Five Alive!

A 9-19 record only looks good when the team starts 4-19. What appeared to be a lost season with no draft pick has very quickly turned into something worthwhile. Hope doesn’t come from the fact that Toronto sits five games out of the eighth seed in the East. Hope comes from the style of basketball we’ve seen over the last six games.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

Raptors 93, Magic 90

- First the bad news…Jonas Valanciunas left the game in the first quarter with what turned out to be a broken bone in his hand. JV got tangled up under the basket and came out in severe pain. A similar injury kept Stephen Jackson out for just over a month. There is currently no timetable for JV’s injury…

- Valanciunas’ injury left Toronto very thin up front and Orlando outscored Toronto 46-28 in the paint. Nikola Vucevic and Gustavo Ayon combined for 25 boards. As a team, Orlando out-rebounded Toronto 45-32. Toronto’s lack of size could become an issue going forward if JV misses a significant amount of time. 

- Ever since Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry went down with injuries, the Raptors’ defence has started to resemble it’s 2011-12 form. They take away the paint first and force teams into long range jump shots. This is the most effective way to play defence and it’s very reassuring to see six straight games of this style of defensive ball. The Raps allowed a season-low 15 points in the first quarter tonight and their activity level on defence manifested itself into 18 forced turnovers

- What has caused this massive change in attitude on the defensive end? It could have been the players-only meeting. It could be that Toronto just got tired of getting beat down, as Dwane Casey often says. I think the more likely answer is that this team has a new energy without Andrea Bargnani in the starting lineup. There is more trust, more communication, more help-defence and most importantly, more intensity without Bargs on the floor. It’s difficult to ask every player on the team to give a complete effort when they know that one of their teammates is allowed to get away with a half-assed effort. It will be very interesting to see if Bargnani is handed his starting job back when he returns. Making him a starter again would be severely detrimental to this team’s recent success.

-I’m not sure what Terrence Ross needs to do in order to take minutes away from guys like Linas Kleiza and Mickael Pietrus. Ross has tremendous foot speed on defence and it seems as if he shows us something new on offence every night. Tonight he had two dunks of the spectacular variety. One put-back jam where his head appeared to be at the rim. The second was a windmill jam on the fast break – silky smooth. Both these dunks are the type of throw-downs that will earn someone a ticket to the dunk contest…

- It’s unfortunate that Dwane Casey is forced to give Linas Kleiza playing time due to injuries. “Long-Two Linas” has a serious love affair with his jump-shot and he needs to break it off. He played nine minutes in the first half and managed to hoist up eight shots in that time – making just two of them. That almost falls in line with his shooting percentage for the season, which currently sits at 35%. When Kleiza’s shot isn’t falling, he is pretty useless. Jack Armstrong summed him up by saying “They need to get him off the floor. He can’t guard anyone in space.”

-Alan Anderson continues to find ways to make substantial contributions to this team. Despite shooting just 2-of-9 from the field, he was able to make an impact in other areas. Anderson does so many things that don’t show up in the boxscore. He’s a great on-ball defender, has very active hands,  is a competent ball-handler and has a strong presence on the glass from the wing. I can’t think of a good reason to keep Pietrus in the starting lineup ahead of Anderson. Replacing Pietrus with Ross would require moving DeRozan to the three-spot and DeMar might not be heavy enough for that transition yet. Anderson over Pietrus seems like a straight upgrade.

- DeMar DeRozan struggled tonight against a very good defender in Arron Afflalo. He finished 5-of-17 from the field but contributed by racking up eight rebounds. In previous seasons, if DeMar wasn’t scoring, there wasn’t much he could do for the team.

-Ed Davis is the most effective post-up player on the Raptors. In the first quarter, he had two dunks that came as a result of great footwork before starting the third quarter with a smooth running hook-shot. Davis has been very consistent ever since Dwane Casey called him out a few weeks ago. Tonight, he had another solid game at both ends of the floor, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.

- The injury to Valanciunas opens the door for Amir Johnson. Amir has the ability to play centre but he gives up a lot of weight to most starting fives. He makes up for this with foot speed and length. After Calderon, Amir has been Toronto’s best player during this streak. Tonight was no exception, as he finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

- Jose Calderon set the tone again on offence by making three jump-shots in the first six minutes. It’s crucial for the Raptors to have Calderon make those shots early in the game because teams otherwise go under screens, rendering his pick-and-rolls ineffective. Jose has been the poster boy for this winning streak with his improved defensive principles and offensive wizardry. Kyle Lowry deserves his starting job when he returns from injury but Calderon should be lauded for playing the best basketball of his career at age 31.

-Toronto’s bench has been very consistent throughout this streak. Tonight, the Raptors’ second unit bench outscored the Magic bench 50-33.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Jose Calderon – 13 Pts, 6/9 FG, 1/2 3PT, 0/1 FT, 4 Reb, 9 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO in 33:35

Magic Player Of the Game: Arron Afflalo – 26 pts, 7/11 FG, 3/3 3PT, 9/9 FT, 1 Reb, 5 Ast, 5 TO in 41:52

The Raptors head into their Christmas break on a very high note, but that means the break doesn’t come at a good time, as winning teams don’t like having their rhythm broken by a long layoff. Toronto kicks off a small three-game road trip in San Antonio on Boxing Day. That will be a very tough game to get, but games against New Orleans and Orlando after that are very winnable.

Comments (51)

  1. I think Anderson needs to keep coming off the bench. He’s a leader on the 2nd unit and is having good success in that role. The 2nd unit already struggles – imagine taking Anderson off and putting Pietrus out there? Horrible.

    Is the scouting report catching up to Calderon? They put a much taller SG on him for the last few minutes of the game and it completely disrupted not only Calderon but the Raptors’ entire offence. That was when Orlando went on a 10-0 run. Why not put a taller wing on Calderon and a PG on one of the Raptors’ other wing players (Ross in this case)? Toronto’s too weak on the perimeter to make them pay for the mismatch.

    The Magic broadcasters have always hated Bargnani – should have heard them (maybe you did) ragging on him during this game. They directly attributed the Raptors’ improved defence & overall performance to Bargs being out. Like many opposing team’s broadcasters, they also love Calderon.

  2. I agree that Calderon is playing the best basketball of his career. After seeing him get benched in the olympic gold game I thought he was a fringe nba player, but in the past week he looks like a top 5 pg. Confidence and a nothing to lose attitude does wonders.

    • @Blart – what also does wonders is that he is in a contract year. Don’t think for a second (Like all athletes in any sport in their contract year) that this doesn’t play HUGE in Calderon’s performances…where were these “wins” and “top 5 PG play” the past 3 years?

      • Looks like the same Jose as always

      • He’s averaged almost the exact same numbers the past 3 seasons .. and if you want to get technical, his numbers are actually down this season compared to last season:

        2012-13 : 10.6 PPG, 7.5 APG, 2.6 RPG
        2011-12 : 10.5 PPG, 8.8 APG, 3.0 RPG
        2010-11 : 9.8 PPG, 8.9 APG, 3.0 RPG

        So nice try

        • His numbers are “down” this year because he’s been a 6th man for half the season and played less.

          But yes, statistically he is the same over the past few seasons.

    • Maybe not Jose’s best year ever, but his advanced stats are definitely his best since 2008/9: PER, TS% and eFG% are are way up from last year. Assist rate and Turnover rate are about the same as ever.

  3. wow, great to see kleiza, lucas III, and bargnani at the top of that efg% list smh

  4. Time to trade Bargnani and Lowry away, I fear they will cause the team to go south.

    • @Sam: why Lowry?

      • I wouldn’t say trade Lowry, you won’t get market value.
        But I think he’s pointing out that Jose is still our best PG.

        My money says look for Lowry to come off the bench as he returns and I worry since he had no chemistry with any of the starters, what will happen with our bench.

        Lowry is young and could turn out to be an excellent PG, but he is far from that today.

        • I don’t think Lowry would want to be a bench player. That’s one reason why he wanted to leave Houston. I could see him requesting a trade if that happens.

    • Trade Lowry if you can get a good return on him.

      • Trade Lowry! You can good assets and he is not the PG.

        The PG is Jose Calderón!

        With Jose as starter, 7 wins 6 losses
        With Lowry as starter, 2 wins, 14 losses

        Definitely, make Lowry bench, make Lowry SG or trade Lowry!!

  5. Here are some trade ideas for Bargnani that work on the trade machine. Kevin Love straight up for Bargnani. Varejao for Bargnani. Aldridge for Bargnani. If Bryan Colangelo throws in our first rounder to sweeten the deal we can get rid of Bargnani.

    • Sounds great! We just need David Khan to suffer a complete mental breakdown and we’re in business.

    • @Sam… Why settle for so little? Why not ask the Heat to give us Lebron for Barney? Just tell them Barney m

    • while those trade ideas are completely unreasonable, Toronto doesn’t have a first round pick to trade so there is very little sweetening of the deal going on.

    • K love??? Wat r u on?

    • They work on trade machine?

      Woah! So does Bargnani and Fields for LeBron James. Maybe we should offer that to Miami.

    • The trade machine only takes into account the length and dollar value of contracts. It only considers the business side, not basketball logic.

      There’s no way in hell Minnesota, Cleveland or Portland would ever give those guys up for Bargnani.

  6. “this team has a new energy without Andrea Bargnani in the starting lineup. There is more trust, more communication, more help-defence and most importantly, more intensity without Bargs on the floor. It’s difficult to ask every player on the team to give a complete effort when they know that one of their teammates is allowed to get away with a half-assed effort.”

    Its taken 4 years now for this to finally sink in with the fan base, but atleast its being recognized. This is what some of us have been getting at for years. Andrea kills a teams defense. No other player, not Demar, not Jose, not Hedo, has had the impact Andrea has. This may be one of the worst times to trade Bargnani but it has to be done. If there are no takers, sit him on the bench and get ready to amnesty him this summer.

    • This “trust -communication-intensity” stuff is total BS. The same amateur psychology crap ever crappy sports pundit in the world uses to build silly narratives. The team is better without Bargnani because his replacements are more talented than him. Much more.

      • But we must blame Bargnani somehow ?!?

      • Trust is just another word for help defence. As a perimeter player, you trust Ed Davis will be there to help more than Bargs. That changes how you defend on the perimeter.

        Communication is a nice way to say leadership and intensity is infectious in any team sport

      • Do you play basketball? It’s not BS. Teams play better when they trust everyone on the floor and when they know they everyone is going to play with effort.

        But, yes. It also helps that Davis is simply a better player.

        • Also communication, nothing worse as a basketball player than getting floored by a screen cause none of your teammates said word

  7. Another win, another solid performance from Jose .. and another half-hearted effort from the author with regards to his play. I guess some things will never change.

    • The hate must flow.

    • @ Tony Starks:
      If you’re looking for a Calderon love-in where you can talk about how perfect he is and how he never makes mistakes or that when the team wins it’s all Calderon and when the team loses it’s not his fault, there is a site for that. Go read the Doug Smith personal blog over at the Star his man love for Calderon is off the charts and you and him can sit and talk about Calderon all day…Smith loves those types of readers – just agree that Calderon is the best and you’ll be fine…which doesn’t seem will be a problem for you.

      • Thanks for the info. Clearly, that’s exactly what my message was all about, how perfect of a basketball player Calderon is ..

    • Big Calderon fan, and always have been, and I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. THis isn’t Casciaro, who I’ve felt has never been fair to Calderon.

      • Calderon isn’t flashy, seems most fans and writers of this blog only appreciate flash! they should go watch white men can’t jump! totally giving Calderon the Billy Hoyle treatment

  8. I don’t want to take anything away from the Raps because it appears that they are playing a lot better, but the schedule has something to do with it as well. There is a reason the team started out 4-19 and I don’t think you can blame ALL of it on Barney (I dislike him as much as the next person) but I’m just interested in seeing how they will matchup with San Antonio on Boxing Day. I’m not expecting a win but I’m also not expecint a blowout loss…I just hope they show up to play after a bit of a break.

    If Toronto can beat up on teams that aren’t very good but come up short against teams with good records, where does that really leave them?

    • I don’t think it’s just the schedule, I think it’s also lack of experience and the fact that a lot of players were just not used to playing with each other. They lost a lot of close games which they had no business losing, despite being up in the last 2-3 minutes. I think Dwayne Casey’s coaching was also to blame for some of those losses. But I think the team has turned a new page since then and has managed to hold on to leads that they were giving up a month ago. When everyone is back healthy and in full form (namely Bargnani and Landry Fields), I still except the team to challenge for a playoff spot.

  9. Challenging for a play-off spot at this point is futile; no reason to start believing now Raps fans, I can easily see another losing streak coming up soon. Also I think it’s funny how the sports commentators for the score like to rip on bad teams like the Wiz and the Cavs when the Raps have sucked for years. Am I right? Or am I right?

    • Challenging for the playoffs this year is a fine goal – they’re not getting anything from the draft, so why tank?

      It would be better to lose 4 of 5 starters and underachieve next year….

  10. I think one factor to Jose playing at a higher level recently is due to the absence of Bargnani. He can be more aggressive knowing that he’s got better D behind him and guys who you know can at least alter shots if not block a couple; rather than the usual defensive pylon.

    I really hope Casey doesn’t break up what’s going on just to start Lowry and Bargs. Lowry should be coming off the bench right now until he’s healthy and back in game shape. Bargs should just be traded.

    • I think Calderon’s nickname should be Il Mago since he’s able to fool so easily. I’ve seen this same story play out numerous times when Calderon’s minutes/job are truly in jeaporady.

      He’s in a contract year and it’s clear he’s not going to be long-term asnwer for Toronto so I doubt he sticks around for a continued diminished role, so consider him gone through either trade or free agency.

      It is in Toronto’s best interest to get this to work with Lowry. Lowry has to make adjustments, there’s no doubt. But at the end of this game when the Magic slapped on a bigger defender on Calderon and he couldn’t do anything, I’d be much more comfortable with the ball in Lowry’s hands.

      • Ya, I see him being included with Bargs in a trade. Lowry is the better player. He can make plays but still defend. I just hope he gets a chance to fully recover rather than rushing him back. He’s the pg of the team moving forward and lingering injuries are never good.

  11. aik says:
    12.23.12 @ 3:49 PM EST

    Trade Lowry! You can good assets and he is not the PG.

    The PG is Jose Calderón!

    With Jose as starter, 7 wins 6 losses
    With Lowry as starter, 2 wins, 14 losses

    Definitely, make Lowry bench, make Lowry SG or trade Lowry!!

    • You can’t compare wins and losses like that, it’s unfair. First of all, we were facing different opposition. Secondly, it was still early in the season and players weren’t used to one another, and in some cases, just weren’t NBA ready.

      • @TonyStarks,

        What I show is a very clear trend. You face NBA teams in season, just that.

        It is quite clear that the TEAM plays better as TEAM with Jose than with Lowry. Unfair is to always take as an assumption that Lowry has a PG ability and performance he never had, no matter where he played. If you want to replace Calderon due to age, just look for better options, as Lowry is and will be no better PG than Jose Calderon.

        • Maik, TonyStarks is right. There’s too many other factors that impact the win/loss record to say it depends on a given player. Who else is on the floor, who are the opponents, are they playing at home or away?

          With that said, Calderon has been playing great the past week, I’m happy to enjoy that for the moment.

        • @Maik: I love Calderon so it would be easier for me to agree with you .. but logic says otherwise. Three of our starters at the beginning of the season are new to the team (Lowry, Jonas and Landry Fields). One of them, Jonas, is playing his first season in the NBA and just moved to North America from Europe. With that said, you really can’t except a team without any real stars or veterans who are used to winning to gel right off the bat, it takes time. Also, you can not deny that our schedule at the start of the season was tougher than what we’ve faced during the 5-game winning streak.

          Don’t get me wrong, Calderon is a much better team-oriented PG compared to Lowry and his play has played a key part in the recent turnaround, but it’s unfair to attribute all our wins to Jose and all our losses to Kyle, it just doesn’t work that way.

  12. Agree to Tony’s comment, it is unfair to blame kyle to all the early loosing since we have 3 new player in our starter in those game and the fact that raptor never have winning experience in such a close game.
    The team in this season in much more talent than before that you really need a star player to step up in crunch time which we lack of.
    also it is raptor’s denfense who attributed for the recent victory rather than oftenes that being said Jose ‘s impact is really limited

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