Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors

Celtics have Raptors late-game number; No DeRozan what did you expect; 6Man battle disappoints; Strong return for Amir Johnson

- April 14th, 2015

After two rough losses to the Celtics in a matter of days, the Raptors have to be glad they won’t see Brad Stevens and his team again. Boston has had some luck in the wins, but you also need to credit Stevens for the way this group has executed over the past two months. They aren’t the greatest team, but they are in the right spots nearly all the time, something nobody says about the Raptors, particularly defensively.

- Don’t go all X-Files on DeMar DeRozan not playing. While his fall looked bad the other night and it appeared he might have re-injured his groin, everyone has denied it, DeRozan returned to that game and played well. It might seem odd that he didn’t practice on Monday, but why risk anything at this point. The Raptors made the smart move of resting him, even if it likely cost the franchise a shot at 50 games. Again, it was the right call. While 50 wins would have been nice, winning a round is a lot more important and getting DeRozan a rest after he played a ton of minutes over the past six weeks will pay off down the line.

- On that note, it must have heartened the club to see Amir Johnson back after his four-game injury absence, especially since he was excellent. Johnson had been playing some of his best ball of the season when he got hurt by landing on the foot of a teammate and he was surprisingly in form, despite the layoff, in this one, with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes. I’ve made the case in this space before and will stick with the belief that cutting Johnson’s minutes a bit would pay off. While 15 minutes isn’t enough, his usual 25-30 is a bit high, especially if Tyler Hansbrough is playing as well as he has been recently (not to mention the team will need to find some time for James Johnson against either Paul Pierce or Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs) – though Hansbrough had his worst game in weeks on Tuesday (to make it worse, even when he was doing something right, he got burned, when Jae Crowder made that ridiculous winning shot over him). With Hansbrough struggling, James Johnson needed to play more.

- Kyle Lowry hitting 2-of-4 three-point attempts was a good sign, but his 6-for-20 shooting was not. His timing is still off thanks to missing so many games. It isn’t just with jump shots either, he said his drives are off as well as he isn’t quite getting the separation he needs. Lowry has one more left to try to figure it out before the playoffs start. Always love the Lowry-Marcus Smart matchup. The refs let them play. Cool to see how it developed since the pre-season in Maine.

- The most troubling thing: Once again the Raptors got destroyed on the offensive glass. This has been a bad rebounding team all year but surrendering 17 offensive rebounds is just not acceptable. You can see it coming – when the team loses in the playoffs, one of the major reasons why will because it can’t rebound, particularly late in games. It is a fatal flaw that only upgrades at power forward and small forward in the off-season can solve.

- The sixth man race should be Lou Williams, Isaiah Thomas and Nikola Mirotic. Jamal Crawford has not been good enough to deserve another shot, Rudy Gobert wasn’t that good as a reserve and Andre Igoudala has a ridiculous team around him Neither Williams or Thomas helped their case in this one. Williams had a rough night and Thomas struggled with his shooting as well. Still, Williams hit a ton of free throws and Thomas collected a lot of assists without making many mistakes, so the night wasn’t all bad for them.

- The Raptors have been a great third quarter team this season, but without DeRozan in this one, that frame was the difference. They were totally outplayed.

- On an unrelated note, was great to see the basketball community turn out at the BioSteel All-Canadian Game. It was a fun event, with a lot of talent on hand.

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 take care of business against Andrew Wiggins and the Wolves; North fans impress again

- April 2nd, 2015

Mentioned after the Houston game that it felt a bit like a potential turning point for the Raptors and while the Wolves stink and were missing a few players, the visitors still took care of business on Thursday night. For once, the team came out hard and extremely effective, picking up 10 assists on 12 made baskets in the first quarter. Minnesota, minus Ricky Rubio and the traded Corey Brewer, is pretty bad defensively, but Toronto has played bad clubs all season without posting that kind of efficiency. The ball movement was much better 25 assists on 42 makes). The defence still left a lot to be desired, but they got away with it.

- Minnesota didn’t attempt one shot at the rim against Jonas Valanciunas. First time that’s happened and Minnesota barely went inside in general.

- Great job by the fans packing the building and cheering loudly for the Raptors. Hopefully none of them got in fights with Minnesota supporters by claiming the Raptors will steal Andrew Wiggins at some point.

- As much as many fans would prefer to see James Johnson starting – and we’ve argued for it as well, as long as Patrick Patterson also is out there – you can’t argue that the team’s record has been massively superior with Terrence Ross starting. It is also clear that DeMar DeRozan plays far better with Ross spacing the floor for him. Defensively, it isn’t ideal, but the offence functions better with Ross starting, especially now that he has heated up from three (44% in March after three straight terrible shooting months).

- Amir Johnson has been great (on limited attempts) from three at home this season (12-for-18 or 67%) but just 5-for-23 on the road before going 2-for-4 on Thursday. Johnson tied his career high with six assists, also set against Minnesota back in 2011.

- Greivis Vasquez didn’t post particularly impressive stats, but he was  +26 and along with Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Williams, arguably the best player on the floor

- The Raptors shot a ridiculous 62.8% on contested shot attempts. Once again, the Wolves are very, very bad defensively (though the offence deserves some of the credit for playing extremely well). Toronto is back up to third in the NBA in offensive rating and can still close to about 21st in defensive rating (from the current 25th) with some good performances down the stretch.

- It was only a garbage time think, but who else enjoyed Landry Fields at the point? He’s one of the team’s smartest players, a solid ball-handler and passer. He touched the ball 11 times and passed it 10 times, so certainly contributes to the Toronto ball-movement.

- With seven games left and a three-game advantage, plus the tiebreaker, the Raptors have all but clinched home-court advantage over the Wizards in the first round, barring an incredible collapse and a Washington run. Toronto won’t have an easy time of it against teams fighting for their playoff lives from this point (Boston twice, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte twice, plus Orlando, the only team out of the hunt), but it would take a lot for the playoffs not to open at the ACC.

- Hope everyone enjoyed the Bruno Caboclo-Wiggins show, brief as it was.

DeRozan’s career night powers Raptors past depleted Rockets

- March 31st, 2015

I’ve covered about 60% of DeMar DeRozan’s games live since he entered the league (home and away) and watched the rest. Not sure I’ve ever seen him play better than he did against Houston and old pal James Harden on Monday night. When he hit some of those incredibly tough shots in the corner, you knew it was going to be DeRozan’s night, but he just kept getting it done, even though he was fighting the ball a bit when he was dribbling at times. He became just the fourth Raptor (Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and the one and only Acie Earl) with a 40 point, 10 rebound game to his credit. He also became just the seventh player to do that this season (only the third guard). As impressive as the offence was – especially all of the clutch finishes – it was DeRozan’s defence on James Harden and his rebounding that made this his best game yet. DeRozan was the first to admit that playing at an elite level on both ends is incredibly difficult, so he had to pick his spots, but he did it well against a depleted Rockets team. If he can play even half as well in the playoffs as he did in this one, the Raptors will be in good shape, especially if Kyle Lowry returns at close to 100%.

- In 15 March games DeRozan was fantastic, averaging 23.9 points (one of the best figures in the NBA), 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 44% shooting from the field (45% from three, which is unheard of for DeRozan) and 88.5% from the line. Casey said he thought DeRozan would have been an all-star selection had he stayed healthy (largely because of Toronto’s excellent record at the time. The numbers didn’t back that up, but in March, DeRozan played like a no-brainer all-star.

“I just wanted to go out there and win,” DeRozan said. “The crowd was into it and last time we played these guys they kind of got us pretty good. We were really just trying to go out there and be ourselves and understand we’ve got to use these next couple games to get ready for the playoffs.”

- The players definitely enjoyed that win. Valanciunas was full of jokes afterward, first pretending to leave before the media could talk to him after taking a while to get dressed, then saying “Who’s DeMar?” when asked about DeRozan’s performance. Asked if he or James Harden had a better beard, Valanciunas told Sportsnet’s Eric Smith that his beard was the best.

- Amir Johnson wasn’t jumping particularly high, but he had great positioning and tons of hustle on the way to a 16 rebound effort (six on the offensive boards) on a small Rockets frontcourt that was missing Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. It was tied for Johnson’s season-high and more than he had in a single game last season.

“I thought Amir did a great job,” Casey said. “The one thing that we had going in, we knew that they were going to switch a lot. One thing we wanted to do was punish them on the boards for switching. Amir did that. He did a heck of a job of going in and punishing them on the offensive boards, especially down the stretch when they were switching a lot.”

- This was Toronto’s last game against a team above .500. Toronto finishes just 14-21 against those clubs (Washington is just 10-22, Milwaukee an awful 9-27).

- Wrote a little bit about Lou Williams having to step up as a backup point guard and on Kevin McHale being a big fan of former Rockets forward Patrick Patterson here

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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.

Fast start, brutal collapse against Bulls perfectly summed up Raptors season; False confidence killing the Raptors

- March 26th, 2015

Thank you, Raptors, for perfectly encapsulating your season in one game for me, making writing today’s blog an easy exercise.

Against the Bulls on Wednesday, the Raptors shot out of the gate, overwhelming with a scorching, outside attack. The Raptors assisted on nearly half of the 11 makes in the frame and only turned the ball over once, while forcing the Bulls into four miscues, the blueprint of the early season success that led to the best start in franchise history. Then, things went awry. The defence vanished, the Bulls got hot from three and the Raptors cooled off.

In the third, the Raptors offered even less defensive resistance and paid for it, but the coup de grace was still to come.

Just as has been the case of the fourth quarter of this season, the Raptors were a disaster in the fourth quarter of this one. Blame the back-to-back if you’d like or the clear fact that the Bulls are a far superior team, even without Derrick Rose (4-0 against Toronto this season), but most would say the lack of effort was a bigger deal. Again. The Raptors believed their own hype down the stretch, knowing they had the Atlantic wrapped up long ago and chose to focus more on off-court endorsement deals or other distractions than on their own games. Dwane Casey has blamed it on a lack of practice time and there is some weight to that, but effort, conditioning and focus all apply as well.

Simply put, the Raptors should be embarrassed by their play in the fourth. They let Chicago shoot 75%, got three stops in the final eight+ minutes of the frame allowed 10 assists on 15 baskets and didn’t force a turnover. A five-point lead after three (despite the fact the Raptors had not played all that well) quickly became an insurmountable lead. How does that happen? How do backup point guards like Aaron Brooks, Jarrett Jack, D.J. Augustin, Reggie Jackson (now a starter but a career reserve) and others constantly morph into Chris Paul against Toronto? And why does Jonas Valanciunas somehow always get blamed when it happens?

- DeMar DeRozan’s technical to begin the fourth started the spiral, but I don’t blame it for him, he was clearly hit and there is absolutely a double-standard in the NBA for physical teams like the Bulls. There is zero question that teams like Chicago with established defensive identities get more leeway from referees.

- Puzzlingly, DeRozan continues to insist the Raptors simply need one good game to figure themselves out and everything will come around from there. There is zero evidence this will be the case. Rather, it appears that delusion has taken over in that room. Again, they believed the hype and continue to do so, even as all of the evidence to the contrary continues to build up to the point it is becoming the world’s biggest fire hazard. The Raptors would be wise to heed the warnings, for once, otherwise this most promising of all seasons will have gone up in flames six weeks from now.

- Casey seems to be grasping at straws at this point, trying to find something that works. He admitted as much post-game. Tyler Hansbrough had been playing big minutes recently, but suddenly the rotation changed again and he played just four in this one. James Johnson isn’t playing enough still, but the main issue starts at the point. Greivis Vasquez can’t guard anyone, Lou Williams isn’t far behind and Kyle Lowry (who is injured again and did not play) sacrificed his once stellar defence at some point on the way to becoming one of the league’s better offensive players.

 

What in the name of Chris Childs happened?

- March 25th, 2015

So, that was a bad one, wasn’t it? The Detroit Pistons aren’t a good team, yet have now beaten the Raptors twice in four meetings this season, plus dropped 110 points on them in a four-point loss. Detroit has averaged about 108 points in the four meetings. Against that team, that’s just not nearly good enough.

- It was quite different, but given the opponent and the arena, did anybody have any flashbacks to one of the lowest moments in franchise history when Lou Williams made his ill-advised decision late? You know, when Chris Childs knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs by forgetting the score at the Palace and going for a three when they only needed a two? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

- The big problem with the Williams shot was, despite what anyone says, it has not been an effective shot for the team this year. His red hot start closing quarters gave him free reign to launch with impunity, but it simply has not been a good shot for the team. The conversion rate is miniscule and given how frequently that shot doesn’t go in, why not try it far earlier in the shot clock instead of winding down the clock and going into hero-mode. Not a good look. Williams has won the Raptors some games and can really help a team, but not sure the fit is right here. Dwane Casey gives him way too much leeway and he takes advantage. Like DeMar DeRozan, Williams has been at his best when he isn’t in “chuck-mode” and when he is also looking to find teammates. In other words, when they keep the defence guessing, instead of doing what everyone in the building is expecting, they are far more effective.

- All that said, Williams made a mistake (though he or Casey didn’t see it that way) but the Raptors would not have been in this game without him. He carried the Raptors for long stretches and sometimes when that happens, it breeds irrational confidence. It is hard to find a balance.

- No James Johnson against a team he has been great against this season. I think it is a mistake to bench Johnson. For a coach who preaches is primary concerns are on the defensive end, it is hard to figure out why the focus is always on offence when it comes to lineups (except where Jonas Valanciunas is concerned). Johnson might be an overrated defender because he gambles too much, but he is far better than Terrence Ross or Williams, He doesn’t have range, but Ross only hits every two games anyway. Are you really losing something by playing him decent minutes? The Raptors are dead in the water right now and nobody has confidence they can win a playoff series. The status quo isn’t working. Masai Ujiri brought in Johnson for a reason and knew his faults. Play the man.

- Toronto’s defence is a flat-out tire fire and that is a far bigger problem than anything offensively. One positive though was the interior defence was rock solid in this one. Detroit lit up Toronto’s guards at the rim 12-for-16, but shot just 10-for-33 against Amir Johnson (who was excellent), Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Jonas Valanciunas (2-for-11 against Patterson).

- Patterson, Johnson, Hansbrough and Valanciunas all deserve minutes, but so does James Johnson. The team likes him best as an undersized power forward, but given the depth in that area, replacing Ross with Johnson again needs to be seriously considered for the reasons stated above, as well as because this starting lineup consistently loafs through the start of games. The aggressive, zoned in Johnson could help in that regard.

Yet again, Raptors compete level not high enough in loss to Bulls

- March 21st, 2015

Even if the Raptors played hard, Friday’s game in Chicago was going to be a tough one. The Bulls are one of the best passing teams in the NBA and have the best collection of passing big men, they punish every team that way. But they particularly make life tough on teams that don’t meet their compete level and don’t react quickly defensively. The Raptors were guilty on both counts – again. They didn’t play hard enough, a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away and they didn’t make particularly good reads defensively in dropping to 0-3 against the Bulls this season. You want to talk bad playoff matchups – outside of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, there is not a worse opponent for the Raptors to face than the Bulls.

- Joakim Noah and Co. picked the Raptors apart (career-best 16 points) and Toronto declined to do much to stop it. There is no doubt the Bulls big are extremely talented, but if you don’t offer any physical resistance and just let them do what they want they are going to make you look foolish.

- What’s up with this Raptors malaise? Kyle Lowry, who sat out due to his back injury, said they are looking too far ahead, to what they have to do in the playoffs instead of what is required in the here and now. There is a lot to that. Dwane Casey has been harping on it for a while. At some point, this group got complacent and perhaps started to believe the hype about it. A playoff spot has been locked up basically since December and so has the Atlantic. It is tough to keep the focus needed to compete with other NBA teams for a full season, but this has dragged on far too long. I don’t think they’ve tuned out Casey, they have just gotten “fat and sassy” living high on the hog. If that doesn’t change, someone (sure looks like Washington right now) is going to make quick work of the them in the playoffs.

- Haven’t seen too many teams hit a “switch” and turn everything around like the Raptors seem to think they can do. It rarely happens. As Lowry said, it is time to right the ship now.

- Everyone seems to be putting this on Casey and his staff and I’ve pointed out issues I’ve had with them in this space many times throughout the season (particularly when it comes to the usage of Jonas Valanciunas) – but I wonder why the players are getting a pass? They are the ones sleep-walking through games, not being physical enough, not playing smart enough. That’s the far bigger issue with this team.

- It wasn’t just the big men getting burned defensively. Terrence Ross, who once showed so much promise as a defender, had his lunch handed to him by Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy’s a crafty vet, but this was damning stuff. Ross is Toronto’s main X-factor, and if that isn’t a huge concern for this franchise, it sure should be. If they are relying on Ross to take them over the top, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. The only thing consistent about Ross this season has been that his defence has not been where it used to be. Offensively, he has been completely inconsistent, fluctuating wildly from game to game.

- DeRozan had one of his best quarters of the season in the first and kept the Raptors in the game, but overall, he had the worst +/- on the team. This was the second time in his career he has gone 3-for-3 from three-point land.

- For once, not picking out any positives, because right now, there is nothing positive to say about this squad, other than the rest of the schedule looks like a walk in the park (though that’s the type of thinking that has gotten these players into all sorts of trouble).

- Toronto has dropped to 25th in the NBA in defensive rating (and 30th in March, allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions).

Wiggins night a bit of a let-down thanks to many factors, Raptors still in cruise control, Valanciunas emerging

- March 19th, 2015

So, a few things conspired to make Andrew Wiggins night a bit of a bust: The refs forgot that first and foremost, the NBA is about entertainment, and took Wiggins out of the game for far too long by calling a couple of highly debatable fouls on him early; the announcer rushed through the introduction, which didn’t allow the fans to give Wiggins the reception they wanted to (when stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are here, they get a longer pause); the game itself was pretty horrible because Minnesota could barely field a roster and because the Raptors were sleep-walking for much of  it Prime Minister Harper bungled a tweet and Anthony Bennett couldn’t play, due to an ankle injury.

That said, Canada Basketball Night (the proper name for the evening) was still quite cool to see for someone who has been covering the burgeoning hoops scene in this country for a decade now.

More on the game itself and some repercussions:

- Kyle Lowry took a knee to the back during a spill and had to leave. He was in pain and noticeably hurt afterward. He has a high pain threshold though, so barring any bad test results, expect him back soon. The team also said Terrence Ross is now fine (after some back issues of his own) and Jonas Valanciunas is a bit under the weather (maybe because he is adjusting to the presence of his son – but at least said newborn is a great sleeper, according to Poppa Valanciunas).

- Chicago pummeled Indy and Washington survived against Utah to keep pace with the Raptors, though it is not clear whether finishing third would be better than finishing fourth for the Raptors (would facing Washington or Milwaukee be better in the first round? Wouldn’t facing Atlanta, as crazy as that seems, be better than facing LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Round 2?)

- Once again, DeMar DeRozan’s 4-for-14 shooting line doesn’t look good, but if you factor in he hit his only three and hit all 12 of his free throws, his true shooting percentage was actually excellent and his defence wasn’t bad either. Same can’t be said for Lou Williams, though at least he defended (his offence was atrocious).

- When Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross are hitting 50% (or better) of their three-point attempts, the Raptors are extremely tough to stop.

- Greivis Vasquez took advantage of Lowry’s absence and played a strong game, especially later on when his big shots were needed. When Lowry is out of action, Vasquez shifts more to a facilitator role which is his ideal game.

- Dwane Casey responded simply, “we won,” when asked for his thoughts on the game, but later expanded on that, saying how the team performs is more important than winning or losing right now.

“That’s more important than the wins and losses right now, in terms of how we play, how we start. I’m more concerned with how we start the game. They outworked us in the beginning. Our execution defensively, running the floor, being where we’re supposed to be, walling defensively, being up at the level of the screen, all those little things are what we are trying to do. We have to do it in games, because practice time is so precious. You just don’t have a lot of practice time to get it in and improve the way we need to,” Casey said.

- Sam Mitchell on Casey being poised to catch him either late this season or early next for all-time coaching wins with the Raptors, after initially pretending we were giving him a kick in the knees by reminding him: “Guys I don’t think about that. Dwane is a heck of a coach, man. He’s done a heck of a job. I’m glad he’s doing well and I’m glad the Raptors are doing well. They treated me well. I have nothing but great, fond memories of the city, the organization and the team and the organization I was lucky enough to coach,” Mitchell said.

Some Wiggins reaction:

From Patrick Patterson:

“Tough energetic, active, resilient and that’s rare for a kid his age. For him to take the reins of the team, you know the team’s not quite successful, but he’s still playing hard, he’s playing well, he’s playing smart out there. He doesn’t back down to anyone, he accepts every single challenge out there and I admire the kid for that.”

(Still follow him in Huntington, West Virginia, Patterson’s home)? “Oh yeah, they love him as if he was from West Virginia. Everyone back home admires that kid to death, I know they definitely miss him at Huntington Prep, the guys always still talk about him, the coaching staff still raves about him. I’ve always followed him, I’ve followed him for a long time.”

Amir Johnson: “Very athletic, goes to the boards relentlessly. I think he’s going to be good, he just has to keep working and he’ll come into his own.”

DeRozan: “He’s talented. He’s going to be alright. He’s just a rookie. He’s going to be alright. He’s still young. Once he gets experience playing in the league, being in a lot of different situations, understanding the game, he’s going to be alright.”