The Raptors are headed to Philadelphia after a solid win on the road in Orlando against the Magic. So think back to the start of this string of prosperity the Raptors are in the midst of right now and how many of you thought that they would have taken two of three from the likes of Boston, San Antonio and Orlando?
Yes, the Magic came roaring back in the fourth quarter, part of it due to some suspect play and decision-making by the Raptors and the other ingredient was a little help from the officiating, but in the end, Toronto made plays to secure the win. I guess that’s what happens when reputations kick in during the fourth quarter.
Andrea Bargnani did a good job of battling Dwight Howard one-on-one defensively in the post, which leads me to believe this could be more of a regular occurrence, if the big Italian shows he can perform consistently in that respect. Can you imagine what being able to play with full-time single coverage down low in the post would mean to the overall defence?
Bargnani’s play helped Toronto execute the game plan to perfection as Howard scored his points, 20 of them, but the Raptors were able to tag Orlando’s three-point shooters, limiting the barrage that has done them in previously against the Magic. Orlando shot 9-of-31 from behind the arc. Maybe it’s a telling stat that when the Magic make 10 or more three-point field goals they are 15-5. On Wednesday night, they hit just nine.
If you don’t think reputations carry weight in the NBA, then consider this stat: The Raptors had 10 fouls called against them over the first 11 minutes of the final frame while Orlando was only whistled for one. Bargnani played good defence against Howard. When you consider how everything else was being called over the course of the game, the fouls in the fourth quarter could have been ruled “play ons” but Bargnani hasn’t earned that rep yet. Tell me, if the situation had been reversed and it was Howard — the NBA’s leading shot blocker with a reputation as a defensive player — making the blocks on Bargnani, do you think the officials call those fouls? I rest my case.
Jose Calderon was good in his return, leading the team with eight assists in 25 minutes of work. With Hedo Turkoglu handling the ball in late-game situations and using Bargnani and Chris Bosh to play screen and roll with while Calderon and Jarrett Jack are in the corners on high-screen and roll plays, the offence should not screech to a halt. Of course, you need to give the unit a little time to work together but there’s no question, they will be tough to stop offensively. Hopefully, fourth quarter droughts like Wednesday’s five points in 6:52 seconds won’t happen too often.
I wonder if Orlando’s players are OK with the kinder, gentler Stan Van Gundy because what they need right now is Van Gundy to go back to his grumpy old self and put his foot in their butts to get them to pick it up a level. They are not playing well right now and are in a very tough part of their schedule, which is not the time to be going sideways.
We’ve already talked about Toronto’s game plan as they stayed home on shooters but what really helped was the fact that Howard has still not diversified his game in the low post.
As most right-handed big men, he likes to set up on the left block. But, unfortunately for the Magic, his only move, other than a dunk off a drop-step when he has position, is to the middle. That’s where the traffic is and when he has trouble both in double-team situations and when the opposing centre just flat out takes it away from him, there is nothing else in his bag of tricks. The hook shot wheeling into the middle of the lane has only been seen over the last couple of seasons but there is no turnaround jumper on the baseline. His mentor, Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, developed both moves which made him tough to stop so maybe Howard needs to listen a bit more to Ewing. Last year, the former New York Knicks centre jokingly remarked, under the guise of many a truth had been said in jest, “He (Dwight) just wants to dunk everything.”
As an NBA player, you always need to keep adding to your game or you’re sure to get left behind.