Archive for the ‘James Johnson’ Category

The last game of a painful and somewhat meaningless (from a win/loss perspective) 2011-2012 season is a distant memory, with Ben Uzoh’s triple-double lifting the Raptors over the Nets now nearly half a year in the rear view mirror. The highly anticipated and much more meaningful 2012-2013 season unofficially gets underway on Monday with a pre-season opener against Spain’s Real Madrid.

Okay, so the opening game of a supposedly more meaningful season is actually meaningless. But you get the point.

We’re all pretty stoked to get this 18th season in Raptors history tipped off, but before we do, let’s look back on the 2012 off-season, and how we got to this present moment of excitement.

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Kyle Lowry blowing by Steve Nash is something we hope to see at the ACC on January 20

In one of the more anticipated days of the summer for basketball junkies, the NBA announced its’ 2012-2013 schedule on Thursday, and as usual, there are some games that obviously stand out from the rest.

While I doubt the Raptors are featured in many, if any, of those games for the casual NBA fan, we’re here to cater to Raptors fans. And with that, here are the games we think you should circle on the calendar:

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James Johnson

Don’t ask why I was awake at four in the morning, but that was when Marc Stein tweeted and then posted to ESPN.com about James Johnson getting sent to Sacramento for a future second round pick. The trade clears $2.8 million off the Raptors’ 2012-13 payroll, so this could be a precursor to another move — either that, or the Raptors simply wanted to do whatever it took to ensure Johnson wasn’t on their roster next season.

There was some kind of altercation between Johnson and Raptors coach Dwane Casey in April that resulted in him being benched for a couple of games. We never really got specific details about what occurred that led to this pseudo-suspension, and neither party has been forthcoming about those details. After Johnson missed the second game, Casey mysteriously said, “We chose as a staff not to play him. We’re going to build the program the right way, we’re going to do things the right way, and we’ll go from there.” It turns out “going from there” entails dumping him for essentially no return.

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This photo is more entertaining than anything that happened in this game

Game No. 65: Bucks 92, Raptors 86

The Bucks came into this game knowing that a loss or 76ers win would eliminate them from post-season contention, and the Raptors were coming off of a nasty effort in Detroit just 24 hours earlier, so most people expected Milwaukee to pull away in their second last home game of the season.

The Bucks and their fans must have found out the crushing news mid-game that the Sixers beat the Nets to make this game meaningless for them, but it did nothing to effect the urgency in their play down the stretch, as the Raptors coughed up another one in the second half.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- The most obvious observation from this game is that Dwane Casey made a change to the starting lineup, taking Aaron Gray out and replacing him with James Johnson. James played the four in a smaller lineup, with Amir Johnson sliding over to the five. I have no problem with this switch. Gray is what he is, and for the most part, we know what we have in him and what we’re going to get from him if he’s brought back next season. James Johnson has had a surprisingly good season, has shown improvements in almost all areas of his game, and has played particularly well recently after struggling for a bit post-benching.

2- Speaking of the changes to the starting five, James Johnson marked his return to the starting lineup with one of his best performances of the season. Johnson’s energy and aggressive play was a big part of the Raptors’ quick start in this game, and he ultimately finished with an impressive statline of 22 points (on 10-of-21 shooting), 13 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 41 minutes of action. The 13 boards were a career high.

3- DeMar DeRozan was ejected in the second quarter on a ridiculously silly play. After being called for the travel, DeRozan responded by tossing the ball carelessly down the floor. The resulting ejection was ridiculous to me for a couple of reasons. On DeRozan’s part, it’s ridiculous because of all the things to get yourself tossed on, really, a traveling call? On the officials, it’s ridiculous because how many times have we seen star players in the NBA bitch and moan for 48 minutes without even being hit with a tech, let alone ejected? Okay, so DeMar’s not a star, but was an ejection really necessary for this? It definitely should have resulted in a technical, but the ejection just seemed excessive to me.

4- I guess we shouldn’t have expected anything else from a couple of matchups between the Raptors and Pistons and then the Raptors and Bucks, but wow, did we see some disgusting, painful to watch basketball over the last two nights. Toronto’s second halves in Detroit and Milwaukee were especially tough to watch, with the Raptors scoring 77 total points between the four second half quarters over the two games. The Raps failed to hit 40 points in either of their last two second halves, and only broke the 20-point barrier in one of those four quarters. With figures like that, it’s no wonder they blew first half leads in both games.

5- Sometimes in pro sports, the most unlikeliest of players become uncontainable against certain teams. For Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova, it appears the Raptors are that team. With 19 points and 15 rebounds against the Raps in this game, Ilyasova is now averaging 17.4 points and 10 rebounds over his last five games against Toronto. Not bad for a guy whose career averages are 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, and for a guy whose never averaged more than 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in a season (both of which he’s averaging this season). For the record, I think Ilyasova is a solid, starting caliber NBA forward, who will be very well paid, and deservedly so, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this off-season.

6- While the Raptors’ 2011-2012 season officially comes to an end on Thursday night, the road portion of the team’s schedule came to a close with this game. The Raptors finished the lockout shortened campaign with a 10-23 record on the road. Obviously that’s nowhere near good enough and will have to improve if the Raps want to sniff the playoffs in the next couple of seasons, but considering where they were last season (6-35), 10-23 actually seems somewhat respectable considering they won four more road games in eight less tries this year. After all, I had them pegged at 5-28 on the road in my pre-season predictions.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 41 Min, 22 Pts, 10-21 FG, 0-2 3PT, 2-2 FT, 13 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk, 3 TO

Bucks Player of the Game: Ersan Ilyasova – 36 Min 19 Pts, 6-10 FG, 2-4 3PT, 5-8 FT, 15 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 TO

Game No. 63: Heat 96, Raptors 72

The Heat rested Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for this one, and you can’t really blame them considering that they’re concerned with the postseason and winning a championship, not with being at full strength for a meaningless April game against the 22-win Raptors.

The Raps actually looked capable of hanging with the LeBron-led Heat in the first half, but put up a historically bad stinker of a second half (more on that later) to ensure loss No. 41.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I mentioned the historically bad second half sinking the Raptors, but I don’t think just using the words “historically bad” does those 24 minutes of Raptors “basketball” justice. The Raps headed into the break down 51-49, and were pretty much matching the Heat blow for blow, if not taking the game to them in the first two quarters. They then came out and put a measly 11 points on the board in the third quarter, and barely topped themselves with 12 more in the fourth quarter. 23 points in 24 minutes – the worst second half offensive performance in Raptors history, and tied for the worst half in franchise history. Miami’s defence can be scary good at times, and it was definitely stingy on this night, but make no mistake, the Raptors’ offence was downright ugly in that second half. My original online feed actually cut out midway through the third quarter, and I assume it was just the Basketball Gods trying to save me from one of the worst hours of basketball I’d ever see.

2- If there was one positive from this pitiful performance, it was the production the Raptors got from the small forward position, as Alan Anderson and James Johnson combined for 33 points on about 47 per cent shooting (14-of-30), though obviously, much of that damage was done in the first half, when the Raps actually looked like a professional basketball team. I don’t anticipate many new storylines coming up in the last week of the Raptors’ season, but I am interested in seeing if Anderson can continue to build on his surprising performance with Toronto, and if he can actually win himself a spot on the Raptors’ roster next season.

3- I’ve given the Raptors’ bench bigs some praise recently – heck, I even gave Solomon Alabi some love on Monday night – but the big men were a big weakness in this game. Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray, Ed Davis and Alabi combined for just 15 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and one steal. Again, those are the combined numbers of four players.

4- A few words on the Heat. I didn’t pick Miami to win the NBA championship this season (and I actually picked the Bulls to win the East), but anyone who’s totally writing them off on the foolish premise that they’ve struggled at times during the regular season and because they aren’t exceptional on the road is dreaming. In case you forgot, this team never looked particularly sharp last season, and then proceeded to cruise through the first three rounds of the playoffs, including a dominating performance by LeBron and co. at Chicago in the Eastern Conference Final. I’ll stick with my prediction of Chicago taking the East crown this season, because I actually believe the Bulls are the best team in the East, but I’m not naive enough to think Miami’s random “troubles” at various times during the regular season are an indication of an early playoff implosion either.

5- Sticking with the Heat, I’ll come right out and say it: If you don’t think LeBron James is the MVP this season, you need some sort of psychiatric evaluation, or you’re hate is clouding your judgement. Either way, you’re way, wayyy off. If LeBron were having a legendary season for a team on the outside of the playoff picture, or a team on the playoff bubble, I could see justification for going with Kevin Durant for NBA MVP. But the fact is that James is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and nearly a block per game for a team that would be on pace for about 60 wins in a regular 82-game schedule. Add to that the fact that he has a ridiculous Player Efficiency Rating over 30, which is far and away better than anyone else in the Association, and you can see why LeBron’s 2011-2012 season is seen by many as one of the greatest regular seasons we’ve ever seen. I’ll be the first to admit that I hated “The Decision,” and I’ve taken exception with a lot of things LeBron has said since then, but you can’t hold those things (or his 2011 Finals performance) against him in judging his remarkable feats this season. He’s the MVP this year. Case closed.

6- If you take a look at the Raptors’ upcoming schedule, you’ll see that Wednesday night’s contest in Miami was likely Toronto’s last game against a winning team this season (unless the Bucks finish with a winning record), and if I just counted correctly, the Raps will finish with an abysmal 11-29 record against winning teams. While they often performed well above our expectations in most of those 40 games, many Raptors fans will look at that record from a “Tank Nation” perspective and say it’s to their liking. If you look at the standings with a week to go, you’ll notice that unless the pathetically tanking Cavaliers and Kings win a few games, the Raptors will likely end up finishing somewhere between sixth from the bottom and ninth from the bottom (and they could still finish 10th from the bottom if the Timberwolves don’t win another game), so to be honest, I think it’s time to put the whole Tank Nation thing to bed. Let whatever is going to happen over the next three games happen, and we’ll see where that lands us come next Thursday night, and come the lottery in May.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 25 Min, 18 Pts, 7-12 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 TO

Heat Player of the Game: LeBron James – 30 Min, 28 Pts, 12-15 FG, 1-1 3PT, 3-4 FT, 5 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 5 TO