Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Lowry

Encouraging signs as Raptors show heart in win over Miami but Valanciunas needs to be much smarter; Clinching homecourt is an achievement

- April 12th, 2015

MIAMI — In a game that was mostly dreadful to watch thanks to some whistle-happy referees and the ensuing, rather unpleasant free throw shooting, the Raptors showed some encouraging signs.

- DeMar DeRozan continues to play like a top 10 player in the NBA, a streak that has been going on now since March 1st. He has been fantastic and has been carrying the team, particularly in the clutch when he keeps making the right decisions. Lou Williams has gone red-hot again, poor Tyler Johnson had no answers for him and Kyle Lowry did the little things (seven rebounds – five of them in the crucial fourth quarter, three steals, a huge stop on Dwyane Wade late) to make up for his AWOL jump shot and his handing out just one assist. Tyler Hansbrough continues to play tremendous basketball, Greivis Vasquez might be getting his shot back and even Terrence Ross showed some fire that we’ve rarely seen.

- Ross took it to the basket more than we’ve seen for most of the season. He got five rebounds, which is rare for him, and just seemed far more willing to battle and go into tough spots than he usually does. Patrick Patterson also took it inside for two straight scores, including a monster dunk . If Patterson and Ross suddenly start venturing inside more often, the Raptors become less predictable and even harder to stop.

- It wasn’t all good, the defence still sprang a lot of leaks – especially in a first half that Dwane Casey called “one of our worst halves of basketball.” “We could have folded the tent in after the first half, even though we were getting drilled every which way possible,” Casey said.

- Jonas Valanciunas turned in possibly his worst ever performance. He was dominated by Hassan Whiteside and did not respond well to all of the fouls called against him, which barely allowed him to stay on the court. “He had some silly fouls, grabbing fouls, getting into a ‘rassling match. You can’t do that. And when you get upset with the officials, they’re human and he’s got to learn to keep his emotions under check,” Casey said. “I love his passion, I love his give-a-you-know-what level but he’s got to keep his emotions under control and not let it get him tangled up because a lot of times, he’s getting the short end of the stick.”

- The “give-a-(bleep)” reference wasn’t the only tie to the Maple Leafs minutes after the hockey team’s season mercifully ended. Lowry was sporting a Leafs hat and was told he was brave for doing that, given what a joke they have become. “I’ve just got to represent a little bit, Lowry said. “That’s the home team so I’m still representing them.”

- Lowry shook off  Casey’s play-call, but there was no issue, he saw something he thought would work and it did. “That’s one thing about coach and our relationship, he trusts me,” Lowry said.  “He wanted to call something, I felt very strongly about it, I was on the floor and he said go ahead with it. It worked and it’s not an I told you so thing, it’s a trust level thing.”

- Lowry on the brief time he played wearing a headband: ” I don’t know, just trying something new. It was too hot. Honestly, I would’ve kept wearing it but it was soaking wet,” he said. “I might wear one Tuesday, I might wear it Wednesday, I might wear it in the playoffs. Who knows?”

- Chicago was losing to Philadelphia for much of Saturday night, but came back in the end to keep pace with the Raptors. It appears the battle for third place will come right down to the wire. Chicago has a tough game against Brooklyn on Monday and finishes against an Atlanta team that likely will be resting players. Toronto has a back-to-back with Boston (battling for a playoff spot) and Charlotte (eliminated). Chicago would need to win an extra game to claim third, since Toronto has the tie-breaker, so, right now, the odds say Toronto will get third spot and meet the Milwaukee Bucks.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not the prettiest game but Raptors will take win in Orlando; Lowry back with a bang; Hansbrough deserves more time but James Johnson needs to play too

- April 11th, 2015

ORLANDO — The Kyle Lowry comeback game was a rousing success – other than the fact he had to play about five more minutes than the Raptors would have preferred. Lowry had some rust, but still had a huge impact in the game in an impressive performance. And his presence opened things up for other scorers, like DeMar DeRozan who has been a top 10 overall player the past five weeks or so, and Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Tyler Hansbrough.

- Yes, old problems reappeared – specifically not being able to haul in a rebound at crucial times (how many chances were they going to give Nikola Vucevic?) and not guarding the three well enough (Lowry admitted Victor Oladipo, usually a slasher, surprised him by pulling up for a three). But overall, it was a good effort against a young team that plays extremely hard. The Raptors needed to match that intensity to win and they did.

- DeRozan has been spectacular recently, responding better than anyone could have imagined to one of the toughest stretches of his career. He is back in all-star form, perhaps playing his best basketball ever.

- Hansbrough has given the Raptors a lift. They might need to consider extending his minutes even when Amir Johnson returns. He gives them the attitude they sorely lack to start most games. He will go after the ball and knock heads. He has been smarter and less preoccupied with scoring the ball this season and it has paid off for him. He has been setting nice screens and rebounding. The only issue is his finishing, but he deserves more time.

- Of course so does James Johnson and his DNP-CD was a head scratcher against a team as athletic as Orlando. Especially when Terrence Ross got hurt (though the team prefers him as a power forward). If Johnson can’t play when Amir is out, against a team of greyhounds, when can he play?

- Smart foul by the Raptors late on Elfrid Payton, forcing Orlando to call a new play. It worked out better than Boston getting a chance to call a new play the other day.

- DeRozan had been just 2-for-28 on non-corner three pointers this season before hitting a massive one. He hit three in all, two from the corners where he shoots a solid percentage (particularly from the right corner).

- These are the types of things Lowry provides: Tough driving layup while being fouled to start the fourth quarter; A great pass to a cutting Chuck Hayes for a score; Rebounds in traffic; A big three when it was needed.

- Lowry said he spent his early time off of the court in the game stretching his back on the sideline to keep it loose. Later, he returned to the bench when he was of because he knew he would only be getting a brief rest.
- DeRozan on the Lou Williams game-winner: ” I just took what they gave me. I saw Lou going to the corner. Once I saw that I knew I was going to make the play.”

- Hansbrough on the dunk with about 1:30 remaining that was set up by Williams and ended up being a crucial play: “Oh yeah, definitely. It was a great pass by Lou, my man was up, expecting Lou to make a play and Lou found me under the basket,” Hansbrough said.

- Casey likes what he sees in the young Magic. “That young team is going to be really, really athletic Their speed and quickness is second-to-none.” They will need to find some shooters, but in Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, Orlando has three stat-stuffing, high energy, potential defensive stars going forward. But it will take time. Casey sees them as being in the same situation Toronto was a couple of seasons ago and it isn’t easy to go from OK to solid the way it is to go from bad to OK.

 

 
 

 

 

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

- March 28th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- March 17th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Troubling signs as Raptors collapse against Pelicans

- February 24th, 2015

It all looked so promising early on. Responding to a lethargic performance in Houston that disappointed head coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors came out aggressive and intense against New Orleans. The defence was superb particularly from Kyle Lowry, James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and nobody could stop Valanciunas inside. But that all faded and eventually, “they played harder than us,”  Lowry said of the Pelicans. That’s two out of the past three games that an opponent “threw a bigger punch” than the Raptors and seemed to want it more. That’s a bit troubling.

- Also troubling: The lack of creativity on offence. The Raptors are a three-point shooting team and that’s not going to change, as Lowry also pointed out, but how can a team that runs such efficient out of timeout plays, be so brutal at the end of quarters and of games? The Lou Williams isolation plays don’t work, because there is no variety and opponents know what to expect. You might get a call on the road with your six foot guard driving into a 7-foot shot-blocker once or twice a season. It’s just a bad decision by Lowry, the success rate is tiny. Even Casey said the team wasn’t running the plays and was just trying to “take an opportunity to do something different.” Again, troubling. DeMar DeRozan’s 22-foot fadeaways? Also troubling. DeRozan has been extremely effective when he moves the ball, doesn’t force his shots and takes what the defence is giving him. That’s the all-star version of DeRozan. We have only seen it sporadically. Perhaps it is patience that Lowry and DeRozan lack? Instead of forcing, if they’d just slow it down and make better decisions (like keeping Valanciunas involved) the Raptors would be a lot more threatening and it would be far easier to see them as a legitimate contender to make the Eastern Conference Finals or at least win a round and nearly take another. Right now, that seems like wishful thinking. Masai Ujiri gets this. It’s why he didn’t make a small move and it is why huge changes are coming the next two summers as he puts his stamp on a team that is still heavily-dominated by Bryan Colangelo acquisitions.

- Lou Williams was badly missed in Houston and Patrick Patterson was badly missed in this one. The team has grown used to closing games with Patterson on the floor and obviously couldn’t, due to his knee injury. Patterson is one of the three best pick-and-roll defenders on the team and also has a habit of hitting big shots for the club. If he had been healthy, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

- The play of Terrence Ross is still a gigantic concern. They let him play the entire second quarter and Ross only scored once on four tries, didn’t grab a rebound and like usual, didn’t get to the line. He did make at least one big shot though. All they can do is be patient in the off-season, as nobody will trade anything of value for him at this point with his value cratered.

- The coaching staff has been great all season and I’ve been the first to point it out and don’t want to seem like I’m piling on today, but why play the starters so much in the third? Three of them played the whole frame, DeRozan only a minute and a half less. Of course they were going to be tired in the fourth with Patterson sidelined. Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough should have battled against the plodding Omer Asik, allowing Amir Johnson or Valanciunas to get some rest to be fresh for the fourth (part of the reason Valanciunas didn’t play during the decisive final minutes was because the team said he didn’t have enough in the tank …). The team was up 11 when DeRozan split a pair of free throws half-way through the third, that was the perfect time to give the bigs and Lowry a break (or even up eight with three minutes left). Give the Pelicans full marks for coming back, but part of it was due to Toronto’s fatigue.

- The Raptors are adamant that James Johnson is not an infallible one-on-one defender – he makes a lot of mistakes, he just covers up for them extremely quickly – and Tyreke Evans still had his way with him, but still believe Johnson on Evans would have made more sense than Greivis Vasquez. Evans likely still blows by Johnson, but Johnson would have made him work harder and perhaps thrown him off a bit. Still, why don’t players back up off of Evans? He is a well below average shooter and a fantastic driver. Give him more room and dare him to shoot over you.

- Amir Johnson got annihilated down low, mainly by Alexis Ajinca. The Pelicans shot 10-for-13 against him at the rim, just 4-for-9 against Valanciunas.

Raptors still have Washington’s number; DeRozan just gets it done; Lowry play was vintage Kyle Lowry

- February 12th, 2015

As we said here the last time the Raptors took on the Wizards, sometimes teams just match up well against certain opponents and seem to have their number. That seems to be the case with the Raptors, as three wins in three tries this year against Washington indicate. Toronto also blew out the Wizards at the Verizon Center last year and the Raptor players seem to be able to do whatever they want offensively against John Wall and Co. Sure, the shooting percentage might not always look great, but whenever they’ve needed a big play, a big shot, or a game-changing offensive play, they have come through. The fact that both Nene and Marcin Gortat never seem to both play well against Toronto at the same time also might be a factor – and not having to go up against Bradley Beal doesn’t hurt either.

- Speaking of poor shooting numbers, DeMar DeRozan is shooting a career-low 39.4% from the field, yet his presence in the lineup is absolutely vital for the Raptors. In this case, shooting percentage is not everything. DeRozan gets to the free throw line at an elite rate (more on that here). He takes all kinds of pressure off of Kyle Lowry, giving the Raptors a two-headed monster on offence. His ability to draw fouls puts the Raptors in the bonus earlier in games and also forces opposing coaches to go to their bench players earlier than they would like to. When DeRozan is moving the ball, he also creates plenty of good looks for his teammates. He also has taken strides defensively and is averaging 1.3 steals a game. Particularly when he is at his natural shooting guard position, the team’s defence just looks better than it does when he is absent. The team is 24-8 when he has played this season.

- The Raptors have been subbing offence for defence or vice versa late in games more often recently. It was a great call to put Jonas Valanciunas back in for Lou Williams in the dying seconds. The big man’s length made Wall’s desperation potential winner far more difficult. You try shooting over a nearly 8-foot (when he is straight up and jumping) wall.

- At one point, there was a footrace between Lowry and Wall, perhaps the NBA’s fastest player. Nobody thought Lowry had a chance to win the race, but he did. Lowry slid on the ground to come up with the ball (sticklers would say he traveled, but it was too entertaining a play to call). “Calculated risk, baby, calculated risk,” Lowry said of his decision to abandon the spring and hit the court. “I’m pretty smart when it comes to that type of stuff.”

“It hurts, but it doesn’t matter, because we won the game. At the end of the day, we won the game and I’m excited that we won the game and we’re going into the break on a high note,” Lowry said.

- “That’s him, that’s the type of player he is. That’s Kyle Lowry,” DeRozan added.

- Final word to Dwane Casey: “We’re not going to out-talent anybody, we’ve got to do it collectively. If we don’t grind it, get on the floor for loose balls – like when Kyle dove on the floor from like 15 feet and hurt his hand, those are the plays we need to make.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors need to show same energy and effort level against every team as they do against elite

- February 9th, 2015

DeMar DeRozan called it. Before Toronto’s weekend dates against the Clippers and Spurs, DeRozan mentioned how the Raptors would be ready to play and up for the encounters. The 2014 all-star said he and his teammates love to measure themselves against the very best and prove that they are for real. That’s well and good, but the trick for this team is to bring the same type of will against the league’s dregs and mediocre outfits. It won’t happen all the time of course, but too often, the Raptors play down to the level of the competition.

- The Raptors played a solid game on Sunday against San Antonio and were full marks for the victory, but it could easily have gone the other way. The Spurs just had one of those nights where nothing falls. They got a ton of good shots – something Dwane Casey was quick to point out – but just missed them. Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will each shoot below 30% maybe twice a season, if that. It was an anomaly. It was partly good Toronto defence – particularly in the paint, where Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson were superb – but on the outside, it was mostly just horrid Spurs marksmanship. Hey, the Raptors will take it.

“We are trying to get where they are and where they’ve been,” said Kyle Lowry. “It’s a great test for us. They know every night that they are getting every team’s best shot because of who they are. For us, it’s a stepping-stone.”

- Casey really played rope-a-dope with us. For days, he made a point of explaining why James Johnson was a great fit as an undersized power forward, but was not great as a small forward. Then, he inserted Johnson into the starting lineup – as a three. Against Kawhi Leonard, it made a ton of sense. Leonard himself is a guy who can be an undersized four, or a huge three. Casey only said “we’ll see” about whether Johnson would stay the starter at the three, with DeRozan moving back to shooting guard and it could depend on matchups (if the opponent plays a smaller lineup, or a more traditional one). Keeping Johnson in the starting lineup full-time makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. He isn’t good at defending the pick-and-roll, but he can quickly recover for his mistakes and is a very good help defender, improves the rebounding significantly, and is excellent in transition. Amir Johnson and an improved  Valanciunas down low can help him out if he gets burned on pick and rolls.

- Of course James Johnson hit the game-winner from three from the corner after bricking most of those attempts all season. The Raptors Bingo card is getting pretty full.

- Amir looked pretty spry in this one, particularly with his help defence and when he charged to the hoop for a crucial dunk late. He said he believed he could take Tim Duncan off of the dribble, so wanted to take advantage of that and he was right.

- Pop remains one of a kind. A couple of quotes:

On figuring out his rotation: “If I could do that, that would be good. It’s better than the alternative, not knowing what’s going on. We’re trying to get there.”

On watching the Raptors on tape: “I haven’t watched any film. I don’t watch any (other teams) too much. I’ll do it at home, turn on the TV here or there, but not to scout, mostly because the last time I checked, we weren’t undefeated. We do a lot of things wrong. I spend most of my time trying to figure out what we need to do. Once you get on the court, it’s all the same. It’s basketball. There is no new pick and roll defence. There is no post defence. There are no magic plays. The guys that compete and execute the best for the longest period of time win the ball game. It’s not that difficult.”

 

Nets provide latest reminder that something is truly rotten with these Raptors; Don’t do the expected switch, do the smart switch; We’ll miss Garnett

- February 5th, 2015

- Dwane Casey has urged calm, pointing to Toronto’s great record and place in the standings, but if the Raptors want to bury their heads in the sand, they’ll be in fourth place and the underdogs in any potential first-round playoff matchup before they know it. Simply put, things aren’t working. The two point guard starting lineup experiment needs to end, the all-star break needs to arrive – yesterday – to give Kyle Lowry the rest he is dying for – the players need to make smarter decisions on offence and a change needs to be made with the starting lineup, two, in fact (more on that shortly).

- Lowry had a great offensive start, but continues to get annihilated by pretty much any opposing point guard. Greivis Vasquez guards the point sometimes, to take some pressure off of Lowry, but it doesn’t seem to be working. When Lowry is tasked with it, too often over the past month or so, he is barely in a defensive stance, or is not in position to prevent an opponent from driving, unimpeded into the lane. Vasquez doesn’t do it either. DeMar DeRozan is just OK at it. That puts all kinds of pressure on the big men to cover up for everything, and it’s just not possible for someone to do that unless they are Anthony Davis, a young Tim Duncan, a healthy Joakim Noah, or maybe a couple of others.

- The move that surely is coming – re-inserting Terrence Ross in for Vasquez – is not the answer. It will be better than what we’ve been seeing, but if the Raptors really want to improve without making a deal, when James Johnson is healthy, the smartest thing to try would be inserting him at small forward and Patrick Patterson for Amir Johnson at power forward. Amir has been resurgent, but he is going to be a crucial piece later in the season and in the playoffs and getting more rest and less wear and tear, would go a long way. Plus he would pair up great with Vasquez on the pick-and-roll against second units, with Ross waiting to bomb away and Tyler Hansbrough providing energy and rebounding. The first unit would have great size, good mobility, better defensive resistance and rebounding and enough shooting, given how well Patterson has played. The Raptors coaching staff doesn’t love the idea, but they should try it.

- Mike Ganter wrote a short piece on it (unfortunately didn’t make it on-line), but if you missed it, Wednesday might have been Kevin Garnett’s final game in Toronto (barring another playoff matchup). I know most Raptors fans dislike the guy, but you have to feel nostalgic when you realize that Garnett’s the only active player that was in the league when the Raptors started, 20 seasons ago (even more amazing when you realize Damon Stoudamire, the rookie of the year for Toronto in that inaugural season, has been out of the NBA now for seven years). He didn’t play here too often for most of the time when he was basically the forerunner to Anthony Davis (when he was with Minnesota and an MVP-level player, he only made one trip to Toronto a year), but he made up for it by becoming a memorable heel once he arrived in Boston (and later, with Brooklyn).

“You are talking about one of the best communicators ever to play the game as far as talking on defence and communicating to his teammates,” said Dwane Casey, who coached Garnett in Minnesota.
“The air in practice, the air in the gym changes when he walks in because he loves practice and he loves to compete. You just wish all young guys coming into the league could take that from him. His competitive edge and his competitive spirit.”

Despite big Raptors comeback that was a deserved Bucks win; DeRozan can be baffling; Time to unleash Valanciunas

- February 3rd, 2015

You could see that one coming. For various reasons, after taxing road trips (and the Brooklyn-Washington overtime/overtime set definitely was taxing) teams playing their first game at home tend to come out incredibly flat. That was the Raptors against Milwaukee on Monday night at the ACC. Having no jump wasn’t the only reason they eventually came up short, but it was a big one. Credit the Bucks as well. Jason Kidd looked over his head for the first few months of his coaching career with Brooklyn last season, but eventually adjusted and looked quite comfortable. He’s done an even better job in Milwaukee, turning around the last-place team from a year ago. The Bucks now boast the second-best defence in the NBA and it was easy to see why on this night. Sure, the Raptors helped (more on that later), but the Bucks are long, athletic, quick and aggressive. They just don’t give you a lot of space.

- Dwane Casey has been consistent in his reasoning for not playing Jonas Valanciunas down the stretch in most games. If opponents don’t put a true, hefty centre out there, Valanciunas usually is going to sit – no matter how much he has bulldozed the opponent the rest of that evening at the other end or on the boards. Valanciunas was dominant again, but sat again. Casey rightly believes that Valanciunas cannot “scramble” defensively – cover the areas the last line of defence needs to in Toronto’s schemes – as effectively as Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson (or even Tyler Hansbrough, who has had a stealthy solid season off of the bench). Valanciunas is improving in that area and got a chance to test that development in a recent game against Sacramento -“You know, that’s an extra trust in me, so, that’s building my confidence,” Valanciunas had said at the time – but he’s still not as good at it as the others. On the flip side, he’s become the most efficient offensive option on the team (though that gets negated somewhat late in games because his teammates tend to chuck shots themselves instead of look for him the further along games go) and is the best rebounder. He’s also become quite solid defending the rim (well above average rim protection stats). So there’s a tradeoff both ways. My argument has always been that to get where the Raptors need to go, they need to have Valanciunas on the floor. He does too many good things and helps them out in too many areas now (and he surely will get better) to sit. It’s short term gain for long term pain.

- More from Valanciunas on the topic after he did play late against Sacramento and chased around Carl Landry and Jason Thompson: “To see coach give me more time to play and be out there when they go small, that’s extra trust in me. I hope I’m going to gain coaches’ trust even more.”

“I’m going to be in a scramble mode, got to get out, got to do my job. That’s kind of my job, to protect everything. To be able to rotate, we do big-to-big,” he said.

- DeMar DeRozan sure can be baffling. He can string together a number of games making smart decisions, moving the ball, trying to find better looks, then he’ll start chucking up horrible long two-point attempts with large degrees of difficulty, hurting the cause. It happened against Milwaukee and it happens often. If DeRozan could stifle the urge to force his game some nights, he’d be a far better and more effective player and the Raptors would be more effective as well. Make one more pass, feed it inside to Valanciunas, or simply attack the basket, since there aren’t 10 guys in the league who do that more effectively than DeRozan. Part of it is tired legs, part of it is stubborness, part of it is just the NBA mentality of the stars needing to get tons of shots. ESPN recently posited that DeRozan has become “More Rudy than Rudy.” I don’t agree with that, but when he puts the blinders on, you can see where that viewpoint comes from.

- What a stupid decision by O.J. Mayo. With his team short-handed (no Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, etc.) and playing well, the supposed veteran leader hurt his team’s cause greatly by getting himself kicked out for swearing at the referee. In that situation, you just have to be smarter.

The best and the worst of the Raptors in one night; Casey accentuates the positives; A statement weekend; Raptors going big on the Seahawks

- February 1st, 2015

WASHINGTON — What a long, strange trip that was. The Raptors had a real Jekyll and Hyde type of evening against the Wizards on Saturday, playing ridiculously well in the first half, and extremely poorly – letting many old problems resurface – in the second half. But in the end, the Raptors beat a really solid, rested Wizards team on the road, showed some resiliency and delivered a statement win. They sure like to make things interesting though. “We’re a drama team,” was the take from Greivis Vasquez and it wasn’t that long ago that DeMar DeRozan labelled the Raptors a soap opera team that loves to entertain.

- Sure, they blew a huge lead, again, but Dwane Casey gave them a pass because they were playing for the fourth time in five nights in four different cities and that’s a totally valid point. The only issue here is they need to analyze why they blow leads so frequently (even if they usually come back and win in the end) in order to get better and not let it happen as much. Kyle Lowry was asked if it is difficult to balance going into a bit of a “prevent mode” instead of keeping on the accelerator when leads balloon that high.

“I think it’s definitely happens a lot,” Lowry replied.  “We have to learn to fight through it and keep playing fast and keep playing and pushing the tempo.”

- The trick is doing that while still staying under control. Lowry, Lou Williams and others were guilty of forcing a lot of bad shots, far too early in the shot clock, which, along with no defensive resistance on penetration, allowed Washington to mount its furious rally. Lowry and Williams aren’t going to change, they are aggressive and shoot first and ask questions later. It works for them. They also hit huge shots and won the game for the Raptors, so you have to take the good with the bad, but a little bit more patience with large leads would help.

- Amir Johnson is really playing well. He had a fantastic January, averaging 11 points and six rebounds, playing great defence and shooting 60% from the field. Over the past five games, he has shot 72% from the floor. He even hit a road three-pointer, his second of the season. Patrick Patterson has played well beside him and said “we are the same person” meaning they try to do the same things defensively and it works.

- Casey called DeRozan “The Little O,” saying let’s not get carried away and compare him to the Big O, Oscar Robertson, but still appreciate his all-around game right now. He had a poor shooting night, but DeRozan still led the team in rebounds and assists and got to the free throw line nine times.

- This was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors won back-to-back overtime games on consecutive nights. They just keep setting new marks. They basically won the Atlantic Division by surviving against the Nets and doubled their lead against Washington and won the season series. Statement delivered.

- There might not be another team in the league that backs the Seattle Seahawks as much as the Raptors. There is no question who that room was rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday. Casey is neighbours with Seahawks punter Jon Ryan (a Canadian) and is friends with Pete Carroll. Casey has spent time at Seahawks training camp and wears the team colours often. TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg conducted an informal poll and every Raptor that had a rooting interest but one, Tyler Hansbrough, backed the Seahawks.