Posts Tagged ‘James Johnson

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors continue to tempt fate but Magic don’t have the experience yet to close games; Red hot Ross providing a boost; Bench the difference again

- November 11th, 2014

The Raptors are playing with fire, but until they get burned, things might not change. Until they start losing games that they “half-ass” at the beginning, they probably won’t alter the script. They were the best fourth quarter team a year ago and have picked up where they left off. They have all the confidence in the world that even if they coast early on, they will find a way to win games in the end. It’s a very dangerous game to play. Try it Thursday against Chicago and it is extremely doubtful the record gets to 8-1.

- The first quarter woes extended through the entire opening half against Orlando. The Magic shot 53%, had 16 assists (to seven by Toronto) and just five turnovers. It was basically a walk in the park for Elfrid Payton, Channing Frye, Nikola Vuvevic and the rest of the visitors. The Raptors were a first place team in name only.

- Assistant coach Bill Bayno made a good point at the break: The Raptors are a known team now. They have a large target on their backs. Teams go at them hard from the jump. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. If the Raptors don’t come out aggressively early, you can bet most other teams will, because nobody is looking past the Raptors anymore. Those days are long gone.

- Top to bottom, Toronto just has a deeper, better team than Orlando. That depth carried the day on Tuesday, with Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Lou Williams, Tyler Hansbrough playing the biggest roles, with some help from Greivis Vasquez, who had a poor game, but played well late. The reserves scored 11 straight points to tie the game, setting up the eventual victory. Not a lot of reserve units can match up with Toronto’s group.

“I like the resolve of our team. The second unit came in and did what they were supposed to do and really competed,” head coach Dwane Casey said afterward.

- Terrence Ross continues to sizzle. The third-year swingman has put a tough start behind him, rebounding with three straight strong offensive games. Ross has scored 18, 17 and 17 points in the games, and averaged nearly five rebounds. He has also hit 12-of-18 three-point attempts after hitting just six, total, over the first five games. By hitting 67% of his threes over the past three games, Ross has raised his average from outside to an outstanding 47%.

- Kyle Lowry was excellent and by far the best of the starters. DeMar DeRozan had a rough night. Johnson had a good offensive night and got better defensively as the game went on.

- Early on, Orlando simply outworked and outran the home side. Toronto’s big men were particularly disinterested in competing. Jonas Valanciunas has had some good games against Nikola Vucevic, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. He failed to run the floor and again looked a step slow defensively. Amir Johnson’s typical frenetic energy was absent early.

- Valanciunas has missed a lot of makeable shots so far this season and especially against Orlando. Valanciunas shot 61% on shots within five feet last year, but has been 10% worse so far. It is early, he has time to correct whatever is going on.

- Lowry has not been drawing as many charges as he did last year when he was right near the top of the NBA’s leaderboard, but he took a couple against Orlando at key moments.

- Not sure why exactly, but Toronto really has Orlando’s number. The games are usually pretty tight, but Toronto has won nine straight meetings, the closest being the one DeRozan won at the buzzer in Orlando a couple of years ago. It is the longest streak Toronto has against any team.

- Yes, the Raptors sit alone at the top of the NBA. Yes, it feels a little weird to type that.

One crazy night in Memphis

- March 17th, 2012

Until tonight, the craziest game I’ve ever covered was the NCAA title game where Gordon Hayward rimmed out what would have sealed the biggest upset win in the history of sports. That one didn’t go in, so this one tops it.

My brain almost exploded, the gamer didn’t make the paper for first edition, the referees left having somehow pissed off both the home fans and the Raptors.

And oh ya, Rudy Gay hit another crazy shot against the Raptors, but this time, Toronto pulled out a win.

- Huge work from Jerryd Bayless. He’s defending better than ever this year and is playing some fine offensive basketball as well. Sure he had a boneheaded play, one of many by his at times clueless teammates, but this was a heck of an effort. They fought tooth and nail with one of the scrappiest teams in the league.

- Sure they had no business winning – Memphis missed 20 free throw attempts and is a much better team – but the bottom line is they did.

- The Raptors were all stunned in the locker room afterwards. None of them have been in a game like this, nobody would go on record, but they were perplexed by the horrific refereeing.

- Gary Forbes showed he is an NBA player. He is laying claim to Leandro Barbosa’s minutes.

Some quotes:

“Jerryd did a great job in timeouts and wouldn’t let anybody quit. As a coach, I didn’t have to say anything. I was really happy to see him take the bull by the horn and show leadership.”

“It was such a hard-fought game. The guys were passionate in timeouts and it was one of those games that if you were a fan you enjoyed watching.”

- Dwane Casey

“For them to come to our house and beat us like they did, Rudy hitting a big shot at our house, we just came here with fight in our heart. We had some confidence and weren’t scared. We went out there and played. We didn’t let anybody get in our way and we executed down the stretch.”

- James Johnson

Spurs at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 16th, 2012

Another good game, another tough loss. The Raptors are making an art of entertaining their fans, while still losing enough to stay in the Anthony Davis hunt. As usual, a few thoughts on the game and then some quotes I couldn’t get in to my story.

- DeMar DeRozan really needed that game after being a no-show too often of late. I keep harping on this, but he needs to be that aggressive player in order to succeed. He also took better control of the ball, which is needed since he can’t be turning it over off of strips 1-3 times every night.

- You have to appreciate the Spurs. Nobody ever pays any attention to them, yet all they do is win. Tony Parker: “We are nine in a row so if nobody talks about us, that’s good, we’ll keep playing good basketball.”

- Definitely some strange units out there. Dwane Casey said he was searching for offence with Bargnani, Bayless and Kleiza out. That left more defensive-minded players like James Johnson benched. He said he gave the red hot DeRozan a long break because of the back-to-back. Thought DeRozan would be able to give more down the stretch if he did that.

- Anthony Carter looked finished earlier this year, but now has found his game and is contributing.

- This team sure finds novel ways to lose eh? Five second call one night, two hands on the ball another. A foul out of bounds …

- The Raptors need to have better court awareness and stop taking a ton of offensive fouls. Too many Raptors are charging into opponents and it hurt them on Wednesday.

- Amir Johnson had been struggling mightily to hit mid-range jump shots this season, but he was nailing them on Wednesday

ONE OF A KIND

Metta World Peace one game, Popovich, the next? As a reporter, you can’t beat that.

The irascible Popovich is always a riot. With a dry, quick wit, Pop mixes bemusement with frustration as well as anybody.

He had some gems before the game:

To a larger crowd of media than he is used to: “It’s Toronto and San Antonio, take a break.”

On whether Cory Joseph should have stayed longer at Texas: “What am I, the answer man?”

On Joseph’s biggest challenge: “(Said dryly and in a short manner) “He’s a rookie.”

Some quotes on Joseph:

Cory Joseph:

“I don’t try to put pressure on myself, I just try to focus on the gameplan, play hard and let everything decide itself.

(Talks to Tristan about once a week). Only had like a week of training camp. Wanted me to get some game experience. Everybody looks at the D-League like it’s a bad thing, but Austin’s a good thing for me. Good coaching staff. (Soak up) A whole lot. Decision-making, what decisions I should do within the system. Just try to soak up as much as possible. Anybody can play in this league just given the opportunity.

(Watch Texas?) Obviously I miss it, but I’m happy where I am now. I watch them a couple of times when I’m able to. Hopefully they can win this next couple of games to solidify themselves in the tournament. That would make me happier.

Talk to Myck. Tell him to run your team, make sure you get the wins.”

Tony Parker:

“They played them all the way to the end. Just tough games for Toronto.

If we play like that, move the ball great and everybody’s healthy, we have a good chance to go all the way.

We played basketball all season long then TD got hurt and Manu went down the last game (last year).

On Cory: It’s tough as a point guard he’s not playing that much and we don’t practise so it’s tough for him to get some minutes because he doesn’t know the system, he doesn’t know the plays and Pop, sometimes he calls plays he didn’t call for 10 games. I’ve been here 11 years so I know the plays, so it’s tough for Cory. When you’re a point guard and you have a coach like Pop, you need practice time and you need to know all the plays and right now we never practice, we just rest, play, rest, play. He’s talented, we just have to be patient with him.”

Dwane Casey:

“Health is an important thing in this league and when you don’t have it you search. Tonight I was searching for any group that could help us.

This is a difficult team to play. We’ve played three emontional games, and I think our team competed in each of them. My hat is off to our guys because I think they competed and any basketball person, in seeing who we have in the floor, talked about how we competed.

That’s important to me, to the organization going forward. It’s going to help us once we get our program on the right spot. We want to continue this culture of playing hard, competing and putting yourself in position to win. What we have to do is execute … executing down the stretch. The game within the game (double dribble, holding call even though he was out of bounds). All the young guys need to learn how to play in those situations.”

“DeRozan. His major challenge this summer is going to be getting in the weight room, getting bigger, getting stronger. (Looking at Kobe and LeBron) looking at how big and strong those guys are and keeping the athleticism.”

“Good for psyche? No question. We don’t want to be satisfied with close, but with the growth that we’re making against the top teams (without top scorers), my hat is off to the guys who competed. The guys took up the slack.”

Lakers and Kobe stun Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 13th, 2012

That was one entertaining contest on Sunday, moreso because I wasn’t writing on deadline.

A few Raptor points before I get into some good stuff from the Lakers, who I was assigned to for the day.

- The shooting line for DeMar DeRozan was ugly but he did a lot of good things in other areas. Career high in assists was most notable, obviously, but he also played nice early defence on Kobe Bryant and looked to attack offensively. He had good looks but they weren’t falling. Metta World Peace and Bryant also are much beefier and stronger than DeRozan and they are great defenders who gave him some problems.

- Ed Davis rebounded from an invisible first half to play quite well in the second half. Amir Johnson went from outstanding against Boston to a complete non-factor. Have to give a hand to Jamaal Magloire – as LAkers head coach Mike Brown did – for his performance, which was a major reason why the Raptors came back from an 18-point deficit.

- James Johnson is starting to become a fan favourite for his energy, athleticism and defensive results. While his jumper is coming along, there is still work to do in that regard.

- From where I was sitting Rasual Butler definitely didn’t call time out in time … BUT Dwane Casey definitely did. The refs blew it, despite what the NBA says.

- Not sure I’ve seen Bryant utilize the Dirk-esque one-footed, leg kicking jumper he displayed. Like when Dirk shoots it, it is pretty much money every time.

- A lot of love for Jose Calderon after his career-high 30 points. Pau Gasol says he can do that whenever he wants to if defences aren’t going to challenge his shot. Bryant said he is a big fan of Calderon (hint hint Mitch Kupchak. Unfortunately for Bryant, there doesn’t seem to be a way to bring Calderon to L.A. trade-wise).

Now on to some quotes I couldn’t work in here or here

Kobe Bryant:
“I wasn’t surprised, it was five seconds. I didn’t go to college but I can count.
It’s five seconds, it was good defence on our part.
DeMar? I think the world of him as a player. I’ve seen his game grow tremendously from last year to this one in terms of adding a pull-up jumper to his game. He has a post game as well, but he wasn’t able to show it tonight because we have significantly bigger guards but he can post, he can handle, developed the mid-range jump shot, can obviously finish at the rim so I’m liking what he’s doing.
Olympics. It’s a big Olympics for us. We have an opportunity to kind of cement ourselves as the powerhouse. We won the last Olympics, we won the worlds, winning the Olympics in London will put us back where we belong. (Wear and tear). Not worried. With that team, I’ll just coast. I’m there if they need me. Big shots? That’s what I do. They can do all the heavy lifting.”

Pau Gasol:
“There’s games wehre he is going to take more shots because they are there. If he’s making them, he’ll continue to shoot things if they’re available. He’s not going to force things for you.
We have weapons. We have players that are experienced and have been successful throughout their careers offensively and defensively so that’s the depth and the weapons that we do have and we can go to them at a specific point.”

Metta World Peace:
“Ettore Messina. He’s a great coach. He’ll be a head coach. He reminds me a lot of Phil Jackson. He won championships. How many he win, 20, something stupid like that, it’s ridiculous. I just talk to him about the game. Cool to see European coaches come to the NBA. Changes it up.
(On mega-rich stars like Mike Tyson blowing all their money) “It’s cool. How many people get a chance to fail? Even a guy like Tyson. How many people have a chance to get $300 million and lose it? Not many people have a chance to fail. Not a bad thing, just move on with your life. Do something else, be positive. At least he touched it.

I can’t (score) with this team. Right before I came, I was on Houston, I was averaging 20 in the playoffs or something. I came here it went pffft. People forget, but that’s OK.
I can still put up numbers, there’s just no rhythm now. If I had to score. With Drew getting better, Kobe still playing better.

(On Kobe): “He’s in shape he takes care of his body. Those guys like Kobe, they came and they went. Kobe don’t take nights off, never. I seen him adjust his game sometimes, but no nights off. Maybe he passes more.
I’ve seen potentially more natural scorers, but Kobe got fundamentals. Kobe’s just different. I’ve seen people that were more talented than Kobe, but did they have the fundamentals and the work? He understands the little things the fundamentals, the footwork. It’s like writing a story, the same words over and over again, that’s not going to fly. You’ve got to change it up.
His technique is ridiculous.”

Mike Brown:
“Dwane Casey is a heck of a coach, those guys made a good choice picking him as the head coach. They did a terrific job of mixing in zones and brought us to a standstill a little bit at times.”

 

 

 

Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 11th, 2012

So, that’s why they play the games eh? It wasn’t impossible to see this one coming (I noted yesterday that for once, the Raptors would be at home rested waiting for a tired opponent and then the Celtics went to overtime in a battle with the Lakers to exhaust them even more). But still, considering Boston had taken 17-of-19 from the Raptors and beat up on them multiple times this season, it was still somewhat of a shock that Toronto upended Boston on Friday night.

- Boston had been averaging 98 points to Toronto’s 68.5 in the season series, shooting 50% to 35.9% for the Dinos.

- After being called out by Dwane Casey and humbled by the Celtics repeatedly, the Raptors showed some pride by taking this one. Gold quote from Amir Johnson:

“Excuse my language but I guess we just got tired of getting our asses busted,” said Amir Johnson, who had 12 points to go with 12 rebounds. “They have been beating us all season and the preseason. We finally stood up and hit them in the mouth.”

- The trick for the Raptors will be building on this without a letdown against the Lakers on Sunday. Los Angeles is going to be coming for the jugular thanks to their struggles.

- Casey showed some smart coaching by making his team run on the tired Celtics, who are old in the first place and had nothing in the tank after Thursday. Starting off hot was a key, jumping on Boston early was the only way to beat them. Toronto managed that with a higher compete level and an extra effort for 50/50 balls and second chance opportunities. Toronto has the young legs and athletes to do that all the time. It’s just a question of effort and willingness to do so.

- Jose Calderon rebounded from some spotty efforts with 14 assists and zero turnovers. The turnovers were the key as he had been making some uncharacteristic mistakes the past few weeks. I believe he’s the first Raptor ever to post 14 assists or more in three straight games, though Damon Stoudamire also might have pulled it off.

- Aaron Gray was one of the rare effective Raptors in Boston this season, and he had another nice night, pulling in 11 rebounds. I like the spacing he gives the team with his size and his screens. Will be interesting to see a Bargnani-Gray combo once Andrea gets back.

- Have to love what James Johnson is giving the Raptors at both ends. He has proven that at worst he is going to be a great reserve forward and defensive stopper going forward, and possibly much more than that. While Bryan Colangelo deserves the hammering he takes for some of his disastrous moves (Giving up all-star Roy Hibbert and more for Jermaine O’Neal, than giving up way too much to get rid of O’Neal and allowing Miami to get the cap space to form the Big Three for example), but stealing Johnson for a late pick in a bad draft was a heist that keeps looking increasingly astute.

- And, just to get some pageviews, the Jeremy Lin story is absolutely ridiculous and very cool to see. Even if he turns back into a pumpkin on Saturday, it has been a fantastic story and a reminder of why we love sports. Linsanity will be in the house Vinsanity built on Tuesday and all of a sudden a dull meeting with the possibly Melo and Amare-less Knicks becomes a likely sellout and a must-see for basketball fans.

 

Milwaukee Bucks at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 9th, 2012

Lost in the very valid points about lack of practice time causing “defensive slippage” like in Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee is one major factor nobody seems to be mentioning. Andrea Bargnani, shockingly, was playing fantastic defence. Without him, the team takes a major step back on that front (yes I never really thought I would write that sentence). Sure lack of reps is hurting the team, but I’d say the lack of Bargnani has been as much or more of a factor. Toronto is now just 2-12 without him and a return is nowhere close.

- It will be interesting to see if Bargnani is activated before the all-star break so he has a chance to be an injury selection. I know the franchise lobbied hard for him to be included and if he returns for two or three games he has a shot, especially since Andrew Bogut, Al Horford and Brook Lopez are injured. If Melo and Stoudemire are injured too (which seems to happen often), that will open up a forward spot or two (Stoudemire doesn’t deserve to be an all-star this year, but he plays in New York so is overhyped and could make it again).

- That said about Bargnani, I have no doubt the team is tired, mentally and physically, and that is why the defence has regressed. With a ton of practice time coming up, I think things will pick up in that department.

- Jerryd Bayless’ inability to stay healthy (ankles) has to be a concern for the Raptors. I still keep him over Barbosa long-term (cheaper and younger), but at some point they might have to question whether he is durable enough to be a building block.

- DeMar DeRozan seems to be taking to the small forward position doesn’t he? His numbers are better there and he seems more aggressive, since he can take slower threes off of the dribble. He seems more comfortable there, even if he often gives up a few inches. James Johnson told us that he actually prefers the power forward spot to the three, which makes DeRozan’s emergence at small forward even more intriguing.

“Ya, it’s easier for me. I dont have to run as hard as on the wing. It’s getting pretty simple, the problem was not knowing the plays, not knowing where to be,” Johnson said of playing small forward.

“I prefer (to play) whatever. I just want to win. Whatever makes us win, let’s do it.”

Johnson said assistant coach Tom Sterner has rebuilt his jump shot and given him a lot more confidence.
“That’s all Tom Sterner. Me and him rebuilt my jumper. It’s in rhythm, NBA rhythm, not one of those guys can get to or close out to. I’m getting more comfortable taking them. I’m not thinking of the fundamentals of the jumper anymore. I’m thinking about am I open.”
“I’m finally learning the catch-and-shoot or catch and make a faster decision.”

- Had a chance to talk to Ed Davis a bit before the game about his being snubbed for the rookie-sophomore game. He said he isn’t too concerned about it, but of course wants to gain recognition through his play. He maintains he will be an all-star one day.

- Funny Brandon Jennings line on whether he talks or see DeRozan much during the season. He said no but …

“We’re both doing different things. But when we see each other it’s all love. We’ll always probably go hit up Roscoes Chicken and Waffles when we’re in L.A. Just do something.”


 

 

 

Raptors at Suns Points Per Game:

- January 25th, 2012

Finally, a win. Gutsy effort in Phoenix and a lineup change results in a victory to end a long losing streak. Oh, Andrea Bargnani might have had something to do with it.

- Bargnani proved again that he is an all-star, rebounding from a bad shooting start to absolutely pick apart the Suns. Sure Marcin Gortat lit up the Raptors, but Bargnani was only defending him part of the time and did better on that end than others.

- I liked the move to start Aaron Gray, I predicted at the start of the year (before Gray had his health problems) that he would start beside Bargnani for many matchups. Gives the team more size and a better screen-setter at the five. Also sends Amir Johnson a message – get your game back in gear, and he seemed to read it loud and clear. Johnson only played just shy of 13 minutes, but was back to his old active self. Plus the move forced me to try to remember the last time the Raptors started two 7-footers … I can’t remember that ever happening actually, since none of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal, Antonio Davis or Donyell Marshall are 7-footers.

- Toronto’s 3-pt shooting was a big positive. Beside Bargnani’s 4-for-6, the rest of the team went 4-for-9. That kept them in it when Phoenix was hot, and was a major reason why the end result was a win. Which leads to …

- Leandro Barbosa. He was the reason the Raptors were within four at the half in a game Phoenix should have had well in hand. Barbosa went 3-for-3 from three and was brilliant, particularly in the second quarter against his former team.

- Barbosa’s strong play helped mask another invisible night from DeMar DeRozan. This is at the troubling point now, especially since Bargnani was back, which was supposed to help DeRozan return to form. I liked his agressiveness early, but DeRozan failed to get to the free throw line and could not finish his chances.  His regression is the most negative aspect of this Raptors season, which is now a quarter of the way complete. Something needs to change and quickly. Right now DeRozan looks like a reserve, not a major piece of Toronto’s rebuild.

- I like what Ronnie Price has done for the Suns. Gives them a defensive boost. What the heck happened to Channing Frye? He can’t play anymore. Like at all.

- One more negative before I get to some positives. One of the reasons Toronto’s defence doesn’t look as good as it did early on is because Jose Calderon is no longer keeping anybody in front of him anymore. That’s been the case the past few games and didn’t change against the great Steve Nash. Nash blew by Calderon, this time with guile, not the speed other point guards have been using. Calderon, like most, to be fair, had no answers for Nash and his crafty, change of pace maneuvers. Another concern, re: Calderon, is the fact that he is making 1-2 bad passes at critical times (leaving his feet after dribbling into no-man’s land) throwing the ball away at inopportune times. It almost cost Toronto the game and would have had Phoenix hit more shots in the clutch. He did make some better decisions late that helped the Raptors win the game.

- James Johnson followed up his best game of the season with an even better one. He defended well and was solid on offence. His play would be one of the brighters spots of this season, though I’m sure Bryan Colangelo would prefer to have Johnson showing little instead of DeRozan and Ed Davis both showing next to nothing so far, aside from a fast start from DeRozan.

- Linas Kleiza continues to help the bench with his ability to score.

- I believe Toronto turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter but ended up with 16 total, so obviously the team did a much better job taking care of the ball as the game went on.

- OK one more negative. Marcin Gortat abused the team for three quarters. There was little resistance, he rolled to the hoop unguarded or overpowered the Raptors. The team finally guarded him better in the fourth.
- Dwane Casey drew up some good plays, including one to end the first half and bring the Raptors within four when Calderon went to James Johnson for a dunk. His team also used screens very well and Phoenix puzzlingly didn’t figure out that leaving Bargnani open off of screen and rolls or pick and pops was a very bad decision.

All in all, more good things to say than bad, but DeRozan and Davis need to get on track or else Colangelo doesn’t have nearly as much in his cupboard as he thinks and this retool is in worse shape than we thought.

Wolves at Raptors Points Per Game

- January 10th, 2012

Some thoughts on a good Raptors win over Minnesota after I’ve had a night to reflect on it:

- Raptors continue to show the ability to beat the NBA’s lesser teams. They have held tough with playoff squads, but Jersey aside, have handled the minnows quite well.

- Incredible effort from Amir Johnson despite battling sickness and a thumb injury. The thumb issue helps explain why he has had trouble hanging onto balls this season and hasn’t finished as well. Despite denials from Kevin Love, who said his bad night was all him. Johnson was a major reason why he was off.

- Again, Andrea Bargnani was outstanding. His offensive play is self-explanatory – he is simply killing opponents with his fakes and footwork right now, daring them to challenge his shot and then darting by them. But it is his defence that remains the shocker. The man D is improved (not that it was terrible before), but his ability to cover ground and help out his teammates on switches and fighting through screens has been superb. He played 45 minutes against Minnesota, will be interesting to see what he has left against Washington

- James Johnson was also great. As has been the case many games this year, Johnson seemed to be everywhere on the court. And this time he didn’t make as many errors as is sometimes the case from overcommiting and trying to do too much. Johnson has some Jerome Williams in him – ie. doing too much, gambling, over-reading on plays, but I think he is going to be a better player. His jumper even looked good in extended warmup drills and the few times he shot during the game.

- DeMar DeRozan looks tired. Perhaps the effort required on defence and the schedule is hurting him on the offensive end? HE started very well when he was rested. He was more aggressive and even posted up. He needs to do more of that.

- Ricky Rubio is a real talent – duh. I like the Luke Ridnour-Rubio combo offensively, but the Wolves got punished defensively when they were on the court.

- Derrick Williams showed me it is just a matter of time until he becomes an impact player in the NBA. Still like him as a 4, but that obviously can’t happen, given how good Love is.

- Another game where the Raptors hold an opponent under 40% (34%). Impressive stuff, though this crazy NBA schedule has something to do with it.

- Dwane Casey said one of these days something is going to go in for Rasual Butler. Butler is doing his job defensively quite well, but is hurting the team by missing all of his shots. Doesn’t sound like a lineup switch is coming anytime soon.

- Linas Kleiza should learn his fate today. Team seems to be expecting him back on Wednesday against Sacramento, with Jerryd Bayless more likely for the weekend.

A few quotes I couldn’t work into my story:

Kevin Love:

“Just an off night. Nobody scored the ball particularly well and they just executed down the stretch. We had a couple of turnovers and that was the game.”

“The best thing about the NBA is there is another game tomorrow …  everybody has nights like that and I’ll bounce back.”

Rick Adelman:

“We have to finish at the basket and we have to be a little bit tougher than we were tonight.”

Ricky Rubio:

“(Calderon’s) a great defender, he can (play) defence very well. He knows how to defend, he’s smart on offence and defence and he has legs, he’s strong and he can guard everybody.”

Rubio has no regrets with staying in Spain: “I was with a team that won almost everything over there. I know how to handle the pressure (now) because of that.”

This just in, Jose has legs! (For some reason I found that quote hilarious).

Dwane Casey:

“I was pleased by the disposition (of the team after the disappointing second half in Philadelphia). But there were still a lot of subtle things (to work on).”