Archive for the ‘New Orleans Hornets’ Category

Game No. 35: Raptors 95, Hornets 84

After a tough loss in Houston on Tuesday night followed by DeMar DeRozan’s tweet heard ’round the world, the Raptors had a golden opportunity to bounce back against the lowly Hornets, who seem to have this whole “tanking” thing down pat.

Despite a sluggish start and a third quarter malaise that saw them score just 11 in the quarter, the Raps put together a dominating fourth period, outscoring the Hornets 33-15 over the game’s final 12 minutes. The end result was Toronto matching last season’s road win total of six.

Now here are some thoughts on the game.

1- The Raptors finally won a first quarter on the road, the first time Toronto has outscored their opponent in an opening frame on the road in 13 games (since Jan. 10 at Washington). Despite coming out of the gates sluggish and finding themselves down eight within minutes, the Raps responded by hitting nine of their last 10 shots in the first to finish the quarter shooting 63 per cent and up four.

2- What I was most interested in seeing in this ball game was how DeMar DeRozan would respond after his fourth quarter benching on Tuesday. I’m happy he was frustrated with riding the pine and losing, but I wanted to see him respond on the court with his play, not through social media. DeRozan came through with one of his most complete games of the season. He didn’t shoot the ball well (8-of-18), but did make a conscious effort to attack the basket, looked a little more locked in on the defensive end, and even made some nice passes on his way to four assists and six rebounds. We know DeMar can score. If he can show us an improved defensive attitude and a more complete game over the second half of the season, I think we’ll all be more confident in both his future and the team’s.

3- A disappointing aspect of this game was Ed Davis’ inability to build off of Tuesday night’s performance (career-high 15 rebounds). While he did a nice job of protecting the rim with three blocks, Davis did little else to help my movement of giving him a chance in the starting lineup. The 22-year-old didn’t score and managed just three rebounds and a turnover to go with the three blocks in 21 minutes of action. At what point do we stop expecting him to string together a great stretch like last year and just accept that this might have been a lost season in Ed Davis’ development?

4- Protecting the paint. The Raptors held the Hornets to just 34 points in the paint in this game. While most will toss that aside with an “it’s just the Hornets” dismissal, I’d like to point you in the direction of the comprehensive teamrankings.com, which tells us that the Raptors are now No. 1 in the NBA in opponents’ points in the paint. The Raps allow just 35.9 points in the paint this season, a far cry from last year, when they ranked dead last with 47.4 points in the paint allowed. Of all the defensive strides Dwane Casey has made with this team, that has to be the most impressive.

5- A few words on the Hornets. If Eric Gordon throws caution to the wind and actually becomes a free agent this summer instead of accepting the qualifying offer of just over $5 million, this team will be the definition of starting from scratch. Outside of some inconsistent (and mostly unproven) complimentary pieces like Trevor Ariza, Greivis Vasquez, Gustavo Ayon, Xavier Henry and Al-Farouq Aminu, their only other players signed for multiple seasons are Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith. It’s basically a whole lot of nothing, and coupled with the fact that the team’s long term future in New Orleans is in jeopardy, I honestly think I’d take the Bobcats’ future over the Hornets’ right now. Obviously that changes if Gordon sticks around or the Hornets strike gold with their two lottery picks (like partnering Anthony Davis with a Harrison Barnes), but as of right now, this team gives the Bobcats a run for their money as the most depressing to root for.

6- The Tank Nation standings. If you look at the NBA standings right now, I think the eight teams that currently comprise the league’s bottom eight are the eight that will finish their at the end of the season. That would be the Bobcats, Wizards, Hornets, Nets, Raptors, Pistons, Kings and Cavaliers. As the season wears on, we should see the Bobcats continue to separate themselves from the pack, with the Wizards and Hornets likely battling it out to decide the second and third-worst records in the league. That’s why I’m not so concerned with games against Charlotte, Washington or New Orleans in terms of the draft lottery. Where Toronto’s real “battle” will be for those of you who support an inadvertent tank, will likely be with teams such as New Jersey, Detroit, Sacramento and Cleveland, a group of four that the Raps currently boast a 4-2 record against. It’s matchups among those four teams and the Raptors that will likely determine who finishes where between fourth and eighth in the lottery standings.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 40 Min, 21 Pts, 8-18 FG, 5-8 FT, 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 TO (Honourable mention to Linas Kleiza’s 21 points off the bench on 7-of-13 shooting and five made three-pointers)

Hornets Player of the Game: Chris Kaman – 26 Min, 17 Pts, 6-14 FG, 5-6 FT, 10 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 TO

Start time: 8:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet One
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray
New Orleans: Greivis Vasquez, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon, Chris Kaman

Injury report

Toronto: No word on Andrea Bargnani’s return yet.

New Orleans: Eric Gordon, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor and Jason Smith are all out.

The New Orleans Hornets are a team being held together with scotch tape and chewing gum. They have the second-worst record in the NBA at 8-26, and they host the Raptors tonight while missing their two best players (Gordon and Okafor) and two key bench players (Landry and Smith). That doesn’t mean this squad is a pushover — this same lineup beat the Knicks in New York two weeks ago.

With Gordon out of the lineup, the primary scoring duties fall upon Trevor Ariza and Deliverance aficionado Chris Kaman. Those are not names that tend to strike fear in opponents’ hearts, but it’s worth noting that the Hornets have performed better than their record shows. They have the same “expected w0n-loss record” (based on overall point differential) as the Raptors at 11-23.

It will be interesting to see how DeMar DeRozan plays tonight after he was benched for the entire fourth quarter last night and sent out an angry tweet, which he later deleted. While I can understand DeMar’s frustration, he hasn’t played well enough this season that he should feel entitled about playing time. Andrea Bargnani (when healthy) and Jose Calderon have been the only Raptors to play at an NBA starter level this season.

On the off-chance you haven’t watched the latest “Dancing Hedo” video from The Basketball Jones yet, here you go…

The Raptors opened the last game of their home-stand in front of a smaller, sluggish crowd, and their go-to scorer was equally as sluggish. Andrea Bargnani looked to still be suffering from the flu in the first quarter, but luckily for the Raptors, other players came to play ball tonight.

DeMar DeRozan attacked the basket, James Johnson continued to be a steady contributor, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis provided their usual spark and Jose Calderon was absolutely lights out, racking up eight points and six assists in the first frame. The Raptors took a 27-20 lead into the second quarter, but the 14 704 in attendance either weren’t impressed yet or were being kept quiet by the whistle-happy refs.

Calderon continued to lead the charge to close out the half, as the Raptors outscored the Hornets 20-5 in the last six minutes of the second quarter, creating some energy in the building and taking a 57-42 lead into the half.

The balanced Raptors attack continued in the third quarter, as did the solid Toronto defence, leading to a 17-point lead at one point. But the 35-win Hornets were not about to fade away without a fight, and they closed the third quarter on a run of their own, cutting the deficit to 10 after three.

Ex-Raptors Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli started getting hot, and before we knew it, we had a three-point game early in the fourth quarter.

Just as they had done on Sunday against the Mavericks, it looked like the Raptors were ready to piss away another three solid quarters against a Western Conference playoff team.

Instead, Bargnani finally came to life, Amir, who finished with seven blocks, helped tighten up the defence and Calderon continued to torch the Hornets back-court, as the Raps did just enough to grab their 17th win of the season. The Hornets also didn’t do themselves any favours by missing a handful of layups and close-range “gimmes” in the fourth quarter.

Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa struggled to get anything going off of the bench, and Bargnani was missing in action for most of the night, but other than that, Raptors fans were given commendable performances from the rest of the roster.

Amir was great defensively and Ed Davis grabbed eight rebounds in 25 minutes, DeRozan struggled in the second half but continued to attack the rim and still finished with 17 points, and James Johnson turned in another impressive effort, finishing with 13 points, five boards, three assists and two blocks in just 21 minutes. Another positive stemming from James’ arrival is that it should motivate Sonny Weems to step his game up. Weems stepped up on Wednesday, pouring in 14 points in 20 minutes.

There were plenty of positives for the Raptors on this night, but none comparable to Jose Calderon. Jose thoroughly outplayed one of the best point guards on the planet, actually played defence and even pulled down seven rebounds to flirt with a triple-double for the second straight game. For the most part, Calderon has elevated his game to hang with some of the best point guards in the league this season.

And now the Raptors head to London, England, to give fans in Europe their first taste of top-flight NBA basketball, if you consider a meeting between teams that combine for a 34-87 record to be “top-flight.”

Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon -38 Min, 22 Pts, 7-10 FG, 3-4 3Pt, 5-5 FT, 7 Reb, 16 Ast, 1 Stl

Hornets Player of the Game: David West -39 Min, 19 Pts, 7-17 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 5-6 FT, 10 Reb, 4 Ast

Goat of the Game: Emeka Okafor – 21 Min, 1 Pts, 0-5 FG, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO (You could certainly make the case for Trevor Ariza and CP3 in this category)

Jarrett Jack

With some help from questionable officiating and Jarrett Jack’s 17 points off the bench, the Hornets came back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to beat the Raptors in their previous meeting last month. That win proved to be the fourth win in what would turn into an impressive 10-game win streak that launched the Hornets back into the Western Conference upper tier.

Subsequently, the Hornets have lost 10 of their last 14 games and while they’re still tied with Denver for fifth in the West, they’re just two games ahead of eighth-place Memphis. They clearly need to break out of this freefall if they’re going to make the playoffs and give Chris Paul any reason to want to sign a contract extension. Tonight marks the first game in a five-game road trip and it’s safe to say they are considering this a “must-win situation”.

Injury report

Raptors: Andrea Bargnani will probably play tonight in spite of a lingering cough, while neither Reggie Evans nor Joey Dorsey are expected to dress

Hornets: The Hornets are 100 percent healthy, which makes their losing streak that much more troubling.

Five questions

1. Does Jarrett Jack have extra motivation to play well against the Raptors? His 17-point output against Toronto in January was his second-most productive out of 49 games as a Hornet.

2. Could the Hornets have the NBA’s worst wing player rotation outside of Cleveland?

3. Should Jay Triano give up on trying to get Jose Calderon to shoot more often?

4. Did you know that, with his next assist, Calderon will pass the legendary Bob Dandridge for 200th all-time in career assists?

5. Assuming you’re a Raptors fan, how often are you checking mock draft boards these days? Currently, the Raptors have the fourth-worst record in the league, and both nbadraft.net and Draft Express have power forwards (Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones, respectively) going fourth overall.

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet One
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
New Orleans: Chris Paul, Willie Green, Trevor Ariza, David West, Emeka Okafor

Tonight’s pregame song is “Under Cover of Darkness”, the lead single from the new Strokes album. It’s not as good as most of their past singles, but it’s The Strokes so — like mediocre pizza — it’s still pretty good.

Jarrett Jack

Since I recapped this game yesterday, I’m not going to discuss what happened in the first 44 minutes of the game. For this post, I want to focus on the final four minutes when the Raptors were only able to score two points off of free throws, miss all six field goal attempts and committed a couple of crucial turnovers.

There’s a tendency for fans of bad basketball teams to assume that what separates their team from the good teams is the ability to win close games. As an example of how this is not necessarily the case, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 3-3 in games decided by five points or fewer and 5-29 in the rest of their games. Clearly, late-game execution is not the problem here.

The Raptors are another story. In games decided by five points or fewer, they have a 2-8 (.200) record this season. In their other games, they have a .354 winning percentage. They’re clearly not world-beaters either way, but yesterday’s end-of-game sequence brought into sharp relief this team’s ineffectiveness in clutch situations this season.

Immediately after a Hornets possession in which they were allowed to grab three consecutive offensive rebounds but they still didn’t score, the Raptors had the ball with about two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and trailing by a point. Obviously, this was still anyone’s game. Unfortunately, the Raptors – and specficially Andrea Bargnani — squandered this opportunity with three straight awful possessions.

Read the rest of this entry »