Zone defence could be key for Raps

STEVE LOUNG, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 5:00 PM ET

TORONTO -- The past two Toronto Raptors games went the way most would have expected them, a win against the New Jersey Nets and a defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, in those two games, Toronto started to do something that it had only sparingly done over the course of this season. Play zone defence.

During the game against the Nets, the Raps showed zone often enough for it to be noticeable and they were able to shut down New Jersey, holding it to just 45 percent from the floor - the first time in six games they have held an opponent to under 50 percent shooting and just the seventh time this season they've managed to limit a team to 45 percent shooting or less from the field.

Electing to go to the zone was a smart move against the Nets because they are one of the worst shooting teams in the league and making them take jumpers will more than likely play into an opposing team's favor.

That being said, Los Angeles is another beast altogether. The Lakers rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage and three-point shooting, therefore theoretically, a zone should not work against them.

Theory doesn't always translate into practice, though, and the Raptors were able to make a game of it on Sunday because of the two-three scheme that head coach Jay Triano elected to go with for most of the game.

It was particularly effective when the Lakers looked primed to break out and turn the contest into a blowout. In the third quarter, L.A. was up by as much as 15, and there was a sense that it was going to trample over the Raptors. But that never happened because Triano went back to his zone, something that was able to confuse the complex triangle offence that Phil Jackson's team runs.

Zoning forced the Lakers to take shots at inopportune times and to turn the ball over when they attempted to collapse the zone by trying to move the ball into the soft areas of the defence.

The results of utilizing a zone against the Lakers were nowhere near as successful as they were against the Nets - L.A. shot 52 percent from the field - but if Triano didn't decide to try it out again, a respectable-looking 10- point loss probably would have been a beat down by 20 points or more.

If the Dinos play zone consistently it can only do good for the team. Within the zone, some of the defensive flaws that a few players on the roster have can be masked because there will be less need for a player to individually slow down his man.

The team may also be able to take advantage of some of the athleticism on the roster because, if the zone collapses, players like Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems should have the quickness and leaping ability necessary to recover and foil a good shot attempt.

Some of the concerns with the zone, such as easier outside opportunities for opponents, can be made moot if the Raptors blend together a good mixture between traditional man-to-man defence and the zone to keep opponents off- balance.

For now, Triano and his staff should continue to experiment with the zone and get a good feel for the players that can work in it the most effectively and when in games it should be used. If utilized correctly, the zone may end up being the key to fortifying a Raptors defence with many holes.


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