Archive for December 17th, 2012

Rockets at Raptors points per game: Move the ball, play some D, success will follow; Calderon NBA’s most professional player; Sabonis, the all-time great, in the house

- December 17th, 2012

Funny what having everybody on the same page and everybody trying hard does for a team. The Raptors have been locked in, have had a focus to playing defence and a commitment to playing team basketball at both ends over the past three games, and have been rewarded with two victories (and a big lead against Brooklyn that they couldn’t hold).

There’s a clear difference between the sorry outfit we saw in November (and parts of December). A key has been getting off to better starts. Regular readers know I vouched for an Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciunas starting frontcourt and they are doing what I expected. Even though the numbers didn’t exactly jump out after the first quarter either on Friday or Sunday, it was clear, the duo were major reasons why the Raptors played well from the jump. Once Valanciunas gets stronger and puts on some more meat they’ll be even more effective, but even right now, they out-rebound opponents, get easy buckets above the rim and alter and block shots, making life more difficult for opponents.

Some thoughts on Sunday’s game:

Alan Anderson has emerged as an X-factor for the team. He might be the best perimeter defender on the squad (though Terrence Ross gets better in that regard every day), he has confidence and swagger and is extremely shifty while also having a good enough three-point shot to keep opponents honest. He’s a really nice glue player to have on the roster and played extremely well.

Jose Calderon said he doesn’t worry about who is starting or how much he is playing and just wants to be the most professional player in the league. Great quote. He’s the consummate pro. He would prefer to start elsewhere, but is going to do whatever he can to help the team play well.

That said, not about to start a point guard controversy. Kyle Lowry is a better all-around player and a better fit for a Dwane Casey-led team. Lowry just needs to settle in, stop forcing things and gamble a bit less on defence upon his return. He’ll be fine. If Calderon can be moved for value, great, if not, a lot of teams would kill to have a Lowry-Calderon combo, it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world.

I thought the Raptors stuck around to set good screens a little better on Sunday and it helped give players like Calderon, DeRozan and Anderson more room.

John Lucas’ shot seems to be back and he’s getting teammates involved too. This is by far the best he has played since starring in the pre-season.

As Casey said after the game, Toronto’s pressure and aggressiveness eventually threw Houston off from three-point range. We saw it in the third quarter and it also was very apparent down the stretch, when the Raptors forced Houston into three air balls late.

Casey sat Davis for the fourth even though he turned the game around in the third with 13 points and … it was the right call. If he wasn’t going to go big (normal?) with two 6-10 or bigger players, going with Amir Johnson over Davis as the lone big makes more sense. Davis has become one of Toronto’s best help/team defenders, but Johnson remains the best on the team in that regard. He is a bit quicker and more instinctual in terms of reading and reacting for switches and did a nice job helping on James Harden.

“Amir did a heck of a job and he was in the flow of the game. Down the stretch. I thought that Amir would be better for switching onto Harden,” Casey confirmed. Playing Davis and Johnson might have worked, we’ll never know, but if you were going to play only one, Johnson made sense this time.

Johnson was amusing afterwards when asked about how talking more on defence has helped the team. He basically said not only do they tell each other where to be or what is happening, they also just yell out random stuff at times to try to throw off and confuse opponents.

Aside from the first time I was around MJ, I haven’t been star-struck in this job before, but shaking hands and scrumming Arvydas Sabonis was pretty damn cool. There aren’t many living basketball legends, but he is one of them. Probably one of the 20 most talented players ever and I didn’t even see him before his injuries. Just from 1992 (on NBC and since then, on tape) and from when he finally came over to the NBA with Portland. Even then, when he was a shadow of his former self, you could see just how absurdly talented the man was. He’s also the biggest man I’ve ever met, bigger even than Shaq. Spoke pretty well of Jonas, but made it clear he expects a lot more from him in the future and believes Jonas will meet the challenge.