Raptors Searching for Winning Formula

Zan in the Key

Fans Get it Right

The fan voting for All-Star games in sports has a tendency to go terribly wrong. Players get in who have name value and often the most deserving players do not make it.

Well, the fans got it right this year (at least in the East) where Kyle Lowry was voted in over Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat.

Kyle Lowry was voted into the All-Star game by the fans and found out with his teammates in Philly.

Kyle Lowry was voted into the All-Star game by the fans and found out with his teammates in Philly.

Nothing against Wade, he is actually having a decent year, but Lowry has been phenomenal. He is the heart and soul of the Raptors and has led them to top spot in the Atlantic Division and top three in the East.

He deserves to be there.

It was great timing to see the team receive this news while in Lowry’s hometown of Philadelphia. The team got together and watched the announcement live together at Lowry’s offseason home.

Kudos as well to Raptor Nation who came together at the 11th hour and helped Lowry overcome a huge deficit in votes to reach the spot as starter. If Bieber actually understood how twitter works Lowry would have won by a much larger margin.

Raptor fans are the best! We The North!

Finding the Right Formula

The Raptors had a rough home stand and got off to rough starts against both the Sixers and Pistons

Until Sunday night, DeMar DeRozan was not the same player that started this NBA season. In the first month of the season he looked like a sure-fire All Star before injuring his adductor longus tendon.

Before the injury DeRozan was hitting shots, driving the lane, getting to the foul line and making life incredibly difficult for opposing defences.

DeRozan has struggled since coming back, but is slowly beginning to find his form. He is a key for the raps going forward.

DeRozan has struggled since coming back, but is slowly beginning to find his form. He is a key for the raps going forward.

Since returning he hasn’t looked the same. He wasn’t able to get buckets in the lane, he was settling for jump shots and he wasn’t getting to the charity stripe (a huge part of his game).

The last two games have seen DeRozan play more like he did in the early part of the year. In the last two games he has scored 49 points and more importantly has taken 23 free throw attempts during those two wins. In the previous 7 games, since his return, he had only managed 22 free throw attempts. The difference has been huge.

Raptor fans are clearly going to have to be patient with DeRozan, but the signs are there that he is returning to form.

Not coincidently, the games that DeRozan has played at his best have ended in Raptor wins.

Shake it Up

The starting lineup has gone through a few incarnations this year with DeRozan hurt, but it may be time to shake it up on a more consistent basis. Terrence Ross has been far from his best the last few weeks in the starting five and may be better coming off the bench.

Amir Johnson might need a move as well.

This isn’t to say they are not useful players or that they don’t have a purpose late in games, but the raptors have been getting off to terrible starts (as they did on Friday and again last night) and cannot keep doing that. The Raps might be able to get away with a sloppy start against the Pistons or the Pacers, but there is no way they can do that down the stretch against teams they are fighting for position with.

Terrence Ross has been dreadful of late. There have been countless blogs out there bashing Ross and it’s hard to argue with many of them. He just hasn’t been effective. In fact, the last two games he played important valuable minutes coming off the bench. He still had opportunities to hit open threes and his defense looked sound against the second unit. He seems better suited to playing without the pressure.

Greivis Vasquez has been great when called upon to spot start for Terrence Ross. His three-point shooting opens the floor and he is able to allow Kyle Lowry more shot opportunities by playing the point. This might be the way to go moving forward.

Patrick Patterson, likewise, may have earned himself a starting spot as the “go-to” big for the Raptors. He is consistently closing out games for the team and might be a better choice to start them as well. He is defensively sound, makes smart plays and has the ability to really stretch the floor.

Despite his excellent play against the Pistons and again last night against the Pacers, Amir looks wounded to me. He could use a stint on the bench to get himself healthy and playing fewer minutes every game will keep him fresh come playoff time.

And1

Casey called out his team this week for a perceived lack of effort. Ross and Valanciunas have been the biggest targets of that anger, but as a whole the team seems to be waiting for the problems to fix themselves and they’ve consistently played down to the level of their opponent.

Casey was right to call them out. Since DeMar has come back this team seems to be on auto-pilot. They are going through the motions and possibly assumed that DeMar’s return would immediately rectify any issues they were having. It has not.

The Raptors responded against the Pistons and held on for a big victory, They looked much better last night on the road in Indiana but in the words of Chris Rock “that’s what you’re supposed to do”. The Raps are supposed to beat these teams, they shouldn’t be overly confident because of wins they are supposed to get. Now comes another stretch of games against inferior opponents. The team must take advantage of the schedule or risk falling in the East.

Flagrant 2

I want to start off by saying I think Dwane Casey has done a great job as coach of the raptors this season. He’s got the team working hard, he preaches defense and trusts his best players to make the winning plays at the end of the game.

But what the hell is doing with Jonas Valanciunas?

Jonas has been a consistently solid post presence for the Raptors and has been begging for more playing time, but his minutes have been consistently inconsistent. Even in a game where he is shooting over 50% he is pulled out for large stretches of the game, especially in the fourth quarter. This was the case again on Sunday where Casey yanked Jonas in the fourth quarter in favour of a smaller lineup, even though the “Big Lithuanian” was dominating the paint for the Raptors.

Yes, the matchup against a smaller Detroit team didn’t make sense during the fourth quarter, but Jonas earned those minutes. Casey should have put Jonas back in the game during the fourth quarter when Amir was struggling. Of course Amir hit the big free throws at the end of the game, but it should have been Jonas in the game.

This is a player the team is likely going to build with going forward. He is very hard to guard inside for most opponents and his defensive game is getting better.

Yes he gets into foul trouble (as he did last night), and yes he can become a little too “complainy” with the officials, but this is a 7″2′ monster inside the paint. He scorched the Pistons inside on Sunday night and then sat out the 4th quarter. He did the same against the Pistons on Jan. 12th and has the potential to do it to any team on any given night. The Raptors should be looking for Jonas early, as they did on Sunday night, and cannot forget about him in the second half.

Jonas deserves more time.

Kristoffer Pedlar
Zan Tabak Herald

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Raptors Need to Take Better Advantage of Homestand

Zan in the Key

Home Sweet Home

The Raptors have got to be glad to be home. Their six game road trip didn’t end the way they would’ve liked and they lost their grip on first place in the East, but now they are back home for a nice long home stand and they have to take advantage of it.

One of the things the Raptors did really well in the first part of the season was taking advantage of a favourable schedule. The next couple of weeks sees the Raptors play at home against very beatable teams. It is important to make the best of this time and solidify their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Tough losses to Charlotte and Detroit are not want the doctor ordered, but the Raps still have winnable games coming up against the 76ers and Pelicans as well as a big battle with the Hawks on Friday.

Here’s hoping the Raptors can salvage the home stand and keep themselves in the battle for top spot in the East.

Return of the Mack

DeMar DeRozan is scheduled to return any day now and he cannot get here fast enough. While the Raptors have done a phenomenal job holding down the fort with DeMar out, his presence makes a huge difference.

The Raptors need DeMar  DeRozan back soon. The team has held the fort without him, but needs him back on the court soon.

The Raptors need DeMar DeRozan back soon. The team has held the fort without him, but needs him back on the court soon.

There have been games the Raptors lost because they needed someone to draw defensive double teams, make tough shots and get to the stripe. His presence opens the floor up for Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas and it puts all of the Raptors back into their designed roles.

DeMar is our best player and his return will be a huge boost for this team. The Raptors haven’t been able to get to the line nearly enough in his absence and his presence alone in the fourth quarter of close games will help the Raptors squeak out those tough wins.

Let’s hope he get back on the court soon and can stay healthy enough to lead this team deep into the playoffs.

Rotating Parts

With a tough loss against Charlotte this week Dwane Casey was forced to make some adjustments to his lineup moving Landry Fields back to the bench and adding James Johnson to the starting rotation.

Johnson adds a defensive presence that fits well with the rest of the starting unit. He can also rebound really well and finish at the basket. He helps open the floor and, unlike Fields, forces defences to stay on him. He did a great job against the Celtics and will be asked to do the same until DeMar DeRozan comes back, but there is some talk about keeping him in the starting rotation when DeRozan returns, meaning Amir Johnson or Terrence Ross would be moved to the bench.

Johnson has been a great energy player off the bench for the Raptors and would fit nicely in the starting unit should the coaching staff choose to keep him there. He has been part of the reason the Raptors have been getting off to better starts the last couple of games.

And1

There isn’t a player in the association this year that deserves to be in the All-Star game more than Kyle Lowry. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but he has certainly done more than enough to be a starter and deserves to be there.

The Raptors fans really stepped up this week to try to vote Kyle Lowry into the game and it really showed the influence the franchise now has all over the country.

Last year the team used the slogan “We the North” to rally fans around the team during the playoff run, but it has become so much more than that. This team is now appropriately branded as “Canada’s team”. Fans are showing up all over the NBA in stadiums from Cleveland to Los Angeles and showing this league that Raptor fans are the best.

Whether or not Lowry is successfully voted into the All-Star game Raptor fans have demonstrated once again how great the fan base is here in Toronto and that this city is the best place to play in the NBA.

Kyle Lowry #NBABallot

Flagrant 2

I’m not one to question the wisdom of Masai Ujiri. The man hasn’t done one thing wrong since arriving on the scene in Toronto. He’s taken this team to new heights and done an incredible job building the Raptors into a solid competitor in very short order. But what exactly are the Raptors doing with Bruno Caboclo?

I was all for the plan to keep Bruno in Toronto to learn the Raptors’ system and bond with the players and coaching staff. I thought that was a good idea, but I also thought he would be playing a little bit more than he has. This 19-year-old kid has only played 19 minutes in the NBA and it doesn’t look like he’s going to play much anytime soon.

The last few weeks the raptors have sent him down to Fort Wayne, watched him play a few minutes in the D-League and then recalled him. Now he’s back on the very end of the Raptors bench.

Wouldn’t he be better off getting consistent playing time in Europe or in the D-League?

The Raptors want Caboclo under their control and so far have refused to give him time in the D-League or overseas, but if Caboclo is going to take step forward in his development the Raptors are going to have let him play. It doesn’t look like that will happen in Toronto this season.

Kristoffer Pedlar
Zan Tabak Herald

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Raptors conquering the West

Zan in the Key

How the West Was Won

When was the last time you remember a Raptors team going out west and playing with such confidence?

The Western road trip is usually something the Raptors and their fans cannot wait to get through. Not only is it gruelling on the body with the increase in travel and the time zone changes, but the team also has to compete against some of the best teams in the league.

This team has clearly brought their A Game out west and is giving some of the top teams all they can handle. With big wins against the Clippers and Nuggets and a tough matchup with the Blazers and Warriors the Raptors are showing the league that they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Eastern Conference doesn’t get a lot of “cred” around the league, but the Raptors are putting the West on notice that they are the Beasts of the East.

Kyle in Charge

It would be a fair argument to say that Kyle Lowry is one of the best players in the league right now. He has put the Raptors on his back and is leading this team to decisive wins over some of the best in the league without DeMar DeRozan.

Lowry has been a little bit of everything for the Raptors on this road trip. He’s been the scorer (a game high 34 points against Chicago), the distributor (11 dimes in a victory over Denver), and the heart (10 points in the 4th quarter against Denver) of this team.

Lowry’s willingness to take control when the game is on the line, his ability to draw a foul, take a charge or sneak into the paint and grab a key rebound is why he is in the thick of the MVP conversation at this point.

Lowry will likely not be voted into the All-Star game because fans almost never get it right, but if he is left off of the squad by the coaches then I just don’t understand basketball.

He deserves to be there plain and simple.

This is a call to all Raptor fans out there: tweet Kyle Lowry with the hashtag #NBABallot every time he scores a bucket and that should be more than enough to get Lowry into the game. He deserves to be there.

Christmas Exchange

There were a couple nice games on Christmas Day for the NBA, but all of the games really lacked the intensity we are used to on the Holiday.

The Warriors against the Clippers should have been great but wasn’t, the Heat against the Cavs had some intrigue with Lebron returning to Miami, and San Antonio against the Thunder was solid. But the Lakers? the Knicks? Is this really what NBA fans asked Santa for?

What the NBA needed to do was give their best teams a chance to be showcased. The Raptors deserved to be in one of those games. I’m obviously incredibly biased, but they are the best team in the East. The fans deserved to see it. Are you telling me a Bulls/Raptors matchup wouldn’t be good? or a Wizards/Raptors matchup couldn’t be a nice way to start off the Christmas day schedule?

Let’s hope the NBA gets it right next year and makes certain that their best teams are involved on Christmas day. The Knicks?, The Wizards? C’mon! The Raptors are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA and fans would have had a treat watching them play.

And 1

Coach of the Year

Dwane Casey has quietly done one of the better jobs in coaching this year, he is currently the coach in line to coach the all-star game and let’s hope he holds onto that opportunity.

Much of the credit for the Raptors success this year is attributed to Masai Ujiri, but Casey deserves his due as well. He has got this group playing unselfish basketball and right now they are doing it without one of their best players.

Casey has quietly guided this squad to first place in the East and deserves to be  the coach at the All-Star game.  BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS FILE PHOTO

Casey has quietly guided this squad to first place in the East and deserves to be the coach at the All-Star game.
BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS FILE PHOTO

The team is paying closer attention to their defensive game, and seem more than happy to make an extra pass, run down a loose ball or get others involved in the offence. This unselfish play is one of the main reasons the Raptors find themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Casey’s calm, steady approach and his focus on the defensive side of the ball has really steered this team in the right direction. This group is buying into what he’s selling and the results speak for themselves.

Can’t think of a more deserving coach.

Flagrant 1

All Hands on Deck

This road trip has showcased the importance of having a deep bench. The raptors started out the trip without Landry Fields who was filling in as a starter, and have seen important contributions from Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, James Johnson. Raptors are going to go far because of their stars, but every now and then these bench guys are going to come up big and help the team steal a game here or there.

Hansborough in particular has come in and played very important minutes for the Raptors when Amir Johnson or Valanciunas were forced to take a seat on the bench.

having Landry Fields back into the starting rotation has allowed the second unit to play the way they were designed to. Every player has accepted their role and is doing their part to make this team better

Having guys who understand their role and who play without ego comes in handy when you are playing tough games on the road.

It also comes in handy in the playoffs.

Kristoffer Pedlar
Zan Tabak Herald

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Raptors Surging Forward Without DeRozan

    Zan in the Key

Kyle in charge Continue reading

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Loss of DeRozan Creates Questions

Zan for Three

Down Goes DeMar

In the coming weeks we will get a better picture of what this team looks like when its back is against the wall.  With DeMar DeRozan, arguably the teams best player, out for an extended period of time the Raptors will need to find production from other sources.  If Sunday nights game against the Lakers is any indication, it could be a long couple of months in Raptor land.  The team looked out of sorts and couldn’t get anything going without DeMar in the starting lineup.

This is really the first adversity the team has faced in the last couple of years, at least from an injury standpoint, and will need to adjust on both ends of the floor. DeMar has been a very focal part of the team’s game plan each night and this injury will test the resolve of the team and the coaching staff.

DeMar cannot be replaced.  He is the heart and soul of the team and even when he isn’t scoring, the attention he gets from opposing defences is what helps other players on the team produce.

The Raptors are going to need big time production from Terrance Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Lou Williams while we all wait for DeRozan to return.

Hopefully they can hold down the fort while DeRozan is out and keep this team near the top of the Eastern Conference.

It won’t be easy

Jonas time

Sometimes young players need to be forced into playing to their potential.  It’s easy to get into a routine and play at the same level all the time when you’re just starting out and not much is expected.  Jonas Valanciunas has been good since he arrived from Lithuania two years ago, with flashes of great, but he’s never been great consistently.

This season is supposed to be the year he breaks out and becomes a higher level player.  We all know the potential is there. Now with DeMar DeRozan out for an extended period of time an opportunity is presenting itself for Jonas to become a bigger part of this team.

Jonas possess qualities that other NBA centers do not.  He is 7″2′ and 300 lbs.  He is a beast of a man in the mould of the 90’s centres.  He would be just another big body next to guys like Shaq and Alonzo Mourning. But he’s matching up against guys like Mason Plumlee and Enes Kanter and should be dominating them.

DeMar DeRozan is gone for a while and my money is on the Raptors looking to make Jonas a much larger part of the offensive game plan.  They would be foolish not to.  He is a matchup problem for many teams in the league and has the potential to be a 20 and 10 guy every night.

In fact, last week when Jalen Rose visited Toronto as part of Flashback Friday, he made this exact point.  The key for the Raptors going forward is for Jonas to make the jump from contributor to star.  He needs to be a 20 and 10 guy every night for the Raptors to take that next step they so desperately want to take.

To do this he is going to have to keep himself on the court and out of foul trouble.  He’s also going to need to play in crunch time.  On Sunday night in L.A., though he didn’t have a great game, Jonas was on the floor during the fourth quarter and overtime. That is the first time in quite a few games that Jonas has been allowed to play crunch time minutes.  This would seem to indicate that Jonas is going to be a big part of the team over the next little while DeMar nurses his injury and Dwane Casey is going to let him sink or swim in the most important parts of games.

DeMar’s injury may force Jonas to finally step up.

Credit to the Coach

While there has been lots of love being tossed around (rightfully so) to the Raptor players and Masai Ujiri for the teams’ hot start, little has been mentioned of the coach…until yesterday.

Casey was awarded the coach of the month award for his stellar work leading the Raptors to first in the Eastern Conference.

Dwane Casey needs and deserves more credit like this for how great things are going in Toronto.  The team is scoring at a high rate and playing pretty strong on the defensive end as well.  Anybody who thought last year’s success was a fluke has been rather quiet this season as Casey and the Raptors are proving that last year was no outlier season.

Much of the credit for the turnaround should be given to Casey.  He has helped bring the best out of Kyle Lowry and his hardworking, focused demeanor has really caught on with the players.

This season the team burst out of the gate and are currently first in the East, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at them. The team is focused on the task at hand and never lets themselves celebrate too much.  Last year’s playoff defeat is still too fresh to allow for that.

Casey took a team last year that many thought would be battling for the first overall pick and led them to an Atlantic division title. This year he appears to have the team reaching even higher.

Though the great start to the season is no guarantee of playoff performance later in the season, Casey deserves credit for the way this team has fought and the way they carry themselves day in and day out. They may just be the team to beat in the East this year.

We are lucky to have Coach Casey.

And 1

It was nice to see Jalen Rose on Friday at the ACC.  Though his Raptors tenure will not be remembered for many wins or playoff appearances, he remains one of the best interviews in the NBA.  Rose is a true “call it like I see it” guy and whether you agree with his opinion or not, you have to respect the way he carries himself.  He has become one of the most watchable retirees out there in broadcasting and is a solid addition to the Grantland staff. It was great to hear his take on the Vince Carter trade one which he was very closely affected by when he was playing here.  Referring to the players the Raptors got in return for Carter as a “box of rocks” and reminding us that Rafael Araujo was our number one draft pick that year are the type of straight up comments you’d wish more players weren’t afraid to say.  He was and still is one of my favourites to listen to.

flagrant 2

There is one thing I can’t stand about basketball and that is the incessant complaining to referees that players do on almost every single call.  Usually it is the LeBron’s and Kobe’s of the world that a guilty of it, but lately I have seen my own Toronto Raptors complaining a lot more to the referees.

Now, it is a good sign that the Raptor players now feel they deserve calls on our side as it wasn’t long ago that referees would almost completely ignore our players getting hacked and bounced around by opposing teams because we were so terrible. But it might be getting a bit out of hand lately.

While I agree with most of the “twitterverse” about the strange calls and lack thereof during the late stages of the Lakers game on Sunday, it should be noted that the Raptors straight up stunk it up.  A call here or there in the Raptors favour could have made a difference in the final outcome, but so could a bucket or two on the offensive side of the game and the Raptors couldn’t buy one of them. 

You can’t play for the whistle and the Raptors seemed to be doing that a lot in LA.  I hope Casey reminds them of this in practice and gets them back to playing the gritty style of play that got them to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Kristoffer Pedlar

Zan Tabak Herald

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Tabak Tuesday

Zan for Three

Too Legit to Quit

Let’s get this straight right off the top. This Raptor team is for real. They’ve got fight, they’ve got heart and they are continuously finding ways to win games. It has been a long time since this city has seen a team that is able to do the things that this team can. If you are already thinking about a top three seed in the East and a long playoff run, you might be getting a little bit ahead of yourself, but not by much.

This team is scoring in bunches and sharing the ball and finally playing more consistent defense. It would be fair to point out that the Raptors have had a fairly easy schedule thus far in the season, but they have come up big in games against tough teams. Yes, there was the loss to Chicago, but the Raptors also reeled off decisive victories over Washington, Atlanta, Memphis and Cleveland. The Raps are showing they can hang with the best in the league.

This Raptor team is going to make some noise. For the first time in a long time you can raise your expectations for this teams success.

This could and should be a very special year.

Sweet Lou

The Raptors biggest strength this year has definitely been their bench. Last year Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay for Vasquez, Patterson and Chuck Hayes. This summer Ujiri went out and added James Johnson and Lou Williams. Both have been incredibly effective when called upon.

Lou Williams is some kind of hot right now. He was brought in for his ability to provide instant offense off the bench for the Raptors’ second unit, but he’s been looking like our go-to guy this past week. He poured in 22 against the Bucks and followed that up with a very impressive 36 points in Cleveland. More than that, he has not been a deficiency on the defensive end.

His efforts off the bench earned him the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award and has Raptor fans seriously wondering how good he can be. Whether or not he can maintain his current pace, one thing is for sure; Williams will play a pivotal role for the Raptors this season.

We The North

Raptor fans are the best. They are. I’m not just saying that, they are absolutely the best fans in the association.

Not only are they loud and boisterous at the ACC for every home game, they travel with the team now. This week a large contingent of Raptor fans traveled to Cleveland for a very important clash against Lebron and the Cavs. Not only were the fans supportive throughout the whole game, they were often louder than the hometown Cavs fans.

Raptor fans are taking over.

In The Paint

Jonas

The Raptors are playing exceptionally well this season, but if they are going to make noise in the playoffs they are going to need their bigs to play better ball.

Jonas has shown signs that he is finally ready to turn the corner and provide that consistent double-double every night inside. Last night he was dominant inside against a much smaller Suns team and that advantage needs to be utilized more. He’s done a better job lately of staying out of foul trouble and is looking dominant on the offensive end. For some reason he is still not seeing a lot of court time in the fourth quarter. If he is going to become the player the organization and the fans envision, he is going to need fourth quarter experience.

There hasn’t been much to criticize Dwane Casey for this season, he’s been absolutely solid, but his handling of Jonas might be something to critique. Jonas is going to be a big part of the success this Raptor team has and when he plays well he deserves some fourth quarter burn. It makes sense to take him out if he’s been off defensively or is having foul issues, but give the kid a shot in the arm when he’s done well and let him finish the game. Jonas needs to learn how to get it done in the fourth.

And 1

Vince

It was refreshing to see the ACC crowd cheer Vince Carter this past week. He was one of my favourites growing up and I, like many, turned on him when he turned on us. He was, however, a huge part of the history of this franchise and deserved to be acknowledged. The ACC’s standing ovation for Vince after the jumbo-tron tribute will be remembered by anyone who cheered for the Raps during the Vince Carter years.

To the crowds credit, I loved the way they stood up for Vince after the tribute and then went right back to booing him once the game began. Raptor fans are the best (have I mentioned that yet?)

Kristoffer Pedlar
The Zan Tabak Herald

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