The team here at Raptors HQ understands your worries. They’re warranted: the Raptors played awful basketball two games in a row, after some of their best play of the season. But let’s not panic — every team in the league has games like what we just witnessed. They have weeks where practice time is scarce, and in-game execution is rocky at best. The holiday break always takes a few victims just because of how distracting it is — remember: they’re also human.
Since Thursday morning, I’ve read opinions ranging from “trade Lowry and DeRozan” to “Masai Ujiri isn’t as good as we think.” The panic is real, and we need to chill.
The time to panic is if Toronto starts sliding down the standings at an incredible rate, and when unseen forces are dictating the team’s play. Nothing is broken; it’s just malfunctioning in this three day stretch of a seven-month season. Don’t blame Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan or Dwane Casey (and for Christ’s sake, Ujiri is a god). Like the team, we have to learn from mistakes in times of failure, and that includes our own mistakes and overreactions.
Perspective: This is at least a 50 win team — that much is certain. In a time where stars are flocking to specific destinations and building perennial contenders, Toronto, despite missing out on the fire sale, is right there in the standings with these other star-studded teams year after year. Because they are a star-studded team. They’re well coached, they have a game plan that works 90 percent of the time, and they’re a group of talented, experienced players.
With that said, Friday’s split against Atlanta is the perfect rebound game. Struggling at the very bottom of the standings, Atlanta scraps and claws at their opponents but simply doesn’t have the talent to win games consistently. Toronto has had two of their best games of the past two seasons against Atlanta, with 44 and 34 point wins over that span. The starters need to get their rhythm back after the holiday with practice time and games against sub-par opponents. Rant over.
Here are you details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN2 7:30 pm
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Atlanta – Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Ersan Ilyasova, Miles Plumlee
Toronto – N/A
Atlanta – Dewayne Dedmon (Tibia - Out), Mike Muscala (Ankle - Doubtful)
Back to the Basics
When Toronto comes into a game without a solid game plan, it shows drastically compared to their better performances. The defense is washed out, the offense is clunky and every other aspect of their play is dry and flaky. It’s awful, yes.
When the team comes into a game with a solid game plan, they have the talent and experience to execute with incredible efficiency — that much we’ve witnessed, even more so this season than past years.
Dwane Casey needs to corral his group and get them back to the basics: ball movement and cuts to the basket on offense; and quick feet plus communication on defense. The lack of practice during a holiday week is evident more than anything.
Allen Iverson may have gained a level of infamy with his disparaging line about practice time, but it’s ultimately the most important aspect to a team’s success.
Bench Norm and Reign in Freddy
Norman Powell has been an absolute negative on both ends of the court for almost a month now. It’s time for Casey to send a message and help him rebuild his confidence from the ground up. Sometimes things move too fast for players — signing a huge contract and being named a starter are huge steps for a third year player, and they happened pretty fast.
Powell looks as if he’s trying to fulfill expectations rather than play within himself. He’s trying to extend himself to what he thinks the team wants from him. The irony is that the team wants him to be himself — which was an opportunist on offense and a rangy defender who could cover four positions. He doesn’t need to be a star, and it looks like he’s trying to make star plays when he’s on the floor.
Case, meanwhile, needs to knock off the Fred VanVleet fetish. Yes, he’s a bulldog with the work ethic of a machine. He’s proven himself to be Steady Freddy, but his height and length limitations are too apparent and he’s not experienced enough to overcome those limits with the craftiness often shown by veterans.
Delon Wright may still have an undisclosed minutes restriction, which would explain why FVV is sharing the court with Wright so often. But at some point you need to play the more physically gifted player in order to succeed. Wright is that player, especially in end-game situations.
DeMar and Kyle Need to Have a Chat
The two stars looked awkward beyond reproach Wednesday night. Both players seemed completely oblivious to the team needs, and it resulted in Lowry committing awful mistakes and taking wild shots out of rhythm. It was ugly and disjointed — let’s not do that again.
Even worse, DeMar regressed back to his iso-heavy play style, making the Thunder game look more like a Drew League scrimmage. He had just two assists against Oklahoma City and consistently had no idea where his teammates were all night.
A sign of excellent leadership is communication. It’s up to these two to get everyone on the same page — starting with the two of them.