Archive for the ‘Julian Wright’ Category

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Yup, that's Sonny taking another jump-shot

Friday night, lively crowd, great ball game, overtime, ten losses in a row. Hey, at least you got your money’s worth.

The Raptors faced another winnable game at home (if you can call any game on the schedule ‘winnable’ anymore) on Friday night, and though their performance was somewhat acceptable, the end result was loss no. 34 on the season.

The Raps came out with good energy in the first quarter, but were undone by absolutely brutal interior defence, particularly from Andrea Bargnani, leading to a 10-point deficit after one.

The second quarter was by far the Raptors’ best of the night, as they jumped out to a 10-0 run to start the quarter, and even started to stretch out a lead of their own as the quarter wore on. Alexis Ajinca was surprisingly good in that second frame. He made jump-shot after jump-shot from the top of the key, was solid defensively and even had a big block on little Earl Boykins. Leading the way though, for the Raps, was Jerryd Bayless, whose aggression and pesky play sparked Toronto to a 57-55 lead at halftime.

The third quarter was the Ersan Ilyasova and Corey Maggette show, as the Bucks began to assert their will on the court. The only thing keeping Toronto in it was the stellar effort being turned in by Amir Johnson.

The Bucks led by as many as 10 in the final quarter, and looked like they could run away with it, when Andrea Bargnani finally came alive. Bargs got hot at the right time for the Raps, and hit a jumper to tie the game with under a minute to play. Amir Johnson stepped to the free throw line with 18 seconds left to tie the game again, and the Bucks, like the Grizzlies on Monday, had 18 seconds to break the Raptors’ hearts.

Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Carlos Delfino could not channel his inner Rudy Gay, and he stumbled out of bounds, leaving Toronto with the ball and 2.8 seconds to do something with it. After calling back-to-back timeouts, the play the Raptors settled for was Andrea Bargnani shooting a turnaround jumper from the right corner. It never came close, and overtime was on the horizon.

Despite Bargnani’s obvious inability to guard Andrew Bogut throughout the ball game, it was Andrea trying to handle Bogut in the first minute of OT, and I think you can guess what happened. Bogut scored the first six points of the extra frame before the Raptors realized something wasn’t working. Amir switched over to guarding Bogut, and though the Raptors came back to tie it again, they ultimately came up six points short.

Onto some notes from the game now. I mentioned above that Ajinca was hot in the second quarter. The truth is his jumper was falling, but over the course of just 13 minutes, it became pretty clear that he has no offensive game; just a nice stroke. If defenders close in on him, don’t expect much.

Sonny Weems had a decent game on Friday night, finishing with 10 points and showing some nice passing ability with six assists. However, Sonny continued to settle for jump shots and finished 4-of-13 from the field, which included missing a wide open put-back. He certainly was not good enough to blow anybody away or steal minutes from a guy who’s been busting his butt for the last month.

Oh, I guess he was. Weems replaced Julian Wright as a starter to begin the second half, as Wright was having a bit of a rough game. Sonny finished with 43 minutes, Wright had 12. We appreciate all your hard work Julian, but you were always just one bad quarter away from losing your spot to an undeserving player. Wait until Kleiza comes back and chucks his way past you in the rotation.

The highlight of the night was definitely Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong grabbing the mic and leading the crowd in a sing-along to “Living On A Prayer.” No joke, the crowd was ten times louder for that than they were for Rob Base’s halftime performance.

As I wrote up top, fans certainly got their money’s worth on this night, but that shouldn’t fool people into thinking the effort was acceptable. Yes, the Raptors fought back from another late deficit, had their chance to win it and forced overtime. Their effort on offence was commendable.

But there is another side to the story. The Raptors let the worst offensive team in the league (Milwaukee averages 91.2 points per game on 42.3 per cent shooting) score 104 points in regulation and shoot 55 per cent from the field. If someone thinks that a great effort went into that just because the game was exciting, they’re dreaming.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson -34 Min, 24 Pts, 8-11 FG, 8-9 FT, 12 Reb, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

Bucks Player of the Game: Ersan Ilyasova – 34 Min, 25 Pts, 9-10 FG, 2-2 3Pt, 5-5 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 Blk (Bogut and Maggette could take this place too)

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When Marreese Speights goes off on you in your ninth straight loss, you got problems

For the second straight game, the Raptors came out flying and started hot, only to slowly fade as the game wore on, eventually dropping another home game, losing their ninth straight and falling 20 games below .500.

The warning signs for what was to come were present, even in what looked like a solid first quarter for the Raptors. Ten of Philadelphia’s first 16 points were scored on open layups, dunks or alley-oops. And though the Sixers only managed 20 points in that first quarter, and the Raptors held a nine-point lead, it had little to do with good Raptors defence. The truth is that Philly was misfiring on some open looks.

DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani were keeping the Raptors hot offensively in the first half, especially DeRozan, and Julian Wright was providing his usual spark on defence (Wright was the only Raptor to finish with a positive plus/minus). Though it should be noted that Wright went 4-of-11 tonight, which included three missed layups in the first half.

The Raptors struggled dearly opening the second and third quarters, and in the end, those runs helped the Sixers stretch their lead. Philly opened the second quarter on a 17-4 run, and the Raps were lucky to have the game tied at 50 at the half. In the first few minutes of the second half, the Sixers compiled a 10-2 run to take a semi-comfortable lead which they would never relinquish.

The deficit was a very manageable seven points heading into the fourth quarter, but the truth is that the Raptors never showed up for the fourth. There was no spark, no defining play or moment to rally the fans or the team, and no sense of urgency or energy emanating from the Raptors bench. Though I know it wasn’t the case, the Raptors seemed generally okay with dropping their ninth straight.

Rebounding, second chance points and interior defence were the Raptors’ undoing. The Raps were out-rebounded 43-33, were outscored by 12 (at my last count) in second chance points and were outscored in the paint, 56-30. When your team is already low on talent and limited by injuries, those numbers just won’t cut it.

Alexis Ajinca and Trey Johnson made their Raptors debuts, though neither made an impact in limited minutes. The pair combined for five points in 18 total minutes. Ajinca, who will be hard-pressed to earn a future in Toronto, actually looked decent on the floor. But it’s too hard to make any sort of assessment in a six minute sample.

The positives for the Raptors were few and far between on this night. Bargnani had a solid night statistically, and even recorded three blocks, but was defensively poor for most of the night, and disappeared offensively in the second half. Amir Johnson finished with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and also had three blocks, but only grabbed six rebounds in 35 minutes of action.

Once again, DeMar DeRozan shone brightest for the Raptors, highlighted by his game-high 29 points and 12 trips to the free throw line.

It really is amazing to see how quickly things can change in the NBA, or pro sports for that matter. Two months ago, the Raptors disposed of the Sixers twice in a one-week span. At the time, Toronto looked like a young team that could over-achieve, while Philly looked like a hopeless squad destined for a top-five pick. The Sixers are now becoming more and more comfortable in a playoff spot, while the only thing separating the Raps from the East’s basement is Cleveland.

With the Raptors now 20 games below .500 and six or seven games back of the eighth seed in the East (depending on how tonight’s Bobcats-Suns game finishes), perhaps delusional fans still dreaming of a miraculous playoff birth will come to terms with the fact that this year is finished, from a wins and losses standpoint. Just look for youth development, exciting games, an honest effort, and a lucky bounce of the lottery balls.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan -40 Min, 29 Pts, 9-18 FG, 11-12 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast

76ers Player of the Game: Marreese Speights -17 Min, 23 Pts, 10-12 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 3-3 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast (Yes, that’s how bad the interior defence was. Speights had 23 and nine in just 17 minutes)

While the doom and gloom of an extended losing streak looms over Toronto, it is important to remember that the ACC faithful (a measly 14 127) were actually treated to another great basketball game on Monday night.

The Raptors, who played only eight players due to an assortment of injuries, made it clear early on that they were not the same team that was drilled by a combined 57 points over the weekend, but rather the scrappy young team we came to know over the first month or so of the season.

Led by DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors got off to a fast start, and led by as many as nine in the opening quarter. Predictably, the Grizzlies made a run to close out the first to take a one-point lead into the second quarter. The Raptors continued their hard-working first half, but still trailed by two at the break.

Toronto had actually played tough defence in the first half, but saw that D slip in the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, as the Grizzlies opened up a 12-point advantage with about eight minutes to play.

The Raptors responded with a spirited effort to close out the ball game, going on a 11-0 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes and even taking the lead in the last three minutes of the game.

With the teams exchanging buckets and stops down the stretch, the Grizzlies found themselves with the last possession of the ball game, tied at 98. Rudy Gay then proved his worth by nailing a 15-foot, contested jumper from the right corner with just 0.8 seconds left.

A last-ditch effort to get a shot off failed for the Raptors, who saw their losing streak hit eight games; their longest such streak in five years.

If there is one thing the Raptors have become known for, (besides horrible defence, losing star players and European teams) it is likely losing heart-breakers at home. Seriously, someone should research this stat, because I’d be willing to bet that in the last five years or so, few teams have lost more games within three points on their home floor than the Raptors have.

Two moments in the final couple of minutes stuck out to me. First, with Ed Davis playing great defence on Zach Randolph down the stretch and getting his hands on loose balls, you would think that a defensive substitution to get Amir Johnson into the game would pull Bargnani out, not Davis. But Jay Triano replaced Davis with Amir, who had five fouls, and on the next play, the Grizzlies got an offensive rebound that looked to be tapped by Randolph. Memphis ended up with two points out of the extra possession, and on the next defensive possession, it was Bargnani who came out of the game.

After that play, the Raptors had a chance to tie, but ended up with another broken play out of a late timeout. It’s a shame we have to keep harping on this, but it truly is getting ridiculous that an NBA team can’t seem to run a competent play with the game on the line. As I’ve said before, either Triano can’t draw up a play under pressure, or his players aren’t listening to what he wants done. Either way, that’s an issue with coaching if you ask me.

Though they may be hard to acknowledge in another loss, there were plenty of positives for the Raptors on Monday night. Bargnani seemed to find his touch around the basket again, and started knocking down his jumpers early, to finish with 29 points. DeMar DeRozan continued his improvement with a 25-point, nine rebound, two block performance. Jerryd Bayless came within two rebounds of a triple-double, and registered career highs with 11 assists and eight rebounds in his start in place of the injured Jose Calderon. Ed Davis was solid defensively and finished with five blocks, including a couple of monster denials of Randolph.

And what more can you say about Julian Wright? He was efficient in the few shots he did take, led the charge defensively, rebounded the ball well and even threw in a couple of blocks (the Raptors actually had 11 blocks overall). Most of all, Wright continued to earn the fans’ respect with what are termed “hustle-plays,” which included him ripping the ball out of Grizzlies’ hands on multiple occasions. If this guy hasn’t earned a starting spot on this team, then this coaching staff is either blind, or has serious issues.

On a negative note, Sundiata Gaines was not good at all in relief of Bayless, and looked for his own shot too often. He also chucked two airball threes. Sonny Weems returned from his 17-game absence in ugly fashion. Weems missed the only two shots he took (both jumpers), turned the ball over once and finished minus-10…in just eight minutes played. I understand he was likely trying to play through rust, but let’s not pretend like he was playing well before injury. He had already done enough to play his way out of the rotation.

Two more things before I go. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Raptors’ (meaningless) NBA record 986-game three-point streak came to an end on Monday night. I’ll put this the nicest way I can: there are plenty of smart basketball fans in Toronto and in Canada, and then there are the type that care about things like that streak.

Lastly, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that in the grand scheme of things, that game went to perfection for the Raptors. The young guys were forced to play heavy minutes due to injuries, the team put in a commendable effort and provided quality entertainment for the fans, and yet the resulting loss should help draft positioning. As of right now, the Raptors would likely land the fifth pick.

Raptors Player of the Game: Julian Wright – 41 Min, 11 Pts, 5-7 FG, 1-4 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk (Bayless, Bargs and DeRozan had flashier numbers, but Wright was the engine that drove the team tonight)

Grizzlies Player of the Game: Rudy Gay – 39 Min, 21 Pts, 8-20 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Goat of the Game: Sundiata Gaines – 17 Min, 6 Pts, 3-10 FG, 0-4 3Pt, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO

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Dwight Howard and the Magic go whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted

The Raptors made a couple of changes to the starting lineup for tonight’s game. Linas Kleiza, returning from injury, replaced Julian Wright in a move that makes you wonder if the coaching staff prefers chuckers over a guy who plays the game the right way. Joey Dorsey replaced Amir Johnson in the starting five, in a move I actually understood. Dorsey is a better candidate to bang in the paint with Dwight Howard than Amir is, and Amir would likely find himself in foul trouble.

Now let’s get to the actual game.

The Raptors came out flat against a pretty good Magic team, and probably would have been run out of the gym if it wasn’t for Orlando’s poor shooting, which by the way, had nothing to do with Toronto’s defence.

DeMar DeRozan provided the only spark for the Raptors early on, as he attacked the basket and piled up 10 first quarter points. DeMar forced some tough shots, and took seven shots overall in the first, but his four trips to the line in that quarter alleviated some of that inefficient offence.

That the Raptors were only down by eight after getting out-rebounded 20-8 and shooting just 28.6 per cent in the first quarter was a minor miracle.

The Raps were even more outclassed in the second quarter, as the Magic got to the basket with ease when they attacked, and were given open jumpers when they wanted them. Orlando quickly opened up a 13-point lead, only to have that margin shrink to six by the break. Again, the Raptors found themselves in a very fortunate situation. They were in a two-possession game at the half, with a vastly superior team that was clearly out-playing them. It should have been a wake-up call. Instead, it was apparently an excuse to crap the bed in the second half, because things were about to get ugly.

After putting together a bit of a run out of the half, and cutting the deficit to two early in the third quarter, the Raptors seemed to hit a brick wall, as the Magic unleashed a fury on their hapless opponents.

Slowly but surely, Orlando’s lead grew in the third, and they enjoyed a comfortable 16-point lead going into the fourth quarter. I expected at least one run from the Raptors in the fourth, to make it semi-interesting for a few minutes. It never came.

The reality is that most of the men in black had quit at that point. Don’t be fooled when Triano and some players try to put an ignorant spin on it. They quit, and that’s the story.

A 16-0 Magic run early in the fourth made the score laughable at 91-59, and the scary thing is that the worst was yet to come. With most of the Raptors strolling up and down the floor without a care in the world, the Magic refused to let up, eventually making it a 40-point game.

DeRozan, Johnson, Dorsey (who left early with a knee problem), Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless and Julian Wright were the six players that seemed to be legitimately embarrassed by what was going on, and attempted to do something about it. The rest of the team may as well have not showed up at all.

On one positive note, Julian Wright proved his worth, yet again. He at least put an effort in on the defensive end, rebounded the ball and showed more of that promising passing ability. Linas Kleiza went 1-of-6 from the field, but if you know anything about Triano and these Raptors, chances are Kleiza still starts Saturday in Miami.

If you really want to know how bad this game was from a Toronto perspective, look no further than Jose Calderon. The usually sweet shooting point-guard was 0-for-6 in 28 minutes. Ouch.

Speaking of poor shooting, how about the funk Andrea Bargnani is in? A 3-of-14 night in Orlando means he is now 13-of-51 over the last three games. If Bargnani was putting even an ounce of effort into another aspect of his game, maybe the team could live with this. But since he’s not, his lazy behind should be stapled to the bench when the ball gets tipped in Miami on Saturday.

To be honest, through two and a half quarters, I saw this game as a prime example of an elite team, or close to it, doing what they were supposed to do to a young, inexperienced, injury-riddled, lousy team. So I didn’t plan on ripping the Raptors too hard. But the display they put on in the second half had nothing to do with youth, experience or injuries. It had to do with heart.

And a team should always be lambasted when that is missing, no matter what their situation is.

Raptors Player of the Game: Julian Wright – 27 Min, 6 Pts, 3-7 FG, 10 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl

Magic Player of the Game: Dwight Howard – 30 Min, 31 Pts, 12-21 FG, 7-13 FT, 19 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Blk

Goat of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 23 Min, 4 Pts, 1-6 FG, 1-2 3Pt, 1-2 FT, 2 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO (You could go with Kleiza, Bargnani or Calderon here)

For Toronto sports fans who may have tuned into the Raptors game seeking an escape after watching the Leafs get dismantled, your misery only grew in the first three minutes of this ball game. The Spurs, who have the league’s best record and have won 15 straight at home, ran out to a 10-0 lead against the seemingly over-matched Raptors.

Any basketball fan should know a 10-0 run to open a game is not what it seems, but any modern day NBA fan or Raptors fan also knew the possibility for this game to get U-G-L-Y, in a hurry, was there.

So imagine the surprise then, when after a quick timeout by Jay Triano, the Raptors responded with a 17-7 run over the next six minutes, and a 23-12 run overall to end the first quarter up by one.

Even the eternal pessimist would have to credit the young Raptors for keeping it close after their start against the superior Spurs. But even the eternal Raptors optimist would have to admit they didn’t anticipate the warm and fuzzy feelings to last.

Toronto put together one of their best quarters of the season in the second frame, outscoring San Antonio 30-20 to take a 53-42 lead into the half. What was especially surprising, and encouraging to see for Raptors fans, was that the Raps were holding the Spurs to just 35 per cent shooting in that first half. They were not stubbornly and foolishly trying to outscore the Spurs, but rather they were beating a better team, on the road, by playing basketball the right way.

All this made for an interesting second half, which most would agree, on its own, was already a shock.

You knew though, that at some point in the second half, the Spurs would make their move. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Over the course of the third quarter, the suddenly sloppy Raptors saw their lead slowly dwindle, but managed to keep some distance between them and the Spurs…for eight minutes, that is.

Suddenly, the Spurs ended the quarter on a 16-4 run, and within a matter of minutes, the Raptors had gone from up six to down six.

The fourth quarter was even worse, as the mighty Spurs simply imposed their will, and the young Raptors were happy to lie down and let it happen until they began to fight back again in the final minutes.

A recurring theme in the last two losses for the Raptors has been the disappearance of Andrea Bargnani’s shot. Bargs has gone a combined 10-of-37 over the last two games in New Orleans and San Antonio, and one would have to infer that if Andrea had even come close to showing up, the Raps might have two stunning upsets in their pocket.

A more troubling stat is Andrea’s minutes played over those two games. Despite shooting 4-of-17 on Monday, he was rewarded with 42 minutes. Tonight, Andrea’s porous defence and 6-of-20 shooting earned him 36 minutes. Triano was visibly frustrated with Bargnani early in the third quarter, but decided to bench him for a grand total of just four minutes. Now that’s how you send a message.

There is no question that these two games were defensive battles, for the most part. And so a big like Joey Dorsey may have had an impact down the stretch. Unless Joey Dorsey has suffered an unreported injury, then it boggles my mind to see him get just nine minutes, combined, over the last two games, while Andrea shot his team’s chances away.

What was that quote from Jay about making everyone earn their minutes this season, no matter who it was? I hope you didn’t fall for that one, Raptors fans.

DeMar DeRozan was a bit disappointing in the second half for the Raptors, as he followed up a 20-point first half with an eight point, 2-of-8 second half. Though it also must be said that DeRozan stayed aggressive, and obviously had a solid game overall.

Ed Davis was impressive, yet again, as he played within his boundaries, finishing with 11 rebounds and a couple of assists, while only attempting two shots. For the record, he made both of them.

Another positive for the Raptors continues to be Julian Wright. Wright was 1-of-4 from the field in San Antonio, but continued to play defence, rebound and like Davis, know his limits. Most of all, Wright showed his unexpected passing ability with a couple of mesmerizing dimes.

Lastly, I wanted to mention Sundiata Gaines. This was easily his worst game (though he’s only played three) as a Raptor. His stat-line will show you that he made four of six shots, but it won’t tell you that he wasn’t decisive enough, made some poor decisions with the ball in general and forced his own shot too often. It was the total opposite of what we had seen from him in his fist two games.

So the Raptors fall to 13-29, losers of five straight, with stops in Orlando and Miami looming. Can you hear “Tank Nation” rejoicing?

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 41 Min, 28 Pts, 10-19 FG, 8-9 FT, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 4 Stl, 5 TO

Spurs Player of the Game: DeJuan Blair – 35 Min, 22 Pts, 11-16 FG, 11 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO

Goat of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 36 Min, 14 Pts, 6-20 FG, 1-5 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk