A few thoughts — positive and negative — floating around the morning after the Toronto Raptors disappointing 106-98 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
* The adjustments and awareness of Valanciunas: Last night was Jonas Valanciunas’ second game against the Sixers. While he did alright in his first game against them, he looked much more comfortable on Tuesday night (he also played 25 minutes without picking up a single personal foul). The same thing happened his second time facing Roy Hibbert and the Pacers.
Yes, Valanciunas is a rookie, but he is also a 20-year-old who has years of being a professional basketball player under his belt. He understands the importance of watching tape, asking questions and getting familiar with his opponents. Look for things to continue to get easier for him as the season goes on and he gets more experience playing the guys he has to go up against.
* A rusty Lowry still looks great: Kyle Lowry played almost 30 minutes off of the bench last night. He looked a little winded, ended up on the floor more than a couple of times and clearly needs to work himself back into game shape, but still had a stat line of 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. When he’s on the floor, things change for the Raptors. Guys roll to the rim harder, attack the hoop stronger and feed off of his energy. You can’t ever play the what if game, but you know his teammates have to be thinking to themselves, “What if we’d had him for all 11 games?”
* Playing 48 minutes: Once again this team has appeared to get things right, only to falter for a stretch of time and the lapse has been too great to overcome.
Starting out the season, it was the lacklustre starts, then second quarter lull, now the fourth quarter collapses. Raptors coach Dwane Casey has said time and time again that the team needs to learn to put 48 minutes of solid basketball together. They’ve yet to do this. It’s the difference between being 3-8 and 6-5 right now. It’s also the difference of being able to sneak into the playoffs or ending the season in April.
* Mistaken identity: There’s been a lot of talk of the team getting back the defensive identity that they created last season. It’s important to look at personnel when talking about defence. Last season, the team gave a lot of minutes to Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and James Johnson while Bargnani was out with the injured calf. Yes, he played the first 13 games of the season and fit the defensive system well, but the Bargnani we’re seeing this season is not the one who started off last season. * Jose’s ole defence: Let’s hope we never have to see Jose Calderon trying to guard Jrue Holiday again. How many of you had nightmares of Holiday shredding the Raptors over and over again last night? It was beautiful…if you weren’t rooting for the Raptors.
In Charlotte to face the 5-4 Bobcats, I wonder if anyone has told the Raptors that Ramon Sessions called the game “one we should get” during his post-game interview after Charlotte’s victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday evening.