So, contrary to all expectations the Raptors aren't going to go 82-0 this season. The quest for 81-1, however, continues tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin. Last night, of course, the Raps fell to a disappointing defeat in Atlanta, and the team will hope to rebound against a Bucks team that, like the Hawks, could challenge the Raps for one of the lower playoff seeds in the East (cue pro-tank crowd eye rolling).
If you cast you mind back to all of 7 days ago you'll remember that the Raps narrowly lost a pre-season ice hockey game in Milwaukee by the score of 14-9. That game -- intended to be of the basketball variety -- was called off early due to problems with Milwaukee's fancy new floor (it really does look nice) and last season's edition is currently being used while they work out the kinks -- whatever those are.
And speaking of kinks, the Bucks worked out theirs in the 2nd half of their game against the Celtics on Friday night. The team was down big at the half before receiving a strong shot in the arm from the bench unit, which accounted for 66 of the Bucks' 105 total points. The Bucks got off to slow starts in both of their games this season and they enter tonight's game (their home opener), like the Raps, with a 1-1 record.
Incidentally, the Raptors were 8-10 last season in the second game of back-to-backs.
Here are 3 keys for the Raptors tonight:
Better Shot Selection and More Ball Movement
Through two games the Raptors have just 30 assists and 29 turnovers -- that's not a good ratio. Against Boston on Wednesday night the ball stopped moving and the offense consisted of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan taking turns with those dreaded 18-foot jumpers -- with mixed success, of course. Last night against the Hawks we saw more of the same. DeRozan was much better -- in-fact his offense kept the game close -- but despite being, in the words of Matt Devlin, "hotter than you right now" (smooth as ever, Devlin!) a lot of his shots were still what you'd consider low-percentage - only 6 of his 23 shots came in the paint. When they go in, sure it looks great, but you can't build a successful offense on zero-movement, iso-ball.
And Rudy? Well, this is what he looked like shooting the ball last night:
In all honesty, Gay's offense killed the Raptors in Atlanta, and when he has nights like that -- which haven't exactly been infrequent in recent years -- it really makes having him and DeRozan on the floor together completely redundant.
More Touches for Valanciunas
Again, this relates to Gay and the wings in general, because seriously, if Valanciunas is the future of the team -- the only untradeable player on the roster, according to Marc Stein - then it would be nice to see some actual basketball plays run for him. I realize that he's not go to develop into an All-Star-caliber centre this year, but if he's going to make even incremental gains this season, Casey needs to get him more involved in the offense.
Part of this is on Jonas too, of course -- he could be more assertive posting-up -- but if two of your teammates are taking 50 shots a night, it's hard to get involved. Tonight he'll have a tricky match-up against LARRY SANDERS! (this is a fantastic interview, by the way) but the Bucks big man has had a rough start to the season, and like Jonas, is still prone to getting in foul trouble. If Jonas can put pressure on him early, it'll make that rim a little easier to attack for everyone. He needs the ball in his hands for that to happen, of course.
Better Perimeter Defense
The Raptors did a poor job rotating to the Hawks shooters on Friday night -- particularly Kyle Korver -- and Atlanta was 10-23 from 3-point range. As good a game as DeRozan had offensively last night, he continues to look lost as an off-the-ball defender. The Bucks shot the ball well from 3 against the Celtics, and although they're currently thin on the ground at the point-guard spot (Gary Neal started at PG last night) they have guys that can cause damage from the outside. The Raptors need to do a better job of guarding the perimeter and taking the pressure off their bigs.