As Coach Triano continues the difficult process of shortening the bench last nights miserable performance won't go a long way in helping him out. Against a very shorthanded Rockets team the Raptors played easily their worst preseason game getting punished by the likes of Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Shane Battier in a 124-112 lashing.
Anyone else think Pops Mensah-Bonsu took Bryan Colangelo's decision to let him walk this summer to heart?
In his first return to the ACC, last season's fan favorite absolutely demolished the Raptors posting the following line in just under 30 minutes of action: 17 points (on 8-9 from the floor), 7 rebounds (5 offensive) and 5 blocks. Dare I say he was the best big man on the floor? Pops, no matter what he says to the press after the fact, has to love that he stuck it to his old employer.
For the Raptors, a stellar performance by a former teammate who was struggling to find a place in the league last season is just the tip of the iceberg. Last night's performance is a rude awakening to the reality that this team still has a lot to work on. Although the Raps were missing Reggie Evans (and the team continues to be without the services of Antoine Wright), a decimated Houston Rockets team humiliated still managed to beat-up on the home squad. Taking nothing away from Shane Battier, Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza all of whom are good basketball players, losing to a team where these same guys are featured is just not acceptable.
So what exactly went wrong last night? What's the root of the problem?
Well it all starts and ends with defense.
For a team whose Coaching staff has apparently has been preaching defense throughout training camp, the message does not appear to be reaching its proper recipients. Last night the Raps were miserable on the defensive end letting up 30 plus points in three of the four quarters.
It's not an unfamiliar story for Raptors fans. The rotations were slow, there was a lack of energy and in particular guys didn't close out on shooters. That last point explains how Shane Battier went 8 of 9 from downtown and Ariza 3 of 5. The Rockets as a team hit 13 threes and I can count on one hand how many were truly challenged.
Despite all of the moves made over the course of the summer the Raptors still look like a weak defensive squad. The starting five is quite weak defensively and at this moment their defensive system is doing nothing to fill the holes in this leaky ship.
One person in particular I am looking at?
The way Hedo looks on the floor right now perhaps it isn't surprising that Battier had so many open looks from the corner. Hedo looks slow and he is far from being 100%...at least he better be. Although Turk made some nice passes and got the the hoop on occasion, he looked lethargic on the floor and did more standing around than the security guard responsible for Section 109.
Turk is not the only player to fault however. The whole team did a terrible job defensively. The Rockets shot 56% from the floor and shot an even higher percentage from long range! No-one on the Raps squad looked to be committed on the defensive end from Bosh to O'Bryant. If this was the first preseason game I wouldn't make much of it but it's now that this team needs to be forging it's identity.
There were very few positives for the Raps last night. Again the only guys that stood out were Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems. The team's athletes again showed why they deserve playing time. Had Amir not gotten into foul trouble he easily would have secured a double-double and Weems was once again active on both ends of the floor. Both were also the only positive plus/minus players for the squad.
The other take away from the game was that Triano has started to make some decisions about who is going to be in the rotation. Until Wright is able to get back it looks like Bargs, Bosh, Turkoglu, DeRozan, Calderon, Jack, Evans and Weems with a little Amir and Belinelli on the side. On the outs looking in? Banks, Douby, Rasho, O'Bryant.
After a game like this all eyes should now be on the teams leader - CB4. This team doesn't seem to be gelling quite yet and it's on CB4 to step up and get this team right. Bosh, despite some horrible calls, had an off night and he needs to come back against Boston and help ensure tonight's performance was simply a one-off and not an true indication of the make-up of this team. If this was a true indication I am not sure if .500 basketball is a realistic goal.
In the mean time if I am Jay Triano I am putting these guys through their paces between now and Sunday.
These guys deserved to be punished.