How Raptors respond to Motown mauling is crucial

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:46 PM ET

TORONTO - As he addressed one of the smallest media gatherings of the season, a sure sign the Raptors have become completely irrelevant, head coach Jay Triano had a confession to make.

A night earlier, the dysfunctional Detroit Pistons posted 38 first-quarter points en route to a 107-93 win.

Part of the storyline centred on Detroit’s advantage in size and savvy, the inability of Toronto’s youthful pieces to match the Pistons’ experienced parts and the season-long theme of Andrea Bargnani unable to emerge as a rebounding presence.

More than anything, though, Toronto’s lack of energy to begin the game became a topic worth dissecting in the aftermath of yet another Raptors’ road loss, the team’s 14th in a row, a franchise record that threatens to get worse as a daunting five-game Western swing looms.

“I’m going to take full responsibility for that,’’ Triano began following the team’s workout on Thursday.

At least Triano is being accountable.

It’s debatable, however, if the outcome would have been altered had the Raptors adjusted on the fly.

The Pistons aren’t exactly known for their outside shooting prowess, a deficiency that often leads to opponents going under screens on screen and roll sequences.

What teams do, a strategy the Raptors embraced, is to basically play off their man, in this case the screener, and force the Pistons into a shooting mode.

“By playing off our guy and making them shoot, they were more aggressive, they attacked us, and they made threes,’’ Triano continued.

“When we switched and began to trap the screen and roll, we became more aggressive.”

For a team that still can’t defend over extended stretches and simply must force a quick tempo to score, the Raptors can ill afford to fall behind almost immediately after the opening tip, which is what unfolded against the Pistons.

Many lessons are being learned, painful as they are, information being gleaned as the team’s ongoing evaluation continues with the end of the season thankfully nearing.

How the Raptors respond on Friday night and how players react to Wednesday’s mauling in Motown will go a long way in determining which player has a future in Toronto.

In the NBA, nothing is a given, not even a Wizards team that is actually worse on the road than the Raptors, which is saying a lot.

It’s why Friday night looms as one of those proverbial bounce-back nights for the Raptors, who need to get more from players whose game is showing signs of regressing.

At this stage in the NBA marathon, it’s so easy to be indifferent and to begin to feel sorry for ones lot.

The Raptors haven’t completely checked out mentally, but their mental state will be put to its ultimate test against the Wizards.

“It’s a big game for us,’’ Triano conceded. “We’ve looked at the schedule ahead of us and it’s not going to be easy.”

Washington’s arrival is very similar to the backdrop of Feb. 4, when visiting Minnesota provided the opposition.

At the time, the Raptors were in the throes of a 13-game losing streak and in desperate need of a win, no matter how it was achieved.

The Timberwolves provided that much-needed tonic.

Had they not prevailed, the Raptors would have matched, and perhaps even eclipsed, the franchise’s record 17-game losing streak.

“Part of the development of these guys is learning how to play in Game 68 of a tough season by being sharp, concentrated and good,’’ Triano added. “It’s all about keeping your head in it mentally and playing through it.”

Newcomer James Johnson, who has been given more minutes as the team’s starting small forward, understands what’s at stake.

“That first quarter in Detroit I didn’t bring the same type of energy needed to get the team and myself going,’’ Johnson said. “We need to bring energy against Washington.”


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