Toronto Raptors’ New Years’ Resolutions
The Toronto Raptors have endured a tough stretch, losing three of five and surrendering the first place seed in the Eastern Conference to the on-fire Atlanta Hawks. However, it’s not like this stretch shouldn’t have been a possibility.
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Going on a massive road trip to the west coast doesn’t normally bode well for any Eastern Conference club, especially when you consider the teams the Raptors played. They started off with who many pros considered the favourites to win the East, the Chicago Bulls, followed by going out to California to take on Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Doc Rivers and the star-studded Los Angeles Clippers. Then it was up north to meet what perhaps is the most well-rounded team and winners of their last 9/10 in the Portland Trail Blazers, before heading to Oakland to face the stalwart can’t-miss-a-shot Golden State Warriors, who have won 25 while surrendering just five matches all season long and then finishing up at Phoenix.
And, just for fun, let’s see you do it without your All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, who sat out with a leg injury (DeRozan, right, is just now practicing with the team and is expected to return sometime after this road-trip).
Nov 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) reacts after going down with a leg injury against the Dallas Mavericks at Air Canada Centre. The Mavericks beat the Raptors 106-102. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
So far, let it be stated, the Raptors have repeated last year’s Cinderella story – but done it better. And what do they say about Cinderella stories? They can’t be replicated, because the opponents should know what to expect. Yet here the Raptors are, showing that last year wasn’t a fluke. I would give them an A+ but that’d be too easy and generous. I’m only gonna give them an A, because there is still significant room for improvement. This last stretch, while not damning, has pretty much taken them out of A+ consideration. An A is still good, though, no?
Even in these losses, the Raptors have shown great spurts. They were killing Portland at times, and then they were down at Golden State 14 points in the second quarter (that’s not the good part…), but in a matter of moments, fought all the way back to take the lead 61-59.
At the end of the calendar year, hardly anyone expected the Raps to be atop the conference– much less be among the top trio of the NBA standings all season long. As such, it’s hard for anyone to be disappointed with the team, even if the midst of this down-time in the season (and I’m not. I’m just saying…).
For this team to continue to take steps forward to be a part of the upper echelon of the Association, here are a few New Years’ Resolutions they could draw up. They’re easier said than done, but if they could just complete these resolutions, then not just one, but a few playoff series’ wins would not be out of the question.
1. BE IT RESOLVED! TO BE A DEFENSIVE TEAM: Does anyone remember when Dwane Casey (below right) was brought in as coach to be a defensive stopper? Well, believe it or not, even as the Raptors continue to surge through the NBA, putting up gaudy offensive numbers– such as 108 PPG, according to Basketball Reference good for 3rd in the NBA– they are not a great defensive team. This site also rated the Raptors as 22nd in defensive efficiency (107.5). Their defensive field goal percentage – at .459 – is ninth from the bottom.
January 2, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey instructs during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Raptors 126-105. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
2. BE IT RESOLVED! TO NOT GIVE UP THE BIG RUN: Defensive lapses have cost this team quite a few games this season, and the offense often covers up a lackluster defense (to offset their 22nd ranked defense, Basketball Reference says they’re the numbero uno in offensive efficiency at 115.1). You can go through defensive lapses against bad teams and still come out on top, but not against good teams. Against Chicago in this road swing, they gave up 49 points, which isn’t bad for a half of play, but the Raptors gave up in one-quarter. That’s not acceptable against any team, and not going to get it done against a good team.
Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Toronto Raptors centerJonas Valanciunas
(17) reacts after receiving a foul in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
3. BE IT RESOLVED! TO BRING DOWN A BOARD: Going hand in hand with team defense, the Raps have pulled down 50 less rebounds than the average team in the league, good for fourth last in the league. The Raps are a high-flying team– one of the best in transition– but they can’t forget to box out. It may give them an extra possession– or give the opponent one– and that may be all that’s needed to win a game. Get nasty under that rim! The Raptors don’t always seem to want it as much as the other team… and that has to change. Tyler Hansbrough is always intense and seems to want it. Jonas Valanciunas, well, he’s getting better… but it’s gotta be every play. But it starts with everybody getting position on their man.
4. BE IT RESOLVED! TO HAVE A PLAN AT THE END OF THE GAME: Preferably a good one… and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but just think to Game 7 against Brooklyn last season. The plan, seemingly, was isolate and let Kyle Lowry drive. At the time, this wasn’t a terrible option as he was so clutch for the team (despite having the clutch button turned off Tuesday in Portland when they needed it…), but they need a backup plan sometimes. An executable one that works off of plan A if plan A isn’t looking so manageable (Derozan on the wing, just in case?).
In the first bit of the season, the Raptors were an amazing fourth quarter team (Matt Devlin: WE THE FOURTH!). However, lately in close games, the Raptors are not as smooth as they are through the early quarters. And this probably has much to do with the absence of DeRozan, but it seems as if now they watch the ball a little more and hope the shots go in. This plan isn’t a great one, as shots never seem to go in as easily at the end of the game (and as I’ve just mentioned, not being able to get rebounds doesn’t help this plan).
Dec 5, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Lou Williams (23) shoots the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Air Canada Centre. The Cavaliers won 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
5. BE IT RESOLVED! TO PUT TEAMS AWAY: When you’re up, Raptors, don’t take your foot off the accelerator. You’ve seen how leads can evaporate now. As was in Portland, stick with what was working. And please refer to the next bullet if you find your lead disappearing.
6. BE IT RESOLVED! TO GO INSIDE: It’s always a great idea to go inside. If you go inside, it opens up the outside. Valanciunas is getting there– at times, he shows a great touch and other times decent power driving to the hoop. Other times, however, he looks clunky at best. Lowry often goes down to JV on the post, but it’s usually early in contests. When things are going wiry and shots aren’t falling, settle things down and go inside. Or, if you don’t trust Jonas, go to Amir Johnson (below right) or even Patrick Patterson— both men are great options with their back to the basket. Every time these guys get the ball, it seems to be a good thing. Even Valanciunas is a decent passer from the block… and like I said, it will open the shots outside by going inside first. So as long as Jonas can show some poise and patience when he gets the ball, go down low. It’s a win-win situation… especially when the shots stop falling for a shot happy team.
Dec 30, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers forwardLaMarcus Aldridge
(12) during the first quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
SO RAPTORS, BE IT RESOLVED!!
LET’S GET IT DONE… AND RIDE IT ALL THE WAY TO FIRST-PLACE IN THE EAST! It’s attainable… there for the taking. There is nothing in the way. Apply these resolutions, and it’ll be much easier to top the pile in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors end this killer road-trip in the desert when they face the three-headed point guard monster in the Phoenix Suns. Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric (don’t call me Drew) Bledsoe will actually face a team with the bodies to matchup with them… and even score with them. Toronto can counter with point guards Lowry (featured image, top), Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams (above, right) to go small, if need be. If Phoenix’s game-plan executes itself, Toronto needs to show they can go small too.