Jones on NBA: Raps don’t sound confident

December 1, 2009, 4:53 AM

There are still 64 games left and the season is just a month old.

The issue in this corner is the phrase I am not hearing consistently coming from the team and that’s the phrase: "we’re getting better."

As I reflect back to the 2006-07 season, the best one in Bryan Colangelo’s tenure as the general manager in Toronto, when that team was absorbing losses early in the season thanks to a schedule just as difficult as the current agenda that the 2009-10 Raptors are enduring, they were always able to use that one phrase.

Folks may not have believed what they were hearing, but as it turned out, in the end, all connected with the team were correct in their assessment.

Coincidentally, that team had the exact same record as the current squad and was 7-14 at the quarter pole.

That could be the exact same posting for this team as we approach the first turn, if they don’t find a way to win one of its next three games. But with that team you always heard, "we’re getting better."

Over the last three games, it has been the team’s strength, its offense, that has let it down. The defense, we’ll get to that in a minute, but in each of the last three losses the games have been close at halftime (down six to Charlotte, up one over Boston and down one to Phoenix).

But the second half of each of those losses has witnessed the NBA’s fourth highest scoring offense grind to a halt. The ball seems to stop moving and the team’s strength becomes its weakness. There have been a slew of turnovers, 30 in total over the three games, with a sub 20-point quarter thrown in during every contest on a combined 38.6 per cent from the floor and 18.5 per cent from behind the arc.

For a team that needs its offense to stay in games because the defense is not quite there yet, these numbers and this trend of poor second half production are not good.

How do you fix the second half offense? First off, convince the players that they can’t all try to do it after one pass. With talented offensive players, it is common for each one to take it upon himself to make shots and get the team back in the game. This is where the team’s strength becomes its weakness because the ball stops being shared.

Head coach Jay Triano is a proponent of having the ball move from side to side and making the defence work and a good opportunity will present itself. In Sunday’s game against Phoenix while the turnovers were not an issue in the second half, the ball movement early in the third quarter was not good. The ball did not get to the second side as many players took it upon themselves to try and score sometimes trying to create openings when chances were not present.

The defense has been inconsistent all season and while the prevailing thought seems to be that changes need to be made, and that’s correct, the changes have nothing to do with lineups on the floor.

Triano is a good coach and you can rest assured that his defensive system has everything covered. The changes needed must come in the area of player attitudes regarding focus and effort. Defense comes down to effort, awareness based on attentiveness, concentration, and trust.

At present, none of these attributes are consistent parts of Toronto’s defensive persona. Once they show up regularly, things will get better, but that is on the players and nobody else.

While there is still time to get better defensively, this team may turn out to be an offensive-minded team that needs to try and get key stops at opportune times to win games.

If that’s the case, the offence can’t afford to have neither the blackouts like during the third quarter in Boston nor poor shooting, turnover-prone halves of basketball.

*****
Lawrence Frank is out as coach of the New Jersey Nets and General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe will take on the job as head coach.

It may not make much of a difference if the Nets players don’t pick it up a notch or two.

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