Tip-In: Talent and Execution Issues Permeate Raptors 101 to 96 Loss to Bobcats

It was a steal by Stephen Jackson that ended this one on the game's final play, but again, there were a myriad of factors that resulted in the Raptors sixth straight loss...

Before the season began I had pegged the Toronto Raptors to win 30 games.

Why?

Well for various reasons, including a more athletic group that minus Hedo, would do a better job defensively as a whole, and steps forward and more prominent roles for the likes of Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson.

They I saw the Raptors' first game of the season against the Knicks and promptly cut my estimate in half.

Now?

After the Raptors' 101 to 96 loss to the Bobcats last night, I'm wondering about halving that again.

Facts.

Fact 1:  This is not a very talented team.  I'm not going to say the least-talented team in the league, but I'd say it's gotta be close.  (Minny??)  We as Raptors' fans value names like Evans, Barbosa and Kleiza but it's debatable whether two of the three would even be in the league this year without the Raps, and even if they were, they would hardly be playing the key roles they currently are for this team.  That should speak volumes, and that's without getting into guys like Julian Wright and David Andersen.

Without talent it's pretty tough to win.

Fact 2:  This is not a very tough team, mentally or physically.  Yes, Weems and Jack can play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, and Kleiza and Evans aren't the "back-down" types, but the Pistons or Knicks of the 90's this team is not.

Toughness and grit can get you wins even in the absence of talent (see Scott Skiles clubs.)  Without it or talent...

Fact 3:   This team has no go-to scorer when the team needs a basket.  Even bad teams like Washington (Wall), New Jersey (Lopez or Harris), Sacramento (Evans) etc, etc, typically have that one guy.  He might be a new draftee surrounded by middling talent, but he's that designated guy.

In close games, you need your top guy to execute.  Without a top guy, there typically is no execution, and little chance at closing out wins.

If you combine these three facts, plus the continuing defensive issues (the Bobcats were averaging under 90 points coming into this one), and add on a new propensity to turn over the ball too much (the team coughed it up three times in four straight late-game possessions), and you've got a team that in my best guess is going to struggle to get to even the 15 win mark.

And last night's match made this even more apparent.

Let's look at the final play.

Yes, terrible possession by Andrea but terrible possession by Toronto overall, and I actually thought Bargs had a solid game.  He finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds, was aggressive all night, and while he had some defensive miscues late (Tyrus Thomas dominated the match-up whenever they faced off), this was a game where the Raps would have been screwed without him.

The last play according to Jay Triano was a two-option deal where Jose was going to try and turn the corner on the screen and if that wasn't there, he'd swing it back to Bargs for the 3-point attempt, hoping that Charlotte wouldn't be able to switch fast enough.

But they were, and that's when facts 1, 2 and 3 all culminated in one great Stephen Jackson steal.

Game over.

The Raps were close in this one and even held the lead for a brief period in the fourth quarter, but with about five minutes left you could just sense the unravel about to begin, and I predicted a four-point loss thanks to the culmination of our three previous facts.

So now what?  Toronto has to head onto the road again, facing two extremely tough opponents in Miami and Orlando, and a Washington squad that's looking more and more daunting thanks to John Wall.  (He had his first career triple-double last night.)  As Triano said post-game, there are no easy games in the NBA but this is especially true for this Raptors' team.

However let's end this on a positive note as there are definite ways this team can improve.

For starters, the starters themselves.  Kleiza and DeRozan were atrocious last night but even some semblance of production, even from one of them, would probably have been enough for a W.  It's only been a few games but DeRozan needs to get back on track or it's time to move him to the bench.

Speaking of the bench, the crew of Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems and Julian Wright were the reason the Raps snatched the lead from the 'Cats and in fact the bench outscored the starters 49 to 47.  

This can't keep happening and I'm still hoping Triano shakes things up.

(And in fact he might have to as Reggie Evans left late in the fourth with a hip injury, and was reportedly limping around the locker room post-game.)

All three need more time and when Ed Davis comes back, let's get him in the mix too.

After all, forget what Colangelo or MLSE is selling, this is what this year should be all about.  See what pieces the team's got that can contribute to the success of the franchise in the future, and let them go to work.

But as The National Post's Bruce Arthur and I joked via Twitter post-game, the key here is Mr. Colangelo.

Can he leave well enough alone to ride this 3 wheeled car all the way to the draft lottery station?

We'll see.

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