Jones on NBA: Almost time to panic

December 13, 2009, 1:40 AM

Not a good one last night as the pattern continues for the Toronto Raptors. Don’t get me wrong, losses are going to happen, but the way you lose also says something, and last night it was another case where at times effort was lacking.

There were plenty of angry and upset folks leaving the Air Canada Centre last night and you know what, as it was expressed by one member of the Raptors staff, they had a right to be.

Before we get any further into this let’s remind everyone that the Atlanta Hawks are a good basketball team, a very good team that has a quiet star in Joe Johnson.

No he’s not on the level of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, or Dwayne Wade, but the dude can flat out ball and the rest of the Hawks know their roles and play them well.

To boot, the Hawks are athletic and have guys who know how to play up and down their roster.

The addition of Jamal Crawford solidifies this group as one very similar to the Pistons crew of 2003-04.

No, they are not quite as talented but they do play together. Crawford leads the NBA in scoring among non-starters and he showed you why last night. At one point, as the Raptors employed switching on screen-and-roll situations, Crawford had his way with Raptor big men beating them regularly off the bounce.

It has been discussed ad nauseum but the Raptors defense needs to improve. Last night while the Hawks still shot better than 50% there was at least one promising and telling sign all in one sequence.

Toronto plays decent defense and manages to trap the dribbler in the corner in front of the bench. The double team is well formed (hip-to-hip) and the hands are active, but not reaching in to commit the "bail out" foul.

They get exactly what they want in that the pass out of the double is a tough one and the next man is positioned perfectly to step into the passing lane for the interception.

OK, so much for the good stuff.

It then falls apart when the rotation is slow, the pass out of the double team is not intercepted and the Hawks manage to swing the ball right around the horn and it ends up in the far corner from where it started. It turns into a wide-open look as Atlanta knocked down a three-ball.

Good and bad all in one play and the end result is disheartening.

Hmm, what to do now without Jose Calderon, who left the game after aggravating a hip injury?

Well, you can bet that Hedo Turkoglu will handle the ball more, but it won’t matter if he doesn’t pick up his level of play. Marco Belinelli has the ability to be a play-maker and it would not be surprising to see him initiating the offense either in Calderon’s absence.

Toronto had better bring the effort tomorrow against Houston as the Rockets are a team loaded with guys who compete and are willing to get dirty to win a game.

The Rockets, with their 13-9 record having won five of their past six, are performing quite well, thank you, without stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

It’s a compliment to head coach Rick Adelman as his team always plays hard. The likes of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry play hard consistently and with Trevor Ariza stepping into a lead role, the Rockets will give away very few games this season without a fight.

No time to panic if you’re a Raptor fan, but it is time for action.

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