In less than a full season, the Raptors have gone from among the worst defending teams in the NBA to the 13th best.
Dwane Casey changed that culture putting an emphasis on defence but also with some tweaks to the way the Raps go about defending.
On this road trip a very effective defensive response to teams starting to pull away has been Casey’s unique zone defence that he has brought with him from Dallas.
Early on in the season, with his players still learning the Casey zone, it wasn’t used quite as much but now with a comfort level having been achieved with it, Casey is more likely to use it.
It slowed down Utah the other night after they got off to a quick start and was effective the night before in a win over Phoenix.
Linas Kleiza talked about the progress the team’s zone defence has made following the Utah game.
“It’s a pretty difficult zone to pick it up, especially without a long training camp,” Kleiza said. “It’s a very interesting zone. I think for everybody it’s the first time playing something like this in their careers. Yeah, I think we’ve been successful, but we have to keep improving. We have to see what teams are going to do against it.
Casey didn’t want to give away too much about it, but he admitted it’s not something a lot of players pick up very quickly, but once they do it can be very effective.
“There are nuances in it that are different from all other zones,” Casey said. “Once you pick up those nuances it becomes easier I think. There’s no guess work in who you have or who the matchup is.
“In this zone there should never be a situation where you don’t have a match,” he said. “That’s the key. In other zones there are times when you are standing there and not guarding anybody. Whenever you find yourself not guarding anybody, you’re wrong.”
Lately the Raptors have been right far more than they’ve been wrong making them a very tough defensive matchup, particularly when they’re playing zone.