Five thoughts on Game 26: Raptors 115, Suns 109

Toronto Raptors at Phoenix Suns, December 13

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors eking out a win—their 7th in the last 8 games—over the Phoenix Suns last night…

Have Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas learned to play together?

It’s taken about 60 games combined from last season to now, but in the last 8 games, the Raptors starters have an offensive rating of 123.2 and a defensive rating of 94.2. That’s really good! Ibaka and Valanciunas together are at 118.5 and 101.4. (As a point of comparison, through the first 10 games of the season, the pairing was broke even at 114.1 on both offense and defense.

But who needs advanced stats? Just look at the old school box scores. Serge is averaging 16.6 pts and 6.4 rebounds over the past 8; JV is at 13 and 9. Perhaps most importantly has been Serge’s shooting; he’s shooting 50% from three over that stretch and averaging 1.8 blocks. On the broadcast last night, Jack Armstrong mentioned that Ibaka might finally be turning into the third player the Raptors need; I still think Ibaka’s rebounding numbers need to come up, but the improvements in his shooting and defense are making a huge difference.

I’m super pleased with Fred VanVleet’s play, but…

… is he really the best choice to be closing games alongside Lowry? I ask not because of any Fred VanVleet deficiency, but rather that I think CJ Miles or OG Anunoby’s particular skill sets might be more suited to those lineups. I know Fred is smart and a good ball handler; but Miles’ shooting is so valuable, not just for his own offense but for the way he opens up spacing for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, that I would love to see more of it.

(At least last night, Dwane Casey left JV in the game in the fourth to bang with Greg Monroe; he got great offensive rebounding position on DeRozan’s shot with 30 seconds left, and got fouled. He only hit 1 of 2, but I’m glad he was in there!)

One thing I love about FVV though, is his confidence. It never wavers. Even last night—when the officials weren’t giving him anything—he kept scrapping and going to the rim. Another great example, on one possession early in the fourth, Fred missed an open three. Jakob Poeltl tracked down the rebound, and the ball swung back to FVV in the same spot—and he took it and drained it. That’s something a lot of young players would be hesitant to do; I love to see guys unafraid to take that shot.

The Toronto Raptors bench funk continues

Has the league caught up to the Raptors bench? Is it regression to the mean? Is it just a slump? Whatever it is, the bench has let the team down in the past several games. The 5-man bench unit is a negative 25.1 points per 100 possessions over these past 8. That’s unbelievably bad. It might be time to go back to staggering Kyle and DeMar more; 4-man bench lineups with one of the two, in small sample sizes, both have positive net ratings over the same period.

I know the arguments against it, specifically the rest that’s so valuable for Kyle and DeMar. But the Raps can’t keep giving up runs to start the third and fourth like this. The “rest” that Kyle and DeMar getting isn’t nearly as valuable if they have to work twice as hard to overcome deficits when they come back into games!

Speaking of “funks,” my goodness is Norman Powell struggling

I’m worried about Norm. I love Norm. He’s been the one Raptor out of all the young’uns that I want to see succeed. His slam dunk to seal game 5 against the Pacers two years ago is one of my favourite Raptors moments. But man, he is pressing right now. He’s not making anything, either inside or out; you can see that he’s scared to shoot from the outside and scared to get his shot blocked at the rim. And as Jack pointed out last night, after every play he’s looking back at the bench waiting to get subbed out. Over this 8-game stretch I keep talking about—in which the Raptors have won 7, don’t forget—Norm is shooting 40%, 24% from three, and has a plus-minus of negative 3.6 in 15 minutes a night.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Lack of consistency has been his hallmark since his first season, but it looked like his bench role after coming back from injury this season had provided some stability. He needs to get himself back on track, and soon.

Oh, one more funk! It’s Kyle Lowry

I’m not worried about Kyle. We know he’ll be fine, and he’ll continue to be clutch when it matters. (Like last night, when his 3-pointer with three minutes left put the Raps up 6.) But, he’s 11 for his last 42 shots (and 5 of 27 from three). That’s some pretty bad shooting, folks. Hopefully being back on the homecourt turns it around. (And as always with Lowry, you know he contributes in other ways, with 6 boards and 6 assists per game over the last three.)

—–

Overall it was a pretty ugly road trip for the Raptors, even though the came out of it 3-1. They’re back home against the scrappy Nets on Friday night, where we’ll see if the home cooking can cure what’s ailing the Raptors bench!

Five thoughts on Game 25: Clippers 96, Raptors 91

Toronto Raptors at LA Clippers December 11

Five thoughts on a really disappointing road loss for the Toronto Raptors, 96-91 to the Clippers in LA:

A sloppy first quarter was an indicator of how the night would go

The two teams both looked ragged early, missing shots and generally looking lifeless on offense. The Raptors’ shooting picked up near the end of the quarter and they built a 30-19 lead, but all told both teams shot a combined 18-45 including 4-14 from 3-pt range, and committed 6 turnovers. I was questioning my decision to stay up for this one! But at least one player turned in a good performance worth watching…

Jonas Valanciunas had a great game, but sat too long in the fourth

Valanciunas had it going right from the tip tonight. It seems to me like he relishes these games against traditional bigs, like DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and Boogie Cousins; he always seems to get up for them. Jonas was 4-4 in the opening quarter, and he finished the game with 23 points on 8-10, grabbed 15 boards, only committed 3 fouls and didn’t turn the ball over once. It was his best game since opening night, and he was the only Raptor even remotely capable of holding Jordan and the Clippers back on the offensive glass.

That’s why it was completely inexplicable that Dwane Casey sat him at the end of the fourth quarter. Toronto needed his rebounding, and sure enough, two offensive boards (one off a missed free throw) with JV on the bench sealed the game for LA.

The rebounding—and a generally poor effort overall—cost the Raptors tonight

I would like to chalk this one up to just being “one of those nights” where the shots aren’t falling, the Raptors are tired on a road back-to-back, their legs aren’t in their shots etc. All of which is true! But here’s the thing: the Clips shot WORSE.

Toronto 32-80 FGs (40%), 7-29 3FGs (24%)
LA Clippers 34-91 FG (37%), 8-36 3FG (22%)

So this loss wasn’t just about the poor shooting. It was that the Clippers took 18 more shots! They outrebounded the Raptors 57-42, and scored 22 second-chance points to the Raptors’ 5. I hate saying things like, “they just wanted it more” but that’s really what rebounding comes down to; it’s effort.

And let’s give DeAndre Jordan some credit here. After all the stories about how miserable DJ was, I expected the Raps to walk all over him, but he was all over the place on the glass tonight He even 2-2 from the free throw line! All told Jordan had 17 rebounds on the night, 6 of them offensive, along with 15 points. (He played 32.5 minutes; JV played 28. JV should have been on the floor every minute Jordan was.) Five other Clippers had 5 or more rebounds; only two Raptors other than JV had 5 or more boards.

The Toronto Raptors can’t seem to escape a game without at least one terrible quarter

Unfortunately, it was the fourth. The Raptors came in to the quarter with a 4-point lead and generally looked in control; much like Sunday night in Sacramento, they were letting the Clips hang around but I felt confident they’d maintain the lead and put the Clippers away in the final minutes. Instead, it went the other way; after pushing their lead to 81-74 with 6 minutes left, the Raptors let the Clippers finish the game on a 22-10 run, and outrebounded the Raptors 9-4. The Raptors missed 6 of their final 8 shots, and missed went 3-5 from the line in that stretch. I mean, it was ugly.

Were there any positives besides Valanciunas’ play?

They’re pretty tough to find! Lowry had his second straight bad shooting game in a row. Norman Powell was atrociously bad, finishing a game-worst -15. DeMar had another 8 assists—a miracle when your team shoots this poorly—but only went 5-13 himself from the floor. Ibaka’s shooting came back down to earth after a couple great games, but he did have a couple of highlight blocks. Jakob Poeltl got his lunch eaten by Montrezl Harrell… not a whole lot to look back at and say “well at least that worked!” Nothing worked.

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Hopefully the Raps shake it off quickly and forget this one; it’s off to Phoenix tomorrow night to play the Suns!

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark

The Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark

We’re 21 games in! How about a quick check-in on the Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark?

The bench has been the best part of the season

This is the story of the Raptors season, to be certain. Coming in to the year it was really unclear how the Raptors would replace Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker, and how the young guys would respond. So far they have exceeded every expectation.

The youth amongst that group is kind of unbelievable. Outside of bench dad CJ Miles you have a rookie: OG Anunoby. Three sophomores: Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. Two third-year players: Norman Powell and Delon Wright. A fourth-year player: Lucas Nogueira. And all of those guys were drafted by the Raptors or acquired in draft day trades. It’s pretty much unheard of to build such a solid second unit out of your own picks, all of whom came out of drafts following playoff seasons. I think we have to give Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey and the coaching staff, and all of these young men a ton of credit.

The depth has also helped them weather minor injuries extremely well; the Raps have had a few small injuries (Jonas Valanciunas, Norm, Serge Ibaka), one potentially serious injury (Delon) and one baby birth (CJ). They haven’t missed a beat! I’ve been frustrated at times with Casey’s long bench, but I’m starting to come around; everyone can play, they can all play together (except maybe Ibaka and JV—see below) and when an injury does happen, guys fill in seamlessly. It’s enabled Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to get more rest (even at the same time), which, hopefully, will reduce the likelihood of any injury to them this year.

The new offense looks great—until the Raptors abandon it in close games

The ball movement and three-point bombing has been fun to watch, hasn’t it? They’re third in the league in both scoring and point differential (+7.3); 37% of their shots are threes (up from 29% last year) and their assist rate has jumped from 47% (dead last in the league!) to 57% (still only good for 19th, but hey…). They’re even running on occasion—7th in the league in fast break points per game. All good things!

Thing is, the old habits creep in whenever the games get close. They walk it up. The ball doesn’t get swung from side to side. It goes to DeMar DeRozan and it sticks. Everyone clears out and it’s the DeMar iso-ball show. It’s cost them a winnable game in Boston and maybe another one at Golden State. And sure, sometimes when the defense tightens up that’s all you can get… but I think the old habits are dying hard in high-pressure moments.

The Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas pairing is not working out

Serge Ibaka is not rebounding. Jonas Valanciunas is not defending. They have the two worst defensive ratings (and net ratings) on the team. It was understood when signing Ibaka that he was a better fit in today’s NBA playing centre. But the Raptors aren’t using him there enough. And the game has just passed JV by, sadly. His type of centre play just isn’t the way the game is played now. Of course, the problem is they are #3 and #4 on the Raps’ salary chart, so can you sit one of them? Maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you just sub JV out sooner (three minutes) against most teams, and bring Siakam in; and bring JV back in sooner, replacing Ibaka, to play a little more with the second unit. And against certain teams (Detroit and New Orleans come to mind) he gets more run. Poeltl remains your third centre.

Kyle and DeMar have been good, but not great

At this point I don’t know if either one of the Raptors’ all-star guards will be selected to the team this year. Both are putting up totally fine numbers but Kyle started slowly and has picked up, while DeMar started strong and has tailed off a bit (only 4.4 FTAs in the last five games). I mean, I can’t complain—the team is 14-7 and in third place, after an incredibly tough schedule to start the year. But I can’t help but feel we haven’t gotten peak play from our backcourt yet. They can’t be tired—their minutes are both down and the stretched-out schedule has meant more off days. They could be a bit banged up I guess. Or maybe they’ve finally caught some of that regular season fatigue? If that’s the case I’m gonna have pretty damn high post-season expectations, especially after their well-known playoff struggles!

Those third quarters…

I wrote about it the other day, but, the Raptors third quarters are really the only negative on the year. On the one hand, you could call those Knicks and Pacers games outliers; after all, on the year they’re only getting outscored by a point in the third. But… looking a little deeper, their net rating in the third is a negative 5.3, good for 22nd in the league; their defensive rating is 115, good for dead last. So it’s something that still needs work. Subbing JV out sooner, as noted above, may help. But mostly I think it just comes down to coming out of half-time being prepared to play, not taking a lead for granted or taking teams lightly. CJ said last week it’s all mental and I tend to agree.

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Overall I’m extremely pleased with the team at the quarter-mark. The early schedule has been tough (and they’ve got another four-game west coast trip coming), to be here at 14-7 after the departures the team saw in the offseason is damn impressive. Let’s see if they can keep it up for another 61!

Image via Getty images 

Five thoughts on Game 19: Raptors 112, Hawks 78

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks, Nov 25

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors blowout victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday night:

Early on, it was clear both teams were on a back-to-back

It was a slow, sloppy first quarter as both teams tried to find their legs after playing the night before. Each team had 6 turnovers in the opening frame, and yet neither team converted any of those turnovers into a single fast-break point; that’s the very definition of sloppy! For the Raps, it was clear they wanted to get their big guys going. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka combined for 9 shots early, and Jakob Poeltl came in and added three more; that’s 12 of the Raps’ 20 shots in the quarter. I appreciated that the Raps were trying to establish JV, as he struggled on Friday night, but I think he may have been pressing too hard—he had 3 of those 6 turnovers.

The bench dominated the second quarter

The Raps were without CJ Miles again, but it didn’t matter on this night. The Raptors all-bench unit (Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Lorenzo Brown, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam blew the Hawks out of the air in the second quarter, opening the frame on a 21-3 run. Fred VanVleet had another solid game; he’s really settled into his role now, and I have to respect that, after he struggled earlier in the year. The Hawks added 6 more turnovers in the quarter—Norm and Pascal each had 2 steals—and the Raptors turned them into 13 fast break points. Pascal, Norm and Poeltl combined for 38 points in the half, and the Raps turned a 3-point first quarter lead into a 28-point(!) halftime lead.

The Raps didn’t come out sloppy in the third

After getting killed in the previous two third quarters, and with a healthy lead already in this one, I suspected the Raps would go into a lull and let the Hawks back in it. Instead, they buckled down and didn’t let the Hawks catch their breath. Once again the Raps chose to feed JV, and he settled in and scored 12 in the quarter, on 5-6 shooting. The Raptors were +13 in the quarter, and that meant the starters could rest the entire fourth—a much-needed respite for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (each played less than 28 minutes). DeMar had another rough night so hopefully the rest will do him good!

Marco Belinelli is wasted on this Hawks team

Jack and Matt opined on former Raptor Marco Belinelli in the first quarter, and about how he could help a winning team. As he drained two threes I couldn’t help but envision him back in a Raptors uniform and I thought: I’d trade Lucas Nogueira for him in a heartbeat. Bebe still has potential and could use lots of playing time on a bad time to develop it. The Raps need more three-point shooters (and fewer centers). Makes sense! But I actually went to the trade machine to try this out – doesn’t work, unless you also throw Bruno Caboclo in too. I might still do it! Maybe.

That was a bogus flagrant on Jonas Valanciunas

The refs stopped play (in the middle of a possession) to review another “body control” situation—this time, JV caught Dewayne Dedmon with an elbow on the previous play. It was dumb enough to stop play—Jonas was gathering into his shooting motion when he was stripped of the ball, and his momentum kept his arms moving in an upward motion, and Dedmon stuck his face in. But not only did they stop play—they assessed him a flagrant 1! What a ridiculous call. Especially in the third quarter of a 30-point blowout.

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Overall it was an unsuccessful and unsatisfying 1-2 road trip for the Raptors. They don’t play again until Wednesday, the first of three in a row at home—here’s hoping they come out of that stretch better than 1-2!

 

Five thoughts on Game 18: Pacers 107, Raptors 104

Toronto Raptors at Indiana Pacers Nov 24

A few observations from the Toronto Raptors loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Raptors’ second in a row on this three game road trip:

It was another game of runs early.

The Raptors started out 5-0, off of a Kyle Lowry three and a Serge Ibaka steal and dunk. The Pacers then went on a 12-0 run and it looked like this was gonna be a long night. But the Raps then went 7-0… before giving up a 13-0 run, while looking like the same team that rolled over to the Knicks in the third quarter on Wednesday. So the Raptors naturally decided to end the quarter on a 13-4 run. And Fred VanVleet kept it going with a little 6-2 run of his own to tie it at the start of the second.

Third quarters are becoming a problem

That’s two straight games the Raptors have had double-digit leads at halftime, only to give it up in the third and enter the fourth trailing. On this night, the third quarter certainly wasn’t as bad as Wednesday—the Raptors only lost by 11, not by 31—but still. It’s a little concerning that your starters—ostensibly, your best unit—can’t hold a 10-point lead.

Casey did some experimenting tonight

Some of this was due to CJ Miles absence (his wife delivered their first child on Thursday night) and Delon Wright’s injury, but there were a couple odd sub patterns in this game. DeMar DeRozan got a longer run with the bench at the end of the first quarter, and both he and Kyle played 39+ minutes—not ideal on the first night of a back-to-back. After being the first centre off the bench in recent games, Lucas Nogueira was behind Jakob Poeltl on this night—and he only played 2 minutes. Most notably, though, was Jonas Valanciunas starting the second half on the bench, with Pascal Siakam inserted into the starting lineup. This is a move that Raptors Twitterarti have been asking for; the thinking being, Serge Ibaka and JV can’t play together and Serge is better served playing centre. The stats back it up; the Raptors give up 113 points per 100 possessions with Serge and JV on the floor together, but are plus-10 when it’s Serge and Pascal. But it didn’t work on this night, as the Raptors squandered their lead with Serge and Pascal on the floor.

I honestly didn’t even know Lance Stephenson was still in the league

I was shocked when he got into the game; I assumed he’d played himself out of the league by now. Naturally he made me pay for my foolishness by catching fire in the second half and all but sealing the game: he went 6-7, 3-3 from deep and had 7 rebounds in 15 second-half minutes. He also committed two egregious fouls on DeMar DeRozan that weren’t called, that might have swung the game back in the Raps favor. I’ll let it slide, since I suspect Pacers fans are still smarting from the non-call that DeRozan got away with in game 7 against the Pacers two years ago.

This was not a good DeMar night

Aside from getting bullied by Stephenson and softballing the potential winning layup (there may have been contact, but come on DeMar—you gotta take it strong there), DeRozan only shot 6-16, only shot 2 free throws, and had 3 rebounds and 2 assists (and 4 turnovers) in 39 minutes. His backcourt partner picked it up with a near-triple double (24-9-10, include 5-9 from deep) but without CJ and Delon, the Raptors really need DeMar to be his usual self (or better) to win. 13 points (and lackluster defense) isn’t going to cut it.

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The Raptors need a strong performance in Atlanta tonight to salvage this trip. They’ve already allowed Cleveland and Detroit to surpass them in the standings (I know it’s way to early to scoreboard watch, but I can’t help it) and need to get back on the winning side of things!

Five thoughts on Game 11: Raptors 122, Pelicans 118

Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans Nov 9

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors entertaining victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night:

This Pelicans team reminds me of… the Raptors

They’ve got great players who at times look like throwbacks in today’s NBA. And they’re trying to be a ball-movement-oriented, three-point shooting team. When it works, it looks great! DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are good passers, when they want to be, and can handle the ball, and have range. And overall the Pelicans probably have more shooting than the Raptors do. But when the two bigs combine with starting PG Jrue Holiday to shoot 5-19 from behind the arc, that’s trouble.

The Raptors shot threes in volume

42 three pointers! They only hit 16, although there were some timely ones, especially from Kyle Lowry. But more importantly, I think, was the willingness to let fly. Even if the shots aren’t falling, for the offense to work you have to keep shooting! Within that 42, there are some good signs: Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles, the teams’ two best shooters, shot 18 of them. Over time, they’ll hit more than 6. DeMar DeRozan took 6! The two he made were from the corner, which is a spot I’d like to see him shoot more from. (One he missed was a hilariously all-advised turnaround fadeaway, which had zero chance of hitting). Norman Powell shot 5, which is a good sign his confidence is coming back.

The Raptors big men played as well as they could…

Facing Cousins and Davis is no easy task. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were better than most! They held the Pelicans’ twin towers to 38 points on 38 shots, and the Raptors outrebounded the Pelicans 48-38.

… but Jrue Holiday exposed their weaknesses

Ibaka and Valanciunas are not great at guarding in space, and when smaller players drive off a pick-and-roll, they’re often left behind the play, flat footed. Holiday scored 34 on 20 shots, most of those coming at the rim after leaving a Raptors’ big in his wake. Still, if you have to pick your poison, I’ll live with taking away the opponent’s two best weapons and asking their third-best player to beat us.

I think OG Anunoby has solidified his case for more minutes

Dwane Casey played 12 guys again, which is insane to me. (The Pelicans played 8; granted, they have a couple injuries, but still.) OG’s stat line—3-4 from the floor, 1-2 from deep, 8 points, 2 rebounds in 14 minutes—is solid enough. But his defense on Holiday in the fourth quarter was splendid. After torching the Raps for 32 through three quarters, he scored only 2 points on 1-4 shooting in the fourth, and the credit goes to OG for hounding him on the perimeter, forcing pick and rolls to start farther out, using his size and strength to keep Holiday out of the paint. (Fred Van Vleet, by the way, was 1-7 in 14 minutes. I think it’s time, Dwane.)

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The Raptors head out on the road now for a tough three game trip: At Boston, at Houston, and then on to New Orleans for a rematch with the Pelicans.

Five thoughts on Game 10: Raptors 119, Bulls 114

Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Nov 7

Five quick thoughts on a Toronto Raptors victory over the Chicago Bulls that was much closer than it had any right to be…

The starters might have played their best game of the season

Every starter except Norman Powell shot better than 50%, every starter hit a three, and every starter except Norm had at least four rebounds. OK, it was another tough night for Norm. But overall the starters played a complete first quarter, a complete third quarter, and held the fort in fourth when things looked dicey…

This time, it was the bench that (almost) squandered things

On Sunday, the bench brought the Raptors back against the Wizards, and the starters blew it, giving up a late 12-2 run. On Tuesday, the starters began subbing out up 18 in the third; the Bulls slowly started catching up, 17, then 15, then finally Bobby Portis went on a mini-run and it was 108-98, and Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell came back in. The momentum had clearly swung and it got as close as 3 in the final minute before the Raps closed it out.

Three-pointers were the difference—in the Raptors favor, for once

The Raptors had their best shooting night from distance, going 13-25 from behind the arc. That’s still not enough volume on threes—they need to be shooting at least 30 a night to make their offense really sing. But getting CJ Miles 6 shots is a good thing. Lowry’s 1-4 remains disconcerting, though he did finish 7-13 overall (and, you know, didn’t get ejected). And I’m still not willing to get too excited by DeMar DeRozan’s 2-2 night.

The passing still isn’t where it should be

The Raptors assisted on 22 of 44 made field goals, which is not terrible but again, not where they need to be to succeed as a ball-movement oriented offense.

The rotation is still too deep

I know it’s only 10 games and there’s still lots of time to figure it out. But I’m surprised Dwane Casey’s still playing 12 guys. I know it’s not an easy call, but, that’s why he’s the coach! I think he needs to shorten the rotation to 10, maybe 9. To me, the first two choices have to be Fred VanVleet (fine last night, after his great performance the other night) and Lucas Noguiera (invisible in 10 minutes last night). The third choice is the most difficult; it should be one of Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby, and they’ve been very, very similar so far this year. I do think Anunoby might’ve the slightly higher upside, though, so I might give him a 10-game run.

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The Raps have one game left in this mini-home stand before going back out on the road for three. Here’s hoping they close it out with a win against the Pelicans on Thursday!

 

Five thoughts on Game 9: Wizards 107, Raptors 96

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Nov 5

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors predictably dropping their homecoming game to the Washington Wizards on Sunday night:

The Raptors were at full strength, and the Wizards weren’t… for a few minutes, anyway.

The Wizards’ John Wall, their top player, was on the shelf with a shoulder sprain; meanwhile the Raptors welcomed back CJ Miles from his stomach bug. You’d think the Raps would be at an advantage, but Kyle Lowry decided to even the matchup by getting tossed in the second quarter after picking up two technical fouls for arguing calls. You can definitely make the case that the young ref, JB DeRosa, should have had more patience with Lowry—they were about the two fastest techs I’ve ever seen, and definitely not for the worst arguing I’ve ever seen. But, he decided to flex his muscles and Lowry was done. (One of the veteran officials made it up to the Raps a little by tagging the Wizards’ Markieff Morris with a non-deserving tech two plays later).

Regardless of depth, the Wizards ran the Raptors off the court for the first 2.5 quarters

The Raptors were behind right out of the gate and it looked like a repeat of the Denver game, only this time at home, without the road or the altitude to blame. It was definitely a case of “we’re just happy to be home” as the Wizards took it to them; the Raptors were down 15 after 6 minutes, missing everything short, including free throws (6-13 in the first quarter) and getting beaten flat-footed on defense. Meanwhile the Wizards were running, hounding the Raptors’ guards and pounding the glass, and showing a ton more energy. In the first quarter they forced four turnovers that led to 10 fast-break points, and had three offensive rebounds that led to 8 second chance points.

Pet peeve alert: Dwane Casey, always late with the timeouts

I know I’m not an NBA coach so it’s easy for me to sit here and judge from my couch. But Dwane Casey always seems to be consistently one or two plays late when calling timeouts when the other team grabs momentum. And he used to work for Rick Carlisle, who’s one of the best! I think he needs to buy Gregg Popovich a bottle of wine and get Pop’s tips, because Pop’s the master of the momentum-stopping timeout.

The Raptors bench got them back in it, but Casey took it away from them

Speaking of Casey, I have to question his lineups down the stretch. The bench brought the Raptors all the way back in this one, with Fred Van Vleet leading the charge. FVV looked to be essentially out of the lineup, and deservedly so, after his poor performance so far this season. But with Lowry tossed, VanVleet got a second chance, and he made the most of it. He finished with 10 points on 5-7 shooting, and had a 6-0 run to close the third quarter and cut the Wizards’ lead to 8. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Lucas Nogueira were all contributing on both ends, providing much needed energy and lift, enough to cut the Wizards’ 19-point lead all the way down to 3. But Casey chose to go with Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka down the stretch, and they promptly threw the game away, giving up a 12-2 run and sealing it for the Wiz. Shame on Casey for that one; his bench earned the right to close that game and win or lose it themselves.

I’m not sure how I feel about this Wizards team

On the one hand, they’ve developed a couple young projects into legit solid NBA players—namely, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. That’s what the Raptors are trying to do with their young guns. And you can’t help but be impressed by Wall and Bradley Beal; Beal is very much an evolutionary DeMar DeRozan. He doesn’t have DeMar’s strength and doesn’t get to the line as much, but he’s got great footwork, can get what he wants from the midrange, and he has the 3-point shot that DeMar is missing. But this Wizards team plays dirty. Watch for the little shoves in the back, the jersey grabs and the elbow hooks on rebounds. Look out for the elbows and nudges when going through the lane. And how Marcin Gortat doesn’t get called for jamming out his hip on every screen he sets, I don’t know.

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Well it’s a disappointing result but one pretty much everyone saw coming. Thankfully, the 2-6 Bulls are here again Tuesday night, which should give the Raptors an opportunity to bounce back.