Archive for the ‘James Johnson’ Category

Game No. 37: Raptors 83, Warriors 75

A matchup between the Raptors and Warriors used to mean a high scoring, throw caution to the wind type of ball game. This matchup was anything but, as the two teams combined to shoot under 37 per cent (58-of-158 from the field) while still finding a way to give an impressive crowd of 18,056 an entertaining basketball game.

In the end, it was the Raptors’ defence which reigned supreme, handing Toronto its 12th win of the season and sixth at home.

Now here are some thoughts of the game.

1- How ’bout that Raptors’ defence? The Warriors came into this game averaging over 97 points per game while shooting over 45 per cent, both top-10 ranks in the NBA. After managing to put up 47 points in the first half en route to building a nine point halftime lead, Golden State was held to just 28 second half points and finished the game shooting 29-of-80 from the floor (36.3%), including an anemic 28 points in the paint. Toronto’s defence was absolutely smothering in the second half, and this performance was yet another notch on the belt for the defensive development of Dwane Casey’s group.

2- Johnson and Johnson. James Johnson came out aggressive on both ends of the floor from the opening tip, and his high motor kept the Raptors in the game early on. Amir Johnson didn’t get off to the greatest start, but came on like gangbusters down the stretch to really help spark the Raptors’ second half surge. By the time the game was over, both Johnsons had put together impressive double-doubles, with the pair combining for 23 points, 25 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks in 30 and 32 minutes, respectively.

3- While his final numbers may not have been as impressive (two points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block in 22 minutes), Ed Davis’ hustle, especially in the second half, should not go unmentioned. Davis seemed to be doing all the little things right defensively, was very vocal on his own end of the court and made three consecutive all out hustle plays to save possessions for the Raptors near the end of the third quarter. Ed’s high motor on Sunday night and his defensive presence were major contributing factors to Toronto’s 12th win of the season. It was also nice to see him energetic on the bench, standing up and cheering his teammates on even when he wasn’t on the floor.

4- Of course, if we’re going to talk about individual performances in this game, we have to mention DeMar DeRozan, who scored a game-high 25 points on an efficient nine-of-17 shooting. I liked that DeRozan started the game with three straight aggressive drives to the basket and continued to attack the basket for much of the night, despite only getting to the free throw line six times. DeMar threw in an honest effort on the defensive end and even got his teammates involved with some nice finds on the offensive end. It was one of his more complete efforts of the season. Here’s to more of that as we continue the second half in this season of development.

5- Some thoughts on the Warriors. Golden State is one of the most confusing teams in the league to me. It’s hard to get a grasp on whether they are a team on the rise or a team stuck in a forever rebuild. On one hand, they have an incredibly talented, potent and young back court with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. They have a consistent big man in David Lee, a young coach in Mark Jackson who is doing a fine job with the team right now and a decent amount of cap space over the next few years. But you could just as easily look at the same situation and say half that back court is injury prone and the other half is inefficient and unpredictable. Their consistent big man is a defensive liability who has never contributed to a winning team in the NBA. Their young coach is also an unproven coach, and their cap space has rarely seen them land a marquee free agent. If you ask me, they’re just as close to the forever rebuild, if not closer, than they are to legitimate, sustained playoff contention.

6- Don’t fret, Tank Nation. While some may see a victory over a fellow lottery team as an actual loss, it’s important to keep in mind that the Nets, who will likely be fighting for one of the same draft spots as the Raptors, also picked up a W on Sunday. More importantly, it’s tough to find negatives when a victory comes as a result of the contributions of young players like DeRozan, Davis and the two Johnsons.

***

The Raptors will be back at it on Monday night when they host Dwight Howard and the Magic to conclude just the 10th set of two home games in two nights in franchise history.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 46 Min, 25 Pts, 9-17 FG, 1-1 3PT, 6-6 FT, 3 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 TO

Warriors Player of the Game: David Lee – 39 Min, 22 Pts, 9-13 FG, 4-5 FT, 12 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

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.

The Case for James Johnson

We came into this unpredictable lockout-shortened season with the expectation that this Raptors team would lose a lot of basketball games, but would hopefully see development in their young “core” players that are supposed to form the building blocks of the franchise’s future.

Coming in, everyone was looking at DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis as the barometers for how successful this season of development would be. While it’s unfair to simply say DeRozan has taken a step back since he is learning to play with defences cluing in on him (as Alvin Williams talked about in our RaptorBlog Radio interview with him), it’s also more than a stretch to say he has taken a step forward.

Ed Davis has been less impressive to me this season than he was as a rookie who missed a chunk of the year last season. Combine the 9-23 record with major question marks still surrounding DeRozan and Davis, and you might think the season of development has been a failure.

But that would be unfair. It would be unfair to the culture change Dwane Casey has begun to implement North of the 49th. It would be unfair to a guy like Andrea Bargnani, who despite his nagging calf injury, showed us he might just achieve star status in the NBA sooner rather than later.

And it would definitely be unfair to perhaps the most pleasantly surprising member of the team through 32 games, and that’s James Johnson.

When Bryan Colangelo traded what turned out to be a very late first round pick for Johnson a year ago Wednesday, I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly excited. Johnson came to Toronto and impressed me with his balanced play, as I’m sure he did all Raptors fans, but I don’t think many people were sold on him as a part of the precious “core” just yet.

Fast forward to February of 2012, and not only are fans ready to accept James as a core member of the future, but Dwane Casey seems ready as well. In a recent Toronto Sun article by Mike Ganter, Casey is quoted as saying Johnson “is close” to becoming a part of that core, adding “He’s getting there. He has developed more trust.

The trust Johnson has earned in Toronto is evident in the numbers. He played around 11 minutes per game in 78 appearances (11 starts) with the Bulls, taking about three shots per game. In 56 appearances with the Raptors (43 starts), Johnson has averaged around 26 minutes per game and is taking about eight shots.

His actual statistics have seen improvement as well, jumping from 3.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in Chicago to 8.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and over a steal per game in Toronto.

What I’ve really liked about Johnson’s game this season is the development of his offence. He seems to be growing from a player that could dunk but couldn’t hit a jump-shot to a player who can do some damage with an improved post game, a guy who will still attack the basket at will and whose jumper is becoming at least respectable. In fact, since January 20 (a 17-game span), Johnson is averaging over 10 points per game while shooting nearly 47 per cent.

The biggest knock on his offensive game outside of poor shooting was his propensity to turn the ball over, and yet that’s another area where James has dramatically improved, lowering his turnover percentage from 17.7 as a rookie to 15.2 last season to 11.2 this season.

It’s nice to see a guy earn his minutes with defensive hustle (as evidenced by Johnson’s many chase down blocks), and then slowly develop his offensive game for a change, rather than see guys earn minutes with instant offence without being able to contribute on the defensive side of the ball.

While I’d like to see him become a bit more disciplined in knowing when to jump for a block and when to stay planted, there is no question that defence is the strength of James Johnson’s game. He can guard multiple positions, always seems to contest shots and blocks a lot of shots for his size and position (Johnson leads the league in blocks for a non big man).

Perhaps most impressive of all, Johnson is one of only three players in the NBA this season to rank in the top-30 in both blocks and steals. The other two names on that list are Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.

Johnson turns 25-years-old today, and his youth and relative inexperience in the NBA make him a prime candidate to continue to grow and develop over the next couple of years. When you look at his defensive numbers and the players that compare, there is reason to believe that he can be one of the better defenders in the NBA, which seems like a perfect fit for a Dwane Casey coached team.

James will be a relatively cheap option for the Raptors over the next couple of seasons considering he has turned himself into a legitimate rotation player. If he can continue to develop a respectable offensive game while still making an impact on the defensive end, then I don’t see any reason to exclude him from the “core” talk.

For once, a young Raptors player has worked himself into that status instead of just walking into it.

Game No. 20: Nuggets 96, Raptors 81

The Raptors were looking to win their third straight road game on this Western road trip and had a chance to snap yet another lengthy losing streak against a Western Conference opponent. Instead, they handed the Nuggets their sixth straight victory.

Toronto came into this ball game 0-6 without Andrea Bargnani and averaged just 81 points in their six previous games without Il Mago. Go figure, in falling to 0-7 without Bargnani, the Raps scored 81.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

1- Those sluggish starts continue to plague the Raptors. On Friday, the Raptors started one-of-15 from the field and didn’t surpass two points until nearly nine minutes into the game. They shot five-of-21 overall in the first quarter and found themselves down 28-12 after Andre Miller capped the first quarter with this fitting punch to the gut. I wrote about how bad the Raptors have started games recently after their win in Phoenix, but given that the trend has continued in Utah and Denver, I figured it’s worth bringing up again. Just how bad has Toronto been in the opening quarters of games lately? In their last eight first quarters, the Raptors have been outscored 219-123 (or an average of 27.4-15.4) and have trailed by at least eight points after each one of those first quarters (trailed by as many as 16 twice).

2- A tale of two halves, almost. The Raptors went into halftime down 22 points, but the comeback bid started with the Raps matching their entire first half output (32 points) in the third quarter alone, and continued into the early portion of the fourth quarter with Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa carrying the load (combining for 37 points or 46 per cent of the Raptors’ offence). A Barbosa three actually had the Nuggets’ lead down to six with nine minutes to play, and momentum clearly shifting, but then Dwane Casey took Bayless and Barbosa out of the game, leaving things to go downhill from there. I like what Dwane Casey has done with this team through 20 games, but can we call that fourth quarter substitution inadvertent tanking?

3- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Good was James Johnson finishing with yet another solid performance of 16 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. In his last five games, Johnson is averaging 13.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.6 steals. Bad was Jose Calderon finishing with nine points on three-of-10 shooting and an uncharacteristic three turnovers to just two assists. Ugly was DeMar DeRozan, who continues to struggle, finishing with eight points on three-of-15 shooting and three turnovers. In his last 14 games, since this mega-slump began for DeRozan, he’s averaging just 12 points per game on an ugly 32.8 per shooting (63-of-192).

4- Jerryd Bayless probably had his best game of the season on Friday night, scoring 18 points on an incredibly efficient seven-of-10 shooting in just 16 minutes of action. Bayless was leaps and bounds ahead of Jose Calderon in Denver, leaving me to wonder how the heck Jose got 32 minutes in this game while Bayless only got 16? If Calderon continues to slow down, as we’ve seen in recent games, and Bayless can build some momentum off of this performance, I wonder if we will see the 48 minutes available at the point guard position slowly even out between Jose and Jerryd.

5- A quick word on the Nuggets. I know he’s already received a ton of praise, but former Raptors employee Masai Ujiri deserves all of it and more for his calm and patient approach to the Carmelo Anthony situation last season. The Knicks may have gotten the “superstar” in that deal, but the Nuggets clearly got the better overall package, and a much more team-friendly package at that. If you don’t think the Nuggets won that deal, quite frankly, you’ve been sleeping for the last 10 months. Denver has a good starting unit, great depth and a reliable bench, and gets above average play from both the point guard (Ty Lawson and Andre Miller) and centre (Nene) positions. I don’t think they can beat the Thunder in a seven-game series, but with way they’re playing right now (14-5, second in the West), it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Nuggets meet Oklahoma City in the West Final. The most efficient offence in the NBA coupled with an underrated defence is a nice playoff recipe.

6- This game was a dud, in all honesty, but luckily Linas Kleiza gave us something to talk about with 30 seconds remaining when his hand “accidentally” collided with Al Harrington’s face while trying to play defence. Harrington was obviously upset (though in fairness, Harrington seems pretty easy to rile up), and Kleiza appeared to be jawing at him as they walked down the floor. The end result was Harrington snapping and trying to get through a flurry of players to confront Kleiza, to no avail. What I want to know is what in the hell Keiza said to Harrington to get him so fired up? Maybe Al was just really ticked about the hand in his face, maybe he was insanely frustrated with the fact that Kleiza was basically laughing in his face while he tried to talk trash, but I’m thinking Linas had to say something to set him off like that. If he did, I’m dying to know what it was.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 27 Min, 16 Pts, 7-10 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk (Fouled out)

Nuggets Player of the Game: Nene – 34 Min, 20 Pts, 5-10 FG, 10-14 FT, 10 Reb, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO

Game No. 19: Raptors 111, Jazz 106 (2-OT)

One night after beating the Suns for the first time since 2004 and snapping a 14-game losing streak against Phoenix, the Raptors emerge victorious in double-overtime to beat the Jazz for the first time since 2004, snapping a 12-game losing streak to Utah, with both wins coming on the road.

They may still be 6-13, but I think it’s safe to say these aren’t your older brother’s Raptors.

Much like Tuesday night’s win in Phoenix, the Raptors started sluggishly, dug an early hole, made up the deficit in the second quarter, and then eventually pulled away. The Raps were down 18 in the first half and didn’t take their first lead until the score was 50-48.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- As nice as the W in Phoenix was, this win was 10 times more impressive, and I would have been saying that even if the Raptors had lost in overtime. On Tuesday, Toronto beat a poor Suns team. But on this night, on the back end of a back-to-back, the Raptors rallied from down 18 early and rallied from down nine with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter to outlast a 10-5 team (8-2 at home) that had been off for four days. Even more impressive, they did it despite Andrea Bargnani going down in overtime.

2- Speaking of Bargnani, that didn’t look good. I obviously have no background in medicine, but given the way Bargs was limping after going down with the same injury that sidelined him for two weeks already this month, I think it’s safe to assume that Il Mago will be out of action for at least that long again. Whether it’s warranted or not, most fans will likely point to the fact that in his first two games back after that aforementioned two-week break, Bargnani logged 82 minutes in just a 24-hour span. I’ll admit that even I was going to bring up my concern for Bargnani’s minutes in this post before he even went down.

It really is a shame. Andrea was playing like an All Star on both ends of the court, and I don’t know if I ever saw him put as much effort into defence as I saw Wednesday in Utah.

3- I’d like to dedicate some more time to DeMar DeRozan. I liked his game tonight. DeMar competed on the defensive end, scored 17 points on just 11 shots and grabbed eight rebounds to go with two assists and two steals. While I appreciated the fact that DeRozan didn’t try to force anything when it wasn’t there for him offensively, I didn’t like that he seemed to shy away from the ball down the stretch and in the two overtime periods (where he attempted just one shot). Part of it is obviously not getting looks from his teammates, but part of it has to fall on DeMar’s shoulders too. I really want to see him almost demand the ball in tight games like he did last season, particularly when Bargnani isn’t on the floor.

4- Bargnani played noticeably well when he was in the ball game. Linas Kleiza probably won the game for the Raptors in crunch time. Jose Calderon threw up some prayers and had them answered. DeRozan, as mentioned, was good. But two players who I thought made a big impact despite flying under the radar were the two Johnsons, James and Amir. They combined for just eight points on four-of-nine shooting and six rebounds, but their fantastic efforts on the defensive side of the ball should be lauded. Both came up with some much-needed defensive stops and some huge blocks when the Raptors needed them. As a team, Toronto had an impressive 10 blocks…James (six) and Amir (three) combined for nine of them.

5- A quick word on the Jazz. This is a team that I thought was criminally underrated coming into the season and a team I thought could even make the playoffs in the West. What they’re doing this season (currently 10-6, fifth in West) shouldn’t surprise people. They have a loaded front court with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson (who didn’t play tonight) and a couple of nice young bigs in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. They’re not spectacular on the wings, but they have depth and players who can hold their own. And despite his regression, they have a more than capable point guard in Devin Harris. I’m not saying fans and analysts should have predicted the Jazz to be contenders, but on paper, I don’t see where people interpreted this team as a cellar-dweller.

6- And finally, a word on your Toronto Raptors, and expectations. I don’t know whether it’s an indication of how impressive Dwane Casey has been in getting maximum output out of a lackluster roster, or just an indication of how little we all expected from this team, but at 6-13 through 19 games, the Raptors are actually exceeding my expectations. In case you missed it or forgot, I predicted the Raptors to finish 20-46, and that was considered a pretty optimistic outlook compared to others. In addition, I had them pegged at 4-15 at this point in the season, and had them winning just five games on the road all season. We’re only just past the quarter-point, and they already have four away wins.

Does it mean they’re going to “over-achieve,” or wind up with two more wins than I originally predicted? No, but like I said, it’s interesting that despite losing 13 of 19 and already going through an eight-game losing streak, they’re still doing better than a lot of us expected.

Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 33 Min, 25 Pts, 8-16 FG, 4-9 3PT, 5-5 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 TO

Jazz Player of the Game: Paul Millsap – 49 Min, 31 Pts, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO