This year has been tough for us fans. It’s not been a horrible start to the year, but it’s far from the hopes and dreams of the average Raptors fan. For example, if this organization is going to take steps forward, it can’t rely on teams to beat themselves in order to win.
The facts are, the Cleveland and Chicago games this weekend just served to give us a look at how the Raptors have won and lost the majority of their games this year. In the Cleveland game, the Raptors played an opponent that many would say are at or below their level. Without Anderson Varajao, there was no excuse for not getting the majority of the rebounds within the game. Granted, the Raptors played without Nesterovic who has always played well against Ilgauskas, but the fact is, the Raptors were playing a team that they should have had a clear advantage over. Strong point guard play, an over reliance on LeBron James, and a weakened interior should have all played into the Raptors hands. Nevertheless, the Raptors kept having difficulties shooting the ball consistently, and could not draw fouls with the exception of Bosh. The Chicago game also was similar in the lack of foul shots.
This lack of foul shooting seems to be the Raptors’ M.O. this year. A year ago, we still had Bosh taking the majority of the foul shots, but people like Mo Pete, Joey Graham, TJ Ford, and Fred Jones all managed to help out by getting to the line. There are multiple reasons why getting to the line is important for this team. For one, it helps establish a rhythm for the team, especially if their jump shot is not falling. Another major reason is that the Raptors shoot such a high percentage that they should be thinking about doing it more often. Granted, we don’t have the same players, but it comes down to aggression and bating the other team into fouling your players. People like Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Carlos Delfino, and Jamario Moon should be getting to the foul line a lot more frequently.
This weekend, the Raptors also played Chicago, but were fortunate to get the win. Once again, had Chicago been a better shooting team, the Raptors would be in a lot of trouble. The final score was definitely not a good indicator as the Raptors only managed to push such a lead in the final minutes of the game after logging in heavy minutes from Bosh and Calderon. In fact, looking back on their opponents so far, the Raptors have had difficulties with any team that has shown an inkling of consistent shooting. Dallas, Boston, Golden State, and Utah have all given the Raptors difficulties because they haven’t managed to keep shooting teams from making their shots. It’s the lack of perimeter defense that seems to be the prevailing pattern. The teams that have lower shooting percentages, like the Bulls, end up missing wide open shots. It’s by this virtue of luck that allows the Raptors to come up with wins which is very disturbing.
However, the most concerning thing should be the fact that the Raptors will need to beat teams like Cleveland to be the kind of top team we expect them to be. It’s teams like Cleveland, Orlando, Golden State, and others that the Raptors made sure to beat last year, while beating their rare share of teams that were “better” than them. More so than just keeping a good home court advantage, it was the Raptors ability to consistently beat under .500 teams that insured that they had a base number of wins to get to their record tying 47 wins.
When it comes down to it, the Raptors should be concerned with the fact that it’s already the end of November, yet the Raptors have not managed to recreate their winning atmosphere. Part of the difficulty is that the team has been in a constant state of flux. TJ Ford’s injury along with Garbajosa’s leg difficulties (which may see him sidelined for the rest of the year) have perhaps had a greater impact in terms of developing and rediscovering the chemistry that made the team so successful last year.
However, we’re almost 20 games into the season. If the Raptors don’t pick up the pace, they might just get left behind.
Next Game: Memphis @ Toronto