Courtside: Raptors-Kings Report
This wasn’t exactly how I was hoping this tough five-game, 11-day Western swing would begin. The Raptors threw up a stinker last night — probably their worst effort of the season to date — in getting their asses royally spanked by the Kings 107-92.
There’s no shame is losing to Sacramento in Arco Arena. After all, after hammering Detroit the other night, the Kings are off to another good start in front of their great fans at 3-0, leaving them 165-43 in Sacramento since the start of the 2001-02 season. So clearly, few teams escape this trip with a W. The Raptors know that pain all too well, as last night made it nine straight loses at Arco. You have to go back to mid-March 1997 to find the last time — in fact, it’s the only time — that Toronto has won in this building. All-time, the Raps are 1-10 here.
But there’s no excuse for the absolutely horrible effort — sparked once again by a lousy start — that Toronto offered last night. This Kings’ team is beatable. They came in near the bottom in scoring, second-worst in field goal percentage and dead last in three pointers per game. All the Raps had to do was play their game, put up some points and the rest would take care of itself, right?
Wrong. Because, alarmingly, a big component of the Raptors’ game so far is allowing the other team to score at will. And even the offensively inept Kings were able to take advantage of that, and it was aided plenty by a new wrinkle in the Toronto troubles — turnovers. The Raps couldn’t protect the pumpkin, and that recipe — poor shooting, poor defense, inability to hold onto to the ball — rarely results in victory.
This is a vital stretch for the Raptors as they play the vast majority of their games on the road between now and the end of the calendar year. If they don’t get their act together fast, they will be buried by then. At 2-4, they’ve already dropped to 11th in the conference, a game out of the eighth spot. Believe it or not, it may take a .500 record to make the playoffs in the East this year.
Although at times I felt I needed to avert my gaze from this one, I offer up my observations regardless:
- Jorge Garbajosa needs to get it going. If he plays like he’s capable of, it will have a ripple effect through the whole team. Sam Mitchell has obviously started to get frustrating with him, giving the Spainaird just three minutes last night. Garbo came in 6-for-26 and he missed his only shot of the night, 3-pointer, so he’s now shooting a woeful 15.4 per cent from beyond the arc. I repeat the mantra — this guy’s track record of shooting the ball is unquestioned. Garbajosa is also capable of rebounding and when he starts playing better, it will help solidify the frontcourt.
- Ron Artest and Mike Bibby (who at least has an excuse because of his wrist injury) have been shooting the ball like crap this year. The tonic? A game against Toronto. Artest comes in at 31.7 per cent from the field and is 2-for-21 from 3-point land. Last night, he drains his first six and winds up 9-of-17 including 2-of-5 from long distance. Bibby is 34.8 per cent before last night, but drains 8-of-16 against Toronto. Do you think slumping shooters are starting to circle the date when Toronto comes to town?
- Sacramento wins the battle of the boards 44-35. The Kings have a couple of strong rebounders but don’t really have a dominant boards man, especially with centre Brad Miller out. Instead they are very efficient as a team, and it was on display last night. Artest led the way as usual with 10, but the contributions came from everyone: John Salmons (eight), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (seven), Kenny Thomas (six), Kevin Martin (six) and Mike Bibby (five) all helped out on the glass in a great display of gang rebounding. Eric Musselman, the Kings’ new coach, believes that guards should be involved in the rebounding game.
- Artest has definitely been doing his part to fill in for Miller on the glass. He’s pulled down at least eight rebounds in five of the first six games of the year. As usual, Artest fills the stat sheet and yesterday he added four assists.
- By the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, Martin has seriously arrived in this, his third season. In fact, it might be just about time to strip the ever-injured Kenyon Martin of his title and make Kevin the real K-Mart. He scored 26 points and sunk all eight of his free throws. This kid is money from the line. That’s 36 straight he’s sunk — the best current streak in the NBA. But it’s not the first time he’s done this. Martin sunk 37 in a row in February. He now has 143 points in six games this year. To put that in perspective, he scored 131 in 45 games as a rookie.
- In leading the Kings to a third straight win overall, Artest scored 23 points, but 15 (the most by any King in any one quarter so far this year) came in the first period that — at usual — put Toronto in a big hole. Obviously first-quarter D is an ongoing issue, but coming in, a better offensive start was a key for Toronto if it wanted to have a chance. Well, the Raps got it — shooting 55 per cent in the first quarter. But guess what? Sacramento is at 60 per cent, turnovers are taking away Toronto chances and the help defense is non existent. That translates into a 36-25 lead for the Kings.
- To start the second, however, Toronto comes out flat, missing seven of its first eight from the field. For the quarter, the Raps shoot just 30 per cent and manage only 19 points. The Kings stay hot, and go on an 11-3 run to help build an insurmountable 59-44 halftime lead.
- Sacramento had no problem keeping up with the Raps’ high-tempo offense. In fact, they were the pace setters for most of the night. The Kings, one of the top defensive teams in the association, employed a transition defense to defuse the Raps’ attack. Until Toronto gels, it’s going to have difficulty keeping its own weapon from being its own undoing.
- Chris Bosh had four double-doubles in the first five games, and he scored 19 but he fell short on the glass last night. Who can complain, though? The guy has been outworking his opponents — especially on the O-glass. He’s so much stronger than he used to be and what a difference that makes. He’s also massively improved in his ability to play with his back to the basket. Bosh brings a passion to the floor at all times.
- Bibby scored 21 points and added four assists. He’s still using a splint to protect that right wrist that was supposed to keep him out for the beginning of the season, but it wasn’t hindering his shot last night. He says it’s still bugging him to an extent, but this was a great sign for Bibby owners.
- Did I mention the turnovers? How about five for Toronto before five minutes have been played? It’s five and a half minutes in, better make that six. Those turnovers haven’t been a problem this year as Toronto has been one of the better clubs in the association as far as handling the ball. So let’s assume last night was an anomaly.
- T.J. Ford was making some smart decisions in the opening quarter. It was a much better start for him, at least. But he only wound up with just 12 points and seven assists. He did pitch in with six rebounds, but eight turnovers? Ugh. No wonder Toronto had a season-high 19 turnovers for the game.
- Salmons, the guy who screwed over the Raptors this offseason, came in averaging 7.4 PPG. He managed just six on the night. Small victories.
- SAR had 18 points for the Kings and flashed some fantastic post play. He may be undersized at centre as he fills in for Miller, but he makes up for it with fundamentally sound positional play down low.
- We mentioned how bad the Kings’ shooting was before. But last night, miraculously, they shot 49 per cent. It’s amazing how NBA teams can stick wide open looks. Funny how that works.
- Sacramento, now 4-2, looks like it will have another strong team this season. The Kings have remained remarkably competitive over the years despite being a small market club.
- Morris Peterson had another strong game with 18 points, but most of it came early. He scored 16 points in his first 19 minutes thanks to four 3-pointers.
- The Raptors seem to lack confidence right now. I think it will soon be time for a starting five shakeup.
- Veteran Corliss Williamson got a big ovation when he stepped on the floor. At least, I think it was for him (after all, he came up huge on Wednesday against the Pistons). But given that his nickname has become “Scoreless,” I’m not sure if the fans were cheering for him or perhaps a fan who made a great catch as the hot dog cannon was blasting red hots into the stands.
- What’s with all the misses on easy looks for the Raps? This team looks like the woman who pulls into the office after applying her makeup while driving on the highway. It’s just not very pretty.
- Did I mention the turnovers? It’s just over two minutes into the second quarter and eight Raptor fumbles have led to 12 Sacramento points.
- Sacramento has started winning by changing its formula. The Raps should take notes on this. The Kings have been charging out of the gates to work on getting the opposition into the penalty early in the game. For instance, in first quarters of their first three games, the Kings got to the foul line a total of 10 times. In each of three games since, Sacramento has had at least 10 first-quarter trips to the charity stripe. Are you paying attention, Toronto? It pays to go to the hoop, especially when your outside game is struggling.
- There’s less than six minutes to play in the second quarter and the Raps don’t have a three-pointer yet. They miss their first five tries, sink just 2-of-10 in the first half and go 6-for-24 overall. Sacramento is 6-for-22. It wasn’t exactly a sharp shooting display from the perimeter. Peja doesn’t live here anymore.
- Naturally, that led to plenty of long rebounds and second chances. Each team had 10 offensive rebounds — Fred Jones had three for Toronto and SAR pulled down four for the Kings.
- Like candy from a baby: Sacramento racks up a dozen steals, including three by Thomas, who only had two in the first five games in total.
- Artest was lighting it up, as mentioned, but man, what a brick he threw up midway through the second quarter. I think Chuck Swirsky and Jack Armstrong had bite back their laughter.
- Bosh had 15 points and four rebounds in the first half, but was very quiet in the second half. The Kings manage to keep the ball out of his hands and when he gets the rock, a second defender is quickly there to help out.
- Rasho Nesterovic continues to flash the D. He’s taking good angles against attacking offensive players and taking the charges.
- Artest hurts his finger late in the game. He’s icing it with a Kings’ branded ice bag. I’m impressed by the marketing savvy.
The Raptors were simply never in this game. Just a horrible defensive effort compounded by turnover city. Next up, the Raps get Golden State on Tuesday night.