Posts Tagged ‘Jonas Valanciunas

Feel-good Raptors toy with young Bucks and unveil Bruno Caboclo to the NBA world

- November 22nd, 2014

You could probably count on one hand the number of nights at the ACC that have been more fun than Friday’s Raptors-palooza.

- That was something else. It was bizarre, surreal and a heck of a way to cap a record-setting homestand. Not only did the Raptors completely annihilate the Bucks, the team also unveiled Bruno Caboclo to his adoring public – and the rookie delivered, showing he has a bit of a flair for the dramatic – plus Landry Fields ran in to dunk a missed free throw, a rarity nowadays that once was a Michael Jordan specialty. That sneaky Fields has tried this before.

- Milwaukee might have been tired and definitely had been playing over its collective head this season, but nobody expected what went down. The Raptors completely throttled the Bucks. Jonas Valanciunas looked like he was battling against school children. Brandon Knight is a good player, but Kyle Lowry completely outclassed him. At one point Valanciunas and the six-foot Lowry had more rebounds than the Bucks had as a team. The Bucks looked lost trying to defend cuts or the interior. Former Raptor Jerryd Bayless said, “honestly, we got our ass beat pretty much,” and that wasn’t hyperbole. It was the truth. “That is why they are the best in the East and you have to tip your hat,” added Jared Dudley. “DeRozan didn’t even play that well (he had one of his worst nights in two years) and they still have a lot of contributions. They really embarrassed us.”

- Sure, Milwaukee had an off night and Toronto’s schedule has been pretty easy so far, but hard not to be impressed by this group. As Greivis Vasquez says, these guys are professionals. They are winning the games they should take and giving themselves some breathing room for when things get tough (which could be as soon as tonight in Cleveland).

- The story of the night was Bruno’s debut. The fans were great, calling for him in the third quarter, going nuts when he checked in and replacing the ‘let’s go Raptors’ and ‘de-fence’ chants with ‘let’s go Bruno’ and ‘Bru-no.’ Caboclo still can’t dribble, but he can really shoot the ball and isn’t afraid to fire away. He is already a fan favourite and his teammates love him too. “I feel like everything is good,” Caboclo said afterward, even though he added he didn’t feel comfortable and that the game was far different than the pre-season. “So different,” he said.

- “I thought they came in and did what we asked them to do,” Dwane Casey said of Caboclo and Bebe. “To get a taste of the NBA: It’s a lot different than being up there working out in practice once you get the adrenaline flowing, the aggressiveness of another team. The feel of a real NBA game was great for him.” Casey added that he loved the fan reaction and hopes the NBA will let coaches dress all 15 players eventually. “If he wasn’t in uniform tonight, he wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity.” Valanciunas said it “brought back good memories” of his own Toronto debut and the reception he got from the fans two years ago.

- Bebe said he was gassed the whole time he was out there (he played just shy of nine minutes) because he went through his usual, intense workout session with the training staff earlier Friday. Because nobody expects him to play, Nogueira goes through intense workouts on game days.

- Takeaways of what the Raptors did well: Pressured Knight, forcing somebody else to beat them; Moving the ball from side-to-side better than normal and driving into the paint and kicking out to the open man – something Casey had said beforehand would be a key to beating Milwaukee, a team that came in ranked fourth in the NBA in defence; Connecting from three (60% shooting) and using their size advantage (the Valanciunas dominance, Amir Johnson’s three blocks, a 15-8 edge on the offfensive glass and 57-30 rebounding edge overall).

- Casey said James Johnson was unlikely for the Cleveland game. “I doubt it because he’s still tender and sore.”

- Peak Greivis Vasquez quotes:  (On Chuck Hayes): “He’s a great leader, a great locker room guy because he could be pissed (about not getting much playing time). But he’s not, he’s happy. He gets in guys’ face, he’s a great leader. He’s ready whenever his name is called. We’re blessed. I don’t know whether you guys have seen a locker room like this. We’re expecting big things.”

(On his jump shot) “It’s not really a big concern. I get in the gym, I get better and I hit the big shots when I need to.” Kind of like this guy, who hit two more on Friday.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors up to the challenge in biggest game of the season; Toronto frontcourt dominates; Lowry Stoudamire’s spiritual successor; Amir Johnson says he is fine

- November 8th, 2014

Facing their best opponent of the season, the Raptors put together their best game so far. The Wizards will be right there with the Raptors all year, but struggled in this one, as Toronto finally hit first and was the aggressor. Head coach Dwane Casey had been looking for that type of intensity out of the gate and finally got it.

- Kyle Lowry led the way once more, with a triple-double. Lowry once played with Damon Stoudamire and in many ways, really is the spiritual successor to Toronto’s first star performer. he’s undersize, is tough as nails, with a will to win. Lowry does a little bit of everything. He’s shooting nearly 50% for the year and has turned the ball over only six times with 36 assists (a 6-to-1 ratio).

- Amir Johnson insists he is fine, despite leaving the game early after missing the previous three contests: “Ankle is good. I didn’t re-injure it or anything. It was just a precaution thing. We were up by 20 or so so I just figured call it quits right here and get a little bit more rest,” Johnson said.

- Casey said Johnson and Valanciunas help defensively, but also on offence, because they set good screens and help their teammates get in good scoring positions.

-Terrence Ross was a fan of the throwback jerseys: “I grew up in Portland and Damon Stoudamire was the first pick here so I remember watching him and thinking they had the best uniforms. And then Vince was here and T-Mac and everybody. They just always had the best uniforms,” Ross said. Ross, who had been struggling with his jump shot, said he got up 500 shots the night before. It worked, as he finally found his missing jumper.

- Borrowing from the Globe and Mail’s Cathal Kelly, Casey had a horse analogy for the Raptors. He agrees they are like Sea Biscuit, who often came from behind to win races, rather than Secretariat, who tended to lead wire-to-wire.

“I’d much rather be Secretariat than Sea Biscuit, I’ll tell you what. It’s hard to be Sea Biscuit, there’s a story behind Sea Biscuit but that was us last year, we’ve got to learn how to start the game the way we want to play and we showed that tonight.,” Casey said.

“They decided to compete. That’s the thing. You take the whip out in the derby and just keep cracking the whip, cracking the whip, cracking the whip. We can’t be that way. It shouldn’t have to come from me to crack the whip at every turn to get us going. But they did. They decided to get going. To be a playoff or championship calibre team we shouldn’t have to say giddy up.”

- DeRozan on what he says to Lowry about facing the East’s absurdly talented point guards: “Yeah, I tell him, ‘good luck’ every night, honestly. “But we all understand it’s not just one-on-one, it’s a team thing, especially when we go against guys like that. We have to play as a team defensively, to slow down those type of guys.”

- The Raptors were happy to finally come out with a good start. “We’re going to figure it out because we’re getting tired of it too,” DeRozan had said pre-game.

“Half-time, having to have the speeches, argue and get yelled at by Casey and everything. It’s just something we’ve got to learn from and get past it if we want to be good.”

- Washington shot 55% in the fourth quarter. The Raptors came in only allowing opponents to shoot 41% in the fourth.

- Toronto is now 5-0 this year when leading after three quarters, 38-2 since last year when leading after three including 23-0 at home and has won 30 straight games when leading entering the fourth quarter.

- Washington shot nearly twice as poorly (.279) from the field in the first half as Toronto’s opponents had managed (.545) in the opening couple of quarters of the first five games.

- Washington’s starters shot just 22.9%.

- Wizards coach Randy Wittman on the game: “It was a good old fashioned butt whooping.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Celtics PPG: Forget East logjam. Kyle Lowry’s an all-star PG; What’s with the awful starts? Time to start James Johnson? Valanciunas and Amir back Friday?

- November 6th, 2014

BOSTON — Forget about the stockpile of quality point guards in the East. Kyle Lowry is an all-star. He seems to prove it whenever the Raptors need him most, like in Wednesday’s game in Boston. Lowry simply took over, scoring 14 of his 35 points in the third quarter. He also stole the ball from Marcus Smart to set up DeMar DeRozan’s winning three-point play and, for good measure, fronted Boston players in the post resulting in turnovers (the Celtics had 28 in all, which basically was the difference in the game since the Raptors had just seven turnovers).

- Not a lot separates Lowry and Washington’s John Wall. Ideally, they’d probably both be all-stars. Rajon Rondo is still pretty good too, as his triple-double indicated – “triple-double dog,” was Lowry’s response to a Boston reporter who asked if Lowry’s good friend Rondo was all the way back from injury. But one of Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving likely get voted in, even though neither is in Lowry, Wall or Rondo’s class at the moment (for all his offensive brilliance, Irving is still a ball-hog and perhaps the league’s worst defender, while Rose is not yet the same guy he once was). As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said post-game, “I said before the game that I thought he should have been an all-star last year. He must’ve taken that seriously, because he sure looked like one tonight … there’s a lot of guys like Kyle Lowry (that Marcus Smart can learn from), but there’s only one Kyle Lowry.” Stevens is right on that. Other players might have more natural talent, but Lowry’s combination, of skill, fearlessness, intensity and will to win make him Toronto’s most valuable player and one of the best players in the East.

- Five games into the season, Lowry’s stats are pretty ridiculous: He is shooting 50% from the field (though just 29% from three), averaging 5.2 assists against just 0.4 turnovers and 19.6 points per game. The Raptors rank fourth in the NBA in points per game, despite ranking just 22nd in field goal percentage. A league-best assist-to-turnover ratio has a lot to do with it and Lowry has been especially good with his decision-making.

- Patrick Patterson had another excellent game in place of Amir Johnson. His improvement could not have come at a more necessary time. After slumping badly to start the season, Patterson’s hit six of his past eight threes and looks more comfortable all over the floor. He says it is all a matter of him relaxing, not ruminating so much on his jump shot and not letting whether his shot is falling dictate how good he is defensively. Patterson said by putting the ball on the floor more and not just being a standstill jump shooter, he has been able to be far more effective.

- Patterson on Lowry:

“Tonight he was just extremely aggressive at times that we really needed him. He just stepped up as a leader and came through in the clutch for us. He’s got that angry face. That’s what he always looks like … Because we played so poorly in the first half, I think Kyle pretty much wanted to step up for himself.”

- Obviously, the worst start out of all of the terrible opening quarters this season is a major concern. That most of the big comeback came with the same players on the floor in the third has to trouble Dwane Casey. For whatever reason, the Raptors aren’t coming out with intensity, aren’t hitting first and taking it to opponents. DeRozan joked (we think he was joking) that he and his teammates are “Drama Queens” who like to make games suspenseful. Is a change to the starting lineup needed? James Johnson has played quite well off of the bench and has strong advanced stats, while Terrence Ross has alternated between invisible and poor. In theory, the offence needs the floor spacing Ross provides with his outside shooting, but he’s not taking as many shots and has hit just 30% of his threes so far. Would Johnson try to do too much as a starter, as he has in the past, particularly, forcing bad shots? The point is moot as long as either Valanciunas or Johnson are out, since Patterson is a floor spacer too.

- Pre-game, Casey made it seem academic that Valanciunas and Johnson would be back for Friday’s game against Washington, but post-game, Casey was not nearly as definitive. He used “if” a couple of times in reference to his front-court playing.

- It awfully tough to sit a few games, come in and make an impact, but Greg Stiemsma stepped up and did that on consecutive nights. He’s validating the decision to keep him around already. Stiemsma provides some rim protection, rebounding and toughness up front.

- Will have more on DeRozan moving up to fourth all-time in Raptors scoring in the paper. It is quite an achievement for a guy who keeps exceeding expectations.

- The Raptors are the first team to start a season with fewer than four turnovers in four consecutive and now five consecutive games.

Don’t tell Casey Toronto isn’t a free agent destination.

“We’ve got every amenity, every situation for a free agent in Toronto,” Casey said before the game.

“The key thing is winning. Guys want to go where you have an opportunity to win and we did that last year, we’re building that in Toronto. We have the resources, we’ll have the cap room in a couple of years and Kyle took advantage of it this year and our guys will be rewarded for winning. That’s what you’re rewarded for in this league, is winning, or should be.”

Casey says now that he has spent time in the city he realizes that the Raptors should be regarded as a “big-time organization.”

  – More on the bad starts:

Casey can’t figure out why Toronto has gotten off to hideous starts. Wednesday’s was probably the worst.

“You tell me and we’ll both know,” Casey told a reporter. “It’s one of those things, psychology, it’s not like guys are not working at it.

“Defensively we’ve got to get a rhythm, understanding of how hard you’ve got to play. How much more aggressive you’ve got to be on your challenges, on your shots, just all around defensive approach to the game. Miami shot 52% int he first half, 38% in the second half. We’re a team of two different halves.” Casey said the Raptors have to make opponents start missing shots by getting up on them tighter. The team’s defensive rotations have also been poor.

- All that said, 4-1 is still 4-1.

 

Heat hand Raptors a reality check; Hard to replace Amir; Hansbrough doing his part; Some interesting Raptors SportVu stats

- November 3rd, 2014

- Well, that was rather predictable, no? The Raptors arrived in Miami 2-0, despite not playing all that well defensively. A scorching offence had been enough to get by a good Atlanta team (the amped-up season-opening crowd and some Al Horford rust didn’t hurt either) and Orlando just isn’t yet a good team (but still held leads for stretches of Saturday’s game). Miami is better than either of those two squads and came in playing a lot better overall than the Raptors had been. With the Raptors not playing any better, a win was not in the cards. “It caught up with us,” head coach Dwane Casey said of the team’s lackluster defensive efforts.

- It is never an ideal team to be without Amir Johnson, but going up against Chris Bosh and the Heat made Johnson’s absence especially problematic. Johnson tweaked his ankle yet again and, early in the season, the Raptors opted to be cautious, rather than risk a nagging, long-term issue. The team’s defence had been iffy through two games. Minus Johnson, the top post, help, rim and one-on-one defender on the squad, it was easy to predict what came next. Johnson is an elite rim protector. Greg Stiemsma is the only other Raptor who offers any deterrence at the rim (Bebe isn’t ready yet) and he did not get into the game.

- Effort was a problem for the Raptors on Sunday, and that isn’t often the case for a Dwane Casey-coached squad. Johnson’s absence can’t explain away what happened on the boards. Getting crushed 43-28 in the rebounding department by one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams had to sting. Dwyane Wade nearly outrebounded Toronto’s starters by himself. Most of the discrepancy was a result of effort – Miami had it, Toronto did not – and smarts – The Heat did a better job blocking out and getting to the right areas.

- Patrick Patterson insisted the Heat was still a top opponent, even without LeBron James, then went out and had what might have been his worst outing as a Raptor. As Casey said afterward, it was a really bad time for Patterson to play poorly. He was a complete non-factor, failing to score a point or haul in a rebound. Unfortunately, reality says Johnson is going to miss a few games every so often because of his ankles. Patterson needs to play like he did last season when that happens.

- The Raptors really struggled to defend the pick-and-roll and were particularly susceptible to back-door cuts, often coming off of big-to-big passes. Jack Armstrong noted it on the broadcast, the Chrish Bosh-Josh McRoberts combo is going to produce a smart, high efficiency offence. We’ll see the same thing in Chicago with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

- A lot of people think the Heat are going to fall off and struggle to make the playoffs. I don’t share that view (picked them to finish 5th in the East). This is still a good team. It has some flaws (troubling lack of size, rely too much on Bosh to score), but if  Wade looks like he did on Sunday, they’ll be fine. Wade looked like himself (sure, playing the porous Raptors helped, but still …) he split through the defence at will, getting into the middle whenever he wanted to. Though Wade doesn’t take it all the way to the hoop as often as he liked to, when he sliced through, he easily set up teammates for open looks. Without a true point guard, Wade could be going make to his earlier days, where he was tasked with generating a high level of assists every night. Arguably the best shot-blocking guard of all-time, Wade also got up to make an unreal rejection on a Valanciunas attempt. It’s a long season and Wade will surely wear down, but, for now, he looks like the guy who has been one of the NBA’s best players for a solid decade now.

- One Raptor positive through three games: The play of Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough never looked comfortable in his initial season in Toronto, but has been the first big man off of the bench in 2014-15 and has played well. Hansbrough might have modest stats, but he is getting under the skin of opponents, is hitting the glass, taking charges and not forcing as many shots as he has in the past. It has been a nice-bounce back so far for the former North Carolina legend.

- Another: Kyle Lowry is averaging nine assists for every turnover through three games (though he had only three assists and his first two turnovers of the year against Miami).

- The bottom line: There is no need to panic, it is early yet. Once Johnson comes back, the newcomers get comfortable, Patterson returns to form and the Raptors wake up defensively, this will be a good squad. Are there flaws? Absolutely, but not enough to prevent a top 4 or 5 finish in the East, with the potential to be pretty solid.

- Some bonus stats courtesy of FanSided, via the SportVu tracking cameras (stats are from last season): Only five players shot 50% or better on wide-open threes. Kyle Korver led the way and Terrence Ross was one of them; Opponents guarded DeRozan more closely on three-point attempts than anybody else in the league (4.52 feet away, just ahead of how closely Kevin Durant was covered from beyond the line).

 

Happy new Raptors season, the Points Per Game blog is back; Fear Contract Year Amir; Confident Vasquez leads stellar bench; JV’s Halloween “costume”

- October 30th, 2014

Greetings everyone. With the new Raptors season, the Points Per Game blog, posted the morning after every Raptors game also returns.

As a refresher, this blog is named PPG because I break down a few interesting points from the previous game (I also usually sprinkle in some interesting quotes and relevant quotes).

Let’s get rolling:

- Welcome back Amir Johnson. Johnson, savvy veteran that he is, might just have coasted a bit through the pre-season. Johnson averaged 6.5 points and five rebounds during the exhibition slog and never seemed particularly engaged. That all changed in the opener, where Johnson got off to a fast start and probably was Toronto’s best overall player. Johnson scored 16 points, grabbed 10 boards (five of them offensive, helping the Raptors to a 48-42 advantage on the glass against one of the best rebounders in NCAA history, Paul Millsap, and the excellent Al Horford). Johnson attempted 15 shots (second on the team), something he did only four times all of last season. Johnson had a bounce in his step that wasn’t there earlier this month, in the playoffs against Brooklyn or really, since last February or so. A healthy Amir is a wonderful thing for the Raptors.

- His teammates provided another reason why Johnson was so good Wednesday: “Amir had a great game and it’s a contract year, so he gotta do what he gotta do, huh?” said Greivis Vasquez with a knowing smile. Vasquez was asked whether players keep track of contract year status. “Yeah, like you guys don’t?” Then he continued on Amir: “I don’t blame him. I hope he gets all double doubles, I hope he gets the max.”

- The bench was fantastic and that was the focus of my story last night. A bit more on that: Vasquez was a team-best +11 and looked good playing alongside Lou Williams. Patric Patterson was +10, Williams +8, Tyler Hansbrough +5. For sake of comparing, Kyle Lowry was a -2, a rarity and DeMar DeRozan led the starters at +5 (I’ll say it now and repeat it often, I’m not huge on +/- in basketball, but it was worth mentioning about Wednesday’s game).

- Vasquez on the Louquez pairing: “It’s going to be really interesting. Lou and I, we can do so much. Run pick-and-rolls, he can score, I’m definitely going to get him going, because we need him. He’s big-time, he can score at any time at any given point.”

- Dwane Casey said Hansbrough seems to have a better idea of what he should be doing while on the floor and where he should be and that is leading to improved spacing for the whole team.

- Asked Jonas Valanciunas what his Halloween costume would be … “My face!” he said, pointing to his bushy beard. “That doesn’t even make sense,” I replied as he walked off. Valanciunas just waved his hand in the air, grinning.

- Don’t think the Hawks will be quite as good as the Raptors this season, but that is definitely a playoff team in the East. They zip the ball around the court well, Jeff Teague penetrates at will, creating easy shots and the roster is stocked with gunners, including Kyle Korver, who is flat out ridiculous. Patrick Patterson mentioned afterward that Horford was clearly rusty, given his long layoff and would be back to being a force in no time. When that happens, the Hawks are going to be solid. Thabo Sefolosha was a sneaky good add who will help the Hawks guard the East’s better wings, something DeMarre Carroll can also do.

- Round of applause for the fans. Let’s see how they do when it isn’t a special occasion (I’m sure they’ll still trump most of the rest of the league), but on opening night, they were tremendous.

- Patterson wants the fans to come up with a name for the bench. Get on it, folks.

- Credit to DeMar DeRozan. Couldn’t get things going offensively, forced some shots, couldn’t get a call, but did other things extremely well. Career-high in rebounds (11) and steals (six).

- One thing Casey wants the Raptors to do a much better job of this year is get to the rim. For one night, at least, it was mission accomplished. The Raptors shot 33 free throws, Atlanta just 17. And Toronto, a good free throw shooting team, hit 82% of the shots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors Knicks PPG: The Atlantic’s been won, but not because of efforts like this; Valanciunas laments missed easy ones; Amir and DeMar, longest-serving Raptors, proud; Lots of love for Wiggins boys

- April 12th, 2014

At what point does Toronto’s awful defensive play start to get worrisome? Yes, as Dwane Casey stated, the team is still elite in terms of defensive rating (ninth in the league), but there’s been considerable slippage lately. Winning the Atlantic Division is a notable achievement, as is returning to the playoffs, but if the team doesn’t start playing like it did for most of the season again, the post-season run will be a short one.

- For the first three months following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors ranked No. 4 in the league in defensive rating (100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). Since then (just over a month), Toronto ranks 20th (106.4 defensive rating). That’s a massive difference. Losing Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry for much of the stretch and Patrick Patterson before that has a lot to do with the drastic falloff, but it’s not the only excuse. Fatigue, a lack of practice time and sub-par concentration also could be to blame. Things need to change, and quickly.

- There wasn’t much celebrating going on in the locker room, hard to get too excited when you just lost, they all said, but there was genuine pride in winning the division. “It’s awesome. Wasn’t the way we wanted to do it, but we got it. It’s big man, This is what we’ve been playing for, to get a chance to be in the playoffs and winning the division it’s just a big cherry on top,” Johnson told the Sun. “We’ve got a lot more to go, but it’s a proud moment.”

Johnson on things looking bleak when the team started 6-12: “We kept fighting, some new changes, we stuck with it, we stayed here, we worked hard and it’s definitely, I feel like it’s well-deserved.”

- Jonas Valanciunas continues to surge on the boards. While he uncharacteristically struggled to finish inside, like his teammates (We missed a lot of bunnies. I think we shot 30% inside the three-point line,” Casey said) he was Dwight Howard-like on the glass. He even did the old Moses Malone a couple of times, knocking the ball off of the glass to himself, padding his stats by getting to the ball before anybody else could. Only Chris Bosh, Donyell Marshall and Reggie Evans have hauled in more rebounds in a game as Raptors. Amir’s best is 18 and Kevin Willis once did that as well.

- Casey on the loss: “It’s funny how the expectations change. We go from developing and now all at once we lost to Carmelo Anthony and a team like this and the world (is collapsing). We still have some growing to do. We have a great foundation from where we are. Now we just want to be ready to go into the playoffs with some momentum.”
- Lowry on setting franchise-record for three-point shots and how he’s developed his jump shot: “Hard work, man. It’s part of my game now. You can’t just expect me to be a driver like my first couple years in the league. Now, it’s a threat.”

- It was nice to see Amar’e Stoudemire having a turn back the clock effort. He’s a good guy that has been through a lot. He had a lot of time for Andrew Wiggins post-game. I asked how he knows him and what he said to the potential No. 1 overall draft pick:

“Oh, I met Wiggins back when he was in high school for the Jordan Classic and I was giving him words of encouragement back then before he went off to Kansas,” Stoudemire said post-game. ” Just told him congratulations on a phenomenal year at Kansas and I’ll see him soon (in the NBA).” Kansas alum Cole Aldrich also went over to say hello and Knicks guard Toure Murray, a Wichita State product, did the same to Nick Wiggins and Chadrack Lufile, who are seniors at the school and went undefeated this year until facing Kentucky at the NCAA tournament.

 Some stats: Toronto has still never been 15 games above .500 and will need to win its next two to get there. Valanciunas reached double figures in scoring for the eighth consecutive game. Toronto’s 39-20 record since the trade coming in was the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto had made at least 10 three-pointers in five straight games and shooting about 45% from outside in that stretch. The team fell to 22-9 when it makes 10 or more threes. Toronto is now 11-4 against the Atlantic Division.
- While a Toronto-Brooklyn matchup is looking likely at the moment, if Toronto draws Charlotte, the chatter is the U.S. networks won’t even bother to send up a crew for that series and instead will use the Toronto broadcast. That’s because there will be little interest in watching those two teams in the States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors-Sixers PPG: Valanciunas shakes off distractions and has huge night; Lowry back with a bang; Magic number is one

- April 10th, 2014

We weren’t sure exactly how the night would go for Jonas Valanciunas after a couple of us informally shot the breeze with him before he got some shots up pre-game. His recent brush with the law obviously was on his mind. Would he be able to deal with the distractions? Would a young man who very much cares about being a good person and being liked by all let the situation get to him?

Apparently not. Valanciunas was on a mission from the get-go against the undersized Sixers, scoring three buckets in the paint in each of the first two quarters. He scored four more baskets in close in the third and shot 10-for-14 overall, adding a game-high 12 rebounds and a pair of blocks. It looked like he was taking some of the frustration built over the past few days out on the hapless Sixers. Valanciunas has shot 60% in the paint this season, but was particularly emphatic with his finishing on Wednesday.

- Valanciunas has shot a sizzling 69% from the field over his past 5 games, averaging 18.8 points per game and 61% over his past 20. It was a good sign that his offence didn’t slip even with the return of Kyle Lowry. He’d been getting more touches with Lowry sidelined. After the game he thanked the fans for their support as well as his teammates. On the court, he says his increased productivity stems from feeling more trust from the coaches, his teammates and “Getting the ball, doing what I’m supposed to do. Playing with energy, concentration.”

- Lowry on Valanciunas: “Yeah, I mean he’s a young kid. he’s 21. Everything’s a learning process for him, every single day, every single game, every single part of life. He’s going to grow up and like all of us in here we all grow up and make mistakes. He’s going to make mistakes but the thing about it is we’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves.”

- Lowry on why things are clicking for his big centre: “Much more aggressive, much more hungry. He wants the ball. Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball and I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball because he’s our big fella.”

- DeMar DeRozan added the game seems to be slowing down a bit for Valanciunas and he’s not rushing as much when he gets the ball.

- Lowry also said he was pleased to be back because, “when you miss games, you feel like you’re letting your team down.”

 -A terrible night for Knicks fans would mean a great night for their Raptor counterparts Friday. With New York still mathematically alive, Atlanta will surely be playing inspired basketball against Brooklyn on Friday. That’s good for the Raptors, because a Hawks win clinches the Atlantic Division for Toronto. Or, the Raptors could win in front of the home crowd to also clinch the division. A winning night for both New York City squads would pull the Knicks within a game of eighth place with only three to play and give Brooklyn faint hope of still winning the division.

- The defensive slippage is Toronto’s primary concern at the moment. Part of it is being in the “dog days” as Dwane Casey put it. Players are tired, some teams have nothing to lose and are unpredictable, Amir Johnson, the defensive anchor, has been injured … but part of it is a lack of concentration and desire. At this time of year, meaningless games can be a major challenge to get up for. Toronto has to find a way around it and get back on track. While still eighth in the league in defensive rating, Toronto’s slipped to 17th in the past 10 and past 5 games.

- Casey said the problems have been mostly on the perimeter. Without Johnson to clean up the mess after the initial breakdowns, the team has struggled.