Tag:Jason Kapono
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:26 am
 

Raptors Post Mortum - 2008 - 2009 Season Review

 

Raptors Post-Mortum

 

The 2008 – 2009 season started with high hopes for this Raptors team. Trading T.J. Ford for Jermaine O’Neal sending a shoot first PG to the Pacers and allowing Jose Calderon the reigns to this team gave us a sense of hope as the team would become the central issue and the focus of the offense, not one guy deeming his team mates worthy of touches.

 

The year started with a quick 3 win streak as the Raptors came out fast with wins against the Warriors, the 76ers and the Bucks. Tough losses against the Pistons and the Hawks followed by two wins against the Heat brought us eventually to an 8 – 8 record and the firing of Sam Mitchell. Jay Triano inherited a team that featured Chris Bosh scoring at a 26+ ppg clip and a struggling Jose Calderon working with Jermaine O’Neal and an emerging Andrea Bargnani. It became obvious very early that Jose would struggle physically this entire season as his hamstring just never seemed to recover and he never seemed comfortable on the floor and the team suffered through a long period where the PG position was handle by a platoon of Roko Ukic, Will Solomon and Anthony Parker who was perhaps the most under rated Raptors player this season and is often the focus of derision from fans because he isn’t a 20+ ppg SG like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade.

 

To me, the toughest loss of the year and perhaps the franchise, was the December 19<sup>th</sup> loss to the Kevin Durant led Thunder, who had 3 wins at the time. From that point, it was clear this was a season in trouble. Jermaine went down with a knee injury and we signed Jake Voskuhl to provide some depth at center. During this time our back court struggled as Jose reinjured his thigh in a game against the Heat in November and he missed 14 games to that injury, the Raptors would win only 5 games in which he didn’t play.

 

As the new year turned to playoff run, this team was pretty much finished in late February, yet they made a deal that sent O’Neal and Jamario Moon to the Heat to bring Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the team February 13<sup>th</sup>. We acquired Patrick O’Bryant, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and Quincy Douby to fill the roster for the year. Since that trade, we finished 12 – 14 with 2 wins over the Bulls who would love either of those back as they now face the Celtics in the first round. The new guys came in and offered us energy and some depth on the bench that had been lacking all season. With 3 wins to end the season, 2 against playoff teams in the 76ers and 1 against a Wizards team that easily could have won 35 games this season, hope has not left the Raptors dressing room.

 

Here are my assessments of the roster at this point. I will speculate on off-season moves after the playoffs.

 

Chris Bosh – lead the team with 22.7 ppg, ending up 8<sup>th</sup> behind Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets by .1. As the franchise player, Chris provided a level of play that was steady and consistent most of the season. When the team struggled in December and January, Bosh bore the brunt of the criticism – unfairly in my opinion as the team was not able to find a way to overcome injuries and compete with a poorly constructed bench. He ended up as one of 3 players in the league to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game – the other two being Dwight Howard of the Magic and Dwyane Wade. Pretty elite company if you ask me. He has been consistently ranked in the top 10 at his position all season and ended up one of the top 10 players over all for the season. He is ranked only behind Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks as a PF, ahead of Antawn Jamison, David West of the Hornets and Al Harrington of the Knicks and Pau Gasol of the Lakers. He IS the leader of this team and as such, offers a great many skills to the team. He was put on the FT line 607 times – 4<sup>th</sup> behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard and ahead of Devin Harris of the Nets,  shooting at an 81% clip making him a very difficult forward to guard by most opposing players and better than the four ahead of him in that stat. His 771 rebounds, good for 7<sup>th</sup> overall, and 2.5 assists per game make him a well rounded player and hopefully, will remain here a long time.

 

Andrea Bargnani – A slow start under Smitch brought calls for him to be moved out of Toronto, that he was a waste of a 1<sup>st</sup> overall pick in a class that gave the Trail Blazers LeMarcus Aldridge with the 2<sup>nd</sup> pick and Brandon Roy with the 6<sup>th</sup> pick and Rajon Rondo to the Celtics late in the first round, fans were beginning to wonder what this kid had to offer. Well, we began to see him play in the 4 spot with success as he is a deadly shooter from outside finishing the season at 40.9% from outside the arc. He finished the season ranked 50<sup>th</sup> in the league at 15.4 ppg but was closer to 20 ppg for the last third of the season. Under Jay, he was given the minutes he needed to develop both and low post game and a mid post game stepping out when needed and was not out of place on the break either as the team began to open up the offense, he was there with the finish. He led the team not only in 3 point attempts, but blocks as well finishing with 97 on the season. He seems to have found his place in both the offense and the defense and has been given the confidence of the coach. A very deadly combination for a young man looking for a place to belong!

 

Jose Calderon – The speculation of what might have been this past season had Jose been 100% for the entire year will be fuel for many forums. Aside from setting the FT% record hitting 151 of 154 FT’s for a 98.1%, he finished 6<sup>th</sup> overall with 607 assists behind only Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo. When listed by assists per game, he ends up 5<sup>th</sup> as Gilbert Arenas moves up and Jose passes Rondo and Kidd. Among the starting PG’s, Jose ended up first overall with 4.2 a/to ratio on the season. Jose shot 40.6% from outside and 49.7% over all while averaging 12.8 ppg. As Jose returned healthy, this team instantly began playing at a much higher level offensively and defensively he was much more able to keep his man in front of him and make opposing guards take bad shots and make bad passes. He has a long way to go to be a lock down defender, but a healthy Jose can become a very tough matchup for a lot of guards in the league.

 

Shawn Marion – Averaging 14.3 ppg, and more than 8 rebounds per game, Shawn has been a favorite of mine since his days in the high octane Suns teams he played on. Wallowing in irrelevance with the Heat he has found a team here that he can bring his skill set to that can allow him the freedom to run the break, defend 3 or 4 or 5 spots, attack the weakside glass and create havoc in the paint on defense as the help defender. These are all skills that this team has sorely missed all season. I hope the Raptors can find a way to make this man a part of the future of this team as he is one of the best complementary players in the league. He has no need of plays designed for him as he is always lurking and always in position when the ball seems to find his hands. A great trade for us and the promise of next season, should he stay, is growing.

 

Anthony Parker – to me, he is one of the most under appreciated Raptors player on the team. He can play SG, and PG when needed. He nightly takes on the toughest players in the league and usually holds his own. When he is discussed as not being the SG this team needs because he isn’t one of the best in the league, I shake my head! AP is 22 in scoring amongst SG’s, but when you look at the list of those ahead of him, you can understand why. Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson of the Hawks, Vince Carter of the Nets, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, O.J. Mayo, Ray Allen and Jason Richardson top the list at this position. AP’s job with us isn’t to score at a 20+ ppg pace, but to offer solid defense against guys like those on the list, score when he can and provide an option on the floor that distracts teams enough to have to keep an eye on him, and he does all of those night after night after night. He is 10<sup>th</sup> amongst SG’s in rebounds with 317, and 12<sup>th</sup> in apg with 3.4. while shooting at 39% and is 18<sup>th</sup> on the list. As a free agent, he might leave and if he does, this team will have to look very hard as to how to fill the void he will leave. Be careful what you hope for, if it comes true, and he walks, he will be picked up by a team that can see the value of his steady hand and extensive knowledge of the game.

 

As for the rest of the team, Jason Kapono has had a good run as 3 point champ, but I fear he has little marketability at this point as he is very much a one-dimensional player at this point. Joey Graham seems to be finding a place on this team, but he has not developed a consistent game that would warrant further investment. He will be at best a 7<sup>th</sup> man on any team he plays, including this one, and he will want more money than we are willing to pay. I look for him to be traded before he is signed. Roko Ukic looks like a solid prospect, but he is not the backup we need for Jose. He could be traded as well. I like the new group that BC brought in and hope that we can find places for them allowing our bench to become stable again, and offer us the option of either by trading our draft pick this season and acquiring another piece of this puzzle or blow the team up and start over. I am not sure I like that option at this point but will offer more thoughts as the playoffs unfold.

 

Thanks for all of your support this season and I hope these musings have been enjoyed and appreciated.

 

Takman_777

 

Posted on: December 29, 2008 5:41 pm
 

Raptors - Week 10 in Preview

Tonight, the Raptors head to the Bay area for the conclusion of a dismal road trip that saw them lose to the Thunder, the Mavericks, the Spurs and the Trail Blazers while scoring victories against the Kings and the Clippers. Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Tony Parker, Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge all played top notch games against this struggling Raptors team that saw great games by Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal and some solid play off the bench by Andrea Bargnani and some awful play by Jason Kapono and Joey Graham. Jamario Moon is coming off a good week on the glass and looks to contribute more in the up tempo games to come this week. Here are the games as I see them this week.

Monday, December 29, 2008 Raptors @ Golden State Warriors

The Warriors come into the game after a win against the Celtics on Boxing day followed Sunday with a thumping by the Lakers in Los Angeles. With losses against the Magic and the Heat, this team comes into the game with a 9 – 23 record and with the addition of Jamal Crawford, this team can score in transition and do as the Celtics found out. With Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis out, the Warriors have been lead by Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins and have 8 players that average more than 9 points per game. The Raptors will have to play fantastic transition defense to keep this team in check as they did to open the season. A win tonight would bring the road trip to a 3 – 3 close. Not the best, but 3 much needed wins to say the least.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 Raptors vs. Nuggets

The Nuggets carry a 20 – 11 record into the week with a win against the Knicks last night and a game against the Hawks who have returned to early season form and are now sitting with a 19 – 10 record, in 4th place in the East. The Nuggets are lead by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups with Nene and J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, this team is one of the top teams in the league and will be a difficult team to match up with as the earlier blow out indicates. Let’s hope we can keep this one close and our back court with Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono or Anthony Parker can provide a spark to this game.

Friday, January 2, 2009 Raptors vs. Rockets

With Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston, Ron Artest Luis Scola, this 20 – 11 team is tied with the Nuggets in the west and brings a lot of fire power to any game they play. The Raptors will have to get strong play from Jamario Moon and Joey Graham to contain Ron Artest and the rest of this band of scorers. Tracy McGrady is hurting and is questionable right now, but with games against the Wizards and the Bucks, he will probably be ready to play Friday.

This will be a character testing week for the Raptors who have shown little so far this season. Guys like Will Solomon and Joey Graham and Jason Kapono should be realizing that their jobs are hanging by a thread with this team and should begin to step it up. Jose Calderon needs to take his game back up to the level he was earlier this season, but with Jermaine and Chris demanding the ball everywhere on the floor, his job has required a lot more patience and better decision making which has failed him at times this past month. Should be a very interesting week for Raptors fans as we continue to sense change coming earlier than later.

Posted on: December 27, 2008 10:58 am
 

Raptors - Kings - A Game in Review

After a win Monday over the Clippers on a night when Jake Voskuhl looks more and more like Bill Laimbeer knocking Zach Randolph to the ground then leave the game, the Raptors went into Sacramento to play the Kings Boxing Day looking to keep the little momentum of this victory alive. Monday night Chris Bosh was the key to the win scoring 18 of his 31 points in the 4th quarter after Randolph left with 19 points. Eric Gordon added 19 and Baron Davis 16 for the Clippers who had no response to Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal who scored 23 and added 9 rebounds. The Clippers were short benched with Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman both out leaving Al Thornton and Brian Skinner to carry the bulk of the work as they used an 8 man rotation. Jamario Moon continued his rebounding work grabbing 8 boards while Jose Calderon had 8 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds to lead the offense. The strength of the front line was evident as the Raptors ended the game + 10 in total rebounds as well as + 8 in points in the paint.

Friday night in Sacramento where they had lost 10 straight and were 1 – 11 over all, the Raptors started the game with the ball going inside to a hungry Jermaine O’Neal and the ball stayed there all night. Led by Brad Miller and rookie Spencer Hawes as well as 3rd year rising star Francisco Garcia from one of my favorite cities, Santo Domingo, this Kings team was not able to contain the front line of Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, but with shooters such as Bobby Jackson and John Salmons who score 17 and 20 from the perimeter, the Raptors seemed very comfortable at both ends of the floor. Jay Triano has this team focused on protecting the paint and utilizing the interior defense that our 3 bigs as well as Kris Humphries have been bringing the past week. In 6 minutes of play in the 4th quarter, Humphries was able to score 2 points, but grabbed 5 rebounds and 1 put back dunk that seemed to charge the Raptors and end a small run the Kings were starting. With a 4 point lead at the end of 3, Jay left in Will Solomon, Joey Graham, Kris Humphries and Anthony Parker with Andrea Bargnani.

They were able to keep the Kings off the boards and had grown the lead to as much as 9 before the starters returned. With seven solid minutes from the guys off the bench, who seemed to work hard on the defensive end, and were able to score enough to keep the Raptors ahead. Andrea Bargnani played one of his best games in the past month as he looked determined to play some power ball inside then stepping outside to drain 3’s keeping the Kings off-balance and unable to keep him from scoring. He scored 14 points off the bench and he seemed to work well off the bench at either of the forward positions. With Chris Bosh in foul trouble early,

Jermaine O’Neal was the go to guy inside for most of the night. Chris Bosh ended the night with 7 rebounds and 13 points. The other starters responded to the energy that Jermaine seemed to have and pushed the tempo a bit more than normal. Jamario Moon was perhaps the only real mystery Friday as he had only 4 points and 4 rebounds, but seemed to be around the ball all night closing guys out and making the Kings take one more pass. Jason Kapono created havoc with the Kings defense as he was hitting shots off of screens and spread the floor with his movement effectively making the Kings pick him or Jermaine O’Neal all night. His 16 points 3 rebounds and 4 assists were very much an indication of how efficiently the Raptors ball movement was Friday night. Jose Calderon had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists and there are not many nights that will happen, but the ball was moved very well by everyone as they all seemed to look for that one more pass to the better shot. The Raptors took only 69 shots from the floor, but when you shoot 55% as a team, the game becomes very simple. The main reason for that number was the star of the game Jermaine O’Neal who exploded for his best game as a Raptors player scoring 36 points and adding 9 rebounds and 2 assists to the mix. He was 15 – 19 from the floor and 6 – 8 from the free throw line as the Kings had no answer to this inside pounding. Brad Miller scored 20, but was relegated to hitting 15 – 20 footers and was not much help on defense as Jermaine and Chris just kept attacking the rim and found little resistance.

Overall, this game was played very well by the Raptors who used solid defense to fuel the offense. They seem quite happy watching teams try to beat them from the outside and the Kings got the bulk of their scoring from guards John Salmons and Bobby Jackson mainly from long range as they score 24 points from beyond the arc, but only 24 in the paint as the Raptors were +16 inside. Though the Raptors were -4 on the offensive glass, they were +5 in second chance points so they were efficient when they got the ball back. One of the main reasons that this game was even close to begin with was the 13 first half turnovers committed by the Raptors. In the second half, they had on 3 and were much better at protecting the ball and took control of the game in the 3rd quarter and maintained the lead down the stretch with good decisions on offense. Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal combined for 64 of the 107 points. That has to be a good sign for this team to build on. Tonight we move to Portland to take on Steve Blake, Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden and the Trail Blazers before Monday’s game against the Warriors. I hope to see a solid team effort again tonight and perhaps 2 more wins to end the road trip before the new year.

Posted on: December 22, 2008 11:20 am
 

Raptors - Week 9 In Preview - Christmas Week

The week that is ahead offers the Raptors some hope as we arrive in Los Angeles to play the Clippers tonight before having a few days off before Christmas to re-group, then they play the Kings and the Trail Blazers on Friday and Saturday before finishing this 6 game road trip against the Warriors on the 29th. With the Mavericks, the Spurs and the Hornets behind this trip, the return home will bring the Rockets, the Magic and the Nuggets to town. This week appears to be our best chance to record a much needed victory, especially one or two on the road, and maybe 3.

The Clippers come into the game tonight with an 8 – 19 record after a week in which they went 2 – 2 with victories against the Thunder and the Pacers and losses to the Bulls and the Bucks. The Clippers are lead by Zach Randolph who is averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds a game and Marcus Camby who is averaging 11 points and 12 rebounds per game. With Baron Davis and Al Thornton averaging 18 and 17 points per game and Eric Gordon averaging 9.1 points per game, even with Chris Kaman out, this team has a solid front court with a very active back court and will provide Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh and Jamario Moon fits at both ends of the floor. Tonight I look for Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono to carry the game as our guard play will have to step up and provide some consistent scoring as our front court will be challenged all night by two very good defensive forwards. I look for the tempo to be calculated and to not be pushed as this team would love to get Baron Davis in a running game against our much slower back court. Turnovers will be critical and we will need to work hard to take advantage of every rebound we can acquire as they will be looking to control the game on the boards against one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league. I think the Raptors can pull this one off, but they will have to desire and attack every ball and every rebound and out hustle this Clippers team at both ends of the floor.

On Boxing Day, the Raptors head up the highway to Sacramento to take on the struggling Kings. Tonight they play the Spurs in San Antonio where Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will be ready to play this Kings team who are 7 – 19 and last in their division. With a starting lineup missing two key players in Kevin Martin and Beno Udrih, the Kings will send Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes or Mikki Moore, John Salmons or Francisco Garcia and Bobby Jackson to the floor. This should be a game that Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh could do a lot of damage in the front court with Andrea Bargnani adding some out side scoring from the 4 position, the Kings are just a bit too thin to compete with our active front including the new kid, Jake Voskuhl who looked good in the short time on the floor scoring 4 points over Tim Duncan. Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono I think will have a lot of opportunities to showcase their games should they chose to step up and play. Salmons will be a good match up for Jamario and Kapono will be a valued outside shot should the Raptors stay inside the flow of the offense. Jamario Moon and Jose Calderon should be able to push the ball, but I think Roko Ukic and Will Solomon with Joey Graham will push the tempo on this team that is a bit thin due to injuries.

Saturday finds the Raptors playing in Portland to play the Trail Blazers. Since they beat the Raptors on December 7th, the Trail Blazers are just 2 – 3 with wins against the Kings and the Suns and losses against the Magic, the Jazz and the Clippers. This week they are busy with a back to back starting in Denver tonight then facing the Nuggets in Portland tomorrow and then hosting the Mavericks on Christmas Day. At 17 – 10, they are tied with the Nuggets for 1st in the Northwest division with the Jazz behind with a 17 – 12 record. The Trail Blazers will be a very tough match up for the Raptors, and the memory of the 1 point loss looms large still. The lineup for the Trail Blazers has been solid all season with Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, LeMarcus Aldridge, Steve Blake and Nicolas Batum with Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez both averaging 10+ points a game and have been starters at various points in the season, this team is balanced and deadly in the open floor. Being the 5th game of the 6 game road trip, I suspect the Raptors will be ready to get home as they will have been away for nearly 2 weeks, which is not a bad thing at this point in their up and down season. Against the Trail Blazers, our perimeter defense will need to be at top form to keep the ball out of the hands of their shooters. That has been a struggle all season but it can be done. We will need balance on offense with our shooters needing to turn in good games to pull this team out from the paint and force them to open some room up for our guys up front. It worked the first game had Blake not hit that Vince Carter like shot over Anthony Parker for the win.

With a few days of rest and some valuable practice time before Christmas, this week should allow the team to do some coming together under coach Jay Triano. Since December 3rd, the Raptors have had little time to practice and have shown a more willing attitude on the floor. That will have to continue to grow as the new year brings some tough games early in January. January 11th and 12th offer us a home and home with the Celtics, with 2 games against the Bulls and one against the Pistons, the Suns, the Nets and the Bucks twice. A couple of wins before the end of 2008 would be a great way to ring in the new year and perhaps offer a stimulus to turn this season around.

Posted on: December 13, 2008 4:20 pm
 

Raptors - Hornets - A Game Preview

Sunday afternoon the Hornets visit the ACC to take on the suddenly 2 in a row winning Raptors with a new head coach and a new defensive attitude holding the Pacers and the Nets to a combined 34.1% field goal percentage in the last 2 games. Sunday, Chris Paul and David West lead the Hornets with Peja Stojakovic to give them a different level of test of their defensive mettle. Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal will be tested inside all afternoon as Chris Paul looks to penetrate and kick all game looking for Peja and Morris Peterson off the dribble. With Tyson Chandler questionable for the game, Hilton Armstrong will be looked upon to provide some offensive boards for this team who will be out manned up front. With Kris Humphries and Anthony Parker still in suits, it will be up to Andrea Bargnani to step in and provide solid defense up front while Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon get the start at the 2 and 3 spots.

Keys for the game:

1) Protect the Paint – allowing only 34 points in the paint to the Nets was a huge victory for this Raptors team that had been averaging 47+ points in the paint nightly. Against the Hornets Chris Paul and Rasual Butler will look to force the Raptors out of the defensive lanes that held Vince Carter to 0 – 13 shooting with no lanes to penetrate. Joey Graham will need to continue his solid work cutting off the top of the lane from the slashing guards the Hornets have.

2) Perimeter defense – Not letting Mo Pete and Peja Stojakovic will be looked to shoot over top of the 1 – 4 structure that Jay has implemented. With Jose Calderon being pulled out of man coverage on Chris Paul, the defensive movement of Jamario Moon and Joey Graham will be critical to putting pressure on the array of shooters this Hornets team will bring to the game.

3) Rebounding – I will say this every game until the Raptors begin to assert themselves on the glass consistently. Against a smaller front court like the Hornets, there is no reason why we can’t dominate this team on the glass, especially if Tyson Chandler does not play. With him out, David West becomes the leading rebounder on this team and he should have a difficult time against Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal all afternoon with Andrea Bargnani in the mix, the Raptors should be able to work toward a more balanced rebounding effort. Though they won the game, the Nets were +15 on the offensive glass. I believe that this will correct itself as the team continues to respond to the schemes and attitudes that Jay has begun to implement on this team.

4) Transition defense – This Hornets team will look to take advantage of turnovers as Chris Paul is one of the league leaders in steals with 53. The Raptors will have to contain the transition offense and early baskets that the Hornets will attempt to capitalize on.

5) Control the Ball – Turnovers will be a huge factor as the Raptors will be hard pressed to keep the ball and keep the number of turnovers closer to 10 than to 20. As this team becomes more comfortable with Jay’s systems, I look to Jose Calderon to have more than 3 assists as well, but more critical, this team needs to keep the assist to turnover ratio closer to 2/1 to continue it’s success. Right now the Raptors are 4th overall in assists per game with 22.8 per game, but they average 14.4 turnovers per game. Lots of room to improve there as a group. They are 4th in the league in A/TO’s right now, but there is a lot of room to improve ball control and work at protecting the ball. The improved play of Roko Ukic has provided a much noticed improvement in this area the past week.


I can see the Raptors working to improve on the effort they have begun to show and should they be able to contain Chris Paul and David West and make Peja take shots under pressure, I think it will be a good start to a brutal week with the Nets and the Mavericks coming to town before facing the Thunder and the Spurs on the road by Saturday.

Posted on: December 13, 2008 10:48 am
 

Raptors - Nets - A Game Review

Friday night in the Swamp, the Raptors faced the Nets in a game where both teams had something to prove. The Nets were looking to build on a 7 – 3 in the last 10 games and still enjoying the OT win in Toronto after being down 18 points for most of the game. The Raptors were looking to show that their defensive improvements over the past 3 games critical in the win over the Pacers Wednesday night in which they held Danny Granger pretty much out of the game though he finished with 22 points, he was held to 9 – 25. The Raptors were looking to re-establish the interior defense that they had in the 3 – 0 start of the season, but lost before the change of coaches. On a night when the Nets were still without Eduardo Najera and Josh Boone was playing his first game after missing 14 games, the Raptors were looking to exploit that thin front line.

As the game unfolded, it was easy to see that the Raptors commitment to defense had taken hold. At one point early the Nets were held to 4 points in the paint and it stayed that way as Vince Carter made 0 shots in the first half making his first FT with 8:21 left in the 3rd quarter ending with 3 points and 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He was frustrated all night as Jamario Moon would not let him have any open looks and when he drove, the defense was there with the proper rotation forcing him to pass and often, that pass was contested and the ensuing shooter was contested. It was great to watch the Raptors hustle for loose balls and attack the perimeter making the Nets take low percentage shots or creating turnovers. The Nets ended the game with 18 turnovers. When the 4th quarter started, Vince was planted firmly on the bench and the Nets were 27% or so as a team shooting. They ended up at 31.3% as the benches played out the 4th which the Raptors started with a 71 – 53 lead. At a couple places in the 4th, the Raptors were up 30 points and had a 31 point lead at one point as the Nets bench scored 26 points in the 4th to keep the numbers from being more lop-sided than they already were.

For the Nets, Devin Harris and Vince Carter came into the game averaging 47.7 points per game as a tandem, one of the most prolific duos in the league this season. Raptors concern was that this would not be contained. With Jose Calderon and Jamario Moon playing against them most of the night with help from Joey Graham on Vince, they were held to 17 points on 4 – 23 shooting Vince being held to 0 field goals. Both Jose and Jamario have had points in the season where they have been called lousy defenders and liabilities, but Friday night they broke down the Nets back court all night long with Jamario Moon ending the night with 5 steals and 1 block. Last game, Brook Lopez scored 14 points inside and was a huge reason why the Nets were able to come back as he was an active threat on the glass and created a lot of room for Devin Harris and Vince Carter to take over the game. Friday night he was pretty much held in check by Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal as they both were up to the task of keeping the pressure on anyone who ventured into the paint. Lopez scored 6 Friday but was able to grab 8 rebounds which kept the Nets in this game for the first 3 quarters. Yi Jianlian was guarded by Chris Bosh most of the night and was relegated to a perimeter player most of the night as he had no room underneath and was frustrated by Chris Bosh all night ending up with 5 fouls taking him out of his slashing game. Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell had 12 and 10 points. As a group, the Nets starters were held to 15 – 54 for a dismal 27.7% shooting. That speaks of them taking plenty of low percentage shots and having a terrible night shooting overall.

Let me review my 4 keys to the game and highlight some good play by the Raptors as a group.

1) Turnovers – we will not be able to turn the ball over 20+ times against this quick back court or we will pay a huge price for it. Jose and Roko Ukic or Will Solomon will have to work hard at making the right pass and keep the turnovers under 15.

The Raptors ended the night with 11 turnovers to the Nets 18 with 8 steals and 8 blocks 4 by Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors held the Nets to 7 points off of turnovers as they recovered well while scoring 24 off of Nets turnovers. Jose Calderon had 0 turnovers and 3 assists and 3 rebounds and 13 points, but played so well on defense which was the first priority for him last night. Roko Ukic again played a very solid game attacking the rim and pushing the ball up the floor. He ended the night with 10 points and 5 assists and 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He has grown immensely in the past few games under Jay Triano as he finds himself getting more and more minutes and handling himself very well. Chris Bosh had 4 turnovers, usually making bad passes in the post or just losing the handle. He is not usually this awkward with the ball, but he is drawing more attention from weak side help again, but last night that was exploited with great success.

2) Rebound on both ends – the Raptors will not get away with a soft night on the glass at this point. Teams know this Raptors team has no desire to get after balls and will gladly do the work it takes to control the ball and the pace of the game.

Again, the Raptors were out rebounded on the offensive glass 20 – 5! 50 – 37 over all so they were collecting the ball on defense. Most games, I would be saying that this stat alone is one that will beat them most nights, but on a night when the Nets MISSED 57 shots, we got the ball back 56% of the time. The Nets ended with only 19 second chance points on 20 offensive boards! To me, that tells me that the Raptors were very good at recovering and actively pursuing the ball which is something they had not been doing as they were in the nasty habit of watching the rebounder just put the ball back in the net. I think it was Jermaine O’Neal who blocked at least 1 ball that was pretty much in the cylinder, but more on that later. Do the Raptors need to work harder on offensive rebounding? Yes, but when a team settles for long shots, they usually get long rebounds and that was how it went last night which is why they had so few second chance points. For their 5 offensive boards, the Raptors had 9 second chance points. I can live with that effort, but would love to see that balance itself out.

3) Balanced offense – 6 players in double digits is a good sign for this team. When the ball movement is there, Chris Bosh has his room to do what he does and take the ball to the hole and get to the line. Another double double from Jose would look great as well.

Friday night, Chris Bosh scored 18 points, had 5 rebounds and 3 assists and 1 steal. He was 6 – 8 from the field and 6 – 7 from the line. His 4 turnovers were a big reason why his numbers were down and the fact he sat the 4th quarter showed the effort the team gave last night. This is the second win in a row and the second game in a row he has not hit his season average in points. It is also the second game in a row that we have had 6 players in double digits with Chris Bosh, Jason Kapono with 16 on 4 – 9 from 3 point range, Andrea Bargnani with 11 and 7 rebounds, Joey Graham and another very solid game all over the floor with 16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and some hard work defensively let him finish the game with 30 minutes of playing time. It is nice to see him improving every game. Roko Ukic again had 10 points and 5 assists and 4 rebounds and Jose Calderon had 13 points. That type of balance from the Raptors starters and bench will give the team more opportunity to win close games as the season rolls on. Will Solomon and Hassan Adams also played with Will adding 2 points.

4) Protect the paint – we can’t continue to give up 40+ points in the paint and expect to win many games. NOT IN MY HOUSE has to become the mantra on defense of this team.

Coming into the game, the Raptors had been giving up 47 points in the paint as teams attacked them and collected uncontested put back baskets at will. As I watched the game, I was quite impressed by the new attitude this team has begun to develop in such a short time under Jay Triano. The Nets were only able to score 34 points in the paint last night. Loose balls are now attacked and fought for, more than a few times there were 3 Raptors on the floor after the ball, including Chris Bosh. That is a great thing to see as that is an internal thing, an instinct and a desire to win, not just play the game. You see that attitude in guys like Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups and guys that are willing to go all out every play to win. I am pleased to say that this was missing for the first part of the season, and should this continue, this team will soon gain the heart to compete at a very high level, and the past 2 weeks will be a distant memory as the new year begins.

Some random thoughts from Friday night’s game.

Chris Bosh looked very much more at peace and relaxed in the new look Raptors. He tried to force a couple passes and had the ball hacked out of his hands a few times, but I believe that he is much happier in the role of being AN option on offense as opposed to being the ONLY option on offense. I think that he will return to his 20+ games, but they will be in the context of the balance that we have seen the past 3 games. The 2 shots he missed last night were both tough no calls, but he was attacking the net again and that is a very good thing to see. Jason Kapono has scored 41 points in the past 2 games and is 17 – 31 from the field and 7 – 16 from outside the arc. Not only that, he is working harder on defense and contributing rebounds and assists that fit very well in the flow of this offense. He is a very valuable asset when he plays the game he can and doesn’t force his game. With 13 boards in the past two games, he has found other ways to contribute as well and his defensive play has improved immensely. Jermaine O’Neal scored only 7 points to go with his 2 rebounds, but added 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks providing a solid support inside that contributed to the Nets having no desire to attack the rim at all. He needs to contribute more rebounding nightly, but his defense alone was enough to set the tone for this game. Andrea Bargnani scored 11 points and collected 7 rebounds including 2 offensive rebounds. He also had 4 blocks and 1 assist on a night when his shooting was off he played a solid game on the glass and keeping the Nets out of the paint.

Sunday will be another tough game as the Hornets visit, then Monday the Nets return to the ACC, then Wednesday, the Mavericks visit as the Raptors have a 3 game home stand, but they have 5 games in the next 7 days with the Thunder and the Spurs next weekend. I hope we are up to the challenge.

Posted on: December 11, 2008 9:39 pm
 

Raptors - Nets - A Game Preview

Friday night, the Nets welcome the Raptors to the swamp and look to return to the win column after losing to the Knicks on Wednesday evening. Having won 4 of the last 5 and 7 of the last 10, this team is playing good and since beating the Raptors in Toronto on November 21st they have beaten teams like the Jazz, the Suns and the 76ers with losses to the Lakers and the Wizards and the Knicks, consistency has been an issue as they are still without Josh Boone and Eduardo Najera. Since that game in November, the Raptors have had a very serious schedule that has been the second worse in the NBA behind the Pacers so far this year. Since that game, they have beaten the Bobcats and have been pounded by the Celtics, the Lakers, the Cavaliers and the Nuggets as well as tough losses to the Jazz and the Trail Blazers. The win on Tuesday evening was a much needed break for this team who have become weary to say the least.

With a new coach in Jay Triano and a new attitude as a group, this team looks poised to begin resurgence in the tough Atlantic division and look toward moving up the ladder in the conference as December rolls on. To say this team was in disarray would not do justice to the turmoil that must have been in that locker room the past 10 days. That being said, there is still a lot of work left to do and the players have to continue the growth and continue the energy that they carried on Tuesday.

The Nets Devin Harris has quickly developed a top level game averaging 29 points in the past 6 games including 2 over 30 and 47 points against the Suns. He will look to continue this tear through the guards in the league and with Vince Carter on the floor beside him, this is one of the top back courts in the league. With Josh Boone out, rookie Brook Lopez has logged heavy minutes this season averaging 26.5 minutes per game averaging 9.5 points and 8 rebounds on a team with a lack of depth up the middle. Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian round out the front court and there is little behind them with Sean Williams and Stromile Swift on the bench. This team is guard driven with Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling waiting to contribute. Despite a thin front line, this Nets team is 11 – 9 on the season and a threat to score a lot of points on any given night.

The Raptors have to a man struggled since their 3 – 0 start. At times they have looked D-League and at times, worse. They have struggled defensively from the outside and teams have taken advantage of the soft under belly of our defense to make large runs. This team has lost too many games in which they were up 18 points. That points directly to team defense and a will to compete on every possession. With Jermaine O’Neal brought in to shore up the rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, they have had too many nights when they can’t seem to box anyone out. Jermaine will need a strong game on the glass tomorrow as the Nets know where to attack. Chris Bosh has come under fire in some quarters as playing soft or not trying, but what I sense is that teams have once again been able to focus their entire defensive rotations to keep him outside and force him to be a jump shooter. With Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon both struggling to gain a consistent outside shot and movement with out the ball, our offense had become predictable and our turnover numbers reflect the lack of creativity with which we have been playing. The experiment with Andrea Bargnani at the 3 spot seems to have come to an end with a bang as the Raptors have seen Joey Graham emerge as an energetic force on defense and turning into a steady player on offense. Andrea will return to the front line which has been thinned by Kris Humphries injury situation so the timing of the switch in rotation has been forced, but the time was right. With Anthony Parker out, Jason Kapono will draw Vince Carter and Jamario Moon will draw Bobby Simmons. Chris Bosh will face Yi Jianlian and Jermaine will be guarded by the rookie Lopez. Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono will be hard pressed to contain the Nets tandem of Carter and Harris and those matchups will be critical for success in the game.

Some game keys to watch for.

1) Turnovers – we will not be able to turn the ball over 20+ times against this quick back court or we will pay a huge price for it. Jose and Roko Ukic or Will Solomon will have to work hard at making the right pass and keep the turnovers under 15.
2) Rebound on both ends – the Raptors will not get away with a soft night on the glass at this point. Teams know this Raptors team has no desire to get after balls and will gladly do the work it takes to control the ball and the pace of the game.
3) Balanced offense – 6 players in double digits is a good sign for this team. When the ball movement is there, Chris Bosh has his room to do what he does and take the ball to the hole and get to the line. Another double double from Jose would look great as well.
4) Protect the paint – we can’t continue to give up 40+ points in the paint and expect to win many games. NOT IN MY HOUSE has to become the mantra on defense of this team.

I think the Raptors have learned some lessons about holding leads and playing when ahead and it ISN’T about making pretty plays. It’s about doing what it was that gave you the lead. Ball control, ball movement, rebounding, hitting the open man in transition, and getting the ball in the hands of the shooter when he has the shot sound easy, but those are the things the good teams do every game to win.

Posted on: December 10, 2008 11:13 pm
 

Raptors - Pacers - A Game Review

Wednesday night, the Raptors and Jermaine O’Neal hosted the Pacers with T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic in their return to the ACC. Emotions were running high on both sides of the floor as the Raptors had come into the game with a 4 game losing streak looking for the first win as a head coach for Jay Triano, while the Pacers were on a 3 game losing streak after beating the Lakers with 2 losses to the Celtics and 1 to the Cavaliers! As a Raptors fan, I thought we had a tough schedule, but we are second behind the Pacers in that regard. With games against the Lakers, the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Cavaliers and the Nets, these two teams have played a lot of very difficult games in the past 2 weeks so both were looking to this game to help readjust their outlook to some winning ways.

On most nights, the Raptors rely on Chris Bosh to carry this team and the past week he has looked tired and out of sorts and his struggles on both ends of the floor have contributed to the tough 2 weeks they have endured. Not to say there are not a lot of other reasons for the struggles, but one could see the weight of the losses mounting on him as he became a jump shooter and working his game away from the inside game that has made him an effective weapon all season. Tonight, he was able to score 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, the most critical of which came in the 4th quarter as he grabbed a couple huge offensive boards to keep the ball out of the Pacers hands and keep the pressure on them to stop us as we pulled away down the stretch. Tonight, the game was not about Chris Bosh and his rise to the top 5 players in the league, it was about the Raptors playing as a team and working through their poor defensive play to work as a group at both ends of the floor.

The game started slowly with both teams forcing the game and their will upon the other with little success. Then the Raptors looked to Jason Kapono who started the game hot and continued his solid play throughout. With Anthony Parker hurt, the starting line up included Jamario Moon at the SG position and Jason Kapono at the SF position. Both responded with spirited play on defense as a combined 42 points between them with Jason scoring 25 in the game. Jamario Moon grabbed 2 offensive boards, one a flying put back that rocked the building ending with 8 rebounds and Jason Kapono had 8 as well. Andrea Bargnani had a poor game offensively with 0 points, but he had a couple huge rebounds defensively as the Raptors looked to seal the game down the stretch. He ended with 4 rebounds. Jamario provided some very solid minutes defensively as he hounded Danny Granger all night and was 7 – 22 shooting at one point ending with 22 points, but was not much of a factor in the second half as Jamario Moon and Joey Graham held him in check. Joey Graham played one of his best games defensively Wednesday night and was a pest offensively posting up his man and attacking the rim collecting 12 points off the bench. Roko Ukic provided solid minutes again running the ball and attacking the rim scoring 5 points and handing out 2 assists but did much more to allow Jose Calderon valuable time to rest. He has begun to become a solid guard and with Jay Triano able to coach him from a guard’s perspective, I look forward to see the improvement of all our guards at both ends of the floor. Jermaine O’Neal picked up two very quick fouls and looked early like it was going to be a long night for him. From that point, he worked hard on defense and found himself getting the ball inside against Rasho Nesterovic, he went to work and ended up with 10 points and 9 rebounds including 2 offensive boards. Over all, a solid game for him as he faced his old team and looked very comfortable as the 3rd or 4th option on offense.

The night was heralded as the T.J. Ford Jose Calderon battle part 1. What we saw was a game that featured Jose as a pass first guard playing a slashing PG who couldn’t find his game. T.J. Ford struggled early shooting 2/4 in the first half and went 0/4 in the second as Jose and Jamario chased him down and gave him little room to pass as well. Jose Calderon ended the night with 11 points and 14 assists and only 2 turnovers while Ford ended up with 2 turnovers and 4 assists. Round 1? Jose refused to say this game was about them, and I agree. He showed a lot of class as he has done his time with the Raptors. Tonight was about the Raptors coming together as a team, not about getting in the face of the team you came from. Well done both guys who refused to let it become about them.

A couple points I wish to leave here. The Raptors held the Pacers to 34.7% FG and only 28% from 3 points range. The difference tonight was that the Raptors had a man on the shooter most of the night and the Pacers had few open looks. It was a good job by the Raptors to work hard at finding the shooter and staying with him through the rotation. Marquis Daniels had 21 points and was 7 – 19 but 7 – 7 from the line. He seemed to be the only Pacers player early who was hitting shots as the Raptors found their place in the new defensive rotations. He moved well with out the ball and eventually the Raptors found him and made him take tougher shots as the game moved on. Troy Murphy led the Pacers with a 20 point, 20 rebound game and was the only consistent threat from outside as he shot 4/8 from outside.

Again, the Raptors were outrebounded 52 to 47 which is a much better performance on the glass for the Raptors, but ending up -9 on the offensive glass was a huge reason the game was still close into the 4th. It would be easy to criticize this Raptors team for not getting after the ball in order to limit the offensive boards, but they will correct that issue as Jay continues to work his systems into this group. They were able to grab the ball when needed to control the game down the stretch, and that fact alone shows a huge step in the development of this team from last week. 7 blocks were huge as Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon each had 3 and they seemed to be huge as they came late in the 4th and helped ice the game.

It was great to see 6 Raptors end up with double digits points and Jose and Chris had double doubles and 4 players had 8 or more rebounds. Balanced scoring and balanced effort on the glass has got to become the hallmark of this team and let’s hope tonight is the first step.

The Raptors have the Nets with Vince Carter and Devin Harris who scored 32 in a loss to the Knicks Wednesday. Then they face the Hornets and Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler on Sunday. Let’s hope this gives the guys a much needed boost mentally and as a group. The schedule doesn’t get easier as the season goes on!

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com