Erick Blasco's Sunday Review, Nov 23 Edition

Erick BlascoSenior Writer INovember 23, 2008

Defenseless Raptors Stuck in Mediocrity

Unless Toronto gets a defensive-minded big man, there is absolutely no way the Raptors will get anywhere near the second round of the playoffs, let alone an NBA Championship. Despite the hoopla of the Jermaine O’Neal signing in the offseason, Toronto’s backline defenders are simply awful.

Chris Bosh can‘t defend, Jermaine O’Neal is a wimp, and Andrea Bargnani might be the softest player in the entire league. Since that trio can’t defend the paint, of course opponents are going to attack the basket any chance they get. The Raptors have to crash all their defenders into the paint to overcompensate, and when they do, opponents have all day to plug threes.

Of course the physical Boston Celtics are going to walk into the Air Canada Centre and bully the Raptors around. And that’s what the Celtics did on their way to a 118-103 victory much uglier than the final score indicated. Whether the Celtics wanted to go outside or inside, every shot they took was a wide open one. They managed to shoot 62 percent for the game with 48 points in the paint. That’s completely unacceptable.

Anthony Parker is an earnest defender, Jamario Moon is long and athletic, and Kris Humphries will bump and bang, but that’s all Toronto has as decent defenders. So even though their shots were falling (they shot 47 percent from behind the arc), and they got to the free throw stripe (shooting 34-37 from the line), they still managed to get blown out.

Until the Raptors commit to defense, they’ll be a one-and-done playoff team—if they even make it that far in the improved East.

Pistons Losses Are Concerning

While the Celtics still look like the class of the East, the Pistons look like they have a ways to go in terms of getting to Boston’s level. It’s not just the fact that the Pistons lost at home to the T-Wolves 106-80—seemingly random losses occur all of the time in the NBA and sometimes are fluky deals.

However, with Allen Iverson on board and the Pistons offensively philosophy morphed from a grind-it-out and post up team, into a dribble-drive team, the Pistons offense hasn’t be sharp. Without the Pistons focusing their offense on Rip Hamilton curling around staggered baseline screens, Rip looks lost as to how he should score the basketball. And he’s already mentioned how the Pistons aren’t trusting each other right now.

Meanwhile Iverson hasn’t been making plays, as he had only two assists compared to two turnovers, and he missed two of his three layups. And while getting burned by Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris can be excusable, its got to be disconcerting when Randy Foye of all people goes off for 23 points on 9-12 shooting, with 14 assists and two steals to only two turnovers.

Detroit’s defense is too strong in other areas for the Pistons to fall off the map, and their offense has plenty of time to find its way. But when the Celtics are clogging the middle on Iverson’s dribble drives and he can’t find a way to throw the ball back out, will the Pistons have a reliable second, third, fourth, and fifth offensive option? Because right now, Detroit’s offense isn’t close to a championship level.


They’ve been walking on eggshells, but Philadelphia’s found ways to win the past few weeks. In their 89-81 victory over the Warriors, the Sixers didn’t score a single fast break point and still put up 89 points. That’s an encouraging number since the Sixers are built to run as often as possible.

Still, it doesn’t look as if Elton Brand has the explosion that allowed him to be such a low post terror in Chicago and Los Angeles. Andre Iguodala’s jumper is too spotty for him to shoulder the offensive load, and Andre Miller isn’t at his best when he’s looking to score, so Brand’s return to form is a necessity for the Sixers to challenge for an Eastern Conference Championship appearance.

The Nuggets have won eight of their last ten games and they look like a much hungrier basketball team with Chauncey Billups running the show. Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony shined in Denver’s 114-101 win over the Chicago Bulls with Anthony putting up 21 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists, while K-Mart went a perfect 10-10 from the field for 26 points. It was a question mark early in the month whether or not the Nuggets would make the playoffs. If they keep playing the way they’ve been playing, a playoff berth is a virtual lock.

If a team can’t play physical basketball, and if it doesn’t have an athletic backline, it doesn’t stand a chance against the Lakers. Los Angeles is just cursing through the early portion of its schedule, and is now 11-1 after a 118-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings. They might not be head and shoulders better than everybody in the West at the end of the year, since the Rockets, Spurs, and Jazz are decimated by injuries, and the Hornets haven’t found their stride.

But right now, just as the Celtics are the clear class in the East, the Lakers are the best of the West. Los Angeles’ lack of physicality is still a concern, but until the West gets healthy, the Lakers’ challengers are playing catch up.