1. The Raptors have really struggled lately. What are the major concerns with the team?
Where do I start?
Health, offense, defense, shot selection, distribution of minutes, rebounding, the ending of Lost.........
I wish I were exaggerating over how bad things have gotten, but there really is a laundry list of things the Raptors need to be worrying about right now.
It's nothing that can't rectified in due time, but it's all coming at such an important part of the season as teams jockey for position near the top of the Eastern Conference.
I could go on for days about how demoralizing it's been watching the players settle on offense and take highly questionable shots. I could write an essay on the regression of the defense and how a staple of the team last season has become one of its biggest weaknesses. Maybe you'd like to hear about how Jonas Valanciunas doesn't see the floor enough or why Terrence Ross has fallen off the face of the earth.
It's too much, though. It's just too much.
2. With Kyle Lowry having been out for a few games, besides DeMar DeRozan, who has stepped up for the Raptors in filling Lowry's scoring void?
Kyle Lowry's absence was essentially an invitation for Lou Williams to go into hyperdrive. That ultimately turned out to be a very good thing.
He averaged 23.0 points on 48.7 percent shooting in the three games Lowry missed. What was even more impressive was the way he took up being a facilitator and distributor, averaging 4.7 dimes. He understood that he needed to get his teammates more involved with Lowry out, yet his scoring never suffered because of it.
When he gets hot, it's a sight to behold. He loves drawing in defenders with pump fakes on the perimeter, creating contact and finding himself at the charity stripe. Teams really need to do a better job of watching videos on his game. He does it so often that it's comical how opposing players keep falling for his tomfoolery.
It was also fun watching Valanciunas become a focal point in the offense. One of the major storylines this season has been Casey's usage of his big man. He prefers to go small in the frontcourt, thus rendering Valanciunas ineffective.
Averages of 15.0 points and 8.7 rebounds on 70.4 percent shooting made fans pine for Valanciunas even more. It was proof in the pudding that the third-year pro could thrive if thrust into a greater role.
3. Have these last 7 games or so been a result of Dwane Casey not getting his team up for the games?
Dwane Casey certainly deserves his fair share of the blame for the way his team has performed since the All-Star break, but at the end of the day, the onus is on the players to come out of the gates with a sense of urgency and pride.
Could Casey be doing a better job in that regard? Perhaps be a better motivator? Quite possibly, yes.
The Raptors are 26th in the NBA in first quarter scoring since Feb. 20, averaging just 22.4 points. Having to play from behind all the time is extremely draining, both physically and emotionally.
There have been far too many instances where the Raptors have taken their foot off the gas and either blown big leads or allowed weaker competition to stay in games.
The New Orleans Pelicans were missing Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis on Feb. 23, yet still managed to persevere and snag a 100-97 victory. Even the lowly New York Knicks and "Mr. Defensive Intensity" Andrea Bargnani were able to stick it to Toronto and pull off an upset win five nights later.
It's unacceptable. The Raptors are better than that. Casey is better than that.
4. Who do you foresee being able to somewhat slow down Russell Westbrook?
James Johnson in a mechanized battle suit equipped with enough gizmos to make Inspector Gadget green with envy probably won't be enough to slow down Russell Westbrook.
He's a freak, and I say that with all the respect in the world. What he's been doing for Oklahoma City over the last couple of weeks is nothing short of phenomenal.
All the Raptors can hope for is that Westbrook gets trigger-happy with the basketball and has one of those 12-of-38 shooting performances like he had against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 26.
Lowry isn't going to cut it. Ross won't be able to get the job done. Johnson could spend some time defending the point, but his recent move back to the second unit means he probably won't have much of an opportunity to do so.
Fingers crossed that Westbrook becomes his own worst enemy on Sunday.
5. How do you think the Raptors will do down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs?
My confidence is shaken. There was once a time where I thought the Raptors could do no wrong. That this would be a magical season culminating with the first seven-game postseason victory in franchise history.
I'm not so sure if that's going to be the case anymore.
If the Raptors don't get their act together, they'll find themselves heading home awfully early at the hands of one of the lower seeds (Charlotte, Miami, Milwaukee etc.) in the East.
That would be devastating.
These last few weeks of the season need to be devoted to figuring out rotations, getting the defense up to a respectable standard and finding the winning formula that made this team so special in the first place.
That's all that matters. How many wins they finish the year with won't matter if they don't deliver the goods at the end of April and into May.
I still believe they'll find a way to get through to the second round, but then again, nothing would surprise me with this Raptors squad.