Ball ... It's that simple

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

The more the ball moves and the more touches each player gets, the more inclined they are to be engaged in the small points of basketball that often are taken for granted.

The more a player feels he's part of the game, the more inclined he is to hustle back on defence or attack the basket to retrieve a missed shot.

While it's easy to dismiss consecutive road wins against two of the worst teams in recent hoops history, it can't be overstated how well the Raptors moved the ball on offence and how little it got stuck, whether the ball found its way into Chris Bosh's hands in the paint or to some unsuspecting player late in the shot clock.

The Raptors know they'll have to play at a higher level over an extended stretch with the Utah Jazz paying a visit to the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. They know they have to defend better, protect the basketball and match Utah's intensity.

They also know the more they move the ball, the more they will put themselves in a better position to win and justify their place as a playoff-worthy team.

"Sometimes you do get a little lackadaisical when you're stuck in the corner and you're not involved in the offence or you're not going to the offensive glass,'' Antoine Wright said following Tuesday's workout. There are points in the game when you want to get guys involved in the flow. You don't want a situation where a guy isn't involved on offence because it helps their defence."

In a nutshell, that has been one of the problems plaguing the Raptors since the all-star break. They thought they had overcome that mental hurdle of allowing their offence to dictate how they defend, but in reality that is who they are.

It isn't good and it can get downright ugly, but when they swing the ball more than once and truly are sharing the basketball, they are in a better position to win.

Despite their woes and deficiencies in defending the perimeter, the Raptors have shooters and can be dangerous when not trying to do too much on their own. No longer does an opponent focus in on one side of the court when the Raptors are moving the basketball.

When the ball moves freely and prudently, defenders are, naturally, forced to move.

When defenders move off their spot in rotations, shooters get more open looks.

When shooters aren't stationary, they're able to get back on defence to limit easy buckets. It's all rudimentary, but even at the highest level of the game, basketball's basic principles get lost.

One can talk all one wants about Toronto's lack of mental toughness, but the most basic concepts of moving and sharing the basketball have too often been an afterthought.

"Team morale is better when there are more touches," head coach Jay Triano said. "When you go swing, swing (the basketball), you force defenders to close out (on shooters) twice."

No one should feel that the Raptors have suddenly turned the corner because they haven't. They played down to the level of their opposition in New Jersey and Minneapolis, which is not a good sign.

At the same time, there were signs of improvement.

The Raptors weren't as prone to drop their heads when a shot wouldn't drop and were contesting shots by getting a hand in the face of shooters. Andrea Bargnani became more of a presence as a rebounder, which is always a good sign. Hedo Turkoglu was a facilitator.

In case no one paid any attention to it, witness how the Raptors got him the ball early in the shot clock once it got crossed midcourt against the Timberwolves.

With more time to survey and attack, Turkoglu made the right play, either by aggressively turning the corner on the high screen and roll or finding a teammate by drawing defenders.

The challenge against Utah will be daunting. The Raptors simply can't afford to take any possessions off.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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