Posts Tagged ‘Terrence Ross

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

- December 15th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

- December 9th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

- December 3rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much Kobe, too little fight; Valanciunas’ defensive improvements intrigue; Silver lining to DeRozan injury?

- December 1st, 2014

On a lot of nights, the Raptors can sleepwalk though a game early, but still come back to win. On Sunday in Los Angeles, without DeMar DeRozan, and with Kobe Bryant turning in a vintage performance, the challenge was just a little too steep.

- So concerned with Bryant, the Raptors converged on him, which left Lakers wide open all evening and Bryant was in a giving mood with the holiday season approaching. His teammates hit enough shots to get him his 20th triple double of his career – and – a much-needed win after four straight losses.

- Don’t get carried away by Toronto’s fine 25 assists, eight turnover numbers. The Lakers are atrocious defensively, so those stats don’t say much, other than the offence wasn’t the problem for the visitors. L.A. shot 57% in the second quarter and outrebounded the Raptors 14-9. You can’t follow one lazy quarter with another and be in good shape to grab a win.

- Yet, despite shooting 1-for-11 from three in the first half, despite Kobe’s near triple-double, the Raptors were within six points of the Lakers. How? Mostly it was because of a 34-12 points in the paint edge through 24 minutes. The Lakers lack rim protectors and Toronto took advantage.

- The Raptors kept attacking in the third quarter, something that powers their offensive attack and is a huge reason why they rank near the top of the NBA in scoring, and it paid off with 12 trips to the free throw line. With DeRozan sidelined, the rest of the players will have to make a concerted effort to make sure they are aggressive. Kyle Lowry can’t do it for 40 minutes a night, it would be too draining over a long season, but the others need to make sure they get to the line early and often.

- You can argue with some of the fouls – including half of the ones called on James Johnson – but the Raptors didn’t exactly deserve this one. Would the timeout Lowry was asking for after a great defensive play by Jonas Valanciunas stopped Bryant in his tracks have given them a shot? Sure, but those are the breaks. In the end, they had a shot in overtime and they couldn’t make it count. They took the Lakers lightly and paid for it, even though Dwane Casey warned Kobe and his teammates would be a “wounded animal” because of their losing streak.

- Tyler Hansbrough returned and played nine of Toronto’s better minutes. Coincidentally or not, the guy who had taken his minutes while he was out, Chuck Hayes, had perhaps his least effective effort of the year. The Lakers bigs converted far too easily throughout this entire game, though, surprisingly, the Lakers didn’t go to them often enough, considering the success they were having.

- They’ve been working a lot for a while now on Valanciunas’ verticality – going straight up to defend attempts at the rim without fouling – and he’s been far better at it this year. He’s also been better defending the pick-and-roll. Those are two great signs for the Raptors.

- It’s too bad that DeRozan will be out until at least the New Year, but the one positive is this will allow other players to gain some confidence as their roles get expanded and it will also give the Raptors a taste of adversity now that could pay off down the line. If you are rolling and everything seems easy, it is easy to get complacent. Complacency in pro sports means death. This shakes things up a little bit and makes DeRozan’s injury not solely a negative thing (though he’d argue differently).

- The trick now is avoiding a third consecutive loss and preventing doubt from creeping in. With DeMarcus Cousins battling a bad bug, the Raptors will have an advantage, but Sacramento has played well this year. You can bet they won’t take the Kings lightly.

- On the stats front, Toronto still ranks a troubling 30th in assist percentage, though leading the league in turnover percentage helps negate that a bit. The Raptors give up too many assists, only six teams surrender more per game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No shame in Raptors dropping that game; Welcome back Amir Johnson; Rare rebounding domination doesn’t pay off; Turnovers were the issue; Rose proud to see the progress of Canadian hoops

- November 29th, 2014

There is nothing wrong with losing to a team as good as the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs lead the NBA, averaging 109.7 points per game, rank second in field goal percentage, first in offensive rating (a ridiculous 114.1 points scored per 100 possessions, well ahead of second-place Toronto’s 110.7), tops in assist-to-turnover ratio and second in effective field goal percentage. It is not hyperbole to say this Dallas squad boasts one of the five best attacks we’ve seen in the NBA in the past 10-15 years.

- Dallas spreads out opponents with lethal three-point shooters everywhere, Dirk Nowitzki remains a sublime, nearly unstoppable force, Monta Ellis can score at will and Tyson Chandler and Brandon Wright are too long and athletic to contain inside and get a ton of easy buckets and put-backs. Whether it’s pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops or getting easy points off of turnovers, these Mavericks are for real (as Dwane Casey said afterward, they’ll be in the money in the West when it’s all said and done).

- Dallas forces a lot of turnovers, but the Raptors were quite sloppy on Friday night too. The team had 17 miscues, nearly twice what they had been averaging coming in (11.2, behind only New Orleans for fewest per game in the NBA) to go with only 17 assists. Meanwhile, Dallas had a ridiculous 27 assists and just eight turnovers. Looking at that number, it is pretty amazing that the Raptors even made a game out of it in the end. 95% of the time, a team will have no chance against an opponent operating at that absurd level of efficiency.

- The turnovers weren’t just one guy having a rough night, six players had at least two, but the starters only had six turnovers – total, none by Jonas Valanciunas in his 28 minutes, which is an excellent sign.

- Amir Johnson had one of his best outings of the season, scoring 20 points, grabbing six offensive rebounds. Johnson was a force, helping compensate for the loss of DeMar DeRozan due to a groin injury. Patrick Patterson also was excellent, turning in a 10 point, 12 rebound double-double. Johnson and Patterson combined to haul in 10 offensive rebounds, four more than the entire Dallas team managed. The board-work (55-37 edge overall) helped keep Toronto in this one.

- Credit Valanciunas for bouncing back after getting dominated by Chandler in the first half. Valanciunas was a different player in his 12 second half minutes, grabbing eight rebounds and scoring eight points. He had no points and five boards through the first two quarters. Chandler still had a big third, but did nothing in the fourth (though Valanciunas only played half of the fourth).

- Currently at practice awaiting word on DeRozan’s status. Not much is known at this point.

- Caught up with Mavs owner Mark Cuban for a one-on-one pre-game and he said Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 title without Casey. Also, was in a scrum with another one of the NBA’s best entertainers, Jalen Rose, and he did not disappoint.

One Jalen quote that didn’t make the paper, on the growth of Canadian basketball: “I’m happy to see the growth that Canada and Toronto in particular has had in basketball. Wiggins came up earlier, being the No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett, I played with Steve Nash, who is a two-time MVP, so it’s not a novelty anymore, for a lot of people to feel: can they really play ball in Toronto? I remember being in eighth grade, I came over here with Michigan AAU, when I was rebounding, that was the only way they were going to keep me around, I was the ball boy. Run and get the Gatorades, rebound for the team. I remember standing on the baseline and we had some great players on our team, Steve Smith, a lot of notables. But I was watching the other end, watching the Toronto players warm up and it was between the legs, 360, I’m  like ‘You guys are going to get killed.’ That’s what I told them. They said ‘Well if they beat us, you’re going to stay here with them.’ Fortunately it was a good game and Michigan won, but I knew at that time that Toronto was on the rise.”

- Rose also said the misconceptions about Toronto as a basketball city are gone: ” I think people get the message now. You don’t hear the mumbling and groaning about players re-signing here. You just got Lou Williams to sign, Kyle Lowry re-signed, DeMar’s on his second contract, Amir’s been here for a long time. I think that novelty is over as it relates to winning. And when you follow winning in the NBA, it always starts from the top down. And I appreciate what Tim Leiweke has done with the franchise, creating a culture, bringing in Masai, who undid a lot of moves in the past that probably weren’t the best moves. So now the city has a team they can really be proud of.”

- One Greivis Vasquez post-game quote: “We have just got to continue to grind. It’s not the end of the world. We lost a game. So what? On to the next one. We get better. We have to defend better. We have to rebound better. We have to play transition defence better. We have to do a lot of different things better. But we’re still, what, 13-3? That’s a pretty good record to me … We fought, we don’t give up that’s one thing about our team that’s going to win us a lot of games down the road

- OK, can never keep the Greivis quotes short because he’s an almost Jalen-level orator. On who steps up if DeRozan has to sit out: “I think we’ve got one of the best, and I say this in a humble way, benches in the league. Somebody else is going to step up. Lou will step in or myself or James or whatever coach wants to do. Now he’s got a squad. He’s got a team. And now he needs to, and he will, put it together. Somebody went down and we almost won. That wasn’t good enough. I think we have guys that can step up and do their job.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

- November 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

- November 10th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vs. Pacers PPG: Short-handed Raptors make a statement; Valanciunas stands tall; Playoff preview; East races tight

- April 5th, 2014

Add another highlight to a season filled with them for the Raptors. Beating the Pacers, the No. 1 team in the East for the vast majority of this season is impressive. Even if Indiana seems to be coming apart at the seams, completely discombobulated, a shadow of its former self, that’s still a statement win. Dwane Casey said as much afterward. It would have been less impressive had Kyle Lowry or Amir Johnson been in the lineup, but without them it was a massive jolt of confidence.
Lowry is the initial point of defence, the quarterback at the top, while Johnson is the anchor at the back, the guy that makes it all work. At the other end, Lowry and DeRozan are the offence, period and Johnson is the most efficient finisher the team has. Those are two huge players to be without.

- How did the win happen then? Well, Jonas Valanciunas was fantastic again, continuing a monster 15-game stretch that has to be quite heartening to team brass. He’s really starting to come into his own at both ends of the floor. Roy Hibbert used to give Valanciunas all kinds of trouble, but Valanciunas whupped him on Friday. Meanwhile, fellow sophomore Terrence Ross did his best to replace Lowry’s offence and even a bit of his defence. Ross has grabbed 20 rebounds and scored 40 points over his past three games.

- The Raptors played tough, refusing to back down. Chuck Hayes and John Salmons were at the forefront of that, but Valanciunas wasn’t backing down either.

- Nando de Colo looks like a bit of a find. The passing was there from the beginning, but now he appears to be gaining some confidence with his jump shot. The Raptors will bring him back for cheap next season and will have an interesting decision to make if Lowry gets the money he deserves (it will be a lot) – let Greivis Vasquez go and save about $1.4 million at the backup PG spot (or bring them both back, Vasquez is due only a small qualifying offer, just over $3M, unless he gets a contract extension or another team signs him to an offer sheet).

- Interesting comments from Dwane Casey related to Tim Leiweke saying he wants to bring Lowry back on a long-term contract.

“That’s out of my department,” Casey said. “That’s the front office. That’s their paycheck. I would if I was general manager of a team. But that’s their decision.

“Kyle has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s helped put us in this position with this team. He’s grown, he’s matured, and that’s huge as far as we’re concerned.”

- The East race is getting mighty tight. Brooklyn and Chicago kept pace with the Raptors with blowout wins.

Toronto now has home games against Philadelphia, New York and Milwaukee and road tilts with Milwaukee, Detroit and New York. The Knicks are highly motivated, but the rest of the games could be cakewalks, with, or without Lowry and Johnson.

Chicago has home games against Detroit and Orlando and road meetings with Atlanta, Washington, Minnesota, New York and Charlotte. That’s far more challenging, so the math says the Raptors will finish ahead of Chicago, but once again, that’s why they play the games.

Brooklyn has a game in hand on both teams and will play Atlanta, Orlando and New York at home and Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando and Cleveland on the road, but sits three games back in the win column. Toronto holds tie-breakers over both Chicago and Brooklyn in the event they finish tied.

- Washington survived against the Knicks by a point, so held serve with Charlotte. The Bobcats and Wizards will meet in a huge contest in Washington next Wednesday. If Charlotte wins, it owns the tie-breaker if they end up even.

 

 

Hawks PPG – 4th Quarter Kingz; Lowry wills another win; DeRozan big too; Ross solves Teague problem with his D; Hayes provides a lift; Vasquez balling

- March 24th, 2014

The media has been referring to the 2013-14, post-trade Toronto basketball team as the “Bizarro Raptors” for some time now. They showed why once again on Sunday. For a good decade now, Raptors teams made a habit of either fighting back from a big deficit only to lose in demoralizing fashion right at the end or of blowing leads in the clutch. Not anymore.

Trailing 74-60 early in the fourth quarter, things looked bleak for the home side and the – ‘The Raptor is a jinx’ – angles were already being written up with the mascot returning Sunday. Then Nando de Colo decided to hit his first shot as a Raptor and it was a huge one. It restored some life to what had been a quiet building and sparked the Raptors. It came off of a great pass from Chuck Hayes, who had a quietly excellent game in true Chuck Hayes, understated fashion. Hayes played some superb defence in the fourth when a battered Amir Johnson was getting some rest. The length of Jonas Valanciunas – missed the other night when he was injured – also was quite useful. Atlanta’s bigs are talented and have long arms and wide posteriors, but they are shorter than Toronto’s bigs (Hayes aside).

- Valanciunas has his faults as a help defender, but he really played well on Sunday. When the quick Atlanta players got by their initial defender in the fourth, Valanciunas was a wall, making them adjust their shots.

- Without Kyle Korver, the three-point happy Hawks just weren’t the same. They didn’t attempt as many as usual and they weren’t nearly as effective from outside. No surprise there considering Korver’s one of the three best outside shooters in the league.

- Jeff Teague dominated the Raptors in the previous meeting, but this time, Terrence Ross did a solid job keeping the speedy Teague in front of him. Ross didn’t do a perfect job, Teague’s a hard player to prevent from driving, but he did far better than any Toronto player managed previously. Teague had to work a lot harder.

- At the other end, Kyle Lowry simply lit Teague up. Once again, Lowry would not be denied in the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozan also stepped up again. A weird note:: Lowry attempted three long twos, quite odd for the analytics crowd’s poster child (he almost always only takes threes and inside shots).

- Amir Johnson’s pain threshold is ridiculous. Has to be one of the toughest players in the entire NBA.

- Like in the New Orleans game, Toronto appeared poised to give up a very winnable game in disappointing fashion. Luckily, the team can do little wrong in the fourth quarter. With Brooklyn charging and Chicago not going away, grinding out both of those wins could end up being huge.

- Greivis Vasquez continues to be Toronto’s top reserve in the absence of Patrick Patterson, who thankfully should return soon. Vasquez has put together several strong games in a row and has found his missing jump shot.

- Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto is +252, behind only title contenders Los Angeles (Clippers), Oklahoma City and San Antonio. In fourth quarters, Toronto is a completely absurd +203. Miami’s next in final quarters at just +100. Again, the number is ridiculous.