No rest for the weary. The HQ breaks down last night's loss to Jersey and previews tonight's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Is there such thing as a "necessary loss?"
A game that a team needs to lose, in order to be a wake-up call of sorts?
After a three and three start to the season, there were rumblings of "playoffs" and "all-star appearances" from the fanbase, and as I noted on Thursday in a post, it was probably a bit premature to have those talks, considering the club's early schedule.
Yes, there were definite improvements going on with the Raps, but six games is only six games, and the club's three wins came against teams that right now look to be headed squarely for the NBA draft lottery.
(Indeed, that means you too Carmelo and friends, who barely beat the winless Washington Wizards last night.)
Last night against the Nets, last year's version of the Toronto Raptors made a surprise appearance to the Air Canada Center.
There were blown coverages, terrible displays of rebounding, poor offensive sets, bad rotations and an inability to close out on three-point shooters. Had Jay Triano shown up to break a clipboard, I would have sworn it was 2010.
The hope then is that this "necessary loss," snaps the team back to reality, as it looked like they were perhaps a bit too content with their recent performances. Dwane Casey will likely use this then as an opportunity to bring the club back to earth a bit, letting them know there's still a lot of work to be done.
The question then on the minds of most fans this morning is probably along the lines of, "was that just one of those games, or are we going to see performances like this on a regular basis?"
It's a valid question, and one I don't have an answer to.
On one hand, the six previous performances would make this one seem like an aberration, a night where Toronto just didn't bring it.
Or, possibly a "lockout loss," as Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton described it last night. So far this season we've seen some truly bizarre results in games and a good chunk of these are likely due to the fatigue-enducing compressed schedule, resulting from the NBA's prolonged work stoppage.
Examples would include the Mavericks performance against San Antonio a couple nights ago, the Lebron and D-Wade-less triple OT Heat win over the Hawks, and last night's brick-fest by the red-hot Blazers against the moribund Suns.
So it's possible that along the lines of "it was one of those nights," yesterday evening's result was also simply due to fatigue, with Toronto having played four games in six nights.
I'm hoping that's the case.
Because last night the Raptors played a bit like they had their feet stuck in quicksand.
The Nets were quicker to the ball, especially in the second half, made better decisions, and just had that extra jump in their step.
Oh...and they knocked down 15 three-pointers.
Some of those 3's were well-defended but the vast majority were wide open looks, many created by the penetration of Deron Williams. To me Williams was the difference maker last night, more than anything else. Toronto simply had no answer for him and while he didn't shoot a great percentage from the field, he created open looks for teammates, got to the line 13 times, and most importantly, just set the tone for how the rest of the game was going to be played.
That's what stars do.
Toronto has no stars.
Let me repeat that.
Toronto has no stars.
Andrea has been playing his ass off this season up until last night. And DeMar's been good at times. But last night the team needed both of them and they were nowhere to be found.
I'm not even sure which one's disappearing act was more egregious.
On one hand DeMar was benched for the bulk of the fourth quarter thanks to his 1 for 6 performance that netted a giant three points.
On the other though, Bargnani took only 12 shots on a night when the Nets had no answer for him. He wasn't aggressive, consistently deferred to teammates, and in a game that required rugged rebounding, he grabbed four boards, and was guilty of numerous lax plays on D.
Want more proof that he regressed to his old ways?
The advanced stats from the match show a usage rating of 23.2. He's been averaging 28.95 on the season. His assist rate of 19.7 last night was also way up from his season average of 10.54. Both of these metrics and others are a pretty good indicator that Andrea wasn't looking to be as aggressive offensively as usual.
It was a scary site because as a fan of this team, you quickly realize that when these two guys aren't going, there's not much else, especially with Bayless hurt.
Jose Calderon did his best to keep the team in the game, scoring 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting, all the while dishing out 8 assists, but that's not nearly enough. Ed Davis, who had his best game of the season with 11 points and 8 rebounds, was a nice boost, but he's not a go-to offensive option at this point.
Rasual Butler was counted on to shoot, Leandro Barbosa couldn't shoot, and James Johnson simply shouldn't try to shoot. The fact that Amir Johnson took the third most shots on the team last night, speaks volumes.
The team needs at least one of Bargnani or DeMar to put their imprint on a game, and attempt to get the game going back in the style they want. There was none of that last night, and it showed as the Nets drove and kicked, bombing away from the perimeter. Between those 3's and Kris Humphries' nine offensive rebounds, New Jersey dictated the style of play from the half on, and that was it.
So tonight we'll put the "lockout loss" theory to the test.
Toronto turns around and plays the Philadelphia 76ers in Philly, a team Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix described last night as "Deep, confident and talented with great locker room chemistry."
The 76ers are coming off a win against the Detroit Pistons, and at 4 and 2 have the fourth-best record in the East.
It's a tough test for TO, so to grab a W, here are our keys:
1) Point guard match-up: This is a biggie to me. As good as Jose Calderon's been, he still struggles defensively. Last night was a great example of the quandary coach Dwane Casey faces with Jose because on one side, the team is a mess offensively without him, on the other, Casey needs to make constant adjustments defensively when Jose faces quicker guards.
Ones like Jrue Holiday.
The Raps tried Rasual Butler and James Johnson on Deron Williams, leaving Jose on the Nets' two-guard. That was still not a great solution though as bigger guards like Anthony Morrow simply posted Jose up, or shot over him.
Tonight Calderon will have to deal with the lightning-quick Holiday, as well as sparkplugs like Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks. If Toronto wants to steal this game, Jose needs to win this match-up.
2) Get to the line: Lost in all these defensive improvement stats is another interesting statistic. The Raptors are currently averaging only 19 free throws a game, third worst in the league. The league average is about 24 so that's a big five points that can come back to haunt you in close games. While the final score had a differential of more than five last night, I felt that if Toronto had been more aggressive in getting to the line, it would have kept them in it for longer, and opened things up for the rest of their offense. There's not a single player on the Nets who can guard Bargs off the bounce, so I was incredibly disappointed to only see him attack on occasion, not in a consistent fashion. Philadephia only averages about 23 trips to the line a game, but their offence outside of that is quite potent. It would be wise for the Raps to be more aggressive tonight in getting to the rim.
3) Step up the D: Toronto kept New Jersey to 39% shooting last night, keeping in step with their recent improvements in field goal defence. As we know though, the Nets got second chances on O thanks to their rebounding, so this plus the 3-pointers negated a lot of the D Toronto did play. And admittedly, some of the 39% can be explained by the Nets simply missing open looks.
There are no two ways about it. The Dinos can't afford to do that tonight. Philly comes into this game as the fourth highest scoring team in the NBA, and one of the better offensive clubs. Considering the damage New Jersey did, and that they came into last night's match as one of the league's worst offensive clubs, this has to be a major concern.
Oh, and this plays into rebounding too. As the 24th best rebounding team in the league, New Jersey wreaked havoc on TO and Philly, yikes, is a top 10 rebounding club. Misses on O can't merely translate into second chances for the Sixers, so beyond getting stops, Toronto needs to close out the play by corralling errant shot attempts.
If the team can follow these three keys, and get bounce-back games from DeMar and Andrea, then maybe fans will simply be able to write last night off as a "lockout loss," and hope that indeed, this loss was necessary in many ways.
Until then, the club has their work cut out for them against a very good Philly squad.