Silver linings abound for Raptors, despite loss

December 18, 2011

The Toronto Raptors would take this morning-after feeling throughout this bastardized NBA season – lots of effort and a bit of personal growth upon which to reflect, and a close loss to one of the best teams in the NBA.

One day closer to the draft lottery, with a couple of bonus silver linings tossed in. Sweet. It's been the perfect preseason so far: the Raptors have been a bystander among all the nonsense that has gone on since the NBA ended its lockout, doing nothing to damage their treasured payroll flexibility. If only there could be a two-game regular season to go along with a two-game postseason.

In the meantime, welcome back to the NBA. Enjoy that the Raptors are the easiest team to read in this city and their season will be blessedly straightforward. There's no Brian Burke or Ron Wilson or Yu Darvish or suspiciously acquired quarterback or payroll issues to mull over. No Twitter bullying or lose two games and fall to 10th place from sixth. Raptors games will be an angst-free zone this winter. Just lose, baby, and draft well. Who isn't down with that?

The dramatic finish in Sunday's 76-75 loss to the Boston Celtics – Andrea Bargnani's tip-in was a twitch too late – came with a Celtics lineup of Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twain Moore, Gilbert Brown and Greg Stiemsma that won't ever be seen at the end of any game that means anything at any time. End of analysis, folks.

The good was DeMar DeRozan doing a better job at times of not forcing shots, of driving to the hoop; Bargnani discovering there is no trap-door leading to some netherworld under the basket at either end; the shot-changing physical play of Gary Forbes and James Johnson; Ed Davis's double-double in 21 minutes off the bench. The Raptors had seven multiple stops, which according to head coach Dwane Casey is the per-game goal. That's good, too.

Truth is, Casey forecast this kind of sloppy offensive performance – 21 Raptors turnovers leading to 26 Celtics points, a 38.4-per-cent shooting performance and a measly 13 trips to the free-throw line. By his own guess, the Raptors only have 50 per cent of their offence in place.

"I'll take the hit for that," Casey said of the turnovers. His bigger concern was the spacing of his players in the offensive zone; the offensive specifics will come later.

Honestly, the closest thing to controversy you'll find with the Raptors is the point-guard picture. But here's the thing: only good teams have point-guard controversies. The Raptors can get where they need to go with either Jerryd Bayless or Jose Calderon, even when all the plays are in place.

Calderon started and finished the game yet played fewer minutes, going 2-for-8 with six assists and one turnover in 23 minutes. His contract is off the books at the end of next season, and there's a chance his $10.56-million contract will be tradable before it expires. Bayless is cheaper and might be of interest over the longer haul, because he can play an energetic defensive game off the bench that will be in vogue as long as Casey is the coach. Bayless was 4-for-10 from the field with three assists and four turnovers in 24 minutes 17 seconds, and said that even though the Raptors were short of plays, Casey's overriding philosophy with the ball is apparent.

"We're going to get out and run," Bayless said. "That's our first option."

One of the knocks against Bayless is he needs to do a better job of letting the game come to him, to be as analytical and composed on the court as he is off the court. The sense here is he'll never find a better situation, with many available silver linings. We'll leave some for him. Promise.

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