Posts Tagged ‘Dwane Casey

Tired Raptors power through Magic; Amir makes an adjustment; Life great for Lowry and Bruno’s pants

- December 16th, 2014

These Raptors sure seem to enjoy playing with fire, but at 19-6, you can’t argue with the results. They believe they can turn it on and off at will and against some teams, perhaps they can, but it is a dangerous game to play. Everyone could see a tough game coming on Monday. Orlando is young, was rested (unlike the Raptors who played the night before), extremely athletic and stocked with some good shooters, including the improved Victor Oladipo. That’s why it wasn’t surprising that they gave them a game and even took control for a bit in the second quarter before Kyle Lowry did Kyle Lowry things.

- I wrote all about Lowry in the main, so we’ll skip over just how ridiculous he was in the third quarter here. He didn’t do it by himself. Terrence Ross hit a trio of threes, snapping a shooting skid at home (though he still went 3-for-11 overall from the field), Patrick Patterson nailed a pair, James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough were excellent in the second half off of the bench and Amir Johnson, again looking healthy – a good sign – had his moments as well.

- Dwane Casey credited his group for fighting through being mentally and physically tired to win the game. He said they had a tough night and didn’t get a lot of sleep. “I don’t want to give our guys an excuse but we get in at two in the morning, come through Customs; we have to sit at the gate in New York forever – I don’t know if they do that on purpose or what – and then we get in late, back-to-back, overtime game.
We had every excuse in the world and that’s what I told them at halftime,” Casey said, not mentioning the other things he said (or yelled) at them at the half.

“The second half we found our voice, our energy, our spirit and we held them to 13 and 17 (points) … we found our defensive mojo in the second half.”

- Casey didn’t like Amir’s work guarding Channing Frye in the previous outing – “He didn’t do a good job the last game and I just talked to Amir about that. He hit like three straight buckets, had 13 points in the first quarter so his attention to detail on Frye has to be on point because if not, he’s one of those guys that can get out there and space the floor,” Casey said. This time, Johnson played Frye a little closer and Frye missed all three first quarter shots and went just 1-for-6 in a poor outing.

- Jonas Valanciunas, who really hates talking about himself, always trying to direct the conversation back to the team, on being nominated for player of the week: “Yeah (he is happy). First of all happy that we won today, it’s tough, tough win, tough game, but we won so I’m happy for that one. And I’m happy for the player of the week … sure,” Valanciunas said rather non-plussed.

- Life seems to be great for Lowry right now. He’s been the most upbeat guy in the locker room (aside from Bebe, who cannot be topped in that department, ever) for a week or so now. He took some kids shopping on Tuesday, knows he’ll be an all-star in a couple of months and generally seems comfortable. We’ve got something big on Lowry planned in the near future. Anyway, funny moment after the game. Lowry spotted Bruno Caboclo two stalls over in bright red pants. “Damn Bruno, those are some red ass pants! It must be Christmas.” All Bruno could do was smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patterson “Tells on himself”; An ugly win is still a win; Raptors better on road?; Knicks are a mess and no relief coming anytime soon

- December 15th, 2014

Ugly games, there have been a few. Especially lately. At least it sure seems that way. Sunday’s Raptors-Knicks tilt was a pretty hideous affair and I’m glad I wasn’t on this road trip. The Raptors again came out flat. They were pretty lethargic, letting the Knicks get to the line too often and could have blown a game against a horrid opponent, but like good teams do, Toronto found a way to leave Manhattan with another victory.

- Give Patrick Patterson the game ball for this one. He kept the Raptors afloat in the first quarter with his offence, hitting  all three of his shots for seven points (only Kyle Lowry also played well in the opening quarter), then saved the day for them late, by finally providing some resistance against Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had been having a solid scoring game, notching 27 points on better than 50% shooting, with 10 free throw attempts, before the Raptors opted to try Patterson against Anthony. Dwane Casey had mused the other day about possibly letting Patterson try his luck against small forwards. Anthony isn’t a traditional three, he’s more of a tweener so it’s not a perfect science, but Patterson showed something against him. As Casey put it afterward, Patterson “told on himself” as in he let the coaching staff know he can guard a scoring combo forward like Anthony. Carmelo did not attempt a free throw once Patterson was switched onto him and missed six-of-nine attempts from the field. There is no doubt Patterson has been one of the team’s best performers so far this season.

- I’m surprised the Raptors didn’t go to Valanciunas more often. Amar’e Stoudemire can’t come close to guarding him, yet Valanciunas only got one shot attempt in the first quarter – an aggressive move to the bucket for a score – just two more in the second. His teammates and coaching staff simply have to make sure Valanciunas gets more involved on offence. He is a good player down low. Use him. This isn’t a debate on whether he should be on the floor or not and when, it is about when he is out there, take advantage of what he can do.

- Terrence Ross has not been sinking threes as consistently as he did when DeMar DeRozan was around to create more open shots for him with his presence, but he’s been solid overall. Since DeRozan went down eight games ago (including the ninth game, since DeRozan only played a small portion of that game), Ross has averaged 14.2 points and 4.3 rebounds, shooting 48.6% from the field and 90% from the free throw line. He has shown more of an in-between game – putting the ball on the floor more, scoring on floaters and even a hook at times. One free throw attempt a game is not nearly enough though. Ross needs to be more aggressive and needs to draw some fouls. Especially for as long as DeRozan is out.

- More Ross, and this is a bizarre one – Including the game where DeRozan got hurt up until Sunday against the Knicks, Ross has shot 48.1% from three on the road, just 19% at home. Ross has basically been the force the Raptors want him to be on the road – 18.2 points on 58% shooting in the five games – but poor at home without DeRozan – 9.3 points on 35% shooting.

- The Kyle Lowry splits are also quite interesting. Using this same 9-game span, Lowry has averaged 26.4 points on the road and 2.6 steals and 10.2 assists per game vs. 17.3, 0.5 and 8.3. He’s also shot 36% at home, 43% on the road. It’s a small sample size, only about 11% of the season, but a bit intriguing. (Late add from a reader on Twitter: perhaps it has something to do with the Raptors facing far better teams at home during this stretch – those teams are 47-48 – vs. the 30-68 dregs they’ve faced on the road).

- So much for Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher instantly turning things around for the Knicks. They are an unmitigated disaster. The 5-21 start is the worst in team history. They owe Carmelo Anthony a ton of money for four more seasons ($22-$28 million a year, yikes). They have their own first round pick this year (luckily for them, since it’s going to be a high one), but send next year’s first either to Toronto or Denver (Denver gets the better pick, Toronto the lesser one) and they have no second rounders until 2020. Seriously. They have only seven players signed for next season, but even with the cap rising, will have a hard time adding star talent and filling out the roster. It’s more of the same the next summer. This is going to take some time. It’s too bad, considering how important the Knicks franchise is to the NBA and how terrible it has been for years now.

 

 

 

 

Loss to James and Cavaliers leaves a bitter taste in mouths of the Raptors

- December 10th, 2014

Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland will stick with the Raptors for some time. In a gloomy locker room afterward, many of the players lamented their lack of fight, their inability to come up with timely rebounds and even their inability to get a fair shake from the officials. Oddly enough, it was the usually terse Kyle Lowry who was one of the most upbeat Raptors. Lowry didn’t have a great night, for the second game in a row his jumper wasn’t falling, but he did notch 14 assists against just a single turnover. To his credit, he said the team would move on and can play a lot better: “We could have done a few different things. It was poor execution on my part, and as the point guard, I’ve got to get into better situations,” Lowry said of being forced into a bad shot with the game still in the balance by Tristan Thompson, who has nearly a foot on him.

- As good as Lowry was early at running the show, and he was great, finding a dominant Jonas Valanciunas to finish off pick-and-rolls with dunks several times, Lowry and the rest of the Raptors completely went away from what was working for them in the fourth quarter. They stopped feeding Valanciunas, who had annihilated Cleveland’s frontline all evening, missing just a single shot on seven attempts and shooting six of Toronto’s 10 free throws on the evening (making them all). If you have something that is working so well, going away from it just doesn’t make any sense. Lowry and the other Raptors have to be smarter. Of course, not having DeMar DeRozan to share the load and having Greivis Vasquez unavailable due to the flu definitely made life tougher for Lowry and the other players on the floor aren’t necessarily capable of running a pick-and-roll with Valanciunas.

- Were the referees a bit dicey? Sure, but that’s nothing new when James is playing. The NBA has always given superstars like James, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade a far wider berth. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way the NBA works. Amir Johnson, in particular, was incensed about the way it went down, but I think he was just as upset about he and the other Raptors not being able to come down with rebounds at opportune times, something that also sunk them against the Cavaliers on Friday night. Again, Thompson needs to be accounted for on the offensive boards. He is an elite offensive rebounder. Valanciunas said they need to be far more physical with him and must push him away from the basket.

- I gripe at times about Casey’s decisions, it’s part of my job, but I also point out when he makes some excellent calls. Starting Landry Fields turned out to be a great move and it also served to inspire James Johnson, who didn’t get the promotion. Casey’s decisions down the stretch of how to deploy his big men were bang-on. With Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson proving to be the best combination on this night, Casey rode them. When he needed a bit of Amir with Valanciunas he tried that too. The right players were on the floor. The problem (besides not going to Valanciunas), especially against a great rebounding team like the Cavs, is Toronto doesn’t really have a complementary big for Valanciunas right now. Amir looks like a shadow of his former self on too many nights. He can barely get off the floor some nights (just two rebounds, though it’s amazing how effective he can still be on basically one leg and without jumping). He just can’t help Valanciunas on the boards at the moment. Meanwhile Patterson, for all of his strengths, is a below average rebounder, it is the weakest part of his game. Without DeRozan, playing Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough isn’t an option, because they don’t offer enough offensively. Clearly, when Masai Ujiri decides to make a move, getting an upgrade at power forward has to be the focus.

- There is no shame to losing to that team, especially when you don’t have your top scorer. Cleveland is not perfect, but in the East, you don’t have to be. The Cavs could win the conference and are going to come back to beat good teams on many nights because James is basically unstoppable. Once Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving heat up, the Cavs become a problem. Toronto just didn’t have enough answers. Part of the reason for that was because they were shooting themselves in the foot though.

 

 

 

Valanciunas dominates Nuggets and needs to keep it up; OT monkey off Raptors backs; Bench comes through led by “Patman” who hears everything

- December 9th, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before, but sometimes being lucky is as important as being good. Once again, the Raptors weren’t all that good and did their best to fumble away a game, before doing just enough to prevail. The team still has a long way to go and can’t play as haphazardly as it did against Denver against a good team and hope to win. There’s no excuse for letting a team finishing a back-to-back completely outwork a fully rested one. Denver wanted it more throughout the game and put in a lot more effort (with a couple of exceptions that we will get to).

- Denver players were left open far too often (might want to guard Wilson Chandler in the corner) and they missed a lot of shots later on in the game or else this one could have turned out differently. They attacked the boards and the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas aside, did not seem too inclined to go up with them.

- The main positive has to be the play of Valanciunas. He dominated Timofey Mozgov, who had been in the midst of a solid season. Valanciunas was aggressive and effective. He bullied the Nuggets down low and also showed a new trick when he went left in the post for a score instead of his preferred turn toward the right and the middle of the floor. With DeMar DeRozan out, Valanciunas needs to bring the attitude and aggressiveness he brought on Monday. He was coming off one of his worst outings of the year, against Cleveland on Friday, so it was good that he bounced back with one of his better games the next time out.

- Offence wasn’t the only positive where Valanciunas is concerned. He also arguably turned in his best defensive outing of the season. He was a stopper, even when each of the other Raptors were only offering token resistance. He had four blocks, five fouls and was completely engaged. He looked like a wall in the middle and Dwane Casey and his staff had to be smiling about that. The trick now is doing it again. And again and not just against the behemoths like Mozgov that seem to bring out the best in him. Do it against the quicker, undersized centres like Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, the opponent once again on Tuesday night.

- Speaking of new wrinkles, while Terrence Ross couldn’t buy an outside shot until one was needed the most, he looked good scoring off of the dribble. He is expanding his game in the absence of DeRozan, looking to put the ball on the floor to set up runners and even a hook. The more versatile Ross becomes on offence, the more effective he and the Raptors will be.

- For the second game in a row, Amir Johnson looked like his old self. He had a bounce in his step, set good screens and then … seemed to turn his ankle again. From there, he didn’t look right, but still converted a nice pick-and-roll at a pivotal moment. Still, with the way Valanciunas was rolling, it can be argued Valanciunas and Patterson should have closed the game, at least until Valanciunas picked up a sixth foul.

- Patterson obviously was great, hitting a career-best five threes including the one that forced overtime. On a night where Kyle Lowry couldn’t “hit the side of a barn with a bass fiddle” to steal a Casey quote (just 3-for-13), Patterson stepped up to provide the scoring the Raptors needed. Patterson was just as good afterward, telling the media, via TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg: “I hear everything. I hear the fans in whatever section, I can’t remember which one, there was a guy screaming, ‘Hey P-Pat.’ There’s another fan after I hit that three that says, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about PD-Patt,’ ‘Let’s go Pat-Man, save the day!’ I hear everything and I enjoy hearing it.” Great stuff.

- The Raptors still can’t stop teams off of the dribble. It’s a major concern. Ty Lawson is especially tough to corral because he is so quick, but he was just the latest point guard to go to town, creating open shots for his teammates. At least they came through when it mattered most, forcing Denver into a 24-second violation with the game on the line.

 

 

With megastars in the building Raptors were flat but LeBron James was not; Lowry needs help; Cavs solid but missing something

- December 6th, 2014

After LeBron James and the Cavaliers took apart a bunch of mostly listless Raptors Dwane Casey said: “This wasn’t us.” He was both right and wrong with that statement. It’s true that 40% shooting (including 33% from three) is an aberration for this talented group of scorers and usually they offer a lot more fight but, they also aren’t a particularly sound defensive group that is not ideally equipped to defend pick-and-rolls, especially if James is the guy setting everything up. But then again, who is? Despite the bad shooting, the Raptors  managed 25 assists and just 11 turnovers, which is quite good, but still were rarely ever really in the game.

- Kyle Lowry did his best with another strong effort in 40 minutes of action, but he needs some help. It was nice to see the Amir Johnson of old back, for at least one night (he said he has a bit of spring back in his step, since he is finally recovering from some nagging injuries), but at some point, getting both Johnson and Patrick Patterson firing on all cylinders on the same night would be quite helpful. The Raptors won’t win without DeMar DeRozan if Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez shoot 4-for-20 and don’t play a lick of defence (OK, Ross had at least a couple of good defensive moments, but Vasquez is a liability on that end, unless he can be hidden on a Shawn Marion, which doesn’t happen most nights). Jonas Valanciunas can’t be laying eggs either. He didn’t seem to be in this game from the minute it tipped. He didn’t have his usual energy and aggressiveness and any defensive progress he has made lately was not evident.

- The Cavaliers are pretty good and pretty good translates to excellent once you calculate the Eastern Conference exchange rate. I don’t think they can beat the best of the West in a seven-game series because they don’t have enough players that can provide even average (let-alone above average) defence and lack depth, but they’ll be in the mix with Chicago, Toronto and Washington in the East, despite that bad start. James is just too good and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving too lethal as offensive sidekicks for the Cavs not to get homecourt at least for the first round and probably for longer than that. They’ll surely make a deal or two to bring in some reinforcements. Ideally for them, Dion Waiters would not play horribly most nights, giving himself some trade value, but, alas, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

- Credit to Tristan Thompson for putting on a show at home. Offensive rebounding ability is his one elite NBA skill and it has gotten him far. He clobbered the Raptors over and over on the boards on Friday night. Thompson was relentless and his second effort was simply far better than anybody else on this night. Thompson loves playing at home and has tended to have some of his better outings at the ACC. Since struggling in two appearances here as a rookie, Thompson had averaged about 13 points and nine rebounds on better than 50% shooting here, before his 21 point, 13 rebound (nine offensive) clinic. When they meet in Cleveland, Valanciunas tends to make the Cavaliers sad that they passed on him for Thompson. When they meet in Toronto, Thompson tends to turn the tables. Still, while the Raptors like Thompson, they are quite happy how that draft night turned out and both teams are ecstatic they didn’t end up with a Jan Vesely, who went two picks after Thompson, one after Valanciunas to Washington.

- Amir said it was great to see all of the celebrities in the house for the Nelson Mandela tribute. He said it felt like the Staples Centre and he’d like to see more of it. In a weird anecdote, he added that his mother and Magic Johnson are pals and take Tae Bo classes together in Los Angeles.

- Another amusing moment: When former Argos superstars Pinball Clemons and Damon Allen were exiting the lower bowl after the game, a few fans bellowed “Aaaaaaaaaargos.” Clemons and Allen loved it.

- Masai says it’s time to forget about the past and celebrate the fact that great players like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady are Raptors. Now that the Raptors are actually a good team, it’s a lot easier to get fans on board with that idea than ever before. Still, McGrady’s welcome was nowhere close the reception Magic, Charles Barkley and even Dikembe Mutombo received. McGrady was a kid who had a lot of justifiable complaints. He had many valid reasons for leaving to go home, the only issue most should have had with him was the way he told Glen Grunwald the Raptors would have a great shot at re-signing him, then cutting off all communication and bolting as soon as he could. That intriguing Raptors core could have helped make up for his loss by dealing him during his last season for some useful parts. But it is all ancient history at this point and not worth dwelling on. As Masai says, what’s the point of caring anymore? Grudges and resentment aren’t good for anybody.

Here’s more Masai from Friday night on forgiveness:

“People are people and we all have to embrace it. There’s no colour, there’s no colour in everybody’s skin. People are people and who they are and that’s who he was, he forgave after all he went through. I think we should learn to be that way,” Ujiri said of Mandela.

“We all the problems in Ferguson and all these things going on. Just forgive and move on. People need to learn that. That’s what he taught us, he sacrificed his life for 27 years. I know it seems easy to say but, I tell you what, we are blessed in a country like Canada because we have peace here, we have good people. There’s good people all around the world and a very low percentage of people not so good. That  big percentage has to work harder to make that little percentage shrink.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors attack is a wrecking ball even without DeRozan; Valanciunas clearly improving; Lowry’s been a top five player so far

- December 4th, 2014

So much for the Raptors struggling offensively in the absence of top scorer DeMar DeRozan. While DeRozan generates a lot of points through his mid-range game and ability to get to the line like few others, the Raptors have a roster filled with talented scorers who can pick up much of the slack. The team shot 57% in Wednesday’s 123-104 blowout of Utah. A few thoughts on the game:

- We’ll start with the defence. It wasn’t great, but it was far better than what we saw in California against the Lakers and Kings. Early resistance was there, for the most part, though there were too many times where the Jazz created openings by moving the ball quickly. The main positives defensively probably would be the fact that Toronto played its best defence at the most opportune times – early on, during the initial first quarter push – and in the fourth quarter, when the Raptors put the game away. Opponents are scoring too much (100 points nearly every night now), but they are also getting more possessions to do something with because the Raptors are scoring at such an insane clip.

- Clearly 8-for-11 three-point shooting is not sustainable. That’s what the numbers were in the first half for the visitors, compared to a more reasonable 4-for-10 in the second half. The overall shooting percentage fell from 63% through the first two quarters against an overmatched Utah team, to 48% in the second half. How overmatched were the Utah players? Very. Raptors consistently drove right at them and got what they wanted. Even with Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Enes Kanter, Utah offered no resistance in the paint (though to be fair, on many occasions, the bigs couldn’t possibly get over quickly enough to help the guards after they were beaten like linebackers trying to slow down prime Barry Sanders). Toronto’s smaller players went around and through Utah’s defenders as easily as various Kings players had throttled Toronto’s players a night earlier.

- Lou Williams took just one night off and was back in fine form, scoring 17, the same as Greivis Vasquez. They also combined for nine rebounds and seven assists. Still don’t love Vasquez starting over James Johnson, especially with Amir Johnson battling so many issues, but with him in there, the Raptors simply overpower most teams with their attack. Don’t see it as a long-term play though as, again, that kind of shooting is not sustainable.

- Toronto’s impressive depth allowed the Raptors to play fast and look great throughout, conditioning-wise, even though it was the second game of a back-to-back and it was held in Utah.

- The Raptors have to be encouraged by the play of Jonas Valanciunas. While the final numbers don’t look like much (9 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 2 free throw attempts) most nights Valanciunas seems to do one or two things that indicate that he is clearly growing. Against the Jazz, Valanciunas made three particularly intriguing plays. The first showcased his increased recent confidence with the ball and his lower turnover numbers (just six turnovers over his past six games).  With a double team coming on the left block, he held the ball up high, forcing the smaller guard to keep going, then took a dribble toward the centre of the floor and made a strong move to drop a baby hook on  Favors on a play that could have earned him a trip to the line as well. Next, Valanciunas showcased his improved ability to go vertical – something the Raptors work with him on every day – by blocking a Gordon Hayward dunk attempt. Valanciunas was called for the foul on the play, but it was a good example of verticality that the referees simply missed. Finally, Valanciunas looked pretty nimble in getting around Utah giant Rudy Gobert, before finishing a pretty reverse layup.

- Dwane Casey did an excellent job calling timeouts at the most beneficial moments. The best example came early in the third quarter, after Utah closed within nine points. Casey didn’t like how his team started the second half and sensing this was a dicey moment, read his team the riot act making it clear how he felt. Of course Kyle Lowry responded. After missing a shot, Lowry got the rebound, converted a three-point play, hit another jumper, then found Terrence Ross for a three. The game never again felt in doubt. Lowry again took 20 shots (four straight games since DeRozan got hurt after not doing it once while he was in the lineup this year … Lowry is adapting again, taking on as big a role as necessary, just as he did when Rudy Gay got traded).

- Not sure what else to say about Lowry, other than he deserves in the MVP conversation. The only point guard who has been better this season is Stephen Curry. Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis have been better too, but Lowry has to be right up there with James Harden, LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge to fill out the top five so far

. Jimmy Butler had a good case for East player of the month, but Lowry probably should have won it and has been the better overall player so far.

- Mentioned this on Twitter: Who do the East coaches leave out at all-star time? Lowry, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Teague, Kyrie Irving? Irving or Rose likely get voted in, Rondo leads the league in assists, Wall’s been almost as good as Lowry, Teague’s really coming on … if I was asked to make the call, I’d look at the win-loss column and go Wall, Lowry for sure. I expect Irving to get voted in.

- The Raptors now have 15 wins, tied for tops in the NBA as of Thursday morning and are tied with Golden State for best point differential at +10 per game. Amazingly, nobody else in the Atlantic Division is even in the + category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors can thank Kyle Lowry for an ugly win in Sacramento; time to replace Vasquez with Johnson?

- December 3rd, 2014

Sometimes to get a win in the NBA you have to be good. Other times, it pays to be lucky. Some nights, it’s  a bit of both. And then there are nights like Tuesday, where the Raptors were neither good, nor all that lucky, yet still managed to come away with a victory. The Raptors (James Johnson aside) declined to play any defence for 75% of the night and had a rare off-night from Lou Williams, but still hung on, to run their record to an impressive 14-4. Why? This might seem like a huge generalization, but it came down to Kyle Lowry suiting up and DeMarcus Cousins not doing so.

- Sure, the Kings posted gaudy numbers without Cousins, one of the league’s five most dominant players (37 trips to the free throw line, 109 points, 52% shooting) but with Cousins in, the teams would not have been even on the boards, it would have been a big edge for the Kings and likely, a 10-point win for the home side).

- But Cousins was a surprising scratch, meaning Lowry was the best player on the floor and he showed it, lifting the Raptors on his back when necessary at both ends of the floor. Lowry started off on fire (nine points and five assists as the Raptors got off to a great start – 13 points, eight assists and just one turnover at the half), then finished with a bang, scoring 10 points in the fourth without a turnover. After hitting a tough layup, he then took a big charge on Rudy Gay, two pivotal plays in the end.

- Liked the way Lowry again took advantage of a smaller guard, this time going at tiny Darren Collison early in the post. Lowry can score against most point guards down there and it continues to be a good look for an offence that is searching for ways to replace DeMar DeRozan’s scoring.
- Hard to like the lack of defence from the Raptors. The Kings have some players who are good at attacking off the dribble, but at times it was ridiculous. They were blowing by Raptors defenders and the help defenders were barely even in the right area code. The Kings shot 77% from the field in the second quarter. It’s difficult to win games when you allow opponents to score at that level. The Kings were at 58% through three quarters and only a far better defensive final quarter from the league’s best fourth quarter team saved this one.- You could argue I’m being too negative, but this was an uninspiring performance from a team that is trying to prove that it is one of the NBA’s better teams and certainly a top three group in the East. The Raptors looked lazy and uninspired for much of the evening, Lowry, James and Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross aside.

- Speaking of  Ross -the third-year swingman gave the Raptors a huge boost, scoring 15 points in the first quarter and 20 in all. It was the first time in his career he managed 20 points in consecutive games. Ross had hit 46.7% of his three-point attempts over his previous three games and with a 4-of-8 performance Tuesday, is up to 43.8% for the season, including 46.4% over his past five games.

- Jonas Valanciunas over his previous five games heading into this one: 12.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 61.5% shooting from the field, 83.3% from the line. He had 15 points and eight rebounds, shooting 50% from the field (on only six attempts) and 9-for-10 from the line. The Raptors need to get him more than 11 attempts a night while DeRozan is out. He only had two attempts in the opening quarter (both resulting in trips to the free throw line) and as good as the start was, it should be a point of emphasis to get the big man involved in opening quarters. Over his career, he has tended to perform better in games where he was featured early.

- Sacramento’s bench delivered 58 points, Toronto’s, just 35. Much of that was due to an off-night from Williams but I’m very much in favour of returning Greivis Vasquez to the bench and starting James Johnson, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in a revenge game against a franchise he clearly doesn’t have fond feelings for. Vasquez and Williams have been a good pair and the offence would be strong if he went back to the reserves. However, perhaps Dwane Casey is worried that defensively, the second group could become something of a disaster if Johnson is taken out of the mix. The flip side is the starters would get far sounder defensively with Johnson replacing Vasquez and Ross moving to shooting guard. Theoretically, more touches for Valanciunas would cancel out losing the offence Vasquez provides. Amir Johnson has also shown increased range (6-for-13 from three on the season, though five of the makes have come at home) if part of the fear from Casey and his staff is Ross would be the only three-point threat for Lowry to kick to. However, the Raptors do just fine offensively with DeRozan starting and he is not a three-point threat at all, so adding Johnson would not be that foreign of a concept.

- Ben McLemore looks like a different player this season and far closer to what many expected after watching him at Kansas. He had a terrible rookie season, but looks far more confident and is now effective. McLemore threw down a monster dunk on Amir Johnson in the second quarter. To the credit of the Raptors, they came right back, with James Johnson throwing down a big dunk of his own and the next time McLemore tried to catch Amir, he was rejected at the rim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominant Valanciunas, clutch plays by a variety of Raptors sunk the Suns

- November 25th, 2014

Remember when the Raptors were known as a franchise that never got it done in the clutch? It seemed to be that way for years. No team seemed to lose as many winnable games by doing one thing or another wrong late in fourth quarters. That simply doesn’t happen anymore. It started last year and has carried over to this season. What was different about the game against the Suns, was the way the fourth played out. Instead of mounting a furious rally, as has become their norm, the Raptors saw a 15-point lead get erased by the ridiculously explosive Suns. That forced the home side to have to make several key decisions in the biggest moments and they came through. DeMar DeRozan called some of those “muscle plays.”

- To that point, there was this crazy Kyle Lowry sequence, there was Lowry swiping the ball away from Isaiah Thomas, similarly to how he had won an earlier game in Boston by pickpocketing rookie Marcus Smart. There was Patrick Patterson hitting two free throws when he hadn’t yet scored. There was Patterson pulling a Kevin Love by launching the ball down the court and Amir Johnson making a significant play to go up and haul in the pass like Calvin Johnson (no easy feat, considering Johnson has not shown his usual life this season. A joke heard afterward was that Amir only jumped three times on Monday, but he sure picked his spots well).

- Told by a reporter that the Lowry steal and his pass to Johnson were “ballsy” Patterson responded, sometimes you have to be.

- Lou Williams winning player of the week, despite being a reserve, was one of the more unexpected storylines we’ve seen in years, though it probably shouldn’t have been all that shocking. Dwane Casey seems like a near lock for East coach of the month and Lowry likely will be an honourable mention (with a shot at winning if Toronto beats Dallas on Friday I’d say).

- Williams talked about fighting to get back from a devastating injury, a process that definitely had some dark moments. Williams admitted he had some doubts after tearing his ACL in January of 2013. When he returned last season, he was not the same player he had been before. Atlanta basically gave him away for nothing rather than paying a guy they worried might never be the same.

Williams can’t blame them. “Absolutely. When you’re sitting there and you have a cast on and wheel chair and crutches and can’t lift your leg up, you can’t ride a bike, you can’t run, you can’t jog, obviously there’s going to be some doubt there,” he said.

“Two years later it’s great to see some fruits of the labour to feel myself back to 100 per cent, being back healthy and having some success.”

Williams said he was buoyed by the knowledge his friend Lowry had battled back from the same injury, suffered while he was in college.

- A lot of anguish out there about Valanciunas not playing for most of the fourth despite his huge game, but the Suns went tiny, who was he going to guard? Yes, he was scoring easily, but Phoenix wasn’t going inside at all, preferring to just bomb away (it was working) and Valanciunas would not have been able to cover enough ground out there defensively. Against most teams, his sitting after a performance like that would be an outrage. Against Phoenix, it made sense.

“They had three point guards out there so that caused us to do some things. JV had to come out and JV had it rolling,” Casey said. “As long as they kept their big in, it really helped us but once they spread those perimeter guys out it put us at a disadvantage. Threes vs. our twos is not a good trade off.”

- Valanciunas, by the way, is fifth in the East in player efficiency rating, is shooting 59% from the field, 80% from the free throw line and putting up career best rebound and block rates, with the lowest turnover rate in his three seasons.

- James Johnson returned far earlier from his ankle injury than expected (he missed three games), but was only able to play four minutes. Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) did not dress.

- Isaiah Thomas on Lowry: ” He’s been given a good opportunity to run a team and he’s taken advantage of it. Everyone knows what Kyle Lowry’s about. He’s like a pit bull, he’s a leader, he’s a guy that never backs down. I think his opportunity just got bigger and he just took advantage of the role that was given to him.”

- Seem to say this daily now, but the Raptors refuse to get caught up in what the standings say: “For me we’re still a growing team. It’s still too early to look at the records,” Casey said.

“My job is to continue to push, continue to improve in a lot of areas and not get caught up in records or anything like that. Once you start doing that, that’s when you get in trouble. I remember in Dallas, we were like 24-5, and you would never know we were 24-5 because everybody had a businesslike attitude. All of the fans were watching Cowboys football. We were 24-5, and you would never know. That’s the way you have to approach it. You can’t look at the record. You’ve got to make sure you do your job, not only game by game, but possession by possession. This is [an unforgiving] league and it will do you in once you start overlooking possessions or skipping letters from where you are or getting caught up in thinking you’re somewhere where you’re not.”

- Casey pointed out rebounding as the area the Raptors need to improve in the most. Williams said if this is Toronto’s “roof, we’re in trouble. I think we have a lot more things that we should accomplish and other teams that we need to beat in order to be taken seriously in this league.” Like beating the Suns.

- Ex-Raptor P.J. Tucker on the ACC crowd: “It is a lot different, it’s unbelievable,” Tucker said. “Definitely moved up to one of the best home courts, hands down in the league. It is unbelievable what they have done here.” I was impressed by the way the fans roared once Phoenix took the lead in the fourth, showing their support, helping the Raptors to get back on top.

 

 

 

 

Bulls put Raptors in their place; Pro sports needs more athletes than Joakim Noah; Raptors frontcourt can’t yet compete; DeRozan should work it around

- November 14th, 2014

The Bulls taught the formerly high-flying Raptors a tough lesson on Thursday. Chicago has been a contender for years now, Toronto is still trying to make its way up that hill. The Bulls are bigger, tougher, meaner and a heck of a lot smarter (Kyle Lowry and a couple of other exceptions aside) on the basketball court and that all showed in this one. Sure, the refs didn’t distinguish themselves well, but they were not the reason why the Raptors lost the lead and eventually, the game.

- The frontcourt just isn’t good enough to match up with the best of the best. Nobody could come close to stopping Pau Gasol. Joakim Noah was dominant and Taj Gibson did his usual thing, provide great minutes as the team’s third big. Chicago’s group is just on a different level than Toronto’s. No shame in that, does anybody else in the NBA have three guys as good up front as Chicago does?

- If Toronto wants to close the gap though, Jonas Valanciunas has to get the ball more and has to do more with it. He has to go up stronger and hold onto it better. He gets stripped far too easily inside. Amir Johnson is a great defender and did a bit better on Gasol, but not much, and he doesn’t provide enough offence for the Raptors to get to the next level. If Patrick Patterson isn’t going either, it’s usually going to be a long night for the Raptors.

- Speaking of long nights … DeMar DeRozan turned in a stinker, shooting just 3-for-17. The alarming thing might be that head coach Dwane Casey was happy with his shot selection and said he simply missed some shots he’d normally make. Not too sure about that. Jimmy Butler is a great perimeter defender who has historically given DeRozan fits. He doesn’t let DeRozan do what he wants to do or go where he wants to go. The result is a lot of forced attempts. Remember Rudy Gay? Remember when Casey said he had no problems with Gay’s horrendous shot selection? This might be a problem. If the Raptors want to have a sustainably good offence and not the one built on a mirage that we’ve seen early this season (the turnover numbers and free throw attempts aren’t sustainable, so something has to change), the ball simply has to start moving again. The way it did when Gay was shipped out and DeRozan embraced both scoring and looking for his teammates. Only two teams average fewer assists than the Raptors. Keep it up, and the great record is going to go downhill in a hurry.

- Yes, I’ll fully admit that the Bulls make you do things offensively that you don’t want to and rotate so well it is hard to find the open man. But forcing shots isn’t a solution that will lead to victories.

- Valanciunas said meeting the Bulls was like taking a cold shower and admitted they weren’t ready for a team that good and physical. They had better be next time.

- Pro sports needs more athletes like Noah. He is honest. He tried not to be after the game, looking wary of the media and insinuating he wasn’t comfortable speaking because words get twisted, then went on an epic rant . Noah is right, this whole Derrick Rose witch hunt is silly. Folks get mad at athletes when they speak in cliches, then attack them when they are honest. They can’t win. It’s all about shock value and generating a story, often when there isn’t one. Society has gone downhill, and so has much of the media. Should Rose have been less honest? I don’t think so. The guy knows he isn’t physically able to play every game so he has to be cautious. He also knows he has a guaranteed contract and has many more years to live once he is done playing. He’s thinking about that, as is his right. When he is able to play, he gives it his all and helps his team win. Would it be tough to rely on a guy like that? Absolutely. But it’s not his fault that his body has betrayed him

- Guys like Butler and Gibson really show the value of smart drafting. Chicago stole the Marquette product with the 30th pick of the draft, while Gibson went 26th. Now they are two of the best two-way players in the league.

- Positives for the Raptors: Until the third, they played a decent game. Chicago probably should have had a bigger lead after the first, but the Raptors played an excellent second and should have been up by more than seven at the half. Lowry was solid, despite probably being the one Raptor who got a bit hosed in the foul call department.

- James Johnson was fantastic and changed the game in the second quarter. Terrence Ross has become pretty good at coming off a curl to hit a floater. DeRozan could stand to get back to doing more of that, though opponents play closer to Ross because of his outside shooting ability, which gives him a bit more room to get open. The team rallied late to make it respectable. That’s about it for the positives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Varsity Raptors make quick work of junior varsity Sixers squad; Lowry not getting overconfident; Some mistakes being fixed

- November 10th, 2014

It is hard to do much analysis when the Raptors play against a team in the Sixers that is nowhere close to being an NBA outfit. But, we’ll give it a try anyway:

- Dwane Casey called Sunday’s 120-88 beatdown a “professional” outing and that describes it perfectly. The Raptors treated the contest like a real game and went at the terrible, young Sixers. Well aware that the visitors were the league’s worst defensive group, one of the NBA’s better offensive squads simply overmatched them. DeMar DeRozan toyed with his defenders, either getting buckets or drawing fouls and Kyle Lowry looked like he could do whatever he wanted, even though this was likely his worst outing of the season. Philly had no answers for Toronto’s bench guards, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez (though Vasquez got a bit too cute a couple of times and was rewarded by seeing his attempts swatted into the stands quite spectacularly). You’ll want to watch the evidence.

- Sixers or not, that Toronto has now gotten off to a couple of strong starts in a row is an encouraging sign, given how disastrous they had been at responding to the opening bell. For the second straight game, the home side seized control in the opening minutes and never let up.

- Terrence Ross had a second solid game in a row and might have turned a corner. This is timely, considering James Johnson has been very good for the Raptors off of the bench, making a case for more minutes.

- I wondered why they let Amir Johnson play, given the opponent, but thinking about it more, it set a good tone. It helped let everyone on the team know that there would be no complacency – no just show up at the arena and get a win feeling. Johnson only played 18+ minutes, but it was enough.

-It is cool that most Sixers fans are on board with what the franchise is doing, but, man, this thing is going to take years. Even if Embiid, Noel, Saric and next summer’s gem all pan out, there are no heady vets to teach them how to be pros, the culture, no matter how hard Brett Brown works, is going to be bad because of all of the losses and mockery. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange said it well: “The Sixers are the Bruno Caboclo of the NBA – two years away from being two years away.” In the here and now, it is damn ugly to watch. That K.J. McDaniels sure looks like a player though.

- Philly has been in most games this year, but not this one. “That was not us,” said Brown. “We come in here and got manhandled … they have elite athletes that can score. We got jumped and we didn’t have any answers.” Top Philly player Tony Wroten had this to say: “We came out and got embarrassed.”

- Proud Philadelphia native Lowry thinks they will be fine though. “I think they’re just rebuilding. I think they have great management, I think they have a hell of a head coach, I think they have a plan. But that’s not for me to worry about, that’s for the Philadelphia 76ers organization to worry about,” Lowry said after the game.

- It was fascinating listening to Brown talk about his job pre-game.

- As befits a 6-1 team coming off a laugher, the locker room was as relaxed as it has been all season. Jonas Valanciunas cracked jokes, the players passed around a clip of Global Ambassador Drake admiring a late-game James Johnson dunk that was nothing if not spectacular. And Lowry and DeRozan had a little exchange when DeRozan was asked what he was thinking on his pretty, near-360 layup.

“That s__ was luck,” Lowry bellowed out from the next locker, before DeRozan could even reply. “Nah, it was skill,” DeRozan shot back. They debated it for a bit, before DeRozan said “you do it then.” Lowry just laughed and eventually conceded in his own scrum that it was a heck of a play and was part of the reason why DeRozan is an all-star. Indeed, there is a short list of NBA players able to finish through contact as strongly as DeRozan does.

- DeRozan is hitting 7.6 free throws per game, second only to James Harden. Only Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard (shooting a wretched 49%) have attempted more freebies. Only Cousins’ Sacramento Kings have attempted more free throws than the Raptors. DeRozan needs 21 points to pass Andrea Bargnani for third place on the Raptors all-time scoring list.

- Toronto ranks third in the NBA in offensive rating, seventh in defensive rating, eighth in true shooting percentage and have forced the fourth-most turnovers by opponents per game.

- Alone in first in the East and tied for first overall in the NBA is an achievement, even though the season just started, but it is also doesn’t mean a whole lot. It is an achievement because the history of the franchise is so dismal. To their credit, nobody on the Raptors is celebrating. Yet.