Archive for the ‘Toronto Raptors’ Category

Raptors at Hawks Points Per Game + thoughts on Marcus Smart staying in school and the incredible 2014 crop

- April 17th, 2013

Leave it to the Raptors to leave us scratching our heads to the very end in this truly confusing season. Which of the many versions of the Raptors we’ve seen since November is the closest to what they really are and what they can be going forward? The one that started 4-19? Not really, lots of changes have been made since then. The one that responded to the arrival of Rudy Gay with a 7-3 run? No, not that one either. The players weren’t used to each other, they didn’t play particularly great in those games, but Gay bailed them out with clutch shooting. The team that stumbled from there then? Well, no, since three key pieces, Gay, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson were banged up to varying degrees during that stretch.

It’s always silly to base anything off of the dog days, the final 2-3 weeks of a season. Good players are rested, teams out of the playoffs finally play more freely with the pressure off, etc. But, that said, this group that has closed the year with a 7-3 stretch (before Wednesday’s finale against Boston), probably best represents what this team is. Throw out the .700 record though, they’re not this good. But Kyle Lowry seems more in tune with what head coach Dwane Casey wants than he has at any point of the season, DeMar DeRozan is finishing very strong, after starting extremely squad (in between, he was up and down). Johnson continues to play well and Gay has found his game again. When in, Jonas Valanciunas has been solid and rookies Quincy Acy and Terrence Ross have been providing a lift from the bench. Don’t expect any of those players to play as well as they have during this stretch all next season (Valanciunas and Ross aside, probably), but it’s something to build on going forward. This looks like a group that will be a playoff team, a 6-8 seed that will fight for the final home seed if all breaks right, even though no draft picks or big-name free agents are on the way.

The big things the Raptors will have to prove next year is (A) They can compete when the pressure is still on … and finish games correctly when the heat is on. We saw too little of that this year.

(B) That they can score efficiently to help make up for the fact the defence probably can only be middle of the pack at best, until Valanciunas fully develops, until Gay locks in on that end every night and until DeRozan reaches his potential in that area.

As for the draft:

Marcus Smart stunningly staying in school made what already was a draft extremely light on top-end talent even shorter in that regard. It also helped out the stock of players like Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Shane Larkin and Toronto’s Myck Kabongo. Each player moved up a spot with Smart staying in school.

Teams have been hoarding 2014 picks and Smart staying, along with James Michael McAdoo at UNC, who had a bad year but has a ton of potential still, only makes that crop look more enticing.

Having seen most of the stars of the group first-hand in recent weeks, I can say the hyping of that 2014 class is not unwarranted. There is some serious talent and it runs about 10-deep.

 

Bulls at Raptors Points Per Game + Thoughts on Kobe Bryant’s injury

- April 13th, 2013

Let’s start with the news of the day, which obviously is Kobe Bryant’s devastating torn Achilles.

Brutal. For Bryant, for the Lakers, for Lakers fans and for basketball fans in general. Instead of slowing down, Bryant inexplicably has had one of his best seasons and for a guy who is probably one of the 10 best ever, that’s saying something. Bryant carried the Lakers in this season of tension, turmoil and the turfing of Mike Brown. He was the reason the team got itself in playoff position. This could be it for Bryant, Isiah Thomas and Memo Okur, among others were never the same after suffering the same injury, but, then again, Bryant is different. Let’s not write him off yet. Few work as hard, few are as dedicated, few care as much about their legacy. He will go out on his own terms and if anybody can get back to 85% of what they were after such an injury, it’s Bryant. #Countonkobe was his hashtag this season, and you can count on Kobe to make a comeback few would be able to. Here’s his Facebook post from 3:30 a.m. Friday night:

“This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??

 

I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me…Then again maybe not! It’s 3:30am, my foot feels like dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain meds and I’m wide awake. Forgive my Venting but what’s the purpose of social media if I won’t bring it to you Real No Image?? Feels good to vent, let it out. To feel as if THIS is the WORST thing EVER! Because After ALL the venting, a real perspective sets in. There are far greater issues/challenges in the world then a torn achilles. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever.

One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.

“If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the bear”. Ive always loved that quote. Thats “mamba mentality” we don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.

I know it’s a long post but I’m Facebook Venting LOL. Maybe now I can actually get some sleep and be excited for surgery tomorrow. First step of a new challenge.

Guess I will be Coach Vino the rest of this season. I have faith in my teammates. They will come thru.

Thank you for all your prayers and support. Much Love Always.

Mamba Out”

Meanwhile, expect the Jazz to pass the Lakers and get into the playoffs, for one last shot before either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson go elsewhere next season. The Jazz likely won’t last long against either Oklahoma City or San Antonio. The Lakers are in trouble. Capped out with no picks coming for years, they might have to take drastic measures. How will this impact Dwight Howard’s future? All questions for another day. The focus is on Kobe Bryant, who still probably finishes fourth or fifth in MVP voting (behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, in some order with Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony).

As for Raptors-Bulls, the rematch:

You knew the Bulls would come out angry after recent poor play. They did and came out strong, taking it to the Raptors early. You didn’t know Rip Hamilton would snap against a team that has a star player he is particularly tight with, fellow UCONN alum Rudy Gay. Though it wasn’t Gay who caught Hamilton’s forearm shiver – that was DeMar DeRozan – it was Gay who seemed amped after it, making some big plays as the Raptors ended up routing the Bulls. Those beaten-down Bulls are exhausted and frustrated. I’m not sure how much they’ll have in the tank for the playoffs. But with Derrick Rose back next season, they’ll be in the hunt for second or third in the East behind Miami.

With no draft pick slotting to blow, the Raptors aren’t doing the usual infuriating Toronto pro team thing of winning meaningless games and screwing up how sizable the talent coming in via the draft can be (a Raptors and Leafs specialty over the past decade). So these recent wins and better play can be seen as positives. The talent seems to be clicking, Kyle Lowry is finally playing closer to himself again and getting results and Gay has found his groove following a troubling stretch. Sure, his shot has gone completely AWOL, but he’s been far better defensively and is finding his teammates in better spots of late. He still needs to look for his own shot more, despite his struggles, but is doing the best job of being aggressive we’ve seen from him since December.

Gay’s been a bit of a monster in six April games, building on his late March revival. The biggest difference has been a significant improvement in his outside shooting. It’s a small sample size, but he is making nearly half of his threes, nearly twice as efficient from deep as he has been most of the season (now, Gay’s not a 47% outside shooter, but he’s definitely not a 27% shooter either. Consider 34-36% a more accurate representation of his abilities).

Another big effort from Quincy Acy who is making the most of these games. Again, Acy showed he belongs in the NBA and that he can be a piece off of the bench next season. I still expect a power forward to be part of the return for Andrea Bargnani, but if not, at least the Raptors know now that Acy provides some depth behind Amir Johnson. Still, the Raptors will need to sign another big if they can’t trade for one either by moving Bargnani or DeMar DeRozan in the summer.

If the Raptors run the table in the final three games, the win total will be 34, two less than this corner predicted, but they would be 9th in the East, which was my call from the start of the year. What an odd route they would have taken to get there.

Assuming the Raptors win at least one of the remaining three games, it looks like Oklahoma City will be receiving the 9th or 10th pick of the draft, barring a Raptors lottery miracle.

Raptors at Bulls Points Per Game: You saw this bounce back coming a mile away; How does Amir do it; JV excelling with his faceup game; Acy belongs

- April 10th, 2013

Better late than never, the Points Per Game returns, with thoughts on Toronto’s surprising win over Chicago Tuesday. Or maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising, since so often in pro sports we see a team that was embarrassed – as Toronto was against Milwaukee – come out a night or two later primed for bear.

The starters came out on fire in both the first and third quarter, which usually is enough to get a win, and the Raptors just managed to hold off a late Bulls charge. Rudy Gay and Terrence Ross had it going from deep and Toronto was able to take advantage from the line, two of the few successful ways to beat the defensively excellent Bulls. Now, before we go too far in praising the visitors, remember, the Bulls were missing top four players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. Gibson and Noah are two of the top five or six defenders in the entire NBA.

More thoughts:

- Quincy Acy has really given the Raptors a lift of late. In a season that has been hugely disappointing, the fact that Acy looks like he can be an NBA player is a great sign for the franchise. With Ed Davis gone and Andrea Bargnani mercifully on the move as soon as a good offer comes in, the team badly needs some frontcourt depth behind Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Acy has shown that he has a future as a reserve big.

- It’s amazing that the Bulls compete no matter who is missing and it’s a shame Chicago’s loyal fans have not been able to see this group at full strength. With Rose and everybody else, Chicago’s probably the East’s second best team.

- These might be the dog days of the season, but don’t tell that to Dwane Casey, who played Johnson 45 minutes because that was his only shot at a win. You can say the wins don’t really matter at this point, but it’s always better to collect as many wins as possible when your future is cloudy. The more games the Raptors win to finish the year, the easier it is for everybody to keep their jobs.

- That said, it’s amazing, considering how banged up Johnson has been this year, that he is able to play 45 minutes at this point of the season. There can’t be 10 tougher guys in the entire league than Amir Johnson.

- Jonas Valanciunas’ 12-game double figure scoring streak came to an end because he played his fewest minutes since March 15th. After he scarily was carted off at the end of the game, it’s good to hear that X-rays were negative. The Raptors need Valanciunas to become a low post threat down the line and that will come, but right now, that’s not his game. It will come. Right now, his faceup game is incredibly polished for a rookie big man. If Acy has been a pleasant surprise, Valanciunas has been the biggest positive of this lost season.

- Terrence Ross has been mixing up his game more over the past month or so, and it has worked. Instead of just launching threes, he’s been able to score from other areas of the floor. Partly as a result, Ross has shot 50% or better in seven of his past nine games.

Points Per Game is on hiatus since I’m out of town on NCAA/Wiggins duty

- April 1st, 2013

Raptors at Pistons Points Per Game: Early struggles evaporate; Gay seems fine; How impressive has Valanciunas been; Blame BC for a lot of other things first, before knocking him for passing on Drummond

- March 30th, 2013

How about that, a Raptors laugher! It’s been a while. Things are looking dire in Detroit and the Lawrence Frank era seems to be moving closer to an end, though I believe he still has a year on his deal to go. Remember, Frank and Dwane Casey were the two finalists in Toronto. Now, after two seasons, both are on shaky ground even though all looked good at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season for both of them. Greg Monroe, for one, looks fed up with the way things are going in Detroit and the lack of fight in many of his teammates not named Jose Calderon, Brandon Knight or Andre Drummond.

Some thoughts on Friday’s game:

- Far more positives than negatives on this night, but, let’s get the negatives out of the way: DeMar DeRozan’s shot selection was horrendous early on. He seemed to be making a point of taking the most difficult and/or lowest percentage shots possible. To his credit, he was able to be far more effective later on.

- Jonas Valanciunas still has lots of work to do defensively. One particular area of weakness is responding quickly enough to when the ball is put on the floor. That said, Greg Monroe is a very mobile big, so it makes sense that he’ll beat Valanciunas off the bounce a few times. And, as a whole, Monroe was held to a brutal 3-for-11 shooting line, in part by the big Lithuanian.

-Kyle Lowry was extremely careless early. Still, he recovered from the miscues to take far better care of the ball the rest of the way.

- Besides the turnovers, the biggest problem with Toronto’s offence of late and before the third quarter explosion, has been a lack of movement. Players are standing around, not cutting and not setting enough screens. It has made the offence easy to defend and it allowed Detroit to get off to a quick lead. One guy who helps get things on track: Landry Fields, who is always on the move.

Positives:

- The aforementioned movement by Fields. He’s a guy that helps teams win, overpaid or not.

- Rudy Gay’s back doesn’t seem to be bothering him much of late. That’s back-to-back dominant games and five good ones in a row when he’s been able to play big minutes (though he did his damage in one third quarter run in this one). That should quiet a few of those freaking out and trying to convince the world he’s the worst player ever.

- Valanciunas continued his great run on offence with another clinic. Valanciunas (14, 14 and 4 blocks) keeps getting better and more effective. When teamed with Amir Johnson, Valanciunas has been superb. He’s shooting 62.6% in March, 82.9% from the line and a ridiculous 80% or so over his past seven games. Give the man more touches.
With Lithuanians dotting the sparse crowd like they did earlier in the season, Valanciunas continued to impress.

- As expected Jose to Calderon to Andre Drummond works very well and is pretty to see.
- Drummond looks like an impact player, but he’s extremely limited offensively. Is he ever going to be a guy you can rely on and keep in games late? Time will tell. Rip Bryan Colangelo for his many missteps, but I can’t get on the bash him for passing on Drummond bandwagon. Drummond’s lone season at UCONN was horrendous. He`s not a power forward, and the Raptors were already committed to developing future franchise centre Jonas Valanciunas, who is a far more rounded player. There were few signs he’d make it as an NBAer, despite his ridiculous physical gifts. He can`t shoot free throws at all and all he can do is score at the bucket and still gets lost at times defensively. Not to mention his draft interview was hilarious for all the wrong reasons, sources say. Drummond said he preferred to fix computers than play basketball. It`s hard to sell yourself on a guy who did very little to sell you on him. To Detroit`s credit, they looked past all of that and took a gamble at N0. 9 that the other teams wouldn`t. They got an NBA player. Whether he`s one that helps you win games is still to be decided. Of course, it`s also very much up in the air whether Terrence Ross, taken a pick earlier, will become a player that helps you win as well.

Hawks at Raptors Points Per Game: They played a game, it mattered little; Will the Raptors keep the pick after all?

- March 28th, 2013

Things looked good for the Raptors early on on Wednesday. But repeating a familiar pattern, the wheels eventually fell off. Yes, losing Amir Johnson to injury (and maybe it’s time to shut him down to make sure he doesn’t keep getting banged up) was the catalyst to another collapse, but it wasn’t the only reason. Atlanta remembered how to shoot the ball (and that’s an extremely solid shooting group, Josh Smith aside) and was aided by the fact the remaining Raptors seemed to lose interest in defending. Jeff Teague lit up Kyle Lowry and Lowry’s defensive play continues to be a massive concern. It’s hard to imagine he was once one of the top five defensive point guards in the game. Teague’s had a fantastic season, but 13 assists against a single turnover and 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting is all-star calibre play, and he’s not that good.

More thoughts:

You have to love Jonas Valanciunas’ fight. Al Horford is an all-star and one of the most underrated players in the NBA, but Valanciunas went at him and had a fair amount of success against him on offence. Sure, Horford burned him at the other end, but Valanciunas remains a work in progress defensively. He remains the most encouraging part of this season for the franchise. If he continues to progress in the post, the team might be able to get by with Amir Johnson beside him, instead of adding a starter who operates in the post.

Another good offensive outing from Terrence Ross.

I liked John Jenkins coming out of college and he’s been a solid bench shooter for the Hawks.

It will be fascinating to see what Atlanta, a team that overachieved all year in a season that could have been a write-off, does in the off-season. Most of the teams players are coming off of the cap and there will be a ton of room available to take a run at players.

It looked like a certainty that the Lowry to Oklahoma City pick would be in the 8-11 range not too long ago, but if this freefall continues any longer, all of a sudden, the Thunder could be looking at a 5-8 prize instead. It doesn’t make much of a difference in this draft, but picking as high as possible is always desirable. If the freefall lasts the rest of the year, suddenly, the Raptors have a shot at moving into the top 3 and keeping the pick.

Sacramento and Washington have now caught Toronto at 26 wins and are playing much better than the Raptors. Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans and Phoenix all could pass them as well. It’s not crazy to think Toronto could have the fourth-best odds heading into the lottery. Is it better to keep the pick and add a top 3 player who would be more like a 7-10 pick in most drafts or surrender the pick now and hope for the playoffs next year and beyond? Nerlens Noel isn’t a fit, but Marcus Smart or Ben McLemore would be ideal additions. I never would have thought the Raptors would collapse like this and be close enough to consider this scenario, but the chances of hanging on to the pick this year have suddenly become decent.

Raptors vs. Knicks home and home Points Per Game: Or not. How about, we look ahead

- March 24th, 2013

Let’s be frank, at this point, nobody really wants to discuss how the Rudy Gay and others-less Toronto Raptors did against the New York Nuggets. So, let’s turn our attention to next year. Here is my take on who will be back, who should be back and how I see things going:

Quincy Acy: Showed more than expected and looks like an NBA player. Should get more burn next season, especially if a big man doesn’t come back when Andrea Bargnani is traded.

Alan Anderson: Definitely made himself some money with his scoring outbursts and team-best perimeter defence, but probably has priced himself out of a return to Toronto. Would think he’ll get more than the veteran minimum and with Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields around, might not be a fit anymore either. The caveat being a DeRozan trade were to happen, he’d still have a place. I would thank Anderson for his contributions and wish him well and commend him on getting more money than the minimum.

Andrea Bargnani: Season was nothing short of a disaster. Unless the market is completely barren until he can return to action and prove he can stay on the court for more than 5 games in a row, he’ll be dealt long before training camp. It should have been done long ago, but at least it will be done. What will the return be? Hard to say. An expiring and a late draft pick or a high second? An overpaid player who is still better than Bargnani?

DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan clearly took steps forward, particularly as a passer and finisher, but could not sustain great start, possibly because he had one of the league’s biggest workloads. It’s still not clear what DeRozan is. His defence still leaves a ton to be desired and his shot selection and outside shooting still has a way to go. If he can cut down on the tough mid-range attempts he favours, stick a few more threes and get to even a league average level defensively, his large new contract becomes close to a bargain. But if not, it’s a few million a year too much. I still don’t get why he was given the extension before this season instead of after. Yes, there’s a shortage of quality shooting guards and many teams have cap space this summer, but the Raptors could have matched any offer. With Rudy Gay on hand, DeRozan’s future in Toronto goes from a certainty to up in the air. The duo share far too many strengths and weaknesses to be an ideal long-time pair. Gay’s not going anywhere, so that leaves DeRozan, a great guy, a hard worker who is improving and still has another level or two to get to, as a question mark going forward.

Landry Fields: A tough first season in Toronto for Fields, who will always have to deal with the pressure of being rewarded with a contract that probably pays him $2 million more a season than anybody believes he is worth. Expect a much better Fields next year when he will come in not dealing with a mysterious injury and with lesser expectations. Overpaid, sure, but still a useful player because of the little things he does. If he can ever regain his shooting form, he will be able to lay claim to more minutes. He’ll be back.

Rudy Gay: Coming off of the worst season of his career, Gay will have a lot to prove. Fully healthy and with something to play for, he’ll be a lot better. Needs to get back to his prior level to quiet all the whining about his hefty contract. He’ll be back and will be expected to be the team’s leading scorer next season.

Aaron Gray: Good veteran leader and a hard worker but only useful against the NBA’s biggest bodies. Will pick up player option and return for another year if Dwane Casey’s back. If Casey’s not, might be included in a package.

Amir Johnson: Team’s best player for second time in three years. Will get some most improved player votes. Needs a summer of rest to get his achy body back in top form. Has two years left on a deal many foolishly ripped for years, without actually paying attention to how effective Johnson was. Without major changes, fits as a starter since he doesn’t demand shots and gets easy put-backs. If DeRozan and Bargnani go and a low-post scorer comes back, could return to sixth man role, but more likely, he’ll be the starter.

Linas Kleiza: Has never made it all the way back from devastating injury. Will be amnestied unless Bargnani market completely disappears, which is highly unlikely.

Kyle Lowry: By far the most disappointing Raptor of 2012-13. Most talented player on the team that has gotten most out of talent over the years (Bargnani and Gay might have more actual talent, but haven’t gotten as much out of it as Lowry has over the years). Came in out of shape and never looked right all year. Had great start and dominated training camp, but after first injury wasn’t the same and then kept getting hurt. Tried to change game too much and it hurt him. Needs to be old aggressive self on offence next year and needs to find a way to once again become a top 10 defensive point guard. He once held that status. Relationship with Casey isn’t ideal and Lowry needs to take ownership that a lot of the blame falls on him. Which Lowry shows up in 2013-14 could determine how good the Raptors are. Expect him to be strong, since he will be playing for a new contract.

John Lucas III: Played some good minutes and kept team alive in many games but isn’t the answer as a backup point guard. Has a place as a scorer off of the bench, but it might be back in Chicago, not in Toronto. Great team guy and one of hardest workers in the league. My guess is he’s back if Casey is and he’ll go elsewhere if Casey is gone.

Mickael Pietrus: A non-factor who might be done as an NBA player.

Terrence Ross: More struggles than success as a rookie, but still showed enough flashes for everybody to realize that he has considerable potential. Needs to live in gym and get stronger in off-season. Team believes he will be a good starter in the league in a couple of years.

Sebastian Telfair: Hasn’t turned any heads as a Raptor and trading a second, even if the reasoning made some sense and seconds rarely work out, remains a bit of an unnecessary move. Probably plays elsewhere, but Toronto will need to find a backup, so could be in mix.

Jonas Valanciunas: The Big V is the Big Hope of Raptors nation. Considering how young bigs usually perform in their first crack at the NBA, season has to be considered a significant success. Yes, there were mistakes a plenty, but there was also a ton to like. Valanciunas is going to be a very good player for years to come. Like Ross, needs to get stronger in off-season and would be wise to spend time with a master of low-post play. If he gets better footwork and some effective moves inside, he would solve a major problem for the Raptors.

Dwane Casey: The most encouraging part of the 2011-12 season, Casey had a tough second act in Toronto. Nobody saw this coming after the previous season was directed so well. But it’s been a bad year for Casey, his staff and his players. From botched inbounds, to late collapses galore, to curious rotational decisions, things just never came together. He and Bryan Colangelo are at odds with each other and it will be very interesting to see what happens. Lowry’s inability to get on the same page as Casey hurt the team greatly. I’d give him half a year to see what he can do with a healthy roster and maybe add another x’s and o’s guy to help out with the play-calling. If you let Casey go, who do you bring in? None of the elite coaches will take the job. And if you let him go, can you keep Colangelo who will have let go yet another head coach?

Bryan Colangelo: Almost a lock to be back at this point, but should he be? He held on to Bargnani for far too long, jumped the gun on a DeRozan extension, gave Fields far too much money and has built a non-playoff team that has no cap space and no picks this summer. On the other hand, he’s drafted pretty well here (give him a solid B for his draft work) and has been able to fix a lot of his mistakes (Turkoglu, etc.) so maybe he can fix the Bargnani mistake as well? And, again, who else is going to take on this team? You could hand it over to Ed Stefanski, but does that change much. MLSE has already gone this far in with the Raptors. Nobody is going to come in and unravel everything. Like Casey, give Colangelo half a season to see what this group he has built can do.

If they’re still no good at that point, clean house and finally do a proper rebuild.

 

 

Raptors at Bobcats Points Per Game: A bad loss; Charlotte has to have somebody’s number

- March 21st, 2013

Five straight losses in Charlotte for the Raptors – against these guys? It’s stunning. While the rest of the league toys with the Bobcats, far and away the NBA’s worst squad over the past 2.5 seasons, the Raptors somehow act like they’re playing a powerhouse. It’s bizarre and it’s a bit embarrassing for the Raptors franchise. To be taken seriously, you just can’t keep losing to the league’s version of the Washington Generals (and I know at least one of the losses was a robbery, with Andrea Bargnani being fouled earlier in the season but no call being given). Charlotte wins 12 games a season, 2-3 of them can’t be against the Raptors.

If the Raptors are to be a playoff team next year, the team simply must stop losing regularly to the dregs of the league like Charlotte and Sacramento. Don’t just get up for teams like Miami, try to assert yourself against a beatable team to pick up easy wins.

Brief thoughts:

- A better offensive outing from DeMar DeRozan, but he’s still playing too many minutes and he could not stop Gerald Henderson when he was on him.

- Always have liked Henderson’s game and believed he’d be a solid NBA player, but he’s been even better than expected. He’s going to make some coin this summer.

- The second quarter let-down, in particular, was brutal. Charlotte was on the ropes in the first but was allowed to gain confidence in the second and used that momentum to take control.

- Amir Johnson was due for an off night after dominating over the past two weeks, and this one was it.

- Kyle Lowry made some bad turnovers (and 5 in all) which hurt the Raptors, but he also took the second-most shots on the team (13) and the more that happens, the better. He’s the only starter who is effective from three (though he went just 1-for-6 on Wednesday) and needs to keep taking those shots. Just as important, he needs to keep attacking the rim, since DeRozan can’t be the only guy attacking every night. Ideally, Rudy Gay, Lowry and DeRozan would all play aggressive.

- Again, Josh McRoberts was an X-Factor. He’s been a nice fit in Charlotte. Like the last time these teams met, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t look very good. I think he’s going to be an excellent player one day, but the long season and all of the losing appear to have worn him down a bit.

 

Heat at Raptors Points Per Game: Nobody’s touching the Heat; LeBron’s vision is uncanny; Looks like Gay’s healthy; Lowry struggles

- March 18th, 2013

We haven’t seen them here since Super Bowl Sunday, but in case anybody was hibernating since then, these guys are still really, really good. Good enough to be on a streak that is approaching record proportions. One more win puts the Heat in 2nd place all-time in terms of winning streaks and it’s for good reason. If the group has a weakness, it makes up for it with sheer talent.

The thing that always sticks out (if you want to pick just one) about the sublime LeBron James is his vision. His game has always had more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan in it, and that’s particularly true when you look at basketball IQ, vision and court awareness.

- Ray Allen has really found his game during this winning streak and he gives the Heat another fearsome weapon. Nobody in the league can guard James 1-on-1, few, if any, can guard Dwyane Wade 1-on-1 and Chris Bosh is a very tough matchup for any big man because of his length, shooting ability and quickness. That means guys like Allen and Shane Battier get a ton of open looks from three (because opponents double the Big Three), and it’s a huge reason why Miami is so unstoppable.

As for the Raptors:

- As we’ve seen all year, they don’t quit and hang around almost every night. A huge third quarter had a few people thinking upset (and I mean a few literally, as in, three people, in the world), but then the Heat recalibrated in the fourth and that was that. The 51-26 rebounding edge for the Raptors prevented a laugher, since Miami shot 58.2% and the Raptors made just 2-of-10 three pointers (compared to 10-of-22).

- Another strong outing from Rudy Gay, which will stop some of the hand-wringing about his poor start to his Toronto tenure. He seems to be healthier and playing closer to the way he has historically.

- Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, John Lucas III and old reliable Amir Johnson should also be singled out as the best Raptors on this night.

- Meanwhile, the backcourt was horrendous. The worst combined game of the year for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and probably the worst game of the year individually for Lowry. Lowry just couldn’t make a bucket. Mario Chalmers is an above average defender, but he wasn’t the reason for the struggles. It was just a bad shooting game from Lowry. These happen. DeRozan’s struggles were more alarming. He forced bad shot after bad shot, couldn’t stop anybody, didn’t have the passing game that has been so good for him this year going at all (0 assists for first time since Jan. 18). Perhaps the huge minutes he has played are starting to catch up with him? It would be a shame to finish the year like this, since he has taken a step forward if you look at the season as a whole.

 

Bobcats at Raptors Points Per Game: Gay shows what he can do, even if Bobcats stink; DeRozan had other things going; Good minutes from the rooks; Amir’s been so good it’s easy to overlook him

- March 16th, 2013

Let’s get this out of the way because there was an awful lot of snark on Twitter last night when I mentioned Rudy Gay was answering some of his critics with his performance. Yes, the Bobcats are awful. Horrendous. Just a step up from last season’s horrible group. But they still are an NBA basketball team, not a rec league squad and they still have a few talented defenders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Adrien and Gerald Henderson. MKG spent a lot of time on Gay and that’s not a walk in the park even though MKG is still a rookie. Gay was able to dominate, showcasing his wide array of skills. And that was more what I was getting at with the tweet. Forget the final stats, which were impressive. It was more about Gay showing what he is capable of, what he can do when completely on his game. It was a message to those people jumping overboard on the hyperbole spouting nonsense like he’s a terrible basketball player, a below average talent, a non-factor and a guy who doesn’t improve the Raptors. It’s nonsense. Yes, he makes 25% or so too much money. Yes, he often isn’t engaged enough and far too often settles for poor shots. But, there’s no denying he has the size, athleticism and skill to be a really good player at times. It won’t be all the time, it probably won’t even be half of the time, but it is there. And before you say the same can be said about Andrea Bargnani, it’s just not true. Bargnani simply doesn’t quite have the same total package as Gay. And he certainly doesn’t show what he is capable of anywhere close to as often. Gay will be fine. He’ll be  solid piece going forward. The trick will be re-signing him at a discount instead of making the huge mistake of giving him another full max contract (A contract starting around $13M a season is a far better idea).

Thoughts on the game:

- Gay was especially dominant in the first quarter, where he basically could do no wrong. He needs to focus in and try to make a habit of having excellent first quarters. That would be a huge benefit for the Raptors as getting out to an early lead is always a good thing. The odds say if you win the first quarter, you’re more likely to win the game.

- Though DeMar DeRozan was struggling mightily to score and was angry at the refs all night, he still did some things well. He was far more effective, despite the lack of scoring, against Adrien and Henderson than he has been in the past. He was able to break them down and get to the line repeatedly and he also showed off the biggest wrinkle he has added to his game this season – far better court vision. He was beating defenders, especially early on, and setting up his teammates for good looks. One thing we haven’t seen much of this season is DeRozan creating an open look from three from Kyle Lowry. Since Lowry’s the only consistent outside shooter in the starting lineup, it’s a good play and one we’ll probably see more of next season, though you can expect a fully healthy Gay to be 5-8% more effective from three next season, making him more of a factor from outside.

- Still like Jonas Valanciunas going to that running hook he favours. It is one of the most difficult shots in the game to stop and will be a nice weapon for the youngster going forward. He continues to show flashes of what he’s going to be.

- Fellow youngster Terrence Ross continues to miss some easy shots every game, but the fact that he’s getting them, instead of simply firing away from outside, is a good thing. Eventually, some of them are going to fall and adding in some variety will give him better looks with his jumper.

- Sebastian Telfair continues to make a case for the backup point guard role next season. The team could do a lot worse on a minimum deal.

- Again, boy are those Bobcats bad. They have a few pieces, but if one of them is struggling – MKG was the guy who couldn’t do anything right on the night – they just don’t have enough to win games

- About the only guy who impressed amongst the visitors was Josh McRoberts, who is probably showing more in his Charlotte stint than he did in his entire Indiana and Los Angeles tenures. He’s not a bad second big off of the bench and is an underrated passer.

- Charlotte badly needs some quality vets. A Keyon Dooling/Avery Johnson/Derek Fisher-type of mentor backing up Kemba Walker, and a bruising veteran big man who has been around. They also would benefit from bringing back a guy like that on the bench – Charles Oakley.

- Speaking of Oakley, another Oakley-esque rebounding game from Amir Johnson’s. Amir’s been so effective and so consistent, that you almost gloss over his accomplishments by accident because you’re so used to them. That’s about as big a compliment as you can give a player. For the second time in three seasons, Johnson has been the best Raptor.