In their best defensive effort of the season (perhaps the victory in Indiana was better), the Toronto Raptors put the clamps on the Dallas Mavericks for a 95-74 victory. A day after Andrea Bargnani said the Raptors were “the worst team in the NBA,” Toronto came out looking like an inspired group. Perhaps that was a result of Bargnani’s comments, or perhaps it was a result of Bargnani’s absence from the lineup…

Here are some thoughts on the game:

Raptors 95, Mavericks 74

-Raptors fans gave Vince Carter a raucous booing when he checked into the game halfway through the first quarter. Despite what some people say, the majority of Raptors fans have not forgiven Vince – nor should they. He didn’t give 100% in his final season in Toronto, and that is unacceptable and unforgivable when you are earning $15+ million per year to play a game. The icing on the cake tonight for Toronto fans was Carter going 1-for-8 from the field as his Mavericks fell easily.

-Jose Calderon is a far better shooter at home. Coming into this game, Jose was shooting 43% from the field, 47% from three-point range and 100% from the free throw line at home. On the road, he’s shooting 40% from the field, 43% from three and 93% from the free throw line. Tonight, he finished 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from three.

-Calderon’s play-making is much more effective when he initiates the offence early in the shot clock. Far too often, he slowly brings the ball up the floor and then turns his back to the play as he calls for a screen. By the time anything of significance has happened, there is usually 10-12 seconds left on the shot clock. If that initial pick and roll doesn’t lead to anything, Toronto is left scrambling to get a good shot. This style of offence leads to high assist totals for Jose, but a very inefficient system. Against Brooklyn, Calderon’s slow-paced offence resulted in many stagnant stretches. It also made it very difficult for DeRozan to get into any sort of rhythm (he finished with 11 pts). Tonight, Calderon worked at a faster pace, and though he finished with fewer assists, the offence thrived.

-Ed Davis has the most polished post-up game on the Raptors, which is both slightly depressing but also a testament to his back-to-the-basket game. One thing that makes Davis so effective, is that he rarely gets his shot blocked. Only 4.1% of Davis’ field goal attempts get blocked. The league average for power forwards is 7.6%. Amir Johnson, by comparison, gets 8.9% of his shots blocked.

-Davis continued his excellence on the glass, pulling down eight boards in 23 minutes. Right now, there are three power forwards (who get significant minutes) that have a higher total rebound rate than Ed Davis. They are Zach Randolph, Kevin Love and Reggie Evans. That, is the ‘who’s who’ of rebounding, and Ed Davis is on the verge of joining that class.

-DeMar DeRozan was aggressive from the opening whistle. He took the offensive load on his shoulders in the first half and finished the game with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. DeMar’s third quarter block on Chris Kaman was a momentum-changing play. Toronto hadn’t scored in over three minutes, but they came down the floor after DeRozan’s block and nailed a three-pointer. DeRozan won the battle of former USC shooting guards, as OJ Mayo finished with just 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting.

-Terrence Ross found some rhythm with his jump-shot in the first half. He also threw down a beautiful alley-oop from DeRozan in the second quarter. Ross is already a superior talent than any wing player not named DeRozan on this team. Toronto should get them both in the starting lineup, since this is going to be their tandem on the wing going forward.

-Mickael Pietrus had a very positive impact in the third quarter. He has a tighter handle than I remember from his days in Orlando and Golden State. There is no reason he shouldn’t continue to earn him minutes every night, whether it’s off the bench or as a starter.

-Alan Anderson returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with a foot injury. He showed a lot of rust (0/8 from the field), but his presence will make this team better. He can score off of the bench and his defence rivals that of Pietrus.

-Linas Kleiza’s deep-shooting is a valuable asset to the second unit, as he can play as the small forward or a “stretch-four”. Kleiza finished tonight’s game with a team-high 20 points on 5-of-11 three-point shooting. His scoring will be necessary with Bargs and Lowry out of the lineup.

-The Mavericks didn’t make one three-pointer all night. It was the first time since 2004 that Toronto didn’t allow a three-pointer at home. The defence did a good job of getting out to shooters while still bringing some help to defend Chris Kaman in the post. The Mavericks’ offence is relatively inept with Derek Fisher at the helm, but it’s clear Toronto’s defence is better without Andrea Bargnani. In his absence, both Toronto big men bring help defence and both big men make an effort to box out. Those two changes alone, make this a significantly better defensive squad.

-It was a pleasant change to see the starters getting significant rest in a situation that wasn’t a blowout loss. No starter played more than 32 minutes and the bench played a key role in this victory. Toronto’s bench outscored Dallas’ bench 53-27.

Raptors Player Of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 14 Pts, 6/13 FG, 1/3 3PT, 1/2 FT, 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk , 2 TO in 31:35

Mavericks Player Of the Game: Chris Kaman – 15 Pts, 7-18 FG, 1/2 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Blk, 3 TO in 26:44

The Raptors look to start a winning streak when they host the Rockets on Sunday afternoon. If they can catch Houston sleeping, the Raps then have three winnable games against Cleveland, Detroit and Orlando. Given how weak the Eastern Conference is, I have not written off this season for Toronto (they are 7.5 games out of 8th). Tonight can be a turning point if the Raptors build on this performance. They need to set the tone and establish the hard-nosed, blue collar attitude they had last season. If that happens, this team is one healthy Kyle Lowry and one Andrea Bargnani trade away from climbing back into the Eastern Conference.