Archive for December, 2008

Game 32: Raps vs. Nuggets - Post-game

Well, the effort was there, if not misplaced at times, but it was there.  It was good to see JT driving home the point that the Raptors need to attack the basket, especially when they are in the bonus, but you have to wonder when a coach makes a big statement like that and the team just doesn’t respond.  Is it then a question of the players not having the ability to carry out his wishes or the team just not listening to what he is saying? 

Somebody really needs to talk to Bosh about his 3-pointers.  I’ve said a few times in this blog that the worst thing that can happen when you steal something is not to get caught, because you will just keep doing it.  For Bosh to have stolen a few 3’s from the basketball Gods, the Raptors could not have had a more heinous crime committed, because now he thinks this is a legit part of his game.  The thing that gets me about Bosh’s late game shot attempts is that it shows a certain lack on confidence in what his strengths are.  We have seen him own guys inside, using his quickness and increasing strength to get to the rim and attack, but he doesn’t seem to have the same confidence in that part of his game that everyone else does. 

I’m probably going to take some heat for this, but I also have to wonder what exactly the coaching staff and Jose are thinking with relation to Bosh’s 3-pointers.  First, the coaching staff needs to have a sit-down with Bosh and talk about the 3’s and where his strengths are.  If anything, late game simulations and run-throughs need to be driven into him so that even if nobody is within 10 feet of him, he’s not going to think about taking the 3.  From Jose’s angle, he is a good enough leader and sees the court well enough that he should not be putting Bosh in a situation where the 3 is even going to be an option.  If Bosh is hanging around out there calling for the ball, point him off and run something else.  Change the angle of the ball and get it cross-court so you can reset.  If you’re the PG, you’re the leader.  It’s your team to set up down the stretch, but it’s up to your teammates to finish.  In the end, if the ball does go into Bosh out at the arc, he needs to get it right back to Jose and then get right to the paint.  They’re laying off you for a reason Chris.

I think the Raptors actually take this if JO is in the lineup.  One thing you have to appreciate about JO is that when he sets up, he’s already low enough in the post that when he does rely on the jumper, it’s a short one.  He knows the limits of his game and where his strengths are.  I think with Bosh and JO in the lineup tonight, with JO playing the way he has been, it would have been a lot of pressure for the Nuggets to handle.  When the Raptors were in the bonus at the end of the third, the ball would have been going to JO each time down the court, knowing that he was just going to post up and attack.  The Raptors missed him tonight.

Good to see Bargs have a good game tonight, because you have to think that if something is going to happen soon as far as a trade is concerned, it might include him.  I wouldn’t want to see him go, but you have to give up talent to get talent and if he can get things going, he might be that much more attractive.

Game 32: Raps vs. Nuggets - Pre-game

Well, the Raptors must be happy to be back from their 2-4 road trip, but then again, it’s not the ACC has been home sweet home this season…and they’re coming home to face the Nuggets, who clearly aren’t as hot as they were a few weeks ago, but are still miles ahead of where the Raptors are right now.

The last time the Raptors squared off against the Nuggets, I can’t remember what happened.  For some reason, I don’t even recall the Raptors playing a game against the Nugg…ack…ARGH…ACK!  Oh wait, it’s coming back. 132-93…changes made…pain and embarrassment…

So let’s call that last game a throwaway game.  A burn the tape game.  There’s absolutely no point in watching that video and trying to take anything from it, because the whole game from every standpoint was an absolute disaster. 

The Nuggets are coming off a loss to the Hawks, where they showed a lack of energy in the second half that was, well, Rapthorrific.  The Nuggets only managed to score 38 points in the second half, looking confused on tired, which can only provide the Raptors and their fans with some hope going into tonight’s matchup.  The last thing you want to do after getting skunked and laying an egg in the second half is to get on a plane and head to another hotel.  Then again, they’re coming to face the Raps, so maybe they’re completely giddy.

The Raptors can hope that Nene stays out of the lineup with his sore neck (listed as a “Cervical Strain” which sounds frightening), because they certainly don’t do well with energetic big guys.   Then again, we just might see a career night from Chris Andersen.  That would fit well with how things have been going for the Raptors lately.

But with Nene out of the lineup, there is an opportunity for the Raptors to make some inroads with Bosh and JO (who will hopefully be back from flu symptoms…which I think might mean that he had a case of the trots…just a guess).  The Raptors will need some help from AP, Kapono, Moon and Bargs, but the tone has to be set with the big guys inside.  It might even benefit the Raptors to have some minutes for Hump, just to remind the Nuggets that it’s going to be a little rough inside.  If it gets ugly late, watch out for The Executioner…or as I have taken to calling him, Jake “All 6″ Voskuhl (who still isn’t listed in the NBA.com directory…not a good omen dude). 

Here’s hoping Karl doesn’t get his 900th win in Toronto.

3 in the Key

1. Get on the boards. K-Mart isn’t going to be able to do it himself, so hopefully the Raptors can make some advances here.

2. Make your open looks.  The missed 3’s on wide open looks are killing the Raptors.  I hate relying on the 3-ball, but I guess you have to work with what you have and for the Raptors, their wing players are shooters.

3. Go right at K-Mart.  If you get him to take a couple of early fouls, they will be short and he will be upset.  It’s a good combo.

Game 31: Raps vs. Warriors - Post-game

Well, that wasn’t pretty.  It would be easy to say that the Raptors showed some heart in almost pulling this one out, but in reality, it was more of a case of the Warriors being who they are and just not playing D as they typically don’t.  They are just going to try to outscore you and that’s what they did to the Raptors tonight.

There were two major things that bothered me tonight, one of which was covered extensively by Jack and Matt on the broadcast tonight: the uncontested threes.  A few weeks ago, I was talking about how JT was fine with teams taking 3s if it meant that the Raptors were locking down the inside and how I thought that the Raptors were still going to have to get out and contest shots.  We kind of saw why tonight.  I don’t care what kind of a 3-point shooting team you are, if you get enough good looks, you are going to knock them down.

The point that wasn’t touched on tonight was shot selection.  When the Raptors were able to get within 4 points, we saw them come down the court and launch 3 jumpers in a row, none of which went down.  Right after that, we saw Golden State come right back down the court and go inside to Biedrins for one and a foul.  It was like a student/teacher lesson.  The student (the Raptors) had an idea of what they wanted to do and kept trying (unsuccessfully) to do it.  The teacher then took over and showed the student how to properly work things.  When you cut into a lead like that (I believe at that point it was from 15 down to 4…and then back up to 13 with that and-1 play being the catalyst), you have to try to wear the other team down.  You have to keep beating on them and use your horse (Bosh) to let them know they there have a world of problems coming their way.  Settling for outside jumpers from cold shooters isn’t going to scare anybody and it certainly isn’t going to win you any games.

I think all of us can agree that having Jamario sink a few 3’s tonight was the worst thing that could have happened for him.  Watch out for him going on a 3-attempt rampage.  That’s what I hate most about him.  Even when he is dead cold, he keeps launching 3’s like he is a natural shooter.  I’m all for Kapono taking 3’s when he is ice cold because that’s all he has.  If he’s not taking jump shots, it’s not like he’s going to jump over anybody or break somebody’s ankles on the way to the rack.  If I had Jamario’s jumping ability, I would be trying to posterize everybody in the league.  Remember back when Shawn Kemp was in shape?  Think waaaaaaaay back.  Remember how when the slightest opportunity presented itself, he would try to humiliate guys with dunks?  That should be Jamario.  He’s so frustrating to watch, because we all know he isn’t making the most out of his ability.

Anyway, a tough 3 games coming up.  Here’s hoping JO gets over the flu…and fast.  The Raptors will need all the help they can get.  If the Raps lose these upcoming 3 games, I think BC gets a deal done, but who knows?

Game 31: Raps vs. Warriors - Pre-game

Thankfully for the Raptors, things haven’t been so golden in Golden State this year…unless you’re thinking “golden” as in “shower” and then yes, things have been quite golden for the Warriors this year.  They have a few glaring issues, none more than the fact that they have no commitment on D.  They give up over 111 points per game.  I mean that’s their AVERAGE.  Nobody does it any worse than that in the leauge. It’s quite normal for them to give up more than that and I don’t care what league you’re playing in, that’s just not going to result in wins.  Those are All-Star game scores and you know the kind of D we see in those games.

It looked like the Warriors D had finally found its turning point, bringing down the mighty Celtics on Friday, 98-89, but true to form, they came out in their next game and got their asses handed to them by the Lakers, giving up 130 points.

The Raptors will need to pick up this win as they have some tough games coming up and it could get ugly unless they are able to look back at this road trip and get some confidence from coming back with a split.   Until the second half against the Blazers, it looked like the Raptors were in the process of turning things around, but there was a harsh dose of reality dealt in the second half, mostly in the third quarter.  The Warriors have guys who can start lighting it up (i.e. scoring a lot…not firing off guns and/or burnin’ weed), so the Raptors will need to make sure that they are in every quarter this game. 

The good thing for the Raptors is that the Warriors like to shoot.  Jackson and Maggette both like to shoot it, with Maggette never meeting a shot he hasn’t liked.  The good thing for Jackson is that he can back things up on the defensive end, so at least when he starts bombing away and missing, he will give you something on D.  As far as Maggette goes, when he starts chucking and missing, that’s all you’re going to get from him.  He starts believing that “shooters shoot” and will often just shoot his team out of it.  If you want to see some poor shot selection, stay tuned.

I’m a Ronny Turiaf fan and not just for the dancing.  Here’s a guy who knows what his role is on the team and he pretty much sticks to it.  He’s going to block shots, get rebounds and play some pretty tough D.  Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get a lot of minutes and his D is lost on a team that just isn’t committed to playing team D.  He’s Han Solo out there.  Hmm…Ronny in a Raptors uni?  I wouldn’t mind…

3 in the Key

1.  Control Biedrins and Azubuike.  Those guys are able to rebound and fill the basket and the Raptors will need to play some tough D against them.

2.   Make them beat you on the dribble.  The Warriors have a lot of good shooters, but not what I would call the greatest speed.  Don’t let them shoot the lights out.

3. Sigh…Rebound.

Game 30: Raps vs. Blazers - Post-game

Okay, I’ll preface this by saying that in no way did the refs cause a Raptors loss tonight, but man, what does JO have to do to get some calls?  Correction, what does JO have to do to get some calls against a rookie who has a tendency to swing his arms even though he’s an old-school big man?  True, the Raptors were on the road, so you know you aren’t going to get the same kind of calls that you can expect at home, but some of the touch fouls on JO, compounded by the lack of a whistle on what appeared to be clear fouls on JO was a little much.  Top it off with a technical on JT for asking for a timeout (although let’s be honest, JT was almost out at the key when he called it) and we can say that the refs didn’t have a strong night.

But as for what lost it for the Raptors, well, there were a couple of things.  First thing would be the third quarter.  One of the problems that we used to see a lot with the team under Sam in the past few years was their inability to come out with any sort of energy in the third quarter.  We saw some of that tonight.  I would hope that after having the Christmas break, the Raptors won’t use a back-to-back scenario as an excuse for a lacklustre third quarter and if they do, then it should be nothing but conditioning instead of actual practice time.   When you are a professional athlete, you should be able to play back to back games without that much of a problem, especially when you just had a bit of an extended rest.

The Raptors were also done in by Brandon Roy and their inability to secure rebounds (surprise!).  Roy was on fire in the fourth quarter, showing what we talked about in the pre-game where we said that we are witnessing the real emergence of a solid star.  He wasn’t having a huge game until the fourth quarter, but that’s what good players do.  They turn it on when they need to and find a way to pull things out when their team needs a shot in the arm.  The Raptors actually played him pretty well, but he just made shots.  He even got roughed up a little and had to pick himself up off the floor, but he just kept coming back.  You can’t really fault the Raptors for the game he had in the fourth.

Okay, somebody really needs to have a talk with Jose about leaving his feet.  It’s starting to get into Solomon territory.  I can’t count the number of times I see Jose try to gain the corner on somebody, only to end up on the baseline, under the basket and then in the air looking to throw a long two handed overhead pass to somebody.  We saw that today and it got picked off for an uncontested 2 the other way.  We’re also seeing him do it a lot when he wants to swing the motion in the opposite direction.  He’s good enough that he doesn’t have to do that stuff.

Speaking of Solomon.  Yikes.  I don’t think I have dreaded seeing a guy step on the court as much as this since the Mine James era.  The guy thinks he has this awesome game and even worse, he gets on the refs about not getting calls WHILE THE OTHER TEAM IS HEADING UP THE COURT.  Steve Javie was looking at him like, “I’m sorry, who the hell are you?” 

Ah well, one bad quarter sealed it for the Raptors tonight, but I think we saw the team that they can be in the first half.  Nice to see.

Game 30: Raps vs. Blazers - Pre-game

The Raptors should really be 3-1 on this road trip, coming into this game at 2-2 after an inexcusable loss to the Thunder.  But after rolling off wins over the Clippers and the Kings, the Raptors will need to maximize the momentum they have created in order to beat the Blazers at home, especially the way Brandon Roy has been playing lately.  With Roy, we are really seeing the emergence of a solid NBA star.  Roy is hitting clutch shots, playing good D and hustling like a college player who’s looking to go first overall. 

The Raptors can take some pride in the fact that they have been tightening up their D since JT took over.  There has been a new commitment to playing better defense that we just didn’t see in the Smitch era earlier this year.  The Raptors have been leaving teams with some rushed last second shots and have been forcing teams to rely more on their ability to shoot from the perimiter than their inside abilities.  As we argued earlier, if the Spurs hadn’t had their franchise best 3-shooting night against the Raptors, the Raps played well enough to win that one. 

The Raptors are also looking better at executing set plays, which may be because they actually have set plays now.  I haven’t seen a single Roaches When the Lights Come On play in a long time (ah, feels good to say that again).  While they have been occasionally skunked, we have seen them look like they have more of a plan on the offensive end.

The Raptors are going to have to make the most of each opportunity up the court against the Blazers.  If they have the same turnover problems they had against the Kings, this one will be over early.  You can get away with turning the ball over 13 times in the first half against a team like the Kings, but when you do it to a team like the Blazers, it’s lights out.  Secure the ball, set up and execute.  That will be the MO for the Raptors. 

This might sound strange, but it will be interesting to see who the Raptors have coming off the bench when it comes to the 4th big man.  The Executioner has had limited minutes, but has brought some grit (read: thuggery).  On the other hand, we saw Hump play an effective game against the Kings.  Could it be that JT is going to play these guys against each other, making them compete for the minutes off the bench?  If it gets the best out of them, then by all means, go ahead.  Personally, I think Hump actually brings more to the table when he doesn’t start getting into “Wow, I am good…I should start shooting” modes. 

This one is going to be tough.

3 in the Key

 1. Attack Brandon Roy.  He’s playing so well right now, that the best thing for the Raptors might be to go right at him and try to get him in some early foul trouble.

2. Stay close at the half.  Against the Blazers, the Raptors just can’t afford to fall behind early.  The Blazers have the ability to just shut things down and they aren’t going to get tired on account of their youth, so the Raptors need to be within 6 at the half.

3. Use the inside game to set up the outisde.  - It’s going to be a tough game inside, but that doesn’t mean the Raptors should shy away from it.  They need to use it, but they are going to have to have guys like JK and AP ready to help pour in some points.  Bargs will need to have both sides going too.

Game 29: Raps vs. Kings - Post-game

Make no mistake, the Raptors were lucky and good tonight, with a little bit more on the lucky side.  First up, there was no Kevin Martin in the lineup, which always helps.  Even more than that, the Raptors were lucky that the Kings were not able to capitalize on Bosh being in foul trouble.  You could argue that some of this should be attributed to the Raptors actually playing well, minimizing the effect of losing one of their most important players and you would have a solid argument, but most of the time, what we have seen with the Raptors is that when Bosh doesn’t have a strong game or has to spend time on the bench, the opposition has been able to capitalize on the Raps’ lack of depth.

The most glaring lucky item was how the Raptors were able to escape with a win despite committing 13 first half turnovers.  They were able to tighten things up in the second half, but they can consider themselves lucky that the Kings offense was rather inept.  One wouldn’t have thought that the Raptors were going to turn the ball over more than the Kings, but the Raptors were handing it over like a Nancy-boy handing over his lunch money to a bully. 

The Raptors received another strong outing from JO, once again silencing the idiots who earlier in the season were talking about him not fitting in with the Raptors and saying that there was nothing left in the tank.  JO was getting things together before his injury and now is showing what he can do when he has his strength.  We are also seeing what he can do when he is able to stay out of foul trouble early in the game.  When JO isn’t in foul trouble, he is able to get those minutes where he can get a lot of low post touches.  When he is able to stay out of foul trouble, he can attack more freely, using his athleticism and strength to run over some players, not having to worry about picking up a charging call. 

On the defensive end, when JO is able to stay out of early foul trouble, he can take a few more chances with shot blocking and taking charges.  We saw a lot of shots from the Kings altered tonight not from JO even doing anything, just from his presence.  Overall, when he is able to stay out of foul trouble, he can keep his muscles warm and stay in the flow, which just makes playing the game that much easier.

How refreshing is it to see the Raptors come out of timeouts and television breaks with some actual set plays?  Coming out of one break, we saw a nice quick pass in to Bosh, who immediately dished to a cutting JO who went right up for 2.  A quick and effectively executed two points like that not only gets you the points on the board, but can wear on the psyche of your opposition.  If they see you coming out and runnig plays like that on them, they just might start to think, “Hell, how do we stop these guys when the two bigs are passing and executing like that?”

Let’s see if the Raptors can carry the momentum into Portland…

Game 29: Raps vs. Kings - Pre-game

The Raptors come off the Christmas break with a win in their hands, some time to relax and some time to actually practice.  Sounds like a good combination of things heading into a game they should take against the Kings. 

Toronto fans have been complaining a lot about the Raptors this season and one can’t argue with a lot of the sentiment since expectations were (for some reason) set so high before the season started.  But while the Raptors have been underachieving, the Kings haven’t really been doing a lot worse than people thought they would.  If Raptors fans are tired of seeing defensive lapses, just take a look at some of the errors they are going to see on the King’s side tonight.  They can’t play D.  Simple as that.  They’re just not a defensively minded team.  They don’t close on shooters, they don’t rotate to bring help off of picks, in essence, on D, they’re lazy.  It’s strange, because they have some good athletes, but being athletic doesn’t always equate to being aggressive.  When you give up almost 106 points per game, you are essentially telling everyone that you don’t even care about D.  The problem is, it’s not like you light it up on the offensive end either (96.9…still ahead of the Raptors), so I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing. 

What has compounded things for the Kings is that on offense, while talented (Kevin Martin could be the most underrated player in the league) they turn the ball over far too much, which kills their flow.  They have to rely on guys like Kevin Martin and John Salmons to save games for them and with Salmons’ lack of commitment, he’s not really a go-to guy when the game’s on the line.  They’re really left with one option.  Martin.  Even more than Artest, the guy the Kings are missing is Bibby.  When they needed a big shot, he could give them another option than Martin.  Now, there’s not much choice.

The Raptors are most likely going to see more minutes from The Executioner, as in limited time, he has shown some aggressive play, which is exactly what they have needed.  I’m still not as sold as everybody else seems to be on him taking minutes from Hump.  Sure, sometimes Hump gets a little carried away, thinking that he’s a scoring machine, but anytime he’s on the court, he’s hustling and he’s trying to get rebounds.  Maybe the Raptors are just going with Jake’s slight size advantage.  Either way, the Raptors will need to win the boards tonight if they are going to avoid allowing the Kings to break their losing streak, which is currently at 4.

3 in the Key

1. Get an early lead.  The Kings can’t play D, so if you are able to get a lead, you can pretty much rely on points not being hard to add later in the game.

2. Capitalize on turnovers.  The Kings are going to turn the ball over, so it will be important for the Raptors to push the ball and use some speed down the court to create points off those turnovers.

3. Don’t get outhustled.  There’s no excuse for getting outhustled by the Kings, a team that does not seem to want to work too hard during games.  They do, however, have a couple of guys who can turn up the intensity, getting rebounds and the crowd into the game.  Mikki Moore and Brad Miller can become a pain if you let them, so the Raptors will need to keep them off the boards early.

The RF Christmas Wish List - 2008 Edition

So it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to write about what I would like to see happen with the Raptors post-Christmas break and this year, man, there are a ton of things to ask for.   But it’s kind of like being that kid who sits on Santa’s lap forever in the mall, holding up all of the frustrated parents as he goes through his laundry list of items that he needs under the tree. 

Anyway, you have to ask or you don’t receive, so I have managed to get my list down to 5 key things.  That was always the rule growing up, right?  Write down the five things you want the most, knowing that there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get the top 3, a possibility for the fourth and if pops gets a big bonus, then maybe number 5 too.  Here we go…

1.  A guy who can just flat out rebound.  Yes, this is no secret, the Raptors are absolutely horrid when it comes to rebounding.  There’s no way to tiptoe around it, it’s ugly.  The Raptors rebound like they’re afraid of the ball, like somebody else has to touch it first to make sure it’s not a grenade.  Well, the only thing that has been blowing up are the second chance points the Raptors have been giving up.  They need a “Rodmanesque” guy (who doesn’t?).  A guy who knows he is just there to rebound and anything else that comes is a bonus.

2. An old-school backup PG.  The Raps could really benefit from not having to rely on the “Jose and Pray For a TV Timeout” point guard strategy anymore.  It’s not that Roko is a bad player, because he’s not (Solomon is), but with Jose going through his first season as the dedicated starter and dealing with some injuries, do you really want a rookie filling in the gaps?  A rookie who is new to ball in North America?  I don’t.  The Raptors need a Sam Cassell kind of guy.  A guy who will provide some steady leadership and who won’t mind being the backup if he is going to help the team win.  He might also be able to hook up a few “slumpbusters” when the losing streaks come.

3. A scorer.  A guy who can create his own shot when things are coming to a halt on the offensive end.  A guy who can throw down a dunk on somebody and actually looks forward to doing it.  A guy who can make the whole arena stop breathing with a play like this (but not actually that guy). 

4. Some perspective for Raptors fans.  Raptor fans really need to come off the ledge every time the team loses (which has been a lot lately).  It’s strictly a Toronto thing, where we look to complain until the next game and then hopefully complain some more.  We also need to fire everyone and trade everyone else, until we are left with a bunch of other new guys who we can complain about and then hope to trade/fire.  The fact that a few years into the job, people are starting to call for Colangelo’s head shows what I am talking about.

5. A hotter dance pack.

That’s it, not much to ask for, right?

Game 28: Raps vs. Clippers - Post-game

Well, that kind of worked out like I said it would (for once).  The Raptors were able to get out to an early lead and then while it did get interesting in the 3rd, the Raptors were able to turn things on in the fourth and actually close one out. 

The Raptors weren’t really pushing the ball upcourt and looking for fast-break points, but they were getting the ball up the floor quickly and forcing the Clippers to get back on D.  This may not have seemed like much, but as I mentioned earlier, the Clippers are complaining about being tired and you could see their lethargy in the 4th.  When you are able to get out to an early lead against teams that are feeling the burn, it just makes it that much easier to win, because when you get down to crunch time in the 4th quarter, your opponent just isn’t going to have the legs.

While we can point out that the Raptors were able to win the rebounding competition tonight, we also have to remember that Kaman and Camby were not in the lineup, which made things significantly easier for the Raptors.  We also have to remember that Jake “The Executioner” Voskuhl was out there taking out Randolph, so that also factored into the equation.  I’m not going to ruin the party for the Raps, so while we are celebrating the fact that the Raptors actually outrebounded another team, let’s not start thinking that all of a sudden, the Raptors have it together on the boards.

What I did like about tonight was how the Raptors were challenging shots on D.  There weren’t a lot of easy looks and guys actually made it a little more difficult to walk down the lane.  JO was his usual self in the paint, acting as a strong deterrent, but it was good to see Bosh step up and look like he felt like playing some D again.

Speaking of Bosh, I think he fed off of the positive team effort against the Spurs the other night.  As I said before, that was a game that they actually played well enough to win, but were ultimately done in by the 3.   Tonight, we saw some of that same energy carry over, with Bosh constantly attacking the rim.  There were some good ball fakes that were follwed by baseline jams, which is really what we would all like to see a bit more from Bosh.

Anyway, a quality win for the Raptors, it was nice to see them follow up on the good performance against the Spurs.

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