When the NBA schedules in the elite Euro League teams into the pre-season schedule there is little benefit to be had for the respective NBA squads. Essentially the game is a "trap game". The competition is weaker than the usual NBA match-up and if the NBA team wins no-one thinks twice. On the flip side, if the NBA team loses it’s a story. Example A – Toronto Raptors vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv a few seasons ago.
Last night was almost Example B.
Down at half to a CSKA Moscow squad featuring Erazem Lorbek and Viktor Khryapa the Toronto Raptors were staring another embarrassing loss in the face. The first unit looked out of sorts and the second unit was no better.
Luckily things got turned around in the second half where the intensity level picked up and the Raps managed to wear down the weaker team. It was also the second half where Mitchell earned his keep.
Coach Mitchell has been criticized on a number of occasions from all forms of media, be it radio, TV, newspapers or blogs. Many times it is warranted and other times not as much. We here at the HQ have never shied away from giving out what we feel is due criticism. At the same time we also recognize that is order to stay balanced you need to recognize a job well done. Well this is one of those occasions.
The pre-season is good for a lot of things. It provides an opportunity to try new line-ups, tinker with sets, help build chemistry and send a message. Mitchell used this game to do all of the above this evening and he did so almost flawlessly.
When you look at the second half of last nights game a few things really stand out. The first was the "big" line-up which featured O’Neal, Bosh and Bargnani on the court at the same time. This is something that had been talked about when O’Neal was brought over and it was interesting to see it in action. Theoretically having three big men, all of whom have range, on the floor at the same time should be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. Well there is only one way to find out and that’s to try it. Albeit they only played about 6 minutes together the results were interesting and seemed positive both on the glass and from a defensive standpoint. Now this line-up won’t work against the Lebron’s and Anthony’s of the world but it was nice to see Mitchell give it a try.
It was also interesting to see who Mitchell had on the floor at the end of the game. Ever since the X-Factor piece I did on Jason Kapono I am fully convinced that the UCLA alum should be starting at the three. Tonight’s game re-affirmed my position. To close out the game the Raps played Calderon, Parker, Kapono, Bosh and O’Neal and I liked what I saw. O’Neal and Kapono in particular seem to have some strong chemistry already making for an interesting two man game.
That being said it was great to see Mitchell put O’Neal in and out of the line-up over the course of the game. Prior to this match-up O’Neal minutes were being closely monitored and once he saw the pine he didn’t come off it. Tonight Sam showed no fear in giving O’Neal a quick rest and then getting him out on the floor again. In fact using Jermaine in "spurts" may be the way they ease him into heavier minutes.
The other guy that stood out to me in this match-up was Andrea. He looks nothing like he did at the end of the last season. He seems to have found his shooting stroke, has shown much more of a willingness to get down in the paint, and looks much better on the defensive end. I think fans can expect to see a vast improvement in his game early on this season. Mitchell seems to agree as he had nothing but praise for Il Mago in the post-game.
It’s Mitchell though who deserves the praise. It appears that he has a sound plan this pre-season and so far the results have been positive. He has found a good balance in letting his players to gel while also trying new things. There’s no better time than now for seeing what works and what doesn’t because when the games start to count there’s little time for more than small adjustments.