TORONTO - The good news for the Raptors is the team’s back-to-back-to-back marathon can’t go any worse than its previous two games.
Blown out by New Jersey at home, throttled mercilessly by Philadelphia on the road on consecutive nights, home games with Minnesota and Sacramento sandwiched by a trip to Washington loom.
But the Raptors will take on the surprising Timberwolves coming off of a rare full day of rest and will likely come out full bore at home after a thoroughly disappointing weekend.
Both Washington and Sacramento are in complete disarray — Sacramento’s coach has been fired, changes have to be on the way imminently in Washington — meaning both can be beaten.
But make no mistake, getting back in the win column will be an immense challenge during this lone three-in-three stretch of the schedule.
“We’ve got to be able to come out and match whatever team’s energy. We’ve got a lot of youth so we have no excuse,” said DeMar DeRozan after the loss to the Sixers.
“Of course it’s going to be tough, we have to get ready, especially mentally ready,” added Andrea Bargnani, by far the best Raptor so far this season.
“We have to be ready to be aggressive for three nights in a row with the same mentality. That’s the toughest thing about it,” he said.
While rebounding is usually a major concern for Bargnani, it is his teammates who aren’t doing the job on the boards lately. Swingmen Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner combined for 17 rebounds against Toronto on Saturday.
That said, bigs have been doing well too (remember Kris Humphries on Friday night?) and rebounding king Kevin Love is coming to town.
How dominant has Love been on the boards — again — this season? He averages about 15 per and already has 20- and 17-rebound games to his credit after becoming the first player in nearly 30 years to explode for a 30-30 game last season. Love usually gets to double figures on the glass from defensive boards alone, yet also leads the league in offensive rebounds.
He’s the reason the Wolves sit near the top of the league in those categories.
Creating some turnovers and avoiding them at the other end will also be keys for the Raptors.
The Sixers committed just eight turnovers on Saturday, but forced Toronto into 17.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is very concerned about the inability of his team to take care of the ball, despite the presence of Jose Calderon, one of the best in the business in that regard.
Finally, the offence needs to get out of its funk. New Jersey held Toronto to 85 points, Philly 62 and 1-for-12 shooting from three won’t cut it. Neither will a lack of ball movement and an extreme reliance on Bargnani to light it up.
DeRozan is not reacting well to being game-planned around following a hot start to the year. He has had two off games in a row, but intends to show better during this stretch, which in turn will help the offence as a whole.
“We’ve got to look at all (our) options, not just one. Give our sets a better chance to get a bucket,” DeRozan said.
“A lot of teams are starting to pack in the paint. I’m going to watch film and get a hold of it. Figure out ways around it, but that’s what I see right now.”
No matter how much film the team watches though, it won’t change the fact that there simply isn’t enough offensive talent on the roster to make up for off nights by two of Calderon, DeRozan and Bargnani.
The imminent return of Linas Kleiza will help in that regard, as would a speedy recovery by injured guard Jerryd Bayless.
The Raptors will need both of them to get through this brutal stretch.
Monday won’t officially be Spanish night at the ACC, but surely Spanish basketball fans have had the date marked on their calendars for a while.
Jose Calderon, the longest-serving Raptor, who has helped steer the country to immense international success as its lead guard (silver at the Beijing Olympics, gold at the 2011 European championship and 2006 worlds) will face off against Ricky Rubio, the prodigy who will succeed him as captain of the Spanish ship at some point.
Rubio, the 21-year-old, fifth overall selection of the 2009 draft finally came over this year and has surprised many by excelling right off the bat in the NBA. Is Calderon one of those people?
“Not really,” Calderon said late Saturday night, smiling for the only time following a tough loss to Philadelphia when Rubio’s name was brought up.
“He’s a great player, he showed me that every day in practice when we were together on the national team.”
Calderon spent six seasons playing in Europe before making the jump to the NBA with the Raptors and struggled with his shot and confidence early on before establishing himself as a quality NBA point guard.
Most expected the case to be the same for Rubio. After all, he had far worse mechanics and nowhere near the shooting resume of Calderon while toiling in Spain from 2005-06 to last season and had underwhelmed in recent appearances for his home country.
However, Rubio has shot well from everywhere but the free throw line so far (over 50% from the field and from three) and his trademark game management and flair for the dramatic has been readily apparent.
Rubio already has three double-doubles, including Sunday’s sublime 13 points, 14 assist dismantling of the struggling Washington Wizards (five turnovers aside).
There have been some whispers that Calderon and Rubio aren’t close, that battling for the point guard spot on a world power has breeded some discontent between them.
Not true, asserted Calderon.
“He’s a great friend … I’m so happy he’s done great he’s adapting so quick to Minnesota.
“All the Spanish guys (in the NBA), our relationship is really good. We talk (or text) to each other almost every day,” he said.
On Monday, Calderon and Rubio will save on the long distance charges and go at it for real, rather than just in practice.
WOLVES AT RAPTORS
7 P.M. TSN2/FAN 590
Ricky Rubio vs. Jose Calderon
Spain’s point guard of the future vs. the man who has so ably led them over the past decade. Rubio doesn’t start at this point – Luke Ridnour does – but he still plays heavy minutes and has made a strong adjustment to the NBA. It’s probably just a matter of time until Rubio becomes a starter. Rubio had his best outing yet in Sunday’s pounding, totaling 13 points and 14 assists, to Ridnour’s 13 points and two assists.
Calderon is coming off what might have been his worst effort of the season.
Few expected the Wolves to land Rick Adelman, but they did, and he seems to be turning things around. No surprise, since his career winning percentage is above .600. The Wolves have beaten Dallas and San Antonio and lost by a combined six points to potential finalists Miami and Oklahoma City. Kevin Love is an animal on the glass who will give the Raptors fits and he can also step out and nail threes. Minnesota spreads the ball around well and has some shooters.
DID YOU KNOW?
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was once Minnesota’s head coach … Former Raptor Shawn Respert is an assistant coach for player development for the Wolves, former Raptors GM Rob Babcock is in Minny’s front office. Babcock signed Calderon out of Spain … Twenty point, 15 rebound outings are becoming routine for Love, who also might be the best passing big man in the game. His defence needs work, though if one wants to nit-pick ... Free agent signee J.J. Barea has been bothered by a strained left hamstring which has caused him to miss multiple games … Minnesota has three second overall selections (Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic), one fourth (Wes Johnson), two who went No. 5 (Rubio, Love) and one No. 6 (Martell Webster).