For more thoughts and info on the Raps, plus plenty more sports ramblings, give me a follow on Twitter: @RealBenFisher.
Friday night’s 104-97 win over the New Orleans Hornets gave the Raptors (10-20) their sixth win in seven games and offered an interesting parallel to the team’s current standing amidst the 2012-13 season.
The win saw Toronto demonstrate plenty of positives – DeMar DeRozan’s continued success while logging big minutes, Kyle Lowry’s impactful return and a collective team commitment to protecting the ball, among them. And yet, the team’s fourth quarter collapse during which what was a 13-point lead vanished served as a reminder that this current run is nothing if not fragile.
To the Raptors’ credit, they held tough and stayed focused while asserting themselves in an impressive extra frame that washed away much of the anguish that had been building over the previous quarter of play.
Lowry Looks Refreshed
After saying all the right things about not wanting to disrupt a rotation that has borne fruit and being willing to come off the bench, Lowry embraced his back-up role upon stepping back into the lineup. The Villanova alum was efficient (17 points on 5-7 shooting), defensively sound (two blocks and several forced turnovers) and willing to involve teammates (eight assists). Most significantly, he came up biggest with the game on the line, scoring five overtime points, including a game-clinching three. As the experts say, it doesn’t matter who starts, but who finishes.
DeRozan Works ‘Round the Clock
I’m not entirely comfortable with anyone, let alone your recently re-signed leading scorer, having their minutes pushed into the high-40’s (or higher), but the empirical evidence tells another story. DeRozan has thrived while being leaned on heavily by Dwane Casey. After scoring 30 points in 49 minutes against the Hornets (and going 11-13 from the line after failing to attempt one free throw in San Antonio), the starting SG has now averaged 32 points in three games of 49-or-more minutes this season. DeRozan’s big minutes helped enable the small lineup (Lowry, DeRozan, Jose Calderon, Alan Anderson, Amir Johnson) that sparked Toronto to a 13-6 overtime edge.
Raps Protect the Ball
DeRozan wasn’t the only Raptor to put the San Antonio game firmly in the rear view mirror. The team, on the whole, was mindful of holding onto the ball, a problem that crept up against the Spurs but was addressed in New Orleans. Toronto committed just seven turnovers in the game and only allowed five points off of them. On the other side of the ball, they were active defensively and forced 17 Hornet cough-ups, turning them into 23 points. Greivis Vasquez, who otherwise put forth a strong 20-14-9 stat line, was responsible for six of those turnovers.
Yes, they made up for it in overtime, but that shouldn’t completely erase a lethargic six minute stretch by the Raptors. The Hornets began to employ an inside-outside game that confounded the visitors, finding a few easy buckets for Anthony Davis and Vasquez in close while also getting open looks for Ryan Anderson on the perimeter, including a game-tying clanker that came over the much smaller Lowry. All told, Vasquez, Davis and Anderson led a 23-10 run by the 6-23 Hornets.
The Rookie Battle
With Jonas Valanciunas out and New Orleans boasting two top 10 2012 draft picks in the starting five, this wasn’t exactly a fair fight. Still, Davis (25 points on 11-20 shooting and nine rebounds) and Austin Rivers (11 points) contributed positively, whereas Terrence Ross (four points on 1-8 shooting) did not.
- WTHIGOW Al-Farouq Aminu? The athletic SF has gone from starter to the end of the bench with no in between. Monty Williams won’t offer much explanation, but there’s a story there.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that a back-to-back outing following an OT game would be a negative for the fatigued Raptors. But the Raps are 4-4 in the second half of back-to-backs and are visiting the Orlando Magic, whom they’ve beaten twice this year, tonight (TSN 7:00pm).
Prediction: Raptors 107, Magic 101 (19-6 this season)