Archive for January, 2012

Raptors at New Jersey Nets Points Per Game:

- January 29th, 2012

Let’s start by stating the obvious: New Jersey minus Brook Lopez and promising sophomore Damion James and with a disinterested Deron Williams is a pretty bad team. That said, this was one of the only “should be a win game” for the Raptors in a while and the team did what it had to and looked quite good doing so.

- Williams, even this version, remains a premier point guard, so Jerryd Bayless deserves the credit given to him by Jack Armstrong during the broadcast for his defence. Bayless frustrated Williams and did a great job against a very tough player to guard.

- DeMar DeRozan’s defence has picked up of late, necessary since his offence has been a concern. On Sunday, DeRozan showed something we haven’t seen much from him this year – using his leaping ability to block shots. He had a couple of nice ones, using timing as much as his hops and also was disruptive in the passing lanes. DeRozan’s third quarter was one of his best of the season on both ends of the floor.

- Clearly DeRozan was feeling some heat from critics and came out with an edge we haven’t seen very often. He took charges, had a swagger and was intense. The Raptors need to see more of that from him. Some minutes at small forward agreed with him.

- Dwane Casey deserves a lot of credit for helping the team complete its first winning road trip of at least five games since 2001. It was the latest embarassing mark to get erased this season (losing streaks in Phoenix and Utah, also accomplished on this trip). It should never have stretched this long and it’s good for the franchise to have that road record pushed to the background.

- The Raptors shot 29 free throws to New Jersey’s 19. That hasn’t happened many times this season. Toronto was the aggressor in all facets of the game and that’s what it takes to have success.

Raptors at Denver Nuggets Points Per Game:

- January 28th, 2012

Though the Raptors lost once again without Andrea Bargnani, it’s difficult to be hard on them. There are far more positives to take out of Friday’s 96-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Such as:

- This team doesn’t quit, no matter how bad it starts Down 22? No problem. Toronto battled to within six at one point, but James Johnson fouling out and another disappearing act by DeMar DeRozan made a full comeback too difficult to pull off.

- At some point Dwane Casey has to think hard about making another change to his starting lineup. Although Leandro Barbosa has made a career out of being one of the league’s premier bench performers, it could be time to send a message to DeRozan and to let him regroup by coming off of the bench for a few games. He’s struggling badly – though his defence has been improved – and maybe playing against second units will get him going? Meanwhile, Barbosa has been carrying the team. The team is big enough elsewhere if Jose Calderon, James Johnson, Amir Johnson and Aaron  Gray start to make up for Barbosa’s lack of height at shooting guard.

- The refs didn’t do their jobs, particularly late when they blew it, big-time.They let Nene manhandle DeRozan and DeRozan shove Nene in retaliation, then let Al Harrington – who has often behaved like a knucklehead throughout his career – escalate what should have been a meaningless incident with Linas Kleiza. It was a chippy game and they let both sides set some hard screens, which is OK, but they also let a lot of cheap shots go, which caused the drama late.
Fans in Denver were right to yell at the refs: “You guys lost control in the first quarter.”

- Maybe it is the altitude, but the Raptors seem to bring their worst when they come to Denver. It was the site of Sam Mitchell’s last stand and Jay Triano didn’t fare very well there either. Early on, it looked like Casey was going to leave with a 20-25 point loss.

-Andre Miller is like that old guy who always schools you at the Y or in rec league despite not being fast or able to jump He hit an absurd shot at the buzzer from well past centre court and posted a double-double. His fourth, I believe, since saying he still should be a starter in the NBA.

- Jerryd Bayless and Barbosa were a nice combo last season and jelled for the first time this season in the second quarter.

- James Johnson looked very solid again. He’s really blossoming and looking like a very astute pickup by Bryan Colangelo. He’s got a little Shawn Marion in him and looks like a keeper going forward. That’s a good thing, considering all kinds of questions are popping up about whether DeRozan and Ed Davis can be building blocks to rely heavily on in the future.

- What else? The Raptors still aren’t getting to the line enough, Jose Calderon looks completely gassed (missing shots he normally makes, turning the ball over in ways we don’t often see) though he wasn’t hammered off of the dribble as much as he has been lately.

- Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire were excellent on the boards and set some bone-rattling screens.

- Rudy Fernandez is going to have a couple of nights like this every season. He’s a better Marco Belinelli and just as frustrating. He might go 2-for-11 in his next game. Just tough luck for the Raptors.

- Davis needs to spend the off-season shooting 100 jumpers a day because he doesn’t have any touch offensively. He appeared to have more of a feel around the basket last season.

- You aren’t going to win many games missing 14-of-15 shots at any point, especially to begin a contest, but Toronto deserves credit for hanging around with a Denver team that has been elite so far this season.

Raptors at Utah Jazz Points Per Game and thoughts on Bargnani injury:

- January 26th, 2012

- Unfortunately, Andrea Bargnani’s injury is going to overshadow what probably was Toronto’s gutsiest effort of the season. Bargnani said he will be out “a while” and left the arena on crutches, according to Eric Smith. Don’t expect to see the big guy in February, though that’s just my speculation. The Raptors will be extremely careful with him. The team has looked more than competent with Bargnani in the lineup and mostly like a complete disaster without him. Things could quickly get ugly again and now he won’t get the all-star selection he deserves. I understand Dwane Casey absolutey needed to get the team off of the skids, but the Raptors were asking for trouble playing Bargnani heavy minutes back-to-back when he had just returned from a nagging injury. His getting hurt again was a predictable outcome. Now, that said, if I were Casey, I likely would have done the exact same thing.

- Respectable franchises don’t carry 10-plus-game losing streaks against multiple teams so that’s why ending long droughts against Phoenix and Utah the past two nights is so important to the Raptors. Those streaks were embarassing, frankly and indicated that Toronto wasn’t on the same footing as some of the league’s other franchises. The sooners stuff like that is wiped out, the better the franchise will be viewed league-wide.

Now, on to the game:

- I’ll get the negatives out of the way first: Not sure if it is fatigue, worse support from his teammates, or a recurrence of injury, but Jose Calderon isn’t the same defender as he was early in the season. Early on, he was adequately keeping opponents in front of him, far better than we had seen over the past few seasons. Of late, that’s changed. All he needed was a cape on Wednesday night and he would have looked like a matador. Devin Harris simply destroyed him off of the dribble.

- All Calderon needs is a cape the past few games. Harris the latest point guard to destroy him off the dribble. From my viewpoint, Calderon seems to be trying to stop point guards from a less than conducive angle. He basically is attacking picks from an ineffective angle. HE is making it harder for himself to recover when the point guard uses the screen to head to the hoop and seems to also be giving up too easily hoping for help that isn’t coming. Harris blew by him all night, including at crucial moments, and only three missed free throws by Harris prevented a possible loss from being hung on Calderon (though Calderon did make some huge plays and shots to be fair).

- The starters again looked lost early, allowing the team to go down 18 points at one point, though DeMar DeRozan was aggressive again and played well from the start. Heavy fouling in the first quarter is one of the main reasons why the Raptors consistently find themselves down big.
- Jerryd Bayless did some nice things down the stretch, but doesn’t seem to be in shape yet. All his shots are short, which indicates his legs aren’t there yet.

The positives were more plentiful:
- After being invisible, Ed Davis scored on a nice post-up and showed some flashes.
- Leandro Barbosa has been fantastic of late, leading a strong bench. The team looks better with Bargnani or James Johnson and the bench than it does with starters at many points.

- Linas Kleiza has looked much better than he did last seaason. He’s healthy and proving very valuable for a team with limited scoring options. Expect him to replace Bargnani beside Gray in the new starting lineup (though again that’s just my guess) and the Raptors will expect him to continue to play well and pile up the points.

- Once again, the zone worked well for Toronto, allowing the team to fight back from a deficit and throw off an opponent. In particular, the ability of the Raptors to guard the three-point line was top-notch. Usually a zone allows good looks from three, but Toronto players were out to contest far faster than is usually the case.

- James Johnson continues to excel defensively and is now on a nice run of strong games. If he can keep this up, Bryan Colangelo has one less thing to worry about this off-season and can focus on upgrading at guard. At the worst, Johnson is showing that he can be a defensive stopper. At best he can be a valuable starting small forward, if the Raptors don’t land one of the stud SF’s in the draft.

- It was nice to see Bargnani come out of his shell both in Phoenix and in Utah, a trend that has been apparent all season. He let out a primal scream after missing a shot just before the conclusion of the first half.

- DeRozan brought the closer’s mentality, which  we haven’t seen in a while. Obviously he got the message sent when he was benched for the entire fourth quarter in Phoenix.
- Toronto’s defence forced multiple air balls down stretch and forced Utah into poor execution. Only four absurd Utah shots during the course of the game made this a double OT thriller.

All in all, a big night for the Raptors, though the Bargnani news certainly will be a crushing blow to the team’s psyche.

Raptors at Suns Points Per Game:

- January 25th, 2012

Finally, a win. Gutsy effort in Phoenix and a lineup change results in a victory to end a long losing streak. Oh, Andrea Bargnani might have had something to do with it.

- Bargnani proved again that he is an all-star, rebounding from a bad shooting start to absolutely pick apart the Suns. Sure Marcin Gortat lit up the Raptors, but Bargnani was only defending him part of the time and did better on that end than others.

- I liked the move to start Aaron Gray, I predicted at the start of the year (before Gray had his health problems) that he would start beside Bargnani for many matchups. Gives the team more size and a better screen-setter at the five. Also sends Amir Johnson a message – get your game back in gear, and he seemed to read it loud and clear. Johnson only played just shy of 13 minutes, but was back to his old active self. Plus the move forced me to try to remember the last time the Raptors started two 7-footers … I can’t remember that ever happening actually, since none of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal, Antonio Davis or Donyell Marshall are 7-footers.

- Toronto’s 3-pt shooting was a big positive. Beside Bargnani’s 4-for-6, the rest of the team went 4-for-9. That kept them in it when Phoenix was hot, and was a major reason why the end result was a win. Which leads to …

- Leandro Barbosa. He was the reason the Raptors were within four at the half in a game Phoenix should have had well in hand. Barbosa went 3-for-3 from three and was brilliant, particularly in the second quarter against his former team.

- Barbosa’s strong play helped mask another invisible night from DeMar DeRozan. This is at the troubling point now, especially since Bargnani was back, which was supposed to help DeRozan return to form. I liked his agressiveness early, but DeRozan failed to get to the free throw line and could not finish his chances.  His regression is the most negative aspect of this Raptors season, which is now a quarter of the way complete. Something needs to change and quickly. Right now DeRozan looks like a reserve, not a major piece of Toronto’s rebuild.

- I like what Ronnie Price has done for the Suns. Gives them a defensive boost. What the heck happened to Channing Frye? He can’t play anymore. Like at all.

- One more negative before I get to some positives. One of the reasons Toronto’s defence doesn’t look as good as it did early on is because Jose Calderon is no longer keeping anybody in front of him anymore. That’s been the case the past few games and didn’t change against the great Steve Nash. Nash blew by Calderon, this time with guile, not the speed other point guards have been using. Calderon, like most, to be fair, had no answers for Nash and his crafty, change of pace maneuvers. Another concern, re: Calderon, is the fact that he is making 1-2 bad passes at critical times (leaving his feet after dribbling into no-man’s land) throwing the ball away at inopportune times. It almost cost Toronto the game and would have had Phoenix hit more shots in the clutch. He did make some better decisions late that helped the Raptors win the game.

- James Johnson followed up his best game of the season with an even better one. He defended well and was solid on offence. His play would be one of the brighters spots of this season, though I’m sure Bryan Colangelo would prefer to have Johnson showing little instead of DeRozan and Ed Davis both showing next to nothing so far, aside from a fast start from DeRozan.

- Linas Kleiza continues to help the bench with his ability to score.

- I believe Toronto turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter but ended up with 16 total, so obviously the team did a much better job taking care of the ball as the game went on.

- OK one more negative. Marcin Gortat abused the team for three quarters. There was little resistance, he rolled to the hoop unguarded or overpowered the Raptors. The team finally guarded him better in the fourth.
- Dwane Casey drew up some good plays, including one to end the first half and bring the Raptors within four when Calderon went to James Johnson for a dunk. His team also used screens very well and Phoenix puzzlingly didn’t figure out that leaving Bargnani open off of screen and rolls or pick and pops was a very bad decision.

All in all, more good things to say than bad, but DeRozan and Davis need to get on track or else Colangelo doesn’t have nearly as much in his cupboard as he thinks and this retool is in worse shape than we thought.

Raptors at Clippers Points Per Game:

- January 23rd, 2012

So, eight losses in a row. All but maybe two of them well-deserved. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark right now with the Raptors and it seems Dwane Casey is at his wit’s end. Some thoughts:

- Casey sat down Ed Davis earlier this year when he felt he wasn’t playing hard enough, not running the floor the way he can, etc. Casey did the same thing on Sunday against the Clippers to Amir Johnson who has not looked like himself of late. Another change to the starting lineup could be coming, unless Casey wants to see if Johnson finds himself when Andrea Bargnani comes back, likely on Tuesday in Phoenix. If Bargnani isn’t back, Casey needs to give Aaron Gray – who played well – a look. The Davis-Johnson combo is too small and slight and is getting lit up every game now.

- Casey sent a message by playing his bench – which has been better than the starters for two or three game snow – for large portions of the game.

- The Raptors aren’t playing like a team. Some evidence of it I noticed came in the fourth when the just-returned Jerryd Bayless got absolutely annihilated on a screen that Linas Kleiza (or anybody else in the vicinity) failed to warn him about. That’s how team chemistry suffers.

- Jose Calderon is back to not being able to keep anybody in front of him. He did a decent job of it early in the season, but something has happened and a system that was covering for it well is no longer doing so. It wasn’t just Calderon who had trouble with this though, as the other Clippers guards did whatever they wanted against whoever was guarding them. Most notably, Mo Williams,who scored the first 17 points for Los Angeles in the fourth quarter and 25 in all.

- Clips have an embarassment of riches at the point. Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams would all be upgrades for the Raptors and Eric Bledsoe is much more of a true point guard prospect than Jerryd Bayless, though I like Bayless in a Leandro Barbosa role long-term.

- Horrendous performance by the starters, but you probably already know that, and a decent effort from the bench to at least give the Raptors the feeling they were in it a couple of times.

- Davis has a lot of work to do on his offensive game. Another reason why Johnson/Davis doesn’t work as a starting frontcourt stems from their offensive failings. Neither can create for themself and while Johnson can hit a few jumpers, Davis currently is lacking any semblance of an effective jump shot. That needs to change.

- As a whole, Toronto’s shot selection without Bargnani has been mostly horrible. Where is the basketball IQ? Bad shot after bad shot with no spacing or movement. For a few games they were getting good looks but just missing, but against the Clippers, the offence looked completely out of sorts and the players looked exhausted. The stagnant group missed 10 straight at one point.

- Another fatal flaw is the fact that Toronto tends to foul like nobody’s business but doesn’t draw enough at the other end. You can’t win if that keeps up.

- Finally, the zone again worked for a while and continues to be a good weapon for Casey’s Raptors, but like any scheme, it loses its effectiveness the longer it is used. The Clips figured out how to beat it eventually and that was that.

- Positives? The bench. Drew fouls, scored, hit from long-range. Linas Kleiza: Played reasonably well. Bayless: Returned to the lineup. Gray: Did his job.

We end today with a quote from Casey:

“We compete in practice harder than we do to start the game. Our starts in the first quarter and third quarter aren’t who we are. I’ve got to find seven or eight guys who are going to come out and compete.”

Blazers at Raptors Points Per Game:

- January 21st, 2012

Though the score doesn’t show it, I thought that was the best the Raptors have played in a while. They made a big run to get back into a game against a very good team and held Portland to 40.2% shooting and forced them into 18 turnovers.

What else was good:

- DeMar DeRozan was far more aggressive than he has been the past 10 days or so. He got to the line 10 times, making 8. That’s what the team needs with Andrea Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless sidelined.

- James Johnson had his best game of the season. Johnson made his shots, including some jumpers and was a force defensively, blocking four shots and changing a host of others. That’s what the Raptors expect from the forward. The offence was a bonus.

- Jose Calderon, like DeRozan, looked a little more aggressive. He distributed well (13 assists) and seemed to be pushing things a little more.

- Nearly matching a very big and very capable passing Portland team in free throw attempts and assists was a nother positive. The free throw differential was again a huge problem early with Portland living at the line and Toronto barely getting there, but thanks to DeRozan, things got a lot closer.

- The zone. Again, for a spell, it completely flummoxed an opponent and helped the Raptors make a contest out of it.

- The play-calling: Casey is taking some shots for the failures of the offence, but I don’t see it. He doesn’t have enough offensive talent to work with with Bargnani and Bayless sidelined. These guys just aren’t good enough offensive players. The team is getting scores of open looks, but not knocking them down. As Sam Mitchell loved to say: “You’ve got to make shots!” I have liked the play-calling on out-of-bounds plays, the DeRozan alley-oop late being the best example. Give Casey some more horses and I think the offence won’t be a criticism anymore.

The negatives:

- That start was brutal. LaMarcus Aldridge got whatever he wanted inside as the Blazers built a huge lead.

- Again, missing too many shots and not getting to the line early. Calderon and DeRozan went just 9-for-29.

- Getting punished by good passing, particularly on high-low feeds. Let Aldridge get position too deep.

- The bench didn’t do a whole lot after being solid in Boston. Gary Forbes really struggled, Leandro Barbosa was building a house and Rasual Butler reverted to his previous form after a good shooting night in Atlanta. Aaron Gray looked good though. He grabbed some boards and set some excellent screens.

- Now on to a brutal trip. Starting Sunday in Los Angeles. The Raptors will have a practice there on Saturday.

Raptors at Celtics Points Per Game

- January 19th, 2012

Dwane Casey sounds like a broken record and now, so do I.

They can’t shoot, like at all, and on Wednesday they couldn’t even defend. Things are going South for the Raptors and a lack of overall talent and this absurd schedule are to blame.

- What did they do well on Wednesday? The bench was pretty sold. Gary Forbes and Rasual Butler were two of the better Raptors. Butler took to life as a reserve after an extremely tough run as a starter, while James Johnson did the opposite, though both he and Butler did a decent job on Paul Pierce.

- This one could have been over earlier had Ray Allen hit the shots he has made look automatic over the course of his career.

- DeMar DeRozan was far more aggressive than he has been of late, which was a good sign that he was getting the message.

- Last positive, Aaron Gray and Johnson returned and Andrea Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless aren’t far behind.

- The negatives? Really, there are too many to mention.

- Boston is like the bizarro Toronto. All the sports teams are really good and the fans are buzzing. Interesting that the Bruins capture as much of the imagination here as the Celtics. That doesn’t happen in many American cities. Detroit and maybe Chicago, though I’d argue hockey is bigger overall in Boston than Chicago.

- Doc Rivers is excellent with the media and Dwane Casey has been great to deal with so far as well.

Let’s get to some quotes that didn’t make it into my stories:

Forbes:

“Coach reiterated that we took a step back defensively (against Boston) which is something that we pride ourselves on. We just have to get better. Some of this is easily correctable. We’ve been in, pretty much every game.”

“Friday we have to take our home court. One thing we want to do is get easy baskets. We’ve been lacking in that pretty much all season. It’s a long season, a long way to go. We still have a lot, a lot, a lot of fight left in us.”

Jose  Calderon:

“They were a little bit better than us … They were five in a row too and they just wanted it a little bit more. That cannot happen. Have to look at yourself and try to do better.

Aaron Gray: “Just getting my feet well, being able to get back on the floor. I was just excited to be out there (almost went too hard in the warmup, he said). Only had one practice. I’m going to be able to help this team. There’s nothing like game conditioning. When you’re worried about your wind, your mind is a little slow as well. Was just trying to be physical, hit a few people. Missed some assignments, but that’s something I’ll be able to correct.”

Dwane Casey:

“We knew they were going to come out throwing haymakers and I thought we sustained it early in the first half, but then we gave into it in the second half.”

“That’s what we are looking for, competition for 48 minutes and the Celtics did that tonight and we didn’t.”

And pre-game:

“I worry about the offence, but I do believe the offence will come around. A lot of that is on me because we spent so much time in training camp on the defensive end.”

 

Raptors – Hawks Points Per Game

- January 17th, 2012

- Hard to get on the Raptors after they hung around with a playoff-calibre Hawks team even without Andrea Bargnani, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and Aaron Gray. They kept it close until the fourth quarter – again – did some things right – even offensively for a change – but once again couldn’t get over the hump in crunch time.

- DeMar DeRozan’s nonchalant, non-aggressive play is a bit concerning. One gets the sense after being ignored by referees over the past two seasons the bulk of the time he ventured inside, DeRozan has lost interest in attacking the basket. That needs to change, and soon and Dwane Casey said he remembers Rashard Lewis going through a similar phase as a youngster in Seattle. He pointed out that Leandro Barbosa gets the same attention, but battles and uses his savvy to get open. DeRozan said he recognizes that he and his teammates need to do a better job with their cuts in order to get open.

- Calderon said he thinks part of the problems the Raptors are running into with execution stem from a lack of practice time. He thinks Tuesday and Thursday’s practices will be very beneficial. He also said though the coaching staff wants them to push the pace, going to fast can lead to turnovers and has led to some of the miscues that have hurt the team of late.

- The most enjoyable part of the trip to Atlanta was seeing part of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations and talking before the game to Dwane Casey about his experiences growing up in the South and his thoughts on MLK and his legacy.

Raptors Bulls Points Per Game

- January 15th, 2012

A little late, but here are my Raptors-Bulls thoughts:

- A very good effort against one of the best teams in the league. The Raptors took advantage of Chicago going to its bench early and used a zone to stick around.

- James Johnson was inspired against his old team, but unfortunately had to leave after a freak injury. He said he plans to play on Monday in Atlanta, but we’ll see.

- Strong effort from Amir Johnson who looked exhausted afterwards. Seven offensive boards, 13 in total against Gibson/Boozer/Asik/Noah, not bad.

Casey on Amir: “He’s been great for us. His energy, his screening, his leadership has been huge. He does a great job on the floor. He’s a solid NBA player. He’s one of our best interior defenders.”

Casey said Johnson’s thumb is still bothering him and though it is getting a little better, is still tender.

James Johnson on shooting more: “I’ve just been passive a lot. If I want to get more assists and show people I can play the right way, I’m going to have to score.”

- Linas Kleiza and DeMar DeRozan and Gary Forbes all said the Raptors were right in the game, but made a few mistakes, allowed a run or two and that was it. Forbes said Jose Calderon missed jumpers he usually makes, Leandro Barbosa missed layups (does anybody rim out more gimmes than him?) he usually makes and that was that.

- DeRozan praised Chicago’s depth, saying that is a major reason why the team is as good as it is.

- Forbes said he is confident on the offensive side of things running the point, but guarding the NBA’s elite point guards like Derrick Rose is a major challenge and will take work.

- Tough stretch coming up for the Raptors. Atlanta on Monday, Boston on Wednesday then home, then an insane road trip. With James Johnson hobbled, Bargnani already out and Bayless and Gray still probably a couple games away, things are going to be extremely difficult for the club the next two weeks.

Kings at Raptors Points Per Game

- January 12th, 2012

The Raptors continue to do some things right – namely force opponents into bad shots, fare well on the defensive boards, get effort and results out of Andrea Bargnani – and some things not so right.

- An off-night from Amir Johnson was bound to happen and is excusable. He’s been great this year, was under the weather and playing for the third time in three nights. Still, allowing DeMarcus Cousins and J.J. Hickson to go off for 11 offensive rebounds sunk the Raptors.

- I like Cousins. People expect too much from him because there are a lot of polished kids in the NBA these days. Cousins isn’t one of them. He’s raw, genuine, maybe a bit brash, but very, very good. He talked about loving playing for Keith Smart and even admitted the obvious – the Kings are too selfish and don’t pass enough. “We’ve always been close (off the court), but we don’t always play as a team. That’s just us being young and inexperienced. We’ve got to put that off-court relationship on the court,” Cousins said.


- I don’t like the precedent the team is setting losing to a winless squad (Washington) and at home the next night to a team that had not won yet on the road. Sure they were tired, yes Andrea Bargnani went down (more on that later0, but these are winnable games. Make a few more shots and they are wins. If Amir Johnson makes that alley oop in the final two minutes and Cousins doesn’t get an easy one at the other end, the Raptors might have pulled it out. But when Rasual Butler is going 1-for-5, James Johnson 0-for-4 and Bargnani 2-for-13, wins are going to be almost impossible, even if you hold opponents to 37% shooting.

- Hate to harp on this, but a change has to happen soon with Butler. Casey hinted at it after the game, though he knows Linas Kleiza will take a while before being able to play heavy minutes. Speaking of Kleiza, it’s always hard to judge an athlete after one game following a long layoff – how much of it is endorphins going wild, how will they recover after the first test? You always see more bounce from somebody who has just returned. Games 2-5 will be far more telling. But his play was an encouraging sign for sure. Kleiza wasn’t running the floor like that at any time last season. He was feeling numerous injuries and finally went down for the year. If he comes back in better shape than ever, he will be a much-needed addition for the offensively-aenimic Raptors.

- If Bargnani is out for any length of time the Raptors will be hard-pressed to win more than once every four games. Not only has he been the best offensive player on the team by a mile (Jose Calderon has been a great facilitator but Bargnani has been more important), against all odds, he’s been one of the top two defenders as well (along with Amir Johnson. With James Johnson a notch behind due to some errors relating to over-aggressiveness). Calf strains almost always need at least a week off and usually a lot more than that, depending on the severity. I’m not doctor but Bargnani didn’t seem too bad, but the MRI will make the situation clearer.

- Lost in the hoopla over Cousins was the fact that Tyreke Evans came alive after a bad game in the deciding fourth quarter. The Raptors had no answers for one of the league’s premier drawer of fouls. Sure some came at the end when Toronto had no choice, but Evans went to the line nine times in the quarter, making them all. He even had a couple of assists.

- Leandro Barbosa is getting some flack for ruining offensive sets by going all “Sacramento Kings” on opponents and doing things himself, but the way Toronto is performing on offence, can you really blame the guy? I still think the team should deal him at the deadline if a 2012 2nd rounder and expiring can be attained since I like Jerryd Bayless playing Barbosa’s role here long-term.

- Tough stretch coming up for the Raptors. Pacers are good, Bulls are great, Hawks are meh but better than Toronto and Boston, though fading largely thanks to that awful Kendrick Perkins trade and age, is Boston.