The Raptors didn’t quite have enough in the tank to beat Dwight Howard and Orlando Magic, but what Monday nights’ tough loss did show us was that the Raptors might not be as far away from contention as people might think.
The Raptors were without Andrea Bargnani. They were without Amir Johnson. They’re first round pick is playing in Lithuania and they were still able to hang with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic one night after a well fought victory over Golden State.
These are usually games that the Raptors disappear in, where they use the back-to-back excuse to justify their sluggish effort. Tonight they need no such excuse.
They executed on the offensive end, played tough defense on a fairly versatile lineup and didn’t turn the ball over. Had they gotten a few calls in the fourth quarter from the refs or been able to contain the dagger shot from JJ Reddick the result would have been different.
For a team that is supposed to be terrible and currently focused on”tanking”, they are showing a great deal of fight.
Tonight the Raptors had another great effort from Demar Derozan who once again looked like a rising star and phenomenal supporting efforts from Jarryd Bayless and James Johnson (who is quietly becoming my favourite Raptor).
Losses are okay. They do pave the way for better draft opportunity, but the way we are losing games is very encouraging. This “lottery” team is a lot closer than anyone gives them credit for. They have heart and they could easily be on the opposite side of these close games.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Bargnani returns. He may be the player that tips the scales and turns these close loses into close victories.
Believe it folks, there is great reason to be optimistic in Toronto.
Zan For Three
In Praise of Coach Casey
Let us give credit where credit is due. The Raptors have looked great in recent games showing energy on the offensive end and great attention to defense. This team looks a lot more hopeful than the lottery bound Raptors of a year ago.
The main difference in this years team is Dwane Casey.
He has brought his “Pound the Rock” mentality and has this young team buying into it. They are active on the defensive end and using matchups to their advantage. Yes, there is often an open jumper or two that they’d love to have back, but there is a marked difference in this years team from last years.
The Raptors, miraculously, rank 10th in the league in points allowed this season. Many of the players that were blamed for their poor defensive efforts last year still remain with the team. Casey just has them playing with more energy and his system clearly hides some the players defensive deficiencies.
The Raptors looked like a team that needed to be blown up last year. ”Trade everyone and start fresh”.
Not this year.
The Raptors may lose a lot of games and end up in the lottery once again, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.
The Coach has turned this team around.
Bargnani was looking like an All-star before his injury. Derozan is turning it around. And a team ranked 10th in points allowed can only get better when you add in Jonas Valanciunas next year. The guy is a wall and a solid defensive presence under the basket.
Thanks to coach Casey, The Raptors are buying into a philosophy, creating a culture and working hard every game even though thoughts of a playoff appearance are but a dream. Most importantly he is beginning to make an entire city believe that things are getting better.
Everything is looking up in Toronto.
So this James Johnson guy is a pretty solid player, eh? He is all over the floor. I haven’t seen a player like him in Toronto for a long time. He drives the net, rebounds the ball, drops dimes, blocks shots and hustles all over the ACC floor. He is an intangible, an X-Factor for the Raptors every night and it is not surprising that he stays on the floor for much of the games he plays in. Casey can’t take him off the floor.
Johnson is a little bit of everything and he presents matchup nightmares on both ends of the floor for opposing teams.
Add to all of this that he plays multiple positions, drives the net and has a post-up game and the Raptors have themselves a solid asset. The trade last year engineered by Bryan Colangelo to bring in Johnson (for a late first rounder), looks like a stroke of genius one year later.
Johnson is a versatile player that looks like he has found a place in the Raptors lineup and their future. And with good reason.
We should be used to the boos that players receive in Toronto once they’ve left the city on bad terms. But Hedo is a bit different. Unlike Vince Carter there is no chance for reconciliation here. This was a bitter divorce and it is absolutely personal.
Hedo played terribly here. He didn’t seem to care and unlike Vince, never took us anywhere. He is, quite possibly, the most hated former Raptor of them all. A whole lot of promise and talent that completely stunk it up in Toronto.
What makes him even worse is his complete inability to admit he was, at least, partially at fault.
Rightfully so, he was booed every time he touched the ball on Monday. And thankfully he had an absolutely abysmal game. Ending up with not a single point, 1 rebound and 9 assists. Sounds familiar right?
He still does have a lot of game left in him and he has been a fairly decent player for Stan Van Gundy and the Magic, but his ineptitude in Toronto will never be forgiven; nor forgotten.
On Monday he, ironically, was thoroughly outplayed by the hardworking James Johnson. It was delightful for the ACC crowd to watch him stink it up, and completely typical from anyone that watched Hedo over his time in Toronto.
A lot of talent wasted.
Zan of the Night
Give it up to the kid from Compton for bringing it on back to back nights. There is something different in him lately. That infamous game where he was benched for the entire fourth quarter, and sent an angry tweet out to his followers, has awakened a fight in him that Raptor fans haven’t seen in a while. Casey cracked the code and has helped turn Derozan into a focused player who is playing in the flow of the offense. He isn’t forcing the issue, he’s looking for his teammates and he is doing the things that make him successful. Specifically, driving the net, looking to draw contact, and not trying to shoot his way out of a slump.
Derozan is a big reason why Raptor fans have reason to hope for the future of this franchise.
Not Zan of the Night
Even if he scored a billion points I would still put him here. He happened to score 0 points, 1 rebound and 9 assists. Certainly not a “balling” evening. He looked terrible. His shot was awful and he was no match for James Johnson on either end of the floor. One could argue that the booing got to him, but this is Hedo. He doesn’t care. He didn’t care when he was here and he doesn’t care now. Although still a useful player in Orlando, he looked as horrible as he did when he played here tonight.
Just like old times.
The Zan Tabak Herald