Game No. 34: Rockets 88, Raptors 85

The Raptors started the second half of the 2011-2012 season in similar fashion to the way they played games in the first half. A slow start, a good effort to claw back into the game and make it interesting, not enough talent to close it out or grab a W.

Now here are some thoughts on the game.

1- What else is new? Despite finally figuring out how to play a first quarter at home, the Raptors continue to come out laying eggs in their opening quarters on the road. The rested Raptors looked more like the rusted Raptors early, beginning the contest with a two-for-11 shooting display over the first few minutes and six turnovers over the span of the first quarter. Not surprisingly, the Raps found themselves down 12 after one. Toronto has now gone 12 straight road games without winning a first quarter (last first quarter win came January 10 at Washington), a horrible road recipe for a young team low on talent.

2- James Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis had the most noticeably positive games for the Raptors on this night, but Jamaal Magloire’s contribution in his 15 minutes of action should not go unmentioned. Magloire made himself a presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, set hard screens, grabbed some rebounds and brought a physicality that I believe changed the ball game early in the second quarter, the same way he did in the Raptors’ tough loss to the Lakers a few weeks ago. Jamaal was brought home to Toronto to provide a veteran presence and give the Raptors dependable spot minutes when called upon. As bad as he’s looked at times this season, it seems like he has finally settled into his role and is now simply doing his job. And that’s perfectly fine.

3- DeMar DeRozan had another nice night offensively, scoring 17 points on 14 field goal attempts to go along with a couple of boards, an assist, a steal and two blocks. DeRozan scored all of his points through the first three quarters, however, as he was curiously stapled to the bench for much of the fourth quarter. I’m not sure if Dwane Casey was unhappy with something about DeMar’s game tonight, if he was simply sticking with a lineup that had them in a close game down the stretch, or if it was all part of the Tank Nation “conspiracy” (sarcasm by the way, as I can’t see Casey stomaching a purposeful tank). Whatever it was,  DeMar didn’t know the reason either, or he did, and just wasn’t happy with it:

 

For the record, that tweet has now mysteriously disappeared. The NBA’s twitter policy does state that players can’t tweet until after they “have finished their responsibilities after games.” The game finished around 10:30. DeMar’s tweet was sent at 11:13. Hopefully one of the beat reporters can confirm soon enough whether DeMar completed his post-game responsibilities before tweeting. Either way, expect insane reaction, massive speculation and maybe even some confusion over what this tweet was really about, if we haven’t already figured it out.

4- Speaking of guys who were riding the pine down the stretch, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless sat and watched for most of the fourth quarter while Anthony Carter and Leandro Barbosa patrolled the back court for Toronto. Again, part of that was probably just Casey sticking with a lineup that was working, but it obviously also had to do with Jose’s off night and Jerryd’s atrocious night. I didn’t think Calderon was that bad on the offensive side, but he wasn’t giving Casey much on the defensive end. As for Bayless, he had just four points (on six shots), two rebounds and two assists while committing an ugly five turnovers in only 12 minutes. Jerryd never looked like he had his head in this game.

5- Houston’s general success doesn’t shock me, as I did predict they’d be one of the eight teams that would make the playoffs out West, but I thought they would be the kind of team that has to scrap out games in late April to get in. That still may very well be the case, but as of right now, the Rockets are more concerned with getting home court in the first round than they are about just getting in. At 18-7 since January 13 and 21-14 overall, Houston is currently tied with the Lakers for fourth in the conference. They have no one scoring more than 18 points per game and no one grabbing even eight rebounds per game, but the Rockets are very well balanced, are obviously playing hard for Kevin McHale and are getting some outstanding point guard play from Kyle Lowry, who came into this game averaging 15.6 points, 7.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds and two steals per game, while boasting a Player Efficiency Rating over 20.

6- We’re all hoping that Ed Davis can finish off this season the way he finished strong in his rookie campaign last year, and Tuesday night in Houston was definitely a step in the right direction for him. Davis had been playing better heading into the All Star break, and continued his improved play tonight with five points on just two field goal attempts (made them both) and a ridiculous 15 rebounds (plus a block) in only 22 minutes of floor time. I don’t have a problem with how Amir Johnson played tonight, but given that Davis is starting to find some consistency and that I believe Amir’s energetic bursts are best suited off of the bench, I’d really like to see Ed get some starts until Bargnani is ready to return.

***

At the end of the day, the Raptors competed and had a chance to tie the game in the final minute on the road against one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and a team that looks like a playoff club in the Western Conference. In their last 11 games, the Raptors are just 3-8, but none of their eight losses have been by more than seven points and four of those defeats have finished as one-possession games. Tank Nation has to be smiling right now.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 34 Min, 16 Pts, 6-12 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-4 FT, 8 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Rockets Player of the Game: Kyle Lowry – 38 Min, 26 Pts, 8-12 FG, 4-4 3PT, 6-7 FT, 3 Reb, 5 Ast, 3 TO

Make sure you come check out RaptorBlog on Wednesday, as we’ll post a great interview that theScore’s Glenn Schiiler recently did with Jose Calderon.