Usually preseason is pretty blasé.
Sloppy, turnover-prone, and lacking star power.
And while this afternoon’s match between Philly and Toronto won’t be on NBA Classics any time soon, I found it surprisingly competitive.
Both teams got their mitts on loose balls by diving on the floor, both teams dug in defensively for the most part they combined for 20 steals and 12 blocks, and both teams complained about bad calls as much as possible.
In fact, after watching this afternoon’s game I got thinking "forget the Celtics, bring on the 76ers!"
I’d love some feedback here but is anyone else excited to see these teams go toe-to-toe during the regular season? While I doubt it will be a Suns-Mavs match circa 2006, both clubs match-up well on various levels and defensively, it could be a battle every time they take the court.
So who has the advantage?
Unfortunately right now I say Philly, and it’s all because of the bench.
The Raptors’ starters looked pretty good on the afternoon. While they didn’t shoot well, the trio of Bosh, O’Neal and Moon represent a formidable rebounding force for opposing clubs and in fact, those three accounted for 21 of the 37 rebounds against Philly. Add in the fact that Jose had an efficient nine points and four assists to go with two steals in 24 minutes, and Anthony Parker, while only hitting on two of his eight shots, did a good job on D with four steals, and it was pretty clear who the tone setters were on Sunday.
However the bench was another story.
Yes, they made some nice plays at times and scored in a fairly efficient manner, but defensively things looked pretty grim. On numerous occasions Toronto got stuck trapping too high on screen-and-rolls resulting in open dunks by the Philly bigs under the basket, as their defenders were still stuck out on the perimeter.
As well, the rebounding effort just wasn’t there.
Andrea in particular made me shake my head at times as he had one rebound in 26 minutes, a simply unacceptable stat even for preseason play. On two separate occasions, Bargs simply let his man overpower him to grab a rebound and we’re not talking Reggie Evans type overpowering here; it was more like "sorry about getting in your way for that board, here you go Mr. Miller!" That type of effort can’t happen come October 31st and the entire bench is going to have to step things up.
Here are a few other notes regarding bench players who bear watching over the next few games:
-Will Solomon. Solomon is starting to look more and more like the second coming of Rafer Alston to me unfortunately. I appreciate the scoring and change in pace from Jose, but the kid has 12 turnovers in three games! He also isn’t gun shy in the least bit and at times, you have to question the shot selection. On one play in particular today, the Raptors got an extra possession courtesy of some dirty work in the paint by Hump, and as soon as Solomon got the ball back at the top of the key with the new shot clock, he fired it up again. That sort of decision making isn’t what Bryan Colangelo brought Solomon here for yet with Roko seemingly reduced to a 12th man role lately (he failed to play a minute today), there might not be many other options.
-Hassan Adams. The more I see Adams, the more I wonder just how much he’ll play this year. Right now the starters and bench seem a bit unbalanced, especially on the offensive end, and Adams’ "brickmanship" isn’t exactly the answer. Instead, I think Sam will call on Hassan at key moments; perhaps for stops or rebounding, but only when the Raptors are leading on the scoreboard and don’t need an offensive factor to make up ground.
-Jason Kapono. I’m going to be particularly hard on Sam this year concerning Kap-One because frankly, through three games, he’s still not being used correctly or getting enough looks. He played a solid 28 minutes today but considering how lights out his shooting is, he hit six of his 10 shots, Toronto HAS to start understanding what a deadly weapon they have. He’s basically a guarantee to hit at least one of every two shots he takes and we’re not talking about dunks. So it still blows my mind that the Raptors focus on running pick and roll plays with guys like Solomon and Hump, when Kapono is on the court. Get this guy some open looks! However on the down side, Kapono is just not a defender, and today’s match was a great example. Players like Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala went by him at will and he struggled to contain even some of the 76ers slower players. The bottom line here is that Mitchell needs to figure out a better way to get the benefits of Kap-One without incurring all the costs.
Outside of the Raptors, I have to say that Philly, even at a distance and in preseason, looks pretty good. Brand looks in double-double form again, the team is still running and pressuring, and the club has great balance from 1 through 12. And as much as I hate to admit it, Marreese Speights looks like he could be a real factor off the pine for this club if he stays focussed.
Up next for Toronto is CSKA Moscow, another interesting challenge. We’ll be talking more about this game on Tuesday morning but don’t expect this one to look much like preseason. Trajon Langdon and co. will be out for the kill and hopefully Raps don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is "just another preseason game."
A little dose of sudden competitive grit might be just what the doctor ordered before the regular season begins.