casey: “We’re not going to out-talent anybody, we’ve got to do it collectively. If we don’t grind it, get on the floor for loose balls – like when Kyle dove on the floor from like 15 feet and hurt his hand, those are the plays we need to make.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors need to show same energy and effort level against every team as they do against elite

- February 9th, 2015

DeMar DeRozan called it. Before Toronto’s weekend dates against the Clippers and Spurs, DeRozan mentioned how the Raptors would be ready to play and up for the encounters. The 2014 all-star said he and his teammates love to measure themselves against the very best and prove that they are for real. That’s well and good, but the trick for this team is to bring the same type of will against the league’s dregs and mediocre outfits. It won’t happen all the time of course, but too often, the Raptors play down to the level of the competition.

- The Raptors played a solid game on Sunday against San Antonio and were full marks for the victory, but it could easily have gone the other way. The Spurs just had one of those nights where nothing falls. They got a ton of good shots – something Dwane Casey was quick to point out – but just missed them. Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will each shoot below 30% maybe twice a season, if that. It was an anomaly. It was partly good Toronto defence – particularly in the paint, where Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson were superb – but on the outside, it was mostly just horrid Spurs marksmanship. Hey, the Raptors will take it.

“We are trying to get where they are and where they’ve been,” said Kyle Lowry. “It’s a great test for us. They know every night that they are getting every team’s best shot because of who they are. For us, it’s a stepping-stone.”

- Casey really played rope-a-dope with us. For days, he made a point of explaining why James Johnson was a great fit as an undersized power forward, but was not great as a small forward. Then, he inserted Johnson into the starting lineup – as a three. Against Kawhi Leonard, it made a ton of sense. Leonard himself is a guy who can be an undersized four, or a huge three. Casey only said “we’ll see” about whether Johnson would stay the starter at the three, with DeRozan moving back to shooting guard and it could depend on matchups (if the opponent plays a smaller lineup, or a more traditional one). Keeping Johnson in the starting lineup full-time makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. He isn’t good at defending the pick-and-roll, but he can quickly recover for his mistakes and is a very good help defender, improves the rebounding significantly, and is excellent in transition. Amir Johnson and an improved  Valanciunas down low can help him out if he gets burned on pick and rolls.

- Of course James Johnson hit the game-winner from three from the corner after bricking most of those attempts all season. The Raptors Bingo card is getting pretty full.

- Amir looked pretty spry in this one, particularly with his help defence and when he charged to the hoop for a crucial dunk late. He said he believed he could take Tim Duncan off of the dribble, so wanted to take advantage of that and he was right.

- Pop remains one of a kind. A couple of quotes:

On figuring out his rotation: “If I could do that, that would be good. It’s better than the alternative, not knowing what’s going on. We’re trying to get there.”

On watching the Raptors on tape: “I haven’t watched any film. I don’t watch any (other teams) too much. I’ll do it at home, turn on the TV here or there, but not to scout, mostly because the last time I checked, we weren’t undefeated. We do a lot of things wrong. I spend most of my time trying to figure out what we need to do. Once you get on the court, it’s all the same. It’s basketball. There is no new pick and roll defence. There is no post defence. There are no magic plays. The guys that compete and execute the best for the longest period of time win the ball game. It’s not that difficult.”

 

Raptors pass the ball and good things happen; James Johnson shows team what they were missing; Good toughness after Raptors lay down early vs. Clippers

- February 7th, 2015
- The Raptors changed a few things after a dismal first quarter against the Clippers on Friday night and lo and behold, the game shifted significantly. For one thing, the home side started playing a heck of a lot harder on defence and decided to attack the paint. They were about three times more aggressive at either end and it paid off. The Clippers had just over half as many makes in the second quarter and the Raptors went 7-for-9 in the paint.
- It was a trio of big men keying the revival. Amir Johnson, a notorious slow-starter, got himself in gear and went into Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode in the second, scoring seven points and adding four rebounds in the second as the Raptors started the rally. Patrick Patterson was solid as well, hitting a couple of threes, but, more importantly, helping to form a better defensive front. He helped set a tone, particularly when he went way up to meet Blake Griffin up above the rim. Dwane Casey was pleased. “That takes a lot of cajones,” Casey said post-game.

“We needed that spark from the bench. We’ve got to get a quicker start. I don’t know what we need to do with the starting unit, but we’ve got to come out with the pedal to the medal and find our group that’s going to come out and give us a spark. But I loved the way we bounced back, loved the fight, the tenacity we had defensively against one of the top scoring teams in the league. I liked the way the guys responded.”

- Chief among them being James Johnson. Back from an injury absence, Johnson showed why this corner has been arguing so forcefully that he needs to become a key member of the rotation. He isn’t in peak shape, because of the layoff, but you couldn’t really tell on Friday when he was soaring to the rim for scores, disrupting on defence and even dishing out assists. Johnson guarded a number of Clippers, including superstar point guard Chris Paul at times. DeMar DeRozan had the best stat-line – 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists (the first time he has ever led the Raptors in all three categories in a game), but Johnson and Lou Williams carried the team on this night just as much. Those three won the game for Toronto, with Johnson providing the biggest lift.

- When the ball moves, the Raptors are at their best. DeRozan had those eight assists without a single turnover. After notching just two helpers in the first quarter (on seven made field goals), the Raptors rallied by dropping 10 assists on 13 second quarter makes, then seven more on 10 scores in the third. That is excellent ball movement and they are hard to stop when that happens.

“It’s good when the ball moves,” Patterson said. “We have guys who can score in iso situations – DeMar, Kyle, Lou – guys who can go one-on-one and take their man. JJ did some damage tonight. It’s not uncommon for us to slow the ball down, isolate somebody on the wing and have them make a play. But then again at times when we move the ball, we share the ball, we pass, we drive, we penetrate, we cut, and do all the things we know how to do it makes everything else easier. It’s more beautiful too.”

- The moment you knew this one was over: When Jonas Valanciunas has a massive rejection on Paul, which led to a Kyle Lowry three at the other end, forcing the Clippers into a timeout as the Raptors and their faithful, went berserk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Nets provide latest reminder that something is truly rotten with these Raptors; Don’t do the expected switch, do the smart switch; We’ll miss Garnett

- February 5th, 2015

- Dwane Casey has urged calm, pointing to Toronto’s great record and place in the standings, but if the Raptors want to bury their heads in the sand, they’ll be in fourth place and the underdogs in any potential first-round playoff matchup before they know it. Simply put, things aren’t working. The two point guard starting lineup experiment needs to end, the all-star break needs to arrive – yesterday – to give Kyle Lowry the rest he is dying for – the players need to make smarter decisions on offence and a change needs to be made with the starting lineup, two, in fact (more on that shortly).

- Lowry had a great offensive start, but continues to get annihilated by pretty much any opposing point guard. Greivis Vasquez guards the point sometimes, to take some pressure off of Lowry, but it doesn’t seem to be working. When Lowry is tasked with it, too often over the past month or so, he is barely in a defensive stance, or is not in position to prevent an opponent from driving, unimpeded into the lane. Vasquez doesn’t do it either. DeMar DeRozan is just OK at it. That puts all kinds of pressure on the big men to cover up for everything, and it’s just not possible for someone to do that unless they are Anthony Davis, a young Tim Duncan, a healthy Joakim Noah, or maybe a couple of others.

- The move that surely is coming – re-inserting Terrence Ross in for Vasquez – is not the answer. It will be better than what we’ve been seeing, but if the Raptors really want to improve without making a deal, when James Johnson is healthy, the smartest thing to try would be inserting him at small forward and Patrick Patterson for Amir Johnson at power forward. Amir has been resurgent, but he is going to be a crucial piece later in the season and in the playoffs and getting more rest and less wear and tear, would go a long way. Plus he would pair up great with Vasquez on the pick-and-roll against second units, with Ross waiting to bomb away and Tyler Hansbrough providing energy and rebounding. The first unit would have great size, good mobility, better defensive resistance and rebounding and enough shooting, given how well Patterson has played. The Raptors coaching staff doesn’t love the idea, but they should try it.

- Mike Ganter wrote a short piece on it (unfortunately didn’t make it on-line), but if you missed it, Wednesday might have been Kevin Garnett’s final game in Toronto (barring another playoff matchup). I know most Raptors fans dislike the guy, but you have to feel nostalgic when you realize that Garnett’s the only active player that was in the league when the Raptors started, 20 seasons ago (even more amazing when you realize Damon Stoudamire, the rookie of the year for Toronto in that inaugural season, has been out of the NBA now for seven years). He didn’t play here too often for most of the time when he was basically the forerunner to Anthony Davis (when he was with Minnesota and an MVP-level player, he only made one trip to Toronto a year), but he made up for it by becoming a memorable heel once he arrived in Boston (and later, with Brooklyn).

“You are talking about one of the best communicators ever to play the game as far as talking on defence and communicating to his teammates,” said Dwane Casey, who coached Garnett in Minnesota.
“The air in practice, the air in the gym changes when he walks in because he loves practice and he loves to compete. You just wish all young guys coming into the league could take that from him. His competitive edge and his competitive spirit.”

Despite big Raptors comeback that was a deserved Bucks win; DeRozan can be baffling; Time to unleash Valanciunas

- February 3rd, 2015

You could see that one coming. For various reasons, after taxing road trips (and the Brooklyn-Washington overtime/overtime set definitely was taxing) teams playing their first game at home tend to come out incredibly flat. That was the Raptors against Milwaukee on Monday night at the ACC. Having no jump wasn’t the only reason they eventually came up short, but it was a big one. Credit the Bucks as well. Jason Kidd looked over his head for the first few months of his coaching career with Brooklyn last season, but eventually adjusted and looked quite comfortable. He’s done an even better job in Milwaukee, turning around the last-place team from a year ago. The Bucks now boast the second-best defence in the NBA and it was easy to see why on this night. Sure, the Raptors helped (more on that later), but the Bucks are long, athletic, quick and aggressive. They just don’t give you a lot of space.

- Dwane Casey has been consistent in his reasoning for not playing Jonas Valanciunas down the stretch in most games. If opponents don’t put a true, hefty centre out there, Valanciunas usually is going to sit – no matter how much he has bulldozed the opponent the rest of that evening at the other end or on the boards. Valanciunas was dominant again, but sat again. Casey rightly believes that Valanciunas cannot “scramble” defensively – cover the areas the last line of defence needs to in Toronto’s schemes – as effectively as Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson (or even Tyler Hansbrough, who has had a stealthy solid season off of the bench). Valanciunas is improving in that area and got a chance to test that development in a recent game against Sacramento -“You know, that’s an extra trust in me, so, that’s building my confidence,” Valanciunas had said at the time – but he’s still not as good at it as the others. On the flip side, he’s become the most efficient offensive option on the team (though that gets negated somewhat late in games because his teammates tend to chuck shots themselves instead of look for him the further along games go) and is the best rebounder. He’s also become quite solid defending the rim (well above average rim protection stats). So there’s a tradeoff both ways. My argument has always been that to get where the Raptors need to go, they need to have Valanciunas on the floor. He does too many good things and helps them out in too many areas now (and he surely will get better) to sit. It’s short term gain for long term pain.

- More from Valanciunas on the topic after he did play late against Sacramento and chased around Carl Landry and Jason Thompson: “To see coach give me more time to play and be out there when they go small, that’s extra trust in me. I hope I’m going to gain coaches’ trust even more.”

“I’m going to be in a scramble mode, got to get out, got to do my job. That’s kind of my job, to protect everything. To be able to rotate, we do big-to-big,” he said.

- DeMar DeRozan sure can be baffling. He can string together a number of games making smart decisions, moving the ball, trying to find better looks, then he’ll start chucking up horrible long two-point attempts with large degrees of difficulty, hurting the cause. It happened against Milwaukee and it happens often. If DeRozan could stifle the urge to force his game some nights, he’d be a far better and more effective player and the Raptors would be more effective as well. Make one more pass, feed it inside to Valanciunas, or simply attack the basket, since there aren’t 10 guys in the league who do that more effectively than DeRozan. Part of it is tired legs, part of it is stubborness, part of it is just the NBA mentality of the stars needing to get tons of shots. ESPN recently posited that DeRozan has become “More Rudy than Rudy.” I don’t agree with that, but when he puts the blinders on, you can see where that viewpoint comes from.

- What a stupid decision by O.J. Mayo. With his team short-handed (no Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, etc.) and playing well, the supposed veteran leader hurt his team’s cause greatly by getting himself kicked out for swearing at the referee. In that situation, you just have to be smarter.

The best and the worst of the Raptors in one night; Casey accentuates the positives; A statement weekend; Raptors going big on the Seahawks

- February 1st, 2015

WASHINGTON — What a long, strange trip that was. The Raptors had a real Jekyll and Hyde type of evening against the Wizards on Saturday, playing ridiculously well in the first half, and extremely poorly – letting many old problems resurface – in the second half. But in the end, the Raptors beat a really solid, rested Wizards team on the road, showed some resiliency and delivered a statement win. They sure like to make things interesting though. “We’re a drama team,” was the take from Greivis Vasquez and it wasn’t that long ago that DeMar DeRozan labelled the Raptors a soap opera team that loves to entertain.

- Sure, they blew a huge lead, again, but Dwane Casey gave them a pass because they were playing for the fourth time in five nights in four different cities and that’s a totally valid point. The only issue here is they need to analyze why they blow leads so frequently (even if they usually come back and win in the end) in order to get better and not let it happen as much. Kyle Lowry was asked if it is difficult to balance going into a bit of a “prevent mode” instead of keeping on the accelerator when leads balloon that high.

“I think it’s definitely happens a lot,” Lowry replied.  “We have to learn to fight through it and keep playing fast and keep playing and pushing the tempo.”

- The trick is doing that while still staying under control. Lowry, Lou Williams and others were guilty of forcing a lot of bad shots, far too early in the shot clock, which, along with no defensive resistance on penetration, allowed Washington to mount its furious rally. Lowry and Williams aren’t going to change, they are aggressive and shoot first and ask questions later. It works for them. They also hit huge shots and won the game for the Raptors, so you have to take the good with the bad, but a little bit more patience with large leads would help.

- Amir Johnson is really playing well. He had a fantastic January, averaging 11 points and six rebounds, playing great defence and shooting 60% from the field. Over the past five games, he has shot 72% from the floor. He even hit a road three-pointer, his second of the season. Patrick Patterson has played well beside him and said “we are the same person” meaning they try to do the same things defensively and it works.

- Casey called DeRozan “The Little O,” saying let’s not get carried away and compare him to the Big O, Oscar Robertson, but still appreciate his all-around game right now. He had a poor shooting night, but DeRozan still led the team in rebounds and assists and got to the free throw line nine times.

- This was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors won back-to-back overtime games on consecutive nights. They just keep setting new marks. They basically won the Atlantic Division by surviving against the Nets and doubled their lead against Washington and won the season series. Statement delivered.

- There might not be another team in the league that backs the Seattle Seahawks as much as the Raptors. There is no question who that room was rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday. Casey is neighbours with Seahawks punter Jon Ryan (a Canadian) and is friends with Pete Carroll. Casey has spent time at Seahawks training camp and wears the team colours often. TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg conducted an informal poll and every Raptor that had a rooting interest but one, Tyler Hansbrough, backed the Seahawks.