Dwane Casey has made the defensive end a focus this season, but during Toronto’s recent road trip where the team went 2-3, there were noticeable signs of slippage.
Toronto has held opponents to 97.1 points per game this season (tied for third in the NBA with Charlotte), but during their recent five game road trip, they only held Denver (90 points) and Utah (79) below those averages.
It’s also not a coincidence that those two games marked their only wins on their road trip.
In losses to Portland (106 points), Sacramento (109) and Los Angeles (118), their defense showed signs of slippage.
Toronto’s slow start on both ends of the court have allowed teams to run out to large leads to start games. Portland raced out to a 31-19 advantage, Sacramento held a 67-52 lead going into halftime and Toronto found themselves down 18 to Los Angeles in the second half which forced Casey to employ a “Hack-a-Jordan” strategy.
During the television broadcast of the Los Angeles Clippers game, Jack Armstrong made an astute observation and then asked Casey during halftime how the lack of practice time since January 1 has hurt Toronto.
“It’s really huge,” Casey told Armstrong. “Because right now as far as rotations, the habits of boxing out, our big-big rotation, transition defense, communication, those little fundamentals are hurting us right now and we’ve gotta’ get through it. It’s not like it’s due to a lack of effort. It’s a lack of timing and a lack of togetherness on the defensive end.”
Casey was predictable in gathering his team for a walk through and quick practice before Toronto’s home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
That combined with a practice on Sunday had Casey feeling confident that some of the kinks had been worked out.
“It was huge,” Casey admitted. “I don’t know if it will cure all of our problems or issues, but again, the speed of the game, I think that is what you lose when you don’t have a full, hard, tape it up practice. We had one and it was the first one we had had in a while because we’ve had so many games. It has been brutal. Just game after game with just one day off we couldn’t put too much energy into practice. We had an extra day and we wanted to utilize that.
“Then after the (all-star) break we have some days penciled in as far as good days to practice. We’ve gotta’ get out timing, our rhythm (back) defensively as well as offensively.”
Things looked great in the first quarter last night as Toronto opened up a 31-20 advantage and looked great doing it. They only turned the ball over three times and they held New Orleans to 40% from the field while shooting an impressive 63.2.
But the second quarter saw a regression to what has become the norm during their west coast road trip. Toronto was a step slow on their defensive rotations the entire quarter which allowed New Orleans to outscore them 23-12 to begin the quarter and coast to a 29-18 advantage through the entire quarter.
Toronto allowed New Orleans to score nine second chance points and 14 points in the paint in the second quarter; two problems Casey had hoped he had cleaned up this week but evidently hadn’t.
On top of that, Toronto allowed New Orleans to get a lot of good looks and the Pelicans capitalized by going 11-21 from the field.
The rest of the game was a see-saw title which saw Toronto tighten things up in the third only to have the bench nearly throw things away again in the fourth. Part of the issue was Patrick Patterson being moved from the bench to the starting unit due to Amir Johnson being out with an injury, but the normally strong play from Toronto’s guards coming off the bench wasn’t there.
The fact Tyreke Evans was able to come off the bench to score 23 points and dish out 12 dimes the day after being benched against Brooklyn won’t sit well with Casey and his coaching staff.
Regardless of the reason or excuse, there’s no way Casey is going to be happy going into all-star weekend with countless signs of slippage on the defensive end. Look for Casey to sneak in another practice or two before the break and then for him and his coaching staff to continue to work on fixing the issues hurting the team on the defensive end when the team reconvenes following all-star weekend.