Preview & Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  February 1, 2008

Records: Lakers 28-16 (6 seed); Raptors 25-20 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (6th); Raptors 111.4 (10th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (8th); Raptors 107 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Raptors: Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh

Lakers Notes: I’ve said it before, you don’t just lose ballgames on the last play. The Lakers had 17 turnovers in the first 19 minutes and they missed 11 free throws — those two things matter more to me than the last play.

That said, the last play was ugly and it was the second time in two games that the Lakers looked lost on a last-second inbound play. Let’s walk through the last two possessions (Detroit’s three and the Lakers miss).

First, the Pistons ran the high pick-and-pop with Billups and Wallace, and when he came off the screen the Lakers defense focused on stopping Billups (who was 5 of 10) and Wallace slid over, got the pass and took a three pointer with Kwame running at him. (For the record, I’m fine with the Lakers defense here, Wallace is a 33% shooter from three but it’s a semi-contested shot). Lamar Odom on the weak side did the right thing — he boxed out Prince and got between him and the basket. The problem was this was a long rebound and Odom was close to the hoop, so Prince tracked it down. (I’m still okay with that, but from here on out is where the Lakers screw up.) Odom comes out on Prince in the corner, so Prince passes to Billups on the wing at the three-point line — but Fisher decides to gamble on a steal of the pass and when he misses Billups now has a clear path to the basket. Kwame Brown starts to rotate over, but Odom also collapses down off Prince to cut off Billups. Quick pass out to Prince for an open look three and the Pistons are up by one. (Prince shoots 38% from three, you have to let Billups take the good look two and not leave your guy there — know the personnel on the floor.)

Now the Lakers inbounds. You know, I know, Flip Saunders knows, Billups knows, the ballboy knows, even Lindsay Lohan knows Kobe is supposed to get the ball. The Pistons don’t cover Odom throwing the ball in so they can double Kobe — Billups fronts him denying him the pass. (To me nothing is a surprise here, although I’d like to see Kobe off more picks to try to free him.) But here’s what I don’t get — option #2 is to have Kwame Brown run out so he is 25 feet from the basket to take the inbound pass. So, you don’t have to cover him anymore, he can’t hit that shot in his dreams. (Why is Kwame in the game right now, exactly? If that is a shooter who runs out you have to cover him.) Kwame gets the inbound pass and gives it right back to Odom, but since nobody has to worry about Kwame both Wallace and Rip Hamilton go to Odom, the result being Odom’s 19-footer with a hand in his face.

Yes, it’s be nice if he at least draws iron on that shot, but if you know Kobe is going to get all the attention is that really your second best shot you can get? I’m not sure if this was a matter of execution or how the play was drawn up (I’d guess a little of both) but the Lakers need to come up with better decisions and options in crunch time.

All that said, it is a one-point loss on the road to an elite level team. Yes, the Lakers are 3-5 since Bynum went down, but while frustrating none of those are “bad” losses — a loss to a weak team. The question really is, can they grow from that and win the games they should?

The Raptors Coming In: Right now it is 32 degrees in Toronto and snowing like mad. I have on short sleeves. There are things I really like about my life.

There are a few sites you should be checking out to get info on Toronto — they have one of the best collections of bloggers going. Ryan and the team at Hoops Addict are fantastic. But this time around we asked some questions of Adam at Raptors HQ:

1. Chris Bosh has been playing out of his mind the last few weeks, but he has been getting great support from Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker among others. What is Calderon doing right and who else should we be watching?

Jose has always been a great pure point guard. He’s gotten more and more comfortable with the role and Raptor fans figured he’d be able to step in for TJ no problem. In fact one of the biggest debates in Raptorland has always been “who should start – TJ vs. Jose?” Many argued that Ford was not the answer as a starter and he should be traded but interestingly, his injury situation has really opened some eyes in many ways.

First of all, it’s allowed fans to see just how good Jose is. We knew he could turn the corner off screens with the best of them. We knew he was a great passer and floor general. However what he’s shown this year that’s really blown everyone away, is just how deadly a shot he is! Jose has the chance to finish the season shooting over 90 per cent from the free-throw line, 50 per cent from the field, and 40 per cent from beyond the arc. The only other player currently shooting those percentages I believe is Steve Nash. And this was a player who only two years ago fans cringed to see shoot. It just shows you how far he’s come. Now teams can’t simply hug Bosh on screen and rolls or Jose will make them pay.

Second, as good as Jose has been, I think fans now realize how much the team misses TJ Ford as well. Jose can get up and down with the best of them but doesn’t push the ball as well as TJ, doesn’t defend as well individually, and is not the one on one player Ford is. The two form a lethal combination and with Ford reportedly coming back to practice soon, it bodes well for the rest of the season.

In terms of who else Lakers fans should keep an eye on? – Carlos Delfino. One of the team’s X factors and probably someone who will be guarding Kobe a lot in this match. Delfino is Toronto’s best on the ball defender and although streaky on offence, when he gets going it adds another dimension to the club.

2. Bargnani, why does this guy look like a bust? Why is he not living up to his potential?

It no doubt has been a tough year for Bargs. He’s starting to show signs of life lately though and hopefully by the time the playoffs hit, he’ll be back in peak form. It’s way too early to give him the Kwame label yet, but he certainly does need to get his confidence back.

Things went wrong pretty much right from the get-go with Bargnani as early in the year he struggled to get used to the starting line-up Sam Mitchell had trotted out. With Anthony Parker AND Jason Kapono starting, it seemed that Bargs was lost on offence as there were too many 3-point gunners. He still has no low-post game to speak of so if he’s not hitting the outside shot, he’s not very effective. Therefore he just sort of became a liability as without scoring, nothing was counter-balancing his lack of rebounding and defence.

So Toronto put him on the bench and had Rasho start. The result – more wins, but less time for Bargs and his confidence seemed to take a major hit. It got to the point where Kris Humphries was getting more minutes on a regular basis. Sam Mitchell talked to Bryan Colangelo and they decided to re-insert Bargs into the starting line-up. Unfortunately it did little to change his play as he’d pick up two quick fouls and have to sit. I talked a lot on the site about how the Raps needed to make a decision with him at this point; did they want to develop their top pick at the cost of wins, or sit him, let him figure things out in limited minutes, and try and win as many games as possible.

People need to remember too though that he’s trying to learn a completely new position. In Europe and last year he was always a Dirk-like 3/4 so to get used to playing the 5, it’s going to take some time. That’s why his recent play is encouraging and hopefully this off-season, he’ll round out some more of his game. (AKA head to Pete Newell’s “Big Man” camp.)

3. Why should we all catch Jamario Moon Mania

Jamario Moon is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever seen/heard following basketball. We’re talking about a kid who listened to all the wrong people heading towards college, declared early for the draft, was undrafted, played in minor minor leagues for stints (we’re talking IBL not even NBDL), played for the Globetrotters, you name it. Finally he gets noticed and invited to the Raptors free-agent camp last summer, and the rest is history.

Yes we’ve seen kids listen to bad advice, make it from the minors etc, but there aren’t many guys in the history of the league who’ve gone from the Globetrotters to starting for a solid NBA team ha ha.

Now Moon is no Kobe Bryant yet…his jump shot is somewhat suspect and for someone with his unworldly athletic talents, he settles for it far too often but that stuff should come. He’s a very impressive shot-blocker, great help and man-to-man defender, solid rebounder, and is sort of like Gerald Wallace, a guy who can come in and do a bit of everything. Ironically, Wallace and Moon were the two best players out of Alabama when they were coming up.

Therefore Moon mania in my books is about a great underdog story, and Bryan Colangelo yet again finding the proverbial diamond in the rough. I was at the Raptors’ free agent camp covering it for the site and Moon just seemed to always be in the right place at the right time in games. Yes, he’s an incredible athlete, and a great marketing pitch for the NBA’s developmental leagues, but really to me Moon mania is a celebration of hard work and perseverance paying off.

4. What are the Raptors doing right when they win? Or, what should we be hoping they don’t do against the Lakers?

This one is a pretty easy answer – the Lakers should hope that Toronto has a poor shooting night.

It’s pretty rare that a team can win when it gets outrebounded, outscored in the paint and turns the ball over a lot more then their opponent but Toronto did just that against the Celtics recently by shooting about 70 per cent from beyond the arc. Wednesday night against the Wizards, Toronto hit nine of their first 11 3-pointers and the game was over before the fourth quarter. This kind of offensive barrage is extremely disheartening for opponents and the Raptors can put teams in a hole pretty quick.

So if hot shooting is what Toronto is doing right when it wins, what is it doing wrong when it loses? Well, the team is much improved defensively this year but on offence when shots aren’t falling, the Dinos have nary a player who can create his own shot besides Chris Bosh. If teams double up on him and force the rest of the Raps to score, things can dry up quickly. This is also a poor rebounding club so in close games this has at times been the difference. The Lakers need to hope Bargnani struggles, play physical with Bosh (ahem Kwame) and force the Raptors’ wings to put the ball on the floor.

Oh…and you seem to have someone named Kobe Bryant. Yeah…for some reason I think he enjoys playing Toronto…

Keys To The Game: You know why this game worries me? Because to win the Lakers have to stay disciplined on defense — Toronto absolutely kills it from the three-point line (Bosh, Calderon, Parker, Delfino, Kopono all shoot better than 40% from there), the Lakers CANNOT collapse on guys in the paint at the expense of leaving a man for a good-look three. Ask Boston how that works. Of course, to avoid collapsing on defense means defending the pick-and-roll well in the first place.

The Raptors live on the perimeter — Bosh is the only true inside guy and he is happy 20-feet out running pick-and-pops. That means the Lakers can and should dominate on the boards. If the Lakers win tonight I think it will be in part because they got some easy offensive rebounds and put backs.

On offense, the Lakers jump shooters will get their shots tonight — if Kobe, Fish, Sasha and Radmaovic are on tonight the Lakers could have a big night.

Also, I’m looking forward to watching Bosh tonight, a personal favorite and maybe the best player in the NBA the last couple of weeks. I’m not sure how the Lakers contain him, but I’d like to see more Ronny than Kwame.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4 pm (Pacific) but again the Los Angeles KCAL broadcast doesn’t start until 5:30. Rumor is you can get live game streaming at Raptors Nation tonight.

Kurt

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48 responses to Preview & Chat: The Toronto Raptors

  1. I was gonna give Phil the benefit of the doubt and say Kwame was in there for a pick…but yeah, I wouldn’t argue that too strongly. It was a very poorly designed final play…..and if Lamar gets it out there, he had room to drive to the hoop anyway. Oh well, I still say it was a solid effort.

  2. Two things I want to add: Prince’s three pointer was as much on Fisher as anyone. He gambled at a bad time.

    Second, Calderon got left off the All-Star team in a horrific oversight, and I worry the Lakers will pay a price for that tonight. See what Al Thorton did the other night when he was left out of the rookie game (another mistake).

  3. It’s not Odom’s fault for trying to protect the lane when Billups got freed up because of Fish’s gamble. Kwame was way out of position to help because he had to guard against a Wallace 3.

    Nope, the sky is not falling. Tough loss, but yeah, we really didn’t deserve the win.

  4. 2. Totally Fisher’s fault. Kwame came over to help, and the prevalent theory seems to be Odom should’ve stayed at home and let him protect the lane. Billips could’ve easily swung the ball back over to Rasheed for as wide of an open look as Prince got.

  5. 3, 4. Carolla, good point about Wallace getting another look if not Prince. Ultimately, though, you let Billups tie the game and not let the open look for the win take place. Of course, that’s easy to say after the fact and hard to do in a split second.

  6. Hey guys, just to rep another really good blog which I visit on occasion, need4sheed.com. Very well written, some really smart Pistons fans over there.

  7. Raptor fan here. Kurt, I wouldn’t be too afraid of an all-star snub fueling Calderon all that much. From all indications, he wasn’t all that concerned with the whole all-star thing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be worried about him doing some damage though. :P

    Hope the game is a good one!

  8. 6. I love need 4 sheed, I linked to it in the Pistons preview yesterday.

  9. 2- I think Afflalo took out his rookie game ommission on us last nite too.

    As far as Odom boxing out, I don’t think he did. He was in-between Prince and the basket, but if he puts a body on him like our 7th grade coach teaches us and drives him back, Prince has to go over his back to get the board. It’s weird beacuse most NBA players don’t box and drive like grade school kids are taught to do.

  10. 8 – ah, OK Kurt, sorry I missed that. Yeah, some real hoops fans over thurrr.

  11. 9. Fair point about the boxing out. I was just impressed to see Odom fight for the right position on the block for once.

  12. The other thing, if Lamar would take open looks that are begging to be shot, we might not be in a position of having to rely on #24 at the end of a game anyway. There were several looks that Lamar should have taken. I can see being unselfish, but there’s being unselfish to be a fault and Lamar waaaaay too often tries to do that and the team suffers.

  13. Is everyone trying to give Lamar a pass on last night? His boxing out is inconsistent (as are most big men). However, it is his complete insistence on help defense, regardless of the man he is guarding or the game situation, that I find inexcusable. Lamar has no strategic game sense. This is not a new thing. Yes, Fisher made a bad mistake, but it should have accounted for no more than a tie game. Kwame’s play could also have resulted in a 3, but Wallace isn’t the threat that Prince is.

    For the last shot, I blame Phil 1st, last and always. He is the one who is supposed to manage how inbounds plays are handled. He is the teacher. He is the director.

  14. The Raptors don’t have anyone to guard Kobe and I think Fisher will be able to score on Calderon. Our backcourt should lead us to the win.

    Off topic, after watching that game, the Pistons have some nice young talent in Afflalo, Stuckey (you were right Nate), Amir Johnson and Maxiell.

  15. Craig W, maybe everybody has just lowered their standards for Lamar considerably.

  16. 15. i have =]

    anyways, i really hated what happened last night and am just looking forward to the other games.

    tonight is a game where 81points happen ;]

  17. wow, pau to laker!!!

  18. Not sure if anyone has seen yet, but on RealGm.com it says Pau Gasol has been traded to the Lakers for Kwame, Crittendon, and two No. 1s.

  19. Looking for confirmation as we speak….

  20. I’m frantically clicking refresh as we speak.

  21. Multiple places reporting (sourced from a single report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal) that the Lakers have acquired Pau Gasol for Kwame, Javaris, 2008 first rounder and 2010 first rounder.

  22. it has been confirmed by the memphis newspapers on hoopshype.com and realgm.com

    espn just did a truehoop article on it this morning, they must’ve had some sort of in with this!!!

    i now proclaim the lakers 7-2 on this road trip!!! hahaha

  23. Will Odom thrive as our #4 option?

  24. Checkmate

  25. ESPN has confirmed it.

    No more Kwame and we get a good interior player that can actually finish. Good call Mitch. Hopefully, this will be the lats key that will keep Kobe from not opting out and keeps him in a Lker uni.

  26. Wow. Just wow.

    I mean, Crittendon may be really good someday, but… wow.

  27. ;alskj df;oaijs df;oaji f;awje fajwe f;oiajw efjaw
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    OMG!

    I’ve got a smile that won’t quit. Seriously. I know we’re gonna be way over the salary cap but good golly molly! This is…. wow. I’m excited. I wish kwame well cuz he seems like a nice guy but I will not miss him “anchoring” our defense and bungling our offense.

    That said, we’re gonna be REALLY thin tonight in toronto unless pau can magically get to toronto in time for the game. Maybe we’ll sign DJ to another 10 day contract now.

  28. I wonder how Lamar would fit in as the 4th option when Bynum gets back, iif he is not traded, which could be more likely Bynum may be out longer than anticipated. Any news on this? Hopefully, its just another Bucherish statement (ala No way Kobe is a laker on opening day)

  29. OMFG! this is awesome!

    java is going to be a good player for the grizz and missing the 2 #1s will hurt later on, but gasol is exactly the type of player the lakers need: big, good defender, doesn’t need a lot of touches. the lakers front office has redeemed themselves in my mind.

    i’m sure kurt is working on a spiffy new post at this minute!

  30. LA is going to be thin up front until Pau gets on board. Who starts tonight?

    ESPN is reporting that Marc Gasol is part of the trade as well.

  31. Pao won’t be making it here to Toronto. It’s a freaking blizzard and I’m sure most flights in and out will be delayed until tomorrow. It’s not supposed to stop snowing until midnight.

    Great deal for the Lakers.

    Watch out for the Griz in the offseason with all that cap room.

    Watch out for Calderon tonight – he’ll be out to prove he should have been selected to the East All-stars. Oh yeah and watch out for CB4 – he’s been an absolute beast lately.

    Should be a great game – always exciting when Kobe and the Lakers come to town!

  32. that sound you hear is Kobe and Phil jumping into each other’s arms

  33. Has an expiring contract ever been worth THAT much?

    Is Jerry West still the Grizzly GM?

    Maybe the Grizzlies hopelessness will be a great atmosphere for Kwame to calm the eff down. He can play a lot of meaningless minutes in the most pressureless situation of his career.

  34. Thanks Kurt for the raptorsnation link. However, I think our friends up north are getting a bit peeved at all the surplus laker fans on the site. I hope the obnoxious ones aren’t from FB&G

  35. jellosjigglin’ February 1, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    wow.. kobe’s on a good one tonight, amazing.

    just shows how the west > east.

    lakers, injury depleted, playing early, on the 2nd of a back to back, picking the raptors apart

  36. Awesome game by Kobe and the Machine. Can’t remember which, but one of the Lakers announcers said it’s been nice to have the Machine functioning properly again. I can’t agree more. When Sasha is on, he adds such a big element to that 2nd unit cuz he’s usually lights outs (8-10 tonight).

    @Kurt’s Preview: No “bad” losses to weak teams without Bynum? So you’re calling the Cavs a “strong” team? I wholeheartedly disagree. Cleveland is terrible. That’s two losses this year to that inferior team (and others like the Bucks, Nets, etc.) Not dwelling, just saying.

  37. 39. The Cavs went to the NBA finals last season and won 8 of 10 before playing the Lakers. I’ll stand by that.

  38. 39. I disagree about Cleveland. I think they are a good team, just one notch below Detroit and Boston. They are an excellent defensive team, a great rebounding team (both offensively and defensively) and they have some guy named James to close games out for them if they keep it close. Are they as good as a healthy Laker team? No, but they are probably as good as a a Laker team without Bynum and Ariza.

  39. The Dude Abides February 1, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    I’m not reading any comments until the game is over on KCAL. Right now, it’s early in the third quarter, and it’s obvious to me that Kobe is energized by the trade. The guy must be playing on fumes and adrenaline, but he’s playing awesome. Lamar is going to the hole on offense and getting some rebounds on defense, and the entire team is benefiting from Kwame’s absence, especially on offense. Remember that when Kwame fumbles a pass away, the turnover goes to the passer. The Lakers have very few turnovers to this point. Also, both Ronny and Mbenga play better team/help defense than Kwame. If you go to the Need4Sheed blog, there is a clip of Stuckey driving and dunking that runs on the main page. Kwame basically stands there and watches, while Ronny rotates over from the weak side too late (not his fault, Kwame just stands near the basket and watches).

  40. I don’t think they’re even as good as LA without Bynum/Ariza. The Lakers get lackadaisical with a lead and they went from being up like 12 with 9 minutes to go to being down fairly quickly. As a group, they just lose their focus far too often (especially without Bynum) when they get leads.

    I’ll give you that Cleveland is a good defensive team, and James is other worldly sometimes, but they’re not even close to Detroit and Boston this year I don’t think.

  41. Cleveland has beaten the Lakers 5 straight times. Its not a good matchup because they are good at disrupting our offense and pounding the boards. Losing to them in the last 3 weeks is completley understandable, ask Portland, who lost to them at home too.

  42. 43. They are not Detroit or Boston right now, but they are good team. And, as Kwame a. said, they are a matchup problem for the Lakers.

  43. The Dude Abides February 1, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Hilarious basket by Vlad on that fast break. He’s having an OK game. He is not “a turnover waiting to happen” when he stays on the perimeter and either shoots the three or passes to another shooter, and doesn’t try to drive to the basket.

  44. loved the way the Lakers closed out this game, the 3 or 4 fast breaks off steals or TO’s were a dagger in the heart, sucked the will right out of any thoughts of a late game comeback!
    we want to see more finishes like that!!!

  45. Odom quietly nearing a triple double, Lakers win. 12-10-8 is the perfect statline for Odom. Now just relax on the berating and let the good times roll.