Charlotte is officially Toronto’s house of horrors. Eight straight losses there for various groups of Raptors and for once DeMar DeRozan didn’t get locked down by Gerald Henderson and Co. and the Raptors still managed to lose. Dwane Casey again pointed to the team’s inconsistent defence (lack of focus, lack of intensity) and it certainly was an issue – there is no reason a bad offensive team like Charlotte (third-worst in the NBA in offensive rating, second-last in true shooting percentage) should so far exceed its normal production. The Hornets got far too many open shots, weren’t forced into enough turnovers and got to the line far too often.
- It is now officially time to worry about this group. If the seven losses in eight games weren’t enough, how about 14-16 since the calendar switched to 2015 (after going 24-8 in the 2014 portion of the schedule). The intensity that was a staple of Dwane Casey teams throughout his tenure in Toronto has wavered, defensively, the Raptors can’t guard the perimeter at all and the offence lacks consistency and smarts. Getting a healthy Kyle Lowry back was nice, but he forced too many shots and even admitted as much afterward, saying though the Raptors are a jumpshooting team, they simply must get Jonas Valanciunas (and, theoretically, other bigs) more involved down low. It makes perfect sense, but Lowry and the others have played this tune in the past and nothing changed. Valanciunas got three shots. Three. Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson eight combined. Patterson is in a deep slump and Lou Williams has been great, but with massive variance from game-to-game, but the Raptors have guaranteed efficient production staring them in the face in the form of Valanciunas and they ignore him. It is baffling. Nobody on hand wants to explain why it is the case either. It is like the entire organization has horse blinders on it, starting with the star backcourt and the coaching staff.
- Regardless of whether or not the NBA is going away from the traditional big man, Valanciunas is an effective force and a key part of the team’s future. The Raptors decline to take advantage of what he can provide both at their short – and long-term peril.
- Was it the proper time to put Terrence Ross back in the starting lineup in place of James Johnson for the first time since Jan. 18? Ross had been showing some signs of life, but had still not found the consistency the Raptors were eager for him to show. But the team was just 9-9 with Johnson starting this season, including 4-5 recently. They are 26-15 when Ross starts. In this one, Ross was OK, he posted a career-best seven assists (nearly doubling his previous career best of four), but couldn’t hit the shots he is in the lineup to make (just 2-for-7 from three). If Ross isn’t hitting, he isn’t helping. Not that Johnson was either. He might have turned in his worst game of the season, the Raptors were pummeled when he was on the floor. Overall, Toronto had been much better with Johnson coming off the bench this season compared to when he starts, but that trend didn’t hold true in this one. I’m still not convinced starting both Johnson and Patterson isn’t the best look for this team.
More observations:- Thought Valanciunas played good interior defence on Al Jefferson, forcing him into tough shots (he made some, but that’s what he does). The same could be said for Amir Johnson. The Raptors also were at their best when they went inside. Jefferson and Cody Zeller aren’t good defenders and Bismack Biyombo only played 13 minutes. It should have happened more often.
- DeRozan is taking a ton of shots right now – they are going in, but it’s a dangerous game. He has only gone to the free throw line five combined times over the past two games. He had no assists against Cleveland, three against Charlotte. Do like that he is going in the post a bit more.
- Random point: Cleveland sits big man Timofey Mozgov in most fourth quarters too, opting to go with the more mobile Tristan Thompson, so it’s not just a Toronto thing.
- If Charlotte had an elite two-way swingman like Paul George, Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard, the Hornets would be a contender in the East. That’s no stunner, but even with a lesser version of one of those guys, simply a consistent three-point gunner who plays average defence, the Hornets would be in really good shape.
- That’s back-to-back goose eggs for Patterson, the first time he has done that as a Raptor. Patterson’s been to the free throw line once in the past 12 games. Couple that with the allergy Ross has for contact and it’s not wonder the offence has some issues. Even if you are primarily a three-point threat, as both Patterson and Ross are, you have to at least try to create contact once in a blue moon.
- Thunder, Spurs, Heat, Blazers, surging Pacers, inspired Wiggins coming home for first time, then Bulls on deck. This could get really ugly.