The Weekly Rap: March 9-15, 2015

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The Toronto Raptors lost two of their three games last week (that’s 10 losses out of their last 12 games) and the same old defensive problems remain. A win over the suddenly mediocre Miami Heat on Friday eased some of the pressure on the team, but the victory was bookended by heavy losses to the Spurs and Trail Blazers. In fact, per TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, the Raptors have lost 12 of their last 15 games against Western Conference teams after starting the season 9-2 against the league’s best conference.

Luckily for the Raptors there’s only one game against a Western Conference team on the schedule this week. Andrew Wiggins and the Timberwolves come to town on Wednesday. Tonight the team travels to Indiana to face the red-hot Pacers; they finish the week with games against the Bulls and Knicks.

Raptors 107 San Antonio Spurs 117
The Raptors’ recent early-game woes continued on Tuesday night as the team fell to the San Antonio Spurs. Despite cutting a 26-point deficit down to six points with three minutes left in the fourth, the Raptors gave themselves too much work to do after a disastrous first half. “We need to play, we don’t need a kick in the ass,” said Kyle Lowry, post-game, clearly annoyed by the fact that his team only started playing well when they fell behind. “We’ve literally been getting our ass kicked so we shouldn’t need that type of first half. We should go and do it.”

That disastrous first half began with a disastrous first quarter. After trailing 13-12, Gregg Popovich called a timeout, after which the Spurs, aided by a barrage of three-pointers, went on a 16-4 run to end the quarter. Giving away nine first-quarter offensive rebounds to the Spurs certainly didn’t help the Raptors’ cause.

On the plus side the Raptors did fight hard in the second half. Lowry had 32 points on 19 field goals (and some colourful words for his teammates during a heated timeout), while Amir Johnson put up a gutsy double double (16 points, 14 rebounds). The Raptors had no answers defensively, however. Tony Parker had 23 points and nine assists for the Spurs, while as a team they shot a white-hot 61 per cent from beyond the arc.

Miami Heat 92 Raptors 102
The Raptors returned to their winning ways on Friday night with a comfortable victory over the Miami Heat. The win ended Toronto’s sixteen-game losing streak against the Heat, which dates back to 2010. Kyle Lowry once again top-scored for the Raptors—a balanced Raptors offence, in fact—with 19 points (he also had eight rebounds and eight assists). Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez combined to score 26 points off the bench. With Jonas Valanciunas taking the night off to spend time with his newborn son (congrats Jonas!) production off of the bench was important. For the Heat Dwyane Wade had 25 points, but his team only managed to go 5-of-23 from three-point range.

The Raptors weren’t back to their best in this one, but they did enough against a sloppy Heat team that turned the ball over 21 times. After losing nine of their previous 10 games prior to Friday night, any win was good enough. The game was close until mid-way through the second quarter when the Raptors went on a 20-6 run which blew things wide open. “They say when it rains, it pours,” DeMar DeRozan quipped post-game. “We were in the shower for a while.”

Portland Trail Blazers 113 Raptors 97
The Raptors were run out of the gym on Sunday night against the high-flying Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers suffered a big blow last week losing Wesley Matthews for the season, but they continue to look like a team that could make some real noise come playoff time. LaMarcus Aldridge, who the Raptors double-teamed all night to little effect, had 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Damian Lillard chipped in with 23. For the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan produced an efficient 22 points.

The Raptors were efficient on offence in general—47 per cent shooting as a team—but it was once again the defence that let them down. As a team the Blazers shot over 50 per cent from the floor for the game and the Raptors did a poor job of defending the perimeter, allowing Portland’s ball handlers to drive deep into the paint and finish, or kick it out for open shooters. That being said, some of the Blazers’ ball movement was a joy to watch and there was more than one play that would’ve made Dwane Casey simply shrug his shoulders.

Around the League

Knicks looking to rebuild through free agency
For the better part of the past two decades the New York Knicks have earned a reputation as a franchise that trades away draft picks and overpays in free agency, leveraging smart teambuilding for short-term fixes. That may not change anytime soon. Despite being the worst team in the league (and thus likely to acquire a very high draft pick this summer), team president Phil Jackson stated this week that the team will focus on free agency to turn their fortunes around: “We know what the first-round pick is going to mean for us, but we also know we’re going to build our team with free-agency.” Not exactly music to the ears of Knicks fans who’ve seen this story play out before.

Kyrie hits 50 again in Cavs win
On Thursday night Kyrie Irving had his second 50-point game of the season, leading his Cleveland Cavaliers team to an incredible comeback win over the San Antonio Spurs. Irving, who had 55 points in a win over Portland earlier in the year, hit 57 against the Spurs going 20-of-32 from the field—he also connected on all seven of his three-point attempts. The Cavs were down by six points with 30 seconds left, but back-to-back Irving threes sent the game into overtime. 11 points in the extra quarter completed the comeback.

Blake Griffin returns from injury
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin returned to the hard court on Sunday afternoon after missing 15 games with an elbow injury. In Griffin’s absence, the Clippers went 9-and-6 and Chris Paul performed at an MVP-calibre level. Despite the team’s solid recent play, the five-time All-Star’s return is great news for the team going forward.

Griffin had 11 points and 11 rebounds and eight assists on his return to action, but he couldn’t prevent his team from narrowly losing to the James Harden-led Houston Rockets, 100-98.
 
 
Where’s the North?
This week: The Raptors’ struggles continue as the team goes 1-and-3 on the week and falls to 4th in the East, plus more top news from around the league
Posted on Mar 9, 2015

 

The Raptors have officially hit a wall
This week: Toronto records a 5-game losing streak with a loss to the worst team in the NBA, plus more top news from around the league
Posted on Mar 2, 2015

 

Meet the replacements
These 5 last-minute deals struck in the run up to playoffs can make all the difference
Posted on Mar 13, 2015

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