Posts Tagged ‘James Johnson

Signs of progress for Raptors but not there yet; If Valanciunas can’t play in the fourth against Detroit who can he play against? Keep moving the ball

- January 26th, 2015

The Raptors made a lot of mistakes and tried to hand the Pistons a game they should have been in control of throughout on Sunday, but, nonetheless, there were definite signs of progress shown by the home side: DeMar DeRozan rediscovered his jump shot after one of the worst shooting stretches of his career (8-for-14 from the field after going six for his previous 34). DeRozan also got to the free throw line 10 times, a huge part of his game, after going there only three times combined over his previous three. DeRozan’s determination to get a couple of three-point attempts off each game also is an encouraging sign. He has hit three in six games, but has connected on only 25% of his attempts. His second four (or more) assist game with zero turnovers also was encouraging, considering he did it many times last season.

- Toronto moved the ball around far better than we’ve seen in recent games. That was perhaps the best development. Getting 23 assists against eight turnovers will win you most games. The determination to get the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas early and often also was a great sign. Valanciunas thrives against Detroit and he was quite good. He scored from both sides of the block and was aggressive at both ends. He also offered solid resistance defensively, continuing a recent trend of improved play there. Valanciunas is going up straighter and impacting a lot of opposing shots. He blocked three shots after getting four against the Sixers (which caused Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson to rib him a little bit – ‘Oh, you’re a shot-blocker now, huh?”  He ran the floor well, despite a lot of minutes through three quarters and was rewarded for it. In turn, since he was involved more, he seemed to give more of an effort everywhere else.

- Everyone wants to know why Valanciunas took a seat for the fourth after a dominant third quarter where he played the entire frame, missing only one shot on the way to eight points, five rebounds and two of his blocks. Dwane Casey prefers to play Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson down the stretch of games largely because they are far quicker and more technically sound. He also likes having Patterson’s shooting, since the team basically abandons the inside game in fourth quarters. I get that against many opponents, but Valanciunas consistently dominates the Pistons and wasn’t just doing it with his offence in this one. Detroit players scored on just 7-of-17 attempts at the rim on Valanciunas (41%) which is an excellent mark. They went 4-for-10 against Johnson, 3-for-6 against Patterson and 3-for-3 against Tyler Hansbrough, who had been doing a nice job protecting the rim before this one). Valanciunas had been Toronto’s most efficient scorer and one of its best defenders. Since Greg Monroe was on the floor, the excuse of no big being out there which has been a fine justification for Valanciunas sitting in the past does not apply. Johnson easily could have checked Anthony Tolliver. Not playing Valanciunas down the stretch simply didn’t make sense in this case, especially not if Ross is playing the whole quarter, which negates the need for Patterson’s shooting.

A few other points:

- Letting Greivis Vasquez or Lou Williams handle the ball a lot in the first two quarters of games is a good way to make sure Kyle Lowry is fresher later.

- The Raptors played a bit faster and as mentioned earlier, didn’t stop the ball on offence as much as usual.

- Terrence Ross made a smart cut for a dunk. He should do more to get open off of the ball instead of simply hanging out in the corners.

- Great play call at the end of the third quarter. Instead of doing the usual, give Lou Williams the ball and let him shoot thing, the Raptors used him as a decoy and Williams found an open teammate (two of them were open actually). Mixing things up instead of being too predictable will go a long way.

- So glad Stan Van Gundy is back roaming the sidelines, he’s the best. One example of why came later in the game, after the Pistons botched coverage of an in-bounds play (the one where Kyle Lowry charged right to the hoop and got fed a pass for a wide open layup). Van Gundy bolted up from his seat, did a full spin with his hands raised, paced a step or two, sat back down and glanced skyward. It was hilarious.

- Attention to detail still is not great (tons of bad turnovers that kept Detroit in the game and at least two crucial rebounds allowed), but this was still a good win against a team that fights extremely hard and was playing for injured teammate Brandon Jennings.

Raptors should feel better about loss in Memphis than win in Philadelphia; Time to switch up the starting lineup

- January 24th, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — Life, in sports, isn’t always fair. The Raptors worked incredibly hard in a gritty, encouraging effort against Memphis on Wednesday and came away with a loss. Then they basically were awful for large swaths of Friday’s game against Philadelphia, “expecting to simply walk on the floor to get a win,” as Dwane Casey put it afterward, but managed to escape with a win. How is that fair? It isn’t, but the Raptors return home from this trip with two wins in three tries and that will cover up some ugly moments. It shouldn’t. This group is a mess right now. The energy is lacking to start games, the offence has morphed from world-beating into a bit of a tire fire and the swagger and confidence that was so evident for the first two months of the season has completely vanished.

- It’s time to make a change. Two, in fact. Amir Johnson was a -21 against Philly. Patrick Patterson was +26. I’m not a huge fan of +/- (especially of the individual variety, since many players can look great because they mostly face backups instead of starters, with the opposite also being true), but for January, Patterson is +61 and Johnson is -95. The numbers for the entire season are even more striking. More than that, Johnson has been battling a series of nagging injuries and often takes a while to really start making an impact on games. Bringing him off the bench could be a big boost. They’d miss his excellent screens, his defence and his ability to score inside, but he’d still provide a lot of that off of the bench. If Patterson started, the team could also get away with starting the offensively limited James Johnson, who is the second-best defender on the team after Amir. That would be a big upgrade over Greivis Vasquez and would return DeMar DeRozan to shooting guard, where he is more comfortable. The new lineup would have energy, decent size, enough offensive capabilities and would allow pick-and-roll maestros Vasquez and Amir Johnson more of an opportunity to connect with Terrence Ross spotting up for threes. Or, they can keep things status quo and hope things change. Casey mentioned “nagging injuries” as one reason why the starters aren’t getting it done and it didn’t take much sleuthing to deduct he was mainly talking about Amir, who has been dealing with a bit of a shoulder issue (he is wearing more padding for games).

- Toronto had won just three of 16 quarters over the past four games, before winning two against the Sixers.

- The offence has become far too predictable. There is little movement, less pick-and-roll action than we’ve seen in past months and pretty bad shot selection. The team has shot 25% from three for most of January, yet continues to launch threes instead of going inside. Some of them are good looks that normally drop, but many more are just bad decisions. Mixing it up could be beneficial. Giving Jonas Valanciunas the ball more could help. He’s No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage and gets them higher efficiency looks than DeRozan isolations.

- Speaking of which, DeRozan is in one of the worst slumps of his career. He made a surprisingly effective return from his six-week injury layoff, largely because he let the game come to him. In the first three games, DeRozan didn’t force anything, everything came within the flow of the game. Now, he has gone back to forcing shots, most of them being at an extremely high level of difficulty. DeRozan is just six for his past 34 shot attempts and has has only been to the free throw line three times over the past three games.

“I kind of find myself looking for fouls now, instead of it coming naturally to me,” DeRozan said. Not surprisingly, he also said he didn’t think the starting lineup needed to be altered. “No, it’s on us, whoever starts because we’re the ones that come out and depict the start of the game. We don’t need to be fighting back from down 30-7. We don’t need to put ourselves in that type of hole because it can easily turn out bad,” he said.

- Credit Lowry for doing what he can do. He was unreal in the fourth, basically, strapping his teammates on his back and carrying them to a win. That’s what true all-stars do and Lowry has certainly earned his spot.

- Patrick Patterson has basically doubled his usual production on the offensive boards and has come up with some huge rebounds lately. With opponents taking away his three-point shooting lately, he said he has been trying to do other things. He also sees getting better as a rebounder as a natural progression. “I haven’t been known as a great rebounder. That’s a thing I’ve been lacking throughout my NBA career. Shot hasn’t been falling, teams are closing on me,” Patterson said. “Every year in the NBA I’ve added something. Three-point shooting. Perimeter defence. Every year is something different.”

MORE QUOTES:

“They’ve got to decide. They’ve got to make a decision from top to bottom. We can continue to say, ‘We’re going to be okay, we’re going to be okay;’ we’re not going to be okay if we continue to perform like that.” – Casey

“We have an air of complacency and I didn’t like it”.

-  “I always say, things always happen for a reason. Just sitting at his house with his family, with his son, that’s a memorable experience that’s going to go down, not just for the night, not for this year, you look back at it 20, 30 years from now, it’s something he can look back at, not only (just) for him but for his son as well.” – DeRozan to the Sun on Lowry having everyone at his house for the all-star announcement.

STATS:

- Toronto is now 20 games in front of the Sixers.

- Toronto has not scored 100 points in the past five games. The team is 5-7 when scoring below 100 and had given up 100 or more in four of five games before this run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlanta’s good, but credit Raptors for making them look THAT good; How about an APB for Ross; Patterson slumping; Will player’s only meeting help?

- January 17th, 2015

There’s no question the Atlanta Hawks are really good – duh, they’ve won 25 of 27 games and are building a solid lead atop the East – BUT, they aren’t quite as good as Toronto made them look on Friday night at the ACC.

As good as the Hawks have played during this stretch, they had shot better than 60% from the floor only one other time this season. Toronto’s defence was horrible. Players got lost on screens, they constantly got tricked or picked into bad matchups (ie. point guard guarding a centre, centre guarding a small forward, etc.) and they left the Hawks wide open all night, most damningly, during a third quarter that saw Atlanta shoot 7-for-9 from three-point range. The Raptors also scored a season-low 89 points. Again, Atlanta’s excellent, but Toronto did a lot of this to themselves.

- Could the aliens who have beamed up Terrence Ross kindly return him to the Raptors. They could really use the old Ross. This current version is in a wretched slump. He’s in the midst of his first single-digit scoring month in over a year, has hit under 30% of his three-point attempts over his past 10 games and 33% overall from the field, seems reluctant to dribble the ball, isn’t grabbing any rebounds and has lost his effectiveness as a defender. It’s not yet a crisis and you risk ruining his confidence by benching him for James Johnson, but at some point, if nothing changes, Dwane Casey simply needs to make a move. There are other culprits that have contributed to this free-fall (six losses in eight games), but Ross is right at the top of the list.

- Patrick Patterson’s game has also fallen off of a cliff. Patterson had a massive start to the season and still ranks near the top of the NBA’s three-point shooting leaderboard, but he’s really struggled lately. He’s hit only 25% from three over his past eight appearances, and 30% overall. With Ross and Patterson dipping so much, is it any wonder that things haven’t gone well for the Raptors? With the defence regressing so much, they’d need some great offensive efforts to stay afloat and neither Ross or Patterson have been providing that.

- This is a mature, largely veteran group. They will figure things out. Could they use a jolt and an upgrade or two? Absolutely, but if that doesn’t come, expect them to at least get closer to where they were prior. The player’s only meeting after the game called by Kyle Lowry was a start and the comments afterward by James Johnson about overconfidence based on the great start and the recognition that they were lacking in attention to detail were good signs. They’ve also been saying (Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan in particular), that going through this now is a good thing. Now, the trick is to make sure they aren’t just empty words. This is a team that still has a great record, but has not actually fared well against good teams. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to start getting results against the cream of the crop. The next chance comes Wednesday in Memphis. Before that, wins will be difficult to achieve against New Orleans Sunday (assuming Anthony Davis plays) and Milwaukee Monday (the Bucks surely remember getting humiliated by Bruno and the Raptors earlier this season in Toronto).

- Some people are going to ask about why the lack of touches for Valanciunas. Well, it’s pretty easy. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are smaller and far more mobile. They also are far better basketball players than Valanciunas right now and light years better as defenders. They wouldn’t let Valanciunas get the ball even when the Raptors wanted to give it to him (it is still a valid issue that they jack up too many three-pointers, but it’s not like they could have force-fed Valanciunas in this one). He had to work to guard Horford or Millsap or the other stretch bigs the Hawks have and didn’t seem to have the energy, the ability, or the will to establish himself at the other end.

- James Johnson noted that teams seem to have the book on the Raptors right now. They have been scouted well. Couple that with not “cherishing the ball” like they were earlier in the season, and this has become quite problematic.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT FROM DWANE CASEY:

“You should be frustrated. We’re getting our butts kicked, we’re all frustrated and you should be. If you’re a competitor you should be frustrated, but there’s no frustration in pointing fingers, ‘your fault, your fault, your fault.’ It’s everybody. You can go right through the roster, coaches players, say you can do this better, we can do this better. That’s what we’ve got to do, because, we’ve done it. We did it at a high level for a couple of months. We’ve just got to get that mojo back and get that 2X4 off our shoulder, the weight of the world, feels like, on your shoulder. We’re still in a good place, but we’ve got to fight through this and grind through this tough spot right now.”

HARDEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT TO UNDERSTAND (FROM KYLE LOWRY)
“Our meeting was more about what we talked about.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressive DeRozan return and wretchedness of Sixers masks so-so Raptors effort; Not playing smart basketball

- January 15th, 2015

Just what the doctor ordered. DeMar DeRozan finally returned and it was a very good thing, since there is a good chance the Raptors would have fallen to the Sixers without him on Wednesday night. Even though the Raptors are far more talented and deeper (DeRozan or not) than Philly, the Sixers played harder and seemed like they could have stolen this one had DeRozan not arrived to give the Raptors a huge list. DeRozan was extremely impressive. Don’t think anybody could have seen him fitting in so seamlessly, taking good shots, letting the game come to him and returning with a team-high 20 points. DeRozan didn’t force things (unlike many of his teammates), Dwane Casey did a great job resting him to keep him fresh throughout and he also played pretty good defence on a quick, athletic team.

- The Raptors have made a bad habit recently of going for “home run passes” instead of making simpler plays. Kyle Lowry has been the main culprit, he’s been throwing ridiculous lobs that not even Terrence Ross or prime Vince Carter could convert. He’s also getting a bit too cute, such as when he threw a no-look, over-the-shoulder dish to Amir Johnson inside. Johnson wasn’t ready for it because it was such a ballsy attempt and point guards have to recognize the likelihood of whether a pass will be hauled in. If nobody is expecting that pass, it’s unlikely it will be converted. Just calm down a bit. Related – Lowry needs to stop taking threes from the parking lot (some of them seem to from two feet behind the line). Those rarely go in (you basically have to swish them because you aren’t getting a friendly bounce from that far out) and they can kill momentum. His pull-up, or feet set threes from right around the line are great, but the ones he seems to be launching twice a game these days have to go. That said, Lowry still had a heck of a game.

- There were stretches where the team had great ball movement. It was zinging all around the court, extra passes were consistently being made, which created open looks. DeRozan made a few beauties. Scoring isn’t the only way he helps. He draws opponents and has matured into a player who makes great decisions with the ball when a double-team comes or when a single opponent is pressuring him. DeRozan is one of the best “hockey assist” guys on the team.

- Philly has some intriguing pieces and can jump out of the gym (poor Greivis Vasquez just keeps getting put on the highlight reels when he tries to shoot over K.J. McDaniels) but there is still so much work to be done. Joel Embiid has the chance to be a superstar one day, so he’ll certainly help, but they also badly need to get a couple of elite shooters to space the floor. If that happens, the Sixers might actually be good. Once McDaniels and Jerami Grant can become really solid bench defenders because there is enough talent in the starting lineup, Philly will have something. Brett Brown coaches his butt off. It’s a wonder these guys stay in games so often, considering they are so outmatched talent and experience-wise every night.

- What’s wrong with Terrence Ross? Good question. Nobody can figure out the answer. We thought DeRozan’s return would help him by giving him more space, taking pressure off of him and letting him get back to camping out in the corners, but he was invisible again. Casey’s going to have to think hard about swapping James Johnson in for Ross, even though the first group will not be able to space the floor since neither DeRozan or Johnson can hit from outside. Either that or try out Patrick Patterson at small forward and keep Johnson as the utility knife off of the bench.

- Tyler Hansbrough gave the Raptors a nice lift. He was willing to battle, to box out and go at the plucky Sixers and it was sorely needed in this one.

- Still not sure what I think about Michael Carter-Williams. Somebody has to get stats on a bad team, but no question he is skilled and will look better when he gets some shooters to play off of. He certainly had Toronto’s attention. Counted three different defenders on him in the first quarter (Lowry, Ross and Johnson).

- Patterson is really struggling with his three-point shot. His early-season numbers were not sustainable (close to 48% from three), but he’s slumping, shooting just 29% in six games in January after hitting a ridiculous 53% in December. Opponents seem to be closing out on him a tiny bit quicker than earlier this season (that happens when you hit more than 50% of your attempts), which is forcing Patterson to rush just a bit. The return of DeRozan should help a bit in that regard as he will command a lot of attention.

- Nerlens Noel should have been the top pick last year (with apologies to Giannis and Victor Oladipo). He’s going to be a better, bigger version of Kenneth Faried. That said, his touch inside is awful. Everything is too strong. If he can get a softer touch eventually, he has a chance to be effective offensively as well, instead of just a ridiculous defensive player.

 

Rejuvenated Jennings soundly outplays Lowry; Raptors badly missing DeRozan’s FT drawing ability; the best and worst of Valanciunas; Stan’s still the man

- January 13th, 2015

As a long-standing member of the Brandon Jennings is bad at basketball and kills his teams club, the arrival of this new, highly effective version of Jennings is a little stunning to see. He has been nothing short of all-star caliber since the Pistons waived Josh Smith and he soundly outplayed MVP candidate Kyle Lowry on Monday night in Detroit’s win. Jennings is so much better when he doesn’t just launch shot after shot. When he plays like an actual point guard, taking advantage of his speed and the threat of his shooting ability to penetrate and create easy shots for his teammates, he can be excellent.

“He plays with great aggressiveness and great confidence,” said Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy. “Sometimes you’re going (makes squirrel face) about some of his shots, but I’m not trying to put a leash on it because he’s playing great. You’ve got to let those go. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play since he got into the league.”

- The Raptors are consistently losing the battle at the free throw line and it was a major factor in this most recent loss. Few players get to the line as often as DeMar DeRozan, and that is perhaps where he is missed the most. The offence isn’t getting nearly as many easy shots, everyone has to do more, which is resulting in far more turnovers – which is killing the Raptors on a regular basis – and opponents wear down the Raptors by living at the line, instead of the other way around, which used to be the norm. DeRozan hinted that a return is close, but the Raptors’ braintrust revels in being Fort Knox-like and the team is full of conflicting information when it comes to providing a timeline, so really, who knows?

- Kudos to Jonas Valanciunas, he had a heck of a night and was as dominant as we’ve ever seen him. Detroit just couldn’t stop him down low. It was like men against boys, which is saying something, considering Andre Drummond is the most powerfully built player in the entire NBA and Greg Monroe is a quite large human being as well. He looked confident, assertive and aggressive down low and on the boards. But even in turning in such a dominant outing, Valanciunas also managed to go a game-worst -14. It’s hard to believe that is even possible. But before we all kill Valanciunas for his defensive deficiencies, it should be noted that Amir Johnson, who seemed – by the eye test at least – to be playing an energized, solid game (and had a double-double of his own with 12 points and 10 rebounds) also was -14. That’s the guy who is by far Toronto’s best defender. Both Valanciunas and Johnson got worked inside by Monroe and others and both were punished by all of the turnovers their teammates committed, which led to easy scores the other way, which impacts +/-. In any event, it’s baffling to think that even on a career night where he shot 14-for-15, Valanciunas could be such a net negative. In any event, what else does he have to do offensively to convince his teammates that they should be giving him the ball more often? Valanciunas was wide open several times and players either launched silly threes, or tried difficult two-point attempts.

- The Raptors have to play smarter. The horrible shot selection and rising turnover numbers can’t all be chalked up to the team missing DeRozan. There is more at work here. Maybe many of the players just don’t have high enough basketball IQs (Lowry’s the exception, he’s as smart as they come on the court, but still tries to force the issue too much). They also struggle to come up with important rebounds when they need them most, giving opponents too many second chances.

- It’s great to have Van Gundy back in the league. Nobody, not Pop, Doc, Thibs, Blatt, or anybody else are more entertaining and engaging.

Some gems from post-game: “We got real technical, we said we’ve got to try.”

(Meeks three) “We got lucky on that.”

 

(On Valanciunas): “22 and 10 in the first half. He was 14-for-15 on the night, the guy crushed us. He was catching the ball so deep. It was a coaching mistake. (he said he told the staff they’d switch Monroe onto Valanciunas to start the third quarter but …) Stan did not inform the players.”

(Were they motivated based on getting embarrassed at the Palace in December?) “Well did we look motivated to start the game (the answer is no). Not at all. We didn’t look the least bit motivated to start the game. I don’t believe that stuff would kick in at half-time. (Facetiously) We weren’t ready to play at the beginning, but you know what? Now, I remember what happened.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great effort goes for naught for Raptors; Despite record, DeRozan greatly missed; D finally returns; NBA needs more good refs

- December 31st, 2014

If you didn’t stay up late to catch Raptors-Blazers, you missed out on one of the better games of the year. If you overlook the awful shooting from both sides before overtime, it was close to a classic. Both teams had chances to pull it out, Kyle Lowry – otherwise spectacular – missed a few looks he’d love to have back that could have turned the tide – counterpart Damian Lillard did the same – but ultimately, Portland is very good – and even better in the clutch (best in the league with Lillard being the NBA’s best clutch player) and the Raptors, minus a sorely missed DeMar DeRozan, just couldn’t quite get it done.

- Lowry did ridiculous things, especially a trio of offensive boards at pivotal points, but right now, he is being asked to do too much, something Greivis Vasquez pointed out post-game. Without DeRozan and when Lou Williams and Vasquez are struggling, Lowry not only needs to set up others, but he also needs to be the primary scorer, in addition to a key defender. It’s just not possible on a nightly basis without some slippage. Great effort though.

- We said a day earlier it would be interesting if these teams played a close one. Both are top five in the NBA in terms of fourth quarter point differential. Amir Johnson made a couple of excellent plays to give them a chance, including his bucket down low to tie it. In overtime, Portland’s threes started dropping and when that happens, they are extremely tough to top.

- James Johnson had a huge night. Would have preferred to see him out there more in the second half instead of the Raptors going small, forcing Portland to adjust or even if they didn’t (not like Steve Blake was a huge threat, Johnson could have guarded him if necessary). Forcing the issue with more Jonas Valanciunas could have made sense too, but he played the entire third quarter and was wretched in his four minutes in the fourth so I’m not sure why so many people were up in arms about his lack of playing time down the stretch. Add the fact that the Raptors are better defensively without him on the floor (despite his recent improved defensive play) and that Portland didn’t have its centres in, and not going with him makes even more sense. Again, sitting Johnson for so long doesn’t.

- Hate talking about officiating, but the fact remains that it really stinks that so many good NBA referees either got old or sick, forcing them out of action. There just aren’t enough quality refs left. Yesterday’s crew, especially Marc Davis, looked a bit like a Benny Hill skit. They made baffling calls both ways, hurting both teams, though the Raptors were impacted most, because the biggest mess-ups went against them.  Earlier in the game, Valanciunas was getting mauled, yet they were letting things go. At the other end LaMarcus Aldridge was given the benefit of the doubt on pretty much every play. All-star vs. developing player? Sure, but if you are making those calls, don’t call a technical on Valanciunas for waving his hand in disgust at your own bad call (the foul shouldn’t have been on Valanciunas that led him to be demonstrative). It came at a point where the Raptors could have basically locked up the game and helped to turn the tied. Up 13 with under two minutes remaining in the third, Valanciunas should have hauled in an offensive rebound, giving the Raptors  a shot at a 15-point bulge, which likely would have been enough. Instead, the technical was called, the Blazers scored six straight points and it was game on. Casey offered a “no comment” when Eric Smith asked him about the clear path foul calls.

- The other brutal moments included an offensive foul call on Amir Johnson that simply wasn’t (he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t holding, Wes Matthews simply flopped). Calling an offensive foul with 1:59 remaining in a tie game takes a lot of cajones. You had better get it right. The refs didn’t. I’m not an expert on clear path fouls, but the one that didn’t go the Raptors way seemed pretty baffling. Does it not matter that Lowry was way down the floor wide open? The one on Vasquez later seemed like the right call, but not sure how you make that one, when you let such an obvious one go the other way. Of course, Portland fans will tell you they didn’t like a bunch of first half calls much either.

- As tough as the loss was for the Raptors, they have to be heartened by having a shot to win again on this tough trip, against the team with the most wins in the NBA and without DeRozan. That’s impressive. They also should be buoyed by holding such a strong offensive club to 40% shooting and just 102 points in an overtime game. That came a game after holding Denver to 102 points and 43% shooting and two after the Clippers scored just 98 points. The defence seems to be stabilizing a bit.

- Again, it’s time the Raptors shake things up at the end of quarters. The Lou Williams isolation play is stale, ineffective and too predictable. For a team that is so good on out-of-bounds plays (including a few gems on Tuesday), it feels like a waste not to run the things they are capable of.

- No shame in losing to a Portland team that is 15-2 at home and had been winning at the Moda Center by 11 points a night including nearly 14 over the past six. Toronto has still won 75% of its games so far this season and went 58-27 in 2014 as a whole, the second best record in the NBA.

A few quotes:

“It’s so much load on him. He was driving in there, creating contact and he wasn’t getting any calls. You get beat up, it takes a toll on you.” – Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry.

“I love the way we competed in a hostile environment. If you can compete in that environment, the way we did tonight, you can compete in a lot of places.” – Casey

“We didn’t have our best scorer. Imagine when he comes back. I’ve been saying, we need this guy. Right now we are asking K-Low to do too much” – Vasquez.

“I thought we had the game. We played well for 40 minutes. You’ve got to play well for 48.” – Vasquez

Happy New Year everybody, will be interesting to see how the Raptors build on the most successful calendar year in franchise history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tired Raptors played like they were looking ahead to holidays against Bulls

- December 23rd, 2014

CHICAGO — Late in Monday’s loss to the Bulls, the Raptors really looked like a team that was tired and unwilling to push back against one of the NBA’s most physical outfits. Especially not with a much-needed vacation looming. And you know what? Toronto has played a good enough opening 29 games to deserve not to get killed for that ghastly fourth quarter. The Bulls scored 49 points in that frame, the most any Raptors team has conceded in a quarter and the most Chicago had ever scored. Ever. Even in the Michael Jordan days the Bulls didn’t notch more and even when Toronto was 16-66, there wasn’t as porous a quarter. Chicago shot 22 free throws in the quarter, which was nearly another Raptors record. The most impressive thing about last night was that I hit deadline despite the hour time difference and the 34 combined free throws in the fourth.

- In all seriousness, Though the Raptors managed to build some big leads against the Bulls, it always seemed puzzling how they were in the game at all. Chicago was outshooting them by a ton, getting to the line twice as often and blocking all kinds of shots (seven after a quarter, compared to none by the Raptors). Basically, 3-for-10 second quarter shooting from eventual stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, plus good three-point shooting early and an ability to turn Bulls mistakes into points at the other end allowed the Raptors to take a lead into the break.

- There was a lot of griping from the fan-base about the work of the referees, but the Bulls play a physical style and have been doing that for years. They might get away with some things, but it is a product of playing hard and going at opponents. Dwane Casey would love it if his team would emulate a lot of what Chicago does. On offence, Chicago draws legit foul calls. They attack and go into opponents. They love contact. Don’t forget as well that the Raptors are missing DeMar DeRozan, who draws more fouls than almost any other NBA player. With him in the game, the whistle disparity would have been a lot different.

- An aside, players on both teams were quite unhappy with the work of the officials as early as the first quarter. Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were amongst the many who loudly voiced their displeasure. It was surprising on a few of those occasions that nobody was hit with a technical foul for protesting. Eventually, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau got one. The foul disparity was 20-18 in Chicago’s favour at that point. Post-technical, it went 27-14 for Chicago. Co-incidence …. ?

- The Raptors, like most teams so far, had all kinds of trouble trying to slow down Butler. With Rose in top form, the duo was devastating. When Butler was playing small forward, the Raptors couldn’t stop their attack.  Amir Johnson said the play “killed us.” Valanciunas broke it down further, or at least tried to: “Right now we’ve got to … I don’t really know, its’ really hard,” Valanciunas said of how to defend it better. “Rose and Butler are really high-end players so they know what to do on pick-and-roll, one-on-one stuff it’s really hard to guard those guys and they have really active big guys, Noah is active under the basket, Gasol is posting, Gasol is active down there so it’s really hard to defend.”

- At full strength, the Bulls are a really strong offensive team. Gasol destroyed the Raptors in the first meeting, then was bad offensively in this one (just 2-for-7 shooting with four turnovers) and it didn’t matter at all.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A better effort makes all the difference for Raptors against lowly Pacers; The bench has been absurdly good and Bruno speaks on Canadian weather

- December 13th, 2014

For the first time in a while, the Raptors played hard, played tough and played smart (at least defensively). Against a good team, it might not have been enough to finally get untracked offensively in the fourth and still come out with a win, but luckily for the Raptors, the punchless Pacers are missing three key pieces from last year’s East-leading group.

- Wrote about how ridiculous the bench – especially Lou Williams and Patrick Patterson have been here. For an update, after Friday night’s games, Lou Williams now leads all NBA reserves at +153 and Patrick Patterson is next at +136. Tyler Hansbrough is up to sixth at +92. James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are also up there, as well as Canadians Tristan Thompson, Robert Sacre and Cory Joseph not too far below them.

- All week long, Dwane Casey has been harping on the team’s awful rebounding and constant defensive mental errors. Strides were made in tidying up those areas against the Pacers, the second-best rebounding team in the NBA. Jonas Valanciunas was a force, completely overwhelming Roy Hibbert and the other Pacers all evening, something he has done consistently against the Pacers the past couple of years now. Patterson stepped up his rebounding effort and Hansbrough gave them good minutes. When the Raptors come out aggressively, they tend to win games.

“That was big for us especially with the talented bigs that Indiana has and just the physical basketball that they play,” Williams said afterward. “It was important for us to hit first and I think it carried over for four quarters.”

- Clearly the bench is a major strength. “It’s good for teams to have a second group, to give the first group relief and then for them to have a group when they go out of the game that isn’t going to allow slippage,” Williams said. “we have a lot of guys that can start on other teams and we’ve accepted the role of being backups and we take that in pride, we take that in pride that we know we’re going into games and going to change the pace of the game. I think that’s a major plus.”

- It was a happy locker room post-game. Vasquez was talking up all of his teammates, Lowry was talking up Williams (well, everyone was actually doing that) and Brazilians Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira weighed in on the weather. Bebe said he has seen worse. Bruno was told last winter was far tougher and responded with a smile: “That’s because I am here now.”

A couple of notes that I had to cut from the paper due to space limitations:

REST FOR AMIR?

Amir Johnson has been playing through some injuries this season and has not looked as mobile as he or the Raptors would like on many nights.

So it was natural that head coach Dwane Casey was asked before the game whether giving Johnson a bit of enforced rest might be an option – eventually.

“(That) hadn’t been talked about. We’re already a man down (DeRozan),” Casey said. “At some point that could be a possibility but it hasn’t been talked about.”

Casey said the team has looked at “all scenarios” including playing Patterson at small forward, sitting Johnson for a bit, or something different.

Casey said Johnson has a collection of “knicks and knacks” little ailments that are adding up.

Even though Johnson’s rebounding numbers are way down this season though, he is still doing a good job at boxing out, which is creating more opportunities for teammates – especially Valanciunas – to go to work on the boards.

Johnson had more lift on Friday, throwing down a couple of dunks off of passes from Kyle Lowry.

ONE GAME AT A TIME

The Raptors are playing some of the league’s dregs for the next little while, but Dwane Casey is not eyeing a big run from his team.

“We’re not in a position to overlook anybody, any stretch of games,” Casey said.

“Tonight, last night, it’s all been about the Pacers. That’s the most important thing. Once, as a player, you start looking down the road, next game, two games, a stretch of games whatever, that’s where you get in trouble.”

Starting with the Pacers, the Raptors next six opponents were a combined 35-101 so far this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.