Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
After an ugly loss last night to the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors turn around and face off tonight against the team they were trying to catch for the East's final playoff spot, the Milwaukee Bucks. We preview the affair with some help from SB Nation's Bucks' blog, BrewHoop.
I'm not sure there's a lot to say about last night's 93 to 81 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The better club won, and the Toronto Raptors didn't play well enough to really give their opponent a good fight. The club shot 40 per cent from the field, but a chunk of that was thanks to some easy garbage-time baskets as this one was pretty much over by the end of the third quarter.
For the fourth time in the last five games we saw the Raps struggle offensively, unable to find easy baskets or create looks for teammates, and a superior defensive club like the Pacers came away with a relatively easy win.
Post-game, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey talked a lot about needing to be tougher and matching the Pacers' level of physicality:
"You are talking about one of the best defensive teams in the league. That is the level we have to get ready for. We have to develop that mentality. That is playoff basketball. We have to be able to execute against that type of basketball and that type of physically. Everything has to be with force."
Unfortunately I'd argue that while the Pacers were playing playoff basketball, the Dinos looked like they were still trying to figure things out.
In fact of all the recent losses this one looked the most like a game where Jose Calderon and Ed Davis were sorely needed. The club didn't have the necessary rebounding to get out on the break, especially with Amir Johnson in foul trouble all night, and therefore the club was forced to consistently score in the half-court. While that's an area Jose Calderon excelled in, Kyle Lowry continues to look a lot better in up-and-down scenarios.
As well, this was an "in-your-face" defensive display by Indy, the kind where you need to create easy looks instead of relying on jumpers. Calderon and Davis would have helped in this capacity too, Jose finding cutters and providing spacing with his long-range shooting, and Davis hitting on over 70 per cent of the shots he took between the rim and 9 feet as a Raptor.
Instead, minus those two Casey is forced to rely on DeRozan, Gay and Bargnani for the bulk of his team's scoring, all incredibly inefficient, high-volume scorers. The trio combined for 38 points last night, but it took them 33 shots to get those 38.
The Calderon-Davis monologue though is admittedly a bit like crying over spilt milk so the team is going to have to try and figure this out as the remaining games unfold.
That includes tonight's match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks, a game that only five days ago looked to be the biggest game of the year for the Dinos, and potentially a match that gave the Raptors a huge boost in terms of their playoff chances.
With three straight losses, and fairly ugly ones at that, this match now simply looks like Bucks vs Raps in March every other year: who cares. Even with a win tonight the Dinos would find themselves five and a half games behind Milwaukee with only 22 games to go, meaning the club would basically need to win every game from here on out. Boston and Milwaukee are on pace to win over 40 games and considering the Raps are on pace to win 32...well...
But let's talk a bit more about tonight's match and to help us with that preview, we bring you another weekly installment of "Blogging with the Enemy," where Frank Madden of SB Nation's Brew Hoop, gives us his take on three topics:
Still, I'd question the wisdom of a team like the Bucks dealing young, cheap talent for a guy that might not be around for more than two months. Tobias Harris' big numbers in Orlando thus far might be a little deceiving, but he's a very nice talent who may well develop into an excellent player as he matures. Moreover, the Bucks should have realized they would need another shooter last summer, but after whiffing on Randy Foye and Kirk Hinrich they for whatever reason signed Marquis Daniels instead.
I think a first round upset is possible, but quite a longshot. They certainly have a good chance at catching the Celtics for the #7 spot, which is obviously a huge deal given the dropoff in the East after Miami.
The last time these teams met in Toronto, the Raptors really used their size down low to beat up the Bucks in the paint. Amir and Ed Davis caused them all sorts of problems and Jose Calderon destroyed them early on in the P&R. Obviously the team is fairly different now with Rudy Gay on board, Jonas back, and Calderon and David gone, but the Bucks will certainly want to do better inside either way. Larry Sanders is obviously the key to that, so keeping him out of foul trouble is essential.
Offensively, the Bucks have had a tendency to start horrendously: they were down big in the first quarter in Toronto, were down 11-0 in Dallas on Tuesday and trailed by 17 in the first quarter against Houston on Wednesday. And then the bench came in and saved their asses in each of those games. So I'm not sure a fast start is critical, but it'd be kind of nice of them to be ready to play at the opening tip for a change, you know?
Adding Redick has also helped open up the floor for Ellis, who has been doing really nice things at the point with Redick, Mike Dunleavy and Ersan Ilyasova spacing the floor around him. Meanwhile Brandon Jennings has struggled tremendously, but in many ways that's not surprising--it seems like Ellis and Jennings almost never have it going at the same time.
A big thanks to Frank for the intel on Toronto's opponent tonight in what should be another slug-fest. Despite having high-powered scorers in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, the Bucks dwell in the bottom third of the league regarding offensive efficiency. Like the Raptors, they sport a number of high-volume inefficient scorers, so this one may come down to defense and whichever team gives up the fewest easy looks.
Unfortunately the Bucks are a top 10 team in terms of defensive efficiency, so the Raptors have their work cut out for them...
...especially if Rudy Gay is a no go.
Gay as noted, struggled through back spasms last night and will likely be a game-time decision this evening. I'm actually curious to see how this team plays without Gay potentially, as he's taken up the bulk of the club's offensive possessions since his acquisition.
Maybe this is an opportunity for someone like Terrence Ross to step up? Or Andrea Bargnani to get comfortable again?
That's essentially the way I'm viewing this game and all others going forward, as opportunities for development for next season.
After the last three losses, I'm not sure what else there is.