The Raptors sweep the Hornets for their second win in a row against yet another sub .500 team. Vicious D wonders what this team will do when they face a real challenger who doesn't shoot themselves in the foot.
Let's be honest for a moment.
There were a lot of things that had to break the Raptors' way for them to beat the New Orleans Hornets 98-92 yesterday.
With the Raptors last game against the Nets, I believed that they had not improved or implemented many different tactics to pull out a win against the worst team in the league. Instead, they were just playing the worst team in the league and the Raptors just were not as bad as the worst.
Against the Hornets?
Well, there was going to be a bigger challenge for the Raptors than the Nets, but the Raptors have recently played the Hornets fairly well year after year. Of course, Jose Calderon has always been a big part of that success and with Calderon sidelined indefinitely with his hip injury, Jarrett Jack came in and provided some offense despite fighting off an illness. More efficient than Paul, Jack was controlled with his offense and deferred appropriately to the others on the floor. He also challenged Paul to defend him by going to the basket throughout the game.
Then Marcus Banks came in and didn't miss a beat.
Now one might say that Marcus Banks has the widest shoulders of any player at his height which makes it that much more difficult for opposing guards to blow by him. In fact, he might actually have the widest frame of any Raptor this side of Joey Graham. With yet another quality performance under his belt, Banks seems to be rounding into form more and more. He is starting to resemble the backup that Phoenix saw many years ago who deserved a $4 million dollar contract. While Banks still does throw up the questionable shot once in a while, he does also try to use his body to his full advantage.
And thus, the arguments to trade Jose Calderon have begun.
Nevertheless, I'm not one to throw our starting point guard under the bus yet. Besides being one of the better "in control" players on this squad, he still is a high percentage shooter and is definitely one of the lowest turnover point guards in the league. More importantly, finding takers for a $9-10 million dollar contract over 3 1/2 years will not be an easy task and I don't believe his stock could be any lower than it is right now. However, Banks is definitely helping his own stock around the league as at least a serviceable second option for most teams and is definitely an important piece of Toronto's puzzle right now.
Of course, Amir Johnson was once again a major spark plug coming off the bench, and Andrea Bargnani has a couple key blocks down the stretch which almost made up for his fairly poor shooting. Chris Bosh also dropped down another 20 and 10 and DeMar DeRozan gave the Raptors a little bit of boost from his athleticism.
Besides that, there's little to be cheery about in this game.
The Hornets were pretty horrendous from all over the floor, shooting a horrid 39% from the floor and disgusting 14% from beyond the arc. Peja Stojakovic had an absolutely horrid shooting day going 1-7 from three and 4-15 overall after dropping a ton of shots on the Nuggets the other night. Many of the shots were open shots that the Hornets simply missed and the Raptors did very little to clean up the glass against Emeka Okafor and David West. One might point to the fact that the Raptors had three players in double figures for rebounding, but I would point to the horrid shooting of the Hornets as a large reason for those rebounds. Don't get me wrong. Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and Amir Johnson especially, were not just standing around waiting for the ball. However, Okafor managed to get seven offensive rebounds for the game and probably would have lots more had Bargnani not been taken out due to foul trouble.
What was most disappointing for me was just watching the Raptors on the offensive side.
With the Hornets going "small" for the majority of the game, the Raptors insisted on keeping most of their shots on the outside and didn't attack the basket enough. Even when players like Chris Bosh got into the paint, they still ended up taking a fadeaway or an off-balanced hook in the paint rather than going up strong and racking up the fouls on the Hornets' big men. With Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins both pointing out that the Raptors needed to go inside and even reporting that Jay Triano was pleading for them to keep attacking the basket, the Raptors themselves seem content to keep taking outside shots.
And once again, I'm left shaking my head.
There is no question that the Raptors need to be beating this teams that they're facing right now. With Boston and San Antonio around to ring in the new year, they have to take advantage of every sub-.500 team match up they can. However, good teams will use this momentum to build and work on their faults. Like a sharpening stone, these sub-.500 teams are a good opportunity to practice the things you've worked on in practice and to establish good habits so that when you face the tougher opponents in the league, you have a good foundation to work on.
Right now? I'm seeing a lot of the same problems, just against lesser teams that can't take advantage of the Raptors' shortcomings. I've been asked repeatedly about improvements to this team and its chemistry, but to be honest, there's very little in the way of good news. About the only thing that's good is that the Raptors staff has been allowed to explore the depth of their bench, something that us fans have begged for since pre-season when we saw how both Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson played the floor. However, the main problems with the starting core remain the same. There is still too much of a tendency to do what comes easy in basketball rather than doing what will win them the close, tough games.
The wins are welcome, and the feelings around the team are good for now. but the sense of foreboding that I feel about the days ahead just can't be whisked away with these kinds of wins.
Somehow, this team has got to start taking care of their shortcomings or they're going to hit a wall very quick and very hard.