Archive for the ‘Ben Uzoh’ Category

I’ll save our “Fouling Out with Six Thoughts” posts for the regular season, but here’s an informal take on the Raptors’ first Summer League game against the Rockets.

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A player like Ben Uzoh could earn himself an NBA contract with a good Summer League showing

In an off-season that has given Raptors fans more discussion and excitement than usual, it seems that intrigue is carrying over to the Las Vegas Summer League. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I’ve heard Raps fans sound genuinely excited about the July portion of the schedule.

Maybe it’s the fact that last year’s lockout makes this the first summer league action in two years, maybe it’s the fact that the Raptors’ summer league roster actually has a decent group of players to keep an eye on in Vegas, but whatever the reason, there definitely seems to be more interest than usual in the week long event.

Here’s a quick preview:

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Game No. 66: Raptors 98, Nets 67

18,161 people packed the Air Canada Centre to watch the 2011-2012 season finale between the Raptors and Nets. The loser would still have an outside chance to finish tied for the third worst record. The winner would finish seventh-worst or in a tie for eighth-worst.

Once the ball was tipped, the Nets gave new meaning to the word “tank” and the Raptors’ scrubs were made to look like an NBA powerhouse.

Now here are some thoughts on the game, for the last time this season:

1-For the Raptors, Ed Davis, Gary Forbes, Alan Anderson, Ben Uzoh and Solomon Alabi all played at least 40 minutes. Jamaal Magloire started. For the Nets, Johan Petro, Armon Johnson, Jordan Williams and Sundiata Gaines played major roles. Those lineups pretty much tell you all you need to know about what this game was all about.

2- The one thing you can say for the Raptors is that the players who saw action on Thursday night at least played with pride. I’m not sure you can say the same about the Nets’ sad sack of a rotation in this game. They were chucking shots, turning the ball over, running into each other, bumbling, stumbling and just doing their best to cause some in the stands to wonder how much Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z paid these guys to take a dive.

3- The combination of blatant Nets tanking and some solid efforts from Toronto’s players led to some inflated numbers for certain Raptors. Most notably, Ben Uzoh recorded the first triple-double by a Raptor (12 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) since Alvin Williams did it way back on March 23, 2001. Until Uzoh achieved the feat, the Raps had the longest triple-double drought in the NBA. Uzoh added four steals for good measure in 46 minutes of playing time. Ben seemed to do everything asked of a 10-day guy and then some in his time as a Raptor this season, and as I’ve said recently, I’d like to see him brought back as the team’s third string point guard next season.

4- Ed Davis got a preview of the Summer League competition he’ll see this off-season and made good with the practice, posting 24 points on a ridiculous 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. But perhaps the biggest indication of the type of team the Nets fielded tonight was the statline put up by Davis’ frontcourt partner, seldom used Solomon Alabi. Solo, who hasn’t even played 150 total minutes in his NBA career, finished with 11 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks in 40 minutes of floor time.

5- A quick word on the Nets. I know it’s been said before, but if this team doesn’t land a top-three pick, the franchise will be in a world of hurt for the forseeable future. They were bad enough as is. Take away Deron Williams, take away the possibility of acquiring Dwight Howard, and keep them without a lottery pick this summer, and Brooklyn might be getting the worst team in the NBA next season. If there really is an NBA conspiracy to “fix” the lottery, then my money would be on the Nets, for the simple premise that anything outside of the top-three (and therefore a pick that would move to Portland) could be a death blow for the franchise before they even pack up and move. Us Raptors fans think we have a lot riding on this year’s lottery and draft, but no team has as much at stake on lottery night as the Nets.

6-Before the game, Jamaal Magloire took the mic at centre court on behalf of the organization to thank the fans for another season. Magloire mentioned the “p” word for next season (he pretty much guaranteed it), which I thought was ballsy, and probably not something the organization wants to start doing. While I think the opportunity is there if the right moves are made, if the team gets some lottery luck and if Jonas Valanciunas can make an impact, I still don’t think the Raptors should give fans the impression that a playoff trip is expected for next season. I feel like that’s welcoming disappointment and possible disaster. Plus, while I do like the bold statement, I’d prefer it if a player who will have more of a say in whether it happens or not makes the bold statement.

Raptors Player of the Game: Ben Uzoh – 46 Min, 12 Pts, 6-19 FG, 11 Reb, 12 Ast, 4 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Nets Player of the Game: N/A (I picked a player of the game for both teams in every game I shared my thoughts on this season. I think I’m entitled to this one, especially considering there really wasn’t a Nets player worthy of the honour. If you want to praise Armon Johnson, Johan Petro or Jordan Williams, then go ahead.)

***

A quick reminder. If the Warriors beat the Spurs by the time you read this, then the Raptors will finish with the seventh-worst record, which brings with it 43 lottery combinations and a 4.3 per cent chance to win the Draft Lottery. If the Warriors lose, the Raps finish tied for seventh and eighth-worst, which will bring either 35 or 36 combinations on lottery night (to be determined by a coin flip), and about a 3.5 per cent chance.

While this is the last time I’ll “foul out” with six personal thoughts until October, we here at RaptorBlog will continue to have you covered throughout the off-season with pre-lottery coverage, pre-draft coverage, player evaluations and the rest of the usual summer stuff, along with some episodes of RaptorBlog Radio along the way. As long as nothing breaks this weekend while I’m recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed, then you’ll be able to find all of your Raptors-related off-season material here.

Game No. 62: Hawks 109, Raptors 87

After over their head wins against the Celtics on Friday and in Atlanta on Sunday, the undermanned Raptors were due for a letdown, and the playoff caliber Hawks had to have revenge on their minds.

So I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the Raptors taking the game to the Hawks in the first half and hanging with them for a good chunk of three quarters. But once Atlanta started to pull away early in the fourth quarter, you knew the mini winning streak had run its course. The 22-point spread may be closer to what most people expected from this game, but it was in no way indicative of a dominating performance from the Hawks.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’m not going to come out and proclaim that Solomon Alabi can flat out play, but come on, hands up if you even thought the guy could hold his own against fellow NBA-ers, let alone against a 36-25 team. Alabi wasn’t great, but he did in fact hold his own, and looked far from out place while putting up better numbers than any other Raptors big man that played (Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Aaron Gray). Solo finished with eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block (plus three personal fouls and two turnovers) in 24 minutes. I know he shocked the hell out of me, and personally, I’d like to see him get some minutes in the last four games of the season to judge whether this was a mere aberration, or if he can actually serve a purpose as an extra big man off the bench.

2- Another guy whose performance I liked in this game was Ben Uzoh, who along with Alan Anderson, was signed for the remainder of the season on Monday. In recent recaps, I’ve noted Uzoh’s impressive perimeter defence (though Jeff Teague torched him tonight) and his quickness in penetrating the opposing team’s defence. But another thing I like about Ben’s game is his rebounding prowess for a point guard. At 6’3, Uzoh is usually one of the smallest, if not the smallest guy on the court. And yet I’ve noticed that he’s always one of the Raptors crashing the boards on both ends of the floor and putting his body on the line to gain or save possession of the ball for his team. There was no better example than on Monday night, when Uzoh grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in 33 minutes, upping his average since joining the Raptors to seven rebounds per 36 minutes. It’s just one part of his game, but it shows me that he’s got heart and a great motor, and when combined with his quickness, defence and youth (he only recently turned 24), is one of many reasons I’d like to see him back in Raptors colours as a solid third point guard next season.

3- Welcome back, James. After being benched for two games by Dwane Casey a couple of weeks ago, James Johnson had failed to really make an impression in his first few games back in the lineup. That started to change on Sunday night in Atlanta, when Johnson’s big fourth quarter helped the Raptors pull away for the win. Then on Monday night, James put up 18 points on a very efficient 7-of-11 shooting to go along with four rebounds, five assists, a steal and a Raptors dunk of the year candidate that got everybody in the Air Canada Centre up. Hopefully he can build on his last five quarters of solid play and finish the season strong.

4- From a team perspective, I liked that the Raptors out-rebounded the Hawks 46-42, but what I really liked was watching the Raptors’ bigs hammer Hawks players on a handful of very hard fouls in the paint. Aaron Gray, especially, committed a couple of mean fouls, and I can recall one hard foul Ed Davis committed on Marvin Williams where Ed got up and walked right over Williams’ sprawled out body. At the end of the day, all most of us care about with this team is eventually getting to see a perennial winner and legitimate contender, but if you ask me, I’d prefer they get there with an intimidating mean streak, and I saw some good signs toward that in this game.

5- A few words on the Hawks. Yes, I realize that they just won a game by 22 points without ever looking like they were rolling on all cylinders, and yes, I’m aware that at 36-25, they’d be on pace for a 48-win season in a regular schedule, but I haven’t come away impressed from watching the Hawks play in a while, and I honestly don’t see them being much of a factor come playoff time. They’ll probably end up fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference (which is a testament to how improved the East has become over the last couple of years) and have to play the Celtics or Pacers in the first round without home court advantage. They should make it at least competitive, but I don’t see them beating Boston or Indiana four times out of seven. Even sadder, it appears the Hawks’ decline has started without them every truly peaking. Though to be honest, I can’t feel too bad for a “fan-base” that has never really rallied around this team. This is their fifth straight season as a playoff team, and yet they’ve finished between 18th and 25th in attendance in each of those five seasons.

6- A lot of people seem to be talking about the Raptors’ impressive play of late, especially their now 5-5 record in the month of April. But they’ve actually quietly been playing pretty well for the last three or four weeks, as if you look back to their home win over the Knicks on March 23, the Raptors are basically playing .500 ball (7-8) over their last 15 games. And if you think point-differential is a good measure of how competitive a team is over a period of time, the Raps have averaged 93 points per game while allowing 93.9 points during the 15-game sample. When you consider the fact that Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza have all missed time over the course of this stretch, and that 12 of the 15 games have come against winning teams, it really does speak volumes about the job Dwane Casey and his staff are doing here. Just like the final result of this game, the Raptors’ record isn’t an indication of their effort and improvement in certain areas.

Hopefully next season, we’ll be able to see the fruits of that labour in terms of winning results over an 82-game stretch, not just in samples here and there.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 22 Pts 8-14 FG, 1-1 3PT, 5-5 FT, 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Hawks Player of the Game: Jeff Teague – 36 Min, 19 Pts, 6-11 FG, 1-3 3PT, 6-8 FT, 6 Reb, 10 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk, 1 TO (Honourable mention to Ivan Johnson’s 21 points and eight rebounds)

Game No. 60: Raptors 84, Celtics 79

As Scott pointed out in his game thread on Friday, the Raptors were as close to Dead On Arrival as you can get in the NBA. They headed into a game against the hottest team in the NBA and a surefire playoff team closing in on third place in the Eastern Conference without Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, and had Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson banged up. Not to mention the fact that they would probably need significant contributions from some D-Leaguers.

It was safe to assume that loss no. 40 was on the way.

So much for that. The Raptors somehow managed to battle through the aforementioned adversity and a hideous first half to knock off the Celtics, and beat Boston twice in a season for the first time in five years. After beating the Celts just twice in four seasons between 2007-08 and 2010-11, the Raps have beat them twice in the last two months.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- It was hard to tell whether the Raptors just worked hard enough to earn the win, or if the Celtics just laid a big enough egg to earn the loss, but I’ll say it was a little bit of both. There’s no doubt that the Raps outhustled and outfought Boston, pretty much from start to finish. But from the Celtics’ perspective, they limited Toronto to just 30 first half points and played three players that are better than anyone wearing a Raptors jersey, so this loss was as much them failing to go for the jugular as it was the Raptors playing over their heads. Midway through the fourth quarter, when the Raptors’ lead hit double-digits, you could see the Celtics flip the switch and “turn it on.” Five minutes of good basketball was nearly enough to steal the game, and if they had that switch on for the whole game, this probably would have been the blowout and dud we were all expecting.

2- A potential positional battle between Amir Johnson and Ed Davis has been the topic of debate here at RaptorBlog this week, but on Friday night, both big men turned in solid performances. Amir started at power forward and put up 10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 40 minutes. Ed came off the bench and added four points while grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. The two were particularly good when on the court together in various stretches. It’s been a rare sight to see both Johnson and Davis play well on the same night this season, and it was a welcomed sight on Friday.

3- The Raptors’ 10-day guys continue to impress. Justin Dentmon didn’t look that great in 15 minutes, but he held his own and hit a couple of big shots in the fourth quarter. Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh, on the other hand, continue to look like potential NBA-ers next season. Anderson gave the Raptors 30 solid minutes (and started again) at the three, posting 12 points, four assists, a steal and a block. Uzoh was definitely the most impressive of the three, putting up a nice looking line of eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes as Toronto’s starting point guard. I doubt any of these guys will be logging big minutes for an NBA team on a consistent basis next season, but Anderson and Uzoh have performed pretty well since joining the Raptors last month, and I wouldnt be surprised if they’re at least playing themselves into jobs for next year. Uzoh, especially, impressed me with his on-ball defence and his quickness in penetrating Boston’s defence in this one.

4- One guy who wasn’t a bright spot for the Raptors in this game was James Johnson, who continues to struggle re-establishing himself in the lineup. I really hoped that Dwane Casey’s benching of Johnson last week would light a fire under him and spark him to continue to improve his game, as he had by leaps and bounds in the last few months. Instead, James is averaging four points and five rebounds while shooting under 20 per cent (6-of-31) in 18 minutes per game since returning to the lineup on Sunday. Friday night against the Celtics had to be rock bottom, as Johnson played just six minutes, collected two points and a rebound, and missed all three of his field goal attempts. Worst of all, he looked absolutely uninspired and defeated on the court. Hopefully Johnson can show us something, but more importantly, show Dwane Casey and the coaching staff something, over the final six games of the season, because I’m starting to believe he may not have as secure a place in the future plans as we all thought he did.

5- Okay, so this is a completely unrelated to basketball thought, but just once, I’d like the Raptors’ game operations staff (or whoever is in charge of these things) to pick an entrance song for the Raptors starting lineups at the beginning of the season, and stick with that music for the duration of the season. If you recall way back in December, in my thoughts on the home opener, I pointed out the obviously positive crowd reaction to Drake’s “Headlines” when the music hit. It was definitely the most positive reaction I can remember to Raptors’ entrance music in years, and I remember thinking, maybe this year they’ll actually stick with something. Instead, I think we’re on the third or fourth different song this season, and they just continue to get worse. On Friday night, the Raptors came bouncing out to Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” a song I have no problem with, but one that doesn’t exactly scream sports pump-up tune. There was absolutely no energy in the building while the Toronto players came out, and I honestly believe minute details like the tone of the music can make a noticeable difference in that energy level. Let’s hope that for next season, the team comes up with some great entrance music, and sticks with it for 41 home games. If I remember correctly, the Raptors haven’t done that since they were coming out to this.

6-Speaking of crowd energy, I still thought the overall energy in the Air Canada Centre was impressive. Given that the season is now officially a write-off, that the upstart Blue Jays were in town for just their fourth home game of the season (and I’ll admit I was following the Jays game on my phone for stretches of this game) and that in general, people probably have a lot better things to do with a few hours on a Friday night in April, I was expecting a bit of a disappointing crowd turnout against the Celtics. Instead, 17,270 people showed up (and the price of tickets for a Celtics game is higher than most games) and actually cheered loudly for their lowly Raptors. The first half was a little dead, but once the game actually resembled something close to NBA competition in the third quarter, the large gathering woke up, and created a pretty good second half atmosphere for such a meaningless contest. I know I’ve said it countless times this season, but I honestly can’t wait until this team is playing meaningful basketball again, and the ACC faithful can reassert themselves as some of the best fans in the NBA.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 35 Min, 22 Pts, 4-14 FG, 1-3 3PT, 13-13 FT, 2 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Celtics Player of the Game: Paul Pierce – 34 Min, 18 Pts, 6-15 FG, 3-7 3PT, 3-3 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Once again, if you haven’t listened yet, check out our latest installment of RaptorBlog Radio, as we were joined by Jerryd Bayless for a quick chat about his season and his future with the Raptors.