Posts Tagged ‘DeMar DeRozan

Raptors clinch the Atlantic and Casey clarifies the one game will right ship comments and talks about the team’s poor defence

- March 28th, 2015

The Raptors have added a third division winner banner to their sparse collection and that should be celebrated, even if the division is the worst in the NBA by far. The problem is this second-half free-fall has made it tough to throw a party about the accomplishment. The Raptors did that to themselves by playing so poorly after the best start in team history.

After the Raptors beat a bad Lakers squad on Friday, head coach Dwane Casey tried to provide some perspective:

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole, (actually), I wouldn’t say we’ve dug a hole – we’ve qualified for the playoffs, which was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We have an opportunity to win our division (this was before the game) … It’s not all gloom and doom, other than the way we’ve done it. We’ve done it more with offence than we’ve done with defence, which wouldn’t be my preference, but we kind of got it done,” Casey said.

“We’ve faltered here of late but not totally gloom and doom … not all is dead and sad and gloom and doom in Mudville.” Doom and gloom was a theme for Casey, he repeated the phrase often.

- I’ve honed in on the troubling trend the past two months or so of players like DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams insisting that everything would come together for the club and all of the bad play and losing would be forgotten if they only played up to their potential one time. Casey has always insisted that no such magic wand exists, that you can’t snap your fingers and get the ship righted automatically. It just won’t happen and the coach said he things we might have gotten what the players were trying to say slightly twisted.

“One game will help. A few games will help even more, but you just can’t flip a switch in this league and go from a bad defensive team to a great one,” Casey said. “We’ll get better. I think the playoffs, will hopefully, with the preparation, get us more in tune with what we’re doing. You’re not going to go from flipping a switch, if that’s what we’re thinking. I think they mean it to just get some confidence. I don’t think they’re saying we’re going to go from where we are to great defensive team. I think it’s going to help our mojo to get this gloom and doom (off) us.”

- Casey also talked about the team’s near NBA-worst defence: “It’s a lot of things, I’m not going to get into details, we’re not playing good defence, there’s a lot of culprits. It’s not from a lack of effort. Guys are trying, they’re working at it, more mental probably than it is physical. It’s some physical, but they’re trying.” He also said the defence wasn’t as bad as it looked late against Chicago, adding that the Bulls made some incredibly difficult shots.”

- As for the game, the Raptors did enough to get it done and said afterward that they should enjoy the accomplishment of winning the division and should dwell on something positive for once. No disagreement, they just have to remember there is plenty of work – and improvements to be made – still to be done. Even though the Lakers are bad, winning without Kyle Lowry and with DeMar DeRozan going 1-for-10 from the field (he actually played a strong game, aside from the shooting) this was a good victory and a very needed one.

- The team played James Johnson and good things happened. Johnson made a big impact and was named player of the game with 17 points and a team-best +11 mark.

“James has been great, going from playing a lot to not playing at all, to come back when we need him, he’s a great pro,” said Lou Williams afterward.

- Casey said Lowry is still not ready to go. The team is going to be more cautious with him down the stretch than it was the past two weeks, to make sure he is as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs.

Wiggins night a bit of a let-down thanks to many factors, Raptors still in cruise control, Valanciunas emerging

- March 19th, 2015

So, a few things conspired to make Andrew Wiggins night a bit of a bust: The refs forgot that first and foremost, the NBA is about entertainment, and took Wiggins out of the game for far too long by calling a couple of highly debatable fouls on him early; the announcer rushed through the introduction, which didn’t allow the fans to give Wiggins the reception they wanted to (when stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are here, they get a longer pause); the game itself was pretty horrible because Minnesota could barely field a roster and because the Raptors were sleep-walking for much of  it Prime Minister Harper bungled a tweet and Anthony Bennett couldn’t play, due to an ankle injury.

That said, Canada Basketball Night (the proper name for the evening) was still quite cool to see for someone who has been covering the burgeoning hoops scene in this country for a decade now.

More on the game itself and some repercussions:

- Kyle Lowry took a knee to the back during a spill and had to leave. He was in pain and noticeably hurt afterward. He has a high pain threshold though, so barring any bad test results, expect him back soon. The team also said Terrence Ross is now fine (after some back issues of his own) and Jonas Valanciunas is a bit under the weather (maybe because he is adjusting to the presence of his son – but at least said newborn is a great sleeper, according to Poppa Valanciunas).

- Chicago pummeled Indy and Washington survived against Utah to keep pace with the Raptors, though it is not clear whether finishing third would be better than finishing fourth for the Raptors (would facing Washington or Milwaukee be better in the first round? Wouldn’t facing Atlanta, as crazy as that seems, be better than facing LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Round 2?)

- Once again, DeMar DeRozan’s 4-for-14 shooting line doesn’t look good, but if you factor in he hit his only three and hit all 12 of his free throws, his true shooting percentage was actually excellent and his defence wasn’t bad either. Same can’t be said for Lou Williams, though at least he defended (his offence was atrocious).

- When Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross are hitting 50% (or better) of their three-point attempts, the Raptors are extremely tough to stop.

- Greivis Vasquez took advantage of Lowry’s absence and played a strong game, especially later on when his big shots were needed. When Lowry is out of action, Vasquez shifts more to a facilitator role which is his ideal game.

- Dwane Casey responded simply, “we won,” when asked for his thoughts on the game, but later expanded on that, saying how the team performs is more important than winning or losing right now.

“That’s more important than the wins and losses right now, in terms of how we play, how we start. I’m more concerned with how we start the game. They outworked us in the beginning. Our execution defensively, running the floor, being where we’re supposed to be, walling defensively, being up at the level of the screen, all those little things are what we are trying to do. We have to do it in games, because practice time is so precious. You just don’t have a lot of practice time to get it in and improve the way we need to,” Casey said.

- Sam Mitchell on Casey being poised to catch him either late this season or early next for all-time coaching wins with the Raptors, after initially pretending we were giving him a kick in the knees by reminding him: “Guys I don’t think about that. Dwane is a heck of a coach, man. He’s done a heck of a job. I’m glad he’s doing well and I’m glad the Raptors are doing well. They treated me well. I have nothing but great, fond memories of the city, the organization and the team and the organization I was lucky enough to coach,” Mitchell said.

Some Wiggins reaction:

From Patrick Patterson:

“Tough energetic, active, resilient and that’s rare for a kid his age. For him to take the reins of the team, you know the team’s not quite successful, but he’s still playing hard, he’s playing well, he’s playing smart out there. He doesn’t back down to anyone, he accepts every single challenge out there and I admire the kid for that.”

(Still follow him in Huntington, West Virginia, Patterson’s home)? “Oh yeah, they love him as if he was from West Virginia. Everyone back home admires that kid to death, I know they definitely miss him at Huntington Prep, the guys always still talk about him, the coaching staff still raves about him. I’ve always followed him, I’ve followed him for a long time.”

Amir Johnson: “Very athletic, goes to the boards relentlessly. I think he’s going to be good, he just has to keep working and he’ll come into his own.”

DeRozan: “He’s talented. He’s going to be alright. He’s just a rookie. He’s going to be alright. He’s still young. Once he gets experience playing in the league, being in a lot of different situations, understanding the game, he’s going to be alright.”

 

 

Raptors show resilience in win over Pacers but there is still work to be done; Passing and rebounding are a winning combination

- March 17th, 2015

That was more like it for the Raptors on Monday night.  Coming off of a home loss to a good team that was made worse by the fact the home side didn’t play hard enough, the Raptors continued to thrive finishing off back-to-backs by putting in a far better effort in order to beat the streaking Pacers. For once, the Raptors came out slugging, throwing that “first punch” Dwane Casey is always looking for. While that refers more to effort on defence and on the boards, this time, it was offensive haymakers that were thrown early by the Raptors. Toronto shot 55% from the frame, including 3-for-5 from three and got to the line five times. The big men overwhelmed the Pacers’ formerly star-caliber front-line, dominating the glass, while holding David West and Roy Hibbert to 0-for-8 shooting in the first quarter.

- It is no secret that when Lowry (and to a lesser extent, DeMar DeRozan) look to facilitate, the Raptors become as good as the second most dangerous attack in the league (the Warriors are the clear No. 1, despite Chris Paul willing the Clippers to the current top spot in offensive efficiency). When they don’t force, instead probing for better shots, the Raptors are a handful. Lowry touched the ball 76 times in the game and passed it 55 times. He had 10 assists, plus two more which led to free throw attempts. Lowry stumbled after a torrid start on Sunday. A day later, he was spectacular throughout in notching a triple double. Greivis Vasquez also passed more frequently than usual.

- While the offence was ahead of the defence – like usual – and while Indiana is about half as good as Portland offensively, it can still be noted that after the Blazers shot 79.2% at the rim against the Raptors on Sunday, Indiana only shot 50% at the rim.

- At the cost of minutes for James Johnson (who didn’t even play) Tyler Hansbrough has been playing well for the Raptors. He didn’t stuff the stat-sheet Monday like Johnson usually does, but he was quietly effective against his former team. Johnson could draw back in Wednesday against Andrew Wiggins and Minnesota, with Terrence Ross questionable due to a back issue.

- Is DeRozan really sure he shoots better with a hand in his face? Ball don’t lie. He was 3-for-15 on contested shots, 3-for-4 on uncontested attempts.  We’ll cut DeMar some slack though, he got to the line 11 times and has been an all-star level player in March, a month that sees Toronto third in the NBA in offensive rating. Here’s a crazy stat: Lowry, the barely six-foot point guard, led Toronto in rebound chances with 17, one more than Jonas Valanciunas, who stands at least a foot taller. Does that mean Lowry was leaving his man too early on defence to get on the glass, or was he just impeccably positioned?

- Valanciunas was a key factor in the win. Beside the strong defence, he had a dominant third quarter.

- Don’t look now, but Washington has won four straight games, including Monday’s impressive takedown of the same Portland Trail Blazers team that crushed the Raptors a day earlier. Bradley Beal had one of his best games of the season, John Wall is rolling and Marcin Gortat seems to be back in form as well. Washington is only a game back of the Raptors and just a half game behind Chicago (before Tuesday’s games) and is suddenly trending in the right direction again. One note of interest: Being able to win on the road, as the Raptors did to finish a back-to-back in Indy is an impressive trait of any team. There seems to be a separation between the East’s current top four and the 5-7 group in that regard. Toronto has gone 18-15 on the road, Cleveland 19-17, Atlanta a brilliant 23-10, Chicago a solid 20-14. Washington is an ugly 14-18, Milwaukee just 15-20.

 

You could see DeRozan’s breakout coming; The defence still rests; Greivis and Lou come through at the point

- March 3rd, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — The next time DeMar DeRozan finds himself in a lull, the Raptors should fly in Jakarr Sampson for some scrimmage work. For whatever reason, DeRozan seems to have his way with the Sixers rookie. Sampson bites on all of his fakes and that allows DeRozan to get a lot of easy points.

With Kyle Lowry being rested, the Raptors couldn’t afford to have the February version of DeRozan show up, even against the overmatched Sixers. If that came to pass, the Raptors wouldn’t have won, not with the defence playing so terribly for the bulk of the game. But DeRozan had perhaps his best game of the season and carried his team to a win, the way stars are supposed to.

 

- In Lowry’s absence, the point guards were rock solid. Greivis Vasquez predicted DeRozan would have a big game and that he would be OK as well and then delivered. Vasquez hit most of his shots and ran the pick-and-roll well. His swagger and confidence helped. Lou Williams had been tried out at point guard in the pre-season and the coaching staff loved the job he did, but with Lowry and Vasquez around, he had barely been required to run the show at all. On Monday, Williams became the backup point guard and he was excellent, dishing out five assists without a turnover, as well as chipping in with 21 points. Williams wasn’t as predictable in this role, since opponents have to respect the fact that he will look for teammates more often when he is playing the point. In addition to his assists, Williams also had a team best three secondary assists (hockey assists).

 

- The team talked pre-game about how good Jonas Valanciunas was against New York and how they had to establish him early, then – they totally decided not to do that. He got posted up a few times – most memorably, when James Johnson yelled at him to establish position, but he was mostly a decoy. Afterward, Valanciunas didn’t care, he was just happy to get the win. The only thing he was miffed about was some of the calls that got him into foul trouble.

 

- Dwane Casey and his staff made a smart call in scheduling a fun, laid back shoot-around. The team was tight and not feeling great about itself after losing to New York, the fifth loss in a row, so having the Raptors relax by playing a shooting game in the morning loosened them up for the game.

 

- It was far from a strong defensive performance. While the Raptors had far more energy than they have had in a while, Philadelphia is the NBA’s worst offensive team (and was missing top shooters Robert Covington and Jason Richardson) so there is really no way the team should shoot 53% for the game and notch 32 assists. The defence was lazy at times and far too scattered. The offence was dominant, so it didn’t matter much, but the Raptors good run of defence seems to have hit the skids a little bit. Philadelphia shot 64% at the rim, which is just atrocious defending. On the plus side, after a brutal first half, Tyler Hansbrough really stepped up defensively down the stretch.

 

- DeRozan’s controversial comments about preferring to shoot with a hand in his face weighed true for one night at least. He shot 6-for-9 on contested attempts, just 6-for-15 on uncontested (though it really was 6-for-13, since two of them were end of quarter heaves. Either way, still better when contested in this one).

 

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 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.