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Is it cynical to suggest that the Raptors’ (4-9) 77-64 loss to the Chicago Bulls might be the best kind of result that the club could hope for this year?
The loss part was certainly expected against the best team in the NBA (who also happen to excel at home) and this recent 1-6 slide has put the Raptors into the mix of bottom-feeders who could be vying for early lottery picks come June. Meanwhile, the club also put forth a respectable effort and offered up an encouraging defensive showing.
Bulls Learn Raps Aren’t Pushovers
If this is to be considered a season where small victories are emphasized, there has to be some measure of pride over staying with the league-leading Bulls for much of Saturday night, including allowing just 14 second quarter points and being tied as late as mid-way through the third. That stingy second quarter saw the Raptors hold Chicago to 29% (7-24) shooting.
Forbes as a Stat Filler?
At the start of the season, it appeared as though Gary Forbes may have been taking style advice from James Johnson, with both men rocking faux-hawks to begin the season (Johnson has since shed his ‘hawk). Now, it might be Forbes mimicking the playing style of Johnson as a do-it-all contributor and stat filler off the bench. Against Chicago, Forbes had five points, eight rebounds, five assists and a turnover in just 16 minutes of action. Johnson, for his part, enjoyed a nice bounce-back game from a forgettable Friday night effort, scoring 12 points on 6-11 shooting and adding a blocked shot and a steal against his former team.
Amir Johnson, the Rebounder
It’s not easy to attack the boards against a club like the Bulls, who lead the league in rebounds per game. However, the other Johnson – Amir – was a force on the glass for Toronto, pulling down 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. His contributions helped keep the rebounding battle respectable, with Chicago winding up holding a slight 52-50 edge.
It’s worth noting that the Raptors have showed that they are fully capable of being held to 64 points even with Andrea Bargnani in the line-up (they managed just 62 a week earlier against Philadelphia with Bargnani in tow). That being said, the team’s offensive attack was particularly rudderless in the second half of Saturday’s game (where are you, DeMar DeRozan from the first quarter on Friday night?) as they managed just 27 points and shot 27% (12-44). Chicago is a terrific club and you could argue that Toronto’s defensive execution wouldn’t have been quite as sharp with Bargnani on the floor, but a viable No. 1 scoring option would have been nice.
Free Throw Shooting (Again)
If a 20-32 free throw effort against Indiana – featuring Jamaal Magloire’s pair of air balls – is laughable, what does that make the Raptors’ 1-7 showing from the line on Saturday? Hysterical, or just sad? In a season that will (and has already had) some serious low points, a 1-7 night from the charity stripe might well be an early candidate for the lowest. Well, we can hope, anyway.
Amir Johnson, the Scorer
While he demonstrated plenty of prowess in reeling in the ball, Johnson wasn’t able to do much with it once he had it in his possession. Johnson has never been known for his offensive game, but on a team begging for any scoring help, the former Piston and Buck found himself 11 shots. The problem, however, was that he only made three of them despite most coming at the rim.
- I wasn’t totally wrong to point to the bench as a possible area in which Toronto could gain an edge on the Bulls (Raps lead 39-22 in bench scoring), but I also wasn’t entirely right. Two of Chicago’s most critical contributors came on in relief roles, with Taj Gibson producing 11 points and 12 rebounds (one of three Bulls with a double-double) and John Lucas III helping out with 10 points. Gibson and Lucas remained on the court for most of the fourth quarter and poured in 17 of the team’s 21 points in the frame.
Next up for the Raptors is a visit to Atlanta on Monday for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day afternoon tilt against the Hawks (4:00pm, SNET).
Keep an Eye on:
1) … Ivan Johnson. I have to confess to having never heard his name prior to reading up on the Hawks. However, the 27-year old rookie is a popular topic of conversation in Atlanta these days, particularly after clinching a win for his club on Saturday with a pair of free throws with four seconds to go vs. Minnesota. The well-travelled Johnson, an energy guy off the bench, is getting his first crack at the NBA after playing at two junior colleges, two colleges, in South Korea, China, Puerto Rico and the D-League.
2) … an ever-changing Hawks’ rotation. Al Horford, Tracy McGrady and Kirk Hinrich are all out, opening the door for guys like Johnson, as well as veterans Vladimir Radmanovic and Willie Green, to contribute.
The Pick: Hawks 92, Raptors 76 (5-1 this season)