The HQ breaks down last night's huge win in Orlando, sets up tonight's game in Miami, and notes the importance of last night's roster...
"Teams play best in a set, solid rotation, where everybody knows where they fit in..."
The wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy.
Last night I was watching the end of the OKC vs. Portland game and those words of Van Gundy's stuck with me in the wake of Toronto's 110 to 106 win over Orlando.
He was referring to a Blazers team that is still dealing with injury woes, but it was an apt description for the Toronto Raptors too.
The Raps of course pulled off a shocker last night, a win on the road over one of the league's most formidable opponents, the Orlando Magic.
But it wasn't just getting the W that I want to talk about this morning, it was the way it was accomplished.
Toronto won with a complete effort from 8 main guys, including a Mr. Reggie Evans who was a game-time decision. They out-worked the Magic, out-fought the Magic, got a little luck along the way, and more importantly, out-excuted their opponents in their best, and only second, win of the season.
It was an interesting and somewhat rag-tag group that took the court last night, but a group that made our live chat smile as it mostly consisted of the players we've been begging Triano to give more time to. The argument has been that this season, regardless of anything Colangelo says, is about rebuilding and to do that, you need to see what you've got to work with.
Toronto saw lots of that last night with huge performances by the young gunz, and some surprising other players as well.
So where to start with this Saturday late morning breakdown?
-With DeMar DeRozan, who was the brightest star among many in the Raps win? He finished with a career-high 26 points on some very efficient shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds as well.
-How about Julian Wright who again gave the Raptors huge minutes off the bench? He had only 7 points, but they were timely ones, and his 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal show just how active he was in this one.
-Maybe Sonny Weems? Weems similar to Wright made some huge plays in this one on his way to 14 points, 3 assists and 2 steals but none bigger than the 3-pointer he nailed with seconds left and the team knotted at 103.
Reggie's offence was pretty non-existent once more but he hauled in 12 rebounds and battled Dwight Howard as well as anyone I've seen in a long time. Howard had 25 points on the night but took only 14 shots as Toronto did an excellent job of keeping him away from his favourite post-up spots.
Amir Johnson played a huge part in this two, blocking him on a couple of occasions and generally making life miserable for D12. In fact four of Johnson's six fouls were against Dwight as the Raptors employed a bit of a hack-a-Dwight strategy at key points in the game.
It worked too.
Howard shot an abysmal 7 of 17 from the free-throw line and really was not the dominant factor that he should have been.
A big tip of the hat goes to Jay Triano on this.
I thought Jay did a masterful job working the rotations, even going small at times and when he saw that wasn't working, or that a player like Jarrett Jack was forcing the issue on offense, he switched things up.
Most impressive though was his use of the 2-3 zone knowing that the Orlando Magic were struggling from long-range so far this year. The Magic came into the game shooting 33% from beyond the arc and Triano dared them to fire away.
Fire away they did, to the tune of 24 attempts, and while Orlando made half of them, 8 of these 12 were courtesy of Mickael Pietrus and outside of him, the Magic really struggled to knock down the long-ball.
The Heat of course are sporting a hardly-dominant 5 and 4 record and currently being buried under an avalanche of public scrutiny. It's the way of the media but somewhat hilariously in the span of 3 weeks the team has gone from media darlings (outside of Cleveland and Toronto of course) to media trolls.
LeBron isn't doing enough, Wade is deferring to LeBron, Chris Bosh needs to be traded, the team has no point guard, the bench is too old, Pat Riley is going to take over as coach, the mascot isn't nearly as funny as he should be...and on and on.
The reality is the Heat's losses have come to Boston (twice) and two very tough teams in Utah and New Orleans.
They'll be fine folks, it's just going to take some time.
But that's why I'm a bit scared for tonight.
Miami is almost waiting for a team like Toronto to come along so they can lay the smack down, and the Raps are coming off last night's uber-high victory.
That being said, last night's victory showed that regardless of talent disparity, this Toronto team plays hard, and when they do that, they've got a chance each and every game.
Therefore, here are our keys for tonight:
1) 48 Minutes. This Heat team is going to be a much bigger challenge than the Magic because of two players; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Unlike the Magic with a 50 year old Vince Carter, these two will have DeRozan and Weems on their toes all night and it's going to be a major challenge for them at the defensive end.
But this Heat team has shown that outside of these two, there's not a lot of firepower at times and that's why it's imperative that Toronto gets a complete team effort once more.
This includes you Mr. Bargnani. Bargs was flat out great in the first half of last night's match, scoring at will, doing a decent job on D, and being aggressive against his doppelganger, Rashard Lewis. He finished with a team-high 27 points but had 21 of those in the first half and really struggled in the second. Put simply, the Raptors need him to start putting together complete performances and tonight he's got a great opportunity to do that as he'll likely be matched up against bigs like Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
2) Big man play. One way in which the Heat have been self-destructing lately is in the front-court. Chris Bosh has been surprisingly bad, especially in terms of rebounding and defense (he's averaging an Andrea-esque 6 rebounds a game so far) and outside of Udonis Haslem, there's not a lot of grit and toughness.
Enter Reggie Evans and Joey Dorsey.
I'm hoping to see both of these guys get their fare share of time on Bosh as we know from past experience that Chris doesn't do the best with aggressive defence and rugged play down low.
As well, Amir Johnson's length and athleticism should give the Heat fits. This is an area Toronto has to dominate if it wants a chance to win tonight.
3) Point guard play. Another big weakness to this uber-Heat team this year? Point guard play. Top PG's have been lambasting the Heat so far this season and I'm hoping to see that continue tonight. Are Calderon and Jack in the same realm as the Paul's and Rondo's of the league? Of course not. But we're talking about match-ups against Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers here.
The Raps need both to be at the top of their games and if last night was any indication, at least one of them should be ready to rock. Jose Calderon turned in a very solid 10 point, 7 assist night and while he didn't shoot that well from the field, the ones he made were huge and yes, he even threw in some great D at the end of the game to steal Orlando's inbound pass and final chance at a win.
Jack wasn't terrible himself, but as mentioned, forced the issue at times and will definitely need to be better tonight if Toronto wants a second-straight W.
But let's return to the opening quote from Van Gundy for a second before we cap off this lengthy preview/recap affair.
For me, last night was a win because above everything, the right players played.
What I mean is that so far this season, we've been begging Triano to give guys like Weems, Wright and even Dorsey more run. To us, not only are these guys the future possibly, but also are simply more statistically effective players than many of the folks that Triano keeps rolling out...folks like Barbosa, Andersen and Kleiza.
Weren't those the three players who didn't see action last night?
Two of these three are also leading Toronto in terms of negative "wins produced" scores and for the Raps, with such a small margin of error considering the talent on the team, truly the best players need to be out there every night, not just the biggest names or highest contracts.
As well, last night's rotation just made sense in terms of roles.
"Bargs and DeRozan, you two are our primary offensive options going forward. Sonny, you're a bit of a do-it-all and Julian, when you're in the game, you perform a similar role. Jose, if Jack's not going, you're coming in. Reggie...well, you just keep doing what you do."
That's what this team should be about going forward - eight guys, maybe nine, and no more of this hockey shift five in five out just to get our big names some minutes. To Van Gundy's point, when guys know their roles and know when to expect to get in the game, the results usually manifest themselves on the court.
So for me the real question is "what does Jay do now?"
If Kleiza or Andersen (who was apparently puking at the border) are ready to go tonight, does Triano fall back into the same tired rotation?
Let's hope not.
Because while last night's win was incredible, it would be an equally big kick in the stomach to fans to reward that win with more of the same line-up that had this team on a pace to win 10 games.